Archive for category Pseudoscience

Clear as mud

There’s a product called Joint Mud which the Express is wholeheartedly bigging up today. Apparently, it’s mud you rub on your joints which supposedly stops the pain of arthritis and improves joint flexibility; or so they claim.

This product is important, the Express says, because “The launch comes after a weekend expose revealed the NHS wasted £59million over four years on the anti-arthritis food supplement glucosamine sulphate, which does not work.“* Well then, I sure hope this Joint Mud works instead!

The Joint Mud site unfortunately doesn’t link to any of the studies to measure how effective the cream is. Instead, they simply give two very brief abstracts of studies:

Clinical Study # 1 – Results in 18 Minutes

“When used in accordance with intended package directions, Joint Mud demonstrated statistically significant reduction of joint problems by an average of 74% within the first 18 minutes with a maximum of 89% improvement reported after a single application.

Clinical Study # 2 – Long term results in 28 days.

“When used in accordance with intended package instructions in 28 days Joint Mud improved Joint Flexibility, Muscle Flexibility and Range of Motion by greater than 239%. Also, over the four week study, the number of applications needed to achieve the desired joint relief decreased from three times daily to twice a day”.

There’s no mention of how the studies were controlled or what placebos they used – after all, rubbing a cold cream into your joints normally soothes them anyway, regardless of how many organic essential oils your cream contains.

Nor does it say anywhere what improving range of motion and flexibility by “greater than 239%” means. Does this mean people went from being able to move their knees by 20° to 67°, or just from 1° to 3°?

I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t you being too harsh on them? After all, they’ve at least released some clinical data, even if it is completely useless cargo cult science? I’m sure there’s nothing else dodgy about this product!”

Well first of all, let’s see which doctor the Express quotes to promote the product:

Dr Mark Binette, of Greek Island Labs, which produces Joint Mud, said: “I’ve been practising medicine for over 21 years and have never seen a product with such staggering results. I believe Joint Mud will help millions of people deal with aches and pains.

“I have seen impressive results in patients suffering from pain in their knees, back, hips, shoulders, hands and fingers.”

So the guy who sells the product is also the guy whose testimony they rely on to show the product works. Never mind, I’m sure Dr Mark Binette can be totally unbiased and impartial about a product he sells.

Secondly, check out the testamonials on the Joint Mud site:

I’ve had joint problems in my elbows in my knees for several years now. I was introduced to Joint Mud, I put it on and 18 minutes later I can totally feel the difference.

I’d applied the Joint Mud as instructed and within 18 minutes or so, I was feeling the results.

I’ve suffered from a really bad hip problem for several years now. I was introduced to Joint Mud and found that it works in about 18 minutes.

I was introduced to Joint Mud and at first, I was skeptical but I went ahead and tried it. Within 18 minutes, I saw tremendous results.

It’s all natural, put it on the joints where you have problems and within 18 minutes, you’re going to have tremendous results!

Funny how everyone found the product worked in exactly 18 minutes, isn’t it?

In the same vein, at the time of writing there were four comments on the Express‘s article. All four comments were posted by people who had never used the site before, three of whom claim to live in Aberdeen. Bear in mind this is a product that has not yet been released in the UK yet, so it’s unlikely three Aberdeeners and a Londoner have had a chance to try the product yet.

All four comments were posted within hours of the article going live, with the three supposedly from Aberdeen being posted between 2:03 AM and and 3:34 AM. There must be a lot of insomniac Express reading arthritics in Aberdeen!

The company that makes Joint Mud, the inaccurately named “Greek Island Labs”, is based in Arizona. Arizona is currently 7 hours behind the UK, meaning that, Arizona time, the comments were posted in the early evening – a much more convenient time to be posting on the Daily Express website.

Now, far be it from me to criticise a product promoted by Cascada, Bruno from Strictly, and David Hasselhoff’s daughter, but does that strike anyone else as odd?

* I can’t actually find any such exposé anywhere online. Curiously though, Greek Island Labs have previously promoted their products as an alternative to glucosamine, which makes me wonder how much of a part they played in writing this article.


The Mail’s latest antivaccine scare

Old habits die hard, and for the Mail that means no matter how many times their stories are debunked, their antivaccination scaremongering will never end.

Today’s Mail on Sunday carries the story “Experts admit swine flu jab ‘may cause’ deadly nerve disease“. Note how the phrase “may cause” is in quotes – odd, since the experts in question didn’t use the phrase. In fact, they said the opposite.

The Mail‘s story comes from a routine newsletter from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) called Drug Safety Update, which carries news about safety tests, urgent recalls, new drugs and so on. One of the articles in this month’s update explains the infrastructure that the MHRA put in place to monitor adverse reactions to the swine flu vaccines Pandemrix and Celvapan. Not especially gripping stuff, especially since the conclusion they come to is:

It was evident from our analyses early in the vaccination programme, including similar analyses across the EU, that there was no clear indication of a large increased risk of GBS [Guillaine-Barré syndrome] similar to that seen with swine flu vaccines in the US in 1976. To date, there remains no confirmed evidence to indicate that Pandemrix or Celvapan is associated with an increased risk of GBS.

Of course, this is a scientific document, and any proper scientific document includes caveats. So, sure enough, it continues:

However, given the uncertainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be completely ruled out. The benefits of vaccination would still outweigh any small vaccine-attributable risk of GBS.

That first sentence is what the Mail builds the article around entirely, ignoring completely the second. Just as they did with the Royal Society’s climate change advice a few weeks back, they take one statement out of context from an earlier document, in this case a leaked letter from the Health Protection Agency – “There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic” – compare it to another out-of-context statement made more recently – “Given the uncertainties in the available information and as with seasonal flu vaccines, a slightly elevated risk of GBS following H1N1 vaccines cannot be completely ruled out” – and claim this represents a U-turn in opinion.

Without the original letter itself, which the Mail curiously neglected to actually quote from when it “leaked” it, I can’t know for sure what the HPA actually said. However, going just on that one, out-of-context sentence, here’s a more accurate summary of the change in medical opinion:

2009: “There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of GBS from the vaccines being developed to fight the current pandemic

2010: “To date, there remains no confirmed evidence to indicate that Pandemrix or Celvapan is associated with an increased risk of GBS.

Guillaine-Barré syndrome is a terrifying condition, but for the Mail to pass that fear on to vaccines that have been proven to be safe is not just misleading but downright harmful. This article has come out in mid-Autumn, just at the time when the NHS’s seasonal flu vaccination scheme reaches its peak. If even one person decides not to get the jab because of this article, that’s one more potential infection this winter. One more potential flu death.

Shame on the Mail.


Fucking magnets, how do they work?

There’s a distinct air of the Victorian freak show in today’s Daily Mail. First of all the paper openly supports the mocking and humiliation of the woman who drunkenly urinated near a war memorial, then there’s the surprise that a gay man might want to get a civil partnership, and, most freakish of all, there’s a human magnet.

Looking on the bright side, she should never lose her keys.

But for mother-of-one Brenda Allison, her mysterious ‘power’ that means metallic objects stick to her body has long since lost its attraction.

Dubbed ‘the human magnet’, Miss Allison says she is often embarrassed by the effect, which she has been told is down to a heightened electromagnetic current running through her body.


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Despite mounting evidence

“I don’t know how, but homeopathy really does work”, says Rachel Roberts in today’s Comment is Free, with the tagline “More of a mystery is why scientists continue to debunk it despite mounting evidence that homeopathy is effective“. Now, CiF is The Guardian‘s opinion section, and is known for giving some particularly controversial viewpoints a platform, so some sort of devil’s advocacy about homeopathy is to be expected. Okay, it would still hardly be a debate so much as just blind contrarianism, but that’s about par for the course of modern journalistic “balance”. This however goes way beyond that, into out and out nonsense on an actually epic scale.

This will be a paragraph by paragraph takedown, so it’ll get a bit long, but if you want a summary, the article takes place in topsy-turvy world where nearly every scientific study proves homeopathy works, and yet no scientist believes in it. Roberts then tries to claim that because scientists in topsy-turvy world are blinded and ignorant, scientists in the real world must be equally stupid.

Here we go:

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