Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Rhinos and tigers and bears. Oh my.

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on March 27, 2009

This is a must read, a great entry from SBM.

No good deed goes unpunished.

The website is a depressing recitation of the harm that humans do to themselves and others from participating in various forms of nonsense in the attempt to do good. It my backfire, and instead pain and death result.

I would bet that most practitioners of medical woo are true believers. They do not intend to harm people, and believe they are doing good for their patients. Certainly the consumers of alternative therapies intend to have good benefits from their use of sCAM modalities. Most want to get better, and do not intend to hurt themselves or others.

Unfortunately, actions always have unintended consequences. Sometimes the harm is directly to the patient. Sometimes the harm in indirect, with collateral damage to people or the environment. My hospital system has an extensive recycling program to handle the huge amounts of waste generated by the need to insure that all manner of materials are sterile. Patients in isolation consume large amounts of paper and plastic to keep infection confined. My hospitals actively look for ways to decrease their environmental impact and carbon footprint and still deliver high quality medical care. Legacy Health System, where I work, is an award winning leader recycling medical waste, which is a lot more difficult to dispose of than the pop cans and paper bags in your house. Hopefully the trash in your house is not covered with pus, blood and other potentially hazardous medical waste. We try to be good global citizens.

I wonder if some branches of the alternative medical industrial complex are so environmentally conscious.

Natural products are at the greatest risk for being adversely affected by a demand for their use. If millions of people want a natural product that has limited supply, soon that product will be exhausted and the product extinct. Adverse effects from alternative therapies can come in many forms, and the alternative practice with the greatest adverse impact on the environment is probably traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). A billion or more people wanting a traditional herbal or animal product is going to have a detrimental effect on the herb or animal being consumed. There are numerous examples of the adverse effects on the environment from traditional Chinese medicine.

For years the Rhinoceros was hunted not for food or sport, but for the horn. There is a form of magical thinking that derives function from the structure of a natural product like a rhino horn. It looks like a penis. I guess. I must not have been paying close attention during in my urology rotation. Because it looks like a penis, it must have efficacy on impotence. So the rhino horn was ground up to treat impotence. For centuries it was the Enzyte of the world. But Rhino horn is more than an aphrodisiac. Although the rhino horn is no more than a fingernail with extra calcium and phosphorus, the horn has been used in Chinese medicine to treat damn near anything.


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Pure Water Fetishists

Posted in Thinking is dangerous by Skepdude on February 26, 2009

What is it with Complementary & Alternative Medicine communities and their crazed fixation on only ever coming into to contact with absolutely, scrupulously and perfectly pure water? And why does no-one ever point out that the minute they pour it into a glass, kettle or pot of dried lentils, all the effort to purify it has gone out the window?

The company I’d like to introduce you to is PureH20. Alas, the interweb has ensured that ‘2’ rarely gets to be subscript.

The website has a myriad of bullshit, fear-mongering, pseudoscience and amazing state-the-bleedin-obvious facts like

Water is absolutely vital for health

I would honestly like to know if there is anyone to whom that comes as a revelation. And I mean anyone in the whole world.
Did you know that

most of us have lost our proper thirst reflex by the end of our childhood?

or that

Bottled and tap waters contain many impurities like heavy metals and inorganic minerals that are likely to have an adverse effect on your health

So no shortage of bullshit to keep you entertained. Their purification system is definately a first in chemical synthesis though:

Water filtered using our patented system removes all the chemicals and impurities, both organics and inorganics, to provide you with one hydrogen atom and two oxygen atoms

(my bold)

Oh. I assumed they were selling water rather than HO2, who’d have thunk? As if all the sillyness wasn’t enough we get:


Urine injection kills Bolivian woman

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 10, 2009

LA PAZ, Bolivia – A Bolivian woman has died from an injection of urine allegedly administered by her friend as a form of health therapy, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Investigating prosecutor Oscar Flores told The Associated Press that 35-year-old Gabriela Ascarrunz died Saturday of an “infection caused by urine that was injected by fashion designer Monica Schultz.”

Local newspapers reported that Schultz, who is known across Bolivia for her clothing lines, is a practitioner of urine therapy — a form of alternative medicine using human urine for cosmetic purposes or to treat various diseases. Some people rub it on their skin, while others inject or drink it.


Uh, O!

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 10, 2009

Why medical experts were shocked by Oprah Winfrey’s take on hormone replacement and Suzanne Somers’s controversial theories on aging.

When Dr. Lauren Streicher, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school in Chicago, got a call from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” inviting her to discuss menopausal hormones with actress Suzanne Somers, she figured she’d better read Somers’s best-selling books on the subject. As Streicher worked her way through the first chapter, she started underlining every sentence she felt was inaccurate. “But pretty soon, I had to stop,” Streicher says, “because I was underlining almost everything.”The taping of the show, which aired Jan. 29, proved equally disconcerting. Somers, a self-styled hormone and anti-aging expert whose controversial books promise midlife women that they will feel young and sexy if they take unregulated hormone therapy (HT) in much higher doses and for much longer time periods than most experts recommend, was literally given center stage. She was seated next to Winfrey, the newly proclaimed convert to the so-called bio-identical hormones promoted by the 62-year-old Somers. (Bio-identical generally refers to products that are chemically identical to hormones produced by a woman’s body.) While Winfrey, 55, encouraged “every woman” to read Somers’s book, the guests with actual medical degrees were relegated to seats in the audience, where they had to sit quietly unless called upon. Interspersed were taped segments of Somers smearing her arms with hormone cream, standing on her head and lining up the 40 dietary supplements she takes with her morning smoothie. The whole setup seemed to give the drugs that Somers uses the same enthusiastic endorsement that turns everything Winfrey promotes into a blockbuster.

The resulting spectacle disappointed many doctors who thought Winfrey had higher standards for the quality of medical information she dispersed—or, at least, more of a commitment to balance. Some said they were particularly upset because doctors had complained to Winfrey’s production company about what they saw as misinformation disseminated during the show she did on hormone therapy two weeks before that featured Dr. Phil McGraw’s wife, Robin.

Some experts are far more than disappointed: “I found the program to be quite shocking, and full of audacious claims, not substantiated by evidence,” says Dr. Wulf Utian, a gynecologist and consultant at the Cleveland Clinic and founder of the North American Menopause Society, who has also worked as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. “Oprah is the most influential woman in the world, and I don’t think she comprehends the amount of damage she has done to women’s health. I came away feeling like Oprah really didn’t understand the issue. Personally, I feel like she has set us back 100 years.”


New York….New York

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 1, 2009

Living in NY, I should not be surprised by this. But it still blows my mind away. Check out this little gem:

That means the animal needs increased nutritional and immune supports as well as therapy for specific health issues, such as immune, bone, digestive, or eye conditions.

Wow! I did  not know that immune and bone were “specific health issues”, I didn’t even know they were issues at all! Who is writing this stuff, second graders? Oh, and by the way they’re talking about pets not humans. Which makes this even more ridiculous. Read at your own peril.

Here’s more stupid news, the US Air Force is training its docs in acupuncture, because did you know that “while acupuncture cannot cure open wounds, it can alleviate pain and make it more bearable.“? Wait there’s even more:

Currently, combat doctors are learning about the energy meridians of the human body, a concept that acupuncture uses. Very thin needles need to be inserted in specific positions in the body, where they release accumulated energy blockages, and allow the vital life force to flow.

Psst, I’ll let them in a little secret….it does not matter where you stick the needles! You’re welcome Air Force!

Loony tunes of the day

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on January 29, 2009

So what do a 93 year old dead guy with a huge unpaid utility bill, Al Gore and the U.S. Patent office have in common? Alien (as in extraterrestrial)  “clean” energy conspiracies of course! Did you know that there is, currently on this Earth, knowledge and possibly reverse-engineered technology for cleaner energy than solar and wind? I did not know nuclear energy science had advanced that much!

Homeopath decides to move to Tanzania to use his craft to “cure as many people as possible” in an effort to convince skeptics that he’s not full of it. So let me get this straight, he can’t make the science work as it should so the solution is to go out in a third world country and experiment with god knows how many people’s lifes under no supervision whatsoever, because this guy thinks scientists have it in for him? A bit conceited, not to mention extremely unethical, no? I have a suggestion for him. He may want to take his “medicine” not in pill form but in its liquid form. At least let these people get some clean drinking water out of this.

And in closing don’t forget to always evaluate alternative medicine as it relates to God’s commandments following the “four R” plan. I’m just finding it a bit hard to find out God’s stance on homeopathy and UFOs? Could have been on the dropped Gospels. Anyone has any insights on this matter?

Which is the Parody?

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on December 18, 2008


Poe’s Law states that a good parody of religious fundamentalism is hard to tell from the real thing.  I’m starting to think there is a similar law that applies to alternative medicine.  For example, read the two pieces I’ve quoted below and see if you can guess (no cheating!) which one you think is of the real claimed to be real healing modality, and which is the parody.  They are both similar in that they propose healing techniques that are applied to a doll, rather than to the actual person under treatment.  It’s a bit like voodoo – you treat the doll not the person.  Except I think voodoo spells are supposed to make the person ill, while this is supposed to make the person better.

Here they are.  I have changed the names of the two therapies to example 1 and example 2.  Here’s the first:

In a typical therapy session, the [example 1] practitioner uses a small human anatomical model as an energetic representation of the patient, tapping on targeted points on the model with a lightweight magnetic hammer. The practitioner directs chi to blockage points corresponding to the patient’s condition, breaking down resistance at these points. As blood flow, neural transmission, and hormone reception are restored, the body is then able to heal.


And the distance between the patient and the therapist makes no difference. The patient and therapist connect when they are on the phone together, in the same room together, on the same planet together, or on different planets together. The togetherness is the constant, because we are all “connected” by an invisible energy field in our universe. We are all swimming in this energy field together. Quantum physics simply calls distance healing a “non-local event.”

And the second:

The principle of [example 2] healing is simple.  As ‘like affects like’, an appropriately manufactured and treated wax doll or cloth puppet may substitute for the patient, and manipulations performed on the doll substitute for those performed on the patient.  Techniques of visualisation and channelling of healing are easy to learn, and it is possible to combine [example 2] with ‘conventional’ or allopathic medicine simply by administering the medicine to the doll rather than to the patient.


The image may be identified with its subject by the embedding of ousia – items connected with the subject such as a hair or nail clipping, or even a blood sample.  This greatly enhances the therapeutic effects of [example 2] procedures, and in particular allows the practice of [example 2] at considerable distances from the patient, even over the telephone or the Internet.

Well?  Personally I find it hard to believe they aren’t both parodies.  In fact, example 2 is from the The British Veterinary Voodoo Society – a spoof site started by some veterinarians in the UK who were incensed that the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) sanctions treatment of sick animals with homeopathy.  The joke is that if you think homeopathy works, you might as well try voodoo.  I wrote about The British Veterinary Voodoo Society before.

However, example1 is a therapy that its proponents seriously claim to be real – Tong Ren.  Click that link if you must but be warned – the stupid on that site will kill your brain cells.

I don’t need to write any more on this because fortunately Orac already delved into this in much more detail that I would have had the patience for, and this morning posted Tong Ren: An unholy union of acupuncture and voodoo.  I have to say, after reading the first part of Orac’s post, I got the feeling the Tong Ren site was a parody, and I clicked over there convinced that Orac had been fooled into debunking a spoof site.  After a while though, I decided it was genuine, incredible though that is.  I guess we do need a Poe’s Law for SCAM.


Beth Israel joins the Academic Woo Aggregator!

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on October 31, 2008

I feel bad.

I realize that I’ve been completely neglecting my Academic Woo Aggregator. You remember my Academic Woo Aggregator, don’t you? It was my attempt to compile a near-definitive list of academic medical centers that had “integrated” woo into their divisions or departments of “integrative medicine” (i.e., departments of academic-sounding quackery). Perusing it, I now realize that it’s been over five months since I did a significant update to it. You just know that, given the rate of infiltration of unscientific medical practices into medical academia as seemingly respectable treatment modalities that there must be at least several new additions to this role of shame. Alas, even today, having been shamed myself by the realization of my failure to keep the list updated, I’m not going to do the full update and revamping that the Woo Aggregator cries out for. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t do a piecemeal addition here and there. That doesn’t mean I can’t point out new additions to the Woo Aggregator as they pop up, even if it takes me a while to find the time to give it the facelift it needs.

It doesn’t mean I can’t call out hospitals like Beth Israel when they fall into woo, especially when they do it in a big way for cancer patients.

The first thing to know about this degeneration of a once great academic powerhouse is that, as is the case for many centers of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or of “integrative medicine” (IM), when looking for the reason why physicians ostensibly dedicated to scientific medicine would embrace this woo, look for the financial reason. In this case, the financial incentive comes from Donna Karan, founder of the famous DKNY line of clothing. In search of her dollars, Beth Israel has turned over an entire cancer treatment floor to woo:

Medical advances sometimes happen in strange ways. Someone finds a fungus in dirty lab dishes and — eureka! — penicillin is born. Now a premier Manhattan hospital is turning a cancer-treatment floor over to a world-famous fashion designer in the hope that serendipity, science and intuition will strike again.A foundation run by Donna Karan, creator of the “seven easy pieces” philosophy of women’s wardrobes and founder of the much-imitated DKNY line of clothing, has donated $850,000 for a yearlong experiment combining Eastern and Western healing methods at Beth Israel Medical Center. Instead of just letting a celebrated donor adopt a hospital wing, renovate it and have her name embossed on a plaque, the Karan-Beth Israel project will have a celebrated donor turn a hospital into a testing ground for a trendy, medically controversial notion: that yoga, meditation and aromatherapy can enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation.

Whatever happened to the days when a wealthy donor would be happy just to have her name on a building or on a floor? I guess they never truly existed. However, it’s truly depressing to see a former academic powerhouse accommodate such wishes just because they’re trendy, because a wealthy donor is willing to fund them, and because, no doubt, hospital administrators perceive it as good publicity and a draw for credulous patients. I wish I could view this as merely a cynical ploy to add a spoon full of woo to make the real scientific medicine go down easier, but somehow I don’t think that’s the case. I also really, really hate it when I see the same old false dichotomy of “Eastern” versus “Western” medicine. There is no such thing as “Eastern” or “Western” medicine. As blog bud PalMD put it:

I’ll stipulate that by “Eastern and Western healing methods” they mean credulous Americans’ impression of what is done in “the East” vs. science-based medicine as it is practiced around the world (the Eastern and Western bits).


Why good medicine requires materialism

Posted in Denialism by Skepdude on October 30, 2008


I don’t like to repost, but Steve Novella has some great pieces up right now, and this is directly related. –PalMD

s I’ve clearly demonstrated in earlier posts, I’m no philosopher. But I am a doctor, and, I believe, a good one at that, and I find some of this talk about “non-materialist” perspectives in science to be frankly disturbing, and not a little dangerous.

To catch you up on things, consider reading one of Steve Novella’s best posts ever over at Neurologica. While you are there, you can also follow his debate with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, the latest guru of mind-body dualism.

To sum up (remember, IANAP), most of us science-y types hold to a materialist view of reality, that is, reality is all there is. This reality is susceptible to the investigations of science. Non-materialists and mind-body dualists hold that there is also a “non-material” reality. What exactly this might be, and how one might observe or measure it is never specified. Instead, they usually use a god-of-the-gaps argument, whereby any gaps in scientific understanding are automatically ascribed to the supernatural. The proof of the supernatural is stated is a lack of disproof of the supernatural.

Personally, I have no problem with people believing in God, Satan, fairies, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (may we all be touched by His Noodley Appendages). What I have a problem with is people applying these beliefs to science and medicine.

Non-scientific medical practices, such as homeopathy, faith-healing, and reiki state various claims of efficacy and of mechanism of action. They can never prove these, but ask us to take their word, and the word of their clients. Once again, if someone takes communion and feels closer to their God, it’s none of my business. But if someone is claiming to affect the health of an individual by invoking supernatural powers, this is immoral and harmful

The point is simple: if reiki manipulates unseen, unmeasurable forces by unseen and unmeasurable means, creating solely subjective individual results, then reiki (and practices like it) is completely irrelevant to health. What matters in medicine is results, and results that cannot be observed and measured do not, for all practical purposes, exist.

We can measure the effect of beta blockers on a population of heart attack survivors. We can compare the number of subsequent heart attacks in those who do and do not receive the drug. We can come up with a scientifically valid explanation for the results, and we can replicate them.

None of the cult medicine practices that are so popular can do this. Their effects are either unmeasurable by definition (show me a qi), or when we try to measure the results of their application, results in aggregate are no better than by chance alone.

In all this discussion about naturopathy over the last week or so, what has been left out is that it doesn’t matter if naturopaths consider what they do to be “medicine-plus”—the plus is irrelevant because it cannot be measured or observed reliably. Unless and until it can, forget the “plus”. It’s only a dream.


Close Encounters of the Woo Kind – Introduction

Posted in Skepdude, Woo by Skepdude on October 16, 2008


NYC will be hosting a mega woo-woo quack festival, at the Hotel New Yorker this coming weekend, 10/17/08-10/19/08. Just in case I have woo believer readers (I doubt it) you can find more info about this event here. I believe you have a constitutional right to attend should you be interested, nevertheless I reserve my constitutional right to call you an idiot if you do (unless you’re a brave skeptic going undercover to report on this farce, in which case you’d be a fearless hero!).

I ran across the printed brochure on my daily coffee lunch break at my local Dunkin Donuts. I took a few copies and one is being mailed to The Amazing man himself, James Randi, at the JREF headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. I hope he tears them up real nice, as he’s known to have done over and over again.

In the mean time if you’d like to look at the brochure on your own, you can find the PDF files here. What I’ve decided to do here at Skepfeeds is to start a new feature, which I’m going to call “Close Encounters of the Woo Kind” in which I will post daily (or so) one of the outrageous adds from the brochure, just to give my loyal readers an idea as to the kind of stupid that will be up for sale this weekend in NYC, and which has been up for sale forever all over the world. I hope you enjoy and please remember to go to your doctor. Crystals, magnets and energy don’t do nothing but put your wallet in a diet!