Medical quackery upsets me very, very much

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So I get this email from my sister today (directed at the whole family), and finally just kinda snapped. This is the one who also has refused vaccines for her children due to the stupid vaccine fright garbage, and is a complete biblical literalist to the point where science in general offends her.

This is fascinating and encouraging news! The research I have done on cancer lines up totally with the logic of this treatment.

[name redacted]

http://m.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2012/December/Starving-Cancer-Ketogenic-Diet-a-Key-to-Recovery/

My first reaction: what "research" have you done, dear sister, considering that you find the scientific method to be so offensive?

I was going to delete it like I delete most of her emails, but just couldn't let it go. I'm sure she'll ignore it, but my other sister is a little bit impressionable, as is my dad when it comes to homeopathy, so I decided to take a bit of my morning and try to do some rumor control. My response was as follows:

This is unfortunately neither something new, nor something that has proven out to be replicated in controlled studies. The concept of cancer cells being primarily glycolytic was originally posited by Dr. Otto Heinrich Warburg in 1924. This was, in fact, a huge element in cancer research and the main hypothesis behind the behavior of cancerous tumors until the 1970's and onward. Research since then has repeatedly shown that restrictions on glucose intake do not prevent malignant transformation, nor are such diets a reliable method of halting malignant tumor growth across the board.

In the case of specific cancers where the cancer cells have damaged mitochondria and are highly hypoxic, the inhibition of glycolysis can (and has been shown to) halt the growth of the cancer cells, and sometimes even put the cancer into remission, which is probably what happened in the case of "Dr Hatfield" (he has a doctorate in philosophy; not an MD or DO).

I know I have a disdainful attitude towards medical quackery, but that's because of the many needless deaths and suffering caused by people who claim credentials and then use that (along with anecdotal evidence) to spread misinformation. I sincerely hope that if -- heaven forbid -- any of you get cancer, you seek proper medical care. Obviously following a glucose-limited diet can help (and in one of the controlled studies I've read through in my mere half hour of research, switching to ketone intake barely helped; in either diet, restricted intake overall was the primary influencing agent), but it's not safe to do that without pursuing medical care as well.

Glycolysis inhibition for anticancer treatment:
http://www.nature.com/onc/journal/v25/n34/full/1209597a.html
Cancer metabolism: facts, fantasy, and fiction:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14697210
Role of glucose and ketone bodies in the metabolic control of experimental brain cancer:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2394295/

How do you deal with fighting the (frankly baffling) appeal of medical quackery? If for no other reason than that I am concerned about the potential damage my sister's willful ignorance could do to my niece and nephew?

Honestly, when I read what the likes of Mark Twain or Houdini did on the topic, I am just convinced that there will always be suckers.

I sick my wife on them. She's an NP PhD.

If that doesn't work, I send them a link to Storm by Tim Minchin.

I think you did the right thing. Misinformation always needs to be combated. I regularly refer my parents and sister to snopes when crazy (usually political) crap is sent to me. The fact that this is medical in nature means it is that much more important. You might want to also send her some links about the recent studies about how successful the HPV vaccine has been (if you want to press her buttons).

The second sentence of the article should have been enough: "[Cancer treatments] are expensive, painful and often just don't work."

In my immediate circle of family and friends I know of six people who are alive today because cancer treatments really do work.

And even though I have to attend the funeral my buddy's wife on Wednesday who died last week of breast cancer, modern medical science allowed her to beat that disease once before and gave her and her family seven years they wouldn't have had otherwise.

Farscry wrote:

How do you deal with fighting the (frankly baffling) appeal of medical quackery? If for no other reason than that I am concerned about the potential damage my sister's willful ignorance could do to my niece and nephew?

My mother is basically the same way, and she reads a bunch of alternative medicine journals by way of "research." It's all tied into conspiracy theory ideas in her case, as she's more inclined to believe the lone voice of dissent than the medical community at large, since the medical industry obviously just wants to take her money. And of course faith plays a role as well. For example, she fell and wrecked her knee a while back and spend days in pain trying to faith-heal herself instead of going to see a doctor (whom she ultimately gave up and saw, thankfully). Dad is the biblical literalist, which is its own set of problems.

I read some study a while back about conspiracy theories which found that faced with evidence to the contrary, people were more likely to further dig in in support of the conspiracy theory than they were to reevaluate. It's some quirk of human psychology. She maintains that Snopes, for example, is run by people with an anti-christian agenda and is filled with deliberately crafted misinformation. Between that and some other personality issues on her side concerning conflict combined with my inability to resist responding when I get those emails, I have an email rule set up that automatically deletes anything she forwards to me. Our relationship has improved, and at least in our case there's no one else she'd CC that I worry about being affected by whatever they're sent.

My only concern as far as all this goes is for my kids, as I don't feel comfortable with the idea of leaving them with my parents for an extended period of time. That's easy enough to avoid though, particularly since my parents live 3000 miles away.

In your case, I think you're already doing exactly the right thing, which is reasoned dissent when things get too scary. I only hope you never feel the need to intercede on your niece and nephew's behalf.

I always liked Minchin's question "Do you know what they call alternative medicine that has been proven to work?" The answer: "medicine".

Hey, ducks need health care too!

Every discipline has its own version of the Pop Psychology dragon. It's unfortunate when people close to you make major life decisions based on information that might not be based in many facts. It's a rough spot Farscry, good luck with it.

I've had similar issues with certain members of my own family. One claimed that others had discovered the cure for cancer and the medical community was hiding this fact.

This infuriated me. Our grandmother had died of cancer after years of suffering as the disease spread throughout her body. I normally don't get into it with them but this time, I spent five minutes on Google researching this substance. It was bogus, of course, but I needed info if I was going to convince them that there is no cure. That taking this crap instead of seeing a doctor won't help anyone.

Sent him a link to cancer.org. He thanked me, admitted to posting wrong information and deleted the false claim from his timeline. I was surprised but at least it worked.

I had a friend and former bandmate who came to believe that vaccines were a dangerous scam by Big Pharma and that breast feeding was literally the single most health-important and persecuted activity in the western world. We got into it on facebook a couple years back. This was before I know better than to do this kind of thing. We send long messages back and forth with sources and studies, but all she had were some things Oprah or some quack peddling homeopathy on the internet had said. I brought articles and stuff from actual doctors and scientists. But she didn't trust any of them, because obviously they were only defending vaccines because they profited from it. After pushing this a bit further, she finally gave up and said it was mothers intuition and that I would never understand. She was right about the last part.

I'm fascinated by these kind of worldviews. And really really really irritated.

The defence of homeopathy with "Big Pharma only wants your money" is the most irritating argument of them all... Have you seen how much they charge for the snake-oil they peddle!?!!!

I have this same argument with family over any number of "alternative medicine" schemes: Magnets! Crystals! Prayer! Diets! The list goes on, and on, and on....

Show me the non-anecdotal ("it worked for Uncle Bob"), peer-reviewed (not just the promotional material provided by the manufacturer), double-blinded (only way to reduce/eliminate confirmation-bias), methodical (can it be reproduced?), rigorous testing (sample-sizes greater than "our sample group (did we fail to mention it was only 3 people? Oops)" cherry-picked data)!!!

"You can lead a horse to water......"

Makes my stomach turn.

Wink_and_the_Gun wrote:

The defence of homeopathy with "Big Pharma only wants your money" is the most irritating argument of them all... Have you seen how much they charge for the snake-oil they peddle!?!!!

I have this same argument with family over any number of "alternative medicine" schemes: Magnets! Crystals! Prayer! Diets! The list goes on, and on, and on....

Show me the non-anecdotal ("it worked for Uncle Bob"), peer-reviewed (not just the promotional material provided by the manufacturer), double-blinded (only way to reduce/eliminate confirmation-bias), methodical (can it be reproduced?), rigorous testing (sample-sizes greater than "our sample group (did we fail to mention it was only 3 people? Oops)" cherry-picked data)!!!

"You can lead a horse to water......"

Makes my stomach turn.

Yup. Folks get pissed when I dismiss their personal anecdotes with the saying "the plural of anecdote is not data."

I want to see the venn diagram of the alt med people who also claim that cell phones and radio receivers in appliances have not been tested enough to be safe for humans.

KingGorilla wrote:

I want to see the venn diagram of the alt med people who also claim that cell phones and radio receivers in appliances have not been tested enough to be safe for humans.

Also: vaccines, aspartame, GMOs, fluoride

muttonchop wrote:
KingGorilla wrote:

I want to see the venn diagram of the alt med people who also claim that cell phones and radio receivers in appliances have not been tested enough to be safe for humans.

Also: vaccines, aspartame, GMOs, fluoride

You just rolled up 90% of my problems with the healthy living crowd in one fell swoop.

I've been really lucky to have been able to avoid too much quackery, as my family doesn't subscribe to it, although some of my wife's family inches in that direction. As a working biologist who's spent a lot of his life studying cancer, that sort quackery infuriates me. Most particularly on the vaccine issue. I tend to simply disengage with people because I don't generally believe that they're interested in an honest discussion. One time (and only once!) did that actually hurt the person's feelings, which led to a very honest discussion that I value a lot to this day. So I guess the only advice I have to give is walk away unless the other side really is interested in having an honest debate.

Also, thanks for the Oncogene review you linked up top, Farscry. I've managed to rediscover the Warburg effect in my own work and am trying to parse out some of the details so that paper will be helpful. That's another thing I can recommend: fight ignorance with science that's so good they can't say no to it in the end! That's worked well for modern medicine, and it'll keep working.

Good for you Farscry that was a great response.

Sadly, this sort of psychology is probably evolutionarily beneficial to the human race. While it's painful for us in these situations I imagine that wanting to challenge, change and be different keep us from settling on one idea without challenging it. Similar to how psychosis and sociopathy are beneficial to us in times of warlike conflict.

Paleocon:

In general, I agree with the the tenor of discussion here, but the cliche'd saying is wrong. An anecdote colloquially meant is not much data at all as there is no rigor given to observation and accuracy, but one instance of observation is data. In fact, for very rare conditions and events, it is often the only data we have. Case reports and case series are valid data.

In the context of this thread's topic, however, the concluding point is that homeopathic and similar treatments often only have case series that are collated and collected through questionable methodology, whereas peer reviewed medicine has much, much stronger evidence in its favor.

I feel that it's worthwhile to point out to alt medicine believers that you can't cut that both ways. If evidence matters, then reviewed medicine is stronger. If it doesn't, then anecdotal data is pointless.

A plug here for 2 of my friends at Cancer Research UK whose job it is to write the press releases and go on the morning shows to hit back against this stuff with cool clear science. I use that site as the Snopes of oncological quackery.

The plural of anecdote is prior distribution?

Maq wrote:

A plug here for 2 of my friends at Cancer Research UK whose job it is to write the press releases and go on the morning shows to hit back against this stuff with cool clear science. I use that site as the Snopes of oncological quackery.

That is awesome and a good resource to have bookmarked, thank you Maq.

Farscry wrote:

How do you deal with fighting the (frankly baffling) appeal of medical quackery?

To be blunt, it's usually pretty easy to tell if a person will participate in an evidence-based discussion or not and I've given up on those who don't. I've found a belief that (well executed, peer-reviewed, etc) scientific studies are not even equal to but instead carry less weight than faith/bible/intuition/anecdote and a discussion of this type is usually accompanied by a diatribe about "big pharma" or corporate evil.

So, to win this argument, you need not just to bring sufficient scientific evidence, but also to change their way of viewing the world. Not impossible, since people do change faith etc, but incredibly difficult unless they're in a phase of their life where their basic underlying belief system is open to change.

Edited for lousy grammar.

I give you the Radium Revigator:

IMAGE(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/13/Revigorator.jpg/220px-Revigorator.jpg)

The crock was made with a radium lining, and people were advised to fill it up and let it sit overnight, so the water could become irradiated over the night and they could then drink their magic water the next morning, which would cure any number of maladies. You could get radioactive powder! Radioactive toothpaste! Radioactive everything! You could go on vacation, and sit in specially-treated radioactive waters! It cures all things.

BY KILLING YOU.

This crap went on for decades after the discovery of radioactivity. There's a long history of it. The good news is belief in quackery tends to be . . . somewhat of a self-correcting problem, shall we say.

Don't forget quicksilver pills aka mercury.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

I give you the Radium Revigator:

IMAGE(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/13/Revigorator.jpg/220px-Revigorator.jpg)

The crock was made with a radium lining, and people were advised to fill it up and let it sit overnight, so the water could become irradiated over the night and they could then drink their magic water the next morning, which would cure any number of maladies. You could get radioactive powder! Radioactive toothpaste! Radioactive everything! You could go on vacation, and sit in specially-treated radioactive waters! It cures all things.

BY KILLING YOU.

This crap went on for decades after the discovery of radioactivity. There's a long history of it. The good news is belief in quackery tends to be . . . somewhat of a self-correcting problem, shall we say.

To each his own. I don't see a problem with this practice, in fact I stand by it. One of us glows in the dark Milkman and the other, jealous. Can you urinate in pitch black darkness and hit the toilet? I rest my case.

Also, you have a head start on being ready for the Fallout future!

Dolphins! Dolphins are magnificent creatures, with highly elaborate social behaviors and keen intelligence. Also, they have the ability to heal the sick and injured using their miraculous unicorn powers! Wait, what was that last part?

http://www.aeonmagazine.com/nature-a...

Can we throw Chinese medicine believers under this bus too? It's bullsh*t.

Ulairi wrote:

Can we throw Chinese medicine believers under this bus too? It's bullsh*t.

Yes, yes we can.
Quackwatch is also a nice site in general, it won't sway a believer of course but it might help you figure out which particular branch of quackery they've bought into as well as providing tips on what to watch out for, how to avoid it, etc.

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