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May 7, 2005

And a happy Mothers' Day to you too (7/5/2005)
A chrysanthemumTime was short again this week because of Mothers' Day, so this update is late and brief. I have three generations of mothers to worry about (my mother, my kids' mother and my grandson's mother). To add to my time constraints, I had to spend most of Saturday with a client and couldn't find the time for present shopping. The silver lining was that the client just happens to distribute chocolates for a living and I was fortunate enough to be able to load the car with sufficient goodies to eliminate the possibility that I would have to sleep in the insalubrious residence of Cody the dog. Also, SkeptoBear filed his story late. He took off on Friday night saying that he was going to see his mother and was returned two days later by the fire brigade, who said that they found him stuck in a tree outside a house of ill-repute, waving a pair of binoculars and an almost-empty bottle of rum and singing risqué sea shanties with his friend from San Francisco, the pirate bear R. Jim Ladd.

Book Review: The Cancer Cure That Worked! by Barry Lynes (7/5/2005)
IThe Cancer Cure That Worked. (Yeah, right!) was challenged by a supporter of medical quackery to read this book as it was sure to convince me that a great man had once defied the laws of the universe and had also found a guaranteed cure for cancer, a man whose achievements had been suppressed by the orthodoxy. Even though the man's work had been suppressed, I was able to find a copy of the book at an underground bookshop specialising in selling books which the establishment do not want people to read (the underground bookshop goes by the name of

Although dead for years, Royal Raymond Rife remains a giant in the medical quackery and pseudoscience worlds. Not only did he discover the cure for cancer, but he was able to invent a microscope which defied the laws of optics. Of course, he was persecuted and suppressed by the establishment and his ideas and discoveries were lost forever. Or so this book says. In fact, Rife's ideas persist today in a variety of forms, although many of the quacks who have plagiarised his work seem to forget to mention where the ideas came from and then go on to claim them as their own.

Briefly, Rife claimed that all cancers were caused by the same virus and that this virus could change form, sometimes looking like a virus, sometimes looking like a bacterium, and sometimes manifesting itself as a fungus. He could observe these creatures moving about under his microscope by magnifying them 13,000, 17,000 or even 60,000 times, magnifications which "physicists" and "microscope manufacturers" claim are impossible using visible light and only attainable with electron microscopes. Because electron microscopes can only observe killed specimens, Rife had the advantage of seeing the living organisms moving about. He was then able to determine the electromagnetic frequencies which would destroy the microbes and cure the cancer. All cancer.

Physicist Robert Park has described seven signs of what he calls "voodoo science", and Rife showed almost all of them. He either refused or was too busy to publish any of his work in peer-reviewed journals (although some of his supporters published anecdotes in some non-peer-reviewed publications), there was a powerful establishment suppressing his discoveries (the dreadful Morris Fishbein from the AMA tried to buy his silence), all the evidence of cures was either anecdotal or lost in fires, equipment which operated at or even beyond the limits of detection was required to observe the effects, Rife worked in isolation (except for a few acolytes and true believers) and changes to the laws of physics were required if his microscopes were to work. As added evidence of the conspiracy against Rife, some people who initially supported him later changed their minds and admitted that they had been foolish.

If this book had been written as a way of showing an example of pathological science at work then it might have had some value. Instead, it was written by a true believer as a way of promoting Rife's work and promoting the nonsense to a wider A Bear and a Magician.audience. This book is less than worthless. I felt that I should have been paid to read it. Not only is it worthless, however, but it is dangerous as it could convince people with real diseases that someone following Rife's absurd ideas might actually be able to cure something.

SkeptoBear's World Tour - Day Nine (7/5/2005)
More heroes and magicians appeared on the stage during the third day of Randi's Amazing Meeting, and the high standard of the day before was maintained. Three of SkeptoBear's particular heroes spoke this day, so he was in Skeptic Heaven (if such a place is not an oxymoron). As well as the serious stuff there was laughter and magic, an experiment, a party and a small disappointment that didn't really spoil the day. See what happened on the third day of The Amazing Meeting here.

They chose to shut up (7/5/2005)
I mentioned last week that an MLM company had given me a deadline to remove certain unspecified material from this site. I replied with my own deadline for them to say what they wanted removed. As expected, there was no response. This means that they have forfeited any right to complain about what I have to say on this site about their operations. If they or their lawyers make any more attempts to close this site down by making spurious claims of copyright or defamation then these claims will be exposed for the barratry and harassment that they are.

But something could not shut up (7/5/2005)
No truth! No Courage! No value!It was too good an opportunity for the Gutless Anonymous Liar to pass up, so it had to put its oar in with the following piece of drivel:

The good people at [XYZ] have taken the initiative to contact everyone youve been lying about for most of your disgusting life and it seems cooperation abounds to influence your dumbass ISP and their shareholders to hold you accountable. The legal stuff like copyright infringement, libel, easy. But give us some help here. How can we hold you accountable for being such a complete fucking arsehole? If you have any ideas, post them on your site so we can all see. By the way, just ignore those chest pains...theyre really nothing.

It's rather amusing to see it referring to my "dumbass ISP and their shareholders", because last week it was telling me that it was on first name terms with the CEO (and major shareholder). I must mention to that person that GAL now thinks that he is a "dumbass". Speaking of CEOs, I haven't hear much lately from Mr William P O'Neill, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Research Group. Well, when I say I haven't heard much from him lately, I mean when he has been admitting to his name and not trying (and failing) to be anonymous.

Animals in Europe are a bit safer (7/5/2005)
Here is part of a media release from the European Board of Veterinary Specialisation:

In its meeting on April 16-17, 2005 the European Board of Veterinary Specialisation (EBVS), an organisation which oversees veterinary specialisation in Europe, has unanimously agreed on incorporating the following statements in its Policies and Procedures regarding supplementary, complementary and alternative medicine.

The veterinary profession received the prerogative for diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases based on the assumption that veterinarians are guided by scientific methods. The EBVS therefore only recognises scientific, evidence-based veterinary medicine which complies with animal welfare legislation. Specialists or colleges who practice or support implausible treatment modalities with no proof of effectiveness run the risk of withdrawal of their specialist status. No credit points can be granted for education or training in these so-called supplementary, complementary and alternative treatment modalities.


Failure of a college to comply with any of the Policies and Procedures of the EBVS may lead to the withdrawal of provisional or full recognition. I would appreciate it if you could inform the members of your organisation regarding this matter.

It is rather ironic that ducks should be protected from quacks. I wonder when we can expect the same protection against quackery and unscientific nonsense to be extended to humans.

May 14, 2005

Like a duck paddling, the activity is out of sight (14/5/2005)
There has been a major reorganisation this week of the database which builds a lot of the content of this site. This was done to make it easier to manage the articles and commentaries which are published here, and also make it easier for readers (and search engines) to find material which has appeared here in the past. I even found a couple of orphan pages which could only be found by using the internal site search. Over the next few weeks I will be going through the monthly history pages and extracting some of the articles into separate comment pages. The eventual aim is to make each category page the starting point which leads to everything ever appearing on the site about the topic. This will mean a lot of work, but it should make the site a more useful resource for the many thousands of people who come here each week. I have a selfish motive as well, of course, and it will make it easier for me to maintain the site, leaving more time for writing, research, and laughing at hate mail.

Speaking of hate mail ... (14/5/2005)
This has all the hallmarks of a Gutless Anonymous Liar effort, but there are subtle clues in the language which suggests that either GAL is evolving or there is a pretender out there somewhere. I didn't spend all those years studying linguistics just so I could respond to people at parties who ask me about my sign by launching into a lecture on Ferdinand de Saussure and the relationship between signifier and signified. (I do though, and it is good fun!)

In the past couple of weeks weve diverted your email, again, just to get a sense of the real tone and interest bewteen you and your readers of late. In that sense must certainly be the purpose. I suggest rather than a slow death through readship, douse yourself in gasoilne, get a bic lighter and a handgun, put the handgun in your mouth and simultaneously pull the truggers on the gun and bic lighter. I further suggest you do this in the front yard so the very good and very happy Mrs Bowditch hasnt quite the mess to clean up.

Another matter. [XYZ] has filed an action. They also filed a complaint with the NSW Poleice who characterzied you "as not quite right". Bit of an understatement. Would you think? The police advsied [XYZ] theyd have another visit with you. Get the kettle on! Companys on its way!

Time to be kind and gentle again (14/5/2005)
There has been an outbreak of polio in Indonesia, and the government has started a mass vaccination campaign to try to contain it and eradicate it if possible. This has come to the attention of the anti-vaccination liars, who don't see hundreds of paralysed children as a problem. I have written to one of them,

Dear Greg,

I saw your comment on the AVN mailing list about the small number of children in Indonesia who have been paralysed by polio in the latest outbreak. Well, you think that 788 is a small number but I imagine that the parents of those children see it as a large number.

I think that your problem is the same as the one which some psychologists believe happens with pornography, where an ever-higher level of stimulus is required to achieve arousal as the viewer becomes desensitised with continual exposure. I suspect that at one time it only took one crippled child to get you started, but now almost a thousand is not enough. I can see why you support the anti-vaccination cause as it offers the promise of many thousands of crippled (and even dead) children for you to salivate over. As long as you just keep salivating - you wouldn't want to do anything which might make you go blind.

The answer I received suggests that it would be impossible to carry on a sensible conversation with the writer:

Curious post? You might know that I believe paralytic polio is a result of ingested poisons like DDT and possibly triggered by live OPV. Also that vaccine/disease data from remote unverifiable sources is a good way to promote fear and sell product. Take Care

A coming debate (14/5/2005)
OverDarwin fish the next few weeks I will be participating in an online debate about creationism and evolution. The topic will be "Did the universe and life evolve, or was it specially created in 6 days?", and I have been invited to form a team from Australian Skeptics. The opposing team will come from Answers in Genesis. There are no prizes for guessing which team will be supporting which answer to the question. The debate will take place in Margo Kingston's Webdiary section of the Sydney Morning Herald web site. I will announce the times and dates as soon as I know them, but this will require more than a little homework so it probably won't start for about three weeks. The Skeptics do not have AiG's advantage of having staff who can work full-time on this project, but our hearts are pure and our backs are strong. And we have real scientists.


Excuses, excuses! (14/5/2005)
Because I didn't want to have to retrace my steps when researching evolution for the debate mentioned above, a planned review of an excellent book on evolution and an opinion piece about the outbreak of madness in Kansas have been held over for at least one week. The only thing I will say now is that an appropriate short name for the intellectual discipline which incorporates the study and teaching of Intelligent Design is "IDiocy".

Be very afraid (14/5/2005)
Offered without comment - two videos:
Dangers of alternative medicine (35 minutes)
Is a headache worth dying for? (2 minutes)

The inchless keep writing (14/5/2005)
I Trousers with inbuilt codpiece. As worn by members of the Ratbag Castle staff.can only imagine how embarrassing it must be for someone to stand at a crowded bus stop and hear the wind whistling through the vacant spaces in his underpants, but that doesn't mean that I have an answer to that person's problems. I have put a large sign on my penis enlargement spam page saying that I can't help, but still they write to me with their tales of woe. "Short stories", I suppose you could call these emails. I think I am going to have to start suggesting the old piece of string and a brick solution, although it can be painful if you don't keep the brick away from your ankles. Or so I've been told ...

Hear him speak (14/5/2005)
I will be speaking at a couple of functions for Australian Skeptics over the next few months, and everyone is welcome to come along, even if it is just to serve writs or to smell my brimstone cologne. Here are the dates and locations:

A museum dedicated to the history of Australia might seem like a strange place to discuss herbal and natural medicines, but the Australia we know today only exists because of a natural medicine. The entire 207 years of the development of modern Australia is contingent upon one natural treatment for one disease. The use of natural medicines probably predates even the evolution of modern man (cats can only digest meat, which is why they eat grass to clean their insides out when they are sick). This talk will look at some of the myths about herbal medicine - that a long history of use proves efficacy, that natural is always better - and also how it integrates with, competes with and even conflicts with the reality of medical science.

May 21, 2005

It's like a never-ending horror movie (21/5/2005)
InCarbonaria sitting on light bark, waiting to be eaten The Wizard of Oz Dorothy kept wishing she was back in Kansas, but I wonder if such an obviously smart child would want to go there today. Yet again the rights of children to an adequate education are being threatened by religious interference in the curriculum, and yet again that interference takes the form of trying to have the myth of special creation taught as if it has something to do with science. To celebrate this new attack on rationality I have dusted off something I wrote some time ago when the Intelligent Design IDiots were trying to get the Texas School Board to eviscerate biology textbooks. You can read it here.

Everything new is old again (21/5/2005)
WhenDavid Hume I heard that a major US television network had run a show which sympathetically considered the possibility of religious miracles I wondered what century I had woken up in. I seemed to remember that in 1748 the Scottish philosopher David Hume had said that "no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish". Just to make sure that I wasn't dreaming, I got out my copy of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and checked, and, sure enough, there it was in Chapter X. You can read Hume's thoughts here.

Hume was writing about religious miracles, but of course the alternative medicine world claims miracles every day. These "miracle cures" fail Hume's test in the same way that other supernatural events do. If someone recovers from a cold in a week after taking some homeopathic nostrum, is it more sensible to believe that the disease just ran its course or that some magical property of the wonder water operated in defiance of the laws of nature? This is not new either, and a century before Hume Sir Thomas Browne was describing "Saltimbancoes, Quacksalvers, and Charlatans" and saying "For their Impostures are full of cruelty, and worse than any other; deluding not only unto pecuniary defraudations, but the irreparable deceit of death".

And some old things are new (21/5/2005)
I have finally written up the talk I gave to a forum about alternative medicine which was held in conjunction with the Australian Skeptics 2003 (!) National Convention. The excuse is that it got pushed to the corner of the desk and a whole lot of other stuff was piled on top of it. You can read it here. One day I will write up the talk about conspiracy theories which I gave at the convention proper.

A lawyer speaks, but says little (21/5/2005)
Australian Lawyer Victor Zammit is renowned for his bogus challenge for anyone to prove the non-existence of an afterlife. Mr Zammit emailed me this week, but the email contained nothing except the following disclaimer:

This message is intended for the addressee named and may contain privileged information or confidential information or both. If you are not the intended recipient please delete it and notify the sender.

Perhaps this is the sort of message which comes from people who are dead. Maybe Mr Zammit was emailing me his thoughts. A mystery.

SkeptoBear's World Tour - Day Ten (21/5/2005)
The Bear with Richard, another Australian skeptic (even though he does speak with a USAnian accent)It was a sad farewell to Las Vegas and SkeptoBear's new friends as The Amazing Meeting ended and everyone went back to where they came from or forward to where they were going next. The problems of the world were solved over many drinks in the bar, practical mathematics were applied to the problem of packing an assortment of randomly-shaped objects into a limited confined space, the language barrier between English-speaking countries was observed in action, and the team arrived in San Francisco, ready for new adventures. See the next chapter here.

New search system (21/5/2005)
This week's technology update is that the site now has a new search system. It was always the intention to replace the original Xavatoria search with the later Fluid Dynamics product from the same vendor, and I finally got around to it. The newer version provides some technical advantages, but the main benefit for site visitors is that it allows a search across the entire RatbagsDotCom site. If what you are looking for is not in The Millenium Project you have the option of searching any or all of the other sites in the domain. It was worth the wait.

May 28, 2005

More technology updates, more delays (28/5/2005)
Another week with not a lot of new stuff because the background reconstruction of the site has been progressing. The local site search now indexes Acrobat PDF files. I didn't implement this immediately with the new search software because I needed to do some reorganisation and to reset the security on some of the files. There are some files, such as press releases from quacks, which I don't want people to find without reading what I have to say first, so I don't want them popping up in the local search (or in Google, for that matter). Getting this right is tedious work and takes too much time, but getting it all done it will make this site more useful to everyone. Hopefully, this will be the last big re-engineering of this site for a while and I will now be able to get on with what the site is really here for.

Another change is to block hot-linking to images on this site from other people's web pages. Hot-linking is where an image is displayed on a web page but is served from someone else's Internet account. The problem particularly applied to artworks and cartoons that I have here, and I make sure to acknowledge the source. Not only were the people displaying images from here using my money and bandwidth to do it, but the ones I found were neither linking back here nor saying where the original image came from. They were stealing, and they can now display nice little boxes with red crosses in them instead of pretty pictures.

Nothing is tested!! (28/5/2005)
One of the tactics used by the promoters of alternative medicine is to react to requests for proof that some form of snake oil works by dragging out the old tu quoque argument - "Why should we test things when a large amount of real medicine has never been proved to work?". What they are referring to is the well-recognised fact that not everything done by doctors has been subjected to the rigours of double-blind clinical trials. To any sane or honest person, of course, this does not meant that these practices have not been proven to work, but the alties like to muddy the waters. I asked one of them this week to list some of the things that real doctors do which have not been proven to work, but the answer was simply to repeat the nonsensical claim.

Here are just a few treatments offered by real doctors which have never been put through double-blind trials: suturing knife wounds, splinting and casts for broken legs, plastic surgery to the face following car crash injuries, CPR to treat possible drowning, treatment for third-degree burns, the use of morphine to relieve the pain of burns and other injuries, the use of forceps to remove foreign objects and debris from wounds, caesarean section deliveries, kidney transplants, and (one for the Semmelweis lovers in alt-world) antisepsis before surgery. I have offered several times to recruit alternative medicine supporters to be part of placebo groups in order to perform clinical trials on these procedures, but for some reason they want things to stay as they are.

The Indonesian legal system (28/5/2005)
Some people have asked me to comment on the biggest news story in Australia in the last week - the conviction of Schapelle Corby in Indonesia for importing cannabis. There is not a lot I can say about this except that anyone who appeared in an Australian court and offered the defence "I didn't do it, someone else did" would probably be convicted here too. There is no doubt that her defence team was not competent for what could have been a capital crime, that evidence was not handled properly, and that a judge who is proud of handing down five hundred successive guilty verdicts is a bit unnerving, but most of the reaction to the verdict has been a combination of xenophobia, racism and sexism. If it had been a 27-year-old male car mechanic from Sydney's western suburbs, the press and the public would have shown no interest. If Corby had flown north-east to Noumea instead of north-west to Bali and been caught with 4.2 kilograms of cannabis she would have been tried under an inquisitorial civil law system, not common law, and there would have been no suggestion that the French legal system was some deranged plot invented by some corrupt, primitive third-world despots.

I don't know if Schapelle Corby is guilty or not, but she was tried under the legal system of the place where the crime was committed. We mightn't like the way that the law is administered there, but the correct way for Australia to protest is through diplomatic channels and informed comment in the media, not by talk-back radio hosts and their callers ranting about brown-skinned idiots who wouldn't know innocence if it bit them, or by ringing up World Vision and asking for a refund of donations to the tsunami appeal, or by encouraging industrial boycotts of Indonesian diplomatic missions. There are 122 Australians in prison overseas following convictions on drug offences and nobody seems to be organising protests in support of them. More to the point, there is an Australian citizen who has been held without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay for three years, and popular opinion seems to be that he is guilty and deserves to be there. There is always that old saying to remember about how when you point at someone there are fingers pointing back, and Australia does not have a proud record of fair treatment of allegedly illegal immigrants.

There is one aspect of the Indonesian legal system which I do seriously dislike, however, and that is the seeming capriciousness of sentences. If Schapelle Corby imported drugs into the country she deserves to go to prison, but it seems bizarre that she should get twenty years (with a real possibility at one time of a death penalty) for carrying a shoebox full of weed when this is the same sort of penalty handed out to the people who carried out the murder of 202 people in Bali in October 2002. The person suspected of organising the Bali bombing was convicted of conspiracy in the atrocity but only got a couple of years. Now that is a sentence that we should really get worked up about.

SkeptoBear's World Tour - Day Eleven (28/5/2005)
AlcatrazThe last time one of the party had been in San Francisco, the Grateful Dead were playing at the Fillmore. Now some of them are the Really Dead, but the town is still one of the best places in the world to be that isn't Sydney. Sure, the prison on the island is bigger than Pinchgut and there are still cable cars and trams, but the important bridge is around the corner somewhere and the opera house looks like an opera house. Still, it's a nice place to visit and has interesting wildlife. And I don't mean men in tight, brief lamé shorts - Sydney has those too! See the tourists in action here.

Schadenfreude Corner (28/5/2005)
A few years ago a few people I know were sucked into one of the most blatant, transparent and disgusting pyramid schemes I have ever seen. It was a "multi-level marketing opportunity" called SkyBiz, where people paid $100 each for the sort of web sites that they could get for free from Geocities. When the thing crumbled, the organisers were ordered by the courts to refund 100% of the money that they had stolen. No deductions for business expenses - pay back the lot! The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has announced that there is $20 million available for refunds to Australian victims. Now, if we can just get the courts to apply the same penalty to all of these scams. I want to sell the tickets to watch the looks on the Amway Diamonds' faces when they are ordered to start refunding.

The Green LightThere's good stuff too (28/5/2005)
It is probably time to remind everyone that as well as all the bad sites listed in The Millenium Project I have a list of places where you can find useful and trustworthy information. It can be found at The Green Light.

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