Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Category Archives: Alternative Medicine

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


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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Exposing Chiropractors Who Use Spinal Manipulation on Newborns

Chiro website

Chiropractic is an alternative medicine pseudoscience based on the notion that certain misalignments of the spine (called subluxatons) disrupts the flow of innate intelligence in the body and cause a wide range of diseases. Chiropractic manipulation of the spine (both neck and back areas) is claimed to fix these alleged subluxations and thus prevent or cure those medical conditions. In reality, chiropractors are not medical doctors, there is no conclusive evidence for the existence of subluxations or innate intelligence and chiropractic adjustments may cause severe harm such as a vertebral artery dissection. They also seem to overuse X-ray scans, despite the apparent realization that subluxations cannot be seen on an X-ray.

A few years back, an Australian chiropractor seems to have broken the neck of a baby infant during a “treatment” session. In a bizarre turn of events, the Australian health authorities turned over the case to the national chiropractic organization that denied it was the chiropractic manipulation that caused the broken neck.

What does chiropractic “treatments” of infants look like? What kind of spinal manipulations do they perform? To find examples of chiropractors using spinal manipulation on newborns, I performed a search on the video community website YouTube on 2015-07-04. The search term used was “newborn chiropractic adjustment” (with quotes). No additional search filters were used. At the time, this returned “about 184 results”. Not all of them show chiropractors working on newborns, but this article features several of the examples found.

The results are truly horrifying, particularly when chiropractors manipulate the C1 vertebra (atlas) or hold newborn infants upside down for an extended period of time. In some cases, the newborns are mere hours old.

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Truehope Threatens Critic Natasha Tracy with Frivolous Lawsuit

Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning mental health writers. She tested and critically evaluated an alternative medicine product called EMPowerplus Advanced during a time period she was suicidal and out of evidence-based options. Turns out that EMPowerplus Advanced is just a mixture of minerals and vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants. They claim that it can replace psychiatric medication and that they have over two dozens scientific papers published showing that it is effective. In reality, most of those are either case reports written by clinicians who believe in the product or plagued by lacking controls, having massive dropouts, being open label, having non-random self-selected samples or relying on self-reporting treatment effects.

Tracy wrote a few critical blog posts about the product and the company (called Truehope Nutritional Support) behind it in late 2013. A few days ago, The Synergy Group of Canada sent her a letter threatening with a lawsuit (webcite) for “slander/defamation” unless she removes all of her critical writings and issue a public apology within a week. In other words, an alternative medicine company that sells a “treatment” (against a variety of psychiatric conditions) that does not appear to be supported by solid scientific evidence has now attempted to silence a leading critic by threatening with legal action. This, of course, is known as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” or a SLAPP lawsuit.

Truehope and the Synergy Group thought they could bully a mental health writer who criticized their alternative “treatment” into silence by threatening her with a lawsuit. They were wrong. Debunking Denialism supports Natasha Tracy’s freedom to critically investigate and write down her thoughts and arguments for all to see. Debunking Denialism reject the intellectually dishonest and cowardly SLAPP tactic. Perhaps unwittingly, Truehope and the Synergy Group has now made sure that the skeptical spotlight will exposing their dirty laundry.

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Unraveling Pathetic Bleach Apologetics

CD is bleach

Bleach apologists advocate the treatment of cancer, malaria, HIV, autism and other conditions with a chlorine-based bleach called chlorine dioxide. There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that chlorine dioxide treats any medical condition. It is a bleach used for water treatment or pulp bleaching.

However, bleach apologists have not stood unopposed. Scientific skeptics and public health experts have been speaking out against this kind of pseudoscientific quackery. So bleach apologists have decided to strike back by attempting to spread an image meme across Facebook and other social media sites. They want to argue that chlorine dioxide is safe for human consumption at high concentrations and that it is, in fact, not a form of bleach. Click the image to the right to see the full-resolution screenshot.

Let us take it apart, claim by claim.

Protecting people against drinking bleach does not “endanger lives”

Drinking any form of bleach, bathing in it or using it as enema is dangerous. This is because, among other things, bleaches are oxidizers. Oxidizers steal electrons from other substances, effectively oxidizing them. The body contains many important components such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats and all of these are susceptible to oxidation. Oxidation occur all the time in the body as part of normal metabolism, but it is delicately controlled by enzymes and various protective systems. If you drink bleach, you take in large concentrations and amounts of oxidizers, and this damages key components of the body. Above and beyond that, different kinds of bleaches have different kinds of harmful effects in the body, but they are all oxidizers. This is an inescapable fact.

There is no known health benefits with drinking bleach. It may purify water, but that does not mean that it kills pathogens in the body and certainly not that it treats medical conditions that are not due to pathogens. So protecting people from drinking bleach makes sense from the perspective of human health.

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Swedish Medical Products Agency Bans Ionosil Colloidal Silver

Ion Silver AB, Colloidal Silver

In another stunning victory for science-based medicine, Swedish Medical Products Agency (the regulatory body for medicine and medical products) has decided that the company Ion Silver AB must stop promoting and selling colloidal silver of the brand Ionosil together with claims that the product treats diseases such as cancer and Ebola.

As a death-blow to the colloidal silver fanaticism, the agency even refuted the classic trope of “What’s the harm?” and even went so far as to criticize anecdotal evidence and the claim that antiseptic effectiveness of waste water somehow means efficacy against human diseases.

What diseases did Ionosil Colloidal Silver falsely claim to treat?

Like most forms of alternative medicine, Ionosil Colloidal Silver claims to prevent, treat and cure a long list of diseases, such as cancer, malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, shingles, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Taiwan acute respiratory agent, Lyme’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Ebola virus disease, psoriasis, norovirus (winter vomiting bug) and arthritic pain.

This is an obvious sign of quackery. Diseases are usually very specific in terms of how they are caused, how they progress, what they do and what symptoms you get. This means that it is unlikely for a simplistic product like small particles of silver in a water solution to prevent, treat and cure all of them.

What is the basis for the decision made by Swedish Medical Products Agency?

Although acknowledging that colloidal silver is approved for being sold as water purification, the company has marketed it for human consumption together with false and misleading health claims. This entails that the product is, in practice, being sold as a medical product. To be able to sell a product as a pharmaceutical, it has to approved by the regulatory authorities and this requires scientific evidence for both safety and effectiveness. Since Ionosil is not an approved pharmaceutical, it cannot be sold or marketed the way that Ion Silver AB has done.

Furthermore, it concluded that diseases like cancer and malaria are serious medical conditions and quack products like Ionosil Colloidal Silver might “delude people who suffers from these diseases to use an ineffective product instead of getting a working treatment”.

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Seller of Quack “Treatment” Miracle Mineral Solution Convicted

Department of Justice

The promotion of quack treatments recently received a heavy blow from the U. S. criminal justice system. Louis Daniel Smith, one of the major players behind selling industrial-strength bleach as a miracle cure for various diseases and conditions, was convicted in a federal court for “introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead”, “fraudulently smuggling merchandise into the United States” and “conspiracy to commit multiple crimes” according to a press release from the U. S. Department of Justice. He now risks being sentenced to 34 years in prison.

This is a stunning victory for science-based medicine, consumer protection and scientific skepticism generally. It will help protect thousands of people with cancer, HIV, malaria or autism who would otherwise have fallen prey for quackery, both in terms of health and finances. It will also provide a powerful response to both those who claims that quack treatments do not cause harm and those who claim that skeptical activism is pointless. Pseudoscience (and alternative medicine in particular) does cause considerable harm, and skeptical activism does work.

What diseases and conditions were industrial-strength bleach suppose to treat?

A federal jury in the Eastern District of Washington returned a guilty verdict yesterday against a Spokane, Washington, man for selling industrial bleach as a miracle cure for numerous diseases and illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, lyme disease, asthma and the common cold, the Department of Justice announced.

Warning alarms should always sound when a purported treatment claims to be a miracle cure for a wide range of diseases and conditions that are largely unrelated to each other, such as AIDS, malaria, asthma and so on. However, this short list is incomplete. Miracle Mineral Solution is being peddled for an even wider array of conditions than that on the Internet: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), autism spectrum conditions, herpes, dog bites, root canal, gangrene, urinary tract infections, HPV warts, eczema, influenza, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, whooping cough, fibromyalgia, first-degree burns, spider bites, chlamydia, getting bitten by drug addicts, singles, bleeding hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, allergies, gall stones, eye infections, tetanus and even (believe it or not) wounds resulting from attacks by rogue baboons.

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