Category Archives: alternative medicine

The Dark Side of Public Television

I watch and appreciate the regular programming on public television.  There is not a day that goes by without my watching the serious, intelligent, and largely balanced news programming on my local PBS Channel 13 in New York. On weekdays, I watch Charlie Rose on this channel, whose intelligent-content quotient I judge to be much higher than that of commercial broadcasting.  In sum, the (regular) PBS offerings respect the intelligence of their audience.  They tend to examine things from various angles, and they invite the listener to weigh and judge complex issues.

But every three months or so, Channel 13, like other PBS channels all over the country, interrupts its generally highbrow programming to go lowbrow, very lowbrow.  It’s fund-raising time, and various cranks and snake-oil salesmen are presented to raise money, ostensibly for public television but, more immediately for themselves.   Suddenly issues are no longer complex but are presented in the style of evangelism:  everything is simple, just do as I say, and, above all, send me your money.  These charlatans  claim to have  medical, financial, and emotional  cure-alls.    The medical quacks are of course the worst.  They tell you (without ever examining you) that if you will only follow their directives — which they will sell you by way of promotional material — that you can cure your heart disease, your sexual inadequacies, and everything in between.

Am I the first one to raise the alarm here ?  Absolutely not.    The PBS ombudsman Michael Getler has said more or less the same thing.  And so have Brian Dunning and Harriet Hall, among many others.

My own modest contribution to the discussion will restrict itself to my experience with the most recent Channel 13 fund drive that featured a certain Steven Masley, self-styled “board-certified physician” and author of self-help tomes such as “Smart Fat: Eat More Fat. Lose More Weight. Get Healthy Now.”  Masley’s audience on public TV is told that, in addition to being a physician,  he is also a master chef, so following his advice makes you not only healthy but tastes good to boot.   If you follow his advice, it is suggested, you will get healthy;  and in particular, you are lead to believe, any heart condition that you may have  can be cured within thirty days:

THE 30-DAY HEART TUNE-UP takes readers step by step through a revolutionary program to tune up their hearts, energy, waistlines, and sex lives, with 60 delicious recipes to help jump-start a heart-healthy diet.

Now whatever his formal credentials, Masley is not practicing the profession of medicine when he advises unseen audiences, for his own financial gain, on how to cure heart conditions and other ailments.  For this reason alone he must be considered a charlatan rather than a doctor.

But just what are his formal credentials, insofar as these can be verified ?  Is he a cardiologist, as is sometimes claimed for him in his own publicity ?  Is he certified in some other specialty, as he claims consistently ?

The fact seems to be that, while he is a licensed physician in the state of Florida, he has no specialist credentials whatever.   In reply to my inquiry as to which medical board has actually certified him, he writes as follows: “I am board certified in Family Medicine and I am a Fellow with the American Heart Association, the American College of Nutrition, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.”  As it happens, the board-certifying group for family medicine is the American Board of Family Medicine, which he does not mention.  There are a number of online facilities that allow members of the public to verify the board certification of a physician.  None of these, insofar as I could detect, confirm Masley as board certified, either by the ABFM or any other medical board.

As to the groups for which he claims being a fellow, these are not at all comparable to medical boards that certify physicians.  These “fellowships” are awarded by application from physicians;  and, once a fee is paid by the applicant, are not very demanding.  For example, the requirements of the American Academy of Family Physicians, are shown here.  An acquaintance of mine is a family physician and writes: “The American Academy of Family Physicians is the professional organization that I belong to. I never bothered to apply to become a Fellow … It is a mere formality, not an “award for merit””.

What Masley does in fact represent is the dark side of public television.  I have repeatedly contacted Channel 13 to protest, regarding Masley and all the other charlatans it airs four times a year.  In particular, I have tried to contact Channel 13 about the misrepresentation of Masley as a “board certified physician,” as I have also tried to contact the PBS ombudsman.  I have not received any reply whatever.

Hat tip:  Harriet Hall

The Menace of "Alternative Medicine"

Daniel David Palmer (1845-1914), Father of Chiropractic

There was a time, some thirty or forty years ago, when the elite medical schools and hospitals warned patients away from self-styled healers who lacked medical training. Then as now, “chiropractic,” “naturopathy,” “acupuncture,” and many others, were popular and offered their wares, but then they were rejected without equivocation by established medical authorities. But oh, how things have changed.

To give but one example, New York University’s Langone Medical Center now offers naturopathy, acupuncture, and herbalism among its treatments for a long list of ailments, including, yes, cancer. Unbelievable ? Click here to see for yourself.

The gradual change in attitudes by leaders of the medical profession is documented in a 2005 article by the sociologist Terri Winnick, “From Quackery to ‘Complementary’ Medicine: The American Medical Profession Confronts Alternative Therapies.” The article is as much a symptom of the change as a description of it, thereby offering some clues to attitudes that caused it.

To Winnick, changes in medical positions seem all to the good. Her narrative is mainly one of sordid political power plays by the AMA in the 1960’s, replaced by more reasonable positions now. Some fifty years ago, she tells us, the medical establishment had more power and could therefore fight off the claims of the rival “modalities.” Today organized medicine is constrained to be more reasonable, and, she suggests, has therefore come to see the light of cooperation with “CAM” (“complementary and alternative medicine”).

The striking shortcoming in Winnick’s article, and in the many similar books and articles on the subject, is absence any sort of hard-headed examination of the claims made by these “alternative” practitioners and of their scientific credentials.

As for the claims, the short answer is that, now as before, there simply is no evidence that any of these alternatives to scientific medicine have any merit whatever. This may seem a harsh and intolerant thing to say, but it is the conclusion reached, despite much pressure in opposite directions, by the very government agency set up to find any and every possible scrap of merit in these “alternatives,” namely the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.

As for scientific credentials of the “alternative” practitioners, it is instructive to look at those of the man hired by NYU to cure cancer (among other ailments) by “alternative” methods. This is what we read

Dr. X, N.D., joins NYU Urology from the Center for Holistic Urology at Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. X. holds a four-year naturopathic doctoral degree and a two-year acupuncture degree from the University of Bridgeport. His clinical practice and research focus on integrative, holistic appraches to urological conditions.

Readers should ask themselves how these credentials compare to those of Board-certified medical practitioners. And they should ask the people in charge of NYU and Columbia whether they themselves, personally, would entrust their health and that of their families to the man from Bridgeport.

To be sure, there still are clear voices of warning. Edzard Ernst has recently written a no-nonsense book, and then of course there is Quackwatch. But given the prevailing anything-goes attitudes of our elite medical institutions, these voices seem to be coming from the wilderness.