Respectful Insolence

Dr. Google and Mr. Jim

What would we do without the Internet?

It’s become so necessary, so pervasive, so utterly all-enveloping that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. Given how much it pervades everything these days, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that the Internet was primarily the domain of universities and large research groups. Indeed, the Internet hasn’t really been widely and easily available to the average citizen for very long at all. Go back 20 years, and most people didn’t have it. For example, Netscape Navigator, the popular browser that made the Internet accessible, wasn’t released until 1994. Amazon.com, an online store I can’t imagine living without now, didn’t sell its first book until 1995, and I didn’t discover it until 1996 or 1997. Google, that ubiquitous search engine that everyone uses, wasn’t incorporated until 1998. Now, less than 14 years after Google was incorporated most people have the Internet in their pockets with them in the form of mobile devices that have computing power undreamed-of in the 1990s and can access the Internet at speeds that increasingly blur the line between landline access and mobile computing. It’s been an amazingly fast social and technological revolution, and we don’t yet know where it will take us, but we do know that it’s not going away. If anything, the Internet will continue to become more and more pervasive.

Like all major new technologies, the Internet has a good side and a bad side. In many cases, the same property is both good and bad, and one place that this is particularly true is in medical information. The Internet has an abundance of medical information, all there for the reading and learning, and various discussion forums that began with online BBS services and the now mostly obsolete global discussion community of Usenet allow people from all over the world who would never have communicated directly with each other before to share information and experiences. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this. Regular readers of this blog know what that dark side is, too. The same technology that allows reputable scientists and doctors to publish reliable medical information to the world at very low cost also allows quacks and cranks to spew their misinformation, nonsense, pseudoscience, and quackery to the whole world at very little cost. And, boy, do they ever! In many ways, the quacks are a far more effective online presence than skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine. I mean, look at SBM itself. We’re still using a generic WordPress template. Now look at an antivaccine website like The International Medical Council on Vaccination or Generation Rescue or the antivaccine blog Age of Autism. Look at quack websites like NaturalNews.com The comparison, at least when it comes to web and blog design, is not flattering.

A while ago, I came across a post by someone named Cathy Jameson entitled Look It Up. In it, Ms. Jameson, after extolling the glories of the Internet and how it makes our lives easier (which it arguably does in so many ways), laments how she perceives herself to be treated by medical professionals when she tells them she’s looked something up on the Internet. In fact, she seems to think that doctors don’t want parents of children with autism to be looking things up on the Internet:

I know that some people don’t appreciate what’s available on the internet to an autism parent, nor do they want those parents anywhere near it. Those answers, that research, these numbers, that cover up. What a parent finds online is likened to a national secret. Looking up their child’s signs, symptoms, diseases or potential diagnoses is just not okay. The internet is not a viable source and its use should never be allowed by parents, especially autism parents. Heaven forbid they stumble across something beneficial for their child! And, they better not think that they can share that information with anyone, especially with the doctor they’ve hired to help them.

For a parent to admit they might have looked something up “online” while face-to-face in an exam room with their child’s medical provider—you would have thought it criminal! It should be outlawed! And, don’t dare tell anyone else you did that. EVER. If you do? Oh, boy. The parent who did take the time to do a little bit of research is given the hairy eyeball, the condescending how-dare-you facial expression or worse, a lecture about how it’s not their place to do that kind of research for their own child. Hrmpf!

While this is primarily a straw man argument (no doctor that I would know would tell a parent not to go on the Internet), there is a grain of truth to the extent that experience has taught us that a lot of what parents like Ms. Jameson find on the Internet is either wrong, incomplete, or, worse, dangerous quackery. The reason that pediatricians sometimes have a hard time not rolling their eyes or sighing when a parent like Ms. Jameson tells them that she has some information that she found on the Internet is that they know that what will follow is likely to be the same misinformation that they’ve had to try to refute time and time again. As hard as it is to believe, doctors are human, too. We have our moments of weakness, when we have a hard time not showing our frustration at the same pseudoscience that we’ve heard time and time again. Arguably, we need to try our hardest not to let such feelings bubble to the surface when we are in a room interacting with a patient or parent, but we do sometimes. However, there’s also the matter of perception. A quite reasonable comment to a parent pointing out that the information she has discovered online is not scientifically valid and comes from a website that is not reliable is interpreted as a fascistic crushing of her freedom of speech and assembly. For instance, take a look at this comment after Ms. Jameson’s post by AutismGrandma:

All of this reminds me of Germany in WWII, where Nazi government radio information was the only sanctioned legal option. Anyone caught listening to Radio Free Europe was thrown into a concentration camp. Were Jewish people and many others being killed with poison gas in concentration camps? Radio Free Europe said Yes it’s true. Are babies and children being poisoned with vaccines? The INTERNET says Yes it’s true.

Because telling a patient or parent that a website is full of nonsense, no matter how diplomatically one tries to do it, is exactly like crushing all competing sources of information and killing Jews in gas chambers.

Sadly, that is the sort of rhetoric that is common in the quackosphere in general but in particular the antivaccine crankosphere. But what to do? Most parents and patients aren’t as paranoid and hostile as AutismGrandma. They’re just regular people who want reliable information about various conditions they or their children suffer from but are not sufficiently scientifically sophisticated to separate the good health information from the bad. How do we help them do that? Certainly Google and other search engines are little or now help. There is no filter to them other than the number of incoming links. A quack site to which a lot of other sites link, particularly if they are sites that also have a lot of incoming links and thus a high Google rank, will show up very high on Google searches. The scientific value of content is basically irrelevant. I’ve seen Mercola.com, Age of Autism, or NaturalNews.com links show up in searches right above or below links from reputable websites like the NIH, CDC, or the American Cancer Society. The democratization of information on Google is the very fulfillment of Isaac Asimov’s warning so many years ago.

If there’s a medical topic about which there is more misinformation available on the Internet than vaccines, I’m hard pressed to think of it. The only topic I can think of that even comes close is cancer. Antivaccinationists are vocal and active, particularly online. They’re very good at getting their pseudoscience-laden websites listed high on Google search results. Indeed, Mark Crislip wrote about this very issue a couple of years ago, when Anna Kata of McMaster University published a study about vaccine misinformation on the Internet. Amusingly, Mark pointed out that Kata is an anthropologist, and he needs an anthropologist to help him explain a culture (the antivaccine underground) in which science and the facts do not matter. In any case, the study examined the specific sorts of misinformation that are easily found online, with 100% of antivaccine sites stating that vaccines are dangerous and contain poisons, and the vast majority of them claiming that vaccines do not work.

Kata is also the author of a recent study published in Vaccine entitled Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm – An overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement. As usual, I was all over Kata’s study when it came out, pointing out that there was only really one tactic or trope that I think she missed, specifically the recent coopting of the term “denialism” for antivaccinationists’ own, as Ginger Taylor does when she uses “vaccine injury denialist” as a trope. Kata also didn’t emphasize the concept of “misinformed consent” enough, in which under the guise of “informed consent” antivaccine pseudoscience is used to make vaccines seem more dangerous and less effective than they actually are.

It’s not just vaccines, of course, about which there’s copious easily locatable misinformation on the Internet. I simply chose to spend most of this post discussing vaccines because Ms. Jameson’s post “inspired” me to and, of course, because there appears to be the most research out there about how the Internet can affect parents’ attitudes to vaccination and how parents use it to find information.

My specialty is, of course, breast cancer; so I try to keep up with what sorts of misinformation and quackery are making the rounds on the Internet so that if I’m asked about them I can respond intelligently (or at least try to appear to). Recently, I noted that a particularly nasty form of cancer quackery, Cantron, is making the rounds. Then, of course, Stanislaw Burzynski’s “antineoplastons” wax and wane in popularity, seemingly depending upon how much he is in the news. Throughout all that, certain tactics and tropes remain the same in cancer, such as claiming that chemotherapy doesn’t work, that most oncologists wouldn’t choose chemotherapy for themselves, that there are “natural” cures for cancer that the [INSERT ONE] FDA/big pharma/government/cancer industry/AMA/etc. don’t want you to know about. Indeed, just yesterday I found a website Healing Cancer Naturally, which I might have to discuss in more detail in the future. In the meantime, it will suffice to point out that it touts quackery like detoxification, choosing the right cancer treatment using applied kinesiology, Max Gerson’s therapy, ozone and hydrogen peroxide therapies, and, of course, “energy healing.”

In fact, I sometimes think I should see if Kata would like to team up to do a similar study about cancer information on the Internet.

Of course, a large part of the problem with Internet “research” by patients and parents is that lay people have a very different idea of what “research” is than scientists and physicians do. I’ll show you what I mean by going back to what Ms. Jameson wrote:

Several incidents within a week’s time had me reeling about how some medical people guard the internet as if it was their own. Oh, that look of disdain they threw toward me when the word internet came out of my mouth. Give me a break! Not only do they sound ridiculous, they look ridiculous too as they tried to dismiss my well thought out, educationally minded, researched contribution about my son’s issues. It wasn’t rubbish. It most certainly wasn’t some back alley mumbo jumbo. What I shared was information found on credible sites and in online medical journals they too have access to.

Let’s for the moment take Ms. Jameson at her word and not quibble over whether what she considers to be “credible sites” probably differs greatly from what a physician would consider a “credible” site. Let’s assume that what she was showing her pediatrician was in fact nothing but studies from peer-reviewed journals or second-hand reports of such studies. Here’s the problem, and it’s a problem to which Mark Crislip alluded. To become a real expert in a field requires paying dues that go beyond doing some searches on Google and finding studies that confirm your preexisting beliefs. Yet, that is what patients and parents like Ms. Jameson do and call it research.

Indeed, a commenter named Bridget N. even basically admitted this, without actually knowing that that’s what she’s doing. First, she related a story in which she told her pediatrician that there were “aborted fetal cells” in vaccines and that vaccines caused autism. Apparently her pediatrician, if Bridget is to be believed, didn’t react that well. Here’s what Bridget did when she got home:

When I got home, I did a simple internet search, probably on Google or Yahoo, and with very few clicks of the mouse, I found the phamaceutical companies own documentation with regard to the aborted fetal cells. Detailed information was just a click away, but I was the moron for bringing it up?!

If you would like to see the sort of information that Bridget no doubt got from her search, simply type “vaccines aborted fetal cells” into Google. What came up for me first was a website called Children of God for Life. Several of the other links that came up on the first page included one from Mercola.com (Human DNA in Vaccines Linked to Autism), one from VacTruth.org (Aborted Human Fetal Cells in Vaccines), and a number of other fear mongering articles. In all fairness, the Catholic Church’s position statement on the issue also comes up; however, several of these posts imply or state that something about the “aborted fetal cells” is dangerous, when this is not true. No doubt she found the “review” of vaccines by Helen Ratajczak, who claimed that homologous recombination of fetal DNA from these cells cause autoimmune disease in a breathtakingly ignorant bit of scientific speculation. Then, if you Google “vaccine autism,” you will find a number of reputable sites. But you will also find a number of antivaccine sites, such as Generation Rescue, Infowars, and articles by David Kirby.

This is not “research.” It is motivated reasoning. The problem, of course, is telling the difference between real debate and research and cherry picking studies to defend one’s preexisting beliefs. The latter is motivated reasoning, and it’s one of the reasons that the educated are often prone to pseudoscience. They’re simply better at constructing reasonable-sounding arguments to defend their pre-existing beliefs.

It’s also a matter of context and quality control. Advanced training in science is not so much about learning a body of information, although that is certainly important. It is far more about learning the scientific method, learning how to do science. It involves learning to learn, how to do research, how to evaluate the quality of research, and, most importantly, how to put the results of new studies into the context of existing knowledge. There’s a reason it takes many years to learn these skills; they’re difficult and require a lot of work to acquire. There is no shortcut, either, not even the University of Google. True, there is a difference in medicine, specifically that it is more necessary to learn a large quantity of rote information. Medicine is not science, and most physicians are not scientists (I realize I get into trouble for pointing out this simple fact), but medicine should be science-based. What Ms. Jameson and Bridget N. do resembles research in the same way that doing a junior high school science project resembles doing Nobel Prize-worthy research, the difference being that the kid doing the junior high school science project is much more likely to gain an accurate insight into an aspect of science than Ms. Jameson or Bridget N. are to gain useful scientific insight into vaccines or autism.

It all once again boils down to a single question: What to do? The Internet is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde phenomenon, as far as health information goes. When it’s good, it’s really, really good, and when it’s bad it’s horrid. That misinformation is out there, and it has an effect. As Scott Gavura has pointed out, it doesn’t take a lot of misinformation, and it doesn’t take very long for that misinformation to color people’s perception of the risk-benefit ratio of vaccines. Going back to the article by Kata, I note that she closes by remembering a famous quote by J.B. Handley, in which he likened Andrew Wakefield to “Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ all rolled up into one,” after which she concludes:

Such a statement is a reminder that finding common ground with those who question, fear, or crusade against vaccines is no easy task. Their arguments are constantly shifting and evolving – this has been furthered by the fluidity of the Internet and social media. While acknowledging and correcting flawed arguments is important, an approach that moves beyond providing “the facts” is likely needed. With the anti-vaccination movement embracing the postmodern paradigm, which inherently questions an authoritative, science-based approach, “facts” may be reinterpreted as just another “opinion”. This issue is as much about the cultural context surrounding healthcare, perceptions of risk, and trust in expertise, as it is about vaccines themselves. For these reasons it is possible the minds of deeply invested anti-vaccine activists may never be changed; therefore it is for both the laypersons with genuine questions or worries about vaccines and the healthcare professionals who work to ease their fears that keeping abreast of the methods of persuasion discussed here is essential. Recognizing anti-vaccine tactics and tropes is imperative, for an awareness of the disingenuous arguments used to cajole and convert audiences gives individuals the tools to think critically about the information they encounter online. It is through such recognition that truly informed choices can then be made.

If there’s one thing I’ve tried to do on this blog, it’s to hammer away at each and every one of these common anti-vaccine tropes, as well as the not-so-common ones as well. The reason is that I don’t want them to be able to spread these tropes unopposed and unanswered, although the antivaccine movement is so protean and I have a day job that it seems like a Sisyphean task in which progress appears minimal. Yet the skeptic movement and physicians like Paul Offit appear to have had some effect, particularly in the wake of Andrew Wakefield’s downfall. At least anecdotally, I see less antivaccine propaganda making it into mainstream media reports, less blatant false “balance,” in which antivaccine propagandists are given equal voice with scientists as though there were two equivalent sides to the argument, and more skeptical articles that refute antivacicne myths and expose antivaccine autism quacks. Kata is right. The basis for such progress is the wide dissemination of good science about vaccines, refutation of the misinformation spread about vaccines, and shining the light of day on the various quacks who take advantage of the antivaccine movement.

In fact, one of the commenters after Ms. Jameson’s article states:

And if a physician cannot explain to me – in layman’s terms – why I’m wrong then how much does he/she really know about the subject? IMHO the mark of true knowledge is the ability to make the complex concept more comprehensible.

I realize that such a person is unlikely to accept even such arguments that make the complex comprehensible to the educated lay person, but being able to do that is the bare minimum that we as physicians must be accomplish. But even that’s not enough. We have to be able to communicate these concepts one-on-one in a manner in a manner that is not condescending or angry, as difficult as that is. Yet, even that’s not enough.

At least, it’s not enough in and of itself, but it’s a start.

Comments

  1. #1 Old Rockin' Dave
    July 6, 2012

    “All of this reminds me of Germany in WWII, where Nazi government radio information was the only sanctioned legal option. Anyone caught listening to Radio Free Europe was thrown into a concentration camp.”
    These broadcasts are the most remarkable in radio history, having been made by an organization that didn’t even exist until five years after the end of the war.
    Actually, the Allies broadcast very little about the Holocaust, for a number of reasons. The main one they gave was to avoid stirring up charges that World War II was “the Jew’s war”.
    I know it’s pedantic, but accuracy counts for something.

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    July 6, 2012

    The human body is a complicated system, and many people look for simplifications to help them understand it. Scientists are not immune from this tendency; there is a reason physicists tell jokes about spherical cows. Woo-meisters, in physics as well as medicine, are adept at exploiting this tendency. The only way to combat it is with the truth, and that is not always easy.

    Richard Feynman would agree with the last commenter quoted in the post. The mark of true understanding is being able to explain it to an intelligent non-expert. But Feynman recoiled in horror at some of the medical woo he encountered (California, mid-1960s to mid-1980s), and that was part of his motivation for writing his famous speech about cargo cult science–a category into which most woo falls.

  3. #3 Mary
    July 6, 2012

    Just the other day I had someone try to suggest that the number of Google hits to his “scary” keywords was some kind of legitimate metric.

    #FAIL.

    It’s a swamp out there. You can only hope to be a little patch of sanity in the swamp sometimes…

  4. #4 Denice Walter
    July 6, 2012

    Jameson parrots something I hear/ read all the thing- courtesy of the usual suspects- the Official Position ( SBM, reason, sense) censors brave altie rebels who have the Truth!

    The reason this meme is so popular is because it’s the only foot they have to stand upon: if data and evidence show you wrong, wrong, wrong- time after time- what else can you say? ” It’s all rigged against us!” “They’re N-zis!” ” We’re being oppressed!” Rather than admit your error like an adult.

    They can’t present facts or arguments to bolster their claims- so conspiracy it is. You see, if you are the Guardian of Truth and it just doesn’t get around and become accepted and standard- you have to cry “Fix!” -which in itself is hilarious because most of the evidence they rally around consists of fixed data, shoddy research and jumping to unreasonable conclusions.

    Right now, the websites I survey are broadcasting the idea that supplements will soon be controlled and only available by rx- you shan’t be able to acquire your 1000mg of C easily- it’ll become “just l;ike Germany!” I’ve been hearing this for years from ANH and Gary Null.

  5. #5 thenewme
    July 6, 2012

    Thanks for this, Orac! I can tell you, from a breast cancer patient’s perspective, the woo is strong and growing. If BCO is any indication, there appears to be an active movement underway to drown out any and all anti-quackery information. There’s also an increasing call for BC patients to seek out the assistance of “naturopathic oncologists.” ACK.

  6. #6 thenewme
    July 6, 2012

    @ Denice – oh yeah, there are several Health Freedom nutjobs who regularly post at BCO with the “they’re outlawing our supplements!!” Chicken Little BS.

  7. #7 Ren
    El Infierno De Todos Tan Temido, Coahuila, Mexico (Maybe)
    July 6, 2012

    The problem is compounded when public health advocates who happen to work for a public organization are asked not to engage online because “no one really gets their advice form that internet thing” (to quote a “dinosaur”).

  8. #8 Denice Walter
    July 6, 2012

    About that last paragraph of Orac- on communication-
    no matter how perfectly and simply you learn to explain complex science, there will always be a few who cannot- or will not- be able to learn.

  9. #9 Militant Agnostic
    In a state of stunned disbelief.
    July 6, 2012

    Old Rockin’ Dave

    These broadcasts are the most remarkable in radio history, having been made by an organization that didn’t even exist until five years after the end of the war.

    No more remarkable than the vaccinations that cause children to develop autism before they receive the vaccination.

  10. #10 palindrom
    July 6, 2012

    From time to time one sees posters on internet forums admonishing people to “Do your own research!”.

    This is almost always shorthand for “Go and google something, and then uncritically swallow the line pushed by whatever cockamamie site comes up, just like I did.”

    It also has an element of “I read about this somewhere, and I can’t be bothered to find it again.”

  11. #11 thenewme
    July 6, 2012

    @palindrom
    Hahaha! So very true!!! Perfect translation!

  12. #12 Krebiozen
    July 6, 2012

    Maybe Google could rank pages by reliability as well as popularity. Something like the Quackometer writ large.

  13. #13 Denice Walter
    July 6, 2012

    Supposedly, at Gary Null and Associates, they have – and I quote you succinctly- “scholars in residence”- 5 or 6 of them, it varies- who do ‘research’ via internet all the live long day reading the latest, providing grist for the mill that grinds out nonsense to be lovingly disseminated in print, by broadcast or in documentary films.

  14. #14 lsm
    July 6, 2012

    I am fortunate in my journey from gulli ility to skeptic to be married to a scientist who studies vaccines. He had a very difficult time condensing all of the complexities of the scientific method and the intricacies of the human body in his attempt to educate me. He kept saying “the human body is so complicated!”
    I don’t know how anyone could even attempt to understand science and medicine without help from those who have paid the price. It’s truly the arrogance of ignorance.

  15. #15 Missy Miss
    July 6, 2012

    When I was diagnosed with CVID*, my immunologist actually gave me several URLs to find information and support. I feel sort of lucky that my condition is rare enough that I haven’t found it mentioned on any woo-sites.
    *Common Variable Immune Deficiency – a congential inability to manufacture certain antibodies

  16. #16 Art
    July 6, 2012

    The internet is, in my mind, sort of like getting information by driving down to a large shopping mall, asking questions by shouting into a megaphone while sitting on the roof of your car and having people shout answers back at you. Everyone from the most to the least knowledgeable get the same size megaphone but some people can shout louder than others.

    Of course you are fighting against the way the human mind works. We are wired to pay more attention to and give more credence to louder voices and messages that play on our biases and emotions.

    Many people are deceived simply because the first dozen listings, based on volume of hits, come back to some very emotionally charged and prolific sites. Search for the term 9/11 and odds are the first few sites listed are conspiracy sites. Last time I did it I had to dig down several pages to find the engineering reports that go into detail of what happened and why. These blow most of the conspiracy theories away but you have to dig down to find them.

    And in addition to being biased toward a good story and emotionalism most people are lazy. I include myself but know from experience that if you want to understand you have to dig. You also have to develop a keen sense of when someone is feeding you a line of BS and stay aware of self serving agendas. A lot of crap gets by pushed out because people like to frame themselves as the noble underdog fighting the good fight against an evil establishment.

    Even common thieves get to present themselves as Robin hood. Vaccine deniers present themselves as white knights protecting their kids from evil pharmaceutical company dragons even as they pump their kids with bleach under the advice of glorified carnival barkers with well practiced banter and a desire to line their pockets. barricading the front door against imaginary threats they leave the back door open for charlatans.

    The internet is the wild west. All that is good and evil, informative and deceptive, is out there. Armed with a keen eye for fact and a careful avoidance of emotionalism and plays on the darkness in your own heart you can find the good and avoid most of the bad, but it isn’t simple or easy.

  17. #17 Mrs Woo
    July 6, 2012

    Missy Miss, you’re also lucky to have gone to those first. I was given printouts of web pages after diagnosis with a chronic illness (and went and found the actual webpages instead). Mr Woo, however (there’s a reason I’ve chosen this as my internet name), immediately went out and googled “______(disease) cure” and of course came up with a lot of people willing to sell all sorts of books, supplements and diets (especially vegan or alkaline) as cures for what ailed me.

    He is, unfortunately, too far down the path of “true believer” to be able to be reclaimed, I think. When people get far enough into it, there are always “references” that take you to another website (i.e., infowars will take you to naturalnews will take you to mercola) that all say the same thing and all assure you they are for “health freedom” and “the truth,” suffering greatly to bring such information to you, including a constant threat of censorship or even arrest by our authorities for daring to share the secret information with you.

    Since they all say the same thing, all share the same information and all assure you they are taking great risk to their own personal welfare (read fortune) to share this information with you, it has to be true, doesn’t it?

    They couldn’t actually be doing this just to make money, could they? They assure you they are benevolent and make no money just by running their radio shows and websites… ~shakes head~

    I would love to find a way to expose THOSE people, who make thousands of dollars every month by spreading fear and misinformation. It makes me sick to think of the desperate people who google and find them and slowly begin to believe they make sense, getting sucked further and further into that lifestyle until there is no way to reason with them. It’s really sad.

    Orac – I think that doing our best to spread real, valid information while educating the general public on critical thinking is the best hope. It’s a long shot in a way – we need to be educating school children how to think critically about things told to them and weigh those claims empirically. The school I went to growing up did its very best to give us a balanced way to look at advertising that was so constant in our lives, and it has helped to an extent as I surf the internet. Surely schools could consider adding a course to examine claims by advertising, internet, etc., to their curriculums? Teaching children to think seems like a great goal to me.

  18. #18 robb
    July 6, 2012

    a reformuation of Sturgeon’s Law:

    90% of the internet is crap.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon's_Law)

  19. #19 GRichard
    July 6, 2012

    @Mrs Woo

    “Surely schools could consider adding a course to examine claims by advertising, internet, etc., to their curriculums? Teaching children to think seems like a great goal to me.”

    When my wife eventually lets me tell my two boys that Santa isn’t real, I have high hopes that they just laugh at me and say they’ve known forever. If not, I’ll have to do my best to make fun of them for being so gullible – that oughta learn ‘em!

    But seriously, I’m a huge advocate of the idea of critical thinking or deconstructing claims being taught from an early age. Advertisers have data, money, and scores of very crafty folks with very few scruples. It’s only going to become more prevalent.

    This term “motivated reasoning” is something I’d been looking for. I have seen and felt the effects of it, but it’s an accurate moniker to be able to apply to the process. It’s troubling though, and seems like it would be exceptionally difficult to circumvent or even engage in a proper discussion against. I feel when speaking to alt med people as if I’m trying to convert them from their religion into some kind of heathen. Facts are useless, challenges to their worldview makes them dig in even harder. It’s like that quote from House that you see thrown around the internet: “If you could reason with religious people, there would be no more religious people.” Odd thing is that I know a few atheists who are big proponents of woo. It cuts across all beliefs and viewpoints, I guess.

  20. #20 Brice Gilbert
    United States
    July 6, 2012

    The top results for medical questions tend to give results from. WebMD, NHS, MayoClinic etc. Is this because they are the most popular or they are the most relevant? I’m under the impression that Google does indeed “cook” the results to give you the best possible result. And the “best” in these cases is not the most popular, but the most reliable.

  21. #21 Denice Walter
    July 6, 2012

    @ GRichard:

    I refer you to … .ahem..uh..my own recent comments @ the Entelev thread..
    I have to lie down now.

  22. #22 Krebiozen
    July 6, 2012

    Isn’t ‘Dr. Google and Mr. Jim’ a song by The Woo?

  23. #23 DLC
    Crackerbox Palace
    July 6, 2012

    Indeed, the first five hits on any topic should be suspect.
    The antivax po-mo crowd’s war cry of “Challenge Everything!” should be turned on it’s head. “Examine Everything Critically” is more like it.
    Suggestion for Orac : how about a nice post detailing the first five signs of a bad study, explaining why they’re signs of a bad study. Unless of course you’ve done one already, in which case, a link to same would be helpful.

  24. #24 Stu
    July 6, 2012

    Surely schools could consider adding a course to examine claims by advertising, internet, etc., to their curriculums? Teaching children to think seems like a great goal to me.

    Mrs. Woo, meet the Texas Republican Party:

    We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

    So no, you silly lefty pinko woman. Critical thinking is for suckers and commies.

  25. #25 sheepmilker
    July 6, 2012

    Krebs:

    Would The Woos slogan be “Maximum F u D”?

  26. #26 adelady
    city of wine and roses
    July 6, 2012

    “we need to be educating school children how to think critically about things told to them and weigh those claims empirically.”

    I think we need to get more basic than that. Clever people in particular are very, very good at rationalising and kidding themselves that that’s the same thing as being rational.

    More important is to learn not to trust your first (and many other) instincts or thoughts. Understanding that we are “feeling animals that think rather than thinking animals that feel” is a good first step.

  27. #27 Stu
    July 6, 2012

    Understanding that we are “feeling animals that think rather than thinking animals that feel” is a good first step.

    Animals?!

  28. #28 Antonio
    July 6, 2012

    Wonderful post Orac. One of the very best. Thank you

  29. #29 Composer99
    July 6, 2012

    Stu:

    As a composer, I feel like I can say the following:

    In my professional opinion, that song you linked to sucks.

  30. #30 Stu
    July 6, 2012

    Composer: that would be the understatement of the week!

  31. #31 janerella
    In a fog of rhinovirus.
    July 6, 2012

    The school I work at here in Aust is in it’s first year of trialling the “Thinking Science” program in middle school.

    http://www.education.uwa.edu.au/tsa/?a=2117306

    It is no easy task , the teachers and kids are really getting a reality check about how infrequently in the normal curriculum kids are made to think critically. In fact there is a huge number of kids who get frustrated and demand that the teacher just tell them the answers. As the program continues over 2 years, hopefully the concepts will come easier to the kids, and we might produce young adults who will stop and think about fair tests, single variables and the like, and more importantly will seek out and learn to recognise legitimate sources of information.

  32. #32 Tiziana
    Italia
    July 7, 2012

    Hello everybody.

    I have a little problem relate to this. I am doing the HPV vaccine, and I told my sister to do it, too, if she doesn’t already have the virus.

    She answered that she had “made research” and she didn’t want to do it.

    I am unaware of any serious medical research against the HPV vaccine. Anybody who can help me?

    Sorry, but I don’t have anybody else to ask for help :( And I would like serious medical knoweledge, not quackery

  33. #33 Candy
    July 7, 2012

    Tiziana: I’m not a medico but here is the best info on the HPV vaccine, from the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html

    Hopefully one of the experts will be along shortly to help you in more detail.

    An anecdote: My son has had the HPV vaccine. This is because I didn’t want him to get genital warts and perhaps get penile cancer, and I also don’t want any of his sex partners to get the infection and then maybe get cervical cancer on down the line. He had no ill effects. The smart thing to do is vax up.

  34. #34 bad poet
    La Rosita Supermercado on North Avenue
    July 7, 2012

    Maximum FuD: what you get when FuD (the Oscar Mayer of Mexico) samples their products and offers 2 for the price of 1. I buy V&V Supremo and other local brands – tastier and better value.

  35. #35 lilady
    July 7, 2012

    @ Tiziana: Orac has blogged about the HPV vaccine a number of times…mostly prompted by yet another *attack* on the vaccine by yet another of the notorious anti vaccine websites.

    Just keying in “HPV vaccine” on the top right “Search This Blog” field, I came up with this:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence?s=hpv+vaccine

    Then there is the PubMed site, where you can find a number of abstracts about the vaccine, or the Vaccine Safety Datalink site, which reviews post-marketing reports of vaccine uptake, and any *reports* of untoward reactions. Here’s the link to the Vaccine Safety Datalink site, where you can search for reports on every vaccine:

    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Activities/VSD.html

  36. #36 lilady
    July 7, 2012

    Ooops…PubMed website links…

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

  37. #37 Mrs Woo
    July 7, 2012

    @Janerella – I bet it is difficult for them. Even developing the awareness to realize the “spin” of advertising 30-ish years ago or so was a challenge back then. People with agendas have only gotten more clever with how they share information.

    I hope that the school isn’t pressured by the parents to discontinue the program. These days it’s all about making sure the kids “have the answers” so they can study and get good grades rather than having a course with more abstract goals. I am glad that school has chosen to embark on a better way of educating our younger generations.

    Yesterday I realized that I myself still sometimes fall into the “natural equals good” (or at least don’t bother to speak out adequately against supplements) type of thinking. I had been very honestly discussing my own experiences when I worked for a biotech company and disappointment at some side effects that were allowed in a few treatments. In another post in the same group someone said that their uncle, an emergency physician, shared that he had read studies that suggested some vitamin and mineral supplements could be helpful for a disease. Both recommendations made sense in everything I have ever heard and the woman who posted said she was pregnant and going to ask her OB-Gyn about them before starting. I realized, however, a moment later, that I had said NOTHING about the risks of those supplements, but was very candid about the risks of a medical treatment discussed earlier. I went back to the post and assured her checking with her doctor, possibly both doctors, would be a good idea before starting any supplement program, and asked her to remember that “natural” does not mean “good for you” or even “better for you.”

    It’s just so easy to not maintain a balanced outlook! Even when you try, sometimes your awareness slips just a bit at the wrong time…

  38. #38 Tiziana
    Italia
    July 7, 2012

    @lilady
    My thanks, I am new here, I didn’t know the topic had already been covered, I apologize :D
    Thank you for your time!

  39. #39 lilady
    July 7, 2012

    @ Tiziana: I should be apologizing to you…I didn’t welcome you to the blog. :-)

    I’m a (relative) newbie here myself and have learned so much about medicine (and quackery) from Orac and from the people who post here.

    Please stay around and continue to post…

    fondly, lilady

  40. #40 Denice Walter
    July 7, 2012

    @ lilady:

    Here’s a hoot:
    in your neck of the (non) woods, *El Grand Honcho del Woo* shall conduct a “clinical trial” health support group at the Gathering of Light Multi-faith Spiritual Fellowship ( whew! did I get they right?) in Dix Hills: it shall consist of bi-weekly lectures on going vegan, exercising, de-stressing to cure various ills- for 3 months. It is the 48th “study” that the woo-meister has conducted- all to spectacular success, I should add. ( via the Progressive Radio Network/ see facebook page of Gathering of Light……)

  41. #41 lilady
    July 7, 2012

    (Posting somewhere on the East Coast)

    @ Denice Walter: Here from the Gathering of Light Multi-faith Spiritual Fellowship website are the participants in their 2011 Wellness Expo:

    http://www.gatheringoflight.org/2011-wellness-expo-info-/

    Take a look at all the psychic readers and other purveyors of woo, who showed up to market their crap to the *fellowship*.

    I think I’ll look into becoming a *minister* for all the *prestige* and for all the tax advantages, associated with religion. I wouldn’t even have to beg the *parishioners* to tithe. Think of all the money charged to the participants who show up at the “Wellness Expo”.

  42. #42 CMcL
    US
    July 7, 2012

    Thankfully we still have a quaint profession known as librarianship whose raison d’etre is to organize and assess information. That’s really why we’re here–to organize, evaluate, and provide structural and qualitative perspective on the universe of information and–dare I extend the generality–the realm of knowledge.

    Please use us. We are a modest lot for the most part, but that’s why we’re here.

  43. #43 Narad
    July 7, 2012

    So no, you silly lefty pinko woman. Critical thinking is for suckers and commies.

    Sigh.

  44. #44 Julian Frost
    NOYDB
    July 7, 2012

    Narad, I think Stu was Poeing.

  45. #45 Narad
    July 7, 2012

    Nah, I understood it. I set out my take in the actual Texas thread; I’ll refrain from derailing this one.

  46. #46 Infuriatingly Moderate
    July 7, 2012

    @CMcL: Hear hear. One of my favorite quotes from Seth Mnookin:

    One of the first effects of this hyper-democratization of data was to unmoor information from the context required to understand it.

    Though I’m also biased – my youngest sister has an MLS and I’m an information junkie.

  47. #47 Uncle Glenny
    July 8, 2012

    No more remarkable than the vaccinations that cause children to develop autism before they receive the vaccination.

    They’re using thiotimoline as an adjuvant these days.

  48. #48 Krebiozen
    July 8, 2012

    Off topic, but fascinating, Zoobiquity.

    Zoobiquity is a simple idea – animals and humans get the same diseases, yet physicians and veterinarians almost never talk to each other. Zoobiquity is a new approach to medicine that brings together human doctors and animal doctors to treat the diseases shared by patients of many species.
    Cardiologist and psychiatrist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and science writer Kathryn Bowers look at the remarkable correspondences between the way human beings and animals live, die, get sick, and heal in their natural settings, delving into an array of disciplines—evolution, anthropology, sociology, biology, cutting-edge medicine, and zoology—to provide a revelatory understanding of what animals can teach us about the human body and mind.
    “Zoobiquity” is the term the authors have coined to refer to a new, species-spanning approach to health. After being called in to consult on a case of heart failure in a monkey at the Los Angeles Zoo, Natterson-Horowitz found herself launched on a journey of discovery that reshaped her entire approach to medicine. In Zoobiquity, she uses fascinating case studies and scholarship to explore the ways in which what we know about animal and human commonality can be used to diagnose, treat, and ultimately heal human patients.

  49. #49 Krebiozen
    July 8, 2012

    <a href="http://www.cme.ucla.edu/courses/event-description?event_id=2053704"The Zoobiquity conference in September is CME accredited, in case anyone’s interested. I’m guessing it’s not often you can get CME credits for a trip to the zoo.

  50. #50 Krebiozen
    July 8, 2012

    Let’s try that link again, it’s amazing what havoc using a ‘ instead of a ” can wreak.

  51. #51 harold
    July 8, 2012

    For these reasons it is possible the minds of deeply invested anti-vaccine activists may never be changed; therefore it is for both the laypersons with genuine questions or worries about vaccines and the healthcare professionals who work to ease their fears that keeping abreast of the methods of persuasion discussed here is essential.

    This is a fairly critical point, and seen in other reality denial movements. The specific denial reflects an underlying emotional commitment to a group and an agenda. In health-related reality denial, the elements of personal financial gain or personal prestige and power enter the picture. The conscious or unconscious fantasy of a massive financial settlement from “vaccine manufacturers” or the “AMA” can’t be ruled out. Note that a general tendency in the US, resentment by the less-educated affluent of competition for prestige from the educated upper middle class, is another part of the picture. Those whose self-image is heavily invested in a potentially fragile sense of superiorty due to money or celebrity status are often frustrated by the existence of a separate network of status and prestige based on educational achievements, in which they cannot compete.

    The vaccine denial movement first became massively popular due to the claims of Andrew Wakefield. However, if it had merely been due to Wakefield’s work, it would have gone away – everybody won, Wakefield was shown to be wrong but thimersol isn’t really used anymore to speak of anyway. Instead, the claims of the movement merely shift, sometimes within the same conversation, by the same person. Vaccines are bad because of mercury, I only oppose unsafe vaccination, all vaccines are bad, infectious disease incidence isn’t affected by vaccines, microbes and viruses don’t cause disease. I’ve seen it all in the same conversation from the same person, from germ theory denial to pious claims that their objective is only to promote safe use of vaccines. The commonality is “say anything to oppose vaccination”. But we see the same thing with other forms of denial, e.g. the well known climate change shuffle (there is no warming, warming is not related to humans, warming is related to humans but beneficial, warming is related to humans and harmful but more efficient use of fossil fuels would kill the economy so we can’t do it).

    We also always see complete refusal to ever state the position of the other side, unfounded claims that the other side is corrupt and conspiratorial (often, in fact, efforts to dehumanize the other side as evil, n-zi, killing innocent children, uncaring, etc). This represents an often successful effort to “frame the issue”. The science side is constantly on the defensive. The implied message is that the denial side is the default choice. Science defenders are expected to flail away trying to correct each individual inaccurate anti-science statement, while desperately defending themselves against charges of n-zism, etc.

    I recommend trying to do two things (which are only possible, of course, in a venue that is not completely controlled and censored) –

    1) Challenge them to commit to positive claims – ask them whether they agree that microorganisms and viruses can cause disease and what causes disease like smallpox if viruses don’t, whether they agree that the adaptive immune system can produce a memory response – that is whether they agree that people who survive such diseases typically develop immunity and don’t get them twice, and why vaccines would never work if they agree with the existence of microbes, viruses, infectious disease, and adaptive immunity. What is their alternative to vaccination? Simply everybody not vaccinating? You won’t get straight answers from the committed, but you will show the convinceable that they don’t provide straight answers.

    2) Ask them if any evidence could convince them that vaccines could be beneficial.

    This type of approach is extremely good with creationists. Of course it doesn’t convince the committed, but it puts the discourse on an equal founding. It forces them to either ignore the questions, or inconsistently flit back and forth between different levels of denial.

    3) It’s also key to somehow make the general public aware of which sites do censor critical comments.

    Rather than admit your error like an adult.

    Indeed, for the dug-in denialists, let alone those who profit financially or in social prestige from the denial, admitting error would require an incredible personal journey of humility and enlightenment. They are either outright sociopaths (small minority) or highly adept at using all the tricks to keep themselves consciously convinced that they are doing the right thing. It could and probably will happen that some of them will gradually unwind their commitment to denial over decades. Others never will. It’s not a reasonable goal to get the fully committed to change their minds in the short term. Some kind of Clockwork Orange type inhumane deprogramming would be needed, and the risk of a dissociative breakdown would be high. These are people who have spent hours a day for at least several years grooming their own inflated but fragile egos with literally obsessive claims of their own special enlightenment, and turning on anyone who interferes with that in exaggerated rage and hurling, at a minimum, the most unjustified and cruelest kind of verbal accusations. To just turn around and admit that “I was wrong about all that” – not a short journey.

    I am fortunate in my journey from gulli ility to skeptic to be married to a scientist who studies vaccines.

    Although that is a rather obvious factor biasing you toward the pro-science side, input from people who have been convinced is incredibly valuable.

    bi-weekly lectures on going vegan, exercising, de-stressing to cure various ills

    Worth pointing out that this…1) Appropriates preventative advice from science based medicine (vegetable based diet, exercise, control of stress – all mainstream recommendations) and 2) Confounds preventative strategies with cure or healing, one of the core logical errors found in many “alternative” dogmas.

  52. #52 harold
    July 8, 2012

    For these reasons it is possible the minds of deeply invested anti-vaccine activists may never be changed; therefore it is for both the laypersons with genuine questions or worries about vaccines and the healthcare professionals who work to ease their fears that keeping abreast of the methods of persuasion discussed here is essential.

    This is a fairly critical point, and seen in other reality denial movements. The specific denial reflects an underlying emotional commitment to a group and an agenda. In health-related reality denial, the elements of personal financial gain or personal prestige and power enter the picture. The conscious or unconscious fantasy of a massive financial settlement from “vaccine manufacturers” or the “AMA” can’t be ruled out. Note that a general tendency in the US, resentment by the less-educated affluent of competition for prestige from the educated upper middle class, is another part of the picture. Those whose self-image is heavily invested in a potentially fragile sense of superiorty due to money or celebrity status are often frustrated by the existence of a separate network of status and prestige based on educational achievements, in which they cannot compete.

    The vaccine denial movement first became massively popular due to the claims of Andrew Wakefield. However, if it had merely been due to Wakefield’s work, it would have gone away – everybody won, Wakefield was shown to be wrong but thimersol isn’t really used anymore to speak of anyway. Instead, the claims of the movement merely shift, sometimes within the same conversation, by the same person. Vaccines are bad because of mercury, I only oppose unsafe vaccination, all vaccines are bad, infectious disease incidence isn’t affected by vaccines, microbes and viruses don’t cause disease. I’ve seen it all in the same conversation from the same person, from germ theory denial to pious claims that their objective is only to promote safe use of vaccines. The commonality is “say anything to oppose vaccination”. But we see the same thing with other forms of denial, e.g. the well known climate change shuffle (there is no warming, warming is not related to humans, warming is related to humans but beneficial, warming is related to humans and harmful but more efficient use of fossil fuels would kill the economy so we can’t do it).

    We also always see complete refusal to ever state the position of the other side, unfounded claims that the other side is corrupt and conspiratorial (often, in fact, efforts to dehumanize the other side as evil, n-zi, killing innocent children, uncaring, etc). This represents an often successful effort to “frame the issue”. The science side is constantly on the defensive. The implied message is that the denial side is the default choice. Science defenders are expected to flail away trying to correct each individual inaccurate anti-science statement, while desperately defending themselves against charges of n-zism, etc.

    I recommend trying to do two things (which are only possible, of course, in a venue that is not completely controlled and censored) –

    1) Challenge them to commit to positive claims – ask them whether they agree that microorganisms and viruses can cause disease and what causes disease like smallpox if viruses don’t, whether they agree that the adaptive immune system can produce a memory response – that is whether they agree that people who survive such diseases typically develop immunity and don’t get them twice, and why vaccines would never work if they agree with the existence of microbes, viruses, infectious disease, and adaptive immunity. What is their alternative to vaccination? Simply everybody not vaccinating? You won’t get straight answers from the committed, but you will show the convinceable that they don’t provide straight answers.

    2) Ask them if any evidence could convince them that vaccines could be beneficial.

    This type of approach is extremely good with creationists. Of course it doesn’t convince the committed, but it puts the discourse on an equal founding. It forces them to either ignore the questions, or inconsistently flit back and forth between different levels of denial.

    3) It’s also key to somehow make the general public aware of which sites do censor critical comments.

    Rather than admit your error like an adult.

    Indeed, for the dug-in denialists, let alone those who profit financially or in social prestige from the denial, admitting error would require an incredible personal journey of humility and enlightenment. They are either outright sociopaths (small minority) or highly adept at using all the tricks to keep themselves consciously convinced that they are doing the right thing. It could and probably will happen that some of them will gradually unwind their commitment to denial over decades. Others never will. It’s not a reasonable goal to get the fully committed to change their minds in the short term. Some kind of Clockwork Orange type inhumane deprogramming would be needed, and the risk of a dissociative breakdown would be high. These are people who have spent hours a day for at least several years grooming their own inflated but fragile egos with literally obsessive claims of their own special enlightenment, and turning on anyone who interferes with that in exaggerated rage and hurling, at a minimum, the most unjustified and cruelest kind of verbal accusations. To just turn around and admit that “I was wrong about all that” – not a short journey.

    I am fortunate in my journey from gulli ility to skeptic to be married to a scientist who studies vaccines.

    Although that is a rather obvious factor biasing you toward the pro-science side, input from people who have been convinced is incredibly valuable.

    bi-weekly lectures on going vegan, exercising, de-stressing to cure various ills

    Worth pointing out that this…1) Appropriates preventative advice from science based medicine (vegetable based diet, exercise, control of stress – all mainstream recommendations) and 2) Confounds preventative strategies with cure or healing, one of the core logical errors found in many “alternative” dogmas.

  53. #53 Denice Walter
    July 8, 2012

    @ harold:

    re: the bi-weekly lectures:

    Woo-meisters like to claim the SBM has NOTHING to say about diet, exercise etc when quite the contrary is true. However, the loon I am describing goes entirely overboard with 1. dietary restrictions ( vegan, no wheat, predominantly raw, organic, high fibre, non-GMO etc etc etc) as well as 2. claims that diet/ exercise prevents and cures virtually all ills- save being hit by a speeding vehicle.

    I think that it’s important to point out to the vulnerable that to follow a woo-meister’s regime of diet, supplements, execise and lifestyle ( live stress free, grow your own organic vegetables, raise free range chickens…) would take up most of your time and money. PLUS, following their lead would probably turn you into a rankling scold who most people would want to avoid.

  54. #54 Marry Me, Mindy
    July 8, 2012

    Harold – basically, what you are describing is a game of “whack-a-mole”. The science side spends their whole effort trying to whack the mole popping his head here and there. Note that it often comes to the same spot after having been whacked down already.

    Watch someone playing whack-a-mole and you see two things:
    1) The mole is calm and in-control, while the whacker looks desperate and frantic, and
    2) The mole wins in the end

    This is why public debates with reality deniers never turn out good.

  55. #55 Denice Walter
    July 8, 2012

    OT- but what the f@ck, it’s Sunday..

    @ TMR, la Mamacita informs us that “When we discovered how quickly our children’s ability to communicate WAS TAKEN AWAY, our own voices became louder, stronger and heard as one.” ( emphasis mine) By whom, pray tell?
    So she advocates ‘silent Sundays’.

    @ Natural News: Mike Adams shows his true calling by introducing us to his new website “Divinity Now” which explores exactly what you might imagine it would.

    As I always say, scratch the surface of woo and you’ll get religion or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

  56. #56 Denice Walter
    July 8, 2012

    OT- but what the hey, it’s Sunday

    @ TMR:
    La Mamacita informs us that ” when we discovered how quickly our children’s ability to communicate WAS TAKEN AWAY, our own voices became louder, stronger and as one” (emphasis mine)
    By WHOM, pray tell?
    She then advocates for Silent Sundays.
    If only.

    @ Natural News:
    MIkey reveals his true calling by introducing a new website *Divinity Now* which explores exactly what you imagine it would.

    I always say that if you scratch woo, you’ll expose religion or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

  57. #57 Denice Walter
    July 8, 2012

    I seem to have lost a comment here… new problem?

  58. #58 Denice Walter
    July 8, 2012

    OK here goes:

    OT:

    @ TMR: Mamacita informs us that “when we discovered how quickly our children’s ability to communicate was taken away, our own voices became louder, stronger and as one”
    By WHOM, pray tell?
    She advocates ‘silent Sundays”
    If only.

    @ Natural News:
    MIkey reveals his true calling by introducing his new website * Divinity Now* which explores exactly what you might imagine it does.

    Scratch the surface of woo deeply enough and you’ll most likely find religion or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

  59. #59 pyst
    July 8, 2012

    I dont know how anyone in the past without access to a medical library could “research” a medical question.
    I remember driving to the USC medical library to do some reading on brain injury as my brother was injured in a motorcycle accident. Ultimately I came up with wernickes aphasia and afterwards my brother had surgery to release pressure on his brain.
    Did my reading alter the course of events for my brother?

    What internet search needs to do is provide easy access to the current science in medicine, etc. with a somewhat simplified synopsis for those of us who do not care to read the research papers.
    So to be blunt where do I go today to find the information I seek. So far in this thread there are links to naturalnews and mercola. Shame on you or perhaps there are not any such sites?

  60. #60 harold
    July 8, 2012

    Denice Walter –

    I think that it’s important to point out to the vulnerable that to follow a woo-meister’s regime of diet, supplements, execise and lifestyle ( live stress free, grow your own organic vegetables, raise free range chickens…) would take up most of your time and money. PLUS, following their lead would probably turn you into a rankling scold who most people would want to avoid.

    LOL, I think I may be a bit more in favor of free range chickens and organic vegetables than you are. I don’t raise either, but my brother is a (science-friendly) over-worked film industry type, and manages to garden some vegetables.

    Having said that, you make a great point with regard to how these types distort good advice –

    I forgot to mention some critical things you bring up; even when presenting good advice, often –

    1) They make the perfect the enemy of the good and ignore the principle of decreasing marginal benefit. I encourage everyone to live as healthy a lifestyle as they can. If that’s organic veganism and ashtanga yoga, more power to you, but the real gains come at the bottom of the pyramid, with things like smoking cessation, recognition and treatment of diabetes/hypertension/etc, basic weight control, etc. It’s not “organic veganism and plenty of ashtanga yoga or nothing”.

    2) They promote a false complacency by implying, or in some cases openly stating, that extremely good habits will perfectly prevent all disease, which is a dangerous delusion. Yes, the risks associated with a number of major diseases can indeed be markedly reduced (although by no means to zero) with good habits, but that isn’t universally the case. And it’s all always to some degree a trade off. Smoking cessation, one of the best things anyone can do for health, mildly increases the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

    Harold – basically, what you are describing is a game of “whack-a-mole”

    Yes, that is exactly what I am describing, and although that can be fun, I am arguing against letting the moles frame the issue.

    I’ve mainly argued with creationists, but the principles still apply – ask them what evidence would convince them and establish what their positive claims are and what evidence they base those claims on. Also try to get them to fairly state the true position of their critics, which makes them very uncomfortable.

  61. #61 harold
    July 8, 2012

    I’ve mainly argued with creationists, but the principles still apply – ask them what evidence would convince them and establish what their positive claims are and what evidence they base those claims on. Also try to get them to fairly state the true position of their critics, which makes them very uncomfortable.

    This sounds easy but depends on creating a forum in which science supporters, denialists, and people who need information can all express themselves.

    I would argue that no such forum remains so permanently.

    The general trend is that denialist movements gravitate toward their own heavily censored echo chambers.

    Pro-science sites tend to have a few resident “trolls”, often eccentrics (who have, in some cases, been rejected by the denialist communities they claim to represent).

    It’s not an easy challenge to meet.

    But of course, it’s not a new challenge, either. Before the internet, there were plenty of publications, radio spots, infomercials, and so on that promoted anti-science, especially in the sphere of medicine and health.

  62. #62 bad poet
    July 8, 2012

    Hemlock is natural. If it was good enough for Socrates…

  63. #63 Denice Walter
    July 8, 2012

    @ all:
    sorry about that triple – I can’t understand- ihought it had to do with a wavery connection problem here.

    @ pyst:

    There is plenty of SBM information about brain injuries, rehab et al from reputable sources via google.

    @ harold:

    Well, believe it or not, I eat reasonably healthily and exercise regularly without being a fanatic.

    About the ‘perfect being the enemy of the good’ :some woo-sters -both leaders and followers- have a tendency to see things as black and white, either/ or- which might signal something cognitive rather than just perfectionism. As kids reach adolescence , there is a greater liklihood that they will integrate pros and cons about various issues rather than see ‘all good’ vs ‘all bad’. Whenever I hear such unqualified rhetoric- which I often do- I wonder about what other problems they might have.

  64. #64 harold
    July 8, 2012

    Well, believe it or not, I eat reasonably healthily and exercise regularly without being a fanatic.

    Which is clearly the best approach.

    About the ‘perfect being the enemy of the good’ :some woo-sters -both leaders and followers- have a tendency to see things as black and white, either/ or- which might signal something cognitive rather than just perfectionism. As kids reach adolescence , there is a greater liklihood that they will integrate pros and cons about various issues rather than see ‘all good’ vs ‘all bad’. Whenever I hear such unqualified rhetoric- which I often do- I wonder about what other problems they might have.

    I find this concrete, rigid type of thinking to manifest itself in many aspects of US culture.

  65. #65 lilady
    July 8, 2012

    @ Pyst:

    “What internet search needs to do is provide easy access to the current science in medicine, etc. with a somewhat simplified synopsis for those of us who do not care to read the research papers.
    So to be blunt where do I go today to find the information I seek. So far in this thread there are links to naturalnews and mercola. Shame on you or perhaps there are not any such sites?”

    It took me all of two minutes to find a reliable easy-to-follow website….

    http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/aphasia.aspx

  66. #66 lilady
    July 8, 2012

    Here’s the perfect example of blogs and posts on the Age of Autism website:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/07/as-american-as-a-snow-whites-apple-pie-22-vaccines-by-6-months-.html#comments

    Scroll on down to view this comment…

    “…..Everybody should realize the vaccine dose volumes (usually 25 milliliters) for a 7 pound infant are but one-half the typical vaccine dose volume of 50 milliliters for a 140 pound adult (20 times the weight). Thus, with adult vaccine doses but twice the newborn dose, an adult gets but one-tenth (1/10) the dose per weight!

    Would any sane adult or pediatrician consent to take vaccine dose volumes 10 times what are currently given, and take 22-27 injections over 6+ months? Certainly not. But, that’s what newborns get.

    The Chart defines medical insanity.

    David Burd”

    Which childhood vaccines doses and which adult vaccines doses are just shy of an ounce, and just shy of two ounces, respectively?

    I love lurking at AoA for the sheer entertainment value.

  67. #67 herr doktor bimler
    July 8, 2012

    Completely OT… and anything published at Boing Boing probably comes under the heading of “preaching to the choir”… but someone has called Cory Doctorow’s attention to the existence of Homeopathic Berlin Wall.
    http://boingboing.net/2012/07/08/homeopathic-doses-of-the-berli.html

  68. #68 Glaxxon PharmaCOM HIH Sector Flagship "Blood of the Vanquished" VMMX22
    Transit
    July 8, 2012

    MESSAGE BEGINS———————–

    Minion Uncle Glenny,

    Thank you for linking to that marvelously instructive page on the creative coverup Minion Asimov dreamed up when Thiotimoline was accidentally discovered by your scientists. We, of course, have been using a frimmuxated anodyne of Thiotimoline since before Julius Cæsar trod the marble steps of the Fora Romani. Probability drive would be science fiction without it and curing flenk would be prohibitively expensive as well.

    As you were,

    Lord Draconis Zeneca VH7ihl

    Foreward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Subjugator general of Terra, Pharmaca of Terra, Monkey Master of Mars

    HIH Sector Flagship “Blood of the Vanquished”
    00000000000000000000000000000100011

    ————————MESSAGE ENDS

  69. #69 novalox
    July 8, 2012

    @lilady

    Of course, math (among other things such as ethics, science, logic, morals, critical thinking, etc.) isn’t a strong suit among antivaxxers.

  70. #70 lilady
    July 8, 2012

    @ novalox: I just visited the AoA site and none of the *vaccine experts* who posted after David Burd, corrected him.

    http://syringesupplies.com/store/large/1drm2/Personal_Medical_Supplies_Misc/Deluxe_Turkey_Basting_Syringe_and_Needle.html

  71. #71 JGC
    July 9, 2012

    “Were Jewish people and many others being killed with poison gas in concentration camps? [Allied Radio] said Yes it’s true and Allied Radio was right. Are babies and children being poisoned with vaccines? The INTERNET says Yes it’s true and the INTERNET is wrong.

    FTFY.

  72. #72 JustaTech
    July 9, 2012

    Based on something she read on the internet, my mother-in-law took “Fish Zole” (a medicaiton for fish) to treat something she didn’t want to wait to go to the doctor about. (I think it had something to do with her diverticulitis). These are not people who can’t afford a doctor or human medication, but she thought it was fine because a survivalist website said it was safe.

    I have begged her to stick to WebMD if she feels the need to play doctor on the internet before she hurts herself. Can you imagine that call to poision control? “And why did you take the algae-off? The Internet told me!”

  73. #73 Narad
    July 9, 2012

    These are not people who can’t afford a doctor or human medication, but she thought it was fine because a survivalist website said it was safe.

    I’ve actually resorted to feline antibiotics when the “urgent care” clinic at my local university (which hasn’t taken walk-ins for years) told me I’d have to wait 36 hours for an appointment for a quite plain staph infection. It was in fact a good idea in that case, although I was cautious in running up the dose.

  74. #74 lilady
    July 9, 2012

    @JustaTech:

    (DISCLAIMER: I do not work for Cleveland Clinic)

    I love the Cleveland Clinic for some user-friendly advice on medical conditions…

    http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/diverticulosis/diverticulitis/hic_diverticular_disease.aspx

    BTW, a close friend had a laparoscopy colectomy/resection for her diverticulitis about two years ago; it was an easy recovery for her.

  75. #75 Mrs Woo
    July 9, 2012

    @Narad – granted it was years ago, but hubby said someone at one of the local pharma plants told him that most veterinary medications are the same as people type (in fact, I’ve heard of felines being tested with elmiron for feline interstitial cystitis). I figure if I was ever “in a pinch” and needed antibiotics that I couldn’t obtain readily enough for some reason I would end up using the veterinary penicillin or tetracycline, depending on the infection, if it were appropriate. I keep them around all the time for my chickens.

    Sadly, one of the best chicken antibiotics currently is Baytril. In human patients it causes hallucinations, etc., so it tends to stay in veterinary practice. I have to wonder if the animals have hallucinations too, but since they can’t verbalize them and it is a transient thing it is considered a reasonable side effect for a bad infection.

  76. #76 lilady
    July 9, 2012

    When my son’s pediatric neurologist withdrew his Dilantin Infatabs, she asked me for the unused pills…she had an epileptic dog.

    @ Narad: I have a pesky field mouse who has been hanging around on my back deck. I’ll be contacting you, in case the mouse decides to come indoors. I promise to remove your collar with the bell on it. :-)

  77. #77 Narad
    July 9, 2012

    granted it was years ago, but hubby said someone at one of the local pharma plants told him that most veterinary medications are the same as people type

    I made sure the ratio of amoxicillin to clavulanic acid was correct and dosed by weight. Gross swelling in the “danger triangle” makes me uneasy, and their ED had proved to be a rather crappy experience on a number of occasions, even before they racked up an EMTALA violation for leaving a patient in the waiting room without triage and finally noticing him four hours later. After rigor mortis had set in.

  78. #78 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    July 9, 2012

    I’ve actually resorted to feline antibiotics…

    Antibiotics are antibiotics, but…

    What’s your feeling about tuna or milk these days?

  79. #79 Narad
    July 9, 2012

    What’s your feeling about tuna or milk these days?

    Unchanged, but please don’t ask about my new grooming habits.

  80. #80 lilady
    July 9, 2012

    (Good *mousers* are hard to find)

    Narad…I’ll up the ante with a saucer of cream and tuna casserole…with tarragon.

  81. #81 Narad
    July 9, 2012

    I already put cream in my tuna casserole. And your tarragon taunts will cut no ice in this quarter, madam.

  82. #82 Denice Walter
    July 9, 2012

    Well, various gentlemen in my life ( including my late father) have been on the identical meds as my (sequential) male cats: amoxicillin, dexamethosone, elavil, famotidine and OTC remedies, occasionally, this occured simultaneously. Most of them have also liked salmon a great deal. I think I sense a trend.

  83. #83 Mrs Woo
    July 9, 2012

    No wonder my cats like me so much! (and the chickens, for that matter…)

  84. #84 Mrs Woo
    July 9, 2012

    No wonder my cats like me so much! (and the chickens, for that matter…)

  85. #85 Infuriatingly Moderate
    July 10, 2012

    @Narad: Wonder if university clinics are prone to a “youth bias” (have anecdotes from many years ago, won’t bore you with them). If the patient population is only people between 18 and 30, demographically in the peak of health, and a patient is not, like, bleeding profusely out of their eyes or something, surely they’ll just, like, get over it. You’re too young to be really sick, right?

    There are all kinds of veterinary medications OTC at the local farm store, for chickens, horses, cattle, etc. Hmm….nah. Not for me – I haven’t done even simple acid/base mole calculations for 25 years, never mind calculating dosages. Best I leave it to the pros.

    I’m currently mourning my tarragon plant – it died over the winter. Never did want to send roots out of its original 4″ square pot matrix. Our rosemary bush/tree croaked a couple years ago too – the new baby is too small to whack off several sprigs for a roasting or grilling bed. Now making do with mixed dried “Italian herbs” and the occasional sprinkling of dill until basil season. Mmm, basil….

  86. #86 Narad
    July 10, 2012

    Wonder if university clinics are prone to a “youth bias” (have anecdotes from many years ago, won’t bore you with them).

    Not in this case. Students (grad and undergrad) do still have a walk-in clinic. It’s only staff and faculty who can’t afford the PPO plan who have to deal with this routine.

  87. #87 janerella
    July 10, 2012

    Every time I remember the $1000 we shelled out for snake antivenom some years ago for our cat, I do appreciate knowing Australia’s Pharmacy Benefits Scheme makes the identical CSL vials free for us humans. She still has a few lives to go.

  88. #88 Mrs Woo
    July 10, 2012

    @Infuriatingly Moderate – that’s a real shame. Tarragon from seed just isn’t very tasty from everything I’ve read. I keep pushing Mr Woo to buy me a tarragon plant but can’t get him to actually read the various gardening sites that explain why tarragon from cuttings and rooted has superior flavor to wild sprouted stuff.

    So far the only creatures I’ve used the farm store antibiotics on are chickens, cats and dogs. I am rather pleased to have managed to save several chickens after predator attacks (that managed to get away from the predator), my dog (repeatedly fights with neighbor dog through our backyard fence) and the one stray cat (developed abscess on leg after a fight). Most of my veterinary attempts started with chickens – in farm country people don’t bother to save a chicken. If a predator gets it you kill it, cook it and feed it to your dogs/cats/whatever. They’re only two bucks or so to purchase (unless you are getting into show chickens) and you can always hatch more. I’m too tender-hearted, though, and have named most of the critters that live here. The one vet in town does take care of chickens (he is trained in exotics, so has more bird training/experience) but also, once you get most things down will just sell you the right drug for the job (i.e., Baytril after predator attacks) because taking care of our own critters is still legal in this state (there are many states now where they’ve made it illegal to doctor your animals without a vet present).

    So far I use people meds (after either having once been told to use them by a veterinarian or clearing it with a veterinarian friend back east) on pets rather than vice-versa. That has to be something people are cautious about, too, because some people drugs (especially pain killers) that are fairly benign for people can be deadly for certain animals (i.e., tylenol and cats).

  89. #89 Nimrah
    qqMsCfuFPnRdpTokFV
    July 24, 2012

    If parents chosoe to avoid or delay vaccinating, then I think they should have to pay out of pocket for their children’s health care if their child contracts a preventable disease, or pay a higher premium or a penalty. Smokers and obese people have to pay a higher premium on my employer’s plan, so why wouldn’t we enforce the same rule on people who willingly risk harmful disease on their children? I totally support the pediatricians who dismiss families who won’t follow vaccination protocols. Those are the same parents who will sue you in a NY minute. If it is to be a free-market health care system in this country, then providers have just as much right to refuse treatment as the parents have.

  90. […] Cassels seems to think that scientists and doctors don’t bother to ask themselves and then answer the question, for both themselves and parents, the relative risk-benefit ratios of various vaccines. Gee, it’s not as though scientists don’t write about the relative risks and benefits of vaccines all the time. It’s also not as though scientists don’t try to communicate information to the public. In actuality, the reason why parents leaning towards antivaccine views are unhappy with the answers they’re getting from health authorities is because the risks of vaccines listed by health authorities do not include the risks that the antivaccine movement attributes to them. Health authorities do not tell them that there is a risk of autism due vaccines because the best science currently available in copious quantities tells them that there isn’t one, at least not a risk that large epidemiological studies can detect, which is the best that science can do. Health authorities don’t tell them that there is a risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) due to vaccines, because the best science has failed to find it—and not for lack of looking, either. They are unhappy because health authorities do not tell them that vaccines cause autoimmune diseases, developmental disorders, and a whole host of other complications that the antivaccine movement attributes to them, because vaccines don’t cause all those problems. Instead, health authorities tell it like it is, but because they don’t include fantasy-based risks from vaccines they are dismissed as hiding something or somehow downplaying risks from vaccines. That’s the bottom line. And who hypes these risks? The antivaccine movement. And, as multiple studies have shown, their primary tool for spreading such misinformation is the Internet. Worse, it takes very little exposure to antivaccine misinformation (or, as Cassels would call it, “illegitimate fears” of vaccines) to influence a parent to be fearful of vaccines. It’s Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde. […]

  91. […] there’s an element of not wanting to be told what to do. However, in reality, there’s a huge amount of misinformation about vaccines that is far more readily available than it was in the past, and it has an enormous effect. Not only […]

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