Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Category Archives: Alternative Medicine

How Pseudoscientific Quacks Defend Child Abuse

Natural News defend child abusers

Few things are more provoking to a scientific skeptic than when pseudoscientific cranks and quack exploit those who are not in a position to defend themselves. For instance, some HIV/AIDS denialist attempt to convince people with the virus to stop taking their medications or not using protection. Some anti-psychiatry proponents tell people with serious psychological conditions that they caused their own situation by “thinking too negatively” or “eating too much acidic food” and that all they need to do is “think positively”.

It is even more agitating when these quacks are exploiting and harming children. You might be able to argue that adults have personal responsibility and that they therefore should be allowed to do what they want, but this is not true for children. They are innocent and the quackery of the parents should not be imposed on their offspring. This post explores four such examples: chiropractors who perform dangerous spinal manipulations of very young children and even newborns, anti-vaccine activists who defend child abusers by falsely claiming that shaken baby syndrome is somehow a vaccine injury, fake therapists who subject children to coercive “rebirthing therapies” based on wrapping children in blankets and making them fight their way out to establish emotional attachment (that has led to fatalities) and finally autism quacks that force autistic children to drink bleach or take bleach enema.

Chiropractors: dangerous neck manipulations of newborn

Chiropractic is an alternative medicine pseudoscience that posits that most diseases are caused by misalignments in the spine called subluxation. In reality, these supposed misalignments cannot be seen on x-rays and had they been real, the person would be in excruciating constant pain, not have diffuse symptoms such as tiredness.

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Natural News: “If We Add Fluoride in Drinking Water, Why Not Arsenic?”

Anti-fluoridation stupidity.

Recently, Natural News writer Jennifer Lea Reynolds published a scientifically illiterate piece of pseudoscientific garbage entitled “Why don’t dentists promote adding ARSENIC to the water alongside FLUORIDE? They’re both ‘naturally occurring,’ after all”. Yes, it is that stupid. This post explains the benefits of water fluoridation, why we should not add arsenic in the drinking water, why arbitrary correlations do not demonstrate causation, why fluoride is the same regardless of the source and why water fluoridation is not mass medication.

The anti-fluoridation movement is a pseudoscientific movement that resembles and indeed regurgitates the same flawed debating methods as anti-vaccine and anti-GMO activists. This is a shame because there is at least some merit to the idea of specifically tailoring the amount of fluoride in the drinking water for different communities with different needs, but batshit anti-fluoridation activists make this discussion impossible to have.

What is water fluoridation and why is it used?

All water out in nature contain some level of fluoride. This is because it is leached out of the bedrock where it occurs e. g. in the form of calcium fluoride CaF2. The dental benefits of water fluoridation was first discovered studying areas where there was sufficient concentration of fluoride in the drinking water. Then some countries added fluoride in an optimal concentration to other kinds of drinking water that contain very little fluoride.

Water fluoridation is used because it works. Numerous studies (reviewed here and here) have shown that it reduces cavities by a considerable proportion and both the CDC and the WHO agrees that there is substantial evidence of efficacy, the latter even calling it “the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.”.

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Bracket Fungus as Fake “Treatment” for Suicidal Thoughts

Reishi undercover journalism

Americans spend around 34 billion dollars from their own pockets on alternative medicine every year according to the National Institutes of Health. Almost all of these products are either supported by weak research, no research or directly contradicted by large-scale high-quality scientific studies. What is worse is that this kind of quack “treatments” have seeped into academia and created several centers for “integrative medicine”.

It has also invaded public perception, with alternative health stores popping up all across major cities around the world that sells all kinds of quackery, from colloidal silver to allegedly healing mushrooms. What is truly terrifying is their aggressive marketing of these products for medical conditions they certainly do not effectively treat, thereby conning innocent and sick people for money while giving very little, if anything in return in terms of health benefits. In particular, there seems to be a growing trend to sell alternative medicine products for psychiatric conditions and symptoms such as depression, anxiety and suicidality.

A local department of the Swedish public television (SVT) decided to make a critical investigation (webcite) into one of these alternative health stores called Clearlife and a product they sold called Reishi. What they found was that the company recommends powdered mushroom in hot water as treatment for recurring suicidal thoughts. Utterly unscientific, unethical and likely illegal.

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Swedish Health Store Sells Colloidal Silver Despite Ban

Kville's Facebook Page

Kvilles Hälsokost och Ekolivs is a Swedish health store located in Gothenburg. According to its Facebook page, it has been around for about 20 years as an independent company. They sell supplements as well as homeopathy and claim that they tailor their supply in accordance with customer requests.

Ionosil colloidal silver is a solution of silver ions and silver nano particles made by the alternative medicine company Ion Silver. It is a fake treatment that claims to be able to cure “cancer, malaria, rheumatism, singles, COPD, TWAR [Taiwan acute respiratory agent], Lyme’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Ebola, psoriasis, [and] norovirus infection” according to an investigation carried out by the Swedish Medical Product Agency.

Why and how was it banned?

The outcome of this investigation was that the Swedish Medical Products Agency banned Ion Silver from selling or marketing the product with such health claims in early June of 2015. The justification provided by the agency was the following (my translation):

The Medical Products Agency holds that the claims that Ionosil or colloidal silver generally can cure diseases risk attracting consumers or patients to buy Ionosil instead of turning to health care system to get a correct treatment.

Selling and marketing with such claims is therefore a health risk.

How does the health store market the product?

Earlier today, they put up a Facebook post about it:

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Anthroposophic Homeopathy Gets Extended Exemption

Anthroposophic Homeopathy

For the thirteenth time in a row, fake treatments based on extreme dilutions of plant parts and heavy metals have been given an extended exemption from medical regulations in Sweden. The homeopathic products come from the Vidar Clinic located at Järna in the heart of the Swedish anthroposophy movement. Although Swedish law protects patients from quacks, the Swedish counterpart to the FDA have registered homeopathic products and they are being sold at pharmacies all around the country. Some fake medicine, such as anthroposophic homeopathy, has gotten especial exemption for years so they do not have to be registered or have any evidence of efficacy.

What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a pseudoscientific “alternative” treatment based on two scientifically false notions:

(1) “like cures like” e. g. snake venom treats snake bites.
(2) “potentiation by serial dilution” i.e. extreme dilutions (even to the point of there being no molecule of the active substance left) make the “treatment” stronger.

These two ideas is contradicted by almost everything we know from physics, chemistry and biology about how diseases work, how dilutions work and the relationship between dose and response.

What is anthroposophy?

Anthroposophy is a quasi-religious worldview created by Rudolf Steiner that includes, among other things:

(i.) a mystical form of anti-evolution where all animals are devolved from a human-like state.
(ii.) biodynamic agriculture, an esoteric version of organic farming that includes astrology and burying animal parts.
(iii.) selected forms of alternative medicine, such as mistletoe against cancer and homeopathy, as well as anti-vaccine sentiments and beliefs about past lives.

What is the Vidar Clinic?

The Vidar Clinic is a Swedish hospital controlled by proponents of anthroposophy that is located outside the city of Järna (the major Swedish hub for Swedish anthroposophy). Documented “treatments” provided by this clinic includes iron from meteorite diluted to 20D (1 molecule of the substance in 1020 molecules of water) and intervertebral discs from cattle, bamboo and ants. Even more alarmingly, they treated people with severe anxiety with diluted gold and various plant extracts. The clinic also advised parents with children who had measles that vaccines caused autism and that parents should intentionally spread the measles rash to the entire body of the child. In other words, their treatments are unscientific and far too diluted to have any real therapeutic effect.

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Anti-GMO Statistician Nassim N. Taleb Now Defends Homeopathy

Taleb on Twitter

Over a year ago, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb co-wrote an ignorant paper on the precautionary principle and its supposed lethal application to genetically modified foods. In it, the authors made several errors. They asserted, without evidence, that genetically modified crops are more dangerous than conventional crops and failing to consider the benefits of GM crops in preventing vitamin a deficiency, blindness and death (instead falsely comparing it to letting poor people play Russian roulette to get out of poverty).

Despite critics writing several detailed refutations, Taleb retained the irrational belief that no “intelligent comment” had been made. A person even tweeted Taleb the above article from Debunking Denialism and after spending a total of two minutes on it, Taleb declared that it was “not very intelligent”, “full of flaws” and “even downright stupid”, despite the fact that it had demolished the central claims made by the authors.

As if this was not enough, Taleb has now gone full-blown anti-science. In a couple of recent tweets, he went so far as to defend homeopathy at length. He falsely claimed that homeopathy was harmless and thus totally ignoring documented expectancy side-effects as well as the problem that people with real dangerous medical conditions (such as cancer) might avoid science-based intervention. He also completely misunderstood and mocked the psychiatric condition known as health anxiety, thereby implying that those individuals are better of with homeopathy than psychotherapy. In a final twist of incomprehensible absurdity, Taleb stated that superstitions such as homeopathy can sometimes be rational, particularly if they somehow “prevent you from listening to forecasts by economists”.

Homeopathy is not “harmless placebo”

Taleb starts out by making the common claim that homeopathy is harmless:

Taleb defends homeopathy

Homeopathy is not harmless. It is certainly pharmacologically inert on its own, but this is not the same as harmless. First, promoting homeopathy might make people with dangerous medical conditions forgo science-based treatments. Second, homeopathy can be accompanied by negative expectancy effects called nocebo effects. Third, unscrupulous alternative medicine sellers can mix in pharmacologically active substances that can have potentially dangerous health consequences. In the United States, all of this is unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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Seller of Miracle Mineral Solution Gets 51 Months in Prison

MMS seller sentences to over 4 years in prison

Louis Daniel Smith and his wife Karis Delong from the Oregon city of Ashland operated a company on the Internet called Project GreenLife for seven years. They were primarily selling a chemical substance called sodium chlorite as a miracle cure for a long list of serious health conditions, such as cancer, malaria and HIV. They advised their customers to mix it with water and citric acid to form chlorine dioxide (an industrial bleach used in e. g. pulp mills) and then drink it.

So what did they do? They smuggled sodium chlorite into the United States from Canada, wrote false invoices, tried to masquerade their product as wastewater treatment to avoid getting caught by the FDA and the customs officers, putting falsely branded chemical substances into interstate trade in a feeble effort to defraud consumers. To make matters even worse, they also hid and destroyed evidence from the police during a search warrant.

He was convicted in May on several of the charges and risked a total of 34 years in prison.

What is sodium chlorite / chlorine dioxide / miracle mineral solution (MMS)?

According to a recent press release from the U. S. Department of Justice:

MMS is a mixture of sodium chlorite and water. Sodium chlorite is an industrial chemical used as a pesticide, for hydraulic fracturing and for wastewater treatment. Sodium chlorite cannot be sold for human consumption, and suppliers of the chemical include a warning sheet stating that it can cause potentially fatal side effects if swallowed. When mixed with water and citric acid, it makes chlorine dioxide, another kind of bleach.

In other words, these people are promoting the usage of industrial bleach and recommending that people drink it to magically cure their dangerous and potentially life-threatening diseases.

What did Louis Daniel Smith believe that MMS would do?

Was this a case of a seller simply not knowing or understanding the dangers of the product he sold? No, quite the opposite: Smith had full knowledge of the serious side-effects the treatment could give people who drank it:

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Deconstructing a Flawed Defense of EMPowerplus Quackery

False Hope

Alternative medicine proponents defend their pseudoscientific quackery by a number of different means. Sometimes they claim that their alleged “treatment” is actually science-based and put forward studies that make trivial errors when it comes to experimental design, statistical analysis or the appropriate interpretation of the results in the wider medical context. However, this is typically rare since it requires a very deep level of intellectual self-deception. Other methods include claiming that although the preparation is just placebo, it is still very powerful through some mystical mind-body process that science can never understand. Quite often, however, they do not even make a serious attempt at sounding reasonable and instead merely claim that it “works for them” and that it is therefore unreasonable and immoral to object to alleged “treatments” that either has no evidence of safety or efficacy or has evidence of harm.

This article examines one such attempt to prop up an alternative medicine product called EMPowerplus (by Truehope) for psychiatric conditions such as autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety and bipolar conditions. However, these claims have never been evaluated by the FDA and the company uses the classic quack Miranda warning that their product is “intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” There is no credible scientific research supporting efficacy and safety of the product (the only RCT was terminated before completion and results were never reported), it has potentially dangerous drug interactions, the company makes invasive follow-up calls, and even promote the notion that Candida infection causes diseases in otherwise healthy individuals. Not only that, but the company tries to recruit friends and family to manipulate the patient to stay on the “treatment”.

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The Worst of the Autism Biomed Movement: Bleach, Castration and Death

EDTA

Few things about quackery are more disgustingly horrible than when deluded parents (who hardly know anything about medicine or science) subject their children to dangerous substances that risks their health or even their life. It is understandable that parents who discover that their child has severe autism may become desperate and wants to do everything in their power to help. However, these people are also at their most vulnerable for being exploited by pseudoscientific nonsense and they can cause a lot of harm.

This article covers several of the most dangerous elements of the multi-million dollar industry known as the autism biomedical movement: chlorine dioxide bleach, chemical castration, hyperbaric oxygen chamber and chelation. Parents should never be allowed to sacrifice the health of innocent children for the benefit of pseudoscientific quackery.

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Kerri Rivera to Stop Promoting and Selling Bleach Quackery in Illinois

Kerri Rivera

Kerri Rivera is one of the strongest proponents of the dangerous quackery that is chlorine dioxide. This is an industrial bleach and the “treatment” involves forcing children to drink it and use it as an enema multiple times a day. On her website CD autism, she claims that her product has helped almost 200 children to “recover” from autism. In reality, the concentration of chlorine dioxide she recommends is around 3000 times higher than the maximum allowed in drinking water.

Those who promote the use of industrial bleach to “treat” autism or diseases like cancer or HIV are starting to feel the full force of the criminal justice system. Louis Daniel Smith has been convicted of “conspiracy to commit multiple crimes, three counts of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead and one count of fraudulently smuggling merchandise into the United State” and risks a maximum prison sentence of over 30 years.

Rivera has now agreed to sign an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the state of Illinois, which means that she agrees to stop promoting and selling chlorine dioxide bleach as a treatment for autism. This is because Rivera has no scientific support for her claims and her actions violate section 2 of the Consumer Fraud Act. This is good news, but unfortunately this only applies to the state of Illinois and so one can imagine a great number of ways in which Rivera can continue to spread her dangerous nonsense and harm more children.

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