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Kwaksalver – DC's Improbable Science

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Kwaksalver

It was a great delight to visit Amsterdam on 25 October to speak at a meeting off the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (Society against quackery).  Unfortunately their excellent web site is in Dutch, so the best you can do at the moment is to use the Google translation, with its frequently hilarious renderings.  Better translations coming soon, I hope.

Symposium

Op weg naar het einde?

Niet-reguliere geneeswijzen in de 21ste eeuw in internationaal perspectief

Towards the end?

Non-mainstream medicine in the 21st century in an international perspective

The Dutch society has 1800 members and is the oldest and biggest such society in the world. I very much hope that their web site will soon have an English version.  That is only appropriate since the origin of the word quack is from the Dutch Kwakzalver.  (Kwak=Chatterer, salesman, zalf = salve, ointment). (In contrast the noise made by a duck is simply described by the OED as being “imitative”, though the great Michael Quinion thinks the two usages may be connected.

De Kwakzalver, Jan Steen (1626-1679) Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Click to enlarge

The Quack doctor, Jan Steen (1626-1679). Click to enlarge

Translations of some key parts will be posted here soon.  My talk was about Support for alternative medicine in government and universities in the U.K

The meeting started with the announcement of the winner of the Meester Kackadorisprijs.

The Master Kackodoris prize

The Meester Kackadorisprijs is awarded to individuals or institutions who promote quackery and who should know better (the quacks themselves are never nominated). The short list for the 2008 prize included the vice chancellor of the Free University of Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Lex Bouter, rector magnificus Vrije Universiteit

The vice-chancellor was on the short-list for the prize because of his part in a recent paper, “Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis.” (Manheimer E, Zhang G, Udoff L, Haramati A, Langenberg P, Berman BM, Bouter LM, Brit Med J 336, 545-9) [Available free]

This paper has been cited all over the world, but it seems not to have been very good.  See for example the magnificent analysis of it in “Yawn, still one more overhyped acupuncture study: Does acupuncture help infertile women conceive?” .  See also the Cochrane review (it could all be placebo). The fact that the vice-chancellor appears to have been only a ‘guest author’ anyway does not count as an excuse.  The large number of citations received by this paper should, incidentally, be seen as another nail in the coffin of attempts to measure quality by citation rates.

In the event, vice-chancellor Bouter did not win the Kackodoris prize  this year.  In a speech at the start of the symposium, it emerged that he had been narrowly beaten by the Dutch Christian Radio Association for its assiduous promotion of quackery.

The chair of the Dutch society, Cees Rencken, is doing a great job.  I hope that it will soon be better known outside the Netherlands.

And it’s time we had a UK equivalent of the Kackadoris prize. There will be no shortage of worthy candidates.

Frits Van Dam (Secretary) and Cees Renckens (Chair) of VtdK 
(photo: Sofie van de Calseijde)


Some pictures of Amsterdam

(meetings photos: Sofie van de Calseijde)

Follow-up