Archive for category Quacks
On the 26th January, the Merseyside Skeptics Society sent a letter to the editors of the Liverpool ECHO and Mirror, concerning their uncritical promotion of Gerson treatment and other alternative cancer ‘cures’ in their Saturday 21st January editions.
UPDATE: our letter was published in the print edition of the Liverpool ECHO on the 27th January.
Promotion of disproven treatments puts vulnerable patients at risk
Saturday’s edition of the Liverpool Echo featured the story of Sean Walsh, a local cancer patient who has elected to ignore the advice of doctors and to refuse treatment for his condition (Man with cancer beats 8 month prognosis – despite shunning hospital treatment, Liverpool Echo, January 21st 2017).
While we sincerely wish Mr Walsh the best of health, we believe the article’s uncritical promotion of his regime of alternative ‘treatments’ is deeply troubling and irresponsible.
Throughout the article Mr Walsh’s choice to dismiss the advice of cancer specialists is praised, with his “different approach” to treatment described as being “gentler on his body”. Also troubling is the positive report that Mr Walsh is “bringing his knowledge back to the UK to help people in Liverpool” – a statement which can only be seen as encouraging other vulnerable cancer patients to follow his example. This is the kind of advice which can lead people to make dangerous and misinformed choices with their healthcare, with potentially lethal consequences.
The Echo may argue that the inclusion of an opinion from Cancer Research UK absolves the newspaper of any culpability for its promotion of these dangerous quack treatments; given that the overwhelming majority of the article is dedicated to the uncritical promotion of disproven therapies, this justification holds little weight.
The treatments promoted in the article have been investigated and studied, by independent researchers and professionals, and for each there is no suggestion that they are worthy of any of the faith some patients and practitioners place in them. There are, however, hundreds of very vulnerable patients who have sadly been convinced by savvy practitioners of regimes like the Gerson regime to waste thousands of pounds – and, worse, critical treatment time – on interventions that have been comprehensively disproven. For many hopeful patients, their last months were spent not in the company of their loved ones, but in a foreign country, undergoing an invasive, deeply uncomfortable and fruitless regime of enemas, vitamin injections, restrictive diets and false hope.
The clinics offering these types of treatment are often based abroad, in jurisdictions where regulations are more lax, allowing them to continue making claims and advertising cures without good evidence of effectiveness. They often promote their successes with case studies and testimonials of ‘cured’ patients – sadly, too often those testimonials are quietly removed from their literature when the patient succumb to their disease. For the clinics, there is little or no repercussion, they merely erase the patient from their literature and carry on; for the patients and their families and friends, there is only heartbreak and tragedy.
The miraculous claims for ‘alternative’ cancer cures make for impressive headlines which are doubtlessly seductive, but as a responsible publication you have a duty to your readers to put truth ahead of sensationalism. By promoting these so-called cures without scrutiny, the Echo lends these dangerous quackeries the legitimacy of the publication’s well-earned reputation, and promotes clear misinformation to some of the most vulnerable of its readers.
We sincerely hope that Mr Walsh’s condition is as positive as he believes it is. However, it is almost certain that any recovery he has made has nothing to do with the ruinously-expensive diet and vitamin regime he has been sold; it is unlikely that the next Echo reader to follow the advice promoted in this article will be so fortunate.
Alice Howarth – Research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool; and Company Secretary of the Merseyside Skeptics Society
Professor Sarah Coupland – Director of the NWCR-UoL Cancer Research Centre
Professor Andrea Varro – Principle investigator, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Professor Michael Clague – Principle investigator, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Diana Moss – Principle investigator, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Ewan MacDonald – Post-doctoral research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Fiona Hood – Post-doctoral researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doctor Adam Linley – Post-doctoral research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Vicky Smith – Research technician, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Aitor Martinez-Zarate – Research associate, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Zohra Butt – Post-graduate researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Doug Grimes – Post-graduate researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Leah Wilson – Post-graduate researcher, Institute of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool
Proper snake oil salesmen are a dying breed. Time was, travelling grifters with lotions and tonics to cure what ails you were as commonplace as deaths from diseases they claimed to cure. Depictions in pop culture of Victorian-era or Wild-Western vendors of elixirs and tinctures with exotic and wonderous names – and even more glorious claims – are now ubiquitous to the point of cliché. They even show their face in the Cher song ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves‘ (interestingly enough, in combination with evangelicism: ‘Papa would do whatever he could / Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good’ – more of which later).
However, you might say they don’t make them like they used to – while bullshit inevitably still bobs to the surface and the desperate and willing are still taken for their money by sham products, the claims have tended towards a more reserved, vague, wishy-washy and intangible nature. No longer will a smiling charlatan claim to cure you, instead they’ll ‘boost your immune system’ or ‘increase your energy’ or something equally weasel-worded, to avoid making solid and testable claims, and mitigate the potential for angry customers – after all, while the hucksters of yore could back up their medicine cabinet and hop on the first stage coach out of town before their victims smelt a rat, in today’s world it’s far harder to disappear without a trace, and far more lucrative not to have to. Quackery got marketing savvy, you might say. As such, snake oil – with it’s extravagant names and bold claims – has fallen to the wayside.
Or so I thought. However, I was given cause to reassess this line of rationale – if not nostalgia for a time when pseudoscience was so potentially transparent – when I first encountered Jim Humble, and his ‘Miracle Mineral Solution‘. With a name most Wild-Western-novelists would shun for being somewhat lazily ironic, and a product whose miraculous monicker is matched only by it’s catalogue of cures, it seemed to me like we had a genuine snake oil salesman on our hands. Initial reports of MMS and Jim’s activities did nothing to dissuade me – while we’re now well-acquainted with the experiences of Rhys Morgan when highlighting the dangers of the solution in ‘treating’ Crohn’s disease, it was reports from Martin Robbins (not least in the Guardian) and the blogger Noodlemaz which most solidified my preconception of our Humble salesman.
It’s also what convinced me I had to try and get an interview with him.
For readers who don’t know, and I can perfectly understand that there may be plenty, I co-host the Righteous Indignation podcast. On the show, we’ve often had guests who are themselves proponents of a belief traditionally considered pseudoscientific, and we give them the space and open forum to put across their case, which we debate in polite but often firm tones. It was this offer I emailed to Jim – a friendly-yet-firm forum, and the chance to put forward the case for MMS. I must admit, I submitted the interview request half in jest, so it was an enormous surprise to me when he agreed to speak to us. Read the rest of this entry »
Many readers of this site will be familiar with Joseph Mercola. He’s the shiny-toothed, perma-tanned quack who spat out his dummy in spectacular fashion when people decided Dr Rachie of the Australian Skeptics knew more about genuine health advice than he did, culminating in her Shorty Award win back in March. Full details, including Mercola’s spectacular meltdown, can be found at Skepticsbook.com. (Spoiler: Mercola describes Rachie as ‘Big Pharma’s wet dream’. No comment necessary from me I think).
Mercola is an odd figure, it’s fair to say, and one not above our ridicule, not least for having a website which looks like it’s set up by someone satirising the persona of a snake oil salesman. I mean, his white-toothed grin shines out from every inch of the site, with an expression which screams: ‘I was in an accident which wasn’t my fault, and Shyster & Shyster got me over £10 000 compensation for my imaginary whiplash!’ What’s more, his ‘Meet Dr Mercola’ page is actually titled ‘Why trust me?’. I defy anyone to beat that.
Still, not content with spitting out the dummy at awesome Australians, Mercola also appears to do a sideline in strawmen, as this wonderful cartoon ‘The Town Of Allopath‘ (original story by Mike ‘Health Danger’ Adams) attests. The less I say about it, the less I’ll spoil the surprise (for ‘surprise‘ read ‘mind-boggling, face-palming incomprehension‘) so all I’ll say is that the Youtube blurb inaccurately describes it as:
The video parodies the drug companies and conventional healthcare system and many are furious about the truth being exposed. Hopefully the humour will open some eyes.
Oh, and that Mercola – so enraged at those greedy doctors who keep you ill just so they can make all of their lurid profits – lives in a mansion with a pool and it’s own private island (sourced from public records). Enjoy!
Since the beginning of our 10:23 Campaign, it’s become increasingly clear that there are an awful lot of parties out there waging a war on reason with regards to homeopathy – from Homeopathic Dana (so-called because he’s smaller and weaker than Dana International, the transsexual Israeli winner of the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest), spambot and drive-by troll ‘Dr’ Nancy Malik, idiot and BBC favourite Gemma Hoefkens, bowel-botherer Greg ‘Kaizen Clinic’ Wimbourne and all manner of ‘health’ activists peddling Big Pharma paranoia, while also peddling magic. The actions of these people I can actually understand (thought not condone): they sell homeopathy for a living, they have a very vested interest in keeping people in the dark as to what it is and why it’s bullshit. Homeopathy is how they make their name, how they feed their family, and how they milk their loyal and vulnerable supporters. It’s what they do.
However, alongside the honest, up-front, god-fearing quacks and charlatans, we’ve had to fight the homeo-forces on another front: the media. Almost universally, when homeopathy is discussed in the media, they ask a homeopath. At best, they also ask a healthcare professional, or (failing that) me, to represent the other side, while leaning the conversation in the favour of the water-wizard. The homeopath gets the first and last word, and the balance of the debate is very firmly on terra homeo. That’s when they’re not just outright selling homeopathic treatments, or allowing homeopaths to wax lyrical about how ‘it worked for me’ and ‘it can’t be placebo as it works on my baby/animal/etc’. This is the battle ground, and it’s this fight we choose to fight – so be it.
But it still pisses me off when it’s the BBC drinking the homeopathic Kool-Aid.
I mean, I love the BBC – they’re meant to be fair, unbiased by commercial concerns, free to investigate and report, educate and entertain, and all that good stuff. Sure, they may spend a little too much money giving Graham Norton a career, or padding out Saturday night’s with Dr Who and fancy dancing (neither of which I particularly care for), but they’re still ace. Except, when they do this:
The view of the regulatory body for pharmacists, who are consulting their members about how the products are currently marketed, is that people who buy homeopathic products should be advised that they do not work and only have a placebo effect.
But according to homeopaths, the real issue behind the consultation is the threat complementary medicine is posing to the highly lucrative relationship between the drug companies and the Health Service.
Face – meet palm. Read the rest of this entry »
When most people hear about the healing powers of music, I’m sure they think of the soft soulful beats of Lionel Richie or Michael Bolton, gently ushering them through a messy break-up – I know I do. But for some, music has healing powers of a more literal, less-early 90s housewife and altogether more bullshit nature. I’m talking, in fact, about Sound Feelings, a Californian company founded by Howard Richman, who proudly proclaim:
An eclectic mix there, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m sure you’ll also allow me to skip over the film scoring and piano lessons, and get right down to the good stuff – taking a look at the alternative therapies on offer, this film-scoring-music-guru will merrily peddle you products for ‘Internal Cleansing‘, weight loss products and books, as well as – amazingly – a weight loss photo. Which is literally just a photoshopped photo of the current-sized-You, adjusted in order to make you look slimmer. And black and white. Apparently, this is a great motivational technique. Yeah.
On top of all that, the good maestro advises on a dangerous-sounding 10-Point Colon Cleanse – because, I don’t know about you, but I always take digestive advice from someone with a B.A. degree in piano performance (from UCLA, no less).Surprisingly, Howard’s not a doctor, or any kind of science-acquainted person. In fact, one of the few things I particularly like about the site is that his bio describes him as being an ‘unlikely “expert” in the field of weight loss.’
You can say that again. Read the rest of this entry »
Mind Body Wallet Bullshit Spirit festivals are an endless source of textbook woo – be it past-life regressionists taking people back to prehistoric times, psychics claiming to have been involved in all manner of police investigations, or dowsers explaining that wooden dowsing rods work because wood naturally seeks out water. Come to think of it, I’ve seen all of those things – in the very same room. They really do have to be seen to be believed.
Often, the contents of a MBWBS event tend to vary from the silly, to the deceptive, to the outright ridiculous and offensive – that’s relatively standard fare, really. Sometimes, however, an exhibitor is thrown up that’s simply and utterly dangerous – and it was the charming practitioners from Innersound that filled the role at the last festival I visited. (Listeners to our Skeptics With A K podcast will already know all about Innersound and their needle-free ‘Qi’ therapy).
Before you all dash off to Google Innersound and check out their woo-filled website (don’t worry, I’ll be doing that for you in a bit anyway), let me first explain to you how I came across them initially. Wandering around said MBWBS event, checking out the various stalls, I got chatting to an elderly Korean woman with a massage table. She explained to me that, due to fear in the West over the use of needles, she was giving people the chance to try needle-free acupuncture. Or ‘acu’, you might call it. Obviously, I was intrigued, I was mystified, and above all I was skeptical. “How do you do acupuncture without needles?”, I thought.
“How do you do acupuncture without needles?” I asked her.
“Oh, it’s simple – we use sound vibrations applied along acupressure points, which resonate with the frequencies of our own bodies, so that they interact with the healing centre of our inner core and unlock the healing energy within”, she replied Read the rest of this entry »