Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bad medicine

One of my moments of fun at the end of the week is getting my ‘Friday dose of woo’ over at Respectful Insolence. It never ceases to amaze me that people can invent and promote the kind of stuff reported there, and that some people seem to believe it. The most recent entry contains something that is implausible whatever your branch of science and reading about it is an almost psychedelic experience. It’s called the SCIO.

Another place to sample some of the dubious medicine to be had via the net is over at The Little Black Duck’s blog. He discusses the subject of hair mineral analysis, something that sounds rather conventional and much more believable than the SCIO.

Shinga has been talking about food allergy and intolerance tests, another very plausible and conventional sounding set of tests.

While it might be easy to spot the rather dodgy nature of the SCIO, allergy testing and hair analysis sound much more plausible; and all these things have ‘scientific evidence’ presented to add weight to their claims. Shinga and the Little Black Duck show that it’s necessary to go back to the scientific and medical research literature and have a careful look at it to really evaluate whether these tests are actually of benefit to real individual patients. Allergy tests can be very useful – providing you’re doing the right test in conjunction with a good history of the patient’s symptoms.

I’ve talked before about what the RCPath have to say about diagnostic tests. Neither the allergy tests nor the hair mineral analysis would fulfil their criteria. They may sound more plausible than the SCIO but in the end they are no better.


At 17:46, Blogger Shinga said...

It is interesting, isn't it, Dr. K. It is the scientific plausibility that 'sells' these tests to people who are looking for a solution.

Abel Pharmboy wrote some interesting posts on the hype surrounding the potential of curcumin for the treatment of cancer. In a comment, he noted: "Indeed, most cherry-picking, misrepresentation, and otherwise stretching of the peer-reviewed scientific literature by supplement manufacturers and advocates seems intended specifically to target the educated cancer patient and their family by throwing around terms like, NF-kappaB, apoptosis, synergy, and histone deacetylases.

By appearing on the surface to be based in science, I fear that some of these marketing materials can be quite persuasive to even a highly-educated and critical patient reaching for any hope they can."

This is one of the occasions when endorsements/recommendations from various authorities actually have little relevance to the issue of e.g., whether IgG tests actually do have a role to play in the diagnosis of food intolerance.

As you say - it just takes a remarkable amount of ploughing through the literature to demonstrate the paucity of underlying science to people - and even then, they are so accustomed to hearing glowing reports about the fabulous science involved that they still don't believe that there is a issue.

Regards - Shinga

At 08:10, Blogger Dr K said...

Hi Shinga

The 'glowing scientific evidence' seems to be a problem because it's cherry picked and then hyped up as you say. Another difficulty is that real scientific advances suffer from this to some extent in the press so even the results of proper studies get hyped to sound 'as good as' the quack ones, even where the authors of the study are more cautious about it. That makes it even harder to tell the two apart without going back to original research which most people don't have access to.

At 21:54, Blogger lee said...

We are resellers of hair mineral analysis tests that provide a comprehensive breakdown of minerals and metals found in the hair shaft.
They have to come from somewhere to be present in the hair sample!

At 11:48, Anonymous central park bike rental said...

Sounds interesting..Pharmboy seems to know a lot about this.


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