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July 3, 2008

The 90th Meeting of the Skeptics' Circle
July 3, 2008

The time has finally arrived! This week's update to The Millenium Project hosts the 90th Meeting of the Skeptics' Circle, and a fine mixture of youth and experience combined with a soupcon each of quality and quantity go to make it the best meeting ever. But I would say that, wouldn't I?

See the rest of the meeting here.

July 12, 2008

That incredibly profitable goji juice (12/7/2008)
I held back on this week's update because my meeting with the naturopath to discuss the wonders of the goji juice opportunity was delayed. I was hoping to write up the experience for this update but there is a bit too much to cover so an extended report will appear next week.

In summary, however,

And it went downhill from there. I was remarkably polite, I thought, even when I saw his business card. Remember this man's business is wellness and selling the world's best product to make people healthy. I wonder, then, why it doesn't get a mention on his card. Actually, I don't wonder - I know.

And while we're at it ...


See more of Cectic here.


The loons! The loons! They're welcoming us back. (12/7/2008)
These words were spoken by the character Ethel (played by Katherine Hepburn) in the film On Golden Pond. I have also been welcomed back by loons, but these ones don't have feathers. At least, I don't think they have feathers. One who had written to me in July last year resurfaced. Back then he was apparently convinced that women could be pregnant for more than a year. I have no idea what he is on about now, but I suspect that he has me confused with some other Peter.

Date: Sun, 06 Jul 2008 19:05:27 -0700
From: JOE HARRIS`
Subject: Peter this is what people think of you that have children like yours

Still your friend, Just don't understand you Remember me mentioning a new way to do multi dose vacc's without presevitives you never got in touch with me if you care so much about the children of africa you have a strange way of showing it.

Your friend in christ

PS. write back soon !

Joe -------------------------- TX

Please remember this guy over sees a 18 million dollar Bill Gates hookworm vaccine grant.

He is totally in bed with Pharma.

One of his PR interviews he talks about how he courted Pharma for checks to develop his vaccine. God bless his daughter, I guess rather than a shot at recovery she will be a (Pharma) trust kid to the likes of Leona Helmsley's dog.

I'll never understand why parents wouldn't at least try for recovery or improvement, but to deny someone else the shot at uncovering core issues HHS concede cause Autism is heinous in my book.

The CDC pulls Hortez out as needed. He was the speaker at the closed door press conference before the DC rally a few years back.

My question is this to the media, if he swears up and down vaccines had nothing to do with his daughter's Autism then prove it. Submit her shot lots, porphyrin levels and metabolic results and measles titers for public review. Before you exploit your own child and mislead thousands of others.

As we are often scrutinized for making assumptions. Peter Hortez should not be trusted on his word alone - bring data.

Right now it is proven that Thimerosal and other toxins do provoke developmental neuro-damage as per the manufacturers safety data sheet. That is a fact.

I am saddened that some people will even exploit their Autistic kids for money.

I hope and pray he will come to his senses and consider his daughter before the almighty Pharma dollar.

 Karen Beauvais
Mom to Joshua, who had 276X the EPA allowable amount of Mercury in his infant vaccines.


Why, oh why, do they have to lie? (12/7/2008)
I was told by someone who continually (and perhaps even continuously) lies about vaccination that polio was caused by the vaccine, evidence for this being that vaccination for polio always preceded polio epidemics. When asked about the 1916 epidemic (which seemed to happen a long time before either Salk or Sabin did their work) he responded in true non sequitur fashion by saying that US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not acquire polio in 1921 because he didn't suffer from polio as he really had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, evidence for this being a 2003 paper published in a journal of biography where the authors used Bayesian statistical methods to compare the probability of FDR having either polio or GBS. (Did I mention that this particular anti-vaccination liar rejects all statistics used in real science, such as those showing no link between vaccines and autism?) When presented with the notion that people with GBS eventually fully recover whereas people with polio (like FDR) do not he simply referred back to the paper.

I thought that I would ask someone who might know something, so I gave him the following quote from the web site of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute:

FDR did not know it yet, but at some point in the weeks prior to his departure for Campobello, he had contracted poliomyelitis, a crippling viral disease that would leave him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. It took some time, however, before the family became aware of the seriousness of his illness, for the initial diagnosis by both the local family doctor and by a second physician brought in to examine FDR was incorrect. Finally, as the days passed, and FDR made little real improvement, the family brought in Dr. Robert Lovett, a noted specialist on infantile paralysis, who, after examining FDR, broke the devastating news that he had indeed contracted polio.

I couldn't help but comment on the fact that this particular person had previously claimed that the term "infantile paralysis" had been invented by Big Pharma to scare parents into buying their vaccines, but this comment went unanswered. I also suggested that he contact FERI to tell them about the mistake in their information about FDR's illness. His response was to quote the 2003 statistical paper again, provide several references to articles about homeopathy which had nothing to do with either polio or GBS and tell me it was my job to correct the inaccuracies on the FERI site.

At that point I gave up. Patience is not infinite.


I seen it but I don't believe it!! (12/7/2008)
Here is a monument to the enema. What more needs to be said? All jokes about what these people can do with their statue will be ignored, as will remarks about how difficult it was to get along with the sculptor or common ownership of the sculpture by the people.

July 19, 2008

More about the goji juice salesman (19/7/2008)
I've had to hold off on the full article about the amazing health and wealth opportunities of goji juice because I am waiting to get a recording of the presentation. At one point the spruiker mentioned that goji had enabled him to stop taking significant daily doses of morphine. As this indicates that goji might be a replacement for the disgraced Vioxx as a pain killer and for the controversial Naltraxone as a means of treating opiate addiction I want to be sure of my facts before I reveal this miracle to the world.

As part of my research I sent the following request to a couple of local medical schools.

I had the misfortune this week to have to sit through a presentation by a naturopath promoting a quack cure-all distributed through a pyramid scheme.

He started off with the standard claim that doctors are not taught a single thing about nutrition in all the years of medical school. (He didn't seem so concerned that the people selling his snake oil have no training in either medicine or nutrition, but facts and consistency are strangers to people like this.)

I'm writing an article about my adventures on the night and I wonder if you could clear this matter up for me.

Do people passing through medical training at [...] ever do a course on nutrition? I realise that "nutrition" is a very broad category, but as the quacks use the specific word I am prepared to accept anything that might fit.

Thank you.

I received the following reply from the University of Sydney:

Dear Peter,
Your enquiry was forwarded to me as I am the academic responsible for mapping the University of Sydney Medical Program. Our course is an integrated program where teaching and learning is focused on the knowledge and skills required to solve clinical problems, so we do not teach "courses" or units of study as such. In the first two years of our program we teach medicine in "Blocks", according to body systems, which gives students the foundations for applying scientific knowledge to the practice of medicine in later years. Within the Blocks, teaching (including lectures and tutorials and supporting resources) are focussed around a particular clinical problem of the week. One of the Blocks is "Endocrine-Nutrition-Gastroenterology" where there is a problem and associated teaching focused on nutrition. However nutrition is also integrated into other subjects throughout the course, such as in basic science teaching in Molecular Medicine or Biochemistry, and in clinical teaching, such as in Surgery. I hope this answers your query, please feel free to contact me if you have other questions,

Best wishes
Wendy

So I guess the quacks can say that as there is no subject or course which has the specific title "Nutrition" then nutrition is not taught. Using the same lying form of logic they can claim that no doctor graduating from the University of Sydney has ever been taught anything about infection either. You can prove anything if you are prepared to lie hard enough.


And speaking of lying ... (19/7/2008)
One of the things the spruiker had a gloat at me about was when I mentioned Amway's legal problems in the UK. He told me that the case had been settled and Amway was back in business and going at full strength. It surely was a great win for Amway. In making his ruling in the case, the judge observed:

The judge's ruling to allow Amway to continue is contingent upon:

Some win for Amway, hey! The Big Pins like to talk about losers with a JOB, which means "just over broke". Well now it looks like the Big Pins are SOL and we all know what that means.

The UK government has decided that this is not good enough and is planning to appeal on the following bases:

(Thanks to Pyramid Scheme Alert for the information above. I never mind giving them a plug, if only because the despicable clowns at the Direct Selling Association (the industry body for US scamsters) try to deceive people by using "pyramidschemealert" in domain names. See some more about this here. I met one of the DSA directors once and I felt like having a shower and a tetanus shot after shaking its hand.)


Weekly dose of weirdness (19/7/2008)
Every child who has ever heard about the Scilly Isles has giggled at the way the name rhymes with "silly", but it now looks as if this connection might be appropriate. It was announced this week that St Mary's airport in the place has advertised for air traffic controllers and offered the application forms in braille so that blind people will not feel discriminated against. The Royal National Institute for the Blind have praised the airport's "good practice". I know you won't believe me, so you can read about it here (but not in braille, sadly).

Thinking about blind air traffic controllers led me to thinking about blind pinball players, which of course got me thinking about The Who. (The minds of 1960s unreconstructed hippies work like that sometimes.) That got me thinking about great music from way back then. Someone recently pointed out to me that The Beatles now have only a bass player and a drummer left and The Who have only a singer and lead guitarist, creating an obvious synergy between the remnants of both groups. The Whotles! I'd pay to see that. Perhaps Pete Townshend could write an opera called "Silly".


Where some of the time goes (19/7/2008)
I was invited to submit an article on alternative medicine to the Australian quarterly magazine Issues, and much of this week was spent writing it. It will appear in the September edition so I can't publish it here until then. In the meantime, have a look at the magazine for some thoughtful coverage of topics which (should) attract the attention of the country's thinking population.


Then there's World Youth Day (19/7/2008)
For the last week or so Sydney has been infested with young Catholics, here for World Youth Day (which goes on for more than a week). The finale of this will be a mass Mass with about 400,000 attenders to be held at Randwick Racecourse, a shrine to Australia's favourite religious pastime - gambling. The local presence of Pope Benedict XVI has triggered some articles in the media mentioning transubstantiation, that peculiarly Catholic idea of the literal transformation of the communion wafer into actual Jesus. Here is a comment from another source about this phenomenon.


See more Jesus and Mo here.


And while we're at it ... (19/7/2008)
A couple of observations:


Some real science for a change (19/7/2008)
During the recent meeting of the Skeptics' Circle hosted at my place someone mentioned unicorns. While some might think that such animals are imaginary, it is good to see some research being done into rare beasts. A highly-regarded professor of paleontology has informed me about an article in the respected journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology with the title "The pyrophysiology and sexuality of dragons". Unfortunately you have to pay to read the full paper and I am too poor to do that, but but luckily some charitable person managed to get me a copy.

Abstract:

To examine the means whereby dragons produce fire and steam, we have studied a related species, the desert-lizard Lacerta pyrophorus. Morphological studies showed that there were in the snout three distinctive features: (1) a dorsal swelling in the pharynx, the Organ of Feuerwerk, consisting of brown adipose tissue with an extensive sympathetic innervation; (2) greatly enlarged lachrymonasal ducts, the Ducts of Kwentsch; and (3) asbestos deposits in the nasal skin, the Bestos Bodies. Physiological studies show that the Organ of Feuerwerk can, when the animal is excited, produce extremely high temperatures. We discuss how these mechanisms can produce steam and fire, and how the snout is protected. We also discuss and offer a solution to the problem of how, since dragons are invariably male, the species can be propagated.

July 26, 2008

It's getting nekkid time again (26/7/2008)
The temperature at my place has risen from about 3ºC this morning to about 15ºC now, so I should soon be able to start getting undressed to write the next Naked Skeptic column for Australasian Science magazine. I like to be dressed appropriately when I'm writing. I'm planning to write about conspiracy theories so I suppose I could get right into character, but it's so hard to type with both arms in a straight jacket and a big chin-foam bib covering the keyboard.


Do they teach nutrition? (Continued) (26/7/2008)
I wasn't able to collect the recording of the goji juice salesman's spiel during the week, but I have received another reply to my question to medical schools about nutrition. Remember that quacks and snake oil salesmen like to tell us how doctors aren't taught anything about nutrition? Well, here's what the University of New South Wales has to say about that:

The UNSW Medicine curriculum does not address specific disciplines by courses. Instead learning about a topic such as nutrition is integrated with other relevant disciplines in the context of different scenarios (in Phase 1) or real clinical experiences (later phases). Attached is an Excel spreadsheet showing activities within the program which have a focus relevant to nutrition. The majority of these activities take place in Phase 1 which is when most campus-based teaching occurs. In subsequent phases, students are taught in informal clinical tutorials which are not recorded in the Curriculum Map.

The spreadsheet attached to the reply listed 54 course streams where nutrition is addressed. I am still left wondering how much about nutrition is taught to recruits to this pyramid scheme selling magic juice, particularly as the salesman's web site talks a lot about training in how to progress through the pyramid but nothing about how the product addresses the nutritional or health needs of the consumers. In fact, it doesn't mention the product at all. This of course makes it easy to dump the goji juice and take up another scam as soon as fashion changes. Does anybody remember noni juice, the last great exotic driver of pyramid scheme recruitment?


Do they teach anything? (26/7/2008)
I am often asked why I bother with this web site and my involvement with skeptical organisations. The suggestion is usually made that people should have the freedom to think and do whatever they want. In fact, I have no argument with this as long as the thoughts, actions and decisions are made with full possession of the facts. It's when those facts are available but are misused or ignored that I get concerned. There are some things which should be obviously nonsense to anyone with a smattering of education or the ability to apply logical thinking.

A few years ago a company called Firepower appeared on the Australian business scene. Lavish product launch functions were held, and the company became a prominent sponsor of sporting teams and even the owner of Sydney's national basketball team. Shares were offered to investors and about $100 million dollars was raised to fund the company's research and expansion. People with education, business acumen and intelligence were co-opted to endorse the product, and Australian diplomats provided facilities to launch in other countries.

So what is this product? It's a magic pill that you drop into your petrol tank to improve fuel efficiency. Only if you can buy it, of course, which doesn't seem to be the case in Australia. When I first heard about Firepower I immediately thought "scam". Whenever there is a sharp rise in petrol prices the crooks and charlatans come out of the woodwork with their magic devices and fuel additives and their cars that run on water. This was just another one in the long tradition of 100mpg broken promises.

I apply a simple test to claims of improving fuel efficiency. There are people with almost unlimited funds who would desperately love to find a way to get more kilometres out of a litre of petrol. When I see Ferrari or McLaren putting these things in or on their Formula One cars to save a pit stop in a race I might start to suspect that they have some value. When the FIA bans their use in F1 cars I might believe a little bit harder.

And where did the money go? Nobody knows, but they know where it didn't go. As an example, the Sydney Kings have been dropped from the national basketball league because player salaries and the annual registration fees weren't paid. Another thing that nobody knows is the whereabouts of the high-flying socialite who ran the scam. You can do a lot of hiding with $100 million.

All it would have taken for people to be protected from this fraud would have been some simple thinking and application of a primitive bullshit detector. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. But will this sort of thing happen again? Of course it will. It was Joseph Bessimer (not Phineas T Barnum) who said "There's a sucker born every minute". He was right.

See more about this story here, and see the corporate regulators doing too little too late here (note that the action is not over the fraud of the pills but over irregularities in the way the money was raised).


There is a cure!! (26/7/2008)
One of my clients manages advertising in trade publications and some of their work is aimed at pharmacists. I was in there the other day and I noticed a copy of the Australian Journal of Complementary Medicine. This is a peer-reviewed journal (I know this because it says so on the Contents page) so I was excited to see that it contained an article detailing the treatment of type 2 diabetes with acupuncture. I believe the word "cure" was mentioned. (I can't check at the journal's web site because it hasn't been updated for over a year.)

It turned out to be a single case study. The patient was about the same height as me but weighed about 50% more than I did at diagnosis. The patient was diagnosed diabetic as the result of a single urine test (which did not show a spectacularly high blood glucose level) rather than the blood test used by real doctors, and because he urinated a lot. No connection was made between his very large water consumption and the rate of elimination of the water. Treatment consisted of trial-and-error needling of some acupuncture points and then trying some other points just for good luck. After the patient had lost about 30 kilograms and reduced his water intake he was given the set of blood tests that he should have been given in the first place and found to be within the normal ranges for people without diabetes. No connection was made between his vastly reduced fluid intake and his reduced urine flow - it was the needles what done it.

To a real doctor this would be a case of someone who had been showing slight insulin resistance due to the presence of a wheelbarrow load of lard around his middle and who was overworking his kidneys by drinking far more water than his body needed. Dropping the weight and the drinking gave exactly the results that would have been expected without the need to stick needles into various mythical meridians.

But what did the acupuncturist do to obtain these results? The flow of qi through the kidneys was adjusted and the heat in the stomach was reduced. As this appeared in a peer-reviewed journal I will repeat that treatment regimen just in case you missed it the first time - to treat type 2 diabetes you stick needles into the patient to adjust the qi of the kidneys and the heat in the stomach. Well, you do for this patient - the next one might need something different. It was embarrassing to read this drivel.

As the world is supposed to be turning to alternative medicine for the answers, I assume that the next edition of Gray's Anatomy will have an illustration of the stomach of someone with diabetes.

Oh, sorry. That's a stomach with too much heater in it, not too much heat. My bad!


Does a nice piece of ass make you feel sexy? (26/7/2008)
No, I'm not being rude. Some Hong Kong outfit that sells quackery to the Chinese is looking for a million donkey skins to make into aphrodisiacs and attention has turned to Australia's feral donkey herds. This could become a major agricultural export, and just think - if a whole lot of the wild donkeys get killed and transformed into penis scaffolding then the donkeys might become endangered and this would not only increase the export value per animal but also enhance the aphrodisiac potential. Can traditional and alternative medicine get any sillier than this? Of course it can - there may not even be a limit.

Away out here they got a name
For donkey, mouse and tiger
The mouse is Tess, the tiger Joe,
And they call the ass Viagra.

I don't know what made me think of them, but
I have been assured that no animals are
harmed in the manufacture of paddle-pop
sticks and duct tape.


Speaking of animals ... (26/7/2008)
Those unicorns mentioned at the Skeptics' Circle meeting are still hovering in the zeitgeist. Just when I think that the matter has been settled, reader Michael Denny sends me this. The only trouble I had was finding a virgin to describe the picture to me.


And while we're at it ... (26/7/2008)
Another thing mentioned in the Skeptics' Circle was rabid anti-vaccination liar and all-round buffoon Jenny McCarthy. She has been given the treatment by one of my favourite comic strips.


See more of Cectic here.



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