Sunday, April 11, 2010

To Poke, Or Not to Poke: Part I

Acupuncture is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of ill-gotten fortune, or to take arms against a sea of skeptics. And by opposing, offend them? To lie: to cheat: no more; and by cheat to say we extend the heart-ache of the thousand unnatural stabs that flesh is heir to, ‘tis a confabulation cautiously to be wish’d. To lie, to chi; to cheat: perchance to scheme, ay there’s the rub…

Okay, enough of that silliness. Shakespeare must be rolling in his grave. I know that acupuncture is used to treat insomnia, but how about “restless death syndrome?” Bill, I’ll have to get back to you after reviewing the literature.

Recently I have come full circle in my life. Let me explain. As a child, I had a yearning to make people feel better. This is why learning acupuncture seemed like a logical ambition while I was in undergraduate school after I met an anesthesiologist who offered this service to her ailing patients in the hospital. After all, I was an aspiring anesthesiologist at that time (in an effort to avoid tangentiality, I’ll defer that interesting story to a future blog).

However, my feelings toward acupuncture took a 180-degree turn while I was in medical school. This was an interesting moment in time, when my school, along with many others, was having a larger emphasis on “integrative medicine.” To me this felt very forced. It seemed to run counter to everything that I had expected from my medical education. Rather than teaching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as something to be aware that our patients may be using or interested in, they spoke of these practices (chiropractic, acupuncture, unproven herbal therapies, etc.) as if these were legitimate alternatives to standard medical practice… without any real evidence to support their use. The kicker came when I talked with an anesthesiologist/acupuncturist whose patients absolutely loved her and her in-hospital treatments. But when asked about the treatments and how it worked, she discussed it in terms of “energy,” “meridians,” and “chi” and I lost all respect for her and the practice as a whole. As a skeptic who is versed in the tradition and literature of acupuncture, I have only grown more disdainful of this branch of voodoo medicine, especially when outrageous medical claims are evoked.

But now, as I am hurdling toward my final year of anesthesia residency with the goal of entering a fellowship in pain management, I, the venerable “anti-puncturist,” am considering becoming a medical acupuncturist in addition to my more traditional training.

Wait, wait, wait.

Hold the phone.

Stop the presses.

If you are reading this you must be very confused, or at least think that I am deeply confused. On the latter you are correct, and on the former I will let you decide.

So, let me explain to you the course of events that led me to consider acupuncture training. Then I will discuss the pros and cons the way that I see them. And maybe along the way I will either convince myself that this is a good decision, or talk myself out of all of this craziness completely.

Tune in soon folks. Oh, I can’t wait see what I decide… I’m getting really impatient… maybe I’ll just ask my psychic.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Remote Healing "cured" my heart attack

This is no April Fools joke, although I wish it were.... Here is a post that I put up on a private chat room in mid-March that I thought you would enjoy… Bon AppĂ©tit!

So a couple of days ago I did a google search on "remote healing" (also known as distant healing) and got 681,000 hits (nearly all proponents of, or people offering this service). I clicked on the second non-sponsored link at (Yes, there were 3 sponsored links: Crystal Clear Readings, Powerful Remote Healings, and Remote Healing Works!). Just put in location, e-mail and symptoms or disease and the group of "volunteers" will send their mystical healing powers my way. As a disclaimer, this does not take the place of a more "personalized" reiki treatment (as if that would work any better).

I typed in my real location, name and e-mail, but I put my symptoms as "dull chest pain/pressure and shortness of breath." I usually look for the best in people was hopeful that one of the volunteers might show some semblance of humanity and suggest that I go to the hospital or at least talk to a physician.

Sadly, I was wrong. Within 24 hours I had 3 e-mail messages:

#1: generic e-mail stating my symptoms and promising to heal me remotely. If I like the services, visit their website at www...

#2: "Russell, I am a Reiki Master with more than eight years of tremendous success in distance healing and changing luck. Your appeal moved me deeply. I will devote the next three days doing intensive energy work for you. You may also be interested in joining this unique group. It works!"

#3: "Dear Russell, I have success with the most serious conditions. I encourage you to visit my web site for some encouragement."

It’s sad and disappointing, but not completely unexpected. I plan on playing this out to see where it goes.

BTW, my chest just started hurting...

Just so you know, healing from a distance is something that a Reiki practitioner must be able to do to become a "Second Degree Reiki Practitioner." According to wiki: "Second Degree is able to heal others distantly (commonly called distant healing) with the use of specialized symbols."

But if you want to be a Third Degree or “Reiki Master” (like Dr. Oz's crazy wife) you must be "able to teach and attune others to Reiki."

I wonder if remote or distance healing is like homeopathy in that the "Energy Healing" gets stronger at further distances (i.e. dilute the energy down to its pure essence). Would I be better off with a healer from China, or better yet, a distant planet??? (Wow, I hope that I did not just spawn a whole new industry of "Homeopathic Remote Healing," afterall these kind of crackpots are always looking for a new way to take advantage of people and trick them out of their hard-earned money).

For anybody interested in an update... I e-mailed back to the remote healers to tell them that my symptoms were deteriorating and that I could now barely get out of bed. Why isn't their healing working? No responses as of yet. If evil exists, this is what it looks like.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spot on, Reader’s Digest, spot on!

While in line with my wife at the drug store last week I couldn’t help but notice the cover of the “mini-me” of magazines, the Reader’s Digest, which declared in intense red letters: THE VITAMIN SCAM: read this before you pop another pill! The featured cover story is entitled “5 Vitamin Truths and Lies” by Christie Aschwanden. (Read it here:

The article starts off by breaking down common vitamin myths like that vitamins make up for a bad diet, fight off the common cold, prevent heart disease, and protect against cancer. Yes, I have heard all of these myths, and even believed in the “makes up for a bad diet” falsehood when I was younger. In fact up until a few months ago I was a daily multivitamin popper. Not because I thought that it would give me any health benefits, but because I thought “What’s the harm?”

The more that I’ve looked at the supplement industry, and all of its outrageous claims, the more I have become disgusted. Now I don’t take a multivitamin in protest of an entirely corrupt industry. I have seen the harm of the vitamin trade first-hand. Yes, it is a lot of wasted money (funny how no experts were talking about the billions of dollars flushed down the drain by our government and individuals chasing this vitamin myth when discussing the “health care crisis”). However, my primary concern is the growing wave of gullible “victims” who fall prey to the misleading advertising campaigns of the industry and who listen to self-described “experts” who are just tapping into a gold mine, not looking to help people.

Some of these people are tricked into treating real diseases with vitamins until the disease progresses to the point where it is irreversible by traditional medical therapies. I have seen the harm of this industry first-hand. For an example of what can happen when susceptible people get sucked into the extremes of this industry, take a look at this blog post from Dr. David Gorski: It describes a poor young woman who was treating her B-cell lymphoma with the Gerson therapy (this is a fringe cancer cure therapy that relies on a special diet, coffee enemas, and various supplements while selling standard treatments as toxins and poisons). Needless to say, these cranks dissuade people from getting life-saving medical treatment and take advantage of their ignorance of the sciences and mistrust in authorities to serve their own selfish interests. There is a special place in hell for the proprietors of this crap in my opinion.

Long story short, most people think that the average U.S. diet leads to nutritional deficiencies and, therefore, we should be supplementing. This thinking is completely false. Just last week on the Dr. Oz Show there was an alternative medicine quack who admitted that it is possible to eat a well-balanced diet without the need for supplementation (WOW!), but then he added the caveat that this is nearly impossible (AHA!). His statement is a common misconception, but is unsupported gobbledygook. Here’s the truth: don’t take supplements unless you have a known deficiency (vitamin D if you don’t get enough sun, folate if you are pregnant, iron, zinc, calcium and B-vitamins if you have an unbalanced vegetarian or vegan diet, etc).

The article also points out that excessive vitamin popping is not the harmless practice that it was one thought to be. Some of the dangers include possible increased risk of lung cancer and death in people taking beta-carotene (once thought to be protective against cancer, until taxpayer dollars were wasted to actually show the OPPOSITE), high-dose antioxidant pills can promote some cancers, excessive folate can increase risk of colon cancer, and there is even a link between vitamin supplementation and heart disease.

Conclusion: Since nutritional deficiency is exceedingly rare in the U.S. and excess supplementation can be harmful, get your vitamins and nutrients from your food, and only supplement for known deficiencies.

Warning: If a supplement makes medical claims, get some information from a reliable source (i.e. the American Cancer Society:, not from one of the many online “scare and scam” sites.

The reason that I was taken aback by the article is that it is very rare that this kind of honest, non-sensationalized reporting makes its way into the mainstream media. Much more commonly, you will find mindless regurgitating by the media of some purported health benefit of some herb, vitamin or quick-fix holistic therapy. After all, this is precisely what the audience is looking for; easily digestable concepts and easy fixes. The audience gets what it wants and the TV show or magazine gets what it wants (ratings and sales). Win-win, right? Wrong. We all, as a society, lose.

What we have is a system that rewards misinformation and dishonesty, so kudos to Reader’s Digest for squashing some vitamin mythology and fighting the good fight!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Perspectives from a “new” skeptic Part III: No longer alone

As I worked my way through undergraduate school, medical school and then into residency I found myself surrounded by more like-minded individuals. But outside my group of friends, the world seemed to be going insane, with growing waves of television psychics, ghost-hunting shows, 9-11 truthers, and, most concerning to me, the seemingly growing popularity of alternative and bogus medical treatments. This also started to hit me at home when my own family members began getting into the most dangerous of the “alternative” therapies such as bogus cancer treatments (related to the Gonzalez Protocol) and bioidentical hormone therapy. I try to help them, but I can’t compete with such things as a well-made propaganda film (i.e. The Beautiful Truth) or promotion from famous (and crazy) actors/actresses (i.e. Suzanne Sommers, Jenny McCarthy). After all, one of the core themes to all of these scams is the “big-pharm-big-brother-MD’s-wanting-to-keep-patients-sick” conspiracy theories, in which I am just a pawn, regurgitating the party line. I felt helpless and alone.

Back in July of 2009 a colleague and I were discussing our mutual dislike for Oprah, Jenny McCarthy and chiropractors when he casually mentioned the skeptical movement, which has blogs, podcasts, a giant yearly meeting. At first I cringed instinctively, wondering who in their right mind would want to use such inflammatory language to describe themselves. After all, isn’t “skeptic” a bad word?

I immediately did some research on skepticism and found the websites for the James Randi Educational Foundation (I had always been a fan), Science-based medicine, online skeptical dictionaries, local skeptical groups including “drinking skeptically,” and not one, but two skeptical magazines. I read everything that I could. I had tapped into this huge group of people who saw that world the way that I did, and who were fighting the good fight against all the woo-peddlers in the world. This is a still a David versus Goliath fight, but now I am not alone.

Looking back, it’s hard now to ever imagine a time when I didn’t self-identify as a skeptic. Now, when I find myself in a losing conversation with a “true believer,” I can find solace in the fact that the likes of Steven Novella and Harriet Hall are using logic and common sense to slowly lift the fog from our collective psyche.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Perspectives from a “new” skeptic Part II: “Skeptic” is a four-letter word

Inspired by my readings of the likes of Sagan, Hawking and Dawkins, I wore my views of the world on my sleeve. This led to a lot of intellectual conversations with my friends and family, as well as a few heated discussions. On more than a couple of instances I was labeled, in a derogatory sense, as an “atheist” and a “skeptic.” Needless to say, during the rest of the time that I was living in my conservative little home town (which was not so coincidentally the day that I graduated from high school), I no longer self-identified myself as an atheist, but rather as a much less abrasive “agnostic.”

At that point in my life, the word “skeptic” to me was equivalent to “contrarian” or “non-believer.” Yes, I was critical of wild claims and required some level of evidence for such claims no matter how popular, but I certainly did not just go against the grain for the sake of going against the grain. There were many things that I did believe in, for instance chemistry, physics, astromomy, geology, love, nature, and the beauty of life. I did not know that many of my heroes were self-identified skeptics, or that there was an underground movement known as skepticism. I stayed up to date with scientific breakthroughs in science, particularly astronomy and quantum physics, yet still the skeptical movement eluded me.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Perspectives from a “new” skeptic Part I: Growing up with science

My parents were not scientists. I cannot recall my elementary school teachers giving more than a mere mention to the idea of science. As an only child with single mother working too hard to support us, I found myself much of the time sitting at home, alone, cross-legged a few feet in front of my television. I can remember turning the dial on the TV with its distinctive “clack” between the 4-5 local channels with multiple channels of loud static until I came across something that was not local news. In the morning it was Mr. Wizard, who would on a daily basis teach a curious child about the world through observation and experimentation. By middle school, Saturday morning programming included two scientific installments, the wacky Beekman’s World and the far tamer Bill Nye, the Science Guy. These shows became the main course for me after choking down the appetizers of clichĂ© cartoons. Basic and silly as these shows may have been, they laid the foundation in my life for questioning outrageous claims and for how to use the scientific method to find answers.

My mother remarried and we upgraded to cable TV, which opened up a whole world of information to me. Shows about the universe and shows about UFO’s. Shows about whales and shows about the Loch Ness Monster. Shows on evolution and the 700 Club. Shows about the brain and shows about telepathy. Shows about the tomb of King Tutankhamen and shows about the Shroud of Turin. Shows about near death experiences and shows about after-death experiences. Einstein and Nostradamus. Tyrannosaurus Rex and bigfoot. While I clearly gravitated toward the truly scientific shows (the former in the above comparisons), I couldn’t help but watch their pseudoscientific counterparts as well. These shows tended to have more flash, higher budgets, and more “wow” factor to go along with their “woo” factor. Plus they had better time slots and outnumbered their scientific counterparts at least 3:1 in airtime. A clear turning point in my life was when our local PBS station re-aired the entire series of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Unfortunately, I missed the original airing as I was not yet a twinkle in my parents’ eyes. His words were profound, nearly each sentence being quotable. His passion for science and the universe was palpable and invigorating. The things he said, and the way he said them, changed the way that I saw the world forever.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hi from a new blogger

My name is Rusty, and I have never blogged before. I am hoping that this can be an outlet to discuss my views... and also blow off some steam.

You see, I am a self-identified "skeptic" who is watching the world seemingly go crazy around me. Nonsense being sold everywhere and perpetuated by the media. Much of this being VERY harmful, yet few seem to care. Conspiracy theories and mistrust in most, if not all, authorities/experts appears to be the norm. There is a lot of focus on what "feels" good, with little or no need for any empirical evidence of any kind.

I'm hoping to post some ideas here, and perhaps somebody will read it. If not, oh well.