Introducing the Institute for Science in Medicine

By Phil Plait | December 2, 2009 7:12 am

You know I support real science when it comes to medicine, of course. I will always fight the nonsense like antivaccination purveyors, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, and so on and so forth– so-called "alt-med" that’s been shown pretty conclusively to not be effective more than the placebo effect.

But writing about it on a blog isn’t necessarily enough to spur real change. That’s why a group of physicians and others got together to form the Institute for Science in Medicine, to help them… well, here’s why in their own words:

Institute for Science in Medicine is an international policy institute that seeks to promote science as the best and only way to ensure not only safe, quality health care for the public, but cost effectiveness, as well. ISM sees an ongoing threat in the growing number of fringe practitioners and their medically dubious diagnoses and treatments. Part of ISM’s mission is to alert the public and policy makers to the dangers of ignoring scientific validation of medical interventions. ISM was formed by 42 prominent physicians, researchers, scholars, and other professionals.

I can stand behind that! Steve Novella, one of the founding members and a very outspoken medical skeptics, has written about the newly-formed ISM, giving his own reasons for needing such an institution. Some of the other names involved are familiar to regular readers here: Mark Crislip, David Gorski, Harriet Hall, Joe Albietz, Rachel Dunlop… all friends, skeptics, and medical professionals.

I’m really glad they’re around to tackle policy and legal issues with medical flim-flammery. We really do need them. And their first order of business? Christian Science quackery in the health care reform bill. Awesome.

I hope they stick around for a long, long time, because there are two things we can learn from the alt-med faction: people will believe all manners of non-medical nonsense, and they always will. Eternal vigilance!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (31)

  1. Lawrence
  2. Jason

    Christian Science quackery??

    I read and followed the link and agree with the story there completely, but I didn’t find the word Christian in there even once. Chiropractor was in there a bunch and I agree with their and your sentiments about that lot. I’m just curious why your tag included Christian Science in it at all. It appears that all quackery was highlighted in the article, and the Christian Scientists (if you were intending to be specific to them) were not mentioned at all.

    I should also note that strict Christian Scientists believe, somewhat misguidedly, only in prayer for healing illness and last time I checked, praying was no cost.

    Honestly Phil, lately I’ve become really dismayed in how much bias you are putting in your blog lately. The post yesterday about the CRU e-mail controversy was extremely biased. You labeled skeptics like yourself as deniers just because they were skeptical of something you believe in. And whether or not you’re convinced that AGW is proven, as a scientist you swept under the rug some proven egregious and unethical practices by fellow scientists. Even if the science is strong, tactics like this call it into question. As a skeptic you should know this, you should value this above all else. Even if there is other evidence out there that is more solid than CRU’s that doesn’t mean that their losing data, their peer review biases, and their data processing “tricks” are not disturbing practices.

    Your defense of them crossed the line from skeptic to believer. Your comments yesterday reviled a FAITH that they were honest, forthright, and fair, even when there is evidence that they were not. Yesterday, you were not a skeptic. A true skeptic could even agreed completely with their conclusions , but completely disagreed with their methods. That however would have required a demand (as a skeptic) to see better science from them. But you just gave them a pass based on your FAITH in them.

  3. @Jason: Phil blogged about this before, though admittedly I had to go back 12 pages to find it. That previous post has link to Novella’s blog wherein the “Christian Science” (I can’t stand that term) connection is explained.

    Also, I very much agree with Phil’s assessment of the CRU email controversy. It seems to be little more than hot air over colloqiualisms and phrases taken out of context. AND it doesn’t change the overall field of climatology whatsoever. Go back and read what he wrote and what he linked again.

  4. Monkey Deathcar


    I find your critical thinking skills lacking. First, this post has nothing to do with AGW, so take your misplaced skepticism (denialism) to the other post.

    Second, CAM, is Complimentary Alternative Medicine which christian science prayer falls under. The christian science version of prayer allows a “licensed prayer practitioner” to pray for a sick person. These people (quacks) get paid for this (lack of) service. The current house bill allows public funds to pay for this prayer.

    Please inform yourself before you comment and people might take you seriously.

  5. ISM for me means Interstellar medium.

  6. Maybe this should be IfSiM? That’s also pronounceable.

  7. ndt

    Even if the Christian Science church didn’t make money off of faith healing, they actively discourage people from seeking conventional medical care. That’s enough to condemn them right there. I have no idea why anyone defends them.

  8. The flak about CRU is that some people cannot tell the difference between weather and climate. I am surprised that anyone would want to hide data and I doubt if it took place. Too often scientists use language in a way that can lead laypersons to think they are indeed pulling of a trick when the word “trick” is used to describe something that is both smart and valid. Tom Lehrer once remarked in a recording session that he really feels for a Christian Scientist with appendicitis…

  9. The truth is that people will believe all sorts of nonsense about all sorts of things. In medicine, though, this has real life or death consequences. If someone believes that the universe sits on the back of a stack of giant turtles, to use Stephen Hawking’s example, that’s really of no consequence. When someone believes that cancer is God’s punishment for Earthly sins and that the only remedy is prayer, that person is likely to die.

    This is an excellent effort and should be applauded.

  10. evinfuilt

    You can PAY Christian Scientists to pray for you. Heck, its even tax deductible. They want to be part of Health Care reform so that they can be paid by the Gov to pray away your illness.

  11. BigBadSis

    I just forwarded the ISM’s letter to my Senators with my concerns. I encourage everyone to do the same.

  12. jasonB

    Maybe a constitutional scholar or two, to show where the government has the right to force you to buy health insurance or go to jail?

    Maybe an expert in ethics to show why our “leaders” have opted out of participating in “Health Care Reform” ?

    A couple of economists to explain how were really going to pay for this?

    Oh and please can they explain how if this is all about insuring the uninsured; how come all of their bills so far still leave over 10 million uninsured at the end of it?

  13. Just e-mailed my senator (Kerry) again, providing a link to the ISM letter. Still haven’t heard from his office the first time I wrote regarding his and Hatch’s amendment. Not really surprised, though.

  14. Monkey Deathcar


    That’s not even what this post is about. It’s about one specific part of the bill that allows junk medicine to be funded. It’s not about any thing else.

  15. jasonB

    Okay Monkey

    I expanded the topic, but I couldn’t be bothered with the minutia of junk medicine in the bill, as the whole exercise of “health care reform” is so flawed and anti freedom that it’s akin to worrying about leaving the water running as the ship is sinking.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    First, this post has nothing to do with AGW,

    As you say, OT. But even so, Jason is very careful to avoid referencing the “evidence that they were not” honest, and more importantly, that the science is faulty. (As even dishonest scientists are forced to publish correct science by way of peer review.)

    What is that word for windbag in english … oh, yes, “windbag”. Nothing to it.

  17. Monkey Deathcar

    Torbjörn, I agree completely. I’m just saying this thread is not the place for AGW talk.

    At least the second jason was somewhat on topic. I just don’t care to address his strawman version of a health care reform bill.

  18. “Anti freedom”? You have no idea what you’re talking about. There’s a term for what you’re doing, jasonB – in a more intelligent time, it would have been called “selfishness”.

  19. tacitus

    I expanded the topic, but I couldn’t be bothered with the minutia of junk medicine in the bill, as the whole exercise of “health care reform” is so flawed and anti freedom that it’s akin to worrying about leaving the water running as the ship is sinking.

    Anti-freedom? Are you kidding? That must make everyone who lives in Europe nothing more that slaves living in endless servitude because they live in countries that force life saving healthcare down their throats without the privilege of paying the bills for themselves. And to cap it all, they have to put up with the disgrace of only having to pay about half the amount per capita that American freedom would otherwise allow them to pay. Absolutely shocking!!

    When I look around at my American friends I see friends who have to quit jobs they love because the company’s health insurance plan doesn’t provide their family with even adequate coverage, or friends who are unable to quit their job to start their own business because their child has a chronic illness that no private medical insurer will cover, and self-employed friends (and me) who are nickled and dimed over every single item they submit to their personal health insurance provider, often against the express wishes of the doctor.

    When I look around at my British friends and family, is see people who are free to quit their jobs and start their own businesses without the worry of having to fork out for private insurance to cover the family (or the dread of something going wrong if they decide they can’t afford it). I see people who can change jobs when they want solely on the merits of the job and not over the amount of medical coverage it provides. I see people who still have the freedom to opt for national health care or opt for (reasonably priced) private health care if they decide that’s what they want to do.

    No system is perfect, but until you have lived with the daily worry of wondering whether you will be able to afford to pay for the treatment of your next serious illness or if it will become the pre-exisiting condition that triples your premiums or disqualifies you altogether, then you really don’t really understand the increasing lack of freedoms the current American healthcare system is forcing on its citizens.

  20. jasonB

    Oh really Victor? Is that the best argument that you can come up with?

    I’m selfish? I’ve been told that when The government wants a “little” more to make up for the deficit THEY created. I’ve been told that when I have to pay a “little” more for millions of people who bought homes they can’t afford .

    Or every other time some politician comes up with another “problem” that only they can solve. The problem just never seems to go away. Just the old and tired “you’re selfish.” if I ask for results and less feelings.

    Victor, I can hazard a guess that you like the idea of sounding so caring and compassionate by the thought of taking one persons money that they lawfully earned and giving it to another.

    Let me ask you a question. How much of my money should the government allow me to keep so that you would not consider me “selfish”?

    Victor, I have more respect for the common street thug that puts the gun in the face of the person he’s taking the money from, than the person who CAN and SHOULD work to get the money they NEED, but asks the government to do the taking in their place.

    Don’t bother me with the cliche about throwing people in the gutter. No one I know or myself are for not helping those who really need it. But when I meet a person who has cable and internet or ipods and then says they can’t afford health care I laugh right in their face.

    So yea Victor, it is anti freedom to demand at the point of a gun that my wife and I both work to pay for other peoples housing, utilities, food, and now health care AND get no goods or services in return from them. Sounds to me like I’m the slave here.

  21. @tacitus

    The “anti-freedom” bit reminds me of the video clip of the woman at a town hall meeting, who was opposed to government-run health care, talking about her husband who works 3 (wait, no 4…no, no…3) jobs, has no health insurance and had to shell out around $15,000 for treatment. A government health coverage program would benefit her husband (and her family), and yet she seems to think that spending 15 grand out of pocket is a good thing.

    The other amusing thing is that people get so up in arms about paying for other people’s health care in the government system, apparently not realizing that they’re already paying for others’ bills currently through jacked up insurance premiums. When someone receives care, but has no insurance or other means to pay for it, the cost gets passed on to other people who do pay for insurance so that the insurer doesn’t lose money. It’s all a question of whether it’s better to pay the government or pay a company.

  22. @jasonB

    So yea Victor, it is anti freedom to demand at the point of a gun

    Umm…who’s pointing guns at you?

  23. jasonB


    It’s the government. Go ahead don’t pay your property/income taxes. You do make enough to pay income taxes right? They’ll come to take you or your house eventually. If you don’t go or give up your house they can arrest you. Go ahead, resist arrest.

    See where the gun to your head comes from?

  24. JT

    jasonB, I hope you don’t use any of those anti-freedom public roads to get around on. Oh, and if your house ever catches on fire be sure not to call the anti-freedom Fire Department.

  25. @jasonB

    Well, see, you’re a bit wrong in where the gun comes in. There are laws requiring citizens to pay taxes. They do not point a gun at you and say “Give us your money.”

    If you refuse to pay your taxes, they fine you and tell you you need to pay your taxes, plus the fine. Still no gun.

    You continue to refuse. They come to arrest you. If you go quietly, still no gun.

    If you refuse to go quietly, they might draw their gun. It is the refusal to submit to arrest that brings the gun, not the refusal to pay taxes.

    At any rate, if you refuse to pay taxes, then I assume you also refuse to use any roads or public utilities, refuse to send your kids to any public school, refuse to allow the police to prevent anyone from committing a crime against you, and so forth, yes?

    But, I digress from the thread. It’s off topic and I won’t continue posting on this subject.

  26. tacitus

    Hey Jason, I know of a good commune in rural Arkansas where, as far as I know, they don’t pay any taxes. Want me to hook you up?

  27. Lawrence

    I wonder if conservatives/Republicans would have a problem if the government wanted to raise taxes to fund the military? Or to be more specific, how about a surtax on gasoline to pay for the Iraq & Afghan wars?

  28. Dave

    Sorry to interrupt the interlectewal smugness pervading the first part of your post but I felt the need to point out that less ‘effective than the placebo effect’ is a pretty vacuous comment. As someone who bangs on about ‘science’, you really ought to look at some of the scientific research surrounding the deep efficacy of placebo, rather than perpetuating antiquated nonsense used by GPs and pharmaceutical companies to make a buck. Your trite ‘reason vs unreason’ attitudes are painfully detrimental to a concept that by its very existence admits and explores the unknown rather than provides ‘facts’ to grind an ideological axe.

  29. jest

    I love this site, but like all humans, no one’s perfect.

  30. Nigel Depledge

    Jason B (15) said:

    I expanded the topic, but I couldn’t be bothered with the minutia of junk medicine in the bill, as the whole exercise of “health care reform” is so flawed and anti freedom that it’s akin to worrying about leaving the water running as the ship is sinking.


    Hehehe. Good one.

    Heh. Healthcare reform = anti-freedom. That’s the best Poe I’ve seen all year.

  31. RAD

    I am a practicing Christian Scientist and my family has successfully relied on spiritual healing for five generations now. My intent in posting this comment is not to “pitch” my preferred system of healing to those who depend on other types of health care, but to respond to several references to Christian Science in the previous comments.

    Comment #7 (NDT) suggests that the Christian Science church “make(s) money off of faith healing.” This is inaccurate in two ways. First of all, Christian Science treatment is not the same as what is generally regarded as “faith healing”. The practice of Christian Science is not based on blind belief or faith, but reflects a systematic approach to prayer that has been proven to be reliable and effective in the lives of thousands of patients over the past 140 years. Secondly, Christian Science practitioners are independent professionals supported directly by their patients – there is no financial connection between the practitioners and the church organization.

    Regarding the comments about Christian Science practitioners charging for prayer, it should be pointed out that the Christian Science practice is a full time ministry for these individuals (and they have made a formal commitment not to divide their attention between their healing work and other types of employment). Just as many churches have paid clergy (which the Christian Science church does not have), it seems only right that full-time practitioners be compensated for their work. On the other hand, I don’t know of any CS practitioner who would turn away a patient who has no means to pay for treatment, and many practitioners devote a significant portion of their time to this “benevolence” work.

    Finally, I would like to comment on why I believe it is appropriate that there be a provision for spiritual healing in any forthcoming healthcare legislation.

    It would seem fundamentally unfair for anyone to be required to pay for insurance that does not cover the type of healthcare he or she utilizes. In a policy climate where some form of mandated universal coverage appears likely, it would only seem fair that anyone required to pay into a system would have coverage for the type of health care that they have found works best for them (without depriving anyone else of their choices). If the individual mandate to buy insurance does not provide for those who rely on qualifying spiritual care, they may receive no benefit for their premiums.

    I appreciate this opportunity to provide a different perspective on these issues.


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