Humbug is rife: cancer quackery, 1892 and 2015

Bleach is among the dangerous fake ‘cures’ for cancer and other serious diseases being offered for sale to people in the UK, according to recent reports:

MMS is a 28% sodium chlorite solution, which is equivalent to industrial-strength bleach. When taken as directed it could cause severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, potentially leading to dehydration and reduced blood pressure. If the solution is diluted less than instructed, it could cause damage to the gut and red blood cells, potentially resulting in respiratory failure.

This so-called “miracle mineral solution” appears to target vulnerable people and those suffering serious illnesses who are asked to pay large sums of money for a product which not only doesn’t work but could be dangerous.

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A peculiar feeling of worms: giving voice to the shell-shocked

In November 1914, a young Belgian solider called Adolf arrived in London. He was unable to move his legs but had no apparent physical injury that could explain his condition – he was shell-shocked.

Adolf was admitted to what was then the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic, in Queen Square, London (now the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery) which had just started to admit soldiers with ‘any nervous ailment’ as well as those with injuries to their spinal cords or peripheral nerves.  A recent article that explores the original case notes of the 462 shell-shocked soldiers, including Adolf, treated there during World War 1 and its immediate aftermath includes quotes from the soldiers themselves – in some cases giving voice to the voiceless. many had got back their voice in England……I have not spoken a word since I have been in England but one of my mates told me I said three words in Alexandria ……I could not cough or whistle but now I do both…

So wrote a 25-year-old Australian private who was prepared to risk paying his own fare home to Australia for the sake of getting treatment at Queen Square. Continue reading

A sense of deja vu: the advertising of e-cigarettes

Glamourising smoking, targeting advertising at young people, using imagery of healthy, sporty smokers – all old, outlawed techniques for the tobacco industry. But the advent of e-cigarettes has lit the embers of this debate again. The BMA has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about a television advertisement for e-cigarettes, saying it breaches two of the new rules that were announced by the Committees of Advertising Practice in October. They came into effect on  Monday 10 November, the same day the ad was aired for the first time.

The manufacturer, VIP Electronic Cigarette, says this is the first time the act of using an electronic cigarette – or vaping – has been shown on television. It appeared in an ad break in Grantchester, ITV1’s smoke-wreathed drama about a 1950s country vicar who falls over corpses in between lighting cigarettes. Continue reading

From typhoid to Spanish ‘flu: Conan Doyle and the war on disease

We lost more from enteric [typhoid] than from the bullet in South Africa, and it is sad to think that nearly all could have been saved…..

So wrote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, physician and creator of Sherlock Holmes in 1924, in his autobiography ‘Memories and Adventures’. He is describing his experiences volunteering in Bloemfontein during the Boer War (1899-1902) in a field hospital where:

Coffins were out of the question, and the men were lowered in their brown blankets into shallow graves at the average rate of sixty a day……You could smell Bloemfontein long before you could see it.

Apparently fuelled by a desire to serve his country and a spirit of adventure, he had accepted an unofficial post in a private hospitalContinue reading

Opening the evidence up to policymakers

A group of UK academics and researchers is planning to launch a UK Evidence Information Service (EIS) for politicians. It is now asking members of the public to volunteer to interview local elected politicians, providing feedback that will help shape the service. Continue reading

Smallpox in London: Stockwell, state planning and hospital ships

In 1863, a smallpox outbreak hit London. The measures taken in the borough of Lambeth to control the spread of disease were remarkably successful, according to the annual report of its Medical Officer of Health, published as part of the Wellcome library’s vast digitisation project, London’s Pulse. In his report, Dr George Puckle describes how:  Continue reading

Bridging the gap between evidence and policy

Nature recently published an excellent list of 20 things policymakers should understand about interpreting scientific claims, by William J Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter and Mark A Burgman, academics from Cambridge and Melbourne. Included are reminders that “scientists are human” and that “correlation does not imply causation”, as well as practical examples explaining why “regression to the mean can mislead” or how to “beware the base rate fallacy”. Continue reading