Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More Brain Scams

Speaking of brain scamming, Mind Hacks linked to an article in about a disreputable informercial unwittingly shown on PBS multiple times:
Brain scam

Why is PBS airing Dr. Daniel Amen's self-produced infomercial for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease?

By Robert Burton

May. 12, 2008 | It's 10 on a Saturday night and on my local PBS station a diminutive middle-aged doctor with a toothy smile and televangelical delivery is facing a rapt studio audience. "I will show you how to make your brain great, including how to prevent Alzheimer's disease," he declares. "And I'm not kidding."

...the doctor, Daniel Amen, is being interviewed by KQED host Greg Sherwood. Sherwood is wildly enthusiastic. After reading Amen's book, "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," Sherwood says, "The first thing I wanted to do was to get a brain scan." He turns to Amen. "You could start taking care 10 years in advance of ever having a symptom and prevent Alzheimer's disease," he says. "Yes, prevent Alzheimer's disease," Amen chimes in.

Wait a minute. Prevent Alzheimer's disease? Is he kidding? But Sherwood is already holding up Amen's package of DVDs on learning your risk factors for A.D., as well as his book with a section titled "Preventing Alzheimer's." Then, as though offering a landmark insight into a tragic disease -- and encouraging viewers to pledge money to the station -- Sherwood beams and says, "This is the kind of program that you've come to expect from PBS."

If so, that's a shame...
Back in December, The Neurocritic dissected the neurohuckster's editorial in the Los Angeles Times about SPECT-scanning the brains of presidential candidates:
Getting inside their heads ... really inside

Presidential candidates' health is a campaign issue. So what about their brains?

By Daniel G. Amen
December 5, 2007

. . .

Is the brain health of a presidential candidate a fair topic in an election year? Certainly Dick Cheney's heart condition wasn't off-limits in 2000... Should we go so far as to do brain scans? Of candidates for the Oval Office? Some people might consider discussing brain health a ridiculous idea. Not me.

As a neuropsychiatrist and brain-imaging expert, [NOTE: huh, 9 papers in mostly low-profile journals] I want our elected leaders to be some of the "brain healthiest people" in the land. How do you know about the brain health of a presidential candidate unless you look? ...

Three of the last four presidents have shown clear brain pathology. [NOTE: oh really?? we only have evidence for AD in Reagan, as much as we'd like to believe that George W. has brain damage.] President Reagan's Alzheimer's disease was evident during his second term in office. Nonelected people were covering up his forgetfulness and directing the country's business. Few people knew it, but we had a national crisis. Brain studies have been shown to predict Alzheimer's five to nine years before people have their first symptoms. [NOTE: Published studies say 2-3 years.]
SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) is a relatively inexpensive cousin of PET scanning (positron emission tomography) with lower spatial resolution. The Neurocritic is not all that knowledgeable about SPECT as an imaging method, but these authors are (Committee on the Mathematics and Physics of Emerging Dynamic Biomedical Imaging, National Research Council), in case you're interested in learning more.

Back to Robert Burton and
"SPECT scans are not sufficiently sensitive or specific to be useful in the diagnosis of A.D.," neurologist Michael Greicius , who runs the Stanford University memory clinic, and has a special interest in the use of functional brain imaging in the diagnosis of A.D., tells me. "The PBS airing of Amen's program provides a stamp of scientific validity to work which has no scientific validity."

Throughout March and April this year, "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life" aired nearly 1,300 times on PBS stations across the country, reaching more than 75 percent of U.S. television households. ...the nation's public broadcasting system did not vet "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life" for scientific validity. As a result, it broadcast what amounts to an unregulated infomercial for Amen's unproven treatments.
But it gets even worse:
Amen ... has not followed a traditional scientific path. He received a biology degree from Southern California College, a Pentecostal school, now Vanguard University ("We believe The Bible to be the inspired and only infallible and authoritative Word of God"), and earned his medical degree from Oral Roberts University School of Medicine, defunct as of 1989.

"One of the sustaining factors in my work has been my own personal faith," he declared in his 2002 book... "From the first month that I started to order these (SPECT) scans, I felt that they had a special place in science and that I was led by God to pursue this work."

. . .

And yet Amen's sense of calling hasn't led him to undertake the high-quality clinical investigations that would lend scientific credence to his claims...
Not surprisingly, Amen has his own page at Quackwatch. My question is, how did he get all this free publicity from PBS? Burton had a hard time finding an answer.
In trying to divine PBS' role and obligations in airing such an obviously controversial figure as Amen, I got the proverbial runaround...

Did a local PBS station, or PBS headquarters, do proper vetting? Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman, didn't have an answer for me and forwarded my message to "the top people." I then got a note from Joseph Campbell, PBS vice president of fundraising programming, who said, "PBS is not responsible for the content of those programs obtained from outside sources (other than PBS); it is up to each individual station to decide on the merits of such non-PBS produced programs."
Daniel Amen responds to "Brain scam"

To learn about more reSPECTable uses of SPECT in Alzheimer's Disease, consult The Whole Brain Atlas.

Here is a mid-ventricular slice which demonstrates the commonest finding in functional imaging of Alzheimer's disease. The dark blue regions in the parietal lobes represent areas of decreased blood flow or perfusion. This reduction in blood flow is due in part to the underlying atrophy, in part to the presence of diseased brain, and in part to the functional "disconnection" of this from other brain regions affected by the disease.

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At May 24, 2008 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting...But if the public would rather listen to the likes of Amen than listen to their local neurologist, can you blame him for taking advantage of their credulity?

At May 25, 2008 1:55 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Yes. But the press are also to blame. How many local neurologists appear on PBS (or CNN, Fox News, Today, Oprah, etc.) to educate the public?

At June 05, 2008 2:40 AM, Blogger amouraux said...

"What's more convincing than talking about brains? Pictures of brains!"

At June 09, 2008 12:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met Dr. Amen at a lecture he gave and then participated in his brain study of injured and uninjured brains. I learned a lot about the damage that can occur even from normal children's bangs to the head - the kind that happen to most kids who engage in sports.

If you are interested in the brain and how it works, I highly recommend reading ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. It's on the NY Times Bestseller list and it's a wonderful book. Dr. Taylor's talk at TED dot com is also AMAZING! Oprah interviewed Dr. Taylor and you can check that out on And Time Magazine named Dr. T one of the 100 Most Influential people in the world. Having read her book, I can see why all the attention.

Dr. Amen's book is brain science and it's great at that. Dr. Taylor is a Harvard Brain Scientist, but what she writes about is the science and much more. She really cracks the code to understand how our brains (right and left hemispheres) work and she explains how we can get into our right brain and be happier and more joyful. Aside from any of the science, My Stroke of Insight is also just a great story.

At June 09, 2008 2:04 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Anonymous of June 09, 2008 12:52 AM: I'm interested in how you met Dr. Amen, and how you participated in his brain study. Did he set up a new clinic in India?

And you should be familiar with my post about Jill Bolte Taylor's new book, "My Stroke of Insight" Now Available Through Viking Penguin Group, because you left a spam comment there as well. The same exact phrasing appears on 11,400 other websites as well, what a coincidence!

It's unfortunate that you have linked the two together... Dr. Taylor is a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist and spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Bank, and Dr. Amen is a quack who, according to

...received a biology degree from Southern California College, a Pentecostal school, now Vanguard University ("We believe The Bible to be the inspired and only infallible and authoritative Word of God"), and earned his medical degree from Oral Roberts University School of Medicine, defunct as of 1989.

Do they have the same publicist or something?

At July 14, 2009 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I adopted a 14 month old son of a drug addicted mother who is now 23 years old. My son has had numerous and varied labels attached to him through the school system, psychiatrists and psychologists. I did have my son participate in a Spec Scan (only active) when he was approximately 8 years old. We had so many questions then and the MRI was inconclusive though it was obvious something was going on with him. While the summary report of the Spec Scan was very scary - I have found that it's information was based in reality as has been seen over the years since the Scan. That is not to say that Dr. Amen's diagnosis was in anyway all that we looked at but I have to say that it articulated much of what did come to play. Personally, I'm glad we had this information because it allowed us to make informed decisions about next steps to help our son cope with life on life's terms.

At October 25, 2009 7:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

10/25/09 - My local PBS station(Chicago) is still at it this AM with Dr. Amen with Your Brain in Love. A $300 contribution gets you a full memebership to the station and books, DVD's, and more. Really pretty suspicious stuff. Why would this station subject itself to such an inconclusive topic?

At May 26, 2010 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only wish each and every one would apply the same standards to the bogus science that has led to phoney global warming claims.

At May 26, 2010 12:20 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Anonymous of May 26, 2010 7:46 AM,

"phoney global warming claims" - priceless! I'm a neuroscientist, I don't blog about climate change. You might try Real Climate versus Climate Audit.

Thanks for stopping by.

At June 04, 2010 5:46 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting perspectives by previous blogs and postings. Dr Amen. If he has caused thousands of people to live a better lifestyle, then isn't that cause for applause? He has written several books that have sold well and you could read them without even buying them. If you are going to get Alzeimers anyway, at least his advice may prolong the inevitable and that is a plus for sure. I agree with the previous posting about the book 'My Stroke of Insight'. It is well worth reading and written well enough to enlighten the layman. I think the experts that come onto PBS, such as Dr Wayne Dyer, Dr Neal Barnard, etc. and on other channels, such as Dr Mehmet Oz have helped countless more people than they have harmed. I for one have improved my life and my health through their advice.

At June 07, 2010 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with the previous comment. if we think more about what we put into our mouths and gain even an ounce of self control to get on a better path, so what if the brain scanning and book sales go on successfully. have you taken a look at the weight and health of the average american around you. it's shocking and will most definitely kill the unhealthy and the obese at an earlier age than is possible. thank you dr. amen for waking me up.

At June 08, 2010 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if Dr. Amen had bariatric surgery?

At July 07, 2010 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If not Dr Amen's clinic, where else would you recommend?

At October 10, 2010 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I found his 10 principles to a magnificent mind to be very sound advice. What he had to say seemed that it did not take a rocket scientist to confirm his assertions.

At March 08, 2011 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kickstart Your Health With Dr. Neal Barnard is an infomercial airing on PBS. He "reveals" nothing that anyone with common sense didn't already know. All information in his books and dvds has long been available for free online. Everything he says could be said in about 1 min, and it goes on just like any other infomercial. He only helps money from stupid people's pockets into his own. Everyone let PBS know they will stop donating until PBS stops airing this garbage, which I am sure they are getting paid plenty as accomplices.

At January 20, 2016 10:27 AM, Blogger Well Intended said...

There is something wrong when my tax dollars are supporting one man's profit making enterprise.


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