Thursday, February 13, 2014

What's the Harm?

What's the harm?
That's a question I hear a lot when discussing alternative medicine and all the included disciplines, like chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional "medicine" (including Chinese medicine), acupuncture, and many others.

I always point out that the harm comes from two sides. One side is the actual lack of medicinal and therapeutic value in all those alt-med offshoots. The other side is the fact that when we suspend our critical thinking in one area, we tend to stop using our brains across the board, and that can lead to more problems with rational decision making.

From time to time I catch a news on the interwebs, that illustrates the first issue so clearly, it is hard to read.

The original link is here (in Polish):
6-latka operowana po "leczeniu" u bioenergoterapeuty
which means: "A six year old undergoes a surgery after being treated by a naturopath" (I'm not sure if there is a better word in English than naturopath).

Let me explain...

In the town of ToruĊ„, in central Poland, a local court ordered a naturopath to close down his "bioenergy" therapy business and pay a fine, after he treated a six-year old for a cold. After the initial session, in which he diagnosed the child with pneumonia, he continued to treat her for a month and a half, prescribing strong steroids (which he's not allowed to do) and treating her fever over the phone. When the parents noticed a large lump between the girl's ribs, they finally took her to a hospital, where she had to have a major surgery to treat her deteriorated lungs and where she spent more than five weeks, some of it in the intensive care unit.

The judge also said that she is planning to bring the case against the parents for failing to provide adequate care to their daughter, which seems to be reasonable, as they refused to take the child to a real doctor for weeks and almost killed their daughter in the process.

Unfortunately, one thing that bothers me is the fact that the naturopath is only required to close down his business for three years! Since the article mentions that he's been doing it for 20 years and that his mother was also a "famous" healer, I bet he'll be back treating people with magic and woo in no time.

Another point that stands out from this article is the fact that the guy has a "bioenergy healer" license. There is a lot of discussion in various states in the US about licensing alt-med "doctors". The opposition usually brings up one great point: any kind of license, legitimizes the profession, which, in case of alt-med is based on magic, wishful thinking and general woo-woo. For a lay person, a license makes the potential therapy look real and puts it on the same level as evidence-based medicine. Licensing alt-med scams might be a way to earn some extra tax dollars, but it creates a false sense of security for the general public.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

I Don't Understand Creationism

I have never understood creationism... it is so out of touch with reality and so disconnected from any logic that it defies any explanation. Yes, it might have been somehow compelling 500 years ago, when scientific evidence for pretty much anything around us was scarce, but by the last century, there were no reasons to stick with it. One has to have some really strong cognitive dissonance going in order to remain in the pure creationism camp (the earth being 6000 years old, geological strata deposited by a great flood, etc). Even the newer incarnation of creationism, Intelligent Design (ID), does not pass logical and scientific analysis, because it bases itself on faulty understanding of physics and biology.

To illustrate my point I give you the latest Science vs. Nonsense Debate:

What's even more interesting than the debate itself, was an "experiment" done right before it took place, when a reporter asked a bunch of people coming to see the debate to write questions for Bill Nye. Here is the result:

22 Messages From Creationists To People Who Believe In Evolution

Some of those questions are pure gold... and for most of the people who have even the basic understanding of science, they are either nonsensical, or very easy to answer, but there are two sources that are worth reading:

Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog: Answers for Creationists
Steven Novella's NeuroLogica: Questions from the Nye-Ham Debate

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Great Education - Not!

If you want great education for your kids (and who does not), here is a map that shows you where NOT to send them to obtain it:

Map: Publicly Funded Schools That Are Allowed to Teach Creationism.

Sunday School is one place to get religious education and that's where it belongs. Outside of that, public schools, or schools that receive public, tax funds, should be teaching solid science in science classes. I'm disturbed by how Florida looks like on this map. Hopefully, this issue can be addressed by some changes in law to prohibit my tax dollars from being used in that fashion.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Stupidity Affects our Children

If you ever find yourself in a presence of parents in a developed country like the US, or somewhere in Europe, you will almost always get someone who is anti-vaccination. They come up with the typical set of excuses, from natural (nothing unnatural around my family), semi-scientific (maybe vaccines cause autism, and after all, they are not 100% effective), and religious (aborted tissue in vaccines?), to plain wacky (I'd rather have my child contract the disease, the natural way). Why is it more visible in developed countries? I guess, because most of the parents in those countries do not have to actually see their kids being severely sick, or even dying from an easily preventable disease.

However, it is very enlightening to see how those diseases have been spreading and popping up in rich and seemingly rational countries all over the world, in the last years. This is exactly what Council on Foreign Relations did in their visualization:

Notice, how much the points are concentrated where people are better off? And they are growing...

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Freedom of Speech for Bloggers

Good (if not GREAT!!!) news for all of us bloggers. The First Amendment rights seem to be applying to us the same way as they are to the regular journalist. The courts just affirmed that:

From the FreethoughtBlogs:
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Friday that bloggers have the same free speech protections as journalists.
Even more extensive analysis from the Popehat: Protecting The Free Speech of Censors: The Crystal Cox Saga

Why is this important? Because when you criticize ideas in public forums like the Internet, there are always people who don't want discussions based on merits, usually when there is a significant financial gain at stake. This is especially the case with alt-med and faith-based endeavors, which love to intimidate bloggers by sending fake "legal" threat and attempting to sue us into silence.

This legal victory is great for all of us, bloggers and general public alike, as it makes rational criticism protected and it enables discussions that are based on facts, and not someone's opinions.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's About Money...?

Big hit, lots of money to be made...
In the meantime, anyone can pay sixty dollars to access his webinar guided-meditation series, "Discover Your Own Proof of Heaven," and he's been consulting with a pair of experts in "archaeoacoustics" to re-create some of the music that he heard while on his journey. You can even pay to join him on a "healing journey" through Greece.
If you are not sure what it is about... it's probably about money:

The Prophet

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Unvaccinated Life

I have been a big proponent of all vaccinations, both childhood and adult.

After years of research, there is very little (if any at all) doubt that they save lives and help maintain healthy society. A few years ago, when the fraudulent paper about a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism was officially dumped by the Lancet, the discussion died out a bit and I was happy to see that less and less people question validity and positive aspects of vaccines.

Yet, this dead corpse of a topic was recently resurrected by Katie Couric, who decided to apply her doubtful scientific knowledge to question HPV vaccinations and their safety. Her bad journalism was exposed by many and she was forced to not-apologize, but the damage has been done again.

So, it's nice to see that a reputable, on-line news outlet stands behind the reality and science, and publishes a great account of someone, who was forced to live her childhood without vaccines:

Growing Up Unvaccinated - from

Now, I know this is just one case, and, as we all know, that does not make for a convincing proof of anything, but it's a great insight into a "natural" way of life and its many fallacies.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Small News: Vitamins and Flu Shots

For those, who love stuffing themselves with vitamins, the news this week is great: stop, save some money and use it for more productive purposes:

Annals of Internal Medicine: Oral High-Dose Multivitamins and Minerals After Myocardial Infarction: A Randomized Trial and Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: A Randomized Trial

A nice explanation by Steven Novella:
Strike Three for Multivitamin Use
and from CNN:
Are multivitamins a waste of money? Editorial in medical journal says yes

This has been a suspicion of the medical and scientific community (the real one, not the alt-med, and not the vitamin manufacturers) for many years. Unless you have a medical problem that actually prevents your body from properly making or utilizing a specific vitamin, there is no need for supplementation. All you really need is balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Stop wasting your money and energy, stuffing yourself with things that you don't really need. There is even some research that suggest that vitamin mega dosing could increase your risk of cancer in the future. Remember, it took millions of years of evolution to fine tune your body work the best it can, so we should probably let it work, unless there is a real problem.

As we are in a full blown flu season again, it's never enough to remind people that flu shots are good for you:
7 myths about the flu vaccine and why you should get it anyway

EDIT (12/19/2013):
There is a great (as always) overview of the multivitamin issue at the Science-Based Medicine blog:
Move evidence that routine multivitamin use should be avoided

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Burzynski Clinic: Collapsing Under the Lack of Evidence?

I have written about Dr Stanislaw Burzynski before. He was somewhat of a hero / celebrity in a Polish community in the U.S., especially in the early 1990s, when his therapies had looked promising and there was little evidence of wrongdoing.
Since then, he seems to be on a sliding path to obscurity, and, by the news reports, it looks like he's getting there fast. We can only hope he does nor drive too many people to poverty, and he does not break too many hearts with false hope in the process.

Here is a great article from USA Today, by Liz Szabo Doctor accused of selling false hope to families, and  a very descriptive commentary by Orac: Stanislaw Burzynski in USA Today: Abuse of clinical trials and patients versus the ineffectiveness of the FDA and Texas Medical Board

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Herbal Supplements - Not What You Think!

An interesting paper has been published recently in the BMC Medicine journal:

"DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products"

The idea sounds complex, and it is, but the general results of this study are pretty scary, especially if you, like many Americans, use a number of very popular herbal remedies for all kinds of ailments.
The idea that herbal remedies are not as harmless as they are advertised to be, has been known in a skeptical community for a long time, but it is something that filters to a general public very slowly. That's because the supplement industry has been selling herbs as miracle cures that can treat anything and are harmless and side-effect-free, which is not true, of course.

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