Evidence matters, and it's really important to know on what basis claims are made. One of the supporters of this campaign is Dr Christian Jessen, television presenter:
“Asking for evidence is vital to ensure quality control in science, and to stop vulnerable patients from being exploited. Believing without question has no place in science and medicine.”A noble sentiment, but sadly Dr Jessen has fallen short of this.
Dr Margaret McCartney wrote a good article for the Daily Mail (I know!) on the dangers of unnecessary medical screening (the references for her claims are listed on her website).
Dr Jessen tweeted these (here and here):
You can see how people responded on twitter here. What struck me from that conversation was that, quite reasonably, Dr McCartney asked Dr Jessen to back up his tweet by asking "What evidence do you want to pull me up on?" Dr Jessen entirely ignored her tweets, then later said that he had blocked her, saying that "She appears to have issues with me!", which evidently wasn't the case. This isn't a very evidence based approach - all that was being asked for was the evidence to back up the claims he had made. The closest he got is this tweet:
Is this backed up in the article? No.
Examples of what screening is good:
What patients need to remember is that the pros of screening should outweigh the cons.
So, for example, newborn babies have a heel prick test a few days after birth to check for several rare diseases.
These need early treatment — like thyroid abnormalities — which can make a huge difference to the well-being of the child.
So the UK National Screening Committee recommends that these tests are routinely provided and fully funded on the NHS.
And people with diabetes are recommended regular eye tests to avoid complications from the disease.
The article finishes with what patients should be doing:
Potential patients need to know what they’re getting into — well before they get into the costly screening scanner.Dr Christian Jessen works for DoctorCall, a company which offers people the potentially needless and harmful screening Dr McCartney was writing about. Indeed, this company also offers acupuncture, which, it has been shown, does not work.
The article didn't leave me worried. But Dr Jessen's tweets did. Dr Gregory House says of full body scans (in the episode "Role model", the title of which gave me a wry smile, given the subject matter of this post) that they are useless because "you could probably scan every one of us and find fifty doo-dads that look like cancer". It worries me when a fictional TV doctor does better than a real TV doctor.
Believing without question has no place in science or medicine.
Always ask for evidence, and watch out when someone's not forthcoming with it.