Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Category Archives: Alternative Medicine

Mailbag: Water Fluoridation and Human Genetic Variation

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry in the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact info on the about page.

Fluoride occurs naturally in many forms of drinking water, because it is leached from the bedrock where it occurs in the form of calcium fluoride and other compounds. Sometimes, fluoride is added into the drinking water where this natural source does not exist or is too little. Water fluoridation in drinking water prevents cavities (and contributes to equalizing dental health across socioeconomic groups), but the concentration is not large enough to cause harm.

There is an important limitation with water fluoridation, and that is that it is typically applied in an one-size-fits-all instead of tailoring the amount to the needs of the community. However, the objections to water fluoridation that you might find on the Internet and social media in particular is batshit conspiracy theories that water fluoridation sterilizes people and lowers their IQ despite the fact that the human populations has exploded in size during the past 100 years and IQ steadily rises over time due to the Flynn effect. Earlier, Debunking Denialism published a refutation of the claim that if you add fluoride, you should supposedly have no problem adding arsenic. This is, of course, completely wrong in so many different ways.

The second topic in this mailbag is that of human genetic variation. These issues are often misunderstood by so-called race realist who argues that modern genomics have validated pseudoscientific superstitions about human diversity from the 1700s. Why race realists are mistaken on the facts was discussed in Modern High-Throughput Genomics Versus Race Realism and dozens other on this websites.

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Crown Prosecutors Appeal Lenient Toddler Meningitis Sentence

Crown appeals Stephans sentencing

In 2012, David and Collet Stephan failed to provide the necessities of life to their toddler Ezekiel, who died of meningitis-induced hypoxia. Instead of calling an ambulance or traveling to a medical doctor, the couple instead gave pseudoscientific alternative products to Ezekiel, such as garlic, hot peppers, horseradish, maple syrup, berry juice, and miscellaneous naturopathic quackery for a period of over two weeks. It was only when Ezekiel stopped breathing that they decided to call an ambulance and take their son to a hospital and real medical help. The trial started in early March of 2016 and they got convicted for failing to provide the necessities of life. The father got four months in prison and the mother got three months house arrest. They both got 240 hours community service and a probation period of 2 years after their punishment is completed. The father was deemed especially guilty, as he showed no remorse and only got more naturopathic substances, whereas the mother actually researched the disease and contacted a nurse.

The parents, and especially David, has not fully accepted responsibility for their crime. Instead, they have offered a variety of excuses and tried to shift the blame to others. David claimed that the only way to discover that their son had meningitis was to have a 24-hour medical supervision, which is simply not true. He also claims that his son did not die of meningitis, but only because the ambulance was not well-stocked enough. One wonders what David thinks is the cause of the life-threatening breathing difficulties experienced by his son Ezekiel. It occurred before the ambulance arrived and a reasonable person would conclude that it was induced by the untreated meningitis. Yet David does not want to realize this, because that would effectively shatter his cognitive dissonance and force him to realize that he and his wife is responsible for the death of their son.

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David Stephan Gets 4 Months in Jail for Naturopathy Meningitis Death

Jail time for David Stephan

Naturopathy is a form of alternative medicine that push overconsumption of vitamins and minerals, herbalism woo, as well as other types of quackery such as homeopathy and acupuncture. In addition, they are decidedly anti-medicine because they generally oppose vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

It often rests on vitalism, which is the debunked notion that the core feature of life is a mysterious life energy, rather than physical, chemical and biological processes. It also has a near fetishistic obsession with everything “from nature” or “natural”, despite the fact that nature can produce and has produced substances that are incredibly dangerous for humans.

In an investigation of naturopathy and other alternative treatments carried out by the Australian government only a single unpublished systematic review was found, and so they concluded “overall quality of evidence was rated as very low”. In their evaluation, they highlighted risk of bias, low precision, and publication bias.

Who are David And Collet Stephan?

David and Collet Stephan are a married couple living in Alberta, Canada. They are also devoted proponents and practitioners of naturopathy and David was at the very least an employee at the controversial alternative medicine company called Truehope that has been discussed several times before on this website.

In early 2012, their son Ezekiel, a 19-month-old toddler, developed meningitis. It is not clear that this case of meningitis was caused by a vaccine-preventable disease, but it is a possibility, and the family opposed vaccines.

How did their actions lead to the death of their son Ezekiel?

Meningitis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. How did Ezekiel’s parents handle it? Did they call an ambulance? Visit an emergency room? No, far from it. They tried to “boost the immune system” of the child with alleged “natural remedies” such as maple syrup, berry juice, apple cider vinegar, garlic and other food items. They also tried the nutritional supplement Empowerplus from the Truehope company discussed above. Most reasonable people understand that these “treatments” do not work, or at the very least has never been shown to work in large-scale scientific studies.

Ezekiel was sick for almost two weeks. It starting with a fever that the parents attributed to teething, but he soon developed labored and wheezy breathing. It has now that the Stephans started with their herbal “treatments” and put in a humidifier. The toddler mostly stopped eating and drinking, so they have to give him fluids through eye drops. His symptoms likely worsened, but the parents belief in the efficacy of their treatments led them to believe that the boy was improving. He then became increasingly lethargic and unresponsive as well as showing some neurological symptoms. A few days later, the parents noticed increased stiffness that eventually became so severe that his back was arched when laying down.

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Special Treatment for Anthroposophic Substances Will Be Removed

anthroposophic substances no longer given special treatment

Anthroposophic substances will no longer be given special treatment in the pharmaceutical legislation in Sweden. Every since 1993, fake treatments made by proponents of anthroposophy could be used without having any evidence of safety or efficacy, and they could even be injected.

Now, the Swedish government has decided to remove this and force anthroposophy proponents to put their substances through the standard approval or registration pipeline. However, the exemption will first be extended for two years, then there will a transition period for three years and only after a total of five years will they be forced to show that their substances are safe and effective (if they want them to be treated like real medication) or just safe (if they want to settle for homeopathy registration and be denied the possibility of making efficacy claims). This is a welcome development and arguably a small victory for science-based medicine, but it could have been done faster. In the end, it is a reluctant compromise.

What is anthroposophy and anthroposophic substances?

Anthroposophy is a weird mix between pseudoscience and mysticism that was founded by Rudolf Steiner in the late 1800s and has since infiltrated medicine, agriculture and education.

Anthroposophic substances are products made by anthroposophy proponents that typically do not have any evidence for efficacy and safety. Often, these involve homeopathic dilutions and due to an exemption in the Swedish law since 1993, these are given a sales permit and can circumvent normal regulations that cover real medication (approval) or fake treatments that have been shown to be pharmacologically harmless (registration). This special treatment will now end and anthroposophy will be treated like other fake treatments and require at the very least evidence of safety.

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Homeopathy Journal Suppressed Due To “Anomalous Citation Patterns”

Homeopathy Journal

Homeopathy is a form of pseudoscientific quackery from the late 1700s that is based on denying basic chemistry. In reality, the more you dilute something, the weaker the substance becomes (think of mixing lemonade). Homeopaths, on the other and, think that a substance gets stronger when diluted. Mind-bogglingly, they think it is even more powerful when it is so diluted that no molecules are likely to be left of the original substance. They also believe that the substance that caused a disease is also the cure, so if you have a deadly snake bite, you should drink extremely diluted snake venom instead of a dose of the appropriate anti-venom.

The most methodologically rigorous studies shows that homeopathy is not clinically significantly better than placebo. This is to be expected, since you are basically drinking water or eating a sugar pill if you take homeopathic remedies.

What exactly is the Elsevier journal “Homeopathy?”

The Homeopathy journal has existed under various names since 1911 and is the official publication of the Faculty of Homeopathy. Since the 1950s, it has a legal status as an educational institution in England and their current tagline is the Orwellian claim that they are “ensuring the highest standards in homeopathic education and practice”.

This journal is published by Elsevier and its 2014 impact factor 0.758 according to Journal Citation Reports, which makes it among the lowest quality category of journals in the world. Other impact factor metrics were even lower, from 0.3 to 0.5 (according to the journal website).

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Alleged Spoon Bender Anastasia Kutt Resigns from University of Alberta

Spoon Bender Anstasia Kutt resigns

According to her blog, Anastasia Kutt describes herself as an “energy healing therapist”, a “registered Reiki Master/Teacher”, a “certified Trilotherapist” and a “Yuen Method practitioner”. Until very recently, she was also a “workshop facilitator” associated with the University of Alberta. She appears to offer both spoon bending and tantric sex workshops, but her major focus appears to be on providing various Reiki courses to people that include topics such as “psychic surgery”, “aura cleansing”, “chakra cleaning”, “removing specific energy blockages” etc. for the cheap price of 350 USD for the first two levels and 500 USD for the final third level so that you can become a full-fledged “Reiki Master Practitioner”. If you do not mind being fooled into giving away more money, there is even a course to become a “Usui Reiki Master Teacher” for another 800 USD, making it a grand total of 1650 USD. In addition, there is a 100 USD deposit to register for the different courses.

Recently, she organized a workshop at the University of Alberta. Not any workshop, but a workshop that involved the promotion of “energy healing therapies” and spoon bending. Yes, you read that correctly. Spoon bending. A great overview of this issue can be found in this article written by Orac on Respectful Insolence. At least two articles have been published by CBC. Now, it seems that this workshop has been cancelled and that she has resigned from her position at the University of Alberta. This article looks at these recent developments.

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Church Council Spent 4600 USD on Tinfoil Hat for EMF Hypersensitivity

Tinfoil Hat Church

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF), is a collection of non-specific and vague symptoms that some people attribute to electromagnetic fields.

In reality, individuals who claim to be severely effected by e. g. cellphones or Wi-Fi cannot accurately determine when they are exposed to EM fields in provocation studies and symptoms appear to get better when treated with psychotherapy. IEI-EMF is not a scientifically or medically recognized diagnosis.

Although their proposed explanation is not true, their experienced symptoms are real. This can in some cases lead to severe functional impairment, including extreme isolation and other psychological consequences. Individuals with IEI-EMF sometimes demand that others, such as neighbors, stores and even local government make radical changes to accommodate them. This can include considerable changes to homes and workplaces in the form of “electric sanitization” or petitioning the municipality to have cell phone antennas re-directed creating a local blackout over a neighborhood.

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Do Not Order Cannabis Oil Online To Treat Child Epilepsy

Cannabis plant

Cannabis oil is an umbrella term for oily extracts from the plant Cannabis sativa with varying concentrations of THC and other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol. Products containing even low amounts of THC is often classed as an illegal substance in many countries where cannabis is illegal.

For cannabis apologists, it is a miracle cure for a large number of diseases, ranging from cancer and HIV to autism and epilepsy. For critics of alternative medicine and opponents of drug fetischizing, it is just another drug product that criminals attempt to con people into using by making unsupported claims about products that haven ever been sufficiently tested for safety and efficacy.

Throughout the Internet and in newspapers like Metro, one can find many testimonials from alleged parents that swear that it works. But this is not scientific evidence. There are people who force bleach on their autistic children or treat children who have meningitis with maple syrup and swear that their products work when they demonstrably do not. It is easy to be convinced by testimonials, but it is just a form of emotional manipulation, often with financial motives, to trick people into buying their products. Let us look at two such testimonials that recently appeared in an issue of Metro newspaper.

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Leeches in the Vagina: No Evidence it Helps Getting Pregnant or Orgasms

Leeches in the vagina

Can hundreds of leeches, several of them placed inside the vagina, cure pre-cancerous uterine fibroids by cauterization, increase you chance of getting pregnant, facilitate breastfeeding, promote milk production, give you more energy and better skin, more regular periods, and longer and more intense orgasms? Or is this just another bullshit alternative medicine “treatment” without any published scientific evidence whatsoever that, no pun intended, parasitizes on real science that support leech treatment for a certain limited range conditions?

What are leeches?

Leeches are a group of annelid worms and some of their members, like Hirudo medicinalis, feast on the blood of its victims, including humans. In ancient times, leeches were used in a primitive pseudomedical context resembling bloodletting. The evils that caused a particular disease was thought to reside in the blood and if you got rid of a lot of the blood, you would get rid of the evils. Today, we know that such fake “treatments” are likely to be very dangerous and could kill the patient and so bloodletting is no longer practices.

Why are leeches used in modern medicine?

However, modern medicine has found an unlikely use of leeches. Some medical procedures, particularly related to reconstructive surgeries, benefit from bleeding in order to reduce swelling and prevent clotting because the saliva of leeches contain both anticoagulants. The core protein that performs this function is called hirudin and can now be mass-produced through genetic engineering whereby a corresponding DNA sequence is put into a vector which is then introduced microorganisms that are then grown in fermenters and the subsequent protein is then isolated.

What is the background story of the woman who put leeches in her vagina?

Nina Evans is a woman from the United Kingdom who was diagnosed with uterine myoma (also know as a fibroids) likely around the year 2010. Her doctors claimed that she needed a radical hysterectomy. Evans, who wanted to get another child, refused and instead opted for an untested procedure involving putting leeches up the vagina. The mainstream medical treatment today is to use focused ultrasound to kill the cells in the fibrous growth while the patient is inside an MRI machine so that the doctors can get a live feed and follow the procedure in real-time. Since we do not know the precise year, it is unclear if this treatment was available at the time.

The story is mostly covered by lower tier newspapers in the United Kingdom.

Why did Evans embrace leeches in the vagina?

Like many proponents of alternative medicine, it was not due to published peer-reviewed scientific research:

‘I chose leeches because I was born in Lithuania and leech therapy is used for a whole range of illnesses, she said.

‘They’re considered a general cure for all, and I knew from experience, having had leech treatment before, that it gave you more energy and a more positive outlook.

In other words, she became a believer because of alleged cultural immersion, the belief that it is a miracle treatment that cures everything and the anecdotal evidence that she experienced “more energy” and “positive outlook” after being “treated” with it before.

Right about now, gigantic skeptical sirens should be going off: her description is classic quackery. Also note that there is no reference to mainstream medicine or published research whatsoever.

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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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