Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us

Course No. 1924
Professor Steven Novella, M.D.
Yale School of Medicine
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Course No. 1924
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Course Overview

True or false: Eight glasses of water a day are mandatory for staying hydrated. Vitamin C protects you from catching a cold. Frequent snacking is the quickest way to bust your diet. Natural foods are always better for you. You hear advice like this all the time. But what do these four nuggets of so-called medical wisdom have in common? They're all myths, half-truths, and misconceptions—pieces of information so familiar we take them for granted without truly considering the scientific truth behind them.

In today's information age, when supposedly accurate medical advice and diagnoses can be found online with the click of a computer mouse, medical myths are all around us. But much of this information isn't true, and using it to make decisions about your own health—whether it's how to treat the symptoms of the common cold or how to care for a child or aging relative—can be harmful. Even deadly.

Because you are the one who's ultimately responsible for your own health, it's critical to understand the accuracy of medical information; to break down the growing body of misinformation and discover the truth about everyday health and well-being.

"You can't assume that what you've always heard must be true simply because many other people believe it and spread it around," notes Dr. Steven Novella of the Yale School of Medicine, a medical doctor who has built his career educating patients, the public, students, and professionals about the highest standards in medical science and practice. "You should challenge all of your beliefs and, wherever possible, try to rely upon a consensus of authority or primary sources in order to check out everything that you think you know to be true."

This is exactly the approach you'll take with Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us. Dr. Novella's 24 revealing lectures are an empowering learning experience that will give you evidence-based guidelines for good health, will enhance your ability to be better informed about common medical myths, and will strengthen your skills at assessing the scientific truth behind medical information and advice—whether you're having an important conversation with your doctor or taking a trip down the medicine aisle of your local pharmacy.

Dispel Medical Myths with Authoritative Information

Popular and easily accessible sources such as websites, blogs, advocacy groups, marketing materials, and celebrity endorsements are where we often get quick medical information. But they're also the most unreliable sources. That's why Dr. Novella's course is an essential aid for any home—because the information in every single lecture is rooted in authoritative and reliable sources of fact and knowledge:

  • Physicians and other health-care professionals
  • Medical research and professional organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • University medical schools
  • Regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration

After you get a solid foundation for what constitutes "good" information and how to look for it, Dr. Novella guides you through some of the most prevalent and enduring medical myths. And to help you filter through the deluge of advice out there, he's organized Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths into three major sections that focus on specific aspects of health.

  • You Are What You Eat and Drink: So much of today's misinformation swirls around concepts related to dieting and nutrition. Here, you'll get pointed looks at proper hydration, the routine use of multivitamins, natural foods and probiotics, antioxidants, and more.
  • Fighting Diseases: Some diseases are merely inconvenient to our everyday life; others, however, can pose significant and lasting health risks. Which makes it all the more important to sort out truth from fiction regarding vaccines, vaccine safety, the supposed link between vaccination and autism, antibiotics, chronic diseases, and other subjects you learn about in this section.
  • Exploring the Alternatives: It seems as if there's a surplus of alternative medicines, remedies, and treatments designed to alleviate symptoms, prevent illness, or promote personal health. But which ones really work? Investigate the claims behind herbal medicines, homeopathy, acupuncture, and other alternatives that aren't as worthwhile as they claim to be.

Dr. Novella also opens your eyes to myths about pregnancy, loss of consciousness, detoxification, and the placebo effect. In one lecture toward the end of the course, he even takes you on a brief tour of common medical myths from around the world to demonstrate that medical myths vary, but misinformation is universal.

Intriguing Medical Questions, Revealing Scientific Answers

At the heart of Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths, of course, are the answers to questions that have long perplexed many of us. Much of the myths and misinformation we hear about sound true and seem to make sense. But do they really? Dr. Novella's answers, rooted in scientific knowledge and a wealth of medical research, may surprise you.

Here is just a small sample of the many myths you'll debunk in this intriguing course.

  • The more vitamins you take every day, the better. Many vitamins can cause dangerous toxicity if taken in high doses (a practice known as megadosing). Regular use of high doses of some vitamins can also increase the risk of disease. For example, Vitamin E supplementation has been shown to correlate with an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Soda causes hyperactivity in children. Despite common belief, there is no evidence to support a link between caffeinated beverages like soda and behavioral changes in children. In fact, because caffeine is a stimulant, it may improve attention in some children. However, high doses of caffeine can cause jitteriness, nervousness, and sleep difficulty.
  • You can never be too clean. Regular exposure to immune challenges actually keeps our immune systems healthy—something that can be compromised by overusing antibiotics or being overly hygienic. Recent medical studies show a possible association between decreased immune system exposure and certain diseases like asthma.
  • If you're pregnant and carrying your baby low, then it's a boy. Myths such as these are pure folklore and are often rooted in ancient gender stereotypes. The only two legitimate methods for determining the sex of your baby are through ultrasound (which looks for physical sexual characteristics) or amniocentesis (which looks at the baby's chromosomes).
  • Most of your body heat is lost through your head. This myth is based on the false notion that body heat rises. Heat is lost through the entire surface area of your skin in several methods, including evaporation through sweat. If anything, your hands lose a disproportionate amount of heat due to their highly vascular nature.
  • Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis. A medical study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics examined 300 knuckle crackers and found no increased risk of arthritis. It did, however, find grip weakness, which was probably caused by repeated stretching of the ligaments around the knuckle joints.

Save Yourself Time, Money, and Worry

A strong proponent of ethics in medicine and the accuracy of medical information, Dr. Novella is a veritable fountain of knowledge who will enhance your understanding of medical truths and instill in you the confidence to overcome the bewildering amount of bad information around you. As an academic neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine, he's built a career teaching doctors how to become good doctors.

And while it's always important to seek medical advice directly from your family physician, it is just as important to be your own doctor and to have the knowledge to make smart and savvy health decisions that can save you time, money, and—most of all—unnecessary worry. All of which you'll get with Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Medical Knowledge versus Misinformation
    In Dr. Novella's introductory lecture, discover the importance of debunking medical myths and learn tips on where to seek out solid, medically backed information. Then, get a taste of the lectures to come by unpacking common myths about hiccups, sneezing, swallowing gum, curing a hangover, and swimming after eating. x
  • 2
    Myths about Water and Hydration
    Water is the most basic element of life. And yet there are many misconceptions about keeping your body hydrated. How exactly do our bodies regulate water? How much water should you really drink every day? Are expensive bottles of water and water purifiers worth the cost? x
  • 3
    Vitamin and Nutrition Myths
    You cannot overdose on vitamins. Organically grown food is more nutritious than traditionally grown food. Everyone should take vitamin supplements—and the more the better. These are some of the many myths and half-truths you investigate in this lecture on vitamin use and nutritional health. x
  • 4
    Dieting—Separating Myths from Facts
    More than any other component of health, dieting is the area most prone to myths and misinformation. Here, evaluate the veracity of everything from the benefits of low-carb and low-fat diets to the use of weight-loss supplements and intense workouts to the nature of "good" and "bad" fats. x
  • 5
    The Fallacy That Natural Is Always Better
    Natural isn't always better for you, as Dr. Novella demonstrates by guiding you through some common fallacies about the "natural foods" you can find in almost any grocery store around the world. These include how such foods are cultivated, how they're labeled and sold, and how they're prepared and consumed. x
  • 6
    Probiotics and Our Bacterial Friends
    There are billions of bacteria around and inside your body—and some of them are actually beneficial to your health. Explore the truths behind probiotics: what they are, whether they help with issues like tooth decay and irritable bowel syndrome, and the future possibilities of genetically engineered bacteria. x
  • 7
    Sugar and Hyperactivity
    It's commonly believed that large amounts of sugar lead to hyperactivity in children. But is that really the case? Debunk common misconceptions about the effects of sugar, food additives, and food allergies on children's behavior, and learn more about what may sometimes be the true culprit: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. x
  • 8
    Antioxidants—Hype versus Reality
    Another popular medical subject is antioxidants: substances in "superfoods" such as green tea that stabilize oxygen-free radicals. Discover what scientists have found about the potential for antioxidants to treat diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, to prevent cancer and heart disease, and to promote longevity and lifelong health. x
  • 9
    The Common Cold
    Finally put to bed the popular myths about one of the most common illnesses: a cold. You've heard the stories about not going out in cold weather, eating chicken soup, washing your hands, and taking over-the-counter medicine. Now, discover what science says about what works and what doesn't. x
  • 10
    Vaccination Benefits—How Well Vaccines Work
    Vaccines are perhaps the single safest and most effective preventive health measure ever devised. In the first of two lectures on this subject, learn the history of vaccination, what types of vaccines doctors use to stave off specific diseases, and why some people still question whether this technique works. x
  • 11
    Vaccination Risks—Real and Imagined
    Focus now on myths surrounding the safety of vaccines—including the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine and its false link to autism in children. Because of the unwarranted fear and confusion among parents, this particular myth has led to decreased vaccination rates and the reemergence of serious infectious diseases. x
  • 12
    Antibiotics, Germs, and Hygiene
    Infection remains a serious problem for our species, despite our well-developed immune systems. After learning about different bacteria and other invasive organisms, delve into some half-truths about antibiotic resistance and good hygiene. End the lecture with the answer to an intriguing question: Can you be too clean? x
  • 13
    Vague Symptoms and Fuzzy Diagnoses
    Diagnoses are the labels we attach to the signs and symptoms of particular diseases or illnesses. But not all diagnoses are equally valid. Here, learn how doctors make informed diagnoses and investigate several diseases that illustrate the controversy behind them, including chronic Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. x
  • 14
    Herbalism and Herbal Medicines
    Herbalism is perhaps the oldest form of medicine. So how much does it really differ from modern pharmacology? Find out as Dr. Novella explores the complicated process of drug development and testing, and then scientifically debunks popular herbal remedies such as echinacea, Gingko biloba, and St. John's wort. x
  • 15
    Homeopathy—One Giant Myth
    Devised before the advent of science-based medicine, homeopathy is a controversial belief system that should not be substituted for effective treatment. So how is it supposed to work? Why has the science community rejected its prescriptions? How are homeopathic products prepared—and what is actually in them? x
  • 16
    Facts about Toxins and Myths about Detox
    Find out where toxins come from, how our bodies work to effectively handle toxins, and what toxins you should worry about. Then, discover the scientific reasons why detoxifying treatments like colon cleansing, over-the-counter herbal agents, and skin products do nothing more than leech money out of your wallet. x
  • 17
    Myths about Acupuncture's Past and Benefits
    Acupuncture has recently received a great deal of attention but has yet to be convincingly proven to be medically effective beyond nonspecific placebo effects. In this lecture, take a closer look at the practice's Eastern and Western origins, its medical claims, its false potential as a form of anesthesia, and more. x
  • 18
    Myths about Magnets, Microwaves, Cell Phones
    The idea of using electromagnetism to heal has been around for centuries. Investigate how magnetic fields in objects like microwaves and cell phones work on our bodies, how healing is attempted through devices such as bracelets and pads, and how research shows that this curious form of medicine is scientifically unsound. x
  • 19
    All about Hypnosis
    When you hear the word "hypnosis," odds are you're thinking about the trance-like states you see on stage and TV. But does it have actual medical benefits? Here, delve into the neuroscience of hypnosis and examine truths about its clinical uses in dealing with memory loss, sleep disorders, chronic pain, and more. x
  • 20
    Myths about Coma and Consciousness
    What are the different levels of consciousness one can have in a coma? Is it truly possible to just wake up from a coma? Can people know that others are present while comatose? Movies and stories in the media perpetuate our confusion about comas and consciousness. Separate myth from reality here. x
  • 21
    What Placebos Can and Cannot Do
    Myths about placebos are "gateway myths"—meaning they often lead to many other medical misconceptions and half-truths. By understanding how placebos are defined, how they are administered, and what their different effects can be, you can better grasp whether they really make for an effective form of medicine. x
  • 22
    Myths about Pregnancy
    Carrying a baby low while pregnant means it's a boy. Never eat fish or drink caffeine while pregnant. Intercourse every 48 hours will increase your chances of conception. A whirlwind of misinformation surrounds the subject of pregnancy. Unpack many of the most common—and popular—myths in this lecture. x
  • 23
    Medical Myths from around the World
    Get a broader perspective on medical misinformation with this tour of myths from around the world, including South Korea (where sleeping with an electric fan on is thought to be deadly), parts of Africa (where it's believed that intercourse with a virgin can cure HIV infection), and Japan (where some believe personality is tied to blood type). x
  • 24
    Roundup—Decluttering Our Mental Closet
    Finish the course with a brief survey of "mini-myths," including that body heat is mostly lost through your head, that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis, and that eating turkey makes you sleepy. Afterward, take a moment to ponder the benefits of knowing how to sort through misconceptions and hype. x

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Your professor

Steven Novella

About Your Professor

Steven Novella, M.D.
Yale School of Medicine
Dr. Steven Novella is Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Yale School of Medicine. He earned his M.D. from Georgetown University and completed his residency training in neurology at Yale University. Dr. Novella is active in both clinical research and in medical education at every level, including patients, the public, medical students, and health professionals. An expert in neuroscience, Dr. Novella focuses his practice...
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Reviews

Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 86.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from While I agree with the conclusions of Dr Novella, I typically don't take such a hard line approach. I am glad that he dispels many myths, but medical research is not always infallible in its methods and conclusions. However, he does a nice job of indicating the strength of evidence. For example, the evidence for vaccination is very strong while the evidence against most alternative medicines is not yet as strong based on cumulative studies and sample sizes.
Date published: 2012-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Be forewarned! As the majority of reviewers have said, this is an >excellent< course. It is consistently interesting and holds your attention. BUT, be prepared to have some of your own beliefs shaken. Examples of things you'll learn: *"Alternative medicine" just doesn't work. (Chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, reflexology, etc). *Vitamins & supplements are not necessary or useful. *Linus Pauling was wrong about the Vitamin C thing. *The antioxidant craze is based on outdated research from the 1990s - it was helpful in animals but not people! *words like "organic" and "natural" are not necessarily good things. In this course, you will likely need to UN-learn a lot of things you "learned" in the past 20 years....
Date published: 2012-04-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Indeed As a physician, scientist, and educator I was quite prepared for what this course was going to address, with the skeptics eye, and was not disappointed in the least. This series of lectures is an eye-opening run through all of the myriad of the all too frequently repeated sometimes longstanding and often strongly held voodoo medicine beliefs that leave scientists shaking their heads in disbelief of the absurdity. The professor carefully punctures each myth in series while simultaneously educating those with a listening ear and open mind in the science behind his explanations. Science is the key, whether it be hard science proving something positively as a falsehood or the lack of any science to support a belief. And best of all he does support several beliefs for which their is some good scientific data, even when those beliefs are not those of the masses. I loved this course and plan on sharing it with my friends and family who hold so many of these myths as factual and absolute dogma, with an anticipatory Cheshire cat smile awaiting on my face. At times a bit too scientific for the masses, it is one series of lectures that I wish all my patients/families could experience before dragging their misbeliefs into my medical practice, as it would save me a lot of professional as well as personal time and effort dispelling them myself. Thank you for consolidating this information in an easily digestible and understandable format.
Date published: 2012-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic When reading the title, someone may not know what to expect: is this some quack trying to scare us away from the medical establishment? One question (that won't occur to some people to ask) is: how can I even tell the difference? Such a conundrum may actually drive people to avoid any new information on such seemingly controversial topics. But with further thought, you CAN up with ways to parse nuggets of wisdom from the stinkier nuggets. This course starts by presenting you with tools to find the wisdom nuggets, then follows up by applying those tools to the medical literature to help pluck many of them out for you. Furthermore, Prof. Novella puts these into a reasonable perspective, rather than drumming up fears with scare tactics. I've listened to the audio format several times through. This is an EXCELLENT course!
Date published: 2012-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of Best Courses Offered by TTC!! I can not give this course enough stars. In an age plagued by medical misinformation (coming from nearly all facets of life), this was a refreshing “escape to reality” with perspectives and views of modern science and skepticism. Prof Novella has an unrelenting, and somewhat refreshing, debunking style that pierces through modern myths of diets, medicines, and health in general. And it’s even more surprising to see which of those ‘myths’ that actually do have a hint of scientific truth behind them. I highly recommend this course all TTC listeners.
Date published: 2012-03-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not much Science We were expecting a lot more science, and information on the latest research. Instead, it is mostly the opinions of the instructor with no real supporting evidence. In areas where the science is not settled, he could have done so much more to tell the stories of both sides of the debate. As a scientist we have the motto of "in God we trust, all others must bring data". The instructor did not bring data to support his positions.
Date published: 2012-02-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from not authoritative The aim of this course is laudable, and some of the contents are quite interesting and potentially useful to the intended audience. Unfortunately, the claim in the course description that, “the information in every single lecture is rooted in authoritative and reliable sources of fact and knowledge,” is difficult to accept. Professor Novella appears to lack a solid grounding in fields such as immunology, microbiology, and molecular biology. Below are some examples: In Lecture 12 (p. 181 in the transcript book), Dr. Novella refers to cell walls as encapsulating bacteria. The outermost layer of an encapsulated bacterial cell is the capsule, not the cell wall. Bacterial cells for which the cell wall represents the outermost layer are frequently referred to as unencapsulated. Also in Lecture 12, Dr. Novella confuses transfer RNA (tRNA), which ‘chaperones’ amino acids to ribosomes for incorporation into proteins, with messenger RNA (mRNA), which is transcribed from DNA and then translated by ribosomes into a polypeptide chain composed of amino acids. In Lecture 23 (p. 361 in the transcript book), Dr. Novella implies that ABO antigens are proteins. They are, in fact, composed of monosaccharides. In other words ABO antigens are carbohydrates, not proteins. In Lecture 23 (p. 362 in the transcript book), Dr. Novella confuses the blood group antigens expressed primarily on red blood cells and which influence the success of blood transfusions, with histocompatibility antigens, which influence the success of organ transplants and hematopoietic cell transplants, what used to be referred to as bone marrow transplants. ABO antigens, arguably the most important red blood cell antigens in terms of influencing transfusion outcomes, are also important for, and are taken into account for, solid-organ transplants. For example, in most but not all cases organ donors are used only for ABO-identical recipients. Nevertheless, the most important antigens influencing organ graft acceptance are the HLA molecules, which are expressed on nucleated cells and not on red blood cells. Dr. Novella’s statement that the antigens influencing graft acceptance do not affect any physiological processes other than immunity is intemperate and very likely incorrect. For example, HLA variation is known to influence the risk of narcolepsy, a condition that affects wakefulness. There is also some evidence to suggest that allelic variation at HLA loci influences mate choice. It is also worth mentioning that HLA variation that influences immune and inflammatory processes can via these latter pathways affect diverse physiological mechanisms throughout the body. Regarding Dr. Novella’s lecture style, I found it average to below-average in terms of his ability to explain his points articulately. His tendency to overuse certain words, especially “however,” was particularly noticeable in some lectures.
Date published: 2012-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Valuable course and good use of visuals I watched this course with my wife who is a nurse. I am a scientist. Thought that the professor did a very good job of debunking many myths of medicine, He made very good use of props and slides that made having the DVD worthwhile. Did feel that too much time was spent on debunking obviously goofy ideas (eg a fan chopping up oxygen molecules) that could be spent on discussing more pertinent topics such as female hormone displacement or effects of radiation on the body. Summary:Would definitely recommend.
Date published: 2011-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In favor of reason Great course for anyone interested in substituting reason and common sense for superstition, pseudoscience, fear-mongering, and paranoia as purported by the media, pop culture, and even many scientific-looking entities. Steven Novella writes a regular column in the Skeptical Inquirer, which is how I knew his name. Only point of criticism: several easy-to-spot typos in the screen captions, hard to understand for a company with an agenda of excellence. What happened to proofreading?
Date published: 2011-12-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Medical Myths, Lies & Half Truths This course is definitely biased toward big pharma & big medicine -- there is no discussion about how dangerous this huge-scale medicating of US society is proving to be; how the original Framingham, Mass. study that demonized cholesterol -- (which led to its being the be all-end all focus of heart disease, a billion dollar industry of bypass surgeries and medicating everyone with statins....Big Pharma & Big Med's cash cow) -- was later found to be flawed. (Arteries can be cheaply, simply and safely cleared with home chelation treatment.) No discussion about how the drug companies help finance and corrupt the FDA and other supposed "watchdogs" (just read any book out today by people who used to work there). They game the system from the start -- including the doctors -- and that should be part of any discussion about "medical lies". Also how drug companies for depression medication have quietly hushed up lawsuits that claim the medication made the patients worse -- leading to more suicides AND homicides. In fact, drug companies have quietly added "homicidal ideation" to their warnings. (Phil Hartman's wife is one example.)....Related to that is the fact that drug companies and other big medical establishments chase out any other cheap or otherwise un-patentable treatment that might be cheaper and easier -- their legal departments are vicious in their pursuit of the destruction of these alternatives. I think any dicussion of "medical lies" ought to include ALL of this. There needs to be a discussion about how drug companies lump together their marketing & administration budgets with their research & development outlays -- and the marketing is more than double the R&D....so, when you're paying at the pharmacy for your medication, you're actually helping foot the bill for the romancing of the doctor that gave it to you. Of course a medical doctor is going to trash homeopathic or alternate treatments -- it's all about the money and the doctor's ego is involved at that point. I'm not saying every doctor is bad -- I'm saying many of them have been fed the kool-aid that they have all the answers and they know best. Many of them unwittingly play a part in furthering these destructive patterns in our daily lives -- i.e. every man, woman and child needs some sort of daily medication to make their lives "better". And what about the ethical minefield of disease charities who invest in equipment and treatments that are later found to be harmful -- but their money is so tied up in that avenue of treatment that they keep silent about the new developments. Example: birth control pills raise risk of breast cancer by 44% (Mayo Clinic Meta-analysis). Why haven't all these "breast cancer AWARENESS" charities been sounding the alarm? All they seem to be about is raising billions of dollars and getting everyone to wear pink. Thirty years ago, the highly motivated CEO of Merck said it was his dream to market drugs like Wrigley markets chewing gum -- to make and sell drugs to "healthy people". Thirty years later, his dream has come true. The "marketing of sickness" has led to just about everyone taking medication -- even children. The latest development in the art of conversation seems to be people naming their medications. Recommended reading: "Selling Sickness" by Ray Moynihan & Alan Cassels; "The Big Fix" by Katharine Greiger; "The Truth about the Drug Companies" by Marcia Angell, M.D. (former editor in chief of New England Journal of Medicine for 20 years); "Overtreated" by Shannon Brownlea; and "Comfortably Numb" by Charles Barber There is just as much fault with big pharma and big med that this professor/doctor seems determined to protect -- I cannot recommend this course. Buyer beware: it's all about the money now -- the system has been gamed: corrupted by greed and your life is yours to protect now from the "Medical Myths & Lies" that are rampant in our society. Educate yourself -- but not with this pro-medical establishment class.
Date published: 2011-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from helps me to know what to say He demonstrates how to come to a current best conclusion based on science, based on evidence and critical thinking, for a wide range of big and little medical topics. It was enjoyable like having an intelligent and polite conversation.
Date published: 2011-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very useful information As a physician, I get asked many "myth questions". This course actually answered all of them (and yes they are almost always myths and not facts). I recommend looking at the course content and chapter titles. If the content interests you then take the course. You won't be disappointed as the presentation and the research behind it are all first rate. If not, then you are unlikely to last through the 24 lectures.
Date published: 2011-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommended, with reservations The rules of health and medicine seem to change nearly every month, leaving us confused and wondering what to believe. I’m glad Professor Novella has made this course to help us out. You might not ultimately agree with everything said in this course, but (in my opinion) you should at least CONSIDER everything said. Novella’s presentation is excellent (except that he sometimes treats the audience as seasoned medical students rather than laymen). He’s articulate and generally makes things interesting. In fact, as one relatively uninterested in science, I found this to be the most accessible and useable science course I’ve yet heard. Novella clearly represents the conservative medical Establishment—he insists on rigid, formal, peer-reviewed, science-proved conclusions (though I sometimes wondered whether he was tendentiously selective about the research he chooses to credit). And, obviously, there is very good reason to listen to “proper” science. (Why would anyone not want to know what rigorous science has learned?) At the same time, however, I think it’s fair to say that science cannot measure everything; and even established science sometimes proves to be wrong. Anyone who has given even casual attention to the twists and reverses of medical history (including recent history) knows that scientific “proof” is fallible, as Novella occasionally acknowledges. For example, in Lecture 4 he says: “What about cholesterol? Should you limit cholesterol in your diet? If you remember, back in the 1980’s, having a low-cholesterol diet was all the rage. But as we investigated this further, that turned into just another dieting myth. It turns out that the amount of cholesterol that you eat in your food doesn’t contribute significantly to the amount of cholesterol in your blood. It’s the ratio of HDL to LDL that’s important--not so much the cholesterol that you directly eat.” Of course, I don’t know which or whether any of Novella’s assertions are wrong; but I do note that some of his conclusions squarely disagree with certain recommendations of other prominent physicians (e.g., Dr. Nicholas Perricone, and Dr. Mehmet Oz, as well as the persuasive physician who forcefully expressed his disagreement with Novella in his customer review of this course: “MichaelT.,” April 11, 2011). Those doctors’ credentials and conclusions, to me, seem just as cogent as Novella’s—which, once again, leaves me confused. In the end, I have some reservations or questions about this course; but I certainly have benefitted from Novella’s teaching and I definitely recommend this course. If you want to know what conservative medical science--as of early 2010--views as major medical myths (and I think one SHOULD want to know), this course is time well spent. It’s (at very least) a great baseline or starting point, and arguably should be a touchstone, in the process of making personal medical decisions. (Indeed, the lecture on pregnancy is, by itself, worth the purchase price, given its advice on protecting the health of the fetus.) Very worthwhile.
Date published: 2011-08-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too one-sided to be intellectually engaging Just as I run away from New Age types who paint allopathic (aka ´Western´) medicine as all bad and all about selling drugs and surgeries, I similarly quickly run in the other direction when I come across an (admittedly accomplished) allopathic physician who paints chiropractors, acupuncturists, herbalists and practitioners of other healing traditions as quacks and charlatans. Like another reviewer here, I straddle both worlds: allopathic and Eastern medicine. Both clearly have things to offer patients. Western medicine is better for acute illness, emergency medicine, trauma; Eastern medicine, for chronic and degenerative conditions, including but certainly not limited to pain management and musculoskeletal disorders. This could have been a valuable addition to the mostly excellent TC library of courses. As spun by Dr. Novella, it is pretty much entirely useless-- only serving to solidify animosities and widen gulfs between approaches to healing and health that more enlightened countries and clinics have long ago integrated.
Date published: 2011-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Buy it if you're interested in the body! One of the very best TC courses I've listened to. Uses medical myths as a springboard to explain many of the intricate processes of the human body. For example, the lecture on diet and exercise myths (my favorite) contains a very good description of digestion and the chemistry of fats and sugars. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2011-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Required Listening [Audio verion]. Very important, very useful information, clearly presented. As a new parent, I found it especially useful. Thank you TC for having the courage to put this course out, and Prof. Novella for your research and dedication to debunking medical myths.
Date published: 2011-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from banned from the mainstream world of pseudoscience people get mad when you shine light on their sacred cow, be careful with the information in this course. this course is put together well and information is organized. the one thing i should say is this; LEAVE ALL PRECONCEPTIONS AT THE DOOR. I had misconceptions that were hard to let go, so i understand but it will ruin the whole thing if you do
Date published: 2011-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting & informative, but . . . . I found the course to be quite interesting and informative. I am glad I purchased and watched it. However, in lecture two the good doctor insisted multiple times that the Mt. Wilson observatory was at a more than 10,000 foot elevation. In fact, I have hiked to the 5,710 foot summit of that same Mt. Wilson on numerous occasions from its base where indeed it did look to be ten thousand feet higher than my current elevation . . . . But, that detail aside, I very much enjoyed my journey with the professor and learned a lot and also had some suspicions confirmed.
Date published: 2011-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course debunking myths This course was both enjoyable and informative. The presenter did a thorough job in a very professional manner. I really appreciated how he took the myths at face value and tried to see them from a fair point of view, explaining what each were, where they came from and if there was even a kernel of truth in them. What this course offers: A doctor's point of view using modern science, often meaning putting each "myth" up to double-blind studies, rigorous research, and profound testing. Along the way, you'll learn many things that give you information to make you better informed. For example, now I know how cracking my knuckles work (it's not at all what I thought!). Also, I learned what blood type really means. There are a bunch of nuggets of information, and one of the most interesting things I learned is that many physicians, based on a study, believe in certain medical myths! You'll be surprised what they believe in. Overall, excellent course.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! I thouroughly enjoyed this! It was particularly fascinating to learn about the origins of acupunture, homeopathy and hypnosis. The two lectures I thought were weak were "Vague Symptoms and Fuzzy Diagnosis"--too vague and too fuzzxy-and "Myths About Pregnancy"--too random and haphazard.
Date published: 2011-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative, engaging, educational. As one might expect from Dr. Novella, whose blogs and interviews are always thorough and clear, the information he presents throughout the lecture series is simple, direct, and generally well explained. He disentangles fact and fiction, recognizing kernels of truth in many of these myths and misconceptions, and exploring their origins and their impact. The accompanying booklet includes highlights of each lecture for a refresher, recommendations for further reading, and an extensive bibliography of his references. Only in the final lecture, "Roundup—Decluttering our Mental Closet," does Dr. Novella breeze through many more minor myths without delving too deeply into them, but, again, the booklet gives direction for those who are interested in learning more. Most of this provided simple references to accompany the core content. Images were high-quality stock photos, illustrations were animated models of moderate quality, and the props and physical examples were clear and easy to understand. Although many added to the lectures and clarified the speaker's points, most seemed unnecessary. While I won't begrudge the desire for color and variety, I do wish more of these had been integrated visual aids. The A\V was clear, but only adequate. HD would have been appropriate for the price (see below). I don't know enough about how The Great Courses collects and constructs all their lecture series (this was my first purchase from them), but I got the distinct impression while watching that there existed no video editor, and perhaps no cameramen as well. The odd camera cuts and beats in speech took some getting used to, but considering the series to be a filmed lecture, rather than a documentary, made such bumps more forgivable. The audio was well balanced: I never had to jump on the volume remote to adjust for sections that were too loud or too quiet. As an individual, I am grateful for catching the initial sale on this set. The current, regular prices are simply too high for me, and I would expect would also be too high for most middle class and lower-income families. However, the price does not devalue the product itself, even with the less-than-stellar A\V. As a collection of medical myths fully discussed by a highly knowledgeable professor, this lecture series is a valuable addition to any student's, teacher's, dietitian's, and/or skeptic's library, so I would ask others not to be so deterred by the price as to call "sour grapes." If you find the price too high for yourself, consider renting it, borrowing it from your library (or first asking them to get a copy if they do not already have one), asking your company or organization to purchase a copy (an excellent option for schools and well-organized skeptical, social, or professional groups), or going in with others such as close friends or family to purchase it. Overall, the series is informative and clear, and the presenter, engaging and sincere. While the production quality does not warrant the price, the content makes up for this, and the series as a whole provides an excellent reference and learning tool for the lay person and teaching tool for the professional. Buy it if you can; borrow it if you can't. Either way, it's well worth watching.
Date published: 2011-04-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing This is based on the downloaded version. Dr. Novella has impressive credentials. He is a medical doctor, a neurologist, plus an author and a contributor to numerous blogs. He has a pleasant voice and a nice delivery. One of the reviewers called him “dry” but I do not agree with that. I think he speaks well and has a genuine enthusiasm about the subject matter. In the introductory lecture Dr. Novella promises to separate “science” from fiction and myths. What exactly is science? According to the doctor, it is a double blind study (neither the participants nor the examiners know who is getting the active ingredient or placebo). Ideally, there should be many such studies producing the same results, because, as the doctor has pointed out, you can always find one or two studies supporting any point of view. Testimonials are considered anecdotal and are not, therefore, real science. He says that the consensus of experts can also be considered scientific, but many look at this kind of “science” as unreliable. He mentions Dr. Semmelweis, who noticed that hand washing (by doctors) reduced the incidence of infection in pregnant women. The consensus of experts at the time was that Dr. Semmelweis was crazy. He was ridiculed and ostracized and eventually ended up in a mental asylum. Dr. Novella does cover some subjects that are clearly myths. Shaving your hair expecting that it will grow back thicker is not going to work, because the number of the hair follicles does not change. A pregnant woman carrying low does not necessarily have a boy. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day, regardless of your size of physical activity, is definitely a myth. Interestingly, Dr. Novella recommends the method used by Chinese Medicine (the treatment modality he considers to be a myth), namely drinking enough liquids to make sure that your urine is light or colorless and without odor. This means that you are well hydrated. But when it comes to major treatment modalities, such as homeopathy, herbal medicine, Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, etc. the professor considers them all “major myths.” If you do not know much about these alternative medical treatments, Dr. Novella’s presentation may seem sound and convincing. But if you do, you realize that the doctor is clearly very biased against anything that does not involve the “conventional” medicine, such as surgery and drugs. Anything conventional is OK. Pesticides in food? No problem. Chemicals in food? That’s OK. Organic farming? No better than the conventional farming, according to Dr. Novella, even though multiple studies have shown that organically grown vegetables have much higher concentration of various nutrients. I am a traditionally trained physician and I use chelation therapy, homeopathy, herbal medicine and nutritional supplements. Why? Because they work. We do not know why certain things work. For example, caloric restriction increases lifespan. This has been shown by multiple animal studies. This seems very unscientific, since we need the calories and nutrients. Yet, for some reason, animals fed fewer calories than they need, live longer than animals who are allowed to eat as much as they want. Multiple studies have shown the power of prayer. This is also very unscientific, after all, what is there in prayer that can be measured scientifically? Yet it works. Dr. Novella mentions one or two studies supporting his views, while ignoring literally hundreds of studies that refute them. He also uses anecdotal evidence (a girl with eczema died while using homeopathic medicine) after telling us how unreliable anecdotal evidence is. Are there bad supplements and bad herbal products? Undoubtedly. Are there bad drugs? Definitely, that’s why the FDA had to remove many drugs from the market and why many drugs have “black box warnings” because of serious and life-threatening side effects. I think this course is very biased against alternative medical modalities and I cannot recommend it.
Date published: 2011-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The War on Medical Flapdoodle [Audio Version] I loved this course. I love learning about quacks and hucksters. In my youth, a favorite book was Steward Holbrook’s ‘Golden Age of Quackery’ (1959). It covered the century before the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1907. Now we have a Golden Age II, in the age of information and the Internet. Unfortunately, in this second golden age, much of the medical ‘information’ we get is bogus. Unproved. Urban legend. Downright dogmatic flapdoodle. And expensive. That’s why we need Dr. Novella to show us what is proven, scientifically tested, clinically evaluated, and measured using strict empirical methods. The first decade of the 21st century offers a target rich environment for a skeptical doctor like Professor Novella. Sure, Novella covered several things I already knew, but I learned plenty of new material, too. I felt his presentation was lively, entertaining, and fast-paced. Best of all, I needed a refresher course on some items that I have sometimes purchased. Yes, I let my guard down, and have foolishly bought some new magical concoction I believed would help my cold, my arthritis, my allergies, etc. After this course, never again. Ever. I figure that if I follow Dr. Novella’s advice for the rest of my life, I might save enough money to pay my room and board in a nursing home when I’m in my nineties. Or hundreds. The course will pay for itself in the money you’ll save when you stop buying contraptions, ointments, advice, procedures and pills that simply do not work. Don’t miss this one!
Date published: 2011-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What Your Chiropracter Doesn't Want You To Know This is an outstanding review of the persistent myths that surround medical illness and modern snake oil treatments. Dr Novella quickly reviews a huge amount of information in an entertaining fashion.There are billions of dollars spent on supplements and other unproven alternative treatments by Americans every year.Many of the folks selling everything from toxin absorbing foot pads to vitamins that prevent colds,formulated by a second grade teacher,attempt to confuse the public so they can continue raking in the bucks .Listen to this and you can laugh at their next infomercial.
Date published: 2011-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceedingly Useful Most of the presentations I purchase from the Great Courses are in topics that I'm either (1) unfamiliar with and wish to learn more, or (2) of interest to me in a specific topic, such as astronomy or physics. This is one of the few courses I've taken that I can put to actual personal use (the other being Randall Barlett's "Thinking Like An Economist"). Dr. Novella keeps his presentation style on an even keel with a calm, matter-of-fact delivery. Some of the facts he offers in this course I already knew; others I didn't. Nevertheless, a very useful course that I will offer to my friends. This was well-worth the purchase.
Date published: 2011-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sure to Irritate, But That's a Good Thing People believe anecdote over evidence; impassioned testimonial triumphs over scientific precision. Novella, in 24 lectures, covers wide-ranging territory, and as such, is likely to irritate some listeners as he hits upon and demolishes their sacred cow. His lectures over homeopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, detox products or fears over vaccination are likely to cause the most ire, but he provides compelling evidence and sound logic for the myths he debunks. His course is invaluable; his arguments are cogent. If you've read his blog, NeuroLogica, or his pieces at Science-Based Medicine, you've already been exposed to a lot of this information, but it's still well worth the time and money to listen to Novella's lectures and how he structures the material.
Date published: 2011-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An extremely important course for everybody One of the most important courses the TTC has ever put forward. It promotes critical thinking and common sence with reagard to one of the most important thing in our lives. Its allso exctreemly informative, the way he disccusses common knowledge about medical matters, and shows how it squeres with the best scientific knowledge we have so far. I had some biology and basic pharma at a univiersity level, but this course was packed full with stuff i dident know. All the claims seems well grounded in evidence (No suprice since Novella is one of the founders the modern consept of "evidence based sience"). Thanks TTC and Doctor Novella.
Date published: 2011-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This lecture series is amazing A common sense, evidence-based approach to medicine. Dr. Novella separates the nonsense from the science. I can't recommend it enough.
Date published: 2011-01-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sorry, but can't recommend This course reminds me why I dislike medical meetings: dry and very slow lectures. Information is okay, but honestly most people with any medical background or even basic interest in these subjects will find very little new here. A much better course that covers a lot of the same material is Dr Goodman's (LIFELONG HEALTH). I have to rate Dr Novella's course a definite "skip".
Date published: 2011-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A heaping of scientific skepticism, not cynicism! If you are looking to weed out science-based fact from inflated marketing and ideological hype, I think you'll be highly please with the content of this course though, be warned: it may bust -- as in myth bust -- many cherished ideas and mannerisms that simply aren't true but which you've culturally inherited or actively acquired! -r.c.
Date published: 2011-01-27
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