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January 4, 2014

Happy New Year (4/1/2014)
And Merry Christmas to my Coptic and Orthodox friends. Unfortunately some real life matters (such as a deadbeat client that needs severe chasing for money) have interfered with my plans, so the 2013 Millenium Awards and the promised review of 2013 will have to wait until next week.


Die Hard Records dies dead (4/1/2014)
When the number of unsavoury sites listed here reached 1,000 at the end of 1999 almost 200 of those sites were in the Racist category. There was a widely-held belief at the time that the Internet would provide a great resource for racists to spread their filth but the reality has not kept up with this. One thing that was soon revealed was that organisations like the Ku Klux Klan were not the monolithic pressure groups that everyone thought they were but instead were fractured and splintered coalitions of warring factions, each competing with the others to be the most stupid and irrelevant. Over the years the number of racist sites listed here has dwindled, and at the time of writing there are only 77 left. I will admit that I haven't been paying much attention to them lately, but over the same time many of the sites opposing racism (like Hatewatch.) have also disappeared, probably indicating that the problem is becoming less of a problem. Of course, while even a single racist web site exists there will be a problem, but we are never going to completely eliminate stupidity and bigotry from human nature. And, of course, the principle of free speech insists that people have the right to say whatever they like, no matter how much it offends others.

The latest site to disappear from the list is Die Hard Records, a major publisher and distributor of white power and hate "music". (The scare quotes are there because the noise hardly qualified as music regardless of the content.) This follows the demise of Resistance Records a little while ago and suggests that the market for this drivelous hatred is no longer big enough to justify the costs of production and distribution.

Which is a good thing.


But there's still work to do ... (4/1/2014)


See more Bad Chemicals here


Burzynski believer bellows (4/1/2014)
For some reason, nobody noticed when Eric Merola, producer of advertising videos for charlatan and thief Stanislaw Burzynski, launched into an attack on critics of his hero last June, and this gem only came to light in the last few days. It is beyond ironic that someone who makes advertising films while pretending to be an independent producer should accuse others of astroturfing, which is "the deceptive tactic of simulating grassroots support for a product, cause, etc., undertaken by people or organizations with an interest in shaping public opinion". Eric does it for a living.

Here is the title of this remarkable piece of literature.

It then goes on into a rant of epic quality, almost comparable to the craziness shown when Burzynski last employed someone to point out the faults of his critics. Here is what Eric had to say about me:

It's too long to put on a t-shirt, but I might get it printed on some mouse mats and hand them out at conferences.

You can read the entire serving of mouth foam here. Enjoy, but remember to put drop sheets down and wear  a raincoat.


AVN goes on a hypocrisy campaign (4/1/2014)
There is obviously an outbreak of desperation at the soon-to-be-renamed Australian Vaccination Network. Perhaps they should be concentrating on finding an acceptable name that represents the true objectives of the organisation.

I mentioned before Christmas that I had been banned from Facebook for twelve hours because some anonymous, lying coward had complained about a completely innocuous post I had made in response to an anonymous poster. Over the next few days I was banned five more times, and many other people were also subject to Facebook's broken and capricious complaints system. One person was prevented from contacting friends and relatives about arrangements for her father's funeral, but as anti-vaccination liars are in favour of death they probably wouldn't have seen this as any sort of problem. Meryl Dorey has denied all knowledge of this campaign, despite using exactly the same tactic herself back in September last year, but this came as no surprise as we have become accustomed to both her commitment to free speech (which includes taking court action to silence critics) and her respect for the truth.

I was banned a seventh time as collateral damage when a post by an administrator of the Stop The AVN group was whined about, resulting in a ban for all administrators of the group. At least this was better than the situation in 2012 when a complaint was made that an admin was doing something dreadful and all the administrators were threatened with permanent bans. On that occasion I had to identify myself to Facebook to be allowed back in, but some people were banned for days or weeks and a few had their Facebook accounts closed down completely.

Here are the horrible things I said that caused me to offend against Facebook's "community standards":

My sister's seizure was caused by measles. All of her children are fully vaccinated.

This is a reference to this person claiming a degree she doesn't have.

As you can see, the phrase "community standards" appears to have no real meaning at Facebook.

They other example of AVN hypocrisy I mentioned a few weeks back was the publication of a picture of me on a Facebook page named "Stop the Australian Vaccination Propaganda". It showed me asking a question, so I posted it on the page myself with a request that someone answer the question. Then the fun started. Anonymous people commented on my weight, my complexion, my drinking habits and other things of which they know nothing. Insulting me was perfectly acceptable behaviour, and you need to remember that there was a simultaneous campaign to complain about mentions of people's names. Unfortunately, the page has now either been removed or hidden in some way so I can't show examples of what was said. It seems strange that the anonymous posters should feel so ashamed of what they said that they needed to hide it, particularly as it is difficult to imaging anti-vaccination liars having any sense of shame at all.

Before the page disappeared, however, something really amusing happened. Remember that I had posted back to the page an image that had been originally put there by the page owner. Then this:

That's right. The clown reported a picture that they had themselves posted. Reported for "nudity or pornography"! Stupidity like this needs recognition and reward. If stupidity were to be declared an Olympic sport this would be gold medal material.

And what was the decision from Facebook?

It looks like there is at least a smidgeon of sanity in their complaints system. We can only hope it eventually spreads to anonymous complaints about using people's names when replying to them.



See more SMBC here


I write stuff (4/1/2014)
The Ratbags Media Office has been busy sending out articles for publication. Here are the latest two.

Australasian Science
I dressed appropriately for writing my Naked Skeptic column, chewed on some gingko to get the blood flowing through my brain, brewed a pot of chamomile tea to calm me as the deadline approached and wrote an article about what's in herbal preparations for Australasian Science, the country's best popular science magazine and something to which you should either subscribe or insist your newsagent carries. Or both.

What you see might not be what you get.
I often hear a criticism coming from the alternative medicine industry that pharmaceutical drugs are not tested properly because all possible interactions of all drugs at all concentrations are not done. This is a true statement, much like the statement that car safety can not be fully evaluated unless an example of every make and model is tested by crashing it into all possible examples of cars on Australian roads at all possible speeds. Just because something is impossible doesn’t mean it can’t be done, apparently.

Whenever I’m confronted with this claim I refer to the shelves of alternative potions in my local pharmacy, health food shop or supermarket, with particular attention to preparations which contain mixtures of ingredients, and ask if any of these interactions have ever been tested. The replies are inevitably either silence or non sequitur.

You can read the rest here.


The Skeptic
This is the second-oldest regular skeptical publication in the world, and again it is something you should subscribe to (it's not available on newsstands). Go to the Australian Skeptics web site and wave your credit card to get your quarterly ration of reason and common sense. In the latest issue I look at the tribulations of one of the world's most egregious charlatans.

Burzynski gets audited
The very first article I ever wrote for my Millenium Project web site appeared in early 2000 and was an examination of the claims of a cancer quack – Stanislaw Burzynski. I looked at the documentation for some of the clinical trials he claimed to be doing at the time and it was obvious that he was doing nothing that looked like science. The reason for doing the trials was that the FDA would not let him sell an unproven cancer treatment but he could test it in trials. As of this moment in 2013 only one of these 61 trials has been declared finished (in 2006, the results have not been published) and Burzynski has never published anything in any scientific journal that matters.

His treatment is based on chemicals which he calls "antineoplastons". They were originally extracted from urine but are now synthesised. Nobody else in the world has ever shown any efficacy for these chemicals and like all cancer quacks they treat a wide variety of cancers. The preferred ones, however, are brain cancers in children because these are the best for generating public sympathy and also because the parents are desperate for a cure. He has always used sick and dying children in his advertising, although lately he has been using some adults as well, but only those with a good sob story to tell.

You can read the rest here.

January 18, 2014

The 2013 Millenium Awards (18/1/2014)
DrumThe Millenium Awards roll, Maestro. The envelope please. Sound of ripping paper, followed by long and annoying pause. And the winners in the 2013 Millenium Awards for Crapulence are:

See the list with commentaries here.



See more Argyle Sweater here


Looking back retrospectively (18/1/2014)
2013 was a mixed year, as years always are. Here are some of the high and low lights as recorded at Ratbag Castle.

January
  • Outrageous anti-vaccination liar Ms Sherri Tenpenny temporarily closed her Facebook page when informed that she had won a Millenium Award for linking the murder of kindergarten children to vaccines.
  • I received the following wonderful email:

    Hello Peter,
    In your universe Quantum physics does not exist.
    Horse and cart travel will last for another millennium.
    The world is still flat.
    The universe revolves around you.
    Maybe Jesus/Dick Smith still loves you.
    You haven't been born yet.
    Wait for the stork!!!!

February
  • Popular opinion was brought to bear on booksellers over a children's book called "Melanie's Marvellous Measles" which described the joys and benefits of measles. The campaign worked and stores dropped the excrescence from both their physical and online stores.
  • A new President for the Australian Vaccination Network was announced, with Meryl Dorey retiring to the background to spread more disinformation designed to endanger children. She was replaced by Greg Beattie, famous for losing a court battle over sending unvaccinated children to a child care centre. Naturally, his loss is touted as a win.
  • I received my first threat of a ban from Facebook because some anonymous person submitted a false copyright claim.
March
  • Lots might have happened, but The Millenium Project was taking a short break.
April
May
June
  • I was on television talking about the attempt to harass me into silence using the courts.
  • On the day that went to air the AVN appeared before the Administrative Decisions Tribunal in an attempt to thwart an order to change their deceptive name.
  • A government investigation into the AVN's finances was announced.
  • Exodus International, an organisation that had spent 37 years telling young men that praying could cure homosexuality, closed its doors following an amazing apology from its head person to all the people who had been harmed by its actions over the decades.
  • I was publicly thanked in the federal Senate for my work opposing anti-vaccination liars. I did not expect this and it made me very proud of what my friends and I have achieved.
July
  • I recorded six television interviews tentatively called "Chats With Atheists" for a US Christian television network. They haven't gone to air yet and maybe never will, but I have been told that they don't have a lot of staff so sometimes there can be long intervals between recording something and the edited and finished product being broadcast.
  • It was announced that HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) in Alaska might be closing permanently. Conspiracists everywhere invented stories about this.
  • A Muslim elected to the Australian federal ministry chose to swear his Oath of Allegiance on a Koran. Bigots went nuts.
August
  • The Chiropractic Board of Australia announced that it was going to take firm action against chiropractors acting outside their field of expertise. People yawned and predicted an occasional mild wrist-slap followed by business as usual. The prediction came true except for the wrist-slapping, because none of that happened.
  • A series of debates were held around the country between Professor Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig. I attended the one in Sydney where nothing was decided about the existence of God. This was in line with expectations.
  • I was accused of being a terrorist. Laughter could be heard in the next suburb.
  • The US Government admitted that Area 51 actually exists. Conspiracists immediately suggested that this announcement was part of a cover-up.
  • An anti-vaccination liar compared her campaign to that of Martin Luther King. Sane people vomited.
September
  • I received my first temporary ban from Facebook due to an anonymous complaint from someone lying about community standards.
  • Meryl Dorey withdrew her appeal against the unfavourable decision in her court case against me two days before it was due to be heard. It was recorded by the court as a dismissal of the appeal. She had dragged on the idiocy for fifty-four weeks.
  • September was "Subluxation Awareness Month". I am all in favour of people being made aware of the fraud of subluxations as promoted by chiropractors.
  • A chiropractor broke a child's back while treating it for something that chiropractic can't treat (which is anything at all). The profession closed ranks and wondered what all the fuss was about.
October
  • SkeptiCamp Sydney was on. I spoke about my hate mail collection.
  • The worst bushfires for many years came much too close to my home. This was a distraction from doing stuff for this site.
November
  • The FDA moved in on cancer quack Stan Burzynski. Their investigation showed that things were even worse than his severest critics had imagined.
  • Someone challenged me to take all the vaccines given in the first five years of a child's life in one session. I agreed and set a date and time. He ran away, as they always do.
  • The Australian Skeptics National Convention was held in Canberra on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. I spoke about a conspiracy I had uncovered.
  • There was a hurricane in the Philippines, killing and injuring tens of thousands. A doctor friend of mine was called a "pathological narcissist" for volunteering to go there and help.
  • The Administrative Decisions Tribunal ruled that the AVN could be forced to change its deceptive name.
  • Fake psychic and abuser of grieving parents Sylvia Browne made everyone happier by dying.
December
  • A campaign was launched by anti-vaccination liars to abuse Facebook's complaints system and have people banned for saying innocuous things, sometimes months prior to the complaints being lodged. I was banned seven times before the nonsense stopped, and many other people suffered a similar fate. Our crime was to refer to people by name when replying to them in comment threads. Just like polite people do.
  • It was Christmas so everything shut down and we all spent time with family and friends.
January 25, 2014

Congratulations! (25/1/2014)
A ritual observed by many Australians on Australia Day is to scan the list of people who have been awarded something in the Order of Australia. Eager fingers navigate to the Governor General's web site and hover the cursor over the link which comes live at a minute past midnight when the embargo is lifted.

Unfortunately I missed out again, but a friend of mine didn't. Here is what it said on page 359 of the official list of awards:

MEDAL (OAM) OF THE ORDER OF AUSTRALIA IN THE GENERAL DIVISION

Ms Loretta Josephine MARRON, Burpengary Qld 4505
For service to community health.

Inaugural Chief Executive Officer and Secretary, Friends of Science in Medicine, since 2011; Founding Member, 2011; formed to support evidence-based medicine and to raise concerns about 'complementary and alternative' interventions for health conditions.
Collaborative Team Member, Review of the quality of complementary medicines information resources, National Prescribing Service, 2009.

Co-Author, Commercialism, choice and consumer protection: regulation of complementary medicines in Australia, Medical Journal of Australia, 2008.

Co-developer, Health Information website, www.healthinformation.com.au, since 2005; an online health directory of reputable sources of health information, support groups, access to medical specialists online and information about clinical trials.

Citizen journalist and international speaker on the risks and benefits of complementary and alternative interventions.
On-Air Contributor, Television and Radio, 4BC, 2005-2006, Your Health with Dr Ingrid Tall, Briz 31 Community Television, 2006; and 4OUR, since 2007.

Awards/recognition include:
Co-Recipient, Australian Skeptic of the Year, 2012.
Australian Skeptic of the Year, 2006-2007 and 2011.

There are always some controversial awards, but this isn't one of them. Congratulations, Loretta. I'm proud to have you as a friend.



See more Close To Home here


Changing that name (25/1/2014)
Now that the holiday season is over and all the public servants are about to return to their desks to start the cogs of officialdom and bureaucracy turning again it's probably a good time to revisit this media release issued by the NSW Office of Fair Trading in November last year. It's been two months and the Australian Vaccination Network has not yet announced any new, truthful name, but there has been a fire sale of office furniture so maybe the plan is to simply disappear. Which would be nice.

Australian Vaccination Network ordered to change its name

25 November 2013

Minister for Fair Trading Anthony Roberts today welcomed a decision by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) to order the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) to change its name on the grounds it is misleading.

The ADT has upheld NSW Fair Trading’s direction to the AVN to change its name.

Mr Roberts said Fair Trading had acted in the public interest by requesting the AVN change its name, based on claims the name is unacceptable under the Associations Incorporation Act 2009.

"Fair Trading acted in this matter after receiving numerous complaints, including from the Australian Medical Association, that the AVN name was misleading given its overwhelming focus on the publication of anti-vaccination messages and information," Mr Roberts said.

"The time has come for AVN to find a name which reflects its anti-vaccination stance.

"This is about being open and upfront about what you stand for, not hiding behind a name which could mislead the community about a very significant public health issue."

On 21 December 2012, the Associations Incorporation Amendment (Unacceptable Names) Regulation 2012 commenced. The amendment expanded the classifications of unacceptable names to include a name likely to mislead the public in relation to the nature, objects or functions of an association.

In January, Fair Trading issued a direction to the AVN to change its name on the basis it was undesirable because it had the potential to mislead the public.

On 8 February 2013, the Association sought an internal review of that decision. The internal review was completed on 19 February, affirming the original decision.

The Association then lodged an appeal in the ADT.

At the first hearing on 22 March 2013, Judge O’Connor, President of the Tribunal, placed conditions on the organisation, including that a prominent consumer warning be published on the AVN website and its Facebook page by 26 March 2013.

The warning stated Fair Trading had directed AVN to change its name because it regarded the name to be misleading and that the direction was being challenged before the Tribunal.

AVN has 28 days to lodge an appeal against today’s decision.

Mr Roberts said Fair Trading reserves the right to pursue costs associated with any ongoing legal action undertaken by AVN.

What is known is that the AVN have been trying to register names which are similar to "Australian Vaccination Sceptics (or Skeptics) Network". Any attempt to use one of these names will be strongly challenged by groups such as Australian Skeptics Inc and people who care about the truth. They have been ordered to change the deceptive name, and changing it to something which is possibly even more deceptive should not be allowed. I realise that the AVN don't see what they are attempting to do as anything wrong, but truth and morality are concepts that they simply don't understand.


The disappearing polio (25/1/2014)
In 2009 more than half of the world's cases of polio were in India. If no cases are found in the next few weeks, India will be declared polio free in March, having gone three years without an incidence of the disease. The elimination of this scourge in only a little over a year shows what can be done when people commit to a goal. Unfortunately the country still has to be alert, because a neighbouring country, Pakistan, is now the world's biggest reservoir of polio, a situation made worse by the murder of people carrying out vaccination campaigns.

The news has delighted sane people everywhere, but what are the anti-vaccination liars going to do? They are constitutionally unable to take pleasure from the thought of children not dying or being crippled so they have had to look for a reason to deny the news. It is obvious that they can't fall back on the old lie that polio was only beaten in other countries by improved sanitation and nutrition, because these certainly do not apply to India, so they have chosen to run with the other old lie that the disease has been renamed. Almost within minutes of the release of the March target announcements were  being made that there had been massive increases in other conditions such as Acute Flaccid Paralysis, although nobody seemed to know where they were getting the figures from. It couldn't have been from the Indian health authorities or the WHO, because they were the ones saying that polio is gone, so the only reasonable conclusion is that which is made whenever the vermin say things that don't appear to be true. It's called "lying" and it's what liars do.



See more Lola here


Deniers gonna deny (25/1/2014)
On a fairly regular basis people post messages to Internet forums with a specific agenda challenging the residents to justify why they should not be outed as hypocrites because the interloper is more whatever than they are. Anti-vaccination liars, for example, are champions at this, claiming that they have the truth and everyone else is either in the pay of Big Pharma or are just unthinking sheeple. Climate change deniers do the same, usually by trying to claim the term "skeptic" for themselves. (See above for the AVN trying to do the same thing.) One appeared on the Facebook group "Skeptics in Australia" during the week and instantly launched an attack on everyone. Any attempt to discuss anything with him soon escalated into insults and non sequitur, so the group administrators deleted the thread. I discovered this the next time I logged in, so I wrote this.

I gather from several notifications mentioning me that led to a deleted thread that someone challenged me to or about something. I like a challenge, especially when it comes from someone using an idiosyncratic definition of "skepticism".

Skepticism is about being open to evidence, the more of it the better. There will always be "mavericks" who go against scientific consensus. Sometimes these people are correct, but most often they are not. When you have a body of knowledge built up over a long period and countless confirming observations and which can be explained by a coherent set of theories (such as climate change, the role of bacteria in infection, the efficacy of vaccination, the horror of Nazi death camps, ...) the chances of the mavericks being right diminishes. When they can't offer anything except "You are wrong" it is safe to call them "deniers".

Deniers often like to talk about paradigm shifts without understanding what Kuhn meant by the term. He didn't mean that somebody comes along and throws over all established knowledge - he meant that a point can be reached where a theory simply cannot explain some anomalies and a new theory is needed to fill the gaps. Einstein didn't overthrow Newton, he stood on Newton's shoulders to see a little further into the way the universe works. There is a reason that science-based Nobel Prizes are usually awarded long after what they are awarded for happened, and, remember, they are usually for some breakthrough which adds explanation to or extends an existing body of knowledge. The delay is there to allow others to incorporate the new discoveries and use them to explain what we don't know a little better. And to make sure that the new ideas are correct.

It takes time and a lot of work to find out what reality is doing and even though science isn't a democracy where the majority rules, the majority is far more likely to be right than a tiny minority who don't try to fill the gaps in knowledge but use a crowbar to widen them.

Nobody laughed at Galileo, but even if they did he was right and he got there by extending the work of others using methods and equipment that weren't available to his predecessors. He could demonstrate his theory to anyone prepared to look through his telescope. If someone came along today and claimed that he had proof that the Sun went around a fixed Earth we would want some pretty convincing evidence before we would say that the consensus had been overthrown.

But if the evidence was good enough ...

I was informed that in the deleted messages he had told me that I was lying and had challenged me to comprehensively prove that the climate was changing. I referred him to the IPCC web site and asked him to provide his thoughts on all the papers that had been used to build the various reports that the organisation had made over the years. He ran away and hasn't been heard of since. Which is typical behaviour for deniers.

I had something to say along these lines a little while ago in "Give me my word back".



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