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Posts Tagged ‘quackery’

Oprah Guest Chooses Alternative over Traditional Medicine. The Results are Unfortunate.

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

A few years ago, Oprah had a guest on her show by the name of Kim Tinkham. Ms. Tinkham explained that she had breast cancer, but after reading “The Secret” she decided to forgo conventional treatment and instead pursue “alternative therapies”.

David Gorski has written a post today at Science-Based Medicine about Ms. Tinkham, and the news is quite sad. She pursued a pseudoscientific treatment called “alkalinization” supported by one Robert O. Young, who believes there is “no such thing” as cancer and that this type of illness is caused by “excess acidity” in the body. It goes without saying, but this is totally without scientific merit.

But Ms. Tinkham followed this therapy, and for a few years her health was stable. But unfortunately, she is no longer doing well and is not expected to live through the year.

[Update: I am sad to report that Kim Tinkham passed away on December 7, 2010.]

Why do people seek out these types of therapies? Dr. Gorski explains it quite well:

In fact, Kim Tinkham made it explicit by saying that Young and his wife had told her what causes cancer by saying “there is no such thing as cancer.” Again, remember that Young thinks that cancer is the body’s reaction to cells “poisoned” by too much acid, and he really does say that there is no such thing as cancer. He even goes on and on about how acid being “deposited into the fatty tissues” and thereby causing cancer. From a scientific standpoint, it’s a load of rubbish, pure pseudoscience without any good scientific evidence to back it up. But Young can assert his nonsense about tissue being due to acid “spoiling” tissues with utter sincerity. He looks completely convincing–if you don’t know anything about cancer biology, and most people don’t know much, if anything, about cancer biology. Give him a woman who is afraid, who wants concrete answers, and who has demonstrated that she is fairly clueless about breast cancer, and he can convince her that he has the answer and can cure her. The reason, it appears to me, is that Tinkham (and women like her) just want to believe that someone knows what’s wrong with them and how to fix it. Knowing how to fix it isn’t enough; they want an answer to the question, “Why me?”

Quacks are only too happy to provide that answer.

You can and should read the whole sad story at Science-Based Medicine. People wonder why I get upset about alternative medicines, and this is why. Ms. Tinkham’s cancer was treatable, but has now metastasized into other parts of her body.

It is wholly depressing, because she is a victim. A victim of quacks who prey on the vulnerabilities and wishful thinking of sick people.

I’m ashamed to live on the same planet as those people.

Why Homeopathy is Stupid and Dangerous

July 13, 2010 2 comments

There are a lot of quacks out there. People will do, say or sell anything for a buck. And unfortunately, the field of “medical therapies” has long been victim to such quackery.

Homeopathy is one of the more prolific of these pseudosciences. It operates on a principle that by diluting a remedy in water, you can make it more effective. In fact, homeopaths claim that the remedy gets more effective in smaller concentrations. This is what homeopaths call the “Law of Infinitesmals”.

Now common sense should already be telling you that this is bogus. But lets do some history, and then science will blast apart homeopathy.

From xkcd

In the late 1700s a German physician named Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) developed the underlying theories of homeopathy. He believed that symptoms of disease could be cured by administering small amounts of substances that would cause the same symptoms in healthy people. This is called the “Law of Similars”. He further believed that chronic diseases were caused by the presence of evil miasmas or spirits in the body.

Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843)

So, homeopaths have a text called the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia. Within, you will find over a thousand homeopathic “remedies”. Which remedy, and in what concentration, to use on a certain patient is evidently at the discretion of the practitioner. Basically this means you could see two different homeopaths and receive two different treatments for the same illness. Hmmm…..

To show you how dumb this stuff is, consider the following:

A “remedy” called Oscillococcinum is prepared by diluting freeze dried duck heart and liver. The dilution is supposed to be what homeopaths call 200C, which means the concentration is 1 part in 100200

For the non-scientific, this number is a 1 followed by 400 zeros. That this small concentration could have any effect at all is mind boggling.

In fact, the laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to how far one can dilute a solution (about 1 part in 10012, which is far greater than that of Oscillococcinum). Hahnenmann was aware of this, but proposed that by vigorously shaking the solution the water will retain a kind of “memory” or “essence” of the active ingredient. Thus, even if none of the active ingredient remains in the water, the water will somehow “remember” it was there and give the same effect.

Homeopathy has never been shown to do anything greater than a placebo effect. There are many studies and reviews looking at the scientific evidence. One such review noted that:

Homeopathy has been the subject of at least 12 scientific reviews, including meta-analytic studies, published since the mid-1980s….[And] the findings are remarkably consistent:….homeopathic “remedies” are not effective.

In addition, at a meeting of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors in May 2010, Dr. Tom Dolphin, deputy chairman, said:

Homeopathy is witchcraft. It is a disgrace that nestling between the National Hospital for Neurology and Great Ormond Street there is a National Hospital for Homeopathy which is paid for by the [National Health Service]. (emphasis mine)

In should be noted that there has been a small smattering of studies suggesting a statistically significant effect of homeopathy over a placebo. However, these studies have never been shown to be reproducible and are heavily criticized for their poor scientific methodologies. Homeopathy proponents will tout these studies proudly; but a simple bit of research, or even just reading the papers will show the weaknesses in any of these studies.

So why do people continue to believe in this stuff? Well there are a couple of reasons.

The first is that when Hahnemann began developing homeopathy, treatments such as bloodletting were ubiquitous. Bloodletting, if you didn’t already know, is extremely dangerous and ineffective as a medical treatment.

So when someone arrived on the scene offering medical “remedies” which don’t involve opening people’s veins, and sometimes even make the patient feel better (the placebo effect) it garnered a lot of attention.

Secondly, the placebo effect can be significant. And word of mouth is a powerful force. So when one person says they feel better after seeing a homeopath, people start to listen. In fact, studies have shown that people are more likely to listen to a friend than read the scientific evidence.

This is dangerous.

Touting the placebo effect as a medical treatment is wrong and terrible. It causes people to choose pseudoscientific treatments over science-based medical treatment, which can lead to disastrous results and even death.

Furthermore, it leads to unscientific thinking. Once we start believing in homeopathy, whats next? Faith healing? Aliens listening to our thoughts? Its a very slippery slope and it needs to be stopped.

Thirdly, some insurance companies cover homeopathic treatments and some governments cover it in their public health plan. So we are all footing the bill in our insurance premiums or taxes for a therapy that simply does not work.

So my final words? Homeopathy sucks. It doesn’t work. It steals money from sick people who believe they are being treated for their illness. It takes advantage on the hopes of sick people to make a profit, and it is disgusting.