Medicine

One of my favorite topics to blog about over the last six or seven years has been the topic of overdiagnosis and overtreatment. These are two interrelated phenomena that most people are blissfully unaware of. Unfortunately, I'd also say that the majority of physicians are only marginally more aware than the public about these confounders of screening programs, if even that. Overdiagnosis has long been appreciated to be a major impediment to translating programs to screen for disease into better outcomes in a number of diseases but has only recently really seeped into the public consciousness…
At Vox, Sarah Kliff writes about the side of medical errors we rarely hear about — the doctors and nurses who make such errors and the mental health toll of living with that responsibility. In an article that explores whether health care workers are getting the support they need to deal with such experiences, Kliff begins with the story of nurse Kim Hiatt: Kim Hiatt had worked as a nurse for 24 years when she made her first medical error: She gave a frail infant 10 times the recommended dosage of a medication. The baby died five days later. Hiatt's mistake was an unnecessary tragedy. But what…
One of the most pernicious lies promoted by the antivaccine movement is a trope that I've labeled the "toxins gambit." Basically, it's the lie, oft repeated in hysterical terms, that there are all sorts of horrible toxic chemicals in vaccines, and it is those toxic substances that are responsible for the claimed adverse effects of vaccines. Now, it is true that there are substances in vaccines that can be toxic, but the toxins gambit completely ignores a little thing known as the dose-response curve or, if you want to go hundreds of years back in time, the admonition attributed to Paracelsus…
A couple of days ago, I wrote about a story of a sort that I've had to write about far too many times over the last eleven years. I wrote about the death of a child—but not just any death of a child, the death of a child who could have—should have—lived. The child's name was Ezekiel Stephan, and his parents are David and Collet Stephan. The reason that child should have lived is because he suffered from a disease that medicine can treat, meningitis. Unfortunately, his parents didn't take him to a real doctor. They took him to a naturopath, who recommended maple syrup, juice with frozen…
Acupuncture is quackery. As with naturopathy (a medical pseudo-"specialty" that embraces acupuncture and other so-called traditional Chinese medicine), when I write about acupuncture I like to start out with a provocative statement, a statement of—dare I say it?—judgment in order to shock new readers and let them know exactly where I'm coming from. Why I consider acupuncture to be quackery now, after years of not being sure, is simple and well documented in many posts on this blog. (Just type "acupuncture" into the search box if you don't believe me; here's an example.) Basically, I started…
I didn't think I'd be writing about Stanislaw Burzynski again so soon, but to my surprise a very good article in Newsweek describing cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski popped up in my Google Alerts yesterday. I hadn't expected much in the way of news coverage about Burzynski for several months, given that the second half of Burzynski's trial before the Texas Medical Board had been delayed by his having suffered a heart attack and isn't expected to begin again for several months. Entitled Cancer "visionary" Stanislaw Burzynski stands trial for unprecedented medical malfeasance and by Tamar…
Ever since the beginning of this blog, there's one topic I've explored many, many times, mainly because of its direct relationship to my profession as a cancer surgeon. That topic is, of course, the question of why people fall for alternative medicine cancer "cures." It started with one of my very earliest posts and continued right up to deconstructing Presidential candidate Ben Carson's very own alternative medicine cancer cure testimonial last fall. It continues again now. Regular readers, particularly long time readers, have already come to recognize common themes in these alternative…
Katie May was a model, and by all accounts a very successful one, having appeared in Playboy, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines and websites. Self-proclaimed the "Queen of Snapchat," she also had nearly two million Instagram followers and was a major social media force, having recently parlayed her modeling and social media career into becoming an entrepreneur. She also died unexpectedly on Thursday night at the too-young age of 34, leaving behind a seven-year-old daughter. What makes May's tragic death an appropriate topic for this blog is not so much her young age but rather the…
For public health workers, it’s no surprise that social, economic and political conditions shape the distribution and burden of disease. They’ve always known that it takes much more than medicine to keep people healthy. Still, when public health scientist Kristina Talbert-Slagle decided to study the impact of social and public health spending on HIV/AIDS, she wasn’t sure what she’d uncover. “We thought that maybe there would be a connection, but we didn’t really know what to expect,” said Talbert-Slagle, a senior scientific officer at the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute and a lecturer…
It's an oft-stated cliche that our children our our future. That's the reason stories involving dire threats to children are considered so terrifying. It's why, for instance, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End resonated so creepily. After all, as part of the end of civilization, a frightening change came over the children, who became far superior in abilities and mental power to their parents. Another example includes Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio, whose plot involves the human race being plagued by a new disease called "Herod's Flu," which causes pregnant women to spontaneously abort their…
I like to say that homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All (although of late I've debated whether homeopathy or reiki is the most properly referred to as that). It's a strange beast, homeopathy. Its two main "Laws" are so clearly pseudoscience that you'd think that no one could ever fall for something that dumb, but, well over 200 years after Samuel Hahnemann pulled those two Laws out of his nether regions, not only is homeopathy still popular in large swaths of the developed world, but there are actual physicians who use it. Just consider homeopathy's laws. The first is the Law of…
I feel as though I'm experiencing an acid flashback to 2011, and I've never in my entire life once tried acid—or any mind-altering substance other than booze. What am I talking about? Let's take a trip down memory lane, if you will, back to those halcyon days of—oh—five years ago. That was the time when I first took an interest in the Polish oncologist wannabe named Stanislaw Burzynski. Although I had mentioned him before because he featured prominently in Suzanne Somers' 2009 paean to quackery Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer–And How to Prevent Getting It in the First…
Every so often there are studies that I really mean to write about but, for whatever reason, don't manage to get to. Sometimes I get a chance to get back to them. Sometimes I don't. This time around I'm getting back to such a topic. This time around it's a topic I've been meaning to write about is based on a couple of studies that came out three weeks ago that illustrate why, even if a patient ultimately comes around to science-based treatment of his cancer, the delay due to seeking out unscientific treatments can have real consequences.Consider this (probably) the last unfinished bit of…
It's an understatement to say that I'm not exactly a fan of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the institute formerly known as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and, even a year after its name change, probably still better known by its old moniker. Just type "NCCAM" or "NCCIH" into the search box of this blog if you don't believe me. Basically, it's an institution forced upon the National Institutes of Health in the 1990s by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a woo-friendly senator who believed that bee pollen cured his allergies…
During the holiday season, Kim, Liz and I are taking a short break from blogging.  We are posting some of our favorite posts from the past year. Here’s one of them, originally posted on July 27, 2015: by Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH The occupational health community, coal miners, their families and labor advocates are mourning the loss of physician Donald Rasmussen, 87. For more than 50 years, he diagnosed and treated coal miners with work-related lung disease, first at the then Miners Memorial Hospital in Beckley, WV and later at his own black lung clinic. A lengthy story by John Blankenship…
One of the best things about blogging is that I don't feel obligated to cover a topic completely in one post because I know I can always write another one or revisit the topic later. It also allows me to look at what I like to call "variations on a theme" of various kinds of quackery (or anything else, for that matter). View this as a post looking at one such variation on a theme. The theme this time is the tendency of antivaccine activists to demonstrate their utter cluelessness when it comes to designing clinical studies. This cluelessness virtually always manifests itself in the frequent…
Even though I've taken on the 'nym of a fictional computer in a 35-year-old British science fiction series whose key traits were an arrogant and condescending manner and the ability to tap into every computer of the galactic federation any time he wanted to, in reality I am just one person. That means, try as I might, I can't keep up with everything that might interest me enough to blog, much less blog it all. What that means is that occasionally something catches my attention, even though it's three months old. So it was with this article in—of all places—Elle magazine. It's about a favorite…
Although I don't write about him as much as I used to, there was a time a couple of years ago when Houston cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski was a frequent topic of this blog. His story, detailed in many posts on this blog and in an article I wrote for Skeptical Inquirer, is one that involves many facets, including an abysmal failure of the normal government agencies designed to protect patients from abuses like his to actually do their jobs and—oh, you know—protect patients. If you want an idea of how utterly impotent our regulatory agencies are, the Burzynski case is as good an example as…
Many are the "alternative" medicine therapies that I've examined with a skeptical eye over the years. The vast majority of them rest on concepts that range from pre-scientific to religious to outright pseudoscientific to—let's face it—the utterly ridiculous. Examples abound: Reflexology, reiki, tongue diagnosis, homeopathy, ear candling, cupping, crystal healing, urine drinking, detoxifying foot pads, "detox foot baths," and the like. The list goes on. Of these, one of the most amazingly silly and ridiculous alternative therapies of them all, if not the most ridiculous—although, to be fair,…
To say that the relationship that antivaccine activists have with science and fact is a tenuous, twisted one is a major understatement. Despite mountains of science that says otherwise, antivaccinationists still cling to the three core tenets of their faith, namely that (1) vaccines are ineffective (or at least nowhere near as effective as health officials claim; (2) vaccines are dangerous, causing autism, autoimmune disease, neurodevelopmental disorders, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome, and a syndrome that is misdiagnosed as shaken baby syndrome; and, of course, (3) the Truth (capital…