Medicine

Quackademic medicine. I didn't invent the term. (Dr. R. W. Donnell did—nearly nine years ago.) However, I sure use it a lot, because it perfectly describes a phenomenon that has proliferated and metastasized throughout the body of academic medicine like the cancer it is. I like to think that, in my own way, I've popularized the word to describe this particular phenomenon. But what it this phenomenon? It is nothing less than the degradation of the scientific basis of medicine through the infiltration of pseudoscience and quackery into medical academia, with academic physicians who otherwise…
With the Christmas holiday over, I thought it would be a good time to revisit a topic that I've discussed before from time to time over the last several years. Part of the reason is that I saw something that irritated me before the holidays. Another part of the reason is that Christmas was so busy that some of you might recognize parts of this post. Fear not, more original Insolence will be forthcoming, likely tomorrow. In any event, given that I’m not a fan of naturopathy, it probably comes as no surprise to our readers that I’m even less of a fan of the emerging “specialty” of naturopathic…
I’m still haunted by the voice on my car radio. It was one of those “NPR moments.” We were parked at our destination, but there was no way we were getting out of the car. National Public Radio’s (NPR) Howard Berkes was reporting from eastern Kentucky and interviewing Mackie Branham. The 39 year old coal miner gasped for air over every word. Chills ran up my spine. Branham's lungs were hardened by coal mine dust. It was painful to listen yet the perfect punctuation for a powerful story. Berkes’ reported findings of an NPR investigation of the incidence of the most severe form of coal workers’…
One of the oldest antivaccine tropes that first encountered is one that I like to call the “toxins gambit.” Basically, this is an antivaccine lie that portrays vaccines as being laden with all manner of “toxins” because they have—gasp!—chemicals with scary sounding names and even some chemicals that are toxic. The lie derives from the the famous adage that the “dose makes the poison.” For instance, it’s well known that there are traces of formaldehyde in some vaccines left over from the production process. Sounds scary, right? Certainly our old buddy the antivaccine-sympathetic pediatrician…
Blogging is a funny thing. Sometimes the coincidence involved is epic. For instance, as I do on many Mondays, yesterday I crossposted a modified and updated version of a post from a week ago from my not-so-super-secret other blog. This time around, it just so happened to be a post about what I like to refer to as the placebo narrative. As is my wont, I described in the usual ridiculous level of detail why that narrative is so popular among promoters of pseudoscientific medical treatments and, more importantly, why that narrative is approaches black hole density bullshit. It’s something that…
Old fart that I am, I’ve been a fan of The Rolling Stones since the mid-1970s, when I was in junior high school. Over the years, I’ve accumulated pretty close to all of their studio albums—and even bought multiple remastered versions of classics like Exile on Main Street and Beggar’s Banquet—and got access to the rest when I discovered the joy of streaming through Apple Music. Granted, the Stones went through a rough patch, creatively speaking, in the 1980s (the less said about Under Cover and Dirty Work, for instance, the better) and nothing they’ve done since the late 1970s has lived up to…
I’ve frequently written about a form of medicine often practiced by those who bill themselves as practicing “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or “integrative medicine” (or, as I like to refer to it, “integrating” quackery with medicine). I’m referring to something called “functional medicine” or, sometimes, “functional wellness.” Over the years, I’ve tried to explain why the term “functional medicine” (FM) is really a misnomer, how in reality it is a form of “personalized medicine” gone haywire, or, as I like to refer to it, as “making it up as you go along.” Unfortunately,…
A week and a half ago, a conference was held at the NYU Langone Medical Center, Confronting Vaccine Resistance: Strategies for Success. It featured speakers and panelists whom I admire quite a bit, including Paul Offit, the man who is to antivaccine loons Satan, Darth Vader, Voldemort, and Sauron all rolled up into one. Also featured were Richard Pan, the California state senator who co-sponsored SB 277, which passed and is now a law that bans nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates; bioethicist Arthur Caplan, a strong advocate for vaccines; Dorit Reiss, a law school professor and…
Whenever I write about homeopathy, I almost always refer to it at least once as “The One Quackery To Rule Them All.” It’s a phrase I’ve used to describe homeopathy for several years now, and for good reason. Of all the quackery out there, with the possible exception of reiki, homeopathy is the one that is most obviously quackery. Its two main “Laws” are so clearly pseudoscience that you’d think it incredibly unlikely that anyone would fall for such nonsense, but fall for it they do. I’ll briefly show you what I mean. That I can do so this briefly should show those unfamiliar with homeopathy…
John Weeks has long been an activist for alternative medicine—excuse me, “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) or, as it’s more commonly referred to these days, “integrative medicine.” Despite his having zero background in scientific research or the design and execution of experiments and clinical trials, for some bizarre reason in May he was appointed editor of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (JACM). It didn’t take him long at all to use his new post to launch a nasty broadside against CAM critics in general (such as yours truly) and those who criticized a…
That I’m not a fan of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH, formerly known as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or NCCAM) should come as no surprise to anyone. Basically, from its very inception as the Office of Alternative Medicine in the early 1990s to its growth to large center with a yearly budget of $120+ million, NCCIH has served one purpose: The promotion and attempted legitimization of quackery and magical thinking in medicine, the better to “integrate” pseudoscientific medicine with science-based medicine. Certainly, the…
Kim Krisberg and I were in Denver this week at APHA’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Exposition — the year’s largest gathering of public health professionals. In our blog posts from earlier this week (here, here, here) we recapped just a few of the scientific sessions and events from the week. Below are some highlights from the final day at the meeting. You can read many more courtesy of the APHA Annual Meeting Blog. Public health in the headlines: How does news coverage impact health?: Media. It’s everywhere these days. So, it’s not surprising that it impacts our health and behaviors as well as our…
Way, way back in the day, before I took an interest in pseudoscientific medical claims, I knew who Deepak Chopra was. Back then, though, like most doctors, I didn’t pay much attention to him and didn’t know much about him other than that he was some sort of alternative medicine guru, a physician who had embraced Ayurvedic medicine and blathered about “quantum” consciousness. It didn’t take long once I embraced skepticism to run face-first into the utter woo that s Deepak Chopra’s message, in part thanks to other skeptical bloggers introducing me to his woo. Indeed, back in the early days of…
As hard as it is to believe, it’s been nearly two years since the infamous Disneyland measles outbreak, which occurred after the holidays in 2014. It was an outbreak whose spread was facilitated by unvaccinated children and that had far-reaching implications. For one thing, in its wake, California passed SB 277, a law eliminating nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. Opposition to the bill was fierce, and opposition to the law remains fierce, among motley coalition of antivaccine nuts, the vaccine averse, and conservative-leaning anti-government types, with rhetoric routinely…
It’s time to get this video clip out again: Yes, just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. But who are “they”? I’m referring to the cult that thinks that bleach enemas (and also ingested bleach) will cure children of autism. I was reminded of that cult when ABC News 20/20 aired a special on Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), the aforementioned bleach miracle cure. It’s the sort of story that we need to see more of, the result of what was reported to be a year-long investigation of Rev. Jim Humble and his church, the inventor and primary promoter of MMS as a cure for autism and just…
Although I did not coin it, I frequently use the term “quackademic medicine” because, unfortunately, there’s a lot of quackademic medicine around. Although regular readers know what the term means, i always feel obligated to briefly explain what quackademic medicine is, for the benefit of any newbie who might happen upon this blog. Basically, it is a term used to describe an increasingly common and alarming phenomenon, the infiltration of rank quackery and pseudoscience into medical academia. You might think it impossible or unbelievable, but it’s anything but. Beginning around a quarter of a…
In troubling public health news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just yesterday that combined cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia in the U.S. have climbed to the highest number on record. With the release of its “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2015” report, the agency documented more than 1.5 million cases of chlamydia, nearly 400,000 cases of gonorrhea and about 24,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis. Syphilis clocked the largest increase from 2014 to 2015 at 19 percent, gonorrhea increased by nearly 13 percent and chlamydia rose by nearly 6…
It’s been a while since I wrote about Stanislaw Burzynski, the Polish ex-pat physician who is not an oncologist but treats cancer patients in his Houston clinic with a mixture of a compound he calls “antineoplastons” (ANPs) and “gene-targeted” therapy. The former are really a mixture of various chemicals he isolated from the blood and urine back in the 1970s, including chemicals like phenylacetic acid (PA) and phenylacetyl glutamine (PAG), that he thought to be endogenous cancer suppressors but has never been able to demonstrate that they are, despite having had four decades to do so.…
Back when advocates of “alternative” medicine were busily trying to legitimize their quackery by first renaming it “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), long before CAM “evolved” into “integrative medicine,” they really believed that if their favorite woo were to be studied scientifically it would be shown to be efficacious. Thus was born the Office of Alternative Medicine in the NIH, which later became the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which more recently became the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), thus utterly…
It’s no secret that I’m not exactly a fan of Dr. Mark Hyman he of the “Ultrawellness” medical empire and arguably the foremost promoter of the “subspecialty” (if you will) of “integrative medicine” known as functional medicine. Integrative medicine, as I’ve told you time and time again, is a specialty dedicated to “integrating” alternative medicine into conventional science-based medicine; i.e., integrating quackery into medicine. One very prominent, very common strain of integrative medicine is known as functional medicine, and Mark Hyman is, although not its originator, its current main…