Great move by Health Canada

The Canadian health agency seems to be about to make a significant strike against pseudo-science:

Health Canada rules ask for science behind natural health products’ claims

The federal government is planning some pretty major changes to the way it regulates non-prescription drugs, natural health products and cosmetics. The move is designed to simplify the rules and help assure consumers the products on store shelves “are safe and do what they claim to do,” according to Health Canada’s consultation document outlining the proposed new framework.

It appears the biggest impact would be felt by Canada’s multi-billion-dollar natural health products industry, which includes vitamins, minerals, supplements and homeopathic solutions. Under the new rules, companies that want to put health claims on their labels would need to provide scientific evidence and Health Canada will determine whether there is sufficient proof to warrant the claim. It’s a substantial change from the current system, under which Health Canada grants licences to all approved natural health products licenses and allows them to make a variety of health claims, which serve as important marketing tools.

To me, this seems like a very reasonable policy. If someone makes a claim, they should be able to provide evidence supporting the claim.

Unsurprisingly, those making a living of making false claims, disagree.

According to Canada’s natural health products industry, the proposed changes will make natural health product makers meet the same regulations as prescription drugs and that the rules will force many products Canadians rely on to disappear from the market. Shortly after the proposal was released in September, the Canadian Health Food Association launched a social media campaign and petition calling on the government to “save our supplements.”

Proponents of natural health products say these changes mean vitamins and minerals would have to meet the same standards as drugs in order to be approved and that it would drive countless products from the market. Some online commenters even claim that Big Pharma is the driving force behind these changes, as that industry would benefit from putting the natural health products industry out of business.

On its website, the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) claims the new framework will reduce oversight of products and restrict information available to consumers as well as increase the costs of vitamins, minerals and other natural products. In an interview, association president Helen Long said the current regulatory framework is working fine and warned these changes could threaten the availability of natural health products.

“I think both members [of the association] and the public are concerned that they will be able to continue to access the products they know and they trust,” she said.

Ms. Long added that there’s “legitimate concern” that fewer products will be available because of Health Canada’s heavy-handed approach. She added the industry has concerns about the fact the proposal document mentions fees for companies that want to make health claims, as that would pose a financial burden to natural health product makers.

The arguments are, of course, bullshit. Supplements and similar products have all too long gotten away with making outrageous claims about their effectiveness. Now, they have to put up or shut up. What will happen, is that the providers of supplements and similar products will have to remove their claims, and the consumers will become aware that those claims aren’t backed up by science. Some will continue to buy them, but I hope a lot of people will stop.

Given the outrageous markup on these types of products, I find it incredible insulting that Ms. Long tries to make this into a question of costs.

It should be noticed that the move is also aimed at cosmetics, but it doesn’t seem that the cosmetic industry are pushing back. It almost makes it seem like the “natural health” industry has something to hide, doesn’t it?

Podcast recommendation: Oh No Ross and Carrie

I am always looking for great skeptic and scientific podcasts, and since I am sure that many other are doing the same, I’ll occasionally recommend podcasts that I have come across, and think are worth listening to (some times with a caveat or two).

This time, I will recommend the Oh No Ross and Carrie podcast, which is a podcast series where the hosts and Ross and Carrie investigates different health or supernatural claims, and cults.

In the past they have investigated things like Scientology, Christian Science, Laughter Yoga, and Reiki.

The only caveat I will make about the show is that they sometimes try too hard to build the suspense during the introduction, and drag it out needlessly. This becomes annoying if you listen to several shows in a row. Thankfully this can be skipped through fairly easily.

Saluting people changing Denmark for the better

I think we all know that it is dangerous to make people into heroes, since they often show us their all too human sides. Yet, I also think it is important to acknowledge that there are a lot of people doing heroic work, trying to change society for the better. One of the major reasons why this is important, is because it is hard work to do so, and it can be easy to think that it doesn’t make any difference, and that nobody appreciate the work.

So, in that spirit, I want to acknowledge some amazing people doing great work in Denmark.

In recent months, I have been lucky enough to be at a couple of events where some of these amazing people participated, so I thought I’d share a couple of pictures from these events, and acknowledge the great work these people do.

Politikens Akademi feminist debate

Feminist debate

The picture shows a debate panel of five feminists, which happened on September 26, 2016. The debate was about feminism in the future, and didn’t try to create a false balance between feminists and non-feminists, but instead invited five feminists, so we could skip the whole debate about whether feminism is even necessary.

The participants are:

  • Rasmus Brygger – a libertarian feminist. I have some serious problems with Brygger and the brand of feminism he represents, but I admire him for trying to fight for feminism in a very hostile environment.
  • Emma Holten – well known for her great work fighting for consent and against revenge porn. She has done a lot to change the whole debate on this issue, not only in Denmark, but in all of Europe. On top of that, she does a lot of other great work for feminism and against inequality. I am a huge fan of her and hers work.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – a Danish-Palestinian feminist. Often involved in debates related to feminism and immigrants, and debates about immigrants and integration in general.
  • Sanne Søndergaard – a comedian who often incorporates feminist themes in her sketches. The comedy scene in Denmark is quite misogynist, and Sanne Søndergaard is often the target of horrible attacks started, or at least cheered on, by her colleagues.
  • Henrik Marstal – musician and self-described gender traitor. One of the few vocal male feminists in Denmark.

I don’t agree with all of these five people on all issues, but they are doing a lot of work trying to make Denmark more feminist, suffering a horrific amount of abuse in the process. Even so, they continue the work. I cannot adequately express my admiration for what they do.

 

20161125_171447

The second picture is from a political meetup, where the subject was what could be done to reduce hatred in Denmark. This came after the Brexit and Trump votes.

The 3 participants were:

  • Tommy Petersen – a liberal member of the city council of Copenhagen for Radikale. He was one of the organizers of the first Copenhagen Pride parade.
  • Natasha Al-Hariri – I described her above, but here she participated due to her work with integration and acceptance of immigrants.
  • Niddal El-Jabri – the husband of Natasha Al-Hariri. Known for creating a peace-ring around the Jewish Synagogue after the attacks on it in February, 2015. He is involved with Mino Danmark, an organization working to help fellowship and a common community between people in Denmark, no matter their background.

There are many people working hard for tolerance, and against the intolerance expressed by xenophobic parties like Dansk Folkeparti, so these three are only a small sample, but the work each individual do is extremely important.

What is also important, is that we do it in different ways.

Since racism and xenophobia is not based upon facts, but rather feelings, it is important that there are people willing to reach out to people on the other side, and try to show them that their fears are irrelevant. This doesn’t mean we all should do that – there is also a need for people to forcefully confront the lies and propaganda spread by xenophobes, and that is certainly the path I have chosen, but it is good that there are people like Natasha Al-Hariri and Niddal El-Jabri trying to create bridges.

Facing bigotry among progressives

In my last post I wrote about how we need to confront the Trump campaign and Trump supporters with the fact that the Trump campaign was based upon racism.

Similar to this, progressives must also be willing to face the bigotry that unfortunately is widespread on the left. Unlike what many on the left seem to think, bigotry is not just something that exist among right-winged people, but often roars its ugly head among progressives as well.

One such an example can be found at this Daily Kos diary from November 11, 2016

What I told a client

It is a first time diary entry, in which the author writes about the election of Trump. It was quite popular, and got 677 votes (a fairly high number of votes, especially for a first-time contribution). This entry contained the following paragraph

They think our country is being overrun by Muslims or will be, and they want to avoid a situation like in Europe.  That’s a legitimate concern, since non-Europeans are indeed pouring into Europe and refusing to assimilate.  I have traveled and lived in Europe and have seen it with my own eyes. It threatens to destroy the fabric of society there. But we don’t have that problem:  One reason is that we control immigration.  We let in the best and brightest, and a tiny trickle of refugees, and that’s about it.  In Europe, by contrast, uneducated people from countries that never advanced beyond the 13th century can just take the train or drive and sneak in.  Also, non-Europeans flood into Europe from former French, etc. colonies such as Tunisia – a problem we don’t have.  Immigrant Muslims here in the States are assimilating far more than in Europe, in part because we don’t relegate Muslims to ghettos; we welcome them into our neighborhoods.  We have two first-generation Muslim families on our street. The wife in one of them wears a headscarf, but otherwise they’re not much different than anyone else. Our kids play together.  We get together socially.

This paragraph could have been written by any right-winged xenophobe in Europe, yet this was apparently completely acceptable to the 677 people who voted for the diary.

We need to get rid of this sort of bigotry among progressives before we have any chance of winning over the racism and bigotry we face on the right.

For the record – people from outside the EU can’t just travel to the EU if they feel like it, which anyone who has ever traveled to Europe would know. And it should be obviously that the whole concept that there are countries that hasn’t advanced beyond the 13th century is deeply racist.

 

 

Confront them!

Apparently members of the Trump and Clinton campaign recently met at Harvard University:

As is now a tradition every four years, the Harvard Kennedy School invites the influential players of a presidential election to speak and debate on panels, and mingle with eager, inquisitive grad students and professionally nettlesome reporters.

The description is from the Daily Beast article linked above. The article is pretty bad, but I found it worth linking to for the following picture:

white-supremacists

Apparently this was something that happened at debate – it’s a verbal exchange between well-documented liar and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Jennifer Palmieri, the communications director for Hillary for America.

I think Palmieri is doing the right thing here – confronting the Trump campaign and its supporters with the fact that the Trump campaign was build upon hate and sexism. They are trying to deny it now, but it really was, so it is important to keep pointing it out!

 

Looking at the upcoming Danish government and its platform

Denmark is currently led by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who leads the party Venstre, which currently forms a minority right-winged government. The government is supported by the parties Konservative (the Conservative), Liberal Alliance, and Dansk Folkeparti, who all have a heavy influence on the policies, with the two first parties focusing on tax breaks for the wealthy, while the latter is a xenophobic populist party, fighting against Denmark taking in refugees and immigrants.

In Denmark, the Prime Minister is not elected, but is found through the support of the parties – basically, the person who gets the support from party representing a majority of members of parliament, gets to form the government. For the last twentyfive years, it has been a member of either Venstre or Socialdemokratiet, depending on whether the right-wing parties or the centre-left parties got the majority of votes at the election.

For the last week or so, however, the current PM has tried to expand the government, so it includes more parties – more specifically Konservative and Liberal Alliance. This would still make it a minority government, but a much larger one, meaning that he would have to find less votes outside the government when he wants to get new measures passed.

Unfortunately, it also means that the libertarian policies of especially Liberal Alliance will get a much more prominent position, as it will get a place in the government platform. Due to the continuing reliance on the xenophobic Dansk Folkeparti, it also means that the government platform takes an anti-immigration slant.

The new government platform can be found here – unfortunately it seems like there only is a Danish version.

The title of the platform is “For a freer, richer and more confident Denmark”.

Reading through the platform, I have a hard time seeing the “freer” part – there are mentions of creating new laws about logging of data for the police’s use, about restricting refugees’ access to Denmark, making it harder to get a Danish citizenship, making it harder to reunite families in Denmark, and about putting restrictions on religious preachers (this is aimed at Muslims), but there are nothing that actually makes Denmark freer in my opinion.

The richer part, is a bit better – there are a number of measures aimed at ensuring economic growth and that Denmark is ready for the future. There are, however also some measurements that probably will work the other way, among other the reduction of the top tax bracket.

It is well documented that giving tax breaks to the people who earn the most, is a bad way of creating economic growth. Public spending or funneling the money to the people earning the least, creates a lot more growth. The reason for this is, that public spending goes directly into the economy, as does money funneled to low-income people, since they spend their money on goods. People with higher income, uses the money for paying off debt or for savings, as they usually have their needs covered. Money spend on debt-payment or savings, doesn’t create growth.

The last part of the platform is about confidence – or rather it is about feeling safe (I had a hard time finding the right word). Here there are the usual measures about more police, stricter laws etc. that you would expect from a right-winged government.

All in all, no great surprises in the platform.

Since the government already was dependent upon the two parties, I don’t think the expansion will make any great differences. It will make the Prime Minister’s work slightly easier, as he will have to find fewer votes outside government in order to get things passed, but other than that, I can’t really see how this will create a difference.

The only positive thing I can say, is that the expansion of parties, also creates a bigger group of candidates for government positions. Given how abysmal some of his government members have been, this might be worth something. Unfortunately, some of those candidates are even worse than the current lot of ministers.

 

 

 

Moving music videos

I frequently come across questions on Facebook about what music videos that people find most moving, and my go to answer is Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt. It is an extremely moving video, especially when you know a bit about the backstory.

Another moving music video is Tom Wait’s Hell Broke Luce, again especially if you know the story behind the song.

What music videos moves you? And why?

Problems in Chinese clinical trials

I came across this story some weeks ago, and have been wondering why it hasn’t received more widespread coverage in the science-sphere and in the news.

80% of data in Chinese clinical trials have been fabricated

A Chinese government investigation has revealed that more than 80 percent of the data used in clinical trials of new pharmaceutical drugs have been “fabricated“.

The report uncovered fraudulent behaviour at almost every level, and showed that some pharmaceutical companies had hidden or deleted records of potentially adverse side effects, and tampered with data that didn’t meet their desired outcomes.

In light of the findings, 80 percent of current drug applications, which were awaiting approval for mass production, have now been cancelled.

The investigation, led by the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), looked at data from 1,622 clinical trials for new pharmaceutical drugs currently awaiting approval. The applications in question were all for Western medicine, not traditional Chinese medicine.

The SFDA found that the more than 80 percent of the data failed to meet analysis requirements, were incomplete, or totally non-existent.

The lack of general coverage worried me, as this seems like a major story, so I decided to try to dig deeper into the story before writing about it.

This proved to be wise, as the first reports wasn’t as complete as one could have wished.

CFDA: reports of clinical trial data fraud ‘not fact based’

The Chinese Food and Drug Administration (CDFA) has fired back on lack of context in media reporting “80% of China’s clinical trial data are fraudulent.”

According to this article, most of the trials were voluntarily withdrawn during a self-examination process, and were thus not found to be fraudulent by the CFDA. Another article adds a bit more details:

Asia Regulatory Roundup: CFDA Investigates Trial Sites Over Data Integrity

China’s Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) has opened investigations into 11 clinical trial sites and contract research organizations (CROs) as part of a data verification drive initiated last year. The regulator suspects the sites and CROs generated fraudulent clinical trial data to support 27 new drug applications.

CFDA released details of the investigations as part of a breakdown of the numbers associated with the self-audit of drug applications by organizations seeking approval in China. Of the 1,622 applicants asked to carry out the self-examination in July 2015, 1,193 organizations withdrew their submissions voluntarily after receiving the regulator’s request. CFDA allowed applicants to withdraw their filings without facing punishment. As 193 of the applicants were exempt from clinical trials, the withdrawals amount to 83% of all the submissions that went through the self-audit.

The regulator is seeking to dispel reports all of the applications were withdrawn because their data were fraudulent. While CFDA acknowledges some of the applications included false data, deliberately or by mistake, others were withdrawn because of more prosaic failings. Some of the withdrawals were triggered by recognition of failures to comply with good clinical practices (GCPs). Others were a result of the clinical trial data falling short of what is needed to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a medicine

So, it seems like it is overstating it to claim that over 80% of all Chinese clinical trials contained fraudulent data.

It does, however, seem like one could make the claim that there have been found widespread problems with the data in Chinese trials – either through self-examination or through official data verification – otherwise, why would so many results be voluntary withdrawn?

I am happy to see that the Chinese authorities are following up with investigations into clinical trial sites and contract research organizations.

 

 

A reversal of roles in India

India is a country with a huge problem with inequality between the rich and the poor. If you look at the list of countries by inequality-adjusted HDI, India appears as number 99 on the list. Much of this is caused by the caste system, but other related factors, such as widespread nepotism and corruption also plays in.

In an attempt to root out the problems of unaccounted wealth and corruption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has scrapped the 500 and 1000 rupee notes overnight. People in possession of such notes, have to deposit them in banks by the end of December (though I have seen news reports, that indicate that the exchange might continue after this). Of course, the tax department is keeping a keen eye on these deposits, and any unaccounted money will be hit with taxes and a heavy fine.

Not everyone in India thinks this approach is the right one, but it does look like it has some effect:

For the first time in India, the rich beg the poor to help them

Driver Rahul Sharma, 25, remembers the exact day when his employer turned from a wolf into a lamb. It was November 9 when his employer called him  beta  – Hindi for “dear” – for the first time. The maid was asked to give him a cup of tea, for the first time.

“I was shocked at his sudden niceness. It went on for two days,” said Sharma. For the past three years, his New Delhi-based employer has been abusive, bad-tempered, and imperious, often demanding that he turn up for work at 6am after finishing work at midnight.

“He didn’t even bother to remember my name. When he wanted to summon me, he’d call out ‘driver!’,” Sharma said.

“On the third day, the penny dropped. He asked me to deposit 250,000 rupees ($4900) in my bank account on his behalf so that he could get rid of his black money.”

According to the article, a lot of poor people employed by rich Indians, are getting approached by their employers in order to help them whitewash their money. This certainly indicates that there is some kind of effect. I am cynical enough to think that the rich people will find ways around the barriers (if nothing else, then through bribery), but in the process, there might be some benefits for the poor.

 

 

Lazy linking

A few links to things I have come across recently

3 Men Arrested in Plot to Bomb Kansas Aparment Complex, Mosque Following Presidential Election

Three members of a southwest Kansas militia dubbed the “Crusaders” were arrested Friday on charges stemming from a plot to attack a housing complex that houses a mosque in Garden City, Kan.

It is hardly a surprise that right-wingers are a genuine terrorist threat in the US, and it is good to see that the law enforcement are aware of this, and can stop them before they can effectuate their plans.

 

Parkinson’s researcher with three retractions heads to court on Monday

On Monday, Parkinson’s researcher Caroline Barwood will head to court in Brisbane, Australia, following a probe at her former institution, the University of Queensland (UQ).

Barwood was granted bail in November, 2014 — charges included  that she “dishonestly applied for grant funds,” and fabricated research that claimed a breakthrough in treating Parkinson’s disease, according to The Guardian. In March, Bruce Murdoch, a former colleague of Barwood’s at UQ, pleaded guilty to 17 fraud-related charges, and received a two-year suspended sentence after an institutional investigation into 92 academic papers.

It is fairly rare that scientists are facing trial after having fabricated research, probably because it can be difficult to be sure whether they actually fraudulently fabricated their result. In cases like this, where there were claims of breakthroughs in an area, giving people false hope, I think it is important for there to be a legal follow up.

 

Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying

Donald Trump’s supporters deserve to have their concerns taken seriously.

If the media and commentators in 2016 can agree on nothing else, it’s this. It’s a bit of an odd meme. I can remember literally no one in 2012 dwelling on the importance of taking the concerns of Mitt Romney voters seriously, even though they made up a considerably larger share of the population than Trump supporters. No one talks about taking the interests of Hillary Clinton supporters, a still larger group, seriously.

But Trump supporters, a smaller group backing a considerably more loathsome agenda, have received an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy, undertaken as a sort of passive-aggressive snipe at unnamed other commentators and politicians perceived to not be taking their concerns seriously.

But there’s something striking about this line of commentary: It doesn’t take the stated concerns of Trump voters, and voters for similar far-right populists abroad, seriously in the slightest.

In the primary, though, the story was, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained at length, almost entirely about racial resentment. There’s a wide array of data to back this up.

UCLA’s Michael Tesler has found that support for Trump in the primaries strongly correlated with respondents’ racial resentment, as measured by survey data. Similarly, Republican voters with the lowest opinions of Muslims were the most likely to vote for Trump, and voters who strongly support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants were likelier to support him in the primaries too.

We see the same in Denmark, where we always hear about how the voters for the xenophobic Danish Peoples’ Party (Dansk Folkeparti) have a lot of concerns which we should take serious, but when you listen to what the actual supporters say, it is all about foreigners and getting rid of them.