Communists, smugglers, and millions of dollars: inside the taxpayer-funded NICM institute spreading Chinese medicine in Australia

A couple of days ago a very interesting article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) regarding the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). The article was the result of an in-depth investigation by the award winning science reporter for the SMH and The Age, Liam Mannix. (I also borrowed, with permission, the title of this blog post from one of @liammannix tweets because it perfectly captures the essence of the NICM in one sentence).

The SMH article is in general not very flattering of the NICM’s operations but unfortunately, and maybe I can say as usual, the university hosting the NICM, Western Sydney University, denies any wrongdoing and will in all likelihood continue with ‘business’ as usual.  There is however one paragraph in the article that seriously annoys me and it again shows how good these people are at misleading the public. It is the very common example of Artemisinin being used as ‘evidence’ that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a real thing as opposed to state sponsored quackery. I’ve copied the article below and will comment on the artemisinin statement afterwards.

Start of article

The National Institute of Complementary Medicine was in trouble. Set up in 2007 with federal government money, its job was to research the scientific validity of complementary medicines such as acupuncture.

But by 2015 it was struggling to bring in research funding.

Confidential board documents, obtained by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, show its parent organisation, Western Sydney University, had become “concerned about their relatively high level of financial support for NICM”. At a cost of about $2 million per year, the institute was a drain on the university’s coffers.

The National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University.
The National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University.CREDIT:JANIE BARRETT

So the institute decided to change focus and reach across the seas for funds. Under director Professor Alan Bensoussan, the NICM, and through it the university, began to concentrate on the controversial practices of traditional Chinese medicine.

What happened next shows the extensive, unreported links between an Australian university and the Chinese government – links that had potential to indirectly assist the aims of the Chinese Communist Party.

In response to its funding shortfall, the NICM lined up millions of dollars from a property developer called Yuhu group, chaired by Huang Xiangmo, a man with well-reported connections to organisations associated to the Communist Party. Huang was a big political donor to both sides of politics, a Crown casino high roller and the man whose relationship with Sam Dastyari resulted in the Labor senator quitting politics in disgrace.

Then the NICM secured a pledge of $20 million from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. The money was originally lined up for a hospital of Chinese medicine in Westmead, Sydney. Bensoussan prepared to announce the funding as a coup as, according to a 2015 strategic review, “the Chinese government looks for Western validation and greater use/patient benefits from [Chinese medicine]”.

“This is universally regarded as the most critical short term source of additional research funding for NICM,” the review continued, and NICM and Australia were “ideally positioned to leverage its strengths in [Chinese medicine]”.

A separate document, also obtained by The Age and Herald, urged the NICM to “seek endorsement and influence from the Chinese government”, and named Chinese President Xi Jinping as a key person to engage. The strategy was entitled “Building a Bridge Between China and Australia”.

The centre now denies that any of the funding, either from Huang or the Beijing University, actually came through. This year, Western Sydney University cut the ribbon on a new health centre in Westmead, offering services including acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. They say it has been fully funded by the university.

What is not questioned is the desire of the Chinese Communist Party leadership to sell the benefits of its medical practices to the West as part of its national propaganda effort.

Recent moves by the federal government to impose greater responsibility on universities to take note of their exposure to foreign influence activities, particularly from China, make the NICM’s overtures to China in retrospect look naive at best. However in the context of the time, it’s unlikely that NICM or Bensoussan recognised that they were at risk of being part of a Chinese influence strategy.

To its supporters, the National Institute is testing traditional medicines with scientific thoroughness to enhance the treatments available for chronic diseases in the West. To its detractors, it’s pushing questionable medical practices with inadequate proof and playing its part in a concerted attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to improve its image in the West.

‘Unethical not to do it’

Traditional Chinese medicine prescribes cocktails of herbs, animal extracts and acupuncture to balance the energy – qi – that runs through invisible channels in the body called meridians.

Bensoussan, the NICM’s director, is a longtime practitioner. He says Chinese medicine’s herbs might hold secrets to treating the West’s chronic disease problems. “We would be unethical to not do this research, to turn our backs on it,” he said.

Part of a Chinese traditional herbal medicine book.
Part of a Chinese traditional herbal medicine book.CREDIT:ISTOCK

This is not a wild claim. The anti-malarial herbal extract artemisinin emerged from a broad survey of traditional Chinese medicine and has saved millions of lives. In Australia, Chinese medicine practitioners are registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, and Bensoussan is on the Natural Therapies Review Team at the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia’s peak funding body for medical research. In May this year, the World Health Organisation agreed to include traditional remedies in its foundational document – a strong endorsement.

But it also has its detractors.

Venerable academic journal Nature responded to the WHO’s decision with an unusually stinging editorial: “[Traditional Chinese medicine] is based on unsubstantiated theories about meridians and Qi. Most Western-trained doctors and medical researchers regard TCM practices with scepticism: there is no substantial evidence that most of them work, and some signs that a few do harm.”

The NICM’s reason for being is to test the science behind complementary medicine.

The World Health Organisation agreed to include traditional remedies in its foundational document in May.
The World Health Organisation agreed to include traditional remedies in its foundational document in May.CREDIT:ISTOCK

But questions have been raised about industry funding of its research, and what that might mean for its rigour. In 2015 NICM launched a clinical trial of Sailuotong, a herbal mixture for vascular dementia, funded by a Chinese-linked pharmaceutical company called Australia Shineway Technology Pty Ltd. And The Beijing Tong Ren Tang Chinese Medicine Corporation is funding NICM research into the health benefits of cow gallstones. Both companies already sell the medicines under study.

This sort of research – where a private company pays a university to confirm that a substance it is already selling actually works as medicine – has the potential to create “a very significant conflict of interest that is usually intolerable in science”, says John Dwyer, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of NSW.

NICM responded that the institute “conducts itself with the highest degree of integrity, ethics, scientific enquiry and social responsibility. The University has strict protocols in place to ensure the independence of its research.”

‘An unprecedented opportunity’

In 2014, Western Sydney University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine to work together on a jointly-run Chinese medicine clinic in the heart of Sydney, to be known as the Australia China Academy for Integrative Healthcare. At the signing were then prime minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover and Xu Anlong, president of the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, sign the memorandum of understanding witnessed by Xi Jinping and Tony Abbott in Canberra in 2014.
Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover and Xu Anlong, president of the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, sign the memorandum of understanding witnessed by Xi Jinping and Tony Abbott in Canberra in 2014.CREDIT:UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN SYDNEY NEWS CENTRE

Background briefing notes from NICM’s top leadership called the centre “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.”

Leaked emails show NICM’s leadership ensured that, as a potential donor to the institute, Huang Xiangmo was sent a copy of the MOU briefing notes before the signing. The Beijing University proposed spending more than $20 million on the collaboration. The clinic was to “introduce Chinese medicine to Australian clinicians and the community”, according to a leaked staff briefing. It would have included a museum of Chinese medicine.

Western Sydney University now says that the funding never arrived, and insists it has received no money from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. The new Chinese medicine centre in Westmead is “wholly operated and financed by Western Sydney University”, a spokeswoman said.

The University has denied that NICM had funding issues in 2015, and Bensoussan also denied that NICM’s embrace of Chinese medicine had anything to do with money: “That is completely wrong. It is really hard to get money out of China. China has very strict rules around these sorts of things.”

But the documents suggest it was not for want of trying.

In 2012, NICM signed a cooperation agreement on Traditional Chinese medicine with the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, China’s top traditional medicine organisation – which is run by the Chinese government.

The following year, Bensoussan found himself at the Great Hall of the People, on the edge of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, receiving the International Award for Contribution to Chinese Medicine. According to a leaked draft of his speech notes, Bensoussan planned to say Chinese medicine was “exceptional” because of the “conscientious, vigorous support of the Chinese government”. NICM would not confirm if Bensoussan made the speech.

Professor Alan Bensoussan receives the International Award for Contribution to Chinese Medicine at Beijing's Great Hall of the People in 2013, flanked by Chinese Vice-Minister of Health Wang Guoqiang (left).
Professor Alan Bensoussan receives the International Award for Contribution to Chinese Medicine at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in 2013, flanked by Chinese Vice-Minister of Health Wang Guoqiang (left). CREDIT:UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN SYDNEY NEWS CENTRE

“China remains on a strong trajectory to develop [traditional Chinese medicine] internationally … It is now up to China to help us with this task … We look forward to ongoing collaboration with our Chinese partners [and] the continued support of the Chinese government,” the draft speech continued.

‘Promoting the Communist Party’

Leaked documents reveal that the same year, Western Sydney University was in talks about a major new project with Huang’s Yuhu Group, researching Chinese herbs for cancer medicine. Yuhu indicated it would be willing to invest up to $12 million – a huge sum for an institute that was earning a little over a million dollars in annual revenue. But Yuhu did not have any experience or other interests in medical research – it was a property development company.

Confidential strategy documents show NICM targeted Huang as a potential donor to be “cultivated”. He was later to become leader of the Council for the Peaceful Promotion of the Reunification of China, the peak Chinese Communist Party lobbying and influence organisation in Australia – another organisation identified by NICM to target for influence and funding.

Earlier this year, Huang was banned from Australia over ASIO’s fears he was peddling influence for Beijing – a claim he denies.

A spokeswoman for the university said NICM never received any funding from the Yuhu group. “The draft proposal was never advanced,” she said.

However, that was not the end of the university’s dalliance with Huang. In 2015 he donated $3.5 million to establish a new Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture. At the time, the gift was the single-largest donation ever received by the university. NICM director Bensoussan is listed as one of the Australia-China Institute’s key researchers.

The promotion of traditional Chinese medicine fits with Beijing’s broader use of “soft power” to build its influence in the West, says Alex Joske, a Beijing-watcher based at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. In 2016, Beijing released a white paper saying “the Chinese government is dedicated to promoting the development of traditional medicine throughout the world”.

The country has been rolling back medical safeguards for the herbs; Chinese doctors who question the science face arrest. And new laws in China require hospitals to open TCM departments.

“One of the important things to understand is for Beijing there is no real clear line between politics, culture, education and propaganda,” Joske says. “For Beijing, promoting traditional medicine isn’t just about pushing alternative scientific approaches and medical techniques. It’s also about promoting the Chinese Communist Party.”

Sharing recipes

In 2013 Western Sydney University signed a non-disclosure agreement that mentioned sharing herbal recipes with a man named Yu Long Yu.

The Age and the Herald twice asked NICM if this was the same Chinese medicine practitioner called Yu Long Yu who faced court in 2006 for importing material from endangered species in Australia – including tiger, rhinoceros and musk deer material, and more than 200 kilograms of pangolin (anteater) scales.

The Institute refused to answer the question.

Critics contend poaching of endangered animals is often fuelled by demands for the ingredients for use in certain Chinese medicines. Pangolins, for example, are being pushed into extinction.

A pangolin carries its baby in a Bali zoo. Pangolin scales are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
A pangolin carries its baby in a Bali zoo. Pangolin scales are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine. CREDIT:AP

Bensoussan has long history with Yu. In 2006, when he was director of the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, NICM’s predecessor, Bensoussan appeared at Yu’s trial as a character witness. Bensoussan was described at the time as Yu’s friend and sometime business associate, and described his friend as “absolutely exceptional”, saying “there are very few clinicians of his ilk in Australia”.

The judge disagreed. Yu “was propagating the decimation of protected species”, he said.

It was Bensoussan who would sign NICM’s 2013 agreement with Yu.

Another apparent money-making effort was named Project Rozella. The plan, conceived of around 2014, was for NICM to develop a label – much like the Heart Foundation Tick – that companies could place on herbal medicines that would mean the NICM had endorsed their safety and effectiveness.

“This could be a significant source of revenue for NICM,” internal documents say. “Risks could be minimised by a simple evaluation of the data held, rather than a detailed qualitative assessment of the trial itself.”

A NICM spokeswoman said Project Rozella was a “defunct proposal for a point-of-sale health-labelling system”. She denied any suggestion that it was designed to gloss over the existing lack of proven medical evidence that the NICM was set up to test.

But according to Ken Harvey, president of Friends of Science in Medicine, NICM appeared to be trying to find a way to give a tick of approval to herbs without thoroughly checking the evidence.

“The problem with looking at these trials is they generally don’t stand up. You’re better off bullshitting and hoping that no one is going to pull you up,” he said.

End of article

The below statement is one that I come across quite regularly when people such as Alan Bensoussan tries to vindicate their promotion of TCM. Unfortunately it seems that this statement is quite convincing but in reality it is actually a very irresponsible statement to make.

“The anti-malarial herbal extract artemisinin emerged from a broad survey of traditional Chinese medicine and has saved millions of lives.”

So why is this statement so wrong? There is a number of issues, some of which I will list below:

  1. Artemisinin is not an herb or an herbal extract, it is a compound (a sesquiterpene lactone endoperoxide to be more exact).
  2. Why would the Chinese government embark on a large scale project to find effective antimalarials if they have this wonderful and highly effective TCM? Why bother? Because they know TCM is BS, but they also know that modern science can indeed yield valuable compounds for the treatment of disease.
  3. TCM is however a massive market (people are quite gullible), and hence the Chinese government decided to promote all of TCM internationally – nothing to do with healthcare, everything to do with business. Alan Bensoussan and the NICM are just too happy to be the conduit for the CCP’s plans regarding TCM in Australia.
  4. Chinese scientists isolated artemisinin in the 1960/70’s, derivatised it into artemether and artesunate and it is currently being used as a first-line treatment against malaria in combination with other antimalarial compounds. It is called ‘artemisinin combination therapies’.
  5. It is not TCM that saved millions of lives, modern science did. The Chinese scientists involved in this research was rightfully awarded the Nobel prize for their efforts.
  6. It is very rare to find compounds such as artemisinin – I would say the chances are 1 in a 100 herbs tested, but in reality it is much closer to 1 in a 1000 herbs tested. The Chinese scientists had to test many many hundreds of herbs to find this one compound. (I’ve been trying for 20 years to find compounds such as artemisinin – I haven’t yet found anything remotely as good as artemisinin).
  7. Alan Bensoussan and the like abuse science by making use of A. annua (herb) and artemisinin (compound) as evidence that TCM is effective. He has done so before. The Australian Skeptics published an article in 2017 rebuking Alan Bensoussan’s use of this example to promote TCM.
  8. The WHO explicitly warns against the use of A. annua or artemisinin mainly because resistance against these compounds can and probably will eventually occur. Therefore the irresponsible promotion and use of the herb, A. annua can in effect lead to millions of people dying.  (The WHO advocate the use of combination therapies to slow the development of resistance). Unfortunately there are already signs that resistance has developed against this class of compounds in Asia.
  9. The WHO quite recently again published a position statement and explicitly warned against the use of ‘non-pharmaceutical forms of Artemisia’ (the herb) and yet Alan Bensoussan will dig in his heals and continue to insinuate that TCM is effective using the example of A. annua.
  10. Is A. annua really the only example that they have? Anything else? ‘rhino horn’ maybe?

There is a lot more that can be said but I’ll leave it at that – they will continue to use the A. annua/artemisinin example to mislead the public into thinking that TCM herbs are effective, ignoring the explicit warning of the WHO not to do so. Where is the ethics in that? But now back to the question; is this  article in the SMH the beginning of the end of the NICM? Short answer is, no. The reason for this is that Universities are mainly self regulating, which implies that one person makes the decisions about what science is and what it is not (a decision that seems to be mainly driven by money). In this case it is the vice-chancellor Barney Glover. Now if this man cannot be moved even when members of the public gets hurt (and unfortunately die) because of the promotion of ineffective remedies peddled by the NICM, then this article in the SMH will not really have much of an impact. If anything this is free marketing for the NICM and this is just the sad, unfortunate reality.

Gays, religion and healthcare. Dr Kerryn Phelps – a progressive hero or regressive villain?

This question will probably enrage many of Dr Phelps’s loyal supporters, but the tallest trees catch the most wind, and with Dr Phelps putting her hand up to run as independent in the all-important Wentworth by-election, a good look at who she is and what she stands for is warranted.

A progressive hero

For many she is a hero and role model for a modern progressive society, and someone who might actually steady the ship in these tumultuous of political times. She is currently married to Jackie Stricker-Phelps and is a well-known advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI) rights. “Dr Phelps has been at the forefront of the struggle for LGBTQI inclusion and equality for two decades.”

She is also a well-known GP, was a former president of the Australian Medical Association and has chosen “Better Health” to feature on top of her list of campaign promises. According to her campaign website: “Dr Phelps is committed to teaching the next generation of doctors as Conjoint Professor at University of New South Wales Faculty of Medicine and in the National Institute of Complementary Medicine [NICM] at Western Sydney University.”

Recently I also noticed an interesting tweet from Dr Phelps which prompted me to write this article; “Voting for me as an Independent in #WentworthByElection will help to ensure the religious Right don’t get their way on increasing religious-based discrimination. I stand for social justice, inclusion and community harmony.” Here is another article where she expresses her views on “religious extremists”.

So here we have three aspects; LGBTQI+ rights, health and religion. Although not exhaustive, these aspects are defining of who and what Dr Phelps is. Below are my thoughts in an attempt to get my head around it.

Kerryn Phelps pinned tweet
Kerryn Phelps celebrating the ‘Yes’ vote for marriage equality

Historical order in society

If you are a human being then you will probably live with or near other human beings in what is commonly known as a ‘society’. As such, it qualifies you to participate in safeguarding society to ensure its long-term survival. The most important aspect for survival is maintaining law and order – people need order. History is littered with examples of what happens when law and order break down and it is easy to imagine what would happen when an isolated society decide to give its citizens a lawless week; no laws, no police, nothing – that society will not survive very long. That this societal necessity clashes with individual wishes and needs, and that some may find it (excessively) restrictive is a given, but based on having some sort of societal order we’ve survived the roller-coaster trip up till now.

Western society is historically based on the Christian order system, or let’s call it God-given order, which, as we all know, has been exploited and abused over the centuries to enrich a few and to abuse and enslave many. This in part resulted in the enlightenment and also effected the steady splintering of Christianity into various sub-groups, each with their own and sometimes quite divergent doctrines. Without unity, confusion reigns leading to chaos within the ranks which resulted in this splintering effect going into overdrive over the past century, bringing us to today, where we see thousands of different Christian denominations.

Denominations
The steady splintering of Christianity over the ages

Even though Christianity has been shattered into a thousand pieces, the Christian spiritually lingers on in a watered-down generalised form in a significant part of Western societies (a well-known Christian saying is; ‘God’s law is written on our hearts’, and this in various shapes and sizes lingers on). Be as it may, the historical Christian order focus on society above the individual and the laws are literally set in stone – it cannot change (but it can be abused). Most laws in Western countries are still based on the Christian order system although this is changing fast. This situation is of course ripe to be exploited by domestic, or even foreign, role players to use to their advantage.

Transitioning to a new order…..

Many people have exploited these historical (and current) transgressions of the traditional system to advocate for a god-less order (or people-given order), based on the humanist individual ‘rights’ as opposed to the traditional individually ‘oppressive’ system. Dr Phelps, as far as I can tell, can probably be called a general in this movement and is indeed one of the more outspoken members who is opposing the influence of the last remnants of the Christian order system in Australia. Her personal life speaks for itself, being an open-minded progressive lesbian, who questions anything that reeks like Christianity or the protection of religious freedom. She not only proposes alternatives but also lives it, hence the promotion of all the various alternatives to the traditional (Christian) family structure and subsequent critique on ‘religious freedom’.

During this power struggle for supremacy (support via votes) the strategy of using emotional pleas for equality and love and the promise of individual freedom and future wealth usually wins out over the long-term survival of society argument. The focus is on the individual and its laws are ever-changing depending on who managed to garner the most support for a given idea. This is of course also a direct result of our aggressive capitalistic ideology, with people making more money when the focus is on the individual rather on what is best for the long-term survival of society.

humanism
A comparison illustrating the main differences between the two systems. Here you can find a more comprehensive comparison chart describing the humanistic system as “wilfully autonomous with self-centred desires” compared to “submissive to God’s will and desires to serve others”

There is unfortunately no room for two dominant order systems in any given society and while these two opposing systems battle it out, it is causing a lot of friction. A good example of this friction is the drama unfolding around the US supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. The new order obviously loves to jump on any misstep (even though it is not proven yet) from the Knights of Morality in order to lure more people into their camp. This is known as the “culture wars” with the one side who wants to stick to a generalised Christian-based order (conservatives) and the other side who wants anything but. This should however not be treated lightly, because in the US this ‘war of opposing systems’ can quite easily spill over in civil unrest or even a physical war. But as long as there is enough ‘food and water’ it will probably remain a non-physical conflict. Be as it may, whenever humans are involved there will always be exploitation and corruption, so all is obviously not perfect with this new ‘who says’ order system.

….and some of its problems

The new order is becoming increasing chaotic as can be seen in the long list of alternative sexualities, or states of being, with the latest sexuality that I’ve come across called, eco-sexuality or sexecology, which uses “ideas from different regions such as India and their idea of seven chakras to get closer to the earth”. Because ‘who says’ that a male and female belongs together? Well, the old system says, but then again, go to 10 different denominations and you’ll get 10 different answers. So why can’t a female and, uhm, the Eiffel tower belong together? With the new system it is impossible to draw a line, because it is all based on; ‘freedom of choice’ do what you want as long as you don’t infringe on the rights of another individual – not sure how the Eiffel tower feels about this.

The current deteriorating situation can only be described as sexual lawlessness, and I am sometimes amazed at the things people can up come with. It is as if there is such an aversion against the old system that anything goes, people will even shoot themselves and/or society in the foot just to show that they are on the right side of the battle line and not bound by those shackles of the old Christian system (the massive sex industry, in all its forms, feeds off this aversion and on the ‘freedom of choice’ mantra, but when you’re caught in that world, it is a very dark place where many atrocities occur – all the while some individuals enrich themselves). These aspects are also clearly visible when it comes to the other ‘big’ ethical questions of our time e.g. abortion, euthanasia (which based on our increasing individualism and capitalism will be terribly abused – the ABC’s Four Corners program ‘Who Cares?’ is worth a watch in this regard).

With the ever-changing laws anyone can now come up with just about anything, and if you question any of it, you will be sued for discrimination or defamation. Lawyers are making a killing with this new blasphemy laws, called hate speech. Dr Phelps is known to eagerly use their services to get what she wants. A former minister for health said that she had no specialist training (which is true) but faced the threat of legal action because being a ‘specialist’ is the public image she wants to portray. Combined with her promotion of sexual ‘freedom’ in all its forms and peoples’ immense fear to question this, makes her pretty much untouchable, and in my view, quite dangerous. To be honest, it is becoming difficult to converse with, look in the direction of, or even speak freely in Australia because you might just infringe on somebody’s newly discovered rights, which will be eagerly pointed out by those individuals abusing the system and who makes money from it (choose your words very carefully, actually, nowadays it is best to just accept everything, shut up and smile).

Without keeping those people exploiting the system in check, chaos will follow and the notion that this is progressive is questionable. In my view it is currently regressive and a return to the chaotic dark ages, even though it is being sold to the public as moving towards an egalitarian utopia.   Unfortunately, this chaos will inevitably and steadily spread into other areas of society. In this article I will only discuss healthcare and how Dr Phelps, who champions ‘progressiveness’ and ‘freedom of choice’, is exploiting the system and how she and her collaborators have opened the door to foreign influence on Australian soil.

Chaos in healthcare

One striking example of how the new individualistic system is being exploited is the growing anti-vaccination movement. “We don’t care about society, it is our right under our ‘freedom of choice’ not to vaccinate!” Individual rights trumps survival of society. It just shows how easily the system can be manipulated and how easy it is the indoctrinate people. I am not sure what Dr Phelps’ stance is on vaccination because it depends a little bit on who she is talking to.  When directly and publicly questioned, she clearly supports vaccination. And yet, she associates herself with known anti-vaxxers such as Judy Jacka, who donated millions to promote their cause (integration of disproven remedies with conventional healthcare) at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). She is listed as a contact person regarding this donation which tells me that Dr Phelps not only accepts the donation but also everything Judy Jacka, who is an energy healer, stands for. And this is typical. When in public she will say what most people want to hear, but when in the company of ‘like-minded’ in those smoke filled back rooms it is the exact opposite.

anti vaxxers
A typical anti-vaccination propaganda poster – this is wrong on so many levels

Although Christianity as an institution will probably disappear in Australia within the next few decades, people’s spirituality will remain (and maybe a few Christians), all the while absorbing aspects from different spiritual ‘ideas’ which just happens to be around at the time. But these ‘new’ ideas can obviously be placed there. The fact that chakras, Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) etc. are all products of an ancient world, deeply rooted in rituals, mysticism and spirituality makes it perfect to gradually replace Christianity, or what is left of it, in order to fill the growing spiritual void. And this is where people such as Dr Phelps is making a killing – quite literally.

Dr Phelps has a number of so-called ‘Integrative medicine’ clinics (on her campaign website called ‘multidisciplinary clinics’) where many unproven and disproven remedies are being sold to the public by providing misleading (sometimes false) information. She then feeds on the public’s indoctrinated right of ‘freedom of choice’ to increasingly buy into this ‘integrative medicine’ movement. The increasing sales figures are then used as evidence that her ‘medicine’ works – the well-known appeal to popularity argument. Any valid scientific critique is then refuted by using this argument. She is now also assisting others to start similar clinics all across Sydney.

This ‘regressive’ form of healthcare is nothing more than a smokescreen for quackery, because many of these remedies are based on magical principles and ancient ‘wisdom’ and has scientifically been shown to be ineffective. But for these people it is ‘whatever sells’. For example: Dr Phelps was president of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association which at a time listed TCM, Homeopathy, acupuncture, etc. as part of integrative medicine. Her clinics currently uses naturopathy (which usually includes homeopathy), herbal medicine etc.

But I do want to focus on her association with the NICM at Western Sydney University (WSU) where she teaches the next generation of ‘open minded’ doctors. The NICM is so open-minded and progressive that they promote rhino horn as effective TCM medicine. In their world of magic, rhino horn is excellent to: “Clear heat, subdue Yang and cool blood, relieves fearfulness, detoxifying.” And can thus be used for: “High fever, sun stroke, trauma, mania, convulsion, sore throat, epilepsy, febrile disease, infectious disease, macula, bad skin conditions, subcutaneous bleeding.”

One of their business partners was even caught and jailed for having many kilograms of endangered animal parts, including rhino horn, in his possession – and they still work with him. And then she tweets about her opposition to live animal exports “We must bring this cruel trade to an end.” Yes, sure but what about the slaughter of endangered animals to feed the insatiable TCM industry and their unquenchable thirst for more money? It’s about votes! “Polling confirms live export is a hot issue for voters in critical #Wentworth by-election” (this is why I am really sceptical about her supportive stance on vaccinations).

rhino poaching
The sad reality when people promote ancient healthcare systems such as TCM

Remedies that have been debunked over and over and which cause harm and death, such as homeopathy are being defended, promoted and sold to the public.

To exploit this new spiritual awakening and interest in mysticism on a global scale they have actively infiltrated the regulators and even the World Health Organisation (WHO) who now recommends that these magical remedies be integrated with conventional healthcare in all its member states. For the first time in the history of the WHO they will now endorse TCM!! This is a travesty of epic proportions with many concerned scientists fearing that many people will die and many endangered species will be wiped out. Their modus operandi was, and still is, very similar to how the mafia operates.

The big problem with the NICM and Dr Kerryn Phelps is how they have colluded with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and how they are currently facilitating the CCP’s plans to exert its (soft) power globally (you can read about this investigation here, here and here).  This, in part, is also why they influenced the WHO to endorse TCM – because they are toeing the party line of the CCP. Quite recently a new TCM hospital operated by Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (controlled by the CCP) have opened its doors in Westmead, Sydney. From here they will plan and execute further incursions into the Australian healthcare system. Below is a number of headlines regarding the WHO decision to endorse TCM;

  • $170b Global Chinese medicine market behind University of Western Sydney deal with Beijing
  • WHO endorses traditional Chinese medicine. Expect deaths to rise.
  • State-sponsored quackery. China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts. That is dangerous for humans as well as rhinos
Wang-Guoqiang-Alan-Bensoussan-Li-Yong
Dr Phelps’ partner in crime, Prof Alan Bensoussan, being recognised in the ‘Great Hall of the People’ China, for his ‘outstanding’ work to globalise TCM in all its forms

Dr Phelps and partners will talk the scientific talk when in public or amongst scientists, but behind closed doors they are just different animals altogether. For them the ‘money is in the magic’, and their challenge is how to more effectively exploit the system making use of society’s increasing individualism, and to be honest, increasing ignorance or benightedness. A relatively old article says it all; “Open-minded consumers driving a $2.3bn industry” This industry is currently worth around $5bn/annum.

Conclusions

Don’t we live in interesting times, with a culture war being waged while being fuelled and exploited from both sides to further the vested interests of a few individuals with the resulting harm caused to society. In the movies, the hero usually give their lives to protect society and the villain ends up behind bars. In reality hero’s don’t exist or is very few and far in between. But when you intentionally mislead society, like ‘Dr’ Phelps is doing on a grand scale, then I don’t care on which side of the culture war she’s on, she is no hero she is villain. She and her associates (especially ‘Prof’ Alan Bensoussan) have vested interests which causes her and her partners to make a lot of money by misleading the public causing a lot of harm and even death. And then to think that she states “Dr Phelps is committed to teaching the next generation of doctors…”

It is this ‘who says’ mentality that questions why you should treat diabetes type 1 with insulin and not with some ancient spirituality-based remedy – be open minded, be progressive. These parents became so delusional and confused by the ‘who says’ mentality that they believed that they can cure their young son’s diabetes type 1 with ‘slapping therapy’, which aims to restore the flow of Chi (life force) through meridians. Unfortunately, the boy died. But luckily the ‘therapist’, the clinic providing this treatment and its director have now been taken to court, but unfortunately, the people who are responsible for creating and exploiting this chaos, the NICM and ‘Dr’ Phelps, are still getting away with it (they are intricately involved with this clinic). Hopefully their day in court will come, but for what it is worth, both ‘Dr’ Phelps and the NICM won the Bent Spoon (BS) award for quackery in 2008 and 2017, respectively.

The total extent of the damage that is being done by ‘Dr’ Phelps is impossible to know, but if she wins this election and has influence on government level then the healthcare system is in for a very tough time. If she can mislead young children about the effectiveness of ancient remedies while she knows that it is ineffective, she’ll be able to mislead just about anyone regarding anything. The exploitation of the new order of which she is a champion is a threat to the long-term survival of society on more than one level. Don’t be fooled by her thin veneer of respectability and caring attitude. Al Capone opened soup kitchens during the great depression where he provided food, drink and clothes to the poor, free of charge. But does this make him a good man? No, it was a smokescreen.

It is 2018 and we should be able to come up with better ways to protect society. Keep these dangerous individuals in check. To use her words “I call BS”.

(a shortened, more in-depth version focusing only on healthcare will follow)

 

Dog saliva as medicine for…..’growling’? Homeopathy – the perfect script for a Black Comedy.

Let’s face it. Homeopaths have an excellent sense of humour and thumbs-up for their superb acting abilities. Because of their truly unique skills-set, some people have suggested that they are not really acting at all, but that they are visitors from a parallel universe. Be as it may, there is something amiss, because very few people from our universe would be able to keep a straight face while explaining to a patient that taking homeopathic dog shit will help against their ‘self-disgust’. Or that a remedy made from condoms will ease their feelings ‘of being restricted’ (cure claustrophobia). Recently there was even a Canadian homeopath, ‘Dr’ Anke Zimmermann, who prescribed dog saliva to a child that growled (behavioural problems). They are a funny bunch, and clearly, they have a thing for dogs, so I just don’t know, I have to go with the parallel universe theorem.

Alternative zoo
A typical zoo in the parallel universe of homeopaths

The list of their weird remedies just goes on and on – it is just out of this world. How about homeopathic remedies made from a Black hole (yes, homeopaths have visited), English sun (apparently the sun actually shines in their England), water diluted in, yes, water or…… here are some weeeeeird things they prescribe as ‘medicine’. This by itself should be enough for Hollywood to at least investigate the possibility of producing a comedy. It would however be best to cast real homeopaths (how about it ‘Dr’ Zimmerman?) because I don’t think any human being will be able to play the part. But then again, maybe Gwyneth Paltrow? or if the producers wants a documentary style comedy, maybe HRH Prince of Wales (but are we sure that they are from our universe?)

Fringe Series 2 Episode 1 - A new Day In An Old Town
Homeopaths also have a thing for cows. Here we witness the celebration after the first successful production of the homeopathic remedy ‘Excrementum vaccinum’. (English: cow dung)

What is homeopathy? Well, it is a hoax that’s been around for about 200 years. You dilute any substance you can think of into oblivion, including imaginary substances, and then you sell it as medicine – simple, (in)effective and highly profitable. Hundreds of years ago the healthcare system was pretty much non-existent and patients admitted to ‘hospital’ were more likely to die than patients who stayed at home. The reason for this? Healthcare was so terrible that your body had to fight the disease as well as the healthcare system, so it was far less risky to just stay at home.

Bloodletting, as a cure all, comes to mind (cause of death of the former American president George Washington) but also the eye watering tendency to drill holes in peoples’ skulls (trepanation) to cure whatever. As the theory goes the possibility exist that during one of these drilling exercises a patient, screaming in anguish, hit the exact note and volume that it ribbed a hole in the fabric that separates our universes. This is seen as day zero when homeopaths entered our universe and started with the practice of giving patients, zero, as medicine. This is also the likely reason why we can buy homeopathic remedies made from various musical notes (day zero is still celebrated in April each year during Homeopathy Awareness Week.)

Because homeopathic remedies contain zero, a sick person only had to fight the disease. Add to this the well-known placebo effect and it is understandable that people actually thought that it was effective. So, at the time the results were good – no, not really, one should rather say the results of ‘conventional healthcare’ was terrible, but nevertheless, this counterintuitive notion gave these visitors a foot in the door.

homeopathic bicycle
A homeopath illustrating how cycling works in their universe.

Now we are 200 years later. The disease model (disease caused by bacteria, viruses, mutations, ect.) antibiotics and other life-saving medicines and surgical interventions have been developed and is continuously being improved. Science has made huge progress and although not perfect, modern healthcare has brought us tremendous benefits whilst homeopathy is still zero – there has been absolutely no progress whatsoever.

But now for the black part of this comedy. The reason why homeopaths are here is unclear. Some suggest that the portal is only one-way and they simply cannot get back while others have proposed that they have a far more sinister agenda. They were send here to destroy our universe. If you think about it, what is the most powerful weapon out there? It’s not a nuke, it is confusion, and spreading confusion is the one thing that homeopaths excel at. For example: in our universe we have a thing called ‘dose-response curve’ – which in plain language means that a bigger quantity of a specific substance will have a bigger biological effect, up to a point where you overdose and die. But they advocate the exact opposite – the smaller the quantity the bigger the effect. It’s like saying the less money I have the richer I am.

cooking
Some suggest that homeopaths are here because cooking is apparently quite difficult in their universe

This implies that the more you dilute a substance the bigger the chance that you might overdose and die, something that has actually been tested when hundreds of people deliberately ‘overdosed’ in protest against politicians and regulators. No biological effect was observed and the call was made to ban these imposters and their ridiculous remedies. But homeopaths are on a mission and they have steadily infiltrated the political elite and the regulators since their arrival 200 years ago.

It is quite easy to see which politicians are from the other side. Politicians saying one thing and doing the exact opposite is in all likelihood from over there. Regulators claiming that they are here to protect the public against fake medicine and then allow these fake medicines to be sold unchecked, have also been infiltrated and are aiding homeopaths to achieve their mission objectives.

Boris
Politicians from the other side are sometimes quite easy to spot.

The results of their mission thus far are that more and more people are turning their backs on evidence-based healthcare (of great concern is the growing number of anti-vaxxers) even though many people got hurt and unfortunately many died – and this is the very black part of this comedy. Politicians and regulators seemingly does not give a hoot and finds it okay when adults die at the hands of homeopaths. But sometimes they do act, but only sometimes, and then only when children got hurt or died.

To test and see if they have also infiltrated our bastions of knowledge a.k.a. universities, I popped an email to the Department of Homeopathy, University of Johannesburg. In theory they should be studying why people from our universe continue to fall for homeopathy and they should advise against using it. So, I asked them for some advice about what to give my 7yo son before we enter a malaria region. The answer from UJ, who also runs a Homeopathic clinic for orphans in Soweto, was that I can buy a remedy at a local pharmacy that contains – nothing! Well, to be honest, I first had to translate because sometimes they still speak in their Alien language. So here are their exact ‘words’:

“Arnica montana D30 Arsenicum alb 6ch, 12ch Cinchona off 6ch, 12ch Eupatorium perf 6ch, 30ch Chininum ars 12ch, 30ch Ferrum met 12ch Malaria off 30ch Ledum palustre 30ch”

Some English in there but for the rest gibberish. Fully translated it simply means ‘nothing’. So clearly UJ has been infiltrated (they also have a chiropractic department).

Another university is Western Sydney University and specifically the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). I have long known that most people working at the NICM are from somewhere else – they are not from our world (because of their weirdness they’ve won the Bent Spoon award in 2017). But what was quite surprising was that they have actually taken over the whole management of the University. Highlighting the issues at the NICM was met with a ‘we could not care less’ attitude. They even promoted the NICM to become a fully-fledged ‘health institute’ from where they are continuing to spread confusion into the world. They have even managed to infiltrate the World Health Organisation who now recommends homeopathy to be integrated with conventional medicine.

So, there we have it. Homeopaths are everywhere and they have no plans to go back to where they came from. We are stuck with some very funny homeopaths and their hilarious ‘remedies’, but at the same time, also the tragedies that plays out in many homes across the globe. For me a very good script for a black comedy, but I am afraid that stopping this madness will be as difficult as finding a portal and sending these quacks back to their universe.

‘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.

Once a criminal, always a criminal? The curious case of Gregory Kolt, the guy who signs off on the NICMs plans.

So, who is Gregory ‘guy that signs stuff’ Kolt? Well, as his name implies he is the man who has to sign off on just about everything. How loud you may talk, how fast you may walk and even when you may take a bathroom break. You can just imagine that Gregory, as Dean of the School of Science and Health at Western Sydney University (WSU), has a huge number of documents that needs to be signed on a daily basis, in order to keep his subjects in line. On top of this, he is also the man to whom the director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) reports, and hence he also has to sign off on almost everything that the NICM plan to do. Regular readers of this Blog will by now know, that most things that the NICM does is simply put, dishonest, and as such Gregory is fully aware of what the NICM is up to. He is, after all, on the NICM’s advisory board where ways to make more money by misleading the public is openly discussed.  And again, if you can promote, defend or sell water as medicine to sick children then you are not only dishonest but, in my view, a common criminal.

Because of this, the ‘guy that signs stuff’ was nominated for the Bent Spoon award (for the pseudoscientist of the year) together with Alan Bensoussan (director of the NICM) and Barney Glover (VC of WSU). These three musketeers are fully aware that what they are doing is at best dishonest and that it will have a detrimental impact on society, not even to speak about the impact on science. They tried their best to block this nomination, but to no avail, with their measly attempts now providing us with some excellent, or even hilarious, reading material (you can find it here). Unfortunately, they did not win the award in 2016.

But it turns out that Gregory has signed one too many document, or 137 to be more exact. It is a type of document that claims money for patients that do not exist – oops. You can find the description of the court case here (page 36). Below is a copy:

“GREGORY SHANE KOLT

Date of offence: Between 1996 and 1998

Date of prosecution: 19 January 2000 at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court

Magistrate: John Hardy

The defendant, a physiotherapist, submitted invoices claiming payment from the Victorian WorkCover Authority in relation to his purported treatment of four injured workers. The invoices related to 137 physiotherapy consultations that had never taken place. As a result, the defendant fraudulently obtained a total of $5,864.15 from the Authority over a period of 14 months. When the matter was investigated, the defendant provided false information and documents.

Breaches of the Accident Compensation Act 1985, sections 248(1) and 249(1) x 2.

The magistrate noted that the defendant made admissions and full restitution to the Victorian WorkCover Authority. In ruling out conviction, the magistrate referred to Section 8(1) of the Sentencing Act i.e. the impact of a conviction on the defendant’s career. He also acknowledged that the defendant had no prior convictions and an extraordinary record of professional achievement and community involvement. Result: Without conviction, fined $2,500 re: Section 248(1) and $1,500 re: Section 249(1). Total fine $4,000 plus $1,022 costs.”

Some might now say that digging up old court cases, to put someone on the spot many years later, is not a nice thing to do. Many people make mistakes, pay for it and then learn from it. But I am afraid that this court case show that Gregory planned his offence well, it occurred over a long period of time and then he tried to mislead the investigators by covering up his actions. And this means, in one word, that he is a dishonest person. Dishonesty is something that runs in your blood and it is part of your DNA, and if you draw the line through to 2017, not much has changed. Dishonesty is of course not all bad, for example; with this sparkling attribute you can easily find a job with just about any political party, the mafia also comes to mind, and then of course, you can also become the guy that signs off on all of the NICM’s dishonest plans.  Once a dishonest person, always a dishonest person? But enough on Gregory for the time being (I am sure there will be more to come).

There is another interesting example, just to illustrate the type of people that the NICM work with. This time it relates to a convicted person. In 2006 Yu Long Yu was sentenced after a large amount of endangered animal material, including Rhino horn, tiger etc, was found in his possession. Because mister Yu was (is) a business partner of Alan Bensoussan (director of the NICM), Alan was in court to defend his good friend: “Character witnesses – including Alan Bensoussan, director of the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research at the University of Western Sydney – told the court Yu was “absolutely exceptional”. “There are very few clinicians of his ilk in Australia,” Professor Bensoussan said of his friend and sometime business associate of 20 years.” “He [the barrister] said Yu had tried to pull the wool over officials’ eyes.”

And again, we have a person linked to the NICM who tried to BS officials. One would think that Alan as a ‘honest scientist’ would try his best to explain to Mr Yu that traditional Chinese medicine is based on pre-scientific ideas and that it is a believe-based healthcare system, and as such, is dangerous not only for people but also for (endangered) animals (they are currently skinning donkeys alive for their purported medicinal value). This, of course, applies to any believe-based healthcare system, but I guess this would have been the honest thing to do and honesty does not sit well with the NICM – simply because honesty will cost them way too much by way of a significant decrease of external funding. So, here and here you can read about the NICM’s view on using endangered animals as medicine. Mr Yu was send to prison for a couple of months, and as expected, the NICM is currently still collaborating with him.

The examples that I have given above isn’t isolated cases, but it should help to illustrate what type of person you need at an Institute such as the NICM. My next article will give another example of an even grander scale of dishonesty where, as it currently stands, they are trying to cover up their undeclared conflicts of interest. And as usual, money seems to be at the heart of the problem. It turns out that these people are not only above the laws of nature as expressed by physics, chemistry, biology etc., but that they are also above the rules that should ensure scientific integrity – it simply does not apply to them.

More to come!

Superfoods (& most complementary meds). They all come with the same steaming side dish: a hearty helping of bullshit.

A bit of humour to let off some steam, but also to continue to battle the flood of misleading information regarding complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). Because, who wants me to explain how CAM is regulated in Australia? ‘Booooring’, ‘yaaawn’, ‘move on mate’ – I can hear you say. Short answer; no one.  So, how can one get this important, albeit boring, information regarding how we are being misled, to as many people as possible? Well, humour might play an interesting role, because everyone loves a good laugh. But then again, how can anyone squeeze any humour out of such a dreary subject? Luckily, there are some exceptionally gifted people, who can do exactly that. Not only can they give this subject a hilarious spin, they can also get the complicated message across – and hopefully many people will learn from this while enjoying some very good comedy.

And it even gets better, because it is all on youtube. I have listed a couple of videos where the consumer program “The Checkout” looked at various aspects regarding CAM regulation and misleading claims made for specific supplements, including superfoods. Sure, the focus is on Australian issues, but the CAM industry in other countries use very similar techniques  – so these videos are perfect for anyone who wants a good laugh, and learn something while doing so. Below is a short description and the total length of each video.

  1. The Australian Complementary Medicines industry is worth over $1.2 billion a year. But do manufacturers have to prove their products work? Or is a celebrity endorsement enough? Craig Reucassel looks into these questions and more. You can find the video here, length 8:47min. (they were sued for defamation based on this segment).
  2. Pharma Sutra: Seems you can buy anything at a pharmacy these days. But are pharmacists breaking their own code of conduct? You can find the video here, length 7:32 min.
  3. Chlorophyll: Kirsten Drysdale throws stones in the chlorophyll glasshouse. You can find the video here, length 3:20 min.
  4. Nicole Kidman Joins The Checkout + Dodgy Swisse Labelling: Consumer affairs Ambassador Nicole Kidman speaks out for the first time about her Swisse ads. And Craig follows up The Checkout’s first investigation into dodgy labelling of complementary medicines, analysing Swisse’s dodgy reaction to their dodgy products being banned. You can find the video here, length 2:30 min.
  5. Swisse update: Craig looks at Swisse’s push for more self-regulation in the advertising of complementary medicines. You can find the video here, length 3:32 min.
  6. Superfoods: They’re ancient, exotic, jam-packed full of antioxidants, and all come with the same steaming side dish: a hearty helping of bullshit. You can find the video here, length 9:00 min.
  7. Fish Oil: Kirsten Drysdale finds something fishy in the world of omega-3 supplements. You can find the video here, length 9:00 min.
  8. U. Tube: Howdy Partner! A special welcome to the ABC’s new commercial partner, Swisse, with a trip down memory lane! You can find the video here, length 1:27 min.

The patriarch of the supplement company Swisse, who features in many of these videos, did sue the Checkout for defamation after video 1 aired, but the case was eventually settled. And as expected, Swisse just continue to sell their dodgy products, using very dodgy claims. Enjoy the videos, and if it is any good please distribute their links via your network!

What can you do about the flood of misinformation re CAMs?

Well, if you are not a politician, Vice Chancellor or work for the regulators, to be honest, not much. One obvious thing that anyone can easily do, is to stop supporting unproven and disproven complementary, alternative and integrative therapies and medicines, even if it might look like harmless interventions (a balanced diet, exercise and drinking enough water is far more beneficial than all these complementary medicines combined – and it’s a lot cheaper).

Another important thing that anyone can do is to inform yourself, because you, or a member of your extended family or friends, will sometime during your lifetime be confronted with fake medicines or fake medical practitioners. The problem is that these people are so good that they can sell ice to an Eskimo, and hence, they can mislead anyone; your age, level of education etc. does not matter. To be well informed will be your only defence.

A very good source of valuable information, with an Australian focus, is the group called ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ (FSM). They are doing excellent work by providing accurate information regarding healthcare, but they are also doing much more than that. They are trying very hard to persuade Australian universities, politicians and regulators to stop their support of pseudoscientific healthcare systems – to fulfill their gatekeeper role. To join the 1100 concerned academics/healthcare professionals you can add your voice by becoming a friend of FSM or follow them on Twitter (@FriendsOfSciMed) or FaceBook. Their newsletters detailing all of their efforts also comes highly recommended. You can subscribe here.

A second valuable source of information is the website of Prof. Edzard Ernst in the UK. Prof Ernst was the first professor of complementary medicine (now retired), but luckily also happens to be a real scientist. He has many decades of experience, which he now shares via his website. This information is invaluable and deals with specific complementary medicines but also with how people around the globe are being misled by pseudoscientists. He has also written many books written in a style that anyone can understand (info on his website) dealing with this subject – it comes highly recommended. Twitter @EdzardErnst

You can also continue to read about my attempts to explain how the minds of pseudoscientists work, and what they are trying to achieve. Although my focus is on the NICM, many universities around the world have similar Institutes who’s modus operandi is exactly the same as the NICMs. You can follow my blog at (frankvanderkooy.com) or Twitter (@frank_kooy) or connect on LinkedIn. A simple and easy thing to do is to use the ‘Like’ function, because algorithms pick up on the number of likes which leads to the article being made available to a wider audience, and thereby creating more public awareness regarding these issues.

‘Take control of your health’, and we’ll take control of your wealth!

“Take charge of your health by being an informed consumer” or “….empowering patients to take control of their health and wellbeing” etc.

These are very common statements made by proponents of complementary, alternative and integrative medicine (CAIM), and it conveys a very clear message; you should take control of your health! But the question is; what do they really want to achieve with this message? If we look at this superficially, we might think that they refer to a healthy diet, physical exercise and other positive lifestyle changes, but then again, any medical doctor will give you this advice as well.  One might think that being an ‘informed’ consumer is clearly good advice, but then again, why do they continue to provide the public with misleading and false information regarding their CAIM products and therapies? So, it cannot be this either. So, what is it that these people really want to achieve with statements like this?

Well it’s simple, they want more people to buy their disproven and unproven products, and hence they aim to manipulate us, with using statements like this, in doing just that. One of their techniques is what I call, a soup kitchen approach, where they provide some good information for free, in order to lure us into their web of deceit. Because they do not make much money with their ‘good advice’ (e.g. lifestyle changes), they are thus hoping that we will also fall for their false and misleading information regarding the benefits and safety of a huge range of products, that they happen to sell.  To give you a rough idea of the sheer number of ‘products/services’ in their arsenal, please have a look at this table.

So, allow me to translate what they actually want to achieve with their ‘take control’ statement. There are two important aspects; creating distrust in conventional healthcare, and masterfully exploit a very common innate cognitive bias that we all suffer from, in order to increase their sales.

Let’s first look at creating distrust in conventional healthcare. With this message, they are implying that our health is currently in the hands of someone else, and that we should now take it back – it is our right. This is quite misleading. Lifestyle choices is indeed in our hands, but even people with the healthiest lifestyles, still get sick. And when you do get sick, you should go to a qualified medical doctor, get a proper diagnosis and a conventional medicine prescription – if needed (most people do not have the medical knowledge to do this themselves). In this conventional approach, we do not have much control and we put our trust in the hands of trained professionals.  According to the CAIM proponents this is not a good system because you need to be in full control.

So, with their ‘take control’ message they are actually creating distrust in conventional healthcare  with some even going as far as stating that very little of conventional healthcare has been proven to work, or that medicine just treats the symptoms and not the cause, or medicine doesn’t work at all, it is just toxic etc. Clearly, the real message here is that we should not really trust our doctor or conventional medicine, but we should trust ourselves and we should make our own healthcare decisions. The CAIM proponents only provide the ‘options’ that we can choose from, but unfortunately, they are notorious for making false and misleading claims about these ‘options’. And don’t they provide a massive range of products to choose from (and importantly, many pharmacies also benefit from this situation). In Australia, you have a choice of roughly 20 000 CAIM products. In South Africa, it is estimated that there are more than 155 000 products, and I have been informed that none of these products have had their quality, efficacy or safety verified!  But who cares, they want you to trust yourself and to decide which of these products will work for you.

The second aspect is exploiting an innate cognitive bias that we all struggle with. All of us are continuously performing risk-benefit analysis, usually, without us even knowing it.  Everything we do; getting out of bed, driving to work, going for a walk in the park etc. carries a risk and hence we will continuously perform a risk-benefit analysis. The CAIM proponents are skilfully exploiting the fact that we sometimes struggle to get this right, and in some cases, we just get it completely wrong. For example: we are far more likely (up to a thousand times) to downplay or ignore a risk if we perceive to be in control of a situation. A good example: we are far more likely to get into a car (we are in control) than getting into a plane (a trained professional is in control), even though the former is much riskier than the latter. Using false and misleading claims for their products and making their ‘take control’ statements, we are hoodwinked into perceiving that we can be in full control of our health, and hence we are far more likely to ignore the (in)direct risks associated with CAIM products.  And this is where they are really making a killing with their ‘take control’ message. Add to this the distrust that they are creating in trained professionals and conventional medicine, then it is no wonder that more and more people are consulting Dr Google and buying OTC CAIM products.

The CAIM proponents are quite happy with this situation because they can now use the explosive growth in sales figures as ‘evidence’ that their products work – the typical appeal to popularity fallacy (another weapon in their arsenal). So, what is the take home message? With their statement, they are trying to take healthcare out of the hands of professionals and they want to place it in your hands (and you don’t have the medical knowledge), knowing fully well that in such a situation we are much more prone to take a risk by dipping our toes into their disproven and unproven CAIM therapies and products – it is all about money!

But is there anything we can do about this? We are irrational beings, so trying to change or influence human nature is highly unlikely to succeed. The only thing we can do, is to continue to expose how the CAIM industry misleads the public, and hopefully, one day, politicians and regulators will start to impose very tight restrictions on this industry, which frankly speaking, should not have existed in the first place.