“Weasel Phrases,” “Framing” and “Data-Dredging” is Not Science: Making the Data Fit the Hypothesis in the Rehab Racket

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 1.12.01 AMPrinciples of Addiction Medicine devotes a chapter to Physician Health Programs. Written by Paul Earley, M.D., FASAM,1 Earley states that the lifetime prevalence of substance abuse or addiction in physicians found by Hughes2 is “somewhat less than the percentage in the general population reported by Kessler” of 14.6%.3

Although he specifies the numerical percentage “in physicians at 7.9%,”3 he avoids the use of numbers (14.6%) in the general population. He instead uses the qualifier “somewhat less.” Why is this?

My guess is because it understates the statistical fact that the prevalence found by Kessler in the general population was almost twice that found by Hughes in physicians.

You see, “Somewhat less” is a “detensifier.” It creates an impression of a small disparity between doctors and the general population.

In propaganda this is what is known as a “weasel phrase.”   Weasel phrases are used to obfuscate the truth.   Weasel phrases mislead those either without the time, or without the sense to see or look any deeper. The problem is it works.

“Methodologic differences may account for this difference,” Earley states, as the Hughes study “surveyed 9, 600 physicians by mail” and “relied on honest and denial-free reports by the physicians; the Kessler study utilized face-to-face interviews with trained interviewers.”1

This is an example of language framing. Language framing uses words and phrases to direct attention to a point of view to advance a vested interest.

In this case the use of the phrase “honest and denial free” in the context of physician reporting imparts associative meaning to the reader.

As denial is a recurring motif and cardinal attribute of physician addiction according to the paradigm, the connotation is that the reports by physicians may have been influenced by dishonesty and denial while face-to-face interviews done by “trained” interviewers were not.

“Framing” is another propaganda technique designed to tell the audience how to interpret the information given through context.   The message here is that the somewhat less lifetime prevalence of substance abuse and addiction in physicians found by anonymous mail survey may be underreported as a result of both methodology and denial.

But in actual fact there is a large body of research regarding “social desirability bias” that shows the converse to be true.

One of the most consistent findings of studies of this kind is that socially desirable responding is significantly more likely with face-to-face administered data collection compared with self-administered anonymous modes.4-6

Tourangeau et al. reviewed seven studies comparing self-reports of drug use in surveys conducted in different modes. For each estimate obtained in the studies they calculated the ratio of drug use reported in self-reported surveys to the corresponding estimates in interviewer administered surveys and found that 57 of 63 different comparisons showed higher levels of reporting of drug use in the self-reported mode.7

The principal cause of social desirability bias is the level of perceived anonymity of the reporting situation.7

Evidence-based research does not support Earley’s claim that methodological differences in study design explain the difference in reported lifetime prevalence of substance abuse or addiction between physicians and the general population in these two studies.

Evidence based research would, in fact, make the findings more robust.

Moreover, I find it hard to comprehend the psychodynamics, motivation, and logic of denial and dishonesty in influencing an anonymous survey. So too would anyone else who dare peer beneath the veil. It is, in fact, a Potemkin village. In reality the emperor has no clothes.

  1. Earley PE. Physician Health Programs and Addiction among Physicians. In: Ries R, Fiellin D, Miller S, Saitz R, eds. Principles of Addiction Medicine. 4 ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkens; 2009:531-547.
  2. Hughes PH, Brandenburg N, Baldwin DC, Jr., et al. Prevalence of substance use among US physicians. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. May 6 1992;267(17):2333-2339.
  3. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry. Jun 2005;62(6):593-602.
  4. Sudman S, Bradburn NM. Response effects in surveys: A review and synthesis. Chicago: Aldine Publishing; 1974.
  5. Tourangeau R, Smith TW. Collecting sensitive information with different modes of data collection. In: Couper MP, Baker RP, Bethlehem J, et al., eds. Computer assisted survey information collection. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1998.
  6. Dillman DA. Mail and telephone surveys: The total design method. New York: Wiley-Interscience; 1978.
  7. Tourangeau R, Rips LJ, Rasinski KA. The Psychology of Survey Response. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2000.
  8. American Society of Addiction Medicine: Patient Placement Criteria. Chevy Chase, MD: American Society of Addiction Medicine; 2000.
  9. Merlo LJ, Gold MS. Successful Treatment of Physicians With Addictions: Addiction Impairs More Physicians Than Any Other Disease. Psychiatric Times. 2009;26(9):1-8.
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The Need for Antitrust Investigation of the “PHP Rehab Racket”

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Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 4.38.05 AMThree shells and a pea–ASAM, FSPHP, and LMD.

“PHP-Approved” Assessment and Treatment Centers

On the above list  can be found the Medical Directors of a number of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.

Talbott, Marworth, Hazelden, Promises, and another two-dozen or so “PHP-approved”  assessment and treatment centers are represented on this list.    State Physician Health Programs (PHPs) refer doctors to these facilities for evaluations.  PHPs are non-profit tax-exempt organizations.  They do not evaluate or treat patients.   If a physician is referred to a PHP for a suspected problem the assessment must be done at an outside facility which will invariably be linked to a name on the list of Like-Minded Docs.

What most people do not know, however, is that this is an exclusive arrangement.    Evaluations are constrained to one of these facilities.   It is mandated.   No bargaining.  No compromises. No choice.  In other words it is a coercion.

“What’s wrong with that?” some may ask.  These facilities are all recognized as top-drawer and first-class.  Perhaps they were hand-picked on objective criteria and the PHPs are just making sure that doctors get the best assessments money can buy– decision making by experts based on knowledge and experience–picking a winner so you don’t have to.

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No documented Policy for Selecting Treatment Centers.  Criteria for “PHP-Approval” Unknown by those “Approving”

What objective criteria are used in selecting “PHP-approved” assessment and treatment centers?    According to a  Performance Audit of the North Carolina Physicians Health Program done by State Auditor Beth A. Wood that’s a good question.

The Audit noted the predominant use of out-of-state treatment centers.   In addition to “creating an undue burden on” those being evaluated the

 “Program procedures did not ensure that physicians received quality evaluations and treatment because the Program had no documented criteria for selecting treatment centers and did not adequately monitor them”

In fact the audit found no documented policy for selecting treatment centers.  Those demanding documented policy for approval and doing the approving could not give an explanation for what any of  these things even mean.    

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 5.38.23 PMThe auditor also noted this lack of concrete criteria goes against both The Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP) and the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) requirements that physician health programs use established guidelines to select evaluation providers and treatment centers.

In its “Physician Health Program Guidelines,” the FSPHP established: • “Characteristics of Evaluation Providers Appropriate for PHP referrals,” and • “Characteristics of Treatment Programs which are appropriate for PHP referrals.”  And in its “Policy on Physician Impairment,” the FSMB states : • “PHPs should employ FSPHP Guidelines in selecting the providers/facilities to provide treatment of physicians with addictive and/or psychiatric illness.”

When the NC PHP was asked to define these characteristics they explained that they learned  of “new treatment centers through professional networks and other informal sources” and used the “treatment centers’ reputation as a basis for establishing a referral relationship.”      Staff credentials, quality of care, treatment methods and modalities, patient choice, follow-up data, outcomes and other objective information apparently took a back-seat to ill-defined and subjective word-on-the-street.   Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 7.33.14 PM

This  “failure to use FSPHP  recommended criteria to select treatment centers,” the Audit concluded “could cause the Program to enter into referral arrangements with service providers that do not meet quality standards”

Ironically the  NC PHP failed to follow guidelines they themselves introduced and demanded be followed but could produce no documented criteria they existed.    They could not even provide plausible criteria.   Professional networks, reputation and other informal sources are fine for some choices.  That’s how I picked out my first skateboard.     These resources can play in important role in choosing a shirt, new sneakers or even a car but they do not constitute selection criteria for an assessment in which the consequences and recommendations made for the person being assessed are significant, potentially life-altering and possibly permanent!

And to top it off the  Medial Director of the North Carolina PHP,  Dr. Warren Pendergast,  was the  President of the FSPHP at the time of the audit.  PHPs are not clinical providers but monitoring agencies.  They meet with, assess and refer doctors for evaluations and and monitor doctors through drug and alcohol testing and the monthly reports of others.     As such the PHP is tasked with two jobs-referring doctors for evaluation and then monitoring them after they have been evaluated.  The fact that they could not produce the facts and reasoning of the very basis for which they exist is incomprehensible.   The President of the FSPHP being unable to define the selection criteria for approved and mandated facilities is like Anthony Bourdain being unable to explain the ingredients of an omelette.

To summarize, doctors in North Carolina were being forced by the PHP  to have evaluations at “PHP-approved” assessment and treatment centers but the PHP was unable to explain anything substantive in defining any of it.  Why?  Because no qualitative objective selection criteria exist.

“Reputation” obfuscates and confuses.  It does nothing to support or justify.    It is like answering “numbers” to the question what is 9 x 9.

And this is especially concerning when it is realized that these evaluations are limited to facilities and people  tied financially and ideologically to the groups and individuals who are mandating the referral.

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All of the “PHP-approved” assessment centers are represented by medical directors who belong to Like-minded docs-an admittedly  12-step steeped conservative fundamentalist faction of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).   And all of these facilities are private-pay rehabilitation centers that recommend doctors be treated three-times longer than the rest of the population.

Limiting assessment and recommendations to this close-knit  group of evaluators is a monopoly of force.  It is unethical if not criminal. And the fact that these are all heavily indoctrinated 12-step facilities also makes it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.  Moreover,  many of the medical directors at these facilities are also graduates of the same program in “recovery.”

And if it is looked at from this vantage point it is a system of  self-referral.  Self-referral harms patients and society as a whole.

It is a shell game that removes all choice and removes freedom, objectivity, fundamental fairness, autonomy and choice.


Antitrust law

American antitrust law was “designed to be a comprehensive charter of economic liberty aimed at preserving  free and unfettered competition as the mule of trade. It rests on the premise that the unrestrained interaction of competitive forces will yield the best allocation of our economic resources, the lowest prices, the highest quality and the greatest material progress, while at the same time providing an environment conducive to the preservation of our democratic political and social institutions” (29, p 4).

In this case it is a safe assumption that all doctors desire the “best possible” care and this requires objective and unbiased assessment and treatment when requested by Physician Health Programs.

Congress and the Supreme Court have made clear is that the “best” services are selected by  consumers when their choice is made in an open market free of restraints. Eventually the marketplace will determine the best medical care, not judges, juries, or even doctors (30, p 904).

PHPs are clearly bypassing patient choice.  In 2011 the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) issued a Public Policy Statement on coordination between PHPs, regulatory agencies, and treatment providers recommending  that  only “PHP approved” treatment centers be used in the assessment and treatment of doctors.  The state Medical Boards have accepted and adopted this policy and denying doctors requests for assessments at non “PHP-approved” facilities. Many have been sanctioned for resisting, protesting or even questioning this unlawful monopoly.  It is prohibition of patient choice.

The N.C. PHP is representative of most PHPs. This is not an exception but a rule.      PHPs are mandating assessments only at facilities they approve but cannot define or explain how these facilities are “approved”  Yet The ideological and financial conflicts of interest between the PHPs and their referral centers are self-evident.  Connect the dots.  

State medical boards are enforcing this mandate under threat of loss of licensure.   Your money or your life.

Federal Trade Commission

For these reasons an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and Office of the Inspector General of the DHHS is necessary.  For those who have been abused by this unholy alliance I urge you to look at this list to see if the medical director of the facility at which you were evaluated is represented.

If so note it here.   My guess is almost everyone will find this correlation and representation in numbers would necessitate both state and Federal investigation.  If this were done it  could quickly transform a system of institutional injustice into one that allows choice.

Applying Antitrust law to the linkage of  PHPs  and “PHP approved” assessment and treatment centers is consistent with free-market law and theory.   Demanding accountability would provide a powerful deterrent to this type of unfettered abuse.

1. Northern Pacific Railway v U.S., 356 US I (1958).

.2.  Koefoot v American College of Surgeons. 652 F Supp 882 (ND Ill 1986).

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“For What it’s Worth”— The ASAM/ABAM Diploma Mill

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
— George Orwell

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I can think of no other specialty or subspecialty in the profession of medicine where non-existent expertise can be incontestably announced and implemented.  If I claimed to be an ace neurosurgeon or an expert otolaryngologist and started practicing my claimed skills in the hospital I would be called on it pretty quick by both colleagues and patients–deemed a delusional fraud and run out on a rail within a week.  Both law enforcement, attorneys and psychiatry would be called in short order.

Yet doctors who have not met the usual and customary standards for professional and educational quality that have been identified for medical specialties and subspecialties are able to claim expertise in “addiction medicine” and everybody just lets them.

To make this point I sat for the 2010 American Board of Addiction Medicine Certification Examination.  I did this to make a point–kind of like seeing how easy it is to buy a gun at a Walmart.

I simply went to the ABAM Website, completed the application and paid the fee.

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The requirements to sit for the exam included so many “practice experience hours” over the past five years and 50 CME credits related to addiction.

With a year of psychopharmacology research, a half-day per week moonlighting at the MBTA medical clinic giving drug tests to bus drivers and another overnight moonlighting job giving medical clearance to patients at a local psychiatric hospital detox unit I satisfied the first requirement.   For the latter I looked through the last five years of morning reports, noontime lectures and grand rounds I went to and added them up and, falling a little short supplemented the CME credits with some online modules.

And with that I was given a date at Pearson to take the test.

I have absolutely no training or education in the field of addiction medicine.  I didn’t pick up a book or study anything. I did not prepare at all. I did not even get a good night’s sleep the night before and stayed up until 2:30 a.m.   Nevertheless I went to the testing facility the next morning and finished the test within an hour and a half.  My score is below.  Aced it.   Passing score was 394 and I got a 459.

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And the point I am trying to make is I am no expert in Addiction Medicine.  Neither is 4000 of me. Yet the letter below says I am.  Majority apparently rules.

Giving false expertise to the unqualified and granting them power over others is just as dangerous as the gun from Walmart.  They can both kill.

An interest in something does not an expert make. If we allow this then the ASAM 12-step chronic brain disease model not only swallows addiction medicine but tarnishes all of medicine.  An imposition by force and the deep pockets of the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry.

ASAM is not a true medical specialty. It is a special interest group.   ABAM is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

The arguments seem to be:

1) Addiction is a prevalent “disease”  that needs to be “treated;”

2) There are not enough Addiction Psychiatrists to diagnose and treat them.

3) Being an M.D. addict or alcoholic gives enough knowledge and apprenticeship skills to diagnose and treat others with the same affliction.

4) Let’s utilize them to fill the void.

This is logical fallacy and it is dangerous.

The validity and reliability of opinions lie in their underlying methodology and evidence base. Reliance on the personal authority of any expert or group of experts is the fallacy of appeal to authority.

An interest in something does not an expert make.  I had an interest in science as a child but my certification as a member of Sir Isaac Newton’s Scientific Club did not make me a scientist.

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I have asthma but that does not make me a Pulmonologist.  That addiction “specialist” diagnosing and treating you may have 5 years prior been a proctologist; and maybe not even a very good one at that.

Somewhere there may be doctor with no post-graduate training in surgery wielding a scalpel and calling himself an expert surgeon, but it is difficult to imagine that he is a very good one.

I received my ABMS certification without meeting a single person. It was all done by mail.   This fits the very definition of “Diploma Mill.”  This is not to besmirch those with a sincere interest in helping others with addiction.  Many if not most of those involved are sincere. But this is not expertise.  This is not authority. And, as we have seen, this low bar opens the door for some very bad apples.

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“This election is not about issues,” Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager said this week. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.” That’s a scary thought. For the takeaway is so often base, a reflection more of people’s fears and insecurities than of our hopes and dreams.
— Judith Warner, New York Times, September 4, 2008

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Reefer Mad and Power Hungry

Link to article:https://digboston.com/reefer-mad-and-power-hungry/

Please comment on DigBoston website

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In 2013, Dr. Steven Adelman of Physician Health Services (PHS)—a powerful nonprofit founded by the Massachusetts Medical Society that provides help to residents and doctors struggling with substance abuse problems—published a now-infamous article on KevinMD titled, “Against the Medicalization of Marijuana,” in which he lambasted the 63 percent of voters who supported the Massachusetts initiative petition to eliminate criminal and civil penalties for marijuana by qualifying patients with diagnosed debilitating medical conditions. Blasting the mandate for the Department of Public Health to “operationalize the so-called medicinal use of cannabis in the Commonwealth,” Adelman wrote, “the community of physicians has been scratching its collective head and wondering, ‘What in the world are we going to do about patient requests to become certified to purchase, or grow, so-called medical marijuana?’”

In his report, Adelman noted the alleged perilousness of addiction, withdrawal, and cognitive impairment related to cannabis, and warned of the potential onslaught of underground entrepreneurs waiting to capitalize. Adelman, a so-called addiction expert at Harvard Vanguard, predicted a floodgate of unscrupulous profiteers diverting “massive” amounts of this “valuable” “addictive” “substance” to “non-patients,” and guessed that the health and well-being of the “greater public will be jeopardized for the relief of a few.”

As noted by many activists but ignored by all but niche marijuana media, in another instance, Adelmanblamed the bombing of the Boston Marathon on “marijuana withdrawal.” One of his cohorts, Dr. Robert Dupont of the Institute for Behavior and Health, rode a similar bandwagon, arguing that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev smoked his way to failure and, because of a disappointing report card, said, “Fuck it, I’ll become a terrorist.” DuPont also served as director for the  National Institute on Drug Abuse and currently runs one of the largest Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) in the U.S. with former DEA honcho Peter Bensinger. These guys are in the drug-testing business!

Most doctors don’t think like this. That includes most members of the Massachusetts Medical Society. But very few speak out about the fraud being carried out against the legalized medicinal use of cannabis. How does the same medical society that publishes the New England Journal of Medicine allow this type of tripe and rabble to evade editorial scrutiny? Why no backlash from dissenting doctors? Easy, no one has stood up to Adelman because as the head of an influential Physician Health Program (PHP) like PHS, he has power over the license of every doctor in Mass.

Such state operations have come under major scrutiny. A recent Medscape article titled “Physician Health Programs: More Harm Than Good?” reveals patterns of anonymous referrals, false diagnoses, and a lack of credible process. These state-based programs appear to have created a climate of fear in doctors, as all it takes is an anonymous referral to someone like Adelman to ruin a career. For these reasons, many doctors will not even talk about medical marijuana privately, let alone in public out of fear that they might get referred to their state PHP.

It’s hard to know who to hold accountable for these lies. PHS operates under the national Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP), which is located in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the FSPHP is an arm of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), which also pushes self-serving public policy under the guise of contributing to the greater good. That despite the Massachusetts Medical Society’s charge to “do all things as may be necessary and appropriate to advance medical knowledge, to develop and maintain the highest professional and ethical standards of medical practice and health care, and to promote medical institutions formed on liberal principles for the health, benefit and welfare of citizens of the commonwealth.”

Dr. Langan was an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and an assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital for more than 15 years. He is a co-founder of a medical device startup and blogs at disruptedphysician.com.

DR. MICHAEL LANGAN

Transparency and Legitimacy Needed in Addiction Medicine—Answerability and Accountability Absent in Current Paradigm

The Medical Profession, Moral Entrepreneurship, Moral Panics, and Social Control.

 “Few, no matter how desperate, seek help of their own accord.”  says Dr. Marv Seppala, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Hazelden, one of the “PHP-approved” drug and alcohol assessment and treatment centers located in Center City, Minnesota.  “Physicians are intelligent and skilled at hiding their addictions.”

“They’re often described as the best workers in the hospital,” he says. “They’ll overwork to compensate for other ways in which they may be falling short, and to protect their supply. They’ll sign up for extra call and show up for rounds they don’t have to do.”

In reality this is ludicrous–knee slapping absurd.   If the results of this authoritative opinion were not so dire these statements would, in fact, be comical.   Such is not the case, however, and opinions like Seppala’s have been taken at face value and, as a result, the aftermath has been and continues to be tragedy.IMG_0706

Addiction, alcoholism and substance abuse to any significant degree produce both physiological and behavioral manifestations in the user. It is cause and effect.  Pathophysiology conforms to law of nature and not the whims of the impaired physician movement.

What anomalous  aspect of intelligence or special skill set would enable a doctor to hide an addiction?

The ASAM definition of addiction is characterized by cognitive, behavioral and emotional changes which include “impaired control” so how would intelligence rein it in?  Furthermore, what unique logical, rational, analytical, factual, abstract, intuitive or objective aspect of intelligence is responsible for this preternatural fortitude?

How is the intelligence of a doctor any different from the intelligence of any other human being?  And what prodigious abilities do doctors have that enable them them to cloak the  behavioral manifestations and stave off the physical consequences chemical addiction to such a degree that they are able to maintain the facade of being  “described as the best workers in the hospital?”  Is it an innate inborn endowment or an esoteric knack acquired during medical training?

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What ability and artistry would allow a profession to weave such a web of fortitude that they can convincingly shroud the myriad signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse unlike the regular folk?    Perhaps access to ophthalmic vasoconstrictors and beta blockers to temper the pupillary dilation and tremulousness associated with stimulants or botox and a testosterone patch to mask the skin changes and maintain lean muscle mass in the throes of alcoholism?

How does overworking “protect their supply” and why would they keep it at the hospital?  These people have prescription pads and last I checked there were no cocktails shakers or bottles of Jameson in the doctors lounge.

And for the life of me I cannot comprehend why an alcoholic or addict doctor would sign up for extra call and show up for rounds on his day off.  What would be the point?

In reality a doctor with a drug or alcohol problem would be erratic with call and show up late for rounds.

This is just another example of authoritative opinion with no substantive value. It is moral entrepreneurship at its finest; the fallacy of appeal to authority and secret knowledge.

If Seppala were asked to provide the evidence-base and rationality of these statements he would be hard pressed to do so.  The question would be met with deflection, logical fallacy, references to the opinions of like minds and thought-stopping memes.  “You need a check-up from the neck up,”  your best thinking got you here,”  there is no “I” in “team,” “denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”  Oh, yeah?   well “Rogue” isn’t just a river in Oregon and, while we are at it, “Boring” isn’t just a town!

It is this type of misinformation and propaganda that allows the “impaired physician movement” to  drag away the “best worker in the hospital” and deem him “in denial.”

“We were so surprised. We didn’t even know he had a problem”  say the nurses, patients and colleagues left behind.

Well the truth is he probably didn’t!

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Blind-faith and unquestioning allegiance to expert authority deflects scrutiny and analysis.  Few red flags are raised as this type of moral preening promotes misguided plausibility and complacency in the belief that these are indeed experts with good intentions. This needs to be addressed.

But if you look at any of the current “moral panics” that are being used to suggest random suspicion-less drug testing of doctors or promoting the Physician Health Programs as successful and replicable models, you will inevitably find a doctor on this list behind it. It is a given.

And the invitation goes out to Seppala to debate this in a public forum on a level playing field.    Not gonna happen because it would be impossible for him to address and answer the questions rationally,  directly and with any tiny scrap of evidence based data.  This is being shown clearly on Medscape as both the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) remain silent despite the mounting horror stories from doctors diagnosed with pathology when none existed who were forced into treatment they did not need.  Diagnosis rigging, forensic fraud, lack of due process and all manner of abuse are being reported but as an organization with power maintained by by lack of accountability and secrecy they will not and cannot answer.  It is time we identify these groups as illegitimate and irrational authority and demand transparency and legitimacy.

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The Need for Anti-Trust and OIG Investigation of Physician Health Programs—Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant!

She likes a rigged game, you know what I mean?”
— R.P. Murphy in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


Unknown-3An article published in the March 17, 2014 newsletter Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly entitled “Physician group urges focus on spiritual and psychosocial” describes a group of doctors emphasizing “that for all addictions, the psychosocial and spiritual interventions, including 12-step interventions must be included in the treatment process.”   “According to founding board member Dr. Ken Thompson, M.D., “to not do so falls short of practicing good addiction medicine.”
With a “significant percentage” in 12-step recovery themselves, “they have formed group called “Like-Minded Docs.”  This group now has close to 300 physicians, “many of whom are medical directors of top treatment programs and also members of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).”

ADAW March 17 2014

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Dr. Thompson is  the Medical Director of Caron treatment center in Pennsylvania. The group also includes medical directors of many other treatment centers including Hazelden, Talbott, Marworth, and Promises.   The President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine is in fact a Like-Minded Doc.

The number of like-minded docs represent over 10% of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).
Ostensibly I applaud the ideal of addressing the psychosocial and spiritual aspects of addiction.

I also acknowledge that alcoholics anonymous and 12-step recovery is a treatment tool that can provide great benefit to some people.   But to others it provides no benefit and to some it can cause harm.   As most reasonable people would agree, forcing individuals into a thought process of spirituality should never be mandated.

That being said, I have no strong feelings for or against A.A and 12-step spirituality.  I view it through the same pluralistic and open-minded lens as I do religion–there are many paths to salvation and none superior.

I have referred patients to A.A. and see it as an option and a personal choice that can provide great benefit to some people, none to others and in fact harm those who are not aligned with the concept.

If it works for you great. If not then let’s take a different approach.
Although the ideals of the Like-Minded Docs are laudable, it is the framework that is concerning as it creates a confluence of currents that preclude option and choice.

It is a scaffold that can be used for coercion, control, and imposition.   It can be abused.

And this is exactly what is being done in many of the State Physician Health Programs (PHPs) as well as the drug courts.  It is notable that many of the same individuals pushing PHPs as a  “replicable” model of recovery are the very same individuals behind the drug courts and the motivation behind this does not appear to be altruism but power and greed.

Originally funded by state medical societies and staffed by volunteer physicians, PHP’s were designed to help sick doctors and protect the public. Over the past decade these programs have undergone a sweeping transformation due to this subgroup of the  ASAM.

It is important to understand that the ASAM is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). They created their own “board certification” (ABAM) and the only requirement is an M.D. in any specialty and some sort of experience in substance abuse.  This is not a medical specialty but a “special interest group.”

images Trumpeting the false dichotomy that addiction is a “brain disease” and not a “moral failing” while portraying themselves as altruistic advocates of the afflicted, this subgroup of the ASAM has cultivated an organization that exudes authority, knowledge, respectability, and advocacy.  But they are an illegitimate authority and others must be made cognizant of this fact.

The ASAM has set forth definitions of addiction, shaped diagnostic criteria, dictated assessment protocols and shaped public policy all under the guise of scholarship and compassion. But is this the real motive?  I don’t think so.

This same group introduced junk science such as the EtG and PEth alcohol biomarkers through Greg Skipper, FSPHP, ASAM, and a like-Minded Doc who can also be found on this list.  The conflicts-of-interest are serious and vast.

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This same group has created the “impaired” physician construct as well as the  “moral panic” of a hidden cadre of drug addled and besotted doctors protected by a “culture of silence” that has seriously damaged the reputation of doctors and the medical profession through the eyes of both regulators and the general public.

This same group has introduced and promulgated the nebulous “disruptive physician” and successfully fostered a moral crusade to attack this huge apparently hidden but non-existent threat.

The next target is the “aging physician” and if you do an internet search you will see they are currently fomenting a call to arms to root out senility in medicine.

This same group used the same tactics in each case.

With no evidence base they used propaganda and disinformation to convince regulatory and administrative medicine that witches are real, witches are dangerous, and that they were the experts when it came to identifying, assessing and treating witches.    And it worked.
By infiltrating state PHPs they have become the might and main of addiction medicine in the United States.

By removing dissenters who disagreed with the groupthink they have taken over almost all  of the state PHPs organized under the Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP).

And this is where it becomes interesting.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 5.38.23 PMState PHPs are very strict when it comes to choice in rehabilitation facilities for for physicians in need of assessment and treatment for substance abuse.

In fact there is no choice in the matter.
As home to some of the countries top ranked hospitals and most prestigious medical schools Massachusetts is an international healthcare hub with world-class teaching, research, and clinical care.

Two of the top three psychiatric hospitals in the United States as rated by U.S. News and World Report are found here in Massachusetts with McLean Hospital earning the top prize and Massachusetts General Hospital ranked number three.

However, this medical mecca of learning and research is apparently unable to attract anyone with competence and skill to assess physicians for substance abuse or disruptive behavior.
In Massachusetts if the State PHP, PHS,inc. feels a physician is in need of an assessment the evaluation must be done at “a facility experienced in the assessment and treatment of health care professionals” It must be done at a “PHP-approved” facility. No exceptions.

And apparently these esoteric skills are only found in Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, and a half dozen other places.Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 4.55.18 PM
With over 20 years experience with the Massachusetts PHP, Physicians Health Services, inc., Harvard Medical Schools Dr.’s John Knight and J. Wesley Boyd wrote an article in the Journal of Addiction Medicine last year concerning ethical issues in state PHPs.

Ethical and Managerial Considerations Regarding State Physician Health Programs

IMG_9115 One of the issues Knight and Boyd discussed was the conflicts of interest between the state PHPs and the evaluation centers.

One comment I was surprised got past editorial review was that the treatment centers may “consciously or otherwise” tailor diagnosis and recommendations to the PHP’s impression of that physician. “Consciously” tailoring a diagnosis is fraud. It is political abuse of psychiatry.

If you look up the medical directors of the “preferred facilities” and then cross reference with the list of LMD’s you get a perfect match.
So when the PHP refers a physician for an evaluation and gives them a choice of an assessment facility there is no choice.

It is three card monte. It is a shell game. Heads I win tails you lose.
The ASAM has imposed the prohibitionist chronic brain disease spiritual recovery model of addiction on the field of medicine.

It is a system of coercion, control, and indoctrination. And another ASAM Like-Minded Doc, Robert Dupont, is calling this the “new paradigm” of addiction medicine and wants to spread it out to other venues including schools.
Like-Minded Docs solves the final piece of the puzzle. It explains why so many doctors across the country are claiming fabrication and manipulation of personality and cognitive tests to support nonexistent diagnoses.

They are not gathering data to form a hypothesis but making data fit a hypothesis that arrived before they did.

It also explains the marked increase in physician suicide.

With guilt assumed from the start, no due process, no appeal and no way out physicians are being bullied, demoralized, and dehumanized by these zealots to the point of hopelessness.

This needs to stop.

Medicine is predicated on competence, good-faith, and integrity. Medical ethics necessitates beneficence, respect, and autonomy. The scaffold erected here is designed for coercion and control. Exposure, transparency, and accountability are urgent. An evidence based Cochrane type assessment of their “research” and an Institute of Medicine Conflict of Interest review are long overdue.

The emperor has no clothes and sunshine is the best disinfectant.

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“Addiction Medicine” is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS)–It is a “self-designated-practice specialty” (SDPS) and indicates neither knowledge nor expertise.

V0011377 A quack doctor selling remedies from his caravan; satirizingEducational and Professional Standards in Medical Specialties and Subspecialties

The increasingly rapid growth and complexity of medical knowledge in twentieth century American medicine resulted in the creation of specialties and subspecialties.

A related development was the creation of “boards”  to “certify” physicians as  knowledgeable and competent in the specialties and subspecialties in which they claimed to have expertise.   The American Board of Ophthalmology, organized in 1917, was the first of these.

As the number of medical specialties proliferated an umbrella organization was formed to accomplish this task. The Advisory Board for Medical Specialties was created  in 1933 and reorganized as the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) in 1970.  This non-profit organization oversees board certification of all physician specialists and sub-specialists in the United States.

The ABMS recognizes 24 medical specialties in which physicians can pursue additional training and education to pursue Board Certification.Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.44.56 PM

In 1991 the American Board of Medical Genetics was approved as the 24th ABMS board and these 24 boards grant the  37 general certificates and 88 subspecialty certificates available to medical specialists today.

The ABMS Member Boards are responsible for developing and implementing the educational and professional standards for quality practice in a particular medical specialty or subspecialty and evaluate physician candidates for Board Certification.  They set the bar of knowledge and competence for their given area of expertise.

All of the ABMS Member Boards are:

“committed to the principle of examining doctors based on six general competencies designed to encompass quality care: patient care, medical knowledge, practice-based learning and improvement, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, and systems-based practice.”

These areas have been collectively identified by the ABMS, the American College of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in order to standardize graduate medical education in any specialty  from medical school graduation through retirement.1

One of the  24 medical specialties ABMS recognizes in which physicians can pursue additional training and education and pursue Board Certification is Psychiatry.

Founded in 1934, The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is one of the 24 ABMS specialty boards. In 1959, the ABPN issued its first subspecialty certificate in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and was the only ABNP subspecialty until 1991 when the first examination in Geriatric Psychiatry was administered.4 Addiction Psychiatry became a subspecialty of ABPN in 1993.

The ABPN governs the specialty of Psychiatry, of which Addiction Psychiatry is a subspecialty.   Board Certification in Addiction Psychiatry requires a four-year psychiatric-residency program for training in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mood, anxiety, substance-abuse as well as other psychological and interpersonal problems followed by an additional year of training in one of the 40 accredited Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship programs. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is the professional organization responsible for the accreditation residency education programs in the US for ABMS specialty and subspecialty areas of medicine. Addiction Psychiatry training programs are governed by the ACGME and graduates are eligible for ABPN Certification in Addiction Psychiatry.

When this rigorous education and training is complete a candidate is Board Eligible and can then take the subspecialty certification exam. The exam assesses competency in the dand consultation, pharmacotherapy, pharmacology of drugs, psychosocial treatment and behavioral basis of practice to be Board Certified in the subspecialty of Addiction Psychiatry by the ABPN.

Candidates must then be assessed in  a number of areas including psychiatric evaluation and consultation, pharmacotherapy, pharmacology, toxicology, psychosocial treatment, behavioral basis of practice, and many other areas in which for the past half-decade they where taught and apprenticed.

The current structure of residency training is little changed from when it was conceived originally by William Stewart Halsted in the late 19th Century.  Physicians acquire knowledge and skills necessary to safely and competently manage patients through apprenticeship. Training in a specialty area provides a comprehensive platform that allows medical school graduates to apply a body of knowledge to patient care and the treatment of disease. This forms the foundation of our Guild–undifferentiated and general but pluripotential.

The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) is the only professional organization in the US focused on the subspecialty of Addiction Psychiatry.   The AAAP Mission Statements are to: 2

  • PROMOTE HIGH QUALITY EVIDENCE-BASED SCREENING, ASSESSMENT AND TREATMENT FOR SUBSTANCE USE AND CO-OCCURRING MENTAL DISORDERS.
  • TRANSLATE AND DISSEMINATE EVIDENCE-BASED RESEARCH TO CLINICAL PRACTICE AND PUBLIC POLICY.
  • STRENGTHEN ADDICTION PSYCHIATRY SPECIALTY TRAINING AND FOSTER CAREERS IN ADDICTION PSYCHIATRY.
  • PROVIDE EVIDENCE-BASED ADDICTION EDUCATION TO HEALTH CARE TRAINEES AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS TO ENHANCE PATIENT CARE AND PROMOTE RECOVERY.
  • EDUCATE THE PUBLIC AND INFLUENCE PUBLIC POLICY FOR THE SAFE AND HUMANE TREATMENT OF THOSE WITH SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS.
  • PROMOTE PREVENTION AND ENHANCE ADDICTION TREATMENT AND RECOVERY ACROSS THE LIFE SPAN.
  • PROMOTE RESEARCH ON THE ETIOLOGY, PREVENTION, IDENTIFICATION AND TREATMENT OF SUBSTANCE USE AND RELATED DISORDERS.

Self-Designated Practice Specialty :  An AMA Census Term Indicating What a Group of Doctors are Calling Themselves.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 5.22.16 PMThe American Medical Association records a physician’s Self-Designated Practice Specialty (SDPS) in response to an annual credentialing survey. According to the AMA, SDPS are “historically related to the record-keeping needs of the American Medical Association and do not imply ‘recognition’ or ‘endorsement’ of any field of medical practice by the Association. SDPS refers to a self-designated specialty and this is not equivalent nor does it imply ABMS [American Board of Medical Specialties] Board Certification.a_meissen_group_of_harlequin_and_the_quack_doctor_circa_1741_faint_blu_d5585085_001h

“The fact that a physician chooses to designate a given specialty/area of practice on our records does not necessarily mean that the physician has been trained or has special competence to practice the SDPS.”3

Physicians have been able to list addiction medicine as a self-designated area of practice using the specialty code “ADM” since 1990.Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.45.43 PM

In contrast to these accepted board credentials, American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM)  certification requires only a medical degree, a valid license to practice medicine, completion of a residency training in ANY specialty, and one year‘s full time involvement plus 50 additional hours of medical education in the field of alcoholism and other drug dependencies. The majority of American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) physicians meet these requirements by “working in a chemical dependency treatment facility, taking continuing medical education courses in addiction, or participating in research.”6

The American Society of Addiction Medicine’s mission is to “establishScreen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.47.55 PM addiction medicine as a specialty recognized by professional organizations, governments,, physicians, purchasers, and consumers of health care products, and the general public.’5   They have succeeded in doing this as many consider them to be the experts in addiction medicine including regulatory agencies.

The goal of the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) Foundation is to “gain recognition of Addiction Medicine as a medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).”

But Addiction Medicine is currently not recognized by the ABMS.  It is still a a Self-Designated Practice Specialty and the ABAM is a Self-Designated Board.  So too is the American Academy of Ringside Medicine and Surgery, the American Academy of Bloodless Medicine and Surgery and the Council of Non-Board Certified Physicians.   But these Self-Designated Boards do not have the multi-billion dollar drug and alcohol testing and treatment industry supporting them. Addiction Medicine has deep pockets, and if the November 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is a harbinger of what’s to come, this self-designated practice specialty currently being certified by a self-designated Board and bereft of anything resembling the the educational and professional standards for quality practice in a particular medical specialty or subspecialty may soon robber baron its way into acceptance by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

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One thing is for certain.  When society gives power of diagnosis and treatment to individuals within a group schooled in just one uncompromising model of addiction with the majority attributing their very own sobriety to that model, they will exercise that power to diagnose and treat anyone and everyone according to that model.  The birth of Addiction Medicine as an ABMS accepted discipline is sure to be a success for the drug and alcohol testing and 12-step treatment industry, but its spawn is sure to be an inauspicious mark on the Profession and Guild of Medicine and a bane of society for years to come.

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  1. Stevens RA. In: Stevens R, Rosenberg C, Burns L, eds. History and Health Policy in the United States: Putting the Past Back in: Rutgers University Press; 2006:49-83.
  2. American Association of Addiction Psychiatry Website http://www.aaap.org/about-aaap/mission-statement (accessed 4/2/2014).
  3. American Medical Association. List & Definitions of Self-Designated Practice Specialties. August 21, 2012 http://www.ama-assn.org/ama.
  4. Juul D, Scheiber SC, Kramer TA. Subspecialty certification by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Academic psychiatry : the journal of the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training and the Association for Academic Psychiatry. Spring 2004;28(1):12-17.
  5. http://www.asam.org/about-us/mission-and-goals.
  6. Tontchev GV, Housel TR, Callahan JF, Kunz KB, Miller MM, Blondell RD. Specialized training on addictions for physicians in the United States. Substance abuse : official publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse. Apr 2011;32(2):84-92.
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“mail order” expertise; Diploma Mill

Making the Data fit the Hypothesis is not Science: The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “Weasel Phrases,” “Framing” and “Data-Dredging.”

This is an example of language framing. Language framing uses words and phrases to direct attention to a point of view to advance a vested interest.

In this case the use of the phrase “honest and denial free” in the context of physician reporting imparts associative meaning to the reader.

As denial is a recurring motif and cardinal attribute of physician addiction according to the paradigm, the connotation is that the reports by physicians may have been influenced by dishonesty and denial while face-to-face interviews done by “trained” interviewers were not.

“Framing” is another propaganda technique designed to tell the audience how to interpret the information given through context. The message here is that the somewhat less lifetime prevalence of substance abuse and addiction in physicians found by anonymous mail survey may be underreported as a result of both methodology and denial.

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AMSA is now known as the ASAM

But in actual fact there is a large body of research regarding “social desirability bias” that shows the converse to be true.

Disrupted Physician

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 1.12.01 AMPrinciples of Addiction Medicine devotes a chapter to Physician Health Programs. Written by Paul Earley, M.D., FASAM,1 Earley states that the lifetime prevalence of substance abuse or addiction in physicians found by Hughes2 is “somewhat less than the percentage in the general population reported by Kessler” of 14.6%.3

Although he specifies the numerical percentage “in physicians at 7.9%,”3 he avoids the use of numbers (14.6%) in the general population. He instead uses the qualifier “somewhat less.” Why is this?

My guess is because it understates the statistical fact that the prevalence found by Kessler in the general population was almost twice that found by Hughes in physicians.

You see, “Somewhat less” is a “detensifier.” It creates an impression of a small disparity between doctors and the general population.

In propaganda this is what is known as a “weasel phrase.”   Weasel phrases are used to obfuscate the…

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Monopolies, Self-Referral and Shell Games: The Need for Antitrust Investigation of Physician Health Programs and their “PHP-Approved” Assessment and Treatment Centers

On the above list can be found the Medical Directors of a number of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities. I did not make up this list. An updated version can be seen right here on the “like-minded doc” website.

Talbott, Marworth, Hazelden, Promises, and another two-dozen or so “PHP-approved” assessment and treatment centers are represented on this list. State Physician Health Programs (PHPs) refer doctors to these facilities for evaluations. PHPs are non-profit tax-exempt organizations. They do not evaluate or treat patients. If a physician is referred to a PHP for a suspected problem the assessment must be done at an outside facility which will invariably be linked to a name on the list of Like-Minded Docs.

What most people do not know, however, is that this is an exclusive arrangement. Evaluations are constrained to one of these facilities. It is mandated. No bargaining. No compromises. No choice. In other words it is a coercion.

Disrupted Physician

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Three shells and a pea–ASAM, FSPHP, and LMD.

“PHP-Approved” Assessment and Treatment Centers

On the above list  can be found the Medical Directors of a number of drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.  I did not make up this list.  An updated version can be seen right here on the “like-minded doc” website.

Talbott, Marworth, Hazelden, Promises, and another two-dozen or so “PHP-approved”  assessment and treatment centers are represented on this list.    State Physician Health Programs (PHPs) refer doctors to these facilities for evaluations.  PHPs are non-profit tax-exempt organizations.  They do not evaluate or treat patients.   If a physician is referred to a PHP for a suspected problem the assessment must be done at an outside facility which will invariably be linked to a name on the list of Like-Minded Docs.

What most people do not know, however, is that this is an exclusive arrangement.    Evaluations are constrained to one of these facilities…

View original post 95 more words

Drug Companies and Doctors: A Story of Corruption

Drug Companies and Doctors: A Story of Corruption.

What we need is a Marcia Angell to take on the multi-billion dollar drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 7.22.25 PMWhile all eyes were focused on the drug companies these multi-billion dollar industries erected a scaffold of immunity and profit by removing (and blocking) themselves from essentially all aspects of accountability; answerability, justification for actions and the ability to be punished by outside actors.    The 2009 quote in reference to “big pharma”  is just as applicable to the drug and alcohol testing industry,”  the inpatient assessment and treatment centers and the “authorities” pushing public policy and swaying public opinion to accept irrational and illegitimate authoritative opinion as truth.

And unlike the pharmaceutical industries carefully constructed “bent science” which requires a keen eye and critical analysis , the evidence-base supporting the testing, assessment and treatment industry rests on a foundation that can be aptly characterized as illusions and lies.  The “science” is not just “junk-science” but junk-science of the lowest order–examples of confirmatory distortion and data-dredging to make the data fit the hypothesis abound.   The conflicts-of-interest are not potential but incestual with many of the key players putting their hands in every slice of the pie!

The bad science, bad medicine, bad policy and  bad actors are easy to identify. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

So what are the barriers?

Why has this not been done?

The answer to that is complex but  involves a confluence of factors including psychological, political and cultural.  “Feel good fallacy,”  “political correctness, and moral and policy entrepreneurship have effectively swayed the targets intended.  The well-funded misinformation and propaganda was cast with a large net using the same techniques others have successfully used throughout history to accomplish the same.  Moral panics, moral crusades, and a plethora of logical fallacy have been used and used with considerable resources and skill.

So what can we do about it?

The first “step into the breach” is to identify the problem with the first one being the Emperor has no clothes.  Once this is acknowledged it would not take long to address directly the specific problems and erroneous assumptions of this paradigm through the lenses of science, critical reasoning, ethics and common sense.  If this were to be done the entire Potemkin village would fall like a house of cards.

But the very first and simplest step is to use your voice to question this authority. Make it be known.

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History teaches us that silence and secrecy are often the most effective tools of power.   It hides things including very bad things.  It is time to shine a light on this dank dark corner of the medical profession.


It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine” – Marcia Angell 

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“At times to be silent is to lie. You will win because you have enough brute force. But you will not convince. For to convince you need to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: Reason and Right”
― Miguel de Unamuno

“I have always found it odd that people who think passive aggressively ignoring a person is making a point to them. The only point it makes to anyone is your inability to articulate your point of view because deep down you know you can’t win. It’s better to assert yourself and tell the person you are moving on without them and why, rather than leave a lasting impression of cowardness on your part in a person’s mind by avoiding them.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Staying silent is like a slow growing cancer to the soul and a trait of a true coward. There is nothing intelligent about not standing up for yourself. You may not win every battle. However, everyone will at least know what you stood for—YOU.”
― Shannon L. Alder


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