The autum seems to be the season for awards. I recently mentioned the ‘Gloden Plank‘ and now The Skeptic announced the Ockham Awards – the annual awards celebrating the very best work from within the skeptical community. The awards draw attention to people who work hard to promote skepticism. The Ockhams honour outstanding campaigns, activism, blogs, podcasts, and other contributors to the skeptical cause.
Nominations for the 2023 Ockham Awards are now open! Simply complete the nomination form to submit your nominations.
The Rusty Razor is an entirely different award. It recognises individuals or organisations who have been prominent promoters of unscientific ideas within the last year. Last year’s Rusty Razor went to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, set up in 2009 by climate change denier Nigel Lawson. The Foundation has published several reports downplaying the threat of climate change.
Previous Rusty Razor winners included
- Dr Mike Yeadon for his anti-vaccination BS,
- Dr Didier Raoult for his promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19,
- Andrew Wakefield for his ongoing promotion of anti-vaxx misinformation,
- Gwyneth Paltrow for her pseudoscience-peddling wellness empire, Goop.
The awards are, as always, based on the nominations received from the skeptical community. This is your chance to see your skeptic hero and your most prolific charlatan regognised.
Joe Dispenza is not all that well known in Europe but, in the US, he is all the rage as a health guru. Despite pretending to be a top (neuro)scientist and expert of quantum physics, Dispenza has, as far as I can see, just three Medline-listed papers to his credit. Here are their abstracts:
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. Management of the pandemic has relied mainly on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, while alternative approaches such as meditation, shown to improve immunity, have been largely unexplored. Here, we probe the relationship between meditation and COVID-19 disease and directly test the impact of meditation on the induction of a blood environment that modulates viral infection. We found a significant inverse correlation between length of meditation practice and SARS-CoV-2 infection as well as accelerated resolution of symptomology of those infected. A meditation “dosing” effect was also observed. In cultured human lung cells, blood from experienced meditators induced factors that prevented entry of pseudotyped viruses for SARS-CoV-2 spike protein of both the wild-type Wuhan-1 virus and the Delta variant. We identified and validated SERPINA5, a serine protease inhibitor, as one possible protein factor in the blood of meditators that is necessary and sufficient for limiting pseudovirus entry into cells. In summary, we conclude that meditation can enhance resiliency to viral infection and may serve as a possible adjuvant therapy in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of the study is to evaluate the complexity matching between the HRVs of the group of Healers and the Healee during the various stages of the meditation protocol by employing a novel mathematical approach based on the H-rank algorithm. The complexity matching of heart rate variability is assessed before and during a heart-focused meditation in a close non-contact healing exercise. The experiment was conducted on a group of individuals (eight Healers and one Healee) throughout the various phases of the protocol over a ~75-minute period. The HRV signal for the cohort of individuals was recorded using high resolution HRV recorders with internal clocks for time synchronization. The Hankel transform (H-rank) approach was employed to reconstruct the real-world complex time series in order to measure the algebraic complexity of the heart rate variability and to assess the complexity matching between the reconstructed H-rank of the Healers and Healee during the different phases of the protocol. The integration of the embedding attractor technique was used to aid in the visualization of reconstructed H-rank in state space across the various phases. The findings demonstrate the changes in the degree of reconstructed H-rank (between the Healers and the Healee) during the heart-focused meditation healing phase by employing mathematically anticipated and validated algorithms. It is natural and thought-provoking to contemplate the mechanisms causing the complexity of the reconstructed H-rank to come closer; it can be explicitly stated that the purpose of the study is to communicate a clear idea that the H-rank algorithm is capable of registering subtle changes in the healing process, and that there was no intention of delving deep to uncover the mechanisms involved in the HRV matching. Therefore, the latter might be a distinct goal of future research.
This study investigated the impact of a brief meditation workshop on a sample of 223 novice meditators. Participants attended a three-day workshop comprising daily guided seated meditation sessions using music without vocals that focused on various emotional states and intentions (open focus). Based on the theory of integrative consciousness, it was hypothesized that altered states of consciousness would be experienced by participants during the meditation intervention as assessed using electroencephalogram (EEG). Brainwave power bands patterns were measured throughout the meditation training workshop, producing a total of 5616 EEG scans. Changes in conscious states were analysed using pre-meditation and post-meditation session measures of delta through to gamma oscillations. Results suggested the meditation intervention had large varying effects on EEG spectra (up to 50 % increase and 24 % decrease), and the speed of change from pre-meditation to post-meditation state of the EEG co-spectra was significant (with 0.76 probability of entering end-meditation state within the first minute). There was a main 5 % decrease in delta power (95 % HDI = [-0.07, -0.03]); a global increase in theta power of 29 % (95 % HDI = [0.27, 0.33]); a global increase of 16 % (95 % HDI = [0.13, 0.19]) in alpha power; a main effect of condition, with global beta power increasing by 17 % (95 % HDI = [0.15, 0.19]); and an 11 % increase (95 % HDI = [0.08, 0.14]) in gamma power from pre-meditation to end-meditation. Findings provided preliminary support for brief meditation in altering states of consciousness in novice meditators. Future clinical examination of meditation was recommended as an intervention for mental health conditions particularly associated with hippocampal impairments.
It seems noteworthy that none of these articles support any of the many outlandish therapeutic claims Dispenza makes. In these papers, Dispenza give his affiliation as “Encephalon, LLC, Rainier, WA”. My seraches for this institution led me to the website of Dispenza’s company that tries to sell you all sorts of strange stuff and bombards you with irritating platitudes about spirituality and related subjects. Here you will also find several of Dispenza’s books. Naturally, they were big successes. The latest volume is called ‘Becoming Supernatural‘. Its topics include:
- Demystifying the body’s seven energy centers and how you can balance them to heal
- How to free yourself from the past by reconditioning your body to a new mind
- How you can create reality in the generous present moment by changing your energy
- The difference between third-dimension creation and fifth-dimension creation
- The secret science of the pineal gland and its role in accessing mystical realms of reality
- The distinction between space-time vs. time-space realities
By now, I am beginning to suspect that “Dr. Joe”, as he likes to wrongly depict himself, is an 18 carrat bullshitter, and I feel like learning more about him and his incredible popularity.
So, who is Joe Dispenza?
Dispenza trained as a chiropractor and, in 1986, he had a cycling accident that left him with six compressed vertebrae – at least that is what he likes to tell journalists. Allegedly, doctors told him he might never walk again and recommended spine surgery. But he knew better, checked himself out of the hospital, and reconstructed his vertebrae with his mind. Within 10 weeks he was walking again. “I made a deal with myself that if I was ever able to walk again I would spend the rest of my life studying the mind-body connection,” he claimed in a 2018 interview. If you don’t know about vertebral compression fractures, this sounds like an unusal recovery. If you, however, know about such injuries, the course of events is not abnormal.
Ever since, Dispenza uses his mind to heal others. His website contains ~40 testimonials of people claiming he cured their cancer or their multiple sclerosis or their infertility. Under the heading of “coherence healing,” the site boasts Dispenza and his disciples have “produced profound biological changes in multitudes of individuals around the world” and “observed hundreds of healings from a wide variety of health conditions.” In a 2020 interview Dispenza bragged about bringing children onstage at his retreats to cure them of “really serious health conditions.” He claimed to have cured a 76-year-old woman of Parkinson’s. He said his treatments cured illness faster than chemotherapy and that “profound and prestigious universities” in the United States wanted to study his methods. “[We’ve seen] tumors disappearing, people stepping out of wheelchairs, blind people seeing, deaf people hearing—crazy stuff,” he stated. “This is biblical proportions stuff.”
Dispenza likes to present himself as a scientist. “Learning” becomes “forging new synaptic connections” and changing one’s behavior becomes “reorganizing circuits.” He claims that meditating in the presence of others—combining “coherent fields,” as he calls this—opens up “interference patterns of fractal geometry that are doors to dimensions.” During performances, he occasionally brings followers on stage to share the “miracles” they experienced at the workshops that day, such as a woman who claimed she regained her depth perception after decades of encephalitis. “She got a biological upgrade … and all she did was make up her mind to do it,” he told the audience.
Back in 2012, I published a post entitled “How to become a charlatan” where I provide several practical instructions for all who intend to persue this career:
1. Find an attractive therapy and give it a fantastic name
Did I just say “straight forward”? Well, the first step isn’t that easy, after all. Most of the really loony ideas turn out to be taken: ear candles, homeopathy, aura massage, energy healing, urine-therapy, chiropractic etc. As a true charlatan, you want your very own quackery. So you will have to think of a new concept.
Something truly ‘far out’ would be ideal, like claiming the ear is a map of the human body which allows you to treat all diseases by doing something odd on specific areas of the ear – oops, this territory is already occupied by the ear acupuncture brigade. How about postulating that you have super-natural powers which enable you to send ‘healing energy’ into patients’ bodies so that they can repair themselves? No good either: Reiki-healers might accuse you of plagiarism.
But you get the gist, I am sure, and will be able to invent something. When you do, give it a memorable name, the name can make or break your new venture.
2. Invent a fascinating history
Having identified your treatment and a fantastic name for it, you now need a good story to explain how it all came about. This task is not all that tough and might even turn out to be fun; you could think of something touching like you cured your moribund little sister at the age of 6 with your intervention, or you received the inspiration in your dreams from an old aunt who had just died, or perhaps you want to create some religious connection [have you ever visited Lourdes?]. There are no limits to your imagination; just make sure the story is gripping – one day, they might make a movie of it.
3. Add a dash of pseudo-science
Like it or not, but we live in an age where we cannot entirely exclude science from our considerations. At the very minimum, I recommend a little smattering of sciency terminology. As you don’t want to be found out, select something that only few experts understand; quantum physics, entanglement, chaos-theory and Nano-technology are all excellent options.
It might also look more convincing to hint at the notion that top scientists adore your concepts, or that whole teams from universities in distant places are working on the underlying mechanisms, or that the Nobel committee has recently been alerted etc. If at all possible, add a bit of high tech to your new invention; some shiny new apparatus with flashing lights and digital displays might be just the ticket. The apparatus can be otherwise empty – as long as it looks impressive, all is fine.
4. Do not forget a dose of ancient wisdom
With all this science – sorry, pseudo-science – you must not forget to remain firmly grounded in tradition. Your treatment ought to be based on ancient wisdom which you have rediscovered, modified and perfected. I recommend mentioning that some of the oldest cultures of the planet have already been aware of the main pillars on which your invention today proudly stands. Anything that is that old has stood the test of time which is to say, your treatment is both effective and safe.
5. Claim to have a panacea
To maximise your income, you want to have as many customers as possible. It would therefore be unwise to focus your endeavours on just one or two conditions. Commercially, it is much better to affirm in no uncertain terms that your treatment is a cure for everything, a panacea. Do not worry about the implausibility of such a claim. In the realm of quackery, it is perfectly acceptable, even common behaviour to be outlandish.
6. Deal with the ‘evidence-problem’ and the nasty sceptics
It is depressing, I know, but even the most exceptionally gifted charlatan is bound to attract doubters. Sceptics will sooner or later ask you for evidence; in fact, they are obsessed by it. But do not panic – this is by no means as threatening as it appears. The obvious solution is to provide testimonial after testimonial.
You need a website where satisfied customers report impressive stories how your treatment saved their lives. In case you do not know such customers, invent them; in the realm of quackery, there is a time-honoured tradition of writing your own testimonials. Nobody will be able to tell!
7. Demonstrate that you master the fine art of cheating with statistics
Some of the sceptics might not be impressed, and when they start criticising your ‘evidence’, you might need to go the extra mile. Providing statistics is a very good way of keeping them at bay, at least for a while. The general consensus amongst charlatans is that about 70% of their patients experience remarkable benefit from whatever placebo they throw at them. So, my advice is to do a little better and cite a case series of at least 5000 patients of whom 76.5 % showed significant improvements.
What? You don’t have such case series? Don’t be daft, be inventive!
8. Score points with Big Pharma
You must be aware who your (future) customers are (will be): they are affluent, had a decent education (evidently without much success), and are middle-aged, gullible and deeply alternative. Think of Prince Charles! Once you have empathised with this mind-set, it is obvious that you can profitably plug into the persecution complex which haunts these people.
An easy way of achieving this is to claim that Big Pharma has got wind of your innovation, is positively frightened of losing millions, and is thus doing all they can to supress it. Not only will this give you street cred with the lunatic fringe of society, it also provides a perfect explanation why your ground-breaking discovery has not been published it the top journals of medicine: the editors are all in the pocket of Big Pharma, of course.
9. Ask for money, much money
I have left the most important bit for the end; remember: your aim is to get rich! So, charge high fees, even extravagantly high ones. If your treatment is a product that you can sell (e.g. via the internet, to escape the regulators), sell it dearly; if it is a hands-on therapy, charge heavy consultation fees and claim exclusivity; if it is a teachable technique, start training other therapists at high fees and ask a franchise-cut of their future earnings.
Over-charging is your best chance of getting famous – or have you ever heard of a charlatan famous for being reasonably priced? It will also get rid of the riff-raff you don’t want to see in your surgery. Poor people might be even ill! No, you don’t want them; you want the ‘worried rich and well’ who can afford to see a real doctor when things should go wrong. But most importantly, high fees will do a lot of good to your bank account.
Could it be that Joe Dispenza is the most successful pupil of my crash-course in charlatanism?
I have been asked by the NY Post to answer a few questions about Dispenza. Allow me to present them to you here:
What makes Dispenza so dangerous (his advice, obsession with manifesting, etc.)?
Dispenza is at his most dangerous firstly when he implies that he can cure serious illness. In this way, he can cause the premature death of many patients. Secondly, he systematically undermines rational thinking which inevitably will cause significant harm to the already badly damaged US society. As Voltaire once pointed out: those who make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Why, in your opinion, has he amassed a cult-like following?
In 2012 I published a satirical piece entitled ‘How to become a charlatan’ (How to become a charlatan (edzardernst.com)). It seems to me that Dispenza followed my instructions to the letter providing a masterclass on fooling the public. He is a textbook example of a charismatic pseudoscientist (e.g.: I am a “researcher of epigenetics, quantum physics & neuroscience“) touting pure bullshit (e.g.: “new science is emerging that empowers all human beings to create the reality they choose”). He may be a charlatan but he is very good at it, runs a highly sophisticated campaign, and is laughing all the way to the bank.
For readers who find themselves enamored by Dispenza, what advice would you give them?
My advise is to take a step back and do a reality check: ‘Dr.Joe’ is not a medical doctor or neuroscientist but a chiropractor. He does not understand quantum physics. He has not published any meaningful scientific studies. His proclamations are nothing but platitudes or empty phrases. My advice also is to ask yourself: are you sure you are not the victim of your own gullibility?
The “Golden Plank in Front of the Head” is a satirical negative prize awarded since many years by the Vienna Sceptics. It is given to people and organisations who seek money, fame or influence with scientifically refuted theories, although they should have known better long ago. From miracle healers to divining rods – the world of esoteric nonsense is large and wide. At the “Golden Plank” award ceremony, the year’s highlights are presented and the most outstanding of them is chosen.
It is goof fun – I remember that once even Charles Windsor had been nominated – and have reported about this award before; e.g.:
- German association of doctor-homeopaths receive prestigious award
- The most preposterous piece of pseudoscientific piffle of the year
- Professor Harald Walach, pseudo-scientist of the year
An Austrian paper just reported the good news that, after the interruption due to the pandemic, the previously yearly event is happening again:
The years of the pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine have led to even the most nonsensical counterfactual and anti-scientific theories finding an audience. Often enough, these claims themselves came along in the white cloak of science – but in doing so, they twisted the findings of scientific studies or referred to those that were highly questionable.
The list of possible candidates is correspondingly long … some of the masterminds of the anti-vaccination and anti-pandemic movement such as the doctor Maria Hubmer-Mogg, her colleague Andreas Sönnichsen, who called the Covid vaccinations “the biggest medical scandal of all time”, and the psychiatrist Raphael Bonelli.
Political scientist Ulrike Guérot qualified as a candidate on several occasions – both with her claims during the pandemic and on the Russian war against Ukraine (“thus it becomes clear that Ukraine was given the role of starting a war with Russia on behalf of the West”).
But also former science journalists like Peter F. Mayer, who continues to twist scientific studies at will on a daily basis with his tkp blog, and Bert Ehgartner have made their sweary contributions to vaccination scepticism in Austria, which now also affects many other life-saving vaccinations. The role of some media and their representatives in the recent dissemination of anti-scientific nonsense and conspiracy ideologies, which are sometimes themselves more or less cleverly disguised as satire, should not be underestimated.
Finally, in recent months, one or the other politician – keyword: “Science is one thing, facts are another” – has manoeuvred himself into a promising position. Among the parties, the MFG, which has made anti-science part of its programme, comes to the fore. But the climate change small talkers of the ÖVP and FPÖ would also deserve a censuring mention – as well as that Austrian ruling party that has its own anti-nuclear spokesperson.
We don’t want to prejudge your favourites here, however, and look forward to receiving as many suggestions and reasons as possible. There is a separate page to officially nominate them. From all online submissions, a jury will select three finalists and finally this year’s winner. In addition, as is tradition, a “Golden Board for Lifetime Achievement” will also be awarded.
The awards ceremony will take place on 5 October 2023 in the Vienna Stadtsaal. This year, for the first time, there will also be an audience award, which will be decided live by the guests. Martin Puntigam from the Science Busters and Andre Wolf from Mimikama will host the evening. The laudations will be given by medical historian Daniela Angetter-Pfeiffer, psychiatrist and neurologist Heidi Kastner and health scientist and epidemiologist Gerald Gartlehner. According to the organisers, it will be an evening to learn, to laugh and to shake one’s head.
If you want to nominate someone of your choice (I believe they consider international charlatans as well), you can do it here: Das Goldene Brett 2023 – Der Negativpreis 🏆 (goldenesbrett.guru)
For about 40 years, the RMIT University in Australia had a Bachelor of Health Science/Bachelor of Applied Science (Chiropractic), probably the first official course of its kind in Australia. “Get qualified with a chiropractic degree: a solid grounding in anatomy, physiology and pathology and practise at the RMIT Health Clinic” was how the RMIT advertised it. But now the website states this: “from 2023, this degree is no longer offered.”
The Australian Chiropractors Association (ACA) is appalled!!!
- the main contribution of chiros to public health is that many of them advise AGAINST immunizations;
- a significant contribution by chiropractors to the health of the elderly is that they have put many of them in wheelchairs.
The case of a 91-year old male patient developing acute neuropathic pain along the sciatic nerve distribution following spinal manipulation has been reported. Manipulative treatment with an Activator Adjusting Instrument (AAI) had been performed. During this treatment, three applications of the AAI were administered. The applications were bilateral (1) over the sacroiliac joint, (2) gluteal area, and (3) paraspinal region just above the iliac crest.
Within 24 hours, the patient developed severe 10/10 pain originating from the left gluteal area at the site of one of the activator deployments with radiation all the way down his left leg to the foot. He was able to maintain distal left leg strength and sensation. Subsequently, the patient developed insomnia, confusion, and adrenal gland dysfunction in response to changes in steroids, gabapentin, and other drugs, thus highlighting some nuances of managing elderly patients with back pain.
Relief was achieved with subsequent physical therapy techniques aimed at relaxing the patient’s deep gluteal muscles, raising the hypothesis of temporary injury to the deep gluteal muscles, with painful contractions resulting in gluteal region pain as well as sciatic nerve inflammation as the nerve passed through that region.
The authors concluded that this clinical case illustrates some of the perils and risks of spinal manipulation, particularly in the elderly, and the need for careful patient selection.
The authors of this (stranely incomplete) case report discuss whether any manipulation was truly necessary or indicated as part of his initial chiropractic treatment plan. They state that, given that complications associated with similar practices are not often reported in the literature, this case highlights important considerations to be made in the elderly given the potential impact of transient/permanent neuropathic pain in that population subset.
Somehow, I doubt that we can be certain that the patient improved due to the physical therapy and not due to the drugs he received. Moreover, I question the authors’ repeated assertions that such adverse effects of chiropractic spinal manipulation are truly rare. Here is a section from our own 2002 systematic review of the subject:
A systematic review of five prospective investigations of the risks of spinal manipulation concluded that mild-to moderate transient adverse reactions occur in approximately half of patients who undergo spinal manipulation. The largest of these studies involved 1058 patients who received a total of 4712 treatments from 102 chiropractors in Norway. At least one adverse reaction was reported by 55% (n 580) of patients. About one quarter (n 1174) of treatments resulted in at least one adverse reaction. The most common reaction reported was local discomfort. Eighty-five percent (n 824) of reactions were described as “mild or moderate” and 1% (n 14) as “unbearable.” Seventy-four percent (n 1052) of reactions disappeared within 24 hours. No serious, permanent complications of spinal manipulation were reported, but follow-up was not described. These results were confirmed by a similar study in Sweden with 625 patients and a smaller one (68 patients) from the United Kingdom …
Non-life-threatening adverse effects after spinal manipulations are not rare – they are merely rarely reported!
This study aimed to clarify the psychological mechanism by which individuals accept health misinformation from social media and how health misperceptions affect subsequent unhealthy behavior in the context of dewormer use.
An online survey was conducted with 307 South Korean adults exposed to dewormer use information on social media. The positive association between the respondents’ uncertainty about their health and factual misbeliefs about dewormer use was moderated by their pre-existing attitude toward so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) vs. standard treatments, suggesting that individuals who are uncertain but more favorable toward SCAM tend to accept factual misbeliefs more easily. Individuals’ uncertainty about their health and treatment for the health management was positively associated with conspiracy beliefs. Factual misbeliefs were the key mediator in the association between the interaction of uncertainty and pre-existing attitude toward SCAM vs. standard treatments and dewormer-taking intention.
This is a subject that we have discussed many times before. See, for instance, here:
- How can we reduce the belief in conspiracy theories?
- Conspiracy Beliefs Predict Health Behavior and Well-being during the Pandemic
- Coronavirus conspiracy beliefs, mistrust, and compliance with government guidelines
- Mistrust + Misinformation —> CONSPIRACY THEORY
- Conspiracy theories and dangerous recommendations via YouTube videos
- “The cancer industry is a medical conspiracy against humanity” (The Turmeric story)
- Conspiracy theories, assumptions, opinions, evidence and scientific facts
- A conspiracy theory seems to be driving the popularity of alternative medicine
In my view, it is hugely important. Consumers who are uncertain, easily misled, convinced that ‘the establishment’ is against them, or prone to other conspiracy theories tend to be the ones that also fall easily for the lies of SCAM promoters. Indeed, I have previously suggested that SCAM itself is a conspiracy theory in disguise. Anyone who has been following the comment sections on this blog will find more evidence for this theory than he had ever needed, I fear.
It is clear to me that misinformation undermines not just evidence-based medicine but – much more dangerous -rationality in general. It would be thus urgent to do something about it.
In my view, the answer is to promote critical thinking. This, of course, is what I am aiming at with my blog. But my effort is merely a drop in the ocean. What we need is a systematic promotion of critial thinking on a much larger scale. It has to start at school and should be followed through to post-graduate education and beyond.
Such a strategy would require a very broad backing, not least on the political levels. And this is where the concept runs into insurmountable difficulties: politcians might not want us to be critical thinkers! This could enable the public to realize what often dismally poor jobs they might be up to.
My ‘ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME‘ (the group of people who have managed to publish nothing but positive findings about a dubious therapy) currently consists of 20 members (unless I have forgotten somone, which is possible, of course):
- Jorge Vas (acupuncture, Spain)
- Wane Jonas (homeopathy, US)
- Harald Walach (various SCAMs, Germany)
- Andreas Michalsen ( various SCAMs, Germany)
- Jennifer Jacobs (homeopath, US)
- Jenise Pellow (homeopath, South Africa)
- Adrian White (acupuncturist, UK)
- Michael Frass (homeopath, Austria)
- Jens Behnke (research officer, Germany)
- John Weeks (editor of JCAM, US)
- Deepak Chopra (entrepreneur, US)
- Cheryl Hawk (US chiropractor)
- David Peters (osteopathy, homeopathy, UK)
- Nicola Robinson (TCM, UK)
- Peter Fisher (homeopathy, UK)
- Simon Mills (herbal medicine, UK)
- Gustav Dobos (various SCAMs, Germany)
- Claudia Witt (homeopathy, Germany/Switzerland)
- George Lewith (acupuncture, UK)
- John Licciardone (osteopathy, US)
Today, it is time to add the 21st member. My last post was about a weird study co-authored by someone who struck me as truly remarkable. Terry Oleson is employed by the Department of Traditional Oriental Medicine, Emperor’s College of Traditional Oriental Medicine, Santa Monica, CA, USA. On ‘research gate‘, he describes his expertise as follows:
- Cognitive Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
- Biological Psychology
- Clinical Trials
- Addiction Medicine
- Allied Health Science
Oleson received his BA in Biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1967, his MA in Psychology from California State University at Long Beach in 1971, and his PhD from UC Irvine in 1973. He went on to conduct a postdoctoral scholarship at UCLA at that time, where he conducted pioneering research in auricular diagnosis and auriculotherapy. Since many years, Oleson has published on auricular acupuncture and acupressure, at least one book and the papers listed below. This is an oddly dubious and biologically implausible so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Terry Oleson – whom I never knowingly met in person – and his research are all the more remarkable: in his hands auricular therapy seems to work of just about everything:
- Effect of auricular acupressure on postpartum blues: A randomized sham controlled trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2023 Aug;52:101762. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2023.101762. Epub 2023 Apr 10.PMID: 37060791
- Auriculotherapy stimulation for neuro-rehabilitation. NeuroRehabilitation. 2002;17(1):49-62.PMID: 12016347
- Acupuncture: the search for biologic evidence with functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography techniques. J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Aug;8(4):399-401. doi: 10.1089/107555302760253577.PMID: 12230898
- Commentary on auricular acupuncture for cocaine abuse. J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Apr;8(2):123-5. doi: 10.1089/107555302317371406.PMID: 12013511
- Clinical Commentary on an Auricular Marker Associated with COVID-19. Med Acupunct. 2020 Aug 1;32(4):176-177. doi: 10.1089/acu.2020.29152.com. Epub 2020 Aug 13.PMID: 32913483
- Comparison of Auricular Therapy with Sham in Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2020 Jun;26(6):515-520. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0477. Epub 2020 May 20.PMID: 32434376
- Application of Polyvagal Theory to Auricular Acupuncture.Oleson T.Med Acupunct. 2018 Jun 1;30(3):123-125. doi: 10.1089/acu.2018.29085.tol.PMID: 29937963
- The effect of ear acupressure (auriculotherapy) on sexual function of lactating women: protocol of a randomized sham controlled trial. Trials. 2020 Aug 20;21(1):729. doi: 10.1186/s13063-020-04663-x.PMID: 32819441
- Randomized controlled study of premenstrual symptoms treated with ear, hand, and foot reflexology. Obstet Gynecol. 1993 Dec;82(6):906-11.PMID: 8233263
Auricular electrical stimulation and dental pain threshold. Anesth Prog. 1993;40(1):14-9.PMID: 8185085
- Rapid narcotic detoxification in chronic pain patients treated with auricular electroacupuncture and naloxone. Int J Addict. 1985 Sep;20(9):1347-60. doi: 10.3109/10826088509047771.PMID: 2867052
- Investigation of the effects of naloxone upon acupuncture analgesia. Pain. 1984 Jun;19(2):201-4. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(84)90872-8.PMID: 6462730
- Electroacupuncture & auricular electrial stimulation. IEEE Eng Med Biol Mag. 1983;2(4):22-6. doi: 10.1109/MEMB.1983.5005987.PMID: 19493718
- An experimental evaluation of auricular diagnosis: the somatotopic mapping or musculoskeletal pain at ear acupuncture points. Pain. 1980 Apr;8(2):217-229. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(88)90009-7.PMID: 7402685
14 papers about a dodgy SCAM without the hint of a negative finding! I hope we can all agree that this achievement makes Terry a worthy member of my ‘HALL OF FAME’, a group of people who, like Terry, have been able to publish nothing but positive findings about the most dubious SCAMs.
World Health Organisation (WHO) is meant to implore us to ignore hearsay and folklore, and to follow the scientific evidence. So why is it now suddenly promoting the likes of herbal medicine, homeopathy and acupuncture? In a series of tweets this week, the WHO has launched a campaign to extol the virtues of what it calls ‘traditional medicine’. ‘Traditional medicine has been at the frontiers of medicine and science, laying the foundation of conventional medical texts’, it asserts. It goes on to claim that ‘around 40 per cent of approved pharmaceutical products in use today derive from natural substances’ … it then poses the question: ‘which of these have you used: “acupuncture, Ayurveda, herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, unani medicine?”’
… That some folk medicines might sometimes appear to work – in spite of apparently having no active ingredients – is itself explained by scientific inquiry: there is a proven ‘placebo effect’ that causes people to report an improvement in their symptoms as a result of taking something that they think will make them better.
The WHO should be having nothing to do with promoting any medicine which has not been proven without rigorous trials. So why is it suddenly pushing all kinds of dubious cures? It is hard not to see the latest campaign as part of the fashionable campaign to ‘decolonise’ medicine – which means refusing to see western science as superior to belief systems that have derived from elsewhere in the world. The WHO published a podcast on this subject in May, in which a Canadian medical historian, for example, denounced the concept of ‘tropical’ medicine as a construct by colonial powers to try to promote the false idea that the Third World presented a danger to Europe. …
… the WHO has achieved a massive amount by unashamedly exporting rigorous scientific inquiry to parts of the world which it had yet to reach. It wasn’t folk medicine that eradicated smallpox; it was western medicine, and the WHO should not be apologising for that. Promoting quackery seems an odd – and potentially disastrous – direction for the organisation to take.
Personally, I concur fully – except for the notion that the WHO started its SCAM-promotion only recently. The truth is that it has done so since many years, and since many years we have on this blog discussed this bizarre trend. In my view, it is a relfection not of the science but of the politics that inflence the WHO to a very large extend in the realm of SCAM.
Manual therapy is considered a safe and less painful method and has been increasingly used to alleviate chronic neck pain. However, there is controversy about the effectiveness of manipulation therapy on chronic neck pain. Therefore, this systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) aimed to determine the effectiveness of manipulative therapy for chronic neck pain.
A search of the literature was conducted on seven databases (PubMed, Cochrane Center Register of Controlled Trials, Embase, Medline, CNKI, WanFang, and SinoMed) from the establishment of the databases to May 2022. The review included RCTs on chronic neck pain managed with manipulative therapy compared with sham, exercise, and other physical therapies. The retrieved records were independently reviewed by two researchers. Further, the methodological quality was evaluated using the PEDro scale. All statistical analyses were performed using RevMan V.5.3 software. The Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) assessment was used to evaluate the quality of the study results.
Seventeen RCTs, including 1190 participants, were included in this meta-analysis. Manipulative therapy showed better results regarding pain intensity and neck disability than the control group. Manipulative therapy was shown to relieve pain intensity (SMD = -0.83; 95% confidence interval [CI] = [-1.04 to -0.62]; p < 0.0001) and neck disability (MD = -3.65; 95% CI = [-5.67 to – 1.62]; p = 0.004). However, the studies had high heterogeneity, which could be explained by the type and control interventions. In addition, there were no significant differences in adverse events between the intervention and the control groups.
The authors concluded that manipulative therapy reduces the degree of chronic neck pain and neck disabilities.
Only a few days ago, we discussed another systematic review that drew quite a different conclusion: there was very low certainty evidence supporting cervical SMT as an intervention to reduce pain and improve disability in people with neck pain.
How can this be?
Systematic reviews are supposed to generate reliable evidence!
How can we explain the contradiction?
There are several differences between the two papers:
- One was published in a SCAM journal and the other one in a mainstream medical journal.
- One was authored by Chinese researchers, the other one by an international team.
- One included 17, the other one 23 RCTs.
- One assessed ‘manual/manipulative therapies’, the other one spinal manipulation/mobilization.
The most profound difference is that the review by the Chinese authors is mostly on Chimese massage [tuina], while the other paper is on chiropractic or osteopathic spinal manipulation/mobilization. A look at the Chinese authors’ affiliation is revealing:
- Department of Tuina and Spinal Diseases Research, The Third School of Clinical Medicine (School of Rehabilitation Medicine), Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China.
- Department of Tuina and Spinal Diseases Research, The Third School of Clinical Medicine (School of Rehabilitation Medicine), Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China; Department of Tuina, The Third Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China. Electronic address: [email protected].
- Department of Tuina and Spinal Diseases Research, The Third School of Clinical Medicine (School of Rehabilitation Medicine), Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China; Department of Tuina, The Third Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang Chinese Medical University, Hangzhou, China. Electronic address: [email protected].
What lesson can we learn from this confusion?
Perhaps that Tuina is effective for neck pain?
What the abstract does not tell us is that the Tuina studies are of such poor quality that the conclusions drawn by the Chinese authors are not justified.
What we do learn – yet again – is that
- Chinese papers need to be taken with a large pintch of salt. In the present case, the searches underpinning the review and the evaluations of the included primary studies were clearly poorly conducted.
- Rubbish journals publish rubbish papers. How could the reviewers and the editors have missed the many flaws of this paper? The answer seems to be that they did not care. SCAM journals tend to publish any nonsense as long as the conclusion is positive.
Vaccine hesitancy has become a threat to public health, especially as it is a phenomenon that has also been observed among healthcare professionals. In this study, an international team of researchers analyzed the relationship between endorsement of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and vaccination attitudes and behaviors among healthcare professionals, using a cross-sectional sample of physicians with vaccination responsibilities from four European countries: Germany, Finland, Portugal, and France (total N = 2,787).
The results suggest that, in all the participating countries, SCAM endorsement is associated with lower frequency of vaccine recommendation, lower self-vaccination rates, and being more open to patients delaying vaccination, with these relationships being mediated by distrust in vaccines. A latent profile analysis revealed that a profile characterized by higher-than-average SCAM endorsement and lower-than-average confidence and recommendation of vaccines occurs, to some degree, among 19% of the total sample, although these percentages varied from one country to another: 23.72% in Germany, 17.83% in France, 9.77% in Finland, and 5.86% in Portugal.
The authors concluded that these results constitute a call to consider health care professionals’ attitudes toward SCAM as a factor that could hinder the implementation of immunization campaigns.
In my view, this is a very important paper. It shows what we on this blog have discussed often before: there is an association between SCAM and vaccination hesitancy. The big question is: what is the nature of this association. There are several possibilities:
- It could be coincidental. I think this is most unlikely; too many entirely different investigations have shown a link.
- It could mean that people start endorsing SCAM because they are critical about vaccination.
- It could be that people are critical about vaccination because they are proponents of SCAM.
- Finally, it could be that some people have a mind-set that renders them simultaneously hesitant about vaccination and fans of SCAM.
This study, like most of the other investigationson this subject, was not desighned to find out which possibility is most likely. I suspect that the latter two explanations apply both to some extend. The authors of this study argue that that, “from a theoretical point of view, this situation may be explicable by reasons that are both implicit (i.e., CAM would fit better with certain worldviews and ideological standpoints that conflict with the epistemology and values that underlies scientific knowledge) and explicit (i.e., some CAM techniques are doctrinally opposed to the use of vaccines). Although we have outlined these potential explanations for the observed relationships, more research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms”.