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PreviousNextUpdates made to The Millenium Project in October 2015

October 17, 2015

Some good news for a change (17/10/2015)
Two significant awards were announced at the Australian Skeptics annual convention in Brisbane. I wasn't able to attend the convention and forbade my friends from telling me what a good time they were having, but I know they were very enthusiastic in their applause when the awards were announced.

Catherine and Greg lost their son Riley to whooping cough and have used their personal tragedy to encourage other parents to vaccinate their children. For this they have been vilified by anti-vaccination filth. They have been accused of being paid to support vaccines (of course), but the worst have been the accusations that Riley didn't even exist and is simply a fabrication of these Big Pharma shills. People ask me why I despise anti-vaccination liars and I can find no better justification than to point to the way that these vermin have attacked the Hughes family. You can show your support for Catherine and Greg by liking and following the Light For Riley Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of the Sydney Moring Herald. James Brickwood was the photographer.

The other award is the one that nobody covets - the Bent Spoon. It is awarded to the "perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle" and this year went to celebrity TV chef Pete Evans for, among other things, his promotion of the ridiculous "Paleo Diet" which dictates eating like prehistoric cavemen. He had another award of sorts during the year when his book "Baby Yum Yum" was banned from sale because it contained "advice" which could have caused serious harm to babies if their parents had been foolish enough to follow the recipes. Evans is also opposed to fluoridation and includes uberquack Joseph Mercola among his pantheon of heroes. He is a worthy winner of any award granted to people who promote dangerous nonsense.

And the good news just keeps on coming (17/10/2015)
On Tuesday, October 13, I had the great pleasure of sitting in Courtroom 22A and hearing Federal Court Judge Perry hand down judgment on homeopath Fran Sheffield and her Homeopathy Plus business. Ms Sheffield had attracted the ire of the authorities by claiming that homeopathy could be used as an effective substitute for pertussis vaccination.

Ms Sheffield was told that she can't make any claims about homeopathy and pertussis for five years, but here are the best parts of the judgment (the First Respondent is Homeopathy Plus as a corporation, the Second Respondent is Ms Sheffield personally, the Applicant is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission):

5. Pursuant to s 224 of the Australian Consumer Law, the First Respondent pay to the Commonwealth within 30 days of the making of this Order by the Court a pecuniary penalty of $115,000 in respect of the acts constituting its contraventions of s 29(1)(a), (b) and (g) of the Australian Consumer Law.

6. Pursuant to s 224 of the Australian Consumer Law, the Second Respondent pay to the Commonwealth within 90 days of the making of this Order by the Court a pecuniary penalty of $23,000 in respect of the acts constituting her contraventions of s 29(1)(a), (b) and (g) of the Australian Consumer Law.

8. The Respondents pay the Applicant’s costs of the proceeding as agreed or assessed.

$138,000 in penalties, plus the ACCC's costs. The ACCC were employing one of the country's most expensive law firms and at one of the hearings they turned up with six of those wheelbarrows that lawyers use, each packed to the top with full three-ring binders. The photocopying charges by themselves could exceed the two court-ordered penalties. Ms Sheffield will have to sell a lot of bottles of water and very many hundreds-and-thousands cake decorations (at 15 cents each!) to pay these bills. You can read the full judgment here.

The ACCC issued a media release which summed up the matter quite well.

Court imposes penalty for false or misleading claims by Homeopathy Plus and Ms Frances Sheffield

14 October 2015

The Federal Court yesterday ordered Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd (Homeopathy Plus) to pay penalties of $115,000 and its director, Ms Frances Sheffield, to pay $23,000 in penalties for making false or misleading representations about the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine and homeopathic remedies as an alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield were also ordered to cease publishing the articles that contained the representations and remove them from the Homeopathy Plus website. The court also ordered that they be restrained for five years from making :

  • certain specified statements to the effect that the whooping cough vaccine is ineffective, for so long as the vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people from contracting whooping cough; and
  • any statements or representations to the effect that homeopathic treatments or products are a safe alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, for so long as there is no reasonable basis in medical science to support those statements or representations and the vaccine is approved for inclusion on the National Immunisation Program by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“Representations that may mislead consumers about the effectiveness of medical products or treatments are of significant concern to the ACCC. The potential consequences for the community of false or misleading representations about health and medical matters may be extremely serious” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

“In this case, there was a real risk that consumers might be influenced by the representations not to use the whooping cough vaccine and instead to rely solely on homeopathic products for the prevention of whooping cough. This is against the advice of medical professionals and the Commonwealth Department of Health.”

“This decision demonstrates that businesses must take care to ensure that any statement or representation made about the effectiveness of a particular medical treatment or product is accurate and supported by adequate scientific evidence. It is no excuse that the person making false or misleading representations genuinely believes in a particular viewpoint and is a passionate advocate for a particular practice,” [the] Court said.

“Consumer protection issues in the health and medical sectors are a current enforcement priority for the ACCC. The ACCC has taken action against a number of businesses that the Court has found made false or misleading representations about medical treatments, and it will continue to do so.”

In her decision, Justice Perry found that Ms Sheffield’s evidence fell well short of providing any credible basis for the representations about the whooping cough vaccine, and that the publication of false representations about the effectiveness of the vaccine has potentially very serious and dangerous consequences. The Court noted that:

  • even if one consumer has been diverted from vaccinating, the potential consequences may be very serious and potentially fatal
  • the representations risked serious harm to the Australian community in potentially reducing the capacity of communities to cocoon vulnerable infants and others
  • the representations conveyed the existence of a reasonable basis in medical science for stating that a vaccine for a serious and potentially fatal disease was ineffective, despite the evidence emphatically establishing that that was false
  • the representations conveyed that homeopathy was a safe alternative means of preventing whooping cough, despite there being no reasonable basis in medical science for the representation.


The Homeopathy Plus website contained statements to the effect that the whooping cough vaccine is “unreliable at best” and “largely ineffective” in preventing whooping cough, and that homeopathic remedies are a proven safe and effective alternative for the prevention of whooping cough.

In December 2014, the Federal Court found that Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false or misleading representations by publishing statements on the Homeopathy Plus website to the effect that:

  • the whooping cough vaccine is short lived, unreliable and no longer effective;
  • the vaccine may not be the best solution for, of limited effect, and is unreliable at best, in protecting against whooping cough; and
  • the vaccine is largely ineffective in protecting against whooping cough,

when in fact the whooping cough vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people from contracting whooping cough.

The Court also found that Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false and misleading representations to the effect that there was an adequate foundation in medical science for the statement that homeopathic treatments are a safe and effective alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, when in fact no such foundation exists and the vaccine is the only treatment currently approved for use and accepted by medical practitioners for the prevention of whooping cough.

Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory disease which is most serious in young children. The Australian Government Department of Health recommends children receive the whooping cough vaccine as part of routine childhood immunisation.

In April 2012, Homeopathy Plus removed representations from its website at the request of the ACCC, after the ACCC had expressed concerns they were misleading. Similar claims were then reinstated in January 2013, after which the ACCC to instituted proceedings against Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield.

The statements that Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield are restrained from making for five years are that the vaccine publicly available in Australia for whooping cough:

  1. is short-lived in protecting against whooping cough;
  2. is unreliable in protecting against whooping cough;
  3. is no longer effective in protecting against whooping cough;
  4. may not be the best solution for protecting against whooping cough;
  5. is of limited effect in protecting against whooping cough;
  6. is unreliable at best in protecting against whooping cough; and/or
  7. is largely ineffective in protecting against whooping cough,

for so long as the Vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people who are exposed to the whooping cough infection from contracting whooping cough.

Release number:
MR 194/15

And was Ms Sheffield daunted by all this? Did hefty financial penalties for lying about homeopathy cause her to change her ways? Don't be silly. Stop asking such meaningless questions. Here is her newsletter, two days after the court stamped all over her and her business:

See more SMBC here

True story - a creationist told me that we share genes with tomatoes because God intended us to eat
them. I suggested that the perfect food would be something that we shared 100% of our genes with.

The laughs just keep coming (17/10/2015)
Anti-vaccination liars are always complaining that nobody will ever do a study to prove that vaccines don't cause autism. Well, someone has done just that and to no sane person's surprise there is no relationship between vaccination status and autism. What makes this study different though is that it was instigated and paid for by an anti-vaccination group. They just knew that the study would show vaccinated children regressing all over the place. Instead, from the web site of the sponsors:

And for the search engines:

Of the 95,727 children in the study, around 1 percent (994) were diagnosed with autism during the study’s follow-up period. Among those who had an older sibling with autism (1,929), approximately 7 percent (134) developed the disorder. This difference in autism prevalence – between children with or without an older sibling affected by autism – is consistent with earlier studies. 

Note that the rate of autism increased by a factor of seven if an older sibling was autistic, but it's nothing to do with genetics, oh no! You can read the study here.

And what about this fact - "around 1 percent ... were diagnosed with autism during the study’s follow-up period"? Doesn't "1 percent" mean the same as "1 in a hundred"? Well, it does if you aren't an anti-vaccination liar. Just below those words on the Autism Speaks web site the following image appeared:

Liars gonna lie. Scammers gonna ask for money.

The moving finger writes (17/10/2015)
My latest column for Australasian Science magazine will be in the newsagents and your postboxes next week so I will write about it then. In the meantime here's my second-latest column (which you would already have seen if you were a subscriber - hint, hint). The weather is getting warmer so I should soon be able to dispense with the fleecy slippers and get fully into character to write a column called "The Naked Skeptic". Which reminds me - the editor forgot to send out his monthly reminder to all contributors so we all got a shock about how close the next deadline is. I had better start thinking about what I can write about.

Australasian ScienceAre all placebos equal?

I’ve written twice this year (January and September) about psychological effects that can influence a person’s perception of pain or other stimuli. This month I’m looking at some research into the difference between various placebos used in trials of methods to treat the same complaint.

Watching television I see two advertisements which seem to appear on multiple occasions each night. Both are for over-the-counter treatments for osteoarthritis pain in the knees. In one of them a grey-haired gentleman with a short grey beard takes pills containing paracetamol to relieve the pain, enabling him to play with his (grand)children by swimming or running with a kite. The other advertisement shows a woman, apparently much younger than the man in the pill ads, who eases the pain by rubbing her knee with ointment out of a tube. (Another difference is that she doesn’t seem to do this so she can play with children but instead it helps her do yoga and also to skip nimbly across a bedroom and jump on the bed, causing the man who is already there to put down the book he is reading. I will leave discussion of the representation of gender roles in advertisements for another time.)

You can read the rest here

See more Far Side her

October 24, 2015

They are still at it (24/10/2015)
Ten years ago I was being dragged through the courts by a company which had been found to be operating an illegal pyramid scheme. They did not like me reporting this fact, or their history of brushes with the law in other countries, or for pointing out the loophole in the law that they were exploiting. They eventually convinced a court that acting immorally wasn't a problem if the law was badly written

So let's celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Federal Court of Australia finding a loophole in the then Trade Practices Act which narrowed the definition of "pyramid scheme", thus allowing scamsters to get away with scamming if they worded their payment rules carefully. (The High Court declined to hear an appeal from the ACCC on the basis that it was Parliament's job to change defective law, not the High Court's.)

We celebrate by finding that the loophole wasn't closed when the act was rewritten and renamed and is still being used to drive pyramid-shaped money-stealing trucks through the protection that people would assume the law provides for them.

Here is a media release from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission:

Federal Court finds Lyoness scheme not pyramid
23 October 2015

The Federal Court has found that a loyalty program operated by Lyoness Australia Pty Ltd does not contravene the pyramid and referral selling provisions of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), following action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The Lyoness program includes the ability for members to earn various rebates and bonuses from shopping. It also includes ways for consumers to earn bonuses if they introduce new members who also shop or make down payments on future shopping.

Whilst cash back offers themselves are not prohibited by the ACL the ACCC alleged that the Lyoness scheme also offers commissions to members who recruit new members who make a down payment on future shopping.

The Federal Court found that: “there can be no doubting the fact that inducements were held out to prospective Members that they would ultimately receive “financial benefits” other than the discounts they received on purchases made from Loyalty Merchants”.

However, the Court found that any entitlement to receive a benefit was occasioned - not by the introduction of the new Members - but from the pursuit of shopping activity by those new Members and the shopping activities of further new Members who, in turn, may have been introduced by such new Members. The ACCC also failed to establish that persons could become Members only by making down payments.

The Court made similar findings about “referral selling” conduct.

Justice Flick noted: “The manner in which pyramid selling schemes ‘complex and elusive.’ The present Lyoness Loyalty Program is no exception”.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said: The judgment echoed some of the concerns the ACCC had with the scheme, in particular its complexity and the inducements that were held to prospective members”.

“The ACCC will continue to investigate schemes that encourage consumers to recruit new members. We will take action where appropriate to ensure consumers are not drawn into schemes where the financial benefits held out to
induce potential members to join up rely substantially on the recruitment of further new members into the scheme,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC is carefully considering the judgment.


Pyramid schemes involve new participants providing a financial or other benefit to other existing participants in the scheme. New participants are induced to join substantially by the prospect that they will be entitled to benefits relating to the recruitment of further new participants.

Pyramid schemes may also offer products or services, but making money out of recruitment is their main aim, and often the only way for a member to recover any money is to convince other people to join up. In contrast, people in legitimate multi-level marketing schemes earn money by selling genuine products to consumers, not from the recruiting process.

Release number:
MR 202/15

See more Cyanide and Happiness here

Numbers (24/10/2015)
Despite being hopeless at mathematics at any level above arithmetic and algebra, I have a fascination for the way people misunderstand and misuse numbers. My latest column for Australasian Science magazine is about some numbers that people don't seem to understand. It's in letterboxes and newsagents now, but I encourage you to subscribe. The annual cost is less than you would spend on the coffee you drink while reading it.

One, two, three. What are we counting for?

I've written before about innumeracy, the inability to use numbers correctly. Recently I've been exposed to three cases of number abuse in different contexts. One of these is people with an agenda using a very large and apparently frightening number which actually means nothing much at all, one is people with a different agenda treating a large number as if it is zero, and one is a scientific publication using a number which is obviously and ridiculously wrong.

Anyone who has spent any time with forums and publications from the anti-medicine or anti-science worlds will know that (ignoring the pharmaceutical companies) two of the most evil corporations in the world are Monsanto and Nestlé. Monsanto because they are trying to own and control the world's agricultural production by patented genetically modified plants, and Nestlé because of the harm they do by distributing milk formula in third world countries.

You can read the rest here.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. (24/10/2015)

Thank you to someone. If anyone knows who that someone is, please let me know.

Anti-vaxxer intelligence (24/10/2015)
Well, for certain values of "intelligence" anyway. Supporters of alternative "medicine" who know all about how it works and what it is.

The mail trickles in (24/10/2015)
Random selections from the inbox.

For some reason people occasionally email me offering to improve the search engine ranking of the site belonging to ex-Dr Rebecca Carley, darling of anti-vaccination liars and insane with a certificate to prove it. This made a change. Someone wants to sell me batteries.

Someone missing the point entirely. Also "you're" and "data's" (I love the Apostrophe Man's treatment of a word that is already plural). Original colour retained, and I don't know why some parts were highlighted.

From: "Joshua Finn"
Subject: Uocoming healthcare products and servuces
Date: Sun, 20 Sep 2015 23:58:55 -0400

Hi ,

I was going through you're webside and understood that you're specialized in chiropractic products and services. We are dealing with list of hospitals, clinics, national pharmacy companies, decision makers, healthcare professionals, distributors and sales reps, worldwide. If you're interested in our products and services .I can share few data's and you can directly contact them through email or by phone and expand your business worldwide. Let me know the below format so that I can send a few samples for your review..

Target Industry:  ___________ (Any Industry),
Target Geography:____________ (Worldwide),
Target Job Title:  ______________ (Any Title)

Waiting for your response.

Best Regards,
Joshua Finn
Marketing Manager

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