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Big Herba’s Research Deficit: Why It Isn’t About The Money

This is a guest post from Erik Davis of Skeptic North.

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Bankers, Buyouts & Billionaires: Why Big Herba’s Research Deficit Isn’t About The Money

It’s a scene from the blogosphere that’s become all too familiar. A skeptic challenges a natural health product for the lack of an evidentiary base. A proponent of that product responds that the skeptic has made a logical error — an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and in such a scenario it’s not unreasonable to rely on patient reporting and traditional uses as a guide. The skeptic chimes back with a dissertation on the limits of anecdotal evidence and arguments from antiquity — especially when the corresponding pharma products have a data trail supporting their safety and efficacy. The proponent responds that it’s unfair to hold natural health products to the same evidentiary standard, because only pharma has the money to fund proper research, and they only do so for products they can patent. You can’t patent nature, so no research into natural health products gets done.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a scene from an actual blog. The participants are way too civil, the arguments too coherent, and no one has been compared to Hitler. But it’s not a straw man either (look herehere, and here for recent examples), merely a distillation of an argument I’ve seen made repeatedly — that the deck has been stacked by Big Pharma, which has set a research bar that the much poorer natural health industry can’t possibly meet given the costs and lack of financial upside.

In my observation, skeptics don’t often have a good response to this argument beyond their basic scientific disposition toward only making assertions based on positive evidence. Typically, that’s not a disposition shared by the proponent, and thus they simply agree to disagree (read: trade barbs until the thread peters out from fatigue). Yet this need not be a purely philosophical debate. After all, there’s a testable premise embedded in this disagreement — that the natural health industry isn’t rich enough to sustain proper research. Is that true? Read more »

A Pseudo-Homeopathic Remedy

Never in a million years would I have dreamed I would be able to say this, but I actually recommended a homeopathic remedy today. To briefly review, for anyone who may be under the mistaken impression that homeopathic remedies actually do anything – they don’t. Here’s why in a nutshell:

Homeopathy is an unscientific and absurd pseudoscience, which persists today as an accepted form of complementary medicine, despite there never having been any reliable scientific evidence that it works.

So what on earth possessed me to seriously recommend it? I’ll tell you.

I saw a beautiful little four-month-old today whose mother thinks he might be teething. Everyone thinks their four-month-olds are teething because they start getting more drooly as their hand-mouth coordination improves, allowing them to get more things into their mouths. Most of the time they don’t actually get their teeth until about six months, though four month olds pop out teeth often enough to keep us on their toes. I told her this. She’s cool. Here’s her problem:

“The daycare is getting fussy. They want me to bring in the Oragel. I don’t really think he needs it, and I don’t like the idea of giving medicine when it’s not really necessary.”

Daycares can be fussier than babies sometimes. That’s when I realized that a homeopathic teething remedy is the perfect solution:

  • The baby is happy because someone’s rubbing his gums.
  • Mom is happy because the baby’s not getting any medicine.
  • Daycare is happy because they’re “doing something.”

Win-win-win.

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

The Autism-Vaccine Fraud: The Difference One Journalist Can Make

The BMJ’s statement this week that the 1998 article by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others “linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent” demonstrates what a difference one journalist can make. Journalist Brian Deer played a key role in uncovering and dismantling the Wakefield story.

(Of course, others recently have said something similar about The Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart’s role in focusing on the health problems of 9/11 first responders.)

CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a segment worth watching, including a new interview Cooper conducted with Wakefield via Skype:

Unfortunately, journalism played a key role in promoting Wakefield’s claims. The “Respectful Insolence” blog referred to one journalist as “CBS’ resident anti-vaccine propagandist.” Around the world there were many other examples of journalists’ unquestioning acceptance of the vaccine scares.

The BMJ reminds us that “the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession.”

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Chinese Bloodletting Forbidden In California

In November 2010, the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) finally decided to act responsibly and forbid the prevalent practice of Chinese bloodletting by licensed acupuncturists. The practice became a concern for the DCA when allegations of unsanitary bloodletting at a California (CA) acupuncture school surfaced.

The incident allegedly occurred during a “doctoral” course for licensed practitioners. The instructor was reportedly demonstrating advanced needling and bloodletting techniques. During the process, he took an arrow-like lancing instrument that is called a “three-edged needle” (三棱针), sharpened it with sandpaper, cleaned it with alcohol, and then asked a student-volunteer to roll a towel around his neck. The instructor then cleaned the student’s temporal region with alcohol, and punctured a superficial blood vessel with the arrow-like instrument. The student then held his head over the garbage can, gushing blood for awhile. Read more »

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

Acupuncture Via SkyMall

The worst part of flying is the takeoff and landing. Not that I am nervous about those parts of the trip, it is that I am all electronic. Once I have to turn off my electronic devices, all I am left with is my own thoughts or what is in the seat pocket in front of me.

Since there is nothing to be gained from quiet introspection, I am stuck with either the in-flight magazine or SkyMall. I usually choose the latter. SkyMall, for those of you who do not fly, is a collection of catalogs bound in one volume. I have occasionally purchased products found in SkyMall and thumb through it with mild interest.

This time one product caught my eye, the Aculife home acupuncture/acupressure device. I had never noticed the “health”-related products in SkyMall before, usually looking for electronic gadgets that I really do not need. I was curious. How many other products besides Aculife are in the catalogue? According to the interwebs, about 100,000,000 Americans fly every year and well over half a billion people world wide. A lot of people can potentially look at SkyMall, including the occasional skeptic.

I have written about the many styles of acupuncture in the past: Hand and foot and tongue and ear and head and Chinese and Japanese. So many meridians and acupuncture points, how does the body find room for it all? Aculife makes it all simple. It’s all gauche, er, I mean in the left hand.

According to makers of Aculife, you can now “help strengthen your health with the latest ancient technology.” Of course I can, and for $199.95 I had better be able to. Read more »

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

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Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

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Latest Book Reviews

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…

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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…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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