Yes, they really did. But let me give you a little background.
I love chemistry, so I'm going to start with the element chlorine. For the chemists, it's element no. 17, the second lightest halogen - you'll find it on the second-from-right column (called "Row 17") of the Periodic Table (not this Periodic Table, excellent as that is). There are some pretty good visual aids of the atomic structure here.
Each atom has a different number of protons, neutrons and electrons (please do scroll down if you already know this). The number of protons and electrons are the same. It's the number of neutrons and protons that determine the "big" stuff, for example in stellar reactions such as the Sun making helium from hydrogen - that determines the qualities of the element, as well as swaps around masses amounts of energy. The number of electrons is, effectively, the skin. That determines what the element does in more shall we say relaxed conditions, such as on Planet Earth, where lots of things change in a mundane way without (usually) nuclear bombs and so on.
This works because, although chemists will tell you that electrons are found in "probability clouds", these clouds have a rather well-formed structure that we can represent as shells, or layers, around the nucleus of protons and electrons. You can think of these like bookshelves longing to be filled up, too. The innermost one only has space for two electrons. The next two can hold eight. Now, an atom prefers that all its shells are filled up, and the closer it comes to this state, the more upset it gets - and the more eagerly it will rush to do anything to achieve this state, either by casting an electron off, or by snatching one. Chlorine belongs to the latter group.
Chlorine's outer "shell" has seven out of eight possible, and so it's always longing to get another one. Sodum, meanwhile, has one out of eight, so it's all too pleased to throw an electron off. So if a sodium atom meets a chlorine atom, the chlorine will snatch the sodium's electron. Now the chlorine has too many electrons. This means it's now a chloride ion, that it has a negative charge, and that correspondingly the sodium has a positive charge. This makes them stick together. That makes salt.
This kind of thing can happen with other elements, too, but chlorine is particularly eager to do it.
That's ionic bonding. Now what happens among non-metals, organic chemistry, and generally a great deal on this Earth, is covalent bonding. In this case, picture two chlorine atoms. They "share" two of their electrons. Although they've still only got seven electrons in their outer shell each, this "sharing" allows them a lot more stability. Not a great deal, though. Chlorine gas is very reactive.
It's a powerful oxidant, or oxidising agent. To oxidise something often means you add some oxygen, which is the case with rusted iron. What this oxygen does is steal some electrons. And that's what, in chemistry terms, "oxidising" really means - to nick some electrons. This of course changes the properties of whatever has been oxidised. It makes them want to bond with other materials, because they're unstable now. With fats in foods, it often makes them smell rancid. With iron, it makes it brown and flaky. With biological matter, it often completely screws it up.
That's why chlorine is often used as a sterelising agent in swimming pools, and why labels keep going on about "antioxidants" as a matter of safety as well as taste. And why it was used as a weapon, poisonous gas, in World War I. Oxidising is a nasty process.
And it's really not a good idea to drink the stuff. (Did anyone else do "An Inspector Calls" at school, in which Eva Smith drinks a bottle of disinfectant that "burnt out her throat"?)
However, a 15-year-old skeptic, Rhys Morgan, has been permanently banned from a medical forum for pointing out this danger to vulnerable people.
I first came across Rhys on Twitter when FerFrias introduced him to my homeopathy post. It was clear that he was exceptionally keen on what was real science and what wasn't, and what is good for people's health and what is just a belief, or indeed a scam. He suffers from Crohn's Disease, which I understand varies in severity but can be extremely nasty. I suffered from digestive problems for several years and had to deal with daily pain and nausea, sometimes non-stop for days on end. Rhys is extremely brave and optimistic about it, but he also knows how vulnerable people can be when they're ill, how they are driven to try absolutely anything for a cure.
He joined a forum for suffers of Crohn's disease and colitis - to exchange mutual support and medical information. There are many of such forums, but this one is called crohnsforum so is probably the first that most people find. Here he encountered a user who fervently encouraged his fellow forum users to use "Miracle Mineral Solution", abbreviated to MMS.
Look at that link a moment.
Yes, it says 28% sodium chlorite.
Just scroll up a moment and read back to what I wrote about chlorine.
Yes, sodium chlorite is not chlorine - but it contains chlorine and will easily let it go. It's also not sodium chloride, which is salt. A mere flick through the Wiki entry (which seems to have been thoroughly researched) reveals snippets such as: "Do not mix with organic chemicals in case of explosion" (such as . . . Your throat?); that it's used as an antiseptic (i.e. to kill germs) in mastitis in cattle; that it's used in the bleaching of paper; that "chronic exposure . . . could cause reproductive and neurodevelopmental damage"; and that it's an oxidant (see above where I mentioned oxidation reactions).
Not something I'd much fancy drinking, thanks. For more information on Jim Humble, its first advocate, check out this excellent blogpost by Noodlemaz (but finish reading this first, please, because you will get about as distracted as it's possible to get!).
However, a user on the forum of which Rhys was a member urged a user with a sore throat not only to drink this solution, but to continue drinking it when he said his thraot was getting worse. Drinking MMS makes you feel nauseous. I gather the reasoning is that the nausea demonstrates the removal of toxins.
I've often heard about toxins, and educated science students talking about detox. I have yet to hear what these toxins actually are, or how they could so suddenly be removed from the body, from where or to where. In his book "Bad Science", Ben Goldacre writes brilliantly about how, just as people used to wish for penance to "cleanse" themselves of their sins, the modern consumer longs for "detox" in a similar wish to feel somehow pure and good.
I've also read a book about self-harm, which makes it very clear how going through pain can often feel like an achievement. Not to mention articles which remark on how people can be quite competitive about how stressed they are. It sounds to me as if vulnerable people are being encouraged, effectively, to self-harm, and feel that the discomfort and indeed agony they go through is going to help them.
Besides all this being basically twisted, wrong, and not going to cure the person at all, it sounds bloody dangerous to me.
Rhys challenged this person and was on the receiving end of a great deal of public and private abuse for it. He was sworn at, for a start; he was also informed that "Big Pharma" should pay for medical trials because the poor little billion-pound complementary and alternative medicine industry can't afford them, that conventional medicine has problems (see "ARGUMENT FROM NECESSARY OPPOSITES (1)"), and that conventional medicine only contains chlorine.
All right, let's actually deal with some of these points. Why is it so expensive to do a proper medical trial? Again, read Ben Goldacre's book, which tells you in a very straightforward way how to do one. (I have some ideas on that and citizen science myself, which I hope to speak about at Skeptics in the Pub some time . . .) Also, the fact that you're too poor to test something for safety doesn't mean it's safe, or that you have any right to promote it. Trying to make others feel guilty is really not an argument!
As for the chlorine - recall the sodium chloride. You ever see salt turning into sodium and chlorine again, out of the school lab where you do electrolysis with a load of wires and rusty crocodile clips? No. Because chlorine's very reactivity gives it another important characteristic. Because it's so reactive, once it does make a bond it's "happy" with, it stays that way. The chlorine-chlorine bond isn't very strong - nor are the bonds in sodium chlorite - so they'll fall apart easily. But chlorine's very strenth can give it amazingly strong bonds. Once it's chloride - the negative ion - it's perfectly happy, and that's how it'll stay. You'll find chloride ions all over the world - they're the biggest component, after water, of sea water. I hope this makes it clear that, when pointing out the "such and such" uses chlorine, you need to be a tad more specific if you want to make a proper argument.
By now you might also be thinking: "Hang on, our stomach contains hydrochloric acid - that's half chlorine!" And the penny might also have dropped . . . yes - chlorine with different properties, again. The chlorine exists as the chloride ion, again, so it won't have the same effects at all as the sodium chlorite. The hydrogen exists simply as lone protons, having had their one electron "snatched". It's an extremely strong acid, designed to kill germs and bore ways into the food to make it more digestable. All that acid's later neutralised by bile from the gall bladder, so that the bacteria in your gut can get on peacefully with their lives.
Anyway, two of Rhys's threads have been deleted. However, the brilliant JoBrodie got them both off Freezepage! (Please be aware these might expire after 2 weeks.) In one of them he posted the official FDA warning against MMS, and was argued against vigorously on the grounds that conventional medicine also had problems. Rhys remarks that it is unsafe to urge someone whose health is clearly very poor to continue taking MMS despite hideous pain and discomfort, and is accused of "slander". Upon retrieving the conversation, he's accused of "taking the quotes out of context" and informed that "I have requested that you be banned".
In the other, Rhys asks why people on the forum are often so anti-science and anti-conventional medicine: he agrees that there are problems with it, but it's the best we've got. "I made an evidence based posting, not one even from a skeptical point of view, warning people about Miracle Mineral Solution," he wrote. "The forum's response? Trying to silence me, childish name calling and of course, blaming Big Pharma for the lack of medical trials on such unproven non-treatments."
After banning him permanently for his "attitude", both these threads were deleted.
Rhys tweeted: "It's disgustingly irresponsible that they deleted my post which was merely a link to the FDA warning page. They were willfully keeping others ignorant, by doing so." (Said tweets here and here.)
A forum moderator myself, I am stunned. Stunned that safety warnings were hidden; stunned that science was silenced. I can see that, in their uninformed view, Rhys was not being diplomatic; but seriously, the worst he said was "grow up", which is nothing compared to the abuse he's received. I suppose they felt that the majority must be right. But my God, deleting an official safety warning and making sure such vulnerable people remained in ignorance about what they were doing? I am so stunned I don't think I have any words. I don't think I need any, anyway. Rhys and his 30+ commentators say enough here!
He's been extremely active since then, calling Cardiff Trading Standards, who called him back with more information, and hopes to start a campaign to at least raise awareness of MMS even if it doesn't get banned. This bit I don't know much about, so we'll have to wait for that. I've predicted he'll be giving Skeptics in the Pub talks in a year or so, and have his own forum a year or so after that!
Let me just mention one or two more issues. JoBrodie quite rightly pointed out the issue of cliquiness. This often makes forums miserable and annoying, skews issue in favour of opinions that aren't necessarily correct, and if the moderators are involved, certainly leads to injustice. That's one cause - the effect is a lot worse. Another cause may simply be ignorance on the part of the moderators. As pretty well anyone can set up a forum, it must be exceedingly difficult for medics and scientists to keep track of them, let alone make sure that the right information gets out to the right people. Still, as forums grow large, and especially on such a responsible topic, shouldn't we at least try? Or would that mean a lot more regulation and stifling - and could that regulation and stifling indeed lead to more censorship of science, through officialdom rather than cliques? What do you think? Someone like me should know, but sadly I don't!
Another issue is the idea purported by some that MMS will sterelise unwanted organisms within the body. This is about as likely as a homeopathic remedy remembering the presence of arnica rather than whatever else the water has been in contact with over its billions of years of existence. Your digestive tract contains a huge number of microscopic organisms, most of them benign and indeed beneficial. The first place the sodium chlorite gets (apart from the poor throat) is, of course, the stomach, in which the strong acid attacks incoming bacteria. Adding chlorine is totally out of line with what the body's doing, and is at least as likely to attack your insides as any bacteria you don't want in there.
Well, I thought I'd go for the "sciencey" side, since a lot of people have covered this issue now - my favourite blogpost so far is Noodlemaz's (not the same one I linked to earlier). It was all over Twitter the other day - I wish I'd written about it sooner, but I've been a bit distracted - and retweeted by the likes of Ben Goldacre and James Randi. Rhys is famous!
He's done an interview for the Pod Delusion, will be a subject discussed by the SkepChicks, and has been contacted by a video production company in Yorkshire. When he said he was off to London, lots of us assumed it was to the BBC. Well done Rhys, and looking forward to seeing you at Cardiff Skeptics!
Now, who says 15 year olds can't do things?