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.

Spreading the Word

Lest some of our readers imagine that the authors of this blog are mere armchair opinion-spouters and keyboard-tappers for one little blog, I’d like to point out some of the other things we do to spread the word about science and reason. Steven Novella’s new course about medical myths for “The Great Courses” of The Teaching Company is a prime example: more about...

/ March 15, 2011
human placenta

Eating Placentas: Cannibalism, Recycling, or Health Food?

After giving birth, most mammals eat the afterbirth, the placenta. Most humans don’t. Several hypotheses have been suggested as to why placentophagy might have had evolutionary survival value, but are there any actual benefits for modern women? Placentophagy has been recommended for various reasons, from nutritional benefit to preventing postpartum depression to “honoring the placenta.” In other cultures, various rituals surround the...

/ March 8, 2011

Questioning the Annual Pelvic Exam

A new article in the Journal of Women’s Health by Westhoff, Jones, and Guiahi asks “Do New Guidelines and Technology Make the Routine Pelvic Examination Obsolete?” The pelvic exam consists of two main components: the insertion of a speculum to visualize the cervix and the bimanual exam where the practitioner inserts two fingers into the vagina and puts the other hand on...

/ March 1, 2011

Diet Supplements or Nutritional Supplements: A Ruse by Any Other Name is Still a Ruse

I was surprised to get this e-mail from a reader: Surely, Dr. Hall, the public mania for nutritional supplements is baseless. All the alleged nutrients in supplements are contained in the food we eat. And what governmental agency has oversight responsibility regarding the production of these so-call nutritional supplements? Even if one believes that such pills have value, how can the consumer...

/ February 22, 2011

Childbirth Without Pain: Are Epidurals the Answer?

Is unmedicated natural childbirth a good idea? The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) points out that There is no other circumstance in which it is considered acceptable for a person to experience untreated severe pain, amenable to safe intervention, while under a physician’s care. It is curious when an effective science-based treatment is rejected. Vaccine rejecters have been extensively discussed...

/ February 15, 2011

Ear Infections: To Treat or Not to Treat

Ear infections used to be a devastating problem. In 1932, acute otitis media (AOM) and its suppurative complications accounted for 27% of all pediatric admissions to Bellevue Hospital. Since the introduction of antibiotics, it has become a much less serious problem. For decades it was taken for granted that all children with AOM should be given antibiotics, not only to treat the...

/ February 8, 2011
Overdiagnosed

Overdiagnosis

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch has written a new book Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, with co-authors Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin.  It identifies a serious problem, debunks medical misconceptions and contains words of wisdom. We are healthier, but we are increasingly being told we are sick. We are labeled with diagnoses that may not mean anything to our health....

/ February 1, 2011

One Hump or Two? Camel’s Milk as a New Alternative Medicine

I wasn’t really surprised to learn that camel milk is being promoted as a medicine. I long ago realized that the human power of belief is inexhaustible. The news did make me laugh, probably because camels are rather funny-looking animals, because I am easily amused, because it reminded me of some of my favorite camel jokes, and because it wouldn’t do any...

/ January 25, 2011

Why We Get Fat

Journalist Gary Taubes created a stir in 2007 with his impressive but daunting 640-page tome Good Calories, Bad Calories.  Now he has written a shorter, more accessible book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It to take his message to a wider audience. His basic thesis is that: The calories-in/calories-out model is wrong. Carbohydrates are the cause of obesity...

/ January 18, 2011

The Meaning of Secondary Prevention

A November letter to the editor in American Family Physician chastises that publication for misusing the term “secondary prevention,” even using it in the title of an article that was actually about tertiary prevention. I am guilty of the same sin. I had been influenced by simplistic explanations that distinguished only two kinds of prevention: primary and secondary. I thought primary prevention...

/ January 11, 2011