Snake Oil Science:
The Truth about Complementary
and Alternative Medicine
by R. Barker Bausell
Millions of people worldwide swear by such therapies as acupuncture, herbal cures, and homeopathic remedies. Indeed, complementary and alternative medicine is embraced by a broad spectrum of society, from ordinary people, to scientists and physicians, to celebrities such as Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey.
In the tradition of Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things and Robert Parks's Voodoo Science, Barker Bausell provides an engaging look at the scientific evidence for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and at the logical, psychological, and physiological pitfalls that lead otherwise intelligent people--including researchers, physicians, and therapists--to endorse these cures.
The book's ultimate goal is to reveal not whether these therapies work--as Bausell explains, most do work, although weakly and temporarily--but whether they work for the reasons their proponents believe. Indeed, as Bausell reveals, it is the placebo effect that accounts for most of the positive results.
He explores this remarkable phenomenon--the biological and chemical evidence for the placebo effect, how it works in the body, and why research on any therapy that does not factor in the placebo effect will inevitably produce false results. By contrast, as Bausell shows in an impressive survey of research from high-quality scientific journals and systematic reviews, studies employing credible placebo controls do not indicate positive effects for CAM therapies over and above those attributable to random chance.
Here is not only an entertaining critique of the strangely zealous world of CAM belief and practice, but it also a first-rate introduction to how to correctly interpret scientific research of any sort. Readers will come away with a solid understanding of good vs. bad research practice and a healthy skepticism of claims about the latest miracle cure, be it St. John's Wort for depression or acupuncture for chronic pain.
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Canadian Quackery Watch - Hot Topics
|- Coral Calcium Scams -||Special Report|
Bob Barefoot came to town. His job was to convince a room full of Mennonites that he had the cure for cancer, AIDS, MS, and arthritis. He held it in his hand, it's simple, neat and painless, and it's safe for the environment, and apparently the prying eyes of Health Canada. After all, it's natural, and it's called Coral Calcium. Two years later and he is still flogs this stuff to Canadians, and our government doesn't care.
E-mail: Contact HealthWatcher
Quotes from Robert Barefoot at Kitchener Public Library
It's a miracle
"50 of 100 people cured of cancer, cured of migraine.
This stuff really works!"
"Watch a miracle happen. Just take 200 mg. in 10 minutes"
"The blind see, the deaf hear, the MS cripples get out in the sun when they take coral calcium."
"I'll show you blood changes in just 10 minutes"
"92% of all hysterectomies are not necessary"
"No more rectal cancer"
"It's a miracle"
"Surgeons use it"
"Spray it on me - I will have no bugs on me"
"Spray it on plants - they will be bug free"
"It's the magic mineral"
Smart chicks of Okinawa - a tale of broken yolks, empty promises and health robbery
Kitchener, Ontario the town formerly called Berlin, brings the world Oktoberfest each Autumn. It sits in the middle of Waterloo County, surrounded by picturesque Mennonite farms and an enthusiastic population of quacks and alternative practitioners. Some of those people are Mennonites themselves, while others prey on their sensitivity in favour of home-grown cures and remedies.
The academic and medical community have remained silent during the years that I have lived in town about the quacks, including some of their own. Since last summer, the local newspaper, taken over by SUN media out of Toronto, has placed quacks on a pedestal, with large feature articles on iridology, wholisitic medicine, and has basically ignored the scientific basis of medicine in their pages, if they challenged those who would defraud the public.
||On November 30, 1998 I learned that snake-oil salesman and author Robert Barefoot was coming to the Kitchener Public Library to give a noon time talk about Coral Calcium. I had followed this scam, and others like it for months, but had never had the chance to see one of their ace pitchmen up close. Barefoot is basically a scam artist who happens to work for HTN (Health Technologies Network) out of the U.S. I was eager to absorb all of his rants with an open mind.|
I had listened eagerly the day before when CFRB, Canada's largest market AM news-radio and talk station, broadcast a rather abbreviated interview with him. I couldn't believe the outrageous claims he made for his products and for the work of a Canadian born doctor, Carl J. Reich, the co-author of the book called "The Calcium Factor".
As soon as he mentioned Reich's name, my ears perked up because I seemed to remember a story about him and his quack cures. Reich had actually lost his license about 15 years ago in Alberta and in California for quackery. It seems that he claimed that his treatments would cure AIDS and other diseases. It was as simple as the litmus test, the paper to measure the pH of the saliva indicated to Reich whether or not a patient had an underlying condition. It's sort of like the old VW's back in the 50s where you had to take a yardstick and put it in the gas tank to see if you were running on fumes. Reich, obviously trained in modern medicine in Canada and Germany, failed to prove his theory when he was alive. The blood's pH, or acidity/alkalinity system could be the sum total of all the conditions of man, that he Reich could diagnose and successfully treat with his methods. If his aim, living in an alkaline environment, were indeed true, we would probably all be sinking back into the perverbial slime, although according to his crooked theories, we would be free of mold and cancer. How would his successors carry on with his madness? They would have to come up with, not a magic bullet, but with a magic potion. It's not difficult to imagine that a simple answer to all the world's health problems would make desperate and simple minded people jump through hoops into his office for 30 years, especially those who have little or no faith in organized medicine, or no basic knowledge of science.
|So, I was not surprised that when I entered the KPL on Monday, the room was packed to the gills with Mennonites. The award winning report by the writers for the Kansas City Star entitled Plain Prey immediately came to mind when I entered the room. About 90% of those who were there were Mennonites.|
|I bought about $42 worth of books and plunked
down $5.00 as a guest and sat down to listen to whatever Mr. Barefoot would
have to offer. Were these Mennonites aware of what they were getting into,
or were they actually behind the move to bring Mr. Barefoot to Kitchener
in the first place?
Mr. Barefoot, introduced as the "King of Calcium", started the ball rolling with a joke about Mormons and lawyers, not exactly my two most favourite subjects. I dare say that he didn't get much laugh from the folks in the audience until he told the lawyer's joke. He then began a story about his relationship with Dr. Carl J. Reich, his mentor. It seems that this maverick doctor, born and trained in Canada, became famous for his theories he developed after he did some work with Otto Warburg, a German doctor won two Nobel Prizes.
He then enlightened the audience with lie after lie about twin studies, calcium, vitamin-D and how other doctors have cured patients of terminal cancer with pancreas injections into cancer masses the size of cantelopes. Then picture this, a huge dark slice of putrid carcinoma dying in the beaker bathed in alkaline solution, and yet nothing happens when it is plunked in acid. Wow, what a picture!
showing that the cancer rates had gone from 20% in 1952 to 38% in 1998.
He failed to mention that of course medical science had conquered polio,
measles, smallpox, and a host of other diseases.
But the audience was unmoved. Instead they were treated to Mr. Barefoot's repeated contentions that "doctors" were the "generals" who have lost the war and that we continue to kill people with our losing war on disease. If only they had followed Dr. Reich's insane revelations that all you had to do was to check the pH of the patient's saliva, feed him calcium salts and presto-chango - all disease will be prevented. And, all good companies, of course will sell out of their coral calcium products.
I am not an epidemiologist, but I have studied sociology, marketing, and mass movements that are driven by false prophets. I guess that Dr. Reich must be smiling from his grave at the sight of Mr. Barefoot's staunch support for his quack ideas.
Then comes the really interesting stuff about the Hopi Indians who "have no cancer", the Eskimos who had "no disease" until white man came and fed them Coke and Pizza, the Hunzas who eat a dozen eggs a day, the Georgians who bathe themselves in yoghurt, and the natives who lived in Bolivia at high altitude who drink glacial milk laden with calcium and other goodies. They lived of course without disease and made it into the world's record books with their centenarians who lived until age 150. The fact that there are no birth records for these folks didn't stop Bob from spreading these lies.
Then he started in with the main theme of the day, the Okinawan miracle of miracles, there are 3 million people who live on this island and there is no cancer. Hey folks, it's the Shangri-la archipelago.
Over the next twenty minutes or so, Barefoot covered all the mistakes that doctors made in treating hypertension and high cholesterol. Granted though his degree was in a basic chemistry and he never went to medical school, or took a course in epidemiology, he must have done his homework. He held up article after article on vindicated doctors who had been targeted as being unscientific, as if Dr. Reich's ideas would be resurrected and all of us would be reaching for the alka-seltzer or calcium carbonate fizzies to cure our Alzheimers.
According to Barefoot there are 155 diseases caused by low calcium levels in the body. Why if a baby had to go off milk, they would have to eat 22 lbs. of spinach, or 15 lbs. of broccoli to make up the difference. "We need another source", he exclaimed.
We could drink milk, it can lower heart disease by 1000% he says. We could do the same for breast cancer. Did you know that according to this HTN guru that "vegetarians die 9 years earlier than meat eaters." What happened to all those Seventh Day Adventist studies from Loma Linda that said just the opposite?
Did you know that people don't get cancer if they spend time in the sun? Wow, I wish they would have told that to Claudia, my partner who died of melanoma in 1993.
In a room full of men and women of the Mennonite faith, Mr. Barefoot stood there and said that for Christmas each and every one of those in the room should go out to the department store and buy their loved one the skimpiest bikini and send them out to get some rays. To say the least, I stood up and reminded him about the epidemic of melanoma up here. (He comes from Arizona, where no one goes out in the sun because it's too damn hot anyway).
Finally, the reason we all came, the story about the Coral Calcium from Okinawa.There were signs everywhere, books on the table two feet high, newspapers with pictures of chiropractors, satisfied customers, and testimonies from all.
Why are the Japanese who live on Okinawa so healthy? According to HTN's front-man Barefoot, it's because the coral reef is disintegrating, and there is coral sand everywhere, even in the air. All they have to do is "breathe it in". He says that the average Okinawan ingests 12,000 mg. of calcium a day. "There are no doctors, no disease, and they live to 149," he rants.
Why, 540 years ago chickens that lived near the ocean waves, and obviously must have inhaled the calcium-laden air, gave the best eggs. The people ate the eggs. For two hundred years the coral calcium was hauled off to Europe, principally Scandinavia, where they soaked up the stuff. I guess they don't have oysters, or clams, or limestone or maybe even intelligent chickens up there.
He then answered some questions, none of them from any of the Mennonites in the audience, who were either snoring, or praying that either something from heaven should fall through the roof and strike this man down, or that the person who brought them there should suffer a fate worse than death. It was hard to read the stoical crowd.
I think that there were a few people in the audience who were sent there by a local newspaper or two, I don't know. I had to leave to go back to my medical office and destroy more zits for fun and profit. I just don't get it. Perhaps I should have bought some of the Coral Calcium and a spray gun for Christmas.
Alternative medicine does not support coral calcium
The Truth About Okinawan Drinking Water
Subject: Calcium from Okinawa Date: Sat, 02 Jan 1999 From: Ozz <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I read with interest your letter to Okinawa Times. I lived in Okinawa for 13 years and can tell you that Okinawans do not mine coral reefs for calcium. Their major source of calcium is fish.
The well water which is probably high in mineral deposits as Okinawa is primarily a limestone island, is undrinkable due to pollution.
Before 1960 or so a large percentage of the rural population obtained its drinking water from wells, springs or streams, and I imagine there was a higher content of minerals in the water. Okinawa has the distinction of the highest ratio seniors over the age of 100 in comparison to the general population of any prefecture in Japan. I don't think there are any quite a 150 years old, but Okinawa has boasted the oldest people in the world for some time. The Okinawans who live that long all share several things in common:
1. High fiber, low fat diet. Lots of rice, "yama-imo" mountain potato, other root vegetables, "miso" made from soy beans and barley and other grain. The primary meat intake was fish. Pork and goat meat were considered delicacies and only consumed on special occassions.
2. Exercise. Rural Okinawans worked hard for a living. Cultivation was by hand. They did not have many work animals. Fishermen swam and dove without benefit of equipment. Women had to haul water etc. etc. If they went anywhere they walked.
3. Attitude. Okinawans have the attitude that, generally speaking, close enough is good enough, if it doesn't get done today there is always tomorrow. They are very friendly and magnanomous, rarely getting upset, and go with the flow. I have visited 7 or 8 countries and Okinawans are the most easy-going I have encountered, by a long shot.
These are just general observations that I have made while living there. Japan has one of the lowest cancer rates for a first world country, but with the change in diet, lots of McDonalds, etc. that the younger generation is accustomed to the cancer rate has been going up. Japanese women who relocate to the US and change diets, breast cancer rates are the same as for US women within a couple of decades. Women who remain in Japan and keep a traditional diet, have a much lower breast cancer rate.
Anyway I digress. Bottom line, the folks who are selling this calcium from the coral reefs are full of it.
That source of calcium is no different from any other source and will not make you live longer. If you want to live longer, move to rural Okinawa, change your attitude and diet and hope for the best.
Hope I answered your question and didn't ramble too much.
Odd balls, goof balls, and calcium balls - it's all just shattered dreams
Here are a few comments from his tape and his pamphlet
More MLM companies that sell or promote Coral Calcium products that some claim will change the pH of your blood, prolong life, and may prevent cancer - all while trying to make you think you can get rich quick
"nature intended us to get most of our minerals in a plant form"
"most minerals in most supplements are not chelated or citrated and hence are often found in a more rudimentary or less absorable form"
Minerals, Minerals, Minerals
In the past few years there has been a massive marketing blitz concerning minerals. This blitz has been both good and bad. On a positive note, it has served to help educate people concerning their need for minerals. But, at the same time, these same people have become extremely confused about what form of mineral to take. (In other words, "Can you have your rocks and eat it, too?")
"The form of calcium in Mendocino Sparkling Mineral Water (calcium carbonate) is more readily absorbed by the intestine than is calcium phosphate (as in milk) or calcium oxalate (as in green, leafy vegetables)."
Professor Floyd C. Rector, M.D., Chairman University of California Medical Center, San Francisco
Government links about health claims for food - give them time and they may stumble across the skeletons left by coral calcium scams
Consumer watchdogs and government links
The multi-level marketing and pyramid selling provisions of the Competition Act set out the responsibilities for operators and participants in these types of plans. The Act also explains the differences between multi-level marketing and a pyramid selling scheme. Multi-level marketing, if it operates within the limits set by the Competition Act, is a legal business activity, while a pyramid selling scheme is illegal as defined by the law.
us e-mail if you want to send us specific complaints, or if you have
a story to tell about HTN or any other coral calcium scam.
If you have a story to tell about a quack doctor or therapist in your area, please let us know. If there's a product you see advertised to help you be "more healthy", or perhaps a cure for cancer, send it to us immediately. The government will, as usual, just sit on it and do nothing for months.
Fax your news clippings to 519-725-4953