Tag Archives: Big Pharma

Alan Hunter: but wait! There’s moar!

Only 45 minutes after sending his lunatic rant over chronic illness, our hero decided that he had more to say on the subject and sent it again with extra psychotic babble for the same price. Well, it looks psychotic to us. We won’t bore you with the repeated text. This is the addendum:

Dear Sense About “Science” (…)
But it is obvious that you are on the side of the companies who make MONEY out of prescriptions! You should be ashamed of yourselves. You are liars, frauds, and thieves! And if you want a challenge at court on these issues – go ahead – give me your details! Because, what I CAN say, is that I will expose your fraudulent methods o “curing” as being just that – FRAUDULENT. And if you want to take me to court – BRING IT ON! Looking forward to the TRUTH being brought out in the courts/newspapers/TV/Radio/door-to-door-leafleting!

Yours every so kindly

Alan Hunter (someone more knowledgeable than you – for SUR

So, taking that bit by bit, and ignoring the bitchy greeting:

But it is obvious that you are on the side of the companies who make MONEY out of prescriptions!

That’s Ye Olde Pharma Shill Gambit. It’s especially idiotic of Mr Hunter-Warren to resort to it, inasmuch as he quite provably makes money – or tries to – out of his book and tester kits. It’s also extremely hypocritical of him to expect other people to work for free, while he should adjudge himself the right to make a profit.

You should be ashamed of yourselves. You are liars, frauds, and thieves!

No, we are not ashamed of exposing, debunking and mocking quackery.  Moreover, the “liars, frauds, and thieves!” assertion is unambiguously defamatory and a court of law would doubtless agree with us. It’s just as well for you that the editorial team here are anonymous and thus don’t have a professional reputation to defend, isn’t it?

And if you want a challenge at court on these issues – go ahead – give me your details!

This is posturing. Why on earth should anybody wish to send their personal information to a PO Box with Multiple Personality Disorder? In any case, it would be for our legal representatives, had we any, to get in contact, not the plaintiff.

Because, what I CAN say, is that I will expose your fraudulent methods o “curing” as being just that – FRAUDULENT.

Really? Just a minute while we heat up some popcorn. Incidentally, are you related in any way to a chap called John Benneth? Your writing styles are depressingly similar.

And if you want to take me to court – BRING IT ON!

We fart in your general direction. If anybody is going to take you to court, it will likely be the Advertising Standards Authority. We have seen the claims on your webshite.

Looking forward to the TRUTH being brought out in the courts/newspapers/TV/Radio/door-to-door-leafleting!

We suspect you have delusions of grandeur. We also reckon we know who will be doing the door-to-door leafleting, presumably in Morningside, Edinburgh, from where you wrote to The Scotsman recently. No, we’re not stalking you. It’s not hard to trace narcissists who like to flaunt long-past achievements.

Yours every so kindly Alan Hunter (someone more knowledgeable than you – for SUR

Perhaps, but we hesitate to ask what it is that you are more knowledgeable about.

Don’t go away, there are plenty more rants from this fruitcake to be dissected. We haven’t even started on the webshite, and if anything deserved that description, it is certainly his.

Paying the Piper

(Reblogged with permission from Majikthyse. Please go there to comment)

That guardian of all that’s self-righteous about quackery, the magazine and website What Doctors Don’t Tell You, has its ire well stoked this week. The editors reveal that the famous Clinical Trials Service Unit (CTSU) at Oxford University is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. This apparently is the result of tireless investigation by`nutritionist and wholefood campaigner’ Zoë Harcombe. Not you will note a dietician, but a nutritionist, a title that almost anyone seems qualified to hold these days. I can boil an egg, so I’m a nutritionist. “You got an ology?” But enough of flippancy.

I feel duty bound to explain that Ms Harcombe is a writer who mainly sells books on obesity. Her dedication to the truth might be judged by her false claim to the Daily Mail in 2011 that she was studying for a PhD, as reported by my good friend Ben Goldacre. But we all make mistakes. In Ms Harcombe’s case, a further mistake was not realising what the CTSU actually is.

Presumably she has not heard of contract research organisations (CROs). Most of these are commercial companies to whom health care companies contract out a large part of their research, mainly in clinical trials. They have existed for at least 30 years, and some of them are enormous. The usual modus operandi is for the sponsor to engage the CRO to carry out a clinical trial, providing entire or partial functions. So if the contract is `full service’, the CRO will do everything from writing the protocol to writing the final report. The bits in between would include obtaining all the approvals (regulatory, ethics etc), designing the data capture and processing tools, analysing the data, as well as recruiting all the trial sites and investigators and managing the logistics (eg drug and equipment supplies).

However a lot of these contracts are not full service, and in particular data capture and analysis might well not be contracted out at all, or may be delegated to a different contractor. A lot of sponsors run their own data repositories and insist on CROs feeding data into those. Lots of them do their own analysis, and employ armies of statisticians. So what is the CTSU?

It is in fact a CRO, but more so. Rather than rely on what the CTSU claims (“they would say that wouldn’t they?”), let’s look at what the independent Science Media Centre says. The relevant bit is right at the end:

The CTSU conducts, analyses and interprets its clinical trials and other research independently of industry and other funders, with the datasets held by the CTSU rather than by the funders.

Now I’m sure that text came straight from the CTSU, but some credibility is added by its appearance on an independent and respected site. The point though is that the CTSU goes way beyond the probity of a conventional CRO, by erecting a Chinese wall between sponsor and data. The people paying the piper do not call the tune, because they don’t know what the tune is until it’s played at the end of the whole project. Not only that, but the CTSU has a rigorous policy on payments to individuals. Read it and make up your own mind.

What about the funding issue? Look again at the Science Media Centre page. It’s a list of trials, with sponsors and how much they paid. It is baffling as to why anyone should be surprised or indignant about this. The CTSU is a CRO, albeit academically based (and better for that), with a more than usually rigorous policy on independence from financial bias. The CTSU exists to do trials, it has a world-class reputation for that, and companies will pay for that expertise.

WDDTY is full of righteous indignation because Merck & Co, a major statin manufacturer, is also a major funder of the CTSU. Look at the trials Merck has sponsored. Apart from relatively small amounts unrelated to particular trials, Merck provided £63.9 million for statin trials, but £149 million for trials of other drugs unrelated to statins. Yet WDDTY states (my bold):

Over the past 20 years, the two research bodies* have received £268m donations, including £217m from Merck, a major manufacturer of statins.

(*CTSU and its subsidiary The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists Collaboration)

It is a lie to say this funding comprised `donations’ – it was not. It was perfectly normal business and scientific practice, whereby the CTSU was compensated for carrying out research commissioned to it. There is nothing unusual or suspicious about that.

I am not going to get into detail about whatever the CTSU’s director Sir Rory Collins said about the discredited papers in the BMJ, which grossly overstated the side effects of statins, or about what he said about his sources of funds. I haven’t reviewed the whole saga in detail, but as the CTSU’s funding is so transparent I can’t see how he could have forgotten about most of it.

Regarding the retraction of papers, the Science Media Centre provides some useful sound bites on its news page. I am not sure whether WDDTY is simply careless and incompetent, or deliberately distorts the truth – I suspect the latter. But whatever the motivation, the editors have got it wrong yet again. They say that an independent panel refused to retract the papers that quoted the incorrect data, which is not true. The truth is that the authors of the erroneous studies agreed that they were wrong. What the panel declined to retract were two other papers that referred to the original ones. As you can see from the comments from various experts, opinions are divided as to whether there was a need to retract the derivative papers, although they are pretty much unanimous that statins are very useful drugs that have saved many lives.

WDDTY has studiously avoided saying anything about the research which shows statins to be better tolerated than previously thought. Instead the editors make invalid connections between unrelated facts, and indulge in selective reporting and distortion. A drug company would be quite rightly castigated for such behaviour, but in 40 years I have never come across one that tried anything as bad as this.

Addendum: This is the full post as it appeared on WDDTY’s website on 21st August 2014.

‘Independent’ statin research group funded by drugs industry

A research unit that influenced wider statin use in the UK was all the time being funded by drug companies, including £217m from Merck, one of the largest producers of the cholesterol-lowering drug.
The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists Collaboration (CTT), based at Oxford University and headed by Sir Rory Collins, has been very influential in shifting UK health policy, which this year started to recommend statin use for all over-60s.
The new guidelines, issued by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), followed the publication of ‘independent’ studies from CTT that maintained that statins had few side effects but many major benefits. Sir Rory was also highly critical of studies published in the British Medical Journal that claimed the drugs caused side effects in 22 per cent of users. He demanded that the papers were retracted, which an independent review panel refused to do.
All along, Sir Rory claimed that he and the CTT were independent, and that any funding came from charitable sources such as the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. Even as recently as last March, Sir Rory repeated in an email to the BMJ that the British Heart Foundation was a major funder, and demanded to know who had funded the critical research he wanted withdrawn.
But these have been minor funders of CTT and its parent body, the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU). Over the past 20 years, the two research bodies have received £268m donations, including £217m from Merck, a major manufacturer of statins.
The true picture came to light only after nutritionist and wholefood campaigner Zoe Harcombe uncovered the original documents that outline the CTSU’s funders.



The Vitamin Wars

Few columns in WDDTY reveal the hypocrisy of the SCAM industry quite so consistently as Rob Verkerk’s. Rob runs the Alliance for Natural Health Europe (ANH-Europe), a SCAM industry lobby group indistinguishable in function and purpose from the lobbying companies used by “big pharma”, but far less scrupulous when it comes to accuracy, because Rob (like many of his contemporaries) not only lobbies for SCAM, he also makes money from SCAM, and makes more money promoting in print the SCAM from which he makes money.

His February 2014 is perfect of its type:

Few Natural-health aficionados would have been unable to miss the media reports about vitamins being a waste of money. They hit every major newspaper, radio and TV station last December.

Yes, it’s a welcome change from the usual credulous nonsense planted by people like Rob Verkerk.

The Times’ science correspondent, Tom Whipple, the journalist that has had his crosshairs focused on this very magazine in separate articles appearing on the 1st October and 2nd November, was the most condemning.

No evidence that Tom Whipple was the most condemning, but to say he has his crosshairs focused on WDDTY is a classic appeal to motives: according to Verkerk, Whipple cannot be trusted because he has an agenda against WDDTY. In fact, the opposite is true: Whipple can be trusted precisely because he has spoken out against the misleading information in WDDTY, rather than either parroting it or ignoring it as most journalists do.

Rob Verkerk, like Lynne McTaggart and all the other contributors to WDDTY, is unable to separate objective scrutiny of false information from suppression of free speech. That’s because they sincerely believe things which are unsupported by scientific evidence, and that’s precisely why any trustworthy health journalist will give overwhelmingly negative coverage to WDDTY.

His piece, in the 17th December edition of the newspaper, declared, “Vitamin pills are a waste of money, experts warn.” The Daily Mail said multivitamins “do nothing to protect us from illness”.

And this is true: for most people eating a healthy balanced diet, supplements are unnecessary. And for those who are not eating a healthy balanced diet, a change of diet is vastly preferable to supplementation.

So who are those experts, and what did they actually reveal or say? The first thing to recognize is that the most damning headlines about vitamin and mineral supplements weren’t generated from any new clinical trials or even analyses of previous trials. They actually came from an opinion piece written as an editorial by a number of scientists and appearing in the same issue of the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM) that also included three reviews of past studies. Some of the authors had been engaged in previous studies of high-dose synthetic vitamin supplements.

Apparently Rob Verkerk doesn’t understand the process of scientific consensus building. This article summarised several reviews and other evidence, and drew a conclusion. That’s what science does. It’s interesting, though, that a columnist in WDDTY would try to play the “appeal to authority fallacy” card to undermine a published paper – great swathes of WDDTY would be blank if the editors adopted the view that appeals to authority are not reliable.

But this was a serious, highly credible, well-researched article in a major  peer-reviewed journal. That’s why it is so important, and why Verkerk has to spin like crazy to downplay it.

One review, the biggest by far, evaluated 26 studies to see if there was a link between taking typical dosages and forms of multivitamin/ mineral supplements and death from any cause, as well as death from either cancer or heart disease.

Another looked at two studies that evaluated the effects of a multivitamin on reducing cognitive decline in the elderly, and the third investigated whether a multivitamin could reduce cardiovascular events among those who’d already had a heart attack.

Indeed. And the results were underwhelming to say the least.

Any clinicians worth their salt and practising in the field of nutritional medicine, if asked to propose the likely outcomes of the multivitamin interventions evaluated by the three AIM articles, would have said “no chance”. And guess what? That’s just what was found. But this then gave the editorial authors a chance to blast their anti-supplement sentiments through an opinion piece that generated international news headlines.

A physician worth their salt and practising in the field of nutritional medicine, is called a dietician. It’s a protected title, and practitioners are subject to training requirements and statutory regulation. And yes, they would say that the chances of a positive result from precisely the kinds of routine supplementation that makes millions for the SCAM industry in product sales is slim. Multivitamins are, as the article says, probably a complete waste of money. How many shelves in your local pharmacy would that empty?

It’s big business. And the business needs its spin machine – including mouthpieces like Verkerk – to undermine a finding that is in the end neither surprising nor controversial.

The anti-supplement machine is rather well oiled and appears to be wheeled out every couple of years or so, presumably to try to dissuade people from doing too much to manage their own health. Short of banning supplements—something already happening especially within the EU and causing us to lose some of the most efficacious products, which threaten drug sales—this appears to be the favoured strategy among those with this particular agenda.

The pharma shill gambit rides again. What “anti-supplement machine”? When was the last time you saw an advertisement telling you not to buy supplements? When did you last see a campaign to stop shops selling supplements? Who is behind this “anti-supplement machine”? Certainly not “big pharma”, as they own many supplement brands. Whoever it is, they are doing a startlingly inept job: supplements are everywhere, touted by all kinds of credible-looking people using sciencey-sounding words, and they are getting away with it. Nearly a third of the UK population are popping supplements, and according to the evidence they are mainly worthless. That’s not evidence of a well-oiled anti-supplement machine is it?

The statement that this is “presumably to try to dissuade people from doing too much to manage their own health” is an appeal to motives; what Verkerk really means is that promotion of good science (i.e. science talking down the benefit of supplementation) is designed to dissuade people from giving unnecessary money to him, and others like him. The whole point of recent activity around regulatory changes is precisely that people are not managing their own health by taking supplements, they are mainly handing money to charlatans. Hence controls on maximum doses, to provide some control over vitamin megadoseW quacks.

What you don’t read in the papers is what was actually found in the studies. Did you read that a simple multivitamin can lower cancer risk in men by 8 per cent? You probably didn’t read that there were many studies that found positive effects. It’s just when you pool studies that have conflicting results, the very nature of a systematic review of this type, that you run the risk of cancelling out the variable results, even when they may have been due to other factors.

The whole point of a systematic review is that it balances the chance positive findings inevitable in clinical studies, and finds the overall effect to a much greater degree of certainty. As with homeopathy, the number of positive studies is completely irrelevant to the consensus of review studies that there is no credible evidence of effect. The positive studies are not ignored by systematic reviews, they are assessed, weighted according to methodological quality, and factored into the mix.

When the summary finding is no benefit, there’s no point howling about the positive results. The systematic review has already taken account of them. That is, after all, the point.

Also conspicuously absent from the news reports was any discussion of the reasons why most people take a daily multivitamin. They do so because of perceived benefits regarding things like energy levels, athletic performance, mental alertness and immune support.

Really? Where do they get this perception of benefit, given that the reviews find no actual benefit? Ah, wait: it’s a placebo effect caused by people like Verkerk talking up the clinically indefensible products from which he makes such a nice living.

In fact, many of these kinds of relationships have actually been proven scientifically, and have been officially authorized as health claims for use on commercial products EU-wide by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU’s highest authority on food safety.And the EFSA is notoriously tough on accepting health claims. They’ve only approved about 250 in total, and most of these are for vitamins and minerals.

Not strictly true, since these approvals often rely on subjective assessments of benefit, but why would this be a problem? If the evidence is there, then the product is licensed and can be sold. If it’s not, then the evidence isn’t there. Verkerk appears to be arguing that because EFSA approves other products of this class, albeit not many, then all products of the class should be sold as if they were covered. Why would that be a good idea?

Another point made in the AIM editorial is that people can get everything they need from their diet.

Well, I agree. But only in theory, or in relation to a tiny section of society who are able to put in huge amounts of effort to source and prepare the best highest-quality foods and eat them consistently, day in, day out.

That is a fantastically implausible claim, and actually it’s the Nirvana fallacy. It is not hard to eat a balanced diet, and if it were then we’d scarcely have survived the harsh evolutionary realities of life. It doesn’t have to be the absolute best (either as defined by dieticians or quack nutritionists), it only has to be good enough.

The idea that a normal diet is substantially deficient in nutrients, is self-evidently bizarre. Vitamins were essentially unknown prior tot he late 18th Century and there is little doubt that the nutritional quality of our diet has improved vastly since then due to refrigeration and other techniques to prevent spoilage.

In practice, many of us fall dismally below optimal levels in one or more nutrients, and population-wide surveys show us that deficiencies in vitamin A (for immunity), vitamin K (for bone health), magnesium (for muscles and energy) and zinc (for immunity) are rampant. Worse than this, many of us carry genetic defects, referred to as ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ (SNPs), which mean we benefit from taking above average levels of particular nutrients to compensate. None of this gets a mention of course, despite the fact that this area of nutritional science— nutrigenomics—is one of the most rapidly expanding areas today.

This is a great argument for eating better and a truly terrible argument for buying a product which, according to the evidence, is routinely mis-sold by its proponents.

It seems that newspapers like The Times can only get away with creating headlines out of these issues if they are highly selective about the ‘facts’ and omit doing justice to the commonly accepted principles of standards of journalism and critical, unbiased reporting. I’m confident that most insightful readers will have been able to read past the agenda of the scientists and journalists involved.

You “forgot” to show that they were in the least bit selective. They didn’t toe the vitamin peddlers’ line, but that is a point in their favour rather than against them

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you to take supplements instead of eating a reasonable balanced diet?

Because doctors, unlike vitamin peddlers, care about your health, not their profits.

Editorial, Feb 2014: The Third Diabetes

The cover story in the February 2014 issue is “the secret cause of Alzheimer’s”.

The accompanying editorial is particularly nauseating.

Governments of the West have finally woken up to the fact that we have an epidemic of dementia on our hands. The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease is growing so quickly (the worldwide incidence is set to treble to 135 million in 35 years), and the death rates are so high (it’s the sixth leading cause of death) that last December, ministers from the G8 leading nations met in London to pledge to coordinate efforts to research a cure.

They haven’t “finally woken up to it”, it’s been a focus of research for decades. And it’s not an “epidemicW” – it’s not infectious and the incidence is as expected given an ageing population and the fact that Alzheimer’s is a disease of old age.

Little has changed, and the world of quackery cannot take credit even for that.

Although the pharmaceutical industry is never slow to investigate new revenue streams, it’s hit such a stalemate with dementia—none of the five drugs on the market have any evidence of doing any real good at all—that it has stopped looking for a magic bullet.

This is meaningless rhetoric. Of course the pharmaceutical industry is always looking for revenue, it is denied the special advantages of the SCAM industry, it is not protected from scrutiny by powerful friends, and drug companies are businesses. So what?

Whether or not they have stopped looking for a “magic bullet” is immaterial. A lot of research is going on, funded by companies and governments, and this has been the case for at least 30 years.

As our cover story this month makes clear, research to date has ignored the elephant in the room. New and largely ignored evidence shows that insulin resistance from a high-sugar diet may be responsible for the toxic plaques that develop in the brain, eventually robbing it of neurons.

OK, so if we follow WDDTY’s “logic” here, the past three decades should have been spent investigating something that’s only recently come to light? You can’t claim something is both new and widely ignored. A new and compelling finding will be investigated with a view to replication, this will take time.

What happens in the brain with Alzheimer’s is essentially what happens to the rest of the body with diabetes. In fact, some researchers are going as far as to call Alzheimer’s ‘type 3 diabetes’.

Indeed they are. And when you say researchers, what you mean is doctors.

This is, in other words, a classic bit of SCAM taunting of the medical world: science has discovered this new thing, science did not discover it before, therefore science is useless and SCAM is brilliant because some SCAMmers claimed, on the basis of absolutely no evidence at all, something similar.

In addition to revelations laying the cause of diabetes at the feet of the processed-food industry, we also offer evidence about those natural herbs and nutriceuticals with solid clinical and laboratory evidence for reversing neural damage that has already begun (page 30).

The problems of HFCS and other high sugar dietary elements are not yours to own. You did not play any part in bringing these to light, the SCAM industry has never played anything but a sideline role in diabetes. True, some quacks have claimed to cure it – without evidence, and to the detriment of their victims – but it’s scientists who have made all the advances.

Your concept of “solid evidence” is, as we know, laughably inaccurate.

The really irritating thing about this is that while medical science is proceeding by slow and painstaking investigation, the world of SCAM is doing precisely what WDDTY accuse “big pharma” of doing: rushing in to make money out of exploiting the afflicted. Science is honest about the lack of effect of drugs; SCAM is completely unfettered by any considerations of honesty, and will claim to “reverse” or “cure” Alzheimer’s based on the most fanciful premises.

We’ll look at the lead article later, but note in advance that it advises detox and chelation, two forms of dangerous refuted nonsense.

The All Trials dilemma

This story is updated thanks to @JoBrodie and @_Josephine Jones, via Twitter.

WDDTY has a dilemma.

On the one hand, Ben GoldacreW’s book Bad PharmaW is, on the face of it, a gift to quacks, shining a light on chronic abuse of the clinical trials system by Big Pharma – and the All TrialsW initiative is a public campaign that is likely to effect material change.

On the other, WDDTY is part of the world characterised by Wally Sampson as “sectarian medicine”, where taking sides is the thing that matters most. Sectarianism is why quacks support each other even when their ideas are mutually exclusive. WDDTY cannot promote Bad Pharma or support All Trials, because Ben Goldacre is one of the most effective critics of quackery today, and All Trials is promoted by Sense About ScienceW.

As in politics: the mere fact of having been suggested by the “opposition” makes it ideologically impossible to get behind an idea, no matter how transparently sensible and correct it is.

Worse: the mere existence of these things is a fatal body blow to the idea that criticism of quackery is motivated by slavish devotion to “big pharma”, the most obvious example of the many thousands that already exist proving that the “pharma shill” claim is and always has been fallacious nonsense.

So WDDTY has been floundering as the story builds, ineffectually picking at the edges of a genuine grass-roots campaign which has already achieved more in a year than WDDTY has in its entire existence.

There is a pressing need to spin something as showing that the real world “supports” WDDTY’s agenda, in the face of the increasingly obvious fact that any connection between genuine need for action and WDDTY’s content is purely coincidental. Hence this News story from WDDTY on 7 Jan 2014:

The UK government is demanding greater openness from the pharmaceutical industry after it spent £424m on stockpiling the Tamiflu anti-viral drug without ever knowing if it would work.

The UK Parliament’s public accounts committee wants the release of all research data on every prescription drug available on the country’s National Health Service (NHS). It is “of extreme concern” that the true effectiveness, and safety, of prescription drugs remains unknown because the drugs industry refuses to reveal research data from drug trials, the committee has said.

Half of all trial data is never released, and this is invariably the ‘bad news’ about drugs not working properly or not being safe.

(Source: BBC News, January 3, 2014).

I thought this was the BBC story: Bacon MP: Drug companies ‘routinely’ twist research, but my Sinister Elves tell me it’s actually Lack of drug data ‘extreme concern’. Both cover the same event: the Public Accounts Committee’s call for all trial data to be published.

If it’s the first, I congratulate WDDTY on finding a story that supports the All Trials agenda without actually mentioning All Trials or Ben Goldacre (as so many do). Bonus points for getting a kick at Tamiflu (which also, er, wasn’t mentioned in the interview with Richard Bacon MP), promoting the WDDTY “nobody dies from flu and Tamiflu doesn’t work” agenda (unlike the badly off-message BBC News story on Jan 8: First N America H5N1 bird flu death confirmed in Canada).

If it’s the second, then we all get to point and laugh, because the longer story not only names the All Trials initiative, it also quotes Ben Goldacre and credits him as a leading player. And my Sinister Elves are likely right, meaning that WDDTY has plucked out the passing reference to Tamiflu and completely ignored the primary focus of the story, which is the Public Accounts Committee picking up on All Trials.

There’s none so blind as she that will not see, I guess.

It must be tricky seeing a story building that feeds your paranoid fantasies, and having so much of the coverage completely unusable because it mentions the reality-based community that is not only driving change, but is also exposing your own dangerous nonsense.

Hat tip: @JoBrodie, @_JosephineJones and many other fantastic Twitter followers of @WWDDTYDTY

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you that much industry-funded research is not published?

They do – and they are doing it vastly more accurately and effectively than WDDTY. Special thanks to Doctor Ben Goldacre!

‘WDDTY’ about foot-in-mouth syndrome

(Reblogged with permission from Labcoats Unbuttoned)

I was recently (for a short while) involved in posting on the Facebook page for our favourite magazine, ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’. We’ve talked about this rag before, but since then the ‘war’ between the skeptics and the toilet paper has escalated in spectacular style. Rather than try to document this here, it’s probably best to link to the ‘Master List’ drawn up by Josephine Jones on her blog, which is a comprehensive summary of both the dangerous reporting in the magazine along with responses from consumers and retailers regarding the recent attempts to have their ‘homeopathy for cancer’ issue withdrawn from sale in major supermarkets. It’s a fantastic resource, and worth going through.

Now, I WAS engaged in online debate with some of their fans and readers, but this is sadly past tense. Why so? This is because I, alongside several other skeptics, got banned from the page, with our comments deleted leaving embarrassing threads of people who appear to be talking to themselves. From a magazine that cries ‘FREE SPEECH!’ as soon as anyone does something so pesky as I don’t know, ASKING THEM TO BACK UP THEIR CLAIMS WITH EVIDENCE, this is somewhat hypocritical. Apparently we were deleted for (non-existent) ‘personal attacks’, yet a WDDTY supporter who called me a ‘plebeian wage slave’ remains on the page.

One thing that really struck me when talking to people on the page, was the brainwashed, cult-like mindset of some of their ‘followers’. Homeopaths serving up so-called evidence for their claims: that I expected, but what really saddened me was the hero-worship from the general public, who genuinely seem to believe that Lynne McTaggart and her magazine are spearheading a noble crusade against evil Big Pharma. Never mind the dozens of scientists providing concrete evidence to refute their claims-they must all be being paid to do so. It’s classic conspiracy thinking, and very, very similar to what we saw with the Umlingo juice for HIV. Then, as now, the ludicrous claims are so laughably easy to debunk that it is truly exasperating how some people can be so blind. There is genuine ignorance and there is genuine wickedness, and the irony is that while they dismiss their critics as being in the pay of Big Pharma, they publish articles about vitamin C curing all diseases alongside full-page, paid adverts for vitamins. Hypocrisy? Surely not?.

Sometimes Quacks can be somewhat clever. Ben Goldacre devoted an entire book to the clever and subtle tricks that can be used to mislead when it comes to science and in particular healthcare science. Statistics are tricky, and it’s easy enough to manipulate them so that your average untrained (or even trained) eye glosses over the error. What WDDTY do is on a whole other level. It’s so hilariously botched, so pathetically obvious that you almost have to admire their nerve in keeping a straight face as they spout this crap.

Case in point: the most recent post on their Facebook page (and on Lynne McTaggart’s own social media pages):


We’ve been attacked for reporting that the HPV vaccine has been linked to 68 deaths, but our figures now seem too conservative.

An issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (July 26, 2013 / 62(29);591-595), the weekly report prepared by the US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that between June 2006 and March 2013, the US’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System has received approximately 1671 reports to be exact – of ‘serious’ adverse events occurring in girls who’d received the HPV4 vaccine. 

Reports are classified as ‘serious’ if they include one or more of the following, said the CDC: hospitalization , prolongation of an existing hospitalization , permanent disability, life-threatening illness, or death.

This relates to a previous article Labcoats Unbuttoned did on HPV vaccines  and we mostly dealt with the actual vaccine in that post. I’m bringing this up again to illustrate a point about how not only does this magazine cherry pick, mislead and manipulate, they very simply flat-out LIE, and that is the only way of putting it.

They’ve often been criticised for not posting their references, well here they did, and thus the egg met the face. Their ‘source’ is this CDC report. I thought I’d go through what they are claiming and compare it to what is in the report. ‘1671 reports of serious adverse effects’ – true, but neglecting to mention that this is out of 56 MILLION doses given from June 2006 through March 2013. They actually received 21,194 reports of adverse effects, 92.1% of these were classified as non-serious. These can include things like fainting (common in people with a phobia of needles) through to hives, slight fever, localised redness or swelling, etc. These adverse effects are seen across all vaccines. In the ‘serious’ adverse effects, the most common included headaches, fever, weakness, nausea and vomiting. Now, as we addressed previously, serious side effects are an unfortunate part of any vaccination program. They do occur, at rates which are clearly defined (by this exact sort of report on the available data) and there is no ‘cover up’. Actually, 1 serious adverse event in approximately 35,000 doses is in line with or slightly better than what you would expect for most vaccines. No health intervention comes without risk.

What is crucial is that the risk is balanced by the reward, and here WDDTY have been very sneaky indeed. They’ve splashed their ‘evidence’ with a misleading headline and a negative spin, completely neglecting to mention that actually, the report then goes on to discuss that there is no good evidence the vaccine is unsafe, and makes strong, unambiguous recommendations that we need to improve the current vaccination program to ensure better uptake of the HPV vaccine. Far from supporting their agenda, this report directly contradicts them – WDDTY says the vaccine is dangerous while quoting a report that says more people need to have it.

Here is the crucial paragraph in the document which WDDTY seem to have scrolled past:

‘Approximately 79 million persons in the United States are infected with HPV, and approximately 14 million will become newly infected each year. Some HPV types can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer among women; penile cancer among men; and anal and some oropharyngeal cancers among both men and women. Other HPV types can cause genital warts among both sexes. Each year in the United States, an estimated 26,200 new cancers attributable to HPV occur: 17,400 among females (of which 10,300 are cervical cancer) and 8,800 among males (of which 6,700 are oropharyngeal cancers).’

That is what this vaccine is trying to protect people from. WDDTY, rather than addressing these statistics, choose instead to stick their fingers in their ears and LALALA, claiming that only 4000 new cases are reported every year. Unsure where they got that figure from – I assume they are capable of reading the paragraph above as well as I can. But I’ve given up on expecting better from them. I’m sad, however, that I’m now banned from the page and can’t call them out on their misguided claims and hypocrisy. One of their supporters, having read the report and as expected, become very confused as to why their claims didn’t match their reference, concluded that it was a ‘CDC’cover up, as it contradicted what WDDTY was saying. If that isn’t worshipping at the altar of a dangerous cult, I’m not sure what is, but for now I’ll sit here and wait, either for Lynne to get back to me on Twitter or for someone to magically produce whatever evidence WDDTY are privy to that the CDC are not. On both counts, I think I might be here for a while.

Academics paid by drug companies to whip-up media health scares

Front entrance of the London School of Hygiene...
Front entrance of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the awareness campaign exposing the dangerous lies and disinformation in a magazine that is being sold in newsagents and supermarkets under the false flag of “health” is starting to hurt. The WDDTY team have been making numerous attacks on their critics over the past couple of months, and it all smells very defensive indeed. It smells, in fact, of a threatened revenue stream. It stinks of a well-rotted golden goose slaughtered by its owners as they choose the perceived glory of retail outlets over the more discreet and less risky (for them, not their readers) subscription-only method.

You see, when you put yourself in the public eye, you must not be surprised when the public eye looks back. Nor should you whine when your errors and – in this case, as I hope to show – blatant lies are laid bare for all to see and mock. This was published under “News” on the WDDTY website on 18 November 2013. Full text first…

Academics paid by drug companies to whip-up media health scares

Health scares in the media are often fuelled by academics with links to drug companies that would benefit from the panic, an independent report has found. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) was found guilty of the practice after it warned of a swine flu ‘pandemic’ in 2010 that never happened.
Although academics are trusted sources, those with pharmaceutical links were eight times more likely to advocate the use of an anti-viral drug to treat the H1N1 virus responsible for swine flu, say researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The panic that was whipped up clearly worked: the UK government alone spent £1bn on pharmaceuticals, including antivirals, to counter swine flu, and the pharmaceutical industry earned up to £6.5 bn from the sale of H1N1 vaccines alone.
The researchers analysed 425 articles published in the newspapers about swine flu. Academics were the second most quoted sources after government officials, 30 per cent of whom had drug industry links. More than half the claims they made were exaggerated and went beyond the official view.
However, even the ‘official view’ was tainted; one in three of the experts on the WHO’s emergency committee had drug company links.
(Source: Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 2013; doi: 10.1136/jech-2013-203128)

Now let’s examine that. What actually happened was that researchers from the London School of  Hygiene and Tropical Medicine investigated fears that pharmaceutical companies had unduly profited from sales of H1N1 antivirals during the 2009-2010 pandemic, as a result of academics with competing interests. This is the report in question: Academics and competing interests in H1N1 influenza media reporting. Do you see a difference in meaning and scope between the WDDTY headline and that of the report? It’s just the beginning.

Health scares in the media are often fuelled by academics with links to drug companies that would benefit from the panic, an independent report has found.

No, it hasn’t. Nowhere in the text does it even remotely come close. The conclusion was that academics who had some form of CoI (Conflict of Interest: a very broad term, by the way) were more likely to state risk assessments “higher than official sources”. It was also observed that academics are the second most-quoted source in the media after Ministers of Health.

Even the World Health Organization (WHO) was found guilty of the practice after it warned of a swine flu ‘pandemic’ in 2010 that never happened.

This is doubly untrue: the pandemic did happen – people died, by the way – and the WHO was not “found guilty” by anyone of anything. The WHO is an Official Source, not an individual person.

Although academics are trusted sources, those with pharmaceutical links were eight times more likely to advocate the use of an anti-viral drug to treat the H1N1 virus responsible for swine flu, say researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Uh-huh.  The actual conclusion was “Academics promoting the use of antiviral medication were more likely to have a competing interest than those not commenting on its use“. Of course, reputable researchers don’t extrapolate from a small study to the entire population, which is what the WDDTY hack here is desperately trying to do, if only by implication.

The panic that was whipped up clearly worked: the UK government alone spent £1bn on pharmaceuticals, including antivirals, to counter swine flu, and the pharmaceutical industry earned up to £6.5 bn from the sale of H1N1 vaccines alone.

There was 100% consensus over the vaccines, whether or not the academic had any competing interests. The consensus was: get vaccinated. Get vaccinated, because this one is a killer.

The researchers analysed 425 articles published in the newspapers about swine flu.

Twelve newspapers were studied in all. No, funnily enough WDDTY wasn’t one of them. These were the criteria used: The database was searched using the following terms (an exclamation mark is used as a truncator in this database): H1N1, Influenza A, Swine !flu!, Pandemic !flu!, Pig !flu!. Only articles that contained at least three mentions of the search terms were eligible for inclusion in order to select articles where H1N1 influenza was the main theme…between 20 April and 5 July 2009, the period in which the major decisions on pharmaceuticals as part of the pandemic response were taken by the UK government.

Academics were the second most quoted sources after government officials, 30 per cent of whom had drug industry links.

30% of government officials had drug industry links? Presumably the unnamed hack means the academics, but clearly their writing skills are as poor as their reading skills.

More than half the claims they made were exaggerated and went beyond the official view.

I cannot find the word “exaggerated” anywhere in that report, no more than the word “claim”. This suggests that the WDDTY hack is making exaggerated claims as to the dishonesty of some people, which I find ironic. It is not necessarily true that an estimate which is higher (or, indeed, lower) than official figures is exaggerated. That statement is therefore a distortion of the findings.

However, even the ‘official view’ was tainted; one in three of the experts on the WHO’s emergency committee had drug company links.

Which were declared. The CoI that’s declared can be taken into account. Undeclared CoI – which is the focus in the report – is more potentially dangerous. The report does not condemn the WHO or its assessment in any way, and the hack here carefully skates around the issue that the WHO itself expected the pandemic to be less severe than previous ones.

Perhaps it is significant that WDDTY totally fails to mention this last point, also raised in the report:

Finally, journalists themselves may have undisclosed CoI that would impede truly impartial reporting

When, in fact, did McTaggart & co ever mention a conflict of interest in any of their pro-quackery puff pieces?

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When science is a dirty word

An anti-science commentary by Lynne McTaggart makes some bold and controversial claims about science. Do they stand up to scrutiny?

One of the most misused terms being hurled at us as a rebuttal to What Doctors Don’t Tell You is the term ‘science’.

One of the terms most misused by WDDTY is science.

The main contribution of science to medicine has been objectivity: the ability to minimise the well-known cognitive biases that affect all human observations, to turn the practice of medicine from an essentially religious field to an essentially scientific one.

WDDTY prefer to view mainstream science as a sinister activity pursued by a technocrat minority, an elite that is simultaneously brilliantly manipulative and ideologically hide-bound, lacking in vision, intelligence and the ability to grasp the unfamiliar.

Like proponents of every religion whose precepts are at odds with objective science, they seek ways to portray science as lacking objectivity.

In reality most people now have at least the rudiments of a scientific education and scientific methods of inquiry are a part of everyday life. The room is dark: how do you work out if it is the fuse, the switch or the lamp? The tests are essentially scientific. You do not use intuition, you isolate the components one by one, look for common points of failure (one lamp on,another not, probably the lamp) and thus arrive at the correct answer.

WDDTY’s approach to the darkened room is to basically to advocate a return to candles. And oil lamps. And remote viewingW. Anything other than electricity, because what do scientists know about visual perception?

We have been accused of being unscientific, of pedaling (sic) unproven and harmful alternatives, as opposed to the real thing, true ‘scientific’ medicine.

The evidence supports the accusation that you peddle unproven and harmful alternatives, also that you distort and misrepresent the science you do quote.

That is not to say that evidence-based medicine is perfect, only that the solution to its imperfection is not to jettison all attempts at objectivity in favour of a credulous acceptance of any claim based primarily on its ideological appeal.

Science is pursued by humans, humans are fallible. The scientific method is, fallible humans or not, the most reliable means ever devised to tell truth from fiction. Without it, you would be printing WDDTY with wooden blocks on coarse paper and distributing it at street corners. The process that delivered the knowledge that makes computers and the internet work is fundamentally indistinguishable from the process of medical science delivering knowledge to be used (or abused) by medicine.

There are three points to be made here, adding up to one indisputable truth: there is nothing remotely scientific about conventional medicine.

That statement is neither true nor indisputable.

1.Most of the science behind standard treatments is fiction. As leading members of the medical establishment have made clear in recent books, the so-called ‘proof’ of most so-called ‘proven remedies’ is data that has been invented or manipulated by drug company marketing teams.

Some of it is, some of it isn’t. Cochrane reviews are usually pretty objective, and they are the highest tier of evidence. There’s good reason to suspect systematic manipulation of scientific results by any party with a vested interest in the outcome of the trial – this is a big problem for medicine and a huge problem for alternative medicine, where virtually nobody other than True Believers does any research at all.

But the issue of manipulation of studies is not the us-and-them situation that Lynne presents here. In the case of homeopathy, for example, proponents routinely bring up known issues with individual treatments but miss the point that the entire field of homeopathy is based on refuted doctrines, lacks a coherent framework, is inconsistent with robustly established scientific principles and so on. All clinical trials are prone to bias, therefore they are necessarily less compelling when the treatment is completely implausible.

There is no informed dissent from the view that measurable quantities of pharmacologically active compounds can have an objective effect on the body; there is no credible evidence that giving unmeasurable amounts of substances whose connection to disease is arbitrary and based on a refuted doctrine, can cause any effect other than placebo.

The therapeutic systems of Hoxsey, Gerson and their ilk are not “whole medical systems” existing in a parallel bubble universe apart from science, like homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and the like, but they are still entire classes of unproven therapy, rather than unproven members of a proven class.

This is an important distinction, because the issues with individual medicines are often exposed by diligent scientific comparison of effect between treatments.

2.Most treatments haven’t been proven to work. The British Medical Journal has concluded that only about 12 per cent of all medical treatments have adequate evidence demonstrating that they work.

This is a zombie statistic. The BMJ article did not say that at all, and indeed specifically counsels against interpreting the figures as Lynne interprets them.

What the source says is that of the treatments currently on the books, 11% are well established to be beneficial, 24% are likely to be beneficial, 7% have a trade-off between benefit and harm, 5% are unlikely to be beneficial, 3% are likely to be ineffective or harmful, and 50% have unknown effectiveness, established from RCTs. These will include older treatments, those for which an RCT would be unethical.

This is not a reflection of the evidence base for individual prescribing decisions. Further:

‘Unknown effectiveness’ is perhaps a hard categorisation to explain. Included within it are many treatments that come under the description of complementary medicine (e.g., acupuncture for low back pain and echinacea for the common cold), but also many psychological, surgical, and medical interventions, such as CBT for depression in children, thermal balloon ablation for fibroids, and corticosteroids for wheezing in infants.

‘Unknown effectiveness’ may also simply reflect difficulties in conducting RCTs of an intervention, or be applied to treatments for which the evidence base is still evolving. As such, these data reflect how treatments stand up in the light of evidence-based medicine, and are not an audit of the extent to which treatments are used in practice.

We make use of what is ‘unknown’ in Clinical Evidence by feeding back to the UK NHS Health Technology Assessment Programme (HTA) with a view to helping inform the commissioning of primary research. Every 6 months we assess CE interventions categorised as Unknown effectiveness and submit those fitting the appropriate criteria to the HTA via their website: http://www.nets.nihr.ac.uk/programmes/hta.

So it turns out that the large number of “unproven” interventions include most SCAM interventions (the balance are unlikely to be beneficial or are known to be harmful; this is Minchin’s Law in action).

How would you conduct an RCT for emergency surgery for ruptured aortic aneurysm?

3.Most treatments cause harm. Modern medicine is the third leading cause of death in the western world. Fact. Prescribed drugs and medical error kills 204,000 people every year in America alone, with only cancer and heart disease claiming more

This claim has already been debunked. It is based on taking an invented figure, taking a second invented figure which would be part of the same figure, adding the two together and arising at a figure that is wronger than wrongW.

In fact, medical misadventure does not figure anywhere close to the top ten causes of death in the USA, and the real figure is nearly two orders of magnitude smaller according tot he very source McTaggart claims to have used for this figure.

Your greatest risks

According to data assembled by the Alliance for Natural Health, which examined the statistics of all the most and least likely things that could kill you, the greatest risk of death any of us face is going to the hospital. If you add the risk of reactions to correctly prescribed drugs, any interaction with modern medicine has to be the greatest risk to your life and limb.

Amazing. A SCAM trade body comes up with a figure that shows you should use SCAM instead of going to the hospital. Who predicted that? Presumably they remembered to exclude people rushed to hospital with acute surgical emergencies, as Gary Null… didn’t?

Feel free to come back with a reliable source.

Let’s look at so-called ‘unscientific’ natural health care, which supposedly causes so much harm. The risk of dying from taking any herbal remedy or food supplement is around 0.01 per one million people. In other words, 100 million people would have to take a supplement or herb before there is a risk of one person dying because of it.

Presumably according to the same source? Not that they have a dog in the fight or anything?

A repeatable feature of WDDTY is accepting the most optimistic claims of the SCAM industry and the SCAM industries worst (and often entirely false) claims about medicine, entirely uncritically.

Why would a manufacturer of supplements be any less likely to misrepresent the science than a manufacturer of a drug?

Why would a university biochemist working on disease biochemistry be any more likely to misrepresent a claim than a SCAM believer looking for proof of his pet theory?

This is never explained.

Compare that to the risk of pharmaceutical drugs, which kill 1000 people for every million people taking them.

According to?….

Leaving aside the tautology, yes, drugs can have adverse effects. So can supplements. There’s a list of recalls. Ayurvedic herbs with heavy metal contaminants, aristolchic acid, OxyElite Pro. And what about the harms due to untreated or incorrectly diagnosed disease?

The biggest difference between medicine and SCAM in this regard is that medicine acknowledges the potential for harm and has proactive and reactive monitoring in place. The reaction of SCAM to problems is best characterised as denial.

So that risk is: 0.01/1 million for natural substances vs 1000/1 million for drugs. In other words, the risk of lethal harm from modern medicine is 100,000 higher than that of herbal or nutritional medicine.

Source? Risk v benefit figures? The risk in a homeopathic remedy is close to zero (it will almost certainly be inert). The benefit is also zero. There is an attendant risk due to failure to treat disease. A homeopath weighs this equation, adds belief in the unverifiable on the positive side of the scale, and asserts that homeopathy is superior to medicine. That is not a rational, consistent or appropriate view.

This beggars the basic question: which form of medicine is the least scientific?

Lynne appears not to understand the language of formal logic, understandable since the entirety of SCAM is founded on logical fallacies. It does not even beg the question. It invites it, but the answer will not be found by listening to a biased argument based on several provably incorrect numbers.

Biochemical individuals

There’s a good reason why medicine is not a science. Drugs constitute a one-size-fits-all model, whereas every human being is unique. Drugs that work on me may not work on you and vice versa; most drugs can’t be made smart enough to, say, slot only tab A into slot B without affecting slot C, D and E, because humans are holistic.

This is complete nonsense. Most diseases have more than one treatment, different treatments are used depending on patient history and other factors. Some drugs are incredibly individual: they are based on genetic profiling.

The idea that SCAM is “holistic” because the practitioner listens to you for an hour before giving you the ideologically driven “prescription” for magic sugar pills, acupuncture, alkaline diet, dairy and wheat exclusion or whatever, is simply fatuous.

Medicine is holistic. It embraces everything from physiotherapy and diet to the latest cutting edge microsurgery or genetic therapies. You don’t become more holistic by abandoning the majority of medicine and substituting evidentially questionable practices.

Biochemical individuality creates mayhem with drug trials, which are designed to look for common results in everyone—one reason their results are so often manipulated, massaged or even made up. As the new medical explorers are discovering, the systems of the body interact as a complex, dynamic and highly individualistic whole.

The decline effect is well-known, it is an inevitable result of moving from idealised trial populations to non-idealised real populations. However, the differences between individuals are as nothing compared with the similarities.

Any two randomly selected humans will share between 99.6% and 99.9% of their genome. We share the majority of biochemical pathways (absent genetic defects), a doctor trained in surgery on Africans will have no difficulty with Europeans and vice versa.

There are differences, but not in the way that “holistic” practitioners pretend when listening to the worried well for an extended period before selling them the same witches’ brew of supplements or herbs that they sold the last person.

No humans are known to have yin and yang. The flow of qi is not evidentially established as different between individuals.. Tests for these things give the same result for everyone – namely that they don’t exist.

Basing your diagnosis and prescribing practice on provably false premises such as homeopathic similimum, subluxation complex, damp kidney or whatever, merely makes it unlikely that you will be right, other than by accident.

It’s important here to make a distinction between science—the open-minded pursuit of truth without fear or favour—and scientism, a solidified set of beliefs around which academics, industries and professions are framed.

It is indeed. Science is the process that has skepticism at its heart, scientism is a term primarily used by believers in creationism and other empirically unverifiable ideas, to attack those who accept the scientific consensus, and try to pretend that ideology is equivalent to following the evidence wherever it leads.

Science is the process that found helicobacter pylori to be the cause of ulcers, rather than stress as had been previously supposed.

Scientism would be the insistence that only the empirically proven causes of disease should be accepted, and that no credence should be given to the possibility that they are caused by miasms, qi, subluxations or whatever. This is perfectly reasonable in the absence of credible evidence that these concepts exist.

Pseudoscience, pathological science and cargo cult science are various flavours of activities giving the outward appearance of science but pursued in a way that excludes any conclusion that conflicts with the ideology of the inquirer. Homeopathic experiments are a perfect example. This is in contrast with the open-minded testing of alternative ideas by medical science, even though those tests rarely produce anything other than an equivocal or negative result. The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and its predecessor have spent well over a billion dollars testing alternative therapies. They have yet to validate a single one, but it’s not for want of trying.

The resistance we’ve experienced has more to do with the latter. This seems clear from the way the scientism of medicine greets any discovery, breakthrough or possibility that questions or threatens the current medical paradigm—by dismissing such ideas out of hand as ‘quackery’, even when they are the work of eminent scientists at prestigious institutions such as Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge.

It is certainly more appealing to believe that opposition is due to an ideological bias against you, rather than the fact that you are wrong, but the facts are against you.

The advice WDDTY gives is either wrong, misleading or (conversely) perfectly normal advice that your doctor would give you. The problem is that you seem unable to distinguish the three.

True science is heresy

We tend to regard science as presenting some sort of static truth, but science is an ever evolving story, told in instalments. New chapters refine—and usually supplant—chapters that have come before.

Someone has been reading Kuhn, the crank’s favourite author.

This view is superficially true but actually wrong. For example, relativity technically supersedes Newtonian mechanics, but Newtonian mechanics is till used for the vast majority of calculations because it the results of the two systems approximate extremely closely other than under extreme conditions.

Schroedinger wave equations technically supplant the classical Bohr electron model, but the Bohr model is still close enough for many calculations and the difference only becomes significant at extremely small scales.

Every last advancement in science and healthcare begins as heresy, each important new discovery negating the prevailing views of the day.

This is simplistic to the point of being wrong. Improvements in medical treatments may be incremental or revolutionary.

What s being asserted is essentially the Galileo gambit. In truth, Galileo was following the scientific method and his opponents were the dogmatists, and the thing that SCAM proponents always forget about Galileo is that he was also right. Now, SCAM proponents always think that they are right, but there are so many “lone geniuses”, “brave maverick doctors” and so on, with so many often mutually exclusive ideas, that it is inconceivable that more than a tiny handful are right – whereas SCAM proponents tend to believe most of them, the process known as”crank magnetism”.

This idea that SCAM has the best, the brightest, the visionaries, and medical science the ideologically blinded plodders, requires that not only the process of medical science, but also the entire system of education is wrong, since the process that supposedly delivers those with the highest academic achievement is, according to this view, instead delivering venal dullards.

A Sagan quote reveals the more likely explanation:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

The most telling thing is that science is full of examples of self-correction, wrong ideas being discarded. We have yet tot race a single example of a SCAM treatment that has been discarded after being found to be false by scientific inquiry.

What if stones fall from the sky? What if there is no end of the earth to sail off? True science always begins by asking outrageous questions or pursuing unpopular notions, even if the answer threatens to overturn every last one of our cherished beliefs.

The idea that stones fall has never been controversial. Empirical scientist Robert Hooke suggested that it worked by an inverse square law. Newton quantified it. This may appear revolutionary, but it was evolutionary, with moments of very rapid progress.

The idea that earth is flat was based on the existence of the horizon. It doesn’t take much sailing before you work out it’s wrong.

I struggle to think of any scientific discovery in the last couple of centuries that renders the entirety of the previous theory and practice redundant. As soon as people started measuring and recording, results converged on what was true and theories had to fit observed facts (the Baconian school). The Cartesian school allowed for theory to run ahead of evidence, but the theory had to be discarded if the predictions it made did not hold up.

Even geocentric cosmology, which persisted for longer than it should, did so primarily due to religious belief.

True science seeks to drive a stake into science, particularly scientism.

No it doesn’t. True science seeks to explain the observed facts as accurately and completely as possible, The best example is probably evolutionary theory, a complex set of interlocking ideas founded on the fossil record, observations, DNA analysis and even planetary geology.

Consilience is the term used for multiple lines of inquiry leading to the same conclusions. Most medical science is consilient. Physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, chemistry – all offer different views of the same facts.

And then the Brave Maverick Doctor asserts some other set of facts that is inconsistent, and lacks a complete or consistent framework. Occasionally the brave maverick is right: Marshall and Warren took several attempts to persuade, but they admit this was because they had left important questions unanswered (notably: how bacteria could live in the acid environment of the stomach).

SCAM proponents brush these inconvenient details under the carpet and accuse those who ask about them of “scientism”.

Nevertheless, mainstream science, particularly mainstream medicine, has grown ever more fundamentalist, dominated by a few highly vocal people who believe that our scientific story has largely been written and that the job of science is simply to confirm it.

That is one opinion, just not supported by facts. Feel free to cite prominent authorities in medical science who think our understanding is anywhere near complete.

Thankfully, an enormous body of resistance carries on in defiance of this restricted—highly unscientific—view. May they and all the true scientists like them continue to light our way.

Whatever helps you manage the cognitive dissonanceW, I suppose. Doesn’t make it any more correct, though. I close with three quotes that illustrate how real science actually works:

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…” – Isaac Asimov

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

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts – Bertrand Russell

As to which party in this dispute shows the attributes of religion, of fools and charlatans, of the “Eureka!” moment versus the patient inquiry of “that’s funny….”, we leave that  as an exercise for the reader.

Older but not healthier

Older but not healthier
Older but not healthier: Ignore the government’s advice about to what eat if you want live to a ripe old age is an article in the November 2013 issue of WDDTY.

It is written by Robert Verkerk, founder of the Alliance for Natural health, a supplement industry pressure group based in the UK.

It advises readers to ignore government advice on nutrition and take instead the advice of a pressure group. Is this a sound approach?

Older but not healthier: 

Ignore the government’s advice about to what eat if you want live to a ripe old age

Robert Verkerk, founder, ANH Europe

National statistics give us a clue of our predicted lifespan on this planet. Most men and women in the UK are expected to live more than 80 years, but relatively few make it beyond 90. That may be better than we were doing 50 years ago, but recent statistics suggest lifespans might be shortening again.

This is true, and is indeed thought to be mainly due to the effects of diet and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. Some contend that those who grew up during and shortly after the war, with rationing, have better health as a result.

But mortality statistics show us just one side of the coin. Possibly the more relevant issue is how long we remain healthy and disease-free. As a society more of us are living longer, but with chronic illness.

This is true up to a point: chronic illnesses such as arthritis are age-related and not really preventable at present, whereas type II diabetes is largely caused by lifestyle. The best advice is to eat healthily and exercise moderately. Give or take the occasional fancy bit of dressing-up, this has been the advice for a long time.

Heart disease and diabetes, two of the big killers, are now developing among children, and few of us make it to 70 without cancer, heart disease, diabetes or dementia. This raises the question: How much control do we have over our destiny?

These are two disjoint statements. Childhood obesity is a significant problem, but is separate from the question of, say, cancer, where it’s widely recognised that improved early diagnosis is a significant driver for increased diagnosis. This is not universally thought to be a good thing: Margaret McCartney’s The Patient Paradox details some of the issues with screening for cancer.

The evidence suggests that while it may be more difficult to dramatically alter our lifespan, we can easily reduce our risk of disease and improve our quality of life. Although Big Pharma and modern medicine have yet to come up with a silver bullet that helps us prevent disease to any significant degree, the science is clear on one factor: our choice of diet and lifestyle is the single strongest determinant—genetics apart—of the health quality we experience during our lives.

Let’s unpack that.

  • The evidence suggests that while it may be more difficult to dramatically alter our lifespan, we can easily reduce our risk of disease and improve our quality of life

Yes, we can reduce risks of some diseases and improve quality of life, mainly by eating less and exercising more. But “easily” is a questionable claim, and still the greatest determinant is income. So you could just as well say that we can “easily” reduce our risk of disease and improve our quality of life by becoming richer.

  • Although Big Pharma and modern medicine have yet to come up with a silver bullet that helps us prevent disease to any significant degree

This is rubbish. Leaving aside the subtext of demonising “Big Pharma”, the elimination and prevention of infectious disease, the ability to treat bacterial and other acquired infections, and improved survival from trauma, have all had a major impact on life expectancy. Nobody has died of smallpox, or even contracted it, since the 1970s. The last large poliomyelitis outbreaks in the West were half a century ago. Vaccines have done vastly more to prevent disease than diet ever has or can.

  •  the science is clear on one factor: our choice of diet and lifestyle is the single strongest determinant—genetics apart—of the health quality we experience during our lives

Debatable. The WHO lists three main determinants of health:

  • the social and economic environment,
  • the physical environment, and
  • the person’s individual characteristics and behaviours

The order in which these are placed is a judgement call, but health outcomes are very strongly correlated with income both within and across populations. Put simply, the rich can afford better choices more easily than the poor, and that is directly relevant to this article.

Given the wealth of evidence on this point, you’d think that governments would be bending over backwards to ensure we make the best possible choices to help reduce the future burden on our already overtaxed healthcare system, but they simply pay lip service to the notion. And sometimes their advice is in conflict with the latest scientific views.

They do. And if the advice sometimes lags the latest scientific views, that is because the latest scientific views are not necessarily the consensus scientific views. Most early findings are wrong, constantly following the early findings is a recipe for constantly see-sawing between potentially contradictory poles.

So government advice tends to be small-c conservative. Following the consensus, not the bleeding edge, is prudent.

Guidance on nutrition, for example, can be found in the form of the ‘eatwell plate’ on the NHS Choices website. But nearly 60 per cent of the food recommended—from starchy carbs, milk and dairy to “foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar”—is unnecessary to health and largely responsible for the current type 2 diabetes and obesity epidemics.

The eatwell plate is designed by dieticians (the trained and regulated health professionals) not nutritionists (who are unregulated and often untrained, and may believe in copromancy). It’s not intended to be the minimum or optimum for health, it’s designed to be an achievable goal that improves on the unhealthy choices that might otherwise be the default.

It is not the be-all and end-all of advice on diet, it is a reasonable, pragmatic guide. And it’s not presented as anything else. There is no real evidence that the composition of the eatwell plate is responsible for the prevalence of diabetes; the small segment for sugary junk is there because people actually like it and want to eat it, so it proposes a maximum that such foods should form as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

In other words, you are letting the best (specifically, your narrow vision of “best”) be the enemy of the good.

Yet the industries that make these foods are by far the dominant ones in the food industry, with the ‘Big 10’— Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Danone, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods), General Mills and Associated British Foods, amidst a sea of 1.5 billion food producers worldwide—controlling around 70 per cent of our food choices.

This packs two fallacies into one: appeal to motives and poisoning the well.  These companies are indeed large and influential, something of which ANH are plainly jealous (see below) but there’s no evidence that their influence guides the health advice produced by the NHS.

It is true that in the matter of promoting abject nonsense in sciencey-sounding language, the likes of Danone acknowledge no master. But since precisely the same rhetoric is used by the supplement industry, as represented by ANH, this is a bit of a pot and kettle situation.

These companies exert their influence in many ways, but lobbying and advertising are two of the most important. They also function under several guises: as themselves through their trade associations; or sometimes via third parties, ranging from celebrities to ‘patient groups’ that supposedly represent the interests of those suffering from a wide range of diseases or conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Bait and switch. They do indeed exert influence, and this is felt in policies. Try to introduce a rule limiting portion sizes of fizzy drinks, and you’ll get an astroturf campaign by return.

But there’s no credible evidence that they use pernicious influence to skew advice given by Alzheimer’s’ patient groups and the like.

The use of celebrity endorsements is of course a staple of the promotion of quackery, too, as we saw with the recent “homeopathy works for me” campaign which aims to use pictures of flowers and butterflies painted onto the bodies of female celebrities, as an alternative to all that tiresome evidence that homeopaths can’t provide.

Most scientists and skeptics would be more than happy to see celebrity endorsement removed from the field of health advice.

There are undoubtedly many behind-closed-doors meetings that few of us ever get to hear about, while the more public interactions are between the large trade associations and both unelected and elected representatives of government—officials and MPs and MEPs, respectively.

Yes, for example the meetings that Prince Charles has had, where he lobbied for alternatives to medicine. And we know that his meetings affected the material published by the NHS, because someone inside the NHS blew the whistle. There’s no evidence that the bogeymen listed above have been doing the same in respect of dietary advice.

One simple rule applies in lobbying: the influence exerted is directly proportional to the size of the company represented. That’s why in the food and natural-health areas, Europe-wide associations like the Association of the European Self-Medication Industry (AESGP), FoodDrinkEurope, the International Life Sciences Institute and Food Supplement Europe, which represent both Big Pharma and Big Food, wield the lion’s share of influence. Smaller associations and groups such as the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (UEAPME), ourselves (Alliance for Natural Health Europe) and the European Benefyt Foundation need to work very hard to even be heard.

So ANH are jealous of the influence of larger lobbies and want the same ability to push their agenda. The alternative – reducing lobbying activity – does not seem to be suggested. Why would it be bad for all special interest groups to be excluded, rather than for the special interest groups you like to get a larger slice of the action? This is not explained.

Many who become aware of this reality feel disempowered. But there are two simple things we can do.

First, we can reduce our dependence on products made by these companies. Put simply, that means avoiding processed foods whenever you can. The size and might of these corporations is maintained only if we support them via our wallets.

Fine if you have adequate disposable income. But WDDTY’s core demographic will already be avoiding “processed foods”. Note, though, that “processed food” is a bit like “toxin”, a word that sounds bad and is easy to pin on the things you don’t like, but meaningless in practice. Bread is a “processed food”. Flour is a “processed food”. It’s hard to see how anything other than uncured meat, raw milk and eggs, and fruit, would qualify as being anything other than “processed foods”.

There’s good evidence that processing can be entirely desirable. Pasteurisation of milk is controversial only with extremists. Preservatives mean that meat is much less likely to contain bacteria such as e.coli or salmonella. Obviously these are entirely natural but most people regard them as undesirable nonetheless.

So without needing to write letters to your MP or bearing a placard in an anti-globalization rally, you can make different choices over the way you feed yourself and your loved ones. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to ‘go local’, or choose wisely when you are doing your weekly shop. Try to buy organic fruit and vegetables as much as you can.

Sorry to rain on your parade, but for urban dwellers there is not much in the way of local produce to be had, and evidence of the superiority of organic produce is sadly lacking.

You can subscribe to an organic-box scheme and have your weekly supply of organic fruit, veg and other produce delivered to your door. And for those of a non-vegetarian persuasion, you can buy locally sourced meats at your local butcher.

Or, you know, don’t. If you’re on a limited income you are almost certainly better off buying fresh fruit and vegetables from your local supermarket, than spending the equivalent sum on a reduced quantity of the more expensive organic produce you recommend.

While you may pay a premium for such foods, many find the net cost is no higher mainly because wastage is reduced and the many temptations in supermarket aisles are avoided.

This is simply wishful thinking. Organic produce is more expensive, and organic produce from farmers’ markets is generally more expensive than the equivalent organic produce from supermarkets.

For those yet to experience the pleasure of becoming independent of the Big Ten, you have almost nothing to lose and so much to gain—not least of all, a healthy long life.

Translation: buy produce from our members not their members, it will make you live longer (terms and conditions apply, value of investments may go down as well as up, objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear, we reserve the right to substitute opinion for evidence as we see fit).

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you that eating organic food will make you live longer?

Because there’s no real evidence it does.

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Secure your copy of WDDTY

We’ve received a copy of the latest circular email from WDDTY. It contains a very interesting claim, and one which we think WDDTY might have a little difficulty backing up:

What Doctors Don't Tell You

Secure your copy of WDDTY

Hi (email subscriber),

Many of you are having problems finding What Doctors Don’t Tell You in the shops.

Especially Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.

This could be for a number of reasons:  we’re not in every store, and some stores display the magazine for a limited period.  Drug company supporters also hide the magazine or even remove copies from the shelves, and it’s hard for the store employees to always police this.

Wait, drug company supporters? They can’t mean skeptics – WDDTY says there are only a few of them, probably just Simon Singh and he moves around a lot. Every single skeptic we can trace who has commented on WDDTY is also a supporter of All Trials, possibly the most effective grass-roots campaign against “Big Pharma” that has ever existed, so that rules them out anyway.

So who is this large, well-organised shadowy cabal of drug industry supporters? Inquiring minds want to know!

One reader told us:

Interesting to note in your latest newsletter that drug company interests might be “hiding” copies of WDDTY on the shelves of Tesco etc.  I believe it totally. I went to buy one on 1st November at a Tesco and couldn’t see it. I looked all over. Not there. Then I bent down to look at the bottom shelf. Not there either. UNTIL… I noted at the very back of the bottom shelf – totally out of sight – were a few copies! I instantly thought what you did – that someone was deliberately hiding them. A shocker!

That’s where the magazine was at my local Tesco on the day it came out. So the shadowy drug-industry supporting cabal has taken over Tesco’s shelf-stackingThat’s serious!

Unless of course Tesco put it there because it’s a low-sales item. Something’s got to occupy the coveted back of the bottom shelf slot, after all, and it’s unlikely to be Loaded, even with its modesty bag that is entirely a matter for the publishers.

So we see the conspiracist mindset in action. The obvious explanation is discounted because it causes too much cognitive dissonanceW. Exactly as we see with medical and scientific evidence, in fact: disconfirming results are a conspiracy, confirming results are visionary and all issues, including poor design, conflicts of interest and so on, are ignored.

It’s a great way of not just being wrong, but staying wrong.

If you want to make sure you see WDDTY every month, we always recommend that you take out a subscription.  You save money if you pay by direct debit and it’s delivered to your home every month.

We recommend this too. If you absolutely insist on giving your money to an anti-vaccinationist homeopathy-believing author of pseudoscentific claptrap, in return for a monthly helping of incorrect, misleading and sometimes downright dangerous nonsense, then don’t make otherwise respectable retailers a partner in crime.

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