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

experience

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I have repeatedly likened so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) to a cult – not a religious cult, of course, but to a ‘health cult’. A health cult is defined as a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator. So, are you a member of a health cult?

In case you are a proponent of SCAM, you might be in danger. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Is your SCAM based on dogma, such as ‘LIKE CURES LIKE’ or ‘SUBLUXATIONS ARE THE CAUSE OF DISEASE?
  2. Does the cult demand you accept its dogma or doctrine as truth?
  3. Is it set forth by a single guru or promulgator?
  4. Is your SCAM supposed to cure all ills?
  5. Is belief used by proponents of your SCAM as a substitute for evidence?
  6. Does the SCAM determine your diet and/or lifestyle?
  7. Does the SCAM exploit you financially?
  8. Does your SCAM impose rigid rules and regulations?
  9. Does your SCAM practice deception?
  10. Does your SCAM have its own sources of information/propaganda?
  11. Does your SCAM cultivate its own lingo?
  12. Does your SCAM discourage or inhibit critical thinking?
  13. Are questions about the values of your SCAM discouraged or forbidden?
  14. Do the proponents of your SCAM reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words?
  15. Do they assume that health problems are the result of not adhering to the dogma?
  16. Does your SCAM instill fear into members who consider leaving?
  17. Do the proponents of your SCAM depict conventional medicine as ineffective or harmful?
  18. Are you asked to recruit new members to your SCAM?

Please try to answer these questions honestly and self-critically.

If more than a handful turn out to be positive, you have, in my view, a reason to be concerned. In this case, I would recommend you go to a library and start reading a few books that provide critical analyses of SCAM.

 

Some used to think that Deepak Chopra is amongst the biggest charlatans on the planet. Well, they were wrong! And his new venture proves it beyond doubt.

The Lovetuner is a revolutionary approach to reduce stress, relieve anxiety and arrive in the present moment, connecting your exhale with the power of the 528hz frequency. That’s what the ad says, and Dr. Deepak Chopra agrees!

The website contains a short video which is a ‘MUST WATCH’. Please do have a look at it. Deepak will show you how to use the ‘LOVETUNER’. I promise you, it is impressive! In the video, Deepak also states that he is enthusiastic about the LOVETUNER and promises that:

  • the LOVETUNER creates the frequency of love;
  • the LOVETUNER can replace meditation;
  • the LOVETUNER is inviting love into your life;
  • the LOVETUNER increases your lung capacity;
  • the LOVETUNER increases the coherence of your biofield;
  • the LOVETUNER changes the biofield of the surroundings.

I am sure all these claims are based on the most solid of evidence. The fact that none of it has been published should not disturb us; on the contrary, it means that the evidence is so important that BIG PHARMA does not allow it to be published through the usual peer-reviewed channels – hence the video.

For those who are still not convinced, Deepak adds a written text:

“We want the world to be a more loving, peaceful, harmonious, happier and healthier place, right? First, we need to start with ourselves and be the change we want to see in this world. With the Lovetuner this is an easy and fun way to connect with ourselves and the world around us. The Lovetuner is more than just a meditation device – it is a mindset and a global peace and love movement. The Lovetuner teaches you the breath that spiritual gurus across the globe are going to recommend to you. It’s what you’ll find at your yoga retreat, sound bath, and guided meditation, but with the Lovetuner you can be your own guru.”

So, how does the LOVETUNER work? The website provides a most plausible explanation:

The Lovetuner is a revolutionary mindfulness tool that aligns you with the 528hz frequency, the vibration of love. In music, tuning means adjusting the pitch of a tone. In humans, it means adjusting your emotional and physical state to align with your environment – literally “tuning in” and harmonizing with yourself and what is around you. The Lovetuner has a profound effect on the body, mind and spirit.

Our entire universe is comprised of light and sound, frequency and vibration. The connections between music, cosmos and nature have been known since ancient times. In 1978 Hans Cousto, a Swiss mathematician and musicologist, compared the frequencies in planetary orbits, in architectural works, in old and modern measuring systems, in the human body, in music and in medicine and “discovered” their connection. John Lennon used the 528hz frequency for his song “Imagine.” In music, the 528Hz frequency refers to the note “Mi” and is traced back to the expression “Mi-ra gestorum” on the scale, which in Latin means “miracle”.

The 528hz frequency has a healing and health-promoting effect on our body, mind, and soul. Our cells and organs resonate with this frequency. The vibration is transferred to our entire organism where it can unfold its positive effect. It activates and strengthens our natural self-healing powers.

The 528hz frequency has a very special physical and biological importance.

The medical pioneer Dr. Royal Raymond Rife, who researched at the beginning of the 20th century, used many frequencies in his practice of radionics or electromagnetic therapy, but he specifically referred to 528 because of its ability to repair DNA. Dr. Rife used this frequency among hundreds of others for use with his Rife Machine – “Radionics.” He referred to 528 as “DNA repair.”

Molecular genetic investigations have shown that this frequency can be used to repair defective DNA strands or to restore human DNA to its original state. Scientific studies further showed that it increases the UV light absorption in DNA and can cure DNA by removing impurities that cause disease.

Today, the use of non-pharmacological and non-invasive agents is quite common. Sound waves, which are classified as non-invasive means for stimulating auditory cells, also affect non-auditory cells. Since the frequency of 528hz is related to the musical note Mi, effects such as an increase in the ability to repair DNA are observed.

 

I know, you are dying to know how much the LOVETUNER costs. For just $ 62, it can be yours! I do think that this is a bargain and am deeply thankful to Deepak for alerting me to this life-changing device. Yes, some used to think that Deepak Chopra is amongst the biggest charlatans on the planet. I am sure that his support for the LOVETUNER will make these people change their minds.

During the last few days, we were entertained by one of the more fanatical specimen of the lunatic fringe. From the outset, ‘ASTRO’ was out to provoke, insult, and foremost state utter nonsense. Within just a few hours ‘ASTRO’ posted dozens of comments, one more hilarious than the next.

As always, I let it pass for a while because this sort of thing usually is very amusing and mildly instructive. Then, when my fun was over, I told him or her that my conversation with him or her was finished, thereafter I sent ‘ASTRO’ my usual hint to indicate that my patience was wearing thin (an overdose of nonsense, fun, and hilarity might be toxic) and now I have blocked ‘ASTRO’.

This little incident is a mere triviality, of course. Yet, it is also a most welcome reminder to demonstrate what is needed to get blocked by me. Here are a few selected ‘bon mots’ posted by ‘ASTRO’ which all contributed to his or her dismissal from this blog:

  • Lenny is an intellectual terrorist
  • you manipulate data
  • you are nobody in the scientific world
  • I’m very sorry for your lack of education
  • I don’t hate you for lying, I pity you
  • With all sincerity, and seeing that you don’t have a single scientific publication, I recommend that mounts a business for atheists resentful and sell cheap products with the face of Carl Sagan or James Randi in a coffe cup or pins, I assure you that the media will make of your business, earn some money and you’ll be able to publish a book trash like Ben Goldacre, with his “Bad science” or the Steven Novella. Poor quality is a typical sign of skeptical pseudoscientists.
  • your “letter to the editor” is based on manipulating data and making false accusations, everything
  • you only have an opinion based on your belief and denial that may well be a projection of your lack of knowledge
  • I’m disappointed that you have very superficial knowledge, no wonder Mathie will ignore you
  • Your comments again reflect that you haven’t the slightest idea
  • your lack of reading comprehension is evident
  • You are very ignorant
  • your aggressiveness and lack of empathy tell a lot about your profile of atheist resentful of life
  •  these” verdicts ” that Ernst quotes in his pamphlets are at best a fraud
  • in reality you, Grams and the team of the anti-homeopathy propaganda network have no idea what you’re talking about
  • Ernst,” friend, ” you’re still pretty aggressive, maybe you need some joy in your life. Now I understand why the pseudoscientific skeptical atheist community is so childish and so toxic
  • anyone who questions Edzar’s sacred dogmas is a troll
  • Thank you for confirming that you are a sectarian
  • your obsessive behavior borders on harassment
  • Magazines like Skepter are very popular with immature gentlemen who believe they are the world or with teenagers who are just out of college who believe that science is done with whims
  • don’t be like Lenny and try to grow up
  • real science is in the objective pursuit and not in harassment campaigns orchestrated by a few clowns who believe James Randi is unquestionable
  • every time I read your entries I feel sorry that your level of logic is so low and lousy
  •  Your naivety and superficial knowledge in philosophy of science (and that of most of those who follow you) is very pitiful
  • you are the example of a pseudo-sceptic, a rude and cowardly skeptic who can’t tolerate criticism
  • your friends are a sect, possibly a group based on coertion
  • it doesn’t look like “Lenny” has a single scientific article published, not to mention your colleagues in the “About” section that the few who look like scientists are mediocre in their fields, the rest are small-time activists. No wonder, so much envy, so much anger, so much hatred, that’s what leaves fanatical atheism. They’re talibans of science, not scientists
  • you with your age presume a lot and I only see you being interviewed by mainstream media that talk nonsense against homeopathy
  • You had to control that aggressiveness, you feel more nervous and angry, maybe you’re a relative of the troll Lenny
  • The obsessive behavior of Aust trying to refute Frass already looks like that of a stalker, similar of the journalist Christian Kreil who invented a whole string of nonsense in a German public media trying to link Frass to a questionable company, the media does not even mention Frass’s refutation to Kreil

One thing we cannot accuse ‘ASTRO’ of is that he or she was not industrious. You might ask why I did not stop his aggressive stupidity earlier after it had stopped being funny. Perhaps I should have – but, to be honest, these trolls do amuse me a great deal. More importantly, they might teach us important lessons:

  • The fun one can have with fanatics is usually short-lasted.
  • Some weirdos are very well misinformed, i.e. they read a lot and misunderstand even more.
  • The minds of heavily deluded people are beyond productive discussions.
  • Any hope to educate them will be disappointed.
  • If we allow them to, they swiftly make themselves ridiculous.
  • Their pseudo-arguments are strikingly similar.
  • Their aggressiveness can be considerable.

And finally, the little ‘ASTRO’ interlude tells you something else:

It really does need a lot to get banned from my blog.

Having recently mentioned that bullshit is accepted as a proper term in scientific circles, I hasten to add that chiropractors often excel in putting out bullshit. Most of us probably knew that but I was reminded of it when reading this paper by an Irish chiropractor who employs nit just spinal manipulations but also offers CranioSacral Technique, Counselling together with Neuro-developmental training, and Pre and Peri-natal education:

There are essential ethical elements required for a chiropractor to establish an authentic professional relationship in order to maintain the integrity of a healing relationship with their patients. Ethically, chiropractors also have an ongoing responsibility to do their own personal and professional development. Therapeutic presence is the capacity to hold a healing space for another person by developing trust and rapport and providing them with a safe energetic container influenced by one’s calm and centered state of being. The Polyvagal Theory provides a neurobiological narrative that focuses on the importance of ‘safety’ and the adaptive consequences of detecting risk on our physiological state, social behavior, psychological experience, and health to achieve presence. To fulfill our biological imperative of connectedness, our personal, professional and ethical agenda needs to be directed toward making patients feel safe in the moment and getting into right-relationship. Recognizing and interpreting the mother/baby dyad’s adaptive behaviors provides an insight into their pre & perinatal imprints which reflect the child’s Baby Body Language patterns.

And here are the rather pithy conclusions of this paper:

Practicing the principles of therapeutic presence requires patience, experience and ongoing commitment as it is an invaluable model or paradigm of conscious awareness for helping others. A chiropractor who chooses the path of self-development to help them be more present for others in each moment, in a space of caring and compassion, would enable them to receive as well as give. The ability to serve in presence for someone else’s healing brings the professional into a deeper state of grace and resonance.

When both the chiropractor and mother/child dyad respect their own individual body’s physiological responses, they move towards a more evaluative state in which they become more respectful of themselves and the treatment outcomes. The PVT provides the neuroscience in understanding the continuum between the physiological states of fight, flight, freeze and dissociation. The application of the ongoing evaluation of these states functionally contributes to the treatment and healing process and facilitates a sound basis for the ongoing connectedness of the mother/child dyad.

The way in which practitioners are grounded in themselves, open to others (while holding appropriate boundaries) and participate fully in the life of the mind and body, are important aspects of practicing therapeutic presence which is at the heart of relationships that help others to grow. This inside-out view helps chiropractors to see the ongoing personal development work they need to do as professionals to develop the essential receptive starting place of therapeutic presence for all clinical encounters.

After having read it several times and repeatedly drowned in this abundant mixture of bullshit and platitude, my main question is this:

DOES ANYONE UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS?

If so, please explain.

The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore whether pilgrims visiting Lourdes, France had transcendent experiences and to examine their nature.

For this purpose, the researchers traveled to Lourdes and spoke with 67 pilgrims including assisted pilgrims, young volunteers, and medical staff. About two in five reported a transcendent experience: some felt they had communicated or had close contact with a divine presence, while others reported a powerful experience of something intangible and otherworldly.

The authors concluded that visiting Lourdes can have a powerful effect on a pilgrim and may include an “out of the ordinary” transcendent experience, involving a sense of relationship with the divine, or experiences of something otherworldly and intangible. There is a growing focus on Lourdes as a place with therapeutic benefits rather that cures: our analysis suggests that transcendent experiences can be central to this therapeutic effect. Such experiences can result in powerful emotional responses, which themselves may contribute to long term well-being. Our participants described a range of transcendent experiences, from the prosaic and mildly pleasant, to intense experiences that affected pilgrims’ lives. The place itself is crucially important, above all the Grotto, as a space where pilgrims perceive that the divine can break through into normal life, enabling closer connections with the divine, with nature and with the self.

Some people can have powerful effects when they expect something powerful. So what?

To make any sense out of this, we need a controlled experiment. I am glad to tell you that Austrian psychologists recently published a controlled study of this type. They tested the effects of tap water labeled as Lourdes water versus tap water labeled as tap water found that placebos in the context of religious beliefs and practices can change the experience of emotional salience and cognitive control which is accompanied by connectivity changes in the associated brain networks. They concluded that the findings of the present study allow us to draw preliminary conclusions about the placebo effect in the context of religious beliefs and practices. We found that this type of placebo can enhance emotional-somatic well-being, and can lead to changes in rsFC in cognitive control/emotional salience networks of the brain. Future research is warranted to replicate the results. Moreover, future research should investigate whether the observed effects generalize across different religious affiliations. The idea of “holy water” (or blessed water) is common in several religions, from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism to Sikhism.

Placebo can enhance emotional-somatic well-being. Expectation can play all sorts of tricks on us. This makes sense to me – much to the contrary to the ‘qualitative study’ suggesting that transcendental experiences can be central to this therapeutic effect experienced by believers in Lourdes.

While working on yesterday’s post, I discovered another recent and remarkable article co-authored by Prof Harald Walach. It would surely be unforgivable not to show you the abstract:

The aim of this study is to explore experiences and perceived effects of the Rosary on issues around health and well-being, as well as on spirituality and religiosity. A qualitative study was conducted interviewing ten Roman Catholic German adults who regularly practiced the Rosary prayer. As a result of using a tangible prayer cord and from the rhythmic repetition of prayers, the participants described experiencing stability, peace and a contemplative connection with the Divine, with Mary as a guide and mediator before God. Praying the Rosary was described as helpful in coping with critical life events and in fostering an attitude of acceptance, humbleness and devotion.

The article impressed me so much that it prompted me to design a virtual study for which I borrowed Walach’s abstract. Here it is:

The aim of this study is to explore experiences and perceived effects of train-spotting on issues around health and well-being, as well as on spirituality. A qualitative study was conducted interviewing ten British adults who regularly practiced the art of train-spotting. As a result of using a tangible train-spotter diary and from the rhythmic repetition of the passing trains, the participants described experiencing stability, peace, and a contemplative connection with the Divine, with Mary as a guide and mediator before the almighty train-spotter in the sky. Train-spotting was described as helpful in coping with critical life events and in fostering an attitude of acceptance, humbleness, and devotion.

These virtual results are encouraging and encourage me to propose the hypothesis that Rosary use and train-spotting might be combined to create a new wellness program generating a maximum holistic effect. We are grateful to Walach et al for the inspiration and are currently applying for research funds to test our hypothesis in a controlled clinical trial.

 

Prince Charles has claimed that people struggling to return to full health after having the coronavirus should practice yoga. This is what the GUARDIAN reported about it on Friday:

In a video statement on Friday to the virtual yoga and healthcare symposium Wellness After Covid, the heir apparent said doctors should work together with “complementary healthcare specialists” to “build a roadmap to hope and healing” after Covid. “This pandemic has emphasised the importance of preparedness, resilience and the need for an approach which addresses the health and welfare of the whole person as part of society, and which does not merely focus on the symptoms alone,” Charles said. “As part of that approach, therapeutic, evidenced-informed yoga can contribute to health and healing. By its very nature, yoga is an accessible practice which provides practitioners with ways to manage stress, build resilience and promote healing…”

… Charles, who has previously espoused the benefits of yoga, is not the only fan in the royal family. His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, has said “it makes you less stiff” and “more supple”, while Prince William has also been pictured doing yogic poses. In 2019, the Prince of Wales said yoga had “proven beneficial effects on both body and mind”, and delivered “tremendous social benefits” that help build “discipline, self-reliance and self-care”.

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END OF QUOTE

Yoga is a complex subject because it entails a host of different techniques, attitudes, and life-styles. There have been numerous clinical trials of various yoga techniques. They tend to suffer from poor study design as well as incomplete reporting and are thus no always reliable. Several systematic reviews have summarised the findings of these studies. A 2010 overview included 21 systematic reviews relating to a wide range of conditions. Nine systematic reviews arrived at positive conclusions, but many were associated with a high risk of bias. Unanimously positive evidence emerged only for depression and cardiovascular risk reduction.[1] There is no evidence that yoga speeds the recovery after COVID-19 or any other severe infectious disease, as Charles suggested.

Yoga is generally considered to be safe. However, a large-scale survey found that approximately 30% of yoga class attendees had experienced some type of adverse event. Although the majority had mild symptoms, the survey results indicated that patients with chronic diseases were more likely to experience adverse events.[2]  It, therefore, seems unlikely that yoga is suited for many patients recovering from a COVID-19 infection.

The warning by the Vatican’s chief exorcist that yoga leads to ‘demonic possession’[3] might not be taken seriously by rational thinkers. Yet, experts have long warned that many yoga teachers try to recruit their clients into the more cult-like aspects of yoga.[4]

Perhaps the most remarkable expression in Charles’ quotes is the term ‘EVIDENCE-INFORMED‘. It crops up regularly when Charles (or his advisor Dr. Michael Dixon) speaks or writes about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). It is a clever term that sounds almost like ‘evidence-based’ but means something entirely different. If a SCAM is not evidence-based, it can still be legitimately put under the umbrella of ‘evidence-informed’: we know the evidence is not positive, we were well-informed of this fact, we nevertheless conclude that yoga (or any other SCAM) might be a good idea!

In my view, the regular use of the term ‘evidence-informed’ in the realm of SCAM discloses a lack of clarity that suits all snake-oil salesmen very well.

 

[1] Ernst E, Lee MS: Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 15(4) December 2010 274–27

[2] Matsushita T, Oka T. A large-scale survey of adverse events experienced in yoga classes. Biopsychosoc Med. 2015 Mar 18;9:9. doi: 10.1186/s13030-015-0037-1. PMID: 25844090; PMCID: PMC4384376.

[3] https://www.social-consciousness.com/2017/06/vaticans-chief-exorcist-warns-that-yoga-causes-demonic-possession.html

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/jun/26/experience-my-yoga-class-turned-out-to-be-a-cult

 

By guest blogger João Júlio Cerqueira

A word of caution to all the skeptics out there defending Reason, Science, and the Truth. This is a summary of a long story and only about one of many battles. It is not a very beautiful story but it is what it is. I’m a medical doctor, influenced by some of the great minds of our time, all of them familiar to you, Edzard Ernst, Steven Novella, David Gorski, Harriet Hall, Kimball Atwood and so much more (thank you all, for everything that you do).

I started reading skeptic blogs in 2013 and was amazed by the lack of critical thinking about science production and the lack of knowledge about pseudoscience in the medical community. And if this was bad in the medical community, in the general population it should be close to apocalyptic…

In 2017, I was confronted by a medical doctor that imported the great pitches of international charlatans. From alkaline diet, bioidentical hormones, colonic cleansings all through the “health benefits” of drinking diluted saltwater…yes, this is a real thing. He was transformed into a television celebrity, wrote one of the bestselling books in my country, and only a few people were horrified by what was happening. How? How can someone that says that kind of stuff could have this kind of reach in the media? He even sold foot detox!

So, frustrated by the lack of action of the regulatory institutions and the lack of critical approach by the media, I decided to create a blog that I called SCIMED. Using what I had learned through the years with “the masters of skepticism”, I tried to teach and convince people why pseudoscience is useless and dangerous. Why those selling pseudoscience are a danger to society and are only after the wallet of scientifically illiterate people.

Thanks to hard work and a lot of luck, the blog started to have a decent public projection. Started to get invitations to interviews in the media, invited to speak at conferences, started to write in the opinion section of mainstream journals, appearing on television, invited to do a TEDx talk, was invited to be one of the subscribers to the first world manifesto against pseudoscience and even had the pleasure to be a speaker in a conference side by side with Edzard Ernst, one of my heroes!

It was like something was changing. Well, it was not.

With public projection, came the problems…people calling my employers to get me fired, physical and death threats, constant harassment by email or in social media, doxing, and false accusations about my personal and professional life. You name it. And I endured…I considered it the dark side of defending Science and Truth.

In April of 2019, I was invited to represent my country´s Medical College in a debate about pseudoscience on television, prime time. I was very excited and emotion clouded my reason. I didn´t think about the consequences. And well, it was a shitshow.

The audience was dominated by alternative health practitioners. The moderator was sympathetic with alternative health practices. And of course, the people representing the alternative health practitioners didn’t play by the same rules. They used deception, lying, testimonials, and all the logical fallacies you can think of.

But what really took me over the hedge was a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner with connections to the Chinese Government, a constant presence in the mainstream media, that started to sell “acupuncture anesthesia” as something valid. Talking about how he, more than 20 years ago, used this practice to help perform surgical procedures. For me, that was a disrespect for all the people that suffered at the hands of Mao´s Chinese dictatorship. All the people that suffered excruciating pain, being operated on without general anesthesia only to sell East Snake Oil to the West. The “miracle” of acupuncture and Eastern medicine. The propaganda.

We exchanged words in the debate and that continued into social media. In the days after, I was called everything you can imagine by the defenders of alternative therapies. And this man took the opportunity to write that I was “short, ugly and bald” and that I have an “inferiority complex” because of that. That I´m a lousy doctor that cannot compete with his clinics. That only a masochist woman would want something with me.

But I endured. I could not stop feeling disgusted by the lack of shame of these people. I could not let go. Like Gaad Sad, I feel physical pain when someone is bullshitting. It makes me physically sick that people can say outrageous things with a serious face.

So, I wrote a blog post to explain the myth and the horror of acupuncture anesthesia and to dismantle other claims said by that man, like “all babies born with fire in the

liver…if you treat that problem, you can prevent infertility and cancer metastasis in the future!”. Preventing metastasis of a non-existing cancer… And I used a lot of adjectives: dumb, ignorant, charlatan, and snake oil salesman.

In November of 2019, this man goes to a wannabe Joe Rogan show and tells all sort of outrageous things like “Chinese people are so many because Traditional Chinese Medicine was very advanced for those days” or “until recently Traditional Chinese Medicine was more effective treating cancer than Conventional Medicine” or “Homeopathy works but they don´t want you to know…see this Documentary”. Again, I used sarcasm, irony, and a lot of adjectives.

And then, legal problems…

Soon after I wrote this last blog post, I received a letter from the court saying that I was being sued by this man. I hired a lawyer and made a lengthy response to all the accusations, more than 100 pages. Nevertheless, I have been charged with seventeen defamation crimes, awaiting trial, for defending the truth. For defending the people that Institutions refused to defend.

My country, Portugal, legally recognizes “Non-Conventional Therapies” like Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Osteopathy, Chiropractic, and Naturopathy. My country, instead of defending the consumer, took the option to give these people the legal right of robbing people. I thought that the COVID-19 pandemic would change that a little bit since pseudoscience contributed zero for solving the problem, alternative practitioners embraced negationism about COVID-19, and Traditional Chinese Medicine was put in the corner. It was Science that came to the rescue with vaccines.

But now, when the pandemic is finally getting managed in my country, the snakes are starting to come out of hibernation to sell snake oil. And the media are giving them credit, again, like nothing has happened…nothing has changed, except for me.

Right now, I face four legal battles, for defamation. Besides this man, I have another lawsuit from a Nurse that promotes Reiki and Traditional Chinese Medicine, other from a Naturopath/Quantum Doctor and, lastly, from a Medical Doctor that was the head of the “Doctors For the Truth”, an organization part of an international network of Health Professionals that still denies the science about COVID-19.

So, this is my prize for all the hours battling liars and charlatans. The regulatory institutions don´t care. The mainstream media and Social Media don´t care. They are like brokers. They always win no matter if the stock market goes up or down. They will use you just to fuel the battle between science and pseudoscience and make money out of it. Why do you think the “Disinformation Dozen” still exists, besides some gestures of goodwill by the Social Media giants?

What I learned and you should learn…

I learned that it is pointless trying to convince people to change their minds on social media… People don´t follow reason, follow emotion, and something closer to religious belief. People want to be right, don´t want to learn what is right. Facts don´t change the minds of believers.

I learned that “True Skeptics” are unicorns. Everyone is a rational, skeptical person that values truth, reason, and science until you hit some nerve, some irrational belief that they hold dear. And then the “skepticism” goes down the drain. The more topics you talk about, the lonely you will be. And then you became a unicorn or, in the words of Malcolm Gladwell in the book “Talking to Strangers”, a Holy Fool: the truth-teller that is an outcast.

The COVID-19 pandemic just made things a lot worse…People started to getting hit by the pandemic in their quality of life and you start seeing hardcore skeptics doubting the most basic science and common sense. You even see some of your personal heroes like John Ioannidis going down the rabbit hole. Making the same basic mistakes that he spent his life point out about science production!

You start to see the animal inside us taking ground, what William James argued: if something improves your chances of survival, is not that the “truth”? The pragmatic, utilitarian truth? We saw irrationality in all its splendor, people negating reality, trying to conserve their way of life, making sense of events they don´t control. Fighting for control. Reason went to sleep and a lot of skeptics ceased to be…

So, I came to ask for your help… After two years of enduring the Sword of Damocles over my head, the energy to continue is running out. The SLAPP (Strategic lawsuit against public participation) they call it, is making a dent in my will to continue to fight against irrationality and charlatans.

So, I came to ask for your help, the International Skeptic community, for covering the legal expenses. I already asked for the support of my country’s skeptical community but it was not enough…only after two years of this marathon probably will take another two, I took this decision. I´m not proud of this, I´m angry that these people, besides robbing the sick and fragile giving them false hope are now making those who fight them spend money and probably pay “compensation” for not be silent about charlatanism. You can support me through Paypal or Patreon. Thank you in advance and I will keep you up-to-date.

PS

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If I search on Amazon for books on ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE, I get between 50 000 and 60 000 volumes, depending on what country I am in. As a very rough guess, I estimate that about 95% of them are rubbish – not just useless, but dangerous. Because of this lamentable situation, I am delighted each time I come across one that belongs to the other 5%. And in recent years, there have been quite a few.

No, I am not about to advertise another book of mine; I am about to commend to you

Brad McKay’s FAKE MEDICINE

(I don’t often publish book reviews here, but I feel that might change.)

The new book is advertised with the following words: “Dr Brad McKay, Australian GP and science communicator, has seen the rise of misinformation permeate our lives and watched as many of us have turned away from health experts. Too often, we place our trust in online influencers, celebrities and Dr Google when it comes to making important health decisions. Fake Medicine explores the potential dangers of wellness warriors, anti-vaxxers, fad diets, dodgy supplements, alternative practitioners and conspiracy theories. This book is an essential tool for debunking pseudoscience and protecting you and your loved ones from the health scams that surround us. Protect your mind, body and wallet by fighting fake medicine.”

They describe the book fairly accurately. McKay covers all of these subjects with considerable skill. His book is well-suited for people who are newcomers to the critical assessment of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM); the text is free of jargon or long-winded technical explanations. Instead, the author mostly tells stories of events that actually happened to him. Several happened to him in a most personal fashion, as his experience as a young gay Australian with a form of conversion therapy administered by religious zealots, or the story where he took some highly dodgy Chinese medicine to boost his energy levels.

Lots of people have done similarly foolish things, I know, but not many are doctors and can thus put their experience in a medical perspective. And crucially, not many can write as entertaining as Brad. I had thought I knew most of what there is to know about SCAM, but I did learn something new from Brad: did you know what GISH GALLOP is? Well, I didn’t!

One of the most useful parts of the book is chapter 16 where Brad tells everyone what they can and should do to stop fake medicine in its tracks. And he does mean EVERYONE! – not just skeptics or sceptics or activists or scientists. This book is truly written for laypeople. If you don’t belong to this group, buy it anyway and give it to someone from your circle of friends who needs it. I am sure there are a few.

 

 

Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) is popular, but does it work? On this blog, we have often discussed that there are good reasons to doubt it.

This study compared the efficacy of standard OMT vs sham OMT for reducing low back pain (LBP)-specific activity limitations at 3 months in persons with nonspecific subacute or chronic LBP. It was designed as a prospective, parallel-group, single-blind, single-center, sham-controlled randomized clinical trial. 400 patients with nonspecific subacute or chronic LBP were recruited from a tertiary care center in France starting and randomly allocated to interventions in a 1:1 ratio.

Six sessions (1 every 2 weeks) of standard OMT or sham OMT delivered by osteopathic practitioners. For both
experimental and control groups, each session lasted 45 minutes and consisted of 3 periods: (1) interview focusing on pain location, (2) full osteopathic examination, and (3) intervention consisting of standard or sham OMT. In both groups, practitioners assessed 7 anatomical regions for dysfunction (lumbar spine, root of mesentery, diaphragm, and atlantooccipital, sacroiliac, temporomandibular, and talocrural joints) and applied sham OMT to all areas or standard OMT to those that were considered dysfunctional.

The primary endpoint was the mean reduction in LBP-specific activity limitations at 3 months as measured by the self-administered Quebec Back Pain Disability Index. Secondary outcomes were the mean reduction in LBP-specific activity limitations; mean changes in pain and health-related quality of life; number and duration of sick leave, as well as the number of LBP episodes at 12 months, and the consumption of analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs at 3 and 12 months. Adverse events were self-reported at 3, 6, and 12 months.

A total of 200 participants were randomly allocated to standard OMT and 200 to sham OMT, with 197 analyzed in each group; the median (range) age at inclusion was 49.8 (40.7-55.8) years, 235 of 394 (59.6%) participants were women, and 359 of 393 (91.3%) were currently working. The mean (SD) duration of the current LBP episode had been 7.5 (14.2) months. Overall, 164 (83.2%) patients in the standard OMT group and 159 (80.7%) patients in the sham OMT group had the primary outcome data available at 3 months.

The mean (SD) Quebec Back Pain Disability Index scores were:

  • 31.5 (14.1) at baseline and 25.3 (15.3) at 3 months in the OMT-group,
  • 27.2 (14.8) at baseline and 26.1 (15.1) at 3 months in the sham group.

The mean reduction in LBP-specific activity limitations at 3 months was -4.7 (95% CI, -6.6 to -2.8) and -1.3 (95% CI, -3.3 to 0.6) for the standard OMT and sham OMT groups, respectively (mean difference, -3.4; 95% CI, -6.0 to -0.7; P = .01). At 12 months, the mean difference in mean reduction in LBP-specific activity limitations was -4.3 (95% CI, -7.6 to -1.0; P = .01), and at 3 and 12 months, the mean difference in mean reduction in pain was -1.0 (95% CI, -5.5 to 3.5; P = .66) and -2.0 (95% CI, -7.2 to 3.3; P = .47), respectively. There were no statistically significant differences in other secondary outcomes. Four and 8 serious adverse events were self-reported in the standard OMT and sham OMT groups, respectively, though none was considered related to OMT.

The authors concluded that standard OMT had a small effect on LBP-specific activity limitations vs sham OMT. However, the clinical relevance of this effect is questionable.

This study was funded the French Ministry of Health and sponsored by the Département de la Recherche Clinique et du Développement de l’Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris. It is of exceptionally good quality. Its findings are important, particularly in France, where osteopaths have become as numerous as their therapeutic claims irresponsible.

In view of what we have been repeatedly discussing on this blog, the findings of the new trial are unsurprising. Osteopathy is far less well supported by sound evidence than osteopaths want us to believe. This is true, of course, for the plethora of non-spinal claims, but also for LBP. The French authors cite previously published evidence that is in line with their findings: In a systematic review, Rubinstein and colleagues compared the efficacy of manipulative treatment to sham manipulative treatment on LBP-specific activity limitations and did not find evidence of differences at 3 and 12 months (3 RCTs with 573 total participants and 1 RCT with 63 total participants). Evidence was considered low to very low quality. When merging the present results with these findings, we found similar standardized mean difference values at 3months (−0.11 [95% CI, −0.24 to 0.02]) and 12 months (−0.11 [95% CI, −0.33 to 0.11]) (4 RCTs with 896 total participants and 2 RCTs with 320 total participants).

So, what should LBP patients do?

The answer is, as I have often mentioned, simple: exercise!

And what will the osteopaths do?

The answer to this question is even simpler: they will find/invent reasons why the evidence is not valid, ignore the science, and carry on making unsupported therapeutic claims about OMT.

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