But What about Acupuncture?

“Alternative” medicine is by definition medicine that has not been scientifically proven and has not been accepted into mainstream scientific medicine. The question I keep hearing is, “But what about acupuncture? It’s been proven to work, it’s supported by lots of good research, more and more doctors are using it, and insurance companies even pay

Popular Fallacies: Ancient Wisdom, It Works for Me, and Natural is Good

Advocates of so-called alternative medicine (i.e. unproven treatments) don’t always use the best critical thinking skills. False assumptions and logical fallacies abound.  Three that I encounter constantly are (1) “ancient wisdom,” (2) “it works for me,” and (3) “it’s natural.” Ancient Wisdom The argument usually goes something like this: Our wise ancestors used X to

Detoxification Quackery – From Footbaths to Fetishism

The last time I went to the Puyallup fair, I passed a booth where an elderly man and woman were sitting with their feet in basins of water. How nice – a chance to rest their tired feet after a day of walking the fairgrounds! Unfortunately, they weren’t just resting, they were being scammed. The

Ultrasound Screening, Fish Oil, and Ear Candles: Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

I never thought I’d be promoting ignorance!  I’ve always thought the more information, the better; but there are exceptions. I’m going to explain something that is very counterintuitive and grates against every fiber of our truth-seeking skeptical brains. The ad shouts, “Tests That Can Save Your Life… Stroke is America’s third leading killer… Half of

How the Medical Mind Works

JEROME GROOPMAN’S BOOK How Doctors Think is a superb commentary on the intersection between medical science, compassionate personal interactions, and critical thinking. My only caveat is that it may be exploited by “doctor-bashers” because it shows how doctors make mistakes; but the overall impact of the book is very positive. It is a good lesson

Charlatan: Quackery Then and Now

Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, by Pope Brock, is not only a rip-roaring good read, but it brings up serious issues about regulation of medical practice and prosecution of quackery. It tells the story of John R. Brinkley MD, who transplanted goat glands into people,

CAM Scam

Book review of: Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All, by Rose Shapiro. London: Harvill Secker, 2008. 296 pages. £12.99. ISBN: 978-1-846-55028-7/ Political correctness has emasculated our language. We walk on linguistic tiptoes for fear of offending someone. British journalist Rose Shapiro refuses to be cowed. With refreshing directness, she titled her new

Clearing the Air: What Does Science Really Say About Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is a bit like abortion and global warming: it invokes such strong emotions that it is difficult to view the evidence objectively. In his analysis of the subject (see preceding article) Sidney Zion is right about one thing: anti-smoking activists have overstated the evidence against secondhand smoke. He, on the other hand, understates

Double Blind or Double Talk? Reading Medical Research with a Skeptical Eye

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a new drug was tested carefully by its manufacturer, demonstrated to be safe, and approved by the FDA. After it went on the market, people started reporting a lot of side effects. An independent researcher thought the drug manufacturer’s studies might have been biased (after all, they