A Fate Worse Than Pseudoscience

You have to be careful what information you believe nowadays. The internet is chock full of wannabe experts trying to sell you on their various theories on health, wealth, and child rearing. It isn’t even limited to the internet anymore. Even that television doctor Doctor Mehmet Oz was dragged in front of the United States Senate to explain his charlatan ways. It’s one thing when such pseudoscience causes unwitting dupes to shell out their hard-earned cash on some useless panacea. It’s quite another when personal opinion masquerading as science actually causes harm.

Case in point – the anti-vaccination wave. A 6 year old boy recently died in Spain because his parents chose not to vaccinate him against a preventable disease – diphtheria – because one money-grubbing doctor wrote an article based on pure falsehood that associated vaccines with autism.

So imagine my [lack of] surprise when I ran across an article aimed at convincing women that mammograms cause cancer. The article, to the unscientific eye, looks legitimate. There are no flashy ads, no claims of CIA schemes or Obama plots, and two scientific articles are even referenced. But a simple examination of the details revealed this blog to be full of unscientific bullshit.

For example, the author straight up claims mammograms cause cancer. [This is where my jaw nearly fell off, it dropped so low.] To support this argument, the author cites Paul Yaswen, a researcher with the Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and links to a journal article by the same. Taking a look at the article, one can clearly determine the study findings are taken out of context. Yaswen’s study proved that epithelial breast cells respond to radiation by creating variant cells, which he postulates to be more likely to be pre-cancerous. However,Yaswen’s finding cannot be logically interrelated to the claims being made in the mammogram article. Yaswen did not even prove radiation caused the cells to become cancerous. In addition, the radiation dose applied to the epithelial cells in Yaswen’s research is far, FAR higher than that which would result from a mammogram. (Sorry to pick on you Yaswen.) In fact, some of Yaswen’s samples were dosed with 200 Rads – a dose that would cause visible skin inflammation (burns). In contrast, a mammogram results in around 0.3 Rads. And I don’t know anyone who every got a skin burn from a mammogram.

[Smooshed Boobie Syndrome – now that’s another story…]

The author goes on to make many other bogus claims. I’m not going to enumerate them all. Suffice to say it is bull crap like this that could potentially cause real, actual harm. What if a woman reads that crap and then decides not to get a mammogram? If she develops cancer, it might not be detected in time to save her breasts or, possibly, her life.

I wish there was a way to scour the internet and zap away all the harmful falsehoods to make it easier for users to discern fact from fiction. Or better, we need a way to hold people accountable for things they post on the web. As replacement, I give you this warning – beware the internet pseudo-expert.

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Author: NuclearGrrl

Nuclear engineer, afro queen, black mamba, feminist, clinic escort, beer aficionado and all around spectacular human being.

3 thoughts on “A Fate Worse Than Pseudoscience”

  1. Yaswen is clearly using the Linear/No Threshold assumption with radiation exposure to draw his patently-alarmist conclusion. Here’s the faulty, un-scientific conjecture – if a demonstrable negative effect occurs with high-level exposure (and 200 rads is really up there), then even the tiniest exposure must have some level of risk with it. No actual data in the lower level region is needed. This sort of vacuous speculation, posed as scientific fact, gets several postings a week in various journals. We should not blame Yaswen…we should blame the NAS, CDC, EPA, NRC, and every other standard-setting body for perpetually endorsing LNT. For the alternative (albeit actually scientific) explanation, see… http://radiationeffects.org/

    1. I don’t think Yaswen’s work is flawed. If he was extending his theory to cells that see only very low levels of radiation without testing it, I would agree he was off base. It seems, however, that he has only reported what his work showed to be statistically significant. Yaswen specifically stated in his paper that samples irradiated at 5 and 25 Rads showed no statistically significant differences in growth.
      I am not sure why he considers 200 Rads to be a “moderate dose.” 200 Rads is a lot of radiation. I am not surprised at all that the cells were affected.
      The problem is not Yaswen’s work, but rather scientifically illiterate, agenda motivated people cherry picking statements from his work to attempt to support wildly unrelated and truly dishonest information (disinformation) that could truly cause harm to the people who read and believe it.

      1. Reading further into Yaswen’s work, he states that no detectable correlation between dose and growth rate of variant cells was observed.

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