MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

pseudo-science

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Therapeutic Touch is a therapy mostly popular with nurses. We have discussed it before, for instance here, here, here and here. To call it implausible would be an understatement. But what does the clinical evidence tell us? Does it work?

This literature review by Iranian authors was aimed at critically evaluating the data from clinical trials examining the clinical efficacy of therapeutic touch as a supportive care modality in adult patients with cancer.

Four electronic databases were searched from the year 1990 to 2015 to locate potentially relevant peer-reviewed articles using the key words therapeutic touch, touch therapy, neoplasm, cancer, and CAM. Additionally, relevant journals and references of all the located articles were manually searched for other potentially relevant studies.

The number of 334 articles was found on the basis of the key words, of which 17 articles related to the clinical trial were examined in accordance with the objectives of the study. A total of 6 articles were in the final dataset in which several examples of the positive effects of healing touch on pain, nausea, anxiety and fatigue, and life quality and also on biochemical parameters were observed.

The authors concluded that, based on the results of this study, an affirmation can be made regarding the use of TT, as a non-invasive intervention for improving the health status in patients with cancer. Moreover, therapeutic touch was proved to be a useful strategy for adult patients with cancer.

This review is badly designed and poorly reported. Crucially, its conclusions are not credible. Contrary to what the authors stated when formulating their aims, the methods lack any attempt of critically evaluating the primary data.

A systematic review is more than a process of ‘pea counting’. It requires a rigorous assessment of the risk of bias of the included studies. If that crucial step is absent, the article is next to worthless and the review degenerates into a promotional excercise. Sadly, this is the case with the present review.

You may think that this is relatively trivial (“Who cares what a few feeble-minded nurses do?”), but I would disagree: if the medical literature continues to be polluted by such irresponsible trash, many people (nurses, journalists, healthcare decision makers, researchers) who may not be in a position to see the fatal flaws of such pseudo-reviews will arrive at the wrong conclusions and make wrong decisions. This will inevitably contribute to a hindrance of progress and, in certain circumstances, must endanger the well-being or even the life of vulnerable patients.

It was a BBC journalist who alerted me to this website (and later did an interview to be broadcast today, I think). Castle Treatments seem to have been going already for 12 years; they specialise in treating drug and alcohol dependency. And they are very proud of what they have achieved:

“We are the U.K.’s leading experts in advanced treatments to help clients to stop drinking, stop cocaine use and stop drug use. Over the last 12 years we have helped over 9,000 private clients stop using: alcohol, cocaine, crack, nicotine, heroin, opiates, cannabis, spice, legal highs and other medications…

All other treatment methods to help people stop drinking or stop using drugs have a high margin for error and so achieve very low success rates as they use ‘slow and out-dated methods’ such as talking therapies (hypnosis, counselling, rehab, 12 steps, CBT etc) or daily medications (pharma meds, sprays, opiates, subutex etc) which don’t work for most people or most of the time.

This is because none of these methods can remove the ’cause’ of the problem which is the ‘frequency of the substance’ itself. The phase signal of the substance maintains the craving or desire for that substance, once neutralised the craving/desire has either gone or is greatly diminished therefore making it much easier to stop drinking or using drugs as per the client feedback.
When compared to any other method there is no doubt our treatments produce the best results. Over the last 12 years we have helped over 9,000 clients the stop drinking, stop cocaine use or stop using drugs with excellent results as each client receives exactly the same treatment program tailored to their substance(s) which means our success rates are consistently high, making our advanced treatment the logical and natural choice when you want help.

Our technicians took basic principles in physics and applied them to new areas to help with addiction and dependency issues. Our treatment method uses specific phase signals (frequency) to help:

  • neutralise any substance and reduce physical dependency
  • improve and restore physical & mental health

When the substance is neutralised, the physical urge or craving has ‘gone or is greatly diminished’ therefore making it much easier to stop drinking or using drugs. The body can also absorb beneficial input frequencies so physically and mentally our clients feel much better and so find it much easier to ‘stop and regain control’…

The body (muscle, tissue, bones, cells etc) radiate imbalances including disease, physical, emotional and psychological conditions which have their own unique frequencies that respond to various ‘beneficial input frequencies’ (Hz) or ‘electroceuticals’ which can help to improve physical and mental health hence why our clients feel so much better during/after treatment…”

END OF QUOTE

Sounds interesting?

Not really!

To me this sounds like nonsense on stilts.

Bioresonance is, as far as I can see, complete baloney. It originates from Germany and uses an instrument that is not dissimilar to the e-meter of scientology (its inventor had links to this cult). This instrument is supposed to pick up unhealthy frequencies from the body, inverses them and thus treats the root cause of the problem.

There are two seemingly rigorous positive studies of bioresonance. One suggested that it is effective for treating GI symptoms. This trial was, however, tiny. The other study suggested that it works for smoking cessation. Both of these articles appeared in a CAM journal and have not been independently replicated. A further trial published in a conventional journal reported negative results. In 2004, I published an article in which I used the example of bioresonance therapy to demonstrate how pseudo-scientific language can be used to cloud important issues. I concluded that it is an attempt to present nonsense as science. Because this misleads patients and can thus endanger their health, we should find ways of minimizing this problem (I remember being amazed that a CAM journal published this critique). More worthwhile stuff on bioresonance and related topics can be found here, here and here.

There is no good evidence that bioresonance is effective for drug or alcohol dependency (and even thousands of testimonials do not amount to evidence: THE PLURAL OF ANECDOTE IS ANECDOTES, NOT EVIDENCE!!!). Claiming otherwise is, in my view, highly irresponsible. If I then consider the fees Castle Treatments charge (Alcohol Support: Detox 1: £2,655.00, Detox 2: £3,245.00, Detox 3: £3,835.00) I feel disgusted and angry.

I hope that publishing this post somehow leads to the closure of Castle Treatments and similar clinics.

The title of the press-release was impressive: ‘Columbia and Harvard Researchers Find Yoga and Controlled Breathing Reduce Depressive Symptoms’. It certainly awoke my interest and I looked up the original article. Sadly, it also awoke the interest of many journalists, and the study was reported widely – and, as we shall see, mostly wrongly.

According to its authors, the aims of this study were “to assess the effects of an intervention of Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing at five breaths per minute on depressive symptoms and to determine optimal intervention yoga dosing for future studies in individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD)”.

Thirty two subjects were randomized to either the high-dose group (HDG) or low-dose group (LDG) for a 12-week intervention of three or two intervention classes per week, respectively. Eligible subjects were 18–64 years old with MDD, had baseline Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) scores ≥14, and were either on no antidepressant medications or on a stable dose of antidepressants for ≥3 months. The intervention included 90-min classes plus homework. Outcome measures were BDI-II scores and intervention compliance.

Fifteen HDG and 15 LDG subjects completed the intervention. BDI-II scores at screening and compliance did not differ between groups. BDI-II scores declined significantly from screening (24.6 ± 1.7) to week 12 (6.0 ± 3.8) for the HDG (–18.6 ± 6.6; p < 0.001), and from screening (27.7 ± 2.1) to week 12 (10.1 ± 7.9) in the LDG. There were no significant differences between groups, based on response (i.e., >50% decrease in BDI-II scores; p = 0.65) for the HDG (13/15 subjects) and LDG (11/15 subjects) or remission (i.e., number of subjects with BDI-II scores <14; p = 1.00) for the HDG (14/15 subjects) and LDG (13/15 subjects) after the 12-week intervention, although a greater number of subjects in the HDG had 12-week BDI-II scores ≤10 (p = 0.04).

The authors concluded that this dosing study provides evidence that participation in an intervention composed of Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing is associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms for individuals with MDD, both on and off antidepressant medications. The HDG and LDG showed no significant differences in compliance or in rates of response or remission. Although the HDG had significantly more subjects with BDI-II scores ≤10 at week 12, twice weekly classes (plus home practice) may rates of response or remission. Although the HDG, thrice weekly classes (plus home practice) had significantly more subjects with BDI-II scores ≤10 at week 12, the LDG, twice weekly classes (plus home practice) may constitute a less burdensome but still effective way to gain the mood benefits from the intervention. This study supports the use of an Iyengar yoga and coherent breathing intervention as a treatment to alleviate depressive symptoms in MDD.

The authors also warn that this study must be interpreted with caution and point out several limitations:

  • the small sample size,
  • the lack of an active non-yoga control (both groups received Iyengar yoga plus coherent breathing),
  • the supportive group environment and multiple subject interactions with research staff each week could have contributed to the reduction in depressive symptoms,
  • the results cannot be generalized to MDD with more acute suicidality or more severe symptoms.

In the press-release, we are told that “The practical findings for this integrative health intervention are that it worked for participants who were both on and off antidepressant medications, and for those time-pressed, the two times per week dose also performed well,” says The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Editor-in-Chief John Weeks

At the end of the paper, we learn that the authors, Dr. Brown and Dr. Gerbarg, teach and have published Breath∼Body∼Mind©, a technique that uses coherent breathing. Dr. Streeter is certified to teach Breath∼Body∼Mind©. No competing financial interests exist for the remaining authors.

Taking all of these issues into account, my take on this study is different and a little more critical:

  • The observed effects might have nothing at all to do with the specific intervention tested.
  • The trial was poorly designed.
  • The aims of the study are not within reach of its methodology.
  • The trial lacked a proper control group.
  • It was published in a journal that has no credibility.
  • The limitations outlined by the authors are merely the tip of an entire iceberg of fatal flaws.
  • The press-release is irresponsibly exaggerated.
  • The authors have little incentive to truly test their therapy and seem to use research as a means of promoting their business.

George Lewith has died on 17 March, aged 67. He was one of the most productive researchers of alternative medicine in the UK; specifically he was interested in acupuncture. If you search this blog, you find several posts that mention him or are entirely dedicated to his work. Undeniably, my own views and research were often very much at odds with those of Lewith.

Wikipedia informs us that Lewith graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in medicine and biochemistry.  He then went on to Westminster Medical School to complete his clinical studies and began working clinically in 1974. In 1977 Lewith became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. Then, in 1980, he became a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners and, later in 1999, was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

He was a Professor of Health Research in the Department of Primary Care at the University of Southampton and a director of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research. Lewith has obtained a significant number of institutional peer reviewed fellowships at doctoral and post-doctoral level and has been principal investigator or collaborator in research grants totally over £5 million during the last decade.

Between 1980 and 2010, Lewith was a partner at the Centre for Complementary and Integrated Medicine, a private practice providing complementary treatments with clinics in London and Southampton.

A tribute by the British Acupuncture Council is poignant, in my view: “George was a friend not only to all of the acupuncture profession, be it traditional, medical or physiotherapist – he was a member of all three professional bodies – but to the whole of complementary medicine. As well as being a research leader he was also politically savvy, working tirelessly up front and behind the scenes to try to bring acupuncture and CAM further into the mainstream. Nobody did more.”

I find it poignant because it hints at the many differences I (and many others) had with Lewith during the last 25 years that I knew him. George was foremost a proponent of acupuncture. His 1985 book – the first of many – advocated treating many internal diseases with acupuncture!

George did not strike me as someone who had the ability or even the ambition to use science for finding the truth and for falsifying hypotheses; in my view, he employed it to confirm his almost evangelic belief. In the pursuit of this all-important aim he did indeed spend a lot of time and energy pulling strings, including on the political level. George was undoubtedly successful but the question has to be asked to what extent this was due to his tireless work ‘behind the scenes’.

In my view, George was a typical example of someone who first and foremost was an advocate and a researcher second. During my time in Exeter, I have met numerous co-workers who had the same problem. Almost without exception, I found that it is impossible to turn such a person into a decent scientist. The advocacy of alternative medicine always got in the way of objectivity and rationality, qualities that are, of course, essential for good science.

George’s very first publication on acupuncture was a ‘letter to the editor’ published in the BMJ. In it, he announced that he is planning to conduct a trial of acupuncture and stated that “acupuncture will be compared to an equally magical placebo”. Yes, George always had the ability to make me laugh; and this is why I will miss him.

Homeopaths have, as I reported previously, claimed to be able to ‘cure’ homosexuality. This is why I was less amazed than you might be when I came across a comment about a woman who tried a homeopathic solution called Dr. Reckeweg R20 Glandular Drops for Women. Nonetheless, the story is so remarkable that I cannot resist sharing it with you.

The solution promises to fix pituitary dysfunction, goiters, obesity, Grave’s diseases, Addison’s disease, and “lesbian tendencies.” The product also brags that it is “derived and potentised from fetal tissues.”

A much more detailed description of the remedy in question can be found here:

Dr. Reckeweg R20 Glandular drops for women, goitre, endocrine dysfunction, Graves disease, addisons disease, Adiposity (Overweight)

Dr Reckeweg R20 Glandular drops are indicated for frigidity in women. Dr.Reckeweg R20 drops treats endocrine dysfunction in women through individual remedies like Glandulae suprarenaises, Hypophysis that is derived and potentised from fetal tissues based on Arndt-Schulz principle. Also indicated for growth disturbances, obesity due to pituitary dysfunction, Goiter (swelling in neck due to thyroid enlargement), Grave’s diseases (auto immune disease from hyperthyroidism), Addison’s disease (due to deficient hormones from adrenal cortex), myxoedema (swelling due to under active thyroid glands), etc.

Introduction The disorders of glands in the human body can affect the physiological functions due to excess or deficient hormones. This occurs when glands like the adrenal or pituitary do not function properly resulting in too much or too little hormones being released. This includes important HORMONEs like cortisol aldosterone and sex hormones produced by adrenal gland and Growth hormone, Prolactin, Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). For example too much aldosterone increases blood pressure whereas Adrenal insufficiency results in fatigue, muscle weakness, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Pituitary glandtumor is another manifestation of The disorders of glands in the human body and is fairly common in adults.

About Dr.Reckeweg R 20 drops is a popular homeopathic medicine to treat disorders of glands in human body and acts through a proprietary blend of several homeopathic herbs (available in drops). It has key Ingredients like hypophysis, pancreas etc that act on endocrine dysfunction, obesity that is caused due to pituitary dysfunction, growth disturbances. It is also indicated for swelling of the neck resulting from enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter), swelling of the neck and protrusion of the eyes resulting from an overactive thyroid gland (Graves disease), disease characterized by progressive anemia, low blood pressure, great weakness, and bronze discoloration of the skin (Addisons disease) and swelling of the skin and underlying tissues giving a waxy consistency (myxoedema).

Indicated for following medical conditions Adiposity (Overweight), Disturbances of endocrive gland, Disturbances of gland,Obesity (Overweight)

INGREDIENTS: Dr.Reckeweg R 20 drops for women contains: Glandulae Thymi D12, Thyreoidinum D12, Hypophysis D12, Pancreas D12, Glandulae Supratenales D12, Ovaria D12 In R 20.

How the ingredients in Dr.Reckeweg R 20 drop work? The key properties in Dr.Reckeweg R 20 drops are derived from the following ingredients to treat disorders of glands in women

Glandulae suprarenales – treats abnormal physical weakness (asthenia), reduction of weight and condition causing abnormal weakness of certain muscles (myasthenia). It also treats asthma, allergic conditions, deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream (hypoglycaemia) and abnormal increase in muscle tension and a reduced ability of a muscle to stretch (hypertonia).

Hypophysis – it helps to control internal secretion, contents of the lactic acid in blood, mineralization and fluidic content of body.

Pancreas – treats pancreatic diabetes and stimulates production of the digestive secretions.

Testes (male) or Ovaria (female) – treats disorders of glands in human body such as senility (condition of being senile i.e. old age), inclining potency (male’s ability to achieve an erection or to reach orgasm), faulty memory, functional disturbances of glands. It also treats depression, inferiority complex, and condition in which one or both of the testes fail to descend from the abdomen (cryptorchidism), nocturnal involuntary urination (enuresis) and sexual dysfunction to maintain an erection of the penis (impotency).

Treats the failure of a female to respond to sexual stimulus (frigidity), lesbian tendencies, congestion and faulty circulation

It also reduces the hyperactivity of pituitary (hypophysis).

Glandulae thyme – treats exhaustion and congenital disorder arising from a chromosome defect, causing intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities (mongolism).

Thyreoidinum – it regulates thyroid gland, myxoedema, and interrupted development of the thyroid gland. It also treats condition of having low body temperature (hypothermy), excess of cholesterol in the bloodstream (hypercholesterolaemia) and retarded intellectual development.

DOSAGE: Generally 3 times daily 10 to 15 drops of Dr.Reckeweg R 20 in some water.

Complimentary medicines to R20: R26 drops (to increase reactivity after debilitating illness), R59 (in obesity)

SIZE:. 22 ML sealed Bottle

Encouraged by such scientific-sounding words, the women in question gives the remedy a try. By day four of the treatment, she writes, “At 3 AM, I find myself singing along to ‘You wanna see cunt, you wanna see pussy’ with someone else’s lipstick on my face.”

The conclusion of the author of the article is this: “So it looks like homeopathic fetus water does not in fact cure lesbianism. Still, as far as gay conversion therapy treatments go, it’s pretty tame — there’s no exorcism or electrocution, at least.”

I am sure by now you wonder about the Reckeweg remedy line. Here are two short paragraphs from my book to explain:

Dr. Reckeweg was a German homeopathic physician who practised complex homeopathy and developed homotoxicology as well as homaccorde, i. e. the administration of multiple potencies of the same remedies in one single preparation. He started a commercially successful line of combination remedies. The remedies are recommended for conventional diagnostic indications, but treated with homeopathically manufactured mixtures. According to proponents, they therefore built a bridge between conventional and homeopathic medicine. In the early 1970s, Reckeweg sold 50% of his company to the Delton Group and moved to the US.

Homotoxicology is a method inspired by homeopathy which was developed by Hans Heinrich Reckeweg (1905 – 1985). He believed that all or most illness is caused by an overload of toxins in the body. The toxins originate, according to Reckeweg, both from the environment and from the malfunction of physiological processes within the body. His treatment consists mainly in applying homeopathic remedies which usually consist of combinations of single remedies, because health cannot be achieved without ridding the body of toxins. The largest manufacturer and promoter of remedies used in homotoxicology is the German firm Heel.

And to put some icing on this cake: Heel was, of course, one of the firms who financed a journalist for systematically defaming me (more here, here and here).

Aromatherapy is popular and pleasant – but does it have real health effects? The last time I tried to find an answer to this question was in 2012. At that time, our systematic review concluded that “the evidence is not sufficiently convincing that aromatherapy is an effective therapy for any condition.” But 5 years can be a long time in research, and more up-to-date information would perhaps be helpful.

This systematic review of 2017 aimed to provide an analysis of the clinical evidence on the efficacy of aromatherapy specifically for depressive symptoms on any type of patients. The authors searched 5 databases for relevant studies Outcome measures included scales measuring depressive symptoms levels. Twelve randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were included. Aromatherapy was administered by inhalation (5 studies) or massage (7 studies). Seven RCTs showed improvement in depressive symptoms. The quality of half of the studies was low, and the administration protocols varied considerably among the studies. Different assessment tools were employed in the studies. In 6 of the RCTs, aromatherapy was compared to no intervention.

Despite these caveats, the authors concluded that aromatherapy showed potential to be used as an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms in a wide variety of subjects. Particularly, aromatherapy massage showed to have more beneficial effects than inhalation aromatherapy.

Apart from the poor English, this paper is irritating because of the almost total lack of critical input. Given that half of the trials were of poor quality (only one was given the full points on the quality scale) and many totally failed to control for placebo-effects, I think that calling aromatherapy an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms is simply not warranted. In fact, it is highly misleading and, given the fact that depression is a life-threatening condition, it seems unethical and dangerous.

Considering these facts, my conclusion remains that “the evidence is not sufficiently convincing that aromatherapy is an effective therapy for any condition, including depression.”

The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has lost all credibility after suing Simon Singh for drawing the public’s attention to the fact that they were ‘happily promoting bogus treatments’. Now, it seems, they are trying to re-establish themselves with regular, often bogus or dubious pronouncements about back pain. It looks as though they have learnt nothing. A recent article in THE INDEPENDENT is a good example of this ambition, I think:

START OF QUOTE

Skinny jeans and coats with big fluffy hoods can contribute to painful back problems, chiropractors have warned.

Nearly three-quarters of women have experienced back pain, according to a survey by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), who said fashionable clothing including backless shoes, oversized bags and heavy statement jewellery were partly to blame.

Wearing very tight jeans can restrict mobility and force other muscles to strain as they try to compensate for the resulting change in posture, chiropractor Rishi Loatey told The Independent.

“If they’re incredibly tight, you won’t be able to walk as you normally would,” he said.

“You’ve got a natural gait, or stride, that you would take, and the knee, hip and lower back all move to minimise the pressure coming up through the joints.

“However, if one of those areas isn’t moving as it should be, it’s going to cause more pressure elsewhere.”

While 73 per cent of women from a sample of more than 2,000 said they have had back pain, more than a quarter – 28 per cent – said they were aware their clothing affects their posture and back and neck pain, but did not take this into account when choosing what to wear.

Lower back pain is the most common cause of disability worldwide, with 9.4 per cent of people suffering from it, according to a previous study.

High heels, which cause muscles in the back of the leg and the calf to tighten and pull on the pelvis differently, have long been culprits of back pain.

A number of high-profile campaigns against “sexist” dress codes requiring women to wear high heels at work have made reference to this fact.

But backless shoes, flimsy ballet pumps and some soft boots can also damage your back if they are worn too often, said Mr Loatey.

“If you imagine the back of a shoe, the bit that goes round the back is supposed to be quite firm, so it grips the rear foot,” he said. “If you don’t have that, then your foot is more mobile in the shoe.”

“If they’re not the right size, they’re a bit loose or they don’t have the bit at the back, you’re almost gripping the shoe as you walk, which again changes the way you walk,” said Mr Loatey, adding that ideally shoes should be laced up at the front to make sure the foot is held firmly.

A third of women surveyed by the BCA were unaware that their clothing choices could harm their backs and necks.

Mr Loatey said people should try and wear clothes that allow them to move more freely. Heavy hoods and over-shoulder bags can both restrict movement.

They should also consider limiting the amount of time they spent wearing high heels or backless shoes and consider travelling to work or social events in trainers or other well-supported shoes instead, he said.

END OF QUOTE

This piece strikes me as pure promotion of chiropractic – health journalism at its worse, I’d say. What is more objectionable than the promotion, it is full of half truths, ‘alternative facts’ and pure invention. Let me list a few statements that I find particularly doggy:

  1. “Skinny jeans and coats with big fluffy hoods can contribute to painful back problems.” Do they have any evidence for this? I don’t know of any!
  2. “…fashionable clothing including backless shoes, oversized bags and heavy statement jewellery were partly to blame [for back problems].” Idem!
  3. “Wearing very tight jeans can restrict mobility and force other muscles to strain…” Idem!
  4. “…it’s going to cause more pressure elsewhere.” Idem!
  5. 28% of women said “they were aware their clothing affects their posture and back and neck pain, but did not take this into account when choosing what to wear.” To make the findings from a survey look like scientific evidence for cause and effect is at best misleading, at worst dishonest.
  6. “…according to a previous study“. It turns out that this previous study was of occupational back pain which has nothing to do with tight jeans etc.
  7. “High heels, which cause muscles in the back of the leg and the calf to tighten and pull on the pelvis differently, have long been culprits of back pain.” A link to the evidence would be nice – if there is any.
  8. “But backless shoes, flimsy ballet pumps and some soft boots can also damage your back – if they are worn too often…” Evidence needed – if there is any.
  9. “Mr Loatey said people should try and wear clothes that allow them to move more freely. Heavy hoods and over-shoulder bags can both restrict movement.” Concrete recommendations require concrete evidence or a link to it.
  10. Women “should also consider limiting the amount of time they spent wearing high heels or backless shoes and consider travelling to work or social events in trainers or other well-supported shoes instead.” Idem.

At this point congratulations are in order, I feel.

Firstly to THE INDEPENDENT for publishing one of the most inadequate health-related article which I have seen in recent months.

Secondly to the BCA for their stubborn determination to ‘happily promoting bogus’ notions. Instead of getting their act together when found out to advertise quackery in 2008, they sued Simon Singh (unsuccessfully, I hasten to add). Instead of cutting out the nonsense once and for all, they now promote populist ‘alternative facts’ about the causes of back pain. Instead of behaving like a professional organisation that promotes high standards and solid evidence, they continue to do the opposite.

One cannot but be impressed with so much intransigence.

One phenomenon that can be noted more frequently than any other in alternative medicine research is that studies arrive at wrong or misleading conclusions. This is more than a little disappointing, not least because it is the conclusion of a trial that is often picked up by health writers and others who in turn mislead the public. On this blog, we must have seen hundreds of examples of this irritating phenomenon. Here is yet another one. This study, a randomized, parallel, open-label exploratory trial, evaluated and compared the effects of systemic manual acupuncture, periauricular electroacupuncture and distal electroacupuncture for treating patients with tinnitus. It included patients who suffered from idiopathic tinnitus for more than two weeks were recruited. They were divided into three groups:

  1. systemic manual acupuncture group (MA),
  2. periauricular electroacupuncture group (PE),
  3. distal electroacupuncture group (DE).

Nine acupoints (TE 17, TE21, SI19, GB2, GB8, ST36, ST37, TE3 and TE9), two periauricular acupoints (TE17 and TE21), and four distal acupoints (TE3, TE9, ST36, and ST37) were selected. The treatment sessions were performed twice weekly for a total of 8 sessions over 4 weeks. Outcome measures were the tinnitus handicap inventory (THI) score and the loud and uncomfortable visual analogue scales (VAS). Demographic and clinical characteristics of all participants were compared between the groups upon admission using one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA). One-way ANOVA was used to evaluate the THI, VAS loud, and VAS uncomfortable scores. The least significant difference test was used as a post-hoc test. In total, 39 subjects were eligible for analysis. No differences in THI and VAS loudness scores were observed between groups. The VAS uncomfortable scores decreased significantly in MA and DE compared with those in PE. Within the group, all three treatments showed some effect on THI, VAS loudness scores and VAS uncomfortable scores after treatment except DE in THI. The authors concluded that there was no statistically significant difference between systemic manual acupuncture, periauricular electroacupuncture and distal electroacupuncture in tinnitus. However, all three treatments had some effect on tinnitus within the group before and after treatment. Systemic manual acupuncture and distal electroacupuncture have some effect on VAS. Neither of the three treatments tested in this study have been previously proven to work. Therefore, it is quite simply nonsensical to compare them. Comparative studies are indicated only with therapies that have a solid evidence-base. They are called ‘superiority trials’ and require a different statistical approach as well as much larger sample sizes. In other words, this study was an unethical waste of resources from the outset. With this in mind, there is only one conclusion that fits the data: there was no statistically significant difference between the three types of acupuncture. The data are therefore in keeping with the notion that all three are placebos. Alternatively one might conclude more clearly for those who are otherwise resistant to learning a lesson: POORLY DESIGNED CLINICAL TRIALS ARE UNETHICAL AND NEVER LEND THEMSELVES TO MEANINGFUL CONCLUSIONS.

‘Natural News’ are not my favourite source of information. In fact, they consistently misinform the public about vaccines, alternative therapies and many other things. In other words, they have proven themselves to be vile mis-informers and a danger to public health.

Yet recently they have provided a valuable service to all of us: they have shown that the natural treatments they regularly promote for every ailment do not actually work for paranoia. Let me explain.

Natural News just announced that Google have “blacklisted the entire Natural News domain and removed over 140,000 pages from its index. The take down of Natural News happened this morning, and it follows a pattern of censorship we’re seeing being leveled against other pro-Trump websites. Google sent no warning whatsoever to our “webmaster tools” email address on file with them. The shut off of Natural News was clearly driven by a human decision, not an algorithm. We’re currently attempting to determine Google’s claimed justification for censoring our entire website, and we hope to have NaturalNews.com restored in Google’s index.”

The announcement continues:

Natural News is, of course, one of the world’s top educational and activism sources exposing the lies of dangerous medicine, toxic mercury in vaccines, the corporate-quack science behind GMOs, cancer industry fraud and so on. By providing truthful, empowering and passionate information to the public, we harm the profit model of the corrupt medical cartels that fund the media, lobby the government and influence internet gatekeepers with advertising money. (Google has already declared war on natural medicine and nutritional supplements, all but banning them from being advertised on Google Adsense.)

“The removal of Natural News from Google’s index means that millions of people may now be unnecessarily harmed by toxic medicines, herbicides and brain-damaging mercury in vaccines because they are being denied the “other side of the story” that’s censored by the corporate-controlled media. By censoring Natural News, Google is, in effect, siding with the criminal pharmaceutical industry that has been charged with multiple felony crimes and caught bribing doctors, fraudulently altering scientific studies, conducting medical experiments on children and price fixing their drugs to maximize profits.

“In effect, censorship of Natural News is part of the establishment’s war on humanity which includes depopulation measures (Bill Gates), covert infertility vaccines, corporate-run media disinfo campaigns and a full-on assault against scientific truth and free speech conducted in the public interest…

“It’s clear to me that Natural News is being targeted primarily because of our support for President Trump and his review of vaccine safety. It is now apparent that any person who engages in real science, critical thinking or any attempt to protect children from the brain damaging effects of mercury in vaccines is going to be silenced, discredited, smeared and blacklisted. This is an astonishing realization about the depths of total corruption in society today and how the medical cartels control information to maximize their profits off human suffering…”

END OF QUOTE

Regular readers of my blog might remember that Natural News have caught my eye several times before. Here are just 4 of the many more posts where they featured prominently:

Like so many in alternative medicine, Natural News seems to be driven by conspiracy theories to a point where paranoia is hard to deny. And that is precisely the service Natural News are providing us today; after so many years of disservice this must surely be celebrated! They demonstrate quite clearly that none of the treatments they are deeply involved in works for this condition. They do that by not even considering that Google banned them because they are constantly endangering the health of the public in the most vile, libellous and objectionable ways imaginable.

Hardly surprising, you will say, the therapies in question are all bogus!

Yes, of course, but it is nice to have a confirmation directly from the horse’s mouth, isn’t it?

Prof Walach has featured on this blog before, for instance here, and here. He is a psychologist by training and a vocal and prominent advocate of several bogus treatments, including homeopathy. He also is the editor in chief of the journal ‘Complementary Medicine Research’ and regularly uses this position to sing the praise of homeopathy. There is a degree of mystery about his affiliation: he informed me about 10 months ago that he has left his post at the Europa Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder (“Dass ich als “ehemaliger Professor” geführt werde liegt daran, dass ich  Ende Januar aufgehört habe. Meine Stelle ist ausgelaufen und ich habe
sie nicht mehr verlängert.”). Yet all, even his recent papers still carry this address.

His latest article is entitled ‘The future of homeopathy’ is no exception. It is remarkable not just because of the mysterious affiliation but also – and mostly – because of its content. Here is my translation of a brief passage from this paper [I added some numbers in square brackets which refer to footnotes below].

START OF MY TRANSLATION

It is entirely undisputed that homeopathy with its therapeutic principles runs against the mainstream of science; and in this, Weymayr [1] is correct. However, to build on this fact a veritable research prohibition, such as the ‘scientability-concept’ suggests, is not just wrong from a science theoretical perspective, but… also discloses a dogmatic and unscientific stance.

If we see things soberly, homeopathy is – from a science theory point of view – an anomaly: empiric data prove that effects appear regularly and more and more frequently [2].  This is being demonstrated with meta-analyses of placebo-controlled clinical trials. And this also shows with our own provings, which conform well with the newly developed standards as well as with the newer provings. Effects are furthermore noted with such frequency in animal and plant-based studies. Contrary to often voiced statements, there are also models which produce replicated effects – for instance the model of children with ADHD which is currently being replicated. Repeatedly high quality pilot studies emerge, such as the one by Gassmann et al., which show that unexpected effects also appear with higher potencies, documented with objective methods. Homeopathy proves itself as useful in large pragmatic trials of which we, however, have far too few. And let’s not forget: homeopathy is pragmatically useful. Even though aggravations do occur occasionally during homeopathic treatments, the claim that homeopathy is dangerous is a careless interpretation of the data. [3]

In what way is homeopathy an anomaly? I have already years ago argued that the signature of the data does not suggest that we are dealing with a classical local effect. This would be an effect which would conform with the usual criterion of causality and would thus be stable, regular and more and more evident with improved experimentation. It is unnecessary to repeat this argument [4] for the purpose of this editorial. But precisely the question of the classic causal effect is the controversy. And exactly this is the issue used by the new wave of critic of homeopathy which is openly aimed at the demise of homeopathy. This situation occurs because also the homeopaths are victims of the misapprehension  that homeopathy is based on a classic causal process. But this assumption is most likely wrong, and homeopaths would be well-advised on the one side to point to the empiric evidence, and on the other side to practice theoretical chastity making clear that, for the time being, we have not a clue how homeopathy functions. This is the typical situation when a scientific anomaly occurs…

My prognosis would be: if we stop to misunderstand homeopathy as a classic causal phenomenon and instead view and research it as a non-classical phenomenon, homeopathy would have a chance and science would get richer by a new category of phenomena. This approach will prompt criticism, because it renders the world more complex rather than simpler. But this cannot be changed. Perhaps a new era of therapeutics might even emerge which does not abolish the molecular paradigm but makes it appear as one of several possibilities. [5]

END OF MY TRANSLATION

For those of you who can read German, here is the original text with references:

Dass die Homöopathie mit ihren therapeutischen Prinzipien dem Hauptstrom der Wissenschaft immer schon zuwiderlief, ist völlig unbestritten, und darin hat Weymayr recht. Aber auf dieser Tatsache ein regelrechtes «Forschungsverbot» aufbauen zu wollen, wie es das Szientabilitätskonzept vorsieht, das ist nicht nur wissenschaftstheoretisch absolut falsch, wie wir in einer Replik gezeigt haben [2], sondern offenbart auch eine dogmatische und unwissenschaftliche Einstellung.

Wenn man die Sache nüchtern sieht, ist die Homöopathie – wissenschaftstheoretisch betrachtet – eine Anomalie [3]: Empirische Daten belegen, dass immer wieder und insgesamt häufiger als zufällig erwartet Effekte auftreten. Das zeigen Meta-Analysen placebokontrollierter klinischer Studien [4,5,6]. Und das zeigt sich sowohl in unseren eigenen Arzneimittel-Prüfungen [7], die im Übrigen den erst neuerdings entwickelten Standards gut entsprechen [8], als auch in neueren Prüfungen [9]. Auch in Tierexperimenten [10,11,12,13] und in Pflanzenstudien [14,15,16] treten Effekte in solcher Häufigkeit auf. Entgegen oft gehörten Äußerungen gibt es durchaus auch Modelle, die replizierte Effekte ergeben – etwa das Modell homöopathischer Behandlung von Kindern mit Aufmerksamkeitsdefizit-/Hyperaktivitätssyndrom [17,18], das gerade repliziert wird [19]. Immer wieder gibt es qualitativ hochwertige Pilotstudien, wie die unlängst publizierte von Gassmann et al. [20], die zeigen, dass unerwartete Effekte auch unter höheren Potenzen und dokumentiert mit objektiven Methoden zu beobachten sind. Homöopathie erweist sich in großen pragmatischen Studien, von denen es allerdings viel zu wenige gibt, als nützlich [21,22,23]. Und nicht zu vergessen: Homöopathie ist pragmatisch hilfreich [24,25,26,27]. Zwar kommt es bei homöopathischer Behandlung gelegentlich zu einer Erstverschlimmerung [28,29], aber die Behauptung, Homöopathie sei gefährlich [30], ist eine fahrlässige Interpretation der Daten [31].

Inwiefern ist die Homöopathie dann eine Anomalie? Ich habe schon vor Jahren argumentiert, dass die Signatur der Daten in der Homöopathie nicht dafür spricht, dass wir es mit einem klassischen, lokalen Effekt zu tun haben [32]. Das wäre ein Effekt, der dem gewöhnlichen Kriterium der Kausalität entspräche und somit stabil, regelmäßig und bei immer besserer Experimentierkunst immer deutlicher hervorträte. Dieses Argument jetzt wieder aufzurollen, ist im Rahmen eines Editorials müßig. Aber genau die Frage nach einem klassisch-kausalen Effekt ist letztlich der Stein des Anstoßes. Und genau diesen Anstoß nimmt nun die neue Welle der Homöopathiekritik, die erklärtermaßen auf die Abschaffung der Homöopathie abzielt, zu ihrem Anlass. Diese Situation ergibt sich, weil auch die Homöopathen dem Selbstmissverständnis aufsitzen, Homöopathie sei ein klassisch-kausaler Prozess. Das ist höchstwahrscheinlich falsch, und die Homöopathie wäre gut beraten, einerseits auf die empirischen Befunde hinzuweisen und auf der anderen Seite theoretische Enthaltsamkeit zu üben und klarzulegen, dass wir vorläufig keinerlei Ahnung haben, wie Homöopathie funktioniert. Das ist die typische Situation, wenn eine wissenschaftliche Anomalie vorliegt…

Meine Prognose wäre: Wenn wir aufhören, die Homöopathie als klassisches Phänomen misszuverstehen, und sie stattdessen als ein mögliches nichtklassisches Phänomen betrachten und beforschen, dann hat die Homöopathie eine Chance und die Wissenschaft wird um eine neue Kategorie von Phänomenen reicher. Dieser Ansatz wird Kritik hervorrufen, denn er macht die Welt eher komplexer als einfacher. Aber das lässt sich nicht ändern. Vielleicht kann sogar eine neue Ära der Therapie beginnen, die das molekulare Paradigma nicht abschafft, aber als eine von mehreren Möglichkeiten erscheinen lässt.


Rather than commenting on this text in full detail, I simply want to provide a few explanations [they refer to the numbers in square brackets inserted by me into my translation] in order to facilitate understanding. I hope, however, that my readers will comment as much as they feel like.

1) Weymayr argued that certain fields lack plausibility to a degree that they do not merit being investigated. Here is an abstract of an article by him:

Evidence-based medicine (EbM) has proved to be very useful in healthcare; thanks to its methodology the reliability of our knowledge of the benefits and harms of interventions can be assessed. This at least applies to interventions which are based on a plausible concept for their mechanism of action and which have already achieved positive effects in experiments and simple studies. However, for interventions whose concepts contradict scientific findings EbM has proved to be unsuitable; it has not been able to prevent that they are still regarded as effective amongst wide parts of the population and medical experts. Particularly homeopathy has managed to even present itself as scientifically justified by using EbM. With the aim of highlighting the speculative character of homeopathy and other procedures and of preventing EbM from getting damaged, the concept of scientability is introduced in this article. This concept only approves of clinical studies if the intervention that is to be tested does not contradict definite scientific findings.

2) A scientific anomaly is “something which cannot be explained by currently accepted scientific theories. Sometimes the new phenomenon leads to new rules or theories, e.g., the discovery of x-rays and radiation.

3) Even a minimal amount of critical thinking leads to the conclusion that the claims made about homeopathy in this paragraph are mostly not true or exaggerated. On this blog, there is plenty of evidence to contradict Walach on all the points he made here.

4) Walach’s argument is detailed in this article:

Among homeopaths the common idea about a working hypothesis for homeopathic effects seems to be that, during the potentization process, ‘information’ or ‘energy’ is being preserved or even enhanced in homeopathic remedies. The organism is said to be able to pick up this information, which in turn will stimulate the organism into a self-healing response. According to this view the decisive element of homeopathic therapy is the remedy which locally contains and conveys this information. I question this view for empirical and theoretical reasons. Empirical research has shown a repetitive pattern, in fundamental and clinical research alike: there are many anomalies in high-dilution research and clinical homeopathic trials which will set any observing researcher thinking. But no single paradigm has proved stable enough in order to produce repeatable results independent of the researcher. I conclude that the database is too weak and contradictory to substantiate a local interpretation of homeopathy, in which the remedy is endowed with causal-informational content irrespective of the circumstances. I propose a non-local interpretation to understand the anomalies along the lines of Jung’s notion of synchronicity and make some predictions following this analysis.

5) In a nutshell, Walach seems to be saying:

  • the empirical evidence for homeopathy is strong;
  • nobody understands the mechanisms by which the effects of homeopathy are brought about;
  • if we all claim that homeopathy is a ‘scientific anomaly’ which operates according to Jung’s notion of synchronicity, the discrepancy between strong evidence and lack of plausible explanation disappears and everyone can be happy.

This is wrong for the following reasons, in my view:

  • the evidence is not strong but negative or extremely weak;
  • we understand very well that the effects of homeopathy are due to non-specific effects;
  • therefore there is no need for a new paradigm;
  • Jung’s notion of synchronicity is pure speculation and not applicable to therapeutics.

In summary, Prof Walach would do well to stop philosophising about homeopathy, read up about critical analysis, fine-tune his BS-detector and familiarise himself with Occam’s razor.

 

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