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Cupping: Premier pseudoscience for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad

[Blythe Nilson, CFI Canada Chair of Science]

Every four years the Olympics lets us know what sort of pseudoscience is popular among athletes. Four years ago it was “magic tape” (KTape ) and in 2016 it’s cupping. Many athletes, especially the swimmers, are sporting large, circular, suction-inflicted wounds that supposedly help their tired muscles recover more quickly between events. Respectable news outlets, like the New York Times and the CBC, responsibly reported that cupping is not based on science and there is no evidence to suggest it works at all for any of the ailments it supposedly addresses. Others however, like Global TV BC, have credulously promoted the practice as if it were real medicine. Instead of interviewing physicians or sport medicine experts, Global brings on acupuncturists and Chinese “traditional medicine” proponents. With little or no scientific training, these practitioners base their “evidence” on anecdotes and poorly run, severely biased, studies, and  benefit from the publicity as they sell cupping as part of their practices.

Cupping originated thousands of years ago, based on the pseudoscientific idea that “toxins”, “qi” or “bad blood” can be removed from the body using suction. A glass or metal cup is heated and placed on the skin. As it cools down the air inside reduces in volume, creating suction on the surface. This breaks small blood vessels in the dermis and draws the blood to the surface where red blood cells die and their contents leaks into the tissue, creating a red circle. It’s basically a hickey. Some practitioners make incisions in the center of the cupped area in order to draw some blood out directly. Nasty burns or infections can result if practitioners are not careful. Traditionally, cups were heated by placing small candles inside them or filling them with hot smoke; today suction can be created mechanically with an electric device.

Modern believers claim that “stagnant blood” lingers in tired muscles and can somehow be drawn through the muscle, the fascia and layers of connective tissue to finally pass through the skin and be deposited in the epidermis. If that were possible the powerful suction required would do a great deal of harm to not only the muscle but all the tissues nearby. Tired muscles which contain pools of “stagnant” blood would be so severely damaged that the athlete would be out of the competition. The only stagnant blood involved here is the blood that escaped the blood vessels damaged by the cupping itself!

Does it work?  Well, since pain-relief is the desired outcome, and pain resides purely in the brain, it’s easy to experience relief if you really believe it should happen. But we won’t see cupping used for anything that we can objectively measure and it’s heartening to see that swimmers who aren’t covered in blotches are winning medals.

Learn more here:
David Gorski
Steven Novella


Secular Humanists Grieve with the LGBTQ Community of Orlando, FLA

Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC) is deeply grieved and horrified by the terrible events at the Pulse night club of Orlando, FLA. CFIC wishes to express its grief and condolences to the families and friends of the people who lost their lives this week in these terrible acts of violence and our support and solidarity with the many people who were injured or terrorized by the actions of a single gunman.

In the earliest moments of shock, confusion and horror, it can be dangerously tempting to draw conclusions and offer condemnations of individuals and groups assumed to be involved.  CFIC urges secular humanists and all Canadians to consider relevant information and evidence that is gathered and made available to the public regarding this  attack  so that such events may be properly understood. Without clear information and validated evidence, we cannot anticipate and prevent other such acts in the future.

As an organization, CFI Canada has consistently studied and condemned acts of faith-based bigotry for many years – whether perpetrated by governments, organized non-state groups or by radical individuals. In the case of this attack on Orlando’s gay community, it must absolutely be understood that anti-gay bigotry has been observed in a wide-range of faiths and has been perpetrated by fanatical individuals, endorsed by hateful organizations and excused by many governments and cultures around the world.  Despite the sparse evidence specific to the killer’s motivations or state of mind, it is reasonable to include religious and cultural perspectives as a factor; it is not reasonable to ascribe those perspectives to all Muslims or all religious people.

The LGBTQ community throughout the world has endured a long and sometimes despairing struggle to attain and maintain human rights and freedoms.  Violent oppressors and their dogmatic ideologies must be condemned at every step and at every atrocity in the defense of human rights.  It is not only reasonable, but essential that any motivations of this killer, and where their roots may be found be closely examined and publicly challenged.  Where those motivations, whether religious, psychological, political or of some other source may be shared across groups, they must be exposed and ended.  Any individual, group or government which condemns  the victims of this attack or discourages full investigation of the motivations must also share in condemnation and culpability for creating an environment where such crimes are possible.

It has been reported that the victims of June 12, 2016 were diverse in their character, their religion, their political views, their socio-economic backgrounds and on many other details – but they shared a common victimization in having been targeted by their presence in a community gathering place of supportive love and friendship.  The diversity and individuality of the victims of this crime, when compared to the singular and consistent hatred of murderers like Omar Mateen, must be a reminder to all people that fanatical bigotries eventually make victims of us all.  CFIC encourages Canadians to participate in local Pride activities in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.


Pride_1 Regina



Spoon Bending and Higher Learning


The University of Alberta’s Pediatric Integrative Medicine Rounds had scheduled a session entitled “Spoon Bending and the Power of the Mind” for June 28th but soon cancelled it after Timothy Caulfield, a professor of health law and science policy at the University, called them out by tweeting an image of the poster advertising the event. After the tweet was widely circulated, garnering ridicule and disbelief, the presenters withdrew the session. Billed as an “experimental workshop” teaching “a guided meditation/energy transfer technique which will have most participants bending cutlery using the power of their minds”, Caulfield at first thought it was a magic show. He soon realized it was no joke and saw that other topics such as “the power of positivity, manifesting, and some quantum physics experiments” were to be included. An odd disclaimer also stated that the workshop was “experimental” and “will not be a scientific evaluation of the process”. Unscientific it certainly would have been, as any skeptic knows.

Spoon bending, popularized in the 70s by Uri Geller and famously debunked by James Randi on live TV over 40 years ago, is easy for anyone but it’s not done with the mind. Several ways to perform this trick are easily found online. Since spoon bending is almost a poster-child for the skeptical movement, being so easy to explain and so widely understood, the incident must have been deeply embarrassing for the University of Alberta.

The presenter was to be Anastasia Kutt, an Edmonton “energy healer” and an education coordinator and for the CARE (Complementary and Alternative Research and Education) programme. Her website describes her as a “reiki specialist” who is capable of “removing issues and stress from your energetic field, to bring it into balance and its original state of good health.” Reiki is another pseudoscience in which “energy fields are manipulated”. For these reasons the CARE programme deserves scrutiny and serious debate about its place in academia.

Caulfield is not alone in being concerned that “these kinds of programs legitimize the pseudo-science.” They also waste money on “therapies” that have failed the evidence test and have no place in university. In an alarming trend, however, several medical schools have been being infiltrated by “alternative medicine” institutes and schools masquerading as science. The University of Toronto has a Center for Integrative Medicine and there are many more in the US. It must be getting more and more difficult for medical students to tell the difference between evidence-based medicine and quackery when they are peddled snake oil by their own institution.



Another Pediatric Death by World View

[excerpted from an article by Clay Jones at Science-Based Medicine]

On March 18th, 2012, physicians at Alberta Children’s Hospital made the always-difficult decision to remove 19-month-old Ezekiel Stephan from life support after five days under their care. Carrying the diagnosis of brain death, there was sadly no life to support at that point. The events that led to his tragic death are currently the focus of an ongoing trial where Ezekiel’s parents stand charged with “failing to provide the necessaries of life.” If convicted, they face up to five years in prison as well as loss of custody of their remaining children.

The charges against the Stephan family are based on concerns that they failed to seek appropriate medical care while he suffered from bacterial meningitis, a deadly infection involving the brain and spinal cord, for several days. Revelations from court testimony so far have revealed that the Ezekiel’s parents chose instead to treat him at home with various herbal remedies. This isn’t surprising considering that Ezekiel is also unvaccinated and his grandfather operates a notorious herbal supplement company which sells cures for bipolar disorder and autism.

So far the jury has heard from a nurse family friend who visited the home a few days before Ezekiel died and who recommended that they bring him to a doctor for possible meningitis. Instead he was brought to a local naturopathy clinic and received an herbal concoction meant to “boost the immune system.” Only once the poor child had stopped breathing did the family call 911, but it was too late. Testimony from Alberta Children’s Hospital pediatricians revealed that he was likely already brain dead by the time he arrived by emergency transport.

So who is to blame for Ezekiel’s suffering and death? Certainly his parents, and their warped anti-medicine world view, should be held accountable. But this tragic case also raises serious concerns about a system which licenses practitioners of pseudomedicine and allows them to practice their dangerous nonsense on vulnerable children. Adding to the controversy, Ezekiel’s parents are now claiming that a conspiracy between the Crown and the pharmaceutical industry may be at work.


Further Inquiry


International Women’s Day

In recognition of International Women’s Day (March 8,  2016), CFIC presents the following translation of a Lecture by Dr. Hu Dayi from CFI China’s October 2015 Women’s Health Popularization forum.  CFI Canada hosted a CFI China delegation at our offices in the summer of 2015 and we continue to build on our friendship!

Blythe Nilson, Science Chair – CFI Canada

Women’s Health Popularization Forum – October 2015

China Care and Compassion Society


CFI China


Lecture by Dr. Hu Dayi

[Chief, Heart Institute Intervention Center, People Hospital of Peking University

President, China Heart Federation (CHF), Chinese Society of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation (CSCPR), Chinese Society of Heart & Brain Diseases (CS-HBD)]


Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

Our topic today is women’s health.  Today at noon we signed, a Women’s Health Plan for our international community to carry out many projects to further promote the Chinese Women’s Health, the first of which is demonstrated at today’s meeting.

I want to talk about several topics. First, what is the most important threat to women’s health by disease?  We always thought that the threat to women’s health and life are gender-related cancers.  This appears to have been a misunderstanding.  In fact deaths of women with cardiovascular disease is far greater than the sum of deaths by cancer, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. So the first killer of women is cardiovascular disease.

Second, we have carried out a domestic survey investigating Beijing, Shanghai and the western rural area of China. We found that only 10% of people are aware that the first killer of women is cardiovascular disease

Third, it is more and more common for women to present with cardiovascular disease, such as myocardial infarction.   But often their symptoms are not typical, and therefore lead to misdiagnosis, delaying the most valuable treatment tool – time.

Why do we pay special attention to women’s health?  Is the main catch to focus on women’s health problems? Or to vigorously promote healthy lifestyles, do lifestyle interventions and treatments? Careful control of risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, and prevention of these risk factors may be the primary way forward.


Chinese women are likely to be a pillar of the health of their families. In China, women attend to family health more closely than in Western countries. So a focus on women’s health may have an impact on three generations of health.  The starting point to launch the establishment of a healthy family focus is by starting with women’s health.

Today we represent a science popularization forum.  We hope the little things that a lot of people insist on doing will make a big difference.  Talking about movement, talking about health, but also paying attention to the systematic, comprehensive factors of health.  We must talk about nutrition, about the more comprehensive and more integrated aspects of health. We need to focus on practical solutions, not just high-level theories

Implementation is very challenging. Lifestyle changes require the participation of millions of people in millions of households. Over the past 15 years, I have been running my own demonstration projects: First, “ten thousand steps a day” and second “take the cup”.

Walking is the easiest activity to promote. After 15 years, ten thousand steps a day has become a way of action. From government officials to migrant workers, to entrepreneurs, to doctors, many have followed this path. I walk ten thousand steps myself. There are some new smartphone features and applications that allow you to compare results with others, providing mutual supervision for one another.  Everyone can see who does well, who walks more, who walks less. Walking ten thousand steps may seem like a small thing, but many people have committed to doing it. For myself, over 15 years I have gone from a body weight of 93 kg body weight to a consistent 74 kg – 76 kg. By controlling my body weight, I have also achieved blood glucose control – this effect was very fast.  Exercise and weight control can also reduce triglycerides, have an impact on blood pressure, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and for some patients promotes improved blood circulation.

The second demonstration is take the cup – a very simple thing. First, for your health, remind yourself to drink more water; second, for environmental protection, avoid the use of disposable plastic bottles.  It often happens, both in businesses and at public places, that a large proportion of the mineral water drinks from these bottles are discarded unused, which wastes energy, and also the bottles themselves add unnecessary waste. We must not be afraid of beginning small.  Make a start and possibly everyone will join, continue to participate, and finally make a big difference, to improve everyone’s health.

In summary, my study of women’s health and longevity found that the healthiest way for both women and men is to eat a balanced diet, to walk often, to drink plenty of water, and do not smoke,.


The Chinese Ministry of Health recently revised its previous guideline to consume 1200ml of water per day, increasing the recommendation amount to 1600 ml.


The Chinese female smoking rate is very low, but secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard. We should stand up and put an end to smoking in public places.  I have quit smoking myself, and in June 2015, Beijing enacted a total ban on public smoking (though it has not been consistently enforced). We suggest more and more people should stand up and speak out against smoking in public. Women are exposed to second smoke from their husbands, colleagues smoking, and secondhand smoke in public places. One trend that is of particular concern is that while for Chinese elderly men smoking rates are declining, the rate of Chinese adolescent female smoking rate has increased. Teenagers take smoking as fashionable and as a means of weight loss or weight control – this is a dangerous signal of great concern.

In conclusion:

Do not try to compare your fame and fortune with that of others. Do something you enjoy; enjoy life.  Maintain a healthy quality of life by making sure that you get enough sleep; do not make yourself too tired, and try to have at least six hours of sleep each night. Recent studies have found a link between poor sleep and cardiovascular disease; many scientists believe that failure to manage sleep disorders results in increased risk for cardiovascular disease and even increased mortality.

Unfortunately, we have been seeing an increase in death from overwork – called “karoshi” in Japan. Last year many 40 to 50 year-old doctors (including cardiac surgeons and obstetricians/gynecologists)   died prematurely from cardiovascular disease and stroke. This is a tragedy. Doctors are currently working at high-intensity pressure.  We want to work hard to help our patients be both mentally and physically healthy. We are concerned about vulnerable groups, concerned about social issues, seeking to promote family harmony and human health.  I have found balance for myself by “managing my mouth” (controlling my diet), and “managing my stride” (walking ten thousand steps per day).  I hope to help my colleagues improve themselves as well.

In Chinese history, we see many old generals and old leaders who have lived to one hundred years.  We should work towards this for ourselves as we strive to be serious about taking care of ourselves. In the past, there was an old Chinese saying “Life of seventy is rare in ancient times.” Now a new World Health Organization statement defines “premature death” as death of a 70-year-old!  This completely overturns the traditional view, I think a premature death 70 years ago was 90 year old. It should be that we advance to a hundred years old, but also advance to healthy living, which is the goal.


Thank you, all.