Medical Woo in Michigan

Medical Woo in Michigan June 5, 2012

A couple weeks ago CFI-Michigan was asked to comment for an article being worked on by Andy Fitzpatrick of the Battle Creek Enquirer about a new holistic health center being opened by Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall, Michigan. I spoke on behalf of the group as an advisory board member and asked Dave Gorski of Science Based Medicine to do so as well. Here’s the finished article.

This new holistic health center offers treatment like Qi Gong (a form of stretching that the doctor in charge says is all about increasing your “life force”) and ear candling, one of the most ridiculous forms of woo there is. Gorski makes a prediction and the other side falls right into the trap:

Dr. David Gorski is a surgical oncologist at Wayne State Univeristy’s Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and managing editor of He said that while a few holistic treatments occasionally can be found in traditional medical settings, the Oaklawn center is something different.

“A lot of hospitals offer stuff like acupuncture and massage, what I like to call the gateway woos,” he said. “I have not seen one that advertises reflexology and ionic foot baths and ear candling. That’s some heavy duty quackery there.”

Ear candling, for example, involves placing a hollow candle into the ear and lighting the wick on fire. The part inside the ear is open, and the goal is to have the lit candle remove excessive ear wax or other toxins. However, there is no known mechanism that would cause this to happen and, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is no valid scientific evidence to support ear candling’s safety or effectiveness.

Gorski said most of the treatments offered by the Holistic Center are similarly unsupported.

“This stuff doesn’t work,” he said. “How do we know it doesn’t work? In many of the cases, randomized clinical trials. So you attack randomized clinical trials.”

And right on cue, the guy who runs the center does exactly that:

Holmes, of Oaklawn, described a reliance on double-blind, placebo-controlled studies a tragedy of mainstream medicine. In such a study, one group is given the treatment and another group is given a fake treatment without being told. These studies also account for the placebo effect; that is, an increase in health due to a reason other than being given a medication or procedure being tested.

“There are people who jump out of airplanes without parachutes who survive, and there are people who have jumped out of airplanes with parachutes who have not survived,” Holmes said. “There hasn’t been a placebo-controlled double-blind study (of parachutes), so we can’t in conscience give evidence that it’s better to jump out of a plane with a parachute.”

Yes, he actually thinks that’s a rational argument. And that man is a doctor, for crying out loud. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that guy if I needed medical treatment. Here’s the quote from me:

The Center for Inquiry — Michigan, a Grand Rapids-based branch of the national think tank that works to promote a secular society based on reason, science and humanism, said that such unsupported programs are all too common.

“If there was any actual evidence that these alternative, homeopathic treatments worked, humanist groups like the Center for Inquiry — Michigan would be strongly in favor of them,” CFI’s Ed Brayton said in a statement to the Enquirer. “But there isn’t.”

Brayton also warned that there are good rules of thumb to go by when encountering an alternative treatment while trying to get medical attention.

“If a technique claims to rid the body of non-specific ‘toxins,’ you’re probably dealing with something that is not based on scientific research,” the statement read.

Unfortunately, he notes that I said that woo was all too common, but skips over the actual statement about that, where I noted that Western Michigan University actually has an entire department devoted to this nonsense.

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