Posted by c. wagner on November 4, 2009
I’m developing a theory (which has probably already been developed by someone else) that the more desperate and likely to be fatal the disease, the more likely it is to attract quack “solutions”. (A notable exception is the generally non-fatal condition of being considered overweight, which is associated with a truly amazing amount of quackery.) It’s not a great theory, but it makes me feel somewhat smarter. Anyhoooo….
Hulda Clark, author of The Cure for All Cancers and The Cure for Advanced Cancers, has died of—you guessed it—cancer.
If her “cure” couldn’t help her, how many of the sick folks who bought her books have died? And how many of those died because they put off possibly helpful medical care to try the quackery?
Read more at Respectful Insolence.
Posted in News | Tagged: cancer, deaths, medicine, quackery | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on November 4, 2009
This is just plain weird to me. The placebo response is getting stronger. It’s harder for new medicines in the United States to outperform sugar pills.
Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.
Maybe the homeopaths and their sugar pills really are on the cutting edge. Maybe I should stop making fun of them….
Nah. That can’t be it.
A few studies exploring why this seems to be happening have been published.
These new findings tell us that the body’s response to certain types of medication is in constant flux, affected by expectations of treatment, conditioning, beliefs, and social cues.
In other words (and in part), as we’ve gotten used to pills curing what ails us, our response to any old pill has become more powerful.
And, in attempting to figure out why, researchers have learned a lot more about how the nervous system works. Pretty cool.
Read the article at Wired.
Posted in News | Tagged: health, medicine, placebo response, research, science | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on November 3, 2009
“Hope is an important part of happiness,” said Peter A. Ubel, M.D., director of the U-M[ichigan] Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine and one of the authors of the happily hopeless study, “but there’s a dark side of hope. Sometimes, if hope makes people put off getting on with their life, it can get in the way of happiness.”
The researchers told divided people with the same medical condition into two groups. The first they told that their condition was permanent. The second was told that the condition was reversible. On follow up, the folks in the “permanent” group were happier overall than those who were expecting a change.
It seems like accepting things the way they are may make you happier than waiting for the day that things are better. Lemons and lemonade, to sink to the level of cliches.
Read the summary from the University of Michigan.
Posted in News | Tagged: experiments, happiness, health, hope, medicine, research | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on November 1, 2009
Was reading Superstition by Robert Park the other night and came across this description of the invention of homeopathy.
Unfortunately, some of the side effects associated with the use of these substances were serious, bringing Hahnemann perilously close to the sort of medicine he had earlier condemned. In an effort to reduce the severity of the side effects, he took the rather obvious step of diluting the medicine. As you would expect, dilution reduced the side effects, but to his astonishment Hahnemann also observed that patients given the dilute medication recovered more quickly from their illness.
At this point, you and I might have concluded that the medicine was preventing them from getting better. Perhaps that’s why you and I have never discovered a new principle of medicine. Hahnemann reached the opposite conclusion. He thought it showed that the more medicine is diluted, the more potent it becomes. He called this the Law of Infinitesimals, and declared it to be his second great discovery. [page 148-9]
I’ve probably ranted enough about homeopathy on this blog already. I’ll sum up: it’s total bullshit. Save your money. I promise I won’t say anything more about homeopathy unless there’s big news about it.
But this excerpt was just too snarky to pass up.
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: homeopathy, medicine, Robert Park, Samuel Hahnemann, side effects | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on October 30, 2009
Okay. My head hurts from this one.
A recent article in the Telegraph starts out talking about how Dr. Richard Wiseman, a well-known psychologist who has investigated the paranormal for years, conducted an informal experiment into remote viewing over Twitter. Remote viewing is the supposed ability to “see” things that are happening at a distant place or at least something that they should have no prior knowledge of. Wiseman recruited about 7,000 people, traveled to a location in England, and sent a tweet using his mobile phone. Participants were supposed to use remote viewing and choose from five photographs to locate him. 15% got his location right. That’s less than chance would allow.
More formal experiments into remote viewing (which is a type of ESP), including one conducted for the CIA by Ray Hyman and Jessica Utts, have also shown that remote viewers have a no better than chance … chance of success. Wiseman’s Twitter test only added to the pile of negative reports on remote viewing.
But the Telegraph pairs the summary of the Twitter test with stories about how remote viewing is supposedly “helping” to find missing persons and medical diagnoses. The author cites a person who shows only 2 letters of congrats for finding the bodies of missing persons. No mention of how many times the remote viewers had tried to find missing people.
Then the author relates that remote viewers were asked to apply their skills to her life.
Before my ex-husband died two years ago, I had discovered that he’d been unfaithful. I wanted to know if he’d had any illegitimate children. I waited more than a week for the reply. Four remote viewers came up with colourful, jerky impressions: the effect was like reading blank verse. They did not answer my question but they described my husband, scenes from his life and mannerisms with such accuracy that it made me cry.
This sounds like the Barnum Effect to me.
Besides, an single, personal anecdote doesn’t cancel years and years of research. And like any crappy “psychic” technique, it can distract from more productive avenues of research.
Read the article at the Telegraph.
Watch the Penn and Teller: Bullshit! episode about ESP and remote viewing.
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: "psychics", ESP, medicine, remote viewing, Richard Wiseman | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on October 26, 2009
1977 – The last natural case of smallpox is discovered in Merca district, Somalia. The WHO and the CDC consider this date the anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, the most spectacular success of vaccination.
Break out the party hats, streamers, cake, and beer!
Posted in Pictures | Tagged: health, medicine, smallpox, vaccination | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on October 23, 2009
When I first saw the news that insurers might be forced to cover religious or spiritual “treatments” (read: prayer) for illness the other day (on the JREF blog), I thought it was a bit alarmist. The catch in the language was that the spiritual treatment has to be considered tax-deductible by the IRS. Surely, the IRS hasn’t declared prayer treatments tax-deductible. That would be ridiculous!
*sigh* When will I ever learn?
Turns out that prayers by Christian Science practitioners are tax-deductible. Not prayers from anyone else. Just Christian Science practitioners.
And if the language survives the next round of talks in the House and Senate, insurance companies might have to fork over money for Christian Science prayers. And, unsurprisingly, Christian Science leaders are happy campers.
“It’s so important that anyone in this country, not just Christian Scientists, not be discriminated against because they use spiritual care or rely on it instead of conventional medical treatment,” said Phil Davis, who manages media and legislative affairs for Christian Scientists globally, speaking to the St Petersburg Times, a Florida newspaper.
And folks who want some science in their medicine have reason to be concerned.
Some Christian Scientists may believe that healing prayers can replace conventional medicine, but science doesn’t back this up. For example, a study in 1989 found that graduates from a Christian Science college had a higher rate of death than an equivalent control population. There have also been tragic cases in which children of Christian Scientists are reported to have died after not been given the appropriate conventional care.
Again, what the fuck are people thinking? *headdesk*
Read the summary from Short Sharp Science.
Posted in News | Tagged: Christian Science, government, insurance, medicine, prayer | Leave a Comment »
Posted by c. wagner on October 21, 2009
Wikipedia featured one of my favorite hoaxes on the front page today: Mary Toft and her rabbit “babies”.
Seems that Mary, after a miscarriage, began giving birth to rabbits. Or, more accurately, parts of rabbits. She was examined by a number of doctors, including some of great prominence, who declared that Mary was telling the truth. Miraculously, she was the mother of rabbit parts. Some doctors remained skeptical.
Eventually, Mary was isolated for a number of days. No more bunny bits. Under pressure, Mary confessed it was all a hoax. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story.
The public mockery which followed created panic within the medical profession. Several prominent surgeons’ careers were ruined, and many satirical works were produced, each scathingly critical of the affair. The pictorial satirist and social critic William Hogarth was notably critical of the gullibility of the medical profession.
Mary hoaxed some of the best medicine had to offer in the early 1700s. And it seems as though the profession has learned its lessons from her and other similar incidents. It’s much harder to hoax men of medicine now, but plenty of people are fooled by non-doctors making amazing claims about health and healing.
If your baloney detector goes off, it might just be a scam.
Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: animals, history, hoaxes, Mary Toft, medicine, rabbits | Leave a Comment »