Of chiropractic tripe and the odd zebra stripe

When we think of chiropractic and Equidae, it’s usually unicorns that come to mind.

The search for the chiropractic subluxation has been as fruitful as the search for the unicorn. In fact perhaps less fruitful, as we know with a high degree of accuracy what the unicorn looks like. Yet with the chiropractic subluxation our fairy tale is limited to conjuring mystical malaise or blaming dastardly disease as the work of this elusive evil.

chiro face palm

Do not be alarmed. This man has not seen a unicorn.

Rather, he had just been told that chiropractic subluxations

involve some type of “static” in the spinal cord.

Doctors (real doctors) report that he made a full recovery

after his palm was removed from his face.

Interestingly enough, whilst chiropractic teaches that areas of subluxation are invisible and can be “detected” only by the presence of symptoms, Simon Floreani, erstwhile president of the Chiropractors Association of Australia, has other ideas.

Check out the Catalyst video below at 1min, 45sec. Using the apparently magical Activator – or the “stick that goes click” – on an infant, Floreani announces:

Areas of subluxation that I can feel there, that are immediately improved after you adjust it like that…

You can read more about the Sonic Screwdriver-like Activator here in The Medical Observer. Just be prepared for some tongue in cheek observations. In September 2011 it was reported in Australian Doctor that the Federal Government had been asked to investigate both the Activator and “the Nervoscope” as they had been reported as having, “no biomechanical or physiological effect and cannot diagnose or treat any health condition”.

Fortunately, whilst new-age chiropractors continue to push their ineffective devices, practices and claims onto an unsuspecting public, genuinely motivated supporters of evidence based medicine are busy exposing their scams.

Check out the videos below to see just how devoid of facts claims made by the resurgent followers of Daniel David Palmer, really are. And keep an eye out for Simon and his zebra.

Catalyst – July 11th 2013


Floreani’s penchant for cutting his own path may help explain why he has chosen the zebra over the unicorn.

zebra floreaniFloreani positions a young subluxee on his treatment table cunningly disguised as a zebra

Lateline – July 6th 2009


Zebra floreani2

Floreani seems to be watched over by a zebra

Today Tonight – December 2011


Today Tonight – March 14th 2013

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A response to the defence of chiropractic

Paul; your writings are amusing, but you have only 183 followers! My 14 year old daughter has three times that on a silly facebook page!

In the spirit of genuine laziness and as one of the “waspish witch-hunters of political medicine”, I’ve reproduced my response to a comment on the About page written by a giant in the art of selective topic pertinence.

Keith. Mate!

Your daughter has a bigger number than mine. On Facebook! Well, I’m sure that every one is a dedicated and true friend engaged in a deeply meaningful personal relationship. Or… maybe quality isn’t what matters, if I’m to take the meaning.

Yes I agree chiropractic will be around for years to come. Chiropractors will tweak and change to keep in line with shifts in superstition and trends in gullibility to ensure they maintain a large slice of the health scam market. They will also fight and defend like skilled con artists and fraudsters to hold onto the empty title of “doctor”, being only too aware of the psychology that drives the gullible to their doors. Mimicry of actual medicine and misuse of technology is vital to the illusion.

Also I agree on the history. Palmer certainly wasn’t the first person to rattle and dance, poke and prod whilst intoning godly laws about the human body and human health. He was however the first to market his touchy brand of magic as “science” and made liberal use of the most modern tools at his disposal.

I note your journey to last century to exhume the Wilk case. A splendid diversion. Yet since then, not only was your daughter born but chiropractic shifted into a fundamentalist ideology that denies every rule of medical science and the very laws of nature itself. Of it’s own accord it has become the “go to discipline” for glowing appraisals of alternatives to medicine and solemn condemnation of conventional medicine.

More so, it has again of it’s own accord inserted itself in serious health debates way beyond the beliefs ensconced behind the battlements of it’s extradimensional reality. The vaccination issue. Pre natal, neo natal and extended post natal proclamations designed solely to scare vulnerable and gullible new parents to sign those lucrative “treatment contracts”. Paediatric chiropractic – perhaps more amusing than you realise if not for the conclusive demonstrations of inefficacy.

To my knowledge the only scheme to actually provoke symptoms of Munchausens Syndrome By Proxy it is responsible for creating nervous wrecks and genuine psychological patients of innocent parents. The invention of “syndrome” after “syndrome” and the terrifying warnings of what awaits those who do not succumb to regular “maintenance”.

However as we read in Quacks galore in facade of quirky medicine:

SCIENTISTS spent $374,000 recently asking people to inhale lemon and lavender scents to see if it helped their wounds to heal. It didn’t.

The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the US also outlaid $700,000 to show that magnets are no help in treating arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or migraines.

The centre spent $390,000 to find that old Indian herbal remedies do not control type 2 diabetes and $406,000 to prove coffee enemas do not cure pancreatic cancer.

It’s the same story around the globe. One by one, weirdo treatments are being exposed as bunkum.

Why are people so gullible, handing over their hard-earned cash for unproven alternative therapies? […]

Latest research says dietary supplements and megavitamins, acupuncture and chiropractic are of little use – and may even be harmful. […]

Chiropractors have now been discredited by every reputable medical organisation from the Royal Society down, yet people still spend up on these bone-crunchers and state and federal governments seem unwilling to shut them down.

Recently I reported on two experts on alternative medicine who reviewed all the evidence and concluded chiropractic was “worthless”.

“Harmful, worthless, discredited by every reputable medical organisation from the Royal Society down”. Keith, mate! And that’s coming from proponents of alternatives to medicine.

Like all magical claims chiropractic has been sternly examined and found wanting. It’s claims of efficacy crushed under the simple application of RCTs and it’s claims of safety evaporate before a monumental collection of research into death, permanent injury and disability or injury and complications with frequent cases of lengthy recovery. To be sure this happens in medicine also but to those already on death’s doorstep, significantly ill, disabled or in need of life saving surgery. And they are well informed of the risks that apply to a strictly evidence based choice.

That chiropractors scheme and trick people who are absolutely perfectly healthy – indeed many fatalities in robust health, the prime of life – to believe they need attention is itself a grave insult to common altruism and a thunderously immoral application of psychology. That healthy and vital people can be killed or injured and experience levels of morbidity that equal high impact vehicle accidents is a statement about chiropractic no-one can ignore.

Again addressing your mine’s bigger than yours argument I note the “fast-dwindling group of activists” reference. Of course nothing could be more inaccurate. Advocacy for science based medicine and skeptical defence and examination of consumer rights in health and beyond, is at an all time high. But it is not quantity that matters, and your obsession with quantity reveals your lack of appreciation for quality.

It is evidence that matters. Including evidence explaining what drives the interest in so many health scams we have seen rise up of late. The search for Truth is indeed vital, but skeptics and other scientists will accept the evidence as it comes. This happens to include that which explains the manipulation of individuals to believe the equivalent of magic is fact. Should the evidence indicate an increase in the future this too will be sought for further elucidation.

To comment on evidence gleaned from the methods that can be trusted to inform us of our world is not to be waging war. Much less a “self created turf war” as you put it. Of course people will continue to believe in fallacy and illusion. Magic has been a feature of our species for countless thousands of years, yet today we can discern the mechanics by which false displays are executed and the primary role of the believer themselves.

Many things will persist with health scams. Wars, cults, belief in the supernatural and our disposition to internalise superstitious belief to name a few. People are hard wired to believe in fantasy. Yet in a democracy I would not have it any other way for it reflects on my freedom. Your real concern should be with a.) the lack of evidence for chiropractic and b.) the ultimate goal of regulators.

Seeking to impede exploitation of fellow community members when evidence irrefutably confirms this, is the democratic right of skeptics and science advocates. When perpetrators of scams confirm malignant intent by misrepresenting evidence it becomes a moral obligation – a duty to our species.

Of course, with real freedom we find expression and belief should not be inhibited. In this light the freedom to be stupid is your democratic right.

I too have found great amusement in this exchange.

I fear however, your return to the lives of schoolgirls on Facebook is perhaps well justified.

Here’s lookin’ at ya Keith.

Manipulation, not gullibility may be driving alternatives to medicine

We hear so much about what alternatives to medicine are not doing, it’s perhaps worth pondering what they might be doing.

Beyond producing a placebo effect, which I stress is nothing to sniff at, it seems we can articulate other accompanying features we would do well to understand. One usually thinks of prescription writing conventional doctors upon hearing expressions like “we expect a pill for every ill”. This is not without good cause. As we saw medicine leap forward and family consulting rooms multiply, the gap between symptom severity and seeking attention quite naturally narrowed.

Yet whatever was going on in our minds that modified our part in closing that gap is a restless beast indeed. Part worry, part suspicion, part urgency, part ignorance, part arrogance, part fear, part expectation, part assumed knowledge and more, it can play a role in convincing us we’re ill – or far more ill than we are. Doctors now know that pandering to this aspect can lead to over-prescription, self medication and hypochondriacs. As a result the medical profession has learned how to manage certain traits with placebo and/or skilled bedside manner.

However, the industry to far and away exploit the sole notion of people needing attention for absolutely no reason is the so-called Wellness Industry. It is aptly named, proffering entirely useless or arguably harmful potions, rituals, observances, gizmos, pokes, prods, states of mind and more, to the entirely well.

But why? As one woman informed ABC’s Lateline some time back as they examined the scams used by chiropractors, It’s “…maintenance… making sure everything’s working properly, making sure everything’s working at it’s best”.

Sure enough the chiropractor asked her to bend to the left, then right. “How that going for you?”, he asked in the tone real doctors might use when examining an actual problem. The woman gets a check up every 4 to 6 weeks. The question we need to ask is about the driving force for her to ask someone if she is in good health. Is it a type of hypochondria? Is it a type of “self medication” in which one seeks out excessive treatment? Is not this chiropractor simply pandering to a psychological state, when his best advice would be to encourage less dependence?

I’m sure she felt better after paying, because just like with Cold Reading all the action occurs within the patients mind. In this case a complex array of cues, sciency stuff, repetition, anatomy posters and models, machines that go “Bing!”, tones of voice and even payment lead up to a nice squirt of dopamine upon completion. The woman is simply conditioned to associate the entire hanky panky with feeling good and thus, better health.

Of course take away this experience without the woman’s consent, and the more time that passes the more anxiety will mess with critical thinking and the usual creaks and twangs she’d ignore become directly attributable to not making it to her “maintenance”. This is the truly brilliant aspect of Wellness Scams. Even when their “patients” are well away from them the urge to return is steadily growing.

People don’t need chiropractic rituals as “maintenance” of health. Thus to continue to exploit this woman is unethical abuse simply for monetary gain. Get them hooked on this notion and it’s easy money. When challenged for evidence of efficacy these visits are trotted out, as if volume of attendance equates to success.

This is why chiropractors, shady nutritionists, reflexologists, reiki magicians, homeopaths, traditional therapists/masseurs work so hard at reinforcing “hits” between their scam and the patient verbalising an association. In the case of New Age diagnostics – often combined with a “therapy” (say iridology and vitamin therapy) – it’s quite simple to create a syndrome that just might be about to run amok.

“Hmmm. We’d better double the selenium, calcium and vitamin E and get you to come in at least twice a week. Let’s see if we can’t nip this in the bud, shall we?”.

It is actually a welcome trait seeing individuals wanting to take more charge of their own health. Certainly that plays a role in the viability of ongoing pseudosciences that masquerade as health services. Perhaps combined with the highly visual and ritualised capers pretending to offer health people are feeling in more control of their health than with brief doctors consultations. It may be that in our present uncertain world of such frequent change to once permanent features, that one seeks out modes of reassurance.

What is certainly a concern is that as people seem intent on taking more control over, and playing more active roles in their own health management, there are charlatans highly skilled at taking advantage of human needs. Nothing is too  difficult for them, nothing cannot be understood, all can be managed and all will be well.

At the top of the scam pyramid reign chiropractors, at once tuning, “diagnosing” and “curing” entirely made up syndromes that engender fear, anxiety, poor decision making and dependence upon ritual in innocent people. So good are chiropractors at this that pregnant patients, fed lies about the needs of newborns, express an impatience for delivery. All so that their neonate can begin chiropractic and thus, start to overcome the abnormalities they believe all children are born with.

Chiropractors run workshops on increasing income. The malleable state of women in a state of hormone flux either side of gestation is well understood. Not for the “patients” benefit. For the benefit of profit born of maternal anxiety and parental fear. It becomes a matter of urgency. The longer left, the more “abnormal” the child will be. Antivaxxers make use of the maternal instinct also, as do renegade home birth groups.

It’s a trait that has served our species well. If mum receives bogus input suggesting the foetus or bub is under threat, no harm comes to either if mum acts upon it. But if mum hangs around to weigh up the risks or ignores constant cues for some time and the risk is real, the chance of this remaining as a successful evolutionary trait is zero. The strength of this trait is notable in that addiction to harmful substances can overrun it. Yet this is following changes in the reward-pleasure centre of the brain, that then initiate neuronal projections into the frontal lobe that serve to inhibit reasoning, decision making, self control and inhibition of behaviour.

Antivaccination lobbyist, AVN member, anti-medicine advocate, homeopathic immunisation promoter and chiropractor Simon Floreani who has children making up 60% of his client base once told Today Tonight:

Babies often come directly from the hospital. They’re referred from the obstetricians, the doctors, the pediatricians, the nurses because chiropractic care’s so safe for them. Many of the current medical procedures just don’t work and parents aren’t silly. They’re looking for good alternatives from people that care and are prepared to look into diet and lifestyle.

As one time Skeptic of the year, Loretta Marron contends, “what they are is faith healers”. Traditional chiropractor John Reggars insists it’s a case of self limiting conditions or perceived changes. From an evidence viewpoint there’s nothing to support chiropractic – even with sore backs. In fact studies show the locus lies with parental belief. If parents think the kids are getting treatment they report improvement even if they are not. Conversely if they believe the child is not being treated when it is, they report deterioration.

The Courier Mail reported recently:

SCIENTISTS spent $374,000 recently asking people to inhale lemon and lavender scents to see if it helped their wounds to heal. It didn’t.

The National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the US also outlaid $700,000 to show that magnets are no help in treating arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or migraines.

The centre spent $390,000 to find that old Indian herbal remedies do not control type 2 diabetes and $406,000 to prove coffee enemas do not cure pancreatic cancer.

It’s the same story around the globe. One by one, weirdo treatments are being exposed as bunkum.

Why are people so gullible, handing over their hard-earned cash for unproven alternative therapies?

Why do usually sane people get sucked in by pseudo-scientific fiddle-faddle such as homeopathy, reiki, reflexology, naturopathy, aromatherapy, iridology and crystals? […]

Chiropractors have now been discredited by every reputable medical organisation from the Royal Society down, yet people still spend up on these bone-crunchers and state and federal governments seem unwilling to shut them down.

Recently I reported on two experts on alternative medicine who reviewed all the evidence and concluded chiropractic was “worthless”.

Professor Edzard Ernst and Peter Canter found no convincing data to support claims the technique was effective.

With the possible exception of the relief of some back pain – where spinal manipulation is as good but no better than conventional treatments – the technique is worthless, the review in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine concluded.

Another impacting feature is the “legitimising” tricks buffering complete rubbish. “Diplomas” in homeopathy. “Degrees” in chiropractic. The meaningless but very powerful use of the term Doctor. Flashy titles given to Boards or National Bodies. Misleading titles such as The Australian Vaccination Network that supports zero vaccines calling them “instruments of death”. “Pro-choice” groups. All this is strictly designed to mislead from the outset.

Yet I’m not sure asking only about gullibility is enough. Gullibility persists often due to a conscious decision to not examine criticism of what has become a comforting belief or set of beliefs. More so we are hard wired to seek out information that confirms what we think we know as fact and associate with people who reinforce our beliefs. Even internalising contradictory information about our beliefs can in time lead to reinterpretation that reinforces the opposite of the information we took in. Cognitive bias is a powerful master.

An admirable foe to conventional medicine who pops up here, Meryl Dorey, completely dismisses the findings above. Yet, when criticising vaccines she relies upon respect for the same scientific approach. “The gold standard of scientific research”, she argues, is the Randomised Controlled Trial. As RCT’s mow down alternatives to medicine Meryl insists that until vaccines are subject to RCT’s they cannot be regarded as “properly tested”. Although Meryl is beyond reason (as evidenced by this level of ignorance about how RCTs work) it’s a fine example of how belief can eliminate respect for evidence.

Perhaps we should be asking more about what leads people to internalise so much misinformation about the world we live in and the basics about how it works. So much of the market sustaining disproved alternatives to medicine also accept without question that our environment is highly toxic, it pollutes our health and natural new age “cures” are needed. They also believe conventional medicine, hiding the truth about “natural cures”, is irrevocably corrupt, peddles poison as medication and is ironically creating a world of sickness from which it profits.

Much of this is provided to them from so-called “alternative practitioners”. Detox’ is necessary. No, it’s quite dangerous. Medicines treat the symptoms not the cause. Quite true, I hasten to add in many cases. I’m just not sure why this is assumed to be a blanket flaw. Figures on medical mishaps draw concern. Yes real doctors are accountable and mishaps are still a small percentage. Adverse reactions from drugs prove medicine is lethal. Quite wrong. Primarily ADR’s underscore patient error, and again given the millions of scripts dispensed is another small symptom of accountability.

The truth is, Conventional Medicine is not peddling sickness and keeping you ill for profit. But Alternatives to Medicine are profiting from the false belief you need maintenance and from keeping you splendidly ignorant.

This continued misinformation about real medicine takes up an exorbitant amount of the message coming from the supposed “complimentary”, “alternative” or “integrative” chapters. From antivaccination messages to the vast bulk of alternatives to medicine the claim of “efficacy” is buoyed upon a childish notion. “We are good, because they are bad”. The more “bad” squeezed in the less the need for evidence to show Theta Healing could possibly work or that oscillococcinum isn’t plain nonsense.

Still this doesn’t explain everything and I don’t imagine I could. What causes one mother to accept antivaccination hogwash in a maternal embrace and another to sink her teeth into it’s carotid artery, so to speak? Personal experience can shape belief but even here outside forces tend to be the final decider. Certainly scientific literacy and the awareness that one must trust experts in certain fields is crucial to good decision making.

Alternatively, having “researched” every crackpot self affirming, disreputable source whilst avoiding reputable – indeed any source – material is intellectual sabotage. Likewise being affluent and highly skilled in one area doesn’t immediately make a person “educated” as the media insist on telling us.

At best one could argue that so many scams continue to attract patronage because they offer an emotional and psychological package of oneself taking control. Lengthy consultation sessions provide for bonding and a sense of loyalty.

Much of the practice or ritualised session is designed to instil reliance and dependence upon the so-called practitioner. Bogus symptoms and syndromes are tacked on whilst alienation from conventional medicine evoking feelings of betrayal and self-superiority sinks in. Reading material and other patrons readily reinforce this.

Some charlatans often claim their Wonder Woo is suppressed by Big Pharma, as was the case with Francine Scrayen, Dr. Death Sartori charged in multiple countries and QLD MMS wielding cancer curing, scam artist Jillian Newlands. Although most often this is announced to the very desperate and the most ill.

Ultimately it appears that if we are to push down this bubble of bogus practices we need to understand just why so many of us are seeking attention to our state of being. It is not last ditch desperation or even seeking treatment for obvious illness. People need attention and in seeking it they are being sold dependence.

Dependence upon forces, rituals, cleanses and superstitions they previously never knew existed. That so much of this comes with ready packaged insults toward conventional medicine instills distrust of the very regulators who must act for the public good.

Perhaps as more and more scams are shown to be clinically useless, those that have depended upon them need to be educated in how they’ve been manipulated.

Isaac’s Golden Moment

Three weeks ago I attended a public lecture entitled Medicine and Homeopathy.

The latest from Melbourne University Health Initiative, the lineup included homeopath Isaac Golden and chiropractor Simon Floreani to present the argument for homeopathy. Public health physician and medical activist Dr. Ken Harvey and GP Dr. Stephen Basser, one of Australia’s most accomplished critics and analysts of alternatives to medicine, held the fort for medicine.

All but Stephen Basser feature in this video examining claims made by Isaac Golden about homeoprophylaxis. I was confident Golden would pull off a pleasant well meaning presence and equally confident Floreani would flounder and fall. As it turned out he never arrived, leaving Golden to retrace the tired old footsteps he’s been doing for years all by himself.

There’s a few things that I found novel. Golden was quick to label the Cuban homeopathic immunisation study (see video above) as “an intervention”, not a trial. This in one swipe silenced many a prepared question including my own over how the “immunised” demographic returned to levels of Leptospirosis infection similar to those found elsewhere in Cuba (non “immunised”). The “intervention”, which is quoted by homeopaths as hard evidence of efficacy is often criticised for poor methodology, lacking a control group and inexplicably failing to randomise subjects.

So by renaming it an “intervention” Golden could proclaim to have “evidence” and dismiss questions raised about it’s veracity being flawed due to poor trial practice. Throughout the “intervention” paper the rest of Cuba (RC) is presented where and how a control would normally be presented in a trial. Defenders of the caper point to RC as a quasi-control when it suits the need to convey comparative difference. Thus, Isaac has invented a nifty escape clause from defending poor methodology.

Another point (in fact an inexcusable failing) was Golden’s inability to address what is at once one of the least complex problems, but perhaps the most important. The entire Cuban scam is not Hahnemannian homeopathy. By no means am I the first to note this. It’s more of what I call Supercalifragilistichomeoprophylaxis.

During the evening Isaac Golden made much of remaining true to Samuel Hahnemann’s Law of Similars and Law of Infinitesimals. The Law of Similars is sometimes known as “like cures like” and states that a mother tincture should be made from a substance which produces symptoms similar to that produced by the disease.

Yet in the Cuban study they used four dead – completely inactive – strains of Leptospira bacteria to make the mother tincture. The paper refers to “highly-diluted strains of inactivated leptospiras”. However the paper title is, Large-scale application of highly-diluted bacteria for Leptospirosis epidemic control. Plainly that is misleading in itself.

So I pointed out to Isaac that in view of his insistence upon the law of similars, and noting that the Cuban mother tincture didn’t contain a substance that could produce any symptom like those experienced with leptospirosis (the bacteria were always dead), he had a problem. Confident, he responded that no, it’s not like a traditional vaccine.

Another audience member ran it by him again. Isaac was confused. Ken Harvey explained the problem also. Then I spelled out the obvious. Without the Law of Similars, there’s no Law of Infinitesimals. But he didn’t hear. Clearly stumped, his mind was cranking over. Eventually he produced the claim that the dead bacteria still had the “energy shape” or “energy signature” and were thus still viable. Quickly he turned and selected another questioner.

I was delighted. Isaac Golden had just told me an “energy shape” could produce similar symptoms to live bacteria. But even better, he’d made it up on the spot. After earlier signing his name to the Law of Similars, he then denied it’s necessity. I still wanted to press the point as this excuse couldn’t explain the “blood, puss, discharge, urine, flesh, causal organisms…”, and other organic goo used in highly dilute nosodes.

No Law of Infinitesimals either with no Similars. We never really made it to discuss that point. But I already had my answer in that he had no answer. For the record, the beaker for the most dilute agent was washed out 9,999 times. On the 10,000th refill it was called a homeopathic immunising agent. That’s not highly diluted – that’s washed away. The less potent (less dilute) was washed out 199 times.

It was Supercalifragilistichomeoprophylaxis if ever I’d seen it. Remember dear reader a nosode is a homeopathic dose. Golden had earlier used the term. It’s definition – in this case – demands “causal organisms”. Energy shape just didn’t make it. The audience member who helped Isaac understand wrote, “Get out of jail free” on his notepad and slid it my way. I had to agree. We know homeopaths make it up as they go along, but it was really nice to be there to see that actually happen.

It was truly a Golden moment.

Other points deserve a mention. Already referring patients to conventional doctors, Isaac came across as keen to extend conventional connections and is striving to make something of a research base. He does not entertain the “us and them” combative mindset of the Monika Milka’s and anti-vaxxer types we know and love, and appeared genuinely keen to reciprocate with bilateral trials. One concern was his allusion to conspiracies, when it was pointed out that if efficacy was truly and constantly demonstrable that widespread use and marketing would already be apparent.

One couldn’t miss however that the totality of discourse and questioning was biased toward examining the claims made by Isaac. He did after all kick off by stressing he heals the “entire person”. This means mental, physical, personal, spiritual and probably “quantumal” for all I know. This was “natural medicine” to Isaac. Getting the human healing abilities to function on these levels.

We were promised lots of evidence but regrettably a few excuses related to third parties were raised. Aside from the Cuban standard, Isaac brought in the Swiss “study”. Written by pro-complementary medicine interests for governmental review and favouring popular demand it was a poor choice as the material is known to be highly selective in favour of homeopathy. Isaac appealed to popularity and use as equating to efficacy a number of times.

Dr. Stephen Basser’s deconstruction of why homeopathy is so widely used, sought after and applied by medical professionals was excellent. It highlighted the factors outside of efficacy that drive uptake and continued use of demonstrably non efficacious options. Patient request or demand, choice of placebo, doctors’ role in monitoring complex patients, marketing, what it’s actually used for and the context of these figures.

I’ve noted here before how chiropractors boast how many Aussies per day use chiropractic – after signing them into treatment contracts. Purchasing 100 doses of a homeopathic preparation doesn’t support it being entirely used. Nor do uptake figures represent clearly articulated failures – and dissatisfaction. What is regular? What is novel or first time? And so on. In short there is no association between popularity and efficacy. Or between demand and documented efficacy.

Ken harvey brought up the point I’d have guessed most would have asked at question time. Golden claims to have completed his PhD successfully in homeopathic immunisation. In Golden’s abstract we read:

The effectiveness of the program could not be established with statistical certainty given the limited sample size and the low probability of acquiring an infectious disease.

This didn’t stop Golden from then claiming:

However, a possible level of effectiveness of 90.3% was identified subject to specified limitations. Further research to confirm the effectiveness of the program is justified.

Despite defending the semantics on the night, it’s clear this air guitar of a PhD has only mused over a possibility.

One thing agreed on at the beginning was to not discuss the mechanisms of homeopathy. In other words, to avoid raising the fact it is physically impossible. This did allow the discussion to move forward. In essence, Golden was awarded a huge concession with respect to reality. Something of a microcosm of the larger homeopathic industry perhaps.

All up it was an interesting night given that no new evidence popped up to support homeopathy. Like many homeopaths Isaac really believes in it.

He just needs to conclude that ones belief is not truth.

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.