Western Sydney University’s Wikipedia page – updates needed. A new TCM ‘hospital’ coming soon in Sydney!

Western Sydney University’s Wikipedia page – updates needed. A new TCM ‘hospital’ coming soon in Sydney!

About a year ago I added some factual information on Western Sydney University’s (WSU) Wikipedia page. This information reflects their unbridled support of all sorts of quackery, in exchange for industry funding – hence, very important info for any prospective student or academic (wish I had this info before embarking on a 3 year stint at WSU). This addition led to a full-blown ping-pong match ensuing, between myself and an employee of WSU, who continued to delete everything that I’ve added. The end result of this match was that the WSU employee, who is a paid contributor, was named (and shamed?) by Wikipedia: “The following Wikipedia contributors may be personally or professionally connected to the subject of the article. Relevant policies and guidelines may include Paid contribution disclosure, Conflict of interest, Autobiography, and Neutral point of view.”

Great news, because the most important information that I’ve added stayed on their Wikipedia page, but at the same time, terrible news, because over the past year, WSU has made absolutely no attempt to investigate or rectify the problem at hand – let alone ‘repent’ from their open support of quackery. This is after all my main objective!! If anything, in 2017 things just got worse, and 2018 promises to be a humdinger of a year – that is, if you are a pseudoscientist.

At the centre of WSUs controversial support of complementary, alternative and integrative medicine is the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). They have very big future plans and a lot of money is involved. For example: Say Hello to the newest Traditional Chinese Medicine ‘hospital’ opening in 2018 in the Westmead health precinct of Sydney. Using the smokescreen of “Integrative Medicine” and partly funded by the controversial supplement company, Blackmores, this should be the highlight of 2018 for any pseudoscientist. TCM has been on the radar of Blackmores for some time, and hence, this promises to be a very lucrative deal where their recent $10 million ‘gift’ towards ‘integrative medicine research’ is dwarfed by the potential of tapping into the $170 billion TCM market. But, it will also fulfil a life-long dream (some people call this a nightmare) held by the director of the NICM and also an adjunct of the NICM, Prof Kerryn Phelps, who describes integrative medicine as “the emerging mainstream”. Sure thing, I just wonder why Prof Phelps won the Bent Spoon award for quackery and why the Director of the NICM was nominated for the same award in 2016. But this story still needs to unfold and that brings me back to the latest Wikipedia addition under their “recent history” section, to reflect the latest developments. Here it is (feel free to edit):

“The controversy surrounding the university’s support of pseudo-scientific integrative and complementary medicine, continued in early 2017, with the university unsuccessfully attempting to block their ‘Bent Spoon’ nomination for “the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle”. This led to a number of articles appearing in the media taking an in-depth look at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine, who are at the centre of this controversy. Not only did their attempt to block this nomination failed, but it also further exposed their unbridled support of pseudo-scientific complementary medicines. The university’s motivation for their continued support became clear, after they accepted an untied gift of $10 million  from the controversial supplement company, Blackmores. These funds will partly be used to establish a traditional Chinese medicine ‘hospital’ in Sydney’s health precinct, Westmead. The University will manage this ‘hospital’ because the public will be more at ease with such an controversial establishment when it is fully supported by a local university.”

And to think that WSU is currently conducting: “A study looking into ways of reminding people to take their health supplements is being conducted by a PhD student at Western Sydney University.  An avatar- based iPad application that can verbally express reminders along with a portable pill organiser that can emit alarms at scheduled times are being tested as a part of the study.” Uhm, Blackmores donates $10 million, Uhm, Blackmores also happens to sell these supplements –  truly top flight medical research happening at WSU.

A LOT more to come, especially about the TCM ‘hospital’!

“All I do is satisfy a public demand”- Al Capone and the Complementary Medicine Empire. Part 2: The profitable political and regulatory connections.  

“All I do is satisfy a public demand”- Al Capone and the Complementary Medicine Empire. Part 2: The profitable political and regulatory connections.  

Al Capone’s “…mutually profitable relationships with mayor William Hale Thompson and the city’s police meant that Capone seemed safe from law enforcement.” If you want to build, maintain and expand a dubious empire, then this is the way to do it. Popularity and a positive public image alone won’t do it, you need strong ties, with mutual benefits, with politicians and regulators.

In Part 1 of the Capone series of articles, the well-known ‘appeal to popularity’ was discussed with Capone’s famous quote “All I do is satisfy a public demand”. Capone was very popular and improved his already positive public image by opening up soup kitchens during the great depression. This is strikingly similar to what the Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Medicine (CAIM) Empire is doing by ‘only satisfying a public demand’ while their proverbial soup kitchen is to provide some very good advice such as a balanced diet, exercise etc.  To understand the context of the current article Part 1 should first be read.

Political and regulatory connections

Capone was big buddies with the mayor, as well as with key figures in the police force (the regulators). To such a degree that he basically got away with murder. The CAIM empire achieve the same feat via organisations such as Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA), Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA), the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) etc. Every country has similar organisations, which again link up on an international level. These organisations lobby endlessly to achieve further legitimisation of disproven therapies, for example, through mandatory registration of disproven CAIM practices and therapists (TCM, Osteopathy, Chiropractic etc.). They aggressively defend against any negative scientific evidence and advertise their proverbial soup kitchens via ‘friendly’ journalists – to name but a few things.

But let’s focus on Australia; the deputy mayor of Sydney, Kerryn Phelps, has very strong ties with the NICM and is currently listed as an adjunct, she was the former president of the AIMA and, of course, she operates two integrative medicine clinics in Sydney. The NICM provides the ‘scientific evidence’ and she puts it in practice via her clinics. So, what type of political protection will she wield over the Sydney branch of the Empire, including the NICM? How will they further legitimise disproven therapies? But this is only the deputy mayor of Sydney, here is list of other Australian politicians that have been approached. Here is one senator that has clearly fallen for it – resulting in gems such as genital acupuncture that cures infertility.

What they want is protection, they want to be safe from prosecution, while continuing with their dubious activities. So who better to ask than the big champion of the CAIM Empire, HRH Prince Charles, to join the Sydney club.  Who will dare to touch you when you have the big guns on your side. But we have to be fair. Some politicians and other high profile people will reject the advances of the Empire, problem is, many might not. Be as it may, political connections are of utmost importance making them pretty much untouchable – same as with Capone.

As for the regulators; they have a very strong presence and even chaired the ‘Advisory Committee on Complementary Medicine’ advising and influencing the Australian regulator on CAIM issues. Currently a tremendous effort goes towards further relaxing the already extremely lax regulations governing CAIMs in Australia; “….excessive regulatory burden from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as the biggest challenge affecting their business” They want to be able to make it easier and cheaper to sell the public whatever they fancy.

As for their global aspirations. There is one document that seems to have had a major impact on their credibility and expansion drift more than any other, and it is used to defend against any scientific evidence that a specific CAIM does not work. A respected global authority clearly gave them the thumbs up and a green light to go.

“….on the stance that Australia’s peak medical science authority takes towards the aspirations and commitment of the WHO 2014-2023 Traditional Medicines Strategy” (letter from the Australian Homeopathic Society in response to the negative NHMRC Homeopathy report).

The recent release of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 provides an important message to all world Governments that TM is an important and underestimated part of health care found in almost every country in the world, and community demand for it is increasing.”

“…will be in line with the World Health Organization’s strategy of increasing public awareness and strengthening the role traditional (indigenous) and complementary medicine plays in keeping populations healthy.”

The WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 recommends member states, in effect, to integrate disproven and unproven CAIM therapies with conventional healthcare. This is, surprise surprise, exactly what the CAIM Empire wants and now they use this document as an ‘order’ from the WHO to aggressively expand their operations – because who can argue with the well-respected WHO? Does this report say anything regarding the horrific trade and use of human body parts, ‘harvested’ from children while alive, or the use of endangered animals in their products? (apparently, donkeys are being skinned alive nowadays for their purported ‘medicinal’ value). The NICM approved a thesis in 2008 where the lifesaving properties of Rhino horn was being promoted and currently they direct consumers on their website under the ‘CM resources’ tap, to a site where Rhino horn is listed as a ‘herb’ for when ‘your blood feels hot’! Just 1-2 grams will do the job.

What is their strategy to root out these horrific practices? You would expect at least a chapter on this issue, but no, it is completely ignored and instead a lovely ‘soup kitchen’ strategy is presented. This WHO strategy clearly has the fingerprints of the CAIM Empire all over it, and lo and behold, it was indeed compiled by another adjunct (a naturopath) of the NICM. Anyone that raises serious concerns? Well, it is not us that want to integrate CAIM, the command comes straight from the WHO (they just fail to tell you that they have written it) – and they just continue as before.

Politicians and regulators; it worked wonders for Capone, but the CAIM empire makes him look like a boy scout. They are indeed a very clever, although unethical, bunch of people. Part 3 will deal with breaking the law –  another similarity between the Capone and CAIM Empires.

The mystical circulating ‘energy’ at the heart of TCM – has any progress been made in this important area of research?

The mystical circulating ‘energy’ at the heart of TCM – has any progress been made in this important area of research?

“….the concept of circulation of energy is paramount in Chinese Medicine. The Chinese physicians have always said there’s more than just blood circulating in the body, there’s also energy, human energy of some sort circulating in the body. We don’t know how to measure that yet.”

This is a quote from a radio interview where the wonderful and mysterious world of TCM was explained to the unsuspecting Australian public – this interview took place about 16 years ago. You can find more details regarding this very interesting interview here. From the above quote, it is clear that the circulation of “energy” is paramount to TCM and that, at the time, it could not be measured nor could its existence be shown. The quote, however, ends with the word ‘yet’, indicating there is full support for the notion that this energy field do indeed exist and that it is only a matter of time before it will be detected.

Now, just imagine if someone do indeed discover this energy field with a simple experiment that can be independently reproduced by others. As soon as you can measure it, you can influence it and hence control it, which implies that you will be able to significantly improve and personalise your TCM treatment – and this will almost certainly lead to a Nobel prize in medicine and you might even become stinking rich as well. Fame and fortune up for grabs. It therefore stands to reason that TCM researchers worldwide including those at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), the latter who are well funded and have excellent research facilities, would have had more than enough incentive and would’ve spent a significant amount of research effort to study this energy field in the 16 years since they gave the interview.

So, have they done any research on this very fundamental issue? They can vindicate TCM and for that matter most of complementary medicine if they did, never mind the major improvements in healthcare that might flow from this. The short answer is, no, they haven’t. I am not aware of any study done by any TCM researcher, or anyone at the NICM, past or present, investigating this extremely important issue. So, no progress, but also absolutely no interest in studying this extremely important aspect of TCM. But why is this?

The answer is really quite simple: As soon as you conduct a well-designed experiment you are bound to end up with a yes/no answer – or at least this is what you want. Yes, my hypothesis is correct or no, it is incorrect. Granted, you can also design an experiment that will almost always give you a positive result such as the A + B vs B clinical trial (well known to integrative medicine researchers). But for argument sake, let’s assume that they did study this aspect in a well-designed experiment and that they came up empty handed – which is quite likely because you cannot detect something if it does not exist – this will then be further evidence that the fundamental principles of TCM is absolutely rubbish. And this is of course something that they cannot publish or admit, so it is far better for the TCM researchers and the NICM to completely ignore this issue.

A second reason is that they know damn well that this energy field do not exist but they have to continue to sell this idea to the public in order to import more and more TCM modalities into Australia –  for them it is all about business (it is that $170 billion TCM market that they want to tap into). This is the most likely explanation for their failure to investigate this fundamental principle of TCM.

There is however a couple of other general issues: There is a true believe that this energy field exist because in the TCM world all modalities work – evidence for this concept is that close to a 100% of TCM clinical trials conducted in China gives a positive result. That the NICM and TCM practitioners believe this (either because they truly believe it or they make as if they believe it for the sake of their business interests) can be seen if you look at the long list of medical conditions for which something like Rhino horn is considered to be an effective treatment; “High fever, sun stroke, trauma, mania, convulsion, sore throat, epilepsy, febrile disease, infectious disease, macula, bad skin conditions, subcutaneous bleeding.”  It works for just about everything. And this goes for all TCM modalities. TCM researchers are completely happy to entertain this notion because they are actively trying to sell the energy concept to the public, and once accepted by the public, they will flood the market with TCM modalities.

It is also remarkable to think, and please correct me if I am wrong, that there are still people in China that die due to any medical condition after receiving a specific TCM treatment – if this energy field exist this should not really happen. Granted, due to logistical issues, some people might not receive their lifesaving TCM modalities in time but surely there are people who died even after timely administration of a TCM remedy?  And for that matter, if TCM works so well, why would China import or use modern conventional medicine which is, according to the TCM proponents, ineffective, toxic, expensive etc. Surely, you are not going to replace something that works (TCM) with something that doesn’t work (conventional medicine)! Or is maybe the other way around?

Another interesting aspect regarding TCM is that it seems to be impossible to make a mistake (is it even possible to misdiagnose a patient?). Take acupuncture for example: the theory, or should I say, hypothesis, is that pain is caused by either an excess or deficiency of energy (as explained by the NICM in the very interesting radio interview). Acupuncture restores this energy balance and hence your back pain, which might have been diagnosed as an excess of energy, will now dissipates. But what will happen if an inexperienced acupuncturist use too many, or too few needles and maybe even insert them at the wrong acupoints?  According to the hypothesis, too much energy will now flow from your lower back and this will cause an excess of energy somewhere else (causing pain in that region), but your backpain will still be there because you now have a deficiency of energy in your lower back.  Is this sort of treatment ‘mistakes’ known to happen in acupuncture? Puncturing of an organ or infection due to dirty needles is well known but I am not aware of any examples where the above-mentioned treatment ‘mistakes’ have been documented. If these energy fields do exist this should happen quite regularly. The only explanation that this doesn’t really happen is that these energy fields simply do not exist.

TCM researchers including the NICM have no interest in studying the “energy” aspect of TCM and their only purpose is to sell these pseudoscientific principles to the public. More TCM products means more profit. For the NICM this should pave the way to open their very own TCM hospital in Sydney where the Australian population will be used as guinea pigs. I truly feel sorry for Australians because it appears that it is not only their cricket team that is struggling at the moment, some of their universities are in real trouble because they decided to put profits and pseudoscience, before science, scientific education and the welfare of the public.

(this article appeared as a guest post on Prof Edzard Ernst’s blog site)

A horror movie called “traditional and complementary medicine”

A group of burly men surrounds a delightful three-year-old toddler playing in the park. Out of nowhere, the one man rips off the one arm from the unsuspecting toddler while the other man starts to cut off the other arm. The trembling legs follow and the bloody, unconscious, dismembered body is thrown into the bush to die. In this movie, the bone chilling screams from the toddler is needed as this enhances and strengthens the medicinal properties of the blood-spattered limbs.

A scene from a Hollywood horror movie? No, this horrific scene is not from a movie, it is everyday life in some parts in the world. We are living this movie, although not many people want to talk about it. This horrifying slaying of a toddler happened just the other day – you can read about it here. The reason that this incident barely made the news is because this is not a unique case, it happens way more often than most people would think (for those who can stomach it – you can find more examples here and here – or google “muti killings” or “muti murders”).

How can human beings do something like this to an innocent child? Because most traditional, complementary, alternative and integrative medicines are belief based medicines underpinned by pseudoscientific principles. It is based on “magic”, something that modern science cannot explain nor confirm – or at least that is what advocates of these medicines claim. These people truly belief that a toddler’s limbs, and other body parts, have medicinal value. That many people from all cultures in the world continue to belief, and use their respective traditional health care systems, is due to many different factors.  It ranges from lack of knowledge, distrust of modern medicine (advocates love to promote this aspect), inaccessibility to modern healthcare especially in rural areas in Africa, Asia and maybe even outback Australia, costs involved etc. Another aspect, and a growing cause of concern, is that trusted institutes such as universities defend and promote these pseudoscientific principles in order to balance their books.

The trade in body parts for medicinal purposes, called the ‘muti’ trade, is obviously banned and any perpetrator faces stiff penalties, and yet this heinous practice is not declining it is actually on the increase. Harvesting body parts from people (if you suffer from albinism you are a prime target) and children who are alive, as opposed to corpses, because this augments the medicinal properties makes it all the more horrific. Similarly, the banned trade and use of endangered animals in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not seem to have much of an effect, looking at the exponential rise in the number of rhinos that has being blasted to smithereens over the last couple of years. And here again you have people who belief in the magical healing powers of Rhino horn and people at respected universities who promote and support the underlying pseudoscientific principles which dictates that rhino horn, and everything that they fancy, is “lifesaving medicine”. This is the wisdom of traditional medicine! But can we, in western countries, point a finger to Africa with their muti murders or to Asia with their use of endangered animals, bodily fluids and parts and tell them that they are completely bonkers?

I wish I could, but unfortunately I can’t. They can point a finger right back at the West because most western countries have embraced and are increasingly promoting their own pseudoscientific medicines such as homeopathy and chiropractic, and to some degree, TCM and acupuncture. They use clever marketing strategies and fake scientific terminology to achieve this and at the end of the day, children also die horrific deaths as more and more people are being misled or persuaded to use these modalities (deaths occur mainly due to a failure to provide effective treatments in time). But it gets worse in Western countries. Whilst the people harming their children with these “medicines” receive jail time the professors who defend and promote these practices are handsomely rewarded.  Scientists complaining about these practices are ostracised whilst scientists promoting these practices are seen as local hero’s at these universities simply because they bring in loads of money from the CAM industry. So you find these pseudoscientific healthcare systems all over the world and in all cultures.  The golden thread that runs through all of them; a superstitious belief that every single modality works for its intended purpose and nearly zero scientific evidence that any of it works. In a previous article I have written about the opposing and irreconcilable worlds of pseudoscience vs science.

But how to create a happy ending to this horror movie? Most cultures used body parts in one way or the other albeit for sacrificial purposes, for medicinal purposes or even cannibalism – it is (or was) a common occurrence. Whilst this practice is still lingering on in some African (and maybe Asian) countries, the main current aim should be to take the magic out of it. So what better than expert advice and guidance from an independent and truly global organisation such as the respected World Health Organisation (WHO). They should work towards taking the magic out of it and the only way to do this is to convince governments to provide mass education regarding modern healthcare. Other issues that the WHO should focus on is to come up with strategies to overcome the logistical problems hampering modern medicine reaching rural areas and to make it affordable and accessible to all. They should even work towards an exit strategy to provide for the thousands of people making a living from traditional healthcare systems.  To name but a few things.

So in 2013 the WHO stepped up to the plate and published its much anticipated “Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023”. This 76-page report, funded by China and the WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine in Hong Kong, unfortunately contains very little or even no scientific information. No discussion on the trade and use of body parts or the pseudoscientific principles on which these “medicines” are based. No discussion of any science stuff such as promoting education, improved accessibility and cost effectiveness of science based effective medicines. There is an  inability to accept that a specific CM is ineffective and should not be used. Instead the whole report revolves around the words “integrate” or “integrative”. This is what this WHO strategy calls for – how to better integrate T&CM, which is based on magic, with mainstream conventional medicine which is based on science. And this goes for homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, TCM – disproven complementary medicines! It is as if the Australian based National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) hosted at Western Sydney University has written this report.  The agenda of the NICM? Accept millions of dollars from the CAM industry, lobby regulators including the WHO to give blanket support for all T&CMs, integrate pseudoscience with science and this in turn increase the sales figures of the CAM industry. So did the NICM write or influence this WHO report?

Who do we find in the acknowledgements section?  Michael Smith, an adjunct of the NICM and a registered naturopath (a.k.a. a pseudoscientist). The NICM would not be the NICM if they didn’t have a finger in the pie in compiling this WHO report and as stated on the NICM’s website “He was one of the primary technical drafters of the WHO Global Strategy for Traditional & Complementary Medicine (2014-2023) and continues to participate in WHO projects, working groups and consultations notably dealing with the regulation and policy setting related to traditional and complementary medicines.” And Michael is not the only one at the NICM who is intricately involved with the WHO. You can find more examples here, here and here. Lobbying and promoting T&CM – that is all that the NICM does.

For the NICM this WHO report is extremely important because now they have a directive from the authoritative WHO and who can argue with that – they can use it to silence their critics. So they proudly follow the WHO’s directive, which they have pretty much written themselves, to; “promote universal health coverage by integrating T&CM services appropriately into health service delivery and self-health care.” That very few of these T&CM’s are effective does not seem to bother anyone, that supporting these pseudoscientific underlying principles is causing untold harm and death to many, including endangered animals, is flat out ignored. But the WHO rather chose to be politically correct, to be sensitive to cultural differences and to be influenced by institutes such as the NICM – who has a financial agenda. They use the logical fallacy, an appeal on popularity, as evidence for effectiveness and based on this the pseudoscientific T&CM needs to be integrated with conventional healthcare.

So this horror movie does not have a happy ending – yet. As long as organisations such as the WHO can be influenced by the NICM and similar institutes there will be a continued, and dare I say, a growing support for the underlying pseudoscientific principles of these T&CM healthcare systems on a global level. This implies that you can go and ban the trade in human body parts or rhino horn all you want, if the underlying principles are not addressed, and people educated accordingly, these atrocious practices will continue unabated.

So what is my issue. I hold anyone of any culture or from any country, and especially experienced scientists such as at the NICM, who promotes and defends pseudosciences responsible for these atrocities. I don’t care if you are involved directly or indirectly or intentionally or unintentionally, if you promote it you are responsible.  And the consumers of all of these pseudoscientific products? Just remember, these companies use their sales figures, even if it is for “harmless” water as in homeopathic medicines, as main justification of effectiveness – an appeal to popularity! Buying their products leads to you unintentionally promoting a pseudoscience with the subsequent atrocities committed in far flung regions of the world. The WHO report might be music to the ears of the NICM and the CAM and TCM industry but spare a thought for the children whose ears are being cut off because of its purported “medicinal” value – they can’t hear the music.

Money, not evidence based science, makes the world go round. The CM industry partnering with media outlets – the logical next step?

(as at 25/10/2016 some of the funding information, most notably the $5 million received from Blackmores, has been removed from the WSU website for unknown reasons – here and here you can find screenshots as evidence that they did indeed received these donations).

A $2.9 million donation here, a $2 million there and for good measure an extra $5 million here. And just to make sure that Western Sydney University (WSU) understand who pulls the shots, add a couple of $300 000 cheques into the mix. This is the kind of funding that the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) received in the last couple of years from the complementary medicine (CM) industry. What does the NICM have to do in return? As an “independent” research institute they have to protect the CM industry with their lives and they have to provide “scientific evidence” for these companies’ products, which in turn will be used as a marketing tool. Our magical products “have been scientifically validated” or “scientifically tested” or “clinically proven” etc. What does the WSU get in return for hosting the NICM? They add the ~ $10 million under the umbrella term “industry income” and they list all the “scientific” publications under the umbrella term “scientific outputs” and so they climb the international world rankings – their only objective. Capitalism at its best, and truly a win-win situation for all.

But wait. What about the poor suckers who buy these products? There used to be a thing called consumer protection and there used to be a time when universities protected their independence because they are state funded enterprises serving the public. Clearly that time is from a bygone era and the notion that water has magical healing properties or that rhino horn is a lifesaving medicine is making a comeback, especially at WSU. And this in 2016. The problem with protecting (masterfully done by the NICM) the evil practices of homeopaths (if you can look a sick child in the eyes and sell them water as medicine, then I am content to call you evil) or to promote rhino horn as lifesaving medicine, is quite severe. The former gives credibility to the homeopathic industry and hence they will not only prescribe water for the treatment of minor or self-limiting conditions such as headaches, but because their products “work”, they will also prescribe it for life threatening conditions such as malaria and HIV. The impact on society? People die! The latter gives credibility to the pseudoscientific principles of traditional Chinese medicine. The impact? A hell of a lot of rhinos die!

It might be a win-win situation for the CM industry and WSU, but it is clearly causing a lot of misery, death and destruction for the public and wildlife alike. But can it get any worse? Unfortunately, it can. Most rogue nations (Nazis, North Korea etc.) are in full control of the media whereas democratic governments have some influence, but far less so. In democratic nations the problem is usually that big business runs the mass media and they pull the shots and decide what is fact and what is fiction. The influence of big business  in the media can be so extreme that they can determine where and with whom the next war will be. By controlling the media, just imagine what they can do to protect and promote their business interests.

It therefore stands to reason that the CM industry in Australia, who is reportedly worth $3.5 billion/annum, and who is already in control of a number of cash strapped universities, will now take the next step and buy their way into controlling or influencing the media. Because most of their products are pretty much useless, and some are quite dangerous, focusing on marketing seems to be their main goal and the logical, if not only, way to go – true to the capitalistic dream of ever increasing profits while ignoring the real cost to society. The target of their mass (misleading) marketing is not only Australia – with its small population- but specifically the massive Asian markets who is currently their fastest growth region. To achieve their goal there seems to be no better way than to “partner” with the international arm of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). A recent article reports the following:

“ABC International’s media service Australia Plus (A+) this week announced partnerships with Monash University, the Victorian State Government and Swisse Wellness. These ‘Foundation Partners’ receive branding and advertising opportunities across all Australia Plus platforms.”

“The brands will have exclusive advertising rights to reach 190 million people across Asia who can access online and television channels broadcast by Australia Plus.”

This article was published yesterday and unfortunately do not give specifics on the amount of money involved in this deal – but now that they have bought their way into the ABC we will probably never get to know this.

It is however interesting to note that the $15 million CM industry funding that La Trobe university accepted, received a huge amount of media attention early in 2014. The $1.3 million funding accepted by Sydney University, early in 2015, also made headlines and it was discussed for a number of days in the media. In July 2015, the CM industry donated $2 million to WSU and it barely made it into the newspapers, and then only in early 2016, six months later – let alone that it was being discussed in the media. The recent $5 million donation hasn’t even made it into any newspaper. Clearly there is a trend here, although a number of factors might play a role.

-The first three donations were publicised on the news sites of the respective universities, whereas the last donation wasn’t (hush hush, let’s keep it quiet – I wonder why?).

-WSU is the minion university amongst these three universities and it is big news when a prestigious university falls for the CM industry, but not so much when a minion university is involved (maybe the reason why the CM industry decided to target WSU?).

-That the CM industry floods universities with millions of dollars is just not newsworthy anymore.

-Or maybe, just maybe, media outlets find themselves in a similar position than most universities – desperate for cash. And this is mainly due to the ever decreasing circulation numbers, stiff competition and subsequent loss of income from advertisements. Partnering with other industries, never mind who, therefore seems to be the way to go – even if you have to (further) sacrifice your independence. Can this explain the above mentioned trend? So when will we see the tobacco industry making a comeback? They sell their products legally, so why not?

Can we expect a “win-win” situation being created between media outlets and the CM industry, similar to the CM industry’s partnership with WSU? I think this is the future, so Blackmores, if any of you are reading this, this should  be your next strategic move – partner with a media outlet. The big loser, as usual, will be the public – but in this case not only the Australian public, but also the Asian public.

Rhino horn as lifesaving medicine – do the NICM really believe this? (the things people do for $10 million bucks!)

Rhino horn as lifesaving medicine – do the NICM really believe this? (the things people do for $10 million bucks!)

My previous blog posts (you can find it here and here) discussed the pseudoscientific traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) world in which all medicines are effective, including rhino horn and other endangered species, as opposed to the modern scientific world in which very few, if any, of these TCM modalities are effective. However, the main aim of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) is to ‘integrate’ these pseudoscientific healthcare systems (TCM, acupuncture, homeopathy etc.) with modern science based healthcare systems. This is very worrying to say the least. I can also confidently predict that this drive to ‘integrate’ these two opposing worlds will sooner or later be reflected in a new name for the NICM (again).

Because of the NICM’s true believe in the pseudoscientific basis of TCM or rather the prospect of tapping into the $170 billion TCM market, Western Sydney University approved a thesis in 2008 where rhino horn was being promoted as “remarkably” better for the treatment of vascular dementia as compared to the control group. The critique that I had on this thesis was that they should have given this aspect a critical scientific appraisal which they completely failed to do, and thus I labelled this thesis as nothing more than promoting Rhino horn as effective medicine and therefore they are contributing to the sharp rise in rhino poaching. The supervisors of this thesis might now claim that it was a simple oversight or that the external reviewers failed to pick up on this issue or even that they did not know about the controversy surrounding the use of Rhino horn – although I would strongly doubt the latter to be the case.

So I dug a bit deeper and I found the proceedings of a symposium held in Sydney in 1997 with the title “healthy people, healthy wildlife”. This symposium dealt exclusively with the use of endangered species, including rhino, as medicine in the TCM world. The supervisor of the above mentioned thesis was also present and gave a presentation; “responsible use of TCM”. Below is a couple of excerpts from the proceedings (you can find the full proceedings here).

“I have been using Traditional Chinese Medicine regularly for several years. There have been many times when the wisdom of Traditional Chinese medicine has helped me recover from a physical complaint and I know just how beneficial the results can be” (page 4)

RHINOCEROS HORN (XI JIAO) (page 9-10)

XI JIAO is the horn of the Rhinoceros unicornis L or R. sondicus Desmarest, or R. sumatrienses (Fischer) Cuvier (Rhinocerotidae)

TCM nature: Salty, sour and cold

Actions: Clear heat, subdue Yang and cool blood, relieves fearfulness, detoxifying.

Indication and application: High fever, sun stroke, trauma, mania, convulsion, sore throat, epilepsy, febrile disease, infectious disease, macula, bad skin conditions, subcutaneous bleeding.

Chemical composition

The rhinoceros horn contains keratin. The amino acid constituents include cysteine, and alkaline amino acids histidine, lysine and arginine. Thus it resembles wool and cattle horn in mainly composed of [eu]keratin. In addition the horn contains other protein’s, peptide’s, free amino acids, and guanidine derivatives.

Substitute

As the horns from rhinoceros, antelope and Buffalo (SHUI NIU JIAO) shared similar chemical compositions and amino acids, especially keratin, it has been proved that buffalo’s horn used as a clinical substitute for rhinoceros’ horn and antelope’s horn is therapeutically effective.

Alan Bensoussan’s presentation (page 23-29)

“At a recent conference in Hong Kong there was opportunity for practitioners and traders to express concerns related to the use of endangered species. It is worthwhile looking at these comments briefly. Some sentiments that I have heard expressed in Australia are also reflected in the comments of a TCM academic in Hong Kong: “The dilemma faced by TCM users, however, could only be better appreciated if we can step into their shoes and then make judgements if we ourselves or our beloved ones are suffering from ailments that modern medicine offers little or no help whereas products from these animals may offer relief”.

“It is important to table these views because herein lie the resistance to comply with the law, and to continue to sacrifice a constantly diminishing resource. It defies all logic. Even if we adopt the crudest perspective of some human right to continuously exploit natural resources, in this case if the medicine is valuable and in diminishing supply, the resource needs protecting. And in this sense alone the profession needs to do the utmost within its capabilities to cease all use of endangered species, and utilise alternative products, or farmed or cultivated species, at least until such time as the supply of the medicine is stable. “

Honk Kong TCM retailer

“According to CITES the trade of tigers, etc is prohibited and those TCM practitioners who use such medicines to treat and save peoples’s lives, pharmacies and traders of such medicinal resources are liable to punishment. Such international convention protects animals but harms human beings, makes animals more worthy than mankind, and degrades mankind as if they were lower than animals. It is questionable that whether such kind of rules worth existing”

“… the rights of human beings of using such resources to maintain their health, treat their diseases and sustain their survival, are ignored. The people who formulate such kind of rules are indeed ignoring human rights.”

Hong Kong TCM practitioners:

“People, however, should not work towards wildlife protection but neglect the protection of human lives.”

On rhino horn: “Reasonable application should therefore be allowed and it is inappropriate to ban the medicine entirely,” “The normal traffic of species for medical use should be set strictly aside from profit-deriving business trade.”

Singapore Chinese Doctors association

“TCM practitioners are working for the good health care for all mankind. It is not fair to treat us like profiteers or put the law on us.”

End of excerpts.

TCM nature: Salty, sour and cold. Actions: Clear heat, subdue Yang and cool blood, relieves fearfulness, detoxifying – clearly TCM is a pseudoscience!!

Although this conference discussed the use of substitutes in place of endangered animals and the use of the latter is quite clearly rejected, there seems to be strong resistance coming from the TCM practitioners and retailers. They truly believe that Rhino horn is an effective, lifesaving medicine and that it cannot really be substituted by anything else – and so does Alan Bensoussan.  Replacing rhino horn with any other horn would be equivalent to admitting that it doesn’t really work – and this is unacceptable in the TCM world. Granted, they all agree that endangered animals need to be protected but there is however one important aspect that you will not find in the symposium proceedings.

That is the extremely important question that most members of the public would ask: ‘are any of these endangered animals truly effective for the treatment of any disease?’ and as a scientist you might add ‘where is the scientific evidence that rhino horn is a lifesaving medicine for the treatment of infectious diseases etc?’ or ‘what is the mechanism of action of rhino horn and specifically keratin?’ etc. etc. Surely, these aspects should at least be discussed and TCM practitioners should be educated accordingly? In general, you first need to provide scientific evidence and then only can you go and sell your medicine!

These questions aren’t even being asked, mentioned or discussed and this again proves that in the TCM world everything is active. It is a given! The reason for this is rather simple. The person who dares question the effectiveness of a specific TCM modality, in effect questions the pseudoscientific principles of TCM. The implication of this, especially for the NICM, will be that they weaken or even lose the opportunity to tap into the $170 billion TCM market. This market only exists for the true believers and thus the NICM will not risk being exposed as a semi-or non-believer. Asking these type of questions makes you suspect! In the TCM world (and the NICMs world) rhino horn is thus seen and promoted as a lifesaving medicine for the treatment of just about anything, from sunstroke to infectious diseases! That it is a banned substance doesn’t matter because as long as the underlying believe exist that Rhino horn works, and this believe is not questioned by scientists at the NICM, then they will continue to kill the rhino for its remarkable “lifesaving medicinal properties”.

So why didn’t the NICM add one or two sentences in the thesis published in 2008 about the use of the excepted substitutes in place of rhino horn? Because it is too risky! They run the risk that TCM practitioners might see them as implying that rhino horn is ineffective and that it can or should be replaced by the horns of any animal or even your fingernails. They would put a question mark behind the very principles of TCM. The NICM is thus fully aware of the controversy surrounding the use of endangered animals but they chose to fully support the pseudoscientific world as reflected in the thesis. One can argue that the symposium was held 20 years ago and that the NICM has since changed their tune but unfortunately this doesn’t happen with pseudoscientists. One tell-tale sign of this is the inability to progress, for example: new scientific research provided conclusive evidence that homeopathy is no better than a placebo and that people put their lives at risk if they continue to use it – the well-known NHMRC report. The NICM’s response? Nope, we can’t accept this report because part of our funding comes from homeopaths. They stick to their story. You can read about it here.

At the end of the day this has nothing to do with science but, as usual, it has everything to do with money. And the NICMs perseverance is starting to pay off! In the last year or two the NICM has received in excess of $10 million dollars with the most notable single donation from the well-known Australian complementary medicine company, Blackmores (my next article will deal with this aspect in a bit more detail). Although I might be jumping the gun here, I find it strange that neither the NICM nor WSU reported this news, the biggest donation in WSU’s history, on their respective news sites! Maybe because the donation of Blackmores will be used by the NICM for ‘integrative medicine research’ or in other words how to ‘integrate’ pseudoscience with science? And because Blackmores also want to tap into the $170 billion TCM market it paid the NICM on a consultancy basis to assist in their ‘Blackmores TCM Development Program’. Problem is, the only way to tap into the TCM market is to be a true believer of the pseudoscientific principles of TCM and that includes supporting the notion that rhino horn has remarkable lifesaving medicinal properties. Wouldn’t it be nice if a large company like Blackmores make a small donation towards the rhino conservation effort? After all, it is quite dangerous and expensive, some might say futile, to keep all the poachers at bay who feeds the pseudoscientific TCM market that the NICM, WSU and Blackmores support.

Endangered animals as homeopathic medicine for the treatment of loneliness. A new approach to save the Rhino.

Sometimes you can find the most amazing things on internet. And this is one of those things. My previous article reported on the sharp increase in Rhino poaching, partly caused by the increased need for raw materials in order to fuel the pseudoscientific TCM market, and the role that Western Sydney University might be playing in all of this. You can find it here. But how to solve the Rhino poaching crises? Well, help is coming from an unexpected corner.

I asked myself a simple question; do Western pseudoscientific healthcare systems (e.g. homeopathy) also use endangered animals in their “medicine”? Why not? Using their groundbreaking principle of ‘like-cures-like’ they diluted pieces of the Berlin wall, which made people depressed, to infinity and made “medicine” for the treatment of, you guessed it, depression. So why not use endangered animals? One can argue that these animals are becoming lonelier and lonelier, as they are being hunted to extinction, so maybe a good opportunity to develop a homeopathic medicine for the treatment of loneliness!

Therefore, to solve the Rhino poaching problem look no further than the ancient pseudoscientific Western healthcare system called homeopathy. Believe it or not, just as TCM is growing in popularity in Western countries, so is homeopathy growing in popularity in Asian countries, especially in India. Below is a description of a wonderful new book where the solution to Rhino poaching is eloquently described. Apply the homeopathic principles of diluting a single rhino horn into oblivion in order to save the Rhino – problem solved! Hence, one horn would be enough to supply the whole world of this much needed ‘medicine’ –  indefinitely, and you only have to kill one Rhino instead of the current 1200 per year!!

Start of book description:

“It is with great joy that I welcome the arrival of this groundbreaking book about one of the world’s premier healing traditions, Practical Homeopathy by my colleague Prof. Steve An Xue and his assistants.

The comparative introduction of homeopathy to China via the lens of classical Chinese medicine is a natural one, for the following compelling reasons:

  1. Chinese medicine and homeopathy share similar philosophies, such as the belief in the healing power of nature, and the resonance between macrocosm and microcosm (tian ren heyi)
  2. Both systems employ sophisticated methods of pattern differentiation (bianzheng); centering them around the individual and the signs and symptoms s/he presents, in contrast to the modern focus on diagnosing disease (bianbing)
  3. Both are centered around the concept of energy medicine, rather than the more matter oriented concepts of modern medicine such as anatomy and biochemistry
  4. Both are highly practical, and reflect the four principles that the Qing dynasty physician Wang Qingren once proposed as the hallmark of true medicine for the Chinese people: it must be easily available, affordable, and effective at the same time.
  5. Both abide by the guiding principle of safety: “first, do no harm” (as the beginning of a naturopathic medicine physician oath goes). Many progressive European and American mothers have a homeopathy first aid kit at home, often supplemented with Chinese herbal cold/flu remedies (i.e., Yin Qiao San) and herbs for external injuries (i.e., Yunnan Baiyao).

As a type of “energy” medicine, the field of homeopathy is not without controversy in the context of Western medical discussions. However, similar to the process wherein Chinese medicine was able to stand the test of modern science, the clinical efficacy of homeopathic medicine has been validated by a host of clinical research during the last 30 years. Furthermore, just like educated Chinese felt drawn to the profession of traditional scholar-physician, it were especially the brighter minds among Western doctors who were captivated by the theory and practice of homeopathy. It appears that the endeavor of discerning the laws of nature by way of cohesive pattern differentiation has been found to be both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating by illuminated minds in East and West.

As a much younger medical science that does not have the same extensive theoretical underpinning as classical Chinese medicine, homeopathy can surely benefit from a comparison with the traditional knowledge systems of China. On the other hand, the clinical practice of homeopathy reflects the core principles of Chinese medicine in the most radical way—a way that is progressively being forgotten in China itself—and thus can potentially reinvigorate the future path of Chinese medicine. By witnessing the often astonishing clinical results of homeopathy and understanding that the power of this modality is intimately connected to the same principles that Chinese medicine was once founded upon, Chinese medicine practitioners in the age of East-West Integration Medicine (zhongxiyi jiehe) can hopefully be inspired to take a fresh look at the most ancient and most fundamental theoretical principles of their own profession.

As Prof. Xue will explain in detail in this concise volume, it is one of the prime characteristics of homeopathy that its remedies are most powerful when administered in high potencies, when an herbal remedy has been diluted to the point that no trace of matter can be detected in the tincture or pellet anymore. This is a most dramatic manifestation of the traditional Chinese concept that consciousness governs energy, and energy governs matter. Homeopathy, in essence, administers the energetic and spiritual essence of a plant or mineral or animal substance to affect a patient’s physical and emotional health. Furthermore, it is a typical feature of homeopathy that it will only work when the remedy and the individual patterns of the patient are a complete match. This trait realizes the core belief of Chinese and other ancient medical systems that nature and the body express itself in a consistent pattern language. If that pattern language can be correctly deciphered—an art that is progressively eroding—every disease pattern can be neutralized by a corresponding pattern in the natural world.

In addition, the integration of homeopathy into the deep spectrum of natural healing modalities in China holds the following promises:

  1. The power of strong acting natural compounds can be harnessed safely. Few traditional physicians have the knowledge and confidence anymore to prescribe toxic ingredients such as arsenic (peishuang), realgar (xionghuang), aconite (fuzi), (badou) and (qiyeyizhihua). Homeopathy can deliver the energetic pattern of these ingredients without the toxicity that resides in the chemistry of these substances.
  2. Chinese herbs tend to be prescribed at ever increasing dosages, causing extinction and availability problems. Through the dilution method of homeopathy, rare or valuable ingredients such as rhino horn (xijiao) or bear gallbladder (xiongdan) can be used inexpensively without threatening natural resources. America’s largest laboratory for the production of homeopathic remedies, Hahnemann Labs, for instance, recently made an exceedingly rare fungus that grows only on 1% of 1,000 year old coffins and is used successfully in Southern Chinese folk medicine for the easing of pain from bone metastases into a homeopathic remedy—making it available for generations of practitioners to use.
  3. The marriage of Chinese cosmology and homeopathic prescribing has unlimited potential. To give an example: On the organ clock of Chinese medicine, the shaoyang gallbladder system is located in the position of midnight and the 11th lunar month of the year, a point that traditional Chinese science has marked with the earthly branch Zi, or the corresponding animal symbol of the Rat. Based on this uniquely Chinese insight, an accomplished American homeopath I know often uses the homeopathic remedy Rat’s Blood for certain manifestations of shaoyang disorder, and achieves excellent results.
  4. While the materia medica of Chinese medicine represents a science that features unprecedented detail in comparison to other natural healing systems, homeopathy can further enhance this knowledge base by its unique descriptions of how a substance’s therapeutic effect changes at different potencies–what happens when a mother tincture of an herb is diluted 6 times, versus 30 times, versus 200 times, versus 1000 times.
  5. The recent development of electronic homeopathy, utilizing digitized vibrations of human tissues, pathogens, and pollutants, has made it possible to diagnose and treat certain diseases in a quick and minimally invasive manner. This method can help to treat most specifically while a simultaneous Chinese medicine treatment can treat the more general and systemic reasons for disease, for instance by neutralizing a certain virus directly while Chinese herbs address the “toxicity” of the body’s terrain.

Finally, I would like to repeat my strong conviction in the creative genius of the Chinese people, which I have already mentioned in the preface to Prof. Xue’s previous book.

Due to the symbol-oriented nature of homeopathy—originally a key feature of Eastern thinking—many of the world’s best homeopaths are already of Eastern descent. Greece, and especially India has boasted a vital homeopathic tradition for years, featuring many master practitioners and specialty hospitals. For a variety of complex reasons, possibly including the presence of a native healing tradition of sheer inexhaustible depth, the clinical master science of homeopathy has not yet made inroads into China. I trust, however, that the time is ripe to see the combination of China’s human resources and the clinical genius of the Chinese mind thrive to give birth to some of the worlds greatest homeopaths, benefiting both the health of the Chinese people and the world.”

End of book description

To list all the things that are completely wrong/misleading/misguided here would take me a lifetime. But a negative multiplied by a negative gives a positive. In this case multiplying the nothingness of homeopathy with the decimation of the rhino population at the hands of TCM practitioners, equals the survival of the Rhino. But then again, how many people will die because of homeopathy or the believe that Rhino horn is an ‘effective’ medicine? Well, that number will remain the same.