Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Politics Quackery

Bringing woo to disaster areas

Almost two years ago, I discovered something that disturbed me greatly. Basically, I learned the story of an Air Force officer named Col. Richard Niemtzow, MD, PhD. Col. Niemtzow is a radiation oncologist who has over the last decade fallen deeply into woo. Specifically, he has become known for a technique that he has dubbed “battlefield acupuncture,” a technique that he has promoted energetically (word choice intentional) and ceaselessly, to the point where, sadly, the military is starting to take it seriously even though the evidence Col Niemtzow has presented in favor of the technique is at best the thinnest of gruel, with no controls and no blinding. He’s even managed to convince the military to deploy acupuncturists to Iraq to take care of wounded soldiers. No doubt soon he’ll manage to get acupuncturists deployed to Afghanistan too, since that’s where the fighting increasingly is. As I pointed out, that’s just what our wounded heros need: Quackery instead of medicine. I was thoroughly disgusted.

War, disaster, violence, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about quacks, it’s that they labor under the delusion that they are real health care providers and that what they do will actually help people in dire straights. That’s why they think their woo can contribute whenever disaster strikes.

And few disasters can rival the scale of the earthquake in Haiti two weeks ago.

True to form, the woo-meisters have invaded. We have Homepaths Without Borders planning a trip to Haiti in order to bring quackery to the injured, homeless, and starving masses. Just as bad, if not worse, and as if the Haitian people didn’t have it bad enough already, they also have Scientologists invading their devastated island to bring Xenu to cure them of their injury and disease in the wake of the earthquake that killed at least 150,000 people:

Amid the mass of aid agencies piling in to help Haiti quake victims is a batch of Church of Scientology “volunteer ministers”, claiming to use the power of touch to reconnect nervous systems.

Clad in yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the controversial US-based group, smiling volunteers fan out among the injured lying under makeshift shelters in the courtyard of Port-au-Prince’s General Hospital.

A wealthy private donor provided his airplane to fly in 80 volunteers from Los Angeles, along with 50 Haitian-American-doctors, in a gesture worth 400,000 dollars, said a Parisian volunteer who gave her name as Sylvie.

“We’re trained as volunteer ministers, we use a process called ‘assist’ to follow the nervous system to reconnect the main points, to bring back communication,” she said.

“When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we re-establish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch.”

What the heck is that supposed to mean, “reestablishing communication,” “reconnecting the nervous system”? It’s faith healing, and faith healing doesn’t do much good for broken bones, crushed spleens, fractured skulls, and severed spinal cords. Actually, it doesn’t do much good for anything that can’t be improved with a placebo. Yet, this is what Scientologists are bringing to the suffering masses in Haiti. As one of the real doctors snorted, “I didn’t know touching could heal gangrene.”

Speaking of healing gangrene, surgeons are desperately needed in Haiti, surgeons who can debride dead tissue and amputate gangrenous limbs. They’re getting them, too, but unfortunately, they’re also getting surgeons who carry a bit of baggage with them in the form of woo. True to form, it would appear that acupuncturists are planning on joining the homeopaths. I know this because Lisa Marcucci, MD, trauma surgeon and medical acupuncturist, wrote an astonishingly brain dead defense of Col. Niemtzow’s “battlefield acupuncture.” Worse, it was published on a blog that is normally a reliable source of medical information, Inside Surgery. In an article entitled Battlefield Acupuncture (Niemtzow Technique) and No Needle Battlefield Acupressure (Marcucci Technique) for Pain Control in Acute Traumatic Injury in Haiti:

One of the more distressing items being reported out of the developing medical catastrophe in Haiti is the lack of even rudimentary anesthesia and analagesia for the treatment of amputations and severe acute traumatic injuries.

One possible strategy for treating patients in pain that is rapidly effective, and has little mortality or serious morbidity risk is the use of battlefield acupuncture, a technique pioneered by Air Force Col Richard Niemtzow, MD PhD in 2001.

Because Dr. Niemtzow’s battlefield acupuncture technique is most effective when using specialized small, gold-plated needles that are not always readily available, I have adapted his work to a technique I call battlefield acupressure.

It is truly horrific the level of medical catastrophe going on in Haiti right now. Thousands of people have died; thousands more are injured, many seriously. The medical infrastructure is utterly inadequate to the needs of the people right now, and, despite the outpouring of good will and aid from the rest of the world, it will still be quite a while before international aid reaches levels that begin to address the suffering of the Haitian people. Many will die of their injuries and disease before things get better; many will remain homeless for a long time; some will even die of violence, given that desperate people will do desperate things. The scale of the devastation and human suffering is beyond the ken most people. It’s only human nature to want to help, and Dr. Marcucci wants to help.

But first she wants to whine about how badly advocates of science-based medicine treat acupuncture:

Despite the fact that acupuncture has been in use for the treatment of pain for 3000 years, its’ use today still remains somewhat controversial and has many reputable critics in the medical establishment.

These authorities point out the lack of compelling, unimpeachable level 1 evidence to support its’ use and cite existing studies concluding the effect affect of acupuncture is no better than placebo.

Well, yes. That’s true. I’ve documented it time and time again right here on this very blog. Just search for “acupuncture” in the search box in the left sidebar if you don’t believe me. Basically, acupuncture doesn’t work better than a placebo. Indeed, sham acupuncture works just as well as “real” acupuncture, and neither of them are more than elaborate placebos. Contrary to claims of any specific actions due to acupuncture or any clear mechanism, we know that it doesn’t matter where the needles are placed, and it doesn’t even matter if the needles penetrate the skin. Toothpicks produce the same result. I do like how Dr. Marcucci whines about how there is no “unimpeachable” level 1 evidence. Actually, it’s a lot more than that; the totality of the evidence supports the conclusion that acupuncture is no more than a placebo. Small, pilot projects produce seemingly positive results, but the bigger and better designed the study, the less the effect, and apparent effects due to acupuncture disappear completely in the largest, best-designed studies using the best acupuncture placebos.

Not that this stops Dr. Marcucci from making a classic argumentum ad populum and an even more classic appeal to authority, logical fallacies both:

What remains inconvertible, however, is that acupuncture is widely sought by the public and its’ use has now been adopted by major academic medical centers such as Harvard University, Stanford University, UCLA Medical Center and the University of Maryland where it is used in the oncology and trauma units.

It is also widely used in the Veterans Administration and throughout the United States Military, where it is now being taught to special operations forces, medics, nurses, and physicians alike for use literally on the battlefield as well as in fixed medical facilities.

Therein lies the danger of the infiltration of woo into academia and the military, promoted by men like Col. Niemtzow. “Authorities” that should know better are coopted by quackery. How are lay people supposed to know that these authorities don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to various forms of pseudoscience? After all, medical authorities are using it! There must be something to it, right?

Wrong. As we have seen, academia has been coopted. Quackademic medicine has infiltrated medical schools and hospitals.

Then, Dr. Marcucci launches into a totally disingenuous rationale for why to her it’s appropriate to bring acupuncture to suffering Haitians:

And, in judging whether this would be an acceptable treatment modality for Haitian patients, what is also irrefutable is the complete absence in many situations of any modern level 1 evidenced care currently being practiced in Haiti.

As an example, some practitioners are being forced to amputate limbs on awake patients placed on bare wood tables under dirty bedsheets (i.e., Civil War era medicine).

In this situation, perhaps the lack of a wide body of level 1 evidence for acupuncture use and the ongoing academic dispute about its efficacy is a nicety that the medical community and Haiti can not now afford.

In other words, to boil it down to surgeonspeak – it may work, likely won’t hurt, but you gotta try something because we are cutting off people’s legs without narcotics or anesthesia.

In other words, because the destruction of Haiti’s medical infrastructure has led doctors to be forced to operate under primitive conditions without adequate medicine or surgical supplies (i.e., forcing them to use techniques with less than “level 1 evidence”), then we should abandon all scientific pretense! Send in the woo!

Yes, it is horrible that amputations are being done without anesthesia. People are suffering. However, if you can send acupuncturists in, why can’t you send real doctors in with real anesthetics, or at least with real morphine? Morphine’s cheap and abundant. It may not by itself serve as adequate anesthesia for an amputation, but it can do a hell of a lot more than placebo medicine like acupuncture. Heck, just calmly holding a patient’s hand can do at least as much as acupuncture, no woo needed.

Sadly, though, Dr. Marcucci can do nothing but lay down the woo:

  1. All pain signals in the body reflex through one or both of the earlobes on its way to the brain.
  2. In many patients, there are 5 main points that can be stimulated through needles or pressure on each earlobe that will partly or totally block this reflex, thus diminishing or eliminating patients awareness/experience of pain.

This is nothing but the purest nonsense. There is no physiologic or neurologic basis to make such a claim. That a surgeon–a trauma surgeon, no less!–would make such a claim and actually believe it is profoundly disturbing. It turns out that Dr. Marcucci is actually the person who founded Inside Surgery. Clearly, I haven’t been paying enough attention to this blog; so I did some searches. I didn’t find anything about acupuncture other than this post or links to this post. Apparently disaster finally got Dr. Marcucci to let her woo flag fly on her blog. Before that, she had not mentioned that she is a medical acupuncturist.

Remember how I used to joke (well, not exactly joke) that I wanted to put a paper bag over my head like the unknown comic and then later a Doctor Doom mask over our “favorite” creationist neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor? I think it may be time to get the metal mask out again. I’ve found a surgeon who embarrasses the profession and, through the profession of surgery, me just as much Dr. Egnor does.

The Haitian people deserve better. Much better.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

67 replies on “Bringing woo to disaster areas”

All pain signals in the body reflex through one or both of the earlobes on its way to the brain.

WTF even I know enough anatomy to know this is ridiculous. This person is a doctor – this is like an engineer pimping a perpetual motion machine.

Wouldn’t an injection of saline be a better placebo if morphine is not available. Of course as Orac points out, if you can send acupuncturists you can send morphine.

How about ketamine for the “battlefield anesthesia”? When my better half worked in anesthesiology she used to tell me ketamine was very popular in settings (like battlefields and distant developing world settings) where they didn’t have anesthesiologists and fancy monitoring. The main point was that it didn’t depress respiration and blood pressure the way the opiates did. Or maybe ketamine for operations
and then opiates for post-op pain relief.

I’ve had my own say about the homeopaths and their rather self-centred view that homeopathy is what Haiti needs on my blog. See: Money is better disaster aid than homeopathy

Like you say, though, it is especially depressing to see real doctors joining the “Woo for Disasters” gang.

So, then, if you amputated both earlobes, you’d never again experience pain of any kind?

Sigh. Inside Surgery needs to hire an editor, in addition to considering the scientific validity of its content. “Its’ ” doesn’t make any sense. She should have used “its” throughout. Think “hers’ ‘ or “ours’ ” or whatever.

Sorry, pedantic…but argh.

I think the “wealthy private donor” is John Travolta. I heard a news story this morning saying that he had flown his 707 from Florida to Haiti, bringing 4 tons of medical supplies and a number of people; I would imagine that those 80 people mentioned are the one in question.

Acupuncture is interesting. You’d think it might work due to the same mechanism that, say, a bruise might hurt less if you rub it, but nope! I guess that’s why toothpicks are just as effective, though. 😛

All pain signals in the body reflex through one or both of the earlobes on its way to the brain.

What the hell?

All pain signals in the body reflex through one or both of the earlobes on its way to the brain.

Does this mean if you cut off your earlobes, you’ll never feel pain again??

I’d rather see Travolta out there than Cruise. Travolta still has a good head on his shoulders (more or less), but Cruise has lost the plot.

“I think the “wealthy private donor” is John Travolta. I heard a news story this morning saying that he had flown his 707 from Florida to Haiti, bringing 4 tons of medical supplies and a number of people; I would imagine that those 80 people mentioned are the one in question.”

Unfortuntely for any good this might have done, those 80 people are scientology volunteer ministers, and they left 70 doctors and nurses behind (Non-Scilons) who asked to go on the flight.

@Jeff Read #11

What difference does it make which movie star is bringing in people to do the woo?

Orac, This is the post I have been waiting for. It’s fine to expose the Mike Adams’ of the world, but the serious problem of medical professionals adopting woo is scarier to me. I can choose not to involve myself with a woo practitioner, but now I have to screen my MD for woo tendencies! My pregnant internist informed me that she was going to “look into it more” before she would get the H1N1 shot because “they didn’t have any without thimerisol and what if…..?” Arghhhhh, she is very sweet, but I nearly went ballistic as I bit my tongue and gently reminded her that she is a trained scientist who knows better than to listen to such nonsense. She blushed and countered that she just didn’t want anything at all to harm her baby. I give up!

I also had a number of female gyn’s try to get me try all sorts of herbal crap for years before I (finally) found a woo-free MALE gyn to do what was really in order–a hysterectomy!

I was referred to a neurologist (for some routine testing to rule something out) who “prescribed” fish oil supplements. I asked for some evidence and was sent a clipping from a local newspaper column written by an “herbal healer”.

Lest you think I live in some hippy-dippy enclave (and I have), this all happened in the midwest at mainstream clinics.

I think the underlying tolerance of religion that is so integral to our national makeup makes it difficult to question the practice of woo without seeming to be “intolerant” or “narrow minded”. It is definitely up to doctors to police their own numbers and purge the woo from the profession. I realize that the words “police” and “purge” may conjure negative images, but I use them to urge strong action from within. The public simply does not have the basic skills to sort it all out–they see MD and figure it must be “true”.

Homeopaths without borders? Lets be honest, they’re sociopaths. I don’t know how anyone with a conscience could go to Haiti and tell them that all they need to do is drink some water and that will fix their problems. And convincing large groups of people that water will cure them is a clear example of antisocial behavior. Truthfuly, call a spade a spad: ‘Sociopaths Without Boarders’

Homeopaths without borders?

Well – they do not recognize the border between fantasy and reality.

Even after all the scandal of the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project post 9/11, and the same routine after the London bombings, for some reason Scientologists continue to push their worthless and dangerous Purification Rundown (TM). They put together a Utah Meth Cops program that received public funding. It is also the method used for their drug rehab company Narconon.

And now Travolta plans to start up The Ocala Detoxification Project. Fundraising will begin at the Ocala premiere of his new film. Why this method is even legal is beyond me.

“Detoxification treatments include daily doses of immediate-release niacin, aerobic exercise, intermittent sauna, cold-pressed oils to prevent toxins from being re-absorbed by the intestines, and vitamin and mineral supplements, according to the International Academy of Detoxification Specialists.”

Eek. He plans to inflict this on yet more rescue workers!

Here is a question- If the real medical aid is not available, is it harmful to provide placebo help to people in pain? I am fully against this woo when it prevents people from seeking real help, or when the woopeddlers are charging for nothing. But it is well documented that placebos can help some minor healing, e.g. when soldiers get shot and know they get to go home, they heal faster and need less painkiller than civilians who have similar injuries. The damage here I can see would be to give legitimacy to the woo. Just wondering.

More comment on the Scientologists’ efforts: Don’t panic Haiti, the Scientologists are coming!,/blockquote>

Like Haiti doesn’t have enough problems…

I’m sure the earthquake was caused by island thetans.

What hogwash. Combat Woooo.
If I was able to train and deploy “combat acupuncturists” to the combat area ( aka the “sandbox”) I should be able to, oh say just for example, provide some extra training in actual proven therapy to advanced practice combat medics/Independent Duty Corpsmen and or the deployed nurses of the US Army and Air Force and Navy. Actual proven therapy would be weird things like digital nerve block/regional anesthesia or systemic analgesics… and or some general relaxation and distraction techniques…. you might know them as “nursing interventions” or psychological counseling techniques. Wacky huh?

I recall having read about this a while ago.. seemed almost like a prank story it was so weird. They were actually researching shortened acupuncture needles that could be inserted and enable continued wear of helmets, and if I recall accurately, continue to “go out and patrol” sort of thing. and no doubt they were going to tint the needles green or tan, and enclose in some sort of a camo-colored nylon case.

The troops need REAL CARE, REAL MEDICINE, REAL PAIN RELIEF. I might assign some sort of value and benefit from a “combat acupuncturist” having spent time focusing on the needs, comfort, and pain issues of a patient in the military medicine system. If the time and money is there for the training… TRAIN with actual medicine/nursing. If the money is there to deploy more health professionals… SEND REAL ACTUAL professionals that can add enhanced pain management techniques to their ‘toolkit’ and arrive with many skills.

just my thoughts. only 26 years experience in military medicine and nursing.

“The damage here I can see would be to give legitimacy to the woo.”

That’s what the acunpuncturists and homeopaths most desperately want.

The problem is that they’re taking up space and resources needed for critical, life-saving medical care. What happens when parents with a sick or injured child go to the first practitioner they happen to see, and it’s a homeopath?

Societies with readily available, quality medical care and abundant resources can withstand having quacks operate. Haiti can’t.

As one of the real doctors snorted, “I didn’t know touching could heal gangrene.”

It can’t, but I find it very effective against erectile disfunction.

From yesterday:

“Cedar Rapids’ Peter Teahen — disaster specialist, funeral director and recent candidate for the U.S. Congress — is flying into disaster-hit Haiti this evening with actor John Travolta and a medical contingent in Travolta’s jet.

Teahen, who is not a Scientologist, said the church has come to play a bigger and bigger role in disaster relief both internationally and in the United States.”

Scientology: can’t make this stuff up.

I can’t find the article on SBM where this was discussed, but isn’t the claim that “acupuncture has been in use for the treatment of pain for 3000 years” also about as full of it as it gets? I was under the impression that the documented history of accupuncture was only a couple of hundred years at most. But hey, why let pesky facts get in the way of a good Ancient Whizdom™ narrative, huh?

Jesse P. asks:

“Here is a question- If the real medical aid is not available, is it harmful to provide placebo help to people in pain?”

If it were truly a choice betweeen nothing and placebo, then it would be better to give a placebo.

However, the real question is:

“Given a finite amount of aircraft space and a finite number of landings at Port-au-Prince, is it better to send placebos (e.g. homeopaths, Scientologists, acupuncturists) or real medicine (e.g. surgeons, anesthesiologists, antibiotics, analgesics, etc.)?”

In this case, ethics demands that we send real help to people in need, not placebos.

Hasn’t Haiti suffered enough?


So I don’t normally comment, but I’m going to go out on a limb and speak for the homeopaths. If they could in fact dilute all the stuff in the water out to the point of non-exisitence, wouldn’t that make them unusually useful for a change? I mean, if they were to provide clean drinking water, that might actually save lives. For once, I think they might unwittingly be on to something.

So how about the following arguments

Despite the fact that stone hand axes has been in use as tools for 500000 years, heir use today still remains somewhat controversial and has many reputable critics in the engineering establishment.


Despite the fact that clay tablets has been in use as writing implements for 5000 years, their use today still remains somewhat controversial and has many reputable critics in the information technology establishment.

I never understand this type of argument.

I suppose that Homeopaths without Borders will at least bring much-needed water to people in need…

Its absolutely disgusting in Haiti. They have one runway which is being run from a converted trailer. Its gone from 5 flights a day to 24 hour service. Not enough space on the ground to get enough supplies and personel in, there’s a nice waiting list to land.

And somehow revolta got his private jet in with 80 hacks that will undermine the actual work being done, as well as delaying actual help. The scientologists are even complaining about how they’re being scorned, thinking it was because they wear yellow t-shirts (I’m glad they do, I’m sure most people in Haiti are happy its easy to spot a scientologist and go the other way… if they’re able to move.)

We could so easily have had farmers in Afghanistan growing poppies for more morphine, just to help handle emergencies like this (we probably already have a large enough emergency supply, i don’t know.)

“If it were truly a choice betweeen nothing and placebo, then it would be better to give a placebo.”

I seldom disagree with you. However, if you receive nothing because nothing is available, you’ll realize that and try to do what you can to help yourself. This is better than the false hope of a placebo (or, something touted as having a benefit when it has none).

“Hasn’t Haiti suffered enough?”

In light of its history since the first revolution in 1803, probably not (not that things were better before 1803, unless you were a planter). What is truly amazing is how different a place the Dominican Republic is.

Homeopaths Without Borders should work according to the principles of homeopathy. Dilute the homeopaths with more and more doctors until no homeopaths are going. People will get well. Don’t forget to strike the homeopaths – very important!

An untrained lay person would be better than a homeopath. They would spend their time trying to help out in some manner that actually did something. They wouldn’t claim you were miraculously healed. They wouldn’t sit around doing nothing but lying to patients. Maybe they’d just end up doing manual labor. It’d be better than nothing. Homeopaths and scientologists aren’t worth the jet fuel. Leave the seat empty if you can’t fill it with somebody useful.

I realize that the lack of infrastructure and government is part of the problem when it comes to disasters, but who gets to decide who comes? I mean, do they have to accept everyone who shows up?

‘All pain signals in the body reflex through one or both of the earlobes on its way to the brain.’

On the planet of the Ferengi maybe.

I have no words with which to express my contempt for these miserable lousy no-good sons of dogs who would send people to point their gods-damned fingers at people and smile instead of offering real help. they should be conscripted into doing actual useful work, and made to pay their own way home.
Don’t let them have a blasted vacation, pointing their fingers at people and chanting happy verse, put them to work!
Let them see the devastation first hand, and then ask them if they would have been willing to give up their seat on the plane to an actual doctor or nurse. Unfortunately, most of them will say “but we *are* helping! we really are! ”
As for the homeopaths… perhaps they too could help by clearing away rubble and debris, and by using their happy homeopathic skill to bury the dead. I’m sure there’s more than enough of that latter chore to keep them all busy.

PS: My heartfelt apologies to dog lovers everywhere for comparing those Scientology cretins to dogs.
It’s an insult to the canine species.
I would compare them to slime, but slime actually serves a useful purpose.

Bless Agence France-Presse for staying on top of this.

Travolta flies aid, Scientology to Haiti

“A number of young Haitian men, desperate for work, and food, were being taught the technique by volunteers and were encouraged to make “touching” rounds themselves.

Carol Delva, 29, suffered a crushed knee when her house collapsed on her, and lay inert on damp sheets in the courtyard while LA-based Scientologist Dave McGregor touched her feet, legs and torso, thanking her with a “merci” after each poke.”

( )

I guess I have to thank Travolta for bringing extra publicity and scorn to junk science. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have Dawkins do something like “The Enemies of Reason” on US TV? PBS used to be about Carl Sagan, not Wayne Dyer. We’ve gotta fix that. This could be a way for them to become relevant again. (Yeah, I think about this a lot. I also think we need more Brian Cox in People Magazine.)

Though I don’t care for Scientology but at least they are willing to do something, more than most who post on this forum including myself 🙁 I used to be fundamentalist leaning but now consider myself a rational deist. One of the wise sayings I heard was “what a fundamentalist cannot understand he deems as evil”, I think I am hearing this from the fundamentalists of Skepticism. At least the people care enough to help someone (albeit in a method that the Skeptics do not understand) and are not scoffing at those who hold differing viewpoints.

Multiple info dump, I know…. What else can I do.

Apparently Scientology supporter Peter Teahen, (post #24), is a national media spokesperson for the American Red Cross. Teahen has been interviewed on “Larry King Live,” “Good Morning America,” “Oprah,” the Weather Channel, Fox News, The BBC and Al Jazeera Broadcasting Company. He has his own website. Teahen met Travolta during Hurricane Katrina.

Patrick @ 42 :
What, pray tell, are the scientologists actually doing ?
go back and read through. They are not in fact doing anything useful, not even donating money. What they are doing is sending people out for a Public Relations gimmick to practice “Energy Medicine.” Do you really believe such works ?
Do you ? If it doesn’t work, why then are they doing it, and how is this helping the people whose lives have been blasted by this disaster ? They aren’t delivering food, water, medicine, shelter or other supplies. They are simply pointing their fingers at people or touching them and then expecting them to get better. Patrick, doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing. In this case, they are doing harm by omission, and deliberately doing so.
Donating money would have at least eventually helped the people of Haiti to some small extent.

patrick # 42:
The “something” they are doing is worse than nothing. If they were doing nothing, a plane full of doctors, surgeons, and medical supplies, or even just volunteers to help clear away rubble / do whatever else is needed could have landed. Instead, you have a bunch of people who are going to actually interfere with medicinal aid (through methods such as telling people they don’t need medicine, teaching other volunteers how to properly “poke” patients instead of useful skills like sterilizing water and bandages, etc.)

Homeopaths Without Borders should work according to the principles of homeopathy. Dilute the homeopaths with more and more doctors until no homeopaths are going.

What about throwing the homeopaths in the middle of the ocean and letting them dilute from there?

(Yes, the behaviour of these people brings out my misanthropic side… why do you ask?)

John Harrold: I’ve no problems with homeopaths handing out water that “remembers” all sorts of things as a cure for whatever ails folk. I just hope they’re boiling the water before they give it to people. It would be horrible if the water “remembered” things like the bacteria which cause cholera, or typhoid, or any number of other water-borne diseases. Particularly if the water “remembered” them in sufficient quantity to cause an epidemic. I mean, call me picky, but I figure disease epidemics are right up there on the (long) list of things the people of Haiti don’t need at this point.

At least the people care enough to help someone (albeit in a method that the Skeptics do not understand) and are not scoffing at those who hold differing viewpoints.

define help in the way that Scientologists are helping

The video footage is kind of heartbreaking. I think John knows he’s not doing the right thing.

I know Scientology gossip isn’t the purview of this blog, but as some background you should know that the cult is getting into deeper and deeper doo-doo these days.

(Futher – Nick Xenophon and the Australian senate, Californian labor violation and human trafficking class-action lawsuit, last autumn’s fraud conviction in France, wrongful death suit in Italy, federal charges in Belgium, etc etc)

Meg Thornton @47: homeopaths always make a big point of insisting they use “double distilled water” (this, in their Parallel Universe, is supposed to “wipe” the memory of all the other s**t the water has had dissolved in it).

Of course, if you had ddH2O in quantities in a disaster area the most therapeutic thing you could do with it would be to use it to prepare oral electrolyte solutions for people with diarrhoeal diseases, and/or use it in medical procedures if you don’t have sterile water to hand, or just give it to give it to people to drink (since it should be microbiologically clean). No need to shake it homeopathologically first for that last one.

Anyway, there would be A LOT more useful uses for ddH2O than making homeopathic remedies. And given this, I am 99% certain the “homeopathic first aiders” WON’T be giving out aqueous remedies. They will, I confidently predict, be dishing out placebo sugar pills. Which contain no water – only the “memory” of it, ho ho.

As to Patrick @42’s comment – first, as dlc@44 and darius@43 noted, the Xenoids are actually getting in the way of the real relief effort.

Second, they could instead have done some good by raising funds from their supporter network to give to the main relief agencies. And as I said in my blogpost on “Money is better disaster aid than homeopathy”, the very best thing you can do, as a member of the public, is to send money. It may feel like nothing, but it isn’t. It will be used to provide the disaster relief. Read this excellent post from a British Red Cross worker describing why the money is what they need the most.

If they are amputating without anesthesia, perhaps they are at least using broad tourniquets to cause mechanical anesthesia? Please?

Thanks, Jen, for all of your posts–I think we are on the same page.

As to the scientologists–are they going to “point” to the amputation stumps and cause new limbs to grow? Why not, if the method is valid? At least this is a phenomenon that can happen in the natural world, unlike their touchy-healy nonsense.

Patrick: You need to read up on skepticism. Arguing reason against magic is not the equivalent of disagreeing over a “viewpoint”.

k8 @ 37 – I believe it’s different in every disaster, depending on a lot of different factors.

There was an existing force of UN peacekeepers in Haiti before the earthquake, but from what I understand they were mostly concentrated on the search for survivors and are now coordinating aid efforts. The US military has been controlling the airport and thus deciding who gets to land and who doesn’t. I believe the seaport was destroyed and is largely unusable.

From what I can tell from news agencies, the Scientologists were allowed to land in Port-Au-Prince, rather than having to land in the Dominican Republic and truck themselves over to Haiti. One article mentioned that they brought drinking water and an x-ray machine, so the military might have decided to allow them to land for those supplies alone.

The television news broadcasts from Florida report as follows: JT’s was the only civilian aircraft permitted to land, and it arrived with 4 tons of medical supplies, 24 doctors, and 3750 MREs. There was no mention of anyone returning back to Florida with John and Kelly.


National Red Cross media spokesman Peter Teahen got the call to accompany (probably read: arrange) this trip over the weekend. He specified that he was doing it as a private individual and not as a representative of the Red Cross, but the news report identified him as such nonetheless. JT footed Teahen’s bill for the trip.


“Teahen, who is not a Scientologist, said the church has come to play a bigger and bigger role in disaster relief both internationally and in the United States.”

but now consider myself a rational deist

Patrick, you may want to look up the meaning of the word “rational”.

Someone just showed up in the NY Times Lede discussion of Scilon VMs in Haiti with this plug:

“After Katrina, we set up the Common Ground Health Clinic which offered free western and alternative health care. The value of alternative health care like massage, acupuncture or herbalism to me – a western trained nurse – is that the practitioners take time to be with the patient. The patient relaxes and focuses on their health. That human element of being present for someone who is suffering, is a valuable compliment to the western medical offerings people like me can give.”

Common Ground Health Clinic〈=en

The website features many human/civil rights-type quotes, and text such as this:

“The practice of herbalism in a clinical setting is a many-faceted form of healing. In general, herbalism is a non-invasive, holistic practice, meaning that instead of and/or in addition to focusing on isolated ailments, the herbalist works with clients to treat the underlying causes and the whole person. Herbalists work primarily with whole plant medicines such as medicinal teas, tinctures (plant extracts made with alcohol, glycerin or vinegar), topical applications such as salves and ointments, and an array of others. Often, seemingly unrelated imbalances may all be improved with herbs that support entire body systems. In addition, characteristics such as body type, occupation and family life are often clues for the herbalist as to how best to help clients succeed in the healing process.

Herbalism is a practice that encourages, and indeed often requires, people to participate in their own healing. In this way it is an empowering modality, allowing people to become more self-reliant and informed about their bodies and their health.”

The site also features many “donate” buttons.

This Mother Jones article from 2006 describes them as creating a new model of community health care. Extra points for vaccinating (!) Halliburton subcontractors, Acupuncturists Without Borders reference, and the overarching sense that they saw themselves not as medical providers as much as activists.

(Think the clinic recommends vaccinations now?)

This “participate in their own healing,” “empowering modality,” and “allowing people to become more self-reliant” thing really sticks in my craw(fish).

I just got an email from Ticketmonster informing me of a charity concert at the House of Blues starring Colbie Caillat, Brett Dennen plus others. Proceeds go to Real Medicine for Haiti.

The name set off my woo-dar, so I hit teh Googlz. Here’s what I found:

And lest I get caught in the url-trap, I encourage you to snoop through the rest of the site.

It’s a good thing I don’t like Colbie Caillat (or other milquetoast musics).

Some comments observed via Twitter, from an infectious disease doctor named Megan Coffee:
“There is still a need for docs and nurses in Haiti. I hope people keep coming.”

“The most common NGO shirt I see in Port Au Prince: Scientology”

“still confused why most common t shirt in hospital among health care workers is scientology.”

“The ID doc in me is amazed: filariasis, tetanus and TSP. those were the first three diseases I was asked about today.”

London Times – Scientologists promise to stay after Port-au-Prince aid operation

Quote mine:
“Ms Harney said that the Scientologists were able to offer their own healing method in the hospital and in the clinic established by the University of Miami. “A person can be hurting and medical assistance does not work,” she said. “We help people to locate themselves.”

The method, known as “assist” might involve touching parts of the body or asking a patient to stare at a wall. “It’s a special Scientology technique developed by Mr Hubbard,” said Ms Harney, referring to the science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who founded the church in 1954.

Reports suggest that many injured Haitians have been grateful but bemused: an incomprehension that the Scientologists have attributed occasionally to the trauma that they are suffering.”

Apologies for reviving an olde thread, but acupuncture anaesthesia is discussed in the above post, and this same subject came up in conversation recently. According to a friend acupuncture has been used as anaesthesia during c-section deliveries. I thought this sounded pretty unbelievable, but while investigating came across this abstract in pubmed:

“The application of acupuncture anesthesia in obstetrics is discussed and reviewed. Of 14 patients delivered by cesarean section under acupuncture, 8 (57%) felt no pain, and 6 did not go through the entire procedure without other supplementary anesthesia. The failure and success rates are reviewed. It is suggested that the technique be evaluated further because with acupuncture the fetus and mother are completely protected from the secondary effects of general regional anesthesia.”

I can’t access the rest of the article myself and don’t have the expertise to ascertain a good study from bad even if I could. All other references to acupuncture anaesthetic during c-sections refer back to this same study. Can anyone else access the study? Is it legit?

My first reaction is that without the full article, it’s impossible to evaluate meaningfully.

My second is that it’s from 1980, so if it was really something it would have been more extensively followed up on long ago.

The current best data suggests that acupuncture is no more effective than tapping the skin in random locations with a toothpick. That said, there’s supposedly research ongoing about using acupuncture for pain in battlefield scenarios. I find that disgraceful, myself, but if they find useful evidence I’d be willing to change my mind.

“My second is that it’s from 1980, so if it was really something it would have been more extensively followed up on long ago.”

Thanks Beamup, my thoughts exactly.

Studies like this tend to hang around as legends amongst the believers, however. To the person I was speaking with, this study lent real weight to acupuncture’s supposed efficacy.

Given the time and place I can’t help but wonder if the women were willing subjects (if the study did take place as described in the abstract).

Mephistopheles O’Brien:

“The current best data suggests that acupuncture is no more effective than tapping the skin in random locations with a toothpick. That said, there’s supposedly research ongoing about using acupuncture for pain in battlefield scenarios. I find that disgraceful, myself, but if they find useful evidence I’d be willing to change my mind.”

I agree. IMO the methods used in acupuncture for pain management are more or less pain distraction, couched in mystical descriptions of qi stagnation, etc. (I flirted with acupuncture in my 20s)

One of the points almost universally used for headaches is located in between the first and second metacarpal bones. If you massage in there you’ll feel an achy spot along the [insert name of nerve here]. Imagine both these points being needled and stimulated (via acupuncturist or electroacupuncture) to the point where you can just tolerate it, for about 20mins along with whatever other points are selected. You pretty much forget about whatever other pain you have and just focus on the needles. The endorphin release leaves you feeling happy for a while after, until the pain comes back.

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