BOGUS Bonanza!

Admit it. After a lull of several weeks, you thought we here at Doc Gurley had become softer, gentler, more tolerant of our fellow human’s capacity for healthnews BOGUS-ity. But noooo. Oh sure, while we’ve been waiting for a truly BOGUS bit of health reporting to appear, we did drop our guard and become more hopeful about the improving critical assessment of health news reporting. And then, bam, we get hit with multiple rounds of simultaneous bogosity! Sirens wail! Red-flashing lights whirl! Ah-ooga! Brace yourself, because it’s a BOGUS Bumper Crop!

bitter pills?
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1) Back-stabbing BOGUS – what if you were a doctor, caring for many patients who suffer from chronic, intractable problems – patients who are all too often in pain that can only be ameliorated, but not eliminated. Now, what if a researcher asked you whether or not, under these circumstances, you might be willing to try something that’s unproven. Specifically, something that might be used in other circumstances, like anxiety medication, which might lessen the misery but isn’t exactly treating the underlying problem? If you said yes, sure, you’d give it a shot, then you too would have been categorized as a doctor who uses placebos. Yep, that’s all it took to be included in the massively-reported news that VAST numbers of physicians sneak placebos to their unwitting patients. The devil is in the details when it comes to researchers who make a name for themselves by taking advantage of others – and this is one prime example. The actual numbers show that less than 2% of doctors give patients most people’s standard definition of “placebo” – a sugar pill. Now that’s a number closer to reality for almost all of us (doctors AND patients). But hey, that tiny number wouldn’t get much scare-mongering media coverage, now would it? For this, the health reporters who unquestioningly touted the your-doctor-is-giving-you-placebos news get a Butt Out or Give Us Specifics (BOGUS) Award. And Elizabeth Cohen, of CNN Health News, gets a very special Doc Gurley You Go Girl Award for her superb critical analysis of this issue.

2) This BOGUS Award is sooo BOGUS, it defies discussion. Unfortunately, that didn’t keep many media outlets, including the Associated Press and Yahoo News, from giving it widespread play. It’s the claim that

Scenes from Mgona, one of the poorest communit...
Image by khym54 via Flickr

the AIDS Crisis is overblown. One of the many damning facets revealed by media coverage of this issue is the common, scattered qualifiers: “except for Africa,” “beyond Africa,” “Africa excepted.” Imagine sticking the name of any other continent [insert here] to replace the word Africa and see how it distasteful sounds. Besides the not-very-subtle racist overtones, there’s also a deeply BOGUS logic at work here. Taking money away from AIDS doesn’t get you a new sewer plant for Malawi. It just gets you less money. Everyone quoted in these articles has a blatant conflict of interest in wanting some of the AIDS funding – much of which comes from First World, and pharmaceutical ties. Money in AIDS is a deeply complicated issue, but no one, with any public health experience or education, would ever claim that anyone, anywhere, ever allocates health funding worldwide rationally. Hasn’t ever happened. Ever. So let’s just decimate AIDS funding to get some for our own profits, shall we? For this irresponsible health news reporting, we award a Blatantly Outed-racism, and Grotesquely Uncritical Simplification (of a lethal worldwide crisis) BOGUS Award.

3) Speaking of attempted profiteering with BOGUS health news, the august New York Times is the winner of our third BOGUS Award, for giving widespread play to a company that is selling DNA test kits to predict your child’s sports ability. Let’s not discuss the fact that these genes have never been shown to be single-factorial predictors of performance. One of the numbers used to justify the test in the article is the fact that 50% of high-performance athletes had this gene pair. How about brown eyes? What percent of

World Athletics Championships 2007 in Osaka - ...
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high-performance athletes had those? Oh, and how about the fact that Usain Bolt is actually too large and heavy, based on “scientific” models, to ever run as fast as he did? Good thing Mr. Bolt wasn’t flipping through the science journals that week, huh? And let’s just ignore the whole nasty little eugenics topic that this type of DNA “predicting” caters to, shall we? Because the more immediate tragedy (besides nakedly rapacious profiteering by a company that admits its test can’t predict anything), is the fact that the New York Times coverage is undoubtedly going to subject small, over-parented infants and toddlers to even more stress and pressure than they had before. And sure, while the NY Times wasn’t the only media outlet to fall for this one, they’re the ones that should be most ashamed, given their prestige and audience. Shame, shame. For this, the New York Times wins a Behold, Our Guys Upchuck pseudo-Science drivel BOGUS Award.

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