The remarkable medicinal properties of ………. a pregnant women’s head! Why Unis should stand up for science!

Wow, what a way to wake up this morning. I thought giving a child with behavioural problems homeopathic dog saliva was bad, but I think this will top it. When I scrolled through the news this morning I came across this remarkable article. Two men were sentenced after being caught trying to sell a women’s head as medicine.

Two men found guilty of beheading a pregnant woman and trying to sell her body parts for muti have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Former teacher Edward Raatji and his friend Stanley Mohlake sat in silence in a packed Limpopo High Court, as Judge Matsaro Semenya read out their sentences for the murder of Nthabiseng Mojela. Mojela was beheaded in July 2016 in Mapela village, near Mokopane. Raatji, 54, and Mohlake, 34, were arrested for Mojela’s murder, following a tip-off after they advertised to traditional leaders that they had a human head for sale.”

What can I do about it? Unfortunately, not much, but where there is a market for body parts as medicine, there is bound to be people that believes in its medicinal properties. And when people believe, then you are also bound to find people in a position of power that perpetuates the notion that ineffective substances have magical medicinal properties. So, all I can do is to again insist that Universities protect science and not allow pseudoscientists a foot in the door. I’ve written about the ‘Muti’ trade before and called it at the time a ‘’horror movie” where children are being ripped apart, preferably when they are still alive, because that makes the ‘medicine’ stronger. The fact that there is a trade in human body parts as medicine, or for that matter something such as Rhino horn, should be a wake-up call for scientists. And again, when scientists allow pseudoscientists a foot in the door (by keeping quiet about it) this sort of stuff is what you can expect – and it will only get worse. What am I on about? Well, the World Health Organisation (WHO). They should work towards taking the magic out of traditional medicine, educate people about real medicine by convincing governments to provide mass education regarding modern healthcare.

Unfortunately, some universities have allowed pseudoscientists a foot in the door. The result? In 2013 the WHO published its much anticipated “Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023”. This 76-page report, funded by China and the WHO Collaborating Centre for Traditional Medicine in Hong Kong, unfortunately contains very little or no scientific information. No discussion on the trade and use of body parts or the pseudoscientific principles on which these “medicines” are based. No discussion of any science such as promoting education or improving accessibility and cost effectiveness of science based effective medicines. There is seemingly an inability to accept that specific traditional medicines are ineffective and should not be used.

The whole report revolves around the words “integrate” or “integrative”. This is what this WHO strategy calls for – how to better integrate traditional and complementary medicine, which is mainly based on magic, with mainstream conventional medicine, which is based on science. And this goes for homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, TCM – disproven complementary medicines! I can only speak for myself and then only about the influence of those universities where I worked. This is my way of standing up for science.

I believe that the WHO has been infiltrated by pseudoscientists who promotes disproven and unproven medicines to be integrated into mainstream healthcare. It is as if the Australian based National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) hosted at Western Sydney University has written this WHO report.  The agenda of the NICM? Accept millions of dollars from the CAM industry, lobby regulators including the WHO to give blanket support for all T&CMs, integrate pseudoscience with science and by doing this increase the sales figures of the CAM industry. So, did the NICM write or influence this WHO report?

Who do we find in the acknowledgements section? The Canadian naturopath, Michael Smith, an adjunct of the NICM (a tough week for Canada). The NICM would not be the NICM if they didn’t have a finger in the pie in compiling this WHO report and as stated on the NICM’s website “He was one of the primary technical drafters of the WHO Global Strategy for Traditional & Complementary Medicine (2014-2023) and continues to participate in WHO projects, working groups and consultations notably dealing with the regulation and policy setting related to traditional and complementary medicines.”

If you happen to work at WSU please start to ask questions (or for that matter if you work at any university hosting pseudoscientists). The NICM has been linked with illegally importing rhino horn as medicine, they’ve been linked with the tragic slapping therapy death of a 7yo child (what is better; being ripped apart and being used as medicine or being allowed to slowly and painfully die while your parents believe that what they are giving you is an effective treatment, while it’s clearly not). They are pseudoscientists, with global aspirations, excelling at spreading confusion regarding the effectiveness of traditional, complementary and alternative medicine. And they do it for money – they need to be stopped.

Ten ridiculous, super-gross and weird homeopathic remedies.

To get into the spirit of silly season, why don’t we have a look at the silliest of man’s creations – homeopathy.  So, here goes, enjoy!

A homeopath will take a substance (or an imaginary substance), go into a state of delirium during a process called ‘proving’, dilute the (imaginary) substance into oblivion and then sell it as a remedy to the public – and regulators are happy for them to do so. During the proving stage, they document their ‘symptoms’ which then magically becomes the ‘indications’ listed on the remedy, according to their ‘like-cures-like’ principle. What usually cracks me up is the starting ‘substances’ that they use, what homeopaths claim their remedies work for, and the fact that homeopaths can keep a straight face while explaining or writing about their remedies (read any ‘proving’ document).

Prince Charles
A big fan of homeopathy trying to steal a child’s bubbles because he ran out of Fairy Liquid (dish-washing soap) – yes, they make homeopathic remedies from anything

Due to the immense number and diversity of remedies out there, I’ve decided to create three categories. 1. Ridiculous – the starting material or ‘substance’ is nothing which they then dilute into oblivion; 2. Super-gross – substances where you desperately hope that they did indeed dilute everything into oblivion; 3. Weird – you just cannot understand how homeopaths can think of such stuff (there is a huge number of remedies in this category).

For some of the remedies I’ve copied parts of their ‘provings’ (unedited) so that people who do not understand the stupidity of it all, get a glimpse of what’s going on in the deluded (diluted) minds of homeopaths.  So here is the list (thanks for the many suggestions via Twitter.)

1. Black HoleCygnus X-1

“The remedy was prepared by Rowan Jackson and astronomer, Peter Lipscomb, using an 8″ telescope, Meade LX90 aperture telescope. A vial of alcohol was affixed to the viewing end as the telescope was focused on Cygnus X-1’s location within the Cygnus constellation.  Twenty provers took the remedy administered in 30C potencies.”

Uses:This remedy seems to have a global effect on the body. If you were tracing the sensation under a physical symptom you might expect it to lead to a pulling in or drawing inward, constriction sensation. Headaches are felt as constricting, as if a band or a vise or as if will burst. Heart and chest symptoms are felt as constricting and tightening. Even the extremities can feel tight and constricting. Provers felt their teeth were “drawing inward.” With the drawing in sensation, they would often feel that there was a stone or lump inside (this spot of denseness within their body). Provers had the sensation of a lump or stone in their stomach or abdomen. They could also feel as if there were a “sinking” sensation inside. Often they would explain the sensation as heaviness.”

2. Vacuum

vacuum
I had a dream…. of being vacuumed. A homeopath dreaming about vacuums

“I had a dream, as usual, and this guy who comes into my dreams, turns up and says, “Nuala, are you aware that vacuum is the space between heaven and earth? Prove Vacuum!” So I woke up and said, “Yeah, right. How?” I thought about it for a number of months and he came back to me in a dream and said, “This is very simple. What you want to do is get a bottle and put some alcohol in it, then vacuum the bottle, and you will get the effect of vacuum on the alcohol.” He has said that type of thing to me before in dreams, like that remedies are the effect of something on alcohol. “

Uses: “I know that a lot of people died in Britain as a result of that flu. So I started giving Vacuum for it and straight away it worked.”

3. Imaginary substances (hard to come by or extremely dangerous substances, such as Plutonium/Uranium, and apparently also ‘Unicorn’)

unicorns
Photographic evidence that Unicorns do exist

Bearing in mind Crotalus cascavella’s themes of vengeance and desire to kill with a knife, I asked him: “Did you feel like avenging yourself from your wife’s first fling? Would you feel a sense of release if you knifed him in the back? His words immediately evoke in me the theme of the light in Plutonium: he has lost his inner light and refuses the light emanating from others, from outside. Plutonium desires transcendence for itself and for the external world through self-illumination; it wants to be a powerful light which brings order to chaos through its own vibration.”

Uses: hatred, violence, nastiness, godlike, loss of inner light, drugs

4. Dog shit ( ‘Excrementum caninum’ not to be confused with ‘excrementum vaccinium’ a.k.a. bullshit)

Dog shit
A Homeopath’s dog trained to collect important homeopathic ‘substances’. Homeopaths finds this disgusting, hence the dog, but okay to give to the unsuspecting public.

Uses: self-disgust; domination and extreme abuse; suppression of anger with hatred; low self-esteem with dependency; In this remedy, there are dreams/thoughts of excrements and toilets, in contrast to Lac caninum and Lyssinum. Mind; dreams; excrements/dog’s excrements/ toilet; sitting on/ vomiting; excrements; Ailments from sexual abuse and rape, Delusion or image that body parts/ arms/ legs are smaller, and shortened; Dreams of dogs/ cats, felines

5. Condoms (Latex Condom) – New or used? I guess both, because homeopaths really care about the environment; “Rubber is a disposable substance that we use and throw away but it does not just go away. It persists as mountains of burning tyres or as condoms washed up on polluted beaches.”

Uses: feelings of being restricted/claustrophobic; separation/disconnected from people, difficulties with communication, disconnected from feelings etc.

6. Intestinal secretion of a sperm whale (Ambra grisea). It is unknown if homeopaths only use sperm whales who died after ingesting copious quantities of used condoms – see above (homeopaths will then call this a ‘combination remedy’) or if they hunt the poor whales themselves.

Sperm whale
A Homeopath collection a decaying sperm whale’s intestinal fluids and any ingested used condoms

Uses: Its most well-known keynote is mortification from needing to use a public bathroom due to painful shyness. There is an out-of-proportion timidity about being in the presence of strangers or in social situations. It is said that these individuals often experience premature aging, may be globally anxious, and have a propensity for coughs.

7. Syphilis (Leuticum)

Uses: No sooner does night come on than I am a prey to such dreadfully sinful desires that drive me mad (in a woman). And: Weakness or loss of memory, esp. for names; feels as if going insane; terrible dread of the night season owing to aggravation of all symptoms then; despairs of recovery.

8. Berlin Wall (Murus Berlinensis)

Uses: Feeling of being forsaken and separation, huge despair. Oppression (political, family, abuse-sexual, religious, being bullied) and perceiving yourself as victim. Depression, sense of blackness, total isolation, aloneness, despair. Panic, need to escape but can’t. TERROR.

BerlinWall David hasselhoff
I never knew! A famous homeopath, known in Germany as ‘The Hoff’, collecting pieces of the Berlin Wall for the treatment of depression. That it works, is evidenced by The Hoff’s happy (or non-depressed) appearance.

 

9. South Pole of a Magnet. (Magnetis polus australis – attenuations of media saturated with emanations of the pole.)

Uses: Cough. Dislocation, easy. Frost-bite. Heat, palpitation of. Hernia. Ingrowing toe-nails.  Levitation. Menorrhagia. Varicosis.

10. The note ‘F’ (homeopathic sound remedy Note F in 6X potency) and the colour Blue (or red or whatever colour you feel ‘attracted’ to)

Uses of musical notes; A general diuretic; good for edematous tissues, especially suited for pulmonary and cardiac edema; cardiac regulator and tonic, detoxifier, calmative and tranquilizer. Good for distress, feelings of inner conflict, avoidance of change, and a weakened spirit.

Uses of the colour Blue: A catarrhal remedy, good for sore throats and tired speaking voices; a stimulant to the thyroid and parathyroid; good for substance abuse cases where the patient wants to stop smoking, drinking, or overeating; good for neck and shoulder pain. Good for lack of creative expression, lack of willpower to complete tasks, integrity issues, malicious gossipers, liars, and timid, shy communicators.

Some comments

It is actually impossible to come up with a Top Ten because there are way too many crazy homeopathic remedies out there, such as; dolphin song, radionics, hoover dust, light of Venus (or the moon), pig’s milk (or dolphin’s milk), X-rays, English sun, water (called new water) ‘unicorn’ (“apparently they sit around a vial of water thinking about unicorns to infuse the unicorn energy” – I couldn’t find any references for this one) etc. Therefore, it might be a good idea to prepare an “annual top ten”- listing only remedies that was invented in that given year.

homeopathy explaned

Although these lists are meant to be funny, it does serve the important purpose of creating public awareness. The other side of the coin is that people do get hurt and even die because of homeopathy. Most fatalities are due to neglecting serious medical conditions, but many deaths have also been directly attributed to homeopathic remedies. Homeopaths do use highly toxic substances (arsenic, deadly nightshade etc.) and if they screw up their dilutions, people die – as was tragically shown with the death of 10 infants recently.

It remains to be such a pity that so many politicians, regulators (such as the TGA in Australia – 100% funded by industry incl. homeopaths) and some universities (notably WSU and UJ) simply look the other way, allow homeopaths to continue to mislead the public or even promote homeopathy. The simple reason for this is vested interests, which usually means – money.

‘Celebrity’ endorsements! The NICM seeking Royal endorsement using their ‘faked’ ERA ranking!

Nooo waaay!! If Gwyneth Paltrow can promote that, then surely, I can promote some of my very own quackery! Don’t call me a snake oil salesman, look at Gwyneth, she is selling ‘psychic vampire repellent’ and ‘jade eggs’ – my quackery is not nearly as crackpot as that, and, she gets away with it!

And off they go, endorsing and promoting everything from water as effective medicine, to jade eggs to be; “used by women…. [to be inserted, you know where] ….to help connect the second chakra (the heart) and yoni for optimal self-love and well-being.” And, yes, psychic vampire repellent to ‘banish bad vibes and shield you from the people who may be causing them.’ Celebrity endorsements, using social status to (un)intentionally mislead the public, and in some cases, enrich themselves even further!

Pure quackery, but whatever these Demi-gods endorse, usually result in a large number of worshippers to blindly follow. Their faith is so blind, that they will even give their own children water as medicine. Unfortunately, but also predictably, some children die as a result, but apparently, this is a small price to pay in order to appease these Demi-gods. But luckily, there are a number of brave warriors (or scientists) who are standing up for science, understands social responsibility, and openly question the validity and motives of these apostles of quackery.  And you need to be brave, because this can backfire depending on the unique powers and influence of the Demi-god in question. As was illustrated by Prof Edzard Ernst, after he publicly, but fairly, called a Demi-god a snake oil salesman.

As for Gwyneth Paltrow, she is merrily continuing to promote the most bizarre healthcare rubbish via her company Goop. Her beauty, apparently,  has a hypnotic effect on her followers because they just continue to buy whatever she conjures up. At least, she won this year’s inaugural Rusty Razor award for “the ‘best’ promoter of the ‘worst pseudoscience of the year.” Well done, Gwyneth, although this will probably only strengthen the resolve of her followers.

In the picture above there is also a banner that seemingly does not fit the ‘bigger’ picture; “Excellence in Research for Australia” (ERA). The reason for this is because celebrity endorsement of quackery tends to attract the attention of a very ‘special’ kind of person – the promotional ‘scientist’. It is, in fact, a vicious circle. Quackery generates a lot of money, which partly flows into the coffers of ‘willing’ universities who provides further ‘scientific’ endorsement of quackery (much appreciated by the celebrities), and this, in turn, leads to an increase in sales – and round we go.  These promotional scientists actively seek endorsements from celebrities or royalty such as Prince Charles, and they pursue any opportunity to make this reality – an excellent way of spending public money! Endorsements gives them, and the quackery that they peddle, (undue) credibility and legitimacy, but at least it leads to increased sales – and that is what it is all about.

And this brings me to the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Australia, who actively sought the endorsement of the Prince of Wales to become their patron. Here is an excerpt of the NICMs attempts, written by Prof Alan Bensoussan;

“I understand that HRH The Prince of Wales is a keen advocate of integrated healthcare and of proven complementary treatments and therapies.  His goals align substantially with those of NICM, which seeks to build an evidence-based complementary medicines sector in Australia and more broadly. Subject to the approval of HRH The Prince of Wales, I envisage that the role of patron would be to officially endorse NICM, for example, by the inclusion of letters written by HRH The Prince of Wales on the NICM website and in seminal publications.”

The words ‘proven’ and ‘evidence-based’ is somewhat out of place, because both the NICM and Prince Charles continue to promote debunked homeopathy (water as medicine against malaria etc.) and a lot of other crackpot treatments, so, these words are meaningless coming from the NICM.

But there is another type of endorsement that they actively pursue. And that is being endorsed by a respected organisation, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), or in this case, the Australian Research Council (ARC), which manages the ERA scheme (the NICM does have a man on the inside at the WHO, but more about this at a later stage). Under the ERA scheme, universities submit their research outputs and based on this data they receive a ranking out of 5 for a specific field of research. In the NICMs case, they were ranked in the “Complementary and Alternative medicine” field of research in both the 2012 and 2015 rounds, and they are currently submitting data for the 2018 round.  This is what the NICM told Prince Charles;

“We are the only Australian complementary medicine research centre to receive a ranking of 5 in the Commonwealth Excellence in Research for Australia exercise – signalling research well above world standard.”

So, clearly the NICM has been endorsed by the ARC under their ERA scheme, and indeed they did receive the highest ranking of 5, in both the 2012 and 2015 rounds, which they now use to lobby for further recognition and endorsement from celebrities or royalty. They even managed to legitimise traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Australia using this ARC endorsement, and they are currently building a TCM hospital in the heart of Sydney. This is dangerous, because many people will get hurt, or might even die, because of ineffective fake healthcare systems such as TCM. Here is one example, where the NICM was indirectly involved in the death of a 6yo boy.

But there is a problem with the ERA endorsement. Having first-hand knowledge of the promotional research that the NICM conducts, there is no way in this world that they can or should receive a ranking of 5, so, clearly there is a discrepancy somewhere. For example; below is an abstract of one of their ‘scientific’ articles that was reviewed by the ARC, and you’ll be excused if you think that it was written by Gwyneth Paltrow;

This case report describes a 25-year-old woman who presented with nausea and vomiting (NVP) in her seventh week of pregnancy. The treatment was not successful overall and resulted in both patient and practitioner losing confidence. The following reflective questions challenged my practice and led to an examination of what makes acupuncture work. – Why, after a course of acupuncture, did the nausea and vomiting continue? – What led to a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat this ailment? Multiple traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) research reviews show some benefit for nausea and dry retching using acupressure and acupuncture, and limited results for vomiting. Despite this, I found that my confidence was undermined by being out of touch with my own inner knowing or Yi. I needed to encourage the patient (‘Laura’) to take more responsibility for her own health and we both needed clarity around the treatment result expected.

This is not something that you’ll expect from a university in Australia – especially not if they are ranked ‘well above world standard’. The fact that case reports (there is more than one) are ineligible to be submitted as a scientific article is an issue (ERA guidelines section 5.4.8.5 page 41), but I believe the contents of their work is a far bigger problem – it is pure and unadulterated pseudoscience! But this isn’t even the biggest problem. The NICM submitted 89 scientific articles for review in the 2012 round, and 151 articles in the 2015 round. Of the 89 articles, close to 50% was not produced by the NICM and in the 2015 round, close to 25% of articles was produced by other universities. This is not only completely unethical, this, in my view, is fraud. You cannot take the work of others and claim it as your own – just imagine what will happen if you do something like this on your CV! (here is a full list of the NICMs articles – interesting stuff).

But what does the ERA guidelines say about this? Well, to be honest, nothing. I could not find any information in the guidelines, clearly stating that they were allowed to do this. The ARC, and the expert committee members who reviewed the NICMs application, was contacted for clarification, but unfortunately only the ARC responded, and none of the 25 committee members. The answer from the ARC was also somewhat vague;

“Therefore if you review the individual outputs of a specific unit of evaluation within a university they may not all have a publication association listed but could still be within the submission guidelines.”

So, there appears to be an unwritten rule which ‘allowed’ the NICM to submit the work of others as their own – a typical loophole? And what better way to identify these loopholes than to serve on the expert committee reviewing these applications? As expected, the director of the NICM, Alan Bensoussan did indeed serve on the expert committee in 2010, where he, as an expert promotional scientist, identified the loopholes which they exploited in full, during the 2012/2015 rounds. But, this is only true if this is indeed a loophole, otherwise, it is plain and simple fraud! But, to be honest, I could not care less what the ERA guidelines say, it is never okay to take another person’s work! Because what example do you give students, and what about the international universities who have now unwittingly contributed to the legitimisation of dangerous pseudoscientific healthcare systems in Australia?

For example. Leiden University has ‘contributed’ 7 scientific articles towards WSU’s scientific output – obviously without them knowing about it. The authors of these articles worked at Leiden university while being paid by the Dutch taxpayer! And at the time, they were completely unaware even of the existence of the NICM or WSU. But, unfortunately, without them knowing about it, they have now assisted these ‘scientists’ at WSU to promote quackery. I am convinced that Leiden University, and the many other universities who are involved, will not appreciate this.

Although this issue is still unfolding, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered, it just again shows that almost everything that pseudoscientists do, is misleading or false. They will even mislead celebrities or royalty from whom they seek their highly valuable endorsements. And this does not bode well, because the NICM who has extensively used their ERA ranking to lobby the Australian and Chinese governments, has managed to strike a deal with China and, in effect, has legitimised TCM in Australia.

So, if you suspect that this practice is widespread at Australian universities, you can always request the information from the ARC under a Freedom of Information Act (section 6.4, page 69). And if you are an academic considering taking up a job at an Australian university, be careful, because they might just stick you in a dark hole and use your extensive publication record as part of their own scientific outputs – this might be the only reason why the hired you! But let’s hope that this fraud is limited to the NICM, and not a widespread phenomenon.

Much more to come on this issue.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

“GREGORY SHANE KOLT

Date of offence: Between 1996 and 1998

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

Magistrate: John Hardy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Western Sydney University’s new TCM ‘hospital’ opening soon in Sydney!

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

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

At the centre of WSUs controversial support of complementary, alternative and integrative medicine is the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM). They have very big plans and a lot of money is involved. For example: Say Hello to the newest Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) ‘hospital’ opening in 2018 in the Westmead health precinct of Sydney. Using the smokescreen of “Integrative Medicine” and partly funded and operated by the controversial Beijing University of Chinese Medicine (BUCM), this should be the highlight of 2018 for any pseudoscientist. This new ‘hospital’ will emulate Germany’s first TCM hospital (also funded and operated by BUCM) in Bad Kötzting, and if you have a look at their website, any person with half a brain would be extremely worried – but not WSU management!

TCM has also been on the radar of the controversial supplement company Blackmores. This promises to be a very lucrative deal for Blackmores because their recent $10 million ‘gift’ to the NICM for ‘integrative medicine research’ is dwarfed by the potential for them to tap into the $170 billion TCM market. But, it will also fulfil a life-long dream (some people call this a nightmare) held by the director of the NICM and also an adjunct of the NICM, Prof Kerryn Phelps, who describes integrative medicine as “the emerging mainstream”. Sure thing, I just wonder why Prof Phelps won the Bent Spoon award for quackery and why the Director of the NICM was nominated for the same award in 2016. But this story still needs to unfold and that brings me back to the latest Wikipedia addition under their “recent history” section. So, to reflect these latest developments, here it is:

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

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

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