Ignoreland: A Refusal To Engage

June 26, 2009 at 8:36 pm (Miscellaneous) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been attempting to communicate with various people and institutions recently and I’ve been having a little trouble. I don’t seem to be getting responses to my emails. Let’s see if we can figure out where I’ve been going wrong.

The University of Westminster have been less than forthcoming with answers to my questions regarding the research they conducted on the Universal Contour Wrap that was covered so enthusiastically by the Daily Mail (as I wrote here). I first emailed them on the 18th May to ask if they could help with details of the research (where it had been published, or who the authors were). Having waited since the 18th May to find out the name of either the journal or the authors and received neither piece of information, I found the contact details for the Research Director at the School of Biosciences. I have now asked if the study was published in a journal, how the Daily Mail came to hear of the study, any further details they could provide (study sponsor, technical details relating to the study), and whether they had any comment on the claim in the Daily Mail that:

“The idea behind this wrap is that the combination of detoxifying mineral-rich clay and specialist body-wrapping techniques will compress fatty tissue, leaving you tighter and more toned. The clay solution is absorbed by the skin, drawing out toxins that are expelled through the pores.”

I sent this email four days ago and I very much look forward to receiving a response from the School of Biosciences.

Then there is the strange case of the histadelia and pyrrole research… Back in September 2008, I wrote about histadelia (a condition referred to by Patrick Holford in his book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind) and noted that the term did not appear on Pubmed. I discussed the references Holford made to having been diagnosed with histadelia by Carl Pfeiffer and I ended this post by stating that “They have their own un-evidenced test – for an un-evidenced condition that requires un-evidenced treatment”. In the comments following this blog post, I had an incoherent jed inform me that I was “full of it” and “denying people natural products in return for poison” in April 2009, some time after I wrote the original post. I later had (in April and June) two further commenters leave rather more coherent and less angry messages for me – both praising the work of Carl Pfeiffer. One of them helpfully suggested I look at “William Walsh’s research at the Pfeiffer Research Institute”. I was unable to find this research via the internet (I was also unable to find contact details for the Pfeiffer Research Institute – or any indication that the Pfeiffer Research Institute exists, beyond a couple of references to it in alternative health forums) and therefore decided to try the Pfeiffer Treatment Centre. Their research pages do not even mention histamine or histadelia, so I contacted the Pfeiffer Treatment Centre to ask them about this research that I’m having such trouble tracking down:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been informed that the Pfeiffer Treatment Center has research pertaining to the treatment of pyrrole disorder and histapenia/histadelia. Please can you provide me with this research, as I am interested in finding out more.

Regards, James Cole.

I thought that perhaps they would inform me that they were unable to release this research to me – or that I would have to pay to see copies of their research papers containing extensive and robust evidence that histadelia (a) exists and (b) can be treated by vitamin pills. I was wrong. I haven’t had so much as an acknowledgement that they have received my email.

As for chiropractors… I emailed the BCA on 28th May (and again on 6th June to ask if they were planning on responding to my email. No response has been forthcoming. Not even an acknowledgement that they had received my email. Why didn’t they respond? I can only assume they didn’t like the questions I was asking – or perhaps didn’t know how to answer them: you can find my questions here.

At least the Bassett Chiropractic Clinics sent me an email to tell me they wouldn’t engage in correspondence with me. What had I done to elicit this response? Well, I asked a few questions. What proportion of their patients were treated with spinal manipulation; whether they considered it acceptable to make claims that were inconsistent with ASA guidance on the basis that this was done so on a website and the ASA were unable to challenge these claims; whether their interpretation of the GCC code differed from mine; whether they were going to provide full citations to the papers they referred to in a previous email; and whether they were going to comment on a systematic review I’d referred to. I found their decision to refuse to correspond with me disappointing, but at least they had the manners to tell me of their decision.

ETA: the mauve factor PDF I mentioned in the comments section is here: Mauve factor


  1. draust said,

    Interested to hear that even Carl Pfeiffer’s disciples are not interested in telling you more about the Great Man’s “histadelia”. Personally I think “Histadelia” sounds rather like it should be the title of a very bad but cult-ish 70s British horror movie.

    PS I’m frightfully jealous of the “fan mail”, BTW. I don’t seem to get anything nearly as demented.

  2. Jon said,

    Worth bearing in mind that universities are obliged to answer FOIA requests (with some exception).

  3. Jon said,

    Worth bearing in mind that UK universities are generally obliged to answer FOIA requests (with some exception).

  4. jdc325 said,

    @draust – thanks. I thought you might be interested in something relating to Pfeiffer / Holford given your post on Patrick Holford’s mentors and inspirations. I’ve had a few people telling me to look at the research, but those who might actually have access to the research don’t seem interested in sharing it. It’s a bit like the recent Homeopathy Awareness Weeks in this country where homeopaths seem to have avoided any form of publicity for homeopathy while HAW is on.
    Re the fan mail: I can leave you some demented comments on your next blog post if you really want… (I think I’m getting a feel for that style of commenting now).

  5. jdc325 said,

    @Jon – thanks! I hadn’t actually thought of using the FOIA route (d’oh!). Will certainly put in a request if I don’t hear from them soon. I think six weeks is long enough to provide the fairly basic details I originally requested. Perhaps they were keeping their heads down and hoping I’d go away…

  6. Dr Aust said,

    Yes, I always meant to do a longer post on Carl Pfeiffer, who remained in the scientific mainstream considerably longer than Abram Hoffer, but somehow I never found the time.

    Re. Pfeiffer’s ideas on schizophrenia, a search on Medline (which I seem to remember I tried before) reveals:

    histadelia 0 hits
    histapenia 0 hits
    pyroluria 2 hits

    – of which the more recent (!), now more than 30 yrs old, is:

    Pyroluria: a poor marker in chronic schizophrenia.

    Cruz R, Vogel WH.

    Am J Psychiatry. 1978 Oct;135(10):1239-40.

    So wherever this “evidence” they are talking about is, it isn’t in the mainstream literature. I suspect most of it, if it is in print at all, is in Abram Hoffer’s cargo cult “journal”, the Journal of Orthmolecular Medicine.

    What I continue to find hilarious is that the advocates continue to insist that the mainstream ignores these ideas because of “sinister vested interests and regimented orthodoxy”, rather than because they were assessed and abandoned 30-40 years ago, and not a jot of decent evidence to resurrect them has appeared since.

    The ideas are also, of course, completely dated and based in a view of brain function that has long since been superceded. This is not for any sinister reason, but just because science by its nature moves on, while fringe ideas (by their nature) don’t. At the time Hoffer and Pfeiffer were originally touting these ideas in the 50s and early 60s, our understanding of the underlying neurochemistry and neurology was so primitive that the idea that a single “mystery substance”, or maybe a couple of them, might cause schizophrenia was at least a vaguely tenable idea. But in the light of what we now know, such a view is completely untenable.

    Of course, as the field moves on scientific ideas routinely fall by the wayside without being “directly refuted”, but this is something the Alt.Reality gang don’t really get.

    As a kick in the tail, now that we have cargo cult journals full of cargo-cult science routinely getting listed on Medline, thanks largely to the greed of publishers, there is a good chance some of these words will reappear in “the literature”. *sigh*

  7. Jon said,

    Thanks – so good I, um, said it twice. Feel free to delete one of my comments…

  8. draust said,

    Further to the above, a fascinating insight into Carl Pfeiffer’s ideas (and persona) can be gained from a 1977 article he wrote (part intro to his ideas, part memoir) for the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine (then called Orthomolecular Psychiatry.

  9. jdc325 said,

    @draust: thanks for your insightful comments. I have a copy of a PDF somewhere with the full text of an article written by Hoffer and others that appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine and was titled “Discerning the mauve factor”. There were nearly 200 references, but when I checked them several were from JOM or Orthomolecular Psychiatry – and one was to a book co-authored by Pfeiffer and Holford! Will post the PDF later if I can find it (am in the library now and the PDF is saved on a PC elsewhere).

    ETA: found a copy and uploaded it to the blog post.

  10. draust said,

    Ah yes, I remember seeing the PubMed citation for the paper you mention – which might indeed have partly inspired the earlier comment about “cargo cult journals”. Our library doesn’t subscribe to that one (about which I am oddly relieved), so I would be interesting in seeing the PDF.

    BTW, the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine’s archives seem to be full open access at the moment, which allows one a look at some truly, er, fascinating stuff. Including, I guess, “Professor” Holford’s publications.

  11. University of Westminster: FOIA Request « jdc325's Weblog said,

    […] Here are the details of my Freedom of Information request following on from my recent posts about the University’s research into detox body wraps: Dear Sir or […]

  12. Helen Clemens said,

    I’m in the UK for a while and checked if there were any doctors familiar with Drs Pfeiffer and Walsh’s work. My reason is that Dr Walsh’s approach has revolutionised my life and those of my two children. Unfortunately all too late for my mother who had the handicap of living in the UK rather than Australia. There does seem to be a lack of published data on the approach but the diagnosis of histadelia and pyroluria and the simple treatment involved mean people like me aren’t unable to function and can attain a level of mental and emotional wellbeing that has been entirely unavailable to my family through mainstream medicine. I note that even in Australia, the approach is far from mainstream even though one doctor has analysed 5 years of his patient records, including schizophrenics, and shown how cheap and successful treatment has been. Of course, he’s not a researcher. I think it’s regrettable that this highly life-enhancing, evidently successful treatment is scoffed at by researchers and ignored by the wider medical fraternity.

  13. University of Westminster: FOIA Response « Stuff And Nonsense said,

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  14. ChristineSmith said,

    I am in total agreement with Helen Clemen. I spent 15 years visiting a variety of mainstream and alternative practitioners looking for answers. From being a highly functioning successful person, I gradually deteriorated to being a physical and emotional wreck. I am in no doubt that The Pfeiffer Research Institute have saved many lives, mine included.

  15. draust said,

    Re the personal testimonials posted on this and the earlier thread for the Pfeiffer Institute/”nutri-therapy” approach:

    If the Pfeiffer Institute, or other doctors, have all this stuff then why on earth don’t they put it in print in the scientific and medical literature?

    I would strongly suggest that if they are really “caring clinicians”, and seeking to improve the lot of patients, the best way to do so is put the ideas into the mainstream literature so they can be disseminated and tested.

    The usual line to explain why this doesn’t happen is that the mainstream is Pharma-corrupted, indifferent to patients etc etc. But this doesn’t hold water, including for the following reason:

    we are not talking about large randomized controlled trials.

    It is perfectly reasonable, and commonplace, to publish “case series” – there are literally hundreds of case series published every year. But until something is in print, and in a PubMed-listed and widely-available journal with some sort of reasonable peer-review standards, it will not be taken seriously. That is not prejudice – it is a sensible degree of wariness on the part of mainstream doctors.

    So why, I ask again, would the people, especially if they are medical professionals, with this info not put it into the literature? Why not expand the likely pool of those you can help? Indeed, many a medical ethicist would say doctors have a direct ethical obligation to disseminate their results as widely as they can.

    The counterargument, for us cynics, is that if you are about running a nice little business, with fee-paying customers, and word of mouth recruitment, it might be nice not to have your claims subjected to wider scrutiny. In case they don’t stand up.

    Now, obviously you can see where I am coming from from what I have just written. But the central point about publishing is independent of what side of the debate you are on.

    So: if the alternative nutritional therapy / doctors really think they have something, then let’s see it in the literature. They have no valid excuse for not putting it out there. And like with people opting to say nothing to exonerate themselves, it will not be a surprise if others draw conclusions from their silence.

  16. Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association « Stuff And Nonsense said,

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