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March 4, 2006

Why are they called "liars"? (4/3/2006)
Every so often I am asked why I refer to anti-vaccination liars as liars. Whenever I am asked, I just take a quick look around for some examples. Just this week I was told about how the bird flu threat is just being beaten up and nobody should be afraid as there is nothing to it and it is just a campaign to increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. The following paragraph was included in the message I read:

We assume they won't be using as evidence a letter from Roche Pharmaceuticals to health professionals about its own flu jab Tamiflu. Tamiflu is given to children as young as 12 months, but there may a brake on the zeal that doctors have been displaying in injecting every toddler foolish enough to stagger into the surgery. Roche has revealed that, in laboratory tests, rats given the vaccine have been falling over dead.

There are two small problems with this. The first is that Tamiflu is not a vaccine – it is an anti-viral medication used to treat flu victims. The second is that it is not a "jab", nor is it injected "into every toddler". Tamiflu is taken orally. Of course, anyone following my guideline that it is usually safe to stop reading at the first occurrence of the word "jab" (because it is a red flag for nonsense and lies) would not have reached the lies. It's just as well that I sometimes break my own rules. (Some unkind person said that he hopes that if there is a bird flu pandemic then the anti-vaccination liars will stick to their "principles" and refuse both vaccination and treatment. Natural selection might then remove them from the gene pool.)

In another discussion, this time about the deadliness of dental fillings, someone quoted the anti-vaccination liar outfit Generation Rescue, who said, inter alia that "the mercury in vaccines is injected directly into the bloodstream". Vaccines are not injected into the bloodstream, and the people at Generation Rescue know this. So why do they say it? Because they are liars, because they hope that the people they lie to will not bother to check, and because it sounds much more horrible than the truth.

The power of coincidence (4/3/2006)
I have just sent off an article about coincidence for publication in the April edition of the magazine Australasian Science. It won't be on the newsstands for a few days, but you can get a sneak preview here. I can highly recommend this magazine for the consistently high quality of its coverage of science (and I am not just saying that because they print my words). The only Australian magazine which came anywhere near it was Nature Australia, published by the Australian Museum (and either the oldest or second oldest continuously published magazine in the country, depending on whether you were talking to The Bulletin or someone at the Museum). I said "came" because the Australian Museum in its current attempt to make the institution more "relevant" has killed the magazine. Don't get me started on museums which replace real exhibits with dumbed-down stuff on computer screens to pander to visitors with nanosecond attention spans or we will be here all night.

You can't keep scum down – it floats (4/3/2006)
You would have thought that Mr William P O'Neill of the recently-exposed Canadian Cancer Research Group would have enough to do after his recent appearance on television, but someone in Ottawa found time to post the following message to a blog belonging to a friend of mine. And how do we know that it came from Ottawa? Well, that's a technical secret.

Your reference to Bowditch (known diabetic pederast) says volumes about your inability to distinguish bewteen good thinking and buggery. Bowditch will soon join his pretend friend James Randi where we can only hope and pray both will nod off with painfully terminal post surgical infections.

The court case and its aftermath (4/3/2006)
Ever since the settlement of my recent court case I have been receiving a trickle of disingenuous and transparent emails asking apparently innocent questions about it. Some of them say things like "Have you ever heard of [XYZ], what do you think of them?", and some say things like "Have you changed your mind about [XYZ]?" One ranted on about a supposed class court action against me. The latest one challenged me by declaring that I had been "emasculated". I hope (and assume, of course) that these aren't attempts to get me to break the terms of the confidential settlement by discussing its contents. If they are, they will fail.

Alan Yurko update (4/3/2006)
In January I reported that baby slaughterer Alan Yurko was back inside, this time for drug and burglary offences. A very good friend of his threatened to drag me into court for saying this, and when I referred her to the appropriate court case number she said:

Hey there Mr. Ratbags: I read what you said about Alan Yurko. didn't you ever hear of "innocent until proven guilty?". Speaking of breaking the law, there is a law that states that you cannot use a persons last name on a website without getting the persons permission. Gee, I do not remember giving it to you. Should I sue you? Hmmmm Let me think about it. I have a personal question to ask you, hope you do not mind. When you were a baby did you accidently fall on your head ? Or were you vaccinated? That could explain why you are such a vile human being. I am sure your mom is SO PROUD of you. I bet you offering to sell someones kidneys was a wake up call for her. What happened to you, Mr. Bowditch? Did something tramatic happen in your life to see the world in such a dismal way? Do you even believe in God? Or do you have a problem w/ him too? You let me know. Until then I will say a prayer for you. Hopefully whatever the problem you have going on inside of you, that made you this way, will one day go away. You could do a lot of good if you wanted to . But instead you prefer to spread your vile words on to everyone else before knowing all the facts. Peace, Caroline Stuard

Now, speaking of "innocent until proven guilty", the Orlando Sentinel, a paper which always seemed favourable to Yurko while he was languishing in a Florida prison, is telling us that his trial on drugs and burglary charges has been delayed. You may remember how, while he was in prison and therefore useful as a martyr, the anti-vaccination liars were collecting money for him and talking big about how they were going to get him work when he got out. Well, they all disappeared as soon as he was no longer useful, and now he can't raise $250 for bail. Good friends, these people.

The amount of bail seems very light for someone facing two 26-year prison sentences, but what is really bizarre is that if he gets convicted on the cocaine possession charge he faces a sentence more than three times that which he served for the death of Alan Ream. Something seems wrong with a society which treats a crime which really only harms the perpetrator much more seriously than a crime resulting in the death of a child.

Yurko update (13/3/2006)
It seems that the Orlando Sentinel got the bail wrong. It was really $2,500 (which still seems a bit light for someone charged with two 20-year-plus offences). The error could have arisen if Yurko needed to use a bail bondsman to raise the $2,500, because he would probably have to come up with 10%, or $250. Either way, none of Alan Yurko's erstwhile friends and admirers seem to be offering him any dollars.

Book review (4/3/2006)
The second promised book review is here. This week I have looked at The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris. This book examines the dangers presented to civilisation by not only conflict between religions but by religion itself. If you think that Richard Dawkins is hostile towards religion, you haven't met Sam Harris! Read the review here.

March 11, 2006

The lie won't die (11/3/2006)
One of the organisations most hated and feared by alternative medicine believers is the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which states on its web site:

The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The main purposes of this Programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

You will note that it was established by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization to "to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice", so you might wonder why it is of such concern to promoters of quackery. Well, it's because it is apparently a great secret conspiracy by the pharmaceutical companies and the US Federal Drug Administration (and the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration) to prevent people having access to vitamins and dietary supplements. I have been told, for example, that because of Codex it is illegal to sell Vitamin C tablets in Australia which contain more than 100mg and the price is fourteen times what it is in Canada, a country which has rejected Codex. This may be news to Nature's Own, who seem to be selling 1000mg tablets at $14.40 for a bottle of 50.

Other problems with the conspiracy are that the commission is made up of 160 countries (including Canada!) and no pharmaceutical companies (the secret list is published on the Codex web site), the details of the representatives are freely available (and, strangely, the FDA and TGA don't get to send anyone but the US Department of Agriculture and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry do), the times and agendas of the secret meetings are publicised (the next meeting is in New Zealand next week and will discuss milk), the meetings are open to the public, and all minutes of meetings and publications are freely available.

All of this could of course just be a smokescreen for the real Codex agenda – the virtual banning of vitamins and supplements. If it is then Codex is very inefficient, as it seems that it has only been able to produce three pages of regulations in 43 years. Three pages!

The best and most rationally argued opposition to Codex comes from John Hammell of International Advocates for Health Freedom. John has done much research into the conspiracy, and he is often cited by proponents of alternative medicine as an authority on the matter. The quality of John's research and scholarship can be seen in his statement about people like me, whom he says:

... are in constant communication with the FDA, and the FDA's international counterparts which are all networked via the UN's International Council on Drug Regulating Authorities- which is run directly by the Council- the Illuminati- the small group who seek total control of our lives and who are pushing very hard now to impose a dictatorial world government on us via the UN, whose chief is Satan, the father of lies- who is making a major bid right now to control all of our souls as he seeks to force us into a microchipped, psychocivilized society under mind control.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Where the bloody hell is their sense of humour? (11/3/2006)
The people responsible for promoting Australia's inbound tourism business have created a new set of advertisements to be shown in other countries to encourage the denizens to spend their holiday dollars here. The catch phrase for the campaign is "So where the bloody hell are you?" When this was first announced many Australians had a little cringe and thought "Oh, no, here goes the stereotyping again", but we fondly remember that old "Toss a shrimp on the barbie" campaign of a few years ago. Nobody liked that until the Boeings started unloading large numbers of visitors with handfuls of cash, although we still have to correct foreigners who think that anyone here actually uses the word "shrimp" when talking about prawns.

My town on New Year's Eve.

It was Britain which gave us Benny Hill, films with names like Carry On Up The Khyber and The Life of Brian, Billy Connolly, the Sex Pistols, the television show Little Britain, ... Now it seems that a rash of prudishness has broken out and the poor old Poms would collapse in horror if they were to hear the word "bloody" on television. The news this week is that the word has to be censored out of the advertisements shown on British television, leaving behind the image of a pretty girl saying "So where the (silence while lips mime the word "bloody) hell are you?" The beauty of this is that it has created more publicity than the budget for advertisements could afford to buy. I suppose we are luckier than others, though. I imagine that tribe of African pygmies would have trouble with their tourism ads as well. You know, the ones that show them walking around in the long grass saying "We're the F'kawi".

Censorship is always a bit silly, but sometimes the silliness reaches the level of ridiculousness. This is one of those times. I wonder if religious loons will object to the word "hell" when the advertisements are shown in the US.

Mad dogs and Englishmen can hear about the bloody sun (18/3/2006)
I mentioned last week that a new advertising campaign to encourage tourists to come to Australia had fallen foul of the English censors and could not be shown on British television unless the word "bloody" was excised. There has been an outbreak of sanity and the decision has been reversed, allowing the word to fall from the lips of a pretty girl onto delicate Pom ears. I have removed the filter which blocked visitors with UK-based IP addresses from viewing this site now that I know that it is officially permitted to allow them to see or hear the dreadful word.

Foul-mouthed Aussie sheila in an advertisement.
Foul-mouthed Aussie sheila in an advertisement.

Speaking of religious loons ... (11/3/2006)
Last weekend was a big time for Australian gaydom. First, there was the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on Saturday night, one of the city's best fun nights out. (One person who attended told me that she had never seen so many "men in chaps". I hope that she was talking about those leather pants that cowboys wear.) Then on Sunday night someone else's time there were the Academy Awards presentations, where Heath Ledger was a hot tip to pick up a Best Actor Oscar for playing a homosexual cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. Heath missed out, which was a disappointment to most people but not to a bunch of Melbourne religious nutters called the Salt Shakers. Here is their announcement of satisfaction:

Brokeback Mountain goes broke on Oscar night - Praise the Lord.

Homosexual rape and deception movie Brokeback Mountain was touted to pick up 8 awards at Sundays Oscars, including best actor and best picture, but it received only three minor awards. Transamerica, a movie about a transvestite, was also nominated in the best actress category - it also missed out.

What was surprising, was the lack of publicity the major papers gave to the failure or these movies to rate after pounding the column inches about how good they were, especially Brokeback, for many weeks.

Many Christian groups in the US were praying against these movies gaining success at the Oscars, God answered their prayers. Clearly the majority of voters were not willing to give homosexuality their seal of approval.

It seems that the Salt Shakers and the "many Christian groups in the US" might have missed the news about the Best Actor statue going to Philip Seymour Hoffman. For playing Truman Capote. Who was about as straight as a knotted corkscrew.

Incoherent email of the week (11/3/2006)
I needed brightening up after a hard week, then this came in. I think it is referring to what I had to say about some child abusers and about Benny Hinn. Read! Enjoy!

Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2006 12:13:10 -0800
From: Alicia Heald

where in the hell are you from? the steven club? the ones who diss the president and the Christians? well back off our little hineys! I swear, if you don't take those pictures of those kids with chicken pox (I don't care if the parents showed them or not!) I will nail you with child abuse my self you dumb ass! and for the parents, they'll get it too!

okay, Benny Hind may be a fraud, I have no clue, but don't be saying that Christians are weird because we talk to God. Well, listen buddy, you need to shut your little pie hole and learn more about what God did for you! I'm not calling you stupid, but in this case I am so perturbed with you, I mise well! you don't worth a nickel about God. I am a Christian but when I get really angry with people who do cred like this on the internet (oh yeah, I know it's your freedom of speech, but guess what, you'll wish you hadn't wrote any of that Crap about abuse or Benny Hind! Cuz I'll take you to court and sue you're little hiney!) I get really mean and cuss at you up one side and down the other! bye bye mr. satan evil back stabbing bitch.

oh, if you want to email me, look up John 3.16 and tell me what it means! oh and verse 17!


Love you all!
Don't be afraid of dying, be afraid of the unlived life.
You don't have to live forever, you just have to live.

Was that a threat of legal action I saw? If so, it requires:

A competition (11/3/2006)
I have no idea what the author of that message meant by "the steven club". (I assume that it is not Project Steve at the National Center for Science Education.) Readers are invited to offer suggestions for the aims and activities of this club as they would relate to the content of the email above. The winning entry (and probably all the others as well) will be published here in about three weeks. There is no prize other than the glory of publicity.

A clear winner(11/3/2006)
Someone who is always a winner (in the idiocy stakes) is our old friend, the Gutless Anonymous Liar. (I had thought that the recent television embarrassment of GAL's amanuensis would have given it something else to worry about, but it seems I was wrong.)

GAL has been amusing itself by reading Blogs, and it sent the following messages to some Blog operators. One of them was me (although it might have thought (if I can use that word when talking about GAL) that the operator was someone else), and it said:

I win! Bowditch found guilty! Now he faces damages and costs, not to mention hsi recently self-stress induced diabetes. Funny? Whats comes around, goes around!

The other was sent to a Blog run by a friend of mine:

Bowditch, known locally as BowFuck, recently lost his bid to libel and defame [XYZ]. [XYZ] beat his sorry ass in court, won a retraction, damages and costs. Bowfuck has filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying his debts to society....

I was talking to my old actor friend Bugs Bunny at an after-Oscars party and I mentioned GAL and its exploits. Bugs reprised one of his old lines and I was lucky enough to record it.

March 18, 2006

What don't we know and when don't we know it? (18/3/2006)
The fundamental difference between science and pseudoscience is that science recognises that there are things which are not (yet) known, whereas pseudoscience has the answers (although those answers might be suppressed by the orthodoxy). In fact, what science is is a search for the answers to unanswered questions. One of the most important articles about science to be published in the last few years appeared in the July 2005 edition of the magazine Science. The editors of the magazine selected 125 unanswered questions (125 because 2005 was the 125th anniversary of the magazine) and then distilled this list down to twenty-five for further discussion. In an accompanying editorial, editor in chief Donald Kennedy said: "The choice reflects our belief that questions are more important than answers in shaping the future of science. Research is about answers, but science is about questions". The reason I say that this one of most important articles about science is that if there is a single message which scientists have to send to the "outside world" it is that there is no shame in saying "I don't know". Here are the twenty-five questions chosen:

  1. What is the universe made of?
  2. What is the biological basis of consciousness?
  3. Why do humans have so few genes?
  4. To what extent are genetic variation and personal health linked?
  5. Can the laws of physics be unified?
  6. How much can human life span be extended?
  7. What controls organ regeneration?
  8. How can a skin cell become a nerve cell?
  9. How does a single somatic cell become a whole plant?
  10. How does Earth's interior work?
  11. Are we alone in the universe?
  12. How and where did life on Earth arise?
  13. What determines species diversity?
  14. What genetic changes made us uniquely human?
  15. How are memories stored and retrieved?
  16. How did cooperative behaviour evolve?
  17. How will big pictures emerge from a sea of biological data?
  18. How far can we push chemical self-assembly?
  19. What are the limits of conventional computing?
  20. Can we selectively shut off immune responses?
  21. Do deeper principles underlie quantum uncertainty and nonlocality?
  22. Is an effective HIV vaccine feasible?
  23. How hot will the greenhouse world be?
  24. What can replace cheap oil – and when?
  25. Will Malthus continue to be wrong?

(Thank you to Science for the original work and to Skeptical Inquirer for reminding me about it.)

When looking for the answer goes wrong (18/3/2006)
Sometimes the search for answers can lead to complications. In some cases these complications can be disastrous, and an example of that happened last week in a clinical trial in the UK of a new medication called TGN 1412 being developed to treat chronic inflammatory conditions and leukaemia. Of eight subjects in the Phase 1 part of the trial, six suffered a reaction severe enough to put them in hospital, four of them into intensive care. The two subjects who had received the placebo suffered no ill effects at all. Any day now I expect promoters of quackery to start screeching about how this terrible incident demonstrates the dangers of real medicines, but Phase 1 is the stage when drugs are first tried on human subjects, and there is always a risk of something going wrong at this point. As can be seen from the table below, the number of test subjects increases as safety and efficacy are demonstrated, with the final phase being after-market scrutiny and collection of adverse reactions and interaction problems with other drugs. (A similar thing happens with software development, where even a company the size of Microsoft can only test in at most a few thousand environments before letting it loose on millions of people with millions of different operating and usage conditions.) The alternative medicine approach is to go straight to public distribution (and to then forget to collect any adverse reaction reports). I know which method I prefer when it comes to testing the medications I take, even with the risks associated with problems being both discovered and missed in the clinical trial process.

  • PRE-CLINICAL "Candidate" compounds are screened in the laboratory using computer modelling and tissue samples to determine which are likely to work in humans. They are then tested in at least two species of animals to establish whether they work, how they are metabolised and any side effects.
  • PHASE 1 After approval from an ethics committee and a health authority (the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia), the most promising drug candidates are tested in small groups of people. This is often in healthy volunteers, usually young, non-smoking men of normal body weight. For some life-threatening diseases – cancer, in particular – Phase 1 tests are conducted in terminally ill patients. Only about one in five Phase 1-tested drugs is ever marketed.
  • PHASE 2 The drug is tested on a slightly larger group of people with an illness to see whether it appears to work, and to confirm its safety, tolerability and dosage requirements.
  • PHASE 3 The drug is tested in hundreds or thousands of patients, often in hospitals all over the world. Some patients get placebos, while others receive the drug. Neither doctors nor patients know which is which, allowing an unbiased analysis of response to the treatment and side effects. Trials may also study how well the drug works compared with existing therapies and how it stacks up economically and in quality-of-life terms. Most drugs that reach this phase are marketed.
  • PHASE 4 After a drug receives regulatory approval and is in routine practice, surveillance studies may reveal any rare side effects or extra benefits.

(Thank you to the Sydney Morning Herald for this list. Any errors are theirs.)

Book review (18/3/2006)
I was hoping to publish the third book review in my series of books looking at religion this week, but I had heard something about the author which seemed to conflict with what he had written in an earlier book. (It was nothing bad – he may just be the subject of an urban myth.) Because I particularly wanted to mention this issue and I like to have my facts correct, I need to write to author Terry Lane for some clarification. The review will be here as soon as I have cleared up this small matter.

A good cause (18/3/2006)
I had to spend some unplanned time this weekend at the Westmead Children's' Hospital, time that would normally have been spent writing stuff for this site. Going there reminded me that the annual Bandaged Bear Day appeal is now on to raise money for the hospital (one of the recipients of a share of donations to this site). Here is what the hospital says about the appeal:

The 17th annual Bandaged Bear Day Appeal will be held on Friday March 31, 2006. The Children's Hospital at Westmead is aiming to raise over $750,000 from the campaign with all proceeds going directly to the Hospital. It is only through public support that these funds can be contributed towards the care of thousands of sick kids who visit us each year.

I know from experience that this place does good work. Give! Generously!

The DUHllness of an alternative medicine supporter (18/3/2006)
Mr O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group has been scurrying around Blogs looking for mentions of my name, and in his latest outing has threatened to blackmail someone for linking to this site. He also spent some time lately (anonymously) attacking a Dr Terry Polevoy by spreading rumours that Dr Polevoy is somehow under investigation by Canadian health authorities. Perhaps Mr O'Neill thinks that attacking everyone who is critical of him might distract attention from his recent embarrassing appearance on television, where he was videotaped making some outrageous claims about curing cancer and then simply denied ever saying what had been recorded when asked about it later.

When Mr O'Neill posted his anonymous attack on Dr Polevoy to the Usenet group, someone who dislikes Dr Polevoy (for no reasons other that someone else dislikes him and that he has an association with Dr Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch) posted the following response:

Speaking of This Individual

What a total creep he is.

From his LYING website:

Skeptical Inquirer magazine : Sep 2003

The Ongoing Problem with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The problem with so-called Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in a nutshell, is that it is an assortment of implausible, dishonest, expensive, and sometimes dangerous claims that are exuberantly promoted to a scientifically na´ve public. The NCCAM, so far, has not been part of the solution.

Acknowledgments The author is indebted to Wallace Sampson and Elizabeth Woeckner for invaluable discussions and for tips on hard-to-find sources related to the content of this article.

B A R F.

I politely pointed out that this was not Dr Polevoy's web site, Dr Polevoy did not write the article, and Dr Polevoy was not mentioned anywhere in the article. The response I got to saying that it was not his site was to be told "Do read for comprehension" followed by the repetition of the words "From his LYING website:", and the other two comments elicited the reply "DUH". It is impossible to have any form of discussion with someone who makes up the rules of conversation as they go along, but this is typical of people who promote or support bizarre or impossible ideas in science, medicine, politics or any other field of human interest. Some people will say that there is a problem with critical thinking, but there needs to be some sort of thinking there first before any adjective can be applied to it.

Radio resurrection (18/3/2006)
Thanks to Jim from the UK skeptical organisation Association for Skeptical Enquiry who had a copy and Richard from Mystery Investigators who was able to reduce the size of the sound file by about 70%, I now have a recording of a radio show I did with John Cleary on ABC Radio in Sydney in November, 2004. I was on air with a lady who runs a school for alternative medicine practitioners.

You can hear the interview here

March 27, 2006

This week's set of excuses (27/3/2006)
This week's update to this site has been delayed for the following reasons:

So how was your weekend?


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