Cork Skeptics

Promoting Reason, Science & Critical Thinking in Cork City & Beyond


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Help needed: Proposed bill to crack down on fake cancer treatments

Irish patients have completely inadequate legal protection from fake cancer treatments or quack “cures”. Many people have fallen foul of snake-oil peddlers and alternative medicine healers, promising to cure them of their ailments in a “natural” or “side effect free” manner. Such promises rarely work, and vulnerable patients can be diverted down costly blind-alleys, while time ticks away on their treatment options.

Ireland is a hotbed of phoney healers luring vulnerable people into alternative medicine

A new bill is being proposed by Kate O’Connell TD to address this problem. She is getting a huge amount of push-back from various alternative medicine lobby groups, who are  raising all kinds of spurious objections to the proposed bill. Some of the methods used verge on intimidation and bullying. They are clearly worried.

TD says she has received ‘stratospheric’ levels of online abuse after new law proposal

For instance, we have heard that Claire Byrne Live will be discussing the new proposed anti-quack bill tomorrow (Monday) night on RTE1 at 1030pm. We have learned that the Irish Society of Homeopaths are appealing to their members to attend the show and to tweet during the show, so as to make it seem that homeopathy is a legitimate treatment, when it is nothing of the sort. We are asking our skeptically minded friends to please see if they can attend in person or if they can tweet during it to show support for evidence based medicine and a degree of legal protection that may help to alleviate the pressures that affect people with cancer.

Alternatively, please call or email your TD or local representative to show your support for this proposed bill.

Please feel free to share this message. While alternative cancer-cure practitioners have many supporters in Ireland, they work under loose or non-existent regulatory regimes. We are also aware that many people’s lives have been turned upside-down by the actions of unscrupulous healers and alternative practitioners. Now is a chance to take action and to address the imbalance this has caused.

Claire Byrne Live contact details:

  • To book your seat….. CALL the office on 01-2083494 or E-MAIL us on ClaireByrneLive@rte.ie
  • Web page : https://www.rte.ie/tv/programmes/913596-claire-byrne-live/
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClaireByrneLive

 

 

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Who are the Family Hope Center?

Yesterday, George Hook hosted an interesting discussion on Newstalk Radio. His guests were Michelle McKeever, a mother from Northern Ireland, and Terence Cosgrave, a PR professional based in Dublin. Michelle spoke about her son, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. She described how her experience with the Irish Health Services Executive was unsatisfactory, then she talked about a US based group who had helped her. This group is the Family Hope Center

Following her interview, Hook then spoke to Cosgrave. Cosgrave also talked  forcefully about the dysfunction of the HSE. He referred to the Family Hope Center as an option for parents in such circumstances. 

I have some questions. 

Who are the Family Hope Center? What do they offer? Why was yesterday chosen to come on the programme? And what was a PR consultant doing sitting in on a piece about childhood autism?

Let’s answer the last question first. I looked up Cosgrave’s LinkedIn page. His clients include the Family Hope Center and he has an article from the Wexford People about the Family Hope Center and how they can achieve ‘real, measurable results in children with brain disorders or impairments’. So, there’s that. Cosgrave has a business connection with the Family Hope Center. It would have been good if Hook had mentioned this explicitly on the radio show. Full disclosure, etc.


Who are the Family Hope Center? Well, from their webpage, they offer ‘a practical scientific approach’, striving to ‘educate and help parents promote functional improvement improvement in their children’. Sounds great. They say they can help with a large number of ailments, from ADD to Autism to Down’s Syndrome. 

They describe a Scandinavian observational study “Important Real World Evidence of Neurological Development in Disabled Children” the aim of which is to show that their methods are making an improvement with children with moderate or severe learning problems. Given no details about controls, correlations or methods used to avoid bias, no peer review and no submission to any international journals, it’s hard to draw any conclusions from this at all. It’s strange. 

They detail big improvements along the WeeFIM scale compared to national results, but it’s unclear how they determined this or whether this was validated by an independent agency. I would love a doctor’s opinion on this in terms of how meaningful these improvements are. They don’t seem to corellate much with the above  Scandinavian study.

The Meet Our Team section is also interesting. The director Matthew Newell has years of experience in this field, but I couldn’t find any relevant medical qualifications. The International Academy for Child Brain Development is mentioned, but it appears defunct. Carol Newell has a certification as a nursery nurse, but how this translates into an international lecturer in all phases of development and brain neuroplasticity is unclear.
Kristin Clague Reihman is a certified medical doctor, with a diplomate in Integrative medicine plus training in acupuncture. She also has published material on Facebook promoting Kerri Rivera and her Chlorine Dioxide protocols. This is the  MMS bleach product that has hit the news in multiple countries, easily one of the great alt-med scandals of recent years. For a medical doctor to be associated with this in any way is surprising and disappointing, to say the least.

Barry Gillespie is a periodontist with a keen interest in cranio sacral therapy and fascial therapy – how this translates to working with severe childhood development disorders is anyone’s guess.

Maybe there’s something I’m missing here, but it seems that the Family Hope Center are somewhat ill-equipped for the challenge of tackling major childhood brain disorders. If, as was said on the George Hook show, they are an option for parents who cannot get satisfaction through conventional approaches, then they have a pretty enormous burden of proof on their shoulders. This is not a burden that website testimonials and “success stories” will adequately address.

And why was Cosgrave on the show yesterday? It wouldn’t be because the Family Hope Center are in Kilkenny over the weekend? 


According to some blogs, the costs of these seminars are pretty expensive, so you would need to be sure you are making the right decision and that the evidence is there. From what I have seen, this evidence is thin on the ground. Buyer beware.


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The Baloney Detection Kit – Further Reading

Thanks to everyone who sat in on one of the talks last night in Blackrock Castle. Here are links to the resources mentioned.

Cork Skeptics

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Colm here! I think I must have spoken to over 200 people last night over the 4 hours. Thanks to everyone for coming along. I hope you found it interesting.

Attached are some links for further reading:

Logical Fallacies

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A core skill in critical thinking is identifying logical fallacies when they occur. Logical fallacies are poor arguments that are used to convince people of your point of view. You might be telling the truth, but such arguments, by themselves, will not make your viewpoint true. They often serve only to mislead others or to allow emotions to override your sense of reason. The website “Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies” gives an introduction to the most common fallacies. A more in-depth description can be found at logicalfallacies.info.

Human Biases

Our brains, while remarkable, contain pretty serious flaws that affect how we absorb experiences, process information and remember things accurately. Optical Illusions show that our brains…

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Anti-vaxxers. No science, but plenty of threats.

Autism campaigner Fiona O’Leary gets threatened by US Film Studio linked to Andrew Wakefield.

Passive Impressions

It takes an extraordinary person to go after a global pseudoscience network and dismantle it, piece by piece. The network involved is the Genesis II cult, whose schtick has been to promise “miracle” cures to parents of autistic children. If they would only drink bleach, or have it forced up their rectums, their children would be cured of autism. These people have made their fortunes by selling industrial bleach to vulnerable parents. They couldn’t care less who got hurt in the process. Despite negative publicity and widespread condemnation, they seemed unstoppable. Business is business, right?

Then someone – a parent of autistic children – took them on. Working with concerned parents in other countries, she got the media to take note. By contacting the papers, independent journalists, TV stations, radio stations and networks, she brought the church’s tactics into the light. Documentaries were commissioned, special investigations produced, exposing Genesis II for who they…

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What does it take?

Passive Impressions

There is a broadcaster in Cork, Neil Prendeville, who has no problem promoting pseudoscience and instilling fear into people during his radio programme. He regularly invites a guest, Michael O’Doherty, whom he calls a medical professional, onto his show to expound on vaccines and antibiotics. O’Doherty has no medical qualifications. He is a quack healer whose shtick seems to be that natural is good, that the body is capable of healing itself without the need for modern medicine.

This stuff is dangerous. It is simply not true to say that our bodies are able to deal with every illness that comes along. The flu, a common disease, kills millions of people every year. Before modern medicine, deaths from smallpox, measles and TB were common. They are much less so now because of vaccines, antibiotics and antivirals. Where is the evidence for the great natural panaceas they keep talking about? In…

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Anti-vaccination horror story

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Grieving woman / Martin / Flickr (CC Licensed)

From RawStory.com comes a horrific story of a baby dying from Meningitis, with the parents trying everything except the most sensible option – to go to a doctor and to seek medical help. If they had done that, it is probable that the baby would be alive today.

It’s easy to blame the parents in this case, but pointing the blame solely at them would be wrong. There are many within the alternative medicine industry who need to take a large share of the blame also.

Despite the messaging that alternative healthcare ‘complements’ medical healthcare, there are influential people within the alt-med industry who paint normal medicine as the enemy. They portray the industry as grasping and corrupt, medical practitioners as uncaring and deluded, and the modalities used as worse than useless. They will browbeat you into believing that vaccines are killing you and that all the cures are known, but they will not reveal them because there’s no money in it. A common meme, widely shared, is that they have no interest in making people better, in the totally mistaken belief that a healthier population is somehow a threat to the medical profession. If anything, it’s the opposite.

A direct result of these scare stories is that people like the family above cannot cope when presented with real medical emergencies. The result is needless suffering, needless death and charlatans making fortunes from the unwary. You cannot solve serious health problems with magic water, fruits, chakras, kale and thinking yourself better. If you or your family are sick, go see a doctor.

 


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A misleading article on faith healing

In an article entitled “Are miracles happening on the streets of Coleraine“, Finola Meredith wrote a largely uncritical piece about Mark Marx, a self-described street healer who claims he can channel the spirit of God to heal people of various different ailments. Particularly worryingly, claims were made that his ministry helped rid a woman of paralysis and helped to eliminate a young man’s cancer. Both claims went unchallenged.

Marx cited a “leg lengthening” technique that has long been debunked by professional magicians. Using this technique, so-called healers use sleight-of-hand to convince the unwary that a miracle has been performed, when all that’s usually required is a simple repositioning of the shoes being worn by the subject. In this case, we do not know the effect that chemotherapy had on the young man’s recovery. It appears that Ms Meredith did not seek corroboration for the claims made.

In cases of cancer, because treatment regimes are often difficult and outcomes uncertain, people can come to a conclusion that there are easier solutions out there. Combined with unscrupulous people who claim they can cure without evidence, it is a breeding ground for false hope and avoidable suffering. The utmost scepticism must be applied. Irrespective of whether sceptics have “never encountered the reality of knowing God”, any claim to cure cancer must stand on its own merits. Anecdotes are insufficient as they are often self-serving, selective and fail to account for the many biases we are all subject to.

Evangelical faith healing has a long pedigree of making extravagant claims despite any clinical evidence. The area is fraught with examples of brazen charlatanry and most worryingly, there have been plenty of cases of serious harm caused to people who have abandoned medical treatment in favour of faith based treatments. We need to be extremely wary of the claims of faith healers, even when the healers themselves seem sincere in their beliefs.