Belief in medicine with no evidence

The term ‘blind faith’ is usually attributed to someone who holds strong beliefs even when there is a significant body of evidence suggesting that they are wrong.  It is something I have struggled against when trying to engage alternative medicine supporters in the reliability of medical treatments that lack an evidence base.  Blind faith can make conversations extremely frustrating, when no matter how much evidence you present, you can’t even for a second bring that person to question their belief.  For a while I would stay engaged in conversation, mistaken that the other party would comment rationally on what I showed them, but it never happened.  However, I don’t consider these exchanges futile, because it has made me ponder on blind faith and why it’s rampant amongst the alt-med community.

I am not a psychologist and would not profess to know anything about the subject (therefore any comments on statements I make below would be appreciated for my own learning).  Luckily, the internet is vast and I found that The Tao of Reason blog provides a great introduction to the psychology of blind faith.  Essentially, any evidence that conflicts with your own beliefs, leads to discomfort (referred to as cognitive dissonance).  When these beliefs are strong, as with blind faith, the subject will dismiss this evidence by any means in order to justify their views.  This refusal to accept evidence or even rationalise in the face of it could explain the dismissive nature of the alt-med community.  The Tao of Reason goes on to suggest that when faced with compelling evidence, blind faith can cause people to not only discredit the evidence, but also strengthen their beliefs.  So perhaps these engagements are actually fuelling the belief that a certain alt-med is effective.  In a scenario where no matter how much evidence is presented will change someone’s way of thinking, is it worth debating?

This notion of defending ones belief by dismissing even the most compelling evidence is something I have seen a lot.  Someone may defend their view by making a sweeping positive statement.  You can show them that this statement is flawed and provide direct evidence to support it and in return you will usually get a second defending statement with no bearing on the first or any clear response to your rebuttal.  This is what can be frustrating and denies the conversation from ever reaching a rational debate.  In the case of homeopathy, there is compelling evidence that it is not biologically, physically or chemically plausible (Avogadro’s constant and beyond).  Yet the homeopathy industry continues to thrive on a culture of blind faith amongst supporters.  This is because elaborate dismissals of the evidence against homeopathy are constructed to defend the belief that it is plausible.  This is also not helped by the fact that misleading and bogus pseudo-evidence is allowed to accumulate in the academic press.

The fact that the belief system is so rigorously sustained in that person’s mind means that removing it would leave an incomprehensible void.  Perhaps it is this dissonant void that religious converts or people that lose faith in their religion experience.  If so, then at least we know that there is a possibility to alter a person’s belief about alt-med, no matter how steadfast they are.  What is important is that in the process of challenging medicine with no evidence we don’t lose sight of the rational and critical thinking that leads us to do so.  New evidence is presented all the time, and we must be willing to change our own views, if there is any hope of changing someone else’s.

Sick as a dog – another worthless advert in WDDTY

So I was just casually scanning over the most recent (November) issue of WDDTY – yes that issue with the atrocious homeopathy and cancer article – when my eyes glanced over an advert for:

‘Apocaps –The world’s first all-natural apoptogen formula’

Now I have to admit, when I see the prefix ‘apop’, I automatically think of apoptosis, the process of programmed cell death that plays such a vital role in many aspects of an organism’s development.  On closer inspection it’s clear that the product in question is selling something about apoptosis – something that got my interest having previously spent time in the lab researching that very mechanism.  So let’s see what kind of bullshit the team at ‘Functional Nutriments’ have concocted for this ‘world’s first’.

The product itself appears to be a pill made up of ‘natural’ chemicals for kick-starting apoptosis in dogs.  Now I don’t know about dogs, but as a human I would not be convinced by someone wanting to kick off apoptosis in my cells by feeding me a pill.  Sounds like a quick way to end up in the hospital.

The special ‘apoptosis formula’ (I have to keep putting these things in quotations because I just don’t understand what they mean) is a powerful nutraceutical supplement designed by Dr Demian Dressler.  A quick Google search on Dressler reveals that he once thought of himself as a conventional veterinarian but know considers himself a full spectrum veterinarian, combining the best of conventional medicine with nutraceuticals, supplements, diet and body-mind medicine.  He is co-founder of Functional Nutriments and the inventor of Apopcaps.

But what are Apopcaps? The advert doesn’t really give you any information as to what the product is or does – a common theme amongst adverts of quackery.  I had to log on to their wonderful website to find out more information.  I always find the ‘About’ section of these websites the best for finding bullshit.  Here’s what they have to say about Apopcaps:

‘Apocaps was created as dog lovers began asking for a simpler, easier way to give apoptogens to their dogs.’

Really?! What the fuck are apoptogens? I’ve never used the word before and a quick Google search reveals that apoptogen is only ever used in conjunction with Apocaps.  So without knowing what they are how does one know that they need a simpler and easier way to give them to their dogs?

‘The challenge was to find a combination of the most important – luteolin, apigenin, silymarin and curcumin and other key ingredients – in a formula that is absorbed by the body.’

Ahh..so here are four alleged apoptogens.  Two flavonoids (luteolin and apigenin), milk thistle extract (silymarin) and a curcuminoid (curcumin).  I know from experience that luteolin and apigenin have been shown to induce apoptosis in the lab.  But so have many other things.  So how much evidence is there that these chemicals could induce apoptosis in dogs?  I’ll answer that in due course, for now let’s continue with the spiel.

‘Because luteolin, apigenin, curcumin and silymarin are all natural substances, the body’s digestive and elimination systems could potentially use up or eliminate these apoptogens before they reach the bloodstream. We didn’t want that to happen.’

This statement hints at a complete misunderstanding of mammalian physiology.  I eat a lot of natural substances every day, if I spent all that energy digesting food only to shit and piss the best bits out, I’d be very unhappy.  Nutrient absorption in the gut is very effective.  It’s evolved that way over thousands of years so we can spend energy doing other things like riding bikes or blogging about stupid pseudoscience.

‘The patent-pending proprietary “Trojan Horse” formula used to create Apocaps “tricks” the body into circulating the apoptogens throughout the bloodstream.’

This sounds exciting but my sceptic radar detects bullshit.  I couldn’t find a shred of evidence for their ‘Trojan Horse’ formula or how it would work.

After looking at the entire website for Apocaps, I still could not find one statement that actually said what the product was for or for what conditions it should be given.  I mean do you go into Dr Dressler’s clinic with your dog and he says:

“Yes, it looks like your dog has low levels of natural apoptosis; let’s boost this back up with Apocaps.  Don’t worry the active ingredients easily get into your dog’s circulation where they can have an effect on the whole body”.

Even if Apocaps worked, how would increasing apoptosis across your dog’s body help with anything?! It sounds like the least targeted form of chemotherapy ever made.  So back to my earlier question – is there any evidence that the four key ingredients have any effect on apoptosis in dogs?

The answer is no.

PubMed search for ‘Luteolin’ AND ‘dog’ – 8 papers, none on apoptosis

PubMed search for ‘Apigenin’ AND ‘dog’ – 11 papers, none on apoptosis

PubMed search for ‘silymarin’ AND ‘dog’ – 39 papers, none on apoptosis

PubMed search for ‘curcumin’ and ‘dog’ – 23 papers, none on apoptosis

 

 

 

Trolled by WDDTY?!

On October 31st – WDDTY released the November issue of their magazine.  As expected, it was a ‘cancer special’, carrying the front page head line ‘New Light on Cancer’.  The apparent ‘new light’ may refer to an article about homeopathy titled ‘Like Water for Chemo’.  This article was written by Bryan Hubbard, the co-editor of WDDTY who refused to answer my emails when I questioned him about the accuracy and truthfulness in his writings.  The way Bryan writes in this article is actually quite amusing.  It reads like he knows it’s a load of bullshit but is desperate to draw out any minute piece of evidence he can find to make it all sound plausible.

Let’s begin.

“Doctors call it “nonsense on stilts”, and professors of medicine have been bullying government and health authorities to stop offering it on the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), while scientists say it is implausible, if not impossible, as it breaks every law of science they know.”

Why do these people always say that as soon as anything negative is said about their profession it’s ‘bullying’?  Accept criticism, learn from it and improve.  I will probably never understand why this is but the number of people banned from fair and open discussion on WDDTY Facebook page speaks volumes.  Anyway, yes, it is nonsense on stilts, it is implausible, it is impossible and it does break every law of science we know.  Spot on.

“Homeopathy is everyone’s favourite whipping boy, and if it does clear up a snuffly cold or minor headache, it’s all due to the placebo effect: it’s just mind over matter, and people merely think it’s making them better. Any active ingredient in a homeopathic remedy is diluted sometimes thousands of times, so any effect must be entirely in someone’s imagination.”

Thanks Bryan – I could not have worded it better myself.

“That makes perfect sense, assuming our understanding of physics and human biology is complete. But judging by how it is used in India—where doctors routinely use it even for life-threatening diseases like cancer—we perhaps have a little way to go yet.”

We still have a lot to learn about physics and human biology, but not so much that it would reverse our entire understanding of everything we’ve ever known about the universe.

“The Indian doctors have found an unlikely ally in the US government’s National Cancer Institute, which has been so impressed by the way cancer patients have responded to homeopathic remedies that they want to see more research carried out.”

Were they though? Are they? I have heard WDDTY spill this so many times, yet never read anything that suggests the NCI are interested.  Search for ‘Homeopathy’ on the NCI website and it’ll link you to the NCCAM page where the first thing it says is “There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition.”

“Everyday miracles are carried out at several homeopathic clinics in Kolkata (Calcutta) in India, and it was there that American researchers went to see the work for themselves. One member of the research team, Dr Moshe Frenkel, who was at the time working at the MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) in Houston, was astounded by what he witnessed. “I saw things there that I couldn’t explain. Tumours shrank with nothing else other than homeopathic remedies. X-rays had shown there had been a lesion on the lung and a year after taking the remedy it had shrunk or disappeared.” Still sceptical, or perhaps fearing he was the victim of a medical variant on the Indian rope trick, Dr Frenkel went back to his laboratory at MDACC and decided to test the homeopathic remedies on a culture of breast cancer cells. The protocols were as rigorous as they are for when Frenkel and his researchers test a new chemotherapy drug.”

Dr Frenkel is well known to be an avid supporter of not only homeopathy but many other quack alternative treatments through his group Interactive Oncology Consultants.  So you have to accept that his quoted opinions are bias.  The study WDDTY is referring to has been covered before in March 2012 and I spoke a little about it here.

“Eight scientists from MDACC tested four remedies—Carcinosin 30C, Conium maculatum 3C, Phytolacca decandra 200C and Thuja occidentalis 30C—on two human breast-cancer cell lines. Around 5,000 cells were exposed to the remedies and to a placebo—the solvent without the active ingredients of the remedies—for periods of between one and four days. The experiment was repeated three times. Two of the remedies—Carcinosin and Phytolacca—achieved as much as an 80 per cent response, indicating they had caused apoptosis, or programmed cell death. By comparison, the placebo solvent achieved only a 30 per cent reduction, suggesting that the homeopathic effect was more than twice that of a placebo.”

The methodology and results from this study have been heavily criticised before by others.  Essentially, the study is not well carried out.  There has been no statistical analysis of the data carried out.  Therefore ANY conclusions drawn in the paper cannot be backed up with data.  It is complete lunacy that the paper made it through peer-review.  Then there is the problem I raised before regarding the controls.  Your control should not be killing 30% of your cell.  If that’s the case you have a major problem.

And please WDDTY – stop saying that the control is a placebo.  THEY ARE CELLS IN A DISH.  It’s a VEHICLE CONTROL not a PLACEBO.  AHHHGGGHH.

“Not believing the results, his colleagues insisted on an immediate second trial and in a different laboratory—and the same results came back”

Where are these results? Where is the paper?

“If you come to a different conclusion, why not publish a paper saying it doesn’t work.” That was several years ago and still no paper has appeared.”

This is because no research lab wants to waste tax payers’ money on it and a similar study was conducted earlier in 2006 and showed the complete opposite.

As I read on, I came to realise that this article IS the article from March 2012!  Nearly word for word.  I am confused.  I thought there was going to be some revealing new evidence into the efficacy of homeopathy that was going to wake up the sceptics.  Just another lie from the charming people at WDDTY I suppose.  You can read more of my de-bunk from the March 2012 article here so I don’t have to write it all again.

Did I just get trolled by Lynne McTaggart?

WDDTY – Tesco choose profit over people

As always if you need to know more about WDDTY click here.

If you have been following the WDDTY saga over the last couple of months you will be aware that calls have been made for supermarkets to stop selling the magazine.  This is not an attempt to ban WDDTY, or infringe on freedom of speech, but rather to ask large chain supermarkets to act responsibly with the products they choose to sell to their customers.  We have witnessed supermarkets making effort to remove offensive lads mags and insulting Halloween costumes from sale – so why not dangerous health advice?

So far Waitrose have been the only supermarket to step up – announcing in early October that they would not be selling WDDTY due to public concerns.  Admitted, a lot of attention had been focused on Tesco to make the first move, something driven by both the fact that they are the largest supermarket stockists and that they had a rather appalling way of dealing with customer complaints.

The initial call for people to complain generated a lot of activity but common sense couldn’t seem to find its way past the ‘copy and paste’ wall erected by Tesco customer service.  I decided the next step was to try and bypass customer service and contact Philip Clarke (Tesco CEO) directly.  So I sent him an email titled ‘concerns over public health’ – outlining the extent of the campaign, why it was happening, why it is important that Tesco listen to concerns and asking for a meeting to be able to discuss the issues.  Within 24 hours I received a reply from CEO offices confirming “I am currently looking into your concerns and will contact you again shortly”.

I proceeded to send further emails in the coming weeks updating my CEO office contact on events such as WDDTY being found actively promoted in a Tesco in Hull and when Waitrose announced they would no longer stock the magazine.  Each email got me a response apologising that it was taking so long but that they were looking into my concerns.  I was optimistic that Tesco were indeed taking matters seriously.  Then I received this:

“Thanks for your patience whilst we have been reviewing the details of your complaint.

I am sorry to say that our position on this matter has not changed. Whilst we have given the matter our full consideration, there are no plans to stop the sale of the What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You in our stores.

Although we cannot be held responsible for the editorial content, we do stock this publication as there is demand for it and by not stocking the magazine, we would be removing the choice of a legally produced product.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to share your views with us and I am sorry for the disappointment my response will cause you.”

And here is the important bit – “we do stock this publication as there is demand for it”

Tesco choose profit over public health.  The fact that they are not willing to discuss concerns formally is insulting and only further highlights their motivation.  Even high-lighting how hypocritical and contradictory they are behaving towards their corporate values is not enough to make them turn their back on what I can only assume is a small profit driven by WDDTY.  Tesco are currently running a campaign with Unicef and Pampers called 1 pack = 3 vaccineson one hand helping to secure tetanus vaccinations in the developing world and on the other selling lies from an aggressively anti-vaccine magazine.

This is unacceptable behaviour from a company that lists one of its three big ambitions in society is to ‘Improve health’ by ‘Helping and encouraging our colleagues and customers to live healthier lives’.  I don’t see how selling medical treatments that have no evidence and actively promoting them above conventional medicine fits into this ambition.  The deeper into their policy you go the more contradictory it gets:

“We can create a store environment that encourages and promotes healthier choices”

 

“By working with leading health research organisations we will see how we can support vital medical    research”

 

“We’re profiling our products against clear health criteria”

 

Essentially, Tesco have made a big mistake.  They have opted for profit over public health and by doing so have damaged their reputation.

Please re-blog, tweet and spread the word to raise awareness.

WDDTY – no evidence for their cancer claims

The last few weeks have been an eye-opener.  We have witnessed Lynne McTaggart slowly crumble under the weight of evidence brought against her by rational thinkers.  The self-proclaimed champion of free-speech has silenced debate on Facebook by deleting any comments that bring criticism to the toilet paper she calls a magazine.  The claim has always been that those banished from the spiritual realm of WDDTY – were so because of abusive behaviour.  Everyone knows that this is not the case, but in fact bans were dealt out for posting real evidence of fallacy in their claims.

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I was personally banned for explaining to WDDTY supporter, Julia Barac, that WDDTY are not justified in the way they present the evidence.  Julia commented at one point that she believes what WDDTY publish because they reference scientific journals to support their claims.  I very politely pointed out that you shouldn’t be fooled and until you examine the evidence provided you can’t be sure that anything they have written is true.  As you can see in the screenshot of our conversation, Julia asked me to provide a couple of examples.  So I did – and a few minutes later found myself banned from commenting and all my comments deleted.

It would seem that trying to bring a rational argument – one supported by evidence – to WDDTY supporters is a sin.  I really want to emphasise to people like Julia just how poorly the writers at WDDTY are at presenting the evidence.  It may be an impossible task but hopefully by collating a large number of examples someone reading might have that ‘moment of clarity’ and see beyond the propaganda presented by Lynne and WDDTY.  Below is a comprehensive review of WDDTY publications on cancer and the editorial mistakes made in presenting the evidence.

16th October 2013 – Resveratrol in red wine helps beat cancer

This news article cites the scientific paper Fang et al. J Surg Res. 2013.

“If you’re having radiation therapy for your cancer, drink a glass of red wine first. Apparently, it makes the treatment more effective…”

This is already a gross misrepresentation of not only what the reference shows but what the body of evidence on resveratrol also shows.  First off, there have been no clinical trials investigating the benefits of resveratrol to radiotherapy, so to jump straight to the idea that you should drink a glass of red wine before radiotherapy is absurd.  Secondly, the referenced paper is a pre-clinical laboratory study using cells in a dish, a good starting point for any medical research but not evidence of clinical efficacy.

“right now, the researchers say there isn’t enough evidence for people to ditch conventional therapy in favour of resveratrol, but perhaps that may change when more data is collected”.

They researchers don’t say this at all.  They never suggest that resveratrol could replace conventional therapy in the future but suggest that ‘resveratrol may have a potential role as a radiation sensitizer for melanoma treatment’.  There is a big difference here – a radiosensitiser is a synergistic treatment used to improve the efficacy of conventional radiotherapy – not replace it.  The WDDTY article is only 150 words, and in that brief chatter, they have managed to cock up explaining a very simple piece of basic research.

 30th September 2013 – Sunscreens can trigger skin cancer, scientists confirm

This news article cites the scientific paper Turci et al. Chem Res Toxicol. 2013

In this example, the headline itself is a complete fabrication.  (1) There is no evidence that sunscreen causes skin cancer. (2) The referenced paper does not ‘confirm’ that sunscreens can trigger skin cancer.

“Titanium dioxide (Ti02) triggers a series of toxic effects—including skin cancer—when it is exposed to ultraviolet light, which is in the sun’s rays”.

This isn’t true – there is no evidence linking titanium dioxide in sunscreen to skin cancer.

Furthermore, at no point in the cited article do the authors mention that sunscreen could cause skin cancer.  What their paper shows is how UV light reacts with titanium dioxide to generate free radicals and modify lipid bilayers of cells in the stratum corneum.  To jump from this to ‘sunscreens can trigger skin cancer’ is absurd.  To state that scientists have now confirmed this when they haven’t is absurd.

30th July 2013 – ‘Safe’ HPV vaccine kills up to 1,700 young girls

We all know WDDTY’s stance on vaccination but claims like this are not only wrong but could potentially put people at risk of cervical cancer.  In this article they reference the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on HPV vaccination in the US (July 26, 2013).

This figure of 1,70,0 is actually 1,674, and more importantly is not the number of girls killed by the HPV vaccine.  The VAERS collects all the data on vaccine safety and collates ‘serious adverse events’ into one group, which includes hospitalisation, permanent disability, life-threatening illness or death – none of which have to be attributable to the vaccine itself but rather have occurred post vaccination.  So 1,700 is already an exaggeration because (1) it isn’t the number of deaths and (2) the deaths are not evidence that the vaccine was responsible.

Interestingly, when you look at the VAERS statistical report on HPV vaccine safety, you find that out of 12,424 adverse event reports there were a total of 32 deaths.  Out of these 32 deaths – 14 occurred after HPV vaccination alone.  And out of the reported deaths that had significant coronary reports – 4 were unexplained, 2 caused by diabetic ketoacidosis, 1 caused by prescription drug abuse, 1 case of amyotropic lateral sclerosis, 1 case of meningoencephalitis, a case of viral sepsis, 3 cases of pulmonary embolism, 6 cardiac related deaths and 2 due to idiopathic seizure disorder.

“Astonishingly, US health regulators say there are “no serious safety concerns” over the HPV vaccine. Instead, their concerns focus on the low uptake of the vaccine”.

I think it is clear why US health regulators are saying this – and I wouldn’t say it was astonishing.  It is too early to know the effects of HPV vaccination on cervical cancer cases, but if it goes the way other vaccines have gone, then I’d consider it dangerous to promote anti-HPV vaccine views based on no evidence.

20th May 2013 – Did Angelina get the right medical advice?

This article is from a longer feature which I have previously dissected in full.  It’s riddled with errors.

13th March 2013 – Bitter melon juice stops cancer’s growth

“Bitter melon juice seems to interfere with the growth of pancreatic cancer, researchers have discovered after they tested it on hundreds of patients across Asia”.

This isn’t true – there has never been a clinical trial of bitter melon juice for pancreatic cancer.  The evidence suggests that it has therapeutic potential in laboratory and mice studies but no in-human trials have ever been conducted.

28th January 2013 – Chemotherapy helps cancer tumours grow, say researchers

“Chemotherapy isn’t only useless against cancer—it even encourages the tumour to grow, researchers have discovered”.

This is a classic WDDTY statement about the apparent ineffectiveness of chemotherapy.  It is of course absolute bullshit and anyone with a rational mind would know that chemotherapy is in some cases the best treatment available.  The next bit is good because it suggests that chemo ‘even encourages the tumour to grow’.  The study they reference is Sun et al. Nat Med 2012.  The paper deals with understanding the mechanisms behind acquired drug resistance in prostate cancer patients – a major problem in clinical treatment.  They show that cyclic administration increases expression of the protein WNT16B via DNA damage pathways, which promotes a resistant phenotype within the tumour environment.  This is not ‘encouraging the tumour to grow’ but is an effect driven by selection of resistant clones as they adapt to therapeutic intervention.  This does not make chemotherapy useless – it means that new drugs need to be developed or combination therapies designed that circumvent resistance.

“They (the researchers) say that chemotherapy is “completely worthless” and that cancer sufferers would do better by avoiding the drugs altogether”.

Do I need to say anything about this ‘quote’?  What they actually conclude is: ‘We conclude that approaches targeting constituents of the tumour microenvironment in conjunction with conventional cancer therapeutics may enhance treatment responses’.

While I was writing this one I realised that Sun et al. were probably unaware that they had been quoted saying these things so I sent the lead author an email to find out.  Here is the response I got:

 It is very, very unfortunate that these groups routinely misquote scientific studies. The paper says nothing of the sort. The objective of the study was to identify resistance mechanisms to cancer therapeutics and to target them to make standard therapies more effective.

 Our study has been misquoted and misinterpreted—I believe on purpose—by several of these groups. However, I have not wanted to expend a lot of effort trying to correct this, unless asked directly, as it only adds visibility to their claims.

 However, your group and others are certainly more than welcome to go on the offensive and I would be more than happy to provide you with a quote or statement.

March 2012 Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer

This is a diabolical piece of journalism on the supposed efficacy of homeopathy for cancer treatment.  Rational thinkers are aware that there is no evidence to support the efficacy of homeopathy for any medical condition – especially for the treatment of cancer.  WDDTY do not hold back in this article either and in my opinion straddle the clauses of the Cancer Act 1939.

The opening paragraph states: “studies paid for by the US government are showing that homeopathy could be our best defence against cancer. Several homeopathic remedies are as effective as powerful chemotherapy, according to clinical trials, and thousands of cancer cases are being reversed by homeopathy alone.

No reference to what US government funded study they are suggesting but no one yet has published a study proving that homeopathy is effective against cancer.  They also claim (with no reference) that homeopathy has been shown to be as effective as chemotherapy according to clinical trials.  I couldn’t find any clinical trials to support this and it is not my responsibility to find evidence for such extraordinary claims.  Same applies to the ‘thousands of cancer cases reversed by homeopathy alone’ claim.

“in one review of the work at the Prasanta Banerji Homeopathic Research Foundation, 21,888 patients with malignant tumours were treated only with homeopathy—they had neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy—between 1990 and 2005. Clinical reports reveal that the tumours completely regressed in 19 per cent—or 4158—of cases, and stabilized or improved in a further 21 per cent (4596) of patients”.

WDDTY don’t really reference very well here and I couldn’t find the review they were speaking of.  The only Banjeri paper from 2008 was this one – a case study evaluation of 4 patients.  So there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to back up any of this statement and this is without taking into account the bias introduced by a review carried out by the person running the homeopathic clinic.

“The foundation’s homeopathic therapy—the Banerji Protocol—has been independently tested under laboratory conditions, and two of the remedies used, Carcinosin and Phytolacca, were found to be as effective against breast cancer cells as the chemotherapy drug Taxol”.

The reference they supplied has not been independently tested under laboratory conditions.  Prasanta Banerji is last author on the paper yet no conflict of interest is declared.  I couldn’t find any other papers that verify these results from an independent lab.  The only other relevant paper in PubMed was from 2006 and contradicts the evidence from Banerji’s paper.

“Another clinic in Kolkata, the Advanced Homeopathic Healthcare Centre, claims similar levels of success with its cancer patients and, although well documented, they have not been subjected to the same level of scientific validation as the Prasanta Banerji Foundation”

 No reference to these other clinical studies.

“Two of the remedies—Carcinosin and Phytolacca—achieved up to an 80-per-cent response, indicating that they caused apoptosis, or cell death. By comparison, the placebo solvent achieved only a 30-per-cent reduction, suggesting that the effect was more than twice that of the placebo”

This was a description of the lab study conducted with Banerji that has not been independently verified.  Bias aside, I would be very concerned that the solvent control achieved a 30% reduction; a suitable control should really have no effect in a well-controlled lab study.  This also cannot be described as a placebo effect.  Cells in a dish are not affected by the placebo effect.

There’s a whole section under ‘the other clinic’ which contains no references and just a load of anecdotal evidence – not convincing.

This whole article leans on the view that homeopathy is not only effective against cancer, but that it is better than conventional treatments.  Yet they provide no evidence to back up these extraordinary claims.  Without any evidence why would anyone believe that homeopathy works?  More importantly – pushing homeopathy as an alternative to conventional cancer treatment is unethical and dangerous.  This is why the Cancer Act was created and I do believe that publishing material such as this breaches that act.

 

WDDTY – Leaked article from Nov_2013 issue

DISCLAIMER:  This is a work of fiction – nothing below is true or ever will be true. Do not take as medical advice.

WDDTY Nov 2013 – Embargoed until October 31st

Cancer cells confused by memory molecules

Doctors would have you believe that to treat your cancer you need to poison your body with toxic petrochemicals that do more harm than good.  But now there is significant evidence that homeopathy – a billion year old treatment – could be far better than chemo at delivering a knock-out punch to cancer.

Research carried out by ‘Dr’ Buller S. Hitenberg at the Quasar University And Chopra Knowledge centre has finally demonstrated not only does homeopathy cure cancer – but how it works.  Before now the ‘medical community’ has refused to accept homeopathy as a treatment for ‘cancer’ because there was no ‘evidence’ to ‘prove’ its ‘efficacy’.

This new research proves 100% that homeopathy cures all cancer at least 99% of the time.  Compared to chemo rates (which work only 2% of the time and kill nearly 98% of all hospital admissions) this represents an increase of more than 100,000 times.

Commenting on the research ‘Dr’ B.S Hitenberg said:

“This is a remarkable breakthrough in the way we treat cancer.  We gave 50,000 cancer patients with 27 different cancer types one highly diluted dose of homeopathy – and 99% of them showed complete regression.  We also believe that the 1% not cured didn’t actually have cancer – we have data to prove this.”

The research team also discovered just how homeopathy was curing cancer.  They describe how cancer cells became flustered when presented with water molecules retaining the memory of a carcinogen.

“It seemed to confuse the cells.  They normally stick together and talk to each other but when they see these memory molecules they get disorientated and don’t know what to do.  Eventually they just sort of go back to being normal and stop being so cancerous”.

A spokesperson from the charity Homeopathy for Hominids said:

“I’m so pleased that homeopathy has been proven to cure cancer.  We’ve been telling people forever that homeopathy works and no one would listen.  Big Pharma has always had a monopoly on the market and organisations they fund like Sense about Science, British Pharmaceutical Association, Simon Singh Corporation, The Times, Greggs and J.D Wetherspoons have always tried to silence us.”

This research marks a historic comeback for alternative medicine and it is expected that the NHS will soon be unveiling homeopathy clinics all across the country.

Sense about Science, British Pharmaceutical Association, Simon Singh Corporation, The Times, Greggs and J.D Wetherspoons could not be reached for comment.

WDDTY – They say they have a ‘qualified researcher’; but do they really?

Discussions on WDDTY’s Facebook page are apparently meant to be a fair and open place for debate.  However I, as have others, have found ourselves banned from commenting because of debasing and abusive comments.  In my case this is simply not true.  My ban came in response to a claim made by WDDTY that they have a qualified researcher who checks all their references and statistics before they publish.  I posted on their Facebook that if they did indeed have a researcher, why was there so many things wrong in their Angelina Jolie piece – an article that I found to be riddled with referencing errors.  Their retort was to ban me and delete my comments – an action some people would take this as admission of guilt.

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In the midst of all the Facebook patter I noticed WDDTY made a statement about how ‘prescribed drugs are now one of the biggest killers in the west’.  I’d heard similar claims from WDDTY before and remembered an article that they had published recently claiming that medicine is one of the biggest killers in the US.  The article appeared in the September 2013 issue and is solely based on the National Vital Statistics Report (2012, vol. 61).  They quote some pretty incredulous numbers in the article – but as they have a ‘qualified researcher’ on board I thought “surely they must be right”.  I mean anyone publishing health information would want to make sure that they get their figures right – especially when they want to make claims like medicine kills more than smoking, wouldn’t they?

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WRONG.  In fact they have made such a mess of the NVS report I can’t believe for a second that anyone with half a brain even looked at it.  Let me begin:

The first point worth noting is that volume 61 of the NVS report contains 9 sections.  I am going to assume (because WDDTY don’t specify) that the one they got data from was number 6 – Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011.  The reason for this is because they say:

“America’s DOH and Human Services classifies all deaths in the US every year: in 2011 – the most recent year available…”

This is true – great job ‘qualified researcher’.

Next they say there were a total of 2.53 million deaths in the US in 2011.  It’s actually 2.51 (to 2 d.p.) but I’ll cut them some slack.

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They say that the biggest killer was heart disease (596,339 deaths), followed by cancer (575,313 deaths).  Also true.  Wow this person is doing a great job so far…

This is where it gets good (or bad).  They say that:

“Adverse drug reactions account for 106,000 deaths”

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This number has been plucked straight out of the air.  Adverse (medical) drug reactions are classified under the NVS codes Y40-Y59.  Within the NVS report for 2011 these codes are grouped under ‘Complications of medical and surgical care’ along with codes Y60-84 and Y88.  Deaths under this category total 2,580 – not 106,000.  In fact, totalling all adverse drug reaction (Y40-59) from 1999-2006, only accounts for 2341 deaths in an 8 year period.

They also claim that 98,000 people are killed by doctors.  This is clearly wrong because these deaths also fit in the 2,580 accounted for under ‘complications of medical and surgical care’.

Their conclusion then is to add 106,000 and 98,000 to get a total of 204,000 deaths by adverse drug reaction or medical error – making it the third biggest killer in the US (around 8% of total deaths) after heart disease and cancer.  In fact they account for 2,580 deaths or 0.1% of total deaths.

So by making up numbers, the ‘researcher’ at WDDTY has over-stated the number of deaths by a (approx.) whopping 100 times.  Maybe WDDTY will be good enough to explain where these numbers have come from because as far as I can tell they have been manufactured to propagate the idea that medicine and pharma are out to get everyone.

WDDTY – a review of the media coverage

The campaign to have leading retailers remove ‘What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You’ from their shelves hit an unprecedented high today when Tom Whipple at The Times printed an article highlighting a ‘Call to ban journal over health scares’.

The Times may have been a little over zealous with the headline, a matter I want to clear up before continuing.  We are not asking for the magazine to be ‘banned’, but rather asking the big retailers (Tesco, Sainsburys, ASDA, WhSmith, Waitrose..) to stop putting it on their shelves.  These are two very different actions; calling to ban the magazine may be considered an infringement on the editors freedom of speech, whereas asking for it not to be stocked where I buy my food is a request for retailers to uphold their ethical and moral policies.  When the information being peddled is dangerous, misleading and against evidence-based medicine, retailers have a duty to protect their customers from being exposed to it.

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The Times article was brief but had an instant impact.  Tracey Brown, Director of Sense about Science commented:

“If a magazine was called How to harm yourself and your friends, we wouldn’t expect to see it on supermarket shelves”

Simon Singh said:

“What worries me is mainstream retail outlets selling this and giving it undue credibility”

Tom Hayes from the online HIV magazine, Beyond Positive stated:

“So if people find a way to put off taking medicine – if they see an article in a glossy magazine sold in WH Smith – that is tempting.  Left unchecked though, HIV will result in death”

This article was also picked up by The Wright Stuff on Channel 5, where the line between free speech and supplying controversial health advice was discussed.  I can’t say the discussion panel was particularly robust (actress Susie Amy, comedian Steve Furst and actress Kelly Shirley) but at least there was some exposure.  It was clear that the panel had not ever read the magazine properly because they kept stating that ‘they talk about cases where alternative medicine has worked’ and ‘they give hope’ and ‘not as dangerous as sensationalist newspapers’.  If they had read the atrocious articles in the magazine carefully they would see that WDDTY mislead their readers into believing that there is evidence for their claims, when there isn’t.  They do not give hope but rather deceive and give false hope – something alluded to by Matthew Wright.

The popular radio show by James O’Brien on ‘London’s Biggest Conversation’ 97.3FM did a long feature asking for callers to submit their views on What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You. Advocates for alternative medicine were quick to shout off about anecdotal evidence and efficacy claims, which have been shown time and time again to have no merit.  One caller was eventually reduced to the classic quack argument that everyone outside of ‘their world’ was funded by Big Pharma.

There was a great deal of support against the magazine on the show from medical doctors and researchers – angry that a publication such as WDDTY is undermining the hard work they put in to improve public health.  One caller stated that magazines such as WDDTY are responsible for ‘causing illness and death’ and that they ‘prey on the vulnerable’.   The nature of the oppositions claims seemed to infuriate James who was clearly trying his hardest to avoid a back and forth argument with little success.  He wrapped up the discussion with the sentiment: “It may be the 21st Century, but they are still selling snake oil”.

WDDTY were swift to respond to the media accusations, which was strange as they WDDTYnever responded to my or others call for evidence and explanation.  Their first response was to issue a press release attempting to debunk the claims made in The Times article.  They then issued an email asking people to ‘Subscribe before we’re banned’, a desperate attempt to cast the lifeboats before the HMS Quack sinks under the weight of scientific evidence.

On Wednesday 2nd October, Dean Burnett blogging on the Guardian website, parodied the magazine following the media fallout with a comical take on the potential demise of WDDTY.

The 3rd of October saw Dr Margaret McCartney – who has clashed with Lynne McTaggart in the past – take to BBC Radio 5 Live to comment on the current call to have WDDTY removed from supermarket shelves.  She made some good statements to reiterate that whereas medicine is criticised by evidence, WDDTY misinterpret and misrepresent scientific findings, while professing to be all about the evidence.  And this is the danger – people are led to believe that what is written on the pages is accurate and true because they reference peer-reviewed papers from good scientific journals.  However, what the writers really do is quote-mine and omit to supply the full story.

So I guess the real question now is; will they listen?  Will the retailers accept their responsibility as trusted corporations to protect their customers from dangerous, possibly illegal publications?  They acted on lad’s mags and they acted on offensive costumes so why not act on a magazine that is so offensive it has the potential to cause serious harm to the public.

WDDTY – preparing to breach the Cancer Act?

Cancer.  The Big ‘C’.  A life-changer.  The fear of cancer is one that lingers inside all of us – a mental condition attributed to what we hear in the press, our own personal experiences and the thought of an unseen parasite leeching our body of metabolites to satisfy its own insatiable greed.  It’s a big killer and a disease that defines how you live your life from the moment of diagnosis.  All I know is that if I get cancer, I want to be treated by medical doctors, using evidence based drugs to best treat my cancer.  I definitely would not allow a ‘qualified practitioner’ to give me a sugar pill – proven to be at best no better than a placebo – just because they said it magically remembers chemicals diluted 10 to the power of minus fuckery.  I am of course talking about homeopathy.

811918294I’m writing this post because on October 31st the outrageous quack-fest that is ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ will be running an issue on homeopathy and cancer.  I’m sure that you are as excited as me to find out what incomprehensible bigotry towards evidence based medicine they have ready to spew onto the glossy pages being stocked at all your favourite retailers.  But we don’t have to wait – WDDTY have already blessed us with the ‘knowledge’ that homeopathy can treat and even cure cancer.

Their website carries a story titled “Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer”.  I can’t read the full text because I am not willing to pay for access but in the quality snippet that’s free there are a fistful of claims such as “homeopathy could be our best defence against cancer” and “Several homeopathic remedies are as effective as powerful chemotherapy, according to clinical trials, and thousands of cancer cases are being reversed by homeopathy alone”.  This is of course utter nonsense.  There is no evidence that homeopathy is better than chemotherapy and it’s definitely not true that homeopathy ‘reverses’ cancer.  If this were the case then drinking water would be the ultimate cure.

WDDTY have also published articles claiming “Homeopathy has a ‘clinically relevant’ effect way beyond placebo” to cancer patients – a claim that was swiftly debunked by the Quackometer and by commentators on the original BMC publication that WDDTY cited.  Lynne Mctaggart – the abomination behind WDDTY – also likes to spill anecdotal evidence that homeopathy is all you need to beat cancer and treat your ‘will to live’.

Homeopaths will always come up with trials and studies showing ‘positive’ results and cite genuine articles ‘proving’ that homeopathy works.  The problem is that the studies are often not transparent and confounding factors are never taken into account.  When you hear someone say ‘look at this trial, the government carried it out, it shows homeopathy cures cancer’ just ask yourself: ‘if this is true – why was there no large-scale follow up trial and why is cancer still the leading cause of death worldwide’.

I have stated before that dealing out advice on medical problems, especially those that are as serious as cancer, with unproven and disproven treatments that have no evidence base is wrong.  It’s extremely harmful information that is targeted at those most vulnerable – cancer patients that are clinging on to the hope of a miracle cure.  It is because of this that the UK government implemented the Cancer Act 1939, which aims to protect the public from quack scam-artists selling false hope.

The Cancer Act states that ‘No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment’.  It will be very interesting to see what WDDTY publishes at the end of October regarding homeopathy and cancer.  I for one will be reading intently with the aforementioned statement pinned firmly to the front page.

 

WDDTY update – Appaling customer service from Tesco

This post is a follow up to ‘WDDTY – make your voice heard’

After reading these comments left by MikeH on the Quackometer blog;

“I used to work for the Tesco customer service HQ (which is based in Dundee, their administrative HQ is based in Cheshunt) on evenings and weekends when I was an undergrad student. I responded to customer complaints that came in by e-mail or letter (evenings) and by phone (weekends).

Bear in mind when contacting the customer service department that you are not talking to the company. You are in all probability speaking to a student or yound adult who isn’t even employed by Tesco (most of us were employed by the temping agency “Search”) who is sitting in a drab office, counting down the minutes until they can go home and forget, completely and utterly, about Tesco until their next tedious shift. They couldn’t give a rat’s fat arse about Tesco or anything to do with it. It’s just a job they’re doing until Search (or whatever temp agency they’re using now) punts them on to another call centre down the road (BT or Mastercard or whatever).

When the email pops up on their screen, they skim read it, do a keyword search on the company’s software which will call up a pre-written letter and they’ll batter that off to the customer. There is some scope for customising responses but, as I said, these people don’t work for Tesco and have absolutely no power to change anything and, anyway, they’re more interested in chatting to their neighbour about what’s going on at the student union that weekend, so nine times out of ten they’ll just go with the default. Moreover, they have a quota of e-mails that need responded to in a shift so, in the interests of avoiding some annoying ear-bashing from their manager, they’d mostly prefer to deal with issues via the path of least resistance (i.e. skim reading and stock letters). They then have to fill out a summary form, with the customer’s details and they “categorise” the complaint using an extensive menu of complaint categories (some are amusingly specific: “prawns were glowing in the dark” was a good one; some are exceedingly vague). The idea is that a spike in complaints in a certain category will alert management, who will investigate. But I would not rely on this system. Half the time, the staff just stick in the first category they see, knowing that the record will just disappear into obscurity alongside the literally millions of other records and will never be seen again.

I would either (a) ignore the customer service centre entirely, and contact the administrative HQ in Cheshunt; or (b) phone the customer service centre (don’t write in the first instance) and immediately ask to speak to the most senior manager available, tell that person of the issue, get their name and postal address and follow it up in writing with them.

Contacting the front-line customer service staff may get you somewhere eventually, but it’s going to be exceedingly inefficient.”

I tried emailing Tesco corporate services with a complaint against the stock emails being sent to people complaining about WDDTY.

Showing just how much Tesco care about the issue this is what they did:

To: customer.service@tesco.co.uk
From: cr.enquiries@uk.tesco.com
Received: 24/09/2013

Subject: FW: Unsatisfactory customer service

Followed swiftly by this from customer services:

Dear Matthew

Thank you for your email.

I understand you have concerns over the magazine, What Doctors Don’t Tell You, and I can appreciate your views on the matter.

 We are in the position of offering our customers choice rather than appointing ourselves as censors or moral guardians. The publisher of this magazine prints on page 3 a liability statement advising readers to consult a qualified practitioner before undertaking any treatment.

 While we cannot comment on the contents of these magazines, your comments have been duly noted and fed back to our Buying Teams.

Kind regards
Sandeep Dhiman
Tesco Customer Service

Look familiar?!

Thanks Tesco.

UPDATE:

Have now replied to Corporate Services over the above with this:
Dear Tesco,

 I find it highly offensive that you would disregard my email complaining about your customer service team sending stock emails out regarding the magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You, by forwarding it on to your customer service team, who then send me the same email again!
 
This is wholly unacceptable.
 
I contacted Corporate Services to try and get some sort of reasonable response to my complaint.  I explained that members of the public that email your Customer Service team all receive the same stock email, which I find ignorant and disgraceful. It shows that you are not listening to your customers views and due to the sensitive nature of the complaint – show that you don’t care for the health and well-being of your customers.
 
I do not expect to have my complaint disregarded so flippantly that you just send it on to Customer Services.  If you could be so kind as to acknowledge mine, and the other customers complaints over WDDTY, with an actual response to why you find it acceptable to sell biased, dis-proven and unproven medical information to the public.
 
I look forward to hearing from you.
 
Dr Matthew Lam