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Archive for Science and Medicine

Autism Prevalence

Two recent studies concerning the prevalence of autism in the US have been getting a lot of attention, because they indicate that autism prevalence may be higher than previously estimated. This, of course, fuels the debate over whether or not there are environmental triggers of autism.

One study was conducted by the CDC but has yet to be published. The results were announced ahead of publication by the US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to the autism community. She reports that the new prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now estimated at 1% or 100 in 10,000 children. This is an increase over the last few years. In 2002 the prevalence was estimated to be 66 per 10,000.

The second study was published in the journal Pediatrics and is a phone survey of 78,037 parents. They asked if they had any children who had ever been diagnosed with an ASD. Here are the results:

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Petit canard, grand canard

The flu pandemic of 1918 was horrific. Millions of people died (by some estimates 4% of the world’s population), and the medical establishment worked feverishly to find a cause and a treatment. There were many dead-ends in the search for the cause of the flu. One of the most enduring errors was the attribution of the pandemic to a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae (H flu). It turned out that the flu was actually caused by a virus rather than a bacterium, but H. flu is still an important discovery. The fight against influenza was in many ways successful (although too late for the 1918 pandemic)—it led to the discovery of influenza and many other viruses, and the development of effective influenza vaccines. It is analogous to the discovery of HIV and the advances in science and medicine pioneered by HIV researchers. Influenza birthed the field of virology.

But what if we had stopped at one of our dead ends? What if we had held to the belief that H flu caused influenza, or that HTLV-1 caused AIDS? In science, dead-ends usually reveal themselves—eventually. As new discoveries fail to appear, scientists re-examine their underlying assumptions. H flu was found in many flu victims, but not all. Other researchers found that fluids that were run through filters that stopped bacteria were still infectious (in human volunteers!), leading them to conclude that there must be an infectious particle smaller than a bacterium. A quarter of a century after the Great Influenza pandemic, effective vaccines against influenza were in production.

While the world was torn by the first “modern” war, and influenza destroyed military and civilian populations, doctors were trying everything that might help.  In the U.S., sera and vaccines against various agents such as pneumococcus were produced and used with some efficacy, but many other immunologic treatments were dead-ends.  One of these dead-ends was named Oscillococcinum.

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The “Iron Rule of Cancer”: The dangerous cancer quackery that is the “German New Medicine”

Given that I trained as a cancer surgeon, do laboratory and translational cancer research, and spend my clinical time taking care of breast cancer patients, not surprisingly one topic that gets me the most irritated and provokes a lot of my verbiage for SBM is cancer quackery. As I was perusing my list of posts the other day, it occurred to me that there’s one huge topic that in the more than a year and a half I’ve been blogging for SBM I’ve never covered. It’s a particularly pernicious and dangerous quackery. Indeed, it’s a quackery I mentioned during part of my talk at the Science-Based Medicine Conference, which Steve organized and where several SBM bloggers spoke the day before TAM7 started.

I’m referring to the dangerous and vile quackery known as the German New Medicine (Die Germanische Neue Medizin). Pioneered by Ryke Geerd Hamer, it is a quackery that claims lives. So what is this German New Medicine? Well, it appears to be a Theory of Everything Medical, and in particular everything having to do with cancer:

THE GERMAN NEW MEDICINE provides us with illuminating explanations about the origin, development and healing of both physical and mental disorders. In 1981, Dr. Hamer discovered that every DISEASE is caused by a shock experience that catches us completely off guard. He found that this shock not only occurs in the psyche but simultaneously in the brain and on the organ level. At the moment the unexpected trauma takes place the shock impacts a specific area in the brain causing a lesion that is clearly visible on a brain scan as a set of sharp concentric rings. With the impact the affected brain cells communicate the disturbance to the corresponding organ. Whether the organ responds with a tumor growth (cancer), with tissue degeneration, or with functional loss, is determined by the exact type of conflict shock. Based on the analysis of over 40,000 case studies Dr. Hamer is the first to provide scientific proof that cancer is not caused by a malfunctioning organism producing deadly cancer cells but is rather the result of an innate meaningful survival program that has been successfully practiced for millions of years. Since HEALING can only occur after the conflict has been resolved, the GNM-therapy focuses on identifying and resolving the original conflict. By understanding healing symptoms such as painful swelling, infections, fever, or inflammation in their psychological, biological and evolutionary context, we are able to liberate ourselves from the fear and panic that often come with the onset of an illness. Dr. Hamer’s findings offer a completely new understanding of so-called diseases. His scientific discoveries revolutionize entirely our view of medical conditions and their causes.

The German New Medicine presents a comprehensive system that allows us to understand what type of conflict causes the onset of a particular disease, how the disease manifests itself in the conflict active phase, what can be expected in the healing phase, and how all the developments are connected to the brain, verifiable with a brain scan.

The German New Medicine is a natural science, based on FIVE empirically disovered BIOLOGICAL LAWS that apply, in a strong scientific sense, to each and every case of disease of man and mammal.

The repository of quackery known as Mercola.com describes the “Five Biological Laws” of German New Medicine thusly:
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Posted in: Cancer, Health Fraud, Science and Medicine

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Head-In-The-Sand Consumer Affairs

Editor’s Note: Please be aware that Ben is deployed in Iraq right now. What that means is that his Internet access is somewhat sporadic. He will show up from time to time to answer comments, however.

ERRARE HUMANUM EST, SED PERSEVERARE DIABOLICUM
– To err is human, but to persist
diabolical –

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 BC – 65 AD)

The California (CA) Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has an informational booklet on Acupuncture and Asian Medicine that besides depicting many New Age fantasies about prescientific medicine, also makes the unfounded claim that based on a 1997 consensus panel, the NIH formally “endorses” the use of acupuncture for a set of specific conditions, and that there is “clear evidence” that it is effective for some of them. This booklet is available at:

http://www.acupuncture.ca.gov/pubs_forms/consumer_guide.pdf

Wondering about this “clear evidence,”  I wrote a letter a few months ago to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and asked for a clarification.

Their candid response explicitly stated that the CA booklet “misstates the purpose of the 1997 consensus panel on acupuncture.” The NCCAM also added that as a “Federal research agency, the NIH does not endorse any product, service or treatment, nor are NIH consensus documents statements of policy.”
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Posted in: Acupuncture, Politics and Regulation, Public Health, Science and Medicine

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The Need for Transparency

A recent editorial in PLOS Medicine discusses the need for transparency in the medical literature, specifically with regard to comparative effectiveness research (CER). The editorial makes many excellent points, but also puts into clear relief the double standard that is consciously being fabricated by proponents of non-science-based medicine.

I wrote previously about another editorial that took a very different approach. Speaking for The Kings Fund, Professor Dame Carol Black said.

“The challenge is to develop methods of research that allow us to assess the value of an approach that seeks to integrate the physical intervention, the personal context in which it is given, and non-specific effects that together comprise a particular therapy.”

The editorial essentially defended the use of CER and other forms of evidence to bolster the evidence base for so-called CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) in order to promote its use.

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Cold Flusion?

This is a quick entry to allow me to have a little spleen venting.  And I am cross posting this over at Medscape.

Background for you youngsters.  In 1989 two electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, announced they had successfully developed cold fusion: nuclear fusion at room temperature.  Pons was chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Utah at the time and lent a fair amount of respectability to the announcement.

A great deal of brouhaha followed, but in the end “is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” Cold fusion was and is a bust, although millions were spent in pursuit of that pot of gold.

Fast forward to this week.  Here is the data upon which important public health decisions are being made, in its entirety:

“new Canadian study — which has not yet been peer reviewed or published —that found those who receive the seasonal flu vaccine become two times more likely to get H1N1.”

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AAFP Endorses CAM

I recently chastised the American Family Physician (the journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians) for assigning a high SORT (strength of evidence) rating to acupuncture treatments that did not merit that rating. While the AAFP claims to strongly support evidence-based medicine, I have observed a gradual infiltration of CAM into their journal, their website, and their CME offerings. They seem to be more concerned with the popularity of CAM and with not offending its believers than with maintaining scientific rigor. The problem is only getting worse.

Recently a “News Now” article was published on the AAFP website: “New Report Details Billions Americans Spend on Complementary, Alternative Medicine: Physicians Can Benefit from Adding CAM to Their Practices, Says FP” It is very disturbing. (more…)

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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HIV/AIDS denialists do it too!

Remember my post from Monday about fake scientific conferences organized by the anti-vaccine movement that are designed to paint a picture of legitimate science being done, so much so that they even fool some academics into speaking there? (I realize that the server issues we had from Monday through Wednesday that rendered the site completely FUBAR may have prevented some of you from reading it.)

Well, it turns out that HIV/AIDS denialists do it too!

Why am I not surprised?

Posted in: Medical Academia, Science and Medicine, Science and the Media

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Boost Your Immune System?

My right bicep. Oily, a little sticky, and otherwise completely unlike your immune system.

My right bicep. Oily, a little sticky, and otherwise completely unlike your immune system.

This post is a wee bit of a cheat in that it is a rewrite of a Quackcast, but I have three lectures and board certification in the near future, so sometimes you have to cook the wolf.

What does that mean: boost the immune system? Most people apparently think that the immune system is like a muscle, and by working it, giving it supplements and vitamins, the immune system will become stronger. Bigger. More impressive, bulging like Mr. Universe’s bicep. That’s the body part I am thinking about. What they are boosting is vague, on par with chi/qi or innate intelligence. They never really say what is being boosted.

The other popular phrase is “support”. A product supports prostate health, or breast health or supports the immune system. It sounds like the immune system is sagging against gravity due to age and needs a lift.

The immune system, if you are otherwise healthy, cannot be boosted, and doing those things you learned in kindergarten health (reasonable diet, exercise and sleep), will provide the immune system all the boosting or support it needs. (more…)

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