Respectful Insolence

Just as a quick followup to my post on Tong Ren, the quackery that combines acupuncture, “energy healing,” and, in essence, the stereotype of voodoo dolls in a veritable potpourri of woo, take a look at this news report done by the FOX News affiliate in Boston:

If you want horrible, credulous, idiotic reporting, the above segment has it all. Indeed, it doesn’t even include the usual obligatory brief sound bite from a skeptic! True, it does mention that the Massachusetts State Board of Medicine’s Committee on Acupuncture had received complaints about Tom Tam for his claiming to be a “master” acupuncturist, but it in essence dismissed them as carping from critics, while holding up a dubious survey being taken by someone at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute as “evidence” for an efficacy due to Tong Ren sufficient to catch the interest of that august medical institution.

Also note the breast cancer testimonial in the segment. Note how the woman giving the testimonial (who has now become a Tong Ren practitioner, by the way) did have a partial mastectomy but refused chemotherapy and radiation. Now read my post about breast cancer testimonials from nearly four years ago. Read Dr. Peter Moran’s example of a typical breast cancer testimonial. It’s a typical testimonial from a breast cancer patient who doesn’t understand that for surgically treatable breast cancer, surgery is the primary “cure.” Radiation reduces the risk that the tumor will come back in the same breast, and chemotherapy reduces the risk that the tumor will come back elsewhere in the body as a metastasis, but surgical removal of the primary tumor is the primary therapy. Even removal of the lymph nodes or a sentinel lymph node biopsy is generally agreed not to be therapeutic, but rather diagnostic, a means of determining tumor stage and from that stage what further therapy is needed.

If you want to know one reason why so many people believe that obvious quackery like Tong Ren “works,” look no further than to awful reporting like the news segment above. But if you really want brain-melting stupid, look at the promo segment for the above report:

Of course, given how much of a booster of science- and evidence-based medicine Hugh Laurie is, I wonder what he’d think if he found out the Tong Ren report aired right after an episode of House.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph C.
    December 16, 2008

    I’m speechless. This is the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a while.

  2. #2 unicow
    December 16, 2008

    Sadly, this is totally par for the course for this station. They’re about as sensationalistic and free from anything resembling journalistic integrity as you can get and still call yourself “news.”

    A couple of years ago I actually took the time to watch an hour-long evening newscast of theirs and record how long they devoted to any given topic. Histrionic stories about “sexual predators” in various forms took up over 20 minutes of the broadcast. Iraq got about 15 seconds. Considering the large quantity of commercials, sports, and entertainment “news”, that’s pretty much the whole broadcast.

    The sort of quacktastic reporting seen above is also very commonplace.

    They’re by no means the only offenders, but they are probably the worst offenders in the Boston media.

  3. #3 HarryEagar
    December 16, 2008

    Wow. I live in Duckberg (every time I turn around, I hear a quack), but even here in what I had thought was the World Epicenter of Woo, that is impressive.

  4. #4 Brian X
    December 16, 2008

    They have a news studio directly across the street from the State House in what used to be a fairly hip cafe. Admittedly I don’t go by there often (I live on Cape Cod and only get downtown about once a month) but I seldom actually see anyone working in there. The fact that WFXT is directly owned by NewsCorp might have something to do with the overall pathetically low level of quality though.

    Personally I think the space should be taken by eminent domain and given to maybe NECN. (Even WCVB isn’t that great anymore, and they’ve always been the best in the area.)

  5. #5 Chris
    December 16, 2008

    this is worse than anything i have seen (including rotten dot com). couldn’t watch half of it. doesn’t the presenter sound as if she needed some tapping somewhere to relieve her constipation?

  6. #6 NJ
    December 16, 2008

    Orac, maybe you should just give up, and follow the old dictum “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.

    You will need, of course, an ancient-sounding name for your new woo therapy. May I suggest ‘Pei Mi’? And as a healing mantra, you should have your clients chant:

    Owah…
    Tana…
    Siam…

    (apologies to Martin Gardiner on that last one)

  7. #7 Marilyn Mann
    December 16, 2008

    ugh

  8. #8 Emp
    December 17, 2008

    This is why I can’t watch the news anymore. Do they even consider the scientific merit of anything they air, or is this all meant to be “entertainment?”

    It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve overlooked an obvious joke/parody, so I’m just going to go ahead and hope that’s what this is.

  9. #9 Dunc
    December 17, 2008

    Do they even consider the scientific merit of anything they air

    No, of course not. They wouldn’t know scientific merit if they found it sitting in their breakfast one morning.

    or is this all meant to be “entertainment?”

    We have a winner. The news is just another show. Its primary purpose is to provide an advertising venue. Accurately informing the public doesn’t make the top ten – there’s just no profit in it.

  10. That is bloody frightening.

  11. #11 Joseph C.
    December 17, 2008

    I just watched this again.

    Homeopathy better watch out. This just might be even more stupid. I can’t believe how absurd those people look beating those little dolls.

  12. #12 Metro
    December 18, 2008

    Fox “News”
    “We report, you point and laugh.”

    Fox has the same sense of journalism that a buzzard chick has of dinner. “Honesty” and “ethics” are words not found in the Rupert Murdoch expurgated dictionary.

    Hopefully the whole Fox network will crumble and die when they finally get to see Obama’s birth certificate or something.

  13. #13 cm
    December 18, 2008

    This is so sad, really. Orac showcases a lot of crap on this blog, but this may be one of the purest. Somehow even remote healing or therapeutic touch isn’t as downright silly looking as this one: hitting a plastic dummy with a rock hammer while a charlatan tells you where to hit it in the hope of curing grave diseases.

    It’s so bad it’s not even humorous for me now, it makes me feel deeply embarrassed for these people and sad about the whole thing.

  14. #14 Aerik
    December 19, 2008

    Looks like they’re down to stealing ideas from anime.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Espada_in_Bleach#Szayel_Aporro_Granz

    By wrapping an opponent in his wings, Szayel can create voodoo dolls of them. Any damage done to the dolls’ internal organs is done to the original, debilitating them from the inside.

    http://siriuslylostwerewolf.deviantart.com/art/Szayel-Aporro-Grantz-70051789

    Tong ren master!

  15. #15 Sprit
    December 24, 2008

    It’s very easy to say that a healing modality in which practitioners bang on a voodoo doll doesn’t work, isn’t it? Why should it work? The notion is absurd. You don’t need a doctor to tell you such a thing is crazy.

    The harder thing to do is experience it and only then make a judgement.

    I have seen the conditions of many people (including my own cancer) improve using this treatment.

    When I first started, my attitude was “this is crazy”. But when you have cancer, you are willing to try lots of things simply because “someone said it works”.

    Then, after a week of going to Tong Ren treatments, the tumor in my foot got very soft. It didn’t shrink, but it was much softer. Tumors aren’t supposed to do that. This gave me the confidence to pursue Tong Ren more aggressively.

    I still have cancer (maybe). But even my oncologist says that we are heading in the right direction.

    The moral of the story is “don’t knock it, unless you’ve tried it”.

  16. #16 Julian
    December 24, 2008

    “The moral of the story is “don’t knock it, unless you’ve tried it”.”

    Or seen it tried in several clinical trials with no difference demonstrated between it and a placebo.

  17. #17 Sprit
    December 24, 2008

    True. And such trials are coming. A preliminary study was done at Dana Farber with excellent results. A more rigorous study on the effects of Tong Ren therapy on cancer patients is being conducted at the University of Virginia.

    But, as a cancer patient, I wasn’t going to sit around and say I’m not trying this because there’s no data. The only thing there is good, hard data on is chemo, radiation and surgery. And that’s because those things cost a lot of money so someone was willing to pay for the studies. There isn’t even data on diet and vitamins because those things cost next to nothing. I’m not being cynical. It’s just economics.

  18. #18 Dianne
    December 24, 2008

    There isn’t even data on diet and vitamins because those things cost next to nothing.

    Point 1: Vitamins and special diets do NOT cost nothing. Vitamin supplements, particularly of the “naturopathy” sort, can be quite as expensive as real medication.

    Point 2: It is by no means true that there isn’t data on vitamins. Unfortunately, in cancer, it’s basically all negative. For example, this study on vitamin D and the risk of breast cancer. Or this study on B-vitamins and cancer risk Or just go to medline where you’ll find thousands of reports on vitamin supplementation and/or dietary interventions and cancer.

    I’m sorry. I really wish it weren’t true. I wish that eating extra broccoli or taking a multivitamin could make cancer regress. Even if there were a sinister conspiracy suppressing the information, at least people who tried it on their own would be cured. But it’s not true. Vitamins have been tried over and over again and they simply don’t work to treat or prevent cancer. (Ok, not entirely true: all trans retinoic acid could, technically, be called a “vitamin” but it’s also quite expensive and not the sort of thing you’d pick up at your local health food store anyway.)

  19. #19 Orac
    December 24, 2008

    Dana Farber you say?

    From what I could tell, all that “study” was was a survey of patients who used Tong Ren. In other words, it was nothing more than gathering testimonials. As such, it is, if I have interpreted it correctly, useless for determining the efficacy of anything.

    As for the University of Virginia, well, I’ll have to look into that. I think a followup post on Tong Ren may well be in order.

  20. #20 Sprit
    December 26, 2008

    Agreed Orac. I participated in the study/survey. The results were compelling but not proof of efficacy. More studies are needed.

    Keep an eye on Tong Ren. I wouldn’t expect anybody to believe it’s real without data. But I also believe such data is coming.

    BTW, I am in firm agreement about the vaccines posting. My wife is a pediatrician. She always has some stories about parents who have been deluded into not vaccinating their children.

    Children are not only put at risk. Many have died of perfectly preventable illnesses all because of one faulty study. It’s tragic.

  21. #21 Orac
    December 26, 2008

    Agreed Orac. I participated in the study/survey. The results were compelling but not proof of efficacy. More studies are needed.

    Actually, a survey can never really show evidence of efficacy. Only decent clinical trials can.

    However, I highly doubt that real data will show anything. The concept behind Tong Ren is just too fantastical. It’s magical thinking, and none of the “testimonials” I’ve seen for it are even mildly suggestive of a major treatment effect.

  22. #22 Janet Holmes
    January 7, 2009

    Two people sent me a link to this page and I have to admit, it’s eye opening. You write: “I have a hard time being light-hearted about a charlatan, however well-intentioned, who is plying his quackery on people with life-threatening diseases. … Moreover, I’m particularly disturbed that Tom Tam and his acolytes are selling this woo to cancer patients, especially breast cancer patients. As a cancer surgeon, I get pretty pissed off about things like that.”

    Let’s see if this makes you angry: Over 8 years ago Dr. Barbara Starfield* wrote in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) that, conservatively, iatrogenic causes led to 225,000 deaths per year in the US alone;* still others have estimated the death rate is now closer to 800,000. This type of information can be found on other sites on the Internet, such as Wikipedia, not just those sites devoted to alternative treatments. I tried to search your site for something about iatrogenic causes of death and found it mentioned as an aside in a “respectful” attack on Intelligent Design. So much for caring about cancer patients….

    By now, most people agree that not only is our medical system broken, it is one of the worst systems in the world. According to the World Health Statistics, 2008, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland, health in the US is fourth from the bottom out of thirty-one countries. Yet instead of addressing this issue, you choose to devote this much time raving about a study on an obscure method like Tong Ren, a method that is used to compliment mainstream medicine and insists patients rely on scientific tests to monitor their progress.

    Now why is that?

    As I am someone who has practiced Tong Ren daily for four years I’m sure you’ll find ways to discount this post. And I certainly won’t waste time in this forum explaining what it does for me or the thousands of others I’ve seen it help during that time. All I will suggest is this: It is about time you turned your attention to the reason Tong Ren has not had a formal study and yet is growing rapidly in popularity every year, along with other energy healing methods. If you care as much about patients as you say you do, you’d do better covering our current medical crisis. But then, that’s a much bigger target with far deeper pockets, isn’t it?

    * (http://www.alternative-doctor.com/specials/Dr_%20Barbara_Starfield.htm) Barbara Starfield is a University Distinguished Service Professor in the health policy and management department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “An estimated one third of interventions (surgical and medical) are unnecessary. Although the medical literature does not dwell on the damage caused by inappropriate care, several studies have shown that the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer, is medical intervention, including both tests and therapies. Over the past few years, the annual number of reports of adverse effects from prescribed medications (including deaths) has been increasing. A conservative estimate of the percentage of deaths in the United States that result from adverse effects of medical treatment is ten percent. In other words, an estimated 275,000 of the total of 2.5 million deaths that are annually attributed to specific diseases are really a result of harm from interventions.”

    **(http://www.americashealthrankings.org/2008/othernations.html
    “Additionally, the study indicated that despite spending more than any other country on health care, the United States continues to slip further behind other countries. In 1997, the U.S. ranked 15th in this mortality rate. Since then, Finland, Portugal, United Kingdom and Ireland have reduced their mortality rate from disease amenable to care more rapidly than the United States. All now have better rates than the U.S.”

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