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PreviousNextUpdates made to The Millenium Project in January 2010
Part 1

January 4, 2010

Anti-vaccination liar sues (4/1/2010)
When your argument is poor or backed by no science or truth, a useful way of responding to criticism is to attempt to stifle the criticism. It is axiomatic that the arguments put forward by anti-vaccination liars are poor and unscientific, so it comes as no surprise to find that Barbara Loe Fisher of the deceptively-named National Vaccine Information Center should respond to criticism of her and her child-endangering activities by calling in the lawyers. She is suing Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and Condé Nast (publishers of Wired magazine) for telling the truth about vaccines. You can read the legal filing here. The article in Wired which so offended Ms Fisher can be seen here.

I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that Ms Fisher is not taking action to recover damages or to protect her reputation (which is that of a promoter of disease, death and disability anyway), but to silence the defendants, cost them money, and divert their time from their real jobs to spending time in court.

I have been told that people classified as "public figures" have a limited ability to sue for defamation in the US, and this fact (if it is a fact) is continually presented to me by quackonauts as a reason for certain opponents of quackery losing defamation actions they have brought against those who would prefer to attack them rather than debate them. If "comment about a public figure" is really a useful defence tactic, then Ms Fisher could be setting herself up to lose by explicitly declaring herself to be a public figure. Consider these words from Paragraph 1 of the complaint:

Plaintiff Barbara Loe Fisher is the cofounder and acting president of the National Vaccine Information Center ("NVIC"). NVIC is a non-profit organization founded in 1982 and dedicated to the prevention of vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to defending each patient's right to voluntary, fully informed consent to vaccination. Publicly active on issues concerning mandatory vaccination and harms linked to vaccines for the past 28 years, Plaintiff Fisher is a public interest advocate, public speaker, media source for information about mandatory vaccination and harms linked to vaccines, and author of books and articles. She has been consulted repeatedly by public health agencies, including those of the federal government agencies, on those same issues.

That certainly sounds like a prominent public figure to me.

Then there's the matter of jurisdiction. Ms Fisher is suing in the state of Virginia despite the fact that the defendants are all elsewhere. To achieve this she has plucked a figure of $1,000,000 out of the air as an amount of damages claimed (there is no way she could have incurred a million dollars worth of loss from the article in Wired, so add this to the lies that Ms Fisher is prepared to tell), thus bringing the suit within the reach of the Federal court system. (Claiming the minimum of $75,000 would have made the strategy too obvious.) Of course she didn't have to do that in the case of Condé Nast, because web sites can be read anywhere. Perhaps she might consider suing them in England if she loses this case; apparently defamation jurisdiction shopping is big business there. As I said, the figure of $1,000,000 was just made up, but as long as it exceeds the $75,000 necessary to bring the suit within Federal jurisdiction she forces the defendants to travel to hearings and to employ local lawyers who are licensed to practise in Virginia (which means travel for legal consultations as well as court appearances). All of this adds to the defendants' costs and inconvenience and extends the time that the action is alive, time which can be used by anti-vaccination liars to scream about how Dr Offit and Ms Wallace are being sued. Normal practice would also be for the defendants to be restrained from talking about Ms Fisher during the duration of the trial, and while Ms Fisher would be under similar restraint this will not stop her friends from using the fact of the case to demean and attack Dr Offit and Ms Wallace. (I have had personal experience of this when I was sued and could not talk about the plaintiff but the plaintiff's "friends" were able to lie remorselessly about the case and even widely distribute email messages headed by titles like "Death to Ratbags".)

The other thing I have been told about US defamation law is that truth is a defence. If Ms Fisher doesn't like being called a liar and someone who endangers the lives of children then she should stop publishing lies about vaccines. Does she really want her dubious "science" to be closely examined in court? Somehow I don't think so.

My prediction is that this action might never get to court but will take a long time before it is withdrawn, a long time during which Dr Offit and Ms Wallace can be attacked over it. (Again, I have had this experience personally, where there are still web sites displaying the original legal claim but almost none displaying the withdrawal.) If it does get to court it will fail, but the objective of disadvantaging the defendants will have been achieved, and in any case, the anti-vaccination liars will simply "forget" to mention the decision. (Yet again, this has happened to me.)

So here are some points for Barbara Loe Fisher to consider:

For the anti-vaccinationists (4/1/2010)

Fractal Wrongness

The 2009 Millenium Awards (4/1/2010)
The Millenium Awards for 2009 have been announced. Enjoy!

January 9, 2010

Anti-vax hypocrisy (9/1/2010)
Irony meters were shattered across the Internet when Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center published a screed on the NVIC site and elsewhere headed "2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination". I will remind you that it has been less than three weeks since Fisher sued Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and publisher Condé Nast because she was afraid of their conversation. Even I was amazed at the blatant hypocrisy of someone asking for a free exchange of ideas while suing someone for expressing ideas. I wasn't too amazed, of course, because long experience has taught me that pragmatism always overcomes society's principles with anti-vaccination liars. I was also less than amazed that Fisher would hijack the tragedy of September 11, 2001, to her deranged cause, or that she would invoke the name of Franklin D Roosevelt while ignoring the fact that vaccines prevent the disease which crippled him.

As my comments about the article posted on the NVIC site, Age of Autism and Fisher's own blog didn't manage to get through the approval process and as I just happen to have an email address for Fisher, I thought a Kind and Gentle email was in order.

Dear Ms Fisher,

I am writing to you about your article "2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination" which has appeared in several places. I am emailing you directly because there seems to be technical problems at the NVIC site, Age of Autism and your blog which have prevented my comments from being published. I assume that the problems are technical as I understand your want "fearless conversation" and are therefore opposed to censoring contrary views.

This brings me to my question. There is much publicity about your lawsuit against Dr Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Condé Nast. How does your suing a doctor, a journalist and a news publisher fit in with your need for a "fearless conversation"? It seems to suggest that you must be fearful of something. I would hate to think that you are just a hypocrite who wants different rules to apply to different people.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

While I'm in a Kind and Gentle mood, I thought I would get in touch with the lawyer handling the case against Dr Offit et al. His name is Jonathon Emord, and on his web site he lists a lot of papers he has published about freedom of speech and unequivocally states "Emord has maintained an abiding conviction to achieve full First Amendment protection for the freedoms of speech and press". That seems rather clear to me, but it doesn't seem to fit in with initiating court cases which attempt to stifle "freedoms of speech and the press".

Dear Mr Emord,

I see on your web site that you have "maintained an abiding conviction to achieve full First Amendment protection for the freedoms of speech and press". This seems strangely inconsistent with the fact that you appear to be the lawyer acting for Ms Barbara Loe Fisher in her attempt to silence the press and her critics. I realise that there are subtle nuances in the law that might not be apparent to a layman, but there does seem to be a contradiction between your expressed enthusiasm for free speech and your active involvement in Ms Fisher's case against Dr Offit et al. I know that lawyers often have to take on matters which are distasteful (particularly in criminal cases), but surely you should have been able to find a lawyer with less commitment to the ideals of free speech than yourself to handle Ms Fisher's assault on the principle.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

Your stars for 2010 (9/1/2010)
The highly-trained staff at Ratbags Spiritual Retreat were not idle over the holiday break and have been making the abacus and astrolabe smoke as they prepared their astrological predictions for 2010. If your star sign isn't here, pick another one.

Capricorn – You will have in infestation of horny goat weed in your lawn but as you do not need it for your love life a dose of Roundup will fix the problem. Your lucky lotto numbers are 1, 9, 13, 21, 25 and 37. You will have good luck seven days either side of a full moon.

Aquarius – You are the water carrier, so you will be able to wash your car in Sydney but you will not be allowed to hose your paths or driveway. Lucky lotto numbers are 2, 10, 14, 22, 26 and 38. Lucky moon phases are the week following a full moon and the week following last quarter.

Pisces – You should pay particular attention to the quality of water in your swimming pool to avoid fin rot, and be careful you don't get caught in the sunken pirate ship. Lotto numbers for you are 3, 11, 15, 23, 27 and 39. Favourable tides will occur seven days before and after the new moon.

Aries – In contract negotiations you will be accused of woolly thinking and trying to ram your opinions through. Tell your critics to butt out. Tick the lotto boxes for 4, 12, 16, 24, 28 and 40. Night-time activities will become easier as the light improves in the fortnight leading up to the full moon.

Taurus – In some discussions your opinions will be rejected with indirect reference to your star sign, even if the person does not know your birthday. Be careful where you step when walking in strange meadows. You will be able to see the ground better at night in the week either side of a full moon, and you will not be at a disadvantage by picking 1, 5, 13, 17, 25 and 29 in lotto.

Gemini – People say that bad luck comes in threes but for you it will come in twos, as will good luck. The good luck extends to your lotto numbers, which are all divisible by two – 2, 6, 14, 18, 26 and 30. There are also two favourable moon phases – seven days after a full moon and a week before the new moon.

Cancer – Stop smoking, stay out of the sun and consume plenty of anti-oxidants. Be careful who you get romantically involved with and see your doctor immediately if you develop an intense itch inside your underpants. Romance will blossom in the dim light of the fortnight surrounding the new moon, and the numbers 3, 7, 15, 19, 27 and 31 look auspicious.

Leo – People will make jokes about how you like your meat raw and spend your time just lyin' on the couch, but ladies will call you "The Main Event". You will not like puns any better at the end of 2010 than you do at the start of the year. Take pride in the week leading up to the moon's first quarter and the week following, and the lotto numbers 4, 8, 16, 20, 28 and 32 should give you pause for thought.

Virgo – If you are not a Virgo at the start of the year then little can be done to change the situation, but if you want to still be a Virgo at the end of the year you should avoid Capricorns, especially if you see one eating the grass in his back yard. You need to be extra careful in the weeks before and after a full moon as these are times when both you and Capricorns get lucky. Lotto numbers 5, 9, 17, 21, 29 and 33 might look a little odd but try them anyway.

Libra – You will forget to return a book to the library and the librarian will be understanding, although you might have to pay a small fine. The balance in your life is shown by your even lotto numbers – 6, 10, 18, 22, 30 and 34 – and the way your lucky moon phase is exactly seven days either side of last quarter.

Scorpio – Be careful in the last months of the year because the sting is in the tail. If you are looking for romance then Cancer will be sympathetic to the "many legs" problem, but if you are attracted to a Capricorn make sure it is Roundup he is spraying the grass with and not Mortein. Lucky lotto numbers are 7, 11, 19, 23, 31 and 35 and your best moon phases are the week after last quarter and the seven days before first quarter.

Sagittarius – When you look back on your achievements at the end of 2010 you will be able to take a bow, and your friends will accept some horseplay at the work Christmas party. You will find Leos sympathetic when people mention your hoarse voice. For lotto you should target the numbers 7, 11, 19, 23, 31 and 35 and things will get brighter for you in the fourteen days leading up to a full moon.

More anti-vaccination deception (9/1/2010)
More misinformation about vaccines has appeared in my local paper in the form of a letter from Bronwyn Hancock of the Vaccination Information Service. The letterHere is the text of the letter so that the search engines can find it.

Vaccination politics

I have been following the discussion on vaccination between Jamie Benaud and Dr Viera Scheibner (latest: Benaud, BMG 9.l .09) and l believe that Jamie would benefit from much greater awareness of medical politics.

Most of us have assumed that there is true scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. However when we study relevant scientific literature what matters is the data. not authors' conclusions, which can be heavily politically influenced.

Accordingly, SIDS data provided even by those alleging a protective effect of vaccines (eg. Mitchell et al, Arch Dis Child 1995) reveals a clustering of deaths around the same critical days that Dr Scheibner observed in low-volume (stress -induced) breathing after vaccination.

Polio is described as a "20th century disease" because the first recorded epidemic was not until 1887. This was soon after mass smallpox vaccination began. It is vaccines and other intramuscular injections that provoke polio. often called "provocation poliomyelitis" in medical research. Polio deaths in Australia fell from 346 in l95l to 30 in l955. In July 1956 polio vaccination began and deaths increased again that year to 57. However polio was subsequently renamed "viral meningitis", "cerebral palsy", etc (by the CDC's own admission). Thus medical politics "wiped out'' polio.

Whilst more vaccines are given now, government figures show vaccination coverage in 1990 was similar to today. However when a new vaccine is added to the schedule, temporarily few children are "fully vaccinated", artificially giving the false impression of low coverage. 'This too has been used for political ends.

Bronwyn Hancock,
Vaccination Information Service,

Here is my letter to the editor of the paper:

I see that Dr Viera Scheibner has called in reinforcements from elsewhere in the Australian anti-vaccination community (BMG Dec 22). As I have been dealing with these people for some time I have become familiar with their tactics, so I was not surprised to see Bronwyn Hancock commit the usual abuse of citations in scientific literature.

As an example, Ms Hancock offers the citation "Mitchell et al, Arch Dis Child 1995" as some sort of support for her position that SIDS is related to vaccination. The paper in question was headed "Are nappy sterilisers associated with SIDS? New Zealand Cot Death Study Group" and the abstract in its entirety says "Chemicals used to clean nappies have been suggested as a cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Parents of 393 cases and 1592 controls were questioned about nappy cleaning procedures. Soaking in sterilisers followed by rinsing in water had a relative risk of 0.91 compared with other cleaning procedures. Nappy cleaning methods are not related to SIDS". Ms Hancock assumed that nobody would check, and I leave it up to the readers to decide if the study had any relevance to vaccines.

Elsewhere, Ms Hancock says "polio was subsequently renamed 'viral meningitis', 'cerebral palsy', etc (by the CDC's own admission). Thus medical politics 'wiped out' polio". I challenge Ms Hancock to produce evidence that the CDC ever said such a ridiculous thing. It is an insult to people with cerebral palsy to make the idiotic statement that it is simply a renaming of polio for political reasons, just as it is an insult to the intelligence and integrity of doctors who know that polio and CP are different conditions.

Ms Hancock also peddles the lie that vaccines cause the signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and has in fact told me that it is impossible to harm a baby by shaking it. Not difficult – impossible!

These are the sort of matters which need to be considered when evaluating anything Ms Hancock has to say about vaccines. We have had at least one well-publicised death of a child from vaccine-preventable disease in NSW this year. If Dr Scheibner and Ms Hancock get their way there will be many more.

I also wrote to Ms Hancock requesting clarification.

In a letter to the Blue Mountains Gazette published on December 22 you said: "polio was subsequently renamed "viral meningitis", "cerebral palsy", etc (by the CDC's own admission)".

Could you please tell me where I can see the actual statement from the CDC. I would prefer to see it in some official communication from the CDC rather than be pointed to someone else simply citing or quoting the CDC.

Thank you.

Homeopathy hilarity (9/1/2010)
If you Nocturawere to take something for insomnia, what is the last thing you would want to hear about it? You would want to know it was safe, of course, but you would also probably like to know that it would be effective. I therefore have to congratulate Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy for the extreme honesty shown in the description of their Noctura insomnia relief product. We all know that homeopathy is a fraud and properly prepared homeopathic "medicines" don't do anything, least of all that which they are supposed to treat. It is not often, however, that the admission of inefficacy is shown right there in the product information.

That's right, in the product information for Noctura on Nelsons' own web site it says:

Does not cause drowsiness!

"Does not cause drowsiness"! "Does not cause drowsiness"! Of course it doesn't, because it does nothing, but this is a pretty damning, silly thing to put on a packet of insomnia relief tablets. I can't help myself, I just have to say it again: "Does not cause drowsiness"!

Speaking of homeopathy ... (9/1/2010)

Writing elsewhere (9/1/2010)
The writing for other places continued while The Millenium Project was having its Christmas break. There were a couple of articles for the Yahoo!7 News blog, one on the Power Balance bracelet scam and another giving my psychic predictions for 2010 plus the horoscope you can see up the page here. It's worthwhile following the links to the Yahoo!7 site to see the comments. The ones on the predictions strongly suggest that either I should stop trying to be funny or I should look for an audience who can read. One of the comments on the Power Balance article had a very familiar ring to it:

No truth! No courage! No value!7News and Peter GoonDitch?

Do the good people at 7News know who Bowditch is? Do they know of the multiple defamation lawsuits? Do they know he spent 18 months incarcerated for aggravated assault? Do they know he is a lying, hateful charlatan?

I have never been sued for defamation and I have never been in prison, but neither of these facts have ever bothered Mr William P O'Nonymous, have they?

The other pieces of my writing to appear recently were the Naked Skeptic columns in the November/December and January/February issues of Australasian Science magazine. The December column was a nostalgic look back at a decade of skepticism. The January one was a version of the talk I had prepared but didn't present to the 2009 Australian Skeptics convention. It's about the perception of risk and you can read it here.

Blasphemy (9/1/2010)
On January 1, 2010, blasphemy became a crime in Ireland. Quite understandably, there has been a backlash by people living in the 21st century. One approach has been to publish blatantly blasphemous statements by some famous people.

List of 25 Blasphemous Quotes Published by Atheist Ireland

  1. Jesus Christ, when asked if he was the son of God, in Matthew 26:64: "Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." According to the Christian Bible, the Jewish chief priests and elders and council deemed this statement by Jesus to be blasphemous, and they sentenced Jesus to death for saying it.
  2. Jesus Christ, talking to Jews about their God, in John 8:44: "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him." This is one of several chapters in the Christian Bible that can give a scriptural foundation to Christian anti-Semitism. The first part of John 8, the story of "whoever is without sin cast the first stone", was not in the original version, but was added centuries later. The original John 8 is a debate between Jesus and some Jews. In brief, Jesus calls the Jews who disbelieve him sons of the Devil, the Jews try to stone him, and Jesus runs away and hides.
  3. Muhammad, quoted in Hadith of Bukhari, Vol 1 Book 8 Hadith 427: "May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their prophets." This quote is attributed to Muhammad on his death-bed as a warning to Muslims not to copy this practice of the Jews and Christians. It is one of several passages in the Qur'an and in Hadith that can give a scriptural foundation to Islamic anti-Semitism, including the assertion in Sura 5:60 that Allah cursed Jews and turned some of them into apes and swine.
  4. Mark Twain, describing the Christian Bible in Letters from the Earth, 1909: "Also it has another name – The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies… But you notice that when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, adored Father of Man, goes to war, there is no limit. He is totally without mercy – he, who is called the Fountain of Mercy. He slays, slays, slays! All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies; also all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. He makes no distinction between innocent and guilty… What the insane Father required was blood and misery; he was indifferent as to who furnished it." Twain's book was published posthumously in 1939. His daughter, Clara Clemens, at first objected to it being published, but later changed her mind in 1960 when she believed that public opinion had grown more tolerant of the expression of such ideas. That was half a century before Fianna Fail and the Green Party imposed a new blasphemy law on the people of Ireland.
  5. Tom Lehrer, The Vatican Rag, 1963: "Get in line in that processional, step into that small confessional. There, the guy who's got religion'll tell you if your sin's original. If it is, try playing it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer. Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!"
  6. Randy Newman, God's Song, 1972: "And the Lord said: I burn down your cities – how blind you must be. I take from you your children, and you say how blessed are we. You all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That's why I love mankind."
  7. James Kirkup, The Love That Dares to Speak its Name, 1976: "While they prepared the tomb I kept guard over him. His mother and the Magdalen had gone to fetch clean linen to shroud his nakedness. I was alone with him… I laid my lips around the tip of that great cock, the instrument of our salvation, our eternal joy. The shaft, still throbbed, anointed with death's final ejaculation." This extract is from a poem that led to the last successful blasphemy prosecution in Britain, when Denis Lemon was given a suspended prison sentence after he published it in the now-defunct magazine Gay News. In 2002, a public reading of the poem, on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, failed to lead to any prosecution. In 2008, the British Parliament abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.
  8. Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python's Life of Brian, 1979: "Look, I had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah."
  9. Rev Ian Paisley MEP to the Pope in the European Parliament, 1988: "I denounce you as the Antichrist." Paisley's website describes the Antichrist as being "a liar, the true son of the father of lies, the original liar from the beginning… he will imitate Christ, a diabolical imitation, Satan transformed into an angel of light, which will deceive the world."
  10. Conor Cruise O'Brien, 1989: "In the last century the Arab thinker Jamal al-Afghani wrote: 'Every Muslim is sick and his only remedy is in the Qur'an.' Unfortunately the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken."
  11. Frank Zappa, 1989: "If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine – but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you've been bad or good – and cares about any of it – to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working."
  12. Salman Rushdie, 1990: "The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes." In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because of blasphemous passages in Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses.
  13. Bjork, 1995: "I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I've been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren't lesser beings, they're just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists."
  14. Amanda Donohoe on her role in the Ken Russell movie Lair of the White Worm, 1995: "Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can't embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world."
  15. George Carlin, 1999: "Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!".
  16. Paul Woodfull as Ding Dong Denny O'Reilly, The Ballad of Jaysus Christ, 2000: "He said me ma's a virgin and sure no one disagreed, Cause they knew a lad who walks on water's handy with his feet… Jaysus oh Jaysus, as cool as bleedin' ice, With all the scrubbers in Israel he could not be enticed, Jaysus oh Jaysus, it's funny you never rode, Cause it's you I do be shoutin' for each time I shoot me load."
  17. Jesus Christ, in Jerry Springer The Opera, 2003: "Actually, I'm a bit gay." In 2005, the Christian Institute tried to bring a prosecution against the BBC for screening Jerry Springer the Opera, but the UK courts refused to issue a summons.
  18. Tim Minchin, Ten-foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins, 2005: "So you're gonna live in paradise, With a ten-foot cock and a few hundred virgins, So you're gonna sacrifice your life, For a shot at the greener grass, And when the Lord comes down with his shiny rod of judgment, He's gonna kick my heathen ass."
  19. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 2006: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." In 2007 Turkish publisher Erol Karaaslan was charged with the crime of insulting believers for publishing a Turkish translation of The God Delusion. He was acquitted in 2008, but another charge was brought in 2009. Karaaslan told the court that "it is a right to criticise religions and beliefs as part of the freedom of thought and expression."
  20. Pope Benedict XVI quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor, 2006: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." This statement has already led to both outrage and condemnation of the outrage. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Muslim body, said it was a "character assassination of the prophet Muhammad". The Malaysian Prime Minister said that "the Pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created." Pakistan's foreign Ministry spokesperson said that "anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence". The European Commission said that "reactions which are disproportionate and which are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable."
  21. Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great, 2007: "There is some question as to whether Islam is a separate religion at all… Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require… It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or 'surrender' as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing-absolutely nothing-in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption."
  22. PZ Myers, on the Roman Catholic communion host, 2008: "You would not believe how many people are writing to me, insisting that these horrible little crackers (they look like flattened bits of styrofoam) are literally pieces of their god, and that this omnipotent being who created the universe can actually be seriously harmed by some third-rate liberal intellectual at a third-rate university… However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus's tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel."
  23. Ian O'Doherty, 2009: "(If defamation of religion was illegal) it would be a crime for me to say that the notion of transubstantiation is so ridiculous that even a small child should be able to see the insanity and utter physical impossibility of a piece of bread and some wine somehow taking on corporeal form. It would be a crime for me to say that Islam is a backward desert superstition that has no place in modern, enlightened Europe and it would be a crime to point out that Jewish settlers in Israel who believe they have a God given right to take the land are, frankly, mad. All the above assertions will, no doubt, offend someone or other."
  24. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, 2009: "Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human." Because atheism is not a religion, the Irish blasphemy law does not protect atheists from abusive and insulting statements about their fundamental beliefs. While atheists are not seeking such protection, we include the statement here to point out that it is discriminatory that this law does not hold all citizens equal.
  25. Dermot Ahern, Irish Minister for Justice, introducing his blasphemy law at an Oireachtas Justice Committee meeting, 2009, and referring to comments made about him personally: "They are blasphemous." Deputy Pat Rabbitte replied: "Given the Minister's self-image, it could very well be that we are blaspheming," and Minister Ahern replied: "Deputy Rabbitte says that I am close to the baby Jesus, I am so pure." So here we have an Irish Justice Minister joking about himself being blasphemed, at a parliamentary Justice Committee discussing his own blasphemy law, that could make his own jokes illegal.

More about the magic bracelets (9/1/2010)
As a follow-up to their story about the fraud of charging $60 for some rubber bands, the television program Today Tonight revisited Power Balance, and this time they were going to test the things, not just promote them. My friend Richard Saunders flew half way across Australia to help with the testing, but I'm afraid that what went to air would not have discouraged the average viewer of the program from trying out the scammy bangles. I was invited to appear on the show but I was too busy that day with real work, and had I gone I would have taken a different approach – I would have demonstrated that the magic effects could be produced by anyone without using the bracelets. This is not a criticism of Richard, because we have different ways of doing things, but the problem with shows like Today Tonight is that they have only a short time allocated to each story, and this means that it is difficult to explain to a scientifically unsophisticated audience why a testing protocol produces meaningful results. (On the same night the program ran a story about a house with oil seeping from the walls. They called in some scientists to test it and then simply ignored what the scientists had to say and went right ahead suggesting a supernatural cause.) A quick and simple debunking gives less latitude for editing than a day's experimenting and might mean more to the viewers.

Following the show, several people I know asked questions on Power Balance's Facebook page (there was no facility for communication with the company on its own web site). Without exception they were all banned from commenting, and finally the page was gutted of all content. I wonder why Power Balance are so shy about asking "How does it work?" questions. Actually, I don't wonder that at all.

Here is the program excerpt, with the official transcript below. You can also see it on the Today Tonight site.

Bracelet claims put to the test
Reporter: Frank Pangallo
Broadcast Date: December 22, 2009

Is it a mind blowing scientific marvel or merely the mind playing games with reality?

The promoters of the "Power Balance" bracelet claim it can do amazing things to your body when you're wearing one – things that defy logic or science.

Tom O'Dowd, whose company sells the bracelets in Australia for $60 dollars, says the secret to the bracelet is in a hologram.

"It's a frequency that's been embedded in mylar tech in the hologram and that frequency – when it comes in comes within 2 inches of your skin – reacts with electrical field of your body. You are the battery that powers this product," Tom said.

Richard Saunders from the Australian Sceptics Society says that's nonsense.

Opinion: A very profitable 'trick' by The Australian Sceptics

What is not in dispute is the effect it's had on almost all the people who've tried it, like 80-year-old Joyce Washington.

"I don't know if it gives more energy, but I'm more alert, even round the house I do things thoroughly if I have bracelet on," Joyce said.

Melbourne chiropractor, Dr. Matt Bateman, has tried it on hundreds of his patients, even staking his reputation on it.

"I felt it for myself. There is so much you can fake – I am not faking 500% strength and stability, which is what I felt – I can't fake that," Dr. Bateman said.

Dr. Bateman demonstrated the bracelet on one of Today Tonight's sceptical reporters, Jonathan Creek, with amazing results.

So who to believe? Today Tonight asked Tom to put his claims to a series of tests using six volunteers with Richard Saunders looking on.

Tom carried out his usual balance and strength routine, using a card embedded with the hologram, then with the bracelet. All six reported a positive reaction, but all the volunteers were aware when they came into contact with the hologram and the bracelet.

Richard thinks the positive results might have had more to do with physics or the angles with which Tom was exerting his force.

Next, Today Tonight made a series of blind tests.

Six cards were randomly placed in the pockets of the six volunteers. Only one, the fifth in line, had the card with the hologram. It was up to Tom to detect who had it – he was unable to do so.

The same experiment was repeated using the bracelet. Tom again failed. He also failed a second time when Richard had a hologram hidden in his pocket.

So, is it mind over matter perhaps?

The human brain is a powerful tool and capable of extraordinary things says Professor David Powers. He runs the Artificial intelligence Unit at Flinders University.

"If you tell a person that its going to do something, then show it can find the placebo effect – which means whatever you say they believe it will happen. Sometimes when you have an object that does have an effect, the placebo effect plus a little more, when they have the object if it is stimulating them in some way," he said.

The power of positive thinking – take American Nick Harris. This week he turned superman when he lifted a car off a six year old girl but he's tried to do it again a few times since, without success.

Professor Powers would like to do more research on the placebo effect of the power bracelet, while Richard Saunders and his sceptics maintain it's up there with snake oil.

Has there been any progress with SETI yet? (9/1/2010)

See more of XKCD here

January 16, 2010

World's Greatest Shave

Explanation (16/1/2010)
I have received some veiled criticism for asking people to sponsor me in the World's Greatest Shave while our television screens are full of pictures of the earthquake devastation in Haiti. There's not much I can say about Haiti that I haven't said before or hasn't been said by others.

Red Cross  Médicines Sans Frontières

Events like Haiti provide good pictures for the TV news but in perspective the death toll there is only about one sixth the annual rate of deaths from blood-related cancers such as lymphomas, myelomas and leukemia, which is why I ask people to keep donating to the World's Greatest Shave while digging deeper for the immediate emergency of Haiti. An added incentive for me is that someone I love very much is a victim of one of the targeted diseases.

Speaking of Haiti ... (16/1/2010)
It's good to see that some people have their priorities right. While people all over the world were reaching for wallets, cheque books and credit cards to find money for the victims of the earthquake, Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network was looking at the ways that the money might be spent:

Meryl shows her compassion

This is a sort-of off-topic question. I would like to donate to the efforts to help in Haiti but I don't want ANY of my money going towards vaccines so that red cross and Unicef are out. Does anyone know of an organisation doing work on the ground there helping without vaccines? I want to provide food, ...clean water, education, housing – but not drugs (and I'm sure there are others here who want to do the same).

No drugs! She wants doctors to perform emergency surgery without anaesthetics? No morphine for pain relief? No antibiotics for infections? No sterile drips for people suffering from crush injuries? No antiseptics? What sort of hell does she want the people of Haiti to live in? Tell me how this disgusting lack of compassion is any better than the sewage spewing out of religious loons like Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps. Perhaps I should ask her:

Dear Ms Dorey,

I have been told that you won't donate to organisations providing relief to the people of Haiti if the relief includes the supply of drugs. As many people were injured in the earthquake, does your antipathy to drugs include the anaesthetics needed for emergency surgery, painkillers such as morphine, antibiotics and antiseptics? If so, what are the natural remedies you recommend be used in their place?

Thank you.

Ms Dorey and the folk folk (16/1/2010)
Meryl Dorey hasn't confined her recent activities to just increasing the torment of earthquake survivors. She was a speaker at the Woodford Folk Festival. Why a music festival would want to have people come along to promote opposition to medicine is a mystery, but apparently having a bunch of quacks address the crowd is an annual feature of the event. This how Ms Dorey was presented on the festival program.


"Australia's leading expert in vaccination"? "Unbiased and well researched knowledge"? Was this meant to be a joke, or had the festival organisers been smoking too much of the agricultural produce that the area around Ms Dorey's home is notorious for? It would also have been informative to try to guess how long Ms Dorey would spend speaking about the benefits of vaccination, although I think it would have needed the instrumentation of the Large Hadron Collider to measure a period of time that small.

And here is how Ms Dorey reported her appearance to her loyal followers:

I'm just back from a wonderful week at the Woodford Folk Festival where I was lucky enough to be invited back for the third year in a row to present information on vaccination. I gave one presentation on the Swine Flu (AH1N1) vaccination and participated in 2 forums with some very eminent healthcare practitioners including several doctors who I was very happy to meet and who will be writing articles for up-coming editions of Living Wisdom. My family and I also really enjoyed the music, comedy and good feeling at this incredible event.

Of course, our 'friends' at the Septics did their usual routine of sending emails to the organisers of the event asking them to not let me speak, but thankfully, the Festival cares very much about balance and not at all about suppression of information and my talks were very well-attended and this vital information was able to get out to those who wanted to learn more about vaccinations and health.

It's a bit disturbing that she managed to find some real doctors who support her idiocy, but someone has to come bottom of the class in medical school. As for those emails from the "septics" (oh, how I laughed at that, it must be only the millionth time I've heard it), the email came from me. I don't know what it would take to get Ms Dorey to stop identifying me with Australian Skeptics because I have pointed out on many occasions that not only do I speak for myself, not anyone else, but she was defaming me and accusing me of criminal activity long before I ever became involved with the Skeptics. And did you see where she said that the email "ask[ed] them to not let me speak"? Here is what I wrote, and I leave it up to you to find where I suggested that she be banned.

Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination Network is proudly promoting her speaking appearances at the Woodford Folk Festival, but I wonder what relevance her anti-vaccination campaigning has to the objectives of the festival.

Surely the festival is about promoting music and a sense of community and not about encouraging people to reject medicine and common sense or to provide a platform for people whose activities place the lives of children at risk. Ms Dorey might like to say that she and her organisation are simply presenting facts about vaccination but this is not so. I can confidently predict that her talk about the swine flu vaccine will consist of almost nothing except scare-mongering and misrepresentations of the facts. It would be amusing, however, if she were to repeat the story she was recently spreading about how the swine flu vaccine is an element in a world-wide conspiracy to kill off 90% of the world's population and implant mind controlling microchips in the remaining few.

I have been a follower of folk music for half a century, but I would not like to attend a festival where even a small part of the agenda had been hijacked by someone whose full-time job is spreading fear about one of the greatest life-saving advances ever introduced into the practice of medicine.

Folk music might have its roots in tradition, but that doesn't mean that it should be used by people who want to deny progress.

Thank you.

Does she ever get anything right? Or doesn't she care?

Hovind redux (16/1/2010)
Back in December I mentioned that the PhD of religious fruitcake Kent Hovind had suddenly been found, despite it being on the net and discussed and dissected for about ten years. Reading the "thesis" was always good for a laugh, and now the hilarity has been enhanced by a statement from the "university" that issued it. It seems that Patriot University doesn't do what other universities do when someone wants a PhD from the place, but just tells the candidate to submit some notes and then put the letters after his name. They are saying that the document which everyone thought was Hovind's hilarious thesis wasn't a thesis at all, and even though it was obtained from Patriot University that doesn't mean anything because they don't keep copies of theses. Put simply, Kent Hovind claims to have a PhD, people seeing what purports to be his thesis squeal with laughter but the university now says that it isn't a thesis and they don't keep copies anyway so who can check?

Patriot "University"

You can read the comedy script on Patriot University's own web site. In effect they are admitting that they are a diploma mill and degrees from there are worth nothing.

Breast cancer? Let women die. (16/1/2010)
The conversation on an anti-vaccination liar mailing list turned to the horrors of breast cancer this week. Here is a sample Pink Ribbonof what went on:

Subject: that damn pink ribbon

I've been seeing it more and more and more and more.. it's really becoming a. whatd'yacall it.. a phase? No. a.. something.. popular and trendy. I'm hoping it eases off soon or I'm going to have to just throw up at a store!!

Seen the magnet "save the ta-tas"?! <roll the eyes> yeah.. stop annual mam's and give up the pink frosting and give up the hydrogenation people!!! That will save the ta-ta's more than donating to the cancer society!~

Subject: RE: that damn pink ribbon

I accidently bought something the other day that had a pink ribbon thingie on it and I was mortified. It's everywhere and it is SUPER annoying b/c you know ppl are like "ooohhh i'm gonna buy that b/c it's a pink ribbon product!!" PUKE!

Subject: RE: that damn pink ribbon

I'm so surprised to read these messages. I thought I was the only one who isn't into the whole pink ribbon thing. May I ask your reasons why? Thanks, Becca

Subject: RE: that damn pink ribbon

Mortified you betcha~! Man.. I would have just been beside myself!

I'm against these organizations and bandwagon fads. The gov't gives researchers grants for cancer funding and research.. they don't really need our money, hard-earned and can be better spent. PLUS they're not really looking for a cure. Diabetes foundation said they're not looking for a cure (I think it was), they're just looking at improving quality of life-a friend or someone I knew called them looking for info b/c she had been dx'd. they said no, we don't do research for that.. we just make you feel better.. pretty much.. I remember being shocked and disgusted.

Besides, they've supposedly been looking for a cure for cancer for over 100 years.. they haven't come up with a cure for ANY kind of cancer in that time.. now really.. can it be that hard??

But they don't want to say how easy it really could be b/c that doesn't sell. Health is a business-moreover, BAD health is a business. People want to feel good but the pharma company and the doctor don't want you to feel good.. doctors telling patients not to do Vita C b/c it can be toxic.. but here, use this pill instead it'll help.

They don't do 'natural' treatments b/c they don't sell as much in the high prices, they can't patent it, they can't put fake colors in it and make a pretty pink or purple pill.

I have said it many times: as long as there are artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, foods, hydrogenation and trans fats and canola oil.. there will be cancer. As long as vaccines exist with nasty ingredients that have no business in the human body, there will be cancer.

I do not support the cancer foundations at all. not when they diss anything natural. They're not looking for cures.

Subject: RE: that damn pink ribbon

Well, I don't because most of the money they get goes to getting women to get their first mammograms. I don't support those, so I don't want to give them money. Janice

It has been obvious for a long time that many of the people opposed to vaccinations must be motivated by a need to see more dead children. Opposition to the vaccine against HPV showed that they had moved on to include dead younger women in the objective. Now they have revealed that older women, the ones who are most susceptible to breast cancer, are also in the frame.

This idiocy is not confined to anti-vaccination liars, because I have been seeing supporters of quackery ranting about the dangers of mammograms for years. The logic seems to go like this: mammograms reveal signs of cancer but these signs were not detected before the mammogram, therefore the mammogram caused the cancer. This would be familiar to readers of Joseph Heller's Catch 22, where the Man in White was killed by the nurse taking his temperature because nobody knew he was dead until the reading was taken. Perhaps it's a case of the quantum phenomenon Schrödinger's Tit, where until the mammogram is taken cancer only exists as a probability and the state of the disease is crystallised by the observation.

Quackery supporters even treat this as a joke, again showing their disrespect for women and their hatred for anyone who might want to do something useful about the biggest cancer killer of women in the developed world. (The biggest cancer killer world-wide is cervical cancer, and we know from the opposition to HPV vaccine what quackonauts think about that.)


Power Balance runs away (16/1/2010)
The The magic banglepromoters of the Power Balance magic bracelet scam must really be running scared. Last week I mentioned that they had effectively closed their Facebook site by removing all content and blocking any comments. They have now gone a step further. They also had a range of Facebook pages directed at different locations and languages. The largest of these had about 3,500 fans but even this colossal popularity couldn't protect it from a small group of people asking really difficult questions like "Where is the evidence?" Suddenly and without warning the page simply disappeared. Gone. Without a trace left behind.

What the owners of the page didn't realise in their panic to avoid any criticism is that the critics were getting tired anyway, and were not doing as good a job of discrediting the magic bangle as the single remaining spokesperson for the company was. When the best you can do is to produce someone with an obviously fake name who is illiterate and combines an inability to write and spell with a total lack of even the simplest logic then it is probably time to fold up the tents and leave anyway. As an aside, the spokesperson for the Power Bracelet kept referring to it as "PB♥". Perhaps the final straw was my asking whether this meant she was in love with me.

Dog Power! (16/1/2010)
It could just be a coincidence, but Cody The Religion Hating Dog might have super powers. As do many dogs, Cody has a Facebook presence and likes to participate in the things happening there. Shortly after he made a comment on the Australian Vaccination Network's page it was closed down. (The page had featured the insane idea that the swine flu vaccine contained mind-control microchips. Cody simply pointed out that he has an embedded microchip and it doesn't do him any harm.) It has happened again, and shortly after he posted a joking message to the Power Bracelet page saying that a magic rubber band attached to his collar had strengthened his bark to the point that Jehovah's Witnesses would not even enter our street the page was vaporised, never to be seen again. If it happens a third time I will be renting him out to skeptics' organisations as a weapon against tomfoolery.

In other CTRHD news, Cody has agreed that if I reach $1000 in sponsorship in the World's Greatest Shave fundraiser he will allow me to dye his tail green and put pictures on the web. Click on the link and get donating.

Anti-vaccination deception confirmed (16/1/2010)
Last week I wrote about a letter in my local paper from anti-vaccination campaigner Bronwyn Hancock. She made certain claims in the letter and I wrote to her for clarification.

In a letter to the Blue Mountains Gazette published on December 22 you said: "polio was subsequently renamed 'viral meningitis', 'cerebral palsy', etc (by the CDC's own admission)".

Could you please tell me where I can see the actual statement from the CDC. I would prefer to see it in some official communication from the CDC rather than be pointed to someone else simply citing or quoting the CDC.

Here is her reply:

I am able to give you a quick answer to your question by passing on to you this excerpt from a (26/8/88) letter from the CDC (EIS officer, Division of Immunization):

"Since 1958 all States used a case record consisting of a preliminary and a 60-day follow-up form. These changes permitted Centers for Disease Control to analyse only those reported paralytic poliomyelitis cases that can be classified as 'best available paralytic poliomyelitis case count' (BAPPCC). These cases must be clinically and epidemiologically compatible with paralytic poliomyelitis and have a neurological deficit 60 days after onset of initial symptoms, unless death has occurred or follow-up status is unknown. The BAPPCC excludes paralytic poliomyelitis cases with no residual paralysis at 60 days after onset of initial symptoms, as well as cases of aseptic meningitis (due to poliovirus or other enteroviruses)."

... and adding this link to a medical journal article (J Infect Dis 1982) that says the same thing:

Now, remember the specific questions I asked. You will note that over fifty years ago the CDC stated that paralysis had to last longer than 60 days for a definite diagnosis of paralytic poliomyelitis, with other cases being treated differently when collating polio statistics. There is nothing in there that says that the numbers were minimised by renaming polio to anything. It was simply a way of increasing the validity of statistics by removing outliers and infections that might not be paralytic polio even though the initial symptoms might have been similar.

Polio vaccine works!The article in the Journal of Infectious Diseases does say the same, that is, that the CDC only included quite specific cases in the statistics of paralytic poliomyelitis, and they did this from 1958 onwards which hardly constitutes a later change to make the vaccine look better. On the right is the part of the article I like most, though.

There were more than 10,000 cases of paralytic polio reported annually in the US before the vaccine became available. Then there was a dramatic drop. A drop which can only be attributed to the vaccination program. A drop where the numbers were all derived in the same manner.

So let's summarise. An anti-vaccination campaigner claims that the CDC and a major medical journal both say that the apparent reduction in cases of paralytic poliomyelitis following the introduction of the first vaccines was an artificial situation created by renaming polio to "viral meningitis" and "cerebral palsy". A quote from the CDC is provided in support of the claim, but the quote shows that nothing of the sort happened. A journal paper is also offered and again it shows that no such renaming went on. Delightfully, the paper not only refutes the claim of renaming but provides statistics showing the enormous benefit that the vaccine brought, reducing cases of paralytic polio by 99.98%.

It is a constant tactic of anti-vaccination liars to misquote and misrepresent scientific research and the words of scientists, hoping that people will either believe them without checking or will be unable to check. This case, however, shows that sometimes they don't even pretend to offer evidence and just assume that any old set of words will do.


A gift for an anti-vaccinator (16/1/2010)
I Shake this kidknow that Christmas is over, but every time is the right time to buy your favourite anti-vaccination liar a present and I think I have found the ideal gift. It's a shaken baby syndrome simulator, a doll that you can shake to see how harmless shaking is. Remember that Bronwyn Hancock has told me that it is impossible to harm a baby by shaking it and Meryl Dorey coined the sound bite "Shaken Maybe Syndrome". There are endless hours of fun ahead for the anti-vaccinator as they try to light up the pleasure centres of the baby's brain by gently waving the doll around.

As an added advantage, when called into court as an expert witness to defend some low life bastard who has beaten a child to death (whether or not he has been declared a hero by chiropractors), it will be a simple matter to demonstrate that no matter how hard you shake the doll the lights never come on. Just remember to take the batteries out and the defendant walks free.

You can see a brochure about this excellent gift here.

And one last thing (16/1/2010)


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