More Misuse of Science as Propaganda Tool by Mercola and the AHVMF

I’ve written quite a bit about the problematic relationship between advocates of alternative medicine and scientific research. While I’m all for appropriate, high-quality research into any therapy with reasonable plausibility, which would include many alternative treatments, I object to the misuse of research as a propaganda tool. Many proponents of alternative medicine have a fundamentally religious faith in their practices. They don’t believe scientific research is necessary to prove what they “already know,” and no research evidence could ever convince them their practices don’t’ work. With this type of mindset, it is very hard to generate fair, high-quality research evidence that actually gets us closer to the truth.

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF) is particularly guilty of this type of misuse of science. A recent interview by Dr. Karen Becker (at the Mercola web site) with a recipient of AHVMF funding, Dr. Danielle Conway (whom I’ve written about in this context before), illustrates the serious misconceptions about science that undermine the legitimacy of the research these folks support and conduct.

The interview is titled, “Finally! A Study That Proves Processed Foods Can Cause Disease.” This clearly illustrates that the author is viewing the research as confirmation of a pre-existing belief that did not require scientific validation. She confirms this in the interview itself, where she says, “I know for a fact that processed pet food causes inflammation in dogs’ bodies because I see it in my practice. Dr. Conway is going to be able to prove scientifically that it is happening, and hers will be the first study I’m aware of in pets.” Knowing something “for a fact” for which there are no studies is not consistent with a science-based approach.

It turns out that the research she is referring doesn’t even remotely “prove” what she is claiming anyway. She is apparently referring to an unpublished pre-clinical study by Dr. Conway looking at the effect of heat on the production of compounds suspected to be a risk factor for some diseases in humans.

…the preliminary pilot study, in which she looked at the presence of AGE in different types of pet foods, is complete. What she found across-the-board is that the less processing that occurs, the less heat applied, the more moisture maintained, the lower the AGE.

This is certainly worth following up on, but it is totally inconsistent with the claim of the interview title. The bias here is clear and strong. This is incredibly ironic since Dr. Becker dismisses any research funded by pet food companies as meaningless because of presumed bias, and yet she considers research funded by Mercola and AHVMF as “independent” and trustworthy.

Dr. Conway also shows some serious flaws in her view of science and scientific research in this interview. When asked what sort of research she would like to see funded and why, she responds:

She would also like to see more research into herbs. She has found that when she can cite a study on a particular herb that she wants to try, everyone immediately gets on board. They don’t even need to read the study. Just the fact that a study exists is enough for them. It’s a good demonstration of the benefit of published research on medical treatments.

A clearer example of how not to use scientific research would be hard to find. I doubt Dr. Conway or Dr. Becker would feel as positive about students or vets automatically accepting any treatment for which a proponent can cite any study if the studies cited were funded by the pharmaceutical or pet food industry. Yet they are happy to see uncritical, blind enthusiasm for their therapies based on research their audience hasn’t even read, much less critically evaluated.

Once again, for many CAVM advocates, certainly the AHVMF and Mercola, scientific research is not a means of finding out what is true. They already feel their knowledge based on personal experience and theory is already sufficient and requires not empirical validation. The only use for research, and for the money they spend on funding it and training alternative practitioners in academia, is to promote what they already believe. This is simply a cynical use of science as a marketing tool for spreading the faith, not as a tool for better understanding health and disease in our patients.


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9 Responses to More Misuse of Science as Propaganda Tool by Mercola and the AHVMF

  1. I am continually amazed that these people actually found their way, not only into vet school, but graduated from it, without any knowledge of critical thinking. How does this happen? Anyone who has ever watched Cosmos has a better understanding of the scientific method.

  2. v.t. says:

    You hit the nail on the head, skeptvet. Just listening to that “interview”, was like listening to a version of a snake-oil salesman, and nothing to do with the best interests of veterinary patients – quite the contrary – more like the best interests of Conway and her AHVMF buddies.

    Sad to see any professional organization infiltrated with this nonsense (Conway seems intent to advocate raw food and herbs as her “certified nutritionist” specialty).

    I didn’t know acupuncture and chiropractic offered “nuances” during a physical exam, my head just exploded.

  3. Paula McGlashan says:

    Bloody hell. The tragedy is people with a lack of scientific knowledge may end up believing this nonsense. What next? Reiki healing, crystals, flower remedy?

  4. Travis Einertson says:

    On the other hand, it is interesting that they are looking at the content of AGE’s in pet food. I was surprised to learn a couple years ago that dietary sources can raise blood levels. I had formerly thought they were just made endogenously (eg fructosamine).

    My brother-in-law has a PhD in potatoes and works in the industry. He doubts that acrylamide is truly a carcinogen, but mentioned they get high levels depending on the processing. He said that sweet potato gives the highest levels.

    If the research can generate reliable information about potential carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and nitrosamines in processed pet food, we should not immediately dismiss the information.

  5. skeptvet says:

    No one is immediately dismissing the information, just the unproven claims. If these compounds are harmful, research should show that. But it is no more appropriate to say they are harmful than to say they are absolutely safe when the evidence isn’t there.

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  7. Smith says:

    I think you ALL should read “Pottengers’ Cats: A Study in Nutrition”.
    …With your education respectfully doctor SkepVet, you should have heard of it. However, I never have seen you address it in your site. I think this is a wonderful example of some very good science based information, considering it was conducted for over 10 years by doctors and other qualified staff, specifically to determine the outcome of methods of dietary choices for cats. I have my own opinions from growing up with the blessing of inheriting a third generation Veterinary clinic. I also lived near a farm that had up to 100 cats at any given time, to which I had access. I was groomed to take over the clinic from childhood and began learning and performing surgery since age 12. After 30 years of my own observation and shared clinical case experience along with two generations of actual professional veterinary experience that was constantly shared with me, I feel I have a pretty good handle on this subject. Until you can literally site that one has the inherited experience of two generations of Veterinary experience and another 30+years of your own, all I have to say is, READ THIS BOOK!
    For those who are not Veterinarians, I say PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!

    I hope you and everyone else who visits your website will take the time to read and investigate this study. It can give a new and valid perspective on this subject.

    Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition

    In this presentation of Dr. Pottenger’s classical experiments, we learn about more than 900 cats studied over a period of 10 years. His findings conclude that only diets consisting of raw milk and raw meat produced optimal health: gentle dispositions, sound bone structure and density, wide palates that were able to accommodate teeth, a lack of parasites and disease, shiny fur and the absence of reproductive disorders.

    He observed the following changes in the cats’ physical as well as mental well-being on the changed diet: arthritis, behavioral characteristics, sterility, skin disorders, allergies, hypothyroidism, skeletal deformities and allergies became apparent and were linked to the consumption of cooked foods. Cats displayed severe personality alterations not unlike degenerative diseases noted in human medicine.

    These findings reflect similar observations made by Dr. Weston A. Price who studied traditional groups who had abandoned their traditional diets. By the fourth generation, the cats died out. Dr. Pottenger’s studies tell a definitive story of how processing and heat can damage both food and the health of those consuming it.
    Here are the ISBN numbers to locate the book and its second edition.

    ISBN-13: 978-0916764067

    ISBN-10: 0916764060

  8. skeptvet says:

    You are mistaken. I have read and discussed Pottenger, and the bottom line is that it meets none of the standards for accurate, reliable science, including controls for bias such as randomization, blinding, comparability between treatment and control interventions, replication, etc. Her’s what I have said about this in the past:

    “The infamous Pottenger study is mentioned, which is a common warning sign of veterinary nutritional pseudoscience. This is a poorly designed experiment from the 1940s that involved feeding milk and meat, either cooked or raw, to cats. The cats fed the cooked meat developed nutritional and developmental diseases, which is often cited as evidence that raw foods are healthier than cooked foods. Unfortunately, the complete lack of experimental controls or proper evaluation of the subject, and the simple fact that both diets were grossly deficient and utterly unlike the commercial pet foods the study is usually used to criticize, make the results meaningless.”

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