Respectful Insolence

Archives for August, 2011

Sometimes I feel a little bit guilty when I’m writing a post deconstructing anti-vaccine nonsense, “alternative medicine” quackery, or some other form of pseudoscience. This guilt usually derives when I end up picking a target that’s just too easy, a study that’s just so mind-numbingly, brain-meltingly awful that it’s not much of a challenge, even…

I detest the term “integrative medicine,” which is what promoters of “alternative medicine” pivoted to call “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) when they decided that they needed to lose the word “alternative” altogether. After all, no longer were CAM practitioners content to have their favorite quackery be “complementary” to real medicine because “complementary” implied a…

Whenever I refer to an anti-vaccine activist as an “anti-vaxer” or an “anti-vaccinationist,” I can always count on outraged and self-righteous denunciations from the the person who is being labeled as “anti-vaccine.” “Oh, no,” she’ll say, “I’m not ‘anti-vaccine.’ I’m pro-safe vaccine.” or “I’m a vaccine safety activist.” Of couse, over the years, I’ve learned…

Here we go again. Having been in the blogging biz for nearly seven years and developed a special interest in the anti-vaccine movement, I think I’ve been at this long enough to make some observations with at least a little authority. One thing that I’ve noticed is a very consistent pattern in which, every time…

A couple of days ago, I couldn’t resist discussing a recent article in the New York Times about recent discoveries in cancer research. I considered the article to be a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. While the article did a pretty good job of describing recent discoveries about how noncoding RNA,…

One of the things that distinguishes evidence-based medicine (EBM) and science-based medicine (SBM) is how the latter takes into account prior probability that a therapy is likely to work when considering clinical trials. My favorite example to demonstrate this difference, because it’s so stark and obvious, is homeopathy. Homeopathy, as regular readers of this blog…

The complexity of cancer

About a week ago, there appeared a story in the New York Times about recent discoveries in cancer research written by George Johnson and entitled Cancer’s Secrets Come Into Sharper Focus. Overall, it was a better-than-average article for the lay press about recent discoveries in cancer research that go beyond just the cancer cell and…

A brief history of chiropractic

Chiropractic has origins in mysticism and vitalistic thinking. Given its popularity and seeming mainstream acceptance, it’s easy to forget that these days. Fortunately, Daryl Cunningham reminds us of the history of chiropractic, including its philosophical underpinnings and potential complications:

Sadly, a crank has silenced another skeptic. Many of you may know EpiRen, which is the Twitter and blog handle (and sometimes commenting handle here) of René Najera. René is an epidemiologist employed by the state public health department of health of an East Coast state and has been a force for reality- and science-based…

David Mitchell on Gifts

I realize that this has nothing to do with science, skepticism, or medicine. However, it’s Sunday, and I found it amusing. Nothing like a little fluff before diving back into the usual topics next week. It’s also cool that David Mitchell has his own YouTube series of videos. Given that Christmas is a mere four…

Quackademic medicine invades Cancer

I don’t know if I should thank Peter Lipson or condemn him. What am I talking about? Yesterday, Peter sent me a brain-meltingly bad study in so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” that shows me just how bad a study can be and be accepted into what I used to consider a reasonably good journal. I…

It’s always frightening when lawyers delve into the realm of medicine. It’s even worse when pre-law students and political science majors do the same. Such was the thought running through my mind when I came across the most recent issue of the Yale Journal of Medicine & Law. The result is what I would most…

Religion versus alternative medicine

Many have been the times that I’ve pointed out that many forms of “alternative” medicine are in reality based far more on mystical, religious, or “spiritual” beliefs than on any science. Indeed, one amusing event that provided me the opening to launch into one of my characteristic (and fun) Orac-ian outbursts occurred a couple of…

It never ceases to amaze me just how ignorant of very basic principles of science anti-vaccine activists often are. I mean, seriously. Every time they try to post something, whether they know it or not, they end up making themselves look so very, very stupid–or at least ignorant. The Dunning-Kruger effect takes over, and people…

Sugarland: Saved by prayer?

One thing that’s bothered me about religion even before I became the lapsed Catholic heathen that I am, is how God always gets the credit for good things but never the bad. A perfect example is related to the collapse of the stage in a storm at the Indiana State Fair that killed five people…

One of these days I’m going to end up getting myself in trouble. The reason, as I’ve only half-joked before, is that, even though I’m not even 50 yet, I’m already feeling like a dinosaur when it comes to “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or, as it’s called more frequently now, “integrative medicine” (IM). These…

“Natural” versus CAM “natural”

NOTE: I was on a lovely vacation for three days in Chicago over the weekend, where I visited old haunts. (Bathroom attendants? At one of my favorite pub hangouts when I lived in Lincoln Park, John Barleycorn? Handing out crappy brown paper towels? Plastering the walls there with endless rows of flat screen TVs turned…

A week ago, I took someone who has normally been a hero of mine, Brian Deer, to task for what I considered to be a seriously cheap shot at scientists based on no hard data, at least no hard data that he bothered to present. To make a long, Orac-ian magnum opus short, Deer advocated…

The infiltration of quackademic medicine continues apace, except that it’s not just quackademic medicine. Now, it goes way, way beyond that to encompass not just academic medical centers but community hospitals, hospitals of all sizes, large private hospitals, and health care institutions of all shapes and sizes. Frequently, proponents of quackademic medicine try to portray…

Well, well, well, well… I always wondered about this. As I pointed out the other day, former NIH director Bernadine Healy died of a recurrent brain tumor. As regular readers know, over the last three or four years, she had become a convert to the vaccine/autism cause, as evidenced by her having been named Age…

Here we go again. Starting sometime in 2007, back when the idea that mercury in vaccines was the cause of the “autism epidemic” of the late 1990s and into the new century, I started referring to the “mercury/autism” hypothesis as being dead, dead, dead, as in pining for the fjords dead. Then, depending on what…

R.I.P. Bernadine Healy

It came as a shock to me to find out yesterday that former director of the American Red Cross and former director of the NIH Bernadine Healy died. Chalk it up to my simply being ignorant of the fact, but I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that she had brain cancer. Interestingly, she had had…

Over the years that I’ve been following the anti-vaccine movement, I’ve become familiar with typical narratives that reporters use when reporting on the vaccine fears stirred up by anti-vaccine activists. One narrative is the “brave maverick doctor” narrative, in which an iconoclastic quack (such as Mark Geier or Andrew Wakefield, for example) is portrayed fighting…

Here’s blast from the past. Interestingly, this doesn’t exaggerate all that much…

I admire Brian Deer. I really do. He’s put up with incredible amounts of abuse and gone to amazing lengths to unmask the vaccine quack Andrew Wakefield, the man whose fraudulent case series published in The Lancet thirteen years ago launched a thousand quack autism remedies and, worst of all, contributed to a scare over…