The Dangers of Magical Thinking

Homoeopathy, Acupuncture, Herbalism, Chelation Therapy, Ear Candling, and all of the other alternative medical treatments have two things in common. One: they don’t work and two: they increase distrust in modern medicine. This distrust can lead to some bizarre consequences as shown in this story from Wales.

The Old Castell, Cwmduad

Reginald and Leila Gill of Cwmduad, Carmarthenshire attended a “health fayre” where they recruited patients with claims of their ‘ozone treatment’ at their home-based homoeopathic clinic.

At Swansea Crown Court, Gill, 77, was jailed for eight years for crimes the judge described as “despicable”.

His wife, 35, was jailed for six months.

Judge Keith Thomas told Gill: “Women came to your house for medical treatment after they lost faith in the NHS.

“They came with an open mind and you took advantage of this.

“You told them they had cancer and they said they were prepared to go through any humiliation and shame to cure themselves.”

After submitting them to “degrading treatment,” the judge said Gill “also convinced your wife to go along with your depraved scheme”.

He added: “You convinced the women to strip naked in front of you and, under the pretence that you were administering beneficial treatment, you subjected them to sexual assault.”

Gill claimed he had been an army doctor, while in reality he had been a cook and had no medical training at all.

Mr Gill told one woman that she had cancer but boasted that he could cure it within two days.

Gill, assisted by his wife, examined the women without gloves and used an electric shock machine on them.

But genuine doctors later found that neither of the women – who cannot be named for legal reasons – actually had cancer.

This case demonstrates that alt-med practitioners are not beyond the reach of the law. So far, practitioners have not been held accountable for their mistreatment of patients, and lobbyists have been very successful in preventing governmental scrutiny of their products and treatments. The type of magical thinking that lies behind most of these treatments implies that illness is essentially the fault of the patient as is the lack of a cure. Thus, lawsuits are rare, as patients tend to blame themselves when treatments fail. In fact, it is often the alt-med practitioners who use lawsuits to silence their critics.

It is easy to blame these women for being gullible, and the Gills for being predators, but also at fault are the proponents of magical thinking in all its forms.

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9 Responses to The Dangers of Magical Thinking

  1. thejypsy says:

    Chelation therapy isn’t an “alternative medical treatments”, it is a true medical procedure for heavy metal intoxication, removing lead, mercury and arsenic from the body. However, chelation therapy used to treat autism, heart disease and anything other than a true, reputable diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity (not Doctors Data type labs or those who use provoked tests to claim high metal levels) is indeed an “alternative medical treatments”, one that has killed, more than once.

    • Thanks – I tend to include chelation therapy in discussions of quackery because the appropriate use is so rarely required. Most of the references you find the totally inappropriate ones.

  2. Are you also known as “The Sensuous Curmudgeon?” I never did ear candling, but I know it works for many with ear wax problems. It’s works by creating a vacuum–not magic. You believe evolution can create all sorts of miracles, but dismiss things you are ignorant about or don’t understand as being superstitious “magic.” The irony.

    • thejypsy says:

      “Since wax is sticky, the negative pressure needed to pull wax from the canal would have to be so powerful that it would rupture the eardrum in the process. However, candling produces no vacuum. Researchers who measured the pressure during candling of ear models found that no negative pressure was created. The same investigators candled eight ears and found that no ear wax was removed and candle wax was actually deposited in some of them! [3]” http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/candling.html

    • I don’t “believe evolution can create all sorts of miracles”. Evolution is the process, driven largely by natural selection that has resulted in the current life on his planet. It has been proven by many years of research. There is no comparison whatsoever to ear candling or any other form of pseudoscience.

      • Many with severe earwax problems have benefited–either you have obstructive earwax or you don’t. There’s no “placebo effect” that you can get out of this. And the earwax accumulates inside the ear candle which can be observed. It’s not a magic trick, it’s not fairy dust–it’s ear wax.

      • There is absolutely no evidence that ear candling provides any benefits at all. There is, however, evidence of the dangers in the procedure. Places such as the Mayo Clinic, the USFDA, WebMD, and Health Canada all recommend against ear candling. In fact Health Canada has declared these to be illegal in Canada.

        You will need to provide very, very strong evidence to the contrary to demonstrate safety and effectiveness for ear candles.

      • Wow those articles really went heavy on the scare tactics. :)

      • Like I said, ear candling is dangerous magical thinking.

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