Experts shine in fight against junk science

It was a week when climate change denial, a “miracle” ebola cure and homeopathy grabbed headlines.

But by and large it was also a week where the media laid out the evidence and featured expert commentary putting the science behind the claims in perspective.

Shaun Holt

The pending arrival in New Zealand of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing leader James Humble to push his¬†Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) was front page news. Medsafe warned that the treatment acts like an industrial bleach and could cause serious harm to those who took it. Australia’s Nine News reported that four Victorians had been hospitalised after taking the MMS treatment.

Natural remedies expert Dr Shaun Holt and University of Auckland microbiologist Dr. Siouxsie Wiles made numerous media appearances to explain the pseudoscience Humble has been spreading about MMS, including that it can cure Ebola, HIV and malaria.

The Herald reported today that an Auckland man who attempted to attend one of the “non-religious” Church’s seminars in the Hauraki Plains, was removed when it emerged he had not paid the US$500 registration fee, a hint perhaps at the real reason behind Humble’s Australasian tour.

NZ Herald’s front page piece on MMS

 
The week started with several climate scientists appearing in the media to explain the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which suggested that there is still time to act on climate change, if fossil fuel use for power generation can be largely eliminated by 2100.

False balance in climate coverage

Professor Tim Naish and Dr James Renwick, who have both contributed to IPCC reports put the latest update in context for New Zealand on One News and 3 News.

However TVNZ undermined its own climate change coverage by featuring noted climate sceptic and energy sector consultant Bryan Leyland on the Breakfast show, including presenting a graph featuring data supplied by Leyland himself.

Steffan Browning

By the end of the day the item had been pulled from TVNZ’s website after the broadcaster received numerous complaints from the public, scientists, as well as journalists.

The week also saw the Green Party demote its natural products spokesman Steffan Browning after he signed a petition calling for homeopathic treatments to be used in the fight against Ebola.

The embarrassing endorsement attracted attention in the UK¬†and the condemnation of Browning’s own caucus.

Writing on Sciblogs, Dr Grant Jacobs applauded Browning’s demotion, but pointed out that he retained other science-related shadow portfolios.

“I’m aware of a number of people who have said they didn’t vote for the Greens because of Steffan Browning’s stance on genetic engineering and others who have said that while they voted for the Greens they don’t approve of Browning’s approach to GMOs and GE.”

Thanks to all the scientists who stepped up to make sense of the dubious claims journalists and the public were faced with this week.