Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Why is this so difficult?

Those following the Terry Schiavo case will have at this point likely heard of the Nobel nominated neurologist Dr. Hammesfahr who claims that Terry is not in a persistent vegitative state and that she is responsive to family members. Hammesfahr has stated, "There are many approaches that would help Terri Schiavo. I know, because I had the opportunity to personally examine her, her medical records, and her X-rays. It is time to help Terri, instead of just warehousing her. She would have benefited from treatment years ago, but it is not to late to start now."

In a recent interview on Hannity and Colmes (in which Hannity went out of his way to emphasize that this is Nobel nominated physician), Hammesfarh acted as if it was a complete enigma why other doctors thought that Terry was in a PVS, and claimed with certainty that he could rehabilitate her, but at the same time he failed to make a very convincing case as to why he was right and the other doctors were wrong.

Something about Dr. Hammesfarh just did not seem right to me, I don't know, maybe I was channeling Martin Gardner, but for whatever reason I felt inclined to check into Dr. Hammesfahr.

First, the claim that he was nominated for a Nobel prize in 1999 for work that he did in 1994. This is a dubious claim. From Wikipedia's entry on the Nobel Prize:
However unlike other awards ceremonies the Nobel Prize nominees are not publicly announced and they are not supposed to be told that they were ever considered for the prize. The records are sealed for 50 years. This is done to avoid turning the awarding of the prize into a popularity contest. Due to this secrecy it is questionable whenever someone uses a Nobel nomination as a qualification (how could you check it?)
Additionally, it turns out that the "nomination" Hammesfarh recieved was from a member of Congress. Such a nomination has about as much merit as you or I writing the committee and recommending that Stephen King be awarded the Nobel prize in literature. A judge stated as much in a 2002 decision

While he certainly is a self-promoter and should have had for the court's review a copy of the letter from the Nobel committee in Stockholm, Sweden, the truth of the matter is that he is probably the only person involved in these proceedings who had a United States Congressman recommend him for such an award. Whether the committee "accepted" the nomination, "received" the nomination or whatever, it is not that significant. What is significant, however, and what undemises his creditability is that he did not present to this court any evidence other than his generalized statements as to the efficacy of his therapy on brain damaged individuals like Terry Schiavo.
Then there is the matter of Dr. Hammesfahr's vasodilation therapy. It turns out that this practice is not widely accepted among medical proffesionals, and, indeed, there is even an entry about Hammesfahr at the medical psuedoscience watchdog site Quackwatch!

It took me about 15 minutes to uncover this information. Is it too much to ask of those in the media to bother checking into the facts before running a story?

No comments: