Andrew Skolnick – The Dangers of Alternative Medicine

December 23, 2005

Andrew Skolnick, Executive Director of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health, is a nationally renowned science journalist who has won numerous awards and honors for his reporting in biology, medicine, and human rights. Among those honors are Amnesty International USA’s Spotlight on Media Award; World Hunger Year’s Harry Chapin Award for Impact on Hunger and Poverty; the John P. McGovern Medal from the American Medical Writers Association; and a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. For nearly a decade, he served as an associate news editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association. His articles and photographs have been published in Smithsonian, Natural History, Ranger Rick Nature Magazine, National Geographic World, The New York Times, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and many other publications.

In this interview with DJ Grothe, he discusses the dangers of alternative medicine, including unregulated dietary supplements, homeopathy, and more.

Also, in the second of a two part interview entitled The Real War on Christmas, Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry, urges listeners to wage an actual war on Christmas, in defense of America’s religious diversity and the rights of nonbelievers.

Point of Inquiry contributer Lauren Becker offers some insight into the recent ruling in the Dover Pennsylvania Intelligent Design case.

Finally, in Ben Radford’s regular commentary, Media Mythmakers, he discusses terror hoaxes.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, December 20 3rd, 2005. 

Hello, I’m DJ Grothe. Welcome to Point of Inquiry, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank affiliated with the State University of New York with branches in Manhattan, Tampa and Hollywood. Point of Inquiry seeks to draw on the Center for Inquiries relationship with the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics and thinkers and renowned entertainers. And to bring you each week interviews and commentary focusing on the three research areas here at CFI, first Pseudo-Science and the Paranormal. Second, we focus on the growing alternative medicine movement. Third, on point of inquiry, we focus on religion, secularism and nonbelief. On today’s episode of Point of Inquiry, we will be joined with Andrew Skolnick, executive director of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. Then later in the broadcast. We’ll be bringing you from the pages of free inquiry and even tell you how you can get a sample copy of that magazine. We’ll also feature the second part of a series entitled The Real War on Christmas by Tom Flynn and Benjamin Radford’s regular commentary, Media Mythmakers. But first point of inquiry contributor Lauren Becker bring some insight into the recent ruling in the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design case. 

Media headlines around the world are calling it a blistering landmark decision, a watershed ruling. Full of scathing language in one of the biggest courtroom clashes of the century. A detailed critique that could have far reaching legal and political impact. Others, however, dismissed the ruling as insignificant, even silly. The issue is the war between evolution and intelligent design. Tuesday, December 20th, evolution claimed an important victory. First, a little background. In October of last year, the Pennsylvania Dover Area School Board voted to require ninth grade students to hear a statement about intelligent design before learning about evolution. Among other things, the statement said that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is not a fact and that it has inexplicable gaps. Then it went on to refer students to an intelligent design textbook called Of Pandas and People for more information. Eight families sued the school board, saying I.D. is another form of creationism and that teaching it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The board defended its decision, claiming that I.D. is a scientific, valid theory that should be taught out of intellectual fairness as an alternative view of life on Earth. The board defended its decision claiming that I.D. is a valid scientific theory that should be taught out of intellectual fairness as an alternate view of life on Earth. This past fall, both sides met in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a six week trial. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, the third ruled that the Dover area cannot mention intelligent design in class. So what’s the big deal if you care about quality education, religious freedom or the integrity of our legal system? It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Judge Jones’s decision. Here’s why. At its core, the specific point of the Dover case revolved around one question can the reading of this statement be interpreted as school and therefore government promotion of religion, thereby violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment and making the school policy unconstitutional? All the court had to do to decide the case was answer that specific question. But in a 139 page ruling, Judge Jones went much further. For the past 15 years, Christian fundamentalist activists have been working behind the scenes to discredit science and force religion into the schools. First, they pushed for the teaching of creationism, a belief that all life on earth came to be in the manner of a literal reading of Genesis. Then, when the Supreme Court ruled that creationism was a religious idea and could not be promoted by the schools, the group switched to promoting creation science. When that same court later ruled the creation science had the same constitutional problem, the anti evolutionists switched the wording again and began using the more ambiguous term intelligent design, as Judge Jones rightly pointed out. They changed the words, but they didn’t change the content. So the concept of intelligent design, he writes, cannot uncouple itself from its creationist and thus religious antecedents. But he didn’t stop there more than the issue of evolution versus intelligent design. This trial has become a statement about meaning, not the meaning of life, but the meaning of words. Ever since the 16th and 17th century scientific revolution, science has specifically limited itself to the study of the natural world, searching for natural causes for natural phenomena. An intelligent designer is, by definition, a supernatural force. Therefore, scientists and I.D. proponents have long understood that intelligent design is not a scientific principle. So how do you convince people to put a religious premise into a science curriculum? You lie. You distort. You misrepresent. You use inaccurate, discredited or downright false information to create uncertainty about your opponent and badly flawed arguments to support your own ideas. These words, these adjectives are the words of Judge Jones, and they should be a death blow to the ideas movement. Not only did Jones establish that I.D. is a religious idea, he filled one hundred and thirty nine pages with evidence that I.D. is not a scientific idea, that its proponents know this, but they have been lying and distorting the entire debate. Anyway, his ruling reveals the shameless and malicious dishonesty behind the I.D. movement, a condemnation from which it can’t possibly recover. He writes, It is ironic that several of these individuals who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public would time and time again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the I.D. policy. It is notable that defense experts own mission, which mirrors that of the intelligent design movement, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world. That the movement’s goal is to replace science as currently practiced with theistic and Christian science. The intelligent design movement accordingly seeks nothing less than a complete scientific revolution in which ideas will supplant evolutionary theory. At the surface and their public appearances and statements, I.D. supporters have tried to gain validity for their cause by taking on the trappings of a scientific theory. They have a think tank, the Discovery Institute in Seattle. They have scientists writing detailed pamphlets. They have books, even a text book, pandas. And they have spokespeople. They also have something most scientists don’t have an amazing PR department and lots of lawyers. When your scientific ideas have no basis in science and no possibility of actual evidence, all you can do is talk, spin and shout a lot. Jones writes. Defense expert Professor Minick acknowledged that for ideas to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. Defense expert Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses I.D., would also embrace astrology. For scientists watching the past 15 years of creationism strategy, this has been the strangest thing. How can they possibly expect to redefine science? If you change the meaning, you’d have to change the word right. And this is the problem. This is the reason why this ruling is so important, not just to science, but to society. The greatest thing about science and the scientific method is that it allows us to come as close to the truth as possible. The processes of science force us to refine and refine and refine our understanding of reality until we are as specific and precise as possible. Science takes definitions, meanings very seriously. The greatest frustration with the ideas movement has been it’s a disregard for the vital connection between a word and its meaning. Their movement wasn’t just an attack on evolution. It has been an all out assault on the very question of how we know what we know. They claim to be furthering scientific understanding by advancing debate. But rather than offering genuine information and valuable critique, I.D. proponents use distortion and deceit to try to recast reality the way they want it to be. Judge Jones saw this and he called them on it. Of course, the I.D. movement is not alone in this tactic. It’s everywhere. We are a society bombarded with false advertising, false profits, marketing campaigns and messages. Our culture is overrun with Orwellian wordsmiths, spinners and downright liars telling us war is peace. Freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. This trial and the decision of Judge Jones will stand as an example of reason saying stop enough. Jones’s ruling is an exquisite example of the power of reason to discern true statements from false ones. He says, we have the tools to judge good ideas from bad ideas, and we will use them to protect our scientific integrity, our education system, our legal system, and thereby our society. Beyond the scientific value of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Beyond the issue of church state separation, Judge Jones has delivered a more important judgment. Stop lying. 

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We are joined in the studio again by Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine, the world’s largest journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Mr. Flynn is chair of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum and author and also a Freethought activist. He’s joining us for the second in a two part series that we’re entitling The War on Christmas. Welcome again to Point of Inquiry, Tom. Ella, D.J., it’s good to be here. You’re back on the show to continue our discussion about people like Bill O’Reilly raging against the war on Christmas or what they’re calling the war on Christmas. And you are the one person I know of who’s actually been waging a war on Christmas for years, starting with your book Trouble of Christmas, about which we spoke last time. 

I’ve been waging a lonely one man campaign. And now this year, I suddenly realized from all its right wing rhetoric that I’ve been leading an army. It’s an unusual situation. 

Well, even at the Center for Inquiry, hardly a religious organization. You are alone in that. We all take Christmas off. It’s a national holiday. You work Christmas. Am I right? 

That’s right. Cause this year Christmas falls on a Sunday. So I’ll be observing Christmas, as I’ve been observing Sunday ever since I stopped being Roman Catholic. I’ll sleep late. Right. 

There are many in our society, Tom, who choose not to celebrate Christmas just like yourself. I, I don’t really celebrate Christmas. Haven’t for years this year. I do have a Christmas tree up feeling festive and I’m giving some gifts to people. What’s wrong with that? 

Well, in my book I argue that non-religious people are really missing the boat strategically when they fall in and celebrate the holiday. So it’s not just a philosophical argument. You’re saying strategically, strictly, strategically and politically. I think one of the biggest problems that the non-religious community, secular humanists, atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, what have you. One of the biggest problems that community has getting more respect in American life is that we’re so invisible. Right. You know, one of the things that certainly the gay and lesbian community learned was that visibility just being counted, people getting a feeling of your true numbers goes a long way to make people more accepting of what they see as a more, you know, a very numerous sort of tradition. Nonreligious Americans who put up a tree, put up gifts. You’ve got to get to have a tree in their window and decorations out on the front lawn. They disappear at holiday time. People drive by, walk by walking the dog and see just one more house all decked out for this Christian holiday. And freethinkers continue to be invisible in America. 

So freethinkers not celebrating Christmas. That’s a way, a way to come out as a free thinker, as a secularist, a humanist and atheist. 

Very much so. And it’s also it’s also much truer to our own tradition because it’s not our holiday. Let me ask you a question that I always ask interviewers this time of year. What did you do for Ramadan this year? Right. Nothing. Cause you’re not Muslim. It’s not my holiday. Well, we’re not Christian. We would like we would like to be able to treat Christmas that same way if we choose to. Without having the whole culture running around and calling us Scrooge. But it hasn’t Christmas become largely a secular corporatist, kind of consumerist holiday. In my book, I talk about the paradox of Christian Christmas, as we mentioned, and on the last program, almost nothing that is done traditionally at holiday time. Even the quote unquote, religious parts of the holiday is unique to Christianity. And of course, there’s been this whole wealth of secular traditions and commercial traditions that have become attached to it. In fact, in the book, I note that one of our oldest traditions is the dispute between the divine and the profane sides of the holiday, which the last hundred years or so has been the dispute between the religious and the commercial sides of Christmas. So there are all these different aspects that make up the Christmas tradition and yet emblematic, Leigh, in our culture. It’s all part of Christmas, which is seen as a Christian holiday. And you wind up in a situation where little Muslim children in grade schools see Santa Claus up on the wall in the school and feel excluded by that in the same way as if it was a manger scene. It’s it’s Christianity beating its chest and saying we’re No. One in this culture. 

I want to remind our listeners that you can purchase a copy of Tom Flynn book, The Trouble with Christmas on our Web site, point of inquiry dot org. Tom, you argue that there are real difficulties celebrating Christmas in our democratic, multicultural society. I want to explore that notion for the rest of the show. OK. Because I think this is the meat of the argument. This is the real war on Christmas. Whether or not it should be waged. You’re waging it primarily for this argument. For this reason, it’s undemocratic. Religiously pluralistic society. That Christmas be so pervasive, it sends. 

It sends a message of exclusion to Americans who are not Christian. That this Christian holiday is so uniquely privileged in the culture. I mean, you know, Muslims don’t have a holiday where all of the banks and the post office close. Atheists don’t you know, Sikhs don’t. Hindus don’t. Christians do in a big way. And the Jewish community does in a secondary way. And everybody else is kind of left out. Basically, what I think when you look at the history of the country, certainly since the early 19th century, there’s been two basic divisions or two basic processes going on side by side. One is that as more and more different religious groups come into the country, the body politic has become more and more religiously diverse. At the same time, as religious diversity increases the scope of Christian symbolism and practices that are acceptable in public venues, declines, you know, the more diverse country is religiously, the less Christian symbolism can be projected by the government in public spaces without sending a message of exclusion. If you go back to the eighteen thirties, when the public schools in this country were first founded, Horace Monds Common School Movement, right back then, it was great revolutionary to bring together students from all of the various Protestant denominations and the way they kept religious problems from gumming up the school day was to be what they called non-denominational. And this was basically they had the Lord’s Prayer, they had Bible readings. They had things that were religious, but not controversial to a wide range of Protestants. What you weren’t allowed to talk about in school was, say, the argument between adult and infant baptism, which was one of the issues that divided Protestants. Well, this is fine. It worked out for 10 years. You come into the eighteen forties, massive migration of Catholics into the country. Religious diversity expands. And now things that weren’t controversial before, like using the Protestant King James Bible, become controversial in 1844. You had riots in all of the major northeastern cities that resulted in something like a score of death. Several churches and convents were burned over questions that hadn’t seemed exceptional at all ten years before. Like, do we use the Protestant or the Catholic Bible for our Bible readings? Well, that’s gone on. And then a country has had to come to terms with the large Jewish minority, a growing non-religious minority. And now the country is home to three to five million Muslims, almost a million Hindus, almost a million Buddhists, pretty much members of every religious tradition on the face of the earth. They’re all here. They’re all Americans. And yet we’re still in this legal and cultural situation where Christmas, this polyglot holiday that’s all wrapped up in this Christian aura, is privileged in a way that no other holiday is. And I don’t think that’s going to be able to hold up too much longer. I think Christmases days are numbered as a compulsory one size fits all religious holiday because there’s so much religious diversity that Christmas excludes. 

So you think it’s inevitable that there will be an increasing war on Christmas and not just from the secular left, not just from atheists and agnostics, but from other religiously diverse segments of our population and from the commercial sector? 

I mean, no Rivai screaming about Wal-Mart, telling their clerks to say happy holidays now. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I’m going to assume that it is true. Wal-Mart is an extremely conservative organization. The Walton family are conservatives. They’re Republicans. Why on earth are they doing this? Right. Because there’s lots of shoppers out there who celebrate Christmas who stay away if all they’re going to hear about is Merry Christmas and they’re recognizing this. And I think that’s one reason why O’Reilly and some of the other right wing pundits are so frantic about this, because it’s not just the ACLU and the secular humanist anymore. It’s their friends in the country club alone, the department stores. 

All right. I want to remind our listeners again that you can purchase a copy of the Trouble with Christmas on our Web site. Point of inquiry. Dot or Tom, before we finish up. Let me ask you, what can our listeners do in this war on Christmas? 

I think the most important thing is simply to be a little more out about the fact that it’s not your holiday. If somebody says to you, Merry Christmas or even Happy Holidays, just smile and say, oh, I’m not celebrating anything this season, you won’t be alone. In fact, in 2005, as it happens, neither the Muslims nor the Hindus have a holiday during this holiday season, their respective holidays, the Itoh Fitter and Diwali both happened to fall this year in the first week. November. So even saying happy holidays wouldn’t apply to a large segment of our population. Anybody who’s not celebrating a holiday and is there to have two of our largest minority faith traditions just by accidents of their respective calendars, had their year end festival early this year. So it was all over and done with before our canonical holiday season opened up on Thanksgiving Day. 

Well, Tom, thanks for joining us again to talk about the war on Christmas. Look forward to having you back on the show. Thank you, D.J.. 

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We’re joined in the studio now by Andrew Skolnick of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. Andrew is a nationally renowned science journalist who’s won numerous awards and honors for his reporting in biology, medicine and human rights. Among those honors are Amnesty International’s Spotlight on Media Award, the John P. McGovern medal from the American Medical Writers Association and a Rosalyn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism for nearly a decade. He served as an associate news editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association. He’s been published in Smithsonian National History Ranger Rick. Nature magazine, National Geographic, The New York Times and many other publications. As I mentioned, he now serves as executive director of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. Welcome to the show, Andrew. Thank you very much. E.J., it’s a pleasure to be here. Andrew, Commission for Scientific Medicine. What is scientific medicine? 

Well, scientific medicine, a medicine that’s based on science as medicine that has been tested under rigorous, controlled conditions. To answer two questions. Is this remedy, whether it’s a drug or surgical device or some prevention like a vaccine? Is this remedy? Is this therapy safe? And two, is it effective? Does it work? Does it work? And then they have to weigh the answers for those two questions. And the bottom line is, is this remedies the benefit of this remedy enough to warrant any possible harm that it causes? Because most therapies have at least the potential of hurting some people. You know, look at foods. You see peanut butter, T.J.. I do. You like it? I love it. They’ll kill some people, right? Strawberries will kill some people. 

But but that’s not to say that strawberries or peanut butter should be illegal or some just kept off the shore. 

That’s right. You just have to identify the products that contain the known harmful substances. And the FDA has done that. But the FDA doesn’t do this with alternative medicine. The FDA requires all food factories to label their products if they contain any substance that they know causes harm for some individual, such as peanuts or milk products and other allergens that could cause illness or even death in individuals if they take it without knowing. Well, Congress in 1994 passed the Dietary Health Education Supplement Act, which handcuffed FDA and allowed this very powerful grow industry, free rein to sell whatever it wants on the market without having to have their products tested, without having to put warning labels that they may contain substances that could harm individuals. And I can give you some examples. Two of the most popular nutritional supplements that are sold are Saint John’s Wart and ginkgo biloba. St. John’s Wart is commonly used by people to treat depression. 

Yeah, they call it a natural health alternative to Prozac. 

Well, some evidence, some studies have shown that it can help in mild depression. However, there’s no regulation of these products. So when you buy a bottle of St. John’s Wort, you have no idea even if there is St. John’s Wort, OK? There’s no requirement. And studies have shown that the amount varies from nothing to certain amount. But what the manufacturers are not telling you usually on the label is that this drug can interfere with other medications. For example, people who are taking antidepressants, this drug can interfere with the functioning of the liver so that the drug for depression and anti depression drugs aren’t broken down. So the blood level of this therapeutic drug drops to the point where you can get more depressed. HIV, anti viral medications for HIV. Saint John’s Wart can interfere and reduce the blood levels of these drugs, allowing the viruses, the HIV virus to replicate again, and even that’s worse, become drug resistant. And there’s no warning on the label. There’s no mention of these kinds. There might be some now in order to you know, manufacturers don’t want to get sued. So they may have voluntarily put it on, but there’s no requirement that they put it on. And many don’t have these labels. No FDA regulation, no ginkgo biloba is a blood thinner. It reduces. It helps to prevent blood clotting alone. Ginkgo biloba is probably not going to harm many people. But when taken along with anticoagulation therapy, such as aspirin, the low dose aspirin can cause serious and even potentially fatal bleeding strokes and other bleeding. And most of these manufacturers have their products without any label. They’re not required by the FDA to put on such labels. 

Is there any way to get the FDA to regulate or are the forces behind the alternative medicine movement just too powerful? 

I think the only ways by people to take back Congress from can’t we have the best legislators that money could buy? And what they’re doing now is basically selling their their votes to the highest bidder. So I, I don’t see any hope unless we can convince the Congress that their interests are better served by protecting the health of the public than the wealth of their contributors, than the wealth of the alternative medicine movement. You know, those who are contributing the money, there’s a very little let’s put it this way. We have very little money coming our way to support our effort to educate the public about about the dangers of untested medical claims. But there’s there’s billions of dollars to promote. Unproven, untested therapies. The congressional committee meeting in 1992. The chairman warned that by 1995, the income of the quack industry, he predicted, would exceed the income of all organized crime. That was 1995. So is he right in his prediction? Well, while he looked at it across the board. But if you just look at nutritional supplements, it’s around 20 billion dollars a year. 

Wow. Just in nutritional supplements and you’re not talking about treatments, any other kinds of complementary and alternative medicine denigrations just in the things that are sold in the bottles and the packages labeled nutritional supplement. 

And, you know, you think there’s just anything calling itself a nutritional supplement would be something derived from food. But they have hormones and. And I mean, the most unbelievable stuff in there, including DHEA, is a is a hormone which is only found in the adrenal glands of monkeys and apes and humans. Now, since when did we eat monkey or ape adrenal glands? 

I mean, it’s not a food, but you could go to a supplement store right now and and buy that hormone. Yeah. Yeah. Unregulated. Yeah. Is there any research that shows a body count that shows the in cold, hard facts the detrimental effects of these kinds of cures. Absolutely. 

For certain, for certain ones. And it took the FDA 10 years, documented its case against nutritional supplements that contained a Federer. And I forget the numbers, novelas, well over 100 deaths attributed to the use of these supplements and thousands of serious adverse effects, including heart attacks and stroke. You take a look at the numbers of children who get infectious diseases and who don’t get crippled or killed by these infectious diseases, such as measles and polio. A diptheria, pertussis, a whopping cough. We have occasional epidemics that break out that are associated with disease spread among children who are not vaccinated, not vaccinated for a number of reasons, often for religious reasons such as Christian Scientists and other religious groups that shun medicine. 

And on the far left, kind of the anarchist left, there’s a suspicion of the government and its vaccination program. 

Nobody should tell me what I should do with my children if I don’t want them to go to school, if I don’t want them to be vaccinated. You know, it’s that that philosophy, the libertarian view that the government shouldn’t be telling us. But you say it’s not just your children. It’s everybody’s children. 

Because because he’s one child doesn’t get vaccinated that imperils the. 

What are the most important powers of immunization programs? It’s called a herd effect. No vaccine is 100 percent effective. Good vaccines will protect 90, 95 percent of the population vaccinated. There’s still a remaining percentage of people, Wonderbook. But they are protected because unless you have large well, a very large percentage of one immunized people, the disease cannot spread. No one person may have a bill die out. All right. But when you as the numbers of UN immunized people increases the disease, you reach a threshold where the disease could once again jump and spread through the community. Kipling Crippling and killing. And so it is not just an individual, right. It has to do with laws like speeding laws so you can’t drink and drive. The public good is protected by immunizing the public. Now, unfortunately, scientific medicine gets to be a victim of its own success. When I was a child, I wasn’t my many child. My parents didn’t let me go swimming in public polls or polio polls or something. Oh, yeah. That was during the summer. Polio. That’s once polu usually spread. There was Chairer of polio. You go through a cemetery, an old cemetery. Take a look at the family grave sites from nineteen hundred nineteen or five, 1910. And you will often see four, five, six little gravestones and four children. I had four. I testified in Illinois State. There was a bill there to allow parents not to vaccinate their children. And I testified against that bill. And I brought along a photograph I took of a of a cemetery that showed six children that died a month apart. And there were their parents gravestones 20, 30 years later, they died. You know, you walk go around now there. And sometimes you don’t see that, you don’t see young children dying en masse the way they did when diptheria and measles and other disease just sweep through communities. And that’s a direct result of, well, federal vaccination programs. That is there’s no question, except in the minds of the people who are promoting an anti scientific agenda. And that includes many chiropractor’s natural paths of alternative medicine advocates. Homeopathic practice. Yes. Absolutely. They tell they are telling the public they’re telling parents that vaccines are harmful. That you can protect your children from these infectious diseases by taking one of or other unproven therapies or remedies or ones that are absolutely disproven, such as Homeboy Homoeopathy. The scientific literature is absolutely clear. Homoeopathy is is this is a pseudoscience. It’s a superstitious practice. It’s these are all in church substances that are being sold before we go for what is homoeopathy. Homoeopathy is a system of healing, a pre scientific system of healing. That was founded by a healer who claimed that he could treat and cure diseases and prevent diseases by treating people with substances that cause the symptoms. But at much, much lower dose, a sympathetic magic, sympathetic magic is exact is a very good way of describing it. So let’s say you have a swelling, your face swells up. Well, then if you get a bee venom and reduce it to very, very low concentration of fact to the point where there’s no bee venom left, you give it to the patient while all the swelling goes down, because in large amount it causes swelling. Therefore, the weaker you make it, the stronger it’s going to be in curing it. Of course, this is totally defies all known laws of chemistry and physics. It defies common sense. But even more important, when you test it carefully in a controlled study, it doesn’t work. Mm hmm. And yet it is extremely popular. Homeopathic remedies were grandfathered in by law. Yeah, because there was a member of Congress who was a homeopath. And when the FDA with federal laws came in that required drug companies to prove that their products were effective, the homeopaths because of this congressman, he got Congress to exempt homeopathy from that regulation. And so it’s still very popular. Yes. Especially in Europe. Yeah, but it’s pathetically humorous at this point because study after study after study, I wish I should say good study after study. Study. There are studies that are done that are just incompetent or fraudulent that show while we have a remedy here, that works. Mm hmm. But good studies don’t bear out the claims that homeopathy works. I’ll give you a point of how ridiculous it is. There was what’s called a review study called a meta analysis that was done, looked at all the all the studies they could find on homeopathy. And the researchers who reviewed this looking for some way to back homeopathy said that overall it seems to suggest that homeopathy works. But we don’t know what for because when they looked at the individual remedy or individual claim, the evidence didn’t exist, that it actually works for that. 

So they came out with this absolutely ridiculous conclusion. It works, but we don’t know what for. Yeah. We can’t prove it works for anything, but we know it works. Was there an answer? We only have a couple minutes left. 

Andrew, what are some other Colomb grievous examples of this alternative medicine practice? 

Well, let me get back to the dietary supplements, the issue of these unregulated, unsafe dietary supplements. Not only are many of these ingredients in these nutritional supplements potentially harmful by themselves? They often contain toxic levels of substances like lead, mercury, arsenic, really. And pharmaceutical drugs, they are either contaminated or purposefully, deliberately laced with drugs. A terrible example is was a company in California that was selling these herbal dietary supplements for treating prostate problems, prostate cancer, enlarged prostate. And there was some evidence to show that it worked well. It turned out the reason was worked because the supplements were laced with a very dangerous hormone called diethylene. Still Best Rawle deaths 20, 30 years ago. There was an epidemic of children born with birth defects caused by mothers who were getting this hormone. This led to a number of injuries and deaths in men who were taking this drug because they had heart attacks and strokes caused apparently by the hormone. So while law suddenly when these reports came out and it wasn’t the FDA who caught this, it was of families of the men who were affected, who had their own, tested the drugs themselves and sent it to laboratories. Well, suddenly now the product was being laced with warfarin, an anticoagulant, another drug, a powerful anticoagulant to Canada if at the effect. Yeah. And now you’re having men bleeding and suffering serious effects. And none of that was regulated by the FDA. Not until the body counts were very high. Right. And now the company is being sued. Class action. They’re out of business. They’re criminal charges. It’s a mess. But the FDA does not. It does not test these. They don’t require anybody to test these. So what you’re saying is we finish up is that I can go right now to a health food store and buy some supplements. 

And I have no way of knowing if there’s lead in it or some other level of poison. Well, you do. You have the manufacturer’s word. All right. And that’s not really a way of knowing it, is it? 

Well, nobody. I mean, you could sue them after the fact when you fall down. Right. There’s no regulation and Congress prevents the FDA from regulating them. 

So as we end this visit of yours on the radio show here, let me ask you, what can our listeners do if they’re alarmed by some of the things you’ve said today? 

Well, first of all, they should write their lawmakers. I know in New York State, we had a report issued by the Department of Health calling on state legislators to protect the public because Congress, federal Congress won’t. So they’re asking the Department of Health in New York State is asking the state legislature to pass laws that will protect the public from harmful dietary supplements. One measure that must be put into effect is requiring the reporting of adverse effects. Yet there is no there is no body collecting this data. There is no requirement to report incidents of adverse effects from these nutritional supplements. So the New York State Department of Health has issued reporting in the very least, we should require the collecting this information so that people are not harmed and harmed and harmed repeatedly. So one thing our listeners can do is contact their state legislatures. Yes. Come to our Web site at W w w dot C. S, M and H dot org, which stands for the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. We have information there. We have we published two peer reviewed journal medical journals. Yes. One is the scientific review of alternative medicine. The other is the scientific review of mental health practice. 

They could subscribe to either or both of these journals so people can get to the Web site, C.S., M.H. dot org and requests to be kept up to date on the activities of the commission. Absolutely. OK. Andrew, thanks so much for being on the show. Thank you, DJ Grothe. My pleasure. In our regular feature from the pages of This Week, we’re concentrating on Free Inquiry magazine, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Free Inquiry magazine celebrates reason and humanity and has been doing so for over 25 years. In this issue of Free Inquirer magazine, we’re focusing on Chris Mooney’s book, The Republican War on Science just received an incredibly favorable review in The New York Times. And we have an exclusive book excerpt in this issue. Also in this issue are essays and commentary by Sam Harris, Peter Singer, Massimo Pihl, Yuchi. Paul Kurtz had an editorial entitled The Pursuit of Excellence Departments. This issue of free inquiry include Applied Ethics, Living Without Religion, Faith versus Reason. God on Trial. A new department called A Word from Ingersol. In addition to reviews of a number of books and other interesting features. So if you’d like to get a sample copy of Free Inquiry magazine, you can do so by calling 800 four five eight 13. Sixty six. That’s eight hundred four, five, eight, 13, 66. We think that you’ll find the issues and ideas discussed and free inquiry right up your alley. 

You were listening to point of inquiry. If you have any questions or comments regarding this week’s program, please email them to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Each weak point of inquiry contributor and skeptical Inquirer managing editor Benjamin Radford brings us a segment entitled Media Mythmakers, offering insight into how the public is often deceived. This week, he discusses terror hoaxes. 

Gregory Lee, an employee of Exxon Mobile, had a scary encounter of 2003 when two Middle Eastern men attacked him at a gasoline processing plant in Utah and through heavy accent. Asked if the facility was a nuclear installation, he said no and the men fled. We reported the incident to police concerned that he had uncovered a terrorist plot. The FBI investigated and found that Lee was lying. There had been no terrorist plot. Lee admitted that he just want to see what the police would do if a terrorist threat was reported. We hear it all the time. We see it on billboards and bumper stickers. United we stand. This, of course, is bullshit. Instead of being united against terrorism, many Americans have been participating in the terrorism by blowing up buildings, by purposely causing fear and disruption through terrorism threats. Terrorism served its purpose not by necessarily doing anything dastardly, but by simply creating fear and forcing the targeted society to waste resources, preparing for and responding to false alarms. The accusation that certain Americans were, quote, aiding the terrorists has been heard, often spoken by those who reject criticism of how the Iraq war has been conducted. It is not war critics, but instead ordinary American citizens who are contributing to the terrorism nearly every week, sometimes nearly every day. Terrorism hoaxes occur. Some are simple bomb scares. Others involve threats to landmarks, government offices or bridges. In the months after the September 11 attacks and the anthrax scares, thousands of Americans called in fake bomb threats and anthrax hoaxes. For mid-October to early November 2001 alone, the postal inspection system received more than 8600 anthrax hoax related threats. In October 2005, New York City authorities shut down the city’s subways following a hoax threat. Two weeks later, Maryland officials temporarily closed down downtown tunnels under Baltimore Harbor after an informant told police that a group of Egyptians planned to detonate one or more truckloads of explosives. Tens of thousands of people were affected. Perhaps not all panicked, but our needlessly alarmed and delayed. So who are these people committing these crimes? Those people helping to terrorize our country? Often their friends and neighbors. Police officers, teenagers, postal workers, average Americans. The reasons for the anthrax and terrorism hoaxes are as varied as people who commit them. One woman since an anthrax hoax to her ex boyfriend’s new lover, a Virginia postal worker, opened mail and sprinkled baby powder inside. She was upset because she felt that the anthrax threat was not being taken seriously enough by her supervisors to Philadelphia police officers since an anthrax hoax from their patrol car as a prank. Several people have called in airport bomb hoaxes, hoping to delay flights for which they were running late. Those who we would think are most afraid of anthrax hoaxes are in some cases the very ones who are causing them children in the study of anthrax hoaxing by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. One hundred and seventy two false threats were made between January 1998 and April 2001 of 40 anthrax hoaxes in which the perpetrators were caught. Over a quarter of them were made by children between 12 and 18. These hoaxes are very costly in terms of both time and money. Each hoax can cost tens of thousands of dollars in materials, lost productivity from shutting down offices. Overtime pay for police and so on, especially in the case of bioterrorism threats. Police must assume the worst and call it fully equipped hazmat teams. In 2002, medical laboratories were swamped with requests to test hoax specimens for anthrax. This delayed diagnosis and treatment for those in real need of medical evaluation. There’s also the real danger that many people might die from ignoring the real terrorist threats when and if they occur. On October 19th, 2001, President Bush decried terrorist hoax threats, saying that, quote, Anybody in America who would use this opportunity to threaten our citizens and, quote, be prosecuted? The little has been done. Congress passed a law in 2004 making it a crime for anyone to make terrorist hoax threats. But the effort is unlikely to stem the continuing wave of terrorism or the threat of foreign terrorism is real. It’s our own homegrown American terrorism. It’s wasting taxpayer dollars and needlessly creating fear. 

Think about it. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. Judge Roberts record shows long crusade against church state separation. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. One adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community who could have imagined that reality would need defenders. The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values by becoming a friend of the center today. Whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine or Center for Inquiry on Campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting w w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

Thanks for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. You can send questions and comments regarding this episode to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. Be sure to join us for upcoming episodes of Point of Inquiry, where we’ll be joined by world renowned mind reader Max Maven, historian and writer Susan Jacoby and Richard Dawkins, Android Ann and Sam Harris. Views expressed on point of inquiry do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Inquiry or its affiliated organizations. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and is recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiry’s music is written and composed by Michael Whalan. Contributors include Sarah Jordan Tom Flynn, Benjamin Radford, Sherry Rook, Thomas Donnally and Lauren Becker. I’m your host, DJ Grothe. Thanks for listening. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.