Consumer Health Digest #20-42

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 26, 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.

James "the Amazing" Randi dies at 92. The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) announced on October 21st that James Randi died of age-related causes. [Fox M. James Randi, magician who debunked paranormal claims, dies at 92. The New York Times, Oct 21, 2020] Randi gained international fame as an illusionist, conjurer, and escape artist. A MacArthur Award winner, he was arguably the most influential skeptic of claims of the paranormal in the world during the last five decades. He was a cofounder in 1976 of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, known since 2006 as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. For many years, Randi sponsored through JREF the Million Dollar Challenge to anyone who could demonstrate evidence of a paranormal, supernatural, occult phenomenon under properly controlled conditions. Though more than a thousand people pursued the prize, no one succeeded in earning it. Many entertaining videos featuring Randi promoting critical thinking about paranormal health topics, such as faith healing, psychic healing, psychic surgery, homeopathy, astrology, palm reading, and communication with the dead, are available on the Web. The books he wrote that provide important consumer health-related insights include Flim-Flam: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions (1982), The Faith Healers (1987, updated 1989), and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1995).

Great Barrington Declaration on COVID-19 policies blasted. The scientific community has harshly criticized the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) issued by three scientists on October 4th. The GBD says:

The GBD does not explicitly mention the key public health measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) such as social distancing, mask wearing, rapid testing, and contact tracing that have been demonstrated to significantly reduce disease transmission. The GBD comes with a list of 42 medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners who have signed the document and claims at least 42,000 more have signed on. Scott Atlas, the neuroradiologist on the White House Coronavirus Task Force who is now President Trump's major advisor on COVID-19, has been slammed for tweeting on October 8 that the GBD is scientifically supported. [Gander K. 'No they're not': Top journal editor on Scott Atlas' claims scientists are backing Trump's COVID response. Newsweek, Oct. 9, 2020] Critics of the natural herd immunity approach include Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; 20 public health organizations that issued a joint statement; and the Infectious Diseases Society of North America jointly with the HIV Medicine Association. [Lee SM. Scientists are slamming The Great Barrington Declaration's call for "herd immunity". BuzzFeed News, Oct 15, 2020] More than 6,400 scientists, researchers, and healthcare professionals have signed the John Snow Memorandum, which states:

Any pandemic management strategy relying upon immunity from natural infections for COVID-19 is flawed. Uncontrolled transmission in younger people risks significant morbidity and mortality across the whole population. In addition to the human cost, this would impact the workforce as a whole and overwhelm the ability of healthcare systems to provide acute and routine care. Furthermore, there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection and the endemic transmission that would be the consequence of waning immunity would present a risk to vulnerable populations for the indefinite future. Such a strategy would not end the COVID-19 pandemic but result in recurrent epidemics, as was the case with numerous infectious diseases before the advent of vaccination. It would also place an unacceptable burden on the economy and healthcare workers, many of whom have died from COVID-19 or experienced trauma as a result of having to practise disaster medicine.

Research supports increased mask-wearing. The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics Forecasting Team has estimated that universal mask use (95% mask use in public) could  save an additional 130,000 lives from September 22, 2020 through the end of February 2021, when compared the reported national usage of 49% reported on September 21. [IHME COVID-19 Forecasting Team. Modeling COVID-19 scenarios for the United States. Nature Medicine, Oct 23, 2020] Economists at the University of Kansas have noted a 50% reduction in the spread of COVID-9 in countiues that had a mandate compared to those without. But when asked about the lack of mask-wearing at Trump rallies, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said: "We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas." [Cole D. White House chief of staff: 'We are not going to control the pandemic'. CNN, Oct 25, 2020] President Trump and his spokespeople appear to think that denying the importance of mask-wearing and downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic will help Trump's reelection campaign.

Free science literacy course launched. The University of Alberta is offering a free online course in Science Literacy intended to enable learners to "understand and use scientific evidence to challenge claims based on misinformation, and engage the process of science to ask questions to build our knowledge." The course has no prerequisites, features a variety of guest lecturers, and can be completed at the learner's own pace—roughly five weeks with five to seven hours per week of study. [Lyle A. UAlberta launches free online Science Literacy course. University of Alberta Faculty of Science, Oct 13, 2020] The modules of the course are: Introduction to Science; Pseudoscience; Critical Thinking; Scientific Methods; and Interpreting Evidence.

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This page was posted on October 26, 2020.