Aug 192014
phase diagram of woo

Complex numbers and understanding woo

I have an idea that complex numbers are a way of understanding woo. Every treatment has real (chemical and biological) and imaginary (placebo etc) effects; one source of conflict between the reality-based community lies in the fact that quacks look only at the magnitude of the effect vector, and ignore how much is real versus imaginary.

I think that the concept of two-dimensional representations might help to understand another problem.

For a typical treatment, the curve of published evidence tends to start with early, vivid findings and move through early trials to long-term meta analyses. In virtually every case, the effect size seems to decrease during this process.

TimeEffectThe magnitude of the decline changes of course, and in some cases the effect line actually crosses the axis. The use of HRT against heart disease is a good example; early studies suggested that HRT protected against heart disease, but an RCT showed that actually outcomes were worse and HRT was simply a marker for middle class – women who tended to have better nutrition and exercise patterns.

We know how quacks seize on early results. It’s the cardinal health reporting sin of the Daily Mail, it is the stock in trade of screaming headlines in WDDTY, and it is the catalyst that sent Ralph W. Moss down the rabbit hole as he decided that early results were right, the experiments that failed to replicate them were wrong, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s publications and subsequent studies showing laetrile does not cure cancer are a huge sinister conspiracy to suppress a “natural” cure for cancer.

I believe that this inability to properly accept later, disconfirming results is a symptom of the fundamental weakness of woomeisters: their system for judging correct from incorrect results.

Evidence v. ideology

In science, results are judged by the strength of the evidence. In woo, they are judged by ideological consonance.

Scientists will give little weight to early results from studies in a petri dish or test tube, and reserve their real excitement for the unambiguous results from clinical trials. Scientists are excited by solid fact, and the more solid the fact, the more exicited they are.

Woomeisters don’t actually care about solid fact, because, as I noted in the article on complex numbers, they don’t actually accept the fact that the real effect is more valid than the perceived effect. They think that perception is reality, even if, as with homeopathy, it’s based on a ridiculous idea and the effect is nonspecific and evaporates under critical analysis, i.e. it is entirely imaginary.

The thing is, the woomeisters very often sincerely believe they are being scientific, or at least methodologically rigorous. But the judgment of sources by ideological consonance means than not only is woo not self-correcting, as science is, but in fact it gets worse over time.

The example of laetrile

laetrile 1

Progress of evidence for laetrile

With laetrile, there were early results that showed promise. Some of this was supported by additional studies. Further studies proved inconclusive, with a mix of positive and negative results. Clinical trials found no effect and finally meta-analyses also found no effect.

Science views this through a filter of evidential robustness.

laetrile 2

Evidence weighted by methodological rigour

The more robust the evidence, the thicker the line. Science concludes that laetrile does not work. This is not considered controversial as there’s no good reason to suppose it would work. The claimed rationales (e.g. it is a “vitamin”, B17, without which the body is unable to suppress cancer) are, to put it charitably, speculative and apparently derived by proctomancy.

But the woomeister filters results by ideological consonance not by scientific robustness.

laetrile 4

Evidence weighted by ideological consonance

The woomeister discounts results that don’t support the belief. We tend to think of this as irrational, but it’s actually differently rational: the initial claims are based on anecdotes, and to the woomeister these are the most powerful form of testimony. Rather like a juror who is presented with three alibi witnesses who say the accused was somewhere else, might discount DNA evidence showing that the accused committed the crime, because DNA evidence can be wrong. In reality DNA evidence is far less often wrong than alibi witnesses, who may have a personal interest in a not guilty verdict, but the element of personal testimony is always compelling.

And it’s even more complicated because the flat line of inconclusive replication is made up of numerous individual results:

laetrile 3

Snapshot of a set of results that sum to inconclusive

Exactly the same applies here.

laetrile 5

Snapshot weighted by ideological consonance

So to the woomeister, this is not a flat line of unconfirming evidence, it’s a collection of a few confirming results and some that are wrong.

Laetrile devotees howl that science is ignoring or suppressing positive results, as seen in Eric Merola’s petition to MSKCC, but this is true only if you assume, as woomeisters do, that only the positive evidence is valid. In reality science weighs up positive and negative evidence and forms a judgment based on the combined weight of evidence.

What this means for self-correction

For thousands of years, humanity proceeded by halting steps, with folk ways given as much weight as anything else and the standard of truth being set by religious belief: if the priest said it was true, then it was true. Beginning in the 17th Century, methods were developed for systematically testing ideas with the aim of establishing objective truth independent of any interpretation of sources. Natural philosophers conducted experiments to verify whether they could replicate a result. Scientists conduct experiments to test the result – not just to see if they can replicate it, but also to see if there is a simpler explanation.

Science, in short, self-corrects, by design. Woo cannot self-correct because it is based on the religious model of judging truth. No religious model of judging truth can self-correct, because it is designed to confirm belief and to bend the interpretation of data to validate the .

The difference between the scientific way of judging fact and the way used by woomeisters is a relatively recent invention in human history. The woomeisters are actually following lines of thought that might have been considered perfectly valid as little as two centuries ago, a tiny fraction of the age of modern humanity. But the difference between the two ways of proceeding, is responsible, more than anything else, for the unprecedented pace of development of our undertstanding of the universe. The period from the invention of the Newcomen engine to its eventual phasing out is approximately equal to the interval between the development of the first programmable computers in the 1940s, and today. Or if you prefer, the period from Bolton and Watt’s patent to the invention of the first steam locomotives, is more than twice as long as the period between the invention of valve-based computers and the invention of massively parallel supercomputers.


Aug 182014

Apparently Eric Merola, the Leni Riefenstahl wannabe who made the Burzynski movies, has set up a petition demanding a statement from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on the dismissal of Ralph W. Moss in the 70s. Moss was dismissed for cause after attacking MSKCC for “suppressing” evidence on laetrile, a quack alternative cancer cure; in practice there was an error in the press release but the error was not material – laetrile does not work, numerous subsequent studies have shown it does not work, and a systematic review in 2011 recommended no further trials because “[t]he claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk–benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative”.

And yes, Merola is making a propaganda movie about laetrile, which was at one time the most profitable form of quackery in the US (that honour probably now goes to abuse of chelation therapy for “detox” of “vaccine injury” and dental amalgam “poisoning”.

The demand is:

We kindly request that Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center acknowledge their positive results with laetrile in the 1970s.

They can’t, because the results were not positive. Moss’ problem is one of the most common among proponents of quackery: he believed a single early result, and chose to disbelieve all subsequent disconfirming results. He then spun a narrative of suppression around it, and made a fortune thanks ins no small part to the assiduous promotion of quackery by popular figures such as Oprah Winfrey and her friend Dr. Mehmet Oz.

This is classic quack propaganda tactics, in fact. MSKCC does have a statement on laetrile:

Claims of its anticancer activity rely on the theory, now proven false, that cancer cells contain elevated amounts of the beta-glucosidase compared to normal cells (1). [...] It has also been claimed by some promoters that amygdalin is in fact a vitamin (B17) and that cancer develops due to deficiencies in B17, but no data substantiate this idea.

Laboratory studies suggest that amygdalin has anticancer properties (3) (13), but a 1982 clinical trial conducted by the National Cancer Institute failed to find any effectiveness. Moreover, several study patients had symptoms of mild cyanide toxicity or significant levels of cyanide (4). Systematic reviews of several studies concluded that amygdalin is ineffective as a cancer treatment (5) (6).

Amygdalin is banned in the United States, but is available in Mexico and via the Internet. Evaluation of the parenteral formulation showed contamination with both pyrogens and microbes, and both oral and parenteral formulations did not contain the labeled amounts of amygdalin. Oral administration of Amygdalin has resulted in cyanide toxicity and death. Patients should not use this supplement.

So the problem is not that MSKCC are silent on the matter, but that Moss (and by extension Merola, who, from his work on Zeitgeist, may be assumed to be a Truther and thus likely to believe all kinds of conspiracy theories) does not like the answer. And quacks, like petulant children, will always keep asking until they get the answer they want.

The tirade goes on:

Forty years ago this summer (1974) Ralph W. Moss, PhD was hired at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) to be its science writer in the Department of Public Affairs. The “war on cancer” was new, and MSKCC, under the direction of Drs. Lewis Thomas, Robert A. Good and Lloyd J. Old had been revitalized to face the challenges of the day.

The “war on cancer” meant a fresh infusion of vast amounts of cash and new leadership that had direct access to the President of the United States in order to expedite promising treatments. The leaders of the “war on cancer” actually promised the American public a “cure” for some major forms of cancer in time for the Bicentennial—July 4, 1976.

It was also a spectacularly ill-judged political initiative. You can’t have a “War on Cancer” any more than you can have a “War on Terror“. Yes, a lot of new money was put into cancer research. The result was that scientists discovered that cancer is a vastly more complex set of diseases than they had thought. This of course made it very much less likely that simplistic One True Cause / One True Cure ideas would be validated, but several were tested anyway, including laetrile – with uniformly (and predictably) disappointing results.

Incidentally, Moss claims to have been “assistant director of public affairs” at MSKCC, but they issued a letter refuting this: he was a science writer, at a junior grade of pay without supervisory responsibilities.

There was a renewed interest in various unorthodox methods of treating cancer. Public interest gravitated towards an unorthodox treatment called laetrile. This was an extract of apricot kernels, synonymous with a well-known cyanide-containing chemical, amygdalin.

It didn’t gravitate, it was driven there by the fraudulent claims of cancer quacks.

Some have said that much of the pressure came from the John Birch Society‘s founded the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy (an prototype of the health fooldom movement which proceeds from the irrational premise that the freedom of people to make an informed choice mandates that quacks be free to prey on the vulnerable by making false claims, and thus enable their victims to “choose” quackery).

Laetrile is like homeopathy: it’s highly profitable for the peddlers, and requires a constant media buzz to sustain that level of profitability. If quacks stopped promoting it, it would die a natural death pretty quickly because there is no core of evidence-based practice around it. Some forms of cancer quackery – such as inflated claims around the role of sugars in tumour growth – have a core of valid science, but laetrile is pure hokum.

Responding to a petition from 43,000 supporters of the drug, the US “cancer czar” Benno Schmidt asked MSKCC’s leaders to test the drug competently and fairly. They therefore asked the oldest and most experienced researcher, Kanematsu Sugiura, DSc, to test laetrile in various spontaneous tumor systems. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Over the course of five years, Sugiura found that laetrile exerted a profoundly beneficial effect not just on the health and well being of the mice but on stopping lung metastases. MSKCC’s pathology department confirmed his positive findings.

And here’s where Moss’ narrative begins to depart from the straight and narrow. Wikipedia covers this thus:

In 1972, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) board member Benno C. Schmidt, Sr. convinced the hospital to test laetrile so that he could assure others of its ineffectiveness “with some conviction.”[28] Kanematsu Sugiura, the scientist who performed the requested tests, found that laetrile inhibited secondary tumors in mice, though it did not destroy the primary tumors. He repeated the experiment several times with the same results. However, three other researchers were unable to confirm Sugiura’s results. While these uncontrolled and inconclusive results were considered too preliminary to publish, they were leaked to laetrile advocates, resulting in significant public attention.[28]

To expand on Sugiura’s results, MSKCC researchers conducted a controlled experiment in which they injected some mice with laetrile (as Sugiura had done) and others with placebo. Sugiura, who was unaware of which mice had received laetrile, performed the pathologic analysis. In this controlled, blinded follow-up of Sugiura’s initial uncontrolled experiment, laetrile showed no more activity than placebo.[28]

Subsequently, laetrile was tested on 14 tumor systems without evidence of effectiveness. Given this collection of results, MSKCC concluded that “laetrile showed no beneficial effects.”[28] Mistakes in the MSKCC press release were highlighted by a group of laetrile proponents led by Ralph Moss, former public affairs official of MSKCC who was fired following his appearance at a press conference accusing the hospital of covering up the benefits of laetrile.[29] These mistakes were considered scientifically inconsequential, but Nicholas Wade in Science stated that “even the appearance of a departure from strict objectivity is unfortunate.”[28] The results from these studies were published all together.[30]

This, of course, is far too prosaic for the conspiracy-minded cranks who dominate the world of alternatives to medicine. Here’s how Moss spins it according to Merola:

Initially, the leadership of MSKCC affirmed Sugiura’s findings. Then they began to backtrack in public. In 1974 the American Cancer Society (ACS), threatened Dr. Good to back off from laetrile. Behind the scenes, Old tried to uphold Sugiura’s findings. But they did not win over their colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, the Food and Drug Administration or the American Cancer Society. At this moment, MSKCC leaders (and in particular Lewis Thomas) decided that the cause was hopelessly dangerous to himself and to his institution and so within weeks went over to the anti-laetrile camp. Thomas wound up as a key witness against laetrile at Sen. Kennedy’s hearings on the topic in 1977, lying about Sugiura’s results with a straight face.

See the difference? The scientific reality is that passionate believers thought they finally had something, but there was no independent replication, and careful science – which deliberately sets aside how much the researcher wants the result to be true – does not back the initial hypothesis.

The crazy thing is that this failure of animal models to deliver a drug usable in humans is not only perfectly normal, it’s the majority case. Only a tiny proportion of compounds that show some early signs of useful therapeutic activity, actually translate into usable treatments. Early results are wrong, there is significant toxicity, there might be bioavailability problems with the body metabolising it before it can do anything. Feynman time:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.Richard Feynman.

For quacks, though, only the confirming results count. Disconfirming evidence is rejected. It’s another form of the complex number problem.

Eventually, the leadership issued an entirely negative summation of the laetrile testing program. (Ralph W. Moss, PhD himself wrote the official press release). Ralph started a newsletter called “Second Opinion” to publicize the problems and contradictions in MSKCC’s official pronouncements. In November 1977 Ralph went public with these accusations and was fired on the next business day for failing to carry out his “most basic job responsibilities.” Ralph W. Moss, PhD also wrote his first book, The Cancer Industry, about this and other cover-ups in the cancer research and treatment field. Yet for many years Ralph has let the matter rest. Why then bring it up now?

Why indeed? There have, after all, been several independent clinical trials since then, with uniformly negative results, and the laetrile quackery business has reduced dramatically over the years as it became increasingly obvious that the “success stories” are mainly dead.

First of all, a new generation of Americans, including most researchers, knows nothing about this controversy. Some of them were not even born when these events took place. Second, a terrible wrong was done to the reputation of one of MSKCC’s greatest scientists, Kanematsu Sugiura. For the sake of political expediency Sugiura was “thrown under the bus,” as we now would say. But, most importantly, pure amygdalin was an extremely promising anti-metastatic agent. It was certainly the most effective such agent discovered up until that time. To this day, if there are any better agents that have been proven as effective at preventing the spread of cancer they are unknown to the public.

No “terrible wrong” was done other than by cranks like Moss. Scientists are allowed to be wrong. It happens all the time and their reputation is not damaged unless they are continually wrong, or they assert they were right when in fact they were wrong.

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.Carl Sagan

And as I have said before, alt med has every element of a religion save the deity.

It’s unfortunate that by the time of the laetrile debacle Sugiura was in the twilight of his career. Normally a scientist would go on publishing and any mistakes would be shrugged off. Sugiura was in his eighties by the time the laetrile work started and he died aged 89 in 1979, so he had no opportunity to move on. It is sad that his career is remembered for the last and worst of his work but this is not MSKCC’s doing, they clearly held him in high regard.

While progress has been made in understanding cancer in the past 40 years, effective treatments for preventing the spread of cancer are still few and far between. Laetrile was a lost opportunity—killed off in a cynical way. Unfortunately, the outstanding experimental results of Sugiura became the victim of a highly politicized vendetta.

No it was not a lost opportunity. It was an opportunity that was tested and found not to work. Just like all those that have been funded by NCCAM, at the cost of many millions of dollars. Remember Minchin’s Law:

By definition”, alternative medicine” has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call “alternative medicine” that’s been proved to work? Medicine.” – Tim Minchin

When you test alternative therapies scientifically, what tends to happen is that you move them from the box of alternative-because-untested into the box of alternative-because-shown-not-to-work. That’s what happened with laetrile.

Above all, we would urge MSKCC to reconsider its handling of the laetrile controversy. The facts, when considered without bias, show that Sugiura was both competent and honest, while those who were in power at the time lost their nerve and compromised the truth in a very shameful way.

Scientifically, there is no controversy. Laetrile was tested and, as with every single other “one true cure” for cancer, found not to work. It was in fact tested more carefully than most, because people within MSKCC believed in it. And it still didn’t work. Regardless of the fact that some people refused to accept it, because they had succumbed to belief, laetrile is a medical version of n-rays.

Now, it’s unlikely that MSKCC would issue a public statement about Moss, since this is clearly a personnel matter and would be treated as confidential by any reputable employer. That’s why Merola did it: he knows they will not do what he demands, and he will then abuse this refusal as part of his narrative of suppression. They may express disappointment that having been sacked for smearing MSKCC, he has continued to do little else in the decades since, but that’s as far as they’d go.

As I say, MSKCC is very unlikely to do as Moss wants – but it would be kind of awesome if they did.

Aug 152014

Mathematicians and engineers are familiar with the concept of complex numbers. Electrical engineers, for example, use them to represent in-phase and out of phase loads.

phaseA complex number has a “real” component and an “imaginary” component. Actually both are equally real, but the imaginary component is represented as a factor of the square root of -1, which engineers call j and mathematicians call i. The square root of -1 does not exist, it is imaginary, but there’s a well understood mathematics of complex numbers that allows complex calculations to be performed, and the use of i (or j) prevents the components from getting mixed up. We always know which is which. In effect, it’s a shorthand for a two-dimensional vector calculus where the axes are at exactly 90°. A complex number can either be represented by its real and imaginary components (such as 3+5i) or by its magnitude (the length of the orange line) and phase angle (φ in the diagram).

It’s simple and it works for us.

For some things, you’re interested in the in-phase component. For some, the out of phase component. And for some, it’s the total magnitude that matters, the length of the orange arrow.

WTF has this to do with woo?

Consider chiropractic. It’s completely plausible that manipulation therapy would have a beneficial effect on musculoskeletal pain. It’s highly implausible that it would have a beneficial effect on infant colic or asthma, and there’s no evidence that the “chiropractic subluxation” exists at all.

Consider acupuncture. It’s plausible that inserting needles might trigger the release of endorphins. It’s entirely implausible that it might create health by balancing the flow of qi in the meridians, because those things don’t exist.

You might regard the valid, plausible elements as a real component, and the vitalistic nonsense as an imaginary component.

Imaginary is “real”, for some values of real

There is nothing wrong with things having a real and an imaginary component. All medicines do: the placebo effect is an imaginary component.

The problems come from the way you look at the result. Medicine, historically, has looked at the magnitude of the effect.  Evidence-based medicine tries to remove the imaginary component but is still measuring the magnitude of the total effect and trying to discount the imaginary component. Science-based medicine tries to look only at the real component.

Woomeisters do not accept that the real and imaginary components exist, they are stuck in the 19th Century view where only the magnitude matters. Where medicine has tried to discard invalid practices such as bloodletting and purging, and in doing so has begun to understand how invalid ideas persist and why it is important to tease out the real versus the imaginary, woo actively does not care. This is partly because most woomeisters are actually rather dim, and partly because deep down they know that any intrusion of proper scientific rigour  will always result in art least some of their beliefs being challenged and shown to be wrong.

Wrongness in science

It would be wrong to say a scientist does not care about being proved wrong. All humans do. But science proceeds by challenging and discarding incorrect ideas. Every scientist must accept, at a fundamental level, that progress is made partly by developing new knowledge and partly by discarding old ideas that are found to be wrong or incomplete.

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. – Carl Sagan

This is not so much of a problem these days, as truly revolutionary new ideas are pretty rare. I suggest you read up on the early history of atomic physics and quantum theory to see how stubbornly some scientists clung to wrong ideas. Einstein himself never really accepted quantum statistical mechanics: “My God does nto play dice with the universe” or words to that effect.

Wrongness in woo

While science seeks empirical fact and the scientific endeavour is founded on the belief that truth is absolute, woo, like religions, follows the idea that “Fact is merely what enough people believe, and truth lies only in how fervently they believe it” (as Pierce put it in Idiot America). Pierce quotes this gem which perfectly sums up this worldview:

It is so oftentimes in this worldthat it is not the philosophy that is at fault, but the facts. - Ignatius L. Donnelly

For a believer in homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic or whatever, if facts contradict the philosophy then the facts are wrong.

Yes, yes, but get to the bloody point!

Oh, sorry.

Well, skeptics get very frustrated with woomeisters because they obdurately refuse to see the errors in their position – and woomeisters get frustrated with skeptics for much the same reason. We have fundamentally different worldviews, and I suggest that the phasor diagram encapsulates the problem.

Lets list a few of the real and imaginary components of various things and I’ll show you what I mean:

Example Real component Imaginary component
Aspirin Suppression of production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes; COX-1 and COX-2 inhibition; uncouples oxidative phosphorylation in cartilaginous (and hepatic) mitochondria; induces the formation of NO-radicals; possible modulation of signaling through NF-κB. “Miracle drug” claims, placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Acupuncture Possible release of endorphins, some evidence to suggest purinergic signalling. Qi, meridians, acupoints, placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Chiropractic Plausible biomechanical effects. Innate; chiropractic subluxation; claims to cure organic disease; “safety” based on no data; maintenance adjustments; appeal to conspiracy; ; placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Herbal medicine Known biological effects of biological compounds. Appeal to tradition, naturalistic fallacy, placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Homeopathy tumbleweed “Like cures like”; effects on body’s vital energy; effects on immune system; “quantum”; appeal to conspiracy; placebo effects, expectation effects etc.
Orthomolecular medicine Known effects of vitamins; emerging evidence of widespread low-grade vitamin D deficiency in older Westerners. Appeals to authority (esp. Linus Pauling); cherry-picked data; early results asserted over later more equivocal ones; naturalistic fallacy; appeal to conspiracy; placebo effects, expectation effects etc.

phase diagram of wooI’ll represent that on a phasor diagram for you. Remember that nonspecific / placebo effects are strongest when the intervention is dramatic and theatrical and where the explanation is least mundane).

As far as the woomeister is concerned, this diagram is saying that there’s no big difference in effect between the various modes. But if you have pain, are you going to use aspirin or chew willow bark (the herbal medicine equivalent)?

As I see it, most people don’t have a lot of difficulty seeing the difference between aspirin and willow bark, but they find it much harder to spot that homeopathy is complete bollocks, because while the argument can be made between the real components of willow bark and aspirin (the latter being a purified form, with a predictable dose), there is no point of comparison between aspirin and homeopathy. Homeopathy is pure, unadulterated woo.

That’s why the general public find it hard to engage with the debate over homeopathy in particular. It’s hard to believe that it is legal to sell something that has literally no basis in reality.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that thought: the real versus the imaginary component, as a way of thinking and talking about woo versus reality-based medicine.

SumafasoresWhy do electrical engineers use complex numbers?

You might have wondered why electrical engineers even need to know this: electricity is real, isn’t it?

Put briefly: your domestic electrical supply is not like a battery, it’s alternating voltage, not constant voltage (hence alternating current, ac). The voltage oscillates between +230 and -230V, and the oscillation is a sine wave.

A current flowing in a wire generates an electromagnetic field. In some devices the load’s own electromagnetic fields interact with the applied voltage, which has an effect on how and when the current flows. That means a load can have a slight out of phase component, which we represent as a phasor (set phasers to stun, Captain). Phase lag is reasonably easy to understand. Consider a motor or transformer. The current flows, but the device has a high magnetic coupling, the change in voltage  as the applied voltage alternates, itself generates a magnetic field which then tries to generate an opposing voltage – sometimes known as “back emf“, so the current lags the applied voltage.

Capacitors store electricity and try to drive current, so for capacitors the current leads the applied voltage (less intuitive, I grant). The diagram at right illustrates a phase-shifted load.

What this means is that for inductive and capacitive loads, the current can be more than you’d expect from the applied voltage and will flow at a different time. This is a big headache for power companies and they charge extra for the out of phase component.

Jul 222014


“A theoretical physicist describes why homeopathy makes sense”

Thus ran the bold claim of a tweet by Dana “Dullman” Ullman, tireless homeopathy shill and proponent of counterfactual confabulations. Now we all know that Dana loves nothing more than the appeal to authority, so obviously it’s important to establish the actual credentials of the “theoretical physicist” in question, Matti Pitkänen.

According to his biography, Matti Pitkänen is an “independent research scientist” – red flag. This list of publications includes, as far as I can tell, precisely no peer-reviewed publications almost exclusively publications that are not peer-reviewed [edited 18/8/14], though Pitkänen does seem to have earned a proper PhD and done some teaching work.

Pitkänen’s claim to fame is “topological geometrodynamics, a field on which it seems he is pretty much the sole writer. His contributions to the non-peer-reviewed “New Energy” literature and other activities suggest that this is not a practising theoretical physicist, but someone who is theoretically a physicist, but crossed the Woobicon long ago.

Of course, Dullman is desperate for the memory of water to be real physics – his uncritical repetition of the work of Jacques Benveniste and Luc Montagnier make this plain. Sadly for him, wishing does not make it so.

So, what does Pitkänen say?

The following gives an attempt to build a brief sketch of TGD based model of water memory and homeopathy as it is after the input from Pollack’s findings and heff=hgr=hem hypothesis.

So at least Pitkänen is honest enough to admit that this is pure speculation.

Summary of the basic facts and overall view

A concice summary of the basic qualitative facts about homeopathy (see this) could be following.

1. The manufacture of the homeopathic remedies consists of repeated dilution and agitation of water sample containing the molecules causing the effect which the remedy is intended to heal. This paradoxical looking healing method is based on “Alike likes alike” rule. This rules brings in mind vaccination causing immune system to develop resistance. The procedure seems to somehow store information about the presence of the molecules and this information induces immune response. Usually it is the organisms or molecules causing the disease which induce immune response.

No, that is not a fact. It is a doctrine of the cult of homeopathy. In fact, there is no evidence at all that like cures like as a general or even widespread rule, there is no evidence of the storage of information (there is no objective process by which remedies at the normal dilution can be distinguished, so no evidence of any specific information content), there is no mechanism by which these molecules could actually cause the disease to which they are linked by the conjecture of homeopaths, and there is no evidence that it is ever the organisms or molecules, none of which actually remain, that prompts any response at all; no objectively measurable specific immune response has ever been credibly demonstrated.

As usual, then, the homeopathist begins by stating doctrine as fact, and building on the assumption that a false doctrine is instead a law of nature. So much for science.

2. The ultra-naive and simplistic objection of skeptic is that the repeated dilution involved with the preparation of homeopathic remedy implies that the density of molecules is so small that the molecules can have absolutely no effect. Despite the fact that we live in information society, this is still the standard reaction of a typical skeptic.

The reaction of the skeptic is more nuanced than this.

  1. There is no reason to suppose homeopathy should work. Like does not cure like, dilution does not increase potency, there is no evidence that a substance that causes a symptom will alleviate the disease that causes it, and for most homeopathic materials there is actually no evidence that the material causes the symptom in the first place.
  2. There is no way it can work. No remotely plausible mechanism has been suggested.
  3. There is no proof it does work. Every finding from any homeopathy study is fully consistent with the null hypothesis.

This is neither simplistic nor naive.

3. A lot of research is done by starting from the natural idea that the electro-magnetic fields associated with the invader molecules (or more complex objects) represent the needed information and that water somehow gets imprinted by these fields. This could for instance mean that water clusters learn to reproduce radiation at frequencies characterizing the invader molecule. Benveniste is one of the most outstanding pioneers in the field. Benveniste et al (see this) even managed to record the VLF frequency finger print of some bio-active molecules and record them in binary form allowing to to yield the same effect as the real bio-active molecule induced. Benveniste was labelled as a fraud. The procedure used by the journal Nature to decide whether Benveniste is swindler or not brings in mind the times of inquisition. It tells a lot about attitudes of skeptics that magician Randi was one member of the jury!

Benveniste’s work was shown to be invalid, the conclusion relied on a research assistant knowing what result was desired. Once the assistant was blinded to the identity of the samples, the result vanished. Homeopaths refuse to accept this, but no reputable scientist would ever base work on a refuted paper like Benveniste’s, at the very least they would cite independent reproductions by other experimenters published in reputable peer-reviewed journals. If they existed… but they don’t. There are a few claimed reproductions, e.g. by Ennis, but these, too, have evaporated in the cold light of skeptical inquiry.

Homeopaths are fixated on Randi. Quite apart from the invalid nature of the argumentum ad hominem, they do not appear to understand why Randi is the right person to investigate pseudoscience. Scientists, in the main, are very bad at spotting fraud and misdirection. Russell Targ, Brian Josephson, Luc Montagnier and many others have been suckered by charlatans or their own beliefs. They are conditioned to trust people and trust their own observations.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.Richard Feynman

Randi, by contrast, is a stage conjurer, his stock in trade is fooling people, and his special expertise is spotting when others are fooling people. He rumbled Peter Popoff, Uri Geller and many other charlatans. His craft is the things onlookers do not notice, who better to spot the confounders that onlookers had not noticed in Benveniste’s experiments?

4. Benveniste’s work has been continued and recently HIV Nobelist Montagnier produced what might be regarded as remote replication of DNA using method very similar to that used in manufacturing homeopathic remedy (see this and this).

And Montagnier says that his work cannot be extrapolated to the products used in homeopathy. This tendency of homeopaths to assert as immortal truth any statement they like while ignoring any contradictory statement is a core part of the dishonesty that characterises the entire field.

The general conclusion is that the em frequencies possibly providing a representation of the molecules are rather low – in VLF region – so that frequencies assignable to molecular transitions are not in question. Cyclotron frequencies assignable to the molecules are the most natural candidates concerning physical interpretation. The corresponding photon energies are extremely low if calculated from E=hf formula of standard quantum mechanics so that quantal effects in the framework of standard quantum theory do not seem to be possible.

No, the general conclusion is that homeopathy is an 18th Century delusion that is refuted by multiple well established fields of scientific inquiry including molecular chemistry, biology, biochemistry, pharmacology, physiology and of course nuclear physics.

Cyclotron frequencies are not the most natural candidates. The most natural candidate is the null hypothesis.

My personal interest on water memory was sparked by the work of Cyril Smith about which learned in CASYS 2001 conference years ago. What I learned was what might be called scaling law of homeopathy (see this). Somehow low frequency radiation seems to be transformed to high frequency radiation and the ratio fh/fl≈ 2× 1011 seems to be favored frequency ratio.

In context, frequency is energy (E=hν, where E is energy, h is Planck's constant and ν is the frequency). Pitkänen seems to be suggesting that the process of dilution and twerking causes a significant and profound change in the energy states of the materials. If this were true, it would scarcely have passed the notice of the physics and chemistry communities. You’d also expect some kind of formalised statement of how much energy must be input, and a proof that the energy is required, whereas homeopathy research has no objective standard for the number or force of strikes, and indeed there is no unanimity on whether the strikes themselves are necessary.

In other words this is pure wishful thinking on Pitkänen’s part.

These two basic findings suggest what looks now a rather obvious approach to homeopathy in TGD framework.

It might be obvious in the “TGD framework”, but Professor Google suggests that TGD (Topological Geometrodynamics) seems to have an active research community comprising exactly one researcher: Matti Pitkänen.

The basic physical objects are the magnetic bodies of the invader molecule and water molecule cluster or whatever it is what mimics the invader molecule. The information about magnetic body is represented by dark cyclotron radiation generated by the invader with frequency fI. This dark radiation is transformed to to ordinary photons with frequency fh and energy hefffl=hfh, which is above thermal energy, most naturally in the range of bio-photon energies so that the radiation can directly induce transitions of bio-molecules. The analogs for the EZs discovered by Pollack are obvious candidates for “water molecule clusters”.

Water clusters, eh? Those have been shown to have a life measured in femtoseconds. Reaching, much?

Of course, if any of this speculative nonsense were true, it would be trivially easy to prove by capturing and measuring the photons. Which makes you wonder why Pitkänen restricts himself to words on paper and doesn’t actually test his theory, especially since it would be a groundbreaking piece of work that would make his name in the international physics community.

The following summarizes this overall picture in more detail.

Well, we can skip the rest because while the water memory nonsense is based on published but refuted work, the balance of the argument is based on Pitkänen’s own unpublished bonkers theory of TGD, which he describes as a “noble attempt to construct a theory of everything, not forgetting consciousness”; theories of everything are rather out of fashion in physics at the moment, though string theory is regarded as a possible contender if we ever understand it well enough.

While water memory is a self-serving construct of homeopathists, this article is instead a self-serving attempt to use refuted science as a crutch to prop up something that is not even refuted, since nobody takes it seriously enough to refute it. A speculative theory of life, the universe and everything, dreamed up by an “independent researcher” with a negligible publication record.

Possible mechanism of water memory and homeopathy

The general vision about prebiotic evolution described above suggests that the mechanisms of water memory and homeopathy are basically the same as those underlying the workings of the immune system

This is, of course, the woo-woo version of the immune system, the one that’s boosted by adjusting the flow of qi or manipulating spinal subluxations to allow the flow of innate. It has nothing to do with immune responses based on lymphocytes and barrier cells. Obviously.

1. Exclusion zones could define primordial life forms with genetic code. They are able to detect the presence of invader molecule from its cyclotron frequency spectrum.

How? There’s no evidence that this frequency is delivered to the body in any quantity, or that it has any actual connection to the disease.

2. Dark proteins can form concrete memory representations of the invade.

I can find no evidence that there is any such thing as a “dark protein”.

3. molecules in terms of dark proton sequences defining dark proteins. The folding of these dark proteins mimics the behavior of the magnetic bodies of the invaders. These dark proteins can attach to the magnetic body of the invader molecule to make it non-dangerous. Even symbolic representations in terms of dark DNA allowing transcription and translation to concrete dark protein representation could be involved. The procedure involved in the manufacture of homeopathic remedy could be seen as a series of “environmental catastrophes” driving the evolution of dark primordial life by feeding in metabolic energy and generating new EZs, which mimic the invader molecules and existing EZs mimicking them.

Dark protons don’t seem to exist either. In fact, Pitkänen seems to use “dark” the way Deepak Chopra uses “quantum”; it is a substitute for “speculative, unmeasurable, undetectable, unverifiable, and completely unknown to physical science”.

4. In organism the dark DNA representing the invader molecule would generate ordinary genes coding for ordinary proteins attaching to the invader molecules by the attachment of ordinary DNA nucleotides to them. The attachment would involve heff reducing phase transition reducing the length of connecting flux tube.

No evidence for this at all, and irrelevant anyway as (a) there’s no evidence the frequencies are related to the disease and (b) there’s no evidence the energies are delivered to the body in any measurable or relevant quantity.

5. Later dark genetic code transformed to chemical genetic code as dark DNA strands were formed around dark double strands and large number of other biological functions emerged besides immune response.

Either that or it’s something to do with flux capacitors. Perhaps the experiment should be repeated with dilithium crystals. Oh, wait, there is no experiment, just arm-waving.

6. The mechanical agitation in the manufacturing of homeopathic remedy generates exclusion zones and new primitive life forms by providing the needed energy. These in turn recognize and memorize invader molecules and their already existing representations as EZs.

Really? Prove it. And in doing so, document the number of strikes required and the force needed – bonus points if you can finally settle the dispute over whether the Korsakovian dilution is valid.

I think I can suggest a better title for Dana’s Tweet:

A physicist (theoretically, anyway) spouts nonsense about homeopathy in service of an even more batshit insane idea with even less scientific support.

Jul 142014

The ever-entertaining Sandra Herman-Courtney has posted another spittle-flecked rant at her “farting for homeopathy” blog. I almost feel sorry for homeopaths if this kind of lunacy is considered necessary to defend them form the relentless march of reality.

Almost: but then I notice that the Banerjis are still claiming to cure cancer with magic water.

This blog post is far from finished, but this is at least a beginning of some things that I want homeopathy supporters to know. NOW. The homeopathy skeptics are working over-time.

Are we? I suppose so, since it’s all done in our spare time, which would count as overtime if we were doing paid work.

First their venom was directed towards the WDDTY magazine, now they are trying to ruin the reputation of Dr. Nancy Malik, a homeopath in India that has a very informative blog.

Let us be very clear here: only one person is “ruining” the reputation of “Dr.” Nancy Malik, a homeoquack with a website rife with disinformation and outright lies, as any follower will know. That person is “Dr.” Malik herself.

She applied for a Health On Net HONcode, failing to mention that her site is full of anti-medicine propaganda, homeoquackery , antivax lies and so on. Some people complained. The certificate was withdrawn. And now she has a faked version of the certificate on her website. Which is fraudulent, just like everything else about homeopathy.

Footgun fired, direct hit, nobody’s fault but her own.

I hope that both the magazine and Dr. Malik take appropriate legal action. I will do what I can to help, both on this blog and financially. Stay tuned for more about that….

Oh so do I. I would love to see Nancy defend her fraudulent use of a faked HONcode, or WDDTY defend their harassment of critics who have merely pointed out that their publication is full of bullshit and lies.

But of course this is QuackWorld™ where all misfortunes are someone  else’s fault and the only truly unforgivable crime is shining the cold hard light of fact on a fraudulent health claim.

This is such a long story, but for now, let me provide a bit of background about the tactics used by the skeptics, which I have addressed in an earlier blog post HERE against the sale of the What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine published in the UK by Lynne McTaggart.

The story is well known. Simon Singh publicised the fact that Tesco and a few other shops were stocking McTaggart’s rag full of antivaccine propaganda and other excreta, the spotlight was turned on the advertisers and editorial, and overall the situation developed not necessarily to WDDTY’s advantage.

WDDTY’s response was entirely predictable: personal attacks against critics and howling “free speech” - neglecting the fact that not only does the UK not have legal protection for free speech as her native US does, but also her native US does not protect commercial speech, which this is (much of WDDTY is thinly disguised advertorial).

And then, in a moment of delicious irony, she decided to censor all dissenting views from any online forum she controls, because free speech. Which of course led to further mockery, escalated by McTaggart and co in ways I’m not about to discuss here; suffice it to say that they are following the inglorious footsteps of Errol of the Denton Family.

Alan Henness co-founder of The Nightingale Collaboration and some of his followers started a campaign in October 2013 bombarding with tweets and emails to public relations people of the different shops in the UK & Scotland asking them not to not stock this magazine claiming that the magazine’s content (alternative medicine, natural therapies, etc) was irresponsible.

We didn’t just claim it, we provided evidence. Enormous volumes of it. Dozens of upheld ASA adjudications, documentation of antivaccine propaganda, cancer quackery, promotion of fraudulent devices and much more.

WDDTY likes to pretend it’s a health journal, but we proved beyond reasonable doubt that it’s a trade advocacy magazine for quacks. And that’s why Tesco dropped it (that and poor sales, because in the end you can read all their bullshit at sites like and Natural News free of charge).

It seems that what angered the skeptics the most – prompting their email & Twitter campaign sent to the different shops was the fact that there was going to be an article in the November 2013 issue of the magazine that covered the positive work and results using homeopathy with cancer patients at the Banerji Homeopathic clinic in India. I have screen shots, but that can wait.

Promoting magic water as a cancer cure was indeed a low point, but only one of many. See for much, much more.

Since November 2013, the skeptics have not stopped their campaign to censor this magazine and keep it off the shelves in the UK.

True, but only because we cannot stop a campaign that never started. We never set out to censor WDDTY, only to stop retailers inadvertently promoting dangerous bullshit in the guise of a medical magazine. If it had been clearly marked “fiction” and placed with the astrology papers we’d have had no problem with it, and we have never even considered stopping McTaggart from writing or selling her drivel.

Not stocking your magazine does not amount to censorship. Consider always the possibility that such meretricious claptrap is not commercially attractive to a major retailer.

Just below are some screen shots of more recent activity; notably S.L. Singh (54K followers on Twitter and not a physician, homeopath or scientist),

Oh if only it were trivially possible to check this. On, say, an online encyclopaedia. Wait! Simon Singh has a Wikipedia article which notes his credentials as a nuclear physicist (precisely the kind of scientist best able to find the gaping flaws in homeopathy). As for not being a homeopath, his co-author Edzard Ernst is the best trained and most qualified writer on the subject in the UK, trained as both a doctor and a homeopath, So between them their book Trick Or Treatment brings all three of the elements the loon Courtney says are missing: scientist, doctor, homeopath.

the person that provided the original “seed” money for the Nightingale Collaboration.

No idea if it’s true, but not relevant anyway. Unlike the homeopaths who funded a “journalist” to trash Edzard Ernst, this is not in any way a conflict of interest or an underhand act.

This organization scours the internet looking for homeopathy websites and articles looking for information they can report as “misleading content”.

No, we watch for homeoquacks promoting misleading content, especially misleading advers (e.g. Steve Scrutton, see and

To my knowledge, none of these people who report homeopaths to the ASA_UK are physicians, homeopaths or scientists.

Well, we’ve already proved that the best of your knowledge is piss poor, haven’t we? Several are scientists, some are doctors. In fact it’s doctors and scientists who are most outraged by mendacious homeopathy shills, I reckon.

The ASA_UK panel (no homeopath on the panel) then makes a determination (mostly against the homeopath) and then proceeds to embarrass the homeopath on their site. The ASA_UK is a private organization that has not been recognized by the government of the U.K.

The ASA is recognised by the government, it is the industry regulator for advertising and it is private only because the advertisers did not want it to be statutory. They have no homeopaths, no bankers, no croupiers and no barmen on their panel, that does not stop them working out whether adverts by quacks, banks, online casinos and drinks companies meet the standards. they can call on expert advice, and in most cases the claims are very obviously bogus (e.g. every word ever written in promotion of homeopathy).

I myself would warmly welcome statutory regulation, with prosecution rather than shaming of false advertising.

I bet the homeopaths would cry even harder into their infinitely diluted beer.

Sandra, when statutory regulators get involved, you end up with cases like Errol Denton and Stephen Ferguson. That is, convictions and substantial fines. Do you really prefer that alternative? And no, this is not a false dichotomy, or at least not until the homeopathy industry cleans up its act.

Jul 072014

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Report on antimocrobial resistance, was published this week.

The evidence-gathering process included the usual smattering of bullshit, presumably encouraged by the presence of David Tredinnick (Holland & Barrett, Con) on the Committee.

George Lewith provided testimony and a written response that shames my alma mater, but despite his name being mentioned in the report, it remains reassuringly reality-based.

I have no doubt that Tredinnick will still strive to shoehorn bullshit in: he has form when it comes to misrepresenting what constitutes evidence for SCAM (see EDMs 2007-2008 #1548, 1549, 1550, 1551; 2009-2010 #908, 1164, 1165; 2010-2012 #284, 285, 286, 287, 342, 387 (and amendment), 1820, 1868, 1957 - in fact, apart from occasional pleas for members’ privileges, shilling for Big Sugar appears to be his sole interest, as measured by EDMs), and it’s extremely unlikely that he will understand terms like “evidence-based” as explicitly excluding homeopathy, but he will be in a tiny minority on that.

47. Dr Goodwin, Society of Biology, highlighted how better infection control, which was “virtually absent in animal husbandry”,[131] could reduce infection rates and stated that much more needed to be done to “tighten up” in this area.[132] However, other witnesses stressed the importance of antibiotics to veterinary medicine. Catherine McLaughlin, National Farmers Union, told us that the “UK poultry industry voluntarily banned the use of some critically important antibiotics at about this time last year” and consequently, had to raise their hygiene standards to be “better than hospitals”, to reduce the increased mortality rate in young chicks.[133] She pointed out that, although a high standard of hygiene could be achieved in a “closed environment, that type of hygiene would not be possible in the more extensive outdoor-type systems”.[134] Furthermore, she said that if a ban were introduced on adding antibiotics to feed and water, then “it would make pig production in the UK pretty much impossible”.[135] George Eustice MP, Under-Secretary of State for farming, food and marine environment, indicated that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate “funds a number of projects looking at antimicrobial resistance”, two of which have an “element” looking at “alternative treatments”.[136] He added that sometimes though these treatments are “anecdotally” reported to have “some impact”, they tend to “fall” at the “final hurdle” of clinical trials.[137]


So the measures highlighted in the report include vaccination, phages and other reality-based therapies, but no mention is made of homeopathy despite several written submissions promoting it and even citing one of the authors of one of these submissions.

The sugar shill is not earning his Big Herba dollars, obviously.

Jul 052014

The health freedom lobby (or, as I like to call them, the health fooldom lobby) is an unholy alliance of believers in mutually contradictory quackery, who all agree that the one thing they really can’t stand is objective evidence.

It’s pretty much unique to healthcare. Sellers of Ponzi and pyramid schemes have not branded themselves the “finance freedom lobby”. It’s only medicine - a matter of life an death in the end – where people who want to play doctor seem to think they should be allowed to make any old claim they like without the tiresome business of actually learning medicine or carrying the burden of evidence.

One of the more prominent kooks in this particular group is one Steve Scrutton, the notorious homeoquack and non-compliant advertiser (see and

Predictably, he’s picked up on McTaggart’s rambling, erroneous and fallacy-filled diatribe. And McTaggart is no doubt delighted, because she doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of the Code of Advertising Practice any more than Scrotum does, especially since the skeptical focus on adverts in WDDTY has probably scared off a good few potential advertisers. No charlatan wants their name in lights on the ASA website, after all.

Here’s Scrotum’s take from his hilariously mistitled “Homeopathy Safe Medicine” blog:

People who hate Health Freedom

Bzzzt! Wrong. We’re people who hate health fraud. We are all for allowing freedom of informed choice, but implacably opposed to selling unproven and disproven treatments with a side-order of disinformation. If you were honest and said that homeopathy can’t do anything but the fireside chat might make people feel better, we’d have no problem with you. But you won’t say that, because you are a dangerously deluded man who apparently sincerely believes that an 18th Century German had a profound insight into health that remains true despite the demolition of every single part of the speculation and misunderstanding on which it was based.

Freedom to make informed choices: Good.

Freedom to make unsupportable claims and sell unproven and disproven remedies: Bad.

See? It’s not so hard.

These are pen-pictures of the people who hate Health Freedom, who want to deny you Patient Choice, who want you to continue taking conventional pharmaceutical drugs, without asking questions, people who don’t want you to know their dangers, sometimes the lethal dangers.

Bullshit from beginning to end. We love informed choice, we are all supporters of All Trials and fans of Ben Goldacre, probably the single most effective critic of the pharmaceutical industry currently living (and vastly more so than the quacks, because unlike the quacks he is not trying to undermine the industry in order to make money by playing doctor, he actually is a doctor and wants to improve the industry to make it better).

We want patients to be able to make choices.

We want those choices to be informed by good science.

We want to stamp out misinformation about medical treatments, whether mainstream or quack.

We have no vested interest. Our only interest is accuracy.

These are the people who head up, or belong to, Big Pharma funded and/or supported groups. They attack alternative medical therapies, like Homeopathy, and seek to perpetuate the failing, dangerous conventional, drug-based health system that so dominates our National Health Service (NHS).

And that is defamation, plain and simple. I am not, to the best of my knowledge, a member of any group supported by “big pharma”. The closest I’ve come is a couple of gigs singing Christmas carols at Pfizer to make money for choir funds. We do not attack alternative medical therapies, we attack alternatives that pretend to be medical therapies but aren’t. We do not seek to “perpetuate” anything, we seek to improve medicine by advocating good quality science, from everyone, whoever they are.

Obviously the pharmaceutical industry has less to do here than most quacks: at least its products usually work, and can be objectively shown to work. They are based on actual known biochemical pathways, the facts of human physiology and so on, rather than on long-discredited dogmas such as humoural theory and sympathetic magic. But we don’t claim the industry to be perfect, and we celebrate advances such as the discovery of h.pylori as a cause of ulcers.

They are people who don’t want an NHS dominated by Big Pharma drugs. They want an NHS in which Big Pharma drugs have a complete monopoly.

Bullshit. The mainstream includes a vast range of interventions from counselling and physiotherapy to surgery to gene therapies, much of which has little or no dependence on the pharmaceutical industry for its existence or development.

Only in the insane world of SCAM is medicine made up only of selling drugs. That’s just a crackpot conspiracy theory.

These pen pictures were first published by the magazine, “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” (WDTTY). They are trying to stop its publication because it seeks to tell us the truth about conventional medicine. They are trying to stop its sale in major retail outlets.

Bullshit. We are not trying to stop its publication, we are urging retailers not to stock it. They can continue to sell it by subscription if they want.

And the reason we’re urging retailers not to stock it is because it’s irresponsible nonsense. It is riddled with anti-vaccine propaganda. It has published AIDS-denialist articles, articles promoting non-existent diseases with medically useless but expensive diagnostics and outright dangerous “cures”. Its content is often advertisements masquerading as information, and although it has “referenciness”, despite using a non-standard citation style one can track down the source articles and very often they do not say what WDDTY pretends they say.

As one author put it:

Our study has been misquoted and misinterpreted—I believe on purpose


This is not a hall of fame, it is a hall of infamy. These are people who believe that their drug-based medicine will only prevail if you and I don’t get to know what it is doing to us!

What do you mean “our”, paleface?

I have no financial interest in the pharmaceutical industry, that I know of (though I presume some of my pension scheme is invested in the sector, I’ve never really looked). Unlike Scrotum and his ilk, I have no dog in the fight. My only vested interest is as a patient, as a consumer of healthcare: I want the choices I am offered to be backed by solid evidence and not skewed by commercial interests. The pharmaceutical industry absolutely tries to skew the evidence, and so does the SCAM industry.

The difference is that once you removed the skewing, the pharmaceutical industry mainly has valid products based on actual science, whereas SCAM has nothing but delusions.

  • that it is making us ill
  • that it is causing epidemic levels of chronic disease
  • that it is bankrupting the NHS.

Conspiracist claptrap.

I have coeliac disease. The NHS did not cause this, neither did the pharmaceutical industry. The NHS did, however, detect it, and medical science has a treatment that is 100% effective.

I have asthma. The NHS did not cause this, neither did the pharmaceutical industry. The NHS did, however, diagnose it, and the pharmaceutical industry has a product that prevents attacks and another that relieves the symptoms if an attack does occur. If these products did not exist, I would almost certainly be dead by now, as I have had occasions when I have been put on a nebuliser due to acute attacks brought on by bronchitis.

I’m sure Scrotum wishes that medical science had not saved me, but I’m quite glad it did.

The crucial fact that Scrotum is apparently unable to understand is that attacking bullshit alternatives is not the same as uncritically supporting every word that medical science utters. The mistake is easy to understand: Scrotum and his ilk judge everything according to ideological consonance.

The health fooldom cranks love Andy Wakefield because he was done down by The Man; the fact that he was a doctor lining his pockets while conducting unethical experiments on children comes a distant second, if it’s counted at all. Skeptics, by contrast, judge an idea by how well it is supported by evidence.

There has never been a good reason to think MMR vaccination caused autism, but science, being science, has continued to test and explore this, tot he point that now there are studies based on over ten million subjects showing no relation, and there is a steady, if diminishing, trickle of papers testing the hypothesis, albeit they consistently find it false.

As Sagan said:

“In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”

He could have added: or in quackery.

I have never once come across a quack who has tested one of their beliefs, found it false, and dropped it.

I know of no remedy in all the history of homeopathy that has been discarded because it was found not to work.

Think about that. Homeopaths, whose ideas are refuted by atomic physics, chemistry, biochemistry and physiology, most of whom have no medical or scientific training, are apparently never ever wrong.

Whereas doctors and scientists are apparently never anything but.

This is what the Metapedia calls the “megalomaniacal point of view“. And that’s the most striking thing about the “health freedom “lobby: not their ignorance, or the depth and persistence of their delusions, but the absolutely breathtaking level of hubris they display.

If you would like to know the ‘quality’ of their argument, and the abuse they aim at people who seek to find out the truth about conventional medicine, read these blogs. Some of the people described below are regular abusers of this blog!

Yes, Steve, we are abusers of non-compliant advertisers like you. You could fix that by not making evidentially unsupportable claims and showing some signs that you understand the limits of your abilities.

But you won’t.

Jul 022014

They do say that one should always walk a mile in the other man’s shoes, but this is best not done when the other man is Error “Errol” Denton. WDDTY have, however, chosen to follow the convicted cancer quack down the road of declaring that any scrutiny of thier bogus claims is a personal vendetta, and to retaliate in kind. They don’t seem terribly happy that their rather obvious straw man was summarily demolished yesterday, and their response has been spectacularly vitriolic, not to say batshit insane.


Bzzzzt! Wrong. Our agenda is simple and straightforward: health information must be honest and factual. That means not disguising advertisements as editorial, not promoting long refuted nonsense, not engaging in anti-vaccine propaganda and not placing your ideological and financial interests over scientific evidence and the health of those misguided enough to believe you. No skeptic has ever presumed to dictate what choices anybody makes. We have presumed to challenge bogus claims made on the basis of fallacious reasoning, fraudulent fake science, blind belief, prejudice and conspiracist thinking. All WDDTY have to do in order to completely stop the tide of critical coverage, is to stop making such bogus claims.

As you know, we have been the target of a  concerted campaign to get the store chains to stop stocking us. The architects of this campaign are the same people who spend a good deal of time attacking and harassing alternative practitioners of every variety.

That’s fighting talk. Harassment is a criminal offence and a civil tort. Errol Denton claimed harassment, but in the end it was he who was told to back off by police. Skeptics do very occasionally attack alternative practitioners. Ones like Matthias Rath, who tried to use the old, broken libel law to stifle dissent. Isn’t it odd how the commitment to free speech is a one way street with cranks and quacks? What we do consistently do, and always will, is to challenge bogus health claims. Of course if you’re a quack this is a distinction without a difference, hence their tendency to personalise in return. But the difference is readily appreciated by anyone with a modicum of critical thinking ability.

Their numbers aren’t large (there’re only about 80 of them in total), and they aren’t well followed (Alan Henness of the Nightingale Collaboration, for instance, has just 462 followers on Twitter; Simon Singh, just 44 actively following him), but they are well organized and fueled by a good deal of self-righteous passion about their mission, which is to stamp out what they view as quackery (ie, natural medicine of every variety, particularly the likes of homeopathy).

Good grief, McTaggart apparently thinks that homeopathy is “natural medicine”! It is, of course, neither natural nor medicine – it’s as artifical as they come, and the manufacturers include some industrial scale faux-pharmaceutical companies.

But then, fact checking is not really their thing. Simon Singh has 44 active followers?



54,000 followers, Lynne, not 44.

But yes, we’d like to stamp out quackery. That does not include “natural medicine of every variety” – quackery is about the claims you make not the products you sell. Vitamins are natural, we don’t want to stamp them out, though we do want to stop the bogus claims of “orthomolecular” quacks. See the difference? No, of course you don’t.


So we thought we should shine a light on the qualifications of the most vocal proponents of a group who believe they have the right to determine what you can or can’t read about your health or indeed the kinds of medical treatments you should be allowed to have access to.

Good idea. The alternative would be focusing on your qualifications, such as your honorary PhD, the awarding institution for which you are remarkably coy about.

But the straw man has not gone unnoticed. We do not believe we have the right to determine anything. We leave that to people who are actually experts – doctors, NICE, the MHRA and so on. Nor do we have any desire to control what people read, only where you promote the dangerous and malicious nonsense you publish. We have no problem at all with people subscribing and receiving your magazine, we just don’t think it should be on sale in shops alongside more factual publications such as the National Enquirer.

Your complaint is functionally identical to a pyramid scammer complaining that people who report his adverts, are trying to be the arbiters of what kinds of investments people can buy.

Simon Singh. Singh is not a medical doctor; he has a Ph.D in particle physics. As he often signs his letters ‘Dr Singh’ when writing to Tesco or our distributors, most stores and media naturally assume that he has medical qualifications. He does not, nor does he have a history of studying or writing about conventional medicine.

You’re wrong about that. See

But why would it matter? Obviously as a particle physicist he’s a lot smarter than you and he has published books which, unlike The Field, actually inform people about physics, but why should he write about real medicine? There’s no law that says you have to write about legitimate medicine in order to be able to critique fraudulent alternatives.

Besides, Lynne, you write about conventional medicine, and everything you write about it is distorted and misrepresented, in large part because you have no fucking clue about the subject, so as far as adverts for the non-medical writing about medicine, you’re a great example of why he shouldn’t.

No, Simon’s doing what any responsible science writer would do: critiquing pseudoscience. It just happens to be a form of pseudoscience from which you make a living. Sucks to be you, I guess.

He’s written books about mathematical problems and patterns, codes and code-breaking and even cosmology, but nothing to date about conventional medicine – only one co-authored book (Trick or Treatment?- the clue to the slant is in the title) largely trashing alternative medicine.

You say that as if it’s a bad thing.

Most of the books on Bernie Madoff are similarly uncomplimentary.

The problem with alternative medicine is not so much that it hasn’t been shown to work – which is true by definition – but that its advocates pretend that it does, that it works better than real medicine, and that their failure to supply evidence is all the fault of evil big pharma suppressing them.

Singh is the public face of Sense About Science, a charity set up by a holding company in India, whose trustees include Simon Singh and his older brother, Tom, who founded the high street chain New Look. Sense about Science reports that it is supported by donations from a variety of sources, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and many pharmaceutically backed charities, such as Cancer UK.

Oh yes, being paid for by big pharma, that will ensure that Sense About Science doesn’t say a dickie bird about abuse of the clinical trials process, or the misleading claims of the massive supplement arm of the pharmaceutical industry.

Oh, wait…

‘Josephine Jones’. ‘She’ is the pseudonym for two people: Michael and Laura Thomason, who live in Warrington. Mike works as a database developer at Catalent Pharma Solutions. There is a Laura Thomason on Linkedin who works as a supervisor at an Esquire’s Coffee Shop, but we can’t verify if they are one and the same. If so, there can’t be many people popping in and ordering cappuccinos because she and her husband seem to have the time to catalog WDDTY’s every move, which they circulate on Josephine Jones’ blog as a constantly updated ‘Master List’. Presently, they are carrying out a survey of stores we’re in, presumably in hopes they might be able to pick us off, one store at a time. Neither professes to any medical qualifications.

‘Josephine Jones’ was a pseudonym used by Laura precisely because of the sort of deranged personal attacks you’re engaging in here, but she decided to go public when she started with the Good Thinking Society. I don’t believe Mike ever write under the pseudonym.

Still, at least you’ve finally worked out that she and I are not the same. So that’s progress of a sort.

Laura does have a relevant professional qualification, and relevant experience. Unlike you.

Guy Chapman, who created a website called ‘What What Doctors Don’t Tell You Doesn’t Tell You’, and writes a good deal of bile-filled statements about alternative practitioners, is a software developer for Dell Computers. He’s also a member of a choir.

Yes, I work for Dell. No, I am not a software developer. I make it very clear that this is my hobby, not my work, and nothing I say is said on behalf of Dell. I am proud to work for them, they are a great company with a fantastic ethos, but they don’t own me and they don’t own the computers I use to write about WDDTY or the servers on which I publish my websites.

And yes, I am a member of not one but several choirs.  am proud of that, too. I have two other hobbies: railway modelling and cycling. All four of my hobbies have one thing in common: they cost me money, and I am not paid to do any of them.

Jo Brody works two days a week as a public engagement coordinator for a research project which runs across four sites, including UCL, Queen Mary, City University and Swansea University), studying how to make medical devices safer. Jo’s job is to update the website and expand the project’s online presence. For the rest of the week she works as an information officer at Diabetes UK. Previously she worked as a secretary for Professor Stephen Wharton. As she freely admits: ‘I am not medically trained.’

You can’t even spell her name correctly. And as with me, Jo makes it very clear that her blogs are her own words and nothing to do with her employers. Why would anyone drag in the employers of their critics, I wonder? A bit creepy, isn’t it? A bit like, you know, harassment.

And Lynne? Jo has the same medical qualifications as you. But she doesn’t pretend to be a health expert.

Alan Henness. He and his wife Maria MacLachlan, who live in Harrow, are effectively the Nightingale Collaboration, a tiny organization that was given seed money by Sense About Science, but that spends a prodigious amount of time reporting advertisers and practitioners of alternative medicine to The Advertising Standards Authority.

You “forgot” to mention that virtually every complaint Alan submits is either upheld or the advertiser undertakes to withdraw the advert.

You also “forgot” to mention that WDDTY has had more upheld complaints for a single issue than any other publication I can find, and that many of your columnists have had complaints upheld against them.

Despite the name, the ASA is not a government body; it’s an advertising-industry-sponsored organization with no teeth. The best it can do is place advertisers it deems out of line on the naughty step, listing them on as a ‘non-compliant advertiser’ on its own website. Evaluations of the advertisements of alternative medicine or practitioners through the ASA are a stacked deck; they are evaluated, as our ads were, by known skeptics like Dr. Edzard Ernst, Simon Singh’s co-author of Trick or Treatment?

It’s not “advertising industry sponsored”, it’s funded by a compulsory levy on advertising and it regulates all sectors. It regularly adjudicates against the largest advertising sectors – gambling, drinks, finance, pharmaceuticals and cars – and the only people who seem to have a problem with it are those whose business fundamentally depends on making unsupportable claims.

Front and centre in that group are the homeopaths.

They do use independent expert advice. I’m not aware they have consulted Prof. Ernst, but if they have then you should have no problem with it: he is a fully qualified medical doctor and a credentialled professor of alternative medicine, so if anybody in the UK is qualified to write about the subject, then it’s him.

Henness does not report any other employment, at least on his Linkedin page; previously he was R&D manager for Honeywell Security and Customer Electronics. Although he appears to have no background in evaluating or studying medicine or alternative medicine, as he writes, ‘The Nightingale Collaboration was set up to enable my wife, Maria MacLachlan, and I to share our knowledge and experience in challenging misleading claims in healthcare advertising and to encourage anyone who is concerned at protecting the public from misinformation in healthcare promotion to join us in challenging it.’

You say that as if it’s a bad thing.

Oh, and Lynne? It really isn’t hard to critique alternatives to medicine. You just check the evidence, check the claims against the statements permitted by law and so on. The regulations are all public, and it’s not our fault if your authors and advertisers choose to flout them.

Maria Maclachlan herself is the Community Services Officer of the British Humanist Society, which campaigns ‘for an open society and a secular state with no religious privilege or discrimination based on religion or belief,’ according to its website. (Alan was former Convenor for the Humanist Society.)

Would you have more or less of a problem if they were Pastafarians, Buddhists or Muslims?

On the website Think Humanism (, Maria wrote, in a short précis of what it means to be a humanist: ‘Humanists embrace the moral principle known as the Golden Rule. This means we believe that people should aim to treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves – with tolerance, consideration and compassion.’

I wonder if this ‘Golden Rule’ also includes harassing groups, practitioners or organizations who advocate or advertise alternative medicine?

It allows the critique of all fraudulent claims, be they by quacks or by financial charlatans. In fact, it’s a moral duty to stop these rapacious frauds form preying on the sick and vulnerable.

Thanks for asking…

Andy Lewis. Set up the ‘Quackometer’ site, which he claims to be an experiment in ‘critical thinking’. Doesn’t reveal what his credentials, education or employment history are – says they ‘don’t matter’ nor does an honest debate of the issues because the wording on websites will, through his own use of critical thinking, offer prima facie evidence of ‘quackery’.

Quackometer is a blog, and a widely read and trusted one. Its advice has exactly the same status as that of WDDTY, with one important distinction: it’s accurate.

That’s who they are. WDDTY, on the other hand, has seven medical doctors on its editorial panel, plus several PhDs and highly qualified practitioners of a number of alternative disciplines. Thousands of doctors and health practitioners of every persuasion regularly read WDDTY and comment enthusiastically. The two editors of our magazine have been medical science writers for 25 years, and every word in our pages is checked by a science editor with a an extensive history of writing and editing medical studies for the pharmaceutical industry.

In which case, one has to wonder why WDDTY routinely misrepresents the evidence it claims to cite, why authors of papers have criticised it for misrepresenting the contents and conclusions of articles, why it publishes a relentless torrent of anti-vaccine propaganda, something that no ethical doctor would ever permit, why so many of its authors and advertisers have been adjudicated as publishing misleading adverts, why the most egregious bullshit is by people who are medically unqualified, but the medically qualified apparently let them get away with it, and so on.

Also I wonder  if you’re including only those whoa re registered and in good standing with the GMC or equivalent. Some definitely are not.

Do you want these eight people to be the ones to determine what you can read about your own health care?

No, and neither do the eight people make any claim to want to do this. What we do want, is for ordinary shops not to stock your tawdry mish-mash of misleading and misrepresented arguments, anti-medicine and pro-quackery propaganda, misleading advertisements, and conspiracist twaddle. That in no way infringes your right to write the garbage you do, or to sell it to consenting adults.

Your right to say something does not confer any obligation on others to listen or to facilitate your saying it.

Speaking for myself, I will reassess WDDTY when you start printing accurate information about vaccines. Every single story you have published on the subject, as far as I can tell,  is negative, and the majority repeat claims refuted a thousand times.

If not, write to Tesco today and ask them to re-stock What Doctors Don’t Tell You. And tell them a bit more about the people who fire off ‘complaints’ – that they are neither true customers nor people with either the training or experience to evaluate the information in our pages: [email protected]

We are both customers of Tesco, and perfectly well qualified to judge the information in your pages.

We do it rather well. That’s why you hate us.

And now for a closing thought.

If WDDTY is a legitimate health magazine, why are they bothering to make personal attacks and engage in actual harassment of those who merely critique the contents?

Any legitimate journal welcomes the identification of issues with its contents. If an article is inaccurate, any responsible journal will publish the corrections.

WDDTY did once publish a correction: they got a figure wrong in a recipe. They have never once apologised for publishing misrepresentations, half-truths and distortions, even when the errors have been pointed out in great detail.

WDDTY could make itself useful by changing from glossy to newsprint. Then at least it would be good for lining the cages of small animals.

Site last updated August 22, 2014 @ 10:43 pm