The Homeopathy Paradox. Use it and you could go to jail: defend, promote or sell it and be handsomely rewarded.

You can make it, sell it, teach it, promote it, defend it etc. but if you actually use homeopathic remedies you can go to jail. A tragic example of this was reported a couple of years ago. Parents were sent to jail after their child died because they opted for a homeopathic treatment instead of an evidence based effective treatment. What makes it even more tragic is that the father is (was) a lecturer in Homoepathy. You can teach it but you cannot use it, because it is ineffective and can cause you or your children harm – and this is paradoxical. The sad thing is that this is not an isolated case, there are many more cases – you can find more examples here.

As far as I can tell the father of the deceased received his Masters in Health at Western Sydney University (WSU), and this brings me again to my alma mater. WSU hosts the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) who promotes and defends all types of complementary medicines, including homeopathy. When the well-known and definitive NHMRC report on Homeopathy was released, they quickly published a statement that made this report suspect and they simply defended homeopathy – and they still do. At the time this prompted me to investigate the reasons for releasing this remarkable statement.

It turns out that the NICM is partly sponsored by homeopaths who also promotes all other types of disproven and unproven complementary medicines. They accepted a couple of million dollars from the Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies and in order to extend this financial relationship, the university management decided to confer an honorary fellowship to the founding member of this foundation. It paid off, because a couple of years later they again donated millions of dollars. And this is a problem. If you, as a university, accept funding from an organisation such as the Jacka Foundation you legitimise whatever these people do and to protect your (future) income you will continue to defend what they do (at the time of accepting the funds the foundation promoted this list of treatments). That the Jacka Foundation links to anti-vaccination proponents and that they themselves promote everything from homeopathy to energy medicine is a dangerous step for any university.  To then go and reward them for it is even worse and makes a laughing stock of the academic system.

But, because the NICM is hosted at a university they cannot always say what they want to say – or at least, they cannot put it on paper. They therefore associate themselves with organisations such as Complementary Medicine Australia (CMA) who can say what they want (they are industry funded). According to the NICMs ‘communication strategy’ they will use the CMA to respond to any negative media reports concerning homeopathy, because it has never occurred to them that they have a responsibility to inform the Australian public that homeopathy doesn’t work. So, in response to the NHMRC report the CMA published their infamous “The NHMRC Review on Homeopathy had Five Fundamental Flaws” (this statement is currently being used all over the world by Homeopaths to continue to defend homeopathy). They basically state that any report indicating that homeopathy doesn’t work, is unacceptable. It ends with the rather aggressive statement that “Homeopathy has been around for hundreds of years, and I am sure will be around a lot longer than some of the critics.”

But the rabbit hole goes deeper. One would expect that an organisation such as the World Health Organisation would at least be able to provide the best scientific and evidence based advice regarding complementary medicines including homeopathy. But they don’t. In their “WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy, 2014-2023” they call for the better integration of homeopathy (and other complementary medicines) with conventional healthcare. This is shocking, but not unexpected especially if you look at who compiled the report. Michael Smith, naturopath and an adjunct of the NICM. This WHO report was, of course, accepted with open arms by the NICM and other complementary medicine proponents.

To put all this in perspective. I am writing this article in a restaurant and about 100 m from me there is a registered homeopathic clinic. In South Africa, homeopaths register with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA) and any complaints, such as homeopathy does not work, should be submitted to this council. Problem is; the executive of the AHPCSA consists of chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths etc. Adjacent to the homeopath’s practice is a large pharmacy that has the appearance of a corny, cheap warehouse selling everything you can think of, including a large array of homeopathic products. One product is labelled as “every home should have one” – the Blue Box Homeopathic treatment kit.

Because I visited a game farm a week or so ago and managed to get myself stung by a scorpion, I found the homeopathic remedy for serious bites quite interesting, although shocking. It simply states “bites 30C – serious bites i.e. spider, scorpion, snake, dog bite”. A 30C dilution does not contain anything except the solvent. If you consider the large number of deadly snake species in South Africa, this homeopathic remedy can have deadly consequences, because it is nothing more than a placebo.  The kit also contains deadly nightshade to be given to babies for teething issues, but again in a 30C dilution. Let us just hope that they get their dilutions right otherwise we might end up with a similar incidence as in the US where 10 children tragically died after taking incorrectly diluted  homoepathic teething products containing deadly nightshade.

Can I now go and complain about this, because they are knowingly putting people’s lives at risk (the kit also contains a 200C natural antibiotic) for the sake of making money? I don’t think it will work, considering that I have to lodge my complaint about homeopathy to a homeopath.  As long as loads of money is being pumped into universities, as long as homeopaths wiggle themselves into the regulatory agencies, I fear that the homeopathy paradox will be with us and it might even get worse in future. If you are up against an extremely well organised and highly complex system or dare I say an organised criminal syndicate, then it will take a very long time before any progress will be made.  But, we have to try!

‘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.


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


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.


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.

Playing the Scientific Game and the Impact on Society – Complementary Medicine: an Insider’s Perspective

(I’ve written a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Western Sydney University (WSU) in June 2015 covering some of my concerns that I had, and still have, regarding the National Institute of Complementary Medicine. Below you can read this letter, albeit in a somewhat shorter version (a much shorter and edited version you can find here). The response from WSU on all of my letters, and subsequent shorter versions, was simply:

“The University repeats its response in my letter to you 10 November 2015, that is to say:

  • the proposed publication (as revised) makes a number of assertions that are baseless and again those assertions are unsubstantiated by any evidence;
  • the proposed publication (as revised) contains commentary that appears to be defamatory.

The University does not wish to receive any further communications from you.  As previously advised, it is a matter for you whether to publish the article, and a matter for any publisher to decide whether it is worthy of publication.  That said, the University reserves all of its rights as against you and/or any publisher.”

This was followed by bestowing an honorary fellowship upon the NICMs main sponsor.)

The letter:

1. Introduction

Professors in science, fully supported by a university, endorse and defend the use of water as a scientifically proven treatment of disease! [a1,a2] As if all scientific principles, logic and ethics have left the building. Let us dig a bit deeper and ask another question! What is the golden rule and main objective of the academic world today? Is it making processes more efficient at universities so that scientists can come up with a real cure for cancer or end world hunger, and by so doing provide quality student training? Oh no, it is much simpler: “The higher the number of scientific publications the better” – not something one would expect of intelligent visionary people. The primary objective of scientists in the academic world has become the act of publishing. As such it is not new, but it is definitely increasing in importance. If you follow this golden rule you will become a top scientist. And then sometimes the general public will use statements such as “It is a scientific fact that…” – ouch. This intense and growing focus on scientific publications has led to some voices highlighting the difficulties, pitfalls and long-term impact being felt when scientific quality (and thus the quality of the scientist) is determined by means of the number of publications, number of citations, journal impact factors etc. [1,2,3] There are many numbers that academic administrators gave artificial importance to, and it is as if they manage to come up with a new “important” number every year. This can truly be called the “Scientific Game” and is best described with the well-known “publish or perish” mantra. Is playing this game harmless and maybe a clever way to keep (average) scientists busy?

There have also been many debates and reports dealing with the “scientific” field of Complementary Medicine (CM) – mainly regarding the questions of whether this is really “science” or just outright quackery; of whether universities can and should teach CM as a scientifically validated healthcare option; and if universities should be used as a vehicle to give scientific credibility to these, mainly, bogus medical treatments. [4,5]  Do you know, for example, that acupuncture supposedly works for just about every medical condition out there – from treating cancer and depression to enhancing memory and even fertility. With a bit of time and a lot of taxpayer’s money this will become scientific “fact” in the near future. [W1] Or is it maybe as Tom Hanks recently described it when he lashed out at the cancer quacks after his wife’s battle with cancer: “There’s a predatorily philosophy that happens where people find out that you have a certain illness, particularly cancer, and they will try and make money off of you ….”, and “…. there are people who are dealing and selling in false hopes.” [W2] The main question, however, is this: should universities, mainly funded by the taxpayer, produce “scientific evidence” for medical treatments or products that are pretty much ineffective and sometimes dangerous, and thereby knowingly mislead or harm the taxpayer?  This question can be asked of all medical research but in this manuscript it specifically deals with CM. The current scientific game, which focuses solely on a range of meaningless numbers, enables CM to grow and flourish at certain universities. In this manuscript I will give some inside information, as an analytical chemist and scientist, who worked (2012-2015) at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Western Sydney University (WSU), Australia, on these two aspects – the former enabling the latter – and the potential deleterious effect thereof on society. The end result is that professors in science, backed by a university, defend the use of water as a scientifically proven treatment of disease.


2. The number game: publish or perish!

Over the past 10 or so years I have witnessed these numbers grow in importance to a level where it can only be described as all-encompassing.  Every single thing we do as scientists is mirrored against these numbers. Or, should I rather say, that chasing these numbers dictates every single thing that we do. We simply became slaves of our own CVs with the simple golden rule of the higher your numbers the better your chances. Unfortunately this leads to a large amount of junk being published, not only reporting bad science, but usually scientific results that does not have any impact on society whatsoever. We do whatever we can to get anything published, moving from the one journal to the next (starting with the journal with the highest impact factor) in what can only be described as “journal-hopping”. Journal-hopping can sometimes take years, which means that during this time the researcher/student is not actively involved in doing research in the laboratory. And yet we are forced to publish just about everything because it is not about science, training students or the general public – it is about the act of publishing. Your job and your future career depend on it. There is a large body of literature available that describes the “publish or perish” mantra in great detail with one downside the subsequent increase in scientific misconduct (falsification, fabrication and plagiarism).

The real purpose and focus of a university should be student training and scientific research resulting in a positive impact on society – and these two aspects go hand in hand; the one cannot function without the other. If this is the focus, everything else will fall into place. Normally with an increase in quantity comes a decrease in quality and some may now argue that we have the peer review system in place in order to ensure scientific integrity and quality, and that junk do not get published – a.k.a. the gatekeepers for scientific quality. Does this system work? My experience tells me otherwise and luckily I am not alone. [6,7] Clearly there will be differences in how the scientific game is being played in different scientific fields and in different countries. At NICM all effort and resources go into creating an image that NICM is scientifically excellent in all aspects, specifically referring to all these (high) numbers, but without performing good independent scientific research.

Most academics know that we have a problem but no one really wants to discuss this issue because it cannot easily be solved – it is just too complex. And after all, if you are ahead with your numbers, why would you want to solve it anyway? There is, however, one publication that made me realise how futile, dangerous and inefficient the academic system is due to this fixation on playing the scientific number game. The title is simple and to the point, “Why most published research findings are false”, with one of the main conclusions being “…claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.” [8] And this is why there are apparently scientific publications out there that “scientifically validates” homeopathy and related CM. In a similar way that scientists sold the idea to the general public that smoking tobacco is harmless a number of decades ago.

3. Complementary medicine: How science is being practiced at NICM

3.1 NICM’s general approach

I applied for the position at NICM with an open mind believing that there are indeed some CM’s with merit which should be investigated. After joining NICM at WSU I very soon realised, within mere weeks, that I found myself in wonderland. A case of self-plagiarism was my first clue but after witnessing how science is being practised at NICM and after being probed as to where my allegiance lies, I realised that I am in for a rough ride. For example: I had to warn a student about (the possibility of) self-plagiarism simply because the only difference between six publications were the names of the compound and the herb tested. [9-14] Even though these publications have very little, if any, scientific impact or impact on the community, it does show intend. Can these results be trusted? And this under the watchful eye of a professor! The students are not to blame here but the blame should be squarely on the senior author – it is his job to explain this to students and of course lead by example, and this is clearly not the case.  I tried to convince NICM management, especially the senior author, of this for about 2 years, but stopped after a new PhD student presented a PhD proposal containing the exact same approach. All I could do was to ask the student to please include some novelty into her project. For NICM it is about the number of papers. High quality student training and research? No way!

As a scientist at NICM you will either have to convert to become a fellow believer or they will stop you dead in your tracks – and as a member of the public, they might even stop your life. Do whatever you can to put a positive spin on CM by innovative experimental designs, report only positive findings (or make a neutral result sound positive), claim that CM is save to use and that it is cost effective, and then use phrases like “we are building the body of evidence for CM” and “we are doing evidenced-based scientific research”. The question of bioavailability and in vivo efficacy, or the complete lack thereof, is rarely, if ever, addressed. As such the research approach in CM has been very well documented and discussed. [4,15]

Impact on society – not something that scientists always keep in mind. As scientists we have an obligation towards the taxpayer as we are basically public servants tasked with teaching and training our youth, and to use the knowledge and experience that we have gained to the benefit of the general public via the research that we do. At NICM, taxpayers’ money is not only used to aggressively play the number game but NICM is also knowingly misleading the general public. Yet NICM has achieved something remarkable enabling them to continue on this path. Based on the number of papers, impact factors, citations and income from the CM industry, NICM was ranked according to the Excellence in Research in Australia (ERA) in 2012 as “well above world standard”. NICM received the highest possible ERA rating of 5. That the director served on a ERA panel might have something to do with this, but nevertheless, all my attempts to obtain the data that was used by the ARC to rank NICM failed. Neither the ARC nor the research office at WSU, nor NICM could provide me with this data. I therefore became increasingly concerned that science has been hijacked by people who understand the scientific game extremely well and play the game exceptionally well – hence our high ERA rating – in order to give credibility to (mainly) bogus treatments and thereby potentially harming the general public.

How does NICM manage to mislead everyone? There are countless examples: In NICM’s newsletter of June 2015 they proudly report on: “New research confirms efficacy and safety of chondroitin sulphate for osteoarthritis”. A citation is given and one would expect that it refers to the results – but it does not. They cite a general publication on osteoarthritis. The publication reporting the original results included an additional important paragraph that NICM just did not include: “We identified a lot of studies in which unsound methods were used to assess the effects of chondroitin. For some outcomes, there was not enough data. In some studies, whose methodological quality was better, chondroitin showed no improvement in pain…” [16] Report anything that shows some positive result (even if the word slightly is used excessively to describe the results) and do not report anything negative. Why? Most people only read the title and when a scientific publication is cited only the title appears. So make sure your title is overly positive even though the results are at best questionable. And importantly, the general public believes that science, as reported by the scientist, is based on facts.  And there goes the sales figures!

NICM employs a large number of people, funded by the taxpayer, focusing on nothing else but to increase our numbers, improve our image and improve and protect the image of the CM industry. They employ people to create and maintain this amazing facade that we focus on doing independent scientific research – which we don’t. They do extensive marketing and branding of the institute, they lobby politicians, [W3] they approach celebrities (think here of a member of the British Royal family) to become patrons or spokespeople to further the interests of the CM industry. Why? To give NICM and CM more credibility [a3-a5] (credibility is earned by producing good unbiased scientific results – something that is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the field of CM). They involve themselves with the regulatory agencies and even act as chairperson for many years on the “CM evaluation committee” for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (industry regulating industry). [W4] They lobby the CM industry and receive funding from them as well as commercial contracts. [W5] [a6,a7] [17]

They target external (inter)national eminent scientists who publish a large number of papers every year and they try to sell them dual affiliation – some fall for it while others do not. [a8,a9,a10] They set up collaborations with Chinese companies and universities and manage to include a signing of a Memorandum of Understanding during the Australian-China Free Trade Agreement signing. [W6] And the purpose of this? They want to use Australian citizens as guinea pigs for testing ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine – much of it unproven and ineffective and some outright dangerous – just to make a dollar. How? Use acupuncture because it has been shown to cause no side-effects (and efficacy?) and then sneak in TCM’s. [a11,a12,a13] They plan everything and every possible scenario in the finest of detail in order to maintain the image of NICM and the CM industry and they have no problem with simply misleading the public while doing this. For example: A large amount of funding was recently received from the Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies in order to establish a Chair position at NICM. [a14] This position has not yet been advertised and already a number of people worked on pre-selecting possible candidates, while others worked on all possible questions from journalists that might be asked and, of course, the “correct” answer that should be given. [a15,a16] The answer to the question of whether NICM have any possible candidates in mind is simply “no”. Why not just be honest? Because NICM cannot run the risk of employing another real scientist and they have to do everything they can to ensure that they hire a fellow believer.

And where does the Jacka Foundation get their funds? They own property in Melbourne, one of the world’s most expensive cities, and now they use the rental income to buy a scientific department at WSU [W7] And WSU is of course very happy with these funds because it improves their numbers. But money vs safety? Money unfortunately comes first. NICM happily provided laboratory space to an adjunct that can only be described as of a very advanced age and completely immobile – truly a safety disaster waiting to happen. Why? Because this person is apparently “loaded” and they are expecting an inheritance soon. This person’s safety and the safety of the other laboratory users do not matter, as long as there is a slight chance of some money coming in. [a17,a18] And if NICM (and WSU) treats its own people like this, just imagine how they will treat the general public. It is concerning when the executive of NICM is advised by an external consultant not to take on a project dealing with the quality control of an illegally imported product, and yet they still try and take on the project with the simple argument that if NICM performs the analytical work according to the book, then the rest does not matter. [A19] If someone dies then NICM cannot be blamed. Strong advice not to involve ourselves with illegal products luckily stopped this project, but it reflects how NICM’s hunger for money far outweighs the safety of the general public.

NICM is nothing more than a university department providing unbalanced scientific “evidence” for the CM industry, making a dollar by doing so, and enhancing the image of CM and the “world-class” top scientists at NICM. They do this in a very clever way. One way is to quantify known compounds in a CM product simply because this constitutes scientific research and this approach can only give a positive result [W8] and lead to a “scientific” stamp of approval. One of the main critiques (also by the World Health Organisation) against the use of medicinal herbs is the lack of quality control (and of course efficacy etc). This is well known criticism and in a presentation given during my interview, I clearly stated that the problem is not a lack of analytical methods to quantify compounds in herbs but a lack of our ability to be in control of the quality. I failed to convince NICM management and to this day NICM is developing methods to quantify compounds in herbs with the claim that they are addressing the criticism as given by the WHO. In vivo safety and efficacy also does not really matter. Asking numerous times that toxicity should be investigated for one such product, keeping in mind that one of NICM’s priorities is: “…elucidates safety, efficacy and cost effectiveness of complementary medicine and translates this into policy and practice”, nothing happened. [W9] Testing for toxicity has not even been discussed in any of the project meetings. [a20] A statement was even made that in vitro toxicity testing suffers from false positive results, so why bother. If this specific product show toxicity or not does not really matter, but the reluctance to test for toxicity is against NICM’s own priorities. Asking the question if they will be confident to give this product to their own children did however make them think for a second – but only for a second. In other words they design experiments that will give positive results and they really do not have safety and efficacy of these products in mind.

3.2 Impact on society

In order to maintain and strengthen this massive and complex network you need to employ a lot of people, all of them paid by the taxpayer. NICM received $2.15 million from the taxpayer in 2015 (excluding industry and foundation contributions), most of which goes to salaries. Discussing my growing ethical concerns with NICM and WSU in 2013 only resulted in NICM’s budget being increased in subsequent years. As a scientist you know that you are in trouble when you raise your concerns, which include the selling of false hope to desperate people and generally misleading the public, to which the Director responds with, “but everyone is doing this.” And in all of this, especially with the continued support of WSU, you do not really need to do independent scientific research and student training. Almost all of NICM’s resources are being spent on growing and maintaining this massive complex network of lobbying and propaganda for the CM industry – and admittedly, NICM is doing it brilliantly. Any criticism from anyone – it is simply laughed off. “We bring in lots of money from industry”, “We are top scientists – just look at our numbers”, “The university is fully behind us so we do not understand what your problem is.”

The following example epitomises the whole problem: The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia recently published a report on Homeopathic treatments and they found that there is no evidence for their efficacy whatsoever. [W10] We should now, as a trusted institute, discourage the general public from using homeopathic treatments, as the NHMRC report concluded that: “People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness”. NICM should therefore endorse this finding. After all, on our publicly available information pamphlet, we stand for, “In pursuit of better health for Humanity”. Yes, we should test claims of companies and advise the general public that they are being misled by ineffective or potentially dangerous medications or treatments, as is clearly the case with homeopathic treatments. NICM’s response to the NHMRC report was however quite different and can only be described as rejecting their findings by playing the scientific number game. [W11] NICM welcomed the NHMRC report but states, “Randomized controlled trials of homeopathy were not systematically and independently reviewed. Laboratory and animal studies were also excluded. No homeopathic expert was appointed to the NHMRC Review Panel” and “This conclusion is consistent with many, but not all, international reviews of homeopathy”. No citations were given to provide the public with the missing “scientific evidence” for NICM’s claimed efficacy of homeopathy and therefore this statement can only cause confusion amongst the public.

This NICM statement made me realise that NICM is actively misleading and potentially harming the general public. Does NICM investigate homeopathic treatments? No they don’t simply because, as stated by the director, homeopathy is too controversial! In other words if you investigate homeopathy you will in all likelihood get a negative result – and that is not something that NICM wants.

The premier flagship CM Institute in Australia and WSU supports the use of Homeopathic treatments. Why? It boils down to this: If NICM receives a large amount of funding (>$5 million over a number of years) from the Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies, which actively supports and promotes the following as effective medical treatments: “Energy and Subtle Healing, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Meditation, Planetary and Human Ecology, Reflexology, Acupuncture, Acupressure, Alexander Technique, ……… (a very long list but very interesting), [W12] one will start to understand the somewhat predictable response from NICM to the NHMRC report. If NICM fully supports the findings of the report, this foundation will stop or decrease their funding and in the long run that will be the end of NICM. Can we call this a blatant conflict of interest? Is this legal? Does it break a consumer law? Does this constitute scientific misconduct? As a scientist I am now supposed to defend these treatments – but by doing that I will knowingly be misleading the public and potentially cause serious harm or even death.

This is the main problem with playing the number game – it gives scientific credibility to these un-testable, ineffective and dangerous treatments. We do not even have to study any of these above-mentioned treatments and yet whatever we publish gives credibility to these treatments. When you count the number of papers, impact factors, citations and industry income and you punch that into a computer, the computer spits out another number which means “well above world standard”. Really?

4. Taking on NICM and the fate of whistleblowers

What happens if these ethical concerns are explained or discussed with colleagues at NICM? A very blank expression and maybe even a hint of shock, and an immediate reference to our ERA 5 rating. How can I possibly have these concerns if we are rated well above world standard and our scientific outputs are reviewed by the world’s top scientists? The scientific game and the resulting ERA 5 rating are basically used to silence any criticism or concerns. Unfortunately there are people who know the scientific game well, they play it aggressively and they truly believe in it. They really believe that these numbers mean that they are great scientists and that the science they do is therefore of the highest quality. There is no support for independent scientific research – and honestly, if you can manage to reach the highest echelons of the scientific system by playing the number game, who would bother to do dirty old independent science in the laboratory? And this is the damage that the scientific game is doing – it enables “scientists” and industries selling bogus products to get away with it.

Some may ask if I have done enough to try and solve this problem. I have raised my concerns with NICM and that led to nothing other than sidelining myself – I had to withdraw from specific projects and publications (and yet they still named me as a co-author), which caused a lot of tension. I have raised my concerns with the WSU management, which also led to nothing. Since 2013 I have tried to move to other departments at WSU but there was no real interest or assistance from WSU – simply because moving me would have been an admission of guilt. I did however realise that by me leaving, the problem will not be addressed and I will knowingly allow the general public to be harmed. This realisation came to me when I was called by a Paediatrician who suspected CM (from a well-known Australian supplier) to have caused severe poisoning in a 4-year-old girl. Thus by keeping quiet I will indirectly be responsible for putting the general public at risk (the girl luckily recovered after her herbal treatment was stopped). So I fear that people may die because of the game that is being played at NICM and at WSU. This is the main point that I have raised with the Vice Chancellor of WSU, without much happening (this unedited manuscript was sent to him along with additional information). [a21] The response, after a number of weeks and after a number of email exchanges, was simply, “…. nor any of the information you have provided to date, support your assertions concerning NICM”. With this response and noticing that NICM is receiving more support and taxpayer money from WSU, simply meant that my time was up. The only option left was to expose NICM internally, with the hope that they will draw their swords on each other, and not use it on me. Unfortunately the latter happened and that led to my demise.

Neither the Dean of the School of Science and Health, nor any other Professor included in this specific conversation even bothered to ask what my problems with NICM were. [a22] And this tells me only one thing: they are all in on this and they are completely happy to maintain the status quo. But because I do not want to falsely accuse anyone of anything I’ve send (a month after I left WSU) this manuscript to the directors of NICM for comments. This resulted in me receiving a letter from the WSU management calling what I’ve written as “baseless to say the very least”, without any scientific comments (I cannot use the WSU affiliation and the statement about the missing reference in NICM’s newsletter is not their fault). They want to know if NICM has broken any rules or regulations. If not, then they are allowed to continue to promote water as a cancer treatment!  And importantly WSU reserves all of its rights against me – for whatever that means. [a2]

5. Conclusions

How is it possible that a professor in science and a university can promote and defend the use of water as a scientifically proven treatment for disease? I do hope that I have managed to give an adequate answer to this question. The steady growth in the use of CM and the number of courses offered in CM at universities around the world is the result of a scientific system in need of urgent reform. And yet NICM is not entirely to blame here; they are only masterfully using the deficiencies of the current scientific system to enable them to prosper and the general public to suffer (health-wise as well as financially). CM is by no means the only scientific field that is potentially damaging to society and there are other fields of science that are also guilty, to some degree. One important question, that needs to be asked. Is NICM breaking any laws? No they do not (excluding self plagiarism and naming academics as co-authors on manuscripts without those people even knowing about it – but WSU will just brush this aside as unimportant), and they are extremely careful not to break any laws – they spend a lot of time and resources to stay within the legal framework. It is not illegal to serve on different advisory boards or to lobby politicians, to pre-select potential new employees and unfortunately it is not illegal to sell water to cancer patients. You do however need to spend a huge amount of resources to be able to continue to legally sell water (and other useless interventions) to cancer patients making the primary focus of WSU, to be a distinctively student-centred and a vibrant research led University, at NICM impossible to attain.

As long as WSU support NICM with taxpayer’s money, NICM will continue to lobby regulators, politicians, doctors, health care insurance companies etc. in order to maintain the current rules regulating CM but also to eventually relax the rules governing CM. So we can be sure that not only is water legally being sold as medicine, but with time, other CM medicines will also legally enter the market. They are currently pushing very hard to get TCM’s over the line. Anyone that opposes this and wants to break this vicious cycle will be sued by WSU/NICM, simply because they are currently not breaking any rules – that I know of. This cycle can therefore only be broken if the taxpayer decides that enough is enough. Hence a public awareness campaign will probably be the only approach that might have a chance of success. Worst case scenario, NICM and WSU will maintain the status quo, go into an aggressive damage control mode (they already started), use the number of citations that this paper will attract to increase their own numbers and obviously get rid of any (future) trouble makers, and importantly they will continue to promote and defend water, and other CM’s, as validated treatments for disease. Best case scenario: Public outrage, full investigation of NICM and a return to support and practice of real science at WSU leading to a real positive impact on society.



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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.

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

After the many conversations and numerous letters that I’ve sent WSU management regarding the seriously flawed operational matters at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), one might think that they will at least be looking into this matter. At the very least! That they are reluctant to do so is quite clear. They have remained eerily silent even after I approached the state and federal ministers of health, the NHMRC, TGA etc. and after I started to expose what they are up to with this Blog – with my plight even making it into the newspapers.

A short recap. How is it possible that one person is jailed for using a “medicine” whilst a professor at WSU receives accolades for defending/promoting the exact same “medicine”? And this is happening in the same country under the watchful eye of the same regulators. Yes, it is about homeopathy again (and all other similar imaginative “inventions”). You have to be an excellent salesman, without any conscience, if you can sell water to a child to protect them against malaria – I have to give them that. And it is not that they do not know what is going on, they know exactly what is going on. You can find an extensive explanation of this fascinating paradox here. Thus the question is; have WSU seen the light, did they investigate this matter, what is the management of WSU currently up to? Or are they just lying low until the dust blows over.

Let’s see.

I always dread looking at the NICM’s newsletters or at any of their major sponsors’ websites, such as the Jacka Foundation, simply because it makes my blood boil. I always ask myself; how is it possible that these people can get away with it! It is as if they are drugged and that they are occupying a parallel universe where strange natural laws exist (obviously drugged with a real drug and not a homeopathic one). Sometimes my curiosity does get the better of me, so with trembling hands I recently ventured into the alternate universe of the Jacka Foundation’s website – and they never seem to disappoint!

One report on their website gave me a very clear answer as to what the WSU’s management is up to regarding the NICM.  Here is the title on Jacka’s website: “Judy Jacka receives Honorary Fellowship from Western Sydney University” The title on WSU’s website: “Leading Australians honoured by Western Sydney University”. Here is a short excerpt from her acceptance speech (the full speech is also interesting) “Observations indicated that a synthesis of vitamins, minerals, herbs and homeopathy enabled individuals to overcome many acute and chronic disorders. I was inspired to help in the school, and from 1972 we gradually raised the standards in the medical and science areas. In the same year I started my own clinical practice. My aim was to practise integrative medicine by not only using the synthesis mentioned above, but including energy work when appropriate, plus teaching meditation”.

Yes, this speech was given in 2016 and, yes, WSU has given an award and called someone a leading Australian who practices homeopathy, energy healing etc. The “bent spoon nomination” for WSU and the NICM is thus warranted. The interesting aspects regarding this honorary fellowship are:

  1. The vice chancellor, Barney Glover, is standing next to this lady and he tells all the bright eyed students, with a straight face, that WSU is a world-class research led and student centred university.
  2. Apparently WSU is not that good with maths. Judy Jacka donated $500k / annum for the NICM whilst the NICM costs the WSU (the taxpayer) $2+ million/annum. A deficit of $1.5+ million/annum.
  3. With this deficit in mind Barney Glover has also destroyed their scientific credibility (research and training) of WSU by bestowing this honorary fellowship on quacks with money.
  4. The WSU has now opened the door for anyone who has a bit of money to buy their way into the University. The WSU’s desperation is evident.

It has been said many times before, that universities are under tremendous financial pressure and the only way to survive is thus to increase their income and/or decrease their expenditures.

The NICM (formerly known as CompleMed) has been supported by WSU for many years (10-20 years) at a cost of many millions to the taxpayer (they currently receive $2.1 million / annum, so an educated guess would be $20 + million since inception). The NICM’s income is minimal as compared to what they actually cost WSU. The Jacka foundation has donated roughly 4 million over an 8 year period, which is by far the NICM’s biggest income – still petty cash as compared to what they actually cost. Why then, will WSU be happy to incur a large deficit every year on the NICM and, importantly, put their scientific credibility on the line?

Having worked at the NICM for a number of years one thing, amongst many other things, struck me as amazing. Their ability to make empty promises and people’s (WSU management) ability to actually fall for it. Although the NICM is terrible at science they are masters in politics, lobbying and business. They managed to persuade the WSU management that a boat full of money (from China) is just around the corner (the Australia-China trade deal and the subsequent “profits” that will be made from the $170 billion TCM market). These promises were made four years ago when I started working there and when I left, three years later, that boat just did not seem to be mooring off any time soon. According to the NICM you can see the boat on the horizon, but I am afraid, that is where it will stay –  they have been saying that for a very long time.

I really hope that the WSU will sooner or later realise that they have destroyed their scientific credibility for money, that in all probability, will never come. Will they ever see the light?

The solution is simple. Close the NICM down! Savings would amount to $2 million/annum whilst losses will be $500k/annum (Jacka Foundation). It makes financial sense; it makes scientific sense – and this is WSU’s only way out of this mess. Use these savings to restore confidence in WSU’s scientific research by sponsoring real research. Money will become tighter and tighter and that boat, promised by the NICM for the past decade, will never come!!

Homeopathy! Why do the National Institute of Complementary Medicine continue to defend it?

With age comes wisdom, but for some, age comes alone. Let me explain.

I recently noticed an UK newspaper article which referred to the much discussed Australian NHMRC review on homeopathy (published in 2014). Main finding: Homeopathy was found to be ineffective for 68 medical conditions and “people who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.”  Add to this that there has been a class action lawsuit against a homeopathic company in the US, then the conclusion can easily be drawn that homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo. This was also confirmed by the mass protests where people overdosed themselves with homeopathic medicine – obviously without it having any effect.  Surely then, any scientist will concede that homeopathy simply does not work for any medical condition!

But there is also a much more serious side to this. The clear warning of the NHMRC is that people put their health at risk, not due to the homeopathic medicine itself, but mainly by delaying effective treatments. That this warning is not an overstatement has been tragically demonstrated over and over. Add to this that you can also buy homeopathic medicine for serious conditions such as malaria and HIV, then I would argue that any scientist supporting homeopathy is out of their mind, and is acting not only unethically but in some countries criminally.

Now back to the year 2000. In my previous blog post I discussed the National Institute of Complementary Medicine’s (NICM), hosted by Western Sydney University (WSU), rather misleading statements regarding the efficacy of TCM and CM in general. During those particular radio interviews the statement by the NICM concerning homeopathy was;

“In homeopathy there’s a very difficult field because whilst there are some clinical trials that show benefits, and well-controlled clinical trials that show benefit, the theory that accompanies homeopathy, if anything gets up a medical scientist’s nose”.

Another participant however stated that;

“….so we have seen much better studies about homeopathy. And actually it turned out that most, I would say almost every one of those newer studies, was negative for homeopathy”. 

So even back in 2000 the NICM was trying to convince the public that there are indeed scientific evidence for homeopathy, even though they knew that high quality studies gave negative results.

If we now look at the systematic reviews that the NHMRC included in their 2014 study we find that 51 of the 58 (or 68 of the 176 individual trails) studies were published since 2000. Therefore, in the 14 years since the radio interview almost 90% of the reviews on Homeopathy were published and one might argue that with time comes wisdom and with all this new scientific information the NICM will surely change their stance on homeopathy. Unfortunately, they did not! Their response to the NHMRC report remains the same as what they claimed in 2000. According to the NICM there are a number of high quality clinical trials that support homeopathy and they simply make the NHMRC report look suspect. So, why do they continue to knowingly mislead the public?

The NHMRC stated shortly after the release of their findings the following:

Indeed the International Council for Homeopathy is currently leading a fund-raising effort: not to fund better research, but to attack the NHMRC document.”

And what does the NICM do as an “independent” scientific institute? The highlighted text on page 2 of this document should clarify their stance. They join forces with their (homeopath) sponsors in order to attack the NHMRC report. They don’t do much of the dirty work themselves but they leave that to their partners, specifically the ‘Complementary Medicine Australia’ (CMA) organisation. The CMA promptly publish a report called the; “The Five Fundamental Flaws of the NHMRC Homeopathy Review”. This report is now being used all over the world to ignore the NHMRC’s findings and recommendations.

In previous blog posts I made it clear that the NICM is nothing more than a front company for the complementary medicine industry. For them no amount of science, common sense or even compassion for people who are currently suffering at their hands will be enough to change their views or the views of the university that hosts them. If you are funded by industry or fervent supporters of CM, including homeopathy, then you will never be able to take an unbiased independent scientific stance on homeopathy.

The public needs to get unbiased information from institutes at universities who does not have this level of vested interests, in order to make informed choices regarding healthcare issues. After all, universities are mainly funded by the taxpayer. As it stands now, this is impossible and, in my view, makes the NICM a serious public health threat. This, however, is not an Australian issue but a global issue. With time comes wisdom but only if you seek the truth – and this is not something that the NICM is looking for.

What can you do about all of this?

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