October 28, 2010


ME + me: Fine skeptical diagnosis of LP + info on bogus therapies

I continue being not well, and otherwise also as before, so I cannot do much. That's also the main reason there was no Nederlogthe last two days, though the ordinary "man's inhumanity to man" also enter, as I may explain later, at some point.

For the moment, I only quote, namely two pieces related to medical and pseudomedical flimflam:

1. From The Skeptic's Dictionary:   Phil Parker Lightning ProcessTM
2. From QuackwatchSM:   Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work

Note in the above pairs, the first link in each pair is to the main site, and the second link is to what I copied, where I should say that in the first case I copied all of the original article and in the second case the first two thirds. And in either case, the titles below lead to the originals, and in both cases the main sites linked above are quite interesting, especially if you are interested in rational thinking or are ill with little hope for a cure.

1. From the Skeptic's Dictionary

Phil Parker Lightning ProcessTM

The Phil Parker Lightning Process (LP) is a training program that claims to help people recover from chronic fatigue syndrome, "resolve depression, anxiety, panic attacks, overeating, low self-esteem, guilt, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and other areas of stuckness [sic]," and "enhance ... performance in business and sports." He says his program also helps people with bad backs, migraines, "or anything people want to get better at."* The first thing that should come to mind when hearing these amazing things is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

To be fair, though, we shouldn't dismiss LP without examining the scientific studies that demonstrate its effectiveness. Unfortunately, there aren't any studies to examine. What we can examine, though, is what LP's creator, Phil Parker, has to say about his program. Granted, he may be a bit biased, but let's examine what he has to say anyway.

First, Phil tells us that he is a graduate of a school of osteopathy and that he has been trained in cranial osteopathy and applied kinesiology, three exquisite pseudosciences. He's also studied hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming (NLP). None of these fields are proper preparation for treating chronic fatigue, depression, OCD, or the like. But perhaps Parker is a genius who just stumbled upon a program that can treat physical and psychological disorders, and can also enhance business and sports performances. What are the odds? In any case, he claims to have about 115 people who are practicing LP trainers in eleven countries.

Second, Phil tells us that his program is quite complicated and takes twelve hours to complete (three four-hour days). In that time, the program will find what's stopping you from having good health, holding up your golf game, or keeping you from being happy or rich. Then, he'll fix it. You can expect 70% improvement after the first day and by the end of the third day 85% are fixed.* (Unfortunately, Phil seems to have pulled these numbers out of his arse.)

What is LP? Phil doesn't say exactly, but he tells us on his website that it is an amazing hodgepodge of "concepts from NLP, Hypnotherapy, Life Coaching and Osteopathy."* That's fine, but what concerns me is that those of us who would like to know more about LP and how it differs, say, from NLP, are not directed to any empirical studies. Instead, Phil recommends that we do three things. Frist, we should go to his online store and buy his Introduction to the Lightning ProcessTM Book for 20.00 plus P&P. Next, Phil says, we should watch his videos and read the testimonials of many success stories. Unfortunately, we know that testimonials are no substitute for scientific studies. I could treat people with dog spit and find at least 50 subjects who will swear that I cured their cancer or eliminated their irritable bowel syndrome. What we need to see are well-designed scientific studies that eliminate self-deception and isolate in specific ways what counts as success due to the training methods. Finally, Phil recommends we find the nearest Phil Parker Lightning ProcessTM Practitioners and download their application form.

I don't think so. Phil says he's been doing this stuff for ten or fifteen years. He should have at least one scientific study we can look at. He should have a lot of data to work with. But I suspect that Phil doesn't keep records, except maybe accounting records. I hope he proves me wrong and sends me a copy of his research so I can rewrite this article and recommend that Phil be given the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his amazing discovery of a training program that can help my golf game while relieving me of chronic fatigue, excess weight, and the splitting headache I've acquired while thinking about the people who are so desperate that they'll seriously consider shelling out 780 ($1,330 or 1,004) for the LP program. (Prices as of October 22, 2008.)

I'm not suggesting that all the testimonials are from liars or paid hands. Nor am I suggesting that there are no satisfied LP clients. In fact, I would be willing to bet that some people have been helped by LP. That said, it should be obvious that anyone with a serious physical or mental disorder should seek treatment elsewhere from proper medical doctors. It is likely that many of LP's customers are people who are physically or emotionally miserable or unhappy. They may have been told by several professionals they've consulted that there's nothing wrong with them or that whatever ails them is something that nothing can be done about or that it's all in their head. They don't accept this and then they find that Phil Parker gives them hope. He promises to help them and do it quickly. The fee is irrelevant to the desperate client. So is hard evidence. Testimonials from so many nice looking, happy people is enough.

So, who gets helped? Not those with serious or chronic diseases. Those who get helped will be those who need somebody to guide them through life, somebody to get them to think about themselves and their goals. The ones who feel they got their money's worth will be those who needed to get their mind on the right track but had no idea of how to do it. It has been known for thousands of years, at least as far back as Aristotle, that how a person thinks affects how he behaves, and how he behaves affects how he feels and thinks. If you are constantly thinking about your sore toe or how everybody is against you, if you are constantly harboring negative and self-destructive thoughts, you will feel and behave accordingly. You can train yourself to think positively, to set positive and realistic goals, to develop criteria to measure success. You can act as if you are happy and you will be amazed how the way you act will affect the way you think and feel, and vice-versa. When you are miserable, you can do some of the things that you do when you are feeling well. Just doing them will affect how you feel and think. If you are happiest sitting by a stream in the mountains with nobody around, where the only sounds are those of the water trickling over the rocks and the wind rustling through the pines, then go to the mountains or pick up a book of poetry by someone like Wordsworth (as John Stuart Mill did when he was blue) and let your mind take you there.

There are lots of techniques for getting "unstuck." LP may provide you with a few. Remember, however, that neither Parker nor those he's trained will be posting testimonials from unsatisfied customers. That doesn't mean there aren't any. Many of those unsatisfied customers may be too embarrassed to admit that they've wasted their money. I don't know enough about Parker to say that he uses techniques that blame any failures on the client. But many other "alternative gurus" use these tricks: you're not trying hard enough; you don't have enough faith; you're not letting go of your old habits; you really are better but you just don't want to or can't admit it; or, unfortunately, you're resistant to the treatment.

further reading

Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work by Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D.

Social and judgmental biases that make inert treatments seem to work by Barry L. Beyerstein (1999)

Who Gets to Validate Alternative Medicine?

How they do the voodoo that they do so well - Part 1

How they do the voodoo that they do so well - Part 2

Last updated 07/30/09

Sofar for quoting The Skeptic's Dictionary. All of the above links are well worth reading, and will explain a lot about The Lying Process, as I call this whole family of medical or alternative fraudulence. Here is the beginning of the first linked article, also from a useful and interesting site - but with a little proviso I'll state at the end.

2. From QuakwatchSM

Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work

Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D.

Subtle forces can lead intelligent people (both patients and therapists) to think that a treatment has helped someone when it has not. This is true for new treatments in scientific medicine, as well as for nostrums in folk medicine, fringe practices in "alternative medicine," and the ministrations of faith healers.

Many dubious methods remain on the market primarily because satisfied customers offer testimonials to their worth. Essentially, these people say: "I tried it, and I got better, so it must be effective." The electronic and print media typically portray testimonials as valid evidence. But without proper testing, it is difficult or impossible to determine whether this is so.

There are at least seven reasons why people may erroneously conclude that an ineffective therapy works:

1. The disease may have run its natural course. Many diseases are self-limiting. If the condition is not chronic or fatal, the body's own recuperative processes usually restore the sufferer to health. Thus, to demonstrate that a therapy is effective, its proponents must show that the number of patients listed as improved exceeds the number expected to recover without any treatment at all (or that they recover reliably faster than if left untreated). Without detailed records of successes and failures for a large enough number of patients with the same complaint, someone cannot legitimately claim to have exceeded the published norms for unaided recovery.

2. Many diseases are cyclical. Such conditions as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems normally have "ups and downs." Naturally, sufferers tend to seek therapy during the downturn of any given cycle. In this way, a bogus treatment will have repeated opportunities to coincide with upturns that would have happened anyway.

3. The placebo effect may be responsible. Through suggestion, belief, expectancy, cognitive reinterpretation, and diversion of attention, patients given biologically useless treatments often experience measurable relief. Some placebo responses produce actual changes in the physical condition; others are subjective changes that make patients feel better even though there has been no objective change in the underlying pathology.

4. People who hedge their bets credit the wrong thing. If improvement occurs after someone has had both "alternative" and science-based treatment, the fringe practice often gets a disproportionate share of the credit.

5. The original diagnosis or prognosis may have been incorrect. Scientifically trained physicians are not infallible. A mistaken diagnosis, followed by a trip to a shrine or an "alternative" healer, can lead to a glowing testimonial for curing a condition that would have resolved by itself. In other cases, the diagnosis may be correct but the time frame, which is inherently difficult to predict, might prove inaccurate.

6. Temporary mood improvement can be confused with cure. Alternative healers often have forceful, charismatic personalities. To the extent that patients are swept up by the messianic aspects of "alternative medicine," psychological uplift may ensue.

7. Psychological needs can distort what people perceive and do. Even when no objective improvement occurs, people with a strong psychological investment in "alternative medicine" can convince themselves they have been helped. According to cognitive dissonance theory, when experiences contradict existing attitudes, feelings, or knowledge, mental distress is produced. People tend to alleviate this discord by reinterpreting (distorting) the offending information. If no relief occurs after committing time, money, and "face" to an alternate course of treatment (and perhaps to the worldview of which it is a part), internal disharmony can result. Rather than admit to themselves or to others that their efforts have been a waste, many people find some redeeming value in the treatment. Core beliefs tend to be vigorously defended by warping perception and memory. Fringe practitioners and their clients are prone to misinterpret cues and remember things as they wish they had happened. They may be selective in what they recall, overestimating their apparent successes while ignoring, downplaying, or explaining away their failures. The scientific method evolved in large part to reduce the impact of this human penchant for jumping to congenial conclusions. In addition, people normally feel obligated to reciprocate when someone does them a good turn. Since most "alternative" therapists sincerely believe they are helping, it is only natural that patients would want to please them in return. Without patients necessarily realizing it, such obligations are sufficient to inflate their perception of how much benefit they have received.

Sofar for quoting QuakwatchSM   - and I wonder whether the "SM" is a spoof of the LPTM scam: If so, deservedly so. Also, persons with ME are strongly adviced to read the last piece at least twice and to check out Cognitive Dissonance (Wikipedia).

Above I promised a a little proviso I would state at the end. Here it is:

While I am and always have been very strongly in support of real science, indeed very much more than almost anyone I know in Holland or have met in the University of Amsterdam (where science when I studied there was for the most part decried as "not socially relevant" and "fascist"! and people got M.A.'s in philosophy and political sciences by study points for squatting and for demonstrating against cruise missiles or feminism), I do want to make four points about medical science and medical doctors, writing as a psychologist and philosopher of science "with an unexplained disease" since 32 years, namely ME:

  • I must have seen more medical doctors as a patient than nearly anyone in Holland, which in fact were mostly GP's and doctors of internal medicine: Most I saw were quite to very dishonest about their own abilities and knowledge, and lied against me (and my ex-wife, suffering from the same disease), and certainly knew they were lying. In fact, most tried to palm off the standard medical fraudulent fallacy: "Since we medical scientists can't find a cause for your disease, your disease must be due to your psychosomatizing or your being a malingerer".
  • This is a fallacy (1) because medical scientist and in particular the specific medical doctors one pays to get help or a diagnosis from are not omniscient: In fact they only know a very small percentage of what there is to be known about the human body and its (mal)functioning. And (2): It simply is not a valid argument: If you don't know, you don't know, and it does not follow at all that if you can't explain something that "therefore" something must be an idea held by madmen. This also is offensive pretensious immoral rot not worthy of any intellectually or morally decent medical doctor, whose moral and medical duty it is to rationally explain to people he deems mad or disturbed why he thinks they are, and without doing so fallaciously from a tacit premiss of his own infallibility and omniscience.
  • The typical medical doctor patients see, viz. a GP, did not get a scientific education, but a practical one for the most part: Most practicing medical doctors are not trained in science, nor for scientific research, but are trained to practice medicine. Which is fine, as it is difficult enough to be a good GP without also being a trained research scientist, but many GPs I have met - and I also do think I owe my life to one GP who was excellent and did not lie to me - pretended otherwise, and simply knowingly lied. (I know because I know science and am a very good debater: It is - for example - amazing what bullshit many GPs utter about subjects like probability and statistics.)

So... while I am mostly in favour of Quakwatch and wholly in favour of real science, I know of too many fraudulent medical doctors to accept that a university diploma in medicine is anything remotely like a failsafe guarantee the medical doctor is neither a quack, nor a fraud, nor a liar. Also, it seems to me that the study of medicine attracts and formally qualifies too many people who are more interested in money or power or status than in helping ill people, and also that being a medical doctor is having a function that easily corrupts, since "all power corrupts".

However, I also am quite aware that most medical doctors I have seen meant well, even if they could tell me little or nothing that was helpful, which shows that they also were not really competent (*), and that the real rotters and liars among medical people tend to be psychiatrists and other practitioners of fields where there is either little real scientific knowledge or a lot of money to be made. (**)

P.S. And there it stands for today. Whatever mistakes I made in Drie documenten: Mijn vader's verhaal + mijn verhaal + mijn mensenrechten still need finding and correcting.

This will be done soon, as I do intend to use it against several medical doctors and one or two psychologists: I have been called "a fascist" possibly hundreds of times in the University of Amsterdam because I insisted publicly that truth exists, that not all morals are equally relative, and that not all human beings equal or equivalent. For the same reason I have been thrown three times from the University of Amsterdam, the last time explicitly as "a fascist" and "a terrorist" because of my public speech in the faculty of philosophy 39 Questions about the qualities of education and government in the Netherlands

Well... I want to return the compliment - for I have come to conclude that there are real Untermenschen, real sado-fascistic beasts without any conscience whatsoever, and they have governed Amsterdam since 1984 at the latest, always enriching themselves and the drugsmafia while lying like fascist terrorists about their backgrounds, their ideas, their values; their ideals and their bona fides.

The very least any of these rotters ought to have done is explain to me why I deserve to be gassed, and kept out of sleep while being threatened with murder by Amsterdam drugsdealers, for nearly four years of constant pain, followed by 20 years more because of these four, and why I have been removed repeatedly from the University of Amsterdam for standing up for science and rational thinking in a Dutch university.

They didn't: Untermenschen. And see my eventual solution for this manner of human beastliness, at least if human civilization lasts: On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals.

P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.


As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

(*) My ex-wife and I (since then both qualified as psychologists, with excellent M.A. degrees) have given truly excellent descriptions of the disease ME to something like 30-50 medical doctors, in the ten years before we knew that we had it. Our descriptions - as can be proved from letters I wrote ca. 1980 and still have in copy - can be found in most medical handbooks since the 1970ies as listing all the main symptoms of ME. All medical doctors we consulted demanded payment for their services, whole NONE of the made the correct diagnosis, as clearly NONE of them knew what we described so well - as I found out in the 10th year of my illness, thanks to "Health Matters" on the BBC-WS. All of the medical doctors we consulted had the duty to know, and indeed would have found out if only they had consulted a decent medical handbook instead of using only their own prejudices and arrogance.

None of them did come up with ME: none of them knew. Most of these 30 to 50 medical ignoramuses did insist that, since they could neither find or think of something, that "therefore" my ex and I must be psychosomatic malingerers, while most of them treated us as fools, and often quite impolitely (that is, at least, If it is impolite to tell a patient blatant lies and write them off as liars or nutcases without having any evidence but one's own reprehensible ignorance).

Incidentally: I blame GPs less than I blame medical specialists for failing to remark that the symptoms my ex and I listed fitted to a t with the description of ME in medical handbooks, including Epstein Barr Virus in our cases. But my main reason for this is that my ex and I have lived in a studentflat on the same floor as a number of medical students swotting to become GPs: I know what they got and what their education was like. And in any case, 30 to 50 "medical scientists" consulted and paid by my ex and myself failed to come up with as much as the term "ME", although we described it perfectly well and quite clearly since 1979.

(**) Having mentioned QuakwatchSM   I should mention that its maintainer is the pensioned Stephen Barrett M.D., who is a retired psychiatrist. I liked what I read on his site and I also think there are far too many quacks, healers, pretentious wellness bringers, and medical frauds, but it is not impossible he and I would disagree on some things.

In any case, here is his definition of quack: Quackery: How should it be defined? (incidentally a term which must derive from the Dutch or German), which seems sensible to me and ends thus:

All things considered, I find it most useful to define quackery as the promotion of unsubstantiated methods that lack a scientifically plausible rationale. Promotion usually involves a profit motive. Unsubstantiated means either unproven or disproven. Implausible means that it either clashes with well-established facts or makes so little sense that it is not worth testing.

In this sense prof. Wessely and his mates are definitely quacks who also definitely are frauds: That is, they are quacks who know they are quacks, as opposed to the - in dr. Barrett's opinion - more common quacks who do believe their own quackery.

For CBT and GET do not work for people with ME, and at least GET is dangerous for people with ME; there is no evidence that CBT and GET do work for people with ME (and those who say otherwise, such as the egregious fraud Bleijenberg, incidentally a psychologist, not a medical doctor, knowingly lie), which is to say that CBT and GET are unsubstantiated methods; while these methods are promoted by psychiatrists and psychologists for reason of financial gain (profit motive) and for acquiring patients as a group that should not be treated by psychiatrists and psychologists for a disease that since 1969 is classified by the WHO as a serious neurological disease, with psychiatric explanations for it explicitly excluded since 1991; while the "theory" on which these quack treatments are based is irrational, unscientific, and also clashes with well-established facts and with the definitions for diseases the WHO accepts and desires to see implemented by medical doctors.

Maarten Maartensz

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