Some times the quackery makes me laugh

There’s a lot that distresses me about naturopaths and other quacks. They are a genuine danger to the health of all those who encounter them. This may be in the form of an active danger – cases abound of them prescribing contra-indicated drugs – or it may be in the form of a more passive danger, such as when someone with an easily treatable but potentially deadly disease is misdiagnosed by one of these poorly trained charlatans – but they are a danger any way one wishes to look at it. That said, that doesn’t mean the ineffective methods of these quacks can’t be hilarious. Take this interview with Portland quack Sarah Kotzur:

To determine the best course of treatment, including an appropriate homeopathic remedy, Dr. Kotzur spends two hours with a new patient. “I’m trying to know you as a whole person,” she says. “I’m going to ask about what kind of dreams you have, what kind of food you crave. What is your body temperature? Do you sweat? Are you thirsty?”

Emphasis mine, hilarity Kotzur’s. One wonders how she decides to interpret this arbitrary information when ‘treating’ one of her ‘patients’. If the person has dreams where they can’t run fast, does that mean she prescribes a dose of treadmill time? Tough to tell, but I’d venture a guess that most of her ‘treatments’ come down to garlic, some sort of berry, and/or what is basically water.

The rest of the article goes into attempting to legitimize the practice by noting how it works with insurance and licensing:

Naturopathy has come a long way since the 1980s. There are currently six accredited schools of naturopathic medicine in the United States and 16 states now offer practice licenses. Maine has been licensing naturopathic doctors since 1996.

What the article failed to mention, and what naturopaths don’t want people to know, is that naturopathy is specifically banned in South Carolina and Tennessee. It isn’t medicine, it isn’t related to science, and every single one of its practitioners is a quack.


New warning labels for junk alt-med vaccines

The alt-med crowd is notoriously anti-vaccine despite the high level of safety of vaccines – even despite how many lives vaccines save every year. Real medicine being so effective against what were once devastating, wide-spread diseases just doesn’t fit the alt-med narrative. Yet does that stop them from peddling their own ‘vaccines’? Of course not. And would you believe it? Their vaccines aren’t even effective:

Health Canada is cracking down on the sale of so-called homeopathic vaccines that are falsely promoted by some naturopaths and homeopaths as safer and more effective than traditional vaccines.

The department has altered the document that outlines how homeopathic vaccines should be used, saying they must now contain the following warning: “This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination.” The document, called a product monograph, was updated June 24, one month after The Globe and Mail published a story outlining the concerns with homeopathic vaccines.

“We’re very glad … they’ve taken this step,” said Jamie Williams, executive director of Bad Science Watch, a Canadian advocacy organization that led a campaign against homeopathic vaccines. “We feel that it will be a help to consumers who might not have been getting the full information to make a more informed health choice before this.”

But what’s in these so-called vaccines, you ask? Well, ultimately nothing. But they made sure to take a gross path to that nothing:

Homeopathic vaccines, also known as nosodes, are made from infected saliva, feces or other material. The substance is mixed with alcohol and diluted until it is harmless, according to the homeopathic and naturopathic practitioners who sell the products. They say nosodes produce an immune response and that research shows it protects as well, if not better, than traditional vaccines.

In other words, they disinfect some feces or spit before essentially filtering it back to water. Anyone looking to imbibe this malarkey would be better off spitting into their Brita water filter and drinking the purified water that comes out. At least then they would have a water filter in addition to having wasted their time. And as for what research shows? It’s a lie. People who promote this sort of quackery cite poorly done studies with a tiny number of participants; the studies are never replicated and they never appear in any journal with any dignity. It’s all agenda-driven drivel that, in the end, makes the homeopath a butt-load of undue money. Take this advice from Jamie Williams, executive director of Bad Science Watch:

“Do not listen to somebody in a health store who’s trying to sell you $30 worth of sugar pills,” he said.

Darrick Banda for DA

It isn’t often that I cross political lines and endorse a Republican. I’m a pretty liberal person, and while Democrats often don’t match up with my views as well as I would like, it’s definitely the candidates with the “D” next to their names that most closely reflect my politics. However, this election is a little different. For 2012, I have an overwhelming reason to endorse Darrick Banda for DA: His opponent is Maeghan Maloney.

As many readers know, Maeghan Maloney attempted to sue me on behalf of her quack husband, Christopher Maloney. They believed I had made libelous statements by calling “Dr.” Maloney a quack. (He practices the scientifically bogus discipline of naturopathy.) However, they soon backed away from their pursuit of that claim when I brought on an excellent defense team – a defense team made up of three lawyers who were working pro-Bono because they all value the protection of basic free speech rights. Here is what one of them, Ken, had to say about Mrs. Maloney:

5. Dr. and Ms. Maloney’s demand for injunctive relief, to me, perfectly represents how unprincipled, contemptible, un-American, and freakishly censorious their entire threat scheme was. The complaint they served on Mr. Hawkins was incomplete — it cut off at the seventh page, so you can’t tell what’s in the prayer for relief — but here’s what they demand in the text of the injunctive relief cause of action:

35. . . . . Injunctive action is necessary to prevent further expansion of Defendant Hawkins’ comments. A temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction or a permanent injunction is necessary, as Defendant has refused to limit or remove postings.

36. Such injunctive action would need to apply all [sic] blogging and social media, as Defendant Hawkins has threatened he will repost all his material. It would also need to apply to all allied bloggers reposting Defendant Hawkins’ materials since several have explicitly offered to host him and maintain a copy of his blog. [Emphasis added]

That’s right — a Maine state legislator just suggested that a Maine court should issue an injunction prohibiting unnamed, unserved people — potentially including you — from re-posting what Mr. Hawkins had to say about Dr. Maloney.

And that was some of the nicer stuff he had to say.

Of course, Maloney isn’t the only reason I’m endorsing Banda. As it happens, I think Banda is more qualified for the job given his background. He has been involved with the DA’s office far more than Maloney and I believe he is a far more respected figure than she is. Moreover, this position is not one that is political in the same way a legislative job is. I think Banda recognizes that, whereas I’m not so sure Maloney does. (After all, she can’t seem to even recognize basic First Amendment rights.)

Vote Darrick Banda.

What’s the harm in naturopathy?

It’s no secret that naturopathy is pure quackery. Indeed, part of its premise is vitalism, a concept which has no physical basis. It is the practice and love of those who are no better than 9/11 conspiracy nuts or birthers; it’s nothing more than a hipster-like reaction to something that has been established as true. And it comes with great harm:

Anne M. Adkins
Wichita, Kansas – Kidney failure
January 6 – 26, 2004
She traveled to Utah to be treated by a holistic naturopath. She received large doses of vitamin C, chelation therapy and colonics among other things. Within weeks she was suffering from kidney failure.

Lorie Atikian
Age: 17 months
Ontario, Canada
Died (malnutrition, pneumonia)
September 25, 1987
Lorie’s parents, concerned about modern food additives, were advised to give her an organic vegetarian diet. She was also treated with herbal & homeopathic remedies and an energy machine. Her parents were convicted of neglect.

Cameron Ayres
Age: 6 months
Fulham, west London, England
May 1999
Cameron was born with a rare but treatable disorder, but his parents distrusted conventional medicine. A nurse/homeopath begged them to take him to a doctor, but they refused. He died.

Raj Bathija
Age: 69
Westminster, London, England
Both legs amputated
September 2005
He saw a “natural health practitioner” famous for treating celebrities. He was given nutritional advice and massages. Later, he was taken to a hospital where his legs had to be amputated. He is suing the practitioner.

Debbie Benson
Age: 55
Fort Bragg, California
Died (cancer)
July 15, 1997
She had a deep distrust of traditional medicine, so she sought out naturopaths and other alternative practitioners for her breast cancer. It raged out of control and she died.

Catherine “Cat” Elizabeth Bresina
Age: 17
Wheatridge, Colorado (from Wisconsin)
Cardiac arrest
March 25, 2004
Cat’s family took her to Colorado for what they thought was an inventive therapy for her disease. An injection she was given during the treatment caused her heart to stop. Charges were later filed against the naturopath.

I’ve only given 5 of the 200 instances of naturopathy-induced harm from that one website. Just imagine how many more there are every year throughout the world. And not instances of simple malpractice or clerical errors or bad luck. These are instances of ignorant, untrained individuals trying to play doctor. I have no respect for these people.

Colloidal silver and naturopaths

If someone randomly asked me what I thought of the idea of injecting silver into the body, I would say I presume it’s toxic, but I don’t know. I would then do a 30 second search on the effects of the stuff and discover that it offers no medical benefits and, in fact, can lead to the condition known as argyria. This is when the skin turns a grey/blue color for life. Apparently it’s only cosmetic, but so are many other disfigurements:

Now, if someone asked the same question to a naturopath or any other quack, the result might be this, especially in Vermont: “Oh, sure, it’s great stuff. Really great stuff. Do you want an injection? I’m legally allowed to put this poison into your body, after all.” They would say this because Vermont, like several other states, allows naturopaths to prescribe certain things for ‘patients’. One of these things is colloidal silver, which is just silver suspended in a solution. My hope is the Green Mountain State is unique in its allowance to naturopaths to poison people, but I’m not sure.

Check out the anger of one person afflicted with argyria:

If NDs had known as much about medicine as I, an educated consumer, do, they would have searched the medical literature before including anything in their formulary. If they had done that, they would have seen that: there are no studies showing that ingesting silver in any form or amount offers benefits; colloidal silver does not treat eye infections; taking silver internally or putting it in your eye can result in permanent discoloration.

If NDs had checked common toxicology reference books, they would have seen that silver causes argyria. If they had looked at old pharmacology books, they would have found warnings about the uselessness and danger of taking it internally. If they had checked current ones, they would have discovered that those practicing scientific medicine discarded silver long ago.

If NDs followed notices published by NCCAM, the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, or the FDA, they would have seen consumer warnings as well as the FDA rule in the Federal Register stating that silver cannot be used as a drug because ingesting it offers no benefits and is dangerous.

If NDs had googled “silver” or “colloidal silver”, they would have learned all of the above.

If they followed the mainstream media, they would have seen Paul Karason or me. The local, national and international media has covered our stories extensively. Paul was on Oprah. Consumers Reports listed “colloidal silver” among its latest list of “dirty dozen” supplements to be avoided. The Wall Street Journal said, “federal regulators say it a total scam”.

(Paul Karason is the guy pictured above.)

I find it just deplorable that we license these people at all, but to allow them prescription rights is actively dangerous. Even if they manage to not prescribe contraindicated drugs – something I doubt most of them are even aware should be a concern – they still have the right to effectively give people poison. It’s awful.

via SBM

Anti-evolution legislation in New Hampshire

New Hampshire has been disappointing as of late. Here and there I’ve been hearing rumblings of Republicans gearing up to destroy the lives of Granite State gays. Then they put money in the pockets of naturopaths at the expense of the health of their citizens. And now a number of schmucks are getting ready to put forth some anti-science bills:

House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), would charge the state board of education to “[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.” House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), would charge the state board of education to “[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”

Bergevin pulls out what has got to be the most basic creationist canard by implying that a theory is somehow not scientifically sound or established. He’s wrong. See Theory of Gravity for further reference. But as if blatant ignorance wasn’t enough, he then goes and commits a logical fallacy by demanding, in poorly veiled code, that teachers make ad hominem attacks on scientists. It would be risible if it wasn’t so pitiable and contemptible and insensible all at the same time.

Hopper and Burt don’t fair much better. They use the broad concept that accepted science changes with the evidence, but they do so in an obviously sneaky, if superficially acceptable, way. Fortunately they slipped up and showed their hand early:

Although HB 1457 as drafted is silent about “intelligent design,” Hopper’s initial request was to have a bill drafted that would require “instruction in intelligent design in the public schools.”

Surprise, surprise. I guess they must have read Kitzmiller v. Dover after their first draft.

I remember Maine had a very brief flair up a few years ago when some administrator out in East Bumfuck made similar suggestions concerning the teaching of evolution. He quickly learned the value of shutting up in the face of overwhelming evidence he just didn’t understand, but it was still disappointing that the moment wasn’t captured more fruitfully by journalists; no one in the media took the time to pen a short article on why evolution is true and why the administrator was wrong. It wouldn’t have needed to be some in-depth piece, but just something that explained some of the basics (starting with what a theory is since that was at the heart of the issue here). Hell, I’m sure any paper could have gotten an actual biologist to write something for them in under an hour.

I just hope New Hampshire does at least a little bit better than Maine did.

Christopher Maloney and the lawsuit that almost was

Christopher Maloney, Q.E. - Quack Extraordinaire. via

We all know Christopher Maloney by now. He is the quack who, in conjunction with Andreas Moritz, worked to get my site shut down in February 2010. They were both upset that I had called them quacks, among a variety of other derogatory names, so they put forth their best efforts and succeeded in quieting FTSOS for 6 days. Of course, the Internet came to the rescue, worsening their lives while making the world a safer place. Once FTSOS came back online, things should have died down given a little bit of time. But of course, that didn’t happen. And it was their fault.

Moritz had little chirps here and there, but he eventually slunk away. Maloney, on the other hand, went on a crusade. He created a series of pages on his site well after the fact, responded to every critical post he could find in the world, and even started stirring the pot in threads on PZ’s site that had nothing to do with him. Then, eight months after the fact, he sent PZ a cease and desist notice. Of course, that just made things worse for him. A few months later, I got a similar notice. Following PZ’s lead, I uploaded the notice, called Maloney a quack, and went on with my day.

What did I mean then, and what do I mean now, by saying Christopher Maloney is a quack? Simply this: I mean that Christopher Maloney openly and aggressively promotes naturopathy, a bogus and unscientific ‘discipline’. Regrettably, it’s a bogus and unscientific discipline that the State of Maine sees fit to license. That’s as embarrassing as if Maine licensed astrologers. I’ve repeatedly written about why naturopathy is bunk, and why Christopher Maloney’s advocacy of it is quackery. As I’ve specifically said before, I’m sure Christopher Maloney is qualified in the eyes of the State of Maine to practice naturopathy – it’s just appalling that the state endorses such things, and appalling that Maloney promotes such bunk.

Move forward several more months and I get a second letter delivered to me. This one is actually threatening a lawsuit. (In fact, its vague wording led me to believe that it had actually been filed, but that was not the case. See a pdf of the lawsuit here.) I needed a lawyer.

Enter Ken White of Brown, White, & Newhouse, LLP and the law blog Popehat.

Like the call for Batman but with fewer gadgets and more resultant paperwork. Neat, though.

I contacted Ken because, while I could amply respond to the logical mistakes and factual errors that were strewn throughout the lawsuit for the sake of a blog post, I am not a lawyer. I don’t know the actual legal procedures involved, nor would it be prudent for me to defend myself alone anyway. Originally I was only seeking Ken’s help to put me in touch with people who could help me at reduced rates – I’m responsible with my money, but that doesn’t mean I have it laying around for lawyer fees – but to my delight, he offered his services pro bono.

Ken also recruited prominent First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza. (I dare say, the man has more than a little kick and a little zest to his words. I love it.) I also sought out local counsel in case push came to shove and Maloney actually filed suit; Ken and Marc are both located out of state, so a Maine-based lawyer was necessary. I found and secured the help of Jed Davis, a Princeton and Yale man, of Mitchell & Davis. Needless to say, I had a heck of a team.

So let’s get the heart of the matter. Maloney and his lawyer/wife/state representative Maeghan Maloney sent me a lawsuit, ready to be filed with the courts, claiming I had committed libel and defamed Christopher. When I saw this, I thought the heart of the matter would be that either 1) I have called him a quack or 2) I have said he is not a doctor by scientific standards, but that there have been times when I haven’t explicitly spelled every bit of that out (i.e., I just left it at saying he isn’t a doctor). Number one is obviously a false premise for a libel suit. As Ken wrote in a post about Maloney’s threat to PZ, the term “quack” is protected opinion under the First Amendment in the way I used it. Number two, which I suppose would have been their strongest route, would have been dismissible on grounds that it ignores the context of FTSOS and the fact that I have acknowledged that Maloney is a “doctor” by Maine state standards in plenty of places.

No Habla Español

So which was it? Well, the first one. Sort of. See, the Maloneys were confused. While Maeghan did display a tremendously awful understanding of the law, arguing that the term “quack” is not protected because it implies her husband is unqualified to be a naturopath (it doesn’t, and I’m sure he is qualified to be a naturopath; it doesn’t take much to be a quack, after all), she and her husband also argued that I had been harassing the guy for 2 years. Two straight years. How is that, you ask? Well, first we need to get a fundamental misunderstanding of the Internet under our belts.

They were under the impression that the Tag Cloud widget I had on the side of FTSOS was something I maintained and tended to every day. They believed it was something I was actively messing with in order to manipulate Google searches for “Christopher Maloney Maine” under 24 hour searches. (It took forever to get them to specify that they were talking about 24 hour searches, not regular searches.) Of course, this is silly. A Tag Cloud is an automated feature common to virtually all blogs, including Maloney’s. (I checked his theme and it is an option for him.) Moreover, with or without the widget, a regular Google search showed a whole host of sites, some with and some without it, before mine.

It seems serendipitous that this happens to be a duck.

As it turns out, the widget was probably affecting 24 hour searches. But not in the way the Maloneys thought. If I made a post and someone searched “Christopher Maloney Maine” with the quotations, my blog with that new post would show up. But of course, that post had nothing to do with Maloney. In fact, a search of his name will show that I have only written about him three times this entire year before today. It was delusional of them to believe I was obsessing over the quack every day for two years straight. They simply did not understand the technology at hand. And despite this, it was the primary premise for their lawsuit (making their case more about harassment than defamation, but whatever – they were wrong either way).

But let’s get down to the actual law aspects. As I said, they were claiming that by calling Maloney a quack, I was implying that he was unfit to practice naturopathy under his licensure. Since the state of Maine says otherwise, and since I don’t have any basis for disagreeing, that would be a false statement on my part. If the law worked in weird and inconsistent ways like this, they might have a case. But as a simple Google search would have shown them, they didn’t know what they were talking about. From Ken’s post:

I wonder whether, before sending her feckless and thuggish missive, Meaghan Maloney researched how courts have treated the word “quack” in defamation cases. I did. It took me about five minutes to learn that multiple courts in multiple states in multiple decades have found that calling someone a “quack” is protected opinion and not subject to a defamation suit, particularly when the context shows that it is hyperbole. Yiamouyiannis v. Thompson, 764 S.W.2d 338 (TX 1989) (calling an opponent of flouridation and vaccines a “quack” was pure opinion protected by the First Amendment); Dowling v. Livingstone, 108 Mich. 321 (1896) (it was opinion, not defamation, to refer to an anti-immigration scheme as a “quack remedy”); Gonzalez v Gray, 69 F.Supp.2d 561 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (husband’s claim that his wife had been having “sex with a quack” was opinion, not defamation against the doctor); Spelson v. CBS, INC., 581 F.Supp. 1195 (N.D. IL 1984) (statement that “nutritionist” treating cancer patients with “vitamins, minerals, and extracts of raw animal organs” was a “cancer quack” was protected opinion). In the rare cases where courts have not protected terms like “quack,” they were used in a context specifically suggesting untrue facts. See, e.g., Nasr v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, 632 F.Supp.1024 (E.D. IL 1986) (though calling a doctor a “quack” has been found to be protected opinion, when used in manner suggesting false underlying facts, it was actionable). Courts have made similar findings regarding other epithets, including “charlatan.” Ernst v. Basset, 521 So.2d 414 (La. 1988) (“charlatan” was non-actionable statement of opinion).

In other words, there is at least 125 years worth of case law on not merely libel/defamation cases, but on libel/defamation cases specifically dealing with the word “quack”.

I gather some might consider it bad form to quote any of the communications had amongst the lawyers involved, so I will only paraphrase the wonderfulness of our response. Essentially, it was 10 pages of this: “No, fuck you, and if you sue, we’ll file an Anti-SLAPP motion, seeking attorney fees, and maybe sue you and your lawyer for malicious prosecution.” And while the lawyers were at it, I was ready to make this a public spectacle all over again. I had already secured a promise of help from Simon Singh. It would only have been a matter of hours before the Internet was once again buzzing with “Christopher Maloney is a quack”.

So the result? Well, Maloney wanted a settlement which stipulated that I would remove all tags of him from FTSOS, that I wouldn’t speak of him again in practically any writing, that I would delete all my past writings about him, and that I would pay his attorney fees incurred to this point. There was never any chance of me signing away my rights like that. In fact, there was a deadline placed on the attached agreement which I fully ignored before I was even able to obtain legal assistance. I may not know all the procedures involved, but I know I like my First Amendment rights. (I admit, though, it was tempting to find out just what it was Maloney’s wife had charged him for fees.) But once I did obtain assistance, I realized the value of throwing out a minor gesture of good will to avoid the nuisance of litigation. I know, I know. It’s so unlike me. Actually, I did try to just completely say no to the idea. A man who threatens me with a frivolous lawsuit deserves nothing.

But as I said, I am not a lawyer.

The best course of action, I came to understand, would be to avoid litigation all together. While all the case law and common sense is on my side, and while we would almost certainly prevail in both fighting the lawsuit and our subsequent malicious prosecution suit, the law is an uncertain thing. A judge unimpressed by a young-looking 20-something who has a couple of high-priced out of state lawyers may decide a (lawless) lesson needs to be taught. It’s unlikely, but certainly possible. Moreover, while these lawyers are generally high priced (at least in my world), they were doing the work pro-bono. They were there to assist me whatever my decision, but if a gesture of good will would get all of this put behind me while I still retained all my rights, then it would save everyone a lot of trouble.

I find it entertaining that this image even exists.

So the gesture of good will. Well, as I said, the Maloneys believed the Tag Cloud was something I was messing around with every day for the sake of tormenting some guy I’d never met (despite his invitation and subsequent refusal to actually meet in person). It wasn’t, but if that’s what they believed, then I decided to just offer to take it down. But nothing more. The thing really meant nothing to me, frankly, so it was no loss, and it was actually a reasonable offer. I clean up my site a bit and retain every single one of my rights. If that’s all it was going to take to make this nuisance go away, then great.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that straight forward.

At our offering of the removal, Maloney and Maloney came back with settlements that included ridiculous things like the effective silencing I mentioned (removing all tags, never writing of him again, etc). At one point they wanted to create a system where a third party arbitrator would be used to settle any future disagreements – and the costs of all that would be split. We refused each time. Eventually things came to a clear impasse. This was all being done under a tolling agreement in the first place, and that was about to expire. The Maloneys wanted to extend the agreement and continue negotiations, but there was no point. I would do no more than remove an inconsequential widget from my blog. If that wasn’t good enough, they were more than welcomed to sue. It would have been a delight to watch the Internet light up over an alt-med ‘doctor’ and his elected wife suing a college student over what amounted to a little name calling. My attorneys made it plain that we were locked and loaded and ready to fight.

So the Maloneys caved.

I agreed to take down the widget, but every single post about Christopher Maloney, every single tag of Christopher Maloney, and every single opinion I have ever expressed about Christopher Maloney remains. And none of it is going anywhere.

Ultimately, this is a good outcome. Sure, the ideal would be a big middle finger and nothing more, but this has all taken a bigger toll on me and my time than I thought it would. I work overnights and go to school full-time. My sleep schedule is just awful and my courses are not simple. The spring is shaping up to be even more difficult. My instincts tell me to be as pugnacious as always, but my preference for doing well in organic chemistry is stronger. I’m happy with the result, and I can’t thank Ken, Marc, and Jed enough.

P.s., Christopher Maloney is a quack.