Medical information on the Web
I've had one of those blogger moments where a commenter states a case far better than I can.
anjou is a lymphoma survivor who monitors cancer patient information boards for flagrant, medically-incorrect posts or fraudulent product advertising. I've come to learn through a happy accident that in real-life, she and I have only one degree of separation.
From my previous post on Peter Frishauf's proposal for a medical wikipedia, anjou stated:
"For patients, the web opens the opportunity for ready access to good info and nonsense. Alt med folks, and lay folks who proclaim themselves as experts on diseases like cancer, often cherry pick abstracts and info on the web that supports their bias without real understanding of scientific method or real critical thinking, make wild claims and recommendations based on in vitro and in vivo data, often with rather unusual and bizarre interpretations of immune system functioning. They post these selected abstracts they find on the web (most often never reading the full article) and present their ideas as well researched and abuse the term "evidence based." Unfortunately, this is often very convincing to the lay public. On some patient support boards folks challenge this type of thinking, but its a never ending battle!"
"Thankfully there are blogs hosted by scientists and doctors as well as sites on medical journalism (http://www.healthnewsreview.org/, http://www.mediadoctor.ca/, http://www.mediadoctor.org.au/) that aid in the battle against the dangerous misinfo put out there. "
"So, thanks to all of you science bloggers who do what you do!!"
Well, thank you anjou for being so vigilant on behalf of the fellow cancer patients and survivors you represent. They are lucky to have such a thoughtful advocate.
From her comments, I can say that the most egregious offense is the cherry-picking of abstracts to support claims made by alt-med hucksters. Most often, I find in vitro, test-tube data being used to promote fraudulent dietary supplements for cancer. A very close examination of the actual, full-length paper itself reveals there is no evidence that a supplement would even achieve concentrations in the body needed to produce the effects observed in vitro on cancer cells grown in a plastic dish.
For readers who are cancer patients considering alternative therapies, I'd also like to point you to an excellent service of the US National Cancer Institute called the PDQ summaries (Physician Data Query). NCI has convened seven editorial boards of experts on various issues facing cancer patients, from screening and prevention to special issues of adult and pediatric cancers.
The NCI PDQ summaries on complementary and alternative medicine in cancer are reviewed by such outstanding scientists and physicians as Gordon Cragg (former director of the NCI Natural Products Branch), Norman Farnsworth (UIC), Debu Tripathy (UT-Southwestern Komen Center), and Kara Kelly (Columbia). The list of therapies covered continues to grow, but those listed have separate summaries for patients and more detailed summaries for health professional.
The NCI PDQ summaries are a very nice example of our tax dollars at work.