Never an idle moment (1/5/2010)
The May edition of the excellent magazine Australasian Science is now on the newsstands, and I encourage you buy a copy. If your newsagent doesn't carry it you should ask him to get it in, but if he won't (or you don't live in Australia) you should subscribe. I don't say this just because I have a regular column in the magazine – each month has a range of excellent articles about science, written by knowledgeable people who not only know science but how to communicate it. The magazine's new web site is very nice, too.
Writing for the magazine is one of the things I do to make sure that I never have idle hands to do the Devil's work, and as usual there is a Naked Skeptic column by me in the latest issue, which you can read here. It's about the way that quacks (in this specific case, anti-vaccination liars) resort to the courts when (not if) they can't come up with science to back their claims. It was inspired by the loss in court for Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center when she sued Dr Paul Offit and others for defamation, and the total collapse of the Autism Omnibus case in which an attempt was made to apply a legal equivalent of the Internet's "denial of service attack" on the court system.
And that column title – "Naked Skeptic". I try to dress appropriately while I am writing it but it can get a bit cold where I live so sometimes I have to leave my underwear on. I hope nobody minds or thinks that this minor piece of deception detracts from the quality of the work
Tim's back! Again! (1/5/2010)
Amid the rejoicing at the death of superquack Hulda Clark there were some serious questions raised. One was whether the family's plan to scatter her ashes in the ocean off San Diego would be frustrated by EPA rules against dumping toxic waste, and another was the fate of her publicist Tim Bolen, spokesturd for all forms of quackery (and the more deceptive the better). Tim has now resurfaced as the mouth for some people who have guaranteed cures for autism. In his latest newsletter to the "millions of health freedom fighters" Tim has this to say about autism. It gives an indication of his state of knowledge as well as his state of mind.
The officially approved treatment, in the US, for Autistic children is to put them in a State mental facility. There, on day one, they yank their pants down to their ankles, bend them over a table, and jab a hypo full of mind numbing drugs into their buttocks. Then they throw them into a ward, keep them doped, where, most likely, they will die in a few years.
You can see from this that Tim has a poor grasp on reality, which might go some way towards explaining why he doesn't seem to know where he lives or where he went to school. A few years ago Tim represented a group of crooked dentists who had been submitting fraudulent insurance claims. They were the perfect clients for Tim because not only were they prepared to lie and steal from an insurance company, they did it to pay for a useless and dangerous quack treatment. (The insurance company had explicitly stated that it would not pay for this "treatment", so the dentists simply put another code on the claim forms.) Tim was deposed in the subsequent legal action (the crooked dentists sued the insurance company for not paying them for the fraudulent claims!) and here are a couple of excerpts from his deposition hearing. He has claimed that he was just toying with the lawyer asking the questions, an attitude that a normal person would consider to be either arrogant or stupid while under oath.
Tim trying to remember where he lives
Tim trying to remember where he went to school
Irony is not getting the wrinkles out of shirts (1/5/2010)
One of the most successful ventures I have been involved in over the last few months has been a Facebook group called Stop the Australian Vaccination Network. The objective is obvious from the title, and it has attracted a certain amount of fear and paranoia from anti-vaccination liars. The policy has always been to allow anyone to join and comment unless they become too abusive to tolerate, and the number of people banned has been minimal. This hasn't stopped the anti-vaccination liars from screaming about denial of free speech, although many of their complaints seem to be that any form of criticism of their derangement is an attempt to shut them up and prevent the truth being known. In fact we wish they would shut up, but there is nothing we can do to make them do it and expressing displeasure at their antics is hardly censorship.
This concept has been lost on opponents of the group, so this week another group appeared called Stop the Australian Vaccination Network EXPOSED! which is dedicated to freedom of speech. A collection of us from SAVN immediately joined, but it didn't last for long. Soon comments were disappearing and then people as well. Right now the group is invisible to many of my friends, although some of them can still see the gutted content. I mentioned my right of free speech in everything I posted there, but it did no good. It's all gone.
The wonderful irony comes in the logo chosen for the SAVNE group. Whoever set up the site decided to be really clever and combine the crossed circle of the SAVN logo with the demand for free speech. I leave it up to you to decide if they succeeded or just reinforced the impression that they are not prepared to listen to any conflicting views and are hypocritical about their demand for freedom of speech.
I am set straight (1/5/2010)
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that shortly after I had been granted password access to the web sites of noted anti-vaccination campaigner Dr Viera Scheibner I was denied access to the sites with an error that indicated that my user ID and password were invalid. Someone has now told me that nobody can get to the sites. I don't really care if I can't get in if it means that nobody else can read the lies there either. Wins all round.
From: "Paolo Just"
Subject: You and Anti Vaccers
Date: Tue, 27 Apr 2010 09:39:58 +1000
Pardon? If you mean "am I a professional actor?" then the answer is "yes", although I don't see what that has to do with anything.
You have some IT knowledge and some other credentials which are at the very least suspect, yet you seem to know everything about health vaccinations and why you can't access a website.
In what way are my credentials suspect?
You think because you get a 404 message you have been banned, with that sort of paranoia it is a wonder you manage to get through life at all.
Actually, I got a 403 error (access refused because of authentication failure) not 404 (page not found). There is a difference.
If you just did a simple check on Viera Schiebners website you would see that all 3 sites are down, why?
Who knows? Who cares? Perhaps there really is a God.
Simple, the servers that these sites are on are down, and have been down for as far as I am aware a very long time.
They were working on April 4. The fact that they are down now is encouraging, because while these sites are unreachable (for any reason) there is less possibility that parents might see them and be deceived into avoiding vaccination for their children. Put another way, while these sites are off the air children are safer.
I can't even access the site and get the same message as you, so get your facts right before you post your uneducated rubbish.
Down the gurgler (1/5/2010)
When I did my link check this week I found that one of the sites with tributes to me had disappeared. It was Friends of Freedom, a delightfully unhinged collection of eclectic madness with rantings about GM foods, whacked-out politics and of course the extremes of medical quackery. Their tribute to me took the form of reporting that I had lost a court case which hadn't actually started, supported by an edited quotation of something that I was so ashamed of that I had the full thing here on this site. I really love it when people attack me without bothering to check even the most easily obtained facts, and it is twice as delicious when the attacks are served with lashings of mouth foam. There is a certain sadness when something so idiotic fades from the 'net, leaving the world wide web a little diminished and us all a little poorer.
I have upset a quack. (8/5/2010)
Imagine that! Someone who has a cure for the common cold is taking time out from polishing his Nobel Prize to complain to me for not taking him seriously. I assume he has a Nobel, because he has solved one of the great mysteries of medicine and found a cure for the disease that probably causes more lost productivity in the work place than any other. The Holy Grail of medicine – the cure for the cold.
From: "George Eby"
Subject: Eby's ColdCure
Date: Mon, 03 May 2010 05:24:57 -0500
Hi George, I like your informality.
You list my site http://coldcure.com as a fraud. It is not a fraud. See the site and check out the links for evidence. The entire site is devoted to displaying the evidence that I am right. This means independent collaboration of my findings. Perhaps the best medical journal article to show you that I am right is found at: http://coldcure.com/html/zinc-lozenges-as-cure-for-common-cold.pdf
That's the best medical journal article? Something written by you and published in Medical Hypotheses? Please don't ask me to read the worst article. Oh, by the way, my weeping eyes and shortness of breath aren't symptoms of a cold – I'm just laughing so hard at you. Medical Hypotheses! I have to stop or I'll need Ventolin.
I expect you to immediately remove my site from your list or face a lawsuit.
You expect too much.
George Eby, site owner
And, of course -
Null: A quantity of no importance (8/5/2010)
Schadenfreude is made specially delicious when the object of the feeling is someone as disgusting as quackery salesman Gary Null. The wonderful story this week is that Null, who makes a living promoting megavitamins, is suing the manufacturer of one of his vitamin pills because they caused Null to overdose on Vitamin D3. Apparently the pills contained a gigadose rather than a megadose and poor Gary was exposed to the reality of "The dose makes the poison". In true quack fashion, when he started to suffer side effects he took even more of the pills, and it seems that he was a very lucky man because he finally decided to talk to a real doctor who knew something about medicine before he actually died from the reaction. Also in true quack fashion, Null's web site continued to offer the pills for sale even as Gary was reaching for lawyers.
The video below is all over the 'net, so I thought I would help out by having a copy in my own YouTube account. It confirms something that sensible people have known for some time, which is that Null has a remarkably appropriate name. "Null" means empty or without value, and the word certainly describes Gary's morality, conscience, medical qualifications, professional affiliations and ability to tell the truth. Unfortunately, it doesn't apply to his bank account.
Reader John Nielsen has suggested that Gary Null should get a special award for the irony of having to sue a vitamin manufacturer for putting too much vitamin into vitamin pills. It's too late for the 2009 Millenium Awards, but I think I will add an Irony and Schadenfreude category to future award presentations. Gary Null has almost guaranteed that he will win for this year but we can always hope that someone else commits an even greater stupidity.
Oh, and here is the headline on the leading story on Null's web site at the time this was written:
Add hypocrisy to the list of Null's achievements. The man overdoses on his own products and then has the hide to criticise real medicine. Perhaps Gary is trying for an Anus Maximus Award.
Fraud, or just outright theft? (8/5/2010)
Here is one of the products offered for sale on the web site Homeopathy Plus!, run by noted Australian quack Fran Sheffield.
You will notice that the kit contains 84 grams of sucrose pills, and they must be very small pills because there are about 1,470 of them. They are in fact very small pills, being "hundreds and thousands" or "nonpareils" like the ones you see on your kids' birthday cakes. You will also notice that they are all 30C remedies, which means that (if anything was done beside packaging the sweets, which is highly unlikely) water with no active ingredients has been dripped on the tiny sugar balls and the sweets have then been allowed to dry out. Apparently the memory of water can be transferred to the memory of sugar.
But what do these potent pillules do?
You might think that paying 9 cents each for cake decoration sweets is a bit expensive, but remember that you get all those little bottles, the plastic carry case and a 114 (or maybe 72) page instruction sheet. Also consider that if you buy the pills as individual remedies you might get more per bottle (100 instead of 35) but the cost per pill is 15 cents.
Based on the figures given for the Home Kit there are about 17,500 pillules per kilogram, but it would be unfair to compare the selling price of these pills ($2,625 per kilogram) with the price of sugar at the local supermarket (90 cents/kilogram at Coles today) because after all these are manufactured pillules.
I decided to do a better comparison, so I have ordered some white hundreds and thousands. The place I got them from is an organic supplier (which increases the price) and I paid retail price (unlike your average homeopath who can get them wholesale). A 350 gram packet cost $8.95, or $25.60 per kilogram.
Homeopathy is more than just medical fraud, it is financial fraud as well. It is theft, and the people selling it know exactly what they are doing. How they must laugh as they put those teaspoonsful of sweets into little bottles and post them out at a markup of about 10,000% over raw material costs. And these crooks have the gall to whine about the profits of pharmaceutical companies.
It's Yahoo!7 time again (8/5/2010)
This week's Yahoo!7 column is about the different forms of reverence given to the canonical works of English literature. Why is it that the King James Bible is sacred and authoritative but the contemporaneous works of William Shakespeare are just considered to be great examples of art? What can't be denied is the influence of both on the way English is spoken today, but the mystery is why superstition causes us to treat them differently.
Actually, there is no mystery and there won't be while ever religion holds its privileged place in our society.
I could be rich! (8/5/2010)
Remember the Power Balance bracelets, those $60 rubber bands that you wear on your wrist to make you strong and improve your stability? Well, it looks like I could get myself onto the gravy train if this email from China is any indication. And I really like the purple Comic Sans.
From: "Vivian Liu"
Subject: New Model
Date: Fri, 07 May 2010 10:48:29 +0800
This is Vivian from USDAR. We are a professional manufacturer of power balance bracelet.
Here we have a new model power balance bracelet. It is so popular in world market recently. Are you interested in it? If yes, please let us know.
Thanks & Best regards,
USDAR(XIAMEN)Industry & Trade Co.,Ltd
Add: NO.688 Banshang She, Heshan Road, Huli District, Xiamen, China
Junkseller Jones jollies judges (8/5/2010)
In March I mentioned that a cancer quack named Darryl Jones had been accused of misleading or deceptive conduct when he claimed that he could cure cancer with cyanide and exercise. To rational people the case was closed as soon as it was mentioned that Jones was peddling that old favourite of quacks and charlatans, laetrile, and that therefore the Latin words ipso facto, a priori, mens rea and cloaca maxima could be applied without further thought.
Darryl the death dealer wasn't happy with this, so he took the only course open to someone who makes scientific claims which are challenged – he ran to the lawyers and sought leave to appeal the injunctions preventing him from lying to desperate people and stealing their life savings and the inheritances they were planning to leave to their children.
I was a bit surprised at his flight to the courts, because his reaction to the original injunction had been to display a notice ordered by the court in a fashion which suggested that he was either extremely stupid or extremely arrogant. When the court orders you to display something you do just that and you don't "forget" to do such things as replace the code "[date]" with the actual date in question. I speak from experience – the people who had been found by the Federal Court to be operating an illegal pyramid scheme and sued me for reporting the news wasted a day of the court's time by alleging that I had committed contempt of court by not displaying the exact words of an ordered notice. (The judge was not happy with them and ordered me to display what I had displayed and what they were complaining about. Still, it was a tense time.)
I will keep my eye on the court lists and let you know if he is granted the right to appeal, and if he is, how the appeal progresses.
I unite with the Uniting Church (15/5/2010)
The Australian Vaccination Network was planning to hold a seminar in Perth where lies could be told to parents about the swine flu vaccine. Just as Meryl Dorey was about to board a plane for the five hour flight from Sydney to Perth she got the bad news – the owners of the venue, the Uniting Church, had revoked permission to use their facilities to spread lies. Adding icing to the cake, the AVN wasn't just banned from this one church hall, it was banned from holding liefests in all Church properties across the city. Here is how a representative of the church announced the decision to interested parties:
There have been concerns raised by a number of prominent church members who are experts in the field of ethics and public health who have advised me that the message promoted by the Australian Vaccination Network is not in line with the ethos and values of the Uniting Church in Australia.
Therefore, after consultation with the chair of church council, I would like to inform you that no Uniting Church in the City venue is being made available to the Australian Vaccination network for tomorrow night's meeting.
This experience has prompted me to review the Uniting Church in the City's policy on community use of UCIC space. We will be more closely examining the ethos and values of all groups that seek to use our space in the future.
I, of course, immediately whipped out the quill pen and sent this message to the Uniting Church official concerned.
Congratulations. I have just heard the news that the Australian Vaccination Network has been refused permission to use Uniting Church facilities to spread their misinformation about vaccines.
On behalf of the children of Perth I thank you for taking action to minimise the opportunity for nonsense and lies to be spread to parents about possibly the greatest life-saver ever in the history of medicine.
I might not share your faith but I am aware that one of the few things which appears in almost identical terms in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke is Jesus' expression of his respect for and love of children, and when he said "suffer the children" he did not mean that they should suffer in the modern sense of experiencing pain, something that would be inevitable if organisations like the Australian Vaccination Network were to get their way.
Again, congratulations and thank you.
The reaction of the AVN was equally predictable, and you can read the first salvo here. Everyone is being blamed, from the Health Department down. In reality, the WA Health Department had nothing to do with it (although it would be nice to have them come out against the anti-vaccination liars occasionally), it was simply some concerned Christians who didn't want their church associated with ideas and actions which would have been anathema to Jesus. (I am not surprised that Meryl Dorey misrepresented or misunderstood the words "the message promoted by the Australian Vaccination Network is not in line with the ethos and values of the Uniting Church in Australia", because the words "ethos" and "values" are probably mysteries to her.) The attack has continued with a barrage of emails to the Uniting Church people in Perth whining about freedom of speech and how children need to be protected from missing out on dangerous diseases, but the best has to be this post to Facebook by Meryl Dorey (and just who is the president of the AVN these days?):
The Church is supporting a "bunch of atheists"? (SAVN is the Facebook group "Stop the Australian Vaccination Network") I don't believe that a survey has ever been done of the religious beliefs of the members of the SAVN Facebook group and I have seen no indication that members of the group find siding with the Church on this issue to be "uncomfortable" or that anyone is "not liking it one bit" that the Church has done something that we fully support. Vaccination is not a religious issue, it is a matter of public health and parental responsibility for the health of their children and the children that they come into contact with. Oh, and another thing, Ms Dorey – with Australia's defamation laws as they are it is either very courageous or very foolish to accuse someone of corruption, but as your very first public comment about me accused me of financial corruption I am not surprised that you played this particular card.
Idiots reject the Null hypothesis (15/5/2010)
I have upset some fans of snake oil salesman Gary Null by what I said last week about how the fool had almost poisoned himself by taking his own advice and vitamins. Here are some of the comments posted to YouTube about my copy of a video showing what a crook Gary Null is. Somehow I don't think that any of them are going to make me change my opinion of the clown.
fact, zero people died from natural supplements, but american medicine kills over 700,000 people a year
How many QUALIFIED And LICENSE doctors kill millions of people! ----LOTS
How many people has GARY NULL Killed in the last 35 years!------ NONE
I rest my case!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
From dannymans888 (posted twice for some unknown reason):
A surgeon who admitted killing a patient during an operation walked free from the Old Bailey yesterday after a judge gave him a suspended prison sentence.
Steven Walker, 47, admitted the manslaughter of Dorothy McPhee. The 71-year-old patient bled to death during a liver operation at Blackpool Victoria Hospital in 1995.
I can't wait until you are in the same room as him for an argument, instead of your closed minded statements that are full of quack that you induce upon others. You lack, you quack you are the duck. Too bad you don't have the spine to go on his ongoing offer to ANYBODY for an argument. You will burn due to your lack of any real effort to find truth. I find a hole in EVERY statment you say. I could argue but you'll just edit me. So until that day, pack your bags, your job is over.
I'm particularly impressed by the last one, although I might understand it better if it was written in English.
Some light entertainment (15/5/2010)
It's always good to have a laugh, so here are some amusements.
It's all over the 'net and I would like to thank all the people who have told me about it. Despite its ubiquity, there might be some readers here who haven't seen it so here it is again.
New Age terrorists develop homeopathic bomb
The world has been placed on a heightened security alert following reports that New Age terrorists have harnessed the power of homeopathy for evil. 'Homeopathic weapons represent a major threat to world peace,' said President Barack Obama, 'they might not cause any actual damage but the placebo effect could be quite devastating.'
The H2O-bomb has been developed by the radical New Age group, The Axis of Aquarius. In a taped message to the world, their leader, Professor Hubert Pennington, said: 'For too long the New Age movement has been dismissed as a bunch of beardy weirdy cranks and charlatans. But now we have weapons-grade homeopathy and we demand to be taken seriously.'
Homeopathic bombs are comprised of 99.9% water but contain the merest trace element of explosive. The solution is then repeatedly diluted so as to leave only the memory of the explosive in the water molecules. According to the laws of homeopathy, the more that the water is diluted, the more powerful the bomb becomes.
'It was only a matter of time before these people got hold of the material that they needed to make these bombs,' said former UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, 'The world is a much more dangerous place with the advent of these Weapons of Mass Dilution.'
'A homeopathic attack could bring entire cities to a standstill,' said BBC Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner, 'Large numbers of people could easily become convinced that they have been killed and hospitals would be unable to cope with the massive influx of the 'walking suggestible'.'
The severity of the situation has already resulted in the New Age terror threat level being raised from 'lilac' to the more worrisome 'purple' aura. Meanwhile, new security measures at airports require that all water bottles be scanned to ensure that they are not being used to smuggle the memory of an explosion on board a plane.
'Homeopathic weapons are the ultimate Smart Bombs,' warned President Obama, 'They are so smart that they only affect the gullible. The only defence is for everyone to remain calm, vigilant and to always wear a magic vibrating crystal.'
Thanks very much to NewsBiscuit - The news before it happens
The second one is even funnier, because it was cited to me twice in one day as evidence that doctors could not be trusted as they were always being lobbied by and receiving gifts from secret groups who are trying to suppress known cures for diseases. Twice in one day! By two different believers in the power of snake oil! Oh, those evil greedy doctors who allow patients to die because they are paid to maintain the vow of silence.
Note: Please read to the bottom before looking to see which news journal published the article.
Powerful Rest And Fluids Industry Influencing Doctors' Treatment Of Colds
WASHINGTON—A two-year investigation conducted in five major cities has exposed a widespread campaign by the formidable Rest and Fluids industry to infiltrate thousands of doctors' offices and dictate how they treat minor illnesses.
This physician enjoyed an all-expenses-paid trip to
Aspen, just for telling his patients to "relax."
The investigation—the full details of which will be disclosed in this newspaper over the coming months—documented thousands of instances in which sick patients were repeatedly instructed, often verbatim, to "lie down and drink plenty of liquids." This treatment, recommended a staggering 4 out of 5 times on average, was in each case prescribed by a physician known to have recently enjoyed a golf vacation courtesy of Big Rest and Fluids.
"You have no idea how deep this goes," said Dr. X, a physician who wished to remain anonymous. "They've got everyone, from the pediatricians and family doctors, right on down to the school nurses. We've had the cure for the common cold for nearly 40 years, but it's still 'rest and fluids, rest and fluids.' Why? Because these guys are getting paid through the nose, that's why."
"The complimentary king-sized beds, the downy soft comforters, the absolutely ravishing women," Dr. X continued. "It's a sick, sick world."
The American Rest and Fluids industry first rose to prominence during the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, when there existed only meager competition from quarantines and prayer. After gaining influence during the '20s and '30s, mainly through mob connections and a few corrupt U.S. senators, R&F; was again buoyed in 1947 following the introduction of employee sick days.
What began as a small-scale racket has today grown into a multinational organization, with billions of dollars devoted each year to pushing its pro-napping, broth-focused agenda.
"At this point, it may be impossible to unseat the power Rest and Fluids has over the American health system," patients rights activist Oren Michem said. "With their promises of free La-Z-Boy chairs and high-priced hotel rooms, it's no wonder they've cornered the cold market. Sure, they never come out and ask, 'Can Rest and Fluids count on your loyalty?' But the intention is obvious."
"It took my son nearly a week to stop sneezing and coughing," Michem added. "Who's to say a regimen of strenuous exercise and fasting wouldn't have helped him more?"
To date, no doctors have been willing to testify against these so-called Rest and Fluids "fat cats" for fear it would destroy their careers. In fact, a number of physicians have already been blackballed for prescribing echinacea and other over-the-counter remedies.
Worse yet, some fear violent retribution for not toeing the Rest and Fluids line. In 1997, four Chicago doctors who were known to prescribe cough syrup were found dead at the bottom of a pool of NyQuil. Officially, these deaths were blamed on the less-powerful Natural Causes industry, but many still believe the message delivered that day was clear.
Representatives of Rest and Fluids have refused to comment on the allegations.
"My clients have nothing to say about this or any other litigation involving R&F;," said Robert Marconi, one of the industry's legion of high-paid defense attorneys. "Rest and Fluids has done nothing wrong and will fight these charges for as long as it takes. They can't prove a thing!"
With a recent $12.3 million donation to several prominent Washington bureaucrats, Rest and Fluids will most likely continue its stranglehold for decades to come. That is, unless one young and energetic nurse-practitioner from Louisiana has his say.
This newspaper has recently learned that whistle-blower Nathan Bellows has collected a mountain of evidence outlining years of blackmail and corruption on the part of R&F.; Evidence, Bellows said, he plans to leak to 12 major media outlets later this week.
Bellows lives at 138 Juniper St., Apt. 3H, Folsom, LA, 70437. He goes jogging every morning around the nearby reservoir and is always alone.
Thanks to The Onion – America's finest news source
That's right, folks – The Onion! Alternauts were citing The Onion as a reputable source of anti-doctor information. What made it even funnier that neither of them could understand the problem even after it was explained to them. The Onion! It took hours before I stopped breaking out in the occasional spontaneous giggle.
Oh, OK, here's another cartoon.
Have you forgotten something? (15/5/2010)
There was a story on my local television recently about a charlatan who was implanting false memories in victims, causing them great distress. My latest Naked Skeptic article for Australasian Science magazine looks at the issues surrounding this situation. The edition will be on the newsstands shortly, but while you are waiting for it to appear or your subscription copy to drop through the letterbox (you do subscribe to this excellent magazine, don't you?) you can get a sneak preview of the article here.