Tag Archive | "alternative medicine"

FF Podcast 64 (Audio): Google Ranks Truthiness


FF Podcast 64: Google ranks truthiness

Alternative medicine practitioners and conservatives are worried — Google is coming out with an algorithm that ranks truthfulness in articles.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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Sotto’s Pseudoscientific Source: Who is Natasha Campbell-McBride?


Senator Tito Sotto responded to allegations of plagiarism by denying them on national TV. In case comparing his speech with the blog post isn’t enough, the blogger herself, Sarah Pope, has confirmed that she was indeed plagiarized. And as it turns out, she might not be the only victim of Sotto’s plagiarism: some count at least 3 other plagiarized bloggers.

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride

Let’s humor Tito Sotto and entertain the possibility that his excuse is valid — that he wasn’t quoting the blogger, he was quoting the blogger’s source: Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. But was citing Dr. Natasha a good move?

I don’t think so. As far as Sotto’s credibility goes, citing Dr. Natasha was even worse than plagiarizing Pope. Because Dr. Natasha is a quack. She is most known for inventing the idea that autism — and many other symptoms and diseases — is caused by bacteria in our gut, a condition she calls “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” or GAPS — because “gut bacteria” just doesn’t sound as scientific.

The Consequences of Gut Bacteria

And what causes gut bacteria? According to Dr. Natasha, children who aren’t breastfed get gut bacteria. Sure, breastfeeding has benefits, and even real doctors prescribe it. But they don’t scare people with invented consequences, especially not without any real evidence. And by evidence, I mean the results of proper clinical trials. Does Dr. Natasha have such evidence? No. All she has are testimonials.

And when you replace the objectivity of Science with the subjectivity of anecdotal evidence, anything goes. Without the need to adhere to the rigors of Science, Dr. Natasha can confidently claim that like vaccinations, oral contraceptives cause gut bacteria, something Sotto now believes to be the cause of his son’s death.

Dr. Natasha’s disrespect for scientific procedures translates to a distrust of mainstream medicine — a distrust Sotto seems to share, both of them claiming that the pharmaceutical industry only cares about making money. And what alternative does she prescribe? She sells plenty of them in her online store, where anyone can purchase books, DVDs, probiotics, supplements, kitchen equipment, and garden hose filters, all based on the principles of the GAPS diet — an alternative solution that I think Sotto should promote.

Because if he believes Dr. Natasha, he should recommend these products to other alleged victims of vaccination and oral contraception. After all, these are the same products that could’ve saved his son. Unless, of course, he doesn’t buy this bullshit and he’s just trying to grasp at any scientific sounding nonsense to further delay voting on the RH bill.

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Image sources: 1, 2

Further reading:

  • http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/08/01/gaps-in-a-doctors-reasoning-about-vaccines/
  • http://thesecondsight.blogspot.com/2010/10/self-reinforcing-circle-of-improbably.html

Posted in Politics, ScienceComments (19)

Alternative (to) Medicine


The Silver Bullet. The Magic Pill. The Cure For What Ails Ya. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a miracle drug that could instantly cure us of whatever illness we might have? “Colds? Muscle pain? TB? Gonorrhea? Cancer? Pop this pill and call me in the morning.”

Sadly, no such thing exists (yet). The human body is an extremely complicated piece of machinery (Needlessly complicated in fact, that’s why it’s improbable that we’re intelligently designed, ok creationists?), and drugs that have a beneficial effect on one part of your body will likely have a detrimental effect on another part of your body. No single drug will have a beneficial effect on your ENTIRE body, unless you consider death to be beneficial.

However, there are many people who swear by such miracle cures. Pretty much all of them fall into the category known as “Alternative Medicine”.

Alternative medicine has always existed, in one form or another, throughout human history. The principles have roughly stayed the same: “All maladies are caused by some sort of imbalance in our *insert magical, unmeasureable, undetectable energy/life force here*, and the cure is *insert modality here*.”

The thing is, they only became “alternative” after the dawn of science-based medicine. Our ancestors used all sorts of “treatments” and “remedies” for every ailment, from the mundane (leaves, flowers, ground up animal parts, etc) to the outright bizarre (spells, incantations, faith healing, etc).

But we can’t really blame our ancestors because back then, our knowledge base was pretty limited. In fact, as recently as the 1860’s, bloodletting was a pretty common treatment for a lot of ailments. Even something as simple as handwashing was seen as “ungentlemanly” by doctors and surgeons, no less.

But in this day and age of advanced scientific knowledge, near instant communications, fast transport and travel,  fantastic technologies, and the incredible exchange of ideas afforded to us by the internet, there really isn’t much of an excuse to believe in Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (or SCAM, for short)…

…or is there?

Let’s try to analyze this question:

“If SCAM is bunk, then why is it so popular?”

I think it boils down to a few factors:

1. Confirmation bias:

Most people who use SCAM fall under one of two categories:

a. Those who already believe in them;

b. and those who are willing to try them either because of lack of finances, or because conventional medicine didn’t work for them.

Both these types almost always fall victim to confirmation bias. So what is confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way.

The first type already expects the SCAM modality to work, so they feel better after using it. The second type is desperate for something to work, and is therefore primed to believe that it is actually working.

2. The body heals itself (most of the time):

If you’re like the vast majority of people in the civilized world, you won’t go see your doctor until your fever/cold/cough/ache is at it’s worst. Also, a significant portion of that population goes to a SCAM practitioner, instead of a real doctor.

The thing is, if we are reasonably healthy, our bodies are quite capable of fighting off most illnesses. And since we go see these SCAM practitioners at the peak of our illness, any treatment they perform (or don’t perform) is almost guaranteed to “cure” you. Thus, giving the illusion that the homeopath, naturopath, reiki master, acupuncturist, chiropractor, touch therapist, etc. is the real deal.

Now I’m sure some SCAM proponent is saying ” AHA! So you’re admitting that those who go to real doctors also have this phenomenon going for them!”

Well yes, to a certain degree. You see, the placebo effect applies even to real medicine. So you get an actual benefit, PLUS the placebo effect. This is also the reason why in science, we have this thing called the “randomized, double blinded, controlled clinical trials” to separate the placebo effect from true efficacy, something no SCAM practitioner does.

3. Personal anecdotes trump impersonal data every single time:

We love hearing stories, especially stories delivered with conviction by a satisfied SCAM victim customer. Let’s face it: Hearing a feelgood story about how some miracle product cured a person of his/her cancer is far more compelling than some boring study written on a piece of paper by anonymous scientists from thousand of miles away. This is one of the big reasons why practically every form of SCAM relies on testimonials from satisfied victims customers.

4. It feels good and is easy to understand:

Every successful SCAM modality is also very simple to understand. No technical knowledge is required. There’s no scary sounding drugs or hyper-complicated machinery to intimidate you. From vague and simple explanations of adjusting/restoring the balance of chi in your body to replenishing vibrational energy/bioenergy/life energy, just about anyone can understand it. Many SCAM modalities also incorporate soothing music, comfortable couches or beds, massages, and dim lighting to help a victim customer relax. As you might guess, a relaxed victim customer is more likely to report positive results.

And because of all of the above, many of us are quite eager to accept that these SCAM modalities work, despite the low quality of evidence that supports them. As I have mentioned before, most SCAM practitioners rely on testimonials and anecdotal evidence. They also love to cite poorly made studies, many of which are performed by themselves, and published in “pee-reviewed” (that’s not a typo) medical journals, which were made just to promote SCAMs.

5. Conspiracy theorists vs “Big Pharma”:

There is a general notion among the public that “Big Pharma” is out to get them and that Big Pharma is in bed with Big Bad Government to keep us sick in order to keep selling drugs. Many SCAM practitioners love to incite this particular fear and paranoia into potential victims customers. It’s easy to target “Big Pharma” as evil, because it’s seen as one single entity. Few people realize that in order for this “Big Pharma Conspiracy” to exist, everyone from the pharmaceutical companies’ top management to government officials, to doctors, to nurses, med techs, researchers, down to the clerks and support staff HAVE to be involved in the conspiracy. Few people stop to think that these people are human too, with their own friends and loved ones that they would like to keep free from illness.

Now, do I think pharmaceutical companies are benevolent and have only our wellbeing and best interests at heart? Of course not. As with any other business, the three main objectives of pharmaceutical companies are 1.) profit, 2.) Profit, and 3.) PROFIT. Given the choice of cutting costs and saving money vs spending a fortune on efficacy and safety trials, I’m pretty sure which path the pharmaceutical executives would rather take.

But this is why the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. The FDA keeps a close eye on them. These companies spend billions upon billions of dollars on R&D, efficacy trials, and safety trials. They have to, otherwise they won’t have a product to sell. This is also why most real medicine costs a lot.  In fact, the rules and regulations are so stringent that roughly 85% to 90% of the drugs being tested never get past the first and second phase of clinical trials. It is also interesting to note that Big Pharma actually PREFERS these super stringent rules and regulations that cost a lot of money, because it discourages startup competition, leaving only the big boys with fat wallets.

And no, the FDA is not perfect. Many defective products have still passed through it’s screening process. Some would say that this is unacceptable and the FDA sucks, but that would be like saying that Kobe Bryant is bad at free throw shooting because he only makes 84% of them. Also, once a defect is discovered (even relatively minor ones), it is immediately pulled out.

Compare and contrast with SCAM, which few people realize is ALSO a multi-billion dollar industry. The SCAM industry has a ridiculous reputation for being “all natural” (as if that means anything) and somehow “more caring and more personal”. We need to realize that these people also have profit as their primary motive. Otherwise, they wouldn’t charge for their treatments. The worst part is, this industry is NOT regulated at all. For an industry that frequently promises to “wash away the toxins”, many of their products have been found to contain hazardous materials.

We, as consumers, need to be more skeptical of fantastic claims. This is the only way we can weed out bad products from the good ones. As with almost every thing we encounter in life, it’s useful to always remember this adage:

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Posted in Science, SocietyComments (3)

Of Heroes and Hoaxes: Painting a CNN Hero in a Dangerous Light


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not out to demonize a woman who has obviously done loads for maternal and reproductive health. At 54 years old, Robin Lim has helped thousands of poverty-stricken Indonesian women to experience a healthy pregnancy and to safely give birth, and for that, she most certainly deserves to be hailed as this year’s CNN Hero.

As a rabid supporter of the passage of the local Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, it gladdens me to know that a person has actually built her life around providing the poorest of mothers with prenatal and postpartum care, birth services, and breast-feeding support — and has done so for free. Her Yayasan Bumi Sehat Foundation has done more for reproductive health in a single day than the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has done in, well, ever. I seriously wish that there were more people as passionate and take-charge about the cause as she is.

Here we go again, Inquirer

What doesn’t sit well with me, however, is how the media is playing up the fact that she is an advocate of “alternative medicine.” I’m giving the stink eye to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in particular, because as far as I know, CNN  and other news outfits have yet to mention the words “hilot,” “alternative,” “homeopathy,” and “herbal medicine” in its features of Lim, whereas the Inquirer has been practically framing her as the poster woman for “No Therapeutic Claims,” and actually sees this love for quackery as a good thing. (Incidentally, FF has had quite a beef with the Inquirer’s integrity, as can be read here, here, here, and here.)

Take note that Lim was awarded mainly for her outstanding efforts to practice and promote safe birthing. CNN as the awarding body did not bestow her the honor because she felt that “there should be a reinvention of the health-care system by including holistic medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine and physiotherapy.” If that were actually the case, then Deepak “Quantum Mysticism” Chopra should have been crowned President of the fucking Universe ages ago

Shit sells

Sensationalism is the culprit here, I think. It is this horrid excuse for journalism that possibly encouraged the Inquirer’s writers to play up the “alternative medicine” angle. In line with local media’s never-ending, unnerving campaign for this thing called “Pinoy pride,” there’s a good chance that this facet of the half-Filipino Lim was highlighted because her traditional healing background was the most “Filipino” of her qualities. This nation is, after all, known for its folkloric herbal concoctions and its faith healers, never mind that these concoctions can’t hold a candle to actual lab-developed drugs, and that these healers are money-grubbing quacks of the highest order. (This broadsheet has, unsurprisingly, had a history of publishing scientifically unsound things like “miracles” as fact, so there’s that.)

Another possibility is that Lim herself insisted on the topic of her Inquirer piece. If that were the case, though, then the Inquirer should have suggested a different angle, or at the very least peppered the article with disclaimers regarding the efficacy of traditional healing methods, in the hopes of maintaining the barest smidge of journalistic credibility. But they didn’t.

Ooga booga and mumbo jumbo

“Alternative medicine” is a load of bull. As the old joke goes, “alternative medicine” that is proven to work is just called “medicine.” It is this staggering lack of proof — and its advocates’ insistence that proof is neither necessary nor applicable — that sets the former apart from the latter. It goes out of its way to be baseless and unscientific, depending on flimsy, abstract concepts such as “auras” and “chakras” that have as much chance of being real as unicorns, mermaids, and the Jonas Brothers’ pledge of virginity. And while some unconventional healing methods are said to be okay complements for actual, scientifically proven methods and medicines, this so-called “complementary medicine” cannot and should not stand alone.

Even if Lim advocated the methods that worked in certain, complementary ways (and I use the term “work” very, very lightly), it was still publicized by the Inquirer in such a way that she seemed to be for “alternative medicine” in general, which includes a long, snaking list of  very bad decisions. (She espouses the whackadoodle fad that is homeopathy, which is bad enough, so imagine how much worse the stuff she doesn’t espouse are.)

Moreover, it’s also quite unfortunate and ironic that the article, which features a woman known for her hard work in furthering reproductive health, placed so much emphasis on highly suspect “remedies” that have nothing to do with RH, and in no way mentions how certain lab-developed medicines can do and have done so much for maternal health. In fact, it’s disheartening how the RH Bill, which promotes safe, effective, and clinically approved medicines in the form of family planning supplies, can be so easily dismissed by many, while something as impotent — and fatal — as faith healing gets good press at the drop of a hat.

A bad influence

In the end, by playing up this sorely misguided aspect of Lim’s, the Inquirer can be said to be taking part in putting people in danger. Ranked as the top newspaper in the Philippines, it’s safe to say that this broadsheet helps to influence many Filipinos’ opinions. It is only right, then, that they make sure that the stuff they offer as journalism is, in fact, journalism and not just a bunch of interesting-sounding yet highly deceptive words. But this is sadly not the case.

This piece on Lim could very well encourage many people to prioritize alternative methods over tried-and-tested ones and, thus, keep these people from getting the proper medical attention every one of them deserves. “If an actual CNN Hero is for it, then it can’t be wrong” is the kind of opinion that might proliferate. As much as we hope people to be more discerning of what they read, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and, in the Inquirer’s case, absolutely necessary to be factual than not.

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Images from thejakartapost.com; policeheadlines.com; and skepacabra.wordpress.com

Posted in Personal, Science, SocietyComments (33)

Against the Apple Apologist


Now that the rudimentary over-praising of Steve Jobs has subsided, a compelling deluge of criticism regarding Jobs’ decisions has flooded the Internet.  According to pieces such as this one, Jobs was a tyrannical boss, an unethical entrepreneur, a selfish billionaire, and an asshole of a dad. Not only that, he used to be a staunch believer in alternative medicine, and initially refused to undergo life-saving treatments for his cancer, only regretting his decision when it was far too late.

 

One author, however, has taken it upon herself to defend what she calls all this “finger-wagging” regarding Jobs’ death. She says that:

“…the notion that if we are not doing absolutely everything our doctors and our friends and our shamans tell us, we will commit the great error of not wringing the maximum amount of time out of life, well, that’s really a hell of a lot of pressure.”

“The pressure to make the right choices, the wrenching doubts and fears of disappointing everybody: Aren’t these too much to weigh upon any of us? How much ‘if only’ are we expected to bear? Mortality is grueling enough. But guilt-tripping is an entirely curable condition.”

She wants people to give the guy a break. Personally, though, I feel that it is important to take advantage of all this so-called “finger-wagging,” most especially since Jobs is a celebrity. Alternative medicine doesn’t work, but a lot of people still believe in it. Jobs’ example will continue to be one of the best and most visible cases you can pit against mumbo-jumbo meds. His death, in a sense, can help save lives. At this point, I would rather forego walking on eggshells if it means educating people about the dangers of pseudo-science.

Would you?

Image from technology.ezinemark.com

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