Consumer Health Digest #09-23

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 4, 2009

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Newsweek blasts Oprah. Newsweek has published a cover story describing in detail how Oprah Winfrey has promoted dubious and sometimes dangerous health advice from Christiane Northrop, M.D. and actresses Suzanne Somers, Jennifer McCarthy, and a few others. Oprah's talk shows sometimes pretend to provide balance, but science-based critics are never given enough time to counter the nonsense. [Kosova W, Wingert P. Live your best life ever! Newsweek, May 30, 2009]

British libel ruling arouses international furor. The English High Court has ruled that a prominent science writer's use of the word "bogus" must be interpreted as "deliberately dishonest." The case arose after Simon Singh wrote in a newspaper column:

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

In ordinary English, this passage would be interpreted as Singh's opinion that the treatment claims are false and that the BCA promotes them anyway. It would not mean that the BCA believes they are false. Singh is appealing the ruling, which, if upheld, would mean that instead of examining the truth or falsity of the claims, the trial would focus on whether or not the BCA believed them. British libel laws are heavily weighted against writers because they are not easily dismissed and defense costs are so high that few defendants can afford to make their case. Although libel suits in the United Kingdom can cost millions of dollars, Singh has announced that he will appeal. Thousands of people have been rallying to his defense.

Sense About Science is spearheading a campaign to modify the laws. The campaign includes a statement from British scientists that "it is inappropriate to use the English libel laws to silence critical discussion of medical practice and scientific evidence." During the past week, more than 1,000 people have endorsed the statement. For further information or to add your name, click on the image to the right.


State Supreme Court upholds discipline of quack device user. The Supreme Court of the State of Washington has upheld a disciplinary action against Geoffrey S. Ames, M.D., who practices in Richland, Washington. In 2004, the Washington Department of Health Medical Quality Assurance Commission concluded that Ames had committed unprofessional conduct by using a LISTEN device to (incorrectly) diagnose a patient as having an "egg allergy." Such devices which provide readings based on the patient's skin resistance to a tiny electric current, are not FDA-approved for diagnosis and have no diagnostic value. The Commission ordered a 5-year license suspension that would be stayed provided that Ames (a) stopped using the device, (b) undergoes quarterly practice reviews, and (c) pays a $5,000 fine. In 2007, the Washington Court of Appeals agreed that use of the device had created an "unreasonable risk of harm."The Supreme Court agreed, stating that Ames had "led patients to believe that LISTEN could diagnose and treat allergies, when in fact it could do neither." The LISTEN has FDA clearance for biofeedback, but not for making diagnoses. The court ruling reinforces the principle that FDA clearance does not convey the right to use devices for unapproved and senseless purposes.

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This page was posted on June 5, 2009.