One of the techniques used by quacks is to attack conventional medicine as being a conspiracy against the laiety.
For example, in an article entitled “GP says vitamins wrongly dismissed as quackery”, a Dr Piesse criticises clinical trials and then outlines how he uses intravenous injections of vitamin C for flu and vitamin B12 for genital herpes.
He claims, “If you had genital herpes I’d give you an injection of B12 and the herpes would heal up within 36 hours” and “If you came to me having had flu for three or four hours, I’d give you a couple of syringes of ascorbate and you’d walk out without the flu.”
He alleges that vitamins are ignored because “they had not met the ‘semi-religious’ tests of validity.”
GP Weekly, 25-3-92
I wish I had an injection that would cure such a breathtaking ignorance of infectious diseases! How many people go to the doctor after having had the flu for 3-4 hours? It would be nothing short of miraculous if an infectious disease could be eliminated by intravenous vitamin C. Who was it who said if a miracle is proposed suspect a fraud?
Of course genital herpes could heal up within 36 hours of an injection of vitamin B12 but only if it was due to heal anyway. Any other effect from these injections is obviously mediated by the placebo effect, which is very strong from injections.
If this doctor thinks that he is on to some fantastic advance in the treatment of infectious diseases he is duty bound to publish his results in a peer-reviewed journal. I find it ironical that Dr Piesse criticises this process as being “semi-religious” but then expects us to accept his own results on faith.
While on the subject of faith, thousands of people are flocking to a small town in Mexico where a quack is touting his special well water as a cure for everything from AIDS to terminal cancer.
This special water weighs less than ordinary water, a fact confirmed by a laboratory in Mexico City. Being ignorant of physics, I can only assume that they do not perform their laboratory tests with the same gravity as the rest of us. The well owner has been dispensing free water so far but acknowledges that his product is “worth its weight in gold”, and he plans to start selling it soon.
This has all the hallmarks of a scam. Take an alleged miracle (or more likely a lie) and after a few endorsements and accounts of miraculous recoveries, have an entrepreneur market the cure to a population who are both devout and ignorant.
Remember pyramid selling? It’s arrived in the health market. A 10-metre high replica of the Great Pyramid of Egypt is currently being “tuned in” by the Havalona Spiritual Health Centre and will then “aid the healing process by supplying additional energy so the body can heal itself more quickly and effectively.”
Pyramids are supposed to sharpen blunt razor blades and we are told that cut flowers placed under the structure were still alive 3 weeks later. I wonder whether any members would be prepared to participate in such a clinical trial?
Christchurch Press 17/1/92
A quick review of the Christchurch Press Making It Happen column (27/4/92) shows a smorgasboard of silly beliefs and practices. A naturopath planned a talk on natural immunity, which means not being immunised and being protected by everyone else who is.
If that doesn’t interest you, try Pulsing, a gentle rocking technique costing $80, which brings a state of deep relaxation and awareness, surely a contradiction in terms. Personal empowerment using creative visualisation reminds me of a long forgotten guru who taught his adherents to chant “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Can anyone remind me who taught this?
In addition to Ayuverdic medicine, there is now Vipassana, an “ancient Indian meditation technique, said to get you in touch with the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness.”
This could be useful for Housing Corporation staff. Perhaps the Christchurch Skeptics should start advertising their meetings in this same column. Skepticism clearly needs attractive marketing.
Doctor’s Gender Diet
Doctors have a distinct advantage over lay practitioners when it comes to promoting quack treatments. Doctors are already respected (personally, I’d rather be feared!) and the placebo component of any treatment is already assured. In addition, doctors will already have read Denis Dutton’s article “Increasing Your Income while Pleasing Your Patients” (Patient Management Vol 21 No 3, March 1992).
A Dr Hewitt is recommending a strict preconceptual diet in order to guarantee a child of the desired sex. This is a considerable advance over the unpopular practice of ligating the left testicle in order to increase the chances of a male child.
Dr Hewitt’s diet works by altering the ratio of sodium and potassium to that of calcium and magnesium consumed during the six weeks prior to conception. Women wishing to have a boy are advised to eat a diet rich in foods such as mushrooms.
After putting my wife on this diet in order to guarantee a son we had a daughter who flatly refuses to eat mushrooms.
Dr Hewitt can play it both ways. If parents fail to produce the correct gender in their offspring then he can say that they failed to follow his diet (described as “rigid and unpalatable”), and if they are lucky enough to be satisfied he takes all the credit.
This diet could be tested by Dr Hewitt but it is not in his interests, as the results are predictable — that is, it would turn out that children would continue to be born in the ratios predicted by the effects of known biological factors and chance.
As psychologists have explained, people do not go out of their way to test their own beliefs.
This is extremely prevalent and can be responsible for episodes of mass hysteria, for example the aftermath of the ICI Fire in Auckland when firemen developed conversion disorders. That is, their stress and beliefs led them to develop symptoms of ill-health.
The Marlborough Express (19/5/92) featured a US account of a farmer who had been poisoned by a fungicide used on his farm. The predominant symptom was “generalised shaking”. Even a cursory knowledge of medicine suggests such symptoms are more likely to be due to anxiety or perhaps hyperventilation.
When claims of chemical poisoning are not supported by proper scientific enquiry, claimants seeking to legitimise such claims in the media and the courts.
Some of these people establish the most fantastic rituals:
Debra Lynn Dadd’s mattress is stuffed with wool humanely shorn from organically raised sheep and processed in a solar-powered mill. Her pillows are filled with organically grown cotton. Her floors are strictly hardwood. Even her hairbrush is made entirely of wood. In fact, there’s not a single synthetic fibre to be found in her house. Neith are there any synthetic chemicals, toxic substances or non-organic food.”
Christchurch Press 29/1/91
I found an excellent review of this subject in Psychosomatics (August 1983, Vol 24 No 8) entitled “Allergic to everything: A medical subculture.”
The author is a professor of psychiatry and he was examining the pseudoscience of clinical ecology which promotes chemical phobia. Factors contributing to a belief in clinical ecology include:
- a society with a heightened awareness of the potential dangers of inhaling and ingesting noxious substances in usual enviroments
- a group of professionals who develop a theory that utilizes concepts from allergy and immunology to explain symptom patterns formerly explained by psychological theories
- dissatisfaction with and non-acceptance of psychological explanations suggesting that the defects are in the patients rather than external to them
- a compensation system designed by law to favour the applicant and in the process to favour his or her explanation of the symptoms
- a support system of lawyers and doctors who themselves may not espouse the allergic and immunologic explanation but who support the patient in the drive to convince others
This unitary theory is already operating to explain the false beliefs which underlie ME (see Skeptic #21) and RSI (see Skeptic #18).
I was reassured to see that the courts are capable of dealing with unsupported claims of chemical sensitisation. (Lancet Vol 339; 297 Feb 1, 1992).
A woman claimed 250,000 GBP for alleged chemical poisoning which had spread to include aftershave, perfume and car fumes. The judge criticised the doctor’s supporting evidence as “in many respects bizarre and unscientific” and slated the GP for giving out “sick notes rather like confetti”.
The judge concluded that the various evidential reports “grossly inflated the plaintiff’s claim without any sensible basis at all”.