Consumer Health Digest #20-39
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 4, 2020
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Promoters of stem cell and ozone treatments for COVID-19 sued. Arkansas's attorney general has accused the Arkansas Regenerative Medical Center LTD (ARMC), the firm's medical director Sarah Knife Chief, M.D., and chiropractor Serge Francois, D.C. of marketing fraudulent COVID-19 treatments. [Rutledge sues Fayetteville health center over COVID-19 immunity boost scams. Arkansas Attorney General news release, Sept 30, 2020]. The lawsuit alleges:
- In early 2020, ARMC, Chief, and Francois used a popular Hispanic radio station and employed the station's DJ in an effort to reach Latino consumers, who were being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
- ARMC advertised on its website and Facebook page stem cell treatments and ozone therapy, claiming that they were "very effective" against COVID-19 and would allow employees to return to work more quickly.
- Consumers were charged upwards of $3,000 for the useless treatments.
"Miracle cures" found to be most common pandemic misinformation topic. The Cornell Alliance for Science has released a media analysis identifying the hot topics and major players in the misinformation "infodemic" that has accompanied the global COVID-19 pandemic. The study evaluated 38 million articles published by English-language, traditional media worldwide using Cision's Next Generation Communications Cloud platform which aggregates online news, blogs, podcasts, TV, and radio. The study identified over 1.1 million news articles that disseminated, amplified or reported on misinformation related to the pandemic, which represented 2.9% of the media conversation about COVID-19. The misinformation conversation was dominated by 11 primary topics, ranging from conspiracy theories to attacks against Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, but "miracle cures" (particularly hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and bleach) was by far the most common misinformation topic. [Cornrow J. What drove the COVID misinformation "infodemic'? Cornell Alliance for Science, Oct 1, 2020] The study noted:
It is apparent from the data that mentions of President Trump within the context of COVID-19 misinformation comprise by far the largest single component of the infodemic. Trump mentions comprised 37.9% of the overall infodemic, well ahead of "miracle cures," which comprised 26.4%. However, a substantial proportion — possibly even the majority — of the "miracle cures" topic was also driven by the president's comments, so a substantial overlap can be expected between these topics. We conclude therefore that the President of the United States was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation "infodemic". Only 16.4% of the misinformation conversation was "fact-checking" in nature, suggesting that the majority of COVID misinformation is conveyed by the media without question or correction.
Mental health pseudoscience critic Scott Lilienfeld dies at 59. Scott O. Lilienfeld, Ph.D., Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory University and founder, in 2002, of the journal Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, died on September 30th from pancreatic cancer. Lilienfeld was widely recognized as the foremost authority on pseudoscience in psychology, as well as a preeminent scholar of psychopathy. [Clark C. Scott Lilienfeld remembered for advancing psychology while embodying kindness. Emory News Center, Oct 1, 2020] A prolific and award-winning researcher, he often served as an expert commentator for major media and regularly contributed articles to The New York Times, Psychology Today, and Scientific American. On September 28th, The New York Times covered a recent study led by Lilienfeld about the relationship of personality to conspiracy beliefs. [Bowes S. and others. Looking under the tinfoil hat: clarifying the personological and psychopathological correlates of conspiracy beliefs. Journal of Personality, Aug 27, 2020] This study concluded:
Our findings paint a multifaceted, albeit still hazy, portrait of the modal conspiracy‐prone individual. A mixture of narcissism and undue intellectual certainty, on the one hand, conjoined with poor impulse control, angst, interpersonal alienation, and reduced inquisitiveness, on the other hand, may provide a personological recipe for a tendency to impetuously latch on to spurious but confidently held causal narratives that account for one's distress and resentment. To the persons fitting this portrait, positing a world populated by malevolent actors hatching secret plots may be comforting, as it may afford at least a partial explanation for their otherwise inexplicable negative emotions.
Lilienfeld published over 350 articles, book chapters, and books in the areas of personality disorders, psychiatric classification, scientific thinking in psychology, and pseudoscience in clinical psychology. [Scott Lilienfeld. Center for Inquiry profile page] The books that he coauthored or co-edited included: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions of Human Behavior, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, Facts and Fictions in Mental Health, The Horse that Won't Go Away: Clever Hans, Facilitated Communication, and the Need for Clear Thinking, Navigating the Mindfield: A Guide to Separating Science from Pseudoscience in Mental Health, and What's Wrong with the Rorschach? Science Confronts the Controversial Inkblot Test.
Former FDA Commissioners lambaste Trump administration. Seven former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioners including Scott Gottlieb, the first FDA commissioner in the Trump administration, have coauthored an opinion piece objecting to:
- a White House statement that it "might try to influence the scientific standards for vaccine approval put forward by the FDA or block the agency from issuing further written guidance on its criteria for judging the safety and benefits of a potential COVID-19 vaccine"
- Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar revoking the FDA's authority to establish rules for food and drug safety on September 15th, instead claiming that sole authority for himself
- acknowledged acts of political influence on the FDA's coronavirus communications
- significant misstatements by the secretary and other political leaders about the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma
- the overruling of FDA scientists on the regulation of covid-19 laboratory tests
The former commissioners expressed concern that the FDA's ability to make the independent, science-based decisions is at risk and that the public's confidence in the FDA is being eroded. [7 former FDA commissioners: The Trump administration is undermining the credibility of the FDA. Washington Post, Sept 29, 2020]
This page was posted on October 5, 2020.