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updates October 2004
I apologise for no update last week, and for not getting things done by Wednesday either. It look more time than I thought it would to establish the availability of the scientific papers I wanted to locate (see below), and there was the Australian Council Against Health Fraud conference to organise (see further below), and there was taking over the web site management for the Australian Skeptics, and there was this paid work, and there was this family, and ...
Paracetamol Liars Part I (2/10/2004)
Two weeks ago I mentioned that a group of anti-vaccination liars in New Zealand had been lying about paracetamol causing meningococcal disease, and that they had been caught out using someone's brand name to do it. Someone was not happy with what I said. My responses are in italics.
Date: Sun, 26 Sep 2004 23:38:53 +1200
From: Juderon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I've had a request to analyse the debate on paracetamol use and meningococcal meningitis in NZ and guess what?
"New Zealand madness (18/9/2004)
I am never really surprised at the antics of the anti-vaccination liars, but sometimes they do cause me to make a reflexive blink. The Immunisation Awareness Society in New Zealand are currently running the following public notice on their web site. Meningococcal disease is a serious problem in parts of the country and these liars were saying that vaccination was pointless because the disease is caused by the analgesic drug acetaminophen or paracetamol. They made the mistake of using someone's trademark and got jumped on. Next time they repeat the lie, and be assured that someone of their ilk will repeat it, they will be sure to use the generic name.
Firstly, I was not commenting on "the debate", as there is no debate to comment on. Paracetamol has nothing to do with meningococcal disease except in the decayed minds of anti-vaccination liars and their ilk. I was commenting on lies told by liars. Secondly, I realise that in alt-world near enough is good enough, but the words above were exactly what I said, not "something like".
Are you able to point me to where the IAS said that meningococcal disease was caused by paracetamol? This is important, as I must have missed it in my research of the topic.
As the IAS have changed their web site to remove the claim, no, I can't show you where they said this. I can, however, show you where they apologise for saying it. Also, if you have time for some more research, you might like to find out what Oscar Wilde said about sarcasm and wit.
I can find medical statements that paracetamol use is linked to meningococcal disease and that causality can't be ruled out.
So, it's you who is saying it? Many, perhaps most, of the children with the disease have been breast fed. Causality can't be ruled out.
Can you forward that statement to your pharma gurus and ask them to provide evidence that that is not the case?
Can you ask you local nursing mothers' support group to provide evidence that breast feeding is not the cause?
Of course, you are absolutely correct to note that they made the mistake of using a proprietary name when they should have used the generic term.
So you agree that they should have just said that paracetamol caused the disease, rather than using a brand name?
You might be interested in two press statements I point out this past week... I'll send them under separate cover.
I await your response. If you can provide the evidence that the IAS said that vaccination "was pointless because the disease is caused by the analgesic drug acetaminophen or paracetamol." or words to that effect, I'll provide you with some humble pie that you can distribute to your fellow ratbags... If not, I would expect a gentlemen to apologise for what, I think the IAS said was, "an over-zealous approach in its wording, visuals and examples."
As I said above, it cannot be proved now because the IAS have changed the web site and the PDF file. They admit to these changes themselves. All I can point to is their statement that says that when they said it they didn't really mean it.
You might like to look at this week's update to The Millenium Project, where I examine the paracetamol claims of IAS in a bit more detail
Paracetamol Liars Part II (2/10/2004)
I am never surprised when I find anti-vaccination liars telling lies about vaccination. That is what they do. What does surprise me, however, is how sloppy they sometimes are in their lying, and how easy it is for people with even limited resources to prove that the lies are lies. I know that they assume that nobody will ever check, but sometimes people do.
For some time a New Zealand anti-vaccination organisation, the Immunisation Awareness Society (www.ias.org.nz), has been running a scare campaign against medications containing acetaminophen or paracetamol by linking their use to the spread of meningococcal disease, which is a severe medical problem in New Zealand at the moment. The objective of IAS is to deter parents from having their children vaccinated, and the tactic they are using in this case is to suggest that the disease is relatively harmless but can be made worse by the use of antipyretic drugs which reduce the fever associated with the disease. To support this, IAS have produced a report titled "Paracetamol - it's (sic) role in fever, illness and recovery" which can be found at www.ias.org.nz/paracetamol.pdf. (You can see a copy here)
I have had long experience with the opponents of real medicine and I am always suspicious when they start citing the medical literature. Almost universally, the citations fall into one or more of the following categories:
The intention is to impress people who might not have scientific training, and even if they did, might not be able to locate the cited research. Put another way, the intention is to deceive.
I have access to the library at one of Australia largest teaching hospitals, so I set out to check the references in the IAS report. As I expected, many fell into the various classes mentioned above, but I was able to locate at least one paper. In the IAS report it says "And last but not least, if you want to turn chickenpox into fulminant necrotising fasciitis ... go ahead ... and give tylenol/paracetamol" and a reference is given to a paper in the April 1999 edition of Pediatrics. In the abstract of that paper, the authors say:
Conclusion. Ibuprofen use was associated with NF in the setting of primary varicella. Additional studies are needed to establish whether ibuprofen use has a causal role in the development of NF and its complications during varicella.
I didn't have to read beyond the first page of this paper to find that it clearly shows that the research had nothing to do with the product Tylenol or its active ingredient, but was concerned about a possible effect of ibuprofen, a different chemical altogether. Citing this paper was not a mistake, or confusion about any possible connection between ibuprofen and paracetamol, or ignorance of chemistry. It was a blatant lie, and the author hoped that nobody would check. Someone did. (The author, Hilary Butler, recently called me an "emotive lunatic" in a message to the British Medical Journal web site. I don't hold this against her, because she was defending the right of people to shake babies to death at the time and my parents taught me to be tolerant of the mentally ill.) I am not surprised that people who would lie about the dangers of vaccination would lie about something else, but there is a particular irony to this case of deception. There is glaring hypocrisy when people who support the claim that chickenpox is always a harmless disease use one of the nastier sequelae of that disease to frighten parents away from vaccinating their children. If all hypocrisy and lies were to be removed from the publications of the anti-vaccination movement, however, there would be nothing left.
The IAS have been in trouble before for using a brand name instead of a generic name for a medication. There is a "correction" appearing on the front page of the IAS web site, as well as on some of the PDF files of reports contained in the site, which dissociates the brand name "Pamol" from any suggestion that it might actually cause meningococcal disease. I assume from this that such an inference could be drawn from statements which had previously appeared on the site and in IAS publications, and that the lawyers representing Parke-Davis/Warner Lambert have forced the retraction to protect the reputation of the brand. However, the site still contains a statement, not backed by any scientific research, that the product branded "Tylenol" can directly cause children to suffer from a particularly disgusting and distressing condition. I thought that it would be appropriate to write a letter to the lawyers who manage intellectual property rights and trade marks for Johnson & Johnson in New Zealand to point out the devaluation of the Tylenol brand, and I made the following suggestion:
I urge you to take action to protect your client's valuable brand name from abuse by people who want to use it to further their perverted agenda to prevent children from receiving protection against dangerous diseases.
I hope that the Immunisation Awareness Society appreciates the efforts I have made to ensure that their publications and scientific claims are all truthful and trustworthy. After all, if they decide to only publish the truth about the dangers of vaccines then their workload will be considerably reduced.
Guns Redux (2/10/2004)
Several people wrote to me about my comments about the non-renewal in the US of the ban on certain semi-automatic weapons and told me that I should not have mentioned Uzis and AK-47s because they have been illegal for years. I used those names because I had seen an interview in the paper with a gun shop owner who was holding what was obviously an assault weapon of some kind and who specifically named Uzis and AK-47s as the sort of weapons which people were now going to be able to use to protect themselves. It took me about four minutes with Google to find a place which would sell me the eight parts necessary to "legalise" an AK-47, including the pistol grip which is supposed to be still banned. The same site mentioned places to go to get other "enhancements", such as the bayonet mount. One writer mentioned that he hadn't been inconvenienced by the ten-round limit on magazines, because he could change magazines in less than a second. I once received very expensive training in how to kill people with an assault rifle, so I can only assume that he must live in a very tough neighbourhood. I would only have to reload if I was attacked by more than about nine people at once, because they usually give up and run away after you shoot the first six or seven. Just in case people think that I don't know anything about guns, here is a picture of a much younger me relaxing after some practice at killing people.
Religion and politics (9/10/2004)
Australia had a federal election this weekend and there is the real possibility that the new government will need the assistance of a member of an overtly religious political party in the Senate to implement the promises which were never mentioned during the election campaign. I will have more to say about the potential for a theocracy here once the final results of the election are known, but I somehow don't think that embryonic stem cell research has much chance of expansion during the next few years. Then there's no-fault divorce, legal abortions, ...
In case you think I might be joking, here is a form put out by some religious nuts to help people make their choice at the ballot box.
Paracetamol Liars Part III (9/10/2004)
The nonsense continues. Mr Law has sent me some more information, but he doesn't want me to share it. Too bad.
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 2004 15:04:46 +1300
From: Juderon <email@example.com>
Subject: IAS Article
The password is iasratbags... for your info only...
I've removed the five references to the Brand in question -- [Paracetamol-x]...
Otherwise it's exactly as per original...
Please advise which parts your accusations relate to...
Risk & Policy Analyst
Mannatech is almost unique among multi-level marketing companies in that they actually talk about the product rather than the pyramid, and their distributors generally announce themselves by offering to sell something rather than offering fabulous wealth from some unspecified business opportunity. That comes later. One thing that Mannatech does share with other MLMs is the reluctance of distributors to be honest about what it is that they are selling and who they are selling it for. Mannatech distributors, however, always give themselves away by talking about glycochemicals, which are magic sugars that only Mannatech can provide. Apparently, these sugars are vital for life and we are all short of them, although real scientists seem to think that the body is quite capable of making any of these chemicals that it needs and that the glyconutrients get broken down in the stomach anyway and are not directly used by the body. I mentioned last week how alt-med promoters are fond of adding a veneer of respectability to their claims by making statements that they hope nobody will check, and a Mannacreep did just that this week when he posted the following bilge to an alternative medicine forum:
In 1994, Dr Gunter Blobel MD PhD, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his discovery in glycoproteins have with the body's ability to fix itself.
Leaving aside for the moment the odd language construction of the statement, it raised certain questions. The first is the obvious one of why the Peace Prize would have been awarded for something like this. As the 1994 Peace Prize was (inexplicably) awarded to Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin (and weren't they great champions of a peaceful end to the Middle East unrest?) it was obvious that there was at least one "mistake" in the statement. Perhaps Dr Blobel received the 1994 prize for Physiology or Medicine, but, no, that was won by Alfred G. Gilman and Martin Rodbell "for their discovery of G-proteins and the role of these proteins in signal transduction in cells". Could these "G-proteins" be glycoproteins which can help the body fix itself? Well, no, the "G" stands for guanosine triphosphate, which helps messages from hormones pass through cell membranes. So what did Dr Blobel do? He won the 1999 Medicine Prize "for the discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell", which again has nothing to do with either glycoanythings or the body fixing itself. Bad Mannaperson! Try harder next time.
At least the claim wasn't that someone had simply been nominated for a Nobel Prize for some work. Anybody can be nominated for any of the prizes if they can find someone qualified to fill in the forms. The various prize committees only announce the winners, although some nominations more than 50 years old have been revealed. Anyone who claims nomination as a qualification is almost certainly talking nonsense, and relying again on the listener's lack of knowledge. Someone was going to nominate me along with some other people a few years back. I don't know if he really went ahead with it, and the relevant committee isn't going to tell me if he did or didn't. I do know, however, that nobody has ever told me to put on my top hat, tie up my white tie, brush off my tails and get ready to meet the King of Sweden.
Ratbags Technology Update (9/10/2004)
I have just installed some new software which was needed for another web project where the designers apparently misunderstood the meaning of the word "deliverable". One of the products is NavStudio, which is an excellent program for creating and maintaining menus (although it does have some quirks which make it a bit harder to learn than is really necessary). Since I bought this rather expensive hammer I have noticed nails sticking up everywhere, and I will be gradually changing over all the menus on this site. This won't happen all at once because it involves a change to every page, but once it is done it will make life a lot easier for me to create new pages and to maintain the site. It should also allow pages to load faster, but I don't know if this will be noticeable on anything but slow dial-up connections. This week it only appears on pages which I had to change for some other reason, but if you see it (the change is obvious) and it causes any problems, please let me know.
The other program I had to get was an update from PaintShop Pro 7 to version 9. The new version does some things better than the old one, some things much more awkwardly, and some things not as well as the old version but I suspect that this is because I haven't found out where the correct adjustments and tools are. This problem of software going backwards is not new, and you can go here to see where I was whining about this very situation years ago. People often like to point out that if advances in motor cars matched those in computers we would all be driving Ferraris which cost $500. The only problem would be that every second year someone would reintroduce the manual choke and there would be the occasional new model with a drum brake on only one wheel.
Don't tell me what I can watch!!
Some time ago I mentioned that Showtime had blocked access to their web site from anywhere outside the USA, for no reason that could make any sense to normal people. My interest in the site was to find out information about Penn & Teller's Bullshit! show, which is not shown in Australia. We fans had to put up with weirdly-coloured pirate copies of the show supplied to us through anonymous tin-can-and-string Internet connections or on no-brand-name DVDs handed to us in dark car parks by faceless men wearing balaclavas and gloves. All we wanted was the DVD of the series. At last it became available and I had it in my possession. A fully-legal, paid-for DVD! I put it in my DVD player and was told that it was the wrong region. This surprised me as I had been told by the salescretin when I bought the player that it had no restrictions, and there is no region code mentioned on the disk packaging.
I think that this restricted region idea with DVDs is absurd. It doesn't prevent copying, it just stops people from being able to use things which they have legitimately purchased if they choose to buy them in the wrong place. It seems that the manufacturers of DVD players feel the same, because good old Google took 0.46 seconds to lead me to what looked very suspiciously like an officially sanctioned and leaked hack from LG which removes all regional restrictions from my player. Why I think that it must have come from the company is that there is an infinite number of possible key sequence combinations on the remote control, but the time allowed in which to press the correct sequence is too short for anyone to stumble across it by trial and error. Thank you, LG, for making it so easy for me to become some sort of criminal. I like being able to use what I pay for.
Paracetamol Liars Part IV (16/10/2004)
Mr Law was not happy with my less than immediate response to his complaint about what I said two weeks ago, so he wrote again. My responses are in italics.
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 2004 10:49:28 +1300
From: Juderon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I see that you haven't posted/interacted with my second email...
I don't work for you, but if you are prepared to give me a credit card number and authorisation so that I can charge you my normal hourly rate I will move responding to you towards the front of the queue. You can download a form from my business web site, which I am sure you can find.
It's fascinating how people like you like trying to 'engage' people with their hands tied behind their back.
You said it, not me. "Engaging" with you is like fighting someone with their hands tied behind their back.
The fact that you do not have the IAS originals off the website is no excuse for honest criticism. I sent you them in good faith... the fact that you choose to lie by omission is your choice... it only brings your cause into even more contempt.
I do have the IAS files, and I had read them before I started commenting on them. When an anti-vaccination organisation produces a paper (password required - "iasratbags") titled "Meningococcal Meningitis - making an informed decision about the new MeNZB vaccine" which contains the words "Find out about the risks and benefits of the vaccine, and the real risks of the disease (based on facts not the hype and fear)" and then goes on to list paracetamol under the heading "Risk Factors", followed by a statement that says "Giving paracetamol increases the risk of meningococcal meningitis", one can fairly assume that the anti-vaccination organisation is telling people that they don't have to worry about a minor disease which kills quickly because they can reduce the risk by not taking paracetamol. Put another way, this pack of liars is saying that both paracetamol and the vaccine are more dangerous than the disease. They might not use those exact words, but the meaning is clear to anyone who recognises facts.
For the record, Tylenol is not a brand that's sold in NZ...
Johnson & Johnson think enough of the brand name to pay to have the trademark registered in New Zealand and to pay some lawyers to guard the name for them. It doesn't matter whether it is sold or not; it only matters that someone owns the name and that that name has value.
Nigerian letter (16/10/2004)
I have received a new form of the famous Nigerian Letter, and yes, it came from an IP address in Nigeria. The question still remains, however: Why me?
PEACE UNTO YOU THERE,
I FORWARD THIS MAIL TO YOU IN ORDER TO PURCHASE ( BIBLES BONDED LEATHER 200 COPIES ) THE BIBLE IS FOR THE CHURCH TRAINING CLASES, KINDLY CALCULATE THE TOTAL PRICE WITH THE SHIPPING COST VIA " AIR MAIL PARCEL POST 7-10 DAYS SHIPMENT OR BY AIR FREIGHT TO AIRPORT TO NIGERIA. WE NEED THEM WITHOUT DELAY.
Haley's Comment (16/10/2004)
Dr Boyd Haley is a chemist from the University of Kentucky who is obsessed with the terrible dangers of mercury. Because of this, he is a darling of both the anti-vaccination liars and the anti-amalgam loons. There have been literally billions of teeth filled with amalgam since its adoption in the early 19th century and billions of vaccine doses given over the last half-century and in neither case has there been any noticeable epidemic of the dreadful consequences which have been supposed to occur following exposure to what has been described as the deadliest metal in the world. (As an aside, to say that "there is mercury in vaccines" is a statement of the form "there is carbon in vaccines" or "there is nitrogen in vaccines". When a layman gets confused about elements and compounds it can be forgivable. When someone who is the head of a university school of chemistry does so, one has to suspect either madness or lying to support an agenda.)
At a meeting in June 2004 of the political group Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, Dr Haley used the expression "mad child disease" to refer to autism and attention deficit disorder, and repeated his nonsensical claims that these disorders are caused by mercury. When he was challenged to apologise for this disgusting use of language he refused and instead retrospectively invented an acronym. He claims that what he really said was not "mad child disease" but "M.A.D. child disease", which just happens to sound the same when you say it. "M.A.D." stands for "Mercury Acquired Disease of children". Yeah, right. So when you expand it out, what he was really saying was "mercury acquired disease of children child disease". Did I already say "Yeah, right"? Does Dr Haley get money out of the bank by putting his personal PIN number into an automatic ATM machine? The anti-amalgamists and anti-vaccination liars have leapt to his defence, of course, and have been saying that he has explained himself perfectly. What he has explained is that he will stop at no level of offensiveness and no amount of lying to promote his idiotic pseudoscientific ideas.
Real scientists have conclusively shown that any connection between mercury compounds used as preservatives in vaccines and the onset or detection of autism subsequent to vaccination is of such low probability that worrying about it is like worrying that the Paris-Dakar Rally might be cancelled because the route is flooded. In Pseudoscience World, however, one crackpot is worth ten thousand orthodox scientists, and people who reject all real science as corrupt and venal are only too ready to idolise anyone who preaches what they want to hear. The parents of one autistic child set up an online petition to protest about Haley's offensive remarks, and they have found out the hard way about what happens when someone offers even the slightest criticism of a hero of fanatics. They have been accused of lying, of trashing Dr Haley's reputation, of denigrating his great work, of being jealous of his academic achievements, of everything except asking for an apology for what might have been a thoughtless, offensive set of words. The fanatics take Daniel 2 much too seriously, and their idols must not be allowed to have any imperfections at all. Much like saints or minor gods, really.
More Benny Hinn (16/10/2004)
Followers of sleazemaster Benny Hinn keep writing to me to tell me how mistaken I am about the crook, but one recent letter gave me cause to think. This person was trying to work out whether Hinn was legitimate or not, and finally decided that he must be honest because if he wasn't he would be aware that God was watching and would not be pleased if Benny was doing the wrong thing. The problem with this argument is that it can be used to justify anything done in the name of God. Preachers spouting any sort of hatred or bigotry can justify it on the basis that if God did not approve He would do something about it, and the fact that He lets the preaching go on shows that He approves of what is said and done. Followers then turn this argument back to show that the preacher must be telling the truth otherwise he would be risking the wrath of God. The fatal flaw in this is the assumption that the preacher believes in God. It is the job of conmen to appear sincere, and apparent sincerity is the one thing I have observed in every money-raking religious tent show I have ever come across.
Vale Dr Jacques Benveniste (16/10/2004)
I was saddened to hear that Dr Jacques Benveniste passed away on October 3. Dr Benveniste was the man who came up with the idea of water having a memory, thus providing much encouragement to homeopaths who used this to claim that there was some scientific evidence for their fantasies. He later claimed that it was possible to extract this memory and store it in an electronic form, and to then transmit it to other places where it could be installed in different water. Almost exactly five years before his death, Dr Benveniste wrote to me to say:
Our experiments have been recently reproduced in a major American University and several labs in France. We should be launching momentarily the international replication by 10-15 other labs worldwide. ... Upon completion of the present replication job, a scientific report will be submitted to a major journal.
I am still waiting for the results to be published. I hope someone goes through his notes and gets his work into a form where it can be released to overthrow the current paradigms of physics and chemistry. Dr Benveniste is no longer eligible for a Nobel Prize, as these are only awarded to the living, but I am going to suggest to the appropriate authorities that he be immortalised by the concept of Benveniste's Number. This is Avogadro's Number raised to the power of Avogadro's Number, and represents a limit to dilution which could make even the most ardent homeopath start to think about what is possible.
Pyramid people press their point (16/10/2004)
A piece I wrote in June about MLM scams keeps attracting the attention of Independent Business Operators who feel the need to write to me to let me know the truth about their particular pyramids. All of the usual clichés taught at MLMU are there, such as the companies being debt-free and how General Motors is a pyramid. One of the clichés I have always liked is that these outfits must be good places otherwise companies like Coca Cola and Microsoft would not let them sell their products. I have it on good authority that Coke is available in sleazy bars inhabited by hookers and drug dealers, which is as it should be and is no reflection on the product or the company. (When Amway were setting up the Quixtar online business they made much noise about how they were partnering with Microsoft. MS were finally driven to publicly announce that the supposed "partnership" consisted solely of Amway buying software and consulting services and was no more a partnership than any other supplier-customer relationship.)
You can't really blame the hive workers for making these claims, because they are just regurgitating what they have been told by their uplines and by spruikers at meetings. One email piqued my interest, however, when it listed a large retail chain amongst the list of reputable suppliers. As far as I know, this chain manufactures nothing and sells nothing under its own brand name, and, in any case, why would they supply products to a competitor who we are assured is going to shortly drive them out of business. I will be contacting the head office of the chain for a comment, and it will be interesting to see their reaction.
This week's update is shorter than usual because I have been installing the new menu system across the site. It doesn't take long to do each page but there are a lot of pages and I still have a few hundred to do. It's a job like shovelling a heap of sand from one side of the front yard to another - you have to get half-way through before you can detect any progress. Also, I have had to pay some attention to my business web site because the product that my work is based on has just appeared in a new version and there are brochures to create and newsletters to write and online shops to be updated and clients to work for and clients to chase for money and ...
Paracetamol Liars Part V (23/10/2004)
Mr Law is at it again. He doesn't give up easily.
Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 21:51:12 +1300
Subject: Fwd: Ratbag
Gidday again Peter
It never ceases to amaze me how you manipulate the facts... can't even get the dates right on your emails... this one was not the 5-10-2004...
You've posted my email of the 12th over the header of the email of the 5th...
That's falsifying an email...
Actually, it's what is called "a mistake", which I made while copying and pasting from my mail program to FrontPage. Thank you for pointing out the mistake. It has now been fixed.
You clearly do stand on high moral ground.
Can you answer the question of the email dated the 5th?
I did, in my answer to the email of October 12.
For the record, I put the password in to prevent any one from engaging in sculdugery...
Then it only needed a password to prevent changing the file. I do that all the time. It didn't need a password to stop people reading it. If you want some training on how to use Acrobat, please see my business web site for consulting rates.
PETA and the sheep (23/10/2004)
Australia has a lot of sheep. It also has a lot of flies, particularly in areas where the sheep are. Flies like to lay eggs in the manure-covered wool at the back of the sheep, and when the maggots hatch they eat whatever they can find, including any convenient parts of the sheep. To avoid this sheep undergo one of two procedures: "crutching", where they are held upside-down in a cradle of some sort (see an example here), and the wool around the anus and genitals and on the inside of the back legs is shorn off, and "mulesing", where an area of skin is removed from a lamb so that no wool grows in the problem area during its life. The animal "rights" terrorist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has apparently decided that the embarrassment caused to sheep by crutching or the short period of pain following the once-in-a-lifetime mulesing far exceed any possible discomfit they may experience while dying in the sun after some maggots have eaten away their vaginas, anuses and rectums, and PETA are campaigning for a boycott of Australian wool by US manufacturers and retailers.
In PETA's first victory, they have apparently convinced Abercrombie & Fitch to drop products which include any Australian wool. I don't know whether A&F share PETA's attitude that animals, all animals, are more important than people, but I wonder if they are as concerned about their employees and the employees of their suppliers as they are about sheep. A look at the A&F annual report indicates that they don't make anything and they don't pay very much for the clothes they sell. I wouldn't like to think that people so worried about inverted sheep would be having clothes made in third-world countries by people being paid at slave labour rates. That would be hypocritical.
(Note: I have seen the television advertising that PETA is running in the USA, and I have to agree with them that Australia's live sheep export business is a disgrace. You can see something I wrote about it here.)
Forty years on, the fear persists (23/10/2004)
Australian papers have been full of a story that millions of doses of polio vaccine contaminated with simian virus 40 were administered to Australian children between 1956 and 1962. Two batches were released before the problem was discovered and another two were released when it was known that they could contain SV40 from the monkey kidneys that were used to culture the virus. While this seems reprehensible with forty years of hindsight, medical science then wasn't what it is now and someone had to decide whether the risk from SV40 exceeded the risk of polio, and as there had been no adverse reports from the earlier contaminated batches it was decided to continue vaccinating rather than to delay the program. People now who have never seen polio think that the decision would have been very easy and cannot understand why the vaccines were released. In every one of my infant and primary school years I shared classes with kids with callipers on their legs. When I had my appendix out one of the other occupants of the children's ward at Hornsby Hospital was an 11-year-old girl who was going to spend the rest of her life in an iron lung. This was a very scary and very visible disease.
The newspaper and television news stories were beat-ups, and were based on a book by two journalists and the research of the one scientist who seems to "know" the truth. There is some slight evidence of a coincidence of SV40 and certain types of tumours, but if what the scaremongers are saying is true there would be hundreds of millions of people aged between 50 and 60 who are suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There aren't.
None of this stops the anti-vaccination liars from leaping on the bandwagon, of course, and the story was all over the liars' mailing lists, both in Australia and elsewhere. To give you an idea of how every piece of bad news is an opportunity for these people, consider the following passage from a media release put out by the Australian Vaccination Network:
Today's revelation that the Australian government knowingly distributed contaminated vaccine to Australian children and adults in the 1960s pales into insignificance when we consider that the vaccines which are still being used by millions in Australia and overseas have never been cleared of this contamination.
"Is there infectious virus? The short answer is, yes," stated Dr. Michele Carbone, a researcher associated with Loyola University at the Vaccine Cell Substrate Conference in July 2004.
Since 1963, we have been assured that polio vaccines have not contained this deadly contaminant. This is now known not to be the case. Not only that, but regulators and those who have been charged with making sure our vaccines are as pure as they can be have had knowledge of this risk for decades and did nothing about it.
The risk of polio infection in Australia is non-existent since all cases which have not been imported for the last 30 years are directly associated with the polio vaccine. The risk of cancer from the vaccine however is a clear and present danger. We must get rid of these toxic doses which are contaminated with at least 60 known simian or monkey viruses.
The AVN want to know what else we have not been told about vaccines?
The prize for the best scare story of the week, however, goes to the woman who told a friend of mine that the pink colouring of the Sabin oral polio vaccine was haemoglobin from the monkey kidneys. Sometimes the lies are so bizarre that the only possible conclusion is that they are generated by minds working in a different universe.
Dustmaker's desperate dash to Delft
James Hardie is one of Australia's oldest and, until recently, most respected businesses. Hardie's, as it is known, used to manufacture building materials which included asbestos, back in the olden days before we all realised that it was more dangerous than even plutonium or second-hand cigarette smoke. Their most famous product was Fibro, which was a contraction of the words "fibrous cement", and which was used for the external cladding of the countless houses which created the suburban sprawl in the middle of the 20th century. The product was relatively safe, even though it contained asbestos, as the fibres were bound into a concrete mix and the stuff was always painted. There are difficulties with it now when renovating houses, but sensible precautions can be taken to minimise any risk. The health problems with Fibro and other asbestos products were always going to be minor for the residents of the houses made of the material, but not so for the workers who made it and many of the people who worked with it. Australia had very restrictive health rules from the early 1950s about the allowable amounts of dust in mines, for example, but the mining companies and manufacturers using asbestos, like the tobacco companies, pretended that there was no problem.
There certainly was a problem, and the CSR mine at Wittenoom has become world famous, or perhaps notorious, for the almost suicidal conditions under which miners were forced to work. The executives of CSR lived in Sydney, of course. A few years ago it became apparent that there were going to be medical problems with people who had worked with Hardie's and its products, so the company did two things to address the problem. It set up a compensation fund and it moved its country of incorporation from Australia to The Netherlands. As it turns out, the compensation fund has nowhere near enough money to pay all of the proven claims (it will run out of money next April unless some more cash is found). Hardie's does most of its business in Australia and the USA, and by some strange coincidence these are two countries where the corporate regulators can't get at Dutch companies. Equally strangely, the board members and executives of Hardie's still seem to live and work in Sydney and Melbourne rather than Amsterdam.
There has been public outrage about the way that Hardie's has run away from its responsibilities, with regulators chasing the company's records, sick people trying to get answers about when and if they might get some money, and government ministers threatening to boycott Hardie's products. The company has finally reacted to the pressure, and last week the CEO was fired. This man is under investigation by several government bodies over his role in setting up both the sham corporate move and the underfunded compensation fund, and having him around was a PR embarrassment for the company. As part of his punishment, the company slapped him on the wrist with $9 million. Nice non-work if you can get it. I suppose he can always get a job at Philip Morris (or whatever it is called these days).
Tort law reform (23/10/2004)
I was watching a television show tonight which dealt with the need for tort law reform to limit huge payouts for dubious compensation claims. Nobody minds when people are compensated for real reasons, but some claims are obviously just forms of fraud and extortion. Having said that, though, I have decided to suspend my support for reforms until certain personal matters have been settled. As I was writing the pieces above, I remembered that I was one of the Australian kids who received the first round of polio injections in 1956. Call a lawyer. I lived in a Fibro house for many years. Call a second lawyer. I used to smoke. Call a whole firm of lawyers. I'm not really sick from any of that, but I must be suffering from some mental anguish. I figure that $3 million from Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, $3 million from Hardie's, and $3 million from Philip Morris (or whatever it is called these days) should be adequate. It's not that much money really - the total is only what you pay an inconvenient executive to go away.
More Boyd Haley (23/10/2004)
Last week I mentioned how Dr Boyd Haley, hero of anti-vaccination liars and anti-amalgam fruitcakes, was refusing to back down or apologise for using the expression "mad child disease" to describe autism. Apparently he is now threatening to sue anyone who "defames" him by asking for an apology. What a creep! He claims that he is not opposed to vaccines, but you are judged by the friends you keep. Whenever he has a pronouncement to make it seems to get to the people who run the anti-vaccination liar mailing lists and web sites very quickly. Similarly, the National Autism Association seems to be incapable of saying anything that doesn't suggest that autism is caused by vaccines. The NAA is running a conference in the next few weeks, and Dr Haley is a speaker. Another speaker is Jaquelyn McCandless, who claims to be a real doctor but makes her living by stealing money from the parents of autistic children. I awarded her the "Quote of the Year" prize for 2002 for the following disgusting statement. Do you see why I call these people liars?
When mercury-poisoned children are treated with oral chelation agents to remove mercury (which we see pouring out in our urine laboratory studies) and make eye contact or speak words for the first time sometimes within days of starting treatment, it is clear what mercury does to the brain
Hulda's 'hood (30/10/2004)
I was veging out in front of the television a few nights back when an episode of The Shield came on. I don't particularly like this show because I think it stretches the "cop with heart of gold who bends the rules to get results" genre a bit too far, but I couldn't see the remote control and I couldn't be bothered looking for it so I sat back and waited to be entertained. In this particular episode, head rough cop Vic and his team have an immediate and pressing need for some cash so they go to Tijuana to roust $400,000 out of a drug dealer. They get his attention by hanging a tyre around his neck, splashing petrol over him and threatening to set him alight. When they get the money, the dealer's crew shoot a lot of holes in the cops' car but they get away successfully. As the LA Police want to talk to the dealer and extradition is a nuisance, the cops decide to take him back home with them. A quick trip to a pharmacy to get some Rohypnol to keep the dealer quiet and they are on their way. The only tense moment comes when they arrive at the customs and immigration station at the border with a kidnapped, petrol-soaked, unconscious, drugged, bound and gagged drug dealer and a sports bag containing $400K in the trunk of a car which has lots of tourist stickers on it to cover up the bullet holes, but a bit of light-hearted banter gets them past the inspection. Did I mention that this show challenges the suspension of disbelief a little?
I've spent a couple of days in Tijuana and I am sure that I am not the only tourist who looks for familiar sights and landmarks in films and television shows set in places I have visited. One scene of a battle between the cops and the robbers was filmed in a spot which very few tourists to Tijuana would recognise, but I had been there. That's right, folks - when Hollywood wants a location which epitomises the sleazier parts of Tijuana, the sort of place where a gunfight between cops and a drug gang might not raise an eyebrow, they set up the vans, lights and cameras in the street outside Hulda Clark's salubrious cancer treatment clinic. As my travelling companion commented at the time, you can buy all sorts of prescription drugs from shops in Tijuana but in Hulda's part of the world drug sales are made through the windows of cars. And remember - it can cost up to $15,000 per week to attend the clinic to have your cancer or AIDS "cured".
Click on any of the pictures below to see what you get for your money.
NZ Nonsense (30/10/2004)
Ron Law, the Nuisance from New Zealand, has accused me of much perfidy for a mistake in copying information from one place to another. As what was copied was the date on an email and the date was not material to the matter under discussion, I can only assume that he is clutching at straws. Again. He sent me some graphs which demonstrate something or other, but as the discussion was about a particular case of lying by some anti-vaccination liars and his graphs had nothing to do with the lie except to blow smoke around it, I am not sure why I have them.
I am not sure what prompted this next email, but I love a challenge.
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 2004 22:41:15 +1300
From: Juderon <email@example.com>
Peter, all I can say is you are a man of no honour!
I find your modus operandi despicable...
Try posting the attached on your website... bet you don't!!
Risk & Policy Analyst
Bet I will!! As regular readers will know, I am not shy about publishing anything, especially if it has nothing to do with anything that I have said. You can read the complete saga here. Links to the seven pdf files are below. None of them have anything to do with the lies from IAS about how giving your kids medicine can increase the risk of disease. But I expected nothing more, so there is no harm in posting the files.
Quintessence of the Hiatus (30/10/2004)
During the early part of 2004 a member of my family was seriously ill, and the priorities of real life pushed working on RatbagsDotCom into the background. By the time we had got beyond that crisis, there were new things to occupy my time. I have three books to either update or write before the end of the year (one based on the psychology of the people who create and believe the sites listed in Quintessence of the Loon, one about medical quackery, and an update of a best-selling book about the Internet that I wrote a few years ago). I am organising a conference for the Australian Council Against Health Fraud, speaking at that and two other conferences, and there has been a new and very important release of the software product that I work with in real life and which produces the income that allows me to have a hobby like RatbagsDotCom, so I have a whole lot of marketing and training to do.
People keep writing to me about Quintessence of the Loon, but for at least the next six months I will be concentrating on The Millenium Project and The Green Light only. So that we all don't suffer from any more withdrawal, I will be including a Quintessence segment here which will feature the sort of nuttiness that has been appearing there over the last six years.
I'm psychic!! (30/10/2004)
I thought I would read some fiction before bed a few nights ago, so I picked a novel at random from the shelves in my library. It was by Robert B. Parker, one of a series by that author featuring a private detective named Spenser and set in and around Boston. The book was first published 80 years after the Boston Red Sox last won the World Series. On the first page of the book, Spenser is musing about the imminent start of the baseball season. He is, of course, a Red Sox tragic, and the books often mention him wearing one of the team's caps. At the very time that I was reading the book, on the other side of the world and in a different time zone, the Red Sox were breaking the 86-year drought by beating the St Louis Cardinals 3-0 in the fourth game of the series. Boston is one of my favourite cities but my next trip there might be a bit dangerous for my brain cells and liver. As I obviously predicted the win by my random choice of bedtime reading material, and possibly even influenced the result by tugging on the fabric and energy of the universe, everyone there now owes me a beer.
Australian quackery consumption (30/10/2004)
One of the figures which supporters of alternative medicine like to throw around is that Australians spend four times as much on magical herbs and spices as they do on prescription drugs. This is supposed to be evidence that quackery is winning over medicine, but science is not a popularity contest. If four times as many Australians believed in creation than did in evolution I would be very distressed at the state of the education system but the statistics would not mean that the world was really 6,000 years old.
The "four times" thing gets thrown at me often as if it is something that I am not aware of, and this week someone asked me in a public forum why the fact was not reported in The Millenium Project. In fact it is mentioned, but facts are strangers to some people. I offered the following reply:
Here are some facts. The figure of $2 billion per year was actually an estimate of $2.3 billion and was made in 2000 by Professor Alastair MacLennan from the University of Adelaide. Professor MacLennan was wanted as a speaker for both the Australian Skeptics and the Australian Council Against Health Fraud conferences coming up next month, but unfortunately he was unavailable for either.
The "four times" figure is a bit misleading, as it refers to out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs. The majority of prescription drugs in Australia (about 80%) are heavily subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The maximum price paid by a consumer for a prescription is $27.30, with concession card holders (people on pensions, with disabilities or in families where a member has been accepted as having certain chronic illnesses) paying $3.80. There is a safety net which reduces the cost to $0 after a certain number of prescriptions have been filled for a family in a calendar year.
The total amount of the annual subsidy by the PBS is $7 to $8 billion, so the total spend on prescription drugs is at least three times as much as is spent on "complementary" medicines. The amount of this subsidy doesn't give a true picture anyway, as the PBS buys at very favourable prices, a matter of some aggravation in the negotiations about Australia's coming free trade agreement with the US. As an example, the pills I take cost me $3.80 per month, and the label says that the full price is $36.04. If I were to buy them through a cheap online pharmacy in the US they would cost me about $265 per month.
Another reason why the "four times" figure is misleading is that it is not comparing comparably-priced products. The homeopathic sleeping tablets which I take in bulk as part of my stage act cost about $15 for a packet of 80 tablets and consist of nothing but lactose and filler. The same number of ibuprofen tablets, which are strictly regulated in their manufacture, would cost me around $10. A friend of mine did a test by going into a pharmacy and asking the price of both soluble aspirin and the alternative equivalent: $4.40 for 42 aspirin tablets, $14.20 for 30 natural alternatives. I'm sure I could find more examples without looking too hard.
The person asking me the question is always saying that I am opposed to all alternative medicine, that real medicine kills a lot of people and nobody is doing anything about it, and no supporter of real medicine will ever criticise a pharmaceutical company, so I decided to include the following information and question:
Yes, complementary medicine is big business in Australia, and all anyone wants is for it to work to the same rules as real medicine. I have paid my own money to become a member of the Complementary Healthcare Council so that I can contribute towards the cleanup. And, yes, they do know who I am. Before you start ranting about cleaning up real medicine, I am also a member of the Australian Patient Safety Foundation and a supporter of Healthy Skepticism (which monitors the excesses of drug companies). What are you doing except whining?
And what response did I get? The writer deleted everything I had written above and accused me of dodging the question about why there was nothing on this site about the "four times" story. Sometimes there can be no communication, because one party chooses not to listen.