Pseudoskeptica

Well, we’re all sick, so what better to do than peruse the slums of the skeptical internet and point out all the bad arguments pseudoskeptics make in the name of “debunking” pseudoscience. I had taken this up as a hobby a little over a year ago, but, because it’s really too painful to read some of the garbage that people are willing to say in the name of debunking what other people say (whether they are debunking garbage or not). They debunk things that are both pretty out there and things that are actually true. (And things that are both.) Unfortunately, their “arguments” do little to separate the truth from the chaff.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Random John quackery update — I regressed

Bizarre, just bizarre. My canard rating dropped like a stone with just two entries! I didn’t even try. Perhaps I should stop using such terms as “placebo” and “quackery.”

I must be a quack – the quack-o-meter told me so!

I scored 8 canards out of 10!

I don’t know if I can add anything to this. I think I might go for 10 canards. I wonder what I would have to do…

I mean seriously, if a personal blog that espouses critical thinking of a different sort from Robert Carroll and the skeptics circle can get 8 canards out of 10, then you know something is up with the algorithm.

I guess, being a biostatistician, I hate words such as placebo and eat too much organic food.

Because there’s only one type of altie, right?

Shorter Orac: Gah! Alties want mercury in their own products but no one else’s!

A positive preliminary CAM study, and why we need to study CAM

In an _in vitro_ study, ginger induced death in ovarian cancer cells. Given the amount of time and risk it takes to get a drug from a positive _in vitro_ study to marketing approval, I think we can agree (as the researchers assert) that it will be a long time before doctors send you to the grocery store for your ovarian cancer meds.

What I found even more interesting are the following two statements:

bq. Ginger is effective at controling inflammation, and inflammation contributes to the development of ovarian cancer cells.

I’ve recently become interested in this link, given that I lead a fairly stressful life at this point. The stress response heightens inflammation, and this leads to a cascade of problems. Cancer, too, apparently. Sounds like I should spend several thousand dollars on a vacation rather than chemo. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not that simple.)

and

bq. “Patients are using natural products either in place of or in conjunction with chemotherapy, and we don’t know if they work or how they work. We don’t know how the products interact with chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. There’s no good clinical data,” Liu [the primary investigator of the study] says.

Given my recent interest in CAM, I found the above statement intriguing. This researcher is admitting that they _don’t know_ about alternative cancer treatments that people already use, and that there is _no good clinical data_ on cancer CAM use.

Contrast this with a “statement”:http://www.randomjohn.info/wordpress/2006/01/09/prove-it/ made by an editorial accompanying a June 2005 negative report on echinacaea, where the author said that studies should be restricted to “biologically plausible” candidates and falls just short of calling NCCAM an illegitimate organization. Well-known high priest of skepticism Orac “makes his own dig”:http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/03/its_worse_than_i_thought.php. Granted, I wish that NCCAM would do smaller dose-ranging studies before launching into larger confirmatory trials to avoid dosing people with unsafe or ineffective doses of a natural product, but I think that the above quote shows exactly why we need such an organization. We _don’t know_, at least in a solid, repeatable sense, what these herbs are doing and how they interact with other interventions. (It’s known that echinacaea does interact with some cancer interventions.)

At any rate, given the current treatments for cancer cause all sorts of nasty side effects (being cytotoxic and all), and that the tolerance for adverse drug reactions is pretty high in the oncology field, I’d say any common product such as ginger that induces cancer cell death, even in a narrow range such as ovarian cancer, ought to be explored.

Making fun of CAM claims

To the (pseudo)skeptics who like to make fun of dietary supplement claims (e.g. “immune support”): do you not realize that these claims are “regulated by the FDA”:http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/14mar20010800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2003/aprqtr/21cfr101.93.htm? (Check paragraph (f) and following.) Just asking. It’s ridiculous to make fun of claims that are so covered by regulation.

Oh, you don’t think this has any meaning? It does when you get warning letters from the FDA or, worse yet, inspectors.

Scooped! Sciency debunkery and other pseudoskeptical topics

I’ve believed for a while that self-described “skeptics” are not really “skeptical”:http://www.webster.com/dictionary/skepticism. See also “doubt”:http://www.webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?sourceid=Mozilla-search&va=doubt, especially the noun form:

1 a : uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making b : a deliberate suspension of judgment

Unsurprisingly, I’ve found some similar opinions on the ‘net:

I’ve ranted before about the logical errors make in this brand of skepticism, which I now call pseudosketpicism, especially in the area of alternative medicine. And let’s check some of the views on these sites I linked to …

(On James Randi’s comments about Penta water) Randi could not be more wrong. Water is not simply “water- burned hydrogen, no more no less”. It is a highly anomalous substance, and its fundamental properties are still the subject of basic research.

and the following

The existence of scientific evidence for water clusters does of course
not imply that “Penta” and similar products have any merit, but it does
caution against outright
dismissal of these kinds of product. Randi’s sweeping negative
statements betray lack of knowledge on the subject and qualify
him as a blundering pseudo-scientist. His petty, adolescent criticism
of a simple typographic inaccuracy on the “Hydrate for Life” web site
and his use of ridicule (he asserts that “Penta” is
“magically-prepared” and works “miraculously” while the manufacturer
simply states that the process is “proprietary”) support that
impression.
And yet, Randi rhetorically assumes an air of scientific authority,
even infallibility.

Exactly. The opposite of (pseudo)skepticism is not credulity, but an open mind. And pseudoskepticism, such as that found in Randi’s missive, is not an honest skepticism (a suspension of judgment) but rather a judgment against a particular assertion, without any support for the counterclaims whatsoever.

I find this particular section interesting because it makes the Avogadro’s number argument against homeopathy not so watertight. Again, who knows how the science will play out, but claiming that homeopathy effectiveness is physically impossible because of the Avogadro’s number argument is to assume scientific closure to something that is not scientifically closed. (And whether homeopathy’s mechanism of action can be explained from this line of reasoning still has yet to be explored, or at least discovered by this blogger.)

So HA HA do I believe that UFO(Unidentified Flying Object)s exist? I don’t know. I have suspended judgment on the matter. Maybe duck farts or whatever can explain all the sightings to date, or maybe Zarvox really is investigating our planet so his friend The Blob can pay a visit and scare the bejesus out of all of us. Right now it really isn’t affecting my life to make a judgment on the matter.

Right now what is affecting my life in a direct fashion is this issue of the efficacy of medicine. Certain proponents of the so-called “evidence-based medicine” would like to sue practitioners of alternative medicine and force them to give up their voices. And some are doing just that. And losing. I’m squarely opposed to Highlander-type medicine (“There can be only one.”)

So that makes me an altie, right? Not quite. I work pretty hard helping people bring so-called “allopathic remedies” (i.e. pharmaceuticals) to market, and I believe in the work as long as its ethical and done with sound science. People’s bodies work differently, and I believe that more choices are better than fewer, whether those choices are green tea or Gleevec.

In some cases, I feel pretty strongly that pseudoskepticism is a serious disservice. I’m coming to this exact conclusion about the “Quackwatch” series of websites, and other efforts by Stephen Barrett and the NCAHF. As it turns out, Barrett has admitted, under oath, to failing the Medical Board certification exam in psychiatry, and, therefore, his qualifications as an “expert” are, at best, in serious doubt. His caustic attacks of all alternative medicine make his bias clear, and make his accusations of quackery ring hollow. His litigious nature and conflicts of interest as an “expert witness” (when the qualifications for such are lacking) really make me doubt his intentions as a consumer advocate and, quite frankly, throw the information on the quack/chiro/naturo/homeo/whateverelse-watch sites in doubt. I don’t doubt that he’s built up a case against a bunch of quacks, but I’d recommend corroborating any information found on these sites with a more trustworthy source of information before using them to make healthcare decisions.