News From Around The Blogosphere 1.30.11

January 30, 2011

1. Homeopaths and chiropractors invade Tanzania – One thing that medical science has firmly determined is that homeopathy and chiropractic are not legitimate treatments for pretty much anything. And among the long list of conditions these two pseudo-sciences cannot in fact treat is AIDS. And yet practitioners of both voodoo medicines are traveling to Tanzania to bring false hope to AIDS patients.

2. Anthony Hopkins slips skepticism into ‘The Rite’ - It seems Jody Foster wasn’t the only atheist starring in The Silence of the Lambs. In a recent interview promoting the latest alleged “inspired by true events” knock-off of The Exorcist titled The Rite, Hopkins revealed that as an atheist, he didn’t feel completely comfortable playing a character he couldn’t personally identify with and so managed to write some dialogue for his character that encourages skeptical thinking. Here’s how Hopkins explains his additions:

There’s a scene in the courtyard after the first exorcism, and I’m talking to the young priest [played by] Colin O’Donoghue, who in his character has grave doubts about [exorcisms]. He thinks it’s all a bag of tricks, he thinks it’s all mumbo jumbo and maybe there’s no such thing, which is the debate: Is there such a thing as anthropomorphic presence of the devil or is it mental disturbance? That’s the debate, I guess, in the film and probably in the world.

And after that I say to him the problem with skeptics and atheists, is that we never know the truth. We’re always trying to find the truth. What would we do if we found it? And I asked [director Mikael Håfström] if I could write that line. To describe myself as an atheist, as a skeptic which makes the young priest turn [and say], “You?”, and I go, “Oh yeah, every day I struggle. Most days. Some days I don’t know if I believe in God or Santa Clause or Tinkerbell.”

3. NBA players sued over Power Balance endorsements – Power Balance bracelets have been debunked as a fraud and recently even the company making them was forced to admit the scientific claims they make are unproven. But what’s interesting is that now two NBA players, Boston’s Shaquille O’Neal and Los Angeles’ Lamar Odom, who endorsed the bracelets have been brought into a class action suit against Power Balance. I for one think this sets a wonderful legal precedent as for too long, athletes have been allowed to use their influence to profit off of any endorsement deal they sign without any accountability or fear of negative consequences. Of course, if they endorsed a brand of cigarette or any product that was known to directly cause serious health problems , they probably would get a lot of heat for it, but not for something like Power Balance that doesn’t cause any direct physical harm but simply doesn’t really perform the service it promises. Now maybe athletes will think twice before accepting just any endorsement that comes their way.

4. Help me Kinect. You’re my only hope. – Scientists are working on holographic technology similar to what we’ve seen in Star Wars and have even put together a short demonstration of the technology featuring a reenactment of the famous Princess Leia holographic message to Obi Wan Kenobi. You can see that demonstration in the link above.

5. Artificial retinas see well enough to balance a pencil - This will no doubt play a critical role in the evil plots of Skynet/the Cylons/the Replicants/Agent Smith’s.

Enhanced by Zemanta

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!

April 15, 2010

It seems like lately, the power of skepticism has proven far stronger than was to be expected and almost every big news story revolving around an issue skeptics take seriously, it’s been good news for us.

For instance, almost every time $cientology has been in the news for the past two years, it’s meant bad news for $cientology. And though seemingly unstoppable a few months ago, lately every news story surrounding the anti-vaccine movement has been bad news for them. Homeopathy’s been getting a lot of negative press lately. Modern dowsing rods received a snowstorm of bad publicity from mainstream media outlets over their use as bomb detectors in Iraq. The 9/11 denialist movement, though still lurking background, has been completely relegated to the fringes where they have virtually no chance of influencing public policy. Hell, even the UFO community, who have been virtually out of the news entirely for the last decade have suffered two pieces of bad publicity in just the last two weeks. And one of those stories, one of their own prominent leaders calling the entire movement “humans deceiving humans”, was a major blow.

The only major piece of pseudoscience that seems to have really grown in popularity in the past decade that isn’t on the decline is ghost hunting, which is more popular than ever thanks to The Sifi (Syfi? Syfy?Psi-phi? Zyphi? Sigh-Figh?) Channel and A&E. And that trend is likely to die off sooner or later due to the over-saturation of the market…and the fact that, you know, every episode is exactly the same, nothing happens, and their complete lack of ghosts that don’t look like the light from their own video equipment.

But now comes two biggies.

Simon Singh

Simon Singh has DEFEATED the British Chiropractic Association!! Singh had been barely hanging in their with the legal fees, which he paid himself. And yet it was the giant Goliath that is the British Chiropractic Association that threw in the towel.

The sudden end to the case will strengthen the campaign for reform of the libel laws, which Jack Straw, the justice secretary, is considering. It is also a specific pledge in the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

The whole matter seemed to have backfired on them anyway as the more they tried to silence Singh’s criticisms, the more attention they drove to them.

The other big victory today is the Freedom From Religion Foundation won its court case in the U.S., making the National Day of Prayer has been declared unconstitutional. And once again, church/state separation has been protected.

Viva la resistance!


News From Around The Blogosphere 4.2.10

April 2, 2010

1. Researchers find aging gene in worm -

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at the University of Birmingham have discovered that a gene called DAF-16 is strongly involved in determining the rate of ageing and average lifespan of the laboratory worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) and its close evolutionary cousins. DAF-16 is found in many other animals, including humans. It is possible that this knowledge could open up new avenues for altering ageing, immunity and resistance to stresses in humans.

Of course it will be years before any practical application to humans comes out of this, if ever, but it’s cool none the less.

2. Exorcist discovers Satan behind media’s accurate coverage of Catholic sex scandal – We’ve already gotten one exorcist to claim that Satan was possessing the Church leaders into performing the rapes in the first place. Now another exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, has publicly stated that the media’s desire to inform the public of these crimes, particularly at the New York Times, was “prompted by the devil.” I could have told you that. I mean, really, when was the last time the media was sincerely interested in honest journalism?

And speaking of demonic journalists. . .

3. Simon Singh reports once more in The Guardian – After winning his appeal, Singh wants to remind people that the battle for libel reform in the UK is only just beginning.

4. Filipinos celebrate this Zombie Weekend by crucifying themselves – This is an annual tradition in the Philippines on Zombie Weekend where many Filipinos choose to re-enact Jesus’ zombie-fication by actually nailing themselves to wooden crosses.

The Catholic Church disapproves of the annual ritual of devotion but says it cannot stop people in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic country from being voluntarily nailed to a cross or flagellating themselves, only educate them that it isn’t necessary.

Yes, the Catholic Church would much rather they celebrate in a more traditional fashion, by raping young boys and covering it up.

5. Scientists discover gene and part of the brain controlling gullibility, the WTF1 gene - And if you believed that then you have the WTF1 gene. April Fools!

Now speaking of April Fools. . .

6. Shroud of Turin is back in the news – Despite the fact that the face merely looks like the male model who happened to pose as Jesus in Renaissance paintings and despite its total debunking as a several hundred year old forgery, somehow someone has resurrected (hehe, see what I did there) the debate. And it couldn’t come at a more perfect time as it perfectly coincides with my April Fools piece in the Gotham Skeptic about the discovery of Jesus’ face in a Rorschach Test. Check it out.


Congratulations to Simon Singh and to UK libel reform!

April 2, 2010

Simon Singh just won the appeal in the libel suit brought by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over his article, Beware the Spinal Trap. Because UK libel law is ass backwards, putting the burden of proof on the defendant, the court was not easy on Singh and the judge originally ruled against him based solely on his use of the word “bogus,” interpreting it as claiming deliberate deception on the part of the BCA even though no dictionary defines the word that way. So now the higher court has ruled that the first ruling was in error:

The new ruling, in essence, says that Simon’s statement were an expression of his opinion, not a fact of the state of belief of BCA chiropractors. Therefore Simon can use the “fair comment” defense. This puts him in a very good position to win the overall case.

Also, the full judgment is here (PDF).

The battle for UK libel reform isn’t over yet but this is definitely a major step in the right direction.


1/4 British chiropractors under investigation

March 2, 2010

1/4 British chiropractors under investigation:

The council, which is responsible for regulating the profession and has 2,400 chiropractors on its books, informs me that it has had to recruit six new members of staff to deal with a fifteenfold increase in complaints against its members – from 40 a year to 600. While it declined to comment directly on the costs inflicted by the reaction to the BCA’s actions, it is clear that a six-figure sum will be involved for the extra staffing costs alone, to which will have to be added the considerable costs of any misconduct hearings.

And it’s all thanks to the campaign supporting Simon Singh. It seems that by trying to silence Singh with their libel suit the British chiropractors sealed their own fate. 2008 and 2009 were the years the skeptical community all but crushed $cientology. Now 2010 has already brought us massive victories against the anti-vaxxers, homeopathy, and now chiropractic. It’s a good time to be a skeptic.


News From Around The Blogosphere 12.11.09

December 11, 2009

1. Chiropractic debunked…again – The vast majority of chiropractors believe that most disease is caused by spinal misalignments and that manipulation of the spine to correct a “subluxation” is capable of treating most disease. This is the basis of all of chiropractic, though some have evolved to view chiropractic as just beneficial for back problems. But a new study failed to show any causation associating chiropractic subluxation with disease. None. Chiropractors have onlya few options:  throw out the subluxation model entirely (which again is the basis of their whole practice) or reject the study. My money’s on door number two.

2. The SkepDoc to write for O, the Oprah Magazine? – The chiropractic article linked to above was written by Harriet Hall aka The SkepDoc. She has just been offered a column in Oprah’s magazine. It seems that the new health and environment editor at O reads Skeptic. According to Hall,

I had never actually seen Oprah’s magazine, but I suspected it was not a reliable source of science-based medical information. I asked for a copy and my prejudice was confirmed by finding an article by Dr. Mehmet Oz that included recommendations for homeopathy and aromatherapy. The magazine has a circulation of 2.4 million – only slightly lower than Playboy and TV Guide and over three times that of Scientific American.

My column will begin with the January issue. It won’t amount to much. It is limited to 250 words, under tight editorial control, and restricted to debunking common health myths like the idea that you lose most of your body heat from the head. But at least there will now be a small corner of Oprah-land that will be guaranteed entirely free of woo-woo.

Hopefully this will work out better than when Angel took that job at Wolfram & Hart.

3. It’s the end of the world…again – The same website that so successfully predicted The Rapture on September 21, September 23October 21, Fall 2009, and November 11 has predicted The Rapture again. This time it’s going to happen before Monday, December 14. I know what you’re thinking. Talk about having a case of the Mondays! But at least we get to enjoy the weekend before the apocalypse. So remember, folks. The apocalypse may happen on Monday, so dress accordingly.

4. No more atheist ads in Barcelona – Promedios, the company in charge of the advertising, has now banned all ads causing “social controversy.” The first to suffer from this rule is an ultra-Catholic religious group.

5. But an atheist ad is going up in New Zealand – They raised more than the necessary $10,000 in two days.

6. Clergy ratings on honesty and ethics hit 32-year low – Half of the people polled do not trust the clergy.

Uh oh! I don't like the sound of that.


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.25.09

October 25, 2009

1. The Deity’s Nightmare – The other day the Atheist Foundation of Australia and Global Atheist Convention websites suffered a Distributed Denial of Service attack. In retaliation, they’ve called on all non-believers and advocates for freedom of speech to unite in a “global co-ordinated minute of prayer with the aim of inundating God.”

2. And speaking of the Aussies, , the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission dismissed a chiropractor’s complaint against the Australian Skeptics because they reprinted Simon Singh’s damning article against the chiropractic syndocate.

3. Richard Dawkins announces the details for his next book, which he’s promised in the past would be geared for children:

Due out in autumn 2011, What is a Rainbow, Really? will take on topics including who the first man and first woman were, why there are seasons, what the sun is, how old the world is and why there are so many animals, first answering the questions with myth and legend, and then with “lucid scientific explanations”.

And definitely check out his latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth.


News From Around The Blogosphere 10.14.09

October 15, 2009

1. Actimel yogurt commercial banned – The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK banned the commercial for false advertising. They claimed the product supported children’s natural defenses against disease. . .which it doesn’t!

2. Monkeys recognize realistic vs. unrealistic depictions of themselves -

Monkeys are freaked out by almost-but-not-quite-real depictions of themselves. That tendency is well documented in humans, but has never before been seen in another species.

To test their preference, researchers showed macaque monkeys real pictures, digital caricatures and realistic reconstructions of other monkey faces. To the latter, the macaques repeatedly averted their eyes.

3. Chimpanzees Help On Request But Not Voluntarily -

The evolution of altruism has long puzzled researchers and has mainly been explained previously from ultimate perspectives—”I will help you now because I expect there to be some long-term benefit to me”. However, a new study by researchers at the Primate Research Institute (PRI) and the Wildlife Research Center (WRC) of Kyoto University shows that chimpanzees altruistically help conspecifics, even in the absence of direct personal gain or immediate reciprocation, although the chimpanzees were much more likely to help each other upon request than voluntarily.

4. Simon Singh updates us on his legal battle with the British Chiropractic Association:


To New Age or not to New Age?

July 15, 2009

New AgeNew Agers bicker over who should be in the club and who shouldn’t – What’s particularly amusing about this story is that the very overly non-confrontational, never put anyone down, accepting of everyone because “you never know” attitude that make New Age beliefs appealing to so many people but utterly ridiculous to those more grounded in reality has caused a rift in the movement. Chiropractors don’t want to be grouped in with fairies and organic farmers don’t want to be grouped in with Big Foot, etc.

And I love this quote:

“New Age is an umbrella term encompassing anything on a spiritual path — Bigfoot, Jesus, Buddha. Even worshipping a frog is sort of OK,” McGee said.

I also love PZ Myers’ very awesome response to it:

Wait a minute…worshipping a frog is sort of OK? Only “sort of”? I am offended. Why is she belittling the faith of frog-worshippers all around the world?

This illustrates quite well why New Age’s strength is also its greatest weakness. No matter how accepting you are of other beliefs (even to an absurd degree), there’s always something that’s just too stupid. I’m reminded of the creationists who fight tooth and nail to lower the science standards to get their religion taught in schools. It never crosses their mind that they’re making it that much easier for every other religion and pseudoscience to be taught in science classes too.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be open to absolutely all beliefs with no standards at all and still have any respectability. And while certain modalities might like the advantages that come with being associated with a New Age culture that’s so gullible they’ll buy whatever you’re selling, being associated with New Age beliefs also keeps them from reaching the more rational markets. If you trade in bullshit, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.


Two bad weeks in a row for Alt. Med.

June 18, 2009

alternative-medicine-for-dummiesLast week, I reported a series of epic fails for the “Alternative” “Medicine” industry. Well this week isn’t look much better for them. The big news story of course is the faux-homeopathic product, Zicam. It’s bad enough just being a real homeopathic product, which while having no benefits, is at least not dangerous. But Zicam, it turns out, is not a homeopathic product at all and is full of Zinc, which has now caused numerous people to lose their sense of smell. The FDA might have caught this and prevented this product from hitting the market if it fell under their jurisdiction, however, through an 90-year-old loophole in the legal system, the FDA do not require evidence of efficacy or safety for medicines labeled as homeopathic. And there are no similar protocols for ensuring efficacy and safety in the “Alternative” “Medicines” industry, many people were harmed.

And the AP reports that over 800 homeopathic ingredients were potentially implicated in health problems, ranging from vomiting to attempted suicide, just last year.

Chiropractic_for_dummiesThen of course there’s the latest update on the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), which was fighting a major legal battle with Journalist Simon Singh. Apparently now the BCA is suddenly producing new evidence of the efficacy of their “treatments.” What is this evidence? Apparently their “evidence” includes poorly done studies with no control group, citing their own code of practice, and citing osteopathy, which is something completely different than chiropractic. If they’re seriously submitting this as their best evidence, they’re in bigger trouble than I thought.

I’m reminded of an interview I watched recently with the father and son team that authered the recent book, The China Study. Even though the interviewer mostly asked super softball questions, at one point she asked one really good question, what they felt was the strongest evidence for their claims. The father, T. Colin Campbell, answered by citing a study he’d apparently conducted that involved either 18 or 22 subjects. I forget which, but neither number is remotely compelling, and utterly absurd if they truly regard it as their best evidence.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 57 other followers