complementary medicine – exposing academic charlatans
Author: Frank van der Kooy
This blog site is not about complementary medicine as such but rather focus on a specific Institute, the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Australia. There are a number of valuable blog sites and resources that deals with complementary medicine in general, of which the blog site of Prof Edzard Ernst is highly recommended. You can find it here (http://edzardernst.com). Friends of Science in Medicine also provides valuable information and insight into the world of complementary medicine. You can find it here (http://www.scienceinmedicine.org.au).
The reason why we focus on the NICM is not only because one of us has worked there for a number of years but rather that we have first-hand knowledge of what happens when a university allow pseudo-sciences to get a foot in the door. The NICM is therefore not the real problem but rather a result of a much deeper underlying issue. When the gatekeepers of science let their guard down for the sake of external income and international rankings then we are in serious trouble - the NICM, using complementary medicine as their vehicle to achieve their dubious objectives, is a prime example of this.
We therefore aim to address both these issues.
1. It is too late to prevent society from being flooded with unproven and disproven complementary, alternative and integrative medicines (due to the efforts of the NICM and the like) under the guise of ‘evidence-based’, but we should aim to reverse this trend. The only way to do this is to continue to publicly expose how the NICM mislead the public, regulators, lawmakers and all other stakeholders. The public should, with the information provided on this blog site and others, start to put pressure on all these stakeholders for true reform. This is obviously easier said than done. We can, unfortunately, only provide information on how this truly shocking game is being played at the NICM and what the (future) impact on society will be if it goes unchecked.
2. To address the second issue is much more complicated. Very few university’s will ignore millions of dollars from the complementary medicine industry for the sake of protecting the integrity of science, scientific education and the well-being of society – which is alarming because most universities are funded mainly by the public. Unfortunately, and even after repeatedly being warned about these dangers, this is exactly what has happened at Western Sydney University (WSU). We therefore aim to publicly expose how WSU play the game and what the (future) impact of this is on science, education and on society.
As a secondary aim, we request anonymous information about any verifiable information exposing any wrongdoing at the NICM or WSU (we already have enough data to keep us busy for a very long time but you never know what might turn up). This is preferable although we do welcome information from other fields of science and also from other universities (let’s call this “academic-leaks”). Information regarding how to send anonymous emails or documents can be found here (http://www.wikihow.com/Send-An-Anonymous-Email). We do not care about who you are, as long as the information provided can be verified and that it clearly contains information about any wrongdoing e.g. data falsification, fabrication, cover ups, bullying etc. If the information can be verified, it will be published on this blog site as is. This is needed to put pressure on universities, especially WSU, to make a true effort to return to unbiased scientific research and student training as their main objectives. Yes, it will take a long time but it can, and should, be done!!
Information can be send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
To get into the spirit of silly season, why don’t we have a look at the silliest of man’s creations – homeopathy. So, here goes, enjoy!
A homeopath will take a substance (or an imaginary substance), go into a state of delirium during a process called ‘proving’, dilute the (imaginary) substance into oblivion and then sell it as a remedy to the public – and regulators are happy for them to do so. During the proving stage, they document their ‘symptoms’ which then magically becomes the ‘indications’ listed on the remedy, according to their ‘like-cures-like’ principle. What usually cracks me up is the starting ‘substances’ that they use, what homeopaths claim their remedies work for, and the fact that homeopaths can keep a straight face while explaining or writing about their remedies (read any ‘proving’ document).
Due to the immense number and diversity of remedies out there, I’ve decided to create three categories. 1. Ridiculous – the starting material or ‘substance’ is nothing which they then dilute into oblivion; 2. Super-gross – substances where you desperately hope that they did indeed dilute everything into oblivion; 3. Weird – you just cannot understand how homeopaths can think of such stuff (there is a huge number of remedies in this category).
For some of the remedies I’ve copied parts of their ‘provings’ (unedited) so that people who do not understand the stupidity of it all, get a glimpse of what’s going on in the deluded (diluted) minds of homeopaths. So here is the list (thanks for the many suggestions via Twitter.)
“The remedy was prepared by Rowan Jackson and astronomer, Peter Lipscomb, using an 8″ telescope, Meade LX90 aperture telescope. A vial of alcohol was affixed to the viewing end as the telescope was focused on Cygnus X-1’s location within the Cygnus constellation. Twenty provers took the remedy administered in 30C potencies.”
Uses: “This remedy seems to have a global effect on the body. If you were tracing the sensation under a physical symptom you might expect it to lead to a pulling in or drawing inward, constriction sensation. Headaches are felt as constricting, as if a band or a vise or as if will burst. Heart and chest symptoms are felt as constricting and tightening. Even the extremities can feel tight and constricting. Provers felt their teeth were “drawing inward.” With the drawing in sensation, they would often feel that there was a stone or lump inside (this spot of denseness within their body). Provers had the sensation of a lump or stone in their stomach or abdomen. They could also feel as if there were a “sinking” sensation inside. Often they would explain the sensation as heaviness.”
“I had a dream, as usual, and this guy who comes into my dreams, turns up and says, “Nuala, are you aware that vacuum is the space between heaven and earth? Prove Vacuum!” So I woke up and said, “Yeah, right. How?” I thought about it for a number of months and he came back to me in a dream and said, “This is very simple. What you want to do is get a bottle and put some alcohol in it, then vacuum the bottle, and you will get the effect of vacuum on the alcohol.” He has said that type of thing to me before in dreams, like that remedies are the effect of something on alcohol. “
Uses: “I know that a lot of people died in Britain as a result of that flu. So I started giving Vacuum for it and straight away it worked.”
3. Imaginary substances (hard to come by or extremely dangerous substances, such as Plutonium/Uranium, and apparently also ‘Unicorn’)
“Bearing in mind Crotalus cascavella’s themes of vengeance and desire to kill with a knife, I asked him: “Did you feel like avenging yourself from your wife’s first fling? Would you feel a sense of release if you knifed him in the back? His words immediately evoke in me the theme of the light in Plutonium: he has lost his inner light and refuses the light emanating from others, from outside. Plutonium desires transcendence for itself and for the external world through self-illumination; it wants to be a powerful light which brings order to chaos through its own vibration.”
Uses: hatred, violence, nastiness, godlike, loss of inner light, drugs
Uses: self-disgust; domination and extreme abuse; suppression of anger with hatred; low self-esteem with dependency; In this remedy, there are dreams/thoughts of excrements and toilets, in contrast to Lac caninum and Lyssinum. Mind; dreams; excrements/dog’s excrements/ toilet; sitting on/ vomiting; excrements; Ailments from sexual abuse and rape, Delusion or image that body parts/ arms/ legs are smaller, and shortened; Dreams of dogs/ cats, felines
5. Condoms (Latex Condom) – New or used? I guess both, because homeopaths really care about the environment; “Rubber is a disposable substance that we use and throw away but it does not just go away. It persists as mountains of burning tyres or as condoms washed up on polluted beaches.”
Uses: feelings of being restricted/claustrophobic; separation/disconnected from people, difficulties with communication, disconnected from feelings etc.
6. Intestinal secretion of a sperm whale (Ambra grisea). It is unknown if homeopaths only use sperm whales who died after ingesting copious quantities of used condoms – see above (homeopaths will then call this a ‘combination remedy’) or if they hunt the poor whales themselves.
Uses: Its most well-known keynote is mortification from needing to use a public bathroom due to painful shyness. There is an out-of-proportion timidity about being in the presence of strangers or in social situations. It is said that these individuals often experience premature aging, may be globally anxious, and have a propensity for coughs.
Uses: No sooner does night come on than I am a prey to such dreadfully sinful desires that drive me mad (in a woman). And: Weakness or loss of memory, esp. for names; feels as if going insane; terrible dread of the night season owing to aggravation of all symptoms then; despairs of recovery.
Uses: Feeling of being forsaken and separation, huge despair. Oppression (political, family, abuse-sexual, religious, being bullied) and perceiving yourself as victim. Depression, sense of blackness, total isolation, aloneness, despair. Panic, need to escape but can’t. TERROR.
9. South Pole of a Magnet. (Magnetis polus australis – attenuations of media saturated with emanations of the pole.)
10. The note ‘F’ (homeopathic sound remedy Note F in 6X potency) and the colour Blue (or red or whatever colour you feel ‘attracted’ to)
Uses of musical notes; A general diuretic; good for edematous tissues, especially suited for pulmonary and cardiac edema; cardiac regulator and tonic, detoxifier, calmative and tranquilizer. Good for distress, feelings of inner conflict, avoidance of change, and a weakened spirit.
Uses of the colour Blue: A catarrhal remedy, good for sore throats and tired speaking voices; a stimulant to the thyroid and parathyroid; good for substance abuse cases where the patient wants to stop smoking, drinking, or overeating; good for neck and shoulder pain. Good for lack of creative expression, lack of willpower to complete tasks, integrity issues, malicious gossipers, liars, and timid, shy communicators.
It is actually impossible to come up with a Top Ten because there are way too many crazy homeopathic remedies out there, such as; dolphin song, radionics, hoover dust, light of Venus (or the moon), pig’s milk (or dolphin’s milk), X-rays, English sun, water (called new water) ‘unicorn’ (“apparently they sit round a vial of water thinking about unicorns to infuse the unicorn energy” – I couldn’t find any references for this one) etc. Therefore, it might be a good idea to prepare an “annual top ten”- listing only remedies that was invented in that given year.
Although these lists are meant to be funny, it does serve the important purpose of creating public awareness. The other side of the coin is that people do get hurt and even die because of homeopathy. Most fatalities are due to neglecting serious medical conditions, but many deaths have also been directly attributed to homeopathic remedies. Homeopaths do use highly toxic substances (arsenic, deadly nightshade etc.) and if they screw up their dilutions, people die – as was tragically shown with the death of 10 infants recently.
It remains to be such a pity that so many politicians, regulators (such as the TGA in Australia – 100% funded by industry incl. homeopaths) and some universities (notably WSU and UJ) simply look the other way, allow homeopaths to continue to mislead the public or even promote homeopathy. The simple reason for this is vested interests, which usually means – money.
In part 1 I’ve shown that a number of key Australian ‘academics’ (Proff Alan Bensoussan, Charlie Xue etc.) made it extremely easy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to achieve their goal of internationalising TCM. Prof Bensoussan (an acupuncturist) has managed to achieve statutory regulation for TCM practitioners in 2012, elevating TCM to the same level as conventional healthcare. He used this ‘achievement’ to lobby for TCM’s inclusion in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and China, and unfortunately, he was successful. To lobby is one thing, but you need the support of high level politicians to achieve your objectives. This article will highlight the involvement of various politicians, but also the regulators, and how Prof Bensoussan managed to get their support.
The ‘Four Corners’ investigation
An investigation by the ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ exposed the CCP’s secret networks in Australia. They disclosed that certain Chinese billionaires with links to the CCP, donated substantial amounts of money to various political parties. This led to some politicians changing their views, quite notably Mr Sam Dastyari, against party line on Australian foreign policy – specifically regarding the South China sea melting pot (new recordings was revealed today). In light of these revelations a senator stepped down, or is about to step down, but it also elicited a scathing response from the former premier of NSW, Bob Carr. He tried to downplay this, in his view, ‘perceived’ Chinese influence and argued that this might instead be a golden opportunity for Australia. Problem is that; “Bob Carr is the director of the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney. ACRI was setup with a $1.8m donation from Xiangmo Huang who is one of the two Chinese donors who were the subject of the Four Corners expose Bob Carr seeks to downplay in this article.”
Mr Xiangmo Huang and Mr Chau Chak Wing, named in the Four Corners investigation, have also been pumping millions of dollars into some Australian universities, quite notably Western Sydney University (WSU), University of Technology Sydney (UTS – Bob Carr heads the ACRI at UTS), and to some degree, RMIT university. It therefore stands to reason that the CCP also wants to exert an influence on the Australian academic and healthcare systems. Part of this influence involves the internationalisation of an ancient pseudoscientific and mainly ineffective healthcare system, known as TCM. TCM is not an evidence-based healthcare system, but is nonetheless a very large and lucrative industry ($170 billion).
By using internationally accepted scientific methods will lead to a reduction in the total number of TCM treatments, currently estimated at 13 000, to only a handful. Hence, the big money is in the ‘magic’ (or mysticism) in which all 13 000 treatments remains effective. A public belief in this magic has therefore to be nurtured, which will lead to widespread acceptance of TCM in Australia and expansion of the industry via Australia. Take the magic away (by applying science) and the whole industry will collapse – and this is not what the CCP nor Prof Bensoussan wants. Part of getting the job done is to target Australian politicians for support of TCM, and as such, why not start with the man with the top job? (for background information part 1 should be read and more information regarding TCM can be found here and here).
Mr Tony Abbott (former Prime Mister & Minister of Health)
Quite recently Mr Tony Abbott attended “the launch of Chinese-born businessman Tao Li’s sheep placenta enriched skincare cream, Chantelle. On stage, Mr Abbott spoke of his longstanding support for the Chinese community and business in Australia, as he spruiked the merits of initiatives such as the China-Australia free-trade agreement…..” Clearly Mr Abbott has a thing for the strange and weird and does not seem to hold science, or consumer protection, in high esteem. But let’s have a closer look at Mr Abbott’s role in TCM.
In 2007, the then Minister of Health, Mr Abbott, was approached by a TCM practitioner proclaiming that he needs $4 million in order to provide the Australian public with the ‘correct’ information regarding TCM and complementary medicines in general. Mr Abbott ignored the fact that TCM is a dangerous pseudoscientific healthcare system, and that its practitioners will always promote all of it, because their livelihoods depend on it.
Unfortunately, Mr Abbott did not show him the door, no, he decided to place his trust in an acupuncturist (Prof Bensoussan) and handed him a $4 million cheque. This money was used as seed funding for the NICM. Regular readers will know that the NICM accepts money from homeopaths, acupuncturists, energy healers etc. and in exchange they use their university setting (Western Sydney University – WSU) to provide credibility and unbridled support for these thoroughly debunked complementary medicines (this is also the reason why the NICM won the Bent Spoon award in 2017.)
A tumultuous political period propelled Mr Abbott into the PM seat. It started when PM Kevin Rudd was stabbed in the back (2010) by his deputy, Julia Gillard, who became the first female PM. She was dethroned by Mr Rudd in 2013, who promptly lost the elections a couple of months later to Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott was in turn stabbed in the back by Mr Turnbull in 2015. Five PM’s in five years, and although quite entertaining, an excellent opportunity for foreign powers to try and exert their influence during such a period of instability. So, while the politicians were grabbling to try and stay in power and solving artificial first world problems, the CCP steadily exerted its influence with Prof Bensoussan taking his chances when Mr Abbott became PM in 2013.
Mr Abbott appointed Mr Andrew Robb as minister of Trade in 2013, and tasked him with getting the FTA done and dusted. Having a PM who is clearly in favour of ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM, it should come as no surprise that Mr Robb accepted Prof Bensoussan’s word and included TCM in the FTA (more about Mr Robb a bit later on). After signing the FTA, Mr Abbott also publicly defended part of the deal, which states that; ‘up to 1800 visas for Chinese service suppliers to enter Australia for up to 4 years, the visas will be for Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, Chinese chefs, and Chinese Language coaches.’ Mr Abbott also send a congratulatory note to WSU when the NICM opened a Chinese Medicine Centre in 2016, with their objective being; “….spreading Chinese medicine further to the world.”
Although all four PM’s had contact with Mr Huang Xiangmo, quite recently (June 2017) it came to light that Mr Abbott has been warned in 2015 by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) about the possible influence that the CCP wants to exert; “A key political fundraiser for former prime minister Tony Abbott has maintained contact with Chinese Communist Party-aligned businessman Huang Xiangmo, despite warnings from ASIO to Mr Abbott about the billionaire donor. In 2015, Mr Abbott was briefed by ASIO chief Duncan Lewis about the agency’s concerns that Mr Huang’s close ties with the Chinese Communist Party might mean his donations could be used to advance Beijing’s interests.”
Internationalisation of TCM is of interest to the CCP and Prof Bensoussan, and I would suggest that the CCP was quite successful in achieving this objective in Australia! More information regarding Mr Huang Xiangmo and his involvement with TCM can be found in part 1.
But what about the current PM, Mr Malcolm Turnbull?
Well, what can I say. He promotes TCM by using it! Mr Turnbull publicly claimed that a TCM practitioner ‘helped’ him to lose weight. It becomes ridiculous when you look at the TCM treatment itself. It included Chinese herbal tea (price tag $5000) and, wait for it, fasting! I am not sure why, but I do feel the need to explain this phenomena for the uninformed (including some PMs). Whenyou fast, you lose weight! The herbs and abdominal acupuncture has nothing to do with it!
This is an excellent example of how these pseudoscientists operate. They give good advice (balanced diet, exercise etc. which every GP will also give you) and then they claim that TCM is (partly) responsible for the observed effect. This is what they want you to think. And, of course, they want you to market their treatments by word of mouth, especially when you are the PM. It is a pity that an influential person such as Mr Turnbull can be hoodwinked this easily. After his endorsement of TCM, this particular practitioner is making a lot of money and is opening more TCM clinics in Australia where he treats anything from toothache to cancer. I fear that by providing his endorsement the PM has inadvertently signed the death warrant for people who suffer from serious medical conditions who might now decide, based on the PMs word, to give TCM a go instead of evidence-based treatments. (In 2017, this practitioner was found guilty of “unsatisfactory professional conduct” in an unrelated case.)
So, we have two PMs who is clearly pro-TCM. This, of course, makes life for the CCP and people such as Prof Bensoussan a lot easier.
The Minister of Trade, Mr Andrew Robb
As mentioned before, a key person in the FTA was the Trade minister, Mr Andrew Robb. He encouraged states and territories to sell and lease their assets, and also defended the lease of Port Darwin to the Chinese company, ‘Landbridge’. It did raise a number of eyebrows when Mr Robb resigned from politics shortly afterwards in favour of; “the $73,000-a-month retainer that former federal trade minister Andrew Robb has snaffled from the well-connected Chinese billionaire who bought the Port of Darwin.” Although within the rules, Mr Robb should definitely not expect a ‘Australian of the Year’ nomination anytime soon. Mr Robb was however a primary target for Prof Bensoussan.
A document was prepared by Prof Bensoussan for Marcus Blackmore, the founder of the controversial supplement company Blackmores. This document contains a list of Australian politicians who they should lobby together in order to get political support for ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM. China is a very big export market for companies such as Blackmores, hence their collaboration with the NICM with their high profile Chinese connections (Blackmores recently donated $10 million to the NICM to assist in ‘integrating’ ineffective treatments (incl. TCM) with effective treatments.) The two excerpts below make it clear that the NICM lobbied Austrade (Mr Robb) to include TCM in the FTA.
“Australia is currently working on a free trade agreement with China. On this basis Alan has held high level meetings with potential commercial partners in China. China has pushed for the free flow of practitioners between Australia and China however, it is not likely they will get a free flow of products through. Alan has spoken to the VC and Hugh Funder from Austrade about regulations pertaining to a strong R&D platform under the free trade agreement. China has asked for a separate agreement to articulate the R&D platform. Andrew Robb is assisting NICM to pursue free trade with the support of the VC” (Sept 2014)
“The aim is to find a commercial partner or first choice commercial partner that will actively invest in NICM’s scaling up, through the development of a commercial platform for introducing Chinese medicine to western markets. Talks have been held with Austrade about the support they can provide in building a strong R&D platform with Chinese collaborators, including the possibility of progressing this as part of the Australia – China free trade agreement negotiations.” (Oct 2014)
It is no secret that China wants a free flow of TCM (practitioners and products) into Australia in order to expand their $170 billion TCM industry. Alan’s lobbying has paid off and Andrew Robb has written a letter to the Chinese Minister of Commerce which made Australia’s commitment to trade in TCM and complementary medicines very clear. A win-win for the bottom line of Chinese and Australian companies (such as Blackmores hence their partnership with the NICM), but a major step backwards for science, scientific education and research, and importantly, the health of the general public (I have recently emailed Mr Robb enquiring about TCM and if he was made aware by the NICM regarding the many dangers involved. A response was received from a secretary indicating that he retired from politics and that I should contact Austrade – a dead end I guess).
Promotion of TCM by other Australian politicians
Here is a media release by the then minister of education, Christopher Payne, heaping his praises on the NICM and the inclusion of TCM into the FTA, stating that; “Benefits to flow from the partnership include a new research-led Chinese medicine clinic in Sydney, better patient outcomes and the potential for Australia to tap into the $170 billion global traditional Chinese medicine market.” Here is a very interesting Hansard of the House of Representatives (Feb 2015 – pages 142-147) where a number of politicians – Mr Matheson (MacArthur), Mr Jones (Throsby), Mr Alexander (Bennelong), Mr Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith), Ms Scott (Lindsay), Mr Hayes (Fowler) – provides a very positive but one-sided view on the inclusion of TCM into the FTA.
It boils down to this; the NICM is excellent, TCM is the next big thing in healthcare, and we all stand to make a lot of money. The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective, and therefore quite dangerous, does not seem to bother anyone, or at least, not a single politician understands the necessity to run this pass a couple of scientists first. And this can only mean one thing. All of these politicians have been spoon-fed with this misleading information, and now they pat each other on the back, and regurgitate this in front of a pro-TCM PM.
The Hansard makes it clear that the CCP will give (or has given) $20 million, via the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, to the NICM in order for them to establish a joined commercial TCM ‘hospital’ in Sydney (they call it a clinic but it will be much more like a hospital if they get their way). The CCP therefore already has a strong foothold in the Australian healthcare system from where further incursions will probably take place. Clues as to what the CCP wants to achieve can be found in China itself; ‘In July a law came into effect that requires local governments to open TCM departments in all general hospitals, and to give “equal emphasis” to TCM and what China calls Western medicine.’ With this kind of political support and with Prof Bensoussan as the main driving force in Australia this definitely does not bode well!
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
To have political support is always good but you also need the regulators on your side. Because Prof Bensoussan knows that TCM is mainly ineffective, he also knows that there will be a couple of hurdles to overcome. One of these hurdles is the regulators, in Australia, the TGA. To overcome this hurdle for the CCP and the TCM industry, a MOU was signed between the NICM and one of the biggest TCM producers in China, ‘Tong Rang Ten’ (Oct 2015). The focus of this MOU is on how the NICM will assist the company to get their products through the registration process in Australia.
To achieve all of this, Prof Bensoussan has been exerting his extensive influence at the TGA where he served for more than 10 years on the TGA’s ‘Expert Committee on Complementary Medicines.’ He even acted as Chair on this committee for a number of years. Companies such as Tong Rang Ten is of course elated by Prof Bensoussan’s assistance and his hard work in getting TCM into the FTA, and through the regulators, stating;
“I think with the implementation of the [FTA] agreement, many medicines, especially some important herbs, good-quality herbs, and those written in the Chinese herbal dictionary, will be approved by the Australian medicine authorities. As a result, we will have an increasingly wider road, and open more and more branch stores in Australia.”
Prof Bensoussan was instrumental in misleading the TGA into accepting a ‘long tradition of use’ as a measure of safety (effectiveness seemingly does not matter). The results speak for itself with the TGA now excepting around 140 fake or pseudoscientific TCM ‘indications’ such as; “Harmonise middle burner (Spleen and Stomach)”, “Unblock/open/relax meridians”, “Balance Yin and Yang”. If these draft indications are approved, you will be able to go to a pharmacy if you feel that your ‘meridians’ are blocked.
TCM is based on pseudoscientific principles, where no accurate diagnosis can be performed coupled with ineffective/dangerous treatments. It is such a pity that the leaders in society cannot come the this really simple conclusion and that the money aspect seems to blind them from the very obvious.
Most of the politicians named in this article has had links to Mr Huang Xiangmo, who in turn has links with the CCP. He has been pumping millions into Australian universities where Prof Bensoussan again acted as the man in the middle. It should be clear that this money has been influential regarding the promotion and growing acceptance of TCM in Australia. But what is fascinating is that the media seems to be reluctant to delve into this issue. I am no Trump supporter but one of the reasons might be that the media is not always as independent as claimed – they also have vested interests. For example. The ABC accepted an unknown amount of money from the controversial supplement company Swisse and in return Swisse gets; “exclusive advertising rights to reach 190 million people across Asia who can access online and television channels broadcast by Australia Plus.” Trade in Australian complementary medicines with China is also part of the FTA.
But I have to extend an olive branch to the politicians named in this article. No person can have expert knowledge of everything from medicine to global warning. You need expert advisors to fill the gap. The heart of the problem is when universities such as WSU hire pseudoscientists such as Prof Bensoussan. He now becomes an expert advisor and provide misleading information to just about everyone, including politicians. Sure, these politicians also have the responsibility to double check the information, but at the end of the day the blame should be on WSU for allowing this to happen (I have been warning them about this for almost 4 years now).
There is still some crucial information that is missing. What did the NICM tell all of these politicians in order for them to happily sign off on TCM? Mr Robb unfortunately does not want to reveal anything, but I do have some interesting information that was send to the former NSW minister of health, Jillian Skinner. In Part 3 I will describe this information which was, in all likelihood, also send to the politicians mentioned in this current article.
It is in effect a ‘tale of two letters’ with one letter warning the minister about the dangers of TCM (and the NICM’s modus operandi) whilst the second letter, written by the NICM, promoting TCM. No prizes for guessing which letter was the most convincing. In 2016 she was on her way to China accompanied by Prof Bensoussan and Dr Ven Tan (TCM practitioner and founder of Tasly Healthpac where the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death occurred) to help Prof Bensoussan in lobbying for funding of his, and the CCP’s, big plans for TCM in Australia.
Is the Chinese Communist party currently exerting an influence on the Australian healthcare system? If so, how did they manage to get a foot in the door? Let’s have a look!
A recent investigation by the award winning investigative journalism program, ‘Four Corners’, revealed that Chinese billionaires, with links to the Chinese communist party, have made substantial donations to various Australian politicians. Donations usually come with strings attached, and hence, there is some anxiety that this could have an impact on the Australian autonomy and international relations with historic partners (similar to Russia’s meddling with the US elections). The program also featured China’s influence at various academic campuses across Australia.
This prompted me to conduct my own investigation focusing on China’s influence, via these Chinese billionaires, on the Australian healthcare system. It is well known that China wants to internationalise their ancient, ineffective and dangerous traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Australia could have, for example, decided to play a leading role and aid China in modernising their healthcare system in exchange for improved free trade arrangements – or anything that could have been mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, a couple of Australian academics decided otherwise and made it extremely easy for China to obtain a strong foothold, with their TCM, in the Australian healthcare system.
This article will detail specifics regarding how these academics managed to get the job done, whilst a second article will describe how specific Australian politicians made all of this a walk in the park for China (all supporting documentation is available on request). Please skip the next section if you understand TCM, but for those who don’t, below is some background information.
What is TCM and why is it so dangerous?
Imagine a healthcare system where no disease can be diagnosed and where the treatments on offer are mainly ineffective, while some are even outright dangerous. This is TCM in a nutshell; misdiagnosis by default and ineffective/dangerous treatments. It is no wonder that many scientists are extremely concerned about the promotion and legitimisation, especially via universities, of TCM in Australia and around the world. A recent article in the Economist sums it up well; “State-sponsored quackery. China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts. That is dangerous for humans as well as rhinos”
To understand the issue at hand, here is one example;
The TCM nature of rhino horn is “salty, sour and cold” and hence its actions are to “clear heat, subdue Yang and cool blood, relieves fearfulness, detoxifying.” Rhino horn is therefore a treatment for “high fever, sun stroke, trauma, mania, convulsion, sore throat, epilepsy, febrile disease, infectious disease, macula, bad skin conditions, subcutaneous bleeding.” (rhino horn is in fact being promoted as medicine at Western Sydney University, but I believe for dementia. One of their collaborators was even sent to prison for importing rhino horn into Australia).
Some of these above mentioned conditions can be life-threatening, if left untreated. Because everybody knows that rhino horn is not an effective medicine for anything, prescribing and using it as a medicine, is equivalent to providing no treatment for these conditions. And this is indeed why TCM is dangerous for people, not even to speak about the needless slaughter of rhinos.
In TCM, disease is seen as an imbalance of a non-existent life-force (Chi) that flows through non-existent meridians, and in this pre-scientific world, bacteria, viruses, etc. do not exist. By slapping yourself, or inserting needles (acupuncture), or taking herbs, or animal matter, your Chi will be ‘restored’ and you will be ‘cured’ of whatever ailment you might suffer from. Because TCM is a believe-based system, every treatment (and there are thousands) is believed to be effective for its intended purpose. This becomes very dangerous when this believe is so strong that they will advise patients to stop their conventional treatments, and rely solely on TCM. That this danger is real, was recently illustrated by the tragic death of a 6yo boy suffering from type-1 diabetes.
The fact that some herbs (very few) do contain beneficial compounds is, in effect, negated by the fact that TCM practitioners cannot correctly diagnose any medical condition. To try and ‘solve’ this problem, they will therefore prescribe a combination of up to 20 different herbs, because by doing this, it improves their chances of getting lucky! Most TCM proponents are fully aware of these problems, and therefore their current approach is to ‘integrate’ all of TCM with conventional diagnostics and treatments. They do this in order to continue to make money but also to promote TCM as ‘effective’ by piggy-backing on the successes of evidence-based modern healthcare.
So, yes, it is all about money with China trying to expand its $170 billion TCM industry by legitimising it in other countries. In Australia it turned out to be a very easy task, just ask the four blokes in the photo below. They have been warned, repeatedly, about the dangers of TCM, but apparently the big motivator, money, speaks louder than words. So, this is where the Australian academics comes into play (more info regarding TCM can be found here and here).
The Australian academics
One of the key players in Australia is Prof Alan Bensoussan, Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Western Sydney University (WSU). He completed a degree in physics and then, for some unknown reason, decided to continue with TCM. He studied at the Nanjing University of TCM in 1985/86, and this is where he was ‘converted’ or ‘recruited’ by the Chinese communist party. And because Alan, like most people, cannot admit to have made a mistake, decided to continue down this path of pseudoscience. Once you are trapped, you are in it for life. And not only that, he became one of the biggest lobbyists of TCM in Australia. This is, of course, one way of ignoring your mistakes – you stubbornly continue to tell yourself, and everybody else, that you are right, even in the face of the most compelling scientific evidence! For Alan, TCM is an effective and safe healthcare system! Unfortunately, after 30 years of trying, he is not able to show that science was wrong about TCM, and hence, he still does not have anything to show for it (without cheating and misleading, that is).
But whatever happened, he became one of the biggest drivers of TCM in Australia. Since his return from China he has worked tirelessly to legitimise TCM with his main approach being; that the safety of patients will be assured by regulating TCM, and, that TCM should be ‘integrated’ within conventional healthcare. The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective and by regulating fake medicine, it can only lead to well-regulated fake medicine, didn’t bother him – it simply doesn’t fit his delusion. Intense lobbying for many years resulted in TCM becoming a registered healthcare profession in Victoria in 2000, and Australia wide in 2012. Being ‘registered’, in this case, simply means that you must have a ‘real’ degree in fake medicine before you can practice fake medicine – how this will assure the safety of patients is beyond me! This was, however, a crucial turning point. Registering TCM as a ‘healthcare profession’ gave it an Australian government stamp of approval, and after this victory for TCM, everything went into top gear. Alan received a prestigious award for his intense lobbying in 2013 in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing China. This award was also celebrated at WSU and was attended by Eric Roozendaal, CEO of the Yuhu group (more about the YuHu group a bit later on).
Other prominent Australian academics are Prof Charlie Xue from RMIT university who runs an accredited (again a government stamp of approval!) course in TCM and chairs the ‘Chinese Medicine Board of Australia’. He is therefore in charge of registering TCM practitioners, and he has also received millions from China to promote TCM in Australia (see under current grants). The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) also provides accredited courses in TCM and has accepted millions in gifts from Chinese businessmen – donations and gifts always comes with strings attached.
The Chinese businessman
The Yuhu group is owned by Chinese billionaire, Huang Xiangmo, who featured prominently in the ABC’s Four Corners investigation. Huang Xiangmo is the president of the ‘Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China’ – an organisation considered to be the vanguard of lobbying for the Chinese communist party in Australia. It turns out that they do not only influence Australian politics, but also the healthcare system. The Yuhu group has ‘committed’ a $10 million donation to Alan Bensoussan for the internationalisation of TCM in Australia. This large donation was eventually withdrawn by Yuhu, due to WSU’s inability to get the necessary paper work done in time (maybe too many bureaucrats working at WSU?). Huang Xiangmo did eventually donate $3.5 million, to establish the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at WSU. Alan is named as a key researcher which demonstrates that TCM is considered to be part of Chinese ‘arts and culture’ and not an evidence-based healthcare system.
In the NICMs latest newsletter (under ‘Message from Director’) they thank their generous sponsors, which includes Josephine and Gary Lam. Unfortunately the value of these donations are not publicly available, but, Josephine Lam has donated substantial amounts of money to WSU/NICM before. She is also currently acting as a ‘specialist advisor‘ to the Vice Chancellor, Barney Glover (he has also accompanied Alan to China to lobby for support of their Australian TCM facilities). The Lam’s are part of the ‘Australian China Economic, Trade and Culture Association’, with Gary Lam being the Chairman and Josephine a Honorary Advisor. Huang Xiangmo, of the Yuhu group is also a patron of this organisation.
Dr Ven Tan, who is the ‘Standing Deputy Chairman’ in this organisation, and the founder of ‘Tasly Healthpac’ is an important role player, claiming that; ‘Through his own practice he has come to realize the limitation of conventional Western medicine and to worship the merit of Traditional Chinese Medicine’. The photo below depicts the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Chinese and Australian governments ‘aimed at promoting TCM in Australia through a collaborative initiative’. (Alan Bensoussan is on the far left and Ven Tan third from the left.) So, again we have a Chinese ‘cultural’ organisation that wants to promote TCM in Australia.
Another separate MoU was signed between Tasly and the NICM (Alan Bensoussan is the director of the NICM) in 2011, which states that the NICM will provide “assistance in the development of an Integrative Care Model: to assist the Tasly Healthpac Centre of Excellence in Integrative medicine so that its structure aims to integrate TCM and western medical diagnostics and treatments in an integrated, patient centred way.” Some might now recall that the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death of a 6yo boy recently occurred at Tasly Healthpac. This illustrates what happens when your objective is to ‘integrate’ fake treatments with evidence-based treatments.
The NICM’s gifts register indicates that a huge amount of effort goes into cosying up to Chinese politicians, businessmen and (TCM) academics. There are documents demonstrating that they are actively targeting and engaging with specific Chinese businessman (Huang Xiangmo, Chau Chak Wing, etc) known to have links with the Chinese communist party. WSU even planned to provide scholarships to the children of Chinese consular staff members. The response from the Chinese consulate was, of course, a very big thank you to Alan Bensoussan and Barney Glover, for their hard work in legitimising TCM in Australia. To think that all their visits to China, the hosting of Chinese delegates, the huge amount of time it takes to lobby all of these role-players (in China and Australia), even the gifts are partially paid for by the Australian public. So, what do the Australian public get in return for their investment? The promotion and integration of a dangerous fake healthcare system. And this brings me to the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.
Australia-China Free Trade Agreement
Alan has managed to get TCM included at the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and China (called a ‘tragedy‘ by an eminent Australian scientist – I tend to agree!). This inclusion will allow WSU and the Chinese government managed ‘Beijing University of Chinese Medicine’ (BUCM), to be used as vehicles for the communist party’s agenda to exert its influence via TCM on the Australian healthcare system. And all of this facilitated by Alan for which he is handsomely rewarded by the Chinese government. The inclusion of TCM in the FTA has paid off, and has resulted in a TCM hospital that is currently being established in Westmead, Sydney – opening in 2018. The BUCM will operate this ‘integrative’ TCM facility and it will be based on a similar 80-bed hospital which the BUCM is already operating in Germany. According to documents, this facility will be commercial (run by the BUCM) and the NICM will co-occupy this space to further their (or the Chinese communists party’s) agenda regarding the continued legitimisation and internationalisation of TCM.
In short; Alan Bensoussan, Barney Glover, and others, are colluding with the Chinese communist party, and as such, is making it extremely easy for them to exert their (not so soft) power in Australia. TCM is part and parcel of the international influence that China wants to exert. It is unfortunate that China, who has made rapid advances in science and technology, decided to stick with TCM and not on collaboration with Australia regarding modern evidence-based healthcare. It is even more unfortunate that these Australian universities decided to sell their souls for the sake of Chinese money. The $170 billion TCM industry therefore seems to be the main motivator for both WSU and the Chinese government and not improved health outcomes for Australians. The saying ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’ comes to mind, and I have to ask; where will it all end?
It is interesting to note that serious medical conditions e.g. cancer, are being targeted by the NICM in order to legitimise ineffective TCM. In the NICMs own words “… the press/media would be reluctant to take a negative line on initiatives that are targeted at oncology…” This sentence says it all.
My next article will provide more details on the FTA and the Australian politicians (especially Andrew Robb and Jullian Skinner) who were successfully lobbied by Alan, and who made all of this possible. All this information has been sent to WSU, about 2 months ago, but as usual, there seems to be no interest in the adverse impact that their actions will have on science, on education and on the health of the public (and the poor rhinos, of course).
And we thought that the ‘Hogwarts School of Magic’ only existed on the big screen. But, this type of school is actually real. There are quite a number of them currently operating in Australia, where bright-eyed, impressionable teenagers are taught how to manipulate energy fields in order to banish ‘evil spirits’ (or disease), and how to elevate out of their despondent earthly existence into an enchanted state of eternal health and happiness – like flying for the first time on a broomstick (or smoking a joint). It will therefore come as no surprise, that the game of Quidditch, from the Harry Potter movies, is indeed being played at some of these modern schools of magic. The Tri-wizard cup was even won by Western Sydney University in 2013. A real-life fantasy world.
(Quiddich players ‘flying’ in attack formation on their Nimbus 2000 broomsticks)
But there is a problem!
To run around on a field with a broomstick between your legs is, I guess, okay, and not strange at all. It is good exercise, but you are not suddenly going to take off (at least not without a joint), because ‘strangely’ enough this only happens in the movies (or if you are completely stoned). So, for the rest of it, none of it is real – it is all a hoax. And this is now problematic, because all parents would agree that we want the best education for our children. But this is also where we tend to stop our involvement and we do not always ask the important question of; what is actually being taught at these schools? There are many reasons for this, one of them being that we tend to trust that government will protect us from fraudsters. So, when these schools are government funded and regulated, and especially, when they provide them with a stamp of approval via various accreditation schemes, this is usually enough to put our minds at ease – we trust the system!
Unfortunately, some of these schools provide government accredited courses in magic. For example; children are being taught to manipulate ‘energy’, yes, without a wand (although I am not always so sure), but with the use of needles, crystals and various herbs such as the screaming mandrake (oh no wait, that was in the movie).
Specific examples of these courses include; Bachelor in Chinese medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy at RMIT University, Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy – includes homeopathy) at Endeavour College, Bachelor of traditional Chinese medicine at Western Sydney University and Bachelor of Health Science in traditional Chinese medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. The Southern School of Natural Therapies explains that their accredited course in Chinese Medicine; “is an ancient, holistic form of medicine that connects the mind, body, spirit. Chinese medicine believes that the body is made up of Qi – energy which permeates the whole body and flows through our meridians. Chinese medicine aims to stimulate the meridians, producing effects on different organs and systems within the body to restore balance and harmony” – this is pure magic!
This is what our kids are being taught at these schools, and unfortunately, this is pure fantasy because this ‘energy’, which is at the foundation of all of these pseudoscientific healthcare systems, simply do not exist. But, this ‘energy’ do indeed attract large numbers of students, because all of us are fascinated by magic. Regrettably, those students who actually believe in the magic show, tends to pay a significant amount of money to learn ‘magic’, and once they realise that it’s an elaborate government supported hoax, many simply tend to continue practicing magic. Because, by now, they have incurred a lot of debt, they have lost a lot of time, and they don’t want to be branded a drop-out or loser (sure, there will also be true believers amongst them). Hence, the problem of modern day ‘medical magicians’ will continue to be with us and might even surge, if the government continue to legitimise it via their various accreditation schemes.
And this brings me to accreditation, which is arguably a big part of the problem. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recently invited submissions for their “Independent Review of Accreditation Systems within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions”. The ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ (FSM) organisation did submit a detailed report highlighting their many concerns when accreditation is given to these schools of magic. This report was unfortunately deemed ‘out of scope’ by the COAG Health Council which implies that they are quite happy to continue to mislead students and their parents (and this can destroy families), as well as the patients who are on the receiving end of these completely ineffective magical treatments. Many patients do indeed get hurt and some even die, as was tragically illustrated by a practitioner whose magical ‘Slapping Therapy’ did not cure a 6yo boy from his type-1 diabetes.
Below you will find the Executive Summary of FSMs submission (with permission), and here you can find the full submission. But the question remains; why do the government continue to bestow undue credibility and continue to legitimise ‘medical magic’ by providing accreditation to these courses in Australia?
Accreditation is antecedent to, and inextricably bound together with, practitioner registration. This submission raises concerns about registered alternative medicine (AltMed) practitioners, accusing the present accreditation system of failing to protect the public through its legitimising poor quality, belief-based, rather than evidence-based, education and on-going training of chiropractors, osteopaths and Chinese medicine/acupuncturists.
FSM is aware that some higher education institutes and continuing professional development courses give credibility to pseudoscience. Examples of pseudoscience include chiropractic (subluxation theory, Kinesiology, Retained Neonatal Reflex and Webster Technique, osteopathy (Osteopathy of the Cranial Field and Visceral Manipulation) and Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture and the teaching of “Qi”, energy blockages that cause disease, as a fact).
FSM also remains concerned with the accreditation process supervised by AHPRA and its Boards.
FSM alleges that:
A. the training of registered AltMed practitioners:
is of low quality;
is based on pseudo-scientific concepts that reject germ theory as the cause of disease;
teach invalid diagnostic technique;
includes potentially dangerous interventions, continued in the ongoing training of practitioners;
wastes considerable public funding allocated to universities which teach these unscientific courses; and
compromises our universities’ reputation within Australia and internationally.
B. thousands of false and misleading claims on AltMed websites breach the National Law. This report demonstrates that registered AltMed practitioners:
are poorly trained;
are not competent to treat patients;
delay correct diagnosis and evidence-based therapies thereby allowing progression of disorders;
may cause harm;
waste millions of health dollars;
undermine the efforts of evidence-based practitioners in their communities;
do not, in respect of exaggerated claims and advertising, behave in an ethical manner;
create considerable confusion for patients with chronic ailments; and
focus their ongoing training on building their practices rather than on the needs of patients.
This report also raises concerns about pseudoscience-based courses, that may attract VET-help fees, such as reflexology, homeopathy, aromatherapy and reiki, that are advertised on Government websites.
C. Government websites are providing undeserved credibility for discredited AltMed.
Underserved credibility is given to discredited AltMed courses including Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy and Reiki that may attract VET-help fees and are advertised on Government training websites.
Using acupuncture as an example, along with valid research findings, informed opinions and advice from medical experts, this report investigates the teachings in one high-profile accredited course and the impact and costs of this intervention on health care. While this report focuses on acupuncture, the same concerns can be extrapolated to other domains of pseudo-science, which is in both accredited university and continuing professional development courses. It also recommends that the scope of practice of AltMed practitioners should be limited to what they can advertise, to further protect patients from invalid diagnosis and belief-based interventions.
While ALL unregistered AltMed practitioners are NOT practicing any form of evidence-based medicine, (reflexology, iridology etc), there are thousands of registered practitioners, bound by the National Law to practice care that is evidence-based, who are practicing pseudoscience. The scope of the recent NHMRC review of natural therapies EXCLUDED interventions offered by registered practitioners on the basis that consumer protection was available through the AHPRA scheme.
This report highlights the millions of health dollars wasted by the Government funding of AltMed teachings and practices. Nearly $220 million was spent on acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy through Medicare from July 2011 to June 2016.
AltMed practitioners, who reject evidence-based medicine and over-service patient with placebo interventions are not the ‘right people’ to address patient needs, now and in the future.”
Nooo waaay!! If Gwyneth Paltrow can promote that, then surely, I can promote some of my very own quackery! Don’t call me a snake oil salesman, look at Gwyneth, she is selling ‘psychic vampire repellent’ and ‘jade eggs’ – my quackery is not nearly as crackpot as that, and, she gets away with it!
And off they go, endorsing and promoting everything from water as effective medicine, to jade eggs to be; “used by women…. [to be inserted, you know where] ….to help connect the second chakra (the heart) and yoni for optimal self-love and well-being.” And, yes, psychic vampire repellent to ‘banish bad vibes and shield you from the people who may be causing them.’ Celebrity endorsements, using social status to (un)intentionally mislead the public, and in some cases, enrich themselves even further!
Pure quackery, but whatever these Demi-gods endorse, usually result in a large number of worshippers to blindly follow. Their faith is so blind, that they will even give their own children water as medicine. Unfortunately, but also predictably, some children die as a result, but apparently, this is a small price to pay in order to appease these Demi-gods. But luckily, there are a number of brave warriors (or scientists) who are standing up for science, understands social responsibility, and openly question the validity and motives of these apostles of quackery. And you need to be brave, because this can backfire depending on the unique powers and influence of the Demi-god in question. As was illustrated by Prof Edzard Ernst, after he publicly, but fairly, called a Demi-god a snake oil salesman.
As for Gwyneth Paltrow, she is merrily continuing to promote the most bizarre healthcare rubbish via her company Goop. Her beauty, apparently, has a hypnotic effect on her followers because they just continue to buy whatever she conjures up. At least, she won this year’s inaugural Rusty Razor award for “the ‘best’ promoter of the ‘worst pseudoscience of the year.” Well done, Gwyneth, although this will probably only strengthen the resolve of her followers.
In the picture above there is also a banner that seemingly does not fit the ‘bigger’ picture; “Excellence in Research for Australia” (ERA). The reason for this is because celebrity endorsement of quackery tends to attract the attention of a very ‘special’ kind of person – the promotional ‘scientist’. It is, in fact, a vicious circle. Quackery generates a lot of money, which partly flows into the coffers of ‘willing’ universities who provides further ‘scientific’ endorsement of quackery (much appreciated by the celebrities), and this, in turn, leads to an increase in sales – and round we go. These promotional scientists actively seek endorsements from celebrities or royalty such as Prince Charles, and they pursue any opportunity to make this reality – an excellent way of spending public money! Endorsements gives them, and the quackery that they peddle, (undue) credibility and legitimacy, but at least it leads to increased sales – and that is what it is all about.
And this brings me to the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Australia, who actively sought the endorsement of the Prince of Wales to become their patron. Here is an excerpt of the NICMs attempts, written by Prof Alan Bensoussan;
“I understand that HRH The Prince of Wales is a keen advocate of integrated healthcare and of proven complementary treatments and therapies. His goals align substantially with those of NICM, which seeks to build an evidence-based complementary medicines sector in Australia and more broadly. Subject to the approval of HRH The Prince of Wales, I envisage that the role of patron would be to officially endorse NICM, for example, by the inclusion of letters written by HRH The Prince of Wales on the NICM website and in seminal publications.”
The words ‘proven’ and ‘evidence-based’ is somewhat out of place, because both the NICM and Prince Charles continue to promote debunked homeopathy (water as medicine against malaria etc.) and a lot of other crackpot treatments, so, these words are meaningless coming from the NICM.
But there is another type of endorsement that they actively pursue. And that is being endorsed by a respected organisation, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), or in this case, the Australian Research Council (ARC), which manages the ERA scheme (the NICM does have a man on the inside at the WHO, but more about this at a later stage). Under the ERA scheme, universities submit their research outputs and based on this data they receive a ranking out of 5 for a specific field of research. In the NICMs case, they were ranked in the “Complementary and Alternative medicine” field of research in both the 2012 and 2015 rounds, and they are currently submitting data for the 2018 round. This is what the NICM told Prince Charles;
“We are the only Australian complementary medicine research centre to receive a ranking of 5 in the Commonwealth Excellence in Research for Australia exercise – signalling research well above world standard.”
So, clearly the NICM has been endorsed by the ARC under their ERA scheme, and indeed they did receive the highest ranking of 5, in both the 2012 and 2015 rounds, which they now use to lobby for further recognition and endorsement from celebrities or royalty. They even managed to legitimise traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Australia using this ARC endorsement, and they are currently building a TCM hospital in the heart of Sydney. This is dangerous, because many people will get hurt, or might even die, because of ineffective fake healthcare systems such as TCM. Here is one example, where the NICM was indirectly involved in the death of a 6yo boy.
But there is a problem with the ERA endorsement. Having first-hand knowledge of the promotional research that the NICM conducts, there is no way in this world that they can or should receive a ranking of 5, so, clearly there is a discrepancy somewhere. For example; below is an abstract of one of their ‘scientific’ articles that was reviewed by the ARC, and you’ll be excused if you think that it was written by Gwyneth Paltrow;
This case report describes a 25-year-old woman who presented with nausea and vomiting (NVP) in her seventh week of pregnancy. The treatment was not successful overall and resulted in both patient and practitioner losing confidence. The following reflective questions challenged my practice and led to an examination of what makes acupuncture work. – Why, after a course of acupuncture, did the nausea and vomiting continue? – What led to a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat this ailment? Multiple traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) research reviews show some benefit for nausea and dry retching using acupressure and acupuncture, and limited results for vomiting. Despite this, I found that my confidence was undermined by being out of touch with my own inner knowing or Yi. I needed to encourage the patient (‘Laura’) to take more responsibility for her own health and we both needed clarity around the treatment result expected.
This is not something that you’ll expect from a university in Australia – especially not if they are ranked ‘well above world standard’. The fact that case reports (there is more than one) are ineligible to be submitted as a scientific article is an issue (ERA guidelines section 220.127.116.11 page 41), but I believe the contents of their work is a far bigger problem – it is pure and unadulterated pseudoscience! But this isn’t even the biggest problem. The NICM submitted 89 scientific articles for review in the 2012 round, and 151 articles in the 2015 round. Of the 89 articles, close to 50% was not produced by the NICM and in the 2015 round, close to 25% of articles was produced by otheruniversities. This is not only completely unethical, this, in my view, is fraud. You cannot take the work of others and claim it as your own – just imagine what will happen if you do something like this on your CV! (here is a full list of the NICMs articles – interesting stuff).
But what does the ERA guidelines say about this? Well, to be honest, nothing. I could not find any information in the guidelines, clearly stating that they were allowed to do this. The ARC, and the expert committee members who reviewed the NICMs application, was contacted for clarification, but unfortunately only the ARC responded, and none of the 25 committee members. The answer from the ARC was also somewhat vague;
“Therefore if you review the individual outputs of a specific unit of evaluation within a university they may not all have a publication association listed but could still be within the submission guidelines.”
So, there appears to be an unwritten rule which ‘allowed’ the NICM to submit the work of others as their own – a typical loophole? And what better way to identify these loopholes than to serve on the expert committee reviewing these applications? As expected, the director of the NICM, Alan Bensoussan did indeed serve on the expert committee in 2010, where he, as an expert promotional scientist, identified the loopholes which they exploited in full, during the 2012/2015 rounds. But, this is only true if this is indeed a loophole, otherwise, it is plain and simple fraud! But, to be honest, I could not care less what the ERA guidelines say, it is never okay to take another person’s work! Because what example do you give students, and what about the international universities who have now unwittingly contributed to the legitimisation of dangerous pseudoscientific healthcare systems in Australia?
For example. Leiden University has ‘contributed’ 7 scientific articles towards WSU’s scientific output – obviously without them knowing about it. The authors of these articles worked at Leiden university while being paid by the Dutch taxpayer! And at the time, they were completely unaware even of the existence of the NICM or WSU. But, unfortunately, without them knowing about it, they have now assisted these ‘scientists’ at WSU to promote quackery. I am convinced that Leiden University, and the many other universities who are involved, will not appreciate this.
Although this issue is still unfolding, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered, it just again shows that almost everything that pseudoscientists do, is misleading or false. They will even mislead celebrities or royalty from whom they seek their highly valuable endorsements. And this does not bode well, because the NICM who has extensively used their ERA ranking to lobby the Australian and Chinese governments, has managed to strike a deal with China and, in effect, has legitimised TCM in Australia.
So, if you suspect that this practice is widespread at Australian universities, you can always request the information from the ARC under a Freedom of Information Act (section 6.4, page 69). And if you are an academic considering taking up a job at an Australian university, be careful, because they might just stick you in a dark hole and use your extensive publication record as part of their own scientific outputs – this might be the only reason why the hired you! But let’s hope that this fraud is limited to the NICM, and not a widespread phenomenon.
Imposing figures, these gatekeepers pictured above. Problem is, they only give the appearance that they serve a purpose because they are made of stone, and hence, anyone, friend or foe, can easily pass. In the world of science we also have gatekeepers (scientific journals, peer reviewers, university management etc.) who’s sole duty is to distinguish friend from foe. The former being ‘real scientists’ and the latter, ‘promotional scientists’ or ‘pseudoscientists’. The gatekeepers’ duty is therefore to stop the promotional scientists in their tracks, and not allow them entrance into the scientific system. As soon as these people are allowed in, society will be engulfed with fictitious or alternative ‘facts’, and this can only lead to chaos (unfortunately this has already happened in many countries).
Real scientists understands social responsibility and impact, whereas promotional scientists ignores it, for the sake of more funding and increased sales for their sponsors. How to determine the difference between the two? Good place to start is to have a look at who funds a scientific study. Usually this information can be found within the conflicts of interests’ section, which has to be completed by all researchers. Being funded by industry does, of course, not necessarily mean that the research in question is biased. Consequently, it is not entirely fool-proof, but a good starting point nonetheless. It is, however, fool-proof when researchers intentionally fail to declare their obvious conflicts of interests, which implies that their research results are very likely to be biased, and geared towards promoting a specific product or service that their sponsors happen to sell.
Another way to tell the difference between the two, is if a research group always report positive results. These positive results doesn’t necessarily have to be reflected as such in their scientific articles, but more so when they use (social) media to ‘translate’ these results to the public. It is hard, but not impossible, to cheat in a scientific article and it is also risky business. You could lose your job, but then only if you have effective gatekeepers in place. To use (social) media to falsely promote ‘positive’ results is far safer because it is unregulated, it reaches the target audience better (the public), and hence it is far easier to get away with it. It basically circumvents the gatekeepers of science. This is an important aspect, because the public does not read scientific articles (it isn’t always available and it’s written in a scientific language that few people understand), but rather read someone’s interpretation of it on Facebook or in the newspaper.
Some of these promotional researchers have the ability to take a neutral or negative result and advertise it on social media as a clear positive. This is unethical, but unfortunately, there are no clear guidelines in place to prevent this from happening. Hence, another loophole in the academic system that unscrupulous promotional researchers exploit to the full. But let’s only look at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine’s (NICM) undeclared conflicts of interests, and I’ll get back to their advertising via social media prowess at a later stage.
The NICMs undeclared conflicts of interests
In a previous article I’ve written about the NICM and their intentional failure to declare their very obvious conflicts of interests in many of their acupuncture studies – and this has been going on for years. Currently, the most notable and largest study is an ‘acupuncture for infertility’ clinical trial (final results not available yet). When they published the trial design they ‘forgot’ to mention that Alan Bensoussan and Caroline Smith (both from the NICM) are consultants for commercial acupuncture-fertility clinics, the director of these clinics serve on the NICM’s advisory board, students of the NICM finds employment at these clinics, and that these clinics have donated money to the NICM (you can read about the details here and here).
I’ve also reported that Western Sydney University (WSU) who hosts the NICM, simply refused to even respond to this issue after I’ve raised it with their ethics committee. One of the four journal editors who was contacted, also ignored this issue even though the journal, ‘European Journal of Integrative Medicine’ (EJIM) clearly states that;
“All authors must disclose any financial and personal relationships with other people or organizations that could inappropriately influence (bias) their work. Examples of potential conflicts of interest include employment, consultancies, stock ownership, honoraria, paid expert testimony, patent applications/registrations, and grants or other funding. If there are no conflicts of interest then please state this: ‘Conflicts of interest: none.”
The reason why this editor ignored this issue, became clear when I looked at who she was. Prof Nicola Robinson, happens to be an acupuncturist, she was also admitted to the illustrious ‘ Alternative Medicine Hall of Fame’ (for ‘researchers’ that never publishes negative results), and she has co-authored an acupuncture article with the NICM entitled; “Does acupuncture improve the outcome of in vitro fertilization? Guidance for future trials”. Needless to say, but even in this article under the heading ‘Conflict of interest’ they also declared to have ‘no competing financial interests’. Clearly, WSU and this editor has completely removed the role of gatekeepers and they are allowing everything to pass as ‘science’. This is also the reason why the NICM and WSU have again been nominated in 2017, for the Bent Spoon award, given to the best Australian pseudoscientist of the year.
The response from the British Medical Journal Open (BMJO)
The BMJO published the NICMs article entitled “Complementary therapies for labour and birth study: a randomised controlled trial of antenatal integrative medicine for pain management in labour”. Here again we see that the NICM loves to combine or integrate acupressure (acupuncture without the needles) with interventions that in all likelihood will yield a positive result. In this study they combined six interventions (incl. acupressure to unblock your meridians so that your life-force or Chi can flow freely) and all interventions taken together gave them very good results. It also received a lot of (social) media attention. Now, any scientist will know that when you combine six interventions as a single treatment, there will be no way of telling which of these actually contributed to the positive outcome. And this is exactly what the NICM wants. And hence, although these overall results can be applauded, it again shows that the NICM have ulterior motives which, simply put, is to integrate fake treatments with real treatments and use these results to convince more people to use their commercial acupuncture clinics.
Although the journal did respond to this issue, and we have had a number of conversations, they eventually decided that “we do not feel that the authors have a competing interest”. Even though, BMJO clearly states that;
“A competing interest exists when professional judgement concerning a primary interest (such as patients’ welfare or the validity of research) may be influenced by a secondary interest (such as financial gain or personal relationship). There is nothing inherently unethical about a competing interest but it should be acknowledged and openly stated.”
Agreed, and this is exactly what the NICM intentionally did not do, but, unfortunately, this was also the last correspondence I had with BMJO.
Response from the journal ‘Trials’
Journal three was a bit more thorough. It concerns a publication in the journal ‘Trials’ entitled “Acupuncture to improve live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a protocol for a randomized controlled trial” (The media called this large and expensive study “Unis in a wacky waste of cash” at the time.) In this article, they again intentionally failed to declare their very obvious conflicts of interests, but eventually they were forced to publish a correction, which reads;
“After publication of our article  we realised that our Competing Interests statement should have read as follows: Jane Lyttleton is the Clinical Director of The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic. Caroline Smith has had an association with The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic. She states that she has not received any financial compensation for this relationship at any time.”
Although a move in the right direction, not completely true, because Caroline Smith is/was clearly a consultant for these clinics (over an 8-year period, but this info was deleted from the clinic’s website after I published my first blog post on this issue), and it does not even mention the donations that the NICM received from these clinics – and this is the crux of the matter! Sure, Caroline Smith probably did not receive any money in her own bank account, but the NICM did accept donations for their research activities. All of this counts towards academic promotions, more students and she was even named WSU’s researcher of the year in 2015. So, she clearly benefited from it all.
Response from ‘Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine'(ECAM)
The fourth journal, ECAM (published by Hindawi) is still investigating this matter. But true to their nature, the NICM first tried to mislead the journal. The journal was even planning to publish a correction, but luckily, they decided to run this ‘correction’ past me first. And, knowing the NICM well, it was quite easy to point out how they were being misled with clever wordplay. After the NICMs failed attempt to mislead Hindawi, WSU also stopped responding to Hindawi’s further queries based on this new information. Only after Hindawi lodged a formal complaint with the university’s ‘independent conflicts resolution unit’ did they respond. Although I am not at all convinced regarding this unit’s independence (I’ve had some bad experiences with them), they even started to respond to my initial queries that I’ve emailed to them about 10 months ago.
Surprisingly, I am currently in contact with WSU’s department of Audit and Risk, who has now apparently forwarded this matter to an external investigator (I haven’t heard anything from them yet). It is surprising, because I am not in contact with scientists or ethics committees who are the best suited to deal with these matters – this is after all a simple case of scientific misconduct. As Alan Bensoussan publicly stated “We understand conflict of interest concerns, but this is why we have strict guidelines and ethics committees …..”
So, WSU is in all likelihood trying to mitigate the potential risks regarding this comparatively small issue, whereas they should start to address the far bigger underlying problem of allowing pseudoscientists a foot in the door. Apparently, WSU’s gatekeepers will allow anyone in as long as you hand them a bit a cash – and this does not bode well. Promoting pseudoscientific healthcare systems, especially via universities, leads to a lot of people (and animals) getting hurt or even die, as was tragically illustrated with the 6yo boy who died after attending a ‘Slapping Therapy’ workshop at a clinic of one of the NICMs partners.
It is quite interesting to note the big difference between how the journals or ‘gatekeepers’ of science responded to this issue. From an absolute and resolute ‘let’s completely ignore the issue’, to a very thorough ongoing investigation, and everything in-between. It is at least good to see that some journals still understand the importance of fulfilling their gatekeeper role. This again shows that science might be factual, but human interpretations of factual observations is, or can be, strongly influenced by our diverse and many vested interests. And this leads to fiction becoming fact and vica versa. Or put differently; science is simple, scientists are complex! And this is, unfortunately, a growing concern and danger to public safety and makes it increasingly difficult for the public, to make informed decisions regarding healthcare. Although this article only dealt with conflicts of interests, a rather ‘minor’ issue, a next article will deal with the ‘scientific’ content of the NICMs acupuncture articles. This will clearly illustrate how the NICM is intentionally promoting placebo treatments at the expense of science and public safety, and how WSU is not only allowing this to happen, but that they are even actively assisting the NICM to achieve their dubious objectives.
What can you do about this?
Unfortunately, if you fall for their trickery and you get hurt, then you will be all alone. The bureaucracy involved is extremely complex so the best thing to do is prevention. Stop believing that Chi is real, because it simply does not exist. Stop buying their products or using their treatments, and inform yourself and your family and friends about how these people play their sick game and what the dangers are regarding these ‘treatments’. ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ provides valuable healthcare information as well as the website of Prof Edzard Ernst, where he discusses everything complementary medicine (what works and what doesn’t). If you are interested in receiving automatic updates regarding the NICM and what they are up to, you can always follow my Blog, Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Will keep you posted regarding the outcome of the 2017 Bent Spoon awards (the NICM has obviously been nominated), and please, ‘Like’ and share this article via FaceBook etc. – options below.
Reminiscent of Voldemort about to cast an evil spell, Prof Barney Glover (photo BL -resemblance is striking) is showing a packed auditorium his outstretched hand above which the mystical ‘life force’ or Chi hovers. Because no one, not even Barney, can see anything floating above his hand, Prof Alan Bensoussan (photo BR) comes to the rescue by explaining that if everyone just play along, and make as if they can see Chi, then they all stand to make a lot of money. His strenuous expression indicates that it is a hard sell, but he also knows that the money factor and quality of showmanship, usually attracts a crowd and also wins out over common sense. The photo on top is from Voldemort, the villain from the Harry Potter movies. The reason why these three men looks so serious (excl. Voldemort because he is an actor, oh no, wait, all three are actors) is because they know damn well that what they are doing is ‘magic’. So, we are entering an era where all three these characters are real, or scientists should start to stand up for science!
In order to expose these ‘magicians’ and to create public awareness regarding their trickery, the Australian Skeptics Inc. annually presents the Bent Spoon Award for the top pseudoscientist of the year. It is in effect the Oscars for pseudoscientists, because both reward outstanding acting abilities. This year there are a number of nominees including the controversial National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) hosted at Western Sydney University (WSU). Below is the full nomination:
Nominee: National Institute of Complementary Medicine and Western Sydney University
Nominated by: Australian Skeptics and others
For continuing to promote unsupported and debunked ‘medical’ treatments, despite promises late last year, in response to a 2016 Bent Spoon nomination, that they are “intending to revise our website … and hope to address some of these issues you have raised”. It still promotes the following treatments under the Complementary Medicine banner: acupuncture, chiropractic, aromatherapy, naturopathy, spiritual healing, crystal therapy, reflexology, ‘energy therapies’ (reiki, qigong, electromagnetic field therapy), TCM, Ayurvedic medicine, anthroposophical medicine, healing touch, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, and homeopathy. Secondly, NICM and UWS are nominated for planning to establish an on-campus TCM clinic for the general public.
Hopefully this year they will walk away with this coveted award, which is bestowed upon “the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle.” In 2016, the NICM tried for some reason, but in vain, to remove their nomination, but their attempts backfired somewhat. You can read about their sorry attempts here. It is also notable that the 2016 nomination was done by one person, whilst the 2017 nomination was done by a group of people, indicating that more and more people are coming around to the fact that the NICM/WSU are indeed misleading the public.
Key people in this year’s nomination is again the director of the NICM, Prof Alan Bensoussan, and the Vice-Chancellor of WSU, Prof Barney Glover. Between these two men, they earn roughly $1.2 million AUD per year, dished out by the Australian public. In return for these vast sums of money, the Australian public are being misled into believing that all of the above therapies are useful, effective and safe. This is obviously not true as you can see in my previous article which dealt with the involvement of the NICM and WSU in the tragic case of the 6yo boy who died after attending a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) based ‘slapping therapy’ workshop in Sydney. By slapping yourself you supposedly influence the flow of Chi through meridians and hence you will be cured of disease. Unfortunately, this boy suffered from diabetes and because many people belief that Chi is real, he was taken off his medication during the workshop – a life-threatening scenario. Clearly the ‘treatments’ that the NICM promote is not only ineffective, but it can also be quite dangerous.
But let us look at Alan Bensoussan. As a registered acupuncturist and herbal Chinese medicine man, he obviously falls within the category of delusional ‘healthcare’ practitioners. Because his livelihood depends on it, he will continue his unwavering support of debunked treatments, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that these ‘treatments’ simply does not work. Ineffective treatments is quite dangerous, not only to people, but to wildlife as well. In his delusional world, all TCM therapies are effective and hence he will happily go to court to act as a character witness for his business partner (another TCM practitioner) who was send to jail for importing Rhino horn, and other endangered animal material, into Australia. This was followed by promoting rhino horn as a life-saving medicine in a thesis, approved by Alan and WSU (2012). And quite recently (2017) the NICM even had a link on their website where consumers could find information regarding the life-saving properties of rhino horn, and I guess they could even buy it online (link has since been removed). Everything works in his delusional world.
There are many more examples such as his continued support for debunked treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture etc. but this award is not only for supporting these treatments, it is also the way in which they mislead the public. For example: they fail to declare their manyconflicts of interest on many of their research papers (scientific misconduct), they design their experiments in such a way that it almost always gives a positive result (A+B vs B trial design), and even if the result is negative they will promote it as a big positive on WSU’s news site, or on social media (scientific misconduct and intentionally misleading the public). They even misled the Australian Research Council (info obtained after 2.5 years under a Freedom of Information request) who gave them a ranking of five, which stands for ‘research quality well above world standard’ in their ‘Excellence of Research for Australia’ program. With this fraudulently obtained ranking, they lobby, but also mislead; UK royalty, ministers, regulators, foreign governments (specifically China) etc. in order to invest more money in the NICM.
But they also use this ranking to try and crush any negative reports, such as their 2016 Bent Spoon nomination – and this is where the excellent acting comes into play. Here is an excerpt from Alan’s letter to the Australian Skeptics “NICM conducts itself with the highest degree of integrity, ethics, scientific enquiry and social responsibility. Our research is independent, peer-reviewed, and is published in highly reputable, world-leading journals. NICM has been evaluated by Australia’s leading scientists under the Excellence in Research for Australia scheme and received the highest ranking of 5 for two consecutive periods, representing research that is deemed well above world standard.” None of this is true, and yet they can write these things without blushing. Their acting ability is so good, that they do not only fool the public, they actually have the acting ability to fool themselves. Any actor that can immerse themselves into a role to a point where they become the character deserves an Oscar, or in this case a bent spoon.
As for Prof Barney Glover. Well, he was warned about all of this, by myself and others, that by supporting the modus operandi of the NICM and hence these debunked treatments, including TCM, people will needlessly get hurt or even die (the Slapping therapy is a case in point). Unfortunately, Barney and the rest of WSU management decided to ignore all of these warnings and is fully supportive, and protects, the NICM at a cost of >$2 million AUD per year. I guess if you can’t beat them, join them; so, Barney has been actively involved in lobbying the Australian public that Chi exists and he has opened the door for China to use Australians as guinea pigs for their unproven and disproven TCM therapies. It is well known that China wants to internationalise TCM, and via Alan and Barney the Australian public will now have to bear the brunt of ineffective therapies. Here is an excellent article in the ‘Economist’, explaining the dangers of doing just this – the title says it all; “State-funded Quackery. China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts. That is dangerous for humans as well as rhinos.”
Armed with this knowledge, Barney visited China on a number of occasions and together with Alan managed to get TCM in the Free Trade Agreement signed between China and Australia. This has given the impetus for Chinese companies to export more of their disproven and unproven ‘medicines’ to Australia, and it forms the cornerstone of a new TCM facility that will be built in Sydney. This facility will be co-managed by the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (BUCM) and because it needs to be profitable within a couple of years, implies that it will be operated like a commercial clinic or hospital. In the NICM’s own words during a industry sponsors meeting, the NICM will “lead the modernisation and integration of Chinese Medicine in the West through the
development of an effective Integrative Medicine Facility or TCM Hospital.” The BUCM has managed to start a similar 81-bed ‘hospital’ in Germany and this will likely be the model on which the Sydney facility will be based. So much for ‘evidence-based’ treatments, where evidence that a treatment does more good than harm comes first, before you start selling it to the public. But in their delusional world, all of TCM, and for that matter all of complementary medicine, works – so why should they provide any evidence? You only have to belief that it works, and that is it!
At the heart of all of this, as usual, is money. The millions that Barney, Alan and the NICM cost the Australian public has to be recovered somehow, and hence these two men decided to destroy science, scientific education and put the public’s health at risk by allowing WSU to become the ‘scientific’ façade of a very dubious, and dangerous, complementary medicine industry. In exchange, they are handsomely rewarded with very big donations towards their ‘research efforts’, or rather, promotional research. Here they received $10 million from Blackmores, here is $4 million from the highly controversial Jacka Foundation (links with anti-vaccination activists), not to mention the millions from other complementary medicine companies, including Chinese companies and investors.
The list of misleading and false claims and statements constantly flowing from the NICM is unfortunately so long that it will require a series of books to be written in order to cover everything. It is however, quite remarkable, how similar their modus operandi is to the notorious gangster, Al Capone, who also had a ‘good guy’ public image, but beneath the surface had a somewhat more sinister nature. But the sad thing is that nobody can seemingly do anything about this. As long as they are in a position of power and they manage to bring in this kind of money; rules, ethics and morals simply do not apply anymore. As further evidence of their extremely good acting abilities, here is the title of Voldemort’s, oh sorry, Barney’s speech given at the National Press club (photo) “universities must stand up for facts and the truth – if we don’t, who will?” This is acting at its best, and in my view, deserving of the Bent Spoon award.
Unfortunately, if you fall for their trickery and you get hurt, then you will be all alone. The bureaucracy involved is extremely complex so the best thing to do is prevention. Stop believing that Chi is real, because it simply does not exist. Stop buying their products or using their treatments, and inform yourself and your family and friends about how these people play their sick game and what the dangers are regarding these ‘treatments’. ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ provides valuable healthcare information as well as the website of Prof Edzard Ernst, where he discusses everything complementary medicine (what works and what doesn’t). If you are interested in receiving automatic updates regarding the NICM and what they are up to, you can always follow my Blog, Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Will keep you posted regarding the outcome of the 2017 Bent Spoon awards, and please, ‘Like’ and share this article – options below.