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Quixotic letter writing.

by Stephen Propatier

February 20, 2014

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Donate Usually I try to post a informational or educational piece. This week I will take a little tilt at a windmill. A skeptical complaint letter.

Occasionally I will listen to talk radio. The top rated talk radio station in my area is WPRO in Providence RI, USA. They have a limited audience but locally significant. At one time I thought of them as progressive. Like when the stopped broadcasting Limbaugh's talk show. Over the last year I was continually bothered by the progressive air time being given to purveyors of medical quackery. Last week when two separate talk show hosts donated 4 hours of afternoon drive time to anti-vaccine rants I decided to complain.(I didn't listen to 4 straight hours, Intermittent listening while driving home, going to the gym, and running errands). I would listen for short time then get angry shut it off take a break check back and they were still going. I fired off a quick letter, dictated but not read on my office letterhead. It's not Dickens but it expresses my disgust. You should know that the response was a big nothing. Not surprising. Just another example of how sometimes I feel I am screaming in a loud room.

Here are the Hosts I was complaining about.

Patricia Raskin

Matt Allen

Tara Granahan

Here is the Subject of a 2-3 hour infomercial every Saturday

Centers for integrative medicine.

My quickly written letter complaint letter.
February 8, 2014

Tony Mascaro

Programming WPRO
1502 Wampanoag Trail
East Providence, RI 02914

CC: Tara Granahan; Matt Allen

I am writing to you, Mr. Mascaro, because as a medical professional and science education advocate I am concerned. I am concerned by the continual down spiral that the station is taking in its programming. I am dismayed by a steady increase in weekend programming promoting medical quackery and pseudoscience. Additionally, the recent anti-vaccine rants by your hosts Tara and Matt were disturbing to say the least.

I think it is reprehensible that you allow your station to become a multi-hour advertisement/promotion for “positive living”, whatever that is. Hours of infomercial promoting unproven, disproven, or implausible medical treatments. Allowing persons like “Dr. Tad” to make statements implying he is medical doctor. For example; “A MD in Europe” or “Doctor of Acupuncture”. He is not a medical doctor in the US. Identifying yourself as a MD in Europe and/or Doctor of Acupuncture makes him sound like he is an MD. Meaningless nonsense statements designed to give the impression of substance. Trying to get the public to assume that he is a MD.

Should “Dr. Tad” should be able to offer medical advice? Anyone can offer medical advice. Allowing him to make these expertise claims is both misleading and deceptive. Selling his treatments on your station in association with these useless claims of medical expertise is essentially false advertising.

My patients inform me that he charges thousands of dollars for his unproven/disproven medical treatments. I don’t think finances are his reason for not obtaining a medical license.

Have we returned to the age when snake oil salesmen stood on the side of the road and sold dangerous concoctions to rubes? Can you ethically take no responsibility for the quackery presented so credulously? Is the harm that this may incur on desperate and sick people inconsequential? The question that comes to my mind. Does WPRO only really care about the advertising dollars, or does it have any social responsibility?


Recent talk show topics and discussions about vaccines.

Tara and Matt. Two hosts that took an opinionated, yet uninformed and cavalier attitude about a very serious public health issue. Vaccinations. They seemed to have little or no knowledge of how these vaccines work, what their purpose is, or how public health and personal choice are a balancing act.

Vaccines are the single most successful health intervention ever. Most of these hosts are too young to remember the horrors of summer time polio epidemics. They ignore, or are unaware that there is direct evidence of declining vaccination rates in the US and Rhode Island. Poor Pertussis immunization rates have resulted in unnecessary deaths in RI recently. Your hosts are making off hand minimization and dismissal of vaccine benefits. They make open ended statements supporting fear mongering about untrue or magnified health concerns related to vaccination. Your hosts obviously did not have a basic knowledge about Influenza or HPV. They had zero understanding about transmission of these diseases. Did not even make the five minute web search to the CDC site to see why certain vaccines were recommended. Mouthed words like”herd immunity” with disdain, clearly showing no understanding. Fear mongering statements about mercury dangers in vaccines (dis-proven), dangers of being vaccinated (infinitesimal compared to the disease), or a false suggestion that the HPV vaccine somehow promotes promiscuity in teens.

The longer I listened to these mis-informed opinions the more incensed I became. Vaccines are medical science, not opinion. Public health is a serious issue. I did call the Matt Allen show to express my concern in a congenial manner. Promoting vaccine misinformation (as I pointed out and was dismissed) is like saying fire in a crowded theater. Publicly advocating avoidance because of political ideal and/or personal misunderstanding is dangerous. I was hung up on. It is his right to do what he wants on his show. I do not question that. Free speech is welcome. If you want to make a point at least have an understanding of what you are talking about. Medicine is not cut and dry. It is not simple. “My choice” to vaccinate is a mis-perception brought on by comforts of the modern medical age.

Matt spoke about his opinion that if you got chicken pox it worked for life and “it was no big deal.” Yes that reinforces a common public misperception. That chicken pox was benign, and the vaccine unnecessary. 2-3 kids died a year prior to the vaccine. Thousands were sickened with severe and long lasting complications. 1 out of every 1,000 children infected developed severe pneumonia (infection of the lungs) or encephalitis (infection of the brain). In addition, about 1 out of every 50 women infected with varicella during their pregnancy will deliver children with birth defects. These birth defects include mental retardation and shortened or atrophied limbs. Finally, a bacterium called Group A streptococcus, commonly known as "flesh-eating" bacteria, can enter through the skin during a varicella infection and cause severe, and sometimes fatal, disease.

Matt commonly reiterated that it is a personal choice. Pregnant women cannot have the vaccine. Your choice is directly affecting others. Matt’s response was a slippery slope logical fallacy to be concerned about that pregnant mother. “Where does it end?”

Simple answer for Matt. Vaccinations have extremely low risk with huge reward. Why should we limit stopping the spread of disease? Limit vaccines because people fail to take the time to understand the risks and the benefits of vaccination? Proven tested vaccines have the highest risk reward ratio. People act out of fear and misunderstanding because public health laws have made the appearance of these diseases rare. That is why the public health laws were written. That is why when new proven vaccines for epidemic diseases are developed the laws need to be expanded.

To Tara and her statements relating to HPV and the vaccine. I have one thought. If I could give your kids a shot and it would eliminate the probability that they would not have colon cancer, for life. Would you take a chance and give it to them? Then why say no to this treatment?

Realistically the problem with this vaccine is not the vaccine. It is our social hang-ups. We associate the disease with “wrong behavior.” People act as though sufferers deserve to get it. No one “deserves” cancer because they have sex. Receiving the vaccine is not a license to go hog wild.

Do you tell your kids what their vaccines specifically are for? I don’t. So why do you think it would affect their behavior? My 7 year old doesn't ask what the shots are for. I tell him they protect him from disease. The simple truth. Opposition to this vaccine really stems from our hang-ups and perceptions. It is our hang-ups about the transmission of the disease. Requiring the vaccine is not sex Ed, it is public health and disease prevention. Ask any oncologist, they would kill for a vaccine for any cancer.

So what are both of your hosts fighting for? Personal choice, liberty, and medical choice. I agree they are very very important. We are asking people to take a tiny hit for the giant benefit of stopping the spread of disease. You not herding anyone into camps, no one is being bar coded and no one is being forced. We are just making a very reasonable request. That if your child is going to be in public settings with other children, that you must take low risk reasonable steps to prevent the spread of deadly disease.

Now is that really so detrimental to your personal freedom?

Opinions are often thought provoking and produce benefits. The conversation about public health and vaccines is a good one. You want to do a show about them. Do a modicum of research. Better yet ask a medical professional for an expert opinion before making broad unfounded position statements. IF you can’t get the Medical director of public health for information feel free to contact me.

WPRO is the “Station of Record”, in a time with withering journalistic and science reporting standards are found across all media. I expect better from you. Quackery and misinformation may be revenue/rating generating, but at what cost? You are diminishing your reputation, promoting dangerous pseudoscience and selling deception with poor journalistic standards. Gone are the days when news rooms had staff science writers. You need one, or your hosts need to know when to contact an expert. Better for you and better for your listeners.

Get on the ball.

Stephen L. Propatier MS, NP

Stephen Propatier is a Skeptic and Clinical Nurse Practitioner who specializes in Spine and Sports medicine. He completed his graduate degree at Umass graduate school of nursing. He is a board certified acute care nurse practitioner and a member of the North American Spine Society. He is a member of the society for science based medicine. He is adjunct faculty for both Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School and Rhode Island College Graduate School of Nursing.

The views expressed are personal opinion of Stephen L. Propatier. They do not reflect the opinion of university orthopedics, my partners, or my academic affiliations.

In the end no response, not even a form letter, just a dismissal. Since they won't listen to me alone I now reach out to Rhode Islanders and others raise your voice. Don't accept 3 hour infomercials selling useless treatments offered by quacks.

So you see I am undeterred and still tilting at windmills. Sharing my story as a word of encouragement to my fellow skeptics.

by Stephen Propatier

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