Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Man Behind The Curtain

Real medicines that pass a test
Have evidence that they are best
In journals on the shelf
Such data, sadly, alt-med lacks
And so it must depend on quacks—
It can’t defend itself!

When Oprah said, “we need a guy
To stare the camera down, and lie”
The doctor took the call—
How brave of him to take a stance
Defending things that work by chance
And often, not at all!

He played the old familiar songs:
“A million users can’t be wrong”
“Old wisdom is the best”
There was one tune he could not hear—
These panaceas disappear
In double-blinded tests!

A real effect won’t run and hide
And fade away, should you decide
To measure it precisely
A real effect, that lasts and lingers,
Won’t require you cross your fingers
And ask it very nicely

Alternatives, it seems, are shy
Although no theory tells us why
They don’t show up in studies
Practitioners take different tacks
And thus, because they have no facts
Rely upon their buddies

The “medicine” on Oz’s show
Is so much less than science knows
Of that you may be certain
Should you encounter Dr. Oz
Remember what I say, and pause—
And look behind the curtain!

The story of Steve Novella's appearance on Dr. Oz's show is chronicled at Novella's own site, and at Orac's, in much more and better detail than I could possibly muster.

I do hope Oz visits SBM or the SGU (read Novella's link for what those are); I'd love for someone on the alt-med to tell me why and how it could possibly be that an effect is patently obvious for a patient, equally obvious to an alt-med practitioner, and simultaneously far too subtle to be detected by scientific means. What theory explains an effect that actively hides from empirical investigation? The "fade effect" and the "shyness effect" both label this phenomenon, but neither explains it (on the other hand, simple regression to the mean and placebo effects leave little or nothing left to explain).


Die Anyway said...

I think I mentioned this once over on PZ's blog but I'll tell it again here:
One of our acquaintances has a child who had a serious heart defect. No doctor in the Tampa Bay area was capable or willing to perform corrective surgery. This acquaintance applied to Dr. Oz and he agreed to take the case (this was pre-TV show days). He performed the surgery and the child is quite well now.
My take on this is that he's an excellent heart mechanic but has somehow slipped in the alt-med arena.

Melissa said...

Ah, Oprah. She's given us Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil.

I think one of my favorite examples discrediting these types of "medicines" is the Amazing Randi's demonstration with homeopathic sleeping pills. He kicked back the entire bottle and nothing happened.

entropy said...

Defined by the proof that they lack, what?

Cuttlefish said...

Entropy, have you been reading the OEDILF?

There are practices—quite a high stack—
All defined by the proof that they lack;
These alternative health
Methods sure gather wealth—
But when challenged, they duck like a quack!