Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Longing for a past that never existed

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on February 18, 2010


There once was a time when all food was organic and no pesticides were used. Health problems were treated with folk wisdom and natural remedies. There was no obesity, and people got lots of exercise. And in that time gone by, the average lifespan was … 35!

That’s right. For most of human existence, according to fossil and anthropological data, the average human lifespan was 35 years. As recently as 1900, American average lifespan was only 48. Today, advocates of alternative health bemoan the current state of American health, the increasing numbers of obese people, the lack of exercise, the use of medications, the medicalization of childbirth. Yet lifespan has never been longer, currently 77.7 years in the US.

Advocates of alternative health have a romanticized and completely unrealistic notion of purported benefits of a “natural” lifestyle. Far from being a paradise, it was hell. The difference between an average lifespan of 48 and one of 77.7 can be accounted for by modern medicine and increased agricultural production brought about by industrial farming methods (including pesticides). Nothing fundamental has changed about human beings. They are still prey to the same illnesses and accidents, but now they can be effectively treated. Indeed, some diseases can be completely prevented by vaccination


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Leave it to the naturopaths…

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 27, 2009

…to give you an insight of what delusion sounds like . I probably should apologize for the prolonged absence from the blogosphere, but what the hell this is my blog and I’m not going to. It’s not like there was any void of skeptical goodies to peruse during my absence, so suck it up and stop whining. As I am still not back 100%, I don’t intend to make this a long entry, but somehow I think I’ll fail at that.  I mean what can you expect given that I’m looking at something titled “Counterpoint: No ‘magic’ involved in naturopathic medicine”? Oh boy here we go!

Progress often faces resistance. Even with the substantial challenges facing health care in Ontario, the province’s recent decision to award prescribing authority to naturopathic doctors has its critics, as evidenced by Scott Gavura’s op-ed piece in Nov. 24th’s National Post.

Well, I’m going to adopt a famous Sagan saying and say that while progress does often face resistance, not everything that faces resistance is progress. A progressive idea must be established on its own merits, not the amount of resistance it encounters; therefore give up the genius-being-laughed-at complex and act like an adult! So let’s read through, I’m sure the “merits” of naturopathic “medicine” will be clearly and unambiguously revealed.

Ontario’s decision is a step forward in improving patient care by allowing naturopathic doctors to use their training to help address the substantial health challenges facing Ontario.

Their training? Training? Let’s see, according to Wikipedia the training, for the licensed ND that actually do go to some sort of school, “includes the use of basic medical diagnostic tests and procedures such as medical imaging, minor surgery, and blood tests. The CNME also provides for the inclusion of optional modalities including minor surgery, natural childbirth and intravenous therapy, though they are not generally licensed to perform these functions; these modalities require additional training and may not be within the scope of practice in all jurisdictions.”  Wow, I’m sure this sort of training must be making many nurses jealous….not (if you imagine Borat making this not-joke it might be funny!)

While it would be easy to dismiss Mr. Gavura’s opinions as alarmist, there’s something to be learned from it: Many Canadians aren’t aware of how safe, scientific and effective naturopathic medicine is.

And this is where I start cringing, because you see in reality most naturopathic treatments are neither safe, effective nor scientific (are you sh@%ing me?). Best case scenario they convince desperate people to avoid real medical treatments that do work; waste their time and money, and some times make them waste their last days in this universe chasing empty dreams and promises, thus robbing them and their families of much needed time together.Worst case scenario, you have 9 month old babies dying of infections that can easily be treated by real medicine. Yes I am looking at you homeopathy, don’t you dare to act all innocent, I-have-no-side-effects in front of me. As far as effectiveness is concerned, I will yet again make the claim that there are no rigorous scientific studies that will withstand scrutiny that show naturopathic medicines to work. You think I’m wrong? Pick your favorite alternative medicine modality and show me 3 proper, scientific studies that show a positive effect above and over the placebo effect. Set and ….go! I know you won’t be coming back with anything. Scientific? Hahaha, thanks for the good laugh. But seriously read a few sentences back. The same challenge applies. I have ample room in my comments section for many, many links. Get to linkin’!

Naturopathic medicine is based on the scientific assertion that the body, when given the appropriate support, has the potential to heal itself. This isn’t a “magical and transcendent anomaly of physics.” It’s how the body works — and we’ve known it for centuries. Each time you heal from a cut, a cold or a broken bone, you’re seeing vis mediatrix naturae, or “the healing power of nature” at work. It’s not magic, just good science.

Sneaky! Nice try. Yes, the body can heal itself, but that is limited. Medicine kinda implies human intervention for the sort of things the body cannot handle on its own. I guess by this logic vaccines are also naturopathic because they give the immune system “appropriate support” by teaching it how to fight invading agents so that in the future it can handle such agents without us intervening. Hey who knew, vaccines are naturopathic. Nice!

As well, many patients have not had success with conventional options to address chronic or unresolved conditions

Oh really? I need some clarification here: are the patients themselves assuming that they can find success with the naturopathic modalities, or are the naturopaths claiming that they have solutions to things real medicine cannot yet handle? If the latter is the case, I’d like to see a bit of evidence, just a tiny bit really. It would be great if some of these things included cancer or HIV or something like that.

This complementary system is vital when we are living in a society that is increasingly focused on symptom management.

And there it goes, the symptom-only-management fallacy. Forgive me for being a bit, what is the word…skeptical but when was the last time that doctors treated a shooting victim for the pain he was experiencing while ignoring the bullets lodged in his body? I’m sorry I can’t hear you…a bit louder please….oh you got nothing to say?

Most importantly, what patients want is to not be sick in the first place. The American Institute for Cancer Research determined that one-third of all cancers could be prevented through exercise, diet and weight management. Naturopathic doctors have the clinical skills and training to help patients integrate these preventative strategies.

Ha, and so do most all dietitians, no need to bring in the holistic nonsense. Exercise, diet and weight management have been around for a long time and have solid scientific support to have positive effect, this was not discovered by naturopaths by any stretch of the imagination.  They’re just latching onto it simply because it fits in with their whole anti-drug stance. Prevention is important but is not the end-all be-all in medicine. By their own citation, a full 2/3 of cancers can’t be prevented so show me what you can do about those dear naturopaths? Can you show that your methods increase life expectancy in a 5-year span? I didn’t think so.

There is more and more evidence in support of the approaches to health that NDs employ. Diet, lifestyle, stress and environmental factors have been a focus of naturopathic care long before evidence fully showed the importance of these approaches.

Isn’t this one of those can-never-be-verified claims? I guess the implication is that they were championing diet and exercise before the medical community was. Huh! Even if true, what does that have to say about acupuncture or homeopathy? Can you say diddly squat?

Meanwhile, the limits of randomized control trials favoured by the pharmaceutical industry are being increasingly recognized. Randomized control trials tend to test a single treatment approach to the eradication of a symptom. This approach works against individualized care, and tends to be biased toward over-treatment rather than prevention. Clinical studies are critical to advancing knowledge, but in themselves they are not the solutions to health problems.

And there goes the Special Pleading. Don’t tell me you weren’t expecting this now, what kind of skeptic are you? Obviously naturopathic medicine is scientific, as they said in the beginning, but here they go pleading for us not to look at randomized, controlled studies, which is what scientific tends to mean, for proof. Trying to have your cake and eat it too huh dear naturopath? But you can’t have it both ways. You see if you claim your modality is scientific then it is bound by the rules of ….guess what? Science! I know I shouldn’t load your cute little brain with this sort of heavy logic but you can handle it. Really, you can.

HPRAC also recommended that Ontario’s NDs, similar to NDs in almost every other regulated jurisdiction, have the capability to take on a larger role in primary care with access to basic primary care pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics.

Now wait just a minute! These guys want to be able to prescribe the same pharmaceuticals, an over-reliance on which according to this same article “may be making us sicker”? Isn’t that ironic? Drugs are bad as they don’t treat the root problem; I want to give you an all natural alternative to drugs; but let me have the ability to prescribe drugs nonetheless? What? Do they not really see the lack of logic in this line of thinking? Do they really think people are that stupid? Well, strike that last sentence!

As naturopathic doctors transition under new regulation in Ontario, there is an opportunity for us to work collaboratively with every member of an individual’s health-care team, forming a new model that acknowledges the choice that patients are making for the more natural approach that Naturopathic Doctors employ.

I must say for being a pile of crap, this is marketing genius. Honestly I must take my hat off to these folks for coming up with some pretty darn sweet sounding selling points. Just look at these two phrases. Who doesn’t like to collaborate? Or have a health care team all of his own? Or having a choice? Or going all natural? It all sounds so good! God if I didn’t know none of it has ever been shown to work,scientifically,I’d be definitely sold.

My verdict? Well if it isn’t clear by now I can recap it: I think naturopathic “medicine” is crap that makes people feel good but ultimately cannot objectively help with anything that can be measured. I think no alternative modality has ever been shown to work under rigorous scientific testing protocols, and when that happened it became part of real medicine thus loosing it’s alternative medicine status. I think that all of the alternative medicine modalities of today work no better than placebo, and that is the reason why their practitioners rely on testimonies and use a Special Pleading argument to be excused from the rigorous requirements of science, while at the same time proclaiming their modalities to be scientific, a bit misguided if not outright hypocritical in my eyes. So generally, I think naturopathic, alternative, integrative, non-conventional, call it whatever you want, I call it wishful thinking “medicine” is baloney; and there are few people who would be happier than me to if it turned out to be in fact useful to any degree. Until then, it is nothing but magical thinking.

Canada gets it right

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 6, 2009

Firms that sell “natural” health products are being asked to provide proof their crap works (it doesn’t most of the time) and get this: while these firms do not oppose being regulated they think that being asked to show their claims are correct is too much. Come again?

Firms that make and sell natural health products are not opposed to being regulated. In fact, they welcome the Health Canada stamp of approval, said Carter. However, he said the “pendulum has swung too far” in terms of proving that a drug works.

Oh I get it, they want the “stamp of approval” but they don’t want to do any work for it. They do know that it is not a literal postage stamp right?

The licensing has been underway since January 2004, when Health Canada announced it would regulate natural health products. As of April 2010, all natural health products will need an NPN, natural product number, to be sold.

However, the licensing process has become bogged down, and Carter said it’s partly because Health Canada has set the bar too high.

I guess not taking their word for it qualifies as setting the bar too high in woo woo land. “Trust us this stuff works”. Oh sure, here’s your stamp; you’ve been approved. Yeah right! They’ve had 6 years to get their shit together and now that the deadline is approaching they’ve got nothing to show for it. Do you know how many double blind studies one can conduct in 6 years? Enough to prove your claims are true, that’s for sure!

Carter said part of the problem was something he called “pharmaceutical creep,” where the same stringent standards that are applied to pharmaceutical products are applied to natural health products.

There comes the special pleading: the rules as they apply to everybody else should not apply to me!

Natural health producers today are being asked to supply double-blind studies and human clinical trials to back claims made on the labels, even when safety has been established, he said. It’s a very expensive requirement for small- to medium-sized firms.

Oh the Red Herring! You have to prove your crap works ON TOP of proving it is safe dumbo! Do they really think people are that stupid not to see through this farce of an argument?

He expects herbal and homeopathic medicines to be the most affected and says it’s “crazy” for Health Canada to apply the same standards to both pharmaceuticals and natural health products.

Oh crazy isn’t it? These geniuses want to keep calling their crap “medicine” but they do not want the same stringent standards that are applied to all other medicines to apply. Bit hypocritical no? Hey I have an idea, call your stuff flavored water or tea, stop making claims of it curing this and curing that and guess what: you don’t have to do any double blind studies in that case. Problem solved for both you and us (the rationalists that is).

Pharmacists are talking crazy too (at least the ones quoted in the article):

“Pharmaceutical drugs are far more potent and just a slight deviation in dosage can be dangerous,” said Staples, whose Moncton pharmacy Staples Drugs, has sold both types of drugs for 40 years.

“A doctor can prescribe the arthritis drug Celebrex for you, but it can also cause a heart attack,” he said as an example. “With homeopathic drugs, you can take 10 times the dosage and there’s no problem.”

Umhh, Staples? That’s because homeopathic potions are water and don’t do anything. That’s the way it works you see, homeopathic potions = No effect whatsoever! Either way positive or negative. So why do you want to keep selling them to people? A bit unethical no?

Health Canada is not allowing any “may” claims. For instance, a label cannot say the product “may” do something. In Health Canada’s eyes, it either has an effect or not.

Good for them. “My magical potion may help cancer” is not such an innocent statement after all. People can die because of it; peoples’ lifelong savings may be wiped out because of it; peoples’ precious little time left can be wasted because of it. Canada gets it right. Woo woos have to be held accountable for their words and claims!

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on September 10, 2009

Skepdude says – Gotta love the PayPal thing. Hilarious!

Under the banner of CAM, a handful of these practitioners also advertise that they can communicate with spirits and heal with crystals, colors or sounds; they practice healing touch (reiki) and distance healing (via PayPal!); provide spiritual counseling and ministerial services, and make implausible medical claims such as healing a chronic condition with just one needle!

Science Based Medicine

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Homeopathy gets trashed again…this time by the WHO

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 21, 2009

The WHO has had enough of the magical water “treatments” and it is warning people to stay away from it.

People with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the World Health Organization has warned.

This seems to have been started by a group called Voice of Young Science Network which seems to be part of, or affiliated with, Sense About Science the good folks fighting it out in Simon Singhs corner about his troubles with chiropractic woo woo! What’s the response of the homeopathetics?

However practitioners said there were areas where homeopathy could help.

No shit!

IVF pregnancy rates down with alternative medicine use

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 19, 2009

A Danish study has been reported in both the Times of India and in Private Healthcare UK which allegedly shows that women underoing in vitro fertilization had a lower rate of pregnancies when using alternative fertility treatments than women who followed conventional treatments, by about 30%. That is obviously not surprising to this blogger or the usual readers, as we know that there has never been any evidence to suggest otherwise.

Nevertheless, I must be cautious here as the articles do not link to the study or an abstract, so it is impossible for me to verify how well the authors designed the study and if their conclusions are warranted. They do seem to be very careful though when the following disclaimer is made:

In the study, it could not be determined whether the effect on IVF success is a direct result of the use of complementary medicine, or whether women who were already having more trouble conceiving were more likely to revert to alternative fertility treatments.

A very important point indeed! If someone has a link to the study or an abstract please do leave it in the comments.

UPDATE 08/21/09

Commenter RPG points me to the PubMed abstract of the above study. Reading the abstract it seems that this was a survey based study which compared “spontaneous users and non-users of CAM” and found a decrease of 31.3% in the pregnancy and live birth rate for CAM users.

Now it is important to keep in mind that the subjets appear not to have been randomly assigned, thus there is no way to exclude the possibility that the women that had the most difficulties could be more inclined to go after CAM “treatments”. That could be one way of  explaining the negative result.

So we should be very careful how we interpret these results. I do not think this study warrants us concluding that CAM therapies lower a woman’s pregnancy and live birth rates. The result is quite suspicious in my eyes.  I would have expected the CAM group not to do any better but 31% worse? I don’t know that I buy that!

India wasting money on swine flu homeopathic research

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 7, 2009

Via The Hindu we get news that the state of Maharashtra is investing money in research into a homeopathic swine flu vaccine of sorts.

A senior city homeopath Dr Sreerang Oak had on Friday advocated a preventive treatment combining two bio-chemic substances of homeopathy — ‘Kali Mur’ and ‘Ferrum Phos’ (with power of 12 X )– which he said could arrest the spread of the H1N1 virus among population.

Wow, they know they can arrest,  read stop dead on its tracks, the spread of the swine flu, before the research the money is supposed to be spent on has even been done! That does not augur well for the state of Maharashtra!

Four tablets each of the two medicines, easily and cheaply available with chemists could stop the infection in the first stage, bestowing an immunity on the person against the virus, he claimed.

They even know the exact dosage for goodness sake, before the research is done! Talk about quackery!

State of Maharashtra: Fail!

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on August 6, 2009

Homeopathic “remedies” are licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority. But Professor Michael Baum, of University College London, says: “This is like licensing a witches’ brew as a medicine so long as the bat wings are sterile.”

“Regulating quacks helps them prey on gullible patients” – The Sun Newspaper

Mozambique: ‘Alternative Medicine’ Enters Mozambican Law

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 24, 2009


Maputo — The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Tuesday passed the first reading of a government bill which amends the law on private medicine so that it includes, not only evidence-based medicine, but also “alternative medicine”.

The bill defines “alternative” medicine as “health practices not covered by the National Health System and which are constituted by range of diagnostic and therapeutic practices without the appropriate scientific validation, or which are regarded as inaccessible to the scientific method and experimentation and in this latter case may use metaphysical and spiritual curative practices”.

At first sight this looks as if purveyors of all manner of superstition and fraud – homeopathy, chiropractic, aromatherapy, naturopathy or vitamin therapy – will now be treated the same as qualified doctors. All can go into private practice and open up clinics.


If homeopaths think this means they will be able to open clinics in Maputo tomorrow, they may be in for a shock. For they will have to apply for a licence, just as a clinic offering genuine medical care has to apply. And the Health Ministry will decide whether to grant the licence or to refuse it.

“We will decide on a case by case basis”, Garrido stressed.

The law also allows the Health Ministry to shut down any private practice on grounds of “proven professional incompetence” or “grave acts that damage the physical and moral integrity of the users”.


$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 10, 2009


BETHESDA, Md. – Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.

Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

Many scientists say that unconventional treatments hold promise and deserve serious study, but that the federal center needs to be more skeptical and selective.

“There’s not all the money in the world and you have to choose” what most deserves tax support, said Barrie Cassileth, integrative medicine chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Many of the studies that have been funded I would not have funded because they seem irrational and foolish — studies on distant healing by prayer and energy healing, studies that are based on precepts and ideas that are contrary to what is known in terms of human physiology and disease,” she said.