There is an American group called Homeopaths without Borders (HWB), who claims that it provides humanitarian aid, in the form of homeopathic “medicine”, to devastated areas of the world. The more famous group that does real lifesaving work across the world, Doctors without Borders, are probably too busy, utilizing real evidence-based medicine with real medications, risking their own lives, and performing great service humanity, to be worried that a bunch of pseudoscientific homeopaths stole their noble trademark to push quackery.
HWB is sending their water magicians to Haiti, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador, all countries that have suffered so much during the past few years. During their time in Haiti, “the team will be in Port-au-Prince to complete the final session of the Fundamentals Program—a foundational curriculum in homeopathic therapeutics incorporating theoretical and clinical training.” So not only are they providing nonsense, useless, unscientific healthcare to Haiti, they are training new homeopaths there. Haiti needs to train real doctors who use science based medicine, not quack medicine.
If you’re a fan of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (TBBT), a show about five highly educated geek/hipsters (and all doing scientific research as their career, which makes me happy that my career choice ended up as a great TV show) and the girl next door who is in love with one of the highly educated geek/hipsters. One of the main characters is Amy Farrah Fowler, who is a Ph.D. level neurobiologist who has a complicated relationship with one of the male characters on the show. At this point, you’d be wondering if I was hallucinating, because how could Amy Farrah Fowler be a twin of Jenny McCarthy, let alone an evil twin?
But there’s a method to my madness. Or logic.
Unless you were studying meltwater lakes in the Arctic (an overhyped and incorrect story, by the way), you probably knew that the former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy was chosen by ABC TV (in the USA) to be a co-host on the daytime talk show, The View. Let’s just say that this has not been met positively by much of the skeptical, pro-science blogging and journalism community. In fact, from what I’ve read, hardly anyone but the vaccine denier lunatic fringe is happy about her choice a co-host.
Dr. Fowler is played by the actress Mayim Bialik, who is not only a fairly accomplished actress, starring in two successful TV series (Blossom being the other), but during a break from acting she went to college and graduate school, and earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from an academically elite university, UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles). In other words, Dr. Bialik is everything that Jenny McCarthy is not–she is a successful actress with fairly good comedic abilities, she is extremely well educated at a real university (as opposed to Jenny McCarthy’s claim of being educated at the University of Google), and, as far as I know, Bialik has not posed nude for Playboy, though I suppose that being featured in Playboy is not an indicator of intellect.
To be honest, I thought it would be great to see a young, well educated woman succeeding on a hit TV show. Moreover, she gets to play a young, well-educated, albeit somewhat more nerdy, dopplegänger of her real life self on TBBT.
So you’re asking, exactly how can she be an evil twin of the uneducated, unsuccessful, Playboy-shilling, McCarthy?
One of the tropes of pseudoscience pushers is that science is too fungible, that is, scientists can change their mind or, horrors of horrors, refuse to make an absolute “this is the TRUTH™” statement. There are numerous articles, published in peer-reviewed, high impact factor journals, that state “more research should be done to confirm these results.” The anti-science crowd uses these comments as “evidence” that science isn’t sure about something.
Black/white absolute truth doesn’t exist in real science. Many people state that science “seeks truth,” and it does, if we do not ascribe moral qualities to the word “truth.” Actually, science seeks evidence to support or refute a hypothesis (or some other scientific principle like a theory). It’s all about the evidence (and the quality thereof), not about proving that it’s either this or that.
Part of the problem, amongst both “pro-science” and anti-science types is that they both think that science is some magical word to either be loved or despised depending on the answer it provides. But science is, in reality, a coherent method to find an answer to a question about the natural universe, but it is not itself the answer. Science is a systematic and logical process, using the scientific method, that finds and builds data, and eventually knowledge, into testable explanations and predictions about the natural universe. it is not a magical word that implies truth, but it is a rigorous process to separate meaningless information from high quality evidence in support or refutation of an explanation of the natural world.
Oftentimes, someone will report that “scientists believe that birds are living dinosaurs” or “scientists believe humans cause global warming.” To the lay audience that sounds like a bunch of men and women, sitting in an apartment with a keg of beer, a dartboard, and inventing some new theory. OK, in my experience, we have often sat around with a keg of beer and a dartboard, but we were discussing 10 years of research and how to sum it up clearly. Or wondering if a new set of results adds to the data or may actually move us in a different direction. But all of it was based on many years of hard work (including education, bench and field research, withering criticisms from peers and mentors, and countless nights of worrying if an experiment would fail because the power went off), not just making a random guess.
Moreover, even after hard work, publications, and critiques, science is filled with doubt. New evidence, as long as it is as strong as the evidence that supported a previously held explanation, can create new explanations and predictions. The whole scientific process is based upon criticism, open-mindedness and accumulation of new data. It’s not based on “ok, we’re done, we’ve answered all of the questions.” Science evolves over times, because it simply isn’t dogmatic.
(more…) «Science is not based on…»
You’ve probably seen their commercials spread over all of the major TV networks. Beautiful scenes. Well-kept hospitals which often to appear to be near empty. And an anecdote or two or three from presumably real patients who describe their experience at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), a private, for-profit operator of cancer treatment hospitals and outpatient clinics which provide both conventional and alternative medical treatments. Included in their treatment plans are chiropractic and naturopathy, neither of which have any evidence whatsoever in providing any healthcare benefit to patients, let alone those suffering from cancer.
Reuters recently published an in-depth report on the validity of the claims that are made by CTCA in its advertising. Here are some of the ones specifically mentioned:
- For breast cancer, CTCA claims that its survival rate after 3.5 years post-diagnosis is about 42%, compared to the National Cancer Institute’s SEER (Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results) Program result (more or less a nationwide average) of about 29%. That’s a 13% improvement.
- For prostate cancer, CTCA claims that its 4 year survival rate is 20 points higher.
- For advanced colon cancer, CTCA claims that its 1.5 year survival rate is 11 points higher.
(more…) «Cancer Treatment Centers of America…»
Yes, there is a group called Homeopaths without Borders. Apparently, the group that does lifesaving work across the world, Doctors without Borders, are too busy, utilizing real evidence-based medicine with real medications, risking their own lives, and doing great works, to be worried about homeopathy, a pseudoscientific concept, even if this group steals their imprimatur without shame.
Homeopaths without Borders are sending their water magicians to Haiti, a country that has had to suffer so much during the past few years. During their time their, “the team will be in Port-au-Prince to complete the final session of the Fundamentals Program—a foundational curriculum in homeopathic therapeutics incorporating theoretical and clinical training.” Clinical training on the poor residents of Haiti? Have they not suffered enough?
(more…) «“Homeopaths without Borders” going to…»
A few weeks ago, Gilles-Eric Séralini and his homeopathy loving coauthor published an article in Food and Chemical Toxicology that concluded that glyphosate (known as Roundup)-resistant NK603 GMO corn, developed by Monsanto, causes severe diseases such as tumors in rats. That study was quickly picked up by many anti-science groups and broadcast widely as “GMO corn cause cancer.”
- Science-Based Medicine » Antivaccine versus anti-GMO: Different goals, same methods.
- Bad science about GMOs: It reminds me of the antivaccine movement – Respectful Insolence.
- NeuroLogica Blog » The GM Corn Rat Study.
- Study linking GM crops and cancer questioned – health – 19 September 2012 – New Scientist.
- Control Freaks » Blog Archive » Why I think the Seralini GM feeding trial is bogus.
- Illumination: Rats, Tumors and Critical Assessment of Science.
(more…) «Dr. Oz falls for the…»
It’s getting close to winter once again, so people always recommend their various lotions and potions to either prevent the common cold or, at least, to reduce the course of the disease. Alternative medicine’s favorite disease to treat is the common cold, mainly because it’s an easy disease to handle without too many serious problems. Also, from the patient’s perspective, the length and seriousness of the cold is usually very subjective, since the patient has a difficult time making an accurate determination when the cold started or ended, and making a quantitative assessment of the seriousness of the disease. Moreover, confirmation bias is usually the reason one hears that something worked for the cold–the person who reports some product works forgets all the times it doesn’t. Or completely misjudges the actual effects of any treatment.
The list of products that you might run across in your local pharmacy that claim to have an effect on the common cold are many. Zinc, oscillococcinum, garlic, and vitamin C. I wrote about these products last winter, and they mostly don’t work. The strangest cold remedy you might find is oscillococcinum, which is a homeopathic preparation derived from duck liver and heart, diluted to 200C, or 200 1:100 dilutions. In other words, in a liter of water there are precisely no molecules of duck guts. And there isn’t any logical explanation of a possible mechanism that would allow one to conclude that duck offal has an effect on cold viruses. Though Oscillococcinum is supposed to be used for flus, many use it for colds, but it doesn’t matter, why would a diluted potion of duck guts cure any virus? Well, Cochrane Reviews concluded that ”current evidence does not support a preventative effect of Oscillococcinum-like homeopathic medicines in influenza and influenza-like syndromes.”
(more…) «Echinacea and the common cold–Myth…»
Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.
Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the US, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called global warming skepticism, because “skeptic” was stolen by the pseudoskeptics, but plainly is a right-wing belief across the world, often intersecting closely with the evolution deniers. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.
Global warming or evolution is supported by a massive mountain of scientific evidence. Both are theories that are “ well-substantiated explanations of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” As I have stated before, rhetoric and debate are not going to refute these theories. We demand scientific data, produced in world class laboratories that have been published in top tier, high quality journals, subject to withering criticism. After time, they will either be accepted into the body of evidence or rejected. That’s how science works. It’s not a political debate where the person with the loudest voice wins.
(more…) «GMO opponents are the global…»
We frequently use the term “pseudoscience” to describe the ideology of certain groups: antivaccinationists, evolution deniers (creationists), global warming deniers, HIV/AIDS denialism, and almost anything in the areas of parapsychology, alternative medicine, and sasquatch. The science denialists (broadly defined as any group who rejects the scientific consensus on any subject without valid scientific support) always seem to be insulted by the word “pseudoscience”, even though the name is given to them both as a pejorative, but also because its based on their non-scientific, but scientific-sounding method of providing information.
In fact, there are several hallmarks that indicate to most educated individuals as to what is or is not pseudoscience. Real science is a systematic and rational method to organize and analyze “knowledge” into testable explanations and predictions. Sometimes, it appears that the anti-science crowd believes that science is just a word, not a philosophy which is organized as the scientific method. It isn’t some magical system that only smart people in secret ivory towers practice. The scientific method is simply a set of logical steps:
- Formulate a question: Based on observations of the natural world. Maybe you notice that sky is blue, and you ask “why is the sky blue?” Or “how do I design a vaccine to encourage the immune system to prevent a virus from causing a disease?” Of course, the questions can become much more complex as we make more detailed observations of the our world.
- Hypothesis: An hypothesis is a conjecture, based on the knowledge obtained while formulating the question, that may explain the observed behavior of a part of our universe. The hypothesis may be broad or very narrow. One could make a hypothesis that life can evolve on many planets across the universe. Or one could make a hypothesis that a drug can cure a disease in a small population of individuals. A proper hypothesis must include a null hypothesis, that is, the scientist must be willing to test that the null hypothesis is also false (a sort of double negative). This null hypothesis is that the new vaccine does nothing and that any disease prevention are due to chance effects. Researchers must also show that the null hypothesis is false. A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable, meaning that one can identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis; otherwise, it cannot be meaningfully tested. This all sounds complicated, but digested down to its simplest form, it means that a scientist is always willing to attempt to prove that the hypothesis is wrong.
- Prediction: Once a hypothesis is developed, then the a prediction (or more than one prediction) is made based on the hypothesis. For example, if a vaccine is supposed to prevent a disease, then the prediction is made that it prevents some some amount of the disease above what would be assumed just by random chance. For example, without the vaccine it might be predicted that only 10% of individuals might be immune to the disease, but with the vaccine, it would be predicted that 85% would be immune. In all fields of science, the hypothesis leads to predictions which are different than what would be found simply by coincidence or randomness. Also, the hypothesis must be powerful enough to create more accurate predictions than alternative hypotheses.
- Test: This is the conducting of experiments or investigations to determine whether the real world behaves as predicted by the hypotheses. These experiments are observations which will agree with or conflict with the predictions; if they agree, then the confidence in the hypothesis will increase. On the other hand, if there is conflict, the confidence will, of course, decrease. Experiments should be designed to minimize possible errors, especially through the use of appropriate scientific controls. Medical and drug experiments utilize double-blind clinical trials to limit confirmation bias, a tendency towards confirmation of the hypothesis under study.
- Analysis: This involves determining what the results of the experiment show and deciding on the next actions to take. The predictions of the hypothesis are compared to those of the null hypothesis, to determine which is better able to explain the data. In cases where an experiment is repeated many times, a statistical analysis such as a chi-squared test may be required. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and one’s own experience can be incorporated at any stage in the process. Many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question.
(more…) «Pseudoscience and vaccine denialism (updated)»
As I’ve discussed previously about homeopathy, there is absolutely no evidence that it does anything but quench thirst, since the basic principles of homeopathy is that. And even then, there are much cheaper methods to quench thirst, like getting water from your tap.
Not that it should surprise anyone, but it’s been reported that a consortium of homeopathy companies in Germany have been paying a “journalist” over $50,000 to set up and run a set of websites to criticize a UK academic, Professor Edzard Ernst, one of the world’s leading scientific skeptics of the lack of scientific viability of alternative medicine, specifically homeopathy. The original article, Schmutzige Methoden der sanften Medizin (or the Dirty Tricks of Alternative Medicine) was published in a German newspaper, described how the these companies, who manufacture homeopathic sugar pills, funded a journalist named Claus Fritzsche to denigrate any critics of homeopathy. He focused on Professor Ernst, by attacking him for being partisan, biased and incompetent, on several of these websites. He then linked them together in order to raise their Google ranking, so that any search for Professor Ernst and homeopathy would put these websites high on any list of Google hits.
(more…) «Homeopathy companies pay journalist to…»
While catching up on my favorite blogs (and nearly giving up after reading the 300th one regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare), I ran across Liz Ditz’s short and to-the-point Why I Dislike the Term “Allopathy” on I Speak of Dreams. Allopathy is an invented word that, according to Kimball Atwood at Science Based Medicine (Homeopathy & Evidence-Based Medicine),
…was the term coined by (Samuel) Hahnemann (founder of homeopathy) to dramatize the contrast between homeopathy and its competition. According to Hahnemann, “allopathic” medicine sought to give only medicines that suppressed symptoms.
You’ll find allopathy being used by just about any woo-meister in alternative medicine universe. Joe Mercola, anti-vaccine quack and promoter (and when I say promoter, I mean seller of all things alternative medicine) uses the term “allopathic” in 53 articles on his website to attack sound, evidence-based medicine. That’s basically proof that the word is a pejorative like “Western medicine” or “traditional medicine.” It tries to make it sound like evidence-based medicine is closed minded, stuck on tradition, when, in fact, it’s open-minded to new theories and techniques.
In Wikipedia’s article on allopathy, “the meaning (as) implied by the label has never been accepted by conventional medicine, and is still considered pejorative by some.” However, in Wikipedia, the resource for all things woo, allopathy is often used by anti-science pushers to make their articles fit their pseudoscientific view of the world, and it is almost always used in a pejorative fashion to make alternative medicine appear to be somewhat more “open minded”. For example, here’s a discussion amongst the well-known pseudoscience pushers on Wikipedia claiming that allopathic medicine is not science based. Or Dana Ullman, the biggest promoter of homeopathy in the world, spending huge amounts of bandwidth trying to get Wikipedia to use allopathy to describe science based medicine. Of course, Dana was permanently banned from editing anything to do with homeopathy on Wikipedia based on his horrible behavior issues. If you see “allopathy” in a Wikipedia article, be prepared for pseudoscience.
Or as Liz Ditz puts it:
The chiroquacktors use the word allopathy a lot to disparage medicine (as opposed to their fantasy world).
Yup. They do.
Let’s be blunt. Naturopathy is pure, unmitigated, undiluted junk medicine (or what many call “woo”). What is naturopathy? It is a form of alternative medicine based on a belief in vitalism, which posits that life has a quality independent of physical and chemical laws. In other words, it is no different than homeopathy (one of the core competencies of naturopathy), both of which rely upon denying the basic laws of physics and chemistry. Life may have some quality independent of physical or chemical laws and theories, but treating anything from a viral infection to a fractured femur to any of the 200 or so types of cancer requires medicines and techniques that depend upon real science, whether physics, chemistry or biology.
(more…) «Naturopathy and diabetes–pure pseudoscience»
I find interesting stuff in the most unusual places. I have an iPhone App called ID Compendium: A Persiflager’s Guide (Infectious Disease Compendium: A Persiflager’s Guide – iPhone, Infectious Disease Compendium: A Persiflager’s Guide – iPad), a great medical tool for finding different infectious diseases and the medications useful for treating it. The App was written by Mark Crislip, MD, one of the top 10 healthcare skeptics (in the true sense of the word, none of that quack-based pseudoskepticism), and it’s been very useful to me. It’s a really nice app (and for $5.99, there’s no way to go wrong here), and it’s practical, unless you’re a hypochondriac.
I was scanning through the Drugs section, and I saw an entry for “Alternative Medicine.” What? Dr. Crislip went to the dark side? Did he actually think homeopathy worked? Was he a mole for alternative medicine crowd? But, that section had a nicely worded (note: It’s an R-rated section, maybe PG-13) commentary on complementary and alternative medicine (aka CAM). I’m not sure the letter was actually sent to the Annals of Medicine, but from reading his blog, I wouldn’t bet against it.
(more…) «Alternative medicine according to Mark…»
Pseudoscience believers are always looking for something, anything, that supports their point of view of the universe. Whether it’s vaccine denialists, or global warming denialists, or evolution denialists…well, any kind of denialist, they all need some piece of evidence to prove that they are not denying scientific evidence. So when you don’t have science, go for whatever comes next.
First, a bit of background on homeopathy. It’s water. Yes, water has some very special properties, it’s necessary for the human body to work well, without we die. So homeopaths think that if you dilute out substances in water (a level of dilution so high that not one single molecule of the substance remains), the water retains a memory of it. And that memory supposedly cures things, or does something medical. Since water cannot retain memory of anything, the details after that become irrelevant, because their basic premise is about as much of an impossibility that one can find in science. If water had some method of retaining memory, then it would mean that ever single principle of physics and chemistry would be wiped off the face of science textbooks forever.
(more…) «Where Switzerland did not endorse…»
I follow some Australian skeptics’ blogs, mainly because of Meryl Dorey, the lunatic who runs the Anti-Vaccination movement in Australia. One of the better ones is Dan’s Journal of Skepticism, run by Dan Buzzard. He writes on a lot of issues with regards to pseudoscience, mostly in medicine. Earlier this year, he wrote about how a homeopath, Francine Scrayen, treated her “patient”, Penelope Dingle, who was suffering from rectal cancer, with homeopathic potions and lotions.
In the report on Ms. Dingle’s death, the Coroner for Perth (Australia) reported the following:
In my view the deceased’s rectal cancer was present and causing bleeding and other symptoms from at least 31 October 2001. During the period 31 October 2001 until at least the end of November 2002, the deceased regularly described the symptoms of her rectal cancer to a homeopath, Francine Scrayen. It was not until November 2002 that Mrs Scrayen and the deceased discussed the possibility of reporting her rectal bleeding to a medical practitioner and it was not until 5 December 2002 that she first reported those problems to a doctor.
I accept that Mrs Scrayen believed that the deceased had suffered from haemorrhoids years earlier and the bleeding and pain was “an old symptom coming back”, but a competent health professional would have been alarmed by the developing symptoms and would have strongly advised that appropriate medical investigations be conducted without delay.
Mrs Scrayen was not a competent health professional. I accept that Mrs Scrayen had minimal understanding of relevant health issues, unfortunately that did not prevent her from treating the deceased as a patient.
This case has highlighted the importance of patients suffering from cancer making informed, sound decisions in relation to their treatment. In this case the deceased paid a terrible price for poor decision making.
Unfortunately the deceased was surrounded by misinformation and poor science. Although her treating surgeon and mainstream general practitioner provided clear and reliable information, she received mixed messages from a number of different sources which caused her to initially delay necessary surgery and ultimately decide not to have surgery until it was too late.
Recently, we discussed how science works. It’s not a belief. It’s not a random set of rules. It is a rational and logical process to determine cause and effect in the natural world. Pseudoscience, by its very nature, ignores the scientific process; instead, it claims to come to conclusions through science, usually by using scientific sounding words, but actually avoids the scientific process. They tend to use logical fallacies to make their case. Just to be clear, logical fallacy is essentially an error of reasoning. When a pseudoscientist makes a claim, or attempts to persuade the public of this claim, and it is based on a bad piece of reasoning, they commit a fallacy.
(more…) «How pseudoscience makes its case-Part…»
I ran across a blog that is titled Homeopathy: Science Modern Evidencebased (sic). Since any reasonable person would understand that homeopathy violates some of the basic principles of physics, chemistry and biology. And because there is no viable mechanism that would make you think homeopathy actually could work, clinical trials show that it doesn’t work, or, at best, it is a mythical placebo. So, if it doesn’t work in clinical trials, and there is no possible mechanism underlying it, employing Occam’s Razor, we would have to say the simplest explanation is the best: Homeopathy does not work. It’s a lie. It’s a scam. Period. End of story.
But you want more. You want real explanations.
(more…) «A homeopath discusses evidence based…»
In my recent post about Bill Moyers and the anti-vaccine lunacy, I referred to the Straw Man Fallacy, which I’ve just added to my Logical Fallacy FAQ. I try to keep my FAQ to a few sentences (and I will add links to more complex descriptions of the fallacies), trying to make it easy to grasp the essence of the particular fallacy.
You’re going to be reading this story about Richard Dawkins and his doubts about the NON-existence of god. The Telegraph, a British newspaper, wrote about a recent public discussion between Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the traditional head of the Church of England (known as Anglicans outside of the USA, and Episcopalians in the USA):
There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.
The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.
An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.”
A couple of days ago, I talked about the Amy Farrah Fowler character on one of my favorite TV shows, the geeky Big Bang Theory, who is a neurobiologist played by a real neurobiologist, Mayim Bialik. Yes, Bialik, former star of the TV show Blossom (never saw an episode) has a Ph.D. in neurobiology from UCLA. Yes, the real UCLA.
As we discussed, Dr. Bialik seems to believe in a whole host of pseudoscientific alternative medicine ideas, all of which does not make sense given her education. She believes in homeopathy, which is basically nonsense according to every definition of the word “nonsense.” Homeopathy is considered a pseudoscience, since it is based on a nearly impossible foundation of water having a sort of memory to what it contacted. In other words, the basic principle of homeopathy violates all the basic principles of physics and chemistry. These aren’t ideas that require a Ph.D. to understand, and assuming that Bialik actually studied science, and didn’t cruise through her undergraduate and graduate training without opening a single book, she would have to be scientifically critical of homeopathy.