Newborns do feel pain (quick, tell the doctor)

This is an article which appears to conflate several disjoint issues into a single article. I say conflate: they have been forced together with a crowbar.

The issues are:

  1. There are some who claim infants do not feel pain. Most of this seems to come from those who promote non-medical infant circumcision.
  2. There are good reasons not to use general anaesthesia on neonates, some of which are discussed below.
  3. Premature babies may require surgery, and the risks of anaesthesia are much higher in these infants because their brains are at an earlier stage of development.
  4. WDDTY is vehemently opposed to the use of “painful procedures” on infants. By “painful procedures” they mean, of course, vaccinations.

The result is a diatribe that is unusually unhinged even for WDDTY.

Continue reading Newborns do feel pain (quick, tell the doctor)

Autism is linked to gut problems (so sorry, Andy Wakefield)

Of all the persecuted Brave Maverick Doctors in WDDTY’s pantheon, none is more Brave or indeed more Maverick than Saint Andrew of Wakefraud.

Put simply, WDDTY desperately wants Wakefield to have been right, and will miss no opportunity to rewrite history in the service of this delusion.

As much as the medical community likes to discredit Andrew Wakefield for his theory about the MMR link to autism, research keeps supporting his central argument: autism is somehow related to the gut.

The medical community doesn’t like to discredit Wakefield. It doesn’t like discrediting anybody. Wakefield is discredited because he published fraudulent research with an undeclared conflict of interest, and because he conducted invasive tests on vulnerable children without proper ethical approval.

These are not small things. In any other doctor, they would cause WDDTY to lead the march with pitchforks and burning torches. Wakefield gets a free pass for these gross ethical violations only because his research serves the anti-vaccine agenda of WDDTY.

The latest has discovered that children with persistent gastro-intestinal (GI) symptoms are more than twice as likely to be autistic.

While this may be accurate, it is evidence of correlation not causation and it does not validate Wakefield’s fraudulent research, because Wakefield’s fraudulent research was designed to provide support for a legal action claiming that the MMR vaccine was the cause of autism, whereas the new research has nothing to do with vaccines.

The purported link between vaccines and autism – “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years” – is refuted. This paper not only doesn’t overturn that, it doesn’t even address it.

It is extremely unlikely that any new research will prove a causal link between gut problems and autism, because autism has a strong genetic component, so gut problems are more likely to be co-morbid.

The risk dramatically increases in children who suffer from regular constipation, or food intolerance or diarrhea between the ages of six months and three years, say researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Did you notice how this refutes the Wakefield claim that autism is caused by “measles enterocolitis” due to the MMR vaccination? The first MMR dose is at 12-15 months.

WDDTY “forgot” to mention that. They also “forgot” to mention that the paper has no mention of measles.

Although the connection is apparent, not all children with GI problems will go on to develop autism, any more than autistic children will necessarily have gut issues, cautions lead researcher Michaeline Bresnahan.

Well, duh. Most children will have at least brief periods of GI symptoms at some point, after all.

In this large prospective cohort, maternally reported GI symptoms are more common and more often persistent during the first 3 years of life in children with ASD than in children with [typical development] or [developmental delay].

No mention of a causal relationship, even speculatively.

Nonetheless, it was one of the key discoveries of Andrew Wakefield, who surmised that the MMR vaccine could be triggering the GI problems in the first place.

It wasn’t a “discovery” and this paper doesn’t say it’s a trigger.

Even Faux News did better, with the headline “frequent gastrointestinal issues may be early sign of autism”.

But you know WDDTY: any facts have to be beaten into compliance with their editorial agenda.

(Source: JAMA Psychiatry, 2015; doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.3034)

Note that any substantive finding of a causal link would not come form a psychiatry journal.

86 per cent of children with measles had been vaccinated

If there’s one thing guaranteed to fuel the build-up of spittle on the WDDTY editors’ computer screens, it’s positive coverage of vaccines. WDDTY is, to quote Ben Goldacre, “viciously, viciously anti-vaccine” – and this is one of the things which elevates their tawdry health fraud advertorial to the status of public health menace.

The MMR vaccine is back in the news. Australian parents will lose their welfare benefits if they don’t vaccinate their children, while up to 86 per cent of children who caught measles during the ‘Disneyland outbreak’ in California last December were vaccinated, a new study has revealed.

Logical fallacy: non-sequitur. The two are not connected, and not even in the same stories, in general. The 86% figure is mentioned only in order to make the evidence-based Australian policy look unreasonable.

WDDTY do cite a source, though returning to their former practice of obfuscating the reference to make it hard to track down. Why would they do that, I wonder?

Oh, wait:

An analysis of publicly available outbreak data suggests that substandard vaccination compliance is likely to blame for the recent measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in California, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

I can see why they wouldn’t want you to find the original source.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will lose up to $11,000 of welfare benefits. Parents can opt out of vaccinations on medical or religious grounds, or because they are “conscientious objectors”.

But, from January next year, the conscientious objection opt-out will be removed in Abbott’s new “no jab, no pay” policy. Religious exemptions will also be tightened, and will apply only to religious bodies “approved by the government”.
The Australian government reckons that 39,000 families could lose their rights to welfare benefits.

Indeed. And the reason for the specific wording about religious bodies approved by the Government, is that Australian antivaxers invented their own church – the “Church of Conscious Living” – as a deliberate ploy to allow them to continue recklessly endangering the health of their children and those with whom they come into contact.

Their weaselly ploy has failed, and they are no doubt crying into their homeopathic beer about it.

US health authorities are also looking to tighten up on exemptions after the measles outbreak last December, in which around 140 children were infected. It is thought to have started at Disneyland in California.

It’s almost as if antivax sentiments evaporate when people are faced with the reality of preventable disease, isn’t it?

Which is of course why vaccines are not a hard sell with the postwar generation.

But a new study reckons that up to 86 per cent of the infected children had received all their MMR jabs. “Given the highly contagious nature of measles, vaccination rates of 96 per cent to 99 per cent are necessary to preserve herd immunity and prevent future outbreaks,” say the researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When WDDTY reports the study as showing “up to” 86% of victims were vaccinated, they are being disingenuous. It actually says:

The authors estimate that measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination rates among the exposed population where secondary cases occurred might be as low as 50 percent and likely no higher than 86 percent. Because measles is highly contagious, vaccination rates of 96 percent to 99 percent are necessary to preserve herd immunity and to prevent future outbreaks, according to the study.

According to Wired,

The vast majority of the infected were unvaccinated against the disease, including kids who were too young for the shots and anti-vaxxers who chose against them. That’s how you get an outbreak. But six of the cases got their measles-mumps-rubella vaccine—the MMR shot—and still managed to get infected.

Wired also give a great description of how the Disneyland outbreak spread even to the immunised:

So how does that explain what happened in Disneyland? If you have a group of 1,000 people concentrated in a small space—like oh, say, hypothetically, an amusement park—about 90 percent of them will be vaccinated (hopefully). One person, maybe someone who contracted measles on a recent trip to the Philippines, moves around, spreading the virus. Measles is crazy contagious, so of the 100 people who aren’t vaccinated, about 90 will get infected. Then, of the 900 people who are vaccinated, 3 percent—27 people—get infected because they don’t have full immunity.

So WDDTY say “up to 86%” but other sources say closer to 10%. Why would WDDTY inflate the figure? We know why: to accurately report the case would require admitting that the MMR vaccine is around 97% effective, and that the figure they quoted was a discussion of the dangerously low level of vaccination that reduced herd immunity to the point that the outbreak could take hold.

And one thing WDDTY will never do is admit that the MMR vaccine works. Saint Andrew of Wakefraud would never forgive them.

 

Proof of prayer

Lynne McTaggart runs the “healing intention experiment”, an exercise in wishful thinking designed to show that “wishing makes it so”.

The problem with this, of course, is that it is the same as intercessory prayer, and that has been tested and found not to work.

No wonder WDDTY were delighted when a meta-analysis by “scientists at Northampton university” (funded, it must be said, by the Confederation of Healing Organisations, an umbrella body for wishful thinkers) found a small but significant – or, to use WDDTY’s phrase, “pretty solid” proof – positive effect:

Do you believe in prayer or spiritual healing? Well, now there’s proof that distance healing works, and the evidence is pretty solid.

Explore journal. Looks sciencey!
Explore journal. Looks sciencey!

The evidence is in the form of a study by the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes and run by psychologist and parapsychologist Chris Roe. Psychology is not one of the more robust sciences, and has an inglorious history of peddling complete nonsense, and Roe is a Board member of the Parapsychological Association, edits the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research and is on the board of the European Journal of Parapsychology.

The paper was published in Explore, a fringey journal of “Science and Healing” with an impact factor of 0.935. Not convinced? Take a look at this masterpiece. Mmmm! Quantum!

By contrast, the STEP study, a rigorous prospective double-blinded trial funded by the Templeton Foundation, found:

In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups. (Benson et. al., 2005)

So, a believer in the paranormal analysed papers on the paranormal and came to the conclusion that the paranormal is real, in contrast to the robust findings of reality-based medical scientists.

That’s literally never happened hundreds of times before, has it?

Why is Roe’s conclusion so far at odds with the consensus of reality-based researchers? It’s not even necessary to invoke Ioannidis. You need only to look at the list of studies. Reality-based studies tend not to include publications from the The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (IF 1.5), the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, the Journal of Parapsychology, the wholly worthless Journal of Scientific Exploration (“original research on consciousness, quantum and biophysics, unexplained aerial phenomena, alternative medicine, new energy” etc. – new energy? really? And unexplained aerial phenomena, as in UFOs!). Other cited sources include a book, an “unpublished manuscript retrieved from http://www.southwoodhealing.info/p_d_f/scientificpaper/pdf” and so on.

Even Dean Radin gets a mention as a cited source.

So: the reason this comes to a different conclusion from mainstream medical analyses of distant healing, is that it includes sources that are typically excluded because they are credulous and not medically or scientifically robust. And, unsurprisingly, these are the ones with the most positive results.

Even then, it only finds a weak positive statistical effect: not one single slam-dunk proof of efficacy, not one single objectively repeatable phenomenon.

This, according to WDDTY, whose editor has a vested interest in the field, is “proof”. But there is a nod towards the reality-based contingent:

Not that we expect any of this to make much difference. The believers never needed such proof in the first place, while there will never be enough evidence to convince the non-believers. In fact, it doesn’t have a prayer’s chance to the sceptic.

dragon2The first part is true: belief never does require evidence, though believers often expend a prodigious amount of effort in the pseudoscientific pursuit of this chimaera.

As to sceptics, they will be persuaded as soon as suitably robust proof is provided.  We don’t believe that the proponents of reiki, “intention”, prayer and other forms of distant healing, with its manifest lack of any credible physical mechanism, have a dragon in their garage. They won’t persuade us with a pile of dodgy studies that concludes there’s a slightly elevated probability of a dragon, they could persuade us with a single well-designed, well-controlled, robust proof of a dragon.

Here’s what the conclusion of such a study might look like:

To our knowledge, no other objective, quantitative study involving more than a few (Therapeutic Touch) practitioners has been published, and no well-designed study demonstrates any health benefit from TT. These facts, together with our experimental findings, suggest that TT claims are groundless and that further use of TT by health professionals is unjustified.

It’s not difficult to design suitably objective tests of these claims. In fact, a nine-year-old could do it. And did.

Rife with confusion, falsehood and dangerous nonsense

WDDTY have excelled themselves again. The latest form of abject quackery to be given a boost by them is the Rife machine,  a quack device from the Golden Age of Science Fiction which makes sense only in the context of the time. WDDTY describe this as “space age”. Space cadet might be closer to the mark.

Reality-based information on Rife machines:


The Rife Machine is indeed straight out of Dan Dare or a book by L. Ron Hubbard. WDDTY’s story is written by Cate Montana, last seen pimping piss therapy. This is worse. I know that’s hard to believe.

The story is actually a rambling and only marginally coherent mish-mash of a number of mutually contradictory quack claims whose common factor is only that their proponents believed “frequencies” to be some kind of magic. These days of course nobody believes a word of that: it’s quantum that allows you to invent any old bollocks you like.

Quotes are direct form the article, edited for brevity.

This is the story of a space-age healing technology with roots 80 years in the past. Commonly known as ‘Rife technology’ because Dr Royal Raymond Rife is the most well-known scientist associated with electromagnetic healing.

Royal Rife was not a doctor or a scientist. He was an inventor and entrepreneur.  He gained a patent for high-magnification time-lapse micrography and, like advocates of live blood analysis, appears to have misidentified an artifact in his films and run off down a rabbit hole with it.

Jimmie Holman and his company Pulsed Technologies in Dallas, Texas, produce an electronic frequency generator that creates electronic signals that he claims can be precisely tuned to the specific cellular frequencies of any given bacteria, viruses and other pathogens to disrupt their ability to cause disease. These specific frequencies are known as the ‘mortal oscillatory rates’ (MORs) for that group of pathogens.

These “cellular frequencies” are at the core of not only Rife’s claims but (as we see below) those of several other quacks.

It is true that you can disrupt the structure of bacteria using electromagnetic radiation. The process is known as microwave cooking, which usually uses a frequency of 2.4GHz (domestic) or in some cases 915MHz (commercial). There’s an erroneous belief that this is the resonant frequency of water and/or fat molecules, but water’s resonant frequency is of the order of 1THz. In fact proteins often have opposite charges at their ends, and act as charged dipoles; the alternating magnetic field causes them to rapidly move from one orientation to another, and the energy expended in doing so manifests as heat.

Can you kill pathogens by applying their resonant frequency? It’s highly unlikely. For a start, pathogens tend to be made of proteins, which are really rather complex. DNA has been measured as resonating between  0.5-4.5THz – and this may mean nothing at all because pathogens are not a single protein.

In fact, the proteins that comprise pathogens are largely the same ones that comprise healthy tissue. That’s another challenge. There’s no credible evidence that the frequencies for healthy tissue have all been elucidated and removed from the devices. In fact this is another case where it’s probably just as well that the quacks can’t do what they claim.

There’s no credible evidence that these machines can selectively kill pathogens, and in fact none (that are legally saleable) are likely to be capable of penetrating the epidermis, the energies are far too low. Just as well: you know how microwave cookers work.

The machines supposedly work by sending electronic signals into the body through electrodes.[…] The only claimed side-effect is an occasional toxic reaction that arises as pathogens are ‘neutralized’ and the body works to flush the devitalized cells from tissues and organs. Does this sound far out?

The active term here is “supposedly”. And yes, it does sound far out. Because, you know, it is far out. Even the purported side-effect is pure wishful thinking.

If yes, the reason is because the medical industry and schools worldwide remain stuck in the rather basic view of the human body as a biochemical machine. But the ‘body electric’ is fact, not fiction—as are the body photonic and the body quantum.

Hilarious!

Let’s be absolutely clear here: this is a device that dates back from a “lone genius” with zero medical training in the mid 20th Century, and yet the “medical industry” and “schools worldwide” remain “stuck in the rather basic view of the human body as a biochemical machine”.

It’s almost as if the writer has been living in a commune in the California hills for forty years and hasn’t realised just how much we have learned about the human body in that time.

This sounds more like the “electric universe” wibble than a coherent explanation of anything. The body electric? Body photonic? Body quantum? What do those even mean, aren’t they just sciencey-sounding escape hatches to evade questioning?

Here, have a quick look at this:

Fast forward to 40:00. Does that look simplistic to you? Now go forward to 52:30 and marvel. In fact, I urge you to watch all of James E. Rothman’s Nobel acceptance speech: his acknowledgment of his debt to prior work is a marvellous demonstration of the falsity of the WDDTY mantra of medical science as a field devoted to fending off the advances of quacks, and the talk overall shows how someone who really understands a topic can explain it to an educated lay audience in a way that does not resemble Chopralalia.

The “medical industry” is a contributor to a world of medical, biochemical and physiological research that intertwines clinical and academic, theoretical and practical, everything from quantum physics to classical anatomy. Rothman trained as a physicist before moving into biochemistry.

We’re intended to believe, then, that all these people, any one of whom could have scored a massive lead in a fiercely intellectually competitive world by simply pretending to have discovered this “truth” in isolation, all of them, whether funded by charities, governments, corporations or whoever, would rather deny the “truth” than accept it. That they lack the wit, the integrity or the determination to pursue something they know to be a profound truth and a route to curing the most intractable diseases.

The alternative explanation is that Rife was wrong.

Which seems more likely? Seriously?

The conspiracy theory is utterly irrational and not even remotely plausible. Hundreds of thousands – millions – of intelligent, motivated, resourceful people would, as a body corporate, have to either deny the facts or fail to spot them in their own experimentation, and conspire to keep this hidden, thus leaving the field to quacks and charlatans alternative healers.

Researchers have established that endogenous direct-current (DC) electric fields are involved in all sorts of bodily processes. In the 1960s, many researchers, most notably orthopaedist Robert O. Becker, professor at Upstate Medical Center at the State University of New York, Syracuse, and director of orthopaedic surgery at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse, experimented with using electric currents to assist the healing of bone fractures and wounds.

Robert Becker was a genuine pioneer: he made discoveries that contributed meaningfully to understanding of the effects of electrical potentials on biological systems. Unfortunately the author is sufficiently ignorant of physics and medicine that she fails to spot the difference between piezoelectricity and – well, magic.

What’s never made clear is how the disconnect between the experts cited from mainstream medical science, and the quack claims, is supposed to have arisen. If we are to believe WDDTY, the switch is flipped as soon as any part of a chain of discovery is made by someone outside the establishment – at which point the establishment immediately ceases any and all investigation and declares the field nekulturny. Science not only doesn’t work that way, it can’t work that way – there are too many actors. Every single one of the breakthroughs WDDTY champions would have to be studiously ignored by a diverse group of vast numbers of highly intelligent people with a bewildering variety of backgrounds and motivations, all because the discoverer was not “one of us”.

The only remotely close parallel I can think of is phage therapy, and even there the reason is closely tied not to conspiracy or ideology, but to the checks and balances required in modern medicine: phages are so specific that it’s really hard to run properly controlled trials. And with antimicrobial resistance, even that barrier is being chipped away.

Most recently, increasing evidence shows that electric fields guide and regulate normal developmental cell processes such as embryogenesis, while extremely low-frequency (ELF) oscillations play a role in the synchronization of neurons in the brain, circadian rhythms and biochemical (stress) reactions.

Sounds sciencey! Did you see the bit where she showed how this is relevant to Rife machines?

No, neither did I.

The body’s innate energy fields (‘biofield’) may even be involved in self-healing. “You’ve got to understand that all chemical reactions are also electrical,” says Dr Steve Haltiwanger, an independent researcher and former practitioner of orthomolecular neurology and environmental medicine […]. Cells in the body are basically crystal radio sets . . . cell membranes possess electrical potential and transport energy . . . you have proteins which are semiconductors. The body is electronic in nature down to the smallest level—like a series of nested energy fields.”

Wait, “innate energy fields”?

Energy is measured in Joules. Fields are quantifiable, they obey certain laws, their flux is measurable and their effect can be predicted mathematically.

Haltiwanger is not a physicist, not a scientist at all actually, he is a psychiatrist – and a Rife quack. “Orthomolecular” is vitamin quackery, “environmental medicine” is also quackery. The term “independent researcher” almost always means crank. It is semantically equivalent to “lay activist”.

Cells are not radio sets. Rothman’s lecture shows the extremely complex mechanism by which cells transmit charge. There is no parallel between cell membrane potential transport and the operation of a crystal set, which requires, apart from anything else, crystals, very simple structures that have coherent modes of vibration, making them useful for things like elementary radios.

Proteins are not really semiconductors. Semiconductors are essentially crystalline, the physics of semiconductor behaviour would break down in an amorphous solid or in a complex chain like a protein.

That paragraph makes as much sense as an explanation of “quantum” by Deepak Chopra.

All the words make sense, just not in that order.

Many researchers, notably the late German physicist Fritz-Albert Popp, have demonstrated that all living things, including us humans, emit tiny currents of light […] believed to be central to intercellular communication.

You can’t have a “current of light”, photons are essentially uncharged. You can have a biophoton, a very low magnitude form of bioluminescence, but it doesn’t do much.

And no, they are not essential to intercellular communication, as Rotheman’s Nobel talk shows. V.P. Kaznacheyev thought they were, but failed to persuade the rest of the scientific community, and subsequent work has added a great deal to our understanding.

When Ms. Montana says they “are believed”, she engages in a classic crank gambit of failing to qualify who believes it. The answer, of course, is that it is believed by those who have a vested interest in believing it, and pretty much nobody else. These are things which, if true, would show up in numerous other lines of research. But they don’t.

Haltiwanger frequently lectures on the complex properties of the cell communication that takes place through light and quantum processes.

I bet his lectures would be hilarious to anyone who actually understood the field. They can “resonantly absorb energy as well as information”, eh? Well I never. And I bet their neutrinos have mutated as well.

So, not only are electronic signals capable of affecting and disabling pathogens, says Haltiwanger, but there are also very specific frequencies that can help the body to heal by strengthening cell membrane conductivity and overall cellular function. Which is how Jimmie Holman (co-founder of Pulsed Technologies) got into the picture.

It is probably just as well that these quack devices can’t strengthen cell membranes, or the delicate mechanisms that transport nutrients around the body would stop working.

Making a better TENS

The second of two car accidents in the early 1990s—both caused by uninsured drunk drivers—had brought Holman’s 25-year freelance electronics research career to an abrupt close. A year of almost daily conventional physical therapy had failed to reduce the excruciating pain and debilitation. He couldn’t sleep except in a straight-backed chair or on the floor. He couldn’t walk without a cane—and this, he was reassuringly told by his doctor, “was as good as it would ever get”.

Nothing is more compelling than an N=1 study told by someone profiting from a quack device.

I say nothing, but obviously the average school student’s excuses for not handing in homework are substantially more plausible…

Even though transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy—which uses low-voltage electrical currents from electrodes placed near the injury sites—did give temporary pain relief, by the time he got home from the doctor’s office, the pain was usually so bad he had to resort to medication.

Well, yes, that’s about right: TENS is short term and low strength, so medication is what you need for long term relief.

[I]ntrigued by the short-term effectiveness of the TENS device and asked his doctor how it worked. The doctor had no idea.

Really? The clue is in the name: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. An electrical current is used to block pain signals to the spinal cord. OK, a simplistic explanation, but no doctor could fail to have any idea of how it works. That’s an approximation : last time I looked it was not clear precisely how it works, or even how much of its effect is real versus placebo.

At that point, desperate for relief and disenchanted with conventional medicine’s approach, Holman started looking for alternative ways to not just endure his situation, but actually to heal. Seeking out a local chiropractor was his first step.

Ah yes, chiropractic. The bastard child of massage and mesmerism. So here we have the classic Damascene conversion of the quackery cultist.

Like his doctor, she also used a TENS device as well as other therapies and, one day, Holman asked her the same question. “She had no hesitation answering,” he said. “The TENS created [electronic] ‘noise’ that interferes with pain signals being sent to the brain. It doesn’t do anything to heal. It just effectively masks the pain.”

A first: medically sound advice from a chiro. Irrelevant to the bogus claims to kill pathogens, of course…

Because of his background in government surveillance systems using exotic signals and supercomputers for domestic and foreign governments, figuring out the technicalities of the TENS device was child’s play. Within a couple of days, Holman had duplicated the device from equipment lying around the house. He also made some improvements, including a programme that ran through a wide range of high-frequency signals.

Electronics 101, then. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that nobody else with a background in electronics has done the same thing? It is, after all, child’s play. He just invented the frequency generator, basically, and most electronics labs have one of those.

After a few days of using his souped-up TENS, he noticed a difference. Not only was he enjoying significant pain relief, but he could tell something else was happening. His body was actually starting to heal.

And how did he know his body was starting to “heal”? Because he believed he had improved the TENS device, in a way that the people who actually devised the TENS device (and have massively much more relevant experience) apparently couldn’t. The thing about neurological pain is that there is very often no directly observable physiology, so it’s hard to say when something is really better rather than the patient merely feeling better; it’s also well established that even the illusion of control can reduce the symptoms of chronic pain.

Two things are infinite: the universe, and the human capacity foe self-delusion.

This was the beginning of what for Holman has been a 20-year sojourn into the realm of energy healing and a new technology with potentials so vast that he likens it to space exploration.

It’s like space exploration only without the involvement of multi-disciplinary scientific teams, and the occasional real-world test of whether your rocket actually flies or not.

So, not like space exploration at all.

A difficult path

Growing evidence suggests that Holman’s and Haltiwanger’s devices have a solid basis in science. Published research reveals that biological cells have electrical properties, certain biomolecules acting like superconductors may be involved in nerve growth, and “biological systems in general exhibit non-local, global properties which are consistent with their ability to function at the quantum level.”

This is only true if you believe that dumpster-diving through the literature looking for superficially supportive statements is the same thing as testing your hypothesis.

The “growing evidence” line is a repeated feature of Montana’s writing and also seems common in WDDTY more generally. What it means is simply that the quacks have not given up trying to prove their beliefs. There’s “growing evidence” for homeopathy, all of it worthless, all of it soundly contradicted by much more robust science. Volume of evidence is not the same thing as weight of evidence.

There are even studies revealing that “short, sharp, magnetic-field pulses of a minimal amplitude” as treatment “are fasting-acting, economical and in many instances have obviated surgery” (italics ours). There is also a mountain of testimonials from patients and practitioners (see boxes, pages 55 and 56). Nevertheless, there continues to be resistance within the research community against investigating the potential implications these discoveries suggest and tremendous reluctance within the medical community to investigate electromagnetic (EM) healing.

The boxes and the article generally list a number of sources. Some are mainstream, but don’t support the Rife thesis. Others are supportive of the Rife thesis but are published in journals like Frontier Perspectives and Explore, with a long history of publishing abject nonsense.

The resistance among the research community is easy to explain: there is no remotely plausible reason to think these devices should work, such objective tests as have been conducted show them not to work, and the fact of something being widely believed by the coherently-challenged has never scored highly among the review criteria used by ethics committees. In order to test a device on human subjects there has to be a good reason to think it will work, and here, there is none.

And this really is the heart of the problem: the various frequency generators being promoted here, have no plausible mechanism. The fields they generate are too weak to have the effects they claim, the effects they claim are in any case entirely speculative, and the explanations of how they purportedly work are incoherent.

‘Black-box’ technology fares even worse than most complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies in the eyes of conventional medicine. The suppression of electrical engineer Antoine Priore’s EM therapy machine, funded by the French government and developed during the 1960s and early 1970s, is probably among the more recent and telling examples.

Prioré’s machine wasn’t suppressed, it was exposed. He did have the advantage of using fields strong enough to have a plausible effect, but it turned out that his research methods were dubious and his results were not independently replicated.

The fact that Prioré was funded by the French government is actually a point against the conspiracy theories. He was given every opportunity to prove his case – and failed.

After demonstrating “conclusive, total remissions of terminal tumours and infectious diseases in hundreds of laboratory animals” by using a mix of multiple EM signals, Priore’s work was suppressed because of threats from the conventional oncology community, a change in France’s government and, as described by nuclear engineer Thomas Bearden, a proponent of energy medicine, a “complete inability of the physicists and biological scientists to even hypothesize a mechanism for the curative results”.

That might be how  a proponent of “energy medicine” describes it, but that doesn’t make it true. Why is it that WDDTY’s habitual appeal to vested interest is never applied to those who have a vested interest in the quackery they peddle? Answers on a postcard, please…

In science, “inability of the physicists and biological scientists to even hypothesize a mechanism” is really quite a strong point against you. In science, it is perfectly legitimate to ask “oh yes, how does that work then?” and to refuse to take the person seriously until they have at least a marginally plausible answer.

You have a thing, you insist it works, your research methods are dodgy, and you can’t come up with a plausible mechanism. Only in the world of quackery does a failure to license this device constitute “suppression”. In science, the onus is always on the proponent to prove their case to a legitimately sceptical audience. That is how science works. That’s why quantum theory has become dominant in particle physics: despite its weirdness and implausibility, it fits the observed facts far better than any other explanation, it has persuaded the sceptical.

Aside from scepticism, a major lack of funding and the threat this technology represents to the pharmaceutical industry, there is another reason the technology hasn’t caught on. Some CAM enthusiasts with little or no electronic background jumped on the bandwagon and started marketing equipment that, while based on Rife’s work, produces low-frequency audio-range signals as low as 15,000 Hz—despite the fact that the vast majority of pathogens function at frequencies over 300,000 Hz, says Holman.

This is purest conspiracist claptrap. There is no conflict between medical devices and drugs, many companies make both or have cross-holdings, but even if there were, there are so many medical scientists around the world who are independent of the pharmaceutical industry that suppression would be impossible.

We’re expected to believe that when the pharmaceutical industry says not to tough that thing which, it it worked, would cure cancer and make your reputation and probably an untold fortune, that all doctors, scientists, government regulators and the like, meekly obey.

How likely is that, really?

Now to the question of the “frequencies” at which pathogens “function”. Says who? According to what objective measurements? How and why? Who independently verifies the findings? Where’s the proof these are distinct from the frequencies that apply to healthy tissue? Where are the figures?

Oh, wait, no, I see now: these are POOMA numbers. And that’s why it’s a really good thing that these devices don’t do what the quacks claim, because they have no idea at all what they would do to healthy tissue.

The most popular argument for why these low-frequency devices can still be effective is that they make square waves—frequencies that jump from one fixed value to another, spending equal time at each, so producing a wave pattern like a Norman castle’s crenellations—which automatically create harmonics with frequencies that can reach many hundreds, even thousands, of times higher than the original base frequency.

Popular with whom? Quacks? The most plausible explanation is that all the devices, whatever the frequency, whatever the waveform, are equally bogus.

But we can check that by reference tot he objective tests used when the curative claims were submitted to licensing authorities, as every medical device must be.

What? Oh.

It turns out that most of these boxes are either unlicensed or licensed as TENS machines, and any curative claims are made either illegally or using astroturfing so that regulators can’t pin them on the device maker.

This is actually pretty remarkable, because if you could objectively prove some of the curative claims they make, then you could get licensed for those indications, and you would become very very rich.

I know this is much harder than making a TENS machine and then claiming that Big Pharma are suppressing a cure, while quietly selling the device with a nudge-nudge-wink-wink based on the hyperbolic claims of websites and delusional books. It is, however, the only ethically defensible route to market, as well as being the only legal one.

And remember, as the article notes, that the Fourier series shows exponentially decreasing magnitude for these harmonics.

That’s where the energy medicine quacks generally fall down: they talk about frequency, but rarely about amplitude, still less attenuation. One of these devices will work on a pathogen in your body about as well as a DAB radio will work at the bottom of a mineshaft, because the signal will be absorbed by all the water, fat and proteins between the surface of the skin and the actual pathological problem..

There is also a tremendous lack of frequency accuracy, but there’s no way for the consumer to know this unless he hooks his device up to an oscilloscope, a lab instrument used to analyze the waveform of electronic signals. In addition, few marketed devices are able to fine-tune the signal enough to hone in on the specific MORs of pathogens—which can and do frequently alter their internal frequencies in an attempt to “dodge the bullet”, says Holman—just as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

That’s really funny. The idea of pathogens evolving resistance to quack devices! The thing is, while a bacterium can evolve resistance to an antimicrobial, physical properties such as resonant frequency are inherent. You can’t change them without changing the physical or chemical structure of the organism.

What he’s selling, then, is the New! Improved! quack device. A quack device that does its quackery more accurately than any previous quack device.

Holman claims his company Pulsed Technologies, which he co-founded with software developer Paul Dorneanu, and now has labs in Texas and in Romania, builds equipment that can generate pure signals reaching up to a million hertz, with over 980,000 pulses per second, and alter the shape of the waves produced by fine-tuning individual frequencies down to thousandths of a decimal point (see www.pulsedtech.com).

I hope the elctrosmog folks and the energy medicine folks never turn up to the same pub on the same night, there would be a hell of a set-to.

I’m almost in awe of this guy. He has put a prodigious amount of work into doing something entirely worthless, very accurately indeed.

The human body has an astonishing ability to recover from disease when given a chance, and normal healthy cells typically run at around 85–100 microvolts—which, for a single cell, is an enormous amount of voltage. But because of our modern toxin-laden stress-filled lifestyles, most people’s cells lack sufficient energy. When we’re unhealthy, our cell membranes may be as low as 50 microvolts, says Haltiwanger. (A cancer cell carries a charge of about eight to 15 microvolts, he says.)

This is almost entirely meaningless. The Volt is a unit of potential difference – a cell can’t have a “charge” of anything in Volts, charge is measured in Coulombs, dimensionally these are Ampere-seconds. Cells would have to have a potential of microvolts with respect to something else. The language sounds like batteries, with which readers will be familiar, but there is no meaningful sense in which you can say that normal cells “run at” any voltage.

As Haltiwanger says, you can get a potential difference across a cell membrane, due to the ion concentration gradient. This is a result of the behaviour of the cell wall itself, and artificially increasing the potential would result in only a short term effect before equilibrium was restored. However:

according to these bioelectricity pioneers, applying the correctly tuned waveforms can allow cells to reenergize and revitalize. The technology also helps in the delivery of supplements and medicines at the cellular level.

Well, that’s pure technobabble.

Another application with enormous potential is molecular emulation, or copying, especially of the signaling molecules that assist cells in repairing tissues and protecting chromosomes from the deterioration believed to contribute to ageing.

Hence the interest of the “Life extension”charlatans.

The nick of time?

If the practitioners making use of this technology are to be believed, the possibilities with the use of EM signaling are endless for health and healing.

Indeed. What a shame that they are not to be believed.

Given the recent rise of resistant superbugs, resulting from the overprescription of antibiotics and the overabundance of antibiotics in our foods, it would seem this technology has finally arrived on the medical horizon none too soon.

It’s been around since the 50s. It was quackery then, it is quackery now, it will always be quackery.

[anecdotes of reality-based docs describing antimicrobial resistance]

And now we come to the point where a real health or science journalist’s spidey-sense would be twitching like crazy.

For most people, this news must border on the terrifying. Yet, for scientists like Haltiwanger, Holman, Payne and dozens of others in the EM healing field, there is also a definite upside. The current poor batting average of conventional medicine and the proliferation of doctor-caused illness and death are prompting many to take their health into their own hands.

Yup. What they see is a market. A big market. A market made of desperate people who will pay anything for a cure that medical science can’t deliver. By the time they find out the energy medicine cranks can’t deliver either, it will be too late.

And remember, this is really about the US. In the US, if you get cancer you’re likely to die broke. Is it any wonder that quacks resent the doctors’ monopoly on raiding the retirement funds of terminal patients? Of course they want a piece of the action! They always have wanted it, they always will.

All Holman needs now is for some independent laboratories to test and confirm what many practitioners are claiming for his Rife-inspired machines

Yes, all he needs is what we in the reality-based community call “credible evidence”. If you’re selling something that only works when you test it, not when others do, you are a quack.

[The balance of the article is more testimony from the faithful, and an uncritical history of the life of Royal Rife]

Cate Montana is an author, editor and freelance writer specializing in health and science

Cate Montana is a credulous shill for quacks, frauds and charlatans, specialising in sciencey-sounding bullshit which she clearly does not understand.

Holman and Haltiwanger have a business selling these fraudulent devices. Follow the money.

Regulation: it’s only good when we like the outcome

April 2015’s issue of WDDTY opens with an editorial worthy of David Icke.

The editorial sets the scene with a laudatory description of the “grass-roots campaign” that led to the US Dietary Health and Supplements Education Act (DHSEA) – in reality an astroturfing job coordinated by industry figures such as Gerald Kessler, CEO of supplement maker Nature Plus, in support of a bill sponsored by Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin. Hatch is deeply vested in the supplement industry and Harkin was the sponsor of what was originally called the Office of Alternative Medicine, which became NCCAM and then, following the Orwellian trend of branding the mixing of bullshit with science as “integrative”, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

It’s worth bearing in mind that if “Big Pharma” ever tried to do anything this brazen, WDDTY would be marching on Washington (Lynne keeps forgetting she lives in England) with pitchforks and burning torches. The DHSEA gave “Big Herba” carte blanche to market pharmacologically active products with no evidence of safety or efficacy. The free pass given to anything branded as natural is precisely the reason that Ernst Krebs branded the quack cancer cure laetrile – “the slickest, most sophisticated, and certainly the most remunerative cancer quack promotion in medical history” –  as “vitamin B17″.

But with WDDTY, every verb is irregular. They exploit, you cleverly bend the rules, I am a persecuted visionary.

This is merely stage dressing, though, for the thing that’s really got WDDTY’s goat this month: a raid on the factory producing the unproven “miracle cure” gCMAF. WDDTY fulminates against the “flak jackets” who confiscated 10,000 vials of the “naturally occurring” substance. Space was obviously insufficient to note that the substance “naturally occurs” in blood, and was being prepared in an unlicensed facility from blood products clearly marked “Not to be administered to humans or used in any drug products“.

Imagine what WDDTY would say if they found a drug being marketed without proper approval, in an unlicensed and sub-standard facility, using  raw materials marked unfit for human use.

You do have to imagine it, because this pretty much never happens outside the world of quackery.

Next, WDDTY lays into the killing of the Saatchi Bill, which claimed to protect patients by allowing responsible innovation but in fact would only have protected those engaging in irresponsible maverick acts, from any consequences. It was opposed by every major medical research body, by doctors, by lawyers who defend doctors, and in fact by pretty much anybody who actually knew what they were talking about. Needless to say WDDTY thought it was a marvellous idea: it would have protected the likes of Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield, who they have previously supported, and probably would have spared Dr Sarah Myhill much angst.

In fact, it is remarkable how rarely even the most egregious quackery is shut down by the GMC.

The editorial concludes with a thought about creating a “DHSEA-style grass-roots movement” and putting the support of unproven quack remedies natural medicines on the political map in the UK. Of course they already are, but no doubt WDDTY columnist and supplement profiteer Rob Verkerk will be right there watering the grass.

In the real world, whether a thing is natural or not is of no consequence. It’s either a medicine, in which case it should be regulated, or it’s not, and should not be sold as one.

What McTaggart really “thinks” about cancer

Incredibly, what goes into WDDTY appears actually to be a watered down version of the confused mess that lives inside Lynne McTaggart’s head.

This blog post on lynnemctaggart.com shines a light on the tortuous and bizarre reasoning she uses in daily life.  Read on, and be very afraid: people like this are actually believed and trusted by a not insignificant proportion of the population.

Susan Sontag memorably coined the term ‘Illness is metaphor,’ which always had a ring of truth to me. We get the diseases that are a metaphoric representation of some struggle in our lives. But it’s also true that there is such a thing as ‘treatment is metaphor,’ and nowhere more so than with the treatment of cancer.

None of that makes any sense at all. Cancer is not a metaphoric representation of anything, it’s a bastard killer disease. It’s not karmic destiny, it’s a combination of bad luck and bad behaviour, the proportion being highly dependent on the individual. Smokers very often get lung cancer and non-smokers don’t, but something like a brain tumour is largely down to the great cosmic crapshoot.

And treatment is not a metaphor in any meaningful sense. Well, real treatment isn’t, anyway, it’s hard to speak for the fake treatments McTaggart advocates, because so many of them are simply insane.

The reason we’re losing the War on Cancer (and we are indeed losing it, despite the bluster of governments, the media and the American Cancer Society) has to do with the metaphors we use to describe both the disease and the cure.

There is no “war on cancer” any more than there is a “war on terror”. You can’t send in the Marines and expect to eliminate the inevitable consequence of random mutation, the evolutionary mechanism that gives rise to life in the first place.

The “war on cancer” is a political term coined in the white heat of the technological revolution by that most trusted of historical figures, Richard Millhouse Nixon. It was an admittedly striking phrase used to justify the earmarking of Federal funds towards cancer research.

In the real world (admittedly terra incognita to WDDTY) cancer is not a single disease. Some cancers are in rapid retreat – childhood Hodgkin’s lymphoma is now curable in the great majority of cases – others (indolent prostate cancer being the best known example) are contained to the point where most patients will die of something else. And some are still almost as deadly today as they were a thousand years ago.

Recently a batch of researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that different metaphors change the way in which people view the disease and choose to treat it.

This we know. Quacks persuade people to view cancer as something other than what it is. Robert O. Young, for example, portrayed cancer as a response to an acidified body, and persuaded Oprah that he could cure it. The index patient, Kim Tinkham, died, of course.

There has been extensive research on the effect of mindfulness and positive thinking on cancer outcomes. The short summary is that it makes no difference.

Since 1971, when Richard Nixon famously declared ‘War on Cancer’ in 1971 our current metaphor for cancer – a war to be fought, an impossible enemy to vanquish – has skewed the way we see the disease and how we choose to treat it.

That may be true in the bubble world of “alternative” believers, but it is absolutely not a reflection of current medical thinking. Surgical oncologist Dr. David Gorski discusses this quite often.

The ‘war’ and battle imagery sets in the public and medical mind the notion that this is an impossibly wily enemy. Full-on attacks by alien invaders require desperate measures – the most lethal chemical combo that medicine has to offer – which is largely why doctors have a difficult time believing that something gentle and simple like changing your diet or taking a a herb or two could overcome an enemy this ferocious.

Really? The tabloids routinely portray cancer as a “battle”, but that’s not how oncologists view it. You might want to read the views of doctor (and terminal cancer patient) Kate Granger on the subject.

Quacks certainly tend to a simplistic view of cancer, hence their fixation on chemotherapy, but that is not how it’s viewed by real doctors and medical scientists.

This week, I edited two stories we’ll be running in the next issue of What Doctors Don’t Tell You, which address the fallacy of this metaphor and why it has fuelled a (in the US) $100 billion failure known as Cancer Inc.

When you say “known as”, you actually mean “described by profiteering quacks as”. Nobody actually calls it “cancer, inc.” unless they are flogging worthless alternatives. That is straight-up conspiracist claptrap.

Now, the American medical system is pretty badly broken. It’s fine if you’re in work, rich and not terminally or chronically ill, but if you fall outside that box you can be in deep trouble. Medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the US. But that’s the fault of politics, not medicine: American medical research is some of the best in the world, and American medical treatment is also superb – if you can afford it.

Here in the UK, we have care that’s nearly as good and it costs about a third as much, as a share of national income. And it’s free at the point of delivery.

As to being a “failure”, you might want to take that up with the people who are on the winning side of the equation. 5 year survival for cancer has doubled since the 1970s, and now stands at greater than 50%. You might choose to call that a failure, but many people don’t.

Several years ago, the great and the good among oncologists and cancer researcher met behind closed doors in Switzerland to answer the hard problem of how we were doing in this particular battle.

Their concensus (sic) was published in a 5000 words report in the Lancet last year (Lancet, 2014; 383: 558–63). Are we winning, they asked. Answer, unqualified no.

Sure. Cancer is a bastard. Nobody denies it (except quacks selling simplistic magic bullet fake cures).

‘Despite the introduction of hundreds of new anti-cancer drugs, including advanced therapies (so-called magic bullets) aimed at particular weapons in the enemy’s armamentarium, the consensus was that, for most forms of cancer, enduring disease-free responses are rare, and cures even rarer,’ they wrote.

Indeed. Now ask people if they would rather survive 5 years, 10 years or whatever, or simply die of the disease there and then.

Cancer is a bastard. Keeping the tiger in the cage for a few years is a worthwhile outcome.

You’d never know any of this if you talked to the average oncologist. Most would talk of the great strides made in chemotherapy, the new drugs, the new combinations of treatments. But the measure of how much this constitutes the treatment of desperation is in the language used – “rescue” therapies, “salvage” operations – and also the types of treatments being resorted to, such as last-ditch attempts to restore blood formation in patients who have undergone murderously high chemotherapy.

I don’t think Lynne McTaggart has ever talked to an oncologist. The fixation on chemotherapy aside, most of the great strides in chemo have been in reducing the side effects and in qualifying where it might not be needed at all.

Do you really think that language like “murderous” is helpful?

Here’s what happens to cancer patients who don’t undergo medical treatment: they die. Some die sooner and some die later, but they die. Cancer is a bastard.

We also know, because it’s been studied, that people who believe in the sort of alternative claptrap promoted by WDDTY die sooner. They believe they will live longer, they believe they are better off, but they present later, with more advanced disease, because quacks don’t diagnose properly and even if they do they try quackery first – and even after that is taken into account, they still die sooner.

The evidence is clear: a reality-based oncologist is a better bet than a quack.

Cancer specialists who continue to believe that they are only just a protocol away from finding the cure often forget the patient in their zeal to blast out every last cancer cell. Not long ago one doctor returned from an autopsy with the proud announcement that his patient, who’d had widespread, disseminated cancer, had died “cancer free.” What he neglected to admit was that the patient didn’t die of cancer. It was the lung disease induced by chemotherapy that killed him.

That’s a straw man. I know of nobody who believes that we are “one protocol away” from a cure. There may well be people who behave as McTaggart asserts, but it’s certainly not representative.

Cancer patients are usually desperate to live. That’s why they need especial protection from quacks. Oncologists will very often tell them that there is only a small chance that heroic treatment will save them, but they will try it anyway. A few will indeed die from the side effects of chemotherapy, and cranks and charlatans will portray this as their having been killed by the doctors, forgetting that the alternative was certain death.

That’s why we have laws mandating informed consent, and why the toxic mix of quackery and disinformation from the likes of WDDTY is so very dangerous, because it leads to people making wrong choices.

And that’s the problem. New evidence has emerged (and we’ll be reporting on all the chapter and verse) that the weapons we’re using, like chemo and radiotherapy, are weapons of mass destruction, breeding cancer stem cells, and causing it to spread.

cellsI’ll hazard a guess here that this is cells in a petri dish.

Remember: 5-year survival has doubled since the 1970s. McTaggart promotes the Nirvana fallacy, the idea that anything less than 100% cure is the same as 100% failure, but the evidence unambiguously shows that medicine is doing something right.

In some cancers. For some patients. The difficult bit is always knowing which, especially in advance.

It’s not necessary to view cancer as a battle to be won. Consider the case of Morty Lefkoe. Morty is 77 years old, and last year was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He was going to have it surgically removed, but a last scan the morning of his surgery revealed that the cancer had spread to his liver. It was too late to operate. The only recourse to him, said his doctor, was 18 courses of strong chemo, but his survival chances were just 6 per cent.

Whoop! Whoop! Anecdote Alert! Whoop! Whoop!

Morty rejected the entire war metaphor. For him, it was not a life and death battle. And by rejecting the metaphor, he got on with the business of changing his diet and lifestyle. He became cancer-free in 99 days.

{{citation needed}}

If it really was that simple, do you think people would have been dying of cancer for millennia? Seriously?

I think Lynne may be guilty of believing the hype.

There are rare cases of spontaneous remission. There are much less rare cases of people who claim to be cancer-free, but are simply deluding themselves (or, much worse, being deluded by quacks).

The medical spin doctors have been particularly slick, instilling in the collective public mind a sense that we are winning the war.

Except that it is not a war and they are brutally honest about survival rates, the success rates of different treatments and the balance of risk and benefit – something that cannot be said of the quacks who prey on the narrative spun by the likes of WDDTY.

It’s time to admit their deception: in the main, the battle mentality, no matter how many drugs or how high the dosage, doesn’t really work. And once we all admit that, we can go forward.

What McTaggart actually means here is that we should abandon the treatments towards which she bears an almost visceral ideological hatred and march steadfastly back into the 19th Century when a cancer diagnosis meant certain painful death.

The battle mentality is primarily the rhetoric of non-doctors. If you have questions about cancer, ask a reputable physician, not a quack or a charlatan. If you want people to stop portraying cancer as a battle, start by writing to the Daily Mail.

Bigots: the new Charlie.

Much as she might howl and pontificate about it, Lynne McTaggart is deeply and profoundly ignorant of the meaning of freedom generally and free speech in particular.

Health freedom is the freedom to make a fully informed choice. Every skeptic supports that. We do not support health fooldom, the right to pull the wool over people’s eyes in order to sell them snake oil. We’re completely clear on the difference. Lynne isn’t.

But it gets better. Take this latest diatribe from her blog:

Last weekend I read an extraordinary article in the Sunday times about free speech which ran under the headline ‘Silenced: third of Britons feel they are denied free speech’

The article said that a full third of people in Britain now believe they can’t speak freely on controversial subjects such as immigration and religion because of the fear they that may be criticized, lose their job or be prosecuted.

I bet you can see where this is going. It’ll be the whole right-wing meme of “cultural Marxism”, the evil left-wing plot to stop people applying pejorative epithets to ethnic minorities and so on. To some people, common decency has always been “political correctness gone mad”.

The study had been carried out by the New Culture Forum, a Westminster think tank, and the gist of it was a warning that Britain has developed a “culture of silence” where people feel they must censor themselves, particularly in the workplace.

Imagine that: a right-wing think tank that believes political correctness is evil. Who predicted that?

The story also covered a YouGov poll showing that a third (36 per cent) of those polled believe they cannot speak freely on immigration. Some 31 per cent felt they couldn’t speak about religion – their own or anyone else’s – 27 per cent felt constrained to speak about any ethical issues and 20 per cent feel they cannot express their political views without censure.

Some people think that people feeling inhibited about expressing bigotry is a good thing.

But who are these who are unable to speak freely on religion? Well, probably atheists. Atheists have been strongly resisted in the Radio 4 Thought For The Day slot, and are very often reluctant to speak out. Certainly Christians are not silenced: they have the sanction of being an officially established church, with guaranteed seats in the upper house and a place at pretty much every state occasion.

So the silent majority is becoming the silenced majority.

Lynne? 36% is not a majority. I know maths is not WDDTY’s strong suit.

However, the story went on to say that the public held free speech in higher regard than any other freedom we enjoy in the West.

Indeed. And thanks to Simon Singh, you now have much more of it. Of course, that means Chris Woollams could not have silenced legitimate criticism from David Colquhoun, an act of which WDDTY approved, and Wakefield would not have been able to even consider his vexatious action against the BMJ and Fiona Godlee in the UK – a suppressive act which ultimately failed when he took his case to the US. Once again WDDTY applauded his litigation, because WDDTY does not care about free speech, it cares only about the ability to make bogus claims without challenge.

I don’t know much about New Culture Forum, and I suspect I wouldn’t agree with all of its values, but one thing I do agree with is the fact that this group is sick of being dictated to by the media about what can or cannot be thought or expressed.

New Culture Forum is a libertarian think tank. I am sure you’d get on like a house on fire: they, too, are unfettered by the real world and its copious evidence of the failure of the policies they advocate.

In my view nowhere is this more evident than with information about science and medicine.

That is arguably true: science barely gets a look-in among the relentless bullshit in the Daily Mail and elsewhere.

Here in the UK the BBC and most of the papers of record, such as The Times, have been taken over by a group of journalists supposedly devoted to science, but in fact dedicated to ‘scientism,’ the blind confirmation of prevailing belief.

{{citation needed}}

What Lynne actually means is that pretty much every scientist who looks at the claims she holds dear, finds them wrong, and the science journalists at respected media outlets choose not to assert the opposite, because that would make them pseudoscience journalists instead.

The term “scientism” is a pejorative used by believers in refuted bullshit, most especially creationists, to try to portray the scientific method and the acceptance of empirically validated fact, as a religious and dogmatic position.  They have no counter to the  fact that science routinely develops or discards ideas as the evidence builds. They don’t really care: all they want to do is pretend that their bullshit is as good as the scientists’ facts.

This mindset pooh-poohs any view or evidence that counters that world view, regardless of the evidence, and it particularly rails against anyone brave enough to profess to a spiritual belief. Worse, they refuse to allow even a discussion of dissent.

No, it simply rejects claims that are not backed by sound evidence. That is what science does. That’s why science is the defining factor in the modern era: superstition and folk myth are blown away by empirical tests and testable theories. There is a reason why astrologers have not got a man to the moon.

This is the mindset behind Sense About Science, behind militant atheism, behind the dictum from TED talks that ban anything with even a whiff of information about the paranormal or consciousness research. It’s behind the trolling of Wikipedia and of course behind the attacks on What Doctors Don’t Tell You.

Three separate claims, and together they identify the source.

TED got in trouble for allowing people like Rupert Sheldrake to spout woo. TED is a respected brand, but a commercial entity. They decided to clamp down on their TEDx franchisees allowing uncritical presentation of bullshit because it was undermining their core brand. That’s a commercial decision, a bit like WH Smith not stocking the anti-vaccine arsewipe that McTaggart edits.

The “trolling” of Wikipedia is in reality the policing of Wikipedia’s policies on reality-based content. We don’t allow the claims of lunatic charlatans to go unchallenged. This is a feature, not a bug, and if you don’t like it you have exactly two enforceable rights: the right to leave, and the right to “fork” (copy the content and build your own). So, if you don’t like Wikipedia’s article on homeopathy – and no believer in magic sugar does – then feel free to fork off.

The “attacks” on WDDTY are based on its dangerously misleading content. Remove the claptrap and we’d leave you alone. The choice is very much yours.

It’s the mindset behind anything that wishes to explore the new, and for all its extolling of science, it is the enemy of true scientific exploration.

No, it really is not, for reasons succinctly explained by Edzard Ernst in his excellent new book a scientist in wonderland.

The role of science is not to promote anything, it is to test whether it is true. The SCAM fraternity are horrified by the idea that somebody might actually test their claims objectively, as far as they are concerned, they are self-evidently true because they believe them, and they believe them because they are self-evidently true, an infinitely reinforcing cycle of circular reasoning.

Where health and patient welfare are concerned, it is not only legitimate to test claims, it is the only ethically defensible thing to do. But then, WDDTY has never given a toss about being ethically defensible.

However, there are signs that silent majority are beginning to finally speak up. One of the first signs is a new American website called Skeptical About Skeptics. http://www.skepticalaboutskeptics.org, which has outed all the skeptics who have held sway for so long.

Do take a look. You’ll see Rupert Sheldrake letting off steam about how the nasty reality-based community reject his conjecture of morphic resonance on the flimsy grounds that he has produced absolutely no remotely credible evidence to support it (which is a shame: the creationists would love it, as it would refute Darwin, albeit replacing it with Lysenkoism).

Check it out and for once feel free to have your say.

Yes, do: that blog is hilarious. It uses “skeptical” in the same way climate “skeptics”, vaccine “skeptics”, holocaust “skeptics” and moon landing “skeptics” do.

In the end, though, it’s no different from the essence of every word Lynne McTaggart writes: “help, I’m being oppressed by nasty reality, make it go away”.

WDDTY: Proper Charlies

Simon Singh: an actual free speech icon
Simon Singh: an actual free speech icon

WDDTY are nothing if not predictable. The latest round in their relentless drive to prove to the world that they have no clue about free speech is to start what appears to be a series of personal attacks on those who, in their bubble world with its complete absence of self-awareness or self-criticism, they hold responsible for the backlash over the execrable content of their quackery apologia.

The first really could be the last: it would be hard to improve on this. WDDTY, who supported unethical quack and research fraudster Andrew Wakefield’s attempts to use frivolous lawsuits to chilling effect against critics, have decided that Simon Singh’s criticism of their commercial speech means that WDDTY are “Charlie” and Simon is not.

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that WDDTY are quite open about caring solely about the impact on their bottom line, their target is about as wrong as you can get. Continue reading WDDTY: Proper Charlies

What is free speech?

“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.

mctagnut-blog

 

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:

mctagnut blog Continue reading What is free speech?

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