How "they" view "us": Gordie Howe edition


Yesterday was a very strange day, at least on the Internet.

I really should learn to remove Twitter from my iPhone on Wednesdays. Why? Wednesdays tend to be my administrative days. I'm not in clinic seeing patients nor am I in the operating room. That's why Wednesday tends to be one of the two days a week when I write grants, do administrative work, and meet with my lab people, among other miscellaneous tasks, such as working on upcoming presentations. So I tend to spend most of the day on Wednesdays sitting in front of my computer, and I'm easily distracted by Twitter or other things going on. Normally I can turn focus on what I have to do, but not yesterday (probably due to burnout after having submitted a major grant the day before), which is why things erupted more than they should have.

Yesterday's post was about news stories portraying Gordie Howe's "miraculous" recovery from his serious stroke last fall and further attributing his recovery to a dubious stem cell treatment he received at Clinica Santa Clarita in Tijuana, a clinic that uses Novastem stem cells, which are purchased from a company called Stemedica. It was basically a continuation of a post a month before, except that I complained about the credulous news coverage that basically let Stemedica the media as infomercials for their products. In particular I was harshly critical of Keith Olbermann, whose five minute segment two weeks ago on Howe's recovery was, indeed, basically an infomercial for Stemedica. On a whim, I Tweeted out the link, plus a link to the previous post, to Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) and the local news station (@Local4News) that did a similar story on Tuesday night featuring new video of Howe.

Let's just say, Olbermann was not pleased:

Things degenerated from there.

I was tempted to write up a post about Olbermann, his thin skin, how he blocked anyone who defended the post or criticized his coverage of the Gordie Howe story, or, I guess, just annoyed him, and how he was utterly incapable of admitting that he might have erred. However, I realized that that's not really the "teachable moment" here. Sure, Olbermann thought I would be "pissed off" by an update he plans on doing Friday, but in reality there would be nothing to be upset about unless he plans on attacking me and misrepresenting what I said, which, I suspect, is the case. Whatever. No, what's more important is that Olbermann's reaction serves as an excellent example to illustrate the difference between scientific skepticism and how the vast majority of human beings actually think. I've written posts about How "They" View "Us," not once but multiple times, but those posts were about true believers in woo. Think of this post as an entry in the series about How "They" View "Us," with the "us" this time being about the rest of the world, neither the true believers nor skeptics, but rather the vast swath of humanity in between. My impetus for this post came from two statements.

First, there is these Tweets from Olbermann, which are representative of several Tweets saying more or less the same thing:


And then there was this comment from SamE from Ohio:

I consider myself a fair- minded person and I usually never comment on articles or get involved in Twitter fights, but something about this tripped my trigger. I came to this article thinking Olbermann was being an arrogant jerk, but after reading it I changed my opinion. I think you’re on firm ground criticizing the company, but not on firm ground speculating on Mr Howe’s true medical condition and the opinion of his son who is a medical doctor.

I agree that this company seems super sketchy and exorbitantly expensive, but that does not mean Mr. Howe did not benefit from their treatment. No one who hasn’t examined Mr Howe can know for sure how the treatments effected him or the true state of his health or whether his family and doctors are exaggerating his recovery. I fail to see why Mr Howe’s son, who is a doctor, would make false claims if his father was really doing poorly and he had been fleeced by quacks.

And there you have it: This is how most people think and why this is about far more than the petulant reaction of a single sports pundit to having his story questioned. In this, Olbermann is being human and demonstrating one of the biggest impediments we humans have to properly determining causation in health matters. Specifically, people are pattern-forming animals. Our first reaction upon seeing correlation is to impute causation to it. We humans also tend to value personal stories and testimonials over scientific evidence—and not by a small margin, either. In a trial, the convincing testimony of a single witness can trump mountains of scientific evidence, even though it's been shown time and time again how fallible memory is, something that we've just been reminded of yet again by Brian Williams. Also, because we are social animals and like to hear stories of people doing well, we tend not to react favorably to any questioning of "miracle cure" testimonials, tending to view such analysis not as reasonable skepticism, but rather as attacks on the person giving the testimonials or as wishing ill on the person who is being presented as having undergone a "miraculous" recovery. I've seen this myself so many times when examining the testimonials of, for example, "miracle cancer cures" (in particular of patients of Stanislaw Burzynski). The same is true of the stories of antivaccine activists about how vaccines caused their child's autism or how this or that quack treatment cured their child's autism (i.e., "recovered" their child).

We also see this phenomenon at work in the reactions to my discussions of Gordie Howe's recovery from stroke. Olbermann, for instance, completely ignores all of my other criticisms and observations in my two posts, specifically of his coverage and its kissing up to Maynard Howe, CEO of Stemedica, the dubious involvement of Stemedica in Howe's care, and how Novastem charges $20,000+ a pop to desperate patients for its unproven stem cell therapy, putting them on clinical trials in a manner not unlike that of Stanislaw Burzynski. (At least SamE acknowledged these, but he still focused like a laser on my questioning of Dr. Howe's interpretation of what stem cells did for his father.) Instead, Olbermann zeroes in like the proverbial laser on my questioning of Dr. Howe's account of his father's progress, portraying it as being the "speculation" of some "BLOGGER" (yes, his Tweets drip with contempt for bloggers) versus that of a "medically trained witness," a doctor, who's been caring for his father since his massive stroke in October. In this, Olbermann misses the key message, repeated multiple times in both posts and hammered home at the conclusion of yesterday's post:

Let no one doubt that I hope Howe’s condition is improved. I just doubt that it was the stem cells that were responsible for his improvement and have a lot of questions and concerns about Novastem’s treatments and clinical trials, concerns I deem well-justified.

Of course Howe's condition has improved. That's the normal course of recovery after a stroke: Improvement over several months until a plateau is reached, after which no more improvement occurs. After Gordie Howe survived his last health scare in early December, when he was admitted for severe dehydration, most neurologists would expect him to continue to improve, and it's great that he apparently has improved to the point where he can stand and play floor hockey with his grandson. What I questioned (and continue to question) is whether the stem cells were responsible, and I laid out many reasons why. Similarly, what I also question is Stemedica and Novastem's business practices marketing the clinical trials and the credulous coverage of "Gordie Howe's 'miracle' recovery" by not just Olbermann, but by virtually every other reporter who covered the story, with few exceptions.

But, no, Olbermann focused on making it my "speculation" versus Murray Howe's medically trained knowledge. Why is this? Is Olbermann being dishonest? He might be being a dick, so to speak, in terms of his behavior on Twitter, but in reality his way of thinking is the way that most human beings think. It is the default. And, physician or no, so is Murray Howe's rapid willingness to let hope take over and to believe strongly that the stem cells are responsible for how well his father is doing. As I like to put it, contrary to how it will likely be portrayed, should Olbermann attack me on Friday, I am not questioning Howe's assessment that his father is better medically (no doubt he is, as that's what generally happens more than three months after a stroke), I am questioning Dr. Howe's conclusion that it was the stem cells that resulted in his father's improvement, because, as I've learned over the last decade, single anecdotes can mislead, even cancer cure anecdotes in which patients with terminal cancer are presented as having been cured of their cancer by this or that alternative therapy. That is what the vast majority of people out there do not understand, including SamE, Olbermann, any number of Stanislaw Burzynski fans, and antivaccinationist.

Indeed, Olbermann's reaction is really no different than the reaction of antivaccine advocates who swear that their child became autistic as a result of this vaccine or that vaccine. They saw, dammit, and that's an incredibly powerful narrative to us social, pattern-forming human beings. Just as most "average" people become at least a little uncomfortable when skeptics question mothers's stories about their children and tend to frame such questioning as an attack on the mother's story, and therefore her character, such questioning, at least in the minds of most people, implies that the skeptic is accusing the mother of being stupid, wrong, or lying. In Olbermann's case, add to that that the son giving the testimonial is a physician (we really haven't heard much from other members of Gordie Howe's family about this over the last three months), and the testimonial is not to be doubted:

Again, it doesn't matter how much the skeptic emphasizes that that he is not accusing anyone or attacking anyone. It doesn't matter how much the skeptic explains that all people are prone to confuse correlation with causation and all people have memories beset by problems like confirmation bias (where we tend to remember what confirms our preexisting beliefs and to forget what does not), changes in memory that occur based on events that follow the event being recounted, and, of course, emotional investment with the subject. When I hear people say that no one knows her child as well as her mother, that might be true for some things, but it doesn't apply to medicine or determining if a treatment has worked for a condition as complex as, say, autism. Yet stating that simple observation is sacrilegious.

As for Murray Howe, no one doubts that he loves his father intensely, that he agonized over the decision to take him to Novastem, and that he really believes his father's improvement is due to stem cells. Who knows? He might be right. On the other hand, given what we know about stem cell treatments for stroke thus far, it's highly likely that he is doing what so many other people do and confusing correlation with causation. Also, as I well know, having made such mistakes myself, it is very perilous for a physician to treat a close family member—or even to make medical judgments about him. I've recounted (vaguely) that I once came to a very wrong conclusion about a new complaint of a close family member before, a conclusion that I doubt I would have made had she not been a close family member. Physicians tend to overestimate their level of objectivity and knowledge. Also, it is not a slam on Dr. Howe to point out that he is a radiologist, not a neurologist. Radiologists don't take long term care of stroke patients. Most don't even take care of patients in the same way a primary care doctor does. Radiology is a specialty that involves reading and interpreting images and doing procedures guided by various imaging technologies, such as CT- or ultrasound-guided biopsies or angiography.

In the end, although some aspects of science come naturally to humans, such as the curiosity that leads to scientific discovery and the testing of ideas against reality, scientific skepticism is difficult because it's not the default manner of thinking in humans. Rather, our default is to assume causation from correlation and to believe the accounts of events by people we like and/or trust, such as Gordie Howe's family (because we love Gordie Howe), doctors, mothers of children with neurodevelopmental disorders, and patients with life-threatening cancer and their families. We have to learn—and internalize—knowledge that correlation more often than not does not equal causation in medical matters and that because of that people—even physicians—are often wrong when they impute causation to correlation. We have to learn—and internalize—the uncomfortable message that people's accounts of what they've observed are often not good evidence that their interpretation of events (e.g., stem cells resulted in Gordie Howe's "miraculous recovery") is correct because memory is affected by so many factors that can interfere with such conclusions. We have to learn—and internalize—the message that questioning such stories is not the same thing as attacking the messenger or accusing him or her of lying, that rather even people we love and admire can be very, very wrong when trying to assess whether an intervention has helped a patient. If these things weren't true, we wouldn't need science. We wouldn't need clinical trials. But we do need them.

One can only hope that Keith Olbermann learns and internalizes these uncomfortable messages, but I doubt he will. He appears to see me (and other skeptics) as buzzkills who think we're better than, for example, Murray Howe and that we're wishing ill on Gordie Howe and his family, as "clowns," "pedants," and "dilettantes" worthy of his scorn. He even views me as a physician who doesn't care about alleviating pain in patients, a false dichotomy if ever there was one: You either embrace Stemedica's and the Howe family's account of how well its stem cells work or you clearly don't care about patient suffering. Have we heard this false dichotomy before? I have. I've heard it time and time again over Burzynski patient cancer cure stories and "miracle cures" due to "autism biomed." It's a feature, not a bug, in human thought, and it's how we skeptics, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, are often viewed by "regular people." Keith Olbermann is nothing but this normal human tendency on steroids, wedded to a thin-skinned, very unpleasant personality. We've seen this before, too.


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From the 'any publicity is good publicity' front, having Keith Olbermann Tweeting at your "Polkaroo" friend will hopefully pay off in terms of more readers - even if they come to criticize, with any luck some of them will come round to see the good in scientific skepticism.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Just popping in to give a heads up that Dr. Poland has an interview with Tara Haelle about his opinion piece in Vaccine titled - "The Re-Emergence of Measles in Developed Countries: Time to Develop the Next-Generation Measles Vaccines?" and a discussion of the current measles outbreak:…

This particular paper is, for some reason, a favourite of the anti-vaccine cultists. They seem to believe Poland is bashing the measles vaccine and pronouncing it useless.

In this interview he disabuses any literate person of that interpretation and then elaborates on what the piece is really discussing. He does, finally, get into the part where the anti-vacinationists are creating problems for herd immunity with this "excellent vaccine."

He discusses the concept from that paper of a personalized, genetic vaccine so that all, including the immunocompromised, may be safely vaccinated pushing the herd immunity very high. I don't think he mentions it but it is obvious he is forward looking to the WHO objective of global eradication.

It is nice to have his clearer explanation of what he meant in the article since the antis copy/paste it so often thinking he's admitting the current measles vaccine is a 100% failure.

He is, of course, well spoken and uses words with more than 2 syllables so they probably won't understand it.

On with the show.

Well, maybe someone will Tweet this at him. I can't. I'm blocked. On the other hand, anyone who Tweets anything by me at Olbermann is almost certain to be blocked. :-)

I hardly ever use Twitter. Someone want to help me compose one for Mr. Olbermann? Because I really don't care if he blocks me.

I agree with Composer99 - Sure, Olbermann is being highly defensive because he feels his journalistic credibility is under attack (which I think it is, but rightly so), and sure, he's exhibiting all the thought patterns you mention above, and sure, it's rather astounding that someone with his level of fame and success would be so affected by some "dilettante BLOGGER", but ultimately when people follow the link to your article in his tweet, or look up your twitter account from his replies, I think there are quite a few who will read your clear writing and see the problems with Olbermann's thinking, with these clinical trials (should that be in scare quotes in this case?), and maybe with their own thinking. It's a great teaching moment not only for skeptics about how most people think (and how we ourselves can think and need to guard against), but also for a lot of Olbermann fans about skepticism and medical claims.

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

I'd like to point out this sentence from SamE:

"No one who hasn’t examined Mr Howe can know for sure how the treatments effected him or the true state of his health or whether his family and doctors are exaggerating his recovery."

Here's the problem with this statement, and how it specifically relates to the ideas in this post: It's not that no one who hasn't examined Mr. Howe can know for sure how the treatments affected him, it's that no one at all can know for sure how the treatments affected him. Maybe they might be able to say something about it if he were one of many cases and there were adequate controls and an adequate amount of time to suggest that the improvement was unlikely to be natural, but none of those things are the case. A trained neurologist specializing in stroke and stem cells who carefully examined Howe still couldn't know if the treatment caused his recovery because there's not enough information available to determine that.

Which means that, given the speed of the recovery and what is known about how stem cells might work, the most reasonable explanation for anyone to accept is that the recovery was due to natural recovery, good care, hydration, rest, and a familiar home environment rather than to the stem cells.

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

I went over to Twitter and made the mistake of reading Olbermann's replies and I just couldn't help responding to him when he claimed that applying scientific skepticism to miracle claims was the start of anti-intellectualism. I had to tell him he had that backwards. And was blocked shortly thereafter. I'm all for anyone using the block button for any reason whatsoever (I've got an itchy finger on the block button for racists and sexists myself), but when combined with his flood of tweets on this subject, it really does speak to an incredibly thin skin for such an aggressive commentator. It's pretty astounding. It's also clear that he skimmed the original post for his own name, read a couple of lines, decided his viewpoint, and never paid attention to the gist of the argument. There's no reason to think he'd bother to read this one either. Either that or he's ragingly intellectually dishonest.

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

It's amusing that a journalist would block people who disagree with him, as if disagreeing with him is, on face, abusive trolling. As for dilettantism, I think he proves himself worthy of the name: "an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge", although he would most certainly see himself as one of the Serious People. (Orac, as a BLOGGER, would be in the Unserious group.) He's far too much of a hothead, which is a shame b/c every now and again he stands on the right side of an issue, even if it is unpopular. But that hotheaded-ness keeps him from even entertaining the idea he might be wrong; instead, he doubles down and lashes out. And blocks!

Panacea, if you haven't already tried something, you might Tweet something akin to the following:

Quacks (like Stemedica) are the Bill O'Reillys of medicine, and Gordie Howe is their victim. We're right to be skeptical of them.

(That's 129 characters. You may have to edit if the @ tags take up characters, too. I'm not really up to speed on my Twitter, either.)

That puts it in terms he (and more importantly his fan base) can understand and appreciate. In all likelihood Olbermann will dig in to his position, but if it gets through to someone, it will be a success.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

You could also change "We're right ..." to "@gorkson is right ..." and add a link to this post to tie it back to Orac's discussion of the issue.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

As mentioned above, Keith Olbermann is the same guy that was "influenced" to name Brian Deer his "worst person in the world" by talking points provided to him by fringe anti-vaccine groups.

As far as I'm concerned, Olbermann is one of those guys that's complicit in giving aid and comfort to dangerous charlatans and quacks and deserves no benefit of the doubt in this matter.

To be honest, I doubt Olbermann would read this whole post, but you never know. It's worth a shot. Likely it'll just lead him to heap more scorn, but then that would just make him look even worse.

I suspect that Olbermann has become too invested in the topic ever to admit serious error. One of his earlier segments on the Gordie Howe story (not the one in my original post) showed him gushing about Gordie Howe and showing a picture of him meeting Howe. He also made some news for a very heartfelt tribute (near-eulogy) to Gordie Howe done not long after Howe had his big stroke in October. I think Olbermann's just so much an admirer of Gordie Howe and his family that he can never admit that he screwed up here. The more he's criticized, the more he clings to his original story and Murray Howe.


Poland's paper was the basis for several of prominent ignoramus Lawrence Solomon's antivax rants. Of course, he distorted them almost beyond recognition, as per usual. Glad to see Poland calmly and clearly setting things straight.

One notes that the Poland paper is completely off topic for this post and I would ask that no further discussion of it occur here. There are plenty of other recent posts where it would be more on topic. I really hate it when people post completely off-topic things early in the comment thread of a new post. It...irritates me.

I have to admit, I'm disappointed by Olbermann's response on this issue. I really liked his show on MSNBC.

I have a feeling that what I liked about him-his willingness to kick Republican *** and be combative-contributes to his unwillingness to admit he's wrong, or at least accept criticism.

By DarkScholar82 (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Must be nice for Olbermann to be so confident he's never wrong. :-)

But, seriously. I've acknowledged that it is possible that the stem cell treatment might have been responsible for Gordie Howe's clinical improvement. However, I expressed very good reasons for doubt. I'd be perfectly happy to be wrong about this, but, barring perhaps some MRI imaging that shows unmistakable production of new brain matter that couldn't have happened otherwise or (shudder) a brain biopsy showing incorporation of stem cells into the neural pathways, it's impossible to know in his case. The difference between Olbermann and myself is that, were highly compelling evidence presented that the stem cells were responsible, I'd happily conclude that my initial assessment was likely incorrect.

Based on my personal experience, I can understand how Gordie Howe's son could fall into this trap. I had a close (ist degree) relative develop a malignant neoplasm at a relatively young age. Rationally I knew the score - recurrence and death in a few years despite all known treatment. Emotionally, I thought that maybe this was the rare case that disproved the rule, or that some new treatment protocol would result in a cure. It took me a long time to accept the inevitable. I still am puzzled about how one can hold two opposed thoughts like that.

It's painful to see someone like Olbermann fall into the "argument to authority" trap. Yes, Murray Howe is an M.D. So are many of the people Orac rightfully criticizes on his blog: Stanislaw Burzynski and Robert Sears, to name two. Not to mention the antics of then-Sen. Bill Frist, M.D. (R-TN), during the Congressional debates over the Terry Schiavo case (about which I have a feeling we'll hear more if Jeb Bush persists in running for President). Olbermann has been in the business long enough to know that (1) just because Orac is a blogger doesn't mean he can't also be an M.D.; (2) Murray Howe, being Gordie's son, is an interested party; (3) experts who are interested parties are frequently wrong about the topic of their claimed expertise. Olbermann in particular made a career out of that last point during the Bush 43 administration.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Tweeted to KO yesterday and got on his blocked list. Who knew that wanting to see efficacy for a treatment before touting its wonders was a blockable offense?

We have to learn—and internalize—the uncomfortable message that people’s accounts of what they’ve observed are often not good evidence that their interpretation of events is correct

This is not just a fundamental principle of medical science, it's a fundamental principle of news reporting, taught in every j-school – heck every high school j class – that's worth a tidly-dam. It's why reporters aren't supposed to do single-source stories, and it's the good impulse that has been twisted into the wretched concept of "balance." Reporters are supposed to be skeptical about “miracle cure” testimonials of anything, not just medicine. Buzzkill is art of the job description.

Olbermann and his producers should know better, so the question is 'why didn't they?'. And susceptibility to ad hoc fallacies isn't the answer. Human's are hard-wired to confuse correlation with causality as a product of millennia of natural selection. If you DON'T think the rustle in the bushes means 'deadly predator' you wind up as lunch. If it's just wind, or a harmless lil beastie, no harm done. The reason regular folks have problems grasping correlation=/=causality, is that more often than not it does. Journalists especially are trained to think "fire" when they see smoke. They're supposed to get verification. of course, but if they were as careful about causal assumptions as scientists are, they'd never get the story.

But what we're talking about here isn't journalism generally, but sports journalism, which has become increasingly conflicting terrain as the major professional sports, especially NFL Football, have moved to more central positions in the 'entertainment-industrial complex.' As an institution, ESPN has played the central role in re-fashioning sports journalism away from a 'reporting' model to an 'entertainment' model. There's a long tradition of the best reporters and writers, including the sharpest critical minds, emerging from the sports departments. Olbermann's political journalism fits squarely in that tradition – which, along with his notoriously difficult personality – is one of the reasons he had to leave ESPN in the first place. It's really a defeat for him to have wound back up there – on ESPN2, no less – after having essentially created MSNBC as we know it now, but then wearing out his welcome there and dropping one of the biggest eggs in broadcast history in his brief stint at Current TV. So, if it seems like he's coasting now and only half-trying, well, he probably is.

But in his time away from ESPN, pro sports turned the corner from an avid pastime with dedicated fans to a sort of secular religion. Mythologizing, ritual, beatification, passion plays, morality plays of saints and sinners... all became the order of the day with ESPN as the gospel network at the center.

While our hard-wired conflations of correlation and causality may be the precondition of religion, that trait alone is not enough to establish religion, and it certainly doesn't account for the dogma of any specific religion. It's not just that ESPN believes in miracles, but that it promotes belief in miracles of a certain kind.

Gordie Howe is not just a hockey player, not just 'Mr. Hockey,' he's Hockey Jesus. We no longer have 'sports greats' as we did in Howe's playing days, we have sports gods. They work miracles on ice, on the court, and on the field. You will believe a man can fly. Remember when John Lennon got flack for his satirical remark the Beatles were bigger than Jesus? (They were, and Lennon meant he found it disconcerting that pop stars would find themselves in that position.) As of this past Sunday evening, in Boston MA for sure, and on ESPN, Tom Brady is bigger than Jesus and no one's being ironic about it. As being only Hockey Jesus, Gordie Howe's nowhere near the top of the adulation ladder.

But a deity he remains, and so miracles will be the peg. But why stem cell miracles? Medical miracles are not embedded in the sports mythos. They had a run for awhile with the narrative of 'Lance beats cancer to become the greatest Tour champion of all time'. But that's waay over. Say 'medicine' or 'doctors' to a sports fan, and the first word association now is 'steroids'.

As such, it makes a kind of sense to reach back to a nostalgic past for off-field miracles tales, to the likes of Gordie Howe, in the desire to have something positive and promotable (gotta sell ad time) in the new era. Olbermann loves sports with the heart of a 10 year old taking his glove along to his first big league game. He knows all the trash. He reports on it all the time. He gives Adrain Peterson, Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, the owners and all the rest of the bums no quarter whatsoever. The flip-side of that: you have to worship the Derek Jeters and the Gordie Howes for some kind of psychological balance.

Gordie Howe cannot die a miserable death, felled into a near-vegetative state by a debilitating stroke. It does not fit the narrative. And voila, the miracle occurs! It's in the script!

But who is fleshing out the story? Who's the apostle writing the gospel? It's not Gordie. He was getting on before he had the stroke. Nope, the miracle tale is the hands of one person alone, Murray Howe.

Olbermann might even know Murray Howe, and have been friendly with him for decades. If they've never met, all the reverence for the dad now transfers to the dutiful loving son. It's not Keith who's reacting like an inverse anti-vaxer (cure not curse). It's Murray. And he appears to have gone full-tilt woo-loco. Olbermann's just been sucked in for a bit of indiscreet channeling. From what I know of how shows like Olbermann work, my guess is that Murray Howe called Olbermann, raved about stem-cell treatments as the savior of all mankind, and connected Keith to Maynard Howe for the appearance on the show.

Go back to yesterday's thread and watch the WDIV story by Hank Winchester. It condenses to this form:

ANCHOR 1: You''ll see how Gordie Howe is fighting back and how a treatment in Mexico changed everything.
MURRAY (V.O): "It's almost like the fountain of youth."
ANCHOR 2: Why did the family want to share this story and video?
WINCHESTER,: They hope to inspire others... The family decided to put this all out there because they know other people are struggling.
[BEGIN PACKAGE; excerpted; Murray Howe in "quote marks", the rest Winchester V.O.]
(Gordie on old tape: When I give a talk to youngsters, I always mention "Dream!")
"I wrote his eulogy. We didn’t have hope. If you pounded on his chest, no response" The one-time great appeared lifeless. [Then] one phone call changed everything. Just hours after the stem cells were injected, Gordie, nearly paralyzed hours earlier, started walking and hasn’t stopped. Howe's children are thankful to have their dad back. "I feel like this is God's answer. 'You want a miracle? I'll give you a miracle'," A miracle for a man who once taught us all to dream.' [END PACKAGE, CUT TO IN STUDIO]
ANCHOR 1: ...You gotta believe that this treatment is really the key to what's happened.
WINCHESTER: Life saving. I'm sure it played a role.

The only "family source" is Murray Howe, and it's apparent he drove the truck for the whole 'news item', errrr 'ad for Novastem' errrr 'faith-healing testimonal.'

My dad was lifeless. I asked God for a miracle. Novastem called. Dad was touched by Novastem, and rose from his death bed to walk and walk and walk and play a little hockey. God gave me my miracle. Now, you too can dream and be healed.

As bad as the Olbermann segment was, it could have been a lot worse.

But i do wonder how Keith came up with his intro:

And then Monday came news that Gordie Howe had gained 20 pounds and was speaking again, was making his hotel room bed to save the housekeepers a little trouble, and couldn't come to the phone right now 'cause he's out in the driveway playing street hockey against his grandchildren and his great-grandson and stick-handling right past them by the way. All after stem cell treatments as part of clinical trials...

So, Keith, had you seen the video clip and were just exaggerating, errrr, lying about Gordie stick-handling past multiple kids in the driveway, or did Murray Howe sell you a bill of goods based on his own wish-projection distortion of Gordie standing like a statue and taking a shot so weak a little kid could make an easy save?

To be fair, that Olbermann segment is over two weeks old; so he couldn't have seen the footage of Gordie Howe playing floor hockey.

On the other hand, I can't help now but wonder if Olbermann is annoyed that the Howes gave that footage of Mr. Hockey to WDIV instead of to him.

Actually, it's probably worth mentioning again that Gordie Howe is scheduled to appear at the Kinsman Sports Celebrity Dinner in Saskatoon tomorrow evening. If he appears, we should learn more.

Eric@21 -- my youngest brother (a PA) fought tooth and nail over taking my mother off life support before she died, even though it was the only medically rational course of action. Fortunately, my youngest sister (an RN) had my mother's medical power of attorney, and the rest of us were able to make him see reason.

A person can be too close to the issue to think clearly.

Now Sadmar, the whole false praise of an old man's ability to work a stick is hardly unique to this situation. When I had opportunity to meet the "Greatest", it was polite to act like he still had that punch that even at the end of his pro career would still have been enough to kill most of us. He was a great boxer and a fine man, so our words are respectful of that which was.

By Colonel Tom (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

@ Orac #13
Spot on, imho, about Keith needing to cling to Murray as a surrogate Gordie, and being too close to ever walk it back. Sounds like he's basically 'family' in terms of objectivity.

Being invested, it seems he couldn't see your OP for what it was: a comment on HIS failure to do a proper interview with Maynard Howe, and could only see "Somebody attacked Gordie Howe!" As much as he loves Howe, I doubt he'd straw man that intentionally to deflect criticism from himself. He's used to getting ripped, and he seems to feed off attacks, so I doubt he'd pass the buck if he thought he was target. But, who knows?

Fwiw, I also doubt he'll attack you on air — make you one of the Worst Persons or anything — not by name anyway. He might make some passing reference to 'bloggers doubting Gordie Howe' or something. My guess about the "Friday" update that he thinks will piss you off:

He has better footage of Gordie moving, talking, looking on the path to recovery, to use in a piece on the Celebrity Sports Dinner in Saskatoon. He's been assured by Murray that Gordie will be there, and he's expecting whatever footage he has in hand to be bolstered by footage he'll get from the Dinner.

His producers may already have made a video graphic of the quote from yesterday's RI: "If he doesn’t show up, it’ll be a strong indication that his condition is not as improved as advertised. If he does, hopefully there will be video." as he expects he can toss that back in your face (well, the face of the quote, anyway, as an anonymous synecdoche of All Who Doubt Gordie), and go 'nyah, nyah, he showed up, and here's your video, take that! you whining fop dilettante BLOGGERS!'

And he knows that all he needs for that is for Gordie to show up, smile and wave to the camera. He doesn't have to be in condition to talk or walk around or anything else on Friday because they can edit a package together with whatever they already have to present his recovery in the best light.

Gordy probably IS doing better, or Olbermann wouldn't be so cocky. Any improvement would be great if Murray wasn't pimping him out for Novastem. "Nobody wishes ill upon Gordie Howe." Heck, Orac, you didn't rip Gordie Howe, or his family, you showed nothing but compassion for them. And imho you're bending over backwards for Stematica today too: "I’ve acknowledged that it is possible that the stem cell treatment might have been responsible for Gordie Howe’s clinical improvement." I'm no neurologist, but I have the feeling you were on safe ground yesterday noting "rebuilding neural pathways would take days, weeks, or even months" and if Gordie perked up real quick I'm liking the hypothesis he was dehydrated, and the IV fluid brought him back – because I'm hopelessly anecdotal and that happened to me!

...oh heII, i just had a disturbing thought: What if the Novastem crew knew Gordie was dehydated, guessed the IV would bring him around, had him flown down to Mexico just for show, and the whole thing is a con to get enough publicity to bring in enough venture capital that Maynard and Roger Howe can still make bank when their clinical trials come up short of their claims? Anyone wanna talk me down off that ledge?

[apologies on length of previous post, exceeding my new self-imposed limit... mea culpa]

Sorry I missed the date of the Olbemann vid, but if he mentioned hockey with the kids two weeks ago, and claimed Gordie was stickhandling, then either Gordie’s relapsed or the footage the Howes gave WDIV for yesterday’s story is at least two weeks old. Which raises questions either way… Dinner tomorrow. Wonder who’ll pick up the check? (sadmar goes to punalty box for 2 minute minor…)

Olbermann blocked me too yesterday and I was very gentle in my Tweets. Here's my account of it:

Seems super sensitive for a guy who would eviscerate people on his show every night on MSNBC.

By Paul Knoepfler (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

So many Finns dies after eating morning porridge. They get stroke or have car accident.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc - or - post hoc fallacy.

Morning porridge is still healthy - especially oatmeal porridge.

By MrrKAT, Finland (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

A key factor here may be that celebrity athletes have entirely different anatomy and physiology than the rest of us, which could explain the reported success of Gordie Howe's stem cell treatment.

For instance, I have been trying without success to figure out what Tiger Woods meant today, in this explanation of the back pain that forced his withdrawal from another golf tournament:

"My glutes are shutting off. And then they don't activate, and then hence it goes into my lower back," Woods said. "So I tried to activate my glutes as best I could, in between, but it just, they never stayed activated."

Woods has already used "platelet-rich plasma therapy" for an injury, so it wouldn't be surprising if he turned to stem cell treatments to activate his glutes.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

I needed an Internet connection and a valid serial number to activate my glutes.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

I thought activating his glutes was what got him into so much trouble with his wife?

By Colonel Tom (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

Yesterday Orac asked, "What percentage of people seeing Olbermann will actually read my posts? 0.01%?"

Well, 0.01% of Olbermann's audience might be a lot actually, but that comment made me think of something... I'm guessing that right now a pretty hefty percentage of any news-media audience knows Orac's work, if not his name. As some minions may know, I've been tracking and analyzing the news coverage of the measles outbreak, and arguing with Orac that stories he thinks are bad are actually very good. But one thing I've observed in the coverage overall I haven't mentioned yet:

The influence of sbm advocates, direct or indirect, is in evidence in virtually every story. Of course Orac is not alone in this, but it seems to me the major pro-vax activist voices constitute a fairly small club. Personally, I'm really only familiar with RI and SBM; but when I've accidently run across anti-(anti-vax) discourse in the various news sources I attend to know and then: Kos, The Guardian; The Nation: Gawker sites, the tone is different, but I rarely read anything I haven't seen on RI or SBM first.

Now, looking at the news stories and commentaries in the mainstream press, NYT, WaPo, CBS, CNN etc. I still rarely see anything I can't trace back here. Orac was upset CBS put Dr. Jay on TV. I think CBS napalmed the SOB. But how did Ben Tracy know what to ask Jay to expose him? How did News12 Phoenix reporter Tram Mai know Jack Wolfson was the perfect paradigmatic anti-vax a-hole, and know just how to frame her piece to make him look like the scumbag he is?

I'm not saying these reporters read RI and/or SBM themselves necessarily, but somebody does and is spreading it around. I'm not going to try document it — though I think I could (having doe such research before i retired) — but it's not just a question of topics, themes, major points etc. coming up in a certain resonance. There are also certain structures, phrases, other little communication ginger-bread crumbs that don't get left by coincidence.

On one hand, we can say this is not a moment for cheers and applause. Every non-troll here wanted the same thing: to fight back the trend of non-vaccination, change people's minds, get them to give their damn kids the shots, protect herd immunity, prevent an outbreak.

Now, there's an outbreak. A battle lost I suppose. But not a war. Imagine what we could be going through now if RI, SBM Paul Offit's work, and an assortment of like minded and supporting sites had not existed over the last 8+ years? It's possible with everything else going on in the world, that a few cases of measles at Disneyland might have been but a footnote in the national news. It would have been 'front page' in Southern California, and maybe someone from the CDC would have been quoted mumbling some kind of semi-coherent statement that sounded something like a warning. But the go to 'experts' in LA and San Diego could have been Dr. Jay Gordon and Dr. Bob Sears, and the peg could have been, 'Isn't that strange? Someone must have brought it in from overseas. Maybe the vaccines aren't as good as we thought. No big whoop though. It's just the measles. Our grandparents all had it and survived. Everything will be fine.' CBS news would not have sent Ben Tracy to grill Dr. Jay. Tram Mai's editor would have told her there were more important stories than some kids disease in Orange County. Dr. Oz would have mentioned the measles cases on his show, quickly reminded people to get their shots, and then moved on to the great natural food plans and supplements parents can get to help their kids build up their immune systems.

Yeah, it's a worst case scenario. But I've seen weirder things happen.

I have no pubmed studies to offer here. No proof. Just an educated guess — bullsh!t, if you prefer — based on spending pretty much my whole life doing and studying media communication. It's an art, with a bit of philosphy, some formal logic... it's not science. It's just my humble opinion - on a topic I know an awful lot about, but where humble opinion is as good as you ever get. And there may well be better humble opinions than the one I have right now... But I call 'em as I sees 'em, and what I see now says 'give credit where credit is due.'

I don't think this cartoon would have been printed if not for the work of our blinking box and his associates.
So if just for the thought that the bad ship anti-vax is sailing over the edge of its table into oblivion, I think it's time we call Orac to the stage, have him take a well deserved bow, or two, or more, and give him a round of applause until we get blisters on our virtual palms.

Lets hear it for the blinking box!

I'm the one he tweeted the "what happens when doctors stop thinking about alleviating pain and helping patients" nonsense at. Right before I was blocked, I assume. I have to admit, I found the fact that he blocked me, after what I thought was a civil back and forth, a bit upsetting. I'd been a fan of his "Countdown" show, and liked his new sports show. I did look askance at his being conned by Wakefield supporters about Brian Deer (after first putting Wakefield on the "Worst Persons" list), but I had hoped that was due to his extreme prejudice against all things Rupert Murdoch. And having followed him on Twitter, I know that in the past he didn't even block actual trolls, or people who outright insulted him and called him names, so something beyond simply disagreeing with him is at work here.

Unfortunately, I think that this Twitter "thing" just shows he is too emotionally involved regarding Howe and his recovery to be objective. Maybe he will realize that some day; but right now, I doubt it.

Interesting observations, because I looked back at his Twitter feed for a few days before this thing erupted yesterday, and he seemed to relish getting into nasty exchanges that went on for several back-and-forths. Yet on this issue, his trigger finger to ban is itchier than anyone I've ever seen. People (like Paul Knoepfler) who made very mild suggestions were blocked after one or two Tweets that he didn't like.

Dude's off the deep end on this issue.


Orac, you are spot on.

Folks, earlier today Orac suggested someone could tweet his latest post at Mr. Olbermann, and I said I was game for it. I have a Twitter account I haven't used in a couple of years at least (Twitter bores me, I can't make a point in 144 characters) so I asked for suggestions.

I got a few, but I realized I didn't want to see how fast Mr. Olbermann would ban me, but what it would take to get a rise out of him.

So I was nice, so see what he would do.

I have absolutely no idea how to embed anything in the comments here, and I'm not sure I want to. If you want to see my Twitter page, it's @Theala.

Here's the substance of our conversation:

Me: Sir, can you kindly explain to me how you know Mr. Howe's improvements were caused by the stem cell therapy, not PT and OT?

Olbermann: I don't. I defer to Dr. Howe - who was there.

Me: So how can you say it was the stem cells that did the job?

Olbermann: I quoted him. You're not very well informed, are you?

There you have it, folks! Mr. Olbermann "knows" that stem cells fixed Mr. Howe because his son said so.

So I responded to him: I'm just trying to get a straight answer, sir. Mr. Howe received both stem cell therapy and PT/OT.

Me: How do you know which worked, and to what degree? How do you measure it?

And thereupon I found myself blocked.

Guess the question was too complicated for him. I look forward to Orac's report on the news report on Mr. Howe that Mr. Olbermann is supposedly giving tomorrow night.

Wow, Olbermann is absolutely insufferable on Twitter. I haven't had cable in years so what I know of him is limited to a video segment of him blasting Bill O'Reilly over his misrepresentation of the actions of a group of American soldiers during the Second World War. I thought his outraged and dismissive attitude was funny at the time because it was such an egregious mistake on O'Reilly's part, but it looks like that's his one and only persona online. It doesn't matter whether he's discussing this or sports, he's acting like an unmitigated ass.

By Sian Williams (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

You can still view his posts indirectly and reply to comments if you're banned. Just search for @KeithOlbermann with twitter's search function on the home page.. then reply to what you see.

I've been blocked by a couple of astroturf political groups that didn't actually want any dissenting opinions either. The workaround is not quite as convenient, but it still works.

Wow, Olbermann is absolutely insufferable on Twitter.

I find Twitter itself insufferable, but I suspect that a #blockfingermann hashtag or some such might send him around the bend.

^ I suppose #blockymcfingermann would be a bit long, albeit closer to the target.

Don't you guys have some class of amendment to your constitution about the right to freedom of expression?

I've heard of that over here; you'd think an experienced journalist might know about it...

…oh heII, i just had a disturbing thought: What if the Sadmar #27 "Novastem crew knew Gordie was dehydated, guessed the IV would bring him around, had him flown down to Mexico just for show, and the whole thing is a con to get enough publicity to bring in enough venture capital that Maynard and Roger Howe can still make bank when their clinical trials come up short of their claims? Anyone wanna talk me down off that ledge?"

I thought that too, but I am a notorious cynic...

Ummm, for some reason Sadmar's quote got a bit mangled there.

…oh heII, i just had a disturbing thought: What if the Sadmar #27 “Novastem crew knew Gordie was dehydated, guessed the IV would bring him around, had him flown down to Mexico just for show, and the whole thing is a con to get enough publicity to bring in enough venture capital that Maynard and Roger Howe can still make bank when their clinical trials come up short of their claims? Anyone wanna talk me down off that ledge?

I will. I've gathered from local news reports that Gordie Howe was found unresponsive and admitted to the hospital for a suspected new stroke on December 1. Workup for a new stroke was negative (fortunately), and he was found to be dehydrated. He perked right up and was released from the hospital on December 3.

It's not clear when the the Stemedica Howes contacted Gordie Howe's family, whether it was during or after Gordie Howe's hospitalization in early December, but contact the family they did, and Gordie Howe flew to Mexico with his family on December 7 or 8 and underwent the stem cell therapy on December 8 and 9, after which he was flown home. The first press release announcing Gordie Howe's treatment at Novastem was released on December 19.……

So, although it's quite likely that Maynard Howe knew that Gordie Howe had been hospitalized for dehydration on December 1, by the time Gordie was released from the hospital he was doing much better, having been rehydrated.

Interestingly, on December 12, three days after Gordie's stem cell treatment, this story appeared:…

This is Mark Howe, Gordie's other son, talking, and while he's saying that Gordie is getting better, his account is nowhere near as glowing as Murray Howe's accounts have been. He's a lot more measured:…


Although the event in Saskatoon had been planned for more than a year, the Howe family told organizers in August that Gordie probably wouldn't be able to attend because of declining health. They definitely didn't think he'd be able to attend following a series of strokes that he had in the months that followed.

But Howe has made a drastic recovery, to the point that family members told the organizers "if there's an extra chair for him, he thinks he can make it."

Murray Howe said he was very skeptical when representatives from Stemedica reached out a following the news of Gordie Howe's massive stroke.

"Stem cells weren't even on my radar," Murray Howe said, who did a bunch of research before his father agreed to pursue the therapy.

Stemedica has a stem cell trial in the U.S., but patients have to wait six months following their stroke before they can begin to the therapy. The stem cell trial by Novastem at Clinica Santa Clarita in Mexico did not require a six-month wait.

"The studies abroad suggested the quicker you get the stem cells (following a stroke), the better your response is going to be," Murray Howe said.

Murray Howe was there with his father to see the therapy firsthand. "I was able to be there for the two-part procedure," Murray said.

"The leap of faith was, was it going to do anything?" Murray said. "Even looking at the data and seeing some of the amazing results they have, I was still so skeptical because I had never seen any kind of response from somebody after a stroke to any kind of treatment. To me the proof was going to be in the pudding. We hoped, but we had zero expectations."

"Our dad was the kind of guy, he'll go the extra mile if it thinks it will help somebody. We wanted to go that extra mile for him and give him that chance.

"Of course, we were so thrilled when he did get the response that he did."

Murray Howe said his father now walks on his own.

"He feeds himself, he can help out folding laundry," Murray Howe said. "He can walk about a half mile. He'll probably have to sit down every 100 yards or so to take a short rest. Some times are better than others. Sometimes he's a little bit wobbly on his feet. He calls himself Wobbly Wilbur. But he'll shake it off and get a little dance in his step and he'll be fine."

Murray Howe said if his father continues to see increased improvement over the next few months, there's a chance they may go back for a second treatment.

"At this point, we're planning to do that," Murray said. "There's a good chance in June, God willing, if my dad is still alive and is willing, we would take him again for a second treatment."

Not to be too cynical, but if you were an unethical clinic wouldn't you "dope" your treatment with a couple of substances to give short-term and temporary relief to the symptoms. Say you've added a little cocaine to boast awareness and a little opiate to decrease pain. The military experimented more than a bit with substances to increase performance during extended missions. It would be temporary but a significant change in awareness and mobility.

By Colonel Tom (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Possibly, but that might not even be necessary, as it's thought that just infusing the stem cells can cause the release of cytokines, which might have a similar temporary effect.

So Murray Howe has 'never seen any kind of response from somebody after a stroke to any kind of treatment.'
That looks like the answer right there - he has an out-dated and catastrophic view of what can be expected after a stroke. The fact that his father has improved substantially, well it must be the new miracle treatment, because nothing else works at all.

Yeah, that could well be it. Murray Howe went to the University of Michigan Medical School, the same medical school I went to, and graduated two years before me. That was the 1980s, ideas about how little people could recover from stroke were the prevailing view in medicine back then. The whole approach to stroke was pretty nihilistic.

BTW, I'm told Olbermann went full mental jacket on his show earlier tonight, likening skeptics of stem cell clinics like Novastem to antivaxers. I don't think I have the constitution to watch it right now. Maybe tomorrow.

Re #51: Orac, I graduated from nursing school in 1985, and I recall basically the same sort of attitude. Pretty much have a stroke and reserve the bed in the nursing home you were going to be sent to, to die.

But by 1998 things had changed tremendously. PT and OT, and speech therapy were working what would have been considered miracles in the 1980's.

Just watched the new Olbemann clip. Not Full Mental Jacket. OK to look.

Basically, it seems to be restrained because Gordie indeed seems not to be doing that well, sadly. He's in Saskatoon, but they had a very difficult flight there: scheduled for 3 hours, it wound up taking 13. Gordie didn't appear at the afternoon press conference, and the various hockey legends assembled were dialing down expectations for his evening appearance, where they're naming a rink in his honor.

Keith had no new tape, and just re-showed the WDIV hockey clip.

The second part of the segment is an interview with he was Murray Howe. Murray starts with a rosy view of Gordie's condition, but then quickly goes to the expectation dial-down as well.
'We're just going to savor every day as a gift. Novastem says if he does well they ca re-treat at 6 months for "more bang for the buck" so we'll go ahead with that if God willing dad is still with us."

Then Keith turns to the stem cell issue, and notes he got criticism for the Maynard Howe interview.. He calls the skeptics dilettantes, but acknowledge that the question was "how can you be sure it was the stem cells." and acknowledges the skeptic principle is generally correct. The reference to ant-vax was citing skepticism POSITIVELY for debunking it... But then he adds, " here, I don't know if that's any value."

Then comes the part someone could read as 'crazy', Keith. mentions getting criticized by a natural health loonie who wrote 'Gordie Howe might have gotten better because of wheatgrass," as a lead-in to asking Murray the critical question: "Answer these people: Why are you convinced it was the stem cells?"

Now, my guess is this was some preferential framing that got away from Olbermann a bit in execution on 'live TV'. He's trying to give Murray a softball set-up to employ his authority as a medical doctor to endorse the stem cell treatment. And he wants to imply that, in their own way the skeptic doubters of stem cells are as "out there" as the wheatgrass pimps. But it doesn't come out right, and rather than a kind of loose metaphor, it sounds like the wheatgrass wackos and the folks complaining about the logical fallacy are literally the same.

From there on it's Murray doing 'in this case, there's no explanation I can see but the stem cells' — which is just a weak rehash of the post hoc reasoning. Murray does add that Gordie's health had not been stable and bad after the stroke, but bad and declining, which he offered as evidence it wasn't just a 'well, it was about time' recovery.

Keith also asks Murray about the cost, and Murray flubs that too for awhile, before he recovers a bit "with supply and demand, eventually that cost is going to drop." Then Keith wraps the segment with a bit of mild snark at the skeptics to the effect of 'they'll admit you're right when the tech is proven'. Which is true, of course, he's just a bit snide in the way he says it.

Along the way, Olbermann refers to what is almost certainly the reason he has such a strong investment in this story: the excruciating decline and death of his own father. Before any skeptic/sbm advocate get too hard on Keith, watch this:

First pic. of Gordie Howe from today:

Toronto Globe and Mail article questioning Howe's stem cell treatment:

Mick Bhatia, director of McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, said there are many unknowns in Howe’s case: How many stem cells were administered? Were tests done to see whether they migrated to the targeted area of the body? Did they take up residence where they might have some effect, or simply disappear Bhatia said the Internet is rife with stories of so-called stem cell tourism, where patients desperate for treatments to alleviate such conditions as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and blindness have paid tens of thousands of dollars for unproven therapies at unregulated clinics in such countries as China, Mexico and Poland. Michael Rudnicki, scientific director of Canada’s Stem Cell Network, said some patients have suffered adverse effects from some procedures. While he can’t speak specifically about Stemedica or Clinica Santa Clarita in Tijuana, where Howe was treated, Rudnicki is blunt in his assessment of many of these clinics. “This is real snake oil … The whole design of these clinics is to separate money from patients by hyping hope, and it’s very harmful.”

This is a far cry from the gee-whiz boosterism of the Maynard Howe interview. it's not an ad for Novastem, it's a defense of the previous ad for Novastem. It won't make anyone happy. But imho RI readers should consider this is as much a walk-back as one could expect from Olbermann, and on balance it's a 'win'.

In Keith's rhetorical frame on skepticism, skepticism wins on skepticism's terms, though it loses on Olbermann's terms — which are rooted in 'proper human human emotional response to a revered dying father figure'. It seem's between the Twitter feud and prep for today's segment, someone at the show researched who was doing the complaining and discovered that the 'BLOGGER" was not speaking as a lone crank, but as a voice representing a wider scientific community.

So Keith doesn't want to be seen as anti-science or pro-quack, because he's not. Though he's not gushing as much, though, he still has his own emotional investment in 'hope for Gordie Howe", which seems really about sitting for months watching helplessly, as his father slipped away. So basically he's saying: 'Yeah you guys are right on the science and doing good work in the world, but in this case your callousness is comparable to the attitudes of the cranks you despise."

It's 'ad hominem, or 'tone trolling' — except he's genuinely offended. He may be testy and thin skinned with people who attack him, but I'm now pretty sure he's seeing this not as attack on him-as-a-journalist, but as an attack on his love for his father, and thus of his Dad — projected into the figure of Gordie Howe with Murray Howe as Keith's identity point/surrogate/etc.

So basically, he's calling skeptics pessimistic insensitive meanies — while re-affirming his pro-science stance by taking shots and anti-vaxers and cancer quacks. That's not an olive branch to dilettante Orac, but it's a concession. Those two exemplars didn't get in the outline out of nowhere, but from the RI and/or SBM indexes.

When all is said and done – even though much of the segment is a weak double down on the stem cells, and a weak and highly qualified argument for the validity of post hoc reasoning – in the context of the moment those two little passing snips at woo are likely to have a more significant effect on public opinion about stuff that matters. Just as on last nights Maddow Show, anti-vax was offered as res ipsa loquitor stupidity. It's not a matter of debate; it's just a signifier of crazy.

For a significant part of the audience, that's actually more persuasive than actually proving the case with science. You raise a 'what about vaccines?' question with your friend, and don't get a lpossibly off-putting lecture about how stupid the anti-vaxers are with all the cites. You just get a "pfft" and the converation moves on, which evokes a kind of conformity impulse response without defenses getting put up. "Not worth talking about"... It's usually called 'gate-keeping' in sociology, and it's considered a very effective means of 'social control'.

Sadmar, I don't think you do Mr. Olbermann any favors by trying to read his mind and be his apologist.

I don't see whiny passive aggressive as any better than fanatic, quite frankly. Either way, his stance promotes woo, which is ultimately harmful.

Science blogs won't let me link to definitions of all the logical fallacies your post manages to cram into 3 short sentences without tossing me into moderation hell, so let's just get to the big issue, which is not just fallacy but massive ignorance.

#56 shows no clue as to how ideology and public opinion formation work, what is and is not 'ultimately harmful'. The premise of #56 is self-defeating as it defines 'woo' way too broadly, way to determinatively, and way too attached to specific individuals. It's as simple-minded and blind as 'single-drop' racist bigotry.

The way #56 frames "woo", you;ll have an extremely hard time finding any real-world discourse that doesn't indulge in some of that some of the time. Social messages are never pure, but full of contradictions and complexities. Trust me, I can make arguments that just about anybody's stance on anything "promotes woo" in an abstract sense. But the question is whether and to what degree "woo" is actually promoted in the minds of the audience as the result of any given message.

Olbermann's gushing interview with Maynard Howe was basically a free promo for stem-cell woo. Explaining it isn't apologizing for it, and I'm not trying to do Olbermann any favors. You may well find his emotional involvement here more of an ethics breach, more disturbing in some way, than Dr. Oz level routine pimping.

The point is he had a whiney pissy Twitter feud with Orac and other scientists, banned them all petulantly — but they scored in his brain anyway, as somebody clearly checked out the critique and the credentials in prepping for yesterdays segment. Instead of another woo infomercial, we got a significant walkback full of mixed messages. Mixed messages do not sell woo. Con-men need, well, unallayed confidence.

I have the feeling the smart money is short-selling Stemedica as I write.

I'm late to reading this because, there's just so much to read every day. And it's good to not be talking about vaccines.

I hate giving anyone credit for changing my view on anything, but Orac just made me drop my Olbermann-syncophant membership.

I always thought Olbermann was a tad full of himself, never watched him on MSNBC, unless something big was happening, but loved him on ESPN. HIs current show is something different for ESPN, very liberal very pointed. And he loves baseball, the only sport that I truly love, kind of like the Field of Dreams.

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."

Then after reading this article, then listening to Olbermann say "I'm a metrics statistics kind of guy," my irony meter blew up and blinded me. And I had to stop watching. Because he thinks we should always analyze teams and players in baseball through the unbiased light of statistics and not through glowing comments of agents, coaches, GM's etc.

But with something a bit more important than baseball, he decides that metrics and statistics don't matter, and anecdotes do.

I may return to watching him, but for now, I have my silent protest.

By the way KO does strongly support vaccines. Sigh.

By SkepticalRaptor (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

BTW, here's some footage of Gordie Howe arriving at the dinner. He clearly needs a lot of help getting out of the plane, but overall looks fairly good:…

Here he is arriving at the dinner. He has some obvious facial paralysis and a shuffling gait that we expect to see in someone with hemiplegia due to a stroke:…

I don't see any footage of him speaking.

@ Orac #59
This vid shows Gordie talking to people as he walks to the event, but on my browser, there's no audio…

After reading more of the stories and listening to more interviews with his sons — and not seeing anything to my layman's eye particularly odd in his face — I've been thinking the big issue isn't his stroke, but his dementia. My dad passed from dementia at the age Gordie is now, and Gordie's look really reminds me of my dad towards the end. I think he'd had some little strokes in previous years but that wasn't a factor.

If you have any thoughts about how dementia might be in play, and have the time and inclination to comment, I'd like to hear. No expectations though. You've got lots to do.

It's unclear how bad Gordie Howe's dementia is. I've heard it described as "severe." It was clear that over two years before he had his stroke he had suffered a significant decline in his mental capacities, described in this story from 2013:…

in 2012, his family described his dementia as "mild":…

By early 2014 he was described as needing full time care:

As recently as three years ago, his family seemed to be in denial about his dementia, denying reports in the news that he was suffering from it:…

I'd be shocked if a major stroke, the culmination of several small strokes suffered before, didn't dramatically accelerate his cognitive decline. It's very sad, but, yes, I too recognized the look on Gordie's face as the look of significant dementia.

As for his face, in one of the shots it's clear to me that he has at least some facial paralysis, but it clearly isn't complete and isn't as severe as I had feared. If you know what to look for, you can see a lot of elderly people with the same amount of paralysis from more minor strokes.

Speculative scenario (informed anecdotally by my own family's denial of my dad's dementia):

The Howe family is presenting the narrative 'Gordie had a stroke that put his body at death's door, and Novastem fixed it." But what's really going on is a long slow decline into dementia. As the persona of their dad fades, his kids use his physical presence to project their memories of his full former self. They want to believe his problems are physiological, that the 'real' Gordie is still in there, and some malady is just blocking it from coming out. In the period before the stroke, his dementia has advanced to that awful point for the patient where they're still lucid enough often enough to be aware of how much they've lost, depressed at their inabilities to be themselves. Their will to go on declines, and they start saying things like "I'm about done" "this is it" or whatever. Then he has the stroke, and it gets worse. The kids all describe him as near comatose before being taken to Mexico, but they've reveled that after the stroke, he didn't want to go to therapy and didn't cooperate with the therapists. So if he had a negative attitude, he was still doing well enough to have an attitude and complain.

I can't really imagine what it must feel like to lose not just your wits, but to aslo lose your mobility to a failing brain — to the point where you have to be helped to walk to the bathroom — after a life defined by extraordinary physicality, agility and apparent defiance of aging. Gordie's extraordinary athletic longevity allowed him to play professionally alongside his grown sons., and not as a gimmick. He scored 96 points in the 77-78 season at age 50!

It's not hard to imagine that if Gordie Howe couldn't be 'Gordie Howe', he had little desire to hang in there, and his kids, unable to consider that he was no longer 'Gordie Howe' began constructing and believing alternative narratives.

Gordie was being shuttled between the homes of his four kids, so they could share the burden of caring for him. If he wasn't engaging his therapy, his everyday life could have been awfully routine and hollow... Just being taken off to Mexico would have been a huge change, a possible source of stimulation, a sign of renewed attention and hope from his family... perhaps these psychological changes added to whatever physiological boost he received as part of the stem cell treatment?

So here's my most speculative conjecture: Gordie Howe was able to perk up a bit not because his stroke symptoms improved, but because his dementia had gotten worse. As my dad declined, he reached the point where he no longer got depressed about his own loss of self, stopped saying he felt the end was near... because those feelings depended on memories he could no longer summon. He just lived in the moment, and if the moment itself was good he seemed at least content and even happy. Not that he could remember what had happened a half hour before.

The Howe famiiy noted last night that they were videotaping everything so they could show it to Gordie later, as there was no chance he'd remember it. The event was described as his last public appearance. All the hockey greats were there to say goodbye. When asked specific questions, the Howes disclosed facts about Gordie's current problems with looks of sadness. When asked general questions, they bubbled with enthusiasm. 'He's getting a lot better!' 'He's doing great!" 'Miraculous recovery!'

So when Murray Howe told Olbermann, '‘We’re just going to savor every day as a gift. Novastem says if he does well they can re-treat at 6 months, so we’ll go ahead with that if, God willing, Dad is still with us.” that revealed the truth. "IF" Murray? Each extra day is a gift? That's not what you told WDIV. You told Mark Winchester “It’s almost like the fountain of youth," and Winchester ended his pacakge, "Gordie Howe continues to improve every single day!"

Two weeks ago, the Howes took 20 seconds of video of Gordie shooting a plastic puck at his great-grandson without assistance, apparently aware of what he was doing, uttering timeless hockey lingo like "biscuit in the basket." In the videos from last night, he smiles, shakes every hand extended to him, and does absolutely nothing more meaningful than that without assistance. There's no evidence he knows where he is, or who anyone he's speaking to is.

But when his kids aren't forced to confront the future, they're ecstatic about the evening. Why not? Their dad is being honored by everyone. Even if he's just a witness trapped in each moment, he's still a human being and I have no doubt he can feel the love. He's alive. He's smiling. He's happy. He's having quite a good time. It's a great day. He won't remember any of it by the time he's back in the hotel room, but they've got the video, and a pretty good idea he won't get bored watching it in the days to come.

The minions are upset with Olbermann because he's thin-skinned, can be a first class jerk, and treated Orac and other scientists very badly on Twitter. However, if you check the many, many stories on Gordie's 'recovery' and last night's event, they're all MUCH more gushing that Olbermann's Friday segment, and closer to the WDIV piece. It's apparent that while Gordie Howe may be a hockey deity, his children are hockey royalty on their own merits. They come off on camera as salt-of-the-earth folks with big hearts and great personal integrity, and all the reporters defer to them and wouldn't even think about saying 'boo' in their direction. It's apparent that in the world of sports reporting, questioning the credibility of a Howe, even in your own mind, is something that just is not done.

If Gordie Howe's kids say their dad was cured by a miracle, their dad was cured by a miracle. The End. Their sports reporters, for pete's sake. It's not like they're in the truth business. They're in the legend crafting and worshipping business.

Regardless of whether Roger and Maynard Howe think there stem cell treatment works, regardless of whether it does work, they shamelessly exploited the Howe family for publicity purposes, and led them on with exaggerated promises in true snake-oil salesman tradition. As such, I take the Howe family to be victims. And as Keith Olbermann especially, and the sports media generally, are more-or-less extended family of the Howes, I shall take them to be victims as well.

Which is not to completely give Olbermann a pass. The show has a production staff that's responsible for it's content, and with Keith's background in political news on Countdown he should beheld to a higher journalistic standard than the rest of the fawning sports media. We can argue he should have recognized, or his staff should have told him in no uncertain terms, that he was too close to this story, had too much personal emotional investment, to put Maynard Howe on the air for that awful interview. It was irresponsible. But that's very easy for me to say, sitting in my arm chair, talking about people I don't know. Having lost my own father to dementia, I think I understand why Olbermann erred.

If you want to label an explanation 'an apology' go ahead: write an ignorant, arrogant, and mean-spirited reply. The Web's full of them, what's another drop in the ocean? You're safe in front of your computer screen. But remember, if you take that attitude out IRL, you might want to visit the hockey gear shop and pick up some pads, a helmet and a mouthguard first.


Speaking of fallacies, I assume you're familiar with the "ad nauseum" fallacy?

Keith Olbermann is nobody's victim, and I think you are really stretching to call him "family" to the Howes.

There's a reason that KO has bounced from job to job, and it's not because of his espoused political beliefs.

And I say this as someone who used to be a fan of his.

KO hates, hates, HATES to be told he's wrong. And he really hates, hates, HATES to be proved wrong.

And he really, really, REALLY HATES to be shown to have fallen for a scam of any sort (English Major Syndrome and all that).

That's why he'll never read this, nor will any of his minions.

Know how I know this? Because neither KO nor whoever interns for him has read enough of Orac, even AFTER Orac spanked KO's butt on Brian Deer, to realize that Orac is not only a real doctor, but someone who (unlike KO) has studied the world of quackdom for many years and who knows how the scamsters operate.

The right-wingers who duel with him know this better than he does, and so can roll him like a joint, because he can't be made to admit that he isn't perfect, his ego is that fragile. So the Dunning-Krueger and the English Major Syndrome are strong in him.

By Phoenix Woman (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

I've never been a fan/follower of KO, as I'm not a sports fan at all. (all I really know about Gordie Howe was that he had a reputation as a bit of a dirty player back in the day.."Mr Elbows".) As a liberal who despised GWB and his cronies, I did used to enjoy Keith's political rants during the Bush-43 era, and his "worst person in the world" weekly count-down. He is pretty good at hyperbole and tongue lashing. However, he does seem somewhat thin-skinned and dick-ish when you read some of his postings and articles about him.

He seems really impressed that Gordie Howe's son, (Murray, the radiologist) is a doctor and "looking after him". I am less impressed. Radiologists are generally pretty smart people, and have amazing knowledge of anatomy, but THEY ARE NOT CLINICIANS. That is very important, and for the non-medical readers of this blog, I can't emphasize that enough. They don't look after or examine patients. Their clinical skills are limited to radiological procedures. They don't manage medical conditions. They mostly sit in a dark room and look at images on a computer screen all day. Typically a differential diagnosis of what could cause the imaging findings has the tag line "must be correlated with clinical findings".

As a rural family/ER doc, it can be intimidating to contradict or question a specialist, but what I have found over the years is that while they may have exhaustive knowledge within their own area, they are often woefully out of date with other aspects of medicine. Unless they have made an effort to stay in the loop, by attending generalist medical conferences, their knowledge of things outside their area of expertise is what they can remember from medical school. Family docs on the other hand, have to know a little bit about nearly everything.

Also, it is never advisable that doctors look after family members, except in extenuating circumstances, because of clear conflict of interest, and bias that may lead to inappropriate investigation or treatment. There is a risk of "seeing what they want to see", rather than what is actually happening, and I'm sure that is what is happening with Dr Murray Howe, the radiologist.

By NewcoasterMD (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

Olbermann went on quite the blocked spree on Twitter. Ask a simple question and then you're blocked.

If he can't take the heat, he needs to vacate the kitchen.

Speaking as a former English major, what the hell is "English major syndrome"? Getting shirty with people about their bad grammar? That's not a syndrome, that's just what bookish sedentary types do in place of sport.

By Interrobang (not verified) on 10 Feb 2015 #permalink

It appears that Mr. Olbermann has been suspended for how “he” views “them,” with “them” in this case being PSU students raising money for pediatric cancer programs. He finds them “pitiful,” because of course the current student body is somehow responsible for the Sandusky scandal.

Stay classy, Keith.…

By CTGeneGuy (not verified) on 25 Feb 2015 #permalink

In the department of 'hard to believe even after seeing it' Olbermann has actually admitted he was wrong about something!

I apologize for the PSU tweets. I was stupid and childish and way less mature than the students there who did such a great fundraising job.

KO had basically PGPed :-) the PSU student body. It's not a question of current students: PSU has been doing the pediatric cancer fundraising since the 1970s. The thing is, a large group can be outstandingly admirable AND pitiful at the same time.

The PSU student bodies of the past weren't directly responsible for Sandusky either, of course, but they contributed mightily to the deification of JoPa, and the 'winning football above all' mentality that allowed Sandusky to get away with heinous crimes over a long period of time. And it is indeed pitiful that the PSU community is unwilling to take ownership of the consequences of it's football worship. They (not universally of course, but the dominant voice that emerges collectively) want to forget all about the abuse, restore JoPa's records, put the statues back up, pretend it never happened.

But that set of beliefs and actions is not their identity. It's not the essence of who they are. IT is pitiful. But that does not at all mean THEY are pitiful. Conflating the two is intellectually sloppy, classless, arrogant... pitiful. But while Olbermann exhibits more than his share of bad behavior, that's not necessarily his essence or identity either...

Olbermann IS a victim of the Stemedica/Novastem scam. He is also a thin-skinned egotistical asshat. He was vulnerable to the scam for both what's good in his character, and what's not. Imagining himself as part of Gordie Howe's extended family is both indulgent self-puffery and fawning hero worship, the later hypocritically so in light of his take on Paterno fans. But he's also projecting his love for his father, which he displayed openly on national television in ways that undermine the emotional repression of the macho gender roles that define the sports world. He couldn't have been more of an insensitive jerk to Orac than he was. Yet he got the message just enough that his interview with Murray Howe raised a few questions no other sportscaster came even close to approaching – the total hagiographic buy-in to the 'Miracle!' of the WDIV story being the dominant mode.

Easy blanket condemnations are intellectually sloppy, classless, arrogant, and pitiful, whether by Olbermann, or of Olbermann. Or of English majors.

Phoenix Woman, meet Inigo Montoya.

I Googled "English Major Syndrome" and found nothing remotely relating to refusal to admit wrong, or hating to be shown to have been scammed. Quite the opposite. The term has no fixed definition and it's meaning varies widely, but in each instance it is used BY English majors to rib themselves, a form of ironic self-reflective critique acknowledging their tendencies to take some aspect of 'English-major-dom' too far. Each meaning functions a bit like the original usage of 'politically correct' on the Left, a self-deprecating joke made in humility rather than arrogance.

Too bad Olbermann can't muster some genuine EMS on Twitter. It might help him not get rolled like a joint by wing-nuts. Not that I know what 'rolled like a joint' means exactly, but just as poetic association it sounds about right for cluelessly taking the bait.