An Apple a Day – Why Steve Jobs REALLY Died

The news of Steve Jobs’ death has been exploding in the international media, shocking Apple lovers from all over the world. Much has been said about him today, and I’m sure over the next few days (at least), archives of his various public appearances and quotes are going to be shown all over the TV and internet. His death was a shock to most people, but after hearing about the sad news, I came across an article that really shocked me, with a twisted new piece of information. Jobs’ death could have been prevented – he could have been saved. What went wrong? Unfortunately, pseudoscience.

Naturopathy

Brian Dunning from Skeptoid wrote a thoughtful piece in which he reluctantly described the bad decision Jobs made to try to improve his health by using naturopathy alternative therapy instead of traditional medicine. [October 7 update: It’s not clear whether a “naturopath” gave Jobs his alternative medicine recommendation, but “naturopathy” could mean many things, so it’s possible but unconfirmed.] Just to give you an idea of what naturopathy is, this is from naturopathy.uk:

A Naturopath is a health practitioner who applies natural therapies. Her/his spectrum comprises far more than fasting, nutrition, water, and exercise; it includes approved natural healing practices such as Homeopathy, Acupuncture, and Herbal Medicine, as well as the use of modern methods like Bio-Resonance, Ozone-Therapy, and Colon Hydrotherapy.

Homeopathy? Acupuncture? Okay, so basically naturopathy is placebo-based nonsense. Or to be a little more specific, non-science. Don’t take my word for it, though. Last year, on his blog Respectful Insolence, Orac wrote about what naturopaths actually said regarding their views on science.  Tim Birdsall, a “naturopathic oncologist” (who has since deleted his blog) said:

“And so I began to ponder the question, ‘What’s wrong with research?’ A part of me becomes enraged at the reductionistic, allopathic, biomedical model, which breaks things down into components so small that all synergism, all interdependence is stripped away, and then declares those components to be ineffective. Another part argues that the wrong component was selected, or was a synthetic form (although in the lung cancer study, they used selenium yeast). But ultimately, I find myself becoming offended because I believe that these therapies work… Whoa! Believe?”

Yes, belief in a method is great – without it, my placebos would be useless. But just because I believe in something doesn’t make it so. (Honestly, I feel like I’m talking to a five-year-old whenever I argue with pseudoscience purveyors.) The only thing we can rely on is the scientific method, because that is the least biased method of ascertaining information about the natural world. But not according to naturopath Daniel Rubin, whose response to “What is the biggest challenge in your work?” was this:

“The disease, to put it bluntly. We remain somewhat limited by the scope of our practice, and we must continue to work toward national acceptance of our practice as a valid system of medicine. I also think that one of the greatest challenges we face is the widespread public belief in the scientific method. Medicine cannot create success exclusively through clinical trials. We’re too reliant on the scientific method, and it stands in our way of forging ahead.”

Too reliant on the scientific method? Only someone with no understanding of science would say something this foolish. Unfortunately for customers of this bunk, they erroneously assume that these types of health measures are effective, when they’re really not. Now, I know what you’re thinking… “but you still haven’t told me what naturopathy is!” Harriet Hall, a real doctor, explains it better than I can:

“When people ask me ‘what is naturopathy?’ I have never been able to give a good concise answer. I can confidently explain what acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy are all about, but naturopathy has eluded me. I finally realized that it’s not my fault. The whole concept is so ill-conceived and poorly defined that it cannot be grasped with a single definition. It is so nebulous that it allows its practitioners to believe and do almost anything. It is loosely unified by an emphasis on natural treatments that allow the body to heal itself, and an avoidance of drugs and surgery.”

The Fight Against Cancer

The Skeptoid article mentioned earlier describes the situation with Jobs’ cancer.

“Seven or eight years ago, the news broke that Steve Jobs had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but considering it a private matter, he delayed in informing Apple’s board, and Apple’s board delayed in informing the shareholders. So what. The only delay that really mattered was that Steve, it turned out, had been treating his pancreatic cancer with a special diet and other alternative therapies, prescribed by his naturopath. (I can’t find the original source for this, so I’m striking the statement that his self-treatment by diet had beed recommended by a naturopath.)

Most pancreatic cancers are aggressive and always terminal, but Steve was lucky (if you can call it that) and had a rare form called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor, which is actually quite treatable with excellent survival rates — if caught soon enough. The median survival is about a decade, but it depends on how soon it’s removed surgically.

Steve caught his very early, and should have expected to survive much longer than a decade. Unfortunately Steve relied on a naturopathic diet instead of early surgery. There is no evidence that diet has any effect on islet cell carcinoma. As he dieted for nine months, the tumor progressed, and took him from the high end to the low end of the survival rate.”

In 2004, this excerpt was published in an article on SFGate.com:

“Neuroendocrine tumors, the kind that Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs had surgically removed during the weekend, fall into a tiny category of pancreatic cancers that tend to grow very slowly and have a high survival rate, medical experts said Monday.

Jobs’ form of the disease accounts for less than 5 percent of the 32,000 pancreatic cancer cases diagnosed each year in the United States.

Dr. Jeffrey Norton, a specialist in cancers of the digestive system at Stanford University Medical Center, said an estimated 80 to 90 percent of patients are still alive after 10 years, although predictions are difficult because the number of cases is so small.”

In other words, Jobs had a very good chance of survival, but he was unfortunately persuaded by alternative medicine purveyors. Dunning continues:

“Why did he do this? Well, outsiders like us can’t know; but many who avoid medical treatment in favor of unproven alternatives do so because they’ve been given bad information, without the tools or expertise to discriminate good from bad. Steve was exposed to such bad information, as are we all.

Eventually it became clear to all involved that his alternative therapy wasn’t working, and from then on, by all accounts, Steve aggressively threw money at the best that medical science could offer. But it was too late. He had a Whipple procedure. He had a liver transplant. And then he died, all too young.”

The Bottom Line

While some have basically taken this information to mean “woo killed Jobs,” it’s not like we can simply blame naturopathy for killing him. Indeed, this brings us to the age-old question… “What’s the harm?”

I get asked this all the time when it comes to pseudoscience and placebos. Frankly, I wish this case would be the last example I need to give… but if history is any indication, it won’t be. The harm, aside from wasting time and money, is that the expectation of something like this to work often prevents people from seeking more standard healthcare. After all, why would I need to go through some complicated surgery if I can just pay for a healer to wave his hands over me? If you truly believe it works, you’re less likely to seek another form of medicine.

Jobs’ death is painfully sad. His early death was for technology and innovation what Michael Jackson’s was for art and culture. He improved our quality of life, and challenged an industry to produce what has become an amazing new chapter in human history. I believe that we’re just getting warmed up in the digital age, thanks in part to this great and brilliant man’s dreams and imagination. All I wish out of this article is to have people understand why we have to say goodbye so early to a man who helped shape the world. Many of us use an Apple product all the time – I personally have been using Apple products every single day since about two years ago.

So again, what’s the harm in pseudoscience? Since the fake medicine doesn’t do anything, you can’t really blame it, right? Well, if not for the cancer, he would be alive. But if not for the pseudoscience, he almost certainly would have lived a much longer life. The decision to undergo scientifically disproved or unsubstantiated practices is potentially dangerous for everyone. So whenever someone asks you what the harm is, you can tell them this:

The cancer was indeed killing Steve Jobs… but the pseudoscience just let him die.

 

[Update: For more information, read these articles that were published after mine: Harvard Cancer Expert: Steve Jobs Probably Doomed Himself With Alternative Medicine and Why did Steve Jobs choose not to effectively treat his cancer?]

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14 Responses to An Apple a Day – Why Steve Jobs REALLY Died

  1. Monika says:

    I certainly agree about the dangers of naturopathy, particularly when treating a disease, but I’d like to point out an amendment in one of your source articles. You quoted Dunning, “The only delay that really mattered was that Steve, it turned out, had been treating his pancreatic cancer with a special diet and other alternative therapies, prescribed by his naturopath.” The author of the Skeptoid article you cited has stricken “prescribed by his naturopath” as he couldn’t find the source for that part.

    Happy writing!

    • Ryo says:

      Thanks for the comment Monika! I updated the post to reflect the edits that he made.

      The funny thing is that even if a self-described “naturopath” didn’t give Jobs advice, “naturopathy” encompasses so much (as the UK website mentions above) that it doesn’t really change anything in my article. The message is still the same: Alternative medicine was trusted, at the expense of his health – which is why alternative medicine should not be trusted.

      Thanks again for the heads-up; very much appreciated!

  2. Scott says:

    Personally, if I had been diagnosed with Steve Job’s diagnosis, I would almost certainly have gone to a Western doctor for treatment. Why? Because they have a fairly good track record treating it. I would certainly be looking for other items that would help my recovery, and those would likely include some things that seem to be included here as Naturopathy. Acupuncture, for instance, has been used successfully for treating nausea, including that associated with chemotherapy.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16950659

    Diet is also huge for both cancer in general and anything that affects the pancreas in general.

    However, the second and third paragraph you’re siting:

    “And so I began to ponder the question…” and “The disease, to put it bluntly…”

    Are completely correct. Saying that double-blind peer-reviewed studies are the only acceptable method of finding ways to help people with health problems is a textbook example of the man looking for his keys in under the streetlight. As the second quoted paragraph notes, those tight control required to isolate single variables makes them useless for studying phenomenon of any complexity, and most health issues are systems issues that can’t be reduced to a single variable. Conclusions drawn from PRDB studies, when they are done correctly, get enough eyeballs, and aren’t distorted by bias, the media, funding conflicts of interest, scientific egos and rivalries, etc., are hugely important and help us inch our way toward more certainty. However, the percentage of studies that yield data that meets the scientific methods own standards are greatly in the minority. Read Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes for great example of good science gone wrong.

    Despite the problems of quackery, lack of certainty, personal bias, and the much-maligned placebo effect, our health problems are far too numerous and vast to limit treatment to those things that can be tested by PRDB studies. Accumulation of empirical data over time, something like 2000+ years with acupuncture, for example, has provided useful treatment and relief to millions of people. There’s plenty of PRDB studies that prove it works well under certain narrow circumstances, but it’s obvious efficacy in many areas where such studies are impossible show how much good medicine would be thrown away if everything had to pass that muster.

    At the end of the day, nothing is certain, and that includes conclusions come to by the scientific method. The certainty may be higher, and that extra certainly is often a good reason to choose a Western medicine solution over alternatives when that’s not a false dichotomy. However, there are good reasons to choose alternatives, too, and everyone has to find their own comfort level with the inevitable uncertainty involved in taking action to maintain and improve health. While PRDB studies are the gold standard of scientific medicine for good reason, they are simply too narrow a tool to use as a dividing line between what does and doesn’t constitute Real Medicine.

    • Ryo says:

      Hi Scott, thanks for the response! I’m always happy to hear people’s opinions, even if they differ from my own.
      I’m glad to hear that you would not fear Western medicine in times of medical troubles. But it sounds like you’re more skeptical about the scientific method than you ought to be.

      “Saying that double-blind peer-reviewed studies are the only acceptable method of finding ways to help people with health problems is a textbook example of the man looking for his keys in under the streetlight.”
      I didn’t say it was the only one; and the scientific method is far from perfect. In fact, for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s not even good. But let’s be clear: The scientific method is not good; but it’s the best. It’s the best method of viewing the world that we have available, despite its many flaws.

      Now, it sounds to me that you do not fully understand the reason why we isolate variables in science. This is not necessarily an easy concept to understand, especially after embracing the alternative medicine industry, but allow me to attempt to explain it because it’s very important. Let’s talk about the very common study of children viewing violent TV and aggression. Let’s pretend we have a sample of 1000 children, and we split them into two groups. Group A are boys aged 5-12, and group B are girls aged 13-18. We want to know if watching two hours of violent TV every day will make them more aggressive. So we’ll randomly pick one group to watch those two violent hours of TV, and we’ll have the other group watch no violent TV. With this grossly simplified example, the question is: Is watching violent TV correlated to higher levels of aggression?

      It doesn’t matter how we measure aggression in this thought experiment (as long it’s the same for each group) because the results will be totally meaningless regardless. We wanted to know how TV viewing affects children, but TV viewing turned out to be one of MANY variables that we manipulated. For example, we divided groups by age, and the results may in fact relate not to TV viewing, but age. We also divided groups by gender; so in the end, we can’t make any useful inferences based on these results. They would look something like this: We have concluded that boys aged 13-18 are more likely to show aggression after watching violent TV than girls aged 5-12. Is that useful whatsoever? Now just imagine how much more important this variable isolation is with something as complex as the human body in a medical setting.

      Let me just make this point really salient: Isolating variables is NOT a weakness of science. It is a strength.

      No one who understands the scientific would say otherwise (and I’m hoping my example above explains it sufficiently; I apologize if it didn’t). So what other ways are there of viewing the world? The first that comes to mind is the polar opposite – faith. With faith, you not only believe something with a lack of evidence, you believe something (i.e., you’re faithful) despite contradictory evidence. Does this sound like a good way to view the world? If so, one might be inclined to, for example, pray instead of operate on someone in need of medical care.

      Btw, I have no idea what PRDB means (could you clarify that?), but I’m a bit confused with the contradictions you make regarding it. “Conclusions drawn from PRDB studies, when they are done correctly, get enough eyeballs, and aren’t distorted by bias, the media, funding conflicts of interest, scientific egos and rivalries, etc., are hugely important and help us inch our way toward more certainty. However, the percentage of studies that yield data that meets the scientific methods own standards are greatly in the minority.” My first problem is that you later say “PRDB studies are the gold standard of scientific medicine for good reason,” which directly contradicts the previous sentence I quoted. In the following thought, you then say “they are simply too narrow a tool to use as a dividing line between what does and doesn’t constitute Real Medicine.” I can’t tell if you’re chastising or praising PRDB.

      Speaking of contradictions… I noticed that you have skepticism for the scientific method in general, but you used it to justify the statement that acupuncture is effective for treating nausea. If you’re going to argue that science is so flawed that you can’t rely on it, then you can’t cherry pick examples of allegedly positive results for something that you advocate. It’s all-or-nothing. Or else, it’s biased. And biased is conspiracy-theorist territory (i.e., hypothesis confirmation bias). As for acupuncture, I think a previous article I wrote would be illuminating, and I hope you can check it out and let me know what you think.

      You also said this: “At the end of the day, nothing is certain, and that includes conclusions come to by the scientific method.” I couldn’t agree more. One of the goals of Skeptikai is to point out issues with science, and the way it is conducted. Why, we see scientific retractions and corrections all the time. As technology advances, so too does science evolve. Frankly, it’s not science’s job to be right, it’s science’s job to provide evidence. It’s the people who understand science whose job it is to put those pieces of evidence together into a unified theory. Though Einstein’s theory of gravity demolished Newton’s, that doesn’t mean science is a bad way of viewing the world. After all, until Galileo, we still believed in a geocentric universe. That’s the alternative medicine version of historical astronomy. In other words, lacking in evidence.

      Anyways, thanks again for your comment! Hope you can weigh in on other issues in the future.

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  4. Scott says:

    I apologize for the delay in replying. The original post struck
    several nerves that have been demanding expression for a while, but I
    wasn’t really in a position time-wise to follow up.

    PRDB studies stands for Peer-Reviewed Double-Blind studies, often
    referred to as the gold standard of science, which I used earlier in
    the article before using the acronym afterward. I probably should
    have put the acronym in parenthesis the first time to clarify the
    contraction.

    I *do* have a fairly thorough understanding of the scientific method.
    I have an engineering degree, and am often the person who actually
    looks at the details of an underlying study everyone in the media is
    so excited about rather than believing the hype. There is good reason
    to be skeptical of media conclusions about scientific studies, and
    about the studies themselves. I understand the importance of proper
    structuring of a test, the reasons for isolating variables. The
    public and media’s lack of understanding of these things is very
    common, which is one reason very specific scientific conclusions (for
    instance, people live longer on certain kinds of cholesterol lowering
    drugs) with much broader generalizations with no scientific consensus
    (neither cholesterol level or fat content, per se, has ever been
    definitively linked to increase in heart disease or shorter lifespan.
    In many studies the opposite is true, historically study conclusions
    are all over the map, and consensus is definitely swinging more toward
    a pro-good-cholesterol/fat viewpoint now.) However, the public still
    believes Fat is Bad For You, and Fat Makes You Fat, neither of which
    has ever been a consensus in the scientific community. Changing too
    many variables in a scientific study at once naturally muddies the
    waters about what, exactly, might be causing a measured change. The
    fewer the variables, the firmer the conclusion can be about whether
    changing that one variable caused a statistically measurable
    difference in outcome. This is a strength of science. If a properly
    conducted study shows that changing a certain variable has a certain
    effect, and this can be demonstrated by multiple scientists in
    different locations, then we know changing that variable changes the
    outcome. I fully support doing this as often as possible, and the
    slow accumulation of certainty is one of the reasons we’ve made so
    much progress as a species.

    My critique here is in many situations, the process of isolation of a
    single of few variables invalidates the entire test to begin with.
    There are many more instances in the human body where isolation single
    variables is simply impossible. Even basic digestion biochemistry
    (surrounding, say, the effects of cholesterol on health) is so complex
    that it often simply isn’t possible to create a meaningful test that
    isolates a single or even a few variables. I completely agree that in
    that situation we have to say “we’re less certain here,” but I also
    reject the notion that such strict scientific evidence is the only
    responsible way to approach trying to determine what does and doesn’t
    work to enhance human health.

    I used acupuncture as an example of a discipline where the application
    of the scientific method to the entire system is completely
    impossible. It’s a system theory, with way too many moving parts to
    ever break down reductionistically into components that can then be
    re-assembled into a whole. There *are* ways to test parts of it, such
    as the example I gave regarding it’s use for combating nausea caused
    by chemotherapy. It can also be used as anesthesia in some forms of
    surgery, and has a good history for pain management. There are
    multiple other examples for those who want to look them up. The
    reason I use acupuncture as an example is because it’s very clear from
    many things that do not and will never satisfy the requirements of
    variable-isolating science (such as the evidence of thousands of years
    of valuable health outcomes) that in the hands of a skilled
    practitioner, the entire system works, not just the part that science
    can prove works. And my take away here is *not* that the
    scientifically provable parts are the only parts that are “real” and
    the rest is quackery. My takeaway is that science is simply not an
    appropriate tool to make a judgement about the whole system. It
    doesn’t mean the science is wrong. But the fact that one can’t use a
    certain reproducible test to prove a certain effect proves nothing
    about he efficacy of that treatment in an instance where that kind of
    test simply isn’t the correct tool.

    The question of faith itself is very central to this whole discussion,
    as is the idea of a placebo effect. I agree that proving a given,
    say, drug, provides a better outcome for a specific problem than a
    placebo is significant. However, the placebo effect itself is, I
    think, actually *more* significant. What’s called the placebo affect
    is dismissed in scientific circles as “simply being in someone’s
    head.” However, I would argue that finding a way to induce the
    placebo effect consistently in patients would be at least as valuable
    as any contribution science has yet to make to our health. The
    placebo effect has a very real impact on people’s lives and often on
    not only their short-term but long-term health outcomes. The
    disproved Fieschi
    procedure
    is an excellent example.

    This bring up an excellent question: If someone is doing what’s
    basically quackery, but they can reliably induce the placebo effect,
    *and* they are charging their patients very much, what do we think of
    them as health practitioners? Certainly their not scientific, but are
    they doing more harm than good? I’m not convinced there’s an easy
    answer. And I *would* argue that in situations where there aren’t
    likely to be severe long-term effects (like not going to see a Western
    practitioner for a form of cancer for which there are well documented,
    successful treatments) a cheap, non-scientific practitioner with
    mostly satisfied customers may actually be a better choice for daily
    maladies and general life-experience improvement than an expensive
    medical doctor, even with insurance. And from bird-eye view of
    holistic vs. Western medicine, the holistic people have a *much*
    better idea of the Big Picture and how it All Fits Together, science
    or no science. Again, it’s a systems theory that’s currently beyond
    the scope of science.

    In summary, science is very good for increasing our certainty about
    the small subset of reality it can be applied to, and it has genuine
    value for that. However, its superiority in those circumstances
    doesn’t somehow automatically invalidate the things to which it can’t
    be applied. And when you’re talking about strict hypothesis testing
    by isolating one or a few variables, that’s an awful lot that isn’t
    being invalidated that a lot of people who identify as skeptics seem
    to think is being invalidated. One-off, personal results with a
    certain treatment are meaningful, whether or not it can be determined
    if it’s the placebo effect. Large bodies of data who’s structure
    fails strict scientific interpretation can still hugely valuable not
    only in personal health decisions, but in large-scale public ones.
    The accumulation of several thousand years of data regresses to the
    mean. The idea that it’s worthless because it fails some requirements
    of one particularly strict interpretation of science isn’t merely
    illogical (and unscientific in a larger sense), it’s crazy. There is
    no system of medicine, including scientific medicine, that doesn’t
    rely on some element of faith. Unless average people are out there
    conducting these experiments themselves, which will clearly never
    happen, they are dependent not only on scientists, but the very flawed
    scientific and medical media, and the very biased, unscientific
    Western medical community to steer them in the right direction. And
    that, my friend, is faith. And is that faith more well placed than
    many of the other various faiths at work in people’s medical quality
    of life outcomes? Sometimes it is, but much more often than most
    people realize, it’s not.

  5. Scott says:

    I meant to say:

    “This bring up an excellent question: If someone is doing what’s
    basically quackery, but they can reliably induce the placebo effect,
    *and* they *aren’t* charging their patients very much…”

    That’s what I get for blogging while chatting. :)

    • Ryo says:

      Hi Scott.
      Glad to hear back from you! And don’t worry about the delay; Skeptikai will still be here whenever you get back. ☺

      I hope the nerves struck were only because of the content of my article you disagreed with and not anything I might have said to offend you; I apologize if I came off confrontational or offensive, and I absolutely appreciate your input.

      And wow you raised a lot of points…(!)

      I hesitate to say that isolating variables is not a good thing, so much as “you simply can’t manipulate every variable you’d like to measure.” There are many creative studies that have to get around the fact that you can’t just flip a switch to make different conditions. For example, many studies in astronomy have to look at measurements over time to determine the cause of something, but are still able to make causal inferences (e.g., studying black holes). They aren’t really “manipulating” it, so much as “controlling” for a variable. So I certainly acknowledge the fact that this is sometimes impossible… but I guess the real question is “when?” In social sciences, I can’t think of an excuse for not manipulating variables. When you say that it’s too complex or you can’t reduce things to single variables, I have two arguments here:

      1) Saying “it’s impossible because the body is just so complex” is a cop-out. Unless you give specific reasons (and if you do have good reasons, you should absolutely inform the researchers involved in whatever study you’re critiquing), then it’s just meaningless.
      2) If you actually do contend that variables should not be manipulated, then you’re essentially asserting that every alternative medicine should be running on the notion that “we assume it works!” because if you don’t think that it can be tested, then all prior research goes out the window. And then what are we left with? Testimonials. And I’m sure you know why testimonials are almost never valid forms of evidence.

      Now, placebos.
      I think you have a skewed understanding of the scientific community’s stance on the placebo effect. First of all, they (note: both you and I are guilty of generalizing here) don’t dismiss the placebo effect as “simply being in someone’s head,” because psychology is so intertwined with biology that beliefs can have a real effect on someone’s health, and they know that. But there’s an issue, and it usually depends on what the doctor is treating. For example, doctors will be more likely to give placebos (e.g., homeopathy pills) for symptoms like headaches, but when we’re talking about things like chronic pain, the ethical boundaries really start to get pushed.

      It’s not an easy solution. Should we give our patients cheap, simple, and scientifically proven (i.e., the zillions of papers showing the strength of the placebo effect) drugs, despite the fact that they have no active ingredient? Or should we go with the conventional medicine? Because if the patient does NOT believe in the efficacy of the treatment, or for whatever reason they did NOT improve, then the doctor is negligent. I mean, is it really ethical to give a patient a fake treatment in the hopes that they will get better? That in and of itself seems to go against the oath that every practicing doctor has taken. And on top of that, it pushes the limit of the trust the patient has for the doctor.

      So where do we draw the line? Well it gets even more complicated when you take into consideration the fact that patients don’t always listen to their doctors, and do not always practice full disclosure. So they might be skimping on medical advice, getting alternative advice elsewhere, or taking medicine that they don’t tell the doctor about. …And now, please refer to the second paragraph under “The Bottom Line” in my article above, because that’s exactly what I want to say.

      “I would argue that finding a way to induce the placebo effect consistently in patients would be at least as valuable as any contribution science has yet to make to our health.”

      Two thoughts on this… Firstly, I think this kind of diminishes the role of science as an evolving body of work. The placebo effect was not something generated from science, and thus should not be held up to the same regard as a scientific breakthrough – it’s a natural, incredible, and fascinating phenomenon that science has merely been able to study. Vaccines, on the other hand, have done more for us than most people (i.e., those who take them for granted) will ever realize, and vaccines are a good example of a contribution that came from science.

      Secondly, doctors don’t disregard the placebo effect (as I mentioned above). They just don’t always utilize it the way you think. Let me explain… The great thing about homeopathy is that the homeopaths take detailed information about patients’ history and ask a lot of questions and listen intently. This is, as I have mentioned before, why so many people claim that it’s effective (while presuming that it’s the pills). They know that the way they interact with patients can indeed have an effect on them.

      What you seem to be doing is putting science in the cross-hairs, whereas I’m forced to defend it. But if you really believe that there are better ways to measure the efficacy of alternative medicine treatments, why don’t you offer an alternative yourself and see how that methodology fairs? It’s easy to find faults with science (I do it all the time) but it’s much harder to provide a better alternative. When the tables have turned, you’ll soon see why we can’t accept non-scientific methodologies to investigate scientific claims.

  6. George Tsatas ND says:

    Ya, Jobs should have weighed his options more intelligently. You’re an idiot for associating terms like ‘healer’ and ‘placebo’ to naturopathy, but it’s true that there is no concrete alternative treatment for cancer YET. Sadly, all we can do is blast people with radiation and hope for the best.

    For everyone else, please do some research on Naturopathic medicine, the author of this article doesn’t have a clue as to what it is..

    • Ryo says:

      Hey George, thanks for the comment!
      Despite the somewhat unsurprisingly childish hostility, I still appreciate the input.

      It’s commonplace to see ad hoc arguments from alternative medicine advocates because that is essentially the quality of your argument. If you really want to go there, we can start with the “ND” beside your name… but I think the merit of one’s argument is more important than the character of the person giving it, so I’m opting not to stoop to your level. You should try to emulate more respectful commenters, like Scott (above), who actually engages in discussion.

      Anyways, considering I quoted people like Orac and Harriet Hall, maybe you should take up your criticisms with them. And Harriet Hall’s quote basically confirmed the last clause of your comment, so I’m not sure why you felt the need to even say it. But you know what? It takes any fool to say “You just don’t get it!” and then walk away huffing and puffing.

      So why don’t you kindly explain to me, if you can, what naturopathy is. You can explain it, can’t you?

      I look forward to your explanation.

  7. George Tsatas ND says:

    I’ll gladly explain to you what it is I do. But first of all I’d like to clarify some things; I get alot of people talk to me about naturopathy in a negative manner, and if you’re going to disregard my point of view with a preconceived idea you have about naturopathy,
    “It’s commonplace to see ad hoc arguments from alternative medicine advocates because that is essentially the quality of your argument.” you should stop reading right here.

    As a naturopath, I asses my patients physical and mental condition, treat them using mainly herbal medicine, and practice preventative treatment by helping them manage their diets, physical and mental activities. Although I obviously cannot speak for everyone, (The naturopathic community is terribly unregulated) I sometimes use homeopathy in conjunction with various effective herbal medicines to treat diseases, and refer them to a MD when Herbal medicines aren’t working for them, or when they have a more life threatening/ complex disease and that I feel it would be more efficient and safer for them to seek conventional medical treatment. I use acupuncture to relieve stress, migraines, back and shoulder pain, anxiety and several uncommon disorders/ chemical imbalances. I only practice acupuncture where it is scientifically proven to work, and have had a 93.4% Success rate in solving my patients problems. All my practices are based on scientifically proven methods, no Naturopathic Doctor I associate myself with uses any placebo based treatment, and no Doctor In their right mind expects to heal someone of cancer using placebos.

    Naturopathic Medicine is the treatment of disease using alternatively based medicines derived mainly from ethnobotanical research, and to an extent an affinity for natural and traditional health care, for both scientific advantage, and natural sustainability of the human body.

    I get defensive when writers, without understanding naturopathic medicine, decide that it’s ineffective, or not based in any scientific facts whatsoever, but rightfully so. You can quote Tim Birdsall in being an example of an ND just as well as I can quote Sulieman Al Hourani as being an MD, but I have nothing against conventional medicine, anyone in their right mind knows its absolutely vital and is the driving force in pushing scientific boundaries and saving people’s lives. But when we can, it’s my opinion that we should all strive for the most efficient, natural and sustainable health care possible. If you don’t share that opinion, that’s absolutely fine, but to display the whole practice as a pseudoscience is disinformation, and doesn’t show understanding of naturopathy on your part.

  8. George Tsatas ND says:

    I’ll gladly explain to you what it is I do. But first of all I’d like to clarify some things; I get alot of people talk to me about naturopathy in a negative manner, and if you’re going to disregard my point of view with a preconceived idea you have about naturopathy,
    “It’s commonplace to see ad hoc arguments from alternative medicine advocates because that is essentially the quality of your argument.” you should stop reading right here.

    As a naturopath, I asses my patients physical and mental condition, treat them using mainly herbal medicine, and practice preventative treatment by helping them manage their diets, physical and mental activities. Although I obviously cannot speak for everyone, (The naturopathic community is terribly unregulated) I sometimes use homeopathy in conjunction with various effective herbal medicines to treat diseases, and refer them to a MD when Herbal medicines aren’t working for them, or when they have a more life threatening/ complex disease and that I feel it would be more efficient and safer for them to seek conventional medical treatment. I use acupuncture to relieve stress, migraines, back and shoulder pain, anxiety and several uncommon disorders/ chemical imbalances. I only practice acupuncture where it is scientifically proven to work, and have had a 93.4% Success rate in solving my patients problems. All my practices are based on scientifically proven methods, no Naturopathic Doctor I associate myself with uses any placebo based treatment, and no Doctor In their right mind expects to heal someone of cancer using placebos.

    Naturopathic Medicine is the treatment of disease using alternatively based medicines derived mainly from ethnobotanical research, and to an extent an affinity for natural and traditional health care, for both scientific advantage, and natural sustainability of the human body.

    I get defensive when writers, without understanding naturopathic medicine, decide that it’s ineffective, or not based in any scientific facts whatsoever, but rightfully so. You can quote Tim Birdsall in being an example of an ND just as well as I can quote Sulieman Al Hourani as being an MD, but I have nothing against conventional medicine, anyone in their right mind knows its absolutely vital and is the driving force in pushing scientific boundaries and saving peoples lives. But when we can, it’s my opinion that we should all strive for the most efficient, natural and sustainable health care possible. If you don’t share that opinion, that’s absolutely fine, but to display the whole practice as a pseudoscience is disinformation, and doesn’t show understanding of naturopathy on your part.

    • Ryo says:

      Thanks for the comment, George!

      I will say this: Insofar as naturopathy is so vague and, like you said, unregulated… saying that “naturopathy is pseudoscience” is kind of like saying “medicine is good.” The statement is highly generalized, and so basically worthless. After all, medicine can in fact kill you. It’s all about context (i.e., dosage, type, physical ailment, current physical shape, etc.). But I happen to have heard the claims of naturopathy practitioners for years, and I have yet to be impressed by the (lack of) scientific rigour with which they conduct their practice.

      So I actually hesitate to say “naturopathy is bogus” because it basically paints everyone with the same brush; but I say it because it’s convenient until someone like yourself asks for clarification (kind of like the way I would say “hypnosis isn’t real” even though it actually is real… it’s just not the same thing as what people tend to think). As a writer, spelling things out in painful detail just isn’t interesting for people to read. But luckily for bloggers like myself, there’s the comments section where I can delve into whatever I want.

      Basically, the naturopaths who stand out as more careful, science-minded individuals still do not perform scientifically enough for me to regard with the same esteem afforded to scientists who earned their way to a respectable position from an accredited university. This is also a generalization for convenience (obviously, just because someone has a PhD doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re automatically correct, just like someone holding a black belt doesn’t mean that they will necessarily win in a fight). But let me provide two examples.

      “Massage therapy is bogus.” This is an example of such a generalization. There are plenty of massage therapists who say that they can treat an absurd amount of diseases, and science has found this to be is false. However, there are also those who practice massage therapy, and yet specifically stay away from the scientifically unsubstantiated practices. For example, Paul Ingraham, who runs the health website SaveYourself.ca has on many occasions turned away people seeking treatment for ailments that he knew there was no scientific evidence to support. So massage therapy is bogus “when it’s bogus.” Just like naturopathy is bogus “when it involves unsupported treatments.” Unfortunately, this is basically the only situation I ever see. Why, if a naturopath was conducting only scientifically supported practices, she would no longer be an ND. She would be an MD. That’s why doctors work in hospitals and not alternative medicine practitioners.

      To give another example, well… you. I certainly commend you for referring patients with more life-threatening diseases to MDs. I have seen many people who are not even that responsible. But that doesn’t mean that I agree with the way you treat the other patients.

      For example, you said “All my practices are based on scientifically proven methods, no Naturopathic Doctor I associate myself with uses any placebo based treatment…” but you also say “I sometimes use homeopathy in conjunction with various effective herbal medicines to treat diseases.” I have already written an article on not only why homeopathy makes no sense, and is no more effective than a placebo. You can read it here.

      Naturopathy seems to me more like a theory that guides the way people practice their alternative medicine rather than a practice in its own right. Naturopaths essentially emphasize that what’s natural is good, and will engage in alternative medicines that are supposed to fit into that category. But I find a few problems with this. For one, what’s natural is not always good. Also, what naturopaths consider to be “natural” is not always even natural. For example, I’m not sure what’s natural (or good) about “Mobile Phone 900Mhz,” but that’s one homeopathic remedy on the massive list of products on the “Helios” website.

      Ultimately, I just tend to agree with the NHS who have said that such discredited practices should not receive public funding. So of course I agree with you that we should strive for the best health care possible for individuals, but I guess we’re in disagreement on the best way to do that.

  9. George Tsatas ND says:

    Whoops, sorry for the double post :/

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