Regulations, awards, defending naturopathy, and more…

FSM News and Articles

How are vitamins and supplements regulated? SBS Insight discusses the supplements industry. Our president, Dr Ken Harvey, is in full swing challenging the lack of evidence and poor consumer protection in the industry.

Italo-Australian scientist Marcello Costa appointed “Cavaliere”In a blast from the past, ‘Il Globo‘ re-shared their story about FSM co-founder Marcello Costa, from 27 years ago. At the time Marcello had been appointed as a Knight of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy for his services to science. When I think of the work and achievements of Marcello, ‘merit’ is certainly the concept that comes to mind. From Wikipedia: “Costa’s application of a systematic approach to new methods has made the neuronal structure of the enteric nervous system one of the best understood parts of the nervous system in mammals.”

Marcello’s achievements are legion. He has written over 250 science papers, 72 reviews, and 2 books. His other achievements include:

  • 1988: Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
  • 1992: “Cavaliere della Repubblica Italiana” from the Italian Government.
  • 1994: Piedmontese of the Year.
  • 2001: Centenary Medal Australia.
  • 2004: Member of the Australian Academy of Brain Sciences.
  • 2006: Flinders 40th Anniversary Medal for services to the University.
  • 2008: “Unsung Hero of South Australian Science Communication” Award (jointly with Ian Gibbins).
  • 2008: Life Member of the Centre of Neuroscience at Flinders University.
  • 2010: Life Membership of the Australian Neuroscience Society.
  • 2012: Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor at Flinders University.
  • 2012: “Skeptics of the Year” by the Australian Skeptics (with other founders of FSM).
  • 2014: Australasian Neuroscience Society Medallion for “individuals who have provided outstanding service to the Society.”
  • 2015: Honorary Bragg Member of the Royal Institution of Australia (RIAus).
  • 2018: Federation of Neurogastroenterology and Motility (FNM) Societies Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his research and mentorship.

Firstly, I want to say, “Well done, Marcello!!” Secondly, I hope that this list gives some small idea of the expertise and hard work that the FSM founders put into their understanding of issues in science and health care.


TCM physician fined $3,000 after patient burned during treatment: Nowhere in the legal proceedings or recommendations to Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners does it appear to have been brought up that the practice in question lacks a good basis in evidence.

Wife of NRL star will charge parents $200 to attend ‘anti-vax’ workshops:The wife of a second prominent NRL player has now come forward to claim that there are many other wives and mothers in the sport who believe that vaccines are dangerous for their kids.

Vitamin K refusal by mother kills one-month-old daughter:  In 2011, a 33-day-old baby in Australia died from an enormous bleed in her brain due to Vitamin K deficiency. When she was born, her parents declined the recommendation that she receive an injection of the vitamin. Her parents believed the shot was unnecessary and that choice proved fatal for the girl.

Today’s Abused Health Concepts

Motivated Research – Naturopathy defended in ‘world-first’ study, but critics question university’s credibility:  Following proposals to removal naturopathy from health insurance rebates, researchers from Southern Cross University decided to write a paper to show that naturopathy is good and effective after all. Well that’s NOT how science or evidence works. Thanks to confirmation bias, if you go looking to prove something true, you always find it, regardless of facts or reality. Further, the researchers decided to write about “whole-of-practice naturopathic medicine and not isolated tools”.

Another way to put this is that they made sure that their data was as confounded and subjective as possible. As a result they (a) saw exactly what they wanted to see; and (b) recorded the benefits of basic positive lifestyle improvements, and used those to claim that naturopathy was effective and beneficial. Clearly this is a ridiculous approach.

So how can we know what is useful and effective? Consider that everything that ACTUALLY works in naturopathy is not unique, and also works in standard medicine (ie weightloss, diet improvements etc.), but everything that IS unique to naturopathy, DOESN’T WORK. As Professor John Dywer says, “There are only two types of medicine — good or bad — and the minute something is found to be useful, it’s not alternative anymore, it’s just medicine.”

Pregnancy infection increases a child’s autism, suicide riskI must confess to enjoying a pinch of Schadenfreude over this report: I just can’t help it. What we have here, when packaged with the recent Danish study, is not only the refuting of MMR-vaccine causality for autism (yet again) but the link between infections in pregnant mothers and the development of autism and depression in their children. And this means that not only do vaccines NOT cause autism, they actually protect against the development of autism. The irony of this is simply unbelievable.

Great Moments in Health and Science

Appendectomy to treat appendicitis. Appendectomy: procedure, preparation & risks: First successfully performed in 1735, the surgical removal of the appendix provides a permanent solution to a disease which once carried a high mortality rate. Modern appendectomies are usually done via keyhole surgery.

Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?  For the past three decades or so, the conventional wisdom has been that drinking alcohol at moderate levels is good for us. The evidence for this has come from many studies that have suggested the death rate for moderate drinkers is lower than that for non-drinkers. In other words, we thought moderate drinkers lived longer than those who didn’t drink at all. This phenomenon has been communicated with great impact by the J-shaped curve that shows death rates fall as you move from non-drinking to moderate drinking, before rising again as drinking levels increase.Most of us embraced these studies with enthusiasm. But the findings were probably too good to be true. The problem has always been the potential mixing of many other variables – called confounding factors – with drinking.

The concern was that non-drinkers as a group in many of these previous studies were different to moderate drinkers in many ways in addition to their drinking. Non-drinkers may have been unhealthier to begin with (hence not taking up drinking in the first place) or they may have included recovering alcoholics with poor health. These confounding factors may have made moderate drinkers look healthier than they actually were (relative to non-drinkers) and thus have led us to associate moderate drinking with better health. More recent studies have been able to address this challenge of separating out the effect of drinking on health, independent of other confounding factors. And these newer studies tell us moderate drinking is probably not good for us at all.

Treatment of vaccinated Oregon boy with tetanus cost nearly $1m, CDC saysAn example of the costs associated with vaccination refusal. Doctors and nurses worked hard to save this boy’s life. Two months and $810,000 later, the boy was able to return to a normal life. And the unbelievable thing is, his parents refused to get him his tetanus booster or any of the other vaccines he had missed out on. After nearly losing their son? Honestly, what do some people think?

Thanks to Science

 A cure for HIV? Feasible but not yet realizedWe understand more about fighting HIV. Recently, reports of a patient in London in long-term remission from HIV circulated. This patient was actually being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma which involved a bone marrow transplant using bone marrow from a donor negative for CCR5, which is necessary for HIV infection. But such a treatment course is not practical, and too expensive, to be rolled out as a standard treatment – especially considering the quality of life possible for patients on antiretroviral therapies. One can hope that these cases provide clues as to ways that a ‘curative’ HIV therapy can be developed.