Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Category Archives: Alternative Medicine

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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Danny Saucedo Spews Pseudoscientific Nonsense About Cannabis

Danny spews nonsense

Science is hard. It takes can often years, tens of thousands of working hours and millions of dollars to research an issue thoroughly. Sometimes, the results are multifaceted, contradictory or difficult to interpret, and research goes on. Thus, it is no wonder that misinformation is incredibly potent. It plays on hopes and fears and offers easy and emotionally comforting answers to complex issues.

One such issue is the health and harms of cannabis, which outside the scientific community involves a struggle between two opposing ideological groups. On one side are the drug war zealots who refuses to listen to any constructive suggestions on how prevent people from abusing drugs, have very little interest in helping those who need it and better combat the networks that supply them. On the other side are the cannabis apologists who claim cannabis is more or less harmless, works as a fantastic miracle cure for almost anything and promote various batshit conspiracy theories about pharmaceutical companies. Both of these groups are profoundly mistaken and are really just two different manifestations of the same underlying problem: refusing to take evidence seriously, especially when it contradicts their beliefs.

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Homeopathic Teething Products Contain Elevated Amounts of Belladonna

FDA homeopathic teething products

Homeopathy is a pseudoscience created around 1800 that ignores basic chemistry and biology. It wrongly claims that the more you dilute something, the stronger it becomes. In reality, the more you dilute something, the weaker it becomes. This is obvious to anyone who has ever mixed juice concentrate and water. The more water, the weaker the juice will taste. If you add no water, it will taste horribly strong. For homeopathy, it involves so extreme dilutions that there is statistically no actual molecules left of the supposed active ingredient.

Homeopathy also wrongly state that “like cures like”, so that you should consume more snake venom to cure a snake bite. This is obviously wrong since you just get more of the bad stuff. In reality, diseases that we can cure almost always have well-defined and mechanistically understood modes of action. So their alleged active ingredient is not actually active against the disease or condition even if it had not been astronomically diluted.

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Woman With Treatable Breast Cancer Picks Quackery Over Medicine

Valentine

Cancer is not a single disease, but different kinds of cancers can be grouped together because they behave in similar ways and afflict similar parts of the body. Although the very word “cancer” strikes fear into a lot of people and their families, medical treatments have advanced substantially over time. Doctors are now able to treat and even cure more forms of cancer than ever before and new research is being constantly carried out and published.

There has also been noticeable improvements in the ability of the health care system to detect cancer before it is too late. Catching cancer early is often a good thing compared with not detecting it until much later. This is because there is a less risk that the cancer has undergone radical changes or spread to other parts of the body. It is therefore agonizing and excruciatingly distressing when people who are diagnosed with early-stage cancer that are very treatable completely reject science-based treatments in favor of things that are ineffective or even dangerous. Recently, one such tragic case featuring a mother of four with stage 1 2 breast cancer appeared on the mass media tabloid scene.

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Another Quack Convicted of Neglecting Her Son to Death

Lovett

Sick children deserve to get the best possible treatment for their diseases. It is terrible to think about how a young child suffers and dies from severe diseases that could easily be treated because their parents are anti-medicine and believe that ineffective quack treatments work when they actually do not. Deaths due to severe neglect by parents could often have been entirely prevented.

Had they just accepted mainstream medicine instead of relying on pseudoscientific nonsense, their children could likely be alive today. This is probably an extremely ghastly realization, which is why some parents who neglected their children to death do not want to admit this and refuse to take responsibility for their terrible actions.

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How pH Quacks Scammed Dying Officer For 77 000 USD

pH quackery

The pH of the blood needs to be around 7.4 to ensure health. Because of key biological processes that depend on blood pH and due to its logarithmic nature, even seemingly minor deviations can be medically serious or even potentially deadly. However, the body has multiple systems that regulates pH and keep it in check. The bicarbonate buffer system balances hydrogen ions against carbon dioxide that can be exhaled, proteins can bind or release hydrogen ions, the affinity of hemoglobin to bind to hydrogen ions depends on carbon dioxide levels, phosphates make up another buffer system and kidneys can excrete hydrogen or carbonate ions to help regulate body pH.

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Remorseless David Stephan Continues Selling Naturopathic Quackery

Naturopathic quackery strikes again

David Stephan is a proponent of the quackery of naturopathy that involves treating serious medical conditions with nutritional supplements and refusing real medical treatment. In 2016, he and his wife Collet was convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life after they had refused to take their young toddler Ezekiel (who was suffering and later died from meningitis) to the doctor.

David was sentenced to 4 months in prison and Collet got house arrest for 3 months. They both were ordered to 240 hours of community service. The reason for the difference was because Collet did call a nurse and looked up the disease on the Internet, whereas David just went out and bought more naturopathic fakery and showed extreme remorselessness at trial.

Even during the trial, the Stephan made up various nonsense rationalizations, both to explain away their crime and their trial. David wrongly said that it was somehow impossible to detect that it was meningitis unless they were under around-the-clock medical supervision and that therefore it was not negligent to wait almost two weeks before calling for emergency medical assistant. He also stated that they had “gone above and beyond where he has received exceptional care”, a statement that appears extremely delusional with the facts on the table. After they were convicted (but before sentencing), David created a conspiracy theory about how the government deceived the jury, about how the “flood gates are now open” for the government to criminally prosecute anything who disagree with them on parenting, that he is now worried for Canada was a whole.

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Use This One Weird Trick to Take Back Control of Your Health

This One Weird Trick

Do you care about your health, but never find time to do anything serious about improving it? Do you feel trapped in an unhealthy lifestyle and do not know what to do to change it? Are you experiencing vague and unspecific symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, or a lack of motivation?

Do you feel like you never know who or what to trust because newspapers and websites change their minds about what is healthy and what is dangerous almost every week? Feel confused and perplexed by strange and conflicting messages that you find on the thousands of health and wellness websites that are out there?

What if there was this one simple trick that you could use to take back control of your own health? What if this trick could potentially save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year that you can spend on important things and people who truly matters? What is this one weird trick is a trick that they do not want you to know about? A trick that they are actively trying to hide from you by spending millions of dollars on misinformation on television, social media and the Internet generally?

Debunking Denialism is proud to expose them and give you the truth. This one weird trick to take control of your health is this: stop using alternative medicine. It is virtually always ineffective and/or untested garbage and can even be dangerous to your health. Throw it all away. Right now.

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More Deadly Doctor Gambits: Mortality Rates and Doctors on Strike

a deadly doctor?

Mainstream medicine and medical doctors are increasingly under attack. Homeopaths, naturopaths and other groups pretend to have real medical knowledge and subject vulnerable and sick people to fake “treatments” that has never been scientifically tested or has been tested and shown not to work.

Concerned parents think that a few hours spent reading blogs written by medically unqualified individuals without any credible sources gives them more knowledge and diagnostic skills than medical doctors. Cranks on the Internet who are literally making stuff up about avocados, sun-staring and bleach as a cure for all diseases amass an audience of millions for their nonsense assertions that fly in the face of rational thinking and published scientific evidence.

Even more sinister, quacks attempt to portray medical doctors as a dangerous threat to the health and life of patients. This is often done by deploying the so-called deadly doctor gambit (originally discussed by C0nc0rdance) by falsely claiming that doctors are more dangerous than guns. In reality, this argument falls apart when you realize that there are 33 million hospitalizations per year in the U. S. so the relative risk from guns is much higher than doctors. As an analogy, there are more people who die from car accidents than from motor cycle accidents, but since there are many more people driving cars than motor cycles, motor cycles are more dangerous per capita drivers.

Thus, many of the hateful alternative medicine proponents that would say almost anything to make doctors seem evil really just ignorantly misunderstand and abuse basic statistical considerations.

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Stop Calling LGBT People Brain Damaged by Endocrine Disruptors

Mercola on EDCs

The human body is complicated. To make it easier to study and understand, scientists and medical researchers divide the body into different systems, such as the immune system, the nervous system, the endocrine system and so on. In reality, these are not watertight compartments and they overlap and influence each other in both very direct and subtle ways. The endocrine system consists of a large number of glands throughout the body that secrete hormones. These glands can be found in many places, from the brain and thyroid to the stomach and genitals. Some key hormones that are secreted by this system is growth hormone, melatonin, oxytocin, insulin, cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine, testosterone, estrogen and many others. These have important biological effects and regulate many crucial processes in the human body.

What determines how much is being secreted? It is a complicated question with an even more complicated answer. To simplify it a bit, it is influenced by both genetics, environment and how much hormone is already in circulation. With the help of e. g. feedback effects, the body is able to keep hormones at a physiologically healthy levels. Hormones typically have their effects by binding to a hormone receptor that activates downstream signalling and biological effects. Hormones receptors are often highly specialized in order to bind to the corresponding hormone to ensure that the system is regulated and not triggered by other things inside and outside of the body. However, this is not a perfect system.

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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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