Mercola on Thermography: “it’s cheaper, safer and more accurate”

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to provide some information regarding a new and improved breast cancer screening test which was being touted somewhere in the South of England.  It transpires that the new test was in fact our old friend Thermography, an apparently cheaper, safer and more accurate way to screen for breast cancer.

When someone claims that something is cheaper, safer and more accurate than the current technology than they better have some good evidence to back it up.  This company definitely does not have that but they do have a link to an outrageous document from the Mercola group explaining how and why Thermography is superior to other screening methods.

The document is 16 pages of, to put it politely, fucking bullshit.  But there are some real comedic gems amongst the drivel which I thought were worth sharing.  Oh and if you fancy reading about Dr Mercola, founder of Mercola group, there’s some interesting info here, here and here.

First page of the Mercola evidence book hits you with some straight hard facts:

1

Yes, well I’m sure there’s a reason why your Doctor isn’t telling you about Thermography, and it’s not because it’s cheaper, safer or more accurate.

Only one paragraph in and they think it’s suitable to just toss this bit in:

2

I thought this about cancer detection but you know, nothing like some pointless statements to help with the scam.

So onto the evidence:

3

Impressive.  Shame no reference has been supplied so I can’t find out if this is true or not.

Then some even more impressive stats and figures – again no references.  I would particularly like to see the evidence that thermography is the ‘single most important indicator of high risk of breast cancer’.

4

Wait – there’s more:

5Another bold claim with no reference.  And then in classic SCAM fashion – here’s a load of bollocks about how long thermal imaging has been around for and ignored by the medical community:6Hippocrates thought it so it must be true.

7

Hippocrates also came up with the 4-humours theory to explain how the human body worked and he was wrong about that.

8So what? What has this got to do with the evidence for Thermography??

Mercola supply a nice explanation of how much screening costs the US government:

9

But then they seem to shoot themselves in the foot by saying:

10So at a cost of $150 per breast scan we would expect cost to the US government to be $9.75 billion dollars per year.

CONCLUSION

Based on the evidence supplied by Mercola, Thermography is:

Cheaper? NO

Safer? NO

More accurate? NO

 

And we couldn’t finish without a good conspiracy now could we?

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Belief in medicine with no evidence

The term ‘blind faith’ is usually attributed to someone who holds strong beliefs even when there is a significant body of evidence suggesting that they are wrong.  It is something I have struggled against when trying to engage alternative medicine supporters in the reliability of medical treatments that lack an evidence base.  Blind faith can make conversations extremely frustrating, when no matter how much evidence you present, you can’t even for a second bring that person to question their belief.  For a while I would stay engaged in conversation, mistaken that the other party would comment rationally on what I showed them, but it never happened.  However, I don’t consider these exchanges futile, because it has made me ponder on blind faith and why it’s rampant amongst the alt-med community.

I am not a psychologist and would not profess to know anything about the subject (therefore any comments on statements I make below would be appreciated for my own learning).  Luckily, the internet is vast and I found that The Tao of Reason blog provides a great introduction to the psychology of blind faith.  Essentially, any evidence that conflicts with your own beliefs, leads to discomfort (referred to as cognitive dissonance).  When these beliefs are strong, as with blind faith, the subject will dismiss this evidence by any means in order to justify their views.  This refusal to accept evidence or even rationalise in the face of it could explain the dismissive nature of the alt-med community.  The Tao of Reason goes on to suggest that when faced with compelling evidence, blind faith can cause people to not only discredit the evidence, but also strengthen their beliefs.  So perhaps these engagements are actually fuelling the belief that a certain alt-med is effective.  In a scenario where no matter how much evidence is presented will change someone’s way of thinking, is it worth debating?

This notion of defending ones belief by dismissing even the most compelling evidence is something I have seen a lot.  Someone may defend their view by making a sweeping positive statement.  You can show them that this statement is flawed and provide direct evidence to support it and in return you will usually get a second defending statement with no bearing on the first or any clear response to your rebuttal.  This is what can be frustrating and denies the conversation from ever reaching a rational debate.  In the case of homeopathy, there is compelling evidence that it is not biologically, physically or chemically plausible (Avogadro’s constant and beyond).  Yet the homeopathy industry continues to thrive on a culture of blind faith amongst supporters.  This is because elaborate dismissals of the evidence against homeopathy are constructed to defend the belief that it is plausible.  This is also not helped by the fact that misleading and bogus pseudo-evidence is allowed to accumulate in the academic press.

The fact that the belief system is so rigorously sustained in that person’s mind means that removing it would leave an incomprehensible void.  Perhaps it is this dissonant void that religious converts or people that lose faith in their religion experience.  If so, then at least we know that there is a possibility to alter a person’s belief about alt-med, no matter how steadfast they are.  What is important is that in the process of challenging medicine with no evidence we don’t lose sight of the rational and critical thinking that leads us to do so.  New evidence is presented all the time, and we must be willing to change our own views, if there is any hope of changing someone else’s.