Skeptic conspiracy – it’s no theory

When Professor David Colquhoun erroneously suggested in his 2012 blog that Chris Woollams was using the charity CANCERactive for ‘Private Gain’, it precipitated a chain of events that could be followed easily by anyone with a twitter account. Ironically, it has exposed the skeptic community. Some are shills, stooges, with interests in ‘action groups’ funded by big Pharma, while others are clearly using their anti-CAM websites as money making ventures, capturing personal data from innocent visitors – those coming through the attacks on Woollams, almost certainly with cancer. It’s a sorry, sad mess and only the genuine patient suffers. It begs the question ‘Dare any sensible person visit any of their websites’? To do so is to read a biased, sometimes absurd, inaccurate and even defamatory report at best, whilst potentially exposing your personal data and identity far more than you could ever imagine. The worst case scenario is that your data could even be sold on to third parties.

The claim by Colquhoun was clearly not an issue about science – Woollams took it as personal defamation. Some might call it a lie. Chris didn’t run the charity, he gives his many hours for free, the related ‘business’ he was claimed to be running was no such thing but a dormant company that had never even traded and used to park a trading company whilst a buyer was found. All this would have been scrutinised by Colquhoun’s expert lawyers. Worse for Colquhoun, the accountants for all the relevant companies provided evidence that Woollams took no funding from anywhere. Colquhoun’s lawyers told him to take his claims down – he then made a formal apology to Woollams, even at one point tweeting that the ‘research’ on which he had based his claims was flawed and he wanted to move on.

Most rational people would think that should be the end of the matter.

Selektive attacks?

But Colquhoun is a Skeptic, one of a gang of Skeptics totally focussed on rubbishing complementary therapies and their messengers. Colquhoun also has ‘form’. In the past he has called Patrick Holford, ‘Holfraud’ (more lawyer involvement) but more usually he likes to pick on little people; Dr Alan Lakin and his wife were another example of his ill considered claims. They just wrote to the Provost of UCL where Colquhoun is employed. Their complaint resulted in a formal joint statement with UCL saying that Colquhoun could carry on using the UCL website providing he stuck to being sceptical about science and didn’t attack individuals. Some while later, he was kicked off the UCL server. Attacks on individuals have never stopped.

It is a common theory that Skeptics are funded by Big Pharma. There is, of course, little evidence of payments to individuals. Only recently the attacks on What Doctors Don’t Tell You again focussed attention on Sense about Science, a Pharma-funded skeptic organization in the United Kingdom. At least 40 per cent of their funding in the years 2004-10 came from Big Pharma, according to detailed analysis by a consumer group, H:MC21. This amount increased when attacks were strengthened against homeopathy.

The orchestration of misleading and inaccurate disinformation

When Colquhoun was threatened with legal action by Woollams, the tweets flew. Twitter is a medium much used by Skeptics and trolls alike and it has been described as an ‘Echo chamber’ because it is often used by people who want to verbally pat each other on the back. It is not unusual for some people to send hundreds of tweets a day. The tweets are public.

Colquhoun was on record tweeting Simon Singh. Singh is a mathematician, writer, journalist and has been a leading light in Sense about Science. He had a squabble with some Chiropractors and ended up in the High Court where a judge correctly ruled the High Court was no place for a scientific argument and slung the combatants out. The Skeptics consider this a ‘win’ because he didn’t have to pay a hefty damages bill to the chiropractors. What they don’t want is a ‘loss’ and Colquhoun at this point must have looked rather a liability.

Singh then tweeted openly to the Skeptics and received responses from several, for example Josephine Jones and Lecanardnoir. An interesting tweet came from Alan Henness, a colleague of Singh’s and a ‘pal’ from Sense about Science, who tweeted ‘Poor Chris Woollams’, as plans for attack were drawn up. Henness, who has an IT background, runs the Nightingale Collaboration, an ‘organisation’ that attacks complementary therapists throughout Britain if he feels they make inaccurate claims. It is probably irrelevant to Henness that Florence Nightingale used complementary therapies, natural sunshine, herbs and homeopathy to treat patients. Instead, he and his cronies try to suppress complementary therapists with threats about reporting them to the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards. Many supporters who meet in pubs are probably blissfully unaware of their new-found Pharmaceutical company connections.

Josephine Jones
is also a prodigious production line for complaints, but has already been politely told by the ASA to ‘limit’ her energies. ‘Josephine Jones’ is a figment of someone’s imagination – a nom de guerre. Jones is made out to be a ‘former scientist’. So ‘she’ could be a ‘he’ and could be Claire from Liverpool or Edward from California with a diploma in ‘computer sciences’ and IT like most of the key skeptics; ‘She’ could even be a Pharmaceutical company shill, we have no way of knowing. ‘Her’ writings have been inaccurate, misleading and even downright dangerous as we all saw in ‘her’ ridiculous critique of Woollams book and ‘her’ frightening ignorance over glucose. ‘She’ appears to have no serious credentials in medicine or the biological sciences.

With Lecanardnoir, and Guy Chapman it is simpler. They have definitely have none. Of course, that doesn’t stop them pontificating on the perils of homeopathy and other complementary therapies.

With many of the skeptic gang, there may well be inaccuracy or exaggerated claims, and even defamation and the occasional lie.

Sometimes their comment is absolutely factually wrong, for example: http://www.homeopathyheals.me.uk/site/skeptic-watch/3198-guy-chapman-waxes-lyrical-about-hahnemanns-aphorisms-and-gets-it-wrong. The title says it all.

Lecanardnoir turned up to a debate in Dartington where he was on a panel of commentators about ‘Integrative’ approaches to medicine. (http://www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=3232&Title=Does%20Integrated%20Medicine%20make%20sense?) Who invited him when there are genuine experts all over Britain, goodness knows. According to another panellist, he had to be repeatedly corrected for his inaccuracies by Simon Mills, a Cambridge graduate and founder of the School of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, Penninsular. But then, poor love, lecanardnoir is really Andy Lewis who works in computing. Not that this stops him from running a blog which features a ‘Quackometer’ no less, allowing him alone to decide who is a quack and who isn’t. The irony seems to be lost on him.

Guy Chapman is a self-confessed ‘computer nerd’ according to his LinkedIn site. He seems to write blogs 24/7. Why does he have so much time? He is an Affiliate Marketer by trade. What’s one of those? Well, Affiliate Marketers aim to capture personal data (for example, by using cookies), profile it, and then ‘groom’ people until they click on advertisements for products that might be relevant to them. The Affiliate Marketer then gets paid by click, and/or by commission from sales. It is business – and for some, very big business. So, apart from any personal convictions he may have, it’s Chapman’s ‘job’ to write blogs – they fuel his business with the replies they receive.

Chapman immediately wrote four blogs in three days on Woollams and CANCERactive. He became Colquhoun’s new best friend with the confused Colquhoun both apologising to Woollams while simultaneously providing links to Chapman’s verbose vitriol. Not that Chapman confines his defamatory comments to Woollams – you should see what he writes about Burzynski and Errol Denton (a blood analyst who accused him of racism). Four-letter words abound in uncontrolled rants.

But then this is also the case at RationalWiki, a website that seems to repeat many of the musings of Chapman almost verbatim. Chapman did originally ‘work’ for the real Wikipedia as an administrator but parted company with them in less than perfect circumstances. RationalWiki has been dubbed ‘Irrational Wacky’ and it is easy to see why. Just read their vitriol on the Daily Mail where every journalist merits a four letter expletive and you will instantly understand that this website is a spider’s web, there to trap innocent visitors erroneously thinking it might have sensible views on science.

Colquhoun took his rambling and inaccurate blog on CANCERactive down from the internet. It was replaced almost instantly by a similar load of garbage with the same title from Josephine Jones. The Skeptics try to build blogs which climb to positions right under the subjects they are attacking on Internet search engines so that, in this case, people with cancer will click on their website articles to read what they say by design or accident. This serves a double purpose – it aims to discredit the attacked (CANCERactive), whilst increasing the importance of the attacker’s website in the ‘eyes’ of the search engines. Thus the Skeptics use subjects like Burzynski, Denton, The Daily Mail and CANCERactive to power their own feeble websites up the Google rankings.

Next and unsurprisingly, after about a dozen positive 5-star reviews on Chris Woollams’ excellent book ‘Everything you need to know to help you beat cancer’, there were suddenly two negative reviews by – you’ve guessed it – alias Jones and Chapman.

Woollams was even attacked by another ‘secretive’ website – the Daily Quack. This usually attacks a small healer in Yorkshire or an acupuncturist in Manchester, people who can’t afford to defend themselves. But the writers had a pop at Chris Woollams, also claiming he lived on a sprawling estate in Buckinghamshire (he lives abroad and has done for 20 years) and that he was their new lead writer, which he is not. Of course, again, some innocent followers of Woollams – people with cancer – will click on this website thinking they really will find words of wisdom from him there.

One of the, now devalued, Colquhoun’s recurrent attacking themes against CANCERactive was that they ‘repeatedly’ broke the 1939 Cancer Act and that Trading Standards were useless in doing nothing. This theme was then taken up vociferously by Guy Chapman. Indeed, the sceptics organised a number of formal complaints to Trading Standards. The Trustees of CANCERactive then asked Trading Standards for a once-and-for-all definitive ruling and the matter was referred to the Government body, the MHRA.

The outcome? Both the MHRA and Trading Standards concluded that the 3600 page CANCERactive website was perfectly legal. Yet Chapman still has inaccurate blogs posted about CANCERactive breaking the law.

False identities aim to fool readers

A number of these skeptic websites are anonymous – Skeptics frequently use monikers. Why?

1. Some of the people have credible jobs and their employers might not like them using four letter words to rubbish people doing their best to help cancer patients for no personal reward.
2. Some of the Skeptics clearly lie about their subject. The legal word is defammation. If you use a moniker, hide your IP address with a proxy server etc, you are virtually untraceable if a lawyer comes looking for you. Hiding in rat holes somehow seems appropriate.
3 Some of the secret skeptics could well be paid directly or indirectly by Big Pharma. They could even currently work in a pharmaceutical company. How would any members of the public know?
4 A number of websites may be owned by just one person writing under several monikers. It was a tactic employed, for example, by Guy Chapman when at Wikipedia. If you have proxy accounts in false names, you can build a web of ‘people’ who seem to agree with you. This provides heightened credibility for your claims when in reality they may be devoid of evidence and complete trash.
5. You can also launch co-ordinated attacks. Chapman spent several weeks claiming Woollams was dishonest, while the message from Jones was that he used no research. Neither is true (Colquhoun took their posts down off his site after Woollams suggested he asked his lawyers for a view!)
6 No one knows which websites are linked. Affiliate marketers use a dashboard to see all their accounts in different names. It is possible that the fabricated Jones, Guy Chapman’s Blahg, Chapman Central (blahg.chapmancentral.co.uk), RationalWiki and more are all linked. An innocent cancer patient clicks on one website to read something about homeopathy and their data is collected by someone else.

This anonymity is supported by the use (abuse) of media contacts and of the word ‘experts’ and such-like. For example, ‘experts’ are appalled by the increasing use of complementary therapies in Britain. Actually real experts are not!

Collecting personal data for Private Gain

So, you visit a website mistakenly thinking Woollams is a contributor. The ‘secret’ owner captures your e mail address. They then put a ‘spider’ on this. A spider can profile you and provide basic information – age, male/female etc simply from the ‘secret’ information you gave when you signed up for an e mail account. BUT. Other spiders can use your e mail address to provide lists of all your contacts’ e mails over the years – all your friends and colleagues and their contacts. And they get profiled too. Some clever spiders cross-link all the social media websites and can thus provide data of your likes and far more about you. And this all goes into the Affiliate Marketer’s database and you are categorized by your age, interests, diseases, likes, whatever. All ready to then use the innocent ‘victim’ for personal gain.

How ironic that this all started because Woollams was accused of using a charity for personal gain.

Affiliate Marketers court controversy – if they write that Burzynski is a good man and raises money for the poor, no one will read their blogs. They need to write vitriolic attacks. Who cares whether it is true or defamatory. The newspaper, the Sunday Sport, showed the way with absurd headlines – so let’s hear it Guy … ‘Errol Denton ate my Hamster’. And that’s what the affiliate marketing skeptics are about.

Complementary Therapy is potentially big business

Complementary and Alternative medicine is a rich seam of leads for them. 80,000 practitioners in the UK alone; but of course blogs reach a worldwide audience, so the real figure is far higher. Also a staggering two thirds of patients now use a complementary therapy.

Even if a secret Skeptic is not an affiliate marketer, lists of profiled potential customers derived from their websites could be sold for approximately 8 pounds a thousand names. Some websites can accumulate a million names a year. It is not illegal to create and sell data lists.

Add it all up – it is huge business. So who is involved? Colquhoun, Singh, Jones, Jones, Henness, Chapman? Who knows? Maybe none apart from Chapman? Maybe the rest are just gullible innocents? Maybe they all genuinely think all CAM is quackery? But, really, in this secretive world of Pharma funding and false names and proxy websites, can you trust any of their websites not to collect and, even unwittingly, pass on your data?

Chapman is a top affiliate marketer. He gives speeches around the world. His website uses cookies which will become embedded into your computer to take data. He even sells spiders.

WARNING: VISIT A SKEPTIC SITE AT YOUR PERIL. THEY MAY CAPTURE YOUR DATA AND USE IT.

True scepticism and the emergence of non-drug therapies

What a sorry mess: Big pharma sponsoring ‘action groups’; lackeys and shills co-ordinating attacks on subjects like What Doctors Don’t Tell You and CANCERactive, while other skeptics simply fuel their own businesses capturing your personal details.

And, in all this, what happened to true scepticism? Where people with honest opinions could ask if Photodynamic Therapy (just going into Clinical Trials) was a genuine non-invasive alternative to drugs; or, similarly, Ablation (the use of energy from sources such as Ultrasound to heat up and kill cancers)? It has been used successfully with both prostate and breast cancers. Then there is the use of virotherapy and Dr Moira Brown’s successful clinical work with brain cancers. Or Dendritic Cell therapy and a few more coming fast.

It is easy to see why the skeptics are out in force. We could be witnessing the start of the last days of the Pharma Empire. The momentum of non-invasive alternative therapies (at significant savings both financially and in terms of patient stress) is almost too hard for them to stop.

Thank goodness.

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Scientists blow the whistle on drug and vaccine fraud

It seems some scientists at least are feeling guilty about their role in vaccine and drug research. And Big Pharma is on the receiving end of some pretty hefty fraud payouts. Some people think that’s not enough and that corrupt CEOs should even go to jail.

Just a decade ago Dr. Allen Roses the worldwide Vice President of genetics and a top executive of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline stated simply that “The vast majority of drugs – more than 90% – only work in 30 to 50% of the people.” If that’s the case, how could such large volumes of drugs be sold worldwide?

It’s not just drugs that might be ineffective. In 2010 two Merck scientists Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski, both former Merck virologists, filed a False Claims Act which has just been opened – in it claiming that vaccine manufacturer Merck knowingly falsified its mumps vaccine test data, spiked blood samples with animal antibodies, sold a vaccine that actually promoted mumps and measles outbreaks, and ripped off governments and consumers who bought the vaccine thinking it was ‘95% effective’. Forbes Magazine (June 2012) stated, “scientists claim Merck defrauded the U.S. government by causing it to purchase an estimated four million doses of mislabelled and misbranded MMR vaccine per year for at least a decade, and helped ignite two recent mumps outbreaks that the allegedly ineffective vaccine was intended to prevent in the first place”.

In July 2012 The New York Times was reporting yet more Pharmaceutical company fraud: “In the largest settlement involving a pharmaceutical company, the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKlein agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug, federal prosecutors announced Monday. The agreement also includes civil penalties for improper marketing of a half-dozen other drugs”.

“What we’re learning is that money doesn’t deter corporate malfeasance,” said Eliot Spitzer, who, as New York’s attorney general, sued GlaxoSmithKline in 2004 over similar accusations involving Paxil. “The only thing that will work in my view is C.E.O.’s and officials being forced to resign and individual culpability being enforced.”

This case was brought to light by four former Glaxo scientists, Greg Thorpe, Blair Hamrick, Thomas Gerahty and Matthew Burke who were in line to receive a share of the fine under the Federal False Claims Act, a US law dating back to the Civil War that allows whistleblowers to receive a portion of money the government recovers when prosecuting fraud.

Skeptics silent while Rome burns

But it gets worse. While self-opinionated Skeptic trolls like pharmacologist Professor David Colquhoun, IT nerd Guy Chapman and his joined-at-the-hip muse Josephine Jones hardly mention a word about such underhand practices yet bore the world with their subjective views on naughty homeopathy and complementary therapies, people in the real world have to suffer repeated attacks by errant pharmaceutical companies, out to profit from illness and misfortune.

Now Big Pharma turns its attentions to South East Asia

Now Erika Kelton, a lawyer who specialises in whistleblower cases, writing in Forbes shows that Big Pharma has turned its attentions to South East Asia and China, where life seems a little easier for Big Pharma to follow their dodgy practices. In an article entitled ‘Is Big Pharma addicted to fraud?’ she writes “First, Chinese authorities announced they were investigating GlaxoSmithKlein and other pharma companies for bribing doctors, hospitals and government officials to buy and prescribe their drugs. Glaxo is accused of using a Shanghai travel agency to funnel at least $489 million in bribes.

Then The New York Times revealed last week the alarming news that an internal Glaxo audit found serious problems with the way research was conducted at the company’s Shanghai research and development center.

Last year Glaxo paid $3 billion to resolve civil and criminal allegations of, among other things, marketing widely used prescription drugs for unapproved treatments and using kickbacks to promote sales.
And in 2009, Glaxo paid $750 million to resolve civil and criminal charges that quality failures led to serious contamination of drug products at its manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico.

Chinese officials say they are investigating other foreign companies for similar charges. Merck, Roche Holding and Sanofi SA confirm they used the same travel agency as Glaxo, but they haven’t been accused of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca — which previously reported that it is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department — said last week that police in Shanghai questioned two company sales managers, but “we have no reason to believe it is related to the other investigations.”

If the bribery accusations are true, the pharma companies could face charges in the US for violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an anti-bribery law, as well as charges by Chinese authorities. Last year, Pfizer paid $60.2 million and Eli Lilly & Co. paid $29.4 million to the US to settle allegations they had bribed government officials, including hospital administrators and government doctors, in China and other countries to approve and prescribe their products.”

Perhaps it is about time ‘skeptics’ like Colquhoun, Josephine Jones and Homeopathy troll Guy Chapman started writing blogs that reflect real patient concerns.

According to online Biospectrum : In the last three years, global pharma giants have paid fines to the tune of $11 billion for criminal wrongdoing, including withholding safety data and promoting drugs for use, beyond any licensed condition. (http://www.biospectrumasia.com/biospectrum/analysis/192973/worlds-big-pharma-frauds#.Uku-qNKBnqE) This website also provides the ‘Six Stories that have scarred the Pharmaceutical Industry forever’

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Questionable research, inaccurate conclusions, poor taste

Professor David Colquhoun of UCL has formally apologised to Chris Woollams for suggesting that he made money from his work for the charity CANCERactive. The apology will run on Professor Colquhoun’s homepage of the site ‘DC’s Improbable Science’, and will be communicated electronically to all his followers. This apology has avoided a libel case against Colquhoun with significant potential costs and damages.

‘In the worst possible taste’

Chairman of the CANCERactive Trustees, Larry Brooks, said that any inference that Chris Woollams was making money from the death of his own daughter, Catherine, ‘beggars belief’, was ‘simply atrocious’ and ‘in the worst possible taste’.‘Chris’ daughter Catherine died from a brain tumour; no orthodox medicine cures this disease. But Chris and Catherine discovered a lot of natural compounds and treatments that could prolong her life. Catherine wanted a magazine in Hospitals that told people their options; Chris was asked by Doctors at St Thomas’ Hospital to write down what he had found out. Chris and Catherine founded icon; he wrote a bestselling book; the charity is ten years old and has a Medical Board of Oncologists and Doctors overseeing content. 3600 pages of possible causes, orthodox therapies and complementary and alternative options. Over 1.3 million people came to the site this year and the hits are growing all the time. A dozen or more Oncologists have written articles for us in the last few months – it’s all a tribute to Chris and Catherine’s efforts.

Chris’ own philanthropy, plus the profits from all of his books, writings and speeches, make a significant contribution to the charity, the magazine icon and the website for CANCERactive. Chris works tirelessly for no financial reward. While patients praise him for his efforts and generosity, ‘Skeptics’ like Colquhoun make crass and ridiculous accusations. In my view UCL should now give some serious thought to the future employment of Colquhoun. Is this really the sort of individual who should be setting standards for the young at our Universities?’

Chris was forced to threaten a libel action after Colquhoun posted the second of two potentially defamatory blogs on his ‘DC’s Improbable Science’ website. In 2006 he had suggested Chris had set up the CANCERactive site for personal gain but removed the offending comments when Chris explained he had set up the Charity in memory of his daughter. Chris explained then that he originally funded the site to the tune of 150,000 pounds so that all people with cancer might benefit. Colquhoun even replied at the time that he ‘did not have that sort of money’.

Repeated inaccuracy

The new attacks came after Charity patron Janice Day had pointed out numerous inaccuracies in the original DC’s Improbable Science blog. Rather than correct the inaccuracies, Colquhoun, a known ‘Skeptic’, chose to attack the charity again calling some of its claims ‘absurd’, and then referred his readers to the website of an “independent consultant” (who writes under an assumed name), whom Colquhoun lauded as being “very interesting” having supposedly looked into Chris’ business affairs. As a result Colquhoun suggested that Charity law preventing use of charities for private gain was being broken, which, if true would of course put the charity’s charitable status at risk. Despite Chris then detailing, yet again, that he had never taken a penny from the charity but made significant annual donations to it (which were a matter of public record), that a former ‘sister company’, Health Issues, was still in his debt, and that the ‘research’ into his business affairs was nothing of the sort, Colquhoun chose to run Chris’ comments but continued with his own wild claims. Chris threatened to sue for libel. Colquhoun appointed lawyers, the whole blog was removed immediately and he has now apologised to Chris.

Is this what we should expect from a Professor of Science at UCL?

Of the settlement, Chris Woollams said ‘Frankly, can anybody now trust a word this man says when he seems prepared just to quote any old bit of ‘research’ from someone with no relevant qualifications, takes no steps (so far as I know) to check its accuracy, including the most basic step of asking me to comment before publication and worse, uses it to draw completely ludicrous and inaccurate conclusions? Then when his mistakes are pointed out – as could have been confirmed if he had made proper enquiries – he continues to blindly run the original accusations!

In this instance he has been uncovered and had to apologise. But in other areas outside his expertise of pharmacology (the study of drugs) – like nutrition and oncology where he frequently pontificates – how can anyone now believe his claims there hold any credibility either? The use, and even praise of this type of ‘research’, extrapolated to draw false conclusions which he persists with even though his errors are pointed out to him – is this what we should expect from a Professor of Science?

But then isn’t this example true of almost all the skeptics? A cocktail of computer programmers, journalists, geologists with the occasional physics degree thrown in, all ‘judging’ the merits of nutrition, complementary and alternative therapies when they have neither qualification nor research expertise in the specialist field. Some even ‘advise patients’ through their websites and blogs. Many attack complementary therapies and therapists, often in a deliberate and concerted effort. When Colquhoun stood accused, several rushed, unthinkingly, to his defence, proclaiming that I was trying to stop a scientific debate through the law courts. They all missed the truth – but can they read accurately? Tweets gushed between Colquhoun, Simon Singh, Josephine Jones, Guy Chapman and others. One asked if the recipient could find inaccuracy in the CANCERactive website. Oh dear. So some then started writing verbose and inaccurate drivel about CANCERactive with others even contributing to Colquhoun’s defence costs on ‘Just Giving’! One wrote that she ‘didn’t always agree with what he said but she defended his right to say it!’ His right to inaccurately suggest a father was profiting from his own daughter’s death? This was never a debate about science but about decency. Shame on you all.

Skeptics proclaim they are somehow ‘protecting patients’ when in reality, many patients have now wised up to their misleading and potentially life-shortening and even life-threatening antics with ignorant claims against nutrition and complementary therapies. The American Cancer Society 2012 research report (now endorsed by the NCI in America) talks of an ‘explosion’ in research into complementary therapies since 2006, and the spokesperson talked of ‘overwhelming’ evidence that complementary therapies such as diet, exercise and weight control could increase survival times and even prevent a cancer returning. Is this really the sort of knowledge we should be keeping from people with cancer? When will Skeptics wise up to the potential harm they are doing?

Colquhoun’s apology is sadly yet more evidence of the misleading and vacuous opinions of skeptics at large’.

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Scepticism and the natural medicine skeptics: not even distantly related

We think it’s about time to reclaim the word ‘sceptic’ from the anti-natural medicine skeptic movement – and yes, the difference in spelling is entirely deliberate! As we’ll see, they are two entirely different things.

Doubt versus dogma

We were very interested in a recent episode of the morning discussion show ‘In Our Time’, on the UK’s BBC Radio 4, entitled simply ‘Scepticism’. The programme, hosted by writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, traced the history of the proud philosophical tradition of scepticism, which has its roots in the ancient Greece of Plato and Socrates.

At its core, classical scepticism is the belief that it may be impossible to know anything with absolute certainty – that all beliefs and dogmas are equally subject to doubt and questioning. Doubt, and not negative assertion of the ‘such-and-such cannot possibly be correct’ type, is the true sceptic’s watchword. As such, philosophical scepticism has much in common with, and indeed has greatly influenced, the ideal of the modern scientific method: to objectively question the world around us, while realising that there can be no absolute ‘truth’ – only a balance of probabilities.

Sceptical paradoxes

Here’s an interesting situation thrown up by ‘true scepticism’. Sceptics have had great fun demonstrating that the dogmas of religion are unsupportable. And yet, taken to its logical conclusion, the sceptical rejection of all human reason can create the tranquillity through which many believe God can work; Michel de Montaigne, a noted sceptical thinker, concluded that, “After scepticism, man is like a blank tablet, upon which the finger of God can carve whatever word He wants”.

Bringing this line of thought up-to-date, the modern sceptical paradox is that a philosophy based on questioning all sides of a particular argument now finds itself harnessed to the ‘anti-natural’ cause. Such skeptics, typified by organisations such as Sense About Science, appear to find themselves firmly in a pro-GM, pro-mainstream medicine, anti-natural healthcare position. For a start, if scepticism leads us to question all sides of an argument – to reject the intrinsic ‘rightness’ of any position – how can the skeptics be so loudly pro-mainstream medicine and against all the alternatives? What scientific data are they using to support the very dubious view that genetically modified (GM) crops will resolve world hunger? Strictly speaking, it should be impossible for sceptics to describe themselves as ‘pro-science’ or ‘pro-technology’, since that clearly associates them with a belief in the correctness of modern science – an utterly non-sceptical position!

Not only that, but while philosophical scepticism has had enormous influence on the modern scientific process, the modern skeptic turns his or her back on the scientific method by ignoring centuries of human experience – and the clinical experience being gathered every day by practitioners – as ‘anecdote’. Only randomised, controlled trials in human subjects will do to prove any treatment approach worthy of consideration. So, it seems that the ‘pro-science’ ‘skeptics’ are actually in some respects ‘anti-science’, and they’re certainly not sceptics. Their position is effectively a form of intellectual fraud — and that’s being kind.

Descent into thuggery

Chris Woollams runs the charity CANCERactive, which provides information on both mainstream and non-mainstream cancer therapies – a the latter being a red flag for many skeptics, including Professor David Colquhoun of University College London. Colquhoun wrote a piece on his blog accusing Woollams of illegally profiting from CANCERactive. When Woollams protested that this was entirely untrue, Colquhoun admitted as much on his blog – but without removing the offending article! In the meantime, Colquhoun rallied skeptic friends via Twitter, to pen their own poisonous articles against CANCERactive, and Woollams. (Woollams founded the charity because his daughter had died from a brain tumour. He is yet – after 9 years- to take a penny from the charity and even donates all the considerable profits from his books and speeches to the charity.) Colquhoun only removed his defamatory post upon legal advice, presumably that he was guilty of libelling Woollams.

Bitter fruits

When the fruits of the skeptic movement are intellectual fraud, thuggery and empty character assassination, can society be expected to take the movement’s views seriously?

Perhaps today’s ‘anti-natural’ pseudo-skepticism will one day be condensed into a short chapter — of academic interest only — in scepticism’s rich history.

Call to action

Share this article widely with those you feel may have been swayed by skeptics who hold themselves out to be objective, but in reality are using a form of pseudo-scepticism to impart a dogma that supports the status quo.  This may be through the over-use of prescription drugs or childhood vaccination in healthcare, or the notion that GM crops are required to alleviate poverty and hunger in developing countries

If you consider yourself a sceptic, and can, hand on heart, say that your sceptical deliberations rely on the open-minded principles of enquiry on which the great philosophical tradition of true scepticism is founded — congratulations! However, if you are purporting to use skepticism to demonstrate that natural solutions to healthcare or agriculture are worthless, you may wish to re-examine if skepticism is an appropriate term to describe your method.  Have you, for example, become wittingly or unwittingly involved in what Martin Walker calls ‘corporate science’?

Let’s remember that an open and questioning mind is one of the greatest gifts a human being has.

The Alliance for Natural Health: http://www.anh-europe.org/

CANCERactive: www.canceractive.com

 

 

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Professor David Colquhoun apologises formally over content in blog: Bad advice about cancer from icon / CANCERactive

Professor David Colquhoun of UCL has now formally apologised to Chris Woollams and his family for inaccurately suggesting that Mr Woollams used the charity, directly or indirectly, for personal gain.

‘The issue was never one of science. Colquhoun made inaccurate claims about my business affairs and then suggested I was making money from the death of my daughter’, said Chris.

Professor Colquhoun Formal Apology

In my blog posted under the heading ‘Bad advice about cancer from ICON/cancer active’ on 18 May 2012 allegations were made that Chris Woollams’ business affairs involved him obtaining significant personal financial benefits from the charity CANCERactive. I accept, and wish to acknowledge publicly, that Mr Woollams has never taken any money from the charity; to the contrary he has made sizeable donations to it and undertaken significant voluntary work for it. I also accept that the charity and the company Health Issues Ltd, that was associated with it, have nothing to do with Mr Woollams’ business affairs.

He is a father who lost his daughter to cancer, and has devoted considerable funds and time to charitable work in this area. I do not question either his motives or his integrity. I apologise for the distress this has caused both him and his family.

‘Frankly, I would now expect Colquhoun to resign his post at UCL’, said Chris. ‘He used his title as Professor of Pharmacology to give credibility to his inaccurate claims. Once before the President and Provost of UCL, Professor Malcolm Grant, went on record saying Colquhoun should not use the UCL website to make personal comments of this nature.

Here he was not just inaccurate in his attack, he extrapolated some dodgy research into nonsense. Worse, the comments were obnoxious and in the worst possible taste. I would be surprised if UCL didn’t agree. He did suggest on this same DC’s Improbable Science blog back in 2006 that I had founded the charity to make money, but took those claims down when I protested to him and explained that I founded the charity when my eldest daughter was dying from cancer. This time, despite me spelling everything out again in detail, he maintained his empty claims. So much for someone who prattles on about the rigours of science and robust research! While he formally apologises he still shows links on his site to other skeptics making ridiculous claims. So much for his ‘rigorous’ approach to research.

Interestingly he has not just damaged the UCL Pharmacology chair but also damaged the credibility of the whole UK Skeptic movement, and I would think they will push him out to grass too.’

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