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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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.

Complementary medicines’ problem with evidence

Evidence aplenty for complementary medicines-by ex-head of the AMA-Take THAT Friends of Science-enemies of truth!

Anti-vaccine lobbyist Meryl Dorey seizing legitimacy from Dr. Kerryn Phelps

Last week Dr. Kerryn Phelps wrote an article for The Australian defending the view that alternatives to medicine are in fact, a type of medicine.

The article’s heading, Evidence aplenty for complementary medicines itself touched on a unique feature of the massive Wellness Industry. Semantics. We have witnessed natural medicine become alternative medicine become complementary medicine become integrative medicine or more frequently complementary and integrative medicine. These are semantic costume changes designed to market integrity. To divert attention away from the fact that evidence for the efficacy of alternatives to medicine is lacking. Simply put, this is not medicine.

Dr. Phelps criticised Friends Of Science In Medicine [FSM], suggesting their “agenda was a declaration of war”. Yet I would conclude FSM are providing a long overdue and organised response to the rise of demonstrably non efficacious and potentially dangerous practices gaining undeserved academic credence. These have always shared a hostility toward evidence based medicine and science itself.

FSM president Professor John Dwyer writes:

We strongly support sound research to determine the effectiveness or otherwise of any biologically plausible areas of ‘alternative’ interventions. We do not seek to prevent consumers from making informed choices about alternative interventions, but wish to see the public better informed and therefore protected from false claims.

I do not doubt for a moment that Dr. Phelps and many other GPs who support alternatives to medicine are above reproach. Nor am I suggesting that all naturopaths and chiropractors (for example) are incapable of establishing a meaningful patient-focused reciprocal relationship with conventional medicine. What I am suggesting is that they are a minority and it is thus in error to suggest alternatives to medicine are generally based on evidence. Dr. Phelps’ insistence that these practices “compliment” or effectively “integrate” with conventional medicine is simply wishful thinking.

I strongly agree with Kerryn Phelps in that individuals taking more responsibility for their health is positive. I support and defend the right of patients to have more choice in managing their health. What I find deeply troubling is that once these two conditions are met, patients and wellness consumers are faced with bogus claims, unnecessary expense and a cornucopia of charlatans. That this is in no small part due to paper tiger regulation reflects that the system itself is broken and failing Australians.

That 19 of Australia’s 39 universities offer courses in scientifically implausible practices is alarming. The role of FSM in highlighting the perils of affording academic credibility to these practices is vital. It can be argued, as Dr. Phelps has previously, that universities will ensure rigid standards are met. Or as now, that FSM should support “an increase in university-based education for practitioners”. Sound reasoning to be sure. Until one considers that these very practices depend upon denial of the scientific method and graduates often emerge highly defensive of an ideology.

There is also an inescapable convolution of practice, integrity and accountability. A belief system associated with one modality may open the way for increasingly absurd practices. The anti-science, anti-medicine, post modernist culture so crucial to new age chiropractic is conducive to opposition, not integration.

This convolution raises the question of where the line is drawn. Few understand what constitute homeopathic principles beyond assuming they provide a “natural” therapy. Yet I would be surprised and disappointed if Dr. Phelps agued it had a role in medicine beyond placebo. Basic chemistry confirms there is no ingredient at all in homeopathic products, beyond expensive sugar. For those who seek to understand more about this “informed choice” there await increasingly bizarre claims most often concluding quantum physics will one day reveal all. This is the same mechanism behind theta healing – even remote theta healing.

For the purposes of this post it’s important to focus primarily on Dr. Phelps’ defence of chiropractic. But what type of chiropractor? John Reggars is past president of the Chiropractors Registration Board of Victoria and present vice president of the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia. Focused on science, he is concerned by the rise of “ideological dogma” and the anti-scientific fundamentalist training that FSM have identified as problematic. In a paper by Reggars published in May 2011 he notes that in Australia the 1990s saw a resurgence of “chiropractic philosophy” and with it the belief in VSC, or Vertebral Subluxation Complex.

Reggars is highly critical of such chiropractic pseudoscience, pointing out misuse of diagnostic treatment, schemes to “double your income”, selling the notion of lifelong chiropractic care “to an ignorant public” and locking patients into contract plans. He also writes:

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.

Belief in the unseen VSC is accompanied by the insistence all disease – including infectious disease – has its origin or cure in the spine. Chiropractic is the invention of 19th century magnetic healer Daniel David Palmer. Perhaps nothing reinforces the value of Friends Of Science In Medicine better than this modern scam of chiropractic. Represented in Australia by the Chiropractor’s Association of Australia [CAA] its aim is:

To achieve a fundamental paradigm shift in healthcare direction where chiropractic is recognised as the most cost efficient and effective health regime of first choice that is readily accessible to all people.

In other words they seek to displace the GP as the primary care physician. It is impossible to broach the many areas of medicine or do the same with the many pseudosciences chiropractic endorses to elaborate on this. Yet from vitamin therapy to homeopathy new age chiropractors have a positive word. Efficacy matters not. The CAA seem to instill fear and confusion about conventional medicine as a key mechanism in their “fundamental paradigm shift in healthcare direction”.

When we understand what seeking to usurp the family doctor entails, we can see that FSM can scarcely be accused of declaring war. The article Recent Controversies in Chiropractic and RMIT courses/clinic provides exceptional insight into the very concerns FSM seek to address with quackery in universities. Palmer argued humans have “a god-given energy flow” which when disrupted leads to illness. Exhuming such nonsense and contending that the doctrine is “evidence-based education and practice”, as suggested by Dr. Ray Myers, head of RMIT University’s School of Health Sciences is shameful.

One area the CAA has chosen to immerse itself in is the anti-vaccine movement. Many graduates emerge convinced that vaccination is a toxic medical trick. As one put it, raging on Meryl Dorey’s anti-vaccine Facebook page; “Of course we don’t support vaccination, it’s the biggest medical sham since bloodletting!”. The reason for his outburst was the article Doctors accuse chiropractors of selling anti-vaccination message.

To better understand why we must travel back over 100 years. In 1909 D.D. Palmer’s son, Bartlett Joshua (or B.J.) Palmer wrote (Ref; 2003), (Ref; 2014):

If we had one hundred cases of small-pox, I can prove to you where, in one, you will find a subluxation and you will find the same conditions in the other ninety-nine. I adjust one and return his functions to normal… . There is no contagious disease… . There is no infection… . ♠

Herein lies a major problem for Dr. Phelps who is under no such illusions about vaccination. As seen above Meryl Dorey has hitched a ride on Dr. Phelps’ reputation. On another email list Dorey simply copied the entire article and sent it off with the opening line, “If only we could get her to look at the vaccination issue as well… <sigh>”.

As well?! Dr. Phelps opined in The Australian about the “us and them” attitude. Yet these two words reflect just how rusted on and integral to many who entertain alternatives to medicine the “us and them” mindset is.

Some months back Dorey was also using Phelps’ prior role as AMA president, in the AVN attack on all conventional medicine. I wondered if Dr. Phelps knew of her unofficial patronage.

Past president of the CAA, Simon Floreani, has promoted homeoprophylaxis, showcasing Isaac Golden. Anti-vaccine activist and “paediatric chiropractor” Warren Sipser went as far as testifying in the family court against the immunisation of a five year old girl. Sipser informed reporters at the time “there is credible evidence they [vaccines] may do more harm than good”. Nimrod Weiner of Newtown Chiropractic ran anti-vaccine workshops using information garnered from the same AVN to whom Dr. Phelps is “diametrically opposed”.

Weiner informed pregnant mothers at a public talk that homeopathic immunisation (water) was superior to regular immunisation. That Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent paper attempting to causally link MMR to autism was “scientifically good”. Last July Dr. Phelps tweeted:

WIN News Wollongong recently aired a comment from Meryl Dorey claiming that “all vaccines” are linked to autism in the medical literature. This is complete opportunistic nonsense and is now quite properly the subject of a complaint to ACMA. As Jonathon Holmes observed on Media Watch “there’s evidence and there’s bulldust” and that “Dorey’s claim about the medical literature linking vaccination and autism is pure, unadulterated baloney.”

Quite right. Which raises my point on convolution again. Where do we draw the line? Of the 222 listed professional members of Dorey’s anti-vaccine group over 60%, or 135 are chiropractors. The next largest is homeopaths with 16 members, or a comparatively small 7%. Naturopaths number 15 members. Then kinesiologists, then acupuncturists with 5 and 4 members respectively. Aside from one physiotherapist and one occupational therapist, all “professional members” sell alternatives to medicine of some description.

A US study published in Vaccine showed that parents who deny their children vaccination are four times more likely to see a chiropractor as the primary care physician. When Floreani was CAA president his chiropractor wife wrote of their newborn son’s pertussis. Including [bold hers]:

We performed chiropractic checks on our baby daily and utilised a whooping cough homeopathic. I dosed myself with an array of vitamins to boost his immunity via breast milk and kept him hydrated with constant breastfeeding. Whooping cough is often slow to develop and may respond well to conservative management, including chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy, herbs, acupuncture or acupressure.

Magically, it resolved within two weeks. Which means it wasn’t pertussis but a self limiting infection and all that woo did nothing but correlate to the illness. But I am sure Dr. Phelps would be the first to agree herbs, acupressure, homeopathy and so on would do nothing to manage pertussis. It is very dangerous misinformation with potentially fatal consequences.

So not only are unvaccinated children more likely to see a chiropractor and be subject to such abuse, but by not seeing a GP they are unlikely to become a recorded notification. Officially whilst only 5% of 0-4 year olds in Australia are not fully vaccinated for pertussis they make up 27% of cases. Thus, this figure may well be conservative. Dr. Phelps must ask herself; If vaccine deniers will choose chiropractors, might chiropractors influence parents to reject vaccination? The above rubbish is by Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani – B.App.Clin.Sci, B.Chiropractic after all.

Australian Doctor wrote in part about the study in Vaccine:

Are naturopathic and complementary healthcare providers reinforcing parental concerns and ‘anti-vaccine’ opinions or promoting exemptions, or are they providing healthcare without emphasizing vaccinations?

I hope Dr. Phelps is asking herself that question also. As I stress above I’m sure Dr. Phelps and her colleagues are above reproach. But that’s not the point. The larger message being advanced here is that alternatives to medicine not only complement but “integrate” with conventional medicine. Not only does available evidence show this is not true but to generalise is to lend credence to dangerous charlatans.

This post has focused primarily on chiropractors, because they not only serve as a hub for health focused pseudosciences, but also seek to replace the family GP. I will contend that my point on convoluted overlap is valid. Once a patient is referred to one pseudoscience how does the referring GP control for pollution as it were? More material on the dubious ethics of new age chiropractic, including catastrophic neck injury and paediatric “improvement” by parental proxy can be found here.

St. John’s Wort seems to be trotted out in almost every article claiming alternatives to medicine have an evidence base. What is forgotten is that hyperforin, the antidepressant extract of St. John’s Wort, and other extracts are both inducers and inhibitors of P450 cytochrome enzymes. These liver cytochromes are involved in the metabolism of over 50% of marketed medication.

In the case of opioid pain relief studies have demonstrated a decrease of blood plasma levels of oxycodone of up to 50% and reduced half life of 27%. In the case of alprazolzm (a benzodiazapine), prescribed for anxiety and panic attacks a doubling of clearance rate has been documented.

Chronic pain is associated with depression and depression with anxiety. Opioids and benzodiazapines are causally linked to respiratory depression overdose death. Hence the clinical significance of any “integration” of serious pain management with a herbal choice for the depression it may cause is likely to be anything but “complementary” for the patient. Many patients choose not to inform their GP of herbal supplements.

Proper diagnosis following treatment with medication will be hampered by St. John’s Wort. Excessive doses of actual medication may be prescribed. Should a patient cease St. John’s Wort whilst on opioid, benzodiazapine or both medication regimes a spike in blood plasma of the active metabolites will ensue. More likely, as St. John’s Wort is improperly regulated and dose concentration varies widely a patient may unwittingly expose themselves to respiratory depression and possibly death with no change in their daily medication/St. John’s Wort routine.

In short whilst the concentration (dose) of actual medication is stable, the drug interaction outcome due to St. John’s Wort mimics an unstable medication dose. Patients may easily find themselves unsuitable to drive, work, operate machinery, bathe or sleep without potential for disaster. Consequently many medication regimes may be deleteriously effected by St. John’s Wort.

Thus the wider picture of evidence pertaining to St. John’s Wort is not quite the basis for “integration” proponents of alternatives to medicine would have us believe.

My response to the ongoing insistence that placebo effects derived from acupuncture constitute evidence is likely to be here in Acupuncture: essential facts about a major scam. Over and again it emerges that subjects who think they are receiving acupuncture, whether they are or not, demonstrate a response.

Findings aside, how would Dr. Phelps explain meridians, invisible forces, chakra or vital energies? It is too easy to point to apparently positive findings when the mechanism by which they arise is implausible, unknown or assumed to be related to endorphin release. The technology to manufacture acupuncture needles did not exist until the 1600s and the only nation to seriously try to ban acupuncture was China under the Chinese Nationalist Government. Western marketing has done much for this “traditional” Chinese medicine.

What of naturopaths who insist on Black Salve [2]? Or who use herbal balls from China with high levels of elemental mercury, arsenic and lead? What of poor hygiene and bacterial infection from acupuncturists or masseurs? The astonishing story of Monika Milka and non-sterile syringes used in biomesotherapy, leaving her patients seriously infected with mycobacterium chelonae?

Tragic cases like Penelope Dingle and Isabella Denley indicate that the notion of integration or proper supervision is seriously flawed. One point raised repeatedly by FSM is that whilst ill patients waste time being exploited by pseudoscience acting as a health choice, the chance of genuine care, full recovery or even survival is lost.

These are the real issues Dr. Phelps could constructively help Aussies understand before raging at FSM. How is it that so many various practices have come to exist that are beholden to ideology, not evidence? How is it they can convince parents to withhold treatment from their children and in doing so undermine the health of our entire community?

FSM exists to address an unacceptable situation in our educational institutions. They have taken a stand because those in a position to defend academia seemingly chose to act unethically. When it comes to “informed choice” there is an excess of non evidence based, expensive pseudoscience. It is pervaded by a combative, arrogant anti-science and anti-medicine mindset. It is amply equipped with scams.

This madness must stop and Dr. Kerryn Phelps is most welcome to clearly state just what aspects of non conventional medicine are high risk ideology and what is safe, effective and backed by evidence. Real evidence that can be trusted alone.

Presently, there appears to be a scarcity.

♠ This quote has been attributed to D.D. Palmer. However in 2013 the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, cited the author as B.J. Palmer.

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.

Monika’s Entity: Losing Self Containment?

There’s a few various ways of defining “entity”.

Clearly it’s a “thing”. Dictionary.com include the notion of “self containment”. We might include distinct and being independent in existence. Other definitions note an entity is a part that has broken away from the whole. In business or in geography, such as a subcontinent.

But when it comes to describing “Monika’s Entity“, things get more challenging. Described as “a potion peddler” conducting “quackery of the first order” by Today Tonight, I’m sure we can do better. Clearly, Monika is also a Thing. In fact I’d reckon Monika is a Distinct Thing. Monika has also broken away from the “whole”, as it were, of humanity, existing quite independently from everyday traits and characteristics. However it appears Monika has jettisoned the notion of self containment from her Entity.

I rush to add dear reader, this does not make Monika a Distinctly Subhuman Thing bereft of self containment. Nay! I have only one response in defence of Gentle Monique:

Monika created Hugh Jackman’s physique and can cure cancer

As Monika’s Number One Fan, I confess to some concerns about her health. You see I’ve been banned from her Facebook page ever since I started asking questions about her breaching the Public and Environmental Health Act 1987 (S.A.). The S.A. Dept. of Health issued a Mesotherapy Alert after Monika charged $500 a shot to inject patients with saline solution and “other substances”. She was curing cancer by “killing the worms” responsible, amongst other things. A few developed “multiple symmetrical skin abscesses on their calves, buttocks, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, face and neck”.

Some developed mycobacterial infection. This required Monika to be using tap water and/or sewerage contaminants in her solution which she injected into people for whom she’d promised she could cure cancer. Page 42 of this Report into Bogus Practitioners includes:

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

Sadly, in their haste S.A. Health ordered Gentle Monique not to administer any substances to any person. They then ordered her to not provide substances to another person, unless that substance is a commercial product. Are they insane?! Curing cancer with sewerage contaminants isn’t like hit and miss allopathy. Just to show them she had no regard for this regulatory hogwash, Monika began selling water and ethanol in 150 ml bottles for $150.

The misunderstanding Monika and I had, followed my foolishly pointing out she was still the subject of health restrictions and providing yet another scam for human ingestion actually breached the order to not provide any substance to any person. Anyway, today Monika plonked this post on her page.

I was shocked. Gentle Monique? Just two days ago, Monika invented, posted, then deleted this story:

The suspect nature of this “confession” was all too apparent. As a poster observed, even if this mysterious confessor had zero mortgage the return on $100,000 at even twice what we expect in today’s market is only $10,000 before tax. Thus the idea of “a very healthy income” becomes laughable.

Monika was caught red handed lying to her readers, inventing stories to besmirch the name of others she included in her tirade. Oh my.

This was of course, an example of being “visciously (sic) attacked & bullied & harrassed (sic)…”, for bringing the joy of sewerage injections and impure water and ethanol magic to humanity. Still, in the cloak and dagger world of unmasking BigPharma Trolls paid gazillions to bring down Gentle Monique, anything is possible. Even deleting the entire story and proffering this excuse:

As you can see, I have good reason to be concerned over Monika’s state of mind and health. As her Number One Fan, it is my job to worry. Nonetheless, Gentle Monique was on the ball. The best way to fight off accusations of making stuff up, is to… make more stuff up:

Monika is very grumpy with Today Tonight who plot and plan with all of us BigPharma Trolls. When she made up the story that she later deleted Monika included:

I do hope Monika’s lawyers, in whose hands everything lies, are advising her of how she conducts herself online. You know…. without prejudice… ♥

I suppose ultimately all we can conclude is that Monika Milka of Monika’s Entity is not a Distinctly Subhuman Thing because all the evidence points to her being a Distinctly Bogus Subhuman Thing who appears to have lost the knack of self containment.

So all is well with the Universe.

Over to Today Tonight:

Monika Milka: Quackery of the first order