The German Heilpraktiker (HP), a non-medically trained practitioner of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), has repeatedly been the subject of my posts. In a nutshell: the profession was created by the Nazis and was originally destined to disappear within one generation. But this did not happen, and today there are ~100 000 HPs who are allowed to treat almost any condition without mandatory training or experience. Many HP schools exist but you can also become an HP without formal training.
Now a report has been published by undercover journalists investigating these HP schools in Germany. Here I have summarized a few crucial passages for you (if you read German, I strongly recommend reading the original article):
There are more than 150 HP schools in Germany. On average, training costs several thousand euros. There is no uniform and state regulation for the training. The curricula are mostly created by the schools themselves.
In addition to medical and psychological content, the schools often offer seminars that are not based on scientific knowledge. The curricula sometimes include courses such as astrology, homeopathy, or so-called quantum healing. HP organizations give indeed training guidelines. However, these are not met by about 83% of the schools.
The students were isolated at the HP school from their environment and urged to break off contact with their families. “Without us you are nothing. That came so often and I then, unfortunately, believed in it, because I was alone. If I had had no one else from school, then I would really have been completely alone,” explains a former student in an interview. “During that time, I also thought for the first time: Are we in some kind of cult here?
The school’s principal rejects the cult accusation: “We have been confronted with the allegation that we are a cult for some time and have always dealt with it very openly because we are not a cult. The principal also denies other accusations made by former students, saying that the allegations of suggestion, coercion, compulsion, or sweeping statements are simply false. He said he would be happy to face them “in a personal conversation outside the public eye to answer their questions.”
In order to get to the bottom of the treatment methods, the reporter also had herself treated by the principal of the school in an undercover self-experiment. In the first session, she determined that the reporter’s sciatica had been passed on to her by her mother, which is why she should sever her ties with her. In the second session, she recommended that she no longer visit her cancer-stricken grandfather. When the principal learned that the ill grandpa was of the zodiac sign Cancer, she concluded, “Cancer gets cancer.” The cancer, she said, was due to the fact that he had done nothing for his soul. And further, the patient runs the risk of adopting the grandfather’s cancer symptoms when she visits him.
The Hamburg health authority, which is listed as a “supervisory authority” on the school’s homepage, explains in response to an inquiry that no official supervision exists for HP schools. To obtain permission for opening a school, no training is necessary. Neither possible training courses nor institutions offering such training courses are regulated by the state.
The journalist also asked the Federal Health Ministry whether it sees the need for action and legal control. The Ministry’s response was evasive: “If necessary,” the HP law should be reformed in the future.
This is shocking news for many Germans who believe that HPs are well-trained healthcare professionals. However, those who have read my recently published book cannot be surprised. Poor training is only one of a myriad of deficits of HPs. It is time that the government realizes that the current is unacceptable and endangers public health. It is time, in other words, that the government does something about the HP profession.
How often do we hear that chiropractic is safe because numerous trials reported no adverse events? This systematic review tested whether there has been a change in the reporting of adverse events associated with spinal manipulation in randomized clinical trials (RCTs) since 2016.
Databases were searched from March 2016 to May 2022: MEDLINE (Ovid), Embase, CINAHL, ICL, PEDro, and Cochrane Library. Domains of interest (pertaining to adverse events) included: completeness and location of reporting; nomenclature and description; spinal location and practitioner delivering manipulation; methodological quality of the studies and details of the publishing journal. Frequencies and proportions of studies reporting on each of these domains were calculated. Univariable and multivariable logistic regression models were fitted to examine the effect of potential predictors on the likelihood of studies reporting on adverse events.
5399 records were identified by the electronic searches, of which 154 (2.9%) were included in the analysis. Of these, 94 (61.0%) reported adverse events with only 23.4% providing an explicit description of what constituted an adverse event. Reporting of adverse events in the abstract has increased (n=29, 30.9%) while reporting in the results section has decreased (n=83, 88.3%) over the past 6 years. Spinal manipulation was delivered to 7518 participants in the included studies. No serious adverse events were reported in any of these studies.
The authors concluded as follows: while the current level of reporting of adverse events associated with spinal manipulation in RCTs has increased since our 2016 publication on the same topic, the level remains low and inconsistent with established standards. As such, it is imperative for authors, journal editors and administrators of clinical trial registries to ensure there is more balanced reporting of both benefits and harms in RCTs involving spinal manipulation.
This article is clearly relevant to our discussions about adverse events after spinal manipulation. However, I find it far too uncritical. This might be due to the affiliations of some of the authors:
- Integrative Spinal Research Group, Department of Chiropractic Medicine, University Hospital Balgrist and University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
- Department of Chiropractic, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Human Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
Interestingly, the authors stated that they have no conflict of interest. Also interesting is the fact that they do not cite our paper from 2012. I, therefore, take the liberty of doing it:
Objective: To systematically review the reporting of adverse effects in clinical trials of chiropractic manipulation.
Data sources: Six databases were searched from 2000 to July 2011. Randomised clinical trials (RCTs) were considered, if they tested chiropractic manipulations against any control intervention in human patients suffering from any type of clinical condition. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers.
Results: Sixty RCTs had been published. 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. Conflicts of interests were not mentioned by the majority of authors.
Conclusions: Adverse effects are poorly reported in recent RCTs of chiropractic manipulations.
In percentage terms the results are similar. What is very different is that the authors of the new paper merely lament that the level remains low and inconsistent with established standards, while we make it clear in the abstract that adverse effect reporting is poor and in the paper identify this deficit as a violation against research ethics and thus as a form of scientific misconduct.
In view of all this, let me re-phrase the last sentence of the authors’ conclusion:
it is imperative for authors, journal editors, and administrators of clinical trial registries to ensure that researchers adhere to accepted ethical standards and that scientific misconduct no longer gets published.
Following the death from cancer of a 14-year-old Carinthian girl, the Klagenfurt public prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation against the girl’s parents. In February this year, the 14-year-old was taken to a hospital in Graz, Austria, where she died a few days later from cancer. The hospital filed charges because the tumor had been treated incorrectly with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).
Investigations are underway on suspicion of torturing or neglecting underage, younger, or defenseless persons. Currently, the accused and witnesses are being questioned. The parents’ lawyer, Alexander Todor-Kostic, stated that the accusations were without any basis and claimed that the 14-year-old girl had decided of her own free will against being treated with chemotherapy and surgery. The parents respected this, allowed her alternative treatment methods, and acted in accordance with the applicable legal situation.
The girl had developed cancer the previous year that was not detected. Instead of seeing conventional oncologists for a reliable diagnosis and effective treatments, the parents consulted private doctors. Instead of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, the girl had deliberately chosen “alternative treatments” herself, the lawyer stressed.
Even though the case has been reported in several Austrian papers, I did not succeed in finding further details about it. In particular, it is unclear what type of cancer the girl had been suffering from and what type of SCAMs she received.
The Austrian skeptic Christian Kreil commented: “Sugar pills in the pharmacies, homeopathic advanced training for doctors, a proliferation of energetics offering every conceivable bullshit … the dead girl is the logical result of this esoteric foolishness covered by politics and chambers.”
I am afraid that he might have a point here: as we have discussed repeatedly on this blog, Austria is currently particularly prone to misinformation about SCAM. Here are a few examples of previous blog posts on this subject:
- Austrian osteopaths seem to violate legal, ethical and moral rules and conventions
- An open letter to the President of the Austrian Medical Association aims to stop medical quackery
- Has the ‘Vienna Medical Association’ taken leave of its senses?
- When politicians become snake-oil salesmen
- Michael Frass’ research into homeopathy for cancer: “numerous breaches of scientific integrity”
- A well-known opponent of vaccination has died of COVID after self-treatment with MMS
- The case of a boy tortured to death with homeopathy
- A truly perplexing homeopath – is it time for an official investigation?
Misinformation about SCAM can be lethal. This is one of the reasons why responsible information is so very important.
Seventeen years after S.K. lost his thyroid gland to cancer, he was promised a miracle by Kyung Chun Oh, an acupuncturist based in the Toronto area: acupuncture could regrow the vital organ. Oh told his patient it would only work if S.K. stopped the thyroid medication he’d been on since his surgery in 2003.
Within just a few months the patient had to be admitted to hospital with a life-threatening case of hypothyroidism. His thyroid had not regenerated. “It was fortunate that the patient did not die,” a college panel wrote in a disciplinary decision, suspending Oh’s license for 12 months. “Telling the patient that he should not take his thyroid medication was irresponsible and had disastrous repercussions.”
The panel found that Oh had engaged in professional misconduct in multiple ways:
- he had provided unnecessary treatment,
- he had failed to advise his patient to consult a medical doctor when he learned that S.K. was suffering
from symptoms that he knew or ought to have known indicated an urgent medical problem,
- he had treated a condition that he ought to have known that he did not have the knowledge, skills, or judgment to treat,
- he had failed to keep records in accordance with the standards of the profession,
- he had falsified a record relating to his practice,
- he had made a claim about a treatment that could not be supported by reasonable professional opinion (the claim that acupuncture combined with cessation of thyroid medicine could regrow a surgically removed thyroid gland, and the claim that S.K.’s thyroid gland was regrowing).
This is clearly an extreme incidence of misconduct and one would hope that such cases occur only rarely. But looking at the points listed above, I get the feeling that similar yet less severe cases of misconduct happen regularly in the practices of SCAM practitioners:
- most so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) treatments are unnecessary,
- SCAM practitioners refer patients only rarely to doctors,
- SCAM practitioners often treat conditions that they fail to understand adequately,
- SCAM practitioners frequently make unreasonable claims.
Infant colic is a sensitive subject for chiropractors in the UK. In case you forgot, here is why. Consequently, the subject has featured regularly on this blog – and now there is new evidence:
A systematic review and meta-analysis were conducted on infantile colic studies that used SO-CALLED alternative medicine (SCAM) techniques as interventions. The outcome measures were hours spent crying and/or sleeping. The authors used the PubMed, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Cochrane Library, Embase, Web of Science, Scopus, Osteopathic Medicine Digital Database, and Google Scholar databases from inception to 11 November 2022.
The methodological quality of the randomized control trials ranged from fair to high. The authors focused on five studies with 422 babies using the following interventions: cranial, visceral, or structural osteopathy or chiropractic manipulation or mobilization. These treatments failed to decrease the crying time (mean difference -1.08, 95% CI -2.17 to 0.01, I2 = 92%) and to increase the sleeping time (mean difference 1.11, 95% CI -0.20 to 2.41; I2: 91%), compared with no intervention. The quality of the evidence was rated as very low for both outcome measures.The authors concluded that osteopathy and chiropractic treatment failed to reduce the crying time and increase sleeping time in babies with infantile colic, compared to no additional intervention.The 5 included studies were the following:
- Miller JE, Newell D, Bolton JE. Efficacy of chiropractic manual therapy on infant colic: A pragmatic single-blind, randomized controlled trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2012;35(8):600–7.
- Castejón-Castejón M, Murcia-González MA, Todri J, Lena O, Chillón-Martínez R. Treatment of infant colic with craniosacral therapy. A randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2022;71(February 2021).
- Olafsdottir E, Forshei S, Fluge G, Markestad T. Randomised controlled trial of infantile colic treated with chiropractic spinal manipulation. Arch Dis Child. 2001;84(2):138–41.
- Holm LV, Jarbøl DE, Christensen HW, Søndergaard J, Hestbæk L. The effect of chiropractic care on infantile colic: results from a single-blind randomised controlled trial. Chiropr Man Ther. 2021;29(1):1–11.
- Hayden C, Mullinger B. A preliminary assessment of the impact of cranial osteopathy for the relief of infantile colic. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2006;12(2):83–90.
This means that, in recent years, several new studies have emerged. I find this surprising: there is no plausible mechanism of action and the previous reviews were negative.
Why flog a dead horse?
But – come to think of it – this is a question one might ask about most of the research into cranial, visceral, or structural osteopathy or chiropractic manipulation or mobilization.
According to a German court ruling, the homeopathic remedy Meditonsin for colds may no longer be advertised with certain statements. The Higher Regional Court in Hamm, Germany made it clear that it shares the opinion of the Regional Court in Dortmund, which had sentenced the marketing company to desist from making statements such as “rapid and reliable reduction of the intensity of the typical cold symptoms”. Such statements falsely generate the impression that therapeutic success can be expected with certainty. The court made it clear that the company’s appeal against the previous ruling was unlikely to be successful. The company subsequently withdrew its appeal today – and the judgment is now legally binding.
The lawsuit filed by a consumer organization was thus successful. It had criticized several statements as unfair and inadmissible advertising. The Dortmund court shared this view in September 2022 – and according to the spokesman, the Higher Regional Court in Hamm now followed the argumentation of the lower court.
The statements that
- “good efficacy and tolerability were once again impressively confirmed by a pharmacy-based observational study”,
- and “all cold complaints showed a clear improvement in the course of the disease”,
were deemed to be misleading advertising. They must therefore be omitted, the ruling stated.
Meditonsin is currently being advertised as follows:
For support of the immune system at the first signs of a cold to help the body build up the defense against pathogens effectively.
In addition, conditions are made more difficult for the intruders – through an effective medicine: the well-known Meditonsin® supports your defenses and naturally fights the onset of inflammation of the ears, nose and throat with pure homeopathic ingredients.
If applied early and correctly, Meditonsin® helps to ensure that the typical unpleasant symptoms have no chance to develop. Because Meditonsin® is particularly well tolerated and protects the organism, it is for both adults and children alike – a family medicine in the best sense.
Meditonsin contains two homeopathic ingredients in the D5 and one in the D8 dilution. To the best of my knowledge, there is no sound evidence that the remedy is effective for anything.
Low back pain is the leading cause of years lived with disability globally, but most interventions have only short-lasting, small to moderate effects. Cognitive functional therapy (CFT) is an individualized approach that targets unhelpful pain-related cognitions, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to pain and disability. Movement sensor biofeedback might enhance treatment effects.
This study aimed to compare the effectiveness and economic efficiency of CFT, delivered with or without movement sensor biofeedback, with usual care for patients with chronic, disabling low back pain.
RESTORE was a randomized, three-arm, parallel-group, phase 3 trial, done in 20 primary care physiotherapy clinics in Australia. The researchers recruited adults (aged ≥18 years) with low back pain lasting more than 3 months with at least moderate pain-related physical activity limitation. Exclusion criteria were serious spinal pathology (eg, fracture, infection, or cancer), any medical condition that prevented being physically active, being pregnant or having given birth within the previous 3 months, inadequate English literacy for the study’s questionnaires and instructions, a skin allergy to hypoallergenic tape adhesives, surgery scheduled within 3 months, or an unwillingness to travel to trial sites. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1:1) via a centralized adaptive schedule to
- usual care,
- CFT only,
- CFT plus biofeedback.
The primary clinical outcome was activity limitation at 13 weeks, self-reported by participants using the 24-point Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire. The primary economic outcome was quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs). Participants in both interventions received up to seven treatment sessions over 12 weeks plus a booster session at 26 weeks. Physiotherapists and patients were not masked.
Between Oct 23, 2018, and Aug 3, 2020, the researchers assessed 1011 patients for eligibility. After excluding 519 (51·3%) ineligible patients, they randomly assigned 492 (48·7%) participants; 164 (33%) to CFT only, 163 (33%) to CFT plus biofeedback, and 165 (34%) to usual care. Both interventions were more effective than usual care (CFT only mean difference –4·6 [95% CI –5·9 to –3·4] and CFT plus biofeedback mean difference –4·6 [–5·8 to –3·3]) for activity limitation at 13 weeks (primary endpoint). Effect sizes were similar at 52 weeks. Both interventions were also more effective than usual care for QALYs, and much less costly in terms of societal costs (direct and indirect costs and productivity losses; –AU$5276 [–10 529 to –24) and –8211 (–12 923 to –3500).
The authors concluded that CFT can produce large and sustained improvements for people with chronic disabling low back pain at considerably lower societal cost than that of usual care.
This is a well-designed and well-reported study. It shows that CFT is better than usual care. The effect sizes are not huge and seem similar to many other treatments for chronic LBP, including the numerous so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) options that are available.
Faced with a situation where we have virtually dozens of therapies of similar effectiveness, what should we recommend to patients? I think this question is best and most ethically answered by accounting for two other important determinants of usefulness:
CFT is both low in risk and cost. So is therapeutic exercise. We would therefore need a direct comparison of the two to decide which is the optimal approach.
Until we have such a study, patients might just opt for one or both of them. What seems clear, meanwhile, is this: SCAM does not offer the best solution to chronic LBP. In particular, chiropractic, osteopathy, or acupuncture – which are neither low-cost nor risk-free – are, contrary to what some try so very hard to convince us of, sensible options.
It is not only practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) who can be fraudulent charlatans. The study of medicine does not protect you from joining in. Here is an impressive case in point:
It has been reported that a former doctor convicted of fraudulently submitting nearly $120 million in claims related to the 1-800-GET-THIN Lap-Band surgery business has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison.
Julian Omidi, 58, of West Hollywood was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee. The judge also imposed a five-year probation period on Surgery Center Management LLC, an Omidi-controlled Beverly Hills-based company. In the coming weeks, Gee is expected to hold a separate hearing to decide on restitution and forfeiture in the case, along with setting a fine for the Beverly Hills company.
“Mr. Omidi made millions at the expense of the multiple victim companies he defrauded, and he violated his oath to ‘do no harm’ by callously misleading patients about the need for a sleep study and subsequent weight loss surgery,” said Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
Omidi controlled several entities in the GET-THIN network. Prosecutors say Omidi incentivized employees to ensure patients underwent sleep studies and then falsified the results to show that patients had obstructive sleep apnea to help them qualify for insurance coverage for the weight loss surgery. Those results were then filed with insurance companies to pre-approve the Lap-Band weight-loss surgeries. The 1-800-GET-THIN business received approximately $41 million for those procedures, according to prosecutors. While not all patients were approved to receive the surgery, prosecutors say GET-THIN would bill the patient roughly $15,000 for each sleep study, totaling $27 million in payments from insurance providers.
Omidi and his Beverly Hills-based company, Surgery Center Management, were found guilty of 28 counts of wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Omidi was also found guilty of two counts of making false statements relating to healthcare matters, one count of aggravated identity theft, and two counts of money laundering after a 48-day trial in downtown Los Angeles.
“As found by the jury, the defendant Julian Omidi deliberately and repeatedly acted with an eye towards business and profits, rather than in the interest of GET-THIN’s medical patients, by inducing patients to undergo medical treatment premised on fraud rather than medical necessity, including surgeries that carry significant risks and life-long health impacts,” said U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada. A series of Los Angeles Times columns from 2010 to 2014 detailed how five patients died after they received Lap-Band surgeries at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN. During a 2009 inspection, the Department of Health and Human Services found unsanitary conditions, inoperative scrub sinks, one-time-only equipment being reused, and several other deficiencies. The inspector shut down the clinic for a day, but further action was not taken at the time.
Omidi’s medical license was revoked in 2009, and he was arrested. In 2014, federal agencies seized more than $110 million from the 1-800-GET-THIN network in securities and funds.
This is a spectacular case, of course. Yet, I fail to see how it differs in principle from the many instances we see on a daily basis in the realm of SCAM. Let me give you just a few examples:
- A chiropractor diagnoses subluxation and subsequently treats his patient with a series of spinal manipulations.
- A naturopath uses iridology to diagnose a weakness of the liver and subsequently treats it with herbal remedies.
- An acupuncturist diagnoses a blockage of chi and follows it up with a series of acupuncture sessions.
- A Heilpraktiker employs bioresonance to diagnose an intoxication which he then treats with a detox program.
The strategy is always the same:
- Charlatans use bogus diagnostic methods.
- They make bogus diagnoses with them.
- They then start expensive and often dangerous treatments.
- They make good money by defrauding the system.
Could someone please explain what the difference in principle is between the case of the fraudulent surgeon and the average SCAM practitioner?
The Charité in Berlin is a medical school with considerable tradition and reputation. It, therefore, seems a little baffling that this institution agreed to the creation of a professorship in anthroposophical medicine, a branch of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that is not only highly implausible but also not supported by sound clinical evidence of doing more good than harm.
The TAZ (a well-known and usually reliable German news outlet) has looked into this issue and just published a report of which I translated the main passages (the additions in brackets were added by me):
In December 2010, after a discussion, the Software AG (an anthroposophical Foundation) offered to finance an anthroposophical professorship at the Charité, according to documents available to the taz. The foundation writes on its website that it wants to use its money to advance the “academization of anthroposophic medicine.” A professorship at a famous institution like the Charité seems like a major prize. The Charité is offered the prospect of 250,000 euros per year.
Investing this money is apparently so important to the Foundation that it spends five years courting the Charité for the professorship. When things don’t go fast enough for them, the project manager writes sharp emails to the Charité administration in December 2016: they are “quite irritated and correspondingly annoyed.” They would be happy “if this never-ending story can finally find a positive conclusion.”
The Foundation apparently has already had an idea of who could take up this professorship early on – although professorships are not actually allowed to be advertised “ad personam,” i.e., tailored to a person. In May 2012, it proposes to include the anthroposophical Havelhöhe Hospital in Berlin (we reported about this place before). It would make a clinical area available for this purpose. There had apparently already been an exchange of views on this.
The contract for the “establishment of a temporary W2 endowed professorship for five years” is dated April 15, 2015. It also states that Charité must indicate that the professorship is funded by the Software AG Foundation. Which it then fails to do.
At this point, the professorship has already been publicly advertised. Very specific requirements are formulated in the advertisement: Among other things, expertise in gastroenterology and oncology is desired, as well as research interest in chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. These happen to be the specializations that the medical director of Havelhöhe Hospital has to show: Harald Matthes (we have met him before on this blog).
Matthes lands as “primo et unico loco” on the appointment list, i.e. as the first-ranked and only candidate. Whether anyone else has applied for the professorship at all, the Charité does not want to answer. Normally, there are three people on an appointment list, unless the requirements for the professorship are too niche. When the Faculty Council votes on filling the professorship, it has to take two ballots because the necessary majority is not reached in the first vote. In March 2017, Matthes is finally appointed professor at the Charité. For proponents of anthroposophic medicine, this has historic significance: “It is tantamount to a knighthood for anthroposophic medicine,” says a chronology of the umbrella organization.
Before his appointment, Harald Matthes negotiated a special request: He wants to remain chief physician in Havelhöhe, which is why he formally took a five-year leave of absence on the first day of his professorial career at Charité. This concept is called the “Jülich Model”. Harald Matthes is not the first to exercise his professorship in this way. It is unusual, however, to cooperate with a private hospital; normally, cooperation is arranged with other research institutions.
Matthes’ employer, Havelhöhe Hospital, also benefits financially from the deal. The Charité transfers a large part of the foundation’s money to Havelhöhe – the documents mention an amount equivalent to a W2 salary. In a letter, the dean of the Charité at the time, Axel Radlach Pries, called Matthes’ wishes “unusual and going beyond previous models of endowed professorships at the Charité.”
Also unusual is that Harald Matthes does not teach any courses at Charité, according to the internal course catalog, even though the contract available to taz specifies nine semester hours of teaching per week. In the Jülich model, two hours of teaching per week are the rule.
So Harald Matthes is the big winner in this: He gets a professorial title without many obligations, while at the same time, money flows to his hospital.
But what does the Charité get out of it? The contract for the establishment of the professorship states that new aspects will thus flow into research, teaching, and patient care. Matthes himself says he is convinced that he is contributing to the scientific progress of the institution. Before his professorship expires after five years, he will ask for an extension in August 2021. “I would like to point out that my work and results in research, teaching, and clinical care have led to international recognition and contributed to the reputation of Charité,” he writes. At the time, he is working on the so-called ImpfSurv study, for which people are asked about possible side effects from the Corona vaccine using an online questionnaire. He gets a lot of media attention for it.
In April 2022, for example, Matthes appears on MDR television, his name superimposed under “Charité Berlin.” He presents the interim results of his study: the serious side effects are much more frequent than the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for vaccines, would indicate. Only: This cannot be said at all.
The study has methodological flaws, the Charité distances itself from the statements of its professor. People had participated twice in the survey, and it was not scientific to conclude that there was a connection between symptoms and vaccination without the assessment of a doctor. The study is discontinued.
Before that, when the study was still running, the evaluation commission met several times to discuss the extension of the endowed professorship. In doing so, it “thoroughly reviewed all of Prof. Matthes’ achievements.” What exactly the commission recorded is not known. The document released to the taz is extensively redacted.
What is certain is this: In February 2022, the commission votes for the extension for another five years. Anthroposophy may keep its professorship at the Berlin Charité until at least 2027. The anthroposophical foundation now transfers 293,000 euros per year for this.
I found this acupuncture study from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Sciences, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Rome, Italy. As this seems to be a respectable institution, I had a look. What I found was remarkable! Let me show you the abstract in its full beauty:
Background: Pain related to Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) is severe, negatively affecting patients’ quality of life, and often resistant to conventional treatments. Abdominal Acupuncture (AA) is known to be particularly effective for pain, especially chronic and musculoskeletal pain, but it is still poorly studied and never investigated in TMD patients. Objectives: To analyze the efficacy of AA for the treatment of patients with subacute and chronic pain related to TMD and non-responding to previous conventional therapies (occlusal splint, medications, physical therapy).
Methods: Twenty-eight patients, 24 F and four M (mean age 49.36 years), were recruited from January 2019-February 2021. All patients underwent AA treatment: two sessions per week for four weeks, for a total of eight sessions. At the beginning of therapy (T0) and at the end of the cycle (T1) the following data were evaluated: maximum mouth opening (MMO); cranio-facial pain related to TMD (verbal numeric scale, VNS); pain interference with normal activities and quality of life of patients (Brief Pain Inventory, BPI); oral functioning (Oral Behavior Checklist, OBC); impression of treatment effectiveness (Patients’ Global Impression of Improvement, PGI-I Scale). Statistical comparison of data before and after the AA treatment was performed by Wilcoxon’s signed-rank test (significance level p < 0.05).
Results: The MMO values were significantly improved after one cycle of AA (p = 0.0002). In addition, TMD-related pain had a statistically significant decline following AA treatment (all p < 0.001). Patients’ general activity and quality of life (BPI) were described as improved following a course of AA, with statistically significant values for all aspects considered (all p < 0.05).
Conclusion: Abdominal acupuncture resulted in effective treatment of subacute/chronic resistant pain related to TMD, capable of improving mandibular function and facial pain, and reduced the interference of pain affecting patients’ quality of life.
This study did not include a control group. Such uncontrolled studies are not necessarily useless. In areas where there is no prior evidence, they can be a reasonable starting point for further research. In the case of TMD/acupuncture, however, this does not imply. Here we already have about a dozen controlled trials. This means an uncontrolled study cannot possibly contribute to our knowledge. This means that the present study is useless. And that, in turn, means it is unethical.
But even if we ignore all this, the study is very misleading. It concludes that acupuncture improved TMD. This, however, can be doubted!
- What about placebo?
- What about regression toward the mean?
- What about the natural history of the condition?
Bad science is regrettable and dangerous, as it
- wastes resources,
- misleads vulnerable patients,
- violates ethics,
- and undermines trust in science.
I fear that the Italian group has just provided us with a prime example of these points.