Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Equine Cranialsacral Therapy 1

Think of a woo being promoted for humans, and it's a sure bet that there's someone (or a whole bunch of them) promoting it for horses as well. Such as CranioSacral Therapy.

Craniosacral Therapy (the human sort) argues that

Life expresses itself as motion. At a deep level of our physiological functioning all healthy, living tissues subtly "breathe" with the motion of life - a phenomenon that produces rhythmic impulses which can be palpated by sensitive hands.

The originator of this belief, Dr William Sutherland, believed that this "rhythm" was expressed through movement in cranial sutures.

He undertook many years of research during which he demonstrated the existence of this motion and eventually concluded it is essentially produced by the body's inherent life force, which he referred to as the "Breath of Life." Furthermore, Dr Sutherland discovered that the motion of cranial bones he first discovered is closely connected to subtle movements that involve a network of interrelated tissues and fluids at the core of the body; including cerebrospinal fluid (the 'sap in the tree'), the central nervous system, the membranes that surround the central nervous system and the sacrum.

He believed he could detect three separate rhythms (or "tides" as he preferred to call them): 8-12 cycles per minute, 2.5 cycles per minute and 1 cycle per 100 seconds.

The emphasis in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is to help resolve the trapped forces that underlie and govern patterns of disease and fragmentation in both body and mind. This involves the practitioner "listening through the hands" to the body's subtle rhythms and any patterns of inertia or congestion. Through the development of subtle palpatory skills the practitioner can read the story of the body, identify places where issues are held and then follow the natural priorities for healing as directed by the patient¹s own physiology. The intention of treatment is to facilitate the expression of the Breath of Life and so enhance the body's own self-healing and self-regulating capabilities.

This sort of magic woo (which doesn't treat anything but relies on "self-healing" yet which can cure all sorts of conditions) can be easily transferred to animals, including horses.

It is the palpation of the cranial wave that the practitioner tunes into. It is extremely beneficial with problems located in the TMJ area, head shaking, head traumas and other restrictions through the horse’s body. By releasing these restrictions in the cranial system, healthier function and optimal movement can return to the equine athlete's body. [...] Twists can happen in the dural tube that encases the spinal cord, similar to the twists that occur in a telephone cord. The body then ceases to function optimally, eventually affecting the horse's biomechanics, performance, behaviour and health. The practice of equine craniosacral work requires sensitive and exceedingly light finger pressure being placed at various positions on the horse’s body. These handholds are maintained for a period of time during which the horse starts to relax and release tensions that are being held onto by it.

Regardless of which site you go to, they all seem to be copying from the same song sheet:

The head connects to the hind end through the spine, spinal cord and dural tube. The dural tube is a protective sheath that encases and protects the spinal cord. Over time, an injury to the hind end can effect the head and an injury to the head can effect the hind end. Twists can happen in the dural tube which encases the spinal cord, similar to the twists that occur in a telephone cord. The body then ceases to function optimally, eventually effecting the horse's biomechanics, performance, behavior and health. The practice of equine craniosacral work requires sensitive and exceedingly light finger pressure. When an injury or trauma occurs, it gets 'stuck' in the tissue of the horse's body and is stored in the tissue's cell memory until released.

Maureen Rogers (who modestly describes herself as a "pioneer") is an equine craniosacral practitioner who is heavily promoting this woo in EoR's home state.

Equine Craniosacral work is a holistic healing practice, which uses extremely light finger pressure to optimise body movement. When applied correctly, this gentle and subtle technique can be highly effective in addressing a number of conditions in the horse. These conditions include : TMJ(D)-temporomandibular joint dysfunction, head, spinal and hind end injuries and traumas, emotional problems, facial nerve paralysis, lameness, tinnitus(ringing in the ears), blocked tear ducts, castration, cribbing, and many others.

EoR wonders how you assess tinnitus in a horse, or how gentle pressure on the skull resolves castration (quite apart from the fact that there's no direct connection between the skull and scrotum, do the testicles grow back?).

Ms Rogers has published an article on Craniosacral Therapy in hoofbeats (though that's hardly a reputable journal any more, and it's accompanied by a halfpage advertisement for Ms Roger's courses and DVD) which basically repeats the same information on her (and others') websites, including the unwinding phone cord analogy. Information such as:

CranioSacral work traditionally specialized in the head, spine, and sacrum, but it is not limited to those areas, nor is it limited to the physical.

Not only can she manipulate the nonphysical, her physical skills are the equivalent of some very precise expensive measuring equipment, with practitioners able to feel variations (remember, this is in a living, breathing, moving animal) down to 0.04mm:

The measurable amplitude of the cranial wave (a discreet, muscular pulsation delivered by the cranial bone) is between 40 microns to 1.5 mm.

Even detecting the upper limit of 1.5mm in an animal that is notoriously difficult to get to stand absolutely rock still is an amazing feat.

She also states the common altie lie of signs the magic du jour is working. The horse demonstrates that the magic is "taking" by showing the following indications:

may be licking and chewing, yawning, lowering of the head, shifting the weight around on the back feet, stomach gurgling, a change in the breath as in a deep sigh, and softening of the eyes and ears.

Just about every horse standing around for any time, even if left alone totally (ie no "intervention" of any sort, no matter how noninvasive or gentle) will show exactly these signs. They are normal physiological signs in any horse. They are not proof of magic energy meridians being realigned and selfhealing, except in the delusional mindset of the believers.

Ms Rogers is willing to teach you how to do it yourself which only takes 16 days in total. You will learn about things such as tissue unwinding in the legs, bone energetics, palpitation of spirit and the various forms of energy work.

Most of EoR's readers by now are probably shaking their heads in disbelief. They would be in good company. William T Jarvis, PhD, points out:

The entire field of scientific neurophysiology, with all of its high-tech instrument, has not yet observed the fundamental rhythm, but cranial osteopaths can feel the small pulsations of the skull with their finger tips.

The Skeptic's Dictionary states:

When tested, several therapists were unable to consistently come up with the same measurements of the alleged craniosacral rhythm.

Quackwatch points out:

In 2002, two basic science professors at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine concluded:

Our own and previously published findings suggest that the proposed mechanism for cranial osteopathy is invalid and that interexaminer (and, therefore, diagnostic) reliability is approximately zero. Since no properly randomized, blinded, and placebo-controlled outcome studies have been published, we conclude that cranial osteopathy should be removed from curricula of colleges of osteopathic medicine and from osteopathic licensing examinations.

Finally, the British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment has conducted a Systematic Review and Critical Appraisal of the Scientific Evidence on Craniosacral Therapy. The overall conclusions are:

This systematic review and critical appraisal did not find valid scientific evidence that craniosacral therapy provides a benefit to patients. Research methods are available which could conclusively evaluate craniosacral therapy effectiveness. They have not been used to date. The available health outcome research consists of low grade of evidence derived from weak study designs. Studies conducted in the 1970s reporting acceptable interrater reliability scores for assessment measures used by craniosacral therapy practitioners have not been verified by more recent research using stronger study protocols. This casts doubt on the existence of the underlying phenomenon being measured, or on practitioners’ ability to measure it. Adverse events have been reported in head-injured patients following craniosacral therapy.

Of course, like any altie woo, believers, by definition, want to believe. They want to believe that the magic works. They want to believe that they care for their animals. Facts are the last thing they want to hear, since they are so often destructive of their misplaced and incorrect beliefs. But at least they'd have more money to spend on real therapies.

Craniosacral Therapy page at Evidence Based Medicine First.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Recent Autism Books

The Guardian recently reviewed a number of books on autism either by people with autism, or mothers of people with autism. After an inauspicious start ("As many as one in 166 people today may be diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder" - the reviewer runs autism websites, an autism newsletter, and is "writing a book on autism" and should know better) the article improves.

Send in the Idiots, or How We Grew to Understand the World is by Kamran Nazeer, who started life in a special school.

At the time, he could not speak a word. He is now a high-powered policy adviser in Whitehall. This book records his travels around the United States more than 20 years after his schooldays, to see what has become of some of his former classmates. These turn out to be fascinating encounters.

The Jumbled Jigsaw: An Insider's Approach to the Treatment of Autistic Spectrum 'Fruit Salads' by Donna Williams looks at autism from the autistic's perspective.

Those who have read any of Donna Williams's previous eight books will know that she is one of the most articulate and perceptive writers on autism today. She is also autistic herself, and was found to have an IQ of just under 70 at the age of 26, putting her in the "mildly mentally retarded" or "intellectually disabled" range. According to her father, she did not talk for weeks at a time. In her latest remarkable book, The Jumbled Jigsaw, Williams presents autistic spectrum disorders as a whole range of often untreated underlying conditions which can combine to form a "cluster condition" or "fruit salad". One fruit might represent information-processing issues, another identity and personality issues and still another self-help skills. Her professed aim is to dissect the label of autistic spectrum disorder so that it may never be seen in conventional terms again. She hopes that, by correctly identifying which underlying conditions affect early childhood development in an "autistic" way, we should be able to produce a plan of action setting out which types of help are going to work best for which people. She looks at the "toolbox" for fixing problems - and rightly condemns those practitioners who recommend an expensive, one-size-fits-all biomedical approach. She notes, however, that it is equally absurd to maintain that nutritional medicine, or allergy testing, can have no medical benefit to people with autism.

She also relates one of the most telling examples of how autistic individuals can be harmed by preconceptions:

She cites the striking case of a man with autism who had been taught the alphabet for 14 years in a special school before he finally told the teachers that he wanted to learn about art history and physics. When asked why he had continued for so long to give the impression that he had severe learning difficulties, he explained that, as they had assumed him to be incapable, he had given them exactly what they had expected.

Marti Leimbach's Daniel Isn't Talking relates the mother's perspective on life with an autistic child.

Most parents of autistic children, like myself, will recognise elements of Daniel's behaviour: he is a Houdini-like escape artist, will not let his mother touch him, is a fussy eater, has an obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, has frequent ear infections, is tormented by loud sounds, from barking dogs to doorbells, and is appeased during shopping trips only by being plied with sweets. And above all, like so many children with autism, he is lovely to look at. Melanie points out that mothers who claim that autism is not a disability but a "difference" must have a high-functioning child, not one who smears their own faeces on the carpet and rocks back and forth in silence. In contrast, she describes life with a severely autistic child as "hacking out a jungle with a scythe".

Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir of Asperger's and an Extraordinary Mind by Daniel Tammet is written by an autistic savant.

Like many people diagnosed with autism (or, in his case, Asperger's syndrome), Tammet needs very strict routines: he eats precisely 45 grams of porridge for breakfast every morning and counts the number of items of clothing he is wearing whenever he leaves his house. Again, like many people with Asperger's, he has poor physical co-ordination and finds it difficult to handle the social processes involved in making friends - although he does have a partner, Neil, a software engineer. Yet it is Tammet's outstanding mathematical and linguistic talents which make him particularly unusual. He can perform impossibly difficult mathematical calculations instantly and can recite pi to 22,514 places from memory. He also speaks 10 languages - he even learnt the fiendishly difficult Icelandic in a week.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Spammer Fined $5.5 Million

Never mind Australia getting noticed overseas for the outspoken utterances of Sheikh Hilarity, computer users everywhere should be rejoicing at the successful prosecution of Perth based spammer, Wayne Mansfield.

East Perth-based business seminar promoter Clarity1 Pty Ltd and its director, Wayne Robert Mansfield, have been fined $5.5 million for sending unsolicited emails, the first fines to be issued under the new Spam Act.

Sadly, in EoR's opinion, the fine did not go far enough and Mr Mansfield was not jailed and he was allowed to keep his testicles.

Nonetheless, like all true conmen and scammers, Mr Mansfield is entirely unrepentant.

In April, Mr Mansfield told WA Business News it was business as usual following the decision, and declined to say whether an appeal was likely.

According to a report in The West Australian, Saturday 28th October 2006, Mr Mansfield "faces financial ruin" (EoR doubts it, these sort of "entrepeneurs" regularly pop up with new scams, and they're usually not the ones who lose money). Indeed,

Mr Mansfield's Business Seminars Australia fell into liquidation in March 2004 owing creditors more than $206,000. This year he set up Blast! Into 2007 and 272 Corporation.

So it seems it's pretty much business as usual, and why not, when the same attitude that leads people to believe in alternative therapies (EoR is surrounded by True Believers who insist reiki "works, but only if you believe in it") leads to them responding to clearly dubious email.

Wayne Mansfield of Perth said spammers remained in business only because it was profitable. He said he would defend what he believed was his right to use the email addresses culled from Australian websites using automated software. "Every day, people buy from that list," Mr Mansfield said, referring to a list the Australian Communications Authority, acting on thousands of complaints, has asked the Federal Court to shut down. Mr Mansfield said the number of people who act on spam "is staggeringly high".

More from a witness in the trial.

Vastly Shifty

A news item from Wired: if you're not practicing the principle of vastu shastra you'll have a sad lonely website that no one will visit.

Thirty-year-old Smita Narang is rapidly becoming one of India's hottest Web designers. Her method: applying vastu shastra, the Indian counterpart of feng shui, to the online realm. The process entails mapping page attributes - HTML, colors, graphics - to elements like fire, water, and air. "Any disturbance of these established elements can cause an imbalance in the site that directly affects its business," Narang says.

The only problem EoR has with this is, as Wikipedia points out,

Though Vastu is conceptually similar to Feng Shui in that it also tries to harmonize the flow of energy (Also called Life-force, and Prana in Sanskrit, similar to Chi in Chinese) through the house, it differs in the details, such as the exact directions in which various objects, rooms, materials etc are to be placed.

So, should EoR's website he in accordance with feng shui, or with vastu shastra. Or maybe just commonsense?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is Christopher Maurer, from his introduction to Federico Garcia Lorca: Collected Poems (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 2002):

On another occasion, [Lorca] watches one of his friends, the six-year-old son of a goatherd, die a painful death from an undiagnosed ailment:

One day he felt a strange, gnawing pain in his stomach, and was unable to move. His parents attributed it to his having eaten too much green fruit, and left him to his punishment . . . But the pain only worsened . . . An old woman who lived nearby invented a remedy . . . cutting open a live toad and placing it on his stomach, and giving him mule dung cooked up with beetles.

Held down by several men, the screaming child is forced to swallow the revolting mixture. "Opening his mouth, which was full of bloody foam," he gives up the ghost. No consolation is offered to the boy's mother, only sarcasm from the woman who had concocted the medicine: "Such a delicate child! He wasn't fit to belong to a poor family".

Friday, October 27, 2006

Contraception for Lunatics

Natural contraception is embraced in this week's "Mind&Body" of The West Australian which touches on The Billings method. I've heard of the Billings Manual as in "there's a baby in every book". They're in their bassinets, but you get the idea...

Now contraception can be tricky at the best of times - just check out failed sterilization. Unfortunately Billings is contra-feng shui for the bedroom. There's inevitable loss of qi associated with mini-lab installion for saliva microscopy, core temperature recordings and stretch-testing of cervical mucous. A speculum, flexi-mirrored fibre optics, and stirrups bench improves your cervix-spotting hit rate.

If you can stomach sex after all this, bear in mind spit is unreliable, mucous is just satisfactory for the "typical and regular", and the thermometer must be inserted in bed, strictly first thing in the morning. You need to predict signs of ovulation from five days beforehand. Things change fast and those intrepid tadpoles can swim for a week, so it may be simpler to call the astrologer. In the Fallopian tubes no one can hear an egg scramble.

Once you've established you are "unsafe" there's the condom option, but how natural is that? I've never seen a polyurethane tree. Condoms have a failure rate of approximately 11% per annum so pencil-in an annual babyshower within your bookclub circle. Abstinence is somewhat more reliable.

There are days when you really don't feel like it... when you are bloated and snarling with PMT, or when it'll amount to a great bloody mess. Cheer up! Those are the safe days! Tick these on your calendar. Then are times when you're recklessly tempted - to risk fortune and fidelity for a spot of passion. Be warned! These are the dangerous, Abstinence Only, days! Presidents can't hold back, but ordinary mortals are expected to just say no. Cross these days off on your calendar.

Now, thanks to a Dr Eugen Jonas, there's a dark side of the moon. He predicts sex is unsafe on days of the month that correspond to the lunar phase at your time of birth. With the help of a chart (he may sell you one) there are more crosses to mark on your calendar. But remember... it takes two to conceive, so male lunar unsafe days should also be calculated (tricky as sperm is formed about two months before ejaculation, better deny yourselves a few more days).

I'm figuring this eliminates about 20 days per month, which leaves about eight days of playtime. Now subtract the "headache" days of PMT and MT and you're left with a day or two a month of unrestricted, unfettered gametic partytime... if your stars are right!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

46th Skeptics' Circle

The latest, heavenly edition of the Skeptics' Circle is now available.

Quantum Energy Money Machine

Perth may be the most remote city in the world, but it's on the frontline of medical technology advances. Recently, there's been the e-sell, and now along comes the SCIO.

Many people live with subtle imbalances due to the electro-physiologic nature of our bodies. At Quantum Energy Wellness, these subtle energies are balanced allowing the body to heal itself. Barriers to health are overcome with the help of this extraordinary SCIO biofeedback device.

This magic machine must be more powerful than the e-sell. After all, it's got the woo cornerstone word "quantum" in it. And it's all pure science. Well, pure scientific gibberish.

SCIO stands for Scientific Consciousness Interface Operation system. Scio is derived from the Latin = I know. The SCIO is a sophisticated and profound energetic medicine system, derived from the SCIO [Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface]. It incorporates electro-dermal screening, stress testing and biofeedback. It is a computerized system that both tests and balances the body at the subtle energy level. It integrates the sciences of mathematics, quantum physics, fractal dynamics, subspace theory, electronics, and computer programming. The therapies include the following modalities: naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, energetic medicine, psychology, aromatherapy, reflexology, colour therapy, Neuro- Linguistic Programming, biofeedback and Rife Resonator. It also incorporates knowledge of metaphysical subjects to bring a unique synergistic perspective to natural healing.

"It's life, Jim, but not as we know it"!

It gets even better (and EoR is only giving the really really condensed abridged version of this surreal explanation).

The SCIO measures the unconscious of the patient, and provides an interface between the conscious and unconscious minds. The unconscious monitors the total complexity of current and past life experience. Since the conscious mind is aware of only a tiny fraction of this totality of exposure, it is therefore not a reliable source of information of life or disease. The device gathers bio-energetic data from the body via fifty-five parameters simultaneously. This happens at biological speed, which is 1/100th second for each stimulus. This means that thousands of items can be screened for reaction from the body in a few minutes. Imbalances at the energetic or subtle energy level can be an early warning system regarding health status. If imbalances go uncorrected, eventually physical symptoms will erupt, and health problems and disease develop. As well as being an early system of prevention, keeping the subtle energies balanced helps to restore physical energy.

"Biological speed"! That sounds really impressive, even if it is totally meaningless (like the rest of the explanation).

In addition the SCIO has the capability to transmit approximately 50 different corrective energies to help the body establish energetic balance for health and well being. This includes locating and unblocking the flow of energy, zapping pathogens, biofeedback, stimulating repair processes, stimulating detoxification, desensitising allergies, reducing stress, balancing emotions, balancing chakras and more.


The SCIO is a sophisticated, biofeedback system, which is designed for stress detection and stress reduction. It does NOT diagnose any clinical diseases.

Right. So, regardless of the amazing quantum biological speed of assessing past life diseases and rebalancing pathogenic chakra allergies, it only works on stress? This seems to be the only overt (and still fairly well hidden) disclaimer on the site. Elsewhere, amazing claims are made.

Biofeedback and energetic healing have been shown to improve a variety of conditions including: depression, anxiety and fear, ADHD, autism, constipation, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, arthritis and much more.

No. They haven't been shown to have any such effect, except perhaps in the credulous mind of those who rely solely on testimonials.

Each page seems to have a different explanation of how the miracle machine "works" (perhaps they're hoping people will be so numbed by this nonsense they'll eventually believe one of the quack marketing claims?).

The SCIO scans the body and assists in detailed assessment, helping to correct the body via homeopathic bio-resonance and auto frequencies.

If you believe this hype, you don't even need to come to the woomeister for your regular ongoing treatments:

Being able to scan and treat an individual from anywhere in the world is one of the most unfathomable ideas imaginable proposed by Dr. William Nelson. But time after time, it has been shown to work with great accuracy. When an individual is born, they have a very specific energy about them which makes them truly distinct in the quantum world. By having the person's full name, date of birth, and place of birth, distant therapy can begin. This amazing technology allows the SCIO to find an individual anywhere in the quantum world. Similar to dialing up a friend on a mobile phone, subspace allows you to dial into any individual at any time, with their permission.

It's quantum astrology!

It must work. They've got the most impeccable of references. Yes, they've seen a copy of What the bleep do we know?. EoR's seen Star Wars, but it doesn't mean it's all true.

How much would you expect to pay to have your health revolutionised by this gift from god? $A250 per treatment (or make a bulk booking of 10 sessions for only $A2100). That's one of the most expensive prices EoR's seen to have a nice little lie down for two hours that EoR's seen since, well, the last such ripoff.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Intrigued by advertisements on the radio for "e-cell", a product that "rejuvenates cells" and aids "the body's own healing process", EoR sent off for the free DVD (EoR enjoys a good fantasy DVD, and these sort of things are certainly that). The DVD arrived along with a 24 page document extolling the virtues of this machine.

ecell in action

As you read this post, remember some of the standard signs of a magic woo machine: they're invented by lonely geniuses in the face of all current (failed) research, they're based on NASA research (who, nonetheless, fail to invent these devices), they work through improbable methods that are usually discounted by science, they achieve miraculous results, and they cost exorbitant amounts.

The inventor of the e-cell modestly describes himself as "A Technical Genius". Jeff Edwards is "an award winning technology developer" who has worked for many organizations including "Molecular Pharmacology Ltd, Omni LifeScience, Genesis Biomedical, Gobal Energy Medicine, OBJ and Intellect Australia". It should be noted that many of these companies seem to be far from independent employers of Mr Edwards. He also touts Colltech, an ovine collagen extraction company which he opened and which he claims is worth $10 million dollars.

Molecular Pharmacology Ltd was a company that was originally a mining exploration firm and then suddenly changed name and moved into the magic woo machine market. It has yet to earn any income. Its President, CEO and director is Jeffrey Edwards.

Global Energy Medicine distributes "energy medicine" products such as the e-cell and the e-light. These are both woo machines "based" on NASA technology.

Remember the dot com bubble? Just because you can set up multiple companies and list them on various stock exchanges doesn't make the "products" they're selling real or effective.

We also apparently have Mr Edwards to thank for EFTPOS. It seems the banks were about to give up on this concept when Mr Edwards,

Working with IBM, Jeff developed an encryption code that uses two separate microprocessors that ran in parallel but only spoke half the language each. [...] The banks gained confidence in this system and inter-bank electronic transfer was switched on... EFTPOS was born.

So what does this constant urge to set up entrapeneurial companies mean?

Does this now give you some confidence that the person behind this project is so credible and ethical that the device he has developed for injuries to bone and muscles does work? Jeff is dedicated to improving the health and well being of mankind.

Well, since you asked: No. But let's read on...

The e-cell is based on NASA technology. Even better, it's based on abandoned NASA technology.

NASA consulted with one of America's leading orthopaedic specialists, Emeritus Professor Basset of Columbia University. [...] Initially Professor Barret and his team connected electrodes to human bone. Passing electic currents directly through bone appeared to stimulate growth. However, after a few problems with passing higher levels of energy than a living body can tolerate, it was decided to use electromagnetic induction technology. This enabled the passing of low energy currents direct to the body's bone cells. After some limited success the project was suspended.

So how did Mr Edwards advance this failed research to create his miracle device? He came up with a unique concept - getting scientists to talk together!

Jeff called together a group of scientists to brainstorm their ideas on how to get the body to respond more effectively at the cellular level. There were five of them.

EoR can visualise it now... The world's top scientists rushing to a boardroom in Australia at Mr Edwards' command. White coated figures pacing the floor. Coffee gone cold while equations are scrawled on blackboards. Reams of butchers' paper for the brainstorming strewed over the floor...

Who were these top five scientists? Strangely, four appear to be anonymous, magnanimously refusing any accolade from their supreme achievement (the exception is the fifth "scientist", Mr Edwards himself, who reminds EoR of the fifth Beatle). In fact, they're so unassuming that they don't even appear to have published any of their discoveries and, obviously not wanting to shame their colleagues, don't wish to embarrass them by forcing them to go through the painful process of peer review.

The other members of this Illuminati-like quintet are:

A Physiologist - Senior Sports Physician for the Australian Olympic team and member of the International Olympic Federation.

Which Australian Olympic team? Diving, water polo, archery, athletics, etc etc?. There's no such thing as a single Australian Olympic team.

One of the world's foremost Biochemists.
A Protein Physiologist - Specialist in protein physics and expert at the cellular level.
A muscoskeletal rehabilitation expert.

Of course, these secluded, shadowy figures easily achieved what no one else has.

Fantastic Success!
They found the direction that needed to be taken. Jeff got down to working at the mathematical level. He consulted with many mathematicians and medical experts around the world in this field at a number of universities. The task he undertook was to convert the brainstorming concept into a physical reality.

So what is this amazing breakthrough? Jeff's glad you asked...

What is this amazing Breakthrough!!
Jeff and his team of scientists made a fantastic breakthrough... they found out how injured cells respond... the answer is too complex to explain here, but the short answer is, they respond best to exercise.

Phew! EoR feels the need to rest after that amazing Breakthrough!! Thank God Jeff didn't give the "complex" explanation. It might have been too much for the world to take.

Skipping eleven pages (mainly testimonials, claimed muscoskeletal conditions the e-cell will treat, and a claimed 96% succesful clinical result based on a user survey which is worth less than the paper it's printed on) we come to how the e-cell actualy works. The e-cell itself looks like an optical mouse, and is the same size, but it has one vital ingredient that the optical mouse doesn't. SIM cards.

SIM cards for health

Therapy Cards Are the Brains Behind the e-cell
Jeff broke the signals down to have them coded onto a Therapy Card (similar to the SIM card in your mobile phone) and grouped them into each joint or injury area. [...] The appropriate therapy card is inserted into the e-cell which programmes the internal microprocessor. The processor then transmits appropriate signals to the area under treatment. [...] The Technology in e-cell is based on an internationally patented triple waveform process that incorporates simulated movement sequences. [...] Each pulse contains variable signals designed to stimulate cellular regeneration and growth.

So, stick in the "appropriate" therapy card, velcro the mouse-thing to the afflicted area, and the magic code simulates 30 minutes of exercise without doing anything at all! Now, you might just think this is patent bullshit (just like all the disproven "exercise while you rest" machines), rather than patent technology, but you would be mistaken...

Why Can't You Feel Anything?
Whilst some people do feel a slight tingling sensation, the energy fields are so low that most people feel nothing at all.

The claimed frequency of the e-cell is 72-75Hz.

The accompanying DVD, while not a patch on the glossy Dore effort EoR looked at recently, clarifies a couple of points. Yes, the e-cell works on your qi (well, that would explain why science has missed this amazing breakthrough until now, given that qi has never been shown to exist), and yes, there are plans to expand its application potential beyond just muscoskeletal injuries in the very near future...

This amazing piece of nontechnology is available not at the regular price of $A1,295. but at the vastly reduced, limited time only, offer of $A697.

You'd have to be mad to pay that much when you can get the same frequency effects by sticking an optical mouse to your sore bits (plus you'll get the added advantage of the magical acupuncture laser redlight woo).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Traditional Wisdom

We all know how alties are big on "traditional wisdom" - what they consider the time-tested and true way to holistic health and happiness. This is invariably juxtaposed with "Western" medicine as an evil, child-killing pharmaceutical conspiracy interested solely in money.

Joanna Moorehead in The Guardian recently looked at pregnancy and childbirth in two countries, Sweden and Niger.

Statistically, Dahara, who is 26, has a one-in-seven chance of dying during her reproductive years as a result of a pregnancy-related complication or infection, or childbirth injury. Her baby son, lying here on the table, has a 15% chance of not reaching his first birthday and a one-in-six chance of not making it to the age of five. And Dahara is fortunate to have had the skills of a midwife like the cheerful Insa: across the country, only 16% of deliveries are attended by anyone with any training at all.

That's in Niger. In contrast,

the dangers for Swedish women are minuscule in comparison with the risks for mothers in Niger. Carmen's chance of dying as a result of childbirth over her lifetime is one in 29,800 (Dahara's, remember, was just one in seven). The risk of Tess dying in her first year is one in 333. In Sweden, 100% of births are attended by a skilled, trained midwife. Overall, it is the safest place in the world to become a mother.

Women in Niger are expected to remain silent during childbirth, fathers do not attend the birth, and colostrum is not given to newborn babies.

Breastfeeding, for example, saves many babies: but the tradition here is that mothers don't give colostrum, the first milk, because it looks yellow and they think it's bad. Once you get the message across that this is the best milk, that it can protect their babies from disease, they get on with it and give it.

Which is hardly the health paradise the alties think the modern world is preventing us all from enjoying.

Monday, October 23, 2006

AD/HD For Dummies

Is this real? EoR means, is it a legitimate book (the title is definitely listed on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk). He just feels a little unedgy with the description of the authors:

Jeff Strong (Lamy, NM), an adult living with ADD, is President of the REI Institute, a music-medicine research center focusing on people with neuro-developmental disabilities, including those with ADD/ADHD. Michael O. Flanagan, MD (Lamy, NM), is the director of several ADD clinics in New Mexico.

The table of contents includes chapters on "Narrowing in on Nutrition, Vitamins and Herbs", "Examining Repatterning Therapies" and "Recognizing Rebalancing Therapies". The first chapter (AD/HD Basics) seems to be reasonable until discussing treatment options.

The most conventional treatment methods for AD/HD are medication and behavior modification. Both are useful and effective approaches, but many other types of treatment can work wonders with the right person.

Some of these treatments suggested include "nutrition and supplements" and "herbs and homeopathics". Has anyone anywhere "treated" ADHD by homeopathics? Successfully, that is.

The REI Institute claims

REI was borne out of ethnomusicological research REI creator Jeff Strong began in the early 1980’s. For over a decade Mr. Strong immersed himself in time-tested rhythmic techniques, studying with traditional practitioners from around the world. He then extracted the core mechanisms of these techniques and began researching them in a controlled setting. After years of clinical and scientific research - including several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies - Mr. Strong and the REI Institute research staff identified hundreds of rhythmic combinations that correspond to specific behavioral and cognitive symptoms.

Strangely though,

The symptomatic changes vary from person to person. Although we can’t predict the degree of change you’ll see using the REI Therapy Program, research has shown improvements in many areas

So, this is a therapy that is so effective that the practitioners have no idea whether it will work or not, or what effect it may or may not produce? In EoR's view, that's not a therapy, that's just a collection of random data.

There are a couple of "research" papers on the site (they don't appear to have been peer-reviewed or formally published) including this one:

Rhythm-healing is based upon the theory that specialized rhythmic drumming patterns can influence the internal rhythmic patterns of the individual and correct those which are thought to be out of synch and causing illness. Specific rhythms, when administered correctly, may be used to affect the emotions, pain levels, nervous system function, and organ function. This technique has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions. Rhythm-healing has been practiced by indigenous societies in West Africa, Central America, North America, South America, and the Caribbean.

EoR wouldn't consider that a "theory". It may be a hypothesis, but it seems a pretty wayout woo-influenced one (which doesn't mean it isn't real or provable, just that it seems to be based more on tropes such as "traditional" and wishful thinking rather than evidence).

Mr Strong claims his placebo-controlled trials can produce anxiety reduction that is up to 90% "effective" (whatever that means). Unfortunately, he doesn't state where his studies have been published (of course, EoR suspects strongly that they haven't) nor does he even give details of these studies so they can be assessed. He does, however, offer to sell his special ADHD and autism reducing CDs to you.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is William Shakespeare, from King Lear Act One, Scene 2:

Edmund: This is the excellent foppery of the world: that when we are sick in fortune - often the surfeit of our own behaviour - we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by neccesity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves and treacherers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of stars! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon's tail and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Futt! I should have been that I am had the maidenliest star of the firmament twinkled on my bastardy.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Woo Products Satisfy Shonky Standards

EoR welcomes the announcement of this year's winners of the Australian Consumer Association's Shonky Awards.

Notable and deserving winners include the "Pigs Can Fly Shonky" awarded to the Life Miracle Magnetic Laundry System. Yes, the power of magnetism will make your whites whiter than white, magically lighten the weight of your wallet, and probably draw out all your power of thought as well.

Add these two magnetic balls to your washing machine instead of detergent - so the promise goes - and they’ll clean your clothes with "nature’s most powerful force". If they meant ‘water’ by that, we’d agree - washing with the balls and plain water had about the same cleaning effect as washing in plain water alone [...]. Why you’d want to add $80 worth of magnetic balls to the water is one of life’s true miracles.

The "Shonky for a Lot of Hot Oxygen" went to our old friend, which is making quite a continuing splash for itself, Oxygen4Life.

Feeling tired? Run down? Flat? Then you could drink 10ml of this product’s "bio-available oxygen" once or twice a day and "keep your body topped up with oxygen" for "enhanced quality of life". Or you could breathe - which is widely regarded as the platinum standard for oxygenating your blood. And it’s much cheaper too: the 250ml of de-ionised water, Atlantic sea salt and "bio-available oxygen" that make up OXYGEN4LIFE cost us $55. At least after being talked to by the NSW Food Authority, the company has revised its labelling and removed a number of health claims.

Friday, October 20, 2006

No Evidence But The Money Keeps Rolling In

Last Sunday's Background Briefing covered Alternative Money Spinners:

They are called herbal medicines, or complementary, or alternative - but many of them are not useful and may be harmful. At the very least you are likely to be wasting money. There are legal ways in which open debate is discouraged.

A couple of EoR's favourites got coverage, including Oxygen 4 Life (which EoR has previously covered in warnings to pharmacists about it and its ludicrous claims.

Background Briefing has Latrobe University's Dr Ken Harvey rightly calling Oxygen 4 Life's claims "spurious".

It's been proven not to work in the sense that firstly that we absorb oxygen from the lungs, not from the gut; secondly, complaints about those claims have been submitted to proper authorities and the claims have been held to be spurious. So it doesn't work, yet the guys keep on claiming it, and they keep on making money and in fact they even produce more products, more recently, to make more claims.

The director of the Australian distributor claims tests proving its efficacy, but it's "tests" in the minimally qualifying sense of that word: there are only two, one of which is statistically insignificant, and the other used only 2 people, both of whom are athletes.

The other product looked at in length is Gingko biloba in cases of tinnitus and, specifically, Tebonin (EoR has previously covered Schwabe Pharma's Big Altie use of the legal system to crush any outside investigations of Tebonin's efficacy).

As you heard, and will hear more about in today's Background Briefing, there are a wide range of views on the use and effectiveness of alternative medicines. Scientists, doctors and 'quack-busters' often deride them. Alternative practitioners say their treatments are effective where Western medicine is not. But public access to information and debate about some alternative therapies can be difficult. Things may be 'commercial in confidence', or injunctions can be taken out to stop publication of certain material. The infamous SLAPP writs (that stands for Strategic Legal Action Against Public Participation) are still around. Often just a threatening letter from a lawyer will intimidate people enough to stop further questioning.

University of Otago, New Zealand, Associate Professor Cynthia Darlington points out that tinnitus is a major disease:

There's a high incidence of anxiety and depression, and suicidal ideations in people who suffer from chronic tinnitus that is perceived as being very loud.

Since Gingko biloba has been used in cases of neural damage, she looked at its effectiveness in cases of tinnitus.

After rigorous analysis of the literature, Cynthia Darlington found no evidence that Ginkgo Biloba can help people with tinnitus.

Blitzing pharmacists, Schwabe pushed its Gingko biloba product, Tebonin. When the studies of Gingko biloba and its effectiveness were questioned by Auspharm Consumer Health Watch, Schwabe didn't address their concerns, nor did they instigate more rigourous trials. They took Auspharm Consumer Health Watch to court and won their case (but not on scientific grounds):

Astonishingly, it wasn't the content of the report that was deemed at fault, it was the fact that they had sent a draft to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The judge found that this might mean that the TGA, as regulators, would not be able to make an independent judgment. Part of the Judge's injunction closes off any future publication of any similar report by Auspharm.

Cynthia Darlington explains the way alternative therapies are promoted:

Well I'm afraid the evidence isn't so good. Part of the problem I think with studies of many of the natural remedies that have been around for a long, long time, I mean Ginkgo Biloba has been in use for 5,000 years in China, and I think one of the problems is they come in to pharmacology through the back door. You don't have the stringent testing that you have for drugs that have been deliberately developed. So they get on the market and there's a folklore around them. And that is certainly unfortunately what I have found in my review of the Ginkgo Biloba literature, is that there are a lot of studies, but when you actually read the studies carefully they're not particularly good and there are only a very few studies that have been performed properly, that is, using good scientific method, good experimental design and from those studies the results have been less than really exciting.

The reporter states

Cynthia Darlington and her colleagues at the University of Otago applied the principles of evidence-based medicine and found there is no proven benefit in taking Tebonin or other Ginkgo Biloba extracts.

EoR must take exception to this finding: there is a vast proven benefit in taking Tebonin, and it relates entirely to the income stream it generates for the alternative pharmaceutical company.

Pharmacists are on thin ice in promoting the plethora of alternative products they stock, but meaningful sanctions don't exist for offenders against what regulations do exist.

By and large, complementary or alternative medicines are regarded as low risk. All the TGA does is check they're safe, and not breaking any advertising rules. It doesn't check to see if they work.

The regulator refuses to take previous offences into account when a complaint is made, every complaint being a one off with some companies becoming repeat offenders since the sanctions provided are ineffectual.

So if the regulator isn't checking herbal products to see if they work, who is? Well, no-one. The Federal Health Department says it does random and targeted audits of the evidence held by drug companies for the effectiveness of their products.

Dr Ken Harvey again:

I have no problem that there is much more to medicine than swallowing chemicals, that the more holistic approach, the interaction of the physician or the health worker and a patient, spiritual aspects etc., these are obviously all important, harder to measure together. But we're not really talking about that in the promotion of these complementary medicines. These are sponsors that are taking herbs that are quite often simply isolating the particular herb, sometimes combining two or three, and they are promoting it as a Western medicine according to Western scientific traditions, and therefore I would argue that they need to be evaluated by those traditions.

Clearly, Schwabe Pharma is unswayed by criticisms, and published a newspaper article in Australia this week, in the format of a news article, claiming

scientifically and clinically proven in numerous published studies [...] Many scientific studies on EGb 761*, including numerous human clinical trials have led to the acceptance and success of the Gingko biloba extract.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Nothing Works Like Homoeopathy.

EoR has been browsing the website of Brauer, an Australian manufacturer of homoeopathic medicines. Whether Brauer actually believes their own hype, or they're simply concentrating on the commercial aim of selling their various products, they certainly don't hold back in their claims:

Symptoms are not an illness. They are signs that your body is out of balance and is attempting to correct itself. The word symptom comes from the Latin word for "signals". Conventional medicines could possibly suppress or mask the symptoms, and this suppression may lead to chronic disease that becomes harder and harder to deal with. Homoeopathic medicines work with your body to stimulate the body's own response to overcome the illness. It is the more complete form of healing that comes from your body's own resources that will give you better relief from your symptoms.

Forgive EoR for being slightly dull (it's all that stuffing in his head, you understand), but doesn't that mean:

Conventional medicines suppress symptoms (= BAD)
Homoeopathic medicines "overcome" the illness (= GOOD)
They do this by giving you "relief from your symptoms" (= CONFUSED)

Nonetheless, the homoeopathic medicine is far superior to that dangerous stuff your doctor will prescribe for you.

EoR is a little concerned with the useful advice that oral homoeopathic remedies may be "diluted with a small amount of water". Wouldn't this increase the dosage? Wouldn't every person estimate "a small amount of water" differently? How many people are being rushed to hospitals with homoeopathic overdoses because of this unthinking and, frankly, dangerous advice? Why aren't these tragic cases being recorded somewhere so the consumer knows the real toll inflicted by these vague instructions?

Brauer also state their products should be stored "in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight, perfumes or other strong smelling substances". Yet, strangely, the FAQ advises:

Because of the tiny amounts of active material in Homoeopathic products, Brauer medicines will not affect the activity of any other medication, and nor will other medications affect the activity of the Brauer product.

So, merely being near a strong smell could do untold (and unspecified) damage, but they can mix freely in the human body, with all the substances they might encounter there, as well as other medications with absolutely no harm to their magic powers. This is simply bad fiction.

Elsewhere in the FAQ Brauer state that you can take multiple homoeopathic medicines,

but if using more than one Brauer product at a time it's best to leave half an hour between the doses of the different products.

What happens in that half hour? Does all the powerful homoeopathic energy from the earlier ingestion somehow dissipate? EoR would ask how, but he really doesn't want to know what sort of studies determined this particular time limit (since they probably involved some occult ritual at a full moon, and the slaughter of various animals). EoR isn't joking about that magic energy. It's a wellknown, proven phenomenon involved in all disease processes.

When we are healthy, the levels of energy in all parts of our body are in perfect balance. When our inherited disease potential is triggered, the body responds by shifting some of this energy to the area where this trigger has been received. For example, in the case of hay fever, more energy is shifted to the eyes, nose and throat

Brauer also distribute a handy little brochure through pharmacists, entitled Your Guide to Homoeopathy which EoR really enjoyed and found highly illuminating. For instance, did you know that

Homoeopathy is a holistic system of medicine which uses micro-doses of biological, botanical and mineral substances.

See! In the wonderful pre-science world of the homoeopathist, "botanical" and "biological" are entirely different constructs, and "no dose" is equivalent to "micro-dose". We are also assured that the magic dilution principle of homoeopathy means

A homoeopathic treatment for hayfever may contain trace amounts of pollens and/or grasses.

That's "may contain" in the same sense that a lottery ticket "may" be the winning one. If you buy a few million bottles of your homoepathic medicine you just might get one with a trace (ie an atom) of the active substance.

The brochure ends up with the usual pharmaceutical style warnings to give the impression that these things actually are real medicines, such as not taking them with food and the warning about storing them near nasty smells, but EoR's favourite injunction is

Children under 12 years of age should take half the recommended adult dose.

Therefore children should only take half of nothing until they are 12. Then they are obviously considered strong enough to take a full dose of nothing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

World Menopause Day – Oct18. Time To Celebrate Or Still In The Red?

How should such a day be recognised? Hysterically, by the burning of rags? But nowadays it heralds a period of such heavy lo$$ you'll flush at the fuss you made on tampon tax and be tempted to insert money instead. Forget spotting feminine hygiene items in the supermarket - you'll be flooded with fish oil, vitamins, minerals, alkaline supplements, hesperidin, soy protein, aniseed, black cohosh, vitex, dong quai, wild yam, Koren ginseng, maca, passionflower, red clover, sarsaparilla, tribulus, liquid zinc and chelation drops at the naturopath-pharmacist-witchdoctor's. And when your purse dries up and you suspect you've been royal-flushed, you'll swing back to your regular protection, the GP. Though ultra-thin on magic, doctors can knock up a super-reliable script that “doesn't address the underlying problem” but absorbs symptoms so bloody well you can depend upon keeping fresh day and night.

Now this life-changing date may have passed unnoticed but for Mind&Body's intimacy with day-of-the-month. So "thank you" to The West Australian newspaper for alerting us to alternative methods of discharging money. The protection may be invisible, may be natural, but you sure cramp as your cash haemorrhages away.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Diagnosis A Veterinary Skill

Equine Dentists in Victoria are up in arms over proposed new legislation which they assert will restrict their activities. Section 4 of the proposed Veterinary Practices Act 2006 states:

4 Restricted acts of veterinary science
(1)The following acts of veterinary science are declared to be restricted acts of veterinary science for the purposes of the Act:
(a) examination of or attendance on any animal
the examination of or attendance on any animal for the purpose of diagnosing the physiological or pathological condition of the animal, including for the purpose of diagnosing pregnancy in a horse, but not for the purpose of diagnosing pregnancy in any other animal

The dentists believe this will stop them treating horses, and have organised an email campaign. EoR, however, wonders whether it could be interpreted more widely, and stop altie magicians practicing their particular brands of magic on horses in an unrestricted manner? In the UK it is illegal for anyone to treat a horse without it first being seen by a veterinarian (of course, in reality, this means that the woomeisters still treat the horses since the vets don't want to lose their clients, but at least a proper diagnosis is made first - the clever vets now offer homeopathy, acunpuncture, etc and thus provide a one-stop shop and get extrac income as well) but in Australia there is no such requirement. EoR is aware of horses that are regularly treated by alternative methods in the strict sense of the word - the veterinarian is never called.

Of course, the alties could probably argue that they never "diagnose" anything, and certainly not "physiological or pathological" conditions - preferring instead the "energetic" or "emotional" or "spiritual" conditions as they like to do in order to cover their lack of knowledge and incompetence.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tai Dow

EoR is confused. Tai Dow (the "science of optimum health") is

the ancient Chinese healing wisdom-Tai Dow- a revolutionary breakthrough to change your life

Yet Master Feng founded this system:

Tai Dow is the first of it's kind, to combine the best of ancient wisdom and Nobel Prize wining [sic] research to free your mind and body. It's a simple, unique and almost effortless technique.

So, just how "ancient" is ancient in the altie lexicon?

Tai Dow is endorsed by a doctor. Oh, hang on, it's a "doctor" of chiropractic. Yet another altie weasel word.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kalmykia: Land Of Dreams

Kalmykia has a number of claims to fame. It is "Europe's only Buddhist self-governing republic". The president of the republic, Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov, is also president of the World Chess Federation. And it also appears to have a strategic defense initiative to rival the US Star Wars project, and at a fraction of the cost.

"Irrespective of what I tell people," Ilyumzhinov said, "I give them instructions on a subconscious level. I am creating around the republic a kind of extrasensory field."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I See You Getting Cancer In The Future

Dr Peter Dingle's column in the West Australian's Mind&Body supplement for Tuesday, October 3, 2006 is fairly unremarkable in that it's his usual tirade against chemicals, telling us we're poisoning all our children, accompanied by pushing of incomplete research as support for his assertions. EoR's eye was caught, however, by the following:

Research is proving the toxicity of these chemicals. Many studies, including some of our own research and other Australian studies, show that the higher the use of chemicals in the home, including cleaning chemicals, the use of spray cans and pesticides, the higher the incidence of childhood disease, such as asthma and allergies.

EoR is a bit bemused by this lumpenproletariat of "chemicals". Should we remove all all chemicals from the home? It would leave things a bit bare. And if "some of our own research" is proving his claims, doesn't that mean some of Dr Dingle's research is contradicting it? Do we have selective sampling here? Also, the cause of asthma and allergies may, in fact, be the clean environments resulting from the cleaner homes we have now, and the subsequent lack of exposure to allergens, not the chemicals themselves. But the really interesting part is the next paragraph:

In a few years when the research is complete, it will also show an increase in children's and adult's cancer rates.

Okay, so we have no real definition of what Dr Dingle is talking about (just "chemicals"). Reporting of only affirmative studies. Sensationalism about poisoning children, and now cancer as well. But how on earth can Dr Dingle already know the outcome of incomplete research? Does his agrarian, non-"chemical", toxin-free lifestyle enhance his psychic powers? Why is he even bothering to do the research if the outcome is already known?

Sometines, EoR despairs about the populist scientists who have no understanding of (or, at least, no apparent desire to follow) the scientific method.

45th Skeptics' Circle

The latest and greatest sounds in skeptical blogging can be found at Inoculated Mind.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dingling The Toxic Alarm Bells

The ABC's local current affairs program, Stateline, seems to be getting as sensationalist as the commercial equivalents. Last Friday we had a scare story about our food: Food additives - Just how dangerous are they?. In turn we had three experts: an author who has written a book on food additives (that's "author" in the sense that anyone can self-publish a book), a spokesperson for Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and our old favourite, toxicologist Dr Peter Dingle.

JULIE EADY (AUTHOR): That made me look a little further into foods and that's when I got really worried and I suppose, outraged when I found out we've got over thirty food additives we're still using here in Australia that have been banned in the US, the UK, most parts of Europe for many many years because of their links to cancer and other serious health problems.

In order to present "both sides of the story" and, presumably, to provide "balance", FSANZ got a minute or two of the whole segment. Here's the whole bit from them:

It's been raised that these things are banned overseas and there's two types of ways that happens. Firstly, it'll be a food additive that has no use overseas. The other thing too is that occasionally in the US if a substance is ever been found to cause cancer, even in really really high levels then it can't be use as a food additive. They have this sort of historical accident.

LAYLA TUCAK (REPORTER): Lydia Buchtmann is from Food Standards Australia New Zealand and she says Australia has very stringent standards.

LYDIA BUCHTMANN (FOOD STANDARDS AUSTRALIA NEW ZEALAND): It's our job to make sure the food supply is safe and do remember we actually eat the food as well.

LYDIA BUCHTMANN (FOOD STANDARDS AUSTRALIA NEW ZEALAND): Our testing techniques for safety are the best in the world. Our scientists, if fact our scientists are often over at the World Health Organisation, they're giving advice, we're very well reknowned for our safety here in Australia.

No other specific (or, often, nonspecific) assertions by Ms Eady or Dr Dingle were addressed. The last half of the segment featured Dr Dingle's messianic frothing proclamations:

You know it's funny, all motivational texts will tell you what you focus on is what you get so we've focussed on calories, carbohydrates and fat and we now have the most overweight, obese and diabetic population ever.

Does that make any sort of logical sense to EoR's readers, because he certainly can't understand the connection between motivational speakers and rising diabetes numbers. Dr Dingle also has some other original observations. For example, we can solve all our health problems through nutrition alone:

There is no doubt that diet can be linked with virtually every disease, virtually every disease and whether it's one percent of the cause or ninety nine percent of the cause and in many cases I see the ninety-nine percent cause. You know, I see the cases where you've got obese kids with diabetes with all the ramifications and effects of diabetes including cardiovascular disease, etc etc. Or you see the kids who are on these incredibly processed diets and they've got a high, extremely high ADHD rates and everyone's going oh der I wonder why? I mean look at their food, it's crazy. The food is definitely contributing.

Dr Dingle's coherent solution to the problem?

I think busy-ness is the worst disease of the 21st Century, it's killing us and our kids. We have to stop and cook our foods, not all of them, but cook our own foods and make them nutritious without all the numbers added.

More dingling can be found at Dr Dingle. EoR wonders why Dr Dingle uses computers. Doesn't he realise how many toxic chemicals they contain, and how many toxic chemicals are used in their production?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Vegetable Horror

Never mind Jesus in a piece of toast, or Mother Teresa in a muffin, here's the real thing: Cthulhu in a parsnip.

Will the owner auction this holy relic on eBay? Surely the Miskatonic University would be willing to bid on it?

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Dore Evangelism

EoR has been bemused by the Dore program's incursions into Australia before. Now The Times has published an article purportedly by a spokesman for the Dore people, rugby player Kenny Logan: "How T Tackled 30 Years of Shame". EoR won't bother you with the full story (it's pretty standard stuff: "my life was a misery until I discovered the [insert quackery of choice] therapy program which was a miracle in every aspect of my life"), but there are one or two interesting points. EoR could be accused of being overly suspicious, but the whole thing reads like a press release from the Dore people themselves, and he really wonders whether Kenny Logan actually wrote it.

Research suggests that poor development or damage to the cerebellum can impair development of the language skills necessary for learning to read and write, but it doesn’t affect intelligence.

That's either written by the Dore people, or Mr Logan copied it out of their propaganda.

And it’s not just young people. An 83-year-old woman went on the course saying: "All I want to do is read before I die". She can now speak three different languages.

That's the same story Wynford Dore himself tells on their propaganda DVD in virtually the same words. Who's channelling whom here? Chris Tregenza at Myomancy is also suspicious of Mr Logan's motives:

Kenny Logan is now 34 and at the end of his playing career so I wonder if Kenny is promoting himself to help him onto the pundit circuit or if he is being paid by DDAT / Dore? The Times article certainly implies that he was dealing directly with Wynford Dore which isn't normal for DDAT customers.

These sort of unproven approaches rely heavily on testimonials, and Dore USA has an amazing two from "professionals", one of whom is Kenny Logan. Well, he's a "professional" in the sense that he's a professional rugby player. Certainly not a health or learning professional. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's like getting a professional electrician to solve your plumbing problems. When EoR visited the site, the first paragraph had him also thinking he had dyslexia, and needed Dore's help immediately:

Copy here to describe Professionals. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diem nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut lacreet dolore magna aliguam erat volutpat. Ut wisis enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tution ullam corper suscipit lobortis nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis te feugi facilisi.

EoR's brain is going! Everything he tries to read seems like junk Latin!

The Dore program, however, is not a money-making exercise. It seems it's a charity:

We have subsidised everybody who has gone through the programme around the world - had we charged the full cost of providing this service folk would have had to pay substantially more than they have up until now. If the similar tests were conducted at a private hospital to those we carry out it would cost in excess of £5,000, just for the tests alone.

Yes, there are some tests undertaken at the beginning of the program, but the bulk of it seems to be things like standing on a wobble board or catching a ball. This claim of losing money seems to be stretching bounds of credulity.

Mr Logan is also discussed at I Speak of Dreams.

Monday, October 09, 2006

What's good for the quack is not good for the doctor

Recently the Australian newspaper reported, in scandalized tones, that a doctor practising nutritional medicine, had been on-selling Vit E to patients at a healthy profit ($10,000 of Vit E sold for a total of $100,000).

Around my own bridle paths, I noticed response from doctors varied: awe (he got away with it?), sympathy (driven to it - underpaid), disdain (unprofessional practice), disgust (snake-oil salesman) and envy (why didn't I think of that?)
What the doctor did isn't actually illegal, but it doesn't look nice. Victoria's medical practitioners' board called it unprofessional conduct: "the doctor should not gain financial advantage by selling alternative therapeutic substances directly to patients." As for prescription medicines - these can't be sold by the doctor. To avoid conflict of interest, the doctor may prescribe but a pharmacist provides.

Now, where is the outrage re other "health professionals"? Where are headlines on naturopaths, herbalists and homeopaths who order with one hand and vend with the other? What windfalls are amazing nutrients, miracle herbs and magic waters generating?

Critics complain doctors receive inducements to promote pharmaceuticals, but these are of paltry value due to self-regulation by Medicines Australia. Viagra's self-raising calculator is cute, but a $10 gift ceiling usually makes for a marginally decent biro or mildly embarrassing brolly.

On the other hand, Big Altie's dispensers are enjoying their hayday. I heard a back-of-the-stables rumour of substantial inducements offered to a GP (afflicted with an altie-friendly diploma) to endorse and sell neuraceutical products. He refused.

The worry about doctors receiving kickbacks to sell alternative medicines has led to an ACCC investigation, "with a view to the ACCC recommending a code of conduct similar to that applying to pharmaceuticals". This would block bribes to doctors - now how about to so-called "health professionals"?

The Blob Is A Martian (And Homeopathy Is A Science)

Eor laments the lack of critical thinking skills being taught these days, which leaves a huge hole for all sorts of altie silliness to fill.

While a better understanding of science is important, it's not possible for everyone to understand everything about science. Richard Dawkins recently pointed this out

Not everybody can evaluate all evidence; we can’t evaluate the evidence for quantum physics. So it does have to be a certain amount of taking things on trust. I have to take what physicists say on trust, for example, because I’m a biologist. But science [has] a system of appraisal, of peer review, so that I trust the physics community to get their act together in a way that I know from the inside. I wish people would put their trust in evidence, not in faith, revelation, tradition, or authority.

It seems in this advertising-inundated, spin-controlled world that people no longer no the difference between an assertion, a fact, a hypothesis, a theory, evidence and plausibility.

Take the following syllogism:

All martians are green.
Klaatu is not green.
Therefore Klaatu is not a martian.

This, at least, has the virtue of being logically correct. Klaatu, since he is not green, cannot be a martian. It also demonstrates the truth that a logical statement does not in any sense have to be a factual statement. In terms of assessing evidentiary value, both logic and facts have to be established. Premisses may be true or false. Nonetheless, so much altie nonsense doesn't even result from this level of logical rigour. Take the next syllogism, which is clearly logically fallacious:

All martians are green.
The blob is green.
Therefore the blob is a martian.

The blob may be a martian. The blob may also be a plant. Or anything else that is green. This same sort of illogic frames many altie concepts. The same sort of syllogistic error (though different terms are used to build the conclusion) produces the following "proof":

Parasites cause disease.
Cancer is a disease.
Therefore parasites cause cancer.

On such flimsy efforts are multimillion dollar "therapeutic" enterprises and book publishing careers built. Which leads us to the ultimate altie syllogism:

All statements are true. All statements are false.

A common altie complaint to refutations of their many and varied claims is "How do you know? Are you a [insert specialist regime of your choice - extra marks for demanding multiple specialties]?" (neglecting to mention that the promoter of the product in question very probably isn't either). This is a valid complaint, since none of us is expert in everything (not even Deepak Chopra or Gary Schwartz), but we can be rigourous in assessing the fundamental basics of claims, their compliance or otherwise with well established facts and principles, and the truth (in the logical sense) of their claims.

Further resources:
The Critical Thinking Community
Critical Thinking Web
Critical Thinking Mini-Lessons

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Healthy Food

The alternative brigade are always pushing healthy, natural, wholegrain food and fruit for a more natural and disease-free lifestyle. Of course, this concept is based in large part on wishful thinking and lack of evidence. Nonetheless, the purveyors of products never miss an opportunity to draw the gullible and the uninformed in.

The Australian Consumers' Association recently looked at Cereal Bars, those healthy snacks full of wholegrains and fruit, and low in evil fat.

Unsurprisingly, they found that

Cereal bars, muesli bars and breakfast bars may have a healthy image but most of them are more than 20% sugar, and some deliver more saturated fat than a packet of chips. What’s more, even the ‘fruit’ in them can be a sham -- a laboratory creation of chemicals and sugar.

EoR, however, can't see what the problem is with "sham" fruit (usually fruit puree). Doesn't that make it even healthier than actually having fruit? Surely these sort of confectionaries are popular with homeopaths?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Veterinary Science Making Giant Strides Backwards

Dressage Today is a reasonably straightlaced equine magazine, with woo only ocassionally creeping in at the edges, but the October 2006 issue has nearly two full pages of woo, sadly. Worse, it's by a vet. Worse, it's by Ingrid (daughter of Olympic rider Reiner) Klimke's personal travelling vet (also the vet for the German Olympic team). Strangely placed in an article on "Ingrid Klimke explains her long-range plans for developing young horses into fit, supple and happy individuals" - it seems the only reason to put the two together is that Dr Gösmeier travels around with Ingrid giving lectures and clinics on her magic treatments and selling her books.

Dr Gösmeier's bio in the magazine states

After qualifying to practice veterinary medicine and kinesiology she sought training in TCM, studying in Switzerland and China.

Oooh... Kinesiology... And Switzerland seems a strange place to study TCM. Wouldn't that be the place to study TSM (Traditional Swiss Medicine)?

According to this world famous vet

Every horse is a combination of the five types - wood, earth, fire, metal, water - and each type is linked to an organ and reflects a wide range of characteristics. [...] Because a horse's type never changes, it is very helpful for prognosis and treatment plans.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't say how to determine your horse's "type" (maybe a body tap or lumbar puncture to see which element comes out?). EoR also wonders whether, if your horse is a specific type, does that mean it's missing the associated organs for the types it's not?

Dr Gösmeier states that stiffness in the morning may not be arthritis after all:

It may be more of a type conflict; this horse may hate his stable neighbour and will be stiff in the morning from being angry all night.

She also promotes the amazing curative benefits of acupuncture, acupressure and bach flowers. Acupuncture must only be done by a trained veterinarian, she warns (presumably, if you do it yourself, the horse might explode), but you can perform acupressure without supervision. But only if you follow the necessary preparation:

Stand up and rub hands together briskly, first palm to palm and then back to back, followed by 'knocking' each fist firmly against the opposite arm, going up from wrist to shoulder on the inner surface and from shoulder to wrist on the outer arm.

By this stage your horse should be looking at you with a worried look, even if all the people around you aren't.

Bach flowers are good because, like homeopathy,

both are diluted to such a degree that it is difficult to imagine how either could produce any effect at all.

Well, yes, you'd imagine a trained veterinarian would want to question whether they did work or not, given that premiss. She tells us that they are, however, not a cure-all (nor, she points out, is acupuncture):

quite good for treating mental or temperament problems - not illness.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dore: The $4000+ Cure For Learning Disabilities

The Dore program (the therapy created by multimillionaire Wynford Dore to cure a disease that Dore also created - Cereballar Development Delay) has been busy in Australia promoting itself on the basis of its claim to be wellfounded science. The radio runs scare advertisements telling already worried parents that the government has warned them off ADHD drugs (since they cause heart attacks and stroke), they've appeared in reputable scientific journals such as New Idea (a woman's magazine), on television shows, on talkback radio, on motherinc.com.au, as well as the 7:30 report.

EoR has also been viewing their propaganda DVD (go on, order your own copy - it's free and the Dore corporation can certainly afford it) which is pretty much full of the same stuff: some science, a lot of fear and scare, claims to have "the cure" for ADD, heaps of testimonials, and repeated calls for government to fund their business so they can rake the money in from everyone (not just the wealthy who can afford their exhorbitant fees - let the taxpayers donate to them as well).

They also make much of the Parkes Council (that's the same Parkes that has the radio telescope) declaring itself a "Learning Disability Free Zone" and heavily promoting the Dore woo. Apart from the fact that councillors are not scientists and almost certainly have a different agenda and aims in determining what is best for a local community, EoR went along to the Parkes Council website and did a search for "Dore" and "learning disability free". Nothing. Why is the council hiding this groundbreaking event? The 7:30 Report transcript provides details of this wonderful partnership, including a $40,000 trust fund - in effect, a subsidy to get more customers for Dore.

Questions are being asked on various learning disability forums as a result of this media blitz. Amongst frequent comments expressing dismay at the cost, there are also the testimonials that Dore don't include in their advertising material, such as that from Lyn Reeves:

We tried my son who has AS with the DORE program a couple of years ago. It was very expensive and we couldn't claim on any medical insurance or medicare. The program appeared to be simple with just doing simple exercises 10 mins in morning and night. But our son became so stressed with it all, he started developing physical problems and we just stopped the program. Our psychologist stated that it was focusing on what he "couldn't" do and not what he could do. Before we saw the psychologist everyone in the family were doing the exercises so our son wouldn't feel targetted. This didn't work though. Unfortunately I can't say if the program is successful or not, but it wasn't successful for our son at all. The best thing would be is to talk to your psychologist who your child is under and see what their opinion is. Our psychologist stated that this system and AS don't mix well.

It should be noted that Dore is being promoted heavily as a "cure" for Asperger's Syndrome, complete with a "family case history" on the DVD. Lyn Reeves also mentions the cost for initial assessment and a follow-up assessment: $A1150. Elsewhere posters quote costs of $A4600 and (at the 7:30 Report) $A12,000. jwise states $A4000 had to be paid up front, as well as emotional pressure being applied by the salesman ("if I didn't do this for my child, what chance would he have at adulthood").

The Dore technique seems to include techniques more commonly associated with high pressure sales (or even some cults), as petercrispin states:

I am a teacher with a son with preliminary diagnosis of Aspergers. I had a presentation yesterday from the Dore Programme. It was high pressure, what else are you going to do give your child dangerous drugs, etc. I have found out at least one lie and am investigating sources ( people they quote as being supportive).
I have cotacted Proffessors at Unis today and everyone IS SUPER SKEPTICAL. I can not see any evidence that it does anything for ASPERGERS or ADHD.

It should be noted that one of the families on the DVD remarks postively about the constant contact from the Dore people: phone calls and birthday cards.

In passing, EoR was also rather concerned about brain gym being recommended instead of Dore on these pages.

A psychologist at All Kinds of Minds has his doubts as well about the claimed "cure" for dyslexia:

I have yet to see any legitimate independent research group using valid research methods find anything of significance with the Dore method. Since a large part of dyslexia appears (per functional MRI'S [fMRI]) to be related to the phonetic bridge between your visual and auditory processing centers, I don't see how the method has a chance of making a signficant impact.

As for the "cure" for ADD, some people are also less than impressed:

Emma: We tried this with our 10 year old son and spent about a year on the programme. There were some improvements but not of the core ADHD. So would not really recommend it. However, quite a few people I know said their children's dyspraxia and dyslexia improved. Many said it didn't.

tess: Hopefully I will get a refund on the Dore program. All they are doing is introducing EXERCISE into peoples lives.. I can do that on my own.. I have paid $4200 on the program and I am disappointed.. They tell you they give you all the equipment and yet I didn't get half the equipment.. I called them and they told me that some of the equipment they don't provide.. They were able to provide the pilates ball and the wobble board but couldn't provide the tennis ball and the playing cards.. so I have $4200 for what exactly? For some exercises that I may not get any advantage out of.. They stand in shopping centres and con people like me.. I feel so stupid..

Many posters recommend the Learning Breakthrough Program, claiming that Dore effectively took their exercise program from them and commercialised it, and at more than ten times the cost. Perhaps this statement from the Learning Breakthrough site could be interpreted as a sideswipe at Dore Achievement Centres:

The past few years have seen an expansion of "achievement centers" around the world whose research gives the Learning Breakthrough Program as the example of the basis for the development of their offering. We are glad to see others providing the powerful principles that make up our program. While we have no doubt the exercise program these centers provide clients to complete at home each day can have a positive impact, we urge caution to clients who hear claims of a "permanent solution" or "cure". People desperate to find relief from the effects of ADD/ADHD are vulnerable.

Margaret Hardy provides the transcript of the Channel 9 spruiking of Dore:

"They are simple exercises, but they are targeted very specifically at specific parts of the brain where help is needed," says Wynford Dore, from the Dore Achievement Centre. The multi-millionaire British businessman is responsible for the Dore program. His therapy centres put patients through exercises targeting the cerebellum, located at the base of the brain. The Dore program operates on the theory people with learning disorders have a cerebellum which is not fully developed. "We find out where the areas of under-development of the cerebellum are, and the exercises we give target those specific areas of the cerebellum," he says. "Now the Dore group says up to 1 in 6 of us suffers from cerebella development delay resulting in learning difficulties. Yet in many cases, the condition goes undiagnosed," says reporter Lisa Honeywill.

How much bad science can you find in that short excerpt? How are the exercises "targetted"? How is it determined which parts of the cerebellum (not the whole brain - Dore claims all ADHD, AS and dyslexia evils are the result of cerebellar problems) are involved? How is the Dore process a "theory"? Is there a learning disability epidemic (similar but far, far worse than the autism epidemic) if 1 in 6 of us suffers from this condition (in reality, a whole range of conditions, but Dore has helpfully boiled it all down to one). And here are the two viewpoints on this method:

"If I told you I could cure XYZ condition by you standing on your head and scratching and rubbing and you really believed that was true, almost certainly you could improve significantly on what you were worried about," says Dr McDowell. [...] "We've had to beg borrow and steal to do the program ourselves, but the thing is if you're going to have children, you try and do the utmost for those children," says Dennis Chapman.

Which is exactly what Dore is playing on: fear, desperation, and the parents' search for something that might work, no matter how unsupported or how expensive.

The transcript at the 7:30 Report also includes a number of specialists who point out that the research purportedly "proving" this "cure" is unpublished and flawed. Remarkably, even Professor Rod Nicolson (who appears on the Dore DVD in their "Science and Research" segment) is also becoming less supportive:

NATASHA JOHNSON: The original authors defend their study, but Professor Nicolson concedes more needs to be done to answer this question.

PROFESSOR ROD NICOLSON: In my view, the first thing you do is you demonstrate there is some value there. Having demonstrated there is some value there, then you can let the scientists get on and try to tease out exactly what causes what.

Dore, like all alternative therapies with little proven efficacy, cries poor:

NATASHA JOHNSON: Despite promoting the treatment as "proven", medical services collector Glynis Howard admits there's a lack of independent evaluation of the therapy to back up Dore's claims.

GLYNIS HOWARD: They are absolutely right. There hasn't been enough. In my own capacity as a professional, I am frustrated by that.

NATASHA JOHNSON: Don't you think you should do that before you start selling the program for $4,500?

GLYNIS HOWARD: Well, we've got to start somewhere. I mean, how can we do that research when we don't have any money to do it?

No money! EoR ROTFL.

GLYNIS HOWARD: We're not causing any harm.

NATASHA JOHNSON: You are costing parents $4,500.

GLYNIS HOWARD: Certainly and there is no pretence in any situation. Nobody is forced to do this.

No: emotional pressure and claims of miracle cures is not force. Just deceptive.