The extent to which irrationality has become established in US Medicine is truly alarming I wrote about Quackademics in the USA and Canada on my last trip to the USA, and on my May trip I visited Yale, where I decided to try a full frontal attack. [download the poster]
Several US blogs have written about this phenomenon. For example the incomparable Orac at the The Academic Woo Aggregator , and Dr RW (R.W. Donnell) , see particularly his articles on How did pseudoscience get admitted to medical school? and What is happening to our medical schools? Abraham Flexner is turning over in his grave. Excellent US stuff too at Science-based Medicine (try this and this). There is also a good analysis of what’s happening at Yale by Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science.
Remember that the terms ‘integrative’ and ‘complementary’ are euphemisms coined by quacks to make their wares sound more respectable, There is no point integrating treatments that don’t work with treatments that do work.
‘Integrative Medicine’ at Yale says, like all the others on the roll of shame, says “we aim to improve awareness and access to the best in evidence-based, comprehensive medical care available worldwide”. They all pay lip service to being “evidence based”, but there is just one snag. It is untrue. In almost all cases, the evidence is either negative or absent. But this does not put them off for a moment. The whole process is simply dishonest.
The evidence has been summarised in several books recently, The following books are particularly interesting because they are all ‘views from the inside. Edzard Ernst is the UK’s first Professor of Complementary Medicine. Barker Bausell was research director of an NIH funded Complementary and Alternative Medicine Specialized Research Center at the University of Maryland.
The first two books go through the evidence fairly and carefully. They show no bias against alternative treatments (if anything, I’d say they are rather generous in cases of doubt).
For a first class US account try Barker Bausell’s Snake Oil Science
|Bausell’s book gives an excellent account of how to test treatments properly, and of all the ways you can be fooled into thinking something works when it doesn’t. Bausell concludes
|For an excellent account of how to find the truth, try Testing Treatments (Evans. Thornton and Chalmers). One of the authors, Iain Chalmers, is a founder of the Cochrane library and a world authotity on how to separate medical fact from medical myth.
With that settled, what’s going on at Yale (and many others on the roll of shame)?
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, is founder and director of the Integrative Medicine Center (IMC) at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut. He is also an associate professor, adjunct, of Public Health and director of the Prevention Research Center (PRC) at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
That sounds pretty respectable. But he is into not just good nutrition, exercise, relaxation and massage, but also utterly barmy and disproved things like homeopathy and ‘therapeutic touch’.
|Watch the movie
It so happens that Yale recently held an “Integrative Medicine Scientific Symposium”. Can we find the much vaunted evidence base there? That is easy to answer because three hours of this symposium have appeared on YouTube. So this is the public face of Yale medical school.
There’s some interesting history and a great deal of bunkum and double-speak. To save you time, I’ve cut out about 6 minutes from the movies.
View or download the movie here > [18.5 Mb, flv file].
Pretty remarble uh? Dr Katz goes through several different trials, all of which come out negative. And what is his conclusion? You guessed.
His conclusion is not that the treatments don’t work but that we need a “more fluid concept of evidence” .
It’s equally bizarre to hear Richard Belitsky, Dean of Medical Education at Yale saying he is “very proud” of this betrayal of enlightenment values. If this is what Yale now considers to be education, it might be better to go somewhere else.
This is not science. It isn’t even common sense. It is a retreat to the dark ages of medicine when a physician felt free to guess the answer. In fact it’s worse. In the old days there was no evidence to assess. Now there is a fair amount of evidence, but Dr Katz feels free to ignore it and guess anyway. He refers to teaching about evidence as ‘indoctrination’, a pretty graphic illustration of his deeply anti-scientific approach to knowledge. And he makes a joke about having diverted a $1m grant from CDC, for much needed systematic reviews, into something that fits his aims better.
Katz asks, as one must, what should we do if there is no treatment that is known to help a patient. That is only too frequent a problem. The reasonable thing to say is “there is no treatment that is known to help”. But Dr Katz thinks it’s better to guess an answer. There is nothing wrong with placebo effects but there is everything wrong with trying to pretend that you are doing more than give placebos. Perhaps he should consider the dilemmas of alternative medicine.
You can read about more about Yale’s activities here and in interviews here. Dr Katz says “The founding approach—and I think Andrew Weil, MD, gets the lion’s share of credit for establishing the concept —is training conventional practitioners in complementary disciplines”. Let’s take a look at this hero. Try, for example, Arnold Relman’s “A trip to Stonesville“.
“According to Weil, many of his basic insights about the causes of disease and the nature of healing come from what he calls “stoned thinking,” that is, thoughts experienced while under the influence of psychedelic agents or during other states of “altered consciousness” induced by trances, ritual, magic, hypnosis, meditation, and the like.”
“To the best of my knowledge, Weil himself has published nothing in the peer-reviewed medical literature to document objectively his personal experiences with allegedly cured patients or to verify his claims for the effectiveness of any of the unorthodox remedies he uses.”
Here is the advertisment for Andrew Weil’s nutrition symposium.
Not only does this yet again propagate the great antioxidant myth, but a few moments with Google show that it is riddled with vested interests, as already pointed out on Quackademics in USA and Canada.
What has brought medical schools down to this level?
That isn’t hard to see, The main thing is simply money. Very few university administrators have the intellectual integrity to turn down money, whatever the level of dishonesty that is required by its acceptance. You can buy a lot of silence for $100m
The US Taxpayer has given almost a billion dollars, via NIH.
Wallace Sampson, MD says of NCCAM
“. . it has not proved effectiveness for any ‘alternative’ method. It has added evidence of ineffectiveness of some methods that we knew did not work before NCCAM was formed”
“Its major accomplishment has been to ensure the positions of medical school faculty who might become otherwise employed in more productive pursuits.”
“Special commercial interests and irrational, wishful thinking created NCCAM. It is the only entity in the NIH devoted to an ideological approach to health.”
NCCAM has given money from some very dubious trials too, Both Orac on Respectful Insolence and Dr RW (R.W. Donnell) have written recently about the NCCAM-funded trial of “chelation therapy”, as first exposed in a devastating article by Kimball C. Atwood IV, MD; Elizabeth Woeckner, AB, MA; Robert S. Baratz, MD, DDS, PhD; Wallace I. Sampson, MD on Medscape Today. This is a $30 million, 5-year, phase 3 Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) for coronary artery disease.
“But how did such a crappy study ever come to be, much less be funded by the NIH to the tune of $30 million? The answer, not surprisingly, involves one of the foremost promoters of quackery in the federal government, Representative Dan Burton (R-IN).”
“We conclude that the TACT is unethical, dangerous, pointless, and wasteful. It should be abandoned.”
“TACT is not the only example of an unethical and scientifically worthless trial being funded not because the science is compelling but because powerful lobbies and legislators who are true believers in woo applied pressure to the NIH to do them”
The Bravewell Collaboration is the other major source of money. Forbes Business says “Bravewell is not some flaky New Age group”. Well dead wrong there, That is precisely what it is.
|This group of ultra-rich people, according to its boss, Christy Mack, has a
So Bravewell is corrupting the search for real knowledge and real cures with big bucks. You can buy a lot of hokum for $100m.
The money comes from Morgan Stanley,
Bravewell is run by his wife, Christy Mack (Mack-the-wife?) Vice-President, The C.J. Mack Foundation, Member, Board of Directors, The Bravewell Collaborative.
The Flexner report.
The story of Bravewell stands in chilling contrast to another case of philanthropy. Andrew Carnegie’s foundation financed the report by Abraham Flexner, “Medical Education in the United States and Canada” (1910) [download, 15 Mb] . That report was responsible for dragging medical education out of the dark ages
almost a century ago. It resulted in creation of some of the best medical schools anywhere (including Yale).
“By educational patriotism I mean this: a university has a mission greater than the formation of a large student body or the attainment of institutional completeness, namely, the duty of loyalty to the standards of common honesty, of intellectual sincerity, of scientific accuracy.”
“The tendency to build a system out of a few partially apprehended facts, deductive inference filling in the rest, has not indeed been limited to medicine, but it has nowhere else had more calamitous consequences.”Flexner (1910).
Now another philanthropist is using big bucks to reverse the process and push medicine back into the 19th century.
Perhaps they don’t even know it’s happening. If they say firmly that they don’t want it, it will go,
It’s been done before
Florida State University, allegedly under political pressure, proposed to set up a school of Chiropractic. That would have made it Florida State school of snake-oil salesmanship. What a sad fate. [ Science magazine comment] [comment form Paul Lee] [Comment in St Petersburg Times]
But the academics stopped it. An FSU professor, Albert Stiegman, predicted the future campus map.
According to FSUnews
“The Florida Board of Governors voted 10-3 Thursday to deny Florida State University’s request to build a chiropractic school.”
“However, the passage of the bill for the chiropractic school by the Legislature seemingly bypassed the Board of Governors.”
The problem of Yale has been taken up with great eloquence by some US commentators
Dr RW (R.W, Donnell): “Quackademic Medicine at Yale”
“By the way, where’s the AAMC in all this? Aren’t they supposed to be guardians of integrity and professionalism in medical education? Are they asleep at the switch or is money silencing them too?”
Orac (Respectful Insolence): “Integrative” medicine at Yale: A more “fluid” concept of evidence?”
“after the Dean of the Yale School Medicine embarrassed himself in the introduction by saying he’s proud of how far this nonsense has come, Dr. Katz takes the stage and demonstrates the sort of hostile attitude towards science that, if allowed to take root will be the death of scientific medicine in any meaningful form at U.S. medical schools”
Junkfood Science. Sandy Szwarc on “Quote of the day: ;We need a more fluid concept of evidence’”
“Will healthcare professionals and consumers . . . . speak out against these wellness programs being enacted by government agencies, insurers and employers? Or is the money too good?”
Science-based Medicine. Steven Novella writes on “Changing the rules of evidence“. When alternative medicine people do not like the evidence, they change the rules to get the outcome that they want, as seen so graphically in this post. They have always done this, but it is only recently that this sort of behaviour has been endorsed by places like Yale.
The Macho Response, another US blog, comments bluntly, in “Yale wants a more fluid concept of evidence”
This is beyond embarrassing – it’s a fucking crime – and it’s happening at Yale University and many others.
If you’re in the medical profession (and I know many of my readers are) you need to go here – now.
Kiosque Médias writes as follows
Pour ceux qui s’intéressent à la médecine et à la santé, le blog de David Colquhoun vaut probablement le détour. Ce professeur-chercheur au département de neurosciences, de physiologie et de pharmacologie de l’University College London y décrypte les résultats d’études médicales, en mettant l’accent sur les médecines alternatives. Et il est rarement tendre!
James Randi Newsletter. The hit rate soars after a recommendation this piece by the amazing Randi.
Hokum-Balderdash Assay. Edwardson writes
“Yale University is going to the ducks. It now has an Integrative Medicine program and in April held its first annual Integrative Medicine Scientific Symposium. I think there must’ve been a typo there. They must’ve meant “Ist Annual I.M. Pseudoscientific Symposium.” There! Now we’ve done away with the oxymoron.”
Why is Yale so secretive about its quackery department?,
Most universities are only to keen to boast about their grant income. Not in this case though. When I asked how they funded their quackery, all I got was a letter that had very obviously been drafted by a lawyer.
“As a private institution, Yale University is not generally subject to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. We therefore respectfully decline to compile and provide the information you have requested.”
So pretty clear signs of guiltiness there.
Dr David Katz, yes, he of the “fluid concept of evidence”, has posted an article, Health Hazards of rhe Blogoshere. If it quacks like a duck . . .
It seems that he has been a bit alarmed by the reaction of the bloggers. It starts, rather pompously, thus.
“Being well educated does not guarantee you’ll always be right, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee everyone will agree with you. But it still matters. Or at least it used to “
But the rest if it reads less like a defence than as an admission of guilt, thus prompting the next item.
Paul Hutchinson’s blog
|A quack who admits it picks out a quotation from Dr Katz’s response and turned into a cartoon, released to the public domain, So here it is.
Orac comments too, in “Fluid evidence” strikes back: Dr. Katz versus the skeptical blogsophere”. He does a terrific job in taking apart the response from the hapless Dr Katz.
“No, Dr. Katz does not like his first encounter with the medical blogosphere at all. Indeed, he is so unhappy that apparently a few weeks ago he tried t answer the bloggers who had raked him over the coals for blatantly advocating “integrating” unscientific woo like homeopathy with scientific medicine. Unfortunately for him, he did not do a particularly good job of it. Indeed, what most stood out as I read his rejoinder was that he does not answer a single substantive criticism leveled at his comments. Not one. Instead, he does what pretty much all woo-meisters do when criticized for shifting goalposts and appealing to other ways of knowing besides science as a means of “proving” that their preferred fairy dust works; he wraps himself in the mantle of the brave iconoclast willing to challenge accepted dogma and whines about the peons who criticized him, heaping contempt on the bloggers who had the temerity to criticize his advocacy for pseudoscience because to him they have not earned the right to criticize his (at least in his opinion, apparently) greatness in comparison to him.”