Elvira Brunt is a mysterious figure, born in Backa Palanka on the banks of the Danube in 1957. She allegedly claims to be able to cure cancer by redirecting blood flow through massage. People have told of the eerie power she holds over people, convincing them to believe in her work.
To tell Elvira’s story, you don’t have to back to Backa Palanka, but you do have to go back to a day in 2009. It was one of the strangest days I’ve ever had in a newsroom – and trust me, they can be pretty bloody bizarre places.
This day, though, stands out. I was covering an inquiry into Bogus, Unregistered and Deregistered Health Practitioners. It was mostly about quacks offering dodgy cures for cancer, and people poured out their tales of loved ones frittering away their savings in vain hope.
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Babies freak me out a bit. The really little ones, anyway. It’s the way their heads bobble around like a puppy doll on a dashboard, unsupported by protective muscles. They’re so breakable.
It’s one of the great paradoxes of the human body. On the one hand, it seems miraculous that these old bags of skin and bone and mucous somehow work together to keep a human going.
On the other hand, we’re unbearably fragile. Sometimes hearts stop beating, lungs stop breathing, we just stop working. It’s amazing that so many defenceless babies grow up with all their bits intact.
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From August till the end of the year is the season for science awards. Eureka Prizes, Prime Minister’s Prizes, State Awards for Science Excellence, The Unsung Hero of Science Award, The State Scientists of the Year, Nobel Prizes … on it goes; the glittering array of rewards for those who have truly advanced knowledge and improved the lot of mankind.
Predictably, most of the speeches that laud the winners will mention something like the growing number of Australia’s Nobel laureates in science, how this is a time when science is paramount, how our lives are dependent on science and technology and how virtually every benefit we now enjoy - from better health and longer lives to the internet and safer cars - is the product of scientific processes, improved technology and their application.
Why, then, is this era in which we live apparently the most superstitious and anti-science period since the Middle Ages? Pseudoscience and non-science not only abound, they are actively embraced by thousands who subject themselves and (worse) their children to a variety of nonsensical alternative “treatments” that at their best cause no harm, but at their worst cause serious disease, disability or even death.
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If I’m going to subsidise your homeopathic treatment, I want you to subsidise my red wine. At least there is some evidence the wine may have health benefits.
Insurance is basically a controlled gamble. I pay my monthly fees and hope one day I get a terrifically chronic disease that makes it all worthwhile. Then all those suckers I’ve been subsidising with my rude good health will get what’s coming.
We all hate paying insurance, so more people should be incensed that a portion of the money goes on… well, incense. Aromatherapy, along with other feel-good, do-nothing therapies. (Actually, compared to homeopathy, aromatherapy’s practically penicillin.)
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Welcome to a new regular Punch piece – I Call Bullshit!
(We’ve used this one before, but it really is supremely funny)
It’ll be dedicated to all the quackery, bullshenanigans and bogus science out there, everywhere.
Today’s was going to be all about psychics. Then I saw this piece in The Australian about a homeopathy clinic offering remedies for radiation sickness. They thoughtfully spruiked their wares at a time when so many people in Japan are scared out of their wits as the radiation threat worsens.
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The world is full of quacks. Legislation won’t work. Time for MyQuack.
Sorry, scrap that, bad connotations.
Time for a one-stop easy-access online information source where you can click on the name of the healer you’re visiting and see where they sit on a bullshit-barometer. This week the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission lawyers allege a man has claimed he can cure cancer with diet and exercise. The court has heard he claimed this treatment was more effective than surgery, chemotherapy and pharmaceutical drugs.
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