Update - the problem went away, but now it's back...
The Mining Company is an outfit that lets people who know something about a subject set up a site covering it. They automate the site creation process and provide a simple template-based interface with no hosting or other complexities. This gives knowledgeable persons a nice shake-and-bake Mining Company site on their topic of interest, complete with discussion board, features section, whatever.miningco.com URL and so on. The Mining Company even pay these "Guides" a bit of money for their trouble, based on their site's traffic, and the system seems quite popular - at the time of writing, they've signed up more than 500 Guides.
The idea is to present reliable information on various topics, and to give people a jumping-off point to other related sites, with the knowledge that every site has been vetted by someone who knows what they're talking about and has filtered out the rubbish.
The Guide at The Mining Company's Alternative Medicine site is one Terri Ramacus. According to her bio page, she's a "professional Reiki Master"; there's a link to her off-site Reiki Courses page, on which she bills herself as "Rev. T. Ramacus" - hey, what a coincidence, I'm a Reverend too!
What's Reiki? Glad you asked. In Terri's own words, from her Courses page: "Reiki, derived from Tibetan Buddhism, is an ancient hands-on healing art using Universal life force energy to heal, harmonize and balance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels of the body. It is available to any person interested in developing his or her innate healing ability. However, reading books or listening to a lecture will NOT give you the ability to channel the Reiki energy. You must receive the "Attunements" by a Reiki Master Teacher in order to use the Reiki Energy."
Amazingly, Attunements are not free.
Reiki practitioners claim to remove disruptions to the normal flow of "universal life force energy", which they allege to be the cause of illness. They believe in auras, chakras, Higher Intelligence and, of course, ki (or qi, or chi), which is associated in some way with mystic symbols, which may be freely published or top secret depending on what flavour of Reiki you follow, but which definitely won't work if you haven't paid to become a Reiki Master. Terri's courses are quite cheap; some people pay many thousands of dollars for Reiki training.
Reiki is supported by a great deal of anecdotal evidence and no repeatable science at all. A number of the basic claims of Reiki practitioners, if true, could qualify them to win James Randi's more-than-a-million-dollar Challenge. Just being able to prove you see auras would do it. You wouldn't have to cure anything.
But I digress. Because this is not why I have a bug up my ass about Terri.
You see, according to The Mining Company's About Us page, "you can find what you want, and trust what you find" at a Mining Company site. Their User Agreement denies all responsibility for the information presented on their sites, as you'd expect, since they basically let anybody off the street who sounds plausible and can handle their simple training be a Guide. They can't be expected to vet the content of all those sites. But, nonetheless, you'd expect the Guides themselves to make an effort to make sure the information on their site was, in fact, trustworthy.
That's what I thought, anyway, until someone on the Healthfraud list drew my attention to Terri's site. The alt-med site is pretty much wall to wall hard core new age boosterism. On Terri's site, you'll be hard pressed to find a link to ANY page that says ANYTHING that a stereotypical dolphin hugging crystal lover wouldn't agree with, much less on-site content saying such heretical things as, for example, "Don't use this therapy, it appears to be nonsense."
This is odd, because Terri does indeed believe some therapies to be nonsense. In our discussion on her bulletin board, she brought up iridology as an example of a practice which she believes has no value. I'm with her on this one; iridology has never been shown to be good for anything, and has been tested and failed. So you'd think Terri wouldn't have a problem with including a link to the case against it, like the Quackwatch link I provide above. Well, there IS an iridology link from her site, but it's to http://www.grandmedicine.com/iridology.htm, which doesn't for a moment suggest the practice is anything but genuine.
But even THIS isn't what I've got a bug up my ass about.
No, what's got me steamed is that Terri decided, in the middle of this discussion, that the best way to deal with the situation was to delete every message I'd posted to her bulletin board, and every message anybody else had posted on the subject, including her own. She admitted as much in a post of her own, and went on to accuse me of editing text I'd quoted from her posts to make her appear to say things she hadn't, and to threaten me with prosecution for slander. She also said "I'm not pushing, endorsing, verifying, proving, disproving, or recommending any particular therapy", which is I think pretty rich for someone who sells courses in Reiki. And, in another post, she had the hide to make fun of me for not responding to people's replies to my posts - when she was actively DELETING my replies.
And THAT, dear readers, is what sent that little ol' insect crawling through my sphincter.
Now, Mining Company Guides are allowed to delete messages which they judge to be "offensive or disruptive", but I don't think my posts qualified. And I REALLY don't think HER posts qualified. What posts I could recover from my browser cache I have put on this site; they're at the end of this page.
What have The Mining Company done about this? Well, not much. I sent an e-mail complaining about Terri's behaviour to The Mining Company's contact address (email@example.com), and they got back to me, saying that they weren't impressed with her behaviour, and were talking to her about it.
Well, it didn't seem to work. About a week later, Terri started deleting messages from Bill Hoyt, another blow-in from the Healthfraud list who'd had the temerity to suggest, among other things, that the FDA might by and large have their act together. His posts were also, apparently, "disruptive". Bill and I both complained to The Mining Company about Terri's continuing censorship, but we haven't received a reply yet.
And now (12th October 1998), in response to a post from Jeff Heinen saying "Why have you deleted certain posts that are critical of alternative medicine? Shouldn't people have access to ALL information, both pro and con? I think this should be especially true when it comes to information regarding people's health", Terri's said "You can find the answer to this question on the FAQ page, and in the User Agreement."
It would appear Terri is confident that her behaviour is entirely in line with Mining Company policy.
Possibly as a result of the hoo-hah I raised and Terri's intransigence, the Alternative Medicine bulletin board went down for a month or three. There was no "this board has been pulled" message, just a "this board hasn't been set up yet" one. But now, as of the 19th of December, 1998, it's up again. Enjoy, folks.
These are necessarily incomplete because, as I said, Terri deleted our whole discussion. I only have what posts I could rescue from my browser cache, and others from after the censorship started (when I started prudently saving them...). I've tidied up a few spelling errors, but they're otherwise verbatim.
Terri's first reply to my original query
Another reply from Terri
My response to that post
Terri's "Yes, I deleted that entire strand" message
My response to a taunt from Terri
Another post that pretty much sums up my argument
E-mails from The Mining Company after I complained
Thanks for posting your question on the board. At times, it's much easier for me to keep up with the board than it is to keep up with my e-mail.
RE: "I note that your Alternative Medicine Guide contains links to sites extolling the supposed virtues of a number of treatments which, so far as I can see, have never been demonstrated to actually be good for anything. Homeopathy, reflexology, iridology, feng shui and past life regression stood out in my cursory examination."
Yes, it does. There must be at least a thousand links on this site, to as many alternative therapies as possible... with new links (and even new therapies!) on the way.
There's nothing unfortunate about that, in fact, for people who are frustrated with searching through the -- I think it's up to 30 million Web pages -- looking for solid information on any given topic, it's very fortunate. The "human judgement" comes into play by the simple fact that HUMANS actually SEE the Web page BEFORE a link is included. Whereas with a typical search engine (Excite, Yahoo!, etc.) any/all URLS are accepted and included in their directories -- With the exception of Yahoo!, who refuses to list any of the Mining Co. sites in their directory.
Bottom line is, "you can find what you want, and trust what you find," does not translate to "We'll do your term papers for you, your research for you, and then tell you what to do... or what is right for you." Sorry, but that's not my job.
RE: "This would appear to negate your "no responsibility" disclaimer. One can only assume that in all instances, you personally believe the treatment in question works, and further believe that no reliable evidence to the contrary exists, because otherwise you're not doing your job."
One should never "assume" anything. Again, it is not my job to tell people what to do, or which therapies to try, or not to try. Whether _I_ believe in a particular therapy or not doesn't matter. My "job" is to find Net resources on ALL of the Alternative Therapies... whether I believe they work or not. Not to mention, who am I to argue with 5 million Chinese who have practiced many of these therapies for thousands of years.
I included that link for a couple of reasons. Number one, if you actually read it, it's not "anti-alternative." It's also a darn good article, with sound advice. It also mentions that fact that there are as many conventional medical treatments that do not work either.
In conclusion, I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing for the Mining Co., and as stated in their ads. If not, they would have told me, in no uncertain terms. The fact that I do not "endorse any product or services" means just that -- that I'm Not endorsing these products... I am not getting PAID (in cash or merchandise) to put these links on my site.
Another reply from Terri
I'm sorry you're confused, but no where in my contract does it state that I must first research, then personally and scientifically test every single alternative therapy available before I include a link to a site.
Of the hundreds of e-mails I receive each week from people who frequent this site, no one has ever requested that I make their decisions for them, or tell them which therapies to try, which to avoid, or to take control over their own personal choices. However, IF anyone does ask me what I PERSONALLY think of any given therapy.... say, Iridology (as an example) I would tell them (which, by the way, I feel is a total waste of time and money). Nonetheless, I do have a link to at least one Web site on Iridology. Why? Because one day someone had e-mailed me and said that they were disappointed that I had no links on my site to ANY information on Iridology. Someone needed information on this therapy. I did not ask WHY they needed it, or what they planned to do with the information once they found it.
There are many people who either do not know how to use a search engine, or do not have the time to waste on search engines, or do not want to look over thousands and thousands of pages to get to the information they want. I don't ask them why they want it (as if to say, "What are you, STUPID or something?! What the heck do you want information on THAT therapy for?!?"). I simply provide a service and find what they're looking for, sans any personal opinion of the therapy.
Those who frequent this site looking for information on alternative medicine are wise enough to know what's right for them and what isn't. They don't need me to tell them to use their common sense. And, for the most part, the therapy they want further information on has already been recommended to them by friends/family who have had success with it, or even on the advice of their own medical doctors.
By the way, faith has also been known to heal and to work miracles... whether your believe in God or not... but let's not get into that debate. You can take that one over to the Religion Guide site.
My response to that post
I find this astounding. But it would certainly explain any shortcomings you might exhibit in the pursuit of your goals - you've never checked to see what the goals actually are!
RE: I'll have to do that before I can take on the challenge of defending it. Or perhaps you should take it up with the Mining Co.'s legal department.
Oh, they're safe enough. The user agreement makes clear that they're not liable for anything resulting from information received by the use of their sites, blah blah. If they're happy for Guides to present any old thing on their sites, they're covered - but the promise that the information is presented is trustworthy is reduced to pure ad-speak, signifying nothing in the real world.
RE: I'm sorry you're confused, but no where in my contract does it state that I must first research, then personally and scientifically test every single alternative therapy available before I include a link to a site.
But you don't even seem to check to see if, somewhere, there's a site that doesn't agree. You seem to show a strong preference for "boosterish" sites, even for treatments which you believe to be hogwash. I'm quite sure you're not being paid by the alt-med promoters, but you SHOULD be, because you're doing a lovely advertising job for them.
RE: However, IF anyone does ask me what I PERSONALLY think of any given therapy.... say, Iridology (as an example) I would tell them (which, by the way, I feel is a total waste of time and money). Nonetheless, I do have a link to at least one Web site on Iridology. Why? Because one day someone had e-mailed me and said that they were disappointed that I had no links on my site to ANY information on Iridology. Someone needed information on
So why, in heaven's name, didn't you link to a page that debunked this nonsense? Iridology doesn't work. It's been conclusively disproved. In the absence of new data suggesting otherwise, one can state categorically, as you say, that it's a waste of time and money. I cannot imagine how you can reconcile your "guide" role with deliberately sending people to sites full of lies.
RE: this therapy. I did not ask WHY they needed it, or what they planned to do with the information once they found it.
Oh, come come. That's the I-just-sold-the-kid-the-gun argument. When someone comes to you looking for medical advice, and is clearly barking up the wrong tree, sending them on their merry way with a pat on the back in order to avoid offending their delicate sensibilities is, by any measure, a serious sin of omission. I repeat - if you act like this, you're WORSE than looking for sites on a topic in Yahoo, because people who come to you won't even SEE links to contrary ideas.
RE: There are many people who either do not know how to use a search engine, or do not have the time to waste on search
But you're happy to waste their time by sending them to useless sites?
RE: engines, or do not want to look over thousands and thousands of pages to get to the information they want. I
Research takes time. Health is important, and worth the time. If you do your job properly, you can indeed smooth the path for people looking for help. But flicking them off to any old site that talks about something that they think might perhaps help, but don't really know about yet, is, in my opinion, NOT doing your job properly.
RE: don't ask them why they want it (as if to say, "What are you, STUPID or something?! What the heck do you want information on THAT therapy for?!?"). I simply provide a service and find what they're looking for, sans any personal opinion of the therapy.
But why, why, WHY don't you link to sites that might tell them why they SHOULDN'T use that therapy?
What do you do if someone comes to you wanting to know about rhino horn and tiger paw?
RE: Those who frequent this site looking for information on alternative medicine are wise enough to know what's right for them and what isn't. They don't need me to tell them to
Are they? Do you know how many ear candles were sold last week?
It is difficult to be wise when you are ignorant. And ignorance is curable. And you can cure it. And you don't seem to want to.
RE: use their common sense. And, for the most part, the therapy they want further information on has already been recommended to them by friends/family who have had success with it, or even on the advice of their own medical doctors.
Perhaps. Perhaps a real doctor has recommended it. Perhaps a pseudo-doctor has recommended it (often because said pseudo-doctor sells the treatment in question). Perhaps some family member did whatever the heck it was and got better. None of this has any bearing on whether the treatment works. You have the power to point people to Medline, or Quackwatch, or the various anti-health-fraud sites. Do you? Ever?
RE: By the way, faith has also been known to heal and to work miracles... whether your believe in God or not... but
This has never been scientifically demonstrated. Sure, some people pray and get better. But other people pray and don't get better - and they do so at suspiciously close to the average death rate for untreated people. And people who do nothing but relax and live with their "terminal" illness also, sometimes, recover. Just because you do something, and then you get better, does not mean the thing you did did anything other than not PRECLUDE recovery.
Terri's "Yes, I deleted that entire strand" message
Regarding your last post and your threat to put all deleted posts on your Web site and/or send them out via e-mail; Just one bit of advice before you begin working on your Web site. As you're editing the posts, and inserting words/phrases of your own choice (such as you did in your last post to me), you may want to be careful on how you word it before you put it on the Net, or send it out via e-mail. The Mining Co. doesn't take kindly to ... why, lookee here!... another Legal term -- Slander.
Here's a thought. Why don't I just have their legal department contact you before you waste time and effort editing and rewording their User Agreement (which, by the way, is Not a "Charter") for your personal Web site, or rewording anything I've said, which seems to be your forte.
I will repeat - for the Final time - then this strand will also be deleted....
Topics require different standards of proof. If someone is looking for Alternative Medicine information, they're likely unhappy with (highly studied and scientifically validated) allopathic medicine for one reason or another. They want to know the broad array of options available, and do not require the level of proof they would insist on, say, in our physics site.
This is an informational site, not a site that prescribes any treatments. The links I select are the best among the many that I'm presented with, so people can assess the system and come to their own decisions.
I'm not pushing, endorsing, verifying, proving, disproving, or recommending any particular therapy, because something that may work for one may not work for all. Something that has worked for me may not work for you.
Alternative medicine is about allowing the individual to choose which system works best for him or her, and I'm giving people MANY options -- not just the ones that have worked for me -- to explore.
If you, or anyone, has a problem with alternative medicine, you needn't use it nor visit this site. For those who do use it and feel it helps them, they're glad this site is here.
If you, or anyone, has an issue to take up regarding The Mining Co.'s ads, slogans, User Agreement, by-laws, or policies -- and you very obviously do -- take it up with the Mining Co., not with me. That's not my area.
As for your attempts to intimidate and/or threaten me (on the board or in my e-mail) it won't work. According to my Alternative Reading Contract with the Mining Co., I can read and/or reply to any e-mail I choose. Since I receive HUNDREDS of notes in my e-mail each week, it's impossible for me to answer everyone within 24 hours. I hate to say this, but I do not answer e-mail ON DEMAND. I can only please just so many people in a given day. Yesterday wasn't your day, Daniel.... tomorrow doesn't look good for you either. I have more important things to take care of and your personal gripes with The Mining Co.'s User Agreement is no where on my "To Do" list, nor do I plan to place it on my list of priorities.
Have a nice life, Daniel.
My response to a taunt from Terri
Well, Terri, I answered you, as you might recall. I answered you when you admitted you didn't know what The Mining Company promised its users. In the same message, you mentioned that you thought iridology was baloney, but didn't see a problem with sending people to sites full of proven lies promoting it, just because they asked for information on iridology. And you buttressed your argument with your opinion that faith appears to have effected cures in some cases, which prompted me to ask whether you thought there was no reason to choose any treatment over any other - or whether faith might, perhaps, be secondary to proven medical effectiveness.
But your message, and my reply, mysteriously vanished from the bulletin board. I emailed you a couple of days ago asking where they went, but you have not replied. You're allowed to censor "offensive or disruptive" posts, with your judgement on what falls into these categories being final (I presume you've read THAT part of the your job description), but it surprises me that you judged YOUR OWN POST to be either offensive or disruptive. Personally, I'd call it "embarrassing."
Perhaps you didn't delete the messages. Perhaps it was a glitch of some kind. Has anybody else lost posts lately?
Fortunately, I retrieved the posts in question from my browser cache. I shan't attach them to this message, because if you DID delete them, you would of course just delete this message. Maybe you will, anyway.
But, assuming you did exercise your right to remove messages you considered to be "disruptive", it's pretty damned rich of you to poke fun at me for not replying.
The posts in question are available by private e-mail to anyone who wants them. I may put them on my Web site.
Another post that pretty much sums up my argument
Yes. My name. But I'll let that pass :-).
RE: I don't get it. What exactly is it you want? You seem to dislike alternative medicine.
It is a common misconception that medicine can usefully be divided into Conventional (rich white men in lab coats, huge expensive machines, free stationery from pharmaceutical companies) and Alternative (crystals, dolphins, good vibrations and herbal everything). I prefer the much more functional distinction of Medicine That Works versus Medicine That Doesn't Work. I don't care if the modality in question requires hugging trees and praying to invisible pink unicorns, if it can be shown to work.
This can, of course, be difficult. Many "alternative" modalities are very hard to test in placebo-controlled trials, and the diseases they treat do not have clearly defined endpoints. One can do very good epidemiology on treatments for normally terminal conditions, but most diseases are NOT terminal (fortunately!) and when one has to rely on patient reports of symptoms which are known to fluctuate, it's very challenging to determine causal relationships without the need for unfeasibly elaborate experiments.
But, nonetheless, many treatments can be tested, in vitro at least. This lets us find, for example, dangerous contaminants and pointers to biological activity that justify further research. I am not prejudiced at all about research on any form of treatment you care to name, no matter how seemingly wacky its backing philosophy may be, if it can by any rational means be shown to do something useful.
But there are many, MANY "alternative" treatments which, upon rational examination, have FAILED the test. Certainly, people promote them because they tried the treatment in question and then got better, but without evidence to suggest that people are more likely to get better when using this treatment than people who do nothing, there is no reason to suppose the treatment is anything but a waste of time and money.
All I have asked of Terri Ramacus is that she link to sites which contain information of this type, about medicine that has been shown not to work. As I have said several times, the Mining Company promise that users can "trust what you find" would appear to require at least equal time for the skeptics, if not no representation at all for claims that have been proven wrong.
RE: You seem to like to argue
You noticed :-).
RE: Are you attempting to save us from the perils of quackery?? To stop people from making bad choices and imperilling their health??? What?
Nope. Your life is your own. I just want truth in advertising. If something is labelled "trustworthy information", you'd expect it to, well, be what it says, right?
Someone on the Healthfraud mailing list recently expressed an opinion on FDA banning of unproven medicines which I agree with. The FDA shouldn't ban anything that doesn't obviously harm people. People should be able to buy a jar of 100 five gram rabbit turds if they think it'll do them good, and the jar should have an FDA label on it certifying that it contains the stated number of rabbit turds of the stated weight, and also saying that said turds have never been found to be good for anything. But the current situation in the USA, which leaks over into Australia where I live, is that a very large amount of alternative medicine is ignored completely by the FDA, meaning that jar could contain ANYTHING AT ALL.
Truth in advertising, that's all I want. This site is supposed to contain trustworthy information. Says so right on the label. So why is it nearly all wow-isn't-this-treatment-great stuff?
RE: I am free to choose any treatment I want, or even deny treatment and die if I so choose.
I'll just say this again, because it's really important. I totally and utterly agree with you on this point. It's your life.
But let's say you're an informed consumer of alternative remedies, and you suffer from subclinical depression. You figure St John's Wort might be just the ticket. You buy a jar of 100mg capsules of the stuff from a health food store, which sells it as a "dietary supplement", although they, you and the manufacturer know that nobody's eating this stuff for dinner.
It is absolutely and totally legal, in the USA, for those capsules to contain charcoal. Or, more commonly, more or less of the drug in question than the label says. There is absolutely NOBODY you can complain to if you don't get what the label says.
And THAT'S what I have a problem with.
This site is no big deal. I'm no rabid crusader out to convert the world to my way of thinking, and a bit of hypocrisy here or there doesn't get my panties in much of a bind. But this site's a sort of skewed microcosm of the much bigger problem. And if people can't be bothered to spend a little effort to make one lousy Web site what its label says it is, I despair for the future of popular medicine in the USA, and by extension the world.
E-mails from The Mining Company after I complained
Date: Mon, 28 Sep 1998 23:15:26 +0100
From: Ngoc Nguyen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: we're looking into it
I would like to inform you that your complaint is being investigated by
members of our editorial staff. Please be assured that we are treating
your inquiry very seriously and taking the time necessary to look into this
matter more thoroughly. You can expect to hear back from us, at the
earliest, by tomorrow.
However, I would like to express my concern over the removal of your posts
from the AltMed BB. We advise our guides to remove those statements that
are disruptive to other users; however, we do not seek to censor
alternative points of view. Our BB's are set up as a forum for diverse
viewpoints and we encourage non-disruptive, intelligent, and alternative
views from our users.
I, or a member of staff, will be in touch with you soon.
Date: Wed, 30 Sep 1998 22:51:43 +0100
From: Ngoc Nguyen <email@example.com>
Thank you for your patience in waiting for this reply. I would like to
start by reiterating that The Mining Co. does not seek to censor
alternative points of view; in fact, our BB's are expressly intended as a
forum for diverse and divergent viewpoints.
That said, Terri has received communications from her hub editor as well as
the community editor, and we are discussing with her alternative ways of
handling these types of situations.
>From an editorial perspective, we would like to thank you for your
enthusiastic and well-observed suggestions for the Alternative Medicine
site. We greatly value input from our users, whose suggestions often help
to make our sites better. We're discussing with Terri some editorial ideas
related to her conversation with you, as well.
Copyright © Daniel Rutter 1998. Last modified 15/05/02.