Letter to the Editor on homeopathy

January 15, 2011
Mortal and pestle used to ground homeopathic r...
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Every so often, I like to submit a Letter to the Editor to my local newspaper as it gets a far larger readership than this blog and a far more varied readership as well. And up until now, all my submissions have made into the paper. But unfortunately, when I responded to an extraordinarily credulous article promoting homeopathy, for some reason, the Bergen Record opted not to post the letter. But that’s not going to stop me from posting it here:

Regarding “Over-the-counter alternatives” (F-1, Dec. 19), I was appalled by Colleen Diskin’s ill-informed advertisement for homeopathy. It’s not an herbal remedy.  Homeopathy is as a matter of fact not a remedy at all but one of the oldest forms of snake oil quackery still bilking unsuspecting suckers out of their money.

Homeopathy involves diluting substances so much it surpasses Avogadro’s limit, meaning there’s literally not a single molecule left of the original substance. If homeopathy treated anything other than thirst, it would mean everything we know about chemistry is wrong. It’s a patently absurd pseudoscience without a shred of scientific validity.

Diskin is also deceptive in her language, emphasizing alleged European “studies” showing it works while simply saying the American medical “establishment” disputes those studies. First, reality is not a popularity contest. Second, every study allegedly bolstering  the case for homeopathy has fallen victim to “the decline effect” – the fact that effect sizes in scientific studies tend to decrease over time, sometimes to nothing.  Without fail, the better designed the study is, the more homeopathy behaves like a placebo.  Like its ingredients, under double blind conditions, homepathy’s effects dilute into oblivion.

Promoting homeopathy does a great disservice to the public health because people may forgo real treatments under the false belief that homeopathy will cure what ails them. But just because science-based medicine isn’t perfect, that doesn’t justify blindly turning to magic and voodoo.

Homeopathy was also heavily criticized the other day by a news broadcast in Canada:

To which, the homeopaths did not respond well to.

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2010 This Year In Skepticism – February

January 5, 2011

Here is the second part of my look back at the big skeptic-related news stories from last year. I just reviewed last January here. And here’s February. Hopefully, I’ll cover more than one month of the year in the next installment.

Homeopaths admit their products have no active ingredients – The 10:23 homeopathic overdose campaign has driven the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit that their products do not contain any “material substances”:

Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that “there´s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry.

Lancet retracts1998 Wakefield study

Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, guru of The Secret was officially charged with manslaughter – This earns him a nomination for biggest douchebag of the year.

Kevin Trudeau pissed off the wrong judge – This earns him a nomination for biggest douchebag of the year.

The Desiree Jennings case may have been exposed as a fraud, though the damage was already done

Andrew Wakefield booted out of Thoughtful House

The Secular Coalition met with the White House

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2010 This Year In Skepticism – January

January 2, 2011

Here is the first part of my look back at the big skeptic-related news stories from last year. I’m just covering last January in this piece but I’ll try to cover more than one month in the next installment.

Yet another well-designed study hit another nail in the coffin of the hypothesis that the MMR vaccine is linked with autism. Then researchers concluded that there was a lack of evidence supporting special diets for autism.

New smart phone apps emerge that debunk creationism

California said no to creationist curriculum

Pat Robertson blamed the Haitian earthquake on a mythical pact the nation never made with the devil–true story–thus earning him a nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

Vatican Bank accused of laundering $200 million.

Stephen Baldwin said he’d rather see his daughter die than lie about Jesus, earning him a solid nomination in the douchebag of the year awards.

The arrest of the businessman responsible for selling dowsing rods, aka magic wands, as bomb detectors.

UK’s General Medical Council concluded that anti-vaccine prophet Andrew Wakefield acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly.”

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledges $10 billion to vaccines and Doctors Without Borders vaccinates 2,100 kids against Measles in Pakistan – both were big victories for public health around the world.

Skeptics fail in homeopathy-based suicide attempt - The 1023 campaign sparked a great deal of attention on this little publicity stunt and made homeopathy look incredibly stupid.

Star of Scientology orientation film gives farewell performance - Larry Anderson, an actor and long-time member of $cientology who starred in their orientation film left the cult.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 10.14.10

October 15, 2010

1. Faith healing couple loses custody of baby -

I was disturbed to read about the Oregon couple who did not seek professional medical attention for their 10-month-old baby because of their faith healing practice. Their baby is now facing blindness in one eye.

The Oregon Department of Human Services won custody yesterday of little Alayna Wayland. Her parents, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, have been charged with first degree criminal mistreatment for failing to provide adequate care according to CBS News.

Another child is safe from the harm of religion.

2. FDA warns 8 companies to stop marketing miracle cures – There are depressingly several companies the FDA caught selling sham treatments for autism and Parkinson’s disease, among other conditions through chelation therapies only intended to remove toxic metals from the body. These treatments are not only fraudulent but also dangerous, as they are capable of causing dehydration, kidney failure and even death.

“These products are dangerously misleading because they are targeted to patients with serious conditions and limited treatment options,” said FDA’s Deborah Autor, director of compliance. “The FDA must take a firm stand against companies who prey on the vulnerability of patients seeking hope and relief.”

If the companies do not comply immediately, they will face legal action.

3. Rachel Maddow reports on Conservaepedia’s project to rewrite the Bible:

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News From Around The Blogosphere 8.3.10

August 3, 2010

Yup, I’m very behind again, so bare with me.

1. Former writers for ScienceBlogs find a new home – I’ve written already about “PepsiGate,” the controversy that led to many of the leading science bloggers on the web to leave their home at Scienceblogs. Well, now at least many of the bloggers who left, including one of my favorites, PalMD, have moved to Scientopia. And their joining other bloggers who had no previous connection to ScienceBlogs, so hopefully this will become yet another hub for amazing science coverage that the mainstream media is failing to cover. And PZ Myers, Orac, and Abbie Smith are all remaining at ScienceBlogs.  I personally don’t really care where they’re posting their material just as long as this incident hasn’t deprived the internet of great science bloggers.

2. New study again proves the Earth is warming -

The 2009 State of the Climate report released today draws on data for 10 key climate indicators that all point to the same finding: the scientific evidence that our world is warming is unmistakable. More than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries contributed to the report, which confirms that the past decade was the warmest on record and that the Earth has been growing warmer over the last 50 years.

Oh great! Now even Earth is falling for Al Gore’s evil liberal agenda.

3. Monkeys hate flying squirrels – C’mon, who doesn’t hate flying squirrels. Fuckin’ rodents think they’re so clever because they got built-in hang gliders. Humans had to actually build our flying technology; they were just born with it. That takes no great accomplishment. I’d like to see a flying squirrel build a 747. But maybe that’s just me. So why do monkeys hate them?

This riled-up response is probably just a false alarm, with the monkeys mistaking the squirrel for a predatory bird. On the other hand, male macaques – some of whom give chase and even attack a harmless rodent – might be trying to impress females in their troop.

Although this tough-guy motive was not proved in a new study, “it is possible that adult or sub-adult male monkeys may be ‘showing off’ their fitness” as potential mates, said Kenji Onishi, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Osaka University and lead author of the paper being published in the current issue of the journal Primate Research.

I like my reason better.

4. How high can Virgin Galactic take you? – Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic now has two fully operational private spacecraft: SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo (aka Enterprise). And for the low, low price of $200,000, they’ll take you about 68 miles above the Earth’s surface, or 6.2 miles above  the Kármán line, the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. Now’s the time for Captain Kirk to start offering cheaper flights with Priceline.

5, Mind reading machines are science reality -

It is possible to read someone’s mind by remotely measuring their brain activity, researchers have shown. The technique can even extract information from subjects that they are not aware of themselves.

So far, it has only been used to identify visual patterns a subject can see or has chosen to focus on. But the researchers speculate the approach might be extended to probe a person’s awareness, focus of attention, memory and movement intention. In the meantime, it could help doctors work out if patients apparently in a coma are actually conscious.

I can't handle the truth!

6. Anti-vaxxer Meryl Dorey is a lying bitch – The other day, Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN – [snicker] ) responded to the accusations made against her that her organization misinforms parents and that they’ve harassed the McCaffery family, whose 4-week-old baby Dana died of pertussis because she was too young to be safely vaccinated and those around hadn’t been vaccinated either. Of course, she denied any wrongdoing of any kind. But now the McCaffery’s have responded to her response. And big surprise. She lied…a lot.

7. Self-sustaining robot has artificial gut – I do love my robot news. A robot, Ecobot III, eats dead flies for sustenance. It’s pretty inefficient now but it’s hard to imagine the possibilities for how far this research could take robot technology in the future.

8. Supplements found to be unsafe – I know it sounded like a great idea for supplements to not be regulated to confirm they are safe and effective but it turns out that, shockingly, not verifying these products are actually safe is a really, really bad idea. I know. Who knew?

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News From Around The Blogosphere 7.17.10

July 18, 2010
Illustration of internal parts of a cochlear i...
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1. Cochlear implant brings sound to deaf baby – Stem cells are curing the blind and now technology is solving deafness. Once again, science delivers the good. Click the link to see a video of this 8-month-old baby hearing sound for the first time.

2. Huff Po writer insists homeopathy works…even though she doesn’t know how - Well, I know how. It’s called the placebo effect. Rachel Roberts’ article basically amounts to a lot of anecdotes and appeals to the “I was a skeptic until I tried…” fallacy. There’s also a lot of unstated major premises like the one found at the end of this paragraph:

I admit I ruined that dinner party. I interrogated her about every detail of her diagnosis, previous treatment, time scales, the lot. I thought it through logically – she was intelligent, she wasn’t lying, she had no previous inclination towards alternative medicine, and her reluctance would have diminished any placebo effect.

Why would her reluctance diminish the placebo effect? And when people start just making up random assertions, I find that Dr. Cox has the only appropriate answer.

3. Researchers make cancer more mortal -

Washington State University researchers have discovered a way to help cancer cells age and die, creating a promising avenue for slowing and even stopping the growth of tumors.

“Hopefully, we can make cancer cells die like normal cells,” says Weihang Chai, an assistant professor in the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences and WWAMI medical education program in Spokane. “Basically, you make the cancer cell go from immortal to mortal.”

4. Argentina passes gay marriage – Argentina’s senate voted 33-27 for gay marriage, making it the first country in South America to legalize same-sex marriage.

5. Antidepressants in the water make shrimp suicidal – This is a tragic story given that it has serious consequences for the ecosystem but I can’t help but find the concept of shrimp suicide funny. Is it just me?

6. $cientology goes to war with Anderson Cooper – After Cooper’s investigation into the Church’s physical abuse allegations recently, this was to be expected. Fortunately, the cult isn’t as powerful as it used to be and, like so many of their other retaliation attempts, will almost certainly blow up in their faces. Nothing can stop The Anderson Cooper!

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James Ray is a dispicable human being

July 2, 2010

Back when the story first broke, I’d written about the arrest of The Secret’s James Ray following the deaths of several individuals taking part in his sweat lodge workshops. Now Anderson Cooper has done a great piece following up on the story.

James Ray is a dispicable human being, posted with vodpod

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News From Around The Blogosphere 6.30.10

June 30, 2010

1. American Atheists President retiring – Wasn’t Ed Buckner only president for, like, a year? Oh, sorry. It was two years. So now the question is, who’s going to replace him? I don’t think they’ll be asking Ellen Johnson back and the organization’s first president has been dead for some time. So that means someone new. And I don’t know anyone of hand who’d be a good fit.

2. Quacks file lawsuit against Quackwatch – I love Dr. Barrett’s responses and am pretty confident that Doctor’s Data do not have a legitimate case against him. First of all, they did not take reasonable actions to settle the problem outside of the court and ignored his answer to their complaint. Second of all, in the U.S. defamation is extraordinarily difficult to prove. Third, America loves free speech and people absolutely do have a right to criticize organizations making dubious claims. Fourth, the science is indeed against them and libel requires the statements in question be false. Fifth, not only must libelous claims be false but you must prove the defendant knew they were false and deliberately lied. And sixth, libel requires proving the plaintiff’s business has actually been significantly injured specifically from claims of the defendant. I surmise this will be thrown out of court on summary judgment in no time. It’s simply frivolous. Orac also discussing this story here.

3. Dr. Oz wins an Emmy and scathing criticism in the NY Daily News – Here’s a fun little excerpt:

Oz’s demonstrable passion for the eccentric dates back to the mid-’90s, when he spearheaded the Cardiac Complementary Care Center at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and immediately set out to validate the energy-healing regimen known as therapeutic touch – an updated version of the Ancients’ “laying on of hands.” In Oz’s new operating-theater-of-the-absurd, a self-described “radical healer” was stationed at the head of the surgery table, her mission to report any changes she discerned in the patient’s energy as the operation progressed.

4. Best wishes C.H. If anyone can make cancer their bitch, you can.


News From Around The Blogosphere 6.29.10

June 29, 2010

I am so behind on news stories that I’m going to ignore my usual rule of keeping this News From Around The Blogosphere chunk to only a few stories in order to play catch-up over the next few days.

1. Australia elects atheist Prime Minister…who sadly turns out to be anti-gay – Early reports of Julia Gillard’s appointment were met with cheers from the atheist community but now some of our hopes may have been dashed as news comes out that she opposes marriage equality:

“We believe the marriage act is appropriate in its current form, that is recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman, but we have as a government taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples,” Ms Gillard said.

Seriously, how does that sentence come out of the mouth of an atheist?

2. Copenhagen atheists create declaration of principles – The principle focus on religion’s role in public life.

3. Chuck Norris vs. the Secular Student Alliance SSA - Chuck’s pissed that with all the crises happening in the world, Obama found time to honor the SSA but has neglected the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and feels its’ persecution or something. What is it with these Christians who think just being their wishes aren’t met, that makes it persecution? No Bill Donohue, the Empire State Building is not honoring Mother Teresa, so get over it. Anyway, for some reason Chuck feels the BSA should have been invited to a conference on “Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses.” Why I don’t know. I guess Chuck still harboring a grudge against atheists ever since Bruce Lee kicked his ass. Personally, I’m still waiting for Chuck to respond to the email I wrote him three years ago.

4. Robot fish is accepted by shoal as one of their own - Wow, it’s kind of like Avatar except instead of the dude from the last Terminator film transferring his consciousness into a biological shell, it’s a frakkin’ robot.

University of Leeds scientists have created the first convincing robotic fish that shoals will accept as one of their own. The innovation opens up new possibilities for studying fish behaviour and group dynamics, which provides useful information to support freshwater and marine environmental management, to predict fish migration routes and assess the likely impact of human intervention on fish populations.

Robots–is there any news story they can’t make awesome?

5. UK trying to ban homeopathy -

Recently representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) condemned homeopathy as “witchcraft.”Now the BMA is going one step further – calling for a ban on homeopathy in the UK. They do not want homeopathy to be illegal, but they want a ban on any National Health Service (NHS) support for homeopathy. The NHS currently spends about 20 million pounds a year on homeopathic remedies (about 0.01% of the NHS budget) and maintains four homeopathic hospitals. This is a small amount overall – but anything spent on homeopathy is a waste. More importantly, as the BMA notes, homeopathy has “‘no place in the modern health service.’

6. Nick Fury, Black Widow, and S.H.I.E.L.D. to investigate Phil Plait? - Apparently someone over at Marvel Comics is a fan of the Bad Astronomy blog because Phil Plaits’ name is in Black Widow’s phonebook.

7. Teenager turns into Spiderman - In other Marvel Comics-related news:

A Cambridge schoolboy has converted two budget vacuum cleaners into a Spiderman gadget which helps him scale walls.

Hibiki Kono, 13, a big fan of the superhero, made the incredible climbing machine using the suction from two Tesco Value vacuum cleaners.

The schoolboy then amazed his friends by using the giant suckerpads to climb the school wall during morning assembly.

“I used to dress up as Spiderman when I was younger and I love all the films so it’s great to be able to climb walls like him,” said Hibiki.

You sir, are awesome.

8. Stem Cells cure blindness -

STEM cells have restored sight to 82 people with eyes blinded by chemical or heat burns.

Once again, as Carl Sagan once said, science delivers the goods.


News From Around The Blogosphere 6.23.10

June 23, 2010

1. Creationists lose in court again – The Institute for Creation Research (ICR – don’t let the name throw you; they don’t really do any research) have now been denied the right to continue granting their own Masters Degrees. Texas didn’t recognize their accreditation given the fact that everything the ICR promotes is bogus, so the ICR filed to get it approved. Texas Higher Education Coordination Board the organization accreditation, which led the ICR to appeal. But in the meantime, they tried to extend their ability to  grant their own temporary Masters Degrees to whoever they pleased until a court makes a decision. The court has just denied that request on the grounds of it’s complete incoherence:

It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff [the ICR] to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.

Is it gay to fuck someone of the same sex?

2. Anti-gay Lutheran pastor Tom Brock is a gay homosexual - He was found out by a reporter who infiltrated his support group. Don’t worry though. It wasn’t a real support group, just another bullshit one like Alcoholics Anonymous. The goal of this “support” group was essentially to channel their guilt of homosexual attraction into pure hate. Will the real heterosexual homophobe please stand up? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

3. Will Phillips to be the Grand Marshal of the Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade – Yesterday, I wrote about Constance McMillen being invited to the White House and to be Grand Marshall at this year’s Gay Pride Parade in NYC this Sunday. But I didn’t hear until today that young 10-year-old Will Phillips, whose refusal to stand for the Pledge in school over gay rights issues I’d written about last year, is to be the Grand Marshall of the parade in Northwest Arkansas.

“It’s wrong for anyone to be treated differently just because of the way they are born,” said Phillips, who declares himself as an ambassador for equal rights.

Congrats Will!

4. Will science bring us immortality within 20 years? – I wouldn’t bet on it. I know Carl Sagan said that science delivers the goods but that’s a little hard to swallow. Though the Telegraph did print this very interesting piece about Ray Kurzweil discussing the potential future medical ramifications of genetic manipulation and nonotechnology. I surmise he probably threw in the 20 years date to get media attention. While we are making amazing advances like those mentioned in the article, we’re still a long way off from anything resembling “immortality.”

5. PETA offers to build a new ‘Touchdown Jesus’ – Last week, I wrote about the flaming destruction of the tackiest Jesus statue in the world outside a mega church due to a lightning strike. Well PETA did what they always do and saw an opportunityto seize some headlines. So congratulations PETA. I’m talking about you. Fortunately, one thing I share in common with the Solid Rock Church is our equal dislike of PETA and saw through PETA’s transparent attempt to co-opt scripture to fit its ideology. And as a result, they turned PETA down…or at least they would have turned them down if they saw PETA as even worth responding to at all…which they didn’t.

Pastor Lawrence Bishop said he wouldn’t have expected such an offer from PETA. “It’s kind of amusing to me,” he commented, adding that he didn’t think he’d contact PETA to respond.

6. Saudi women threaten to breastfeed drivers – I love this story. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive. You see, because Mohammed is such a lover of women’s rights (see previous blog entry). So when a cleric recently issued a fatwa calling on women to give breast milk to their male colleagues or men they come into regular contact with so as to avoid illicit mixing between the sexes, a women’s group saw this as the perfect launching pad for their own campaign.

If they’re not granted the right to drive, the women are threatening to breastfeed their drivers to establish a symbolic maternal bond.

“Is this is all that is left to us to do: to give our breasts to the foreign drivers?” a Saudi woman named Fatima Shammary was quoted as saying by Gulf News.

Obeikan argued in his decree that if the women give their drivers their breast milk, the chauffeurs would be able to mingle with all members of the family without having to worry about violating Islamic law. Some Islamic scholars frown on the mixing of unmarried men and women. Islamic tradition, or hadith, stipulates that breastfeeding establishes a maternal bond, even if a woman breastfeeds a child who is not her own.Drawing from the cleric’s advocacy, the women have reportedly chosen a slogan for their campaign that translates to, “We either be allowed to drive or breastfeed foreigners.”

Awesome. Just awesome.

7. Naturopaths throw other quackery under the bus – Typically, so-called “alternative” “medicine” practitioners will stick up for each other because they all have the mutual enemy of real medicine to contend with. But on a recent Canadian program so-called “Naturopaths” were quick to call just about every other brand of quackery nonsense.


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