This year The Amazing Meeting 9 (designated TAM9 From Outer Space) will be held in Las Vegas from July 14-17. If you have not registered, do it fast – this year the conference will likely sell out.

Among the many incredible speakers and events at TAM9 there will be a Science-Based Medicine workshop and an SBM panel discussion. The prominence of SBM at TAM9 partly reflects the new collaboration between SBM and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), who organizes TAM.

The SBM website is now a joint project of the New England Skeptical Society (who founded SBM) and the JREF – two non-profit educational organizations dedicated to promoting the public understanding of science. I am delighted that the JREF is making SBM a priority, and we all look forward to working closely with them in promoting high standards of science in medicine and improved public understanding of the relationship between science and the practice of medicine.

As part of this new relationship I have accepted a position at the JREF of Senior Fellow and Director of their Science-Based Medicine project.

The SBM Workshop at TAM9 (which must be registered for separately) will include names familiar to our readers: David Gorski, Kimball Atwood, Mark Crislip, Harriet Hall, and yours truly. Because it is a workshop we want to focus on practical information for the professional and non-professional alike. The title of this year’s workshop is, “Oh, no. Not Again!: Recurring Themes in Medical Mythology.” After examining unscientific and sectarian health claims for years it becomes clear that the same basic concepts are being repackaged over and over again. Even looking back over the centuries and millennia at the history of medicine we see the same recurring concepts.

We will discuss the most common recurring themes in sectarian medicine and give examples of how they have evolved over the years. We will demonstrate that many of the “new” treatments and claims that are being marketed today are in reality nothing new, but just a reworking of themes that have been dissected and discarded by previous generations.

The goal of the workshop is to give attendees a working knowledge of how sectarian medical beliefs originate and are typically formulated. There is and endless succession of new dubious health claims out there – too many to address every single one individually. But by understanding the common themes underlying these claims, and the flawed science and logic used to promote them, one can recognize the flaws in “new” claims as they occur. Before long you too will be saying in response to the latest “new” health claim, “Oh, no. Not again!”

The SBM panel will take place during the TAM9 main program. I will moderate the panel, which will also include the workshop presenters as well as Rachel Dunlop and Ginger Campbell. The title of the panel discussion is, “Placebo Medicine: The Mechanisms and Misunderstanding of the Mysterious Placebo.”

The nature of placebo effects is more complex than most realize, and I find that even among otherwise savvy scientists and skeptics there remain a great deal of misconceptions about how placebos work, and don’t work. We will explore not only the nature of placebos but the ethics of their use in medicine, and their role in clinical trials.

We hope to meet many of our regular readers there (it’s good to put faces to pseudonyms), so please come up and introduce yourself to us, or just to say hi if we have met you at previous meetings.

Thanks again to the JREF for their support of SBM. We are all looking forward to the conference and collaborating with the JREF in the future to make the practice of medicine a little bit more scientific.


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.