Respectful Insolence

I tell ya, I’m gone for a few days, and the woo-meisters take over the store!

Seriously, I was really, really tempted to blog this over the weekend, even though I was at The Amazing Meeting and even though I had promised myself that I would not blog during the meeting. It was that tempting. Now it’s a few days after I first learned about it, and I wondered it it was still worth blogging.

It is.

The story begins with, seemingly innocently enough, a press release by the Lymphoma Association:

We are delighted to announce the appointment of our new Chief Executive, Sally Penrose.

Sally joined us at the beginning of July. She brings with her a wealth of experience as a communications specialist from the private and third sectors; including 8 years as Chief Executive of the British Homeopathic Association and Faculty of Homeopathy, where she worked closely with both patients and the medical profession.

Did I read that right? The British Homeopathic Association and the Faculty of Homeopathy?

Let me repeat that one more time: the British Homeopathic Association and Faculty of Homeopathy?

Let’s see what Ms. Penrose is supposed to be doing for the Lymphoma Association:

As Richard Morris, Chairman of Trustees of the Association, comments “We are delighted to appoint Ms Penrose to the role of Lymphoma Association Chief Executive. Sally’s excellent management experience makes her the ideal person to lead the organisation into the future.”

“The information and support services we provide are extremely impressive” comments Sally, “as well as developing these further, one of my priorities will be to focus on raising awareness of lymphoma and the needs of those affected by it. The courage and determination of the patients we support, along with their families and friends, is quite humbling and I feel very privileged to be leading the Association through the next stages of its development.”

Is it just me, or does this seem profoundly at odds with the mission of the Lymphoma Association? This is what its mission states:

Founded by patients in 1986, the Lymphoma Association is the only specialist UK charity that provides accurate medical information and support to lymphatic cancer patients, their families, friends and carers.

When patients learn they have lymphatic cancer, whether this is Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, they often know little about it. In these circumstances, it is natural to feel fear or anxiety. However, the Lymphoma Association believes that knowledge conquers fear, so continually works to provide accurate medical information and emotional support to anyone affected by lymphoma.

This is indeed a worthy goal for any patient organization to have. Science is what has resulted in lymphoma going from being a death sentence to one of the most treatable and survivable of cancers, particularly Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Homeopathy is quackery, pure and simple, and hiring a quack apologist to run what should be a science-based organization sends a horrible message. At the very least, it makes me wonder if the LA is about to go down the woo-hole of quackademic medicine. If so, British patients with lymphoma should be very, very afraid indeed. The LA has a reputation for clear, concise explanations for science-based therapies. Are they going to start promoting the fairy dust (or should I say water?) that is homeopathy as though it’s on par with chemotherapy and radiation?

My best guess as to why the Lymphoma Association would hire a quack apologist like Sally Penrose is that its Board of Directors somehow think she has some sort of mad managerial skillz that they need really, really badly, so very badly that all the baggage of being a spokesperson for quacks didn’t concern them. Remember, the purpose of the BHA is to lobby to “integrate” homeopathy into mainstream medicine. That’s its total raison d’être, and Sally Penrose assisted the BHA in its mission. She must have some mad administrative skillz indeed, if the Lymphoma Association is willing to take the whole package that is Sally Penrose, quackery advocacy and all.

Indeed, I’ve encountered an example of this promotion, although at the time I had no idea who Sally Penrose was. It came in response to comments I made about yet another example of The Huffington Post promoting woo, namely when Matthew Stein advocated homeopathy, colloidal silver, and the Beck protocol for treating and preventing the swine flu. Besides applying considerable not-so-Respectful Insolence in a post, I showed up in the comments after Stein’s article to point out that there is no evidence that homeopathy is anything more than a placebo and how the very concepts behind homeopathy are the rankest pseudoscience. Stein’s response, among other things, cited Sally Penrose from an article entitled Doctors Reject Lancet Report on Homeopathy:

Sally Penrose, Chief Executive of the Faculty of Homeopathy said: ‘Patient outcome studies at the NHS homeopathic hospitals show that on average 70% of patients report positive health changes after homeopathic treatments – these are patients who have usually exhausted all the conventional options first and are coping with intolerable suffering.’

Whoa.

It didn’t take me too long to find other similar statements by Ms. Penrose:

In her criticism of homeopathy, Suzanne Moore didn’t mention that a growing number of doctors train in and practise homeopathy precisely because it can help patients where conventional medicine has no answers.

There are five NHS homeopathic hospitals and many thousands of people with chronic conditions have benefited from homeopathy.

A study in the medical journal, The Lancet, concluded that the long consultation and not the homeopathic medicine makes people better. How then can we explain that it is particularly effective for babies and animals?

Won’t you think of the children? And puppies? Of course, there’s no evidence that homeopathy is “particularly effective” in anything, including for babies and animals. Moreover, the very concepts behind homeopathy are so incredibly implausible from just a basic science perspective that for homeopathy to be true huge swaths of well-supported physics, chemistry, and biology would have to be overturned as being not just somewhat wrong but totally wrong. To do that would require at least as much scientific evidence as that which supports the scientific precepts that quite clearly show why homeopathy can’t work.

Unfortunately, as Gimpy points out, it doesn’t appear to be the case at all that Penrose has such fantastic managerial skills that it’s worth it to the LA to take the hit to its reputation that hiring someone like Ms. Penrose results in. Indeed, her tenure at the BHA saw declining enrollment, falling revenues, and the closure of the Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital, not to mention a failure of the BHA to quell the tide of criticism of homeopathy. Maybe these failures were a function of the increasing realization by the public at large just how risible homeopathy is and no chief executive could have done better. Maybe. But what qualities could Penrose have that were so compelling that the LA would overlook her long association with pure quackery in order to hire her? I can’t see any.

Worse, Penrose is a proven advocate of pseudoscience, and that brings up another issue. That she could so easily turn on a dime and go from working for a quack organization ato working for a science- based organization tells me one of two things. Either she’s completely agnostic about homeopathy and will work, in essence, as a “hired gun” for any organization that will pay her enough regardless of what the organization espouses, or she believes in one or the other, either science or homeopathy. This latter possibility leads me to wonder of her: Is she lying now or was she lying then, back when she was shilling for the BHA? Or, another possibility, is she so clueless about science that she doesn’t see the problem with her having supported the pseudoscience of homeopathy? In other words, does she truly not realize that homeopathy is quackery? In that latter case, I can see her suddenly supporting all sorts of “integration” of woo into science-based lymphoma therapy.

And, regardless of whether or not Penrose is lying now or was lying during her tenure as chief executive of BHA, the LA clearly has some explaining to do.

Comments

  1. #1 John H
    July 15, 2009

    As an inhabitant of the right hand side of the pond this does appal me.

    A charitable interpretation might be that she is just a good manager who does not really care who she works for, rather like “impartial” civil servants who can flip allegiance on a penny.

    Her “defence” of homeoquackery does seem a bit lightweight and she was probably just regurgitating the brief she was given.

    As I am a charitable soul I would like to think she might have been a bit of a Trojan Horse and her belief in an EBM approach might be partly resonsible for the decline of magical water pill quackery in the UK. On the other hand she might just have been rubbish at her job.

    I guess her real beliefs will come out in the wash over the next twelve months. Given the degree of scrutiny she will be under I would be surprised to see much of a shift in emphasis away from EBM to quackery.

    Do we know who was on the panel that appointed her ? Was it medical professionals or administrative jobsworths ?

  2. #2 Andysnat
    July 15, 2009

    As a CLL sufferer in the UK, I find this incredibly odd, and was astonished when Gimpy reported it.

    I promised him that I’d blog it, so I suppose I really ought to !

  3. #3 spudbeach
    July 15, 2009

    Hmm — would the equivalent in the US be the American Cancer Society hiring a homeopath? The American Heart Association hiring a chiropractor? Just the thought makes me shudder.

    At best, one can say that the wallet of the Lymphoma Association overruled the brain. At worst, there is no brain in the LA.

  4. #4 DLC
    July 15, 2009

    “Mister Smith used to be a bank robber, but now he’ll be in charge of the bank vaults. We believe his experience in security will make him an excellent choice for this position.”

    “Mr Fox will now be running the henhouse for us. We believe his extensive poultry experience will be a tremendous benefit to the henhouse industry”

  5. #5 Richard Eis
    July 15, 2009

    I’ll wait for the end of the wash cycle also. You never can tell. The lymphoma society is at fault if they hired her.

  6. #6 gimpy
    July 15, 2009

    Thanks for the mention.

    But what qualities could Penrose have that were so compelling that the LA would overlook her long association with pure quackery in order to hire her? I can’t see any.

    I suspect a contacts book. For reasons of historical stupidity, Britain’s Royal Family (not known for their intellectual capacity) have been prominent supporters of quackery, especially homeopathy. The BHA senior staff will have spent some time in the company of the great, the good and the rich but terminally deluded. Exactly the kind of people charities, of all types, rely on for support.

  7. #7 pv
    July 15, 2009

    Her appointment also provides ammunition for homeoquacks to ply their trade as an adjunctive to evidenced based treatment, even if Sally Penrose never again mentions homeoquackery.
    This is a bad decision all round.

  8. #8 Magnus
    July 15, 2009

    Ugh, there are two articles on the front page of the Norwegian online newspaper Dagbladet.no that try to make the case that the MMR vaccine is harmful. They feature two cases; one is a girl who became disabled after taking the vaccine The other case is her friend,who has been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

    http://translate.google.com/translate?prev=hp&hl=en&js=y&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dagbladet.no%2F2009%2F07%2F11%2Fnyheter%2Finnenriks%2Fvaksiner%2Frettssak%2Fpasientskader%2F7124963%2F&sl=no&tl=en&history_state0=

    http://translate.google.com/translate?prev=hp&hl=en&js=y&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dagbladet.no%2F2009%2F07%2F15%2Fnyheter%2Finnenriks%2Fpasientskader%2Frettssak%2Fvaksine%2F7194750%2F&sl=no&tl=en&history_state0=

  9. #9 Henry
    July 15, 2009

    Dear Orac,

    Please change every instance of “quack apologist” and “spokesperson for quacks” to “quack flack.”

    Sincerely,
    Henry

  10. #10 Shay
    July 15, 2009

    “Mr Fox will now be running the henhouse for us. We believe his extensive poultry experience will be a tremendous benefit to the henhouse industry.”

    I had the same thought, D.C. Must be evidence of paranormal activity.

  11. #11 Mystyk
    July 15, 2009

    Magnus, let me see if I got this right…

    Article #1:
    So, a girl gets an MMR booster, then several months later becomes paralyzed after having felt pain in her lower-back for about a month. She had several symptoms even before the MMR that suggest alternate causes, but she just *knew* from the beginning that it *had* to be the MMR.

    She files a claim, it gets dismissed for lack of evidence. She appealed, it gets dismissed for lack of evidence. She appeals higher, arguing that in the case of vaccines the burden of proof is on the state to show that it absolutely couldn’t have been the cause, not on the injured to show reasonable likelihood that it was the cause, and wins.

    The state is now appealing it, on the grounds that significant evidence shows no known link, but also shows no viable explanation for how it even *might* have been possible. Add to that the previous data on the girl’s prior symptoms that was ignored by the court where she won. Girl considers the state’s appeal a personal offense.

    Article concludes by pointing out horrible diseases that are only rare because of the MMR vaccine.

    Article #2:
    Referencing girl 1, another girl in the same class had a serious illness several months after the MMR shot. Despite the fact that it was a significant time after the shot, and the fact that she showed several characteristic signs of viral infection, the girl and her family are certain it was from the MMR. They have been in constant communication with Girl #1′s family. Same law firm is representing both girls.

    Family originally sought a lawsuit, but withdrew to enter negotiations. Girl has made some recoveries. Lawyer for both girls opines that she thinks the fact that two girls in the same class that got sick a not-insignificant time after MMR (and with entirely different and unrelated ailments) is somehow statistically relevant. Lawyer further says she believes the government is deliberately preventing the girls from receiving compensation without evidence of causation in order to avoid an onslaught of litigation.

    Conclusion:
    Yep, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill anti-vax horseshit.

  12. #12 Budicius
    July 16, 2009

    Gimpy, how dare you insult the British Royal Family’s intellectual capacity!!

  13. #13 Magnus
    July 16, 2009

    @Mystik

    In article #1 there was only 27 hours between the vaccine and the paralysis. The Patients’ Injury Compensation Board argued that there is no evidence that vaccines can cause the form of myelitis she has, and that it is barely theoretically possible. They also argue that the time period between the vaccine and the symptoms was too long for it to have been caused by the vaccine. They also presented evidence that she was showing symptoms of a viral infection, and that such an infection would be a more likely cause. She originally won the case, but the state later appealed it. The burden of proof was, by the way, on the state to show the vaccine’s safety.

    The second girl didn’t develop symptoms until one month after the vaccine, and she wasn’t diagnosed until two years later. The diagnosis was chronic fatigue syndrome, which is somewhat infamous among sceptics for being allegedly caused by just about everything. The Patients’ Injury Compensation Board says it is more probable that the cause is more likely a viral infection along with the burden of seeing her friend develop a serious illness. The girl’s family claim that they didn’t hear about her friend’s paralysis until two months after she began showing symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Personally I find that to be strange. There were only 12 students being given the MMR. The other girl claims she became paralysed 27 hours later, and she was quickly hospitalised. To me that sounds like the kind of information the teacher would give to the class, even if she didn’t tell them about specific symptoms. Strangely enough, the director of The Patients’ Injury Compensation Board says that it is not the board’s opinion that she developed the syndrome because of her friend. This goes against what is claimed earlier in the article.

    The comment section is hilariously filled with comments about the Rockefellers, “toksiner” (a term that is almost never used in Norwegian), the swine flu and autism.

    One more important thing that this article mentions is that vaccination rates in Norway are only 92%. Isn’t this just barely enough to have herd immunity?

  14. #14 Dex Stewart
    July 16, 2009

    Quick note: IIRC herd immunity is defined as 95%.

  15. #15 Dan
    July 16, 2009

    While looking for still more studies showing that ‘real’ acupuncture was no more effective than the ‘sham’ variety to show to my psychologist who is a big fan of Eastern Medicine, I was astonished to run across this page: Medical Acupuncture at the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine Their staff “includes anesthesiologists, a naturopath and a Chinese-trained licensed acupuncturist.” Cost per session is only between $115-$124.00. How desperate for money is Stanford?

  16. #16 Dr. T
    July 17, 2009

    Never, in the history of science, has more than 10% of the population in “educated” nations understood science, the scientific method, logic, reason, and a proper approach to problem-solving. Most of the population is indifferent to science, and a large proportion relies upon magical thinking. Thus, it is unsurprising that the Lymphoma Association hires a homeopathy supporter. I’ll bet that at least half the board and executive members have used at least one form of woo and see nothing wrong with hiring Ms. Penrose.

  17. #17 Phoenix Woman
    July 18, 2009

    Worse, Penrose is a proven advocate of pseudoscience, and that brings up another issue. That she could so easily turn on a dime and go from working for a quack organization ato working for a science- based organization tells me one of two things. Either she’s completely agnostic about homeopathy and will work, in essence, as a “hired gun” for any organization that will pay her enough regardless of what the organization espouses, or she believes in one or the other, either science or homeopathy. This latter possibility leads me to wonder of her: Is she lying now or was she lying then, back when she was shilling for the BHA? Or, another possibility, is she so clueless about science that she doesn’t see the problem with her having supported the pseudoscience of homeopathy? In other words, does she truly not realize that homeopathy is quackery? In that latter case, I can see her suddenly supporting all sorts of “integration” of woo into science-based lymphoma therapy.

    In other words, she’s stupid, evil, or (very likely) both.

  18. #18 Francis Xavier Holden
    July 19, 2009

    Here in the Land Of Oz the fact that UK (or is it only England?)has Homeopathic Hospitals is frequently cited.

    I’ve never seen any analysisonwhat there actually do and successrates or eventhroughput.

    Are these hospitals funded by NHS as claimed?

    Do they have throughput targets, accreditation, clinical governance/quality standards, risk management, waiting times, emergency departments, ICUs, catchment areas, budgets, co-payments, random audits of clinical notes?

    Are they Primary Care, Secondary, Tertiary or Research?

    These are not just rhetorical questions although I reckon I can guess some of the answers – I’m curious to knwo if any of these figures are published.

  19. #19 The Blind Watchmaker
    July 19, 2009

    So will this person be advocating the dilution of cancerous lymph nodes down to oblivion and feeding it to lymphoma patients?

    If he is a self-respecting homeopath, then this is what he should be calling for.

  20. #20 Carman
    July 20, 2009

    @watchmaker

    *ahem* The Quackmeister in question is a she, not a he. It’s not nice to assume that all high-ranking idiots are men.

  21. #21 Charles Sullivan, D.O.
    July 21, 2009

    All this talk about Science! Responses to the following would be interesting:

    Charles W. Sullivan, D.O.
    COLBY FORENSIC MEDICINE CONFERENCE 2003

    Polypharmacy: What Cost in Morbidity and Mortality? ©

    It is common practice in Medicine to put patients on combinations of drugs. The vast majority of these combinations of drugs (especially where 3 or more drugs are involved) have never been studied at all, let alone in double-blind trials ( with the exception of Oncology/AIDS treatment, where the toxicity of the drugs demands study); yet it is frequent practice to prescribe these multiple-drug combinations.

    It is well accepted in Pharmacology that it is scientifically impossible to accurately predict the side effects or clinical effects of a combination of drugs without studying that particular combination of drugs in test subjects. Knowledge of the pharmacologic profiles of the individual drugs in question does not in any way assure accurate prediction of the side effects of combinations of those drugs, especially when they have different mechanisms of action, which is very common because polypharmacy is most often prescribed to patients with “multiple illnesses”. More than 100,000 patients in this country die from identified adverse drug reactions (perhaps the 4th to 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.) 3; the number who die as a consequence of polypharmacy is, to my knowledge, unknown and unstudied.

    The argument that the prescribing of drugs is the “Art” of Medicine is not valid in defending polypharmacy, because drugs are developed (indications, dose and administration, etc.) and approved through a “scientific” process (double-blind, placebo-controlled studies). The fact that the medicines are often prescribed for “different conditions” is irrelevant (especially to the patient’s physiology). The idea that ” we are doing the best we can “, a frequent defense of Polypharmacy, does not in any way uphold a scientific argument in favor of it. (We are, indeed, trying the best we can, with tools which do not improve at the rate we would wish!) The fact that “there is a limit to how much research can be done” in no way makes the research unnecessary in order to predict the side effects of specific combinations of drugs.

    It has been said in the past that less than 30% of medical practice was backed by controlled studies ¹ • ². Has this changed? How do we know? Are we looking closely enough at our way of practicing Medicine? Can the use of unstudied polypharmacy really be considered evidence-based, “scientific” Medicine? Can the Pathology community help initiate meaningful debate regarding this subject at a level that will produce more widespread awareness?

    Charles Sullivan, D.O.
    (yes, one of them!)
    “Science progresses, funeral by funeral.” – Max Planck

    1. Office of Technology Assessment: Assessing the efficacy and safety of
    medical technologies. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1978

    2. Smith R: Where is the wisdom . . . ? the poverty of medical evidence.
    BMJ 1991;303:798

    3. Incidence of Adverse Drug Reactions in Hospitalized Patients. JAMA. 1998;279:1200-1205

    voluminous other references available

  22. #22 Charles Sullivan, D.O.
    July 21, 2009

    All this talk about Science! Responses to the following would be interesting:

    Charles W. Sullivan, D.O.
    COLBY FORENSIC MEDICINE CONFERENCE 2003

    Polypharmacy: What Cost in Morbidity and Mortality? ©

    It is common practice in Medicine to put patients on combinations of drugs. The vast majority of these combinations of drugs (especially where 3 or more drugs are involved) have never been studied at all, let alone in double-blind trials ( with the exception of Oncology/AIDS treatment, where the toxicity of the drugs demands study); yet it is frequent practice to prescribe these multiple-drug combinations.

    It is well accepted in Pharmacology that it is scientifically impossible to accurately predict the side effects or clinical effects of a combination of drugs without studying that particular combination of drugs in test subjects. Knowledge of the pharmacologic profiles of the individual drugs in question does not in any way assure accurate prediction of the side effects of combinations of those drugs, especially when they have different mechanisms of action, which is very common because polypharmacy is most often prescribed to patients with “multiple illnesses”. More than 100,000 patients in this country die from identified adverse drug reactions (perhaps the 4th to 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.) 3; the number who die as a consequence of polypharmacy is, to my knowledge, unknown and unstudied.

    The argument that the prescribing of drugs is the “Art” of Medicine is not valid in defending polypharmacy, because drugs are developed (indications, dose and administration, etc.) and approved through a “scientific” process (double-blind, placebo-controlled studies). The fact that the medicines are often prescribed for “different conditions” is irrelevant (especially to the patient’s physiology). The idea that ” we are doing the best we can “, a frequent defense of Polypharmacy, does not in any way uphold a scientific argument in favor of it. (We are, indeed, trying the best we can, with tools which do not improve at the rate we would wish!) The fact that “there is a limit to how much research can be done” in no way makes the research unnecessary in order to predict the side effects of specific combinations of drugs.

    It has been said in the past that less than 30% of medical practice was backed by controlled studies ¹ • ². Has this changed? How do we know? Are we looking closely enough at our way of practicing Medicine? Can the use of unstudied polypharmacy really be considered evidence-based, “scientific” Medicine? Can the Pathology community help initiate meaningful debate regarding this subject at a level that will produce more widespread awareness?

    Charles Sullivan, D.O.
    (yes, one of them!)
    “Science progresses, funeral by funeral.” – Max Planck

    1. Office of Technology Assessment: Assessing the efficacy and safety of
    medical technologies. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1978

    2. Smith R: Where is the wisdom . . . ? the poverty of medical evidence.
    BMJ 1991;303:798

    3. Incidence of Adverse Drug Reactions in Hospitalized Patients. JAMA. 1998;279:1200-1205

    voluminous other references available

  23. #23 red rabbit
    July 22, 2009

    The NHS has homeopathic hospitals?

    The UK is really going down the toilet. What a collosal waste of money/space/human life.

  24. #24 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 23, 2009

    “It has been said in the past that less than 30% of medical practice was backed by controlled studies ¹ ”

    “It has been said…” indeed.
    That’s a number that was pulled out of someone’s ass and it is now a zombie pseudostatistic which will never die.
    It’s a joke that a number used to criticize medical practice for being unscientific was itself arrived at unscientifically.

  25. #25 Yorick Jenkins
    April 7, 2011

    I don’t know about homeopathy but I wouldn’t like to fall into the hands of most of the people who have written here-abusive and threatening as the contributors are! I don’t trust doctors at all whether they are homeopathic or traditional. I think it was Molière who wrote about someone that he died because he had had too many doctors.

  26. #26 Yorick Jenkins
    April 7, 2011

    I don’t know about homeopathy but I wouldn’t like to fall into the hands of most of the people who have written here-abusive and threatening as the contributors are! I don’t trust doctors at all whether they are homeopathic or traditional. I think it was Molière who wrote about someone that he died because he had had too many doctors.

  27. #27 Yorick Jenkins
    April 7, 2011

    I don’t know about homeopathy but I wouldn’t like to fall into the hands of most of the people who have written here-abusive and threatening as the contributors are! I don’t trust doctors at all whether they are homeopathic or traditional. I think it was Molière who wrote about someone that he died because he had had too many doctors.

  28. #28 Yorick Jenkins
    April 7, 2011

    I don’t know about homeopathy but I wouldn’t like to fall into the hands of most of the people who have written here-abusive and threatening as the contributors are! I don’t trust doctors at all whether they are homeopathic or traditional. I think it was Molière who wrote about someone that he died because he had had too many doctors.

  29. #29 Yorick Jenkins
    April 7, 2011

    I don’t know about homeopathy but I wouldn’t like to fall into the hands of most of the people who have written here-abusive and threatening as the contributors are! I don’t trust doctors at all whether they are homeopathic or traditional. I think it was Molière who wrote about someone that he died because he had had too many doctors.

  30. #30 Todd W.
    April 7, 2011

    @Yorick Jenkins

    Moliere also lived at a time when bloodletting was viewed as a panacea. Medicine has moved on a bit since then, my friend.

    Out of curiosity, why post on a 2-year-old post, rather than something a bit more recent?

  31. #31 LW
    April 7, 2011

    I read through the post and comment thread. I did not find any comment that appeared threatening. Would you mind pointing them out? Comment numbers will do.

  32. #32 Calli Arcale
    April 7, 2011

    A 17th Century French playwright known for poking fun at class structures may have said something disparaging about doctors (who at the time were mostly engaged in bleeding and purging) therefore doctors are dangerous?

    You need a little context. That comes from “La Malade imaginaire” (the Imaginary Invalid), a play about a hypochondriac who is also a complete jerk and a bit of a buffoon. Desperate for medical care for his imaginary ailments, Argan wants to marry his daughter off to a physician so he can get treated for free. She, however, has fallen in love with someone else, and ultimately prevails by convincing her father to become a doctor himself and getting some local gypsies to stage a hilarious mock ceremony to declare him a doctor. This is probably what you’re referring to. (Ironically, Moliere actually died during his fourth performance as the Invalid, which is probably part of the reason this is one of his more famous plays. One doesn’t quickly forget something like that.)

    This was an exaggerated but not entirely untrue portrayal of the doctors of Moliere’s time. In the 17th Century, the dominant belief was still the “humoral theory” of disease, and the sorts of experimentation (such as autopsies) which could tell how to treat disease were still illegal. So doctors mostly treated disease with a combination of bloodletting, toxic herbs, and purging. (The Imaginary Invalid makes much of enemas.) If this helped anybody, it was usually by accident. George Washington likely died because of this sort of treatment (his doctors bled him heavily in hopes of restoring his humoral balance).

    In those days, just about the only person you could trust for decent medical care was a chirugeon (from whence comes our modern word “surgeon”). These people tended to have some idea of the structure of the body, often practiced on animals, and were able to get a quite clear appreciation for the need to staunch bleeding (rather than encouraging it).

    This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with modern doctors, though some alt-med practitioners retain some traces of the old methods, usually in far less hazardous degrees. (Enemas and purgatives are still used by alt med practitioners, but bloodletting has largely fallen away, and good riddance. The only trace of it that persists is acupuncture, and the theory behind it has changed to suit modern “please don’t bleed me dry” sensibilities.)

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