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Charlatans like Dr. Oz and Dr. "Grain Brain" Perlmutter are giving doctors a bad name


Dr. David Perlmutter of Grain Brain fame. (WikiMedia Commons)

There's a thorough evisceration of Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times best-selling book Grain Brain, over at the Science of Us today.

In the piece,
Alan Levinovitz goes through the flimsy evidence behind Perlmutter's ideas about the evils of gluten and grains, and all the other ways this neurologist is profiting off duping the public with unproven or disproven treatments.

Here's an excerpt from the article, which is well worth reading:

"As Perlmutter’s megaphone has grown, so, too, has his brand empire — he has sold everything from "Empowering Coconut Oil" to supplement blends tailored for specific demographics, like the $90 "Scholar’s Advantage Pack" for "young adults seeking to optimize cognitive function," and the $160 "Senior Empowerment Pack," a "combination of formulas designed to help keep you cognitively sharp as you age." One book pointed readers to an $8,500 brain detoxification retreat run by Perlmutter, which included shamanic healing ceremonies. (He even has his own organic foaming hand soap.)"

But what's most interesting to me is that Perlmutter is just one of the many licensed medical doctors today using the massive, far-reaching megaphone of digital media to mislead people.

Of course, there will always be bad apples in every profession. But these dubious doctors seem to be everywhere.

While it's difficult to know whether there are actually more quacks today than at any other time, what has changed recently is the size of the platform doctors have to dispense medical advice both good and bogus. Today, MDs can reach people directly through social media, websites, and self-published books, in addition to traditional platforms like TV, radio, and print.

The American Medical Association just announced that it was taking a stand to defend the integrity of the medical profession by looking at creating ethical guidelines for physicians in the media, writing a report on how doctors may be disciplined for violating medical ethics through their press involvement, and releasing a public statement denouncing the dissemination of dubious medical info.

To be sure, this is a step in the right direction. But are more guidelines and reports really doing enough to address this problem? All the doctors named in this article use their professional credentials to peddle advice that isn't based on science, with potentially harmful effects. Should they be allowed to do so? And if they continue doing so, what will that mean for the integrity of the profession?

Consider the fact that modern medicine differentiated itself from the healing arts of the past by embracing science. It was science that helped raise doctors to the top of the professional ladder and pay scale.

In its earlier years, the profession was very organized around ostracizing snake-oil salesmen. At Skeptic magazine, Daniel Loxton points out that the American Medical Association, in 1911, first used its manifesto Nostrums and Quackery to denounce "forces of evil" like quackery. From the book:

Quackery does not die easily. Exposures of the frauds perpetrated by quacks and nostrum venders do good only to the extent that such exposés educate the public. When the veil of mystery is torn from the medical faker, the naked sordidness and inherent worthlessness that remains suffices to make quackery its own greatest condemnation. This is the mission on which "Nostrums and Quackery" goes forth.

The latest AMA move to rein in medical con men is either a demonstration that doctors are beginning to tackle this issue once again, or a sign that the problem has become so bad that the profession risks devolving 100 years.