Many of the SBM blogger are at The Amazing Meeting 9 this week – or TAM9 From Outer Space, as it is whimsically called. The JREF, who sponsors TAM, is a big supporter of our efforts at SBM and, in fact, as of this year co-sponsors this blog along with the New England Skeptical Society (both non-profits).

This year, as with the last two TAMs, there will be a workshop on SBM. The topic is, “Oh no, not again! – Recurring themes in medical mythology.” David Gorski, Kimball Atwood, Harriet Hall, Mark Crislip and I decided to discuss the most common recurrent themes in unscientific or philosophy-based medicine (which is much of what passes for CAM). The core idea of the workshop is that the same basic themes keep cropping up again and again in CAM modalities. They may contain slight variations on the basic theme, but mostly are just the same thing with a different superficial window dressing.

So, for example, many systems are based upon the common theme of “energy medicine” – the notion that there is a life force or life energy that is responsible for health, and blockages in the flow or power of this energy cause “unwellness.” Modalities as apparently distinct as straight chiropractic, acupuncture, and Reiki are all based on this pre-scientific idea.

The other themes we cover are toxins, food as medicine, germ-theory denial, and homunculus-based systems. Taking this approach can be very illuminating, as it reveals how the same superstitious or simply outdated ideas have been recycled and repackaged over and over again. It also is very useful because there are countless new health claims and products; a never-ending cycle of bogus therapies. Playing “whack-a-mole” with these claims is part of our mission at SBM, but it is even better to give people the skills to recognize these new claims for what they are as they crop up.

It is our hope that at the end of the workshop an attendee will be able to see a new health claim and say, “Oh yeah. This is just another vague reference to toxins.” or “This is just another energy-based claim.”

The same speakers, with the addition of Ginger Campbell and Rachael Dunlop, will be joining us on the main program for a panel on the placebo effect. It has become increasingly clear to us that, as the evidence for the most popular CAM modalities is coming back negative, proponents are increasing changing their strategy to, “It is only as effective as a placebo, but the placebo is powerful and that means it works,” or something like that. Just search for “placebo” on this site for the many articles we have written about it.

I hope to see many regular readers of SBM at TAM. If you have never attended a TAM meeting then I recommend attending one in the future (this year’s is sold out). And again – thanks to the JREF and D.J. Grothe (its president) in particular for being such solid supporters of our efforts at SBM.


Posted 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 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 has produced two courses with The Great Courses, and published a book on critical thinking - also called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.