Did Alan Bensoussan suck-up to the communists in China regarding TCM? It depends a little bit on google translate.

Google translate is a wonderful tool but it can sometimes be so funny – I guess it still needs a bit of work. I’ve googled ‘Alan Bensoussan’ due to the recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald exposing the National Institute of Complementary Medicine’s (NICM) dealings with communists and smugglers. In the article, reference is made to a speech given by Alan Bensoussan sucking up to some communists in China. Let me quote the article: “According to a leaked draft of his speech notes, Bensoussan planned to say Chinese medicine was “exceptional” because of the “conscientious, vigorous support of the Chinese government”. NICM would not confirm if Bensoussan made the speech. “China remains on a strong trajectory to develop [traditional Chinese medicine] internationally … It is now up to China to help us with this task … We look forward to ongoing collaboration with our Chinese partners [and] the continued support of the Chinese government,” the draft speech continued.”

So the question is; did Alan Bensoussan give the speech or not. The NICM will obviously say nothing and they deny having received any funding from China for the advancement of TCM in Australia (which I don’t belief). But according to a recent Chinese article, obviously written in Chinese, he did indeed give the speech. But this depends a little bit on google translate and if Bensoussan = Benshanshan = Ben Shusan (Ben Shoeshine would have been great). I’ve copied the translated text below followed by the original Chinese text (I’ll appreciate it if a native speaker can give me some pointers). I’ve also highlighted some funny parts.

“Australian and Chinese medicine researcher Bensoussan: China leads the world with acceleration

China News Service reporter Tao Shelan

“I have been studying Chinese medicine for the first time in Nanjing since 1984. For decades, I have witnessed the great changes in China. It is leading the world with the development of acceleration. I often think: Maybe the Chinese themselves will also be affected by this speed. The result is that they are very adaptable. If this continues, China will have a better future. Westerners need to recognize China’s achievements.” Australian Chinese Medicine Research Scholar, Dean of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), University of Western Sydney Alan Bensoussan told the China News Agency reporter.

In an ancient building built in 1915, 25 kilometers west of Sydney, NIMC led by Benshanshan and its predecessor, the University of Western Sydney’s Center for Auxiliary Medicine, have been conducting “from laboratory to clinical” for Chinese medicine since 1995. The comprehensive research program is a leader in Australian Chinese medicine research, education and policy development. It is his greatest wish to let Chinese medicine, a medical culture, be shared by the world.

In fact, Ben Shushan himself is an acupuncturist with 25 years of experience. From an early age, he was interested in medicine, especially non-traditional medicine. Through the media, he learned about the magic of acupuncture, so he enrolled in a three-year acupuncture course and took acupuncture license. After training in Nanjing, he opened a clinic. Some cases that are not complicated but have not been cured for a long time, through his acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the patient miraculously recovered. This brought him business and made him “fascinated by Chinese medicine practitioners” until now.

The example of slaughtering shows that Chinese medicine is very valuable.” [I wonder, does this now refer to the slaughter of pangolins and rhinos?] Ben Shushan said that in recent decades, China has made outstanding achievements in the protection of traditional medicine and established many excellent Chinese medicine hospitals, schools and research institutions.

While attending the clinic, I completed a master’s degree from the University of Technology, Sydney, and a Ph.D. program at the University of Sydney. Compared with business, Benshanshan prefers to do academic research. In 1989, he was employed by the University of Western Sydney to engage in non-traditional medical research while teaching. In 1996, he was invited to take the lead in researching and evaluating the practice of Chinese medicine in Australia, and published the “Australian TCM Practice” assessment report, which laid the foundation for the standardization and legalization of Chinese medicine in Australia in the future.

In 2013, Benshanshan won the Chinese Medicine International Contribution Award from China. This award is the only international award in the field of Chinese medicine in the world. He became the only foreigner who won the medal in the same year. On the podium, Ben Shushan said: “China is the only country that has protected and developed its traditional medical system. Looking around the world, clinical and research facilities without any traditional medicine can compete with Chinese medicine.” [if this translation can be corrected, will this correspond with the leaked speech notes?]

In that year, NICM and the Xiyuan Hospital of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences established a joint research and development center for Chinese medicine. In 2014, NICM signed a memorandum of cooperation with Beijing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine to establish the first high-quality integrated Chinese and Western medicine research and clinical service center in Australia. The two sides exchange medical personnel for academic research or training. Ben Shushan said that cooperation with China is very important and necessary. What we have to do is to successfully apply Chinese medicine to Western countries. There will be unlimited opportunities for future Chinese medicine practitioners.

What makes Ben Shushan feel shocked is the speed at which China has developed rapidly in recent decades. When I first went to China in the same year, on the streets of Nanjing, when he asked for directions, there were many people who looked around. There were very few foreigners in China at that time. He went to Shijiazhuang, and the street signs on the street didn’t have pinyin, so he lost his way. Twelve years later, he revisited China with a visiting delegation of the World Health Organization. His great changes made him speechless. Now, he has to go to China several times a year.

Ben Shushan said: “China has its own culture different from Western culture. Just like the Chinese tunic suit, it is a unique charm. Now go to China’s shopping malls, McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. But the Chinese are warm and friendly. Innovation has never changed. Chinese culture is extremely rich and diverse. China’s traditional medicine also has diversity, which is worth exploring and learning, and thus benefiting all mankind.” Ben Shushan looks forward to cooperating with Chinese medicine in China. “We have infrastructure, resources, and enthusiasm.”

Original text

原标题:(新中国70年)人物志:澳大利亚中医药研究学者本树山:中国以加速度发展引领世界

中新社悉尼8月5日电 题:澳大利亚中医药研究学者本树山:中国以加速度发展引领世界

中新社记者 陶社兰

“自1984年第一次去南京学习中医,几十年来,我亲眼见证了中国的巨大变革。它是在以加速度的发展引领世界。我常常想:也许中国人自己也会受到这种速度的冲击吧。结果是,他们非常适应。照这样下去,中国会有更好的未来。西方人需要认可中国的成就。”澳大利亚中医药研究学者、西悉尼大学国家辅助医学研究院(NICM)院长艾伦·本树山(Alan Bensoussan)告诉中新社记者。

在悉尼以西25公里外一栋建于1915年的古老建筑里,本树山领导的NICM及其前身西悉尼大学辅助医学研究中心自1995年以来,针对中医药展开了“从实验室到临床”的综合研究计划,在澳大利亚中医药研究、教育及政策制定方面居于领导地位。让中医这种医学文化为世界所共享,是他最大的愿望。

事实上,本树山自己,就是一名有着25年从业经验的针灸师。从小就对医学尤其是非传统医学充满兴趣的他,通过媒体了解到针灸的神奇,于是报读了一个为期3年的针灸课程,考下了针灸师执照。在南京进修后,他开了诊所。一些并不复杂却久治不好的病例,通过他的针灸和中药,病人奇迹般康复。这给他带来了生意,也让他直到现在还“为中医着迷”。

“屠呦呦的例子,充分说明中医药是非常有价值的。”本树山说,近几十年来,中国在保护传统医学方面成果突出,建立了许多优秀的中医医院、学校及研究机构。

一边开诊所,一边读完了悉尼科技大学的硕士、悉尼大学的博士课程。和生意相比,本树山更喜欢做学术研究。1989年,他受聘于西悉尼大学,在教学的同时,从事非传统医学研究。1996年,他应邀牵头调研和评估中医在澳大利亚的实践,并出版了《澳大利亚中医实践》评估报告,为以后中医在澳大利亚的规范化和合法化奠定了基础。

2013年,本树山获得中国颁发的中医药国际贡献奖。这个奖项是世界范围内中医药领域唯一的国际奖项,他成为当年获得此项奖章的唯一外国人。颁奖台上,本树山说:“中国是唯一将本国传统医学体系保护并发展完好的国家。环顾世界,没有任何传统医学的临床及研究设施可以与中医媲美。”

也就在那一年,NICM与中国中医科学院西苑医院建立了中医药联合研发中心。2014年,NICM与北京中医药大学签署合作备忘录,共同在澳大利亚建立首个高质量中西药结合研究和临床服务中心,双方互派医务人员进行学术研究或培训。本树山表示,与中国进行合作是非常重要且必要的,我们所要做的就是将中医成功运用于西方国家。未来中医将有无限机会。

同样让本树山感到震撼的,是中国近几十年来飞快发展的速度。遥想当年第一次去中国时,在南京街头,他一问路,就有很多人围上来看稀奇。那时候在中国的外国人很少。他去石家庄,街道上的路牌没有拼音,以至于迷路了。12年后,他随世界卫生组织的一个访问团再访中国,变化之大令他无以言表。现在,他每年都要去中国几次。

本树山说:“中国自有它不同于西方的文化,就像中山装一样,是独特的魅力。现在去中国的购物中心,麦当劳、星巴克等等什么都有。但是,中国人的热情、友好、创新,始终没变。中国文化极其丰富,有多样性。中国的传统医学也有多样性,值得探索、学习,从而造福于全人类。”本树山期待与中国的中医药合作也可以出现加速度,“我们有基础设施、有资源、也有热情。”(完)

 

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

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

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

Start of article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Unethical not to do it’

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

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

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

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

But it also has its detractors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘An unprecedented opportunity’

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

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

Background briefing notes from NICM’s top leadership called the centre “an unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of Chinese medicine in Australia, including the development of the Chinese medicine market in the West; promoting Chinese heritage and culture; and integrating Chinese medicine with the Australian healthcare system.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Promoting the Communist Party’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing recipes

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

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

The Institute refused to answer the question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018/07/22

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

The following is the full text of the article:

For a New Era of China-South Africa Friendship

Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflicts of interests

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

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

Moving the goalposts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Prof Smith et al.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the journal Trials the title is;

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

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

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

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

And the newspapers?

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

They have omitted it intentionally!

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

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

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

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

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

China Power and Influence! Part 1: TCM and the Aussie Academics who sold their souls!

Is the Chinese Communist party currently exerting an influence on the Australian healthcare system? If so, how did they manage to get a foot in the door? Let’s have a look!

recent investigation by the award winning investigative journalism program, ‘Four Corners’, revealed that Chinese billionaires, with links to the Chinese communist party, have made substantial donations to various Australian politicians. Donations usually come with strings attached, and hence, there is some anxiety that this could have an impact on the Australian autonomy and international relations with historic partners (similar to Russia’s meddling with the US elections). The program also featured China’s influence at various academic campuses across Australia.

This prompted me to conduct my own investigation focusing on China’s influence, via these Chinese billionaires, on the Australian healthcare system. It is well known that China wants to internationalise their ancient, ineffective and dangerous traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Australia could have, for example, decided to play a leading role and aid China in modernising their healthcare system in exchange for improved free trade arrangements – or anything that could have been mutually beneficial.  Unfortunately, a couple of Australian academics decided otherwise and made it extremely easy for China to obtain a strong foothold, with their TCM, in the Australian healthcare system.

This article will detail specifics regarding how these academics managed to get the job done, whilst a second article will describe how specific Australian politicians made all of this a walk in the park for China (all supporting documentation is available on request).  Please skip the next section if you understand TCM, but for those who don’t, below is some background information.

What is TCM and why is it so dangerous?

Imagine a healthcare system where no disease can be diagnosed and where the treatments on offer are mainly ineffective, while some are even outright dangerous. This is TCM in a nutshell; misdiagnosis by default and ineffective/dangerous treatments.  It is no wonder that many scientists are extremely concerned about the promotion and legitimisation, especially via universities, of TCM in Australia and around the world. A recent article in the Economist sums it up well; “State-sponsored quackery. China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts. That is dangerous for humans as well as rhinos”

To understand the issue at hand, here is one example;

The TCM nature of rhino horn is “salty, sour and cold” and hence its actions are to “clear heat, subdue Yang and cool blood, relieves fearfulness, detoxifying.” Rhino horn is therefore a treatment for “high fever, sun stroke, trauma, mania, convulsion, sore throat, epilepsy, febrile disease, infectious disease, macula, bad skin conditions, subcutaneous bleeding.” (rhino horn is in fact being promoted as medicine at Western Sydney University, but I believe for dementia. One of their collaborators was even sent to prison for importing rhino horn into Australia).

Some of these above mentioned conditions can be life-threatening, if left untreated. Because everybody knows that rhino horn is not an effective medicine for anything, prescribing and using it as a medicine, is equivalent to providing no treatment for these conditions. And this is indeed why TCM is dangerous for people, not even to speak about the needless slaughter of rhinos.

saddest-rhino-photo-yet-oscap-645x
It took this rhino calf a number of days to find its mother. Unfortunately the poachers got hold of her first -and all of this in order to fuel the insatiable and growing TCM market.

In TCM, disease is seen as an imbalance of a non-existent life-force (Chi) that flows through non-existent meridians, and in this pre-scientific world, bacteria, viruses, etc. do not exist.  By slapping yourself, or inserting needles (acupuncture), or taking herbs, or animal matter, your Chi will be ‘restored’ and you will be ‘cured’ of whatever ailment you might suffer from. Because TCM is a believe-based system, every treatment (and there are thousands) is believed to be effective for its intended purpose. This becomes very dangerous when this believe is so strong that they will advise patients to stop their conventional treatments, and rely solely on TCM. That this danger is real, was recently illustrated by the tragic death of a 6yo boy suffering from type-1 diabetes.

The fact that some herbs (very few) do contain beneficial compounds is, in effect, negated by the fact that TCM practitioners cannot correctly diagnose any medical condition. To try and ‘solve’ this problem, they will therefore prescribe a combination of up to 20 different herbs, because by doing this, it improves their chances of getting lucky! Most TCM proponents are fully aware of these problems, and therefore their current approach is to ‘integrate’ all of TCM with conventional diagnostics and treatments. They do this in order to continue to make money but also to promote TCM as ‘effective’ by piggy-backing on the successes of evidence-based modern healthcare.

So, yes, it is all about money with China trying to expand its $170 billion TCM industry by legitimising it in other countries. In Australia it turned out to be a very easy task, just ask the four blokes in the photo below. They have been warned, repeatedly, about the dangers of TCM, but apparently the big motivator, money, speaks louder than words.  So, this is where the Australian academics comes into play (more info regarding TCM can be found here and here).

Alan Benoussan Barney glover
FLTR: Proff. Alan Bensoussan (WSU), Barney Glover (WSU), Xu Anlong (BUCM) and Peter Shergold (WSU). Lobbying for political support of TCM at parliament house, Canberra (their trip paid for by the Aus public)

The Australian academics

One of the key players in Australia is Prof Alan Bensoussan, Director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Western Sydney University (WSU). He completed a degree in physics and then, for some unknown reason, decided to continue with TCM. He studied at the Nanjing University of TCM in 1985/86, and this is where he was ‘converted’ or ‘recruited’ by the Chinese communist party.  And because Alan, like most people, cannot admit to have made a mistake, decided to continue down this path of pseudoscience. Once you are trapped, you are in it for life. And not only that, he became one of the biggest lobbyists of TCM in Australia. This is, of course, one way of ignoring your mistakes – you stubbornly continue to tell yourself, and everybody else, that you are right, even in the face of the most compelling scientific evidence! For Alan, TCM is an effective and safe healthcare system! Unfortunately, after 30 years of trying, he is not able to show that science was wrong about TCM, and hence, he still does not have anything to show for it (without cheating and misleading, that is).

But whatever happened, he became one of the biggest drivers of TCM in Australia. Since his return from China he has worked tirelessly to legitimise TCM with his main approach being; that the safety of patients will be assured by regulating TCM, and, that TCM should be ‘integrated’ within conventional healthcare. The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective and by regulating fake medicine, it can only lead to well-regulated fake medicine, didn’t bother him –  it simply doesn’t fit his delusion. Intense lobbying for many years resulted in TCM becoming a registered healthcare profession in Victoria in 2000, and Australia wide in 2012. Being ‘registered’, in this case, simply means that you must have a ‘real’ degree in fake medicine before you can practice fake medicine – how this will assure the safety of patients is beyond me! This was, however, a crucial turning point. Registering TCM as a ‘healthcare profession’ gave it an Australian government stamp of approval, and after this victory for TCM, everything went into top gear. Alan received a prestigious award for his intense lobbying in 2013 in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing China. This award was also celebrated at WSU and was attended by Eric Roozendaal, CEO of the Yuhu group (more about the YuHu group a bit later on).

Other prominent Australian academics are Prof Charlie Xue from RMIT university who runs an accredited (again a government stamp of approval!) course in TCM and chairs the ‘Chinese Medicine Board of Australia’. He is therefore in charge of registering TCM practitioners, and he has also received millions from China to promote TCM in Australia (see under current grants). The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) also provides accredited courses in TCM and has accepted millions in gifts from Chinese businessmen – donations and gifts always comes with strings attached.

The Chinese businessman

The Yuhu group is owned by Chinese billionaire, Huang Xiangmo, who featured prominently in the ABC’s Four Corners investigation. Huang Xiangmo is the president of the ‘Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China’ – an organisation considered to be the vanguard of lobbying for the Chinese communist party in Australia. It turns out that they do not only influence Australian politics, but also the healthcare system. The Yuhu group has ‘committed’ a $10 million donation to Alan Bensoussan for the internationalisation of TCM in Australia. This large donation was eventually withdrawn by Yuhu, due to WSU’s inability to get the necessary paper work done in time (maybe too many bureaucrats working at WSU?). Huang Xiangmo did eventually donate $3.5 million, to establish the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at WSU. Alan is named as a key researcher which demonstrates that TCM is considered to be part of Chinese ‘arts and culture’ and not an evidence-based healthcare system.

Huang Xiangmo
Mr Huang Xiangmo, seated, before signing the $3.5 million agreement. Prof Glover, left, is looking on in greedy anticipation, mumbling ‘sign it, sign it, sign it….’

In the NICMs latest newsletter (under ‘Message from Director’) they thank their generous sponsors, which includes Josephine and Gary Lam. Unfortunately the value of these donations are not publicly available, but, Josephine Lam has donated substantial amounts of money to WSU/NICM before. She is also currently acting as a ‘specialist advisor‘ to the Vice Chancellor, Barney Glover (he has also accompanied Alan to China to lobby for support of their Australian TCM facilities). The Lam’s are part of the ‘Australian China Economic, Trade and Culture Association’, with Gary Lam being the Chairman and Josephine a Honorary Advisor.  Huang Xiangmo, of the Yuhu group is also a patron of this organisation.

Dr Ven Tan, who is the ‘Standing Deputy Chairman’ in this organisation, and the founder of ‘Tasly Healthpac’ is an important role player, claiming that; ‘Through his own practice he has come to realize the limitation of conventional Western medicine and to worship the merit of Traditional Chinese Medicine’. The photo below depicts the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Chinese and Australian governments ‘aimed at promoting TCM in Australia through a collaborative initiative’. (Alan Bensoussan is on the far left and Ven Tan third from the left.) So, again we have a Chinese ‘cultural’ organisation that wants to promote TCM in Australia.

Ven Tan Photo

Another separate MoU was signed between Tasly and the NICM (Alan Bensoussan is the director of the NICM) in 2011, which states that the NICM will provide “assistance in the development of an Integrative Care Model: to assist the Tasly Healthpac Centre of Excellence in Integrative medicine so that its structure aims to integrate TCM and western medical diagnostics and treatments in an integrated, patient centred way.” Some might now recall that the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death of a 6yo boy recently occurred at Tasly Healthpac.  This illustrates what happens when your objective is to ‘integrate’ fake treatments with evidence-based treatments.

The NICM’s gifts register indicates that a huge amount of effort goes into cosying up to Chinese politicians, businessmen and (TCM) academics. There are documents demonstrating that they are actively targeting and engaging with specific Chinese businessman (Huang Xiangmo, Chau Chak Wing, etc) known to have links with the Chinese communist party. WSU even planned to provide scholarships to the children of Chinese consular staff members. The response from the Chinese consulate was, of course, a very big thank you to Alan Bensoussan and Barney Glover, for their hard work in legitimising TCM in Australia. To think that all their visits to China, the hosting of Chinese delegates, the huge amount of time it takes to lobby all of these role-players (in China and Australia), even the gifts are partially paid for by the Australian public. So, what do the Australian public get in return for their investment? The promotion and integration of a dangerous fake healthcare system. And this brings me to the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.

Barney Glover FTA
Prof Barney Glover, right, after signing the agreement. Obviously smiling, because this means a lot of money.

Australia-China Free Trade Agreement

Alan has managed to get TCM included at the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and China (called a ‘tragedy‘ by an eminent Australian scientist – I tend to agree!). This inclusion will allow WSU and the Chinese government managed ‘Beijing University of Chinese Medicine’ (BUCM), to be used as vehicles for the communist party’s agenda to exert its influence via TCM on the Australian healthcare system. And all of this facilitated by Alan for which he is handsomely rewarded by the Chinese government. The inclusion of TCM in the FTA has paid off, and has resulted in a TCM hospital that is currently being established in Westmead, Sydney – opening in 2018. The BUCM will operate this ‘integrative’ TCM facility and it will be based on a similar 80-bed hospital which the BUCM is already operating in Germany. According to documents, this facility will be commercial (run by the BUCM) and the NICM will co-occupy this space to further their (or the Chinese communists party’s) agenda regarding the continued legitimisation and internationalisation of TCM.

Conclusions

In short; Alan Bensoussan, Barney Glover, and others, are colluding with the Chinese communist party, and as such, is making it extremely easy for them to exert their (not so soft) power in Australia. TCM is part and parcel of the international influence that China wants to exert. It is unfortunate that China, who has made rapid advances in science and technology, decided to stick with TCM and not on collaboration with Australia regarding modern evidence-based healthcare. It is even more unfortunate that these Australian universities decided to sell their souls for the sake of Chinese money. The $170 billion TCM industry therefore seems to be the main motivator for both WSU and the Chinese government and not improved health outcomes for Australians. The saying ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’ comes to mind, and I have to ask; where will it all end?

It is interesting to note that serious medical conditions e.g. cancer, are being targeted by the NICM in order to legitimise ineffective TCM. In the NICMs own words “… the press/media would be reluctant to take a negative line on initiatives that are targeted at oncology…” This sentence says it all.

My next article will provide more details on the FTA and the Australian politicians (especially Andrew Robb and Jullian Skinner) who were successfully lobbied by Alan, and who made all of this possible. All this information has been sent to WSU, about 2 months ago, but as usual, there seems to be no interest in the adverse impact that their actions will have on science, on education and on the health of the public (and the poor rhinos, of course).

(The ‘controversial’ book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia’ by Prof Clive Hamilton is also worth a read)

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

Imposing figures, these gatekeepers pictured above. Problem is, they only give the appearance that they serve a purpose because they are made of stone, and hence, anyone, friend or foe, can easily pass. In the world of science we also have gatekeepers  (scientific journals, peer reviewers, university management etc.) who’s sole duty is to distinguish friend from foe. The former being ‘real scientists’ and the latter, ‘promotional scientists’ or ‘pseudoscientists’.  The gatekeepers’ duty is therefore to stop the promotional scientists in their tracks, and not allow them entrance into the scientific system. As soon as these people are allowed in, society will be engulfed with fictitious or alternative ‘facts’, and this can only lead to chaos (unfortunately this has already happened in many countries).

Real scientists understands social responsibility and impact, whereas promotional scientists ignores it, for the sake of more funding and increased sales for their sponsors. How to determine the difference between the two? Good place to start is to have a look at who funds a scientific study. Usually this information can be found within the conflicts of interests’ section, which has to be completed by all researchers. Being funded by industry does, of course, not necessarily mean that the research in question is biased. Consequently, it is not entirely fool-proof, but a good starting point nonetheless. It is, however, fool-proof when researchers intentionally fail to declare their obvious conflicts of interests, which implies that their research results are very likely to be biased, and geared towards promoting a specific product or service that their sponsors happen to sell.

Another way to tell the difference between the two, is if a research group always report positive results. These positive results doesn’t necessarily have to be reflected as such in their scientific articles, but more so when they use (social) media to ‘translate’ these results to the public. It is hard, but not impossible, to cheat in a scientific article and it is also risky business. You could lose your job, but then only if you have effective gatekeepers in place. To use (social) media to falsely promote ‘positive’ results is far safer because it is unregulated, it reaches the target audience better (the public), and hence it is far easier to get away with it. It basically circumvents the gatekeepers of science. This is an important aspect, because the public does not read scientific articles (it isn’t always available and it’s written in a scientific language that few people understand), but rather read someone’s interpretation of it on Facebook or in the newspaper.

Some of these promotional researchers have the ability to take a neutral or negative result and advertise it on social media as a clear positive. This is unethical, but unfortunately, there are no clear guidelines in place to prevent this from happening. Hence, another loophole in the academic system that unscrupulous promotional researchers exploit to the full. But let’s only look at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine’s (NICM) undeclared conflicts of interests, and I’ll get back to their advertising via social media prowess at a later stage.

The NICMs undeclared conflicts of interests

In a previous article I’ve written about the NICM and their intentional failure to declare their very obvious conflicts of interests in many of their acupuncture studies – and this has been going on for years. Currently, the most notable and largest study is an ‘acupuncture for infertility’ clinical trial (final results not available yet). When they published the trial design they ‘forgot’ to mention that Alan Bensoussan and Caroline Smith (both from the NICM) are consultants for commercial acupuncture-fertility clinics, the director of these clinics serve on the NICM’s advisory board, students of the NICM finds employment at these clinics, and that these clinics have donated money to the NICM (you can read about the details here and here).

I’ve also reported that Western Sydney University (WSU) who hosts the NICM, simply refused to even respond to this issue after I’ve raised it with their ethics committee.  One of the four journal editors who was contacted, also ignored this issue even though the journal, ‘European Journal of Integrative Medicine’ (EJIM) clearly states that;

All authors must disclose any financial and personal relationships with other people or organizations that could inappropriately influence (bias) their work. Examples of potential conflicts of interest include employment, consultancies, stock ownership, honoraria, paid expert testimony, patent applications/registrations, and grants or other funding. If there are no conflicts of interest then please state this: ‘Conflicts of interest: none.”

The reason why this editor ignored this issue, became clear when I looked at who she was.  Prof Nicola Robinson, happens to be an acupuncturist, she was also admitted to the  illustrious ‘ Alternative Medicine Hall of Fame’ (for ‘researchers’ that never publishes negative results),  and she has co-authored an acupuncture article with the NICM entitled; “Does acupuncture improve the outcome of in vitro fertilization? Guidance for future trials”. Needless to say, but even in this article under the heading ‘Conflict of interest’ they also declared to have ‘no competing financial interests’. Clearly, WSU and this editor has completely removed the role of gatekeepers and they are allowing everything to pass as ‘science’. This is also the reason why the NICM and WSU have again been nominated in 2017, for the Bent Spoon award, given to the best Australian pseudoscientist of the year.

The response from the British Medical Journal Open (BMJO) 

The BMJO published the NICMs article entitled “Complementary therapies for labour and birth study: a randomised controlled trial of antenatal integrative medicine for pain management in labour”. Here again we see that the NICM loves to combine or integrate acupressure (acupuncture without the needles) with interventions that in all likelihood will yield a positive result. In this study they combined six interventions (incl. acupressure to unblock your meridians so that your life-force or Chi can flow freely) and all interventions taken together gave them very good results. It also received a lot of (social) media attention. Now, any scientist will know that when you combine six interventions as a single treatment, there will be no way of telling which of these actually contributed to the positive outcome. And this is exactly what the NICM wants. And hence, although these overall results can be applauded, it again shows that the NICM have ulterior motives which, simply put, is to integrate fake treatments with real treatments and use these results to convince more people to use their commercial acupuncture clinics.

Although the journal did respond to this issue, and we have had a number of conversations, they eventually decided that “we do not feel that the authors have a competing interest”. Even though, BMJO clearly states that;

“A competing interest exists when professional judgement concerning a primary interest (such as patients’ welfare or the validity of research) may be influenced by a secondary interest (such as financial gain or personal relationship). There is nothing inherently unethical about a competing interest but it should be acknowledged and openly stated.”

Agreed, and this is exactly what the NICM intentionally did not do, but, unfortunately, this was also the last correspondence I had with BMJO.

Response from the journal ‘Trials’

Journal three was a bit more thorough. It concerns a publication in the journal ‘Trials’ entitled “Acupuncture to improve live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a protocol for a randomized controlled trial” (The media called this large and expensive study “Unis in a wacky waste of cash” at the time.) In this article, they again intentionally failed to declare their very obvious conflicts of interests, but eventually they were forced to publish a correction, which reads;

After publication of our article [1] we realised that our Competing Interests statement should have read as follows: Jane Lyttleton is the Clinical Director of The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic. Caroline Smith has had an association with The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic. She states that she has not received any financial compensation for this relationship at any time.”

Although a move in the right direction, not completely true, because Caroline Smith is/was clearly a consultant for these clinics (over an 8-year period, but this info was deleted from the clinic’s website after I published my first blog post on this issue), and it does not even mention the donations that the NICM received from these clinics – and this is the crux of the matter! Sure, Caroline Smith probably did not receive any money in her own bank account, but the NICM did accept donations for their research activities. All of this counts towards academic promotions, more students and she was even named WSU’s researcher of the year in 2015. So, she clearly benefited from it all.

Response from ‘Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine'(ECAM)

The fourth journal, ECAM (published by Hindawi) is still investigating this matter. But true to their nature, the NICM first tried to mislead the journal. The journal was even planning to publish a correction, but luckily, they decided to run this ‘correction’ past me first. And, knowing the NICM well, it was quite easy to point out how they were being misled with clever wordplay. After the NICMs failed attempt to mislead Hindawi, WSU also stopped responding to Hindawi’s further queries based on this new information. Only after Hindawi lodged a formal complaint with the university’s ‘independent conflicts resolution unit’ did they respond. Although I am not at all convinced regarding this unit’s independence (I’ve had some bad experiences with them), they even started to respond to my initial queries that I’ve emailed to them about 10 months ago.

Surprisingly, I am currently in contact with WSU’s department of Audit and Risk, who has now apparently forwarded this matter to an external investigator (I haven’t heard anything from them yet). It is surprising, because I am not in contact with scientists or ethics committees who are the best suited to deal with these matters – this is after all a simple case of scientific misconduct. As Alan Bensoussan publicly stated “We understand conflict of interest concerns, but this is why we have strict guidelines and ethics committees …..”

So, WSU is in all likelihood trying to mitigate the potential risks regarding this comparatively small issue, whereas they should start to address the far bigger underlying problem of allowing pseudoscientists a foot in the door.  Apparently, WSU’s gatekeepers will allow anyone in as long as you hand them a bit a cash – and this does not bode well. Promoting pseudoscientific healthcare systems, especially via universities, leads to a lot of people (and animals) getting hurt or even die, as was tragically illustrated with the 6yo boy who died after attending a ‘Slapping Therapy’ workshop at a clinic of one of the NICMs partners.

It is quite interesting to note the big difference between how the journals or ‘gatekeepers’ of science responded to this issue. From an absolute and resolute ‘let’s completely ignore the issue’, to a very thorough ongoing investigation, and everything in-between. It is at least good to see that some journals still understand the importance of fulfilling their gatekeeper role. This again shows that science might be factual, but human interpretations of factual observations is, or can be, strongly influenced by our diverse and many vested interests. And this leads to fiction becoming fact and vica versa.  Or put differently; science is simple, scientists are complex! And this is, unfortunately, a growing concern and danger to public safety and makes it increasingly difficult for the public, to make informed decisions regarding healthcare. Although this article only dealt with conflicts of interests, a rather ‘minor’ issue, a next article will deal with the ‘scientific’ content of the NICMs acupuncture articles. This will clearly illustrate how the NICM is intentionally promoting placebo treatments at the expense of science and public safety, and how WSU is not only allowing this to happen, but that they are even actively assisting the NICM to achieve their dubious objectives.

What can you do about this?

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

 

 

 

 

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

Reminiscent of Voldemort about to cast an evil spell, Prof Barney Glover (photo BL – resemblance is striking) is showing a packed auditorium his outstretched hand above which the mystical ‘life force’ or Chi hovers. Because no one, not even Barney, can see anything floating above his hand, Prof Alan Bensoussan (photo BR) comes to the rescue by explaining that if everyone just play along, and make as if they can see Chi, then they all stand to make a lot of money. His strenuous expression indicates that it is a hard sell, but he also knows that the money factor and quality of showmanship, usually attracts a crowd and also wins out over common sense. The photo on top is from Voldemort, the villain from the Harry Potter movies.  The reason why these three men looks so serious (excl. Voldemort because he is an actor, oh no, wait, all three are actors) is because they know damn well that what they are doing is ‘magic’. So, we are entering an era where all three these characters are real, or scientists should start to stand up for science!

In order to expose these ‘magicians’ and to create public awareness regarding their trickery, the Australian Skeptics Inc. annually presents the Bent Spoon Award for the top pseudoscientist of the year. It is in effect the Oscars for pseudoscientists, because both reward outstanding acting abilities. This year there are a number of nominees including the controversial National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) hosted at Western Sydney University (WSU). Below is the full nomination:

Nominee: National Institute of Complementary Medicine and Western Sydney University

Nominated by: Australian Skeptics and others

Date: 20/09/2017

For continuing to promote unsupported and debunked ‘medical’ treatments, despite promises late last year, in response to a 2016 Bent Spoon nomination, that they are “intending to revise our website … and hope to address some of these issues you have raised”. It still promotes the following treatments under the Complementary Medicine banner: acupuncture, chiropractic, aromatherapy, naturopathy, spiritual healing, crystal therapy, reflexology, ‘energy therapies’ (reiki, qigong, electromagnetic field therapy), TCM, Ayurvedic medicine, anthroposophical medicine, healing touch, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, and homeopathy. Secondly, NICM and UWS are nominated for planning to establish an on-campus TCM clinic for the general public.

Hopefully this year they will walk away with this coveted award, which is bestowed upon “the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle.” In 2016, the NICM tried for some reason, but in vain, to remove their nomination, but their attempts backfired somewhat. You can read about their sorry attempts here. It is also notable that the 2016 nomination was done by one person, whilst the 2017 nomination was done by a group of people, indicating that more and more people are coming around to the fact that the NICM/WSU are indeed misleading the public.

Key people in this year’s nomination is again the director of the NICM, Prof Alan Bensoussan, and the Vice-Chancellor of WSU, Prof Barney Glover. Between these two men, they earn roughly $1.2 million AUD per year, dished out by the Australian public. In return for these vast sums of money, the Australian public are being misled into believing that all of the above therapies are useful, effective and safe. This is obviously not true as you can see in my previous article which dealt with the involvement of the NICM and WSU in the tragic case of the 6yo boy who died after attending a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) based ‘slapping therapy’ workshop in Sydney. By slapping yourself you supposedly influence the flow of Chi through meridians and hence you will be cured of disease. Unfortunately, this boy suffered from diabetes and because many people belief that Chi is real, he was taken off his medication during the workshop – a life-threatening scenario. Clearly the ‘treatments’ that the NICM promote is not only ineffective, but it can also be quite dangerous.

But let us look at Alan Bensoussan. As a registered acupuncturist and herbal Chinese medicine man, he obviously falls within the category of delusional ‘healthcare’ practitioners. Because his livelihood depends on it, he will continue his unwavering support of debunked treatments, even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that these ‘treatments’ simply does not work. Ineffective treatments is quite dangerous, not only to people, but to wildlife as well. In his delusional world, all TCM therapies are effective and hence he will happily go to court to act as a character witness for his business partner (another TCM practitioner) who was send to jail for importing Rhino horn, and other endangered animal material, into Australia. This was followed by promoting rhino horn as a life-saving medicine in a thesis, approved by Alan and WSU (2012). And quite recently (2017) the NICM even had a link on their website where consumers could find information regarding the life-saving properties of rhino horn, and I guess they could even buy it online (link has since been removed).  Everything works in his delusional world.

There are many more examples such as his continued support for debunked treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture etc. but this award is not only for supporting these treatments, it is also the way in which they mislead the public. For example: they fail to declare their many  conflicts of interest on many of their research papers (scientific misconduct), they design their experiments in such a way that it almost always gives a positive result (A+B vs B trial design), and even if the result is negative they will promote it as a big positive on WSU’s news site, or on social media (scientific misconduct and intentionally misleading the public). They even misled the Australian Research Council (info obtained after 2.5 years under a Freedom of Information request) who gave them a ranking of five, which stands for ‘research quality well above world standard’ in their ‘Excellence of Research for Australia’ program.  With this fraudulently obtained ranking, they lobby, but also mislead; UK royalty, ministers, regulators, foreign governments (specifically China) etc. in order to invest more money in the NICM.

But they also use this ranking to try and crush any negative reports, such as their 2016 Bent Spoon nomination – and this is where the excellent acting comes into play. Here is an excerpt from Alan’s letter to the Australian Skeptics “NICM conducts itself with the highest degree of integrity, ethics, scientific enquiry and social responsibility. Our research is independent, peer-reviewed, and is published in highly reputable, world-leading journals. NICM has been evaluated by Australia’s leading scientists under the Excellence in Research for Australia scheme and received the highest ranking of 5 for two consecutive periods, representing research that is deemed well above world standard.” None of this is true, and yet they can write these things without blushing. Their acting ability is so good, that they do not only fool the public, they actually have the acting ability to fool themselves. Any actor that can immerse themselves into a role to a point where they become the character deserves an Oscar, or in this case a bent spoon.

As for Prof Barney Glover. Well, he was warned about all of this, by myself and others, that by supporting the modus operandi of the NICM and hence these debunked treatments, including TCM, people will needlessly get hurt or even die (the Slapping therapy is a case in point). Unfortunately, Barney and the rest of WSU management decided to ignore all of these warnings and is fully supportive, and protects, the NICM at a cost of >$2 million AUD per year. I guess if you can’t beat them, join them; so, Barney has been actively involved in lobbying the Australian public that Chi exists and he has opened the door for China to use Australians as guinea pigs for their unproven and disproven TCM therapies.  It is well known that China wants to internationalise TCM, and via Alan and Barney the Australian public will now have to bear the brunt of ineffective therapies. Here is an excellent article in the ‘Economist’, explaining the dangers of doing just this – the title says it all; “State-funded Quackery. China is ramping up its promotion of its ancient medical arts. That is dangerous for humans as well as rhinos.”

Armed with this knowledge, Barney visited China on a number of occasions and together with Alan managed to get TCM in the Free Trade Agreement signed between China and Australia. This has given the impetus for Chinese companies to export more of their disproven and unproven ‘medicines’ to Australia, and it forms the cornerstone of a new TCM facility that will be built in Sydney. This facility will be co-managed by the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (BUCM) and because it needs to be profitable within a couple of years, implies that it will be operated like a commercial clinic or hospital.  In the NICM’s own words during a industry sponsors meeting, the NICM will “lead the modernisation and integration of Chinese Medicine in the West through the
development of an effective Integrative Medicine Facility or TCM Hospital.” The BUCM has managed to start a similar 81-bed ‘hospital’ in Germany and this will likely be the model on which the Sydney facility will be based. So much for ‘evidence-based’ treatments, where evidence that a treatment does more good than harm comes first, before you start selling it to the public. But in their delusional world, all of TCM, and for that matter all of complementary medicine, works – so why should they provide any evidence?  You only have to belief that it works, and that is it!

At the heart of all of this, as usual, is money. The millions that Barney, Alan and the NICM cost the Australian public has to be recovered somehow, and hence these two men decided to destroy science, scientific education and put the public’s health at risk by allowing WSU to become the ‘scientific’ façade of a very dubious, and dangerous, complementary medicine industry. In exchange, they are handsomely rewarded with very big donations towards their ‘research efforts’, or rather, promotional research. Here they received $10 million from Blackmores, here is $4 million from the highly controversial Jacka Foundation (links with anti-vaccination activists), not to mention the millions from other complementary medicine companies, including Chinese companies and investors.

The list of misleading and false claims and statements constantly flowing from the NICM is unfortunately so long that it will require a series of books to be written in order to cover everything. It is however, quite remarkable, how similar their modus operandi is to the notorious gangster, Al Capone, who also had a ‘good guy’ public image, but beneath the surface had a somewhat more  sinister nature.  But the sad thing is that nobody can seemingly do anything about this. As long as they are in a position of power and they manage to bring in this kind of money; rules, ethics and morals simply do not apply anymore. As further evidence of their extremely good acting abilities, here is the title of Voldemort’s, oh sorry,  Barney’s speech given at the National Press club (photo) “universities must stand up for facts and the truth – if we don’t, who will?” This is acting at its best, and in my view, deserving of the Bent Spoon award.

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