A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

Archive for the ‘Pseudoscience’ Category

It may elude formal definition: but you can tell when you are in its presence.

Fantasy physics and energy medicine

Posted by apgaylard on May 6, 2011

I’ve heard it said that, unlike the medical world, there is no such beast as alternative physics.  Whilst it’s true that made up* nonsense hasn’t penetrated physics education and practice in the same way as it has medicine, there is no shortage of people indulging in fantasy physics.  Perpetual-motion dreamers are prone to do this, as are advocates of so-called ‘energy medicine’.  In the case of the former, they are looking for excuses to support their claims for so-called ‘over-unity’ devices that are claimed to produce more energy than they consume.  The latter are looking for ‘explanations’ for how homeopathy, reiki etc. ‘work’.  Of course, neither of these communities actually have meaningful effects that require explanation.  This is about having some superficially ‘sciency’ prose to sell their wares, or reassure their devotees.

I’ve recently been pointed** at a cracking example of ‘energy medicine’ advocates indulging in some fantasy physics.  It’s hosted on the PositiveHealthOnline website and is called, Spirals and Energy in Nature, attributed to Robert McCoy.   It’s worth a look as an exemplar of the desperate nonsense that elements of the ‘energy medicine’ community dabble in.  It’s so rich a vein of fantasy physics that I’m sure that I’ll end up overlooking some howlers.  If I do, please feel free to point them out in the comments.

From Academic to Quackademic

First, I’d like to start by looking at one of the key authorities cited in the article, one Dr Valerie Hunt.  She retired as Professor of Physiology at UCLA in 1980; to quote her web biography:

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Posted in bad physics, Fluid Mechanics, Impossibe Machines, physics | Tagged: , , , , | 32 Comments »

Keen on neem?

Posted by apgaylard on August 2, 2010

Neem [Azadirachta indica A. Juss] is a tree of the mahogany family.  Various claims have been made for its health-giving properties.  As the Abha Light organisation seems keen on neem as an anti-malarial, I decided to do a brief review of the literature.  What follows is a commentary based on searching PubMed for ‘neem and malaria’, and doing some additional searches.

I don’t claim that this is exhaustive and I have not been able to locate any information on some of the papers cited*.  For articles behind paywalls, I have only been able to consult the abstract.

A Review

One of the first things that I look for, when I’m researching a new topic, is a review article.  A recent publication by Anyaehie (2009) seemed to provide a good starting point. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in herbs, homeopathy | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The emperor’s new gym

Posted by apgaylard on November 1, 2009

emperorI have recently returned from an excellent holiday in sunny Spain.  Predictably, my first Monday back at work was a bit of a trial.  It was a training day to support the implementation of a new performance management system.  Not the most enjoyable part of my working life, but fair enough.

However, after an excellent introduction from our CEO, the trial began in earnest when the following two words were projected onto a screen at the front of the auditorium:


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Posted in Pseudoscience | Tagged: , | 12 Comments »

Tell ’em about the honey …

Posted by apgaylard on August 15, 2009

bigstockphoto_Jar_Of_Honey_With_Wood_Stick_3527559According to Annelie Whitfield, the presenter of Channel 4’s ‘The Kitchen Pharmacy” honey is hydrating.  In an episode featuring what she calls “anti-aging” treatments, she makes an “Avocado Face Mask” with avocado and probiotic yoghurt.  Finally she adds honey, saying:

“Honey […] is deeply hydrating and it really helps to get rid of any spots that you might have […]”

The video is available here.  Lots of things that Whitfield says strike me as odd.  This is just another small example.  So, is it strange but true, or just untrue?

For something to be hydrating it needs to contain water, and that water needs to be ‘free’; not bound up with other chemicals.  Now honey does contain water, around 17% by weight.  So, at face value, it might seem that honey could be hydrating.  However, if honey had a significant proportion of its water content available for hydrating human skin, it would also allow micro-organisms to grow in it.  Clearly, honey has a long shelf life, so this would suggest that the water in honey is not ‘free’. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Naturopathy, Pseudoscience | Tagged: , , , | 11 Comments »

Naturopaths angry up the blood

Posted by apgaylard on August 14, 2009


You might have thought that the oxygen in your blood came from taking air into the lungs, which extract oxygen and deliver it into the blood pumped into the lungs by the heart.  I certainly did.

Then again, I don’t have a Bachelor of Science (BSc.) degree in Naturopathy.   Annelie Whitfield does, and on an episode of The Kitchen Pharmacy I saw her demonstrating how to concoct something she called ‘Anti-Age Green Juice’*.  You can see the video here.  During this segment she claimed, in part: 

“Interestingly the chlorophyll molecule, which is why all these vegetables are green, is almost identical to haemin which is a protein found in haemoglobin and haemoglobin carries oxygen around our body so when you look at dark green leafy vegetable you have to think that’s instant oxygen, therefore instant energy which makes you feel more youthful.” 

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Posted in Naturopathy, Pseudoscience | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

Cooking up arthritis treatments

Posted by apgaylard on July 17, 2009

hands_xrayOne of the things about the complimentary and alternative medicine industry I like least is spurious claims to be able to treat arthritis.  Several of my nearest and dearest are severely afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  I have seen them exasperated by people who, usually with the best of intentions, tell them that their problems would be a thing of the past if only they would take Comfrey (or some other herb) or wear a copper bracelet. 

It’s not so much the intrusion that’s annoying: it’s the often not-so-subtle sub-text.  The implication is usually that they have access to some wisdom that is beyond the ken of the humble local GP or consultant rheumatologist.  You see, for all their years of training, medics have somehow managed to remain ignorant of herbal cures and magic jewellery.  In more extreme cases there is the distinct implication that such powerful, natural and kindly measures are being deliberately withheld by evil medical professionals in thrall to the robber barons of ‘Big Pharma’.  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Naturopathy, Supplements | Tagged: , , , | 18 Comments »

Alternative Memory?

Posted by apgaylard on June 5, 2009

bigstockphoto_Don_t_Forget_325211George Lewith has an interesting letter in the New Scientist this week, in which he criticises David Allen Green’s* excellent article “Don’t criticise, or we’ll sue“.  One of his objections is that he is, “unaware of anybody prior to the chiropractors” threatening critics with libel in the UK. 

He seems to have missed Drs Alan Lakin and Ann Walker threatening defamation proceedings against University College London and Professor David Colquhoun over the latter’s criticism** of, herbal medicine practitioner, Dr Walker’s views on the ‘blood cleansing’ properties of red clover and the benefits of vitamin supplements. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in chiropractic, homeopathy, Supplements | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Mail menopause myths

Posted by apgaylard on March 26, 2009

bigstockphoto_hand_outstretched_with_a_pile__1993865It is no great surprise when the Daily Mail gets it wrong on health (or other scientific) issues.  They have a long and inglorious record in this regard.  A recent article on the menopause continues this fine tradition. 

Neither is it unusual to find therapies of no, and even disproven, worth promoted for the treatment of the symptoms of the menopause.   This topic seems to provide rich pickings for people promoting treatments ranging from the sensible but speculative through to downright outrageous quackery.  The confluence of a condition which potentially affects more than half of the world’s population, self limiting symptoms and the difficulties associated with weighing the risks of HRT make for a potent mix.  The market is large, the media are generally credulous, efficacy is difficult to establish and there are fears to play on.  In many ways an ideal target for so-called CAM. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Logical Fallacies, Pseudoscience, Supplements | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Homeopathic hubris and bird flu

Posted by apgaylard on March 7, 2009

black_rubber_pirate_duckPeople convincing themselves to use so-called complementary or alternative treatments often use the rationalisation: “what harm can it do”.  On face value this can seem reasonable: homeopaths commonly dilute their alleged therapeutic ingredients to the point where it’s vanishingly unlikely that there is any ‘medicine’ left in the ‘medicine’.  Other examples come to mind: aromatherapy, for instance, just exposes users to nice smells and reflexology is a harmless foot rub. 

So is it possible for an essentially inert intervention to do harm?  The fusion of homeopathy, quack technology and delusional beliefs advocated by Richard Kenchington RSHom illustrate the potential for harm even in the absence of a real physical effect. 

Kenchington was, at the time he promoted the views discussed here, Managing Director of Crossgates Farm Homeopathics and Managing Director of Global Energies; as well as a recent Director of the Society of Homeopaths and a homeopathic practitioner.  His panacea is a development of a classic quack machine: the e-Lybra.  Working with Global Bioenergetics, he has apparently integrated its use with another improbable device, a so-called ‘bio-emitter‘.  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in homeopathy, Impossibe Machines, Pseudoscience, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Ignorant refusal

Posted by apgaylard on February 8, 2009

bigstockphoto_balance_32866491Jeni Barnett‘s recent deplorable on-air foray into the topic of vaccination and MMR has got me thinking about one of the most fundamental concepts in medical ethics: informed consent.

Back in 2005 Edzard Ernst discussed this in the context of the use of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). 

“The principle of informed consent means that patients need full information about a treatment before receiving it […] Informed consent, however, is more than just agreement, it’s also about information. According to the Department of Health, the data that healthcare professionals need to provide includes “information about the benefits and risks of the proposed treatment and alternative treatments”. [emphasis mine]

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Posted in Pseudoscience, Science Journalism | Tagged: , | 12 Comments »