Andrew Wakefield: Fraud – The Facts

Over on the “Stop the Australian Vaccination Network” (AVN) Facebook page, this got thrown up; a 15-page comic looking at the epic fraud by Andrew Wakefield, the money he gained from it, the money he stood to gain, and the implicit media and politicians who had their heads so far up their arses they literally had shit for brains.

Darryl Cunningham has put together a brilliantly illustrated book with an interesting use of real media in the comic that brings the comic down to earth – perhaps long enough for you to realize the sobering fact that children have died because of the personal greed of Andrew Wakefield and Richard Barr.

Perhaps long enough to realize that it didn’t just affect the children of the parents who were too scared to vaccinate because they believed the misinformation from Andrew Wakefield, Richard Barr, Jim Carrey, and Jenny McCarthey; it affects EVERYONE.

So, check out “The Facts in the Case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield“:

Darryl Cunningham Investigates

The final page really makes the same point as I, and others have been wanting for a long time:

Informed Journalism.

I hear what you’re saying, and I understand your arguments – But you’re wrong.

In general, the moment I mention something they’ve used personally and believe it’s “worked” for them may not have in fact “worked”, almost all of the discussion is lost to head-shaking in the disbelief.  What is some-what entertaining, is that moments before hand they were happily agreeing with similar things said about OTHER alternative therapies, medicines, and quack treatments overall.

“..expectation, suggestion, mutual consensus and compliance demand, causality error, classic conditioning, reciprocal conditioning, operant conditioning, operator conditioning, reinforcement, group consensus, economic and emotional investment, social and political disaffection, social rewards for believing, variable course of disease, regression to the mean – there are many ways human psychology can fool us into thinking ineffective treatments are effective.”

Over the last few weeks it’s become apparent to me that a number of people I know have used, and swear by acupuncture.

It can be difficult to say to people you know, and even people you’ve just met, but I have to say it – I say it because I think I would be doing that person an injustice by allowing them to believe things for the wrong reason:

“I hear what you’re saying, and I understand your arguments – But you’re wrong.”

The following article is one of the best explanations on how the concept underpinning (A Pun!) acupuncture is flawed, why the “ancient” stories  about acupuncture are falsely attributed, and how  “Traditional Chinese Medicine” – which was essentially “Medicine for the Poor” has come under the marketing-spin of “Alternative Medicine” – an industry now bringing in $35 BILLION a year in America alone.

Puncturing the Acupuncture Myth

Note: This is slightly revised from an article I originally wrote as a “SkepDoc” column for Skeptic magazine. It was pre-released online in eSkeptic and it has already generated a lot of comments, including “a truly amazing piece of peurile pseudo-intellectualism,” “an ad hominem attack on one form of alternative medicine so beset by poor thinking that one must come to the conclusion this woman might just be paid to write such propaganda,” and “twaddle wrapped in swaddling rhetoric.” (I treasure comments like those as evidence that my critics are so bankrupt of real arguments that they have to dip into the insult pouch for ammunition.)  I thought it would be interesting to post it here on the blog and see how much controversy it would stir up among my co-bloggers and readers.  Please keep in mind that it was written for a popular audience and excuse the lack of scholarly citations. You may recognize some of the studies I refer to from previous blog entries.


“Alternative” medicine is by definition medicine that has not been scientifically proven and has not been accepted into mainstream scientific medicine. The question I keep hearing is, “But what about acupuncture? It’s been proven to work, it’s supported by lots of good research, more and more doctors are using it, and insurance companies even pay for it.”

It’s time the acupuncture myth was punctured – preferably with an acupuncture needle. Almost everything you’ve heard about acupuncture is wrong.

To start with, this ancient Chinese treatment is not so ancient and may not even be Chinese! From studying the earliest documents, Chinese scholar Paul Unschuld suspects the idea may have originated with the Greek Hippocrates of Cos and later spread to China. There’s certainly no evidence that it’s 3000 years old. The earliest Chinese medical texts, from the 3rd century BC, don’t mention it. The earliest reference to “needling” is from 90 BC, but it refers to bloodletting and lancing abscesses with large needles or lancets. There is nothing in those documents to suggest anything like today’s acupuncture. We have the archaeological evidence of needles from that era – they are large; the technology for manufacturing thin steel needles appropriate for acupuncture didn’t exist until 400 years ago.

The earliest accounts of Chinese medicine reached the West in the 13th century: they didn’t mention acupuncture at all. The first Westerner to write about acupuncture, Wilhelm Ten Rhijn, in 1680, didn’t describe acupuncture as we know it today: he didn’t mention specific points or “qi;” he spoke of large gold needles that were implanted deep into the skull or “womb” and left in place for 30 respirations.

Acupuncture was tried off and on in Europe after that. It was first tried in America in 1826 as a possible means of resuscitating drowning victims. They couldn’t get it to work and “gave up in disgust.” I imagine sticking needles in soggy dead bodies was pretty disgusting.

Through the early 20th century, no Western account of acupuncture referred to acupuncture points: needles were simply inserted near the point of pain. Qi was originally vapor arising from food, and meridians were channels or vessels. A Frenchman, Georges Soulie de Morant, was the first to use the term “meridian” and to equate qi with energy – in 1939. Auricular (ear) acupuncture was invented by a Frenchman in 1957.

The Chinese government tried to ban acupuncture several times between 1822 and WWII, when the Chinese Nationalist government tried to suppress it. Mao revived it in the “barefoot doctor” campaign in the 1960s as a cheap way of providing care to the masses; he did not use it himself and he did not believe it worked. It was Mao’s government that coined the term “traditional Chinese medicine” or TCM, to include acupuncture, herbal medicine, moxibustion, and other traditional practices.

In 1972 James Reston accompanied Nixon to China and returned to tell about his appendectomy. It was widely believed that his appendix was removed under acupuncture anesthesia. In reality, acupuncture was used only as an adjunct for pain relief the day after surgery, and the relief was probably coincident with the expected return of normal bowel motility. A widely circulated picture of a patient allegedly undergoing open heart surgery with acupuncture anesthesia was shown to be bogus. If acupuncture is used in surgery today, it is used along with conventional anesthesia and/or pre-operative meds, and it is selected only for patients who believe in it and are likely to have a placebo response.

As acupuncture increased in popularity in the West, it declined in the East. In 1995, visiting American physicians were told only 15-20% of Chinese chose TCM, and it was usually used along with Western treatments after diagnosis by a Western-trained physician. Apparently some patients choose TCM because it is all they can afford: despite being a Communist country, China does not have universal health coverage.

There were originally 360 acupuncture points (based on the number of days of the year rather than on anatomy). Currently more than 2000 acupuncture points have been “discovered” leading one wag to comment that there was no skin left that was not an acupuncture point. There were either 9, 10, or 11 meridians – take your pick. Any number is as good as another, because no research has ever been able to document the existence of acupuncture points or meridians or qi.

Does acupuncture work? Which acupuncture, and what do you mean by work? There are various different Chinese systems, plus Japanese, Thai, Korean and Indian modalities, most of which have been invented over the last few decades. Whole body or limited to the scalp, hand, ear, foot, or cheek and chin. Deep or superficial. With electrified needles. With lasers. With dermal pad electrodes and no skin penetration.

Acupuncture works, but placebos work too. Acupuncture has been shown to “work” to relieve pain, nausea, and other subjective symptoms, but it has never been shown to alter the natural history or course of any disease. It’s mostly used for pain today, but early Chinese practitioners maintained that it was not for the treatment of manifest disease, was so subtle that it should only be employed at the very beginning of a disease process, and was only likely to work if the patient believed it would work. Now there’s a bit of ancient wisdom!

Studies have shown that acupuncture releases natural opioid pain relievers in the brain: endorphins. Veterinarians have pointed out that loading a horse into a trailer or throwing a stick for a dog also releases endorphins. Probably hitting yourself on the thumb with a hammer would release endorphins too, and it would take your mind off your headache.

Psychologists can list plenty of other things that could explain the apparent response to acupuncture. Diverting attention from original symptoms to the sensation of needling, expectation, suggestion, mutual consensus and compliance demand, causality error, classic conditioning, reciprocal conditioning, operant conditioning, operator conditioning, reinforcement, group consensus, economic and emotional investment, social and political disaffection, social rewards for believing, variable course of disease, regression to the mean – there are many ways human psychology can fool us into thinking ineffective treatments are effective. Then there’s the fact that all placebos are not equal – an elaborate system involving lying down, relaxing, and spending time with a caring authority can be expected to produce a much greater placebo effect than simply taking a sugar pill.

There are plenty of studies showing that acupuncture works for subjective symptoms like pain and nausea. But there are several things that throw serious doubt on their findings. The results are inconsistent, with some studies finding an effect and others not. The higher quality studies are less likely to find an effect. Most of the studies are done by believers in acupuncture. Many subjects would not volunteer for an acupuncture trial unless they had a bias towards believing it might work. The acupuncture studies coming from China and other oriental countries are all positive – but then almost everything coming out of China is positive. It’s not culturally acceptable to publish negative results – researchers would lose face and their jobs. In a recent survey, “No trial published in China or Russia/USSR found a test treatment to be ineffective.” We can’t reach a valid conclusion based on positive published studies if we don’t know about negative studies that never saw the light of day.

The biggest problem with acupuncture studies is finding an adequate placebo control. You’re sticking needles in people. People notice that. Double blinding is impossible: you might be able to fool patients into thinking you’ve used a needle when you haven’t, but there’s no way to blind the person doing the needling. Two kinds of controls have been used: comparing acupuncture points to non-points, and using an ingenious needle in a sheath that appears to have penetrated the skin when it hasn’t.

In George Ulett’s research, he found that applying an electrical current to the skin of the wrist – a kind of TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) treatment – worked just as well as inserting needles, and one point on the wrist worked for symptoms anywhere in the body.

Guess what? It doesn’t matter where you put the needle. It doesn’t matter whether you use a needle at all. In the best controlled studies, only one thing mattered: whether the patients believed they were getting acupuncture. If they believed they got the real thing, they got better pain relief – whether they actually got acupuncture or not! If they got acupuncture but believed they didn’t, it was less likely to work. If they didn’t get it but believed they did, it was more likely to work.

Acupuncturists can rationalize with great ingenuity. In a recent study using sham acupuncture as a control, both the sham placebo acupuncture and the true acupuncture worked equally well and were better than no treatment. The obvious conclusion was that acupuncture was no better than placebo. Their conclusion was that acupuncture worked and the placebo acupuncture worked too!

One researcher decided it’s not meaningful to use placebo controls in acupuncture research because any stimulation of the skin might be effective – which seems to me to pretty much destroy the whole rationale for acupuncture, but he didn’t seem to notice that. If that’s true, why not just caress or massage our patients instead of lying about imaginary qi and meridians?

Considering the inconsistent research results, the implausibility of qi and meridians, and the many questions that remain, all the current evidence is compatible with this hypothesis: acupuncture is nothing more than a recipe for an elaborate placebo seasoned with a soupcon of counter-irritant. That is what R. Barker Bausell concluded in his book Snake Oil Science. The world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Dr. Edzard Ernst, is more accepting of low-prior-plausibility evidence than some of us; but even he used the words “tentative” and “might” when he recently wrote, “While there is tentative evidence that acupuncture might be effective for some forms of pain relief and nausea, it fails to deliver any medical benefit in any other situations and its underlying concepts are meaningless.”

Acknowledgement: Part of this article was adapted from a PowerPoint presentation prepared by the late Dr. Robert Imrie. That entire presentation is available on-line . It’s well worth a visit; it includes great pictures of camelpuncture, goatpuncture, and chickenpuncture.


At the request of several readers, I am adding these references. They are by no means comprehensive. Many of these references contain long lists of primary sources.

History of Acupuncture:

Unschuld P. Medicine in China: A History of Ideas (Comparative Studies of Health Systems and Medical Care). University of California Press, 1988.

Imrie RH, Ramey DW, Buell PD, Ernst E, Basser SP. “Veterinary Acupuncture and Historical Scholarship: Claims for the Antiquity of Acupuncture” The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 2001, 5: 133-9.

Imrie, RH, Ramey DW, Buell PD. “Veterinary Acupuncture and Historical Scholarship: The ‘Traditions’ of Acupuncture and TCM.” The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 2003-4. 7:61-8.

Basser S. “Acupuncture: A History” The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 1999. 3: 34-41.

Imrie R, Ramey D, Buell P. “Veterinary Acupuncture and Historical Scholarship, Part III: Politics , Popularity, and the Promotion of TCM” The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 2005. 9: 69-74.

Acupuncture for Heart Surgery:

Posner G and Sampson W. “Chinese Acupuncture for Heart Surgery Anesthesia” The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 3:2, p. 15-19. 1999.

Posner G. Questioning Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld’s China Acupuncture Story, Skeptical Inquirer. 1999: Vol. 23 No. 4.

Mao not believing in acupuncture:

Zhi-Sui, Li. The Private Life of Chairman Mao. Random House, 1996.

Origin of ear acupuncture:

“Organ Representation on Extremities” on the American Acupuncture website. Accessed Oct 21 2008.

James Reston’s Appendectomy:

James Reston. “Now, About My Operation in Peking” New York Times, July 26, 1971.

Current status of acupuncture in China.

Beyerstein B and Sampson W.“Traditional Medicine and Pseudoscience in China: A Report of the Second CSICP Delegation” (Part 1). Skeptical Inquirer. 1997.

Beyerstein B and Sampson W. “Traditional Medicine and Pseudoscience in China: A Report of the Second CSICOP Delegation (Part 2)” Skeptical Inquirer, 1996.

Sham acupuncture studies, research methods, meta-analyses:

Bausell, RB. Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Ulett’s research:

Ulett, GA and Han, S. The Biology of Acupuncture. Warren H. Green, 2001.

Preponderance of positive studies from China:

Vickers A, Goyal N, Harland R, Rees R. “Do certain countries produce only positive results? A systematic review of controlled trials.” Control Clin Trials, 1998: 19(2):159-66.

Excuse for not using placebo controls:

Why ineffective treatments seem to work:

Beyerstein B. “Psychology and ‘Alternative Medicine’: Social and Judgmental Biases That Make Inert Treatments Seem to Work.” The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 1999. Vol 3.

Beyerstein B. “Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work”


Singh,S and Ernst, E. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. W.W. Norton, 2008.

Bausell, RB. Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Carroll, R. “Acupuncture” The Skeptic’s Dictionary.
Acupuncture Watch website.

Barrett, S. “Be Wary of Acupuncture, Qigong, and ‘Chinese Medicine’”

Imrie, Robert. “Acupuncture: The Facts.” 2005. PowerPoint presentation available online at

Regenerative Medicine: What is it, and how could it affect us?

“There are emerging radical technologies that have the potential to change the way we live. This animation on regenerative medicine is part of a series for a session at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas exploring the contribution of enabling bio- and nano- technologies and their associated socio-cultural, health, safety and environmental impacts. We ask what excites you about this? What frightens you? And explore how they may change the way we live.”

See more at


Patent Controversy: It’s time Big Pharma took its medicine

Philip Soos
Researcher, School of International & Political Studies at Deakin University

Federal governments should fund pharmaceutical research and development.AAP

Over the last couple of decades, the pharmaceutical industry has come under attack for its perceived shortcomings amid claims that it’s greedy, profiteering nature has caused significant harm.

However, these problems stem not from the profit motive, but rather because in 21st-century, technologically advanced Australia, pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) is financed by means of 15th-century medieval government monopoly: patents.

It is assumed by governments, industry and economists, without evidence, that patents comprise the optimal mechanism for financing R&D. It has become a faith.

In fact, the perverse incentives and problems generated by pharmaceutical patents are so numerous that only a few can be described in detail here. They include:

  • Monopoly pricing
  • Non-innovative copycat drugs
  • Withholding of negative clinical trial research
  • Regulatory capture
  • Uncompensated appropriation of public R&D
  • Intimidation of researchers
  • Conflicts of interest between medical professionals and industry
  • Fraud
  • Tragedy of the anti-commons
  • Endless litigation
  • Misleading high-pressure advertising
  • Distorting physician prescribing
  • Anti-competitive behaviour
  • Astroturf campaigning
  • Corporate takeover of universities
  • Exaggerated R&D expenditures
  • Rent-seeking
  • Counterfeiting
  • Capture of medical journals

And most tragic of all: death.

Some economists have suggested alternative policies, such as prize funds, patent buybacks, compulsory licensing, advance market commitments, patent pools, and more public funding.

Unfortunately, while theoretically superior, little research has been performed to compare these alternatives to our patent system – and certainly not in terms of taxpayer cost and employment.

Instead, the government intervenes to “regulate” industry and subsidise consumers through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), with the aim of dealing with the problems caused by the initial intervention of patents.

Government provides the PBS subsidy, tax breaks, R&D credits, corporate charters, the patent office, patent enforcement and the court system. And god-only-knows what state and local governments offer to industry.

Simply put, Australia provides over $9 billion in subsidies and protection to an industry that generates a $22 billion turnover, resulting in a miserably low $1 billion worth of R&D.

Industry has been known to add administrative and marketing costs to inflate R&D, let alone what is misallocated in regards to non-innovative copycat drugs. Half of all industry employment is in wasteful sales and marketing.

A big problem is that there is conflicting data regarding the industry from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Medicines Australia, Department of Innovation and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

This has resulted in a lack of accurate statistics – a state of affairs that plays nicely into the hands of industry.

For instance, the Department of Innovation says the industry employs 13,400 R&D workers, but Medicines Australia’s industry survey reports that this is much less. A public audit is desperately needed to discover what the facts are.

A public alternative

I propose a new system whereby the government directly finances R&D, and all drugs are produced as generics at market-competitive prices.

By appropriating 1% of GDP ($12 billion) annually, the government can provide $3 billion to each of our four major R&D-intensive institutions – public labs, universities, for-profit firms and non-profit foundations – through either direct funding or contracts.

It will be necessary to fund a small subsidy program for low-income earners, the elderly and chronically ill, as well as financing health and medical journals, patient groups and continuing medical education.

The CSIRO’s annual report provides a good model for how funding could be allocated: capital investment (10%), labour (54%), and supplies (36%). An employment breakdown is provided: R&D (65%), technical (15%), administration (18%) and management (2%).

R&D employees are paid around $95,000 annually, so $12 billion will produce 44,000 R&D jobs – more than three times what industry claims to employ.

If half of the $12 billion results in R&D, then it is six times what industry performs. If it is the full amount, then twelve times.

Monopolistic pricing is eliminated, making medicines easily affordable.

As the link between R&D and sales is severed, there is little to no incentive for industry to engage in the wide array of outrageous behaviour to maximize sales. The pharmaceuticals market will shrink in size as prices reflect production costs.

Australia already has R&D institutions in place and the government has shown no problem with spending. This policy is a conventional and conservative proposal, given it eliminates government monopoly and utilises free market production.

A more equitable model

Australian stakeholders – consumers, taxpayers, scientists, and academics – must realise that the patent system does not work in their interest.

It is a policy purposefully designed to redistribute wealth and income upwards to the rich. It is a conservative nanny state policy.

It works for the corporate elite and rentier oligarchy, which are dependent on reverse Robin Hood policies – take from the poor and give to the rich.

Ironically, free-marketers and conservatives are at the forefront of supporting government monopoly and corporate socialism. Liberals are not much better in this regard.

Unfortunately, the corporate elite have ensured that Australia is obligated to enforce patents through legal treaties administered by the World Trade Organisation and the usual round of “free trade” agreements that promote the most toxic form of government monopoly.

These legal barriers, however, do not prevent Australia from establishing and funding alternative systems.

Furthermore, they do not force the government to give patents to firms, only to enforce patents granted – and have only done so because government is under the delusion that patents are the best way to finance R&D and create employment. The government can also pass a law that disallows patenting of any publically financed R&D. These treaties, however, still pose big problems to reform.

The public has a long road ahead of itself to reform the R&D system, given that it must deal with the barrage of propaganda dispensed by government and industry.

The ideology that upholds the patent system is built upon a foundation of quicksand that quickly collapses upon close inspection.

In the end, the change will be worth it, given the enormous economic return on medical and health research.


This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

SensaSlim Assets Frozen over Bogus research

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has won an order to freeze SensaSlim’s assets after a continuing investigation found evidence of fraud for  the research for their weight-loss spray. SensaSlim, which is allegedly an intercontinental research institute based in Geneva, claimed they had strong weight-loss results from 11,000 voluntary users of its spray.

The ACCC made its first move last week without notice to SensaSlim, effectively freezing the company’s account while it contained $282,000 after it demonstrated strong evidence of fraudulent conduct being engaged in by SensaSlim; including the allegation that the Geneva-based ‘Institute’ that had reportedly conducted the study was fictitious.

Australian newspaper “The Age” questioned SensaSlim about photographs that were allegedly SensaSlim executives – After the discovery that they were in fact medical practitioners at a Minnesota Lung Clinic, and questioning by The Age the photos were later changed.

The ACCC contends that it appears that SensaSlim has perpetrated a calculated fraud and had to date extracted some $6 million for ‘area managership’. As a result, SensaSlim’s were refused their cross-application for release of part of the funds.

Since the action taken by the ACCC against SensaSlim,  The Age has also revealed that law firm Slater and Gordon would also bring legal representation against SensaSlim, which could see SensaSlim facing a $4.2 million class action by more than 70 people for misleading them in to buying a franchise to sell the bogus “weight-loss” product.

A Brief Timeline

A more in-depth look at this time line is viewable at the Victorian Skeptics website.

September 2010

  • SensaSlim is listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).

January 2011

  • The CRP receives an anonymous complaint about SensaSlim.

March 2011

  • The CRP meets to consider the anonymous complaint lodged about SensaSlim. The determination is not favourable, but the CRP gives more time for SensaSlim to respond despite their attempts to contact them and subsequently does not publish their determination.
  • Dr Ken Harvey lodges a complaint with the CRP about SensaSlim.
  • The CRP publishes their determination on the anonymous complaint on their website. Within one hour the determination is removed from the CRP website after receiving representations from SensaSlim claiming that they had not received an invitation to respond to the allegations.
  • The CRP decides to withdraw the determination and give SensaSlim more time to respond.
  • SensaSlim demands that Dr. Harvey makes no further comment against them and threatens legal action.

April 2011

  • The Supreme Court of New South Wales acknowledges receipt of a Statement of Claim by SensaSlim Australia Pty Ltd against Dr. Harvey.
  • The CRP sets aside making determination on the Dr Ken Harvey complaint against SensaSlim as the CRP is unable to make determinations for products if there is current legal action.
  • A recent newsletter from SensaSlim to its distributors discusses the legal action against Dr Harvey:

Peter O’Brien didn’t accept such a fate but together with his lawyers found a way to defend the company. This defamation action, which could be in the courts for a year or two or even longer, basically gives an iron clad protection that nobody can raise a complaint against SensaSlim to the CRP and hurt us.

The Streisand Effect

The recent scrutiny of the company stems from a Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. SLAPP‘s are intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost and time of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

Because of the SLAPP, SensaSlim has invoked “The Streisand Effect“, so named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence (amongst 12,000 other residences) and sue the aerial photographer inadvertently generated further publicity – and as a result 420,000 more people visited the website.

A notable occurrence of libel abuse was in 2008 by the British Chiropractic Association against Simon Singh who criticising their activities in a column in The Guardian. The result was a filing of formal complaints of false advertising against more than 500 individual chiropractors within one 24 hour period, with one national chiropractic organisation ordering its members to take down their websites; and in April 2010, Simon Singh won his court appeal for the right to rely on the defence of fair comment. Two weeks later the BCA officially withdrew its lawsuit, ending the case.

While initially, SensaSlim had sanctions imposed against them after an anonymous report about their product,  recent legal representations by SensaSlim and against Dr. Ken Harvey to gain their product more shelf time have led to further investigations – and a lot of negative publicity.

Instead of accepting their demise for their fraud, SensaSlims’ insistence has now led to further scrutiny, their assets frozen, and legal action against them. It is likely they will lose more than they have made.

Australian Skeptics are taking pledges of financial support for Dr. Harvey, should that need arise. The latest information is made available at Australian Skeptics.

I highly recommend reading.

Reproductive Health in the Philippines

The Philippines has had the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill in the news for quite some time now. While the majority who read this will NOT be in the Philippines, you may at least have an understanding of the issues after reading this – But, for those who are in the Philippines, and for those that are against it – I implore you to at least read the document for yourself; take some time to think about it; read it again – and reconsider your stance. put together their top 10 reasons for passing the bill (the full text here):

  1. Protect the health & lives of mothers
  2. Save babies
  3. Respond to the majority who want smaller families
  4. Promote equity for poor families
  5. Prevent induced abortions
  6. Support and deploy more public midwives, nurses and doctors
  7. Guarantee funding for & equal access to health facilities
  8. Give accurate & positive sexuality education to young people
  9. Reduce cancer deaths
  10. Save money that can be used for even more social spending

RH BillYou can read it (15th Congress – House Bill 4244 (full text, final consolidated RH bill, HB 4244) here, broken down in easy to manage sections.

While there is general agreement about its provisions on maternal and child health, there is great debate on its key proposal that the Filipino taxpayer and the private sector will fund and undertake widespread distribution of family planning devices such as birth control pills (BCPs) and IUDs, as the Philippines government continues to disseminate information on their use through all health care centers. (wikipedia)

The stated purpose of the RH Bill, according to the Explanatory Note, is that population of the Philippines makes it “the 12th most populous nation in the world today”, that the Filipino women’s fertility rate is “at the upper bracket of 206 countries.” It states that studies and surveys “show that the Filipinos are responsive to having smaller-sized families through free choice of family planning methods.” It also refers to studies which “show that rapid population growth exacerbates poverty while poverty spawns rapid population growth.” And so it aims for improved quality of life through a “consistent and coherent national population policy.” (wikipedia)

With reason, and rationality, the Philippines can advance towards being a prosperous nation; one that is sincere in its approach to the health and well-being of its citizens. But, it takes informed citizens to make good choices about what they support; hopefully this helps.

More can be found from under the RH Bill Tag, which includes:

Lying for a Cause” – covering some of the vehement propaganda used to scare Filipinos in to voting against the RH Bill;

Fudging Numbers” – A look at the false representation of numbers by Anti-RH Groups ;

Accusation of black propaganda boomerangs on CBCP” – A look at an announcement that was posted on Facebook, asking pro-RH Catholics to avoid receiving Communion until they have confessed their sin of being pro-RH Catholics.

Aljazeera features RH debates in the Philippines — again” – A brief look at Media Coverage of the RH Bill, and it’s 16 year delay; and

Women’s Day: 11 more women will die today” – A look at how Eleven women die each day from maternal complications; when most do not even want to get pregnant, and from those who do, certainly have no wish to die while giving life.

Name that Fallacy: The “Dr. Oz” Edition!

First of all, it’s apparent from asking friends of mine, not many know who Dr. Oz is — So if you want to know – Google him. 😀

That being said, Steven Novella from the SGU Podcast (and of course the Neurologica Blog) was invited on to his show recently. And what WAS the video being from that show on YouTube was removed due to Copyright Violations.

And so, I will post what I completed as my draft when I WAS going to play “Name that Fallacy!”


00:00-00:15 – Fallacy of Presupposition

The Introduction comprises of rhetoric that includes “Why your doctor is afraid about Alternative Health!”. This is a Fallacy of presupposition as it is not proven, or agreed to that Doctors are afraid of “Alternative Health”.

Additionally, Dr. Oz asks Dr. Novella a question, which he answers. Right after Dr. Oz answers, the introduction cuts to a scene where two women are nodding. To me, they appear much more surprised than what I would expect given Dr. Oz’s statement – So, what I am suggesting that the clip was not an actual reaction to Dr. Oz’s disagreement, but to a different statement all together.

02:27 – False Attribution

“You’ve Shown You’re not Afraid..” – The audience’s opinion – the public in general – is irrelevant; The General Public is not qualified, nor an authority on Alternative Medicine, or Medicine.

02:28 – Appeal to Antiquity

“Time honoured Traditions of Alternative Medicine” – Asserting that Alternative Health is correct because it was long held to be true.

02:37 – Appeal to Emotion via Appeal to Gender

In practice rather than rhetoric, the very fact that Dr. Novella is juxtaposed against a FEMALE Cardiologist who uses Alternative-Medicine will appeal to the emotion to some women. Dr. Novella will be portrayed as oppressive – As is a common notion in this segment. I’m giving it the name of “Appeal to Gender”.

03:55 – Fallacy of Composition / Ad Hominem via Poisoning The Well / False Analogy

Dr. Guarneri stated that “And certainly, I don’t think today we could call Nutrition, Alternative Medicine; or Exercise, Alternative Medicine”. By phrasing her argument in this way, Dr. Guarneri invites the audience to commit a circumstantial Ad Hominem on anyone who considers Nutrition or Exercise Alternative Medicine. However, this is largely irrelevant — because it is a false analogy.

Neither Nutrition or Exercise are considered Alternative Medicine. However, two of the other modalities she mentioned are – Acupuncture, and Prayer.

So, what does Dr. Oz say: “Well, that was a pretty compelling argument”.

Seriously?! – That wasn’t an argument at all, Dr. Oz. Dr. Guarneri made a statement about her job, said she suggested Alternative Therapies to her patients, and implied Dr. Novella thought that Nutrition and Exercise was Alternative Medicine.

If anything, I should be adding a Fallacy of Composition to her list, as it is fairly evident that she believes that because most of the advice she passes to her patients is, hopefully, is good & evidence-based advice, that ALL advice she gives is good & evidence-based advice – Actually, I will.

04:52 – Red Herring / Appeal to Emotion via Pragmatic Wishful Thinking

Dr. Oz makes it clear why he uses Alternative Medicine:

“it gives folks, my patients, me – a customized tool, that I can use, that benefits me.”

It is crystal that Dr. Oz uses Alternative Medicines on the basis that he, and his patients BELIEVE they gain something from a “customized tool”, not that they ARE gaining efficacious results from doing so.

07:13 – Straw Man

Dr. Oz responds to Dr. Novella with “I totally disagree  – that these have not been studied, and some evidence found to support them”.

This was not the position of Dr. Novella.

Dr. Novella make it clear that his opinion was with the evidence, and that the evidence demonstrated through research (studies, trials, etc) that many oral Alternative Medicines do not work for the ailments they are commonly suggested use.

07:30 – Red Herring / Appeal to Emotion via Appeal to Motive.

Dr. Oz changes the topic from evidence of Oral Alternative Medicines towards what he considers to be the “bigger” problem Doctors have with Alternative Medicine. The way Dr. Oz frames the statement implies that doctors feel they do not have complete control over their patients healthcare and therefore is this is their motive for being against Alternative Medicine.

10:28 Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Dr. Guarneri concludes via Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc that because her patients used Acupuncture and reported feeling better that acupuncture needles were causal in her patients’ relief.

10:40 – Ad Hominem via Poisoning The Well

Dr. Guarneri completes her statement that Poisons the Well “That’s the Hippocratic Oath”. Again, anyone opposing her viewpoint is implied to not agree with this statement where this is not necessarily the case.

10:42 – Oz Just being an Ass.

I found it unnecessary for Dr. Oz to pass the commentary on to Dr. Novella, only to AGAIN interrupt his response.

11: – Strawman

Dr. Oz (never got to finish due to removal of video)

11:45 – False Attribution

Chinese Medicine (never got to finish due to removal of video)

12:00 – Strawman

“Can’t Possibly Work” (never got to finish due to removal of video, though from memory Steve Novella gives an awesome fallacy-smackdown to Dr. Oz, making the point that he DID NOT SAY that alternative medicines CAN’T POSSIBLY WORK, and continued pointing out that he said he had carefully reviewed the evidence.)

14:10 Ad Hominem

Dismissive (never got to finish due to removal of video)





Vaccinations, The Flu, and You.

Winter is on it’s way, and with it the encouragement for the public to get Flu Vaccinations. Many higher-risk public-sector workplaces are offering the service free to their staff, such as Public Transport Services and Hospitals.

Importantly, everyone should have a clear understanding of Herd Immunity. I found as video that demonstrated it well, although the introduction is a bit boring as it has more to do with the USA rather than Australia. The video can be found here at a previous post.

Sydney’s Northern Beaches recently experienced the effects of a reduction in Vaccination rates (The Manly Daily), which I wrote about at the time. It’s a topic that needs to be frequently covered, as anti-vaccination propaganda that gets passed around eventually finds someone who will take it as fact.

It’s worth nothing that some anti-vaccination websites promote “natural” immunisation methods .. such as simply allowing your children to get sick; sometimes herd immunity or germ theory was rejected all together, usually both, and more often than not they dismiss any documentation without reading it. Anti-science rhetoric is common.

Let’s look at some of the common themes of Anti-Vaccination Groups:

Ingredient Misinformation

Ingredients are generally the first “line of attack” for Anti-Vax proponents. The information they give ABOUT their claims is generally factually incorrect and is often recited verbatim without any fact-checking performed. It is because these concepts are so ingrained it is often difficult to demonstrate through evidence that their knowledge is incorrect.

Anti-Freeze – FALSE!

The “antifreeze” error comes from a misunderstanding of the ethylene chemical compounds – all that is ethylene is not antifreeze.

Formaldehyde – TRUE!

Vaccines utilize formaldehyde that is identical to the substance found naturally in our bodies as a metabolic byproduct of methanol. It is commonly excreted in our urine as waste or converted into formalin.

Formaldehyde in our bodies = H2CO (natural)
Formaldehyde in vaccines = H2CO (synthetic)

Formaldehyde has other uses and is changed to be used in conjunction with other synthetic chemical compounds. These compounds, solutions, gasses, or resins can be, and often are, toxic.

Formaldehyde in embalming fluid = H2CO+CH3OH+CH3CH2OH+solvents
Formaldehyde in plywood = H2CO+NH2CONH2+CH3OH+HCOOH+H2O

Thimerosal – Depends! (On which Vaccine)

Thimerosal is a preservative that is used in the manufacturing process of some vaccines and other medicines to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi, which could otherwise cause illness or injury.

Most anti-vaxers will claim that the amount of mercury that used to be in vaccine exceeded EPA exposure guidelines. However, Thimerosal metabolises into ethylmercury, not methylmercury. The guidelines are specifically for methylmercury, as ethylmercury has a half-life of only a few days to about a week, thus is not considered dangerous enough to regulate. You will literally get more exposure to mercury from a 6oz tin of Tuna.

In addition, Thimerosal has not be used in the MMR vaccine since 2002 and was removed due to political pressure as part of a recommendation, not a regulation. Despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, resulting in exposure levels lower than anytime in the past, autism rates have not declined, suggesting that there is no connection between thimerosal and autism.

Baby Foetuses – False!

This was simply scare-campaigning and not true in the slightest.

Aluminium – True!

Vaccines contain aluminum in a salt form. Anti-vaxers claim this is toxic, and some will cite that 4ppm will cause blood to coagulate. However, individuals are not exposed to such amounts of aluminum in a single vaccination visit. Below are the vaccines containing aluminum, with the corresponding parts per million (ppm) for an infant (~251 mL of blood in the body) and an 80lb. child (~4000 mL of blood); note the two numbers for DTaP represent extreme ranges of aluminum content.:

ppm (w/v) = (weight in grams of sample/volume of sample in mL) * 106
Vaccine ppm in infant ppm in child age received (in months)
DTaP (170mcg) .677 .043 2, 4, 6, w/ final ~4-6 yrs
DTaP(625mcg) 2.490 .156
Hep A .996 .063 12 w/ final ~6 mo. later
Hep B .996 .063 birth, 1 or 2, final at 6+
HiB .896 .056 2, 4
HPV .896 .056 11 or 12 yrs., then 2, 6 mo.
Pediatrix 3.386 .213 2, 4, 6 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and Hep B)
Pentacel 1.315 .083 2, 4, 6, 15-18 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and HiB)
Pneumococcus .498 .031 2, 4, 6, 12-15

Safety and Effectiveness

Measles, United States 1950-2001

After false claims about ingredients, the argument often falls towards Safety and Effectiveness. Essentially stemming from a lack of knowledge in statistics – specifically, gathering, analysis, and interpretation.

Statistically, the information from numerous data-sets demonstrates that vaccines are, in fact, effective in reducing the incidence rate of infection.

Improved socioeconomic conditions have undoubtedly had an indirect impact on disease. Better nutrition, the development of antibiotics and other treatments have increased survival rates among the sick; less crowded living conditions have reduced disease transmission; and lower birth rates have decreased the number of susceptible household contacts — all factors accounted for.

The only suspected issues Vaccines occur if a child has a rare, hereditary, mitochondrial disorder that pre-disposes them to a reaction – and even for this, the supporting information is not currently conclusive, nor strong. There is a test available that checks for this disorder.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Interestingly, the published speculation about a link between Vaccines and Autism was made specifically about the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine; this information was lated investigated and found to have been manufactured by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues.

The Paper was initially published in the respected medical journal The Lancet but later retracted after an investigation found Dr. Wakefield had several ethics breaches, including failure to disclose financial compensation from a lawyer representing families claiming MMR cause their children’s autism, failure to disclose financial interests in patents for MMR alternatives, failure to include data which contradicted his conclusions, use of contaminated samples to support his conclusions.

On May 24, 2010, the General Medical Council issued a determination that Wakefield was found guilty of professional misconduct and should be erased from the Medical Register in the U.K. (meaning that his license to practice medicine in the U.K. has been revoked).

And again, to date, no rigorous, controlled study has shown a causal link between vaccines and autism.

Vaccines are injected into the bloodstream  – False!

This claim stems from a lack of knowledge about anatomy, specifically – the lymphatic system. Vaccines are either injected subcutaneously, injected intramuscularly, given by mouth, or squirted up the nose.

Since subcutaneous and intramuscular vaccines are injected directly into the body, and antigens and other components are taken into the bloodstream via the lymphatic system (in order to spur antibody production through hyperstimulation of the Th2/humoral response) without passing through our ordinary immune defences.

At this point, no vaccines are recommended for injection into your bloodstream via the intravenous method. The CDC Pinkbook includes a Vaccine Administration section (Appendix D Page 5), which demonstrates the correct route of administration for each vaccine.

Conspiracy Theories

By the time Anti-Vax proponents get to this stage they have already exhausted their Ingredient & Efficacy arguments; arguments that are subsequently used  time and time again, despite being proven to be false. Usually, it is clear by this point that they have these beliefs because they have been personally affected by some infection, serious disease, or death and are looking for Agency. (Something/someone to blame).

Generally, it starts with the allegation that “Big Pharma” is poisoning your children, or you. The “evidence” cited is often not evidence at all, rather it is rife with innuendo and references to “consumerism”, or “corporate america”.  The claim involves everyone from manufacturers, governments, regulators, and health professionals.

Most challenges are met with ad hominem attacks of “You’re a Big Pharma Shill”, or claims you’re part cover-up of the information.

Ironic, given the names of some of these “informed choice” advocates. One, calling themselves the “Australian Vaccination Network” or AVN was ordered by the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission to clearly identify themselves as Anti-Vaccination based on the information that the AVN was:

  • provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
  • contains information that is incorrect and misleading
  • quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.

I am willing to make it clear that there are justified concerns with Big Pharma. However, the allegation of a deliberate attack on the public isn’t supported by anything; most importantly, the statistics. It is purely a tactic – a Red Herring – something to take the argument towards how “terrible and greedy” pharmaceutical companies are, as if that was enough to proven that vaccines were dangerous.

Regardless of the conspiracies, the statistics demonstrate vaccinations work.

Additionally, Anna Kata in the Department of Anthropology of McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario released a paper, A postmodern Pandora’s box: Anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet set out to examine and analyze antivaccination websites. In which she analysed information contained in Eight-Antivaccination sites, selected through Google searches that were used to identify the highest-ranked anti-vaccine sites using typical search strategies.

Her paper can be found here:


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