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July 1, 2006

Don't worry, I'm still alive (1/7/2006)
No, I haven't died from too much homeopathy. I have been moving my office (within the same building, but that doesn't reduce the pain much), sorting out some finance arrangements, handling an upsurge in real-life business, preparing to do some significant promotion for the Australian Council Against Health Fraud, getting myself re-elected as Vice President of Australian Skeptics, getting the accounts in order for the end of the financial year, doing some handyman work around the house, ... As well as all that, I have been busy. That's why I was MIA last week and this week's update will be brief and feature stuff from the mailbox. Everything should be back to normal here soon.

Smells like hypocrisy ... (1/7/2006)
Three things which were in the news around my place in the last few days show how doublethink is alive and well, with people being able to quite easily demonstrate how they can hold two opinions simultaneously without any trouble.

My qualifications (1/7/2006)
The matter of my qualifications to run this site came up in a couple of emails lately. Here are the questions and my answers.

Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2006 15:06:30 -0500
Subject: Mercury

Mr Bowditch, What are your qualifications for refuting Dr. Haley's claims? And Why do you find it necessary to spend your time and money doing so? ~C.R. Fowler

The only qualifications necessary to refute idiotic claims such as "thimerosal is 50% mercury" and that the toxicity and effects on the body of ethylmercury can be assumed to be the same as for methylmercury is the ability to read a high school chemistry textbook. In answer to your second question, I don't spend money (only time) and the reason I do it is because I believe that people have the right to correct information, especially when it comes to matters as serious as protecting their children from harm. The children who might miss out on vaccination because their parents believe the nonsense spouted by clowns like Dr Haley provide sufficient justification for my actions.

From: "J & S Spence"
Subject: What are your credentials for your opinion
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 15:18:42 +1000

To whom it may concern

I have been reading some of the comments and opinions on your website for some time.

Then it occurred to me what is this guys quailfications. They are what?

Just curious.

Jeffrey Spence

My qualifications are an upbringing which promoted tolerance and encouraged me to question (but not necessarily reject) received wisdom, a formal education which taught me to think about how people understand, interpret and misinterpret the world around them, an informal education received through eclectic reading, and a personal philosophy which rejects cant and deception.

You can see why ... (1/7/2006)
... some peddlers of quackery annoy me intensely. Here is an advertisement which appeared on the bottom of the page containing an article I had written about quacks preying on people with diabetes. (Thanks to blogger Mr Flit for pointing this out to me.)

Filth from a homeopath

Mysterious emails (1/7/2006)
I really don't understand these emails. I didn't think I had a ministry, especially one which might go a thousand years without a mistake. At least Kent likes me. And my mother was a Catholic too. As for the second one, well, what can I say?

From: "Kent Peterson"
Subject: Catholics
Date: Sun, 02 Jul 2006 10:13:39 -0500


You want to put down a Catholic mistake from a thousand years ago. My mother is a Catholic. Do you guarantee no mistakes in your ministry for the next thousand years? I'm a member of Faith Life in Branson and don't think you can. I kind of like you anyhow.

Kent Peterson

From: Peter Gargan
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2006 12:42 PM
Subject: Hillsong Church

I find your uninformed comments about Church and State typical of the lawyer generated republic we have in place of our formerly free society.

Firstly we have a Constitution in Australia but it is not taught correctly in either School or University. Section 116 Constitution was put in place to stop the State becoming the Church, It says: The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion. By having a Queen, we have Christianity.

Like many this part of the Constitution is not understood, and the infliction of compulsory voting makes us all compulsory members of the Church of Australia, the Church of NSW or as the case may be, required by taxation to support the priests of the new religion, the lawyers of Australia. Intead of an indissoluble Commonwealth, in NSW we have a council of Rabbis given power by the Synod of the Church of NSW the Parliament, to overrule every law made since time began, simply by making rules to do so. It is section 6 Supreme Court Act 1970. Look it up yourself. This means that God Almighty is the Parliament of NSW. The Queen is displaced, and instead of a tyrant King we have nine unelected tyrants with absolute civil power, with the head Priest of Jewish descent. Spigelman. No referendum needed, that would be too Christian. If the new priesthood says it is law or not law, that is the law.

The only place a person is free to exercise his Christian right to jury trial in NSW anymore in in a serious criminal trial. When a person puts his life in a jury's hands he puts his trust in 12 disciples sworn on the Bible to find the truth. This comes straight out of the Bible. Since 1986, we have had a Bill of Rights, that guarantees freedom, but lawyers refuse to recognise this law, because it paraphrases the Bible, and the law of Equity, which uniquely in Anglo Australian law grew out of Protestant Christianity. From 1275, when Christians called for and got free election, the right to elect which mode of trial they would choose, until 1970, this law remained. 700 years of tradition swept away by one illegal and illegitimate Act by the Parliament of NSW.

Look up for yourself on Scaleplus, the Human Rights ....Act 1986. In it you will see the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is Schedule 2 and was passed without dissent in the federal Parliament in 1986. As a schedule, look at Sections 12 and 13 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, and you will see that Schedules are part of an Act. Then look in the Privacy Act 1988, where it is cited, in the Criminal Code Act 1995, where it is cited in the dictionary, and in the Evidence Act 1995, where it is cited in Section 138 (3) (f). If it is law, then Section 109 Constitution makes it overrule every discriminatory State law; like the law giving lawyers a monopoly. Like the integrated monopoly now in place from Magistrates to the High Court in civil jurisdiction. This is all illegal but all unchallengeable because the monopoly will not let anyone file in the High Court, and many State Courts.

It is rather a pity you are such an apologist for the lawyer aristocrats who dominate Australian political life, not through Parliament but by the manipulation of the religious and political process through the courts. If you took the time, you would see that Hillsong has created an outlet for some of the frustration that is felt by many young people whose education has been deficient in that no real history has been taught. If you live in Sydney and want documentation for what I say, email me and we can meet for coffee.


Peter Gargan

July 8, 2006

The more things change ... (8/7/2006)
Three apparently unconnected stories. Well, they look unconnected, but sometimes appearances are deceptive.

Woody Guthrie - Click for larger version"So what links all of these stories?" I hear you asking. The first thing I noticed was that all of the well-known versions of the song done by 1960s protest singers were not in fact protest songs at all but were hymns of praise for the country. There are three verses of the song which seemed to be missed by PP&M, the Kingston Trio, and other performers. It is quite possible that even then a form of political correctness applied and there was only so far anyone could go and still ensure an audience. (Remember that it was only a few years before that Joe McCarthy had been accusing one and all in the entertainment industry of being communists.) The link to Donald Horne is that the song as originally written was a sarcastic reference to the inequality in the country. A songwriter today might say "This land was made for you and me? Yeah, right!"

Of all the versions of the song I found, only one included all three verses. A performance by Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Bono, John Mellencamp and Little Richard (!) included these two, but that wasn't recorded in the 1960s.

As I went walking, I saw a sign there;
And on the sign there, It said, 'NO TRESPASSING.
But on the other side, It didn't say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land is made for you and me.

The only version of the song to contain all three verses was recorded at a live concert in about 1972 by Woody's son Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger. It was not surprising to hear these two defy the political correctness. Arlo knew what his father was on about, and Pete was one of those who finally brought down the McCarthy idiocy. The verse which they included sums up the whole point of the song - if country isn't for really everybody then it really isn't for everybody.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
If this land is made for you and me.

Listen to Arlo and Pete

Speaking of songs ... (8/7/2006)
ItJoe Cocker rewriting a ditty is often the case that the composer of a song doesn't necessarily produce the best performance of the song. (Lots of stuff by Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot's version of Early Morning Rain is great until you hear Eva Cassidy or Peter, Paul and Mary, even if the band had still been together there was no way the Beatles could have performed With a Little Help From My Friends after Joe Cocker staggered off the stage at Woodstock, ...) Sometimes, however, even very talented people can do very strange things with other people's songs. I mentioned Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Bono, John Mellencamp and Little Richard's attempt at This Land is Your Land above, and it certainly deserves the adjective "strange". All of them are talented performers, but why anyone thought that those talents could be combined will forever remain a mystery. Another version of the song I found seemed to be the final song in a concert and featured Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell and someone else whose name I missed. This sounds like a likely combination, but Joan didn't seem to be able to get near the microphone, Bob was even more unintelligible than usual, Joni got the words and notes in the right order but the timing was all wrong, and the nameless person sang some other song. Roger was good.

I've heard some of William Shattner's stuff so I am no stranger to murdered songs, but Shattner is an actor, not a professional musician. I believe, therefore, that in my travels this week I have come across the all-time worst performance of a great song by a great performer. I won't provide it for download here, not because of copyright reasons (although the composer is still alive) but because I don't want one of my favourite composers coming after me for distributing the travesty. Get yourself onto LimeWire or your favourite file-swapping system and get a copy of Bono from U2 destroying the Leonard Cohen classic Hallelujah. I looked up both "awful" and "execrable" in the thesaurus, but I couldn't find an adequate adjective.

Email from someone who has figured me out (8/7/2006)
This came in during the week. The email was composed using IncrediMail, with all the bizarrity of style and appearance that this implies. It has been translated into human-readable form for publication here. My responses are in italics.

Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2006 22:32:29 +1000
From: "reinoud"
Subject: I now understand why the site is here!

Visited your site and wondered who the person is who has such a remarkable insite about all of life's issues.

It was you!

Well, duh! It's my site, so it would probably be me I was talking about. And it's "insight".

"My qualifications are an upbringing which promoted tolerance and encouraged me to question (but not necessarily reject) received wisdom, a formal education which taught me to think about how people understand, interpret and misinterpret the world around them, an informal education received through eclectic reading, and a personal philosophy which rejects cant and deception."

Yes, that's me talking.

In real life I run a computer consulting company and I am an exemplar of the baby boomer generation in terms of age, family structure and past indiscretions.

Yes, that's me talking about me again.

With other words, a completely unbalanced screwed up person!

I'm not sure how you arrive at that conclusion, but as the words above do not constitute a sentence in English, it is hard to know what your issue is.

I also now understand why the site is here! (I run a computer consulting company) Money-money....know the song?

Yes, I do know the song. You might like to explain how this site makes money for my real-life job.

By the way I see you have an issue with church and people + tithing...

I have no issue with people and tithing. People can give money to whomever they want to, as long as they give it voluntarily and are not deceived into giving it.

BUT>>>> Donations???Please click on the PayPal button at the right if you would like to donate some money towards the cost of running this site. Not all of it will be used for that, because I will donate 10% of the money to each of the organisations listed below to support their research into childhood diseases.

Yes, I do accept donations. So what?

Except you not being GOD, is giving a donation to your site not the same??

Pardon? What has me not being God got to do with anything?

Why only 10%?

Because it's 20%. Can't you add numbers together?

Adminstrivia (8/7/2006)
There has been a bit of behind-the-scenes work going on here over the last week. The project to convert all the pages to use a FrontPage template is almost completed, and should be finished in two weeks. I did a link check this week and there was for some reason an unusually high number of dead links or places which had changed their addresses. I must offer special thanks to the Nobel Prize people who have moved everything around on their site so that all the links to there had to be changed. Another thing I have been doing is extending the range of browsers that I use to test the site. I somehow found the time to set up a computer with Ubuntu Linux and now I can test with several Linux versions of browsers. The only problem I have detected so far is that Opera and Konqueror don't seem to want to use Macromedia Flash so the Google movies won't work. I think I will start worrying about that when the number of visitors using them exceeds 1%.

For those who haven't had the pleasure, installing Linux (this distribution, at least) took about the same time as installing Windows XP, but the Linux install included Open Office so getting productive is a bit quicker. There is still a certain quality of geekiness about using Linux and several times I was glad that I have a reasonable level of expertise with computers. (Installation of the Google tool bar into Firefox happens just the way it does in Windows, so it is not impossible to make things extra easy for users.) I had a bit of a chuckle when the thing informed me that it wanted to download and install 153 updates, because during the week I had been assailed by people telling me how evil Microsoft was for doing this very thing. It then told me that I needed a version upgrade and to allow several hours for this to happen. It then set out to download about twice the number of megabytes as are needed for a Windows Service Pack 2 install and, yes, it did then fiddle around for about two hours installing it. All good fun, and I would have no problem using a Linux system for 80% of what I do with computers. The other 20% includes running the program that I make a living by installing and supporting, so I guess the Windows machine will be here for a little longer.

Coming next week (8/7/2006)
Next week I will be paying some attention to the recent publication of yet another study demonstrating the lack of a link between vaccination and autism, as well as the anti-vaccination liars' mouth-foaming reaction to the news. I will also have something to say about what some courts think about some noted anti-vaccination "experts". To test my faith, I plan to have a flu shot during the week and I am not going to ask the doctor if the one I get contains mercury. As I like living on the edge, I am going to have a tetanus booster at the same time, and that is guaranteed to contain mercury. I hope I'm not too autistic by next weekend, but I think that that hope is well justified.

Stupid Skeptic Tricks (8/7/2006)
I have added an article here called Stupid Skeptic tricks. This article originally appeared in the newsgroup alt.paranormal on April 8, 1998, and has been a feature of Jim Lippard's web site for some time. It was also published in The Skeptic magazine in 2003. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

You might wonder why I have published something which seems to be highly critical of skeptics. I have done it for two reasons. One is that we all need to be aware of how we go about arguing positions, and this article contains some good advice for everyone.

The second reason is more esoteric. One of the regulars in the newsgroup often quotes parts of this piece as a way of rebutting criticism of woowoo and mad or unscientific thinking. She recently quoted the entire article without attribution, making it appear that she had written it herself. When challenged on this she said that she had the author's permission. The author was advised and said that no such permission had been granted (although he immediately granted my request to publish it). The plagiariser is very fond of calling people liars for disagreeing with her, and she has now been caught out in a lie herself (although she will never admit it). What makes this doubly pleasing is that she often states that absolutely everything published in The Millenium Project is falsehood and lies, so she can hardly quote the article in the future now that it is here.

July 15, 2006

Music redux (15/7/2006)
I received quite a bit of correspondence during the week commenting on my mention of Woody Guthrie's song This Land is Your Land, so I must have struck a chord (sorry!) somewhere. I have to admit that my eyes momentarily flashed green with envy when reader John Borrego told me about seeing Pete Seeger at Yale during the student unrest and war protest days of 1970. Where I was doing my protesting we had to make do with records. Vinyl ones. To bring me back to earth with a reality check I looked at the television news and remembered the words of We Shall Overcome. That hasn't come true either. Also, I would like to thank those people who didn't write to me to argue about how Woody Guthrie spelled his name. There is some disagreement across web sites and file swappers about whether it was "Woody" or "Woodie". I finally decided to do what I should have done in the first place and ask an expert, and what better expert than Arlo Guthrie, who could be expected to know his father's name. Woody. Definitely.

A cancer "curer" speaks (15/7/2006)
I haven't heard much lately from Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group, but he surfaced from the swamp last week with an edit to the Wikipedia entry about our other old friend Patrick Timothy Bolen, PR man of choice for quacks and charlatans. Mr O'Neill had this to say:

What are characterzied as critiques are truly efforts by paid lobbyists, rabble-rousers and criminals like Bowditch, Polevoy and Barrett. Each of these three "men" can boast having been convicted of crimes of libel, defamation, aggravated assault, and child molestation.

His edit was immediately removed by someone (not me), but as with all Wikipedia edits it is still available in the history of the relevant item. Also, Mr O'Neill has been working on an entry about himself. In the spirit of Wikipedia, I edited it to provide some additional information for visitors. You can see the latest version of Mr O'Neill's Wikipedia entry here.
(Update July 29, 2006: The CCRG entry has been removed from Wikipedia.)
(Update September 27, 2008: The Quackpotwatch entry has been removed from Wikipedia.)

But wait, there's more (15/7/2006)
Someone whose life and family was tragically affected by Mr O'Neill's fraudulent cancer "treatment" is working on a series of cartoons. He has requested anonymity, a request which I am only too happy to comply with. Here's my favourite. You can see some more here.

No comment needed

This week's email (15/7/2006)
Someone seems to have me confused with someone else. Perhaps with someone who cares what a bigot thinks.

From: "Peter Gargan"
Subject: You are full of Bullshit
Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2006 02:06:33 +1000

So you are still an apoliogist for the Jewish and Roman Catholic Religions that have taken over the law in Australia. If you went to an honest Church, that actually teaches the Bible like Hillsong does in such a way that thousands want to learn, your drivel might have relevance.

I am neither Jewish nor Roman Catholic, not that it would matter if I was either. You, however, have exposed yourself as a bigot.

I just logged on to see if you were an honest stirrer or still a legal bullshit artist. Jesus said: Luke 11 Verse 52. " Woe unto you you lawyers, for you have taken away the key of knowledge. You enter not in yourselves and those who would enter in you hinder."

Why are you quoting the words of a Jew? Aren't they part of the problem?

Acting like a typical scumbag lawyer.

I am not sure what lawyers have to do with this, but as I am not one I suppose it doesn't really matter.

Peter Gargan.

Everything old is new again (15/7/2006)
I Today Tonightwas interviewed during the week by a television show which is doing a story on the latest retread of the hoary old "bioresonance" medical fraud. This nonsense pops up every few years with a new inventor and a new collection of anecdotes and "scientific" words. The latest one comes from a German scientist who doesn't seem to want to mention Royal Raymond Rife, who was saying the same things in 1934. I hadn't heard of this new version of the scam until the television people called me, but when I looked at the web sites it was all too familiar - the cures for cancer, asthma and other diseases, the anecdotes, the inconsistency between the promoters as to whether the thing complemented acupuncture, kinesiology or some other form of quackery. (One site said that acupuncture works by meridians in the body transporting photons, which must be news to physicists.) There is even a professional society for practitioners of the fraud in Britain - there is nothing like some letters after your name to add credibility. The head of the Australian outfit being investigated by the television show calls himself "Doctor", apparently without the inconvenience of ever having attended medical school (he has a PhD in atomic physics), so letters in front of the name can be impressive too.

It was good to see the media treating quackery seriously for a change. The usual way that it is done is to give the quack a few minutes to advertise and then let a skeptic lose for a few seconds to rebut the nonsense, but in this case it seems that they really want to take the crook down. I don't know when the show will be going to air (it is being produced by the local edition of the program in a state other than the one I live in), but as soon as I know anything I will announce it here, and, if possible, I will get a video recording to add to the collection here. I will also refrain from identifying the scam too closely before the show goes to air, because we wouldn't want them to be warned that someone is going to expose them. would we?

Here is a transcript of the show. I found this on a web site promoting the scam. You might think that the scamsters either couldn't read or were operating on the principle that any publicity is good publicity, but it almost goes without saying that they would expect their victims to be impressed by "As seen on Today Tonight" and would see the report as a testimonial.

Today Tonight

Miracle Machine

Reporter: Vassil Malandris
Broadcast Date: 24 Jul 2006

It may look like something out of Dr Who, but this Adelaide practitioner reckons he could be onto a medical breakthrough.

No magic potions, no pill popping, no joke.

Dr Andy Barrie believes a single machine called the BICOM 2000 is diagnosing and treating serious illnesses and allergies, but is it all just too good to be true?

Well according child psychologist Louise Porter who was struck down by Fibromyalgia 4 years ago, there’s no doubt in her mind. "I was fairly sceptical but after I gained back the mobility and the pain started to recede I became a convert" Louise says.

She even brought her daughter Hannah, a long time sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome and after a few treatments later at a hundred dollars a pop... "I'm now able to ride my horse again and play the flute and I'm able to go out and run around without becoming breathless and that type of thing" Hannah says

But no one has astounded Andy more from the treatment than Adelaide mum Ursula Weatherly who spent the last 35 years suffering from a life - threatening allergy to eggs and chicken products. That is until… "Where I work one of the volunteers mentioned energy waves and she explained it to me and I thought gee that sounds good won't hurt to have a go on it. I had 12 treatments and finally I can actually eat eggs and chicken after 35 years no problems and it tastes good!"

So how does the technology work? According to Andy it's all based on a science called Bioresonance, where all the cells in our body supposedly communicate with each other via electric signals

"What the machine's doing is separating the healthy signals from the unhealthy signals, the unhealthy signals are then put through what's called a mirror circuit so the waves are turned upside down and fed back to the body" Take for example Louise's allergy to milk and cheese. "What the machine does is pick up the signal from the cheese and inverts it"

But how does the machine know what is causing the allergic reaction - well it's a matter of elimination Dr Barrie puts the suspect substance into the machine and hey presto! The electric waves pass through the cheese and within minutes the machine starts to reverse Louise's symptoms.

After a few sessions your allergy, virus or ailment is cured - you can even use it on the family dog!

However Andy's at pains to point out the therapy can’t cure the incurable.

"Well we don't use the word 'cure' we talk about symptom free and Peter Schumacher the Austrian paediatrician who developed this method, his studies show over 80% of patients were symptom free after a course of treatment."

With statistics like these, and a waiting list of up to 5 months, you must be wondering how Andy keeps up with demand? Simple, he’s now recruiting the next generation of BICOM therapists.

But despite the testimonials, not everyone is convinced by the BICOM 2000. Peter Bowditch is the Vice President of the Sceptics society. He says the technology is false and there's nothing new about it. The machines just keep getting reinvented every few years.

"They're just a way of extracting money out of the wallets of desperate people. They generally operate in Tijuana in Mexico outside of the reach of the Federal Drug Administration … many of them are multi purpose and so I've got a zapper here which you can set it at one frequency and it cures aids, you set it at another it cures cancer - all cancers of course, for quackery all cancer is the same thing." Peter says.

Peter also wonders if Dr Andy Barrie’s patients know that he is not a medical doctor, but instead holds a PhD in Atomic physics.

"There's no pretence, there's no attempt to mislead people" responds Andy.

Certainly Andy's patients didn't seem to feel misled when swearing by the treatment. It’s just that the practitioners can't actually prove they've cured or treated their patients for anything as a disclaimer on their DVD illustrates: 'The success stories of therapists and patients do not present any basis for 'scientific proof' in today's medicine"

With the BICOM 2000 now in the hands of our health authorities awaiting approval by the TGA, Louise Porter says it's up to the individual to be open to the technology and try it before you knock it.

Stop Violence Against WomenA good cause (15/7/2006)
Ever since I discovered that a pretend church was deceptively using the name of Amnesty International to attract people to a money-raising event for the "church", the human-rights organisation has been my second-favourite good cause. (I won't say who the favourite is, or even if there is one.) One of the campaigns that Amnesty conducts is Stop Violence Against Women. It would be nice to think that violence could be stopped against everyone, but you have to start somewhere and there are many places where women are particular targets for violence and oppression Make Some Noise - Amnesty International(and I don't just mean third-world countries or places with intolerant state religions). You can find out more about the SVAW campaign here. Another way you can help Amnesty is to buy some music from them. Follow the link on the right to see the selection.

No link between vaccines and autism. So this is news? (15/7/2006)
The anti-vaccination liars have been wetting themselves over the last couple of weeks following the publication of an article in the journal Pediatrics which reports a study which, yet again, shows that there is almost no likelihood of any connection between vaccination (with or without mercury) and autism. One of the things it looked for was a drop in the rate of autism since thimerosal was removed from vaccines some years ago. The journal thought that this paper was so important that it released the full version on its web site on the day the paper version was published. You can read it here.

The attacks on the paper have taken the usual forms. Claims are made about underhand payments from drug companies, of course, and the huge differences between living in Canada and the USA, but the most vitriol has been reserved for personal attacks on one of the paper's authors, Dr Eric Fombonne. You just know that you have entered bizarro world when you see someone being accused of being unqualified to comment on autism because he is "only a psychiatrist". Dr Fombonne does happen to be this sort of medical specialist (one which most sane people would see as highly relevant), but he also happens to be one of the world's foremost experts on the epidemiology of autism. This is a man who knows what he is talking about, and must therefore be ridiculed and abused by anti-vaccination liars at every opportunity. After all, what else could they do when someone undertakes a study which "surveyed 27749 children born from 1987 to 1998 attending 55 schools from the largest Anglophone school board" and came to the conclusion that "the findings ruled out an association between pervasive developmental disorder and either high levels of ethylmercury exposure comparable with those experienced in the United States in the 1990s or 1- or 2-dose measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations"?

July 29, 2006

Feng Shui. I'm a believer! (29/7/2006)
For a sense of directionOr maybe it's ley lines. I have been moving my office from one part of Ratbag Castle to another, and last weekend was spent assembling flat-pack furniture and moving the computers (well, most of the computers) to where the network connections now are. In the old office, my main computer was aligned east-west. In the new office it is aligned north-south. Nothing else has changed - all the stuff at the back was unplugged, the box was carried from one room to another, all the wires were plugged back in. It no longer recognised my iPod as anything other than a disk drive, and it lost all memory of my Bluetooth radio connection and related devices such as my mobile phone and the headpiece I use for Skype talking. In both cases it required complete removal of all mentions of the hardware from the computer and reinstallation of everything (plus reloading thousands of songs onto the iPod). All because the box was pointing in a different direction! Did I say that the fax machine which has survived at least three moves in the past never woke up again after being unplugged and turned from facing east to facing west?

Next time I plan a move I will get a geomancer in to find the lines of force and a feng shuist to line things up correctly with each other. And an exorcist to get rid of the poltergeist who knocked my mobile phone out of my hand as I walked into the bathroom and made it fall into the toilet. At least my Bluetooth problems with the phone don't matter any more.

More spooky stuff (29/7/2006)
While cleaning up my old office I came across the business card of someone that I hadn't seen or heard from for a long time. Shortly afterwards he rang me. I subscribe to several mailing lists and information alerts. The email immediately following the one telling me the results of qualifying for the German Formula One Grand Prix was's word of the day - "germane". If this keeps up I will have to resign from the committee of Australian Skeptics and go over completely to the dark side.

Advertisements (29/7/2006)
My local weekly community newspaper often has a few mysterious classified advertisements for business opportunities. The particular section of the classifieds always has a notice of the form below.

Fair Trading notice

Being the suspicious type that I am, I suspect that many of these advertisements are for pyramid schemes and other ways of separating people from their money so I have embarked on a project to investigate just one week's worth of these inducements to see how honest they are and how well they comply with the recommendations in the Department of Fair Trading's notice. Rather unsurprisingly, many of my suspicions have been confirmed. You can see the first part of my report here. Part 2 will appear next week.

The usefulness of Wikipedia (29/7/2006)
I have always had my doubts about Wikipedia, simply because I believe that any reference source which allows constant revision by anonymous people must be suspect. The policy of "neutral point of view" also means that any entry about a contentious subject will be emasculated by the demand for both sides of the story to be represented, even if one side is ridiculous or dangerous. A few weeks ago, Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group created an entry about himself. The saga of this entry indicates why I don't bother using Wikipedia as a reference. It is informative to note that the only people who identified themselves by real names in this were Mr O'Neill and me.

  1. Mr O'Neill creates an entry about himself. It mentions CCRG but does not provide a link to the CCRG site.
  2. An anonymous administrator recommends that the entry be deleted because Mr O'Neill is not a "notable person".
  3. Mr O'Neill removes the entire entry.
  4. The entry is restored so that discussion about deleting it can continue. (True!)
  5. I amend the entry by including some information about Mr O'Neill, including links to the CCRG Correspondence File, the GAL Chronicles, and Mr O'Neill's recent television appearance.
  6. I vote for retention of the entry, as an encyclopaedia should contain useful information warning people about quackery.
  7. An anonymous administrator wants the entry deleted because the only amendment that has been made to it was made by me and this is the first time I have amended anything in Wikipedia. (It was not the first time, but why should facts interfere with a story?) My amendment was described as "vandalism".
  8. I point out that there has to be a first time for everything and that anyone using the word "vandalism" in this context doesn't understand the word.
  9. Another anonymous administrator tells me personally that my entry was not suitable because it didn't have a "neutral point of view", and also tells me that links to inappropriate web sites have been removed. The link to the CCRG Correspondence File had been removed, but the link to the GAL Chronicles remained. As these were both links to the same web site it is hard to see how the word "inappropriate" was appropriate. It is also informative to note that the deleted link was to material where Mr O'Neill was clearly identifiable as the writer. The link to the television show had been modified to make it meaningless.
  10. Someone points out that Mr O'Neill is notable enough to have been mentioned by James Randi.
  11. Someone else votes for deletion because Mr O'Neill wrote the entry himself. Another anonymous administrator calls this reasoning "silly".
  12. A formal motion to delete the entry is proposed and is seconded by the administrator who thought that deleting it because Mr O'Neill wrote it was silly.
  13. The entry is deleted, with the note that Mr O'Neill gets only 318 mentions in Google, except when you look for "William O'Neill" without the middle initial, in which case it is a different person. (At the time of writing this, the first match returned by Google to "william o'neill" is to this site.)

What a farce!

In more Mr O'Neill news ... (29/7/2006)
The following emails arrived from the Gutless Anonymous Liar recently. The first was sent to the club secretary at my wife's tennis club. Notice how it addresses it to the secretary and then tells the secretary that my wife is the secretary.

To: secretary @ parratennis net au
Subject: Notice to all participants concerning Mr. Peter Bowditch

Mr. Peter Bowidtch of Parramatta operates a number of hate-base internet sites. His wife, Virgina Bowditch is secretary for the Parramatta Tennis Club.

Both Mr. & Mrs. Bowditch have been implicated in number of illegal internet activities including libel, fraud, defamation and harassment. Mr. Bowditch has a criminal past that includes aggravated assault and battery forwhich he spent time incarcerated.

Should you or any club member be concerned about the presence of the Bowditchs in or about the club, or suspicious of their activities, you are advised to immediately call the NSW POlice at 1800 333 000.

Thank You

Then this. I am looking forward to the next Chamber of Commerce function.

Subject: Parramatta Pedophile on the Loose!

There are so many email addresses in and about Parramatta that we couldn't resist in compiling them and sending off the goods on you. Ain't the internet great for spreading the truth!

Other email matters (29/7/2006)
I have a collection of emails from regular correspondents and other readers that I will respond to shortly. I'm not being rude or ignoring people - I have been a bit busy.

Mercury on trial (29/7/2006)
In a recent court case the parents of an autistic child took action against the manufacturers of the drug RhoGAM claiming that the drug caused the autism of their child. (RhoGAM is administered to pregnant women to reduce the possibility of rejection of the foetus and spontaneous abortion caused by Rh factor incompatibility.) The parents took the coward's way out and insisted on anonymity in the court action, but, of course, wanted the drug company's name to be given wide publicity. (I assume that they wanted any compensation cheque to be made out in their real names.) One of the expert witnesses they called was our old friend Dr Boyd Haley, the chemistry professor who has forgotten his high-school chemistry. The court subjected Dr Haley's testimony to what is called a Daubert investigation, where the expertise is evaluated, and this is what the court had to say (Dr Lucier is another anti-mercury campaigner):

The court…finds that Dr. Haley’s report does not state an expert opinion that thimerosal causes autism, rather just that he has a theory about how such a thing could happen. At best, he expressed "strong belief" that the cause of "neurodevelopmental disorders in infants" is exposure to an organic-mercury compound such as thimerosal. Additionally, Plaintiffs proffered the report of Dr. Lucier, who is an expert in methylmercury and not ethylmercury, which is the substance in RhoGAM. Dr. Lucier does not offer an opinion that methylmercury causes autism, but rather that it may cause "developmental disorders." Significantly, the Court notes that neither Dr. Haley nor Dr. Lucier asserts that he is an expert on autism nor are they offered as such. In any event, the Court finds that neither of the proffered reports of Dr. Haley nor Dr. Lucier are sufficiently reliable under Daubert on the general causation issue because neither is relevant to the "task at hand." It would be an unacceptable scientific leap to suggest that they serve as proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, of Plaintiff’s claim that the thimerosal in RhoGAM can cause autism.

One comment I can make about the court's ruling is that Dr Haley didn't have a "theory" in the scientific sense - he had a "hypothesis". These are not the same thing even though the words might mean something similar in a non-scientific context.

The court also had something to say about another hero of the anti-vaccination liars, Dr Mark Geier, but I will leave discussion of him and his equally deceptive son for another time. The really nice thing about this is that all three of these "experts" were being lined up for a major case against drug companies and vaccine manufacturers but now it looks like their testimony will be thrown out for being the fabrication it is and the anti-vaccination liars will have to find some new experts to lie on the stand. You can read the complete court decision here.

Homeopaths and malaria (29/7/2006)
Malaria A malaria vectoris a very serious disease, and almost at the top of everyone's list for something for which a vaccine will be welcomed. While we are waiting for the vaccine, the best we can do is control mosquitoes in areas where malaria is endemic and use drugs to limit the problems if people are exposed or to treat the disease when people catch it. A recent story on the BBC told about how homeopaths are talking people out of taking the malaria medications and into consuming magic water instead. As this does nothing, the fraud simply means that travellers who rely on it are almost certain to contract malaria, and this is really a case where prevention is better than cure. Did I mention that quacks are always asking me to show how alternative medicines can cause harm?

Homeopaths and mercury (29/7/2006)
Bringing together the two stories above, whenever any of the anti-mercury loons starts telling me about how mercury shouldn't be used for anything and has no place in any form of medication, I like to ask them why it is used in homeopathy. They usually say that it isn't (which is true in a sense, as homeopathy uses no active ingredients at all) so I refer them to the A book about the fraudbooks on the subject. Here is what it says on page 123 of The Essence of Materia Medica by George Vithoulkas, Jain:New Delhi, 1988. The next five-and-a-bit pages of similar gobbledygook have been deleted to protect our sanity (and our keyboards from coffee sprays).


Study of Mercurius is a prime example of how the concept of the essence of a remedy can clear up a seemingly overwhelming mass of data. Mercurius being one of the more extensively proven and widely used remedies in the Materia Medica, presents a formidable array of symptoms for the beginner to study; it is a veritable textbook of pathological states. However, after repeated and prolonged study and meditation on the Materia Medica, one gradually is able to discern a thread, a theme, which runs through the remedy. Once this is comprehended, all the "data" falls in place into a single unique image.

In Mercurius, there is no single word or phrase which adequately describes this thread. The basic idea is that there is a lack of reactive power coupled with an instability or inefficiency of function. The healthy organism has a defence mechanism, a reactivity, which enables it to create a stable, efficient equilibrium upon exposure to the many physical and emotional stimuli in the environment. In Mercurius, this reactive power is weakened, becoming unstable and wavering in its functions. Virtually all stimuli are absorbed by the patient without adequate defence, resulting in a pathological condition.

The lack of defensive power results in the Mercur is patient being sensitive to everything. As we go through the Materia Medica we find that the Mercurius patient is AGGRAVATED by everything - heat, cold, outdoors, wet weather, change of weather, warmth of bed, perspiration, exertions, various foods etc. By contrast, there seem to be very few ameliorations; very little can be absorbed by the patient to result in comfort, because the system is unable to properly adjust to anything. As an interesting demonstration (though not a generally recommended method for study) one can go through the Generalities section of the Repertory seeking the number of rubrics in which it is listed in italics or bold type as being aggravated or ameliorated by physical influences; there are only 7 listings for amelioration (5 of which have to do with lying down), while there are 55 rubrics describing aggravations. Because of this extreme vulnerability, we see that the ...

Something I have little to say about (29/7/2006)
Alternative medicine newsgroups and mailing lists have been boiling over lately with the story of Starchild Abraham Cherrix, a 16-year-old boy who is resisting an attempt by state child welfare authorities to prevent him going to a Tijuana cancer quackery clinic. I see this as a legal matter, not a medical one, and I am leaving the comment to the various bloggers who have been able to follow the story on a daily basis, but one thing has me wondering. The quack supporters are all screaming out about Abraham's right to make his own decisions, but I wonder what their level of interest would be if he wanted to make his own decisions about other matters where the state considers him to be a minor child. He can't vote, drink alcohol or get married, and (depending on the laws of his state of residence) he may not be able to legally take on a sexual partner. Nobody seems concerned about these rights that he doesn't have, but they want him to have the right to choose to die. One thing I can predict, however, is that as soon as he dies in Tijuana the quack supporters will forget about him and go looking for another cause célèbre. Remember Thomas Navarro? Remember Alan Yurko? Their erstwhile "friends" don't.

Book selling news (29/7/2006)
I have just received notification from about books and other sales made through this site for the last quarter. The first thing to notice is that my share of the proceeds is much lower than it was when Amazon was paying almost four times the commission it does now. You have to sell a lot of stuff to pay the bills this way. The second thing I noted was that someone had gone to Amazon through a link here and had then bought DVDs named Big Bust Ecstasy and Bodacious Babes. I'm glad I could help and I hope the buyer gets satisfaction.

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