I have a Pinterest Page that is fast filling with all the false facts contained in the WTF Facts photoplasty memes that are plastered all over the internet. No matter how many you shoot down, more appear daily to annoy, mislead, confuse, and titillate. Some of these are true, but trivial. Some are true and interesting. Sadly, a head banging lot of them are just plain wrong, or just wrong enough to cause confusion. These get added to my Pins, Posts, Memes and Hooey board. I share these on Facebook from time to time. Today I went to Pinterest looking for an old pin, and there it was... a claim that Indonesian Scientists had created a male contraceptive pill that was over 90% effective. Wait, what? That's huge! Why haven't I heard of this? Why isn't it all over the news? Why isn't Bob trying to sell it to me between the beer and insurance commercials? Clue number one that I've stepped into a big old pile of grade A hooey. I have to find out though. Who knows? There may be something to it. Usually, I waste my own time doing this, and it prevents me getting my book writing, blog posting, video making, and gardening done. I decided to kill two birds with one stone this time. If you want to learn how to write a headline that grabs people and makes them click, and you have no ethics to speak of, this sort of nonsense is a writer's hat trick. I'll take you step by step so you can see what a pain it is for your readers, hoping maybe you won't be quite so tempted to do it. So, let's go on this ride of discovery together, shall we?
First off, find a good stinky pile of suspicious online hooey. I found mine while tripping lightly through Pinterest, which is a veritable cow patty gold mine. You'll never be short of rich fertilizer for your writing or scamming career if you peruse the pins. Here's the one I picked.
I found it on a random board called "Mind Blown". I won't link it here. The person who pinned it didn't create it, and they repinned it innocently enough. But I don't think her board is reliable enough to send people over there, based on this and others that make an appearance, unchallenged. This stinker appears on at least 29 other boards according to the source.
That's it. That's the "source". It's one of those photoplasty pages where anyone can create their own "fact" memes. And I do mean memes. Once these things get on the internet, they become gospel. They get shared and reshared, paired with other images, blogged about, and even occasionally picked up by legit news sources. Why anyone would intentionally create a false one, I don't know. I've been fooled. I'm sure a lot of other people have been too. So now, I will try to slay this dragon. (Don't you love mixed metaphors?) It won't work, of course. No matter how many times you correct this sort of misinformation, it still gets shared and upvoted and believed.
But we're going to try. So, whoever wrote this probably didn't make it up whole cloth. They might have, but it's not terribly common, in my experience. Usually these things get started through honest confusion and personal memory bias. That means that somewhere out there is a story or study or something that says some scientists, possibly in Indonesia, invented a male birth control, possibly a pill, which may or may not be 99.96% effective. We need to track down the story, and figure out what it really said, and what the actual facts are. The easiest way to do that is to enter the basic words in Google and hope to hit the jackpot. So, let's enter "Indonesian scientist male birth control" and see what comes up, shall we?
Ok, I don't know what results you got, but I got a page full of nonsense type news articles with equally breathless claims... and one thing that looks promising from an organization called the Male Contraception Information Project. Did we get lucky and confirm or debunk this thing on the very first try? Very nice information provided right there on the landing page. Already we can see where the initial claim came from, and what the reality is more likely to be. So indeed, a group of doctors and scientists have developed a male contraceptive pill that shows promise and has completed initial trials.
It seems odd though, that the last update was from two years ago.
The latest news is that on Feb 12, 2014 a second MOU between Airlangga University, the National Family Planning Bureau and Indopharma was signed. It’s about the supply of materials, production and distribution rights and obligations. The first MOU signed in 2011 was about research issues. Indopharma is now beginning work on pilot scale production to determine Gendarussa product specifications, so that it can be registered as a new drug by the Indonesia FDA.
Research on the contraceptive properties of the Justicia gendarussa plant has been ongoing since 1985. The active ingredient was isolated and chemically synthesized, then manufactured into capsule form. The scientists heading up the research, Dr. Bambang Projogo and Dr. Dyan Pramesti, reported that phase two studies included 120 couples (80 given Gendarussa and 40 given placebo) for 108 days with no pregnancies. Additional studies were recently concluded in 350 couples (186 taking the capsule and 164 taking placebo) for 30 days with a reported success rate similar to that of oral contraceptives used by women.
While the Justicia gendarussa plant’s anti-inflammatory properties have been studied extensively, published information on its effects on male contraception is difficult to obtain. Scientists involved in the research report that the active ingredient in Gendarussa disrupts an enzyme in the sperm head, which weakens the ability of the sperm to penetrate the ovum. The effect is short term and reversible – having no effect on male hormones. The scientists even report increased libido in some patients.
Approval to use Gendarussa in countries outside Indonesia would to take longer, depending on how much of the Indonesian research meets those countries’ study protocols. To our knowledge, no Western organizations have teamed up with the Indonesian researchers, so an FDA approvals would have to start at the beginning and would most likely take 10+ years if successful at all. Since it is a herbal medicine, some propose a strategy of petitioning reputable herbal medicine companies (such as Jarrow, NOW Foods, or Nature Made) to make a high-quality (USP) version of it for Western use. And some are looking to help it get approved under the herbal drug regulatory system in Indonesia.
We should be so lucky. But we got closer, a lot closer. Not bad for our first look. Ok, this page is an archived page, no longer active, but it directs us to their newer page. Let's go there and see if we're any closer to getting the promised pill.
What do you notice right off the bat? For me, two things stand out. One, this page repeats the information of the last one with no new updates. So we're still on 2012 data. Where is the 2016 data? Did it get approved? Is it still in trials? We don't know. The second is that below the portion I screen capped is a bunch of media sites. No research studies are linked. Just sales and media stuff. That's sometimes a red flag.
But this looks like the page of an unaffiliated organization. They don't seem to be selling the pills, or anything else. And they have listed a couple other promising future drugs for male birth control. So, we need to continue our search to find out if there is any more recent data available, and whether the research is out there. They've given us lots of hints though.
I'm going to start with the company. If they're in production, they're going to have a glossy page and possibly some great active links. So let's Google PT Indo Farma together. Ready? Ugh. Are you seeing what I'm seeing? This site sucks with a capital S. What is this, 1985? My blog looks more professional than this pharmaceutical company's landing page. I'm trying the PRODUCTS tab. --
Are you kidding?
Ok fellow writers and bloggers and online salespeople, let this be a lesson to you. Do not let your online store look like this. How is anyone supposed to find anything? there isn't even a search box. You've got to scroll through this photographs of products, looking for the one that you might want information about. Not kidding. You can't just enter the name, or a description. This is not what reputable pharmaceutical company (and I know I'll get some flak just for using those words side by side) websites look like. I'll give you a comparison shot here.
I am not saying Bayer is a better company. I have no basis of comparison. I am saying that their page speaks volumes about them, and they have people who know what they are doing when building a modern website. It's easy to navigate, contains useful information, isn't cluttered with unnecessary junk, and doesn't look like a kid in high school made it in exchange for some free pizza.
To be as fair as I could, while wasting as little time as possible, I did look through a few of their offerings, some supplements, a prescription antibiotic. Nothing seems to indicate they've just broken new commercial and scientific ground with an Earth shattering new product like a male contraceptive pill. But maybe I'm just not patient enough to look through this whole terrible page. I'll come back to it if I can't find something somewhere else.
An internet search again. This time I find an Al Jazeera article that provides a clue as to where that 99.96% effective rate comes from. But Al Jazeera doesn't say the pill is that effective, but that the latest trial had a 99.96% effective rate. And it claims the pill is set to be sold in Indonesia in 2014. Oh yeah? Then how come we can't find it in 2016?
I could go a few different directions here. I could continue searching for better information by entering keywords. I could go to an online database and look for academic research papers. (That's what I probably should do.) But I'm going to try something lazy that often works. I'm going to see if I can find an article someone else has already done, debunking or otherwise addressing this claim. Now, when doing this, we are not looking for more online clickbait headlined, unsupported and unresearched repetitions of the original claim. You'll find tons of those. We're looking for an article by someone who took the time to track down the claims like we're doing, better if we can find someone with a little expertise who's done so. I like to start with Quackwatch, but there are lots of other people out there doing the hard work so you don't have to. No reason to reinvent the wheel or repeat research they've already done. So I'm going to try Quackwatch first, you can try your favorite skeptical or debunking page. Ready, set... go!
Darn, Quackwatch has yet to do any articles on this particular subject. Did you find anything? Well, I'm not giving up that easy. I like being lazy. So I'll just enter the words, gendarussa male contraception debunk, and see what pops up. Ok, I got nothing. All the articles seem to stop in 2012 or 2014. So now I have to do it the hard way, and do my own research. Google Scholar found me something, so I guess I gotta.
Sometimes you find clues leading you in a direction you hadn't considered before. Have you heard of Ayurvedic medicine? Well, India recognizes this particular form of woo, er, "ancient plant based medicine wisdom" and grants it acceptance alongside modern scientific medicine. And that means you can prescribe ayurvedic "medicine" alongside real medicine. And this plant seems to have gained a popular following in the ayurvedic crowd. I am holding out hope that this is not just another pseudoscientific sham foisted on the unsuspecting public by the "alternative medicine" purveyors, but this has me worried. Not to fear, I'm not stopping there. It gets shakier. All of the studies on the contraceptive properties of this plant were done in India, and all stopped by 2012. There's just no new information on this plant as a contraceptive. But there's tons out there on it as a cure for AIDS, a cancer treatment, a blood clotting treatment, and several other treatments and cures. I'm starting to think this stuff is as good as marijuana! And if that sounded like cynicism creeping in, you could be right. It was almost snark. It isn't just the wild claims and the interest by Ayurvedic "researchers", Coconuts, Jakarta, an online news and opinion magazine, just came right out and said what no one else had bothered to point out.
However, the gendarussa pill is likely to be classified as herbal medicine in Indonesia. That mean that, although it would not require the same level of scrutiny as regular pharmaceuticals that go to market here, it would still have to meet the safety standards of Indonesia’s Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) and Health Ministry.
It's not a drug, in the same sense as say, Lipitor, is. It's an herbal medicine, like chamomile or the popular sore throat lozenges by Ricola. And while some herbal remedies do provide some effect, they just aren't held to the same standards as what we generally refer to as medicine in the modern world. They don't have to be proven as safe, so long as they are generally considered safe and have a history of use. And they don't have to prove their effectiveness at all. Even in Places like India where such "medicine" is brought under the umbrella of state approved care, it generally isn't held to the same strict standards. So that claim of 99.96% efficacy? Forget the sugar, take it with a large grain of salt.
Ok, back to popular articles. Hundreds of them, and they all link back to the same page we found right off the bat. So hundreds of articles, some by professionals, and the best they can do is cite a single non-profit that says this pill is coming in the near future and is still in trials. You see why right away I thought this meme was bunk? It's that lazy writer problem again. No one reads research. No one bothers to follow up with the claims. They just cut and paste releases. Well, let's not do the same. Let's keep searching, let's keep searching... what do you do when you don't find the facts? Just keep searching...
Everything about this smells like bogus hooey. Look at the write up from USA Today and see how many questions you are left with.
How often will men have to take it?
Probably once a day. Tribesmen in Papua, who boil gendarussa in tea, drink a cup just 30 minutes before sex. The pill's researchers are still perfecting the dosage, Bambang said, and may eventually develop a version that can be swallowed just one hour before sex.
Wait, what? You've gone through all those clinical trials, and you don't have a clue how often you'd have to take it? Have you ever participated in a trial, let alone conducted one? Hundreds of hours of research are done with animals and computer models before human trials begin. The human trials are just the last in a long line. You should have a pretty damn good idea of how often you have to dose by the time you've completed the final round of trials, which they supposedly have. Thirty minutes before sex! That's hugely different from daily. Just because villagers use the leaves that way, doesn't mean the pill would be effective like that. There's miles of research and development and actual scientific observation differentiating common cultural practices and actual medicine. Doesn't this sound a big--brag-y to you? Like he's selling snake oil for desperate guys who don't want to pay any more child support? Either it's every day, or it's one hour before sex. Which is it, doctor? This thing is set for release in India, you better have your story straight before you sell it to customers.
Any side effects?
Very few. Some guys have gained weight on the pill. Some guys are endowed with a supercharged libido. At least one participant saw an increase in two types of enzymes (SGOT and SGPT) that can indicate a poorly functioning heart or liver (although it's unclear whether this was related to the pill or some other health issue). But overall, researchers haven't seen anything that remotely rivals the zits, nausea, sporadic bleeding and other effects many women endure on hormone-based birth control pills.
At least he got a little specific with the enzyme. But doesn't that second one sound just a teeny-tiny, wee bit like bragging? "Supercharged" libido? What is a "supercharged" libido? Can I find that in the medical literature? Can you quantify that? Do you need a spoiler to keep it on the road? Honestly, between this guy's unprofessional language and claims that make no freaking sense, I'm starting to wonder what kind of doctor he really is.
So let's Google him. Interesting,
Airlangga University, Surabaya
Medicinal Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Phytochemistry
Has five articles attributed to him, three on this same plant, but on three different claimed major health breakthroughs. That's extraordinary. This plant cures cancer, treats HIV, and prevents men from getting women pregnant without affecting their libido, maybe even supercharging it! It is the next marijuana!
Sorry for the diversion. Shiny! We'll do some more digging on the doc in a bit. Let's get back to that interview, ok?
So the interview for USA Today asks:
Are the results trustworthy?
Bambang and his university are well regarded in Indonesia. But ultimately this work must be legitimized through a much larger clinical study. The largest trial so far included 350 men. Indonesia's version of the Federal Drug Administration wants a bigger trial to verify the findings.
Wait, USA Today, I thought you were talking to Bambang. Did you switch to talking to someone else? You said, >>"It's 99% effective," says Bambang Prajogo, the research project's lead scientist.<< So I figured when you said, >>We spoke to the research team...<< You meant Dr. Prajogo. No? Someone else on his team? Ok... This, fellow writers, is what you have to be very careful of. You need to specifically identify who you are citing. I have no idea what ducky doc said the silly things this interviewee is quoted saying. They're on the research team, apparently. Maybe they were the guy that typed the manuscript? Or are you just answering your own question, and forgot to tell us the interview was over?
Ok, but the largest trial was 350 men. Yet you say in a flat-footed way that the pill is more than 99% effective. In at least one study 3 pregnancies occurred. Your math isn't adding up. You're quoting the percentage from just one of the trials, aren't you? And that's not how scientists report statistically significant findings, esp. from such a small sample size. What is one percent of 350? Answer, 3.5. So there you go, that's how they got 99% effective. But, but, but... right. That's not how you figure that. That's how an amateur naturalist sitting in their living room ballparks efficacy rates. But let's forgive him. The math is technically right, if imprecise, ignoring important confounders, and based on too little data. He's just the typist after all. If he really wanted to figure out the efficacy, he'd have to first consider how many births we would expect in this population, if they weren't using contraception. Also, we need to know if the control group had fewer pregnancies than the experimental group. You can't even begin to figure out if the contraception worked, unless we know how likely those people were to have babies if they didn't change a thing. I have one child. Just one. If you think I only ever had sex just once, or even just once without birth control, you should have been my confessor when I was younger. Who gets pregnant every single time they have sex? Not many people. And the group chosen for this study are married men who had at least one child already. These men may have sex less often, or take other precautions, such as withdrawing, to prevent additional births. If they volunteered for the study, maybe they were a bit more motivated to avoid pregnancies. We don't know, because we've not been told. All we have to go by is the very simplistic numbers listed above. And do we determine the effectiveness of a drug based on three such small studies? I don't see how. But unlike every researcher I've ever quoted in my life, this guy doesn't qualify his estimate at all. He doesn't say, "It appears, based on very limited data to date, that given blah-blah, in blah-blah circumstances, that we have approximately blah efficacy." Nope. He confidently states they have the same efficacy rate as female oral contraceptives.
Next the interviewer asks,
Won't some giant pharmaceutical firm try to get a piece of the action?
Of course. Bambang said he received an offer worth billions in funding and lab facilities from a major U.S. firm, which he declined to name. The corporation, he said, also wanted his patent on the pill, which Bambang and his university secured in Indonesia. The offer was declined. So far, the team has operated on an incredibly low budget: only about $600,000.
Forgive my skepticism here, but-- wait a minute! Hold everything. You just quoted Bambang again. But, you said, "Bambang and his university are well regarded in Indonesia." Is the doctor referring to himself in the third person, or is some uncouth sycophant standing there talking about how well regarded he is, using his name, while he is standing right there and probably basking in the glow of sycophantic praise by a team member? And aren't the other members of the team well regarded in India? What the heck, USA Today? Fellow writers, never write like this. Just don't. I'm going to stop commenting on the crazy writing style. Obviously, USA Today doesn't give a shit if you know who said the words they are putting on paper, as long as you buy it.
Back to the skepticism, whenever someone claims to have been offered billions in funding, but then refuses to name the company making the offer or give any specifics, and says they declined said offer, I start thinking they're not a doctor, but a salesman. This Antarna News article says it's a Chinese company that's promising a joint venture and that they've put aside billions in US dollars. Maybe the Chinese just made a better offer. Maybe it's the several lemons I bought over the year, but I recognize a used car salesman's strategy when I see it. Talk up it's value, make it sound like someobody is willing to pay anything to get it, and bam! Instant sales pressure. And he gets to bask some more as people see him as the heroic underdog refusing to take their dirty money. When they add that they've been operating on a budget of only $600,000 I know they are full of bacterial discharge. You can't do a prospective study for $600,000, let alone enough research to determine if a medication for humans is both safe, and effective. And these guys turned down billions in funding? Pull the other one, doc.
I don't think I'm the only one doubting this whole story. Among a series of articles by the Jakarta Post, at least one skeptical piece appeared in which the origin story told by the good doctor comes under scrutiny, and doesn't seem to hold up. Apparently, no one in Papua had actually heard of using this shrub or its leaves to prevent pregnancy. That's odd, given the way it was sold as an ancient and plainly useful home remedy. I mean, when we hear of coca plants being chewed to relieve tooth pain, we can go ask natives who indeed know the coca plant and it's interesting medicinal properties. It seems odd no one in Papua had any recollection of this plant being useful this way, let alone of actually trying it.
I finally found an article with a teensy bit more information. So the 350 people in the last study were not all taking the medication. That was 350 participants, period. Of that, 186 took the capsules. I'm not sure why the number of controls and test subjects were not evenly divided because I haven't found the actual research text yet. That's not a huge deal. I will note though, that the controls did at least take a placebo. That means they made at least minimal effort at preventing the participants from acting on perceived effectiveness. There is a very troubling sentence in this article by the Jakarta Post though, that I hadn't found in any others.
"We had to provide more condoms in this phase," said Bambang.
Just let that sink in for a minute. Wouldn't you like to hear the follow up question to that answer? "Doctor, are you saying participants in your study got condoms while they were participating in your study of a male contraceptive drug? Wait, wait, so the stuff makes them horny, so you give them condoms, and then they don't get their spouses pregnant, and you chalk that up to the efficacy of the medication? What about the f'in condoms?!" Is it me, people? Am I the only one reading this?
In addition, this article indicates the active ingredient extracted for the capsules is glycoside flavonoid.
Researchers from the pharmacy and medical schools in Airlangga and the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) extracted glycoside flavonoid, mainly contained in the leaves, the metabolites of which have potential for contraceptive purposes.
There's just one problem with that, glycoside flavonoid is not a chemical, or rather, it isn't only one chemical. It's actually a name for a class of chemicals. I found an abstract that provided this definition of a flavonoid.
Flavonoids are polyphenolic phytochemicals found in almost all types of plants and in all parts of the plant, from stems to roots to fruit. Although not considered nutrients and thus essential for life, flavonoids have gained increasing recognition for their health-related qualities. Flavonoids have potent antioxidant properties that contribute to their cholesterol lowering effects and cardiovascular protection
I'm going to assume this is just a failure due to translation or due to a non-scientist reporting on a technical scientific finding. So learning that it is not the whole plant, but a specific flavonoid-sugar molecule, I can try searching for flavonoids as contraceptives. A clue! So let's try another Google search.
I keep seeing this video attached to articles and elsewhere. It's a PBS NewsHour production. Ok, I finally gave in and watched it. It's just more of the exact same claims without any support! Argh! I expect better of you PBS. At least this one gives us the tiniest hint that the human trials actually took place. But it's not necessarily good news for the product. At one point, the narrator-host visits with a man who participated in the study. He says his libido increased while taking the drug, and it worked for him, he'd recommend it. Problem is, participants in such a study aren't supposed to know whether they are receiving the drug or placebo. We know they said they used placebos, so how does this man know he got the drug? Did he? Is he merely mistaken, and therefore his opinion is worthless? Or was he aware, and therefore possibly had the placebo effect work on him, despite getting the real medicine? Or did they inform him afterward? The video doesn't tell us. It's not exactly the kind of thing I'd want in a video about my double-blind efficacy trial. And that's as much as that video says about the actual research. We're back where we started. Oh, and remember the assertion about the efficacy rates of female contraceptive pills? That's what he compared the efficacy rates for his pills to, remember? 99.96%. But the fellow with the happy libido in the video has a wife who says she was on oral contraception, and it failed and she got pregnant anyway, more than once. Just let that chase around in your head for a minute.
Well, that's it. I've spent an entire day chasing down non-existent evidence in support of the claim that this product is 99.96% effective as a male contraceptive and it just doesn't seem to exist. It isn't that it couldn't work. A great deal of work has been done with isolating various flavonoids. And flavonoids, which have some real health benefits, are still incompletely understood. There are a lot of them still not isolated or fully explored. Research has been done on using these or other compounds from plants to prevent pregnancy. Here's a study using derivatives of the water cabbage. Certainly preventing sperm motility, the bonding of sperm and egg, or destruction of the sperm before fertilization are concepts being explored by many scientists, some of whom have already made significant progress. In 2012 three researchers released a paper claiming some spermacidal or otherwise contraceptive properties of plants ranging from aloe to marijuana to cloves, but not gendarussa. And here's a rat study on a shrub called Salsola imbricata exploring its usefulness in creating a male contraceptive. It also specifies flavonoids as the compound of action. And while it did have some effect, it was barely significant, and it also reduced testes size, not exactly a side effect you'd want in male humans. It also caused changes in the sperm that didn't die. That's not such great news, since I doubt that men who want no children, would want children with birth defects. So maybe the flavonoid isolated from gendarussa may be less harmful and more effective?
It took all day to finally track down the supposed support for this claim. I found it in, of all places, a list of references on an Indiegogo fundraising page. Yes, someone is trying to raise money to make this product. Is that how most research is funded? Not on your life. And didn't they say they were offered billions from an American company, and also had billions on hand thanks to a partnership with a Chinese Company? Man, that's weird. I don't know who this person with the Indiegogo account is, other than the name he lists, but someone should tell him they already have billions, and don't need his $600 or so dollars. Just saying. The person running the campaign says they want to bring a "lab tested" version to the states "... so customers will know what they are getting." That's nice, but how does that tell us whether it works?
That they would link this paper as evidence of the reality of their claims shows either cynical belief that everyone else is too ignorant or lazy to read it, or ignorance or indolence on the part of the person posting it. I'll let the reader decide. The title of the only paper cited is, Isolation of Male Antifertility Compound In N-Butanol Fraction of Justicia Gendarussa Burm. F. Leaves. Now, if you weren't so overwhelmed with the scienc-y-ness of that title, you may have, like me, immediately had a question or two pop into your head about it. For one, how does he know the compounds he has isolated are in fact, the antifertility compounds? Sure, he's isolated some flavonoid. But did he test to see what the action of that flavonoid on sperm actually is? Not in this paper he didn't. And for another, why are they posting the paper on how to isolate the compound, not on the effectiveness of the actual contraceptive? We've been told they've been through several rounds of testing. Where are the test results? I understand you might not want to release the raw data, but surely at least a summary paper? No? Then why would we believe the compounds you've isolated do a darn thing on sperm? Again, I am not saying he didn't do this work, or that the medicine doesn't work as claimed. Rather, I'm saying that people are making some pretty bold claims without bothering to back it up with a shred of a sliver of evidence. And let's get really weird. The same fellow who has started this Indiegogo campaign and posted the other paper, posted a page of the Globinmed, a sort of alternative medicine PubMed, which lists no research into the use of gendarussa as a contraceptive at all. None. Nor does it list contraception as a traditional use by Papuans. Why would you cite that source, when it doesn't support your claim? Weird.
The researcher in question is real. I said we'd get back to him. Bambang Prajogo Eko Wardojo. Here his is co-authoring a paper on the detecting antifungal compounds. Maybe he got tired of working on providing men a safe, natural contraceptive? And here he is writing about xylanolitic compounds. And don't ask me what those are. So he exists, he works for a university, or did, and he publishes papers. Beyond that, I don't know anything about him.
So after a full day's research, what can we say about this meme? Let's summarize:
- We can't say this drug even exists. There's no evidence it exists. We couldn't find it. There are lots of "extracts" of the plant in question, but no evidence that it is pharmacologically the drug described in the meme.
- If it exists, we can't say it works, at all. There's nowhere I could find online even an anecdote about it working. All we have are repeated stories based on the original press release. The closest we have is a brief anecdote in the PBS video in which one of the subjects says it worked for him and he'd recommend it.
- No one has bothered to track down the actual study and review it, nor has anyone posted any stories updating the original. Everything stops around 2011 or 2012. Updates just seem to say that they are still waiting. And there isn't even an update after 2014 by anyone that I could find.
- The human trials have not been published online anywhere that I could find, nor even a summary of the results. I can't even find any real evidence they happened, just the word of a couple people from within various minstries or government agencies.
- Some of the claims made about the drug seem designed more to sell, than to clarify.
- The author of the original study and claims (Wardojo) has apparently moved on to other interests.
- Someone is trying to raise money to sell this stuff, without apparently having gathered all the research for potential buyers.
- The claim of 99.96% effectiveness is based on a simple division of total participants by number of pregnancies (failures). But this is not how effectiveness of a contraceptive works.
- Studies have been done into similar compounds as contraceptives, but so far, no one else has reported success nor has anyone verified or duplicated his.
- The claim that native Papuans used the plant in traditional medicine has been denied by multiple Papuans in at least one report.
So, all in all, the meme is busted. But I can't make a definitive statement about the drug. I would say I personally won't be donating to the Indiegogo campaign, nor do I expect to purchase this drug anytime soon. I would not recommend to any male friend or relative that they should buy the extracts on the market, let alone use them. I wouldn't just say more study needed. In this case, any study would be welcome. I'd love to see Myles Power take on this one, but I'm sure he's too busy. And he'd probably find it as frustrating as I did. If you played along with me, conducting your own research as I did, let me know if you discovered anything enlightening. And do us all a favor, if you're going to produce a photoplasty to share with everyone on the internet, provide us a citation. It will save us so much time when verifying it before sharing. --And we will verify before sharing.