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-woo in medicine.

Expectations versus reality in science-based oncology (David Gorski) Patients with advanced cancer are often given palliative chemotherapy or radiation treatment whose only goal is to relieve symptoms and improve their quality of life. A significant number of patients misunderstand and think the treatment is likely to cure them or extend their life. Paradoxically, patients who rated higher scores for physician communication were more likely to misunderstand the goals of palliative treatment.

Visiting a Victorian Duckpond (Harriet Hall) A new book describes the Victorian “medical electricians” who sold all kinds of bogus electrical devices with extravagant health claims, from hairbrushes to rings for rheumatism. It’s a fascinating story with more quacks than any duckpond, and it’s sad to realize that the same kind of charlatans are still thriving today.

ASA Smacks Down Homeopathy (Steven Novella) The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK has ruled that homeopaths are engaging in false advertising by claiming that homeopathy is effective. They examined the evidence provided by the Society of Homeopaths and determined that it failed to support their claims. They also found that homeopaths sometimes harm patients by discouraging essential medical treatment.

Melatonin for sleep disorders – Safe and effective? (Scott Gavura) The hormone melatonin is sold over-the-counter as a sleep aid for both adults and children. Children should never be treated for insomnia without first being evaluated by a doctor to rule out serious medical conditions. Melatonin is only modestly effective, and many users will not show substantive improvements in sleep quality. Its safety in children and for long-term use by adults has not been adequately studied.

Infant and Toddler Swimming Programs: Are They Safe and Effective? (Clay Jones) Despite the popularity of infant “drown-proofing” and toddler swimming programs, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend initiating swimming lessons in children less than 4 years of age, for a number of very good reasons. There’s no evidence that swimming instruction saves lives in this age group. The best prevention for drowning is close supervision.