Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Category Archives: Alternative Medicine

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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Extremist Quacks Get Life Sentences For Murdering Their Diabetic Son

Alex Radita

In May of 2013, paramedics found 15-year-old Alexandru Radita dead at his home. The cause of death was complications to type 1 diabetes. Yet, as this heartrending and horrific story unfolded, all was not what they seemed to be. Alex was forcibly confined and isolated at home. He was starved and denied medical treatment for his diabetes for several years. In the end, he developed several dozen ulcers all over his body, had rotten teeth and a massive infection. Alex weighted 37 pounds (~16.8 kg) and looked so weak and malnourished that paramedics testified that he appeared almost mummified.

His parents were religious fanatics and refused to accept mainstream medicine, either refusing to accept that their son had diabetes or buying into convoluted conspiracy theories that the doctors gave him diabetes by administrating life-saving insulin. To avoid the social services, the education system and doctors, the parents moved to another province. After a few more years of pain, isolation, starvation and a lack of sufficient medical treatment, Alex died. Now, both of the parents have been convicted to life in prison for first degree murder. Justice has been served, but it was too late for Alex and his life could have been saved by the system years before if it was not because of the decision of a judge to give him back to his parents. Later investigations would reveal that the parents had gotten another child taken from them earlier and another infant that had died under mysterious circumstances.

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The Texas Medical Board Puts Stanislaw Burzynski on Probation

Stanislaw Burzynski is a medical doctor in Texas that has promoted untested treatments for severe cases of cancer for decades and likely exploited hundreds of patients with terminal disease for large sums of money. After having escaped from the grasp of regulatory agencies several times, he faced increasing pressure from the Texas Medical Board during the last few years.

Now, a final order has been issued by the Board. His license is revoked due to multiple violations, but it is a stayed sentence while he is on probation. Unfortunately, the Board threw out several key charges that were leveled at Burzynski. At any rate, he is required to submit to monitoring for a substantial amount of time, ordered to pay administrative penalties and restitution as well as to take ethics courses, medical education and pass a crucial medical exam. Although his medical license is not gone yet, all he needs to do is screw up one more time and it might just be gone for good. However, if there is something we have learned from the Burzynski circus it is that he has an incredible ability to slip away from regulators.

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Australian Chiropractor Hit With ~23 000 USD Fines For Misleading Advertisement

Chiropractor gets massive fines

Proponents of fake treatments have in many ways been allowed to push their quackery and nonsense without that much government regulation. This has made them bold and encouraged them to more and more batshit pseudoscientific claims about the alleged health benefits of their treatments. However, because the consumer protection is so weak, the justice system has had to find other ways to tackle the problem. Thus, prosecuting quacks has typically involved cases where there have been fatalities or illegal transportation, tax violations or false and misleading advertisement. However, this is rare. Most of the time, snake oil salespeople have been allowed to roam free.

However, this might be changing in some parts of the world. Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has started to crack down on alternative medicine practitioners who create enormously misleading advertisements for their services. Recently, a chiropractor was charged with multiple counts of false or misleading advertisements and also for using testimonials in health advertisement. He was convicted and must now pay a hefty fine of around 23 000 USD. Although this is just a single case, it is a stunning victory for scientific skepticism and consumer protection efforts. There will hopefully be more such cases. Who knows, maybe other countries will learn from the Australian experience?

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