Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Bitter Pill

CAM Laboratory Tests Fail Two Important Criteria

By Bruce Campbell

A study of 11 common laboratory tests ordered by complementary medicine practitioners finds that they lack clinical validity and utility.

Alternative practitioners often claim that their treatments have been verified and are as reliable as conventionally evaluated medical procedures, but how good are the claims? As with much else in health, it pays to look behind the assertions that complementary and alternative treatments pass the scientific test expected of medicine in Australia.

Reflections on the Unexpected Depth of a Problem

By John Dwyer

Professor John Dwyer reflects on changes to Australia’s health climate and the continuing influence of complementary and alternative health practices.

Does Osteopathy Have Better Scientific Credentials Than Chiropractic?

By Des Wiggins

A continuing misperception exists among healthcare providers: that the origins of osteopathy are less pseudoscientific than its 19th century counterpart, chiropractic.

I was reminded of this problem again last month. A patient was referred by a local GP with the clear directive that she was to receive osteopathic treatment, not chiropractic. Questioned, the patient narrated how her doctor considered that osteopathy had a “scientific” basis. In his words, “Osteopathy was not 19th century nonsense like chiropractic”. After all, the practice had been assimilated into mainstream medicine in the 20th century.

Therapeutic Goods Administration Challenged to Do Its Job

By Mal Vickers

Despite a number of reforms, the TGA’s system of labelling therapeutic goods confuses consumers and its complaints resolution process fails to deter repeat offenders.

Forget Fake News: Is PR Hype the Big Problem in Science?

By Lyndal Byford

The problem of over-hyped science news is undermining public trust in science.

A media release screams “blockbuster, a world first breakthrough” and even comes with the word “cure” tantalisingly dangled, ready for a time-poor journalist to grab hold of.

An editor demands the story goes online before anyone else gets the scoop. For the busy journalist, unused to covering science, it can be incredibly difficult to be a lone voice when the rest of the media pack are following the line.

The MINDD Foundation is Built on Shaky Ground

By John McLennan

A forum held at The University of NSW, but not endorsed by it, has highlighted the spurious credibility that university settings give to groups making unsubstantiated health claims.

The MINDD Foundation was established in 2005 by Leslie Embersits as a result of her quest for “more informed health care for children”. Embersits has argued that it is legitimate for parents to follow other families’ advice rather than medical advice as the government’s research agenda was “locked in the behavioural paradigm”. She insists that funds should be directed towards studies of nutritional treatments.

Diet Gurus Ignore the Weight of Evidence in Guidelines

By Rosemary Stanton

Diet gurus are blaming Australia’s obesity problem on government dietary guidelines they claim are unhealthy, when the real issue is that too few people follow them.

It’s hard working in public health nutrition in Australia. Not only do we try to cope with Australia’s massive weight problem – 70% of men, 56% of women and 26% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese – but nutritionists are now being blamed for the disaster.

What Is the Point of Veterinary Acupuncture?

By Tanya Stephens

While some misguided people try ineffective “therapies”, at least they can seek out other treatments if they don’t work. Not so the hapless pet.

There is no scientific evidence for the use of acupuncture in any animal, including humans. We know that the powerful placebo effect tricks human patients into thinking acupuncture works, but why do some people (including some veterinarians who should know better) think that it’s curing animals? Is this an extreme example of cognitive bias or the caregiver placebo effect, in which the caregiver believes their animal has responded to a “treatment”? It’s a well-known phenomenon in animal care, but who is being treated: the owner or their pet?

Why No Man Should Take a PSA Blood Test for Early Stage Prostate Cancer Without Reading This

By Ian Haines

Men with early-stage abnormalities of the prostate who are monitored for any progression of the cancer live just as long as men who opted for complete removal of the prostate and now live with the immediate consequences.

From the 1980s, when prostate screening became available, many men over 40 without symptoms were diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer. However, most prostate cancers take decades to reveal themselves, and most men will die with, but not from, prostate cancer.

Autopsy studies reveal prostate cancer in up to 40% of men in their forties and 65% in their sixties, but only 3–4% of Australian men actually die of prostate cancer at a median age of 82. So why would any man agree to a PSA test and then a biopsy and radical treatment?

Breast Cancer + Alternative Medicine = Lower Survival

By Pallave Dasari

The internet allows greater broadcasting of false information about cancer cures, which means that women are treating their breast cancer with alternative therapies known to be the direct cause of preventable deaths.

In Australia, one-in-eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Medical specialists from surgery, oncology and radiotherapy together determine the best evidence-based medicine to attack the cancer effectively. Usually this involves a combination of medical interventions with strong clinical evidence of reducing and curing breast cancer. These medical advances have drastically reduced the death rate from breast cancer from 37% in 1982 to 19% in 2012.