MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

bogus claims

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I remember reading this paper entitled ‘Comparison of acupuncture and other drugs for chronic constipation: A network meta-analysis’ when it first came out. I considered discussing it on my blog, but then decided against it for a range of reasons which I shall explain below. The abstract of the original meta-analysis is copied below:

The objective of this study was to compare the efficacy and side effects of acupuncture, sham acupuncture and drugs in the treatment of chronic constipation. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the effects of acupuncture and drugs for chronic constipation were comprehensively retrieved from electronic databases (such as PubMed, Cochrane Library, Embase, CNKI, Wanfang Database, VIP Database and CBM) up to December 2017. Additional references were obtained from review articles. With quality evaluations and data extraction, a network meta-analysis (NMA) was performed using a random-effects model under a frequentist framework. A total of 40 studies (n = 11032) were included: 39 were high-quality studies and 1 was a low-quality study. NMA showed that (1) acupuncture improved the symptoms of chronic constipation more effectively than drugs; (2) the ranking of treatments in terms of efficacy in diarrhoea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome was acupuncture, polyethylene glycol, lactulose, linaclotide, lubiprostone, bisacodyl, prucalopride, sham acupuncture, tegaserod, and placebo; (3) the ranking of side effects were as follows: lactulose, lubiprostone, bisacodyl, polyethylene glycol, prucalopride, linaclotide, placebo and tegaserod; and (4) the most commonly used acupuncture point for chronic constipation was ST25. Acupuncture is more effective than drugs in improving chronic constipation and has the least side effects. In the future, large-scale randomized controlled trials are needed to prove this. Sham acupuncture may have curative effects that are greater than the placebo effect. In the future, it is necessary to perform high-quality studies to support this finding. Polyethylene glycol also has acceptable curative effects with fewer side effects than other drugs.

END OF 1st QUOTE

This meta-analysis has now been retracted. Here is what the journal editors have to say about the retraction:

After publication of this article [1], concerns were raised about the scientific validity of the meta-analysis and whether it provided a rigorous and accurate assessment of published clinical studies on the efficacy of acupuncture or drug-based interventions for improving chronic constipation. The PLOS ONE Editors re-assessed the article in collaboration with a member of our Editorial Board and noted several concerns including the following:

  • Acupuncture and related terms are not mentioned in the literature search terms, there are no listed inclusion or exclusion criteria related to acupuncture, and the outcome measures were not clearly defined in terms of reproducible clinical measures.
  • The study included acupuncture and electroacupuncture studies, though this was not clearly discussed or reported in the Title, Methods, or Results.
  • In the “Routine paired meta-analysis” section, both acupuncture and sham acupuncture groups were reported as showing improvement in symptoms compared with placebo. This finding and its implications for the conclusions of the article were not discussed clearly.
  • Several included studies did not meet the reported inclusion criteria requiring that studies use adult participants and assess treatments of >2 weeks in duration.
  • Data extraction errors were identified by comparing the dataset used in the meta-analysis (S1 Table) with details reported in the original research articles. Errors included aspects of the study design such as the experimental groups included in the study, the number of study arms in the trial, number of participants, and treatment duration. There are also several errors in the Reference list.
  • With regard to side effects, 22 out of 40 studies were noted as having reported side effects. It was not made clear whether side effects were assessed as outcome measures for the other 18 studies, i.e. did the authors collect data clarifying that there were no side effects or was this outcome measure not assessed or reported in the original article. Without this clarification the conclusion comparing side effect frequencies is not well supported.
  • The network geometry presented in Fig 5 is not correct and misrepresents some of the study designs, for example showing two-arm studies as three-arm studies.
  • The overall results of the meta-analysis are strongly reliant on the evidence comparing acupuncture versus lactulose treatment. Several of the trials that assessed this comparison were poorly reported, and the meta-analysis dataset pertaining to these trials contained data extraction errors. Furthermore, potential bias in studies assessing lactulose efficacy in acupuncture trials versus lactulose efficacy in other trials was not sufficiently addressed.

While some of the above issues could be addressed with additional clarifications and corrections to the text, the concerns about study inclusion, the accuracy with which the primary studies’ research designs and data were represented in the meta-analysis, and the reporting quality of included studies directly impact the validity and accuracy of the dataset underlying the meta-analysis. As a consequence, we consider that the overall conclusions of the study are not reliable. In light of these issues, the PLOS ONE Editors retract the article. We apologize that these issues were not adequately addressed during pre-publication peer review.

LZ disagreed with the retraction. YM and XD did not respond.

END OF 2nd QUOTE

Let me start by explaining why I initially decided not to discuss this paper on my blog. Already the first sentence of the abstract put me off, and an entire chorus of alarm-bells started ringing once I read further.

  • A meta-analysis is not a ‘study’ in my book, and I am somewhat weary of researchers who employ odd or unprecise language.
  • We all know (and I have discussed it repeatedly) that studies of acupuncture frequently fail to report adverse effects (in doing this, their authors violate research ethics!). So, how can it be a credible aim of a meta-analysis to compare side-effects in the absence of adequate reporting?
  • The methodology of a network meta-analysis is complex and I know not a lot about it.
  • Several things seemed ‘too good to be true’, for instance, the funnel-plot and the overall finding that acupuncture is the best of all therapeutic options.
  • Looking at the references, I quickly confirmed my suspicion that most of the primary studies were in Chinese.

In retrospect, I am glad I did not tackle the task of criticising this paper; I would probably have made not nearly such a good job of it as PLOS ONE eventually did. But it was only after someone raised concerns that the paper was re-reviewed and all the defects outlined above came to light.

While some of my concerns listed above may have been trivial, my last point is the one that troubles me a lot. As it also related to dozens of Cochrane reviews which currently come out of China, it is worth our attention, I think. The problem, as I see it, is as follows:

  • Chinese (acupuncture, TCM and perhaps also other) trials are almost invariably reporting positive findings, as we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog.
  • Data fabrication seems to be rife in China.
  • This means that there is good reason to be suspicious of such trials.
  • Many of the reviews that currently flood the literature are based predominantly on primary studies published in Chinese.
  • Unless one is able to read Chinese, there is no way of evaluating these papers.
  • Therefore reviewers of journal submissions tend to rely on what the Chinese review authors write about the primary studies.
  • As data fabrication seems to be rife in China, this trust might often not be justified.
  • At the same time, Chinese researchers are VERY keen to publish in top Western journals (this is considered a great boost to their career).
  • The consequence of all this is that reviews of this nature might be misleading, even if they are published in top journals.

I have been struggling with this problem for many years and have tried my best to alert people to it. However, it does not seem that my efforts had even the slightest success. The stream of such reviews has only increased and is now a true worry (at least for me). My suspicion – and I stress that it is merely that – is that, if one would rigorously re-evaluate these reviews, their majority would need to be retracted just as the above paper. That would mean that hundreds of papers would disappear because they are misleading, a thought that should give everyone interested in reliable evidence sleepless nights!

So, what can be done?

Personally, I now distrust all of these papers, but I admit, that is not a good, constructive solution. It would be better if Journal editors (including, of course, those at the Cochrane Collaboration) would allocate such submissions to reviewers who:

  • are demonstrably able to conduct a CRITICAL analysis of the paper in question,
  • can read Chinese,
  • have no conflicts of interest.

In the case of an acupuncture review, this would narrow it down to perhaps just a handful of experts worldwide. This probably means that my suggestion is simply not feasible.

But what other choice do we have?

One could oblige the authors of all submissions to include full and authorised English translations of non-English articles. I think this might work, but it is, of course, tedious and expensive. In view of the size of the problem (I estimate that there must be around 1 000 reviews out there to which the problem applies), I do not see a better solution.

(I would truly be thankful, if someone had a better one and would tell us)

For years, Margaret McCartney, a GP from Scotland, wrote a weekly column in the BMJ. It was invariably well-worth reading. Recently, she regrettably ended it by publishing her last article entitled  A summary of four and a half years of columns in one column. In it, she makes 36 short points. They are all poignant, but the one that made me think most (probably because it is relevant to my work and this blog) reads as follows:

Many people seek to make money from those who don’t understand science. Doctors should call out bollocksology when they see it.

On this blog, I have often discussed people who make money from consumers and patients who are unable to detect the quackery they are being sold. No doubt, the most famous case of me doing this was when, in 2009, I criticised Prince Charles and his ‘Dodgy Originals Detox Tincture’. It made many headlines; the BBC, for instance, reported:

Edzard Ernst, the UK’s first professor of complementary medicine, said the Duchy Originals detox tincture was based on “outright quackery”.

There was no scientific evidence to show that detox products work, he said.

Duchy Originals says the product is a “natural aid to digestion and supports the body’s elimination processes”.

But Professor Ernst of Peninsula Medical School said Prince Charles and his advisers appeared to be deliberately ignoring science, preferring “to rely on ‘make-believe’ and superstition”.

He added: “Prince Charles thus financially exploits a gullible public in a time of financial hardship.”

Marketed as Duchy Herbals’ Detox Tincture, the artichoke and dandelion mix is described as “a food supplement to help eliminate toxins and aid digestion”.

It costs £10 for a 50ml bottle…

At the time, I got a right blocking from my dean, Prof John Tooke, for my audacity. As far as I could see, there was almost no support from the UK medical profession. Since then, the exploitation of the public by quacks has not diminished; on the contrary, I have the feeling that it is thriving. And are doctors calling out bollocksology left right and centre? No, they are not!

Of course, some do occasionally raise their voices (and some do it even regularly). But mostly, it is the group of non-medical sceptics who open their mouths and try their best to prevent harm. Yet, I wholly agree with my friend Margret: doctors have a responsibility and must do more.

And why don’t they?

I think, there are several reasons for their inactivity:

  • doctors are frightfully busy,
  • doctors often don’t know how much bollocksology is out there,
  • doctors don’t (want to) see how dangerous much of this bollocksology is,
  • doctors fail to realise that it would be their ethical responsibility to speak out against bollocksology,
  • some doctors do not seem to understand science either,
  • some doctors are active bollocksologists themselves,
  • some doctors simply don’t care.

This clearly is a depressing state of affairs! But, at the same time, it also is a cheerful occasion for me to thank all those doctors who are the laudable exceptions, who do care, who do think critically, who see their ethical responsibility, and who do something about the never-ending flood of bollocksology endangering their patients’ health and wealth.

Some homeopaths claim that there is anecdotal support for the use of the homeopathic medicine Arsenicum album in preventing post-vaccination fever. As far as I know, the claim has not been tested in clinical trials. This study was aimed at evaluating the efficacy of this approach in preventing febrile episodes following vaccination.

In the community medicine out-patient of Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, West Bengal, a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted on 120 children. All of them presented for the 2nd and 3rd dose of DPT-HepB-Polio vaccination and reported febrile episodes following the 1st dose. They were treated with Arsenicum album 30cH 6 doses or placebo (indistinguishable from verum), thrice daily for two subsequent days. Parents were advised to report any event of febrile attacks within 48h of vaccination.

The groups were comparable at baseline. Children reporting fever after the 2nd dose was 29.8% and 30.4% respectively for the homeopathy group and control group respectively [Relative Risk (RR)=1.008] with no significant difference (P=0.951) between groups. After the 3rd dose, children reporting fever were 31.5% and 28.3% respectively for the homeopathy group and control group respectively (RR=0.956) with no significant difference (P=0.719) between groups.

The authors concluded that empirically selected Arsenicum album 30cH could not produce differentiable effect from placebo in preventing febrile episodes following DPT-HepB-Polio vaccination.

I can hear it now, the chorus of homeopaths:

  • this is part of a conspiracy against homeopathy,
  • the authors of this study display an anti-homeopathy bias,
  • this study did not closely follow the principles of homeopathy,
  • it lacked the input by experience homeopaths,
  • no homeopath worth his money would use Arsenicum album 30cH for this purpose,
  • no homeopath in his right mind would employ 6 doses thrice daily for two subsequent days,
  • etc., etc.

Well guys, I have to disappoint you: the authors of this paper have the following affiliations:

  • Dept. of Pathology and Microbiology, Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, Govt. of West Bengal
  • Dept. of Community Medicine, Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, Govt. of West Bengal
  • Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, Govt. of West Bengal
  • National Institute of Homoeopathy, Ministry of AYUSH, Govt. of India
  • Central Council of Homoeopathy, Vill, Champsara

So, perhaps it’s true: highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos.

 

“Physiotherapy generally offers a highly science based approach to clinical practice.” This was a recent comment by someone (I presume a physiotherapist) on this blog. It got me thinking – is it true or false? I am in no position to review the entire field of physiotherapy in a blog post. What I will do instead, is list a few alternative therapies often used by physiotherapists.

  1. Acupuncture: many physiotherapists seem to love acupuncture. In the UK, for example, they have their own organisations. The AACP is the largest professional body for acupuncture in the UK with a membership of around 6000 chartered physiotherapists, practising medical acupuncture. They state that there is an increasing number of research publications in the UK and worldwide proving the treatment effectiveness of acupuncture when compared to (chemical) medication for example.
  2. Applied kinesiology: some physiotherapists offer applied kinesiology. This clinic, for instance, states that applied Kinesiology combines a system of muscle tests with acupuncture, reflex points emotion and nutrition to find any imbalances present in the whole person.
  3. Bowen technique: many physiotherapists use the Bowen technique. This practice advertises it as follows. If you’re looking for a way to treat tightness in your upper back, neck or shoulders or are suffering from respiratory pain or headaches, The Bowen Technique could be the answer you’re searching for. Achieving all these things as well as being a great way to treat sports injuries and enhance sporting performance, this therapy also promotes emotional wellbeing. A non-invasive therapy, it is equally suited for the treatment of acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) conditions.
  4. Craniosacral therapy: some physios also employ craniosacral therapy. Here is an example. Craniosacral therapy as experienced by thousands of babies and people all around the country, has a proven track record at easing and relieving what makes babies upset. If your baby suffers from:
    • Colic
    • Wind
    • Digestive issues
    • Reflux
    • Unsettledness
    • Sleep problems
    • Ongoing crying
    • Difficulty with breast feeding/latch/suck
    • Other problems

    then call…

  5. Cupping: One physio writes this about cupping. It was good to see the public (Western cultures) exposed more to cupping therapy practice thanks to the recent Olympics in Rio 2016. Last Olympics in London 2012,  the Chinese and Japanese Athletes, amongst neighbouring nations, were readily seen to use and advocate the practice, along with the approval no doubt of their large team of Medical and Physiotherapy related support staff. This time however it has bridged to divide to Western World Athletes, such as Michael Phelps (he of 23 Olympic Golds fame). This advocacy of the practice and again the presumed support from his Medical and Sports science entourage with team USA, is a good barometer of the progress and acceptance within Western Medicine, for Cupping Therapy.
  6. Massage therapy: in many countries, massage and related techniques therapy always have been an integral part of physiotherapy.
  7. Feldenkrais method: The same applies to The Feldenkrais Method® is based on principles of physics, biomechanics, neuroscience, and the study of human motor development. Feldenkrais recognized the capability of the human brain to learn and relearn at any age – neuroplasticity. The method utilizes slow, gentle movements, and awareness of subtle differences to optimize learning, improve movement, and make changes in the brain.
  8. Kinesiology tape: If you have suffered an injury or illness that causes a problem with your functional mobility or normal activity, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help you return to your previous level of mobility.  Your physical therapist may use various exercises and modalities to help treat your specific problem.
  9. Reflexology: Here is what the UK Chartered Society of Physiotherapists writes about reflexology: Developed centuries ago in countries such as China, Egypt and India, reflexology is often referred to as a ‘gentle’ and ‘holistic’ therapy that benefits both mind and body. It centres on the feet because these are said by practitioners to be a mirror, or topographical map, for the rest of the body. Manipulation of certain pressure, or reflex, points is claimed to have an effect on corresponding zones in the body. The impact, say reflexologists, extends throughout – to bones, muscles, organs, glands, circulatory and neural pathways. The head and hands can also be massaged in some cases. The treatment is perhaps best known for use in connection with relaxation and relief from stress, anxiety, pain, sleep disorders, headaches, migraine, menstrual and digestive problems. But advocates say it can be used to great effect far more widely, often in conjunction with other treatments…
  10. Spinal manipulation: Physiotherapists learn spinal manipulation as part of continuing education courses in Canada. The Orthopaedic Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association is responsible for the standards of education and supervises exams required to meet the standards of the International Federation of Manipulative Physiotherapists (IFOMPT). In many other countries, the situation is similar.

These 10 therapies have all been discussed on this blog before. They lack

  • plausibility or
  • proof of efficacy or
  • proof of safety or
  • all of the above

In other words, they are NOT highly science-based.

QED

This systematic review included 18 studies assessing homeopathy in depression. Two double-blind placebo-controlled trials of homeopathic medicinal products (HMPs) for depression were assessed. The first trial (N = 91) with high risk of bias found HMPs were non-inferior to fluoxetine at 4 (p = 0.654) and 8 weeks (p = 0.965); whereas the second trial (N = 133), with low risk of bias, found HMPs was comparable to fluoxetine (p = 0.082) and superior to placebo (p < 0.005) at 6 weeks.

The remaining research had unclear/high risk of bias. A non-placebo-controlled RCT found standardised treatment by homeopaths comparable to fluvoxamine; a cohort study of patients receiving treatment provided by GPs practising homeopathy reported significantly lower consumption of psychotropic drugs and improved depression; and patient-reported outcomes showed at least moderate improvement in 10 of 12 uncontrolled studies. Fourteen trials provided safety data. All adverse events were mild or moderate, and transient. No evidence suggested treatment was unsafe.

The authors concluded that limited evidence from two placebo-controlled double-blinded trials suggests HMPs might be comparable to antidepressants and superior to placebo in depression, and patients treated by homeopaths report improvement in depression. Overall, the evidence gives a potentially promising risk benefit ratio. There is a need for additional high quality studies.

It is worth having a look at these two studies, I think.

The 1st (2011) study is from Brazil

Here is its abstract:

Homeopathy is a complementary and integrative medicine used in depression, The aim of this study is to investigate the non-inferiority and tolerability of individualized homeopathic medicines [Quinquagintamillesmial (Q-potencies)] in acute depression, using fluoxetine as active control. Ninety-one outpatients with moderate to severe depression were assigned to receive an individualized homeopathic medicine or fluoxetine 20 mg day−1 (up to 40 mg day−1) in a prospective, randomized, double-blind double-dummy 8-week, single-center trial. Primary efficacy measure was the analysis of the mean change in the Montgomery & Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) depression scores, using a non-inferiority test with margin of 1.45. Secondary efficacy outcomes were response and remission rates. Tolerability was assessed with the side effect rating scale of the Scandinavian Society of Psychopharmacology. Mean MADRS scores differences were not significant at the 4th (P = .654) and 8th weeks (P = .965) of treatment. Non-inferiority of homeopathy was indicated because the upper limit of the confidence interval (CI) for mean difference in MADRS change was less than the non-inferiority margin: mean differences (homeopathy-fluoxetine) were −3.04 (95% CI −6.95, 0.86) and −2.4 (95% CI −6.05, 0.77) at 4th and 8th week, respectively. There were no significant differences between the percentages of response or remission rates in both groups. Tolerability: there were no significant differences between the side effects rates, although a higher percentage of patients treated with fluoxetine reported troublesome side effects and there was a trend toward greater treatment interruption for adverse effects in the fluoxetine group. This study illustrates the feasibility of randomized controlled double-blind trials of homeopathy in depression and indicates the non-inferiority of individualized homeopathic Q-potencies as compared to fluoxetine in acute treatment of outpatients with moderate to severe depression.

There are many important points to make about this trial:

  1. Contrary to what the reviewers claim, the trial had no placebo group.
  2. It was a double-dummy equivalence study comparing individualised homeopathy with the antidepressant fluoxetine.
  3. Fluoxetine might have been under-dosed (see below).
  4. Equivalence studies require large sample sizes, and with just 91 patients (only 55 of whom finished the study), this trial was underpowered which means the finding of equivalence is false positive.
  5. The authors noted that a higher percentage of troublesome adverse effects reported by patients receiving fluoxetine. This means that the trial was not double-blind; patients were able to tell by their side-effects which group they were in.
  6. The authors also state that more patients randomized to homeopathy than to fluoxetine were excluded due to worsening of their depressive symptoms. I think this confirms that homeopathy was ineffective.

The 2nd (2015) study is from Mexico

Here is its abstract:

Background: Perimenopausal period refers to the interval when women’s menstrual cycles become irregular and is characterized by an increased risk of depression. Use of homeopathy to treat depression is widespread but there is a lack of clinical trials about its efficacy in depression in peri- and postmenopausal women. The aim of this study was to assess efficacy and safety of individualized homeopathic treatment versus placebo and fluoxetine versus placebo in peri- and postmenopausal women with moderate to severe depression.

Methods/Design: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, double-dummy, superiority, three-arm trial with a 6 week follow-up study was conducted. The study was performed in a public research hospital in Mexico City in the outpatient service of homeopathy. One hundred thirty-three peri- and postmenopausal women diagnosed with major depression according to DSM-IV (moderate to severe intensity) were included. The outcomes were: change in the mean total score among groups on the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, Beck Depression Inventory and Greene Scale, after 6 weeks of treatment, response and remission rates, and safety. Efficacy data were analyzed in the intention-to-treat population (ANOVA with Bonferroni post-hoc test).

Results: After a 6-week treatment, homeopathic group was more effective than placebo by 5 points in Hamilton Scale. Response rate was 54.5% and remission rate, 15.9%. There was a significant difference among groups in response rate definition only, but not in remission rate. Fluoxetine-placebo difference was 3.2 points. No differences were observed among groups in the Beck Depression Inventory. Homeopathic group was superior to placebo in Greene Climacteric Scale (8.6 points). Fluoxetine was not different from placebo in Greene Climacteric Scale.

Conclusion: Homeopathy and fluoxetine are effective and safe antidepressants for climacteric women. Homeopathy and fluoxetine were significantly different from placebo in response definition only. Homeopathy, but not fluoxetine, improves menopausal symptoms scored by Greene Climacteric Scale.

And here are my critical remarks about this trial:

  1. The aim of a small study like this cannot be to assess or draw conclusions about the safety of the interventions used; for this purpose, we need sample sizes that are at least one dimension bigger.
  2. Fluoxetine might have been under-dosed (see below).
  3. The blinding of patients might have been jeopardized by patients experiencing the specific side-effects of fluoxetine. The authors reported adverse effects in all three groups. However, the characteristic and most common side-effects of fluoxetine (such as hives, itching, skin rash, restlessness, inability to sit still) were not included.

________________________________________________

Usual Adult Dose for Depression

Immediate-release oral formulations:
Initial dose: 20 mg orally once a day in the morning, increased after several weeks if sufficient clinical improvement is not observed
Maintenance dose: 20 to 60 mg orally per day
Maximum dose: 80 mg orally per day

Delayed release oral capsules:
Initial dose: 90 mg orally once a week, commenced 7 days after the last daily dose of immediate-release fluoxetine 20 mg formulations.

_________________________________________________

Considering all this, I feel that the conclusions of the above review are far too optimistic and not justified. In fact, I find them misleading, dangerous, unethical and depressing.

It’s been often said that we live in the age of information.  Everyone can get tons of it at the click of a button. This is undoubtedly true. Sadly, it also means that we are exposed to tons of misinformation, and sometimes it seems to me that we now live in THE AGE OF MISINFORMATION.

Here I will explain the consequences of this phenomenon on two examples that, at first glance, seem to have nothing in common at all (other than being close to my heart):

  • Homeopathy
  • Brexit

With homeopathy, the public are confronted by a steady flood of misinformation from the powerful homeopathy lobby who tell us quite incredible untruths about it:

  • Homeopathy is effective
  • Homeopathy is harmless
  • Homeopathy is natural
  • Homeopathy is holistic
  • Homeopathy is supported by many of the brightest people
  • Homeopathy is an important contribution to public health
  • Homeopathy prevents epidemics
  • Homeopathy works through quantum effects
  • Homeopathy is nano-medicine
  • Homeopathy is energy medicine
  • Homeopathy works for infants
  • Homeopathy works in animals
  • Homeopathy works for plants
  • Homeopathy is the victim of a propaganda campaign against it

Those who put out this multi-level misinformation pretend that they inform the public. Of course, the public must be informed – how else could they possibly make informed choices? (If this important aim requires a bit of cheating here and there, so be it!)

And the public reacts as directed: they buy homeopathic preparations in droves. The result is that the promoters of homeopathy can claim that THE PUBLIC IS VOTING WITH THEIR FEET! The people have decided, they say, homeopathy is a good thing!

_______________________________________________________________

With Brexit, the public is confronted by a steady flood of misinformation from the powerful Brexit lobby who tell us quite incredible untruths about it:

  • Brexit is going to give us our country back
  • Brexit is good for the economy
  • Brexit will mean more money for the NHS
  • Brexit will be easy
  • Brexit will allow us to trade with the rest of the world
  • Brexit will keep foreigners out
  • Brexit is going to create jobs
  • Brexit is good for our industry
  • Brexit is good for farmers
  • Brexit is good for the environment
  • Brexit will free us from the shackles of the EU
  • Brexit will strengthen our alliance with the US

Those who put out this multi-level misinformation pretend that they inform the public. Of course, the public must be informed – how else could they possibly make informed choices? (If this important aim requires a bit of cheating here and there, so be it!)

And the public reacts as directed: they buy into the lies of the Brexiteers in droves. The result is that the promoters of Brexit can claim that THE PUBLIC HAS VOTED WITH THEIR FEET! The people have decided, they say, Brexit is a good thing!

_____________________________________________________________

Yes, I know, this is a bit simplistic. But the point I am trying to make is surely valid: misinformation not only leads to wrong and often dangerous decision, it is also the way charlatans try to fool us with their circular arguments and justify their blatant lies.

This could (and perhaps should) be a very short post:

I HAVE NO QUALIFICATIONS IN HOMEOPATHY!

NONE!!!

[the end]

The reason why it is not quite as short as that lies in the the fact that homeopathy-fans regularly start foaming from the mouth when they state, and re-state, and re-state, and re-state this simple, undeniable fact.

The latest example is by our friend Barry Trestain who recently commented on this blog no less than three times about the issue:

  1. Falsified? You didn’t have any qualifications falsified or otherwise according to this. In quotes as well lol. Perhaps you could enlighten us all on this. Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) at Exeter University, is the most frequently cited „expert‟ by critics of homeopathy, but a recent interview has revealed the astounding fact that he “never completed any courses” and has no qualifications in homeopathy. What is more his principal experience in the field was when “After my state exam I worked under Dr Zimmermann at the Münchner Krankenhaus für Naturheilweisen” (Munich Hospital for Natural Healing Methods). Asked if it is true that he only worked there “for half a year”, he responded that “I am not sure … it is some time ago”!
  2. I don’t know what you got. I’m only going by your quotes above. You didn’t pass ANY exams. “Never completed any courses and has no qualifications in Homeopathy.” Those aren’t my words.
  3. LOL qualification for their cat? You didn’t even get a psuedo qualification and on top of that you practiced Homeopathy for 20 years eremember. With no qualifications. You are a fumbling and bumbling Proffessor of Cam? LOL. In fact I think I’ll make my cat a proffessor of Cam. Why not? He’ll be as qualified as you.

Often, these foaming (and in their apoplectic fury badly-spelling) defenders of homeopathy state or imply that I lied about all this. Yet, it is they who are lying, if they say so. I never claimed that I got any qualifications in homeopathy; I was trained in homeopathy by doctors of considerable standing in their field just like I was trained in many other clinical skills (what is more, I published a memoir where all this is explained in full detail).

In my bewilderment, I sometimes ask my accusers why they think I should have got a qualification in homeopathy. Sadly, so far, I  have not received a logical answer (most of the time not even an illogical one).

So, today I ask the question again: WHY SHOULD I HAVE NEEDED ANY QUALIFICATION IN HOMEOPATHY?

My answers are here:

  1. I consider such qualifications as laughable.  A proper qualification in nonsense is just nonsense!
  2. For practising homeopathy (which I did for a while), I did not need such qualifications; as a licensed physician, I was at liberty to use the treatments I felt to be adequate.
  3. For researching homeopathy (which I did too and published ~120 Medline-listed papers as a result of it), I do not need them either. Anyone can research homeopathy, and some of the most celebrated heroes of homeopathy research (e. g. Klaus Linde and Robert Mathie) do also have no such qualifications.

I am therefore truly puzzled and write this post to give everyone the chance to name the reasons why they feel I needed qualifications in homeopathy.

Please do tell me!

By guest blogger Hans-Werner Bertelsen

Holistic ideas are booming, and they do not stop at dental medicine, where procedures and techniques that take an alleged ‘holistic’ approach are becoming more and more popular. Are these procedures and techniques effective, and do they offer a benefit over their conventional counterparts, or is it rather the providers of such procedures and techniques who benefit from a lack of knowledge and understanding in patients who seek out this so-called alternative dentistry? This paper will take a look at three topics—the concept of projections, material testing approaches, amalgam removal—that form the basis for many procedures and techniques in so-called alternative dentistry, to examine whether they offer a sound foundation for said procedures and techniques, or whether they are merely empty promises. Might they be nothing but marketing tricks?

The concept of projections suggests that conventional medicine does look closely enough at the human body, ignoring as of yet undiscovered energy lines and other mysterious linkages. Material testing approaches claim to detect harmful and allergenic components, the removal of which may be beneficial in case of systemic diseases, possibly even curing them. Beginning on July 1, 2018, the use of amalgam will be strongly restricted all throughout Europe. This easy-to-use material has received much attention for decades, as it contains a large proportion of mercury, which is known for its high neurotoxicity, and is, therefore, suspected of causing illness in the long term.

Normally, we think of projections as requiring a screen, onto which something then can be projected. Teeth, however, are also ideally suited as a dumping ground for the underlying causes of somatic and/or mental diseases, from where they can radiate out as so-called projections. Once these are identified as the true cause of disease, other potential causes such as age-related wear and tear, detrimental behaviors, or harmful eating habits can be readily ignored. This concept of projections may have particularly harmful and negative consequences in patients with tumors, as it may cause feelings of guilt, although in many cases no definite cause of tumor development can be discerned. Projected feelings of guilt, in turn, can be a negative influence on a person’s health.

The so-called “system of meridians” assigns relationship qualities to individual teeth, meaning that there are strict relationships of individual teeth to the body’s organs and individual entities. [1]

According to this system, an inflammation of the urinary bladder would be related to the number 1 teeth, the incisors. Rheumatism is linked to the number 8 teeth, the wisdom teeth. In between, there are the teeth of the ordinal numbers 2 to 7, distinguished by their locations on the left or right, in the upper or lower jaw, which offer a wealth of opportunities to assign a “guilty tooth” to clinically common physical complaints. However, this mysterious connection is postulated not only for teeth and major organs, but also for joints, vertebral levels, sensory organs, tonsils, and glands, with the relationships neatly organized in ten groups and subgroups. Multiplied by the number of teeth—eight per each of the four quadrants, 32 in total—these afford the “holistic dentist” 320 opportunities for projecting physical complaints ranging from asthma to zonulitis onto a tooth. Those who believe in this system of projections are not deterred by the fact that there is no scientific proof whatsoever for this odd thesis.

On the other hand, it is basic medical knowledge that pathogens may spread hematogenically and affect remote organs. Seeking adequate specialist counsel when dealing with rheumatic diseases, fevers of unclear etiology, or in conjunction with orthopedic joint surgeries, is, therefore, mandated by guidelines and an obvious standard in the practice of medicine. So-called alternative dentistry makes no particular mention of these general facts, but instead focuses on occult-seeming correlations in order to use a mysterious, almost conspiratorial idea of a disease to legitimize the often invasive treatment options it then recommends. Most patients will not realize that these interpretations often mistake synchronicity for causality. For example, most infections of the urinary bladder will resolve over time, regardless of whether any work was done on the upper incisors or not. However, if during the period of healing one of the incisors was treated by a dentist, it is easy enough to associate this treatment with the resolving bladder infection. From a psychological viewpoint, this constitutes a simple manipulation technique, applied to demonstrate the seemingly superior diagnostics of alternative dentistry: a simple, and easily recognized marketing strategy.

When asked what would happen to these doubtful projections in case of an autologous transplantation during which a tooth would move to another tooth’s original place in the jaw, three leading representatives of the so-called alternative dentistry answered in an evasive and even manipulative manner. [2]

There are reports of invasive therapies, conducted following dubious, often electromedical diagnostic procedures, that not only lead to high costs for the repair of the damage they caused, but also to a lasting mutilation of the patients’ jaws and dentitions. [3-6]

Another supposedly holistic school of thought that is similar to that of the system of meridians exists in some fields of dentistry regarding temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD, TMD). These theories suggest that a disbalance in the interaction between jaw bones and masticatory muscles may be responsible for all kinds of diseases. [7]

According to the German self-appointed “TMJD Umbrella Organization” (CMD-Dachverband e. V.), TMJD is a “multifaceted disease.” The claim is that TMJD may not only cause back pain, vertigo, and tinnitus, but also sleep apnea, snoring, neck and shoulder pain, hip and knee pain, headaches, migraines, visual, mood swings, and even depression. However, there is no scientific evidence for any of these claims. [8,9]

Jens C. Türp of the University Center for Dental Medicine Basel’s Department of Oral Health & Medicine, Division Temporomandibular Disorders and Orofacial Pain, has called this standard diagnosis, offered by TMJD diagnosticians whenever a patient shows signs of nocturnal teeth grinding, “nonsense that makes your hair stand on end.”

“For a variety of general symptoms, it is claimed that they are caused by a TMJD: Tinnitus, ocular pressure, differences in the lengths of a person’s legs, back pain, hip pain, and knee pain, balance disorders, tingling in the fingers and many more. ‘A relationship [with TMJD] has never been proven for any of these symptoms’, says Türp. According to him, true TMJD causes problems with chewing and pain. Affected patients have difficulties opening their mouth wide or closing it fully. The “CMD-Arztsuche” (Find a TMJD Specialist) website recommends ‘a lasting correction of a person’s bite’ as treatment. This should be achieved with the help of ceramic inlays, dental crowns, and implants— all of which are expensive and unnecessary measures, in the opinion of Jens Türp. He treats his TMJD patients–almost always successfully, as he says–with occlusal splints, physiotherapy, and relaxation exercises.” (Translated from German [10])

In general, any patient should be advised, therefore, to seek a second opinion whenever confronted with a diagnosis requiring invasive treatments.

References:

1. Madsen, H. Studie zur Kieferorthopädie in der Alternativmedizin: Darstellung der Grundlagen und kritische Bewertung. Doctoral dissertation, Poliklinik für Kieferorthopädie der Universität Würzburg. Würzburg 1994

2. Schulte von Drach, M.C. Wenn Zähne fremdgehen. Süddeutsche Zeitung May 15, 2012.

3. Staehle, H.J. Der Patientin wurde das Gebiss verstümmelt. Zahnärztliche Mitteilungen 2000.

4. Dowideit, A. Wenn nach der “Störfeld-Messung” alle Backenzähne fehlen. Welt June 3, 2017.

5. Bertelsen, H.-W. Die Attraktvität “ganzheitlicher” Zahnmedizin – Teil 1: Bohren ohne Reue. skeptiker 2012, 4.

6. Bertelsen, H.-W. Die Attraktivität “ganzheitlicher” Zahnmedizin – Teil 2: Bohren ohne Reue. skeptiker 2013, 4.

7. CMD Dachverband e. V. Craniomandibuläre Dysfunktion – Ursachen & Symptome. http://www.cmd-dachverband.de/fuer-patienten/ursachen-symptome/ (May 11, 2018),

8. Wolf, T. Die richtige Hilfe bei Kieferbeschwerden. Spiegel Online July 7, 2014, 2014.

9. Türp, J.C.; Schindler, H.-J.; Antes, G. Temporomandibular disorders: Evaluation of the usefulness of a self-test questionnaire. Zeitschrift für Evidenz, Fortbildung und Qualität im Gesundheitswesen 2013, 107, 285-290.

10. Albrecht, B. Teure Tricks der Zahnärzte – so schützen Sie sich vor Überbehandlung. stern February 18, 2016.

 

Did you know that I falsified my qualifications?

Neither did I!

But this is exactly what has been posted on Amazon as a review of my book HOMEOPATHY, THE UNDILUTED FACTS. The Amazon review in question is dated 7 August 2018 and authored by ‘Paul’. As it might not be there for long (because it is clearly abusive) I copied it for you:

Edzard Ernst falsified his qualifications to get a job as a professor. When the university found out they fired him. This book is as false as the Mr Ernst

Over the years, I have received so many insults that I stared to collect them and began to quite like them. I even posted selections on this blog (see for instance here and here). Some are really funny and others are enlightening because they reflect on the mind-set of the authors. All of them show that the author has run out of arguments; thus they really are little tiny victories over unreason, I think.

But, somehow, this new one is different. It is actionable, no doubt, and contains an unusual amount of untruths in so few words.

  • I never falsified anything and certainly not my qualification (which is that of a doctor of medicine). If I had, I would be writing these lines from behind bars.
  • And if I had done such a thing, I would not have done it ‘to get a job as a professor’ – I had twice been appointed to professorships before I came to the UK (Hannover and Vienna).
  • My university did not find out, mainly because there was nothing to find out.
  • They did not fire me, but I went into early retirement. Subsequently, they even re-appointed me for several months.
  • My book is not false; I don’t even know what a ‘false book’ is (is it a book that is not really a book but something else?).
  • And finally, for Paul, I am not Mr Ernst, but Prof Ernst.

I don’t know who Paul is. And I don’t know whether he has even read the book he pretends to be commenting on (from what I see, I think this is very unlikely). I am sure, however, that he did not read my memoir where all these things are explained in full detail. And I certainly do not hope he ever reads it – if he did, he might claim:

This book is as false as the Mr Ernst

It has been shown repeatedly that a ‘conspiracy mentality’ is associated with usage of alternative medicine. But perhaps alternative medicine is itself a conspiracy theory in disguise?

One of the questions I invariably get after a public lecture is the one about alternative medicine being the victim of some sort of sinister plot. This notion can take various shapes and forms:

  • The scientific establishment prevents the public from fully benefitting from the effects of alternative medicine.
  • The pharmaceutical industry suppresses the good news about alternative treatments.
  • The funding agencies refuse to fund research into alternative medicine.
  • The media are bent on defaming alternative medicine.
  • The regulators do not allow alternative medicine to thrive as much as it would deserve.
  • The medical profession is afraid that the benefits of alternative medicine become better known.

I could go on, but I am sure you get the picture.

The amazing thing is that I hear such arguments not just from fanatic proponents of alternative medicine, but also from more reasonable people. These sentiments seem to be entirely common and seemingly logical arguments. Most people I meet seem to believe them at least to some degree.

Having heard them so often, I do wonder: Can one explain alternative medicine as a conspiracy theory?

A conspiracy theory is an erroneous and often difficult to falsify notion that tries to explain a set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators, while ignoring obvious alternative explanations. The very concept of alternative medicine assumes that there are valuable therapies that conventional healthcare does not allow in its realm.

The reasons for the secret plot that prevents them to be included in conventional healthcare are rarely named by enthusiasts of alternative medicine. So, what are they?

  • Professional jealousy?
  • Financial interests?
  • Lack of interest?
  • Lack of caring?

According to proponents of alternative medicine who I have asked, they consist of a mixture of all of these possibilities. And all of these possibilities are, in a way, consistent with alternative medicine being based on a conspiracy theory.

When I ask people why they believe in these theories, they cannot produce any solid evidence for their beliefs. This does not surprise me because, as far as I can see, there is no evidence to support them: they are erroneous. In turn, this means that one important criterium for conspiracy theory is being met.

Another characteristic of conspiracy theories is that they cannot easily been proven to be false. None of the above-listed reasons are, in fact, difficult to falsify.

A final characteristic of conspiracy theories is that its proponents are ignoring obvious alternative explanations.

WHY ARE ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES NOT ADMITTED INTO THE REALM OF CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE?

Simply because they are not supported by sufficiently strong evidence for generating more good than harm.

So, yes, to some extent alternative medicine even is a conspiracy theory in disguise.

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