European scientific or health personnel, please sign this manifesto

The Association to Protect the Sick of Pseudoscientific Therapies from Spain, and several other European organizations have gotten together to write a European manifesto against pseudo-therapies

It says, in part:

European directive 2001/83/CE has made –and still makes— possible the daily deceiving of thousands of hundreds of European citizens [10]. Influential lobbies have been given the opportunity to redefine what a medicine is, and now they are selling sugar to sick people and making them believe it can cure them or improve their health. This has caused deaths and will continue to do so until Europe admits an undeniable truth: scientific knowledge cannot yield under economic interests, especially when it means deceiving patients and violating their rights.

Europe is facing very serious problems regarding public health. Over-medicalization, multiresistant bacteria or the financial issues of the public systems are already grave enough, and there is no need to add to that gurus, fake doctors or even qualified doctors who claim they can cure any disease by manipulating chakras, making people eat sugar or employing “quantic frequencies”. Europe must not only stop the promotion of homeopathy but also actively fight to eradicate public health scams, which implicate more than 150 pseudo-therapies in our territory. Thousands of citizens lives depend on that. In fact, according to recent research, 25.9 % of Europeans have used pseudo-therapies last year. In other words, 192 million patients have been deceived [11].

Europe being concerned about the misinformation phenomena but at the same time protecting one the most dangerous types of it, health misinformation, is just not coherent. This is why the people signing this manifesto urge the governments of European countries to end a problem in which the name of science is being used falsely and has already costed the life of too many.

I do not fulfill the criteria for signing the manifesto, but I fully endorse it, and hope that any readers out there, who fulfill the criteria, will read the manifesto in full, and sign it.

It is about time that we got rid of pseudo-science in our health care in Europe.

Podcast recommendations

I have come across a few interesting podcasts, that I thought I’d share with the rest of you.

The first of them, came to me via Tony, who recommended it. It is Uncivil, which is described thus:

A history podcast from Gimlet Media, where we go back to the time our divisions turned into a war, and bring you stories left out of the official history.

The second podcast, is really a series of episodes of a podcast. It is the Seeing White series of the Scene on Radio podcast.

Just what is going on with white people? Police shootings of unarmed African Americans. Acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists. The renewed embrace of raw, undisguised white-identity politics. Unending racial inequity in schools, housing, criminal justice, and hiring. Some of this feels new, but in truth it’s an old story.

Why? Where did the notion of “whiteness” come from? What does it mean? What is whiteness for?

Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen took a deep dive into these questions, along with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, in this fourteen-part documentary series, released between February and August 2017. The series editor is Loretta Williams.

This was again a podcast that came to me via Tony.

Opening Arguments a podcast by Andrew Torres and Thomas Smith. A progressive podcast, focusing on legal matters. It describes itself thus:

Opening Arguments is the show that pairs a real-life, Harvard-educated lawyer (Andrew) with an inquisitive host (Thomas). Every episode, Thomas and Andrew take on a popular legal topic and give you all the tools you need to understand the issue and win every argument you have on Facebook, with your Uncle Frank, or wherever someone is wrong on the Internet.

Thomas and Andrew have tackled Hillary Clinton’s emails, Jill Stein’s recounts, the Emoluments clause, overtime regulations, Roe v. Wade, the wacky “sovereign citizen” movement, and much, much more!

It’s law. It’s politics. It’s fun. We don’t tell you what to think, we just set up the Opening Arguments.

A few weeks ago, I was at QED in Manchester, where I heard Hannah Fry give a brilliant talk. This made me look up her work, and I was reminded that she is one of the two hosts of The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, a show that addresses listener questions from a scientific angle.

The Archaeological Fantasies Podcast describes itself thus:

Welcome to the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast. Join Sara Head and Doctors Ken Feder and Jeb Card as they explore the wild world of pseudoarchaeology. They look critically at topics ranging from Transoceanic travliers, Ancient Aliens, and Vikings in America, all the way to archaeological evidence of Big Foot.

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?

Pseudo-science at the Olympics

BBC has a news story up called Why are so many Olympians covered in large red circles?, about the appearance of Olympic athletes with perfect circular red marks on their bodies.

I saw the pictures, and thought “Cupping? Surely it can’t be!”

Unfortunately I was wrong, and it seems like the pseudo-science of cupping has now become a fad among Olympians

The mark of an Olympic athlete, at least at Rio 2016, seems to be a scattering of perfectly round bruises. Swimmers and gymnasts, particularly from Team USA, are among those seen sporting the mysterious dots.

No, not paintballing misadventures or love bites – they are the result of a practice known as “cupping”; an ancient therapy where heated cups are placed on the skin.

Cupping is a treatment from the medieval times (and earlier), where the causes for diseases were not understood, and it was believed to help treat a number of ailments. There is no scientific evidence for it being effective at treating anything.

The BBC writes:

The technique, which is a form of acupuncture, is done by lighting flammable liquid in a glass cup.

Once the flame goes out, the drop in temperature creates suction which sticks the cups to the body.

The suction pulls the skin away from the body and promotes blood flow – and leaves those red spots, which typically last for three or four days.

Of course, it doesn’t in any way or shape promote blood flow – that is an entirely undocumented claim. Those red spots are bruises.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Olympic athletes are willing to try anything in order to win. But cupping?? What’s next, using leeches for bloodletting??

Edit: Orac has of course written a great blog post on cupping: What’s the harm? Cupping edition

Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy

Note: This is a repost from my old blog. It appears at it originally appeared on my old blog.

I am not the first person to state this, but I think that it’s important that we all keep up saying this: Testing of homeopathic medicine should end.

Why do I say this? Well, for a very simple reason: There is no evidence that homeopathy works. And what’s more, the whole concept of homeopathy flies against everything we know about chemistry, physics, and physiology.

This blog post is triggered by a truly abysmal study where homeopathic medicine was compared to proper medicine used for treating moderate to severe depressions – there were numerous flaws in the study (which I plan to address in a later post), but the fundamental problem was that it was comparing medicine with remedies based on nonsense.

There is a famous essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky called “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution“, which goes on to explain how our knowledge of biology wouldn’t make sense except if evolution is true. One could write a similar essay, called say “Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy”, in which one explains how all our knowledge of medicine and physiology doesn’t make sense if homeopathy is true.

I don’t think this can be stressed enough.

It’s not just a matter of science not understanding homeopathy. If homeopathy was true, it would mean that the basic building blocks upon which our knowledge is built would be wrong.

Given we know that this is not the case, homeopathy must be wrong. No, that’s too mild; homeopathy must be absolute nonsense.

The basic concepts of homeopathy are things like “like cures like”, miasms, and and the concept of “memory” in water, all of which is nonsense.

“Like cures like” (or law of similars) is the idea that medicine should be based upon things which gives the same symptoms as the original disease. This was perhaps plausible back when Hahnemann first proposed it two hundred years ago, but we now know that there is no truth to this idea. Sometimes the medicine will be based upon substances which gives similar symptoms, but mostly it won’t.

Miasms are an old concept, in which diseases are caused by pollution or bad air. This idea was replaced by the germ theory of diseases, and is not taken serious by anyone except for certain branches of alternative “medicine” such as homeopathy, where they have added their own twists to the concept, but still stay largely true to the old Medieval concept.

The “memory” of water (or sugar for that matter) is the explanation used to explain how homeopathic medicine can have any effect. Homeopathic remedies are based upon the concept of diluting, in which the remedies are diluted to a degree where none of the original molecules are left (see this rather poor Wikipedia article for the numbers).

Oh, and the homeopaths also claim that the more diluted a remedy is, the more potent it is. Yes, this is really what they claim. No, it doesn’t make any sense.

So, all in all, we know that homeopathy doesn’t work. So, why the hell are we continuing to test it against proper medicine?

There are a lot of alternative “medicines” which might work, even if the concepts they are based upon are nonsense (e.g. acupuncture), and it makes sense to test these (so far, the effect of acupuncture seems to be placebo), but this is most certainly not the case with homeopathy. There is no way in which that can work.

Homeopaths might claim otherwise, but then it’s up to them to explain how our basic understanding of chemistry, physics, physiology, and medicine is wrong in this matter, and yet works in every other case. In other words, it’s up to the homeopaths to propose new theories in which homeopathy works, and which still supports our current state of knowledge, and until then, they should be ignored.

Not shunned, but ignored. Like we ignore perpetual motion machine builders, flat-earthers, and other weirdos.

Conventional medicine is not perfect, and our knowledge is expanding all the time, but theories like the germ theory of diseases are well established through science. We understand the mechanisms at play, and this knowledge enables us to fight diseases more efficiently. Much like our understanding of vira has helped us fighting other diseases more efficiently.

Why does claims of memory in water and strength through dilution bring to the table? In what ways are they expanding our knowledge? What diseases are we able to cure because of them? Nothing, none, and none are the answers. So stop bringing them to the table. Instead focus on the many valid ideas, which don’t fly in the face of all the collective knowledge of the sciences.

Woos like to bring up Nobel Laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, and their discovery that ulcers were caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori as an example of how outsiders can turn conventional knowledge on its head.

This is of course pure wishful thinking from their side. Marshall and Warren were very much part of the established scientific community, and while their proposal was received skeptically at first, it was not dismissed out of hand for some very simple reasons:

    • It was built upon evidence.
    • The mechanisms etc. all worked within conventional science and the mechanisms known at the time.
    • There seemed to be some problems with the prevalent hypothesis at the time.

In other words, not only did they work within the established science, they actually addressed some known issues and presented evidence for their claims.

Yes, it took some time (and a very drastic demonstration) to convince people, but the scientific and medical community was very willing to be convinced, and as soon as there were sufficient evidence, the new explanation was universally accepted in quite a short time.

This is how it is done.

So, in what way has proponents of homeopathy done any of this?

The truth is that most people with a basic understanding of science understands that homeopathy is nonsense of the worst order, yet money is still spent on testing this nonsense, demonstrating again and again that it doesn’t work. Why? We know that it doesn’t work, since we understand the fundamental flaws in the premises behind homeopathy, and we know that homeopathic remedies are nothing but water, alcohol, or sugar (depending on whether they are liquid or in pill form), so they cannot work any better than placebo – they ARE placebo.

Let’s put an end to this.

All it does is to lend credibility to homeopathy in the eyes of observers who don’t know any better. They think that since homeopathic remedies are continuously being tested, there must be something to them. Why do we let this misconception continue? Science wins nothing from these sham studies, and it only lends cranks an aura of respectability. Stop it.

Yes, I am very passionate about this – we are allowing a lie to continue perpetually. That’s wrong. Homeopathy has been around for 200 years, providing no value to society as a whole, and generally decreasing the general level of health, and it’s time to stand up and say so.

It goes without saying that I have only contempt for hospitals and doctors who provide homeopathic remedies to their patients. Homeopathic practitioners are usually acting in good faith, believing in their nonsense, but doctors and nurses should know better – they have an education behind them, which provides them with the knowledge necessary to understand what nonsense homeopathy is.