Rhino poaching and the Australian National Institute of Complementary Medicine – is there a link?

It is always interesting to link what the Australian based National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) say or do with international events that seemingly doesn’t have anything to do with them – or at least that is what most people would think. What does the Western Sydney University based NICM have to do with Rhino poaching in South Africa??

First a bit of background, so please bear with me. Recently, the first Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) product was registered in the UK by a company called Phynova. It contains a TCM herbal ingredient and it is sold for “Joint and Muscle Relief” – you can read the press releases here and here and a more critical appraisal here. What struck me as odd was that this product was clearly being advertised as the first TCM product to be sold in the UK. This basically means that the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has given credibility and legitimacy to the underlying pseudoscientific principles of TCM, for example; the yin/yang, six excesses (wind, cold, fire/heat etc.), five phases (fire, earth, metal etc.), vital energy that flows through meridians etc.

These TCM principles have been relegated to the pseudosciences and even some Chinese scholars promote the abolishment of TCM, and labels it as nothing more than a valuable export product for China! Does this now mean that all herbs used in TCM is pretty much useless? No, there are indeed some herbs, admittedly very few, that have been shown to be quite valuable (e.g. Artemisia annua).

Phynova could have chosen to register and market their new product merely under the name of the herb that it contains. This, at least, might have given their product slightly more scientific credibility – depending on if it contains useful compounds or not. Hence, it was a choice between these two issues; support for the underlying pseudoscientific TCM principles or support for the scientific approach that a specific herb might contain useful compounds. Phynova has chosen the former and hence this product is marketed under the TCM banner for the sake of market size and profits.

This, of course, is great news for TCM practitioners worldwide including Prof Alan Bensoussan the director of the NICM and registered in Australia as a TCM and acupuncture practitioner. They will now claim that the body of evidence and hence the acceptance of TCM in the West is growing, knowing pretty well that it has a lot more to do with lobbying than with science! Alan has been instrumental in lobbying the Australian regulatory agency, the TGA, that a long tradition of use is all you need to register a product – who cares about efficacy!

He has also been chipping away at the resistance that the Australian public might have against these pseudoscientific healthcare systems, such as TCM, by publicly misleading them that TCM principles is based on real science – which it is not! You can read about it here, here and here. He is also planning to expand into the Westmead precinct of Sydney with a new TCM clinic/hospital – thus, Alan has big plans for TCM in Australia and he is a staunch believer and advocate of the TCM principles (maybe the global $170 billion TCM market has something to do with this?).

Enough background; so what does all of this have to do with Rhino horn? (and for that matter other endangered species). Well, Rhino horn “…. is bitter, sour, and salty in flavor and cold in nature. Vital functions are removing heat to cool blood, relieve internal heat, and arresting convulsion.”  This is the type of language that you hear from TCM practitioners such as Alan, companies such as Phynova and also the MHRA who has now given credibility and legitimacy to these TCM principles. Where did I get this information regarding Rhino horn? Well, from Phynova – or at least indirectly!

On Phynova’s website there was a link that directed the potential customer to a website providing scientific information regarding the herb in their new product – fair enough (accessed on 13/07/2016 – this link from Phynova’s site has since been removed). Shockingly, and probably also the reason why this link has been removed so quickly, was the information provided in the sidebar under the heading “New Herbs and Remedies.” There you find Rhinoceros horn! Yes, it is listed as a “herb” and yes the accompanying image is that of elephant tusks! Oh Boy!

If Phynova is that sloppy with doing research I have to wonder how much real scientific research has gone into their new product. Did they even read the “scientific” information regarding their herb on this website? Clearly not! Or maybe their research was more focused on the packaging, marketing and sales of this ‘amazing’ new product.

Even though it is claimed on this website that Rhino horn does not have any medicinal value – the fact that it is listed and that they provide recipes of how to prepare and use it tells me a different story (please scroll down to the comments section of the website). For example, they state “Even though now it is not used as a medicine any more. Knowing a bit more about the medical facts about rhinos can be good for you.” Here again we have the familiar issue plaguing the complementary medicine industry – what they say and what they actually mean or do is two different things! You be the judge.

And Alan Bensoussan at the NICM? The following section comes straight from a PhD thesis (on page 45) supervised by the NICM uner the leadership of  Alan Bensoussan and approved by Western Sydney University in 2008 (my highlights in bold and explanation of abbreviations in brackets)

“These have not only largely facilitated improved application to patients, but also increased the therapeutic effectiveness and accordingly reduced the therapeutic courses. Following on Table 2.4 lists the most common Chinese herbal medicine injections used for the treatment of VaD (Vascular Dementia).

Table 2.4 Chinese herbal medicine injections for VaD

CHM injection Functions Compositions
Xing Nao Jing Injection Clearing heat toxin

and opening brain,

removing phlegm

Gallbaldder stone of Bos taurus domesticus (Niuhuang), Curcuma aromatica (Yujin), Rhinoceros unicornis (Xijiao), Coptis chinensis (Huanglian), Scutellaria baicalensis (Huangqin), Gardenia jasminoides (Shanzhi), Cinnabar (Zhusha), (Xionghuang), Moschus berezovskii (Shexiang), Pteria martensii (Zhenzhu)

Xing Nao Jing Injection
Based on the classic formula “An Gong Niu Huang Wan”, Xing Nao Jing injection has been widely applied in China for stroke and vascular dementia. Wang et al (2000) observed the therapeutic effect of Xing Nao Jing Injection treatment on vascular dementia and the affect on HDL  (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). 76 cases of VaD in patients were randomly allocated into two groups: Xing Nao Jing Injection treatment group (n=39) and western medicine control group (n=37). MMSE (Mini Mental State Examination) and content of HDL and LDL were assessed or observed before and after treatment. After 1-month treatment intervention, they found the scores of MMSE in the treatment group increased remarkably, as compared with the control group (p<0.05). The HDL elevated and LDL decreased in the treatment group (Wang et al, 2000).”

They only list two endangered species; the Rhino and the Chinese forest musk deer (Moschus berezovskii), but what is worrying is that they don’t even mention the endangered status or at least recommend that the non-endangered substitutes should be used instead. Clearly they are marketing these endangered species as way more effective than western medicine (their control group) for the treatment of vascular dementia! I have to admit that this thesis is rather confusing and that it will need an in-depth investigation – my next blog post will deal with this thesis and any other similar theses I can find from the NICM, dealing with endangered species.  

The problem with Rhino horn is relatively simple. The more Rhino’s killed the more expensive the horn becomes which leads to more rhinos being killed – there seems to be no solution! That Rhino horn is claimed, as above, to be highly active against Vascular Dementia is to say the least, deplorable. Statements like this fuels the decimation of this species. But we have to try and do something. A simple step could be that people like Prof Alan Bensoussan publicly denounce the underlying pseudoscientific TCM principles and make the “difficult” switch to real science! Admittedly, he will have to part with a bit of money from the CM industry and his Chinese partners, and maybe not built his new TCM hospital – but whatever he can do to save the Rhino, right?

The NICM have successfully applied a very thin, but beautiful, veneer of political correctness and modernity over the surface of complementary medicine, focusing on TCM, by ticking the box that they are against the use of endangered species, and by using real scientific terminology incorrectly in order to convince the public of the medicinal value of TCM in a “modern” package. Anyone who cares to look underneath this veneer will find the rotten ancient pseudoscientific TCM world – including the use of endangered species. Just look at how active Rhino horn is for vascular dementia!! Read chapter two of the above mentioned thesis and you cannot believe that this is from an Australian University and paid for by the Australian taxpayer! Unfortunately rhino horn is just the tip of the iceberg, they continue to defend and promote almost all complementary medicines such as homeopathy and acupuncture as well by using the same techniques.

Another piece of evidence that the use of Rhino horn in TCM is indeed alive and well comes from poaching statistics. Over the last number of years there has been an exponential rise in poaching in South Africa with 2015 topping out at 1 175 as compared to only 13 rhinos killed in 2007. Not even to mention the hundreds of human lives lost attempting to either poach or protect the rhinos. Maybe theses, such as the ones supervised by the NICM and approved by WSU in 2008, has partly led to this exponential increase in poaching stats?

Companies such as Phynova should register their product as a herb and market it as such based on real scientific results, and not advertise it under the TCM banner. The TCM banner encompasses the whole pseudoscientific TCM healthcare system including the use of Rhino horn and other endangered species.

The regulatory authorities, lobbied endlessly by the CM industry and people like Alan, should refuse to register products under the TCM banner and should only register the specific herb after real evidence of efficacy and safety have been provided – preferably clinical trial results. The Phynova product was registered solely based on a long tradition of use without any clinical trials backing up their claims!

By now, I know that very few people care. I’ve been told many times – this is how the world works, get used to it and move on. I am okay with the idea that apparently most Aussies do not mind being misled by other Aussies – seemingly an Aussie thing as Alan once told me “but everyone is doing it”.  If most Aussies want to fall for TCM, and even use their own tax dollars to sponsor it (NICM receives $2 million/annum) –  be my guest, but please keep these issues within Australian borders and leave the Rhinos alone. But that is not going to happen – supporting and advocating the TCM principles in Australia by people such as Alan Bensoussan creates a global ripple effect with Rhino poaching being one of the many detrimental results. I give it 5-10 years and that will be the end of Rhinos – which animals will they target then?

 

Comments received on this post from reddit/r/ChineseMedicine. 

[–]Fogsmasher 5 points 3 days ago

Ok, so you hate Chinese medicine/acupuncture. What exactly are you trying to accomplish here?

[–]zeissbickham 3 points 3 days ago

Because it’s easier to shit on things and blame others than take actionable initiatives like supporting education of the populace a la Yao Ming.

The West isn’t where your problem is, OP. It’s a billion plus people not knowing that their actions are having consequences in far flung regions of the world that they know nothing about. You’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re trying to guilt trip people here on this sub – we already know about species on the brink of extinction. Your keyboard slacktivism is duly noted, however.

[–]Fogsmasher 2 points 3 days ago

Nah, he’s got some bug up his ass about TCM in general. Check out other posts in his blog and it’s full of circular logic about how TCM is bullshit and can’t possibly work so therefore we shouldn’t do research. If there is research that says something works then it’s crap research because everyone knows the basis for TCM is impossible.

[–]zeissbickham 3 points 3 days ago

I’ll take your word for it – sounds like a waste of time. As does shitposting on random subs, which is a waste of Frank’s time. So be it.

Thanks for the reply.

Western Sydney University snooping on staff emails! – why am I not surprised

I suspected it and I was even asked by the officer in the Complaints Resolution Unit if I believe that they (read the National Institute of Complementary Medicine) were snooping on my emails.  Once I started to speak to the management of Western Sydney University about the serious concerns that I had with how the NICM operates, I immediately felt that more people knew about this matter than should have. The only way that this can happen was for them to either forward my emails to third parties or by snooping on my emails. Problem was how do you prove it? The only solution that I could come up with at the time, was to switch to my gmail account – at least that solved the snooping issue but not the forwarding issue.

It was therefore quite refreshing to read in the newspaper that WSU is indeed snooping on the emails of their staff. I feel vindicated! Here is a quote from the article:

A university spokesman said on Friday that WSU has in place “a policy relating to workplace surveillance” and does not “routinely” monitor any individual’s email, adding: “Staff are made aware of these policies when they commence and the university routinely notifies staff of the inclusions of these policies. We believe our practices are aligned with those in the sector and the Privacy Commission’s good practice guidelines.” But Mr Byrne hit back, alleging his treatment was the result of a “culture of paranoia” within campus. “It’s a relatively new player in a competitive industry. Everything it does publicly is perfectly crafted and considered. Yet behind the scenes, it is completely paranoid about how it is perceived.”

Isn’t this revealing! “….and does not routinely monitor any individuals email…”. They basically admit that they are indeed snooping on the emails of staff and I cannot agree more with Mr Byrne. WSU is as paranoid as they get and the reason for this is quite simple. They know that what they are doing is wrong! Obviously they have the tendency to ignore problems and instead of having a civil discussion they force the problem to go away – read make “difficult” people go away. They were quite happy to give me 6 weeks of pay but only if  I leave immediately!! No discussion, no debate – just get out of here! So they are happy to dish out $10 000 but please leave immediately.  To fully support all sorts of complementary medicine and to intentionally mislead the public for the sake of making money is wrong. They know that only very few people will have the ethics and the guts to stand up and say something about it, and it is those people that they need to check out and hence snoop on their emails. Worst of all, they employ people paid by the taxpayer, to do this – an educated guess – maybe to the tune of $100 000-200 000 per year?  Protect our image at all costs, so maybe my guess of how much they spend on this might be the understatement of the year.

Clearly they will have problems in various departments and not only at the NICM and clearly they will not discuss these serious issues but will rather resort to gestapo style surveillance in order to make troublesome people “disappear”. It is as if this university will never wake up –  but it cannot be that hard. Focus on real science and all your numbers will fall into place and you don’t have to spend excessive amounts of funding and time to put all these fires out. Once it starts to burn, the fire will eventually consume the university – time to wake up!

Should one use Wikipedia to share information regarding the unbridled support of pseudosciences by Western Sydney University? Updated 06/07/2016

On the 12th of May 2016 I made a decision to add an informative, but factually correct, paragraph on Western Sydney University’s (WSU) Wikipedia page. Why? Because it is extremely important that students and researchers, current and future, knows about WSU’s decision to fully support pseudosciences. This Wikipedia paragraph tells a story about how WSU view science, scientific research and how they view their responsibility, as a publicly funded entity, towards the public. The impact of WSU’s decision, taken early in 2016, is truly a milestone in the university’s short history and hence deserves mention on their Wikipedia page. This comes after being warned by myself, and other researchers, to investigate the National Institute of Complementary Medicine hosted by WSU.

The paragraph that I’ve added is given below (deleted by WSU after about four weeks).

“Early in 2016 some controversy surrounding the University’s full support of complementary medicine emerged in the press. Former employees, as well as eminent scientists, criticised the biased and unbridled support of the University for complementary medicines such as homeopathy, acupuncture, energy healing, Reiki etc. The main controversial aspect was the continued support of these pseudo-scientific fields in exchange for continued funding from the naturopathic Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies. The University has since reacted to the critique by bestowing a honorary fellowship upon Judy Jacka, vice-chairperson of the Jacka Foundation. As a result the current vice-chancellor Prof Barney Glover, the Dean of the School of Science and Health Prof Gregory Kolt and the Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine Prof Alan Bensoussan were nominated for the prestigious annual bent spoon award of the Australian Skeptics society bestowed upon the “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle“.

On the 14th of June 2016 this paragraph was removed. The reason given by Nicole Swanson, digital and social media manager at WSU, was:

“Claims made in removed content are not substantiated and are vexatious. The person who added them refers to his own article which is a skewed version of the truth. The content has no major relevance to the University so does not warrant appearing here.”

But is this true?

Let’s look at the first sentence: “Claims made…” The added paragraph does not contain any claims but only facts. The controversy was reported in an article written by an independent journalist who verified the information with an independent scientist as well as their in-house lawyers before publishing the story in the newspaper. The NICM and WSU was also contacted by the journalist and they were given time to respond – they could not!; “former employees and eminent scientists” – myself and a well-known independent Australian scientist, as reported in the newspaper article, presented the facts regarding WSU and the NICM – fact! (recently an international eminent scientist has joined the choir) etc. etc. This paragraph is based on facts and not claims!

“..are not substantiated…”. I give nine references to substantiate the facts and I can easily give many more references. “…are vexatious….” Very interesting choice of words. Synonyms of vexatious are “annoying, irritating, upsetting, troublesome, bothersome”. With this I can agree. I do believe that what I am saying must be extremely annoying and irritating to WSU, because they know that I am right. They just do not seem to know how to get away with it without anyone noticing.

Let’s look at the second sentence. “The person…” guilty as charged.  “….refers to his own article…”. I reference nine articles, some of them written by myself (in these I use multiple references as evidence) whilst the rest is written by independent persons. And again, I can easily delete all of my references and replace them with references written by independent authors. “…skewed version of the truth.” This is incorrect. The added Wikipedia paragraph contain facts, presented by myself and others. To substantiate this I can also refer to Wikipedia’s explanation on what homeopathy, and many other complementary and alternative medicines, is – it is called quackery and pseudoscience. Not my words but those of scientists around the world.

This is unfortunately the truth unless you are a homeopath or a university receiving millions of dollars from a foundation (Jacka foundation) supporting homeopathy. These facts, as presented in this paragraph, will only become more pronounced as other researchers start to reveal the inner workings of the pseudoscience that is being practiced and supported by WSU. Clearly not a skewed version of the truth, but the truth – they just don’t want to admit it.

Let’s look at the third sentence. “The content has no major relevance to the University so does not warrant appearing here.” I beg to differ. This is a turning point in the history of WSU. They are intentionally misleading students and researchers, current and future, by claiming that they focus on world class scientific research and education while they actually allowed pseudosciences a foot in the door (this is the difference between a claim and a fact). Not even to mention the impact that their pseudoscientific research will have on the public. Will they continue to fight for pseudoscience? Will they decide to have a look at this issue? What will they do? The paragraph that I have added is hence of major relevance.

Wikipedia is a self-correcting medium for sharing information based on facts. It should not be used by companies such as WSU to present a one-sided overly positive view of the company. It is not a marketing platform! It is therefore important that facts, such as what the WSU stand for, is made publicly known. This is who they choose to be and the public, future students and researchers deserves to know this. These are the facts and they should stand by it and be proud of it!  Question is; should I continue to be “vexatious” and continue to add these important facts about WSU on their Wikipedia page? Or will people reading this post join me by continuing to add this paragraph whenever it is missing on WSUs Wikipedia page? (takes about 5 min as the references has to be added manually). As it is, I am alone and WSU has an whole army of people!

22/06/2016

After a discussion on Wikipedia’s “Talk Page” about conflict of interest policies I decided to add a shortened version of the paragraph to WSUs Wikipedia page under section 1.2 Recent History (after my original paragraph was deleted  by WSU on 14/06/2016). This time using only independent references as evidence – how long will it take before they remove it? Below is the paragraph:

“Early in 2016 some controversy surrounding the University’s full support of complementary medicine emerged in the press. An employee, as well as eminent scientists, criticised the biased and unbridled support of the University for complementary medicines such as homeopathy, acupuncture, TCM, energy healing etc. The main controversial aspect was the continued support of these pseudo-scientific fields in exchange for continued funding from the naturopathic Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies.”

24/06/2016

As expected my paragraph was removed by ‘NeoWalker’ with the reason given “not relevant in context of recent history”. This time though, an unknown person reverted the removal of NeoWalker within the hour stating “unexplained removal of content”. To follow the action, please go to Western Sydney University: Revision history.

02/07/2016

The paragraph is still there! So why not push my luck a bit and add a whole new paragraph. In the contents section under point 8 WSU proudly announce that they won the Ig Nobel prize – strange because this usually means that you are guilty of conducting “useless” research. So I added a new paragraph, using only independent references, under point 9: Bent Spoon Nomination. See below.

“Bent Spoon Nomination

In the same spirit as the Ig Nobel prize for improbable research that first makes you laugh and then think, the university has also been nominated for the bent spoon award. Nominees for this prestigious award is independently evaluated by the Australian Skeptics society and is annually bestowed upon the “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle”. The university received this nomination based on their reaction to the controversy surrounding their continued biased support for complementary medicine as reported in the press. WSU reacted to this controversy by bestowing an honorary fellowship upon the naturopath Judy Jacka, vice-chairperson of the Jacka Foundation who also happens to be one of the biggest funders of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine hosted by WSU. As a result, the current vice-chancellor Prof Barney Glover, the Dean of the School of Science and Health Prof Gregory Kolt and the Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine Prof Alan Bensoussan were nominated for the prestigious annual bent spoon award.”

05/07/2016

As expected my new paragraph “bent spoon nomination” was removed quite quickly. This time by an independent person with the statement “not notable unless awarded“. I do think this is fair enough, but this only means one thing; I have to make sure that the NICM receives this prestigious award. Or if anyone reading this can “undo” the changes made by Jack Upland on the 5th of July 2016 I would be grateful. I cannot undo these changes because I have a conflict of interest and Wikipedia will block me from editing.

 

Conflicts of Interest: Is there a difference between Doctors and Acupuncturists turned researchers?

Some serious flaws in two acupuncture clinical trials, for the treatment of infertility and allergic rhinitis, were recently published on Prof Edzard Ernst’s blog. The overly positive way in which the researchers made their mostly negative results public was also of concern. Both these studies were published by the researcher of the year, Prof Caroline Smith, of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Australia. The stream of comments and discussions that followed made me think of another commonly overlooked aspect when it comes to acupuncture clinical trials. Conflict of interest! In both these studies the authors declared to have no conflicts of interest and in other similar studies by this author this also seems to be the case. The question can be asked; If you are a practicing acupuncturist conducting a clinical trial in acupuncture, isn’t that, by default, a serious conflict of interest? The intention of this article is not an in-depth discussion of what a conflict of interest is, but rather to compare medical doctors with acupuncturists turned researchers. Let me explain.

Some medical doctors (GPs, surgeons etc.) decide to leave their practice after practicing 10-20 years to become full time researchers (and visa versa). Universities accept these people with open arms because they bring with them a wealth of knowledge regarding the practical side of medicine and healthcare in general. They are thus seen as an asset to any medical research project including clinical trials. Can the same be said about an acupuncturist? They also bring with them years of experience and thus they should also be a major asset to any acupuncture clinical trial. But I am afraid not!

Why? Medical doctors have a multitude of tools (drugs, surgical procedures, diagnostic kits etc.) at their disposal to diagnose and treat all types of medical conditions. Yes, there is medical conditions that cannot be treated and to say nothing about the issue of misdiagnosis. But when will it now be a conflict of interest? When they publish a positive clinical trial of a specific medical intervention in which they have a vested interest. e.g owning shares in the company producing the medical intervention (financial interest) or if they have been staunch supporters of this intervention during their years of practice (emotional interest). Just imagine that you have been prescribing a specific intervention to hundreds of patients over a long period of time, and now you have to face them with a negative clinical trial result – that will be difficult. The former is easy to declare whilst the latter might be slightly more difficult.

Doctors also tend to focus on a specific disease e.g. cancer and will perform research with the existing tools at their disposal but also try to find new tools in order to improve the risk-benefit profile of the disease treatment. Thus, for a doctor there is the possibility that they might run into a conflict of interest but due to the multitude of medical interventions this is by no means a given.

What about acupuncture practitioners turned researchers? An acupuncturist only has one tool at their disposal to treat all medical conditions. I can hear them say; but we stick needles in different places and depths etc. depending on the medical condition! Yes, but the fact remains that they can only stick needles into people – and that is a single intervention. So is this a conflict of interest by default? I would argue, yes, it is like having a single drug, packaged differently or in different doses, to treat all medical conditions. If you have treated hundreds of patients for various medical conditions and now suddenly you publish a negative clinical trial, you will not only be red faced when you run into your former (current) patients – who paid for their treatment – they might even sue you for misleading them. As an acupuncturist you cannot allow acupuncture to be ineffective for a specific medical condition otherwise people might start to query the effectiveness, in general, of the only tool you have. And not only that, they might start to question the unscientific principles that acupuncture is based on! And this, no acupuncturist want and hence they will have a conflict of interest by default – no matter what medical condition they aim to treat.

Likewise, if you have been emotionally and financially invested in acupuncture as a cure-all for 10-20 years it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to publish a negative result. In addition, the acupuncture fraternity is a very tight knit community, where negative results are frowned upon because of vested interests – surely they will expel you from this community if you publish negative results and thereby question the only tool that they have?

Keeping the above in mind, how do acupuncture researchers go about conducting clinical trials? An example: Prof Smith and Bensoussan, both at the NICM, are currently registered as practicing acupuncturists. This means that they can legally practice acupuncture and because they have been active for decades they are also well known and respected in the acupuncture fraternity. It is unknown if they’re still actively practicing or maybe practicing part-time in someone else’s practice, or if they have a financial stake in their former or someone else’s practice. Based on the fact that they are still registered it can be expected that they have a current emotional and/or financial interest in the positive outcome of their acupuncture clinical trials.

Because of this inherent conflict of interest and due to the current strict clinical trial regulations, which makes it quite difficult (although not impossible) to fabricate or falsify data, they target the next best thing which is the design of their clinical trial e.g. the A+B versus B design. But it doesn’t stop there. As soon as the clinical trial give a neutral (and thus negative) result, which in their books doesn’t happen very often, the results will be inflated to make it sound positive (another example here). Why? because they must protect the single tool that they have, they must keep the acupuncture fraternity happy and they must protect themselves against potential lawsuits from former (current) patients or a decrease in patient numbers (and thus financial income). On top of that – how would the media and the public react to an acupuncture clinical trial if the lead researcher declare that they have their own acupuncture clinic?  Surely this is a conflict of interest and it must be declared as such?

So what is the main difference between a doctor and an acupuncturist? A doctor has a multitude of medical interventions and might have a conflict of interest – but this is not a given. An acupuncturist has one intervention only and therefore they have a conflict of interest by default –  this is a given and one which they never seem to declare!

Forthcoming attractions: Currently the biggest ever complementary medicine clinical trial in Australia is being conducted by Prof Smith. This large trial is looking at the effectiveness of acupuncture on IVF outcomes and was branded a waste of money in the media when the NHMRC announced that they granted $600k for this project. Question is; when they publish the (inevitably positive) results will they also declare to have a conflict of interest? For some reason, I strongly doubt it.

What can you do about all of this?

Unfortunately, if you fall for their trickery and you get hurt, then you will be all alone. The bureaucracy involved is extremely complex so the best thing to do is prevention. Stop buying their products or using their treatments, and inform yourself and your family and friends about how these people play their game and what the dangers are, regarding these ‘treatments’. ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ provides valuable healthcare information as well as the website of Prof Edzard Ernst, where he discusses everything complementary medicine (what works and what doesn’t). If you are interested in receiving automatic updates regarding the NICM and what they are up to, you can always follow my Blog,  Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Will keep you posted regarding the outcome of the 2017 Bent Spoon awards (the NICM has obviously been nominated), and please, ‘Like’ and share this article via FaceBook etc. – options below.

How did Western Sydney University (WSU) react to my serious warnings regarding the operational matters at the NICM?

After the many conversations and numerous letters that I’ve sent WSU management regarding the seriously flawed operational matters at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), one might think that they will at least be looking into this matter. At the very least! That they are reluctant to do so is quite clear. They have […]

The National Institute of Complementary Medicine nominated for the Bent Spoon award. The word “piffle” explained

The Bent Spoon Award is an annual award of the Australian Skeptics Society bestowed upon the most worthy “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle.The question should be asked if they (the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM)) would be worthy recipients of such a prestigious award. And what is then the “piffle” that they are guilty of? To explain “piffle” I need to refer to all of my previous blog posts regarding the NICM whereas only one aspect needs to be explained in a bit more detail. What does the word “piffle” mean?

I have used the phrase “known knowns” to explain the possible causal link between the (over)use of supplements and the gradual increase in western diseases. In short: we know that we need specific known nutrients in our food to survive. We also know that food contains other substances but we do not always know what role these substances play (their role is unknown). And then there are the unknown substances in food and because they are unknown it is also unknown if they play any important role or not. If we use supplements we only focus on the known knowns and we ignore the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns – and this might cause a public health issue.

But what does this have to do with the bent spoon award and the word “piffle”? The phrase “known knowns” was made famous by Donald Rumsfeld while explaining the difficulties experienced in the Iraqi war.  Whilst he received praise from some corners regarding his ability to explain complex issues in simple terms, some detractors of the Iraqi war pointed out that there is actually a fourth category; the “unknown knowns.”  The unknown knowns “…are that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know” and “….what we know, what we do not know, what we cannot know, but Rumsfeld left out what we do not like to know.”

A public statement describing an “unknown known” is thus piffle. A statement made by professors who knows exactly what e.g. homeopathy is, what the risks and “benefits” are, but they refuse to acknowledge this because for them it is “unknown”.  When experienced scientists are warned about the damage that some complementary medicines are causing and yet they continue to support and defend it simply because their funding depends on it, then the public should expect a lot of “piffle” from them.

A wonderful short explanation of what homeopathy is can be found below. Many other sources explain exactly what homeopathy is (including some tongue in cheek examples) and in some parts of the world, universities have even started to close down homeopathy training courses – rightfully so. The NICM and Western Sydney University is fully aware of this and yet they will spend a lot of time and effort, funded in part by the taxpayer, to come up with a lot of “piffle” in order to ignore this. The question can be asked: if they ignore homeopathy in this way, what kind of “piffle” can we expect from them regarding all other complementary medicines? Therefore, in my view, the NICM will be worthy recipients of the bent spoon award.

homeopathy explained image