Monday, August 18, 2008

Another Back-Cracking Quack Attack - The Sequel

Just over a week or so ago, in the brief post Another Back-Cracking Quack Attack, I wrote about how the New Zealand Medical Journal had received a letter from Quack Defender, Paul Radich, representing the New Zealand Chiropractors Association Inc. threatening legal proceedings unless a retraction is made regarding an editorial written by David Colquhoun about an article by Andrew Gilbey of the misuse of the 'Dr' title by Chiropractors.

Anyway, in an unrelated yet extremely similar event, the British Chiropractic Association are suing Simon Singh for his article in The Guardian about how Chiropractic is quackery. Gimpy has republished the Guardian article (removed from the Grauniad Website) on his blog here, with some helpful annotations.

As I've said before, these bully boy legal tactics have habit of backfiring - I think the BCA are backed into a corner; either they demonstrate the evidence put to them is inconclusive or they admit to the world they are one of the largest and wealthiest flocks of quacks in the world.

The third way is to silence dissent by legal action - not, you'll note, by going after the Guardian, who printed it, but by going after Simon Singh himself. Dirty, dirty bully boy tactics - and as far I am concerned, a obvious admission that of that Simon Singh's evidence presents a real and credible threat to Chiro-quack-tic.

For more see the Quackometer, HolfordWatch and A day at The Pharmacy

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How long does silly season last?

INVASION OF THE KILLER JELLYFISH screams the Daily Mirror this morning (13th Aug 2008), reporting on the sightings of Portuguese Men O' War on UK shores.

Surely something that we should all be afraid of. The telegraph tones it down somewhat with "Four Portuguese Man (sic) O' War see in British Waters". Of course, the Telegraph has perhaps more reason to be muted, it published a similar story in Aug 2007 (Beachgoers warned as Man O' war hits shores) and indeed the Mirror published an article in 2004 on How Global Warming is Killing Our Wildlife (via WormDigest) containing the line:
Last year [i.e. 2003] there were several sightings of Great White sharks and shoals of deadly Portuguese man o' war jellyfish in Devon and Cornwall. And a giant jellyfish dubbed the Blob terrified bathers at Weymouth, Dorset

So perhaps the screaming front line on the Mirror is somewhat overdone.

As it turns out, I've pretty much given up on reading newspapers. I was almost at this stage before reading Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, and it has just cemented my realisation that the chaff outweighs the wheat in most, if not all, the printed media.

Anecdotally, the Daily Telegraph seems to be the one that has fallen from the the greatest height, at least from a science point of view.

Recently we have had such critical-thinking journalism such as Leslie Thomas' "Gentle Summer Detox" which lampooned itself by providing a detox plan which included alcohol -
Only in moderation and only the best-quality organic wine

If it isn't clear why this statement should have you rolling round the floor laughing, then without any hint of irony, let me direct you to The Telegraph's article on "Debunking of Detox" based on Sense About Science's article here.

However, this is just nitpicking - the real quack bonanza in the article comes here:
The resident homoeopath, Katie Jermine, quizzed me about my diet, stress levels and lifestyle. She then strapped on a wristband and plugged me into an electronic device called the Quantum QXCI, which scanned my system for vitamins, minerals, food intolerances, toxicity, organ function, hormone balance, parasites, digestive disorders and stress levels

WOW! What a machine! Look what it can do - it can scan your system for parasites and toxicity - surely such a system would be used ubiquitously at immigration control to ensure people entering a country don't have TB or malaria. Needless, to say, it doesn't take a genius to realise that this is lies and bunkum. The Quantum QXCI has had a proper analysis by Dr Ben Goldacre in his Guardian column Bad Science here.

Perhaps the paper is only providing what its readers are asking for - for instance, (you may need to switch off your irony-meter) in the article Doctor's Diary on 7th July 08, (James Le Fanu on the latest health stories hitting the headlines), we hear of an unsympathetic GP telling Mrs W J from Hampshire that a miniscule glass splinter from a greenhouse pain that remains in her finger is "trivial". Darn Allopathy. Come to rescue homeopaths - surely you can save Mrs W J from her life-devastation - step up 'Joanne':

Mrs HJ - Try the homeopathic remedy Silica ( sometimes known as silicea ) 6c potency. I had the minute tip of a needle left in the back of my hand after surgery. I used magnesium sulphate paste under a plaster at the same time taking silica. Dissolve 2 tablets under the tongue at 2hourly intervals for 6 hours ie 8am/10am/12am. Same evening before bed 2 more only. For the following week 1 tablet only morning and night. Keep using the magnesium sulphate dressing.You may need to continue for 10 days(silica is very slow&deep in action). It may come to a head with pus which needs bathing in hot water and expelling. Good luck!
PS: Change your doctor!

Sure. You need to do it for 10 days - I wonder what would happen to the splinter if you did nothing for ten days? Regardless, here we have sound medical homeopathic advice in the column in Doctor's Diary.

There is an interesting article on the Telegraph and its new way of ensuring hits are highest on its site rather than other dead-tree media from LoveHowlMuse blog (sometimes NSFW) entitled How Google is changing language - and how the Telegraph lost its soul setting out a similar phenomenon to what Charlie Brooker ranted about in the Guardian a few weeks back - basically that by including key words that are buzz words for Google, you can get zillions of hits on your site. Brilliant. Obviously, those hits may stay on your site for zero seconds when they realise they haven't got what they wanted, but the numbers are there to show potential advertising-space buyers of the huge audience that the website gets.

The next logical step is to start actually printing a few articles containing the buzz topics/words which do get the internet masses swarming through - and staying on the site. And so in between the articles of Thatcherophilic political comment, we get (historically) non-Telegraphic articles such as "Alien Stole My Brain" and "The Tree Man who grew roots", or one where even the Telegraph realised its own boundaries and subsequently removed it, "World's Largest Fake Breasts Record" which was here but has been kept for posterity at Digg here.

Well, we all make mistakes. But there are mistakes and there are mistakes - the idea being that when a mistake is made, there should be fallbacks and safeguards to stop them becoming gargantuan hee-haws. A recent Advertising Standards Authority jurisdiction highlighted one of these 'mistakes'. A title like "Lower your blood pressure with our free spring water" should not be on the front page of any newspaper, least of all a supposedly quality broadsheet. High blood pressure is not to be messed with or taken lightly, and I don't think you need to have much medical knowledge to realise that spring water isn't going to lower it.

Nonetheless, inside the paper the advert continued:
the first spring water developed especially to tackle the growing problem of high blood pressure ... 120/80, named after the optimum blood pressure level, is the first spring water in the UK to contain dairy peptides, which are derived from milk protein and clinically proven to be effective in the lowering and management of blood pressure

Works With Water (the company providing this miracle product) said
Works with Water said the headline on the article inside the newspaper should have stated "Free spring water for every reader to help lower your blood pressure" to be consistent with the main editorial copy, but the word "help" was omitted due to a proofing error for which they accepted full responsibility. They said they were not responsible for the front page flash or content, which were down to the Telegraph's editorial discretion at the time of going to print

Ah yes, the weasel-wording which allows adverts to hugely overstate their products without actually saying so - see also "may", "help", reduce", "some".

The Telegraph were alerted to this on the day of publication (which to be fair to the CAP, is pretty good standards) and responded.

The Telegraph said they had been alerted to the problematic wording by CAP on the day the ad appeared and had immediately halted the promotion. They said the procedures they had in place to prevent such occurrences had not been properly followed, and the relevant personnel had been reminded of their obligations to the CAP Code. They said every effort would be made to avoid a similar occurrence in future

So a mistake was made, the safeguards failed and the Telegraph ended up printing on its front page that spring water can lower blood pressure. That's not the silly season, that's the dangerously silly season.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Another Back-Cracking Quack Attack

Just a quickie - the New Zealand Medical Journal recently published an article by Andrew Gilbey which had an editorial by Improbable Science blog-ninja, David Colquhoun, which is here. The article discussed chiropractic and how it has extremely limited benefit and why they shouldn't be using the title 'Dr'.

Avid readers of this blog will no doubt remember "Dr" Christian Farthing, a spinal cracker who claimed to be a Doctor, but "not a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Medical Doctor". Perhaps this example demonstrates why DC has a very valid point.

The New Zealand Medical Journal have now received a letter from Quack Defender, Paul Radich, representing the New Zealand Chiropractors Association Inc. threatening legal proceedings unless a retraction is made.

Of course, these things have a habit of backfiring - remember Society of Homeopaths, Odd Obi, herbal blood cleanser Ann Walker - all ended in bloggers winning and the quacks losing more face, ground and credability than they'll ever realise.

Frank Frizelle, the editor of NZMJ, has robustly defended the journal (here - pdf alert) finishing with an imperfectly glorious phrase:

Let's hear your evidence, not your legal muscle

Imperfect, because I wish he'd written 'see' rather than 'hear' as hearing legal muscle doesn't work for me. Has anyone seen my anti-pedantry pills?

This story has been picked up in a few places:
Bad Science
DC Improbable Science
Science & Progress