Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Hammesfahr Affair

On Tuesday, The Daily Howler published this essay about Dr. William Hammesfahr. The previous night Hammesfahr had appeared on MSNBC's Scarborough Country to speak on behalf of the parents of Terry Schiavo. The good doctor was described as a “Nobel Prize nominee” and he proceeded to contradict all of the medical facts you've heard reproted elsewhere.

It turns out Hammesfahr is not quite so impressive as he seems. As reported by the Howler:

Like last night, for example. Consider the impressive Hammesfahr, the brilliant Nobel Prize nominee. Here’s what we found when we ran a search: Three years ago, David Sommer of the St. Petersburg Times reported that Hammesfahr “advertises himself as a nominee for a Nobel Prize based on a letter his congressman wrote to the Nobel committee.” Yes, Hammesfahr was “nominated” for the Nobel Prize by his Republican congressman, Peter Bilirakis, back in 1999! And uh-oh! In 2003, William Levesque of the St. Peterburg Times described more of Hammesfahr’s brilliance:

LEVESQUE (10/25/03): In a 2002 order by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer ruling that Mrs. Schiavo could not recover, Greer labeled Hammesfahr a “self-promoter.”

The judge noted that Hammesfahr testified that he had treated patients worse off than Mrs. Schiavo yet “offered no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results to support his claim.”

Of course, viewers weren’t told that in Scarborough Country, just as they weren’t told that the brilliant expert’s “Nobel nomination” came from his local Republican hack. We’ve lived in two Americas for years. This week has been no exception.

Ed Brayton has further details here:

As if that isn't bad enough, the man also had his license suspended for 6 months by the Florida Board of Medicine in 2003 for ethical violations. You can read their ruling here. Naturally, Hammesfahr has been trotted out to repeat his nonsense all over the conservative media, from the 700 Club to Hannity and Colmes. And he's also been cited by our old pals at the Discovery Institute, who call him a “world-renowned expert in cases such as Terri's — and a Nobel Prize nominee”. Credulity, thou art a useful muse.

See the originals for links.

Pretty standard stuff. The right-wing media is relying on frauds and cranks to make its case. So what else is new?

Well, every once in a while an ignorance peddler like Scarborough gets called on his lack of journalistic standards. That happened on last night's Scarborough Country, in a discussion between Scarborough and guest Al Franken:

FRANKEN: I’ll tell you how we’re taking care of this lady.

Most people in the polling that’s been done would not want to live like she’s living. She brain-dead. Now, here’s where a lot of misinformation has been passed, including by you, Joe. The other night, you said this and you said it four times. This is how you teased this. “And a Nobel Prize-nominated neurologist who has treated Terri Schiavo, he says Terri should live and that her husband is perpetrating a hoax that is just aimed at killing his wife.”

This Dr. Hammesfahr is not a Nobel Prize nominee. You said that four times. He did not treat her. You said that four times. You have to do your research, Joe. There is no such thing as a Nobel Prize nominee. Now, he claims to be a Nobel Prize nominee because a letter was written to the Nobel Committee by Representative Mike Bilirakis. Is that how you pronounce his...

SCARBOROUGH: I know you want to get down in the weeds. And if you want to come back on some other night...

FRANKEN: This is not getting down in the weeds.

SCARBOROUGH: ... and you want to debate me on Dr. Hammesfahr, who—it’s amazing. He had a great reputation until he went after Schiavo’s husband.

FRANKEN: This is not getting down in the weeds, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: And then, all of a sudden, he got attacked. People that filed affidavits against Schiavo got attacked.

So Scarborough puts on a dishonest quack to distort the medical facts in an attempt to justify his own view of the matter, and Franken is the one who is getting down in the weeds for pointing it out. Lovely.


At 11:31 AM, Blogger gravitybear said...

You can also find Dr. Hammesfahr on Quackwatch.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Todd said...

Al Franken is correct in that the Nobel committee does not release the names of nominees. Records of nominees are sealed for 50 years. Also, as far as nominations are concerned here's what the Nobel Foundation's statutes say:

"To be considered eligible for an award, it is necessary to be nominated in writing by a person competent to make such a nomination. A personal application for an award shall not be considered.

Competence to submit nominations shall be incumbent on representatives, domestic as well as foreign, of the field of culture in question, in conformity with detailed regulations issued by the prize-awarding body."

Having a Representative nominate you is, I'd think, going out of the "field of culture in question."

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous -elliott said...

I agree with the decision of the court in the case of Terry Schiavo, unfortunately, there is a common misconception that she is "brain dead" and that is simply not the case.

If we wish to argue this case from the vantage point of accuracy, then it behooves one to understand and use the medical terminology correctly.

Terry Schiavo is in a persistent vegative state, with apparently no real hope of recovery. If she were brain dead, then she would also be legally dead and there wouldn't be an issue here for the courts, her family or the nation. The date and time that a patient is declared brain dead by a physician is the date and time that go on the death certificate.

Brain death is a complicated subject and even medical doctors have trouble grappling with it. However, that does not excuse anyone from failing to become educated about the subject if they wish to argue it.

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