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

evidence

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This recently published survey aimed to investigate the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) among long-term cancer survivors and its links with healthy behaviour. Data was used from the VICAN survey, conducted in 2015-2016 on a representative sample of French cancer survivors 5 years after diagnosis.

Among the 4174 participants, 21.4% reported using SCAM at the time of the survey, including 8.4% who reported uses not associated with cancer. The most frequently cited reasons for using SCAM were:

  • to improve their physical well-being (83.0%),
  • to strengthen their body (71.2%),
  • to improve their emotional well-being (65.2%),
  • to relieve the side effects of treatment (50.7%).

The SCAM users who reported using SCAM to cure cancer or prevent relapses (8.5% of the participants) also used SCAM for other reasons. They had more often experienced cancer progression, feared a recurrence, and had a poorer quality of life because of sequelae, pain, and fatigue. They also consulted their general practitioners more frequently and had changed their lifestyle by adopting more healthy practices.

The authors concluded that the use of SCAM is not an alternative but a complementary means of coping with impaired health. Further research is now required to determine whether the use of SCAM reflects a lifestyle change or whether it assists survivors rather to make behavioural changes.

The 2012 data from the same survey had previously reported that, among the participants, 16.4% claimed to have used SCAM, and 45.3% of this group had not used SCAM before cancer diagnosis (new SCAM users). Commonly, SCAMs used were:

  • homeopathy (64.0%),
  • acupuncture (22.1%),
  • osteopathy (15.1%),
  • herbal medicine (8.1%),
  • diets (7.3%),
  • energy therapies (5.8%).

SCAM use was found to be significantly associated with younger age, female gender and a higher education level. Previous SCAM use was significantly associated with having a managerial occupation and an expected 5-year survival rate ≥80% at diagnosis; recent SCAM use was associated with cancer progression since diagnosis, impaired quality of life and higher pain reports.

In nearly half of the SCAM users, cancer diagnosis was one of the main factors which incited patients to use SCAM. Opting for SCAM was a pragmatic response to needs which conventional medicine failed to meet during the course of the disease.

These surveys mostly confirm what has been shown over and over again in other countries. What I find remarkable with these results, however, is the increase in SCAM use over time and the extraordinary high use of homeopathy by French cancer patients (more recently, the reimbursement of homeopathy in France has changed, of course). As homeopathy has no effects beyond placebo, this suggests that SCAM use by French cancer patients is far from being driven by evidence.

So, what then does determine it?

My best answer I can give to this question is this: relentless promotion through pharmacies, advertisements and journalists. These have all been very powerful in France in relation to homeopathy (hardly surprising, as the world’s largest homeopathic producer, Boiron, is based in France).

This leads me to the conclusion that SCAM is far more commercially driven than its enthusiasts would ever admit. They think of the pharmaceutical industry as the evil exploiter of the sick. It is now time to realise that the SCAM industry is, to a large extent, part of the pharmaceutical industry and often behaves just as badly or even worse: because what could be more unethical that selling placebos to desperate and vulnerable cancer patients?

Breast cancer and its treatments lead to a decrease in patients’ quality of life (QOL). This systematic review aimed to assess the effectiveness of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) on the QOL of women with breast cancer.

A total of 28 clinical trials were included in the systematic review, 18 of which were randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Participants included women with breast cancer who were undergoing the first three phases of breast cancer or post-cancer rehabilitation. One study tested a dietary supplement, and the other 27 tested a variety of mind-body techniques (the authors counted the following modalities in this category: acupuncture, hyperthermia, movement therapy (qigong), laser therapy, orthomolecular therapy, osteopathy, phototherapy, healing touch, homeopathy, lymphatic drainage, magnet field therapy, manual therapy, neural therapy, Shiatsu). Twenty-seven studies showed improved QOL.

The authors concluded that the findings may indicate the potential benefits of SCAMs, especially mind-body techniques on QOL in breast cancer patients. Further RCTs or long-term follow-up studies are recommended. Moreover, the use of similar QOL assessment tools allows for more meta-analysis and generalizability of results, especially for the development of clinical guidelines.

This is a somewhat odd paper:

  • it is poorly written,
  • it lumps together SCAMs that do not belong in the same category,
  • it only considered studies published in English,
  • it included studies regardless of study design, even those without any control groups.

Regardless of these consideration, it stands to reason that patients’ QoL can be improved by SCAM. Only a fool would deny that a bit of extra care, kindness, attention and time is good for patients. The relevant questions, however, are quite different:

  1. Is this effect due to the extra attention and care or is it due to specific effects of SCAM?
  2. Which SCAM is best at achieving an improvement of QoL?
  3. Are the truly effective SCAMs better than conventional interventions aimed at improving QoL?

These are by no means academic questions but issues that need to be addressed to improve cancer care, and tackling them is in the best interest of suffering patients. Sadly, none of them can be answered by conducting poor quality systematic reviews of the evidence. Even more sadly, few of the proponents of integrated medicine want to face the music and answer these questions. They seem to prefer to stand in the way of progress, to ignore medical ethics, to blindly and naively integrate any old nonsense from the realm of SCAM (anything from homeopathy to Reiki) into routine care without probing further and without wanting to know the facts.

It is almost as though they are afraid of the truth.

When I discuss published articles on this blog, I usually focus on recent papers. Not so today! Today I write about a small study we published 17 years ago. It was conducted in Canada by researchers whom I merely assisted in designing the protocol and interpreting the findings.

They trained 8 helpers to pretend being customers of health food stores. They entered individually into assigned stores; the helpers had been informed to browse in the store until approached by an employee. At this time they would declare that their mother has breast cancer. They disclosed information on their mother’s condition, use of chemotherapy (Tamoxifen) and physician visits, only if asked. The helpers would then ask what the employee recommend for this condition. They followed a structured, memorized, pretested questionnaire that asked about product usage, dosage, cost, employee education and product safety or potential for drug interactions.

The helpers recorded which products were recommended by the health food store employees, along with the recommended dose and price per product as well as price per month. Additionally, they inquired about where the employee had obtained information on the recommended products. They also noted whether the employees referred them on to SCAM practitioners or recommended that they consult a physician. Full notes on the encounters were written immediately after leaving the store.

The findings were impressive. Of the 34 stores that met our inclusion criteria, 27 recommended SCAMs; a total of 33 different products were recommended. Here are some further findings:

  • Essiac was recommended most frequently.
  • The mean cost of the recommended products per month was $58.09 (CAD) (minimum $5.28, median $32.99, maximum $600).
  • Twenty-three employees (68%) did not ask whether the patient took prescription medications.
  • Fifteen (44%) employees recommended visiting a healthcare professional; these included: naturopaths (9), physicians (5) and nutritionists (1).
  • Health food store employees relied on a variety of sources of information. Twelve employees (35%) said they had received their information from books, 5 (15%) from a supplier, 3 (9%) had formal education in SCAM, 2 (6%) had in-store training, and 12 (35%) did not disclose their sources of information.

Since our paper has been published, several other investigations have addressed similar issues. Here are a few excerpts:

But why do I mention all this today?

The answer is that firstly, I think it is important to warn consumers of the often dangerous advice they might receive in HFSs. Secondly, I feel it would worthwhile to do further research, check whether the situation has changed and repeat a similar study today. Ideally, a new investigation should be conducted in different locations comparing several countries. If you have the possibility to plan and conduct such an experiment, please drop me a line.

In my never-ending search for novel so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) I came across WATSU. If you had never heard of WATSU, you are in good company (for instance mine). WATSU (water and shiatsu) is a form of passive hydrotherapy in chest-deep thermoneutral water. It was created in the early 1980s by the California-based Shiatsu teacher Harold Dull and combines elements of myofascial stretching, joint mobilization, massage, and shiatsu and is used to address physical and mental issues.

To me, this sounds as though an old physiotherapeutic approach has been re-vamped in order to seem more attractive to the affluent sections of the SCAM brigade. My suspicion seems to be confirmed by SCAM ueber-guru Dr Andrew Weil’s comments:

Dr. Weil has received the therapy many times and often recommends it.

While other bodywork modalities are based on touch in a stationary, two-dimensional world, Watsu offers a different experience. A three-dimensional environment, nearly free from gravity, within a warm and comforting fluid-space and the opportunity to connect with another person all have obvious therapeutic potential.

Achieving states of deep relaxation combined with the therapeutic benefits of good massage therapy can be of great benefit in controlling pain, relieving stress, and recovering from emotional and physical trauma.

But never mind the one-dimensional Dr Weil. The question is: does WATSU work? According to a recent paper, it is effective for a wide range of conditions.

The objective of this systematic review and meta-analyses was to assess the applications, indications, and the effects of WATSU to form a basis for further studies.

Literature searches for “WATSU OR watershiatsu OR (water AND shiatsu)” were conducted without any restrictions in 32 databases. Peer reviewed original articles addressing WATSU as a stand-alone hydrotherapy were assessed for risk of bias. Quantitative data of effects on pain, physical function, and mental issues were processed in random model meta-analyses with subgroup analyses by study design.

Of 1,906 unique citations, 27 articles regardless of study design were assessed for risk of bias. WATSU has been applied to individuals of all ages. Indications covered acute (e.g. pregnancy related low back pain) and chronic conditions (e.g. cerebral palsy) with beneficial effects of WATSU regarding e.g. relaxation or sleep quality. Meta-analyses suggest beneficial effect sizes of WATSU on pain, physical function, and mental issues.

The authors concluded that various applications, indications and beneficial effects of WATSU were identified. The grade of this evidence is estimated to be low to moderate at the best. To strengthen the findings of this study, high-quality RCTs are needed.

Of the 27 studies included in this review, most were case-reports or case series, and only 5 were RCTs. Of these RCTs, none was robust. Some, for instance compared WATSU against no treatment at all, thus not controlling for placebo effects. All of these RCTs had small sample sizes, and all had been published in odd journals of dubious repute.

So, is it justified to categorically conclude that beneficial effects of WATSU were identified?

No, I don’t think so.

That physiotherapy in water can have positive effects on some symptoms would hardly be surprising. But, to convince people who think more critically than Dr Weil, better evidence would be needed.

Acupressure is the stimulation of specific points, called acupoints, on the body surface by pressure for therapeutic purposes. The required pressure can be applied manually of by a range of devices. Acupressure is based on the same tradition and assumptions as acupuncture. Like acupuncture, it is often promoted as a panacea, a ‘cure-all’.

Several systematic reviews of the clinical trials of acupressure have been published. An overview published in 2010 included 9 such papers and concluded that the effectiveness of this treatment has not been conclusively demonstrated for any condition.

But since 2010, more trials have become available.

Do they change the overall picture?

The objective of this study was to test the efficacy of acupressure on patient-reported postoperative recovery. The researchers conducted a single centre, three-group, blind, randomised controlled, pragmatic trial assessing acupressure therapy on the PC6, LI4 and HT7 acupoints. Postoperative patients expected to stay in hospital at least 2 days after surgery were included and randomised to three groups:

  1. In the acupressure group, pressure was applied for 6 min (2 min per acupoint), three times a day after surgery for a maximum of 2 postoperative days during the hospital stay.
  2. In the sham group, extremely light touch was applied to the acupoints.
  3. The third group did not receive any such intervention.

All patients also received the normal postoperative treatments.

The primary outcome was the change in the quality of recovery (QoR), using the QoR-15 questionnaire, between postoperative days 1 and 3. Key secondary outcomes included patients’ satisfaction, postoperative nausea and vomiting, pain score and opioid (morphine equivalent) consumption. Assessors for the primary and secondary endpoints were blind to the group allocation.

A total of 163 patients were randomised (acupressure n=55, sham n=53, no intervention n=55). The mean (SD) postoperative change in QoR-15 did not differ statistically (P = 0.27) between the acupressure, sham and no intervention groups: 15.2 (17.8), 14.2 (21.9), 9.2 (21.7), respectively. Patient satisfaction (on a 0 to 10 scale) was statistically different (P = 0.01) among these three groups: 9.1 (1.5), 8.4 (1.6) and 8.2 (2.2), respectively. Changes in pain score and morphine equivalent consumption were not significantly different between the groups.

The authors concluded that two days of postoperative acupressure therapy (up to six treatments) did not significantly improve patient QoR, postoperative nausea and vomiting, pain score or opioid consumption. Acupressure, however, was associated with improved patient satisfaction.

This study is a good example to show why it is so difficult (or even impossible) to use a clinical trial for demonstrating the ineffectiveness of a therapy for any given condition. The above trial fails to show that acupressure had a positive effect on the primary outcome measure. Acupressure fans will, however, claim that:

  • there was a positive effect on patient satisfaction,
  • the treatment was too intense/long,
  • the treatment was not intense/long enough,
  • the wrong points were used,
  • the sample size was too small,
  • the patients were too ill,
  • the patients were not ill enough,
  • etc., etc.

In the end, such discussions often turn out to be little more than a game of pigeon chess. Perhaps it is best to ask before planning such a trial:

IS THE ASSUMPTION THAT THE TREATMENT WORKS FOR THIS CONDITION PLAUSIBLE?

If the answer is no, why do the study in the first place?

I have long cautioned that chiropractic overuse of X-rays is a safety problem. Is this still an issue? A recent paper was aimed at finding out.

The objective of this review was to determine the diagnostic and therapeutic utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. Investigate whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. The research objectives required that the researchers determine the validity, diagnostic accuracy and reliability of radiographs for the structural and functional evaluation of the spine.

The investigators searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, and Index to Chiropractic Literature from inception to November 25, 2019. They used rapid review methodology recommended by the World Health Organization. Eligible studies (cross-sectional, case-control, cohort, randomized controlled trials, diagnostic and reliability) were critically appraised. Studies of acceptable quality were included in our synthesis.

Twenty-three papers were critically appraised. No relevant studies assessed the clinical utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. No studies investigated whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. Nine low risk of bias studies investigated the validity (n = 2) and reliability (n = 8) of routine or repeat radiographs. These studies provided no evidence of clinical utility.

The authors’ conclusions are clear: We found no evidence that the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the function or structure of the spine, in the absence of red flags, improves clinical outcomes and benefits patients. Given the inherent risks of ionizing radiation, we recommend that chiropractors do not use radiographs for the routine and repeat evaluation of the structure and function of the spine.

In the paper, the authors provided further valuable information and background:

In the United States in 2010, the rate of spine radiographs within 5 days of presenting to a chiropractor was 204 per 1000 new patients. An analysis of national trends in the United States suggests that the rate of spinal radiography by chiropractors and podiatrists increased by 14.4% between 2003 and 2015. This increase occurred despite the publication of several evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and clinical prediction rules to assist chiropractors in determining the indication for spine radiographs to assist with diagnosing a pathology. Overall, guidelines suggest that radiographs are indicated when signs and symptoms of potentially serious underlying pathology (red flags) are identified through the clinical history and physical examination. However, on its own, an isolated “red flag” may have a high false positive rate for the diagnosis of underlying spinal pathology, such as cancer. For example, the presence of a solitary “red flag” such as age over 50 years may not be sufficient to warrant taking spine radiographs. Therefore, clinicians are encouraged to combine sound clinical judgement and the assessment of red flags when ordering radiographs.

In the absence of “red flags”, the use of spinal radiographs is not recommended. Nevertheless, factions of chiropractors, including the International Chiropractic Association promote the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the structure and function of the spine. This practice which dates back to 1910 was initiated when no evidence was available to guide the judicious use of spine radiographs. Historically, these groups of chiropractors have argued that radiographs are helpful to measure postural abnormalities, identify vertebral misalignment or subluxation and guide treatment with spinal manipulative therapy. The belief that radiographs are useful to detect and correct spine structure and function provides the foundation for many chiropractic technique systems that are still in use today. To our knowledge, approximately 23 chiropractic techniques use spine radiography (including full spine radiography) to guide the clinical management of patients. These include the Gonstead, Chiropractic BioPhysics®, Toggle-Recoil, and National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) techniques. Proponents of these techniques claim that the use of routine and repeat radiographs is supported by scientific evidence and have published a guideline to assist clinicians with the biomechanical assessment of spinal subluxation in chiropractic clinical practice using radiography. However, these claims have not yet been evaluated for their clinical utility, the benefit a patient gains from a test or treatment. This was a particular concern for the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia (CCBC) which regulates the practice of chiropractic in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The mission of the CCBC is to protect the public by regulating British Columbia’s doctors of chiropractic to ensure safe, qualified and ethical delivery of care.

The references from these two paragraphs can be found in the original paper. One reference the authors did not include was my article of 1998 which, at the time, received plenty of angry responses from chiropractors. Here is its conclusion: DATA SUGGEST AN OVERUSE OF RADIOGRAPHY BY THE CHIROPRACTIC PROFESSION. THIS CONSTITUTES A SAFETY PROBLEM THAT DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND REQUIRES FURTHER RESEARCH.

Twenty-two years later, do I get the impression that the chiropractic profession might not be the fastest in getting its act together?

New German Medicine?

German New Medicine?

What on earth is that?

German New Medicine (GNM) is the creation of Ryke Geerd Hamer (1935-2017), a German doctor. The name is reminiscent of the ‘Neue Deutsche Heilkunde’ created by the Nazis during the Third Reich. Hamer received his medical licence in 1963 but was later struck off because of malpractice. He then continued his practice as a ‘Heilpraktiker’. According to proponents, GNM Therapy is a spoken therapy based on the findings and research of the Germanic New Medicine of Dr.Hamer. On the understanding that every disease is triggered by an isolating and shocking event, GNM Therapy assists in finding the DHS (shocking moment) in our lives that preceded the dis-ease and in turn allowing our bodies to complete its natural healing cycle back to full health. Hamer believed to have discovered the ‘5 laws of nature’:

  • The Iron Rule of Cancer
  • The two-phased development of disease
  • Ontogenetic system of tumours and cancer equivalent diseases
  • Ontogenetic system of microbes
  • Natures biological meaning of a disease

Hamer also postulated that:

  • All diseases are caused by psychological conflicts.
  • Conventional medicine is a conspiracy of Jews to decimate the non-Jewish population.
  • Microbes do not cause diseases.
  • AIDS is just an allergy.
  • Cancer is the result of a mental shock.

None of Hamer’s ‘discoveries’ and assumptions are plausible or based on facts, and none of his therapeutic approaches have been shown to be effective.

 These days, I do not easily get surprised by what I read about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), but this article entitled ‘Homoeopathy And New German Medicine: Two German Siblings‘ baffled me greatly. Here are a few short excerpts:

… German New Medicine (GNM) like Homoeopathy is one of the gentle healing methods. As siblings, they have some common features as well as their own unique features. So, let’s explore a unique relationship between these two siblings.

1) Holistic aspect:
Both therapeutic methods are believed in holistic concept of body. The disease condition in Homoeopathy and conflict in GNM are very similar in expression as they are reflecting on mental as well as physical level also. In Homoeopathy, Mind, Body and Soul are one of the important trios to understand the Homoeopathic philosophy. While in GNM, Psyche, Brain, Body are important aspect in learning the GNM. Let’s see these trio in their founder’s language,

• Homoeopathy:
Dr. Hahnemann in his oragnon of medicine, 6th edition mentioned about a unity of materialistic body and vital force. Last lines of aphorism 15 are as follows, “…although in thought our mind separates these two unities into distinct conceptions for the sake of easy comprehension.

• German New Medicine:
Dr. Ryke Geerd Hamer, founder of GNM said that, “The differentiation between psyche, brain and the body is purely academic. In reality, they are one.”

2) Disease origin concept:

• Homoeopathy:
In Homoeopathy, disease originates from the dynamic disturbances and followed by functional and pathological changes.

• German New Medicine:
In GNM, morbid condition starts from conflict in the psyche level and later it reflects on body. The common feature is the disturbance is at the all levels of man.

3) Cause of disease:

• Homoeopathy:
In Homoeopathy, among the web of causations, psyche (mind) is also considers as a cause of disease.

• German New Medicine:
So, in GNM, psyche is playing important role in cause of disease. When Conflict starts, its dynamic effect perceived first at mind level.

4) Individuality:

• Homoeopathy:
In Homoeopathy, diathesis is a predisposition for disease condition. i.e. According to the diathesis every individual suffers with their own individual morbid dispositions. Rheumatic diathesis, gouty diathesis, etc. are the examples of diathesis.

• German New Medicine:
In GNM, every individual suffers from the disease condition after the receiving conflict. It is different and depending upon the type of conflict they are receiving. E.g. lung cancer- death fright conflict, cervical cancer –female sexual conflict…

Conclusion:
Some similarities and with some own characteristics, these two healing methods are developing at a good length in medical science. The main aim of these both methods is – “to serve the suffering humanity in gentle way”…

_____________________

Could it be that the author forgot the most striking similarities between GNM and homeopathy? How about these points:

  • There is nothing truly gentle about either methods.
  • Both are based on bizarre fantasies, far removed from reality.
  • Both pretend to be a panacea.
  • Both lack proof of efficacy.
  • Both have the potential to kill patients (mostly through neglect).
  • Both mislead consumers.
  • Both are deeply anti-scientific.
  • Both dissuade patients from using evidence-based healthcare.
  • Both are in conflict with medical ethics.
  • Both have cult-like features.
  • Both are far from being recognised by proper healthcare.
  • Both have been repeatedly in conflict with the law.
  • Both were invented by deludes fanatics.

Anyone who has followed the comments’ section of this blog knows that science communicators don’t always have it easy. In fact, they have to endure regular attacks. Now, this phenomenon has (as far as I know, for the first time) been investigated systematically.

The objective in this survey was to establish a taxonomy of common negative experiences encountered by those communicating medical science, and suggest guidelines so that they may be circumvented. A total of 142 prominent medical science communicators (defined as having >1000 Twitter followers and experience communicating medical science on social and traditional media platforms) were invited to take part in the survey. One hundred and one responses could be analysed.

The results show that:

  • 92% of the participants has experienced abusive behaviour (91.9%), including persistent harassment (69.3%) and physical violence and intimidation (5.9%).
  • 39% had received vexatious complaints to their employers, professional bodies or legal intimidation.
  • 62% reported negative mental health sequelae due to public outreach, including depression, anxiety and stress.
  • 20% had been obligated to seek police advice or legal counsel due to actions associated with their outreach work.
  • the majority targeted with vexatious complaints felt supported by their employer/professional body and 32% reported neutral, poor or non-existent support.

Here is a selection of the responses from the participants:

  • Accusations—including by one Senator—that [we are] uncaring, dismissive, neglectful, arrogant, or paid by pharma companies when advocating for vaccines. (Misrepresentation)
  • I find my expertise is questioned—this often seems to be when men find it difficult to accept women with intelligence and qualifications. Sexist insults are a typical go-to response. (Discreditation)
  • The worst one that hurt me professionally and personally was that activists gathered my emails using [Freedom of Information Requests] and handed chosen packets of them with a story to different reporters. (Misrepresentation/Discreditation/Dubious Amplification)
  • Persistent negative comments on twitter; usually it doesn’t last long but it can feel very intense while it’s happening! (Intimidation)
  • I have been served with a SLAPP lawsuit in order to silence my outreach work. Frequently receive harassing emails, malicious comments made on blog. (Malicious Complaints)
  • Social media co-ordinated intimidation, implied threats of legal action (for defamation). Mocking, undermining, condescension and attacks for being an industry shill, although. I am just a patient advocate. Being called a liar, that I never had cancer, that I deserved cancer due to my attitude, that I have been mutilated by conventional medical treatment, and that I am no longer a woman (having had mastectomy for cancer). That my cancer will return and I deserve that. (Dubious Amplification/Misrepresentation/Discreditation)
  • I have had anti-vaccine organizations and individuals attempt to prevent my public appearances and have been the subject of numerous online smear campaigns accusing me of being ‘a shill for Big Pharma’ etc. (Discreditation/Dubious Amplification)
  • Those who attack me very frequently try to do it by targeting me at my job, sending bogus complaints to my bosses and the university. From my observation, that is the go-to attack, the first thing these groups do. (Malicious Complaints)
  • I had to contact the police, who visited the person who was harassing me. I also involved social services. We bought a CCTV to monitor our front door after a strange envelope was hand delivered. The person involved has targeted several people before and continues to target individuals who advocate vaccination. (Intimidation)
  • Abuse and accusations of corruption are the most common adverse reaction I get. Sometimes a particular group petition one’s employer and try to create trouble for them. I have been lucky in the past when this happened to have had supportive universities who appreciate my outreach work. I have in the past had slightly unhinged individuals writing rambling, implicitly threatening letters to my office which ultimately required police intervention. (Discreditation/Malicious Complaints/Intimidation)
  • The worst are gendered insults (being called a cunt, etc.) and rape/death threats. I have had one empty legal threat that was widely publicized. (Intimidation/Malicious Complaints)
  • Regular threats to sue for defamation. (Malicious Complaints)
  • Attempts to get me fired, public records act requests for emails, verbal attacks on my children. (Malicious Complaints, Intimidation)
  • One of the most unpleasant things is that certain people or groupings will use very underhanded tactics to respond to perceived criticism. If they can’t refute the science, it isn’t uncommon for them to go after you personally, alleging all manner of things to anyone who’ll listen; that you’re incompetent, or unethical, or perverted. It seems they throw things wildly to see what sticks, but it can be extraordinarily unpleasant to endure. (Dubious Amplification/Discreditation)
  • My main concern has been obsessed individuals who declare their enmity and seem to be unconstrained by civil norms. (Intimidation)
  • Homeopathy advocates looked up my LinkedIn profile and called my employer to complain about my comments on the radio. My employer did not support me and I ended up having to stop the activity I had been planning. (Misrepresentation/Malicious Complaints)
  • Being threatened with physical violence. (Intimidation)
  • A delusional supporter of [an individual] I wrote about accused me and my lawyer of stalking him and killing his in-laws. He sent accusing emails to the faculty of my school and all the police departments in my state. [They] also accused me of being a terrorist and complained about me to the FBIs Terrorism Joint Task Force. That gave me many nervous, sleepless nights. (Discreditation/Malicious Complaints)
  • Death threats received, employer unhelpful, sorted myself. (Intimidation)
  • I haven’t experienced many negative encounters because I would say I am only lightly involved in public engagement. However the reason I don’t become more heavily involved in this area is fear of this kind of abuse and vexatious complaints to my employer or regulatory body. (Malicious Complaints)

The authors concluded as follows: The question of how we best communicate health science in the modern era is an area where more research is urgently required, especially on the role of social media, and optimum ways physicians, researchers and other public-facing figures can promote good medical science and mitigate falsehoods. The suggestions herein ought to be taken as a starting point, with discussion evolving as improved evidence materialises. There are wider problems implicit in all this that those communicating science cannot tackle in isolation; social media regulation particularly is a serious issue, both in regard to the spreading of misinformation/disinformation, and with respect to procedures preventing the potential weaponisation of social media platforms. Social media platforms must ultimately be made answerable to regulatory oversight, just as every other important aspect of life is; claims of innocence are unconvincing when their business model is so clearly dependent on advertising engagement at the cost of lives. The problem of poor reporting and false balance in conventional media outlets also must be considered, and there is significant scope for scientists and doctors to contribute to policy in these areas. There is ample evidence that physicians and scientists have an important role to play in combatting health disinformation, as has recently been argued by one of the authors in relation to vaccination for British Medical Journal opinion. But equally, it is crucial that those engaging in this vital work have the requisite support from their institutions, so that deleterious consequences of laudable outreach work might be circumvented. It is increasingly clear that disinformation about medicine and illness has become ubiquitous, with severe consequences for both our collective health and public understanding of medical science. Scientists and physicians must be at the vanguard of the pushback against these dangerous falsehoods—our societal well-being depends on it.

_______________________________________

This is an important paper, in my view. It is well worth reading in full.

I know many scientists who will no longer engage in science communication (other than publishing their papers and attending conferences) because they had one or two bad experiences. I certainly had hundreds of bad (some very bad) experiences, but I have taken the opposite decision.

Thus I started this blog, authored several books aimed at the consumer, give public lectures, etc. I have done this for many years despite the lack of support from my university and sometimes despite the opposite of support from my peers.

Why?

Why do I work tirelessly trying to inform consumers about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)?

Because, in view of the plethora of (often dangerous) misinformation, it is hugely important to get the word out to the men and women in the street. I pity the ones who regularly allege that I do all this because of the money I earn from such activity (on the whole, it costs me money). In fact, I do what I do because I hope it might

  • stimulate rational thought,
  • help people to make wise therapeutic decisions,
  • make a small contribution to public health,
  • and perhaps occasionally even save a life.

And the threats which I continue to receive merely indicate that I might be doing this job well, and prove how important the task really is.

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.

I have discovered ‘Google Scholar’!

Yes, of course, I knew about it, but I never used it much. In particular, I did not know it has a huge page just on me. So I had a good look at it (who would be able to resist?) and found many things of interest – for instance, the fact that (as of yesterday) my papers have been cited a total of 86 759 times, and that 4 of them have been cited more that a thousand times.

Here they are:

Interactions between herbal medicines and prescribed drugs AA Izzo, E Ernst

Drugs 61 (15), 2163-2175
1517* 2001
Fibrinogen as a cardiovascular risk factor: a meta-analysis and review of the literature

E Ernst, KL Resch
Annals of internal medicine 118 (12), 956-963
1491 1993
Influence of context effects on health outcomes: a systematic review

Z Di Blasi, E Harkness, E Ernst, A Georgiou, J Kleijnen
The Lancet 357 (9258), 757-762
1458 2001
The prevalence of complementary/alternative medicine in cancer: a systematic review

E Ernst
Cancer: Interdisciplinary International Journal of the American Cancer …
1124 1998

Two things are perhaps noteworthy here, I feel:

  1. Only 2 of the 4 papers are on research in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
  2. In the 4th paper, they forgot to add Barrie Cassileth who was its co-author.

Scanning my own articles, the real revelation was how much I owe to others, how many co-workers I have had, how many of them I had completely forgotten about, and how many have already gone forever.

So, allow me to take this opportunity to honour those who have passed away (in the order they appear on the page).

  • ARPAD MATRAI was a brilliant scientist, Olympic swimmer for Hungary, and close friend. He came to London in 1980 to work in my lab. After I had left, I attracted him to Munich where we had several hugely productive years together – until he died of leukaemia in 1988.
  • JOHN DORMANDY see here.
  • VERONIKA FIALKA was my senior registrar in Vienna and became a good friend. After I had left Vienna, she took over my position as head of the department. We then somehow lost contact and, one day, I received the sad news of her early death.
  • NASSIM KANJI was my PhD student at Exeter. She did very well, and we published several papers on autogenic training together.
  • PETER FISHER see here.
  • GEORGE LEWITH see here.
  • CHRIS SILAGY was a brilliant GP and researcher. We did not have much contact except for one paper we had together.
  • JOHN GARROW see here.
  • ANDREW HERXHEIMER see here.
  • WALLACE SAMPSON was a famous and brilliant US sceptic. We had various contacts and shared one paper.
  • P T FLUTE was head of haematology at St George’s Hospital, London while I worked there. I remember him as kind and supportive.

I owe more gratitude to these (and all my other) co-authors than I will ever be able to express.

 

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