“What is free speech?” asks Lynne McTaggart in her latest blog post. You may not be able to read this post: if you have commented on her blog in recent days, you may, like me, have had your IP address added to a block list to stop you finding out.
Needless to say this is trivially easy to evade (perhaps we should rename McTaggart’s blog What TOR Does Tell You?). And what do we find?
First, all comments by skeptics have been censored from the previous post, “je suis gagged“. Comments by me, Alan Henness, Les Rose and others – all gone. I didn’t capture them, but here is one of mine that I preserved against this eventuality:
WDDTY first pimped SCENAR in October 2008, in an article titled “Changing the body’s frequency” (by how much? From what, to what, in Hz, and to what demonstrable effect?). This issue also included credulous coverage of the Rife machine and other fraudulent devices.
The article below is the second and most recent substantial coverage of SCENAR. The first was by Lynne McTaggart, this one by Bryan Hubbard. Hubbard’s article is, if anything, even more breathlessly credulous. It obviously had the desired effect: there are 15 adverts for SCENAR in various issues of WDDTY after this article was published.
At the time of the first article there were four articles in MedLine covering SCENAR, which had risen to five by the time of the second article. None was in a mainstream journal with respectable impact, none support the extravagant claims of proponents, not one was sufficiently large to form any compelling evidence. There are by now another two, again, neither particularly compelling (Medline search).
Sorry to harp on about this, but McTaggart really has jumped the shark on this one. This is a Facebook status update and blog from McTaggart. I think the term “self-indulgent, self-obsessed, self-serving drivel” is probably accurate, or at least as accurate as I can get without plumbing the depths of our rich Anglo-Saxon vernacular.
Not to be outdone, the WDDTY editors chose to try to exploit the murder of cartoonists for mocking religion, by repeating their fraudulent claims of censorship of their own religion, the cult of fake “cures” for profit.
Whatever it was, they do not infringe your freedom of speech. You are still able to publish your dangerously misleading magazine, you are still (inexplicably) carrying the misleading advertisements you said you would never carry, and you are still lying openly about the reasons why science advocates oppose your lies.
In case we did not make this completely plain: Lynne McTaggart and/or Brian Hubbard, whichever of you it was that posted the above, you are vermin. Utterly without class, shame, dignity or integrity. You are dishonest, despicable, morally repugnant, selfish, hypocritical and beneath contempt.
And you are also an idiot. But we already knew that.
The Medical Establishment has chosen to ignore the evidence on B12 as an inexpensive and promising answer to depression
If only there was a quick and easy way to check that claim for accuracy.
Wait! There is! A PubMed search. 2822 results. OK, not all will necessarily be relevant, but this is hardly “ignoring” it.
That said, there is a very substantial difference between the cautious claims of scientists and the bold and striking claims of Dr. Chandy.
Several nutritional and physiological factors have been linked to depression in adults including low folate and vitamin B-12 and elevated total homocysteine (tHcy) levels. (source)
These symptoms are common in undiagnosed coeliacs, where they are effects of an underlying disease, markers, not necessarily causes. B12 and folate deficiency are very often the result of malabsorption in patients with autoimmune disorders such as coeliac and Crohn’s, where the gut wall is compromised.
Conclusions: Future interventions aiming at improving mental health outcomes among US adults should take into account dietary and other factors that would increase levels of serum folate.
Damn, they missed the ball. They could have sold vitamin B12 pills to self-diagnosing worried-well patients. These scientists, they are so off message it’s untrue.
WDDTY loves nothing more than a bandwagon, and if one bogus treatment won’t do there’s bound to be another along any minute.
If your vitamin levels check out but you are still depressed, think twice about dairy and wheat. Nutritionists have discovered morphine-like substances called ‘exorphins’ -derived from the incomplete digestion of proteins in cereal grains and dairy products-which may be a possible cause of depression.
Stop right there. Nutritionists have discovered nothing, other than how to fleece the credulous.
Scientists and dieticians, however, have indeed discovered this, but the devil is in the detail, as we shall see in a moment.
The evidence reveals five distinct exorphins in the pepsin digests of gluten, and eight other exorphins in the pepsin digests of milk.
Peptides with opioid activity are found in pepsin hydrolysates of wheat gluten and alpha-casein. The opioid activity of these peptides was demonstrated by use of the following bioassays: 1) naloxone-reversible inhibition of adenylate cyclase in homogenates of neuroblastoma X-glioma hybrid cells; 2) naloxone-reversible inhibition of electrically stimulated contractions of the mouse vas deferens; 3) displacement of [3H]dihydromorphine and [3H-Tyr, dAla2]met-enkephalin amide from rat brain membranes. Substances which stimulate adenylate cyclase and increase the contractions of the mouse vas deferens but do not bind to opiate receptors are also isolated from gluten hydrolysates. It is suggested that peptides derived from some food proteins may be of physiological importance.
This paper is by now mainly quoted in the alternative journals, it seems, but the finding is unsurprising.
These foods can also inhibit the takeup of nutrients like B12. Exorphins act like depressants, and it’s now thought that the immune reactions that arise from eating these foods include a number of psychiatric symptoms, even simple ‘brain fog’.
Depression has also been linked to allergies and coeliac disease, where the inner lining of the small intestine (the mucosa) is damaged after eating gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, oats and barley.”‘ According to a recent review, as many one-third of adult coeliacs suffers from various vitamin deficiencies and neurological changes, including depression.
Untreated celiac disease can lead to serious behavioral disorders. We describe three adult patients with undiagnosed or untreated celiac disease without particular intestinal signs, causing persistent depressive symptoms in three of the parents of our pediatric patients.
See the important bit? These are coeliac patients.
Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may initially present as one or more neurological signs and/or symptoms. On the other hand, it may be associated with or complicated by neurological manifestations. Neurological presentations are rare in children but as many as 36% of adult patients present with neurological changes. With severe malnutrition after progression of celiac disease, different vitamin deficiencies may develop. Such problems can in turn overlap with previous neurological abnormalities including ataxia, epilepsy, neuropathy, dementia, and cognitive disorders. In this study, we aimed to review the neurological aspects of celiac disease. Early diagnosis and treatment could prevent related disability in patients with celiac disease.
So, not only does this undermine your proposed causal link between vitamin B12 and depression (vitamin deficiencies are very common in coeliac patients due to malabsorption), but they fail to establish any link outside of coeliac disease.
The correct advice is not to arbitrarily cut out gluten, but to see your doctor and find out if you an undiagnosed coeliac. Adult diagnosis is now very common and estimates range from under half a percent to around one percent of the population. Get a TTGA test, not a quack diet, because non-coeliac gluten sensitivity may well not exist.
WDDTY has a bit of a downer on the medical establishment, especially since they struck off Andrew Wakefield on the ridiculously flimsy basis that he conducted unapproved invasive tests on vulnerable children, concealed conflicts of influence and published fraudulent research.
So it’s not a surprise to find them championing the cause of Dr. Joseph Chandy, a GP who discovered dreamed up the idea that Vitamin B12 deficiency is the cause of anaemia, multiple sclerosis, dementia, depression, confusion, myalgic encephalomyelitis chronic fatigue syndrome, migraine, tinnitus, neuralgia and (of course!) autism.
One of the hallmarks of quackery is that it claims to cure a vast range of completely different diseases. And one of the other hallmarks of quackery is that it gets you in trouble with the GMC.
The trouble with WDDTY’s narrative here is that it depends on the idea that the medical establishment would act against someone promoting a cheap and effective cure for numerous diseases, in order to protect pharmaceutical industry profits. The alternative, that he has failed to produce credible evidence to back his treatment decisions and that he is a lone voice because he is wrong, is not considered – or if it is, it is rejected, because WDDTY wants to believe that a vitamin can cure these diseases.
Sadly, science doesn’t tend to reward wishful thinking (regardless of how assiduously Lynne tries to prove otherwise with her “intention experiment”.
Luckily for Chandy, if the Saatchi Bill passes, mavericks who promote treatments with no evidence and no support from the wider medical and scientific community will be allowed to prey on patients provided they are especially vulnerable to predation.
Some tissue types give rise to human cancers millions of times more often than other tissue types. Although this has been recognized for more than a century, it has never been explained. Here, we show that the lifetime risk of cancers of many different types is strongly correlated (0.81) with the total number of divisions of the normal self-renewing cells maintaining that tissue’s homeostasis. These results suggest that only a third of the variation in cancer risk among tissues is attributable to environmental factors or inherited predispositions. The majority is due to “bad luck,” that is, random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells. This is important not only for understanding the disease but also for designing strategies to limit the mortality it causes.
Around 60 per cent of cancers are just down to ‘bad luck’—and have little to do with genetics or lifestyle, researchers have claimed. Instead, they happen because of random DNA mutations that occur when stem cells divide.
That’s not what the researchers say. All cancers are down to mutations in DNA, in the end; the point of the study is that these are most likely in those areas where cells are dividing most quickly. Which is hardly surprising. Or, as Adam Jacobs describes it:
They found a very strong correlation between those two quantities: tissues in which stem cells divided frequently (eg the colon) were more likely to develop cancer than tissues in which stem cell division was less frequent (eg the brain).
The correlation was so strong, in fact, that it explained two thirds of the variation among different tissue types in their cancer incidence. The authors argue that because mutations that can lead to cancer can occur during stem cell division purely by chance, that means that two thirds of the variation in cancer risk is due to bad luck.
Which is the source of the “two thirds” claim.
Only six major cancers were more likely to be caused by environmental and dietary factors, and these include skin, throat, thyroid, lung, liver and colon cancers, say researchers from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre. But even some of these could be more down to ‘bad luck’, such as lung cancer in the non-smoker.
And as you wrote that, you should have realised that something was wrong in your understanding of the paper, because the correlation between smoking and lung cancer is vastly stronger than one in three. In fact, 80-90% of lung cancers occur in people who have smoked long-term, and of the remainder, most are in people exposed to radon, asbestos or other pollution.
This is quite easy to check. As is the fact that around 70% of cervical cancers are caused by just two strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).
In fact, the study is only explaining the variation in risk from one tissue to another. It doesn’t address the extent to which modifiable risk factors affect that risk. Essentially, it explains why some smokers get cancer and others don’t, but it absolutely does not prove that it’s just bad luck when smokers get cancer: it’s caused by smoking.
However, their discoveries don’t give people a licence to embrace unhealthy lifestyles, they say. A bad lifestyle can add to the ‘bad luck’ factor.
Correct – as the tobacco example shows, their study does not really address that question.
Nonetheless, a healthy diet will have less influence on two-thirds of cancers that are more likely to occur in tissues where there is more frequent division of stem cells in tissues. Cancer arises when tissue-specific stem cells make random mistakes, the researchers say.
I am not sure you can draw that conclusion, but it’s reassuring to see that WDDTY now intends to drop its incessant stream of fatuous stories claiming that this or that food gives you cancer, and the other prevents it.
This article was written by Bryan Hubbard, whose style is similar to that of Lynne McTaggart but more outraged and even more credulous of the claims of woo-merchants, as you will see.
I s water good for us? Is there a link between food and cancer? Most of us would say so, but the UK’s arbiter on legal, decent, honest and truthful advertising doesn’t agree.
Actually we have no idea if they would agree, because these are not the claims that are being adjudicated. Hubbard falls for exactly the same fallacy that gets the charlatans into hot water: water is good for you, therefore any health claim you make about water is justified.
That may be true in the woo community, but it’s not true in the real world. And thereby hangs the tale.
For years, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been making strange decisions about advertisements from the world of alternative medicine, but it’s intensified over the past few years since it also started policing websites.
These are only “strange” if you uncritically accept the claims of charlatans, hucksters, quacks, cranks and crooks.
Which, of course, WDDTY does.
But now alternative practitioners, who have been barred from making self-evident claims about their work on their websites, have created their own ASA, which they believe can fairly and competently evaluate statements on the effectiveness of therapies and products.
They have not set up “their own ASA”. They may have set up their own advertising copy advice team, but this was probably a very bad idea, for reasons that will become obvious shortly.
Despite its name, the ASA is not a government body and it has no legal powers. It is a limited company created by the advertising industry as a self-regulator to ward off a move by the government of the time to set up an independent regulatory body. It’s also funded by the major advertisers, including companies from the food, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries.
The ASA is a voluntary regulator funded by a levy on advertising. The levy is 0.1% on the cost of paid advertising space and 0.2% on some direct mail, this is not the same thing as being “funded by the major advertisers”, it is much more like being funded by the publications that take in advertising revenue. The ASA’s funding will be identical whether a page in the Daily Telegraph is bought by Esso, Pfizer or Holland & Barrett. It is an arms-length arrangement and it very obviously does not stop the ASA challenging marketing claims made by the industries that advertise.
The ASA exists because the advertising industry persuaded the government of the day that voluntary self-regulation would be effective, and it will continue to be voluntary only so long as that continues to be the case.
There is an official government page on advertising and the law. Note that the Quackvertising Standards Association is not mentioned there, but the ASA is. Note the bit where it says “If an advert breaks the rules, it may be withdrawn. If the product doesn’t match the description or the advert breaks the law, you could be prosecuted.”
There is no exception listed for quacks who prefer to have their claims heard by True Believers.
This is an area of consumer protection. There are laws in place, most notably the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. That is why, in addition to its powers to remove bulk email discounts and place paid search engine adverts, the ASA has the ability to refer recalcitrant advertisers to the Office of Fair Trading and/or Trading Standards.
However, through its policy-setting sister company CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice), the ASA sets the bar high-and, arguably, impossibly high-for proof and evidence of any claims made by manufacturers and practitioners, even admitting that it often doesn’t have the appropriate experts to assess claims.Not surprisingly, it has never found in favour of any alternative treatment or practitioner website or advertisement.
This, too, is wrong on many levels. The CAP has Industry Panels and (for broadcast) a Consumer Panel. It issues guidance. It draws on expert opinion, as do the ASA.
The requirement for proof is only “impossibly high” if you accept that advertisers should be able to make claims that are not supported by good evidence. Obviously if you are a homeopath or reiki master, the requirement to substantiate any claims to treat or cure disease by reference to robust randomised clinical trials on human subjects is likely to seem impossibly high. This is not the ASA’s problem, it is an indicator that your business model is fraudulent. People selling Ponzi schemes have the same problem.
A search of the adjudications database for the 12 months commencing 4 December 2013 shows 48 Upheld or Partly Upheld out of a total of 56 adjudications under section 12 of the CAP code 2012, dealing with medical claims, and a further 142 informally resolved cases. That’s roughly three-quarters of complaints that are resolved by the advertiser simply withdrawing the advert, and of the remainder, 86% are upheld. It’s high, but it’s not 100%. And some of the adjudications are against Big Pharma.
So the idea that the ASA exists to suppress “alternative” claims and support industry, is simply false. The problem is simply that the alternative industry is in denial: a treatment is only alternative if it either hasn’t been proven to work, or has been proven not to work.
Frightened by the ruling-and having wrongly assumed that the ASA is a government agency with legal powers most practitioners reluctantly removed any health claims from their websites or advertisements, so leaving their potential clients completely in the dark.
I see what you did there. No, removing unsubstantiated claims does not leave potential clients in the dark, it leaves potential victims in the light. The ASA has no vested interest in either the drugs industry or the alternative medicine industry. It uses exactly the same standard of evidence for both. The problem is not with the ASA, it’s with the fact that quacks, crooks, charlatans and cranks believe their claims to be valid even if they are not supported by robust evidence, usually because they do not understand the concept of evidence itself.
So, just as it is misleading to imply that the ASA always rule against claims by alternative practitioners, or that they are funded by orthodox medicine, it is equally misleading to imply that alternative therapists cannot abide by the CAP or that there is any problem with trying to do so.
Any that don’t comply appear on the ASA’s ‘noncompliant advertisers’ page on its website.
It acts retrospectively and only when it has received a complaint. When the ASA was given its new duties to police the web, Simon Singh, who runs the pharmaceutical-funded ‘charity’ Sense About Science, provided seed capital for a new pressure group, the Nightingale Collaboration, with the sole aim to complain about websites and advertisements from alternative practitioners.
It doesn’t matter how often you claim that Sense About Science is “pharmaceutical funded”, it remains false. There’s no need to put scare quotes round the word charity, either – this isn’t H:MC21 or the Homeopathy Action Trust, both of whose primary goal appears to be promoting the business interests of the trustees and/or officer, Sense About Science is a genuine charity committed to a tangible public good. It has a close relationship with the Royal Society and there are several Fellows on the board and advisory council.
Yes, Simon did seed-fund Nightingale. The sum was quite small, I understand, and not at all secret. As with all skeptical activism, the Nightingale folks are generally out-of-pocket as a result of what they do, because unlike the quacks, crooks, charlatans and cranks promoted by WDDTY (and indeed many of the contributors), they are not selling a product.
It even created software which it called ‘Shooting Fish in a Barrel’ -that enables its tens of followers to automatically register a complaint about any alternative health website to the ASA.
That’s a lot of Wrong in a short sentence. FishBarrel (not “shooting fish in a barrel”) was written by Simon Perry, and it seems to pre-date Nightingale – Simon did this as a personal thing, not as convenor of Leicester Skeptics in the Pub and certainly not for the Nightingale Collaboration.
It is good, though. Install it from the Chrome store.
Our own magazine was one of the first to be caught in Nightingale’s crosshairs, with around 27 advertisements in one
issue alone reported to the ASA, apparently something of a record.
Yes. You must be very proud of your role as possibly the second most prolific source of misleading health information in print, after the Daily Mail.
But after enduring two years of relentless censorship, alternative practitioners have decided to create their own ASA, one that does have the expertise to evaluate health claims fairly.
That word censorship. You keep using it, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.
It’s been created by one of the regulators of alternative practitioners, The General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies (GRCCT), which launched
its advertising certification service last autumn. Its panel of experts from across a wide spectrum of alternative health disciplines has already approved its first websites.
And who better to guard the hen-coop than the Independent Association of Foxes. They will of course set up a Chinese wall so that the foxes who decide whether a particular fox should be allowed into the coop will not be the same foxes who actually enter the coop, though all will partake of the chickens.
The crowning irony here is that WDDTY accuse the ASA of being conflicted because their funding` comes, at arm’s length, from everybody who advertises, but the new body they so credulously promote is actually run by people who have a vested interest in the claims being made!
Such approval comes with a professional guarantee, which includes an uncapped provision for expert witnesses and support in the event of any legal challenge to website claims.
This is where your cunning plan starts to unravel. Homeopathy Plus! called two expert witnesses in court, but virtually all of the testimony was ruled inadmissible because the fact of an “expert” believing something does not, in law, make that thing so. More on this in a moment.
The GRCCT service is proactive and provides a ‘seal of approval’, which guarantees that claims are legal and not in
breach of any consumer and trading laws. The approval process involves experts from the legal, regulatory, academic and professional sectors, and costs start from £55 (see www.grcct.org for more information).
The GRCCT service – which I guess we should call the Quackvertising Standards Agency or QSA for short – cannot do this. It cannot guarantee that a claim is legal and not in breach of the law, it can only advise that in its opinion the claim is legal. Only the Courts can rule on what actually is legal.
In fact GRCCT’s claims are more modest, but still ultimately delusional. It is certainly a good idea for quackery trade bodies to give advertising copy advice tot heir members, but if they do this on any basis other than the CAP they are likely to come unstuck. Here’s why:
Homeopathy Plus! is an Australian outfit run by Fran Sheffield. HP and Sheffield were prosecuted for making false claims about homeopathic pertussis “vaccine”. They fielded as an expert one Isaac Golden, but his testimony was almost all rejected under the rules of evidence because he failed to prove the objective basis on which his beliefs were founded. This follows a legal precedent with parallels that would also rule in the UK (unsurprising: we share Common Law foundations).
33 At its heart, the difficulty with Dr Golden’s report was that it cast no light upon the reasoning by which the opinions given were reached. Crucially, just as the figure reached in Dasreef as to the likely level of exposure to dust lacked reasons by which the connection between the specialised knowledge and the evidence was demonstrated, equally no such connection between the evidence as to the alleged efficacy of homeoprophylaxis in the prevention of whooping-cough (or other diseases) and the application of specialised knowledge was identified by Dr Golden’s report. As such, the evidence fell well short of meeting the requirements of s 79 of the Evidence Act. In those circumstances, I had no discretion. The passages in question were not admissible.
M’learned friends never use one word where ten will do, and the precedent is incredibly difficult for the layman to read, but as far as we in the reality-based community can tell the precedent, Dasreef, shows that even if you are an expert in something (in that case the witness’ estimate as to the volume of respirable silica dust to which the plaintiff was exposed over time in the course of his employment lacked reasons, in HCCC v. Homeopathy Plus the issue was that Golden failed to demonstrate any credible scientific evidence that his beliefs were correct.
In other words, courts do not subscribe to the fallacy of appeal to authority. The purpose of an authority in law is to act as a shortcut to previous considerations of similar issues.
Here are some examples of ASA adjudications against alternative medicine:
Claim: ASA suppressed claims that water is good for you. Fact: The claims were specific, fell within the scope of EC Regulation 1924/2006 on Nutrition and Health Claims made on Foods (a statutory regulation ), were not approved claims, and so were illegal regardless of what the ASA said. Quinton Water were lucky not to be prosecuted.
Claim: The ASA suppressed a best-selling author of diet books just because her views are alternative. Fact: Zoe Harcombe promoted the claim that the “calorie theory” of weight is completely wrong. This is a commercial claim made by somebody who claims to be an obesity researcher but has no relevant degrees and only one peer-reviewed publication in PubMed. A few cherry-picked studies of tangential relevance do not undermine a robust scientific consensus. Willfully rejecting the medical consensus and promoting quixotic diets with extravagant claims is not a self-evidently valid thing to do.
Claim: A bitter 10-month dispute over an advert by a charity supporting homeopathy. Fact: H:MC21 is a propaganda outfit designed to further the beliefs and thus commercial interests of homeopaths. It ran an advert with the usual mix of fallacy and ad hominem, stalled, refused to accept the adjudication, appealed, and then complained that it had taken a long time. Most of the claims made in the advert are simply false. None of it is “self-evident”.
These were presumably their bestimonials – the most slam-dunk cases of the ASA willfully suppressing self-evident claims by alternative practitioners. We’ve tracked down most of the cases, referenced the claims, and left you with the facts.
This is the seventh of a short series on the examples highlighted in January 2015’s issue of WDDTY as “proof” that the ASA is fundamentally flawed, and as justification for replacing it by a body run by practitioners commercially vested in the claims under evaluation.
Yes, we have fallen afoul of the ASA as well. In a leaflet, we stated that doctors were the third major cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
Who could possibly object to that?
There it is, right there, under… er… er… no, it’s not there.
The thing is, the 2000 Starfield JAMA paperdid say that, but that was over a decade ago and the debate it sparked brought out a much more nuanced understanding. There are some serious questions about the classifications.
For example, nosocomial infections (hospital-acquired infections) account for 80,000 of the deaths. Preventable? Arguably, though difficult in a context of rising antimicrobial resistance, but the people are only in hospital because they are sick anyway, would they have survived the original disease? Some yes, others definitely no. There’s a certain pathos in being saved from a myocardial infarction only to die of MRSA for your central line, but did medicine really kill you?
Or what if you are in hospital desperately sick, and suffer a rare interaction of two drugs? Without either, or indeed both, you would almost certainly be dead anyway. Is it really fair to count these deaths as caused by doctors? How about a patient with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia? It’s chemo or death, and the chemo is toxic and might itself weaken you past the point of no return. What killed you, the cancer or the doctors? Only a crank would say: the doctors.
And that was not actually Starfield’s contention either: she was telling her colleagues (she was a US paediatrician) to stop being complacent and look for ways to improve. They rose to the challenge, procedural improvements in catheter and line placement, improved aseptic technique and so on have reduced the genuinely avoidable adverse consequences.
When challenged, we produced the evidence-a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2000.
Which is, of course, not relevant to the UK as it specifically (and in the title) discusses the US healthcare model.
The ASA reluctantly accepted we were right-but it still found against us, as we were in breach of another CAP code that bars any statement that perturbs the sacred trust between patients and doctors!
So you say. We can’t check because you give no reference number and no link, just as you didn’t with any of the previous ones. Why don’t you want your readers to check the facts for themselves, I wonder?