Monday, June 6, 2016

#1671: Russ Greenfield

Andrew Weil has the dubious honor of being the person in the US who has (probably) done the most to legitimize pseudoscience, woo and quackery. Weil is the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and largely responsibly for popularizing the term “integrative medicine”. Weil is also an MD, and his students, who continue his missionary work on behalf of pseudo-religious altmed treatments, are MDs, too, which, of course, tends to give a sheen of legitimacy to the garbage they peddle.

(I don't know who to credit for this one, but I'll credit people
like Greenfield for making it an apt illustration.)
Russell Greenfield is one of those students, and he is for instance, together with Stuart Ditchek and Lynn Murray Willeford, the author of Healthy Child, Whole Child (with a foreword by Weil), a critique of conventional medicine (which they term “allopathic” ( – a sure sign that some serious quackery will follow) as being of limited scope when it comes to common health issues, and promote a range of quackery and New Age religious rites to complement it. According to the authors “[i]n most cases, the therapies we recommend have at least some supportive research evidence and always have anecdotal evidence of efficacy.” “Anecdotal evidence”, of course, stands to evidence as “toy horse” stands to horse. And by “some supportive research” they have some pretty, uh, minimal standards in mind, citing for the most part poorly designed and mostly irrelevant studies, as well as the occasional anomalous outlier – the gold standard for all pseudoscience and denialism – while usually ignoring all the evidence against the conclusions they wish to draw. As a consequence, the authors end up recommending things like cranial osteopathy for ear infections, headaches, sinus or respiratory problems, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorder; homeopathic products for e.g. sore throats and colds; and acupuncture for acute sinusitis. And the very title of their chapter on traditional Chinese medicine is “A Billion People Can’t Be Wrong”. No, really.

At least with regards to energy medicine they admit that some techniques are “simply too wacky for us to consider.” Well, among the ones that are apparently not too wacky you’ll find therapeutic touch and “external qi gong”. It’s hard to express politely how wacky these techniques are, and the authors of course fail to mention the existing evidence against them. They do admit that they are “on somewhat shaky ground scientifically when we talk about energy medicine because we are talking about subtle energies that cannot be measured by currently available scientific instruments.” But of course, scientists usually detect the energy of a system by its effects – for instance the effect on someone’s health – and saying that something is too subtle to be detectable just means that it is too subtle to have any detectable effect on anything, including health. What “subtle” in “subtle energies” really means is, of course, “imaginary”. And imaginary energies are, of course, undetectable.

Greenfield has actually managed to establish a bit of a reputation for himself. Dr. Oz referred to him as a  “world expert” in integrative medicine when he brought him on his show to promote homeopathic remedies, no less. Greenfield did describe homeopathy as “among the most controversial” types of alternative medicine, but nevertheless went on to tout “scientific studies” that purportedly show that homeopathy works (he’s already established that he’s about as reliable at assessing whether studies “show” anything as David Icke’s forum) and concluded by saying that what’s important about homeopathy is that it makes us “question science”. Of course, what Greenfield actually does is not only to question science but promote crackpottery that is not only spectacularly false and demonstrably so, but which assumes the falsity of most of physics and chemistry. He also warned his audience that they shouldn’t touch the homeopathic remedy because touching it can “inactivate it.” Because it’s magic.

Greenfield has, like Weil, been heavily involved in efforts to gain official recognition of various types of woo. Together with Kenneth Pelletier and David Eisenberg, Greenfield was a consultant to the Federation of State Medical Boards’ “Special Committee for the Study of Unconventional Health Care Practices (Complementary and Alternative Medicine)”. Their work gave us the Model Guidelines for the Use of Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Medical Practice in 2002, which has subsequently been accepted by several state medical boards.

Diagnosis: Among the more influential pseudoscientists around, and one of the most successful at giving a sheen of legitimacy to even the craziest forms of pseudoscientific bullshit – not by doing science, of course, but, like creationists, doing outreach and advocacy work.

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