The mouse trap: Studies done on mice, not people

The next time you hear about interesting findings from the latest scientific study on health, be sure to pay attention to the subject of the study. Was it done on mice? Then don’t get too excited and don’t immediately change your lifestyle because of it.

Mice (and rats, fruit flies, zebrafish, roundworms – all common experimental subjects) are not people. Sorry to be so obvious but it’s easy to miss this when the news anchor on Good Morning America is just so enthusiastic. Results from experiments on them do not necessarily translate to results in humans. Human trials are an additional step – one that is difficult and expensive – so experiments on animals will occur first to provide data and decide whether to move ahead to human trials.

Here are some examples of studies that got widespread press coverage with headlines the sounding promising. But, the fact that they were done on mice might have been missed. Continue reading

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Homeopathy? Let me count the zeros…

Homeopathy is ridiculous in concept and in practice. It not only goes against what we know about chemistry and physics regarding water and molecules but also of the medicinal value of certain substances. Ironically, the substances are not even IN the product.

Here is a great example. Did you know that the product “Oscillococcinum” is homeopathic but its basis is duck organs? Continue reading

Practical Skepticism is about ME

By Steve Cuno

I’m feeling self-absorbed today. I want to talk about how skepticism helps me, me, ME.

Don’t get ME wrong. I concede that not just I, but the whole of humankind stands to benefit from a skeptical approach. Here are four examples:

Example the First: Skepticism saves me money.

I had a favorite brand of barbecue sauce. Whenever it chanced to set foot in my mouth, my taste buds greeted it by standing up and singing hymns. One day I picked up a considerably cheaper brand, just to compare. Sure enough, it proved not as good. But thanks to skepticism, I knew a thing or two about how easily we fool ourselves. I wondered, “How would James Randi test this?” I took out two spoons and poured a dollop in each. Good so far, except skepticism had also taught me the value of a blind test. How was I going to manage that on my own? Here serendipity intervened. I received a phone call. By the time the call ended, I couldn’t remember which spoon held which sauce. I sampled them both … and could taste no difference. My taste buds now stand and sing for Brand X, and my wallet joins in.

On another occasion, I was running errands with a friend when he ducked into a so-called nutritional products store. He emerged a few minutes later with a handful of bottles and $50 less in his pocket. Thanks to some skeptical knowledge, I recognized the product names and knew that none of them performed as claimed, or, if you will, as claimed in large type and disclaimed in small. My friend would hear none of it. That was his privilege. I came away grateful that skepticism protects me from spending good cash on worthless products.

Example the Second: Skepticism rescues me from unproductive arguments. Continue reading

Trust experts or those who tell a good story?

Science is a way of knowing – it’s a rigorous process that ideally winnows away the possible options until the best answer remains for the present time. It’s the most reliable way of knowing because of how strict scientific testing is. It’s not perfect (because it’s done by humans, obviously, who will certainly make some mistakes), but it’s the best method we have. Consider the other options – intuition, imagination, revelation, tradition, personal observation. These can give us the illusion of knowledge but they are not as reliable to others and the pitfalls of using those methods abound.

When a body of experts, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, or committees assembled by the National Research Council, evaluates all the published research and then issues recommendations based on the evidence they found, YOU OUGHT TO LISTEN CLOSELY. They probably know what the scoop is better than anyone. [Hall, H.,  Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec 2014]

Expert_david tweet

Continue reading

Rand Paul is a doctor?

Senator Rand Paul said some really crazy stuff about vaccines causing mental disorders There are serious problems with his misleading comments about vaccination.

“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul said. “I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing. But I think the parents should have some input.”

Asked for evidence of those claims, Paul campaign spokesman Sergio Gor didn’t address them and instead said that while Paul largely supports vaccines, “many” should be voluntary.

1024px-Rand_Paul,_official_portrait,_112th_Congress_alternateBut he’s a doctor, right? He should know!

He’s a doctor, but an ophthalmologist – an eye doctor. Eye doctors don’t give vaccinations and probably don’t know a whole lot about the immune system. So he’s using his credentials as a medical school graduate to boost his opinion. Is that valid? No. He’s spouting nonsense.

Second hand stories of those that say they saw complications is NOT the same as a careful cataloging of vaccine-related injuries. Such stories are opinion, not even informed opinions, and are more than dubious.

While Sen. Paul admits vaccines are overall good and that he gets vaccines and so did his children, he’s making a point about choice. Funny, how many parents are pediatricians and are more qualified on vaccinations than their children’s doctor to make correct “choices”.

Today I encountered a person on Twitter who said they felt uncomfortable about vaccines and “went with their gut” about holding off on vaccines.

I try not to think with my gut, that’s not what it’s for.

There is simply NO DOUBT that vaccines should be administered on a recommended schedule and in their entirety.

Parents already have a “choice“.

There is no such thing as “forced vaccination” in this country, no matter how much the antivaccine movement likes to try to characterize it this way. Rather, what we have in this country are school vaccine mandates. […] No parent is forced to vaccinate her child for anything, but if the parent makes that choice the child will not be allowed to enroll in school or day care. It’s an eminently reasonable compact: You don’t have to vaccinate, but you don’t have the right to let your child endanger others. It’s a system that has served us well for many years. It’s less coercive than actual forced vaccination, which inevitably produces a really nasty backlash, but it still functions well to maintain high levels of vaccination in most cases.

Vaccines are generally considered to be the most successful public health intervention ever devised. They unequivocally are not related to autism which is a more complex syndrome. For more about vaccines (and the autism myth) go here – Vaccines & Autism « Science-Based Medicine

Think again: Dietary Supplements

Are they safe? Do they work? There is stuff you should know before you shell out money for those flashy bottles of health promises.

dietary supplementsPerhaps you saw the latest news that the New York state Attorney General issued a ‘cease and desist’ order to four big retailers in that state for selling dietary supplements. DNA testing was done on an array of common herbals and supplements. The tests found the products contained contaminants not identified on ingredient labels and in some cases did NOT contain the ingredient advertised. There is something you should know about supplements – they don’t have to be shown to be either safe or effective. They can just be sold on the shelves and promoted as wonder products.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 made it easier to sell dietary supplements – like vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids or other substances that you can purchase without a prescription of demonstration of need.

They are not considered “drugs” and so are not regulated like over-the-counter or prescription drugs which must demonstrate safety and usefulness before being approved by the FDA. Dietary supplements get a pass.

The law included an important provision that placed the safety burden on the manufacturer. It is assumed that they will not put out an unsafe product. However, without quality testing, some products have been shown to contain contaminants or real drugs. If a person is allergic to the contaminant which is not listed on the label, they could suffer effects. If a drug is present, it could cause interaction with other medications or make existing conditions worse or even cause death.

It is assumed the the label showing ingredients and amounts of each are correct. There has been efforts to spot test the products. The findings have not reflected well on the industry adhering to these good faith assumptions. The majority of products tested in some studies have failed to have the listed amount or even the listed ingredient inside.

Glucosamine (with or without chondroitin) does not have a plausible mechanism to help with osteoarthritis and tests shows it it just an expensive placebo. It doesn't do what it says.

Glucosamine (with or without chondroitin) does not have a plausible mechanism to help with osteoarthritis and tests shows it it just an expensive placebo. It doesn’t do what it says.

The manufacturer does not have to show that it is effective. Dietary supplements are not considered drugs and so they can not make the claim that they “diagnose,” “treat,” “prevent,” “cure,” or “mitigate” any condition or illness. You’ll see this noted on bottles and in commercials. It’s known in skeptical circles as the “quack Miranda warning”. The assumption here is that such products may be beneficial to overall health or can shorten the duration of a cold, boost your immune system, remove toxins, and may other dubious claims. If the substance has a plausible mechanism for working, chances are there has been actual tests done. Results are most often less than impressive, such as for echinacea, glucosamine and zinc, certainly not as effective as drugs specifically developed to treat medical conditions. If such ingredients actually are effective, they have been snapped up by pharmaceutical companies and processed to be most effective in order to be prescribed by doctors.

Some marketed supplements – like vitamins and minerals – are beneficial for people with deficiencies or certain conditions. A few do have well-established beneficial effects but your doctor should be recommending what you might benefit from taking, an available supplement or a prescription to treat the condition. Always consult your doctor about taking supplements.

Do you know what's in your supplements? Are you taking them because of the likely empty promises from advertising?

Do you know what’s in your supplements? Are you taking them because of the likely empty promises from advertising?

Dietary supplements are potentially hazardous, may be misleading in their claims, and are often simply a waste of money. The take away here is that dietary supplements don’t undergo FDA review for safety and effectiveness before they’re sold. Therefore, considering the evidence we have on their efficacy and safety, the risks appear to outweigh any benefit for using them.

Beware of the advertising for such products. Consult neutral sources of references (even Wikipedia) and take careful note of the negative aspects associated with the product.

Here are some good places to learn about dietary supplements.

Federal Trade Commision: Dietary Supplements

FDA: Dietary Supplements

Science based medicine on dietary supplements

“Dietary Supplements,” Herbs, and Hormones – Quackwatch

Spread the word.