We have already explored in detail how the media seized upon what could be considered a small story about the referral practices of Dr Sam Kim, a pulmonary lung specialist, and blew that tale up into headline news. This press activity reflects poorly upon the way the media constructs its news today – there is a sacrificing of truth for a sensational headline or to satisfy political or sometimes personal agendas.
The disciplinary proceedings against the doctor were initiated from a complaint about him referring a patient to complementary health providers. Significantly, the specialist’s medical care of his patient, for her presenting condition, was not found to be deficient. He had erred however, at least from the perspective of the Professional Standards Committee (PSC) (the body that oversees complaints against doctors), in referring ‘Patient A’ to complementary health practitioners and it was hypothesised that ‘Patient A’ might have benefitted more from a referral to a specialist pain clinic. However, there was no evidence that the patient would have followed the doctor’s suggestions to seek such alternatives to manage her condition – and no evidence that it would have materially improved her condition to do so.
The matter involved only one patient being referred for complementary health care by the specialist, however it was not clear if this was the doctor’s common practice.
Importantly, the Professional Standards Committee (PSC) determined that no harm was actually caused by those referrals with respect to ‘Patient A’, other than a small economic ‘harm’ of the patient being out of pocket for the grand sum of $70 for a massage.
The PSC was concerned that the doctor may not have distinguished, at least not in a way that was as clear as allegedly was needed for his patient’s understanding, the distinction between allopathic medicine and complementary medicine. However, if you are referred for a massage, or other less conventional treatments involving needling therapies, such as Chakra-puncture, it seems, at least to an ordinary observer, that the distinction is blindingly obvious.
A few journalists saw the incident as an opportunity to recreate another sensational story which would give them the headlines, turning the story into one about Universal Medicine, when the matter was not really about that organisation at all.
Rather than focusing upon the actual story about referral practices, Josh Robertson, in a reprise of his previous Courier Mail offerings, now writing for The Guardian, made no secret of his focus, with the headline, ‘Doctor rebuked over “spiritual healing” group touting “esoteric breast massage”’. A headline guaranteed to shock an audience.
Notably, the treatment in question ‘esoteric breast massage’ was not one to which the patient had been referred to at all and had nothing whatsoever to do with the story. Nor had Dr Sam Kim been rebuked over the organisation, Universal Medicine.
The matter was one about referral practices generally, the PSC’s main concern appeared to be (and legitimately so) the care which a physician takes in making appropriate referrals – their findings and disciplinary measures reflected that. In this regard, the organisation to which one patient had supposedly been referred to, was merely incidental to the decision and should have been treated as such by the media.
Indeed, if the facts had been more carefully considered, it would have been apparent that ‘Patient A’ never saw a practitioner at the Universal Medicine clinic, nor a practitioner who was part of the Universal Medicine business.
In fact, ‘Patient A’ had chosen not to follow the doctor’s suggestion to see the only practitioner she had been referred to who actually practised at the Universal Medicine clinic.
Instead she saw two practitioners who were completely independent of the business who happened to offer Universal Medicine therapies, for which they had undergone training with Universal Medicine. But these practitioners did not operate from the Universal Medicine clinic and were not, and have never been, part of the Universal Medicine business.
As we have already outlined in Part 2 of this expose, Josh Robertson, already had pedigree in catapulting bogus claims about Universal Medicine to a wider audience at his old role at the Courier Mail. His fervour to reignite a story was exposed by his mention of Universal Medicine no less than 17 times in his new article for The Guardian, keyword loading it for greatest effect.
The story provided the journalist with a vehicle to vilify Universal Medicine, thus a small story about referral practices with only one patient, with no harm caused to that patient, since the medical care provided for her condition was not lacking, became another hatchet job about Universal Medicine.
And, in his eagerness to pillory his target, the journalist lost sight of the harm that might be caused to a dedicated doctor, deeply committed to the health and well-being of his patients, who has, at great personal expense, ensured that he could provide specialist medical services to a rural community.
It was evident that Josh Robertson was focussed on Universal Medicine and not Dr Sam Kim; not only from the 17 mentions of the organisation in his article and headline grabs, but also in picking up on various angles to bolster his arsenal against his target.
One such angle Josh Robertson seized upon was highlighting a NSW Parliamentary Committee for the Health Care Complaints Commission into the Promotion of False and Misleading Health-Related Information and Practices. This Committee had adopted material contained in two ill-considered news reports about Universal Medicine as ‘evidence’ that had been presented to it by Emeritus Professor John Dwyer, after it would appear that the professor failed to inquire whether the material contained in those reports was true or not, since it is known that he never approached Universal Medicine to inquire about the matter.
What the journalist failed to consider, and certainly did not question, is what it says about our parliamentary system of review, when a legally convened Parliamentary Inquiry cites sensationalised and unverified tabloid offerings as ‘evidence’ in its determinations. Tabloid offerings where the ‘news’ contained within them could easily have been exposed as at best misleading and in other respects simply false. It should have been considered that, at the least, it ill behoves our parliamentary system, and makes a mockery of standards of evidence and proof.
Fake news becomes evidence before a parliamentary inquiry
Professor John Dwyer is a well-known figure in the media – his views on any form of complementary healthcare are predictable and he consistently provides the media with an assured sound bite that is antithetical to anything that is not exclusively within the bounds of conventional medicine.
In asserting his ideology, John Dwyer has seemingly ignored that many of the results achieved in conventional medicine are poorly understood in the same way as complementary therapies are, and do not meet the standards that he considers essential (that is, that studies must be replicable).1
Whether commenting upon the use of vitamins on ABC radio or providing a sound-bite for tabloid current affairs, it appears that John Dwyer has offered an assured voice to ridicule whatever complementary modality he has been presented to comment upon.
What were the key points John Dwyer made about Universal Medicine?
He appeared to have conducted no direct research on the organisation but apparently based what he had learnt about the organisation from a couple of newspaper articles he referenced, as well as the blog writings and submissions by Esther Rockett.
We know he had liaised with Rockett, since Rockett (if she can be believed) had said as much in her blogs, and Professor Dwyer endorsed her submission to the same Parliamentary Committee, conducting its inquiry ‘into the promotion of false or misleading health-related information or practices’, stating that Rockett presented a: ‘clear example of dangerous and misleading health care fraud involving the treatment of serious illness’ on the basis that Rockett herself had been a ‘credible recipient of this malpractice.’
This could be viewed as a case of false information presented to a Parliamentary Committee:
There was no evidence of ‘health care fraud’ and no ‘malpractice’ by Universal Medicine or its practitioners.
Esther Rockett had never been treated for any ‘serious illness’ by a Universal Medicine practitioner, since there were no so-called ‘patients’ who had been treated for serious disease, since Universal Medicine practitioners do not treat medically diagnosed conditions – that, without exception, is left to medical professionals;
Individuals suffering from ‘serious disease’ (or other medical conditions) may find support from Universal Medicine therapies, whilst being treated for their condition with conventional medical care, but such support is never offered as an alternative ‘treatment’, only as a complement to proper medical care and advice; and, importantly,
There was no evidence of any harm caused to any client through the Universal Medicine therapies.
John Dwyer gave a skewed and highly inflammatory account of Universal Medicine to the Committee, appearing to rehash media reports to the Committee in a way that, like the media before him, were obviously intended to garner concern and alarm. The contempt was palpable in the material that Joshua Robertson anchored upon in his reporting of Dr Kim’s case.
Providing the perfect ‘sound-bites’ for Josh Robertson’s story, Dwyer had given the Committee his strongly held opinion that Universal Medicine ‘subjected’ patients to ‘nonsense therapeutic approaches’ and had rattled off a reference to ‘esoteric breast massage’ before driving home an emotion-charged presentation, quoted by Robertson:
‘They claim they can massage your back and actually massage your lungs if you have lung conditions; the practitioners say they have the power to talk to a woman’s ovaries and learn about that; and they explain that all illnesses are due to past misdeeds in previous incarnations of your life.’
For Professor Dwyer, any complementary therapy was going to be ‘nonsense’ and the presentation he had given the Committee had rehashed the media’s emphasis on claims about reincarnation, karma and ‘talking to ovaries’.2
Notably using the term ‘subjected’, inferred that ‘patients’ were forced to undergo a treatment that was unwelcomed or unpleasant.3 Any fair-minded or rigorous inquiry would have revealed that the treatments described, are highly sought after and well received by clients. Indeed, they would be described as deeply nurturing, relaxing and beneficial, quite the opposite of what was inferred.
The reference to ‘talking to women’s ovaries’ was a claim John Dwyer repeated after apparently reading it in a story by Heath Aston in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 July 2012, one of the two pieces of tabloid journalism that the Committee cited.4 There is no such Universal Medicine treatment as ‘talking to ovaries’, but John Dwyer seemed content to rest his professional, ‘scientific’ opinion on the material presented in a newspaper article, evidently without seeking to verify the content by making the most obvious of inquiries by asking Universal Medicine.
The ridiculous claim that Universal Medicine proposes that all illness is due to ‘misdeeds’ in past lives, appears to have been derived from material disseminated by Esther Rockett. As a proposition it of course sounds ridiculous, and is a misleading and deliberately deceptive presentation of Universal Medicine’s philosophy of illness and disease, the core tenet of which is that how we live is the source of most illness and disease.
This core tenet of Universal Medicine’s philosophy is supported by scientific literature that identifies that most chronic diseases and many cancers are lifestyle-related.
The central theme of Universal Medicine’s philosophy is that individuals should take greater responsibility for their health through lifestyle choices that are wide ranging and embrace emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing. There would have been a wealth of evidence available to John Dwyer and the Committee of this philosophy if due diligence had been observed and the facts investigated.
That anyone can ‘actually massage your lungs’ again sounds ridiculous. It is obviously a physical impossibility. It was another deliberate misrepresentation of an aspect of Universal Medicine’s understanding of the body (an understanding that is shared in many different philosophical systems and approaches to healing), which views the different organs of the body as energy centres.
In this regard, there is no claim to ‘massage lungs’ but a back massage that focuses on the energetic centres considered to be related to the lungs. There are many established systems of healing, such as Acupuncture, that have identified ‘lung points’ in many areas of the body and it is not considered controversial.
Professor Dwyer’s testimony meant that Universal Medicine was referred to in a section of the Committee’s report that examined ‘false or misleading health-related information or health practices that were brought to the Committee’s attention as being potentially dangerous.’
However, the Committee was obliged to make the comment that, regarding Universal Medicine, there was ‘little anecdotal evidence to suggest actual harm.’5
This could be viewed as the Committee, by sleight of hand, giving the impression that there was some evidence of harm – ‘little anecdotal’ does not mean none, it suggests there might possibly be something.
It should be emphasised that there was no evidence whatsoever of any harm from Universal Medicine therapies to any patient, none at all.
In fact, there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any harm at all arising from any complementary therapy offered by Universal Medicine. Unsurprising given that without exception, the therapies offered are extremely gentle and would be of no physical risk to anyone – and given the high level of integrity and care brought to the practice of the therapies by each practitioner.
Furthermore, the therapies are only ever offered as complementary treatments, not as a replacement for proper conventional medical care. In fact, quite the opposite of ‘harm’ would have been discovered if true investigation had occurred, with hundreds of clients being able to attest to the positive contribution to their health and well-being.
Any accounts circulating to the contrary could be sourced back to Esther Rockett and the complainant (‘Patient A’) in Dr Kim’s case who is known to have developed a strident antipathy to Universal Medicine and Serge Benhayon based, it appears, upon her direct involvement with Esther Rockett’s blog sites.
Patient A had not suffered any harm through the complementary therapies that are taught by Universal Medicine, except for the nominal payment of $70 for the complementary treatment she had.
It seems absurd that in the scientific community, that champions rigorous scientific proof of any claim, of which Professor John Dwyer is a staunch advocate, as were some of the Parliamentary Committee Members who furnished the final report, to reference ‘anecdotal evidence’; when, to the scientific mind-set, ‘anecdotal evidence’ is not considered ‘evidence’ at all. It is regarded as nothing more than hearsay. In this case, it revolved around the adoption of unverified stories that suggested that harm might possibly have happened to ‘other’ people rather than hard facts that anything had occurred at all.
The Committee’s choice of words, in its final report, avoided the obvious acknowledgement that it had no evidence of any actual harm caused to any person by the Universal Medicine therapies and appears to be a disingenuous attempt to suggest that there might have been harm, when there had been no harm from the complementary therapies offered by Universal Medicine at all.
Professor John Dwyer’s testimony had selectively drawn upon sensational aspects from the media stories and it appears without independent effort to verify or substantiate the truth of the journalist’s assertions.
These apparently alarming concoctions were adopted by a Parliamentary Committee that appeared to have been swayed by the eminence and standing of the man giving the evidence and thus failed to look at the quality of that evidence or question its validity.
The nature of news media feeding itself becomes evident when it is considered that Josh Robertson turned to the evidence before the Parliamentary Inquiry to bolster his monstering of Dr Kim and Universal Medicine. Yet, the Parliamentary Report was already no more than a rehash of the media’s false narratives, that have been then later used to bolster the credibility of the same false narratives – the media circuitously feeding upon its own stories.
The convenient ‘sound-bites’ Josh Robertson referred to were not included in the Committee’s final report – Dwyer’s exaggerations about Universal Medicine were mere opinion given before the Committee under the protection of parliamentary privilege. It was inflammatory and hardly factual.
False assumptions: should a complementary therapist be able to tell if a client has cancer?
What the Parliamentary Committee did latch hold of in its report was, as Joshua Robertson reports,
‘Two patients undergoing Universal Medicine therapies were independently diagnosed with cancer and bronchiectasis and needed medical intervention to be properly treated, it said.’
To suggest that clients at Universal Medicine were being treated for very serious conditions was false. The media reports had already skewed the stories with facts that were never verified, and if investigated, simply did not add up.
The evidence relied upon for these revelations, cited by the Parliamentary Committee, were two newspaper articles.
When the parliamentary process begins to rely upon the newspapers for its evidence, the public should be alarmed. The news, replete with fake news, should never replace evidence from proper investigation and inquiry. In this case, it did.
Heath Aston, of the Sydney Morning Herald, had reported that a woman had received treatment from a physiotherapist who worked out of Universal Medicine premises and was later diagnosed with cancer.
What was this beat-up really about? Well it should have been about a woman with back pain, who was treated by a physiotherapist for back pain, but was later diagnosed by a medical specialist with cancer. BUT it was turned into a story that implied, in some unspecified way, that the subsequent diagnosis of cancer could be seen to be related to treatment for back pain.
What was curious here, and appeared to be something Heath Aston (the journalist), Professor Dwyer and the Parliamentary Committee missed completely, is that if someone goes to see a physiotherapist with a bad back then that is usually what they are treated for. It is likely an improvement in that physical condition may be assessed by the physiotherapist as the patient improving.
What is extraordinary is an implication that a physiotherapist, treating someone for a bad back, should have been able to diagnose cancer (unrelated to the back condition) or be aware of any indicators for that disease.
The other fragment of so called ‘evidence’ (from another newspaper article) that Professor Dwyer presented to the Committee, was of a patient being diagnosed with bronchiectasis but supposedly paying $35,000 to Universal Medicine for treatments. His reference was to a tabloid news article by Jane Hansen. Jane Hansen had done a beat up about a patient who claimed to have paid $35,000 to Universal Medicine for therapies for a cough.
Now importantly, that patient was already under medical care for her condition and thus did not fit the descriptor Josh Robertson gave in his article of the patient needing subsequent medical intervention, except insofar as she appeared to suffer from chronic health conditions requiring ongoing care. Nor had she paid a cent to Universal Medicine. The origins of the $35,000 or its destination remains a mystery. It was certainly not paid to Universal Medicine for ‘new age therapies’ as the headline of the article suggested. Another beat up.
There is a news story to be told and it does not arise from the mere vague possibility of harms arising from the gentle therapies offered by a complementary health care provider. There was (and is) no evidence of any harm through treatments offered by Universal Medicine.
In fact, there are hundreds of individuals who would attest to the benefits they have experienced from all the Universal Medicine therapies, such as Massage, Connective Tissue Therapy, Esoteric Breast Massage and Chakra-puncture.
The newspaper articles considered in this blog should cause us to question yet again what is reported as ‘news’.
The media has been intoxicated by tales about ‘fake news’ in recent times. But the ‘fake news’ the public is fed by the media, daily, is far more insidious. The news media is full of stories that fit a political agenda held by the media owners or by the individual bias of journalists. Or even worse, presents stories simply concocted to create headlines where truth is given a backseat to sensation and lies.
This impacts on how we perceive our world.
However, what should also concern us deeply is that the ‘pulp fiction’ that appears to comprise the news we read has been elevated to the status of ‘evidence’ in our parliamentary system. Where are the checks and balances?
The NSW Parliamentary Committee did not inquire whether any of the news articles were true or not, seemingly satisfied that if an Emeritus Professor of Medicine told them something, well it must be true.
That the Parliamentary Inquiry cited these unverified and frankly unsustainable offerings as ‘evidence’ behoves our parliamentary system ill.
That a seasoned political journalist presents this material without question and indeed tacitly appears to consider this adequate, when he must be aware of how the news media operates, suggests that journalism has truly abandoned its role as the fourth estate.
1. Ioannidis, J.P.A. (2005). Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Med2(8): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
2. Parliament of NSW, (2014, November). Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission. Report 5/55 Final Report – The Promotion of False and Misleading Health-related Information and Practices, at para 3.29.
3. ‘Subjected’ definition. Retrieved from https://www.google.com.au/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=subjected%20definition
4. Parliament of NSW, (2014, November), at note 34 on page 15.
5. Parliament of NSW, (2014, November), para 3.30.