Alberta couple who let son die of meningitis found guilty.

David and Collet Stephans

David and Collet Stephans

Back in 2012 an Alberta, Canada couple were brought up on charges of “failing to provide the necessaries of life” after their 19-month old son died of meningitis. It seems David Stephan and his wife Collet don’t believe in traditional medicine and instead insisted on using home remedies to cure what they thought was a case of the flu or croup even though a family friend who is a nurse said it was likely meningitis.

Their case finally went to trial in March of this year:

In a bid to boost his immune system, the couple gave the boy — who was lethargic and becoming stiff — various home remedies, such as water with maple syrup, juice with frozen berries and finally a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horse radish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root as his condition deteriorated.

Court heard the couple on tape explaining to the police officer that they prefer naturopathic remedies because of their family’s negative experiences with the medical system.

It took having their son stop breathing to get them to call for an ambulance. He was airlifted to a local hospital and put on life support for 5 days until it was clear he wasn’t going to recover. He suffered for two and a half weeks before he stopped breathing. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that David works for a  nutritional supplements company.

Yesterday the jury came back with a guilty verdict:

The four-man, eight-woman jury had been deliberating since Monday afternoon. There was a gasp in the courtroom as the decision from the jurors came down. Observers in the courtroom’s gallery started to cry.

The defence argued the couple were loving, responsible parents who simply didn’t realize how sick the little boy was.

The Crown said the Stephans didn’t do enough to ensure Ezekiel received the medical help he needed. The prosecution noted that the Stephans had been warned by a friend who was a registered nurse that the boy probably had meningitis.

The maximum penalty for failing to provide the necessaries of life is five years in prison.

Normally in cases of parents letting their sick kids die rather than getting them medical attention it’s due to religious reasons and often the parents get off because of that. I’m not sure if it’s because this is Canada or the fact that the reasoning these folks used was not religious in nature that they ended up being convicted, but it makes for a refreshing change of pace. Sentencing hasn’t been announced yet, but with any luck they’ll get the maximum to give them time to reconsider some of their deeply held beliefs.

I’m often asked what’s the harm in letting people hold onto their ignorance. This is a prime example of said harm. Alas it’s often their kids who end up suffering the consequences of that ignorance.

A new meta-study shows Homeopathy is still bullshit.

It boggles the mind that in 2015 there are still people out there who buy into the idea of Homeopathy.

Homeopathy demotavational poster.

That’ll be $150, kthxbai!

As a refresher, it’s an “alternative medicine” predicated on the belief that “like cures like” and “water has a memory.” In short, if you take something that causes the same or similar symptoms in an ailing patient and dilute it in water and then feed it to them it’ll cure whatever their ailment happens to be. Here’s the best part though: The more diluted the solution is the more powerful it becomes.

I shit you not. Here’s an explanation of the dilution process from the Homeopathic “Educational” Services website:

Each substance is diluted, most commonly, 1 part of the original medicinal agent to 9 or 99 parts double-distilled water. The mixture is then vigorously stirred or shaken. The solution is then diluted again 1:9 or 1:99 and vigorously shaken. This process of consecutive diluting and shaking or stirring is repeated 3, 6, 12, 30, 200, 1,000, or even 1,000,000 times. Simply “diluting” the medicines without vigorously shaking them doesn’t activate the medicinal effects.

It is inaccurate to say that homeopathic medicines are extremely diluted; they are extremely “potentized.” “Potentization” refers to the specific process of sequential dilution with vigorous shaking. Each consecutive dilution infiltrates the new double-distilled water and imprints upon it the fractal form of the original substance used (fractal refers to the specific consecutively smaller pattern or form within a larger pattern). Ultimately, some type of fractal or hologram of the original substance may be imprinted in the water.

If you have half a brain you should already be questioning the intelligence of the people who dreamed this bullshit up just based on this little snippet of nonsense from this one website.

What all of this gobbledegook boils down to is this: Homeopathy is a way to sell you expensive water that isn’t going to do shit to heal whatever you problem is. If you get better after using Homeopathic medicines then you would’ve gotten better regardless of whether you had used them. This has shown to be true in study after study, yet these cranks are still out there peddling their bullshit and trying to weasel their way into being covered by insurance plans and health organizations.

Now Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council along with an independent company (to ensure there was no bias) has done a meta-study that involved analyzing over 1,800 scientific papers and more than 225 medical studies that determined (emphasis added):

There was no reliable evidence from research in humans that homeopathy was effective for treating the range of health conditions considered: no good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than placebo, or caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment.

For some health conditions, studies reported that homeopathy was not more effective than placebo. For other health conditions, there were poor-quality studies that reported homeopathy was more effective than placebo, or as effective as another treatment. However, based on their limitations, those studies were not reliable for making conclusions about whether homeopathy was effective. For the remaining health conditions it was not possible to make any conclusion about whether homeopathy was effective or not, because there was not enough evidence.

And their conclusion was:

Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.

Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner and should keep taking any prescribed treatments.

In short, the shit don’t work. When you sit down and read what promoters provide as the explanation for how it supposedly works this shouldn’t come as a surprise. For starters, they love their buzzwords: Fractals, holograms, nanopharmacology, the Principle of Resonance, the list goes on and on. The idea seems to be that if you toss enough buzzwords at people they’ll assume you’ll know what you’re talking about simply because the have no idea what you’re talking about.

Alas, that works and you can find all manner of Homeopathic products at your local drug store as proof. Why do the stores carry them if they don’t work? Because they make decent money off of people who don’t know any better. Capitalism at its finest!

For those of you interested in reading the study for yourself you can find it here. *PDF File


Dr. Oz will never let your health get in the way of his ratings.

dr-oz-memeThe popularity of celebrity doctors always baffles me. Whether its Dr. Phil — whose license to practice psychology has been retired since 2006 — or, more recently, Dr. Oz.

In all fairness I have to admit that I’ve only ever watched a few episodes of Dr. Oz and those were mainly because someone else was watching it at the time, but that was enough to call into question any medical advice he has to offer. You see, he’s really big on “alternative” medicines and diet pills and he promotes them heavily on his show. Stuff like raspberry ketone or green coffee extract both of which he has proclaimed as “miracles in a bottle” on his show and both of which haven’t been shown to do jack or shit when it comes to weight loss. However, the lack of scientific evidence beyond a sketchy study or two isn’t enough to prevent Dr. Oz from promoting them heavily.

At it turns out, these outrageous claims by Dr. Oz have been egregious enough to land him in front of a Senate subcommittee that’s looking into the whole green coffee extract nonsense. There he was grilled by Senator Clair McCaskill, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. She did not go easy on him:

“When you feature a product on your show, it creates what has become known as ‘Oz Effect,’ dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products,” the Senator explained. “I’m concerned that you are melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”

via Dr. Oz Grilled By Senator Over “Miracle” Weight-Loss Claims – Consumerist.

It’s a fair statement and you’re probably guessing that Dr. Oz ended up feigning ignorance or trying to claim the products really do work. Nope, he admits that — at best — the products he promotes as “miracles” are crutches that can not replace proper diet and exercise:

Dr. Oz openly admitted that the weight-loss treatments he mentions on the show are frequently “crutches… You won’t get there without diet and exercise,” and that while he believes in the research he’s done, the research done on these treatments would probably not pass FDA muster.

“If the only message I gave was to eat less and move more — which is the most important thing people need to do — we wouldn’t be very effectively tackling this complex challenge because viewers know these tips and they still struggle,” said the doctor. “So we search for tools and crutches; short-term supports so that people can jumpstart their programs.”

In short, he knows better. As he should if his medical degree is legitimate in any sense of the word. McCaskill wasn’t letting him off the hook so easily:

Sen. McCaskill quoted three statements that the great and doctorful Oz had made about different weight-loss treatments on his show:

•(On green coffee extract) — “You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found the magic weight-loss for every body type.”

•(On raspberry ketone) — “I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat” (raspberry ketone)

•(On garcinia cambogia) — “It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”

“I don’t get why you say this stuff, because you know it’s not true,” said McCaskill. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

At this point the good doctor defended his claims on the basis that he believes the products in question do work despite the lack of any reason to do so and then admitted that his claims result in scam artists jumping to sell this crap to everyone dumb enough to listen to him, often using his likeness and statements to endorse it:

“I do personally believe in the items that I talk about on the show,” responded Dr. Oz, who acknowledged that statements he’s made in the past have encouraged scam artists and others looking to make a quick buck on people looking for an easy way to lose weight.

“I do think I’ve made it more difficult for the FTC,” he continued. “In the intent to engage viewers, I use flowery language. I used language that was very passionate that ended up being not very helpful but incendiary and it provided fodder for unscrupulous advertisers.”

Call me old fashioned, but when you’re making medical claims I would think you would want to avoid “flowery” language. However, this raises another point: The intent of Dr. Oz’s show isn’t to give you sound medial advice. It’s to entertain you. He feels he has to engage his viewers by making outrageous claims because apparently the truth won’t get him the ratings that really pulls in the big bucks.

“My job, I feel, on the show is to be a cheerleader for the audience and when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I wanna look — and I do look — everywhere… for any evidence that might be supportive to them,”

In short, he’s selling false hope. He’s willing to promote whatever quackery he can find that offers the smallest of hopes based on the flimsiest of evidence. Sure, that’ll probably make you feel good, but it isn’t doing you any favors. He’s perpetuating nonsense that does nothing but lighten your wallet. The worst part is, he knows it. A lot of the other pseudoscience bullshit peddlers out there at least have the excuse that they’re not really doctors or trained in medicine. Dr. Oz is and he admits that he knows better, but that won’t get him the ratings he needs.

The sad part is…

… I probably know some folks who would actually try this:


Yet another study shows using magnets for arthritis doesn’t do shit.

commonsenseThis shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with half a brain, but there’s yet another study that shows slapping a magnet on your arthritic joints won’t do anything other than lighten your wallet.

From the NYTime’s health blog:

British researchers randomized 65 patients with rheumatoid arthritis to receive one of four treatments: wearing a powerful magnetic wrist strap, a weak magnetic strap, a non-magnetic strap and a copper bracelet. Each patient wore each device for five weeks and completed pain surveys. The study appears in the September issue of PLoS One.

The patients reported pain levels using a visual scale, ranging from “no pain” to “worst pain ever,” and recorded how often their joints felt tender and swollen. Researchers used questionnaires to assess physical limitations, and tested for inflammation by measuring blood levels of C-reactive protein and plasma viscosity.

There was no statistically significant difference in any of these measures regardless of which type of device patients were wearing.

It’s been nearly 10 years since the last time I bothered to write about a study showing that magnet therapy is bullshit, but it appears the popularity of this particular kind of snakeoil hasn’t waned in that time. Estimates are that the sales of magnet bracelets tops $1 billion a year worldwide despite there not being one double blind, randomized testing showing they have anything more than a placebo effect. And that’s just the bracelets. You can buy all manner of things with “healing” magnets in them these days from insoles to underwear.

The only good news to be had is that there are so many people pumping these craptastic products out these days that if you’re gullible enough to buy into the nonsense you won’t end up wasting huge amounts of money on them as they tend to be cheap.

New study concludes that “colonic irrigation” does not work and could be damaging.

Pic of Charlie Brown.

I'm right there with you on that one, Chuck.

It seems shoving a hose up your ass and flooding your bowels with water doesn’t have any practical health benefits at all.  Not only that, but according to the study done at Georgetown University, it could have a number of adverse health effects ranging from minor stuff like nausea, cramping, and bloating all the way up to renal failure and possibly even death:

Lead author Dr. Ranit Mishori, a physician at the university, said, “There can be serious consequences for those who engage in colon cleansing whether they have the procedure done at a spa or perform it at home.”

She added, “Colon cleansing products in the form of laxatives, teas, powders and capsules … tout benefits that don’t exist.”

The report, which looked at 20 previous studies on colonic irrigation published in medical literature over the past decade, said that as well as no evidence of any benefits, the spas and clinics administering the treatment have no significant medical training.

via Colonic irrigation does not work, US scientists say | Herald Sun.

Of course this really shouldn’t be news. The idea of showering the inside of your shitter stretches all the way back to the ancient Egyptians and it maintained a certain level of popularity among the medical community right up until the early 20th century. Around 1919 a publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association dismissed the theory of “auto-intoxication” — which colonics were supposed to be a treatment for — as being full of shit. Colonics soon fell out of favor with most people with the exception of fans of some very kinky fetish porn. There is one situation in which a colonic is still performed by the medical industry today and that’s usually just prior to a colonoscopy, but the idea of doing it to cleanse the body of “toxins” is pure [bull]shit.

Which, of course, means it’s enjoying a comeback among proponents of “alternative medicine” hence why the folks at Georgetown University felt the need to take another look at the research done on it. And that is at best a waste of time as the Alties are unlikely to be swayed by a report from scientists that disputes anything they hold dear.

Still, it never hurts to try and talk sense to the woo-beholden among us. Every once and a while one of them might listen.

Daniel Hauser’s father now has leukemia.

Remember Daniel Hauser, the (at the time) 13-year-old illiterate kid out of Minnesota who was ordered by the court to get chemotherapy to treat his cancer over the protests of his alt-med preferring parents? His mother took off with him rather than follow through on the court order, but after a few days they eventually showed up again and complied with the judgement on the stipulation that his parents could include alternative treatments as part of his therapy. Six months later Daniel finished his last chemotherapy treatment as was cancer free.

You’d think the parents would’ve learned a lesson from this experience. A lesson they can now apply as Daniel’s father has just been diagnosed with leukemia himself:

One year ago today, Danny Hauser, from Sleepy Eye, MN, flew to California with his mother to avoid going through court-ordered chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Authorities and the FBI searched for Danny and his mother for six days, before the two finally returned to Minnesota. Danny eventually went through chemotheraphy and radiation and is now in remission.

A close family friend of the Hauser’s, Dan Zwakman confirms Danny’s father, Anthony Hauser, was diagnosed with leukemia two weeks ago after feeling ill and exhausted for the past month.

Zwakman says Hauser is choosing to treat  his leukemia using natural healing treatments instead of going through chemotherapy. The Hauser family, who lives on a farm in rural Minnesota, holds a strong belief in the advantages of alternative medicine and natural supplements.

Nope, they didn’t learn a goddamn thing.

But that’s OK. His father, being a legal adult, has every right to refuse proven medical treatments in favor of alt-med bullshit if he really wants to. Maybe he’ll get lucky and the cancer will go into remission on its own. I won’t be holding my breath in anticipation of that happening, but it’s been known to happen every now and then. The article does note that Anthony has had three blood transfusions over the past several weeks so perhaps he’ll come to his senses before it’s too late to do anything about it.

If it’s the same leukemia his son had — Hodgkin’s lymphoma — then it’s one of the more curable cancers you can get. When treated properly survival rates are between 85 and 98% depending on factors such as your age and how early it was detected. Even with a worst-case scenario an 85% chance to cure it is pretty outstanding. What constitutes proper treatment? Chemotherapy. I’m not sure what his chances of survival are without chemo, but Daniel’s doctors only have him a 5% chance of making it with the treatment. Being that his father is older I’d guess his chances are even more remote, but I guess we’ll find out before too long.

One interesting side note: In researching this entry I learned that the current staging system for lymphomas is named after the town it was developed in: Ann Arbor, where I currently reside.

New study warns that herbal supplements and medicines don’t always mix well.

What’s the harm, the question goes, if herbal supplements don’t actually help cure anything? Well, they could kill you if you’re on certain types of real medications:

Researchers are warning that popular herbs and supplements, including St. John’s wort and even garlic and ginger, do not mix well with common heart drugs and can also be dangerous for patients taking statins, blood thinners and blood pressure medications.

St. John’s wort raises blood pressure and heart rate, and garlic and ginger increase the risk of bleeding in patients on blood thinners, the researchers said. Even grapefruit juice can be risky, increasing the effects of calcium-channel blockers and statins, they said.

via Vital Signs – Study Warns That Some Supplements and Medicine Do Not Mix –

People don’t tend to think of herbs as being a type of chemical, but they are and they can have an impact on any other chemicals you might be taking:

The paper includes a list of more than two dozen herbal products that patients should approach with caution, as well as a list of common drug-herb interactions. Among the products listed are ginkgo biloba, ginseng and echinacea, as well as some surprises like soy milk and green tea — both of which can decrease the effectiveness of warfarin — and even aloe vera and licorice.

The abstract to the paper will get your attention:

More than 15 million people in the U.S. consume herbal remedies or high-dose vitamins. The number of visits to providers of complementary and alternative medicine exceeds those to primary care physicians, for annual out-of-pocket costs of $30 billion. Use of herbal products forms the bulk of treatments, particularly by elderly people who also consume multiple prescription medications for comorbid conditions, which increases the risk of adverse herb-drug-disease interactions. Despite the paucity of scientific evidence supporting the safety or efficacy of herbal products, their widespread promotion in the popular media and the unsubstantiated health care claims about their efficacy drive consumer demand. In this review, we highlight commonly used herbs and their interactions with cardiovascular drugs. We also discuss health-related issues of herbal products and suggest ways to improve their safety to better protect the public from untoward effects.

Visits to so-called complementary and alternative medicine practitioners exceeds those to primary care physicians? Really? Have we all gone that nuts? The $30 billion a year in money wasted doesn’t surprise me that much, we’ve been a nation willing to waste tons of money on shit that doesn’t work for quite a while now, but the fact that the woo-woo practitioners are seeing more people simply shocks me.

Given that they’re talking about health effects from supplements made from a single herb, consider what that means when you take something like (We-Can’t-Say-It-Cures-Colds-Anymore-But-It-Kinda-Does-Wink-Wink) Airborne which contains a shit load of herbs and vitamins. According to the official site it has the following in it: Vitamins A, C, and E, Zinc, Selenium, Manganese, Magneisum, Riboflavin, Amino Acids, and a proprietary herbal blend that includes Lonicera, Forsythia, Schizonepeta, Ginger, Chinese Vitex, Isatis and Echinacea.

That’s quite the mix and you have no idea what the dosages are for most of the ingredients. Consider that it contains 5,000 units of Vitamin A per tablet and you are encouraged to take five tablets a day or more. Did I mention that taking more than 10,000 units of Vitamin A a day is considered unsafe? Not to mention that it also contains high doses of Vitamin C which can lead to kidney stones, among other problems. Combine that with the fact that several of its components are known to interact with legit medicines and you could be doing quite a bit of harm by taking it.

But hey, it was created by a school teacher and they know better than any stupid old doctor what’s best to put in your body, right?

All the world’s woo-woo couldn’t cure man of his hiccups.

As if we needed yet more proof that homeopathy, acupuncture, and all the rest of the woo-woo “alternative” medicines don’t really help, here’s a story about a man who suffered from the hiccups for years until he was finally cured after doctors removed a tumor from his brain stem:

He tried yoga, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, pickled plums, mustard, vinegar and every single way you could imagine to drink water but now Chris Sands, the man who suffered hiccups for over two and a half years, has finally been cured.

[…] Mr Sands, who is an aspiring musician and lives in Timberland near Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire, first got the hiccups in September 2006 and, after a few days, began searching for a diagnosis.

After finding that hiccups could be linked to brain tumours, he went to visit a doctor.

“They said, ‘don’t worry about it, it’s probably just linked to your heartburn, here’s some Gaviscon’,” he said.

The hiccups went away but returned for good in February 2007.

What followed was a two-year search for something to stop the hiccups that took him to the other side of the world.

“When you first tell people about the hiccups they do laugh straight away and I suppose they don’t think about how debilitating it is.

“It has ruined my life pretty much.”

I’ve boldfaced an important bit of text in the quote above. It’s important because Mr. Sands’ initial concern that it might be brain tumor ultimately turned out to be correct. When the hiccups returned in 2007 he should have gone back his doctor’s office and asked that they do a more in-depth examination.

Instead he decided to try just about every form of “alternative” medicine he could find and made a few TV appearances along the way. One show in Japan invited him back after their initial story about him generated some 500 suggested cures from viewers. It was during that visit that his true problem was found:

Straight off the plane, his first day was spent with a hiccup specialist who had been studying the condition for years.

It was there that he underwent the MRI scan that revealed the tumour.

The man who diagnosed Mr Sands in Japan, Dr Condo, said: “CT scans are extremely poor at detecting in this area – unless you use an MRI scan you won’t be able to detect it.

“If they had done an MRI scan in England, they probably would have found it.”

But Chris is not angry about the way he way was treated.

In fact, despite being offered the opportunity to have the operation in Japan, he chose to return to England.

“Everyone else seems to mean harm to the NHS for various reasons but I really don’t.

“They probably should have done [an MRI exam] but it just never happened.

“I don’t blame anyone and I got treated well no matter where I went.”

Think on that for a moment. Two years of constant hiccuping and trying all manner of oddball treatments and a simple MRI scan was all it took to find the problem. A tumor that, had it continued to go untreated, likely would’ve killed him before too much longer.

Mr. Sands underwent surgery that removed most of the tumor and his hiccups have largely subsided, though he still gets occasional bouts from time to time. His doctor’s made a mistake in not taking the condition seriously in the beginning, but Mr. Sands made a mistake in not insisting they take it seriously and opting to try any ridiculous idea that came along. I can only imagine the desperation he must have felt that probably drove him to trying anything he could, but two years is a long time to suffer for want of insisting your doctor refer you to a specialist. Stick to the stuff that’s been shown to work. The “alternatives” are a waste of time and money.

Ten years and $2.5 billion shows “alternative” medicines don’t cure jack shit.

In news that will likely fail to dissuade folks who buy into the whole alternative medicine nonsense, the report from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine says that just about every alternative treatment they tried failed to produce results:

Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

All it took was ten years and $2.5 billion in taxpayer money despite the fact that many other independent studies have already shown this to be the case. So will the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which I still have a hard time believing is a government run organization, shut down and admit that there’s nothing to this nonsense? Of course not. They plan to spend even more money studying even more ridiculous claims:

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

What the fuck? Why are we wasting money on crap that has no basis in science?

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

Oh, that’s why.

Look, I’m all for testing of “alternative” medicines and therapies that could plausibly have some scientific basis. Echinacea for colds is a good example. Asprin comes from willow bark so it was entirely possible there might have been something in echinacea that could affect colds. We tested it. It doesn’t do squat. Put it aside and move on. But brain waves being emitted by a “master” to cure cocaine addiction? Fuck me, but that’s stupid.

“There’s not all the money in the world and you have to choose” what most deserves tax support, said Barrie Cassileth, integrative medicine chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Many of the studies that have been funded I would not have funded because they seem irrational and foolish — studies on distant healing by prayer and energy healing, studies that are based on precepts and ideas that are contrary to what is known in terms of human physiology and disease,” she said.

Exactly! Let’s apply a little of the scientific knowledge we already have on how the universe works and prioritize based on how plausible a particular treatment might be. The further away from established theories a proposed treatment is the lower on the priority list it should be when it comes time to test.

So why are we wasting time and money on the implausible shit? Because the board that runs this agency is well populated with people who buy into the alternative medicine bullshit. Not only are they in control, but even when a study shows something doesn’t work they refused to state that fact plainly preferring to hide behind the “more research is needed” cop out:

However, critics say that unlike private companies that face bottom-line pressure to abandon a drug that flops, the federal center is reluctant to admit a supplement may lack merit — despite a strategic plan pledging not to equivocate in the face of negative findings.

Echinacea is an example. After a large study by a top virologist found it didn’t help colds, its fans said the wrong one of the plant’s nine species had been tested. Federal officials agreed that more research was needed, even though they had approved the type used in the study.

“There’s been a deliberate policy of never saying something doesn’t work. It’s as though you can only speak in one direction,” and say a different version or dose might give different results, said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired physician who runs Quackwatch, a web site on medical scams.

Critics also say the federal center’s research agenda is shaped by an advisory board loaded with alternative medicine practitioners. They account for at least nine of the board’s 18 members, as required by its government charter. Many studies they approve for funding are done by alternative therapy providers; grants have gone to board members, too.

“It’s the fox guarding the chicken coop,” said Dr. Joseph Jacobs, who headed the Office of Alternative Medicine, a smaller federal agency that preceded the center’s creation. “This is not science, it’s ideology on the part of the advocates.”

Basically it’s the practitioners of woo-woo nonsense making more than a few bucks on the taxpayer’s dime while they busy themselves with shifting the goalposts so as to never have to say it doesn’t work. The rest of the article goes on to list off defenses by the foxes guarding the chickens, but it’s all bullshit. Not only have there been many independent studies that show this stuff doesn’t work, but even with 10 years these guys have yet to come up with anything that is clearly beneficial. There are several studies that show taking herbal supplements can interfere with legitimate drugs such as those used by cancer patients. Additionally the actual contents of a particular supplement can vary wildly between different manufacturers and can contain all sorts of potentially harmful contaminates.

This agency needs to be revamped. Get rid of the True Believers™ and staff it with qualified people capable of running proper studies and then prioritize based on the plausibility of a particular treatment. Do the study, release the results, and move on to the next one. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down and then start putting the pushers of the shit that doesn’t work out of business. If a particular treatment shows some applicability in some area (e.g. ginger to treat nausea, which has been pretty well established) then that’s great! Use it for that purpose and stop selling it as a cure-all.