Dutch vet society wins quack award

Logo of the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Medicine.

Last Saturday, the Dutch Society against Quackery (Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, VtdK) has given the Master Quack Award (Meester Kackadorisprijs) to the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Medicine (KNMvD). Out of five nominees, the july ruled that the vet society promoted quackery in the Netherlands the most last year.

It had given the non-accredited Study Group for Complementarily Operating Vets (SCwD) too much room to practice freely, ‘shamelessly’ granting it a seemingly official status, on top of the fact that the SCwD makes ‘unjustified health claims’. According to the jury, Utrecht University’s Faculty for Veterinary Medicine, that offers the only accredited training for veterinary surgeons in the country, has – unlike the KNMvD – always clearly rejected alternative medicine as unscientific.

KNMvD president Dirk Willink was personally present to receive the ironic award, which he did ‘not regard as a reprimand, but as an open invitation to begin a discussion with people who think differently’. He opined that there is much science doesn’t know yet, and there should be tolerance for alternative therapies, even if it is unknown if they even work, and if so, how. Piet Borst, a renowned Dutch skeptical physician, urged Willink to check whether the KNMvD was correctly applying a 2008 Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) guideline, that rules that ‘physicians may only practice irregular treatments under strict conditions’; Willink promised they would.

Homeopathy is safe, belief in it isn’t

Maarten Boudry. (Tim Deschaumes CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Belgian philosopher Maarten Boudry (SKEPP member) wrote in an NRC Handelsblad opinion piece that medicines that rely solely on the placebo effect have one vital ingredient that patients need to supply themselves: belief. However, one cannot choose to believe something; you either believe something or you don’t, depending on circumstances you can’t control. We can’t force ourselves to believe a glass of ordinary tap water can relieve our headache. Likewise, once you know a certain medicine is nothing but a sugar pill, the placebo effect has worn off. Boudry calls this the ‘involuntary nature of belief’.

We can’t force ourselves to believe shaken water cures anything.

He therefore disagrees with the seemingly reasonable suggestion of ethnologist Peter Jan Margry, who argued we should draw a sharp line in alternative medicine between healthy and dangerous treatments. You can’t choose your own illusions, Boudry says, and illusions are always prone to harmful side-effects.

Unlike regular medicines, homeopathy may be said to be side-effect free: a sugar pill or a bit of shaken water does nothing whatsoever, neither good nor bad, and some people may get a placebo effect from it. ‘Should we therefore ban the Dutch Society against Quackery (Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij), and all start swallowing shaken water, in the hope we’ll someday all believe it works?’ Boudry asks. He points to an undercover investigation by Simon Singh and Alice Tuff (Sense about Science), who found all ten homeopaths they consulted recommended shaken water against malaria: potentially lethal illusions.

Homeopathy itself may therefore not be dangerous, but belief in it can be, especially when it’s considered a valid replacement of real medicine. Besides, the latter also offers a placebo bonus, so why resort to possibly harmful alternatives?

VtdK Symposium 1 October 2016: ‘Quacks’ Tax-exempt Status a Legal Error?’

The Dutch Society against Quackery, Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK), will hold its annual symposium on 1 October 2016 at De Nieuwe Liefde in Amsterdam. This year, the conference will focus on the tax-exempt status of many alternative therapists, which might lead to the promotion of quackery, and giving it undue legitimacy.

Speakers:
– Prof. dr. René van der Paardt, professor in excise taxes at Erasmus University Rotterdam
– Dr. Cees Renckens, honorary chair of the VtdK and emeritus gynaecologist
– Mr. Saskia Huizer, tax advisor, specialises in VAT, Rotterdam

The symposium will start with the presentation of the Master Quack Award to whoever promoted quackery the most this year in the Netherlands (read here who were nominated). Also, the Bruinsma Brothers Medal will be awarded to Henk van Gerven, MP for the Socialist Party, who has a long record of questioning and criticising dubious medical practices both within regular medicine as well as numerous alternative therapies.

Entrance fees are high for non-members; they are recommended to join the Society, or go along with a member as an introducee.

Henk van Gerven receives Bruinsma Medal for fighting quackery

The Dutch Society against Quackery, Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK), has awarded the 2016 Bruinsma Brothers Medal to Member of Parliament Henk van Gerven (Socialist Party). The Society praises him for his long record of fighting dubious medical practices:

Henk van Gerven in 2012. (Vera de Kok CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Van Gerven’s Socialist Party (SP) has revealed itself as a party that doesn’t just combat abuses in regular medicine, but also deals with quackery in our country. Unlike other parties, the SP has consistently denounced all unproven therapies. The party’s parliamentary questions about non-regular medicine, first by Agnes Kant, and in the last ten years by former GP Henk van Gerven, are numerous. The jury ruled that both were very well aware of the dangers of such types of medicine.

Van Gerven will be presented with the award during the upcoming VtdK Symposium on 1 October in Amsterdam.

The Bruinsma Brothers Medal (Gebroeders Bruinsma Erepenning) was introduced at the occasion of the VtdK’s 125th anniversary. The name refers to the brothers Gerard and Vitus Bruinsma, who founded the Society in 1880, making it the oldest skeptical organisation in the world.

Dutch Defence Minister amongst quack award nominees

Dutch Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert is a nominee.

During its 1 October symposium, the Dutch Society against Quackery, Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, will announce who has won this year’s Master Quack Award (Meester Kackadorisprijs). Nominated are:

  1. The Donders Institute at Radboud University Nijmegen
    Because of a bad dissertation on acupuncture. See also
    Acupunctuurpromotie RU: niet meer dan placebo-effect volgens promotor Coenen (Dutch)
  2. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Minister of Defence
    Military personnel has, without their knowledge, been given a health insurance, where alternative care has been included in basic care.
  3. Dutch Royal Society for Veterinary Medicine (KNMvD)
    The organisation lets alternatively operating vets, united in the Study Group for Complementarily Operating Vets, practice freely. Nominated for the third time.
  4. André Rouvoet, chair of VEKTIS
    VEKTIS registers alternative healthcare providers, which they require in order to be eligible for compensation by health insurance companies. According to the Society, VEKTIS’ assessment procedure is a farce.
  5. Huub Savelkoul, professor at Wageningen University
    Nominated for a second time, this year for his cooperation to a course on ‘orthomolecular dietetics’.

The prize is meant for the institute, person or enterprise that has contributed most to the spread of quackery in the Netherlands last year by means of act, word or writing. On skeptical blog KloptDatWel.nl, you can vote for whom you think should receive the 2016 ironic award until Friday 16:00 CET.