About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

AM radio can be hazardous to your health

I thought that I had convinced my Mom that the doctor she believed in was a charlatan; I was wrong.

Last night, I got home to find an empty house. I waited until 9 pm until my Mom got back. When I asked where she went,  I learned that she had just visited Dr. Navarro, and that she has decided not to take her medication. We got into an argument-- we spent a lot on the hospital confinement, and we're continuing to spend money on her medication, and all of it goes down the drain if she decides to quit her medication. (This charlatan, by the way, advocates an all-beef and egg diet for cardiovascular disease and hypertension.)

She has already seen the evidence that this charlatan's degrees are fake-- the Oxford College of Applied Science is either nonexistent or a diploma mill, the Committee for Basic Research does not exist in Oxford, etc. If the guy is likely to be lying about his degrees and experience (he probably doesn't know that a good search engine can unearth the non-existence of the places he claims to be associated with!), then he should not be trusted.

She argues that other doctors (a Doctor Sy, in particular) on AM all say the same thing, and that I should open my mind. I counter of course, that a perfectly open mind believes in everything-- one needs to choose what to believe, and due diligence requires that we double-check.

And so I visted Dr. Gary Sy's website.

Among the things I've seen being promoted on Dr. Sy's website is GeroVital, a drug that is banned by the F. D. A. I've also looked at PubMed, and among the things I've seen are articles where use of GeroVital led to acute renal failure, studies where it was shown that GeroVital is not more effective than a placebo. So it looks like negligence on the part of Dr. Sy, or a lack of bullshit detectors on his part. (This is a generous assessment.)

You can look at the other entries within the  health and beauty services part of the website. and judge for yourself. The radio appearances, just like Dr. Navarro's, seem to be a way of attracting business.

Getting back to Doctor Navarro: she claims that he has healed a lot of people, and cites testimonials.

I tried to explain  about selection bias, and why I choose to disregard testimonials as medical evidence. Scientific medicine performs clinical trials instead of relying on testimonials. A clinical trial goes like this: Suppose that a particular drug is tested on a group of people; suppose that a control group is given a placebo, while an equivalent group is given the actual drug.

A percentage of the control group will get well in spite of having no medication. To be able to accept the drug, a significantly larger percentage of the treated patients should get well compared to the control group.

Why are testimonials unreliable? First, in contrast to a clinical trial, no comparison is made between a control group and the treated group. You can expect that testimonials will only be comprised of people who got well, and this will include people who will get well even without the treatment.

Second, the people who did not get well, or who died due to the treatment will not give testimonials. This means testimonials are biased in favor of the suggested treatment-- we do not see the unsuccessful cases. Even if the fraction of the people who got well in the treated cases is much smaller than the people who got well untreated (which may imply that the treatment may actually worsen the condition), we only see the "successes."

I think that doctors on AM radio use radio exposure (television coverage is better) it as a means of promoting something they want to sell. It means they may have hidden agenda, and every listener is well advised to remember Caveat emptor. I've said it before, but it's worth reiterating. There ought to be a sign on AM radios: listening to Doctors on AM radio may be hazardous to your health.

2 comments:

Helen Mary Labao said...

whoa... grabe. how can you convince her to switch doctors? this is really scary... i hope she listens to you naman...

Mike said...

I'm having a hard time of it. When I ask for independent evidence, my Mom keeps on insisting on the correctness of the AM radio doctors. What makes things difficult here in our country is inadequate consumer protection. Many of our countrymen (and I include lots of U.P. alumni!) cannot distinguish between scientific reasoning (experimental studies and their associated uncertainties) and appeals to authority. I have lots of stories about the misuse of scientific studies; I'll get around to posting them sometime.