Alt. Med. suffering from epic fails

June 10, 2009

alternative-medicine-for-dummiesOkay, I’ve got a whole bunch of material today that suggests the “Alternative” “Medicine” industry is in dire straits.

1. First up, the AP reported yesterday about the many dangerous toxins found in “natural” products. This is kinda hilarious because of course one of the chief selling points Alt. Med. practitioners make is that their products are toxin-free. Just about every altie plays the toxin gambit, insisting how real medicine is full of evil, dangerous toxins, but not their products. And of course, the accusations of dangerous toxins in real medicine are a crock of shit. So now it seems their projecting the problems with their own products onto others.

One quarter of supplements tested by an independent company over the last decade have had some sort of problem. Some contained contaminants. Others had contents that did not match label claims. Some had ingredients that exceeded safe limits. Some contained real drugs masquerading as natural supplements.

This underlines another flaw in the whole Alt Med system. Unlike real medicine, there’s no oversight protocols to properly regulate products to ensure they are safe and that people are actually getting what they pay for. System Fail.

2. Next up, a government study has determined that–wait for it, wait for it–almost no alternative medicines actually work:

“Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.”

Ultimately, this is what inevitably happens almost every time carefully done tests are conducted on Alt Med treatments. The quality of the test protocols have a direct inverse relationship to how effective the treatments turn out to be. The better the study, the smaller the effect size of the “treatment.” Test Fail.

3. Next up, after the British Chiropractic Association won their libel case against Simon Singh (though he’s fighting the decision), the chiropractors are suddenly running scared:

. . .the McTimoney Chiropractic Association has strongly warned its practitioners to take down their websites and replace any information on their techniques with just brief contact information. Why would they do that?

Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is […] [i]f you have a website, take it down NOW.

Ya gotta laugh at the absurdity of this. If the chiropractors are as upstanding as they claim to be, what do they have to be afraid of? Shouldn’t the chiropractors have been sure to not put unsubstantiated claims on their websites from the start?

It’s very telling, isn’t it, that the McTimoney group isn’t telling its people to only stick with proven methods, but instead to take down any claims that might get them sued.


If you go to the McTimoney website, all it has now is a terse note with contact information, with no other information on the technique at all.

Of course, if they do have unsubstantiated claims on their website, they can’t hide it now because the internet remembers all and erases nothing. C’mon chiropractors, what do you have to hide? Evasive Action Fail.

4. Next, a cancer patient learns that herbals can interfere with proper treatment:

When Palella learned he had cancer, he added the chiropractor’s “prostate cancer protocol” to the other combos he was taking. They had names ending in “plex” and he had no idea what they contained. He swallowed more than three dozen pills each day, and was thrilled to learn that his ex-wife, also a chiropractor, could get them for half price instead of the $700 they would have cost him.

chiropractor-kittyUh oh! I see where this is going:

“I didn’t think they were medications. They’re not prescription, they’re not drugs. This is all natural substances, made from natural products,” he explained.

But he told the dietitian the truth. She was alarmed, and at his next visit, “She had a file ready for me,” Palella said. She said that some of his herbal pills could interfere with hormone treatments for his cancer, and showed him a recent medical study raising concern about that.

. . .

“I thought I was really doing a great thing and strengthening my immune system,” he said. “I feel so stupid.”

That’s why they publish Alternative Medicine For Dummies. Because that’s what you feel like after you realize that there is no alternative to real medicine. Diagnosis Fail.

5. And the final story is Deepak Chopra’s pathetic attempt to stick up for Oprah after Newsweek heavily criticized her for her promotion of pseudoscientific medicine. I addressed Oprah’s own poor attempt to justify her nonsense here. Chopra goes for the Sarah Palin defense:  dodge the issues by attacking the “gotcha media.” Well as Julia Sweeney says, “Deepack Chopra is full of shit!” Defense Fail.

Spud the spineless hedgehog: another helpless victim of woo

March 18, 2009

Spud isn’t like all the other hedgehogs. He’s shed his spines and doctors don’t really know why. And since they can’t in good conscience release him back in the wild where he’d be defenseless against preditors and the mockery of his peers, he’s being kept at a British animal care facility called Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital because, according to Amateur Scientist:

. . .everything in Britain must have an obnoxiously adorable name. It’s the law.

This all sounds well and good except for one thing:

Unfortunately, however, Tiggywinkles employees have apparently given up on using science and medicine to find out the cause of Spud’s problems and are instead calling upon the help of alternative medicine practitioners.

NOOOOOO!! Damn you alt. med. practitioners! Is any species safe from your quackery?

UK universities expell alt med courses

February 2, 2009

complementary-medicine-for-dummiesWhile until now the UK hasn’t had much of a creationist problem another form of woo that has had a tighter grip on them than in the U.S. is homeopathy. But now as creationism is beginning to be expelled from U.S. schools, homeopathy along with other modalities of so-called “Complimentary and Alternative Medicine” (sCAM) are being expelled from the UK.  Keep up the good work, everyone.

Parade Magazine–shills for alternative medicine

January 28, 2009

complementary-medicine-for-dummiesParade Magazine’s medical “expert” wants you to know that some alternative therapies really work. Okay, this is the third time since I started this blog in July that Parade Magazine has actually promoted sCAM medicine. To get a real sense of how shoddy “Dr”. Mark Liponis’ arguments for sCAM medicine are, here are his opening 2 paragraphs:

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as many as 62 percent of Americans use some form of alternative medicine. But few of these treatments are covered by the average medical-insurance plan. The NIH estimates that Americans spend between $36 billion and $47 billion out of pocket each year on alternative therapies such as acupuncture or meditation.

So, do they really work? With government funding, science is expanding its study of alternative and complementary treatments. Some, but not all, are showing positive results. And many of the most successful methods involve “mind-body therapies”—techniques that use the power of the mind to help heal the body.

He starts off light with a little ad populum fallacy. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that millions of dollars are spent each year on the same water that you can get for free from your tap. And hey, millions of Americans buy cigarettes, so that MUST mean it’s good for you! Give me a break! In that case, Doc, I’ve got some magic beans I’d like to sell you.

Then he’s flat-out dishonest about the results of the research. Every carefully designed study has shown that even sham acupuncture (as in acupuncture where the needles aren’t put in the right places) worked better than the real thing, while only poorly designed studies have suggested acupuncture is in any way beneficial. It seems that the better the study, the smaller the perceived benefit. Why might that be? Simple. Acupuncture doesn’t work.

For instance, take this study from just a few days ago. Or this study from last month. Or this summary of the history of acupuncture research.

News From Around The Blogosphere 01.19.09

January 19, 2009

What happens after $cientology chews you up and spits you out – The story of a man who managed to rebuild his life after $cientology destroyed it, and is now fighting back.

atheist-bus-battling-buses-picadilly2Attempts to Atheist bus ads in UK – The gambit they’re using is that religious people are made to feel uncomfortable riding on these buses. Funny, they’ve never acted to remove Christian ads from buses out of fear that it would make atheists feel uncomfortable. Friendly Atheist sums it up nicely:

Victoria’s Secret promotions, posters for Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and ads for pseudoscientific books like The Secret? Those are ok to have on buses. Suggest there may not be a God? That’s apparently horrendous, evil stuff that must be blocked from the public eye.

PZ Myers goes off on religious nut Gerald Warner for his absurd position on the atheist bus ads

Would you pay for something if you didn’t have to? – Regular church attendees in Austria wouldn’t, according to a recent pop psychology or quirkological study.

How to hallucinate with ping-pong balls and a radio – Also find out how to relieve pain with nothing but binoculars and feel like you have a very long nose and see beautiful imaginary images with nothing but your hand and the sun.

The Health Department has re-issued a warning that these pills could cause a diabetic coma, permanent brain injury or death.

It is marketed on websites as 100 per cent herbal, but contains ingredients such as donkey kidney and deer antler. It is also claimed to be a natural alternative to Viagra with no side effects.

Natural versus “natural” in CAMworld – David Gorski gives a proper thrashing to the sCAM folks who sell the 21st century’s answer to voodoo as if it were real medicine just labeling it “natural.”

foil-hatLately I’ve been more aggravated at grand conspiracy theorists than the standard creationists. So I was glad to read Greta Christina’s reponse to the nonsense:  What Would Convince You That You Were Wrong? It reminds me a little of a blog I wrote 2 months ago, Why I go after the grand conspiracy theorists.

In India, two 7-year-old girls married to frogs to prevent disease

The ceremony, an annual feature during the Pongal (harvest) festival, is conducted “to prevent the outbreak of mysterious diseases in the village”.

And no, the frog never turns into a prince ever!

The evolutionary roots of storytelling – This article attempts to explain why storytelling endures across time and cultures.

Chinese erection pill sends 3 to hospital – The pill was Nangen Zengzhangsu.


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyLanguage Driven By Culture, Not Biology? – “Language in humans has evolved culturally rather than genetically, according to a study by UCL (University College London) and US researchers. By modelling the ways in which genes for language might have evolved alongside language itself, the study showed that genetic adaptation to language would be highly unlikely, as cultural conventions change much more rapidly than genes. Thus, the biological machinery upon which human language is built appears to predate the emergence of language.” So it wasn’t the Tower of Babel!

‘Molecular Parasites’ In Human Genome? – “Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, determined the structure of a protein (L1ORF1p), which is encoded by a parasitic genetic element and which is responsible for its mobility. The so-called LINE-1 retrotransposon is a mobile genetic element that can multiply and insert itself into chromosomal DNA at many different locations. This disturbs the genetic code at the site of integration, which can have serious consequences for the organism.”

Prehistoric Fish Reveals Vertebrate Origins – “In an article in the journal Nature January 14, Uppsala researcher Martin Brazeau describes the skull and jaws of a fish that lived about 410 million years ago. The study may give important clues to the origin of jawed vertebrates, and thus ultimately our own evolution.” So for those keeping track, that’s 409,994,000 years before the whole universe existed, according to Young Earth Creationists.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.16.08

December 17, 2008

alternative-medicine-for-dummies38% of adults and nearly 12% of children use alternative medicine – The good news is that the Washington Post retains their journalistic integrity by including quotes from lots of skeptics  including Wallace Sampson:

“Acupuncture is a placebo. Homeopathy is one step above fraud. It goes on and on. The fact that they are so widely used is evidence for how gullible large segments of our society are.”

Speaking of alt. med. bullshit, before reading on, click here and try to figure out which of the 2 excerpts describes a “real” alt. med. modality and which is satirical. Then read on.

Tong Ren – this is a new one for me. I never even heard of Tong Ren before. This is the bizarre treatment being used by Tom Tam in the video below. Now I know what you’re thinking: when I’ve got cancer I want a bullshit treatment that involves literal voodoo dolls. Well look no further:

And here’s even more on Tong Ren.

creationism-cartoon-a-miracle-occursJohn E. Jones III, the judge that brought down the “Intelligent Design” scam speaks about his experiences regarding the Dover Trial



Decreased level of binding gene affect memory and behavior in autism – “Reducing the activity of a gene called FKBP12 in the brains of mice affected neuron-to-neuron communication (synapse) and increased both fearful memory and obsessive behavior, indicating the gene could provide a target for drugs to treat diseases such as autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disease and others, said researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in a report in the current issue of the journal Neuron.”

Ocean-bearing Planets May Harbor Alien Life – “Scientists are expanding the search for extraterrestrial life — and they’ve set their sights on some very unearthly planets. Cold “Super-Earths” — giant, “snowball” planets that astronomers have spied on the outskirts of faraway solar systems — could potentially support some kind of life, they have found.”

Charting HIV’s rapidly changing journey  in the body – “HIV is so deadly largely because it evolves so rapidly. With a single virus as the origin of an infection, most patients will quickly come to harbor thousands of different versions of HIV, all a little bit different and all competing with one another to most efficiently infect that person’s cells. Its rapid and unique evolution in every patient is what allows HIV to evade the body’s defenses and gives the virus great skill at developing resistance to a pantheon of antiviral drugs.”

Father’s Mannatech mania causes girl brain damage

December 17, 2008

Father’s Mannatech mania causes girl brain damage

An alternative medicine devotee will spend six months behind bars for causing his sick daughter brain damage by refusing to take her to hospital.

Yup another case for the “What’s The Harm” file:

The doctor who finally examined the 11-year-old said in a report the girl was as “sick as the sickest person I’ve ever seen in 35 years”.

I can imagine that means she was pretty fuckin’ sick.

Prosecutor Belinda Merrin said it was the father’s distrust of conventional medicine that had caused him to delay seeking treatment.

Instead, he had been relying on the glyconutrient dietary supplement Mannatech to cure his daughter.

A psychologist report tendered in court said the father’s belief in Mannatech bordered on “obsessive” and that he had an “exaggerated view of his own knowledge and ability” about health treatments.

This reads like a textbook on what we expect to see happen when people with serious medical problems swallow the CAM Kool-Aid. Mannatech is pyramid scheme with no science whatsoever backing up its claims. And despite paying out millions of dollars in damages suits the Mannatech folks are still profiting off of it. A little more detail can be found here.

The court was told the girl’s mother asked him on a number of occasions to seek medical treatment, but had not pushed the issue for fear her estranged partner would deny her access to her children.

Also very typical. And of course the inevitable conclusion:

She now uses a wheelchair and has reduced vision and severe, ongoing cognitive and fine motor skills.

The court was told she may never walk unaided again.

The father pleaded guilty to one count of grievous bodily harm.

He was sentenced to three years’ jail, but will be released on parole after serving six months.

The mother has pleaded guilty to a charge of child cruelty.

She was sentenced to 12 months’ jail but release immediately on parole.

It’s depressing as hell but more people need to hear how these stories play out. This is why skeptics do what they do. This is precisely the reason why we fight, to try to prevent these tragedies from happening. And for every article like this you personally come across I assure you there are thousands more cases like this happening every single day around the world.