The danger of false beliefs

A few months ago Wendy Pollack went to cause harm to people in Tanzania by providing them with false hope. She led sick people – specifically those with HIV – to believe that unproven and even blatantly discredited ‘medicine’ could help them become healthier. It was an awful tragedy and we can all be thankful that she has finally left Africa all together. She still practices her form of harm in America, but she at least faces some regulations here. (A complete outlawing of her shenanigans would be preferable.) It is easier to combat the misinformation of chiropractors and other sham-practitioners in a developed nation, even if they still manage to cause damage. Unfortunately, places like Tanzania do not have the institutions or medical infrastructure to implement procedures to protect its people, so even with people like Pollack safely thousands of miles away, alternative medicine practices still run rampant:

Hundreds of albinos are thought to have been killed for black magic purposes in Tanzania and albino girls are being raped because of a belief they offer a cure for AIDS, a Canadian rights group said on Thursday.

At least 63 albinos, including children, are known to have been killed, mostly in the remote northwest of the country.

“We believe there are hundreds and hundreds of killings in Tanzania, but only a small number are being reported to the police,” Peter Ash, founder and director of Under The Same Sun (UTSS), told Reuters.

This is a tragedy exactly along the same lines as what the entire alt-med crowd does. These random and inane – and often dangerous – faith-based ideas take off within a certain population and real human lives are put at risk. There is no evidence to back up any of these stupid and harmful beliefs, but evidence matters less and less as people get sicker and sicker. That’s one reason homeopaths are so successful in ripping people off.

What is happening in Tanzania right now rises to a level slightly above what most alt-med people do, but it really isn’t that far and away different. Remember Lawrence Stowe? He bankrupted sick people, drawing them away from real treatment. Many of those people died as a result of his actions – and he knew they would. Even where the people were terminal and could not be cured, he hastened death and increased pain. It’s standard practice for the alt-med crowd and I see no difference between that and what’s going on in Tanzania right now.

Christopher Maloney wants to appear on FTSOS

That’s the only reasonable conclusion. After all, I have explicitly told him if shuts up, slinks away, only hurts people in silence, then I won’t be forced to post about him. But not only can he not do any of these things, he has to even make sure he directly references me.

Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor said…
Dear Wendy Pollack,

Terribly sorry to see that you’ve been Pharyngulaed by the esteemed PZ Myers (made himself famous by destroying the Catholic host) and his zombie horde.

Having had them attack me, I can say with complete sincerity that they haven’t an open mind among them.

One local follower had the gall to compare his own sightseeing tour of Tanzania with your humanitarian work, as if he contributed anything to anyone while he was there.

Keep up the great work!

At least he used the qualifier “naturopathic” so as not to fool anyone into thinking he was actually useful for doing anything medically meaningful.

But let’s get to the bulk of the post. Maloney is writing to Wendy Pollack, a quack who is bringing woo to Tanzania. As with most woo artists, she wants to hide from criticism. Maloney did the same thing by sending PZ a cease and desist notice. (That notice becomes all the more hilarious given that Maloney is the one that keeps talking about PZ; the quack brings it on himself.) It isn’t surprising that one outed quack would feel bad for a fellow outed quack. And at this point, I can’t say the continued lying is surprising either. Notice where Maloney says the local follower (that’s me!) compared Pollack’s “humanitarian” efforts to sightseeing. Here is what I actually said:

The area [Pollack] will specifically be visiting is the Kilimanjaro region. I’ve been all through it. It’s composed of rampant poverty. The medical “facilities” consist of small shacks of basic medicine, most of which can be found in the first half of aisle 14 at your local Rite-Aid. I made sure to purchase evacuation insurance before departing because I wasn’t about to find my way into a Tanzanian hospital if anything happened; I never needed it, but seeing that part of the country only confirmed that I had made a good purchase.

I didn’t compare Pollack’s “humanitarian” efforts to the sightseeing I did. The amazing group and amazing guides and amazing porters I had were far too good for me to compare to trash like her.

No, the point is obvious: Tanzania is desperately poor and desperately needs medical help. Real medical help. I doubt Pollack has any idea just how bad it is there. Hell, until I live in squalor and abject poverty and see members of my family die at age 50, there is no way I can really grasp the situation. But to tease the Tanzanian people with woo? To taunt them with pure fucking quackery? I fully grasp what an awful, awful person it takes to do something like that.

Anyway. Let me say it again because honestly – honestly, honestly – I hate making these posts: If Maloney ever wants to regain his web presence so that he may once again better give people fake medicine, he has to stop practically contacting me. Don’t give me a reason to post.

Update: I almost forgot. PZ’s fame comes from his flowing beard, not the cracker incident.

Wendy Pollack the liar

I wrote about a quack by the name of Wendy Pollack almost two weeks ago. She has gone over to Tanzania in order to tell people with serious illnesses lies about the efficacy of homeopathic ‘medicine’. She is going to do no good.

But I wasn’t the only one who mentioned this quack. PZ made a post about her first. This resulted in a number of people going to her website and leaving comments. To my surprise, at least on one of her posts, many of the Pharyngulites were generally, dare I say…respectful. (Or at least as respectful as those of us on the side of science can be when faced with blatant anti-science nonsense.) Most granted that Pollack had good intentions – and I’m positive she does – but they all lamented the fact that she wasn’t going to help anyone. If anything, her presence will cause harm because people will believe they’ve actually been helped; good feelings are nice, but they’ve never cured HIV. One person even offered directions on how to contribute to people using real medicine. (Go here for a version of that post.)

But Pollack is a quack. And as any regular FTSOS reader knows all too well, alt-med quacks aren’t especially interested in open discussion. Take a look at the comment section of one of Pollack’s posts. Currently there are 4 comments. There used to be at least 20. The quack went through and deleted every bit of criticism (including the directions on how to make worthwhile contributions). Anything pro-malarkey, however, was left. Take a look at this post:

Gail said…
The human body and spirit has a remarkable ability to heal itself.Homeopathic meds facilitate this. I have first hand experience of being cured twice from conditions that conventional meds could not cure. In one I suffered for over 20 years & it was cured in days.As for the naysayers on this blog,don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.

February 8, 2011 6:59 AM

Strange how someone would mention “naysayers” on a blog that doesn’t feature an ounce of criticism, no?

But maybe that isn’t good enough. After all, this is just based upon what I’m claiming to remember combined with some circumstantial evidence from a random person on the Internet. I could just be making it up, really. And I would agree with you. I need better evidence than just my word and plausibility. I need something like Google cache.

Gabe Ortiz said…
If you would research homeopathy with a truly open mind, you would understand that it does not work. A homeopath nearly killed my sister by treating her with ineffective, useless fake medicine when she needed real medical attention. This is exactly what you will be doing to these poor people. Your misguided intent WILL kill people, and you will have to live with that for the rest of your life. Please, reconsider.

February 2, 2011 9:00 AM

and

laura said…
I know you believe in what you do,but there is no evidence that homeopathy works.

One day,you will realise this,and you conscience will weigh very heavily on you. i feel sorry for you,i would not like to look back on my life and see how much harm i had caused others by my unsubstantiated beliefs …sad

February 2, 2011 2:14 PM

and

Just zis Guy, you know? said…
Hey, homeopaths for health! So, are you pooling your takings from peddling psychotherapy to the credulous and sending some doctors down there? Oh, no, wait, you’re going on a jolly and handing out sugar pills to sick people. Well that’s a bit of a bummer for them, still, I am sure you will show real empathy when they die of medically preventable (but homeopathically unpreventable) diseases like cholera, typhoid and malaria.

February 2, 2011 3:49 PM

Do your own Google search to find the cached pages and compare them to Pollack’s scrubbed versions. It’s almost fun to see how poorly these types of people react when challenged.

But I guess I’m not surprised that a quack would try and destroy the criticism on her site. I’m just frightened to know the other facts she’s going to try and hide while she’s “treating” people over in Tanzania.

Wendy Pollack will hurt Tanzania

As regular FTSOS readers know, I visited Tanzania last year. It was an amazing experience filled with amazing people, both in my hiking group up Kilimanjaro and in the citizens I met. I can have nothing but goodwill for everyone I was fortunate enough to encounter. That’s why I find a Maine-based homeopathy group so distressing.

Homeopathy for Health in Africa is affiliated with Homeopaths Without Borders. The Mission of Homeopathy for Health in Africa: To relieve the suffering of as many HIV/AIDS patients as possible using classical homeopathy.

The leader of the group is Wendy Pollack, holder of a quacking chiropractic license in Maine. The area she will specifically be visiting is the Kilimanjaro region. I’ve been all through it. It’s composed of rampant poverty. The medical “facilities” consist of small shacks of basic medicine, most of which can be found in the first half of aisle 14 at your local Rite-Aid. I made sure to purchase evacuation insurance before departing because I wasn’t about to find my way into a Tanzanian hospital if anything happened; I never needed it, but seeing that part of the country only confirmed that I had made a good purchase.

All Pollack and her gang of anti-science quacks are going to achieve is the raising of ignorant hopes. It’s deplorable and horribly saddening. A whole bunch of very poor, very needy people are about to get a false helping hand.

I’ve been considering making a post or two describing how best to save money, which company to use, etc, when going to Kilimanjaro. I think I’ll wait until Pollack has left.