Respectful Insolence

The health freedom fighters attack

If there’s one thing shared in common among nearly all advocates of pseudoscience, it is the belief that they know The Truth. More importantly, they know The Truth, and The Powers That Be don’t want you to know The Truth and will do almost anything to makes sure that The Truth stays secret. Think about it. This sort of thinking is common, be it among advocates of alternative medicine, cold fusion advocates, HIV/AIDS denialists, 9/11 “Truthers,” birthers, creationists, moon hoax believers, or Holocaust deniers. For instance, Mike Adams and Joe Mercola will tell you that the government in the form of the FDA (the most government agency most hated by quacks) and state medical boards, all in cahoots with Big Pharma, has crushed “alternatives” and don’t want you to know that you can use “natural” and “non-toxic” strategies to cure cancer, cure diabetes, live to be 100, cure heart disease, and in general take care of medical problems that the existing Pharma-Industrial Complex would prefer that you take toxic pharmaceutical drugs to combat. Creationists will tell you that atheistic Evolutionists, in concert with the little part of our Constitution that disallows government establishment of religion, have crushed any “questioning” of Darwin. Holocaust deniers will tell you that a Zionist conspiracy created the Holocaust and is now working to keep The Truth about it a secret, while “birthers” will tell you that there is a government conspiracy to hide The Truth about where President Obama was born and 9/11 “Truthers” will tell you that, yes, 9/11 was a government conspiracy and that there is still a government conspiracy to hide The Truth that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

And what are the reasons for The Man suppressing The Truth? Usually, it boils down to a combination of three things: money, power, and ideology. According to the crank, revealing the hidden Truth would cost rich and powerful interests lots of money or diminish their power. Alternatively (or complementary), revealing The Truth would be such a threat to the ideology of The Powers That Be that such revelations cannot be tolerated.

This tactic is also a highly effective marketing tool. Everybody wants to think of himself or herself as special and possessing knowledge that most other people do not. Everybody wants to be in on “the secret.” (Why do you think the woomeisters responsible for the Law of Attraction called it “The Secret,” anyway?) There is an underdog appeal to thinking that you belong to a group that possesses secret knowledge that is being persecuted. I was reminded of this tactic a while back when I came across an amusing little rant by the Alliance for Natural Health USA, Is the Federation of State Medical Boards Behind the Brutal Attacks on Integrative Medicine Practitioners?

“Brutal attacks”? You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means. Apparently your “brutal attack” is my “toothless flailing.” At least, that’s certainly the case when it comes to state medical boards. The examples are legion: Stanislaw Burzynski, Rashid Buttar, Rolando Arafiles, Mark Geier, and many others whose practices range from highly dubious to outright quackery but who for some reason have been nearly untouchable by state medial boards. Burzynski should have had his medical license yanked at least 15 years ago, but he’s still practicing, still charging patients exorbitant sums of money to sign up patients on clinical trials that never go anywhere for his antineoplaston therapy. Rashid Buttar outright shamed the medical board in North Carolina, in essence using the clout of an organization of fellow “alternative practitioners” to buy a law that defanged the board. The Geiers managed to keep using their chemical castration therapy for autistic children for several years before medical boards started taking action. As far as I know, they’re still managing to do it in some states.

Perhaps the most instructive example is Rolando Arafiles, who was protected by powerful local interests, including his local sheriff, and didn’t end up being disciplined until the light of publicity was shined on his case. Even then, it was criminal charges of his misusing his position in a conspiracy to go after the nurses who complained about him that did him in, not his medical incompetence and quackery. In other words, it was that felony conviction that finally stripped him of his medical license, not his medical misconduct. that’s the way it is, too. It’s actually very hard to lose a medical license for practicing “alternative medicine” unless a doctor is foolish enough to commit a felony at the same time, as Arafiles did. In fact, all the Texas Medical Board did to discipline Arafiles before his conviction was fine him $5,000, put him on probation, and require him to take continuing medical education classes.

So, keeping that in mind, let’s see what the ANH is clutching its pearls about:

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is a private 501(c)(6) trade association that purports to represent the seventy state medical and osteopathic boards of the US and its territories, and cosponsors the United States Medical Licensing Examination. It is tremendously powerful: whatever it suggests in terms of medical care policies are often adopted by the state medical boards. A private trade association with no public funding, transparency, or accountability arguably has the power to interpret state medical law and grant or revoke medical licenses! Ever wonder why it’s so hard to find a doctor who will prescribe bioidentical hormones or administer chelation therapy? We believe it’s because the FSMB has made it such a career risk for the doctor to use his own independent judgment.

So far as we can tell, it seems that the FSMB was infiltrated in the late 1990s by the so-called “quackbuster” contingent—people openly hostile to complementary and alternative medicine. At the 1996 annual meeting of the FSMB in Chicago, there was a radical shift from a focus on health fraud as defined by the federal government (overbilling, un-bundling, and kickbacks) to another definition of health fraud: alternative medical care. It seems a concerted effort to label innovation in health care—and especially any natural treatment that competes with an emphasis on drugs and surgery as the ideal for modern medicine—as mere “quackery.” (In fact, at just one session of that meeting, Dr. William Fleming—a member of the FSMB’s board of directors, and chair of its Ad Hoc Committee on Health Care Fraud—used the word “quack” or “quackery” 139 times.)

Gee, and the ANH says this as though it were a bad thing!

Of course, the mid-1990s were around the time that the emphasis on evidence-based medicine was starting to take hold. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the FSMB was responding to that movement by broadening its mandate to promote EBM and try to root out medicine that is not based on evidence; i.e., quackery, the sort of medicine advocated by the ANH. In any case, if you actually read the transcript, you’ll find some disturbing examples, such as the marketing of a gadget that “would diagnose cancer anywhere in the body by using a computer and thermal couples – temperature monitoring devices on six acupuncture points on the back of the thigh, and they were able to tell you whether this was cancer in your nose, or your lungs, or your pancreas, or your liver, or your prostate or your breast or anywhere.” (Hmmm. This kind of sounds like the EPFX/QXCI, Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface.) It also came up with a series of preliminary recommendations that were quite sensible. There were other examples, including Kurt Donsbach, a chelationist who adds hydrogen peroxide to his chelation therapy and calls it “chetox,” and a series of quacks who claim to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize.

So what got the ANH upset enough to write its little screed? This:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today recently reported that the FSMB asked for $100,000 from Big Pharma to help create and distribute the organization’s new policy on pain medication to their 700,000 practicing doctors. The federation won’t say how much money it received from industry, but estimated that it will cost $3.1 million for its campaign.

And what is this campaign? To get the word out about “safe” use of opioid analgesics in the treatment of chronic pain! That’s right, FSMB’s new policy favors the use of opioids for long-term pain management, despite an epidemic of painkiller abuse and addiction (not to mention the terrible crime rates that accompany it)—and a lack of scientific support for this use of the drugs.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it was a bit unseemly of the FSMB to hit up pharmaceutical companies. It was definitely a mistake, particularly when considering that the trend in academia is to go the other way, to eschew funding from pharmaceutical companies for educational activities, particularly activities in which the pharmaceutical company has a direct financial interest. Hopefully, the FSMB has learned from the (apparently) deserved backlash. However, guidelines for the safe prescribing of opioids are not outside the purview of the FSMB or state medical boards, particularly given evidence that many patients with chronic pain are underdosed. Moreover, the FSMB’s position sounds a lot more nuanced than the parody of it that the ANH touts. Indeed, at the keynote address for the FSMB, it was pointed out that “opioids represent only a small part of the spectrum of options for mitigating pain, but they carry a substantial level of risk” and that the “statistics on opioid-related misuse, diversion, morbidity and mortality are unacceptable.”

That parody leads the ANH to publish this “Action Alert” to contact state medical boards to disassociate themselves from the FSMB. It’s a perfect example of how cranks take a legitimate concern (how much pharmaceutical influence medical organizations tolerate or seek out), pump the concern up to epic proportions in order to imply that the entire system is corrupt, and rally the troops to attack the system because it is “suppressing” its favored pseudoscience. Of course, it almost always strains credibility that such shadowy organizations could simultaneously keep such epic conspiracies secret (if there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that in any conspiracy involving more than a few people someone always talks eventually), have enough power to enforce their will, but let groups like the ANH reveal The Truth.

Obviously, there must be great appeal to being part of a small band of “freedom fighters” who know The Truth. On the other hand, as a willing shill and minion of the great conspiracy, I have to wonder if perhaps such groups are useful idiots that allow the suspicious to blow off steam.

Comments

  1. #1 Beamup
    June 12, 2012

    I find it hilarious that they inveigh against a new policy on how to use opioids safely and properly, on the grounds that there are problems with how they are currently used.

    Addressing the problems cited by the ANH seems like exactly what the FSMB is trying to do…

  2. #2 Denice Walter
    June 12, 2012

    I have been a fan of the ANH for quite a while: Verkerk’s group originated in the early 2000s but the US group developed out of an earlier 1990s one ( it’s a hybrid monster then) . All concerned fear limits on supplement and alt med treatments – for obvious reasons.

    There’s more news on the health freedom front:
    this coming weekend, Chicago will again be the site of the running of the loons..oops, I mean the Health Freedom Expo. One of its darling boys, Mikey Adams will appear. So will AJW and the Canary Party.

    Gary Null will simultaneously premier a new documentary…*
    *The War on Health: The FDA’s Cult of Tyranny* ( available at his websites streamed)

    It’s all about freedom

    Freedom to sell virtually un-regulated, un-tested products and services to the naive

    Freedom to capitalise on fear and ignorance

    Freedom to spread myths about health like fresh manure

    Freedom to make up stuff

    Freedom to give irresponsible advice

    Freedom commit libel and slander howsoever they choose

    Freedom to continue their deleterious activities un-challenged.

  3. #3 Anton P. Nym
    http://anton-p-nym.livejournal.com/
    June 12, 2012

    In my mind, “Brutal Attacks On Integrated Medicine Practitioners” would involve roving gangs of board-certified physicians with baseball bats.. That these practitioners conflate the use of the term “quack” with “brutality” should give anyone seeking their medical services some pause; particularly since, so far as I can tell, the term was used correctly.

    “Quack” isn’t a perjorative for suppressing innovation; it’s a descriptor for practices that can not show evidence that they work. A treatment that accomplishes nothing is not an innovation; we’ve had lots of those.

    (And by the way, how can “ancient” remedies like TCM be considered “innovative”?)

    — Steve

  4. #4 Denice Walter
    June 12, 2012

    -btw-

    ANH-USA uses legal action and lobbying to get its way: they are especially enamoured of Jonathan Emord – of Emord and Associates- and his work in their struggle against the oppression of the FDA.

  5. #5 Mu
    June 12, 2012

    All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.
    ‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
    Charge for the guns!’ he said

  6. #6 Queen Khentkawes
    Chicago, not a suburb
    June 12, 2012

    This photo from the Daily Dish shows that Yemen is ahead of the “health freedom fighters”: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/06/face-of-the-day-5.html

    And once again, Chicago is not the site of a health nut fair. Can’t anyone read a map?

  7. #7 Sebastian Lawhorne
    June 12, 2012

    Quoth Stephen Hawking, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

  8. #8 Acleron
    June 12, 2012

    Ah, the Truth and it must always be spelled with that capital.

    They certainly think that they know and others suppress. Kind of puts the lie to their claims for integrated health treatment, after all, how can you work with someone who has got it wrong? In fact they aren’t alternative with respect to medicine, they are just anti.

    (When I tried to post the above, I got ‘You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.’)

  9. #9 Pareidolius
    Sonoma County, the Heart of the Axis of Me-Ville™.
    June 12, 2012

    Your Queenship, I am glad to see that Yemen is moving forward with vaccination, but as a marketing professional, I would be loathe to use this as a pro-vaxx image. While this initiative will undoubtedly save many lives, that photograph used in the “Face of the Day” feature looks like the sort of image that the Anti-Vaxxers would use to illustrate their point. A helpless, crying child (think of the children) being forced by some faceless PharmaGoon™ in white coat and sterile gloves to uptake Teh Ebil Toxinz™.

    Did Sullivan post it as representing a good thing or a bad thing?

  10. #10 Dirt Girl
    June 12, 2012

    Ah yes, conspiracy! It couldn’t possibly be that your treatment has been looked at and is complete nonsense. There must be a conspiracy to keep out the Truth! I don’t know if you’ve seen this paper, it is a few years old but it is a must read for anyone involved in scientific debate. Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?

    http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/1/2.full.pdf

    BTW Love the blog Orac. So nice to see some scientific sanity in this world we live in.

  11. #11 Queen Khentkawes
    June 12, 2012

    @ Pareidolius:

    I agree, but I don’t think bleach enema recipients look any happier.

    Seeing that Sullivan is being kept alive with anti-HIV drugs, I’d say he thinks this is a good thing.

  12. #12 harold
    June 12, 2012

    And once again, Chicago is not the site of a health nut fair. Can’t anyone read a map?

    It is the organizers of the conference who describe it as the Chicago Expo. Although you are correct, checking the address of the hotel reveals that it is in Schaumburg, IL, rather than in Chicago.

    http://www.healthfreedomexpo.com/site/

  13. #13 bad poet
    2 raisins don't make a raison d'etre
    June 12, 2012

    Schaumburg = Woodfield Mall, once the largest enclosed shopping center in the world. It’s in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, near the largest IKEA in the world. Some of the sCam artists have facilities near there (M#rcola, €isenberg are two I know of), sCammd (at least one of whom I know – “root canals are evil”), and I suspect others will drive in or fly into O’Hare Midway to fleece suckers.

  14. #14 alison
    the antipodes
    June 12, 2012

    All I can say is that these people suppressing “The Truth” are doing a rather poor job of it, given how easily the various varieties of Truther are able to spread their (mis)information!

  15. #15 GRichard
    June 12, 2012

    @Anton P. Nym:
    “In my mind, “Brutal Attacks On Integrated Medicine Practitioners” would involve roving gangs of board-certified physicians with baseball bats.. ”

    Wait, I missed this? Is it an annual thing? Do we have to pay dues to attend?

  16. #16 Martin
    June 13, 2012

    @Pareidolius:
    I don’t think those are “sterile gloves”. Look at the stitching on the right thumb and the embroidery on the back of the left hand.

    I’m guessing these gloves are worn by a woman health worker to remove the sight of her naked hands from the eyes of her male colleagues who, had they seen so much female flesh, would be driven into a frenzy of uncontrollable lust and rape her.

  17. #17 daedalus2u
    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/
    June 13, 2012

    But opiates are natural?

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