Let's be balanced (6/10/2012)
The following article was first published here in November 2004. It is still relevant, so here it is again.
Every now and then I receive an email which accuses me of bias against the things which I list here and declare I don't like, to which I can only answer "Guilty, your honour". The funny ones are those which suggest that I should show some balance by presenting the views of the other side. This is funny for two reasons. The first is that I feel no need to provide a forum at my expense for the charlatans, liars and other disgusting people who are the targets of this site. If they want to have their say, let them get web sites of their own. That brings us to the second funny point, which is that to be here they have to already have a web site of their own. You can see why I have a good laugh every time someone tells me that I should present the other side and by this statement shows that they are incapable of independent thought, otherwise they would have noticed the thousand sites listed here. Still, I have come to expect somewhat less than an adequate capacity for critical (or sometimes any) thought from the supporters of the sort of sites that make up the Millenium Project lists.
I was reminded of this over a few weeks in 2004 when I was chasing publicity for the Australian Council Against Health Fraud's conference. It was promoted to journalists associated with major news outlets, many of them having titles which suggested that they had some responsibility for health information appearing in their publication or on their radio or television station or network. Several commented that the conference was not really balanced and that I should have representatives of the quackery industry there to present their views. One even suggested two suitable people – one is an anti-vaccination doctor and the other runs a department of alternative medicine at a real university and teaches homeopathy as if it is a science. I was also told by someone that nobody uses the term "alternative medicine" any more – it is "complementary" or "integrative".
Much of this nonsense can be put down to the combination of postmodernism and political correctness which is rotting the intellectual values of university humanities departments these days, the departments which contain the schools of journalism. Every point of view has equal value and it is impolite to challenge anyone, so every media outlet seems to want to outdo the others in fairness and presenting both sides. This is ridiculous. News is news and truth is truth. The strange thing is that this false sense of fairness only seems to extend to scientific matters (and perhaps history, where Holocaust deniers are treated with cautious politeness). If I was running a seminar on financial planning or the legal aspects of property development nobody would expect me to give any time or space to timeshare slammers or peddlers of gambling schemes, but try to teach children about evolution or their parents about the superiority of medicine over witchcraft and there are cries everywhere about unfairness. Tragic.
Then there is the really scary stuff. Several of the "journalists" criticised me for rejecting homeopathy and being close-minded about it. Remember that these people write supposedly factual, researched stories for reputable media outlets. Be afraid.
I risk autism (6/10/2012)
I had to go to the doctor today. Nothing serious, I needed a new prescription for the metformin that helps to keep my diabetes under control and I had to get a referral for an x-ray of the almost-but-not-quite-better broken ankle. While I was there I was reminded of the free pneumonia vaccinations available to a large proportion of the population. The doctor had a dose in the refrigerator so up with the sleeve and in went the needle. Now I'm worried. I had a look at the package insert and you wouldn't believe how many people reported adverse reactions during the clinical trials. 60% reported sore arms. Sixty percent! How could they have ever let something on to the market when 60% of people who got the medicine reported problems. And look at the numbers for other reported problems:
If I was your average anti-vaccination liar I would assume that nobody reported more than one adverse reaction and add all the numbers up. This proves that 152.2% of victims getting a single dose had problems and a massive 226.3% who had more than one dose. You might say that 42.1% of people getting the placebo had problems but that's because it's not a real placebo as it contains adjuvants and other poisons so you would expect problems. If the researchers had used a real placebo there would have been no problems there. And look at those sample sizes. They are not even equal and much too small. Not that any real clinical trial was done because here's no guarantee that it was a double-blind, crossover trial (we know that it wasn't placebo-controlled) and it was probably carried out by the manufacturer or by a bunch of shills paid by them. With only 12% of people admitted to hospital with pneumonia dying it is ridiculous that people are exposed to a vaccine that causes 13 times that rate of adverse events just to maintain the trillion-dollar profits of Big Pharma.
See, I can do bullshit too. And if you think I was exaggerating there, I have heard every one of those arguments used by anti-vaccination liars at some time, including the crazy arithmetic. One thing they say is true, however, and that is that there have never been any crossover trials of vaccines. For those not in the research business, a crossover trial has half the pool of subjects allocated to the treatment group and half to placebo as for any other trial. At some point the initial treatment group start to get the placebo and the placebo subjects start getting the real thing. There are various advantages to doing research like this (fewer subjects might be needed and subjects act as their own controls, for example) but you don't need much time or many neurons to work out why it is impossible to do a crossover trial of a vaccine. It would require people to have their vaccination reversed. The liars know this, but they rely on the people they lie to not knowing it.
And what effects did I feel? I've had occasional back pain for years and I woke up feeling a bit sore this morning, but unless vaccines work backwards in time it was probably because I turned awkwardly in my sleep. I've been feeling tired, but I did have a couple of late nights during the week. My arm is a little sore around the injection site but no more than it would be if I had bumped it on a cupboard, and there is no sign of inflammation or bruising. Nothing to complain about, really. Unlike pneumonia, about which I would be complaining as loudly as my infected lungs would allow.
Court update (6/10/2012)
I received the documentation from the court this week about the application made to have an Apprehended Personal Violence Order made against me. I can confirm that I have to appear in court in Ballina, NSW, on November 15 and between now and then both sides have to supply the court with statements and evidence. Unless something unexpected happens there's not much more I can say before the court date. It's a bit far from civilisation to expect people to turn up, but here's a map if you feel like taking a trip to the north coast of New South Wales.
Paging ex-Dr Geier (13/10/2012)
I've been hearing a lot recently, mainly from supersleuth Tim Bolen, about how the father and son Geier team of autism curers and anti-vaccination liars were about to destroy the medical establishment by defeating all the charges made against them for their despicable conduct in prescribing and supplying (at enormous expense) a drug used for chemically castrating sex offenders. The patients they were supplying it to were children with autism. Yes, you read that right. They were giving a castration drug to children. And they were lying to insurance companies about the medical conditions of the children (Lupron is allowed in certain cases of hormonal disorders).
Here are the last two sections of a ruling by the Maryland Sate Board of Physicians on August 22, 2012:
The ALJ commented that Dr. Geier abused the trust that these patients' families placed in him. "By dissembling, misrepresenting, failing to see his patients for months and years before treating them, applying a protocol-based treatment to children who do not fit the protocol, using non-FDA-approved drugs without fully informed consent, and for all of the other violations found and discussed in this Proposed Decision, he abused that trust. I agree with the State that these actions betray the relationship of a physician to a vulnerable child and his desperate parents." The Board agrees.
The ALJ proposed that the Board revoke Dr. Geier's license. Dr. Geier has displayed in this case an almost total disregard of basic medical and ethical standards by treating patients without properly examining or diagnosing them, continuing treatment without properly evaluating its effectiveness, and providing "informed consent" forms that were misleading and in at least one case blatantly false. He provided treatments supposedly according to an investigational protocol, but the investigation was approved only by a sham Institutional Review Board, and he applied protocols to patients who did not fit his own profile. He provided treatment by a drug not approved for use in this country while informing parents that a different drug would be used. His actions toward his patients were not those of an honest and competent physician, nor do they appear to be those of an objective and ethical researcher. Dr. Geier made little use of those methodologies that distinguish the practice of medicine as a profession. At the same time, he profited greatly from the minimal efforts he made for these patients. In plain words, Dr. Geier exploited these patients under the guise of providing competent medical treatment. Such a use of a medical license is anathema to the Board. The Board has no hesitation in revoking his medicallicense.37
It is therefore ORDERED that the medical license of Mark R. Geier, M.D., No. D24250, be, and it hereby is, REVOKED; and it is further
ORDERED that the summary suspension of Dr. Mark R. Geier imposed by the Board in its Final Decision and Order of March 22, 2012 under Md. State Gov't Code Ann.� 10-226(c) (2) is TERMINATED as moot.
You can read the complete order here.
And here is a media release from the Washington State Department of Health, issued on October 12, 2012.
Doctor's license permanently revoked for not cooperating with investigation
Redmond autism clinic medical director's license now permanently revoked
OLYMPIA – The medical license of physician Mark Geier (MD60041602) has been permanently revoked by the Medical Quality Assurance Commission and the state Department of Health. Although Geier has been living and practicing in Silver Spring, Maryland, he was the medical director of an autism clinic in Redmond.
In January this year, the medical commission indefinitely suspended Geier's Washington license after his Maryland license was suspended by state officials there. The commission's January order allowed Geier to request reinstatement of his Washington license only if his Maryland were reinstated; however, last month, Maryland revoked Geier's license for, among other reasons, failing to meet the standard of care in his treatment of children with autism.
Geier promotes a theory that autism is caused by elevated levels of testosterone. Maryland health officials found he had injected children with Lupron, a long-acting medication used to treat advanced prostate cancer in men and endometriosis in women by reducing hormone levels.
In late 2010 or early 2011 Geier set up a branch of his autism clinics in Redmond, and served as the clinic's medical director. Geier refused to respond to the commission's questions about the clinic and wouldn't provide patient or billing records for the commission's review.
Geier did not respond to the statement of charges issued against him for failing to cooperate with the commission's investigation, so the commission revoked his Washington license. He has 10 days to file a petition for reconsideration with the commission, and 30 days to appeal his license revocation to Thurston County Superior Court.
So things are really going well for the Geiers. All of this is certainly raising the level of respect that quack believers have for the pair of crooks. When the Big Pharma conspiracy shuts you down it proves how right you are. Just ask ex-Dr Andrew Wakefield.
Building a better mousetrap (13/10/2012)
Creationists love to trot out Michael Behe's mousetrap as an example of something which is irreducibly complex and therefore proves that evolution is false because if you take any part away from the mousetrap it doesn't work. Therefore intelligent design and creationism. Leaving aside the false dichotomy logical fallacy (if A is wrong therefore B is right), several people have come up with quite acceptable evolutionary pathways for the common mousetrap. Here are just two of them.
Psychic cure for what? (13/10/2012)
Sometimes I get asked why I bother complaining about "harmless" people like psychics, tarot readers and other practitioners of the mystic arts. Aren't they just entertainment? If they charge money, so what? Isn't just a form of voluntary taxation, like lotteries and casinos?
Perhaps this sign gives a partial answer. If I hung a sign outside my home offering to provide "Psychological Therapy" for the conditions mentioned here I would have regulatory authorities crawling over me like ants on a picnic sandwich. I actually have a university degree in psychology, but I assume that no training is required to hang out a shingle saying "Psychic".
It's Nobel time again (13/10/2012)
Sadly, the Nobel committees have again ignored the obvious winners in several categories, or at least people who would have won if they could do what they say they can do. The Physics prize didn't go to any of the countless inventors of free energy machines that are going to cure Peak Oil, or the sellers of magic bracelets and pendants that concentrate the energy flows of the universe. The Chemistry prize didn't go to a homeopath or someone who has managed to get water to ignite in a car engine. The Economics prize didn't go to the founders of a multi-level marketing scheme, despite the fact that these schemes will replace fifty percent of the retail trade any year now. Despite my offer of assistance (and even providing Dr Stanislaw Burzynski with a daily countdown on Twitter to the cutoff date for nominations), the Medicine prize was not won by someone with a universal cure for cancer. One of these years all these suppressed pioneers will get the recognition they deserve.
And Bob Dylan was passed over for the Literature prize, but that's a complaint I'm taking up with the Nobel people directly.
There will be no update this week as I have to spend my time preparing a response to an almost incoherent submission made to a court. The content is arranged (if that word can be used) in a fashion that makes it almost impossible to follow any logical flow, but the physical presentation also makes things difficult. The printed submission was delivered to me as seven A3 pages. I was also supplied with a PDF file of the submission with the page size set to A2. This means that if I print it out, the first page (which was A3 in the PDF file) prints on my A4 printer at a half of its full size and the remaining six pages at one fourth of full size. I could spend an afternoon fiddling about with all this and probably will because I have to respond point by point and I need to extract images from the mess. I don't know what software was used to create this dog's breakfast, but if it was Microsoft Word the author would seriously fail the TAFE course I teach about the product.
Just to make sure I don't have any spare time, I have to prepare to participate in a panel session following a showing of an anti-psychiatry video produced by the Scientology subsidiary CCHR. It is tempting to comment on the video by simply rolling on the floor and laughing but my audience will expect more from me so I had better watch it again and make some notes.
Then there are those invoices that have to be made and sent to my real-world clients who are screaming out to pay me. (Just joking, as anyone in a consulting business will know.)
It's been a busy week (27/10/2012)
It's been another week when my priorities have been other than this web site or my job. It took longer than I would have liked to write the statement I had to provide to the court in relation to the bizarre legal action being taken against me. As the entire matter might be decided solely on the basis of these statements I had to make sure that I covered everything that needed to be addressed. I think I got it right but I won't know until the magistrate has spoken. Any news will be reported here as soon as it is known, but for now it's just a matter of waiting until November 15.
Sad days (27/10/2012)
It hasn't been a good few weeks for the pioneers of organised skepticism. On October 12 James Gerrand, one of the founders of Australian Skeptics, died at the age of 93. The other founder, Mark Plummer, died last year. I met both of them at various skeptical gatherings, although both had been out of the front line for some years. Two weeks later, on October 26, Paurl Kurtz died. I met Paul at the 2000 World Skeptics Conference. He was the driving force behind the establishment of CSICOP, now CSI, and can truly be called the man responsible for organised skepticism existing at all. Someone had to be first, and he was it.
I didn't know either James or Paul well enough to write an obituary, so I will leave it up to the people who did.
Young Scientist Awards (27/10/2012)
One thing I did during the week that gave me great pleasure was to attend the award presentation for the Young Scientists of the Year, a project of the Science Teachers Association of NSW. I was there as a representative of Australian Skeptics and had the honour of giving a very short speech about the relationship between skepticism and science. I also got to present the awards for the Year 7-9 group and to shake hands with a group of young folk who are almost certainly smarter than I am. The range of projects these kids have worked on over the last year is amazing. It is also encouraging to see that the love of science is being encouraged right down to kindergarten level. The range of interests, the enthusiasm of the students, the spread of winners across a broad range of both private and public schools all contribute to an optimism that both science education and science itself have a bright future in this country. There is always the complaint (and it is justified) that there is not enough science education to provide the scientists we will need in the future, but competitions like this one raise the profile of science education and hopefully encourage students to think that school isn't just about absorbing enough facts to pass exams but is also a place where you can learn to look for the answers yourself. That's what science is all about, after all.
And that reminds me ... (27/10/2012)
Another sponsor of the Young Scientist Awards was the magazine Australasian Science, and I just happen to write a column there each month. The title is "The Naked Skeptic". The origin of the title is lost in the mists of history, although archeological linguists (and possibly even linguistic archeologists) have suggested connections to the book Naked Lunch by William Burroughs and also The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris and The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp. In one of those coincidences so beloved of the woo industry, manuscripts of both of the latter two books were delivered to the same publisher on the same day, with neither author aware of the other's proposed title. What is known is that this is the oldest Naked Skeptic column in any magazine in the world even though it has its pale imitators elsewhere. I don't actually have to be naked to write it, although sometimes it helps.
Which brings us to this month's edition. The column is about the health and nutrition benefits of organic foods.
I live in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, arguably the national capital of food fads. At a Katoomba café recently I noted that the salt and pepper shakers were labelled "All natural", the only non-sugar sweetener available for coffee was the "all natural" stevia and the lack of gluten in the scones ensured that they disintegrated into a pile of crumbs as soon as any attempt to break them in half was made. I sometimes think it would be easier to label the food items on menus that contain gluten rather than those that don't. It would save printing ink.
Above all this concentration on the components of food and the naturalness of everything there is the umbrella of "organic".
The Sci-ənce cartoon site has gone to the great bit bucket in the sky.
The Bolenator spouts forth (27/10/2012)
A source of constant amusement is Tim Bolen, spokesstool to cancer quacks, dentists who grope female patients and people who commit insurance fraud. He has decided to take an interest in the court case against me, and as he is not an interested party and knows nothing about the case unless he has been supplied with inside information that he is not supposed to have I feel free to comment on his comments. Here is something he posted to a blog in Australia:
On the web page he linked to he provided links to allow people to download material which was supposed to be provided to the Court but which had not, at that time, actually been handed to the court registry. How he came by this material two days before the court did is a matter for the courts to decide, as is the matter of whether his comments and prepublication of confidential information constitute contempt by him or some other party.
Tim seems to have a real thing about cupcakes and mentions them to me about once per week. Why he should think that I'd be embarrassed by participating in a fundraising event for charity has never been explained. I expect that it's because he can't imagine a world where people help anyone else. His total detachment from reality is shown by his statement that shadows showing that the sun was in the western sky indicate that the time was 5:30am. (Sunrise in San Juan Capistrano that day was at 6:55am.) Perhaps San Juan Capistrano is on its own special part of the Earth where the sun rises in the west. And it isn't Bolen's "private mail box company" – it's a stationery shop where he rents a mail box which he uses as his business and residential address.
Tim has now published an even more insane commentary about the case, in which among other glaring errors he gets the name and occupation of one of the other defendants wrong. (AVOs were applied for against three people.) As some of the things he said and the names of people who repeated and publicised them might be relevant to the case against me I will leave publication of and linking to his rantings until after the case against me has been decided. In any case, if all my readers went there at once it could cause a world shortage of the rain coats necessary to avoid getting clothes drenched in the mouth foam.
New road rules (27/10/2012)
New road rules come into effect around my place on November 1. This is one of them. Luckily, people are working on the problem.
See more Close to Home here
And look what else has an opinion (27/10/2012)
This comment was posted, anonymously of course although there was pretence at a name, to a blog run by a friend of mine:
Is that an address in Canada I see? Why, yes it is. And who lives in Canada and keeps lying about me being a criminal? Why, Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group, a place where people with cancer go to be lied to, have their hopes raised, and have their money stolen. Of course Mr O'Neill, being the coward he is, has resorted to his customary Gutless Anonymous Liar mode because he is just too frightened to use his real name.
And just for the record, nobody named "McLeod" has been served with anything, the case against Mr Raffaele was dismissed and as the applications were personal and not brought by the police there is no prospect of any criminal charges being laid against anyone. But why would I expect Mr O'Neill to tell the truth about anything? He has never done so in the past. And if Mr O'Neill would like to sue me for defamation he knows where to find me. Unlike him, I don't hide in the shadows behind false names.
A convention (27/10/2012)
The 2012 Australian Skeptics National Convention will be held in Melbourne this year on the last weekend in November. Here is what the official web site says about the speakers who are lined up to educate, inform and entertain attenders:
A national and international star studded array of presenters include James "The Amazing" Randi, DJ Grothe (President of the James Randi Foundation), Brian Thompson (Outreach Coordinator of JREF), Rebecca Watson (SGU blogger), Lawrence "Unbelievable" Leung (as seen on TV!), Dr. Rachael Dunlop, Richard Saunders, Lynne Kelly, Dr. Krissy Wilson, Dr. Ken Harvey (Choice Magazine Consumer of the Year Award), Adam vanLangenberg, Dr Cameron Martin (from Friends of Science in Medicine), Meredith Doig, Stephen Mayne (media commentator and shareholder activist), plus many others.
Unless something seriously goes wrong, I'll be in Melbourne during the Convention (Friday, November 30 to Sunday, December 2) doing media reports, interviews for various publications and other journalist type activities. Just look for the harassed man with the camera and microphone who seems to be running everywhere. (Just joking. I ran somewhere in 1989 and didn't like it so I've only done a fast walk since then.) I'll be in town for a day or two either side of the event as well, so I'm sure a certain amount of socialising will also take place.
As they always say – places are limited so get onto the web site and book your seat. You'll kick yourself if you don't go and have to put up with people telling you what you missed.