Debunking the debunkers

Myths or Facts concept with business woman hand drawing on blackboard

The Medieval Crusades were a series of holy wars sanctioned by the Latin Church. It seems incongruous today, but the Catholic religion was used as justification to bring war, death and destruction to thousands of innocent people. The last time I checked, the Bible did not exactly espouse the use of brute force to subjugate other peoples. crusadesI don’t recall any passage in there that says “We will save the heathens even if we need to kill them to do it.”

I’m reminded of this same incongruity every time I read about some person in the media trying to ‘debunk’ some procedure or other. They perceive themselves to be ‘myth busters’, but in reality, they are selling the same pseudo-science they pretend they are ‘debunking’.

Mythbusters was a long running show on television which would take a myth or saying or internet video and then proceed to perform extensive scientific testing to determine whether this myth was busted or confirmed. They would often spend weeks and thousands of dollars performing as rigorous experiments as needed. Most of the people online pretending to be ‘myth busters’ are just people who scream for attention and don’t perform any real science. They are simply trying to yell louder than the person they are trying to debunk.

The jade egg example

JadeEggLet’s take the well publicized example of the jade egg sold by Goop, a wellness site promoted by celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow. It sells a jade egg that may be inserted into the vagina for increased sexual energy for $66. There has been considerable controversy about this pseudoscience and many have taken up the role of ‘mythbuster’. So let’s see what real science looks like.

First, is there any evidence that the jade egg works? No. This is an unsubstantiated claim – a claim made without any evidence to back it up. Second, and this is just as important, is there any evidence that the jade egg does NOT work? No. This, too is an unsubstantiated claim. This is not pseudo-science. There is no science at all. Science says that there is no evidence for and none against, so it’s simply unknown.

But the ‘debunkers’ claim that the jade egg does NOT work and further may be dangerous. Therefore, these debunkers are engaging in the same unsubstantiated claim slinging as Goop. It is this complete hypocrisy that annoys me. Let me be clear. Do I think the jade egg works? No. But I don’t actually know, so I do not claim it either works or does not work.

What is needed to actually, scientifically debunk this claim? You need to gather a group of, say 100 women, and have half use a jade egg, and the other half use, say, a stone egg of the same weight. You would not let the women or the researcher know which egg they are using and then measure their sexual energy at some later date. If there is no difference, then, and only then, can you claim to have successfully debunked the jade egg.

Did someone do any of these rigorous studies? Did someone carefully monitor a group of women who purchased the egg over several years and ask them if their sexual energy increased? Did someone perform a survey of jade egg users and compare them to a control group of women matched for age and see if there is any difference in sexual energy? Hardly. These studies actually take time and money. Instead, “debunkers” are doing exactly the same thing as Goop. Making unsubstantiated claims and performing intellectual hypocrisy.

So, is the jade egg harmful? The debunkers claim that it is potentially harmful and could harbor bacteria. Has there ever been a case in the last 200 years of the worldwide medical literature describing a case report of severe infection from a jade egg? No. Zero. There’s been lots of case reports of this happening for tampons, for example, but not for jade eggs. So, debunkers ignore the need for scientific evidence and instead engage in fear mongering using unsubstantiated claims once again, all the while, believing themselves to be champions of science. That’s hypocrisy.

Since there is no evidence either for or against the jade egg, then this question now falls to the clinician, the person who treats people. Here, the main question is not ‘Does this really work’ but instead it is ‘How’s that working for you?’. Remember that there is a powerful placebo effect. If I rub moisturizer on my son’s stomach for his tummy ache (which I do all the time), it will work in 30-50% of cases. The same is probably true for the jade egg. So, what is the risk: benefit ratio? The best thing that will happen is that it works as advertised (30-50% of cases). The worst thing is that you will waste $66 dollars. That’s actually not a bad tradeoff.

Compare this to the use of angioplasty for stable heart disease. These stents to open up heart arteries have been used for many decades to prevent heart attacks and relieve angina in patients with closed arteries. It’s an invasive procedure that has potential risks of bleeding, infection and perforation/ death. It also is expensive for both the equipment and doctors fees. Recently, several studies have shown that these procedures are not beneficial to reduce the risk of heart attacks or to reduce angina for stable patients (for clarification this does not refer to people who are actively having a heart attack. For these patients angioplasty is absolutely proven to be beneficial). So, here is a procedure that has scientifically been debunked. We’ve spent billions of dollars and caused untold side effects over the last 10 years that doctors have continued to perform this debunked procedure. Where were the debunkers? Wouldn’t this be better to debunk instead of largely harmless jade eggs?

USNewsBestDietRecently the US News came out with its annual ranking of ‘best diets’ from the ‘experts’. The highest ranked diet (DASH) is the same one you would expect to see in any mainstream publication, and not very different from the diets recommended by most physicians and dieticians. Cut your calories. Cut your salt. Moderation. Yadda yadda yadda. How’s that working out for us? Exactly.

The words ‘obesity crisis’ comes to mind. Diets are constantly derided as ‘fad’ diets without any evidence whatsoever. Intermittent fasting, for example, is now derided as ‘dangerous’ and potentially causing diabetes. Yes, eating nothing, which rests the pancreas (an organ involved in digestion) will damage it. I also cause wear and tear on my car as it sits in the garage. Right. Fasting – literally the oldest dietary intervention known to mankind is a dangerous 2000 year old ‘fad’ promoted by ‘shills’ like Buddha, Jesus Christ and the prophet Mohammed. Right.

The question you should ask instead

What is usually lost in these sorts of rankings, though is the absolute, #1, most important question you must ask yourself for any diet. “How’s that working for you?” I’m not talking about some quest for ‘personalized medicine’ or ‘Eat the diet that is best for you’ nonsense. These sort of answers are not helpful because if we don’t know the best diet overall, how are you going to know the best diet for you?

Similarly, personalized medicine is mostly just pie-in-the-sky fantasy rather akin to developing colonies on Mars. It’s great to sell product, but not great if you are counting on it to keep you healthy. For example, do we personalize the need for aspirin after a heart attack? Do we personalize the need for blood pressure control based on your own genetic makeup? Do we personalize your ideal body weight based on your family history? No, no and no.

opioid-crisis-e1509034947341Indeed, the entire field of evidence based medicine contradicts this personalized approach. Randomized trials, the gold standard of medical evidence is based necessarily on large groups of people, and are distinctly NOT personal.

The other thing that fascinates me is why so many people routinely use alternative medicine. Most of homeopathy, naturopathy etc. has little evidence to back up its claims. This does not mean it doesn’t work, it simply means that we do not know if it works or not. But clearly, the general public feels that this is equal to the ‘science’ of conventional medicine, of which I was trained for many years. Why?

Let’s consider three examples.

  1. The Opioid Crisis– Heavy promotion to doctors leads to extensive overuse of opioids which is killing lots of people today
  2. Angioplasty for stable heart disease – Extensively used by doctors for decades, costing billions of $$, highly invasive with many potential complications. Now proven not to be beneficial in stable patients
  3. Hormone Replacement Therapy – Millions of women given HRT in the mistaken belief it would reduce heart disease. Instead it increased the risk of blood clots and cancers.

BreastCancer

All three are examples that I recall vividly because I was taught in medical school about the benefits of all 3 of these widely accepted therapies that turned out to be likely more harmful to health. Where are the ‘debunkers’ when it comes to conventional medical advice? They are certainly loud enough when trying to prevent you buying a jade egg, but are nowhere to be heard when trying to actually save you from proven harm from the medical profession.

This is what I consider the greatest hypocrisy.


Dr. Jason Fung

 

Dr. Fung’s top posts

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  3. How to renew your body: Fasting and autophagy

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56 comments

Top comments

  1. Mark
    Thanks for your witness and efforts. I read and appreciate your work.

    Having said that, it's a bit ironic that your characterization of The Crusades reflects several of the common misconceptions and myths in much the same way as so many diet ‘experts’ who unwittingly perpetuate widely held and frequently repeated myths and inacurracies about diet. While I understand you were probably just looking for a compelling analogy to catch the reader’s attention in a few short sentences as a segue into your main premise, it’s unfortunate that in dong so you unwittingly oversimplify and mischaracterize this important part of world history.

    This is obviously neither the time nor the place to go off on a tangent about The Crusades, especially since it doesn't really detract from the main premise of your article, which I enthusiastically agree with. I point it out simply because you have always shown a courageous determination to deal in facts rather than simply repeat ideas that are widely held.

    Reply: #16
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  2. Christine
    Dear Diet Doctor,
    You are a fantastic doctor who has educated me on diet. But, you are profoundly wrong in your statements about the Crusades. You should never have brought that subject into the conversation because every single thing you were taught on the subject is incorrect.

    Your comments about the Crusades are wrong. Because, I too, do not like falsity, I'm going to make a couple of comments. The Catholic church did not 'start' the Crusades. The Crusades started when the Islamic armies invaded Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the ancient home for Jews and Christians for thousands of years. Islam was running over the world and conquering nations in the name of Mohammad. This is not disparaging, it is simply the truth. Mohammad believed in the Conquest Model. He offered people conversion or slavery and death. The Crusades were merely attempting to retain counties that were Christian and Jewish from becoming destroyed or enslaved. Note, during the Crusades, the death count was approximately 120,000. Yes, that's thousands. This is nothing compared to the deaths from non-Christians over the last 100 years which are in the hundreds of millions.

    Since this is a diet blog, I won't go farther. But, I would be very careful when you decide that you have to bash an entire religious group and drag up their flaws. You might not have the responses that you want.

    I recommend you read, "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades" by Robert Spenser and "What's So Great About Christianity?" by Dinesh D'Souza.

    These books are well cited and well researched. The provide detailed references that you can double check on your own and give facts on the Crusades that you didn't learn in school.

    Just like the nutrition you teach us, that we didn't learn in school or wrongly learned.

    Replies: #43, #55
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All comments

  1. bill
    Dr. E:

    Maybe it's time to take down this whole post
    and thread.

  2. Meg
    To get back to debunking, there is a newish youtube post of Dr Stephen Phinney at Low Carb Breckenridge 2018 (which was in March 2018) claiming that fasting beyond two days lowers the basal metabolic rate long term. He seems to be quoting historical scientific trials. I thought the discussion had cleared up that question a couple of years ago, and that unlike the low calorie diet, fasting repairs the metabolic rate. Have Dr Fung and Dr Phinney debated this, I would like to follow up, because both seem to make sense.
  3. RT
    Can you quote a specific Bible passage (particularly New Testament) which explicitly states that Christians should kill unbelievers?
  4. Gwendolyn
    "Hormone Replacement Therapy – Millions of women given HRT in the mistaken belief it would reduce heart disease. Instead it caused blood clots and cancers with no benefits."

    I love you but you should reconsider this statement. This is not take home point when you analyze the WHI results. The WHI generalized and in my opinion threw the baby out with the bath water.

    Please consider choosing another example or change your statement to be factual. This is not the forum for the debate of HRT. People trust you and you can change the mind of someone who would indeed benefit from HRT.

    For thinking about their personal risk a great app is MenoPro (IOS and android)

  5. Paul
    OMG, Really!!!! Why does everything have to go back religion. I'm Catholic, big deal. Give it a rest. Go on Youtube to debate this.

    Great article Dr. Fung Great Job Diet Doctor!!!!!!

    I've been pontificating this diet and converted many people. "2 week challenge" One friend lost 13lbs in 16 days
    I lost 40lbs in 5 months

  6. Ken
    Hi DD Team, I'm not a Catholic or any sort of church goer or homeopathy proponent and found the angry tone pointless and detracting from an otherwise excellent article. I refer many of my patients to your website and wouldn't want them to get put off the value of LCHF by getting embroiled in such tertiary matters. Love to all at DD!
  7. TeeDee
    Hi, Dr. Fung. This is exactly the kind of article that we need to see and to spread far and wide (I'm planning to give a copy to Caulfield as a little piece of humble pie.) I started to read the comments, but quickly realized my first instinct was correct: as soon as you mentioned 'religion' I knew you were in for a lot of replies on that subject . I no longer care about these religious debates because no religion or its writings have any proof whatsoever. Enough said about that. I do, however, thank you for 'debunking the debunkers'. They're like annoying mosquitoes every where we go online and they need to be told so--thanks again!
  8. TeeDee
    You've revealed your true nature very clearly, Jeremy. So in addition to not visiting this site any longer for the sake of your health, you will REFUSE to tell others about the ketogenic way of eating that could save them years of misery and early death until you get an apology?! Dr. Fung brought up an analogy that is clearly debatable among Catholics, Muslims and non-believers and will hopefully leave such a hot topic alone in future, but what you're proposing to do in denying others this vital information is evil, in my view. Take the log out of your own eye before pointing out the splinter in another's...
  9. NeilC
    OMG this is DREADFUL

    So we have to take all any any idiotic, unproven claim seriously until it's been categorically proved wrong? You seem to have forgotten the concept of scientific plausibility. We have no reason whatsoever to think that sticking a lump of jade up your vagina will produce the results goop are claiming. So the usual, sensible practice is to assume the claim probably has no basis in fact until they actually provide some evidence. Otherwise anyone can make any product with any claim and, by your reasoning, we can't say it's nonsense until a trial is done. How ridiculous.

    Not only that but Goop have been fined because of their claims, been told by gynaecologists that they may well be dangerous and made quite specific claims about them adjusting your hormone levels. That's not OK. It's charlatanism and quackery and with no reason to think jade "balances your hormones" we are safe in debunking these claims.

    As for the idea of a double blinded trial "asking the women if their sexual energy increased" LOL - how would that work. Would you use the "international scale of sexual energy" to quantify that?! As if merely asking them would be a proper scientific trial anyway.

    I'm telling you right now that putting a carrot up your nostril cures pancreatic cancer. Don't you dare laugh - have you done a trial that disproves it?

    You say "most of homeopathy, naturopathy etc. has little evidence to back up its claims. This does not mean it doesn’t work". Well we DO have plenty of evidence to show that homeopath is pure bunk - the same double blind trials that you demand, no less. So the debunkers who dismissed homeopathy because it has zero scientific plausibility were proved correct.

    I am amazed that a working doctor, promoting supposedly scientifically based treatments would think like this.

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