Targets: Aids, Cancer, Autism and Dyslexia

April 23, 2009 at 9:59 pm (Bad Science, Conspiracy, Dangerously Wrong, Homeopathy, Nutritionism, Patrick Holford) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Some fields seem to attract quackery. Energy production is an obvious one (I predict that the idea of perpetual motion machines will never die – the idea is too attractive and there will probably always be sufficiently gullible/ignorant people in the world), but there are certain fields which seem to attract medical quackery more than others. I thought I’d list a few of the apparent similarities between some of the areas that I see as attracting quackery or, at best, dubious claims. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cheap Lulz: Abusive and/or Bullshitting Homeopaths

January 29, 2009 at 5:28 pm (Homeopathy) (, , , )

OK, so a homeopathy forum may not be truly representative of practitioners of homeopathy but this thread is an example of the worst sort of homeopathic debate: ab-hom. In response to Gimpy’s concerns about the ethics of Jeremy Sherr’s proposed Aids trial, Read the rest of this entry »

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Homeopathic Aids Fantasies [Edited]

January 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm (Dangerously Wrong, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy) (, , )

Homeopath Jeremy Sherr has a blog post up describing a proposed trial of homeopathy in Aids patients in Africa. Ben Goldacre has posted a comment pointing out that the proposal is “a frighteningly poor quality research plan with no adequate control group to compare against.” Later in the comments johnhw notes, in response to Sherr’s point that placebo treatment is considered unethical in AIDS, that “a trial of an implausible remedy that lacks good evidence of any benefit over placebo – and which is being given to patients who are not receiving ARV treatment” may not be considered to be ethical either and makes a suggestion as to how the trial could be better designed. William points out that, as homeopathy is most likely nothing more than placebo, Sherr’s “experiment is just as unethical as treating with known placebos”. In response to these comments, Sherr now has a new post up. Read the rest of this entry »

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Silence is not golden: more on Rath and the $50bn nutrition industry

September 25, 2008 at 3:49 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Nutritionism) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Yeah, I know – I’m boring you with this stuff now. I’m sorry, but I can’t let it lie. I really can’t understand why not one member of the $50bn Nutritional Therapy industry has come out and said what so clearly needs saying: “Matthias Rath’s actions in South Africa were unacceptable and his use of legal means to stifle debate inappropriate”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Good News: Matthias Rath Drops Legal Case Against Goldacre and Guardian

September 12, 2008 at 8:58 pm (Bad Science, Dangerously Wrong, Legal Chill, Nutritionism, Supplements) (, , , , , )

Perhaps I should have maverickly titled this post “To the tune of one million dollars”. Perhaps not. [But, ah… the memories] Anyhoo, the story I’m writing about boils down to this: vitamin pill entrepeneur Matthias Rath had threatened to sue Ben Goldacre and the Guardian newspaper for $1,000,000 and, happily, has now pulled out of this case. Rath ‘failed the AIDS test’ – and in South Africa, a country with major problems not just with AIDS but with AIDS denialism – by promoting vitamin pills instead of antiretroviral drugs for sufferers. Before you finish (or instead of) reading my post, go to badscience.net and read Ben’s account. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dodgy Supplements for Serious Diseases – Internet Sales

September 12, 2008 at 12:18 pm (Bad Science, Remedies, Supplements) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Following complaints I made to the FDA and the FDC, the myspace page and the homepage of the vendors of a dietary supplement, PolyMVA (that was being marketed as a cancer drug), were removed. I then found that the supplement was being sold on a website called “Only Nature Finest” – which was also selling supplements for heart attacks (Goji berries and CoQ10, since you ask) and hosting articles about treating AIDS with nutrition. And I quote:

If HIV-1 causes AIDS by depressing body selenium, cysteine, glutamine and tryptophan then the way to treat this disorder is obviously diets enriched in these nutrients

Yes, obviously. “The vile and exploitative scumbags [I was quite angry], they’ve not only circumvented the FDA’s action against their illegal marketing activities by switching websites – they are now also hand-in-glove with people selling food supplement pills to AIDS sufferers and Goji berries to heart attack victims”, I thought to myself. I promptly reported the website to the FDA’s special page: Reporting Unlawful Sales of Medical Products on the Internet and, I am delighted to say, the pages are no longer showing when I click any of the Only Nature’s Finest links I gave in the comments thread on this post. I hope this means they’ve been taken down by the FDA. If you see an American company advertising inappropriate medical- or pseudo-medical products for serious conditions on the internet, feel free to leave a comment here or (even better), report them to the FDA using the link I gave above. Personally, I will be scouting the internets looking for websites selling PolyMVA and reporting each and every one. I’ll keep an eye out for Only Nature’s Finest, too. And props to the FDA for taking prompt action against these dodgy websites.

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Epidemiology – A Life Saver

April 18, 2008 at 8:17 pm (Bad Science, Good Science) (, , , , , , , , , )

This post might be more for the casual reader than skeptics and Bad Science bloggers. I’m sure they will already know far more about epidemiology than I do. Here we go anyway:

From time to time, I see criticism of epidemiology and the use of statistics. Usually on the basis that epidemiology “can’t prove anything” or is “not real evidence”. Sometimes a seemingly opposite tack is used: “oh, but you can use statistics to prove anything”. The criticism usually comes from someone whose own particular worldview is being challenged. Like, for instance, Dave Hitt. Dave Hitt features in this post on the Apathy Sketchpad blog. Or for another example of the statistically-challenged, there’s Gus from the JABS forum. [“Why is it you never listen to the evidence (the autistic children) and are only interested in the science and epidemiology provided by tabloid gutter press as it was hardly hard to see where the research had come from?”]

So what’s epidemiology ever done for us? There’s a couple of chaps I’d like you to meet first: Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill. Now quite apart from anything else Bradford-Hill did, he encouraged use of controlled trials (PDF) – something important in its own right. Bradford-Hill also helped to show, along with Doll, the part that tobacco smoking played in lung cancer. The original Doll/Bradford-Hill paper is available via Pubmed here and here as a PDF [which might take a while to download]. The authors concluded that “smoking is an important factor in the cause of carcinoma of the lung.” It’s now accepted (almost universally) that smoking is harmful – but how long might it have taken without the work of Doll and Bradford-Hill? Can you imagine what might have been if Doll and Bradford-Hill’s work had been ignored by a nation of Dave Hitts?

Another example of the usefulness of epidemiology and statistics is in the epidemiological approach to another notable condition. In Lange’s Medical Epidemiology (Third Edition – the Fourth Edition is available*), there is a description of a young man with no obvious underlying causes of immune dysfunction who is suffering from three concurrent infections. Within the preceding six months, three other patients with similar symptoms had been referred to the UCLA Medical Center. Other, similar reports were received by public health authorities and the CDC set up a task force to collect detailed information on those affected. Within months, the disease was named the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Epidemiological methods were used: to monitor the patterns of the occurrence of AIDS; to measure the rapidity of occurrence; and to search for causes by identifying risk factors. They were also used in determining case fatality, survival time and prognostic factors. Which I would have thought were all important things to know. Lange’s Medical Epidemiology tells us that “medical progress often is best advanced when the sciences that focus on subcellular and molecular basic research work in tandem with the population-oriented science of epidemiology. For example, as bench scientists were struggling to characterize the molecular properties of HIV, epidemiologists already determined that AIDS is a contagious disease that is spread through certain interpersonal behaviours. As the painstaking search continues for improved treatment, or even a cure or vaccine, public health professionals have recommended measures to prevent the spread of HIV by reducing the frequency of the fololwing high-risk practices: (1) casual, unprotected sex and (2) sharing needles among drug users.”

Notes:
Cardiff University has a page with links to lists of Bradford-Hill’s principal publications and literature related to Bradford-Hill.
*McGraw-Hill Medical Publishing Division seems to be here, and the Fourth Edition of Medical Epidemiology is available here.

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Chief Woo MP Tredinnick

February 20, 2008 at 1:10 pm (Alternative Medicine, government, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy, Woo) (, , , , , , , , )

MP David Tredinnick last night spoke in Parliament about homeopathy. The last time I can recall this happening, Mr Tredinnick was answered by Roger Marris. Mr Marris pointed to the lack of evidence for homeopathy and was then quoted in the Guardian as follows:

Sometimes their dilutions are so weak that the medicine contains not a single molecule of the active ingredient, though it’s alleged that the water “holds its memory”. Mr Marris asked scornfully, “we use a lot of recycled water – why does it not have a memory of the faeces that have been in it, and make us all sick?”

Dawn Primarolo claimed that the Government was looking at the cost effectiveness of many treatments, including alternative medicines, but Evan Harris wasn’t going to let that go:

So Dr Evan Harris, a Lib Dem, was just as contemptuous. “If the effectiveness is zero,” he pointed out, his lip curling, “there can be no cost-effectiveness.” Ms Primarolo repeated her earlier answer. She is a great believer in repeat prescriptions.

Dr Harris must not have been in the House of Commons last night – if he were, then he surely would not have let this go unchallenged: homeopathy does not fit normal methods of assessment*. Tredinnick actually said that “the scale of prescribing is in reverse so that the weaker the dose, the more powerful or effective it is. That subject has always been hotly disputed by many doctors, but homeopathic treatments have been operating on the reverse scale of prescribing for 200 years. Some of the most powerful-the constitutional remedies-are so diluted that they can hardly be detected. There are similar problems with acupuncture and its acceptance, as some doctors and commissioners do not necessarily believe in meridians. The same issue occurs with herbs that are unknown in this country.” Firstly, Tredinnick is comparing alternative remedies (homeopathy with acupuncture and herbalism) that have nothing in common. Secondly, he has introduced another canard – that meridians have something to do with the effects of acupuncture. See here for why meridians don’t matter: http://dcscience.net/?p=166. Thirdly, if dilution increased potency then tramps would drink Skol.

Tredinnick also stated that “the Royal London Homeopathic hospital has conducted more than 130 randomised and controlled trials of homeopathic treatments that show very effective results”. Ben Goldacre’s article in the Guardian “A Kind of Magic?” points out that:

there are some individual trials where homeopathy does better, first because there are a lot of trials that are simply not “fair tests”. For example – and I’m giving you the most basic examples here – there are many trials in alternative therapy journals where the patients were not “blinded”: that is, the patients knew whether they were getting the real treatment or the placebo. These are much more likely to be positive in favour of your therapy, for obvious reasons. There is no point in doing a trial if it is not a fair test: it ceases to be a trial, and simply becomes a marketing ritual.

I have used another quote from Dr Goldacre’s article below, but – to be honest – you really should read the article for yourself.

when doctors say that a trial is weak, and poor quality, it’s not because they want to maintain the hegemony, or because they work for “the man”: it’s because a poor trial is simply not a fair test of a treatment. And it’s not cheaper to do a trial badly, it’s just stupid, or, of course, conniving, since unfair tests will give false positives in favour of homeopathy.

Disgustingly, it gets worse: Tredinnick decides to bring up homeopathic remedies for AIDS and malaria. Website whatstheharm.net refers to a “report [that] found 5 women who used a homeopathic preventative instead of conventional medicine prior to a trip to Africa. On return, all five had malaria.” Click here for more on homeopathy and harm. Tredinnick takes seriously a letter from a homeopath (a homeopath who claims to have introduced Homeopathy to Swaziland!), which states that homeopathic treatments have achieved success rates of close to 100 per cent. This is worrying indeed – a Member of Parliament genuinely believes that homeopathy can achieve a 100% success rate? We really should fear for the state of our country if Tredinnick is representative of MPs. Worse – Tredinnick seems to be advocating homeopathy for AIDS and Malaria. This is quackery at its worst and vulnerable people are being taken in by pseudo-medical bullshit spouted by not just homeopaths but also politicians. This isn’t just about whether people with self-limiting conditions feel better after taking some kind of placebo – it’s about people dying because they thought a ‘remedy’ containing no trace of active ingredient could prevent malaria or cure AIDS. Anyone who contributes to that situation should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Hat tip: Thanks to Andy Lewis of Quackometer fame for bringing this to my attention.

Other posts dealing with this speech: Gimpy gives us David Tredinnick misleads parliament and offers staggeringly dimwitted endorsements (Note: Gimpy has now updated his post to include google cache links to the Quackometer posts on AIDS / Malaria quackery) and Ben G has written about Tredinnick’s Magnificent Torrent of Canards.

*This is simply untrue and is an example of the truly muddled thinking of homeopathy supporters. Tredinnick seems to be saying that homeopathy cannot be tested by orthodox methods (e.g., double-blind trials). Ben Goldacre’s article (‘A Kind of Magic?‘) actually details the kind of trial that could be run and points out that:

this trial has been done, time and time again, with homeopathy, and when you do a trial like this, you find, overall, that the people getting the placebo sugar pills do just as well as those getting the real, posh, expensive, technical, magical homeopathy pills.

 So the Bosworth MP David Tredinnick is simply repeating canards that were debunked in a Guardian article last November. Idiot.

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