Snake Oil Science:
The Truth about Complementary
and Alternative Medicine
by R. Barker Bausell
Millions of people worldwide swear by such therapies as acupuncture, herbal cures, and homeopathic remedies. Indeed, complementary and alternative medicine is embraced by a broad spectrum of society, from ordinary people, to scientists and physicians, to celebrities such as Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey.
In the tradition of Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things and Robert Parks's Voodoo Science, Barker Bausell provides an engaging look at the scientific evidence for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and at the logical, psychological, and physiological pitfalls that lead otherwise intelligent people--including researchers, physicians, and therapists--to endorse these cures.
The book's ultimate goal is to reveal not whether these therapies work--as Bausell explains, most do work, although weakly and temporarily--but whether they work for the reasons their proponents believe. Indeed, as Bausell reveals, it is the placebo effect that accounts for most of the positive results.
He explores this remarkable phenomenon--the biological and chemical evidence for the placebo effect, how it works in the body, and why research on any therapy that does not factor in the placebo effect will inevitably produce false results. By contrast, as Bausell shows in an impressive survey of research from high-quality scientific journals and systematic reviews, studies employing credible placebo controls do not indicate positive effects for CAM therapies over and above those attributable to random chance.
Here is not only an entertaining critique of the strangely zealous world of CAM belief and practice, but it also a first-rate introduction to how to correctly interpret scientific research of any sort. Readers will come away with a solid understanding of good vs. bad research practice and a healthy skepticism of claims about the latest miracle cure, be it St. John's Wort for depression or acupuncture for chronic pain.
Tyrell Dueck is dead Views from behind the golden haze
Is he a victim of Alternative Medicine and parental neglect?
Dr. Terry Polevoy
For those of you who support alternative medicine, I think you will just eat this one up.Tyrell Dueck, the young Canadian teenager's story won't go away.
I met with the American Biologics big shots at the Alternative QuackExpo at the Toronto CNE last Winter. His parents were apparently wooed into going to the famed quack cancer clinic through some local anti-medical lay people after Tyrell's osteosarcoma had spread to his lungs. Of course they had already had the backing of all the screwball religious folks out there in Martensville, Saskatchewan, the city that just breeds controversy.
I met with their "medical doctor" and with Mr. Culbert, a journalist turned anti-conventional medical guru. He is the head honcho down at the American Biologics proponent in Tijuana, that sorry excuse for a suburb of San Diego, and hotbed for all sorts of creeps and crooks.
The boys from south of the border were on our turf in Toronto, but they were surrounded by weirdos, and quacks of every descripitons at the Total Quack Expo in Toronto last Winter.
It was there that they announced to a basically empty auditorium that Tyrell Dueck would be one of their patients.Needless to say, that thrilled the organizers of the Expo, as American Biologics was one of the main sponsors of the Expo, along with WIC radio station AM640.
The grand prize of the Quack Expo was a gift of a stay at A.B., where for about $1,000 U.S. per day, you could be treated with ozone, hyperthermia, and a host of other mysterious things, that only they would have you believe would work. Of course none of what they say or do is true. The only truth there is that everyone who made a referral, or helped arrange the trip will get something for their efforts.
As far as A.B.'s records are concerned, they've not published any studies that confirm their claims. Yet, why have thousands of people continued to flock there?
But what does it matter, if it's on AM640 radio and health Christine McPhee says so, it must be true.
AM640 is in the business of making money, a lot of money from alternative medicine shows. Many of their so-called medical information programs are in reality nothing more than paid advertising that sounds like a news program.We wonder since Tyrell Dueck's death this week, if Christine McPhee and the management of the WIC radio network will be forced to change their tune. Or, in a more likely scenario, will they trot out dozens of old tapes about quack cancer treatment centers, and book in all those worn out old guests who say that they have the cure for "all diseases".
I can't wait until 2:00 p.m. on Saturday to hear the acrid voice of alt. med., the vendor of vitriolic attacks on traditional medicine, Christine McPhee. I want her to tell the country-wide audience that she is really sorry for her participation in the Total Quack Expo, and in her co-promotion of American Biologics, along with hundreds of other quacks and scam artists that filled the CNE.
We can only wish that the Federal government would protect the Canadian public from cancer quacks, especially those who prey on children, like Tyrell Dueck. We could hope that the CRTC will call Christine McPhee and the WIC radio network to task for aiding and abetting those who would scam people. We have given up praying for Tyrell, because all the prayers in heaven would not have saved him from the scammers in Saskatchewan from his own religious community.
There have been deaths before in Canada and in the U.S. when parents have withheld treatment because of some religious belief. For the most part, those people have been prosecuted, and rightly so. Their kids needed insulin, and they stopped it, or they refused to get immunized, and their children died of a preventable disease.
Tyrell never had a chance. It appeared that his father and religious fundamentalists had brainwashed him so that he couldn't make any decision on his own.
Who did this to Tyrell? Who made it possible for this culture of quacks to flourish? We aren't just talking about faith healing done by televangelists in prairie revival tents, or on TV. We are talking about a well-oiled industry of health-food lobbyists, minstrels of new age gurus, and doctors who basically don't know squat about cancer or medicine.
But, they do know how to run a scam and enrich themselves, all on the back of the frail and impoverished.
Tyrell Dueck's family had every right to believe in miracles.Unfortunately, the courts in Saskatchewan and in Canada let him down.The community has been asked to raise money, again, so that the vultures from Tijuana can have their post-mortem pound of Canadian flesh.
Besides the cancer quacks from Tijuana, an alternative "cancer research"organization was also involved with the treatment of Tyrell in Ottawa.
So, Ottawa, when the hell are you going to stop medical quackery in this country? When are you going to protect the children of this country from abuse by the cancer quackery industry?
Canada allows alternative cancer therapy to be advertised without any regulation. They allow 714-X to be sold, and Essiac to be promotedin major magazines and newspapers, including the Globe and Mail, and MacLeans magazine.MacLeans magazine recently featured a large 8 page supplement from Naturopathic medical groups. The scams included Essiac and hair analysis. The scams continue in other mainstreampublications as well. The Federal government has not stepped in to regulate any of it.
There are only empty promises, and unfulfilled dreams.
It's about time that the public and our patients are protected againsthealth fraud and scams by these blood-sucking alternative health gurus,who are in fact criminals.
We are calling for a crimininal investigation of the alternativemedicine, cancer quackery coalition. We would like to know who controls the WIC radio network, and why they helped to sponsor cancer quacks, and other scam artists in Canada. Who are they, anyway?
We want the media that helped to spread the word about criminal cancer treatment oufits, like American Biologics, to share in the burden of guilt.
We don't need any more Tyrell Duecks on our collective conscience.
Terry Polevoy, M.D.
938 King Street West
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 1G4
Healthwatcher.net E-mail: Healthwatcher
Bill O'Neill - hot vaccine
Bill O'Neill - hot air
American Biologics New Name
CMA Journal - June 1, 1999
The Millenium Project
Comprehensive list of news items of the Tyrell Dueck affair. But, it's also the site of a fundamentalist view and they publish a book about Tyrell, written by his lawyer.
Cross Country Checkup - RealAudio
"Who should decide what is the best medical treatment for children?"
- The Tyrell Dueck case. Rex Murphy hosts CBC radio's premier 2 hour, news and current affairs show every Sunday. This was the original, unedited broadcast from March 21, 1999. Our friend Mr. Bill O'Neill is unchallenged by Rex, and his credentials are never questioned.
If you want to go right to his segment just grab the slider and move it to 37:14. The segment goes until 47:26. That means that Bill had the microphone for over 10 minutes, uninterrupted by beer commercials, or hockey news. And, incidently, he didn't flash his real credentials as a "cancer researcher" either, oops, it must be April Fool's Day.
CBC Cross Country Checkup letters
O'Neill has no medical or other professional credentials in science. (He formerly worked in computers.)
O'Neill founded the CCRG after a child was diagnosed with cancer and he was dissatisfied with medical treatment. The child appears to have been cured.
He is (or was, when the Ottawa Citizen last covered the matter) suing the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in connection with his son's therapy.
The CCRG is a fee-charging organization ($750 minimum) and not a public charity. It appears to be promoting vaccine therapies that orthodox medicine says are unproven.
Listeners to Mr. O'Neill on CBC Radio may have got the impression he was medically qualified and had no personal interest in either supporting or attacking orthodox medicine. It appears such an impression would be unfactual.
You afforded Mr. Bill O'Neill of Ottawa a considerable amount of air-time. He described himself several times as a 'professional' with an international organization, the Canadian Cancer Research Group. He went on about being able to provide the Dueck family with alternative cancer therapy information because of his international contacts.
I suspect, Mr. Murphy, that you have been had. What I know about him is from the local newspaper. He has been featured in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper twice.
I believe he runs a for-profit business that sells useless therapy to desperate people. Specifically, he sells time in a hyperbaric chamber for the treatment of brain cancer and other diseases for which there is no proven benefit.
He charges people $750 for a package of cancer information that is available on the net, at the local Cancer Centre library, and from the Canadian Cancer Society. I was disappointed you were unable to pin him down as to his credentials and how and why he was in contact with the Dueck family.
I am a basic cancer researcher at a provincially funded cancer treatment centre. The most disturbing aspect of your program was the degree of attention and credibility given to so-called alternative therapies. Cancer is a very frequently occurring disease and I too have been touched by it, in the form of the recent loss of a close family member. I know the anguish and feeling of helplessness. It saddens me deeply to hear the distrust of so many callers of evidence-based medicine, in favor of unproven 'miracle cures'.
Like democracy, medicine is far from perfect but there is nothing better.
Opinion and Resources
Tony Matthews - Annapolis Valley Skeptic - Join Tony's poll and forum. Starting this article I wanted to say that Tyrell Dueck passed away, but my conscience will not let me, instead I will start this article with; In my opinion on Wednesday night June 30th Tyrell Dueck was murdered by his parents who were fundamentalist and by alternative medicine led by crack pot companies such as American Biologics.
Child Care, Inc. - - Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD, Inc.) is a nonprofitnational membership organization established in 1983 to protectchildren from abusive religious and cultural practices, especiallyreligion-based medical neglect. CHILD opposes religiousexemptions from duties of care for children.
Vital links to the Tyrell Dueck story
Jim Pankiw - controversial MP and chiropractor
- Late News about Jim Pankiw - He was just smashed in the latest 2004 election.
- Fund raiser led by Jim Pankiw, Saskatchewan MP and former chiropractor
"I sympathize with the very unfortunate situation that social services placed this family in," said the former chiropractor, who attended Friday night's dinner in Saskatoon with two Reform caucus colleagues. "In my view, they crossed the line."
Mr. Pankiw said those who support the Duecks' cause come from all walks of life. He estimated 95% of constituents in his riding were outraged by the Saskatchewan government's approach to the boy's case."
- Jim Pankiw, chiropractor and Saskatchewan MP, wanted the Socialist government to leave Tyrell Dueck alone.
- OPTIMISM IN MEXICO MacLean's Magazine: April 19, 1999 Summary: According to the people treating him, the prospects appeared to brighten for Tyrell Dueck, the 13-year-old Saskatchewan boy who went to Mexico for care after doctors in Canada pronounced his cancer incurable. Mike Culbert, information officer at the American Biologics clinic in Tijuana -- which specializes in alternative therapies -- said there had been "some reduction" in the tumour in the boy's right leg following treatment there. Culbert also said that physicians at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., who examined Tyrell on April 2, found no evidence of cancer in his lungs. (Scripps Memorial Hospital, citing confidentiality considerations, would not confirm or deny that statement.) Tyrell arrived in Tijuana last month after doctors in Saskatoon announced that the bone cancer in his leg had spread to other parts of his body, including the lungs. Their conclusion that Tyrell's cancer was untreatable ended a legal battle by provincial authorities who wanted to attack the cancer with chemotherapy and surgery, over the objections of the boy's parents and Tyrell himself. Culbert said the boy was largely free of pain and had "a great mental attitude and a lot of energy." In Tijuana, clinic personnel treated Tyrell with laetrile -- a controversial drug made from apricot kernels -- vitamins and other alternative remedies. Culbert said Tyrell would probably return home to Martensville, Sask., in the third week of April. "No one can say this is an easy case," added Culbert. "Cancer is never easy. But we have guarded optimism about Tyrell's condition."
Faith or medicine? MacLean's magazine - March 29, 1999 Summary: Around the time of his 13th birthday last Oct. 1, Tyrell Dueck slipped while getting out of a shower. The next day, with his right knee sore and swollen, his parents took the boy to a doctor. Medical examinations led to an unrelated but shocking discovery: a potentially lethal cancer in the boy's thighbone. It also set in train a jarring collision between medical science and Tyrell's Christian fundamentalist parents. Doctors say that Tyrell's only hope of survival lies in chemotherapy -- and possible amputation of his leg. But according to testimony in a Saskatoon court last week, Tyrell and his parents -- described by a psychiatrist as holders of "right-wing, fundamentalist, faith-healing" views -- want him to go to a clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, for treatment built around large doses of vitamins and a special diet. After a three-day hearing last week, Justice Allisen Rothery ordered the boy to continue conventional medical treatment. Tyrell's father, Timothy, she declared, had persuaded his son to place "his hopes for recovery on a cure that does not exist. This is simply cruel."
- Can shark cartilage save the life of Tyrell Dueck? - March 27, 1999Part of a grab bag of therapy youngster is receiving at Mexican clinic; conventional medicine skeptical but not entirely dismissive of effort
- 13-year-old in Mexican clinic: 'This is where it should be' - March 27, 1999 His daily intake of vitamins, enzymes and amino acids to fight his cancer now also includes doses of shark cartilage. He's a candidate for a blood-boiling $15,000 procedure called whole-body hyperthermia, electrical therapy or experimental gene manipulation.
Boy's cancer hasn't spread, says dad - March 26, 1999Tijuana clinic's tests contradict
Canadian diagnosis for Saskatchewan 13-year-old
- Deciding on Tyrell Dueck - March 26, 1999
The difficult case of 13-year-old Tyrell Dueck of Martenville, Sask., left editorial-writers searching for answers to a problemwith no easy way out.Tyrell and his parents wanted to rely on herb and vitamin therapy to treat bone cancer, but a court backed the efforts of thegovernment and doctors to treat the disease with chemotherapy, radiation and amputation of a leg. When the doctorsdiscovered that the cancer had spread to Tyrell's lungs, they backed off.