Here we go again. “Researchers” trying to show that a pseudoscientific concept is real medicine, but failing so badly that only true believers would qualify it as real “evidence.”
In this case, homeopaths from the Department of Homeopathy at the University of Johannesburg (seriously, a Department of Homeopathy?) in South Africa recently published a study that claimed a concoction of homeopathic potions, in pill form, treats tonsillitis, an infection and inflammation of a set of lymph nodes called tonsils in the back of the throat, better than a placebo. The researchers concluded that “the homeopathic complex used in this study exhibited significant anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities in children with acute viral tonsillitis.”
Convincing conclusion. That’s it, next time my children have tonsillitis, I’m going to run down to my local homeopathic lotion and potion magician, and I’ll buy out the store.
Or maybe not. I’ll probably save my money from lining the pockets of that homeopathic wizard, and I’ll send the kids to a real physician who practices evidence-based medicine. And get real treatment.
If you’re a fan of the Dr. Oz show, you might have heard about his passionate support of green coffee beans, which are just unroasted coffee beans instead of the roasted ones we enjoy in a big mug, for losing weight. In America, weight loss pseudoscience, especially those who claim it’s “easy”, is an obsession, especially since since the country is experiencing an obesity epidemic.
Sadly, Americans are always seeking easy, simple, but effective ways to lose weight that don’t require them to change any behavior at all. In other words, let us eat our Big Macs and never exercise while taking a miracle pill, which makes us maintain a perfect Body Mass Index. If that existed, someone would make more money than the next iPhone.
Scientific skepticism is the noble pursuit and accumulation of evidence, based on the scientific method, which is used to question and doubt claims and assertions. A scientific skeptic will hold the accumulation of evidence as fundamentally critical to the examining of claims. Moreover, a true skeptic does not accept all evidence as being equal in quality, but, in fact, will give more weight to evidence which is derived from the scientific method and less weight to poorly obtained and poorly scrutinized evidence.
In the world of real scientific skepticism, evidence published in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal far outweighs evidence taken from other sources. Peer review is the evaluation of a scientific work by one or more people of similar competence (usually in the same field) to the producers of the work. Mostly, the peer review is blinded, in that the reviewers generally don’t know the authors (although it may not be difficult to uncover, especially if the paper is in an esoteric field of science). Peer review constitutes a form of self-policing of science by qualified members of a profession within the field of research. It is through this system of criticism and review that makes many journals, and the articles published within, powerful pieces of evidence in science.
In addition to peer review, there are other ways to ascertain the quality of research in a particular journal. Articles in high quality journals are cited more often because high quality journals just attract the best scientific articles. Higher quality journals employ a more meticulous and exhaustive peer-review.
Although somewhat controversial, journals are ranked using a metric called “impact factor” that essentially expresses numerically how many times an average article in a particular journal is cited by other articles in an index of all other journals in the same general field. The impact factor could range from 0 (no one ever cites it) to some huge number, but the largest is in the 50-70 range. One of the highest impact factor journals is the Annual Review of Immunology, which is traditionally has an impact factor in the 50′s–this would indicate that an average article published in that journal is cited by other medical articles an average of 50 times (an outstanding number). Continue reading “Proliferation of fake peer-review journals”
Recently, I wrote articles on skepticism and debunking pseudoscience, both of which require large amounts of evidence. And of course, a true scientific skeptic needs to judge the quality of evidence, because individuals who push science denialism often cherry pick seemingly high quality science to support their beliefs.
A good scientific skeptic needs to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles, for example, to determine its validity. We should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others.
Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience, junk medicine pushers. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles in the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease.
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.” Continue reading “Echinacea and the common cold–Myth vs. Science”
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. Continue reading “Naturopathy and diabetes–pure pseudoscience”
Science denialism, a form of pseudoscience, is everywhere these days. There’s the oft-discussed vaccination denialists who refuse to vaccinate children because they believe that vaccines cause some condition (usually autism), and Big Pharma hides evidence. Or AIDS denialists who believe that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. Or global warming deniers who think that either global warming isn’t happening or, if it is, it’s not caused by human activities. Or evolution denialists, like Ken Ham, who think that one hundred years of scientific research can be ignored for a book that was written 5000 years ago to help illiterate pastoral farmers understand the natural world. It’s not just science, of course, there are Holocaust deniers, who think that no Jews were killed by the Nazis. There are even 9/11 deniers (usually called truthers) who think that Big Government (probably in league with Big Pharma) is hiding the truth about what really happened on 9/11. Continue reading “Identifying science denialism and pseudoscience”