Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last month at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo in medicine.

Shilling for traditional Chinese medicine: Nature leaves its readers a lump of coal before Christmas (David Gorski) The respected journal Nature has sold out. It published a supplement on alternative medicine that was paid for by a Japanese supplement manufacturer and was essentially an advertorial for their point of view. It attempts to show that traditional Chinese medicine is evidence-based and cutting edge, but most of the articles are full of fallacies.

Inflammation: Both Friend and Foe (Harriet Hall) Inflammation has become a buzzword and has been implicated as causing numerous diseases. The inflammatory process is complex and essential to health, and interfering with it could be counterproductive. A recent article suggests that inflammation, rather than causing diabetes, actually promotes control of blood sugar levels.

What Is an Antivaxer? (Steven Novella) There is a spectrum of attitudes about vaccines, from concerned parents with doubts to vaccine denialists. Antivaxers oppose vaccines, abuse science, use bad logic, believe conspiracy theories, and spread misinformation. Science clearly shows that vaccines are safe and effective.

Ringing in 2012 with…antivaccine propaganda? (David Gorski) Anti-vaccine activists plan to mis-educate the public via an NVIC ad on a jumbo digital display in Times Square and Jenny McCarthy plans to mention the deceptive ad on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The producers would probably not appreciate this intrusion of activism into a program intended to be purely for entertainment.

Strains, sprains and pains (Jann Bellamy) Florida’s no-fault auto insurance has been a gold mine for alternative medicine providers, paying up to $10,000 for dubious treatments for simple strains and sprains. Chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists rack up the highest charges; emergency physicians, general practitioners and orthopedic surgeons charge far less. Patients seeing chiropractors are more likely to have an attorney. Fraud and litigation have raised insurance premiums to exorbitant levels.

Subluxation Theory: A Belief System That Continues to Define the Practice of Chiropractic (Sam Homola) Efforts to reform chiropractic are overshadowed by the voices of subluxation-based chiropractors who continue to base their practice on an entity that doesn’t exist and to attribute ills throughout the body to spinal misalignments. The subluxation myth refuses to die and is preventing the acceptance of chiropractors as partners in science-based health care; physical therapists can offer the same benefits without the mythology.

Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy”: Can he do what he claims for cancer? (David Gorski) The “antineoplaston” doctor is now also offering gene-targeted therapy and prescribing questionable mixtures of chemotherapy and immunosuppressive drugs. Genomic testing is being investigated by scientific researchers and it holds promise for the future, but Burzynski is relying on questionable tests and is promising far more than he can deliver. The Texas Medical Board is investigating him (again!) for multiple abuses.

Eat Fat, Get Thin? (Harriet Hall) Cardiothoracic surgeon Donald Miller is advocating a diet high in saturated fat, in opposition to the consensus of medical experts. He claims that eating 70% of calories as fat will result in weight loss and prevent heart disease. His arguments are unpersuasive: they rely on cherry-picking and misrepresentation.

Michael Specter on the Placebo Effect (Steven Novella) In a New Yorker article, Specter wrote about the placebo effect and its place in modern medicine. He cites Kaptchuk’s placebo research but, like Kaptchuk himself, draws the wrong conclusions. CAM advocates haven’t been able to prove that their modalities have real effects, so now they are trying to convince us that the placebo effects they produce are real. They aren’t: placebo effects are illusions.

Vitamin B12 – The Energy Panacea? (Scott Gavura) People often take Vitamin B12 in the belief that it will relieve fatigue and boost their energy levels. It offers no benefits to those who are not Vitamin B deficient.

Integrative Medicine: “Patient-Centered Care” is the new Medical Paternalism (Kimball Atwood) Pitchmen claim that integrative medicine offers “patient-centered care.” This claim is worse than fatuous. They pretend to support patient autonomy, but really practice a kind of paternalism. Patients can’t be informed participants in medical decisions if they are given biased misinformation.

Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, antineoplastons, and the selling of an orphan drug as a cancer cure (David Gorski) It turns out Burzynski’s famous “antineoplastons” are nothing more than the byproducts of the body’s metabolism of the orphan drug sodium phenylbutyrate, a drug that has been under investigation by conventional cancer researchers since 1959. Burzynski’s research amounts to poor science and poor ethics. He provides the drug at inflated prices and uses it deceptively along with mixtures of chemotherapy drugs.

Phthalates and BPA: Of Mice and Men (Harriet Hall) Alarms have been raised about the safety of phthalates, Bisphenol A, and other endocrine disruptors used in rubber ducks, baby bottles, medical devices, and now even canned soup. The body of published evidence is reassuring: it might support banning these chemicals for mice, but not for humans.

Defending CAM with Bad Logic and Bad Data (Steven Novella) Since CAM proponents have no solid evidence, they resort to using the same bad arguments over and over, such as the argument from antiquity, the argument from popularity, false choice, and tu quoque. Their poor logic is not going to go away, so we have to keep pointing it out, over and over again.

Vaccination mandate exemptions: gimme that ol’ time philosophy (Jann Bellamy) There is no constitutional right to religious exemptions from mandatory vaccination laws. One state supreme court struck down a religious exemption law as unconstitutional; the US Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue. Attempting to justify it constitutionally by expanding exemptions to “philosophical exemptions” would be disastrous.

Alas poor Craniosacral. A SCAM of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. (Mark Crislip) Craniosacral therapy is so ridiculous it’s hard to believe it isn’t a hoax. Entertaining examples of craniosacral fantasies are provided. The incomprehensible blather is not supported by any even remotely well done published studies.

The compassion gambit (David Gorski) Anti-vaxxers and supporters of “alternative” medicine often try discredit science-based critics by painting them as cold and heartless. Real compassion demands truth telling. Critics are motivated by true compassion for the victims of people like Dr. Burzynski who offer only false hopes and unethical, ineffective, possibly dangerous treatments.

A Christmas Card from the SkepDoc (Harriet Hall) There is more to life than science and truth. Whether you commemorate Jesus or Santa or axial tilt, the holidays are valuable occasions uniting families and friends and celebrating meaningful traditions. Eat, drink, and be merry without succumbing to post-holiday guilt: occasional overindulgences are not sufficient to undermine a generally healthy lifestyle.

Iridology (Steven Novella) Iridology is a pseudoscientific system of diagnosis invented in 1893 based on a single observation by one individual who imagined that all parts of the body were represented on the iris. It lacks any basis in reality, has failed testing, and its alleged successes are explainable as cold reading.

Hypothyroidism: The facts, the controversies, and the pseudoscience (Scott Gavura) Hypothyroidism is readily diagnosed and effectively treated in conventional medical practice although a few areas of legitimate controversy remain. Pseudoscientific advocates of “alternative” approaches diagnose it inappropriately to explain a variety of vague symptoms. They offer bogus diagnostic methods, “natural” and over-the-counter products, and fanciful hypotheses about etiology.

NCCAM Criticism from a Not-Quite-Opponent (David Kroll) Despite recent calls for the abolishment of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it is potentially useful if it would only fund high quality studies of treatments that are supported by strong preliminary data and don’t violate known scientific principles. Pharmacognosy (the study of natural products) is not alternative medicine, and botanical remedies should be evaluated without prematurely rushing into clinical trials. The NCCAM has not only funded undeserving studies but has refused to fund deserving ones.