David Gorski: Quackery, Limitless in Abundance

What on earth is going on in academic medicine? From David Gorski’s presentation today, I learned that an association of schools with fake-medicine facilities exists, the Academic Consortium of Integrative Medicine, has over 70 member academic medical centers, which is up from only eight in 1999. What?

Gorski recounted a long list of deeply troubing developments in “quackademic medicine,” such as the recent $200 million gift to UC Irvine for the construction of an inegrative medicine research facility, Harvard students learning about meridians from an acupuncturist, and the Cleveland Clinic’s wide array of offenses against science, which includes nonsense treatments like reiki.

Reiki. Man, that’s a real humdinger, that one. The Cleveland Clinic’s website boasted that reiki involves a “universal life force that is limitless in abundance.” As Gorski clarifies, “Reiki is just faith healing with Eastern mystic religious beliefs.”

It’s maddening. So many resources and so much time and energy directed toward these unscientific non-disciplines. Those $200 million could certainly be better used to pursue real medical breakthroughs rather than making the supporters of homeopathy feel validated.

Part of the problem is how the quackademics muddle their claims with sciencey sounding terms, and layering it all with heaping dollops of self righteousness. Alt-med, CAM, integrative medicine, functional medicine, all of these in one form or another assert that they “treat the whole person,” the exclusively “treat the root cause of disease, not just symptoms,” and only they emphasize prevention of diseases (which is a surprise to, well, real doctors. But it’s okay, because these alt-med types are using “the best of both worlds.” This leads Gorski to ask, “How can you use the ‘best’ of quackery?”

Clearly, though, the reality-based community and the champions of integrative medicine are having different conversations. If you doubt that, note the quote from Dr. David Katz, who insists that homeopathy works, and that medical science needs to embrace “a more fluid concept of evidence.”

If your head has exploded over this, perhaps you’d like to check in with the Cleveland Clinic, and see if your unlimited life force energy an heal your freshly detonated skull.

The Skeptic’s Ally: Julia Belluz Gets the Balles Prize for Critical Thinking

14581366_10154080294675698_2973471898915265002_nLast night, your devoted chronicler of CSICon had the honor of bestowing the 2015 Balles Prize in Critical Thinking upon science reporter Julia Belluz of Vox.com. Rather than paraphrase the whole thing, I’ll just quote myself from my remarks, and it’s not plagiarism because I wrote it:

Here’s what I get from the journalism of Julia Belluz.

  1. I get a guide. News, issues, and controversies about health and medicine explained clearly and accessibly. She covers some very complex topics, and yet she writes in a conversational tone that neither dumbs down nor inflates. In my opinion, she writes in a way that assumes her readers are both intelligent but not necessarily experts in science and health.

  2. I get a passionate ally. “Evidence enthusiast” actually doesn’t quite describe the heart that goes into her work. Explaining important health issues and dispelling misinformation are not academic exercises. This is not some amusing pursuit of novelty. She clearly wants to keep her readers from being conned. There is a sense of duty that I get from her reporting to help all of us make better choices about our health with facts and, importantly, compassion. She’s got our back.

  3. I get a trusted source. This might be the most important part of it. Apart from taking apart the news about IMPORTANT NEW STUDIES or debunking fanciful claims, Julia opens up to show us her intellectual process, honestly confiding to her readers that not every issue is as simple as true vs. false, newsworthy vs. pointless hype. There is nuance, there are shades of gray. Rather than cast villains and heroes, she takes each new issue as it comes, on its own merits. She is self-reflective in the most informative way. She shows us the work.

Accepting the (dangerously heavy) award, Julia was obviously really moved. Being honored by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, with one of her heroes, James Randi, looking on, Julia said she’d return to the newsroom newly energized. Usually “alone at a computer” in her day to day work, having the recognition and support for her work from an organization like ours clearly meant a lot to her.

I hope more journalists will look to her example.