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New Organization: The Society for Science-Based Medicine

by Daniel Loxton, Jan 06 2014

Our colleagues over at the Science-Based Medicine blog, including Skepticblog’s Steve Novella, have announced the creation of a new advocacy and educational organization, the Society for Science-Based Medicine.

The attempt to confront medical pseudoscience, examine paranormal and supernatural healing claims, and expose outright medical quackery is one of the deepest and oldest of the pillars of scientific skepticism. From homeopathy to psychic surgery, such claims will always remain priorities for skepticism, and for skeptical organizations such as the one I represent, the Skeptics Society. Indeed, I write on medical claims myself, such as in this article or this for our own free eSkeptic newsletter.

But focus is a powerful thing. Just as I frequently advocate disentangling the unique mandate of scientific skepticism from atheism and other parallel rationalist movements, so too is there a clear value in having dedicated, full-time science-based advocacy organizations that discuss medicine and only medicine. The topic is certainly large enough (large enough, indeed, for hundreds of organizations worldwide) complex enough, and sufficiently pressing in ethical urgency to deserve dedicated watchdog efforts. Continue reading…

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Steve Jobs Succumbs to Alternative Medicine

by Brian Dunning, Oct 06 2011

I’m sad that today I’m adding a slide to one of my live presentations, adding Steve Jobs to the list of famous people who died treating terminal diseases with woo rather than with medicine.

Seven or eight years ago, the news broke that Steve Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but considering it a private matter, he delayed in informing Apple’s board, and Apple’s board delayed in informing the shareholders. So what. The only delay that really mattered was that Steve, it turned out, had been treating his pancreatic cancer with a special diet [UPDATE] prescribed by the alternative medicine promoter Dr. Dean Ornish. Continue reading…

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Folk-Wisdom Medicine
versus Science-Based Medicine

by Michael Shermer, Aug 16 2011

This article first appeared as an alternative medicine opinion editorial for the American Medical Associations’s Virtual Mentor Journal, Volume 13, Number 6: 389–393, June 2011.

For many years now there has been considerable debate between so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and mainstream science-based medicine. In reality there is no debate because there is only science-based medicine and everything else that has yet to be tested. Most of CAM falls into this latter category. This does not automatically mean that all CAM claims are false; only that most of them have yet to be tested through the rigorous methods of science, which begins with the null hypothesis that holds that the hypothesis under investigation is not true (null) until proven otherwise. A null hypothesis states that X does not cause Y. If you think X does cause Y then the burden of proof is on you to provide convincing experimental data to reject the null hypothesis.

The statistical standards of proof needed to reject the null hypothesis are substantial. Ideally, in a controlled experiment, we would like to be at least 95–99 percent confident that the results were not due to chance before we offer our provisional assent that the effect may be real. Everyone is familiar with the process already through news stories about the FDA approving a new drug after extensive clinical trials. The trials to which they refer involve sophisticated methods to test the claim that Drug X (say a statin drug) improves outcomes in Disease Y (say cholesterol-related atherosclerosis). The null hypothesis states that statins do not lower cholesterol and thus have no effect on atherosclerosis. Rejecting the null hypothesis means that there was a statistically significant difference between the experimental group receiving the statins and the control group that did not.

In most cases CAM hypotheses do not pass these simple criteria. They have either failed to reject the null hypothesis, or they haven’t even been rigorously tested to know whether or not they could reject the null hypothesis. Continue reading…

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Sickening CAM Propaganda at Huff Po

by Steven Novella, Sep 27 2010

Yes, I know – this is old news. That the Huffington Post is a cesspit of anti-scientific propaganda. This recent item, however, is bad even for Huff Po standards. If I were writing a textbook on propaganda and wanted to craft an extreme example in order to clearly demonstrate the features of propaganda, I could not have done a better job than Nalini Chilkov. She is promoting the book of Hollie and Patrick Quinn, You Did What? Saying No to Conventional Cancer Treatment.

Chilkov tells her readers how Hollie was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant at age 27. After telling us over and over again how intelligent, educated, and well-informed Hollie and her husband are, we are informed that Hollie decided to treat her breast cancer entirely with alternative cancer treatments. And now, 8 years later, she is perfectly healthy and has two wonderful children.

First, let me say that I am very happy for Hollie and Patrick and I sincerely wish that Hollie has nothing but the best of health. This story is actually somewhat personal for me as my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, and now she is doing very well after standard treatment. So I understand, not just as a physician but as a husband, how difficult it is to face this diagnosis and the treatment options.

Continue reading…

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200 Skeptoids

by Brian Dunning, Apr 08 2010

This week marked the 200th episode of my podcast Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena.

Skeptoid has a long-standing tradition of making every 50th episode a lavish musical production. This tradition began last year at episode 150, which established the lavish musical employing a host of talented professionals; and crumbled all to hell this week at episode 200, when I applied my own unassisted imbecility toward the construction of a musical piece. The result is a parody of marketing efforts from purveyors of pseudoscience in the form of a song entitled Buy It!

–>> Click here to listen now (3 minutes) <<–

Being an experienced non-musician, and quite impressively talented on no musical instruments, I elected to make this piece an a cappella. This allowed me to leverage my deep gifts for not singing. Critics have already praised the performance as one of the great voices made for blogging. Continue reading…

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Get Fed Up: Report Medical Quackery to the FDA

by Brian Dunning, Jan 14 2010

fda101Here is a link that you’re all going to want to bookmark:

Selling crap online, and claiming that it has medical value, is illegal. This is just and proper, because it’s wrong to con sick people out of money. Yet it’s so profitable to do so that it remains a flourishing business. And those sellers who may genuinely believe their product helps people also deserve to be turned in and prosecuted. They’ve heard the research already, they’ve just chosen to ignore it. Well, they may find it a little harder to ignore a warning letter from the Food & Drug Administration. Continue reading…

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Dairy Food Causes All Disease!

by Brian Dunning, Oct 08 2009

A listener forwarded me this rather extraordinary email:

From: The Real Food Channel <>
Subject: The shocking truth about dairy
Date: Thursday, October 1, 2009, 11:59 AM

John McDougall MD routinely reverses and cures serious diseases like diabetes and heart disease simply by helping his patients change their diets.

Well there’s certainly no news in the fact that poor dietary habits can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and some forms of heart disease. No doctor would dispute basic health information like that. But “routinely reverses and cures serious diseases”? Red flags begin waving. Continue reading…

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Newsweek vs Oprah & Enabler Chopra

by Yau-Man Chan, Aug 02 2009

With a newly elected reality-based President in the White House, I was optimistic that our descend into an  age of “endarkenment” would be slowed down and halted. This optimistic outlook was further reinforced by last June 8 issue of Newsweek magazine.  The cover story took the very popular daytime TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey to task for promoting New Age stuff and “alternative” medicine for the masses uncritically.
Continue reading…

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My Friend, the Believer

by Brian Dunning, May 07 2009

I have a very good friend who is from Eastern Europe, a country in the former Eastern Bloc where gypsies roam and belief in the paranormal flourishes. It’s little wonder, for a country that took its first steps out of a modern Dark Age only twenty some years ago, that its people are deeply accustomed to folk wisdom and traditional healing methods. In a nation whose healthcare system was decades behind the world and offered few tools of value, you often were better off staying home and applying a poultice.

One night we were out for drinks and were discussing a few Skeptoid episodes where I’d discussed various non-scientific alternatives to healthcare. Soon, he’d had enough. And he told a story that went about like this: Continue reading…

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Alternative Medicine – Reply to Comments

by Steven Novella, Dec 29 2008

My previous post on the skeptical battleground of so-called alternative medicine resulted in a great deal of discussion. There are too many comments for me to reply to individually, so I will answer all the main points raised here. Many of the usual points on the pro-CAM side were raised, and even though I have gone over all of them before on NeuroLogica and Science-Based medicine, it is worth reviewing them here.

Doctors are bad

Many of the comments made the basic point that the popularity of CAM is the fault of evil, uncaring, incompetent or dangerous doctors. These comments took one of two forms – using negative claims about doctors and medicine to explain why CAM is popular, and using them to justify CAM. These are similar but distinct claims. The latter claim, that CAM is legitimate because scientific medicine “doesn’t have all the answers” or is uncaring or corrupt, is a non sequitur. The position of CAM critics like myself is that CAM treatments are unscientific, not proven, and often already proven to be unsafe or ineffective. There should be a single science-based standard of care for all medicine – not a double standard where fraud and unscientific claims can flourish. If we are currently not doing an adequate job enforcing the standard of care that is not a justification for abandoning it – it just means we need to figure out how to do a better job.

Continue reading…

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