Wednesday, June 14, 2017

#1849: Robert Kornfeld

Robert A. Kornfeld bills himself as the “founder of the Institute for Integrative Podiatric Medicine,” which is not something to be proud of. The Institute offers the whole gamut of pseudoscience and woo: homeopathy, anthroposophic medicine, functional medicine, and homotoxicology, to mention some examples. Apparently Kornfeld arranges conferences, such as “NUTRIGENOMICS and INFLAMMATION: A Science-Based Seminar for the Progressive Podiatric Physician” (no, not science) and has penned columns for Huffington Post; his “6 Medical Myths Even Your Doctor May Still Believe” is rather telling (more extensive commentary here: we’ve relied extensively on that article): the “myths” are either overstatements, exaggerations or strawmen, but nicely illustrates Kornfeld’s dislike of science and his dreams about returning to a simpler type of medicine characterized by religious dogma and magical thinking.

“Myth #1: Technology has improved healthcare.” Well, of course it has. According to Kornfeld, though “advances in technology have fostered a narrow field of vision, focused more on early detection and intervention than on prevention. If, by definition, health care means ‘the maintenance of good health,’ then technology has failed miserably to produce any measurable improvement in the overall state of health of mankind.” Note the false dilemma: either early detection, less invasive therapy, and better diagnosis or prevention. We suppose, however, that most people need only a moment’s thought to realize how idiotic Kornfeld’s claim actually is (hint: survival rates for most cancers are actually improving, and doctors certainly do prevention; it’s just that there is only so much you can do to prevent something from happening when it has already happened.)

“Myth #2 – Inflammation is bad” According to Kornfeld “inflammation is a directed response by the immune system designed to detoxify, repair and protect tissues under any form of functional or metabolic stress,” which is true and well-known to any physician. Which doesn’t mean that chronic inflammations are good, or that the symptoms cannot be alleviated. And do you remember Kornfeld’s conference “NUTRIGENOMICS and INFLAMMATION”? Yes, it was about using nutrition to suppress inflammation. His website even says that “when chronic inflammation remains for long periods of time and is not addressed adequately, it will cause the expression of genes that lead to degenerative conditions such as coronary artery disease, arthritis, cancer and others.” Ka-ching. Unfortunately, the “natural” remedies he suggest won’t actually help, so I suppose he is really advocating letting inflammations run their course.

“Myth #3 – Genetically coded diseases are unavoidable.” Strawman, anyone? (Well, just you wait until “Myth 6”). Continues Kornfeld: “If having a gene for any illness condemns you to having that disease, then why are you not born with the disease you are coded to have? Why isn’t every person who carries a gene for disease suffering at all times from that disease?” No, he doesn’t seem to have a clue (it doesn’t help that he says “gene” when he should mean “allele” or “gene mutation” when talking about a “gene for any illness”). What he seems to think is that if a mutation doesn’t cause disease from birth then people must to a large extent be able to control whether the genes ever “release their code for illness,” which is utterly ridiculous but echoes a central element of altmed approaches to disease, the illusion of control, and its flipside: victim blaming. If you get sick, it is ultimately your own fault.

“Myth #4 – Medications improve health”. Oh, noes: medicines are toxins, dontcha know? And they-only-treat-symptoms-not-the-underlying-cause [see #11 in that link]. Says Kornfeld: “every medication swallowed is perceived by the immune system as a ‘poison’.” Well, Kornfeld is surely not an immunologist; the immune system has nothing to do with whether a drug is “perceived” by the body as a “toxin”. That’s not his most egregious error.

“Myth #5 – Childhood immunizations protect us from serious disease”. Ah, yes. You knew it was coming, didn’t you? According to Kornfeld, vaccines can probably be blamed for “ADD, ADHD, autism, allergies, learning disabilities, infectious diseases, auto-immune illnesses and, most importantly, cancer.” This is false.

“Myth # 6 – The double blind – placebo controlled study guarantees safety and efficacy in drug therapy.” Now there’s a strawman for you! For Kornfeld, though, the fact that RCTs aren’t complete guarantees for safety and efficacy means that we should apparently pay less attention to them. Obviously, he cannot suggest any better method for investigating treatments, but his rhetorical goal is clear: Since RCTs aren’t perfect you can just as well embrace his pseudoscience instead – at least its got no ugly science or RCTs to back it up.

Ultimately, Kornfeld’s schtick is really the common dogma among altmed purveyors: a religious call for returning to the natural, the strong and the pure, and away from the corrupt and artificial science. Here is a note on Kornfeld’s views on diabetes.

Diagnosis: Classic denialist, really. Probably not among the most influential promoters of pseudoscience, but his name does seem to pop up here and there, so probably not entirely harmless either and he is a thoroughly shitty human being. (Oh, he probably means well but having good intentions just isn't good enough.)

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