Superfoods (& most complementary meds). They all come with the same steaming side dish: a hearty helping of bullshit.

A bit of humour to let off some steam, but also to continue to battle the flood of misleading information regarding complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). Because, who wants me to explain how CAM is regulated in Australia? ‘Booooring’, ‘yaaawn’, ‘move on mate’ – I can hear you say. Short answer; no one.  So, how can one get this important, albeit boring, information regarding how we are being misled, to as many people as possible? Well, humour might play an interesting role, because everyone loves a good laugh. But then again, how can anyone squeeze any humour out of such a dreary subject? Luckily, there are some exceptionally gifted people, who can do exactly that. Not only can they give this subject a hilarious spin, they can also get the complicated message across – and hopefully many people will learn from this while enjoying some very good comedy.

And it even gets better, because it is all on youtube. I have listed a couple of videos where the consumer program “The Checkout” looked at various aspects regarding CAM regulation and misleading claims made for specific supplements, including superfoods. Sure, the focus is on Australian issues, but the CAM industry in other countries use very similar techniques  – so these videos are perfect for anyone who wants a good laugh, and learn something while doing so. Below is a short description and the total length of each video.

  1. The Australian Complementary Medicines industry is worth over $1.2 billion a year. But do manufacturers have to prove their products work? Or is a celebrity endorsement enough? Craig Reucassel looks into these questions and more. You can find the video here, length 8:47min. (they were sued for defamation based on this segment).
  2. Pharma Sutra: Seems you can buy anything at a pharmacy these days. But are pharmacists breaking their own code of conduct? You can find the video here, length 7:32 min.
  3. Chlorophyll: Kirsten Drysdale throws stones in the chlorophyll glasshouse. You can find the video here, length 3:20 min.
  4. Nicole Kidman Joins The Checkout + Dodgy Swisse Labelling: Consumer affairs Ambassador Nicole Kidman speaks out for the first time about her Swisse ads. And Craig follows up The Checkout’s first investigation into dodgy labelling of complementary medicines, analysing Swisse’s dodgy reaction to their dodgy products being banned. You can find the video here, length 2:30 min.
  5. Swisse update: Craig looks at Swisse’s push for more self-regulation in the advertising of complementary medicines. You can find the video here, length 3:32 min.
  6. Superfoods: They’re ancient, exotic, jam-packed full of antioxidants, and all come with the same steaming side dish: a hearty helping of bullshit. You can find the video here, length 9:00 min.
  7. Fish Oil: Kirsten Drysdale finds something fishy in the world of omega-3 supplements. You can find the video here, length 9:00 min.
  8. U. Tube: Howdy Partner! A special welcome to the ABC’s new commercial partner, Swisse, with a trip down memory lane! You can find the video here, length 1:27 min.

The patriarch of the supplement company Swisse, who features in many of these videos, did sue the Checkout for defamation after video 1 aired, but the case was eventually settled. And as expected, Swisse just continue to sell their dodgy products, using very dodgy claims. Enjoy the videos, and if it is any good please distribute their links via your network!

What can you do about the flood of misinformation re CAMs?

Well, if you are not a politician, Vice Chancellor or work for the regulators, to be honest, not much. One obvious thing that anyone can easily do, is to stop supporting unproven and disproven complementary, alternative and integrative therapies and medicines, even if it might look like harmless interventions (a balanced diet, exercise and drinking enough water is far more beneficial than all these complementary medicines combined – and it’s a lot cheaper).

Another important thing that anyone can do is to inform yourself, because you, or a member of your extended family or friends, will sometime during your lifetime be confronted with fake medicines or fake medical practitioners. The problem is that these people are so good that they can sell ice to an Eskimo, and hence, they can mislead anyone; your age, level of education etc. does not matter. To be well informed will be your only defence.

A very good source of valuable information, with an Australian focus, is the group called ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ (FSM). They are doing excellent work by providing accurate information regarding healthcare, but they are also doing much more than that. They are trying very hard to persuade Australian universities, politicians and regulators to stop their support of pseudoscientific healthcare systems – to fulfill their gatekeeper role. To join the 1100 concerned academics/healthcare professionals you can add your voice by becoming a friend of FSM or follow them on Twitter (@FriendsOfSciMed) or FaceBook. Their newsletters detailing all of their efforts also comes highly recommended. You can subscribe here.

A second valuable source of information is the website of Prof. Edzard Ernst in the UK. Prof Ernst was the first professor of complementary medicine (now retired), but luckily also happens to be a real scientist. He has many decades of experience, which he now shares via his website. This information is invaluable and deals with specific complementary medicines but also with how people around the globe are being misled by pseudoscientists. He has also written many books written in a style that anyone can understand (info on his website) dealing with this subject – it comes highly recommended. Twitter @EdzardErnst

You can also continue to read about my attempts to explain how the minds of pseudoscientists work, and what they are trying to achieve. Although my focus is on the NICM, many universities around the world have similar Institutes who’s modus operandi is exactly the same as the NICMs. You can follow my blog at (frankvanderkooy.com) or Twitter (@frank_kooy) or connect on LinkedIn. A simple and easy thing to do is to use the ‘Like’ function, because algorithms pick up on the number of likes which leads to the article being made available to a wider audience, and thereby creating more public awareness regarding these issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complementary Medicine Australia (CMA). Masters in selling ice to Eskimo’s, but occasionally, they do slip up and acknowledge it!

It is always interesting, and sometimes hilarious, when Complementary Medicine proponents slip up, especially when it is on national TV. As we all know, these people try their utmost best to lobby just about everyone in order to increase the sales of their mostly ineffective products. Asian countries are now being targeted by Australian companies such as Blackmores and Swisse, with the latter even sponsoring the ABC’s international network giving them exclusive advertising rights in Asian countries. Contrary to this rather shocking revelation, the ABC’s program ‘Four Corners’ took an in-depth look at the vitamin and supplement industry in Australia, and reported, unsurprisingly, that most of their products are unproven (although, disproven might have been a better term to use) – you can find the full transcript of the program here.

At the end of the program Carl Gibson, the CEO of Complementary Medicine Australia (CMA), responded to plans to reform the regulation of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs) in Australia, by having it independently tested and labelled accordingly. In other words; this product has been tested and it was found that it does not work! One can imagine that a company like Blackmores, who has recently donated $10 million to the National Institute of Complimentary Medicine (NICM), will not approve of this idea, as this implies that they will have to label 90% plus of their products as ineffective. But then only if their products are truly independently tested.  And hence, the CAM industry is in all likelihood lobbying with the NICM, for the NICM to become this ‘independent’ testing facility.

The problem is rather obvious, the NICM is not independent at all. They receive huge sums of money from the CAM industry, they are listed as an associate organisation of the CMA, they sponsor organisations such as the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association who peddles all sorts of disproven and unproven CAMs, and in return Carl Gibson sits on the NICMs advisory board.  The Directors of the Blackmores Institute are are also both listed as adjuncts of the NICM etc. etc. A very good example of their inability to accept that a specific CAM simply does not work, is Carl Gibson’s rather aggressive response to the NHMRC’s report that Homeopathy is ineffective. The NICM published a more measured, but similar response. They just won’t accept the NHMRC’s recommendations regarding homeopathy – you can read their response here. Surely, there are some serious question marks around the NICMs independence?

But having said that, all of these organisations and people work in unison by lobbying extremely hard to be able to expand their range of mostly ineffective products, specifically targeting Asian countries.  That this is exactly what they are up to, can be seen by Carl’s little slip-up. The whole program was about the unproven and disproven nature of the CAM industry’s products and this is what he had to say about it. Here is an unedited excerpt from the transcript:

“GEOFF THOMPSON: Lobbying continues against any labelling system which would make unproven products look bad.

CARL GIBSON: We have a growing international trade. So if you’re an Asian consumer and you pick up 2 products identical and the NZ product doesn’t have that disclaimer and our does I think you’re actually disadvantaging the Australians.

ASSOC. PROFESSOR KEN HARVEY: The challenge will be to see who wins. Will industry lobbying destroy any reform yet again or will the weight of time, the pressure from consumer groups and health professional groups and others actually mean that this time, something might happen? I’m not holding my breath.”

So, what does Carl Gibson say? – allow me to translate. “We know damn well that most of our products does not work and in effect that it should not be sold to the public. But, we don’t give a hoot because it is all about money, and if we don’t bullshit the Asians, somebody else will, in this case the Kiwis!”

It will be interesting to see how these regulatory reforms will unfold over the next couple of months or maybe years, and how the different role players will try and influence the process. But, like Prof Harvey said, we should not hold our breaths for any significant reforms!

What can you do about all of this?

The bureaucracy involved is extremely complex, so the best thing to do is to stop using their products and treatments – e.g. prevention. 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. I have also started a FaceBook page where I regularly post contents regarding the NICM, and complementary medicine in general (@CompleMedQuacks).

Will keep you posted regarding the outcome of the 2017 Bent Spoon awards (the NICM has again been nominated), and please, ‘Like’ and share this article via FaceBook etc. – see options below.

Western Sydney University capitulates against a $10m CAM industry tsunami. Cheerio science!

We’ve seen it last year and now we see it again. Early in 2016, Western Sydney University (WSU) awarded an honorary fellowship to Judy Jacka. She is the founding member of the Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies with links to notorious anti-vaccination groups, and who openly and fully support all types of quackery, from energy medicine to horse shit as medicine. Any scientist might now want to know why would any university do such a thing. As always, the world revolves around money. If you donate a substantial amount of money to WSU, a couple of million dollars in Judy’s case, it seems that WSU will then add their weight behind whatever you stand for, and hence give it credibility and legitimacy. They will even reward you for it with an honorary “award” – probably in the hope that you will donate more money in sometime in future.

2017 is however quite interesting. A couple of weeks ago the Vice-Chancellor of WSU gave a speech where he proclaimed that universities should stand up for facts and the truth because “if we don’t, who will?” Interesting, because he is fully aware of the attempts by a few brave scientists over the past couple of years, to indeed stand up for the truth and who are trying to persuade WSU, that it is not in the best interest of science, scientific training and the Australian public, to support and give credibility to pseudoscientists such as Judy Jacka – but WSU simply squashed all these (ongoing) attempts.  His failure to stand up for the truth led to a nomination for the “Bent Spoon” award bestowed upon the “perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle” – and they even tried to squash this as well. The good news, however, is that their attempts to block this nomination failed spectacularly – you can read about it here, here and here.

WSU could have stood up for the truth after their Bent Spoon debacle but no, it seems that such a brave move would have cost them too much money. The big news was published a week ago. The controversial supplement company Blackmores, who made the headlines recently for grossly misrepresenting research results, donated a cool untied $10 million to WSU. And in a show of force, indicating that WSU has learned nothing, and in all likelihood, will never put science and the health of the Australian public before money, bestowed an honorary doctorate upon Marcus Blackmore, the founder of Blackmores – why? because he is ‘loaded’.

WSU has now made it as clear as daylight. They have capitulated against big money, making them nothing more than a for-profit company. But who will now stand up for facts and the truth, Mr Glover?  In their world it seems that as long as you give them a substantial amount of money they will promote and defend whatever you are trying to sell – simple stuff. Surely, WSU and the National Institute of Complementary Medicine, who received these funds with open arms, and who continue to mislead the Australian public deserves another Bent Spoon nomination in 2017?

What can you do about all of this?

The bureaucracy involved is extremely complex, so the best thing to do is to stop using their products and treatments – e.g. prevention. 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.

Will keep you posted regarding the outcome of the 2017 Bent Spoon awards (the NICM has again been nominated), and please, ‘Like’ and share this article via FaceBook etc. – see options below.

“Swallowing It!” The ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ takes a look at the Australian vitamin and supplement industry. And the NICM’s role in all of this?  

Swallowing it: How Australians are spending billions on unproven vitamins and supplements.” A catchy title and a very important subject to investigate. It is however unfortunate that the term ‘unproven’ is used, instead of ‘disproven’. There is a major difference between these two terms.  The former means that vitamins and (mineral) supplements has not been tested, and therefore it is unknown if it is beneficial or not, whilst the latter indicate that it has been tested, to infinity and beyond, and it was shown not to be beneficial for most people, but for a select small group of people and for very specific conditions (e.g. vegans, pregnant women etc.). In reality, it has been tested, over and over – very little benefit and it might even carry a risk. It is therefore mainly disproven.

Herbal supplements are somewhat different. Many, such as St Johns Wort and Gingko biloba, have been tested thoroughly, whilst many haven’t. Therefore, we have a combination of unproven and disproven herbal supplements and very few that might actually be beneficial. Having said that: this does not matter one iota for the Complementary Medicine (CM) Empire – they just couldn’t care less. Why do I call them an Empire? Because of the remarkable similarities between their modus operandi and that of the well-known gangster, Al Capone. You can read about it here and here.

To say that a specific CM does not work, and that the public should stop taking it, is for these people totally unacceptable.  Here is a simple example of how it works:

A large clinical trial, called SELECT, (involving more than 35 000 men) was conducted to test if Vitamin E and Selenium prevents prostate cancer. It was stopped prematurely because not only did it not prevent prostate cancer (no benefit), there were, although not significant, “….more cases of prostate cancer in men taking only vitamin E” (indicating that it might actually be harmful). Based on this information, any responsible scientist will now conclude that the benefit of taking this supplement for the prevention of prostate cancer has now been disproven (no benefit and it might even be dangerous). Simple stuff.

Therefore the ‘National Cancer Institute’ in the US provides this information on their website; “Should men take vitamin E or selenium supplements for cancer prevention?  No. Scientists do not understand how these supplements really work and more importantly, the interactions that these supplements have together or with foods, drugs, or other supplements. There are no clinical trials that show a benefit from taking vitamin E or selenium to reduce the risk of prostate cancer or any other cancer or heart disease.”

Although the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), in Australia, did not take part in the SELECT trial, they felt compelled to release a press statement regarding the trial outcome. Whenever a negative (no benefit) result is published that might influence the sales figure of their main sponsors, they will react. In a long, and somewhat confusing, statement the NICM reaches the following conclusion and recommendation “….the precautionary principle would suggest that men over 50 and any man over 40 with a family history of prostate cancer should avoid selenium and vitamin E supplementation at doses that exceed recommended dietary intakes if not prescribed by a health professional.”

In other words; continue to buy the stuff that our sponsors sell. The well-known Australian supplement company, Blackmores, who has given the NICM more than $5 million in 2016, happily continues to sell these supplements to the Australian public. Asking Blackmores online Naturopath about the products for men with prostate issues, this is what they recommended “Blackmores has a product called Prostate Health Formula which contains both vitamin E and selenium along with a few other ingredients. Here is the product link for your information:  https://www.blackmores.com.au/products/prostate-health-formula. Frank, if you require any further information please contact the Naturopathic Advisory Service at advice@blackmores.com.au

So, is the naturopathic advisory service the ‘health professional’ that the NICM refers to in their statement?

This is a simple example of how it works. These people (and I have to exclude those very few that are conducting unbiased research into CAM’s) cannot accept that most CAM’s doesn’t have any benefit, some are dangerous and very few might be beneficial. If they do, and advise the public accordingly, their whole empire will collapse. And as usual; it is all about money and therefore it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the share price, before and after the Four Corners program airs, of the main producer of these products in Australia, Blackmores. It just might give us an indication if this program will have any sort of impact.

The Four Corners program airs tonight (13/02/2017) at 8:30 pm (AEST) but will also be archived on their website, that you can find here.

What does a car and complementary medicine have in common? More than you know!

How to explain the complex world of complementary, alternative and integrative medicine in simple terms?

Recently the supplement company Blackmores opened their own Wellness centre where your brainwaves can be analysed upon which a “qualified” naturopath will prescribe you your much needed “meds”. Blackmores is also planning to place naturopaths in pharmacies across Sydney in order to “integrate” their products with conventional medicine. Inspired by these developments I decided to write this analogy in order to try and make sense out of this madness.

Mass intrigue and fascination

One afternoon I was strolling down the street when I came across a glitzy new car showroom. Fascinated and intrigued by the stunning car designs and the low prices, I suddenly found myself in the packed showroom talking to a young, very healthy looking, salesperson.  He started his sales pitch by ensuring me that these new cars have taken the world by storm. In fact, it is so popular that very soon a salesperson will be stationed in every car showroom across town – even in showrooms of other car manufacturers! While still contemplating the logic of this, he explained that the main advantage giving them the edge over their competitors, was that their cars are powered by the “indespectus” engine. Although this sounded impressive, and while trying to figure out what the word means, he started to list all the amazing benefits. The indespectus engine is the sole contributor to the cars revolutionary low maintenance costs, making it the most cost effective car by a mile.  The car also comes with an exceptional safety record with very few injuries or fatalities recorded.  And this is not all! The whole car is manufactured from recyclable material making it all natural, and natural is good. “We are natural; the car is natural – it is a perfect fit!” On top of that it does not even need a single drop of dirty old fossil fuels. After this barrage of astonishing facts the salesman pompously started with his final assault; “It is cheap, it is cost effective, it is safe, it is all natural, …..” while I was starting to think that this is all too good to be true.

Some apprehension and a change of tactics

Although the design of the car was absolutely beautiful with all the modern add-ons one can hope for, and even with all the benefits as listed by the salesman, I was still not convinced. Something was amiss. The word indespectus was still bothering me. Doesn’t spectus mean “visible” and inde “in-” making the new car technology “invisible”. Is this possible? Are they knowingly selling the public a car without an engine? Noticing my apprehension, the salesman quickly changed tack and made a stern reference to the thousands of people dying on our roads in conventional cars. They are not only dangerous, they are also expensive and made of unnatural synthetic materials and thus they do not really work. He assured me that conventional car manufacturers are only there to make huge profits and therefore they are dreading this new innovative indespectus technology – it will simply put them out of business.  He continued with the cherry on the cake – these cars are also endorsed and used by royalty, movie and sports stars and even your odd university professor! Knowing that these people are actually being paid in one way or the other to endorse an engineless car, I decided to risk a critical question. “Will this car get me to hospital in case of a medical emergency?”

Not used to being asked such critical questions and having exhausted his armoury of sales tricks, some experience was urgently needed to clinch this deal. An older very healthy looking manager with an award winning PhD in various indespectus car designs, thus arrived at the scene. After some deliberation the answer from the manager was a crystal clear, yes! Our indespectus cars will be able to get you to hospital, followed by some gobbledygook that sounded like “evidence-based” and “a growing body of scientific literature”. The manager assured me that I have absolutely nothing to worry about and continued that there is scientific evidence that when your indespectus car is towed by a conventional car, called complementing or integrating with a conventional car, then you will get to hospital in time. And it even gets better. Being towed means that you still have all the added benefits of the indespectus car and thus you might feel slightly better than the person driving the tow truck.

Another salesman, also known as “the disciple”, who overheard his colleagues desperate bid to sell me an engineless car, joined the conversation by asserting that there is a growing body of evidence that the indespectus engine can power the car independently and hence it is a viable alternative to a conventional car. Not only that, the car will get you to hospital way faster and, importantly, without any of the risks associated with a conventional car. Being a scientist and not wanting to upset “the disciple” too much I responded that “this is just not possible and it is highly improbable bull….” – but the disciple condescendingly finished my sentence for me with “science cannot explain everything”, followed by boastfully claiming that sometime in future a new revolutionary style of science will be able to explain the power of propulsion of the indespectus engine. It is only a matter of time!

The sales team stood perplexed and looked a bit dejected because their sales pitch, in which they received extensive training for many years at some universities, is usually enough to convince just about everyone to buy an indespectus powered car and to promote it to their neighbours, family and even their own children. But for me as an unbiased scientist it just showed too many similarities with “the Emperor’s new clothes”.

The few that flee

Sensing that the sales team are getting worried about the impact that I am having on other customers, and hence their sales figures, and that they are planning an exit strategy to escort this troublemaker off the premises, I decided to make a run for it.  Fleeing the packed showroom, I could not help but think of the impact that this engineless car will have on society. Is it not maybe better to first show that the car works before you sell it? Or, as I suspect, are they using their sales figure as their main “scientific evidence” that the car actually works. And why do so few people look under the bonnet and see the engineless car for what it is? How then can I convince politicians, regulatory agencies, universities and the public that an engineless car will not be able to get you to hospital, faster and without any risks, as compared to a conventional car? Or will it again take a young child, without any vested emotional or financial interests, to tell the Emperor that he is naked or that the indespectus car does not have an engine.

There is an unknown number of skeletons around the world sitting in an engineless car of people who were unable to get to hospital in time while there is a known number of people who died in a car crash on their way to hospital. The death toll of the former is arguably higher than the latter. The main benefit of a conventional car is that it will take you from point A to point B, granted there will always be risks involved but without this benefit there is a nothing. The take home message? Buying an engineless car to make you feel better, with its superior upholstery or sound system, for if you have a headache or if you are down in the dumps is causing other people to die! Why? Because the industry uses their sales figure, and you are part of it, as their primary weapon to infiltrate universities, do mass marketing and use it as their primary “evidence” that the car can actually move. If so many people buy it then surely it must be working! – no it does not work! Stop buying it!

Question is; does this analogy work?

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