Saturday, April 7, 2018

#1993: Woodson Merrell

The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a recognized hospital in Boston, and we are sure many patients have received thoughtful help and attention there. But BI is also famous for their attempts to push dubious treatments and outright quackery on patients with less expertise in medicine and who don’t necessarily possess the background knowledge needed to recognize it. Having firmly decided to sacrifice integrity for marketing concerns, BI even sports a Center for Integrative Medicine, which for instance received a large donation from Donna Karan’s foundation in 2008 to “experiment combining Eastern and Western healing methods” – by “Eastern healing methodsthey of course mean “prejudices credulous and often wealthy Americans have about what wise shamans do in the magical Orient”. According to Karan and the BI what they do in the East is apparently yoga and aromatherapy, and the hypothesis was that yoga and aromatherapy can “enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation”. Aromatherapy is a scam, and yoga cannot enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation, so as an experiment the experiment was of course a failure. But it was, of course, not an experiment. More details here.

Dr. Woodson Merrell is (or at least was back then) the Executive Director of BI’s Center for Health and Healing (or Continuum for Health and Healing; we don’t have a clear view of the organizational details and name changes going on here), and a regular speaker at various pseudoscience, denialist and quackery conferences. The center’s website is a mess of insanity, suggesting for instance that autism, ADHD, and learning disorders are caused by vaccines, that “craniosacral therapy” and homeopathy are useful treatments for ADHD and autism as well as for a range of diseases, various versions of the toxins gambit (few things are more surefire signs of quackery and scams than mentions of undefined toxins), that chiropractic is useful for things like PMS and asthma, and recommendations for a wide variety of quackery, including Therapeutic Touch, Ayurvedic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Merrell is also on the Advisory Board of the lobbying organization known as the American Association of Health Freedom (formerly known as the American Preventive Medical Association), which was founded by Julian Whitaker to lobby against legal regulations that prevent quacks, frauds and scammers to prey on people in desperate situations; that organization is well described here.

Merrell is apparently ready to believe every implausible medical claim that comes his way. It is thus scary to see that at his center, he “supervises an extensive array of consumer and educational programs,” including “training for medical, chiropractic and acupuncture students, as well as for residents and fellowships in integrative medicine.” Apparently, Merrell is also a member of some working group on curricular reform for integrative medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine (not an institution to get your degree from), has testified on integrative medicine to Congress, been Chairman of New York State’s Board of Acupuncture, and been a Board Member of New York State’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct, no less, as well as a member of numerous committees on “education” in quackery. He has also made numerous media appearances.

Among Merrell’s publications are apologetics for homeopathy (“Homeopathy essentially rests on two scientific tenets: the principle of similars and a claim concerning the biologic effects of high dilutions,” says Merrell: Homeopathy has nothing to do with science, of course, and these are not scientific tenets but dogmas; they are of course completely false), “The Impact of Acupuncture and Craniosacral Therapy Interventions on Clinical Outcomes in Adults With Asthma” (craniosacral therapy does, despite the authors’ claims, not help with anything; the coauthors include one L. Mehl-Madrona, no less) and the infomercial-dressed-up-as-a-study paper “The Arginine Solution, The First Guide to America’s New Cardio-Enhancing Supplement” (with Robert Fried and James Thornton) about the putatively near-miraculous effects of a seriously worthless supplement. That BI saw fit to give a person like this a salary does not boost their credibility or reputation as a solid and trustworthy institution.

Diagnosis: A complete piece of shit, and a serious threat to health, civilization and the good life.

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