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Articles Associated with Keyword: health

Criticism > Monday, 3 October 2011 21:52:19 EST

Irwin Games, Get Your Pseudoscience Straight!

Keywords: health, alternative medicine

I've got the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire board game, and recently came across this question:

Who Wants To Be A Millionare Accupuncture Question

Can't people at least be diligent enough to get their nonsense right?  Acupuncture has nothing to do with homeopathy!

Just watch though, I'll bet as I'm writing this somebody is coming up with the idea of dripping homeopathic water on acupuncture needles.
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Criticism > Monday, 15 August 2011 17:14:05 EST

I Expect Better From The CPSO

Keywords: health, alternative medicine, Canada

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) has just released a draft policy statement meant to address the popularity of alternative medicine.  The document is entitled Non-Allopathic (Non-Conventional) Therapies In Medical Practice.

Straight away I have grave concerns about the content of this document.  This is the governing body for medical doctors in Ontario, and they're actually considering using the word "allopathic"?  This word is not a part of the science based medical lexicon.  Doctors do not call themselves "allopaths", that's a word used by the alternative medicine crowd.  It's one of those words that sounds science-y and technical, but isn't useful in any way except as a pejorative label.

The word has no business being part of the title of a document released by the CPSO.  There's no reason for any medical professionals to adopt this word, and the CPSO shouldn't be giving it legitimacy by using it so casually.  They put "Non-Conventional" in parentheses, I suppose partly as a recognition that medical professionals may not recognize the term "allopathic", but that's silly.  They could have just said "Non-Conventional" and left it at that.

If it was just the title that bothered me, though, I wouldn't have enough material for a blog post.  Unfortunately, the document makes several statements intended to open the door for alternative medical treatments and to stifle opposition.  CFI Canada has released a response to this draft policy that I sincerely hope will encourage the policy makers at the CPSO to rethink their position.

But I presume you're here to find out my perspective on this document, other than my nitpicking on the title.  Well, they actually defend their use of the term "allopathic" in their key features of the revised draft policy:
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Criticism > Monday, 4 July 2011 18:04:39 EST

The Irony Maven

Keywords: health, alternative medicine

Don't you just love it when the alternative health crowd makes it really easy to make fun of them?

I was just googling myself - or more accurately my blog - when I came across this post on a website called Health Maven:



Those of you who regularly read my blog will notice that the image they used is of Sherry Seethaler's book "Lies, Damned Lies, and Science", which is particularly ironic because Seethaler is quite a vocal advocate for science and critical thinking.  That image is actually taken directly from my website, probably found through a Google image search.  Whoever this "Health Maven" is didn't bother to even look up the book before posting it.

But it doesn't end there, because the quote below is marvelous!  It's apparently taken from a longer article on another website, apparently this post was merely to highlight that other article.  Who the hell has ever argued that mercury is good for us, that cell phones prevent brain disorders, or that plutonium boosts human health?

Wait a minute, I think that last one has a ring of truth to it.  Weren't there some people in the early 20th century who used radium as some sort of health boosting elixir?  I guess those scientists were pretty..... Oh wait, I just remembered!  They weren't scientists, they were alternative health quacks!

These quotations, which are presented as being established scientific positions, are anything but.  The links point to either misunderstandings of scientific research, or preliminary research that is not accepted by the scientific community.  The fact that people think that these are accepted scientific positions is sad and absurd.
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Criticism > Monday, 4 July 2011 11:05:32 EST

Lifestyle And Other Weighty Issues

Keywords: health

It seems to me that the more our health and longevity improve, the more people become worried about their health and longevity.  And the real ironic part about it is that many people feel that we're somehow unhealthier than ever before.

I've commented on these kinds of issues before (see here and here).  It used to be my main pet issue that I would argue on forums.  But I got tired of having the same argument over and over again and I decided when I created this blog that I wouldn't focus on the issue.  But once in a while the issue comes bubbling up inside of me and it's good to have this blog to put it all out there.

And upfront I should probably acknowledge that I may be a crank on this one.  I feel that a lot of the panic and hyperbole over lifestyle is misplaced and may be doing more harm than good.  I get a lot of resistance to that, and I think that the medical community in general believes that it's important to beat this drum and do everything we can to convince people to shape up.  I think the medical research community would probably acknowledge that my facts are correct, but still argue that we need to do all we can to convince people to be more healthy.

So as you see, I'm not a medical professional and I have an opinion that differs somewhat from the opinion of most people in the field.  I've always said that expertise is important, and the fact that I disagree with the experts sends up warning flags, even to myself, that I may be completely off my rocker here.  But I think the difference here is one of interpretation of the data, and not of the data itself.  It's the people who outright dispute the facts that you really have to watch out for.  ;)

In any case, I'm not afraid of being wrong, and if I am wrong then I welcome anybody who can show me where I've reasoned poorly or mistaken my facts.  I still think I'm right on this one, though I want to assure everybody up front that I don't believe there's any kind of conspiracy going on.  I think there are some serious biases that aren't being acknowledged enough, but I don't think it's anything nefarious.

I'm not completely alone in my thinking on this though.  I've transcribed a quote from a speech given by Dr. Ben Goldacre, author of the popular book "Bad Science".  I know I've used this quote before but I think it covers my position on this really well:
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Online Viewing Recommendations > Thursday, 9 June 2011 07:43:28 EST

Peter Popoff's Been Up To His Old Tricks Again

Keywords: religion, health, Canada

CFI Canada has been watching the actions of Peter Popoff, who came to Toronto recently in order to peddle his healing schtick, and now he provides financial miracles as well - what a deal!

As a member of CASS (the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism), I had the privilege of being able to Skype into the meeting with James Randi where they discussed this issue, and I've been waiting for the news on how it turned out.  Well, the wait's over!  CFI has released a video of the results of the investigation into what Mr Popoff has been up to:


Perhaps it's my prejudice, knowing that this man is a complete fraud, but when I watch him speak, I can't help but feel that he just looks deceitful and conniving.  I can almost feel the oily, oozing miasma of nefariousness emanating from his every glance.

Is it just me?
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Analysis > Wednesday, 6 April 2011 22:09:21 EST

Is Your Computer Going To Kill You?

Keywords: health, self deception

Oh, it's certainly true that your computer is, indeed, plotting your demise.  And it will get it's chance too, once the machines revolt.  That's a given, but it's not what I'm talking about today. 

What I want to look at today is an article which was brought to my attention regarding computers and how they may be making us sick as dogs.

.... that would be sick dogs, not healthy ones.  Otherwise it wouldn't make any sense....

Anyway, the author, David, has some interesting things to say about technology and what he thinks it's doing to us.  Let's have a look:
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Criticism > Tuesday, 13 July 2010 19:16:26 EST

The Land Of Oz Is A Funny, Funny Place

Keywords: Mehmet Oz, woo, alternative medicine, health

Probably the biggest illustration today of how health woo concepts have made it into the mainstream virtually unchallenged is personified by doctor Mehmet Oz, co-author of the YOU books and endorsed by the queen of television herself, Oprah Winfrey.

Doctor Mehmet Oz

It's dismaying that he's become so popular and his health advice is often taken as gospel by so many, because a lot of what he has to say is pure nonsense.

The interesting dichotomy here is that Dr. Oz is a trained, and by all accounts competent, heart surgeon.  He knows how to fix your ticker, and with the exception of possibly allowing a medically untrained woman into the room to align your body's healing energies while you're under, he adheres to the best medical practices for doing so.

But his knowledge of other areas of medicine is decidedly spotty.  He's like a mechanic who can fix your engine with the best of them, but if you ask him to take a look at your brakes he's suddenly out of his depth.  And it wouldn't be so bad if he'd admit his limitations, but instead he pretends that he actually knows what he's talking about, and has fooled a lot of people into believing it.

The biggest problem is that he has very little understanding for the standards of scientific evidence required in medicine.  That's not necessarily an impediment for a doctor - after all, diagnosing and treating medical conditions doesn't absolutely require that kind of skill.  But if you want to keep up with the latest medical research, you should have enough an understanding of science and statistics that you can read the research critically. 

Otherwise your forced into choosing between credulous acceptance or cynical denial, neither of which is useful at all.  Dr. Oz falls into this camp, credulously accepting many woo claims while cynically playing down the abilities of western "allopathic" medicine.

He explains his view in this quote from his book "Healing From The Heart", where he explains his feelings on the Grandmother Cell Theory, which suggests that everything we know and feel about a person (such as a grandmother) is contained in a single neuron in the brain:
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Musings > Saturday, 22 May 2010 07:58:29 EST

Lifestyle Panic: Unrealistic Expectations

Keywords: health, statistics, study

I've talked before in this blog about how alternative style thinking about health has become dismayingly commonplace.  It even creeps into public policy by official medical bodies, take for example this statement by the surgeon general of the United States:

Scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be harmful to your health.

I'm not a smoker, and I certainly don't like breathing in other people's smoke.  But the thing is, I searched through the surgeon general's report in which these conclusions are made.  It's listed as a "major conclusion" of the report, but no part of the report is referenced as evidence for this conclusion.  In fact, no part of the report seems to back up this extreme statement.

The reason that this alarms me is because I've spent a lot of time arguing against woo concepts which contend that we're constantly subjected to tiny amounts of "toxins" that are responsible for every form of ill health.  I'm always explaining to people that it's the dose that makes the poison.  People often have knee-jerk reactions to ingredients in substances like vaccines, foods, and medicines that aren't informed by the state of current scientific knowledge.

It's harder to explain to people, for example, why we've concluded that mercury in vaccines is safe because of these reasons when the Surgeon General is actively feeding this kind of paranoia by stating that even the smallest exposure to a substance in passing can endanger your health.

There's a good excerpt available from audible.com (also available in mp3 format) of a book called "Hyping Health Risks" by Geoffrey Kabat.  Kabat is a researcher who is fully in favour of restrictions on secondhand tobacco smoke, but he clearly demonstrates that the hyperbole surrounding the issue takes the risk out of all proportion with reality.

I believe that this is a symptom of an alternative health type mindset that has made it's way into mainstream medical discourse.  Related to this symptom is the current intense focus on "healthy lifestyles" and "wellness" as a means of ensuring greater health.

I may have just lost some of you with that last statement.  Let me explain myself in more detail.
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Analysis > Friday, 19 March 2010 22:11:09 EST

Happy Meal McScience!

Keywords: health, woo, concern about children, product

I tell everybody upfront that I'm just some dumbass with a blog.  But the thing is, I'm a dumbass who at least tries to know what he's talking about.  I make an effort to understand science, and I try like hell to get my facts straight as much as possible.

So it annoys me a little when people who don't understand how science is done and haven't done their homework present themselves as knowledgeable authorities on a topic and start making claims that are not supported by their evidence.

What I'm talking about here is a story that's been making the news about author and blogger Joann Bruso, who bought a McDonald's happy meal, and left it on her office shelf for a year in order to prove a point.



Her point?  The happy meal didn't decompose, and that means that it's made up of materials that your body can't metabolize.

I'll let Mrs. Bruso explain in her own words, taken directly from her blog:
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Analysis > Sunday, 21 February 2010 09:52:50 EST

Chemical Chaos: DCP

Keywords: chemicals, woo, health

Several years back I got into an online debate with somebody pushing a health elixir known as "Seasilver".  It was probably the first time that I had the urge to do the research and debate with snake oil salesmen, leading me on a course of critical thinking culminating with this blog.  I amassed a large file of quotes and references, and I was going to set up a website to display this information.

Fortunately for the world, but unfortunately for my website, the FDA came in and forced Seasilver to stop making their outlandish claims as I was in the middle of setting it all up.  Most of the Seasilver websites have disappeared by now, but I've still got cached copies and quotes.   I figured that some of the material I have saved will make good example material for the kinds of claims these kinds of people make.

So today, I want to look at a very interesting quote regarding the "deadly chemical" DCP.
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