If you just want the list, its at the end, so feel free to skip directly there.
In today’s UK Guardian, David Colquhoun, a pharmacologist at UCL who also blogs about pseudoscience and quackery at dcscience.net, has a fabulous article that discusses all the heath-related scams we are exposed to each and every day. If time permits, I do highly recommend reading it …
As an alternative, here is a quick ten point elevator ride summary …
- science works
- there are still things we have yet to solve – for example, common cold, back pain
- for the things we do not have a reliable answer for, there is a lot of alternative quackery about because there are many people willing to cash in on desperation
- there is a great deal of hype in the media, and it is not just snake-oil fraudsters, but also over-optimism and pressure to publish driven by intense competition for grants
- in 2007 honey was good for a cough, better than medicine – the university press said so and the media repeated this, but the actual research did not – its a myth
- “antibiotics cure 40% of back pain” – its a myth, it is only 5%
- “the right diet prevents 40% of cancer” – its a myth, evidence that anything you eat is causal is usually thin because it is impossible to do randomised controlled trials of diet – some have tried
- “red meat causes colon cancer” – now also appears to be a myth
- quacks tout diet related cancer cures that have exactly zero evidence
- in a sea of conflicting advice, many now turn to online blogs. Some do a great job dissecting false claims, but there is also a great deal of misinformation
… oh and I really like his last paragraph …
There are two big problems in understanding whether an intervention works, whether it’s a medical treatment or social intervention such as changing methods for teaching reading or testing approaches to crime and punishment. One is the financial incentive to exaggerate, the prevalence of PR in promoting universities and scientists, and the pressure to publish regardless of quality. The other is the lack of understanding about what constitutes evidence. Everyone should readTesting Treatments and the Cabinet Office paper on how to get good evidence. That might result in more evidence-based policy, rather than policy-based evidence.
Then again, instead of reading my summary (through a glass darkly) you could just read the article.
The Burzynski fraud
Additionally, as a heads up and related to all this, on Monday (tomorrow 3rd June at 20:30 on BBC 1) there is a Panorama documentary about Burzynski who is not an oncologist. This fraud makes his living from children with incurable brain cancer by charging desperate parents huge sums of money (the price of a small house) usually raised by well-meaning friends and supporters, for a treatment that science says shows little promise and whose promoter has behaved with a shocking disregard for the normal standards of medical ethics.
And finally, the promised list.
five 8 sources for the good reliable health information
[Hat tip to David Colquhoun for this list …]
Testing Treatments: how to do fair tests of medical treatments.
Cabinet Office paper: how to do fair tests of social interventions
Cochrane Reviews: the best source of medical information (with plain language summaries)
NHS Choices: gives reliable assessments of stories in the news
The Lawson practice: good links to reliable medical inforomation
Cancer Research UK: reliable information about cancer
Ebm-first.com: a huge resource about quackery