Bent Spoon Nominations

The nominations for 2019 are:

  • SBS-TV Medicine or Myth?
  • Dr Thierry Beths and Melbourne University
  • Good Price Pharmacy
  • University of Newcastle/Assoc Prof Pamela Van Der Riet
  • Peter ‘The Rainmaker’ Stevens
  • ABC Landline
  • University of Technology, Sydney
  • SBS The Feed, ABC 4-Corners, and Channel 9 60 Minutes
  • Aldi Supermarkets Australia
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison
  • National Seniors Australia Limited

  • Nominee: SBS-TV Medicine or Myth?

    Nominated by: Gary Bakker
    Date: 12/6/2019

    Every episode of SBS-TV’s Medicine or Myth? television program misinforms the public as to how products and therapies can or should be tested for safety and effectiveness. What is displayed is ‘television’, not ‘science’. In particular, the episode telecast on June 2 included a segment on ‘Emotional Freedom Techniques’ — a process of tapping “with two fingers” (why two?) on putative points along one’s “meridians” to relieve stress. It is referred to as “psychological acupuncture”. I am a clinical psychologist and had a review of this technique — and its cousin procedure, Thought Field Therapy — published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Psychologist in 2013. (“The current status of energy psychology: Extraordinary claims with less than ordinary evidence.”) The review revealed that every “clinical trial” that claimed to support the effectiveness of these “energy psychology” techniques had major methodological flaws, and that every trial that used a meaningful control group found no effect beyond placebo. The panel on Medicine or Myth? was convinced to extol the tapping procedure’s effectiveness by a momentary trial targeting a back pain in one of the presenters, and then an uncontrolled trial among a tiny number of subjects who reported their subjective impressions of success. This may have been good television, but it was abysmal science, and highly irresponsible when people with real psychological issues are likely to be misdirected toward quackery and away from help that we know is effective beyond short-term, shallow placebo effects.

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    Nominee: Dr Thierry Beths and University of Melbourne

    Nominated by: Hugh Ham
    Date: 12/6/2019

    Dr Thierry Beths, Head of Anaesthesia and Pain Management, Assistant Professor in Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia at the University of Melbourne, and the University itself, for promoting animal acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital.

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    Nominee: Good Price Pharmacy

    Nominated by: Geoff Andrews
    Date: 27/6/2019

    The Good Price Pharmacy gives away a magazine called Natural Health Crusader which is in reality an advertising channel for Caruso Natural Health Products. Although the propagation of unproven therapies alone should be enough to win them the award, they also use Pete Evans to push their products, with an interview “How Pete Evans Changed our Lives”. Evans is a supporter of the anti-vaccination movement, which worships at the feet of the discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield. Although the article does not mention vaccination, anyone reading it could come to the conclusion that Evans is a Great Guy and must be right about vaccination too. Ironically, this magazine is placed on the counter of the pharmacy next to a poster hyping their vaccination service for influenza.

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    Nominee: University of Newcastle/Assoc Prof Pamela Van Der Riet

    Nominated by: Stephen Allen
    Date: 27/8/2019

    University of Newcastle is offering a course in complementary medicine for nursing degree students – NURS2163 Complementary Therapies in Healthcare. This is being taught as a second year elective course for nursing degrees alongside normal science-based courses, with aromatherapy, Reiki, meditation, and guided imagery mentioned specifically in the course website.
    In addition, lecture slides used for the course mention naturopathy, iridology, acupuncture, reflexology, kinesiology and homeopathy (to name a few). The notes show that the course endorses all these as being sound and even give references to papers.
    The course is run by Associate Professor Pamela Van Der Riet.

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    Nominee: Peter ‘The Rainmaker’ Stevens

    Nominated by: Dave Hudson
    Date: 27/8/2019

    Peter Stevens has been promoting his atmospheric ionisation research machine throughout Australia. This is a 2m diameter portable device that uses focussed mirrors, infrared energy and magnets to “create an intense warm section of air that charges particles in the atmosphere causing clouds to form and rain” It is alleged that when this device is turned on, it will create rain with “100% accuracy”. Stevens has been encouraging people to use his device in rural areas of Australia that may be subject to drought to help bring rain to parched lands, despite this device never having undergone any kind of rigorous scientific testing and has been dismissed as implausible by the Bureau of Meteorology.

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    Nominee: ABC Landline

    Nominated by: Ron Paynter
    Date: 6/9/2019

    The generally informative ABC program Landline aired a segment on 18/8/2019 commemorating the passing of Alex Podolinsky, the “pioneer of biodynamic farming”. Essentially the biodynamic principle revolves around a magical conversion of cow manure filled cow horns when buried to produce a mystical brew which has an amazing effect on a farm’s productive capacity once sprayed on the soil. It was topical back in the 1970s when it had significant media attention, but has been a fringe arm of the organics and wellness movement since then, although it is becoming more prominent with biodynamic produce becoming more popular. Viewers of Landline were provided with anecdotes about how the use of the product meant that biodynamic farms flourished while neighbouring ones failed, the organic greengrocer attested that the biodynamic fruit was heavier due to the extra minerals in it, and that producers who tried it but failed to see any result were not applying the principle in the right way. The journalist was uncritical and almost fawning in acceptance of all this ‘evidence’ about the system.

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    Nominee: University of Technology Sydney

    Nominated by: Ian Bryce
    Date: 10/9/2019

    At the recent Australian Museum Science Week, the University of Technology Sydney has been promoting pseudoscience, including acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping, in a poster and video. And this from an organisation that is finalising moves to axe its Bachelor of Health Science (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and its Chinese Medicine Clinic in the heart of Sydney.

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    Nominee: SBS The Feed, ABC 4-Corners, and Channel 9 60 Minutes

    Nominated by: Dr Brian Duggan, PhD
    Date: 13/9/2019

    During 2019 all three programs ran sensationalist programs on glyphosate. All three were populist and missed an opportunity to inform the public about how safe and of low toxicity glyphosate it. All three based their stories on the three lawsuits in California where rulings were made against Monsanto, and its now owner Bayer Crop Sciences, over Roundup. Note, the court cases were not against glyphosate, but a particular brand of herbicide containing glyphosate which although first commercialised by Monsanto in 1974 has been off patent since 2001 and made by many different companies. Given the dubious reputation of Monsanto these cases have very much tried to tie that negative association to the herbicide. It should be noted that all these cases were decided by a jury decision and the first (Johnson V Monsanto) and third (Pilliod V Monsanto) the punitive awards were drastically reduced (by 97% in the Pilliod case) and all three decisions are currently under appeal.
    Like all commercially available pesticides the ecotoxicological and toxicological data is compiled independently and housed by the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. It is one of the least toxic herbicides currently available.
    It is disappointing that all three programs failed to mention this and other pieces of critical evidence which exonerate glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”, the wording used by the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s. (It should be noted that Asian pickled vegetables, beverages above 60 deg C, sunlight, being a hairdresser, working the night shift and aloe vera attained the same status). A better program may have been “Glyphosate – why do so many people want to associate it with cancer when there is no evidence to suggest so”.

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    Nominee: Aldi Supermarkets Australia

    Nominated by: Richard Saunders
    Date: 4/10/2019

    Aldi Supermarkets in Australia for its promotion and sales of a classic of quackery, namely “Jo Oxley Ear Candles” as part of its October specials. Over the last decade, Aldi has established itself into the Australian commercial landscape with great success. Thousands of Australians head to Aldi every week to take advantage of the special deals which are, for the most part, tried and true products. It is therefore extremely disappointing to see them selling Ear Candles, a product with no known medical benefits and also known to be a danger.

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    Nominee: Prime Minister Scott Morrison

    Nominated by: Several nominators
    Date: 9/10/2019

    Prime Minister Scott Morrison (aka Scomo) for his climate-science-denial and associated pro-coal stance. Examples from 2019 include:
    – pushing through approvals for the Adani coal mine.
    – ensuring the removal of any mention of “climate crisis” and “coal” from the Funafuti Declaration developed during the Pacific Islands Forum, the declaration focusing on climate change and its impact on low-lying islands in the pacific. Australia stood alone in these demands.
    – suggesting that the global youth-led climate strike is just fueling “needless anxiety” that the kids should “stay in class”.
    – missing the September UN Climate Summit.
    – presenting faulty data on at least eight statements during the UN General Assembly. Most notably, declaring that Australia’s emissions are decreasing, when in fact they are increasing. In addition, Scomo failed to give new targets beyond the Paris agreement and no new strategies to reach the targets.
    And while MPs such as David Littleproud (Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, Year 12 graduate and someone who was very confused about climate change) and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg may took a similar pro-coal stance in the past, it is good to see they have finally come to terms with the science.
    It’s a shame that other members of the Government who don’t share that party line couldn’t have the same change of heart rather than bringing lumps of coal into Parliament.

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    Nominee:National Seniors Australia Limited

    Nominated by: Several nominators
    Date: 29/10/2019

    National Seniors Australia (NSA) is a lobby group claiming to be “the independent voice of older Australians”. In September, it distributed a brochure to its members promoting a special deal on vitamins and supplements from Australian NaturalCare, which NSA describes as “their wide range of affordable, quality vitamins and supplements and natural living products”. The unsolicited brochure made specific reference to curcumin, an active ingredient of turmeric, which it described as an “ancient healing herb to sooth painful joints … traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine healers have used turmeric … for thousands of years”. The brochure goes on to compare “ordinary curcumin” with the product offered by NaturalCare. While unsubstantiated claims are made for the supplement’s healing properties – and these have been the subject of a complaint to the TGA in 2016 – the immediate issue is with NSA acting in “partnership” with NaturalCare to actively promote a product which has dubious efficacy and is potentially dangerous. NSA has not responded to queries about its role in this promotion, including whether it was “aware of the long list of dangerous adverse reactions concerning curcumin” and “what led National Seniors to decide to promote this product”.

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