Monday, August 24, 2009

beware pseudoscience

Read about the difference between legitimate science and pseudoscience (which is garbage) here.

What follows is a short list of links debunking some of the wacky therapies and theories I've been told to consider (usually by people who are well-intended but gullible) since April 16.

1. GEMM therapy debunked. (NB: I linked to this before.)

2. Aloe vera treatment for glioblastoma-- number of search results for "aloe vera glioblastoma" = zero. Why wouldn't a legitimate medical website have anything to say about this "treatment" for cancer? (Aloe vera scam alert here.)

3. The notion that "all cancer comes from problems with free radicals" is debunked in this fine Guardian UK article. Significant paragraphs:

Alternative medicine proponents have also latched on to the antioxidant fable, this notion that heroic antioxidant supplements fight sinister free radicals out to wreck havoc on the body. This is an oversimplification. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron, making them highly reactive. Yes, they destroy cell walls and lead to disease. And yes, antioxidants neutralise free radicals. Yet free radicals are crucial for the body to make energy, a process that occurs in the cell's mitochondria. Also, free radicals, such as hydrogen peroxide, are a key component to the body's immune system. Too many antioxidants - that is, megadoses of supplements - disturb this natural process.

Indeed, antioxidants such has vitamin C and beta carotene have been shown to fuel cancer growth, and selenium can be toxic. Conversely, there is no evidence that high doses of antioxidants help the body in any way - except (a big maybe here) vitamin E.

What bugs me is that the people who offer these suggestions and insights do so with no knowledge of Mom's particular cancer, and with little or no idea of how to assess the worth of whatever therapy or treatment they're trying to push. For my part, I need to learn to bite my tongue and avoid being sucked into debates about these laughable quack remedies. If people are already so out of touch with rationality that they seriously believe in the power of crystals or whatever, there's little point in attempting to engage them as reasonable people.

Reading assignment: Carl Sagan's The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. True, the only people likely to take me up on this assignment are, in all probability, already reasonable people. But hope springs eternal.



Charles said...

Aloe vera as a cure for GBM (or any cancer, for that matter)? Really? That's pretty far out.

We used to use it to treat burns and minor cuts, but that was about it.

kwandongbrian said...

This is slightly off-topic, but I've been thinking about pharmacy ads on TV in Canada and the US. I felt that suggesting drugs or treatments to my doctor was a ridiculous thing to do. In reading your account here, maybe these ads are not so wrong. You have questioned your doctor fairly aggressively (this is meant as a compliment) and it seems to have been the right thing to do.

Oh, have you tried essiac?

I hope my suggestion is taken as a bit of humour - but its development occurred partly in my hometown, Bracebridge, so it must be good.

Kevin Kim said...


Guess which credulous demographic has been providing these recommendations.

While I'm tempted to say "They'll believe anything," I'm constrained by the fact that Americans are often just as nuts. Witness the people who take "The X Files" seriously, or the host of 9/11 conspiracy theorists out there.


Thanks for the read. "Reen Case," eh? I guess people are gullible in general. I include myself in that assessment. Ask Charles-- he can tell you how easily I was suckered by one of his online April Fool's pranks.


Charles said...

Ask Charles-- he can tell you how easily I was suckered by one of his online April Fool's pranks.

And I felt so guilty about it all the while I was laughing...