Some consumers believe that research is by definition reliable, and patients are even more prone to this error. When they read or hear that ‘RESEARCH HAS SHOWN…’ or that ‘A RECENT STUDY HAS DEMONSTRATED…’, they usually trust the statements that follow. But is this trust in research and researchers justified? During 25 years that I have been involved in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), I have encountered numerous instances which make me doubt. In this post, I will briefly discuss some the many ways in which consumers can be mislead by apparently sound evidence (for an explanation as to what is and what isn’t evidence, see here).
ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE
I have just finished reading a book by a German Heilpraktiker that is entirely dedicated to SCAM. In it, the author makes hundreds of statements and presents them as evidence-based facts. To many lay people or consumers, this will look convincing, I am sure. Yet, it has one fatal defect: the author fails to offer any real evidence that would back up his statements. The only references provided were those of other books which are equally evidence-free. This popular technique of making unsupported claims allows the author to make assertions without any checks and balances. A lay person is usually unable or unwilling to differentiate such fabulations from evidence, and this technique is thus easy and poular for misleading us about SCAM.
On this blog, we have encountered this phenomenon ad nauseam: a commentator makes a claim and supports it with some seemingly sound evidence, often from well-respected sources. The few of us who bother to read the referenced articles quickly discover that they do not say what the commentator claimed. This method relies on the reader beeing easily bowled over by some pretend-evidence. As many consumers cannot be bothered to look beyond the smokescreen supplied by such pretenders, the method usually works surprisingly well.
An example: Vidatox is a homeopathic cancer ‘cure’ from Cuba. The Vidatox website clains that it is effective for many cancers. Considering how sensational this claim is, one would expect to find plenty of published articles on Vidatox. However, a Medline search resulted in one paper on the subject. Its authors drew the following conclusion: Our results suggest that the concentration of Vidatox used in the present study has not anti-neoplastic effects and care must be taken in hiring Vidatox in patients with HCC.
The question one often has to ask is this: where is the line between misleading research and fraud?
There is no area in healthcare that produces more surveys than SCAM. About 500 surveys are published every year! This ‘survey-mania’ has a purpose: it promotes a positive message about SCAM which hypothesis-testing research rarely does.
For a typical SCAM survey, a team of enthusiastic researchers might put together a few questions and design a questionnaire to find out what percentage of a group of individuals have tried SCAM in the past. Subsequently, the investigators might get one or two hundred responses. They then calculate simple descriptive statistics and demonstrate that xy % use SCAM. This finding eventually gets published in one of the many third-rate SCAM journals. The implication then is that, if SCAM is so popular, it must be good, and if it’s good, the public purse should pay for it. Few consumers would realise that this conclusion is little more that a fallacious appeal to popularity.
AVOIDING THE QUESTION
Another popular way of SCAM researchers to mislead the public is to avoid the research questions that matter. For instance, few experts would deny that one of the most urgent issues in chiropractic relates to the risk of spinal manipulations. One would therefore expect that a sizable proportion of the currently published chiropractic research is dedicated to it. Yet, the opposite is the case. Medline currently lists more than 3 000 papers on ‘chiropractic’, but only 17 on ‘chiropractic, harm’.
A pilot study is a small scale preliminary study conducted in order to evaluate feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, and improve upon the study design prior to performance of a full-scale research project. Yet, the elementary preconditions are not fulfilled by the plethora of SCAM pilot studies that are currently being published. True pilot studies of SCAM are, in fact, very rare. The reason for the abundance of pseudo-pilots is obvious: they can easily be interpreted as showing encouragingly positive results for whatever SCAM is being tested. Subsequently, SCAM proponents can mislead the public by claiming that there are plenty of positive studies and therefore their SCAM is supported by sound evidence.
As regularly mentioned on this blog, there are several ways to design a study such that the risk of producing a negative result is minimal. The most popular one in SCAM research is the ‘A+B versus B’ design. In this study, for instance, cancer patients who were suffering from fatigue were randomised to receive usual care or usual care plus regular acupuncture. The researchers then monitored the patients’ experience of fatigue and found that the acupuncture group did better than the control group. The effect was statistically significant, and an editorial in the journal where it was published called this evidence “compelling”. Due to a cleverly over-stated press-release, news spread fast, and the study was celebrated worldwide as a major breakthrough in cancer-care.
Imagine you have an amount of money A and your friend owns the same sum plus another amount B. Who has more money? Simple, it is, of course your friend: A+B will always be more than A [unless B is a negative amount]. For the same reason, such “pragmatic” trials will always generate positive results [unless the treatment in question does actual harm]. Treatment as usual plus acupuncture is more than treatment as usual alone, and the former is therefore more than likely to produce a better result. This will be true, even if acupuncture is a pure placebo – after all, a placebo is more than nothing, and the placebo effect will impact on the outcome, particularly if we are dealing with a highly subjective symptom such as fatigue.
A more obvious method for generating false positive results is to omit blinding. The purpose of blinding the patient, the therapist and the evaluator of the group allocation in clinical trials is to make sure that expectation is not a contributor to the result. Expectation might not move mountains, but it can certainly influence the result of a clinical trial. Patients who hope for a cure regularly do get better, even if the therapy they receive is useless, and therapists as well as evaluators of the outcomes tend to view the results through rose-tinted spectacles, if they have preconceived ideas about the experimental treatment.
Failure to randomise is another source of bias which can mislead us. If we allow patients or trialists to select or chose which patients receive the experimental and which get the control-treatment, it is likely that the two groups differ in a number of variables. Some of these variables might, in turn, impact on the outcome. If, for instance, doctors allocate their patients to the experimental and control groups, they might select those who will respond to the former and those who don’t to the latter. This may not happen with intent but through intuition or instinct: responsible health care professionals want those patients who, in their experience, have the best chances to benefit from a given treatment to receive that treatment. Only randomisation can, when done properly, make sure we are comparing comparable groups of patients. Non-randomisation can easily generate false-positive findings.
It is also possible to mislead people with studies which do not test whether an experimental treatment is superior to another one (often called superiority trials), but which assess whether it is equivalent to a therapy that is generally accepted to be effective. The idea is that, if both treatments produce similarly positive results, both must be effective. Such trials are called non-superiority or equivalence trials, and they offer a wide range of possibilities for misleading us. If, for example, such a trial has not enough patients, it might show no difference where, in fact, there is one. Let’s consider a simple, hypothetical example: someone comes up with the idea to compare antibiotics to acupuncture as treatments of bacterial pneumonia in elderly patients. The researchers recruit 10 patients for each group, and the results reveal that, in one group, 2 patients died, while, in the other, the number was 3. The statistical tests show that the difference of just one patient is not statistically significant, and the authors therefore conclude that acupuncture is just as good for bacterial infections as antibiotics.
Even trickier is the option to under-dose the treatment given to the control group in an equivalence trial. In the above example, the investigators might subsequently recruit hundreds of patients in an attempt to overcome the criticism of their first study; they then decide to administer a sub-therapeutic dose of the antibiotic in the control group. The results would then seemingly confirm the researchers’ initial finding, namely that acupuncture is as good as the antibiotic for pneumonia. Acupuncturists might then claim that their treatment has been proven in a very large randomised clinical trial to be effective for treating this condition. People who do not happen to know the correct dose of the antibiotic could easily be fooled into believing them.
Obviously, the results would be more impressive, if the control group in an equivalence trial received a therapy which is not just ineffective but actually harmful. In such a scenario, even the most useless SCAM would appear to be effective simply because it is less harmful than the comparator.
A variation of this theme is the plethora of controlled clinical trials in SCAM which compare one unproven therapy to another unproven treatment. Perdicatbly, the results would often indicate that there is no difference in the clinical outcome experienced by the patients in the two groups. Enthusiastic SCAM researchers then tend to conclude that this proves both treatments to be equally effective. The more likely conclusion, however, is that both are equally useless.
Another technique for misleading the public is to draw conclusions which are not supported by the data. Imagine you have generated squarely negative data with a trial of homeopathy. As an enthusiast of homeopathy, you are far from happy with your own findings; in addition you might have a sponsor who puts pressure on you. What can you do? The solution is simple: you only need to highlight at least one positive message in the published article. In the case of homeopathy, you could, for instance, make a major issue about the fact that the treatment was remarkably safe and cheap: not a single patient died, most were very pleased with the treatment which was not even very expensive.
A further popular method for misleading the public is the outright omission findings that SCAM researchers do not like. If the aim is that the public believe the myth that all SCAM is free of side-effects, SCAM researchers only need to omit reporting them in clinical trials. On this blog, I have alerted my readers time and time again to this common phenomenon. We even assessed it in a systematic review. Sixty RCTs of chiropractic were included. Twenty-nine RCTs did not mention adverse effects at all. Sixteen RCTs reported that no adverse effects had occurred. Complete information on incidence, severity, duration, frequency and method of reporting of adverse effects was included in only one RCT.
Most trails have many outcome measures; for instance, a study of acupuncture for pain-control might quantify pain in half a dozen different ways, it might also measure the length of the treatment until pain has subsided, the amount of medication the patients took in addition to receiving acupuncture, the days off work because of pain, the partner’s impression of the patient’s health status, the quality of life of the patient, the frequency of sleep being disrupted by pain etc. If the researchers then evaluate all the results, they are likely to find that one or two of them have changed in the direction they wanted (especially, if they also include half a dozen different time points at which these variables are quatified). This can well be a chance finding: with the typical statistical tests, one in 20 outcome measures would produce a significant result purely by chance. In order to mislead us, the researchers only need to “forget” about all the negative results and focus their publication on the ones which by chance have come out as they had hoped.
When it come to fraud, there is more to chose from than one would have ever wished for. We and others have, for example, shown that Chinese trials of acupuncture hardly ever produce a negative finding. In other words, one does not need to read the paper, one already knows that it is positive – even more extreme: one does not need to conduct the study, one already knows the result before the research has started. This strange phenomenon indicates that something is amiss with Chinese acupuncture research. This suspicion was even confirmed by a team of Chinese scientists. In this systematic review, all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture published in Chinese journals were identified by a team of Chinese scientists. A total of 840 RCTs were found, including 727 RCTs comparing acupuncture with conventional treatment, 51 RCTs with no treatment controls, and 62 RCTs with sham-acupuncture controls. Among theses 840 RCTs, 838 studies (99.8%) reported positive results from primary outcomes and two trials (0.2%) reported negative results. The percentages of RCTs concealment of the information on withdraws or sample size calculations were 43.7%, 5.9%, 4.9%, 9.9%, and 1.7% respectively. The authors concluded that publication bias might be major issue in RCTs on acupuncture published in Chinese journals reported, which is related to high risk of bias. We suggest that all trials should be prospectively registered in international trial registry in future.
A survey of clinical trials in China has revealed fraudulent practice on a massive scale. China’s food and drug regulator carried out a one-year review of clinical trials. They concluded that more than 80 percent of clinical data is “fabricated“. The review evaluated data from 1,622 clinical trial programs of new pharmaceutical drugs awaiting regulator approval for mass production. Officials are now warning that further evidence malpractice could still emerge in the scandal.
I hasten to add that fraud in SCAM research is certainly not confined to China. On this blog, you will find plenty of evidence for this statement, I am sure.
Research is obviously necessary, if we want to answer the many open questions in SCAM. But sadly, not all research is reliable and much of SCAM research is misleading. Therefore, it is always necessary to be on the alert and apply all the skills of critical evaluation we can muster.
The amount of different so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) that are being tried or promoted against COVID-19 is legion. Anything really from vitamins to herbal remedies, homeopathics to chiropractic. In fact, it is hard these days to find a SCAM that is not touted for COVID-19.
This study aimed to evaluate if a dietary supplement of quercetin (a polyphenol contained in many fruit and vegetables), vitamin C and bromelain (a proteolytic enzyme contained in pineapple) could be protective against coronavirus infections.
In the verum group, a supplement containing
- 500mg of quercetin,
- 500mg of vitamin C,
- 50mg of bromelain (QCB)
was administered daily in 2 divided doses for 71 healthcare workers working in areas with high risk of COVID-19, whereas 42 were the control group who received no supplements. The maximum period of follow-up was 120 days. Termination of QCB use prematurely or having a coronavirus infection was the end of a volunteer’s study participation. A rapid diagnostic test was used to detect immunoglobulin positivity.
A total of 113 persons were included. No significant difference were detected between groups at baseline. Mean age of QCB group was 39.0 ± 8.8 years and control group was 32.9 ± 8.7. Average follow-up period for the QCB group was 113 days, and for the control group, 118 days. During the follow-up period, 1 healthcare worker in the QCB group and 9 out in 42 in control group contracted COVID-19. One case was asymptomatic, while others were not. Transmission risk hazard ratio of participants who did not receive QCB was 12.04 (95% Confidence interval= 1.26-115.06, P = 0.031). No significant effect of gender, smoking, antihypertensive medication exposure and having chronic disease on rate of transmission. The authors concluded that this study revealed that QCB was protective for healthcare workers.
The sudy is so poorly written and reported that I had trouble making sense of it. In fact, I first thought it was a fake. Then I saw this note:
Preprints with The Lancet is part of SSRN´s First Look, a place where journals identify content of interest prior to publication. Authors have opted in at submission to The Lancet family of journals to post their preprints on Preprints with The Lancet. The usual SSRN checks and a Lancet-specific check for appropriateness and transparency have been applied. Preprints available here are not Lancet publications or necessarily under review with a Lancet journal. These preprints are early stage research papers that have not been peer-reviewed. The findings should not be used for clinical or public health decision making and should not be presented to a lay audience without highlighting that they are preliminary and have not been peer-reviewed.
If the results are for real (because of the small sample size, the lack of a placebo-control, dozens of potential confounders, etc., the findings could easily false-positive), they would merit urgent replication in a larger, more rigorous trial.
Meanwhile I would be very sceptical about the validity of the results. The paper (it really is just a submission for publication in the Lancet; I am not even sure that it will be officially published and I don’t quite see why it is being made available to the public in this way) is too flimsy for words. Despite these warnings, it is likely that many consumers will fall for the claim that QCB was protective for healthcare workers.
Recent comments on this blog prompted me to look into a very strange therapeutic and diagnostic device used by some practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):
The OBERON provides the most unique tool for scanning the various organs and systems of the physical body without having to make a medical or surgical intrusion. Developed by Russian scientists since the early 1990’s, the OBERON is the most revolutionary computer programmed invention available in the world today for analyzing and treating all the body’s organs and functions.
This device scans each organ or tissue on a cellular level. It compares the measurements to a database of thousands of referenced conditions and their diagnosis. OBERON uses a special emitter to modulate the carrier frequency for the cell communication and it uses special sensor trigger readers built into headphones to read the cells own signals.
OBERON finds out how stressed an organ is, and if there are any diseases developing, how much the cells are influenced by a specific disease, and which micro organisms and bacteria are in the area at the time of the scan.
BENEFITS OF THE OBERON:
Rebalances the body so that it can start to heal itself!
Makes intrusive and embarrassing examinations a THING OF THE PAST!!!!
Quick examination (in seconds) with immediate results
Replaces dozens of traditional diagnostic methods.
Finds weaknesses in the skeleton, organs, blood, tissue, etc.
There are no side effects, unpleasantness or injury after treatment
A print out of the report on findings can be taken at the end of the session…
The method is based on an analysis of the brain stems electromagnetic waves which contain the complete information of the entire organism. This information is read by a sensor. A frequency transmitter aimed at the projection area of the brain stem stimulates this electromagnetic radiation.
Meta- Therapy repairs the organism using a diversity of modulated electromagnetic waves. This treatment stimulates the body’s own functions so that they solve the problem and it stimulates the immune defense and is a very good supplement or alternative to traditional treatment. The patient can follow on the screen how the organ progressively gets better, and afterwards one can take a new measurement showing the improvement…
Yes, indeed – fantastic as in fantasy!
Almost as much relation to reality as OBERON, king of the fairies in medieval literature.
The modern OBERON device is being used by infamous proponents of integrated medicine like Dr Julian Kenyon who already made an appearance on this blog. On his website, Kenyon published a paper in which he provides details about the OBERON. To a lay person, the sciency text might look like science; however, this impression would be false. The ‘study’ Kenyon mentioned is not on Medline. In fact, Dr Kenyon (former associate of the late George Lewith) has merely 4 Medline-listed papers:
- Physiological and psychological explanations for the mechanism of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain. Soc Sci Med. 1984;19(12):1367-78. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(84)90026-1.PMID: 6085191 Review.
- Is electrodermal testing as effective as skin prick tests for diagnosing allergies? A double blind, randomised block design study. BMJ. 2001 Jan 20;322(7279):131-4. doi: 10.1136/bmj.322.7279.131.PMID: 11159567 Free PMC article. Clinical Trial.
- Randomised double-blind trial on the immediate effects of naloxone on classical Chinese acupuncture therapy for chronic pain. Acupunct Electrother Res. 1983;8(1):17-24. doi: 10.3727/036012983816715064.PMID: 6135300 Clinical Trial.
- Food sensitivity, a search for underlying causes. Case study of 12 patients. Kenyon JN.Acupunct Electrother Res. 1986;11(1):1-13. doi: 10.3727/036012986816359238.PMID: 2872775
And what about other researchers? Aren’t there ANY decent studies of the OBERON?
Not as far as I can see (if anyone does know of peer-reviewed research, please let me know).
So, what is the conclusion?
My conclusion is this:
There is no evidence that the OBERON does anything useful other than putting money in the bank accounts of those charlatans who use or manufacture it.
And what does that make Kenyon and all the other SCAM practitioners using the OBERON or similar devices?
I leave it to you to decide.
Out of the blue I received an email infroming me that Wellness consultancy and online health boutique Conscious Spaces is marking the Black Friday sale season with 12% off its hugely popular Qi tech EMF protection devices. Shop Black EMFriday at consciousspaces.com/collections/black-emfriday…
I must be a sucker for such stuff, so I had to have a look.
The ‘Qi-Max Cell™ 5G / WIFI / EMF Protection For Home & Business’ for instance is for sale at £4,399.00 Sale Price (normally it costs £600 more!!!).
Naturally, I was fascinated and had to know more. Luckily, the email told me all I needed to know:
What are EMFs?
EMFs, or electromagnetic fields, are invisible fields of energy, or radiation waves. There are many different types of electromagnetic fields in the world around us. They come from both natural sources (like sunlight) and man-made sources (like mobile phones). Over the last century, exposure to man-made EMFs has been steadily increasing in line with the growing demand for electricity and the more recent explosion of wireless technology, including smart phones, laptops and tablets.
Where’s the harm?
Exposure to EMFs of the kind emitted by mobile technologies has been found to be harmful to health by a growing number independent, non-industry funded scientists and doctors. With thousands of papers, the extent of scientific research into the health impacts of EMF radiation exposure is too vast to list, but a cohesive body of evidence exists surrounding the damage caused to DNA, cells, organ systems, fertility, brain function, liver and memory.
How do Qi tech devices work?
WaveGuard’s Qi technology provides a sanctuary from EMFs by creating a protective shield of negatively charged electrons. These devices come in a variety of sizes to provide different size torus fields of protection, from the Qi-Me, for personal protection on the go, through to the Qi-Max, providing a protective field with a 50m radius.
The Qi-Me device uses the same technology as the larger Qi-Shield device which has been scientifically proven to provide EMF Protection tested using a double-blind study at the BION Institute. Priced at £399 (£350 during Black Friday), it provides a 1m radius (2m diameter) of EMF protection and is available in Walnut, Maple, Olive and Yew.
The Qi-Shield provides an EMF protection field of 2.5m radius (5m diameter). Perfect for your office, bedroom, vehicle or air travel, it is priced at £899 (£790 during Black Friday) and is available in walnut.
The Qi-Home provides the relief of being protected from harmful and damaging EMFs while at home, with an EMF protection field of 7.5m radius (15m diameter). It is priced at £2750 (£2,420 during Black Friday) it is available in Swiss pine, oak and beech.
The Qi-Max Cell is the largest and most powerful EMF protection device, creating an EMF protection field of 50m radius (100m diameter). Available in Swiss pine, it is priced at £4999 (£4,399 during Black Friday).
Tara Williams, founder of Conscious Spaces, says: ‘The calming effect I felt when I first held a Qi-Shield in a high EMF environment was a revelation. My heart rate is usually up in those sorts of settings, but this had an immediate positive effect. I now carry this or the Qi-Me with me wherever I go and have noticed a real improvement in my EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity) symptoms.’
As I said, I am most impressed by the ‘Qi-Max Cell’ (it creates an EMF protection field of 50m radius (100m diameter) in width and 35m radius (70m diameter) in height, protecting your family, workplace and business against mobile phone radiation, WiFi, electrical frequencies, electro-magnetic frequencies) and, of course by the prospect of saving £600!
But seriously! Would it not be illuminating to get such a device and take it apart to see what technology it actually contains? Or does one of my readers already know?
Misinformation by chiropractors is unfortunately nothing new and has been discussed ad nauseam on this blog. It is tempting to ask whether chiropractors have lost (or more likely never had) the ability to ditinguish real information from misinformation or substantiated from unsubstantiated claims. During the pandemic, the phenomenon of chiropractic misinformation has become even more embarrassingly obvious, as this new article highlights.
Chiropractors made statements on social media claiming that chiropractic treatment can prevent or impact COVID-19. The rationale for these claims is that spinal manipulation can impact the nervous system and thus improve immunity. These beliefs often stem from nineteenth-century chiropractic concepts. The authors of the paper are aware of no clinically relevant scientific evidence to support such statements.
The investigators explored the internet and social media to collect examples of misinformation from Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand regarding the impact of chiropractic treatment on immune function. They discussed the potential harm resulting from these claims and explore the role of chiropractors, teaching institutions, accrediting agencies, and legislative bodies.
The authors conclude as follows: In this search of public media in Europe, North America, New Zealand, and Australia, we discovered many cases of misinformation. Claims of chiropractic treatment improving immunity conflict with the advice from authorities and the scientific consensus. The science referenced by these claims is missing, flawed or has no clinical relevance. Consequently, their claims about clinical effectiveness are spurious at best and misleading at worst. However, our examples cannot be used to make statements about the magnitude of the problem among practitioners as our samples were not intended to be representative. For that reason, we also did not include an analysis of the arguments provided in the various postings. In view of the seriousness of the topic, it would be relevant to conduct a systematic study on a representative sample of public statements, to better understand these issues. Our search illustrates the possible danger to public health of misinformation posted on social media and the internet. This situation provides an opportunity for growth and maturation for the chiropractic profession. We hope that individual chiropractors will reflect on and improve their communication and practices. Further, we hope that the chiropractic teaching institutions, regulators, and professional organisations will always demonstrate responsible leadership in their respective domains by acting to ensure that all chiropractors understand and uphold their fiduciary duties.
Several previous papers have found similar things, e.g.: Twitter activity about SMT and immunity increased during the COVID-19 crisis. Results from this work have the potential to help policy makers and others understand the impact of SMT misinformation and devise strategies to mitigate its impact.
The pandemic has crystallised the embarrassment about chiropractic false claims. Yet, the phenomenon of chiropractors misleading the public has long been known and arguably is even more important when it relates to matters other than COVID-19. Ten years ago, we published this paper:
Background: Some chiropractors and their associations claim that chiropractic is effective for conditions that lack sound supporting evidence or scientific rationale. This study therefore sought to determine the frequency of World Wide Web claims of chiropractors and their associations to treat, asthma, headache/migraine, infant colic, colic, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain, whiplash (not supported by sound evidence), and lower back pain (supported by some evidence).
Methods: A review of 200 chiropractor websites and 9 chiropractic associations’ World Wide Web claims in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States was conducted between 1 October 2008 and 26 November 2008. The outcome measure was claims (either direct or indirect) regarding the eight reviewed conditions, made in the context of chiropractic treatment.
Results: We found evidence that 190 (95%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims regarding at least one of the conditions. When colic and infant colic data were collapsed into one heading, there was evidence that 76 (38%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims about all the conditions not supported by sound evidence. Fifty-six (28%) websites and 4 of the 9 (44%) associations made claims about lower back pain, whereas 179 (90%) websites and all 9 associations made unsubstantiated claims about headache/migraine. Unsubstantiated claims were made about asthma, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain,
Conclusions: The majority of chiropractors and their associations in the English-speaking world seem to make therapeutic claims that are not supported by sound evidence, whilst only 28% of chiropractor websites promote lower back pain, which is supported by some evidence. We suggest the ubiquity of the unsubstantiated claims constitutes an ethical and public health issue.
It makes it clear that the misleading information of chiropractors is a serious problem. And I find it disappointing to see that so little has been done about it, and that progress seems so ellusive.
This, of course, begs the question, where does all this misinformation come from? The authors of the new paper stated that beliefs often stem from nineteenth-century chiropractic concepts. This, I believe, is very true and it gives us an important clue. It suggests that, because it is good for business, chiro schools are still steeped in obsolete notions of pseudo- and anti-science. Thus, year after year, they seem to churn out new generations of naively willing victims of the Dunning Kruger effect.
We have often heard it said on this blog and elsewhere that chiropractors are making great strides towards reforming themselves and becoming an evidence-based profession. In view of the data cited above, this does not ring all that true, I am afraid. Is the picture that emerges not one of a profession deeply embroiled in BS with but a few fighting a lost battle to clean up the act?
Vitamin D and Omega-3 supplements help the elderly avoid Covid-19 infection by boosting their immune systems, study claims. Yes, that was the headline in the DAILY MAIL on 11/11/2020. Naturally, I found this interesting. So, I looked up the original paper. Here is its abstract:
Importance: The benefits of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and exercise in disease prevention remain unclear.
Objective: To test whether vitamin D, omega-3s, and a strength-training exercise program, alone or in combination, improved 6 health outcomes among older adults.
Design, setting, and participants: Double-blind, placebo-controlled, 2 × 2 × 2 factorial randomized clinical trial among 2157 adults aged 70 years or older who had no major health events in the 5 years prior to enrollment and had sufficient mobility and good cognitive status. Patients were recruited between December 2012 and November 2014, and final follow-up was in November 2017.
Interventions: Participants were randomized to 3 years of intervention in 1 of the following 8 groups: 2000 IU/d of vitamin D3, 1 g/d of omega-3s, and a strength-training exercise program (n = 264); vitamin D3 and omega-3s (n = 265); vitamin D3 and exercise (n = 275); vitamin D3 alone (n = 272); omega-3s and exercise (n = 275); omega-3s alone (n = 269); exercise alone (n = 267); or placebo (n = 270).
Main outcomes and measures: The 6 primary outcomes were change in systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP), Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), and incidence rates (IRs) of nonvertebral fractures and infections over 3 years. Based on multiple comparisons of 6 primary end points, 99% confidence intervals are presented and P < .01 was required for statistical significance.
Results: Among 2157 randomized participants (mean age, 74.9 years; 61.7% women), 1900 (88%) completed the study. Median follow-up was 2.99 years. Overall, there were no statistically significant benefits of any intervention individually or in combination for the 6 end points at 3 years. For instance, the differences in mean change in systolic BP with vitamin D vs no vitamin D and with omega-3s vs no omega-3s were both -0.8 (99% CI, -2.1 to 0.5) mm Hg, with P < .13 and P < .11, respectively; the difference in mean change in diastolic BP with omega-3s vs no omega-3s was -0.5 (99% CI, -1.2 to 0.2) mm Hg; P = .06); and the difference in mean change in IR of infections with omega-3s vs no omega-3s was -0.13 (99% CI, -0.23 to -0.03), with an IR ratio of 0.89 (99% CI, 0.78-1.01; P = .02). No effects were found on the outcomes of SPPB, MoCA, and incidence of nonvertebral fractures). A total of 25 deaths were reported, with similar numbers in all treatment groups.
Conclusions and relevance: Among adults without major comorbidities aged 70 years or older, treatment with vitamin D3, omega-3s, or a strength-training exercise program did not result in statistically significant differences in improvement in systolic or diastolic blood pressure, nonvertebral fractures, physical performance, infection rates, or cognitive function. These findings do not support the effectiveness of these 3 interventions for these clinical outcomes.
The study has noting to do with COVID-19 and very little with infections. The bit about infections shows almost the opposite of what the MAIL claims. So, where does the notion stipulated in the headline come from?
The MAIL article gives the answer: Professor Heike Bischoff-Ferrari from Zurich University in Switzerland, who led the latest study, said: ‘Our findings suggest supplementation of vitamin D and omega-3s in adults aged 70 or older who lead an active lifestyle and have no pre-existing conditions does not provide any benefits when it comes to bone health, memory and muscle function. ‘However, we believe there is an effect on infections – such as Covid-19.’
I would not be surprised, if the last sentence in the quote was taken out of context.
I would not be surprised, if this is the worst health related article in the DAIL MAIL this year.
And, by Jove, there are plenty to choose from.
And why do I report all this?
As I have pointed out before, I believe that journalists have a lot to answer for when it comes to misleading the public about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):
- “Scientists have shown how homeopathy works” – journalists’ obsession with ‘balance’
- ACUPUNCTURE: journalists, be aware of your responsibility not to mislead the public
- Drowning in a sea of misinformation. Part 10: Journalists
My hope is that, by reminding them of their ‘errors’ every now and then, I might contribute to some progress.
Yes, I know, I am an incurable optimist!
I was alerted to an outstanding article by an unusual author, a law firm, on the subject of chiropractic. Allow me to quote a few passages from it (without changing a word or adding a comment):
When Katie May passed away suddenly from a stroke at just 34 years old, it was initially ruled an accident. After further investigation, a coroner determined the stroke that claimed the model and single mother’s life was caused by injuries sustained during neck manipulation by a chiropractor. And Ms. May is not the first to be affected by this seemingly harmless procedure…
What health issues can be caused by chiropractic manipulation?
Chiropractors typically use their hands to apply pressure to joints, aiming to help alleviate pain and improve body function. This is referred to as a chiropractic adjustment.
Adjustments are commonly performed for neck and/or back pain. Although the Mayo Clinic says the risk of a serious complication is relatively small, these complications can include:
- A herniated disk, or worsening of an existing herniated disk
- Compression of nerves in the lower spinal column
- Stroke, which can result in paralysis or death
The last item on this list is particularly concerning.
Patients who receive neck manipulation are at risk for a stroke caused by vertebral artery dissection. Located in the neck, the vertebral arteries supply blood to the brain and can be torn by stretching and sudden force applied during a neck adjustment.
How could a chiropractor be responsible for a patient’s injury?
Although the risk of being seriously injured by a chiropractor is low, tragic accidents can and do happen. If you or a loved one believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.
Explaining how an injury or medical error occurred will help your attorney determine the potential liability of a chiropractor and any other involved parties. A chiropractor’s liability could fall into a legal category such as:
- Failure to Diagnose a Medical Condition – The chiropractor breaches a duty of care to their patients by failing to diagnose an underlying medical condition. This could occur when a patient reveals or exhibits symptoms of a severe issue, such as a stroke, and is not referred for appropriate medical attention.
- Lack of Informed Consent – A patient is treated without being properly informed of the potential risks or side effects, and experiences an injury from that treatment.
- Negligent Manipulation – The patient’s body is adjusted by the chiropractor in such a way that it causes a new injury or worsens an existing injury. This could also include manipulation of a patient who is pregnant and goes into premature labor.
- Chiropractic Induced Injury – A patient suffers injury, permanent irreversible damage such as paralysis or wrongful death as the direct result of a chiropractic manipulation.
To find out whether or not you may have a case, please discuss your concerns with a qualified personal injury attorney.
What should I do if I think I have been injured by chiropractic manipulation?
A personal injury attorney can help recover compensation for victims of medical malpractice, including those who have experienced a chiropractic injury. Surviving loved ones can also pursue their case after a family member’s wrongful death.
An attorney will help you collect documents, photos and other items pertaining to your case – but staying organized early in the process will be helpful. Try to preserve important documents, such as:
- Photographs before and after treatment
- Medical records and medical bills
- Receipts, appointment confirmations and other paperwork from your chiropractor
There is a time limit to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, referred to as a statute of limitations…
Many people have pointed out that the US election was disappointing because, after Trump’s four years in office, people must have realised that he is a vile and dangerous president. Yet, a very large proportion of Americans voted for him. Some commentators even speak of a cult-like movement supporting Trump.
Many people have also pointed out that some forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) are irrational and even harmful. Yet, a sizable proportion of the population continue to use them. Some experts even speak of a cult-like movement supporting SCAM.
Why do so many people make irrational choices?
Are they all stupid?
I don’t think so!
The way I see it, a key here must be critical thinking. Critical thinking means making decisions and judgements based on (often confusing) evidence. According to the ‘National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking’ it is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analysing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
Critical thinking is not something one is born with; but most people can learn this skill. In one study, researchers measured the relationship between student’s religion, gender, and propensity for fantasy thinking with the change in belief for paranormal and pseudoscientific subjects following a science and critical thinking course. Following the course, overall beliefs in paranormal and pseudo-scientific subcategories were lower by 6.8–28.9%.
Though easily confused with intelligence, critical thinking has little to do with it. Critical thinking is a collection of cognitive skills that allow us to rationalise. Critical thinkers are flexible thinkers who require evidence to support their beliefs and recognize fallacious attempts to mislead them. Critical thinking is the skill of minimising cognitive biases.
If I am correct, those people who voted for Trump in the US (or similar politicians, such as Boris Johnson in the UK) and those consumers who spend their money on bogus SCAMs both are deficient in their ability to think critically. This does not mean that they are the same individuals. I merely suggest they have one characteristic in common.
It is crucial, I think, to realise that critical thinking can be improved with education. In the final analysis, disappointing results of any election in which (far too many) people voted for a dishonest, corrupt politician, and the disappointingly high usage of bogus SCAMs have, I believe, their roots in poor education. This means that, if we want to reduce the risk of the Trump disaster repeating itself, we need to invest effectively and generously in better educating our children (and adults). And if we want to minimise the risk of consumers wasting their money or damaging their health with bogus SCAMs, we need to make sure the public has a sufficient understanding of logic, reason, evidence and science.
As the world is waiting for the drawn-out process of vote-counting in the US to end, and as Trump has already declared himself to be the winner, it is easy to get emotional about the harm the current POTUS has done (and might do in future) to his country and the world. One comment I read this morning:
Christians have feared the arrival of the Anti-Christ for 2 000 years. And as soon as he appears, they vote for him.
I have to admit that I find it amazing that close to 50% of the US citizens, after observing Trump in action, are not wiser than to vote for him – amazing and frightening!
Yet, we must remain rational.
He might still be voted out!
To remind myself why I, as a scientist, find Donald Trump so deeply objectionable, I have collected a few of his quotes on science. I hope you see my point:
- Not only are wind farms disgusting looking, but even worse they are bad for people’s health
- Remember, new “environment friendly” lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful– the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.
- Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!
- The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
- So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. It sounds interesting…
- And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.
- People are surprised that I understand it [science]. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.
- Some say that and some say differently [global warming]. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.
- And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over.
- I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.
- What do I know about it? All I know is what’s on the internet
To this picture, we evidently have to add
NO UNDERSTANDING OF OR RESPECT FOR SCIENCE.
If you think that the papers published on SCAM for humans are bad, you should have a look at those in the veterinary sector. Take for instance this article from the AHVMA (American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association) Journal:
Evidence demonstrates that acupuncture and herbal medicine are useful and effective for the treatment of seizures. In the perspective of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM), seizures in dogs and cats can be classified into 6 patterns:
- Obstruction by WindPhlegm,
- Internal Profusion of Phlegm-Fire,
- Stagnation of Blood,
- Liver Blood Deficiency,
- Liver/Kidney Yin Deficiency,
- Yin Deficiency with Blood Deficiency.
This article focuses on how to differentiate and treat these patterns using herbal medicine and acupuncture. An overview of clinical trials is provided, and case examples are also included.
The authors from the ‘Equine Acupuncture Center/University of Florida, USA, concluded that the combination of TCVM and Western medicine (WM) can be an effective therapeutic approach to control seizures and epilepsy. WM is effective for initial control of severe seizures and in identification of the cause of the disease. TCVM can be effectively used for the treatment of milder cases and to help control seizures in those patients that fail to respond to WM.
Having done some research into acupuncture for animals myself, I was particularly interested in this aspect of the paper – interested and disappointed, I have to admit. The sad truth is that, despite the opimistic conclusions of the authors, there is no sound evidence. As no good evidence has emerged since, our own systematic review of 2006 (which was not cited by the authors of the above article) still holds true:
Acupuncture is a popular complementary treatment option in human medicine. Increasingly, owners also seek acupuncture for their animals. The aim of the systematic review reported here was to summarize and assess the clinical evidence for or against the effectiveness of acupuncture in veterinary medicine. Systematic searches were conducted on Medline, Embase, Amed, Cinahl, Japana Centra Revuo Medicina and Chikusan Bunken Kensaku. Hand-searches included conference proceedings, bibliographies, and contact with experts and veterinary acupuncture associations. There were no restrictions regarding the language of publication. All controlled clinical trials testing acupuncture in any condition of domestic animals were included. Studies using laboratory animals were excluded. Titles and abstracts of identified articles were read, and hard copies were obtained. Inclusion and exclusion of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers. Methodologic quality was evaluated by means of the Jadad score. Fourteen randomized controlled trials and 17 nonrandomized controlled trials met our criteria and were, therefore, included. The methodologic quality of these trials was variable but, on average, was low. For cutaneous pain and diarrhea, encouraging evidence exists that warrants further investigation in rigorous trials. Single studies reported some positive intergroup differences for spinal cord injury, Cushing’s syndrome, lung function, hepatitis, and rumen acidosis. These trials require independent replication. On the basis of the findings of this systematic review, there is no compelling evidence to recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals. Some encouraging data do exist that warrant further investigation in independent rigorous trials.
The AHVMA-article becomes wholly farcical, once we see the heading the AHVMA-journal has given it:
The AHVMA-journal is the official publication of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, according to their own statement, is the mindful leader elevating the veterinary professional through innovation, education, and advocacy of integrative medicine.
One stated objective of the AHVMA is to advance and educate in the science and art of holistic veterinary medicine. If their new ‘scientific review’ is anything to go by, they seem to have a most bizarre view about science. The question that occurred to me while reading the paper was this: are they not promoting animal abuse, a term defined as any use or treatment of animals that seems unnecessarily cruel, regardless of whether the act is against the law?