Archives for posts with tag: Austin Darragh

Last week, the Sunday Independent published a curious article about a new water technology that purported to be the “greatest breakthrough in agriculture since the plough”. This alone set my baloney detector into overdrive, and I quickly tweeted about it on our Cork Skeptics account. The story quickly went viral, catching the attention of the sceptical community in the UK and Ireland, appearing on various blogs, forums and news aggregators and getting some media attention too.

The article outlines a “groundbreaking technology” that, when applied to plants, increases their size and output, making them largely disease resistant too. What is this technology, you might ask? Water. Or more specifically, water energised by radio waves. Like, who’d have thought of that?

The article fails to convince on a number of levels. First of all, there are the exaggerated claims. Not only does the writer refer to the technology as the greatest thing since the plough, but he mentions huge savings in fertilisers, believes it can combat global warming and alludes to gigantic chickens and sheep. Then, there are the swipes at the standard bête noirs of the alternative community: pesticides and GM foods. Then there’s the muddled science that adds radio waves to water to create a miracle substance: as if nobody has tried that one before. In addition, there were the appeals to authority – the “foremost agricultural specialist”, the Kew references, the University of Limerick and Indian Government associations.

Overall, it was a badly written article that read like a rushed press-release.  It all sounded too good, too amazing, too miraculous, to be true.

I took a quick look at Vi-Aqua’s website and immediately I came across another red-flag: its lack of any side-effects. Vi-Aqua was quickly looking more like the agricultural equivalent of Homeopathy, the long discredited alternative medical treatment that has no side effects precisely because it doesn’t actually do anything. And what did I find in the “Full Scientific Proof” Report on Page 8? Yep. “Magnetic Water Memory”. In other words, Homeopathy.

Then, on Page 8: “To date no supporting scientific papers have been published”. Then why make such outlandish claims in the national newspapers? It seemed to me that we were seeing another Steorn, another Cold Fusion, another Arsenic Life, where the normal peer review process was being bypassed in order to generate media interest.

Andrew Jackson of TCD got on the case. He had a few commentaries to add: the paper cast a wide net in order to identify apparent statistical correlations, it referred to pig studies that were unblinded and inadequately controlled. None of the studies adequately supported the wild claims the article was making. picked it up. In the comments there was a link to a “Gallery of Water Related Pseudo-science”, in which Vi-Aqua got a mention. We also learned that the technology had been around since 2004. There was also a Reddit link with a commenter claiming that they had tested this stuff in 2007 with no discernible effect.

Then there was the Kew connection. The Sunday Independent article said the following:

In recognition of the groundbreaking technology, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, London, recently took the hitherto unheard-of step of granting Professor Austin Darragh and his team the right to use their official centuries-old coat of arms on the new technology – the first time ever that Kew Gardens has afforded anyone such an honour.

A friend contacted Kew Gardens, and although initially the response was that they endorsed Vi-Aqua, I received a tweet later which said “Thank you your interest. Kew has not endorsed these products since 2006. The article in the Irish Independent was inaccurate.”

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This pretty much brings us up to date. It would be good to hear more from Kew Gardens and from the Warrenstown people, with a review of their controls from a scientific perspective. It would also be interesting how comfortable the University of Limerick is about this, given that they appear to be associated with these claims.

Many thanks to Donncha (for alerting me to the story in the first place) and Andrew, John & Christian for the further insights.

Also worth a read is my previous blog entry on Austin Darragh, where, on national radio, he associated Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to antibiotics.

Professor Austin Darragh spoke to Marian Finucane on the radio last Saturday. Professor Darragh, now in his eighties, is one of the most esteemed members of the medical profession in Ireland. His prolific career, spanning 6 decades, is a case study in productivity and enterprise. He has been a pioneer in both the academic world and the business world. More recently, he has devoted significant time to understanding crippling issues such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

In a wide ranging interview, he made two claims that had me scratching my head.

He is concerned about immunisation, particularly in children. He believes that a lot more work needs to be done to understand the linkage between the whooping cough vaccine and allergic syndromes such as asthma and eczema.

He believes that antibiotics are a principal cause of CFS. The thinking goes like this: our cells contain mitochondria, which are bacterial organisms. Mitochondria generate energy that feed the cells. Antibiotics kill bacteria, and therefore, while killing “bad” bacteria, they will kill mitochondria too. Therefore the cells do not get the energy they need. Therefore people feel fatigued. Therefore, CFS.

I am not an expert in medicine, and I have not done any research into these issues, but to my mind these are pretty serious statements. If they are completely factual, backed up by proper scientific research, then these are hugely important medical breakthroughs. The CFS claim is truly revolutionary, as I have not heard anything like this from mainstream scientific commentators: in fact, I have frequently heard the opposite.

If the claims are not backed up by proper evidence, then what he is saying is enormously irresponsible. Both areas: childhood immunisation and CFS, are fraught with stratospheric levels of emotion and an almost zealous disregard for the truth. The science behind the claims of the most vocal of the advocates is either non-existent or flatly contradictory. Children throughout the developed world have fallen ill and died as a result of the questioning of immunisation. Fear mongering about the use of antibiotics, on the basis that you might get CFS, could have equally serious consequences. Making public factual claims about things that are merely hypotheses, serve as a huge distraction and may divert badly needed resources and time from more promising areas of research.

On the claim that CFS is called by the death of mitochondria, then how come we all don’t have CFS after a course of antibiotics? How come chronic users of antibiotics don’t all have CFS? How come you can safely administer antibiotics to small children and the elderly? What is the research? What alternative views exist and what research has been conducted into alternative claims? None of this was explored in the interview, but it would be interesting to know more.

I encourage you to listen to the radio programme and to draw your own conclusions. The relevant part of the interview begins at the 26:16 minute mark.

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