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.

An Industry of Worthless Acupuncture Studies

Even more interesting to me than the question of whether or not acupuncture is effective for any particular symptom is the meta-question of how acupuncture proponents have managed to promote a treatment with systematically terrible scientific data. A new study provides a fresh example of this, which I will discuss below. I think the behavior of acupuncturists reflects the fact that there...

/ August 26, 2015

Coca-Cola Science

Science functions best when it is free from any bias or conflict of interest. All those engaged in the process should value what is actually true more than anything else. Unfortunately, there are many sources of bias in science. Researchers may want their pet theory to be supported. Journal editors want to publish research that will have a high impact. And of...

/ August 19, 2015
QuackeryEvolution

We Should Abandon the Concept of “Alternative Medicine”

In a recent editorial for the New York Times, Aaron E. Carroll argues, “Labels Like ‘Alternative Medicine’ Don’t Matter. The Science Does.” I agree with this headline thesis, but the details of his argument ironically show the harm that the so-called CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) movement has done. Carroll starts out well, essentially pointing out that the division between “conventional” and...

/ August 12, 2015

About that Cell Phone and Cancer Study

Recently there was another round of scaremongering headlines and articles claiming that cell phones can cause brain cancer. The Daily News wrote: “The scientists were right — your cell phone can give you cancer.” Many online news sites declared: “SHOCK STUDY: CELLPHONES CAN CAUSE CANCER,” in all caps to make sure you understand that you should be alarmed. None of the mainstream...

/ August 5, 2015
Placebonex

Placebo by Conditioning

Truly understanding placebo effects (note the plural) is critical to science-based medicine. Misconceptions about placebo effects are perhaps the common problem I encounter among otherwise-scientific professionals and science communicators. The persistence of these misconceptions is due partly to the fact that false beliefs about placebos, namely that “the” placebo effect is mainly an expectation mind-over-matter effect, is deeply embedded in the culture....

/ July 29, 2015

Galvanic Skin Response Pseudoscience

Selling snake oil is all about marketing, which means that a good snake oil product needs to have a great angle or a hook. Popular snake oil hooks include being “natural,” the product of ancient wisdom, or “holistic.” Perhaps my favorite snake oil marketing ploy, however, is claiming the product represents the latest cutting-edge technology. This invariably leads to humorous sciencey technobabble....

/ July 22, 2015

False Balance for Homeopathy in the BMJ

The BMJ is a prestigious medical journal, which just goes to show that prestigious journals can sometimes make awful decisions. They recently published a pro vs con article on homeopathy. Peter Fisher dragged out the current repertoire of pro-homeopathy tropes, while Edzard Ernst did a fine job of summarizing why homeopathy is nonsense. I also think the article is an excellent example...

/ July 15, 2015

University of Toronto Coddles Quackery

The ongoing saga of quackademic medicine continues. The University of Toronto School of Public Health has been caught teaching utter nonsense to its students. Even worse, when called out on this dereliction of their academic responsibility, they defended it. Unfortunately, it is all too clear how something like this can happen. The department was teaching an alternative medicine course at U of...

/ July 8, 2015

Caution vs Alarmism

When I lecture about the need for science-based medicine (SBM), I have to pause about half-way through my list of all the things wrong with the current practice of medical science, and I balance my discussion by emphasizing what I am not saying: I am not saying that medical science is completely broken. It is just really challenging, we need to raise...

/ July 1, 2015

Trying to Impose Religion on Medicine

One of the major themes of science-based medicine (unsurprisingly) is that medicine should be based on science. We consider ourselves specialists in a larger movement defending science in general from mysticism, superstition, and spiritualism. We are not against anyone’s personal belief, and are officially agnostic toward any faith (as is science itself), but will vigorously defend science from any intrusion into its...

/ June 24, 2015