Woo-fully ignorant

I've written quite a bit of the need for good health reporting, and I've had the good fortune to talk to some terrific reporters. But bad reporters are easy to come by, which is kind of sad, especially since jobs are getting scarce.

When this article came across my browser, something looked familiar. The Stamford (CT) Advocate has shown up on my blog before. The last time, it was an article about a naturopath preying on immigrants. When I saw a new story pop up, I was sure it would be the same reporter. The article is locked in the archives, so it took some searching, but I eventually found a copy----different reporter, same paper. Hmmm...two horrible stories, two reporters, one paper. It seems the Advocate has an editorial problem. Let's look at the latest story.

The tone of the article is one of a reporter being in a bit over her head. She credulously buys the line of the so-called alternative practitioners (more properly called faith-based practitioners, in that their practice is based on rejection of science-based medicine in favor of treatments based on fantasy). The naturopath she interviewed spouted some of the common lines:

"Our goal is to get the body to heal itself," she says, adding that the treatment is individualized to the patient. That may mean changes to diet, or "food as medicine"; herbal medicines; homeopathic remedies; and physical adjustments that may alleviate chronic conditions.


Futterman says the center looks at a battery of services aimed at helping patients build stronger immune systems and stronger bodies.

For example, testing for certain food sensitivities can sometimes help with sinus and other congestion issues and other ailments, such as gastrointestinal disturbances.

"Underlying food sensitivities can literally cause an immune attack on your own body," she says, which in turn can lead to inflammation, pain and a weakening of the immune system.

This of course means nothing. Food "sensitivities" are more properly a form of Type I hypersensitivity, and has nothing to do with "weakening of the immune system", whatever that may mean.

But this reporter didn't stop with the naturopath who doesn't understand immunology. She moved on to the woo-iest of woo---homeopathy.

What is disturbing about this is not the credulity of the patient, but the stupidity of the doctor.

MG, a 40-year Greenwich resident...recently organized a talk in Greenwich that featured her doctor of many years, Ahmed Currim, a Norwalk-based family doctor and homeopathic physician.

G says she turned to Currim 18 years ago when she could not get relief from her food and environmental allergies.

"People ... want a fast cure," she says. But the homeopathic care she received is what she says finally gave her relief. "It is gentle, slower and much more effective."

A classic homeopath is trained to create a particular remedy individualized to a person's physical, emotional and mental state. The right remedy will stimulate the body's immune system to fight off an acute or chronic condition, or prevent illness.

Currim says a homeopath determines the symptoms of a particular illness or condition, whether it be headaches, upset stomach or achy joints, then looks for the substance in the homeopathy pharmacopoeia -- it can be animal, plant, mineral, chemical -- that would re-create those symptoms or conditions in a healthy person.

That substance is then "super-diluted" into a liquid and doses are tailored to the individual patient.

"It gives the body a boost," Currim says.

Some remedies are diluted to the point that there is no physical evidence of the original substance. While critics argue such a remedy is no better than a placebo, practitioners believe that an imprint of the substance's energy remains and aids the body in its recovery.

Currim says as with any medical treatment, a patient should make sure they are being treated by someone who is experienced and licensed.

"You absolutely want to go to someone who is legitimate," he says.

You know, I tried to highlight the most egregiously wrong statements, but the bold just kept coming. The most laughable statement is of course the final one. How can you differentiate a "legitimate" homeopath from, what, a "bastard" homeopath? Since the very foundation of homeopathy, from vitalism, to the law of similars, to water memory are ridiculous, what difference could it possibly make which quack you see?

The article goes on in a similar vein---toss in the bait, watch the reporter bite, and reel her in. From the beginning she fell for the typical bandwagon fallacy, and she deserves better:

A recent federal survey found that about 38 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older, and about 12 percent of U.S. children 17 and younger had used a form of complementary and alternative medicine in 2007. The survey, for which more than 30,000 people were canvassed, was developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The referenced study does not support the conclusions given, as has been discussed in several venues.

I hope our intrepid reporter has a chance to see this...I'll drop her an email. It seems that health reporters get little support from their editors or media organizations. Since we of the skept-o-sphere&#8482 can only write so much, I hope traditional journalists will make use of the resources we provide for them.

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38% are woo suckers? Americans are certainly a credulous group but 38% is just terrible.

You'll find that if you follow the links, the 38% included people who went for such wacko "alternative" treatments as massage and yoga, both of which are essentially types of exercise and physical therapy. The real numbers are actually quite low, in the single digits for "real" alternative stuff, such as acupuncture and homeopathy.

Yeah, there are some terrible health reporters out there. I'd think that this reporter (or her editor) is purposely trying to promote fake medicine, rather than just failing to do some extra research (or thinking or interviewing a real physician).

Do I smell a trend here? In this and the previous post, the so-called doctors work in the "panhandle"(i.e.SW CN)where some of the east coast's most affluent communities are located( our former president, W ,was born in Greenwich- I *do* like the sound of that..."former" -as well as New Canaan,Westport).Similarly,my SO likes to bring our local woo age *magazine*,"Inner Realm"(read: ad pages)so I can have a laugh.A (somewhat) random selection of ads:"Balance Your Life/A Wellness Gala","A Unified Heart Chakra Invocation","Being in Balance","Relationship Healing","Integrated Energy Therapy","Advanced Dimensions in Healing","Natural Health and Wellness","Suddenly Slender", so it goes on and on.Some of the *providers* are MD's,DC's,ND's,PhD's,MSW's,RN's,CMT's, as well as clumps of letters that have little or no meaning to me (it must be too esoteric). And it seems that they cluster around some of the more affluent towns in a rather affluent area(NE NJ).Can it possibly be that these highly sensitive,deeply spiritual, compassionate, non-arrogant "healers" are really and truely attuned to the vibration of.... money?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 23 Jan 2009 #permalink