Steve Novella goes to Oz

By Phil Plait | April 25, 2011 2:00 pm

If you’ve read this blog for more than a few nanoseconds, you may know I am not a huge fan of people promoting "alternative" medicine. Overwhelmingly, these things turn out to fall far, far short of the claims made for them. Homeopathy, acupuncture, supplements, on and on — these tend to rely on anecdotes and not tests. When tested properly, they are almost universally shown to be ineffective*.

That’s why I am also not a big fan of Mehmet Oz, a doctor who has his own TV show where he has been known to promote provably ineffective treatments. My friend Dr. Steve Novella is also not a fan of Oz’s, and has commonly criticized him on his blog Science Based Medicine as well as on his podcast Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.

So I was quite surprised to hear from Steve the other day, letting me know that he will appear as a guest on The Dr. Oz Show this Tuesday! If you click that link you can see a promo for the show… which has my hackles rising. I know that Steve wouldn’t appear on the show unless he thought he would get a fair shake, but I imagine would also still be cautious of, let’s say, judicious editing. The promo does nothing to alleviate my fears. Of course, that promo is designed to draw people in to watch, so it may not represent the show’s actual content.

We’ll see. I plan on recording the show so I can watch it carefully. I also imagine Steve will have something to say after it airs as well.

[I’ll note Steve happened to write an excellent, thoughtful piece about pseudoscience and medicine today. I don’t say this often, but it’s a must-read.]


* This isn’t always the case, of course, and some do turn out to work. Aspirin came from willow bark, and so on. But that doesn’t mean they all work, so please spare me more anecdotes. When you have double-blinded test results that show a clear statistical spike in efficacy above the placebo effect or random chance, then we’ll talk. But even then, you know what we call alternative medicine that works? "Medicine". The alternative to medicine is staying sick, getting worse, or getting better on your own.

MORE ABOUT: Dr. Oz, Steve Novella

Comments (58)

  1. Chris

    It seems like every commercial break is preceded by the “10 shocking things that will kill you” then the audience gasping. Then it’s the billions and billions of bacteria that live with you. We’ve been living with them for millions of years. Unless you have some immune deficiency, you should be fine. It’s a lot of scare tactics and trying to make people obsessive compulsive.

  2. I found Oz’s transformation to quack TV doctor rather disappointing, as his first couple of books were actually quite well done, honest, fact-based works on how to take care of yourself.

    It would be interesting (or not) to see just when and where he made the switch. I suspect the maw of daytime TV is just too gaping and bottomless for sincerity to fill.

  3. The TiVo is programmed; thanks for the heads-up!

  4. Gark

    Hope this turns out well, but to be honest i can’t imagine that it will. either he’s going to spend the whole time getting talked at or they’re going to edit him straight out of context.

    in other news, i see what you did there in the footnote.

  5. BobH

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Can’t wait to hear you say, “Next stop, Oprah.”

  6. Ryan Brown

    Just to mention it (and yes, I read the footnote), Zicam is labeled homeopathic, but it does have a measurable amount of Zinc in it, and it’s been clinically shown to have some effect on shortening a cold. There are some cold sore medicine/creams that are in the same boat.

    Because of FDA rules, some things in the US are labeled as homeopathic, or a supplement (for example, I take a resveratrol supplement even though there aren’t any human double blind studies) because it’s the cheapest, fastest way to get to market. They’ve had double blind studies, just not FDA approved ones. What this means is that if you’re going to buy something at a pharmacy that’s labeled “homeopathic” you have to do some research before using it. Unless you’re simply interested in the placebo effect, in which case, go for it.

  7. JupiterIsBig

    >What this means is that if you’re going to buy something at a pharmacy that’s labeled
    >“homeopathic” you have to do some research before using it. Unless you’re simply interested
    >in the placebo effect, in which case, go for it.
    Unless you’re interested in poisoning your self… a “homeopatic medicine” that has an active ingredient is not harmless sugar and water and dinosaur poo. This always worries me about the “alternative” medicine !

  8. MartinM

    Just to mention it (and yes, I read the footnote), Zicam is labeled homeopathic, but it does have a measurable amount of Zinc in it, and it’s been clinically shown to have some effect on shortening a cold.

    IIRC, the evidence of Zicam’s efficacy is less than impressive.

  9. Steve Metzler

    1. Chris:

    Unless you have some immune deficiency, you should be fine.

    I’m guessing you haven’t read much about this subject. Ever come across the term ‘herd immunity’? It’s what saves infants that haven’t been vaccinated yet from real nasty stuff that can kill you like whooping cough. If the vaccination uptake in a locale isn’t high enough, infants are more likely to pick up something from the people around them. And it’s entirely *preventable* if everyone (that is able to) gets their vaccinations.

  10. Steve Metzler

    6. Ryan Brown:

    Zicam is/was (the FDA pulled it off the market) *mislabelled* as homeopathic, and IIRC, the amount of zinc in it was so much as to cause some people to lose their sense of smell.

    All things considered, not representative of, or a great poster child for, homeopathy. Care to try again?

  11. Can’t wait to see it! I don’t have cable, but hopefully it will be on youtube or hosted elsewhere shortly after.

  12. Ryan Brown

    @ Steve Metzler

    That was a particular form of Zicam (the nasal gel). Other forms (chewables, meltable tablets, and nasal sprays I think) are still on the market, and still labled as homeopathic.

  13. Dorkman

    Whether Dr. Novella is edited out of context or not (I’d put my money on “yes” but can’t say until the show airs and he then responds), in my view this is still a good sign no matter which way you slice it. That Oz feels the skeptical community, and Dr. Novella leading the science-based medicine charge, is threatening enough to what he does to make it worth attempting to discredit on his show. Despite his platform and resources and popularity, he’s seeing that the skeptical voice is getting louder and a lot of people are starting to listen.

  14. Just want to say I’m a huge follower who happens to be an Acupuncturist (and in college had a pathetic little minor in AstroPhys – thus being a huge follower).

    We’ve had a ton of studies on Acupuncture that have showed statistically significant p-score changes for fertility, osteo-arthritis, menopause, migraines, depression, nausea, etc. Agreed, they’re not double blind, but if you have an idea on how to ‘double blind’ a therapy like acupuncture you’re smarter than everyone I know. Double blind studies are pretty solely useful for very simple single intervention therapies like a daily pill.

    On top of that, we’ve recently had a lot of new pure science research using fMRIs measuring bloodflow changes in the cerebral cortex comparing traditional acupuncture to ‘shams’ and those are statistically significant as well. They’re being done at Harvard, MGH, Univ of Maryland and UCLA, not Joe Schmoe U.

    I understand to call it alternative cause I sure as hell don’t know how it works and it’s not mainstream medicine. But for god’s sake man don’t put me in the same category as homeopathy.

  15. Chris

    9 Steve
    I wasn’t saying don’t get vaccinated. I was talking about the bacteria, which you can’t get vaccinated against. Everyone should still wash their hands, but going crazy about the bacteria on your keyboard, which you probably put there in the first place, is more scaring than than helpful.

  16. Well, let me start by saying that I’ve only seen two episodes of Dr. Oz’s show, so it’s an admittedly small sample. Maybe I lucked out, but those two episodes were mostly about how the vitamins and minerals in the foods we eat (in addition to all the “junk” that’s added to many foods) affects your health, and that some health problems can be traced to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

  17. Bree

    Hmmm, I can’t really agree with this post; I don’t think alternative ways of treating your ailments deserves such a bad rap. For one, I think we can all agree that a healthy diet is the key to staying healthy, and most of the things I’ve seen Dr. Oz promote consist of eating more vegetables, drinking more water, not smoking..common sense things we seem to have forgotten while we were busy resting on the couch after a corn and fat-laden meal.
    Secondly, I have known several people – myself included – who have benefited from the so-called alternative medicines you so quickly want to dismiss. Just because it’s not FDA approved (meaning it won’t bring in huge revenues because you can’t patent and then sell it) doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Things like acupuncture and meditation can have enormous benefits, from relieving migranes to increasing your chances of conceiving.
    I think western medicine should be a last resort. I’ll gargle with GSE before I pump my body full of antibiotics; I’ll try exercise before I’ll try a sleep-aid, and I’ll change my diet before I’ll take some FDA approved statin that’ll probably kill me faster than high cholesterol. Call me wacky..

  18. George Martin

    Ken B @16

    I think maybe you have lucked out. Take a look at David Gorski’s post over at the Science Based Medicine blog where on Friday he mentioned Steve Novella’s appearance on the Oz show:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=12139

    George

  19. Steve M. you are in the same catagory as homeopathy. I’ll show you as you link to you three best studies. Choose your favorite three.

    They will have common problems. Like comparng to “standard treatment” instead of another placebo (like say, homeopathy). For example, a recent one compared “three forms of Acupuncture”, to find out they all worked better than “standard treatment. No one bothered to publicize that acupuncture from a Master, such as yourself, worked exactly as well as twiddling toothpicks at random places on someones back (actually, as I recall, the toothpicks worked better), as long as the patients didnt know the difference.

    Next most favorite is the use of fMRI. Most people completely misunderstand what fMRI is, what it does, and how it is used. Yes, when you poke someone in the back with a needle, you expect areas of the brain to light up. Big deal. That doesnt mean it cures anything.

    Most others, have too small populations, or are perpetual “pilot studies”. barely useful to claim “acupuncture is effective”. So again, please point me to your favorite 3 studies that show how great it is, otherwise yeah, its quite easy to compare acupuncture to homeopathy.

  20. And you can double blind acupuncture. the reason it generally scores well in studies is because it is difficult. You use retractable needles. Guess what happens when you do this….

    http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2009/05/finally-a-sensible-acupuncture-write-up.html

  21. Dave B

    Steve M
    Check out http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=2996 for an interesting analysis of using p-value to decide significance and using Bayesian analysis with prior plausibility to take those type of studies in a better context.

  22. Josh A

    I read Oz and got my hopes up that he was coming back to Sydney. Now I’m bummed.

  23. Anchor

    Dr. Steve Novella: watch your back, man.

  24. mike burkhart

    Phil I don’t know where you stand on Obomacare but I been thinking and I think it will leed to the goverment encourgeing altertive medicine why ? to save money .Oboma is seting up medical review boards to come up ways to cut costs .Well if there are members of this board taht are alt med suporters they may decide its cheaper to give a person with an ifection a herb insted of an antibotic,to tell parents not to vacinenat insted of paying for it ,it cheper to pay for acupucture inste of heart bypass.So look out under Obomacare alt med will be the norm.

  25. RECMSOJ

    Phil is spot on in terms of his description of what many “alternative” medicines really are, or at least could become. That is to say, like the purified compounds aspirin and digitalis (in various forms) and many others, the purified or even synthetic medicines we call mainstream or conventional today once were merely unknown or unpurifiable compounds present in “natural remedies” like willow bark or Foxglove. At the time, they were “alternative” (although the farther back in medical history you go, the more many of these therapies were either useless or the only thing of any value), but after analysis, purification, and often significant re-tooling by organic chemists and pharmacologists, the ones that have stood the test of time and real research are now considered “conventional”, “mainstream”, even “miracle drugs”. If you were to pick a good example of a current “alternative” medicine (i.e., drug), the same evolution may in fact occur, in which the active prinicple(s) or compounds are ultimately shown to be a) effective for a given or multiple maladies and b) scalable to large-scale production and use as what will ultimately be called a “conventional” medication. There are, of course, who knows how many of these currently “alternative” medicines that will likely never pan out as valid and useful mainstream medications.

  26. JenBPhillips

    Bree @17:

    I don’t think alternative ways of treating your ailments deserves such a bad rap. For one, I think we can all agree that a healthy diet is the key to staying healthy, and most of the things I’ve seen Dr. Oz promote consist of eating more vegetables, drinking more water, not smoking.

    Yes, we can all agree that healthy lifestyle choices are beneficial, but they are NOT alternative! Conventional MDs recommend all these things to their patients as well, and it irritates the bejeezus out of me that basic nutrition and exercise advice has somehow been co-opted by CAM.

    I have known several people – myself included – who have benefited from the so-called alternative medicines you so quickly want to dismiss. Just because it’s not FDA approved (meaning it won’t bring in huge revenues because you can’t patent and then sell it) doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Things like acupuncture and meditation can have enormous benefits, from relieving migranes to increasing your chances of conceiving.

    1. Argument from popularity. It’s a logical fallacy.
    2. not being FDA approved has nothing to do with whether something works. Absolute failure to provide anything beyond a placebo effect is a better measure. Things that ‘work’, by definition, should work better than a placebo, don’t you think?

    I think western medicine should be a last resort.

    I think the term “western medicine” is a huge giveaway of how much of an altie you are. Homeopathy originated in Germany–isn’t that ‘western?’–whereas several of the vaccines we use were developed in Japan–surely not ‘western’ then? It’s a nonsense term.

    Call me wacky.

    I won’t. I will, however, encourage you to think more critically about the double standard you seem to have regarding science based medicine and CAM. Your comment suggests that the former is pure, profit-driven evil, while the latter is natural and completely without risk. Neither position is valid.

  27. Dan

    SteveM,

    I’m genuinely glad to see an acupuncturists on a skeptically themed science site, but I do disagree with your evaluation of acupuncture. I hope you’ll read my response and at least think about what I have to say. I’m sure I can’t budge you on your anecdotal experience of acupuncture, but maybe I can change your opinion on the science (but please remember that there were even better anecdotes for bleeding patients and giving them mercury for thousands of years before science showed these things were ineffective and actually doing harm). Acupuncture was originally based on the idea that disease was caused by evil spirits in the body, and disease could be cured by making holes in the skin to let out the spirits. Now it is based on disease being caused by mystical life-force “meridians” which need to be balanced. These meridians are not based on science and are a hold over from old school ideas of life essences in the body. I hope this shows you that the philosophy behind acupuncture is pre-scientific and contrary to what we know about the causes of disease and anatomy. If acupuncture is right than modern medicine is dead wrong about what causes disease (as are the 100s of thousands of studies that show non-meridian disease processes).

    An important thing to remember is that small, non blinded studies are often wrong, so you have to look at all the evidence, not just a couple studies (and yes, I’m sure poking someone with a needle will show up on fMRI scans, that has nothing to do with acupuncture’s effectiveness for treating disease). The researcher Ioannidis has shown that around 80% of preliminary medical studies are wrong, around 50% of single-blinded small studies are wrong, and that 10% of large double-blinded studies turn out to be wrong. This is vital to keep in mind when looking at the medical literature, especially for alternative medicine claims for which there aren’t a lot of large studies. If acupuncture is just placebo we would EXPECT to see only a small effect size for mostly subjective outcomes (like pain and nausea) and that a majority of the preliminary studies were positive, about half of the better done studies were positive, and only 10% of the best done studies were positive. This is exactly what we see for acupuncture, the larger and better blinded the study the less likely it is to show an effect, and the effect is only for subjective systems, not objective measurements which would indicate real healing.

    One of the recent larger studies even showed that a non-expert poking a patient in random places with a toothpick (without breaking the skin) got just as good results as an expert acupuncturist using proper procedure. If you don’t need to break the skin, be trained in acupuncture, or even hit the meridians it should strongly show that acupuncture is just placebo,

    Anyways, please go to the Science-Based Medicine blog and search the posts on acupuncture. It gives you a lot of great information and evaluation of the supposed positive studies. You might also want to check out the work of Edzard Ernst. He is an MD, former acupuncturists, and alternative medicine researcher. After doing the studies himself he quit doing acupuncture because he saw there wasn’t evidence that it was better than placebo.

  28. Chris

    As a primary care MD,just want to comment that at a recent review course, three different specialists presented cases of massive zinc overdoses from OTC products, which presents with severe neurologic, life threatening disease. (A little helps, why not a handful?.) Mercury poisoning from taking massive amounts of unfiltered fish oil, was also highlighted,
    Would refer all of you to last year’s Scientific American article on placebos – they work even if the patient KNOWS they are placebo, and what a placebo is. Pills of certain colors work best for certain diagnoses- don’t tell me that the drug companies haven’t done intense market research on this, or haven’t done the same on drug names.
    he effect on patients is huge as well- during the anthrax scare, there was a shortage on Cipro-patients heard on TV that this was the drug to have on hand.. The drug was about $2.00 a pill.Anthrax can also be treated with doxycycline, or sometimes Penicillin-the total 14 day dose would be about $2.oo. But the physicians who prescribed this bought into it also.
    But the bottom line-the actual data for most drugs is not available, and negative studies aren’t reported to the FDA. The state of scientific education in the US is so poor right now that just trying to explain what relative risk means-that yes your risk may double, but that’s from an incidence of one in 10,000 to 2 in 10,000-takes forever. We are told to assume a fifth grade education when dealing with the average American patient.
    All of us have anecdotal stories but the problem is that bodies heal, and perhaps would have gotten better in the first place. If we were that fragile, we’re be extinct!!

  29. Michel

    The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science

    A very very interesting article on (dis)beliefs etc.
    So have a go:
    http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney

  30. Naomi

    The biggest problem with ‘alternative medicine’ is the fact that it’s incredibly unregulated, AND the sector is full of quacks. Bad combination! Yeah, there’s huge potential in medicinal plants – look at something like Paclitaxel, from the bark of the Pacific yew, or Vincristine and Vinblastine from the Madagascar periwinkle, or Reserpine from Indian snakeroot! And there’s probably a heck of a lot more out there – we simply don’t know what secondary metabolites are contained in every plant.

    But you can’t just throw a whole bunch of herbs into a bottle and market it as being able to cure what ails you. You can’t. Especially since this is NOT homeopathy, and you really are getting doses of actual chemicals – look at people who’ve become sick from taking supplements containing Ephedra sinica, to name just one.

    …Anyway. It is alternative (until FDA gets off its backside and starts testing and regulating this stuff properly) and it is pseudoscience, especially when things are ascribed healing properties based on, I don’t know, colour or shape or whatever, but it’s not actually in the same category as homeopathy. Herbal medicine does stuff – just not always the stuff you want it to do.

  31. John

    @JenBPhillips:
    One of the problems is that there is a grey area between alt med and science based medicine, particularly in areas such as supplementation.

    As a long time medical biochemist I thought that such things as folate and vitamin D supplementation were pretty much mainstream, but I have seen Steve Novella take the opposite view, with the result that other skeptics tend to follow suit, just on general skeptical anti alt med first principles.

    Not to say that I am the oracle here, but neither is Steve, and there is a minefield of metabolism, immunology, endocrinology and rare enzymatic mutations to take into account. Some such problems may not be amenable to solution by general debate on a skeptical blog.

  32. Dan M

    John, vitamin and mineral supplementation has been a big part of science based medicine for decades, so I’m baffled you would describe it as “alternative.” Next thing you’ll be pulling that old canard by labeling relaxation and exercise as alternative medicine!

    Folate and Vitamin D supplementation have not been badmouthed by Dr Novella, so you are uniformed there. He has said that the media hype over Vitamin D was overblown, which has been backed up by several independent government panels. When a particular supplement has been shown to be effective it will be incorporated into regular medicine, but that doesn’t mean we should
    just accept things without evidence. Please read up on what Dr Novella has actually wrote on supplementation before pitting words in his mouth. He blogs at Science Based Medicine and Neurologica.

  33. DennyMo

    #30 John Says:
    “Some such problems may not be amenable to solution by general debate on a skeptical blog.”

    What?!? Where’d you get that crazy notion? (Reminds me of comic #386 at XKCD.)

  34. John

    @ DennyMo:
    Exactly!
    I <3 xkcd!

  35. Help me out here guys. I’m based in the UK and would very much like to see this debate. Edited or not.

    Any suggestions welcome!

    Thanks

  36. John

    @DanM

    Oh my. You certainly found more in my little post than was intended.
    Let me deconstruct.

    “John, vitamin and mineral supplementation has been a big part of science based medicine for decades”

    Exactly

    “so I’m baffled you would describe it as “alternative.””

    My thesis is that practitioners of alternative medicine sometimes also attempt to claim some of that territory as their own, thus potentially discrediting the mainstream medicine in the eyes of some non specialist skeptics.

    I suggest that many posts concerning vitamins on skeptic blogs are anti-supplementation, statements that are sometimes qualified, but often not.

    “Next thing you’ll be pulling that old canard by labeling relaxation and exercise as alternative medicine!”

    Nope.

    “Folate and Vitamin D supplementation have not been badmouthed by Dr Novella, so you are uniformed there”

    Good

    “He has said that the media hype over Vitamin D was overblown, which has been backed up by several independent government panels.”

    Also good, but potentially misleading unless accompanied by qualification re the previous point.

    “When a particular supplement has been shown to be effective it will be incorporated into regular medicine, but that doesn’t mean we should
    just accept things without evidence.”

    I understood that WHO recommendations for vitamin D intake had already been increased – not “will be”.

    “Please read up on what Dr Novella has actually wrote on supplementation before pitting words in his mouth.”

    Can’t find the link right now but something “Dr Novella has actually wrote” (and which I read myself on his site) was used by others in support of an anti supplementation argument.

    If I have “pitted words in his mouth” I unreservedly apologise. It was not my intention to bag either him or you here.

  37. This is great news! And I just wrote about Dr. Oz tonight: http://skeptikai.com/2011/04/26/oz-and-eastern-wizardry/

    I just hope Novella hasn’t been too edited. I wish I was there to see it live…

  38. JenBPhillips

    @ John–a good way through this would be to link to some examples that support your thesis. I read several of the more popular SBM/skeptical blogs pretty much daily, and I don’t agree with your assessment. That said, I would be happy to examine the source(s) from which your opinion is derived and adjust my own as needed.

    For interested readers, here is SkepDoc Harriet Hall (co-blogger of Dr. Novella), writing on SBM about the regulation of dietary supplements:
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=10930#more-10930

    Here she is again, discussing recommendations for Vitamin D intake:
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=8725

  39. bigjohn756

    The title of today’s Dr. Oz show is: “Why Your Doctor Is Afraid Of Alternative Health: Should You Be?”
    This title does not bode well for a balanced approach to the subject at all. It makes me think that the answer has been determined already. I expect that Dr. Novella will be ready for that, but there’s little he can do about the creative editing that’s sure to try to make him sound like an idiot.

  40. Mary S

    OK–I’m tuned in to my local TV station and in the intro there has been nothing said about Dr. Novella–are they not airing the same programs in Champaign IL?

  41. Mary S

    Very strange–at least my local channel in Springfield IL will be airing the show TOMORROW, April 27. Oz Show website still saying it’s on right now–April 26, but at least here it’s all about staying healthy under 40.

  42. Master Toucher

    Steve M – as someone once said, acupunture “is BULL”! Open your mind. The research shows convincingly that it’s no more effective than placebo, plobably because that’s all it is. It works even if you don’t touch the person.

  43. Marina

    I watched the first 15 minutes of the show. As one would imagine, Dr. Oz had the last word on everything, in his usual not-actually-common-sense but common-sense-sounding style, and to the approving nods of his audience who wouldn’t know a logical fallacy if it fell on their heads and covered them in green paint.

    Novella did point out one such fallacy (Oz’s argument from popularity), but it fell on deaf ears as expected. It wasn’t the only one. Virtually every argument Oz made was a logical fallacy, a pattern which, after the first half of the segment, left Novella sporting what looked like a smile of disbelief for the remainder of his time on stage. The overuse of fallacies coupled with his denial of the overwhelming evidence against his views, leads me to believe that Oz is either deliberately deceiving his audience because he knows this is what will maintain his fame and astronomical income, or, he is simply not a very bright man.

    My favourite part was when he said something along the lines of “maybe we don’t have the evidence that acupuncture works because it isn’t studied the way it should be and we don’t know how to study it yet”. Sadly, amusingly, his audience agrees.

  44. bigjohn756

    @Mary D- Dr Oz, like many programs of this ilk, are syndicated and can be shown at the local station’s discretion. Other programs like this are Dr. Phil, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

  45. RickK

    For those defending “alternative medicine”, have you ever read “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely?

    In the book, he outlines some very interesting studies of the placebo effect. My favorite went like this:

    Candidates are asked to participate in a human trial of a new pain medication. An attractive, professional woman in a business suit (stereotypical pharma sales rep) explains the new drug and how it works to the participants. They are then taken to a testing room where they are given a series of electric shocks (some low, some medium, some high, randomly delivered) and asked to rate the pain intensity of each. Then they’re led back to a waiting room, given a dose of the new medicine, asked to wait 40 minutes, then given a series of shocks again and asked to rate them.

    Almost all of the participants reported less pain in the second set of trials.

    But what was interesting was this: while the participants waited, they had brochures to read about the new medication. Some of the groups had brochures saying that the new medicine was targeted as a mass market, affordable medication for pennies per pill. Other groups read brochures saying the product was very expensive, dollars per pill, targeted at cases of extreme pain.

    The group with the “expensive” brochures reported significantly less pain than the group that read the “mass market” brochures.

    Needless to say, ALL of the pills were sugar pills.

    So whenever you say “alternative medicine helped me”, can you really differentiate between a real effect and a placebo effect?

    And you may say “well, the placebo effect works too!” To this my response is: if alt med firms can knowingly market placebos, why can’t doctors and pharmaceutical companies? Why do we demand proof of efficacy from one group but not the other?

    How often have you heard of a pharma company being criticized for inflating their test results and marketing a product that really didn’t do much more than placebo. If it’s wrong for them to do this, why isn’t it wrong for everybody?

    Remember, witch doctors helped a lot of people feel much better too, so did Peter Popoff, so did Suzanne Somers. But just because a particular treatment helped you feel better doesn’t mean it actually did anything.

    What is the dividing line between “manipulating the placebo effect for the patient’s benefit” and “fraud”?

  46. truthspeaker

    mike burkhart Says:
    April 25th, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Phil I don’t know where you stand on Obomacare but I been thinking and I think it will leed to the goverment encourgeing altertive medicine why ? to save money .Oboma is seting up medical review boards to come up ways to cut costs

    You realize every insurance company in the country already does this, right?

  47. Eric

    I simply must protest. Homeopathic medicine works wonders for me. Every time I’m thirsty, I take a glass full and it clears that thirst right up! A miracle medicine, I tell ya, a miracle.

    Wouldn’t trust it for more than that, no, but it does certainly have at least one application. :) (Some other homeopathic remedies also do amazing things to the taste of coffee, I’m told. Not being a coffee drinker, I won’t speak to this one way or another.)

  48. Keith Bowden

    I read Dr. Novella’s impressions on the taping. Someone posted a link to a comment on Dr. Oz’ site from a woman who would refuse a doctor who was not open to woo. I noticed that Dr. Oz has a disclaimer at the very bottom of his webpage:

    “This website is for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.”

  49. Michel

    @Keith Bowden
    Good to know diseases are for entertaintment.

  50. Dan

    John,

    Sorry for the bad grammar and typos in my original post. I wrote it on my cell phone and couldn’t edit for some reason. I’m glad to see that you are backtracking on your claims about Dr. Novella and your classification of minerals and vitamins as alternative.

    What skeptical sites are you seeing that are against evidence-based applications of minerals and vitamins? I’ve seen many posts that challenge claims of miracle cures for supplements or fight the marketing claims that everyone needs to buy expensive supplements regardless of lab levels, but I’ve never seen a skeptic site just reject supplements wholesale. Dr. Novella even wrote about how he recommended one of the B vitamins (I can’t remember which) for some neurological condition for patients because the early evidence was promising yet not conclusive, but after more research was done it was shown to not be an effective treatment so he stopped recommending it. I’ve also seen him encouraging supplementation with Vitamin D for clinically low levels (while also saying the media was over-hyping vitamin D as a cancer cure, life extender, etc) and write positively about folic acid, so yes, you are putting words in Dr. Novella’s mouth, and even worse actually claiming he said the exact opposite of what he really did.

    Please, what respectable skeptic sites are you reading that reject evidence-based mineral and vitamin use wholesale?

  51. Mchl

    I skimmed over the links and didn’t notice anyone posting a link to a recording, so here it is:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDrUEazNdAo&feature=share

  52. Keith Bowden

    @Michel (49)

    And now for his next trick, Dr. Oz will juggle glass vials of smallpox…

    Now THAT’s entertainment. sigh. I’d specualte that the disclaimer is also on the end credits of each program (whizzing by too fast to read, naturally), a legal requirement that really points out that his show is bs.

  53. Loree Thomas

    My review of Dr. Novella’s appearance on the Dr. Oz show.:

    He acquitted himself well… but I’m afraid it probably didn’t do any good for Dr. Oz’s audience.

    Dr. Oz relied heavily on the argument from popularity… using it several times and twice called Dr, Novella “dismissive” because he had the audacity to point out the actual studies didn’t support the claims made for specific alt-med treatments.

    Dr. Oz also trotted out that hoary old excuse that we don’t know HOW to study alt-med woo… that maybe it works in a way that we don’t understand and so the usual scientific methods for determining if it works are invalid. Of course the plain truth is that it doesn’t work. When Dr. Novella replied in that way, out came the argument from popularity yet again.

    Also, in order to inflate the popularity numbers and provide cover for woo treatments, Dr. Oz lumped nutrition, exercise and massage (all legitimate areas of medical knowledge)into the alt-med category… and thus was able to say with a straight face that over 40% of Americans use some form of alt-med.

    I don’t believe any minds were changed. The average alt-med user truly believes that the argument from popularity is a legitimate argument and that science based studies that show alt-med woo doesn’t work aren’t really a valid method for investigating the efficacy of alt-med treatments.

    Of course any study that shows even the slightest hint of a positive result is touted far and wide… it’s only the ones (most of them) that come back negative that aren’t valid.

  54. John

    @JenBPhillips:

    Thank you kindly for those links, which I read thoroughly with great interest!
    I was particularly impressed by a post from one Angora Rabbit, a professor of nutrition medicine, I think.
    Do you know who he is, and would you regard him as a reliable source?

    As for the other matter, the posts aimed at me by that other guy seem to be a perfect example of what I was talking about. The hijacking of our debate, the reframing into a perceived attack on the dear leader, the aggressive defence thereof, the black and white worldview…almost too easy. Wait – I have been trolled, right?

    Otherwise, if that was a skeptic, that is your problem right there. Mockable but also a bit scary.

    The world watches in fascination.

  55. Helge

    I share this view:
    “Novella claims to be a neurology professor at Yale University, and throws the name “Yale” around like he was throwing seed to the morning chickens – but, to me, that is an outright fabrication. Novella, evidence shows, works for a medical center that “rents” the name “Yale” from the University, who then, assuming the monthly payments are up to date, gets to claim that all their staff doctors are, in fact, professors at Yale (insert bad smell here).

    In short, Novella is just another justifiably self-disappointed crap-career loser…

    The reality of Novella, easily found, is that he testifies for insurance companies, and that seems to be the extent of his practice. I get a picture of Novella saying “that hatchet imbedded in Mr. Smith’s head by his employer is causing no neurological damage, and it is clear that Mr. Smith is faking his claims of pain… His employer was right to fire him when he didn’t show up for work the next day. Mr. Smith clearly self-inflicted his injury..”
    Tim Bolens view .

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