Cancer Quackery? There's An App for That!
March 29, 2015 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Belle Gibson and the Pernicious Cult of 'Wellness.' Jenny McCartney writes in The Spectator about the unraveling business empire and reputation of Australian celebrity "wellness" blogger and "cancer survivor" Belle Gibson.

Gibson's "WholePantry" enteprise has generated a cookbook, now withdrawn from publication by her publisher, Penguin Books, and even an featured app on the forthcoming Apple Watch (now removed by Apple).

Gibson's once hugely popular "healing belle" InstaGram account has been wiped of content.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the apparently fraudulent "cancer" claims, and on the investigation into allegations WholePantry never made charitable contributions to which it was pledged.

Wonkette, predictably, has a delightfully acidic take.
posted by spitbull (64 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not Jenny McCarthy. For those who (like me) misread the lead and did a spit take.
posted by ardgedee at 7:02 AM on March 29, 2015 [65 favorites]


Pretty good article, but like so many articles I come across these days, it ends just as I'm expecting it to get good. After a synapsis of Gibson's rise and fall, and then a comparison to Ainscough, and her tragedy and how the well-meaning can cause just as much damage, it just...
ends.

Just at the point I expect the writer to take us back to Gibson, to get a deeper look at the long tail of Gibson's chicanery. Perhaps older "miracle" cures and our love for them. Snake Oil. Coca-Cola. A look at the tension between what medicine is and what we want it to be.

Feels like a book report with 1/3 missing. Apparently I'm a cranky editor on Sunday mornings.
posted by asavage at 7:25 AM on March 29, 2015 [33 favorites]


Same. And I hate this type of article-writing, to the point where I'm slowly training myself to ignore most writing of an article:

[This happened!]
[But then also tangent stuff.]
[Meat of the story your eyes have been aching for!]
[Ending blurb.]

Someone make an app that just grabs those first and third parts of articles for me, please.
posted by slater at 7:32 AM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Pfft, like this "asavage" guy has ever made any effort to expose chicanery.

/veggieburger.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:33 AM on March 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


The more extreme manifestations of ‘wellness’ theory, however, can take on some cultish aspects, including a deep distrust of conventional medicine combined with an irrational conviction that recovery from disease is chiefly a matter of willpower and dietary self-discipline.

You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? - Medicine.
-Tim Minchin

It is mind-boggling to me that people could buy, for one second, the notion that our health is completely controllable through self-determination. But what truly sickens me is to see people making money pushing the notion that eschewing medical treatment for serious illnesses will do anything other than shorten your life. Intentionally or unintentionally, people like Gibson profit by giving a false hope to people at their most desperate hour.

If people want to die in peace, or leave this planet on their own terms, so be it. But if they want to live longer, then they need to drop the illusion that walking away from their doctor is a good idea. And anyone who profits on promoting this idea, which includes large swathes of the 'wellness' movement, is doing an incredible disservice to society to say the least.

I too thought the lead article was waffly. I think she was trying to emphasise that we shouldn't just be looking at Gibson but also the publishing houses that so quickly turned her story into a money maker.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:40 AM on March 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Christ. Making money of selling false hope to cancer sufferers ought to earn you a special place in hell. Not to mention the damage you could do by convincing others to try lemon juice rather than cis-platin. Steve Jobs, anyone?

This also smacks a bit of Munchausen-type attention seeking.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:42 AM on March 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


This type of false "think yourself well!" crap is just another iteration of Just World thinking. As a cancer survivor, I was constantly bombarded with people asking why I'd developed the disease, mainly aimed at my chemistry degree and research experience. Not considering the fact that no one else from my institution has developed anything similar. Luck of the draw, sadly.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:50 AM on March 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


I just knew there would be reference to enemas in that article. Why are enemas such a big part of this sort of quackery?
posted by Area Man at 7:51 AM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Presumably one wants clean breath when talking out one's ass.
posted by spitbull at 8:09 AM on March 29, 2015 [50 favorites]


The worst part of this article is that it's so dumb about why nobody investigated Gibson's fraud: gee, who'd think somebody who says she used good nutrition and quackery to cure her cancer was lying -- better get her a book contract so we can profit from the rubes too!

Gibson is a despicable human being profiting from the fears and anxieties of desperate people, but so is Penguin Books for publishing her, or Elle Australia for pushing her story. Worst of all, Gibson might disappear now she's been finally found out, but Penguin and Elle and hundreds of other companies will be around to promote the next quack.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


She had a malignant brain tumor that was going to kill her in six weeks, which chemo failed on, which she cured with diet, and not just one but MULTIPLE publicists, corporations, publishers, etc., decided to climb on board this crazy train? Elle, Cosmo, Penguin, etc., deserve everything they got, and more. You don't go, "Wow, your claims are extraordinarily terrible, therefore we shall throw the weight of our corporation behind you without checking them because we don't want to hurt your feelings."

Area Man: "Why are enemas such a big part of this sort of quackery?"

As you know, poop is gross. As this kind of "wellness" is based on imaginary ideas of purity, attacking gross things is important.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:18 AM on March 29, 2015 [18 favorites]


Not Jenny McCarthy. For those who (like me) misread the lead and did a spit take.

Yeah, I had to do a double take too. I decided to google Jenny McCartney:

Showing results for Jenny McCarthy
Search instead for Jenny McCartney

posted by charlie don't surf at 9:10 AM on March 29, 2015


I wonder sometimes how much of this sort of stuff is facilitated by learned helplessness (for lack of a better descriptor). What I mean by that is a person who goes through school and, by whatever means, decides that they are unable to learn enough biology to learn how cancer (or other diseases) actually work. And, having made that decision, they put themselves at the mercy of people they believe to be more knowledgable. However, in that uninformed state, I suspect that all "experts" start to look alike – the guy with the big book deal and celebrity endorsements appears to know just as much as your doctor. Plus, a nutritional approach can feel more intuitively correct; your health obviously depends upon your diet, so shouldn't a super-healthy diet and fitness regime be able to overcome even serious health problems? It FEELS right if you don't understand how cancer works.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where 1) school is more about filtering and profit taking rather than educating and 2) widespread and general distrust of expertise has become an extremely useful tool in politics (both formal and informal).

Humans almost never seem to address problems preemptively and so I suspect we're going to have to see an awful lot of celebrity alt-med suicides (like Steve Jobs) and widespread deaths from preventable diseases before some of these trends reverse. We'll see I guess.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:14 AM on March 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Heh, I was about to say, Jenny McCarthy has no place calling anyone else out as a peddler of pseudoscience. But nevvvvermind...
posted by limeonaire at 9:25 AM on March 29, 2015


I decided to google Jenny McCartney:

Showing results for Jenny McCarthy
Search instead for Jenny McCartney


Illustrating why I find today's Google search far inferior to what we had ten years ago. I want results for what I actually type in, not for what your algorithm says I meant to type. If I mistype, I am smart enough to figure that out and correct, unlike your algorithm.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:29 AM on March 29, 2015 [22 favorites]


It is mind-boggling to me that people could buy, for one second, the notion that our health is completely controllable through self-determination.

The human mind seems to have a very strong bias towards intention. We are uncomfortable with the degree to which our best efforts can only mitigate or enhance the role of luck and natural process in our lives. As a result, we are very fixed on the idea that poor and sick people are poor and sick because of errors they have made, instead of because of bad luck, and lay entirely too much moral weight on those conditions as a result. The flip side of this is that we conflate half-formed ideas of "eating healthy" with "living morally," and decide that surely we can address any medical problem with the correct mix of diet and exercise, especially if the process seems relatively penitential (and thus more moral).
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:42 AM on March 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


This is such a strange story. Gibson's career really does seem to follow Ainscough's, except that she apparently was never sick at all. I suppose I'd rather see her exposed as a fraud rather than killed by her own refusal to treat a serious illness. (You can certainly argue that it was Jessica Ainscough's own choice not to have her arm amputated or undergo more chemotherapy, but that was such a horrible way to die, and daily coffee enemas etc. for the intervening years doesn't sound like much of a life either.)

I wonder if Gibson meant The Whole Pantry to become such a profitable business from the start, or whether she got carried away playing a role and could never find a way to get out.
posted by daisyk at 10:16 AM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've written and deleted a few comments - this is a difficult and personal topic for me partially because MuddDude was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive (but ultimately rather treatable) cancer last year.

I guess the bottom line of all of my comments was that the fact that someone is faking a terminal cancer diagnosis to make money, and publishers apparently ate it up with dollar signs in their eyes, is just fundamentally disturbing. How can alternative-medicine and "wellness therapy" proponents continue with the farce that their whole industry is about making money to the clear detriment of actual sick people who try these "cures"? I guess it's easy to continue in a fantasy world when all evidence of wrong-doing is scrubbed from the web, the way Ainscough's blog is being scrubbed of all mention of the Gerson Protocol.
posted by muddgirl at 10:21 AM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think in some ways this stuff is a natural match for women's fashion and lifestyle magazines. They've always peddled pseudoscience, only it seems more benign when it's about cosmetics or haircare products, rather than cancer treatment. They've always preached the radical transformative potential of diet and exercise. They've always encouraged readers to follow trends and chase the next big thing. I'm not super surprised that Elle and Cosmo were major proponents of Gibson's schtick.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:31 AM on March 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


It is mind-boggling to me that people could buy, for one second, the notion that our health is completely controllable through self-determination.

Well, not completely, but there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere. I remember when the Life Extension ideas started to become big. Without some serious medical breakthroughs, it is unlikely you're going to extend your life to any serious degree, like living to 140. But using just what we know now, if you take responsibility for your health, eat better and exercise more, and maintain a healthy lifestyle through middle age and beyond, you will be in a much healthier condition as you age, and presumably will be better able to fight off diseases or withstand treatments that would be debilitating for someone less healthy. I take this stuff seriously, I want a high quality of life right up to the end. I want to sustain my decline.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:47 AM on March 29, 2015


In a world where so much information is available, people seem obsessed with only believing the dumbest shit ever. It boggles the mind. Sure, people have always believed some nonsense, like Jewish people being up to no good or whatever, but people used to trust doctors. 100 years ago, a folk remedy could be better than nothing, I suppose. Rejecting treatment today in favor of drinking water at the same times of day as Japanese people drink water because that cures cancer but drug companies don't want you to know because they can't make money off that is crazy. But people who think this stuff are everywhere and not even ashamed about it because they post this stuff on Facebook. That German plane was definitely shot down by US lasers, though.
posted by snofoam at 10:56 AM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Someone make an app that just grabs those first and third parts of articles for me, please.

I've always been kind of a slow reader, but thus over the years have come to be a pretty effective scanner. This app would take away my only real advantage.
posted by philip-random at 10:57 AM on March 29, 2015


This is fascinating in the context of a previous post about women, specifically, dying from conditions like heart attacks. Women's symptoms aren't taken as seriously. Numerous people (including me) discussed being dismissed, condescended to, and treated inadequately by doctors. I wonder how much of that makes women more likely to be receptive to this kind of bullshit? If no one listens to you but your naturopath...
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:36 AM on March 29, 2015 [38 favorites]


That's a really interesting point that hadn't occurred to me; if you're not going to be cured, it may as well be because your treatment is based on hokum instead of because your doctor won't listen to you. At least you'll feel respected as you suffer enormously.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:42 AM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also know that a lot of people turn(ed) to alternative "medicine" because they simply could not afford carry health insurance, or to see regular doctors. So their health insurance was spending money on staying healthy, in the best way they knew how--eating certain foods, exercising, avoiding chemicals, taking cheap-ish homeopathic remedies. They believed strongly that these could prevent disease, largely because they felt strongly that there was nothing they'd be able to do if they did get sick; no way that cancer would get detected early; no way they would be able to afford medication for high blood pressure or diabetes.

Hopefully Obamacare has helped with that utterly tragic reason for turning to "alternative" medicine.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:43 AM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl, a lot of women talk about similar reasoning when it comes to choosing midwifery over obstetrics. Some midwives are reasonably well-trained medical professionals, but many are not, and it can be genuinely difficult to tell them apart given confusing credentialing. So whether or not women are decidedly choosing to avoid medical care in favor of "alternative" care is not always clear in that case. When it comes to things like naturopathy, again, the credentialling can be incredibly confusing. Insurance companies sometimes allow Doctors of Naturopathy to be primary care physicians, if I recall correctly, and some states license them in way that can be confusing to people seeking out health care. It's like the opposite of people not realizing that DOs (doctors of osteopathy) are actually medically trained, almost identically to MDs.

Anyway, this is a bit of a derail...
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:48 AM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or because some aspect of "alternative" therapy actually DID work. When I broke my elbow, a year of physical therapy and a second surgery didn't fix it (My surgeon, frustrated by his inability to fix my arm's ability to fully extend physically abused me in front of my physical therapist so badly she practically went into shock, let alone me).

What gave me an empirically-measurable extra 15 degrees of motion after the surgeons and therapists had given up? My acupuncturist friend, who many of you would likely consider woo.

It's not cancer, but having an arm with as much mobility as possible is pretty useful in daily life.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:55 AM on March 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I think that's a really important point, internet fraud detective squad. It's also a huge, generally unacknowledged thing at work in the antivax movement. For many reasons, the medical establishment has damaged its credibility with women and other groups who have not been treated well by doctors, and that has consequences.
My acupuncturist friend, who many of you would likely consider woo.
My understanding is that acupuncture is widely considered an evidence-based practice at this point. It's not at all clear why or how it works, but solid studies generally support the idea that it works for some conditions.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:00 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My acupuncturist friend, who many of you would likely consider woo.

Probably because acupuncture hasn't been shown to work beyond placebo effect. Including a study in which patients were told the needles were being put into their arms, when in fact they were being pushed into a dummy arm.

And that, right there, is basically the problem with this quackery. Even when it's flat-out proven not to work--acupuncture, homeopathy, gluten-free diets without a medical reason--people say "But I feel so much better!" because of the placebo effect / paying attention to how you're treating your body. It's frustrating, and it's exactly where the anti-vaccine woo comes from as well.

It's bizarre. Your toilet is broken, you call a plumber. Car breaks down, call a mechanic. Body breaks down... drink some expensive water, have a coffee enema, and stick needles in your body? We're reaping the fruits of rampant anti-intellectualism and it's a serious problem.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:03 PM on March 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


Ok, so being able to extend my arm 15 additional degrees (again, measurable outcome, verified at a follow up visit with the physical therapist after the insurance ran out to cover her) is a placebo effect? Ooooo-k. Tell that to the scar tissue encapsulating my elbow.

The difference here is that I used multiple types of care to attack the problem. I didn't break my arm and expect homeopathy to fix it. There are many types of care that can help support your body through various types of illness (if timing and finance permit, lots of water and a trip to a good massage therapist will often ward off an incoming migraine better than drugs can). Good doctors recognize this--hell, the Cleveland Clinic's got an entirely new department dedicated to it with acupuncturists and many other nontraditional treatments available.

What happened in the article is NOT an example of partnering different treatment modalities to improve results. It doesn't mean it never works.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:21 PM on March 29, 2015


Um, yeah? Placebo effects deliver measurable outcomes, mostly in terms of self-reporting.

As for partnering different treatment modalities, if one has been flat-out proven to not work, it's the other modalities that did the work.

Your elbow's better. That's great! Medical research disagrees that acupuncture has anything to do with it. "But I believe it did" is exactly what is outlined by this article.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:28 PM on March 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


As a cancer survivor, I can't help but notice that scammers never fake lupus.

It's the head shaving, isn't it?
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 12:29 PM on March 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


@bitter-girl, one person's anecdote is not evidence, or proof, of anything.
posted by epo at 1:01 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


@bitter-girl, one person's anecdote is not evidence, or proof, of anything.

It's evidence of her experiences. It's not statistically significant, but it is evidence of a sort. After all, studies are collections of individual experiences, processed to try and limit variables, which give a view of how a particular population responded. The individual level and the population level don't really say much about each other, but both are worth considering, within their limits.

Having had an arm joint injury myself (no surgery required, thank goodness), I am well capable of believing that the process of changing therapies helped the range of motion over a hump. I assume that the acupuncture did, for whatever reason, help bitter-girl.com make a transition. What was the physiological reason for her improvement? I have no idea, but the other option is that bitter-girl.com is lying to us or so mistaken about her own memories as to be unreliable, which I am not willing to bet.

Basically, I'd recommend someone with a stuck joint go to a doctor or even several doctors, but, if everything else failed, I am not sure an experiment with acupuncture would be the worst "next step." And none of this would say anything significant about a) whether bitter-girl.com found acupuncture helpful or b) that anyone else would.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:38 PM on March 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


he other option is that bitter-girl.com is lying to us or so mistaken about her own memories as to be unreliable

I apologize unreservedly if that was the impression I conveyed. I was doubting the causal relationship, not what bitter-girl.com was saying about what she experienced.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:49 PM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Even when it's flat-out proven not to work--acupuncture, homeopathy

correct me if I'm wrong. I thought the current science was that homeopathy does NOT work and that there isn't definitive proof yet either way with acupuncture.



offered as someone who has tried four different acupuncture treatments for a particular issue, and never had anything close to a long term positive result
posted by philip-random at 1:55 PM on March 29, 2015


Read the link I posted above. It's pretty definitive.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:05 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's pretty definitive.
It's a blog post. I'm pretty sure it's not definitive.

At heart the dispute here isn't about whether acupuncture works. It's about why it works. The skeptics say that it works because of placebo effect. People who are helped by it are helped because they are stupid and gullible and therefore are duped into feeling better, not because it's medically sound. And to those skeptics, that's very relevant, because their fundamental goal is to disprove woo, not to alleviate suffering. But I don't care about their goal. If there's a way to alleviate suffering, then I'm for it, even if it does work by creating a placebo effect. Pain medication has a lot of crappy side effects, so if I can manipulate my mind into creating a state where I don't need pain medication or need less of it, then I'm all for that. And if fake acupuncture could do the same thing, then that's great, too: bring on the fake acupuncture. Your ideological agenda is sort of irrelevant to me, because all I want is for people to feel better without creating a bunch of new problems, which is not something that drug-and-surgery-based medicine is always super great at right now.

This seems like a pretty major derail, anyway.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:26 PM on March 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, with stuff like this, someone can say something that is totally not true or scientifically proven, but it can be very hard to correct them/introduce current scientific consensus on the matter without potentially offending.
posted by snofoam at 2:29 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


And for what it's worth, the things that FFFM's blog post are "conclusively" debunking include, for instance, this 2012 meta-analysis from JAMA Internal Medicine.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:35 PM on March 29, 2015


People profit off of woo for doing nothing. They take money from people for it. We can't just throw up our hands and say, "Welp, placebo effect!"

If you want to help people with placebos, do it for free or you're just a scammer.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:50 PM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


The skeptics say that it works because of placebo effect. People who are helped by it are helped because they are stupid and gullible and therefore are duped into feeling better, not because it's medically sound.

The placebo effect does not rely on people who are stupid and gullible.
posted by squinty at 3:26 PM on March 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I know at least one major supplement manufacturer (which sells primarily through chiropractic clinics and the like) encourages clinicians to just "have confidence" in the supplements, because then you don't need "scientific write-ups" for support, and that such science is merely a "crutch" used by "unconfident" doctors to convince patients they need something.
posted by Camofrog at 4:00 PM on March 29, 2015


I read a lot of college textbooks for work, which are frequently updated, and none so far has said anything about acupuncture beyond that it's slightly better than placebo.

Rats also seem to run mazes faster when the people conducting the maze trials are told ahead of time that the rats have been bred for speeding through mazes.
posted by Camofrog at 4:10 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder if health campaigns against smoking had the side effect of encouraging people to think that cancer is always preventable and, therefore, having it always indicates that one has failed to live in a healthy way? I think awareness of DUI has led some people to think that all automobile accidents are caused by drunk drivers, and this would be a similar effect.
posted by thelonius at 4:25 PM on March 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of the only times I've actually felt the urge to strangle someone, like genuinely understood how one person could kill another person out of frustration and anger, has been when they, after hearing of a close loved one's diagnosis with a rare and basically untreatable form of cancer, unresponsive to chemotherapy or surgery, blithely asked if we had tried curing him with a raw foods diet.

Not condolences, not compassion, but the implication that his body has decided to destroy itself because he cooks his food. If only she had been there earlier, bringing with her the gospel of never heating your food above 120F, the month-long ordeal in the ICU could have been completely avoided!
posted by dis_integration at 4:31 PM on March 29, 2015 [22 favorites]


I hope that the outcry continues to make life difficult for the media outlets that glibly touted this BS. They need to be held accountable and accept the consequences of promoting snake oil.
posted by arcticseal at 4:43 PM on March 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


My mother in law chose to discontinue treatment for her extremely aggressive colon cancer when it became obvious that the cancer was winning. Rather than put her family through a slow and prolonged dying, she chose the quick road to death. That was heroic. That was brave. So it just hurts me deep down to see people throw away a perfectly good chance at life because they don't believe in science. I don't want my MIL to ever be compared to these people.
posted by Ruki at 4:55 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


dis_integration: I was also front row for a terminal cancer over the last year and people suggesting we give him grapefruit or whatever was pretty annoying. Interestingly, the cancer patient—although previously an engineer in the defense industry—did go daily for a while to sit near a thing that was like a tesla coil with some light bulbs around it, but it was free and I think, mostly for conversation with the person who owned it and just something to do during the day.
posted by snofoam at 5:04 PM on March 29, 2015


Thank you arcticseal. That was my motive in assembling this post. This one got awful close to mainstream credibility. We are a long way from Kaycee Nicole when Apple has to wipe egg off its face. To me that's the media company that really needs to answer for how they vet "health" apps. Steve Jobs might be alive today had he not fallen for cancer quackery himself, proving smart people can be fooled about this stuff too.
posted by spitbull at 5:44 PM on March 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


People who are helped by it are helped because they are stupid and gullible and therefore are duped into feeling better, not because it's medically sound. And to those skeptics, that's very relevant, because their fundamental goal is to disprove woo, not to alleviate suffering.

This is a straw-man.

All that "medically sound" refers to is whether or not the treatment works better than random chance. It's not a high or complicated bar to clear, but it is an important one, considering that the human body is often capable of healing on its own.

Nobody I know of cares more about disproving woo than improving patient outcomes. It's actually not that important to understand the mechanism of action of a given medical treatment -- there are plenty of medically-accepted treatments that we do not fully understand. However, it is important that patients are not deluded into accepting "unconventional" treatments that put their lives at risk.
posted by schmod at 6:12 PM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


dis_integration: I'm so sorry. I would like to think that moments like that present an opportunity for education but that's not our responsibility and, in addition, some people simply do not engage in logical thought. I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that you can see the world a bit more clearly than some others.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:18 PM on March 29, 2015


All that "medically sound" refers to is whether or not the treatment works better than random chance. It's not a high or complicated bar to clear, but it is an important one, considering that the human body is often capable of healing on its own.
Thank you for that explanation! I'm very stupid, so I didn't understand that! However, according to a meta-analysis in a reasonably-prestigious, peer-reviewed medical journal, that bar has been cleared. The people who attribute it to placebo effect do so to discredit the studies in that analysis. And I'm just more willing to go with a peer-reviewed medical journal than a blog post from an ideologically-driven skeptical website. I am sure that makes me a very ignorant person, but I can live with that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:26 PM on March 29, 2015


According to Wiki, "Some research results suggest acupuncture can alleviate pain but others consistently suggest that acupuncture's effects are mainly due to placebo.[3]"

What was it about the data in the study you are citing that made you feel it was more credible than the studies that suggest it is placebo? It's all about the data, right?
posted by Drinky Die at 6:48 PM on March 29, 2015


Cochrane reports on acupuncture for various conditions. Gold standard. Some positives, but fairly modest and limited, a lot of no better than placebos. Smart people say the jury is still out, but the risk is low and there's enough positive evidence to keep looking at it. Meanwhile a precise mechanism remains elusive and much of the locational/meridianal precision claimed by (quite diversely) trained acupuncturists is probably exaggerated.

Anecdotal: I tried acupuncture for about six months for pain secondary to an infection that was slow to heal, with an ND instructor at a respected Naturopathic college. I found it helped me relax and sleep better, but couldn't swear to the correlation being causal. Did nothing for my pain. My practitioner talked the whole mystical shebang but never convinced me she knew much physiology. Never did it again.
posted by spitbull at 6:53 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also worth pointing out that no one important claims acupuncture cures cancer or clears infections, and it entails minimal risk to patients.
posted by spitbull at 7:07 PM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


What was it about the data in the study you are citing that made you feel it was more credible than the studies that suggest it is placebo? It's all about the data, right?
It's a meta-analysis, which means that it examines all of the studies, takes into account their quality, and tries to come up with conclusions based on all the data. I believe it because it's in a peer-reviewed medical journal. I'm not qualified to evaluate medical studies, so I rely on medical experts to do so for me.

That's interesting, spitbull. Here's what Chochrane has to say about neck pain, which is something that I deal with:
Authors' conclusions:

There is moderate evidence that acupuncture relieves pain better than some sham treatments, measured at the end of the treatment. There is moderate evidence that those who received acupuncture reported less pain at short term follow-up than those on a waiting list. There is also moderate evidence that acupuncture is more effective than inactive treatments for relieving pain post-treatment and this is maintained at short-term follow-up.
So I mean, it's not overwhelmingly amazing evidence for effectiveness, but it's something. I've never tried acupuncture, but I might, especially since what I do for my neck pain is take a lot of NSAIDs, which are not particularly good for you. Since acupuncture has few risks, it might be worth trying it if it allowed me to take less advil.

All of this is to say that I don't think that acupuncture is like the completely unproven, ding-batty stuff that Gibson was advocating. It has been tested according to real scientific standards of evidence, which people can interpret as they wish. Gibson was just peddling complete snake oil.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:14 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


>It's a meta-analysis, which means that it examines all of the studies, takes into account their quality, and tries to come up with conclusions based on all the data. I believe it because it's in a peer-reviewed medical journal. I'm not qualified to evaluate medical studies, so I rely on medical experts to do so for me.

And some of the experts looking at the data disagree that it's any better than a placebo so it kind of seems like you are just picking the experts that agree with the conclusion you want. No big deal if it's just an academic or personal question, but right now in nearly every town in America people are taking money to perform this treatment nobody can prove actually works at all.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:30 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


At the risk of feeding the placebo derail further: placebos DO work. They produce significant effects. In fact one of the most frustrating things about placebos is that if they weren't unethical, they would be a great thing to use. In this sense, acupuncture (or homeopathy, or whatever) can produce a meaningful effect in the body -- can make you feel better -- just not by the means through which they claim to operate.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:04 PM on March 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Somewhat related : Jess Ainscough
posted by Ideefixe at 9:36 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is mind-boggling to me that people could buy, for one second, the notion that our health is completely controllable through self-determination.

I'm not sure it should be. People would really like to think that there is something they could do that would guarantee good health. We know the ancient Egyptians used amulets to ensure good health, and we see the same thing in a lot of different cultures. Modern medicine is explicit in saying that it can't guarantee good health.

In other areas of life, we see the "just world" fallacy. This is why some people question what a rape victim should have done differently to prevent being raped. It's victim-blaming, but the alternative is to believe that there's nothing you can do to guarantee that you won't be raped. That's very psychologically unpalatable. People don't like to feel that something bad could happen to them and they have no control over it. This is why some people are afraid of flying but not of driving, even though we know that flying is safer- they feel they have more control when they're driving. Modern medicine tells us that there are risk factors for some diseases that we don't have any control over.

Modern medicine also does not always treat patients as well as it should (in a "bedside manner" sense). People do get disrespected or dismissed by doctors.

Some illnesses are subjective (pain is a good example). Some illnesses sometimes spontaneously go into remission, even some cancers. Sometimes serious illnesses are misdiagnosed. And there are people who are willing to outright lie and say they had cancer before and now they don't, like the woman in the article. There is the ever-present placebo effect. If those things happen often enough, or with enough publicity, and are connected to dietary cures and the like, it makes it hard for someone without scientific or statistical knowledge to dismiss the idea that these treatments could ever work.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:58 AM on March 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Somewhat related : Jess Ainscough

Related enough that it's mentioned prominently in TFA and discussed upthread.
posted by spitbull at 12:29 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Update April 22, 2015:

Belle Gibson comes clean: "None of it is true."

Lol.
posted by spitbull at 7:59 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Xeni Jardin, actual cancer survivor, writing at BoingBoing, says "fuck Belle Gibson," but also calls out the media enablers here. Really good commentary.
posted by spitbull at 4:53 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


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