Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jus' Sayin'

When medicine -in this day & age- has to deal with a pile of "medical" garbage magically transmuted into "real" medicine in the mind of a political hack...

it's no wonder that real scientists and researchers who spend endless hours, blood, sweat and tears at work...that are hit again and again with the cold whip of comunal criticism, sometimes dispair...

Especially, when all you need to "educate" the masses is to claim to see the "answer"...and if your bullshit is good enough, fanning the flames of madness can be had with but the conjured image of an idea...

Noble reflection of reality and inner intimate connection to THE answer for us all?...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Types of Truth...

In a strange way, the truth or "Truth" can have a degree of fuzziness depending on ones perspective. It comes in and out of focus based on the lens one chooses to view it through. In other words, some things are truer than others.

The evolving mind has come up with an intriguing description of this phenomenon and -if nothing else- helps structure this concept so that certain beliefs and philosophies can be categorized more clearly. For example reagrding reality, some points of view concentrate on a tree, others embrace the forest, while others don't even look at trees and concetrate on the "idea" of a tree and still others distill their observations to the worship of scratches and scribbles with no trees in sight.

1. personal truth
A personal truth is what is true for an individual. Personal truths reflect physiological attributes, psychological tendencies and the learning and experiences of an individual.

2. social truth
A social truth is what a distinct group perceives to “be so.” Social truths reflect group history, customs, and values.

3. human truth
A human truth reflects and pertains to the universal dispositions and abilities of our species, Homo sapiens.

Many things that we consider to be inherently true probably reflect distinctive features of human psychology. For instance, because human beings are primates that readily establish and acknowledge dominance hierarchies, the human individual may be predisposed to feeling that there is or could be some entity “greater than me,” whether or not that happens to be true.

4. universal truth
A universal truth is one that all sufficiently intelligent and educated observers, from this planet or any other (should they exist), would conclude to “be so.” For instance, the proportion of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is 3.141592 ( . . . ). This is a universal truth. Any capable, unbiased individual could verify that truth.

A universal truth is the only type of truth that is not relative to the person or group making the claim. Science, by and large, provides us with universal truths. Or it at least aspires to.
Religion, no doubt, reflects social truths, and perhaps, in some regards, human truths as well.

So, this doesn't validate in and of themselves the "new age" philosophies, religions nor postmodernism for example as reality. These edifices are mostly human constructs:

What believers in a religion frequently fail to do is to place possible human truths and their own social truths into a wider perspective.

Good or bad, they are chained and bound well within the subjective bounds of humanity whereas reality expands beyond this realm. Obviously, there may be utility in some of these perspectives, but always if their limitations are acknowledged.

These perspectives or tools work better -if they work at all- at a different level and may or may not reflect reality in a hit or miss sort of way. On the other hand, from a humanistic perspective many of these constructs can serve as useful bridges between us and reality -but again with the caveat that they need to be kept in check.

Reality itself -to an extent- may always be beyond our reach, but there are ways to embrace its essence and approximate an understanding of how things truly are. Here is where the self effacing and correcting community based methodology -science- has proven its worth. It has proven to date to be the most objective human tool available to consistently touch "her" true face.

Acknowledging our humanity in the light of whatever wonders we discover keeps us humbly grounded to ourselves and who we are - just highly social primates on a tiny pale blue dot.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

That Mitchell and Webb Look: Homeopathic A&E

Just wanted to add a link to this hilarious sketch.
Sadly, it does have a morbid side to it as the last post demonstrates.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Homeopathy: What's the harm?

So, inert placebo based ritualistic practices are harmless and should be tolerated as innocent and benign ?

In context, belief based medicine does a lot more harm than one would guess - but you know that. In a modern, fairly stable society these practices may cause less obvious impacts but -even here- if they hold more sway on every day reality than Bugs Bunny, the Simpsons and flying tea kettles we've got problems.

Imagine then, the consternation of those doctors in the trenches working in parts of the world where anarchy, lawlessness, illiteracy and corruption drip from every pore of society when homeopathy is promulgated as a reality.

Here's hoping the WHO will support their very reasonable and humanitarian plea for support.

"Many people in developing countries urgently need access to evidence-based medical information and to the most effective means of treating these dangerous diseases. The promotion of homeopathy as effective or cheaper makes this difficult task even harder. It puts lives at risk, undermines conventional medicine and spreads misinformation.

We are sure that you will recognise these dangers and ask that you issue a clear international communication condemning the promotion of homeopathy for treating TB, infant diarrhoea, influenza, malaria and HIV. We are sure, too, that you will recognise the urgency of our request, and look forward to your response."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spreading the word...

New science based veterinary blog promoting critical thinking!

Though I've been temporarily distracted from my little blog posting hobby, I continue to enjoy the wonderful and thoughtful writings of so many excellent thinkers.

As the scourges of psuedoscience, dogma and crankery continue their assault on reason and so many seem to trod a stuporous mindless path, it's very gratifying to note that there are many knowledgeable folks out there willing to take the time and energy to be "candles in the dark"...beacons of intellectual honesty and authentic reason.

In that vein, I am pleased to bring to your attention a new veterinary medicine site and its associated blog of note chalk full of critical thinking and reasoned posts. Please add The and The Skepvet blog to your links and enjoy some great reading!

Keep up the great work, we need it... !!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Acupuncture: forget the qi & meridians...AND any strong placebo effect

...even more dead in the water than thought.
There is an interesting research study published January 2009 regarding acupuncture treatment for pain. The most interesting thing about it is that it seems acupuncture isn't even much of a placebo, let alone anything else related to real healng. The second most interesting development as a result of this study is the almost comical cognitive dissonance from several media players as well as acupuncture apologists.

DC's improbable science has the goods and excellent discussion regarding the study and some of the sadly predictable -albeit quite athletic- false positive mental "spin" on the obviously negative implications for the institution that is acupuncture itself.

Dr Colquhoun notes in the comments section that even "modern" acupuncture denuded of the archaic and imaginative sophistry of "qi", points or meridians is dealt what could be a fatal blow:

"It’s true that the Medical acupuncture people, Adrian White et al. have abandoned the hocus pocus, and seem happy to admit that it doesn’t matter where the needles go. But that was already well-established before these last lot of reviews.

It was also quite well established already that in a non-blind comparison of acupuncture versus no acupuncture, the acupuncture wins.

The really new thing in the Madsen paper is that although acupuncture still beats no acupuncture, the advantage is too small to be much use to patients. So it may be a theatrical placebo, but the placebo effect isn’t big enough to matter in real life.

If this conclusion is confirmed by others, then acupuncture is dead. You can’t even make the (morally-dubious) argument that it’s a good placebo."
(my bold)

It's important to note that non-blind studies severely limit the quality of interpretations, especially for elucidating any effects beyond a placebo. Other superior studies clearly reveal no putative acupuncture effects beyond chance or placebo. In essence, as the study design improves acupuncture effects disappear.

Remember, this particular study relates to the very nebulous, variable and personal concept of pain- a realm fraught with confounding factors. Many studies regarding acupuncture effects deal with these rather subjective areas because that's pretty much what is left as the search for bigger effects has proven fruitless. If it is this hard to tease out any real acupuncture effect here from the a back ground noise of probability, acupuncture -as a legitimate medical modality- has a big, big problem.

Yet some people just don't get it...and the credulous will likely still drink deep from the twisted rhetorical kool aid and "feel" good.

Trusting the medical literature

really nothing always... just take it with a grain of salt
Dr RW has an interesting post where he responds to Dr Marcia Angells JAMA commentary where she questions the ability to practice evidence based medicine noting that "Physicians can no longer rely on the medical literature for valid and reliable information".

Though, as pointed out by Dr RW, there are prescient challenges and significant problems reagrding industry and non-industry supported research, Dr Angells assertion -reminiscent of the "pharma is all evil" canard- indeed seems far too simplistic.

Unfortunately, her opinion -though important and worth measured consideration- may be taken as fact and used by the ideological or the less scientifically literate to distract from a more balanced approach to considering a litany of real problems. Indeed, the research landscape is far from the useless state Dr Angell seems to claim.

As Dr RW notes:
"What then are practicing doctors to do? Angell’s statement above suggests that in the current environment the practice of evidence based medicine and science based medicine are impossible. Nonsense. EBM is premised on the fact that all research reports have weaknesses and are to be viewed with skepticism. SBM, recognizing that EBM lacks the tools to examine all claims, goes a step further by evaluating reports in light of prior research and scientific plausibility. In short, doctors have the tools to critically appraise the medical literature. It’s hard to believe Dr. Angell wants to abandon EBM altogether."
(My bold)

Hopefully that is not her intent. Dr Angell does seem to favor an "independent body" to serve as overseer and provider of clinical option fraught with many of the same problems beguiling the present research environment.

In the end, as these issues are -hopefully- objectively and pragmatically addressed, Dr RWs' call to using evidence and science based approaches and tools when evaluating data will continue to serve practitioners and their patients well.

"Storm" live by Tim Minchin

Just too good to let slip by....
Tim Minchin graciously provided for purview a wonderful live version of STORM
(lyrics posted here).


Case studies in debunking fallacious thinking: anti-vaccine apologists and acupuncture "effects"considered

Here are three fabulous examples of lucid and clear analysis in action against the dogma and fallacy of ideological thought - critical thinking at it's best.

These excellent fellow bloggers confront psuedo-science with clear, referenced, factual and reality based discussion cooly eviscerating delusional thinking; whether confronting antivaccine supporter claims or analyzing putative acupuncture "effects".

Very refreshing and stimulating...think I'll do a post on an animal related psuedo-science issue soon.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cectic on skepticism

WildEarth and close up

The WildEarth.TV site is a great way to experience the fascinating world of the African wild in an intimate and interactive way.

"LIVE wildlife broadcasting is set to become an important part of natural history TV, why not join the experts and help make the revolution a reality ... it's in your nature."

Very cool!

Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy

Very nice and well written piece in the New York Times.

"The knock on science from its cultural and religious critics is that it is arrogant and materialistic...So the story goes...But this is balderdash. Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Statistical Literacy Guide

DC's Improbable Science has an interesting link -the Statistical Literacy Guide- located in the UK commons library archive regarding the oft misunderstood and abused science of statistics.

This is a great read and introduces the reader to many of the nuances of statistical analysis and how these important tools can be inappropriately spun "a la politico" into down right meaningless and vacuous interpretations.

A very helpful piece for those of us trying to tease out real meaning from a sea of confusion regarding "new" (or old) research purported to "prove" or support grandiose claims that pop up from most every sector in the medical and -especially- the psuedo-medical world.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Medicines that contain no medicine and other follies

David Colquhoun wrote a very nice article regarding the blurring between "alternative medicine" and outright quackery and self delusion. This is an important statement in the struggle to redirect all too limited funds towards more appropriate areas of medical research.

It also brings to the fore a telling problem for Complementary and Alternative supporters. They just don't know when to call off or discontinue a modality when there is little or no supporting evidence of efficacy.

Some of the commentators I read on this humble blog seem to exude a mix of active denialism, ignorance or mistrust of scientific methodology and a curious rigid undergirding of belief based opinions not very amenable to objectivity.

Indeed, many in the CAM field defend their particular fixations (be it acupuncture, homeopathy, nutritional supplement...etc.) claiming "more studies are needed"ad infinitum, that you just can't properly test it -when you can if it's real, that it's "complicated" (appeal to complexity) or "you do it too" accusations (Tu Quoque).

They very commonly support demands and claims with an astounding quagmire of classical fallacious reasoning (dare I say mental masturbation) and resist reality and science based information - especially if it is unsupportive of their cause.

Dr Colquhoun nicely sums up some CAM modalities as follows (I'm sure to the shagrin of beleivers) thusly:

"Homeopathy: giving patients medicines that contain no medicine whatsoever.

Herbal medicine: giving patients an unknown dose of a medicine, of unknown effectiveness and unknown safety.

Acupuncture: a rather theatrical placebo, with no real therapeutic benefit in most if not all cases.

Chiropractic: an invention of a 19 th century salesmen, based on nonsensical principles, and shown to be no more effective than other manipulative therapies, but less safe.

Reflexology: plain old foot massage, overlaid with utter nonsense about non-existent connections between your feet and your thyroid gland.

Nutritional therapy: self-styled ‘nutritionists’ making unjustified claims about diet to sell unnecessary supplements."

At any rate, read the article when you can.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How can you recognize pseudoscience?

What is it?....How can I recognize it?

"A pseudoscience is a belief or process which masquerades as science in an attempt to claim a legitimacy which it would not otherwise be able to achieve on its own terms; it is often known as fringe- or alternative science. The most important of its defects is usually the lack of the carefully controlled and thoughtfully interpreted experiments which provide the foundation of the natural sciences and which contribute to their advancement.

Of course, the pursuit of scientific knowledge usually involves elements of intuition and guesswork; experiments do not always test a theory adequately, and experimental results can be incorrectly interpreted or even wrong. In legitimate science, however, these problems tend to be self-correcting, if not by the original researchers themselves, then through the critical scrutiny of the greater scientific community. Critical thinking is an essential element of science -----------------------------------------




The primary goal of science is to achieve a more complete and more unified understanding of the physical world.Pseudosciences are more likely to be driven by ideological, cultural, or commercial goals.

Some examples: astrology (from ancient Babylonian culture,) UFO-ology (popular culture and mistrust of government), Creation Science (attempt to justify a literal interpretation of the Bible), "structure-altered" waters (commercial quackery.)

Most scientific fields are the subjects of intense research which result in the continual expansion of knowledge in the discipline.The field has evolved very little since it was first established. The small amount of research and experimentation that is carried out is generally done more to justify the belief than to extend it.The search for new knowledge is the driving force behind the evolution of any scientific field. Nearly every new finding raises new questions that beg exploration. There is little evidence of this in the pseudosciences.

Workers in the field commonly seek out counterexamples or findings that appear to be inconsistent with accepted theories.

In the pseudosciences, a challenge to accepted dogma is often considered a hostile act if not heresy, and leads to bitter disputes or even schisms. Sciences advance by accommodating themselves to change as new information is obtained.

In science, the person who shows that a generally accepted belief is wrong or incomplete is more likely to be considered a hero than a heretic.

Observations or data that are not consistent with current scientific understanding, once shown to be credible, generate intense interest among scientists and stimulate additional studies.Observations or data that are not consistent with established beliefs tend to be ignored or actively suppressed.Have you noticed how self-styled psychics always seem eager to announce their predictions for the new year, but never like to talk about how many of last years' predictions were correct?
Science is a process in which each principle must be tested in the crucible of experience and remains subject to being questioned or rejected at any time.The major tenets and principles of the field are often not falsifiable, and are unlikely ever to be altered or shown to be wrong.Enthusiasts incorrectly take the logical impossibility of disproving a pseudoscientific priniciple as evidence of its validity.
Scientific ideas and concepts must stand or fall on their own merits, based on existing knowledge and on evidence.Pseudoscientific concepts tend to be shaped by individual egos and personalities, almost always by individuals who are not in contact with mainstream science. They often invoke authority (a famous name, for example) for support.Have you ever noticed how proponents of pseudoscientific ideas are more likely to list all of the degrees they have?
Scientific explanations must be stated in clear, unambigous terms.Pseudoscientific explanations tend to be vague and ambiguous, often invoking scientific terms in dubious contexts.Phrases such as "energy vibrations" or "subtle energy fields" may sound impressive, but they are essentially meaningless.

Chiropractic wishfull thinking...

...pediatric specialty???

The chirotak discussion forum has a very enlightening thread regarding chiropractic perdiatric specialty training.
Really, no surprises.

Pediatrics: DC vs. MD Training« Thread Started on Dec 6, 2007, 10:34pm »

I have been looking through websites of various "Pediatric" Chiropractors and most seem to be very proud that they obtained their "Pediatric Certification" by completing a 300 hour course.

Let's compare the number of hours of training in Pediatrics:

DC= 300 hours at the Holiday Inn
MDPediatrician= 80 hrs/week X 50 weeks X 3 years= 12,000 hrs

Now how about those who treat childhood asthma and allergy:

DC= 300 hours at the Holiday Inn
MD Pediatric Allergist :-----12,000 hrs for basic Pediatric Residency------8,000 hrs for Pediatric Allergy Fellowship GRAND TOTAL= 20,000 hrs of training

1) Do they bring newborn babies to the Holiday Inn so the DCs can practice adjustment?
A. Yes
B. No

2) If not, where do the DCs get their clinical practice on newborns?
A. Motel 6
B. Airport Best Western
C. Days Inn
D. They get no clinical practice

3) How delusional must one be to adjust a newborn or treat childhood asthma or epilepsy with some bogus nonsense?
A. Very
B. Very, very

4) What in chiropractic "philosophy" allows a DC to be an expert in vaccination and infectious disease?
A. Sid said so
B. It has to do with nerve energy
C. C3 is pressing on the pituitary
D. Nothing.....nothing at all

5) Is the infectious disease seminar always held at the Holiday Inn or can it sometimes be at the Ramada?
A. Always at the Holiday Inn
B. Sometimes at the Ramada
C. Holiday Inn on South Cobb Parkway only
D. Holiday Inn off of Delk Road and I-75 only

Detoxin' your wallet dry!

...on todays snake oils
Steven Novella at Nuerologica blog has -as usual- an excellent take down of some really juicy pseudoscience and related hubris that can only be described as classic scam artistry.

He notes "There is a cycle to the snake oil market - like the fashion industry. Words and claims come in and out of fashion, used for marketing impact rather than scientific accuracy. Some words, like “natural” and “energy” have staying power, while others last for a time and then may fade, but can come back into fashion like wide ties.... Recently “detox” is all the rage."

Dr Novella notes that the Sense about Science group is in the forefront of taking down the ridiculous and spurious claims purveyors of "detox" nostrums blantantly trumpet to a sadly creduluos populace.

As their Debunking Detox pamphlet puts it:

" The multi million pound detox industry sells products with little evidence to support their use. These products trade on claims about the body which are often wrong and can be dangerous."

Dr Novella concludes his post noting that "What the marketers of detox products have done is made the term “detox” meaningless - actually the term now is nothing but a red flag for snake oil."

On a related note, I was recently introduced to a "super juice" supplement product called Goji juice. Of course it's supposed to be nothing short of some miraculous nectar from the gods.


Under closer scrutiny, other than being made from dehydrated goji berrys from China, this product does not live up to the rather outlandish claims of many of its distributors (looks like fodder for a future investigative post!).

In fact, these wild statements are reminsent of the false hype and hyperbole from the Mangosteen crowd. It's the same old pimping up of some "exotic" special elixir....basically fruit juice in a golden wrapper. An interesting skeptical blog seeks to take this issue head on. I wish them well!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Emperor’s postmodern clothes

The often over the top relativism in much of today’s academic environment (perhaps with emphasis in the humanities) is an increasingly frustrating phenomenon. The seemingly stunning disregard for evidential empiricism and apathy towards observable reality has resulted, for example, in the metastasis of un-proven and dubious medical modalities into the very institutions charged to protect reason and critical thought.

Here is a humorous comparative list translating some “politically correct” phrases into what is really meant when they are uttered. Postmodernism is an interesting philosophical exercise with respect to human social interactions, but it does have one major drawback if extended beyond the realm of the mind – reality.

A brief guide to deconstructing academically fashionable phrases for the uninitiated (partial exerpt)

David A. Levy

All points of view are equally valid

…….I am willing to abandon all logic and evidence just to maintain the illusion that I am being open-minded and fair.

There is no objective reality

…….except for what I’m saying right now.

In our culture, empiricism is over-privileged

…….I don’t have any facts to back up my argument.

I’m not saying better,I’m saying different

…..I’m saying better.

Let us start a dialogue

….Let me start a monologue.

This warrants more conversation

…I can’t believe that you have the temerity not to agree with me.

Don’t you think that sounds kind of racist?

….good luck disagreeing with me now.

One can prove anything with statistics

…I should have paid more attention in stats class.

The interreferential nature of our phenomenological field can be neither deconstructed nor decontextualized from our ontological meta-narrative

…Don’t I sound really intellectual and hip?

Science is merely one more opinion

…My Uncle Bill told me so.

Ref: Skeptical Inquirer Vol32, No. 6 Nov/Dec 2008

Sunday, January 4, 2009

An acupuncture fallacy in action

...confusing correlation with causation (among other things…)

For the last 6 weeks, Sam the dog had been seen and treated with acupuncture for an undetermined lameness by a local “natural” veterinarian who specializes in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture therapy. Sam was being seen by a conventional vet and wasn’t responding typically to palliative treatment. That is, he would get better and then get worse intermittently.

After declining, for the moment, further diagnostics this veterinarian grudgingly ceded to the clients wishes to pursue alternative treatments making clear –to her credit- the difference between science and non-science based modalities. This is an unfortunate, yet fairly common scenario among a percentage of many a veterinarians client roster. The ever present, albeit usually tiny, clad of holistically oriented people who innocently –and sometimes tragically- muffle and slow the course of getting to the bottom of a case like Sam.

On the other hand, this is fairly familiar territory and many veterinarians will attempt to establish some kind of continued interaction with these folks in the interest of their patients. In fact, to some alternative veterinarians’ credit there are those who insist on some type of interaction with science based practice and require that a “conventional” diagnosis be given.

That most of these cases are either chronically or terminally ill patients undergoing a constellation of naturally occurring waxing & waning cycles of disease seems to be overlooked –especially when they are experiencing a usually quite temporary upswing. Anything good is ultimately and erroneously attributed to whatever strange concoction or instrument is used.

Because Sam wasn’t responding “as expected” it was determined -quite correctly by the attending alternative vet- that a clearer diagnosis was needed. The regular conventional veterinarian was called on to now pursue a diagnosis after the clients’ discussion with their alternative vet. Yes, the irony is duly noted.

However, by claiming that the acupuncture treatment wasn’t working and actually making the problem worse he used the wrong reasons. Whether an animal is getting better or worse, without a profound knowledge base of the natural history of disease and a good dollop of solid science based studies and data supporting the therapy being used, you really can’t claim anything –good or bad.

It turns out Sam the dog was dying from a severely malignant form of spinal bone cancer. He was basically terminal from day one and is now under focused conventional and humane end of life care…and Chinese herbs for cancer. Any improvement quite possibly will be attributed to the herbs.

The main point of this tale is that when something bad happens in the realm of alternative medicine, the problem is often attributed to an equivocal diagnosis, or that the alternative treatment was started too late, or that some diseases are made worse by one alternative modality…all mostly claims made without any solid evidence (including -on balance- acupuncture studies).

…and here’s one of the big problems. There is always something else to try or mix with the science…often without really knowing what’s going on. This brings all involved dangerously close to the edge of a dark abyss.

Without the proper tools -the light of reason- we're destined to stumble through interminable blind alleys and false hopes...armed with little more than hat tricks to bide the time.

World of the small

Every now and again, the MSN home site presents some interesting stuff that's relatively free of the medias general tendency to -all too commonly- report sciency things in a short sighted dim witted sort of way.

Here is a fascinating exposition of winning images from Nikons annual small world phot0micrography competition. Check it out!

Some of my favorites:

Artists rendering of an alien cyborg? Actually a chicken embryo photographed at 6X. ( by Tomas Pais de Azevedo of Lisbon, Portugal, using stereomicroscopy.)

A Borg mother ship? Really, a 14x image of rare mineral called arsenuranospathite. (It was submitted by Stephan Wolfsried of Germany.)

Rows of towels hanging in the midst of some Florence neighborhood? No, this beauty is a 100x magnification of scales on the wing of Urania riphaeus, the sunset moth. (The fiber-optic illumination was submitted by Charles Krebs from Issaquah, Wash.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A myth busters' obsession

Adam Savage of “Myth Busters” fame demonstrates, in this talk, some of the qualities that define the essence of human inquiry and discovery so crucial to authentic enlightenment. Could this be called a healthy obsession? Yep…and the type of focus and energy needed to look under the mask of mystery to reveal untold riches of knowledge.

Tim Minchin asks at the end of his beautifully brutal deconstruction of credulity in his poem “Storm”,

Isn't this enough? Just, this world? Just this Beautiful, Complex, Wonderfully Unfathomable, Natural, World? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap man-made myths and monsters?”

Indeed. One wonders if the opiate of the masses –credulous belief- will ever be put back on the shelf of human character quirks’. Perhaps still vital to a degree, but best taken off the pedestal it’s on.

(hat tip Bad Astronomy)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Understanding Chopra woo

Another reason to support separation of "church" and medicine...
Being that there are a lot of folks who think Dr. Chopra has unique qualifications and solidly researched support for his quest to "integrate" scientific medicine with whispy shades of a strange belief based system -religion- here are two well put together posts regarding Deepak Chopras modus operandi.

"Chopra is a doctor, supposedly, but every time I read something by him that touches on biology, he sounds as ignorant as your average creationist. He also writes incredibly poorly, bumbling his way forward with a succession of unlikely and indefensible claims. "

Skeptico 2005
"Skepticism has become a legitimate form of inquiry that Deepak parenthetically acknowledges (in a left-handed sort of way) as occasionally laudable, another refrain we often hear in the form of “I’m a skeptic too, but…,” where skepticism is fine as long as it is someone else’s codswallop under the microscope."

It is important to note that Chopra, over the years, has developed whole made up world views from stunningly naive, flimsy and often outright wrong assumptions about the actual nature of phenomena around him.

Mind you he has said some pretty interesting things regarding human wisdom and how we can all get along but this guy is just as fallible and screwed up as any of us. He really needs to get off that high horse and admit it though.

If Chopra wants to promulgate a belief system, that's fine. What he can't -or at least shouldn't be aloud to do- is force this system on everybody else. This is exactly what he would like to do imposing "magic" based medicine onto science based medicine.

He should just get real, put on a priest robe, stick to teaching ancient Hindu wisdom and call it good.

Deepak Chopra does it again...

...or on being an uncritical CAM apologist
...or how to insert foot in mouth

Orac has a nice response to Chopras most recent "rebutal" against reason which just so happens to be related to yesterdays post about Steve Salernos very fine take down of the "Integrative" medicine movement. For good measure, Chopra calls on the "authority" of alternative medicine experts Andrew Weil and Rustum Roy to shore up his vain effort to claim scientific legitimacy -failing miserably.

As Orac notes "... Basically, the argument being made by the Woo-meisters Three boils down to an attack on evidence-based medicine based on exaggeration and cherry picking, topped off with a huge dollop of conspiracy-mongering and playing the victim. There is not a single positive, science-based argument that Chopra's woo or Andrew Weil's "integration" of the dubious with the evidence-based produces better health outcomes than the evidence-based medicine they attack..." can dress it up with the finest of imaginary cloth...but it still comes down to one simple fact...the emporers' still butt naked!

The bigger problem though, as Salerno points out so eloquently, is that in spite of the fact that most of the alternative movement is more illusion than real...more belief based than fact based...more bullshit and sofist rhetoric than a real reflection of is poised to adversely influence and contaminate an already severely strained health system.

The Chinese did something like this decades ago. They dressed up -made up- a scam health system to "appease" the populace who were devoid of access to science based medicine. It was called Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Orac nails it with this ominous warning:

"...Chopra's article demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt is that advocates of unscientific medicine and quackery apologists are a potent political force, and their new strategy has become clear. With the impending inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States, they see a huge opportunity in his plans to overhaul the government health care system to insert into legislation provisions that will pay for unproven and pseudoscientific CAM/IM modalities. They will sell these provisions as "reform" and as "health maintenance," when they represent neither."

It is my hope his voice and the many others calling for reason be heard.


It appears Dr. Chopra has earned an additional well deserved laser guided intellectual thumping from Skeptico:

"Chopra’s piece is just one logical fallacy after another. This is Chopra's article, summarized:
Ad hominem
Appeal to authority
Red herring
Science was wrong before
Appeal to other ways of knowing
Straw man

Add claims of “concerted research and clinical practice” that his woo works, without one shred of evidence that his woo works, and you have Chopra’s entire article. (He should employ me as his editor.)"

Thursday, January 1, 2009

"Alternative" Medicine and Bullshit

...either way, the stink still comes through

"The Touch That Doesn't Heal" is a very insightful article regarding the rather sad tale of the insiduous and undeserved penetration of unproven...and disproven (within the realm of reason) "alternative' or "integrative" therapies into more mainstream medicine.

Steve Salerno nicely articulates the problem of incorporating therapuetic modalities built on smoke and mirror "logic" into the real world of disease, limited funds and the false assumptions of efficacy proffered by CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) to a credulous population (many doctors included).

"...A survey of 32,000 Americans by the National Center for Health Statistics, released earlier this month, suggests that 38% of adults use some form of "complementary and alternative medicine," or CAM -- now aggressively promoted for everything from Attention Deficit Disorder to the Zoster virus. The survey polled consumers on 10 provider-based therapies -- for example, acupuncture -- and 26 home remedies, such as herbal supplements.

On the other hand, it should be noted that all is not lost. The reality of CAMs inroads may not be as entrenched as appears as suggested by Mark Crislips excellent post at the Science Based Medicine Blog . Still, there is a critical disconnect -a collective cognitve dissonence- opening a "back door" and for non-science based practices to garner a legitamacy that doesn't exist. You can use all the perfume you'd like...but bullshit is bullshit and that ol' smell eventually comes through!

Salerno continues "...This should be a laughing matter, but it isn't -- not with the Obama administration about to confront the snarling colossus of healtallowing h-care reform. Today's ubiquitous celebration of "empowerment," combined with disenchantment over the cost, bureaucracy and possible side effects of conventional care, has spurred an exodus from medical orthodoxy. As a result, what was once a ragtag assortment of New Age nostrums has metastasized into a multibillion-dollar industry championed by dozens of lobbyists and their congressional sympathizers..."

"Indeed, one of the great ironies of modern health care is that many of the august medical centers that once went to great lengths to vilify nontraditional methods as quackery now have brought those regimens in-house. "We're all channeling East Indian healers along with doing gall-bladder removal," says Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. Mr. Caplan harbors no illusions about what's behind the trend: "It's not as noble as, 'I want to be respectful to Chinese healing arts.' It's more, 'People are spending a fortune on this stuff! We could do this plus our regular stuff and bill 'em for all of it!'..."

"...Meanwhile, CAM has secured its own beachhead within the National Institutes of Health in the form of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). "Special commercial interests and irrational, wishful thinking created NCCAM," writes Wallace Sampson, a medical doctor and director of the National Council Against Health Fraud, on the Web site And Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa), who credited bee pollen with quelling his allergies, was single-handedly responsible for the $2 million earmark that provided seed money for NCCAM, chartered in 1992 as the Office of Alternative Medicine. Despite the $1 billion spent in the interim, the center has failed to affirm a single therapy that can withstand the rigors of science..."

This article is well worth reading. One take away is that the battle for reason goes on...and on. Here's to a great year of critical thinking!