Reseach methodologists attempting to statistically pool data from randomized clinical trials (RCTs) of chiropractic treatment of low back pain concluded: "A vote counting of the available RCTs provided no convincing evidence of the effectiveness of chiropractic for acute or chronic low back pain. All RCTs had serious flaws in the design, execution and reporting. There is certainly a need for further correctly executed trials."
[Assendelft et al."The effectiveness of chiropractic for treatment of low back pain: an update and attempt at statistical pooling," J Manip & Physiolog Therapeut, 1996;19:499-507.]
On December 9, 1996, 25 state Attorneys General and state securities regulators, various other enforcement agencies, and the Council of Better Business Bureaus surfed the Internet to see what consumers confront when they go looking for business opportunities. Over 500 possible pyramid operations were located. E-mail messages were sent to each reminding them that pyramid schemes were illegal, describing the elements that distinguished legal multi-level marketing from pyramids, and telling them that they would be scrutinized in the future. This was done to help clean up the Internet, which is becoming a highway preyed upon by a new kind of hold-up man. The goal is to make the Internet a more trustworthy place for doing business. For a copy of the report ask for "FTC Report on Internet Surf Day," 12/12/96.
In July, 1996, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed a $16 million lawsuit against Time magazine for its May, 1991 cover story which claimed that Scientology is not a bona fide church, but is organized to make money both legally and illegally. The story criticized the tax-exempt church for the harm done by its counseling methods, and the fierce way it combats journalists, judges, and its own defectors. Time-Warner, Inc. reportedly spent $7 million defending against litigation over the story. In October, Time settled the last of the suits filed over the story -- this was with Los Angeles marketing and public relations consultant Michael Baybak who it wrongly portrayed as a "front" for the Church of Scientology.
[The Cult Observer, Nov-Dec, 1996]
The Kansas City Star ran a series of articles on October 20-23, 1996 entitled "Plain Prey" that described the exploitation of Amish and Mennonites by the purveyors of "suspect medicine." Despite its focus on the "plain people," this series is useful to a much broader audience. The series' insights on how conservative religious beliefs work to make people more vulnerable to quackery can be instructive to almost any church fellowship, and to a substantial subset of the population who distrust mainstream health care on an emotional level.
The information provided on the popular remedies and their purveyors can be enlightening to anyone considering "alternative" or "complementary" medicines. Some of the individuals and therapies covered are: osteopath Edward McDonagh's chelation therapy clinic; chiropractor Gary Edwards' Interro device "nutrition machine"; "nutritional consultant" Dennis Stoltfoos' traveling service that utilizes a TV screen hooked up to a microscope focused on a drop of blood (the live cell test) to convince the unwary that they need special supplements--in this case "Lipo-chromi-zyme; chiropractor/naturopath Kurt Donsbach's Rosarito Beach (Mexico) Hospital Santa Monica that dispenses a plethora of quack remedies for nearly every condition; Guillermo Palafox's Sierra Clinic in Tijuana (Mexico) that dispenses quack cancer remedies [other Mexico border clinics profiled include: Harlan Dismuke's Hospital Meridian, American Biologics, Geronimo Rubio's American Metabolic Institute, The Contreras Hospital, and the clinics of Isai Castillo, Francisco Soto, and expatriate physician Neil Norton]; the radon mine in Montana; radionics devices; and more.
Several case studies of personal tragedy illuminate the series by revealing how misbeliefs led to bad decisions which led to needless suffering and death. The problem of confronting quackery in the courtroom when the victims do not know that they are victims is included. This is journalism at its best taking on quackery at its worst--when it uses religion to maim and kill, and then as a cover to avoid accountability. We are pleased to report that the Star has made the series into a single 10-page reprint utilizing the original galleys. Copies may be obtained for $1 each, or for 50 cents each for 10 or more copies. Order from: The Kansas City Star, Attn: Lisa Lopez, 1729 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64108; Tel: 816-234-4907. The series has been put on the Internet indefinitely at www.kcstar.com ; use the plain prey logo which shows a horse and buggy.
In the Sept-Oct, 1995 NCAHF Newsletter we reported that a California-based public interest attorney, Donald Driscoll, had filed lawsuits against major drugstore chains for selling homeopathic products. Driscoll had attended an NIH conference on alternative medicine where he heard the advocates of homeopathy speak and collected brochures from product manufacturers. It was clear that homeopathy was a massive fraud being perpetrated on the public. We noted that Driscoll hoped to accomplish what the FDA has failed to do, which is to prevent Americans from being bilked by worthless and unproven homeopathic medicines.
An update on Driscoll's lawsuits appeared in the Sacramento Bee on 12/16/96. Utilizing a unique California consumer law that bans unfair business practices, Driscoll has caused more disruption in the $200 million homeopathic drug industry than any recent FDA enforcement actions, say attorneys for homeopathic products companies. Sacramento attorney Carol Livingston, who represents two homeopathic manufacturers, says that most of the companies settle out of court to avoid the bad publicity.
The defense is trying to put a spin on the consumer protection law that appears to be aimed at public prejudice against attorneys. California's 1977 Unfair Competition Act bans "unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising." The defense is complaining that the law is being used to make money for attorneys rather than for consumer protection, as if these two ends were mutually exclusive. If such a defense were viable, the famous whistle-blower's law which created incentives for private individuals to report fraud would also be invalid.
The False Claims Act was passed in 1863 at the urging of President Lincoln to stop war profiteers from defrauding the Union by such practices as selling crates filled with sawdust instead of muskets, and reselling the same cavalry horses two and three times. Such are also known as qui tam laws--qui tam stands for a longer Latin phrase meaning "he who brings an action for the king as well as for himself."
Driscoll says that he is trying to enforce laws that society has enacted to protect consumers. He says that if his legal opponents don't like the law, let them go to the public and tell them that the law is wrong. This is probably what the promoters of false and unproven remedies will do. The job of the spin-doctors will be to make the law appear unjust. It seems ironic that attorneys may attempt to exploit anti-attorney public feelings as their strategy. It could work. After seeing how the dietary supplement industry used the Big Lie strategy to completely reverse the intent of the 1990 Nutrition Labeling & Education Act, which was to improve consumer protection, and stripped away nearly all protection by the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health & Education Act, nothing would surprise us. However, as the law now stands, Driscoll has shown that public interest attorneys can do what the government is failing to do. And, if homeopathy is vulnerable, other forms of quackery may be also.
Comment: For an exposition of the legal standing of homeopathy on the federal level, see "Homeopathy: real medicine or empty promises," FDA Consumer, 12/96. The article provides some insight into the strange thinking of Jennifer Jacobs, MD, co-author with Wayne Jonas, MD of Healing With Homeopathy: The Complete Guide (Warner Books, 1996) which is one of the most outrageous pseudoscientific tomes we have seen.
Oncologist Vincent Speckhart, MD, was ordered to pay the widow of deceased patient Robert Rizzi $235,715. Rizzi's widow charged that Speckhart led her husband to believe that homeopathy was enough to cure him of his Hodgkins' disease after Rizzi refused further chemotherapy because of side effects. Mrs. Rizzi had asked for $2.3 million.
[Homeopathy Today, December, 1996]
FYI: Speckhart is not listed by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists as a member. This does not preclude him being a qualified nonmember.
Stephen Barrett, MD, William Jarvis, PhD, Manfred Kroger, PhD, and William London, EdD, MPH are co-authors of the sixth edition (1997) of Consumer Health: A Guide To Intelligent Decisions is a detailed, 624-page college textbook covering all aspects of health strategy for consumers. Thoroughly referenced and illustrated, it is also an excellent reference book for professionals because it contains a great deal of previously unpublished information.
The chapters include: separating fact from fiction; frauds and quackery; advertising and other marketing practices; science-based health care; mental health care; dental care; "alternative" methods; self-care; health-care facilities; basic nutrition concepts; nutrition fads, fallacies, and scams; weight control; exercise concepts, products, and services; cardiovascular diseases; arthritis and related disorders; cancer; AIDS; drug products; skin care and beauty aids; women's health issues; health devices; coping with death; health insurance; health care economics; consumer laws, agencies, and strategies. The list price is $51. Until April 1, copies can be ordered for $47.50 (US$50 for Canadian and foreign) from NCAHF Book Sales, P.O. Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105. NCAHF members may deduct $4.50 from these prices.
NCAHF has reported in the past on the lies upon which Sunrider was built. These are reviewed along with new information on how Tei Fu and Oi-Lin Chen have been systematically cheating on their taxes. The amounts involved are not small and the practices are not insignificant. The Chens are accused of manipulating the prices of imported goods to inflate the appearance of their expenses, thus denying the government of import duties, distorting the international balance of trade figures, while hiding company and personal income. The details appeared in The Wall Street Journal (1/7/97). Forbes (8/14/95) described how importers were cheating taxpayers and distorting the trade balance in an article titled "Salad oil, $720." Sunrider was mentioned at that time as one of the offenders. Forbes said that cheating by importers may have inflated 1994's $166 billion trade deficit by as much as $100 billion, and cheated the U.S. Treasury out of more than $40 billion. (Well, Milton Friedman, how do you like them apples?)
Charles Pixley, 48, president of Writers & Researchers, Inc, of Rochester, NY, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison, plus 3 years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service last July for selling 714X, a quack cancer remedy from Canada, to Americans.
[FDA Consumer, 11/96]
Comment. What makes this story compelling is that 714X is the quack remedy that so enamored former Congressman Berkley Bedell that he was motivated to push for and eventually see established the NIH's Office of Alternative Medicine.
Sen. Harkin and others with little appreciation for the scientific edifice will soon be promoting an Access to Medical Treatment bill that will legitimize off-beat medical services in a manner similar to what has been done for worthless and dangerous dietary supplements. A similar movement has begun in Canada. The Medical Post (10/2/96) reports that the 1,300 member Citizens for Choice in Health Care (formerly the Chelation Society of Alberta) is pushing for acceptance of disproven chelation treatment for vascular disorders across Canada.
The National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) has again shocked NCAHF by issuing an accurate statement on the status of colloidal minerals. It notes that a "colloid" is a substance dispersed in particle size large enough to prevent or delay passage through a semipermeable membrane, but small enough to remain in suspension in a liquid or gas. Particles may be electrically charged and have stabilizing agents added to prevent precipitation. Colloidal minerals are basically clays dispersed in water. Such products differ greatly. Some contain aluminum or toxic minerals, others are high in sodium. Some do not contain detectable amounts of minerals listed on their labels. Finally, there is no evidence that colloidal minerals are more bioavailable than those found in other forms. [NNFA Today, 12/96]
From the weasel's habit of sucking the contents out of an egg while leaving the shell superficially intact: a word used in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or position." (Webster's Dictionary)
American Health (12/95) carried an article entitled "What you should know about homeopathy" which contained a side-bar telling about a lawsuit involving Vagisil Yeast Control, a product of Combe, Inc. of White Plains, NY. In a letter (2/21/96) to American Health, company president Christopher Combe explains:
Vagisil Yeast Control is not a 'homeopathic treatment for yeast infections' as stated in the article. Rather, the package labeling and instructions inform the consumer that the product is for the relief of symptoms associated with vaginal yeast infections such as intense itching and burning. In fact, the product labeling clearly instructs users to obtain medical treatment for the infection itself (emphases his).
Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary defines a treatment as "the management and care of a patient for the purpose of combating disease or disorder." The "management and care" of a disease or disorder includes relief of symptoms--it is not limited to a cure. The key point is that standard medicines have to prove that they are both safe and effective for their intended purposes to be legally distributed in interstate commerce. Homeopathic remedies do not. Consumers cannot reasonably be expected to understand this. Thus, most consumers are misled when they purchase any homeopathic remedy because in the USA we have come to expect that all medications are proved safe and effective before marketing.
Another important point to be made in this instance is that homeopathic publicists often allege that homeopathy treats the causes of disease (ie, disturbance of the "vital force," "soul-stuff," or "psora") by treating "like with like" (aka, the Law of Similia) while "allopaths" allegedly suppress symptoms with their remedies. Such doubletalk is another example of homeopathic dyslexia in which the world is turned upside down and inside out (eg, Law of Infinitesimals: "medicines grow stronger with greater dilution," and potentizing: "tapping a vial of medicine on a leather pad doubles its dilution").
How nutty does it get? Try this one. John E. Upledger, DO,* and therapists from his Upledger Foundation of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, are looking into the benefits of dolphin therapy. Upledger says, "the dolphins seem to know where the primary causes (of the patient's problems) are and contribute their energy when they touch the patient or therapist. This appears to expedite the healing process." For instance, when two dolphins consecutively put their rostrums (snouts) on the bottom of the left foot of a boy with cerebral palsy and an osteogenesis problem, Upledger declared "You could feel their energy being pumped in. His body began relaxing and expanding."1 Chiropractor Signy Erikson described how exciting it was to work in the water with dolphins. Erikson said, "It got even more exciting when it was clear that we and the dolphins seemed to agree on exactly where the patients needed to be treated. You could just feel the intensity in the water when the dolphins were around."2
(Ed. These people do not seem to distinguish between their own adrenalin rushes due to contact with dolphins and some sort of alleged "energy" flow.)
[1Advance for Occupational Therapists 11/25/96 p.14. (2) The Nugget (Sisters, Oregon, 12/25/96 p.8.]
*Upledger is a leading proponent of cranial osteopathy, a fringe therapy that alleges to "free up" restrictions at the sutures of the bones of the skull. In the Jan-Feb 1995 issue, we reported on a physician who sued the Upledger Institute for failing to disclose the controversial nature of its teachings after using its methods caused his reputation to suffer.
The Jan-Feb, 1997 New Age Journal has much to say about disillusionment with the term "New Age." David Spangler ("De-Crystalizing the New Age") and other "pioneers" of the movement look at the term and its meaning in society. They're not pleased. Of course, they are still believers, but somehow the term seems to have lost its impact. It's become stigmatized as woo-woo. Another article, "The 10 best and 10 worst of the New Age" itemizes the ideas that have validity and those that embarrass even them.
The best: self-awareness, the Declaration of Interdependence, cosmic consciousness, being here now, the feminine principle, the divinity of Earth and body, East meets West, science meets spirituality, heartfulness, myth ritual and community.
The worst: narcissism, superficiality, endless self-examination, instant transformation, spiritual materialism, disdain for reality/desire for magic, romanticizing indigenous cultures, the inner child tantrum, ripping off spiritual traditions, the guru trip.
Comment: I believe that a relatively small, somewhat influential, subset of society drives the anti-science movement. Based upon marketing data, I have estimated this at about 20% of the population. A survey of 1,036 Americans funded by the Fetzer Institute and the Institute for Noetic Sciences divides people into 3 groups: 47% modernists (cultural mainstream), 29% heartlanders (traditionalists), and 24% cultural creatives (trans-modernists; 13% "greens" and 11% "deeply committed to the inner life" ie, New Agers). 52% of the latter group reported using alternative health care in the past year. Given the sampling error of a national study with a sample of this size, I opine that the 20% estimate is still good. - Editor.
[Ray PH. "The rise of the Cultural Creatives," New Age Journal, Jan-Feb, '97]
Forrest Nielsen, PhD, Director of the USDA research facility at Grand Forks, ND, sets the record straight in his splendid article "Controversial chromium: does the superstar mineral of the mountebanks receive appropriate attention from clinicians and nutritionists?" Nutrition Today, (1996;31: 226-33). It was while working at the USDA's Human Nutrition Research Center at Grand Forks that Dr. Gary Evans procured the patent that the company he is associated with-Nutrition 21-licensed from the USDA. Nielsen reveals that Americans consume $150 million worth of chromium supplements a year, making it the second largest selling mineral (after calcium) in the country. Nielsen covers every aspect of chromium in readable style. The bottom line is that chromium supplementation has value for some people, but it won't do what most of the hucksters claim. Deficiencies probably aren't as widespread as some data suggests, and there may be some benefits that even the hucksters have not claimed for it. Nielsen's thorough coverage of this topic provides the kind of information clinicians and nutritionists need to provide sound information to consumers.
The null hypothesis, which assumes that no difference exists until a statistically significant effect is demonstrated, is the keystone of scientific testing. Nevertheless, the field of psychology recently has seen the null hypothesis turned upside down in the promotion of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a popular new psychotherapeutic procedure now proposed as a treatment for a wide range of problems including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, self-esteem issues, and achieving "peak performance." Television documentaries have attested to the power of EMDR, presentations on the procedure are being given at some of the most prestigious psychiatric centers in the nation, and EMDR's "discoverer," Francine Shapiro, was given the 1994 Scientific Achievement Award by the California State Psychological Association. (Shapiro's has a doctorate degree from unaccredited Professional School for Psychological Studies, San Diego, a now-defunct "authorized" school that was authorized by the State of California. "Authorized" is the lowest level assigned to proprietary schools in California, followed by "approved" and "accredited.")
Shapiro says that while walking in the woods she discovered that anxious thoughts left her consciousness as she experienced spontaneous saccadic (rapid, involuntary small movements of both eyes simultaneously) eye movements. From this she developed the technique of waving fingers in front of patients' eyes to produce "sets of saccades" while the patient imagines traumatic scenes and lets his thoughts and feelings go where they might. [Rosen questions Shapiro's original story, noting that people typically are not conscious of their own spontaneous, involuntary eye-movements .]
Shapiro says that she tried this new technique on 22 individuals who had reactions to old traumatic memories and reported  that all patients experienced profound reductions in their subjective distress to the disturbing scenes and memories in just one session--extraordinary clinical performance for a therapeutic procedure. As a result, interest in EMDR among mental health professionals has been phenomenal. Shapiro's report was published in 1989, and by 1992 it was estimated that 1,200 professionals had been trained in the method. It is now believed that over 20,000 professionals have been trained at workshops that cost over $350 to attend.
Meanwhile, several researchers have gone through the laborious effort of randomly assigning patients to EMDR or standard imagery treatment without eye movements. In almost every case, eye movements have provided no additional treatment effect [3,4]. When initial studies failed to support EMDR, Shapiro claimed that researchers had not received proper training in the techniques, so their work did not provide a fair test. After researchers took the appropriate workshop, the need for them to have Level II training was introduced despite the fact that no research had been done to justify such a requirement. When studies clearly showed that eye movements were unnecessary, Shapiro shifted the rationale of treatment and offered alternative forms of stimulation such as finger snapping and tapping motions.
What appears to have happened is that Shapiro took existing elements from cognitive-behavior therapies, added the unnecessary ingredient of finger waving, and then took the new technique on the road before science could catch up. Whenever findings failed to support EMDR's claims, a bold new pronouncement was made and the null hypothesis was again turned upside down. The acceptance and proliferation of EMDR by psychologists represents a fundamental shift on their part of basic assumptions about the burden of scientific proof. Before it was demonstrated that eye movements are essential, thousands of professionals started waving their fingers, and it appears they may continue to do so until convinced otherwise. We believe that claims for EMDR should be advanced only after acceptable levels of proof have been achieved. Also, because extraordinary results are claimed, we believe the dictum that "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof" should be applied.
Author information: Gerald M. Rosen is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Seattle, Washington, and holds a joint appointment as Clinical Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Washington. Jeffrey Lohr is a Professor of Clinical Psychology, Dept of Psychology, University of Arkansas.