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Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

Women Get Scammed $85000 by “Psychic”

October 28, 2010 2 comments

The headline read Women: We Were Scammed By a Psychic.

I thought to myself, ‘This will be funny!’

But as I read, it turned out to be quite a sad story, and unfortunately one that will probably be repeated.

The Coles notes version of the story is that two women went to see a psychic named Patricia Johns to help them with their relationship problems. The psychic proceeded to prey on their vulnerabilities, and eventually scored roughly $85 000 from these two women.

One woman wanted to improve her marriage, while the other asked for help with her best friend. Said one of the women (who asked to remain anonymous),

I’m devastated over what she has done to me…She has just ruined my life.

The psychic used a different approach with each woman. On the first she used “smooth-talk”, but on the second she used something darker. From the WLFI article,

She did not say anything that was sweet-sounding,” said the second woman. “She had you in such fear – for your life, of things that she said people were doing to you. You are already in a weird state of mind when you have a great loss.”

The psychic used scare tactics to keep these women coming in for more sessions. $100 sessions became $400 sessions, and in one instance, the psychic even got one of the victims to buy her a Rolex. How? Well she told the victim that because her problems occurred at a certain time and place, she had to buy a special time piece and throw it into the river to break the curse on her marriage.

The psychic went with the victim to the jewellery store, picked out a $26 000 Rolex, and the victim paid for it. Later, when they went to the river,

The woman said she caught a glimpse of a watch being thrown into the river, but admitted she had no idea if it was a Rolex.

It’s easy to look at this story and say “Oh, these women are stupid” or “They should have known better”. They are probably saying that to themselves right now. But there is a bigger picture here.

When people are desperate, they will try anything. One of the victims in this story was desperate to save her marriage. Can we really blame her for wanting to try anything?

Lets remember that these psychics are very good at what they do. They know how to prey on people’s emotions. They can convince you that they have predicted something about your life, when really they have been guessing the entire time. (Read up on cold-reading to see how they do this).

This rings true of alternative medicine as well. We can’t blame people for going to Homeopaths or faith healers, because they are simply so desperate that they are willing to try and/or pay anything to help themselves.

The culprits are the purveyors of woo. The psychics, palm readers, faith healers etc, who make a living preying on the vulnerabilities and desperation of people like the women in this story.

If you want to go to a psychic for entertainment, for a laugh, that’s fine. But remember that they have no powers, no special abilities. All they have is just a knack for performance.

“In the course of a successful reading, the psychic may provide most of the words, but it is the client that provides most of the meaning and all of the significance.” –Ian Rowland (2000: 60)

Acupuncture: Not As Harmless As You Thought

October 19, 2010 1 comment

Acupuncture is one of the most widely used alternative medicine treatments today. Photo: GETTY

A recent review article published in the The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine has found reports of 86 deaths in the last 45 years relating to acupuncture treatment.

Incorrectly placing needles and poor sterilization techniques were the main culprits. These poor practices led to punctured hearts and lungs, infections, liver and artery damage and haemorrhages.

From the Guardian,

The most common cause of death was a condition called pneumothorax, where air finds its way between the membranes that separate the lungs from the chest wall and causes the lungs to collapse.

The article was written by Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. When describing his research he said that “these fatalities are avoidable” but are “the tip of a larger iceberg.”

Now, every medical treatment has some form of risk associated with it. What is important is the risk/benefit analysis of the treatment. If you could potentially save a life, the benefit is high which could make a risky procedure worth it.

The problem with acupuncture is that it has consistently been shown to offer little more than a placebo effect. Therefore, if it has no benefit than even a very small amount of risk is unacceptable.

When discussing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments I always get the question, “Well, whats the harm?”

Studies like these and websites like Whatstheharm.net are showing the growing amount of evidence that some CAM treatments are not as safe as we once thought.

Acupuncture and Stroke: The Globe and Mail’s Epic…Win???

September 29, 2010 1 comment

 I guess you could call this post “Part 2” in my examination of science reporting in Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail.

My previous post dealt with the horrific reporting on the supposed link between cell phones and cancer. This time around, I’ll be dealing with an article on acupuncture.

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine wherein needles are inserted into the skin. The needle insertions are supposed to redirect the flow of qi energy in the body, which subsequently cures whatever ails you. (Check my previous post about acupuncture for a more thorough explanation).

Scientific consensus is that acupuncture offers nothing more than a placebo effect. Yet, most insurance companies continue to cover it (including mine).

So when I saw an article about acupuncture in The Globe, was ready for more fodder for my skeptical mind. But I was pleasantly surprised. Somewhat. Just a little.

The article reports on a recent review of 10 studies looking at acupuncture as a therapy for stroke patients. Not surprisingly, the researchers found no evidence that acupuncture helped the recovery of these patients.

While the article does a good job making this finding clear, it does cloud the issue by talking about the supposed “problems” with studying acupuncture.

One of the most glaring problems confounding the study of acupuncture is that it’s challenging to compare it to anything. While researchers studying the effects of a drug can make a direct comparison by giving some patients the medicine and others a placebo, the same isn’t true of acupuncture. Researchers often give one group of patients acupuncture and use a “sham” therapy on another group, in which needles are inserted at non-acupuncture points in the body.

The problem with that approach is that patients may still get a benefit from the “sham” needles, even if they’re not inserted at the correct points in the body.

The “sham” treatment is the placebo in this type of study, and these sham treatments are often developed with the help of trained acupuncturists. The fact that sham acupuncture gives a similar benefit to the patient as regular acupuncture is not a “problem”, it is evidence. Evidence that acupuncture does not provide any benefit other than a placebo. If the treatment does not provide a statistically significant effect beyond that of a placebo, it is not effective.

Proponents of acupuncture usually try to fog the minds of potential customers by saying that acupuncture cannot be studied by standard “Western” practices; that it should be exempt from scientific study because it is somehow “different”. Even the Globe and Mail article manages to contradict itself on this point:

Dr. Korner-Bitensky said there is no solid evidence showing stroke patients can truly benefit from acupuncture.

“For patients and families I would say [acupuncture is] not where you want to put your major commitment in terms of therapy,” she said.

But there’s another important point that shouldn’t be discounted, Dr. Korner-Bitensky added: Some patients simply believe in acupuncture therapy, and that alone could somehow benefit them.

Sorry, but science is a methodology, not an ideology. “Belief” is not enough. If acupuncture produced a real effect, it should be testable and quantifiable. But it doesn’t.

Now the question always arises at this point: “Even if it is just a placebo, why is that bad? It still makes people feel better. Why can’t we let it continue?”

There are several reasons. The first is that if acupuncture is covered by health insurance, it means that we are all collectively footing the bill for a medical treatment that doesn’t work.

Second, if we allow a treatment which doesn’t work to continue, we open the door for similar treatments and ideology to become mainstream, such as faith healing or homeopathy.

Third, if we continue to allow treatments which don’t work to exist, we run the risk of ordinary people choosing “alternative” treatments, treatments which have been proven ineffective, over science-based treatments that do work.

Finally, acupuncture is not always completely benign. There have been reports of needles being left in, punctured bladders, and there is always the possibility of infection.

So although this Globe and Mail article wasn’t an all-out “Win”, it wasn’t a Fail either. But it does serve to bring up discussion about alternative medicine and the associated dangers of giving them more credit than they deserve.