A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter

Volume 13 No. 2

February 2014

The threat of imminent immune system collapse is the calling card of quackery. - William Meller, MD

What's New?

The Critical Thinker's Dictionary

The Critical Thinker's Dictionary: Biases, Fallacies, and Illusions and What You Can Do About Them is now available as an audio book from Audible.com. (The iTunes and Amazon.com audio versions will be available soon.) The audio is narrated by Kristen James. For a free sample, click here. For info on the eBook and paperback click here.

New Dictionary entries: Trivedi effect® (another goofy guru claims to have special powers); flu vaccine (time for some straight talk to correct the false and misleading claims of the anti-vaccination folks); perfect solution (or nirvana) fallacy (many actions are worth taking even if they are imperfect); and  Marshall Vian Summers (another pathetic prophet claims to get special messages from angels and aliens).

New reader comments: Russell Blaylock (because I question Blaylock's anti-vaccination views, a reader thinks I don't think for myself but am a mouthpiece for Big Pharma; I respond in my usual kind and careful way even though the reader doesn't deserve it).

Updates: publication bias (It's a scandal drug trial results are still being withheld: Dr. Ben Goldacre says that "...the chances of a completed trial being published are roughly 50%....trials with positive results are twice as likely to be published as those with negative results....")

climate change deniers (The evidence is piling up that global warming is continuing at an unprecedented pace and that much of it has been due to human activity. The IPPC "Climate Change 2013" report asserts that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and that "continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.")

priest shuffling (Chicago Archdiocese Hid Decades of Child Sex Abuse: Internal documents from the Archdiocese of Chicago, released through settlements between attorneys for the archdiocese and victims, describe how priests for decades were moved from parish to parish while the archdiocese hid the clerics' histories from the public, often with the approval of the late Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin.)

anti-vaccination movement (The toll of the anti-vaccination movement shown in one devastating graphic.)

Robert O. Young (Controversial alternative health provider charged: Robert Oldham Young, 61, was accused of going beyond advocating dietary changes and using intravenous treatments on "patients" he housed at his avocado ranch in Valley Center. He pleaded not guilty to 18 felony charges, including practicing medicine without a license and grand theft. Young was ordered held on $100,000 bail....)

aromatherapy/essential oils (One of the more common claims made by advocates of so-called alternative medicine is that it "boosts" or "supports" the immune system. Advocates of essential oils frequently make this claim. For example, Young Living Essential Oils claims of its Thieves Essential Oil that "It is highly effective in supporting the immune system and good health.")

transcendental meditation (the nephew of the Maharinis Mahesh Yogi is arrested for rape; Girlish Handrail Vera manages 148 TM schools spread across 16 states in India; the victim was employed at one of the schools.)

Suburban Myth 103. Vaccine risks are a matter of concern for the vast majority of the public. Apparently not.

H1N1 Stimulates the Immune System

If it stimulates, boosts, or supports the immune system it must be good, right? That's what the supplement pushers have been implying for years in their many ads for pills, oils, and ointments. So, should we bottle and sell the H1N1 flu virus that is killing people around the world?

In H1N1, the country is confronting a particularly virulent strain of influenza. Once in the lungs, it replicates more quickly than other strains, triggering the body’s immune system. The immune system then overreacts to the force of the virus. A phenomenon called a “cytokine storm” kicks in. Cytokines are proteins that promote inflammation in response to infection.

Normally, cytokines help the body by flushing out fluids from blood and lymphatic vessels. But, [Sacramento County public health officer Dr. Olivia Read] Aspire said, “When the vessels are inflamed, they start to leak fluid, and so people get more fluid in their lungs. It creates a perfect storm. The immune system reacting to the virus goes haywire and attacks the body.”

Researchers in 2007 found the same pattern while studying the H1N1 virus that was circulating in 1918, when a notorious pandemic sickened 115,000 California residents.

The journal Nature reported, “A virus recovered from victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic kills by replicating so rapidly that it revs the immune system into overdrive, turning the body against itself.” Historical accounts from the era describe victims drowning from within as their lungs filled with blood and fluid. Autopsy records described victims as “having lungs that resembled sodden sponges,” the journal article said.

The same cytokine-storm effect was discovered in fatal H1N1 cases from 2009. Scientists reported in the American Journal of Pathology that “peak levels of virus in the victims’ lungs correlated with ‘remarkably’ high levels of certain cytokines in the same tissues.” (Sacramento Bee)

Imagine that. A natural virus overstimulates the immune system causing death. According to the logic behind many defenders of so-called "natural" cures, that shouldn't happen. Why? Because, the natural-is-better folks say, you're always better off being naturally immunized. I'd say in the case of H1N1 you are much better off getting the flu vaccine than getting the flu. The vaccine doesn't overstimulate the immune system, though I suppose you could say that it gives it a modest boost.

Thieves Oil

Recently a reader introduced me to a "natural" panacea called Thieves Oil. Among the many life-saving attributes of this concoction of so-called essential oils is its ability to prevent the flu. It's pretty safe to say that it is very unlikely that Thieves Oil will overstimulate the immune system.

Dilute 15 drops [of Thieves Oil] with 15 drops of carrier oil [such as vegetable oil]. Apply to lower back (where viruses and bacteria tend to hibernate), to the upper back of thighs, and back of neck to help with symptoms.

I'll bet you didn't know (as I didn't) that viruses and bacteria hibernate. And on the lower back, of all places. Anyway, I'd like to see the scientific evidence that applying anything to the lower back will stave off H1N1 which, most experts think, is spread in droplets from sneezing, coughing, and exhaling. The only thing less effective against flu viruses than rubbing an essential oil on your lower back would be to apply a homeopathic cream to anything on the planet.

(For those readers who have been told by some anti-vaxxer that flu vaccines cause autism and are full of poisons, detergents, and cancer-causing stuff, please read my new entry on flu vaccines to find out how you have been misled and deceived by the likes of Joe Mercola,  Russell BlaylockBarbara Loe FisherJay Gordon, Leonard Horowitz, and others.)

What is this Thieves Oil, you may be asking yourself? According to one of the many folks who sell this stuff:

When you clean with Thieves Essential Oil you kill germs such as mold, viruses and bacteria, purify the air, and boost your family’s immune system all at the same time! This is truly amazing!

I'll say it's amazing. It's amazing anybody believes this stuff, but they do. Apparently these folks have never heard of H1N1 or autoimmune diseases. It's not always a good thing to have your immune system boosted or stimulated. Furthermore, unless you're sick, undergoing chemotherapy, or the like, and eat nothing but things like Twinkies while lying on the couch watching TV 16 hours a day, your immune system will take care of itself without the need for essential oils or supplements.

According to Mark Crislip, M.D., an infectious disease doctor who blogs on Science-Based Medicine:

The immune system, if you are otherwise healthy, cannot be boosted, and doing those things you learned in Kindergarten health  (reasonable diet, exercise and sleep), will provide the immune system all the boosting or support it needs.

So, why do so many alternative medicine folks think it's a good thing to boost or support your immune system? The implication is that most people are unhealthy. Since most of the alt med folks advocate a variety of supplements as part of a "healthy" lifestyle, one is left to conclude that these folks truly believe that supplements are essential to a healthy immune system. Again, the implication is that most people are sick to some degree. Isn't this the kind of delusion that the alt health folks claim is the goal of Big Pharma? According to alt med mythology, Big Pharma wants to make us sick so we will become dependent on their drugs and make them rich. But isn't the alt med community assuming we are sick and need to buy supplements from their leaders to bolster our immune systems and let our bodies heal themselves? Anyway, study after study has shown that there is no general health benefit to taking daily vitamin and mineral supplements and that taking them is unnecessary for good health for most people. Supplements are not necessary for most people to bolster, support, or stimulate the immune system.

Our immune systems very rarely break down, except when we starve, undergo intensive chemotherapy, or face an immune-system assassin such as HIV. These are life-threatening emergencies, not occasions to take an alleged immune "stimulant."

....Rather than being weak, it is far more common today that our immune system is overactive. (William Meller, MD)

What is the immune system? Meller calls it "the body's homeland security." The immune system is a system of cells and proteins that are "scattered throughout the body — in the blood, lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, and even appendix." It's "made up of white blood cells and the tissues that make and harbor them." Immune cells try to protect the body from foreign invasions by such things as germs. Immune cells attack and dispense with the offenders. The security forces created by the immune defense system are called antibodies, "highly specific proteins programmed to recognize and remember a specific virus or bacteria forever." Yes, forever.

Our immune system never rests. In the mouth and gut it neutralizes germs that hitchhike in on food. In the lungs it screens the air we breathe. In the skin it wards off invaders trying to enter through dirty cuts and scrapes. The fact that we get so few infections, despite countless daily exposures, testifies to the vigilance of our immune forces.

Mark Crislip, M.D., explains in detail why the alt med mantra about boosting the immune system is not such a good idea.

Now, back to this stuff called Thieves Oil. What exactly is it and where did it get its name? The legend is that some thieves outwitted the bacteria carried by rodent-riding fleas that was spreading what we call the bubonic plague. When? Who knows? Maybe sometime between the 14th and 18th centuries. What were these thieves thieving? Anything they could find on the corpses of plague victims. How many thieves? Pick a number, but 4 seems popular. Who did they outwit? The bacteria? The fleas? The rodents? The unnamed king they allegedly told their secret to so he might avoid the plague and they might escape with their lives? Who knows? How did they avoid the plague while picking the pockets of the dead? One legend is that they rubbed a concoction of cloves, rosemary, and other aromatics on themselves. Another is that they used a concoction of vinegar, herbs, and oils. Was there really such a concoction and, if so, what was really in it? Who am I to bust a harmless myth? Make up a recipe. Lovers of essential oils won't check it out for accuracy. They won't do any controlled studies to validate the many claims they will make about its efficacy at fighting everything from the flu to cancer to headaches and acne.

One outfit claims its Thieves Oil contains clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary. It mixes various amounts of these ingredients in household cleaner, sprays and wipes, toothpaste, and mouthwash. It's also kosher. But it's not offered as an alternative to the flu vaccine by this company. Other advocates make grander claims. For example, natural-aromatherapy-benefits.com claims:

Thieves Oil is a blend of five essential oils that are scientifically documented to be highly anti-infectious, antiviral, antibacterial, and antiseptic. Thieves essential oil is a safe and natural way to care for your family’s health. With the concern over swine flu-H1N1, global pandemics, and other infectious disease, this potent oil blend is a powerful way to support your family’s health and wellness.

As you would expect, all sites claiming that these products have amazing health benefits come with the standard Quack Miranda Warning:

The information on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or prescribe any of these products for you or your family. In the case of illness you should contact your health care professional. In no instances shall the owner of this website or its affiliates be responsible or liable for any damages whatsoever resulting in connection with the use of this information, products, or its publication. The decision to use any information from this site is the sole responsibility of the reader.

Wink. Wink.

It's unlikely any medieval or renaissance thieves in Europe had access to eucalyptus, but they may well have used cloves and cinnamon for a variety of things other than handling the corpses of plague victims. Cinnamon has been touted as being beneficial to those with Type II diabetes, but a Cochrane review in 2012 "found cinnamon to be no more effective than placebo, another active medication or no treatment in reducing glucose levels and glycosylated haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a long-term measurement of glucose control." Experiments continue in vitro and in lab mice on the antibacterial and antiviral effects of cinnamon, but so far no effective medication has been produced using cinnamon as a base. Of course if you go to a website like experience-essential-oils.com, you will be told amazing things about the amazing properties of cinnamon oil:

The health benefits of cinnamon include ability to balance blood sugars, minimize inflammation and combat infection. It is a natural immune system booster, natural antiviral fungal remedy that also combats bacterial infections. As a matter of fact cinnamon bark apparently kills them all!

Remember: "Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.  A decision to use/not use this information is the sole responsibility of the reader.  Please see your doctor or health care professional for medical evaluation."

clove oil

Some of you may remember rubbing clove oil on your gums when you had a toothache. The ingredient eugenol has been touted as an effective pain reliever, but the party-pooping FDA and NIH have decided that there is not enough evidence to support the claim that eugenol is effective for toothache pain. It even claims that it is unsafe to use clove oil on the gums of children as it may cause "seizures, liver damage, and fluid imbalances." What do these medical people know, though? Nothing, it appears, compared to what the essential oil folks know:

Traditionally clove was used for intestinal parasites, skin infections, digestive upsets and toothaches.

Today, it is still known for its anti-infectious, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It's [sic] anti-infectious properties include: anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Wow! (experience-essential-oils.com)


Clove oil is useful for wounds, cuts, scabies, athlete’s foot, fungal infections, bruises, prickly heat, scabies, [sic ] and other types of injuries. It can also be used for treating insect bites and stings. (organicfacts.net)

The science says that the evidence is insufficient to support claims as to the effectiveness of clove oil for anything except premature ejaculation, for which the evidence indicates it is "possibly effective."

Remember: Information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult a science-based medical practitioner for health problems.

Facebook and Twitter

If you want to be notified as new items are posted on The Skeptic's Dictionary website, follow me on Twitter. I don't tweet anything except notices of new postings. On The Skeptic's Dictionary Facebook page I post links to articles of interest, including new postings on the SD website. On Facebook you have the opportunity to post comments and elicit replies.

Quackwatch to Wiki Conversion

Dr. Stephen Barrett has donated the content of Quackwatch to serve as the foundation for what will become the definitive wiki devoted to science-based medicine. If you are interested in helping with the conversion of html to wiki files click here for more information.

Written by Bob Carroll
with the assistance of John Renish
Follow the SD on Facebook and Twitter

Books by R. T. Carroll

cover The Critical Thinker's Dictionary

The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter is sponsored by Pyropus Technology.


Print versions available in Dutch, Russian, Japanese, and Korean.

This page was designed by Cristian Popa.