It’s good to see that Edzard Ernst’s latest book is already selling so well but if you haven’t yet got a copy, I hope a few reflections of my own will encourage you to buy it — especially if you are a devotee of any kind of ‘alternative’ or complementary medicine and especially if you think you already know all you need to know about Edzard Ernst.
A Scientist in Wonderland is more than an autobiography and I’m not sure I can do justice to the riches to be found in its pages. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of a black comedy, other times it’s almost too painful to read. If you already understand what is meant by scientific rigour and how medical ethics depends on it, there are parts of Edzard’s story that will probably make you despair.
But what if you don’t understand? What if you are one of those who accuses the man of being a liar, a fraud, a pharma shill — not because you’ve ever seen an iota of evidence that he is any of these things but because you are so deeply invested in what he famously opposes that this kind of vilification sounds intuitively right to you? Are you open-minded enough to read and learn from this book? I doubt it but I would love you to prove me wrong.
The truth about the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can actually be found on its own website and on related websites such as those of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (asbof). But those whose living depends on being allowed a measure of artistic licence in how they promote their goods and services aren’t going to let the truth get in the way of an unbelievably silly smear campaign against the advertising regulator for trying to do its job properly.
The list of gripes they dream up in order to try and discredit the ASA is seemingly endless and, frankly, barmy but I think the main ones are:
If you leave a window of your house open when you go out, then come home to find you’ve been burgled, whose fault is it?
What if property is stolen from your car after you left it unlocked – who is to blame for the theft?
If you get roaring drunk on a night out, fall asleep on the bus home and end up at the terminus to find your wallet’s been nicked from your pocket – who is the culpable party?
In all such cases, haven’t you been a bit of an idiot?
Dr Sarah Myhill exploited patients’ lack of medical knowledge by arousing ill-found fears for their health, say GMC
According the General Medical Council’s register, Dr Sarah Myhill was issued with a formal warning by the GMC in October 2012 to run until October 2017. The warning says:
On Dr Myhill’s website she made statements in relation to contraception and breast cancer screening that were factually incorrect; clinically unsubstantiated; and contrary to national guidelines. In so doing she used her position as a registered practitioner to exploit patients’ lack of medical knowledge by arousing ill found fears for their health. This conduct does not meet with the standard required of a doctor. It risks bringing the profession into disrepute and must not be repeated. The required standards are set out in Good Medical Practice and associated guidance. In this case, paragraph 57, 62 and 65 are particularly relevant. ‘You must make sure that your conduct at all times justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession.’ ‘You must not put pressure on people to use a service, for example by arousing ill founded fears for their future health’ and ‘You must do your best to make sure that any documents your write or sign are not false or misleading. This means that you must take reasonable steps to verify the information in the documents, and that you must not deliberately leave out relevant information.’ Whilst this failing in itself is not so serious as to require any restriction on Dr Myhill’s registration, it is necessary in response to issue this formal warning.
Though it may be true, that stuff about exploiting patients’ ignorance and fears isn’t a pleasant thing to have said about you, so it’s hardly surprising that the record of her battles with the GMC on Myhill’s website stops short of mentioning that the October 2012 hearing even took place, let alone the outcome. Even some of those who identify as Myhill’s supporters don’t seem to know about it. Continue reading
The pen is mightier than the sword, unless you’re Jerome Burne, who describes himself as a health journalist, who’s written for most of the national newspapers and a variety of magazines, in recent years mostly for the Daily Mail. Last year he won an award from the Medical Journalists Association. He also co-authored a couple of Patrick Holford’s books and is mysteriously described by Dana Ullman, of all people, as a ‘leading skeptic’. I confess I’d never heard of him until last week but then I don’t usually read the Daily Fail, so what would I know?
Being an award-winning medical journalist and having done all the careful, thorough and objective research that description implies, Jerome Burne will know all about homeopathy. He will know that it is based on fanciful pre-science notions about disease and he will know that most homeopathic products contain no trace of active ingredient. He will know that the homeopaths’ belief that diluting and shaking an ingredient increases ‘potency’ is irrational because it breaks basic laws of physics and chemistry.
Most readers will already know that Holland & Barrett are currently running a promotion called ‘Ask our owls’, inviting customers to ask their specially trained staff about any of their products. If the staff member can’t answer, the customer gets a 20% discount. The month-long promo was launched on 9 June complete with one of these Twitter things #askourowls, thus providing, as this blogger put it, an open goal.
It was a sweet opportunity for the well-organised and gobby skeptics, who are waging a war on homeopathy ‘just because they don’t understand how it works’, to launch a…ahem..’spontaneous’ attack. (I imagine all you conspiraloon quacks reading this nodding sagely at this point.) The @Holland_Barrett twitter account was inundated with tweets and retweets by those seriously questioning their ethics, by those taking the piss and by those just gloating at how the H&B twitter account had been inundated with skeptics questioning their ethics and taking the piss.
Although it only appeared last month, Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, written by Stephanie Messenger and published by Trafford Publishing, was raising hackles more than a year ago on the strength of the author’s promise to “[take] children on a journey to learn about the ineffectiveness of vaccinations and to know they don’t have to be scared of childhood illnesses, like measles and chicken pox. There are many health messages for parents to expand on about keeping healthy”.
A recent article by Tom Chivers of the Telegraph mentions the book in the context of reports that “306 children died in Pakistan because of the infectious disease in 2012, a dramatic surge from the 64 children in 2011″. On Amazon the book got over 70 reviews in three days, every one condemning it.
But of those of you leaping to criticise, I have to wonder how many have actually read the book? I mean, are you not open to the possibility that it might actually contain valuable information that could protect our children’s health?
A man in a white coat, smiles, offers an injection to an infant who is alone. “Innoculation is the perfect Medication” he tells the child after dancing and singing with a syringe. The nurse tells the children elsewhere that if they are vaccinated with the MMR they won’t get the Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Will it hurt asks the boy, well it might says DR Ranj, but you can cry if you want to. Without waiting for an OK, the doc injects the boy who says “I am not ready for my ‘jection”, but the doc marvels“I have already done it”. (sic)
Even if you didn’t see the TV show described above – and I didn’t – you probably sense the writer of that description didn’t approve of it and you probably won’t be surprised that the doctor and infant in question looked something like this:
Oh, good grief! I’ve just read the Alliance for Natural Health’s report on a meeting convened last week by David Tredinnick MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare. Miles Lockwood of the Advertising Standards Authority was the invited speaker. The exact purpose of the meeting is left to our imagination and I imagine Miles Lockwood used it to put people straight on a few things. The purpose of the ANH report was evidently to try to make it look as if the ANH are doing something useful in the battle for the rights of promoters of mostly useless ‘therapies’ to mislead the public. Continue reading
It’s high time I jumped on the Burzynski bandwagon. The reason I didn’t do so earlier is that I was aware of a bizarre correspondence taking place between award-winning grassroots skeptic, Rhys Morgan, and one Marc Stephens, who claimed — truthfully, as it turns out — to be representing Stanislaw Burzynski. I was waiting for Rhys to tell the story publicly and now he has.
Over the past decade or so, Martin J Walker has self-published a bunch of books on the evils of Big Pharma. The latest one, which is an update of an earlier one, is entitled, ‘Dirty Medicine the Handbook’ (DMTH). Its message, in a nutshell, is that every individual or organisation who dares to challenge or criticise alternative therapies and food supplements, together with anyone who recommends vaccination, is an agent of evil Big Pharma.
Hardly original, I know. But kudos to Martin for his entrepreneurial spirit in finding a way to charge £15 for the privilege of reading him repeat what his target audience already believe to be true.
The unique selling point of DMTH is, as one reviewer put it,
It names the players, the committees, the organizations, the networks, the back room people and the front men and women who provide a distraction and tie up resources while the bricks are put in the wall.
OK, the second half of that sentence is gibberish but you get the idea. It names names and Martin’s target readers have bought into his notion that knowing who their enemies are will help them in their endeavours to continue conning us into buying their soothing chit-chat and worthless cult therapies.
Oscar Wilde regarded the theatre as the “most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being”. I’ve no idea what he was talking about but I often feel I don’t want to read or write another word about homeopathy, so it’s nice to blog about something else for a change.
More than two months after its launch, the Nightingale Collaboration is still attracting flak from CAM practitioners who apparently can’t abide the prospect of being held to the same standards as advertisers of other products and services. I don’t expect many of these critics to have the stomach to read much of what I say here. For them, I’m putting the case for the Nightingale Collaboration in a nutshell at the beginning:
P1. We believe we should be able to make an informed choice about healthcare treatments as we do about anything else
P2. Making misleading claims about healthcare therapies in order to encourage sick people to try them is unethical and potentially dangerous
P3: The vast majority of misleading claims are made about CAM treatments
P4. There are regulations in place intended to prevent questionable claims being made in the promotion of healthcare therapies
C1: Healthcare practitioners shouldn’t make misleading claims in their advertising
C2: We can and should challenge those misleading claims and try to get them withdrawn.
Sorry, regular readers, I’ll be back to ranting about quackery or religious nutjobs very soon but, in the meantime, my attention has been drawn to a story that concerns subjects particularly close to my heart: humanism and, in particular, the critical thinking skills that every humanist should be striving to develop, especially if they aspire to positions of responsibility that affect other people’s lives.
In support of the Libel Reform Campaign I am pleased to publish the following blog:
This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.
Science says that thinking for myself is dangerous. You must trust in the Lord Science.
You have to hand it to those homeopaths! They are terrific at sending themselves up, generously giving us a laugh at their expense. Very much in vogue at the moment is the creation of little animated dialogues between typically dim-witted homeopaths and typically arrogant skeptics. My favourite one appears on UK Homeopathy News. (Edit: if it can no longer been seen there, this site also has it.) The homeopath’s vacuous arguments could have been lifted from any homeopath’s blog.
When I wrote my last blog, I didn’t anticipate that my next one would be devoted to defending it from a charge of ‘religious hatred’ by an angry Wiccan. I’ll call my critic by his Twitter name of ‘Rushyo’, though he does use his real name on some of his comments under my last blog. To introduce him, here’s a clip from his own blog:
As readers of this blog will be aware, I’m currently attempting to put a journal to study witchcraft. In the interests of good research, I openly disclose the fact that I am a) part of the skeptical community and b) part of the Wiccan community. A skeptical Witch.
Rushyo basically has two issues with what I wrote: one is that the blog contained a “horrendously poor skeptical analysis”. The other is that, in my response to his first comment beneath the blog, I’m guilty of religious hatred/intolerance. I’ll try to address both of these.
This will be short. In a previous post I quoted Dr Tom Dolphin’s dignified apology to witches for ever calling homeopathy ‘witchcraft’. Since his retraction, I have been mildly irritated by the continued references to his original description. I still keep seeing the claim that “the BMA calls homeopathy ‘witchcraft'”. Not any more! It’s now just “nonsense on stilts”, OK? (And, of course, the BMA did not call homeopathy anything. The BMA simply voted in favour of a perfectly polite and reasonably-worded motion to stop funding this batshit insanity on the NHS.)
I’ve been off-line for a couple of weeks so this is a very belated response to Frank Swain’s gig at Westminster Skeptics at the beginning of August.
Frank Swain, aka SciencePunk, no longer calls himself a skeptic. This isn’t because he’s become less of one. On the contrary, he described himself as being “born of the skeptic movement” and “hugely enamoured” with it. But he has, in recent years, distanced himself from the “skeptic community” because he doesn’t want to be associated with its attitudes and behaviour.
“First they came for the homeopaths…”
I’ve lost count of how many self-pitying blogposts by homeopaths I’ve seen begin with those words. The assault on homeopathy is continuing relentlessly and the poor homeopaths don’t know what’s hit them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a bit sorry for them.
This year sees the centenary celebration of D.D. Palmer’s great work entitled, The Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic, in which he claimed that “A subluxated vertebra… is the cause of 95 percent of all diseases… The other five percent is caused by displaced joints other than those of the vertebral column”. Not that I’ve noticed any chiropractors celebrating.
Dr Sarah Myhill is evidently a doctor who cares passionately about her work and about people’s health. She is highly motivated to help and empower us to keep ourselves well and to make us better if we are sick. For her pioneering work treating patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) aka myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), she has become a heroine to many of them.
Yes, I really did go to this and, no, it wasn’t the shortest conference in history — it lasted a whole dreary day. They didn’t know it was me because I had cunningly disguised myself as a middle-aged, middle-class woman so I wouldn’t stand out.
You may be wondering what possessed me to spend a day listening to a bunch of quacks talking piffle. Having done it, I’m wondering the same. The best I can say is that I went for the same reason I once consented to an examination by a chiropractor, wore a niqab and gave birth at home (not all at the same time) and why I might yet have a reiki massage and do the alpha course: I wanted to see what it was like. I saw it as part of the rich tapestry of out-of-the-ordinary experiences that life has to offer. What could be more bizarre than to sit listening to “top PhD research scientists” talk about one of the loopiest of all quack therapies as if there was a serious chance it could revolutionise health care systems in the developed world?
Is there no end to the bullying by the British Chiropractic Association? Not content with putting the man through two years of hell with their ridiculous libel action against him, this morning brought the news that they have now decided to deprive Dr Simon Singh of his day in court, where it was confidently expected that he would wipe the floor with them.