I have often mused about the difference between being right and being influential – especially in light of the relative success of the anti-vaccine movement. Despite the fact that there is no evidence for a link between vaccines and autism, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy have manufactured public mistrust in one of the safest, most cost effective means of combating disease known to humankind.

So if scientists are not persuading the public with appeals to carefully designed trials and factual data, how should they make their point? I’m not sure I have the full answer, but I think I might have struck a nerve with the public lately. I decided to try a novel approach to communicating my concerns about pseudoscience on the Internet – and presented 20 slides at 20 second intervals to a conference of ePatients in Philadelphia. I did it with powerful and humorous images, tied together with a long Limerick. Sound kooky? Maybe so… but it resonated, and was received with cheers and applause. Now that’s how we like science to be recognized!

It’s hard to recreate the experience – with voice, images, and rhyme – on the blog. But please check out the slide deck here, and I’ve reproduced the Limerick in its entirety below. It’s called, “A Tale Of Two ePatients” – and the slides advanced at each “***”. I hope my fellow scientists will join me in continuing to find novel approaches to win hearts and minds. Public health really is at stake.

Megan’s Story

A woman woke up from her sleep

With a pain that felt terribly deep

It didn’t seem right

She worried all night

But resorted to counting her sheep

In the morning she saw a physician

To check on her tummy condition

But alas what he found

By poking around-

A cancer and some malnutrition


So she asked what her chances could be

Of finding a way to be free

Of the mutating cells

They should bid their farewells

She hoped to hear something happy

The doctor’s face turned very dour

I’m sorry but I’m almost sure

There isn’t a chance

You’re far too advanced

The prognosis is terribly poor


She asked if there might be some way

To research new treatments today

But the doctor moved on

To see patients anon

No time to say more now, ok?

Afraid to ask questions again

She decided to put down her pen

With her anger and hurt

And his choice to be curt

She became an ePatient right then


Meg soon found a doctor online

The top of his field – so kind

And his new research

From his USC perch

Showed promise for tumor decline

His knowledge promised to advanced her

For all things he had a good answer

He provided the data

And other schemata

And planned for a cure of her cancer


But just to be sure he was right

She checked out the NIH site

And with careful review

She knew what to do

She refused to give up on her fight

The treatment was not very easy

She often felt shaky and queasy

Yet she stayed the course

Pushing through it with force

Walking whether ‘twas sunny or breezy


A friend called to check on the rumor

That Meg picked a fight with a tumor

The friend offered advice

About herbals and spice

Which he presented in really good humor

Oh my friend this sounds really appealing

And I know all you want is my healing

But how do you know

To believe in this so

When all you rely on is feeling?


Dear Megan, he said with a wave

I know that you’re awfully brave

You don’t have to endure

The toxins I’m sure

These herbals are able to save

Well let’s look at their track record then

If they really do work I’ll give in

So they researched Medline

And Mayo Clinic online

Finding no evidence of a win


But there are people who say this will work

Herbs saved these three guys and a clerk

They put their minds to it

Were sure they could do it

And avoided chemo with a smirk

But my friend in this life you must see

We use science to think critically

If there is an effect

We’re sure to detect

A dose-response repeatedly


Meg carefully weighed all her choices

Giving weight to the most reasoned voices

She found the best science

And increased self-reliance –

Worth more than a million Rolls Royces

Her first doctor rallied to meet her

Admitting she’d saved her own keister

So she offered a toast

To the folks she loved most

And the victory couldn’t be sweeter

Julie’s Story

A woman had been in the shower

For something quite close to an hour

When she noticed a lump

The tiniest bump

Just below her tattoo of a flower

I guess I must have a bug bite

Though this bump doesn’t fe-el quite right

She wondered aloud

With her head in a cloud

Assuming that it was alright


Months later she noticed some pain

On the spot where she had a food stain

So she scratched off the spot

Took her walk to a trot

And proceeded to shut off her brain

Later on she woke up with a start

This lump’s really starting to smart

So she went to the net

Now breaking a sweat

Worried something was wrong with her heart


She netsurfed around for some time

Chatting live with the people online

They thought she might like

A short hunger strike

Or to calm down her chest pain with wine

But my skin is getting so red

Am I making this up in my head?

Why not watch for a while

Or jog for a mile

There’s nothing much more to be said


Julie liked her new friends on the web

Though with patience beginning to ebb

She asked yet again

To Kim, Kyle and Ken

If they had some ideas instead

An herbalist friend that I know

Diagnoses her friends on the go

Please call her right now

And she’ll show you how

To cure pain with good energy flow


So she called the healer in a pinch

And was told it was really a synch

She should lie on the floor

To strengthen her core

And breath without moving an inch

But my skin is beginning to crack

-Well of course it’s because you might lack

Vitamins for your dermis

Put them all in a thermos

Drink ‘em down and put on an ice pack


Do you think I should see an MD?

Julie asked of her community

Heck no, don’t go there

You won’t have a prayer

You’ll be poisoned immediately!

Don’t you think that there might be just one

Who could help out my skin rash a ton?

It itches and hurts

I can’t wear my shirts

I can tell you this isn’t much fun


Julie left her friends on the computer

To find a physician to suit her

During the exam

The doc shouted “Ma’am!”

I’ll need to call our trouble shooter

The oncologist looked on aghast

At the breast cancer’s fungating mass

Why did you wait?

You’ve sealed your fate

There’s no way to alter the past


You can’t fix this tumor for me?

Well now I see very clearly

My friends told me docs

Are as useless as rocks

You don’t do much good, I agree

But miss Julie, you’re breaking my heart

The oncologist, flipping his chart

We do have a cure

You’d have it for sure

If you came in with a lump at the start


We can treat you for pain and unease

We’ll give comfort however you please

The lesson of course:

Consider the source

As an ePatient with a disease

Oh doctor, we need to tell others

Not to mix up our health with our druthers

May my death find some meaning

My soul intervening

For breast cancer in daughters and mothers


Posted by Val Jones

Val Jones , M.D., is the President and CEO of Better Health, PLLC, a health education company devoted to providing scientifically accurate health information to consumers. Most recently she was the Senior Medical Director of Revolution Health, a consumer health portal with over 120 million page views per month in its network. Prior to her work with Revolution Health, Dr. Jones served as the founding editor of Clinical Nutrition & Obesity, a peer-reviewed e-section of the online Medscape medical journal. Dr. Jones is also a consultant for Elsevier Science, ensuring the medical accuracy of First Consult, a decision support tool for physicians. Dr. Jones was the principal investigator of several clinical trials relating to sleep, diabetes and metabolism, and she won first place in the Peter Cyrus Rizzo III research competition. Dr. Jones is the author of the popular blog, “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason,” which won The Best New Medical Blog award in 2007. Her cartoons have been featured at Medscape, the P&S Journal, and the Placebo Journal. She was inducted as a member of the National Press Club in Washington , DC in July, 2008. Dr. Jones has been quoted by various major media outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times. She has been a guest on over 20 different radio shows, and was featured on CBS News.