The Hogwarts School of Magic is actually in Australia! They even teach you how to ‘fly’ a broom (they really do).

And we thought that the ‘Hogwarts School of Magic’ only existed on the big screen. But, this type of school is actually real. There are quite a number of them currently operating in Australia, where bright-eyed, impressionable teenagers are taught how to manipulate energy fields in order to banish ‘evil spirits’ (or disease), and how to elevate out of their despondent earthly existence into an enchanted state of eternal health and happiness –  like flying for the first time on a broomstick (or smoking a joint). It will therefore come as no surprise, that the game of Quidditch, from the Harry Potter movies, is indeed being played at some of these modern schools of magic. The Tri-wizard cup was even won by Western Sydney University in 2013.  A real-life fantasy world.

Quidditch game

(Quiddich players ‘flying’ in attack formation on their Nimbus 2000 broomsticks)

But there is a problem!

To run around on a field with a broomstick between your legs is, I guess, okay, and not strange at all. It is good exercise, but you are not suddenly going to take off (at least not without a joint), because ‘strangely’ enough this only happens in the movies (or if you are completely stoned). So, for the rest of it, none of it is real – it is all a hoax. And this is now problematic, because all parents would agree that we want the best education for our children. But this is also where we tend to stop our involvement and we do not always ask the important question of; what is actually being taught at these schools? There are many reasons for this, one of them being that we tend to trust that government will protect us from fraudsters. So, when these schools are government funded and regulated, and especially, when they provide them with a stamp of approval via various accreditation schemes, this is usually enough to put our minds at ease – we  trust the system!

Unfortunately, some of these schools provide government accredited courses in magic. For example; children are being taught to manipulate ‘energy’, yes, without a wand (although I am not always so sure), but with the use of needles, crystals and various herbs such as the screaming mandrake (oh no wait, that was in the movie).

 

Specific examples of these courses include; Bachelor in Chinese medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy at RMIT University, Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy – includes homeopathy) at Endeavour College, Bachelor of traditional Chinese medicine at Western Sydney University and Bachelor of Health Science in traditional Chinese medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. The Southern School of Natural Therapies explains that their accredited course in Chinese Medicine; “is an ancient, holistic form of medicine that connects the mind, body, spirit. Chinese medicine believes that the body is made up of Qi – energy which permeates the whole body and flows through our meridians. Chinese medicine aims to stimulate the meridians, producing effects on different organs and systems within the body to restore balance and harmony” – this is pure magic!

This is what our kids are being taught at these schools, and unfortunately, this is pure fantasy because this ‘energy’, which is at the foundation of all of these pseudoscientific healthcare systems, simply do not exist. But, this ‘energy’ do indeed attract large numbers of students, because all of us are fascinated by magic. Regrettably, those students who actually believe in the magic show, tends to pay a significant amount of money to learn ‘magic’, and once they realise that it’s an elaborate government supported hoax, many simply tend to continue practicing magic. Because, by now, they have incurred a lot of debt, they have lost a lot of time, and they don’t want to be branded a drop-out or loser (sure, there will also be true believers amongst them). Hence, the problem of modern day ‘medical magicians’ will continue to be with us and might even surge, if the government continue to legitimise it via their various accreditation schemes.

And this brings me to accreditation, which is arguably a big part of the problem. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recently invited submissions for their “Independent Review of Accreditation Systems within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions”. The ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ (FSM) organisation did submit a detailed report highlighting their many concerns when accreditation is given to these schools of magic. This report was unfortunately deemed ‘out of scope’ by the COAG Health Council which implies that they are quite happy to continue to mislead students and their parents (and this can destroy families), as well as the patients who are on the receiving end of these completely ineffective magical treatments. Many patients do indeed get hurt and some even die, as was tragically illustrated by a practitioner whose magical ‘Slapping Therapy’ did not cure a 6yo boy from his type-1 diabetes.

Below you will find the Executive Summary of FSMs submission (with permission), and here you can find the full submission.  But the question remains; why do the government continue to bestow undue credibility and continue to legitimise ‘medical magic’ by providing accreditation to these courses in Australia?

“Executive Summary

Accreditation is antecedent to, and inextricably bound together with, practitioner registration. This submission raises concerns about registered alternative medicine (AltMed) practitioners, accusing the present accreditation system of failing to protect the public through its legitimising poor quality, belief-based, rather than evidence-based, education and on-going training of chiropractors, osteopaths and Chinese medicine/acupuncturists.

FSM is aware that some higher education institutes and continuing professional development courses give credibility to pseudoscience. Examples of pseudoscience include chiropractic (subluxation theory, Kinesiology, Retained Neonatal Reflex and Webster Technique, osteopathy (Osteopathy of the Cranial Field and Visceral Manipulation) and Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture and the teaching of “Qi”, energy blockages that cause disease, as a fact).

FSM also remains concerned with the accreditation process supervised by AHPRA and its Boards.

FSM alleges that:

A. the training of registered AltMed practitioners:

  1. is of low quality;
  2. is based on pseudo-scientific concepts that reject germ theory as the cause of disease;
  3. teach invalid diagnostic technique;
  4. includes potentially dangerous interventions, continued in the ongoing training of practitioners;
  5. wastes considerable public funding allocated to universities which teach these unscientific courses; and
  6. compromises our universities’ reputation within Australia and internationally.

B. thousands of false and misleading claims on AltMed websites breach the National Law. This report demonstrates that registered AltMed practitioners:

  1. are poorly trained;
  2. are not competent to treat patients;
  3. delay correct diagnosis and evidence-based therapies thereby allowing progression of disorders;
  4. may cause harm;
  5. waste millions of health dollars;
  6. undermine the efforts of evidence-based practitioners in their communities;
  7. do not, in respect of exaggerated claims and advertising, behave in an ethical manner;
  8. create considerable confusion for patients with chronic ailments; and
  9. focus their ongoing training on building their practices rather than on the needs of patients.
  10. This report also raises concerns about pseudoscience-based courses, that may attract VET-help fees, such as reflexology, homeopathy, aromatherapy and reiki, that are advertised on Government websites.

C. Government websites are providing undeserved credibility for discredited AltMed.

Underserved credibility is given to discredited AltMed courses including Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy and Reiki that may attract VET-help fees and are advertised on Government training websites.

Using acupuncture as an example, along with valid research findings, informed opinions and advice from medical experts, this report investigates the teachings in one high-profile accredited course and the impact and costs of this intervention on health care. While this report focuses on acupuncture, the same concerns can be extrapolated to other domains of pseudo-science, which is in both accredited university and continuing professional development courses. It also recommends that the scope of practice of AltMed practitioners should be limited to what they can advertise, to further protect patients from invalid diagnosis and belief-based interventions.

While ALL unregistered AltMed practitioners are NOT practicing any form of evidence-based medicine, (reflexology, iridology etc), there are thousands of registered practitioners, bound by the National Law to practice care that is evidence-based, who are practicing pseudoscience. The scope of the recent NHMRC review of natural therapies EXCLUDED interventions offered by registered practitioners on the basis that consumer protection was available through the AHPRA scheme.

This report highlights the millions of health dollars wasted by the Government funding of AltMed teachings and practices. Nearly $220 million was spent on acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy through Medicare from July 2011 to June 2016.

AltMed practitioners, who reject evidence-based medicine and over-service patient with placebo interventions are not the ‘right people’ to address patient needs, now and in the future.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But is this true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

22/06/2016

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

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

24/06/2016

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

02/07/2016

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

“Bent Spoon Nomination

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

05/07/2016

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

 

Naturopaths in Sydney pharmacies! What has the world come to?

In my previous blog post I’ve written about the Honorary Fellowship that Western Sydney University (WSU) has bestowed upon the naturopath Judy Jacka – a true ‘leading Australian’. The day that a university openly gives credibility and legitimacy to naturopaths, then we must know that we are in for a rough ride. We should therefore not be surprised if they try and push the envelope, for example, by placing naturopaths in pharmacies. By giving this award to a naturopath, WSU has also given their unbridled support for the following:

“Energy and Subtle Healing, Flower Essence Therapy, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Meditation, Nutritional Therapy, Planetary and Human Ecology, Reflexology, Acupuncture, Acupressure, Alexander Technique, Aromatherapy, Ayurvedic Medicine, Bowen Therapy, Chiropractic, Colonic Irrigation, Colour Therapy, Counselling, Craniosacral Therapy, Crystal Healing, Feldenkrais, Hydrotherapy, Kinesiology, Mind/body Medicine, Myotherapy, Music Therapy, Musculoskeletal Therapy, Natural Vision Therapy, Osteopathy, Polarity Therapy, Reiki, Remedial Massage, Shiatsu, Spiritual Healing, Thought Field Therapy, and many types of traditional medicine, including Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

All of the above is what Judy Jacka actively endorse and promote. Was it not for the millions of dollars that Judy have donated to the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) hosted at WSU, one might consider this move by WSU to be absolutely crazy. Although, even with the millions of dollars, it is still completely ludicrous. WSU has now destroyed their scientific credibility for the sake of short term cash.

Recently there has been a report that Blackmores, also a sponsor of the NICM,  wants to place naturopaths in Australian pharmacies. As the argument goes, they want to ‘integrate’ the above complementary medicine modalities with mainstream conventional medicine. In the NICM’s latest newsletter, their one and only objective, the integration of CM with conventional medicine, is also clearly stated:

“Australia has a well-developed – and growing – complementary medicine research sector. Support for this sector through industry and government funding of research partnerships is critical for a number of reasons. Australians use complementary medicine and seek to integrate this use into their mainstream healthcare. Research will assist in the safe and effective integration of this medicine in practice. An environment that supports innovation and encourages greater investment in R&D leads to better outcomes for the community. The integration of different aspects of healthcare, complementary and conventional, needs to be driven by innovative science.”

A lot can be said about the above paragraph. Some thoughts below – by no means exhaustive.

  1. Australia has a relatively small CM research sector for obvious reasons. Most CM’s have been shown to be worthless and at best might produce a placebo effect. The risks can however be grave as was stated in the NHMRC homeopathy report.
  2. Support from government should focus on unbiased research into the risk-benefits of CM’s that has a reasonable scientific underpinning (e.g. should ‘colour therapy’ be studied?). The NICM has shown that they are biased towards CM as was demonstrated by their immediate rejection of the NHMRC Homeopathy report – without even considering the possibility that this report might actually be correct. Thus, their main objective is to integrate CM with mainstream conventional medicine and it has absolutely nothing to do with independent, unbiased scientific research.
  3. Based on the NICM’s modus operandi, the safe and effective integration of CM’s is not possible. In their view, all CMs are safe and effective (even Rhino horn) and no real research is needed, only ‘innovative’ research.
  4. It is apparently not the NICM or the CM industry that wants to integrate CM with mainstream medicine, but the Australian public that demands it. It is their fault! Problem is that most members of the public have limited scientific knowledge and therefore they trust scientists at universities to guide them through this ‘minefield’ of misinformation. The NICMs job is however to fool the Australian public by either remaining quiet about risks or fool them into believing that all CM’s are efficacious and safe. And now with the unbridled support of WSU, their deceit is only going to get worse.
  5. As usual not much is being said about the scientific evidence for a specific CM.
  6. etc. etc.

Unbridled support of all CMs by WSU and the NICM – and some other universities around the world- will have a detrimental impact on science, scientific education and society as a whole. Placing naturopaths in pharmacies will only be the start of things to come. It is easy to fool people who do not have the knowledge of a specific scientific field. However, you have to be an excellent salesman, being able to sell sand to an Arab, without any ethics to station naturopaths, like Judy Jacka, trained by the NICM in pharmacies.