Tag Archives: Woo

Woo and orthogonality

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.

 

Complex numbers as a way of understanding woo

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.

Freedom4Health Newsletter

Courtesy of my Sinister Agents, I have received the latest Freedom4health newsletter. It is, predictably, batshit insane and loaded with fallacies, delusions and falsehoods.

It’s worth remembering that the Health Fooldom lobby is basically the astroturf marketing arm of Big Herba, an exercise in special pleading to give commercial advantages to those who know their claims and implications considerably exceed their evidence. This has, especially in the US, been remarkably successful and has made the Health Fooldom lobby a major player in the New Age of Endarkenment.

1. Can you treat or diagnose as a natural health practitioner?

This is also another myth that we want to expose. The ASA have for some time taken it upon themselves to tell natural health practitioners that they are not allowed to say they can treat or diagnose various diseases. They have a list of more than 200 conditions (many quite generalised and so these cover just about everything) which they say natural health practitioners cannot claim to treat.

This is misleading. ASA actually say you should not claim to diagnose or treat serious conditions which should be referred to a competent medical practitioner. The idea that quacks should not claim to diagnose or treat things outside of their competence is scarcely controversial, the problem is not that the ASA are oppressing them, but that the quacks do not recognise their own limitations.

The only people who should diagnose serious diseases, are registered medical practitioners. In what world is this even remotely controversial?

If you are a homeopath, naturopath, live blood analyst, reiki master or whatever, and if you have the faintest inkling of your limitations, then you would not dream of diagnosing any health condition at all, least of all a serious one that would attract the obviously unwelcome attention of the ASA and other members of the reality-based community. And frankly, if you do think you should be diagnosing health conditions then you should probably be in jail, not merely trivially inconvenienced in publishing your misleading advertisements. Quacks have no significant training in valid diagnostic techniques. The techniques they do use – iridology and applied kinesiology, for example – are entirely without merit.

Whilst the ASA present themselves as an authority, you should know that this list is not based on any law (there is one exception which is the 1939 Cancer Act).

Misleading. The ASA is the body charged with regulating advertising, and the quacks are pretty much the only people who have a problem with this.

In many cases practitioners have been diagnosing and treating for hundreds if not thousands of years and they have done so effectively.

Your logical fallacies are: appeal to tradition, begging the question. As Roger Fisken pithily put it, we don’t predict the outcome of battles by studying the entrails of chickens, or choose the best route for a new railway line by asking a witch doctor to go into a trance, so why should we behave this way when it comes to healthcare? Sure, people who cast the runes sincerely believe that they are tapping into some great mystical force, but we know they are deluded – and the same applies to the vast majority of quacks who believe they are “effectively” treating disease. It’s not a coincidence that medicine has changed out of all recognition in the last 100 years, during which time human life expectancy has roughly doubled but quacks have not changed their practices at all (other than to adopt new ways of excusing their failures). 

The scientific method, with its pitiless discarding of cherished beliefs that don’t hold up to scrutiny, is the great differentiator between quackery and medicine. It is the engine by which an imperfect enterprise, improves by self-examination. And it is wholly absent from the fields of quackery promoted by the Health Fooldom lobby.

Therefore the ASA’s attempts to shut down the natural health field are nothing more than discriminatory and are serving some other purpose than the well-being of the general population.

Your logical fallacies are: begging the question, appeal to conspiracy. There is no evidence at all that the ASA wants to “shut down the natural health field”, the ASA’s remit and their stated aim is simply to ensure that advertising is “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

Of course, if quacks are restricted to honest claims and prevented from making dishonest ones, this will affect their bottom line: the reason they are “alternative” is, per Minchin’s Law, that their treatments are either unproven or disproven, but this is not the ASA’s problem, it’s the quacks’ problem. Put simply, if your business cannot survive without making false claims, then your business model is at fault, not the advertising regulator.

We fully agree that advertising should be “legal, decent, honest and truthful” – the ASA’s byword – and we believe that practitioners must have adequate experience and be able to evidence any claims that they make. However, we do not consider that the arbitrary standards established by the ASA are in themselves “legal, decent, honest and truthful” and so they are effectively violating their own code. For more information on this please read our website.

Well, here we have a fundamental conflict between reality and what the quacks believe. There have been numerous analyses of the adequacy of quack training (some commentary here), the general result seems to be that the entire clinical exposure of an ND degree – one of the more time-consuming quack qualifications – is equivalent to no more than a few weeks of medical residency. It takes five years of hard study and years more of supervised practice to become a qualified doctor. Like it or not, quacks are playing doctor based on the flimsiest of education, much of which is in reality mere rote learning of utter nonsense.

The standard established by ASA is not “arbitrary”, other than that ASA seems happy to let quacks claim to treat minor ailments, when the evidence for this is no better than for serious ones. In other words, the only arbitrary standard is to let the quacks off the hook for the small stuff.

N.B. There is European legislation which is enforceable through UK law and which regulates medicines. Medicines have nothing to do with a practitioner’s diagnosis. Whilst we also consider that the way this legislation is written is in itself discriminatory, it does need to be taken into account if you are advertising medicines to treat a condition. But if you are not advertising medicines then this would not apply. Natural health practitioners employ a range of therapies and treatments to help an individual.

Oh please. What’s “discriminatory” about the legislation is that it does not include special pleading to allow quacks to sell rubbish with unsupportable medical indications. The playing field is completely level: you want to make a claim, you have to provide a certain class and quality of evidence, whoever you are.

2. Complaint with Ofcom against ASA

Freedom4Health has recently filed an opposition to ASA’s continued cooperation with Ofcom covering 9 different points all focused on grounds that amount to it being biased against promoting natural health solutions. Ofcom regulates the broadcasting media.

This should be fun to watch.  “Dear OfCOM: the heartless ASA won’t let us advertise quackery as if it’s legitimate, please let us have our own self-regulation that is situated within the bubble world of our delusional beliefs. Love, the quacks”. “Dear quacks, No. Yours sincerely, OfCOM”.

Ofcom transferred some of their responsibilities for the Television Advertising Standards Code to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), though Ofcom is still ultimately responsibility.

That agreement is currently under review.

Our concerns have been filed with Ofcom and cover points such as:

1. The ASA does not base its decisions on “the available scientific knowledge” and is adopting the radical view that only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are ‘objective’ and have validity. This position is not only unscientific but is extremely hazardous to the health of patients. (There are many kinds of valid proof besides RCTs.)

This is the precise opposite of the truth. The entire problem for the quacks is that ASA do take into account the entirety of the scientific evidence, they do not simply accept the sciencey-looking bullshit fielded by true believers. Homeopathy is a perfect example. True believers think that based on counting the number of positive studies they should be allowed to make health claims. ASA look at that, and also factor in the absence of any plausibility, the findings of independent reviews and meta-analyses and other evidence, which underlies the scientific consensus view that homeopathy is bunk.

2. The ASA is refusing to permit publication of evidence of effectiveness in clinical practice.

No, they are preventing you form claiming that something works based on cherry-picked “evidence”. If you present a balanced picture, reflecting the scientific consensus view, they have no problem with it. Of course if you do that your business is toast. This isn’t ASA’s problem, it’s yours.

3. The ASA does not have the competence to assess evidence relating to holistic, natural or integrative medical practice.

That’s why they call in experts.

4. When the ASA does employ the services of ‘experts’, their qualifications are inadequate for a professional adjudication.

Absolutely untrue, and a gross calumny on the professionalism and qualifications of those involved. They certainly do have the qualifications to understand your claims – and that is exactly your problem. This complaint is functionally equivalent to the Catholic church complaining that a gynaecologist is not qualified to give evidence about the virgin birth, because the gynaecologist is not a Catholic and so does not believe in virgin birth.

Put simply, if your claims are only accepted by true believers, then they can be safely presumed to be false.

5. The ASA has redrafted arguments, ignored the evidence, or even redrafted the complaint in order to retain the same conclusion. One complaint was radically redrafted after seven months of correspondence, despite the fact that the ASA requires that “Complaints must be made within three months of the marketing communication’s appearance”.

False. They redraft complaints in order to match them to the CAP code headings, and show what is quoted and what is not. They also investigate the claims being made, and may expand or revise their complaint accordingly. Whay the quacks are arguing for here is the ability to magic the ASA away by redrafting the false claims they make in the middle of an investigation but without changing the underlying false message. ASA, unsurprisingly, does not think much of that idea.

6. The ASA makes claims without producing any evidence to support them, and then bases its conclusions on such unsupported claims.

O RLY? Colour me skeptical. The quacks’ judgment on what constitutes an “unsupported” claim is not something I’d care to trust.

7. The ASA uses slanted language.

Nope. They use objective language. Your problem is simply that they do not slant language as you’d like – so, for example, they don’t subscribe tot he fallacious notion that woo-meisters are “holistic” or that “natural” is a valid criterion for judging efficacy.

8. The ASA is judge, jury and executioner on any investigation with has complete control over the presentation of the ‘defence’ case. This is a fundamentally flawed approach to justice, especially in the context of the other issues outlined above.

It’s not a legal process, and the advertiser is given every opportunity to respond. The function of the ASA is analogous to that of the examining magistrate, a perfectly legitimate approach in cases where there is no civil or criminal liability at stake. Where criminal activity may be argued, ASA does not prosecute – the case is handed off to Trading Standards.

While this complaint is entirely without merit, it does reveal the root of the problem. Quacks view the ability to make their false claims as a fundamental legal right. ASA sees them as just another advertiser, one more sector which has a class of known false statements used in advertising, just like payday lenders or broadband suppliers.

It’s an inequality of motive. The ASA does not give a damn whether quacks can carry on business without making fraudulent claims, they only care that fraudulent claims are not made. To quacks, however, it is a matter of commercial life or death. They cannot do business without making fraudulent claims, so they regard any restriction on the ability to make fraudulent claims as a restraint of trade.

9. The ASA intimidates advertisers, who are mainly self-employed therapists, with language that makes the ASA sound like a government agency, when in fact they are a private limited company created by the advertising industry.

If the quacks are scared by ASA they should try not filling in their tax returns some time: they’d find out what a really scary letter looks like.

Freedom4Health is therefore concerned that the ASA be given an extended license to adjudicate and suggest that their procedures are thoroughly reviewed.

In other words, the quacks want a special set of rules that allows them, uniquely, to make fraudulent claims.

3. Exciting news on alternative to ASA

The General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies (GRCCT) is one of two regulatory bodies in the UK for natural health therapies. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) is the other. Whilst CNHC has made adhering to ASA rulings a condition of membership, GRCCT has taken a completely different perspective and is now setting up a website validation service. This service will assess websites in line with what is legal and in accordance with established principles of evidence and efficacy for any particular natural health discipline. It will be adjudicated by lawyers and experts in the particular field that is being assessed.

This is more than a little disingenuous. The GRCCT (OfCrank? OfLoon? OfUberquack?) seems on the face of it to eb a body set up by the lunatic fringe of the quack world; numeorus Government websites and pages refer to CNHC (aka OfQuack), none refer to GRCCT. I cannot find any trace of any official recognition – it is basically a trade body for those who refuse to accept that ASA’s views on what is a supportable advertising claim.

It will therefore provide a “legal, decent, honest and truthful” assessment of any site. Costs will be minimal for members but more expensive for non-members.

In other words, quacks reviewing quack claims in a quack-friendly manner, as long as you join.

The service is going to become live within the next few weeks.

Live yes, significant? Valid? Not so much.

4. The Petition

Don’t forget to sign the petition to have the ASA debated in Parliament. This has been put together by a practitioner affected by ASA Ltd. See her story and sign the petition herehttp://asa-the-truth.org.uk/

Yes, do write to your MP to ask them to express support for the sterling work ASA does in protecting consumers form false and fraudulent advertisers.

We will be visiting a number of colleges around the UK to talk with practitioners and students about the ASA in the coming month. If you would like help in talking to your regulatory bodies or associations please let us know and we will contact them to discuss the progress we are making and issues that are currently topical for natural health practitioners in regards to the ASA.

Translation: we’ll be conducting a sales roadshow for our OfUberquack.

For further information please contact Angela or Martin at [email protected] or visit our website at www.freedom4health.com

Oh do, please, and tweet the responses, it should make great comedy!

How not to change Wikipedia

A group of loons promoting “energy psychology” (a form of woo roughly as intelligible as Time Cube and infinitely less entertaining) have started a petition to demand: Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia: Create and enforce new policies that allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing.

There are one or two problems with this.

  1. Wikipedia already has such a policy. That is pretty much your problem: we define science as, you know, science, following the scientific method and all that, whereas you are unable to distinguish it from your pseudoscience.  We have been there before. More than once.
  2. Wikipedia policy is not set by Jimmy Wales, apart from the foundational priniciples.
  3. Even if it was, he probably wouldn’t support you,and drawing his attention to your desire to skew Wikipedia towards your bullshit ideas may not be the smartest thing to do.

I confidently expect the fact-blind loons to carry on regardless, and no doubt how “suppression” when Jimbo fails to accede to their ludicrous demand.

They should instead try emailing the Wikimedia Foundation. At least the email response team have a polite canned response telling them why they are wasting their time.

I’m indebted to Alan Henness (@Zeno001) for drawing this entertaining whacknuttery to my attention.

Ill-informed?

A repeatable factor in debates with advocates of quackery is the assertion that skeptics are “ill-informed”. Usually the stridency with which this is asserted rises the more obviously well-informed the skeptic is, especially in areas where the quacks know they are vulnerable.

A recent newsletter from the Australian Traditional Medicine Society is a good example:

ATMS’s response to the Friends of Science ill-informed comments in the article: “No rebates for unscientific blood tests?”

Prepared by Stephen Eddey on behalf of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society

Here’s the article about which they are complaining:  No rebates for unscientific blood tests?

“Such tests include live blood analysis, hair analysis for toxins (non-forensic), liver detoxification profiles, clot retraction tests, cancer tests not performed by NATA-approved laboratories, electrodermal screening devices and food allergy tests not performed by NATA-approved laboratories.”

Friends of Science in Medicine are arguing that “IRIDOLOGISTS, reflexologists, and other practitioners offering blood tests without scientific basis should be stripped of government and private insurance rebates, and their patients told they are not getting a legitimate health service.”

Once again, some ill-informed comments have been released by the Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM). The article titled, “No rebates for unscientific blood tests?” which appeared in the Medical Observer on 28 October is ill informed, and out of touch with what natural medicine practitioners actually do in their clinics.

Really? So iridologists don’t use the wholly bogus iridology then?

The problem here is a categorical fallacy. ATMS are trying to represent multiple forms of woo as valid, but in practice the SCAM industry is a loose agglomeration of disparate often mutually contradictory practices; a failure to properly represent this fact and to circle the wagons whenever any “alternative” practitioner is under attack from the reality-based community often leads to reflexive defence of the indefensible.

First of all, there are no Government rebates for blood tests unless they are performed by a medical practitioner. Most blood tests such as cholesterol and thyroid measurements are covered by Medicare. Natural medicine practitioners do not have the authority to order blood tests and have them covered by Medicare rebates. Some specialised blood tests ordered by a medical doctor are not covered by Medicare and must be paid for by the patient, such as the important Lipoprotein (a) test.

That’s not what FSM said. They called for all rebates, government and insurance, to be withdrawn from any practitioner who uses bogus diagnostics. Not just for the bogus diagnostics, which undoubtedly are not covered in most cases, but for their use in diagnosis. Any practitioner who relies on live blood analysis, reflexology, hair analysis, liver detox profiles and so on, is a quack. These tests have no diagnostic merit and are used to sell therapies for conditions that the tests cannot and do not establish.

The correct response to this is to join FSM in calling for all alternative practitioners to stop using bogus tests, and to discipline any members who continue to do so.

If a private health insurer provides rebates for certain blood tests or other natural medicine tests, that it is their prerogative to do so. Natural medicine practitioners use a range of tests to determine the health of their clients. Instead, natural health care professionals treat the whole person and as such, blood tests form only a small part of the picture of the patient’s health.

It is their prerogative, but FSM are entirely correct in calling for this prerogative not to be exercised in the case of tests with no provable diagnostic merit. After all, why would an insurer pay for a bogus test to diagnose a condition that may not exist in order for the practitioner to sell a treatment that may therefore be entirely unnecessary?

There is no remotely plausible reason for funding bogus diagnostic tests, and several excellent reasons for not just not funding them, but removing any practitioner who proposes them form your list of approved practitioners.

It’s called health fraud.

Secondly, FSM states that natural medicine practitioners shouldn’t be endorsed by the Royal College of Pathologists Australasia. Natural therapists have never been endorsed by the Royal College of Pathologists Australasia. This further displays ignorance and demonstrates why FSM shouldn’t comment on matters that they are not qualified to comment on.

That should be easy to check. http://www.safelabs.com.au/ is an NATA accredited lab offering hair mineral analysis, a bogus test for “toxins”. Sorry to single SAL out, they were just the first.

Even if they were completely wrong about that, they would still be amply qualified to comment on the status of bogus tests. In fact, they are much better qualified to comment on them than those who make money from them, or trade bodies representing such practitioners.

The article also states: “the distinction between tests that are suitable for medical purposes and those that are not should not be blurred”. We are unaware of any blood test performed by a laboratory that would not be medically relevant otherwise the pathology laboratory simply wouldn’t run the test in the first place. All blood tests and all results should be considered by an appropriate healthcare professional to determine the health of the patient.

Apart from live blood analysis you mean? or clot retraction tests? You know, the ones they mention?

ATMS agrees with Pathologist and University of Adelaide clinical professor Graeme Suthers’ statement when he said, “The most important thing we can do is provide people with information.” Natural medicine practitioners are highly qualified and highly trained healthcare professionals that provide expert advice to help people live a happy healthy life. Providing information to clients about their health is what we are all about and all information obtained by a natural medicine practitioner shouldn’t be vetted by an ill-informed group like FSM.

Yes, information. So why do ATMS consistently campaign against the provision of information by those whose ideological commitment is to empirical science, rather than the naturalistic fallacy?

Actually this is blatant special pleading. ATMS are saying “believe us, don’t believe those horrible scientists“.

The reason they say this is perfectly obvious, hopefully even to their prospective customers.

Burzynski: Tijuana beckons

Recent developments in Texas offer an intriguing test case for commentators on woo.

Six months ago a series of three documents were obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act which even seasoned Burzynski-watchers could scarcely believe.

The first of these has already been released some time  ago; this was the report on the Institutional Review Board, the third consecutive adverse report, with issues identical to the previous two – conflicts of interest, excessive use of too-rapid approvals and so on.

The other two, inspection reports on the Burzynski clinic and Burzynski himself, have now been published on the FDA website:

These reports are incredible damning. Apart from failure to obtain legally mandated informed consent, failing to inform patients of likely additional costs, large numbers of overdoses and serious adverse incidents, inability to properly account for the amount of drugs, and failure to report adverse events for up to seven years, it turns out that the baseline records for every patient, including MRI scans, have been destroyed.

Read more at What “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Don’t Tell You, The Other Burzynski patient Group and JREF.

All those trials for which people have paid tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, are worthless. They cannot be published.

This is not just an epic fraud, it’s also a gross violation of the Declaration of Helsinki on human trials.

What happens next is anyone’s guess, but what is clear is that people who have been doing Burzynski’s PR for him – including Mercola, CANCERactive, WDDTY and others, now have an opportunity to show that they are not, in fact, credulous propagandists for woo.

These violations are self-evidently unacceptable. Even if you believe in Burzynski’s antineoplastons, routine overdosing, large scale adverse reactions not reported, shredding the records that would be the necessary foundation of any proof of efficacy, these things are unambiguously bad.

Burzynski will never respond to a skeptic who asks him why he did these things. His historical supporters have an opportunity to ask searching questions which are as relevant to their audience as they are to skeptics.

Why did you destroy the data? How can you now provide the evidence that’s necessary to get approval of the drugs? Why did you not report the adverse events?

My suspicion is that they will not ask these questions, because their approach to woo is typically entirely uncritical (unlike their approach to anything with a solid body of evidence, which was hilariously satirised by John Finnemore in episode 3 of his Souvenir Programme a few weeks back).

But the ball is in their court. They could, right now, show themselves to have at least some honour towards their audience. What’s the betting they go down the conspiracy theory route instead?

Junk Science? Number 62: Skeptic pawns of Big Pharma out to silence WDDTY

Every now and then, Chris Woo – sorry, Chris Woollams – sets the old WTF-o-meter off with another rant. And sometimes those rants reference other rants, and sometime those other rants positively beg for a good fisking.

This is one of those.

Junk Science? Number 62: Skeptic pawns of Big Pharma out to silence WDDTY

Allegedly written by user “WDDTY”, which could be the Blessed Martyr Lynne McTaggart herself (aka Tat Maggot, McTagnut etc.) or it could be Chris Woo or one of his imaginary friends. Who knows (or indeed cares).

It’s part of the narrative of suppression used by McTagnut to self-justify her magazine in the face of assessments by pretty much anybody whose opinion is worth having that it is dangerous nonsense.

Yet again destructive skeptic trolls are trying to silence free comment that could benefit the health of people in Britain,

As an example of how many fallacies can be packed into half a sentence, that is a corker! Poisoning the well, begging the question, appeal to consequences – it’s all there!

Lynne, here’s a free clue for you: if your magazine genuinely could benefit the health of the nation rather than harming it with such provably bogus claims as homeopathy curing cancer or vitamin C curing AIDS, you would not even have this problem in the first place.

The problem – all of the problem – is that your execrable rag publishes credulous reports of pseudoscientific nonsense and pretends it’s peerless health advice. Stop doing that, the problem goes away! Simple!

this time by fabricating stories and whipping up media comment around erroneous claims. The hand of the Pharmaceutical Industry seems all too evident. This just shows the dreadful depths the dark side will go to to keep mainstream medical mythology from genuine sceptical challenge.

Ooooh, “fabricating comments”, eh? Would that be the sort of fabrication where you claim The Times didn’t contact you? The sort of fabrication where you pretend you didn’t claim that vitamin C cures AIDS?

If you’re going to sling around accusations of fabrication, you have to do it form the basis of being honest yourself. Whereas in fact you are a deceitful hypocrite and a liar. Which rather undermines your case..

Many rational people often feel that Pharmaceutical Ccompanies pay skeptics to be their shills. But, of course, there is little evidence. However, they are known to fund certain skeptic organisations.

No, Lynn, no rational people feel that. In fact it is pretty much a guaranteed indicator of an irrational person, because it’s a conspiracy theory. Like the moon hoax theory or alien abduction coverup, only less compelling.

For example, Sense about Science, a well funded anti-homeopathy skeptic organization in the United Kingdom, once complained about a consumer’s group H:MC21’s, assertion that SAS was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The consumer group wrote in response to the complaint.

‘You quote us as saying that Sense About Science “received over 35% of its donation funding from the pharmaceutical industry between 2004 and 2009”, but then refer only to funding “from pharmaceutical companies”. As a result of the investigation following your email, we have found that our original claim about Sense About Science’s funding was too conservative. In fact Sense About Science appears to have received an average of 42.3% of its total income between 2004 and 2010 from pharmaceutical companies or organisations clearly linked to the pharmaceutical industry. In 2006, the year [the anti-homeopathy] ‘Sense About Homeopathy’ was published, there was a huge leap in such funding, from£37,300 (36.9% of total income) to £102,165 (51.2% of total income).

Repeating the assertion that H:MC21 is a “consumer group” won’t help with that honesty problem you have. It’s an organisation run by homeopaths set up to promote their commercial interests. It’s a “consumer group” in the same way that the National Smokers Alliance was a consumer group.

H:MC21 loves to draw false inferences (this is, after all, the entire foundation of homeopathy), but this is just another conspiracy theory. Find me a single scientific rationalist organisation anywhere in the world that supports homeopathy. It’s one of our favourite teaching tools, because even a child can see how stupid it is when you blow away the smoke.

The Canadian skeptic organization called Centre for Inquiry, which is another anti-homeopathy skeptic group, is almost entirely funded by a director of a pharmaceutical company. Both groups are attempting to stop consumers’ choice of alternative health modalities and stop the sale of homeopathic remedies.
THE WDDTY WARS: Why they don’t want you to ‘read all about it!’

Oops! Wrong again. CFI is a skeptic group, every single skeptic or scientific rationalist group that comments on homeopathy, says the same thing, because that’s what the science tells us: homeopathy is bogus.

Of course the homeopathy industry hates this and sees a massive skeptic conspiracy and assumes it must be funded by Big Pharma and yada yada yada but this ignores one crucial fact: criticism of homeopathy as pseudoscientific nonsense goes back almost as long as homeopathy does. The only thing that’s changed over the years is that the reality-based community has become more articulate, more adept at spotting quacks’ tricks and shenanigans, and more aware of the danger that believe in bullshit can cause.

Sorry, William, the problem is entirely your end.

We don’t care if you sell your confectionery or not. All we care about is that you don’t make misleading claims for it, such as being able to treat or cure disease, containing active ingredients, or having any provable effect beyond placebo.

Exactly as with Lynne: stop spouting bullshit and we’ll stop calling you on it.

Two days ago we woke up to find ourselves and our magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You the subject of a national scandal. On Tuesday October 1, the Times ran with an article about how there was a ‘call to ban’ our journal What Doctors Don’t Tell You over ‘health scares’.

Close: WDDTY is a national scandal. Tom Whipple only drew attention to it. But there is no call to “ban” WDDTY, only to remove it from public sale in places where unwitting consumers might buy it in the mistaken belief that it contains valid health advice.

Since the advice in WDTY is provably wrong and dangerous, and the adverts are misleading on an unprecedented scale, there are only two responsible ways forward: remove it from open sale, or fix the editorial problems. Since the biggest and most pressing editorial problem is a credulous editor who apparently believes almost any bullshit on the planet as long as someone slaps the word “natural” on it, the former is easier to fix.

The original Times article alleged that a group of ‘experts’, including ‘scientists, doctors and patients’ were ‘condemning’ shops for carrying our magazine,

Seems fair. I have seen condemnation of Tesco and others from members of all those groups.

The article also said that we’d claimed that vitamin C ‘cures’ HIV, that homeopathy could treat cancer, that we’d implied the cervical cancer vaccines has killed ‘hundreds’ of girls and that we’d told parents in our latest (October 2013) issues not to immunize their children with the MMR.

The bastards! How dare they take the words you print and assume you meant them to be read as written, rather than with some unprinted additional caveat that runs counter to everything you’ve ever published!

The Wright Stuff on channel 5 quickly followed suit with a television debate, flashing up a picture of me, Five Live followed up with a television debate about our magazine. By Thursday, when the Press Gazette were onto it, the headlines had escalated to: ‘Warning that claims in alternative health mag could prove fatal.’
In all of the furore, not one of the newspapers, radio shows or television stations bothered to contact us, even to solicit a comment – which is Journalism 101 when you intend to run a story on someone, pro or con.

Oops! Another lie. The records of The Times trying to contact you, for example, have already been published. Do you wonder why nobody believes a word you say?

One thing you will never understand though: you have no right of veto over critical commentary.

It’s also apparent from the information published in The Times and in all the media following that not one journalist or broadcaster has read one single word we’ve written, particularly on the homeopathy story, and for very good reason: the article and the magazine containing it in fact have not yet been published.
Here is what the Times said, and here is what we actually published:

No, Lynne, that’s simply not true. It’s abundantly clear from the commentary that people have read exactly what you’ve written. And it’s what you’ve written that is the problem. In the past, you have uncritically published claims that homeopathy “reverses cancer”. The evidence of your claims about vitamin C and AIDS is widely discussed.

Now I don’t think you are deliberately setting out to lie when you publish this crap. I think you suffer the classic SCAM problem that once you have discarded the normal scientific standard of evidence – a necessary precursor to accepting something like homeopathy –  you have nothing with which to replace it. Health claims without the basis of scientific examination are like a boat with no anchor or rudder: it will drift hither and yon at the whim of the tide with no real direction and no way of correction, until – inevitably – it ends up on the rocks.

The Times stated: we said vitamin C cures HIV.

We had written: “US internist Robert Cathcart…devised an experiment with around 250 inpatients who tested positive for HIV. In a letter to the editor of The Lancet, he wrote that his regime of giving oral doses of vitamin C close to “bowel tolerance” had “slowed, stopped or sometimes reversed for several years” the depletion of an HIV patient’s CD4+ cells.

Where could anybody have got the “false” impression that you said Vitamin C cures HIV, then? Unless it was form your front cover, where you said: “Mega-cure for the incurables – Vitamin C fights it all from AIDS to measles”.

Are you aware of the problems caused by Matthias Rath’s advocacy of this dangerous nonsense in Africa? Are you aware that a letter to the editor is not peer-reviewed?

And how did the article start, Lynne?

Modern medicine retains a 19th-century view of infectious disease. Many of the major viral and bacterial diseases—polio, diphtheria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy and tetanus—are viewed just as they were at the turn of the 20th century—as deadly and largely incurable diseases.

Other than antibiotics for infections of bacterial origin, doctors maintain that the only solution to most serious infection is prevention, which is why many of these diseases are vaccinated against—often with dire consequences.

However, there is a considerable amount of buried evidence in the medical literature that vitamin C is a simple, all-purpose elixir that can cure many of those so-called ‘incurable’ deadly infections.

What. The. Fuck?

No, Lynne, the medical view of disease is nothing like the 19th Century view. In the 19th Century we had no idea abut the genetic structure of viruses, the speed with which they mutate, and the difficulty of targeting therapies to kill them once infection takes hold, but we do know – form the experience of smallpox, with polio headed the same way – that major killer disease can be wiped out by preventive measures.

What the FUCK is wrong with prevention? You think it’s better to wait until people get a deadly disease and then see if you can catch it in time with some treatment that will never be 100% effective, because nothing is? That is ridiculous!

But not as ridiculous as the implied claim that prevention comes “often” with “dire” consequences. We know that you circulated an email saying that Gardasil had killed 1,700 women, but the real figure turns out to be zero.

Not one.

None.

Nada.

Rien.

Zilch.

Bugger all.

The evidence of large scale harm from prevention is absent.

Not weak, or controversial, or disputed, or any of those other weasel words.

Absent.

The only case where large scale harm might be claimed with even a shred of intellectual honesty is the Cutter incident, which was primarily down to politics not the technology. People were killed by politics and the desire to meet a press deadline. There’s a lesosn in that about jumping to early conclusions and asserting things before the evidence is in. But you have no sense of irony so you won’t see it.

The correct response to this kind of criticism is to apologise and up your game. If you genuinely don’t believe that vitamin C cures AIDS, then you need to accept that your magazine gave the strong impression of endorsing exactly that claim. A claim that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, including babies. Yes really.

If a scientist had written a piece like yours, he would have apologised for the misunderstanding. SCAM doesn’t do apology because it doesn’t do “I was wrong”. It’s a religion: admit one false prophecy and you call into question all the others.

The Times says we tell parents not to immunize their children with the MMR.

We interviewed – and simply quoted – a medical doctor called Dr Jayne Donegan, who had carried out her own research into the MMR, and concluded that a child with a strong immune system shouldn’t have the vaccine. This was the considered view of Dr Donegan, not us. We were simply quoting her.

Have you any idea how weaselly that sounds? Someone made a claim which anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last twenty years knows is utterly discredited, and you seek to excuse your publishing by saying it was just an opinion, and you were just repeating it.

Seriously?

What if she’d said that black people are less intelligent, or that the Jews eat babies in the matzoh?

You’re supposed to be a fucking editor, Lynne, so edit the fucking content to accurately reflect the sources, or put your hands up to systematically misleading your readers.

The Times says we said that we implied that the cervical cancer vaccine has killed ‘hundreds’ of girls’.
We had said that, up to 2011, the American Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System had received notification of 68 deaths and 18,727 adverse reactions to the vaccine. The figure has now risen to 27,023 events.

Ah, yes, they were wrong there. You didn’t imply it, you stated it as a fact. Let me refresh your memory:

‘Safe’ HPV vaccine kills up to 1,700 young girls

Remind me again, what is the real figure for deaths proven to be caused by HPV vaccine? Oh yes: ZERO.

If you don’t know that VAERS over-reports, over-counts and does not in any case make any claim to causation, then you have no business editing a “health” magazine. And if you do know it but make claims like the one above without pointing this out, then you are a dangerous idiot and have no place running a whelk stall let alone a “health” magazine.

But HPV vaccine has the potential to save thousands of women every year form a particularly horrible death. Still, cancer is natural, isn’t it, so clearly the vaccine must be worse. After all, people might faint. And it turns out that they faint when given saline, too. Because vaccines cause adverse events even when there’s no vaccine, right? They are evil like that.

The Times said we referred to a study in India in which girls had died following the vaccine but had not mentioned that one girl had drowned and one died from a snake bite.

We said that seven children died and 120 suffered debilitating side effects so bad that the trial was stopped following protests from parents, doctors, public health organizations and health networks. The Times also omitted to mention that, in 2010, an official Indian government report discovered huge lapses in the study’s design, which resulted in gross under-reporting of serious side effects.

And you “forgot” to mention that this is a problem with the company running the trial, and is endemic in India, something which responsible reporters (you know, the sort who, unlike you, give a fuck about accuracy) have reported in depth.

The Times said that we ‘suggest homeopathy could cure cancer’.

In the ‘Coming Next Month’ column in our October issue we wrote the following (and this is all we wrote:
‘The US government has carried out impressive studies into homeopathy as a treatment for cancer, and a clinic is India is actually using it. We report on their findings about homeopathy as a cancer treatment.’

Have you forgotten your headline Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer? We haven’t.

You have form, Lynne. And we have memories.

The Times story – and all the stories that follow – are entirely the work of Simon Singh, and his organization Sense About Science, a protracted skirmish that’s been going on for about a year, ever since we went launched our magazine in September 2013. Singh, you may know, is the self-proclaimed guardian of all things ‘scientific’ with the pharmaceutically backed organization he fronts, ‘Sense About Science’.

Poisoning the well much, Lynne? I can’t speak for Tom Whipple of The Times but I can see the likely cause of your obvious confusion here. Sense About Science promotes better public understanding of science, as such it campaigns against gross abuses of science – you know, the sort of thing you publish in WDDTY – so many of us who are interested in the area of consumer protection in health claims, follow Sense About Science in the same way we follow Ben Goldacre, Margaret McCartney, Phil Hammond and other commentators on the issues.

Singh contacted our distributor, and then all our outlets (like Smiths and the supermarkets) and tried to persuade them to stop carrying us (they refused). He then relentlessly pestered the Advertising Standards Association with complaints about our advertisers, to try to prevent them from advertising.

Singh asked your distributor if they were aware that the claims in your magazine are grossly misleading, unethical and in some cases illegal. They threatened to sic the lawyers on him. Wait, was that supposed to make you look good?

Singh did not “pester” the ASA. Complaints to ASA were channelled through the Nightingale Collaboration, in order to avoid overwhelming the ASA. Far from being pestered, the majority of the complaints were legitimate and were upheld.

For a while, Lynne, the bogus claims in advertisements in your arsewipe were the largest source of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, and virtually every complaint was either admitted by the advertiser or adjudicated against the advertiser by the ASA.

You are officially the UK’s largest source of misleading health claims.

You must be so proud.

Singh is also associated with the Nightingale Collaboration, a ragtag group who meet in a pub of the same name, also allegedly wedded to ‘true’ science. After our launch, dozens of anonymous trolls began writing hateful and fairly libellous stuff on our Facebook pages.

Nope. There is no such pub. The Nightingale Collaboration is named after Florence Nightingale, you’d have to be a complete idiot not to spot that. Oh, sorry, as you were.

wddtyThe stuff on your facebook page was not libellous. We have screen grabs. It was polite, rarely even forceful.

You keep forgetting, Lynne, that the confused muddle of disjointed rambling nonsense in your mind is not the same as reality.

And in case you were unaware of the irony, claiming that having your arsewipe stocked in Tesco is  “teh free speech” while deleting polite commentary from your facebook page? That’s rank hypocrisy.

Last autumn the Guardian ran an online story claiming that our distributor was threatening to ‘sue’ Singh (they are not and never have threatened, nor have we). We also got ‘interviewed’ by a Glaswegian doctor named Margaret McCartney, also associated with Singh, who writes for the BMJ.

It’s an odd thing, every time we point to a headline in WDDTY that goes beyond the strict letter of the story, you claim we’re distorting your words, but when the Grauniad reported this event in full, including the exact text your distributor sent to Singh, suddenly the shoe is on the other foot.

Did I mention that you’re a hypocrite?

Recently, a doctor called Dr. Matthew Lam began contacting supermarkets, and informing them that he was calling for complaints to be made to customer service teams at all the supermarkets who carry us. He said he was spearheading this campaign with Singh, McCartney and Alan Henness of the Nightingale Collaboration.

And how is this different from you asking your readers to vote for you as website of the year or write to supermarkets expressing support?

Did I mention that you’re a hypocrite?

Please allow me to join the dots. Sense About Science publishes online as its sponsors the British Pharmaceutical Association, the official trade body for the UK’s drug companies. Another one of its sponsors is The Guardian.

Not as such, no.

Our funding policy

Sense About Science’s principal funding is through grants and donations in respect of its core aims.

  • Occasional direct sponsorship of activities will be by written agreement.
  • Donations do not entitle any individual or organisation to decision-making authority. External funding will not divert Sense About Science from its agreed aims and values.
  • Donations will normally be acknowledged in public reports and accounts.

Donations from individuals and small private trusts will be acknowledged at the request of the donor. Direct sponsorship of activities will also be acknowledged on related publicity.

Unlike WDDTY, it does not make money from publication of misleading advertisements.

Unlike WDDTY, it is prominently associated with a high profile campaign to meaningfully improve the transparency of the pharmaceutical industry.

I think “Big Pharma” would rather see Simon Singh shut up than you. I think Big Pharma views you as ignorable, but views All Trials as a major issue.

 

The next interesting aspect of this episode is the sheer hypocrisy of News International, which published the original story about us. That company, which owns The Times, is owned by the Murdoch organization. The Murdoch organization also owns HarperCollins. HarperCollins published three of my books, including a book entitled What Doctors Don’t Tell You, a culmination of many years of research for WDDTY the newsletter.

It’s almost as if editorial independence was being practiced, isn’t it?

I know, crazy talk. No newspaper proprietor would ever allow a newspaper they owned to publish material critical of an author whose books are published by a completely separate part of the gigantic media empire they own. They have whole teams of people ensuring that The Times never print anything that contradicts the idea you can get to an alternate world through the back of your wardrobe.

Harper liked the book so much they published it twice, first in 1996 after paying a team of lawyers at Carter-Ruck, the UK’s top libel firm, to spend hundreds of hours of legal time carefully sifting through all of the scientific evidence supporting statements I made in the book to ensure the material was rock solid. It was only published after they were satisfied that every last statement was correct.
WDDTY was a bestseller for Harper – so much so that they asked me to update it and published the new version in 2006. It’s also been an international bestseller, currently in some 20 languages around the world.

Carter-Fuck are libel lawyers you daft bint. They were looking for defamation, not scientific fact (you’d need a scanning tunelling electron microscope to find any scientific fact in your writing).

At one point, I was also a columnist for the Times and ran a story highly critical of the MMR vaccine.
Besides being a demonstration of how shoddy journalism has become, what interests me about this episode is that it offers evidence of the enormous shift that has occurred in the press’s notion of its role in society. The Times seems to be suggesting that their role is to ‘protect’ the public by censoring information that departs from standard medical line.

And you’re proud of that part in the fraudulent MMR nontroversy? Wait, yes, you probably are. I bet you think Wakefield is a Brave Maverick Doctor not an unethical grasping quack.

No, The Times is doing what newspapers have always done in the inner pages: reporting on stuff, without regard to how it conflicts with the stuff they reported last week.

The Daily Mail is the master of that one, of course.

Determining what is fit for public consumption, or indeed how its readers should treat their illnesses, is emphatically not a newspaper’s job – ours or anyone else’s.

Which is why The Times didn’t.

Free clue: you’re right to publish something does not confer any right to have a particular shop sell it for you.

Our job as journalists is simply to inform – to report the facts, even when they are inconvenient truths, as they are so often in medicine, particularly with such things as vaccines or alternative cancer therapy.
For despite all the grandstanding and pink ribbons and prettily turned phrases, the fact remains that the whole of modern medicine’s arsenal against cancer is both blatantly unscientific and ineffective. When not manipulated, the bald statistics reveal that chemo only works 2 per cent of the time .The War on Cancer from the orthodox perspective is decisively being lost.

Did you really write that with a straight face?

In one breath you say you report the facts, in the next you repeat the vicious SCAM lie that chemo only works 2% of the time?

Your ignorance really is exceeded only by your hubris.

Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of people are being cured by other methods of cancer treatment. Millions of others who have cancer or whose loved ones have cancer want to know ways to treat cancer that are less dangerous and more effective.

Yes, surgery, radiotherapy, gene therapies. These are great, and for solid tumours chemo is an adjuvant and not primary therapy.

Oh, wait, you didn’t mean people being cured, did you? You meant people claiming to have been cured by SCAM!

Come back when you have figures from reliable sources.

That qualifies as news, and it’s our duty as the press to report that. It’s my job to deliver well researched information, and that’s supposed to be the Times’ job too.

It would qualify as news if it were true, but it’s not, so it qualifies as bullshit.

Several months ago, I met Patricia Ellsberg, the wife of Daniel Ellsberg. Back when I was a student, deciding whether or not to be a journalist, Ellsberg, an employee of the CIA, came across hundreds of pages of documents revealing America’s shameful role in the Vietnam war.

Ellsberg felt this was news and it was his duty to leak these papers to the New York Times. The Times felt it was their duty to publish these revelations, these inconvenient truths. Then President Nixon attempted to censor these leaks by attempting a legal embargo on The Times – a blatant attempt at government censorship.

I can see where this is going: conspiracy-land!

The Ellsbergs (faced with life imprisonment – was anybody ever so brave?) turned on a photocopy machine, made multiple copies and leaked the documents to the Washington Post.

And when Nixon went after the Post, the Ellsbergs smuggled the papers to 17 other newspapers. Not one paper blinked. Not one paper decided this information wasn’t fit to print – or that the public needed to be ‘protected’ from a lying presidency.

Indeed. This is evidence that no conspiracy, however genuinely important it is to the ideology of the conspirators – ever stays secret for long.

So this conspiracy to suppress “natural” cures. It involves:

  • Politicians of all parties from the US Republicans to Fidel Castro
  • Regulators
  • Employees of regulators (i.e. low-wage Government clerks)
  • Charitable foundations
  • Scientists
  • Journals and editors
  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Pharmaceutical company executives

Probably some more, too.

How come nobody’s done an Ellsberg?

Sure, there have been stories about bad practice, but they have been uncovered, for the most part, by scientists, epidemiologists, regulators and others supposedly part of the conspiracy. And published in the medical journals.

But these days, the press – far less ‘free,’ now largely owned by huge corporations, including in the pharmaceutical industry (Murdoch’s son was on the board of one such drug company) – has now become the party with powerful vested interests to protect. Today the press is the Richard Nixon of the piece.

Sure, the Press does bad things. Leveson refers. It does good things, too. Even the Daily mail gets it right occasionally. You probably like the Mail, it has the same principle of making fact subservient to doctrine.

Back when the NY Times was publishing The Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post published the Watergate disclosures, newspapers wouldn’t be caught dead being associated with some industry backed body, especially one with the track record of carnage enjoyed by Big Pharma, as the Guardian now is.
But today newspapers are haemorrhaging money, and so have to have industry backing and its consequent influence. The public, which wants the truth, knows this and rejects this industry public relations by boycotting newspapers. Presently, the Guardian is losing £100,000 a day, and the Times is losing £80,000 a day. People don’t believe newspapers anymore. They know they have to go elsewhere for their news.

That’s why they come to publications like ours.

Why people go to WDDTY
Why people go to WDDTY

No, Lynne, it’s not. Here’s why they come to WDDTY – the cartoon at right says it al.

As Deep Throat once told Woodward and Bernstein, when they were investigating Watergate: If you want to find out the truth, just follow the money.

Indeed. And in this case you need the money you get from advertisers, misleading or not, and you need the money you get from selling your arsewipe in Tesco, and your books in bookshops.

Because in the end peddling this horseshit is your living, whereas Simon’s is writing books about science and The Simpsons. For him, as for the Nightingale Collaboration, me, and most other skeptics I know, debunking quackery is a hobby that costs us money.

You make money from peddling bullshit, we pay money to debunk it.

Follow the money.

If you’d like to support WDDTY and a free press, and you haven’t yet voiced your support of the stores for stocking the title, let the following Customer Service departments know:

We support freedom of the press, Lynne. We also support standards, such as not printing racism, homophobia, or fraudulent health claims. With freedom comes responsibility, and if you refuse to exercise the responsibility, the freedom gets curtailed.

Which is how it’s always been.