Tag Archives: Sense About Science

Meet the people who would dictate your health care

It’s time for the double-barrelled WDDTY-McTaggart spam shoot again. Seriously, what idiot imagined that sending subscribers to one list exactly the same emails from a second list they never signed up for was a smart marketing move? Oh, right, McTaggart. Who else?

McTaggart’s clearly getting jittery, and it’s everybody’s fault but hers that her precious monthly bundle of lies is under  attack. This is just in:

Meet the people who would dictate your health care

Dictate health care? Isn’t that a bit over the top? I haven’t seen anybody in Parliament sponsoring a Bill to prevent people refusing treatment, even for serious conditions, and opting for dumbfuckery.

As you know, we have been the target of a concerted campaign to get the store chains to stop stocking us. The architects of this campaign are the same people who spend a good deal of time attacking and harassing alternative practitioners of every variety.

Nope, they’re not being targeted qua fringe therapists. They’re being targeted qua blatant liars in their marketing blurb. And being asked for evidence. I know Sandra Hermann-Courtney thinks being asked for evidence is hate speech (no, gentle reader, this is not exaggeration on my part). Am I to conclude that you have the same paranoid mentality, Lynne?

And now, from the Dept. of Hasn’t A Fucking Clue:

Their numbers aren’t large (there’re only about 80 of them in total), and they aren’t well followed (Alan Henness of the Nightingale Collaboration, for instance, has just 462 followers on Twitter; Simon Singh, just 44 actively following him), but they are well organized and fuelled by a good deal of self-righteous passion about their mission, which is to stamp out what they view as quackery (ie, natural medicine of every variety, particularly the likes of homeopathy).

Learn to read, woman. Alan Henness follows 462 accounts; quite a lot more follow him. Simon Singh follows 44 people, with all of 54k following him. That’s a lot more than are following our Lynne, who clocks in at around 17K followers. I see we’ve also gone from the previous rant’s “handful” to “about 80”. Ye gods, those skeptics must breed like rabbits!

By the way, quackery is only “natural medicine” if you consider that doing nothing (at best), and charging large amounts of money for it, is natural medicine.

So we thought we should shine a light on the qualifications of the most vocal proponents of a group who believe they have the right to determine what you can or can’t read about your health or indeed the kinds of medical treatments you should be allowed to have access to.

What What Doctors Don’t Tell You Doctors Don’t Tell You

Of those who can be found on the GMC List of Registered Medical Practitioners, one has been issued with a warning, one has relinquished his registration, and all of them advocate dubious interventions, some of which have been shown to do more harm than good.

By all means. First though, let’s shine a light on WDDTY’s qualifications. To start with, we have McTaggart and Hubbard, who have no medical expertise or qualifications whatsoever. Remember this; it’s important.  They also don’t even hack it as journalists, given the quality of their copy. I keep running out of breath trying to read the sentences, so bereft of punctuation are they. Each has their own-brand whackjobbery: McTaggart’s “Intention” is just Reiki in an expensive wrapping; while Hubbard has a “Time-Light” plan that he claims cures chronic depression.

Now the so-called doctors on the editorial panel. I invite you to peruse this useful and well-researched post by Josephine Jones, whose only fault is that it classes Harald Gaier as a doctor. McTaggart doesn’t like Josephine Jones. We will come to this later.

Simon Singh. Singh is not a medical doctor; he has a Ph.D in particle physics.

Yes, this is common knowledge. He doesn’t hide it.

As he often signs his letters ‘Dr Singh’ when writing to Tesco or our distributors, most stores and media naturally assume that he has medical qualifications.

Please produce these letters where he does this, and explain how you obtained them. Of course, since Simon Singh is quite famous (u jelly, Lynne?), especially in the UK, I think it unlikely that his use of the title “Dr.” – which he has every right to – would mislead anybody. No more than, say, Dr. Brian May or Dr. Rowan Williams. I’ll leave the next paragraph as-is, since the venomous stupidity of someone who has no history of studying or writing about conventional medicine, other than as an exercise in writing fiction, is most entertaining.

He does not, nor does he have a history of studying or writing about conventional medicine. He’s written books about mathematical problems and patterns, codes and code-breaking and even cosmology, but nothing to date about conventional medicine – only one co-authored book (Trick or Treatment?- the clue to the slant is in the title) largely trashing alternative medicine. Singh is the public face of Sense About Science, a charity set up by a holding company in India, whose trustees include Simon Singh and his older brother, Tom, who founded the high street chain New Look. Sense about Science reports that it is supported by donations from a variety of sources, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and many pharmaceutically backed charities, such as Cancer UK.

Yes, yes, the “charity set up by a holding company in India” is pure spiteful misrepresentation. Either she hasn’t a clue about how charities work, or she couldn’t care less as long as it sounds bad. Tom Singh is not on the Board of Trustees, so I’m going for the second option. Now we come to the implied call for harassment, which already went out on Facebook this weekend. I’m removing the employers’ names, because we know what fanatics like to do, don’t we?

‘Josephine Jones’. ‘She’ is the pseudonym for two people: Michael and Laura Thomason, who live in Warrington. Mike works as a database developer at [redacted] Pharma Solutions; there is a Laura Thomason on Linkedin who works as a supervisor at a [redacted] Coffee Shop, but we can’t verify if they are one and the same. If so, there can’t be many people popping in and ordering cappuccinos because she and her husband seem to have the time to catalogue WDDTY‘s every move, which they circulate on Josephine Jones’ blog as a constantly updated ‘Master List’. Presently, they are carrying out a survey of stores we’re in, presumably in hopes they might be able to pick us off, one store at a time. Neither professes to any medical qualifications.

I don’t know who Mike Thomason is, but he has nothing to do with Josephine Jones. One of the reasons Laura hesitated to come out from behind the pseudonym was precisely due to bullies like McTaggart trying to sic their followers on her and her family. Female bloggers always get rougher treatment than male bloggers, because sexist brutality. Well done, Lynne, for proving her right. That is what I call balls-out übercuntery.

Guy Chapman, who created a website called ‘What What Doctors Don’t Tell You Doesn’t Tell You’, and writes a good deal of bile-filled statements about alternative practitioners, is a software developer for Dell Computers. He’s also a member of a choir.

Like me, you may be wondering what all this has to do with the price of fish. Is she jealous of people who seem to lead fuller lives than she does? I do hope she’s not mistaking my prose for Guy’s, although we are by no means the only contributors to this blog. And talking of bile-filled, Lynne, can we have some evidence for that claim? There’s plenty of bile in the missives you’ve been spitting out over the past year, if by “bile” you mean defamatory statements and hate speech.

Jo Brody works two days a week as a public engagement coordinator for a research project which runs across four sites, including UCL, Queen Mary, City University and Swansea University), studying how to make medical devices safer. Jo’s job is to update the website and expand the project’s online presence. For the rest of the week she works as an information officer at Diabetes UK. Previously she worked as a secretary for Professor Stephen Wharton. As she freely admits: ‘I am not medically trained.’

Nor are you, Lynne. In fact, your qualifications are far worse than Jo’s. Incidentally, are you sure you’ve got the right person?  Next name on the list is Alan Henness. Usual distortion of facts and petty-minded sniping applies.

Alan Henness. He and his wife Maria MacLachlan, who live in Harrow, are effectively the Nightingale Collaboration, a tiny organization that was given seed money by Sense About Science, but that spends a prodigious amount of time reporting advertisers and practitioners of alternative medicine to The Advertising Standards Authority. Despite the name, the ASA is not a government body; it’s an advertising-industry-sponsored organization with no teeth. The best it can do is place advertisers it deems out of line on the naughty step, listing them on as a ‘non-compliant advertiser’ on its own website. Evaluations of the advertisements of alternative medicine or practitioners through the ASA are a stacked deck; they are evaluated, as our ads were, by known skeptics like Dr. Edzard Ernst, Simon Singh’s co-author of Trick or Treatment?

Now, if the ASA is toothless, why is reporting illicit advertising claims to them bullying and harassment? Make your mind up, doughball. As for the stacked deck, well, that’s just the usual quack special pleading. All the ASA asks for is evidence. If you can’t back up your claims, tough shit. I’m going to snip a bit, because McTaggart has delusions of being a great investigative journalist and, frankly, all she’s doing is demonstrating that the people she hates are more rational and thoughtful than she is. Here’s a wee cracker, though:

 Maria (Maclachlan ) wrote, in a short précis of what it means to be a humanist: ‘Humanists embrace the moral principle known as the Golden Rule. This means we believe that people should aim to treat each other as they would like to be treated themselves – with tolerance, consideration and compassion.’

I wonder if this ‘Golden Rule’ also includes harassing groups, practitioners or organizations who advocate or advertise alternative medicine?

No, sweetie popkins, it does not mean standing by while the naïve and vulnerable get conned out of their health and wealth by unscrupulous hucksters and charismatic fruitcakes. Lastly, she gets very upset over Andy Lewis, aka @lecanardnoir, because he’s made it difficult for her to use ad hominem.

Andy Lewis. Set up the ‘Quackometer’ site, which he claims to be an experiment in ‘critical thinking’. Doesn’t reveal what his credentials, education or employment history are – says they ‘don’t matter’ nor does an honest debate of the issues because the wording on websites will, through his own use of critical thinking, offer prima facie evidence of ‘quackery’.

It must be really frustrating to be unable to create a diversion by attacking the writer instead of the words. I can only conclude that McTaggart and her cronies are livid that they can’t answer criticism on the Quackometer. Not, I hasten to add, because they’re not allowed to post. It isn’t the WDDTY Facebook page. It’s because they have no evidence for their often totally unrealistic and long-debunked claims.

That’s who they are. WDDTY, on the other hand, has seven medical doctors on its editorial panel, plus several PhDs and highly qualified practitioners of a number of alternative disciplines.

I refer you again to the Josephine Jones post exposing this august assembly as a bunch of quacks, frauds and profiteering dingbats, irrespective of the letters they have after their names.

Thousands of doctors and health practitioners of every persuasion regularly read WDDTY and comment enthusiastically.

The Facebook page doesn’t seem that busy. Or are the enthusiastic comments mostly negative, and therefore deleted? I think you need a large FPI™ order to wash that assertion down.

The two editors of our magazine have been medical science writers for 25 years, and every word in our pages is checked by a science editor with an extensive history of writing and editing medical studies for the pharmaceutical industry.

Bad news, McTaggart and Hubbard: WDDTY, Intention and Time-Light do not qualify as writing about medical science. I see you fail to name your science editor. It seems uncharacteristic  that you should use someone in the pharmaceutical industry. After all, you constantly spit on Big Pharma and once issued the challenge to find a drug, other than antibiotics, that had ever cured anything.

Do you want these eight people to be the ones to determine what you can read about your own health care?

I thought there were 80 of us?

If not, write to Tesco today and ask them to re-stock What Doctors Don’t Tell You….

Etc. etc. whine, whine. It ends with the now habitual plea to ask Tesco to stock WDDTY again. Being chucked out of Tesco has really hurt, it would seem. Could it be that WDDTY doesn’t attract enough subscribers, in spite of the hard sell (every month I see a SPECIAL SUBSCRIPTION OFFER email befouling my inbox), and they desperately need to prey on the innocent who might see it presented in their local supermarket as a genuine health magazine? I suspect so.

All the more reason to encourage all supermarkets and newsagents to drop WDDTY like a mouldy, worm-infested potato. If people are stupid enough to subscribe, fine. But they shouldn’t be gulled into buying this crap because it’s on the same shelf as publications that don’t tell you as if it were solid fact that cancer can be treated with intravenous vitamin C, that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, that vaccines are pure poison, that homeopathy reverses cancer, that electric power lines cause Alzheimer’s, that pollution causes diabetes…. and so on.

Responses from those personnally targeted:

Jo Brody’s Stuff that occurs to me: It seems the magazine ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ doesn’t like me

Guy Chapman’s Blahg: WDDTY goes “the full Errol”

Maria Maclachlan: Comment on Think Humanism forum

It’s official: WDDTY have lost

farcebookWe have arrived at a turning point. Tesco have dropped WDDTY, and the editors know that this is the beginning of the end of their attempt to appear to be a legitimate magazine.

As proof, I offer the Facebook post captured at right, from WDDTY’s wall, where all dissenting views are ruthlessly excised because free speech.

Notice two things:

First, McTaggart leads with a ridiculous personal attack on Laura and Mike Thomason, two people whose identities they seem to think are a sinister secret, presumably because they have never heard of Google or are truly incompetent at following the projects of their self-declared nemesis Simon Singh.

Laura, as all UK skeptical activists know, is painstakingly scrupulous in being fair to those she critiques.  I can find no evidence at all that she has called for the banning of WDDTY- but of course as far as McTaggart is concerned any campaign designed to force WDDTY to be honest in its self-promotion and content, is precisely that: a call for it to be banned. Presumably they know, deep down, that they cannot ever be factual and honest.

I cannot think of anybody who it would be more insane to describe as a troll, though of course cranks have always used such labels for anyone who does not accept their belief on their own say-so – it’s a way of managing the cognitive dissonanceW.

Nothing says “credible health resource” quite like vitriolic personal attacks against private individuals who have a reputation for being fair, polite and reserved.

Second, as if this repugnant personalisation of the issue were not enough as an admission of defeat, there’s a cartoon aping the many spoof WDDTY covers created by skeptics, targeting Simon Singh.

According to WDDTY, Singh says that “every drug works and is perfectly safe”. This will come as news to the followers of All TrialsW, championed by Sense About ScienceW and Simon, who have been critiquing “big pharma” for covering up the fact that all drugs do not work and are not perfectly safe. In fact, I have never heard anybody, even the most hardened shill for big pharma, claim that all drugs are effective or that any drug is perfectly safe. Most, however, are both effective and acceptably safe.

As to the idea that “alternatives don’t work at all”, I cite Minchin’s Law: “By definition”, alternative medicine” has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call “alternative medicine” that’s been proved to work? Medicine.””

Simon Singh is not in denial about this. Alternative treatments can be tested, objectively. A few have been found to be effective. They are no longer alternative. By definition.

The campaign against What Doctors Don’t Tell You Continues

This post appears in a slightly longer format on Plague of Mice)

Pause, if you will, and drop a piteous tear for poor Lynne McTaggart, Saint and Martyr. She feels Put Upon. She considers she is being Bullied. Her Great Life’s Work is under attack from what sounds like a small group of anti-homeopathy terrorists who will stop at nothing to destroy her. There is a Campaign against WDDTY. For the Blessed McTaggart alone knows the Truth and fears not to speak it. This is why the baying hordes of reason…

She’s not fooling anyone, is she? Anyway, this is the rant she just posted on her blog.


A concerted letter-writing campaign by a handful of very vociferous self-styled ‘skeptics’ has managed to convince Tesco that customers are complaining about What Doctors Don’t Tell You, and the store chain has just agreed to withdraw the magazine from the shelves.

These were not legitimate complaints. They were the result of several calls to action by a few sceptical websites to a small band of very devoted and fairly fanatical followers.

This, as you know, is part of an 20-month concerted campaign by Simon Singh, Sense About Science and a variety of rag-tag organizations like the Nightingale Collaboration to ban or crush WDDTY. Singh and co have called Comag, our distributors, multiple times, orchestrated letter writing campaigns to all the store chains that carry the magazine, harassed dozens of our advertisers by reporting them the ASA, sent their foot soldiers to hide our magazines on the shelves of stores and attempted to destroy our Google ranking. One of our websites was even mysteriously hacked into.They don’t engage in open or legitimate dialogue, only innuendo and bully-boy tactics on our social network sites.

Simon Singh is busy these days tweeting his supporters to write Tesco to thank them for not stocking us.

And all this because they don’t want you to have a choice about the information you have about your health care.

They believe that you should only have access to one sort of health information – the information that ridicules alternative medicine of all persuasions and embraces conventional medicine as currently practiced. They believe that they have the right to dictate to you the forms of health care you have access to. They claim to be in favour of free speech in science, but only the information they deem acceptable for you to read.

The skeptics have a loyal following, but there are tens of thousands more who support WDDTY and our work. Tesco will reconsider if they hear from customers who want to buy WDDTY in their stores.

If you buy WDDTY at Tesco, you believe in free speech, and freedom of choice in health care, or you believe that Tesco should continue to stock WDDTY, please write to customer service and tell them exactly why: [email protected]

Well, wasn’t that informative? Let us admire the loaded vocabulary, rife with venomous innuendo, bile dripping from every syllable. Is perchance The Great McTaggart’s revenue stream endangered? My first question is: how did this alleged handful of skeptics manifest in the form of so many people and organisations? Over a year ago, Josephine Jones already had a pretty impressive Master list.

“These were not legitimate complaints” – On the contrary, Lynne, the complaint was that your rag promotes dangerous quackery, while maintaining a resolutely hostile attitude to doctors, vaccines, medical treatment of any kind (including lifesaving treatments for cancer), and this you have proved time and again with every fucking issue. Open one at random, and you’ll find fuckwittery that can kill or cripple. Read any post on this blog, and you’ll see holes poked in your assertions until they look like moth-eaten lace doilies. In any case, it’s not for you to judge whether the complaints were legitimate or not.

“One of our websites was even mysteriously hacked into”‘ – Mysteriously, my arse. The Internet is full of spotty virgins and crooks trying to break into any website they can. So of course McTaggart blames skeptics for her own negligence in not securing her site properly. Simple stuff, I suspect, like not having the login “admin” for the administrator’s account. There are plenty of good security plugins for all the major CMS software, woman. Sodding well use them. We do.

“harassed dozens of our advertisers by reporting them the ASA” – Reporting illegal, indecent, dishonest or untruthful advertising copy isn’t harassment, Lynne. It’s civic duty. If you don’t like your advertisers getting called out for lying, get a better class of advertiser. Although I can see how that would be a problem for you, given the calibre of your rag.

“They don’t engage in open or legitimate dialogue” – The fucking cheek of this duplicitous dipshit! She systematically deletes comments from skeptics, be they on her blog, Facebook or anywhere else she has moderator privileges. It’s so bad that her own followers have actually complained that, since only their side of the dialogue remained, it made them look complete idiots because the exchange no longer made the slightest sense.

“Simon Singh is busy these days tweeting his supporters” – No, he isn’t. In fact, he only mentions WDDTY when you take one of your puerile swipes at him. Amusingly, the last one was to remind you of the existence of AllTrials.net, which you yourself were all for until you realised that skeptics were involved.

“they don’t want you to have a choice about the information you have about your health care” – No, it’s not a matter of choice when a decision is based on false information, manipulation and outright dishonesty. Stop pushing quackery for profit and, er, profit, and start doing some real investigative health journalism, if you want respect and acceptance. Unfortunately, I suspect that neither your medical knowledge nor your journalistic skills are up to the job.

“They claim to be in favour of free speech in science, but only the information they deem acceptable for you to read” – Apart from this being a barefaced lie, McTaggart has delusions of adequacy if she thinks what she spouts in her blog, her rag, her books, etc are anything even remotely related to science.

“there are tens of thousands more who support WDDTY” – ORLY? I see only 14K ‘Likes’ on Facebook, the WDDTY Twitter account has a pathetic 703 followers, while McTaggart’s own account has all of 17.7K. This sounds like the police estimates vs organiser estimates for protest marches, doesn’t it? Even so, it stinks of wide exaggeration on your part.

Now here’s the absolute biscuit, the coup de grâce in hypocritical bullshittery: “If you buy WDDTY at Tesco, you believe in free speech…”.

Remember, McTaggart herself doesn’t believe in free speech, as she mercilessly extirpates the slightest criticism of her monthly bowel-dump of rancid WTF wherever she can, going as far as to threaten legal action in an attempt to scare Simon Singh into silence (the BCA must have been piddling themselves with laughter). Secondly, Lynne, the concept of free speech is not as you would have us believe: that you are allowed to say whatever you like, to whomever you like, without fear of contradiction, and hang the consequences.

No, Ms McTaggart, freedom of speech means freedom of opinion, with the necessary corollary that others have the right to criticise that opinion. But you don’t have that protection, and rightly so, because WDDTY isn’t being sold as opinion, it’s being sold as solidly-researched advice. Your poisonous little rag doesn’t benefit from freedom of speech because of the many and monstrous errors of fact that it contains. Of course, you could always claim “SCIENCE!”, but I strongly advise you not to. You see, an important part of science is the critical analysis and testing of other scientists’ claims, so you’re back to square one.

You have no case, Ms. McTaggart. None at all. You’re a hypocrite and liar, and that is my considered opinion based on the evidence before me.

Read also:

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!

Scientific fundamentalism

Scientific fundamentalism is a section of the editorial from the November 2013 issue of WDDTY

So why have we upset Sense About Science so much? There is, of course, the most obvious reason: our information threatens the revenues of some of its benefactors, most notably the pharmaceutical industry.

False. And obviously so. Even leaving aside the bogus claim Sense About Science is “pharma funded”, SAS is a major promoter of the All Trials initiative – all trials registered, all results published. This would have prevented the abuses that led to Vioxx, for example, and is utterly incompatible with the claim that SAS is either pro-pharma, or supporting the agenda of the pharmaceutical companies.

Despite all the grandstanding, the pink ribbons and the attempts to cloak cancer treatment in the weighty mantle of science, the fact remains that the vast majority of modern medicine’s arsenal against cancer doesn’t work – WDDTY editorial

5-year cancer survival rates, stated by WDDTY to be 12%, are in fact over 50%.

But, fundamentally, Singh and his cohorts believe we are ‘anti-science’ and pedalling unproven alternatives that could harm instead of heal.

Why would they believe that? Unless, of course, they’ve been reading your maunderings on vaccines, HIV, homeopathy, Gardasil

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

ScientismW is a word most commonly encountered among creationists, who use it as a catch-all pejorative for those who accept the scientific consensus on evolution, and as a way of attempting to assert parity of esteem for their beliefs and the conclusions of scientific investigation. It may be defined thus:

The view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society.

It is a term used by philosophers such as Karl PopperW to describe the application of the scientific method and scientific reductionism outside the scope of natural empirical inquiry. In other words, to insist that science be used to investigate the tenets of a religion, might be called scientism.

It does not cover the case of claims which are empirically testable, including claims to treat or cure disease.

A claim that meditation leads to higher consciousness might be challenged scientifically on the basis that the definition of “higher consciousness” is itself based on the assumption that meditation leads there, and that this is therefore unscientific. That might be counted as scientism.

A claim that apricot kernels cure cancer is a straightforward testable claim which lies squarely within the framework of scientific inquiry, and to test it using the scientific method is science, not scientism.

The resistance we’ve experienced has more to do with the latter, and it is this that Sense About Science seeks to protect.

This is false. It is clear from the analysis on this website and elsewhere that much of what you say is presented as scientific fact, is testable within the scientific method, and is provably false. Attempting to redefine medicinal claims as philosophical beliefs and thus outside the scope of rational scientific inquiry is a disingenuous attempt to build an escape hatch. The claims you make rest solidly within the legitimate fields of scientific inquiry, and can, should and indeed must be tested using the scientific method, being not just the best but the only way consistently proven to reliably separate truth from falsehood in this area.

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. These are the studies we report on, as anyone who reads our magazine well knows.

Science greets every single discovery identically: “prove it”.

Science does not take any claim on the authority of the claimant, however eminent. It especially does not cling to a claim made by an eminent man when the evidence clearly shows it to be wrong. Einstein rejected quantum statistical mechanics because he said “my God does not play dice with the universe”. He was wrong. Einstein in turn showed Newton to be wrong about light and relativity.

WDDTY, on the other hand, does subscribe to the fallacious argument from authorityW. The work of Jacques BenvenisteW is asserted as justification for homeopathy, even though it is refuted. The writing of an anti-vaccinationist whose testimony was described by a court judge as “junk science” is used to support outrageously false assertions about MMR.

Sense About Science applies scientific inquiry, not scientism. WDDTY applies anti-scientism, not science. The only claims which WDDTY seems to question at all are those which have robust scientific support, and in rejecting them they apply an entirely credulous standard to any counter-claim – a disparity of critical judgment that results in consistently biased content.

Medicine and indeed most of science is becoming ever more fundamentalist, with grant money paid only to those who confirm the orthodox point of view.

No evidence is presented for this view, and it runs counter to the changing balance of medical research funding away from governments and towards independent charitable trusts.

Marshall and Warren were awarded the Nobel prize for completely overturning the long-standing belief that peptic ulcers were caused by stress.

That’s why chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery have remained the only treatments of choice for cancer for so many decades.

No, that’s because they were the only things we could be confident actually worked. It’s changing as novel therapies are being developed, and there has been a massive focus on prevention (totally inconsistent with the idea that the health agenda is controlled by the “cancer industry” or any other big business; in fact Big Tobacco is the biggest loser in this effort).

What medicine does not do is to accept every new “miracle cure” claim and fork over wads of cash to someone with a blinding revelation and no credible scientific evidence. This is by design. It applies to all treatments, mainstream or not – and the strident demands for tamoxifenW, tamifluW and laetrileW are indistinguishable in character and the medical response identical in every case: bring better evidence. As is the pernicious effect of health journalists in stoking controversy, shedding more heat than light and generally muddying the waters.

For years, medical fundamentalism has only embraced the pharmaceutical model. Drug companies sponsor medical schools, pay for what is often manipulated research and reward doctors willing to prescribe their products with gifts and trips abroad to exotic locations.

This is categorically false. It denies the existence of surgery, preventive medicine, public health generally, valid and widespread complementary therapies such as diet and physiotherapy.

The jollies are largely a thing of the past. Many GP surgeries won’t even see drug reps any more.

For an excellent discussion of the influence of drug reps and how it has declined, read Bad PharmaW by Ben Goldacre. You might also enjoy Bad ScienceW by the same author, which exposes bad science in all kinds of areas, from pharmaceuticals to vitamin peddlers.

Medicine has largely become a drug delivery system. 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; drugs can’t be made smart enough to, say, slot tab A into slot B because humans are holistic.

This is categorically false. An enormous amount of work is going into genetic typing and other objective diagnostics that will more accurately target drug delivery, and prevention remains the gold standard, with efforts to eradicate poliomyelitis leading the field.

Two individuals have identical symptoms. A test identifies that one has coeliac, the other Crohn’s. One is managed by diet alone, the other by a drug chosen against blood tests that rule out some treatments and rule in others.

This is holistic medicine.

The claim to treat the “whole person” with nonsensical treatments, one size fits all prescriptions for large amounts of supplements and vitamins (i.e. drugs), and the application of religious belief in place of empirical evidence and self-examination, is characteristic of the supplements, complementary and alternative medicine (SCAM) industry, not medicine.

And make no mistake: despite its beads and kaftan image, this is a multi-billion-dollar industry with well-funded lobbyists busily engaged in creating a regulatory regime that drug companies can only envy. No need to provide safety or efficacy, brand it a food supplement and you’re good, let Dr. Oz and Mercola make your marketing claims and advertise on an availability basis.

WDDTY seems to see no problem with this industrialised exploitation. But then, as they are so fond of saying, follow the money. These are WDDTY’s advertisers, after all.

As new evidence in biology is beginning to show, the systems of the body interact as a complex, dynamic and highly individualistic whole. 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. The Scientific-Ethical Committee for Copenhagen and Frederiksberg Municipalities, which carried out a review between 1994 and 1995 (published in PLoS Med 4(1): e19), estimated that as much as 75 per cent of a sampling of industry-sponsored studies—and possibly up to 91 per cent—were ghostwritten manuscripts to achieve the ‘right ‘result for their corporate sponsors.

Why so late to the party, Lynne? We knew about this decades ago, from Ben Goldacre. I notice you don’t cite Bad ScienceW, his very readable book and popular on abuse of science in health claims. You should recommend it!

And who ever said that the human body was simple? Why on earth do you think clinical trials exist n the first place?

And in what way does manipulation of the science by vested interests justify jettisoning science altogether and instead uncritically accepting the claims of vested interests?

Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote a foreword to a newly published book entitled Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma has Corrupted Healthcare by Peter Gøtzsche, head of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark (Radcliffe Publishing Ltd). In the book, Smith says that Gøtzsche produces detailed evidence to support his case that Big Pharma is guilty of all the offenses of organized crime, from extortion and fraud, to bribery, embezzlement, and political corruption.

Yes. Isn’t it amazing how the scientists and medical establishment figures you assert are entirely uncritical of “big pharma” turn out to be its most trenchant and effective critics?

When it isn’t possible to put a positive spin on the data, the research is often buried so it never sees the light of day, as happened with the painkiller Vioxx, held responsible for the deaths of 60,000 people before it was taken off the market.

We know. That’s why AllTrialsW exists. Epidemiology discovered this. That’s science, to you.

All of this begs the question: Which is the more dangerous modality, the current order of treatment or the alternatives we report on?

It does indeed beg the question. But it does not invite it, because the answer is abundantly clear: the solution to abuse of science in medicine, is better science, not throwing science out of the window and going back to witchcraft.