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

conspiracy

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Recently, I have received this message via the comments section of my blog:

“you’re actually an evil old nut-job Ed—been following your pharma ‘science’ bullshit for years—all opinion and ignorance and anti-science”

Don’t get me wrong, such attacks do not bother me – not any more. On the contrary, they amuse me. At one stage, I even started collecting them. Nowadays, I usually ignore them.

But this one is somewhat special. Therefore, I decided to analyse it a bit. The author essentially makes 9 claims:

  1. I am evil.
  2. I am old.
  3. I am a nut-job.
  4. I am called Ed.
  5. I conduct pharma science.
  6. I publish bullshit.
  7. All I state is opinion.
  8. I am ignorant.
  9. I am anti-science.

Yes, that’s quite a list. Let me try to tackle it one by one.

  1. Am I evil? I have had many ad hominem attacks before but, as far as I remember, nobody has yet alleged that I am evil. I looked it up, evil means: wicked · bad · wrong · morally wrong · wrongful · immoral · sinful · ungodly · unholy · foul · vile · base · ignoble · dishonorable · corrupt · iniquitous · depraved · degenerate · villainous · nefarious · sinister · vicious · malicious · malevolent · demonic · devilish · diabolic · diabolical · fiendish · dark · black-hearted · monstrous · shocking · despicable · atrocious · heinous · odious · contemptible · horrible · execrable · lowdown · stinking · dirty · shady · warped · bent · crooked · dastardly · black · egregious · flagitious · peccable. I am obviously the wrong person to judge, but I do not think that these attributes describe me all that well.
  2. Yes, I am old, 72 to be precise.
  3. Am I a nut-job? I looked that one up too. It’s a mentally unbalanced person. Call me biased, but I don’t think that this applies to me at all.
  4. No, I am not called Ed.
  5. I am not quite sure what ‘pharma science’ is supposed to mean, but one thing I do know for sure: since I research so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – and that’s about 30 years now – I have not taken research funds from the pharmaceutical industry. And before I very rarely did.
  6. As I have published a sizable amount of papers and blog-posts, there must have been a bit of BS in some of it. But I do not think it can be much.
  7. All I state is opinion? Oh really! Opinion comes into blog-posts regularly; without it my stuff would be boring like hell. But ALL of it? I don’t think so.
  8. Am I ignorant? Yes, certainly; there are lots of things I don’t know, even in medicine. But in SCAM I do know quite a bit – even if I say so myself.
  9. Anti-science? That last allegation is probably the most far-fetched of them all. No, I am not anti-science, never have been and never will be.

So, Paul – the author of the comment preferred to remain anonymous and simply calls himself Paul – I have tried to give you credit where I could but, on the whole, I fear your ad hominem attack is yet another victory of reason over unreason. I thank you Paul for two reasons:

  • firstly for the just-mentioned victory; it always feels good to be on a winning side,
  • secondly for the stimulus and motivation to carry on doing what I have been doing for many years; your comment has shown me how much needed my work is in disclosing quackery, correcting errors, teaching critical thinking and responsibly informing the public.

THANKS PAUL

We probably all think we know what is meant by ‘pseudo-science’. But, in fact, the more you think about it, the less certain you are likely to become. Many very smart people have tried shed some light on this question and, in the end, had to admit that it is far from clear.

In his book ‘Decision Making and Rationality in the Modern World‘, Keith Stanovich makes a fresh attempt to tackle the problem. Here is a list of criteria that he deems important:

• The use of psychobabble – words that sound scientific, but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner. For example, “energy therapies” for psychological problems are often premised on biofeedback, meridian lines, quantum energies, and a host of other concepts that may sound impressive, but lack evidence.

• A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence. Evidence for pseudoscience is typically anecdotal and consequently difficult to verify. For a class example, instructors may want to show students the Q-Ray bracelet website 1 and read the many quotes submitted by Q-Ray users. Although the quotes sound compelling, there is no scientific evidence to support any claims attached to them. In fact, the Q-Ray company lost a lawsuit in 2011 and was ordered to refund over $11 million dollars to people who purchased a Q-Ray bracelet.

• Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence (Truzzi, 1978Sagan, 1995). In pseudosciences, assertions are often highly implausible in light of existing knowledge yet are not backed by convincing evidence. For a class example, instructors may wish to describe how infomercials promoting Q-Ray bracelets state that the “bracelet rips [pain] right out of the body 2.” and are “designed to optimize your natural positive energy 1.”

• Unfalsifiable claims – Most pseudoscientific claims are incapable of being refuted in principle. For example, proponents of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believe the human body has an invisible energy force called Qi (Zollman and Vickers, 1999). Qi is a crucial component of TCM, even though it cannot be measured or tested scientifically.

• An absence of connectivity to other research (Stanovich, 2010). Connectivity refers to the extent to which assertions build on extant knowledge. For example, homeopathic practitioners state that homeopathic treatments become stronger as they become more dilute, and that water has memory. Both of these claims run counter to established scientific knowledge (Singh and Ernst, 2008).

• Absence of adequate peer review. Peer review is far from perfect, but it is a key safeguard against error. Instructors may wish to encourage students to contrast the claims advanced by the authors of peer-reviewed versus non-peer-reviewed articles.

• Lack of self-correction. Pseudosciences frequently persist despite refutation. Often, proponents of pseudoscience will use the idea that since the treatment or idea has been used for thousands of years it must be correct (e.g., astrology), an error often called the ad antiquetem fallacy (or, argument from antiquity).

Yes, I know, nothing fundamentally new here. Nonetheless, I thought the list was thought-provoking, particularly as it harps back to themes which we have discussed regularly on this blog. Stanovich’s list is certainly not comprehensive. Feel free, if you think you can add new aspects to the features that characterise pseudoscience.

You have probably guessed it: I am not a fan of Donald Trump (he made several previous appearances on this blog, see here, here here and here). There are many things that I dislike about him, and his attitude towards vaccination is but one of them. Researchers from Australia and from my own University (!) have conducted two studies on this subject which I find extraordinary and important. Here is their abstract:

Donald Trump is the first U.S. President to be on the record as having anti-vaccination attitudes. Given his enormous reach and influence, it is worthwhile examining the extent to which allegiance to Trump is associated with the public’s perceptions of vaccine safety and efficacy. In both Study 1 (N = 518) and Study 2 (N = 316), Trump voters were significantly more concerned about vaccines than other Americans. This tendency was reduced to non-significance after controlling for conspiracist ideation (i.e., general willingness to believe conspiracy theories) and, to a lesser degree, political conservatism. In Study 2, participants were later exposed to real Trump tweets that either focused on his anti-vaccination views, or focused on golf (the control condition). Compared to when the same respondents were sampled a week earlier, there was a significant increase in vaccine concern, but only among Trump voters who were exposed to the anti-vaccination tweets. The effects were exclusively negative: there was no evidence that anti-vaccination Trump tweets polarized liberal voters into becoming more pro-vaccination. In line with the social identity model of leadership, Study 2 indicates that some leaders do not simply represent the attitudes and opinions of the group, but can also change group members’ opinions.

I find this paper so important and excellent that I take the liberty of quoting from the authors’ discussion:

Both studies showed that people who voted for Trump in the 2016 Presidential election were more concerned about vaccines than other voters. When it came to general concern about vaccines, this “Trump effect” was entirely accounted for by the fact that Trump voters are not only more politically conservative than other Americans but also (and independently) more predisposed to believe conspiracy theories. In fact, the tendency for Trump voters to have greater concerns about the MMR vaccine in particular was not explained so much by their political conservatism as it was by their conspiracist ideation.

Study 1 illustrates that Trump voters are particularly prone to anti-vaccination attitudes. Study 2 further demonstrates that these attitudes are not static: it shows that a revered, prototypical ingroup member can actively exacerbate this propensity to endorse factually unfounded beliefs.

One overarching debate about the influence of political leaders is the extent to which they shape supporters’ views, or merely reflect them. Study 2 makes clear that the “Trump effect” is not merely a case of Trump holding a mirror to people’s pre-existing views: his messages have the power to change attitudes. As such, future research needs to
take seriously the impact of Trump as a change-agent, one that is impeding the broader campaign to increase vaccination uptake and to eliminate infectious diseases.

________________________

So, the ‘Trump-Effect’ on vaccination attitudes is strongly negative. This leads me to suspect that the ‘Trump-Effect’ on many other issues is just as profoundly detrimental. For the sake not just of public health, let us hope that the US public will dismiss their dangerous president when they go to the ballot in just a few weeks time.

Prof Ernst is far too critical about homeopathy!

He is biased against it!

He cherry-picks the evidence!

He does not understand homeopathy!

If you are one of the many who believe such notions, please read on.

The website of the NHS England has a fairly detailed account of homeopathy. Here is the section entitled ‘What can we conclude from the evidence?‘ – but I recommend reading the full text:

There have been several reviews of the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said there’s no evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.

There’s no evidence behind the idea that substances that cause certain symptoms can also help treat them.

Nor is there any evidence behind the idea that diluting and shaking substances in water can turn those substances into medicines.

The ideas that underpin homeopathy aren’t accepted by mainstream science, and aren’t consistent with long-accepted principles on the way the physical world works.

The Committee’s 2010 report on homeopathy said the “like cures like” principle is “theoretically weak”, and that this is the “settled view of medical science”.

For example, many homeopathic remedies are diluted to such an extent that it’s unlikely there’s a single molecule of the original substance remaining in the final remedy. In cases like these, homeopathic remedies consist of nothing but water.

Some homeopaths believe that, as a result of the succussion process, the original substance leaves an “imprint” of itself on the water. But there’s no known mechanism by which this can occur.

The 2010 report said: “We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible.”

Some people who use homeopathy may see an improvement in their health condition as the result of a phenomenon known as the placebo effect.

If you choose health treatments that provide only a placebo effect, you may miss out on other treatments that have been proven to be more effective.

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Since 1948, homeopathy had been part of the NHS, there were 5 homeopathic NHS hospitals, and the costs for homeopathy were covered. Why would the NHS decision makers suddenly turn against it? They must have loved homeopathy for at least 4 reasons:

      1. It is inexpensive.
      2. It has support in high places.
      3. It did not cause any direct harm.
      4. It had many supporters who fought tooth and nail for it.

It is therefore hardly reasonable to assume that the NHS is biased against homeopathy. But, why do they now say that it is

  • implausible,
  • not effective beyond placebo,
  • and can cause harm by making people miss out on effective therapies?

 

The answer is simple: BECAUSE THESE STATEMENTS ARE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY OF THE BEST EVIDENCE AVAILABLE TO DATE.

So, here you are: the NHS now confirms what I (and many other experts) have been saying since years. And we all insist on the fact that this not because we are biased, stupid, uninformed, paid by BIG PHARMA, or want to deprive anyone of anything. We do it for one reason only:

BECAUSE IT’S THE TRUTH!

When chiropractors try to play medical doctors, their patients are in danger. When they try to play epidemiologists, we might all be in danger. Already in April 2020, the Australian ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ issued a press release on COVID 19 stating:

Good function of the body’s joints, particularly within the spine, may improve neurological function, which is important for an effective natural immune system. Treatment by a qualified and experienced chiropractor offers one of the most effective methods to improve and maintain good spinal joint function. The chiropractic profession attends to many patients, and like all other health workers, the profession truly cares for the welfare of every individual.

Now they have gone further. Their press release of 18/8/2020 states amongst other things:

  • Approximately 1.5% of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 may die; all people with a compromised immune system, that being the aged or those suffering a co-morbidity;
  • 98.5% of those infected with the COVID-19 virus suffer either no symptoms, mild symptoms or treatable symptoms no worse than seasonal influenza;
  • COVID-19 positive test numbers are largely irrelevant, as 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover as the virus moves through the population. Recent studies by the UK based Centre for Evidence Based Medicine confirms increased COVID testing is the primary reason for increased case numbers, which have little relationship to mortality. The focus on case numbers is again designed to engender public fear and compliance;

Patrons of Chiropractic Science demands that the Victorian Government and its senior health officials cease distorting facts, stop blaming Victorian non-compliance for the increased positive testing numbers, and assume full responsibility for the aged care deaths and the current economic damage.

Simple facts: it is critical and more effective to isolate and protect the high-risk groups, effectively quarantine return travellers, but cease the illogical isolation of the vast majority of the population who are not at risk as the virus naturally circulates, and allow them to recommence working to save many businesses and initiate economic recovery.

________________________________

Implying that regular chiropractic manipulations improve immunity or protect people from the corona virus is bad enough. But the new press release is worse:

  1. It is not true that only people with impaired immune systems, of old age, or affected by other diseases die of COVID 19.
  2. It is not true that all of the 98.5% who do not die have treatable symptoms not worse than a flu; an undefined percentage of the survivors suffer from very severe and sometimes long-lasting conditions.
  3. It is not true that 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover; many will not recover completely, and the question whether mildly affected individuals develop immunity and for how long is as yet unanswered.
  4. It is not true that COVID testing results are unrelated to mortality; the figures need, of course, careful interpretation; the percentage of positive tests per number of tests done, for instance, should be independent of the frequency of testing.
  5. It is not true that the vast majority of the population are not at risk, if the virus were to circulate naturally.

All this looks to me as though the ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ are in urgent need of learning some science. Meanwhile, it would be most helpful, if they could keep quiet.

George Lakhovsky, a Russian-born scientist, believed to have found out that every cell of the human body has its own frequency. Healthy cells emit a frequency radiation, he claimed, and whenever a part of the body gets damaged, inflamed or ill, the resonance of those cells become less intense. When pathogens, bacteria, microbes take over, they disrupt the healthy cells with their harmful frequency, Lakhovsky thought.

Based on these notions, Lakhovsky constructed a device capable of generating a field of frequencies in a very broad spectrum. He argued that, if one would place a sick person or an affected body part in this frequency spectrum, those diseased cells would recognize their own frequency, tune in and would start resonating in their own, healthy frequency again. Thus the illness would disappear, Lakhovsky thought.

He felt it should be possible to halt and even cure degenerative diseases like cancer in this way. After a long time of experimenting unsuccessfully, he called Nicola Tesla for help. Tesla had the blueprints for the oscillator machine ready for use. Their multi-wave oscillator was said to activate healing processes and cured most cases of cancer, leukaemia, osteoporosis etc.

An important part of Lakhovsky’s work took place in 1920-1930. In France, Italy, England and Germany multiple of Lakhovsky’s machines were operating. But then they slowly started disappearing again. Many people said the reason for this was that the quick results provided by the machines made the hospitals unnecessary and no profits could be made by them.

The Second World War put an end to much of Lakhovsky’s work. While visiting the US, Lakhovsky was struck by a car and died under mysterious circumstances aged 72.

________________________________________

Is this intriguing story the script of a bizarre film?

No, it is a true – well, partly true – story which I have taken from this article by a therapist who, like many others, uses Lakhovsky’s oscillator for treating patients (and sells potions, some of which cost well over Euro 1 000!). Another article by a practitioner offering this treatment claims that the oscillator is effective for the following indications:

  • vitalising cells,
  • activation of the body’s own healing powers,
  • anti-ageing,
  • wellness,
  • improving general well-being,
  • pain reduction,
  • detox,
  • rejuvenation of skin,
  • improvement of visual aspect of the skin.

The article further assures us that the treatment is totally free of side-effects and can be used as an adjunctive therapy for almost any disease.

Yet another website advertises the therapy as follows: Have you lost a loved one to cancer? Georges Lakhovsky had a 98% success rate in treating fatal cancers over an 11-year period. Today we celebrate a 50% five-year survival rate.

And this is what Wikipedia tells us about the Lakhovsky oscillator (depicted in the photo above, together with its inventor):  The main circuit basically consists of concentric rings forming electrical dipole antennas having capacitive gaps opposing each other by 180° (called Lakhovsky antennas). The circuit is fed with high voltage, high frequency, impulses from a generator, usually a Tesla coil. If set up correctly, the unit is supposed to create a broad band frequency spectrum of low amplitude, consisting of much more substantially lower and higher frequencies, from 1 Hz to 300 GHz, than those of the exciting generator, usually several 100 kHz to a few MHz from a Tesla transformer or several kilohertz from an induction coil. But the power of this broad band noise spectrum is very low. In order to create more harmonics and sub-harmonics, an additional spark gap on the secondary side has been found in some devices, being mounted directly on the antenna, or being mounted in parallel to the secondary coil…

In an attempt to find out whether the machine works, I have searched for published, peer-reviewed clinical evidence on the Lakhovsky oscillator. I was unable to find any. If any of my readers are aware of any evidence, please let me know.

People who use so-called alternative medicines (SCAM) tend to be more vaccine hesitant. One possible conclusion that can be drawn from this is that trusting SCAM results in people becoming more vaccine hesitant. An alternative possibility is that vaccine hesitancy and use of SCAM are both consequences of a distrust in conventional treatments. an International team of researchers conducted analyses designed to disentangle these two possibilities.

They measured vaccine hesitancy and SCAM use in a representative sample of Spanish residents (N = 5200). They also quantified their trust in three CCAM interventions;     

  1. acupuncture,
  2. reiki,
  3. homeopathy                                                                  

and in two conventional medical interventions:

  1. chemotherapy,
  2. antidepressants.

Vaccine hesitancy turned out to be strongly associated with (dis)trust in conventional medicine, and this relationship was particularly strong among SCAM users. In contrast, trust in SCAM was a relatively weak predictor of vaccine hesitancy, and the relationship was equally weak regardless of whether or not participants themselves had a history of using SCAM.

According to the authors of this paper, the implication for practitioners and policy makers is that SCAM is not necessarily a major obstacle to people’s willingness to vaccinate, and that the more proximal obstacle is people’s mistrust of conventional treatments.

This is an interesting study. Yet, it begs a few questions:

  1.  Is it possible to reliably establish trust in SCAM by asking about just 3 specific therapies?
  2. Is it possible to reliably establish trust in conventional medicine by asking about just 2 treatments?
  3. Why those therapies out of hundreds of options?
  4. Could it be that here are national differences (in other countries distrust in conventional medicine is not a strong determinant of SCAM use)?
  5. Is trust in SCAM and distrust in conventional medicine perhaps the common expression of an anti-science attitude or cultist tendencies?

There are uncounted different forms of bogus so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs), and many have been discussed on this blog. What do I mean by ‘bogus’? A bogus SCAM is one, in my view, that is being promoted for conditions for which it does not demonstrably generate more good than harm.

Ten popular examples are:

  • alternative cancer ‘cures’,
  • applied kinesiology,
  • Bach Flower Remedies,
  • CEASE,
  • chiropractic,
  • detox treatments,
  • homeopathy,
  • osteopathy,
  • paranormal or energy healing techniques,
  • slimming aids.

These treatments are diverse in many ways: history, basic assumption, risks, etc. But they nevertheless tend to have certain features in common:

  1. Most SCAMs originate from the ideas developed by a single, often charismatic individual who proclaimed to have seen the light. Think of Gerson, Bach, Palmer, Hahnemann, Still.
  2. They are recommended by enthusiasts as a panacea, a ‘cure all’.
  3. They are heavily promoted by celebrities, hyped by the press and marketed via books or the Internet, but they are far less or not at all supported by published studies in the peer-reviewed medical literature.
  4. The clinical trials of SCAM that have been published are flimsy, lack independent replication, yet are celebrated by proponents as though they represent robust evidence.
  5. SCAMs target either the most desperately ill patients who understandably tend to cling to every straw they can find. Or they go for the ‘worried well’ who have nothing truly wrong with them and plenty of cash to waste.
  6. Proponents of SCAM use scientific-sounding terminology, while simultaneously displaying a profoundly anti-scientific attitude.
  7. Entrepreneurs of SCAM are efficient at selling false hope at excessive prices.
  8. SCAMs sometimes seem to work because many of the therapists are skilled at maximising the placebo-response.
  9. SCAM is awash with conspiracy theories, for instance, the notion that ‘the establishment’ is supressing SCAM. (If a SCAM ever showed real promise, it would rapidly scrutinised by researchers and, if effectiveness were confirmed, adopted by conventional medicine. The notion of an alternative cure for any disease is idiotic, because it presupposes that conventional healthcare professionals shun a potentially valuable treatment simply because it emerged from elsewhere.)
  10. Most SCAMs can do direct harm. For instance, oral treatments can be toxic or interact with prescription drugs. Or spinal manipulations can cause a stroke. Or acupuncture can cause a pneumothorax.
  11. SCAMs are dangerous even if they do not cause direct harm. There are many examples of people who died needlessly early because they used SCAM as an alternative to conventional medicine (Steve Jobs is a prominent example).
  12. Moreover, SCAMs cause harm by undermining the principles of EBM and, more importantly, by undermining rational thinking in our society.
  13. SCAM practitioners violate fundamental rules of medical ethics on a daily basis. One could even argue that the ethical practice of SCAM is rarely possible.

 

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) is the UK’s professional organisation of lay-homeopaths, therapists who treat patients without having studies medicine. This is what they say about themselves:

Everyone needs a healthcare professional they can trust – one who’s trained to rigorous standards, bound by a strict code of ethics, and subject to independent regulation. That’s what the Society of Homeopaths stands for. We’re the UK’s largest group of professional homeopaths, and the only dedicated register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority, an independent body set up by the government to protect the public.

We work to uphold standards of homeopathic care, support our members in their practices, and help their patients back to good health. We ensure that the letters RSHom are your guarantee of a well-trained, registered and insured professional homeopath.

This sounds fine, but is any of this true? Because of their dubious activities endangering public health, the SoH has attracted my attention many times before (for instance here, here and here). Today, they made national headlines.

It has been reported that Linda Wicks, chair of the Society of Homeopaths (S0H), has shared a series of bizarre petitions claiming that childhood immunisations are unsafe, and calling for The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRH) to be disbanded. Mrs Wicks also posted a petition supporting Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former doctor who falsely linked the MMR vaccine to autism. It claimed that the scientific establishment’s rejection of his flawed research was ‘the greatest lie ever told’.

Mrs Wicks, a Cornwall-based lay-homeopath and owner of the Linda Wicks Homeopathy Clinic in Truro, has been an adviser to the society for 16 years. She was appointed to the SoH chair in April. She has used her Facebook account to spread ‘anti-vaxx’ propaganda for years. Mrs Wicks must now consider whether such to resign.

Two other members of the board of directors of the SoH are also under pressure to quit. One of them, Francis Treuherz, used his Facebook feed to share a petition describing Mr Wakefield as a ‘hero’ who ought to be ‘honoured’ with the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2016 Treuherz endorsed a campaign urging the then education secretary Justine Greening to ‘STOP vaccination’ of schoolchildren against flu.

The flu petition was shared on Facebook by a third member of the SoH’s board, Maggie Dixon, who owns a homeopathic clinic in Bath. Mrs Dixon works as a member of the ‘team of practitioners’ at Ainsworths, the homeopathic pharmacy boasting of royal warrants from the Queen as well as Prince Charles.

It seems clear to me that the behaviour of Wicks, Treuherz and Dixon endangers public health and is deeply unethical. Considering what the SoH say about themselves (see above), it looks like a bad joke. In my view, it is incompatible with holding an office in a professional organisation of healthcare professionals.

Homeopathy does not have a good name when it comes to advising the public responsibly. Such behaviour is hardly going to improve this situation. The recent call of NHS leaders to stop the accreditation of homeopaths in the UK seems therefore well-justified.

Mrs Wicks meekly apologised yesterday, saying: ‘I regret my association with these petitions and any confusion this may have caused, and I have removed the page which allegedly showed this historic material.’ Confusion? At this stage, I must conclude that she is joking!

The SoH said it was working to improve communication standards ‘with clearer guidelines’. Improve communication standards. Yes, definitely, they are taking the Mikey!

Mr Treuherz and Mrs Dixon did not comment.

So, should they resign?

Would that save the reputation of the SoH?

Is there any reputation to save?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Leah Bracknell, started raising funds ~3 years ago for alternative cures of her stage 4 lung cancer. Bracknell who, after her acting career, had become a yoga teacher said at the time that, in the UK, she was given “a fairly brutal and bleak diagnosis, but one I am determined to challenge”. Her partner, Jez Hughes, who helped with the fund-raising said the money would be used for “immunotherapy and integrative medicine, which are seeing previously ‘incurable’ cancers going into complete remission”.

The team thus raised over £50 000 and went to Germany, a country that is well-known for its liberal stance on quackery. In Britain, there are just a few physicians who are devoted to this or that alternative medicine. In Germany, there are thousands of them. In addition, Germany has a healthcare profession called the ‘Heilpraktiker’, a poorly-regulated left-over from the Third Reich. A Heilpraktiker has not studied medicine, yet is legally permitted to make all sorts of unsubstantiated claims and treat many serious diseases, including cancer, with unproven therapies.

It was reported that Leah Bracknell went to the ‘Hallwang Private Oncology Clinic’, an institution which claims that “Healing-oriented and individualised medicine considers all aspects of lifestyle and not only relies on conventional treatments and recent cutting-edge developments in medicine, but also takes into account our experience in natural remedies and is open for alternative treatment options in order to work in synergy with conventional treatment strategies. We always try to be as natural as possible and as conventional as needed to achieve the best results. Integrative Health Concepts are successfully used in many diseases including malignant diseases, neurological disorders as well as in prevention and rehabilitation.” The SCAMs used there include homeopathy, micronutrients, natural supplements, whole body hyperthermia and ozone therapy.

The evidence does not support these or other alternative cancer ‘cures’. In fact, the very notion of an alternative cancer cure is nonsensical: if an alternative cancer therapy showed even the slightest shimmer of promise, it would get investigated and, if shown to work, become part of routine oncology. The suggestion that there are treatments out there that are effective, yet shunned by oncologists because they originate from nature or from some exotic tradition is insulting and utterly barmy.

Yet cancer patients can easily fall for such claims. They are understandably desperate and listen to anyone promissing a cure. Therefore, they all too easily believe in weird conspiracy theories of ‘Big Parma’, the evil ‘establishment’ etc. who allegedly suppress the news of an effective therapy, as it might threaten their profits. If they do fall for such lies, they not only lose pots of money but also their lives.

Last Wednesday, it was reported that Leah Bracknell had died of cancer.

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