The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Monday, June 10, 2013

No, sorry, it doesn't work. It really doesn't work.

Not alternative medicine, although that doesn't work, either. What really, really doesn't work is self-regulation.

Viz, a body sets itself up to regulate practitioners of quackery Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It makes grandiose pronouncements regarding what it will require of those who want to receive a "quality mark" (things like not making false or misleading statements in advertising, training practitioners in what they can and cannot treat, etc.), and eventually petitions to become a member of a larger body, the Professional Standards Authority. But since there's money (in fact, profit) involved for those making the claims, providing treatment, and promoting patently absurd and physically impossible regimens of care, this voluntary oversight group appears to do essentially nothing. Where is this travesty taking place? Somewhere in the undeveloped world, where superstition rules and patients prefer to see local witch doctors? Well, sort of. It's in the UK. (Of course, this could never happen in the US.)

Everybody's friend, whether they know it or not, Stephen Barrett, M.D. , reports on the inactivities of the UK's Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) and the various beefs it is receiving (and apparently ignoring) about its members, people who practice a whole range of black arts, from aromatherapy to yoga.

One group beefing about CNHC and its gang of forty thieves members is The Nightingale Collaboration. The front page of their website lists some of the more interesting examples of outright lying, for example an acupuncturist who lists 80 conditions that her art can treat (yet again, acupuncture has been shown to be ineffective and its resurgence in popularity traced to a hoax perpetrated on the journalist James Reston, in 1971, when he was traveling in China with then-President Nixon. Reston observed the technique being used on another patient (which physicians later admitted had been given large doses of sedatives beforehand), and Reston then had acupuncture himself during a procedure. Can you say "placebo"? I knew you could.) His article, "Now about my operation in Peking," published in the New York Times, set off a wave of interest and miraculously, an industry grew up. The fact that for many years, no license, no education, and no sense of responsibility were required to practice the technique could, of course, have had no influence on its growth.)

Another practitioner advertised "It is vitally important never to lose sight of the fact that any kind of cancer can be healed in a split second, regardless of how far advanced it is or how many areas of the body are affected... For energetic healing it is unimportant where the cancer has manifested or how many parts of the body have been affected. Once the client is embracing the healing process fully, all cancer vanishes, for it no longer has any reason to exist within the person's physique..."

To see why this sort of thing is important, you have to remember that this isn't someone's personal opinion, mentioned in conversation. It isn't from an anonymous posting to a blog. It's from an advertisement, intended to draw customers and convince them to make payments. It's fraud.

Nor does the community of quackery just focus on those dying of a serious disease. Here's a quote from another CNHC member: "Breast Enlargement... (No, don't laugh - this really works!)... The earliest report I could find on the successful use of hypnosis to increase breast size ..."

Go ahead, laugh.

Anyway, I realize this is preaching to the choir. (At least I hope I am.) My real point is to flack for Dr. Barrett, whose newsletter and plethora of websites are full of such lighthearted fun as this. Give him a try.

1 comment:

  1. I may have mentioned this guy before, but I'm also a big fan of "Orac" (David Gorski) on Scienceblogs. He's a surgeon who spends a lot of time tracking and advocating against all the various woo-pitchers ("naturo-paths", homeopaths, anti-vaxxers, etc.), particularly those targeting low-hope cancer patients.