Make no mistake about it, the promoters of alternative medicine are denialists. One of the more stunning examples of their denial of the efficacy of evidence-based medicine appeared in Newstarget with the headline The false gods of scientific medicine revealed: It’s a cult, not a science by Mike Adams.

Promoters of conventional medicine claim that all the drug marketing, FDA approvals, surgical procedures, chemotherapy and all other treatments are based on “hard science.” The term “science” is invoked with hilarious frequency: Science journals, science-based medicine, proven medical science and so on. As you might have guessed, however, there’s surprisingly little genuine science to be found in the common practice of conventional medicine. Rather, what passes for “science” today is a collection of health myths, half-truths, intellectual dishonesty, self delusion, fraudulent reporting and wishful thinking.

This is how doctors have come to believe the incredible: That food has nothing to do with health, that antioxidants will kill you, that herbs interfere with drugs, and that only drugs can treat or cure disease. It’s a cult-like belief system handed down by the high priests of conventional medicine, and if this intricate web of false beliefs was actually subjected to genuine scientific scrutiny, it would crumble into a thousand pieces of junk science and marketing propaganda.

It’s the usual denialist garbage. Conspiracy theories about drug companies, doctors, scientific conspiracies and the FDA. The straw man that doctors think that food has nothing to do with health is an egregious denial of all research done into nutrition. And his statement that herbs can’t interfere with drugs? Well, try taking St. John’s Wort and birth control sometime and see what happens. But my jaw dropped with this claim:

Chemotherapy has been scientifically proven to be worthless at curing cancer, enhancing quality of life or protecting the health of the patient. In fact, chemotherapy kills patients, and even the ones who survive it are left with permanent damage to their brain (“chemo brain”), kidneys, liver and other organs. Chemotherapy is a medical hoax with absolutely no scientific validity. The size of a tumor is not a measure of the degree of cancer that exists on a patient’s body, and shrinking a tumor is not a meaningful measure of a cancer treatment’s success.

Oh really? I wonder if I can find an example of chemotherapy extending life. Let’s see…


How about the phenomenal work by St. Judes on Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), two leukemias that kill thousands each year? Here is a chart of the survival rates of kids given improved chemotherapy regimens in clinical trials since the 1980s for AML:

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And even more impressively for childhood ALL:

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Now clearly, chemotherapy in the setting of these two diseases has not progressed to the point where we have a penicillin-like cure – but with the advent of genomic medicine practices by scientists like William Evans at St. Judes we are getting closer and closer to treatments tailored to specific patients. I thought of these two examples based on a talk I saw Evans give last year. And this isn’t with the advent of new chemotherapeutic drugs, much of the improvement seen already has been from genomic profiling of leukemia patients and tailoring of specific treatments to the individual using classic chemotherapeutic drugs.

To hear the entire field of oncology disparaged in this manner with no scientific basis, no science cited, and no proof is a perfect example of the dangerous denialism promoted by altie-med quacks. Just look at the progress made in ALL. In the 1960s, the diagnosis of ALL in a child was a death sentence, and the treatments had little effect on survival. Now 5-year survival has reached 90%. The same is true with dozens of different cancers. No we don’t have cures, and improvements are incremental, but to deny any improvement in survival and quality of life is denialism that isn’t just dishonest, it is dangerous.

Adams also attacks the use of biomarkers as a method of determining whether treatments are necessary, despite evidence that biomarkers, like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, are predictive of life expectancy. He minimizes the effects of reductions in mortality from things like 2 to 1 percent as a 1 percent decrease in mortality – as if that’s no big deal. But in the case of something like cardiovascular disease or breast cancer you’re talking about tens of thousands of deaths being averted.

People might like to think that altie medicine is a harmless diversion from real medicine, a relatively minor eccentricity or example of tolerable hucksterism. But I believe it is denialism in its most dangerous form. The best writing on the topic, I believe, comes from Stephen Novell at Neurologica with his post on the double standard of alternative medicine.

The biggest problem with so-called complementary and alternative medicine – CAM (a misleading name for it is neither complementary nor a legitimate alternative) is that its proponents overtly seek to create a double standard in medicine. In an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM Sept. 17, 1998 pg 839-841), then current editor in chief Marcia Angell and former editor in chief Jerome P. Kassirer wrote: “There cannot be two kinds of medicine – conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works, and medicine that may or may not work.” They got it exactly right

There are those with a libertarian political bent who argue that all this quality control is not necessary, that the free market can sort it all out, or that individual freedoms are more important than protecting the public from bad medicine. Although I strongly disagree with this position, I grant this is largely a political position – which means it is partly a personal choice. What do you value more – protection or freedom?

I bring this up because many in the CAM camp use the notion of healthcare freedom to promote their agenda. However, they are not honest in what they are truly advocating. At least the libertarians are upfront with their political views. CAM proponents, rather, use healthcare freedom not to argue that the standard of care should be reduced in favor of more freedom, but to create a double standard for CAM. I don’t know of anyone who is arguing for less education for doctors or eliminating licensure. Likewise, I have never heard a CAM proponent argue that pharmaceuticals should be freed from FDA regulation (while libertarians by contrast often do say this).

Sixteen states in the US have so-called healthcare freedom laws. Essentially what these laws do is create a double standard for CAM. The wording in each state is different, but their effect is the same – a practitioner of CAM cannot have their license taken away or acted against because they are practicing substandard care as long as that care is deemed “alternative.” In other words, if an MD is practicing “conventional” medicine but what they are doing is significantly below the standard of care (it is demonstrably unsafe or ineffective), the state can act against their license. If, however, the same physician practices the same incompetent medicine, but labels it “alternative” they are immune from any action.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 created a double standard for supplements by creating an absurd legal entity known as “structure and function” claims. Essentially this law, promoted by CAM enthusiasts under the justification of more freedom, removed supplements from FDA control. Now, herbs and supplements can be marketed without first having to prove safety. Further, manufacturers can make health claims for their products without having to do any research or provide any evidence. So this is an overt example of removing the standard of science, logic, and evidence as a mechanism of quality control in medicine.

I think the worst can be avoided, however, if the public is made acutely aware of the true nature of CAM promotion – that it entails the creation of a double standard where the public’s safety and provisions for quality control are being sacrificed so that CAM practitioners can have the freedom to do whatever they want without the burden of meeting the standard of care that has evolved over the last 100 years.

It is a must-read. Altie-medicine has created a framework in which they can get away with quackery, dishonesty and lies without being impeded by any regulation, scientific rigor or oversight. Amazingly, this isn’t enough for altie-med practitioners, as proponents of altie-medicine attack the scientific basis of real medicine that is carefully monitored, meets a standard of care, and is based on clinical evidence. At some point we will have to acknowledge the barbarians are at the gates, they are starting to teach altie-medicine in medical schools, and at risk is the scientific underpinnings of medicine.
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Comments

  1. #1 MartinM
    July 12, 2007

    Altie-medicine has created a framework in which they can’t get away with

    “can’t” should read “can,” presumably.

  2. #2 Adam_Y
    July 12, 2007

    Quote from lionel Hutz/The Simpsons;

    “Hearsay and conjecture are types of evidence”

    As a former scientist, I find it quite sad when people suspect that modern medicine is part of some conspiracy. Most of the major advances over the last 100 or so years, such as antibiotics (let’s see y’all try and live without those after an operation), have been a massive improvement on the quality of life we now have.

    …and whilst many of us are sceptical as to the potency of some ‘alternative medicines’, at least we consider them in a logical light of ‘if you can prove they work, we’ll believe you’… and yet still no proof.

    Then there are the ones that do seem to work, that have active ingredients and could be potentially harmful, passed off as ‘herbal’ treatments…. Hemlock is a herb – doesn’t mean its safe to take.

  3. #3 Anonymous
    July 12, 2007

    Why am I not surprised that Adams’ credentials include being “a veteran of the software technology industry, having founded a personalized mass email software product.” [emphasis mine]

  4. #4 SLC
    July 12, 2007

    Re chemotherapy

    I can give a specific example of the efficacy of chemotherapy, namely 7 time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Without the very aggressive chemotherapy treatments he underwent, he would have been dead, instead of becoming the world class athlete he became.

  5. #5 Graculus
    July 12, 2007

    having founded a personalized mass email software product

    Not defending his altie idiocy, but that doesn’t refer to spamming software, it’s stuff for subscribed mailing lists, it’s legit. He’s actually an anti-spam campaigner.

  6. #6 MartinM
    July 12, 2007

    I particularly liked this part of Adams’ screed:

    Most drugs don’t work on most people. Claims of benefits are highly exaggerated by reporting their relative percentage rather than absolute percentage of efficacy. For example, if two people out of 100 normally get breast cancer, and a drug causes that number to be reduced to one person out of 100, the drug company will claim a “50% reduction in breast cancer!” when, in reality, it’s a 1% reduction across the population. Yet the drug will be marketed to everyone as a breast cancer “prevention” strategy. And yet 99% of the people who take it will experience no benefits from it. Most drugs are useless.

    Yeah, you read that right. The example he uses to support his claim that “most drugs are useless” is a hypoethetical drug which would prevent 3 million cases of breast cancer in the US alone. This is apparently not a successful breast cancer “prevention” strategy on his planet.

    Fucking nimrod.

  7. #7 factican
    July 12, 2007

    MartinM,

    In addition, in his example, it’s because the drug didn’t cure the 98% of people who don’t get breast cancer, that it doesn’t work? How does one cure someone of a disease they don’t have? Wow. This Adams’ dude has a towering intellect.

  8. #8 MarkH
    July 12, 2007

    I can’t believe I forgot to mention it, but Adams is also an HIV/AIDS denialist. Seems like a valid point.

    If you want to see an insane mixture of hysteria, paranoia, and ludicrous conspiracy claims see his post today about the increasing power of the FDA.

  9. #9 Boris
    July 12, 2007

    It looks like this was not published in Newsmax, but in Newstarget, which is neither news nor on target.

    If it were Newsmax, the oncologists would have been Muslim jihadists killing us with their chemo.

  10. #10 MarkH
    July 12, 2007

    Ack! Quite right Boris. I’ll fix.

    I’m making too many mistakes lately.

  11. #11 MartinM
    July 12, 2007

    And of course, the article gets a reader’s rating of 9/10, and all the comments are positive. Possibly the comments are pre-approved, though.

  12. #12 Chris Noble
    July 12, 2007

    How dare you criticise this genius.

    How I became a superlearning machine

    You know how they say people only use 10% of their brain capacity? I’ve found a way to unlock at least another 10%, maybe more. Today, thanks to the help of nutrition and high-density nutritional supplements, I’ve become a superlearning machine with a nervous system of such capacity that sometimes it amazes me.

    If you follow his advice you too can develop these skills.

    Photo-reading books at the speed of one page per second
    Instantly grasping the “big picture” of any concept, including quantum computing, nanotechnology, homeopathy, the politics of medicine, etc.
    Automatically remembering long numbers (like my credit card numbers for multiple cards)
    Seeing the world with unprecedented clarity (understanding, for the first time, what’s really going on out there)
    Gaining new control over my own mind and emotions
    Learning advanced physical skills (I took up gymnastics training at the age of 34)
    Mastering new mental skills like the study of foreign languages
    Greatly accelerating my speed of thinking, writing, and creating new things

  13. #13 Brian
    July 12, 2007

    LOL, he uses that old gag? Maybe HE only uses 10% of his brain.

  14. #14 Crudely Wrott
    July 12, 2007

    It was said that, “Chemotherapy has been scientifically proven to be worthless at curing cancer, enhancing quality of life or protecting the health of the patient. In fact, chemotherapy kills patients, and even the ones who survive it are left with permanent damage to their brain . . . ”

    Lemme get this straight: a common, time tested, mutually agreed upon, sometimes acclaimed, sometimes lamented but nonetheless demonstrably effective treatment is a threat intentionally created by scientists (people who know things about stuff) simply because it doesn’t satisfy the hideously craven cravings of an absolutist, a doctrinaire, an authority of how things aught to be? Or any other mislead knucklehead who comes down the pike?

    A moment while I attenuate my word choice . . .

    The author of the above quote is wrong on multiple levels. The author never paid attention to, or was not taught as a child, the basic lessons of discerning reality and dealing with others.

    The asshole has no clue.

  15. #15 billy
    July 13, 2007

    Just curious (and if this was covered in a different thread, I apologize) if accupuncture is considered “CAM”.

    Billy

  16. #16 Billy
    July 13, 2007

    (SORRY, HIT THE WRONG BUTTON) Just curious (and if this was covered in a different thread, I apologize) if accupuncture is considered “CAM”. I have had a personal experience of accupuncture helping to control a SYMPTOM (severe knee swelling while working with the recovery teams at Ground Zero) but have also had numerous run-ins with doctors who deny that any relief is possible from “those quacks”.

    Have any studies been done on the efficacy and effectiveness of accupuncture in the treatment of symptoms? (I majored in history and have not been able to learn how to navigate through peer-reviewed publications except at the most trivial level).

    Again, sorry for the repost, but I hit the wrong button.

    Billy

  17. #17 MarkH
    July 13, 2007

    No problem Bill. Remember, it’s not an issue of the methods, or the origin, but the evidence. As quoted above “There cannot be two kinds of medicine – conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works, and medicine that may or may not work.”

    Acupuncture is an example of something that has been tested, and has been found to have benefits. It’s not in widespread use in the medical armentarium, but is by no means without some benefits. For a search like you’re interested in I’d try the cochrane library. It is a great source of information with systematic reviews on a bunch of topics. Just go here and search “acupuncture”. They list the studies with nice discussions of the quality of the data, the meaning of the study etc., in very approachable terminology. Or, here’s the search. Does that help?

    I would argue with it when people start suggesting using acupuncture for things that it hasn’t been shown scientifically to benefit. It has been shown to be useful for analgesia however. Probably not by regulating “qi” but by some physiological mechanism.

  18. #18 Billy
    July 13, 2007

    Thank you, it does help.

    Billy

  19. #19 Pieter B
    July 13, 2007

    I found this gem on Adams’s site:

    New FDA guidelines threaten religious freedoms; Holy water could be regulated as “drugs” and rosaries as “medical devices”

    Holy water, for example, could be regulated as a drug. Churches that continue to use Holy water in their services could be raided and accused of practicing medicine. Sound absurd? The FDA has already conducted an armed raid on one church (see “tyranny” article, above) [the Church of Scientology -pb] and made no announcement that churches are exempt from FDA rule.

    The crackers and grape juice used in Communion, which are tied to changes in the energy, function or spirituality of the person receiving them, might be regulated as drugs and require a prescription from a doctor. The Elder who annoints a member of the church with oil could be arrested and charged with practicing medicine, and church members who use rosaries to help heal themselves or others could be similarly arrested for using “unapproved medical devices.”

    I needed a good laugh before lunch. Thanks.

  20. #20 Kagehi
    July 13, 2007

    It should however be noted that someone who was once a major advocate for acupuncture is now going around the country debunking it. He does this by a) using needles in locations “not” described as the correct ones, but telling people that it is just a different technique (and there are a lot of those), only to produce the same positive results, and b) by using “fake” needles, that involve a bandaid like pad applied where the needle is supposed to go, which has a bit of stuff inside that can hold a blunted needle, as though it was in the skin. In the later case, he *still* gets results. His own tests have concluded that the effect is entirely mental and that its how much stuff you babble about how it works, how effective it is, etc., that determines “if” it will have an effect. There is no credible evidence that there are specific places you need to use the needles on for it to do anything, or any non-random, specific and testable conditions, beyond the mental state of the patient on leaving the session and the believability of the story given by the practitioner.

    The problem isn’t that placebo isn’t a real important and effective way to help people. The problem is, its not exactly ethical, since you have to lie to them about how effective a thing is, and the better you are at lying, the more likely that their own mind will *cure* what ever the problem is. That seems to be all acupuncture, acupressure, etc. actually does. For someone that knows its bunk… Its probably not going to do a thing for them, since you would first have to convince them to believe that it will work at all. And that is the one things none of these studies tend to take into account, how much, if at all, the people being treated are willing to fall for it or already know about it.

  21. #21 Kagehi
    July 13, 2007

    Note, the details on the debunker of acupuncture I saw on the Penn and Teller episode on CAM, so I don’t have any direct link to the guys name, his own studies, etc.

  22. #22 MelissaB
    July 23, 2007

    I find your article very timely. As someone who has lived through multiple operations and recovered from psuedomaonas auregenosa (not sure of the spelling anymore) and MRSA I would not be alive without modern medicine. I also have six 3″ titanium screws in my back. However I have been going to an acupuncturist 2 times a week for the past 2 years whlie recovering from my back surgery. I know for a fact the acupuncture has helped me have a COMPLETE recovery so that I now ride horses again, clean my horse stalls and have a perfect lumbar curve. I also take Amazon Herbs (not FDA approved) for a viral infection and have more energy than I have had in over 20 years. I have had to diligently research any “altenative” supplement or treatment because of the very thing your article addresses, rampant scams and fraud as long as they call themselves alternative treatments. And you can bet that my doctors are aware of everything I take or try whether it be vitamins, minerals, herbs, or whatever BEFORE I decide to try it to be sure there will be no interactions with anything. Should everything be approved by the FDA? Yes that would be wonderful in a perfect world. Do herbs work? Yes they do. One still needs to use commom sense and whether your doctor approves of any alternative treatments or not they need to be aware of any extra things you take as one’s body can have allergic reactions, interactions with food as well as other drugs. Will I continue my non FDA approved Amazon Herbs? You betcha! I will also see my primary care physician every 6 months for my hypothyroidism and general overall health as well as any testing and bloodwork he feels are necessary.