Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Cancer And Science-Based Medicine: Skepticism Vs. Nihilism

Last Friday, Mark Crislip posted an excellent deconstruction of a very disappointing article that appeared in the most recent issue of Skeptical Inquirer (SI), the flagship publication of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). I say “disappointing,” because I was disappointed to see SI publish such a biased, poorly thought out article, apparently for the sake of controversy. I’m a subscriber myself, and in general enjoy reading the magazine, although of late I must admit that I don’t always read each issue cover to cover the way I used to do. Between work, grant writing, blogging, and other activities, my outside reading, even of publications I like, has declined. Perhaps SI will soon find itself off my reading list.

Be that as it may, I couldn’t miss the article that so irritated Mark, because it irritated me as well. There it was, emblazoned prominently on the cover of the March/April 2011 issue: “Seven Deadly Medical Hypotheses.” I flipped through the issue to the article to find out that this little gem was written by someone named Michael Spector, M.D. A tinge of familiarity going through my brain, I tried to think where I had heard that name before.

And then I remembered.

Dr. Spector, it turns out, first got on my nerves about a year ago, when he wrote an article for the January/February 2010 issue of SI entitled “The War on Cancer: A Progress Report for Skeptics.” I remember at that time being irritated by the article and wanting to pen a discussion of the points in that article but don’t recall why I never did. It was probably a combination of the fact that SI doesn’t publish its articles online until some months have passed and perhaps my laziness about having to manually transcribe with my own little typing fingers any passages of text that I wanted to cite. By the time the article was available online, I forgot about it and never came back to it — until now. I should therefore, right here, right now, publicly thank Mark (and, of course, Dr. Spector) for providing me the opportunity to revisit that article in the context of piling on, so to speak, Dr. Spector’s most recent article. After all, Deadly Hypothesis Seven (as Dr. Spector so cheesily put it) is:

From a cancer patient population and public health perspective, cancer chemotherapy (chemo) has been a major medical advance.

Dr. Spector then takes this opportunity to cite copiously from his 2010 article, sprinkling “(Spector, 2010)” throughout the text like powdered sugar on a cupcake. There’s the opening I needed to justify revisiting an article that’s more than a year old! And what fantastic timing, too, hot on the heals of my post from a couple of weeks ago entitled “Why Haven’t We Cured Cancer Yet?Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

How Low Can Oprah Go? Promoting Faith Healing To The Masses

Several of the bloggers on Science-Based Medicine have been — shall we say? — rather critical of Oprah Winfrey. The reason, of course, is quite obvious. Oprah is so famous that if you mention her first name nearly everyone will know exactly of whom you speak.

For the last quarter century, Oprah’s daytime TV talk show has been a ratings juggernaut, leading to the building of a media behemoth and making her one of the richest and most famous women in the world. Unfortunately, part of Oprah’s equation for success has involved the promotion of quackery and New Age woo, so much so that last year I lamented about the Oprah-fication of medicine, which scored me a writing gig in the Toronto Star.

Whether it be promoting bio-identical hormones, The Secret (complete with a testimonial from someone who used The Secret to persuade herself not to pursue conventional therapy for breast cancer), Suzanne Somers, the highly dubious medicine promoted by Dr. Christiane Northrup, or foisting reiki aficionado Dr. Mehmet Oz or anti-vaccine “mother warrior” Jenny McCarthy onto a breathless public, arguably no one is a more powerful force for the promotion of pseudoscience in America, if not the world.

Truly, the ending of Oprah’s TV show in the spring is a very good thing indeed for science and rationality. Or it would be, were it not for the fact that the reason Oprah is wrapping up her show after a quarter of a century is to start up her own cable channel, so that we can have Oprah-branded and -inspired programming 24/7. The mind boggles.

Still, my dislike for how Oprah promotes New Age mysticism and pseudoscience on a distressingly regular basis aside, I actually did think there were limits to how low she would go. I actually thought there were limits to how egregiously vile a quackery Oprah would endorse. The operative word, of course, is “did,” which now needs to be struck off after last Wednesday, which is when Oprah did an entire show entitled Do You Believe in Miracles? (Guess what answer was implicitly, if not explicitly, endorsed.) Featured prominently in that episode were several segments on the faith healer John of God. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Homeopathy: Fibromyalgia, A Woo Magnet

Over the weekend, my wife and I happened to be in the pharmacy section of our local Target store. We happened to be looking for one of our favorite cold remedies, because both of us have been suffering from rather annoying colds, which have plagued both of us for the last week or two.

As we perused the Cold and Flu section of the pharmacy, we were struck at how much shelf space was taken up by Airborne (which was “invented by a schoolteacher.“) Nearly three years ago Airborne had to settle a case brought against it alleging false advertising to the tune of $23 million. Despite that, Airborne is still being sold, and there are even a whole bunch of knock-off products copying it.

Then, as we continued to look for our favored cold remedy, we noted that, sitting right next to the extensive shelf space devoted to the various flavors and types of Airborne supplements, I saw Boiron’s homeopathic remedy for colds containing oscillococcinum, which is derived from duck liver and heart and diluted to 200C (a 10400-fold dilution). Yes, I was a bit depressed after that. Now I know what my skeptical friends in the U.K. go through every time they walk into a Boots pharmacy.

Still, even though homeopathy is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in the U.K. and the rest of Europe, it’s obviously making some inroads if it’s being sold in Target. Steve Novella made a point at a panel at TAM8 in July to point out that it’s also being sold in Walmart, but since I rarely, if ever, shop at Walmart, I hadn’t noticed, although I had noticed various dubious concoctions being sold at Walgreens and CVS, two large pharmacy chains here in the U.S. Its relative popularity in different parts of the world aside, ever since I learned what homeopathy is and what its precepts are, I’ve always been fascinated how it can possibly be taken seriously. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

What Does “Anti-Vaccine” Really Mean?

We write a lot about vaccines here at Science-Based Medicine. Indeed, as I write this, I note that there are 155 posts under the Vaccines category, with this post to make it 156. This is third only to Science and Medicine (which is such a vague, generic category that I’ve been seriously tempted to get rid of it, anyway) and Science and the Media.

There is no doubt that vaccines represent one of the most common topics that we cover here on SBM, and with good reason. That good reason is that, compared to virtually any other modality used in the world of SBM, vaccines are under the most persistent attack from a vocal group of people, who, either because they mistakenly believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism, because they don’t like being told what to do by The Man, because they think that “natural” is always better to the point of thinking that it’s better to get a vaccine-preventable disease in order to achieve immunity than to vaccinate against it, or because a combination of some or all of the above plus other reasons, are anti-vaccine.

“Anti-vaccine.” We regularly throw that word around here at SBM — and, most of the time, with good reason. Many skeptics and defenders of SBM also throw that word around, again with good reason most of the time. There really is a shocking amount of anti-vaccine sentiment out there. But what does “anti-vaccine” really mean? What is “anti-vaccine?” Who is “anti-vaccine?”

Given that this is my first post for SBM’s self-declared Vaccine Awareness Week, proposed to counter Barbara Loe Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Center’s and Joe Mercola’s proposal that November 1-6 be designated “Vaccine Awareness Week” for the purpose of posting all sorts of pseudoscience and misinformation about “vaccine injury” and how dangerous vaccines supposedly are, we decided to try to co-opt the concept for the purpose of countering the pseudoscience promoted by the anti-vaccine movement. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Announcing The Science-Based Medicine Conference

My colleagues and I will be holding a Science-Based Medicine conference on Thursday, July 9th. This is an all-day conference covering topics of science and medicine. The conference is designed for both a professional and general audience.

The conference will be at the Southpoint Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is also part of The Amazing Meeting 7 (TAM7) which is run by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). You can register for the conference either separately or packaged with TAM7.  You can register for both here.

Physicians can earn 6 hours of category 1 CME credits for attending the conference.

Below is the list of speakers and the titles of their talks, and below that is the bio for each speaker.

Introduction to Science-Based Medicine (Steven Novella, MD)
Case studies in cancer quackery: Testimonials, anecdotes, and pseudoscience (David H. Gorski, MD. PhD)
A Scientific Critique of Chiropractic (Harriet Hall, MD)
Why Evidence-Based Medicine is not yet Science-Based Medicine (Kimball Atwood, MD)
Lyme: From the IDSA to the ILAD to the ABA (Mark Crislip, MD)
Online Health & Social Media: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Val Jones, MD)
Conclusion (Steven Novella, MD)


Steven Novella, MD
Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society. He is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. He authors NeuroLogicaBlog and contributes to several other science blogs: The Rogues Gallery, SkepticBlog, and Science-Based Medicine, of which he is also the founding editor.

David H. Gorski, MD, PhD
Dr. Gorski is an Associate Professor of Surgery Division of Surgical Oncology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI. He is also the Program Leader, Breast Cancer Biology Program, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. His cancer research has been funded by the NIH, ASCO, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He is a long-time science blogger who regularly tackles issues related to science and medicine. He is the associated editor of Science-Based Medicine.

Harriet Hall, MD
Dr. Hall is a retired family physician. She spent 20 years in the Air Force as a flight surgeon and family physician and retired as a full colonel. Also known as “The SkepDoc” from her column in Skeptic magazine, she has written extensively about alternative medicine. She is an editor of The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and the Science-Based Medicine blog, is an advisor to Quackwatch, and is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer magazines. Her website is

Kimball Atwood, MD
Dr. Atwood is a practicing anesthesiologist who is also board-certified in internal medicine. He has been interested in pseudoscience for years. He was a member of the Massachusetts Special Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medical Practitioners, and subsequently wrote its Minority Report opposing licensure for naturopaths. He is an associate editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and co-editor of Naturowatch. He is particularly concerned with implausible claims being promoted, tacitly or otherwise, by medical schools and government. He is also dubious about the ethics of human trials of such claims.

Mark Crislip, MD
Dr. Crislip has been a practicing Infectious Disease specialist in Portland, Oregon since 1990. He is Chief of Infectious Diseases for Legacy Health System.
He is responsible for the Quackcast, a skeptical review of Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, The Persilflagers Annotated Compendium of Infectious Disease Facts, Dogma and Opinion a guide to Infectious Diseases, the Persifalgers Puscast, a podcast review of Infectious Diseases, and Rubor, Dolor, Calor, Tumor, an infectious disease blog.

Val Jones, MD
Dr. Jones is the CEO of Better Health, LLC, a medical blogging network, and VP of Strategic Partnerships at MedPage Today, an online health news source for healthcare professionals. She has been the Senior Medical Director for Revolution Health, and the founding editor of Clinical Nutrition & Obesity, a peer-reviewed e-section of the online Medscape medical journal. Dr. Jones volunteers once a week as a rehabilitation medicine physician at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »