Consumer Health Digest #15-37

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 20, 2015


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.


Republican candidates display ignorance about vaccines. During the Republican Presidential debate on September 16, three of the candidates made statements that clashed with scientific knowledge about vaccination. The discussion, which spanned from 2:46 to 2:50 of the 6-hour-long event, began when the moderator noted that Donald Trump has repeatedly linked vaccines to autism and asked candidate Ben Carson, M.D. (a pediatric neurosurgeon) whether Trump should stop doing this.

Trump's account of the "just the other day" case does not appear to be accurate because he told the same story on during a Fox-TV broadcast in 2012. After Trump said he believed that vaccinations were responsible for a rise in autism, Fox News co-host Gretchen Carlson said, "You know that most physicians disagree with that and the studies have said there is no link. It used to be said that it was the the mercury in those vaccines, which they have not had for years and yet we're at the highest number in recent years." Trump replied, "I couldn't care less. I've seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations, and a month later the child is no longer healthy." A moment later, he described how child of a woman who worked for him "recently" had become autistic a month after getting vaccines. [Autism on the Rise. Fox & Friends, April 2, 2012] Scientific studies indicate that any association between autism and vaccines is coincidental. But Trump seems unable to consider this.

The debate's antivaccination exchange has triggered an avalanche of criticism:

These events suggest that if Trump, Carson, or Paul are elected president, they might try to force the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change its recommended vaccination schedule to one that is less effective. Quackwatch has an article that explains why vaccination "spreading" is not a good idea.


Reason.TV blasts Harkin's promotion of quackery. Todd Krainin has produced a brilliant 15-minute history that spotlights the 23 years of government-supported pseudoscience at the National Institutes of Health. Titled "The Alternative Medicine Racket: How the Feds Fund Quacks," the video recounts how the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and its predecessors have spent $5.5 billion on research that has found no effective treatments and on funding centers at dozens of major hospitals and medical schools that offer treatments that have no evidence of efficacy. The high point of the video is the passage that begins at 12:40 in which Senator Tom Harkin, who launched the NIH program, described in 2009 how disappointed he was. The NIH program was intended to "investigate and validate alternative approaches," he said, but "the focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things." Harkin, who retired at the beginning of this year, doesn't seem to understand that the aim of science is not to validate methods but to test them. Overall, the video illustrates how politicians with sufficient power can wreak havoc on the scientific community.


Dr. Oz reportedly less popular. The American Council on Science and Health has reported that the estimated number of people watching the "Dr. Oz" show dropped sharply during the past year. [Dolaski A-M. Dr. Oz audience down 50 percent—So we're halfway there. ACSH Web site, Sept 15, 2015] Two factors in the drop appear to be the widely publicized effort to terminate his medical school faculty position and the Congressional hearing at which Senator Claire McCaskill criticized him for promoting worthless weight-loss products.


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