‘My story and my vision of China’ – ‘Prof’ Alan Bensoussan, cheerleader of the World Hoaxers Organisation (WHO)

Just thought I’ll share this rather interesting interview with my more scientifically inclined followers. For me the message is rather clear; never make a quack a Prof otherwise healthcare might just suddenly find itself all the way back in the dark ages. Below you can find the unedited interview that appeared in the People’s Daily Online a couple of weeks ago. Because I am so tired of highlighting how people are being BSed by the NICM, regarding Traditional Chinese Medicine (and a lot of other rubbish), I am not even going to comment on the multiple issues (my less scientifically inclined followers should maybe first read these background articles here, here and here)

Start of interview:

“China is the only nation in the world to have systematically and conscientiously protected and invested in its traditional medicine. Professor Alan Bensoussan, who has been researching Chinese medicine for more than 30 years, is the only foreigner in 2013 who had received the prestigious International Award for Contribution to Chinese Medicine.

Professor Bensoussan is the Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) at the University of Western Sydney, the largest institute in Australia that does research in traditional Chinese medicine. The institute focuses on four areas; neuro cognitional dementia and mental health in general, cancer, womens’ health and cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

“We have regulated the practice so that practitioners are recognised now so I think China continuing this interaction, engagement with the West, will only lead to greater improvements in the science of Chinese medicine,” Professor Bensoussan said.

Professor Bensoussan emphasised the importance of conducting clinical trials on Western patients in order to find ways to approve traditional medicine in Western countries.

“What we have to do is translate those medicines, develop the science, translate them for the use in the West,” he said.

“So the opportunities, you’ve got a field of medicine that is being used that has been the main form of medicine for all over the world for centuries. There are going to be endless opportunities.”

Professor Bensoussan believes that the advantage of Chinese medicine is that it provides a number of compounds in a mixture and lower dosage levels that will gradually readjust the body’s physiology.

“I think for me personally, the magic doesn’t lie in the purification of the medicine to identify a single compound … but the magic in Chinese medicine for me is actually the interface between foods and purified drugs,” Professor Bensoussan said.

It was learning about the science of acupuncture back in the 70s that triggered his curiosity to delve deeper.

“Chinese medicine offered a different perspective of the patients’ health, a different perspective of their health and illness because the theory is different. It offers different ways of viewing how symptoms and signs are connected and so this was interesting.”

His best experience regarding Chinese medicine was in 1984 and 1985 when he studied at Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine. Since then, Professor Bensoussan has been back 30 to 40 times for various research collaborations and different study periods.

Professor Bensoussan has high expectations for the future of traditional Chinese medicine such as treating chronic diseases in the West.

“It [Chinese medicine] was the system of healthcare in China for a quarter of the world for centuries so the field is very fertile, very rich with opportunities … We have the infrastructure, we have the resources, we have the enthusiasm, we need the partnerships with China to accelerate this.” Professor Bensoussan is also fundraising for NICM to further support their research.

Professor Bensoussan has been the Chair of the Advisory Committee for Complementary Medicines of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration from 2011 to 2014 and has also served frequently as a consultant in traditional medicine to the World Health Organisation.

He has also published over 160 scientific papers and two books, including a review of acupuncture research in 1990 and a government report on the practice of traditional Chinese medicine in Australia in 1996.”

End of interview.

And to think that the World Health Organisation is now planning on endorsing TCM in all its shapes and sizes is just ridiculous and truly a step backwards. I think the title says it all: “WHO endorses traditional Chinese medicine. Expect deaths to rise”. These bastards!! Because it is not only people dying but endangered wildlife and those trying to protect them, against this tsunami of ‘enlightened’ people.

rhino poaching

“For a new era of China-South Africa friendship”. Open letter by President Xi Jinping – the story of TCM going global.

The BRICS summit kicks off tomorrow in Johannesburg with leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in attendance, representing roughly half the worlds population. A few days ago President Xi Jinping of China published an open letter in a number of South African newspapers with the title “For a New Era of China-South African Friendship”. (you can read the full letter below.)

But there are a few of comments that I need to make regarding the contents of this letter.

-The letter asks for improved cooperation and friendship between China and South Africa in various sectors such as education, finance, tourism, infrastructure etc. Although the letter in general is quite positive, there are a couple of negative issues that needs to be highlighted. For example; it gives only one specific example of industry ‘collaboration’ indicating that this specific industry is really important to China.

“Traditional Chinese medicine [TCM] companies are actively exploring the South African market, introducing acupuncture, cupping and other traditional Chinese therapies to the South African people as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit. Chinese volunteers have mobilized Chinese companies and Chinese communities in South Africa to partner with local animal conservation organizations and make their contribution to wildlife protection in Africa. These are all powerful examples of China-South Africa and China-Africa friendship.”

Real collaboration should focus on working together to tackle pressing healthcare problems in both countries (or for that matter, in all five BRICS countries) by promoting modern healthcare, improving accessibility and affordability, funding education and research, etc. and together striving to become world leaders in modern healthcare. We are talking about almost half the worlds population, so what better platform to tackle  global healthcare issues.

So, the above statement is not about collaboration but rather about forcing an ancient and thoroughly debunked healthcare system based on pseudoscientific principles onto Africa (and other BRICS countries) for the sake of expanding the export market of Chinese TCM companies. Apparently, these companies (or the TCM industry) are too big to fail and hence the decision was made not to wind it down over time, but rather to promote and internationalise it – for whatever logic that makes. Adding that there is collaboration in wildlife protection is in my view a bit of a joke, but I guess some people will consider this to be a sincere gesture (well, the dehorned Rhino in our local zoo is funded by the Chinese embassy, for what it’s worth).

A very effective way of making TCM acceptable, or even wanted, in South Africa is by using the strategy of anti-colonialism or even racism (a very clever, but unethical, marketing strategy in SA); “Our peoples forged a deep friendship during our common struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism.” Indirectly implying that modern healthcare is an invention of the imperialist West and an acceptable alternative therefore is of course TCM. Hence the phrase “… as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit.” The fact that TCM is by and large ineffective, based on ancient debunked principles, and sometimes extremely dangerous, is obviously not mentioned.

TCM is unfortunately part of how China (or rather the Chinese Communist Party) wants to exert soft power globally and expand its massive TCM industry (currently worth roughly $170 billion). I have written about how they achieved this in Australia and it seems to me that the Australian model (you can read about it here, here and here) will now be implemented in Africa via South Africa. Unfortunately, my efforts in Australia went unnoticed with not a single politician or regulator batting an eyelid in regard to the dangers that TCM poses to global healthcare and wildlife – I might however have been too late to influence the process.

Collaboration between countries works best when there is mutual trust, something that President Xi Jinping also mentions in his letter “We must steadily elevate our political mutual trust to new levels”.  Now, how can you build trust when one country wants to dump fake medicines and treatments on another country? I just don’t see that happening.

We in South Africa do not want to start slapping each other to cure diabetes, or use rhino horn (or start skinning our donkeys, use lion bones etc) to ‘cure’ disease. Because once you start promoting these things as being effective medical treatments, before you know it, we might even start to stick needles into each other to influence the flow of Chi through meridians. This is how a society return to the dark ages of healthcare, and definitely not something that you wish upon your friends, or how you build trust between countries. We would far rather collaborate with China on improving and modernising healthcare in both countries. For what it’s worth, let’s put the wellbeing of society before profits.

Full text of Chinese President Xi’s signed article on South African media

2018/07/22

Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 22 published a signed article titled “For a New Era of China-South Africa Friendship” on three South African newspapers, namely, The Sunday Independent, Sunday Tribune and Weekend Argus, ahead of his state visit to the African country.

The following is the full text of the article:

For a New Era of China-South Africa Friendship

Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China

It gives me great pleasure to pay my third state visit to the Republic of South Africa and attend the 10th BRICS Summit at the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa. I am full of expectations as I am about to set foot again on the beautiful land of South Africa, the rainbow nation standing at the convergence of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and home to unique and magnificent landscapes, industrious and enterprising people, and colorful and pluralistic cultures.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between our two countries, but the friendly interactions between our peoples go far beyond that. Our peoples forged a deep friendship during our common struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism. After the birth of a new South Africa, especially in the past 20 years of diplomatic relations, our two countries have supported and learned from each other in our respective exploration of a development path suited to national conditions. This relationship has stood the test of time and a changing international environment. From a partnership to a strategic partnership, and then to a comprehensive strategic partnership, this relationship has made big strides and demonstrated a strong growth momentum in political trust, economic and trade cooperation, people-to-people exchanges and strategic coordination.

Over the past six years, our two countries have worked closely as co-chairs of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to advance the comprehensive strategic and cooperative partnership between China and Africa. Our bilateral ties have thus served as a model for China-Africa relations, for South-South cooperation, and for unity and cooperation among emerging market countries, and offered valuable experience for building an even stronger community with a shared future between China and Africa and a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.

We enjoy close high-level exchanges and fruitful practical cooperation across the board. Our leaders have, through frequent mutual visits, meetings and other exchanges, provided top-level and strategic guidance for the bilateral ties. China has been South Africa’s largest trading partner for nine years in a row, and South Africa has become China’s largest trading partner in Africa. Two-way trade totaled 39.17 billion U.S. dollars in 2017, more than 20 times the figure at the start of our diplomatic engagement. Preliminary statistics show that China’s direct investment in South Africa has grown by more than 80 times and exceeded 10.2 billion U.S. dollars in cumulative terms, creating tens of thousands of jobs for local communities and giving a strong boost to the South African economy. Many Chinese companies are running successful businesses in South Africa, which is a full testament to our mutually beneficial relationship for common development. South African companies, for their part, are also making great success in China.

In recent years, measures such as hosting the Year of China/South Africa and launching the High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism have brought our two peoples even closer with greater mutual understanding and friendship. We have seen expanding cooperation in such areas as education, culture, science and technology, and health, and growing exchanges between our youths and women. South Africa has attracted more Chinese tourists, established sister relations with more Chinese provinces and cities, and opened more Confucius Institutes and classrooms than any other Sub-Saharan country. China has become an increasingly popular destination for South African students and tourists. Traditional Chinese medicine companies are actively exploring the South African market, introducing acupuncture, cupping and other traditional Chinese therapies to the South African people as a new option to treat illnesses and keep fit. Chinese volunteers have mobilized Chinese companies and Chinese communities in South Africa to partner with local animal conservation organizations and make their contribution to wildlife protection in Africa. These are all powerful examples of China-South Africa and China-Africa friendship.

South Africa is now on a new journey of national development. President Ramaphosa has put forth the goals of growing the economy, creating jobs, improving people’s lives and advancing social transformation, thereby ushering South Africa into a new era of hope and confidence. China looks forward to working with South Africa to build on the momentum of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties and strive for faster and greater progress in our comprehensive strategic partnership.

– We must steadily elevate our political mutual trust to new levels. We need to maintain high-level exchanges, strengthen inter-party cooperation and governance experience sharing, continue to provide each other with mutual understanding and support on issues bearing on our respective core interests and major concerns, and stay forever as each other’s reliable good friend, good brother and good partner. I look forward to receiving President Ramaphosa in Beijing in September and co-chairing with him the FOCAC Beijing Summit.

– We must strive for new outcomes in our practical cooperation. We need to promote complementarity between our development strategies, and make full use of bilateral mechanisms, FOCAC, the Belt and Road Initiative, BRICS cooperation, and other platforms to deepen cooperation in key areas such as industries, production capacity, resources and energy, infrastructure, finance, tourism, and digital economy and deliver more benefits to our peoples.

– We must increase communication to add new impetus to our people-to-people exchanges. We need to leverage the role of the High-Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism in enhancing communication between our peoples, expand cooperation in education, culture, science and technology, health, and sports, and promote exchanges between youths, women, think tanks and media outlets. Such measures will bring greater public support for China-South Africa friendship, and make our peoples be more closely connected.

– We must strengthen collaboration and scale new heights in our strategic coordination. We need to support each other in hosting the 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit and the 10th BRICS Summit, step up coordination and cooperation within multilateral frameworks including the UN, the G20 and BRICS, and promote the reform of the global governance system in a joint effort to advance the fundamental interests of African and other developing countries, to build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind, and to contribute wisdom and proposals to solving the world’s most pressing issues.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the BRICS Summit. Ten years on, BRICS cooperation has achieved remarkable development and gained an ever-growing influence. This year’s summit will be the first one held in the second “Golden Decade” of BRICS cooperation. China will go all out to support South Africa in hosting this event. Under the theme of “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” we will deepen BRICS strategic partnership, enhance BRICS solidarity and cooperation, and facilitate the inter-connected development of BRICS countries. We are confident that this summit will usher in an even brighter future for BRICS cooperation.

This year celebrates yet another important event, the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela, the inaugural president of the new South Africa. To quote Mr. Mandela, “The African rebirth is now more than an idea. Its seeds are being sown in the regional communities we are busy building and in the continent as a whole.” With unremitting efforts, South Africa and the rest of the African Continent gained a new life in the last century. I am confident that this century will witness the rejuvenation of South Africa and that of the whole African Continent. Let us work together for a new era of China-South Africa friendship.

Acupuncture does not improve IVF success! Surprisingly, it might actually be decreasing it! (just don’t tell anyone)

A negative result! And this coming from acupuncturists – not something that happens very often. And what’s more, it’s published in a very prestigious journal, the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association’ (JAMA), impact factor = 44. So, all I can say is, wow, did not see this one coming. Because usually they will spin the result into a positive using various techniques and various media platforms, and yet, here we have a very clear negative, even their (social) media platforms proudly proclaims; “Fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates”.  Sure, they still tried their best to give it some sort of positive spin by stating:

“We examined the effects of a short course of acupuncture administered during an IVF cycle….. However, in clinical practice, acupuncture may include more sessions prior to an IVF cycle starting.”

“Stress is thought to play a role in infertility…..In our earlier research, acupuncture was shown to reduce the emotional stress and burden experienced by women during IVF treatment.”

Conflicts of interests

Now I have some history with this project. Back in 2012 when the NHMRC announced that they have approved $630 000 dollars for this study, it was promptly called “universities in a wacky waste of cash” in the media. Why? Because even back then acupuncture was known to be ineffective for IVF (and pretty much everything else) so why spend so much money which could have been spent on doing useful research, on something that is known not to work? Well, if you can mislead people into using acupuncture and all sorts of other ineffective remedies, then surely, you’ll be able to fool funding bodies as well. That is after all their job – to fool people, that is what promotional researchers do!

But I did notice a couple of years ago that the ‘academics’ (Prof Caroline Smith and Alan Bensoussan) from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) almost never declare their conflicts of interests. In other words, they received some sort of financial incentive (cash or in-kind) from acupuncture clinics which went undeclared, in clear violation of research ethics. They also failed to declare their conflicts of interests when they published their original trial design back in 2012 for this current acupuncture IVF study. After highlighting this issue with the journal, Trials, they eventually published a correction (erratum) in 2017 which simply state that the authors did not receive any financial compensation. Sure, she did not get any payments into her personal bank account but the NICM did receive substantial donations (evidence was send to the journal, but yes, what can I say, scientific journals nowadays, pfff). You can read more about it here, here and here.

Moving the goalposts!

But overall, publishing a negative result is so unlike the NICM, the winners of the Bent Spoon award for quackery in 2017.  Or is there more to this than meets the eye? Indeed, there is something fishy and it is strange that the reviewers of such a prestigious journal did not pick up on this. To explain the issue let’s have a look at the abstract (my underlining).

Importance:  Acupuncture is widely used by women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), although the evidence for efficacy is conflicting.

Objective:  To determine the efficacy of acupuncture compared with a sham acupuncture control performed during IVF on live births.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  A single-blind, parallel-group randomized clinical trial including 848 women undergoing a fresh IVF cycle was conducted at 16 IVF centers in Australia and New Zealand between June 29, 2011, and October 23, 2015, with 10 months of pregnancy follow-up until August 2016.

Interventions:  Women received either acupuncture (n = 424) or a sham acupuncture control (n = 424). The first treatment was administered between days 6 to 8 of follicle stimulation, and 2 treatments were administered prior to and following embryo transfer. The sham control used a noninvasive needle placed away from the true acupuncture points.

Main Outcomes and Measures:  The primary outcome was live birth, defined as the delivery of 1 or more living infants at greater than 20 weeks’ gestation or birth weight of at least 400 g.

Results:  Among 848 randomized women, 24 withdrew consent, 824 were included in the study (mean [SD] age, 35.4 [4.3] years); 371 [45.0%] had undergone more than 2 previous IVF cycles), 607 proceeded to an embryo transfer, and 809 (98.2%) had data available on live birth outcomes. Live births occurred among 74 of 405 women (18.3%) receiving acupuncture compared with 72 of 404 women (17.8%) receiving sham control (risk difference, 0.5% [95% CI, −4.9% to 5.8%]; relative risk, 1.02 [95% CI, 0.76 to 1.38]).

Conclusions and Relevance:  Among women undergoing IVF, administration of acupuncture vs sham acupuncture at the time of ovarian stimulation and embryo transfer resulted in no significant difference in live birth rates. These findings do not support the use of acupuncture to improve the rate of live births among women undergoing IVF.

So, clearly this study was conducted in order to see if acupuncture is effective and they found it to be ineffective – or at least that is what they want us to think. This negative result was also widely covered in newspapers around the world and yet almost all of them got it wrong. Here are a couple of examples (my underlining):

Having acupuncture to increase IVF chances might be waste of time, study suggests” ABC news (Aus)

Acupuncture no better than placebo for improving IVF success, trial finds” The Independent (UK)

Study finds no evidence acupuncture boosts fertility treatment” Chicago Tribune (US)

So, what did they all get wrong? There are a number of issues with these results, not with the results per se, but with the results that they did not publish. So, I decided to write an email to the authors (and the journal editor) asking them a number of questions (this email was also undersigned by Prof Edzard Ernst). This email should explain the issue at hand. Here it is:

Dear Prof Smith et al.,

Congratulations to you and your team on the publication ‘Effect of acupuncture vs sham acupuncture on live births among women undergoing IVF’ in JAMA recently. 

You are probably aware that the outcome of this project has been widely reported and is currently being discussed on numerous blog sites (here and here are two examples). During these discussions a number of questions were raised and we were hoping that you, or any of your co-authors, can provide answers or some sort of explanation for these questions.

1.Why did it take so long after the completion of this study to publish the results.

2.There is a consensus that a trial of this nature would be far more expensive than the NHMRC’s funding of $630 000 – was there a lot of in-kind support or other sources of funding? 

3.The live birth rate of around 18% reported in this study seems to be low when compared to the overall success rate of IVF. According to IVF Australia women between the age of 30.0-34.9 can expect a success rate of just above 35% while women in the age category 35.0-39.9 have a success rate of just above 25%. (On Repromed’s website, who co-authored this publication, similar success rates are reported).  In your study the median age was 35.4 and 35.5 in the 2 groups, and yet, a success rate of around 18% was reported. If true, does this mean that acupuncture reduce your chances on IVF success?

4.Both the ANZCTR registry and your publication in Trials where the trial design was published, included a study group 3. This group was meant to receive only IVF and it was supposed to serve as a baseline comparison. This is of course a very important aspect and yet the results were not reported nor was it mentioned or discussed – could you clarify what the reason for this omission is?

5.In various newspaper reports it is mentioned that a further two publications will flow from these results. A cost effectiveness study and a paper on the psycho-social benefits of acupuncture. But when something is shown to be ineffective (as in this study) it cannot possibly be cost effective and when no 3rd group, receiving only IVF, was included in this study, how can the psycho-social benefits be determined?   

We would appreciate any answers or comments. Thank you in advance.

Needles to say (pun intended), no response has been received – yet. Now if we carefully look at the design of this study you will notice that the original study had a different title and design. On the trial registry the title is;

“Acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture and standard care to improve live birth rates for women undergoing IVF: a randomised controlled trial”

In the journal Trials the title is;

”Acupuncture to improve live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a protocol for a randomized controlled trial”

So clearly this study had three groups including the important baseline comparison of women receiving only IVF – because this is the only way that you can determine if acupuncture actually improve pregnancy or live birth rates. This is what they wanted to determine, and they were in effect supposed to investigate two questions;

  1. Does acupuncture and/or sham acupuncture have a negative, neutral (no effect), or positive effect on IVF compared to IVF alone? – this is the important efficacy question.
  2. Does acupuncture work better/equivalent/worse than sham acupuncture? – this is a secondary question focusing on the existence of the non-existent chi (energy) that flows through non-existent meridians.

But now they have intentionally dropped the baseline comparison (group 3) and only compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture. Therefore the only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that there is no difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture (no big surprise because chi and meridians do not exist). Nothing can be said about the efficacy of acupuncture because they left this important information out and did not report on it, even though they misleadingly claim acupuncture to be ‘neutral’ (no effect).

And the newspapers?

Most journalists get their information from the university’s press release and this is what the NICM published “Fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates”. It is completely wrong, it should have been something like; “Chi and Meridians again shown not to exist and acupuncture might even reduce your chances on IVF success” So, the journalists did not get it wrong per se, they just reported what they were told, which is strange, because any good journalist would surely check their facts before publishing. So, the question now is why did they do it? Why did they move the goal posts? Is it possible that this publication is simply a smokescreen to hide the fact that acupuncture might have a negative impact (nocebo effect) on IVF success rates?

They have omitted it intentionally!

This is now where it gets interesting. Back in 2006 a similar study with 228 participants was published by the same lead author from the NICM where a discussion was included about the reasons why acupuncture (28%) and sham acupuncture (18%) resulted in lower pregnancy rates as compared with the clinic’s baseline pregnancy rate of 30% (primary outcome was pregnancy and not live births).  Their current study with 848 participants published in 2018 had even lower pregnancy rates (live birth rates of around 18%) whereas the clinic’s baseline pregnancy rate/live birth rate has in all likelihood improved over the last 12 years (between 25-35%). So, just imagine a newspaper article stating that acupuncture might actually reduce your chances on IVF success. That would be a disaster for these people and the probable reason why they decided to keep quiet about it.

My opinion? The fact that infertility is a highly sensitive issue is simply ignored in order to protect acupuncture, and yes, they will spin this result into some sort of positive sometime in future. They have already started. Now, infertility can lead to broken relations, depression, and in extreme cases even suicide – so it is a very sensitive issue. If there is any suspicion that acupuncture might actually have a negative or even only a neutral influence on IVF then scientists should apply the ‘precautionary principle’  and advise people to stop using it. Promotional scientists on the other hand are well known to throw caution to the wind, and continue to try and convince vulnerable people to use their services or products.  This is completely unethical. These people could not care less about the well-being of the public and hence they just dropped this important information from their publication and did not even bother to discuss it, let alone, warn people about it.

Because of the size of this project they were probably forced to publish something and it took this long because they needed to come up with a way that will cause the least amount of damage to acupuncture. That it was published in JAMA is of concern and one can only question how this got pass the peer review process. Maybe the reviewers were so overwhelmed by the fact that these folks are publishing a negative result that they forgot to review the manuscript. (I will follow up on these issues with the editors)

It would however be interesting to see if the acupuncture clinics who donated money to the NICM, such as “The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic” will now put these ‘negative’, albeit misleading, results on their website. But how will they spin it? Acupuncture is their main, if not only, source of income with some of it flowing back to the NICM. (just read their rubbish declaration of interest in the JAMA article to see how they are getting away with it).

Will keep you posted on any further developments, I’m sure there is a lot more to come.

China Power and Influence. TCM and how to ‘bribe’ the NSW Minister for Health!

You’re sitting on a beach when suddenly not far from you, you notice a commotion. Your fear is confirmed when you see life guards dashing into the sea and moments later they drag a lifeless body of a young child from the waves. Because the life guards are well trained, they manage to revive the child, resulting in a collective sigh of relief from the gathered crowd. Happy endings like this makes people feel good – it is good news. But this is not where it ends. Suddenly you hear screaming and to your shock you witness something truly amazing. The parents of this boy sprints down the beach, bursts through the crowd, all the while shouting that they will save their child. To your amazement they pull the child, still gasping for air, from the arms of the life guards back into the ocean where they hold his head under water until he drowns!

I don’t know if anything like this has ever happened but I’m almost convinced that the crowd, after recovering from their shock, will most likely attack the parents and more people might die that day.

Now, one of the hallmarks of a fake healthcare system is the fact that just about everything works. Think of rhino horn, acupuncture, homeopathy etc. but also something such as slapping therapy – everything works. Surely, when you allow a practitioner into your clinic to provide people, including children, slapping therapy then you acknowledge that it works? If not, you are intentionally misleading your patients (interesting catch 22). But let me explain the analogy. These parents suffer from a level of delusion that most people simply cannot understand and sadly this type of scenario plays out far more often than most people would like. And if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has its way, these tragedies will increase significantly and it might even become quite common. Take for example the tragic slapping death tragedy.

The poor parents were misled into believing that they can cure their 6yo son from diabetes type 1 by attending an expensive ‘slapping therapy’ workshop in Sydney. The child was taken off his medication (out of professional care) and was slapped (allowing the sea to finish the job) in the believe that this will cure him. It did not, and the child died. The slapping therapist and the parents are now facing court, but this should be seen as treating the symptom while the cause, the people responsible for creating this level of delusion, are continuing to relentlessly disseminate their misinformation regarding ‘integrative medicine’.

Image 1. Slapping therapy
From the website of ‘Master’ Hongchi Xiao. Left, an 8yo boy who suffers from a serious kidney disease, right, the leg of a 13yo suffering from diabetes. The type of injuries caused by the slapping therapy is easily visible (it is unknown if these children survived and how many victims ‘Master’ Xiao made during his lucrative career).

The unseen war that’s being fought

To use war terminology might be a bit far-fetched but I don’t think it’s unreasonable. This war is being fought between an army of pseudoscientists (backed by the CCP and others) and a few scientists (backed by, uhm, no one) and it’s about the ‘integration’ of fake medicine and medical procedures with evidence-based healthcare under the umbrella term – ‘Integrative medicine’. For most people, hitting a young defenceless child to such a degree that he dies of his injuries and/or lack of medication, is surely a heinous crime. But others apparently see this practice to be okay, and these deaths should be considered ‘collateral damage’. After all, many innocent people die in warzones, and although undesirable it is an inadvertent consequence of achieving the greater good – to win the war.

Slapping therapy is part of the pseudoscientific Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) industry, and because of the sheer economic size of this industry, the CCP decided to revive it, protect it and promote it nationally but also internationally. Any critique of TCM within China is met with the long arm of the law. Quite recently a Chinese doctor was jailed for three months after he wrote an opinion piece regarding the dangers of a specific TCM remedy. So, TCM is here to stay and is also one way of how the CCP is exerting its influence overseas.

Their current excursion is to steamroll over science (and the few scientists willing to defend it) via some Australian universities (who in turn derives financial benefit) by creating ‘scientific’ legitimacy for TCM and thereby increase their Australian (and western) market penetration. They use the billions of dollars that Australian universities receive from (Chinese) international students as a silent threat in order to keep these universities in check and dancing to their tune. Via some Australian academics they have infiltrated and now have the support of Australian regulators and politicians. All in all, it is going quite well with their plans to internationalise TCM.

The main problem is that they have vast resources which most scientists don’t have. Take for example the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). They’re about 50 people with Western Sydney University (WSU) pumping millions of tax payer dollars into their coffers every year. Controversial companies such as Blackmores also donates millions and much more money is flowing in from China – all of these resources are being used to integrate dis/unproven complementary and alternative medicine, with a specific focus on TCM. For example; the clinic, Tasly Healthpac, that promoted and hosted the slapping therapy workshop was founded and is managed by Dr Ven Tan whereas Prof Alan Bensoussan, director of the NICM, collaborated with Dr Tan to integrate fake healthcare (slapping, acupuncture, TCM etc.). A MoU was signed between Tasly and 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.”

Image 2 Ven Tan Alan Bensoussan
Clockwise from left. Dr Ven Tan; ‘Master’ Hongchi Xiao, the slapping therapist; Prof Alan Bensoussan giving a speech in Beijing after receiving a ‘prestigious’ prize for his work on integrating TCM in Australia; the signing of a MoU witnessed by Prof Bensoussan (standing left) and Dr Tan (standing 3rd from the right)

Facing this tsunami of misinformation, and defending the battle front, you have a few lonely scientists. Nobody is pumping millions into warning people about fake healthcare systems, because there is no money to be made from it, and hence with their meagre resources, they simply do it because their conscience demands it.

I have written about the Australian academics who facilitated the CCPs plans to internationalise TCM, mainly by lobbying for the national registration of TCM practitioners, and also about the Australian politicians (former trade minister Andrew Robb and PM Tony Abbott etc.) who were lobbied to include a free flow of TCM practitioners into Australia under the Free Trade Agreement signed in 2015. TCM producers such as Tong Ren Tang were of course elated with this arrangement because “….we will have an increasingly wider road, and open more and more branch stores in Australia.”

In this article I will focus on the role of the former Minister of Health for New South Wales, Ms Jillian Skinner, and her role in this calamity.

Image 3 PM Tony Abbott and Ven Tan.png
Former PM Tony Abbott (red tie) and Dr Ven Tan (to the right of Mr Abbott) here in his capacity as Executive Vice Chairman of the CCP-linked ‘Australia-China Economics, Trade & Culture Association’

The Minister of Health and the tale of two letters

Two letters were send to Min. Skinner, one warning her about integrating TCM (and other disproven and unproven healthcare systems), the other letter promoting TCM. So which one had an impact?

Letter 1: A word of warning

Any health minister would surely understand the dangers in supporting the principles of TCM which is that disease is caused by disturbances in your (pseudoscientific) life force, or Chi, that flows through ‘meridians’. Inserting needles (acupuncture), taking Chinese herbs or slapping yourself all ‘aim’ to influence and/or restore your life force and cure you of whatever ails you. That some herbs might be beneficial is a given but it is because they contain very specific compounds (and very few do) – this has nothing to do with your life force! Supporting the integration of pseudoscientific healthcare with real healthcare is very dangerous as was illustrated by the slapping therapy death. Hence, one might expect that the minister would be accompanying Dr Tan/Prof Bensoussan to the police station, because something like this should surely not be allowed?

To warn the Minister about the NICMs modus operandi I’ve send her a letter and attached a 6000-word document detailing my concerns (a shortened version can be found here). It can be summed up as follow:

The NICM supports and promote any form of complementary, alternative or traditional (CAT) medicine and do not advise the public, as claimed, about the dangers of disproven CAT medicines such as homeopathy, TCM etc. because most of their funding depends mainly on misleading the public.

In my email dated 4 February 2016 I stated that; ‘These concerns are of such a nature that I believe the public is in danger of suffering injury or even death as a result. I have shared my concerns with the NICM management as well as the vice-chancellor of WSU (in June 2015). Needless to say, the WSU management do not share my concerns and hence my urgent call on your office to investigate this matter further.’

One example in my letter, to illustrate the problem, was the NICMs response to the well-known NHMRCs report regarding the ineffectiveness and dangers of homeopathy. It is fascinating how they pumped misinformation, via their partner ‘Complementary Medicines Australia’, into the world. Their response, entitled “The Five Fundamental Flaws of the NHMRCs Homeopathy report” is currently being used by homeopaths around the world to ignore the urgent advice that ‘Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness”. The press release ends with the ‘wise’ words “Homeopathy has been around for hundreds of years, and I am sure will be around a lot longer than some of the critics.”

People, including children, die because of this misinformation. But for some reason the courts only take action when children are involved. Here is another tragic example of a 9-month old baby that died. And just recently the Australian government even ignored the recommendations of a new review and decided that; “Homeopathic products will continue to be sold in Australian pharmacies, despite a long-awaited review warning the government the practice could compromise the health of consumers.” Obviously, their lobbying has been quite successful to date!

But this shows that the NICM and their partners will defend just about any fake ‘medicine’ including TCM because they derive funding from it. This cunning ability to mislead the public, regulators and politicians was at least rewarded with the Bent Spoon award for quackery in 2017 – for what it’s worth.

Letter 2: A letter with impact

The NICMs job regarding TCM is to open the floodgates into Australia (and the world), but to do this they need the support from Australian politicians and hence, Alan and people like Marcus Blackmore (CEO of Blackmores), endlessly lobby politicians (you can read about this here). Here you can find one such letter (May 2014) written by the NICM and send to Min. Skinner. This letter contains the predictable praises of the integrative medicine industry, the ‘importance’ of integrating CAT with conventional healthcare, and the world class standards of the NICM etc. but there is one sentence that stands out above the rest. And this is what it’s all about;

“….NICM needs this positioning if it is to help consumers and health professionals choose safe and effective complementary medicine (and discard ineffective treatments)…”

If you consider the fact that they were involved with the slapping therapy workshop (people died), their response to the NHMRC Homeopathy report (people died), and even that one of their business partners were send to jail after being caught importing rhino horn into Australia (endangered animals died) – all of the above are ineffective remedies or treatments and therefore this sentence is not misleading, it is a blatant lie.

The slapping therapy death occurred in April 2015, and although I noticed it in the newspaper at the time, I was not aware that the NICM was intricately involved (I was actually quite busy trying to get out of there). What came as a shock a couple of years later was when I accidentally came across a travel itinerary of Min Skinner. It turns out that she invited Dr Tan and Prof Bensoussan to accompany her, not to a police station, but to China in April 2016, barely 2 months after I’ve send my letter to her office. The reason for this trip was to garner support for their plans to integrate TCM with conventional healthcare in Australia. To quote from her travel itinerary “To assist the University of Western Sydney’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) secure investor and donor support for the NICM’s integrative Chinese medicine facility medicine/treatment on the Westmead Campus and related complementary medicine research initiatives.”

Image 4 Skinner MoUs.jpg
Left. Minister Skinner (seated in red) signing a MoU with Vice Governor of Shandong Province, the Hon Wang Suilian. Right. Min Skinner (in red) witnessing the signing a MoU between TCM producer Tong Ren Tang and Ramsay Healthcare.

Their trip to China also caught the attention of the media because she decided that integrating quackery was more important than solving real health problems in Australia. “Ms Skinner defended the trip, taken with NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant, saying it led to an agreement between Westmead Hospital and Shandong’s Qilu Hospital designed to ­ enhance … understanding of traditional Chinese medicine” and “The MOU will establish formal links between Westmead Hospital and Shandong’s Qilu Hospital and is designed to enhance NSW’s understanding of traditional Chinese medicine.”

But here is a fun fact. Close to 100% of clinical trials on TCM conducted in China gives positive results, coupled to the fact that any scientific criticism of TCM can see you get jailed, then surely, the minister must know that they are dealing with a fake healthcare system? Apparently not, or they just ignore the obvious because the potential economic stimulus seemingly overrides the political risks associated with causing a number of preventable deaths. It is a scary thought that former Min Skinner now serves as a director at the Children’s Cancer Institute (I requested her contact details from the institute in order to give her the opportunity to respond but no response was received thus far.)

But did the NICM break the law?

Min. Skinner eventually responded (Nov 2016) but then only by referring me to the Federal Minister of Health, Sussan Ley (who also resigned around this time), but by then the damage was already done. Clearly, the NICM managed to get funding from China because they will be moving into their new TCM hospital pretty soon. This hospital will be co-occupied (and managed) by the CCP linked Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (BUCM). In their document ‘some brief notes regarding the BUCM collaboration’ they state; “It represents an unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of Chinese medicine in Australia, including the development of the Chinese medicine market in the West; promoting Chinese heritage and culture; and integrating Chinese medicine with the Australian healthcare system.”

But did they do anything illegal? I am no expert in the law but I believe that providing misleading and/or false information to ministers, who then based on this promote the integration of ineffective healthcare might indeed break the law – especially when this result in the death of members of the public. Did they provide former Trade Minister Andrew Robb (discussed here) and Min Skinner with correct and unbiased info about what TCM is? Well, their letter tells me that they did not. As far as I can tell, neither of these former ministers have a background in science, and as such, can easily be misled when it comes to complex scientific issues. But then again, you need to be receptive to these ideas and propaganda, because at the end of the day they signed off on it.

I sometimes just wonder where all of this will end. If organisations such as the NICM (they are not the only ones) are not reeled in now, how will the Australian (or western) healthcare system look like in 10-20 years’ time? They are masters of deceit with a clear intention to mislead the public for the sake of making money. For example; their new TCM ‘hospital’ in Westmead will not be called exactly that, they have chosen a much more mundane and misleading name; ‘Western Sydney Integrative Health Centre’ – it will fool many, because it is right next to the southern hemispheres’ biggest health complex and it is backed by a Australian university to give it even more credibility.

NICM_Westmead_Precinct_Banner_1200x628_2
The new TCM hospital in the heart of Sydney. The NICM and BUCM will move in during June 2018 and will immediately start to dish out TCM treatments to the unsuspecting public.

Concluding remarks

I used the phrase ‘China Power and Influence’ in this article as well as in two previous articles that you can find here and here. But this is only one side of the bigger picture because most people are well aware that China, as an upcoming super-power, wants to exert its influence in various ways in various countries. But I do hope that I’ve managed to highlight that TCM is also part of this and as such, a threat, not only to the health of people, but also wildlife. The reasons why China included TCM in their plans are probably complex and likely multifactorial and I will attempt to deal with this question in a next article.

But the main message that I wanted to get across is that although China is the source of TCM, and hence the problem, any country can quite easily recognise it as such and say; ‘no thank you, we will stick with modern evidence-based healthcare, but will gladly collaborate with you in other areas.’ This has not happened in Australia. And this is the message. There are Australian citizens in positions of power who has gone out of their way to legitimise and normalise TCM in Australia and hence aided the CCP in executing their plans for the sake of, mainly money.  Some people are capable of doing strange things for money and some even have the ability to completely switch off their conscience.

All of this is now playing out in Australia (where and how it will end is anyone’s guess), but will this be all that different than what is happening regarding TCM in other western countries?  I fear not.

(This article was first published on the website of Prof Edzard Ernst. You can find the original article here)

The Hogwarts School of Magic is actually in Australia! They even teach you how to ‘fly’ a broom (they really do).

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.

Quidditch game

(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?

“Executive Summary

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:

  1. is of low quality;
  2. is based on pseudo-scientific concepts that reject germ theory as the cause of disease;
  3. teach invalid diagnostic technique;
  4. includes potentially dangerous interventions, continued in the ongoing training of practitioners;
  5. wastes considerable public funding allocated to universities which teach these unscientific courses; and
  6. 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:

  1. are poorly trained;
  2. are not competent to treat patients;
  3. delay correct diagnosis and evidence-based therapies thereby allowing progression of disorders;
  4. may cause harm;
  5. waste millions of health dollars;
  6. undermine the efforts of evidence-based practitioners in their communities;
  7. do not, in respect of exaggerated claims and advertising, behave in an ethical manner;
  8. create considerable confusion for patients with chronic ailments; and
  9. focus their ongoing training on building their practices rather than on the needs of patients.
  10. 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.”

Are the Gatekeepers of Science made of stone? The journals respond to the NICMs undeclared conflicts of interests.

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 [1] 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.

 

 

 

 

‘And the Bent Spoon Award goes to…?’ The NICM nominated for the second year running!!

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

Date: 20/09/2017

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 many  conflicts 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 BlogTwitter 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.