Respectful Insolence

Khhaaaaaannnn!

I mean, Arriiiaaaaannaaa!

Ever since its very inception, I’ve been–shall we say?–less than enthusiastic about the Huffington Post’s medical blogging. Indeed, the level of anti-vaccine rhetoric there from the very beginning, back in 2005, astounded me. If anything, HuffPo’s record has gotten even worse over the last four years, be it Deepak Chopra, or, in 2009, the addition of a variety of quacks to its roster, not to mention a brain-blisteringly stupid anti-vaccine rant by Fire Marshal Bill–I mean Jim Carrey–the promotion of “functional medicine” quackery by Mark Hyman, “detox” woo, or several different varieties of swine flu quackery. (Speaking of swine flu quackery, there’s been some more at HuffPo just the other day. Fortunately, PalMD’s on the case.) Heck, there’s even at least one post advocating “distant healing.”

In any case, it seems to me that the quackery quotient of HuffPo has been escalating ever since Patricia Fitzgerald, acupuncturist and homeopath, was hired as HuffPo’s “Wellness Editor.” The trend has continued since Dr. Dean Ornish was hired to become HuffPo’s medical editor. A more embarrassing title I’m hard pressed to come up with. HuffPo’s “medical editor”? Is that like being the biologist in charge of Ken Ham’s “Creation Museum“? Be that as it may what is the one thing that would nail down HuffPo’s title as the “mainstream” blog with the highest quackery quotient of all? Let’s see. Anti-vaccinationists? Check. Deepak Chopra. Check. Distant healing. Check. Beck protocol? Check. What else? Well, there’s been a little dabbling in discussing homeopathy (or, as I like to call it, The One Quackery to Rule Them All), but not that much, other than in passing. What HuffPo needed, apparently, to complete its transition into Whale.to was a real, honest-to-God homeopath, not someone like Fitzgerald, who’s a multifunctional woo-meister and apparently only dabbles in homeopathy.

HuffPo needed Dana Ullman. And HuffPo got Dana Ullman!

Dana Ullman, M.P.H. is widely recognized as the foremost spokesperson for homeopathic medicine in the U.S. He has authored nine books, including his newest book, The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy (North Atlantic Books/Random House, 2007), which includes a Foreword by the Physician to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. He has also written Homeopathic Medicines for Children and Infants (Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 1992) and the best-selling Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines (Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, revised 2004) that is America’s most popular guidebook to using homeopathic medicines at home.

Dana Ullman has written extensively on homeopathic research in an ebook entitled Homeopathic Family Medicine: Evidence Based Nanopharmacology, which describes and references 200+ clinical trials testing homeopathic medicines. Dana’s resource center, Homeopathic Educational Services (www.homeopathic.com) is a leading source for homeopathic books, medicines, home medicine kits, software, and courses.

Oh, goody. As Kimball Atwood so cleverly put it:

In any discussion involving science or medicine, being Dana Ullman loses you the argument immediately…and gets you laughed out of the room.

My corollary is: “For any blog that discusses, or has a section discussing, science and medicine, having Dana Ullman as one of your bloggers loses you any medical argument immediately–and gets you laughed off the blogosphere.”

Dana demonstrates the soundness of this corollary immediately for HuffPo with his inaugural post, The Wisdom of Symptoms: Respecting the Body’s Intelligence.

The stupid, it burns. Homeopathically. Oh, wait. Wouldn’t that mean that it doesn’t burn, or that the less you put into it the hotter it burns. Or perhaps it means that there is only a homeopathic amount of science and reason in Ullman’s post, you know, diluted so much that there is not even a trace left, leaving only stupidity behind. Yeah, that’s the ticket. He delves right into the homeopathic intelligence right from the first sentence:

Have you ever wondered what is that stuff coming out of your nose when you have a common cold? Such nasal discharges are composed of dead viruses that were killed by the body’s defenses, dead white blood cells that were killed as a result of the infection, and a liquid substance known as mucus which the body deploys as a vehicle to remove this dead matter.

If you take a conventional over-the-counter drug for the common cold, these drugs “work” by reducing the body’s ability to create mucus, which simply inhibits the body’s own efforts to eliminate the dead viruses from the body. Although these conventional drugs may stop the nasal discharge temporarily, the side effects of these drugs are that they lead to bronchial congestion, headache, and fatigue, which can be more problematic and discomforting symptoms than the original simple nasal discharge.

The lesson here is that just because a drug is effective in getting rid of a symptom does not necessarily mean that this treatment is truly curative (or even helpful).

Wow! Such brilliance! I never would have thought of that! Imagine! The body has defense mechanisms! Who’da thunk it? Apparently Dana is amazed, and he leaps to this conclusion:

The basic assumption behind the broad field of natural medicine is that the human body has an inherent wisdom within it that strives to defend itself and to survive. Symptoms of illness are not simply something “wrong” with the person, but instead, symptoms are actually responses and efforts of the organism to defend and heal itself against infection and/or stress. Hans Selye, MD, PhD, the father of stress theory, once asserted, “Disease is not mere surrender to attack but also the fight for health; unless there is a fight, there is no disease.”

Our human body has survived these thousands of years because of its incredible adaptive capabilities, and one of the ways that it adapts is through the creation of symptoms. Whether it be through fever and inflammation, cough and expectoration, nausea and vomiting, fainting and comatose states, and even the variety of emotional and mental states, each symptom represents the best efforts of the bodymind to fight infection and/or adapt to physical and psychological stresses.

The “bodymind”? What is this, some new form of woo-speak, a new term for “mind-body medicine”? Who knows? Personally, I don’t care. The two paragraphs above show exactly how a “little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Nowhere is that more true than in the “bodymind” of someone like Dana Ullman. Sure, many of the symptoms we try to treat are indeed reactions of the body designed to fight off whatever disease or disorder is trying to attack it. But that doesn’t mean that the “bodymind” (or even just the body) is inherently “wise” and that its reactions always result in better survival. Symptoms may mean different things in different contexts. They indicated different physiology. Moreover, not every symptom resulting from the body’s physiologic response to disease or injury is always beneficial. All too often, the body’s defenses go a bit haywire or even end up being the cause of more damage than the pathogen or injury.

Take inflammation as a good example of the body’s “fight for health.” It’s a critical physiological mechanism, a manifestation of our immune system’s function if you will, for healing wounds, fighting off infection, and getting rid of irritants (as in all that mucus that Bill Maher is so fond of talking about). However, the inflammatory response, as useful as it is, is not always in the best interest of the body’s survival. Indeed, consider the body’s response to sepsis. The systemic inflammatory response that is sepsis is, all too often, what kills the patient more than the infection itself. Blood pressure plummets, the heart pumps beyond its capacity, the microcirculation is dysfunctional. All of this can lead to what we used to call multi-system organ failure, what is now often referred to as multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS). As one author has described it:

Sepsis is described as an autodestructive process that permits extension of the normal pathophysiologic response to infection to involve otherwise normal tissues and results in MODS…

Organ dysfunction or organ failure may be the first clinical sign of sepsis, and no organ system is immune from the consequences of the inflammatory excesses of sepsis.

Note the word autodestructive.

But, no doubt Ullman would say, it’s all because of those pathogenic bacteria! Well, yes, indeed it is. But if the body is so “wise,” why does it overreact so to such infection? If the body is so wise, why can’t it prevent a localized infection from affecting the entire circulation and causing multiple organs to start to shut down? If the body is so wise, why can such a septic-like picture occur in patients who have been badly injured but do not have any evidence of a serious infection?

What?

That’s right. There’s a syndrome known as systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). This inflammatory syndrome can occur after traumatic injury, surgery, pancreatitis, hemorrhage, or all other manner of insults. The key feature of SIRS is that it looks for all the world like septic shock, except that no infection can be found. If the body’s so “wise,” if initial symptoms like fever, lightheadedness, and a racing heart are so “wise,” how on earth could such a syndrome result in the failure of multiple organs and a 40-50% death rate (at least)?

The problem is, as PalMD put it, symptoms are neither inherently good nor bad. They just are. The same symptoms can also signal different things. A good example is chest pain, which can be due to muscle strain, gastroesophageal reflux, esophageal cancer, pericarditis, or ischemia to the heart muscle due to coronary artery disease, which, if left untreated, can result in a myocardial infarction and even death. And that’s only a partial list. The diagnostic possibilities for abdominal pain can range from benign, self-limited conditions to pancreatic cancer. There are literally dozens of possible diagnoses. Heck, if we even limit the abdominal pain to right lower quadrant pain, certainly appendicitis is often a diagnosis, but it can also be several other things, such as Crohn’s disease. In a female, add to that all the possible problems in the female reproductive organs that can cause lower abdominal pain, from a ruptured ovarian cyst, to pelvic inflammatory disease, to ectopic pregnancy, and many others. It takes skills and knowledge to differentiate between them.

Of course, Ullman is completely clueless regarding even these simple facts. Instead, he says:

The implications of recognizing that symptoms are efforts of the body to defend itself are significant. Because some conventional drugs work by suppressing symptoms, these drugs tend to provide helpful temporarily relief but tend to lead other new and more serious problems by inhibiting the body’s defense and immune processes. Such drugs should be avoided except in dire situations or in extreme pain or discomfort when safer treatments are not working fast or adequately enough.

Because symptoms are adaptations of the body in its efforts to defend and heal itself, it makes sense to use treatments that mimic this wisdom of the body. Ultimately, homeopathic medicine is a well-known therapeutic modality that honors this wisdom of the body. Homeopathy is a type of “medical biomimicry” that uses various plant, mineral, and animal substances based upon their ability to cause in overdose the similar symptoms that the sick person is experiencing.

Here we go again with the claim that conventional drugs “work by suppressing symptoms.” If he honestly believes that, I’ll give him one point. Homeopathic remedies certainly don’t relieve anything, other than perhaps symptoms relievable by the placebo effect. So, right off the bat, Ullman is making a contrast that is correct in one small way, just not in the way he thinks it is. He’s contrasting actual, effective medicine that can relieve symptoms to the make-believe, fairy dust medicine that is homeopathy, that can’t relieve or fix anything.

It is pretty hilarious, though to see Ullman calling homeopathy “medical biomimickry.” For anyone to come to that conclusion requires that that person accept the homeopathic principle of “like cures like,” a principle for which there really is no good evidence. At least, there’s no evidence that there is any sort of general principle that “like cures like.” More importantly, homeopathy is ridiculous at its very core in postulating that taking this “like” to heal “like,” serially diluting it far beyond Avogadro’s number, with magical shaking at each dilution step that somehow imbues this remedy with its mystical magical power to heal. It’s nothing more than sympathetic magic. As I’ve said before, homeopathy combines the magical Law of Similarity with the magical Law of Contagion, given that it postulates that water somehow remains influenced by substances that it’s been in contact with even after that substance has been diluted away to not a single molecule. It just reverses the concept from “like produces like” (the Law of Similars”) to “like heals like” (or “like reverses like”).

That doesn’t stop Ullman from making an equally clueless analogy:

It may be no coincidence that two of the very few conventional medical treatments that augment the body’s own immune system are immunizations and allergy treatments, and these drug treatment modalities “coincidentally” derive from the homeopathic principle of similar (treating “like with like”).

Ugh. This has to be one of the oldest canards about homeopathy there is. The reason, of course, is that vaccinations actually have some active substance in them. Actually, the amount of active substance in vaccinations is enormous compared to the amount of substance in a typical homeopathic remedy. A vaccine contains billions of viruses or protein molecules used as antigens; a homeopathic remedy is nothing other than water. Vaccines do not require serial dilutions to work. In fact, they tend to work better if there is more antigen, not less. The same is true of treating allergies. This involves treating a patient with a gradually increasing amount of the allergen that provokes the patient’s allergic response in order to desensitize the patient. If there were any resemblance to homeopathy at all, it would probably involve treating a patient with gradually increasing dilutions of the same substance, given that one of the principles of homeopathy is that its remedies are “potentized,” or made stronger, with dilution. For both vaccines and allergy treatments, no appeal to the “memory of water” is required.

Unfortunately for rational readers but fortunately for me, Ullman states near the end of his post:

Note: A future blog will feature descriptions of and references to clinical and basic sciences research that verify the efficacy and biological activity of homeopathic medicines.

Oh, well. This may mean the burning stupid will continue to pour forth from HuffPo, but at least I’ll never lack for blogging material, particularly when I’m in a particularly foul mood.

Comments

  1. #1 Hank Roberts
    September 28, 2009

    Hmmmm, are you brave enough to read HuffPo without AdBlock?

    If you’re so inclined, noting who sponsors this stuff along with the comments on the stupid would be helpful.

    Thanks for reading it, it’s the only way I’ll ever know what they’re up to. Someone should compete them out of the market.

  2. #2 Penh
    September 28, 2009

    The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy

    I think that title pretty much sums it all up. Not “smart people,” or “educated people,” or “people with clues,” or “people who have some vague idea what they’re talking about” — just “famous people.” Because after all, is there anyone better than someone famous?

  3. #3 Henry
    September 28, 2009

    It should also be noted that immunizations and allergy treatments are designed to provoke/modify a response to the actual cause of the symptoms, whereas homeopathic mixtures (I still object to the term “remedies,” man) rely on some asserted link between the symptoms and an unrelated substance, like eye twitches and thorn apples (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NAH/is_4_32/ai_85174703/) or hemorrhage and cactus (http://www.abchomeopathy.com/r.php/Cact). Of course, real medicine doesn’t operate on the principle that “like cures like,” but it’s bizarre that homeopaths are taken seriously by anyone when they manifestly ignore their own (idiotic) guidelines.

  4. #4 Chris
    September 28, 2009

    For fun and entertainment, check out how DUllman makes out on the James Randi Forum. He posted there as “jamesgully”, and it is quite entertaining. Easily found by using a targeted google search: Dana Ullman as JamesGully on JREF

  5. #5 Infophile
    September 28, 2009

    It may be no coincidence that two of the very few conventional medical treatments that augment the body’s own immune system are immunizations and allergy treatments, and these drug treatment modalities “coincidentally” derive from the homeopathic principle of similar (treating “like with like”).

    Another important point to be made in the difference between these effects and homeopathy is that in the former cases, the body actually has a known physiological mechanism of “reading” the information in the vaccine/allergy shot. We in fact know quite well how both of these work, at almost every step along the way.

    What about homeopathy? When they get to this point of trying to justify it with science, they’ll always bring up “water memory.” Okay, then even if we assume that any such memory water may have lasts more than a small fraction of a second (much less long enough to sit on the shelf waiting for a customer to buy it), what is the body’s mechanism for reading the information stored in the water’s memory? Why should such a mechanism even exist – what’s the evolutionary advantage to being able to glean information from what was touching the water you’re drinking (while someone “potentized” it, which I’m sure happened a lot in the millions of years of evolution it would take)?

    Going back to contrast to vaccines and allergy shots, this question can be answered quite readily. Vaccines use the body’s immune system’s ability to learn about infections it’s previously fought to defeat them again – a very useful adaptation. Allergy shots help build up resistance – building tolerance with repeated exposure would also be quite useful. The body gains little and loses much by overreacting to harmless materials, and any way to minimize that would confer a survival advantage.

    Homeopathy, on the other hand… No. Just, no.

  6. #6 Flabbergasted
    September 28, 2009

    I’ve been complaining and complaining, because I worry about people (honest, not-very-bright people who are scared by a diagnosis they or their child has received) believing the antivax stuff. Or Hyman’s stuff. Or what I read today about ADHD or antipsychotic meds lobotomizing children and being abuse. The more it is out there, the higher it comes up on the google search, the more people believe it is true. Most people don’t understand that even very widely believed lies are still lies.

    I wish that there were some way to fix HuffPo. I am horrified by the mix of news and woo, and worried about the platform it gives quacks and dangerous lies. Aside from actually teaching science and statistics to children from as young as they can learn it, I’m not sure how one cures the underlying disease. But at this point, HP is the woo version of Typhoid Mary. They need to be stopped.

  7. #7 Sans
    September 28, 2009

    I suffer from eczema. Chronically. For years I sought a remedy. I would try anything (we are the perfect candidate for woo). Any damned thing to stop the scratching. The rash. The constant pain. The never ending flaking skin.

    So, I went to this woo meister. I followed his regimen to the letter. I was getting sicker and sicker by the day. I had this quack talking me through it the whole time.

    I live in the tropics – it never gets cold here. I phoned this bastard one night to tell him that I was shivering under a pile of blankets. He told me it was the ‘toxins’ leaving my system.

    Long story short, I ended up in A&E. It was a nightmare.

    He could have killed me.

    Just like this poor child… http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/09/28/2698762.htm.

  8. #8 Skydiver
    September 28, 2009

    I had never heard about whale.to before, and because of you I took a look. The stupid, it burnt my brain. Now what do I do? Keep skydiving, I guess! Keep fighting the good fight

  9. #9 emerson cardoso
    September 28, 2009

    Hey my quack quack friend.

    As you are the tireless knight defender of the criminal pharmaceutical companies, can you explain about the following article from the australian news, where “an international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be “neutralised” or discredited because they criticised the anti-arthritis drug the pharmaceutical giant produced.”.
    A employee of this company said during a hearing of the vioxx case:
    “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live”, talking about an internal email about how the doctors that criticised the company should be dealed with.

    Well well my friend, now we know for whom you might be working, hein ;)

    There are quackery, indeed, just as there are people like you that accuse falsely of quakery anyone that tries to show the truth about the pharmaceutical industry. However, you shouldn’t identify them only for being against the BigPharma. One thing that people fail to see is that the last thing the pharmaceutical companies really want is to keep you healthy. You need to be really dumb to believe that they are actually working for you.

    One a few example:

    - Sanofi and other lab BigPharma are charged for distributing anti-coagulant contaminated with HIV.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/04/world/middleeast/04aids.ht
    ml?_r=1&ex=1158897600&en=60d4dd1ca71030bd&ei=5070

    - Bayer caused thousands to get HIV for selling contaminated medication.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wg-52mHIjhs

    - Sanofi is charged in France for ommitting side-effects of vaccines.
    http://www.reuters.com/article/health-SP/idUSWNAS231120071114

    - FDA warns Sanofi over contaminated plant.
    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/46559.php

    Being such a supporter of the BigPharma industry, tell me how are you going to deny the cases above? So how will anyone in their sane mind think that if those companies did that before they won’t do it again, and again and again?

    Get real and stop misleading this idiot sheeple that follow your blog.

    Emerson

  10. #10 emerson cardoso
    September 28, 2009

    Next time you see a research supporting the use of some big-pharma medicine or attacking some alternative treatment not-mainstream-medicine, think twice, you might be talking to ghosts.

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/ghost-writing-link-to-medical-journals-20090917-ftoz.html

    AT LEAST one article submitted to Australia’s leading medical journal in recent years was ”ghost written” by a writer employed by a drug or medical device company, its editor says.

    Martin van der Weyden, editor of the Medical Journal of Australia, has called for a government-funded investigation into the influence that industry has on research papers.

    However, he believes the problem in Australia is not nearly as bad as in North America, where there is a scandal over the extent of ghost writing in leading medical journals.

  11. #11 Vindaloo
    September 28, 2009

    emerson cardoso – Orac and others have already covered that and mainstream scientists and physicians stand aghast at dishonorable actions by anyone claiming to be a scientist, quack or nonquack.

    Mainstream science is an aggressive and self-correcting institution that evolves over time. Crap and lies will be found out at some point because of the continual improvement in reporting and oversight. That’s not the case for the big money bathtub chemist industry. Quacks like the guy this discussion is based upon run rampant with the internet.

  12. #12 Donna B.
    September 28, 2009

    I’ll say the same thing here I said at PalMD’s place — HuffPo is a soft target. How do we take on the government, famous hospitals and the NYT when they propose the same things in even “more thoughtful” language?

  13. #13 emerson cardoso
    September 28, 2009

    Where is my previous comments?

    Vindaloo:
    Corrects overtime? Over and over we see the influence of the BigPharma and BigChemintry companies on legislations and lobby.
    In brazil, my country, the bio-technologies department of the government has been chaired by a former Monsanto lawyer. And this runs rampant in the US as well, with several people going back and forth from FDA to monsanto and vice-versa.

    Is that difficult to see?

  14. #14 Warhelmet
    September 28, 2009

    One of the things I find most assuming about Dullman is the way he mangles any description of what homeopathy is. I don’t know if this is a deliberate attempt at obfuscation, but “wisdom of the body” – isn’t he actually talking about the “vital force”? And the mindful version at that? Or has he suddenly rejected the vitalism at the heart of homeopathy in favour of something else.

    I suspect that Dullman confuses meaningless aphorism for wisdom.

  15. #15 Joseph C.
    September 28, 2009

    One thing that people fail to see is that the last thing the pharmaceutical companies really want is to keep you healthy. You need to be really dumb to believe that they are actually working for you.

    Drug companies, in general, want to make money and you can’t do that with crap drugs that get pulled from the market or are vastly inferior to competitors’ products. Nobody thinks they’re “working for you”, but you incorrectly view this as necessarily a zero sum game.

    Corrects overtime? Over and over we see the influence of the BigPharma and BigChemintry companies on legislations and lobby.

    The drug companies must be epic failing at those conspiracy theory you’re spinning if YOU know about them. Your paranoid and simplistic weltanschauung neglects several things:

    1) The press loves a scandal and will aggressively report on them.
    2) Drug companies that sell crap open themselves up to extreme legal liabilities. See: Vioxx.
    3) Drugs are sold in a competitive market.
    4) Physicians are not necessarily the docile rubes you suggest that they are.

  16. #16 PalMD
    September 28, 2009

    It always amazes me that people delve into human biology with such naivete, ignoring centuries of knowledge and “intuiting” their way through. Ugh.

  17. #17 Max
    September 28, 2009

    If the mainstream-ers are worried about losing people to quackery, they ought to focus on the real root causes.

    If it’s fair to judge it by the health of Americans, mainstream medicine is a failure in this country.

    Fix the system and people will have no reason to follow the superstitious quacks whom you deride, for they are merely a symptom of a much greater imbalance.

  18. #18 ckerst
    September 28, 2009

    After reading a few Deepak Chopra crystal rubbing new age pieces of nonsense I deleted the bookmark for HuffPo and haven’t looked back. The same with Koz to many screaming fools.

  19. #19 Vindaloo
    September 28, 2009

    #9 @emerson – your freaky troll first post wasn’t up when I responded to #10, so I’d like my 45 seconds of education attempt back.

    emerson = http://static.open.salon.com/files/freaky1235335456.jpg

  20. #20 Natalie
    September 28, 2009

    Max @ 17 – how do you explain the popularity of homeopathy and other quackery in Britain and Germany? The populace’s general health is much higher in both of those countries than it is in the US, but quackery flourishes.

    I’m all for health reform, but it seems unrealistic to imagine it will be a panacea against woo.

  21. #21 Gil
    September 28, 2009

    I wonder how long it will be until the miasma theory of disease comes back in vogue?

  22. #22 D
    September 28, 2009

    But if the NIH supports woo why not Ariana?

    The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine presents the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Consult Service lecture series. The series provides NIH Clinical Center staff with the opportunity to learn more about how the integration of various complementary and alternative medicine treatments can affect approaches into the research and practice of medicine.

    More information on the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Consult Service is located at http://nccam.nih.gov/consultservice/.

    TOPIC: Introduction to Medical Qigong – Mysteries & Wonders of Chinese Medicine

    SPEAKER: Dr. Kevin W. Chen, Associate Professor, Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine

    DATE: Monday, Oct. 5, 2009; 10:00 a.m.

    LOCATION: NIH Clinical Research Center (Building 10), Lipsett Amphitheatre

    Dr. Kevin W. Chen will present a brief introduction on Qigong, different Qigong traditions or schools, and major medical applications of Qigong, as well as what research evidence exists on the therapeutic effect of Qigong, how Qigong works for health and healing, and examples of Qigong techniques the audience may use in everyday life.

    Dr. Chen is an associate professor at the Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine. He is a NIH-funded investigator in clinical study of Qigong therapy for arthritis and addiction, as well as a certified Qigong instructor. As a long-time Qigong practitioner and being of Chinese origin, Dr. Chen is among the few scientists who have both fundamental knowledge of Qigong and active involvement in Qigong research in the U.S. His research includes verification of bio-energy therapy through laboratory detectors, and medical applications of bio-energy therapies like Qigong in clinical settings. He is currently working on NIH- and foundation-funded research projects to apply Qigong therapy and self-care methods in treatment of addiction, arthritis, anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, cancer, and other health conditions.

    This lecture is being videocast at http://videocast.nih.gov/.

    Registration is not required. Sign language interpreters will be provided.Individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation to participate in this lecture should contact Belinda Davis, NCCAM Office of the Clinical Director, at 301-435-4541, or davisb@mail.nih.gov, or the Federal TTY Relay number (1-800-877-8339).

  23. #23 T-Ray
    September 28, 2009

    The only thing this article leads me to conclude is that it’s writer seriously wants to make somebody feel bad about their personal choices.

  24. #24 Anthro
    September 28, 2009

    Hey T-Ray

    No, your personal choices are yours to make; this blog just wants you to be aware of how many quacks are out there to try to get you to WASTE your money on useless personal choices.

  25. #25 Skeptico
    September 28, 2009

    emerson cardoso:

    Funny thing, I clicked those links of yours, and I didn’t find any evidence that homeopathy works.

    Funny, that.

    btw, homeopathy can kill. Although the homeopath concerned has just been jailed.

  26. #26 trrll
    September 28, 2009

    Next time you see a research supporting the use of some big-pharma medicine or attacking some alternative treatment not-mainstream-medicine, think twice, you might be talking to ghosts.

    I supposed that it must be very comforting to you to imagine that those who are critical of the lucrative Big Woo industry are in the pay, or at least in the thrall, of Big Pharma. Presumably, you read something critical on Huffpost or some other quack-friendly website, and arrived here in high dudgeon so certain of your assumptions that you didn’t even bother to look around at some of the previous posts. Otherwise, you might have noticed posts like this.

    Here’s a newsflash: a lot of people around here don’t like Big Pharm companies who insinuate ads disguised as scientific papers into the scientific literature any more than they like the wealthy woo-meisters who pitch their costly and worthless quack cures on places like Huffington Post. To us, they are much the same: dishonest people profiteering from the suffering of others.

  27. #27 Hypatia
    September 28, 2009

    As someone in the middle of a severe allergy attack, I find this particularly amusing/disgusting. I suppose I should be grateful that the wisdom of my bodymind is protecting me from all that dangerous pollen (not to mention those lethal dust mites).
    HuffPo is a cesspit of fauxgressive nonsense anyway. Not only is it stuffed to the gills with bad “science,” but it seems to think that the only way to get its readers to care about political stories is to festoon them with cleavage-related slideshows.
    Truly insulting to its audience on every level.

  28. #28 Militant Agnostic
    September 28, 2009

    Natalie @20 – Has it occurred to you that perhaps better health outcomes in Germany and Britain compared to the US are due to both Germany and Britain having universal health insurance while a large number of people in the US have no health insurance.

    Occam’s razor suggest that this is a much more likely explanation rather than virtually everything we know about chemistry, physics and biology being completely wrong.

  29. #29 Pablo
    September 28, 2009

    If it’s fair to judge it by the health of Americans, mainstream medicine is a failure in this country.

    Mainstream medicine is a failure in the same way that weather forecasting is a failure: it fails to live up to the standard of being perfect.

    Odd, you would figure that in a country where the average college-level student earns a C+/B-, there would be a little better appreciation for the concept of degrees of success.

    I’ve pointed this out before in other places: if psychics like Sylvia Browne had anything near the smidgeon of accuracy that weather forecasters do, they would very heroic indeed. Yet, weather forecasts are notable for their failures, whereas psychics are notable for their successes – well, would be if they ever have any. Imagine a warm, sunny day 2000 years ago that someone comes out and says, “Tomorrow, the weather will be windy, much colder, and it will rain.” Even if they were right only 80% of the time, that would be an achievement far surpassing any “fortune teller.” Yet nowadays, weatherman do that all the time, and no one bats an eye. Science allows us to predict the future so accurately it isn’t even funny (I can even tell you, if I drop my pen, how long it will take it to hit the floor and be accurate within milliseconds)

    The same goes for medicine. Science has allowed medicine to do things that get taken for granted, but couldn’t happen without it. In another thread, someone made a big deal out of the fact that patients are misdiagnosed about 15% of the time. While that is obviously higher than we would like, what’s the alternative? sCAM crap? Toxins? Qi? These things are wrong probably 85% of the time, if they are lucky.

    There is no doubt that medicine is not perfect, and we invest in real medical research in order to make it better. However, there is a long way between “not perfect” and “failure.”

  30. #30 ildi
    September 28, 2009

    Sans:

    I suffer from eczema. Chronically. For years I sought a remedy. I would try anything (we are the perfect candidate for woo). Any damned thing to stop the scratching. The rash. The constant pain. The never ending flaking skin.

    I went the entire route, too, but I did the scatter-shot approach; tacrolimus/UVA therapy (when the steroids quit working) concurrently with spring-water fast (20 days), reiki, acupuncture, soft-touch chiropractic, naturopath/herbal remedies/blood-type diet (after the spring-water fast, natch), reflexology (feels awesome, I must say)… all the while hoping for the placebo effect if nothing else.

    Embarrassing to admit that I was trained as a scientist, but when conventional medicine doesn’t have a solution yet and you’re fucking miserable, you’re willing to try anything… I came to my senses when the reiki person started to intimate that the reason I wasn’t healing was because I WANTED to have eczema.

    Our human body has survived these thousands of years because of its incredible adaptive capabilities

    This seems to be a medical version of the “noble savage.” I think these people would be unpleasantly surprised if they found themselves transported back even a few hundred years to a time when they had to survive w/out modern medicine. What’s up, btw, with the “thousands of years” cutoff? Shouldn’t it be millions of years? And why human body? Do we have something special that animals don’t? Maybe a basic understanding of the evolutionary process is also missing here?

  31. #31 Pablo
    September 28, 2009

    This seems to be a medical version of the “noble savage.” I think these people would be unpleasantly surprised if they found themselves transported back even a few hundred years to a time when they had to survive w/out modern medicine.

    When my wife was pregnant, I hung out a lot at some of the pregnancy websites (not sMothering.com, thank goodness). Sometimes there would be women who would say they were against induction or c-sections (done at full term, but before labor started) because “the body knows when it is ready” and “it will come naturally” and other such stuff. I would always point out that, if you step back and look, Mother Nature is cruel bitch. When she was in control of things, there were MOTHER mortality rates on the order of 1/100, much less serious baby mortality problems. Nowadays, even though our infant mortality in the US is higher than we would like it is still orders of magnitude better than what Mother Nature provides us. She is not someone to mess with. I’ll take the doctor, thank you very much.

    (I also point out that had my sister been induced on her due date, the child she carried for 9 mos and 2 weeks would be alive, and not have been stillborn (her placenta detached without her going into labor))

  32. #32 D. C. Sessions
    September 28, 2009

    I wonder how long it will be until the miasma theory of disease comes back in vogue?

    It never went away: homeopathy (among others) has always embraced it.

  33. #33 trrll
    September 28, 2009

    This seems to be a medical version of the “noble savage.” I think these people would be unpleasantly surprised if they found themselves transported back even a few hundred years to a time when they had to survive w/out modern medicine.

    I once had a chance to examine some ancient American Indian skulls (back when passing around skeletons looted from ancient Indian graveyards was considered to be an acceptable practice), and was interested to observe that one had a badly impacted wisdom tooth.

  34. #34 North of 49
    September 28, 2009

    ildi @ #30:

    I came to my senses when the reiki person started to intimate that the reason I wasn’t healing was because I WANTED to have eczema.

    Heh. Even though Reiki is less than a hundred years old, one can say that in at least one area they’re using “ancient wisdom”.

    What you got was what I call the Shaman’s Defense; back when sickness was believed to be caused by demons or malevolent spirits, it was the Shaman’s job to heal the patient by driving the demon out. Often, of course, the patient would not respond, but the Shaman couldn’t admit failure on his part, oh no. So it had to be the patient’s fault; they must have wanted the demon to eat their soul.

    Even Deepak Chopra, I have read, employs this at his quackery clinic when patients don’t respond to his Quantum Fantasy Therapy ™ — he tells them it’s because they didn’t believe enough. (Which means he gets to keep their money.)

    Reminds me of a similar delusion in the political arena that you might be familiar with, when the GOP started distancing itself from Bush 43 after the disaster of his administration and the approaching blowout in the election was becoming clear; Bush had failed not because he was too conservative, but because he was not conservative enough. Stated another way: Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.

    Funny, isn’t it, how parts of ancient memes evolve to fill many different kinds of “meme-cological” niches? Woo, politics, religion, pseudoscience; they all use the victim-blaming trick in one form or another. Heck, economics too: I almost forgot about caveat emptor. Buyer beware, yeah right; why not “seller be honest”? (Because that would destroy civilization as we know it, silly. About time too, says I.)

    Point is, that kind of thinking is everywhere, which makes me doubly grateful for blogs — and comment threads — like this one.

  35. #35 Natalie
    September 28, 2009

    Militant Agnostic @28 – Did you actually read my comment, or the comment I was replying to? If I believed that “virtually everything we know about chemistry, physics and biology [is] completely wrong” would I refer to homeopathy as quackery and woo? Methinks you jumped the gun a bit here.

    I was replying to Max’s statement “Fix the system and people will have no reason to follow the superstitious quacks whom you deride, for they are merely a symptom of a much greater imbalance.” Considering that Britain and Germany have “fixed” systems, by Max’s logic they should have smaller markets for dubious treatments. My point is that significant segments of their population still seek out quacks. To me that suggests that the popularity of woo does not originate in the lack of health care available to a lot of Americans.

  36. #36 Natalie
    September 28, 2009

    That last segment would be more clear if I had said “the popularity of woo does not originate in Americans’ lack of health care.”

  37. #37 David
    September 29, 2009

    Because some conventional drugs work by suppressing symptoms, these drugs tend to provide helpful temporarily relief but tend to lead other new and more serious problems by inhibiting the body’s defense and immune processes.

    some conventional drugs work by suppressing symptoms (Tylenol, for example) some work by adjusting the actual imbalance causing the disease (immune suppression in autoimmune disease), and some work by attacking the disease process itself (chemotherapy).

    On the other hand, all alt-med works on are symptoms, because there is no real theory of pathophysiology. Homeopathy matches up a list of symptoms the patient to a list of symptoms related to each agent.

  38. #38 Mojo
    October 1, 2009

    And here he goes again: The Facts On Why Fever Is Your Friend.

  39. #39 Militant Agnostic
    October 1, 2009

    Natalie – I saw the “populaces general health is better” in your post at #20 but somehow missed the bit about “but quackery still flourishes”. Mea Culpa – reading comprehension fail.

    Itis the same here in Canada – lots of naturopaths and chiropractors in spite of free health care.

  40. #40 Mojo
    October 2, 2009

    What’s up, btw, with the “thousands of years” cutoff? Shouldn’t it be millions of years?

    I didn’t have him pegged as a YEC, but who knows.

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