wonderlandIt’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 tweet2these 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.

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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C2: We can and should challenge those misleading claims and try to get them withdrawn.

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“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.

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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.

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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?

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This morning the British Chiropractic Association, whose members happily promote bogus treatments for which there is not a jot of evidence, got what they deserved from the Court of Appeal: a judgment against them that was about as emphatic as it could be and it was delivered by England’s two most senior judges, the Lord Chief Justice of England and the Master of the Rolls, together with Lord Justice Sedley who is one of the most respected judges on the Court of Appeal.

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Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine, has always struck me as a sweet and mild-mannered German teddy bear of a man, yet the quacks hate him with a passion that makes them look even uglier than they are already. It’s no longer a surprise to me that quacks ignore the science and prefer instead to vilify their critics – they don’t have many proper arguments, after all. But it was a bit of surprise that someone sent me a link to a post on the ironically named ‘Truth Will Out’ blog entitled, Edzard Ernst is a fake-3. As that post is a particularly vacuous attempt at character assassination, I assume it was sent to me so I could give it the treatment it deserves.

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The first thing that struck me, when I visited a chiropractor recently, was that the surgery looked almost exactly like a normal doctors’ surgery. The only difference was a folder full of glowing customer testimonials sitting on a low table in the waiting room, together with a supply of the General Chiropractic Council’s Patient Information Leaflet ­– the one that was the subject of a successful complaint to the Advertising Standars Authority (ASA). The leaflet was in Polish but that hasn’t stopped it finding its way to the ASA.

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The open letter to Boots on the 10:23 campaign website currently has 1450 signatures on it. I hope everyone reading this has added theirs. I know many of you will be in Red Lion Square overdosing alongside me next Saturday morning. I’ve already bought my ‘poison’ and I compensated myself for the embarrassment of buying a homeopathic remedy by leaving piles of leaflets about the 10:23 campaign by the shelves of these remedies at the both the Boots stores in my nearest town centre. To my fellow overdosers: in case things don’t go according to plan, I’ll take this opportunity to say it’s been a privilege and a pleasure…

And to all those who argue that homeopathic remedies are individualised, that it needs a consultation with a homeopath to build up a ‘symptom picture’ and that getting the remedy and dosage right is highly skilled work for which homeopaths are comprehensively trained, I trust you will join the campaign because otherwise you’ll look a bit silly.

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Real life has got in the way and I haven’t had time to blog recently. No big fat cheques from Big Pharma for me so far this year! Let’s see if I can’t squeeze a few bob out of them now.

Who’d have thought I’d end up writing a part 3? Having, in my previous two posts, made a genuine attempt to engage with homeopaths and deepen my understanding of the therapy they invest so much in, I envisioned writing a post entitled, Homeopathy: there’s something in it after all!

But not a single homeopath has deigned to respond to any of the questions I raise in my previous post. So, in spite of my extensive reading on the subject, homeopathy remains an unfinished jigsaw to me and nobody seems prepared to step up and help me complete it. The more I’ve learned about homeopathy, the more I’ve come to understand that it’s not a case of bits of the jigsaw being missing; the bits are mishapen and simply don’t fit together to make a coherent whole.

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Ever open-minded and keen to unlock the mysteries of the supposedly great healing art known as homeopathy, here’s another post primarily for my friends who are users and practitioners. I hope your responses will bring me to greater understanding.

I can’t help but notice that homeopaths themselves don’t seem to agree on what homeopathy does. In a TV discussion with David Frost and Simon Singh, Jayne Thomas of the Society of Homeopaths, gives her version of what homeopathy does:

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As the year draws to a close, I’d like to pay tribute to my many fans who use alternative therapies, especially those who have kindly commented on my various posts over the ten months since I started this blog. I’ve selected some of those comments for display in my new ‘Quackolades’ column below left. It’s my way of saying thank you for making my case better than I could. Please keep them coming.

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I was unpleasantly surprised to find a bunch of spine wizards touting for business in front of my local Sainsbury’s superstore recently. At a time when the chiropractic branch of the…um…’healing arts’ in the UK is fighting tooth and nail to hang on to any vestige of credibility during the current onslaught of challenges by quackbusters, it seemed a strange way for people claiming to represent a serious healthcare discipline to behave. The only other hucksters I’ve seen hanging round Sainsbury’s are car washers.

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It was a borderline decision for me whether it was worth getting out of bed early to sit in on the House of Commons Science and Technology sub-Committee’s ‘evidence check’ on homeopathy yesterday and since the whole thing would soon be available online, I have to wonder why I bothered. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy witnessing the reassuring predictability of the top drawer defenders of homeopathy such as Dr Peter Fisher and Robert Wilson who, as it turns out, are no better at defending the indefensible than any of the common or garden homeoquacks and punters who keep themselves busy spreading their crap all over the web.

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I’m aware that I’ve blogged rather a lot about homeopathy being crap because I just love the lunacy of it so much but today I thought I’d redress the balance a bit by writing an equally objective and unbiased post about why chiropractic is also crap. I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Take a look at this:

What I like to do is live a life of health and vitality by eating well, exercising every day, making sure I receive Chiropractic every week, take no medications, not getting vaccinated, drinking pure water, taking wholefood supplements/fish oil/probiotics, no smoking or alcohol and making sure I treat my body with respect.

When a chronically ill skeptic tells me that my lifestyle is quackery, I only feel sorry for them being trapped in a belief system that suppresses their quality of life. It’s not my job to change that belief system.

I like the fact that it is a free world and I get to choose what I do with my body.

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In contrast to the preliminary hearing of the British Chiropractic Association v Simon Singh back in May, a good time was had by all of us in the public gallery at today’s hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice. All the more so because, given the illiberal judicial decisions made thus far in the case, there’d been a cloud of pessimism hanging over us at the start of the proceedings. We didn’t really expect it to go our way.

If we were surprised that nobody from the other side had turned up to the hearing, our surprise was short-lived. It took about a minute from entering the courtroom for the judge to tell us that he’d decided to allow a full appeal. This is catastrophic news for the BCA, who would have had advance notice of it. They probably didn’t feel like turning up and who can blame them?

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‘Female quackbuster aims to protect the vulnerable’, is the irresistible title of a paper that was Tweeted a few days ago. The paper is brought to us by the Zeus Information Service, a website whose stated aim is to “unite people and organisations worldwide who believe in the value of natural health therapies and want to continue to use them.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has finally come out and whispered that, in spite of its public policy of supporting the integration of alternative therapies into national health systems, it doesn’t actually recommend the use of homeopathy for HIV, malaria, TB, influenza and infant diarrhoea.

Goodness me! I do hope this staggering confession, which was squeezed like blood from a stone by researchers and medics from the Voice of Young Science network, offends anyone with quackish sensibilities.

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It’s high time I took another pop at homeopathy. I know more and more people are wising up to this particular brand of quack lunacy but, as someone who each morning receives a new list of web articles written by delusional homeopaths happily promoting their bogus therapies, I believe it’s important in the interests of balance to keep ridiculing it.

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Quacks love anecdotes. They seem to love them even more when they’re not true. On the web I’ve seen, for example, homeopaths claiming to have successfully cured cancer and kidney disease to the rapturous applause of their imbecilic devotees. I recall one even claiming to be able to treat third-degree burns better than conventional medicine and encouraging his sceptical critics to go burn themselves badly so he could prove it. Ethics aren’t something common or garden quacks like to bother their pretty little heads about, evidently.

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Awww…just when I was planning a blog post examining some of the outrageous and unsubstantiated claims being made on the websites of countless British chiroquacktors, I come across the email — courtesy of Chiropracticlive.com and copied below — telling them to take down their websites. As I’ve been sitting back munching popcorn for the last week while others have been toiling away in pursuit of truth and justice I can’t, alas, take any of the credit for provoking this extraordinary panic action, so I feel I must at least do my bit to help spread the good news. It’s only fair.

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Ever open-minded and keen to learn about the complexities of one of the most popular alternative therapies and unwilling to rely on the biased news media and sneering science blogs, I tried to find a trustworthy source of information about the homeopathic product, Malaria Officinalis 30c, which has been in the news a bit lately.

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Yesterday I sat in an English courtroom and and witnessed a travesty. I was in a public gallery packed with Simon Singh’s supporters for the preliminary hearing of the BCA v Simon Singh at the High Court. The BCA had objected to an article Dr Singh penned for The Guardian newspaper, which appeared during ‘Chiropractic Awareness Week’ in April 2008. The article has since been removed from the newspaper’s website but can currently still be viewed here.

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This post is dedicated to the memory of baby Gloria Thomas, who died in May 2002 and whose mother and homeopath father are standing trial in Australia for manslaughter by gross criminal negligence because they failed to get professional help for their child in spite of her “bleeding, crying and malnutrition”.

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Given the mountains of crap spewed at us everywhere we look by homeopushing gobshites, it was a refreshing change last week to see Professor Lesley Regan front this BBC TV programme exposing homeopathy for the poppycock it is.

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