It's "Good News" week !
Someone's dropped a bomb somewhere,
And blackening the sky.
It really has been a good news week! (3/5/2003)
Do you remember Hedgehoppers Anonymous? Neither does anyone else, but everyone remembers their one big hit record. Someone dropped a bomb this week on Pan Pharmaceuticals, Australia's largest contract packager of "alternative medicines" (and one of the largest in the world), and suspended their manufacturing licence for six months. Everything manufactured by them for the last several months has been recalled from stores because the quality control at Pan was found to be, well, non-existent. In their defence, I suppose you don't need to check the quality of the manufacturing process when you can put any old ingredients into bottles and pills and do your product and material testing by just typing numbers into a computer. The CEO (and majority shareholder) of Pan has agreed to step down. Because there is no money in alternative medicine (as we are continually being told), the company will only be able to give him $800,000 as a goodbye present (and $50,000 per year for staying on as a non-executive director). This will go a little way towards compensating him for the boredom of having to hang around his $9 million house on Sydney Harbour (with only a tennis court, a swimming pool, and nine cars in the garage for entertainment), his two houses in the millionaires' suburb of Strathfield, his block of 12 apartments just down the road from my place, …
Predictably, the response of the alternative medicine community has been to attack the messenger. The Therapeutic Goods Administration, which oversees the quality of medical devices and pharmaceuticals in Australia, has been criticised for acting both too hastily and too slowly and even for existing at all. The final spark which blew the Pan fuse at the TGA was a product called Travacalm, used for motion sickness. It has been pointed out to me that this was not any alternative product, but was a pharmacy-only product with the highest level of registration at the TGA. Yes it was, but when you look at something with the highest classification and you can find tablets in the one package which contain between zero and 700% of the stated active ingredient (overdosing of which chemical can cause temporary psychosis and hallucinations), you have to wonder what was going into the many hundreds of placebos and snake-oil pills that Pan was making for their clients and which had a lesser classification that did not require any proof of efficacy.
One good thing that might come out of this debacle is that the public might start to realise that TGA approval to sell something does not imply that the product or device does anything useful, or even anything at all. There are two levels of approval – "registration", which requires evidence of safety, quality, and efficacy, and "listing", which only requires quality and safety. Both are required to have truthful labelling. I was taken to task because I stated in a radio interview that there was no requirement for "complementary" medicines to have any effectiveness at all, and I was sarcastically asked if I had bothered to read the TGA site before I went on air. Just for reference, I will quote what the TGA says. You will see that most complementary medicines can be sold without any proof that they work.
Products assessed as having a higher level of risk (prescription medicines, some non-prescription medicines and medical devices) are evaluated for quality, safety and efficacy. Once approved for marketing in Australia these products are included in the ARTG as 'registered' products and are identified by an AUST R number.
Products assessed as being lower risk (many non-prescription medicines including most complementary medicines and low risk medical devices) are assessed for quality and safety. Once approved for marketing in Australia, these products are included in the ARTG as 'listed' products and are identified by an AUST L number.
Australia is about to embark on a great experiment where many people are not going to be able to get their snake-oil supplies for some months. I can confidently predict that we will not see the return of the days when people went through the streets calling "Bring out your dead", like they did in the heyday of "natural" medicine.
(An extended version of the above item was published in the June 2003 edition of the Skeptic, the journal of the Australian Skeptics. You can read the article here.)
But wait, there's more … (3/5/2003)
Do you want a natural, alternative medication to put on your skin to treat spots and acne. Would you like it to contain prescription-only restricted poisons that are neither mentioned on the label nor referenced in manufacturing records? Do you take vitamins? Would you like your vitamin bottles to have fake labels showing non-existent manufacturing batch numbers and use-by dates which are long after the real dates? If you answered "Yes" to these questions, then you should buy your medicines from Curacel International.
I can't promise you steak knives, but … (3/5/2003)
Everyone who has ever watched television outside of prime time will have been offered machines that assist slimming and shape the body. Some people who bought these things are going to get their money back.
Declaration of interest: While doing a book promotion tour, a certain web site owner once appeared on one of the television shows mentioned in the ACCC press release about this scam. Being a shameless media tart, he will go back on the show at any time without blinking an eyelid. Such is the corrupting power of a show with millions of viewers.
Sort of apology (3/5/2003)
There's not as much new stuff here this week as I would like because I was up most of Friday night (I did a talk-back radio program about quackery at 1:30am (!!) on Saturday morning), I have deadlines for two magazine articles next week, I promised my daughter that I would help her with a book review she is writing for the Australian Skeptics' magazine (while I am helping her my deadline for the same publication is not getting any further away), and I made my semi-annual trek to the Mind Body Spirit Festival on Sunday with some like-minded friends to have our auras read, our horoscopes cast, our chakras aligned, and our sensibilities assaulted.
Grrrrr!! Why won't the web stand still? (3/5/2003)
We had an election a few weeks ago in New South Wales, the state I live in in Australia. Because of this the people who manage Hansard, the written record of parliamentary speeches, have archived everything on their web site from previous parliaments and changed all the URLs of all the speeches. This means that all the links to relevant rantings of politicians in The Millenium Project's section about the NSW anti-quackery committee are now broken. There is no simple way to convert the links and I have to search out all the speeches again. This is not a five-minute job, so these links will be fixed over the next two weeks.
Misdirected email of the week (3/5/2003)
I'm not quite sure how this would fit in with the current mix of products I sell. And I am flattered, not disturbed.
Subject: Need representative
From: "PAS Laboratry"
Date: Sat, 3 May 2003 17:56:40 +1100
Best for you!
We are finding a person who is represent new diagnostic device in the region. The device is based on the theory of Oriental medicine.
A new processing principle of Pulse waves on the PC is using by the device. The developer has found this principle after 14 years of researches
On the Five Elements diagrams that are worked out by the device you could see the conditions of the elements (in accordance with TCM) and their activity too.
Such diagram is a direct order what to do. For example:
1. To chose the diet (in accordance with Ayrveda),
2. To massage by the any method using active points on the body,
3. To use acupuncture properly.
There are many applications in researching herbology, homeopathy and so on.
Such wide application of the device demands a well-organized network of distributors and we are ready to support our distributors. OUR discounts reach up to 90%!!! If the dealer sells more than 2000 registration, he/she can have such huge discount (but in one region can be only one such dealer).
You can test the device and we will return the money if the device is not suitable for you (You pay only delivery fees).
Why we think the device is useful for many people?
It is well known fact that skilled pulse doctor works for many years before he will reach the art of diagnosis. The device allows be almost the same professor in three or five weeks.
It is revolution of penetration of ancient knowledge to our days. Now many people can receive the correct and fast diagnosis at early stages of illness.
We are proud that we do a very useful thing and we are sure, in the nearest future many people will use the device. And we are very interested in equal in rights partnership in your region.
Please ask the details right now via e-mail. We will answer in a very short time. The information about device you can find at the site:.
the team of the device
and the manager Serguei Fedotov.
Sorry, if our letter disturbed you.
King Bio Redux (10/5/2003)
Do you remember that old joke about how a cold gets better by itself in a week but if you take medicine for it you can shorten the time to about seven days? Here is a quote from a site offering a "Total Treatment Plan for Colds & Flu":
Consult a licensed health care professional if: symptoms persist for more that 10 days (for adults) or 5 days (for children) or worsen; cough persists for more than 7 days, tends to recur, or is accompanied by rash, persistent headache, fever that lasts more than 3 day; if new symptoms occur.
The product that offers this marvellous "treatment" is water, and this fact is freely admitted on the web site of the company selling it. I wrote something about this company a few weeks ago, and the owner of the place has responded. You can read what I wrote and the response here.
Speaking of King Bio … (10/5/2003)
I see that there was a story in the paper which said that a cancer cure is on the way. I expect to hear from Dr King as soon as he is ready to take the Cancer 100 Challenge.
King Bio is researching once again and is coming up with 14 prescription-only products to treat cancer, King said. Doctors around the country are testing the formulas. The compounds are undergoing clinical trials by independent laboratories.
Truehope redux (10/5/2003)
Some time ago I wrote a piece about a scam outfit called Truehope who were telling people to stop taking anti-depressants and other psychiatric medications. A two-year investigation has shown how pills from Truehope which were supposed to stop piglets from chewing each other's tails and ears were given to mentally ill people as substitutes for real medication. The scandal is not only how crooks were able to dream up the idea that a random mixture of herbs could stop pigs in a confined space acting like crowded pigs and that the same mixture could cure human psychological disorders, but the way that governments, education institutions and bureaucrats could assist the fraud through inactivity, apathy and even complicity. You can see part of the story here, and buy a copy of the book about the investigation. [The link disappeared in 2020. PB]
(Disclaimer: I don't get any money from sales of this book, although I know the people who wrote it.)
Irony or Independence? (10/5/2003)
I appeared on a radio show last weekend to talk about quackery and alternative medicine. In the normal spirit of ad hominem that one expects from quackery supporters, slurs have since been made about the potential audience size (I was on the top-rated talk station in the largest radio market in the country) and the financial propriety of radio announcers (and, by association, me). In a wonderful illustration of both irony and the separation of advertising and editorial at the station, the ad break which immediately preceded my words of wisdom included a promotion for Blackmore's, Australia's best-known producer and marketer of alternative medicine products. I guess that the pharmaceutical cartel just didn't pay me or the announcer enough. Masochists with fast connections can hear the program here.
Is quackery crashing? Oh, the humanity! (17/5/2003)
Following the debacle at Pan Pharmaceuticals, where it was revealed that Australia's largest manufacturer of "alternative" medicine products had a quality control policy which had been written in invisible ink on the back of a postage stamp (unfortunately, the stamp can not now be found as it was accidentally used to send out an invoice), the Australian government announced that it was setting up a committee of eminent experts to look at aspects of the "alternative" medicine trade in the country. The usual suspects who have been trying to kill (or at least hobble) the similar committee set up by the New South Wales government last year have surfaced with the usual objections, demands for representation, and claims that only quacks are competent to evaluate quackery. Again, I have to ask these people what their problem is. If they can do what they say they can do, where is the problem with someone asking for evidence? If their products and pills don't work, why are they selling them? Surely not just for the money?
I have been challenged to explain how real doctors can claim that their medicines have been tested when not all combinations have been subjected to clinical trials. You can see my response here. (The original response was written in 2003, but was published in an updated form in 2010. PB)
It's good to see that everyone's still here (17/5/2003)
I put off doing any work on this site this week until after Thursday because the world was going to end that day and it seemed to be a waste of time to be writing stuff that nobody would read while there was still an opportunity to commit some last-minute debauchery. Actually, it was really Friday for me, because the end was going to happen when it was May 15 in the USA. As Australian time is many hours ahead of the US it was always going to be the next day here. While the delay of an extra day may have been illusory, it was comforting to think that, as in Nevil Shute's classic novel On The Beach, Australia would be one of the last places to go.
According to the prophesiers, the end was going to be caused by the close passage to the Earth of Planet X, the mysterious twelfth planet in our solar system. (No, I don't know why it's not "Planet XII".) Its gravity was going to instantaneously stop the Earth from rotating on its axis. This may well have happened and I haven't noticed, but in any case the prophesiers have updated the prediction and we can expect a snap reversal of the Earth's magnetic field on May 23 to finish the job. Eight more days to drink the contents of my wine cellar.
Let's get serious for a minute. The amount of energy locked up in the inertia of the Earth's spin is enormous. The thing has been spinning for billions of years and the deceleration rate is less than minuscule. If it were to be vaporised by falling into the Sun, the resulting cloud of particles and plasma would continue to rotate as a local anomaly for some time. It is simply not possible for that amount of energy (or any amount for that matter) to go nowhere. These facts should be known to anyone with even the basest grasp of science, and could be explained to the scientifically illiterate without a lot of trouble. Is it any wonder that people distrust science and scientists when they hear about the possibility of impossible things and the media reports them as though there is room for discussion? Like the nonsense that surfaced last year about the Raelians cloning a baby, obviously untrue stories which receive uncritical acceptance affect us all by debasing critical thought. Maybe it's time for journalists to start behaving like the little boy in the Andersen fairy tale, or perhaps to follow the lead of Penn and Teller and occasionally just say "That's bullshit!".
Harassment Update (17/5/2003)
There was a full moon this week, and I was not disappointed. Apparently, like Sauron's army of Uruk-Hai, lawyers are gathering outside Ratbag Castle. Everyone is going to sue me at once. See the fearful details here.
Annangrove Muslims (17/5/2003)
Last November I wrote about how a community near my place was objecting to a proposal for a Muslim prayer centre. What was proposed was a meeting place where up to 100 people could gather to read the Q'uran and have some social contact. All the usual NIMBY objections to development were raised, such as the terrible load on the sewerage system and other utilities, the increased traffic, drop in property values, inappropriate use for land in a residential area, etc. (To their credit, the protestors in this case did not mention the loss of sea breezes. This had been used in a nearby suburb, also about 20 kilometres from the ocean, to resist the development of a retirement village.) The one thing that everyone agreed on, however, that this had nothing to do with religious bigotry or racism. It was all just about maintaining the bucolic amenity of the area. (I would have said "arcadian" instead of "bucolic", except that I would have been attacked for comparing Annangrove with the rural suburb of Arcadia a few kilometres down the road. "Sylvan" would have been acceptable, because Sylvania Waters is a long way away and really does have sea breezes.)
The local newspaper sent a reporter out to interview the locals, and the reaction to her was instructive. She originally came from India and looks like it. She was jostled, abused and accused of being "one of them". But they are not racists, of course.
Global Warming (17/5/2003)
Weather has been on everyone's mind around here recently as the longest drought that anyone can remember has been followed by a week when it seems that we have received our annual quota of rain. The dead, burnt dustbowls which used to be our gardens have been turned to muddy lakes. When I was young, strange weather patterns were blamed on nuclear bomb tests, but nobody does them any more so now the culprits are global warming, El Niño and the greenhouse effect. The mention of Sylvania Waters reminded me of a classic case of denial.
Sylvania Waters is an expensive suburb on the bank of the Georges River south of Sydney and, as in most waterfront locales, the most expensive blocks are those with absolute water frontage. Some of it is built on reclaimed land, so many of the blocks are not very far above the high tide mark. A television show sent a reporter there to ask some residents what they were going to do when the icecaps melted, the sea rose by a metre or so, and their properties went under water. One memorable response was from a woman who haughtily told the reporter that it could never happen, because people had paid so much money for the land that the government could not not let it be flooded without risking votes. I would love to be in the parliamentary visitors gallery the day that that bill is introduced. "A Bill for the Abolition of Rising Sea Levels".
Defending the indefensible (24/5/2003)
The four children in the picture (Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura Folbigg) were murdered, and last Wednesday their mother was convicted of the crimes. I was planning to do a story this week on organisations like the National Child Abuse Defense & Resource Center which seem devoted to proving that there is no such thing as Shaken Baby Syndrome and that parents charged with killing their children are probably always innocent of the charges. (The agenda for the NCADRC is clearly shown by their choice of domain name – falseallegation.org.) The Folbigg conviction raises the question of why some cases of child abuse or death do not seem to attract the attention of the campaigners for child abusers' rights. There is another case going on in England of a woman who has been charged with killing three children who appeared to be SIDS victims, and again it doesn't seem that the anti-vaccinators and their like are protesting her innocence. Perhaps there is a limit, and support is only given in the case of one or two deaths but not for more.
I will think about this some more before writing at length, and I am also still working on a magazine story about the anti-SBS agenda for publication later this year. In the meantime, Kathleen Folbigg must be cursing her lawyers. Being in Australia she had ready access to "expert" witnesses to appear in her defence. Viera Scheibner could have told the jury how SIDS is caused by vaccinations, particularly DTP (although she may have changed her mind about which vaccine is really responsible), and Archie Kalokerinos could have implanted doubt with his myths about how the measles vaccine causes almost immediate scurvy. Maybe these "experts" weren't called because the defence lawyers took the ethical approach that only facts should be presented in court.
Speaking of child abuse … (24/5/2003)
Here is a picture of a chiropractor with a baby.
A bad day at the office (24/5/2003)
How was your working week? Was it a bit stressful? Photocopier out of paper, no sugar for coffee, flat battery in your cell phone, secretary forgot your wife's birthday? Here are some stories about a day in the life of people who have the sorts of jobs most of us don't have.
One of the guests didn't make it to my grandfather's 88th birthday party. She was working in crisis intervention for the child welfare authorities and had to make a visit on the way to the party. When she and her co-worker arrived at the house where the endangered child was they were held at gunpoint and told that they would be killed if they tried to take the baby away. Somehow they managed to call for assistance and the police came and rescued them. The people in the house had been calling also, and there was a lynch mob of their friends outside who were going to make sure the baby wasn't taken away. The police had to draw weapons and force their car through the crowd to get away. By the way, when the mother and boyfriend appeared in court over the incident she told the magistrate that she didn't care if anyone took the baby from her because she could easily make another one.
I had lunch one day with an officer in the Salvation Army. He had been in charge of the Army's welfare operations in Newcastle, the second-largest city in the state where I live, and one day his office had been approached by the wife of a prominent local crime figure with an appeal for help. She had run away from her husband and wanted some accommodation to disappear into. In typical Sally fashion they found her a place to live and promised to keep the address secret. A few days later the word was on the street that the woman's husband had put out a hit contract on the Army officer. Shortly afterwards the officer saw the husband at some civic function (gangsters are pillars of the community, too) and asked him about the truth of the contract story. He was told that it was nothing personal, just business. The woman had run away, she knew things that could hurt her husband and therefore she had to die, nobody knew where she was to kill her, somebody still had to die as an example, and the Army officer had been chosen because he had helped the wife. All very logical and businesslike.
I know someone who is a prison officer. He is currently on sick leave and receiving counselling. He was in the exercise yard of the maximum-security prison where he works when a group of prisoners approached him and told him that one of the prisoners was about to be murdered. He was told that if he tried to interfere or call for assistance he would be killed as well, although this would just be a business decision because they had no fight with him and the only person who had to die was the intended victim. They then murdered the prisoner in front of him, and then just went back to doing whatever it is that prisoners do all day.
Where's my Palm Pilot? Don't tell me I left it at home. Now my day is ruined!
How are things in Iraq? (24/5/2003)
There has been very little about Iraq in the papers lately. Does this mean that everything there is now fixed? Representative democracy established, elections held, infrastructure repaired, everyone getting enough food and water, schools and hospitals working again, books back in the library and treasures back in the museum, economy on the mend, and peace and friendship everywhere you look. These things all happened in Afghanistan after the regime was changed there. Well, didn't they?
I could be rich!! (24/5/2003)
Someone in Spain found my page about penis enlargement spam and has made me an offer which is almost too good to refuse. It was only when I whipped out a ruler and saw what 40 centimetres looks like that I thought he might be a little optimistic. More than a little, actually. Still, for $40 million, I could try.
I've seen this very good thing!!!
I'm a very rich man... I don't want to say who I am, but If you get me a bigger pennis (at least 40 cm) I'll pay you 40 million dollar, not kidding, just tell me back ...
Waiting for news..
Web site weirdness (24/5/2003)
Last week I gave a link to the site for magicians Penn and Teller's television show which debunks much nonsense. For some reason, the Showtime channel will not let people with IP addresses outside the US enter this site. I have no idea what they are so worried about. I couldn't see any military secrets or recipes for apple pie or anything else like that there, but perhaps that is because I went to another site first. Oops! I think I have said too much.
End of the world follow-up (24/5/2003)
Today is the day when the Earth's magnetic poles switch over and everything ends for ever. All the wine in my cellar has been drunk, the credit cards are maxed out, all the females in the office have been "attended to" (young Cedric in the mailroom was a bit disappointed, but I am too old to change some things), I have racked up a pile of speeding tickets in the Ferrari that I bought on time-payment, and I have had a big picture of a spider tattooed on my face. The world had better end today or I will be in big trouble on Monday. But seriously, folks – why is it that the people who tell you that the world is going to end next Tuesday never want to give you the money, houses and cars that they won't be needing any more?
"Blasphemy" comes before "Science" in the dictionary (31/5/2003)
Some years ago the Australian geologist Professor Ian Plimer wrote a book about creationism called "Telling Lies for God". Last Sunday night I went to a meeting where someone from the Answers in Genesis Ministry did just that thing.
(You can read the rest of this item here.)
The Dietary Supplement Experiment Begins (31/5/2003)
I have had an article about dietary supplements published in the magazine Australasian Science, and you can go here to read it. If you live in Australia and are interested in science I recommend this magazine. You can see more about Australasian Science here.
Misdirected spam of the week (31/5/2003)
I have a computer consulting business and I manage this web site. Some people want me to diversify.
I know your name and address from internet and we are now writting to you for the establishment of business relations.
Our firm, ANGEL SANITARY WARES CO.,LTD. specialize in designing and producing series of bath shower, bathroom mixer, bidet mixer, kitchen mixer, tube&shower mixer, pullout mixer ,faucet and brass fittings
and here's another one who seems to have missed the point of this site completely:
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Buy Alka Slim (Alkaslim) at discounted prices! – Vitabase.com offers quality nutritional products like Alka Slim. This all natural supplement Alka slim is designed to alkalize the body and increase your energy.
If you would confirm via email that you have added our link, we would be happy to make your link permanent.
WooWoo at Westmead (31/5/2003)
A few days ago I was part of the audience for the television taping of a performance by a clairvoyant. (For some reason that was never explained, the recording was done in a lecture theatre in the medical school at Westmead Hospital rather than in a studio.) The show was recorded for a story to appear on a current affairs show about psychic powers. As is usual with these things, taping took about an hour and a half and resulted in about two minutes of air time, mainly consisting of people in the audience saying things like "Wow!" and "The accuracy was frightening". The act was a mixture of cold reading and the scattergun approach of throwing out a huge number of generalities to each subject. I estimated that about 80% of every reading applied to me, and I don't think I was alone in the audience in that regard. I'm still waiting to meet the person who doesn't want to get ahead at work, doesn't want to travel, has no money worries, has never been sick or known a sick person and has never thought about buying a new car. I was asked afterwards if I would believe in psychic powers if there was good evidence. I said that I could be convinced, but I hadn't seen anything that night to make me change my mind.
The television station needed to get some value for the money they had spent to fly the psychic in from out of town and put her up in a hotel, so three nights after that show went to air the program had another go. This time they had three psychics in the studio and measured their brain waves. The hypothesis was that these psychics would show different patterns of activity to those exhibited by normal folks like you or me, although I would have preferred some evidence that they actually had psychic powers before plugging them into the apparatus. The person who was going to do the measurement is apparently a specialist at this sort of thing, and told us before he started about the alpha, beta and theta waves in the brain. Apparently, the brains of psychics work at different levels of these waves than the brains of real people do, but unfortunately there were three psychics and each recorded a different pattern and a different type of wave. The person working the machine had no problem fitting the readings to the predictions, although a casual observer might not have noticed any correlation. As it happened, I had previously met the man with the mind-reading machine. At that time, he was promoting a business he owned which used cheap (slave) labour in Asia to transcribe stolen intellectual property which he then sold in Australia. The people at the meeting were offered the product at a special price, which I found out later was only twice the normal sale price.
Don't you just love getting your news and education from television?
One less university (31/5/2003)
Australia has one fewer universities than it had a week ago. The University of Queensland, an institution with a proud tradition and good reputation, has abandoned any pretence at intellectual quality and has awarded a PhD to someone for a thesis offering proof that Jesus was a homosexual (although the word used was the obligatory "gay", of course). Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the thesis was apparently based only on information in the Gospel according to St John and, wait for it, a casting of Jesus' horoscope. (This despite the small problem that the date and time of His birth are not known with any accuracy.) In my family Bible, St John's Gospel takes up just less than 28 pages, and I saw people doing horoscopes at the recent Mind Body Spirit Festival in less than half an hour. Not only is the inanity of the content of this "thesis" an insult to everyone else who has ever earned a doctorate or other advanced degree from that or any other university, but the rest of us are expected to put in more than a week's work from start to finish to get such a qualification.
New category (31/5/2003)
I have decided that creationism is a distinctive enough form of abuse of religion to justify its own category, rather than being included with all the other religious bigots. There is a new category in The Millenium Project called "Creationism". You can see the list of creationist web sites here and some books about the topic here.