Saturday, December 12, 2009

Harriet Hall, the SkepDoc

Harriet HallI was reading the most recent issue of Skeptical Inquirer yesterday, and particularly liked an article by Harriet Hall, a retired physician and surgeon. I can't link to that article, since SI doesn't post its content online, so I thought I would say a few words about her in general. [Update: A version of Hall's SI article has now been posted here.]

In addition to writing for SI and other skeptical publications, Hall is known as the SkepDoc and is one of five contributors to the Science-Based Medicine blog. Recently, she began writing a column for Oprah magazine, dealing with common health myths.

Visiting her posts on the SBM blog, I found one reviewing a book called 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, which sounds like a good read. Here are a few of the myths Hall listed:

[Myth] A large number of criminals successfully use the insanity defense. [Reality] The insanity defense is raised in less than 1% of criminal trials and is successful only about 25% of the time.

[Myth] It’s better to express anger to others than to hold it in. [Reality] The evidence shows that expressing anger only reinforces it and leads to more aggression.

[Myth] A positive attitude can stave off cancer. [Reality] Not only does the evidence not support this claim, but there is evidence that women who were highly stressed were less likely to develop breast cancer. And attitudes don’t prolong survival: even the most optimistic cancer patients lived no longer than the most fatalistic ones. [This reminds me of Barbara Ehrenreich's recent book Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.]

[Myth] Sex sells. [Reality.] Sexual content of ads may make people pay more attention, but they are less likely to remember the product’s brand name.
Other posts by Hall on the blog cover research on topics like chiropractic, neti pots, and homeopathy. The other authors on the blog provide insightful round-ups on the H1N1 flu vaccine controversy, the mammogram recommendations, and the vaccine-autism issue. This blog deals in medical controversies, that's for sure!


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing.

Ms Sparrow said...

Hmmm, does this mean I should retire my neti pot? I couldn't tell that it made any difference anyway. Another $15 wasted!

Daughter Number Three said...

Ms Sparrow, actually Dr. Hall's neti pot post reported a study that showed they actually do work. (Though they shouldn't be used constantly -- just to relieve symptoms of a cold or other respiratory infection.)

I didn't mean to imply that every time Hall talks about an alternative practice, it's to debunk it. That's what I like about her -- she really seems to be objective and evidence-based.