Skeptic News: Suspect Device

cartoon of Dowsing RodsFrom: The Guardian

The device the doctor held in his hand was not a contraption you expect to find in a rural hospital near the banks of the Nile.

For a start, it was adapted from a bomb detector used by the Egyptian army. Second, it looked like the antenna for a car radio. Third, and most bizarrely, it could – the doctor claimed – remotely detect the presence of liver disease in patients sitting several feet away, within seconds.

The antenna was a prototype for a device called C-Fast. If its Egyptian developers are to be believed, C-Fast is a revolutionary means of using bomb detection technology to scan for hepatitis C – a strongly contested discovery that, if proven, would contradict received scientific understanding, and potentially change the way many diseases are diagnosed.

The device’s scientific basis has been strongly contested by physicists. A Nobel prize-winner has said that it “simply does not have sufficient scientific foundation”.

Yet its inventors say it has been successfully trialled in 1,600 cases across three countries, without ever returning a false negative result. Respected liver specialists who have witnessed the scanner in action have also given it cautious backing.

The device sounds quite suspect, as does the manner in which it was presented to the Guardian in what sounds like a a solitary single-blinded/un-blinded demonstration without any sort of control.  Which is not any reliable way to prove the worth or efficacy of a medical technology.

There is a lack of easily evidence out there to support the devices use however here is a poster abstract where they compare it with RT-PCR and make bold claims about its performance. They don’t say the test was blinded. No explanation is given for how the thing is supposed to work. They simply say it’s:

Bio-sensor slash spectroscopy based technology for the detection of hepatitis C virus. When the signal is picked up a pivoting antenna of the C- FAST is drawn like a compass needle, to indicate alignment between the patient and the frequency card in the C-FAST
Given this we feel we have to ask:
  • What do they mean by “bio-sensor” – what are its components?
  • What sort of spectroscopy is it doing?
  • What are they actually detecting and how?
  • How did they find out what specific signal is associated with Hep C and why?
  • What force is acting on the antenna to move it?
  • Why do you need a moving antenna, surely technology this advanced could have a digital readout?
  • Does the antenna move if the rest of the device is immobilised and no-one holds it?
  • What is a “frequency card”, and why is the antenna drawn towards that card when the patient ’emits’ a certain signal?
  • What happens if the person using the device has Hep C?

While we lack credible answers to any of the above we have to assume this is nothing more than high tech dowsing.

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4 Responses to Skeptic News: Suspect Device

  1. Didymus says:

    No chance this was a prank or an April Fool presentation?

    Dowsing for Hepatitis has about as much scientific plausibility as dowsing for bombs – that is to say, none whatsoever, and sounds essentially like a re-purposing of the much discredited bomb dowsing technology for which a British exporter was arrested back in 2010.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/22/dowsing_rod_bomb_detector_bust/

    I would love to know how well their presentation paper was received by delegates at the EASL Liver conference; If anyone turned up to defend their presentation I would expect them to be laughed out of the building! 🙂

  2. Guy Chapman says:

    The bomb detector in question is, I presume, the fraudulent one that was exposed last year?

  3. It’s even worse than the extracts suggest. The Guardian article was written without irony or self-criticism by a recent English graduate from Cambridge, and contains such giveaways for fakery and crankdom as promises to revolutionise medicine and biochemistry, and the detection of characteristic electromagnetic rays emitted by Hepatitis C, which cause the pendulum to oscillate. And no, I’m not prematurely April Fooling you, I wish I was.

    And yes, I know Carl Zimmer’s degree was in English, but he proved himself freelancing for a natural history journal, whose editors would immediately have dispensed with his services if he’s produced rubbish like this.

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