Once again: Ivermectin doesn’t work

February 20, 2022 • 10:00 am

The paper at issue today reports the most thorough and well controlled study of the effect of ivermectin on Covid-19 around, and it was just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. What it supports, contra the claims of Joe Rogan, Bret and Heather Weinstein, and a whole slew of Republican loons, is that the drug ivermectin—as already asserted by the FDA—neither prevents nor cures covid-19. Or rather, this study shows that once adults over 50 who get the virus and are hospitalized with comorbidities, Ivermectin doesn’t help them get better. (An earlier study published in BMC Infectious Diseases, both randomized and double-blinded, and including a placebo, showed that taking ivermectin had no significant effect on keeping people out of the hospital.)

The upshot is that every well controlled study shows that ivermectin is useless in helping you once you get the virus. Another meta-analysis of reasonably well done studies that included prevention concluded that there was no good evidence that the drug even prevented infection.  The only studies that may show value of ivermectin are those in which many participants have high loads of worms as comorbidities. In such studies (which don’t apply in the US or UK), the drug may, by helping you get rid of worms (see below), make recovery from covid more likely. But even in that case there’s no excuse not to get vaccinated.  And of course you wouldn’t take ivermectin unless there was evidence you had worms.

Ivermectin is used in humans to cure parasitic worms and head lice, but can be dangerous if taken in doses high enough to kill viruses in vitro. Nevertheless, in this age of conspiracy theories and general lunacy, even credentialed scientists like the Weinsteins have recommended ivermectin and criticized vaccines, even though it’s beyond doubt that the vaccines prevent severe illness and hospitalization. You’d have to be crazy or paranoid to pass up vaccination in favor of ivermectin But thousands do it, so there you are.

With luck, you should be able to get the new study by clicking on the screenshot below, especially if you have the legal Unpaywall app. There’s also a link to the pdf, and if all else fails, make a judicious inquiry.

First, the background: the authors summarize what’s know about Ivermectin in studies to date. As I and others have mentioned before

Although some early clinical studies suggested the potential efficacy of ivermectin in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, these studies had methodologic weaknesses. In 2021, 2 randomized clinical trials from Colombia and Argentina found no significant effect of ivermectin on symptom resolution and hospitalization rates for patients with COVID-19. A Cochrane meta-analysis also found insufficient evidence to support the use of ivermectin for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19. [JAC: The meta-analysis is linked above.]

The new study was done in Malaysia (other studies are ongoing, I believe), and iswasrandomized with respect to patient condition and age, but there was no placebo control. That is, half the infected patients were given “standard of care” (none were vaccinated) and the other half were given “standard of care” plus Ivermectin. The outcomes were followed over time.  The result: not only did Ivermectin not work, but there was a slightly higher, though nonsignificant, risk of the ivermectin treated patients progressing to the phase that required supplemental oxygen. That is exactly the opposite of what you would expect if some patients were taking placebos, for you might expect that if there’s a placebo effect, then placebo-ingesting patients would do better than those not taking placebos (i.e., the patients in this study). But despite the absence of placebos, there was still no effect of ivermectin in this study using any measure of “disease progression”.

I’m not going to summarize the results in detail, because the authors do a good job of that themselves.

There are three summaries of the results. First, the “TL/DR” version:

Note below that the 490 patients observed were all over 50 and had documented comorbidities—factors that make them more susceptible to complications and death.  Here is the protocol (indented, bolding is mine except in headers).

The Ivermectin Treatment Efficacy in COVID-19 High-Risk Patients (I-TECH) study was an open-label randomized clinical trial conducted at 20 public hospitals and a COVID-19 quarantine center in Malaysia between May 31 and October 25, 2021. Within the first week of patients’ symptom onset, the study enrolled patients 50 years and older with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, comorbidities, and mild to moderate disease.

Interventions  Patients were randomized in a 1:1 ratio to receive either oral ivermectin, 0.4 mg/kg body weight daily for 5 days, plus standard of care (n = 241) or standard of care alone (n = 249). The standard of care consisted of symptomatic therapy and monitoring for signs of early deterioration based on clinical findings, laboratory test results, and chest imaging.

Note again: no placebo pills were given. And here’s how they measured outcome:

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was the proportion of patients who progressed to severe disease, defined as the hypoxic stage requiring supplemental oxygen to maintain pulse oximetry oxygen saturation of 95% or higher. Secondary outcomes of the trial included the rates of mechanical ventilation, intensive care unit admission, 28-day in-hospital mortality, and adverse events.

The results are below. Note that slightly more patients in the ivermectin-dosed group (4% more) progressed to severe disease (i.e., requiring supplemental oxygen than those in the group treated the same but without ivermectin. Incorporating still other measures of “progression to severe disease,” there was again no significant difference, although there was slightly more deaths (nonsignificantly more) in the ivermectin versus control group. Finally, the most common side effect, diarrhea, was found more often in the ivermectin versus control group,but I can’t find the statistics for that difference.

Results  Among 490 patients included in the primary analysis (mean [SD] age, 62.5 [8.7] years; 267 women [54.5%]), 52 of 241 patients (21.6%) in the ivermectin group and 43 of 249 patients (17.3%) in the control group progressed to severe disease (relative risk [RR], 1.25; 95% CI, 0.87-1.80; P = .25). For all prespecified secondary outcomes, there were no significant differences between groups. Mechanical ventilation occurred in 4 (1.7%) vs 10 (4.0%) (RR, 0.41; 95% CI, 0.13-1.30; P = .17), intensive care unit admission in 6 (2.4%) vs 8 (3.2%) (RR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.27-2.20; P = .79), and 28-day in-hospital death in 3 (1.2%) vs 10 (4.0%) (RR, 0.31; 95% CI, 0.09-1.11; P = .09). The most common adverse event reported was diarrhea (14 [5.8%] in the ivermectin group and 4 [1.6%] in the control group).

And the upshot:

Conclusions and Relevance  In this randomized clinical trial of high-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID-19, ivermectin treatment during early illness did not prevent progression to severe disease. The study findings do not support the use of ivermectin for patients with COVID-19.

Here’s the entirety of the discussion (bolding mine); note that the authors, as is proper, point out the limitations of the work.

Discussion

In this randomized clinical trial of early ivermectin treatment for adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 and comorbidities, we found no evidence that ivermectin was efficacious in reducing the risk of severe disease. Our findings are consistent with the results of the IVERCOR-COVID19 trial,17 which found that ivermectin was ineffective in reducing the risk of hospitalization.

Prior randomized clinical trials of ivermectin treatment for patients with COVID-19 and with 400 or more patients enrolled focused on outpatients.16,17 In contrast, the patients in our trial were hospitalized, which permitted the observed administration of ivermectin with a high adherence rate. Furthermore, we used clearly defined criteria for ascertaining progression to severe disease.

The pharmacokinetics of ivermectin for treating COVID-19 has been a contentious issue. The plasma inhibitory concentrations of ivermectin for SARS-CoV-2 are high; thus, establishing an effective ivermectin dose regimen without causing toxic effects in patients is difficult.27,28 The dose regimens that produced favorable results against COVID-19 ranged from a 0.2-mg/kg single dose to 0.6 mg/kg/d for 5 days2932; a concentration-dependent antiviral effect was demonstrated by Krolewiecki et al.29 Pharmacokinetic studies have suggested that a single dose of up to 120 mg of ivermectin can be safe and well tolerated.33 Considering the peak of SARS-CoV-2 viral load during the first week of illness and its prolongation in severe disease,34 our trial used an ivermectin dose of 0.4 mg/kg of body weight daily for 5 days. The notably higher incidence of AEs  [“adverse effects”] in the ivermectin group raises concerns about the use of this drug outside of trial settings and without medical supervision.

Limitations

Our study has limitations. First, the open-label trial design might contribute to the underreporting of adverse events in the control group while overestimating the drug effects of ivermectin. Second, our study was not designed to assess the effects of ivermectin on mortality from COVID-19. Finally, the generalizability of our findings may be limited by the older study population, although younger and healthier individuals with low risk of severe disease are less likely to benefit from specific COVID-19 treatments.

Note as well the “limitatation” that placebos were not given. Another limitation is that this study didn’t assess the chance of getting infected in the first place when you take ivermectin, or of being hospitalized if you get infected, though other work (see above) has suggested no effect of ivermectin on either of these measures.

I was prepared to admit that my criticism of ivermectin was wrong had these properly-designed studies shown an effect, but of course because ivermectin is usually suggested as a substitute for getting vaccinated, the real thing you want to know is whether, compared to getting the jabs, you’re better off swallowing ivermectin.  Given the efficacy of the vaccines, which has now been conclusively demonstrated (and yes, the effects wane over time, so we may need a yearly booster), I was already pretty sure that those who touted ivermectin as a better substitute for vaccination were wrong.  But this study does nothing to convince me that I was wrong.

More studies will come out, and eventually we’ll have a pretty solid conclusion. And I’ll bet any reader $100 that it will show that ivermectin is no substitute for vaccination or the other new drugs that are being used to relieve symptoms and combat the virus.

The question now is whether people like Joe Rogan or, especially, Bret and Heather Weinstein will admit that ivermectin—at least in this study—has no effect. Ideally, scientists will admit when they’re wrong, and, as Richard Dawkins has emphasized, that is an admirable trait. Such admissions move science along faster than waiting for a generation wedded to an idea to die off and be replaced by those who have different ideas. Now I haven’t been wrong about ivermectin yet, but when I see a study showing it’s more efficacious than vaccines in keeping you out of the hospital, or alive, I’d like to think I’d say whose three words. Will the Weinsteins say them?

I predict no. We will see a lot of hemming and hawing frothe Quacksters, and perhaps qualifications like “well, the study showed X but didn’t show the real prediction, which is Y.” In fact, I don’t remember hearing anybody pushing quack remedies admit that they were wrong.

The reason I’m so dogged about this is because people who tout quack remedies when there are good ones can do harm. And it’s far worse if they push the quackery while wearing the mantle of science.

But listen up: STAY AWAY FROM THE DAMN IVERMECTIN!

 

h/t: Alex, Leslie

Harriet Hall debunks Mayim Bialik’s claims for Neuriva “brain supplement” and her status as “an actual neuroscientist”

November 28, 2021 • 9:30 am

Every evening or so in the ads on NBC News, I have to watch television star Mayim Bialik tout her “brain supplements”, which she claims she invented. They are of course untested nostrums (see below), but the icing on the cake is Bialik’s claim that she’s “a real neuroscientist.” (She does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and plays one on the t.v. show “The Big Bang Theory,” but that’s as far as it goes.)

Here are two of her commercials for Neuriva. Nothing she says in the first commercial about Neuriva is true, and she adds that she’s a genuine scientist, saying, “I really am; ask your phone.” Well, I asked my computer, and no dice.

Below is the short commercial I usually see, in which she advertises her snake oil and boasts, “I’m an actual neuroscientist.” She also says she “loves the science behind Neuriva Plus.”  Both the value of the product and her claim to be an actual scientist are dubious. As Harriet Hall notes below, there is no science behind Neuriva.

Over at Science-Based Medicine, Harriet Hall went after Bialik’s claims (both of them) and found them wanting. Neuriva’s efficacy is untested and doubtful, and as for the “actual neuroscientist” part, well, see below, as I did my own investigation.

Click on screenshot to read:

I hope Dr. Hall won’t mind if I reproduce her entire short piece:

I wrote about the brain supplement Neuriva over a year ago. I thought their claim to have proof from clinical studies was misleading. I won’t repeat here what I said there about the evidence: I urge you to click on the link and read what I wrote.

An article in Psychology Today reviewed the evidence and called it “Neuriva nonsense” and “just another snake oil.”

Now they are selling Neuriva Plus, which combines the ingredients in the original Neuriva with vitamins B6, B12, and folate. Do they have any evidence that adding these vitamins enhances the effectiveness of Neuriva? Of course not! Neither Neuriva nor Neuriva Plus has been clinically tested. They are relying on studies of individual ingredients, and those studies are questionable. The results have been mixed, and one study was in aged mice!

Now Mayim Bialik has embarked on a campaign as Neuriva’s science ambassador. You may have seen her commercials on TV where she says she “loves the science of Neuriva” and claims it supports six key indicators of brain health. You may remember her as Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s girlfriend in “The Big Bang” t.v. series.

Elsewhere she has said:

Neuriva Plus is backed by strong science — yes, I checked it myself — and it combines two clinically tested ingredients that help support six key indicators of brain health.

She holds a PhD in neuroscience, but I couldn’t find whether she ever actually worked as a neuroscientist. It’s obvious that her understanding of “strong science” doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. I doubt if she reads Science-Based Medicine or understands the principles we go by.

Conclusion: Bialik is a good actress. 

Does Neuriva Plus support brain health? Maybe. We have no way of knowing for sure until the product itself is clinically tested.

To check how “actual” Bialik’s claims to be a scientist are, I searched the Web of Science under the names Bialik M and Bialik MC to see if she had any publications (this is the way we find out someone’s record). As the screenshot below shows, she has zero publications. She is neither teaching in a university, working in a lab, or, as far as I can see, actually doing any science. (BTW, I no longer say “I’m a biologist” when someone asks me what I do. I say that I’m a “former biologist”, “superannuated biologist” or “retired biologist.”) The circling is mine:

Now Wikipedia does report on her training:

She returned to earn her Doctor of Philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007 under Dr. James McCracken.[25] Her dissertation was titled “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptiveobsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome“.[2][26][27]

But if you look at references 2, 21, 26, and 27, you find no peer-reviewed publications except her Ph.D. thesis. She has written no books on neuroscience, either. She’s written or coauthored four books, but none about neuroscience:

Bialik has written two books with pediatrician Jay Gordon and two by herself. Beyond the Sling[57][58] is about attachment parenting, while Mayim’s Vegan Table contains over 100 of Bialik’s vegan recipes.[59][60] Her third book, Girling Up, is about the struggles of and ways in which girls grow up, showing the scientific ways in which their bodies change. Its successor, Boying Up (2018) analyzes the science, anatomy and mentality of growing up as a boy, and the physical and mental changes and challenges boys face while transitioning from adolescence to adulthood.

To me this doesn’t give her present status as a neuroscientist, and she’d stand no chance of being hired by a university as one.  But I don’t mind that nearly as much as her using those credentials to sell untested “brain supplements” to a credulous public. People are spending actual money on Neuriva, and much of that must be based on Bialik’s claimed credentials and her status as a television celebrity. In this sense she is the female equivalent of Deepak Chopra, who can claim, “I’m an actual doctor” while selling his useless “longevity supplements.”

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying go unvaccinated for Covid, take and promote Ivermectin instead

September 16, 2021 • 9:30 am

Since Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying left Evergreen State under trying circumstances, they’ve made a living doing podcasts on YouTube, and have become somewhat notorious for their stand on Covid-19 and the dubious remedy Ivermectin.

The story below, from the Portland, Oregon news site Willamette Week, reports how both Weinstein and Heying not only remain unvaccinated against Covid, as they don’t trust the vaccine, but are also dosing themselves with Ivermectin, a drug used in humans for roundworm, lice, and skin conditions, but which has no effect on the coronavirus. (It’s also famous for de-worming horses.) The FDA has strongly warned humans not to dose themselves with this drug as a treatment or preventive for Covid.

Nevertheless, according to both the story below (click on screenshot) and the section on Weinstein and Covid on Wikipedia, the ex-professors have been relentlessly touting Ivermectin (read the Wikipedia section for documentation) and taking it themselves.

Here’s how two “progressive” biologists (not just one) have completely ignored science for reasons best known to themselves. What they have accomplished, instead, is to ruin their reputations except among the loons and some Trumpies.

From the paper:

Instead, the loudest voice [doubting vaccines] may be that of a Toyota-driving Bernie Bro who lives near Lewis & Clark College, an evolutionary biologist with a Ph.D. who studied and taught at two of the nation’s most liberal universities and participated in Occupy Wall Street.

His name is Bret Weinstein, and he makes his living preaching the dangers of COVID-19 vaccines while extolling ivermectin, the controversial drug often used to deworm horses.

Weinstein, 52, is one of the foremost proponents of ivermectin. He’s appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to flog the drug. He and his wife, Heather Heying, also a Ph.D. biologist, went on Real Time With Bill Maher in January, an appearance that boosted interest in their DarkHorse Podcast, which has 382,000 subscribers on YouTube alone.

Weinstein’s biggest fan is probably Joe Rogan, host of the most popular podcast in the U.S. Weinstein appeared with Rogan four times, including a June 2020 show that’s gotten almost 8 million views on YouTube. In June 2021, it turned into a lovefest.

. . .“Your podcast is one of my very favorites,” Rogan said. “I listen to it or watch it all the time. It’s an amazing source of rational thinking by educated people who talk about things they understand, which is exactly the opposite of what I do!”

LOL.

. . . Now, because of people like Weinstein, a drug meant for 1,000-pound animals is flying off the shelves in feed stores not just in red states, but even in Multnomah County, where the vaccination rate is approaching 80%.

. . . But unlike most of their fellow residents in Multnomah County, both say they are not vaccinated. Instead, they protect themselves from COVID by eating whole foods from farmers markets and by taking weekly doses of ivermectin, along with vitamins C and D, and zinc.

. . . Weinstein likes ivermectin, he says, because it has a stellar safety record (it does) and it’s cheap (it is, at about $5 a pill). Vaccines, meantime, are the opposite. They aren’t proven to be safe yet, Weinstein says, and they’re more expensive (for the governments who purchase them).

I won’t go on; you can check for yourself, but I will quote David Gorski, also known as Orac and an oracle on the Science-Based Medicine site:

“Bret Weinstein is one of the foremost purveyors of COVID-19 disinformation out there,” says Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist and professor at Wayne State University who also debunks quack remedies as managing editor at a website called Science-Based Medicine. “Weinstein can be ‘credited’ with playing a large role in popularizing the belief that ivermectin is a miracle cure or preventative for COVID-19, that the vaccines are dangerous, and that the disease itself is not. Why are Rogan and Maher attracted to his messages? Contrarians and conspiracy theorists tend to be attracted to each other.”

I am still baffled why Weinstein and Heying are pushing quackery after careers as biologists—ecologists and evolutionary biologists! I think most of us admired Bret for taking a stand against extremist anti-racism at Evergreen State, a stand for which they eventually had to leave teaching. But then Bret started broaching weird and convoluted theories of evolution, and now this—horse drugs!

All I can guess is that the pair are contrarians to the bone, and are acting it out with horse pills. It can’t really be the science, as all the data say that the vaccines are both effective and safe, while Ivermectin is of NO value in preventing or treating Covid-19. And, of course, it could be dangerous, especially if you buy the veterinary brand, as it’s designed for horses, who have much greater mass than humans, and the animal formula of Ivermectin is different from that used for other human ailments.

Bret and Heather, are you listening? Please stop this dangerous and antiscientific madness, as you could be hurting people rather than helping them.

They won’t listen to their critics, of course, and for that reason their reputation will be permanently marred in the community of rational thinkers.

Bret and Heather from the news site:

h/t: Marion

A bizarre paper in an Elsevier journal suggests that Covid 19 is a geological/magnetic-like phenomenon and can be prevented by wearing jade amulets. Elsevier defends the paper.

October 30, 2020 • 12:30 pm

A really insane paper was just published in an Elsevier journal, Science of the Total Environment, a paper that connects the outbreak of covid with serpentinization phenomena known in geology, as well as the Earth’s geomagnetic fields. At the end, the authors (who hold respectable jobs) suggest that putting nephrite jade amulets on rats may protect them from getting coronavirus.  And maybe it would work for us, too!  It’s gonzo. Of course, we can’t blatantly dismiss it out of hand without at least reading the paper (which I did, and it was PAINFUL), but this nonsense comes about as close to being dismissible as a paper can from just reading the title and the abstract. Click on the screenshot to read the paper, get the pdf here, and see the reference at the bottom.

The “highlights”:

I’m not going to go through the results in detail, which are both experimental and correlational, but even the “experimental” results are correlational: the authors observed, in rats afflicted with a “COVID-19 like disease” (they don’t know its relationship to genuine virus), that dissected rats had deposits of “silicate/glasslike structures in the lungs and kidneys”, which they associate with serpintinization. There was no experimental manipulation; they just saw some of the rats in their colonies get sick (17 out of 92), and cut them open.

The rest of the paper is speculation based on correlations of the disease in humans with geological phenomena, leading them to their Big Hypothesis:

Here, we propose that the emergence of COVID-19 outbreaks resulted from the generation of LWMAs [long-wave magnetic anomalies] that exhibit resonance with ferromagnetic-like iron stores in humans, thus enabling the magnetic catalysis of iron oxides-silicate-like minerals and the associated SARS-CoV-2.

And so iron is important, and so is water and geology, so they support their hypothesis with statements like this:

Terrestrial water storage dynamics also account for the disproportionate deaths in populations with African ancestry in the United States during the vernal phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals with African ancestry disproportionally reside in basins within the coastal belt of the Greater Appalachian-Ouachita orogenic belt that spans the South to the Northeastern United States (the so-called Black belt). This so-called Black belt region has been experiencing increased terrestrial water storage over the past decades and experienced increased terrestrial water storage during the vernal phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course that doesn’t explain why, in a single area, blacks are more liable to get infected than are whites.

It goes on:

In the proposed hypothesis, ferromagnetic-like/superparamagnetic iron stores (i.e., ferrihydrite) in humans  is critical for resonant LWMA-mediated magnetic catalysis in COVID-19 pathologies. Iron stores are low in children and increases with age, with the highest levels in the elderly. Males have significantly higher iron stores compared to females. Consequently, COVID-19-induced morbidity and mortality risk are directly proportional to age, and male sex is also a significant risk factor for COVID-19-induced morbidity and mortality.

Yes, it smacks of quackery, but I’ll let someone like Orac go after the paper as a whole, for life is short.  Oh, there’s one more test they propose:

Furthermore, we propose that Nephrite-Jade amulets (a calcium-ferromagnesian silicate) developed by Neolithic Chinese Medicine to prevent thoracic organ disease, may prevent COVID-19.

. . . It is posited that Jade (including Nephrite) amulets protect the wearer against unseen nefarious forces that cause disease in thoracic organs. Indeed, the romantic language word, piedra de ijada (from which the English word Jade is derived) translates to the stone that prevents disease in organs in the side/flank of the body (thoracic organs). Additionally, the English word Nephrite is derived from the Greek word lapis nephriticus, which translates to the stone that cures kidney disease.

Future experiments and analysis in support of this hypothesis will determine 1) the genomic sequence of the polynucleotide molecules producing the SARS-CoV-2-like antigens in the laboratory rats using next-generation sequencing technology, 2) the ability of Nephrite-Jade amulets to prevent lethal COVID-19-like disease and associated SARS-CoV-2-like infection in laboratory rats in our colony during the equinoctial period. . .

Check out the paper’s bizarre “graphical abstract”, which is reproduced below.

Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow’s jade vagina eggs had something to them after all! Well, I will let the experimenters fit the rats with tiny jade amulets and see if they work. I’m betting not. However, in support of their hypothesis, I sometimes wear pounamu (nephrite shapes on necklaces) that I got in New Zealand (they’re a traditional Maori decoration), and I haven’t gotten Covid yet. Maybe we could do the experiment now with the many people in New Zealand, both white and Maori, who wear pounamu. Those who wear amulets should get covid far less often.

Of course Retraction Watch had to feature this paper, and so it did in the article below (click on the screenshot).

The site reproduces some baffled tweets by other scientists, and then inquired of the paper’s first author, Moses Turkle Bility:

We asked Moses Turkle Bility, a Pitt professor who is listed as corresponding author of the paper, whether he in fact wrote it. He confirmed that he did:

…I kindly suggest you read the article and examine the evidence provided. I also suggest you read the history of science and how zealots have consistently attempted to block and ridicule novel ideas that challenge the predominant paradigm from individuals that are deem [sic] not intelligent enough. I [sic] not surprised that this article has elicited angry responses. Clearly the idea that a black scientist can provide a paradigm shifting idea offends a lot of individuals. I’ll be very candid with you; my skin color has no bearing on my intelligence.

If you have legitimate concerns about the article and wish to discuss, I’ll address; however, I will not tolerate racism or intellectual intolerance targeted at me.

Every quack fancies themselves a Galileo, though most quacks are simply quacks. And there was no racism.

We asked Bility for evidence that “Nephrite-Jade amulets, a calcium-ferromagnesian silicate, may prevent COVID-19,” and whether promoting non-evidence-based interventions during a pandemic was a good idea. His non-answer:

Dear Dr. Oransky, please read and understand the article in its entirety, before you make a hasty decision. If I may speculate, you neither understand quantum physics nor spin chemistry; you are making a hasting [sic] decision based on your knowledge of the classical theories that dominate the biological sciences. Also, certainly you being a white male offers you the privilege to think that you have the right to determine who can propose ideas that challenges a dominant paradigm. Other cultures are not primitive, and people of color and indigenous people are not intellectually inferior. Before you jump to conclusions about this article, I suggest you understand quantum physics, and spin chemistry, and how it differs from classical theories, and then read my article. 

The author, who is black, is clearly defensive, and is blaming criticism on his race. But the insanity of this paper has nothing to do with race; it has to do with whether good science is being done, and it doesn’t look like it to me.

Finally, Retraction Watch went to Elsevier, whom I don’t like anyway because they’re price-gougers. And they defended the paper!

We’ve also asked Jay Gan, of the University of California, Riverside, and co-editor-in-chief of the journal, how it came to be published. Gan told us that Damià Barceló, the other editor in chief of the journal, handled the submission. Barceló told us:

The paper went through our standard reviewing process. It was  reviewed by two expert reviewers and only after  several revisions with the agreement of the reviewers it was accepted.

Well, lots of dumb papers get published, though relatively more of them in the humanities than in the sciences. This paper won’t do much harm to science or medicine, but it may damage the careers of its authors unless, by a million-to-one chance, they’re right. And certainly Elsevier doesn’t come out looking good on this one.

_______________

Bility, M. T., Y. Agarwal, S. Ho, I. Castronova, C. Beatty, S. Biradar, V. Narala, N. Periyapatna, Y. Chen, and J. Nachega. 2020. Can Traditional Chinese Medicine provide insights into controlling the COVID-19 pandemic: Serpentinization-induced lithospheric long-wavelength magnetic anomalies in Proterozoic bedrocks in a weakened geomagnetic field mediate the aberrant transformation of biogenic molecules in COVID-19 via magnetic catalysis. Science of The Total Environment:142830.

Gwyneth Paltrow pays civil penalty for touting bogus “miracle vagina eggs”

September 9, 2018 • 10:00 am

Ah, some rare Schadenfreude. From Snopes (click on screenshot below) via the Associated Press.

Remember a year and a half ago when Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s overpriced purveyor of quackery and “lifestyle” items, touted a jade egg that could, when inserted into a woman’s vagina, do this:

  • harnesses the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice
  • cleanses, clears, and detoxifies the vagina
  • removes negativity
  • increases chi, orgasms, vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance, and feminine energy.

These claims were made on the Goop website by one “Shiva Rose,” whose arrant and misguided touting of this unhygienic mineral are still up. Yet at the end of her piece (the jade vagina egg sold—and still sells—for $66) was this disclaimer:

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice..

Well, that didn’t fool the state of Californa, whose investigators found that yes, these were real health claims, and no, they didn’t stand up to scrutiny. And so. . . .

As the AP reports (my emphasis):

Prosecutors in eight California counties jointly announced the settlement on Tuesday after a task-force investigation found some of goop’s health claims were unfounded.

The settlement involves advertisements saying goop’s Jade Egg and Rose Quartz Egg could balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles and improve bladder control.

In addition to the penalty, the company will provide refunds to customers who ask.

A goop statement says the settlement acknowledges no liability on the company’s part and addresses only advertising, not the products themselves. The statement says there is honest disagreement between the sides, but goop wanted to settle the matter quickly and amicably.

Honest disagreement? Does Gwynnie still think sticking a semi-porous hunk of nephrite in your nether orifice really detoxifies it and balances your chi to boot? No, there is disagreement between the sides, but it’s not honest at all—at least not if Gwynnie has two neurons to rub together. Or hasn’t she read the jade-egg criticism of Dr. Jen Gunter, who regularly takes apart Goop’s ridiculous health claims, another being coffee enemas, which can cause colitis, rectal performation, and death (see here)? Do not put coffee in your butt!

Paltrow’s continuing claim that this is “honest disagreement” shows that she’s not repentant at all, but is in fact continuing to endanger people’s health (mostly women, who are the targets of Goop). People could die following her advice. Of course you can also die following many physicians’ advice, but this is different: jade vagina eggs and coffee enemas have no known benefit.  Yet those jade eggs are still offered by Goop (click on screenshot):

And some claims are still there:

p.s. If you bought one of these things, get your refund immediately. And remember, kids, coffee is for drinking and jade is for wearing as jewelry or to look at as sculpture.

 

h/t: Su

The downfall of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes

June 25, 2018 • 1:00 pm

Many of you will know about the downfall of Theranos, the Silicon Valley company started by Elizabeth Holmes, who claimed to have devised a machine that could do multiple physiological tests on just a single drop of blood. It never really worked, even though investors (including Rupert Murdoch) pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Holmes’s startup. At one time Theranos was worth over 9 billion dollars on paper.  Then her chicanery was uncovered and published by The Wall Street Journal.

Now Theranos, and Holmes, are bankrupt. And ten days ago, both Holmes and Theranos’s former president, Ramesh Balwani, were indicted for wire fraud: for deliberately lying to investors and the public. (For a brief period Theranos partnered with the pharmacy chain Walgreen’s in a blood-testing collaboration.)

This 31-minute video is an interview of John Carreyrou by Nick Gillespie of ReasonTV; Carreyrou was the Wall Street Journal reporter who unmasked Holmes through dogged reporting.  It is an absolutely fascinating conversation, and Carreyrou is eloquent and thorough.

Based on this interview, I went to the library to get Carreyrou’s new book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, and am reading it now. It’s a page-turner. Holmes was a sociopath but was so charismatic that she managed to dupe lots of investors and persuade famous people like Henry Kissinger to join her board of directors (big names lure big money). Meanwhile, the company was totally dysfunctional, with Holmes firing people right and left and lying to everyone about the ability of her “Edison” machine to test blood (it never worked, and she knew it).

You won’t be wasting your time if you watch this video. If you like it, get hold of Careyrou’s book.

If you don’t have the time, there’s a similar but shorter interview (6 minutes) here.

Woo from Dr. Oz and Everyday Feminism

June 7, 2018 • 10:45 am

Dr. Mehmet Oz was launched into public celebrity via promotions by Oprah Winfrey and Larry King. He still has a daily television show on Fox, “The Dr. Oz Show,” which I blessedly haven’t seen. But I have read about his various promotions of pseudoscience, including weight loss nostrums, alternative medicine, and even “reparative therapy” designed to turn gay people straight. He’s been called out for this many times, but now his wooish-ness has expanded, as the man is now into astrology and how it relates to your health.

Grania sent me one of Dr. Oz’s tweets yesterday, which was here, but somehow it’s mysteriously disappeared, maybe because Dr. Oz is taking a lot of flak for it. Fortunately, the Internet is forever, and there are screenshots online:

About our health? How can it be that the date and time on which we’re born gives us a propensity to this or that disease? Well, of course it wouldn’t, but that hasn’t stopped Dr. Oz, who has posted the article below on his t.v. show website. I’ve captured a screenshot in case he takes that down and linked it to the original site:

The “slideshow” goes through all the astrological signs one by one, so you can see how your stars affect your health. Here’s mine (I’m a Capricorn):

Well, I haven’t noticed any buckling or weakness in the knees, though I’m goal oriented (I’m sure many Capricorns are not). If you’re an Aries, you’re prone to migraines, the Taurus is liable to get a stiff neck, and Virgos can have gastrointestinal issues. Is there any research supporting these correlations? If there is, I’m not aware of it, and apparently neither is Dr. Oz or his astrologer factotum Rebecca Gordon.

The man is a fraud, and his show should be taken off the air. Sadly, many Americans like the kind of pablum he sells, so there’s no hope of that. All we can do is embarrass the hell out of him, as I will soon do on Twitter, and hope that he relents, as he has in part here. To call the man a quack is an insult to ducks.

UPDATE: I just heard from Grania that Dr. Oz has revised his astrology tweet, but it isn’t much better. There’s a video in it, too.

https://twitter.com/DrOz/status/1004332074319466501

*********

The ad below appeared on the execrable website Everyday Feminism, whose motto should be “Making you feel bad about yourself—24 hours a day.” You can find the full description of the course here. Thanks to reader Su, who added:

“As EvFem shows its true calling… making $.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, feminism has now incorporated the woo of tarot as a way of fighting the Patriarchy, and it will cost you a mere $35 to unlock your inner magic. Here’s some of the blurb from the website; the bolding is theirs.

As women, we’re often taught at an early age to ignore our intuition and to trust the wisdom of others. We’re told that we’re being too sensitive, emotional, illogical or dramatic when we operate off our intuition.

But intuition is an innate skill that’s accessible to everyone. Like a muscle, it can only be strengthened when used, but never lost. It’s the art of gaining knowledge without using any conscious understanding on how you got that information.

Tapping deeper into this ability and practicing daily, can help us to remove what blocks our abundance and success, clarify the energy that is going on around and within us, and bring an overall greater state of ease.

We’re naturally embedded with our own “gps” that shifts us toward where we need to be and how to best act, so that we can thrive and serve from a space of truth and integrity. We seldom trust our intuition because we’re used to thinking of it as figment of our imagination and quite often, our intuition speaks so softly that we ignore it.

Tarot cards are a phenomenal way to gain insight, guidance and clarity over feelings, actions and decisions to be. It serves as a tool to enhance self-awareness, intuitive/psychic abilities and self-trust.

Reading the Tarot and accessing your intuition is actually quite easy. You don’t have to rely on other spiritual guides for that information. With my help, after this webinar, you should be able to interpret energy and get those answers yourself.

What a shame that a good cause—women’s equality—has to be yoked to this kind of nonsense. But there’s always been a wing of feminism that touts the idea that women have “different ways of knowing” or even, as does postmodernism, claims that “objective truth” is a myth, sometimes perpetuated by white males. We’ll be talking about a new paper on the “female ways of knowing” canard in the next few days.

In the meantime, if you’re not game for tarot, you can always sign up for this social justice seminar.  Everyday Feminism is clearly hurting for money, as it’s announced several times before.

Chopra and Tanzi: Exercise will reprogram your genes in 60 days

March 3, 2018 • 3:00 pm

While eating my ribtips (I see the termites have already descended on that post), I turned on the PBS channel on t.v. (WTTW in Chicago, if anybody there is listening.) On the show, to my chagrin, appeared Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi, On a show called “Brain, Body, Mind”, they were dispensing health advice to callers—and, of course, flogging their wares.

One older woman called in, worried about her lack of exercise.

Tanzi fielded the question (with support by Deepakity), urging her get some exercise regularly. That’s fine advice, though everyone knows it. But then Tanzi added that after two months of regular exercise, like walking for an hour a day, her genes would get “reprogrammed.”

That’s bullshit, of course, based on the unevidenced claim that human experience can, epigenetically, change your genome in a useful and permanent way.  But there’s not a scintilla of data showing that environmentally based adaptive methylation can occur in human DNA, so the Unholy Duo were talking out of their nether parts. Yes, relaxation, good diet, and exercise are good for all, but why do they drag this gene crap in?

To make themselves seem “scientific”, of course! Otherwise they’d just be telling you what anybody would, much less your doctor. And you wouldn’t buy their CDs and books, which are being flogged at this moment. There has to be a hook, and that hook is attached to your wallet.

This is quackery, pure and simple, and I’ve written about it before. Why, oh why, does PBS present these quacks as if they knew what they were talking about? They’re misleading people at the same time they’re filling their pockets.

It’s a pity, for at one time Tanzi seemed to be a reputable scientist. But the lure of Mammon was too great, and he sold his soul to Deepakity.

Evolutionary biology student discovers that UK water companies engage in dowsing

November 24, 2017 • 10:48 am

What is it with the UK? The National Health Service still subsidizes homeopathy in some parts of England, and now there are reliable reports (here and here) that a substantial number of British water companies—10 out of 12!—use dowsing (if you don’t know it, look here) to find water, in particular pipes and mains.

I’m proud to say that this ridiculous practice was discovered by an evolutionary biologist—Sally Le Page, a grad student at Oxford—and first published on her site at Medium. She got wind of this when she saw a man from a big Midlands water company, a company called in to install a pipe from the mains, walking around her parents’ yard dowsing. Further inquiries revealed that 83% of the 12 companies use a practice that has never been scientifically shown to work, and there have been plenty of tests. As Le Page notes:

Every properly conducted scientific test of water dowsing has found it no better than chance (e.g. herehere, and here, nicely described here). You’ll be just as likely to find water by going out and taking a good guess as you will by walking around with divining rods. And it’s not for lack of testing; there was even $1 million up for grabs for anyone who could provide rigorous evidence that you can find water using dowsing techniques.

Yes, a dude with a Y-shaped stick can have the stick suddenly point down, but as Le Page notes, that’s due to the ideomotor effect, the same subconscious wish-thinking that moves the cursor on a Ouija board. The main thing is that this movement has never shown any ability to find water in blind tests.

Le Page did what a good determined skeptic would do: she found out which companies used this ridiculous practice, and then tweeted them. Their replies are evasive and dumb; here are a few posted by the CBC:

Severn Trent:

Anglian Water:

Northumbrian Water:

Thames Water:

So they know this is happening and even seem credulous enough to believe that dowsing works. Now, as the BBC says, the companies don’t issue “divining rods” to their employees, but those companies are clearly (based on the above) aware that this practice is going on—on company time. The BBC adds this:

Ms Le Page said: “I can’t state this enough: there is no scientifically rigorous, doubly blind evidence that divining rods work.

“Isn’t it a bit silly that big companies are still using magic to do their jobs?”

In a statement issued later, Severn Trent said: “We don’t issue divining rods but we believe some of our engineers use them.”

All the companies emphasised they do not encourage the use of divining rods nor issue them to engineers, and said modern methods such as drones and listening devices were preferred.

Northern Ireland Water, Northumbrian Water, South West Water and Wessex Water said their engineers do not use them.

If you’re a patron of one of the following water companies, you may want to write or email them asking why your money is being used to subsidize superstitious woo (I could find only nine of the ten companies that dowse).

  • Anglian Water
  • Thames Water
  • Scottish Water
  • Southern Water
  • Welsh Water
  • United Utilities
  • Yorkshire Water
  • Severn Trent Water
  • Northumbrian Water

You go, Ms. Le Page. Here’s our latest hero, and a tweet showing she has a sense of humor:

Sally Le Page

And she works on Drosophila!

Here’s Sally, who has a YouTube channel, enthusing about her new fly paper in Proc. Roy. Soc.—her first publication. I well remember when I got my first paper published, as an undergrad. I carried a reprint around in my back pocket for a week—not to show anyone, but to take it out repeatedly and look at it.  I well understand her glee. When I sent it to my folks, they asked me how much I got paid for publishing it. When I responded that it was the opposite—I had to pay them to publish it (page charges—they were completely flummoxed.

I have landed. . . to find quantum quackery

November 16, 2017 • 4:00 pm

. . . in Houston, that is. The George Bush airport is HUGE and not pleasant. Next I have a 2-hour flight to Puebla.

I have no time for posting, but here’s something to examine very critically. The famed physicist Roger Penrose, over at the Daily Galaxy, says he has a reliable physical mechanism for producing a soul. Have a look at the piece and then have at it. I’m told by a friend that this stuff is all over social media, since it has the imprimatur of a genuine Famous Scientist.

One quote:

While scientists are still in heated debates about what exactly consciousness is, the University of Arizona’s Stuart Hameroff and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose conclude that it is information stored at a quantum level. Penrose agrees –he and his team have found evidence that “protein-based microtubules—a structural component of human cells—carry quantum information— information stored at a sub-atomic level.”

Penrose argues that if a person temporarily dies, this quantum information is released from the microtubules and into the universe. However, if they are resuscitated the quantum information is channeled back into the microtubules and that is what sparks a near death experience. “If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul.

Not only that, but others (who are unnamed) agree:

Researchers from the renowned Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich are in agreement with Penrose that the physical universe that we live in is only our perception and once our physical bodies die, there is an infinite beyond. Some believe that consciousness travels to parallel universes after death.

Well, all I can say is that there is no evidence I’m aware of that quantum-mechanical phenomena operate in the brain, much less that they play a role in consciousness and memory. And even if they did, how does any “information” in the brain stay together as a coherent unit after death? In what form does it exist? (It can’t be particles or forces, as Sean Carroll has shown.)  And how does it get into another body?

Oy gewalt! How does a renowned physicist who did important work get involved with this stuff? But I’m just a poor country biologist. I wish I had Sean Carroll here behind this sign. . .