Both Orac and Mark Crislip have noted that proponents of Woo medicine deliberately blur the distinction between science based medicine and their Woo therapies. As Orac wrote, this is bait and switch. For example, Deepak Chopra will claim that advice on diet and exercise (which is based on science) is part of the “alternative” therapies he is promoting. That’s the bait. The switch is then to talk about Woo such as acupuncture or Qi Gong as though they were also proven therapies in the same way as improved diet and exercise are proven. As Crislip noted:
This is innocence by association. By branding normal or proven activities as alternative, it lends an aura of reputability to the unsupported nonsense.
A fine example of this bait and switch equivocation technique can be found in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article (also on Chopra’s Intent blog), by Chopra and friends – presumably in reply to the recent WSJ article by Steve Salerno. I think it’s worth deconstructing the dishonest way Chopra writes about both Woo and proven therapies in the same article, to imply they’re both proven.
He starts with:
This is a watershed in the evolution of integrative medicine, a holistic approach to health care that uses the best of conventional and alternative therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and herbal remedies. Many of these therapies are now scientifically documented to be not only medically effective but also cost effective. [My bold.]
Note that Woo (for example, acupuncture) is included. Also, that “many” of these therapies have been proven by science. But which ones? Chopra doesn’t tell us, but he wants you to think they all have. But to back this up, he will only talk about diet and lifestyle changes, because he’s still in “bait” mode and these are the only therapies that have been shown to work. Read how he does this:
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that these approaches may even change gene expression in hundreds of genes in only a few months. Genes associated with cancer, heart disease, and inflammation were downregulated or "turned off" whereas protective genes were upregulated or "turned on." A study published in The Lancet Oncology reported that these changes increase telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes that control how long we live. Even drugs have not been shown to do this.
Chopra’s first link was to a trial which consisted of the following:
A 3-month comprehensive lifestyle modification was prescribed (13, 14), comprising a 3-day intensive residential retreat, followed by an outpatient phase where participants were in weekly telephone contact with a study nurse. Lifestyle modifications included a low-fat (10% of calories from fat), wholefoods, plant-based diet, stress management 60 min per day (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, imagery, and progressive relaxation), moderate aerobic exercise (walking 30 min per day for 6 days per week), and a 1-h group support session per week.The diet was supplemented with soy(1dailyservingoftofu plus 58 g of a fortified soy protein powdered beverage), fish oil (3 g daily), vitamin E (100 units daily), selenium (200mgdaily), and vitamin C (2 g daily).
His second link was to a trial which consisted of the following:
Patients are placed on a comprehensive lifestyle change program comprising a low-fat vegan diet, stress management, moderate aerobic exercise, and regular participation in a support group for 3 months.
Note, alternative therapies such as acupuncture were not included in either of these studies – they were mainly about diet and exercise. But at least there were studies cited. With links. (If you read the blog, not the WSG.) Bait set.
Here’s the switch:
Chronic pain is one of the major sources of worker's compensation claims costs, yet studies show that it is often susceptible to acupuncture and Qi Gong. Herbs usually have far fewer side effects than pharmaceuticals.
The Woo (acupuncture and Qi Gong) is introduced. “Studies” are quoted. But no studies are linked. You are meant to think acupuncture and Qi Gong have been shown to work in the studies he wrote about before. But neither acupuncture nor Qi Gong had anything to do with those studies. Nor had any of the other drivel Chopra normally pontificates about. Chopra just reeled you in.
He then wraps everything together with some feel good benefits that you are supposed to think you will receive if you subscribe to Chopra’s therapies:
Joy, pleasure, and freedom are sustainable, deprivation and austerity are not. When you eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, exercise, meditate and have more love in your life, then your brain receives more blood and oxygen, so you think more clearly, have more energy, need less sleep. Your brain may grow so many new neurons that it could get measurably bigger in only a few months. Your face gets more blood flow, so your skin glows more and wrinkles less. Your heart gets more blood flow, so you have more stamina and can even begin to reverse heart disease. Your sexual organs receive more blood flow, so you may become more potent -- similar to the way that circulation-increasing drugs like Viagra work. For many people, these are choices worth making -- not just to live longer, but also to live better.
I don’t know if a healthier diet etc actually means you will grow more neurons, or if Chopra is overreaching. And I don’t even want to think about Chopra becoming “more potent” as he claims. But I accept that a healthier diet, no smoking, exercise etc would be good for you. But this has nothing to do with the acupuncture or the Qi Gong that he also introduced in this article.
Funnily enough, I agree with the way he ends, although perhaps not in the way he intended:
It's time to move past the debate of alternative medicine versus traditional medicine, and to focus on what works, what doesn't, for whom, and under which circumstances.
Yes I agree, it is time to move beyond alternative medicine verses science based medicine, and to focus on what works. Because once something has been shown to work, it is no longer alternative. "Alternative" is just framing for "doesn't work." The trouble is, Chopra doesn’t want to exclude what doesn’t work. He wants to include it. He just won't be honest and say so.
Edit January 12
Orac posted today on this story. He notes that the two studies Chopra referred to were essentially the same study – the second one being a further analysis of the first. In addition they were of a highly select group of men and consisted of an extreme low fat diet that would be very hard for many people to maintain. His whole post is worth reading.