How to Identify Different Types of Pseudoscience From Very Far Away

You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of diseased imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead— your next stop, the Pseudoscience Zone! (Intense apologies to Rod Sterling.)

This is the second post of a three-part series (first post here), a trilogy, a tri-polemic, if you will, on pseudoscience, and especially on the lovely site, Alternative Cancer Treatments Comparison and Testing (ACT from now on), which sells a “test” that will determine which “alternative” treatment is right for you. This site is, without a doubt, one of the worst examples of pseudoscience I have ever seen. It is, as Wolfgang Pauli said, so bad, it’s not even wrong.

Before I begin my (highly disciplined and organized) rant, let’s have some definitions (courtesy of Wiktionary):

Science
noun
The collective discipline of study or learning acquired through the scientific method; the sum of knowledge gained from such methods and discipline.

Scientific method
noun
A method of discovering knowledge about the natural world based in making falsifiable predictions (hypotheses), testing them empirically, and developing peer-reviewed theories that best explain the known data.

Pseudoscience
noun
Any body of knowledge purported to be scientific or supported by science but which fails to comply with the scientific method.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the various aspects that make ACT pseudoscientific:

Demonstrably false and inconsistent statements.
“Doctors can’t prescribe plant based medicines”
This is an interesting claim, considering that Taxol, one of the drugs used in chemotherapy, was originally* derived from the Pacific Yew, which is, quite definitely, a plant. Of course, ACT means that doctors can’t prescribe the “pure” and “natural” supplements that his ilk sells. Which is, of course, rubbish. My doctor prescribed flax seed oil for a skin condition when I was in middle school, and I know other doctors that will prescribe remedies such as St. John’s wort, chamomile, and licorice for colds, minor depression, and ulcers. What doctors won’t prescribe is unproven “plant based medicines,” and they don’t do it out of fear of losing their licenses; they refuse because they know that herbs can kill (a subject I will talk about in the final piece).

“[T]he percentage of Americans who die each year from cancer has remained pretty much the same since 1970.”
Once again, absolutely false. The number of Americans who die from cancer has gone up, but the number who are living with it has gone up much faster; hence, the percentage has fallen. In fact, since 1993, the death rate has fallen by more than 1% each year.

There are many treatments and clinics claiming to fight cancer by boosting the immune system. This does not seem like a good idea. Tumor cells are made by your body, they are not foreign. Your immune system is designed to attack foreign organisms. There is something wrong here. Much more is needed than immune strengthening to beat cancer.”
I love this one. First of all, there are several kinds of white blood cells that attack tumors. But there’s more. Recall last time when I talked about MGN-3, the “wonder drug” made from rice bran? Turns out that ACT claims that MGN-3 functions by stimulating the same immune cells that ACT wants you to believe don’t exist.

They’re Out To Get Us Because We’re Right
This is scattered all over the website, but here are a few of the more laughable claims:
Hospitals will administer any drug they want with or without your permission. They will take your child away if you disagree with their treatment even if it makes your child worse.

Your doctor can only prescribe treatments that are FDA approved. If your doctor prescribes treatments that are not FDA approved, he or she can be sued or lose their license.

Claims that “alternative doctors” have been “persecuted.” Two of the three mentioned, Carley and Corsello, had their licenses revoked for (respectively) , practicing while having a “delusional disorder with the presence of narcissistic and borderline personality traits” (she claimed to be “Gandhi with breasts”), and “negligence, incompetence;practicing fraudulently;ordering excessive testing and/or treatment; filing false reports; improper delegating of professional responsibilities;failing to exercise appropriate supervision;aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine;abandoning a patient;engaging in conduct which evidences moral unfitness and failing to maintain accurate patient records,” which I would say are rather good reasons for revoking medical licenses.

No Citations or Actual, Repeatable Studies
Sorry, no quotes for this one; the entire site is one mass of unverifiable information.

Violating Basic Laws of Physics
Boy is this one a doozy. Turns out that the kit that they sell to help cancer patients determine which “alternative” treatment is right for them is based on “applied kinesiology,” (itself a pseudoscience) and two “proven facts”: “Every food or medicine has a unique energy signature,” and “our bodies respond to this energy signature in testable ways.” (Both of those are false, by the way.) Here’s how it works: you put the “treatment” in one hand, and use a strength meter in the other. Whichever is strongest is the best one for you. So, you’re basically doing self-diagnosis by psychic powers. Another method of choice: dowsing.

The other one is even more interesting: “quantum touch,” a reincarnation of “therapeutic touch,” neither of which actually involve touching the patient. Apparently the practitioner glides their hands over the patient’s “life force” and smooths out the wrinkles that cause disease.

That’s pseudoscience for you.

*It is now synthesized in the lab to prevent deforestation.

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2 Comments »

  1. alternative treatments that are based on natural and organic stuffs are the best ‘

    • Adam said

      treatments that are proven to actually work are the best.

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