Archive February 2010

today’s big earthquake in chile Alison Campbell Feb 28

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Friends rang us in great excitement this morning to ask if we were following the news about the big earthquake in Chile, and of tsunami alerts that had been issued for coastal areas around NZ. (The answer was actually ‘no’; I’d just got in from a walk with the puppy & hadn’t turned the radio on.)

Anyway, the Science Media Centre has some very good commentary & resources centred on this seismic event, & I thought that those teachers with students who’ll be working on ‘Planet Earth’ standards this year might find them extremely useful. There’s a media briefing here, and a post by Peter Griffin, that includes a presentation by Victoria University’s Dr John Townsend, here.

Big quakes are not uncommon in Chile, given that it sits above the boundary of two big tectonic plates. Charles Darwin wrote about the aftermath of one such event in his Beagle diary, and it’s still worth a read today. He also complained, in a letter to his sister Catherine, about how he’d experienced ‘just’ one little earthquake himself – he almost sounds disappointed! Those looking for some other reading material might enjoy Perils of a restless planet by Ernest Zebrowski. I found it fascinating, although my Significant Other laments that there a are no colour pictures (hardly surprising when you consider that the book covers past events, some of which occurred well & truly before cameras were invented, much less colour film!)

the oversized naughty bits of female spotted hyenas Alison Campbell Feb 24

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When I visited Pharyngula today I saw that PZ had posted a video about spotted hyenas. Female spotted hyenas. And that reminded me of one of the late Stephen Jay Gould’s wonderful essays on the same subject. (Gould remains one of my favourite science writers -although, having said that, I do find some of his later work rather overblown – and you can find examples of his work at The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive.)

If you watch that video you’ll find out that female spotted hyenas look rather like males, especially when they’re aroused. They have a greatly enlarged clitoris that looks just like a penis. (Apparently early European observers didn’t recognise them as female at all.) The females are also large, heavily muscled, highly aggressive & dominant over any males they encounter. A group of spotted hyenas consists largely of females, with a few males hanging around at the periphery. The clan leader is the dominant female, who will pass on her rank to her pups. Females lead the hunt, & once the prey’s been caught, it’s the females who eat first. Social interactions involve much sniffing – and licking – of the dangling appendages.

All of this - the size, aggression, dominance & enormous clitoris - can be put down to the fact that hyenas are exposed to very high levels of testosterone while in the womb. The clitoral enlargement may be a secondary side effect; the heavily muscled bodies & bone-crushing jaws that result from the high doses of testosterone could well have been selected for, carrying the clitoris along with them. (I have to object to the slant – & the possible explanations – put on this by the video’s narrator, who asks why the females ‘put themselves through this’ – of course, they don’t! What we see is the outcome of a long series of selecction events over thousands of years, not a process driven by the needs or desires of female hyenas.) Giving artifically-high doses of testosterone to pre-natal rat & dog female foetuses has the same masculinising effect: larger size & muscle mass, higher aggression – & external genitals that look like those of the males.

The female hyena’s masculine appearance doesn’t stop at the faux penis: at the base of this structure she has a swollen ‘scrotal’ sac filled with fat. The apparent penis incorporates not only the clitoris but also the joined labia – and this has what must be an extremely painful consequence for all female spotteds: they urinate, mate, & give birth through a single small opening on the underside of this structure. I remember my eyes watering when I first read Gould’s essay, & they watered again on seeing this video! Apparently up to 20% of females die giving birth to their first pups – this also suggests that there’s some strong adaptive significance to the high levels of testosterone that produced the apparently maladaptive clitoris in the first place.

And the effects of the testosterone exposure extend to the behaviour of the pups themselves. These are no blind, helpless, mewling little softies. Spotted hyena pups come into the world with their eyes open, teeth in their jaws, & a heap of aggression of their own, sorting out their own dominance hierarchy by fighting. Apparently, while they don’t often kill their sibling directly, the subordinate is so scared of the dominant pup that it hides away in the birth tunnel (taken over from other burrowing animals), too scared to approach its mother to feed while the other pup is present – and eventually starves to death.

Disney Planet this isn’t.

how i became a science teacher Alison Campbell Feb 20

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I’ve been reflecting on my teaching career lately, partly because I have to write a teaching portfolio. It occurred to me that talking about how I came to be where I am now might perhaps be interesting to some of you who are thinking about your future. In my experience, at least, things don’t always go according to plan :-) & it pays to be flexible.

With both parents working in science-related fields (mum a biology teacher, dad a technical officer for a government department) I suppose at least one of we four children was always going to be a scientist. By the time I was 7 or 8, I’d decided to be a doctor. I read mum’s biology books (well, OK, I looked at the pictures) & thought, as probably most kids who contemplate a career in medicine do, how neat it would be having a job helping people get well. A bit later on, though – maybe after mum showed me a dissection – it struck me that while it while it was probably fairly straightforward to open somebody up, putting everything back together so that it was still all in working order was a big ask. I crossed medicine off the list.

I studied the the sciences at school (and maths, & languages & geography up till the end of 5th form [year 11]), but didn’t really focus on a career until – I think – the beginning of year 13. With mum as my example, I decided on teaching (she’d moved into a teaching career relatively late in life). Way back then the government provided studentships to aspiring teachers: you got a rather decent monthly allowance for the duration of your studies, & in return you were expected to take up a teaching job at the end of your time at university. After an interview, I was awarded a studentship & trotted off to Massey to study biology.

Things began to unravel at the edges when I was invited to study for Honours, at the end of my 2nd year at Massey. This meant a further 2 years of study, which the Ministry of Education (who held my purse-strings) was quite happy with. But part of the final Hons year is your dissertation, where you spend a reasonable amount of time on a research study. I chose to look at mallard ducks – their behaviour was pretty well-described, but I wanted to know if there were any differences between the behaviour of mallards on the local lake (Centennial Lagoon) and a smaller population on a country pond. (There were.) I quite liked doing the research, & towards the end of that year I was asked if I’d like to work towards a PhD. Hmmm, teaching or study, study or teaching?

Study won out, & I went on to spend a further 3 years or so looking at the behaviour of black swans on a Manawatu dune lake. Mind you, I was also ‘teaching’ in the sense of demonstrating in undergraduate lab classes, but teaching as a career seemed a bit more distant. However, when I graduated I wasn’t immediately able to get into any research positions, and without that happening we weren’t going to leave Palmerston North as my husband had a secure & stimulating job there. So I applied for – and won! – a position as ‘assistant biology teacher’ at Palmerston North Girls’ High, & that was it. I was totally hooked on teaching. (I still am.) I loved, & love, the interactions with students, & also I get a real buzz from those times when you see something ‘click’ with a student.

(At this point I have to say that I really do think that good teachers are born as well as made. I took 4 extramural papers at ‘TColl’ while I was teaching, and after passing them & putting in another couple of years in the classroom I received my Trained Teachers Certificate. But still, a lot of what ‘worked’ for me in the classroom still seems to me to be instinctive.)

Anyway, after 8 years in secondary classrooms (& with our family expanded to include our 2 children), I ended up going back to Massey as a senior tutor. And I’ve remained in tertiary classrooms ever since. I have to say, I think I’m really lucky to have that secondary teacher training & experience – it’s given me an insight into the prior learning experiences of new students coming into my first-year lectures & lab classes. At the same time, the things I do with & for secondary teachers helps me to understand the classroom practices & processes that work for them & with which ‘my’ students will be familiar with when they join me at Waikato. And it’s also what got me into writing this blog – it’s a way of giving something back to those teachers, maybe encouraging their students to think more critically & read more deeply in the scientific literature, and hopefully helping to inspire their own journeys in science.

Because it is an ongoing journey, & I think that’s something you shouldn’t lose sight of – that you may end up in unexpected places in your passage through life :-)

$60 a time Alison Campbell Feb 20

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In the Dean’s office we’ve spent the last few weeks working on enrolments. As always, there’ve been students who – for whatever reason – haven’t met our re-entry requirements, & so the registrar & I have to interview them before admission. And as always, there’s a subgroup of those students who attribute their poor results last year to having too active a social life…

funny graphs and charts

OK, so far no-one’s mentioned s*x, but a busy social life certainly can certainly have an impact on study – less time for homework, & if you have a few too many late nights you’ll probably end up sleeping too long & missing lectures. (And as I think I’ve said before, your university lecturers probably won’t nag you about it – & the office certainly won’t phone home!)

One rueful young man told me he wouldn’t be missing classes again. "I’ve worked it out," he said; "you’re paying about $60 a lecture in fees & that’s a lot of money to throw away." Now, that puts it in perspective! And someone I don’t think he’ll be back in my office for this again :-)

meta-analyses – testing relationships Alison Campbell Feb 16

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One of the nice things about working at a university is that there is almost always an interesting talk to go to (supposing you have the time…). Yesterday I managed to go to a fascinating discussion of the use of meta-analyses by a Waikato graduate, Shinichi Nakagawa. (I suspect that Grant knows much more about this technique than I do, but Shinichi’s talk was very post-provoking.)

Shinichi began his studies here a year or so after I joined the University staff. He was invited to do a BSc(Hons), something reserved for the really able students, & it’s a sign of the quality of his research project (on zebra finches) that he’s since published five papers from it. After gaining his PhD at a UK university, Shinichi’s come back to New Zealand to work at the Universit of Otago. Over the last few years he’s begun to use meta-analyses more & more to identify relationships (or the lack of them) between data sets, & this particular research tool & its applications were the subject of his enthusiastic presentation. (He recommended Morton Hunt’s 1997 book How science takes stock: the story of metanalysis as an excellent introduction to the area, written by a journalist for a lay audience.)

I’ve referred to meta-analyses myself, from time to time. The Cochrane Collaboration, for example, makes use of them in examining the (claims for) efficacy of various medical treatments. Essentially the technique involves combining the data from a range of studies (allowing for sample sizes & so on), producing summary results that may allow recognition of a statistically significant pattern in the data. (It may equally show that there’s no real relationship between a set of factors, as Shinichi noted. Alternative treatment modalities such as acupuncture & homeopathy, for example, have been shown to perform no better than placebo as an outcome of  meta-analyses.) The larger sample size afforded by a meta-analysis allows greater confidence about the results.

The technique does have its disadvantages: you could be accused of comparing apples with oranges, for example, although this could be overcome by proper selection of the studies for inclusion in the analysis. There’s perhaps a greater problem (Shinichi described it as the ‘file drawer’ problem) whereby studies with a non-significant result are less likely to be published, thus biasing the pool of studies available for inclusion in a meta-analysis. Shinichi described how he’d had difficulty publishing a paper on sparrow parental care because it had a negative result. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, & a fairly large proportion of experiments would come up with such an outcome, but unfortunately this doesn’t make good headlines:-) And the editorial attitude described here both skews publications in a particular direction & also skews public perceptions of how science is done.

We then heard about a few research areas where meta-analysis had been applied to a large body of data to test prevailing views. Should we take antioxidant supplements, for example? Not according to a 2007 study, that found an increased mortality rate associated with their use. While this particular study had its critics, a paper published last year in Nature found evidence that antioxidants can actually help cancerous cells to grow. (Mind you, there is a need for caution in interpreting studies like this last one, given that it was done on cancer cells in vitro – there needs to be a fair bit of follow-up work to see if this holds true in the body.)

The final example in Shinichi’s talk looked at the widespread view that a restricted calorie intake can prolong life. (Obviously there would be limits to this one & it’s not a case of living longer & longer on less & less. Eventually there’d be a point in which the lifespan was shortened rather abruptly. And terminally.  Rather like the work of Famine in the wonderful Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman.)

Anyway, individual studies of rats & monkeys, fruit flies & nematodes, & even yeast, seem to bear out this idea – it looks like a general biological phenomenon. Our speaker seems to enjoy doing meta-analyses – he commented that a preliminary review f the literature, & an introductory analysis, shows no conclusive evidence that calorie restriction has any positive effect on the length of life, not as a general principle. He found there was no consistency in the data for different species. In the discussion at the end, someone pointed out that almost all the work in the area of dietary restriction’s been done in lab-bred animals, and might not reflect what happens in ‘wild-type’ individuals. And it’s more important to look at the carbohydrate/protein balance in the diet, rather than the overall reduction in calories.

And, of course, the sting in the tail – from an evolutionary point of view, if you don’t produce fertile offspring & thus pass on your genes, the length of life is actually irrelevant. If you lived to 120, but left no fertile children, you’d be an evolutionary non-event…

an update on facilitated communication Alison Campbell Feb 16

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A while ago now I wrote about Rom Houben, who’d been in a vegetative state for 23 years but who, it was claimed, was really conscious inside an immobile body & now able to communicate via something known as ‘facilitated communication’. I and many others were sceptical of this claim – it looked too much as if the ‘facilitator’ was controlling what was going on. (That’s not to say they didn’t genuinely believe that they were assisting Mr Houben to communicate.) And there were simple ways to test this, which at the time the lead researcher in the case seemed to feel unnecessary.

Now Steve Novella reports that such a test has been done. Mr Houben was shown several objects while the ‘facilitator’ was out of the room, & subsequently asked to name them with her assistance. He got none of them right. Not one. This very strongly suggests that the facilitator, consciously or otherwise, was imposing her own words & understandings on Mr Houben, and supports Dr Novella’s characterisation of ‘facilitated communication’ as a pseudoscience. (My fellow Sciblogger Darcy Cowan has also posted something about this.)

I feel intensely sorry for Mr Houben & his family in all this. If Mr Houben really does suffer from ‘locked-in syndrome’ (one possible diagnosis), then imagine how that must be for him, day after day. And imagine how profoundly frustrated you would be, in that context, if some well-intentioned person began claiming to help you to ‘speak’ – and got it all wrong. And his family – his mother had insisted for years that her son really was alert inside his unresponsive body. To be told that he was, to have him ‘speak’ to her, and then to have all that taken away by the lead researcher’s admission that he’d got it all wrong – to me this is indescribably sad.

It also saddens me that people will continue to cling to the hope – exemplified by one of the commenters on Dr Novella’s post – that facilitated communication really does offer the chance of communicating with people who are otherwise cut off from their loved ones (eg children – & adults – with severe autism). But, as the Houben case shows, the words will be those of the facilitator, regardless of their beliefs or intent. (And in case you think I’m being too harsh here, the Houben case is not the only one where the idea of facilitated communication has been shown to be false.)

armed and dangerous… Alison Campbell Feb 13

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… the intriguing title of a brief news item in the latest edition of Science. The story (anon, 2010) outlines some of the most serious plant & fungal threats to agricultural production. One of them is the potato blight fungus, Phytophthora infestans. The leaves & stems of an infected plant blacken & fall, & the tubers themselves basically turn to mush:

Potato blight

I mention potato blight in my first-year lectures, when I talk about the impact of plants on human history. The organism causing potato blight is infamous for its role in the great potato famine in Ireland, which ran from 1845 to 1851.  On a global scale it’s probably still the most significant threat to potato crops: In developing countries P. infestans causes crop losses worth around $US2.75 billion every year (Anon. 2010).

Potatoes have been cultivated in South America for thousands of years, and were introduced to Spain in 1570, following the Spanish conquistadores’ arrival in Peru. The humble spud slowly spread through the fields & gardens of Europe & reached Ireland by the 1600s. Perhaps surprisingly, potatoes were often greeted with suspicion; Russian peasants, for example, viewed them as sent by the devil. It took a while for the idea of actually eating them, rather than tearing them up or feeding them to animals, to sink in.

Once this had happened, food production increased & this in turn meant that human populations also began to rise. This can be seen to greatest effect in Ireland: between 1780 & 1841 the Irish population went from 4 to 8 million people, based almost entirely on the widespread cultivation & consumption of the humble spud, which with milk or water was the dietary staple of most Irish peasants. Apparently a working man might eat 5-6kg of potatoes a day. (This should all be put in its social context, which you can read about here.)

Phytophthera infestans apparently arrived in Ireland in September 1845, blown across from fields in England, or in ships from the American colonies. The Irish potato crop failed in a matter of weeks, leading to widespread famine among the peasantry. (The UK wasn’t affected as badly because people were not so heavily reliant on a single food crop.) Unbelievably, at the same time as people were starving, Irish cereal crops (wheat, barley & oats) were being exported to England…

With nothing else to eat (the price of cereals was out of the reach of your average peasant, & efforts by the British government to supply corn at the beginning of the famine were fairly ineffective), people turned to eating turnips, weeds, seaweed, even grass. Death rates soared, although at least as many people died of infectious diseases (typhus, disentery etc) as from starvation. Understandably, many peasant farmers could no longer pay their rent, & there were wholesale evictions; many of those who were turned off the land ended up being transshipped to Canada & the US. Eyewitness accounts of the time make harrowing reading. The combination of migration and deaths due to starvation & disease saw the Irish population plummet: somewhere between 500,000 & 1.5 million died, and more than 1,000,000 people emigrated, during & immediately after the famine. Even after it was over the population continued to fall, getting down to about 4 million by 1911.

There’s a lesson for us all in the story of the Irish potato famine. Just 15 crop plants provide about 90% of the world’s food energy intake, with three of them (rice, maize & wheat) making up 2/3 of this. These three crops are the staple foods for more than 4 billion people. And as the story in Science shows, P.infestans & other biological threats to our food security are still with us.

Anon. (2010) Armed and dangerous. Science 327(5967): 804-805 DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5967.804

happy darwin day! Alison Campbell Feb 12

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And for a bit of vaguely scientific fun, you might like to try ‘devolving’ yourself here (found this one via a commenter on the Young Australian Skeptics – whence also came the image above).

breadth vs depth Alison Campbell Feb 11

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One of the conflicts faced by probably every classroom teacher is the one between the amount of material one has to teach (& the students to learn about) and the time available. I face it myself: huge (though also very good) textbook, requests from my colleagues to make sure that the first-year course adequately prepares students to take second-year papers, students coming in with a range of backgrounds & prior experiences of biology – & a 12-week semester in which to accommodate it all. Reflecting on my teaching practice over the last several years in our A semester intro bio paper, I think I probably teach less content, less detail, than when I started in this particular paper, but have more of a focus on identifying (& dealing in depth with) big, or key, ideas. As you’ve probably guessed from my posts, I encourage my students to think critically about what they’re learning, and to gain an understanding of how those ideas & concepts relate to each other. And of course I’d like all my students to view science as fascinating, fun, useful, & relevant to them in their daily lives…

So of course I was interested in a paper by Marc Schwartz & his colleagues, entitled Depth versus breadth: how content coverage in high school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework. How would their findings relate to my own teaching approach? (And, is what I do in the classroom supported by empirical data, or is it a case of intuition & experience leading me up the garden path?) In a survey of 8310 students taking first-year biology, chemistry, & physics courses, the authors fround that students who said they’d spent at least a month studying at least one major topic in depth, while at high school, received higher grades in their university science classes than students who hadn’t done (or didn’t remember!) doing any in-depth work. Interesting! The team also looked at the outcomes for students who reported having broad high school classes that covered something on all major topics. The results here were equally interesting – these students didn’t seem to have any advantage over students who hadn’t ‘studied everything’ in physics & chemistry, & were at ‘a significant disadvantage in biology’.

Presumably students spending a month or so on a single topic can really come to a good understanding of the area, mastering key concepts & able to understand how it all fits together. Taking a ‘deep learning’ approach, in other words.  In classrooms where there’s a drive to cover everything, it could well be that many students cope with the huge volume of material by using learning approaches that could be called ‘shallow’ – rote learning techniques, for example, that don’t really aid a thorough understanding. (All this, of course, assumes that the tertiary assessment practices these students are encountering reward those taking the ‘deep’ learning approach to their studies…) And those with the learning skills developed by taking a deep learning approach to one topic can then apply those to the new material they learn in the following year, enhancing their learning outccomes there as well.

I guess my fondness for trying to focus on teaching methods that encourage ‘deep’ learning reflects my own philosophy that there is simply too much information potentially available. In ‘the old days’ it was probably quite possible to teach a subject such as any one of the sciences in fairly comprehensive breadth. But since then, particularly with the advent of modern technology, there’s been something of an explosion of knowledge. I know some of my students are quite daunted by the sheer size (& volume of content) of our textbook (the excellent Campbell [no relation!} & Reece). For me, & my colleagues in first-year biology, the question is, how to include it all? And,  should we cover it all? Schwartz et al quote another author as saying that '[to] be successful [in their learning], students need carefully structured experiences, scaffolded support from teachers, and opportunities for sustained engagement with the same set of ideas over extended periods of time." That ‘sustained engagement’ part is the tricky one, when you’re teaching a ‘service’ course that’s intended to prepare students for a range of paper options in their next year of study. I try to manage it by identifying common themes (eg the need for gas exchange, internal transport, energy) that apply across the living world, & tying things to those, so the themes recur even if the material attached to them is novel. But it’s a testing balancing act, nonetheless… Nice to know that at least one research paper suggests that I’m on the right track :-)

M.S.Schwartz, P.M.Sadler, G.Sonnert & R.H.Tai (2009) Depth versus breadth: how content coverage in high-school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework. Science Education 93: 798-826 doi 10.1002/sce.20328

but it does no harm… Alison Campbell Feb 09

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Over on Code for Life, Grant’s recently put up some posts concerning homeopathy (here & here, for example). He’s also suggested that homeopathic (& other) remedies should carry disclaimers to do with their active ingredients (or lack thereof) and what they can & can’t do.

Anyway, one of the common responses to articles critical of homeopathy & other ‘complementary & alternative medicines’** is that, even if they ‘work’ only via the placebo effect, at least they do no harm. I would argue that if the placebo effect masks an ongoing problem, then it is doing harm. And the same is true if patients are led to stop taking necessary medication. But – & I think more seriously – here’s an example where following a homeopathic prescription may do considerable damage: homeopathic vaccinations.

The article I’ve linked to (posted  by Peter Bowditch of, for purposes of serious critiquing) makes the following claim:

Homeopathic immunisation is effective against poliomyelitis, chickenpox, meningococcal disease, hepatitis (all types),Japanese encephalitis, Hib, influenza, measles, pneumococcal disease, cholera, smallpox, typhoid, typhus, whoopingcough, rubella, mumps, diphtheria, malaria, tetanus, yellow fever, dysentery, and many other epidemic diseases.

Well, they’re pretty safe in making this claim for smallpox as that’s been eradicated in the wild, but the rest are still with us in various parts of the world. These are pretty extraordinary claims for products that, by their very nature, usually contain no molecules whatsoever of their supposed active ingredients. Most of the diseases on that list can be fatal if left untreated, & can leave survivors with ongoing physical problems. So you’d expect to see some decent evidence that homeopathic ‘vaccines’ actually perform as claimed – good, solid evidence-based data on patient outcomes. Not vague statements that lack names, dates & other data, which is all the article provides. Yet hard evidence appears to be lacking.

Take influenza, for example. Here’s an evidence review from our Ministry of Health – a meta-analysis of a number of studies examining claims for a homeopathic ’remedy’ called oscillococcinum (made from the liver of a dead duck, by the way, although it’s so highly diluted that you would be hard-pressed to find any evidence at all of duck in your liquid or pills). Oscillococcinum is prescribed by many homeopaths as both a prophylactic & treatment  for flu. The Ministry’s evidence summary examined data from a systematic review & a total of 7 clinical trials (representing 3459 patients). Three of the trials (2265 patients) found that the oscillococcinum preparation did not prevent the flu. The other 4 trials looked at its efficacy in treating flu – oscillococcinum shortened the length of the illness by about 6 hours. In other words, this particular homeopathic remedy didn’t do what was claimed for it; it acted as neither vaccine nor treatment. (There did appear to be some reduction in severity of flu symptoms, but as such data tend to be self-reported it’s hard to be sure how much represented actual effect of the preparation & how much reflected patient expectations that they’d get better.)

But that’s just the flu – what about the other claims made in that article? Since they’re extremely vague, & cite no evidence whatsoever in their support, it’s rather difficult to judge. But a scirus search for published data on the claimed efficacy of homeopathic treatment during a a supposed polio ‘epidemic’ in Buenos Aires turned up nothing. And frankly, if the stuff was that good I’d expect to see hard evidence of that fact. Given the potential severity of polio, I’m sure doctors around the globe would love to have an addition to the treatments available to them. But then, it seems that most individuals affected by polio don’t progress to the severe paralytic form of the disease – so many of those Buenos Aires patients claimed as success stories for the homeopathic ‘vaccine’ may in fact have had the less severe infection, easily confused with the flu. With no actual data in the article, how can we tell?

So it’s hard to see how the claims made in the article for homeopathy’s ability to prevent serious, potentially lethal, infectious diseases can be supported. What’s more, I wonder how those claims can sit with any code of conduct for homeopaths. After all, the Society of Homeopaths in the UK has a code of ehtics which clearly states that no advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases. And another homeopathy site expressly states that TCAM practitioners are prohibited from… treating infectious, communicable diseases (which is pretty much everything on that list I cited). Where does the responsibility lie, if someone follows this advice, takes (for example) a malaria ‘vaccine‘, contracts the falciparum form of the disease, and dies?

PS CAM isn’t really the right term. If a treatment works, can be shown to work in a reliable manner, produces positive outcomes that can be confirmed by other workers in the field – then it’s medicine. If it doesn’t – whatever it is, medicine it’s not.

And Ben Goldacre has an excellent article on the subject here.

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