Tag Archives: medical research

Navigating the Snake (Oil) Pit

If you’re like me, your Facebook feed regularly includes a horrified post confirming just how awful something or someone is. Given the state of our politics, it’s totally understandable that–quite often– the friend posted satirical “news,” believing it to be true. Or was simply taken in by  misinformation promoted by partisans and/or propagandists.

This is a real problem. Most of us have been fooled at one time or another, and the damage done isn’t limited to politics, policy and celebrity culture.

I have previously blogged about my cousin who is a retired cardiologist. He shares what is probably a genetic trait in our family, namely, getting very pissed off when evidence-free,  off-the-wall assertions are taken as fact. Of course, that happens all the time with medical and health “news,” because few of us have the scientific background to evaluate these sorts of claims, or the time to thoroughly research them.

His previous book was “Snake Oil is Alive and Well;” he’s now followed it up with a more in-depth look at the various claims made about foods, diet aids, dietary supplements and much more–all of the information, misinformation and nuttiness that–whatever else they do– generally separate us from our money and our peace of mind. Here’s his description of the book:

Advice on matters of health often comes from companies that sell products on TV, or from individuals who promote treatments stemming from self-serving agendas. Information obtained this way is often unscientific, unbalanced, and, sadly, blatantly fraudulent. Unfortunately, surrounded by all this noise, mainstream physicians are seldom heard from; moreover, few are willing to devote the time necessary to expose those ubiquitous misconceptions and to provide countering advice stemming from sound scientific research. Making matters even more treacherous are the various branches of “alternative medicine” that provide untested or worthless “treatments”, placing patients at risk of being exploited, losing their money and damaging their health. Although such alternative methods are largely employed by non-conventional and unlicensed practitioners, occasional wayward “real” doctors imprudently transcend these boundaries and promote dubious methods to large audiences on TV and other media. It is no wonder that the public is confused!

As a member of the conventional medical community, I have decided to present a balanced picture of what works, what doesn’t work, what are outright frauds, and what we really don’t know. This book is intended to provide an introduction to contemporary scientific thought processes and serve as a guide for everyone on how to follow a healthy lifestyle while, at the same time, how to avoid wasting large resources on useless—sometimes dangerous—techniques and treatments.

For more information, you can visit his blog.

Our Money, Our Information

There is a very interesting op ed in this morning’s New York Times from an academic who does medical research, opposing a bill that has been introduced in Congress that would “protect” academic medical journals.

Protect them from what, you ask?

Under current practice, when the NIH or other tax-supported government agency funds research, the peer-reviewed articles that are subsequently written about that research are made available on-line for free. The journals want to change that practice, so that anyone interested in the results will have to buy their journals (which are, by the way, very expensive). The op-ed’s author believes–and I agree–that research funded by taxpayers ought to be freely available to taxpayers; it doesn’t seem fair to make the public pay for something that is then given to private parties who can profit from it.

It is interesting that our debate over healthcare reform has ignored the fact that this is a widespread phenomenon in medical science. Representative of “big Pharma” talk endlessly about the money they spend on research, and what constitutes a fair return on that R & R investment. They talk a lot less about how much of the essential research is funded by taxpayers, and how much more it would cost to develop drugs if that were not the case.

When I was doing some research for a paper a few years ago–before the Affordable Care Act–colleagues from the medical school shocked me when they explained that taxpayers were shouldering between 60% and 70% of all costs for medical care. From public hospitals like Wishard, to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, to underwriting scientific research, We the Taxpayers have paid most of the tab for many years.

Whatever the merits of “private enterprise,” it doesn’t exist in medicine, and hasn’t for a very long time. Perhaps if policymakers understood that, we taxpayers would get some respect–and a return on our investment.