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From: B. Harris)
Subject: Re: Quacks and Geniuses in Medicine
Date: 03 Dec 1996

In <> (James C. Harrison)

>Anthony B cites a couple of cases where official medicine failed to
>recognize the validity of new ideas. One could easily add others.
>Unfortunately, even a fairly long list of such examples would not change
>the fact that the vast, vast bulk of alternative and new fangled medical
>ideas are the unsound products of screwballs, fakes, and crooks.
>These posts are like ads for the lottery that introduce the viewer to the
>winner of 57 million clams. The trouble isn't that there are no such
>people. Everybody knows there are. Unfortunately their existence doesn't
>make the lottery a good bet.
>P.S. One should also remember that tales of martyred genius make better
>listening than the much commoner cases of folks who figured something out
>and convinced the others.

   Yes, too many tales of martyred genius and you begin to think that
everyone who acts like a heretic is one of them.  Unfortunately, it's
not enough to be a heretic in science: you also have to be right.  The
proper answer to the heretic's perenial cry "They laughed at the Wright
brothers!" is:  "Yes, and they also laughed at Laurel and Hardy.  So
what?"   It's easy to put on the trappings of genius.  Anybody can comb
his hair like Einstein.  What's not so easy is proving your case.

   Not all of Anthony B.'s stories are as illustrative as he thinks,
for instance.  There was very little opposition to Pasteur among his
colleages.  As for Semmelweiss, his problem was that his theories were
a bit unbelievable (he wasn't postulating germs, you must understand,
since they were then unknown, but rather some kind of putrifaction
which spread and reproduced unlike any other known poison).  As for the
Shute brothers, Anthony is rather vague about what they claimed, and
for good reason.  Most of their claims related to vitamin E's supposed
ability to help angina sufferers.  Several very good studies (done at
the time, as scientists attempted to verify the Shute's claims) found
that it didn't.  And guess what?  It still hasn't been shown to.
Vitamin E is a preventative for atherosclerosis and possibly for heart
attacks.  Angina it's not good for.  Such teasing out of good claims
from bad is not very romantic, and doesn't make for a very clear hero
story, does it?  The Shutes were mostly wrong-- if they got anything
right, it was probably by chance.  In any case, they didn't bother to
do the studies that would prove their cases.  All their clinical
observation only led them to some very wrong conclusions-- so what is
it worth?

                                           Steve Harris, M.D.

From: B. Harris)
Subject: Re: Quacks and Geniuses in Medicine
Date: 04 Dec 1996

In <>
(Anthony Brea D.C.) writes:

>Perhaps that's what drove him mad. His 'balance' in the face of what he
>saw as an insane situation. This wasn't about apples dropping from a
>tree. It wasn't about with celestial body was the center of the world. It
>was about thousands of mothers dying after giving birth. It was about
>thousands of orphaned children. And it was about soap.

    Actually it wasn't.  Plain soap wouldn't have worked very well
(they didn't have antibiotic soaps).  And in fact I'm sure Semmelweiss'
students were already using soap, as nobody sticks their hands in a
bloody and festering corpse and then rejoins his fellow humans without
washing up.  What Semmelweis wanted them to do was not just wash, but
wash in a rather special solution of chlorine gas and limewater called
"chloride of lime" (= calcium hypochlorite = Clorox to you).  And they
were supposed to use this irritative stuff repeatedly.  Semmelweis hit
on that because this stuff wiped out all traces of odor from diseased
pathology specimens (it was only serendipity that it kills bacteria
also, and in fact is mainly what your own white cells use on bacteria).
 What the man HAD, in other words, was voodo-- a lucky guess that must
have looked to his students to be about as likely as (as somebody said)
curing AIDS by eating food X with food Y.  They didn't believe
Semmelweis.  And they shouldn't have.

                                          Steve Harris, M.D.

From: B. Harris)
Subject: Re: Alternative Medicine (was I need help)
Date: 20 Jul 1997

In <>
(JXBrown) writes:

>Jim Barron ( wrote:
>>At one time the medical establishment "knew" that washing hands between
>>doing autopsies and delivering children was unnecessary (and drove
>>Semmilweiss to suicide for having the audacity to maintain otherwise).
>>At one time the ME "knew" that Helicobacter pylori could not cause
>>ulcers (and, thanks in part to resistance from drug companies who make
>>more money from long term treatments than from short term cures, many
>>STILL "know" that), at one time we "knew" a LOT of things that are NOT
>>in fact true.
>So, I'm curious. How do we found out if things the alternative medicine
>establishment "knows" are true? If no records are kept and no experiments
>are performed, how do we "know" that laetrile, Essiac tea, magnet
>therapy, wild yam cream, iodine patch tests, or applied kinesiology are
>"in fact true"? Is there a possibility that they are ineffective or is
>that only a wild fantasy of Dr. Harris'?

   Why, it's only a wild fantasy of mine.  You see, whenever you get
some new hyped nutrient or pill, be it green lipped muscle extract or
highly diluted gonorrhea pus or whatever, all you need is testamonials.
Just some people saying it "worked for them."  And there you go.

   Of course, there's a small problem with this for the people who like
to use I. Semmelweiss as an example.  Even though he didn't commit
suicide, as suggested, he was hounded by his own profession.  The
problem is that he was hounded by people who said that not washing
their hands worked for them, and that not washing didn't work for them
(didn't do anything to the mortality rate of the women they attended).
The problem is that these people had poor memories, sort of like people
who say they gain weight on 500 kcals a day, and it was necessary to
FORCE them into doing a careful controlled trial, with observers, and
in which careful records were kept and statistics were done, BEFORE the
truth of the matter was known.  That's the lesson of Semmelweiss, and
it's one totally ignored by the fruitcake alternatives who like to use
him to beat medical doctors over the head with.

  The doctors of Semmelweiss' time were asses, to be sure.  But never
forget that the *reason* they were, is that they were acting THEN like
many "alternative medicine" hucksters act NOW:  to wit, thinking that a
practitioner can know the truth about efficacy by just looking at
his/her own experience and thinking hard about what seems to work, and
what doesn't.

                                              Steve Harris, M.D.

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