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Archive for March, 2006

Bearding the beards

Friday, March 24th, 2006


“A child born today in the United Kingdom stands a ten times greater chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to a university … This can be taken as an indication that we are driving our children mad more effectively than we are genuinely educating them. Perhaps it is our way of educating them that is driving them mad.”
R D Laing, ‘The Politics of Experience’, 1970

Now the Archbishop of Canterbury here in the UK is joining in the debate about whether creationism (or “intelligent design”) should be taught in schools. Although the debate here seems to spark nothing remotely approaching the levels of hysteria seen in the US, it’s a doctrine that’s now found its way into the curriculum in the two city academies founded by the evangelical Christian businessman Sir Peter Vardy and several other schools.

What seems so astounding is the number of people firmly attached to the idea that it has to be one or the other. Or, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, sidestepping the issue by insisting on the preservation of perceptual fragmentation: religion and science cannot mix. Yet Darwinian evolution does not preclude the presence of a guiding intelligence. And neither does a guiding intelligence preclude the evolution of species along the lines Darwin proposed.

What seems to be the problem here is not so much the fundamental incompatibility of evolution and creationism, but more a clash of cultures – between the assumptions, imagery and assorted ideological trappings that come, like limpets, firmly attached to each concept. In one corner, representing the biological sciences and sporting a fetching ideology which has completely sidelined the role of life in the study of living things, stands the venerable figure of Charles Darwin. In the other, representing a rather fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian religion, stands an equally venerable figure of an anthropomorphised paternalistic craftsman-creator that most small children tend to equate with Father Christmas. Super bearded being versus bearded super-being. Neither image seems to represent a particularly accurate or appropriate rendition of the actual territory.

Living things behave with intelligence and meaning, so it seems quite natural that there should eventually be some kind of reaction against a dominant ideology (“science”) that ignores or even tries to deny the existence of it. And as much as science was originally a reaction to fundamentalist religious doctrine and dogmatic Aristotelianism, so now it’s fundamentalist religious doctrine that returns as a backlash against the lifelessness of science. The heat of the debate merely highlights the extent of polarisation of each viewpoint as each side declaims the evident unreason of the other.

Looked at from the perspective of popup launcher icon the blind men and the elephant however, the answer seems almost embarassingly plain. Shave off the beards – the cultural trappings and the extreme imagery – and what’s left? The idea that the life force in each and every one of us has intelligence and has a role in guiding the evolution of species.

Is that really such a hard concept to face up to?

Bias-binding and the PEKing order

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

“Research is subordinated (not to a long-term social benefit) but to an immediate commercial profit. Currently, disease (not health) is one of the major sources of profit for the pharmaceutical industry, and the doctors are willing agents of those profits.”
Dr Pierre Bosquet, Nouvelle Critique, France, May 1961

These days it’s hard not to conclude that the general public throughout the world are being thoroughly stitched up when it comes to the question of reliable information about health matters.

As a minor example, I happened to come across a 2005 study on mobile phone use and the incidence of acoustic neuroma (M J Schoemaker, A J Swerdlow, and others: Mobile phone use and risk of acoustic neuroma: results of the Interphone case-control study in five North European countries. British Journal of Cancer (2005), 1-7) which found a slight but statistically insignificant increase in incidence of acoustic neuroma related to mobile phone use based on 678 cases and 3553 controls in the UK and four Nordic countries over a period of 10 years. The study concludes “… that there is no substantial risk of acoustic neuroma in the first decade after starting mobile phone use. However, an increase in risk after longer term use or after a longer lag period could not be ruled out.” (emphasis added)

The study only looked at one particular type of cancer based on the assumption that acoustic neuroma would be the most likely cancer to develop from an EMF radiation source held close to the ear. Acoustic neuromas are rare, and the assumption that the effects of EMF radiation will only be visible closest to its source (given that EMF radiation is effective over considerable distances, hence its use in mobile phones!) in exactly that way is questionable. And of course a specific study of one type of cancer like this can’t in any way be extrapolated to all cancers.

Yet how did the “responsible” press headline this story?

BBC: Mobile phone cancer link rejected (30 August 2005)
The Guardian: Mobiles’ 10-year all-clear for cancer (31 August 2005)
The Independent: Using a mobile phone regularly does not cause cancer, scientists conclude (31 August 2005)
Reuters: No brain cancer link to mobile phones, study says (30 August 2005)

Never let truth stand in the way of a good story …

But at least we can be thankful that these headlines were only gross exaggeration, as opposed to the outright lies promulgated by The Lancet in claiming an end to homeopathy based on the meta-analysis by Shang et al published last August.

It emerges that the Shang et al meta-analysis was an offshoot from a Swiss government study, the Programm Evaluation Komplementärmedizin (PEK), which was designed to allow politicians to assess whether or not five complementary therapies – anthroposophical medicine, homeopathy, neural therapy, phytotherapy and traditional Chinese herbal therapy – should be included in the list of services covered by the Swiss compulsory health insurance scheme (KLV). The cost of complementary therapies were, until 1998, reimbursed under the basic national scheme, but a change in the regulations in 1998 put the decision over which therapies were or were not valid for reimbursement in the hands of the Swiss Department of Internal Affairs (EDI). Public outcry forced the government to back-peddle and the five most popular therapies were reinstated in the KLV scheme from 1999 to 2005, on condition that each therapy was provided by FMH-certified physicians only, and that a simultaneous study in each therapy’s effectiveness was carried out (the PEK study). The decision on whether the therapies were retained within the basic health insurance scheme after 2005 would depend on the demonstration of their efficacy, appropriateness and cost effectiveness.

The study was set up under the Federal Office of Social Insurance (BSV) with a well-defined management structure and review board of internationally-acknowledged experts. It received widespread praise for the quality of its design and the degree of cooperation and transparency amongst its participants. As each area of the study began publishing their findings, the project was cited as an exemplar for future CAM research.

But as the extent of the findings in favour of the five therapies began to become clear, in 2004 PEK’s management structure was abruptly changed and the control of the study was passed to the Federal Office of Health (BAG). From that point onward, many attempts were made to interfere with and derail its emerging conclusions. Transparency was immediately compromised. Economic data showing the cost benefits of CAM were suppressed. The economist preparing to present the results of his work was dismissed without reason and placed under a gagging order. Other departments were prevented from publishing their work.

One member of the PEK steering committee, Dr med Peter Heusser, was so disgusted by what he witnessed that he has written an account of what happened, Medizin und Macht am Beispiel des Programms Evaluation Komplementärmedizin PEK (currently only available in German, but machine-translated here), and this brief summary is drawn largely from his account.

The Swiss authorities – both the government and the Federal Office of Health (BAG) – tried to sweep the PEK study under the carpet. A conference scheduled for April 2005 to present and discuss its results had to be cancelled because the Federal Office of Health prevented the publication of the study data. Some collaborators were even coerced into deleting all PEK-related data from their computers. The final meeting of the PEK international review board (six professors from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the UK responsible for the scientific quality of the study), scheduled for June 2005 for a final assessment of the project, was cancelled. (The review board eventually produced a summary report in September, which is highly critical of the political interference in the study.) Many contributors had their contracts terminated before their work could be completed. The recommendation in the final draft that homeopathy, anthroposophical medicine and herbal medicine should stay in the compulsory health insurance scheme was deleted in the final publication.

Review board member Harald Walach PhD protested:

“I protested on behalf of the international review board whose membership was against this highly unusual procedure. I had an interesting exchange of e-mails and letters with the vice-president of the Swiss federal health agency, which told me a lot about the irrelevance of scientific data in the face of political decisions. What I basically learned was that the data gathered by the researchers were absolutely irrelevant to the decision. The vice-president, in an e-mail to me, literally called the data “waste products which do not bear any relevance to the political decisions.” It is important to highlight this situation in the face of editorials and information in the public press, which seem to imply that the Swiss decision was based on evidence about the higher costs and ineffectiveness of complementary medicine. Very likely, the opposite was true: The data probably suggested some cost effectiveness and they certainly did not imply zero effectiveness. But this information was held back from the public in order to veil the political nature of the decision, I assume.”

Walach concludes his editorial,

“This is a very interesting, informative, and, in fact, very sobering piece of recent history in the evaluation of complementary medicine. Public authorities, health systems researchers, and, in fact, all CAM researchers should at least take some note of this process in order to understand the complexities of the issues at stake and of the power-plays of different stakeholders in the game.”
(Walach, H. The Swiss Program for the Evaluation of Complementary Medicine (PEK). Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, April 2006; Vol 12, No 3, pp 231-232)

The Swiss government pre-emptively decided to exclude all CAM therapies from the compulsory health insurance scheme as of 30 June 2005, effectively ignoring not just the weight of scientific findings and economic benefits (which could save SFr millions on the health budget) which were emerging from the still-to-be-completed PEK study, but also the weight of Swiss public opinion.

In this context, the appearance of the Shang et al meta-analysis in The Lancet two months later – notably pre-empting the final report from the PEK international review board – can do little else but appear even more biased and reverse-engineered than it does already in its own right (see Myths and Misconceptions). A letter to The Lancet from the Swiss Association of Homeopathic Physicians raising objections to the study was not even granted publication.

None of this – aside from the initial frenzy surrounding the announcement of the conclusions of the meta-analysis on homeopathy – appears to have raised so much as a whisper from the English-speaking international media.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that Switzerland is ranked as 8th most competitive nation in the 2005 World Competitiveness Yearbook. (In comparison, the UK came 22nd.) And it’s also ranked 8th in terms of the major exporting countries of chemical and pharmaceutical products. Around 5% of current global pharmaceutical R&D is attributable to Swiss companies. Since many university medical research laboratories would cease to exist without the support of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s perhaps no surprise that “at the end of 2004, professors of the medical faculties had expressed the intention at a meeting of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences … to do everything in their power to prevent complementary medicine remaining in the basic insurance. A dean voiced the prevailing opinion: “We must provide hand grenades [literal quotation, personal communication of a participant of that conference] against complementary medicine.”” (Dr med Peter Heusser).

On a more metaphysical note, it’s interesting too how the number 8 appears twice in the Swiss rankings (not to mention being the final ridiculously small number of homeopathic trials selected to represent the therapy in the Shang et al meta-analysis) given its numerological associations with executive character, political skills, handling of power and authority, working for a cause, command, ambition, lacking humanitarian instincts, repression and materialism … and itself a figure, in the form of the lemniscate, often connected with the maxim “as above, so below”.

More comment on this topic:
Dr Manish Bhatia

“The prerequisite for today’s medical policy is naturally the currently predominant system of medicine. The sick are the source of income, therefore it is necessary for sick people to be there, yes, it proves advantageous if one makes the people artificially sick.”
Dr med Steintl: ‘International Medical Policy’, 1938, Berlin

Statin the obvious

Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

“As long as men are liable to die and are desirous to live, a physician will be made fun of, but he will be well paid.”
La Bruyere (1645-1696)

Noticed all the newspaper billboards across this part of Scotland today were trumpeting the headline “Doctors discover drug to reverse heart disease”, so thought I’d better check in with the BBC when I got home and find out more.

An international study of 349 patients over two years found high doses of a powerful new statin, rosuvastatin, could reverse atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty deposits in arteries, which is one of the recognised prime risk factors in heart disease. (The study, which was funded by AstraZeneca, the makers of rosuvastatin, will be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April.)

The usefulness of statins in heart disease is not news (though their capacity to reverse the build-up of atherosclerotic deposits is). Alongside today’s BBC article is a link to a news item from August 2004 reporting on a debate held by doctors at the annual meeting of Heart UK, which calls itself “the cholesterol charity” (interesting phrasing). The chairman of Heart UK, a consultant endocrinologist at Bath University, even put forward a case for adding statins to the drinking water supply.

But Professor Tom Sanders, a nutritionist at King’s College, London, and nutrition director for Heart UK, disagreed saying “There are serious side effects with statins. One is myositis, in particular rhabdomyolysis – a muscle-wasting disease. It’s a very nasty side effect. It can kill you.” He also pointed out that the drugs cause limb defects in unborn children. (Hmmm … haven’t we been here before?)

However, this didn’t seem to overly dampen the enthusiasm of his chairman who simply suggested that babies and others wishing to avoid treatment took statin-free drinking water (no doubt at a cost).

Oh, didn’t I mention his name? How very remiss of me. It’s Dr John Reckless.

You’d never get away with that in a piece of fiction, would you? Just as well Professor Sanders’ first name isn’t Harland. ‘Nuff said … except perhaps to mention the announcement of another “miracle” drug of a possibly very similar nature (coming soon to a water supply near you).

“Doctors prescribe medicine of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of which they know nothing.”

Whisper words of wisdom …

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

“Man is bound to follow the adventurous promptings of his scientific and inventive mind and to admire himself for his splendid achievements. At the same time, his genius shows the uncanny tendency to invent things that become more and more dangerous, because they represent better and better means for wholesale suicide. The “conquest of nature” is our biggest illusion for we have not gained control of our own nature.”
Carl Gustav Jung

Here is a link to a Lannan Foundation podcast which anyone with concerns about the times we live in, the war in Iraq, and the global political situation would be well advised to listen to. It’s an hour and a half long, but infinitely more rewarding than your average daytime radio fare. The podcast is a recording of a reading ( from the book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning) and subsequent conversation between journalists Christopher Hedges and Amy Goodman which took place before an audience in Santa Fe 11 days ago.

Chris Hedges, a veteran war correspondent, has survived ambushes in Central America, being shot at in the marshes of Southern Iraq, imprisonment in the Sudan, deportation from Libya and Iran, strafing by Russian MiG21s in Bosnia, a beating by Saudi military police, being captured and held for a week by the Iraqi Republican Guard, being fired upon by Serb snipers and shelled for a week in Sarajevo, and a lot more besides. He is the author of What Every Person Should Know About War, a stark look at the effects of war on combatants, and War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. Hedges joined the staff of The New York Times in 1990 and previously worked for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and National Public Radio.

Amy Goodman is the host of Pacifica Radio’s daily newsmagazine Democracy Now! She is a 1998 recipient of the George Polk Award for the radio documentary “Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Military Dictatorship,” in which she and co-producer Jeremy Scahill exposed the oil company’s role in the killing of two Nigerian villagers on May 28, 1998. Goodman and Scahill co-wrote two articles in The Nation magazine on the Chevron-related killings.

The broadcast cuts right through the spin and political rhetoric that fills our media these days to the bare bones of real experience. How is it that journalists like these seem to be such a rare and dying breed? Hedges even has the answer to that.

Terrifying glorification

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006

Wanted: for glorifying terrorism

“It is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes.”
C G Jung, ‘The Undiscovered Self’

I feel a rant coming on …

The two houses of the British parliament are playing ping-pong with the government’s Terrorism Bill over a clause attempting to outlaw the glorification of terrorism. Whether or not it succeeds in becoming law, we’re told that a new offence to prevent indirect encouragement of terrorism is planned regardless.

This seems supremely ironic in view of the fact that the most prominent and obvious candidate to be immediately arrested and prosecuted under this legislation the moment it hits the statute books is the very man who’s so energetically promoting it. After all, what’s the invasion of a foreign nation on the basis of a lie but indirect – well OK, pretty direct as it happens – encouragement of terrorism? What is legislation which attempts to suppress the symptoms while blatantly ignoring the cause but indirect encouragement of terrorism?

The entire justification for this whole house of cards hinges on a critical event in September 2001 for which there are an extraordinary number of anomalies, illogicalities, and unanswered questions in the official version of events. Where there is a marked reluctance to address questions about the way those steel-framed buildings came down (a steel-framed building never yet having been destroyed by fire), and including a third building that wasn’t even hit by anything, in a manner so far unique to buildings collapsed by controlled demolition; about the pools of molten steel at the bases of their supporting columns still red hot weeks later; about the seismic record that shows massive shocks in the bedrock immediately before the buildings fell; about the obscene haste with which all material evidence was cleared from the site and immediately exported for reprocessing. These are questions which might well be asked in the context of the phrase on page 51 of the September 2000 PNAC report Rebuilding America’s Defences which has become the policy blueprint for the Bush administration and which states “The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” … which itself needs to be seen in the light of evidence suggesting the Roosevelt government’s complicity in the original event.

Surely it must be clear that the only effective protection from terrorism is ethical and moral government which arises from a heart-felt conviction that human rights are inviolate and the fundamental and primary motivation of every action of government? As ever there seems to be this exclusive focus on ultimates, how things appear on the surface, ignoring underlying causes and motivation. Ultimates you can spin whatever way you want. Any and all rationalisations can be made to sound plausible, but most of them need a large degree of untwisting to arrive at a true reflection of the underlying state.

Totalitarian regimes are all too easy to see for what they are when you’re looking at them from the outside. Far less easy to spot when they’re setting up shop on your own doorstep masquerading as “democracy”. Little by little, all under the guise of “protecting” the citizenry of this country, we are allowing our rights and liberties to be systematically shredded every bit as thoroughly as the Bush administration are savaging the US Bill of Rights. It seems that the ones glorifying terror are the ones in suits and ties sitting in our legislatures. The ones on the streets waving placards are no more than a token and largely impotent reaction to it.

Our rights and liberties are what generations of men and women on both sides of the Atlantic have fought and died to protect. How ironic that we should allow ourselves to be so thoroughly spooked by our own governments that we happily give them up, and create lame justifications to excuse turning a blind eye to the unanswered questions about the events of 9/11 and to the human rights abuses taking place in Guatánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

And to think I used to wonder at how the German people let Hitler get away with what he did. Now it seems all too dreadfully clear.

As Henry Porter wrote recently in The Observer:

“We have failed to grasp that when we do not protest and demand an end to atrocities committed in our name, something trips in the deep-brain cynicism of the governing psyche, which takes heart from the passivity it finds and devises more ways to control and enforce its will. It is no coincidence that the abuse of rights on foreign fields has led now to the suspension of rights at home; no accident that our plausible Prime Minister spits out the words ‘civil liberties’ as he bristles with the high purpose of his protective mission.”

“In the Garden of gentle sanity may you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.”
Chogyam Trungpa

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard