‘Suckers’ feed on alternative health patients – literally
The NZ Herald (10-14 January) must have been having trouble filling its pages during the silly season, looking at its recent series on alternative therapies.
Each day for the best part of a week, the paper sent its reporters out to try a range of “alternative relaxation and remedies”.
Reporter Andrew Koubaridis must have drawn the short straw – while others in the series got to try out Japanese and Korean variants of spa therapies, he had two leeches sucking blood from his arm for more than an hour.
“I couldn’t take my eyes off the little suckers,” he said.
Mehdi Jaffari, who runs the Life Clinic Hirudotherapy centre on Auckland’s North Shore, says he learned the practice from his Iranian father and that the art had been passed down for generations in his family. Leeches can treat problems ranging from arthritis, diabetes, endometriosis, hepatitis and high blood pressure to bronchitis, he claims. They can even help reduce wrinkles, apparently.
“Their saliva has enzymes that helps break blood clots, and widens blood vessels to stop bacteria growth and prevent inflammation. It also helps blood circulation and flow,” Jaffari says.
The article refers to the UMR Research survey on the beliefs of New Zealanders (see Editorial, p 2), which found a majority believed in alternative remedies. Nearly three out of four believed arnica reduces bruising and slightly over half believed that homeopathic remedies are scientifically proven.
In the same series, Lincoln Tan and Amelia Wade checked out Ayurveda, a traditional Indian system of medicine.
“The human body is made up of five basic elements,” says Ayurveda specialist Priya Punjabi, “and whenever there is any disorder, these elements become imbalanced and they affect bodily channels and tissues, creating illnesses in the system.”
The elements are earth, water, fire, air and sky. This is obviously a huge advance on the traditional western view that there are only four elements.
Paranormal investigators open for business
A paranormal investigation team has been given front page coverage by the Waikato Times (10 December).
The group, who call themselves the Quantum Foundation (what is it with that word quantum?) say they’re not ghost hunters, but are called in to “paranormal hot spots” where they try to put clients’ minds at rest. Nor are they ghostbusters. “We don’t get rid of whatever’s there.We can call in people to do that,” said co- founder Tracey Royce.
Royce and fellow investigator Lisa Austen said they took a scientific, research- based approach to the supernatural, and sought natural explanations for alleged hauntings.
They use equipment such as cameras, digital recorders and electromagnetic field readers and spend up to eight weeks reviewing content. They have carried out 10 investigations in 16 months, and do not charge for their services.
Most of what they collect is mundane, and they seemed to recognise that ‘orbs’ are artifacts caused by dust particles reflecting light through a camera lens (NZ Skeptic 94(. But both say they have had experiences they can’t explain, including a sighting of a “full-blown apparition” of a ghostly figure, that drive them on.
Recently they investigated Diggers Bar in central Hamilton, where they captured “electronic voice phenomena”, including laughing, a voice saying “it’s coming”, and one instance of aggressive swearing. Someone swearing around a bar late at night in central Hamilton? How could there be a natural explanation for that?
David Riddell (who’s he?v) of the NZ Skeptics reportedly said gullible people were often suckered in by folks with fancy equipment, though I have it on good authority he said no such thing. But he did suggest that we are awash with electromagnetic fields, and a recorder is likely to pick up all sorts of things if left on overnight. Even if something couldn’t be explained it didn’t mean it was from another world. “A lot of people, when faced with something they can’t explain, automatically say [it] must be something supernatural. But sometimes it is okay to say you simply don’t know what it is.”
Conspiracy theorists get a roasting
Also in the Waikato Times (19 December), freelance writer Joshua Drummond has got stuck into conspiracy theorists with a nice piece of old-fashioned debunking. The three most terrifying words in the English language, he says, are “Did you know?”
“‘Did you know,’ said an idiot to me one day, ‘that 9/11 was an inside job?'”
Over the next half-hour, says Drummond, he was subjected to a sloppy paraphrasing of an internet documentary called Loose Change. This alleges a government conspiracy which was somehow, “as these things commonly are, both tremendously competent and massively incompetent at the same time.”
He goes on to list a number of other currently popular conspiracy theories, including “the ever-popular primate change denial, courtesy of creationists, who may not like being labelled conspiracy theorists,but that is what they are.”
Drummond says conspiracy theorists waste their time on nonsense when far better examples of true wrongdoing lie right in front of their unseeing eyes. Drug companies, for example, may act in highly questionable ways in their endless quest for higher profits – “but it doesn’t follow that vaccination doesn’t work.”
Vitamin supplements unnecessary
A major study of vitamin supplements has found taking the pills does nothing for people’s health (NZ Herald, 27 December).
The study, by researchers at Nancy University in France, followed 8000 people for more than six years. Those taking supplements were just as likely to have developed cancer or heart disease as those who took an identical-looking dummy pill. There was hardly any difference in how healthy members of the treatment and control groups reported themselves feeling.
Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, said it was the worried well who were taking these pills to try and protect themselves against Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks and strokes.
“But they are wasting their money. This was a large study following people up for a long period of time assessing everything from their mobility and blood pressure to whether they were happy or felt pain.”
Other recent studies have indicated that, for some people, vitamin supplements could actually be harmful. One last year found pills containing vitamin E, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc increased the risk of malignant melanoma four-fold.
Another discovered women on a daily multi-vitamin pill increased their risk of breast cancer by up to 20 percent.
While the evidence that vitamins can do harm is still limited, the latest study seems to confirm that many people are at the very least taking them unnecessarily.
Split for Scientology?
Scientology has had a rough few years, and now a schism seems to be opening up within the so-called ‘church’ (NZ Herald, 7 January).
Debbie Cook, a former senior member of Sea Org, Scientology’s equivalent of the clergy, has circulated an email severely criticising the management style and financial policies of the group’s current leader, David Miscavige. She says Miscavige’s dictatorial leadership style is at odds with the doctrines laid down by the church’s founder, science-fiction author L Ron Hubbard, and that he has become obsessed with fundraising. His regime is now “hoarding” a cash reserve of more than US$1 billion, she claims, and has spent tens of millions more on a portfolio of large, upmarket buildings which largely sit empty.
Cook left the Scientology payroll in 2008, but says she remains “completely dedicated” to its beliefs. Her criticisms strike a chord with many disaffected recent defectors, but her highly respected status within the usually secretive world of Scientology may give her views weight among more active members, the article says.