Sunday, March 5, 2017

#1802: Wayne Jonas

Wayne B. Jonas is a family physician and one of the most influential, powerful and dangerous promoters of quackery and woo in the US, partly because he undeniably has his credentials in order and often manages to play the role of an apparently serious researcher (despite publishing in pseudo-journals like The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; e.g. the one discussed here). He is the current president and CEO of the Samueli Institute, one of the foremost proponents of integrating fake medicine into medicine, and which focuses on “research” into the efficacy of alternative medicine – or altmed apologetics – such as the effects of prayer on treating disease, use of homeopathy to fight bioterrorism, use of magnetic healing devices on orthopedic injuries and a lot of acupuncture pseudoscience. According to Jonas “there is a good case for looking at these things scientifically, because we don’t know a lot about them,” which is actually untrue since we do know lots about most of them (and Jonas has been involved in demonstrating that they probably don’t work, but seems to refuse to admit that this is actually the result), and for others there is a combination of limited resources and low prior plausibility that makes putting resources into conducting well-designed and expensive trials a waste (though Jonas seems willing to compromise on “well-designed” if that makes it more likely to get the results he wants, which it does). Indeed, in a letter to the Lancet Jonas argues that further studies of homeopathy is a good idea while admitting that “we agree that homoeopathy is highly implausible and that the evidence from placebo-controlled trials is not robust.” Look: you can’t have it both ways, Jonas: if the treatment is highly implausible and has no evidence to support it (but ample evidence that it does not work), then we don’t have good reason to throw further millions into researching it. The Samueli Institute received over $31 million in taxpayer funds from the Department of Defense and over $43 million in taxpayer dollars altogether between 2003 and 2013 to produce nothing but obfuscation.

Jonas is also professor of family medicine at Georgetown University, and from 1995 to 1998 director of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM, since renamed the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health).

Jonas has, in fact, long been a defender of homeopathy, which stands to reality and science roughly as young-earth creationism does. As director of OAM, Jonas said that “[j]ust as the discovery of infectious agents revolutionized our ability to care for many diseases at the turn of the century, the discovery of what happens when a homeopathic preparation is made and how it impacts the body might revolutionize our understanding of chemistry, biology and medicine,” which really is the hallmark of tooth-fairy science: Trying to nvestigate how something works without having established that it in fact works. Indeed, since homeopathy doesn’t work, Jonas attitude is best characterized as denialism (peppered with allusions to the Galileo gambit).

Jonas has himself written books on homeopathy (Healing With Homeopathy: The Complete Guide and Healing With Homeopathy: The Doctor’s Guide) in which he expresses certainty about its effectiveness but openness to the mechanism (he admits that it might be placebo, but in the mythical energy sense of not-really-placebo that altmed promoters sometimes invoke; besides, he doesn’t really believe its placebo). The pattern of nonexistent molecules “must be stored in some way in the diluted water/alcohol mixture,” wrote Jonas (i.e. water memory, and suggested that occult energies, imaginary “biophotons” or New Age quantum effects could be involved. He is, however, frustrated with the research being done into homeopathy, since it rather clearly suggests that it doesn’t work, and has accordingly suggested that validating homeopathy “may require special pleading a theory that incorporates subjective variables,” which in practice means the ability to influence the effects of a remedy by intentions, i.e. psychic powers. In fact, Jonas is also on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Institute for Noetic Sciences, where he “envisions the development of protocols using gene-array procedures to examine possible genetic expression arising from CAM signals in distant healing;” Jonas thinks that “bodily parts [can] communicate over long distances almost instantaneously” by means of “nonlocal characteristics in the biological process, with widely separated parts interacting in ways that don't have obvious physical carriers.” He believes this because he needs it for getting other things he wants to believe to come out possibly true, not because there is a shred of evidence suggesting that it is, in fact, true.

Jonas is apparently a regular on government-agency organized panels and workshops on altmed regulations, such as the FTC workshop on homeopathy in 2015 (one wonders whether the FTC’s regulation updates in 2017 were to his likings), and numerous other panels and review boards, such as the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine’s joke of a scientific review board. It is no surprise, though, that Jonas has himself become the target of more unhinged snakeoil salesmen like Timothy Gorski.

Here is a report on a testimony Jonas gave to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where he argued in favor of making government pay for offering quackery to veterans (Jonas has been among the most vocal proponents of pushing snake oil on military veterans). It is … telling (yes, it’s grand claims and some metaphors supported by some amazing examples of tooth-fairy science but no evidence for efficacy of the altmed treatments in question whatsoever). Meanwhile, Jonas continues to churn out meaningless papers completely failing to show the efficacy of homeopathy while loudly claiming otherwise.

Diagnosis: Ultimately, the distinction between being wrong and being a loon will be rather blurry, and Jonas might immediately appear to be intelligent, honest and serious but mistaken. But really: He’s been pushing the same sort of tooth-fairy science based on the same thoroughly falsified assumptions for decades, all the while refusing to revise those assumptions. That’s the hallmark of a pseudoscientist. Still, Jonas continues to be frighteningly influential.

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