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

conflict of interest

In the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), we see a lot of papers that are bizarre to the point of being disturbing and often dangerous nonsense. Yesterday, I came across an article that fits this bill well; in fact, I have not seen such misleading BS for quite a while. Let me present to you the abstract of this paper:

Introduction

There has been accumulating interest in the application of biofield therapy as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat various diseases. The practices include reiki, qigong, blessing, prayer, distant healing, known as biofield therapies. This paper aims to state scientific knowledge on preclinical and clinical studies to validate its potential use as an alternative medicine in the clinic. It also provides a more in-depth context for understanding the potential role of quantum entanglement in the effect of biofield energy therapy.

Content

A comprehensive literature search was performed using the different databases (PubMed, Scopus, Medline, etc.). The published English articles relevant to the scope of this review were considered. The review gathered 45 papers that were considered suitable for the purpose. Based on the results of these papers, it was concluded that biofield energy therapy was effective in treating different disease symptoms in preclinical and clinical studies.

Summary

Biofield therapies offer therapeutic benefits for different human health disorders, and can be used as alternative medicine in clinics for the medically pluralistic world due to the growing interest in CAM worldwide.

Outlook

The effects of the biofield energy therapies are observed due to the healer’s quantum thinking, and transmission of the quantum energy to the subject leads to the healing that occurs spiritually through instantaneous communication at the quantum level via quantum entanglement.

The authors of this article are affiliated with Trivedi Global, an organisation that states this about ‘biofield energy’:

Human Biofield EBnergy has subtle energy that has the capacity to work in an effective manner. This energy can be harnessed and transmitted by the gifted into living and non-living things via the process of a Biofield Energy Healing Treatment or Therapy.

If they aleady know that “Biofield EBnergy has subtle energy that has the capacity to work in an effective manner”, I wonder why they felt the need to conduct this review. Even more wonderous is the fact that their review showed such a positive result.

How did they manage this?

The answer might lie in their methodology: they “gathered 45 papers that were considered suitable”. While scientists gather the totality of the available evidence (and assess it critically), they merely selected what was suitable for the purpose of generating a positive result. This must be the reason our two studies on the subject were discretely omitted:

Our 1st study

Purpose: Distant healing, a treatment that is transmitted by a healer to a patient at another location, is widely used, although good scientific evidence of its efficacy is sparse. This trial was aimed at assessing the efficacy of one form of distant healing on common skin warts.

Subjects and methods: A total of 84 patients with warts were randomly assigned either to a group that received 6 weeks of distant healing by one of 10 experienced healers or to a control group that received a similar preliminary assessment but no distant healing. The primary outcomes were the number of warts and their mean size at the end of the treatment period. Secondary outcomes were the change in Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and patients’ subjective experiences. Both the patients and the evaluator were blinded to group assignment.

Results: The baseline characteristics of the patients were similar in the distant healing (n = 41) and control groups (n = 43). The mean number and size of warts per person did not change significantly during the study. The number of warts increased by 0.2 in the healing group and decreased by 1.1 in the control group (difference [healing to control] = -1.3; 95% confidence interval = -1.0 to 3.6, P = 0.25). Six patients in the distant healing group and 8 in the control group reported a subjective improvement (P = 0.63). There were no significant between-group differences in the depression and anxiety scores.

Conclusion: Distant healing from experienced healers had no effect on the number or size of patients’ warts.

Our 2nd study

Spiritual healing is a popular complementary and alternative therapy; in the UK almost 13000 members are registered in nine separate healing organisations. The present randomized clinical trial was designed to investigate the efficacy of healing in the treatment of chronic pain. One hundred and twenty patients suffering from chronic pain, predominantly of neuropathic and nociceptive origin resistant to conventional treatments, were recruited from a Pain Management Clinic. The trial had two parts: face-to-face healing or simulated face-to-face healing for 30 min per week for 8 weeks (part I); and distant healing or no healing for 30 min per week for 8 weeks (part II). The McGill Pain Questionnaire was pre-defined as the primary outcome measure, and sample size was calculated to detect a difference of 8 units on the total pain rating index of this instrument after 8 weeks of healing. VASs for pain, SF36, HAD scale, MYMOP and patient subjective experiences at week 8 were employed as secondary outcome measures. Data from all patients who reached the pre-defined mid-point of 4 weeks (50 subjects in part I and 55 subjects in part II) were included in the analysis. Two baseline measurements of outcome measures were made, 3 weeks apart, and no significant differences were observed between them. After eight sessions there were significant decreases from baseline in McGill Pain Questionnaire total pain rating index score for both groups in part I and for the control group in part II. However, there were no statistically significant differences between healing and control groups in either part. In part I the primary outcome measure decreased from 32.8 (95% CI 28.5-37.0) to 23.3 (16.8-29.7) in the healing group and from 33.1 (27.2-38.9) to 26.1 (19.3-32.9) in the simulated healing group. In part II it changed from 29.6 (24.8-34.4) to 24.0 (18.7-29.4) in the distant healing group and from 31.0 (25.8-36.2) to 21.0 (15.7-26.2) in the no healing group. Subjects in healing groups in both parts I and II reported significantly more ‘unusual experiences’ during the sessions, but the clinical relevance of this is unclear. It was concluded that a specific effect of face-to-face or distant healing on chronic pain could not be demonstrated over eight treatment sessions in these patients.

In addition, they, of course, also omitted many further studies by other investigators that failed to be positive. Considering this amount of cherry-picking, it is easy to understand how they arrived at their conclusion. It is all a question of chosing the right methodology!

A few decades ago, the cigarette industry employed this technique to show that smoking did not cause cancer! Luckily, we have since moved away from such pseudo-scientific ‘research’ – except, of course, in the realm of SCAM where it is still hughely popular.

An interesting and fully referenced (205 references) article caught my attention; it seems highly relevant to the discussions we are having on this blog. Let me show you the abstract:

Medical misinformation has always existed, but it has recently become more frequent due to the development of the internet and social media. Medical misinformation can cover a wide variety of topics, and studies show that some groups are more likely to be affected by medical misinformation than others, like those with less trust in health care, less health literacy, and a more positive attitude toward alternative medicines. Aspects of the internet, like echo chambers and algorithms, have contributed to the rise of medical misinformation, along with belief in anecdotal evidence and alternative remedies that are not backed by science. Some personal beliefs and a lack of media literacy skills are also contributing to medical misinformation. Medical misinformation causes higher rates of death and negative health outcomes, a lack of trust in medical professionals, and more racism and hate crimes. One possible way to combat the spread of misinformation is education surrounding media literacy. Still, there are gaps in this practice that must be addressed like a lack of high-quality research about different educational programs.

The author also offers the following key points:

  • Medical misinformation is becoming an urgent issue for United States citizens—leading to increased deaths,
    a lack of trust in health professionals, and hate crimes and racism.
  • Although this is a worldwide issue, the United States has the second highest rate of misinformation of any
    country, behind India.
  • One piece of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic stated that highly concentrated alcohol could
    disinfect the body and kill the virus. Studies show that 800 people died, 5,876 were hospitalized, and 60
    became completely blind from drinking methanol, thinking it would cure coronavirus.
  • Studies estimate that only 14% of the United States population has proficient health literacy, which makes it difficult to recognize medical misinformation.
  • Media literacy education is being pursued in order to combat the spread of misinformation, but more research is needed in order to understand the long-term effects of this education and what programs are best.

__________________

I would like to stress, as indeeed the author does as well, that medical misinformation is a phenomenon that is by no means confined to the US. Like most information, misinformation has become a global issue. Its dangers cannot be under-estimated. My blog offers an abundance of reports where misinformation in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has caused harm and even death. The author advocates media literacy as a remedy for the problem. I would argue that even more important would be to teach CRITICAL THINKING, a task that has to start at school and must continue well into adult life.

This conclusion is so very obvious that it begs an important question: WHY HAS IT NOT BEEN DONE YEARS AGO? The answer, I fear, is simple: for reasons that are self-evident, governments have little interst in the public being able to think critically. On the contrary, governments across the world foremost want to be re-elected, and critical thinking would be a major obstacle to this aim.

 

In spite of the safety and efficiency of the COVID-19 vaccines and the many promotion efforts of political and expert authorities, a fair portion of the population remained hesitant if not opposed to vaccination. Public debate and the available literature point to the possible role of people’s attitudes towards medical institutions as well as their preference for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) on their motivations and intentions to be vaccinated. Other potential ideological factors are beliefs about environmental laissez-faire and divine providence insofar as they encourage people to let the pandemic unfold without human interference.

In three cross-sectional samples (total N = 8214), collected at successive moments during the Belgian vaccination campaign, the present research examines the distal role of these psychological and ideological factors on vaccination intentions via motivational processes.

  • Study 1 gauges the relation between trust in medical institutions and preference for SCAM on intentions to get vaccinated via motivations.
  • Study 2 examines the role of beliefs in the desirability of letting nature take its course (‘environmental laissez-faire beliefs’) on vaccination intention via motivations.
  • Study 3 tests whether people’s adherence to environmental laissez-faire and beliefs about divine providence are linked to their motivations for vaccination via trust in the medical institutions and SCAM.

The results show that adherence to SCAM has a deleterious effect on vaccination intentions, whereas trust in medical institutions has a positive effect. Both ideological factors pertaining to external control are only moderately related, with environmental laissez-faire beliefs having stronger effects on SCAM, medical trust and vaccination motivations.

The evidence of an association between SCAM and willingness to get vaccinated is undeniable. On this blog, we have discussed it repeatedly, e.g.:

But what exactly is the nature of this association?

  • Does SCAM-use predispose to vaccination hesitancy?
  • Does Vaccination hesitancy predispose to SCAM use?
  • Is both true?

After reading all this research that has emerged on the subject, I get the impression that we are mostly dealing here with a cross-correlation where a certain mind-set of being

  • prone to conspiracy theories,
  • anti-establishment,
  • anti-science,
  • irrational,
  • of low intelligence,
  • unable of critical thinking,
  • etc., etc,

determines both the SCAM-use and the vaccination hesitancy.

 

Cervical spondylosis is a chronic degenerative process of the cervical spine characterized by pain in neck, degenerative changes in intervertebral disc and osteophyte formation. The present study was aimed at evaluating the effect of wet cupping (Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ) in the pain management of cervical spondylosis.

This Open, randomized, clinical study was conducted on 44 patients.

  • Subjects in the test group (n = 22) received a series of three-staged wet cupping treatment, performed on 0, 7th and 14th day.
  • Subjects in the control group (n = 22) received 12 sittings of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): 6 sittings per week for two weeks.

The outcomes were assessed with the help of VAS, Neck Disability Index (NDI) and Cervical range of motion.

Intra group comparison in test group from baseline to 21st day were found highly significant (p < 0.001) in terms of VAS, NDI, Flexion, Extension and Left rotation score. While in Right rotation, Left rotation and Left lateral flexion score were found moderately significant (p < 0.01). Statistically significant difference was observed between two groups at 21st day in VAS scale, NDI, and Cervical range of motion score (p < 0.001).

The authors concluded that Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ was found better in the management of pain due to cervical spondylosis than TENS. It can be concluded that Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ may a better option for the pain management of cervical spondylosis.

Wet cupping is the use of a vacuum cup applied to the skin which has previously been lacerated. It draws blood and can thus be seen as a form of blood letting. It has been used in various cultures for the treatment of joint pain and many other conditions since antiquity.

The authors point out that, in Unani medicine, it is believed to reduce pain and other symptoms by diverting and evacuating the causative pathological humours (akhlāṭ-e-fasida). Galen (Jalinoos) mentioned wet cupping as a very useful modality in evacuating the thick humours (akhlāṭ-e-Ghaleez) (Nafeesi, 1954; Qamri, 2008). Wet cupping works on the principle of diversion and evacuation of morbid matter (imala wa tanqiya-i-mawād-i-fasida). It opens the pores of the skin, enhances the blood circulation, nourishes the affected area with fresh blood, improves the eliminative function and facilitates the evacuation of morbid matter from the body.

There are several studies of wet cupping, most of which are as flawed as the one above. This new trial has several limitations, e.g.:

  • It makes no attempt to control for placebo effects which could well be more prominent for wet cupping than for TENS.
  • It did not inhibit the influence of verbal or non-verbal communications between therapists and patients which are likely to influence the results.
  • The sample size is far too small, particularly as the study was designed as an equivalence study.

But some might say that my arguments a petty and argue that, regardless of a flimsy study, wet cupping is still worth a try. I would disagree – not because of the flaws of this study, nor the implausibility of the long-obsolete assumptions that underpin the therapy, but because wet cupping is associaated with infections of the skin lacerations which occasionally can be serious.

 

It does not happen often, but when it does, it should be aknowledged. I am speaking of papers from chiropractors that make sense. If you are interested in chiropractic, I do encourage you to read the articles of which I will here only present bits of the conclusions:

Part 1

The chiropractic profession is weighed down by the burden of historical theories regarding spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), which, for some in the profession, have all the characteristics of dogmatic articles of faith. In our opinion, the unlimited scope of practice, which is still advocated by some chiropractors, and which has not been met with unequivocal political rejection, an over-reliance on SMT in the management of MSK disorders, and an over-emphasis on the technical intricacies of SMT represent weaknesses within chiropractic. We argue that these are obstacles to professional development and the major causes of professional stagnation both intellectually and in the market place.

We also discussed what we consider to be threats to the chiropractic profession. Science, the impact of EBM, and accountability to authorities and third party-payers all pose threats to the traditional chiropractic paradigm and, thus, to those within the profession, who practice within such a paradigm. In the marketplace, competition from other professions that provide care of patients with MSK disorders, including SMT, and are better positioned to be integrated into the wider health-care system/market represent a threat. Moreover, finally, the internal schism in chiropractic represents a threat to professional development, as it prevents the profession moving forward in unison with a coherent external message.

We have described those weaknesses and threats, knowing full well, that we do so from our perspective of chiropractic as EBM with a limited MSK scope of practice, i.e. from outside the subluxation frame of reference.

We recognize that for those who look at SMT from the perspective of traditional, subluxation-based chiropractic, things will look very different: What we identify as weaknesses may be seen by others as the pillars of chiropractic practice, and what we see as threats could appear as just peripheral and ephemeral distractions to the enduring core of chiropractic ideas. Such is the character of the schism at the heart of chiropractic.

None-the-less, having described what we identify as serious weaknesses and threats arising from the profession’s relationship to SMT, it has not escaped our attention that it also gives rise to several strengths, which serve the profession and its patients well. In turn, it follows that a number of opportunities are presenting themselves for the future of SMT and chiropractic.

Part 2

The onus is now on the chiropractic profession itself to redefine its raison d’être in a way that plays to those strengths and delivers in terms of the needs of patients and the wider healthcare system/market. We suggest chiropractors embrace and cultivate a role as coordinators of long-term and broad-focused management of musculoskeletal disorders. We make specific recommendations about how the profession, from individual clinicians to political organizations, can promote such a development.

___________________________

For readers in a hurry:

Progress is an inevitable threat to obsolete and useless practices of any kind. In that, chiropractic is no exception.

Some abstracts of medical papers are so bizarre that they must not be tempered with, I find. This is one of them:

Rationale:

This case report aims to provide clinical evidence on the effectiveness of integrating chiropractic and moxibustion techniques for treating pseudomyopia accompanied by elevated intraocular pressure resulting from cervical spine issues because the application of complementary medicine modalities for managing such vision disorders currently lacks adequate investigations.

Patient concerns:

A 6-year-old patient presented with blurred vision, intermittent ocular discomfort, and upper cervical discomfort.

Diagnoses:

Spine-related increased intraocular pressure and pseudomyopia.

Interventions:

The patient received integrative treatment of chiropractic and walnut-shell moxibustion 3 times a week for a total of 10 treatment sessions.

Outcomes:

The patient exhibited progressive improvements in visual acuity and reductions in intraocular pressure over the treatment period, with unaided vision exceeding 2 lines of improvement in visual acuity charts and normalized intraocular pressure after 10 treatment sessions. These therapeutic effects were sustained at 3-month follow-up.

Lessons:

The integrative use of chiropractic and walnut-shell moxibustion demonstrates considerable potential in alleviating symptoms of pseudomyopia, reducing intraocular pressure, and restoring visual function in spine-related pseudomyopia cases.

Pseudomyopia is a spasm of the ciliary muscle that prevents the eye from focusing in the distance. It differs from myopia which is caused by the eye’s shape or other basic anatomy. Pseudomyopia may be either organic, through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, or functional in origin, through eye strain or fatigue of ocular systems. It is common in young adults after a change in visual requirements, such as students preparing for an exam, or a change in occupation. The condition is often transitory and it is necessary to request psychiatric consultation in each case of pseudomyopia. Comorbidity of anxiety and depressive disorders is more common in pseudomyopia cases. In addition, as the severity of psychiatric symptoms increases, the amount of accommodation also appears to increase.

A few question, if I may:

  • Walnut-shell moxibustion? Yes, it exists! Moxibustion with walnut shell spectacles is a characteristic therapy of Guang’anmen Hospital, developed on the basis of walnut shell moxibustion, and mainly composed of an eye moxibustion frame, a walnut shell soaked with wolfberry and chrysanthemum liquid, and moxibustion strips. Moxibustion with a walnut shell was first recorded by Shicheng Gu for treating surgical ulcers in the Qing dynasty. Then, moxibustion with walnut shell spectacles was reformed by us, combining Shicheng Gu’s experience with our clinical practice, and is mainly used for the treatment of optic nerve atrophy and myopia.
  • The authors state that, “based on traditional Chinese medicine principles, moxibustion is known to warm meridians, dredge collaterals, relax tendons, and enhance blood circulation”. Is this true? Well, based on TCM, anything goes, but it does not make it true.
  • How can we know whether chiropractic or walnut-shell moxibustion or both caused the outcome? We can’t!
  • Can we be sure what caused the child’s problem? No!
  • Do we know whether the outcome was not a spontaneous recovery? No!
  • The authors claim that “cervical spine imbalance leads to visual impairment”. Is that correct? Not as far as I know.
  • The authors state that “the patient in this case, presenting with pseudomyopia, elevated intraocular pressure, and neck pain, likely had a cervical spine-derived condition. Currently, such spine-derived vision disorders lack sufficient clinical recognition.” Is this true? No, I’d say such spine-derived vision disorders might not even exist.
  • Why would anyone publish a paper about the case? Search me!

 

Whenever a journalist wants to discuss the subject of acupuncture with me, he or she will inevitably ask one question:

DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?

It seems a legitimate, obvious and simple question, particularly during ‘Acupuncture Awareness Week‘, and I have heard it hundreds of times. Why then do I hesitate to answer it?

Journalists – like most of us – would like a straight answer, like YES or NO. But straight answers are in short supply, particularly when we are talking about acupuncture.

Let me explain.

Acupuncture is part of ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ (TCM). It is said to re-balance the life forces that determine our health. As such it is seen as a panacea, a treatment for all ills. Therefore, the question, does it work?, ought to be more specific: does it work for pain, obesity, fatigue, hair-loss, addiction, anxiety, ADHA, depression, asthma, old age, etc.etc. As we are dealing with virtually thousands of ills, the question, does it work?, quickly explodes into thousands of more specific questions.

But that’s not all!

The question, does acupuncture work?, assumes that we are talking about one therapy. Yet, there are dozens of different acupuncture traditions and sites:

  • body acupuncture,
  • ear acupuncture,
  • tongue acupuncture,
  • scalp acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

Then there are dozens of different ways to stimulate acupuncture points:

  • needle acupuncture,
  • electroacupuncture,
  • acupressure,
  • moxibustion,
  • ultrasound acupuncture,
  • laser acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

And then there are, of course, different acupuncture ‘philosophies’ or cultures:

  • TCM,
  • ‘Western’ acupuncture,
  • Korean acupuncture,
  • Japanese acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

If we multiply these different options, we surely arrive at thousands of different variations of acupuncture being used for thousands of different conditions.

But this is still not all!

To answer the question, does it work?, we today have easily around 10 000 clinical trials. One might therefore think that, despite the mentioned complexity, we might find several conclusive answers for the more specific questions. But there are very significant obstacles that are in our way:

  • most acupuncture trials are of lousy quality;
  • most were conducted by lousy researchers who merely aim at showing that acupuncture works rather that testing whether it is effective;
  • most originate from China and are published in Chinese which means that most of us cannot access them;
  • they get nevertheless included in many of the systematic reviews that are currently being published without non-Chinese speakers ever being able to scrutinise them;
  • TCM is a hugely important export article for China which means that political influence is abundant;
  • several investigators have noted that virtually 100% of Chinese acupuncture trials report positive results regardless of the condition that is being targeted;
  • it has been reported that about 80% of studies emerging from China are fabricated.

Now, I think you understand why I hesitate every time a journalist asks me:

DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?

Most journalists do not have the patience to listen to all the complexity this question evokes. Many do not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend an exhaustive reply. But all want to hear a simple and conclusive answer.

So, what do I say in this situation?

Usually, I respond that the answer would depend on who one asks. An acupuncturist is likely to say: YES, OF COURSE, IT DOES! An less biased expert might reply:

IT’S COMPLEX, BUT THE MOST RELIABLE EVIDENCE IS FAR FROM CONVINCING. 

The aim of this study was to establish an international consensus regarding the use of spinal manipulation and mobilisation among infants, children, and adolescents among expert international physiotherapists. Twenty-six international expert physiotherapists in manual therapy and paediatrics voluntarily participated in a 3-Round Delphi survey to reach a consensus via direct electronic mail solicitation using Qualtrics®. Consensus was defined a-priori as ≥75% agreement on all items with the same ranking of agreement or disagreement. Round 1 identified impairments and conditions where spinal mobilisation and manipulation might be utilised. In Rounds 2 and 3, panelists agreed or disagreed using a 4-point Likert scale.

Eleven physiotherapists from seven countries representing five continents completed all three Delphi rounds. Consensus regarding spinal mobilisation or manipulation included:

● Manipulation is not recommended: (1) for infants across all conditions, impairments, and
spinal levels; and (2) for children and adolescents across most conditions and spinal levels.
● Manipulation may be recommended for adolescents to treat spinal region-specific joint
hypomobility (thoracic, lumbar), and pain (thoracic).
● Mobilisation may be recommended for children and adolescents with hypomobility, joint
pain, muscle/myofascial pain, or stiffness at all spinal levels.

The authors of this paper concluded that consensus revealed spinal manipulation should not be performed on infants regardless of condition, impairment, or spinal level. Additionally, the panel agreed that manipulation may be recommended only for adolescents to treat joint pain and joint hypomobility (limited to thoracic and/or lumbar levels). Spinal mobilisation may be recommended for joint hypomobility, joint pain, muscle/myofascial pain, and muscle/myofascial stiffness at all spinal levels among children and adolescents.

Various forms of spinal manipulations are the hallmark therapy of chiropractors. Almost 100% of their patients recieve these interventions. So, what will our friends, the chiros, say about the consensus? Might it be this:

  • Physiotherapists are not the experts on spinal manipulation.
  • Only chiropractors can do them properly.
  • And when WE do them, they are very good*!

 

 

 

(* for our income)

This study aims to assess the feasibility of a pragmatic prospective study aiming to report the immediate and delayed (48-hours post-treatment) AEs associated with manual therapies in children aged 5 or younger and to report preliminary data on AEs frequency.

Between July 2021 and March 2022, chiropractors were recruited through purposive sampling and via a dedicated Facebook group for Quebec chiropractors interested in pediatrics. Legal guardians of patients aged 5 or younger were invited to fill out an online information and consent form. AEs were collected using the SafetyNET reporting system, which had been previously translated by the research team. Immediate AEs were collected through a questionnaire filled out by the legal guardian immediately after the treatment, while delayed AEs were collected through a questionnaire sent by email to the legal guardian 48 h after the treatment. Feasibility was assessed qualitatively through feedback from chiropractors and quantitatively through recruitment data.

Overall, a total of 28 chiropractors expressed interest following the Facebook publication, and 5 participated. An additional two chiropractors were enrolled through purposive sampling. In total, 80 legal guardians consented to their child’s participation, and data from 73 children were included for the analysis of AEs. At least one AE was reported in 30% of children (22/73), and AEs were mainly observed immediately following the treatment (16/22). The most common AEs were irritability/crying (11 children) or fatigue/tiredness (11 children). Feasibility analysis demonstrated that regular communication between the research team and clinicians, as well as targeting clinicians who showed great interest in pediatrics, were key factors for successful research.

The authors concluded that their results suggest that it is feasible to conduct a prospective pragmatic study evaluating AEs associated with manual therapies in private practices. Direct communication with the clinicians, a strategic clinicians’ recruitment plan, and the resulting administrative burden should be considered in future studies. A larger study is required to confirm the frequency of AEs reported in the current study.

It is hardly surprising that such a study is ‘feasible’. I could have told the authors that and saved them the trouble of doing the study. What is surprising, in my view, that chiropractors, after ~120 years of existence of the profession, ask whether it is feasible.

I suggest to do the definitive study on a much larger sample, extend the observation period, and recruit a representative rather than self-selected sample of chiros … or – much better – forget about the study and establich a functioning post-marketing surveillance system.

In recent weeks and months, I have been thinking quite a lot about the various types of scientists. This is partly due to me finishing a book entitled: Bizarre Medical Ideas: … and the Strange Men Who Invented Them. Partly it is related to the sorry tale of the GWUP that I have been boring you with repeatedly here. As a consequence of my contemplations, I have added more categories to the usual two types of scientists.

1. SCIENTIST

Scientists gather information through observation and experimentation, formulate hypothesis, and then test them. They work in vastly different areas but have certain attitudes or qualities in common, e.g. critial thinking and an open mind. As scientists tend to publish their findings, a very simple (but not fool-proof) way to identify a scinetist is to look him/her up, for example by finding his/her H-Index. (The H-Index is defined as the maximum value of h such that the given author/journal has published at least h papers that have each been cited at least h times. For instance, if someone has 10 papers that were cited 10 times, his H-Index would be 10. If another scientist has 50 papers that were cited 50 times, his H-Index would be 50.)

2. PSEUDO-SCIENTIST

Pseudo-scientists are people who pretend to produce science but, in fact, they generate pseudoscience. The demarkation of pseudo-science from science is sometimes difficult, as we have seen several times on this blog, e.g.:

The pseudo-scientist does have no or just a few publications in the peer-reviewed literature and no H-Index to speak of.

3. WOULD-BE SCIENTIST

The term ‘would-be scientist’ is not one that is commonly used, nor is it one that has an accepted definition. The way I see it, would-be scientists are aspiring to become scientist. They are on the way to become a scientist but have not quite arrived yet. To the would-be scientist I say: good luck to you; I hope you make it and I look forward to reading about your scientific achievements. The would-be scientist is, however, not the topic of my post.

4. THE PREDEND-SCIENTIST

The predent-scientist (PS) is the one who I want to focus on here. He – yes, the PS is usually male – talks a lot about science; so much so that outsiders would get the impression that he actually is a scientist. Crucially, the PS himself has managed to delude himself to the point where believes to be a scientist.

While scientists tend to be media-shy, the PS enjoys the limelight to generate the impression of being a scientist. He talks eloquently and at length about science. Much of what he says or writes might even be correct. The PS is often quite well-versed and knows (most of) his stuff.

The crucial difference between the PS and the scientist is that the PS produces no or very little science; neither does he intend to. To identify the PS, an easy (but not fool-proof) method is to him look up. Typically, he has published several articles in the popoular press or books for the lay public, but – as he does not conduct scientific research – he does not generate papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. This void, however, has never stopped the PS from appearing in the media speaking about science, nor from occupying prominent positions in the world of science, nor from avidly rubbing shoulders with scientists. Few people see anything wrong with that, mainly because the PS has convinced them (most importantly himself) that he actually is a scientist. While the scientist is trained in doing science, the PS is trained in talking about science.

Don’t get me wrong, the PS can have his merits. He often presents science to the public more or less accurately and frequently is rhetorically superior to the scientist. I nevertheless have reservations about the PS (and the recent pandemic has shown us how dangerous PSs can beome). The questions to ask ourselves are the following:

  • Does PS have a truly open mind?
  • Can he set aside ideologies?
  • Will he change his opinion vis a vis new evidence?
  • Is he prepared to consider criticism?
  • Does he avoid ‘black and white’ thinking?
  • Is he sufficiently humble?
  • Is he honest with himself and others?

These questions refer to important attitudes that scientists learn – often the hard way – while doing science. If someone lacks this experience, such attitudes are likely to be under-developed. Perhaps, it all boils down to honesty: if a man who has never done any amount of science to speak of has convinced himself to be a scientist, he arguably is dishonest with himself and the public.

In order to make my points as clearly as possible, I admittedly caricaturized the extremes of a wider spectrum; my appologies for that. In reality, the different types of scientists rarely exist as entirely pure forms. Frequently, people are mixtures of two types, either because they did different things during different periods of their lives, or because they simply are hybrids.

To provide a few examples, let me show you 14 H-Indices (according to ‘Google Scholar’) of people (in alphabetical order) who you might have heard of, for instance, because they have featured on my blog. I leave it up to you to decide how well they fit in any of my three categories and who might qualify to be a PS.

  1. Fabrizio Benedetti – H-Index = 83
  2. David Colquhoun – H-Index = 78
  3. Ian Chalmers – H-Index = 84
  4. Michael Dixon – H-Index = 0
  5. David Gorski – H-Index = 30
  6. Holm Hümmler – H-Index = 0
  7. Ted Kaptchuk – H-Index = 103
  8. Jos Kleinjen – H-Index = 104
  9. Andreas Michalsen – H-Index = 0
  10. Michael Mosely – H-Index = 0
  11. Dana Ullman – H-Index = 0
  12. Dale Thompson (alias DC) – H-Index = 0
  13. Chris van Tulleken – H-Index = 0
  14. Harald Walach – H-Index = 9

My conclusion: the PS, a person who presents himself as a scientist without having done any meaningful amount of science himself, is a man who is not entirely honest. The H-Index can be helpful for identifying PSs. An index of zero, for instance, seems to send out a fairly clear message. In the case low indices, it is advisable to go one step further and study the actual articles That mede up the index. However, the H-Index tells us nothing about whether someone presents himself as a scientist; this information must be gleaned from the person him(her)self.

 

 

 

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