Plants make chemicals too.

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.


11 Responses to “Plants make chemicals too.”

  1. Cybertiger Says:

    Oh God, Drippy’s back!

  2. draust Says:

    Goodness me, Shabby, that was quick.

    Have you been missing me?

  3. Mark Struthers Says:

    Of course, I’ve missed your drippieness, draust! I thought you’d retired and gone to heaven … or that other place.

  4. David Kroll Says:

    Welcome back, mate! And with an incredibly stomach-turning post at that. Those photographs were stunning — I share your disbelief that the person would continue to do this to herself. dgt10 is a particularly dangerous and misled individual.

    On a lighter note, I also find myself using Twitter much more for posts I would normally put up on my blog, particularly when pointing readers to a paper or news article.

    I hope all is well with you, the family, and the laboratory. Take care!

  5. Lee Turnpenny Says:

    ‘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.’

    But what of the big apathetic pool, which unquestionably tolerates the devotion of CAM acolytes to their seemingly burgeoning cult? Or the advertising, as being exposed by The Nightingale Collaboration? And then there’s the instances of infiltration of the scientific literature…

    Plenty of
    reasons for chipping away… as time and circumstances allow (not always easy, I know).

  6. Cybertiger Says:

    I read this paper recently:

    … and thought of you.

  7. Diego Fox Says:

    Welcome back.

  8. Dr Aust Says:

    Thanks guys.

    Sorry for the slow comment approval/reply. Currently almost beyond the reach of the Internetz (transl: in a place too far from a telephone exchange to have wired broadband up the old copper wires), so I have to use a very intermittent mobile connection. Used to be able to drive a couple of miles down to the local town hall and sit on a bench outside to pick up their WiFi network, but they’ve put some security on it now.

    @David Kroll

    Cheers – yes, some of the people on that forum are really scary.

    The particular one you mention reminds me forcefully of the worst of the alternative ‘practitioners’ – simultaneously (assumed) authoritarian and dangerously deluded, but obviously skilled at playing on the standard fears that lead people to the Alt.Med-iverse.

    Another thing that gets me is that one of the ingredients of the concoction appears to be Zinc Chloride, which isn’t even a plant-derived ‘natural product. Imagine if a conventional doctor told the patient they were going to ‘chemically peel’ their pre-lesion using Zinc Chloride. But somehow, just ‘wrapping up’ the chemical in a kind of blanket of pseudo-natural flim-flam persuades people to suspend all their critical faculties. That was why the comment about ‘doing my research’ made my head spin so much.

    Wasn’t it 50 mM Zinc Chloride that caused all those people who used the supposedly homeopathic nasal spray to end up with anosmia a few years ago, BTW? I’ve used ZnCl2 in experiments on occasion to inhibit Calcium channels, and I certainly wouldn’t want to spray it randomly up my nose, or rub it into my skin together with some other chemical irritants.

    The whole history is really sad – and tragically ironic – in all sorts of ways. One thing that comes over strongly is how convinced people in the US who lean towards Alt.Med are that all conventional docs are primarily interested in overcharging and bilking them. The real eye-roller in that respect is the patient initially worries about the minimal guided excision by the dermatologist – presumably not all that expensive, and covered on most or all types of health insurance – but then ends up having to have elaborate (and presumably far more expensive) nasal reconstructive surgery. Apart from the cost of the latter being way more, you can imagine it quite possibly NOT being covered by a health insurer since the need for it was clearly a consequence of the decision to use the ‘black salve’, i.e. the patient’s own very unwise choice. I don’t know exactly how stuff like that works under insurance systems, but presumably it is a potential issue.

    @ Lee T:

    Good points. The Nightingale gang are doing an excellent job. Though I doubt that curtailing the false advertising will stamp out the nonsense, there is no reason it should get such a free ride and be able to mislead people so thoroughly.

  9. Sceric Says:

    He’s back…as scary as I think those people are and I agree that one needs to be there for the “un-decided” I still prefer to do my convincing on a private level…I probably reach less people, but the interaction is more direct (and I hope efficient) due to being tailored to the recipient…oh, and it avoids most trolls (besides the ones from family)…

  10. Diego Fox Says:

    Hi Dr Aust, Hope you see this message. It’s been far too long since you blogged. I had a rather unpleasant comment on my blog today that looked in the style of your old friend Cybertiger, AKA Mark Struthers. You may know this already but a web search has revealed that it can not be him. Just three weeks after your post above Dr Struthers’ body was found in some woods. Haven’t been able to find cause of death but probably suicide.

  11. draust Says:

    Hi Dr Z – just back here checking the site after an extended break. Yes, I had heard the news about him via the Internet not long after it happened, and reached the same conclusion as you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: