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Social Network Alt-Med Trolls

February 4, 2012

I first experienced the trolls that seem to inhabit social networks when I got involved in discussions on Facebook about the industrial bleach scam that is/was “Mineral Miracle Solution” (MMS for short). You may recall that this poison is being sold by one sometime former gold prospector (allegedly), Jim Humble. He wrote and self-published a book, “The Miracle Mineral Solution of the 21st Century”, describing his wondrous discovery of a cure-all for mankind’s worst diseases, including AIDS, cancer and malaria. The book is truly a work of art – if you class comedy as an art-form. To hear it dissected (well, the first few chapters at least) subscribe to the Super-Duper Woo-Fighting Duo (with capes!) on iTunes. It was one half of the duo, my son @rhysmorgan , that alerted the authorities in the UK, via Cardiff County Council and the Food Standards Agency, setting in motion a chain of events.  The FDA in the USA had already issued a warning in July 2010. You can find out more by reading his blog at http://rhysmorgan.co/ or by Googling “bleachgate”.

A Google search on the subject revealed a number of websites on the subject of Miracle Mineral Solution, otherwise known as Miracle Mineral Supplement. (Later, the name also appeared as Master Mineral Solution). Many were sites selling it, others were sites clearly linked to Humble’s organisation. Perhaps the most strange and disturbing was the website of the Church of Genesis II. Incredibly, Humble decided to establish a “church” to promote his miracle cure as probably the best way to try to prevent the various authorities that might try to interfere with his activities. He even cited the “success” of the Catholic Church in covering up child abuse as a great example of how a church can evade intrusion into its doings. For a summary of this, I recommend reading http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/15/miracle-mineral-solutions-mms-bleach

So Humble set up this “church”, installing himself as head of the church and calling himself “Bishop”.  Messiah Complex, perchance?

Further investigation by several people – a loose group of people that I would come to know as the skeptic “community” – raised many concerns about the misuse of MMS and the whole Humble organisation. 

Searching around on Facebook, there were several pages and groups dedicated to the promotion and use of this so-called MMS cure-all. A number of skeptics, myself included, took an interest in these pages and groups and began to post links to articles that pointed out to those who were active on these pages and groups the problems with believing that MMS was of any use whatsoever and was potentially dangerous. This included articles about the death following MMS of a woman called Sylvia Fink. http://www.dailypost.vu/content/fink-autopsy-results-made-public-dangerous-mms-promoted-cure-gulf-oil-spill-victims

The reaction to having the beliefs of the MMS supporters was one I can only describe as being on a par with the reactions of religious groups to having the beliefs in their particular deity challenged. Some were prepared to listen to reason and engage in debate about the science and the evidence, but mostly the reactions were of hostility. Some of the reactions were just plain deluded, conspiracy theory nonsense. However, the inability of the vast majority of these MMS supporters were just clearly incapable of holding a rational debate, understanding what is meant by a clinical trial and trotted out every logical fallacy in the book in order to try to defend their beliefs. Their arguments ranged from simple ignorance all the way through to sort of dedication to “Bishop” Humble that we’ve seen reserved for cult leaders such as Sun Myung Moon, head of the “Unification Church” whose followers are commonly referred to as “Moonies”. I’m talking serious batshit craziness.

Just as bad was/is a WordPress site http://phaelosopher.com/ whose author was/is basically “Bishop” Humble’s right-hand man. Some of the commentators there were what I can only describe as rabid in their responses to anything that was in any way critical of Humble or MMS. On Facebook, there was one particular MMS supporter who went by the name “Monika” that was completely incapable of rational debate. This spilled over into her writing her own blog but immediately censoring anything that was in any way critical of her – IMHO – deluded views of MMS and “Bishop” Humble and her total irrrationality. This also extended to comments made on various video clips on YouTube, whether pro- or anti-MMS/Humble (Simunye). She blocked me and others on Facebook as she didn’t want to face such challenges to her firmly-held convictions. Or delusions as they’re called. There have been other MMS supporters on YouTube who have expressed similar opinions. 

My only regret – and it’s a major one – is that I didn’t disengage from these “debates” sooner. This cartoon sums it up perfectly http://xkcd.com/386/

The simple fact is that it is impossible to have a rational debate with some people, particular those whose beliefs are “religious” in nature, as they specialise in fallacious arguments. They came out with most, if not all, of these at some time or other http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/skeptic/arguments.html

Homeopathy and its supporters provide further examples of delusional thoughts and denial of science. Their Messiah is Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician from the 18th Century, a time when medicine could hardly be described as “evidence-based”. Bloodletting was still a common practice in those days. He invented the “laws” of homeopathy. When I say “laws”, I don’t mean laws in the same way that there are the Newton’s laws of motion as they’ve never been proved by scientific experiment. History tells us that sometimes doing nothing in medicine was (and still is) more beneficial than doing something such as bloodletting. Homeopathy therefore saw some apparent early success as it involved doing nothing rather than something harmful. For a summary of homeopathy see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy

Sadly for the homeopaths, science has moved on since the 18th Century but many can’t seem to appreciate this. When put under the microscope of critical appraisal, homeopathy has failed to show any benefit beyond placebo http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16125589

Basically, homeopathy doesn’t have any beneficial effects beyond placebo for any disease or condition. History is littered with people who have come to harm or even died by using homeopathy instead of real medicine. http://whatstheharm.net/homeopathy.html Perhaps the saddest and most sickening example of the uselessness of homeopathy is that of the death of Penelope Dingle in Western Australia

http://www.safetyandquality.health.wa.gov.au/docs/mortality_review/inquest_finding/Dingle_Finding.pdf

Homeopathy has two major problems  – no evidence of efficacy and no scientific rationale by which any homeopathic remedy could exert any effects. I suspect that many people simply don’t understand that the little sugar pills sold in pharmacies have no active ingredient in them whatsoever. I suspect that they have no real idea what is meant by a 12C, 30C or even a 200C dilution. For homeopathy, the bigger the number the more “potent” the remedy. Of course this is total bullshit. For a clear explanation of what these dilutions mean in the real world, I recommend 

http://www.1023.org.uk/  and http://www.senseaboutscience.org/resources.php/54/sense-about-homeopathy

In trying to portray their particular form of “alternative” medicine as a viable system of healthcare, the homeopaths will present papers showing that homeopathy is of benefit in some conditions. Yes – such papers do exist. However, not all published papers are of equal merit. When subjected to critical appraisal, the value of these papers is diminished to very little or no value. When Shang et al conducted their meta-analysis (referenced above) the number of papers that were of sufficient methodological validity was just 8 out of 110. The conclusion from analysis of the data of these 8 trials was that homeopathy is just a placebo. The homeopaths squeal and squirm when faced with such evidence. Often they try to claim that because homeopathy is a “personalised” treatment, clinical trials are not a valid way of assessing its efficacy. More bullshit, a classical logical fallacy. Homeopaths seem to think that their “therapy” cannot be assessed in the same way as other therapies. This is called “special pleading”. For a list of fallacious arguments see http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/skeptic/arguments.html and you will see pretty much every one of these used at some time by homeopaths and other “so-called alternative medicine” practitioners at one time or another. Having such subjects taught in universities across the world only serves to add unwarranted credence to their beliefs and arguments – argument from false authority.

The ultimate argument used by homeopaths is the “water has a memory” argument. This was fuelled by the work done in the laboratory of Jacques Benveniste and published in “Nature”. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Benveniste Later the flaws in the experiments were exposed by a team including the editor of “Nature” and James Randi. Despite it’s apparent chemical simplicity, water does play a unique role in the world and in biological systems in particular. We are 60% water. Research shows that when a substance is dissolved in water, it may dissociate to varying degrees depending on whether it is a “weak” or “strong” electrolyte – a strong electrolyte dissociates nearly completely into its constituent ions whereas a weak one only partially dissociates. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strong_electrolyte and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weak_electrolyte

Now, water is one of the strangest substances we know. For such a chemically simple molecule – almost everyone knows that it has the formula H2O – its place as the cornerstone of life is so fundamental and is undoubtedly related to its ability to dissolve so many substances. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water

Hydrates and clathrates are particular forms of water associated with dissolved substances http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrates However, to suggest that “water has a memory” as the homeopaths try to claim is just scientific nonsense. Any water molecules that form an association with another substance do so for an extremely short period of time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_memory

Ask a homeopath why a particular molecule of water might “remember” the therapeutic agent its been in contact with but forget all the shit and piss its been in contact with – then watch them struggle with an explanation!!! Really grim is that when faced with such criticism of their beliefs, homeopaths will respond either with delusional bullshit (see the writings of Dana Ullman or – even worse – John Benneth) or they respond with threats of legal action http://www.danbuzzard.net/journal/francine-scrayen-sends-me-a-cease-and-desist.html

I’m sorry, but this is just completely unacceptable. By displaying such behaviour, do they not realise that they only serve to harm their own cause? Shortly after I joined Twitter last year, I was made aware of “World Homeopathy Awareness Week”. This “event” was being promoted in many social networks and websites, including Facebook. I was not surprised to find homeopathy supporters posting favourable comments about homeopathy on the Facebook page. However, I was rather disappointed to find comments criticising homeopathy being deleted from the discussions on the Facebook page. Clearly this was (and is) a tactic to stifle scientific debate about homeopathy. Even worse, I came across someone with a scientific background claiming that homeopathy had helped them, even though it appeared that the real reason for apparent benefit was a combination of placebo effects, regression towards the mean and avoidance of unnecessary medical interventions. It is not uncommon to see people who began their careers in mainstream medicine drift off into various aspects of so-called “alternative” medicine, for example  Deepak Chopra, but the reasons behind such changes are too deep to reflect on here.

Then we have the homeopathy pseudoscientists. It can be all but impossible to determine whether such individuals know they are talking bollocks or whether they really believe what they are claiming to be true to actually be true. Such individuals will use terms such as “quantum”, “vibrational energies” or “innnate natural healing processes”. Often, it seems, they are completely unable to understand what such terminology means and assume that others reading their websites and blogs will be similarly unable to understand. Whether such behaviour is unintentional or deliberate is another matter, beyond the scope of this article.

Belief in homeopathy has much in common with religious beliefs – despite no evidence to support their beliefs and ample evidence to show their beliefs to be false, supporters of homeopathy are extremely difficult to persuade them as to the errors of their ways.

Bearing that in mind, there is actually little point in wasting time arguing the toss on line with homeopaths and homeopathy supporters as very few can be persuaded to adopt real science and its methodology. Claims of “personalised therapy” abound in homeopathy circles, saying that it’s impossible to do the sort of trials used in (real) medicine to examine the alleged benefits of homeopathy. Such arguments similarly do not withstand scientific scrutiny, usually being found to be of weak design, weak methodology, open to observer and confirmational biases. Indeed, the meta-analysis by Shang et al (referenced earlier) suggested that homeopathy was only shown to be of benefit in the less-sick patients as a result of placebo effects. In the sicker patients, no benefit was seen. In the absence of anything more substantial, the evidence supporting homeopathy mounts up against any real benefit.

 

 

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