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Don't miss this! (1/12/2012)
There might not be an update to this site next weekend because I will be elsewhere talking about the coming end of time.
Well, maybe not. If you are in the Canberra area on December 8 you could spend some time productively by listening to me present possibly the last ever talk to Canberra Skeptics. The title is "The Last Canberra Skeptics Meeting Ever? A Skeptical Take on the Upcoming End-Of-The-World" and you can find the details of time and place here.
Convention report (1/12/2012)
I couldn't get to the Australian Skeptics National Convention this weekend because my broken ankle hasn't got better as much as everyone wanted. An x-ray showed that the break hasn't closed properly and the ankle is still swollen and painful, so it's off to the MRI people to find out what's not showing on x-ray. Lots of travel and much walking around Melbourne were not considered to be good ideas, and as I really don't want to be back on crutches I decided to play it safe.
I'll have some vicarious reports of the convention content here and in various publications shortly, but I can report on the awards that were presented.
I thought it would be nice to send Fran Sheffield a Kind and Gentle email informing her of the great honour that has been bestowed on her.
I don't know if you've heard yet, but you have been awarded the 2012 Bent Spoon Award from Australian Skeptics. The announcement was made at a gala dinner held as part of the Skeptics' National Convention in Melbourne.
The Bent Spoon was inspired by James Randi's debunking of people who perform stage magic while pretending to have real magic powers, and it seems so appropriate that it should go to someone who makes a living doing magic tricks while pretending that there is some real, tangible power there. The description of the award says that it is presented to "the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle" and it difficult to imagine anything more preposterous or pseudoscientific than homeopathy.
There was strong competition, but you came out on top. Or maybe on the bottom.
Wakefield runs again. (1/12/2012)
Remember how ex-Dr Andrew Wakefield was going to get the Texas judiciary to show what a puny place the UK was compared to Texas? Here's Patrick Timothy Bolen, spokessphincter for quacks. sounding off on the subject:
Texas has several applicable laws to punish people like Brian Deer. We'll all watch them used.
Texas is, of course, far larger in size than Britain, and has much more wealth and economic power. Texas can easily spank Britain publicly - and, with this case, probably will.
In short, the BMJ and Brian Deer might be a big deal in tiny little Britain, but their influence is nil in Texas. Brian Deer, and the pipsqueak BMJ are in the big leagues now - and they won't do well.
Remember how the Texas judiciary told ex-Dr Wakefield that Texas courts have no jurisdiction over defamation in the UK?
Remember how ex-Dr Andrew Wakefield was going to wipe the floor with the Texas judge on appeal? Pat Bolen again:
You just have to get used to the idea that, well, Britain isn't what it used to be, and, well, I hate to break it to you (actually, I don't mind at all), but your whole silly little system is going on trial in TEXAS, in the United States of America.
The country of Britain had its chance to slap down Brian Deer, and, because, I guess, of its inherent inadequacies, the argument has been moved to a higher, more competent jurisdiction - TEXAS.
You can be sure that TEXAS will give your little country all of the respect it deserves. I feel confident that your shining star (choke) British Medical Journal will get its day in court. Please have your attendees dress appropriately. Keep in mind that in OUR Court system men don't wear dresses and girly wigs.
(See members of the Supreme Court of the USA wearing "dresses" in the photo at right.)
Well, ex-Dr Wakefield was due to appear in court on November 19 to do the floor-wiping and the destruction of Brian Deer and the BMJ, but on November 16 he asked for more time to get his case together, despite having lodged notice of the appeal many weeks before. His next scheduled floor-wiping date is January 4, 2013.
In 2005, still-then-a-Dr Andrew Wakefield sued for defamation in the UK. He kept delaying the hearings in order to increase cost and aggravation for the other side (and to maintain the pretence that he was winning a case) until finally a judge told him to get on with it or else. The or else happened and the case folded. He is obviously doing the same thing again, because as long as the farce goes on clowns like Pat Bolen can keep saying he is about to win.
Here is a comment by a judge in one of Wakefield's unsuccessful UK libel actions: "It thus appears that the claimant wishes to use the existence of the libel proceedings for public relations purposes, and to deter other critics, while at the same time isolating himself from the 'downside' of such litigation, in having to answer a substantial defence of justification".
I predict at least one more request for a time extension before the appeal court gets tired of the charade.
See more PhD Comics here
Note - Wakefield had a sample size of 12 (in a study with 13 researchers)
A suitable reaction (1/12/2012)
Mark Twain's daughter died of meningitis. His son died of diphtheria. Shortly after his wife died of heart failure, a snake oil salesman sent him a letter and a pamphlet promoting a product called "The Elixir Of Life". It could cure meningitis and diphtheria. Twain dictated the following letter to his secretary.
Nov. 20. 1905
J. H. Todd
1212 Webster St.
San Francisco, Cal.
Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.
Adieu, adieu, adieu!
Thank you to the excellent Letters Of Note for giving us access to correspondence like this.
Anti-vaccination liars are upset. Boo hoo!
On Monday November 26 the Australian Academy of Science released a booklet for parents setting out the scientific argument for vaccination. There was enormous media coverage of this, and what was a pleasure to see was that with only one exception only kook radio programs and fringe publications gave any coverage to the non-existent "other side". (A friend of mine went on a TV show and asked about "balance". The response was that there was nothing needing balancing.) The exception was a once-respectable television station that just had to have Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination Network on. Her "balance" consisted of repeating things that she has been told many times are not true. She has since started writing a rebuttal to the booklet, but I will wait until that project is finished before analysing it. I will get in a good supply of yellow markers before attempting that task. Click on the image to download a copy.
World AIDS Day (1/12/2012)
December 1 is World AIDS Day. On this day each year sane people are permitted to be as rude as is humanly possible to AIDS deniers.
Chiropractic - quackery to the core (10/12/2012)
One of the greatest confidence tricks in alternative medicine is the way that chiropractors have managed to convince even people who should know better that the profession is some legitimate form of medicine and has thrown off its history. One area in which they have supposedly entered the real world is that they now officially support vaccination, unlike the position in the past which saw chiropractors as the leading form of opposition from any area of alternative medicine with a veneer of respectability.
To understand why chiropractors would oppose vaccination, it is on a simple risk/benefit ratio. As the basic tenet of chiropractic is that all disorders of the human body are caused by restricted flow of vital energy through the spine there can be no place for bacteria or viruses in the etiology of disease. Because vaccination carries some risk but offers no protection against misalignment of the spine there is no benefit, so there can be no justification for doing it. No germs, no need to protect against germs.
Oh, chiropractors will pretend that they support vaccination, but it is lip service only. I've been at a trade show where the professional society for chiropractors was handing out blatantly anti-vaccination material, but when challenged it was all weasel words and "we think parents should have a choice".
The end of the world. Really? (10/12/2012)
This was a talk given to Canberra Skeptics on December 8, 2012.
I suppose there are some people in the world with access to the Internet or mass media who haven't heard the stories about how the world is possibly going to end on December 21, 2012. Whether the end will come simultaneously everywhere as soon as midnight happens in Kirabati or if it will roll around the Earth like some giant devastating Mexican Wave is generally not stated, but either would be bad. The usual reason for picking this date is that a calendar made by the Mayans several centuries ago only runs until this date. It's a solstice, so it's a useful date for all sorts of astrological predictions and it's just before Christmas so it's a good date to frighten people with.
Predictions of the end of the world are not new, and there have been thousands of them over the centuries. I'm going to consider some of the predictions from the past, look at the dangers of false or unfulfilled predictions, and then see what the prognosticators have in store for us this year.
Some very good news (15/12/2012)
Back in July I wrote:
Australian Network for Plant Conservation. Australian Network for Art and Technology. Australian Network on Disability. Australian Fitness Network. Australian African Network. Australian Homestay Network. Australian Vaccination Network.
One of these names is not like the others. There is a network devoted to conservation of plants, one with the objective of supporting artists, another which works to aid people with disabilities, one which wants everyone to become healthier, one which provides support and community for migrants from Africa, and one which links people with holiday accommodation. All of these organisations with "network" in their name have as their aims the promotion of what the other words in their names mean.
The exception is the Australian Vaccination Network, because despite what a naïve person might think from just seeing the name, this organisation exists for the sole purpose of opposing vaccinations of all kinds against all diseases for all people of all ages. There are no exceptions. I have asked many times for an example of a single vaccine that the AVN would support or consider worthwhile and I have never even received a cricket chirp in response. The organisation claims to be pro-choice, but the only choice that they consider is to say "No".
There is now a move to get the relevant government authority to force the AVN to change its name to something more representative of its aims. The President of the AVN, Meryl Dorey, is squealing about this and making absurd claims about dictatorships and fascism and freedom of speech and how an evil conspiracy of doctors and skeptics is trying to suppress her right to provide balanced information to parents. She is even claiming that nobody can tell any organisation what its name should be, but I know I had to make two passes through the bureaucracy last year to register a business name because my first choice shared 80% of its letters with a company in another state.
The news came through late in the evening of December 14 that my wish had come true. The following story appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper:
Minister orders anti-vaccination group to change its name
A controversial anti-vaccination lobby group has been slapped with an order to change its misleading name or be shut down.
The NSW Office of Fair Trading doorstopped the home of Australian Vaccination Network president Meryl Dorey yesterday with a letter of action, labelling the network's name misleading and a detriment to the community.
NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts fired a broadside at the AVN, saying the information it provided was a public safety issue of "life and death".
"This is not a victimless issue, it's about the ability to stop pain and suffering," he said.
Mr Roberts likened the AVN's message to sanctioning speeding.
"People do not have the freedom of choice when it comes to endangering others ... it's the equivalent of saying a bloke can speed down the road and endanger others," he said.
Mr Roberts said he was prepared for any appeals the AVN might make.
"This is an order, it is not a request," he said
Another one found on Facebook. Please tell me if you know who made it.
Taking a break (15/12/2012)
With Christmas and New Year coming up I'm going to take a break from The Millenium Project until January 5. I've got a couple of other projects (like the blog and Radio Ratbags) which need some attention, and there is a bit of background maintenance that needs to be done to this site and the software that keeps it running. If anything amazing happens I'll talk about it here, so have the occasional look, set yourself up with Change Detection to be notified of changes, or follow me on Twitter and you won't miss anything.
Site statistics showed about a million visitors to this site over the last year, so I assume that means a lot of people keep coming back (I'd hate to think that a million people looked once and never looked again). I would like to thank all the regular readers and even the people who don't like what they see here. If I was pleasing everyone I wouldn't be doing my job properly.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. If these aren't your holidays then enjoy them as a bonus. Christmas for me is a time for friends and family. If any fundamentalist atheists want to criticise me for using the word "Christmas" instead of some weasel word they should send their complaints to email@example.com where they will be ignored.
Have a safe and happy time, and I hope to see you all back here next year. (And yes, I know that "see" is a silly word here but it's what everyone in the media says so who am I to argue with TV stars.)
Court report (15/12/2012)
The latest movement of the Caravan of AVO Aggravation was to Lismore Local Court on December 10. I had thought this would be the actual hearing of the case but there has been some rearranging of the magistrate roster and the date became yet another mention to set a date for the real thing. The next date is January 15, 2013, but the documentation I've received from the Court suggests that it will also be a mention and the new magistrate hasn't been provided with everything I've already submitted to the Court. (All my statements and evidence were sent to the Court at Ballina, and the move to Lismore was to allow me to attend hearings by video link rather than by attendance at a court 750 kilometres from my place.)
I will be corresponding with court officials to ensure that we don't all have to start again from where everything was in September. Even though no interim order was placed on me, I have been acting circumspectly while the case has been proceeding and have been restricting what I say and do about vaccination and its opponents. This is what is known to lawyers as a chilling effect, and I want it over as soon as possible. It's been more than three months since the application for an Apprehended Personal Violence Order against me was made and at least another month until any real court action happens. I've been prepared since October 24, and I don't want it to drag on any longer.
Lismore Court House
He writes stuff (15/12/2012)
Another outlet has been added to the places that publish my scribblings. I had an article published this week in the science section of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's web site. As some of my media heroes work for ABC Science I hope I lived up to their standards (and I hope I get invited back). It was a condensed version of the speech I gave in Canberra last weekend about the coming end of everything on December 21. You can read it here.
And people write to me (15/12/2012)
I've been receiving some balanced criticism from visitors. We take constructive criticism very seriously here at the RatbagsDotCom Empire and all comments are fed into our continuous improvement program.
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2012 23:18:23 +1100
Subject: re: The 9/11 conspiracies
From: "Craig Simmons"
G'day, I can't find any way of putting a comment on your 911 page, but here it is:
You managed to find the right place.
What about WTC 7? How many 'conspiricy deniers' are even aware of the collapse of this building, and the peculiar way it collapsed (just like the other two)?
I can't imagine that anybody is not aware of the collapse of WTC7. After all, isn't that the building that the conspiracy kooks claim was brought down when the Fire Chief said "Pull it"? There was nothing peculiar about the way it collapsed. It wasn't like the other two though, because they collapsed due to internal damage caused by aircraft crashing into them relatively high in the structures whereas WTC7 had the side torn out of it by debris from the two large towers.
Please do some simple research for yourself about this anomalous event.
If there was anything anomalous about a building falling down because it had been severely damaged by debris from a major collapse right next to it there might be something to research, but I've got better things to do with my time than to humour people who want to believe in fairy tales.
Date: Fri, 07 Dec 2012 20:53:44 +1100
I have been reading Nexus Magazine since 1993 and love it.
It is a highly amusing publication. I have a fondness for it myself.
The alternate media is a refreshing place for people to exchange ideas. It is not for the faint hearted. You have been brainwashed since childhood.
I give my brain a wash quite frequently by reading magazines like Nexus.
Go and join the skeptics....your world is black and white.
I joined the Skeptics years ago.
You are a narrow minded RATBAG.
may the farce be with you!!!!!
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2012 21:52:38 -0500
From: "Anna Ross"
Subject: Sad man
How sad that you have become hostage to the influence of big-pharma. When science catches up to the true reality of health that does not involve ingesting massive quantities of chemicals rather than focussing on good food perhaps we will move forward. We have a sickness industry not a health or wellness one.
So you think that doctors want to keep people sick? Is this deliberate or is it that with all their training they just don't know as much as people who look up everything in Google?
There is so much fear in you, who abused you as a child, your dad or a school? The whole website is a monument to your psychological imbalance. Anger at those who think differently only deepens your illness.
Thank you for your concern and your comprehensive psychological analysis of my mental state. I will discuss it with the next psychiatrist I play golf with. I was not abused as a child (unless I'm suffering from repressed memories, of course).
Iiiiiiiiiiiiit's Jocky. (22/12/2012)
Jock Doubleday was once famous for offering a challenge to any doctor who was prepared to drink vaccine ingredients. The challenge was a complete farce and Jock had no intention of ever giving away the $20,000 or $25,000 or $75,000 or whatever fictitious number was being quoted from time to time. Jock once said that he didn't want anybody to take the challenge because he didn't want them to die, but would only give me $0.01 if I did it and lived. Apparently either I am immortal or the challenge didn't exist. Anti-vaccination liar web sites all over the place still claim that the challenge is both existent and extant, but lying is what they do.
Jock appeared on Facebook this week to whine about Facebook being a CIA front organisation. The irony of using the corrupt vehicle to complain about it would not have occurred to Jock, lacking as he does any intellectual capacity at all.
Normal people can only wonder at the workings of whatever passes for a mind in a paranoid conspiracist. Perhaps there is nothing there to work.
A popular vote (22/12/2012)
The online magazine Crikey asked its readers to vote in an end-of-year poll. The categories were Person Of The Year, Arsehat Of The Year, and Australia's sexiest male and female politicians. Arsehat of the year was always going to be radio announcer Alan Jones, and there is even rumbling that he was such a certain winner that it wasn't fair to any of the other contestants. Here are the results, which I offer without further comment.
Did the world end? (22/12/2012)
Somehow I became a sort of an expert on the Mayan end times prophecy. I spoke at a meeting of Canberra Skeptics, I wrote an article for ABC Science Online, and on the very day itself I was on radio 2SER in Sydney talking to Kylar Loussikian about it.
I did have a moment of doubt, though. I went out with a group of friends on doomsday night all ready to chuckle "Yuck, yuck, Yucatán" at the appropriate time when things didn't stop. When I got to the railway station to catch my train home I was faced with this display showing the times for the next trains from Platform 3 at Penrith.
Perhaps CityRail were waiting to see if any trains would be needed that night. A train eventually arrived and went to where it was supposed to go. There were no zombies on it.
Another accolade for Andy (22/12/2012)
Disgraced and disgraceful ex-Dr Andrew Wakefield, the man whose fraudulent "research" led to the death of a few and the infection of many with measles has been granted another award.
Here is how it was reported on Simon Singh's Good Thinking Society blog:
Andrew Wakefield, who sparked the unjustified MMR controversy, wins the Golden Duck Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to quackery.
And here is how The Guardian reported it:
Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by the science writer Simon Singh.
Runners-up for the award were Prince Charles and David Tredinnick, the Tory MP for Bosworth and member of the Commons health select committee. The Good Thinking Society, a campaign group led by Singh, set up the annual Golden Duck award to recognise those "who have supported or practised pseudoscience in the most ludicrous, dangerous, irrational or irresponsible manner".
In 1998, Wakefield was the lead author of a paper in the Lancet medical journal that suggested a link between the measles virus and inflammatory bowel disease. The paper also suggested the virus played a role in the development of autism. Wakefield later said that his research led him to believe that, instead of the MMR triple vaccine, children should be given a series of single vaccines. His statements led to alarm around the world, a drop in the rate of MMR vaccination and, in the UK, a rise in cases of measles cases.
In 2010, the Lancet formally retracted Wakefield's paper and he was struck off the medical register after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct. Subsequent studies have found no credible link between MMR and either autism or Crohn's disease.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at Bristol University, said that Wakefield's legacy was "many, many thousands of unimmunised children born over the last 15 years whose parents decided MMR was too risky at the time and subsequently have forgotten all about it. Measles rates are up and they will only decline when this accumulation of susceptibles has either had the vaccine or the disease."
Singh said Wakefield's impact on vaccination in the past decade had been important and worrying. "Reminding people of these issues is very important," he said
You can read the complete article here.
2012 Millenium Awards (31/12/2012)
I am pleased to announce the winners of the prestigious Millenium Awards for 2012. The competition was fierce, but there can only be one winner. In each category. Unless there are more than one. Please give a warm round of applause to the winners.