Alternative medicine: a dangerous game

In this article I discuss why alternative medicines are bad, how the placebo effect works, and how such remedies are dangerous to the user and to others.

I am keenly aware that I need to tread carefully with this post. I know a number of people that will disagree with me, and even a chance that some other people will attempt to sue me.

It is my firm belief that alternative medicines are a danger to health and life for everyone, and not just those that choose to use it. I am talking about treatments such as Homeopathy, Crystal Therapy, Accupuncture, Chiropracty, and many others.

Why they don’t work

I believe many of these methods mentioned here to be a fraud or at most a misplaced faith in something which doesn’t actually have any scientific reason behind it. Homeopathy, for example, is not just without reason for working, it’s actually counter to reason.

I’m picking on homeopathy here mainly because I can’t address all alternative medicines in this article. Homeopathy relies on choosing a substance that is believed to be linked to the health problem in question. That substance is then diluted in water many times over, and the water shaken to imprint “memory” of the substance. Given that most illnesses are caused by viruses, bacteria and genetics, the choice of material for the homeopathic remedy is largely arbitrary.

Leaving aside for a moment the choice of substance that is supposed to help with treatment, I’m afraid that the notion of diluting something to make it stronger just doesn’t wash. True, vaccines rely on a small amount of dead virus to trigger an immune response and train the immune system, but homeopathic medicine is not like that. No, in homeopathy, the substance is diluted so much that there is nothing left at all. Commonly a substance is diluted 100:1, and that is sometimes repeated up to 30 times. After 12 times, though, the likelihood is that not a single molecule of the original substance remains behind. Scientists call this the Avogadro Limit.

Homeopaths counter this by arguing that water “remembers” the substance. This is of course nonsense. The atoms and molecules cannot remember anything. If they did, the atomic or molecular structure would not be that of hydrogen, oxygen or water. Apparently shaking the water in a certain way helps the memory here. I’m not even going to write about what’s wrong with that.

For more information about homeopathy have a look at the excellent resource that is www.1023.org.uk

The placebo effect

Alternative medicines are, dare I say it, actually not without some beneficial effect. Although most do nothing to heal the body or fight infection through any physical changes, they often do help through the Placebo effect. The placebo effect is “measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health not attributable to treatment” and is the subject of much ongoing scientific research. The placebo effect is know to help with pain relief in particular, but also even to improve physical health. It has been observed on conventional and alternative medicine alike, and some scientists even believe that some conventional medicine works more as a placebo than a physical change. The placebo effect is beneficial enough that it is actually worth using as a medical treatment. Recent research found that a placebo can work even if the recipient knows that it is a placebo!

There is also some placebo effect because practitioners of alternative medicine are likely to show more interest in and spend more time with their patients. When NHS doctors are under so much pressure, spending a few hours with them is unlikely, whereas that can easily happen with an alternative medicine practitioner.

Why it harms people

You may think that if an alternative medicine is unlikely to poison someone, and may well even give them a benefit from the placebo effect, that there is no harm in allowing them to use it. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

Alternative medicines can cause people to avoid conventional medical treatment that works, in a situation where a placebo does not work and leaving a condition untreated could be fatal. Diseases such as diabetes, where the patient needs medicine or insulin, could be left untreated and lead to stroke and blindness. A flu virus could run it’s course unchecked in an elderly person and cause death. I am sure there are many more examples that I could list here.

People that use alternative medicines are also likely to avoid vaccinations out of mistrust of conventional medicine or of fear of side effects. This is the part that could harm us all. In order to eradicate diseases such as smallpox, measles and polio, a critical percentage of the population must be vaccinated. This is called herd immunity. When enough people are vaccinated, the remainder of vulnerable people are unlikely to be infected through other people carrying the virus. There are places where measles and mumps have returned with a vengeance because herd immunity has broken down after many people chose not to be vaccinated.

Opting out of vaccination is as likely to be caused by a failure to understand the scientific method as by the use of homeopathic remedies, but then using homeopathic remedies is also likely to be caused by a failure to understand the scientific method.

Another way that homeopathy harms people is that it receives NHS funding. That’s right, the NHS spends £4 million per year on paying for something that doesn’t work when it could spend that money on a myriad of more sensible things. Homeopathy is stealing from us all.

Conclusion

It is not possible to dismiss all alternative therapies out of hand. Unfortunately, to the average person, medicine is divided into conventional, and alternative. I am guilty taking this line from the science side, but many people view it from the alternative side. Because of this, many people will take the view that because something did work for them, be it through a measurable effect of an active ingredient, or through the placebo effect, that therefore all alternative medicines must work. In practice some work, some don’t. Some are outright harmful, others can be based on sound logic that simply hasn’t been through clinical trials and adopted by the scientific and medical communities.

Those “alternative” medicines that actually use active ingredients such as plant extracts should be tested in full double-blind clinical trials and if they work, adopted in  conventional medicine where useful. The ones that fail should be dismissed and abandoned.

While there may be some benefit from the placebo effect when using alternative medicine, I believe people are much better off in using conventional, tested and scientifically proven medicine. After all, that has a placebo effect too. And as a person with a fairly broken immune system, I beg you, don’t skip your vaccinations. You could kill me.

Marketing on Twitter: Don’t spam me!

In this article I will discuss various different ways of using Twitter and how to make use of it as a small business. The advice contained here is aimed at the very small business, as well as individuals who are their own brand such as authors, journalists and artists. Continue reading “Marketing on Twitter: Don’t spam me!”

Guest post: Lobbying your Political Representative

This is a guest post by Puffles the Whitehall Dragon Fairy. Puffles is a Whitehall insider who tweets under the name Puffles2010. This post was first published on the website of UK Uncut and is reproduced here with permission.

Puffles the Dragon Fairy notes that everyone found out the hard way what happens if we do not keep tabs on our elected representatives: they end up doing stupid things, like claiming expenses for duck houses or moat cleaning, rather than holding central and local government to account.

As you may be aware, Puffles buzzes around Whitehall and keeps tabs on a small but friendly group of public servants. They have helped Puffles come up with this guide for people who want to lobby their MPs and Councillors. Continue reading “Guest post: Lobbying your Political Representative”

A morning with ME

I wake, I think. At this point it is hard to tell. I am lying on my front with my head pointed towards my bedside table. I try to lift my head to see the clock but I can’t. I fall back into semi-consciousness and doze for a while. It’s better than facing the pain.

I stir again. I still cannot lift my head, but my arm almost works. I reach for my phone. 9:20. I have had maybe five hours sleep. A good night. I notice the tweetdeck symbol. “5 messages about me.” I click to see them but consciousness deserts me and the phone falls out of my grasp.

10am. I wake with a start. My clock is beeping, its simulated sunrise glaring in my face. It did not wake me slowly, instead the beeping alarm hits my skull like a road drill and the sunrise light burns my eyes like being next to a real sun. My phone alarm joins in. Beep beep beep beep THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP. I try to reach for the alarm and eventually hit the button. The phone is next, and I manage to swipe the unlock pattern on the fourth try. Then I attempt to turn over. Pain hits every part of me. Crushing weight bears down on me. I shove against the bed as hard as I can and drag myself on to my back, my legs following almost lifelessly. I gasp in pain and fall back on the bed.

Blank. Then wake. The sunrise lamp still burns me. I reach for it, managing eventually to hold the dimmer button until it goes dark.

Pain. I remain awake though, so I reach for my phone and load tweetdeck. I cannot speak, can barely move but the digital world responds to me. I can manage to type messages and feel connected to the world that way at least.

The cat wakes and walks over to me. She purrs loudly. I try to stroke her, my arm falling back to the bed. The cat is not happy. She headbutts my hand several times in an attempt to get more attention. Then, horror, she pushes me with a cold damp nose. I have no energy to wipe my hand. The cat leaves in disgust.

My wife comes in to the room to see if I am awake. She asks if I want coffee. I cannot answer, my words won’t form. I know what I want to say, but have no strength to say it. I answer, but too quietly. I try again. “Yes”, I manage to force out. As she leaves I remember my painkillers. I sit up, with huge effort. My legs still won’t follow. Packet. Pop out pills. They won’t go. I summon more effort. It hurts, but the tablets emerge from the packet. Glass of water. Am I holding it tightly enough? I manage not to drop it, and swallow my pills.

My wife comes back with my coffee but I have fallen back on the bed. A few minutes later I find the strength to pick up my phone and reconnect with the online world. I try to reach for the coffee but I can’t sit up enough to drink it. Eventually I manage to sit up enough, and even to adjust my pillow behind me. I drink the coffee.

I think about how a healthy person must view me, how lazy they would think I am. ME? Load of rubbish. Snap out of it and get a job you lazy bastard! I decide that I must write this narrative. Perhaps I can raise awareness of the reality of this crippling disease, change a few minds.

And so, I type this, my phone propped on my chest, my head barely lifted by my pillow. My legs scream at me in pain. My hands tingle with pins and needles, too much typing, held in one position too long. My wife brings me a coffee refill but I feel too sick to drink it. Time for unconsciousness again, I hope.

All your photos are belong to Facebook

Does Facebook have the right to sell your photos? Worryingly, the answer is probably yes.

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The original photo as used by the Daily Mail. ©UCL Occupation

The Daily Mail published a story (The word story is used here in the loosest possible sense.) about Aaron Peters, a student involved in the UCL Occupation and the UK Uncut protests. The second photo in that article, also shown above, was taken by a friend of Aarons and was posted to Flickr, where it is licensed for re-use by others under the Creative Commons “Some rights reserved” license. This would allow anyone to use the photo as long as they attribute the copyright of the photo to “UCL Occupation” or provide a link back to the photo on Flickr, as I have here.

Copyright as shown by the Daily Mail

However, the Daily Mail has actually labelled the picture as ©Facebook. This would imply that they took the photo from Facebook, where it had been uploaded for ease of sharing with friends. It is possible that the Mail simply lifted the photo from Facebook without permission, which would be straightforward copyright violation. However, reading the the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities gives this information:

2. Sharing Your Content and Information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:

  1. For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Basically, that boils down to saying that Facebook can give or sell your photo to anyone that they like, for any purpose including commercial use and publication in a national newspaper. The question is, do Facebook have this arrangement with the Daily Mail? Is it the case that the Daily Mail can use any photo that has been uploaded to Facebook? Do they pay per photo or do they have a blanket license agreement?

One thing is certain. I won’t be putting any more photos on Facebook.

—Addendum —

Many people are saying that the license granted to Facebook is subject to your privacy settings. That is not true. The order and the wording used clearly show that the license that you grant to Facebook overrides the preceding statement. Privacy settings such as ‘Friends only’ may have prevented the Daily Mail from seeing the picture at all, but that is not the issue here.

It is a necessary evil to grant a license to Facebook to display your photo, otherwise they could not show it to people viewing Facebook. The problem arrises because the license that Facebook claim is much broader than necessary, granting them a sub-licensable, royalty free use of your photo. That is the wording that allows them to sell your photo and keep the profits.

It might be that the Daily Mail stole the photograph without permission and the ©Facebook is  half hearted attempt to get away with it. It might be that Facebook sold the license to them. Either way, people need to know.

Why I am no longer a Christian

This blog post is angry, shouty, incoherent and out of order. It is going to upset a lot of people. If you are one of them, I’m sorry. If you can’t handle my personal rant without hating me, please don’t read this.

Continue reading “Why I am no longer a Christian”

The Catholic Church and abortion to save a life

This story in the Seattle Times (Now also in the Guardian) tells us about a Catholic hospital that has had its affiliation with the church withdrawn because they performed an abortion that was the only way to save the mothers life. The woman in question was suffering from pulmonary hypertension, which could only be resolved by ending her pregnancy. Doctors gave her a 100% chance of dying within hours.

The story has been picked and written about by a prominent atheist and denounced as proof that the church is evil. Although I left the Catholic church a couple of years ago in protest at several other teachings that I disagree with, I rushed to comment and defend the church. I wanted to say that this was a misreading of what the church teaches, that it was just this Bishop that was wrong. Except that I couldn’t.

I was always under the impression that the Catholic Church would allow an abortion if it would save the life of the mother and otherwise both mother and baby would die. However on reading the catechism and New Advent it seems that I am wrong. The catechism is absolutely clear that abortion is never allowed and it makes no mention of abortion as an accidental result of life-saving medical treatment. The only exception that I could find in New Advent says

However, if medical treatment or surgical operation, necessary to save a mother’s life, is applied to her organism (though the child’s death would, or at least might, follow as a regretted but unavoidable consequence), it should not be maintained that the fetal life is thereby directly attacked.

While this allows for providing life-saving medical treatment that might inadvertantly cause an abortion, it makes no exception for performing an abortion if ending the pregnancy itself is the only way to save the mothers life.

I cannot agree with this view. What sense does it make to condemn both mother and baby to death? There is no way that I can defend the punishment of those doctors that saved a mothers life, after convening their hospitals ethics committee too, I should add. The staff at this hospital do their utmost save lives and ease suffering and to abide by the ethical and moral code of the hospital and the church. To those atheists that say the churches decision is evil; I can’t argue that you are wrong.

Book review: The Chicken Shak Spy

Book: The Chicken Shak Spy by Simon Lucas

The Chicken Shak Spy follows reluctant secret agent Graham Chapman and private security agency the Hunter Group as they try to prevent the kidnapping and murder of the pope during his visit to the UK.

In writing this novel Simon has managed to take all the best parts of the genre while avoiding being as annoying as Dan Brown. The result is  that this is a great thriller with an outrageous plot and characters that you can sympathise with. Once I found the time to start reading it, I couldn’t stop. (I finished it at 5am!) If I had one criticism it would be that diversions in to background information sometimes interrupted the flow of action at some points in the story.

I can definitely recommend The Chicken Shak Spy and I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

The Chicken Shak Spy is available as an eBook only, and links to various eBook sellers can be found on Simons website.

Blood Bikes: the bikers that could save your life

This is a clip from Channel 5’s Emergency Bikers. This particular clip features Blood Bikes from Freewheelers EVS and Severn Freewheelers.

Description taken from their website: Blood bikes are a volunteers that use motorcycles (and sometimes cars) to provide an out-of-hours courier service to hospitals and other health institutions within their area. The charities carry urgently needed medical items such as blood, biological samples, medical notes, x-rays and scans. The service is offered free of charge to the NHS and all members are unpaid volunteers.

If the blood bikes didn’t exist, the NHS would be paying for taxis or ambulances to transport blood, tissues and medical supplies. Despite the amount of money that they save the NHS, blood bikes are ridden by volunteers and funded entirely through donations.

The blood bikes need your help to keep going. They need riders, they need volunteers to answer the phones and help co-ordinate, they need people to go to shows and events to raise awareness, and they need donations.

I would very much like to ride for the Severn Freewheelers. Unfortunately what is stopping me is the training. Advanced Rider Training is a requirement before riding blood bikes, and quite rightly so. I became a member about a year ago and started to take my advanced rider training with Redditch Advanced Motorcycle Group (RAMG) but unfortunately I haven’t been able to dedicate the time to go out riding for most of the day every second Sunday, nor have I been able to afford the full tank of petrol and lunch out that each training trip would entail. Ironically, my insomnia makes me perfectly placed to ride blood bikes from 7pm to 7am, but the same insomnia makes it extremely difficult for me to undertake observed rides for training at 9am! I’m currently looking in to alternative ways to get trained up so that I can volunteer a few nights a month to ride a blood bike.

Useful Links

National Association of Blood Bikes

Severn Freewheelers

Prescott Bike Festival – Fundraising for Blood Bikes in April 2011