SkeptVet Gets Hate Mail

This blog grew out of my own efforts to educate myself and my clients. I began looking into alternative medicine in veterinary school (about 14 years ago now, gasp!). Having heard about James Reston’s supposed acupuncture anesthesia in the 1970s, I assumed acupuncture was a generally effective therapy, and I wanted to learn how to use it. However, the more I learned, the less I believed about the claims made for acupuncture, and the more aware I became of the role of our beliefs and desires in interpreting the evidence of our senses. I gradually learned to have a healthy awareness of our inherent limitations as human beings that lead us to mistaken beliefs about health and disease, and of the great value of science, however imperfect, in compensating for these limitations.  

Once in practice, I was called upon almost daily to offer my professional opinion on many common questions from clients about how to best restore or maintain their pet’s health. In response to these questions, I began actively and critically investigating and evaluating the evidence for a wide range of medical interventions, both conventional and alternative. I began writing a series of handouts on these questions, covering common CAM therapies such as homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and so on, as well as questions about conventional interventions such as neutering and vaccines. This series, and my growing personal and professional involvement with evidence-based medicine, led to this blog.

The primary purpose of this blog is to make both the specific information I discover and the general principles of science-based medicine available to anyone who is interested. While SkeptVet is a nearly microscopic fish in the Internet ocean, readership has grown quite a bit over the nearly two years of its existence. As near as I can tell from the comments and emails I receive, my audience is a mix of veterinarians and other veterinary professionals and pet owners and breeders. I sometimes get great questions which lead me to investigating and learning about subjects I would have otherwise been unaware of. And I get some very rewarding feedback, by comment or email and, occasionally in person, from people who have found my posts informative, interesting, or helpful in some way. That keeps me slogging away since that is, after all, the point.

But of course many of the responses I get are highly critical. Some of the criticism I receive is thoughtful, informed, and civil and provides a beneficial and necessary impetus for me to challenge and question my own beliefs and assumptions. That I always welcome. Unfortunately, most of the critical responses I get are not thoughtful, informed, or even civil. There are a few “stock” ideas in many of these responses, and quite a variety in terms of styles and degree of eloquence.

My general policy is that I approve any comment to the site regardless of the content so long as it is not simply gratuitous personal abuse or completely unintelligible (and, of course, spam which is blocked automatically for the most part). I have only had to block about half a dozen comments since the blog began, so I think my policy is quite liberal. However, it amazes me how irate some people get at the mere fact that I moderate comments at all, as if I were somehow obligate to let them post anything they like, no matter how vitriolic or incoherent, on a site I created and maintain as an informational resource.

I thought it my by interesting, and even entertaining, to take a look at some of the criticism I receive and to see if any meaningful patterns can be. So far, I’ve come up with three basic categories (and excluding, of course, the most vicious and profane, which I simply delete unless I think it may one day be needed to obtain a restraining order).

I. Who the hell do you think you are? I’m as smart as you and I’ve seen XX work, so who cares what you think? Science doesn’t know everything and neither do you!

I’ve tried to address the issue of anonymity and my background, as well as the issue of how unreliable the “I’ve seen it work” argument is, in the FAQ, as well as in many posts and comments I make. Still, this is by far the most common critical comment I get. Here are some examples.

My dog has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease 2 years ago. She was very sick. I did what the vet said but it all just got too expensive. I tried Superglan and she doesn’t even seem like she has the diesease. I think everyone has their own opinion and if you want to try it, then try it. Who cares what everyone else thinks!

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for thousands of years, and is a proven methodology of health care. Just because it doesn’t follow the Western medical culture doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!… It is a shame that no Western medical studies have been done on this product- because that is the only way that close-minded people like you will ever even give it a try.

I started off taking you seriously, but after reading a few of these exchanges, you lost all credibility with me. Someone who was truly unbiased would at least consider the fact that it MIGHT work. Even if it has not bee scientifically proven, a true skeptic does’t come to ANY conclusions without evidence. You have clearly come to a conclusion without evidence, and your bias became clearer and clearer the further I read. Bias is nearly always based on something personal. So did you have a negative experience with this product, or a similar one, or are you being paid?… basically this was just a rant attacking a lack of controlled study, and showing your disdain for intuition and the powers of observation of pet owners. If you want to discard human powers of discernment and behave like a robot, or a computer, that’s fine…Clearly you expect to only encounter only non thinking persons. Your whole act of “Let me, the expert, the person who is more informed than you, enlighten you about critical thinking and scientific study so you do not harm yourself in your ignorance” is just as bad as any snake oil salesman. You can only peddle that crap to someone who doesn’t know enough to spot bullshit and call it…If this is just a hobby, playing expert on a product based just on looking at a website… well… Maybe you should try going out? Or knitting? Something productive?

My arguments are based on practice and outcome. I fix dogs that have suffered from commercial dog food related diseases with plenty of cases in hand…It’s not about science, it’s about results that speak for themselves.

You lack humility and exude arrogance not because you follow your conscience but because you believe that those who don’t agree with your premise must be wrong. You say that, “Being critical of bad ideas and false claims is also not arrogance, it is conscience.” How is it that you have the wisdom to decide which ideas are false and which claims are bad?… When confronted with evidence from pet owners and other vets you dismiss it with the back of your hand as “unscientific”. That is the hallmark of arrogance from a pseudo intellectual. You essentially are saying that your opinion is better than their observations. That is what I meant when I suggested that you need to develop a little humility….You ought to consider using that superior intellect of yours to actually do some research and solve some medical mysteries. To paraphrase Woody Allen, those that can’t do teach and those that can’t teach author critical blogs about those that do.

Had I found your website first, I likely would have not ever tried Supraglans. Im glad things worked out the way they did. As far as testimonials, or more specifically, personal experience with this product being worthless and not scientific enough to be valid, I thought clinical trials were pretty much a give it to em and see if it works deal.

It seems like I exposed your thin skin and tweaked one of your ivy league nerves. Maybe it’s the old doctor-as-god complex rearing its ugly head again. How dare a mere civilian untrained in the ways of the medical profession question my superior authority and intellect when I have the scientific method to validate my truth. Once again, even with the scientific methods that you are so proud of, the “truth” evades you…Your post, more than anything I could ever write, shows the incredible arrogance of your profession. Do you not see it? Are you so full of yourself that you can’t open your mind to the possibility that you don’t possess all of the knowledge worth knowing in the healthcare universe?… You, even with your so-called scientific methods and Ivy League education are no better than me or countless other caring pet owners who don’t care where you went to school or how many footnoted treatises you read to formulate your scientific opinion. You are wrong as much as you are right that’s why they call it “practicing medicine”. Keep practicing, good doctor; maybe someday you will get it right.

If you have had extensive experience in an alternative field… but months, if not years in an alternative field, and you still found that it did not work…. I would commend you for having an open mind and actually trying it. But you seem to be putting down every modality without experiencing it for yourself. Have you tried every modality to validate everything you write about? You can’t write about acupuncture and say it doesn’t work, if you have not followed a case from begining to end, with an experienced vet doing it… and found that it did not work….I think your problem is not that there is no evidence saying that alternative medicine works, but the fact that you have your fingers in your ears like a little kid saying lalala I can’t hear you. When you live your life with blinders on, you miss out on alot.

With nearly half of all dogs passing from cancer, the cancer rate in cats nearly doubling since the distemper vaccine was made a yearly thing, I think we need to look beyond the blinders that were placed on our faces. We don’t have to be one extreme or the other. We need to all come together for the health of our animals, and our own health. ..This type of aggression, stress and hate is extremely unhealthy for us. High blood pressure and heart attacks to name a few.

i don’t care what research has been done the evidence is in the results… But when you use it on a daily basis and see results you will never be able to tell me it doesn’t work because frankly it’s just not true.

All I have to add to this is that acupuncture does work. I’ve seen it work. To me that is all that matters.

II. You are only saying this because you’re afraid you’ll lose business. You must be a tool of Big Pharma. You vets make more money if our pets are sick, so you don’t want us to have safe, cheap, effective natural remedies.

Obviously this website is biased against complementary integrative veterinary medicine….keeping comments and ideas one sided and supported pharmaceutical and commercial pet food monopolies which have been raking in the money for many decades…Threatened financially and ideologically, they must resort to political tactics of attack, shock and awe using headlines inspired by the National Inquirer or some other ladies gossip rag…If you were a legitimate blog looking for the Truth and not a shill for the pharmaceutical companies, you would have researched both sides of any issue.

The old 70 year old urologist told me I was crazy for believing that acupuncture helped my stone. I think he is crazy for thinking I would have let him make another 15 grand off of a surgery that caused me more pain and suffering than I had ever experienced. I wish someone would have told me that I could have just bought a 12 dollar bag of herbs. They don’t taste so great, but hey, it beats the heck out of feeling like the mob got a hold of your kidney with a bat. Or should I say the rich Mob Doctor MD.

I believe that traditional veterinarians are today motivated by GREED and the medicine they practice does as much harm as much as it helps…And how about the local vet’s push for more and more, now found to be harmful, vaccines they are always telling us pet owner are needed- just so they can make more money, not to mention the those oh so toxic flea meds,

it looks like the only faith you have is in your holier than though self. You remind me of our consulting vet. you can show him and show him, but when it comes down to the bottom line what the drug companies will do for him, he will jump on their bandwagon even when it doesn’t work

After reading your “rant” (so accurately described by another reader), I am left feeling like you must have a financial interest in big pharma, for that is the only logical reason I can see that you would put such effort in condemning a product that has successfully treated and prolonged the lives of so many animals… Maybe you should conduct a clinical research study with neo and see the results for yourself? Oh wait, you wouldn’t make the money using neo as you do with chemo and radiation, my bad. It sure does seem like your motives are financial,

III. Just plain angry

Thanks to scientists. we don’t believe in religion any more. Huge department stores have become our Mecca. Now we are told CAM is bunk and not to believe it.

What I object to is this dictatorial attitude of medics that we should obey them or else, and their efforts to shut down anyone who opposes them. They have become the new Popes of the scientific religion!

Its a shame there are Veterinarians out there that think like you and thankfully they are becoming fewer by the day…It would be a sad day for all animals if they had only you to treat them for cancer.

All this talk about science vs. marketing and that only a vet (or doctor) that practices with prescriptions and surgery are worth anything. This is the same mentality that has almost all of Americans frail and sick! My god, when is every person going to realize that we are living breathing cells who need nutrition and balance, not knives and drugs

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21 Responses to SkeptVet Gets Hate Mail

  1. And how many of these true believers would be willing to remark in this same manner to your face? Likely very few.

  2. skeptvet says:

    Could be. Apart from your VPN article, the only other response I’ve seen to my JAVMA piece on glucosamine was an unsigned, handwritten letter full of underlining, highlighting, and of course the ubiquitous words in ALL CAPITALS!! And this, presumably, from a colleague.

    Still, the Internet is the Wild West of interpersonal communication, so I can’t claim not to have expected some unpleasantness.

  3. Congrats! You’ve gotten mail from a person that has problems with authority, a person that thinks everyone in the medical profession is in it for money AND a religion fanatic. A perfect trifecta!!

  4. ellen says:

    skeptvet, thanks for sharing your hate mail.:) did these unhappy readers use their anonymity to take pot shots, or did they have the courage to sign their names?

    “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” — John Adams

  5. skeptvet says:

    Some give a name, others don’t. I’m not especially concerned about that, especially given that for many reasons, including the freedom of anonymous commentators to attack me without consequences, I don’t use my name here either. I do, of course, advocate exactly the same positions under my real name in fora other than the internet, but I can understand why anonymity would be attractive here in the lawless Wild West of the ‘Net.

  6. Janet Camp says:

    Wow. The three letters seem to be written by the same person. I get stuff like this every time I comment on a blog post about diet/nutrition. The latest diet gurus are always trotted out as “evidence” of some weird food plan and I am called intolerant, mean, and always–arrogant. There seems to be a pattern in this type of criticism. The resentment toward education is alarming, as well.

    You seem to take it in stride better than I am able to. I simply quit making these posts as I find it futile to reason with these people.

    I came here today because a friend just had the experience of taking her dog in for what seemed to be an infection and was sent home (no lab work) with Chinese herbs! She called me (she knows I’m anti CAM) and asked what she should do. I said to throw it out ($150 worth mind you!), and to find a SBM vet. She didn’t listen, said she’d “try it” because the vet assured her it was “good stuff”. Long story short, the dog got very ill, she went to another vet who did lab work and had to prescribe a very expensive antibiotic by this time as the first one he tried didn’t help. The dog recovered, but suffered a lot of pain. My friend is sorry she didn’t listen to me, and so am I, for the dog’s sake.

    Is it possible to bring any type of charges against the vet who failed to do lab work and offered the herbs? I imagine these things are regulated state by state, but do you have any general information about this sort of thing?

    Thank you for doing the blog and for sharing the rants. I am using my name as I do with all my posts. I don’t like the anonymity of the internet. It just goes against the way I was brought up. I will occasionally use “Anonymous” if there is private or health information being revealed.

  7. Janet,

    This unfortunately occurs way too often. Unfortunately, metaphor- and myth-based Chinese herbal medicine has dug deep roots into veterinary medicine because too few cared to examine what was happening in continuing education courses and even within some veterinary medical institutions.

    This sounds like negligence and omission of proper diagnostics and treatment. It would be interesting to find out if the veterinary herbal dispenser did their own version of diagnosis, i.e., look at the tongue and feel the pulse to diagnose an animal. These are unvalidated means of examining animals but apparently a lucrative way to convince clients that they need to purchase one or more unregulated and untested products.

  8. I should add — I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. Just a thought about what it might fall under. Too, without knowing all the circumstances, it’s impossible to give much of an opinion.

  9. skeptvet says:

    Well, it’s comments like yours that keep me going when I get the angry rants! 🙂

    I’m no lawyer either, but I did write a little about medical licensing and malpractice law, which might give you some sense of options in a situation like this. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that even egregiously unscientific practices don’t meet the technical legal standard for malpractice or violation of licensure. My own experience with reporting such practices is resoounding apathy on the part of regulatory agencies. I think a groundswell of consumer disatisfaction could change this, so I always recommend bringing such cases to the attention of the appropriate state medical board, but the reality is that isolated cases aren’t likely to lead to any meaningful change in the law or in the practices of individual doctors.

  10. v.t. says:

    Well, skeptvet, you know what they say…you can please some of the people some of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but arguing CAM, you can’t please anyone!

    It’s sad, really, that many people have the blinders on but it’s their pets who continue to suffer.

  11. Lindsay says:

    Wow, I just ran across your blog and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for! Months now, I’ve been searching for a skeptical vet blog. I’m glad that yours exists and now I can point people towards it for more information on CAM. Thanks for being here!

    I am a grad student at a major university and also a part-time trainer. I’ve recently joined the APDT, and while their dedication to science-based training is awesome, their “openness” to CAM modalities in treating behavior problems is very disappointing. There doesn’t really seem to be a skeptical voice among the trainers there (or not one that I can tell) which makes seeing this stuff even more frustrating. I’m thinking of starting my own blog on science-based dog training, but am a little busy with foster puppies at the moment!

  12. skeptvet says:

    Glad to hear the blog is useful for you. Behavior training is certainly an area where I commonly see crazy and unsubstantiated ideas in practice all the time. I’d certainly encourage you to put together some evidence-based articles on the subject. If starting your own blog is too much at the moment, I’d be happy to consider anything you put together as a guest post here.

  13. Gwen says:

    It is scary to see all of the ignorance out there. I have gotten into face to face flame wars with true believers, I’ve learned that it is a useless exercise. At work, I just make little comments here and there, and since I have a good reputation for sound thinking with my colleagues, they generally listen to me. Especially since I can back it up with proof of efficacy.

  14. Janet Camp says:

    @Narda and Skepvet

    Thanks for your responses; Narda for verifying what I feel (malpractice–and yes, I understand your position, but thanks anyway), and Skepvet for doing this blog to begin with and at least giving me a place to speak about this.

    My friend, unfortunately is too naive (or perhaps embarrassed) to pursue this matter. She has decided to stick with SB vets, though and I’m happy for that–but not so happy that the first CAM vet is still out there doing her woo.

    Narda, I am sorry to hear you report that this sort of thing happens all too often, sorry, but not surprised.

    Skepvet, I’m sorry to hear it is not so easy to do anything about such cases, but I will tell my friend what you said and encourage her to at least lodge a complaint.

    Let’s all keep at this in every way that we can. At least my friend did call me, and in the end, my skepticism rubbed off on her–she may quit being a “shruggie” after this and pass on the skepticism. Every bit helps.

  15. Aleja says:

    Thanks to Medlen v Strickland and the Texas Supreme Court it would appear that vets will have to start keeping up on their CE and current research findings.

  16. skeptvet says:

    I’m not convinced. Litigation is widespread in human medicine, yet incompetant doctors and doctors who sell dubious or quack therapies are not hard to find. There may be a moral argument for the reclassifacation of pets, but I doubt the practical effects will be better quality care.

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