All posts by Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so),  and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel.  In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.

Menstrual Synchrony: Do Girls Who Go Together Flow Together?

When women live together, do their menstrual cycles tend to synchronize? It’s been a long time since I first heard that claim. I didn’t believe it, for a number of reasons. I had never observed it myself, I saw no plausible mechanism to explain how it could happen, I thought the statistics to prove it would be problematic and complicated, and I...

/ September 6, 2011

Are Prenatal Ultrasounds Dangerous?

Several questionable sources are spreading alarms about the possible dangers of prenatal ultrasound exams (sonograms). An example is Christine Anderson’s article on the ExpertClick website. In the heading, it says she “Never Liked Ultrasound Technology.” [She] has never been sold on the safety using Ultrasounds for checking on the fetuses of pregnant women, and for the last decade her fears have been confirmed...

/ August 30, 2011

Testing a Chinese Herbal Flu Remedy

During the early days of the 2009 H1N1 influenza A pandemic, the popular herbal formula maxingshigan–yinqiaosan was used widely by TCM practitioners to reduce symptoms. (It’s hard to pronounce and spell, so I’ll refer to it as M-Y.) A new study was done to test whether M-Y worked and to compare it to the prescription drug oseltamivir. It showed that M-Y did...

/ August 23, 2011

Wishing Away Warts

Common warts (verruca vulgaris) are more of a nuisance than a serious health problem, but they are interesting. There is a whole mythology surrounding their cause (touching toads?) and treatment (everything from banana peels to vitamin C).  Many people believe they can be made to vanish by suggestion or hypnosis. I used to believe that too. Every doctor has wart stories. Here...

/ August 16, 2011

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

A correspondent asked me to review the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. She wrote “I’m very worried about this book.” She had just seen an NPR article about the book and was alarmed because it provided an excerpt from the book recommending that patients with morning sickness “Try Sea-Bands” and “Go CAM Crazy.” She knew from...

/ August 9, 2011

Belief in Echinacea

Note: The study discussed here has also been covered by Mark Crislip. I wrote this before his article was published, so please forgive any repetition. I approached it from a different angle; and anyway, if something is worth saying once it’s probably worth saying twice. Is Echinacea effective for preventing and treating the common cold or is it just a placebo? My...

/ August 2, 2011

Angell’s Review of Psychiatry

Marcia Angell has written a two-part article for The New York Review of Books: “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?” and “The Illusions of Psychiatry.” It is a favorable review of 3 recent books: The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth by Irving Kirsch Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America...

/ July 26, 2011

Antidepressants and Effect Size

Antidepressant drugs have been getting a bad rap in the media. I’ll just give 3 examples: On the Today show, prominent medical expert 🙂 Tom Cruise told us Brooke Shields shouldn’t have taken these drugs for her postpartum depression. In Natural News, “Health Ranger” Mike Adams accused pharmaceutical companies and the FDA of covering up negative information about antidepressants, saying it would be considered...

/ July 19, 2011

Electrodermal Testing Part II: Legal and Regulatory Aspects

Last week I described electrodermal testing. I’m sure many readers thought, “There oughta be a law against that.” Well, there are laws. Unfortunately, having laws and enforcing them are two different things. Some of these devices are not approved at all. Most have received 501(k) approval from the FDA as biofeedback devices so similar to previous devices that they do not require...

/ July 12, 2011

Electrodermal Testing Part I: Fooling Patients with a Computerized Magic Eight Ball

Remember the Magic Eight Ball toy? You could ask it a question and shake it and a random answer would float up into a window: yes, no, maybe, definitely, etc. There is even a website where you can ask an Eight Ball questions online. I have been meaning to write about bogus electrodiagnostic machines for a long time. These devices supposedly diagnose...

/ July 5, 2011