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.

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
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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

Virtual Colonoscopy Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that everyone aged 50-75 be screened for colon cancer with any one of three options: colonoscopy every 10 years, flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, or fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) every year. Conventional colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” since it allows for direct detection and biopsy of early cancers and removal of precancerous...

/ June 28, 2011

Kudos to Steven Novella

It has just been announced, in the July/August issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, that our own Steven Novella has been awarded the 2010 Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking. It will be formally presented at the CSIcon conference in New Orleans on October 28, 2011. The Prize is a $1500 award given to the author of the published work or body of work that...

/ June 21, 2011

Acupuncturist’s Unconvincing Attempt at Damage Control

Acupuncture has been in the news recently. A former President of South Korea had to undergo major surgery to remove an acupuncture needle that had somehow lodged in his lung.  A recent study in Pain compiled a list of 95 published reports of serious complications of acupuncture including 5 deaths. Meanwhile, acupuncturists continue to insist that their procedures are “safe.” Edzard Ernst et...

/ June 21, 2011