The French ‘National Assembly’ has yesterday adopted a major law aimed at reinforcing the prevention and combat against sectarian aberrations in France. This marks a significant step forward in strengthening the protection of citizens against abuse and manipulation by charlatans, gurus and other sectarian movements.
This bill, the result of particularly fruitful work and debate in both chambers, reflects the Government’s commitment to meeting the expectations of the victims of these sectarian movements.
Some of the key measures voted through by parliamentarians include:
- The enshrinement in law of the powers of MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat against Sectarian Aberrations);
- The reinforcement of the penal response with the creation of the offence of placing or maintaining in a state of psychological or physical subjection;
- The creation of an offence of incitement to abandon or refrain from treatment, or to adopt practices which clearly expose the person concerned to a serious health risk;
- Support for victims, with the extension of the categories of associations that can bring civil action;
- Information for the judiciary, with the introduction of an “amicus curiae” role for certain government departments in legal cases relating to cults.
Despite sometimes heated debates, particularly around article 4, fuelled by the opinion of the Conseil d’Etat, the adoption of this law by the National Assembly bears witness to a shared desire to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals while providing better protection for our fellow citizens against sectarian aberrations.
This bill is part of a multi-annual national strategy for 2023-2027 resulting from the conference on sectarian aberrations held in spring 2023. It is a major step towards strengthening the penal arsenal and protecting victims.
Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, Secretary of State for Citizenship and Urban Affairs, commented:
“Long-awaited by victim support associations, this text aims to strengthen our legal arsenal in the fight against sectarian aberrations. I’m delighted that all the articles have been adopted, particularly Article 4, which creates an offence of incitement to abandon or abstain from treatment. There have been some passionate debates in the Chamber, but I’d like to reiterate the basis of this bill: the State is not fighting against beliefs, opinions or religions, but against all forms of sectarian aberrations, these dangerous behaviors which represent a threat to our social cohesion and put lives at risk.”
Obviously, we shall have to see how the new law will be applied. But, in any case, it is an important step into the right direction and could put an end to much of so-called alternative medicine that endangers the health of French consumers.
Other nations should consicer following the Franch example.
Jean-Maurice Latsague (85 years old) has a track record of sexual assaults. Recently, he stood trial before the Sarthe Assize Court from 13 to 15 December for rapes committed during healing sessions. He has worked as an energy healer for many years, and it was in this capacity that he came into conflict with the law nearly 30 years ago.
- In 1994, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for the rape and indecent assault of minors that he had committed in the Dordogne.
- In February 2023, he settled in Sarthe after his release from prison and was again convicted for sexual assaults.
- Now we’re talking about crimes again, with an accusation of rape against two women.
During the first few hours of the current trial, Jean-Maurice Latsague listened to the proceedings, bent over on his cane. He explained that he had asked his patients to strip naked because “healing energy doesn’t pass through tissue”.
The healing sessions seemed to always follow the same routine:
- They begin with discussions.
- This is followed by prayers.
- Subsequently, Jean-Maurice Latsague asks his victims to strip naked.
- Then he administeres massages with oil.
- Finally, he rapes his victim.
On the second day of the proceedings, one of the victims chose to bring a civil action. She is one of three other women attacked by Jean-Maurice Latsague (apart from a mother and daughter who gave evidence before), but who had not lodged a complaint at the time of the investigation.
New testimony sheds light on the healer’s practices, in a much more sordid and perverse way. “He would masturbate in front of me to stimulate ovulation,” said a victim who took the witness stand and was undergoing treatment for infertility.
At the end of a three-day trial, the Sarthe Assize Court found Jean-Maurice Latsague guilty of repeated rape and sexual assault committed by a person abusing the authority conferred by his position.
He was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment.
Mushrooms are somewhat neglected in medical research, I often feel. This systematic review focused on clinical studies testing the effectiveness of mushrooms in cancer care. A total of 39 met the authors’ inclusion criteria. The studies included 12 different mushroom preparations. Some of the findings were encouraging:
- A survival benefit was reported using Huaier granules (Trametes robiniophila Murr) in 2 hepatocellular carcinoma studies and 1 breast cancer study.
- A survival benefit was also found in 4 gastric cancer studies using polysaccharide-K (polysaccharide-Kureha; PSK) as an adjuvant therapy.
- Eleven studies reported a positive immunological response.
- Quality-of-life (QoL) improvement and/or reduced symptom burden was reported in 14 studies using various mushroom supplements.
- Most studies reported adverse effects of grade 2 or lower, mainly nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle pain.
The authors caution that limitations included small sample size and not using randomized controlled trial design. Many of the reviewed studies were observational. Most showed favorable effects of mushroom supplements in reducing the toxicity of chemotherapy, improving QoL, favorable cytokine response, and possibly better clinical outcomes.
The authors concluded that the evidence is inconclusive to recommend the routine use of mushrooms for cancer patients. More trials are needed to explore mushroom use during and after cancer treatment.
The use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes has a long history in many cultures. Some mushrooms are known to be highly poisonous, some have hallucinogenic effects, and some are assumed to have pharmacological effects that have therapeutic potential. Some mushrooms possess pharmacologic properties such as anti-tumour, immunomodulating, antioxidant, cardiovascular, anti-hypercholesterolemic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, detoxification, hepatoprotective, and anti-diabetic effects.
Many modern medicines were derived from fungi. The best-known example is penicillin; others include several cancer drugs, statins and immunosuppressants. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, numerous herbal mixtures contain mushrooms; examples are reishi, maitake and shiitake which are all assumed to have anti-cancer properties.
As the review authors point out, there is a paucity of clinical trials testing the effectiveness of mushrooms, and the existing studies tend to be of poor quality. At present, most of our knowledge comes from traditional use or test-tube studies. The adverse effects depend on the specific mushroom in question and, can in some instances, be serious.
Considering the potential and the complexity of mycomedicine, I find it surprising to not see much more research into this subject.
Here we go, enjoy!
Guest post by Richard Rawlins,
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and member of the Magic Circle.
Aka Professor Riccardo, Consultant Charlatan and Specialist in the Care of the Gullible.
Many readers of this blog will be delighted that in September 2024, the University of Exeter will offer a degree in ‘magic’. An MA in ‘Magic and Occult Science’ has been created following a “recent surge in interest in magic”, the course leader said. Exeter University officials advise the course will offer “an opportunity to study the history and impact of witchcraft and magic around the world on society and science”. And they should know.
Exeter was the first (and so far, only) university to establish a department to conduct coherent research into ‘complementary and alternative medicine’. No plausible evidence was found to support any of the many ‘therapies’ investigated in Exeter, but publication of this research was particularly disagreeable to the Fellow of the Royal Society who was patron of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health. The department was closed, with the dismissal of the eminent professor who wrote to the Times “the majority of alternative therapies appear to be clinically ineffective, and many are downright dangerous.”
Today, the university says its planned course is “one of the only postgraduate courses of its kind in the UK to combine the study of the history of magic with such a wide range of subjects taught by academics with expertise in history, literature, philosophy, archaeology, sociology, psychology, drama, and religion.” It is expected “to show the role of magic on the West and the East.”
The course leader Prof Emily Selove, claimed “A recent surge in interest in magic and the occult inside and outside of academia lies at the heart of the most urgent questions of our society.” Here the professor is using hyperbole which is also common amongst the camists who promote so-called ‘complementary and alternative medicine’.
‘Modern magic’ is found in two dimensions: the skills of deceit, deception and delusion created by such as Paul Daniels, Tommy Cooper, Luke Jermay, and Derren Brown, and used for entertainment; and the esoteric philosophical domain which this course will consider – and which is often spelt ‘Magick’. This spelling was introduced by Aleister Crowley to afford some differentiation, though context usually makes it clear whether a double lift and Elmsley count is being discussed, or metaphysics. Crowley was largely associated with other founders of ‘religions’ such as Wicca’s Gerald Gardner and Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard. A six-letter word has special significance for many occultists.
The study of religions and the sociology of the occult are worthy objectives of an academic department, but Emily Selove (an aptronym surely), not only uses hyperbole, but personal predilection to establish that “decolonisation, the exploration of alternative epistemologies, feminism and anti-racism are at the core of this programme.” She ventures even further off piste when declaring “this MA will allow people to re-examine the assumption that the West is the place of rationalism and science, while the rest of the world is a place of magic and superstition.”
Assumptions indeed, which Prof Selove has conjured for herself. Speculative opinion with no evidence whatsoever, and seemingly oblivious of the fact that all reputable Western scholars throughout history have been aware of science’s development in the ‘rest of the world’, albeit slowly. Astronomy, gunpowder, papermaking, the use of zero as a number, Musa al-Khwarizmi’s Al-jabr, every branch of science imaginable. There is no ‘Western science’, just ‘science’. (Latin: scientia, knowledge, understanding.)
Interestingly, the course on Magic will be offered in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. The university said the course “could prepare students for careers in teaching, counselling, mentoring, heritage and museum work, work in libraries, tourism, arts organisations or the publishing industry, among other areas of work.” Given students will be able to choose modules on ‘Dragons in western literature and art’, ‘the legend of King Arthur’, and the ‘depiction of women in the Middle Ages’, they should have satisfying careers ahead.
Good luck, and may the Wu be with them all (Chinese, wu: nothingness.)
The ‘Miami Herald’ reported that a father and his three sons were convicted of selling a toxic bleach solution as a “miracle” cure through a fake online Florida church.
” The sentencing hearing in Miami federal court took an unusual turn when the father, Mark Grenon, told the judge that he was actually the victim. He argued that his 1,152 days in custody amounted to “kidnapping” and the U.S. government should compensate him $5.76 million for being “held unlawfully.” “Yes or no?” Grenon, 66, asked U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga. “That’s a nonsensical question,” Altonaga told Grenon. “I won’t answer that.”
In short order, Altonaga sentenced the father to five years in prison, fined him $5,000 and ordered him to pay $1,948 in restitution to victims of the Bradenton family’s scheme of selling “Mineral Miracle Solution” to thousands of consumers across the country. The judge also sentenced one of his sons, Joseph Grenon, 36, to five years, with no fine, but imposed the same restitution order.
When the four family members were charged in 2020, the father and Joseph Grenon were hiding in Colombia, according to federal authorities. The U.S. government sought their extradition. The Bogota government turned them over on the condition that they would only be charged with a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, which limited their punishment to a maximum of five years. Separate contempt of court charges were dismissed against them before trial.
The father’s other two sons were not as lucky to catch that break. The judge sentenced Jonathan Grenon, 37, and Jordan Grenon, 29, to more than 12 years in prison because they were convicted of the main conspiracy charge and a pair of contempt charges stemming from their violation of court orders to stop selling the dangerous mineral solution to the public. Jonathan was not fined, but his brother Jordan was ordered to pay $2,500. Both were also ordered to pay the same restitution as the other family members.
The Grenons represented themselves at their trial and sentencing hearing, though court-appointed defense attorneys were on standby if required. At Friday’s hearing, the Grenons did not allow those lawyers to speak on their behalf. At trial and during sentencing, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office portrayed the four defendants as con men who used a phony religious front on a website, the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, to sell $1 million worth of their “Miracle Mineral Solution” in video pitches as a cure for 95% of the world’s known diseases, from AIDS to the coronavirus. They called it a “scam for money.” “The defendants preyed on many vulnerable populations,” including children with autism, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Homer said Friday. He told the judge that the Grenon family members have never shown any remorse for their crime.
At the sentencing hearing, the four defendants invoked their faith in God and Jesus repeatedly, saying they did not “consent” to the judicial proceedings and should be released after spending about three years in custody in both the United States and Colombia.
In public warnings, the FDA said it received several reports of hospitalizations and life-threatening conditions as people drank the dangerous substance. MMS is a chemical solution containing sodium chlorite that, when mixed with water and a citric acid “activator,” turns into chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleach typically used for industrial water treatment or bleaching textiles, pulp and paper.
We have discussed MMS, bleach, the fraudsters who sell this stuff, the organizations behind them, and their victims repeatedly. e.g.:
- Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) = potentially lethal
- A well-known opponent of vaccination has died of COVID after self-treatment with MMS
- MMS-salesman Andreas Kalcker has been arrested in Argentina
- Selling bleach solution as ‘miracle’ cure? No, it’s a dangerous ‘snake oil’!
- The death of a 14-year old cancer patient treated with SCAM
- Beware of the ‘Bleach Boys’ – hydrogen peroxide and chlorine dioxide
I feel that the world is a safer place, now that these charlatans are finally behind bars.
So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is widely used in Saudi Arabia. One of the common practices is the use of camel urine alone or mixed with camel milk for the treatment of cancer, which is often supported by religious beliefs.
This study observed cancer patients who insisted on using camel urine, and to offer some clinically relevant recommendations. The authors observed 20 cancer patients (15 male, 5 female) from September 2020 to January 2022 who insisted on using camel urine for treatment. They documented the demographics of each patient, the method of administering the urine, reasons for refusing conventional treatment, period of follow-up, and the outcome and side effects.
All the patients had radiological investigations before and after their treatment with camel urine. All of them used a combination of camel urine and camel milk, and their treatment ranged from a few days to 6 months. They consumed an average of 60 ml urine/milk per day. No clinical benefit was observed after the treatment; 2 patients developed brucellosis. Eleven patients changed their mind and accepted conventional antineoplastic treatment and 7 were too weak to receive further treatment; they died from the disease.
The authors concluded that camel urine had no clinical benefits for any of the cancer patients, it may even have caused zoonotic infection. The promotion of camel urine as a traditional medicine should be stopped because there is no scientific evidence to support it.
If you suspected that this was a hoax, you were wrong!
Here is a recent paper on the ‘therapeutic potentials of camel urine’:
Camel urine has traditionally been used to treat multiple human diseases and possesses the most beneficial effects amongst the urine of other animals. However, scientific review evaluating the anticancer, antiplatelet, gastroprotective and hepatoprotective effects of camel urine is still scarce. Thus, this scoping review aimed to provide scientific evidence on the therapeutic potentials of camel urine. Three databases were searched to identify relevant articles (Web of Science, PubMed and Scopus) up to September 2020. Original articles published in English that investigated the effects of camel urine in various diseases were included. The literature search identified six potential articles that met all the inclusion criteria. Three articles showed that camel urine possesses cytotoxic activities against different types of cancer cells. Two studies revealed camel urine’s protective effects against liver toxicity and gastric ulcers, whilst another study showed the role of camel urine as an antiplatelet agent. All studies demonstrated significant positive effects with different effective dosages. Thus, camel urine shows promising therapeutic potential in treating human diseases, especially cancer. However, the standardised dosage and potential side effects should be determined before camel urine could be offered as an alternative treatment.
I have often asked myself the question whether some SCAMs are too absurd to merit scientific study. Over the years, I changed my mind on it; while initially I tended to answer it in the negative, I now think that YES: some ideas – even those that are ancient and, as Charles Windsor would argue, have thus stood the ‘test of time’ – are not worth the effort. Camel urine as a therapy might well be one of them.
It has been reported that a UK Conservative candidate for the next general election reportedly claimed she healed a man’s hearing through the power of prayer. Kristy Adams has been chosen to represent the Conservatives in Mid Sussex at the next general UK election, which is expected to take place in May or the autumn of next year. Mrs Adams previously stood as the Tory candidate in Hove in 2017, placing a distant second behind Labour MP Peter Kyle.
In a recording from 2010, the Conservative hopeful reportedly told the King’s Arms Church in Bedford how she healed a deaf man by placing her hands over his ears and saying: “Be healed in Jesus’s name”. Mrs Adams is reported to have said: “He had hearing aids in both ears and I just thought that wasn’t right. It just annoyed me. I said ‘can I pray for you?’ and his eyes lit up, which is unusual when you offer to pray for someone’s healing.” After removing her hands, she claims the man could hear without his hearing aids. “I don’t know if he was more surprised or me,” she reportedly said.
Speaking to The Argus during her 2017 election campaign, Mrs Adams said she had asked the Daily Mirror to remove a story about the alleged recording but refused to answer whether she believed non-scientific medical miracles can happen. She said: “Millions of Christians around the world pray every day to help people.”
- Daily prayer against severe COVID – an update of a study started two years ago
- Resolution of blindness after prayer?
- Prayer as a therapy: a new randomised study
- Prayer as a medical therapy? Time to stop this nonsense!
- When an undercover journalist tests alternative cancer healers
- Biblical Naturopathy, another SCAM that is new to me
- The ‘Association of Catholic Doctors’ and homeopathic conversion therapy
- Prof Harald Walach’s new ground breaking study of praying the Rosary
- Higher religiousness/spirituality is associated with a more frequent use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)
- ‘The power of all religions’ is being tested in a study with severely ill corona-virus patients
- Does religiosity influence post-operative survival?
- Daniel P Wirth, his dubious research, and the remarkable apathy of some medical journals
Suffice to say, perhaps, that the evidence for prayer as a therapy is not positive.
The autum seems to be the season for awards. I recently mentioned the ‘Gloden Plank‘ and now The Skeptic announced the Ockham Awards – the annual awards celebrating the very best work from within the skeptical community. The awards draw attention to people who work hard to promote skepticism. The Ockhams honour outstanding campaigns, activism, blogs, podcasts, and other contributors to the skeptical cause.
Nominations for the 2023 Ockham Awards are now open! Simply complete the nomination form to submit your nominations.
The Rusty Razor is an entirely different award. It recognises individuals or organisations who have been prominent promoters of unscientific ideas within the last year. Last year’s Rusty Razor went to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, set up in 2009 by climate change denier Nigel Lawson. The Foundation has published several reports downplaying the threat of climate change.
Previous Rusty Razor winners included
- Dr Mike Yeadon for his anti-vaccination BS,
- Dr Didier Raoult for his promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19,
- Andrew Wakefield for his ongoing promotion of anti-vaxx misinformation,
- Gwyneth Paltrow for her pseudoscience-peddling wellness empire, Goop.
The awards are, as always, based on the nominations received from the skeptical community. This is your chance to see your skeptic hero and your most prolific charlatan regognised.
Conspiracy beliefs have become a major issue and obstacle to progress. While holding conspiracy beliefs has been associated with several detrimental social, personal, and health consequences, little research has been dedicated to systematically reviewing the methods that could reduce conspiracy beliefs.
A team of researchers conducted a systematic review to identify and assess interventions that have sought to counter conspiracy beliefs. They included 25 studies (total N = 7179) and discovered that, while the majority of interventions were ineffective in terms of changing conspiracy beliefs, several interventions were particularly effective. Interventions that fostered an analytical mindset or taught critical thinking skills were found to be the most effective in terms of changing conspiracy beliefs.
Approximately half of the examined interventions consisted of priming-based tasks. The majority of these interventions demonstrated a significant change in conspiracy beliefs. The effects were all either small or very small. Participants who were primed to be less susceptible to persuasion tactics showed significantly lower conspiracy beliefs when compared to controls among three experimental comparisons. These effects were shown to range from small to medium.
Interventions that primed participants to engage in analytical thinking resulted in primed participants having lower conspiracy beliefs than controls. However, the effects of these differences were small. Other priming interventions focused on manipulating participants’ sense of control. They had mixed results, either increasing or decreasing conspiracy beliefs with very small effects.
About a sixth of all interventions used inoculation methods. All successfully reduced conspiracy beliefs, relative to controls, all with either medium or large effects. Inoculations that identified the factual inaccuracies of conspiracy beliefs were found to be the most effective of all the interventions in the review. Inoculations that demonstrated the logical fallacies of conspiracy beliefs were found to be the second most effective intervention.
The authors concluded that their review found that overall, the majority of current conspiracy interventions are ineffective in terms of changing conspiracy beliefs. Despite this, we have identified several promising interventions that may be fruitful to pursue in future studies. We propose that a focus on inoculation-based and critical thinking interventions will bear more promising results for future research, though further efforts are needed to reduce participant burden and more easily implement these interventions in the real world.
The identification of the factual inaccuracies of conspiracy beliefs plus the stimulation of critical thinking are two aims I actively pursue with this blog. Thus, one might hope that I do make a small contribution to the reduction of conspiracy beliefs.
Yes, one might hope – but judging from many comments posted in the discussion sections, one could easily get a different impression.