Australians deserve no-nonsense regulation of chiropractors

Andrew Arnold, the Melbourne based chiropractor whose manipulation of the spine of a two week old infant was described as “deeply disturbing” by the Victorian health minister is presently refraining from treating anyone under 12 years of age.

The ABC reported just over a week ago that health minister Jenny Mikakos also said in part;

It’s appalling that young children and infants are being exposed to potential harm. That’s why I’ve written to the Chiropractic Board of Australia and AHPRA (the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) to urge them to take the necessary action. There is nothing at the moment that prevents chiropractors from undertaking these risky practices… The advice that I’ve received is that the risk of undertaking spinal manipulation on small infants far outweighs any perceived benefit.

It’s worth noting that chiropractic treatment in general and the manipulation of infants specifically has a history of drawing harsh criticism from health and medical professionals and penalties from regulators. Fairfax reported in December 2011, Doctors take aim at chiropractors. One wonders at the lack of a cogent response to such serious statements from reputable professionals.

The inclusion of a chiropractic course at Central Queensland University prompted 34 scientists, professors and doctors to note federal government funding “gave their ‘pseudoscience’ credibility”. Fairfax reported that their statement included;

…it was also disturbing that some chiropractors spruiked the adjustment of children’s spines for many potentially serious conditions including fever, colic, allergies, asthma, hearing loss and learning disorders.

…the doctors said they were also concerned about chiropractors being the largest ”professional” group in the anti-vaccination network. [Now named The Australian Vaccination Risks Network]

At the time Australian Chiropractors Association president Lawrence Tassell responded by saying the criticism was ridiculous and misinformed. He further contended chiropractic was “evidence-based, including its use on children for the treatment of conditions such as colic.”

Note: The Australian Chiropractors Association was originally The Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA). [Wikipedia]

Just colic? Was this an admission that fever, asthma, hearing loss, all allergies and all learning disorders did not benefit from chiropractic despite promotional claims that they did? Even so the question of evidence supporting chiropractic for the treatment of colic (crying) was not as Tassell suggested. Months later a Cochrane review consulted research into that very issue.

Conclusions note;

The studies included in this meta-analysis were generally small and methodologically prone to bias, which makes it impossible to arrive at a definitive conclusion about the effectiveness of manipulative therapies for infantile colic.

…most studies had a high risk of performance bias due to the fact that the assessors (parents) were not blind to who had received the intervention. When combining only those trials with a low risk of such performance bias, the results did not reach statistical significance.

This brings to mind criticism of anti-scientific training and ideological dogma favoured by what John Reggars calls fundamentalists. Reggars is past president of the Chiropractors Registration Board of Victoria and past vice president of the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia.

In May 2011 Chiropractic and Manual Therapies published Reggars’ wonderfully honest and revealing article, Chiropractic at the crossroads or are we just going around in circles? Reggars is a firm proponent of evidence based therapy. As such he criticises the vertebral subluxation complex and B.J. Palmer’s notion of “dis-ease”. Consider this gem of a paragraph;

The irony of this fervent belief in the VSC and chiropractic philosophy is that its development was not founded on vitalistic theory but rather as a legal strategy, conjured up by an attorney, in the defence of a chiropractor charged with practicing medicine [7, 32, 33]: “Many in chiropractic never learned the origin of the pseudo-religion or chiropractic philosophy. It was nothing more than a legal tactic used in the Morriubo’s case.”[34], and “B.J. Palmer probably developed his disease theory as a result of the winning strategy used by his attorney Thomas Morris to defend Japanese chiropractor Shegatoro Morijubo in Wisconsin in 1907″[35].

– Author’s citations in place.

Reggars also concluded that the Chiropractic Association of Australia (CAA) abandoned science for fundamentalist ideologies. He observed that their “all-encompassing alternative system of healthcare is both misguided and irrational”.

Readers are handed the reality of what chiropractors genuinely offer;

Chiropractic trade publications and so-called educational seminar promotion material often abound with advertisements of how practitioners can effectively sell the VSC to an ignorant public. Phrases such as “double your income”, “attract new patients” and “keep your patients longer in care”, are common enticements for chiropractors to attend technique and practice management seminars.

Selling such concepts as lifetime chiropractic care, the use contracts of care, the misuse of diagnostic equipment such as thermography and surface electromyography and the x-raying of every new patient, all contribute to our poor reputation, public distrust and official complaints. […]

And;
For the true believer, the naive practitioner or undergraduate chiropractic student who accepts in good faith the propaganda and pseudoscience peddled by the VSC teachers, mentors and professional organisations, the result is the same, a sense of belonging and an unshakable and unwavering faith in their ideology.

Back in June 2016 Ian Rossborough published a similar video which also drew strong condemnation. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) responded by banning him from manipulating the spines of children under six.

It is difficult to watch Andrew Arnold “manipulate” an infant. Yes a baby is distressed and crying. But it’s the manipulation of the parents I also find appalling.

Grabbing the infant’s feet he announces “I’m locking in here”. Really? He lifts the baby offering verbal distractions. “I’m just gunna go upside down for a second… yep and as we go back down just hold his head… Perfect!” Then comes the stick-that-goes-click. Or as chiropractors call it, the Activator. A spring loaded device which delivers an “impulse”. He demonstrates the lowest setting and releases it into what seems to be the right side of the infants cervical spine. Another still image (below) shows Arnold apparently applying the activator to the infants upper cervical spine at the base of the skull.

The application of the activator as seen in the video hurts or distresses the infant immediately and he begins to cry. “…and he’s going to squawk a bit”, Arnold offers as if he planned and expected this all along. Then, he does it again! And guess what? More crying. “Sorry mate” he offers for the parent’s sake. He checks the collar bones “…cause they get a bit crunched up inside”. He checks potential for collar bone crunching by moving the infants hand. “So with this, start to get in the habit of getting a grip here”, and the video finishes with what appears to be reference to the Palmer grasp aka Darwinian reflex.

This reflex in which babies grip fingers develops around three months of age. I do hope Andrew Arnold informed the parents of this. Then again, I hope someone informed Andrew Arnold of this.

There’s little doubt we’re slow to not merely evaluate most chiropractic therapy and indeed most chiropractors as offering nothing more than pseudoscience. That so people many in developed nations believe their demonstrably preposterous claims about treatment is quite surprising. With the amount of pseudoscience and junk medicine accessible online it is little wonder parents will fall for chiropractic claims about treating infants.

Chiropractic clients should be informed that mild to moderate adverse effects are frequently associated with manipulation of the upper spine in adults. Dissection of the vertebral artery and stroke may also occur. [Source]. It’s difficult to imagine more than a very few parents would be comfortable having infants, babies and young children treated if aware of this situation.

A 2008 study found there was very little supporting evidence for the claims chiropractors made regarding pediatric treatment. A 2007 systematic review found that serious adverse effects may be associated with pediatric spinal manipulation. However observation data could not support conclusions on incidence or causation.

It remains firmly demonstrable that evidence to sustain even a fraction of claims made by chiropractors as to how effective pediatric treatment is remains absent. The fact chiropractors themselves have not pursued large scale randomised controlled trials with a vigor akin to that with which they claim an ability to heal is concerning.

I have no doubt there are chiropractors who do strive to follow an evidence based approach to treatment. Yet with some influential chiropractors labelling this approach as out of date in favour of the approach of D.D. Palmer’s 19th century vitalism, they face a struggle to be heard.

As John Reggars noted since the adoption of the fundamentalist approach and application of the vertebral subluxation complex (VSC), chiropractic in Australia has taken a backward step. Chiropractors have abandoned a “scientific and evidence based approach to practice for one founded on ideological dogma”.

Australians are entitled to be protected from expensive, dangerous pseudoscience in the health industry. At present we are faced with regulators who need to develop some rather sharp teeth and make a meal of chiropractic pseudoscience.

 

♣ (4/3/19) NB: Colic may refer to severe abdominal pain caused by an intestinal blockage or gas. Infants are prone to the condition, responding with constant crying. In fact crying is the means by which “colicky” babies are diagnosed. Paediatricians may use the “rule of threes” in diagnosis, particularly items 2-4.

  1. Crying begins at around 3 weeks of age.
  2. Crying for more than 3 hours.
  3. Crying on more than 3 days per week.
  4. Crying this way for more than 3 weeks.

Because crying is what determines infantile colic there is ample disagreement as to the role of intestinal pain or even if colic itself is a myth. Other criticisms involve the convenient use of colic as a diagnosis for excessive crying.

Reading;

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Anti-vaccine Zika virus conspiracy fails to surprise

It was an event so impossible to predict it is absent from the highly respected Before It’s NewsWhat Did Nostradamus Predict For 2016? Or the Top 10 Nostradamus Predictions for 2016. Yet anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists reckon neonatal microcephaly associated with maternal infection with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, is actually due to… a vaccine.

It’s not spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito they warn. This truth of course, is being suppressed by a conspiracy.

A few days ago I wondered what potions, cures or other nonsense homeopaths might be selling to save the world from Zika. As it turned out I happened upon an article entitled Zika Virus. Are we being told the truth? The hosting blog, Homeopathy Safe Medicine is concocted by Steve Scrutton. Steve is also upset that the BBC aren’t playing ball with the CDC whistleblower fallacy that there is indeed a link between MMR and autism (also suppressed by a conspiracy)  – “particularly with black children”, and is happy enough to publish a final email exchange.

A little more searching would save Steve ample time on this point. For example Orac at Respecful Insolence, Rene’ Najera at Science Based Medicine and an even earlier article at SBM yield facts.

Or of course one may visit Snopes.

CDC_whistleblower_snopesSo Steve’s a conspiracy theorist. Anyway, to get back on track, you may have already guessed Steve’s answer to that title question above on Zika virus. From there we’re introduced to a fine upstanding crock of a site named The Unhived Mind III.

Here Steve alerts us to the delicate title Brazilians not buying Zika excuse for babies with shrunken brains. Charming, no? The author of this article, Jim Stone, applies the Judy Wilyman theme of logic. Namely that morbidity and mortality are not high enough for all this fuss. Jim quotes the BBC:

Zika is generally mild and only causes symptoms in one in five people. It is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue and chikungunya.

And adds himself:

My comment: Ok so a do nothing virus is going around that only makes one in five people get mildly sick, with no symptoms in 4 out of 5 people.

Had he continued quoting the BBC we’d have read more on this “do nothing virus”:

Brazil is experiencing the largest known outbreak of Zika.

President Dilma Rousseff, visiting Recife in the worst-affected north-east of the country, said Brazilians needed to engage in the fight against the virus. […]

Forty-nine babies with suspected microcephaly have died, Brazil’s health ministry says. In five of these cases an infection with Zika virus was found.

Jim Stone has his own tortuous conspiracy ramble site including an utterly ridiculous piece on the Zika virus. Jim advises his poor readers:

The claim is that a mosquito naturally carried this disease across almost all of South and Central America in only six months. This defies all logic because mosquitoes have a life cycle that is too long for immediate propagation and won’t fly more than a mile from where they hatch, which would limit the movement of a totally new disease to a mile or so a month, not 30 miles a day.

Jim gets pretty worked up about reports on the Wikipedia Zika virus page suggesting the carrier can “just rip across continents to all corners in months, faster than a bush tribesman could travel. It really is that way, Wikipedia said so!”. Well, no not really. What Wikipedia did note but Jim didn’t is:

The global distribution of the most cited carrier of Zika virus, A. aegypti, is expanding due to global trade and travel. A. aegypti distribution is now the most extensive ever recorded – across all continents including North America and even the European periphery. […]

Jim has also conveniently ignored the impact of human travel. Like many who seem happy to blame the Tdap vaccine, Jim is worried that the association between microcephaly and Zika virus has not been made before. It was initially identified in rhesus monkeys in 1947 then in humans in 1952, in Uganda.

Conspiracy theorists fail to grasp that the first documented outbreak of Zika virus in a human population was in 2007 and 2013 in the Pacific (Yap and French Polynesia, respectively), and later in the Americas in 2015 (Brazil and Colombia) and Africa (Cape Verde) [WHO Zika Fact Sheet]. ( Edit: The possibility of sexual transmission {2} is being investigated ). It is believed to have arrived in Brazil in 2014, and spread slowly. The outbreak in Columbia was reported by the WHO on October 21, 2015.

These relatively recent initial outbreaks are exactly why little is known about complications associated with the disease. Experts, including the WHO are not yet certain a causal link has been established between microcephaly and Zika virus. However health officials are operating under the assumption there is one.

Should this be the case it appears that infants born to mothers who had the virus during the first trimester are at an increased risk of microcephaly. The failure of the Tdap conspiracy theorists is partially evident in their inability to produce any data beyond a crude correlation. The Tdap vaccine is being offered in the third trimester (28 to 32 weeks). In the US and UK when there is a suspicion of foetal microcephaly where pregnant women have returned from Latin America, ultrasound screening will be offered from 20 weeks every 2 to 4 weeks.

Thus foetal microcephaly due to maternal infection with Zika could be evident 2 – 3 months before the vaccine is even offered. Essentially the conspiracy coincidence is vanishingly small and demonstrably false.

It would thus seem there is an opportunity to identify the time of malformation or the absence of genetic material of the Zika virus in placental tissue, to advance the case of the conspiracy theorists. Their case could do with real hard evidence as opposed to yet another vaccine timing coincidence.

The Internet is of course teeming with rubbish sites pushing the lie of vaccine induced birth defects. The Zika virus gives them something to exhaust the correlation gambit on. A nice twist that appears on No Vaccines Australia evokes The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The release of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes by a British biotech’ company they fund, named Oxitec has come under scrutiny. However a critical 2010 Science article suggests the Foundation had not funded a 2009 project that saw release of the mosquito on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman. In a very recent article on the Zika virus the authors give the same GM project the thumbs up.

They write under There must be a better way to control mosquitoes?

Not yet but they’re in the works. A British biotech called Oxitec—which was recently purchased by Intrexon, a U.S. synthetic biology company—has developed A. aegypti mosquitoes containing a gene construct that will kill their offspring before they reach adulthood. When massive numbers of male individuals of this strain are released in the wild, they will mate with local females, producing offspring that are not viable, which has been shown to make a dent in the population.

For now I can offer the below press releases.

To wind up we can turn back to Steve the homeopath to realise that like Nostradamus he’s had a bash at predicting the future.

He writes:

If there is any truth in this, conventional medicine will have to act quickly and effectively.

  • They will have to denounce this as a ‘conspiracy’ theory.
  • They will have to convince us that it is mosquitoes, and not Big Pharma, who have caused this microcephaly.
  • They will have to move quickly to defend mandatory vaccination, especially the vaccination of pregnant women.
  • They will have to convince us that the TDAP vaccine is different to the DPT vaccine that they have been giving our children for decades.

And perhaps most difficult of all, the pharmaceutical industry, and conventional medical doctors, will have to convince us that this time they are telling the truth about this matter!

In fact if there were a conspiracy under way the amount of work needed to pull it off would simply dwarf Steve’s list. More so all evidence suggests it is impossible to convince such minds of the truth – regardless of evidence.

Regrettably this is just another opportunistic and disturbing effort by predictable conspiracy theorists.

——————————————–

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So-called “research” in anti No Jab, No Pay submissions

A casual review of anti-vaccine submissions pertaining to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab, No Pay) Bill 2015, reveals a striking repetition of unsubstantiated or demonstrably false claims, mixed with more of the misguided beliefs that have brought Australia to this point in the first place.

The most prominent theme backed by deceptive pseudoscience or distortion of genuine science is that vaccines are harmful. More so they are either not needed due to the wonders of modern snake oil or have never had the dramatic impact on the scourge of vaccine preventable diseases, that they have indeed irrefutably had. Vaccines are however, capable of causing the diseases the public is deceived into believing they prevent, and go on to enable their spread.

A while back I touched on the triumphant antivaccinationist claim of “having done my research”. I suggested a lack of critical thinking and cognitive bias left a great deal of these “researchers” incapable of discerning reputable source material from nonsense. That the unwary reader is presented with huge volumes of championed material, yet lacks the rather vital tools of cognition to identify and trust the genuine expert. This is a fast track to accepting opinion (or worse) as fact.

Tim Harding tackles this problem in more depth and with far more care than I, in his article How Dr Google spawned a new breed of health ‘experts’. Harding identifies key elements contributing to this phenomenon. Under the heading Misunderstanding democracy, he writes;

Reducing the influence of experts is sometimes mistakenly described as “the democratisation of ideas”. Democracy is a system of government — it is not an equality of opinions.

While the right of free speech prevents governments from suppressing opinions, it does not require citizens to treat all opinions equally or even take them into account. Equal rights do not result in equal knowledge and skills.

[…]

Deakin University philosopher Dr Patrick Stokes has argued the problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that it has become shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” without justification; and that disagreement is somehow disrespectful.

Dr Stokes suggests that this attitude feeds into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

The truth and import of Dr. Stokes’ observation of false equivalence between experts and non-experts is a reality I feel we should readily accept. Skeptics and science advocates have experienced and will continue to experience such when it comes to the anti-vaccination lobby.

In recent weeks this lobby has accused its critics of being worse than Nazis. They have launched a concerted attack against the families and grieving parents of infants lost to pertussis. They have produced memes likening vaccination to rape – and defended criticism of this. Whilst less insulting but no less ludicrous they’ve insisted democracy in Australia is dead.

Yet they never doubted their democratic right to swamp the No Jab, No Pay Social Services Amendment process with submissions accommodating a host of patently ridiculous, fallacious and time wasting material.

Some don’t know they are parroting nonsense. Meryl Dorey’s old trick attacking pertussis vaccine efficacy pops up here and there. 1991 was the first year for compulsory notification of pertussis cases, which were recorded by the National Notifiable Surveillance Diseases System. 1991 was a different time. Not all health professionals were logistically prepared to diagnose, much less report pertussis cases. Sensitivity of diagnostic equipment was magnitudes less than today. This was five years prior to the Immunise Australia campaign, launched by Michael Wooldridge.

So the deception runs that in 1991 with only around 71% of 0-6 year olds vaccinated, there were only (according to one submission) 347 cases. In fact there were only that many cases reported. NNSDS pertussis figures for 1991 still creep up at about five per year. 1991 notifications in 2012 are 332. This year to date: 345. The same submission goes on to report that in 2011 with a 95% pertussis vaccine uptake in 0-6 year olds, “there were 38,725 cases of whooping cough”.

Notice the age of vaccination is the 0-6 years cohort, but the pertussis notification figure is Australia wide. This includes overseas visitors, workers and new arrivals who brought the infection with them.

And of course by 2011 it’s not that PCR testing can detect Bordetella pertussis in samples hundreds or thousands of times smaller. And days older. Or that practitioners are constantly on the lookout for signs, or that documentation of notification is meticulous. Or sciencing in this field is better and faster.

Or that it is therefore significant that last year’s total of 11,866 (approx. 700 more than 2005) is comparatively low, and the high figures collated for 2009 – 2011 reflect the national outbreak that is reported as beginning in Meryl Dorey’s backyard. NB: article uses a number of media sources.

Nay. It’s the vaccine whatdunnit, dear reader, and Meryl Dorey has been peddling that lie and tripping up people who “do their research” for years. She never has replied to my January 2012 email wherein I step by step showed her how she pulled off this trick.

Vaccines it is argued, still cause autism. One may read that “autism-like symptoms” are in fact autism. That the US Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has compensated cases of autism arising from vaccination. This is most certainly untrue. The VICP continue to deny ever having compensated any individual for autism caused by vaccination.

Whilst terms such as “autism-like symptoms” are used the Compensation Program at no time refers to anything like “autism arising from vaccination” or “autism as a result of vaccination”. The Pace Law School scandal is deconstructed here. Meryl Dorey’s fraudulent addition of the word “[Autism]” to the US Court of Federal Claims case file dealing with the case of Bailey Banks is documented here. Sadly it is not realistic to think these claims have not influenced opinion in some.

Across the internet the false tale of 83 vaccine induced autism cases, compensated by the US Vaccine Injury Compensation Program will pop up. It refers to a paper written by Pace Law School Students entitled, Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A review of compensated cases of vaccine induced brain injury.

I wrote in 2011;

Reading the document reveals ample use of terms such as “settled cases suggesting autism”, “language that strongly suggests autistic features”, “published decisions that used terms related to autism”, “payment of vaccine injured children with autism”, and not – as Seth Mnookin pointed out – “because of their autism”. More so, the authors spend some time arguing why there should be no distinction between autism and autism-like symptoms. This is a major concession they award themselves.

The paper includes caregiver opinion, parental opinion, phrases from doctors who gave evidence at hearings and provides a case table of “Language suggesting autism or autistic-like symptoms”. A notable concern is referencing The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine and a Manmade Epidemic [2010] by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill.

This issue of insisting “autism-like symptoms” should be accepted as autism may have an intuitive feel to it but would ultimately reap an injustice on individuals involved. If we consider patients who have experienced brain injury from head trauma, stroke, near drowning or drug overdose, each may present with near identical symptoms. However the mechanism of brain injury is different and demands specificity of treatment.

So it is with autism. Diagnosis, treatment and prognosis are not opinions one can choose. Other erroneous opinions we find as a result of anti-vaccine research lean towards the legislative change being an abuse of rights and freedoms. It is an abuse of our constitution. Vaccines, being poisonous and responsible for chronic disease in children will reap harm because natural is best whilst chemicals and toxins are bad.

In fact the submissions rejecting No Jab, No Pay appear to be a cornucopia of all anti-vaccine misinformation. The authors have indeed “done their research”.

The importance of critical thinking in discerning reputable sources

The volume of material published and shared by anti-fluoride, anti-vaccine, pro “alternative” health – all which fall under the deceptive catch phrase of “pro-choice” – is notably bereft of critical thinking.

No doubt there will always be some attracted to the notion of oppressive governments and dark conspiracies. Research indicates the psychological predisposition to conspiracy theory is highly resilient. Yet the persistence of the claim vaccines are the cause of a host of childhood ailments, that homeopathy is effective or that fluoride is a poison added to water supplies, may in part indicate poor cognitive manipulation of available information.

It is not uncommon to find preposterous claims circulating as a purported superior health choice. Such material is favoured by those who contend they are exercising “pro-choice” as a result of having “done my research”. It’s clear that no independent, accredited source has evaluated this “research”. It is more evident that the person has not sought reputable source material or thoroughly investigated critiques of the main aspects of their research. Let’s try claims by one so-called alternative. Homeopathy.

A good example would be claims made by homeopath Isaac Golden. Golden claims homeoprophylaxis (homeopathic immunisations) are a safe and effective alternative to vaccination. In a very short time one can find that homeopathy has not been shown to offer any measurable effect beyond placebo.

Consider the National Health and Medical Research Council statement on homeopathy [PDF].

The media release opens:

The National Health and Medical Research Council today released a statement concluding that there is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions. Its release follows a thorough review of the evidence, conducted as part of NHMRC’s responsibility to provide advice and support informed health care decisions by the Australian community.

The conclusion is based on the findings of a rigorous assessment of more than 1800 papers. Of these, 225 studies met the criteria to be included in NHMRC’s examination of the effectiveness of homeopathy. The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment.

A little more time reading evidence based material will reveal the mechanism of homeopathy to be impossible. In short it simply cannot work without rewriting aspects of physics and chemistry. Homeopaths often actually admit this – while being dishonest about observed effects.

Homeopathy Plus

Golden himself makes much of having completed a PhD in homeoprophylaxis, leaving the uneducated listener or reader under the impression that this thoroughly discredited pseudoscience is in fact a safe option in health science. Or as opponents of vaccination insist: a Choice. Indeed Golden claims homeopathic vaccines are an option which is “comparably effective but which is non toxic, which provides no danger, no long term side effects”.

In June this year “Dr. Isaac Golden’s Academy” was offering a YesCourse.

IsaacGolden_YesCourse

Yet in his PhD abstract Golden admits;

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.

Indeed. Not to mention the reality of an ethics committee. Let’s be clear. No success was demonstrated with this paper. So Golden also writes:

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.

Possible efficacy, subject to specified limitations, that requires further research is a very, very clear way of documenting no effect. I apologise but there are no prizes for guessing Golden has not gone on to search for, much less publish, the possible efficacy. This won’t prevent him waxing lyrical on “my own PhD” as a source in defence of homeoprophylaxis.

Furthermore Golden’s work has been cited by Fran Sheffield of Homeopathy Plus in defence of her own business. The danger of Golden’s ambitious work and lax clarification can be summed up in Sheffield’s marketing. Referring to his inability to establish efficacy to any degree, she advertised:

Dr Isaac Golden confirmed that homeoprophylaxis provides the same degree, or better protection, than vaccines with none of their side effects or complications

In 2010, following a complaint from Dr. Ken Harvey, the TGA’s Complaints Resolution Panel ordered that a Retraction be published on site. Sheffield ignored the request. Regarding the TGA Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, Sheffield was also noted to have acted in a misleading manner, abusing the trust and exploiting the lack of knowledge of consumers. A summary and key details can be found here at the Skeptics’ Book of Pooh-Pooh.

The notion that parents who choose alternatives are not actually researching or seeking reputable advice on their apparently “informed choice” is in this case further highlighted by ongoing offending by Fran Sheffield and Homeopathy Plus! In May 2012 the ACCC announced it had responded to complaints from the medical industry about bogus claims on the Homeopathy Plus! website. Namely that the pertussis vaccine was ineffective and that Homeopathy Plus! offered an effective homeopathic immunisation for pertussis.

On February 21st 2013 the ACCC instigated Federal Court proceedings against Homeopathy Plus! as the pseudoscience recalcitrant persisted in endangering the health of Australian children and infants. The claims made were in breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, and were misleading and deceptive. The ACCC media release included;

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted Federal Court proceedings over allegedly misleading claims on a homeopathy website regarding the effectiveness of the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine.

The ACCC has taken proceeding against Homeopathy Plus! Australia Pty Ltd and against the owners of the Homeopathy Plus! website.

The claims on the Homeopathy Plus! website include statements that the whooping cough vaccine is “unreliable” and “largely ineffective” in preventing whooping cough and that homeopathic remedies are a safe and effective alternative for the prevention and treatment of whooping cough.

On December 23rd, 2014, the ACCC reported that the Federal Court had found both Homeopathy Plus! and Frances Sheffield had engaged in misleading conduct and made false or misleading representations regarding the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine and homeopathic remedies as an alternative in breach of the Australian Consumer Law. Sheffield and Homeopathy Plus! had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct. Put simply, Fran Sheffield had continued to use her website to lie to unfortunate visitors who were not in the habit of critically investigating such claims.

Harking back to the echo of Isaac (My own PhD) Golden we read (emphasis mine);

The Court also found that Homeopathy Plus! and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false and misleading representations to the effect that there was an adequate foundation in medical science for the statement that homeopathic treatments are a safe and effective alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, when in fact no such foundation exists and the vaccine is the only treatment currently approved for use and accepted by medical practitioners for the prevention of whooping cough.

I should be clear. This is only one arm of a notable junk science making as a matter of course outrageous claims. To see that so many can be fooled into believing plain water can protect from disease in a manner no-one can explain, is to some, mind boggling. But to be even clearer the information to debunk such nonsense and thus protect yourself and family is there to be found.

It is plain that scam artists, conspiracy theorists and so on cannot be swayed by the findings of official investigations or years of scientific consensus. Thus it is better to ignore those who claim to hold an apparent truth or a wonderful therapy and subject their claims to robust and varied critique.

Critiques can be made for all of the pseudosciences purporting to offer a superior or natural alternative to evidence based medicine. The same applies to the unwarranted attacks on vaccines, fluoride, medical intervention and so on. A far better way to approach these topics is to do so with the confidence to review material from a bipartisan standpoint. Where claims of conspiracies or corporate corruption for profit are made be very skeptical.

Make a habit of visiting consumer advocacy groups, such as Choice. Spend some of that research time looking over the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. We looked at both of these and the NHMRC, above. Let’s say the best your new friends at Essence Of Moonbeam are offering in response is a claimed conspiracy, the mocking of “sheeple” or bemoaning the trampling of rights (or that “informed choice”). I’d say you’re pretty safe in concluding genuine evidence has caught up with debunking their claims.

No-one can develop the skills or knowledge base from the Internet to argue that “my research” on one topic is sufficient to make decisions that are traditionally overseen by specialists or experts. The skill we can develop is that by which we can discern between a reputable source and a disreputable source. And this process should include discussions with genuine, experienced practitioners.

There is too much information on individual areas of health to allow us to investigate fully and believe we may come away educated and/or able to advise others. Where new trends are jostling for our attention and money there are recurring themes that help reveal them to be useless.

The skills we develop in discerning the reputable from bogus information sources are increasingly the skills that will benefit us in more ways than seeking optimal health.

Dangerous Food Fads

~ Superfood is a marketing term used to describe foods with supposed health benefits ~

superfoods1The growing uptake of truly ridiculous (and frankly quite dangerous) super food trends continues apace with much thanks to the internet and increasingly, social media.

Far from a byproduct of the “information super-highway”, the pseudoscience, deception and planned scamming that can be seen today is better considered a byproduct of a wild roller coaster ride through The Twilight Zone.

The humble blueberry is a so-called “superfood”. Nutritional information may be found here. The Wikipedia entry on superfoods notes that Blueberries [are] a so-called “superfood” that actually does not have an unusually dense nutrient content. These berries contain anthocyanin which is a flavinoid with antioxidant capability. Along with the semantics of “wellness” there are many similar miracles supposed to control toxins. It is best to ignore this marketing niche at all costs. Sometimes expensive costs.

Consider this con from a heartless long term offender who has made a fortune from misleading the public with his often very dangerous nonsense.

Imagine a plant that can nourish your body by providing most of the protein you need to live, help prevent the annoying sniffling and sneezing of allergies, reinforce your immune system, help you control high blood pressure and cholesterol, and help protect you from cancer. Does such a “super food” exist?

Yes. It’s called spirulina.

Unlike plants you may grow in your garden, this “miracle” plant is a form of blue-green algae that springs from warm, fresh water bodies.

The “wellness” push for foods that are supposed to be “super” and as such capable of proactive, reactive (or both) types of veritable nutritional magic is consonant with similar and supporting health beliefs and movements. The anti-vaccine movement spends a great deal of time in the superfood/antioxidant driving gear. Uncertain parents are led to believe that vaccines contain untested “poisons… toxins… chemicals” and thus can certainly harm.

The answer – albeit monumentally wrong – is to avoid vaccines and instead pursue all things natural. So too it is with illness and alarmingly, cancer. The author of The View From The Hills, Rosalie Hillman stepped up to the plate and asked some vital questions of a young lady, Jessica Ainscough. It is astonishing Jessica’s claims were going unchallenged. Rather than being challenged for promoting the impossible, she was virtually worshipped as the head of her own “tribe”. Ainscough was being presented as having (and who was basically claiming to have) cured cancer through diet, the well known alternative pseudoscientific and thoroughly discredited Gerson Therapy and positive thinking.

The Gerson Institute claims:

With its whole-body approach to healing, the Gerson Therapy naturally reactivates your body’s magnificent ability to heal itself – with no damaging side effects. This a powerful, natural treatment boosts the body’s own immune system to heal cancer, arthritis, heart disease, allergies, and many other degenerative diseases. Dr. Max Gerson developed the Gerson Therapy in the 1930s, initially as a treatment for his own debilitating migraines, and eventually as a treatment for degenerative diseases such as skin tuberculosis, diabetes and, most famously, cancer.

Basically Gerson approach concludes we are bombarded with toxins and carcinogens over our lifetime. Gerson plays the magic Ace card in claiming to “restore the body’s ability to heal itself”. This message is pushed hard. The body can heal itself. It is this amazing ability we have lost and which apparently demands kilograms of fresh fruit and vegetables daily in conjunction with the thrice daily enemas. The infamous coffee enemas ensure toxins will be eliminated from the liver.

Jessica Ainscough passed away from epithelioid sarcoma on February 26th 2015. Her cancer progressed as evidence based medicine would suggest for a woman of her age diagnosed when she was in 2008. Tragically Jessica’s mother, Sharyn, chose to follow Gerson Therapy in an attempt to defeat breast cancer. This meant abandoning radiotherapy.

Addressing both cases the ABC wrote:

Despite Cancer Council advice that Gerson Therapy was not proven to work, Ms Ainscough persisted, embarking on an alcohol-free vegan diet, drinking raw juices, taking vitamin supplements and undergoing coffee enemas daily.

She made videos explaining how to administer enemas and posted them on YouTube, although that video is now marked private.

When Ms Ainscough’s mother, Sharyn, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she followed her daughter’s lead and put her faith in Gerson Therapy.

Sharyn died in October 2014.

Whilst there are many heartless scam artists, such as Hellfried Sartori, aka “Dr. Death” and those genuinely deluded by their beliefs, one person deserves special mention. It appears that Belle Gibson managed to sink as far as one Meryl Dorey in that pleas for money donations from the public accompanied promises donations would be passed to charity. Gibson had named charitable organisations. As with Dorey this was not the case, although now under the glare of media scrutiny she has indicated the promised donations will be paid.

Gibsons The Whole Pantry app made the grade as a permanent app for the Apple Watch. It now seems Apple have pulled the app from Australian and USA app stores, but it is unclear if it will be and it has also been removed from promotional material as a permanent app from the much anticipated Apple Watch and iPad Air 2.

Sarah Berry wrote in SMH:

Gibson has a top-rating health app that was one of the promoted apps on Apple’s new watch.

Its success and the empire she has built comes from her incredible story of triumph over adversity, of sickness into self-empowered health.

It is a story that we now know was at best embellished and at worst was an outright lie.

Penguin have already dropped her recipe book by the same name. One hopes arrangements can be made so the scam app never sees the light of day as a permanent app on Apple’s watch.

Dangerous Food Fads


As Jenny McCartney recently noted the urge to believe in the magic of change turns consumer gullibility into fertile ground for the absurd claims made by every type of entrepreneur from well meaning fools to cunning scam artists. Gibson is reportedly back in Australia, but seriously who cares?

The damage has been done. Research indicates that even with brutally thorough exposure and follow up high quality debunking of anti-medicine and anti-science lies, the misinformation sticks. In this case it is not the lie of vaccines causing autism. Yet sadly it is a louder echo of a trumpet the antivaccinationists love to blow. Primarily that surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy do little for successful treatment of cancer.

The scale of Gibson’s rort is truly frightening. How many will follow her manufactured rubbish is unknown. But the fact remains that her army of followers and supporters will continue to support her pantry nonsense. Certainly many will realise the scam, but others – particularly the hard core anti-medicine crew – will dig in and find comfort in the usual conspiracies.

Consumers must develop skills in recognising reputable sources. As with the misinformation relating to vaccination and vaccines. Doing “research” just doesn’t cut it. Far better to have the means by which we can identify good, trustworthy material and spot the signs that give away trickery that is simply too good to be true. With cancer time is vital and whilst eating well is in itself not harmful, time spent thinking it is “treatment” is time lost from actual proven treatments.

This handbook from The Cancer Council provides excellent advice and tips on identifying dodgy sources and outright scams. As mentioned in the last post consider, “How will I know if claims of a cure are false?”. On page 39 of this booklet they note that the dishonest and unethical may;

  • Try to convince you your cancer has been caused by a poor diet or stress: they will claim they can treat you or cure your cancer with a special diet
  • Promise a cure – or to detoxify, purify or revitalise your body. There will be quick dramatic and wonderful results – a miracle cure
  • Use untrustworthy claims to back up their results rather than scientific-based evidence from clinical trials. They may even list references. But if you look deeper these references may be false, nonexistent, irrelevant, based on poorly designed research and out of date
  • Warn you that medical professionals are hiding “the real cure for cancer” and not to trust your doctor
  • Display credentials not recognised by reputable scientists and health professionals

Always speak to your doctor and be aware that even the best intentions of friends can unwittingly disarm you through peer pressure. There is no cure for cancer, but there are excellent treatments.

Avoid food fads as a means to health and beware of the wellness trend.

UPDATE – April 2nd, 2015. Belle Gibson will not be facing police action over fraud. Consumer Affairs Victoria has noted that dishonest and misleading actions of the business, The Whole Pantry, “may constitute a breach of the Fundraising Act 1998 or Australian Consumer Law (Victoria)”. Presently CAV are “ascertaining the facts around Gibson and her companies collection of funds and promises of donations.