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.
Eminent Harvard psychologist, mother of positive psychology, New Age quack? (James Coyne) Ellen Langer, who has carried out several questionable studies in positive psychology, is now planning a psychosocial intervention study of women with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer that involves sending women to a resort in Mexico to be saturated with cues invoking a time before their diagnosis. This study is arguably unethical and unlikely to produce credible scientific evidence; she is not acting like a scientist, and the enthusiastic media coverage is regrettable.
Ontario fails to protect the life of a First Nations girl with cancer (David Gorski) The parents of an 11-year-old girl with leukemia have stopped her chemotherapy and resorted to quack treatments in a Florida clinic. Instead of acting to protect the girl’s health, a Canadian court upheld aboriginal “First Nation” rights to choose “natural healing” based on their cultural traditions. A child’s life is being sacrificed for political purposes.
Recent Developments and Recurring Dilemmas in Cancer Screening: Colon, Lung, Thyroid (Harriet Hall) There is a new stool DNA test to screen for colon cancer, and new recommendations to screen high-risk smokers with lung CT scans. In Korea, injudicious screening for thyroid cancer has caused a pseudo-epidemic: more diagnoses without any change in death rates. Some people think we should always screen everyone for all kinds of cancer because early detection saves lives. We shouldn’t always, because sometimes it doesn’t.
Low Dose Aspirin for Primary Prevention (Steven Novella) There is strong evidence that aspirin is useful in secondary prevention to reduce the risk of recurrence for people who have already had a heart attack or stroke, but the evidence for primary prevention is not as clear. It doesn’t support a blanket recommendation to give everyone low dose aspirin; decisions should be made on an individual basis, with consideration of various factors such as the person’s level of risk.
Naturopathy vs. Science: Autism (Scott Gavura) Naturopaths have a non-science-based approach to autism, with strong emphasis on environmental factors as causes (including vaccines). They offer an array of “biomedical” treatments ranging from chemical castration and bleach enemas to supplements and diets; some of these are quackery, others are unsupported by any meaningful evidence. They are essentially engaging in anecdote-driven experimentation.
Energy Drinks are Risky, Especially for Kids (Clay Jones) There are a variety of energy drinks and shots on the market that contain caffeine in large amounts. Too much caffeine can have adverse effects on health in adults, and children are more susceptible. Over 3 years, energy drinks resulted in more than 5000 calls to poison control centers. Education and warning labels would help.