When out of town this past week I was bereft of tantalizing subjects, with our 5 other bloggers covering so many topics so well. I was about to toss in an empty towel, when two news absurdities fell into my driveway in the pages of the SF Chronicle. One was this morning’s (7/23) report that one Dragan Dabic, an alternative medicine healer had been captured in Belgrade, Serbia. He was Radovan Karadzic, former Serbian Prime Minister and acknowledged immediate archtect of the 1990s massacres of Bosnia-Herzagovena Muslims. Like Saddam Hussein, he had been a fugitive for years, and was found in an unusual place in an unusual disguise. What more need be said about this former psychiatrist and presumed war crimes mass murderer changing occupations in midlife to alternative healing? Complete with full beard and pony tail, yet. Does this give some clue to some personality types that drift toward junk medicine? One could say the disguise was intentional and had nothing to do with personality. Perhaps. Perhaps. But the situation reinforces my theory that most “CAM”mers are at least intellectual psychopaths – renegades from reason. The picture of Karadzic brings to mind pictures of others with full beards and hidden finger salutes to reason and authority.

The second absurdity was in a recent cartoon subtitled, “The lies behind the truth and the truth behind those lies that lie behind that truth…” So reads the title explanation for Don Asmussen’s “Bad Reporter” comic in the SF Chronicle.

Asmussen parodies headlines by combining them absurdly with commentaries that “explain” the absurd headlines with even more absurd hypothetical events. In these days of absurd happenings, I find Asmussen the right stuff remedy for us perplexed realists who “…cannot believe this is happening.” My mental health now depends on Asmussen and nighttime doses of Phil Hendrie Show. Nothing like satire to put into perspective interest in “alternative medicine” and qualifications and characteristics of presidential candidates.

Among Asmussen’s recent takeoffs is a strip parodying one shock jock Michael Savage, a more than controversial self-made radio commentator with several masters degrees and a PhD from Berkeley in anthropology nutrition and natural cures (Oh, oh.) Savage wrote several popular books on natural cures in a previous life as Michael Weiner, but fame followed from his popular Bay Area talk show, “The Savage Nation,” also title of one of his three recent best selling books.

The most recent Sagage-flap is over his comments that [some?] autism cases are “acts” and he called for autistic kids to drop the acting. During his July 16 show, Savage said, “I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is.”

Savage said, “They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron, you’ll get nowhere in life. … Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.” Savage explained to the New York Times his use of the figure 99 percent was hyperbole.

One of Savage’s previous rants was on the over-diagnosis of ADHD (attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder) and the drugging of children over behavior that teachers and sometimes parents find unmanageable or uncomfortable. This over-diagnosis and treatment is fertile ground for the thesis that the US population is over-medicalized and over-medicated compared to other countries’ populations. Some serious observers doubt ADHD’s existence as a medical or mental disorder, instead of manifestations of a spectrum of normal behavior, accented by recent permissive social changes. This may be less a controversy than a problem in classification and semantics.

Savage took this ADHD controversy and defined it as a political scandal and a medical conspiracy. This kind of ranting and oversimplification becomes more than just a nettle in medicine’s socks. For Savage it’s a key to condemnation of the entire medical system.

To Savage it makes sense that because of the recent increase in autism diagnoses, he could apply the same suspicions to autism. Most agree that the increase in autism diagnosis is more due to re-classification of some mental retardation patients into a broader class of autism that better explains those children’s behaviors.

Problem is, beside being a wild cannon, Savage is not a physician, and displays lack of understanding of human disease mechanisms and of human behavior.

Savage is an odd hybrid. He claims to be a conservative. His political views are mostly way right of center, with call-to-arms tone. But his health and nutrition brain sector is to me is left of center, even radical in his nutrition claims. He bashes Medical System monopoly, self-interest policies, Big Pharma profits, and physicians’ denial of Natural Cures. Granted, a number of right wing systems – including the Laetrile system – also favor supplements – the universal political and economic power. But echoes of Svage’s left sided academic past ring through.

The Asmussen comic strip on Savage starts with,“Are doctors lying to us?”

“Shock Jock: dead people just really lazy.

Nation’s bereft incensed by Savage’s claim that death is over diagnosed.”

One could not ask for a more politically valuable statement against sectarian and quack claims than reading of an accused genocidal mass murderer masquerading as an “alternative” and nutritional healer. It was page 2 news in the SF Chron. The Savage issue and an Asmussen cartoon could also do something to enhance scientific medicine’s credibility as a rocket-powered critic flames out.


Posted by Wallace Sampson

Retired hematologist/oncologist, presumptive analyzer of ideological and fraudulent medical claims, claimant to being founding editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, and to detecting quackery by smell. Editor's note: To the world's great loss, Dr. Sampson died in 2015 at the age of 85. He will be greatly missed.