Professor Fabrizio Benedetti is the most famous and almost certainly also the most influential researcher investigating the physiology of placebo effects. In a recent commentary, he asks whether placebo research is fueling quackery, as quacks co-opt its results. The answer to that question is certainly yes. A better question is: How do supporters of science counter the placebo narrative promoted by quacks, in which placebos represent the “power of the mind to heal the body”?
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that it is incredibly unlikely that cell phone radiation causes cancer or other health problems. That doesn't stop The Nation from constructing a conspiracy theory inn which cell phone companies are likened to tobacco companies in their campaign of denial designed to hide evidence of harm while disingenuously claiming to be neutral regarding the science and saying that scientists should determine whether radiation from cell phones is hazardous.
Last week, the media were awash with reports of the "interstitium," which was dramatically described as a hitherto undiscovered "organ," a narrative that was definitely a triumph of PR over science that went beyond what even the investigators claimed in their paper. Worse, the investigators themselves even speculated that their discovery could "explain" acupuncture and other kinds of alternative medicine, thus providing an opening for quacks to run wild with their discovery, something I expect to see very soon.
Last week, I wrote about a truly execrable bit of science by Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic purporting to show that aluminum adjuvants cause brain inflammation, which causes autism. Since then, I've learned that, not only is it bad science, but that there are red flags about several of the figures to raise the specter of fraud. This might not be just bad science. It might be fraudulent science. The only way to resolve this would be for the authors to release the original full resolution images of their blots.
Over the last couple of days I noted a disturbance in the antivaccine force, another study claimed to be slam dunk evidence that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines cause autism. It's not. Also, a word to antivaxers challenging Orac to look at this study: Be very careful what you wish for...
Five years ago, IBM announced that its supercomputer Watson would revolutionize cancer treatment by using its artificial intelligence to digest and distill the thousands of oncology studies published every year plus patient-level data and expert recommendations into treatment recommendation. Last week, a report published by STAT News shows that, years later, IBM's hubris and hype have crashed into reality.
I've discussed so-called "right-to-try" laws, which promise to speed experimental drugs to terminally ill patients, but which in reality are about weakening and bypassing the FDA. Now über-Libertarian Peter Thiel is trying a new tactic to bypass the FDA by organizing an offshore clinical trial of a new herpes vaccine based on dubious science and not overseen by an IRB to protect patients. Both right-to-try and this trial are different fronts in the same fundamentalist free market war on FDA regulation.
Quacks love to invoke experts who made predictions that turned out to be wrong or point to Galileo or Semmelweis as examples of scientists whose findings were rejected by the scientific or medical establishment of the time, as though poor prediction or rejection by the establishment means there must be something to their science. Guess what? As Michael Shermer put it, heresy does not equal correctness.
Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD, wants you to know she is a doctor. She also wants you to know that you can "reset" your hormones and genes with food and saunas. In the case of the saunas, she's put the preclinical cart before the clinical horse and extrapolated animal and early molecular epidemiological data off of a cliff.