Diffidence based medicine
Some doctors see a problem and look for an answer. Others merely see a problem. The diffident doctor may do nothing from sense of despair. This, of course, may be better than doing something merely because it hurts the doctor’s pride to do nothing.
New Zealand Medical Journal Vol 113 No 1122 p479
Maori Traditional health (Rongoa Maori)
I have received a letter dated Sep 30 2002 answering some questions I had asked on this matter. $1,190,000 has been allocated nationwide to 12 contracted Rongoa Maori Providers. The Marlborough share amounts to $100,000. This seemed to me a golden opportunity to have Rongoa Maori evaluated by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Alternative Health (MACAH) but the letter tells me “The Rongoa Traditional Healing services will not be referred for evaluation by the MACAH at this time as it does not fall within their terms of reference”.
It seems to me that MACAH has become a redundant quango, much like the similar body in the US (National Institute of Health) which has also failed to make any meaningful comments on the efficacy or otherwise of any alternative medical modality. It would of course be disrespectful to Maori to test Rongoa medicine and show that it was useless.
Letter from Deputy Director-General, Maori Health, dated 30 Sep 2002.
Nuclear Test Veterans
When people believe that their health has suffered from some experience they can become obsessional and develop all sorts of strategies for defending their delusional beliefs. A British study found that veterans of nuclear tests were no more susceptible to cancers than members of the public. Sound familiar? Just think about Gulf War Syndrome and the current fuss over the spraying of the painted apple moth in Auckland.
A spokesman for the veterans was quoted as saying that the findings would not affect the push for compensation. I have seen claims from these people that as various tests were conducted they could see an Xray of their hand bones during the flash! This is fantasy and the whole thrust of the compensation issue is the belief that they were used as “guinea pigs”. There has never been any evidence that servicemen were deliberately exposed to radiation as an experiment.
Dominion Post 26/2/03
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids), Murder and logic
After a family had suffered four deaths from Sids, a woman’s estranged husband found her diary in which she documented how she had actually murdered the children. Post-mortem examinations at the time were inconclusive (Marlborough Express 2/4/03).
This case reminded me of another similar episode where a plausible woman murdered five children and was written up by a gullible paediatrician as a case of “familial Sids”, despite the protestations of an experienced pathologist who is quoted as saying: “One unexplained infant death in a family is Sids. Two is very suspicious. Three is homicide”. There is a book about this case and in my opinion it is essential reading for all Skeptics because it has so many lessons about belief, logic, flawed research and delusional thinking.
The Death of Innocents by Richard Firstman & Jamie Talan, Bantam Books
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(Sars)
The media have been doing their usual excellent job of fostering panic and hysteria over a viral illness that has a mortality rate of only about 3 per cent and kills mainly old sick people. The reporting has been abysmal with no attempt to compare Sars with, say, influenza, and no intelligent discussion about mortality rates as compared to other common infectious illnesses. In my hometown of Picton there has been a run on facemasks and pharmacies are having to restock. After about 15 minutes of use facemasks become useless.
I have heard only one commentator reminding us that millions of people die every year from tuberculosis, malaria and Aids.
Variations on a Theme
When a placebo therapy becomes commonplace, it can be a good marketing tool to introduce some subtle variation which adds novelty and appeal. Chiropractic is a placebo therapy based on a plausible but unproven theory and using the power of touch (laying on of hands). The “McTimoney is a more gentle form of chiropractic involving small fast movements to release key muscles, allowing the bones to naturally move back into place”. A new local practitioner is quoted as saying “It’s very exciting. I feel a bit like a missionary”.This is quite an appropriate metaphor because many alternative practitioners have an air of religious fervour and this type of personality enhances the placebo effect.
These subtle variations of alternative medicine are unlimited and it makes good sense to use them in combination. This maximises the placebo effect.
Marlborough Express 9/4/03
Placebos are sometimes referred to as “sugar pills”.It is rather fitting that Ambrotose is made from eight sugars, aloe vera and vegetable extracts. A month’s supply costs $300 so the profit margin must be huge. It appears that New Zealand has a vast population of gullible consumers with too much money. As WC Fields said: “Never give a sucker an even break”.
I have thought of a product for such people:
“Gullitose” is made from only natural sugars and salts. It is a health supplement (insert here 20 fictitious testimonials from cripples, mother of six and Aids victims) and assists the natural healing of the body. Send $400 to (insert PO Box number). Discovered by Professor Leiw PhD (University of Wakula Springs) (insert picture of jovial bearded man).
All joking aside, it is sad to think that people are wasting their money on sugar pills. $300 is a week’s wages for many people.
Dominion Post 12/3/03