The greatest merit of the magazine is that it serves as a condensed example of all the ways alternative health reporting seeks to mislead you and drive you away from your doctor and into the clutches of your friendly herbalist, vitamin salesman and homeopath. It uses a few basic tricks to do this: quote research and figures out of context; examine only one (unlikely) interpretation of research; ignore completely conflicting research; assume the only alternative to imperfect mainstream medicine is alternative medicine; uncritically promote all forms of quackery (which then advertise in the magazine.)
Just about every story and advert in this magazine is problematic. It would take a month just to highlight the most gross errors and distortions in each issue. So for the sake of time and sanity, let’s just look at two stories and advert in the current edition.
Page 10 warns us that being X-rayed is not as safe as you are led to believe. “There’s no such thing as a safe X-ray.”
Doctors have assumed that standard X-ray technology, including CT (computed
tomography) and angiography, are safe because they involve very low levels of
radiation. As a result, they are regularly used for routine screening and scans and when patients are recovering from a health
This is simply not true. Doctors know that there are health risks associated with x-rays and they are capable of inducing cancer. Very conservative safety assumptions are use to estimate how likely that risk is. Medically and legally, when giving X-rays, a doctor is required to ensure there is a medical justification for that exposure that will inform treatment with likely benefits that will outweigh the risks.
They refer to research where people who have had heart attacks and subsequent X-rays go on to develop cancer. WDDTY tell us,
But they’re not safe at all, researchers from McGill University Health Centre in Montreal discovered when they tracked 82,861 heart patients who had been scheduled for at least one scan following a heart attack. Of these patients, 12,020—nearly 15 per cent of the total—went on to develop cancer, with two-thirds of these being cancers around the abdomen and chest areas where they had been screened.
The original paper (Eisenberg et al 2011, Cancer risk related to low-dose ionizing radiation from cardiac imaging in patients after acute myocardial infarction) looked at Canadian patients who had had imaging scans of their hearts after a heart attack. It examined their patient records in order to determine how many scans they had received and hence were able to estimate their radiation doses. The study then looked at how many patients developed cancer over the following five years.
As the author’s themselves note, such a study will always have problems. At best, it will show a correlation between X-ray dose and cancer induction. One big problem from the start is that there may be a ‘confounder’; that is, a hidden cause that correlates with both your measurements. It is easy to think up confounders in this case. A person who has had a heart attack may have an unhealthy life-style and smoke, drink or have a bad diet. Such a lifestyle could also lead to cancer. The more ill a person, the more likely they are to receive more X-ray examinations and also the more likely they are to get a cancer. X-rays may have little or nothing to do with it.
But WDDTY warns us,
Of these patients, 12,020—nearly 15 per cent of the total—went on to develop cancer, with two-thirds of these being cancers around the abdomen and chest areas where they had been screened.
This statement makes it look like there were thousands of induced cancers as a result of the X-rays. But we should remember that this was not a controlled study – many thousands of these people will get cancer anyway. What is being looked for is a slight excess that correlates with dose. The observed extra risk was small. There are many problems with interpreting these results. For one, it is not clear how a dose from a heart imaging X-ray could induce cancer in organs not exposed.
WDTTY make no attempt to explain the figures and put them in a context that would help people understand the risks from X-rays. The authors of the paper do a much better job when they say,
The potential increase in cancer-related death associated with exposure to radiation from cardiac imaging and therapeutic procedures has to be weighed against the potential risk of death from cardiovascular diseases for which these procedures are indicated and the resulting decrease in mortality expected with their use.
That is, if there is an extra risk, then this risk may be acceptable given that the information from the X-ray could help save your life from a heart attack. Yes, there are important things that come out of such studies such as the need to ensure we are not using X-rays when they are not medically required. The authors note that the study was done in Canada. In the USA, diagnostic imaging may be much more prevalent for reasons associated with their health care culture and not medical need.
In short, we have an article that does nothing to inform readers, is likely to mislead, and avoids important aspects of how a patient might understand the risks and benefits of diagnostic imaging.
Next, the editor of WDDTY, Lynne McTaggart, tell us that “Neutral Switzerland is partial to homeopathy”.
Taken directly from the HuffPo Dana Ullman book of idiocy, Lynne tells us that,
While the British government has been busily attempting to curtail the use of homeopathy (to date unsuccessfully), the most comprehensive assessment ever conducted by any governmental body into homeopathy has concluded that not only does it work, but it’s also far more cost-effective than conventional medicine. In fact, it works so well that patients should be reimbursed for it on the Swiss National Health.
Everything in that statement is wrong.
The UK government had stated they are neutral about homeopathy and are letting NHS commissioners decide whether it should be paid for. As a result, the number of homeopathy prescriptions made on the NHS has collapsed. In contrast, the Swiss government has not remained neutral on the issue, as we shall see.
The report was not the most comprehensive study of homeopathy conducted by any government body. Firstly, the Swiss government did not write the report. A group of Anthroposophists wrote it. They work at the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany, a private university set up to promote the occult medical teachings of Rudolf Steiner. They train homeopathic doctors and so would benefit immensely from German speaking public support of homeopathy. They submitted the report in the hope that it would influence policy. One researcher has published a review that calls this report “a case study of research misconduct“.
The Swiss government was not accepting of the findings of the report.
The positive interpretation of the current evidence seems understandable, as long as one does not require especially high evidence standards, given the low plausibility of homeopathy in the light of established scientific knowledge. Very skeptical people will regard the reviewed evidence as not very convincing.
Specifically on cost-effectiveness the reviewing panel said,
Due to insufficient data, no reliable statements on the cost-effectiveness of the 5 complementary therapies are possible based on the HTAs.
The Swiss government, after reviewing these reports and taking into account a referendum agreed to continue funding homeopathy only until 2017 with the expectation that these therapies will comply with demands for evidence of efficacy, appropriateness and cost-effectiveness by end of 2015.
What Doctors Don’t Tell You don’t tell you this.
Finally, lets look at an advert.
I would love to examine the full page advert of Glastonbury quantum flapdoodle company Harmony United that asks, “What has Santa got for you in his Quantum Sack?” The answer, it would appear, is a quantum pendant that can cure of all known illneses, treat your pets and your car.
The Realm of unlimited Possibilities obviously includes being able to sell worthless tat at inflated prices in a magazine that claims to be a health champion.
But instead, let’s look at how Stetzer is going to save you from the menace of dirty electricity.
This company claim to provide you with mains filters at £55 (minimum three per order) that will rid you of something called ‘Dirty Electricity’. It can treat ADHD, diabetes, fibromyalgia, ME, MS and tinnitus.
Those are some claims.
It also claims to save 30% on your electricity bills.
Their web site goes on.
Obviously their pack of 3 filters at £165 is a minimum required if you want to have any hope of sleeping well. “During the development of the filters and the following medical research it was shown that having too few filters is a false economy.” They advertise a ten pack so you can better live a life free from the menace of dirty electricity. They recommend up to 15 for most households.
They tell people with diabetes that
Research has shown that diabetics can need lower doses of insulin when electropollution is reduced, so be prepared to monitor glucose levels especially carefully.
So, after misrepresenting life-saving diagnostic techniques, misleading about the Swiss government’s views on homeopathy, WDDTY are now prepared to take advertising revenue from someone selling cheap mains filters at vastly overinflated prices to protect against a problem that does not exist whilst giving dangerous advice to people with life-threatening illnesses.
Very good work.
I understand the Advertising Standards Authority are in receipt of a challenge to the advert and its ability to comply with advertising codes of substantiation, responsibility and truthfulness.
In the meantime, here is Chris Morris and his hard hidden news item on the danger of the related problem, Heavy Electricity.