Sport Integrity for dopes

A decade on, the Essendon drugs saga won’t go away – because it’s unresolved. Anti-doping ASADA are again fighting NewsCorp’s demand for release of documents under Freedom of Information. In 2019 the Administrative Appeals Tribunal refused disclosure under grounds of a confidentiality agreement. By taking action against 34 players, the AFL deems that culprits have received retribution. In 2013 the Medical Board fined the experiment’s architect Dr Willcourt (in absentia) $7000 for unprofessional conduct, essentially finding that there had been inadequate patient consultation regarding the Essendon supplements. AHPRA withdrew allegation 1D … ” that Dr Willcourt participated in the study and research program without ensuring that the program was approved by a Human Research Ethics Committee and/or acted in accordance with an approved research protocol.” VCAT had decided that since Dr Willcourt had already skipped the country, further sanction or conditions upon practising would result in a ‘mockery’ of such disciplinary action. Willcourt’s practice was just across Chapel st from HyperMed, and their meds are sourced from Nima Alavi’s Compounding around the corner – from which $80,000 worth of growth hormones and steroids were stolen by another artful dodger of AHPRA rules. But who brought the players to HyperMed for injection?

ABC 4Corners report ‘Whatever it Takes’ interviewed spokesperson Graeme Little at HyperMed, where he revealed that supposed villain Stephen Danks simply turned up on the doorstep. At the time, brother Paul Little was Essendon chairman, which weighs against sheer happenstance.

Paul Little, and below, brother Graeme Little

Players obey the coach, and James Hird obeys the orders of club Chairman. There’s hearsay that Hird met Danks at a Thai beach resort, but damned solid evidence the Little family are connected. Well connected. Paul now runs private terminal Melbourne Jet Base, which is also contracted for RAAF VIP aircraft, so used by PM Morrison in 2018 before official opening. In 2020 Paul was appointed to Morrison’s coronavirus economic taskforce, chaired by the CEO of Fortescue Mining (who’s been delaying Court over a quarantine breach). Best we not let this matter rest.

I was once on a jury for a child sexual abuse case, brought two decades later than her fruitless report to Police. The Defence Barrister made me squirm, with his attempts to undermine her credibility.

“What colour was the garage door?” The Judge did nothing to curtail this. Much as Robert Richter QC was allowed ‘brutal examination’ of victims in the cases brought against Pell or Theophanus. Out of the mouths of babes:

I’m reading ‘Joe Cinque’s Consolation‘, by Helen Garner. Appalled by the callousness of the crime, she attended Court to observe the Law’s helplessness. “One of the props of the adversarial system, I began to see, is a curious charade that memory is a clear, coherent narrative, a stable and unchanging source of information, so that any deviation from a witness’s original version of an event can be manhandled to look like unreliability, or the intent to deceive.” I’m currently a witness for the Crown in a manslaughter case. At the committal I was twice slammed by the Magistrate for having an ‘aide memoir’ in the witness box – a diary and email device. Yet the barristers have tables spread with documents, and are accompanied by solicitors trucking around files. The incident was over five years ago.

The result of one-sided knowledge of exact facts is that outcomes depend upon language’s power, and the most assertive Counsel wins. The witness to an event can make no statement correcting an assertion. “Just answer the question, Mr Kirwood”.

Australian Admissibility of Evidence law is among the world’s weakest. China is at the other extreme – having allowed torture to get at the truth. But as any whistleblower knows, collecting Commercial-in-Confidence evidence is a crime of theft. The UK brought legislation to permit such, if it’s in the public interest. And surely, where public monies are involved that should apply. Under Sn 70 of our Crimes Act (1914)… A person who, being a Commonwealth officer, publishes or communicates,… any fact or document which comes to his or her knowledge means that Public Servants are liable for 2 years jail – regardless of the extent of corruption uncovered in the course of their work.

I once worked in organised crime, scamming a national infrastructure project. The Cartel (‘mafia’ is inaccurate, as not all offenders were from Sicily) operated with total impunity. The response letter from Attorney General Brandis to me, then working for an ASE listed company, started: “… employer corruption as matters relating to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption“. And suggested that I make a submission, to blame some Union or other. Upon seeking the advice of Julian Burnside QC, it was explained that “fraud is not covered by confidentiality under the ‘iniquity rule’, whereby serious wrongdoings such as a crime, civil wrong or serious misdeed of public importance cannot be suppressed by a contractual obligation of confidentiality.” Fraud isn’t sufficiently serious to warrant breaching confidentiality in private industry on govt contract, and government has blanket secrecy.

What could go wrong with that?

Switch back to the other end of the severity scale from white-collar crime. “…the first conviction for corporate manslaughter in Victoria occurred as late as 1994, when Denbo Pty Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined $120,000. Note, however, that Denbo was in liquidation at the time and was able to avoid paying the fine— although it did resume its activities under a new corporate name and personality.” *
Boxer Dean Waters confessed to the murder of his father’s ex-lover’s partner, pleading guilty to manslaughter. Acquitted due to his mental state, owing to duress from his father (although 25yo at the time). Another younger boxer who visited for the father’s training, and who set up the hit, served 13 years.
Or consider the benchmark case of Taktak – an addict who procured 2 street prostitutes for his dealer. Called to collect an unconscious 15yo girl, he took her home. As her colour leaves, and she’s vomiting, he calls the dealer – who contacts a GP. She dies, a jury finds him guilty of manslaughter, but the sentence of 13 years is overturned on appeal.
He walks free.
There was uncertainty as to exact time of death, and appropriateness of Taktak’s actions.

Unlucky 13. The Law is not only inexact – it’s utterly random.

* Arenson, Bagaric & Gillies, 2014

An ethicist walks into a bar…

… it hits them in the shins, as they made no effort to step over it. Annoyed, they claim that the bar used to be lower, and if it’s to be raised then they must be the ones giving approval to do so.

I submitted a manuscript detailing efforts to expose three cases of medical research fraud and misconduct (a fabricated conclusion at odds with the data; a scam funded by NHMRC; and a buried trial of antidepressants in Heart Failure – using a drug that worsens HF) to three journals. It was rejected by Dr Sarah Edwards of ‘Research Ethics’; Dr Shamoo of ‘Accountability in Research’; and Israel, Allen & Thomson of ‘Research Ethics Monthly’. One case was conceded by the University HREC as a one-off mistake, all others stonewalled.

The Cochrane Collaboration claims to be impartial in their scrutiny of such, biased studies. For two years I’ve fruitlessly raised a concern that the Professor heading their Pain and Palliative Support group was on the Pfizer payroll, but after including evidence that two other groups include analyses by authors secreting industry sponsorship there was a response. Governance officer Veronica Bonfigli onsent the issue to the Integrity Editors.

That was six weeks ago.

Their gold standard is more apt a description of monetary reward, than of excellence.

Token displays of integrity are seen everywhere that collectives are formed to take responsibility for adherence – no worse an example then the Vatican. Altruistic priests, like committed doctors, are constrained by their hierarchy. Their walled city of committees provides cover for a multitude of sins.
I’m a novice, having learned only from my mistakes, failures of integrity. Inspiration comes from Padmasiri De Silva’s book, An introduction to Buddhist Psychology and Counselling: “The replacement of genuine moral reflection by procedures and protocols finally paralyses people’s capacity for moral reflection“. It’s a superb work, even though overladen with Pali (Sanskrit-like) terms – since many concepts haven’t an acceptable English translation.

Bad Medicine (ad finitum)

Anti-convulsant drugs are mainly used in the
treatment of epilepsy. However, they are also
used as mood stabilisers, which means that
they help to reduce intense changes in mood.
Some examples of anti-convulsants that have
been used for anxiety are gabapentin (brand
name Gabapentin) and pregabalin (brand
name Lyrica). Anti-convulsants have mainly
been used in bipolar disorder, as well as major
depression that has not responded to other
medications or psychological therapies. They
have also been used for anxiety disorders,
since depression frequently co-occurs
with these conditions.
(pg59 of ‘A Guide to What Works for Anxiety’)

Part 5 of my series on pregabalin/Lyrica covered this drug’s damage to neuron synapses, and the rising count of fatalities due to abuse has prompted our regulatory TGA to box-label warn of its risk a fortnight ago. They only mention its applicability to epilepsy and neuropathic pain. But Pfizer insidiously searches for new customers, and the mental illness market has had their attention awhile.

I quote above Beyond Blue’s 2019 3rd edition of “an evidence-based review” where gabapentinoids get two thumbs-up for Generalised Anxiety Disorder. It’s the first entry (alphabetically) found under medications, and the 2013 initial print references only studies by Feltner et al (Pfizer consultant, who included 2 Pfizer employees on his team) and Pande et al (who’d done 3 studies with Feltner, and whose team had done several studies with Pfizer). The latest edition omits the blatantly industry biased studies, but offers a 2017 Cochrane review of the evidence. Not only does that one rely wholly upon the same Pfizer studies, but corresponding author Dr Stein forgot his previously declared conflict-of-interest with Pfizer. Other systematic reviews by Generosa or Boutros were also proffered, requiring a journal subscription, and my search for other studies only turned up a 2015 trial by López-Gómez & Olivarex et al including Pfizer staff, and an independent open-label by Jovicevic & Cvjetkovic-Bosnjak et al. The latter would be excluded in Cochrane for the lack of blinding as to administering of the placebo/control(Zoloft) or Lyrica. The only study outside the manufacturer’s influence is dropped. Interestingly, they found 225mg daily more beneficial than the anti-depressant alternative. Industry studies by Feltner and Pande had both tested 600mg – a dangerous level of intoxication.

Wondering why the references were changed from original studies to aggregated reports on the same data? The veneer of respectability, otherwise known as the fog of obscuration. Dr Stein declined to reply, likewise the overseeing/overlooking Cochrane group: Global Mental Health. Lead author of the book, Prof Reavley answered to explain the switch from individual studies to meta-analyses as being in order to simplify for the lay-person, and “Cochrane reviews, in particular, are done to a very high standard.” This however, was despite being presented with evidence of corruption within Cochrane.

Iatrogenic is the new Hippocratic

I’ve reprised an earlier post on hypocrisy in med research/experimentation, since reflecting on its value post-pandemic is important. Lives are at stake if we get this wrong.

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society is a key body of physicians who believe in the therapy, and is status reporting on clinical trials of hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT) in treating severe COVID-19. The rigour of a study by Gorenstein and Lee of New York Uni stands out and has progressed more quickly than another eight similar, however delayed by a restart after Institutional Ethics rejected an initial proposal for subject-own-controls ie measuring severity before & after then comparing with expected recovery rates. A Randomised control (RCT) was mandated, which may appear callous, in that half were denied adjunct HBOT but received standard care only.

The restart RCT has published a mid-term report, per Data and Safety Management, in order to warrant continuation. Although the fatality rate of the HBOT group was one third that of the control arm, the trial was stopped at the request of the US FDA. Why? An adverse event occurred, requiring investigation. A patient arrested in the ward shortly after the HBOT session, was resuscitated but then died. Wait on: they arrived at the chamber with sats of 66% (clip-on oximeter isn’t very accurate when this low, nonetheless hypoxia is indicated). Without bloods, hypoxemia is speculative, but care had already failed. The hospital’s failure in no way indicts the HBOT therapy as risky, and the current stymie by the regulator is actually causing harm (if the statistically significant interim results are to be believed).

Oxygen is cheap – it can be made at home for $2/hr, but without a pressurised chamber it’s benefit is limited to those with COPD and poor sats. Normal sats of 98% are at the limit of haemoglobin’s ability to bind oxygen, but increase the pressure and it dissolves into all tissues (especially the poorly perfused ulcerous diabetic ulcers, for which TGA/Medicare approve benefits).

There’s money in Drugs

On the flipside, snakeoil salesman Tobinick’s lobbyists have obtained funding for a maverick trial of Pfizer’s Enbrel/etanercept. That’s a company spending an avg of $3bn pa on advertising alone in the US, where such is allowed. If the market for this lucrative drug expands beyond rheumatology and into stroke etc, then its patent can be extended. Health Min Hunt tendered the project, reversing the principle of researchers competing for funding based on merit. Florey Institute at Austin Health won the business, unfortunately. They’ve been secretive. A reminder of their obligation to publish within two years of last data collection was answered by a sponsor with: “I do not anticipate we will have anything further to add to this or our previous responses to you…”

Tobinick sued a Yale neurologist for calling ‘lacks evidence’ on his Perispinal Etanercept dabblings in a post at Science Based Medicine. He lost, costs and all – $259,785, affirmed in Appeal. To date, after eight years, the only results presented are those dramatic YouTube videos. Vulnerable victims of traumatic brain injury or stroke, expecting such miracles, spend $45,000 for disappointing results. Governance should be protective, rather than raising unjustified hopes and fueling exploitation. Covert Pharma influence on politicians has been flagrant for a long time – the partnerships go back decades. Kieran Schneemann went from PM John Howard’s Chief of Staff to CEO of industry lobbyists Medicines Australia. Now Director of Govt Affairs at AstraZeneca (PM Scott Morrison’s awkwardly embarrassed new best friends), it’s doubtful that his intent is to redress their behaviour that incurred $USD543m in fines for government-contracting offences.

I felt no need to start writing afresh on this theme. There’s nothing new about this issue, it never goes away.


Right to terminate lives?

The sight of feral MAGA supporters taking to the streets in an attempted mass extinction event, protesting their constitutional right to dumb it down, has me musing on US vs Australian psyche. CoVID-19 new case rates here have dropped 9-fold after mandated stay-home ‘unless …..’, and we’re meekly compliant. However the USA’s outstanding effort to hold #1 spot in having the most fatalities isn’t world leadership to aspire to. Likewise, mandatory seatbelt laws beginning in 1970 were proven successful in dropping our roadtoll, whereas in 16 of 50 States Americans still can’t be pulled over by police for not wearing one.

There’s a flipside. Medication harms are hardly ever brought to our TGA’s attention by consumers, and the Database of Adverse Event Notifications (DAEN) is worthless. For the #1 worst drug for numbers of reported side-effects in the USA in 2015, Xarelto, the DAEN lists 123 Australian complaints for their beloved dying as a result of it. The US FDA site at is a simple dashboard, and shows 15,557 died – most bleeding from their arse. Bummer!

With a 13:1 population difference (and ignoring prescription rates for now), Americans are ten times more likely than ‘Strayans to cry ‘bloody murder’ at their doctor. For the choice to prescribe Xarelto is difficult to justify.

Old-school anti-coagulant warfarin, in use since 1954, and likewise clopidogrel, are each still prescribed three times as much as Xarelto in 2017, have a fraction the number of adverse events. They’re roughly 20 times safer, and even the newer alternative of Eliquis is killing Xarelto in the marketplace – but at a slightly lower rate in the hospitals. So why was an older friend suffering a leg clot just put onto Xarelto as first option? Lacking the transparency brought by Obama’s Sunshine Act, I can’t comment on whether pharmaceutical company sponsorship influences Australian Dr’s prescribing patterns. It’s fair to speculate that Johnson and Johnson had to adopt aggressive marketing tactics in order to overcome the hits to business from vaginal mesh implants, and opioid & Risperdal (anti-psychotic inappropriately promoted as a sedative in nursing homes) damage.

Partnered with Bayer in marketing Xarelto, J&J last year settled out-of-court for $USD775m for failing to adequately forewarn of bleeding risk.

*Disclaimer. The author didn’t even study biology at school, but a sense of smell for rat (o/dosed on warfarin?) developed doing a Master of Clinical Research at Pfizer’s partner Monash Uni.


The Times newspaper shared this article under a tag of red wine’s possible blood pressure benefit (caveat: sufficient intake of the molecule for lowering BP requires 1,000 bottles/day). This line is less nonsensical… “by oxidising a protein called PKG1a in the blood vessel wall.” The free radical worm* turns.

The previous post considered hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) as destructive to viruses. Speculation attributing perplexing conditions to common herpes viruses eg h. simplex HSV or h. virus 6 in Alzheimer’s or hypothyroidism/Hashimotos is supported by the lab. Indestructability of HSV by the free radical hydrogen peroxide wasn’t long ago explained by discovery of catalase in the virus, perhaps only mitigated by increasing peroxide levels. Now consider this study of HBOT treating drug resistant bacterial infections where 3 weeks of the meds had failed.

Prior to meds, inflammation marker CRP (C-reactive protein, normal level<1) averaged 7.7, after meds 7.1, and after HBOT 0.8! The world faces a Superbug crisis, by virtue of our greed. Offshore manufacture of antibiotics in China and India creates free availability of drugs, and poor sanitation ie no toilets lets Antibiotic Microbial Resistance spread rapidly. Oxygen as a drug may eventually have to be used, eh? The running cost of an oxygen concentrator is ~7c per hour. Iran, Israel, and Turkey are researching the applications – unfettered by pharmaceutical industry control. Another microbe: the fungus, treated here at Alfred hospital and described in a glowing press release. Did you note that the idea came from a googling family member, not a medico?

Industrial cleaners tackling toxic contamination such as that left by meth labs, hoarding & rat infestation, etc use unattended free radical generators to bomb the bug: peroxide and hydroxyl. They’ll kill you, too… and yet your body’s processing of oxygen makes these, more so if an excess of oxygen is supplied. Needless to say, the Diving & Hyperbaric Medicine faculty of the College of Anaesthetists refuses to correspond on such matters. An investigative journalist’s report on their commercial allegiances gives a clue as to why meds are seen as the only answer.

*In Shakespearean times the ‘worm’ meant dragon. Apt analogy for fire-breathing monsters when one such oxidant is hydrogen peroxide (rocket fuel).

Don’t go viral

Unable to garner any interest in a human-rights violation, explained previously at Framework or Façade?, I’ll retry … perhaps I’d been too flippant, which was my way of dealing with the shock 😦

Two atrocities

On the left is the SmART trial for Drug Conservation (DC), rather than fully-dosed AntiRetroviralTherapy (dotted line), for half of five thousand HIV+ recruited participants. It’s obvious within a few months that the DC proposal for minimal dosing sent HIV viral in those unlucky enough to be randomised to that group. Yet the study was allowed to run four years, and only at the 5th meeting of the ‘safety’ board was the trial stopped and everyone treated with full ART. The study had been funded for six years to investigate cardiovascular outcomes, which didn’t eventuate, but the money kept coming.

The doctors then ran another similar proposal – deferred start of ART until CD4+ (T-helper cells are your immunity) counts drop below 350. Again apparent as a terrible idea within months. This time it was stopped after five years, as an unsafe practice. Another five thousand recruits were allocated 50/50 by the toss of a coin to an alternative that not only increased their risk of AIDS, but also that of spreading HIV.

I’ve written to Vice-Chancellors at Monash and UNSW, two of the participating institutions, complaining that the only Ethics Committee response had been: “Professor Emery is now at the University of Queensland. He is neither the lead or contact author for the relevant article...” finger-pointing by the Director of Research Ethics. No replies. Now consider the only, poor quality study of * Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBOT) for HIV by a nurse and clinic director. Six HIV+ patients, each having received 3-300 sessions of HBOT all dropped their HIV count to 5 or less virions per million cells – thus now considered HIV negative. Never cured, n.b. as with ART’s cocktail of ~3meds, it’s just life-preserving. Indeed CD4+ counts never recovered – once transcribed into your DNA, the virus has wrought permanent damage. But an interesting idea, worthy of further study… however such has never been undertaken in the subsequent two decades. Only two people globally have actually been cured of HIV, due to transplanting an immune system. ART remains vital.

[Victorian Health Minister] Ms Hennessy wants the ACCC to investigate claims made by Hypermed surrounding treatments for cancer, HIV and cerebral palsy. Leaving aside the actual claim being ‘adjunct therapy’ to chemo/radiotherapy (as is also delivered by Monash/Alfred hospital hyperbaric), along with the fact that the consumer watchdog ACCC has no jurisdiction on medical matters, it’d seem more appropriate to demand answers of those institutions refusing to conduct more rigorous investigations. Here’s my limited understanding of the justifications for doing such.

Oxidative Stress. Lipids are structural components of cell membranes. It’d been suggested that lipid peroxidation was analogous to ‘rusting’, that free radicals damaged cells, so antioxidants would help us live longer & look more beautiful etc. When oxygen is breathed in, eventually exiting in carbon dioxide, gaining electrons (thus causing oxidation) creates free radicals at each step. This is normal, and sometimes really slimming too. When glucose is depleted fatty lipids are burned instead, so best we ignore advertising’s simple assumption that free radicals are damaging. We run on them: superoxide (1 electron stolen) and hydrogen peroxide (2 e-).

An HBOT advocate discusses the concept of attacking viruses’ protective lipid envelope, suggesting potential against HIV, Epstein-Barr ie glandular fever (EBV), and Herpes Simplex (HSV). My interest is suddenly piqued, given the early trial successes of IMC-1 against fibromyalgia using a combo of HSV antiviral famciclovir and celecoxib (HSV replication is reliant on imflammatory COX, and the benefit of inhibitors has been known for 4 decades). Then link to HSV’s association with Alzheimer’s (AZH) and excitement mounts… oooh there’s a study of HBOT for AZH … ohhh sorry, it’s on mice. EBV is implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome so three of the greatest medical perplexes could well be treated, just with something in the air we breathe!

But nobody’s looked into it. Institutions don’t care for much but pharmacology, since research is costly. Their industry is profitable tho’.

Smashing together of data

A study has been run on HBOT for shingles (caused by varicella-zoster virus) by Peng et al, and it looked promising. I conducted a systematic review of the literature on other gold-standard Randomised Controlled Trials of HBOT for various other painful neuropathies believed by some to result from viruses. Monash’s chief biostatistician, Prof Forbes, questioned my ‘fudging data’ since it was rare for such consistent results especially across disparate conditions.

Note that the 5 studies came from China, Turkey & Israel. Pharma totally controls what investigations are allowed to happen in the West.

* What/why is Hyperbaric? Oxygen is a vasoconstrictor, so the body’s wonderful homeostasis balances richer oxygen intake with reduced vascular flow. But administering O2 under pressure cheats the system: it floods every tissue without regard for bloodflow.


The witches’ prophecy of Macbeth’s promotion to Thane of Cawdor (Baron, or Earl), as reward for his fight saving King Duncan, has only just been fulfilled. Yet he can’t enjoy the moment, as his thoughts run away with what is yet to be – their other prediction that he’ll be King. This rumination troubles him, as he contemplates murder, and all else is as nothing. Plans and possibilities take over completely.

Two decades ago fMRI studies showed the brain’s resting-state connectivity to be just as active as when deeply focused. Raichle then showed neural energy consumed, in what he termed the ‘default network’, to be just 5% below levels in tasking (considering that this organ burns one fifth of our energy, and double that in adolescence, it is a very inefficient rest). The circuits which light up are very specific, unlike noisy & chaotic concentration networks, and match those when a subject is asked to imagine their future.

“The structural-functional connectome and the default mode network of the human brain”. NeuroImage, 2013.

Humans are perhaps uniquely prospective, running simulations on future possibility whenever possible. This can lead to unfortunate consequence in failing to be mindful of the present, or leading into dangerous speculation. We had been warned: Shakespeare wrote Banquo’s lines in the scene prior warning Macbeth of temptation that ‘instruments of Darkness win us to our harm‘ over four centuries ago; and the Buddha two millennia prior. Fearful futures are often suppressed through anxiolytics such as Valium or Lyrica, to name two of the most dangerous drugs. Such abuse is on the increase, by persons feeling isolated and suffering troubling thoughts.

Society grows ever less connected, and the social media that we’ve become reliant upon has increased our Darkness. Two hour documentary ‘The FaceBook Dilemma‘ reveals our networking to be manipulated for commercial and political gain. It’s horrifying to consider Putin’s strategy of seeding hyper-patriotic groups (each either virulently pro-Clinton or Trump) to have also been used by Duterte in the Philippines, and Myanmar’s inciting genocide against the Rohingya. We connect to  groups based on agenda and issue, oblivious to their construct of a polarised and fragmented society. A deceit, but all the while we’re supposedly exercising free will in chat with these unseen ‘Friends’. Einstein was of the same mind as Donne (No man is an island…) in writing: “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”

I’m following just a few on Twitter, instead. @Gergyl is a brilliant mind, and one whose climate science skills informs my winter planning too. Onetime BMJ editor Richard Smith also cleverly articulates our place in time through his blog drawing heavily on literature for inspiration. For we aren’t spatial islands, within some fixed time period. We’re inherently seeking connected-ness with others and, if the Buddhists are right, we’re spirits incarnate in endless cycles. I’m of the opinion that the past was lived (by others) so as to inform the present. Thus we evolve.

The Hon George W. Cole, cousin to my great great great grandfather.

Perhaps genealogy speaks to us. Wikipedia offers several motives for tracing ancestry, including placing one’s family in a historical picture. Unable to find a picture of my forebear Thomas Cornelius Cole, I’m nonetheless feeling kinship to G.W. Cole. Both cousins * came to Melbourne in 1840 – one a market gardener, t’other an ex-Naval Officer (from humble entry as a Midshipman).

They were bold pioneers, experiencing success and great wealth. Today’s structured society holds little respect for maverick entrepreneurs – despite business paradigms embracing ‘disruptive thought’ platitudes, I can assure you that playing the game pays out better in the end. I nonetheless take inspiration from their endeavours, and find solace for impossible morning hair as being in my genes. And this connection to past greatness helps me see into a future ripe with possibility.


* Presumed cousins. All from northern England, similar ages, area settled, passions eg horticulture, etc.



Bad Medicine (part 5)

Martin Seligman’s 2018 ‘The Hope Circuit’ is his autobiographical account of the field of Positive Psychology’s (PP) evolution. As a popularly elected President of the American Psychology Ass’n (APA), despite being unpopular with legacy professorial clinicians, his object was usurp of the American Psychiatric Assn’s cornerstone: mental disorders. This other APA manages the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM), which establishes thresholds of ‘what’s normal’ in behavior and perception. The DSM pigeon-holes us, much like the museum pins taxonomy labels on insects, but PP refutes the idea of correcting faults. Better that we play to strengths, and let the defects be.

Nailed to a diagnosis

The last chapter is his epiphany – in his seventies, he realizes that he’s been wrong all along. His theory of learned helplessness had been proven in the labs – beat an animal down with inescapable suffering, and they’ll lose the will to fight their way out of the predicament. But his colleague Steve Maier turned that upside down. Our vulnerable infants are nurtured through their helplessness, but based upon success against adversity they build a neural circuit, simple neuroplasticity, that gives resilience. I repeat: we learn to thrive from achieving, else feebly succumb and remain dependent for life.

To be fair to Marty, the neuroscience had only recently matured so as to enable Maier & Watkins’ breakthrough. Though the seminal work is a dozen years old, it’ll be awhile yet before its significance drives psychotherapy dinosaurs into extinction. My personal enthusiasm is kindled by Linda Watkins’ other, amazing insight into fibromyalgia, where along with Prof Younger and Adelaide Uni’s Prof Mark Hutchinson this autoimmune disorder was attributed to the brain’s innate defence mechanism – glial response to perceived viral attack* . Sufferers can’t yet take comfort from that breakthrough, there’s more Randomised Control Trials of an anti-viral combo (IMC-1) to be done over many years.

Back to the ‘hope circuit’. By default the brainstem’s DRN produces serotonin, which calms down the ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic nervous system – but also amplifies anxiety driven by the amygdala in the limbic system. I’ll re-word that for emphasis: serotonin treats panic attacks, but worsens fear. One could ponder the backlash of research, through the likes of David Healy’s, asking why antidepressants that elevate serotonin have side-effects such as increased suicidality. The simple ‘chemical imbalance’ theory has been thrown out awhile ago (don’t get me started as to whether bloods to review serotonin levels in patients should be analysed, before being handed the happy pills on a presumption of necessitating boost via an SSRI), because we’re not machines but rather systems. Tinker with one process and another will compensate. All this isn’t in the pharmaceutical company brochures, though it’s been well-known for two decades. And the growth market is for teenagers, despite halting the formation of circuits required for later resilience.

DRN hijack of emotions is dampened by previous cognitive rewards from the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC, the learning brain) using successful control over situations to increase kinase proteins – described as an ‘immunization’. In animal models the dissected brains are tested for a change to successfully build resilience, and in the last few years studies have been designed for humans using fMRI. Do-it-yourself at home is a no-brainer. PP gives all the tools you need to focus on success, and protect your brain: simply do the survey to ascertain strengths, then determine how best to use them. If that fails, then seek professional help… being prescribed an anti-depressant isn’t the worst possible outcome from a trip to the doctor – script for Lyrica holds that ignominy.

The 2009 Stanford study damning Lyrica as blocking formation of new synapses, connections between neurons, has been cited a further 245 times. The most recent further investigation ‘The α2δ-1–NMDA receptor coupling is essential for corticostriatal long-term potentiation and is involved in learning and memory’ describes how gabapentinoids break the hope circuit (nasty biochem, but Lyrica and Neurontin are designed to block α2δ-1 Calcium subchannels, and the PFC pathway to moderate the DRN is via ERK->NMDA Calcium channels. Please don’t ask for an explanation).

This fresh knowledge has no commercial application, PP will never be packaged in a pill (picrotoxin is used in research as an ‘anti-gabapentinoid’ to artificially create PFC->DRN control, but is deadly!). Worse, the accreditation Master of Applied PP is only taught in Australia at Melbourne Uni – where it’s sequestered away in the School of Education, not Health. An inceptual program is underway centred on Heathmont College, which follows Geelong Grammar’s wonderful work. It’s unlikely that the medical industry’s stranglehold on wellbeing will loosen without generational change through these schoolkids achieving professorship. TheMindfulGap was a partnership with my then wife, doing all we could to prepare the way for chronic illness sufferers to escape helplessness. Hopefully someday someone’s children will value those efforts.

Good luck in the meantime, Geoff


* So what? Well to measure societal suffering through subscribers to forum, where the medically disenfranchised seek answers to their condition, 106 thousand fibromites vastly outnumber Major Depressive Disorders 2:1, or backpain 100:1, or arthritics 4:1. Great research tackles great problems.