Archive for July, 2013

Plants make chemicals too.

July 28, 2013

It’s been a long (very long!) blogging hiatus for me.

Whilst there are a large number of contributing reasons – more work at the Univ, kids getting older and requiring less sleep (and thus more keeping an eye on and even the occasional bit of help with homework), new hobbies (blog and work-unrelated) etc.etc. – there are a couple that stand out.

The first is running out of things to say – or at least things I didn’t feel I’d said already, and possibly better, if it was the first time around and I was thus relatively fresh to the topic.  To take just one (recurring) example. how many new ways can one find to point out that homeopathy is nonsense?

The second reason is  Twitter. 150 characters is great for bashing out a quick thought, and if the ‘extended version’ is something you’ve already done, you can just post a link. No need for long conversational and/or explanatory posts. So I am pretty sure much of my ‘blogging impulse’ has transferred to Twitter. I assume the hits here on the blog – I’m interested to see they still run at a few dozen a day – are ‘referrals’ from the Twitter feed.

Actually, there is a third reason too, though not entirely separate from the two just described. That is the feeling that the main work of explaining / exploding ‘Alt.Reality’ has been done, at least for those who are actually seeking explanations. For instance, I find it difficult to imagine that people who are mostly ‘undecided’ about alternative therapies CANNOT now find reliable information about them if they hunt around.

Of course, this may not apply to Conservative Secretaries of State for Health, or to members of the British Royal Family (Warning – links to the Daily Mail). But then again, those people pay a lot of money to be permanently surrounded by people whose job it is to agree with them, no matter how idiotic, evidence-free or nonsensical the view expressed is.

Anyway, these days, it takes a really ‘out there’ Alternative Therapy story to make me sit up and take notice.  I thought I’d seen it all.

So what has picqued my attention this week? Well, it is this terrifying story, which was re-tweeted by Frank Swain, aka The Sciencepunk, who BTW is now a published author.

If you’ve not seen the thread, which is from a ‘natural treatments for skin cancer’ forum , you will be quite unable to do so without gasping. That was certainly my reaction.

I am utterly, utterly unable to fathom what would make someone do this to themselves – in essence, give yourself a completely uncontrolled chemical burn in the middle of your face  It is so wrong, on all sorts of levels, that to list them would take pages.

Perhaps the scariest thing of all is the people on the forum offering advice and encouraging the person to keep on going. At a scan down the thread, I couldn’t find a single person saying ‘Run, don’t walk, to a conventional dermatologist’ – not even once it became abundantly clear that the treatment was burning a big hole in the patient’s nose.

Anyway, I feel very sorry for the person at the centre of it all. Hopefully she will stay cancer-free, and the reconstructive surgery to rebuild her nose will be a success. But I am still left with that question:

What, for goodness sake, would leave you so phobic about mainstream medicine that you would go, instead, for giving yourself a serious chemical burn across the middle of your face?  When the conventional treatment would be minor surgery designed very specifically to remove the least possible tissue?

Answers on a postcard, please.

And coming back to an earlier point about ‘finding information’, the patient refers a few times on the thread to ‘doing my research’ on the alternative treatment. Which again is one of these phrases that I cannot compute.

Research?  Really?


In some ways I’m amazed people are allowed to sell products that do stuff like this, even over the internet.

Anyway – perhaps blogs explaining basic science-y stuff, like that a chemical burn can just as easily come from chemicals from plants as from ‘petrochemical products’, are still needed after all.