Facts, not Fantasy

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Photon in the Darkness: Dr. “Know-it-all”*

I have often said that the most powerful words in the English language are "I don't know."  They are hard to say, and infuriating to admit to, but they are more often than not, true compared to the stuff that comes out of most people's mouths.  As human beings, we don't like not knowing something, and that's where the practitioners of woo step in.  The unethical approach is that instead of saying "I don't know.", they will just make stuff up and give people a false sense of having gotten an "answer".  Even if the answer is wrong.  As people have often said, "Reality and science is hindered by the fact that they simply cannot just make stuff up."  So, when Prometheus posted this story, was reminded of that saying.  As well as reminding me that folks need to check out What's The Harm to see the effects of many of these ill founded and unethicaly promoted ideas.

Dr. “Know-it-all”*

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with the mother of an autistic child that highlighted both the appeal and the danger of ”alternative” autism therapy. This mother, who is a bright and well-read person, is not medically or scientifically sophisticated, like most of the population, including most parents of autistic children.

During our conversation, this woman mentioned that she was having concerns about her child’s “DAN! doctor” (her term), specifically the expensive medications and “supplements” he was prescribing. In addition, although this practitioner described himself as a “holistic” physician, treating the “whole patient”, he refused to treat the boy’s seizure disorder or his asthma. Apparently, “holistic” doesn’t include the brain or lungs.

What struck me, however, was her comparison between their “DAN! doctor” and the neurologist who is treating their son’s seizures. She felt an uncomfortable lack of confidence in the neurologist because she stated, in the first visit, that she didn’t know what was causing the boy’s seizures and needed to do some tests. In fact, this neurologist went so far as to admit that they might never discover a cause for the seizures, even after extensive testing. In contrast, their “DAN! doctor” always has an answer and uses tests to merely confirm his “clinical impression”.

Therein lies the appeal and the danger of “alternative” practitioners.

To recap - the neurologist admitted to this parent that she - the neurologist - couldn’t tell what was causing the seizures and needed to do further testing. The “DAN! doctor”, on the other hand, could tell that her son was suffering from “mercury toxicity” on the first visit and only did the $1400 worth of blood, urine and stool testing in order to confirm his diagnosis.

At this point, I asked my friend if she would look at the situation from a slightly different angle. Instead of seeing the neurologist’s lack of certainty as a flaw, maybe it was simply honesty. After all, how could anyone be sure what was causing the seizures without some testing? For that matter, how could her “DAN! doctor” be so certain that her son had “mercury toxicity” before any of the tests were done? And why - if the diagnosis was so obvious - did he need to do $1400 in tests (all done at expensive mail-order labs)?

Another curious point is that this “DAN! doctor”, while he has never wavered in his assessment of “mercury toxicity”, has been all over the map in terms of therapies. He started out with chelation, which he assured my friend would “recover” her son “in a matter of months”. When the boy’s behavior worsened, the doctor said it was “the toxins being mobilised” and when she commented after a year of chelation that her son seemed no better, the doctor said “It’s because you are too close - I see tremendous improvement!”. Funny thing, the boy’s teachers, who had no knowledge of the chelation, didn’t see much improvement, either.

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