Can Scientology Cure Asthma?

“With the oil of Aphrodite, and the dust of the Grand Wazoo
He said you might not believe this, little fella
But it’ll cure your asthma too!”
– Frank Zappa, Cosmik Debris (1974)

The news is hardly ever good for ‘The Church’ of Scientology these days, and with the recent release of a tell-all biography of the current head of the organisation, David Miscavige, by no less a person than his own father, Ron Miscavige, the heat just got a little hotter.

While I personally don’t think Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me will give as big a kick as some believe (it has too much the feel of a personal vendetta and remains largely pro-Scientology), it does contain a lot that is of great interest, not least of which is an answer to the question: what turned David Miscavige on to Scientology and set the wheels in motion for him to take over as head of the cult, becoming the alleged megalomaniacal bully of so many accounts?

The answer … is asthma. From The Hollywood Reporter:

“… Ron went back to the beginning of his and David’s story to describe how he introduced 9-year-old David to Scientology … and how the church’s auditing routines helped David with his asthma attacks. Ron described that as the key turning point in David’s life, the moment he decided he would dedicate his life to the church.”

The book has been widely reviewed, with many noting the fantastic asthma claim. Vulture has ten ‘strange stories’ from Ron’s book, including:

“David’s own eureka moment would come when his father took him to see a Scientologist to rid him of his asthma, which was successful.”

Popdust increases the boy’s age and adds allergies into the mix:

“The Miscaviges joined Scientology back in 1971, after the then-11-year-old David underwent a 45-minute Dianetics session which, he claims, miraculously cured his asthma and severe allergies.”

While from Publishers Weekly:

“Ron Miscavige … still appreciates founder L. Ron Hubbard’s philosophy and credits its auditing process – a kind of psychoanalysis, as he describes – with curing David’s boyhood asthma.”

And ‘critical thinker at large’, Chris Shelton, in his review of the book said:

“There’s a story that he relates about David Miscavige and his asthma, as a child, and how Scientology didn’t cure it, but certainly reduced its traumatic effects on him … and almost made it totally go away. And that’s pretty interesting … and I’m not going to sit here and refute it and say it didn’t happen … because it very clearly did.”

Scientology themselves, despite producing an entire website to try and discredit the book, at least agree with that bit:

“After an auditing session that lasted approximately an hour, the asthma attack Mr. Miscavige was suffering from completely subsided. From that moment Mr. Miscavige knew he had found the answer to both his ailment and what he would make his life’s pursuit.”

Now, we all know Scientology’s a bit weird, you know, with its thetans and e-meters and volcanoes and jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa … but, maybe, just maybe, there’s something to this. You quite often hear that Scientology hooks you in with some ‘workable’ ‘good’ stuff in its early levels, and something must have happened to David Miscavige for him to become so enamoured with it, right?

Asthma is one of those conditions that almost every ‘alternative medicine’ makes a claim on … homeopathy should be the treatment of choice for asthma …”, “asthma can be tackled with acupuncture in a variety of ways …”, “reflexology can reduce the severity of asthma, and the frequency of asthma attacks …”, “asthma is one of the conditions most commonly treated using magnetic therapy …”,“chiropractic care can be effective in alleviating the symptoms related to asthma …”, and so on. You could even try swallowing a live fish with the ‘100% cure’ offered by the Bathini Goud clan in India.

Scientology’s claim to be able to treat asthma should be viewed with as much seriousness as with any quack medicine, and by that I mean they should be taken very seriously, because such quack medicine is ineffective and asthma has the potential to kill.

Ron Miscavige himself is convinced that Scientology caused his son’s severe asthma to disappear. In the book (contradicting the ‘Church’s’ statement above – his son was not actually experiencing an attack at the time), the young Miscavige emerged from the 45-minute auditing session and …

“That was the end of David’s asthma. Throughout the rest of his childhood, he never again had a serious attack – some minor ones, yes, but never where he was gasping and couldn’t breathe. It was truly an amazing occurrence, a miracle actually … something had definitely definitely definitely worked.”

Got that? Definitely. Well, sort of.

Asthma was a target for cure by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology’s founder, in the embryonic stages of the cult’s formation. In his 1950 book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, he explains how asthma and other ‘psychosomatic illnesses’ are a product of the ‘reactive mind’:

“Discharge the content of this mind’s bank and the arthritis vanishes, myopia gets better, heart illness decreases, asthma disappears … the whole catalogue of ills goes away and stays away.”

For Hubbard and his followers, asthma is an idea that gets planted in the mind through some major or minor trauma; this could be at birth, or – in a development that came after Dianetics – it could even be from a past life. The only way to cure it (“and the word cure is used in its fullest sense”) is to clear that idea, the ‘engram’, through auditing. Erase the engram, cure the ailment.

In the late 1960s Hubbard created the ‘Allergy or Asthma Rundown’, an auditing process that was used to identify certain keywords that would reveal the root cause of the asthma which could then be magically audited away.

Ron and David Miscavige aren’t the only ones who believe Scientology is able to cure asthma …

“… in his twenties, my brother was able to rid himself of 19 years of asthma through Dianetics procedures. My first wife … was diagnosed as totally incapable of bearing children, yet later gave birth to our two beautiful girls as a direct result of Scientology spiritual counselling.”

“… my mom started a Dianetics session with me immediately … after some time I recalled an injury I had received to my chest and opened my eyes to look at my mom and said, “Mom, that’s why I have asthma!”  … I carefully took a deep breath, and I realised that my asthma was gone!”

One of the more famous devotees of the idea that Dianetics could cure asthma was John W, Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction. In the December 1949 issue he announced the impending arrival of Hubbard’s ‘new science’, claiming:

“… its power is unbelievable; it proves the mind not only can but does rule the body completely … physical ills such as ulcers, asthma and arthritis can be cured …”

The magician and skeptic James Randi met both Campbell and Hubbard, as part of the Trap Door Spiders writers’ group in New York. After recalling “nobody liked [Hubbard]” and that he thought him “an evil man … a wilfully evil man”, he said:

“… Campbell fell for him … he always claimed he was healed in his asthma … and he still went around using his inhaler all the time. Dianetics healed his asthma – right.”

Is this possible? Can someone believe they’ve been cured of an ailment at the same time as they’re experiencing its symptoms? Of course, the set-up and belief involved in an auditing session can produce a temporarily effective placebo response, a calming situation, and give the appearance of a successful treatment for a mild attack for a few hours at least. So it is not devoid of value, despite being pseudoscience.

But other things can play into the mind-game too – mythologising and cherrypicking the narrative over time to fit a belief in which you’re heavily invested, cognitive dissonance leading to the dismissal of any countering evidence, confirmation bias, the natural waning of the condition (either periodic or permanent), bare hope, and good old self-delusion.

There’s a glimpse of this doublethink in Miscavige’s book and in the extract above: in the space of a single sentence he claims the end of his son’s asthma, and then immediately backtracks to admit it wasn’t completely cured. Yet it was “a miracle”.

There’s a story concerning the young David Miscavige that is not told in his father’s largely pro-Scientology book, but does appear in Lawrence Wright’s more critical Going Clear. In the early 1970s the Miscaviges moved to England to train at Saint Hill in East Grinstead (I would have been there at this time myself, albeit as a small child), and for a couple of weeks David was left in the care of another Scientologist, Ervin Scott. Scott – whose wife also suffered from asthma – noted that Miscavige, then aged 12, owned two inhalers, and his parents had warned him that the boy could become violent during asthma attacks.

In fact Scott says he did experience David having some kind of severe attack one night, finding him with his face blue and his eyes rolled back in his head. In another incident he witnessed the young Miscavige storming out of an auditing session with his auditee, a young woman, following him out, clutching her arm in pain and in tears. The claim was that he had struck her. Karen de la Carriere, a fellow intern at the time, says they were told to keep the story quiet and that the incident was blamed on David’s asthma medication.

It doesn’t really matter, in this case, whose side you believe in these stories – both end up confirming that David Miscavige still suffered from severe asthma attacks as a child (the ‘Church’ claim he could not be violent at the same time as having one of his attacks).

From various accounts the asthma has continued into Miscavige’s adulthood. Hubbard’s daughter, Suzette, apparently noticed that David used to try and hide his inhaler when he used it, nicknaming him the Asthmatic Dwarf. At the age of 20, as recounted by his miracle-believing father, he was hospitalised by a serious asthma attack. Upon being released he was said to have stated “power is not granted … it is assumed” – an ominous phrase in the light of his subsequent takeover of the ‘Church’. And in a story from Andrew Morton’s biography of Tom Cruise, ex-Scientologist Jesse Prince recalls the intense stress Miscavige was under while working for Hubbard and how it would lead to asthma attacks:

“Sometimes he would get so upset that his eyes were bulging and he couldn’t breathe … He wouldn’t take medication or inhalers, so I would have to calm him down and then he would sleep for days after an attack.”

Furthermore, he was said to keep an oxygen tank under his bed in case of emergency. Asthma was evidently still very much part of his life – even when fully immersed in Scientology. The stress and his heavy smoking didn’t help.

Still, when you’re led to believe that the cause of illness lies in the mind, and you truly believe in the power of your guru’s snake oil treatment (especially after investing so much time and money in it), the cognitive dissonance is enough for that mind to play some truly wonderful tricks in order to shove the reality of a chronic condition out of the frame. Plus, of course, there’s the Scientology idea that you pull in what you deserve, and if you’re some kind of ‘clear’ super-being, you can’t be having that asthma now, can you? Like so much alternative medicine, if it’s not working then it’s you who’s at fault, not the infallible magic cure.

At the time it was developed and written, Dianetics wasn’t too far from the mainstream view of asthma that the condition was one of several supposed psychosomatic diseases. Thomas French and Franz Alexander posited that the wheeze of the asthmatic was the suppressed wail of an affection-starved child for a mother who would not allow it to cry. Psychoanalysis was often the treatment of choice.

But asthma is not a psychosomatic illness, and the idea that it was almost certainly delayed any real progress in managing the condition, not to mention dumping a heavy weight of guilt on the sufferer for thinking they – or their parents – were somehow to blame for the affliction in the first place. Thankfully, advancing science, unlike dogmatic religion, is able to discard bad ideas and move on.

The total cure claimed by Hubbard is quite plainly complete hokum, and even the mild benefits of a formal counselling session (with or without added Xenu) do not mask the very real dangers of an ineffective treatment for asthma – whether it’s homeopathy, magnets, reiki or Dianetics and Scientology.

Gerald Baxter, a New Zealand-based Scientologist, considered that auditing had helped his asthma. When he started experiencing mild attacks again he was told by his ‘Church’ superiors that he had to handle it and was forbidden to use his inhaler (it’s all in the mind, remember?). After one severe attack, in which he couldn’t find his inhaler, he was congratulated on “doing the right thing”. The next attack he didn’t survive.

Genny Gray, another Antipodean (now ex-) Scientologist, recalls how she was told that auditing would cure her asthma and was ordered to abandon her inhaler. She did so, became ill, and was eventually hospitalised. Thankfully she did survive.

Stories of much-needed medication being taken away once a person is in the clutches of Scientology are sadly not uncommon, and this has also been reported to be the case within the Scientology ‘drug rehabilitation’ front group, Narconon.

A 2013 Oklahoma law suit detailed how a Lake Arrowhead Narconon ‘student’ was left for long periods without his inhaler, including in a room where smoking was permitted, resulting in an alarming increase in the severity of his asthma and no medical doctor present.

Service men and women who participated in the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project, co-founded by Scientology-Jesus, Tom Cruise, and which, like Narconon, is based on Hubbard’s unproven Purification Rundown, were required by the project to stop using their inhalers and discard medication. One fireman, Robert McGuire, suffered a serious asthma attack while out shopping …

“They wanted me off my meds for 30 days before I started [the detox]. Two weeks into it I was by myself [in a store], my inhaler was in the car and I thought I was going to die. I was taken to the emergency room – it was really scary.”

As stated in my previous article, Narconon is pseudoscience, but it is especially dangerous for anyone who suffers from asthma. The overly-long sauna treatments are singled out as inappropriate for asthmatics, while the large doses of niacin are known to aggravate the condition – both are key aspects of the Purification Rundown.

Scientology might present itself with a glossy veneer of ‘science’, but in the end it’s just another peddler of wishful thinking, pushing flimflam with no actual research or expert knowledge to back it up. It has more in common with its fellow New Thought zealots such as Christian Scientists (who believe illness is an illusion) or Germanic New Medicine (which states that disease is caused by traumatic events which must be resolved in order to heal – sounds familiar!).

As with most pseudoscience, these ‘philosophies’ are not harmless. At best they delay or interfere with real effective treatment, at worst they demonise it and withhold it completely. Asthma can be a difficult condition to live with, and many sufferers are understandably desperate to be free of it. They become prime targets for those vying to make a profit with their exclusive panaceas.

Over a quarter of a million people die from asthma every year – and though the fallacious claim that illness “goes away and stays away” with auditing is by no means the worst aspect of the toxic cult that is Scientology, care should be taken that mythical anecdote does not end up lending credence and promoting the false hope of a cure.

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Osteopathy Part 2 – a review of 100 Osteopathy websites

Last weekend I wrote a skeptical overview of osteopathy, how it was generally seen as a mainstream healthcare option but was actually born of pseudoscience, and how, even though modern evidence has pushed back many of its original wild claims, it is still rooted there and has at least one foot fully planted in the world of complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM). You can read part 1 here.

As part of my research I had started to survey a number of osteopaths’ websites within my own home county, and used that data to show the field’s continued connection to unevidenced CAM. As a result I received more than one criticism that I had cherry-picked osteopaths who were on the fringes of the field, and that mainstream osteopathy was scientific and well-researched medicine.

With that in mind I decided to continue my review and spend the rest of (coincidentally) International Osteopathic Healthcare Week (17-23 April 2016) surveying the websites of 100 randomly chosen osteopaths in the UK and Ireland, to see just how much pseudoscience remained within the profession. Is it fringe?

Selection procedure

Obviously, this is not a scientific study, I can only claim it is a careful review. I used only declarations published on the websites (as they appeared in April 2016) and took them at face value. The websites were selected using a random number generator and the General Osteopathic Council’s own online register of members.

The majority of osteopaths practice in the south, so the randomly selected websites come from four southern counties (ten each from West Sussex, Dorset, Surrey and Devon), two midland (not Midlands) counties (ten each from Staffordshire and Suffolk), two northern counties (ten each from Yorkshire and Lancashire), and then ten from Scotland, six from Wales, and four from Ireland. If a random number selected a GOC register entry with no website (or a dead link), I continued down the register until I hit the next entry with a working website.

Criteria

To check for pseudoscientific claims I picked four criteria:

i. the claim that osteopathy allows the body to ‘heal itself’;
ii. the practice of cranial osteopathy;
iii. the claim that osteopathy can treat specific conditions not related to the musculoskeletal system;
iv. whether an osteopath also personally uses another CAM therapy as part of his or her treatment system.

Let’s look at these in more detail …

i. Self-healing

The claim that a therapy aids the ‘self-healing’ process is a recognised red flag of pseudoscience and one that osteopathy shares with other CAM treatments such as chiropractic, naturopathy, homeopathy, reiki, therapeutic touch, energy healing, reflexology, acupuncture … and I could go on and on. It’s pretty much the central refrain of most quackery, and is perfectly placed to take credit for conditions that are temporary, that regress to the mean, or that appear to react to various placebo factors. The best evidence for this kind of self-healing is the least reliable: post-treatment anecdote.

The philosophy of Andrew T. Still, the founder of osteopathy, stated that the human body is perfect and contains within it everything needed to self-heal, and that the only impediment to this is if bones or nerves cause an obstruction to the free-flow of the body’s “fluids of life”. Osteopathic manipulation, he asserted, can be used to clear the obstruction and allow the body to return to its natural state of self-healing.

While it has been tempered slightly, this philosophy remains at the core of osteopathic medicine, often accompanied by a statement saying that no drugs or surgery are needed – it’s ‘natural healing’. Here’s how the World Health Organisation defines osteopathy:

“Osteopathy is grounded in the following principles for treatment and patient management:
i. the human being is a dynamic functional unit, whose state of health is influenced by the body, mind and spirit;
ii. the body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms and is naturally self-healing;
iii. structure and function are interrelated at all levels of the human body“

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 57%, just over half, explicitly stated that osteopathic treatment aids the body’s own innate self-healing mechanism.

I did not count those that alluded to the idea but weren’t explicit, eg. “osteopathy is based on the principle that the body has the ability to heal”. No one can deny that, but the question is whether money is paid for a treatment that actually aids that process, whether it would have happened anyway, or even if it would have happened more quickly without treatment.

The greatest danger with the CAM definition of ‘self-healing’ comes when it is applied to the many serious and semi-serious afflictions that do not normally obey this supposed universal rule of ‘natural healing’.

ii. Cranial osteopathy

I discussed cranial osteopathy (also known as craniosacral therapy) in part 1, but, briefly, it’s based on the belief that tiny pulsations can be felt with the fingertips and can be gently manipulated to ‘release restrictions’ and promote health.

There is no strong evidence behind this claim, and it remains scientifically implausible. In the words of Dr. Stephen Barrett – “cranial therapy is silly”.

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 70% said they offered cranial osteopathy as part of their treatment services.

It was especially pushed as being beneficial for babies and children, with many setting no lower limit on age – often explicitly stating “from birth” or “from a few days old”. One website said “osteopaths believe all babies should be routinely checked after birth”. (Out of interest, only 2% of osteopathic practitioners reviewed stated they would not see babies).

And whereas general structural osteopathic manipulation focussed predominantly on conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, cranial therapy had much fuzzier claims made for it, often relating to general health and unsettled babies (eg. 19% said it could help with colic).

iii. Treatment of conditions unrelated to the musculoskeletal system

The NHS website proclaims that there’s …

“good evidence that osteopathy is effective in treating persistent lower back pain* … there’s currently no good evidence that osteopathy is effective as a treatment for health conditions unrelated to the musculoskeletal system (bones and muscle).”

(*Many osteopathy websites cite NICE’s 2009 guidance that suggested this positive outcome for early lower back pain, but in March 2016 this advice was updated to say that manual therapy should not be used on its own due to a lack of evidence.)

About this time last year, the Good Thinking Society investigated a number of websites that claimed osteopathy could treat a variety of non-musculoskeletal conditions, including colic, asthma, dyslexia, and many more. After a number of complaints made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) this eventually resulted in a directive from the General Osteopathic Council suggesting that their members check their claims were in line with those advised by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).

While the profession has reigned in many of the wilder claims on their marketing, osteopathy still sees itself as a ‘holistic’ treatment that can tackle a plethora of human disabilities and illnesses.

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 61% claimed to be able to help with specific conditions that were unrelated to the musculoskeletal system. These included various digestive problems, asthma, colic, ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, eye and ear infections, haemorrhoids, post-natal depression, boosting the immune system, menstrual problems, insomnia and more.

In the light of the CAP guidelines, there were some interesting statements. The majority of websites included a list of CAP-approved conditions, rounded off with “plus many more” (such generalisations were not counted in my survey). Some were more brazen …

“Osteopathy can help with many other conditions. If your symptoms are not listed, please telephone to enquire whether osteopathy might be effective for you.”

Another alluded to the ASA directly …

“The Advertising Standards Agency will only allow osteopaths to mention conditions where the efficacy has been proven by large-scale clinical trials. This data is not available for many conditions that patients report improvement in, so they may not be mentioned here.”

While another said …

“There is no statistical evidence it [osteopathy] can treat conditions such as asthma, colic, IBS, painful periods. However, there is plenty of clinical and anecdotal evidence suggesting it can.”

One even stretched his hand into the world of conspiracy theories …

“Most clinical trials are funded by drug & pharmaceutical companies, and osteopaths do not have prescribing rights for drugs. As a result data is not currently available for a lot of the conditions that our patients report to have improved, and so we cannot mention them here.”

Although I only looked at four osteopathic clinics in Ireland, these made some of the most far-fetched claims and were out of the jurisdiction of the ASA, including some bold statements about the treatment of autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, Down’s Syndrome, fertility and immune difficulties due to ‘post vaccination’, to name a few.

Concerning vaccines (excuse this short detour into another personal interest), while it is by no means a mainstream osteopathic view, the founding philosophy of osteopathy was anti-vaccine. On his website, one UK osteopath states …

“not only does immunisation directly oppose our [osteopaths] principles, it is a key point on how our principles supersede others. Immunisation is a slow poison.”

Another UK osteopath uses the shield of ‘I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-choice’, before stating “often, it is the family that has vaccinated and has lived through the horror of vaccine damage unfolding within their family, that precipitates a change in their choices”.

The British Institute of Osteopathy also has an ‘interesting’ view on vaccines, strongly suggesting you have a choice whether to vaccinate or not and then spending some time adding weight to the ‘not’, in particular by linking to the website of ‘vaccine-concerned’ homeopath, Jayne Donegan, not the only osteopath I found to do so.

Thankfully, these are outliers, and the vast majority of UK osteopaths accept the science, the safety, and the benefit of vaccination.

iv. Osteopaths who use other CAM therapies

While this category does not address the field of osteopathy directly, it does, I believe, say something quite strongly about the mindset and philosophy of the practitioner in question. It is an interesting marker of how much store they set in science-based medicine, and perhaps how much they are happy to wallow in pseudoscience.

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 48%, almost half, had practitioners who personally practiced and offered another CAM therapy. The majority of these were acupuncture, but they also included naturopathy, homeopathy, reiki, ear candling and even magnified healing and Bach flower remedies.

While just 29% of websites surveyed seemed to show they practiced osteopathy alone with no other CAM available in their clinic, 71% practiced in clinics where other CAM was available, either from themselves or from fellow clinic tenants. Many presented this as having the advantage of quick referral to one of the other CAM therapies as part of an ‘holistic treatment’.

In relation to children, one osteopath said “I may suggest using homeopathic remedies. These are harmless, have no side effects and can be extremely helpful.”

Another had a different source of healing power … “God’s values and principles will underpin your treatment session”.

To sum up

57% of websites in the survey published the ‘self-healing’ claim;
70% publicised the fact they offered cranial therapy;
61% made a claim to treat one or more specific ailments not related to the musculoskeletal system;
48% of practitioners also personally offered another CAM therapy – with 71% of all sites surveyed located in a setting where other CAM was immediately available.

All in all, 93% of the randomly selected websites in my survey checked at least one, often more, of these criteria for pseudoscientific claims, concluding that they are far from existing only on the fringe of osteopathic practice.

The average price for treatments seemed to be around the £40 mark, with hour-long initial consultations being more expensive than the subsequent half-hour regular treatments.

And while the FAQs often indicated a finite number of sessions were required to bring the patient back to a ‘state of balance’, there was also a strong suggestion that clients should continue with regular treatments, or ‘MOTs’, to prevent old conditions from resurfacing, and to forestall new ones from emerging. As one website put it …

“Who needs an Osteopath? Potentially everybody, of any age!”

See part 1 here.

Notes: A good follow-up by Professor Edzard Ernst can be read here.

Osteopathy part 1 – pseudoscience in disguise?

It’s happened many times – you may have seen it yourself. There’s a Facebook thread on the effectiveness of ‘alternative medicine’, the skeptical parties are deflecting pseudoscience left, right and centre, citing evidence, throwing facts, and then someone mentions osteopathy (or even chiropractic), and suddenly the skeptics are arguing with each other … “no, this one is science! It works!”

Many people do not think of osteopathy or chiropractic as alternative medicine, perhaps largely because you see them on the High Street in almost every town, because they are often recommended by GPs, because they seem sciencey, because they have governing bodies and training programmes, because they’re manual therapies, and because so many people use them.

Anecdotes about successful treatments are everywhere. If someone has a bad back, they’re quite likely to think of a chiropractor or an osteopath before they think of a GP or a physiotherapist. I’ve seen both a chiropractor and an osteopath myself, and I came out of each feeling more ‘balanced’ and generally … good!

Out of the two, chiropractic and osteopathy, it’s osteopathy that has the better reputation. This may be partly to do with the status of each in the United States, where chiropractors are campaigning (and failing) to achieve the status of primary care-givers, and osteopaths are already recognised as such – being just about on a par with medical doctors, and often rarely using any actual osteopathic manipulative treatment but relying on the more conventional and scientific medical practices in which they’ve also been trained.

There is a greater awareness (though still not great enough) that chiropractors were born out of non-evidenced pseudoscience and that they retain those shackles even now, in the 21st century. Most hold on to the fantasy of the ‘subluxation theory’, and quite often also hold views that promote anti-vaccination, reject the germ theory of disease, and align with various ‘Big Pharma’ conspiracy theories. It is not true of all, but generally they are more Natural News than BMJ.

Many people may be surprised to know that, in the UK, some osteopaths are not far off this mark themselves. Like chiropractic, osteopathy was born of blatant pseudoscience, and while the field has had to make some advances due to public awareness of scientific principles and stricter standards of practice, it keeps at least one foot firmly in the world of ‘complimentary and alternative medicine’ (CAM), and the actual scientific evidence for osteopathy is scant.

The originator of osteopathy was Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917). A read of his autobiography reveals that he hated “allopathic” medicine (doctors could not save three of his family from spinal meningitis) but he was a physician of a sort. He admits he learned anatomy by desecrating the graves of dead Native Americans (“[they] never objected … their relatives knew nothing about it …”) and eventually came to the conclusion that “all the remedies necessary to health exist in the human body”, all you had to do was ‘adjust’ that body and it would heal itself – nothing else should be used.

Still believed that there was no such thing as disease, and that what we call disease is actually just the effects of a “partial or complete failure of the nerves to properly conduct the fluids of life”. He goes on to detail how his osteopathy cured colds, croup, diphtheria, pneumonia, flux, ulcerated eyes, erysipelas, asthma, and how he delivered twenty babies painlessly, stopped scarlet fever with the “shake of a child”, and whooping cough with a “wring of its neck”.

If you search Google for the websites of osteopaths (see my survey in part 2 here) you’ll see that, while the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has made sure many of the field’s wilder claims are no longer openly promoted, the central beliefs of A. T. Still remain at the core of the profession’s philosophy and four-year training course. Here’s a few statements from the websites of osteopaths, from around my own locality in the south-east of England, all certified members of the regulating General Osteopathic Council

“We believe in the body’s inherent ability to heal itself, and the techniques used aim to set the best conditions for recovery.”

“Osteopaths work to restore your body to a state of balance, where possible without the use of drugs or surgery … to enhance the blood and nerve supply and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms.”

“An osteopath spends many years training to develop a very fine sense of palpation to enable them to feel and effectively listen via their hands to what is going on in the body.”

“Treatment can improve the circulation, immune and nervous system functioning along with improved digestion, breathing and energy levels … treatment has significantly improved conditions such as acid reflux, constipation, menstrual pain, sleeping problems and fatigue …”

“The entire connective tissue matrix, the largest organ of the body, is controlled by the unifying influence of water … treatment encourages tissues to release, promoting blood flow and cellular communication.”

“We work with the philosophy espoused by the founding fathers of osteopathy who understood the relationship between the physical body, the rhythmic forces within the body and the bio-energetic flow systems in and around the body.”

Again and again it is emphasised that osteopathic techniques restore the body to its ‘natural balance’ allowing it to ‘heal itself’ – this is the essence of osteopathy (also, by the way, of naturopathy), and the theory is not backed up by science. Alongside such phrases as ‘holistic’ and ‘individual’ treatment, there’s enough vagueness in the language that a fairly sizeable cartload of pseudoscientific claims can be ushered in through the door.

In addition, while a few practices offer osteopathy alone, the majority also provide some other form of unproven alternative therapy, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology, reiki and applied kinesiology, to name a few, giving you some idea of an osteopath’s general mindset. Babies and animals are often singled out as specialisms of the osteopath, and the more brazen practitioners will blithely claim that their musculoskeletal manipulations can treat ailments such as eczema, asthma, colic and irritable bowel syndrome.

The subtext (not always very sub) is clear – many osteopaths see themselves as natural healers, travelling a different road to that of the General Practitioner, Physiotherapist and mainstream medicine, getting to the real cause of illness rather than just applying drugs to the symptom. The red flags of pseudoscience are definitely aflutter within the profession’s territory.

I’ve no doubt that a good bone and tissue massage, plus a great deal of personal attention, can do wonders for any patient (indeed I’ve experienced this myself, and it has its place), and there’s some (not strong) evidence that manual therapy may have some benefit in the case of lower back pain. But that’s as much as the NHS will admit to (“osteopathy is a complimentary or alternative medicine … [and] isn’t always based on scientific evidence”) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) no longer recommends massage and manipulation as a first step in treating back pain due to the poor quality of supporting evidence.

Of course the anecdotes of many will say different – even my own experience was somewhat positive in the short term (longer term, the best thing for my back has been an increase in exercise, just what NICE does now recommend, and a lot cheaper too). But the trouble with anecdote in relation to osteopathy is that it’s prone to so many obscuring factors: confusing correlation with causation, regression to the mean, the self-limitation or natural remission of the condition, placebo effect, short-term relief of symptoms but not cure, misdiagnosis by an osteo-biased practitioner, and even, sometimes, a bit of self-delusion due to the financial and emotional investment of the patient.

There are a couple of more controversial aspects of treatment given by the majority of mainstream osteopaths that are worth looking at in a little more detail: spinal manipulation and cranial osteopathy.

Spinal manipulation at the neck involves the practitioner giving a sudden twist of the patient’s head to one side. I’ve had this done, and it was not a pleasant experience. The question is, however, does its supposed benefit far outweigh any risk? There’s no clear-cut answer, but there is a growing chorus of scientific voices who think the technique may increase the risk of vertebrobasilar stroke, and a number of cases have been highlighted. Part of the problem is that some of these strokes may not happen until some time after the manipulation, a matter of weeks even, and so the correlation, if present, may not be obvious.

Cranial osteopathy is a technique whereby the practitioner uses their hands to feel the skull for ‘rhythmic pulsations’ where they can then detect and release ‘restrictions’ using very light pressure. The alleged danger comes not in the physicality of the technique itself, but in the ailments it claims to be able to treat, and the lack of plausible science to back the theory and its outcomes (not to mention the taking of money for such a thing). It is especially controversial as it is often highlighted as a technique that can (and in some cases, should) be used on very young babies.

There is no doubt that osteopathy exists at the shallow end of the pseudoscientific spectrum, at its best inhabiting much of the same arena as its more practical cousin, physiotherapy, at its worst still clinging onto the full philosophy of its quack founder, A. T. Still, while also giving credence to a whole host of non-effective alternative medicine systems that accompany many practices, legitimised by the seemingly scientific glow of a Masters Osteopathy certificate on the clinic wall.

I’ll end with a quote from a GP I once saw, who was telling me about his new baby daughter’s problem with colic: “My wife and I took her to see an osteopath. Complete quackery, but we were desperate!”. Well, he said it, not me.

Part 2 – a survey of 100 osteopath websites – can be read here.

Notes: please see the links in the article above for sources and extra information. See also:

Edzard Ernst on Osteopathy
Skeptic Barista: Osteopaths: Talking a good game
Vic Skeptics: Does Osteopathy work? Is it Scientific?
Good Thinking Investigates: Osteopathy
Quackwatch: Dubious aspects of Osteopathy
RationalWiki: Osteopathy
David Colquhoun: Cranial Osteopathy at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine

Note 2: this article was posted at the beginning of International Osteopathic Healthcare Week (17-23 April 2016).

Walk the Kingdom, hide the truth

A 63-year old man is to spend nine months walking the entire coastline of the United Kingdom in order to raise funds for drug awareness lecturer Peter Dwan so he can continue visiting the nation’s schools and “reach the kids before the dealers do”.

News media near and far have lapped up the story, focussing on his age, the selfless act of hardship and charity, and the undoubted good cause. How could anyone criticise such a venture?

Well, I admit, it’s not easy, and I’m not writing this with much relish. Steve Cook, the 63-year old grandfather embarking on this epic trek, comes across as a sincere and affable chap, earnest in the belief of his cause. The same goes for Peter Dwan, a former Thai boxing champion and martial arts trainer who seems genuinely passionate about the issue he has set his sights on.

But there’s something not so benevolent underneath it all. Something questionable. Something hidden.

Steve Cook has mentioned in several interviews that his own awareness of drug issues came about because he worked with addicts himself. More detail on this aspect of his past is not forthcoming, but the truth is that this was with Narconon, the Scientology front group that uses the highly questionable methods of the cult’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, to try and get people off drugs.

Does it matter who’s behind the project? Surely getting information to kids and warning them of the dangers of drugs is more important than any strange spiritual beliefs someone might hold? Scientology themselves certainly profess that, and are constantly at pains to stress that Narconon is a secular organisation, totally separate from the “Church“, and only there to do good community work.

But there is a problem – in fact more than one. Narconon is not independent of Scientology, it is Scientology, and Scientology is a dangerous cult. Narconon exists in order to further spread the works and philosophies of L. Ron Hubbard – a very problematic individual, to say the least. And the programme is reliant on pseudoscience that can be genuinely dangerous – especially to addicts.

Narconon has its strongest foothold in the US, with at least ten rehab centres across the country, the most prominent of which is probably the controversial Lake Arrowhead complex in Oklamoma – the site of four inmate deaths, three within just nine months.

But what about in the UK? We have had Narconon centres here, most notably at St. Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings, but none of these has really had any staying power (St. Leonards lasted from 2005 until 2009). Narconon UK now mainly seems to consist of a number of amateur and decaying websites – all with different names and identities, a few mostly out of date phone numbers, the occasional effort to restart it or introduce a worryingly dubious home self-help programme, sporadic leafleting, and a handful of individual educators who go out into schools to spread the Scientology message on drugs – such as Peter Dwan. (Update: On 5 Sep 2015 a new UK Narconon centre was opened in Heathfield, Sussex).

If you ask Dwan, or Steve Cook, or any of his supporters, they’ll tell you that his drug education project is now independent of Narconon and has nothing to do with Scientology. He just wants to get the information to the kids. If it’s good information, that would be fine, but unfortunately it is not good information.

The Narconon programme consists of several components including self-awareness, self-improvement, detoxification and life-skills. This holistic approach sounds great until you realise that it all comes straight from the mind of L. Ron Hubbard – a man who created his own science-fiction religion for the purposes of money and ego, who lied about and exaggerated his own history, who spent many years on the run from several international authorities, and ended his life, in hiding, as a sick, paranoid drug addict.

One of the first things a new patient (or ‘student’ as they are called) will do at Narconon is a ‘therapeutic training routine’ to improve their communication and attention span. The terms have been softened, but this is the same course that greets a new recruit to Scientology – the Communication Course, consisting of several ‘training routines‘ known as TR0, TR1 and TR2, etc. Scientology critic and author Jon Atack calls these drills a form of hypnosis, creating malleable minds ripe for indoctrination.

The detoxification scheme is the centrepiece of the programme, but also one of the most troubling aspects. It involves taking mega-doses of vitamins and spending long hours in a hot sauna. This is because Hubbard believed that drug residue becomes lodged in body fat and stays there for years, sometimes restimulating the individual and causing further harm. High doses of niacin are supposed to break up these deposits, the sauna is supposed to sweat them out, and then vitamins and minerals are replaced through supplements.

This so-called ‘New Life Detoxification programme’ is called the Purification Rundown in Scientology. It’s exactly the same thing and it’s pseudoscience. There is no evidence that drugs stay for years – or even months in most cases – in the body’s fat. Niacin and vitamins are both instructed to be taken in doses that are known to be dangerous. It’s part of the whole scam that is the detox industry.

One of the side effects of niacin is that it can bring on an uncomfortable hot prickly rash. As a child brought up in Scientology I can attest to this as my sister and I were made to do the ‘Purif’ when we were 11 or 12 years old in the early 1980s. Once it came out in sore patches around my eyes and the supervisor told me this was because it manifested in patterns that relate to past-lives – these were evidently echoes of the goggles of a WWII fighter ace! (Hubbard actually believed the reaction was old sun tans and that the niacin was eradicating radiation from the body – also not true.) Another side effect of high-dose niacin intake is liver damage. Imagine that on a recovering alcoholic.

Scientology’s misaligned worldview is evident throughout the rest of the course too: important medication (for instance, anti-seizure drugs) may be taken away from the participant (reflecting Scientology’s mistrust of mainstream medicine and psychiatrists), the person will be persuaded that the cause of their problems may be to do with the influence of other people in their lives, including family members (invoking Scientology’s policy of Suppressive Persons and disconnection), and a graduating ‘student’ will be encouraged to stay on as a staff member, to bring more people into the centre (for a commission), and to take further Scientology courses within the main organisation.

So should Peter Dwan and Steve Cook be trusted as drug educators to our nation’s schools? If teachers were aware of their connection to Scientology they would probably be more reluctant to let them have any influence over their pupils.

Steve Cook worked at the Hastings Narconon centre, and his wife was one of the directors there. Both have been Scientologists since the early 1980s. Peter Dwan was an ambassador and director for Narconon Manchester, and has been a Scientologist since 2003. All have strong connections to Scientology, Narconon, and support other Scientology front groups such as the deceptively named Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR, Scientology’s anti-psychiatry organisation).

In addition they come with the baggage that afflicts many Scientologists – an anti-scientific view of the medical profession and pharmaceuticals, and a strong tendency towards conspiracy theories. Cook supports the long-disproved notion that vaccines cause autism, but goes even further down the rabbit hole into the ideas of the so-called New World Order and its various false flag agendas – so much so that he’s become editor and writer for the UK edition of the Liberty Beacon website, a brand that’s fully immersed in the conspiracy and pseudoscience nut jar.

Peter Dwan is not averse to these sorts of ideas either, tweeting in support of the ridiculous and dangerous ‘MMS‘ – the industrial bleach concoction that its creator, ‘Bishop’ Jim Humble (an ex-Scientologist who has since created his own religion), claims will cure everything from AIDS to Malaria and Cancer. And again, like many Scientologists, he seems to be chasing the ‘quick-easy-fix’ in life – earning money off the questionable claims made by multi-level-marketing brand Juice Plus, and promising speedy mastery of several martial arts by selling Al Case’s highly dubious ‘Matrix‘ fighting system (Al Case is also a Scientologist). To guide him through all this, Dwan is in the thrall of American ‘get rich quick’ marketing guru Grant Cardone – another Scientologist.

The quick fix, the magic bullet … health in a tablet, the tincture that cures all ills, the DVD that gives you black belt in a year, the sure-fire marketing method, the complete by-numbers drug programme … and the answer to life the universe and everything in a single package: Scientology.

The erasure of Narconon from Dwan’s websites and printed literature and promotions is a recent thing. His current leaflets and hand-outs are the same as those used by Narconon, only now the Narconon logo has disappeared and been replaced with ‘Peter Dwan Drug Education’ and ‘Smart About Drugs’.

But there’s no doubt that Dwan is using “the very successful Narconon lecture format” – his flip-chart drawings are the same as those used by other Narconon lecturers and the information remains the same, including the blatant misinformation about toxins stored in body fat as well as other Scientology-related ideas about the reactive mind and drug restimulation. His mantras to “reach kids before the dealers do” and to give them “the truth about drugs” are straight from the Narconon script.

I do wonder if this is part of new strategy for Narconon UK. Director Lucy Skirrow announces that they “currently have eight active presenters who work in schools, youth clubs and businesses, based in Sussex, London, Manchester and York”. But the name Narconon is not as visible as it used to be. And if you want one of these lecturers you can expect to pay about £140 for a session (2006 price) – for many schools it’ll be your taxes that pay for it.

As I said earlier, Peter Dwan is evidently passionate about teaching children the dangers of drugs, and he almost certainly believes he’s giving good information. But he’s been hoodwinked by Scientology’s usual ways of pulling people deeper and deeper into their clutches and then utilising them for dissemination, recruitment and financial gain.

However, Dwan does have another aspect to his story that is much more positive. After drugs (alcohol, cannabis and speed in his case) he found focus in life with martial arts – a noble endeavour – and he was successful at it. As he says in his lectures, the buzz of training and winning the British Thai boxing title was greater than anything that could be provided by some chemical high.

If he could fortify this enthusiasm and experience with some proper training as a drug counsellor and educator, utilising up to date, peer-reviewed science, and recognise the reality of mental health problems that often accompany addiction, incorporating modern education methods rather than out-dated propaganda, scare tactics and misinformation, then he’d truly be a welcome positive force in the UK’s schools.

In the meantime, Steve Cook Walks the Kingdom to fight the “UK drugs epidemic”. If you want to donate then there’s a button to pay through PayPal, but no public accounting, such as there would be if a service such as Just Giving was used. (Update Jul 2015: almost two months into the walk Cook started a GoFundMe page – not linked to from his website; it has, to date, raised £100, with a target of £20,000).

How much has he raised? I have no idea, as of this writing there doesn’t seem to be any way to know. How many people have seen the dozens of articles and heard the radio interviews and donated? Well, Cook says that all donors will be publicly acknowledged online, and I count 14 listed on the website at the time of writing (8 days into the walk) – at least ten of whom are Scientologists.

I wish this were for a better cause – it’s an astonishing thing to walk over 4,000 miles of rugged coastline, especially when you’re 63 and a smoker (not very drug free!). (Another Scientologist, Danny Fitzgibbon, is planning to row unaided across the Atlantic ocean for Dwan in September, a feat he has abandoned once already). Cook’s early diary videos gave a hint that perhaps he was having doubts about his ability and stamina, and his schedule doesn’t appear to include a single rest day. I can’t help but have some admiration for the guy. (Update: Cook has ended his walk halfway through, see updates at the end).

As for Narconon, it is a gateway drug to philosophies that were born out of the skewed mind of L. Ron Hubbard – a man addicted to cigarettes (3 or 4 packs a day – he actually believed they could help prevent lung cancer), who popped “pinks and greys” (benzedrine), and who died with the psychiatric tranquilliser Vistaril in his bloodstream; a man who claimed to have travelled to Venus, and that an intergalactic overlord called Xenu had ruled the Galaxy 75 million years ago and dropped billions of his citizens into volcanoes on Earth from spaceships that closely resembled DC-8 aircraft.

Scientologists believe that only they have the “tech” to save the planet, and that the thoughts and ideas of Hubbard are infallible. If what they taught about drugs was true, if it was evidenced science, could anyone take this data and lecture it in schools? Or administer the Purification Rundown in their own centres? I think it’s more likely that Scientology would try and take them to court for infringing on their exclusive system.

I know Dwan and his fellow lecturers aren’t going into schools and administering Hubbard’s Purification Rundown to children, but they are almost entirely informed and backed-up by Narconon and Scientology, and the schools who pay for these lectures (how much of the fee goes to Narconon/Scientology?) are allowing poor science, outdated educational methods, and questionable philosophies into their classrooms.

Bad information about narcotics and alcohol will lead to bad decisions by kids when they eventually come face to face with drugs, and schools should be 100% certain of whose ideas are influencing their young pupils. They should know if it is Scientology.

Update Jul 2015: Cook got as far as North Queensferry, just across the Forth from Edinburgh, before a bad foot caused him to return to East Grinstead on 11 July 2015 – this has not been updated on his website, which still shows him in Scotland.

Update Aug 2015: It seems the walk is over for now, as Cook has announced on Facebook that he plans to possibly get back to the walk in Spring 2016, though the Walk the Kingdom website has not been updated with this news. (20 Aug: his website has at last been updated. Aug 2016: no mention or continuation of the Walk.)

For good science on drugs please visit DrugScience.
For good advice on drugs for youths please visit Talk to Frank.

This Is the Way One Father Told His Pediatrician “No” to Vaccines

Looking at various #CDCWhilsteblower tweets the other day, I followed a link to an article on VacTruth.com (an anti-vax website) called ‘This Is the Way One Father Told His Pediatrician ‘No’ to Vaccines‘.

“What does an informed parent look like? We’ll show you”, says VacTruth, before reprinting a letter that lays out the reasons a father, Bob O’Kane, gave to his paediatrician for refusing to sign a vaccine waiver for his daughter.

Is VacTruth telling the Truth? Does the letter represent the views of an informed parent? Let’s look at the two main points the letter makes, firstly based around measles statistics, and then about aluminium in vaccines.

Says Bob “… the head of the CDC in an April/May radio show admitted the so called measles outbreak in New York consisted of 23 cases of which 20 people who got the measles had previously been vaccinated and thus nobody could be assured the vaccines actually work. (this [sic] is public information on the CDC website, and put [sic] a dent in the so called “herd immunity” theory). The other three cases involved foreigners.”

There’s no reference to the radio show in question, but I presume he’s referring to the Feb-Apr 2014 outbreak in New York which eventually affected 25 individuals (there was also one other measles case in this time-frame, unrelated to the outbreak).

I don’t know why he’s calling it a so-called outbreak. An outbreak is defined as three or more confirmed measles cases within a localised population in a month. It was an outbreak.

The “20 people who got the measles had previously been vaccinated” statement is way off, and seems to come from a shoddy video hammered together by conspiracy peddler Experimental Vaccines (‘New York Measles Outbreak 90% Vaccinated‘) and unthinkingly copied across the Internet, where they focus on a single sentence in a news report:

According to the New York State Department of Health, two of 20 people infected in a recent measles outbreak in New York City were children who had not been vaccinated by their parent’s choice.”

This is true, but it is not the whole picture and does not mean the remaining 18 people were vaccinated. At the time the outbreak reached 20 cases, 9 were children and 11 were adults; 7 of the children were too young to be vaccinated, two of the children were indeed the children of vaccine-refusers; 3 of the adults were vaccinated; and 8 had no records that could confirm vaccination. Four of the cases required hospitalisation.

While I don’t know the source of the New York outbreak (except it was picked up at a US airport) I can say that the US was declared measles-free in 2000, thanks to the vaccine program, and the disease flares up almost exclusively when unvaccinated travellers come into the US from locations where measles remains endemic. It is mostly spread by and spreads among unvaccinated people. True, a few vaccinated people will get the disease if it’s allowed to get hold within a community – vaccines are ‘only’ 95% effective, which is why herd immunity is so important, and these very statistics prove it works, contrary to Bob’s claim.

As for the fact that the remaining three cases were foreigners, I’m not sure where this comes from, but I don’t think it lessens the potential severity measles can have on your health or how highly contagious it is.

Bob continues … Our last Doctor even told us people are dying … do you know how many people have died in the past 10 years? The number is in fact less than all the fingers I have on my hands. Again, this is public record available through the CDC and not some Google search result.”

I’m guessing Bob’s attitude to foreigners is prevailing here and that he’s not counting the annual global deaths from measles which was 122,000 in 2012. Either that or he has a disproportionate number of fingers “on his hands”.

The last death from measles in the US was in 2003. The next 10 years saw sporadic outbreaks and not quite 1000 individual cases in total. The crazy thing is, Bob, this is thanks to vaccines. The very fact you proclaim is true is thanks to the vaccines you wish to avoid.

While deaths from measles were declining before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, thanks to advances in medical science and hygiene, it’s vaccines that are responsible for wiping out the disease and its deaths from the US altogether. In the years before the vaccine arrived there were still 400-500 reported deaths and 48,000 hospitalisations per year from measles in the US – way down from the over 7,500 deaths back in 1920, but still far too many.

Bob’s next problem with vaccines is aluminium, used as an adjuvant in some vaccines. To prove its dangers he quotes some text that the FDA required a maker of dextrose solution for IVs to include as part of their package insert, reflecting an update to their guidance on labelling parenterals that are contaminated with no more than 25 micrograms (mcg) of aluminium per litre, and referring specifically to research related to babies with poor kidney function.

What’s IV dextrose solution got to do with vaccines, you may ask? This comes from Dr Robert SearsThe Vaccine Book where an entire section is dedicated to showing that vaccines contain aluminium in far higher concentrations than the FDA recommend for IV solutions. Sears does attempt to cover the core of his idea (that aluminium will damage your child) with a gloss of science and an impression of balance, but the reader can be left in no doubt that, yet again, something evil is lurking in the vaccines.

Of course, any flaccid attempt at caution by Sears is left behind as soon as the idea leaves his domain and starts replicating within the hive of anti-vax websites, where ‘Mercury In Vaccines Was Replaced With Something Even More Toxic‘ becomes the new battle-cry. And our letter-writing parent lends his voice too …

The HEP-B shot alone is almost 14 TIMES THE AMOUNT OF ALUMINUM THAT IS FDA-APPROVED. The MMR? The dTap? All have similar amounts.

Note the move to capital letters – the inevitable Act III of nearly all conspiracy argument, starting out reasoned and calm before the underlying fear and paranoia break through, and shouting and screaming fill up the holes where facts no longer fit.

The trouble is, the aluminium argument just doesn’t hold together where vaccines are concerned. IV solution tends to be used on sick people, and if that sick person is a baby, especially a premature baby with weak renal function, then you want to severely limit any aluminium going directly into their bloodstream because they will not be able to eliminate it as efficiently as they should. The FDA recommendation of 25 mcg per litre takes into account that other aluminium contamination will be likely (it is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust) and that the patient will almost certainly be taking in many litres over many days in a single period.

Patients who take in intravenously infused aluminium could potentially retain from 40% (adults) to 75% (newborns) of the element, whereas normally the body will eliminate 95% through kidney function, with only 0.3% becoming absorbed. This is why IV fluids, especially for premature babies, have such a strict and low limit.

With vaccines, the shots that contain aluminium salts (which are poorly absorbed anyway) are spread out over many months and are not injected directly into the bloodstream. You cannot compare the FDA limit set for IV fluids, which are administered over long periods in greater amounts, with the minuscule amount in even an entire schedule of vaccines. And, Bob, the MMR vaccine does not contain aluminium.

What does contain aluminium? Well, breast milk contains about 40 mcg per litre and infants’ formula contains about 225 mcg per litre. We’re eating the stuff all the time – unprocessed foods can contain between 100 mcg and 20,000 mcg per kg.

Children will get about 4,400 mcg (4.4 mg) of aluminium salts spread across their first six months through vaccination, just over half of what they’d get from their own mother’s breast milk and almost ten-times less than the amount ingested through formula in the same time. That’s about 1/1250th of a teaspoon.

Seeing as Bob does recognise the FDA’s advice for aluminium control, perhaps he’d  like to move away from the world of parenteral dextrose solutions and look at what they actually recommend for vaccines, which is no more than 850-1250 mcg per individual dose. The largest amount in any vaccine is 625 mcg in DTaP (though it can be as low as 170 mcg), and most vaccines, if they contain it, are no more than 225 mcg.

2014 is a bad year for measles in the US, with more cases from January to August than the country saw in the last five years put together. The vast majority of these are among the unvaccinated – as of May 2014 69% of this year’s cases were unvaccinated and 20% had unknown vaccination status (probably largely unvaccinated); of those who were unvaccinated 85% had declined vaccination (or had it declined on their behalf by their parents), 6% were missed opportunities, and 5% were too young to receive vaccinations.

Ohio has seen a particularly bad outbreak among its Amish populace, where unvaccinated missionaries brought the disease back from the Philippines and it then spread easily among their largely unvaccinated community.

So, have we seen what an informed parent looks like? Does VacTruth spread the truth? No. Bob O’Kane – if he exists – seems to be pretty highly misinformed, probably thanks to websites such as VacTruth, who seem to be in the business of spreading fear and misinformation where vaccines are concerned, and contributing greatly to many parents’ decision not to get their children vaccinated, in turn leading to sick children, sick adults, hospitalisations, and, if the US outbreaks continue at their current pace, eventually, the first measles-related death since 2003*

* Update: a few months after this article was written, a woman died due to measles in Washington State.

Genocidal Fraud by the CDC. Not.

For a while now I’ve had an anti-vaccination friend trying to get me not to vaccinate my children. Why? Because autism, because toxins, because New World Order population control. At the time of their first intervention I was pro-vax, but largely uninformed on the issue. I knew a little about the fraudulent Andrew Wakefield study, but not much more.

The friend sent me a couple of articles, pieces that had appeared in the ‘independent media’ and I decided to look into them in detail. It didn’t take too long for my previously ambivalent pro-vax stance to evolve into a pretty much full-on, raging pro-vax stance. The articles were brimming with blatant lies. The more I examined the anti-vax scene, the more I found it to be anti-scientific, bare-faced nonsense, and the more I learned about just how important and amazing vaccination actually is.

The friend hasn’t given up (despite my polite evidence-based counter-arguments, and my children being well into their vaccination schedule), and the latest salvo was a newsletter from bunkum-buffet website, Forbidden Knowledge TV, a newsletter titled Genocidal Fraud by the CDC.

The background is this: in 2004 the Center for Disease Control released a study that showed there was no link between MMR and autism with respect to the age of first MMR vaccination. One of the researchers on that paper was William Thompson. Now, champion of the ‘vaccine-damaged’, Andrew Wakefield, and one his disciples, Brian Hooker, have revealed that Thompson has turned whistleblower, pointing Hooker in the direction of allegedly covered-up data from that 2004 study and allowing him to re-analyse the raw data and discover a link between MMR and autism in African-American boys. Press releases were released and Wakefield made a video comparing the CDC to various genocidal dictators, and now the anti-vax crowd are dancing in the streets.

Barely two weeks old, this story has already been scrutinised by many bloggers more knowledgeable than me (bearing in mind it’s still playing out and not all the facts are in), but I wanted to pay particular attention to some of the points raised in the Forbidden Knowledge TV piece.

“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whistleblower … has been identified”

Well, let’s get this straight. Thompson spoke to Brian Hooker in confidence and he had no idea that he was being recorded. In doing this, Hooker broke Californian and Georgian law (where the relevant parties reside). Hooker further undermined Thompson’s trust (and again flouted the law) when he shared those recorded conversations with Andrew Wakefield, who then went on to publish Thompson’s name and voice on the Internet. If this is how Hooker and Wakefield treat their friends then I don’t think trust and ethics figure very highly on their list of character traits. I also think they’ve trashed the possibility of any future whistleblower contacting them – so I guess they’d better make the most of this one.

Indeed, William Thompson has released a statement stating that he was not aware he was being recorded and did not agree to either his name being made public or his voice being put on the Internet.

As we’re on the subject of Thompson’s statement, he also says this:

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue  to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

Epidemiologist, William W. Thompson, PhD broke a decade of silence over the government’s deliberate concealment of the link between the MMR vaccine … and a dramatically increased risk of autism, particularly in African American boys.”

And here the tale unfastens from the world of facts and starts to drift away. Brian Hooker’s reanalysis did not find an increased risk of autism in caucasian boys and girls, or African-American girls, only in African-American boys. You can call “dramatically increased risk” a misrepresentation, or you can call it a lie, but either way it shows the disregard the anti-vaccination lobby has for the truth.

But while we’re on the subject of B. S. Hooker’s  study (yes, those are his initials), let’s add a couple of other things about it. He took the raw data from the CDC’s 2004 study, which was designed and implemented as a case-control study, and re-cast it as a cohort study, thus increasing the risk of false positives. Related to this, his data-set was tiny and had no comparative, so a methodical and definitive conclusion is almost impossible. This bad science makes more sense when you know that Hooker is a biochemical engineer, not a statistician or an epidemiologist, and he didn’t employ one either.

But let’s entertain the idea that Hooker’s forced conclusion is actually correct – this, then, flies in the face of Andrew Wakefield’s and his legion of Warrior Moms’ assertion – that MMR causes autism across the board. It’s a blow to their crusade in particular because the vast majority of these campaigners are white upper/middle class parents. Strangely, they don’t appear to have noticed this.

Lastly on this point, only very short snippets of Thompson’s ‘confessions’ have been released – edited, repeated sound-bites with no context. All the context is added by Wakefield where he references the shameful Tuskegee experiment and goes on to claim that the CDC are worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. If Thompson’s revelations are so damning, why doesn’t Wakefield let us hear them, instead of giving us barely thirty-seconds of illegally recorded conversation in a 9-minute video dripping with propaganda?

“The same month of its publication, Thompson wrote to Dr. Julie Gerberding (then director of the CDC, now director of Merck’s vaccine division – check out that revolving door, eh?), discussing his intention to present, at an Institute of Medicine meeting on vaccines and autism the following week, “several problematic results” that the study had produced.”

So, Thompson intended to present the “problematic results” of the 2004 study at an IoM meeting? Wrong. Read the letter. Thompson is asking Gerdberding to respond to a letter by Rep. David Weldon which asks for clarification of a completely different vaccine study – not the 2004 paper that Thompson worked on. He wanted leadership support for the science that showed there was no MMR-autism connection. Another lie.

“Dr. Julie Gerberding (then director of the CDC, now director of Merck’s vaccine division – check out that revolving door, eh?) …”

First of all, this has no bearing on the facts of whether MMR causes autism, but if you’re going to play that game then we should be fair, and check out the biases of both sides.

Andrew Wakefield was struck off the Medical Register in 2010 and is barred from practising medicine in the UK after his 1998 paper that led to the MMR-autism kerfuffle was found to be not only bad science, but fraudulent – he used a tiny sample size of children with no control group, subjected them to unnecessary and invasive medical procedures, was reportedly in the pay of lawyers acting on behalf of several autistic children whose parents wanted to sue MMR manufactures (and these children made up a portion of Wakefield’s study subjects) and had just filed a patent for his own single-jab measles vaccine. He now relies on his position in the anti-vaccine movement for both his income and his status.

Brian Hooker, the author of the re-analysed CDC data, has been involved in litigation against the CDC and claims that vaccines caused his own son’s autism. He’s also a board member of Focus Autism, a group who want to “put an end to the needless harm of children by vaccination”.

By two years of age, US children receive as many as 24 vaccine injections, and might receive up to five shots during one visit to the doctor – all of these containing the toxic mercury-based preservative, Thimerosal and administered to toddlers whose immune systems are not developed enough to cope with so much toxicity.

So many wobbly facts in this paragraph. Only two vaccinations in the US childhood schedule might contain thimerosal, DTaP and DTaP-Hib combined, and these would only contain trace amounts as the thimerosal is removed after the manufacturing process, so it isn’t an ingredient in the actual vaccine. Similarly, no childhood vaccines in the UK contain thimerosal as an ingredient. Some flu shots do contain thimerosal, but MMR never contained it.

The amount of mercury in thimerosal is not toxic – “the dose makes the poison” and there is too little. Furthermore the mercury in thimerosal is ethylmercury which is expelled from the body pretty quickly, it doesn’t build up like its cousin, methylmercury – which is probably what most people are thinking of when they hear about ‘toxic mercury’.

If mercury in vaccinations is the cause of autism, then how come autism has continued to rise even though thimerosal has not been an ingredient in the majority of vaccinations for over 14 years?

As for the ‘too many too soon’ argument, this just doesn’t bear out. A child is exposed to vastly greater amounts of “toxicity” in real life, from food, the environment and naturally acquired disease from the moment they are born. Their immune systems cope just fine.

I have a distinct suspicion that the release NOW of the genocidal fraud and criminality of the CDC, of a vaccine which specifically harms black boys …”

Is it actually possible to have a substance injected into any member of the human populace, but which will only take effect if that human happens to be of a specific ethnic origin and gender?

This last bit is the cue for the remainder of the newsletter to go into full-on conspiracy mode, claiming the US government are inciting a race war, a civil war and even a world war.

Conspiracy theorists just can’t help it. Everything is connected, it’s all just one big convoluted plan … ‘They’ are lying to us about everything from the moon landing to spraying us from the air with chemicals, from murdering Princess Diana to bringing down the World Trade Centre. They start out trying to be calm and scientific, and end up ranting about lizard-aliens coming to drink the life-essence from our children.

My friend continues to believe that MMR causes autism and that the government want to inject brain-controlling microchips into the population. He accuses me of being ‘indoctrinated’, yet he gets his news solely from the fear-merchants in the ‘alternative media’, not allowing a single counter-argument to unbalance his Matrix-tinged view of the world, even though that alternative media tell blatant lies and assert things without a shred of evidence. Even if you don’t trust the ‘mainstream media’ (whatever that is), a lot of the claims are backed up with various forms of evidence that you can often check yourself.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Hooker’s re-evaluation has been removed from the public domain “because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions”, and Wakefield and his cronies’ claims about autism continue to lead to real-world deaths, in numbers, from diseases that are preventable and, in many cases, were on the brink of being eradicated.

Thanks to the continued vigilance and expertise of various bloggers at Science-Based Medicine, and many other writers and blogs linked to in the piece above.

Ebola Virus. It is not an untreatable disease!

Fear not, Ebola victims of Africa, for the homeopaths are coming to save you! Well, I presume they are … after all, they claim to have remedies that will cure the effects of this deadly virus.

Let’s see … Homeopaths Without Borders aren’t going, but they are reaching out “to our counterparts working in Africa to offer our support”. Perhaps they mean Homeopathy for Health in Africa, or Homoopathen Ohne Grenzen, or Homeopathes Sans Frontieres, or Homeopaten Zonder Grenzen Nederland, or Homeopathes Autour Du Monde Suisse, or the All-Nigeria Homeopathic Medical Association, or the Gambia Wellness Foundation, or the Ghana Homeopathy Project, or the Homeopathic Association of South Africa, or the Senya/Tamale Homeopathy Project, or the Abha Light Foundation, or the Swaziland Homeopathy Project?

Hm, looking at their websites, none of these counterparts in Africa seem to have anything to say about Ebola (at time of writing, six months into the epidemic). Well, actually the Swaziland Homeopathy Project do mention it on their Facebook page – they link to an article by English homeopath Steve Scrutton called ‘Ebola Virus – it’s not an untreatable disease!

The general point of Scrutton’s article is to say that the “conventional medical establishment” is not able to treat Ebola, but homeopathy can, and he offers several examples.

One of these is a homeopathic preparation based on the venom of the Six-Eyed Crab Spider. “Click here to see the research undertaken on this remedy in the treatment of Ebola” he says. So I did.

What I found was a paper called ‘Sicarius (Six-Eyed Crab Spider): A homeopathic treatment for Ebola haemorrhagic fever and disseminated intravascular coagulation?‘ that was published in the British Homeopathic Journal in 1999. Note the question-mark at the end there.

Reading the paper revealed that it offered no research whatsoever related to a remedy. It described a study by someone else that looked at the effect of Sicarius venom on rabbits (Newlands, 1982), saw that one of the reported effects of the venom was disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), noted that one of the effects of Ebola is disseminated intravascular coagulation, and concluded that therefore Sicarius venom could be used to treat Ebola.

This follows the rule, in homeopathy, that ‘like cures like‘ – so a little of what causes a symptom, diluted until there is barely a molecule of it left (the water remembers it) will become the treatment. How do homeopaths research this? Usually just by thinking about it for a short while. For instance, hay fever causes the eyes to water; what else causes the eyes to water? Onions! Therefore: homeopathic remedy for hay fever = onions (though you must use its binomial to make it sound scientific, of course, Allium cepa).

This is about as scientific as the Law of Rhymes (which I’ve just invented). What does Ebola rhyme with? Granola! There’s your cure for Ebola right there – a muesli-based cereal. But you don’t need to eat it, just breathe in the air around it – it’s more potent that way, and the further away you are, the more potent it is.

Bearing this Law of Similars in mind, the author of this highly questionable paper, Dr Cornelia Richardson-Boedler, goes on to suggest – amazingly – that the infected blood of an Ebola victim (a “nosode“), and even the Ebola virus itself, should also be considered as possible cures.

But will the homeopathic community, many of whom have echoed Mr Scrutton’s claim, be asked to step in and save the day? “I regret to say that this is unlikely!” laments Scrutton. You see, he explains, Big Pharma will spend millions on developing drugs that won’t be ready for years and are even already using an untested drug which is sure to cause immense harm.

It is, of course, right that these drugs are fully tested, and that does take time. Even so, a vaccine is currently being trialled, and may even see its first use in Africa sometime in 2015.

As for the untested drug, ZMapp, that is being provided for free. And yes, it may do harm, but this is being weighed up against the alternative – almost certain death. As of this writing I’m aware of five people who have received ZMapp – two have survived Ebola (though both gave more credit to “God” than medical science), two have died from the virus, and one, currently in the UK, is still being treated. The available supply is now exhausted.

Homeopaths and their pseudoscientific supporters would be horrified if the drugs suppled by Big Pharma were made publicly available without proper, robust testing, or weren’t subject to the strict safety conditions of organisations such as the MHRA, the EMA or the FDA (not that homeopaths trust them). Yet, apply the same standards to homeopathy and they scream injustice, cry conspiracy, organise petitions, and claim patients’ rights are being infringed.

Still, fear not, homeopaths, even though you have the answer to Africa’s Ebola worries, you will not have to dirty your shoes with the dust of humankind’s birthplace. One of your number, Dr Bill Gray, has come up with a solution – eRemedies. These are short audio files of homeopathic energy that you can play in order to stimulate the body to heal itself. Two are available specifically for Ebola – one to be used as a preventative, and another to listen to if you have been sick for over 48 hours. These are, very generously, free (unlike Dr Gray’s usual fees – $600 for an initial consultation), so, people of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, get downloading*.

(* Don’t. Please seek proper medical advice.)