Archive for January, 2010

I’ve been lazy today, so have little of substance to say. But the latest Carnival of the Godless is up, and worth a read, so I can spare a moment to direct you there.

Also, you really need to see the latest video from Captain Disillusion. He’s always awesome anyway, and his latest long-awaited update is finally here. It’s split into five clips on YouTube, so make sure you catch it all. The stuff from The Amazing Meeting is hysterical, and he does a very cool debunking of that Derren Brown lottery prediction thing from a while back. Enjoy:

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Tragedy struck across the globe today, as members of a science-based internet cult known as 10:23 committed mass suicide, by taking overdoses of homeopathic medications.

The scheme had been orchestrated well in advance of the appointed time, with the group’s website showing a ticking clock for several weeks previously, counting down to the exact minute at which its members were instructed to swallow “an entire bottle” of the chosen remedy at once.

Over three hundred skeptical cultists are reported dead as a result.

“Dr” Manley Nacik, a homeopathic practitioner who has prescribed these alternative medications for over twenty years, was particularly saddened by this mass misjudgment, but said that perhaps now homeopathy would finally begin to find mainstream acceptance among the scientific community.

She also commented on reports that the 10:23 campaign members are, in fact, all alive and well, and were entirely unaffected by the consumption of a large number of homeopathic pills, except perhaps for a slight increase in blood-sugar levels.

“There may be some anecdotal evidence that, in fact, some of the skeptics who took part in this stunt are still alive,” she told reporters today, “but that’s all it is: anecdotal. Reports from friends and family of campaigners that they’ve been seen walking and talking as usual, and the blog posts and Twitter feeds of the skeptics’ themselves, or other members of the public who claim to have witnessed them in pubs countrywide shortly after the event, consist solely of individual eyewitness account and personal testimony. To draw any definite conclusions from such shoddy and unreliable data, and conclude that anybody is actually still alive just because they claim to be, is deeply unscientific and barely coherent.”

Fake medicine expert “Dr” Ana Dullman agreed, and stressed the importance of scientific rigour and drawing conclusions based only on the available evidence, in determining the fates of the campaign participants.

“There’s no solid evidence to suggest that anyone who took a homeopathic overdose this morning now has a metabolism statistically greater than that of a corpse,” he said. “Whereas there are already double-blind, peer-reviewed trials being published in respected academic journals indicating strongly that everyone who overdosed on homeopathy is definitely dead.”

When pressed for details, “Dr” Dullman suggested that interested parties seek confirmation of the results of these trials in the “American Journal of Mumbletymumble” and “The New *cough*cough* Times”.

Meanwhile, regular updates are appearing on the 10:23 event website itself, including numerous photos and videos purporting to depict the overdosers in a state of inexplicable continued good health.

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In precisely 12 hours from the time this post should go up, several hundred people in groups around the UK will each pop a whole bottle of pills bought from a high street chemist.

The 10:23 event is nearly upon us.

Okay, fine, homeopaths are saying that you wouldn’t expect anything to happen in reaction to an overdose like this, because of some even weirder mechanism than the already bizarre way homeopathy is supposed to work.

Sure, whatever, they’re not doing a double-blinded placebo-controlled randomised clinical trial.

That’s not the point.

The campaigners have never claimed to be doing a scientific experiment here. What they’re doing is addressing the fact that many people don’t have sufficient information to make a reasonable, critical judgment of some of the remedies on offer on pharmacy shelves. Remedies with no proven benefits, and no active ingredients. A lot of people really don’t know what homeopathy is, and think it’s probably something herbal, or natural, or organic, or free of any of those nasty pharmaceutical chemicals. And, well, they’re kinda right on that last point. A standard homeopathic solution is free of all chemicals. At least, those that aren’t found naturally in any clean water.

So yes, it’s a stunt. It’s about grabbing attention, and making some noise through the media. And it’s working pretty well. There have been articles recently in the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, Mail, and Times, and many more.

Now, this might sound like something that the skeptical movement has often criticised quacks and pseudo-scientists for in the past. And, well, it’s not far off. One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is doing “science by press conference”, where discoveries or products are announced through an attention-grabbing media event, rather than going through the usual scientific channels of hypothesis testing, peer review, and all the rest. When someone gets a big media circus going to hype their promised free energy device, say, but hasn’t yet got the scientifically published evidence to back up what they’re claiming about it, they’re often taken to task by the same sort of people engaging in the 10:23 campaign tomorrow.

The difference is that that criticism is generally levelled at corporations or pseudo-scientists with a particular (often financial) incentive, who use glitzy spectacle and encourage people to roll up to witness their amazing breakthrough thingumabob instead of testing the thing and proving that they have a point before they start taking people’s money. The 10:23 campaign, on the other hand, is being organised by a group of concerned amateurs, with no financial incentive to do what they’re doing (and holy FSM am I ever tired of the phrase “pharma shill” from idiotic overuse by now), who are organising a big media event to supplement the science that’s already been done, not to replace it entirely.

There is no plausible way that homeopathy could be more effective than placebo. The proposed mechanism is completely at odds with just about everything else we think we know about how chemistry works. Repeated tests of homeopathy do not confirm that the knowledge accumulated from centuries of research across many different disciplines needs to be thrown out the window.

There’s nothing in it.

And despite what some of its detractors (and some perhaps poorly worded news headlines) are saying, the 10:23 campaign isn’t trying to prove this; it’s only trying to bring to people’s attention what’s already proven to science’s satisfaction.

A couple of days ago someone started a fun hashtag game on Twitter, coming up with new #homeopathyslogans. I’ll leave you with a few I came up with.

Homeopathy: Because water’s complicated enough.
Homeopathy: Safer than mainstream medicine, back when they used leeches and hacksaws.
Homeopathy: Do you love anyone enough to give them your last placebo?
Homeopathy: Does exactly what it says on a blank, unlabelled tin.
Homeopathy: It’s probably quantum.
Homeopathy: The theory with the hole.

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It’s been over 11 years since Andrew Wakefield first published his paper in the Lancet that kicked off the whole media MMR hoax. So I’m not entirely sure why there’s still news coming out now about the whole palaver. But evidently the General Medical Council has just recently been investigating him for serious professional misconduct.

As I understand it, they’ve not formally ruled on the misconduct issue yet, but as far as their “finding of fact” goes, Wakefield doesn’t come off well. Accusations of doing “shoddy, litigation- and profit-driven pseudoscience”, being “misleading and irresponsible”, and having “changed and misreported results in his research” are flying thick and fast. We’re also being reminded of the conflicts of interest he failed to declare, such as the patent that he’d applied for on an alternate MMR vaccine (thus giving him a strong financial stake in seeing the current one fall out of favour).

I’m skimping on the full details and assuming that you’ll be at least partially familiar with the backstory here. If I were really going to go into detail about the MMR hoax, it’d merit a Skeptictionary entry of itself, and maybe someday it will, but I wanted to get a brief comment done tonight. For background info, this extract from Bad Science, the utterly indispensable book by Ben Goldacre, is pretty much all you need.

(Edit: Ben Goldacre just posted a new piece about Andrew Wakefield, also worth a look.)

Also, Steve Novella has a great summary, and a graph showing the upsurge of measles cases as MMR vaccine uptake slipped. Podblack Cat has links to where the mainstream media are covering the news about the GMC investigation. And jdc325 reminds us not to let the media themselves off the hook, for uncritically bellowing at the entire country about pretty much whatever they thought would be most effective in getting people to buy their newspapers, and mongering fear at the expense of journalistic integrity with disastrous results.

Speaking of the media, the Daily Mail had a poll on their site attached to their article on this earlier today, asking its readers if they thought the MMR jab was safe. They’ve since taken it down, possibly because somebody realised that Daily Mail readers’ opinions on an empirical subject solidly established by scientific fact doesn’t fucking matter. When I voted, the response percentages were 56/44 in favour of “Yes”.

Head. Meet desk. At velocity.

In lighter news, the 129th Skeptics’ Circle is up over at The SkeptVet Blog. It’s a really fun round-up of some great posts, so go have a look.

And in even lighter news, here’s a snapshot of what my inbox looked like earlier this evening. It’s amazing what coming up with a few jokes to pass the time at work and being retweeted by Dave Gorman or Marcus Brigstocke will do…

Even allowing for a few of them being spam-bots (who names their kid The Car Disco?), that’s not a bad day’s work. Go on. Follow the herd.

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Discover Chiropractic.

That is all.

No, really. Nothing else today. Just a quick plug for the above very worthwhile new site by Zeno. I’ll go write something for an upcoming Skeptictionary article to make up for being dull the last couple of days.

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Give us yer spleen!

Just a quickie today. My organ donor card turned up recently, so if you’re ever in the market for some replacement squishy bits, you know where to come. Alternatively, you can sign up as well to the organ donor register if you’re in the UK, or possibly OrganDonor.gov for our fellows across the pond. Or, y’know, somewhere else if you’re from somewhere else.

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Remember that guy from a couple of days ago, who was disqualified from the Shorty Awards because of all those blatantly phony accounts that had “voted” for him?

He’s gone and had second and third helpings of a big ol’ bowl of crazy.

The very existence of people with a natural tendency to doubt unlikely claims has angered Mike Adams into such a lather that he’s posted another furious piece about those damnable “skeptics”. Specifically, he’s listed a selection of things they believe, and invited his audience to join in his ridicule.

Reading this list, it seems that Mike Adams is either clinically moronic, delusional to the point of borderline psychosis, a fictional character being played as some sort of really annoying performance art, or just a liar. For whatever reason, he’s talking utter bullshit.

His very first point:

Skeptics believe that ALL vaccines are safe and effective (even if they’ve never been tested),

Okay, let me stop you right there. I’ve been immersing myself in the skeptical community for several years now, and engaging actively in it for more than the two years I’ve kept this blog, and I have never heard this belief being expressed, by anyone. Even if there are some loons out there with this kind of bizarre fundamentalism toward vaccines, it is categorically not the standard skeptical view. It’s such a fringe idea, if it exists at all, that I’ve never heard of it.

I’m not going to quote any more of this crap. It never gets any smarter than that. He’s already been thoroughly and awesomely fisked by both Orac and Steve Novella, and the line-by-line dissection that I might have done if my day was about three hours longer has been adeptly handled by someone who I’m pretty sure is not Summer Glau, whatever they may say.

But because I’m feeling sarcastic, here’s some information you might be interested in. I “did a little research” myself, and I bring you a list which I promise will be just as informative and well-researched as Mike Adams’ own run-down, and which will cite just as many sources.

What “Mike Adams” really believes about vaccines, medicine, consciousness, and the universe

– Mike Adams believes that ALL skeptics eat babies. He knows the only reason they don’t blog about their Sunday dinners more often is because they’re hiding the truth and don’t want to scare any more delicious babies away.

– Mike Adams believes that ALL medicines approved or endorsed by anyone with an actual medical degree will interfere with the body’s natural ability to ride unicorns over rainbows.

– Mike Adams does not believe that the bodies of living organisms are composed of cells. He thinks that microscopes are orchestrating a conspiracy against him, and every biologist of the last 150 years is in on it with them.

– Mike Adams believes that ALL chemicals want to give his grandmother cat-AIDS. When he sees any potentially consumable object with a chemical composition based on ANY of the elements of the periodic table, he will destroy it by any means necessary. He is currently researching ways in which food may be sourced from entirely new forms of non-chemical matter.

– Mike Adams is so very hungry.

That’ll do.

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