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Cures and Cons

Natural scams “he” doesn’t want you to know about
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Up to 139 times in one week, Kevin Trudeau pitches late-night viewers about his self-published book, Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About, a rambling farrago of uninformed opinions, conspiracy theories, and cheeky jabs at medical, pharmaceutical and governmental authorities (“they”). The book is so risibly ridiculous that even the most desperately ill would not take it seriously — would they?

Apparently they would, to the tune of millions of copies sold, elevating the book to the New York Times best-seller list. If readers had purchased Trudeau’s Mega Memory System, perhaps they would have remembered that he spent two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to credit-card fraud and that the Federal Trade Commission banned Trudeau “from appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public, except for truthful infomercials for informational publications. In addition, Trudeau cannot make disease or health benefits claims for any type of product, service, or program in any advertising, including print, radio, Internet, television, and direct mail solicitations, regardless of the format and duration.” Trudeau had to pay $500,000 in consumer redress for his bogus infomercials and another $2 million to settle charges against him for claiming that coral calcium cures cancer (it doesn’t) and that an analgesic product called Biotape permanently relieves pain (it doesn’t). (continue reading…)

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Hope Springs Eternal

Can nutritional supplements, biotechnology and nanotechnology help us live forever?
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As a skeptic, I am often asked my position on immortality. “I’m for it, of course,” is my wiseacre reply.

Unfortunately, every one of the 100 billion humans who have ever lived has died, so the outlook does not bode well. Unless you follow the trend line generated by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman in Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Rodale, 2004): “The rate of technical progress is doubling every decade, and the capability (price performance, capacity, and speed) of specific information technologies is doubling every year. Because of this exponential growth, the 21st century will equal 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress.” Within a quarter of a century, the authors say, “nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence,” then “soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge.” Biotechnologies, such as designer drugs and genetic engineering, will halt the aging process; nanotechnologies, such as nanorobots, will repair and replace cells, tissues and organs (including brains), reversing the aging process and allowing us to live forever. (continue reading…)

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What’s the Harm?

Alternative medicine is not everything to gain and nothing to lose
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After being poked, scanned, drugged and radiated, your doc tells you nothing more can be done to cure what ails you. Why not try an alternative healing modality? What’s the harm?

I started thinking about this question in 1991, when my normally intelligent mother presented to a psychiatrist symptoms of cognitive confusion, emotional instability and memory loss. Within an hour it was determined that she was depressed. I didn’t buy it. My mom was acting strangely, not depressed. I requested a second opinion from a neurologist.

A CT scan revealed an orange-size meningioma tumor. After its removal, my mom was back to her bright and cheery self — such a remarkably recuperative and pliable organ is the brain. Unfortunately, within a year my mom had two new tumors in her brain. Three more rounds of this cycle of surgical removal and tumor return, plus two doses of gamma knife radiation (pinpoint-accurate beams that destroy cancer cells), finally led to the dreaded prognosis: there was nothing more to be done. (continue reading…)

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Fools & the Wise of Heart

Whatever your religion or faith (or even lack thereof), there is no doubt that the Bible is a font of wisdom from which we may draw moral homilies. My personal favorite is from the wisdom book of Proverbs, in which Solomon warns those who would look outside themselves to assess blame for their own shortcomings: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind; and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”

As a long-time public defender of modern scientific medicine, I have commonly labeled medical scientists as wise of mind, and alternative medical practitioners as fools. The wind of quackery we have inherited, I reasoned, is surely the result of an uneducated public duped by the otherwise risible tactics of flimflam artists praying on the unsuspecting masses. I am no longer sure that this is the source of the headlong rush toward these New Age medical alternatives. “The fault,” Shakespeare correctly identified in another context, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” (continue reading…)

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