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

research

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It goes without saing that an article entitled Homeopathic Cancer Therapy Research From 2018 To 2022: A Review of the Literatureinterests me. It turned out to be a revellation in BS. Let me just show you its conclusion:

There continues to be an enormous interest in homeopathic treatment for cancer around the world. This is reflected by the number or studies and the increasingly better quality of studies investigating homeopathic cancer therapy. Some studies appear to signal a concern about lacking information among conventionally trained physicians on homeopathy and their limited ability to respond adequately to the increased demand among patients for homeopathic services. While it is still primarily patients rather than physicians that drive this mounting interest, studies reflect a rise in interest and call for innovation, in provision of integrative cancer treatment by combining multiple conventional and unconventional therapies. According to the majority of available studies, homeopathy can safely be added to conventional cancer treatment, and patients can benefit significantly in countering the adverse effects from that treatment, as well as improvement of their quality of life and survival.

In one our previous reviews of scientific research on homeopathic cancer treatment we had concluded that available studies confirm, “homeopathic drugs have proven biological action in cancer; in vitro and in vivo; in animals and humans; in the lower, as well as in the higher potencies. Cancer patients are faced with a life-and-death decision when choosing their treatment. Since most conventional treatments continue to be associated with severe adverse and sometimes fatal effects, while homeopathy has been found to be free from such effects, it would seem plausible and worthwhile, even urgent, to step up the research on, and even the provision of, homeopathic treatment of cancer and other diseases.”

This conclusion continues to apply to the time period covered in this review of published research on homeopathic cancer treatment.

What a remarkable few sentences!

Please allow me put the record straight on a few points:

  1. enormous interest in homeopathic treatment for cancer around the world – NOT TRUE.
  2. increasingly better quality of studies investigating homeopathic cancer therapy – WISHFUL THINKING, NOT SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE.
  3. concern about lacking information among conventionally trained physicians on homeopathy and their limited ability to respond adequately to the increased demand – CONCERN IS, IN FACT, DIRECTED AT CHARLATANS USING OR PROMOTING HOMEOPATHY.
  4. homeopathy can safely be added to conventional cancer treatment – YES, BECAUSE IT IS A PLACEBO.
  5. patients can benefit significantly in countering the adverse effects from that treatment, as well as improvement of their quality of life and survival – ONLY IF, LIKE PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASS, ONE FALSIFIES DATA.
  6. homeopathic drugs have proven biological action in cancer – NO.
  7. it would seem plausible and worthwhile, even urgent, to step up the research on, and even the provision of, homeopathic treatment of cancer and other diseases – NO, ACCORDING TO A BROAD INTERNATIONAL CONSENSUS, SUCH RESEARCH WOULD BE AN UNETHICAL WASTE OF RESOURCES.

The truth of the matter is that homeopathy for cancer is a dangerous misconception that could hasten the death of many vulnerable patients.

Those who promote it are amongst the worst charlatans on the planet.

This review aimed to assess the therapeutic efficacy of Reiki therapy in alleviating anxiety.

In adherence to academic standards, a thorough search was conducted across esteemed databases such as PubMed, Web of Science, Science Direct, and the Cochrane Library. The primary objective of this search was to pinpoint peer-reviewed articles published in English that satisfied specific criteria: (1) employing an experimental or quasi-experimental study design, (2) incorporating Reiki therapy as the independent variable, (3) encompassing diverse patient populations along with healthy individuals, and (4) assessing anxiety as the measured outcome.

The study involved 824 participants, all of whom were aged 18 years or older. Reiki therapy was found to have a significant effect on anxiety intervention(SMD=-0.82, 95CI -1.29∼-0.36, P = 0.001). Subgroup analysis indicated that the types of subjects (chronically ill individuals and the general adult population) and the dosage/frequency of the intervention (≤ 3 sessions and 6–8 sessions) were significant factors influencing the variability in anxiety reduction.

The authors concluded that short-term Reiki therapy interventions of ≤ 3 sessions and 6–8 sessions have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing health and procedural anxiety in patients with chronic conditions such as gastrointestinal endoscopy inflammation, fibromyalgia, and depression, as well as in the general population. It is important to note that the efficacy of Reiki therapy in decreasing preoperative anxiety and death-related anxiety in preoperative patients and cancer patients is somewhat less consistent. These discrepancies may be attributed to individual pathophysiological states, psychological conditions, and treatment expectations.

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This is a truly stunning finding considering that few treatments are less plausible that Reiki. I strongly suspect that these conclusions are not tenable. To see whether this is true, we must look at the primary studies (tedious, I know, but can’t be helped). Here are the abstracts of the 13 studies included in this review:

STUDY No 1

Purpose: The purpose of the study was to investigate changes in the anxiety levels of patients receiving preoperative Reiki.

Material and methods: This study used a quasi-experimental model with a pretest-posttest control group.

Methods: Subjects (n = 210) were recruited from a hospital in Turkey, from June 2013 to July 2014. Subjects were then assigned to experimental (n = 105) and control (n = 105) groups.

Results: The level of anxiety of experimental group patients did not change according to their state anxiety scores (p > 0.10); however, the anxiety level of control group patients increased (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: The results of this study imply that the administration of Reiki is effective in controlling preoperative anxiety levels and in preventing them from increasing.

I am not sure what is meant by “a quasi-experimental model with pretest- posttest control group”. Yet, I suspect this was not a properly randomised trial and should thus have been exclused from the review. There was no control of placebo effects.

STUDY No 2

Fatigue is an extremely common side effect experienced during cancer treatment and recovery. Limited research has investigated strategies stemming from complementary and alternative medicine to reduce cancer-related fatigue. This research examined the effects of Reiki, a type of energy touch therapy, on fatigue, pain, anxiety, and overall quality of life. This study was a counterbalanced crossover trial of 2 conditions: (1) in the Reiki condition, participants received Reiki for 5 consecutive daily sessions, followed by a 1-week washout monitoring period of no treatments, then 2 additional Reiki sessions, and finally 2 weeks of no treatments, and (2) in the rest condition, participants rested for approximately 1 hour each day for 5 consecutive days, followed by a 1-week washout monitoring period of no scheduled resting and an additional week of no treatments. In both conditions, participants completed questionnaires investigating cancer-related fatigue (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy Fatigue subscale [FACT-F]) and overall quality of life (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy, General Version [FACT-G]) before and after all Reiki or resting sessions. They also completed a visual analog scale (Edmonton Symptom Assessment System [ESAS]) assessing daily tiredness, pain, and anxiety before and after each session of Reiki or rest. Sixteen patients (13 women) participated in the trial: 8 were randomized to each order of conditions (Reiki then rest; rest then Reiki). They were screened for fatigue on the ESAS tiredness item, and those scoring greater than 3 on the 0 to 10 scale were eligible for the study. They were diagnosed with a variety of cancers, most commonly colorectal (62.5%) cancer, and had a median age of 59 years. Fatigue on the FACT-F decreased within the Reiki condition (P=.05) over the course of all 7 treatments. In addition, participants in the Reiki condition experienced significant improvements in quality of life (FACT-G) compared to those in the resting condition (P <.05). On daily assessments (ESAS) in the Reiki condition, presession 1 versus postsession 5 scores indicated significant decreases in tiredness (P <.001), pain (P <.005), and anxiety (P<.01), which were not seen in the resting condition. Future research should further investigate the impact of Reiki using more highly controlled designs that include a sham Reiki condition and larger sample sizes.

This was a pilot study which should not report efficacy outcomes merely test the feasibility of a definitive trial. There was no control of placebo effects.

STUDY No 3

Purpose: This study’s aim is to determine the effect of Reiki when applied before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy on levels of anxiety, stress, and comfort.

Design: This single-blind, a pretest and post-test design, randomized, sham-controlled study was held between February and July 2021.

Methods: Patients who met the inclusion criteria were separated by randomization into three groups: Reiki, sham Reiki, and control. A total of 159 patients participated in the study. In the intervention groups (Reiki and sham Reiki), Reiki and sham Reiki were applied once for approximately 20 to 25 minutes before gastrointestinal endoscopy.

Findings: When the Reiki group was compared to the sham Reiki and control groups following the intervention, the decrease in the levels of patient stress (P < .001) and anxiety (P < .001) and the increase in patient comfort (P < .001) were found to be statistically significant.

Conclusions: Reiki applied to patients before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy was effective in reducing stress and anxiety and in increasing comfort.

Here an attempt was made to control for placebo effects and to blind patients. Whether the latter was successful was not tested. Thus a placebo effects cannot be excluded.

STUDY No 4

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of Reiki as an alternative and complementary approach to treating community-dwelling older adults who experience pain, depression, and/or anxiety. Participants (N = 20) were randomly assigned to either an experimental or wait list control group. The pre- and posttest measures included the Hamilton Anxiety Scale, Geriatric Depression Scale-Short Form, Faces Pain Scale, and heart rate and blood pressure. The research design included an experimental component to examine changes in these measures and a descriptive component (semi-structured interview) to elicit information about the experience of having Reiki treatments. Significant differences were observed between the experimental and treatment groups on measures of pain, depression, and anxiety; no changes in heart rate and blood pressure were noted. Content analysis of treatment notes and interviews revealed five broad categories of responses: Relaxation; Improved Physical Symptoms, Mood, and Well-Being; Curiosity and a Desire to Learn More; Enhanced Self-Care; and Sensory and Cognitive Responses to Reiki.

No attempt to control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 5

Purpose: The purpose of this randomized pilot was to determine feasibility of testing Reiki, a complementary therapy intervention, for women undergoing breast biopsy (BB).

Background: Increasingly women face the possibility of BB, the definitive test for breast cancer. Psychological distress associated with BB includes anxiety and depression. Reiki was proposed as an intervention to decrease anxiety and promote relaxation.

Method: Thirty-two women scheduled for BB were randomized to Reiki intervention versus conventional care control. Anxiety and depression were evaluated using self-report questionnaires.

Findings: Analysis found no significant mean differences between groups over time. Comparably low baseline anxiety levels (possible selection bias) decreased naturally with time allowing little room for observing treatment effect.

Conclusions: Reiki, when administered in the naturalistic setting of a complementary therapy office, did not suggest evidence of efficacy. An intervention offered within the bounds of the conventional care setting may be more feasible for addressing BB distress.

The study failed to produce a positive finding.

STUDY No 6

The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of Reiki on pain, anxiety, and hemodynamic parameters on postoperative days 1 and 2 in patients who had undergone cesarean delivery. The design of this study was a randomized, controlled clinical trial. The study took place between February and July 2011 in the Obstetrical Unit at Odemis Public Hospital in Izmir, Turkey. Ninety patients equalized by age and number of births were randomly assigned to either a Reiki group or a control group (a rest without treatment). Treatment applied to both groups in the first 24 and 48 hours after delivery for a total of 30 minutes to 10 identified regions of the body for 3 minutes each. Reiki was applied for 2 days once a day (in the first 24 and 48 hours) within 4-8 hours of the administration of standard analgesic, which was administered intravenously by a nurse. A visual analog scale and the State Anxiety Inventory were used to measure pain and anxiety. Hemodynamic parameters, including blood pressure (systolic and diastolic), pulse and breathing rates, and analgesic requirements also were recorded. Statistically significant differences in pain intensity (p = .000), anxiety value (p = .000), and breathing rate (p = .000) measured over time were found between the two groups. There was a statistically significant difference between the two groups in the time (p = .000) and number (p = .000) of analgesics needed after Reiki application and a rest without treatment. Results showed that Reiki application reduced the intensity of pain, the value of anxiety, and the breathing rate, as well as the need for and number of analgesics. However, it did not affect blood pressure or pulse rate. Reiki application as a nursing intervention is recommended as a pain and anxiety-relieving method in women after cesarean delivery.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 7

Objective: to evaluate the effectiveness of massage and reiki in the reduction of stress and anxiety in clients at the Institute for Integrated and Oriental Therapy in Sao Paulo (Brazil).

Method: clinical tests randomly done in parallel with an initial sample of 122 people divided into three groups: Massage + Rest (G1), Massage + Reiki (G2) and a Control group without intervention (G3). The Stress Systems list and the Trace State Anxiety Inventory were used to evaluate the groups at the start and after 8 sessions (1 month), during 2015.

Results: there were statistical differences (p = 0.000) according to the ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) for the stress amongst the groups 2 and 3 (p = 0.014) with a 33% reductions and a Cohen of 0.78. In relation to anxiety-state, there was a reduction in the intervention groups compared with the control group (p < 0.01) with a 21% reduction in group 2 (Cohen of 1.18) and a 16% reduction for group 1 (Cohen of 1.14).

Conclusion: Massage + Reiki produced better results amongst the groups and the conclusion is for further studies to be done with the use of a placebo group to evaluate the impact of the technique separate from other techniques.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 8

This randomized controlled study aimed to determine the effect of Reiki and aromatherapy on vital signs, oxygen saturation, and anxiety level in patients undergoing upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. The sample consisted of 100 patients divided into Reiki (n = 34), aromatherapy (n = 33), and control (n = 33) groups. Data were collected 3 times (before, during, and after the procedure) using a descriptive characteristics questionnaire, a follow-up form, and the State Anxiety Subscale. The Reiki group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 53.59 ± 2.98 and 43.94 ± 4.31 before and after the procedure, respectively. The aromatherapy group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 54.03 ± 4.03 and 43.85 ± 3.91 before and after the procedure, respectively. The control group had a mean State Anxiety Subscale score of 38.79 ± 4.68 and 53.30 ± 7.26 before and after the procedure, respectively (P < .05). The results showed that the Reiki and aromatherapy groups had significantly lower State Anxiety Subscale scores than the control group after the procedure, indicating that Reiki and aromatherapy help reduce anxiety levels. There was a significant difference in the mean respiratory rates and oxygen saturation levels between the groups (P < .05). In conclusion, patients who do Reiki or undergo aromatherapy are less likely to experience anxiety before upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.

No control for placebo effects.

STUDY No 9

The aim of this study is to investigate the effects of Reiki application on pain, anxiety, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. The study was completed with a total of 50 patients: 25 in the experimental group and 25 in the control group. Reiki was applied to the experimental group and sham Reiki to the control group once a week for 4 weeks. Data were collected from the participants using the Information Form, Visual Analog Scale, McGill-Melzack Pain Questionnaire, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and Short Form-36. There was a significant difference between the mean Visual Analog Scale pain scores during and before the first week (P = .012), second week (P = .002), and fourth week (P = .020) measurements of the individuals in the experimental and control groups, after application. In addition, at the end of the 4-week period, the State Anxiety Inventory (P = .005) and the Trait Anxiety Inventory (P = .003) were significantly decreased in the Reiki group compared with the control group. Physical function (P = .000), energy (P = .009), mental health (P = .018), and pain (P = .029) subdimension scores of quality of life in the Reiki group increased significantly compared with the control group. Reiki application to patients with fibromyalgia may have positive effects on reducing pain, improving quality of life, and reducing state and trait anxiety levels.

Here an attempt was made to control for placebo effects and to blind patients. Whether the latter was successful was not tested. Thus a placebo effects cannot be excluded. The sample size was small.

STUDY No 10

Background: Reiki is a biofield therapy which is based on the explanatory model that the fields of energy and information of living systems can be influenced to promote relaxation and stimulate a healing response.

Objective: To conduct a pragmatic within-subject pilot trial of a remote Reiki program for frontline healthcare workers’ health-related symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Healthcare professionals in the UK (eg, physicians, nurses, and paramedics) were eligible to sign up for a distance Reiki program and were also invited to participate in the research study. Eight Reiki practitioners simultaneously gave each participant Reiki remotely for 20 minutes on 4 consecutive days. Feasibility of the research was assessed, including recruitment, data completeness, acceptability and intervention fidelity, and preliminary evaluation of changes in outcome measures. Participants’ stress, anxiety, pain, wellbeing, and sleep quality were evaluated with 7-point numerical rating scales. Measures were completed when signing up to receive Reiki (pre) and following the final Reiki session (post). Pre and post data were analyzed using Wilcoxon signed ranks tests.

Results: Seventy-nine healthcare professionals signed up to receive Reiki and took the baseline measures. Of those, 40 completed post-measures after the 4-day intervention and were therefore included in the pre-post analysis. Most participants were female (97.5%), and the mean age was 43.9 years old (standard deviations = 11.2). The study was feasible to conduct, with satisfactory recruitment, data completeness, acceptability, and fidelity. Wilcoxon signed ranks tests revealed statistically significant decreases in stress (M = -2.33; P < .001), anxiety (M = -2.79; P < .001) and pain (M = -.79; P < .001), and significant increases in wellbeing (M = -1.79; P < .001) and sleep quality (M = -1.33; P = .019).

Conclusions: The Reiki program was feasible and was associated with decreased stress, anxiety and pain, and increased wellbeing and sleep quality in frontline healthcare workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pilot study should not report efficacy findings and should be excluded.

STUDY No 11

Background: There is a scarcity of studies in the international literature regarding alternative treatment to the pharmacological and psychotherapeutic intervention in the face of depression symptoms. This study aimed to test a protocol based on natural therapy, alternatives to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic, through Mindfulness Meditation, Reiki, Acupuncture and Auriculotherapy, to treat the symptoms of depression for those who were with no pharmacological or psychotherapeutic treatment for these symptoms.

Methods: this is a randomized single-blind controlled pilot study. The final sample was 21 participants divided in two groups: experimental and control. Participants were evaluated by validated instruments during the screening process and after the intervention. The instruments were: Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale and Beck Depression Inventory. Intervention was performed in eight sessions, during two months. All the techniques were used in the experimental group. Analysis of variance with repeated measures was used to compare pre-intervention to post-intervention moments.

Results: the result of analysis indicates a significant reduction in the symptoms of depression after the intervention among the experimental group.

Limitations: there is no way to determine which of the techniques used produced the most significant result.

Conclusions: The protocol proposed in this study was effective in reducing the symptoms of depression to whom are not eligible for traditional treatment.

This is a pilot study and should not report efficacy findings. It is also not a study of just Reiki. It should have been excluded.

STUDY No 12

This is a constructive replication of a previous trial conducted by Bowden et al. (2010), where students who had received Reiki demonstrated greater health and mood benefits than those who received no Reiki. The current study examined impact on anxiety/depression. 40 university students-half with high depression and/or anxiety and half with low depression and/or anxiety-were randomly assigned to receive Reiki or to a non-Reiki control group. Participants experienced six 30-minute sessions over a period of two to eight weeks, where they were blind to whether noncontact Reiki was administered as their attention was absorbed in a guided relaxation. The efficacy of the intervention was assessed pre-post intervention and at five-week follow-up by self-report measures of mood, illness symptoms, and sleep. The participants with high anxiety and/or depression who received Reiki showed a progressive improvement in overall mood, which was significantly better at five-week follow-up, while no change was seen in the controls. While the Reiki group did not demonstrate the comparatively greater reduction in symptoms of illness seen in our earlier study, the findings of both studies suggest that Reiki may benefit mood.

No control for placebo effects

STUDY No 13

This is a constructive replication of a previous trial conducted by Bowden et al. (2010), where students who had received Reiki demonstrated greater health and mood benefits than those who received no Reiki. The current study examined impact on anxiety/depression. 40 university students-half with high depression and/or anxiety and half with low depression and/or anxiety-were randomly assigned to receive Reiki or to a non-Reiki control group. Participants experienced six 30-minute sessions over a period of two to eight weeks, where they were blind to whether noncontact Reiki was administered as their attention was absorbed in a guided relaxation. The efficacy of the intervention was assessed pre-post intervention and at five-week follow-up by self-report measures of mood, illness symptoms, and sleep. The participants with high anxiety and/or depression who received Reiki showed a progressive improvement in overall mood, which was significantly better at five-week follow-up, while no change was seen in the controls. While the Reiki group did not demonstrate the comparatively greater reduction in symptoms of illness seen in our earlier study, the findings of both studies suggest that Reiki may benefit mood.

This is the only rigorous study included in the review. Its findings are not easy to interpret (“For the sample as a whole, as can be seen from the total group means, there was little change over the course of the study”)

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Even though I did not have access to the full text of all of these RCTs, this analysis tells me a few important things; here are some of the main points I discovered:

  • the new review is fatally flawed;
  • the authors’ statement that their “article presents a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that were conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines” is nonsensical;
  • PRISMA guidelines were certainly not adhered to;
  • there is no truly critical assessment of the primary studies;
  • the literature searches were incomplete;
  • the risk of bias tool for evaluating the primary studies was employed incorrectly;
  • the review did not include all RCTs of Reiki (our own 2008 review included several trials that are not included here, and this blog has a few more);
  • the review includes several studies that should have been excluded;
  • most Reiki studies are of poor quality;
  • with both the review and most of the primary studies, one feels a strong bias towards trying to prove that Reiki works;
  • Reiki research is firmly in the hands of nurses (almost all the studies were conducted by nurses);
  • almost all of the RCTs test Reiki versus no treatment, and this means that most do not control for placebo (or other non-specific) effects. In other words, the conclusions stating that Reiki is effective are simply wrong.

I am dismayed to see that a decent journal (BMC Palliative Care) published such a fatally flawed review. The paper fails to discuss any of its obvious flaws. Specifically, it does not even specify what interventions were used in the various control groups. Do the journal editors, peer-reviewers and authors not appreciate that, without such information, the findings are uninterpretable? Or do they perhaps deliberately try to mislead us?

If you ask me, this paper should be best withdrawn.

Our own review of Reiki is no longer up-to-date. Yet, it’s conclusion is, in my view, far more accurate than the one offered by the authors of the fatally flawed new review:

the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. Therefore the value of reiki remains unproven.

As pointed out previously on this blog, unethical research practices are prevalent in China, but little research has focused on the causes of these practices.

Drawing on the criminology literature on organisational deviance, as well as the concept of cengceng jiama, which illustrates the increase of pressure in the process of policy implementation within a top-down bureaucratic hierarchy, this article develops an institutional analysis of research misconduct in Chinese universities. It examines both universities and the policy environment of Chinese universities as contexts for research misconduct. Specifically, this article focuses on China’s Double First-Class University Initiative and its impact on elite universities that respond to the policy by generating new incentive structures to promote research quality and productivity as well as granting faculties and departments greater flexibility in terms of setting high promotion criteria concerning research productivity. This generates enormous institutional tensions and strains, encouraging and sometimes even compelling individual researchers who wish to survive to decouple their daily research activities from ethical research norms. The article is written based on empirical data collected from three elite universities as well as a review of policy documents, universities’ internal documents, and news articles.

The interviewer, sociologist Zhang Xinqu, and his colleague Wang Peng, a criminologist, both at the University of Hong Kong, suggest that researchers felt compelled, and even encouraged, to engage in misconduct to protect their jobs. This pressure, they conclude, ultimately came from a Chinese programme to create globally recognized universities. The programme prompted some Chinese institutions to set ambitious publishing targets, they say. In 2015, the Chinese government introduced the Double First-Class Initiative to establish “world-class” universities and disciplines. Universities selected for inclusion in the programme receive extra funding, whereas those that perform poorly risk being delisted, says Wang.

Between May 2021 and April 2022, Zhang conducted anonymous virtual interviews with 30 faculty members and 5 students in the natural sciences at three of these elite universities. The interviewees included a president, deans and department heads. The researchers also analysed internal university documents.

The university decision-makers who were interviewed at all three institutes said they understood it to be their responsibility to interpret the goals of the Double First-Class scheme. They determined that, to remain on the programme, their universities needed to increase their standing in international rankings — and that, for that to happen, their researchers needed to publish more articles in international journals indexed in databases such as the Science Citation Index. As the directive moved down the institutional hierarchy, pressure to perform at those institutes increased. University departments set specific and hard-to-reach publishing criteria for academics to gain promotion and tenure. Some researchers admitted to engaging in unethical research practices for fear of losing their jobs. In one interview, a faculty head said: “If anyone cannot meet the criteria [concerning publications], I suggest that they leave as soon as possible.”

Zhang and Wang describe researchers using services to write their papers for them, falsifying data, plagiarizing, exploiting students without offering authorship and bribing journal editors. One interviewee admitted to paying for access to a data set. “I bought access to an official archive and altered the data to support my hypotheses.” An associate dean emphasized the primacy of the publishing goal. “We should not be overly stringent in identifying and punishing research misconduct, as it hinders our scholars’ research efficiency.”

The larger problem, says Xiaotian Chen, a library and information scientist at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, is a lack of transparency and of systems to detect and deter misconduct in China. Most people do the right thing, despite the pressure to publish, says Chen, who has studied research misconduct in China. The pressure described in the paper could just be “an excuse to cheat”.

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It is hard not to be reminded of what I reported in a recent post where it has been announced that a Chinese acupuncture review was retracted:

The research “Acupuncture for low back and/or pelvic pain during pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials,” published in the open access journal BMJ Open in 2022, has been retracted.

This research was press released in November 2022 under the title of “Acupuncture can relieve lower back/pelvic pain often experienced during pregnancy.”

Following publication of the research, various issues concerning its design and reporting methods came to light, none of which was amenable to correction, prompting the decision to retract.

The full wording of the retraction notice, which will be published at 23.30 hours UK (BST) time Tuesday 11 June 2024, is set out below:

“After publication, multiple issues were raised with the journal concerning the design and reporting of the study. The editors and integrity team investigated the issues with the authors. There were fundamental flaws with the research, including the control group selection and data extraction, not amenable to correction.” doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2021-056878ret

Please ensure that you no longer cite this research in any future reporting.

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After studying Chinese TCM papers for more than 30 years, I feel increasingly concerned about the tsumani of either very poor quality or fabricated research coming out of China. For more details, please read the following posts:

 

 

This systematic review and meta-analysis investigated the impact of quality of life (QoL) on mortality risk in patients with esophageal cancer.

A literature search was conducted using the CINAHL, PubMed/MEDLINE, and Scopus databases for articles published from inception to December 2022. Observational studies that examined the association between QoL and mortality risk in patients with esophageal cancer were included. Subgroup analyses were performed for time points of QoL assessment and for types of treatment.

Seven studies were included in the final analysis.

  • Overall, global QoL was significantly associated with mortality risk (hazard ratio 1.02, 95% confidence interval 1.01–1.04; p < 0.00004).
  • Among the QoL subscales of QoL, physical, emotional, role, cognitive, and social QoL were significantly associated with mortality risk.
  • A subgroup analysis by timepoints of QoL assessment demonstrated that pre- and posttreatment global and physical, pretreatment role, and posttreatment cognitive QoL were significantly associated with mortality risk.
  • Moreover, another subgroup analysis by types of treatment demonstrated that the role QoL in patients with surgery, and the global, physical, role, and social QoL in those with other treatments were significantly associated with mortality risk.

The authors concluded that these findings indicate that the assessment of QoL in patients with esophageal cancer before and after treatment not only provides information on patients’ condition at the time of treatment but may also serve as an outcome for predicting life expectancy. Therefore, it is important to conduct regular QoL assessments and take a proactive approach to improve QoL based on the results of these assessments.

Am I missing something here?

Isn’t this rather obvious?

The way this paper is written, some practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) might feel that, by improving QoL (for instance, by some fancy aromatherapy, reflexology, etc.), they can significantly better the cancer prognosis.

Patients with a poor prognosis are more seriously ill and therefore have a lowe QoL. Assessing QoL might be a useful marker, but would it not be better to ask why the QoL is in some patients less than in others?

For some time I have had the impression that research into SCAM is on its knees. Specifically, I seemed to notice that less and less of it is getting published in the best journals of conventional medicine. So, today I decided to put my impression to the test.

I went on Medline and serached for ‘COMPLEMENTARY ALTERNATIVE THERAPY + NEJM or Ann Int Med or Lancet or JAMA. This gave me the number of papers each of these four top medical journals published during the last decades. These figures alone seemed to indicate that I was on to something. To get a more reliable overall pivture, I added them up to get the total number of SCAM articles per year published in all four jurnals. As these figures indicated a lot of noise, I grouped them into periods of 4 years.

Here are the results:

  • Number of papers in the four journals published between 1999 and 2002 =115
  • Number of papers in the four journals published between 2003 and 2006 = 44
  • Number of papers in the four journals published between 2007 and 2010 = 20
  • Number of papers in the four journals published between 2011 and 2014 = 23
  • Number of papers in the four journals published between 2015 and 2018 = 38
  • Number of papers in the four journals published between 2019 and 2022 = 36

These figures confirm my suspicion: top medical journals publish far less SCAM articles than they once used to. But how do we interpret this finding?

The way I see it, there are several possible explanations:

  1. The editors are becoming increasingly anti-SCAM.
  2. Less and less SCAM research is of high enough quality to merit publication in a top journal.
  3. Numerous SCAM journals have sprung up which absorb most of the SCAM research but which are largely ignored by the broader medical community.

Personally, I think all of these explanations apply. They are the expression of a phenomenon that I discussed often before: over the years, SCAM has managed to discredit and isolate itself. Thus, it is no longer taken seriously and in danger of becoming a bizarre cult.

I fear that serious healthcare professionals get increasingly irritated by:

  • the embarrassing unreliability of much of SCAM research (as discussed so many times on this blog);
  • the fact that some research group manage to publish nothing but positive results (see my ‘ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME);
  • the news that a substantial proportion of SCAM research seems fabricated (see, for instance, here);
  • the fact that too much of SCAM research is of dismal quality (as disclosed regularly on this blog);
  • the fact that many SCAM proponents are unable of (self)critical thinking (as demonstrated regualrly by the comments left on this blog).

If I am correct, this would mean that, in the long-term, one of the biggest enemy of SCAM are the SCAM researchers who, instead of testing hypotheses, abuse science by trying to confirm their hypotheses. As Bert Brecht said: the opposite of good is not evil, but good intentions.

Yesterday, I received the email below. I almost deleted it because, at first glance, it looked like spam. Then I started reading it – perhaps you should do so too.

Dear Edzard Ernst,

We’d like to inform you that Research.com, a leading academic platform for researchers, has just released the 2024 Edition of our Ranking of Best Scientists in the field of Medicine.

We are sure you will be very happy to learn that you have ranked #819 in the world ranking and #86 in United Kingdom. You have also been recognized with our Medicine Leader Award for 2024. Congratulations!

The ranking is based on D-index (Discipline H-index) metric, which only includes papers and citation values for an examined discipline. The ranking includes only leading scientists with D-index of at least 70 for academic publications made in the area of Medicine.

The full world ranking is available here: https://www.research.com/scientists-rankings/medicine
The full ranking for United Kingdom is available here: https://www.research.com/scientists-rankings/medicine/gb

Feel free to also read an article summarizing the statistics and trends from our ranking here: https://research.com/careers/world-online-ranking-of-best-medicine-scientists-2024-report

Please accept our sincere congratulations. Being present in our ranking is definitely a great achievement for you and your university or research institution. Feel free to share and publicize your accomplishment in any way you see fit.

With Best Regards…

________________________

I am not sure how significant this all is. Nonetheless, I thought I share the email with my small fan club from my blog.

We have discussed the LIGHTNING PROCESS before:

Now, the BBC reports that it is promoted as a treatment of Long-COVID. Oonagh Cousins was offered a free place on a course run by the Lightning Process, which teaches people they can rewire their brains to stop or improve long Covid symptoms quickly. Ms Cousins, who contracted Covid in March 2020, said it “exploits” people.

Ms Cousins had reached a career goal many athletes can only dream of – being selected for the Olympics – when she developed long Covid. By the time the cancelled 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo were rescheduled for 2021, Ms Cousins was too ill to take part. When she went public with her struggles, she was approached by the Lightning Process. It offered her a free place on a three-day course, which usually costs around £1,000.

“They were trying to suggest that I could think my way out of the symptoms, basically. And I disputed that entirely,” the former rower said. “I had a very clearly physical illness. And I felt that they were blaming my negative thought processes for why I was ill.” She added: “They tried to point out that I had depression or anxiety. And I said ‘I’m not, I’m just very sick’.

In secret recordings by the BBC, coaches can be heard telling patients that almost anyone can recover from long Covid by changing their thoughts, language and actions. Over three days on Zoom, the course taught the ritual that forms the basis of the programme. Every time you experience a symptom or negative thought, you say the word “stop”, make a choice to avoid these symptoms and then do a positive visualisation of a time you felt well. You do this while walking around a piece of paper printed with symbols – a ritual the BBC was told to do as many as 50 times a day.

In some cases the Lightning Process has encouraged participants to increase their activity levels without medical supervision, against official advice – which could make some more unwell, according to NHS guidelines. Lightning Process founder, Dr Phil Parker, who’s not a medical doctor but has a PhD in psychology of health, told us his course was “not a mindset or positive thinking approach,” but one that uses “the brain to influence physiological changes”, backed by peer-reviewed evidence. The coach on the course the BBC attended said “thoughts about your symptoms, your worry about whether it’s ever going to go – that’s what keeps the neurology going. Being in those kind of thoughts is what’s maintaining your symptoms. They’re not caused by a physical thing any more.”

___________________

As I pointed out previously, The Lightning Process  (LP) is a therapy based on ideas from osteopathy, life coaching, and neuro-linguistic programming. LP is claimed to work by teaching people to use their brains to “stimulate health-promoting neural pathways”.

LP teaches individuals to recognize when they are stimulating or triggering unhelpful physiological responses and to avoid these, using a set of standardized questions, new language patterns, and physical movements with the aim of improving a more appropriate response to situations.

Proponents of the ‘LP’ in Norway claim that 90% of all ME patients get better after trying it. However, such claims seem to be more than questionable.

  • In the Norwegian ME association’s user survey from 2012 with 1,096 participants, 164 ME patients stated that they had tried LP. 21% of these patients experienced improvement or great improvement and 48% got worse or much worse.
  • In Norway’s National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NAFKAM’s survey from 2015 amongst 76 patients 8 had a positive effect and 5 got worse or much worse.
  • A survey by the Norwegian research foundation, published in the journal Psykologisk, with 660 participants, showed that 62 patients had tried LP, and 5 were very or fairly satisfied with the results.

Such figures reflect the natural history of the condition and are no evidence that the LP works.

Is there any evidence supporting the LP specifically for long COVID?

My Medline search retrieved just one single paper. Here is the abstract:

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Long COVID (LC) is now prevalent in many countries. Little evidence exists regarding how this chronic condition should be treated, but guidelines suggest for most people it can be managed symptomatically in primary care. The Lightning Process is a trademarked positive psychology focused self-management programme which has shown to be effective in reducing fatigue and accompanying symptoms in other chronic conditions including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Here we outline its novel application to two patients with LC who both reported improvements in fatigue and a range of physical and emotional symptoms post-treatment and at 3 months follow-up.

Well, that surely convinced everyone! Except me and, of course, anyone else who can think critically.

So, I look further and find this on the company’s website:

Do you know how it feels to…

  • …be exhausted and tired no matter how much rest you get?
  • …be stuck with re-occurring pain, health symptoms and issues?
  • …get so stressed by almost everything?
  • …feel low and upset much of the time?
  • …want a better life and health but just can’t find anything that works?

If any, or all, of these sound familiar then the Lightning Process, designed by Phil Parker, PhD, could be the answer that you’re looking for.  There are lots of ways you can find out more about the suitability of the Lightning Process for you, have a look through below…

___________________________

Let me try to summarise:

  • The LP is promoted as a cure for long-Covid.
  • There is no evidence that LP is effective for it.
  • The claim is that it has been shown to work for ME.
  • There is no evidence that LP is effective for it.
  • A 3-day course costs £1 000.
  • Their website claims it is good for practically everyone.

Does anyone think that LP or its promoters are remotely serious?

I am glad to hear that the Vatican is issueing  new guidelines on supernatural phenomena. The document, compiled by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, will lay out rules to assess the truthfulness of supernatural claims. Reports of such phenomena are said to have soared in recent years in an era of social media – sometimes spread through disinformation and rumour. The guidelines are likely to tighten criteria for the screening, analysis, and possible rejection of cases.

Apparitions have been reported across the centuries. Those recognised by the Church have prompted pilgrims, and popes, to visit spots where they are said to have taken place. Millions flock to Lourdes in France, for example, or Fatima in Portugal, where the Virgin Mary is alleged to have appeared to children, promising a miracle – after which crowds are said to have witnessed the sun zig-zagging through the sky. The visitation was officially recognised by the Church in 1930.

But other reports are found by church officials to be baloney. In 2016, an Italian woman began claiming regular apparitions of Jesus and Mary in a small town north of Rome after she brought back a statue from Medjugorje in Bosnia, where the Virgin Mary is also said to have appeared. Crowds prayed before the statue and received messages including warnings against same-sex marriage and abortion. It took eight years for the local bishop to debunk the story.

_________________________

 

Perhaps the Vatican should also have a look at faith healing*, the attempt to bring about healing through divine intervention. The Bible and other religious texts provide numerous examples of divine healing, and believers see this as a proof that faith healing is possible. There are also numerous reports of people suffering from severe diseases, including cancer and AIDS, who were allegedly healed by divine intervention.

Faith healing has no basis in science, is biologically not plausible. Some methodologically flawed studies have suggested positive effects, however, this is not confirmed by sound clinical trials. Several plausible explanations exist for the cases that have allegedly been healed by divine intervention, for instance, spontaneous remission or placebo response. Another explanation is fraud. For instance, the famous German faith healer, Peter Popoff, was exposed in 1986 for using an earpiece to receive radio messages from his wife giving him the home addresses and ailments of audience members which he purported had come from God during his faith healing rallies.

Faith healing may per se be safe, but it can nevertheless do untold indirect harm, and even fatalities are on record: “Faith healing, when added as an adjuvant or alternative aid to medical science, will not necessarily be confined to mere arguments and debates but may also give rise to series of complications, medical emergencies and even result in death.”

Alternatively, the Vatican might look at the healing potential of pilgrimages*, journeys to places considered to be sacred. The pilgrims often do this in the hope to be cured of a disease. The purpose of Christian pilgrimage was summarized by Pope Benedict XVI as follows:

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.

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

Other researchers tested the effects of tap water labelled as Lourdes water versus tap water labelled as tap water found that placebos in the context of religious beliefs and practices can change the experience of emotional salience and cognitive control which is accompanied by connectivity changes in the associated brain networks. They concluded that this type of placebo can enhance emotional-somatic well-being, and can lead to changes in cognitive control/emotional salience networks of the brain.

The risks involved in pilgrimages is their often considerable costs. It is true, as the text above points out that “millions flock to Lourdes in France”. In other words, pilgrimiges are an important source of income, not least for the catholoc church.

A more important risk can be that they are used as an alternative to effective treatments. This, as we all know, can be fatal. As there is no good evidence that pilgrimiges cure diseases, their risk/benefit balance as a treatment of disease cannot be positive.

So, will the new rules of the Vatican curtail the risks on supernatural healing practises? I would not hold my breath!

_________________

* for references see my book from where this text has been borrowed and modified.

Anyone who writes a lively blog like this one is bound to receive all sorts of attacks, accusations, insults, innuendo, etc. I certainly have been claimed or implied to be many things that I am simply and objectively not. Many of them are quite hilarious in their stupidity, in my view. Perhaps it might be fun to list (some of) them.

Here we go (in no particular order).

I am not:

  • woke
  • anti-woke
  • someone who thinks that woke is a useful concept
  • against restricting discussions on certain topics (but I may not be interested in some subjects)
  • an expert on any subject other than so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)
  • like Trump (I think it was D Ullmann who stated that I was like Trump)
  • young (recently, I was repeatedly criticised for being an ‘old white man’)
  • a woman (recently, I was repeatedly criticised for being an ‘old white man’)
  • black (recently, I was repeatedly criticised for being an ‘old white man’)
  • an anti-semite
  • a racist
  • right-wing (I have not even once voted conservative in my life)
  • devoid of experience in SCAM as a patient
  • a researcher who has never practised SCAM
  • someone who has never done any original research
  • someone who does not know what he is talking about
  • unqualified
  • someone who was fired from an academic appointment
  • a pseudoscientist
  • a man who has falsified his research
  • on the payroll of BIG PHARMA
  • receiving any money for running this blog
  • relying on any finacial support other than my pensions
  • a liar
  • a fraud
  • someone who took the Exeter appointment in order to ditch homeopathy
  • out to defame SCAM (I am advocating solid evidence and criticising claims that are not evidence-based)
  • running an evil empire
  • devoid of self-confidence
  • someone who despises women
  • suffering from digestive problems
  • unable to process feelings
  • someone who manipulates data
  • the head of a lobby group
  • perfect (sadly, that’s the only claim nobody ever made).

Have I promised too much?

The list is long and the claims are as funny as they are unfounded. Evidence that (some of) these allegations have indeed been made can be found here, here, here, and here or, if you are really keen and gifted at doing searches, on X [formerly Twitter].

This randomized controlled, pretest-post-test intervention study examined the effect of distance reiki on state test anxiety and test performance.
First-year nursing students (n = 71) were randomized into two groups. One week before the examination,

  • the intervention group participants received reiki remotely for 20 minutes for 4 consecutive days,
  • the control group participants received no intervention.
The intervention group had lower posttest cognitive and psychosocial subscale scores than pretest scores (p > .05). The control group had a significantly higher mean posttest physiological subscale score than pretest score (p < .05). Final grade point averages were not significantly different between the intervention and control groups (p > .05). One quarter of the intervention group participants noted reiki reduced their stress and helped them perform better on the examination.The authors concluded that Reiki is a safe and easy-to-practice method to help students cope with test anxiety.What a conclusion!What a study!

A controlled clinical trial has the purpose of comparing outcomes of two or more treatments. Therefore, intra-group changes are utterly irrelevant. The only thing of interest is the comparison between the intervention and control groups. In the present study, this did not show a significant difference. In other words, distant Reiki had no effect.

This means that the bit in the conclusion telling us that Reiki helps students cope with test anxiety is quite simply not true.

This leaves us with the first part of the conclusion: Reiki is a safe and easy-to-practice method. This may well be true – yet it is meaningless. Apart from the fact that the study was not aimed at assessing safety or ease of practice, the statement is true for far too many things to be meaningful, e.g.:

  • Not having Reiki (the control group) is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Going for a walk is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Cooking a plate of spagetti is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Having a nap is a safe and easy-to-practice method.
  • Reading a book is a safe and easy-to-practice method.

(I think you get my gist)

To make the irony complete, let me tell you that this trial was published in Journal of Nursing Education. On the website, the journal states: The Journal of Nursing Education is a monthly, peer-reviewed journal publishing original articles and new ideas for nurse educators in various types and levels of nursing programs for over 60 years. The Journal enhances the teaching-learning process, promotes curriculum development, and stimulates creative innovation and research in nursing education.

I suggest that the journal urgently embarks on a program of educating its editors, reviewers, contributors and readers about science, pseudoscience, minimal standards, scientific rigor, and medical ethics.

 

 

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