Abusing Science

Number 8 of a series

Where mistrust of science can be used for political advantage, it will be employed. Such is the case with the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The 18 January issue of Science has the story of how fear and mistrust are employed in an area of strife following a disputed election:

The Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is providing a natural experiment in fighting fake news. Occurring in a conflict zone, amid a controversial presidential election, the epidemic has proved to be fertile ground for conspiracy theories and political manipulation, which can hamper efforts to treat patients and fight the virus’s spread. Public health workers have mounted an unprecedented effort to counter misinformation, saying the success or failure of the Ebola response may pivot on who controls the narrative.

I can’t say it is heartening to learn the United States has no lock on the “fake news” offense. This scurrilous approach can be effective and deadly:

That’s even more true in the DRC now. In September 2018, an opposition politician, Crispin Mbindule Mitono, claimed on local radio that a government lab had manufactured the Ebola virus “to exterminate the population of Beni,” a city that was one of the earliest foci of the outbreak. Another rumor has it that the Merck vaccine renders its recipients sterile. On 26 December, the national election commission decided to exclude Beni and Butembo from the polls because of the epidemic; the following day, an Ebola evaluation center was attacked during protests.

The European-American axis has its parallel with the anti vaccination campaign and in the workings of people such as Andrew Wakefield.

Dying to Believe

Number 126 in a series

Christian Science, a Christian sect established by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. The term is an oxymoron, since the words “Christian” and “science” would not normally appear in the same sentence. “Death by oxymoron” is not something you should want on your gravestone:

BREWSTER Nancy Anne Brewster, 7, died September 29, 1963 at her home in El Paso, Texas, after a 2-1/2 year battle with “Malignant tumor right side of neck”, “probably malignant lymphoma”, “(microscopic pending)” (quotes from Certificate of Death). Nancy never had an obituary in El Paso and there was never any service to honor Nancy when she died. This is her first obituary. Nancy was my little sister by 13 months. My mom used to dress us like twins. Nancy went to Putnam Elementary School like I did, but after the first grade she was too sick to go to school anymore. The first time Nancy and I went horseback riding she rode a little white horse named Frosty and I rode a great big one named Redwood. We went to Disneyland, Western Playland, the zoo, and played Pik-Up Sticks and dolls together. Nancy liked swimming, playing tag and kickball before she got sick. Nancy also enjoyed climbing trees with me and reading books. She loved tacos, ice cream and bananas. Her favorite book was The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson by Dare Wright. She got it for Christmas from my father’s parents in 1962. I still have the book, along with Nancy’s other personal possessions that my mother gave me. Her Easter muff, her locket, a tiny ring, a little bracelet, and letters and cards Nancy wrote to me and our parents are a few of those treasured possessions. Nancy was very brave and strong when she got sick, and she gave new meaning to the word courage. Her valiant struggle with her illness remains an inspiration to me today. She endured a 2-1/2 year battle with the cancer that finally took her life without so much as an aspirin, a comforting hand or soothing words, a cold rag on her forehead when she was vomiting, which she did frequently.

There is additional detail on another site:

Nancy Brewster

Age: 7
El Paso, Texas

Died (untreated cancer)
September 29, 1963
She got a lump on her neck at 5 and soon was too sick to go to school. A Christian Science practitioner prayed for her and said the illness was an illusion. When she died there was no funeral and the family never spoke of her again.

Not so much as an aspirin.

Dying to Believe

Number 116 in a series

Feeling as though the world has started to go loopy? You’re not alone, and it has:

Nearly 90 Percent Of Americans Have Prayed For Healing

Prayer is a common but little-discussed feature of therapeutic care.

If you’ve ever prayed for healing for yourself or someone you know, you’re not alone. In fact, the majority of Americans have prayed for healing at least once in their lives, and this prevalence suggests the spiritual practice could have some major benefits, according to a new study.

About 79 percent of people have prayed for themselves and 87 percent have prayed for others, according to data from a randomized Gallup survey of 1,714 Americans. Among those who have prayed for themselves, 32 percent reported they do so often, and among those who have prayed for others, 51 percent do it often.

More than half of the survey respondents have asked for prayer for themselves or participated in a prayer group (54 percent and 53 percent, respectively), and 26 percent have even participated in a laying on of hands, or when a person places their hands on the body of someone who needs healing while praying for them.

A little background. I had hospital procedures on two occasions this year, and I kept getting this question in the entrance interview. “Do you have a religious preference.” I’m wondering if I answered yes, and something went wrong in the O.R., would they pray for me, or would they actually make an attempt at saving my life? The things is, I would never know.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – number 103 in a series

Here is something to get this started:

Zicam is a branded series of products marketed for cold and allergy relief whose original formulations included the element zinc. The Zicam name is derived from a portmanteau of the words “zinc” and “ICAM-1” (the receptor to which a rhinovirus binds in order to infect cells). It is labelled as an “unapproved homeopathic” product.

And here’s the story:

Lisa Weatherington, a 50-year-old Army medical officer who lives in Bowie, is one of the 340 plaintiffs. Her case illustrates the difficulties inherent in determining what role, if any, Zicam played in her anosmia.

Weatherington said she used Zicam once two years ago to treat a burgeoning cold at the suggestion of her husband who said it worked for him. Seconds after spraying it, she recalled, she felt an intensely painful burning.

In early January 2004, Weatherington said, she realized she could no longer smell or taste anything. She said she called Matrixx to report the problem and was told the company had never heard of this problem — although the first report of ansomia after Zicam use appeared in a medical journal in 2000 and the first lawsuit was filed in October 2003. Matrixx declined to comment on her case citing the pending litigation.

Several doctors have told Weatherington she probably will never regain her sense of smell. Her superiors have told her the problem could hamper her military career because it will prevent her deployment to places where she would need to detect poisonous fumes.

“I love food and I used to love to cook for my family, ” said Weatherington who adds that she has gotten sick from eating spoiled shrimp she coudn’t smell. “Sometimes I just feel like crying.”

Robert I. Henkin, a neurologist who directs the Taste and Smell Clinic in Northwest Washington, said there’s no way to know for sure whether Weatherington, whom he is treating, lost her sense of smell because of a virus or because she used Zicam.

Does anybody want to take bets on that last statement?

The Age Of Embarrassment

Number 18 in a series

This story has some history, so I need to go back forty years and more. I had moved to Dallas, and I needed medical attention, so I found a doctor. And I was there in the waiting room, and there was a bunch of really interesting stuff to read, as there is in all doctor’s waiting rooms. Just kidding. There was this health journal, and I did not keep records, and it has been too long, so I don’t know the name of the journal, really a magazine full of ads, sort of like Ladies’ Home Journal. And here is what I read.

There was an article about the place of sugar in the diet, and the general gist seemed to be in favor of sugar. Sugar is a great thing, and there is nothing wrong about eating sugar. For example, the writer told of people who cut sugar cane by hand, and these guys burn a bunch of calories in a day. To keep up their energy they eat as much as nine pounds of granulated sugar a day, and they do not suffer ill effects from it. After reading somewhat more than a page something occurred to me. This was not the product of independent investigation, it was an item sponsored by people who make sugar. Just about everything in the article was in contradiction to what I had learned about sugar in more than 30 years on this planet at the time, including that eating sugar contributes to the development of dental cavities.

From childhood I knew about a life-threatening affliction popularly known as “sugar diabetes.” Some of my relatives had experience with it, and the proper name is just “diabetes,” without the sugar prefix. I later figured the reason the people I ran with used the sugar prefix is because it was popularly considered that diabetes onset was commonly associated with consumption of too much sugar. A whole bunch of sugar in your diet for a long (years) period of time, and you could develop diabetes. And diabetes was bad stuff.

So we still ate a bunch of sugar in our family when I was growing up, and I never developed diabetes, but I’m figuring that is because after about 30 years I made the conscious decision to vastly reduce my sugar consumption. So, then in Dallas, I was wondering why this writer was denying not only that sugar consumption can result in the onset of diabetes, but also that eating a bunch of it will not make you fat, provided you do sufficient exercise to work off the extra calories.

The whole episode set me on the road toward doubting unsubstantiated claims made in newspapers and in popular journals regarding the safety or the non-safety of various products. And that’s what leads me to this posting. The following caught my attention some time ago:

The Mounting Evidence Against Diet Sodas

Studies suggest possible links between low-calorie beverages and health risks, though more research is needed

That was startling news to me, because in my quest to reduce my sugar intake, all my soda consumption has been sugar-free for decades. This is only the headline for the complete item from Consumer Reports, but there are a couple of  things of interest in this small segment. Start with this wording: “Studies suggest possible links between low-calorie beverages and health risks, though more research is needed.” Now let me repeat parts of the quote. “Studies suggest possible links…” What strikes me first is the use of the weasel words “suggest possible.” Where is the glaring declarative statement that should occupy this space? Now this part: “more research is needed.” More research is needed. Again there is the avoidance of certainty. I am glad that other important things like gravity do not require a bunch of extra study, although I once studied under a college professor who was continuing to study gravity.

Now here is the second thing so disturbing about this: it’s not the first time I’ve seen this wording. Fact of the matter is, I have been seeing it for years. Story after story carries the cautionaries “Studies suggest possible links…” and “more research is needed.” Jesus save us all, but how many years is it necessary to keep saying more research is needed before somebody actually performs more research and settles the issue?

A conclusion I draw is that somebody in the sugar industry has set out to harpoon sugar substitutes, and they (possibly a number of sources) are sponsoring writers to publish unfavorable items. It’s worth reading more from the Consumer Reports article. Here are some excerpts:

Many people think of diet sodas as healthy, low-calorie alternatives to sugary drinks. Yet a small but growing body of evidence suggests that diet sodas may have health downsides and may not even provide the benefits some people turn to them for, such as weight loss.

That’s the opening paragraph. Nowhere is there a link to the “growing body of evidence.” Fact is nowhere in the entire article is there a citation to a specific study readily accessible to the reader. The closest approach is this:

The strongest evidence so far links regular diet soda intake with cardiovascular conditions, such as stroke and heart attack, as well as type 2 diabetes and obesity (which are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease), says Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., professor of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. For example, in April, a widely reported study of about 4,400 people age 45 and older found that those who drank one or more diet sodas every day were three times more likely to have a stroke than those who didn’t, says Pase, who led the study. The research was published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

4,400 is a healthy sample, one that should produce statistically significant results. It’s worth tracking down the Stroke paper, and I did that, using the information above. I found two related items published in April 2017, and both are available as PDFs.

The journal has published other papers on the subject, but these will get interested readers started on the search path. Without completely digesting these items, I will hit some highlights. To begin, the first is an editorial, which is not expected to undergo the kind of rigorous vetting as the second, which is a research paper the editorial references. Concentrating on the research paper, from the abstract:

Results—After adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), caloric intake, diet quality, physical activity, and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia. When comparing daily
cumulative intake to 0 per week (reference), the hazard ratios were 2.96 (95% confidence interval, 1.26–6.97) for ischemic stroke and 2.89 (95% confidence interval, 1.18–7.07) for Alzheimer’s disease. Sugar-sweetened beverages were not associated with stroke or dementia.
Conclusions—Artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a higher risk of stroke and dementia. (Stroke. 2017;48:1139-1146. DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.016027.)

Further on, the paper contains the following language.

In our study, prevalent hypertension, the single most important stroke risk factor, attenuated the association between artificially sweetened beverage intake and incident all-stroke,
although not ischemic stroke. Prospective cohort studies, such as the Nurses Health Study, have demonstrated associations between higher intake of artificially sweetened beverages
and an increased risk of incident hypertension. However, it remains unclear whether artificial sweeteners cause hypertension or whether diet beverages are favored by those most at risk. Given that clinical trials involving stroke end points are large and costly, clinical trials should investigate whether artificially sweetened beverages are associated with important stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure.

[Emphasis added]

What the authors are saying in the highlighted text is their study demonstrates correlation, not causation. An example of the disconnect between correlation and causation is illustrated by the case of the bishops. Bishops (men) live longer than the average man. No surprise, since by the time you become a bishop you are already advanced in years, and you have beat out all those who died in their teens. This section also notes that expensive clinical trials will be needed to determine causation, indicating that clinical trials have not been conducted.

Whatever the intent of this kind of discussion, the results are apparent. A large part of the population is averse to consuming aspartame, which matter I included in  a recent Quiz Question posting.

The image at the top of this post is from a Facebook posting, which points to an illustrated discussion titled Will Aspartame Kill You? I can’t vouch for any of the article’s assertions, but it is worth a read.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 97 in a series

Homeopathy, the treatment that involves no treatment, does not kill directly. It kills through neglect. Here is a story from Australia:

The latest case to come to media attention comes from down under – Penelope Dingle from Perth Australia, according to local news reports, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2003. Her doctors gave her a good chance of survival with standard therapy – surgery to remove the cancer, and chemotherapy to mop up any loose cells and reduce the risk of recurrence. It is not a pleasant prospect, but with modern care it’s not too bad, and it buys in many cases a greatly improved quality and duration of life. Penelope Dingle, however, chose to refuse all science-based treatment and opted instead for a regimen of diet and homeopathic treatment.

This is a case of an adult making the decision to die. Instances involving children are not only horrendous but also criminal.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 91

No names given, but the numbers are frightening:

Herbal supplement Kratom blamed for 36 deaths

Kratom, a plant grown naturally in countries including Thailand and Malaysia, is widely sold in smoke shops and other locations as a powder that can be used in tea to slow the effects of opioid withdrawal.

Citing 36 deaths, the Food and Drug Administration chief will warn consumers today not to use the herbal supplement kratom to ease opioid withdrawal and announce plans to step its regulatory oversight to combat the opioid epidemic.

The FDA public health advisory on kratom follows the Drug Enforcement Administration’s reversal or at least delay of plans to classify kratom as a controlled substance on the same level as heroin and LSD. Gottlieb says the FDA plans to work with the DEA to determine how kratom should be classified.

And, yes, it has been confirmed. Kratom is 100% natural.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 89

The mistaken belief that natural equates to harmless, even beneficial, is being laid to rest, along with some who believe it:

Woman dies after drinking poisonous herbal tea

The deadly ingredient turned out to be aconite. CNN further notes that aconite also goes by the more famous names of monkshood, helmet flower, and wolf’s bane.

In the future, look for more, especially regarding medicinal supplements.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 88

Prevailing medical quackery breeds false belief, leading often to unnecessary death:

Doctor blames Andrew Wakefield and anti-vaxxers for her baby son catching measles

Disgraced former doctor’s discredited 1998 research paper claiming to show a link between the MMR jab and autism led to a heavy fall in uptake among parents

Katie Forster @katieforster

A doctor has said public reaction to Andrew Wakefield’s discredited study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was to blame when her baby son caught measles.

Dr Eleanor Draeger told medics at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual meeting in Bournemouth that her 10-month-old was not yet old enough to receive the vaccination when he developed the disease – which should now be confined to history, she said.

“The reason he had measles is because of the fall-out from Wakefield’s paper,” said Dr Draeger at a debate on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, sometimes known as “anti-vaxxers”.

Who needs Jesus when you have people like Wakefield, and those who believe.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 87

Putting faith in traditional remedies continues to be deadly:

Ricin poisoning causing death after ingestion of herbal medicine.

Ann Saudi Med. 2012 May-Jun;32(3):315-7. doi: 10.5144/0256-4947.2012.315.


Ricin intoxication is a fatal and an uncommon medical condition. We report a case of ricin poisoning in a 42-year-old Saudi male patient who ingested a herbal medicine mixture containing ricin bean powder, after which he presented with gastrointestinal symptoms followed by gastrointestinal bleeding and hypotension. The patient then passed into a state of shock with respiratory failure followed by cardiac arrest and death. Public health awareness of self-prescribed herbal medications is necessary.

People sometimes get the idea that modern science is aversion to nature, but it is not It’s a reliance on demonstrated fact, disregarding intuition, no matter how compelling. Faith in tradition and reliance on personal preference to the exclusion of rational analysis continues to kill, this the 19th year into the 21st century.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 80

Who needs Jesus when there exists a host of alternative ways to die from stupidity?

The Daily Star reported that 9 children have died in Tripura Para of Sitakunda during the last week. At least 46 other children in the remote hilly area are suffering from the same unidentified disease which has not yet been identified. The children aged between one and 12 suffer from fever and other symptoms include body rash, breathing problems, vomiting and blood in stool.

None of the fatalities was taken to a hospital, and two of them were treated homeopathically. The three-year-old Rupali had fever and a rash all over her body for three days. “We took her to a man who practices homeopathy. He lives some two kilometres away. He had given Rupali some medicines”, said her uncle. Asked why they did not take the child to a hospital, Pradip said the next health complex was 15 kilometres away from their home. Besides, they did not have money to buy medicines which would have been prescribed by doctors.

Modern homeopathy is a rebirth of the snake oil salesman.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 77

Not all death due to false belief can be laid to Sweet Jesus. Some people do it themselves:

Mom’s death blamed on bodybuilding supplements ahead of competition

A 25-year-old fitness enthusiast in Western Australia died last month due to complications from bodybuilding supplements, according to Perth’s Sunday Times.

Meegan Hefford, a mother of a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, in the coastal city of Mandurah, was reportedly found unconscious by a real estate agent inspecting her apartment on June 19. Doctors at Fiona Stanley Hospital declared her brain dead three days later.

My take, employing extreme measures against your body without prior investigation can be dangerous. She had a genetic disorder that prevented assimilation of her mega intake of protein supplements.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same – 76

Wait. I need to check my calendar. Yes! This is the 21st century. Let’s see what the new world of science and reason have brought us:

The Daily Star reported that 9 children have died in Tripura Para of Sitakunda during the last week. At least 46 other children in the remote hilly area are suffering from the same unidentified disease which has not yet been identified. The children aged between one and 12 suffer from fever and other symptoms include body rash, breathing problems, vomiting and blood in stool.

None of the fatalities was taken to a hospital, and two of them were treated homeopathically. The three-year-old Rupali had fever and a rash all over her body for three days. “We took her to a man who practices homeopathy. He lives some two kilometres away. He had given Rupali some medicines”, said her uncle. Asked why they did not take the child to a hospital, Pradip said the next health complex was 15 kilometres away from their home. Besides, they did not have money to buy medicines which would have been prescribed by doctors.

Yes, once again we have demonstrated that nothing can kill. That is, something that is nothing can be as deadly as something that is something. Rest in peace.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Continuing from last week, I’m posting more on death by alternative medicine. Some time ago I chose Tuesdays to carry the sad news about people dying from false belief. Alternative medicine (AltMed) is one of today’s significant mass murderers. Today I note the death of Russell Jenkins of Southsea, Hampshire, England:

Russell Jenkins shunned conventional treatment for his foot injury after he trod on an electrical plug at home.

He instead tried the ancient remedy of putting honey on it but his toes later went black and began to stink.

Neither Mr Jenkins nor partner Cherie Cameron, a former nurse, sought med­ical help, the inquest heard.

The 52-year-old would have had a 30 per cent chance of survival if he had sought treatment just two hours before he died, said consultant vascular surgeon Mark Pemberton.

‘Russell Jenkins’ condition was inappropriately and ineffectively treated by himself and by others and led to his death,’ said David Horsley, coroner for South-East Hampshire.

Mr Jenkins, who ran the Quiet Mind Centre from his home in Southsea, Hampshire, injured his foot in December 2006 and developed an 2cm-long ulcer.

In April 2007, Mr Jenkins, a diabetic, sought alternative advice from homeopath Susan Finn, who suggested he treat it with Manuka honey.

Those who believe the United States does not have this problem may need to check some on-line sources. Reliance on homeopathic remedies is a world-wide phenomenon. Keep reading. There will be more.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Continuing from last week, I’m posting more on death by alternative medicine. Some time ago I chose Tuesdays to carry the sad news about people dying from false belief. Alternative medicine (AltMed) is one of today’s significant mass murderers. Take the case of Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States:

Beginning on June 20, 1923, the Hardings sought to escape the heat and scandal of Washington on a 15,000-mile transcontinental train trip and voyage to Alaska. The president was 57 at the time. The recently unsealed diary and notes of naval physician Joel Boone reveal Boone’s grave concerns about the president’s heart condition. The warnings were ignored by longtime Harding homeopath “Doc” Sawyer, who made no effort to stop Harding from speaking in the blistering heat, driving the golden spike to complete the Alaska Railroad, or doing other arduous tasks. In this Sawyer had the absolute approval of the first lady, who was now enjoying the height of her national popularity and didn’t want the trip canceled. She viewed the incompetent Sawyer as her own Rasputin, who’d miraculously kept a chronic kidney ailment from killing her.

When Harding suffered a bout of food poisoning from tainted crab meat at Cordova, Alaska, Doc Sawyer ultimately weakened the president’s sick heart by treating him with heavy doses of purgatives to flush out the toxins. On Aug. 2, 1923, when Boone was out of the sickroom in San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, Sawyer plied one too many purgatives – in Florence’s presence – and Harding died. There was a quick coverup regarding who was in the room and at precisely what time the president died. Mrs. Harding refused to permit an autopsy or a death mask, protecting her beloved Sawyer. “Now that is all over,” she told Evalyn McLean after Harding’s death, “I think it was all for the best.”

You don’t have to be poor and stupid to fall to quack medicine. Often the victim is rich and stupid.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Continuing from last week, I’m posting more on death by alternative medicine. Some time ago I picked Tuesdays to carry the sad news about people dying from false belief. Alternative medicine (AltMed) is one of today’s significant mass murderers. Take the case of Mahendra Gundawar:

Alleged abuse of homoeopathic drugs by mixing them with liquor has taken four lives in Vidarbha over the past six days.

While two died in Nagpur, two more died in Bhadravati town of Chandrapur district, one of them being a homeopathic doctor himself. Two persons are fighting for their lives in Bhadravati and one from Nagpur is being treated for serious complications in a hospital.

Brother of the homoeopath and owner of a homeopathic pharmacy (name not yet on police record) and Pravin Khedkar, a cable TV worker, died in Nagpur, and Mahendra Gundawar, a homeopath and his friend Bandu More, died in Bhadravati.

Prashant Lakhe, who is fighting for his life in a private hospital in Nagpur, suspected to have consumed a “tonic” with Khedkar and the unnamed victim by mixing it with alcohol in a party on December 11. The brother of the homoeopath died first while Khedkar died on December 13. Gundawar died on December 11 and More succumbed to the effects on Sunday.

Those who believe the United States does not have this problem may need to check some on-line sources. Reliance on homeopathic remedies is a world-wide phenomenon. Keep reading. There will be more.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Continuing from last week, I’m posting more on death by alternative medicine (alt-med). Some time ago I picked Tuesdays to carry the sad news about people dying from false belief. Homeopathy is a wrong-headed notion put forward by Samuel Hahnemann (see above) in 1796. It continues to kill 221 years later. Today I present the case of Ralph Gonzalez:

The Arizona Medical Board will take up an administrative law judge’s recommendation that Normann’s medical license be revoked permanently, an action that could prohibit him from practicing medicine in the United States again.

According to testimony in the administrative hearing, Normann created “a surgical nightmare” at his office in Anthem, where work was so shoddy that three patients died during or after liposuction.

Normann performed only one of the procedures, allowing unlicensed individuals to do the others.

Unsealed exhibits from the Arizona Medical Board’s case against Normann are mostly uncontroversial, although the exhibit list itself reveals some interesting information.

Evidence was taken in regards to 13 patients, including the three who died. A separate document reveals that Dr. Greg Page, a homeopathic doctor who was unauthorized to perform invasive surgeries, conducted procedures on at least nine patients, including one who died.

I am wondering how a homeopathic surgeon works. Does he use a scalpel without a blade?

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

This series of posts, appearing one each Tuesday, deals with unnecessary death due to false belief. Some time ago I realized I had been focusing too much on religious belief—faith healing and such. It’s time to  pour some attention onto death caused by alternative medicine (alt-med). Here’s the case of Lorie Atikian:

The quackery-related death of a 17-month-old girl has sent shock waves across Canada. No one aspect of the story is unusual. The scenario is a classic combination of cultural vulnerability, modern urban mythology and quackery.

The Victim

Dead from malnutrition and pneumonia is Lorie Atikian. Eight months before her death on September 25, 1987, Lorie was a perfectly healthy baby. When she died she was nearly bald, covered with deep red rashes, and so emaciated that the paramedics thought they were being tricked by being given a doll to treat.

The Parents

Lorie’s parents Sonia, 38, and Khochadour, 54, are emigres from Lebanon and Syria. In addition to Lorie, the couple has two teenaged children. Like many people these days the Atikian’s were concerned about modern food additives, pesticide residues, and drugs. Their cultural background may have made them a bit more vulnerable, but like most people they held positive attitudes toward “natural” food and medicine. Sonia became enamored with Gerhard Hanswille, an “herbologist.”

The “Herbologist”

Gerhard Hanswille, 55, says that he learned herbology in Germany through self-study and books (Germany has a tradition of folk medicine that includes a great deal of Medieval herbalism). In 1972, Hanswille obtained a mail order doctoral degree in naturopathy from “Bernadean University” (BU) located at that time in Las Vegas, Nevada. BU, which was never approved or accredited to offer any courses, was closed down by the Nevada Commission on Postsecondary Education in 1976. It then moved to California where it operated for several years before eventually becoming “authorized” under the State’s liberal rules (Aronson, 1983). California has tried to close BU but has been blocked by its claim to being a religious school of the Church of Universology (Emshwiller, 1987).

Hanswille owns two “House of Herbs” stores, writes and gives seminars at which he expounds his theories, which include making wax and clay effigies sealed with drops of blood and sperm (notions founded in Monism and Vitalism which are the basis of most primitive folk medicine). Hanswille’s book describes how to heal diabetes, epilepsy, TB, tumors and paralysis by “touchless massage.” Hanswille likens the technique to dowsing for water, something that “not everyone can do.” Sonia paid $450 to take Hanswille’s course.

Much as I take satisfaction laying the deaths of innocents at the feet of Jesus, this time he was apparently taking a few days off.



Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

False belief kills in remarkable ways. It can take something that does nothing at all and turn it into a killer:

December 4 2001 12:11 AM

According to a secret diary kept by the late Jacqueline Alderslade (55), of Hollymount, Co Mayo [Ireland], the homeopath told her to stop all medication, except for a Ventolin inhaler, immediately.

Ms Alderslade, an interior designer and secretary, began the diary on June 29 when she first visited Mineke Kamper, a practicioner of alternative medicine, of Mulranny, Co Mayo.

Ten days later, while driving to Mulranny for an appointment with Ms Kamper, Ms Alderslade stopped her car after becoming seriously ill and died despite the efforts to revive her by a passing motorist.

Who needs Jesus when we are willing to take the task upon ourselves?

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same


You don’t have to be a Bible thumper to die in the name of closely-held belief. Step right up to the New Age of false promises:

WASHINGTON — Case 7682299: Aug. 1, 2010. A mother gives her toddler three homeopathic pills to relieve her teething pain. Within minutes, the baby stops breathing.

“My daughter had a seizure, lost consciousness, and stopped breathing about 30 minutes after I gave her three Hyland’s Teething Tablets,” the mother later told the Food and Drug Administration. “She had to receive mouth-to-mouth CPR to resume breathing and was brought to the hospital.”

There are eight cases of death involving babies who took these products. It is not been determined if there is any connection with the product and the fatal outcomes. In true fashion homeopathic products contain no active ingredients. What then, is the issue with the FDA requiring Hyland’s reformulate its products?

The report from STAT News points out that some doctors blame these products directly for children’s deaths.