White Coat Underground

The fake experts of HuffPo

It’s no secret that I think the Huffington Post is an teeming den execrable pseudoscientific snakes. Still, when it comes to fanning the vaccination manufatroversy, they are really off the deep end. Take the latest piece of dreck on Jenny McCarthy, GoD (Google Doctorate). It’s written by the infamous “Dr.” Patricia Fitzgerald, and this is where I get cranky. Worse than all the drivel spouted by Jenny is HuffPo giving their imprimatur of authority to Fitzgerald. Let me ‘splain.

Look, there’s a lot of ways to legitimately gain the title of “doctor”. The most common are to go to a professional school and obtain an MD, DDS, DO, PhD, PharmD, DVM, or a few of the other well-recognized clinical and non-clinical doctorates. Anyone else who calls themselves “doctor” is using a title in a way not generally recognized as legitimate by our society. The reason we are careful with this title is that it confers a certain type of authority and power on those on whom it is bestowed. People who are called “doctor” must be very careful how they use this title. If a PhD in history uses the title, they must make it clear that they are not a doctor in the clinical sense but in the academic sense.

Since this title carries so much authority, manuals of style generally limit who can be called doctor in print. This is especially important in medical writing, as “doctor” invariably leads the reader to assume that the writer is a medical doctor.

Now, I hear the complaint all the time that this is petty, silly, “oppressive”, etc. Really, though, these titles mean nothing if anyone can use them. We use these titles to protect people and to help signify a professional’s type of expertise.

This is all by way of saying “Dr” Fitzgerald is a doctor the same way I am a tree frog. No, this isn’t a turf battle. Its truth, and truth can be harsh. Fitzgerald claims the title of Doctor of Homeopathy. While you and I might know that this is equivalent to Doctor of Magic, a sick person (or a reader) could be easily deceived. Her byline simply says “Dr” and her bio page lists her “doctorate” without explaining that no sane American health care professional looks at homeopathy as being anything other than wishful thinking with a bill.

So, in the fight for truth and honesty in journalism, I propose the following more accurate titles for the HuffPo medical writers who are commonly referred to as “Dr”:

Patricia Fitzgerald, Doctor of Homeopathy, “Doctor of Magicks”


Jonny Bowden
, PhD in nutrition, Doctor of Heart Disease Promotion (for cholesterol denial)

Now, there are plenty of other doctors writing at HuffPo. Many of them actually have MD degrees, but many of them practice so far outside the mainstream that their title has lost its meaning. Examples?

Dr Jay Gordon, Doctor of Infectious Disease Promotion via his vaccine denialism

Dr. Srinivasan Pillay, psychiatrist who calls himself a brain-imaging expert despite his lack of significant publications. His belief in distance healing makes him an Adjunct Professor of Magicks.

Dr. Alex Benzer, dating guru, hypnotist, and Master Practitioner of something called NLP, which to my knowledge is the only “degree” with a trademark.

That’s all for today’s rant.

Comments

  1. #1 Mu
    April 23, 2009

    Dear PalMD, please cease and desist from using the title “Doctor of Magic” without referring to our trademark by adding the TM notation. the DM (TM) is also protected.

    Merlin Graduate School of Magic at HSW&W

  2. #2 ERV
    April 23, 2009

    lol!

    On Jim Carreys rant, I left a comment along the lines of “You know what would be neat? If HuffPo asked some scientists to write their ‘science’ pieces. But Im sure politicians and actors and professional woo-peddlers know just as much about microbiology and immunology as someone with a +6 year graduate degree…”

    Didnt make it past moderation. Alas. LOL!

  3. #3 The Perky Skeptic
    April 23, 2009

    “This is all by way of saying “Dr” Fitzgerald is a doctor the same way I am a tree frog.”

    You win the internet. :)

  4. #4 Jennifer B. Phillips (aka Danio)
    April 23, 2009

    It hurts my brain to imagine what might be involved in a homeopathic doctoral program.

  5. #5 PhilM
    April 23, 2009

    I hope you can give me some information on a topic that is extremely important to me. I take a statin and I have been a vegetarian all my fifty years. My cholesterol is under control but my HDL is quite low. My triglycirides are 70. I am not obese but do have visceral fat. My fasting glucose is between 105-110 and post-prandial is 200.

    All this has pushed me towards eating less carbs and more protein. Despite a lifelong diet of what is considered healthy hasn’t really translated to real benefits that I can see. I am now eating fish (salmon) regularly and starting to think of eating egg yolks in addition to egg whites. I use butter and coconut after having abstaining from them for 15 years or more. I have also read Garry Taubbe’s book and a few other articles on the “cholesterol myth”. I also read Dr Eades’ blogs.

    Based on what I have read, I am considering stopping my statin therapy (my total cholesterol is 130 now), stick to low carb diet, increase fat content, eliminate grains, exercise and not worry about cholesterol. Do you think this is a bad idea?

    The only reason I ask is your use of “cholesterol denial”. Now I am worried that I may be on the wrong course.

    Thanks

  6. #6 thaneb
    April 23, 2009

    HuffPost’s disservice to it’s readers in this seriously compromises its credibility, at least on this portion of the HP Blog. This is their “Wellness Editor” who holds herself out as Doctor Patricia Fitzgerald yet nowhere can I find the source of her Doctorate in Homeopathic Medicine. It is not on HuffPost (click “Show full Bio”–it is no different from “Hide full Bio) it is not on Fitzgerald’s own commercial web site. Dr. conveys the air of authority to both Ms. Fitzgerald and HuffPost (as their Wellness Editor is a Doctor). If not an oversight, it is unethical to withhold this information IMO.

  7. #7 Michael Simpson
    April 23, 2009

    @PhilM…it has been my observation that real doctors do not diagnosis over the internet. Fake doctors will, so you might want to avoid them. See your cardiologist, he and you can determine what the best course of treatment will be.

    @Jennifer…Well, it is my humble opinion, that if you can pour water into a glass vial, price it at a 95% gross margin, you qualify for a Doctor of Homeopathy.

    You guys have me a cynic.

  8. #8 Dr Benway
    April 24, 2009

    The real question: who is “Dr.” Fitzgerald sleeping with?

  9. #9 ScepticsBane
    April 24, 2009

    Dr. PalMD states forthrightly:
    “Look, there’s a lot of ways to legitimately gain the title of “doctor”. The most common are to go to a professional school and obtain an MD, DDS, DO, PhD, PharmD, DVM, or a few of the other well-recognized clinical and non-clinical doctorates.”

    Did he say “well-recognized”…?

    Well recognized by whom?

    You can see that there are several disambiguation failures going on simultaneously here which not only introduce subjectivity but also attempt to return us to the viewpoint of the last century in which the Doctor MD was God, an “authority” not to be questioned and whose prescriptive pontifications were to be followed to the letter.

    Violating the basics of the laws of Anatomy, Dr. PalMD proceeds to put his foot in his mouth by saying…

    “Anyone else who calls themselves “doctor” is using a title in a way not generally recognized as legitimate by our society.”

    Not generally recognized as “legitimate” by our society??

    Well sure and begorrah will you listen to this fine gentleman – is it the little people which are having some fun with him?
    Perhaps they’ve put some Homeopathic remedy in his tea which causes a wee bit of megalomania?

    Read on…. it gets even better.

    Dr. PalMD continues…

    ” The reason we are careful with this title is that it confers a certain type of authority and power on those on whom it is bestowed. People who are called “doctor” must be very careful how they use this title. If a PhD in history uses the title, they must make it clear that they are not a doctor in the clinical sense but in the academic sense.”

    Does “Dr” PalMD even know that the academic PhDs have to defend a thesis to get their Doctoral degree whereas “Dr.” PalMD did not? And what in the world is that bit about “confers a certain type of authority and power on those on whom it is bestowed”?? Perhaps “Dr.” PalMD has it backwards – he should have said -> “If a medical doctor uses the title, they must make it clear that they are not a doctor in the academic sense but in the clinical sense”.

    Now from here on, the full force of PalMD’s egotism begins to take some leaps and bounds…

    “Since this title carries so much authority, manuals of style generally limit who can be called doctor in print. This is especially important in medical writing, as “doctor” invariably leads the reader to assume that the writer is a medical doctor.”

    It does does it? Well, Doc, now we can see that you are living in the last century because here in this century we have alternative systems of medicine which have arisen, and we have freedom of choice laws which have already been passed in several states and will eventually be passed in all of them and those freedom of choice laws say that you no longer have God like status as a medical doctor, and their are limitations and proscriptions on your “authority”. In other words, much as you may not like it, you’re just another type of Doctor – not special in any way shape or form.

    And, just as a final example of PalMD’s overweening egotism, overblown sense of self importance, and completely unscientific denialism of alternative systems of medicine about which he knows little or nothing we have this:

    “This is all by way of saying “Dr” Fitzgerald is a doctor the same way I am a tree frog.”

    You’re a tree frog then.

    No wonder PalMD is so angry, it must be hard hopping from room to room making the rounds. You can imagine a lot of patients give a sceptical look at him when he demands attention and authority by jumping on the patient’s pillow and stating matter of fact…”I’m a Dr. you know”.

    Frog PalMD continues:

    “No, this isn’t a turf battle. Its truth, and truth can be harsh.”

    Or self delusion can be overwhelming, especially when mixed with a dose of self importance! A frog with delusions of grandeur.

    “Fitzgerald claims the title of Doctor of Homeopathy. While you and I might know that this is equivalent to Doctor of Magic…”

    Did you say “you and I might know it”????

    Do you know exactly what “know” means and do you also “know” all of your medical information in the same way??
    Next time you feel there is no “magic” in your own field of medicine, try explaining to us what “spontaneous remission” is.

    “… a sick person (or a reader) could be easily deceived. Her byline simply says “Dr” and her bio page lists her “doctorate” without explaining that no sane American health care professional looks at homeopathy as being anything other than wishful thinking with a bill.”

    “Wishful thinking with a bill”??!!! You mean like all those unneeded surgeries that are done every year, or unnecessary vaccination “boosters” or side effect ridden prescriptions?

    Hey PalMD, this is a wake up call for you.

    Your arrogance is showing and neither your overblown sense of self importance, you title or your attitude, nor your persistent insults against people trying to become genuine healers as “magick” is going to do your argument any good at all.

    You want to rant or have an opinion, that’s fine.

    You want to tell us that “society” holds that opinion or that you are somehow “better” than the Homeopaths or that you are entitled to use the “Dr.” and they are not, then all you have to do is somehow wave your magic wand and wipe away several hundred years of people dying when the MD Drs., yes the same kind as you, killed them by blindly following their own rules.

    You’ve got enough “woo” in your own field so that you don’t have a damn iota of right to criticize anyone else’s.

    How about you learn some respect – you might just learn something from the people you’re insulting. And it will make you feel better later, when you go into practice and start losing patients to them because their systems of medicine are healing patients better than yours.

    You might just get some referrals from them too.

  10. #10 Mojo
    April 24, 2009

    @ScepticsBane:

    “Wishful thinking with a bill”??!!!

    It certainly is, both in the sense of “bill” as in invoice, and “bill” as in, er, platypus.

  11. #11 Dianne
    April 24, 2009

    One of the arguments put forth in the Bush Torture Memos was that we have studied many of these techniques quite well in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program. The soldiers who pass through this program have not been found to suffer long-term ill-effects.

    In addition to the false analogy you already pointed out, something else bothers me about this argument.

    First, the point of the SERE program (as I understand it anyway, I’m no expert in this area) is to teach soldiers how to survive if they are captured and interrogated by enemies willing to use torture. If these techniques are not torture or something close to it, why does the military need a course in how to survive them?

    Second, if these techniques are completely harmless and non-coercive, why are we bothering with them? Wouldn’t the traditional good cop bad cop routine* be better for inducing cooperation? The claim (again, as I understand it) is that “harsh interrogation techniques” are needed to get information out of people who are unreachable by “standard interrogation”, i.e. are so hostile towards the US that they simply won’t cooperate no matter what is offered or how well the interrogator might bond with them. So what do “harsh techniques” have to offer if not the threat of pain or distress? How else could they possibly work except by being torture?

    *Not that I have any idea whether that works anywhere but TV either.

  12. #12 Dianne
    April 24, 2009

    Tsk. Managed to post the above to the wrong thread. It should be in the next thread. Sorry.

  13. #13 Joe Average
    April 24, 2009

    Dear PalMD,
    I had never really looked too far into some of these bizzarre Alternative Medical Practices, before. Particularly, homeopotathic medicine.

    You have given me a better perspective on the futility of that practice. You have also given me a new perspective on people(charlatans), using phony treatments for diseases with known cures, and charging money to boot. So, I have a new found respect for the service you provide at your website.

    On the naturopaths, I still see some merit in this, so we will have to agree to disagree a bit here. But I can now understand your perspective. Your perspective is rationale and responsible, and follows the hippocratic oath.

    Additionally, if these guys are claiming to cure diseases, they should be using tests and developing mechanisms, and publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals and proving their science for all to see; not just selling books to make a profit. So thank you for the enlightening discussion.

    Sincerely,
    Joe Average

    ps. I found your post on Immunology truly inspiring!

  14. #14 T. Bruce McNeely
    April 24, 2009

    ScepticsBane tells us, in his best 13-year old punk-ass voice
    “How about you learn some respect…”

    Okay, I’m listening, but I’m obviously not going to learn it from you.

    If you think a “Doctor of Homeopathy” is the equivalent of a true professional or academic doctorate, then, in my opinion, you effectively know nothing about basic science.

  15. #15 PalMD
    April 24, 2009

    I’d actually like to agree with skeptic’s bane on this one. We cannot know what we do or do not know, and if that’s the case, then how can anyone be an expert on anything?

    In fact, I’m going to intuit myself a new set of wheels to drive over to the hospital. And those damned traffic lights—who’s to say what red or green means?

  16. #16 momkat
    April 24, 2009

    “Does “Dr” PalMD even know that the academic PhDs have to defend a thesis to get their Doctoral degree whereas “Dr.” PalMD did not?”
    Does ScepticsBane even know that every medical doctor has gone through a year-long defense of his ability to practice (a kind of thesis) that is called an internship, followed by most with at least two years of residency?
    I want to know that when I go to a physician she has completed a certain course of study. I certainly don’t want he anatomy professor who has a vast knowledge of the physical body doing my heart surgery if all he has is an academic degree. I know that no warrany of competency is conveyed by the MD title, but at least I have a fair idea of training. The same can not be said of anyone else who might be called “doctor”. As an example, in my nursing school training, one of our clinical instructors insisted that the patients call her “Dr. Learned”. I felt that this misrepresented her and conveyed more gravitas than she deserved. Around the university setting, surely she deserved to be addressed by the title. But in the hospital, not so much.

  17. #17 Michele
    April 25, 2009

    I totally agree with momkat. In a hospital setting or when discussing health topics, we should be very careful to note what kind of “Dr.” we are. I had to write a letter to the editor once to clarify that the author of an opinion piece was an epidemiologist …not a medical doctor. She used the title “Dr.” in her byline and was responding to a piece by an obstetrician.

    I’m a PhD but in the hospital setting I make sure that whomever I’m speaking to knows that I’m not a physician.

  18. #18 DebinOz
    April 25, 2009

    I cracked up at the mention of someone with a PhD in history! My ex father-in-law has a PhD in history (from John Brown Christian University in Arkansas) and does not believe that dinosaurs existed!!! He ALWAYS uses the term ‘Doctor John Smith’ or ‘Dr John Smith’ to identify himself; not even John Smith PhD.

  19. #19 DLC
    April 28, 2009

    To use “Doctor” in terms of Homeopathy cheapens the title, even for such people as have PhDs in academic subjects.
    It’s the same thing as calling a garbage collector a “Sanitary Engineer”. Believe it or not, there is actually a professional title of Engineer, and it means someone who has the same level of study and practice as a medical doctor. When you get there, you are allowed to put “P.E.” after your name.

  20. #20 Brian Silowash, PE
    June 26, 2009

    Actually, while most states limit the use of the title “Engineer” to those who have passed a rigorous exam and can prove a certain level of experience, the “PE” designation is nowhere close to the same level of study and practice as a medical doctor.
    Having said that, I’m all in favor of protecting titles so that tey retain some meaning.