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.

– 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.

Skepsis Congres 22 October 2016: ‘Unconvinced by Science’

The Dutch skeptics foundation, Stichting Skepsis, will hold its annual congress on 22 October 2016 at De Eenhoorn in Amersfoort. This year, four pairs of speakers will jointly give a presentation, and then discuss the topic with each other and the audience:

  • Maarten Boudry (philosopher UGent, SKEPP)
    & Massimo Pugliucci (prof. Philosophy CUNY, Rationally Speaking podcast):
    ‘Why do people cling to unproven ideas?’ (keynote session, in English)
  • Peter Jan Margry (prof. Ethnology UvA)
    & Cees Renckens (gynaecologist, former VtdK chair):
    ‘Alternative treatments’ (in Dutch)
  • Brecht Decoene (ethicist UGent, SKEPP)
    & Leo Polak 
    (popular science journalist):
    ‘Conspiracy theories’ (in Dutch)
  • Martijn van Calmthout (Volkskrant science journalist)
    & Patricia Osseweijer (prof. Science Communication TU Delft):
    ‘Science Communication’ (in Dutch)

Should ‘Heilpraktiker’ be outlawed?

A syringe for injections (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Dutch TV show EenVandaag examined the Heilpraktiker system in Germany, where about 43,000 ‘healers’ are allowed to conduct invasive irregular treatments on patients, without being trained physicians. The recent controversy surrounding Krauss Ross’ alternative cancer clinic, which was closed after several patients received fatal injections, has stirred up debate on whether the system should be changed, or even downright abolished. In the Netherlands, such treatments are prohibited, leading some Dutch patients to try their luck across the border, where regulations are less strict, and thus the treatments more dangerous.

Physician Cees Renckens, spokesperson for the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (Dutch Society against Quackery), is in favour of expelling the Heilpraktiker from the ranks of legal professions. The interviewer responded by saying that some would argue ‘that things go wrong in the regular medical world all the time, too; that wouldn’t make you advocate for abolishing regular medicine either, would it?’ Renckens replied: ‘No, but in normal medicine, in hospitals, you can at least recover, because most treatments actually work. And if there is no benefit whatsoever [in a treatment], any risk, any complication, is unacceptable.’

Orgasm injections are rubbish, say Dutch skeptics

A sexual hype from America has crossed the Atlantic and is finding fertile ground in European countries such as the Netherlands. The so-called ‘orgasm injection’ is claimed to increase sexual excitement, deliver better orgasms, give women a tighter vagina and men a larger penis, prevent incontinence and solve erectile dysfunction. The first clinic on Dutch soil, Artz Medical in Rotterdam, is run by physician Olivier Groh, who says it ‘really works’. However, at €1000,- per treatment it’s not exactly cheap, and effects are said to last only temporary. Moreover, these amazing promises are not backed by any scientific evidence, according to many critical physicians and sexologists.

The Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (Dutch Society against Quackery) is skeptical. “It makes no sense at all”, says Cees Renckens, a former gynaecologist and board member of the society. “It takes blood, tinkers a bit with it and then injects it back in. And that is supposed to make your penis longer and your vagina more flexible? It’s quackery, I’m convinced of that.”

Gynaecologist Cees Renckens (Vera de Kok CC-BY-SA 4.0)

He calls it ‘absolutely repulsive’ that the clinic is making boatloads of money off a treatment which hasn’t been demonstrated scientifically to work. “It’s a scandal that this man is still a GP. He should know better than to trick people out of their money with false hope. There is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to sexual dysfunctions and complaints, those often involve complex problems. This treatment cannot be distinguished from fraud. The Health Care Inspectorate should take measures against the clinic.”

When inquired, the Dutch Health Care Inspectorate responded they are currently conducting an investigation into the practice.