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Current Affairs Science

Scapegoats and quackery

““The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Quack clinics are often quick to claim their victories, with the smallest improvement in a condition being hailed as irrefutable proof that the treatment works. When the treatment fails, however, and there is blame to be apportioned, it seems that everyone and everything but the treatment are to be targeted.

A few days ago, we heard about Olivia Downie, who sadly has become so ill that she is unlikely to live. Her family raised money to send her to the Hope4Cancer Institute in Tijuana, Mexico, so that she could receive Sono-Photo Dynamic Therapy. The unproven  treatment uses light and sound to fight cancer, and is not generally accepted as an effective treatment for cancer. The expense, difficulty, and stress of travelling to Mexico have been compounded for the family, as the treatment has not worked, and Olivia has deteriorated significantly. She is now too unwell to fly home without medical assistance, and will need a chartered flight with specialist care if she is to be brought home before she dies.

This is a story which is all too familiar for many who read about alternative cancer treatments – though we are told at great length about the alleged successes of the treatment, more often than not, a family spends all that they have only to be separated from their loved one, and to potentially see them die alone in a foreign country. Several articles appeared today, detailing the fears of her parents that her life support machines will be turned off, because of delays in paying their medical bills. Surprisingly, instead of criticising the clinic for what is despicable, bullying behaviour, the blame has been placed at the feet of NatWest, saying that their banking problems, which caused delayed payments and account issues, are threatening Olivia’s life.

The Daily Mail opens their article by talking about the “innovative”,”life-saving”, “specialised” treatment, and gives no mention to its unproven nature (barely mentioning the fact that the treatment hasn’t worked). Later, we are told that the hospital deny making this threat, but that denial has come after a rushed payment was arranged by the family at the weekend.

 

 

The Daily Mail article quotes the mother as she spoke to the Telegraph, and the article which appears in the Telegraph is similarly uncritical of the clinic and the treatment, and eager to lay the blame with the banks.

 

The Telegraph is happy to tell us about the “life-saving” treatment which Olivia received at the Mexico clinic, and though Olivia’s mother, Linza, is quoted as saying that you “can’t blame the banks. It was bad timing, it was one of those things”, the Telegraph (among others) seem to be quite happy to blame the bank for threats to Olivia’s life support machines. In fact, as more articles appear, the focus seems to be on the role the NatWest problems may have played in the transfer of funds, and on nothing else.

I can only imagine how difficult and upsetting this time must be for Olivia’s family, but this doesn’t excuse the lazy, uncritical reporting which will almost certainly draw more attention to the clinic. The treatment doesn’t work, and it hasn’t been properly tested or proven. Andy Lewis blogged about Olivia, including a video which shows the doctors promising results that they cannot hope to achieve, lying about the effects of chemotherapy, and the effectiveness of their treatment, and articles discussing the treatment have been at best uncritical, and at worst, complimentary.

When a lone maverick sets up a clinic, because he or she has been persecuted by the mainstream medical community and Big Pharma, because they have a simple, non-toxic cure for all cancers, it all sounds a little bit too good to be true, and that’s almost invariably because it’s not true at all. The Hope4Cancer clinic is another example of this, and once again, the uncritical reporting serves only to harm the public. NatWest haven’t threatened the life of this little girl, the clinic which promised a cure based on wishes and dreams, and then threatened to pull the plug for purely mercenary reasons are the ones who should be at the receiving end of any backlash forthcoming, as they alone are responsible for what has happened.

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Current Affairs Science

No Accounting For Accountability

Not so long ago, there was a time when medical experts thought that they were close to eliminating measles permanently. Now, the World Health Organisation has had to push that target date back to 2015, at the earliest. Many people, particularly those of a more skeptical nature, will attribute this to the infamous Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who was responsible for the publishing of a paper which irresponsibly linked the MMR vaccine to Autism (a link which has been subsequently disproved, and a paper which has been so thoroughly debunked that Wakefield has been struck off the medical register in the UK). However, Andrew Wakefield is not the only person responsible for the spread of these baseless lies. He may have originally authored and published the paper, but what of those who are responsible for ensuring that its contents spread far and wide?

Well, now they’re publishing articles warning us of the dangers of measles, a disease that was once close to complete eradication, and reminding us, in the smallest of bullet points, that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. One such article, published just the other day, is by the BBC – Measles outbreak warning as cases rise in Europe and UK. In this article, we’re told about the epidemic of measles in France, and warned that, particularly for families travelling with young children, the risk is high. They also helpfully remind us that the only way to definitely prevent measles is to receive the vaccine. The fact that there is no link to Autism is mentioned as a small bullet point under a column entitled “Measles Facts”. The presence of such a bullet point is extremely annoying, for two main reasons; firstly, the continued linking of the terms measles, MMR, and Autism only serves to reinforce the notion that there ever was a legitimate link between those terms, and secondly, and most importnatly, the only reason that such a bullet point is needed is because of the irresponsible and lazy reporting by organisations such as the BBC in the first place.

You need only look in the archives of the BBC to find numerous articles about the MMR vaccine and its purported link with Autism. In 2004, they invited readers to comment on the idea that the vaccine had been declared “safe”, and while they make sure to tell us that the comments shown reflect the balance of opinion they have received, the inclusion of the word safe in inverted commas belies their alleged balanced view. Indeed, the BBC, like most other news sources at the time, reported extensively on the “discovery” that the vaccine was linked to Autism, and was neither cautious nor balanced in the headlines they published – “Child Vaccine Linked To Autism”.

The finger has been pointed at Wakefield, but the journalists, news channels, newspapers, and other pundits shouldn’t also escape blame. The media furore was what caused the spread of the story, about a paper which otherwise would likely not have been read by many, and this furore was caused by the media themselves. It is very easy for the BBC to report on the GMCs rulings about Wakefield, and to casually remind us all that the link has not been proved, but while the Lancet has issued a retraction, and admitted that the paper should never have been published, no news organisation has apologised for the part that they played in it, or issued a retraction for the irresponsible scaremongering that they engaged in. Every time an article like this is published, we are reminded of two things; one, irresponsible research and publication is damaging, and two, when it comes to reporting, there is simply no accounting for accountability.