China Power and Influence! Part 2. TCM and the role of the Australian (prime) ministers.

In part 1 I’ve shown that a number of key Australian ‘academics’ (Proff Alan Bensoussan, Charlie Xue etc.) made it extremely easy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to achieve their goal of internationalising TCM. Prof Bensoussan (an acupuncturist) has managed to achieve statutory regulation for TCM practitioners in 2012, elevating TCM to the same level as conventional healthcare. He used this ‘achievement’ to successfully lobby for TCM’s inclusion in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and China.. To lobby is one thing, but to do so successfully, you need receptive high level politicians in order to achieve your objectives. This article will highlight the involvement of various politicians, but also the regulators, and how Prof Bensoussan managed to get their support. (The ‘controversial’ book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia’ by Prof Clive Hamilton is also worth a read)

The ‘Four Corners’ investigation

An investigation by the ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ exposed the CCP’s secret networks in Australia. They disclosed that certain Chinese billionaires with links to the CCP, donated substantial amounts of money to various political parties. This led to some politicians changing their views, quite notably Mr Sam Dastyari, against party line on Australian foreign policy – specifically regarding the South China sea melting pot (new recordings was revealed today). In light of these revelations a senator stepped down, or is about to step down, but it also elicited a scathing response from the former premier of NSW, Bob Carr. He tried to downplay this, in his view, ‘perceived’ Chinese influence and argued that this might instead be a golden opportunity for Australia. Problem is that; “Bob Carr is the director of the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney. ACRI was setup with a $1.8m donation from Xiangmo Huang who is one of the two Chinese donors who were the subject of the Four Corners expose Bob Carr seeks to downplay in this article.”

Bob Carr Huang Xiangmo
Mr Bob Carr (left) and Mr Huang Xiangmo (right) the funder of the Australia China Relations Institute hosted at the University of Technology Sydney.

Mr Xiangmo Huang and Mr Chau Chak Wing, named in the Four Corners investigation, have also been pumping millions of dollars into some Australian universities, quite notably Western Sydney University (WSU), University of Technology Sydney (UTS – Bob Carr heads the ACRI at UTS), and to some degree, RMIT university. It therefore stands to reason that the CCP also wants to exert an influence on the Australian academic and healthcare systems.  Part of this influence involves the internationalisation of an ancient pseudoscientific and mainly ineffective healthcare system, known as TCM. TCM is not an evidence-based healthcare system, but is nonetheless a very large and lucrative industry ($170 billion).

By using internationally accepted scientific methods will lead to a reduction in the total number of TCM treatments, currently estimated at 13 000, to only a handful. Hence, the big money is in the ‘magic’ (or mysticism) in which all 13 000 treatments remains effective. A public belief in this magic has therefore to be nurtured, which will lead to  widespread acceptance of TCM in Australia and expansion of the industry via Australia. Take the magic away (by applying science) and the whole industry will collapse – and this is not what the CCP nor Prof Bensoussan wants. Part of getting the job done is to target Australian politicians for support of TCM, and as such, why not start with the man with the top job? (for background information part 1 should be read and more information regarding TCM can be found here and here).

Mr Tony Abbott (former Prime Mister & Minister of Health)

Tony Abbott Huang Xiangmo
Mr Tony Abbott (left) and Mr Huang Xiangmo (right). The fist pump from the unknown man in the middle is for unknown reasons.

Quite recently Mr Tony Abbott attended “the launch of Chinese-born businessman Tao Li’s sheep ­placenta enriched skincare cream, Chantelle. On stage, Mr Abbott spoke of his longstanding support for the Chinese community and business in Australia, as he spruiked the merits of initiatives such as the China-Australia free-trade agreement…..” Clearly Mr Abbott has a thing for the strange and weird and does not seem to hold science, or consumer protection, in high esteem. But let’s have a closer look at Mr Abbott’s role in TCM.

In 2007, the then Minister of Health, Mr Abbott, was approached by a TCM practitioner proclaiming that he needs $4 million in order to provide the Australian public with the ‘correct’ information regarding TCM and complementary medicines in general. Mr Abbott ignored the fact that TCM is a dangerous pseudoscientific healthcare system, and that its practitioners will always promote all of it, because their livelihoods depend on it.

Unfortunately, Mr Abbott did not show him the door, no, he decided to place his trust in an acupuncturist (Prof Bensoussan) and handed him a $4 million cheque. This money was used as seed funding for the NICM. Regular readers will know that the NICM accepts money from homeopaths, acupuncturists, energy healers etc. and in exchange they use their university setting (Western Sydney University – WSU) to provide credibility and unbridled support for these thoroughly debunked complementary medicines (this is also the reason why the NICM won the Bent Spoon award in 2017.)

Alan Bensoussan Nongs clinic
The acupuncturist in question Prof Alan Bensoussan (second from the right) at the opening ceremony of another TCM clinic (Nong’s clinic) in Sydney. In the window some of the services on offer can be seen.

A tumultuous political period propelled Mr Abbott into the PM seat. It started when PM Kevin Rudd was stabbed in the back (2010) by his deputy, Julia Gillard, who became the first female PM. She was dethroned by Mr Rudd in 2013, who promptly lost the elections a couple of months later to Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott was in turn stabbed in the back by Mr Turnbull in 2015.  Five PM’s in five years, and although quite entertaining, an excellent opportunity for foreign powers to try and exert their influence during such a period of instability. So, while the politicians were grabbling to try and stay in power and solving artificial first world problems, the CCP steadily exerted its influence with Prof Bensoussan taking his chances when Mr Abbott became PM in 2013.

Mr Abbott appointed Mr Andrew Robb as minister of Trade in 2013, and tasked him with getting the FTA done and dusted. Having a PM who is clearly in favour of ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM, it should come as no surprise that Mr Robb accepted Prof Bensoussan’s word and included TCM in the FTA (more about Mr Robb a bit later on). After signing the FTA,  Mr Abbott also publicly defended part of the deal, which states that; ‘up to 1800 visas for Chinese service suppliers to enter Australia for up to 4 years, the visas will be for Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, Chinese chefs, and Chinese Language coaches.’  Mr Abbott also send a congratulatory note to WSU when the NICM opened a Chinese Medicine Centre in 2016, with their objective being; “….spreading Chinese medicine further to the world.”

Barney Glover FTA
f.l.t.r. Prof Xu Anlong, President Xi Jinping, PM Tony Abbott and Prof Barney Glover at the signing of the Free Trade Agreement.

Although all four PM’s had contact with Mr Huang Xiangmo, quite recently (June 2017) it came to light that Mr Abbott has been warned in 2015 by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) about the possible influence that the CCP wants to exert; “A key political fundraiser for former prime minister Tony Abbott has maintained contact with Chinese Communist Party-aligned businessman Huang Xiangmo, despite warnings from ASIO to Mr Abbott about the billionaire donor. In 2015, Mr Abbott was briefed by ASIO chief Duncan Lewis about the agency’s concerns that Mr Huang’s close ties with the Chinese Communist Party might mean his donations could be used to advance Beijing’s interests.”

Pms with Huang Xiang mo
A collage showing the different PMs accompanied by Mr Huang Xiangmo

Internationalisation of TCM is of interest to the CCP and Prof Bensoussan, and I would suggest that the CCP was quite successful in achieving this objective in Australia! More information regarding Mr Huang Xiangmo and his involvement with TCM can be found in part 1.

But what about the current PM, Mr Malcolm Turnbull?

Well, what can I say. He promotes TCM by using it! Mr Turnbull publicly claimed that a TCM practitioner ‘helped’ him to lose weight. It becomes ridiculous when you look at the TCM treatment itself. It included Chinese herbal tea (price tag $5000) and, wait for it, fasting! I am not sure why, but I do feel the need to explain this phenomena for the uninformed (including some PMs). When you fast, you lose weight! The herbs and abdominal acupuncture has nothing to do with it!

This is an excellent example of how these pseudoscientists operate. They give good advice (balanced diet, exercise etc. which every GP will also give you) and then they claim that TCM is (partly) responsible for the observed effect. This is what they want you to think. And, of course, they want you to market their treatments by word of mouth, especially when you are the PM. It is a pity that an influential person such as Mr Turnbull can be hoodwinked this easily. After his endorsement of TCM, this particular practitioner is making a lot of money and is opening more TCM clinics in Australia where he treats anything from toothache to cancer. I fear that by providing his endorsement the PM has inadvertently signed the death warrant for people who suffer from serious medical conditions who might now decide, based on the PMs word, to give TCM a go instead of evidence-based treatments. (In 2017, this practitioner was found guilty of “unsatisfactory professional conduct” in an unrelated case.)

So, we have two PMs who is clearly pro-TCM. This, of course, makes life for the CCP and people such as Prof Bensoussan a lot easier.

The Minister of Trade, Mr Andrew Robb

As mentioned before, a key person in the FTA was the Trade minister, Mr Andrew Robb. He encouraged states and territories to sell and lease their assets, and also defended the lease of Port Darwin to the Chinese company, ‘Landbridge’. It did raise a number of eyebrows when Mr Robb resigned from politics shortly afterwards in favour of; “the $73,000-a-month retainer that former federal trade minister Andrew Robb has snaffled from the well-connected Chinese billionaire who bought the Port of Darwin.” Although within the rules, Mr Robb should definitely not expect a ‘Australian of the Year’ nomination anytime soon.  Mr Robb was however a primary target for Prof Bensoussan.

A document was prepared by Prof Bensoussan for Marcus Blackmore, the founder of the controversial supplement company Blackmores. This document contains a list of Australian politicians who they should lobby together in order to get political support for ineffective complementary medicines, including TCM. China is a very big export market for companies such as Blackmores, hence their collaboration with the NICM with their high profile Chinese connections (Blackmores  recently donated $10 million to the NICM to assist in ‘integrating’ ineffective treatments (incl. TCM) with effective treatments.) The two excerpts below make it clear that the NICM lobbied Austrade (Mr Robb) to include TCM in the FTA.

“Australia is currently working on a free trade agreement with China. On this basis Alan has held high level meetings with potential commercial partners in China.  China has pushed for the free flow of practitioners between Australia and China however, it is not likely they will get a free flow of products through. Alan has spoken to the VC and Hugh Funder from Austrade about regulations pertaining to a strong R&D platform under the free trade agreement. China has asked for a separate agreement to articulate the R&D platform. Andrew Robb is assisting NICM to pursue free trade with the support of the VC” (Sept 2014)

Andrew Robb signing FTA
Mr Andrew Robb (seated right) signing the free trade agreement

“The aim is to find a commercial partner or first choice commercial partner that will actively invest in NICM’s scaling up, through the development of a commercial platform for introducing Chinese medicine to western markets. Talks have been held with Austrade about the support they can provide in building a strong R&D platform with Chinese collaborators, including the possibility of progressing this as part of the Australia – China free trade agreement negotiations.” (Oct 2014)

Andreww Robb Huang Xiangmo
Mr Andrew Robb (middle) and Mr Huang Xiangmo (right)

It is no secret that China wants a free flow of TCM (practitioners and products) into Australia in order to expand their $170 billion TCM industry. Alan’s lobbying has paid off and Andrew Robb has written a letter to the Chinese Minister of Commerce which made Australia’s commitment to trade in TCM and complementary medicines very clear. A win-win for the bottom line of Chinese and Australian companies (such as Blackmores hence their partnership with the NICM), but a major step backwards for science, scientific education and research, and importantly, the health of the general public (I have recently emailed Mr Robb enquiring about TCM and if he was made aware by the NICM regarding the many dangers involved. A response was received from a secretary indicating that he retired from politics and that I should contact Austrade – a dead end I guess).

Promotion of TCM by other Australian politicians

Here is a media release by the then minister of education, Christopher Payne, heaping his praises on the NICM and the inclusion of TCM into the FTA, stating that; “Benefits to flow from the partnership include a new research-led Chinese medicine clinic in Sydney, better patient outcomes and the potential for Australia to tap into the $170 billion global traditional Chinese medicine market.” Here is a very interesting Hansard of the House of Representatives (Feb 2015 – pages 142-147) where a number of politicians – Mr Matheson (MacArthur), Mr Jones (Throsby), Mr Alexander (Bennelong), Mr Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith), Ms Scott (Lindsay), Mr Hayes (Fowler) – provides a very positive but one-sided view on the inclusion of TCM into the FTA.

It boils down to this; the NICM is excellent, TCM is the next big thing in healthcare, and we all stand to make a lot of money.  The fact that TCM is mainly ineffective, and therefore quite dangerous, does not seem to bother anyone, or at least, not a single politician understands the necessity to run this pass a couple of scientists first. And this can only mean one thing. All of these politicians have been spoon-fed with this misleading information, and now they pat each other on the back, and regurgitate this in front of a pro-TCM PM.

The Hansard makes it clear that the CCP will give (or has given) $20 million, via the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, to the NICM in order for them to establish a joined commercial TCM ‘hospital’ in Sydney (they call it a clinic but it will be much more like a hospital if they get their way). The CCP therefore already has a strong foothold in the Australian healthcare system from where further incursions will probably take place.  Clues as to what the CCP wants to achieve can be found in China itself; ‘In July a law came into effect that requires local governments to open TCM departments in all general hospitals, and to give “equal emphasis” to TCM and what China calls Western medicine.’ With this kind of political support and with Prof Bensoussan as the main driving force in Australia this definitely does not bode well!

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

To have political support is always good but you also need the regulators on your side. Because Prof Bensoussan knows that TCM is mainly ineffective, he also knows that there will be a couple of hurdles to overcome. One of these hurdles is the regulators, in Australia, the TGA. To overcome this hurdle for the CCP and the TCM industry, a MOU was signed between the NICM and one of the biggest TCM producers in China, ‘Tong Rang Ten’ (Oct 2015). The focus of this MOU is on how the NICM will assist the company to get their products through the registration process in Australia.

To achieve all of this, Prof Bensoussan has been exerting his extensive influence at the TGA where he served for more than 10 years on the TGA’s ‘Expert Committee on Complementary Medicines.’ He even acted as Chair on this committee for a number of years.  Companies such as Tong Rang Ten is of course elated by Prof Bensoussan’s assistance and his hard work in getting TCM into the FTA, and through the regulators, stating;

I think with the implementation of the [FTA] agreement, many medicines, especially some important herbs, good-quality herbs, and those written in the Chinese herbal dictionary, will be approved by the Australian medicine authorities. As a result, we will have an increasingly wider road, and open more and more branch stores in Australia.”

 

Five elements Tong Ren Tang
The Five element relationships in Chinese medicine according to Tong Ren Tang

Prof Bensoussan was instrumental in misleading the TGA into accepting a ‘long tradition of use’ as a measure of safety (effectiveness seemingly does not matter). The results speak for itself with the TGA now excepting around 140 fake or pseudoscientific TCM ‘indications’ such as; “Harmonise middle burner (Spleen and Stomach)”, “Unblock/open/relax meridians”, “Balance Yin and Yang”.  If these draft indications are approved, you will be able to go to a pharmacy if you feel that your ‘meridians’ are blocked.

TCM is based on pseudoscientific principles, where no accurate diagnosis can be performed coupled with ineffective/dangerous treatments. It is such a pity that the leaders in society cannot come the this really simple conclusion and that the money aspect seems to blind them from the very obvious.

Final remarks

Most of the politicians named in this article has had links to Mr Huang Xiangmo, who in turn has links with the CCP. He has been pumping millions into Australian universities where Prof Bensoussan again acted as the man in the middle. It should be clear that this money has been influential regarding the promotion and growing acceptance of TCM in Australia. But what is fascinating is that the media seems to be reluctant to delve into this issue. I am no Trump supporter but one of the reasons might be that the media is not always as independent as claimed – they also have vested interests. For example. The ABC accepted an unknown amount of money from the controversial supplement company Swisse and in return Swisse gets; “exclusive advertising rights to reach 190 million people across Asia who can access online and television channels broadcast by Australia Plus.” Trade in Australian complementary medicines with China is also part of the FTA.

But I have to extend an olive branch to the politicians named in this article. No person can have expert knowledge of everything from medicine to global warning. You need expert advisors to fill the gap. The heart of the problem is when universities such as WSU hire pseudoscientists such as Prof Bensoussan. He now becomes an expert advisor and provide misleading information to just about everyone, including politicians. Sure, these politicians also have the responsibility to double check the information, but at the end of the day the blame should be on WSU for allowing this to happen (I have been warning them about this for almost 4 years now).

There is still some crucial information that is missing. What did the NICM tell all of these politicians in order for them to happily sign off on TCM? Mr Robb unfortunately does not want to reveal anything, but I do have some interesting information that was send to the former NSW minister of health, Jillian Skinner. In Part 3 I will describe this information which was, in all likelihood, also send to the politicians mentioned in this current article.

It is in effect a ‘tale of two letters’ with one letter warning the minister about the dangers of TCM (and the NICM’s modus operandi) whilst the second letter, written by the NICM, promoting TCM. No prizes for guessing which letter was the most convincing. In 2016 she was on her way to China accompanied by Prof Bensoussan and Dr Ven Tan (TCM practitioner and founder of Tasly Healthpac where the tragic ‘slapping therapy’ death occurred) to help Prof Bensoussan in lobbying for funding of his, and the CCP’s, big plans for TCM in Australia.

‘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.

‘Alternative facts are lies’- something the NICM excels at. Skeptics stand by Bent Spoon nomination.

‘I reject your reality and substitute my own’ – a quote made semi-famous by Adam Savage from the TV series, Mythbusters, and obviously meant as a joke at the time. But it seems that this one-liner has caught on with some of the world’s most powerful. Donald Trump, working tirelessly to solve the world’s biggest problems, decided during his first few days in office to release a statement, via his team, that they will provide the ‘alternative facts’ regarding the number of attendees at his inauguration. Truly important stuff, resulting in a deluge of twitter comments.

This article is, however, about his front-runners who has perfected the art of conjuring, disseminating and defending ‘alternative facts’. Because they were allowed to do so, unchecked or unchallenged, for many years, they arguably assisted in paving the way for creating the current situation we find ourselves in. For example: scientists are now holding their breaths due to Trump’s plan to review current vaccination policies, and for whatever might follow once this review is completed.  What kind of ‘alternative facts’ will this review reveal? Allowing ‘alternative facts’ to go by unchallenged, even the tiniest of deviations that may seemingly not have any measurable impact, creates societies that accepts ‘alternative facts’, and hence, these ‘facts’ will become the new norm.  It is about accepting it and not necessarily about the fact itself – e.g. nobody really cares about the real inauguration numbers.

Nowhere is ‘alternative facts’ or ‘alternative truths’ more common than in the world of alternative medicine, in all of its different shapes and sizes. But as Edmund Burke apparently said sometime in the 1700’s “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing”. It is therefore important that scientists, at the very least, try and present the real facts when confronted with the unchallenged dissemination of ‘alternative facts’. Yes, it can get you in hot water, but it needs to be done.  In the world of alternative medicine this also seems to be a full-time job, but luckily there are a number of brave souls, and a number of organisations, who challenge these ‘alternative facts’ with real facts, as and when promoted by the alternative, complimentary and integrative medicine fraternity.

One such organisation is the Australian Skeptics who annually reward the ‘best performing’ Australian with the coveted Bent Spoon award for “the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle’. The award also serves to highlight particularly egregious instances of anti-science.  A number of ‘alternative fact’ proponents were nominated in 2016, including Prof Alan Bensoussan (director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine – NICM), Prof Gregory Kolt (Dean of Science and Health) and Prof Barney Glover (Vice Chancellor of Western Sydney University).  Obviously, you cannot just nominate anyone; that would be just wrong and therefore the provided incriminatory information has to be double-checked and authenticated. Here is one example of the many alternative facts regarding alternative medicine that the NICM promote to the world.

In a recent newsletter of the Australian Skeptics an article appeared about the efforts by Prof Bensoussan to get his nomination removed (without providing a shred of scientific evidence!). You can read the full text of this riveting article here and below is mainly the e-mail exchange between the Skeptics and the NICM (republished with permission):

“On 22 November 2016, a few days before our National Convention where we present our annual awards, Australian Skeptics Inc President Eran Segev received an email from Professor Alan Bensoussan. It had a letter attached, and requested “that this letter is treated with strict confidence and only used for the purpose of removing the nomination”.

As will become clear shortly, we rejected this request as being unreasonable and unjustified both substantively and as the email was copied to two other parties not directly linked to Australian Skeptics Inc. However, there were parts of the letter that we accept should appropriately remain confidential, and we have chosen to redact those.

You can read Prof Bensoussan’s letter here.

On 3 December, a few days after the Convention, Eran Segev sent the following email to Prof Bensoussan:

Dear Prof Bensoussan,

Thanks for your email and letter. At the convention this weekend we have announced the “winner” of the Bent Spoon for this year, and I’m sure you’d be pleased to know that NICM was spared. The nominations for 2016 have now been removed from our website.

I wish to use this opportunity to express my ongoing concern over the uncritical way NICM presents information that is, at a minimum, dubious. The easiest example is the definition provided under “Energy Medicine”. Simply using the biologically meaningless terms “energy fields” and “biofields” puts you in the same category as some of the worst cranks in alternative medicine. As a minimum, I would have expected something like “it is claimed” followed by other qualifications that make it clear that NICM does not subscribe to these unscientific definitions. Unfortunately, a review of your site suggest that your claim that you “…do not defend the use of any complementary medicine unsupported by evidence” is false.

While you did not win the Bent Spoon this year, I reject your suggestion that the nomination was undeserved. Investigating complementary medicine in a scientifically rigorous manner is a credible scientific pursuit. Promoting it with weak or non-scientific evidence, as NICM often does, is not. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Bent Spoon nominations for your organisation as you continue your uncritical support for implausible and evidence-free treatment modalities.

In your response to the NH&MRC review you ignored the magical pre-scientific notions that underpin homeopathy and its complete lack of plausibility, producing a statement which makes it look very much like you think this modality has some credibility, yet to be proven. The same approach permeates your site – no criticism of any alternatives to medicine in sight.

Even your warnings are mealy-mouthed: Saying “Serious forms of disease, conditions and disorders should not be diagnosed or treated without first consulting a suitably qualified healthcare professional” is not nearly good enough, when what any responsible organisation would say is “Go see your doctor” to make sure no-one sees a naturopath for a serious condition.

I also note that NICM is being sponsored by the Jacka Foundation, an organisation so uncritical of alternatives to medicine that it links to notorious anti-vaccination activists as sources of information.

I hope this will serve as a bit of a reminder of the need for scientific thinking to replace the unwavering support of complementary medicine in all its forms, which seems to inflict NICM.

Sincerely,

Eran Segev

President – Australian Skeptics Inc

Prof Bensoussan’s response on 5 December:

Dear Eran

Thank you for your update note and thoughts. We are intending to revise our website over the summer and hope to address some of the issues you have raised. However, I don’t agree with everything you say and your language is in places unnecessarily offensive.

Kind regards

Alan

And finally, Eran’s message on 5 December:

Dear Prof Bensoussan,

We at Australian Skeptics are encouraged by the news that you intend to revise the website and look forward to seeing a more measured attitude to the evidence – or lack thereof – for various CM modalities. However, until such time as NICM has clearly made a shift in its approach, we will continue to keep a sceptical eye over the Institute and its publications, and make public our criticism of the Institute when we feel it’s appropriate.

Specifically, we refer to your letter dated 22 November 2016, which we note was headed “Strictly confidential”. We suggest that this was inappropriate and that we are entitled to republish your letter if we wish.

Your letter requested us to remove text from our publicly available website. There was no confidential information in the letter which you are entitled to protect from public disclosure.

As part of our ongoing investigation of CAM, we consider that it is in the public interest to republish the nomination, your letter and our response dated 3 December 2016.

We also give you the opportunity to respond and we will publish that, assuming it is in appropriate terms and not of excessive length. If you wish to take advantage of our offer, please respond by 5 pm Friday 9 December 2016.

Sincerely,

Eran Segev

President – Australian Skeptics Inc

To date, no response has been received to this last message.

We sincerely hope that NICM will change its ways; but if past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, we remain sceptical.

Needless to say, but the NICM did not change their ways (if anything it only got worse)  and was therefore again nominated in 2017.

What can you do about all of this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

homeopathy explained image