Sunday, October 7, 2012

#358: Bernie Siegel

Dr. Bernie Siegel is an MD from Cornell University Medical College and practitioner of general medicine and pediatric surgery until his retirement in 1989. He is also a hardcore apologetic for everything woo (“the spiritual”), and has, post-retirement, become an ardent speaker, lecturer, and author (“Love, Medicine, and Miracles” may be his biggest hit), while also featuring in videos such as “Hope and a Prayer”.

While boosting the hope and self-confidence of people with serious conditions may be a good thing (and Siegel probably has a knack for that positive thought thing, which could perhaps have been used for good things but which is emphatically not all its been claimed to be, and is unlikely to prolong survival), Siegel – as woo-meisters are wont to do – just has to confuse positive and wishful thinking), and reify the metaphors (and peddle falsities, such as this urban myth). When he says “There is no false hope in the individual who has an illness. It is real, it is physiologic, and I have no trouble giving it to people. Within the body is this incredible power. The body and mind communicate, so why not stimulate that?” he seems to mean it in some strong metaphysical sense. In fact, one of his main claims is that “happy people don’t get sick” (i.e. blame the victim). And how respectable could an author of “Meditations for Enhancing Your Immune System” be?

Well, it’s not only that. Siegel has made himself into a New Age guru by touting the superiority of his ECaPs (Exceptional Cancer Patients). His idea that optimism, love, and social support are life-enhancing is not really consistent with the actual data: a ten-year follow-up of the ECaPs program found no benefit (J Clin Oncology 1993;11:66-9) (more here). Doesn’t stop Bernie from touting his books so intensely that even quackwatch has taken an interest in him (see also here). He has also been featured on NaturalNews; guilt by association, perhaps, but still.

Diagnosis: Crackpot. It is unclear how much harm he actually does, but he does earn his money off of peddling false hope to people in desperate situations. That is not a nice thing to do.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if this guy deserves to be in the "loon" category - maybe a bit of a quack-master, but positive psychology and the Placebo effect can be statistically significant.