The war has begun…

…and I’m just itchin’ for a fight. The medical “De-lightenment”, that movement to marginalize the role of science in medicine, has just made a strategic error. Like other weak movements, they’ve formed unwise alliances. Orac reports that so-called mainstream altmed folks like Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra have now made friends with the more obviously wacko altmed gurus, such as Gary Null.

Perhaps “friends” is pushing it, but these supposedly educated physicians are actually citing HIV-denialist Null as a reliable source for health information. I’m tempted to coin a new internet Law here, perhaps The Chopra Blunder:

    “In an argument regarding medical science, when a person cites Gary Null as a source, the argument is over, they have lost, and anything they say in the future may be safely ignored. And they may be laughed out of the room without guilt.”

As an educated physician, I have the ability to comb the medical literature with tools such as Ovid or PubMed. Hell, even Google Scholar isn’t half bad. If I have to resort to quoting a charismatic TV health guru with a fake PhD who thinks that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, perhaps my argument wasn’t that great to start with.

This is really, really good news for those of us advocating science-based medicine. It means our foes are weak, and they know it. Their status is lessened by alliances with obvious cranks. While some of us have chosen to work with the likes of Steven Novella and Wally Sampson, the Chopras and Weils have reached down into the sewer of pseudoscience just to find a shred of support for their absurd ideas.

I’m kvelling.

Of course, it’s not as if real medicine is on the ropes. Any one of these idiots would call 911 if they had chest pain, and submit to a cardiac cath to save their lives. They’d probably do it for their patients, too, but the kind of people they are starting to hang with might not be as careful. Once you open the door to non-science-based medical practices, anyone can walk right in.

The New Year promises to be a good one in the fight against fake medicine. You’ll be hearing a lot more about it, both in this space and on the podcast. As the cult medicine folks become more desperate, I think we will see more of the Chopra Blunder.

Vive la guerre!


  1. “I’m tempted to coin a new internet Law here, perhaps The Chopra Blunder:

    ‘In an argument regarding medical science, when a person cites Gary Null as a source, the argument is over (…)’”

    Maybe you should call it the null-hypothesis instead?

  2. Denice Walter

    First, I might actually have some good news here:1.Null recently has been ranting, railing, raving,ragging on about how PBS, in many of the most “corrupt” cities( NYC,Boston,Chicago, LA,SF)has banned his “specials” at pledge-time because the people on the boards are “in the pocket” of the “sugar lobby”(i.e.soft drink companies) or “Big Pharma”.2. He(like his fellow juice-bar stool philosopher, Mike Adams) has been spending more time on economic prognostication, life style issues,mental health solutions,and social criticism, rather than on medico-woo, as I’ve reported previously. However,this got me to thinking:it’s really all the same isn’t it? Those who capitalize on fear , be it of serious medical or mental illness, or economic disaster and social instability,will find ways to market some product or service that offers their already-primed audience some measure of hope, enriching themselves in the process.Null talks about the “cult of the professional”(or expert),discouraging reliance on professionals, urging people to find the solutions themselves, with his help and guidance, of course.Which brings us to the bad news:these idiots now fancy themselves to be psychotherapists( perhaps,*psycho*-therapists is more apropo) and financial advisors. AND it just might be a way back onto PBS.Wayne Dyer, Suze Ormond, “Watch out!”

  3. If you are truly itching for a fight, let’s get together and sue these denialists in open court. After I had read about them being directly responsible for telling Mbeki that his people did not need HIV medication, I was ready then. Now that Ms. Maggiore has died, and her minions are even more entrenched in their blatant denial of what killed her (and how she led countless other thousands to their potential deaths), I believe now the time is ripe to bring these people to justice. They need to be held accountable for the lies and mis-information that led EJ, and now her mother, to their deaths.
    Let us now take up arms and stop these people before more senseless deaths occur.
    J. Todd DeShong

  4. Anonymous

    The Chopra Blunder, the null-hypothesis

    Love it. These could be new logical fallacies.

  5. Unfortunately, as long as celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Larry King continue to fawn over guys like Chopra, we’ll be stuck with guys like Chopra.
    I’d love to see some real, hard-core (and skeptical!)
    science reporting on TV, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting.

  6. Anonymous

    Denialists are mostly believers, they repeat the same crap and believe it will miraculously become the truth!

    “Many of us know little about Deepak’s teachings but some of us know quite a bit about science and especially physics. Accept my apology for what’s coming, I know it is getting tiresome but there is something so fundamentally wrong with this.

    Someone on intentblog wrote, “Dear Deepak. You’ve been a Master of showing the difference between the Illusion and the reality”. Wow!! Really?

    You see Deepak anybody can bend a spoon, but it is hardly done with ones mind. The way you, Deepak, sell this illusion is just plain wrong. You are either very gullible or are consciously using the occasion to “proof” something that does not exist. You talk about a boy who bent a spoon and say, “…to be face to face with a reality that his culture tries to deny”.

    With all respect, that is not a very classy move. You claim to be a man of science, well versed in physics, biology and even quantum mechanics and yet you are telling us that remote cutlery bending is “a reality that our culture is trying to deny”. How stupid do you think we are? Obviously very! Your bizarre comparison of jet propulsion and telekinesis (moving objects with thought) is even more ridiculous.”

  7. Unfortunately, the association with an obvious denialist doesn’t seem to effect people as much as you’d think. IN global warming denial I just see the crazy and the proven liars become more popular with time. It’s amazing the amount of facts people can ignore to maintain their own ignorance.

  8. Chopra Blunder

    It is never too late to live a life of realism. But too many of us are trying to create our own reality, the one we would like to live in rather then the one we evolved in.

    The real world is full of awe and wonder but only by recognizing this will we survive. The Scandinavian countries, and many in central Europe, have moved God into the cultural aspect of their life. These countries show compassion and empathy towards their fellow citizen, even the underprivileged ones, and are living happy and fulfilled lives.

    It just so happens that the education curriculum in those countries has science as a very important ingredient. President Obama promised to do the same for his country.

  9. J. Todd’s comment made me think: why Gary Null and Mbeki have not been sued? Is there anybody, who is a lawyer, who can explain at large why these people had not been taken to court. J Todd is right: all this fighting talking amount to nothing if there is not some evidence which can be shown in a court of law.

  10. What do you think of Dr. Mercola?: he put this in his website:The Growing War Between Modern Medicine and the Public

    How can the U.S. significantly reduce health-care costs, and yet plan on increased employment in the health-care industry? According to the article linked below, this is the moral crux for American medicine. If Americans become healthier, there will be fewer jobs. Maybe this is why modern medicine drags its feet when it comes to preventive medicine.

    The government is complicit in spawning the diabetes/obesity epidemic by subsidizing the production of non-nutrient-dense foods and high-fructose corn syrup. Statin anti-cholesterol drugs are approved by the FDA even though they don’t reduce mortality rates. Modern medicine is an industry that wants more, not less, disease to treat. Doctors aren’t interested in disease prevention — conventional medicine is quick to dismiss any truly preventive therapies as unproven and requiring more study.

    Still, an estimated 38 percent of U.S. adults, along with 12 percent of children, use some type of complementary and alternative medicine, according to a new U.S. government survey.

    Complementary and alternative medicine refers to a wide-ranging collection of medical and health care systems, practices and products that aren’t generally considered conventional medicine. They include herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic treatment and acupuncture.

    For the survey, more than 23,300 adults were interviewed about their use of complementary and alternative medicine. More than 9,400 were also asked about their children’s use of complementary and alternative medicine.

    The survey found that the use of techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, massage therapy, and yoga increased significantly. The most common supplements used by adults are omega 3 fats, glucosamine, echinacea, flaxseed, and ginseng.

    Other findings from the survey showed that more women than men use complementary and alternative medicine (42.8 percent versus 33.5 percent). Older, more educated and wealthier adults also used complementary and alternative medicine in greater numbers.

    It’s no wonder that 38 percent of American adults have opted for alternative medicine. Where else can the public turn? Many patients are belittled when they tell their doctors they are taking dietary supplements instead of prescription drugs.

    Americans are increasingly distrustful of prescription medicines. According to a 2005 poll, 35 percent of Americans who were prescribed drugs didn’t take them because they wanted to save money, and another 28 percent didn’t take them because of “frightening side effects.

    It is becoming increasingly clear that conventional medicine is working against the public welfare.

    Sources: December 13, 2008
    U.S. News December 10, 2008
    National Health Federation

  11. carlos:

    I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the distrust Americans have in conventional medicine is being fed by precisely the same people citing and/or creating the statistics you mention above to prove that point. From the point of view of scientific medicine, “health freedom” is nothing more than a codeword for “alties should be able to sell their wares without oversight or criticism”, a description that I think would be borne out by alties fighting attempts to regulate the supplement industry tooth and nail.

    It’s not medicine; it’s PR. “Freedom” is good, right? Well, not if it cripples informed consent. Alties can’t sell their wares if the buying public knows what they’re really selling, so they want the freedom to hide it while you get the freedom to roll the dice on a bottle of crushed leaves or sugar water.

  12. mayhempix

    “The Chopra Blunder, the null-hypothesis
    Love it. These could be new logical fallacies.”
    Posted by: Anonymous | January 2, 2009 10:04 PM

    The “Chopramatic Blender: King of the Woo Processors.”
    You have to love their self “Nullification.”

  13. mayhempix

    “…this is the moral crux for American medicine. If Americans become healthier, there will be fewer jobs. Maybe this is why modern medicine drags its feet when it comes to preventive medicine.”

    Carlos: if you believe that doctors drag their feet on preventative medicine to protect their jobs, then I’ll bet you think that homeopathic “medicine” manufacturers won’t pay for double blind studies because their jobs don’t need proof of validation.

  14. Denice Walter

    Is it time for Part II of the “Great American Fraud”? In the early 20th century, Collier’s magazine ran a series of articles ( compiled as “The Great American Fraud”) exposing patent medecines and leading to the Pure Food and Drug Act.Volunteers?

  15. I worked with Null in the early 1990s for a time when he had a syndicated radio show on the network where I was director of affiliate relations. He was a peice of work then, and I can’t imagine time improving his personality. Chopra, who is at least slightly more savvy, seems to be delving into realms where he just can’t compete (internaitonal politics for one).

    As I said on Orac’s post, there is no alternaitve medicine, only medicine that works.

    As far as defining between denialists (Null) and types like Chopra, I think a new term should be coined. Perhaps Fantasists, Realiphobes or even Fabricoids.

  16. That sounds an awful lot like Scopie’s law: anyone who cites as a credible source of information loses.
    perhaps the law could be generalized?

  17. Denice Walter

    (Just as I was preparing to write a subtly nuanced *pastorale* about my travels in the west, it had to happen!) I’m not sure if it qualifies as a Chopra blunder or not-it might be something *even* worse.On that carnival of involutional idiocy, otherwise known as the Gary Null Show (WNYE radio) today, Null introduces Dr. Dean “Ornitch”(sic):Ornish 1. actually appeared ,2.discussed the effect of lifestyle on heart disease(and other issues) in a friendly manner,3. did not in any way challenge Null or debate him,and then 4.actually complimented the host,saying,”You’re empowering people with information.” Really. He really said that.He did not correct anything Null said or implied about “our work” concerning lifestyle changes, being “ahead of the curve”,and other inanities.Really.Ow,my head hurts!

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