The German-speaking skeptical society GWUP nominated three people/institutions for “the most bizarre, most outrageous, brashest pseudoscientific nonsense contribution” in Germany, Austria and Switzerland of 2016: Ryke Geerd Hamer (founder of the dangerous Germanische Neue Medizin), Roland Düringer (comedian turned politician who spreads lots of conspiracy theories) and Krebszentrum Brüggen-Bracht (alternative cancer clinic of Heilpraktiker Klaus Ross). The award is called the ‘Golden Board in Front of the Face’, to rebuke purveyors of pseudoscience who don’t see the harm they’re doing.
The award ceremony was held on 11 October in Vienna, co-organised by the Viennese regional GWUP group Society for Critical Thinking (Gesellschaft für kritisches Denken) and the Freethinkers League of Austria (Freidenkerbund Österreich). A side-event was held in Hamburg Skeptics in the Pub with a livestream of the Viennese ceremony. (more…)
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.
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’.
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?
‘Under the current rules, the Vatican declares something a ‘miracle’ if more than 50% of all experts (several dozens) vote in favour,’ the Dutch (Protestant-leaning) newspaper Trouw reports. ‘That bar will be raised to 66%.’ Apparently, the pope still doesn’t realise you can’t just suspend the laws of nature by majority vote.
Interestingly, the paper adds that ‘the number of miracles was already declining in recent decades – possibly because doctors can explain more and more’, implying that declaring something a ‘miracle’ may be nothing more than an argument from ignorance.
Roland Düringer – a comedian who has entered politics and spreads all kinds of conspiracy theories;
Krebszentrum Brüggen-Bracht – the alternative cancer clinic of Heilpraktiker Klaus Ross, where at least three patients died recently after receiving fatal injections that have stirred up controversy.
The website www.zentrum-der-gesundheit.de receives the Golden Board Lifetime Achievement Award (Goldenes Brett fürs Lebenswerk).
The annually awarded Golden Board honours “the most bizarre, most outrageous, brashest pseudoscientific nonsense contribution of the year in German-speaking countries.” This year’s winner will be presented on 11 October in Vienna, Austria.