Wear sunscreen

As a relatively pale person of northern European descent, I find sunscreen to be invaluable. ug-leeI have absolutely no problem being the guy with the light bulb nose. It’s way better than the Rudolph nose later, and undoubtedly superior to developing skin cancer or even just unsightly sunspots.

Now that the weather is getting nicer, sunscreen sales will be increasing, but not everyone is happy about this. There are a number of quacks out there who will peddle false information about vitamin D. Some of them will go the even more egregious route of saying sunscreen doesn’t protect against cancer.

Don’t let these quacks fool you. Sunscreen absolutely protects against the rays of the Sun which can and often do lead to cancer:

Sun protection is essential to skin cancer prevention – about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Furthermore, years of scientific research have provided compelling evidence that the daily use of sunscreen helps lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers. Most recently, in a rigorous study of more than 1,600 adults over the course of a decade, researchers determined that subjects applying sunscreen with an SPF of 16 daily reduced their risk of melanoma by 50 percent.

Unlike quack medicine, sunscreen is safe and effective. I foolishly got a sun burn last month, acting on the assumption that “Maine”, “April”, and “sun burn” were three things I would never have to use in the same sentence. I was wrong. I’ve been making it a point to protect my skin every nice day we’ve had since. It can be tedious, and it’s not always convenient, but cancer treatment is often pretty tedious and inconvenient itself.

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.

Anti-science quacks find success in Maine in their fight against health and vaccines

Vaccine rates for young people entering school has been declining in recent years:

The rate of unvaccinated kindergartners in Maine continues to climb and is now the fifth highest in the nation, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday.

The percentage of Maine parents voluntarily opting out of vaccines for their children is alarming state public health officials who have been working to bolster immunization.

Nearly 800 public school kindergartners in Maine started the 2013-14 school year without receiving the required vaccinations for diseases such as whooping cough and measles because their parents opted not to immunize. That represents 5.2 percent of all kindergartners in the state, up from 3.9 percent the previous year.

This is in large part due to the anti-vax movement that has been steadily gaining ground since the 90’s. Indeed, although disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield had his 1998 study linking vaccines and autism debunked – no one ever reproduced his results, and it was no wonder since he outright made them up – he remains a hero of the anti-vax crowd.

One of the more favored canards of anti-vax quacks is to call herd immunity a myth. Do a quick search and one is liable to find any given quack claiming that herd immunity makes no difference to the health of a state. I recall reading some random anti-vax nobody argue that because vaccines are between 60-80% effective, even with 100% compliance, we could still see an epidemic. Of course, while he spoke of vaccines at-large in an intentionally general sense, he actually linked to CDC statistics on the flu vaccine. I guess it was a coincidence that he found it inconvenient to tell his readers that he was talking about one specific vaccine, huh? So is the high bar set by quacks.

At any rate, for herd immunity to be effective, there needs to be about a 95% vaccination rate. Of course, 100% would be the ideal because we’re talking about saving human lives, but with all the anti-government and anti-science kooks out there, 95% is actually a very achievable number that allows for some bumper space. Unfortunately, sometimes we see areas that fall well below that bumper space. For instance, when vaccine rates for whooping cough fell to 91% in California, communities there saw an outbreak in the disease. Thousands got sick and at least 10 infants died. What makes this all the more heart-breaking is that these infants were too young to be vaccinated, meaning they relied upon the herd immunity around them to remain safe. Anti-vax parents and the quacks they trust are at fault for these deaths. Frighteningly, Maine is on a similar path.

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.

What killed Andreas Moritz?

Andreas Moritz, a man who put people in danger by directing them away from real medical treatment, died at least two weeks ago. According to various places on the Interwebs, his cause of death would be released soon after his funeral. However, that doesn’t appear to have been accurate information. There is no information available anywhere on his website to date, and people on his Facebook page are getting upset that quotes by him keep getting posted without anyone saying a single thing about how he died. I suppose there isn’t really a hard timeline when it comes to funerals, but it has always been my experience that they occur within a week of death. Something seems fishy. Just take a look at this tribute on his website:

It is natural for all of us to wonder about the cause of a dear one’s passing. As we know, the soul will find an effective way – an ‘exit strategy,’ if you will – to accomplish its loving, compassionate journey home to the higher realms once our Mission and soul’s work is complete on Earth. Many of us have read about spiritual teachers, including well-known yogis and Masters, who have transcended into the Light in any number of ways. When it is ‘our time,’ the soul will find an outlet to accomplish this transition purpose.

I usually only find myself thinking about topic sentences when someone misuses the concept of them. This is one of those times. It appears as though whoever wrote this tribute thought about addressing questions over Moritz’s cause of death, but quickly changed course. That leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that it is unlikely anyone outside Moritz’s family and friends will ever know what killed him.

But let’s not be coy: I strongly suspect he died of cancer or some other disease he spent decades upon decades campaigning against getting treated properly. If that is the case, then it makes sense that his family and followers wouldn’t want to go public with the cause of death. It isn’t hard to figure out why that is, but I’ll spell it out: If he died of a treatable type of cancer, then everything he worked to do will be undermined. His death would likely be the result of his own negligence and the ineffectiveness of the malarkey he practiced and promoted. Everything people in the sciences have been telling him would be bolstered and his career as a snake oil salesman would be exposed.

Let me emphasize one thing, though: This is only a suspicion of mine. I am not claiming that he died of any particular cause. If it turns out that he was in a car accident, it can’t be said I ever denied that as a possibility. I just simply suspect there is a compelling reason why his people refuse to say anything.

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.

Don’t buy the alternative medicine cancer cure testimonials

Orac, that defender of all things good, has yet another excellent post about how quackery gets peddled. In this case, some of the promotion is done by the very people who will get hurt by it:

[M]any breast cancer cure testimonials involve either lesions that are not cancer, lesions where it’s unclear whether the cancer has changed, or, most commonly, stories in which the cancer has been removed surgically and the woman refuses adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation therapy, such as Suzanne Somers’ or Hollie Quinn’s breast cancer cure testimonial. In these latter forms of breast cancer cure testimonials, it was the surgery that cured the cancer, but naturally the woo-prone, having refused the adjuvant chemotherapy and/or radiation that decrease the chance of the cancer coming back, decide that it was the woo du jour that they chose that actually saved them.

The post goes on to talk about a woman by the name Inger Hartelius who, after being diagnosed with cancer, was given a book by our old friend Andreas Moritz. Through that book and a desire to seek out alternative ‘help’, Hartelius found some other quack by the name of Robert O. Young. I’ve never heard of the guy before, but he apparently believes that acid is the root of all cancer. It isn’t and he is a quack. Unfortunately, Hartelius was able to find Young; now she has a testimonial:

My health is now much better than it was before, I sleep at night, my weight is stable, my lung capacity has grown – I feel so much more alive – which is hard to explain. I have no signs that I’m sick with cancer and now I know I am not going to die of this cancer.

I’m just going to point out what Orac points out in his post: She never says anything objective about her tumor. She doesn’t tell us if it has shrunk, if it is stable, if it has grown. She doesn’t tell us if it was removed during the biopsy, as is sometimes the case. She doesn’t tell us anything other than that she feels better. And that’s often how these testimonials go. We are given little information much of the time, and when we are given better details, it is often forgotten to attribute progress properly. For instance, some people will undergo surgery but forgo chemotherapy and radiation therapy, instead opting for some line of quackery. When they get lucky and their cancer doesn’t return (or when they give their testimonial prior to its return), they attribute their progress to whatever quack treatment they’ve been receiving. The reality is that the surgery is what got them to a better state of health. The alternative medicine just cost them more money.