Jan 25

‘Iceman’ Wim Hof over the top

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Dutchman Wim Hof aka ‘The Iceman’ did it again. He adds another world record to his list of already 20-something achieved records by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in what is supposed to be the “fastest group ascending world’s highest volcano”. In 31 hours and 25 minutes the group of inexperienced climbers led by Hof reached the top of the highest mountain of Africa, almost 6.000 meters above sea level. Will this achievement silence Hof’s critics who said that it would be irresponsible to climb this fast because of the high risk of getting altitude sickness?

Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)

Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)

The performance of the group has gotten some media attention outside The Netherlands as well. The Mirror reports: “Iceman wins 26th world record as he runs up Mount Kilimanjaro in just 31 hours and 26 minutes“. But let’s have a closer look on what Hof actually achieved this time. The press release on his blog gives the following information:

‘Iceman’ Wim Hof started his climb to the summit (5895 meters) of Kilimanjaro on the 14th of January 2015 with a group of 18 trained people, without any actual climbing experience. He reached the summit of Gilmans point, on the highest mountain in Africa, within 31 hours and 25 minutes. The group walked up to Kibo hut in just shorts and bare torso.

A press release in Dutch which was spread via ANP Pers Support gives a bit more detail (translation by me):

Wim Hof and the group of pioneers started on January 14th at an altitude of 1,800m. From here the marched on to a camp at 3,700m. The stayed there during the night and went on early in the morning to break through to the top at 5,685m (Gilman’s Point). This tempo would normally not have been possible because of the acclimatisation time used to prevent altitude sickness.

But wait a second … Gilman’s Point? That’s not the actually summit of the Kilimanjaro, is it, Wim Hof?

twitter Wim Hof Uhuru Peak Gilman Point

[Me: “Hey, @Iceman_Hof, did you reach ‘only’ to Gilman’s Point, or even to the real summit, Uhuru Peak?”  – He: “@pjvanerp Uhuru Peak is ‘just’ at 1.5 hrs distance. Safety chosen above Ego. Without altitude sickness, 31 hrs. Top achievement by the group]

OK, so Hof admits that they didn’t go further up to the real top of Kilimanjaro after reaching the edge of the crater. Still this achievement deserves some attention, because it is quite remarkable that none of group members suffered from altitude sickness. Although five of them didn’t make it to the ‘top’ because of reasons of which we are only told that they had nothing to do with altitude sickness. So maybe people who love to climb mountains at these altitudes can profit somehow from the breathing techniques Hof is promoting.

The press release and the blog posts (English and Dutch) by Wim Hof are misleading on several points. Noteworthy is that the Dutch version of his blog doesn’t mention the fact that the last part of the climb (from Kibo-hut) was done fully clothed and not in in ‘Wim Hof-outfit’ (barechested, only wearing shorts). The record time of less than 32 hours is set off against the usual time of 5-7 days for a trip which tourists would normally take. However, that’s the time for climbing ánd descending. The total time for Hof’s expedition was about two and half days (this is not mentioned more exactly).

A report in the Tanzanian newspaper Guardian on Sunday gives some other details, which enable us to reconstruct the time schedule Hof used to reach Gilman’s Point on the edge of the crater. They took one of the usual tourist routes (Maragangu route) but marched two normal day stages in one day and skipped the acclimatisation day which is usually included in the schedule at about 4,000m altitude. So they didn’t actually progress faster when walking, but walked longer distances in one go.

There is a drawback to this schedule, however. Normally tourists would start from Kibo hut early in the morning for the final ascent to reach the craters edge around sunrise (which can be spectacular). The group led by Hof started from Horombo hut (much lower, at 3,700m) and only reached the edge late in the afternoon. If they would have continued further to Uhuru Peak (along the edge of the crater), that would have added at least two hours walking for that day. And maybe more important, it would have meant that a big part of the descent back to safety in one of the camps would have taken place in darkness, which is not to be recommended.
From the article we also get that the original plan was to reach the summit in 36 hours, but I fail to figure out how this could have possibly led to a responsible climbing schedule with the quite regular tourist pace they were climbing at. Also arriving at the summit after sunset would not be preferable for some nice photography …

So comparing the different sources on this climb (press release, blog posts, newspaper articles) we are confronted with some inconsistencies and vagueness. Whether they reached the actually summit, walked clothed or barechested, and whether this will be acknowledged as a real Guiness World Record. Hof and his family members, who work with him in the family business, probably don’t have a big interest in clearing this up to full transparency. They already have a track record in spicing up his achievements including an attempt to ‘tidy up’ the Dutch Wikipedia article about Wim Hof. One of Hof’s sons tried to change this article recently so that it would give a more positive view on the evidence for the effectiveness of Hof’s method, without to much respect for the sources given. Of course this was not accepted by the Wikipedia community as can be seen in the discussion on the ‘Talk page’ (in Dutch).

Uhuru Peak, summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Wikimedia Commons)

Uhuru Peak, summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll end this post with a fun question: do you have any idea what the record is for an individual climb (and descent) of Kilimanjaro? I was quite shocked by the answer. It’s the asthonishing time of 6 hours, 42 minutes and 24 seconds! This was set last year by Karl Egloff from Switzerland. And this was up and down to the real summit of the Kilimanjaro: Uhuru Peak.

Update 26/1/2015: a Norwegian website reports on this expedition as well. One of the Dutch members of Hof’s group lives there and he confirms that they had to return when they reached Gilman’s Point because of the falling darkness.

Nov 05

Top Level Homeopaths Behind Ebola Mission in Liberia

The ultra brief summary of this post might be: ‘Honorary consul of Liberia in Germany arranges homeopathic mission from the Liga Medicorum Homeopathica Internationalis (LMHI) to Liberia to find homeopathic cure for ebola.’

Homeopaths Removing their Tracks

In my previous post “Homeopaths in Liberia: ‘Mission Ebola‘” I identified the four homeopaths who are (now) in Liberia. They are Richard Hiltner (US), Edouard Broussalian (Switzerland), Medha Durge (India) and Ortrud Lindemann (Germany, living in Spain). They are all classical homeopaths but were also educated as doctors in real medicine, how odd that may seem. Hiltner even has more strange hobbies like iridiology and medical astrology. This is not the type of doctor you would want to help you out with such a serious problem as ebola.

The most interesting sources of information have been deleted by now, so it is clear the homeopaths think they have something to hide. But of course there are archived versions. The sources which give details which enable us to connect the dots are:

I’ve updated my post a few times, but now it’s time for a more elobarate update, because things are getting more and more clear.

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Oct 25

Homeopaths in Liberia: ‘Mission Ebola’

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In the last few months we encountered some homeopaths with extremely weird ideas for treating ebola. ‘Normal’ not working homeopathy and even diluted violin music or white noise. Now there seem to be at least four who are trying to put their illusionary treatments to work in Western Africa. On the website ‘Spirit, Science & Healing’ homeopath and Huffington Post columnist Larry Malerba wrote a message on 21 october: ‘Update: Team in Liberia Using Homeopathy for Ebola.’ Of course this astonishing news was picked up on Twitter and Facebook, resulting in many reactions of disbelief. The message was removed soon after. But to make things disappear from the Web is quite hard. Further digging into this story learns that we probably should take this endeavour very seriously indeed.

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The blog which was deleted can still be found on an online archive

The blog is still in the Google cache and now also on archive.today. Four homeopathic doctors,  dr. Richard Hiltner (US), dr. Edouard Broussalian (Switzerland), dr. Medha Durge (India) and dr. Ortrud Lindemann (Germany), are part of this team. It might look like a big bluff when you read it at first. Who can imagine that these people might actually get access to ebola patients and will be allowed to ‘treat’ them with sugar pills and drops?

Broussalian was a familiar name to me, he had been conducting some ‘research’ during a cholera epidemic on Haiti. This story is documented in ‘Spectrum of Homeopathy‘ (Nr 2. 2011) a magazine by publisher Narayana Verlag from Germany. His methods are extremely dubious. Broussalian and his team were apparently allowed to help treat the cholera patients. Those patients were treated with regular methods, mainly a drip.  But Broussalian also gave them the homeopatic remedy Phosphorus 200C from a spray flacon. In their strange working minds the homeopaths addressed all success of the recovery of the patients to this remedy in stead of to the regular treatment. At the end of the article is this ominous sentence:

At the end of our stay, we were no longer providing new patients with an infusion, but immediately gave them the phosphorus spray.

There is nothing in the article on the recovery of these patients, most likely Broussalian had already left. Let’s hope that they got a drip anyway after he left, and in time. On YouTube Broussalian presents his ‘research’ in a video. I will not embed that video in this post, because I suspect the patients never gave permission to use the footage for this purpose. We can see from the video that Broussalian never informs the patients about what a homeopathic treatment is. He just sprays them in casual matter.

This sort of unethical behaviour doesn’t predict anything good for his stay in Liberia. On his website there is a post from October 12th: ‘Mission Ebola‘. You can’t read it straightaway, it’s password protected. After a few guesses I found that it is simply ‘ebola’. So read this now before they remove it or change the password [1/11/2014: post is removed, see update below]. He writes that they will first take the two-day course learning how to deal with those protective suits. Also that he thinks that it is not certain that they will be able to access ebola patients in an early fase of their illness, that might take a bit longer as was his experience on Haiti. Their goal is to find out which homeopathic remedy works best and they strive for a zero procent mortality. And probably they will get opportunities to treat the numerous other illnesses that are now a little less ‘in fashion’. He ends his post with the following words:

Enfin, c’est une occasion unique de démontrer la valeur de l’homéopathie. On nous dénigrera bien sûr, on contestera que les malades guéris fussent malades, mais nous espérons en soigner un si grand nombre qu’il n’y aura pas de contestation possible. Les marchands de vaccins expérimentaux pourront alors aller se rhabiller.

[rough translation: ‘Enfin, this is a unique opportunity to demonstrate the value of homeopathy. Of course they will discredit us, they will contest that the cured patients had been sick in the first place,  but we hope to treat such a big number that there can be no doubt. The companies working on the experimental vaccins can start packing their bags.’]

Dangerous boasting. In their magazines and on YouTube they will probably succeed in framing their experiences as a big succes for homeopathy. If things go on as planned, that is. Ganta Hospital, the Methodist hospital where the four allegedly will start working in the new ebola clinic, has been informed about their true intentions.

Update: just found this post on Facebook. It seems that for the moment things go as planned for the homeopaths, they were received by a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Asriel C. Davis) and a certain Victor Doolakeh Taryor, hospital administrator of Ganta Hospital. [28/10/2014 this post is now changed, the letters from the homeopaths have been deleted]

Update 27-10-2014: for those who have doubts that the Liga Medicorum Homoeopathica Internationalis has something to do with this mission, read this letter (pdf) by their president Renzo Galassi from last August. Many national organisations of homeopaths are member of this Liga, so they share responsibility.

Update 28-10-2014: The team of homeopaths is most likely part of a bigger group of twenty doctors which are sent to Ganta Hospital by German foundation. See this post on their website: Freunde Liberias e.V. ebnet Weg für internationales Ärzteteam. I’ve send them an e-mail for confirmation, but no reply yet. They might not know what the secret agenda of the homeopaths is.

Update 1-11-2014: the blog post ‘Mission Ebola’ by Broussalian has been removed, as I expected. Here is a screenshot of the contents after entering the password, a plaintext version is also available.

This story is followed up in a new post:

Top Level Homeopaths Behind Ebola Mission in Liberia

 

Oct 19

Science Babe Takes 50 Homeopathic Sleeping Pills. Does it Debunk Homeopathy?

This YouTube video by Yvette d’Entremont, who calls herself the ‘The Science Babe’, is making rounds on the Internet, also on skeptical websites. She tries to convince the viewer that homeopathic sleeping pills don’t work by swallowing a whole packet of 50 pills of Calms Forté. She doesn’t feel sleepy even after waiting one and a half hour. So, homeopathy is bullocks and the producers of these pills are misleading consumers?! That might be true, but I don’t agree that this is a convincing way to debunk homeopathy in general, but I’ll explain that after the video:

As you can see in the comments on YouTube or in the comment areas of the blogs which show this video, a lot of homeopathy supporters come with counter arguments: the Science Babe didn’t take the pills according to the ‘rules’, like don’t touching them with your hands and swallowing them together with the diet Coke. According to them you should drop some pills under your tongue directly from the bottle and let those dissolve there. So this video is just another example of those pesky skeptics who don’t understand homeopathic principles and start shouting that it is nonsense, based on faulty tests. Do they have a point?

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Oct 07

No Clues for Negative effects of Wi-Fi on Trees According to Wageningen University

About four years ago scary news about research that had shown devastating effects of Wi-Fi on trees and plants went all over the Internet. This research was done at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and was allegedly supported by Delft University and TNO. De study was commissioned by the Dutch municipality of Alphen aan den Rijn, in particular by Niek van ‘t Wout, head of green space of that city. Goal of the experiment was to find out whether electromagnetic fields (EM-fields) from Wi-Fi routers might have anything to do with the occurence of a mysterious tree disease which had already affected a lot of trees with bark nodules and fissures. As no known biological explanation could be given for this disease Van ‘t Wout came up with the idea that radiation could be part of the problem.
Soon the story was brought back to its proper proportions: it were just preliminary results and the prestigious institutions apart from Wageningen University were not involved at all. And although the experiment found some differences between the trees exposed to Wi-Fi and an unexposed control group, the experiment was quite small and it was not clear whether there was any connection between the found leaf discolourments and the disease of the trees in Alphen aan den Rijn. A bigger and better controlled experiment was announced, but we had to wait some years to hear anything from this again.

Climate chamber with Wi-Fi transmitters (src: report Wageningen University)

Climate chamber with Wi-Fi transmitters (src: report Wageningen University)

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Jun 13

The Incredible Floww Health Technology

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From the Floww website:

Floww® Health Technology was developed by Dutchman Jim Wagenaar. In the nineties he foresaw an irreversible increase in the amount of electromagnetic radiation. He also noted that more and more people had health problems which they attributed to radiation. Knowing that the human body itself also possesses a broad range of frequencies, he conceived the idea that radiation from outside could possibly be converted into body natural frequencies. Based on this he developed a unique method: Floww® Health Technology. 

Their products range from a mobileFloww, costing 49 euro, which you are supposed to stick on your mobile phone, to a homeFloww set costing 1,350 euro. Just another company selling bogus devices against electrosmog?

Out with the Bioresonance Drops and New ‘Research’

Almost two years ago Martin Bier, professor in physics, wrote an article about Floww on Kloptdatwel.nl, the Dutch skeptic website of which I’m one of the editors. He made clear that the claims of Floww are complete nonsense from a scientifical viewpoint. At that time, the company was also selling bioresonance drops, just plain water with a touch of ethanol to which a composition of frequencies was added. The specific composition was chosen depending on a analysis of a cheeck swap you would have to send in when ordering. They don’t sell those Floww Drops anymore, perhaps because of regulations you have to go by when selling ingestibale stuff. But the other products are sold without this personal analysis, so now we are supposed to believe that one size frequency fits all?

Since Bier’s article it seems that Floww has grown fast and is focussing on the international market more and more. Also their website presents some new ‘research’ on their technology. About time for a follow up in English, I thought.

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Because Crop Circles and Chemtrails are sooo 2013 …

Chemtrail circle?

Just kidding

Apr 30

Great example of debunking bad science: on health effects Fukushima fallout in USA

There is a lot of fear mongering on the effects of the Fukushima disaster. Most of it comes from vague sources and is easily debunked. Things get a bit more complicated when supposedly real scientists are publishing articles in peer reviewed journals which show horrifying health figures caused by radioactive fallout in the months following the events which started with the deathly tsunami which struck upon the Japanese coast. Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman startled the US public with at least two articles, one even showing that probably 14,000 Americans had died due to the radiation. These scientists, however, have a clear anti-nucleair agenda and their calculations are deliberately misleading, as other more sincere scientists discovered.

The article on the 14,000 excess deaths was introduced by a press release:

 An estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States are linked to the radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan, according to a major new article in the December 2011 edition of the International Journal of Health Services.   This is the first peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal documenting the health hazards of Fukushima.

The article itself was published as: An unexpected mortality increase in the United States follows arrival of the radioactive plume from Fukushima: is there a correlation? More recent (2013) is the article in which they show an increase in congenital hypothyrodism in the months following the Fukushima disaster: Changes in confirmed plus borderline cases of congenital hypothyroidism in California as a function of environmental fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown (Open Journal of Pediatrics).

Sounds frightening, doesn’t it? However both articles are completely bogus. In the following video these articles are ripped apart:

Popular Mechanics published a nice article on the nasty consequences of publication of this sort of bad science: What Can We Do About Junk Science? It ends with the following statement:

It’s easy to blame the impact of junk science on sloppy experiments, irresponsible reporters, or a failure of peer review. But even after it’s debunked, junk science sticks because it preys on the public’s fear and distrust. Ultimately, junk science can be dispelled only if individuals think like scientists: Evaluate all the evidence and try to disprove your own preconceptions.

This might be true, but I think it takes some effort by scientists to lead those individuals where to look for good evidence and to give some clues how to evaluate it. An academic ‘debunk’ in the form of a response on the article in the journal which published it, will also probably not reach the wider audience which was misled by the original article itself or it’s passing on in an uncritical way by other media. And such a response could be behind a paywall as well. That’s why I appreciate this debunking video so much. It does a far better job in setting things straight for the audience the propaganda was aimed at in the first place, I think.

Mar 25

Acupuncture in Cows, Wageningen University and the Soviet Space Program

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In November 2012 someone sent me a link to an article in a Dutch biologists magazine about some research done by Wageningen University, something to do with acupuncture in cows. On itself this already looks quite weird, why would scientists from a reputable university be involved with nonsense like (electro)acupuncture? But Wageningen University has quite a trackrecord in doing pseudoscientific research on homeopathy and they have ties with the anthroposofic research institute Louis Bolk. So this was not that surprising to me.
What was interesting is the background story of the device they used for the electroacupuncture. In the published articles the authors tell it is an improvement of a device developed by the Soviet space program in the nineteen-eighties and used by Valeri Polyakov to stay in good health during his record stay in space. In the following months I tried to find out what could be true about this.

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What is the connection between cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov and acupuncture points on cows?

Read the full story I wrote about this for Dutch skeptics magazine Skepter:

Veterinary Acupuncture and the Soviet Space Program

Mar 20

Philip Stein Sleep Bracelet – Expensive Placebo

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Ook te koop in de KLM Sky High collection

Available in the KLM Sky High Collection

A reader of Kloptdatwel.nl, the Dutch website I frequently write for, sent an e-mail about a product he found in the onboard catalogue of the KLM Sky High Collection: The Philip Stein Sleep Bracelet. This bracelet is ‘is tuned to pick up natural frequencies that are believed to improve your quality of sleep’, the Philip Stein company claims. This is supposed to work via the proprietary Natural Frequency Technology they have developed.
The company even states that there is objective evidence that it really works. Are these just empty statements or is there some truth in the claims with which this bracelet is promoted by Philip Stein, next to the gaudy watches and other jewelry they sell?

What does Philip Stein state on how the bracelet is supposed to work? You might like some assurance on that before buying the bracelet, which was sold aboard the KLM fligth for 235 euros, don’t you?

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