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

conspiracy

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The comment sections of this blog have provided plenty of reason to suspect that chiropractic is a cult, a health cult to be precise. A health cult is defined as a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator. The promulgator, in this case, is DD Palmer. As discussed previously, he ‘invented’ chiropractic and promoted many extraordinary claims and ideas, e.g.:

  • I was the first to adjust the cause of disease
  • Chiropractors adjust causes instead of treating effects
  • 95% of all diseases are caused by subluxations of the spine
  • Vaccination and inoculation are pathological; chiropractic is physiological
  • It was my ingenious brain which discovered [chiropractic’s] first principle; I was its source; I gave it birth; to me all chiropractors trace their chiropractic lineage
  • Among the wonderful achievements of this century, the discovery and development of chiropractic is preeminent; it is destined to replace all methods which treat effects
  • Dis-ease is a condition of not ease, lack of ease
  • His magnetic cure for cancer involved freeing the stomach and spleen of poisons
  • Chiropractic is a science of healing without drugs
  • Wants to turn chiropractic into a religion (as this would avoid chiropractors being sued for practising medicine without a license)

Since DD Palmer, the chiro-cult has changed. In fact, it has split into two camps. The ‘straights’ have become a Palmer worship cult, while the rest delude themselves of being based on evidence. That the former are cultists is impossible to deny. The latter reject such allegations but, in my mind, they too belong to a cult.

Let me explain.

The criteria for a cult can be defines as follows:

  1. Charismatic Leader: the ‘mixers’ might no longer worship Palmer, yet they are far from free of his ‘philosophy’; after all, they went to chiro-school where they were educated in the Palmer tradition.
  2. Isolation: chiropractors seek surprisingly little co-operation with other healthcare professionals and thus tend to be isolated.
  3. Control: chiropractors are under tight control of their professional bodies, peers, journals, etc. which all make sure that heretic ideas are kept at bay.
  4. Deception: chiropractors are masters of deception in persuading the public and their patients of the value of spinal manipulations, regardless of the actual evidence.
  5. Us vs. Them Mentality: chiropractors tend to create an “us vs. them” mentality, demonizing real doctors and promoting group cohesion.
  6. Exploitation: chiropractors have a long history of exploiting their patients; maintenance care is just one of many examples.
  7. Fear Tactics: chiropractors are scare mongers, for instance, when they diagnose subluxations even in perfectly healthy people and claim that this invented diagnosis needs urgent adjustments.

What, you don’t agree with these arguments?

In this case let me quote a different set criteria that might help to decide whether chiropractic might be a cult. Here they are:

  1. Absolute authoritarianism without accountability
  2. Zero tolerance for criticism or questions
  3. Lack of meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget
  4. Unreasonable fears about the outside world that often involve evil conspiracies and persecutions
  5. A belief that former followers are always wrong for leaving and there is never a legitimate reason for anyone else to leave
  6. Abuse of members
  7. Records, books, articles, or programs documenting the abuses of the leader or group
  8. Followers feeling they are never able to be “good enough”
  9. A belief that the leader is right at all times
  10. A belief that the leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or giving validation

Bearing in mind that not all of the 10 criteria need to be fulfilled, I ask you: is chiropractic a cult?

 

 

It goes without saing that an article entitled Homeopathic Cancer Therapy Research From 2018 To 2022: A Review of the Literatureinterests me. It turned out to be a revellation in BS. Let me just show you its conclusion:

There continues to be an enormous interest in homeopathic treatment for cancer around the world. This is reflected by the number or studies and the increasingly better quality of studies investigating homeopathic cancer therapy. Some studies appear to signal a concern about lacking information among conventionally trained physicians on homeopathy and their limited ability to respond adequately to the increased demand among patients for homeopathic services. While it is still primarily patients rather than physicians that drive this mounting interest, studies reflect a rise in interest and call for innovation, in provision of integrative cancer treatment by combining multiple conventional and unconventional therapies. According to the majority of available studies, homeopathy can safely be added to conventional cancer treatment, and patients can benefit significantly in countering the adverse effects from that treatment, as well as improvement of their quality of life and survival.

In one our previous reviews of scientific research on homeopathic cancer treatment we had concluded that available studies confirm, “homeopathic drugs have proven biological action in cancer; in vitro and in vivo; in animals and humans; in the lower, as well as in the higher potencies. Cancer patients are faced with a life-and-death decision when choosing their treatment. Since most conventional treatments continue to be associated with severe adverse and sometimes fatal effects, while homeopathy has been found to be free from such effects, it would seem plausible and worthwhile, even urgent, to step up the research on, and even the provision of, homeopathic treatment of cancer and other diseases.”

This conclusion continues to apply to the time period covered in this review of published research on homeopathic cancer treatment.

What a remarkable few sentences!

Please allow me put the record straight on a few points:

  1. enormous interest in homeopathic treatment for cancer around the world – NOT TRUE.
  2. increasingly better quality of studies investigating homeopathic cancer therapy – WISHFUL THINKING, NOT SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE.
  3. concern about lacking information among conventionally trained physicians on homeopathy and their limited ability to respond adequately to the increased demand – CONCERN IS, IN FACT, DIRECTED AT CHARLATANS USING OR PROMOTING HOMEOPATHY.
  4. homeopathy can safely be added to conventional cancer treatment – YES, BECAUSE IT IS A PLACEBO.
  5. patients can benefit significantly in countering the adverse effects from that treatment, as well as improvement of their quality of life and survival – ONLY IF, LIKE PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASS, ONE FALSIFIES DATA.
  6. homeopathic drugs have proven biological action in cancer – NO.
  7. it would seem plausible and worthwhile, even urgent, to step up the research on, and even the provision of, homeopathic treatment of cancer and other diseases – NO, ACCORDING TO A BROAD INTERNATIONAL CONSENSUS, SUCH RESEARCH WOULD BE AN UNETHICAL WASTE OF RESOURCES.

The truth of the matter is that homeopathy for cancer is a dangerous misconception that could hasten the death of many vulnerable patients.

Those who promote it are amongst the worst charlatans on the planet.

Conspiracy theories have become a frequent theme on this blog, e.g.:

 

In fact, I have previously postulated that so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) can be understood as a conspiracy theory.

A new paper asked a relevant question: who believes in conspiracy theories? Conspiracy theories are ubiquitous and can have negative consequences. Thus, there is an increasing need for evidence-based recommendations with respect to interventions and prevention measures. Present Bayesian three-level meta-analysis includes a synthesis of the extant literature with respect to 12 personality correlates and their relationship with conspiracy beliefs. On average, people who believe in pseudoscience, suffer from paranoia or schizotypy, are narcissistic or religious/spiritual and have relatively low cognitive ability, are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Heterogeneity was partially explained by the examined moderators and no strong evidence for publication bias was found. Implications for developing tailored interventions are discussed in the article.

Conspiracy is a “secret plot by two or more powerful actors … Conspiracies typically attempt to usurp political or economic power, violate rights, infringe upon established agreements, withhold vital secrets, or alter bedrock institutions”. Conspiracy theories are used to describe and explain purported conspiracies.

People who believe in conspiracy theories are, according to this meta-analysis, more likely than other people to hold pseudoscientific beliefs, exhibit paranoid ideation, suffer from schizotypy, be narcissistic, be religious/spiritual and have lower cognitive ability.

Reading the comments sections of my blog, I agree with this conclusion.

Yes, I have done it again: another book!

Bizarre Medical Ideas: … and the Strange Men Who Invented Them

In order to let you know what it is all about, allow me to post the intoduction here:

Medicine has always relied on extraordinary innovators. Without them, progress would hardly have been possible, and we might still believe in the four humours and be treated with blood letting, mercury potions, or purging. The history of medicine is therefore to a large extent the history of its pioneers. This book is about some of them. It focusses on the mavericks who separated themselves from the mainstream and invented alternative medicine, healthcare that remained outside conventional medicine.

Few people would deny that differences of opinion are necessary for progress. This is true for healthcare as it is for any other field. Divergent views and legitimate debate have always been important drivers of innovation. Yet, some opinions have been so thoroughly repudiated by evidence as to be considered demonstrably wrong and harmful.

The realm of alternative medicine is full of such opinions. They are personified by men who created therapies based on wishful thinking, fallacious assumptions, and pseudoscience. Many of the alternative modalities – therapies or diagnostic methods – that are today so surprisingly popular have been originated by one single person. This book is about these men. It is an investigation into their lives, ideas, pseudoscience, and achievements and an attempt to find out what motivated each of these individuals to create treatments that are out of line with the known facts.

The book is divided into two parts. The first section sets the scene by establishing what true discoveries in medicine might look like. It offers short biographical sketches of my personal choice of some of my ‘medical icons’. In addition, it provides the necessary background about the field of alternative medicine. The second section is dedicated to the often strange men who invented these bizarre alternative treatments and diagnostic methods. In this section, we discuss in some detail the life and work of these individuals. Moreover, we critically evaluate the evidence for and against each of these modalities. An finally, we attempt to draw some conclusions about the strange men who invented bizarre alternative methods.

Having studied alternative medicine for more than three decades and having published more scientific papers on this subject than anyone else, the individuals behind the extraordinary modalities have intrigued me for many years. By describing these eccentric men, their assumptions, motivations, delusions, and failures, I hope to offer both entertainment as well as information. Furthermore, I aim at promoting my readers’ ability to tell science from pseudoscience and at stimulating their capacity of critical thinking.

EuroConsum‘ is an organisation that aims “to focus on areas that otherwise receive too little attention. Together with our approximately 6,000 members, member and partner organisations, we find these areas and work on them in numerous projects. We have been entered in the list of qualified organisations for this purpose since 2012 and, as a public body, carry out market inspections with a focus on the retail sector and have maintained the market watchdog Psychomarkt since 2015. We are particularly committed to the principle of scientific rigour and evidence.” (my translation)

‘EuroConsum’ recently published a bizarre statement:

For more than a decade, EuroConsum has worked closely with the Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP e.V.). Under the leadership of Amardeo Sarma and Dr Holm Hümmler, we experienced a fruitful and always respectful cooperation that contributed significantly to the improvement of consumer advice and information. This cooperation was in line with shared values, which manifested themselves in a commitment to an informed public and against quackery and evidence-free advertising promises.

The murder of Halit Yozgat by right-wing terrorists of the so-called “National Socialist Underground” (NSU) and the assassination of the Kassel district president Dr Walter Lübcke, also by a right-wing terrorist, took place during the same period. The racist murders in Hanau, which could have been prevented and in which a right-wing terrorist took the lives of Gökhan Gültekin, Sedat Gürbüz, Said Nesar Hashemi, Mercedes Kierpacz, Hamza Kurtović, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar, Kaloyan Velkov and Gabriele Rathjen, also took place during this time. Not only these murders, but also the involvement of state authorities in these events have increased pain and caused suffering. Many of our members know the victims or their surviving relatives personally. These events are fundamental and guiding for us and our work.They remind us every day.

For us, one of the lessons of this terror is that we must clearly distance ourselves from right-wing extremist and neo-right-wing movements. We must also fight to improve social conditions alongside those who share our values; in particular, these are groups in which people who are themselves affected by discrimination and marginalisation organise themselves. Work that does not take into account the perspectives of these people does not meet our own standards; work that is directed against the legitimate concerns of marginalised people and groups is inconceivable for us.

At the GWUP’s general meeting on 11 May 2024, a new election of the GWUP Board was held, which was previously presented as a “directional election”. The decision was close, as ultimately only around 20 votes made the difference. We perceive the result of the election as a decision on the future positioning of the GWUP in terms of content and as a commitment to a new direction for the GWUP and recognise it in this respect.

With this election, the GWUP has declared that it is taking a new course, which we do not want to follow against the background of our own association identity and cannot follow for personal reasons. EuroConsum will therefore terminate its cooperation with the GWUP immediately and finalise joint projects promptly. A statement to this effect was sent by post today.

This decision was not taken lightly, particularly in view of the long-standing good relationship and the considerable overlap within the groups and circles supporting our two associations. However, after an intensive discussion, there is no alternative for us.

EuroConsum would like to continue to engage in dialogue and cooperation with all sceptical people who share our values and want to work towards a fair and inclusive society.

(my translation)

_________________

WHAT?

ARE THEY SERIOUS?

‘EuroConsum’ seems to be disappointed with the result of the recent election of the GWUP-Board – I did previously mention the contest between ‘TEAM HUEMMLER’ and ‘TEAM SEBASTIANI’. The latter group won, and several Huemmler fans, including ‘EuroConsum’, have since left the GWUP. Nothing wrong about that! Everyone is free to do what they think is right, of course.

To associate the new GWUP leadership with a series of right-wing murders, is however an entirely different matter. In my view, this is not just extremely bad taste and utterly unjustifiable; it is slanderous and potentially actionable.

PS

What is perhaps also worth mentioning in this context an exchange that occurred on ‘X’ when ‘EuroConsum’ made the announcement. Here is the part of it that I could retrieve (my translation):

  • Holm Gero Hümmler: Surprised. Not.
  • Jörg Wipplinger: Wow, listing the right-wing extremist murders creates a context that, in my view, borders on character assassination. It doesn’t imply any affinity with right-wing ideas, but puts you in the neighbourhood of right-wing extremist murderers. Don’t you realise that or do you think it’s okay anyway?
  • Holm Gero Hümmler: If that is your only worry…
  • Jörg Wipplinger: What kind of answer is that? I find it extremely disturbing when a club, a board that has never worked a day, is portrayed in this way. I’m not with the club, but if that happened to me, I’d be pretty upset.
  • Jörg Wipplinger: It’s not about all the gwup stories at all, zero. It’s about Euroconsum’s explanation, which provides no real explanation, but a list of murderers as ‘context. Holm shared this and I want to know if he thinks it’s good. I find it shocking.
  • Holm Gero Hümmler: Euroconsum has always clearly positioned itself against anti-democratic tendencies.
    So I think it’s only natural that we don’t want to have anything to do with people who are in favour of the GWUP spreading the narratives of enemies of democracy and using their rhetoric.

 

 

Conspiracy theories, as often discussed here, plague the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), e.g.:

In fact, I did recently suggest that so-called alternative medicine is a conspiracy theory in disguise. Previous research has found that individuals who struggle with emotion regulation are more prone to believing in conspiracy theories. Emotional granularity – the ability to differentiate between nuanced emotional states – is a key component of effective emotion regulation, yet its relationship with conspiracy beliefs has not been explored thoroughly.

Psychologists from the Uni Graz in Austria conducted an experience-sampling study (165 participants, mean age = 26.3 years) including measures of emotion regulation and differentiation. The study started with an online survey that assessed participants’ sociodemographic (age, sex, and education) and trait measures. Following this, participants were asked to install an in-house developed app on their smartphones to obtain the emotional granularity specificity index. The app displayed two notifications each day for over a week (14 max.). Notifications were randomly displayed between 08:00 am and 10:00 pm with a minimum of at least 5 h between two notifications. Participants, on average, answered 57% of the notifications.

The findings revealed that individuals who endorse conspiracy theories engage in repetitive thinking about the causes and consequences of events and exhibit a reduced ability to distinguish between negative emotions. This effect, however, was observed only in the performance-based measure of emotion differentiation, not in the self-report measures.

The authors conclused that this suggests that enhancing emotional granularity may help individuals in regulating their emotions more effectively, thereby reducing their vulnerability to adopt conspiracy beliefs.

To reduce belief in conspiracy theories, one might, according to the authors, consider a training program to enhance emotion regulation and differentiation. A combination of cognitive control training on emotion regulation, which has been shown to reduce overthinking, as well as reflecting on and diversifying emotional experiences, could provide simple tools for assessing and regulating emotional experiences. This, in turn, may lead to decreased endorsement of conspiracy theories in the long run.

Perhaps we should recommend this to the chaps who recularly comment on this blog bursting with conspiracy theories?

Many fans of so-called alternative medicine have, as discussed ad nauseam on this blog, an irrational attitude towards vaccinations. They frequently claim that they do more harm than good. I wonder whether the data from a very large study might convince them other wise.

The WHO launched the ‘Expanded Programme on Immunization’ (EPI) in 1974 to make life-saving vaccines available to all globally. To mark the 50-year anniversary of EPI, this analysis sought to quantify the public health impact of vaccination globally since the programme’s inception.

his modelling study used a suite of mathematical and statistical models to estimate the global and regional public health impact of 50 years of vaccination against 14 pathogens in EPI. For the modelled pathogens, we considered coverage of all routine and supplementary vaccines delivered since 1974 and estimated the mortality and morbidity averted for each age cohort relative to a hypothetical scenario of no historical vaccination. These modelled outcomes were then used to estimate the contribution of vaccination to globally declining infant and child mortality rates over this period.

Since 1974, vaccination has averted 154 million deaths, including 146 million among children younger than 5 years of whom 101 million were infants younger than 1 year. For every death averted, 66 years of full health were gained on average, translating to 10·2 billion years of full health gained. Vaccination has thus accounted for 40% of the observed decline in global infant mortality, 52% in the African region. In 2024, a child younger than 10 years is 40% more likely to survive to their next birthday relative to a hypothetical scenario of no historical vaccination. Increased survival probability is observed even well into late adulthood.

The authors concluded that since 1974 substantial gains in childhood survival have occurred in every global region. We estimate that EPI has provided the single greatest contribution to improved infant survival over the past 50 years. In the context of strengthening primary health care, our results show that equitable universal access to immunisation remains crucial to sustain health gains and continue to save future lives from preventable infectious mortality.

>So, will this excellent and compelling analysis concince many irrational anti-vaxers? Somehow, I have my doubts.

As reported previously, the German skeptics (the GWUP) are in turmoil:

The current rift, many hope, will end imminently, when the GWUP membership elects the new board on the occasion of the ‘SKEPKON‘ (May 9-11). The members then have the choice between Holm Huemmler and Andre Sebastiani and their respective teams.

For many, the choice might be difficult, as they are bewildered (as am I) about what seems to be going on within the GWUP. Therefore, I will today try to provide an assessment according to objectively measurable criteria. For each team, I will calculate the

  1. Number of members with an H-Index (as a measure of the productivity and citation impact of the publications by each team);
  2. Number of members with a Wiki page (as a measure of public visibility).
  3. Number of members who are fellows of the CSI (as a measure of acceptance by skeptics internationally).
  4. Number of members who were active during recent months on social media in relation to the GWUP (as a measure of current engagement in the affairs of the GWUP).
  5. Number of female members (as a measure of equality).
  6. Number of members who are not German or who have been brought up in countries other than Germany (as a measure of internationality).

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that these are validated measures of anything (for instance, I am not claiming that a H-Index is necessary for leading a skeptics organisation, yet I do feel that at least some members of the board should be experienced scientists); the measures might merely be rough indicators. But I still hope they might offer some crude guidance for those GWUP members who look for some guidance beyond the heresay, gossip and accusationst that currently circulate.

Let me first introduce the two teams:

TEAM HUEMMLER

  • Dr. Holm Gero Hümmler (Chair, management consultant, studied physics)
  • Dr. Stephanie Dreyfürst ( Deputy chair, director of adult education, studied German)
  • Dr. Jochen Blom (Bioinformatik, studied bioinformatics)
  • Dr. Claudia Preis (Treasurer, manager, studied European ethnology)
  • Ralf Neugebauer (Judge, studied law)
  • Annika Harrison (Teacher)
  • Sabine Breiholz (Behavioural scientist, studied biology)
  • Mirko Gutjahr (Director of a museum, studied acheology)

TEAM SEBASTIANI

  • André Sebastiani (Chair, teacher and consultant for media didactics)
  • Judith Faessler (Deputy chair, philosophy and Oriental studies)
  • Stefanie Handl (Deputy chair, veterenaty medicine)
  • Rouven Schäfer (Studied economics, adult education and psychology)
  • Stefanie Weig (Energy and construction industry)
  • Stefan Uttenthaler (Studied physics and astronomy)
  • Timur Sevincer (Studied psychology)
  • Stefan Soehnle (Treasurer, studied physics and economics)
  • Babro Walker (Science council, studied educational sciences and psychology)

And here are the findings of my evaluation:

  1. Number of members with H-Index: team Huemmler 2; team Sebastiani 4.
  2. Number of members with a Wiki page: team Huemmler 1; team Sebastiani 2.
  3. Number of members with membership in CSI: team Huemmler 0; team Sebastiani 0.
  4. Number of members active on social media: team Huemmler 1; team Sebastiani 4.
  5. Number of female members: team Huemmler 4; team Sebastiani 4.
  6. Internationality: team Huemmler 0; team Sebastiani 4.

According to these figures, team Sebastiani seems better suited. Of course, these findings have to be interpreted with caution. Firstly, the differences are not large. Secondly – as already stressed – the parameters I used are at best indicators. Thirdly, it is possible that my evaluations were not 100% correct.

The main problem I faced when conducting this comparison was that objective measures which can easily be extracted from the data available to me are illusive, If anyone knows better ones, please let me know.

To be a useful board member of a skeptics organisation for German speaking countries, one should probably have qualities such as the following:

  • An ability to lead towards a common goal, meaning experience in heading teams and in tricky negotiations.  
  • Experience in organising events and projects.
  • Good connections to scientific organisations and academia.
  • Experience in public dissemination of science. 
  • A commitment to scientific skepticism and evaluations based on evidence.
  • An understand of how science works. 
  • Good international connections and co-operations.
  • Determination and ability to solve problems rather than just looking for problems and blaming others for them.

These qualities might be important, but they are not quantifiable – at least, I don’t know how to measure them based on the available material.

So, if you want to make an informed choice that is likely to be best for the future of skepticism in German speaking countries, I urge you to go on the Internet and inform yourself beyond my admittedly simplistic attempt to provide guidance.

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.

 

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