All posts by Steven Novella

Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society, the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also contributes every Sunday to The Rogues Gallery, the official blog of the SGU.

A Harris Poll on “Alternative Medicine”

Mark Twain popularized the phrase, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and polls and surveys.” (He may have said “statistics” at the end, but I think this version works as well.) A new Harris Poll on “alternative medicine” nicely demonstrates some of the problems with polls. The biggest problem is how you frame the questions. You can dramatically affect...

/ May 11, 2016
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Overprescribing Antibiotics

Recently I had a cutaneous abscess which was treated (quite painfully) with incision and drainage. My doctor told me that antibiotics were not strictly necessary, but I could have them if I wanted. The idea of any treatment that could resolve the abscess more quickly was appealing, but I did not want to contribute to the unnecessary use of antibiotics so I...

/ May 4, 2016

Parents Convicted in Death of Toddler

This is a very sad and tragic case, and I have great sympathy for the extended family of Ezekiel Stephan, the 19-month-old who died of meningitis four years ago. In my opinion, there are many victims in this case. The jury, apparently, agreed. Yesterday they returned a guilty verdict for Ezekiel’s parents, David and Collet Stephan, who now face sentencing for failing...

/ April 27, 2016

The “It Worked for Me” Gambit

It is almost inevitable that whenever we post an article critical of the claims being made for a particular treatment, alternative philosophy, or alternative profession, someone in the comments will counter a careful examination of published scientific evidence with an anecdote. Their arguments boils down to, “It worked for me, so all of your scientific evidence and plausibility is irrelevant.” Both components...

/ April 20, 2016

Beetroots Don’t Cure Cancer

Alternative medicine, like all good marketing, is largely about creating a narrative. Once you have sold people on the narrative, products essentially market themselves. That narrative has been evolving for literally centuries, although it seems to have accelerated with the advent of mass media and now the internet. It is optimized to push emotional buttons in order to sell products. There are...

/ April 13, 2016
Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Chronic Lyme Disease – Another Negative Study

While Lyme disease itself is a real and often serious infectious illness, the existence and proper treatment of so-called chronic Lyme disease is dubious, and some would say controversial. However, like many controversies we cover, the science itself is not very controversial, but the topic is made so by a persistent minority of outliers who refuse to accept the scientific consensus. The...

/ April 6, 2016

What Not To Say When Someone Is Sick

I understand the impulse, but you are well-advised to resist it. When someone you know has a serious illness, maybe even dying, you want to say something to them that is helpful, positive, and hopeful. The hopeful tone takes away some of the sting and the awkwardness of not knowing what to say to someone who just told you they are dying....

/ March 30, 2016
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Zap Your Way to Learning?

The company Halo Neuroscience is now offering a device, the Halo-Sport, which they claim enhances sports performance through “neuropriming.” Their website claims: Neuropriming uses pulses of energy to increase the excitability of motor neurons, benefiting athletes in two ways: accelerated strength and skill acquisition. Regular readers of SBM can probably see where this is going. A proper threshold of evidence Before I...

/ March 23, 2016

Another Anti-GMO Paper Retracted

Retraction Watch is a great website. As the name implies, it focuses on a key aspect of quality control in science, the retraction of scientific papers that have already passed peer-review and were published when serious concerns about those papers come to light. Retracting published papers is similar to phase IV clinical trials – tracking side effects of drugs that have already...

/ March 16, 2016
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P Value Under Fire

The greatest strength of science is that it is self-critical. Scientists are not only critical of specific claims and the evidence for those claims, but they are critical of the process of science itself. That criticism is constructive – it is designed to make the process better, more efficient, and more reliable. One aspect of the process of science that has received...

/ March 9, 2016