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An Open Letter to Open Minds PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Richard Saunders   

Some time ago I had an idea. Well, I have many ideas but most just come and go. This time, however, the idea sort of stuck in my head.

The idea was to somehow alert the general public here in Australia about some of our concerns as skeptics. The normal press release is all very good but with hundreds of companies and organizations issuing press releases everyday, ours can get lost in the wash. So, what to do?

Why not write a letter to the very people and/or institutions with which we have a concern? Again, would that mean anything really, would they care? Okay, one more step. Aim the message not so much at them, but at the general public. An open letter was the answer.

The first draft of the open letter was addressed to "The Returned and Services League" here in Australia. This is worthy organization created for the benefit of Australia's war veterans. The league, apart from many other functions, operates hundreds of clubs that are open to the general public. These clubs have restaurants, bars, slot machines and usually a concert stage. Some very big names in show biz, both current and those making nostalgia tours use these clubs as ready-made venues. But not all the acts are legitimate. Many times these clubs book "psychic medium" acts, and that usually means 'talking to the dead'. I wanted everyone to realize that this sort of act in a club dedicated to the memory of our fallen fighting men and women is in the worst possible taste. (Fear not, this letter is being written and will be published with our next issue of The Skeptic magazine from Australia.)

It was our good friend and registered nurse Joanne Benhamu who convinced me that there was a more important topic for our first open letter. Quackery in pharmacies. Joanne told us of her visit to a pharmacy only to find Homoeopathic 'medicine' on a shelf next to real medicine. "How is the public supposed to know what is real?" she remarked. So, that was that. I drafted a letter and after several rewrites we published it in The Skeptic and posted the PDF on our web site at www.skeptics.com.au for all to read, download and print.

The response was almost immediate. People loved the idea of our open letter and were surprised to learn that pharmacies in this country actually sell such complete quackery as ear candles. In fact many people had never even heard of ear candles and were bewildered to think that others actually stick lit candles into their ears.

Soon other web sites were picking up the letter as a story. We found it at "Medindia.net" and at "I2P - Information for Pharmacists" as well as many blogs including Bad Astronomy. Dare we hope that some pharmacies will now think twice?

Our open letter has 4 objectives:

  1. The let pharmacies know we are opposed to them selling quackery

  2. To inform the general population that pharmacies are in fact also selling magical pills and dangerous devices

  3. To give concerned members of the public something they can take to their pharmacy

  4. To promote the Australian Skeptics as an organization that is concerned about the growth of quackery, especially in pharmacies

So now we encourage other organizations to take up this idea.

 

 

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A very big thank you
written by Richard Saunders, March 26, 2009
I was remiss in not mentioning in my item that Dr Rachael Dunlop also wrote the first draft of the open letter. Thank you Rachie and my apologies for overlooking this in my story.
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written by Roo, March 27, 2009
What a teriffic idea. If as many people as possible took the step of writing open letters, just think how many small seeds of rational thinking could be sown in fertile minds everywhere. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by BillyJoe, March 27, 2009
I read the open letter in my copy of "The Skeptic" which arrived earlier this week. It immediately struck me as a good idea. I hope it catches on.
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The Perfect Solution
written by bosshog, March 27, 2009
I think the best approach would be to create a government agency that would be responsible for making sure that everyone got the information he needed in order to see things correctly.
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written by Magic, March 27, 2009
After having has worked for "a government agency" for years, creating one is not the way to go. You are beholding to politics and whomever is in charge at the time. You are beholding for funding and focus from outside sources. Example is the Bush administration and the National Parks having a brochure on Noah's Flood as a reason for the Grand Canyon.

A better way is exactly what they plan. Start with a valid point (quackery in pharmacies), get your word out, get the attention with the public, then the news, then the advertisers. Once established, then expand your focus to other needed changes.

Just my opinion based upon my experiences.
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written by Kuroyume, March 27, 2009
As Thomas Paine wrote, "That government is best which governs least."

We need to inform and educate each other and, by way of experience and results, information will spread. But it must be backed up with resources and details so as to validate the point being promoted so that people can educate themselves and (hopefully) arrive at the same conclusion. Otherwise an opposing point could be raised validly and muddy the waters. Just consider how successful creationists and intelligent designers have been in swaying the public with falsities and subtle persuasions.

This is a good idea, Richard, and one hopes that we can use the vast interconnectivity of the internet to alert the public and provide a way for them to get levels of detailed information to further bolster the reasoning and information provided.
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The Pharmacists Dilemma
written by wbtittle, March 27, 2009
Here in the US, I know of at least one pharmacy that resembles this. It use to belong to a relative. He still works there, but has sold the company to a larger organization that it is even worse about this kind of "duplicity". I don't know what the situation is like in Australia, but here in the state of Washington in the US, a pharmacist has a couple of challenges facing him.

1. How much he is compensated for the drugs he dispenses.
2. What "plans" he "honors".
3. How to pay the people who work for him.

An odd thing about homeopathic remedies. The markups are pretty damn good. If the customer asks for the products and you don't carry it, they will go somewhere else to get it, quite likely taking away the pharmacy business with it.

This has been complicated heavily with the inclusion of even more supplements into the sales mix and pressure by management to push those supplements. My relatives integrity is important to him but so is putting bread on the table.

I have chided him gently about homeopathy and supplements, but I don't push too hard. Anyone who ignores the fundamental aspect of life -- namely how to put food on your table -- has to take a step back from the argument and recognize what they are really attacking.

Bob Parsons of godaddy.com, has a video on his site right now discussing the negative aspects of his most recent Superbowl ads. The ads were panned as being to risque (and many other similar words). He smiles at all the negative publicity. Huge volume increased at his site resulted. Sales increases resulted. Apparently the advertising geniuses panning his ad failed to appreciate the fundamental requirement of advertisement, to increase sales.

Have a great day.
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written by tctheunbeliever, March 27, 2009
Given bosshog's usual attitude (negative or no), I can only assume that he was joking, especially with the part about seeing things "correctly". The "faithful" in the Bush administration would have certainly loved the idea.
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written by BillyJoe, March 27, 2009
Pharmacists in Australia seem to do very well. At least the local one's wife drives a Mercedes Benz. Maybe they could make a just a little sacrifice for the general good. And telling their customers that there is no evidence that the products do anything but make them, the customers, poorer could help push along the campaign by the Australian Skeptics.
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written by tmac57, March 27, 2009
Maybe it would help to target a specific outlet such Wal-Mart or CVS for an all out letter writing campaign. If we could get them some negative attention, then perhaps the rest will pay attention. At least it might get picked up by the media, and start an open debate.
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written by bosshog, March 28, 2009
tctheunbeliever:
Go to the head of the class!
On a previous item there was discussion of scientific information being disseminated by government agencies rather than the private organizations that produced the data. I think the government should restrict itself to building highways and fighting mosquito infestations and stay out of the propaganda business.
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written by RandomMike, March 28, 2009
Wait, ear candles are woo? I mean, paying for them is certainly insane since a rolled up piece of paper is the same thing. Anecdotal evidence may not be reliable, but I've used them to get my ears to pop.
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written by Smudger, March 28, 2009
I'd never heard of ear candles. Nose candles, yes...
So I did a quick search and came up with this mob:
http://www.divinitihealth.co.uk/
who advertise ear candles with healing properties. I've emailed them to ask for a definition of the healing effects of shoving a burning candle in your ear, and asked in what journals I might find details of the tests which established their efficacy. If I get a reply I'll let you know. Hopefully before this candle in my ear burns down...
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written by BillyJoe, March 28, 2009
Anecdotal evidence may not be reliable, but I've used them to get my ears to pop.

Anecdotal is almost totally unreliable.
Also, ear candles are meant to clear wax out of your ears, not "pop" them. In any case, you can pop then by quite simply using the valsalva manoeuvre.

However here is a site that makes claims only for the spiritual function of ear candling:
http://www.byronbayearcandles....tions.html
It is quite a laugh. And the question on safely is out right hilarious. They say it's not dangerous and then go on to enumerate all the precautions you must take to avoid being harmed.
And there is a bing warning at the end of this instruction page:
http://www.byronbayearcandles....tions.html

smilies/grin.gif

BJ
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written by DrMatt, March 28, 2009
Ear candles are hollow wax candles. After being burned a bit, they acquire a nasty-looking wax residue in the middle channel--whether they were stuck in your ear, propped in a candlestick, or left burning atop a puddle of water. Those last two options are "controls", a concept all too foreign to many people. The wax comes not from your ear but from the candle itself.

If your ears cannot equalize pressure when you swallow, get a referral to an otorhinolaryngiologist and find out what's wrong--if anything is really wrong. Please. Don't risk severe burns to the head trying nonsense.
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DrMatt
written by BillyJoe, March 28, 2009
If your ears cannot equalize pressure when you swallow, get a referral to an otorhinolaryngiologist and find out what's wrong

A bit of an overreaction don't you think?

I've had this problem countless times over the past couple of decades and usually they'll come right in a couple of days. Waiting seems cheaper. smilies/wink.gif

BJ
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written by knitwit, March 29, 2009
I complained to my local coop food market about them selling ear candles and all I got was: "Well, that's YOUR view, lots of people swear by them". This is the standard answer when I accuse them of practicing medicine without a license after standing in the "wellness" section for five minutes listening to an employee recommending all sorts of ridiculous treatments for all kinds of ailments. The other retort these people are fond of is: "science doesn't know everything!"

I have also talked with a number of pharmacists at various locations of Walgreen's about all the crap supplements and treatments they carry and they always look rather embarrassed and tell me there's nothing they can do about it. Not one of them has disagreed, however, I am glad to say. I also don't buy the argument that people can "decide for themselves". These products make lots of claims on their labels and many people have no clue how to evaluate these claims. I saw an old lady one day looking at a supplement for "eye health" (the label showed a big dose of Vitamin A and a few other fillers); she asked me if I thought this would help her cataracts! I gently dissuaded her from buying it and tried my best to convince her to see a doctor.

I think the government MUST step in and undo a lot of the crap that Hatch, Harkin and the health food industry lobbied into the FDA. There is no other way to get this done across the board in a way that stops this ridiculous abuse.
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Randi Super Douche
written by markuze1972, March 29, 2009
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no need to respond, you little lying douche bag

http://dyn.politico.com/members/forums/thread.cfm?catid=2&subcatid=7&threadid=2228647
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written by Basscadet, March 30, 2009
Pharmacies in Athens, Greece are quite numerous and have a broad collection of cosmetics and lifestyle products. In my neighbourhood there's 4(!) at a distance of one building block from my flat and quite a lot sell homeopathic preparations. Everyone I've met describe homeopathy as a branch of medicine - lots of work to do here educating the public...
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written by Basscadet, March 30, 2009
I just found out that there's a Masters of Science in "Holistic Alternative Therapeutic Systems-Classical Homeopathy" in a state university here in Greece:

http://www.syros.aegean.gr/homeopathy/

that's not a private woo woo uni that sends certificates by mail, that's the state run univercity.

I'm so enraged now...
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written by wombatwal, March 31, 2009
It is obvious that profit overrides morals in some Australian Pharmacies. I am sure all of the Pharmacists know that homeopathy only has a placebo benefit.
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written by Steel Rat, April 13, 2009
I was remiss in not mentioning in my item that Dr Rachael Dunlop also wrote the first draft of the open letter. Thank you Rachie and my apologies for overlooking this in my story.


umm, can't you just edit the story? Then you wouldn't have been remiss...
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