SciFi: Bad reporting on the “acupuncture and breast cancer patients” study

Having needles shoved in your skin can seem like a major medical intervention, but science says it's a sham. Is a new study about lung cancer pain and acupuncture going to change that picture? In short . . . no. It's terrible science. Photo from Ref. 4.
Acupuncture is shown again to be no better than placebo. An AltMed news site spins it to say any acupuncture, even badly done, will help breast cancer patients. Is this good science?

I keep a special feed on Google News called “Nonsenseville” [1]. It’s an rss stream that results from a search for keywords that typically appear in pseudoscience articles. Normally, I scan the headlines to get a sense of how credulous is the science reporting on a topic. Today, I saw this headline from the Canadian Sun news company in my feed: “Sun News: Acupuncture, even done wrong, can help women taking breast cancer drugs: Study [finds]” [2] (the last word appears to have fallen off their site . . . I assume it was “finds”). This is nonsense of the highest order, and is a dangerous message to women desperate for relief from the awful side-effects of breast cancer treatment. The message is: even an extremely incompetent and dangerous quack can help you. This is grade-A nonsense of the highest order, and deserves to be critically assessed.

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They are dangerous

“[The creationists and the Discovery Institute]  are not interested in science, and they are not interested in education. They are interested in political power. They are dangerous.” (Vincent Cassone, chair of the University of Kentucky Biology Department). [1]

In an interesting interview with Vincent Cassone, chair of the University of Kentuck Biology Department, we learn how it is he was appointed to the final expert review panel for the Pearson public school biology textbook. Cassone makes this call at the end of the interview for all scientists to work for the cause of good science in the public science classroom. All good scientists must work to counter the lies, and the legal and political machinations of the creationists. It is a powerful call.


A good example of a bad argument

Recently, a two new studies of multivitamins and their efficacy for purposes other than vitamin deficiency were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine [1][2]. One study looks at using multivitamins to improve outcomes after myocardial infarction, and finds no evidence of a benefit. The second study looks at measurable outcomes of cognitive function in men who take a multivitamin, and finds no positive benefit to supplementation. These are just two  studies in a growing body of evidence (c.f. [3][4]) that shows that the primary and overwhelming thing that vitamin supplementation is good for is curing a vitamin deficiency. In general, there are many more popular claims about the wonders of vitamin supplementation than there are actual, high-quality scientific studies of those claims. The latest pair of articles were brought to my attention by a friend on Twitter, and what resulted from their post was a classic example of a bad argument.

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Wedge Salad

In their famous policy paper, “The Wedge,” [1] the founders of the modern Intelligent Design Creationism movement stated their political and social action plan for the United States:

  • In Phase 1, entitled “Research, Writing, and Publication,” the authors state that “… [they] are supporting vital writing and research at the sites most likely to crack the materialist edifice.”
  • In Phase 2, entitled “Publicity and Opinion Making,” the authors state that “… the primary purpose … is to prepare the popular reception of our ideas … we seek to build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely Christians.”
  • In Phase 3, entitled “Cultural Confrontation and Renewal,” the authors state that “Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move forward toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science … [and] pursue legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public science curricula.”

Shivers down your spine yet? You should be terrified. Science is not about “confrontation and renewal” – it’s about building a reliable body of knowledge about the natural world, uncolored by personal belief. That requires the long and repetitious scientific method, not “legal assistance” to force ideas into the public sphere. So . . . how’s it going for the ID/C movement? An  article by a math professor from UT-El Paso, laden with pseudoscience, bad logic, and poor argumentation, is a snapshot of how it’s going for them . . . and it’s not good.

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