Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Category Archives: Alternative Medicine

Homeopathic Company Finally Recalls Teething Products Containing Belladonna

Homeopathic teething products with Belladonna recalled

Homeopathy is a pseudoscience that is based on two core principles. The first is that like cures like. So if you get bitten by a venomous snake, this same snake venom will prevent you from dying. In reality, a dangerous snake bite from a venomous snake is treated with, for instance, antivenom that via specific molecular mechanisms prevent the venom from having negative health effects on the body. The second is that the more you dilute something, the stronger it becomes. In particular, homeopathy involves diluting products so much that there is almost always not a single molecule left of the supposed active ingredient.

Based on basic science considerations from physics, chemistry and biology, homeopathy does not work and cannot work. Large-scale and methodologically sound scientific studies have also shown that homeopathy is ineffective as a treatment for real medical conditions. In essence, homeopathy is quackery that does not work above placebo. Homeopaths push these ineffective remedies for a large range of real medical conditions and even some minor issues, like teething (when new teeth push through the gums of a young child).

What are these belladonna-containing teething tablets?

The products in question are teething tablets that are manufactured by the Standard Homeopathic Company. These are supposed to contain no detectable levels of belladonna (since it is all diluted away), but since homeopathy is a pseudoscience, one cannot really assume that they will have good manufacturing practices. Laboratory analyses performed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed that Hyland’s homeopathic teething tablets contained too large and inconsistent amounts of belladonna (a plant that contains dangerous secondary metabolites such as atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine).

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PureCare Herbal Cream Found Contaminated by Prescription Steroids

PureCare Herbal Cream

PureCare Herbal Cream with the current label (Health Canada).

Real medicine has to be researched and tested for many years before reaching approval by the regulatory agencies. It usually starts with biochemical research measuring different chemical parameters of a substance or selecting agents based on already known parameter data. It then moves on to cell and tissue cultures and if they are still considered promising, it can move on to animal testing.

If it passes that hurdle, it can move on to testing on humans in different stages. All relevant documents should be submitted to regulators that then scrutinize the findings. If found to be safe and effective, the product can be approved. Despite approval, research still continues to ensure that the treatment continues to be safe after approval. If something happens, regulators can recall the product. For supplements, complementary and alternative medicine (SCAMs), the story is very different.

Often, they do not need any evidence for efficacy, but may need evidence for safety depending on the country. In some countries, it is enough that they contain substances that are generally regarded as safe. Usually, quacks are not allowed to make radical health claims on their products implying that it treats or cures things that it does not actually work for, but they try to get around that by using weasel words or different kinds of warnings.

However, because SCAMs are often produced by unscrupulous manufacturers and pushed by equally uncaring sellers, it is not unusual for them to be contaminated or contain very different amounts of ingredients than declared on the label. Their products typically have no evidence for efficacy and do not work. Read more of this post

Five Reasons Why “Placebo Medicine” is Bullshit

The alternative medicine movement constantly moves the goalposts and shifts the narrative to avoid admitting that their products are medical failures. First they claim that their fake treatments are effective. When it is pointed out that their products have not been tested for safety and efficacy, they deny that it is even possible to be run clinical trials on alternative medicine because it is so personalized.

When it is pointed out that many real treatments are also personalized and could be tested just fine, they insist that clinical trials will vindicate their quackery. When their products fail the tests, they try to spin the result in such a way as to portray the clinical trials as a success.

When it is ultimately shown that some alternative medicine practice is virtually indistinguishable from placebo, they switch the narrative once again. This time, they insist that even if their fake products and services are indistinguishable from placebo, the placebo effect is supposedly some mysterious new age woo that the mind somehow determines reality and that we therefore must “harness the power of placebo”. Here is why all of this is deeply misleading. Read more of this post

Fake “Stem Cell” Injections Blind Three Women

Stem Cell

The human body contains a few hundred different cell types, from muscle and fat cells to liver and brain cells. These are called differentiated cells and their different shapes, sizes and function is influenced by the fact that these different cell types have different gene expression. Some genes (called housekeeping genes) are expressed in all cells, while some other genes are more highly expressed in some cell types than others. It is not all about genes, however, since cells are also influenced by other cells close to them and other external factors.

Before these cells became differentiated, they were stem cells. These cells are undifferentiated cells that can grow rapidly and become any of a large number of different cell types. There are different kinds of stem cells, typically divided into different classes based on their potential for differentiation. For instance, some stem cells can become a moderate number of different cell types (multipotent), whereas others can become any of a large array of cell types (pluripotent) or even any cell type in the body (totipotent). Other types of stem cells include adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Read more about cell differentiation here and more about stem cells here.

Because stem cells can differentiate into different cell types, the general idea is that they might be used to replace things that do not work in the human body, from cell populations to tissues and even organs. The most common legitimate stem cell therapy in medicine involves using bone marrow stem cells (and chemotherapy) to treat leukemia and lymphoma. A small number of other legitimate therapeutic stem cell therapies have been shown to be effective in medical research and approved by regulators.

Yet, there are also fake stem cell treatments that are pushed by quacks that scam people for money and even causes serious harm.

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FTC Shuts Down Fake Weight-Loss Scam and Imposes 1.3 Million USD Fine

FTC crack down on weight-loss scam

Society has somewhat of an obsession with quick weight-loss schemes. You cannot watch television, read a newspaper or browse the Internet without being exposed to some advertisement about how you can lose a ton of weight and fulfill all of your dreams if only you buy and eat this or that “miracle” weight-loss supplement. In reality, most of them probably do not work and some of them might be very harmful. You also do not really know what is in those pills, simply because they are often sold by unreliable quacks.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a U. S. consumer protection agency that was founded by Woodrow Wilson in the early 1900s. They work tirelessly to crack down on false marketing, frauds, identity theft, deceptive trade practices, coercive monopolies and many other things that ultimately harm consumers. Because the supplement industry in the United States has very little regulation in terms of safety and efficacy of their products, regulators have to go after scams and frauds via false and misleading marketing and other law violations. It is hardly an optimal situation, but they have managed to make some headway by holding homeopathic over-the-counter (OTC) products to the same standard as other OTC products.

Now, the FTC has settled a case against a weight-loss scam that used fake news websites and fake celebrity endorsements. The defendants must pay 500 000 USD and face the threat of paying a total of 1.3 million USD if they do not stop with their illegal and deceptive activities.

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Six Hilarious Pseudoscience Contradictions


Pseudosciences are the imposters of real science. They attempt to mimic the activities and language used by scientists, but have no intellectual substance beneath their shallow surface. This is likely because science has such a strong cultural authority and has been responsible for many beneficial and exciting discoveries during the past few centuries. Anything that attempts to parasitize on science can potentially steal some of this authority from science.

Yet, because pseudosciences are not based on credible arguments or evidence, they contain a combination of wishful thinking and stuff that is plainly made up. Because critical thinking and scientific evidence plays very little role (in any), it is not surprising that inconsistencies and contradictions have crept into many forms of pseudoscience. These contradictions do not just occur between different kinds of pseudosciences, such as chiropractors claiming that giving birth is a massive trauma and that newborns must get spinal adjustments while natural birth activists think that giving birth in the wilderness is completely safe. They can also be found within a specific pseudoscience and that produces many great ironies that many quacks and cranks seem completely oblivious to. Let us look at six such hilarious pseudoscience contradictions. Read more of this post

Appeal Trial For Remorseless Quacks Who Let Their Toddler Die of Meningitis Begins

Stephan appeal

David and Collet Stephan are a married couple with three children that used to live in Alberta in Canada (they moved to Nelson in British Columbia after the first conviction). Both of them are staunch supporters of the pseudoscientific fakery that is naturopathy. David was also an employee at the harmful alternative medicine company Truehope that claims that their supplements can cure various forms of metal illness despite having virtually no scientific support for it. That company has also threatened to sue at least one their critics because she wrote a critical review of their products on her website.

They were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life in the summer of 2016. Their 19-month-old son Ezekiel died of meningitis after they had refused to take him to a hospital during roughly a two-week period. The parents are anti-vaccine activists and just used a variety of fake treatments like garlic, onions, peppers and horseradish.

The father was sentenced to four months in jail and the mother got three months of house arrest due to crucial differences in how they handled the situation. The mother had done Internet research and did a few diagnostic tests on their son, but the dad just got more supplements. Both were also sentenced to 240 hours of community service. The remaining children must see a doctor once a year and that they must post the conviction on their social media accounts in full. David Stephan was later caught selling naturopathic supplements, indicating that he has certainly not given up on this quackery.

Some people who do not understand the point of scientific skepticism and critical thinking often rhetorical ask “what’s the harm?”. This is the harm.

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Söderhamn Municipality Spent ~16 500 USD on Biofeedback Meters


The Swedish municipality of Söderhamn has recently taken ~16 500 USD that were suppose to be used for integration projects and instead spent it on a project called Coherent City. This project involves the use of 60 “biofeedback meters” that measure heart rate variability and use it in an “inner balance” study using earlobe attachments and smartphones.

The people behind Coherent City claim that this method improves “inner balance” that results in “syncing between the heart and brain” and allow people to “use more of their brain capacity and can even lead to “societal transformation”. Ultimately, they make the astonishing assertion that they can make entire cities “coherent”. In their various claims about “coherence” on their website and materials, they draw a wide range of topics, such as the earth’s magnetic field, quantum mechanics and “structured water”. Most of the statements on their website are phrased as questions and they even admit in a Q&A section that their entire construct of “coherence” is not based on evidence. What is really going on here?

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