Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo in medicine.
Oprah’s buddy Dr. Christiane Northrup and breast thermography: The opportunistic promotion of quackery (David Gorski) Dr. Northrup, one of Oprah’s questionable medical experts, has now extended her nonsense to suggesting that women can know intuitively if they have healthy breasts and that they can choose breast thermography in lieu of mammograms. Dr. Gorski explains why this is a bad idea; he describes what we actually know about thermography, and why it might have a supportive role but can’t serve as an independent screening test.
Science and Morality (Harriet Hall) A review of Sam Harris’ new book The Moral Landscape, in which he says that science can determine human values. He shows the inadequacy of either justifying morality with religion or dismissing it as meaningless and varying with culture. Science can show that human values are generally based on the goal of human well-being; it can study what moral standards we profess to hold and which actions actually further those values.
What’s the Harm? (Steven Novella) When people try treatments that are not based on good science, they may hope for a placebo benefit and say “What’s the harm?” but placebos may not be harmless, and direct harm is not the only type worth considering. Dr. Novella gives examples of direct harms and explains why there is also indirect harm from accepting beliefs without adequate evidence.
The Cargo Cult of Acupuncture (Ben Kavoussi) Cargo cults involve imitating a practice without any insight into the underlying principles. Some acupuncture studies have the appearance of clinical research but are inherently flawed and inconclusive because they fail to rule out other explanations for their findings. Believers keep doing pointless studies with blind faith that eventually science will validate their beliefs.
Uff Da! The Mayo Clinic Shills for Snake Oil (Kimball Atwood) The Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine is full of inaccurate information. Its recommendations are based on popularity rather than validity. The language is misleading, bland, and obfuscatory. Dr. Gorski explains why the authors are “disqualified from any claim to responsible reporting.”