The Age of Hilarious: Reflections on the growing anti-science movement

When I was a kid, my mum had a sure way of finding out what we meant when describing something as “funny”.

“Funny Ha Ha or funny strange?”, she’d ask, and when suitably availed of an answer could turn her attention to following whatever enormously important point kids tend to make. Looking around today however, “funny strange” is thoroughly outdone by the eerie normality with which faith and belief in demonstrable and dangerous fallacies pass us by.

Using “funny” as our proxy description of weirdness, one may consider the present day feverishness with which cognitive bias is clung to, literally hilarious. In what passes for our first generation and more to have lived in the Space Age, there is an abundance of not just unscientific, but viciously anti-scientific beliefs to choose from. So ubiquitous, so easily tolerated, so poorly regulated is this tsunami of irrationality that one cannot miss that we live now in a new age of hilarious ritual and superstition.

In this Age of Hilarious there are some undeniable and durable trends. From hip healers, to AIDS denial, to scheming chiropractors, to cancer cures, to creationist museums to vaccine denial merchants and even the screaming lunacy of the freedom and conspiracy lovers, one enemy glues them together. Science. Without rattling off the volumes of anti-science movements – many of whom claim to be immersed in science – the same thought justification applies. Science is bad, evil, unnatural, open to unwholesome thinking, an unwelcome intruder upon the family, upon motherhood and upon health.

It’s agents are intent on hiding the truth and in exploiting our species. It has destroyed the planet and wants to destroy us. It has permeated so much of our lives that to those worshipping in the Age of Hilarious it’s axiomatic as to how malignant Science is. To use Science – or something tainted with it’s touch – in thinking or in decision making draws mockery and derision is many circles. It is at once corrupt and the vehicle for the corrupt to continue their corruption. Nonsense has become normal to the point where presenting facts earns inane insults. From Pharma shill in citing undeniable facts on vaccination to Zionist or Jew Boy for querying the logic of 9/11 as an inside job.

Yet despite the pointy ends of these beliefs, the hub from which it all comes probably tells us much about human nature. Those who embark on evidence denial often challenge critics or defend their illogical meandering with the unwarranted observation that Science doesn’t know everything… it can be wrong… the universe is infinite… there’s more to discover… I say “unwarranted” criticism, because no-one knows this better than those who understand science. Nothing else adheres to these observations as strict rules but the Scientific method itself.

I tend to hear this challenge more as a plea. Those who deny evidence with little thought hold to an ideology wherein they want to live in a mysterious universe. Alienated by the ordinary and mundane everyday explanations and foregone conclusions in the Age of Hilarious, they have essentially no notion that so much of what we take for granted now, was once never so. Perhaps a total mystery, a brutal fact of nature, an expensive time wasting ritual of ignorance or a serendipitous discovery.

Today there are so many millions living with so much explanation that the human needs for mystery, discovery or the urge to conquer intellectual fulfillment must certainly go unrealised. Is it so unusual then that an instinctive response may be to create the “unknown” or perhaps do this by denying what is known? To use the term conveniently, if we accept that humans have spiritual needs, nothing defines the denial of evidence and advancement of belief via ignorance better than the Creationist/Intelligent Design movement.

Finally the dots linking Science to Satan were joined. The Discovery Institute’s “anti-evolution” Wedge Strategy for “renewal of science and culture” begins with the breath taking lie:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

Apart from it’s beaming intellectual revulsion, what strikes me most about the Wedge Strategy is it’s timing. Ideas from The Enlightenment (1650-1790) helped shape the most famous democratic documents in history. The intellectual forces it released have sustained reason and humanity above many attempts to counter Enlightenment philosophies. Although intellectual resistance began as early as 1800 the Industrial Revolution had already seen science secure it’s place as indispensable. After the two World Wars of the 20th century, then the Cold War, and the control of polio, science and democratic rights eventually opened the way for the quality of life that provided the luxury to be… well, stupid.

The timing was perfect to have Creationism – later renamed Intelligent Design – introduced as a new scientific area. Or rather, as ancient myths brought to life under the authoritative and credulous banner of Science. Thanks to godless communism and Billy Graham, Pentecostal, Baptist and Evangelical movements were well established. Biblical literalism was (and is) quite absurd but it did not want for believers. At the same time, the space race and the Apollo 11 moon landing succeeded in opening our eyes to new scientific wonders and understanding.

Punctuating this clash, and now forever in history, is the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast of 1968. The first astronauts to orbit the moon took turns to read from the book of Genesis, sending lunar images back to Earth.

By the time the sexual revolution and self discovery of the 1960’s and 70’s had passed, traditional religion offered cold, boring irrelevance. Confidence in mystery, cosmic wonder and supernatural interference had been blasted with knowledge, understanding and explanation. Faith was no longer a noble virtue. It was the absence of evidence and reason. Rather than a scattering of giant intellects condemning the folly of belief, it was an established widespread fact. Even worse the damage and perversion linked to religions was becomming manifest.

Science continued to do amazing things, spitting out new disciplines and knowledge as computer power took it’s place. Medical science wiped out smallpox in developing nations and extended the human lifespan in developed nations. Alien abductees and spoon benders were being challenged by these chaps known as Skeptics, but it was soon clear a new irrationality had taken root. Suddenly Noah’s Ark was discovered. Then again and again. The Age of Hilarious was upon us.

The ever increasing “natural” alternatives to medicine demanded more respect. Unable to provide evidence to back claims, denial of evidence and attacks on science began. Faith and high risk belief once again offered noble qualities. The alienated could belong. The challenge of ones character that led to such horrors during the middle ages: “How strong is your faith?”, underscored the rising anti-vaccination movement and it’s many “healing” cousins that in truth, do nothing but delay healing.

On another level the lessons learned from Intelligent Design proponents were being employed deftly by both climate change denialists and those with a vested interest in discrediting climate science. Except in this broadband age the change around from acceptance to denial occurred at breath taking speed. They too have their own “science” – a Global Warming Curriculum designed to undermine genuine science. Rather than the Discovery Institute befouling evolution and biology it’s the Heartland Institute generously funding a violent attack on climate science.

These factors aside the sheer numbers of people that now reject climate change, their high priests and the well established conspiracy language used is compelling stuff. Certainly it resonates well with anti-Enlightenment identities like Miranda Devine, products of The Age of Hilarious, who proceed to damage the field of discourse irreparably. So rigid are her anti-climate devotees a great number sprang to her defence when she blamed the London riots on equal rights and same sex union. The woman writes predetermined right wing vengeance, yet “great piece”, “wonderful article”, “blah blah”, flow across Twitter regardless of topic, as she insults critics with her baton of misplaced importance.

There are the Creationists who speak of climate science in the same tone I speak of war crimes. To confuse the mix other enemies of reason accept climate science not because they have the skill to choose a valid source, but because they are beholden to their misconception of “natural”. Yet far from potential allies in managing the fallout from climate change they contribute to delayed action on their own field of play. Destruction of GM crops. Misguided animal rights. Spreading misinformation about vaccination as a means to population control. It’s not smaller healthier and wealthier families they see emerging to bring developing nations out of poverty. It’s “human culling” via vaccine.

A common factor in all beliefs held by enemies of reason in the Age of Hilarious is the misconception of “research” and “conclusion”. We hear this with so many pseudo-scientific endeavours and particularly with climate denial and vaccine denial. People claim to have spent time researching vaccines, for example, only to follow on with the “conclusion” it’s best not to vaccinate their children. Yet whatever they have read has all the accuracy of that which leads others to deny evolution announcing, “If we evolved from monkeys why are there still monkeys around today?”. Or to quote Kent Hovind, he hasn’t seen “a squirrel give birth to a pine cone… a dog give birth to a non dog”.

Vaccine denial relies on the towering ignorance of the over-confident or the thunderous immorality of the callous and cunning. One can accept that it is surely impossible to properly study immunology and that they must trust the scientific consensus. Or alternatively one can crave the nobility of faith, the piety of belief and insist on not being “a sheep”. In truth no amount of reading without evaluation and practice justifies the often heard claims of superior intelligence.

It’s here we need the Dunning-Kruger effect. Rational Wiki describe it briefly and in brutal accuracy:

The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when incompetent people not only fail to realise their incompetence, but consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. Basically – they’re too stupid to know that they’re stupid

Complicating this further is the in-group thinking that accompanies the anti-science crowds. Consider the Chiropractic Association of Australia. The Australian Homeopathic Association. The Australian Vaccination Network and other organised conspiracy movements. All these groups and many more exhibit a lack of any skill to discern the value of information. Ideology and belief is what drives them. Today, claimed intelligence and the accumulation of knowledge do not make for good decision making.

The sheer volume of information means we are better served by developing the skill to choose what sources to trust. Though I imagine for some they are at an extreme disadvantage. The constant urge for intellectual risk in the supposed realm of the unknown, once served by genuine mysteries, is a cognitive detriment. Hearing someone like Meryl Dorey talk, sets off warning bells like reading a scam Nigerian email offering me untold wealth in the worst grammar possible. Yet for others she is the cult figure that completes the circle of irrational belief.

It seems we develop intellectual tools in the absence of any skill to use them. No doubt that goes for all of us and highlights the importance of critical thinking. Vaccine denial appears in many cases to be justified by stories of cognitive dissonance that are resolved to an eventual cognitive bias which is then fed to the point of a splendid Dunning-Kruger effect. Intellectually the inability to use certain tools most often results in failed comprehension. But combined with the inability to gauge risk the anti-vaccine movement is overseeing a resurgence of disease. Consider this comment approved by Meryl Dorey on The Australian Vaccination Network Facebook page.

Inability to understand risk-benefit is a feature of The Age of Hilarious

The developing world is for those of us in the Age of Hilarious much like where a time machine would take us if we went backward and forward to gather information of vaccine preventable disease (VPD). Today, one child dies every 20 seconds from a VPD. Pneumonia and diarrhea are the biggest killers in developing nations whilst these are prevented by Pneumococcal and Rotavirus vaccines. As the AVN’s Judy Wilyman rails against the HPV vaccine, dismissively citing developed nation levels of cervical cancer the reality is 270,000 women die of HPV related causes annually – 85% in developing nations.

The smallpox vaccine saves $1.3 billion annually – 10 times the cost of the original program. Typhoid kills 200-600,000 per year and in developing nations congenital rubella syndrome still claims 90,000 lives annually. The cost to a family of a disabled child or adult often combined with the loss of a mother is to us, incomprehensible. Vaccination allows for improved health and growth. Children go on to attend and finish school. They contribute to family life and when eventually employed raise the family income to levels usually not dreamed of.

The more children vaccinated the more that live and the more that live the less that must be “produced” by parents to compete with the present law of attrition. In countries with high VPD one doesn’t expect to see children grow. Rather one hopes against the odds enough will grow to sustain a bearable quality of life for the family. With vaccination quality of life improves dramatically. Families, villages, districts and even nations can be pulled from poverty.

The GAVI Alliance – previously Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation – fund 97% of pneumococcal vaccination in developing nations. In the last decade they have pushed hepatitis B vaccination in China above that in Australia and placed a virtual halt on liver cancer.

Yet comfortable in their scientifically endowed lives, fully vaccinated as children and content with two kids, vaccine denialists in developed nations insist the reduction in family numbers and misery is planned genocide. They ridicule charities and sabotage attempts to raise money for, or educate about, the success of vaccination in less fortunate nations, as yet free from the Age of Hilarious. Which raises the question: what are they free from?

A typical example is that recently Mia Freedman wrote an article about the self appointed experts of the anti-vaccine movement. Mia shreds the AVN ticking all the boxes about their false “choice”, the farcical name, the pretend expertise… in fact the truth. One quote I like which applies because the benefits of vaccines are irrefutable is, “In fact there aren’t two sides and there is no debate. On one hand there is science and there is no other hand.”

Dorey went berserk, summoned her flying monkeys and actually had them writing to Mia “from the other side”. The attacks were typical. “What a bl**dy parasitic moron journalist!” commented one. Her article was likened to eugenics, she was a moron, and idiot. She was an ignorant douchebag, rude, self-righteous, uneducated and hateful…. One can only imagine the emails out of the public eye.

Mia tweeted:

To which Dorey shot back “What threats? How about listening to parents of vaccine damaged kids to learn about the other side if (sic) vaccination? YES-2 sides!”. Which is terribly ironic as many have asked to see these crowds of vaccine damaged children that Dorey so liberally exploits. At the same time anyone presenting evidence was banned and their posts deleted – as usual. One member managed to remain leaving:

Mia writes engaging articles with compassion, empathy and humour. Many, many commenters on MM disagree with her position on many issues but as long as they’re not abusive, the comments stay. That’s why she has such a vast audience. You should try it, Meryl. You might find your audience grows instead of shrinking away and hiding on closed websites and Facebook pages.

And (to the author of the above Facebook comment – but not in response to that comment):

… why are you being so mean? You do realise that lots of people – genuinely curious people – will come to this page after reading Mia’s column? If I were you I’d be using the traffic to make a reasoned argument in a friendly forum. Mocking and insulting a well loved and popular writer (even if you disagree with her) is not doing your cause any good.

All in all it continued on for some time. I was riveted at how far the antivaccination movement – or is it just Dorey’s mob – had fallen. I could not find any arguments or attempts at discourse beyond vicious, wailing ad hominem abuse. Dorey wrote her usual scathing personal reply seeming to latch onto two sentences that distort Mia’s intent:

I’m certainly not suggesting we become a flock of sheep or suspend critical thought. But I don’t need to ‘do my research’ before I vaccinate.

Dorey used this to accuse her of being a sheep proffering, “Well duh! If you don’t do your research first Mia, may I suggest you open wide and say baaaaaaaaaa!”

But the full paragraph is clearer:

I’m certainly not suggesting we become a flock of sheep or suspend critical thought. But I don’t need to ‘do my research’ before I vaccinate. Or before I accept that the earth is round and that gravity exists. Scientists far smarter than me have already done that research and the verdict is unanimous, thanks.

Therein lies the impact of Mia’s article. Cries of “I’ve done my research” just don’t cut it with something as irrefutable as vaccination. From a safety viewpoint, it is open to abuse and argument less than regulation of the aviation industry. I would also argue, one needs the skill to discern a reputable source rather than embarking on piecemeal “research”. And in this Age of Hilarious it’s plain that Meryl Dorey is a source of dangerous nonsense.

To top it off Dorey made her seventh appearance on Friday at Conspiracy Central Airwaves aka Fairdinkum Radio. I’ve snipped 3 minutes of grabs below [or MP3 here]. It opens with Leon Pittard criticising science and the “technocracy” we’re moving into. It continues with Big Pharma terror then Dorey attacking Mia Freedman who “is a product of the governments health policy [which is] everyone must vaccinate and we need to fear and hate those who don’t do it”. That’s right dear reader – that’s government policy according to Dorey. Just like racism she contends.

Despite knowing the pertussis vaccine gives dubious immunity and no vaccine is infallible Dorey can’t seem to grasp Mia’s argument that an unvaccinated child is a risk to all Australians, vaccinated or not. Meryl should read this post from a mother whose vaccinated daughter caught pertussis from an unvaccinated child and three months later, “is prone to chest infections, pneumonia, and more susceptible to viruses and Influenza.”

In the same program Dorey again repeats the myth that no children died of pertussis in the ten years to 2009. Reasonable Hank deals with it splendidly. Why she keeps insulting her hosts and listeners like this I don’t really know, only to politely assume it’s linked to the pitfalls of cognitive bias above. Between 1993 – 2008, 16 children under 12 months died from pertussis. Dorey is well aware of this. And so her cult-like cycle of bald faced untruths continues.

French atheist, philosopher and author, Michel Onfray suggests the coming century will be the century of religion. He is probably right, but exactly what form the religions will take and what passes for belief and faith might be hard to recognise by it’s end. Consider Scientology for a salient example.

Whatever the case it seems that for a number of reasons from human psychology, to arrogance to simple power and profit the Age of Hilarious will persist for a while yet.

Monika’s Entity

Monika Milka is a perfect example of why alternatives to medicine have no place being legitimised in Australian universities.

On Monday February 13th, Today Tonight Adelaide ran a piece [below] on the gruff chain smoker who runs Monika’s Entity from run down sheds in Wallaroo and what passes for “rooms” in Gawler, South Australia. Despite being entirely unqualified in anything or registered anywhere Monika claims to be a healer of amazing talents.

Monika Milka: “The Universe knows best”

Monika Milka claims to be a homeopath, homeotoxicologist, iridologist, mesotherapist, biomesotherapist, deep tissue masseur and a deft hand with a quartz crystal diamond laser. Her “Tonics” – 150 ml bottles of ethanol and water sell for $150, and prompted the Today Tonight sting. In a hidden camera first, Milka claims her tonics are responsible for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine physique.

“He needed to get the part for Wolverine… I made his physique”.

Presently as per the Public and Environmental Health Act 1987 Monika is under S.A. Health Department orders to not administer any substances to any person. Nor can she provide substances to another person, unless that substance is a commercial product. Of course this means Monika would have to spend to buy stock and sell at a retail price. But when you can score $150 for a splash of magical water those S.A. health authority orders prohibiting provision of anything must be a pain in the wallet.

On February 2nd Monika launched a Facebook scare campaign claiming that Heliobacter Pylori was vulnerable to her tonic which could eliminate infection. Diagnosis seems random, and antibiotics aren’t mentioned.

Even people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome “in their veins” were led on by her. “Can I order it online?”, asks one target with CFS. Milka replies…

The scam continues. Only Monika’s “tonic” can save humanity from this “Bastard”.

Sounds… fair. But wait – there’s more Tonic Totality!

Tooth and gum pain? No problem:

How about your pets? Monika has a message for the bird brains out there. Homeopathy makes pets feel good – and smell nice.

Water you can add to… more water. Perhaps add it to cream. Wow, this is magic water indeed.

On and on it goes. I’m sure you get the idea. Monika’s $150 bottles of water range out to cure everything.

  • Monika’s defence, when challenged? [Audio here]

Let’s review how a not too bright con artist manages to be breaching conditions under the Public and Environmental Health Act 1987 simply by selling water. Well back around 2005 Monika hit on a money making boon. She decided she would claim to cure cancer by “killing the worms” that Monika invented as responsible for any manner of horrors. She’d do this by mesotherapy – injecting saline solution and “other substances” into very sick people for $500 per week.

Not long after this in June 2008, S.A. Health issued a Mesotherapy Alert. It included reports on six people who had attended Monika’s Entity suffering “multiple symmetrical skin abscesses on their calves, buttocks, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, face and neck”. Today it appears up to 14 people were seriously effected by this madness.

One had developed a notoriously difficult to treat mycobacterial abscess. Translation? Monika was almost certainly injecting her customers with tap water, the most common source of mycobacterium. Either that or sewerage contaminants.

Monika writes on Facebook and elsewhere using bizarre grammar and spelling. We get a strange contrived pixie sing-song lilt about the universe, karma, the law of attraction and nasty things eventually happening to anyone who challenges her. Monika apparently has some explaining to do.

Remember, Milka is by law not allowed to provide anything to anyone. I hate to be so blunt but she is a dirty, dangerous, deceptive and cruel scam artist. Although Monika has no qualifications, registration nor accreditation with any health or “alternative” health body in Australia she wants the unfortunate victims who pass by to believe so. On January 27th when stories on the urging of removal of quackery courses from universities were in the press, Monika drops a telling comment.

Being unregistered Milka may have accessed hypodermics from Needle and Syringe Programmes (NSPs) provided under harm reduction services for users of illicit drugs. This becomes more compelling when we note Milka claims “junkies” who she unwittingly hired were responsible for the unsterilised equipment.

Milka runs a Deli full time and has a smattering of customers whom she treats in filthy conditions in sheds. Thus, this story blaming missing “junkies” is unsatisfactory. Even if we entertain it (in fact even if we don’t), health authorities must face the reality that syringes used on patients may have been second hand. Milka owes it to her “patients” to ensure they seek testing for Hepatitis C and HIV. How were the sharps disposed of? What reason did Milka give to NSP staff for accessing equipment?

Of course to Milka, this is all nonsense. Despite an ongoing civil case seeking damages she claims it was all “dealt with years ago”. She is the victim in all this we’re told. The Universe trusts and loves her and in the dance of the Cosmos, that is all that matters.

Fortunately she was pulled up in June 2009 during the Inquiry into bogus, unregistered and deregistered health practitioners.
The Inquiry received one written complaint about Ms Monica Milka. It alleged that Ms Milka had:

  • claimed that she was able to cure cancer, and
  • failed to provide receipts for payment provided.

As the wife of one of Monika’s victims told the Inquiry [page 42]:

In 2005, my husband, Ross, was diagnosed with cancer of the bile ducts. After surgery and various courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments failed to halt the diseases, my husband sought the help of Monica Milka who did ‘alternative therapies’. Monika assured my husband that she could cure him and commenced treating him with all types of sprays, medicines and injections. The many injections she gave to his stomach were to ‘kill the worms’ that were causing the problem but in fact left him very sore. She also took photos of his eyes and then showed him those supposed images on a computer screen, pointing out the ‘areas of improvement’ and telling him how well he was doing. Ross paid Monica over $500 per week. Initially he paid by visa card so received a receipt for this payment but later on he began to pay cash and no longer received any receipts.

Milka’s insouciance to her earthly responsibilities could not have been clearer:

The Committee received written correspondence from Clark Radin (lawyers) representing Ms Monika Milka. In their letter, Clark Radin requested that copies of all oral and written submissions received by the Committee against Ms Milka be provided to them… The option to view the material was not taken up by either Ms Milka or Clark Radin.

There’s little doubt Monika Milka and Monika’s Entity is a danger to the community. She is completely without remorse and appears oblivious to the notion of responsibility. She makes a living from thieving – scheming and scamming innocent and vulnerable Aussies, all of whom will be left worse than before encountering her. The only constant is the never ending barely comprehensible rambling about cosmic vibes and universal energy that can kindly be referred to as the rantings of an insane witch.

Not only is Monika Wolverine Milka a walking talking example of what pseudosciences must ensure they can control, she presently acts as a voice for their place in university. Apologists like Kerryn Phelps need far more than a few placebo studies to make this disease go away.

Somehow I doubt Milka is as loving and cosmic as she pretends. I hope the full force of the law hits her hard and hits her soon.

The Law of Attraction shall we say ♥

Monika Milka: Quackery of the first order

Floreani, Golden and the myth of homeopathic immunisation

For a mob that officially professes “no position” on vaccination the Chiroprctors’ Association of Australia disseminate ample false, misleading and quite dangerous antivaccination hanky panky.

Take CAA NSW branch vice president, Nimrod Weiner. The Weiner from Newtown Community Chiropractic whose Nimroddery was pegged as a “rant on vaccines” by The Australian. Although he feverishly ran for cover after outraging real doctors, not-a-real-doctor Weiner’s “rant” bibliography can be found here. A hodge podge of dusty conspiracy twaddle and outright lies, much from the Australian Vaccination Network it alone refutes Weiner’s claim:

I’m good at knowing how to read a research aritcle, and knowing whether it’s viable or not. I’m also good at collecting a lot of research. This vaccine topic I update every single week. So what we’re looking at is new as of yesterday morning.

He didn’t write that, but announced this to attendees of his seminar Vaccinations: An informed choice, in what can quite justifiably be called a lie. There’s more on the entire debacle along with a Radio National segment here. At times we’ve met other crackpots from the CAA. Jason Parkes and Rob Hutchings, both of whom approach their profession like a religious fundamentalist approaches taking up arms. Warren Sipser who believes vaccines cause harm yet chiropractic “repairs DNA”. Genevieve Keating is another pleasant sounding predator who specialises in convincing parents chiropractic builds super human kids. They lean toward the weird beliefs of founder Daniel David Palmer and his views on “God given energy flows”.

Sipser was the subject of an article in The Australian headed The Chiro Kids which brought home just how ludicrous (and scurrilous) the new brand of Mystical Chiropractors really are. Thanks to Dr. Rachael Dunlop we can read the CAA’s Media Release warning CAA members of that article. It’s disturbing stuff given these quacks are subsidised by our government (Medicare foots the bill for five sessions per year) and health insurers. Written by CAA national president Simon Floreani, it is a straight out attempt at damage control, obfuscation and dodging questions.

Floreani himself has run antivaccination clinics and is a member of the Australian Vaccination Network. He describes Dorey’s little fraudulent scheme as a valuable resource for patients. Simon is married to Jennifer Floreani, famous for writing an article supposedly describing (Update – as noted below the bogus article has been removed but can be found here pp. 348-349) her newborn’s battle with pertussis, picked up from an older sibling. Given the outcome and treatment the article is almost certainly fraudulent, but if perchance the diagnosis is correct then at best it is reckless neglect and at worst simple child abuse.
She writes (bold hers):

This experience did indeed test our resolve and we were forced to draw on our support network of healthcare providers. We performed chiropractic checks on our baby daily and utilised a whooping cough homeopathic. I dosed myself with an array of vitamins to boost his immunity via breast milk and kept him hydrated with constant breastfeeding.

Whooping cough is often slow to develop and may respond well to conservative management, including chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy, herbs, acupuncture or acupressure. Within two days, the severity of our baby’s symptoms cleared and within a two week period, each of our boys had a complete resolution of their symptoms.

Fortunately for the Floreani’s this little tale is just that – a tale and a comical one too. Every type of “conservative management” is absolutely non efficacious. Babies with pertussis gag, choke and may have profound difficulty breathing making this nonsense of super fortified breast milk as a realistic option seem laughable. More so, there’s no evidence an increase of maternal vitamin intake when breastfeeding will do anything but produce expensive maternal urine. Even more farcical is the notion of “boosting immunity” with vitamins. Either way, if their baby did have pertussis there’d be no magic recovery after two days but admission to intensive care many days later as the insanity of their hokery pokery gradually sank in. Yet, that’s not really the point.

The dangerous, deluded and unconscionable message pushed on parents here is that using your breasts, vitamins and witch doctor spells, you can clear up a potentially fatal disease within two days. It’s outrageous and a bald faced lie that I cannot even begin to comprehend the motivation for. What’s infuriating is that chiropractors exploit the confirmation bias in parents and the Floreani’s are prime examples.

Parents who believe these nonsense manipulations cure everything report that yes treatment keeps children healthy. They also report inaccurately that lapses in treatment lead to poor health. Knowing this, chiropractors are famous for setting treatment frequencies, with some even insisting on treatment contracts. That the locus lies with parental bias has been shown splendidly in trials on colic.

As we know, chiropractors claim they can “successfully treat” colic or – in their lingo – Irritable Baby Syndrome. Trials show that if parents believed their baby received chiropractic care, whether they did or did not, they reported improvement. If they believed that no chiropractic care was applied – even when it was – they reported a worsening of colic. You can catch up with Simon Floreani admitting no proper trials exist here on Lateline back in July 2009.

He’s caught out claiming injuries from neck manipulation are one in 5.85 million cases when in fact they are gauged at 1.3-5 per 100,000 manipulations, by insurer Kaiser Permanente, who refuse to cover the practice. In short Floreani is claiming instance of vertebral injury is 60 – 300 times less than it is.

On August 21st this year, a video entitled “Homeopathy evidence and research” filmed by Simon Floreani and featuring homeopath and fraud Isaac Golden, appeared on YouTube. The video below looks initially at the rise of the Mystical Chiropractors and then picks through Golden’s claims of Cuban “homeopathic immunisation” and his own so-called PhD on “homeopathic immunisation”.

When used to defend against a complaint to the TGA about homeoprophylaxis, Golden’s PhD actually helped uphold the CRP decision of misleading claims by fellow crook, Fran Sheffield. This is because even Golden admits in his thesis text that his sample was flawed in size and there was no chance of contracting infection. In short he showed nothing.

Enjoy…

Homeopathy is baloney

A nice video montage of various clips relating to the pros (cough) and cons of homeopathy.

If homeopathically labelled it might read Facts 40C, Baloney 15C. This means that factual material has been vastly more diluted than complete baloney. Which means there’s more impact from fact in this video than hokery pokery. That in itself makes no sense – so we’re off to a good start.

The surprisingly honest episode of Today Tonight featuring Richard Saunders of Australian Skeptics is interspersed with other material. Paul Offit explains the uselessness of Oscillococcinum, James Randi pops in with a refreshing use of the words “health scam”. Simon Singh appears on the BBC and Aussie TV and we meet Mark Wild, a British filmmaker whose decision to use a homeoprophylactic for malaria almost killed him.

Don’t miss the hilarious Charlene Werner casually redefining Einstein’s equation whilst lecturing in homeopathy. And we thank “quantum healer” Joshua Bloom just for using the word “quantum”. Kudos to the guy from Futurama.

Beware the ELF in the cupboard

The recent report (2011-12) on the Auditor Generals performance audit into Therapeutic Goods Regulation of complementary “medicines”, is disturbing reading. It confirms that the CAM “industry” if you will may breach the Therapeutic Goods Act with little concern.

Under the authority contained in the Auditor-General Act 1997 the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) undertook an independent performance audit in the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA). The Therapeutic Goods Administration – part of the DoHA – has the role of regulating the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. The Minister for Health and Ageing holds responsibility for the Act.

Back in June this year a Transparency Review of the TGA was published, which you can find in a separate post here. I also outlined the essential gateway that permits the wide scale manufacturing of bogus products, with bogus claims, sold for very real percentages of your hard earned money;

To register a product, sponsors use an electronic listing facility – ELF – by simply going online. Much like filling out a Facebook profile. Ingredients are selected from a drop down list. Near enough is good enough. These ingredients are already deemed riskish free by the TGA. Sponsors “self certify” under GMP requirements. Basically claiming that the goods are produced under Good Marketing Practice. Finally they tick a box indicating that they hold good evidence. Hand on heart no doubt. No checks are ever run. They pay the $600 fee and receive an AUST L number. These goods are then able to be listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

The Electronic Listing Facility software (now version 3) has the power to allow products for sale. It’s no surprise dear reader, to find that our friend the ELF features heavily in the independent audit. The Act was given extra zing in 2001 to allow easy market access of products deemed low risk because they, well, in the main don’t really do anything. It favours “sponsors” (producers) hiding true information from the public. Thus it is open to wide abuse and it seems this opening is a crowded one indeed.

The ELF also provides a free text field for sponsors to wax lyrical about the astonishing qualities and safety of products. Again, like a Facebook profile you may enter whatever you like. Or omit entering what you don’t like. Although introduced in 2003 it can have no impact on products already on the ARTG prior to it’s introduction. True to it’s sleepy nature the TGA have done nothing to check if existing (pre-2003) products comply with present standards. Which may well tell us more about what the TGA think of it’s own so-called standards than the egregious risk to public health it otherwise appears to be.

In respect of “pre-market assessment” on page 77 under 3.44, the ANAO noted four matters “whose consideration could improve their integrity”:

(1) indications and claims in older products have not been checked;

(2) arrangements for scanning freetext indications are not robust or comprehensive and require manual backup;

(3) the coded indications project—which could address both these issues by eliminating the free‐text field—has been proceeding very slowly; and

(4) some sponsors may, on occasions, be entering incorrect information into the ARTG intentionally.

If a product variation or grouping of products occurs ELF 3 will scan the records from pre-2003. Yet, this is widely known and sponsors avoid updating their records despite new research condemning effects or dismissing efficacy. Thus (for example), St. John’s Wort remains marketed as an effective depression treatment despite having no effect on endogenous depression and a poor effect on clinical depression. Fish oil sponsors continue to boast of success with osteoarthritis (OA) despite the anti-inflammatory effects only showing promise in rheumatoid arthritis. The promised “cartilage regeneration” occurs at a glacial pace compared to loss via OA, rendering it almost meaningless.

The list of “hangers on”, if you like, debunked in any manner of exercise is extensive. “Anti-oxidant” products incapable of meeting claims, detoxification kits that have negative effects actually resulting in jaundice and poor LFT’s, all homeopathic products, echinacea, dedicated preparations containing vitamins or minerals, crystal therapies, energy bands, sexual performance/libido enhancers, cognitive enhancement products, immune stimulants, herbal weight loss products and teas, etc, etc.

The TGA does no manual checking and the software cannot scan existing records for restricted or prohibited terms aiding this pseudoscientific white elephant. This is despite the fact the TGA is regularly adding new terms. So effectively;

  • Any product listed on the ARTG prior to 2003 escapes scrutiny for all restricted or prohibitive terms. Any such product escapes even the dubious self-certification standards by which new products are listed;
  • When the TGA adds a term or word to it’s list of restricted or prohibited words and terms, every single item listed prior to this is not checked for these same words or terms;
  • The TGA’s assessment system is incapable of scanning existing products and thus cannot correct for the impact of emerging research;
  • In the 8 years since implementation of the ELF the TGA has made no attempt to manually check pre 2003 listings;
  • Sponsors intentionally avoid updating information via the ELF, effectively misleading the public to continue to believe a product succeeds where it has been shown to fail;
  • Sponsors may enter incorrect information about a product intentionally and the product may still be approved for listing on the ARTG;
  • Nonetheless the TGA is working to address these shortfalls via a “coded indications” project, which the ANOA has identified at progressing too slowly.

Not surprisingly then when ANAO searched for “TGA Approved” and “safe” – the use of which is unlawful in advertising alternative products – thousands of examples were found. Of these thousands the ANAO provided “three egregious examples to the TGA” (p. 128). The TGA identified other breaches “such as ‘cancer‘”. As of June 20th, 2011 two of these three “egregious breaches” were not rectified.

Okay, so why? Well on page 130-131 we read that prosecution is the only option left to the TGA in these cases. Yet;

The TGA’s Advertising Unit is not aware of having successfully used the full range of sanctions, such as seeking a prosecution for breaches:

Due to the very low financial penalties currently available (a maximum of $6600 for individuals and $33 000 for corporations) for advertising offences in the Act and other investigative priorities for the TGA, it is not costeffective for the TGA to initiate a formal investigation of an advertising breach with a view to preparing a brief of evidence for consideration of prosecution by the Director of Prosecutions …

It has never been cost effective for the TGA to initiate a formal investigation of an advertising breach with a view to preparing a brief of evidence.

The size of penalties attached to criminal offences may also mean that it is seen as not in the public interest to proceed. This view is consistent with legal advice provided to the Advertising Unit about specific breaches.

The TGA has also observed that “prosecution is currently the only available option where administrative requests fail to achieve compliance”. There have never been any cases that have been referred for prosecution action and accepted. As a consequence, the prospect of using prosecution action against noncompliant behaviour, and as a deterrent, seems limited.

Alrighty then. So it’s not cost effective or “in the public interest” to enforce regulations. Sponsors and manufacturers would know of this stunning record of no successful prosecution. They must be trembling in their Whitsunday banana lounges, dear reader. 80 of 82 complaints pertaining to the Advertising Code this year were upheld by the TGA. The two failed complaints were “between” competing companies. Yet there’s no way to follow through and prosecute for non compliance. That’s quite absurd in anybody’s reasoning.

In 2010 a DoHA review found 90% of products reviewed were found to be non-compliant with regulatory requirements. The infamous 31 products selected at random yielded 68 breaches;

  • 20 medicines had labelling issues such as noncompliance with labelling requirements and/or breaches which may mislead consumers.
  • 12 included incomplete and/or inappropriate information on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).
  • 22 were found to have manufacturing and/or quality issues.
  • 14 did not have adequate evidence to substantiate claims made about the medicines.

This comes on top of the 2003 recall of 1600 Pan Pharmaceutical products. In 2006 the TGA found 75% non-compliance with regulations. However, the TGA doesn’t use information gathered from post market reviews to sharpen up the prodding stick for frequent offenders or even the most frequently occurring characteristic of regulatory breaches. This is a major issue in presenting transparency and setting in train practices that would better inform the public.

Since 2005 it’s been government policy for the TGA to collect from sponsors a summary of evidence, for the purpose of informing the public. Sponsors are required to have this summary. The TGA inexplicably assumed this process of collection would be legislated for under the Australia New Zealand Therapeutic Products Agency. The ANZTPA process initially faltered and as the TGA is wont to do it consequently did… nothing.

But by golly, in May this year it “took steps” – yes “steps” dear reader – “to restart implementation of this policy”. Yes! To “restart” the policy. Which to me sounds like bureaucratic blubber indicating a pre-emptive attempt at damage control, if we scrutinise the dates of the auditing process.

So here we are still waiting to know what comes out of those magical places that use our little ELF. On top of the Transparency Review we may conclude there is little transparency for the public. If you’re not in the habit of reading research or taking an intellectual interest in alternative product dynamics (which indicates you’re almost certainly immune to hanky panky), you’d make a perfect customer. Ignorant, misled and unable to access proper information. All in all it’s pretty tragic.

Do be my guest and have a read.

Auditor Generals Report: Therapeutic Regulation of Complementary Medicines

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