Australians all let us apologise (6/3/2004)
[Some words here have been changed and pictures blurred because of a trademark violation claim. You can see details of the claim here.]
Australia exports lots of things – coal, natural gas, manufactured goods, minerals, agricultural produce, meat, live sheep, wine, … . One export of which we cannot be proud is Dr [Trademark], author of a string of execrable books devoted to exploiting people's fears about their health and moving their money into her bank account. An indication of Dr [Trademark]'s contempt for both the truth and her readers is the fact that she can't tell a consistent story about her university qualifications. Also, on the covers of many of her books and on her web site she is referred to as "[Trademark] MD". Dr [Trademark] is indeed a medical doctor, but that alone does not entitle her to put "MD" after her name.
Dr [Trademark] has two web sites. On her Australian site she makes the following statement:
Dr [Trademark] MBBS, DRCOG, … graduated in medicine with honours from the University of Adelaide, South Australia in 1975
So far so good. On her US web site she makes the following statement:
Dr [Trademark] graduated with honours in Medicine and Surgery from the University of South Australia in 1975
You will notice that the university has changed. The University of South Australia has no medical school and therefore cannot graduate anyone with qualifications to become a medical practitioner. (The University of Adelaide does have a medical school, but it is not the University of South Australia.) You will also notice that she does not refer to her real, earned degrees of MB,BS, but instead now holds herself out to have a degree awarded by some unnamed American university.
(When I first found this image it said "The Liver Doctor".)
The letters "MD" after her name suggest that she holds a "Doctor of Medicine" degree, but nowhere does she say where she got such a qualification. Also, on the covers of many of her books and on her web site she is referred to as "[Trademark] MD". Convention also is that doctors do not claim to be specialists, in this case a "liver doctor", without proper postgraduate training. When Dr [Trademark] mentions her qualifications explicitly she says that she is a diplomate of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (although she does not claim to be either a Member or Fellow of the College). This does not qualify her to be a liver specialist.
Perhaps there are two people called [Trademark] who just happened to be at university in Adelaide at the same time. Comparing the pictures on the two web sites might help to clear up the confusion.
The Dr [Trademark] who is a liver doctor and went to the University of South Australia.
The Dr [Trademark] who works in Australia and went to the University of Adelaide.
Dr [Trademark] is indeed a medical doctor. My complaint is not that she is not qualified as a doctor, it is that she does not hold a degree abbreviated to "MD". I have been told by an apologist for Dr [Trademark] that she uses the form of qualification issued by American universities as some sort of marketing label so as not to confuse residents of that country. I can only assume that she claims qualifications from a different university (which does not even have a medical school) for the same reason – that she thinks that people outside Australia are so stupid that they will be confused by the word "Adelaide". So what? The facts are that she does not hold the degree of MD and is not entitled to put the initials after her name. I realise that this is only a small thing, but deceit on the cover of a book is a fair indication of the author's attitude to the presentation of facts between the covers. Telling different stories on different web sites just reinforces the impression of dishonesty and duplicity.
Dr Andrew Wakefield redux (6/3/2004)
Last week I mentioned how Dr Andrew Wakefield's "discovery" of the connection between MMR vaccine and autism had come under question again. I have written a longer version of that article for publication in the magazine Australasian Science. It is too long to put on this page, but you can go here to read it.
Anti-vaccination liars won't talk to me, sob, sob (6/3/2004)
Another thing I mentioned last week was a web site which was set up to publish letters of thanks and congratulations to Dr Wakefield. I wrote to them but my letter was not published. As this was obviously some sort of oversight and nobody has written to me rejecting what I had to say, I have written again just in case my email was accidentally deleted by a spam filter or something. Also, there is an online training course in "Vaccine Dangers" starting next Wednesday. I politely asked to be enrolled in this course and even offered to pay, but I have not heard back. I will write again because I don't want to buy the textbook if I can't do the course. I am very disappointed that I have heard nothing back in either of these cases as I am trying to reach out to the anti-vaccination liars as part of my new "kinder and gentler" policy for The Millenium Project.
Recent mailbox droppings (6/3/2004)
The mail keeps coming in from people who either don't understand this site or don't like it. Another person has written in accusing me of calling the parents of sick children "child abusers". What I was talking about was some parents who were really proud that their children were sick and wanted to share the good news around. You can read about this nonsense here. Each month I receive the usual few emails from genitally-challenged young men who want me to make them better endowed in the underpants department. I can only assume that they are not on the mailing lists of the people who send me hundreds of emails each week offering to fix this very problem. Someone called Sal was not pleased with my views on "alternative medicine" and tried to set me straight. You can read the epistle on the Mailbox page. Friends of Benny Hinn keep telling me how wrong I am, although I haven't had anybody recently who thinks I really am Benny. And I get emails saying nice things about the site, too, but I don't publish them, because I am shy and reserved.
The last word on letters after a name (maybe) (13/3/2004)
Following the piece I wrote last week about a doctor and her deceitful use of the letters "MD" after her name, I was provided with much information by people who believe that the promotion of alternative medicine by anyone absolves them from all wrongdoings. Here are some of the things I have been told:
Strange bedfellows? Perhaps not (13/3/2004)
The lies told by bigots are sometimes surprising. Not that they are lies, of course, because bigotry implies a disdain for truth, but because of how imaginative they are. One of the weirdest pieces of anti-Semitism is the notion that the Jews conspired with Hitler to conduct World War II. Apparently this was done as part of an ongoing, centuries-old war of the Jews against the rest of the world and they thought that Hitler was on their side because he was against everyone else. The deaths of the Holocaust were probably just "collateral damage", I suppose, although it would not surprise me to find out that people who would believe this madness would also deny the reality of the Holocaust anyway.
One outlet for this insanity is a book called Adolf Hitler – Begründer Israels by Hennecke Kardel. This book was banned in Germany for some time under the laws there which prohibit promotion of Nazi thoughts, but it is available in English translation as Adolf Hitler- Founder of Israel. That such a book would be made available is again no surprise, and I would never support any move to ban it or restrict its sale. I would not find it surprising to see that it was being published by the presses which put out the racist nonsense of David Irving and Ernst Zündel and which specialise in this sort of thing. I would not expect that a book like this would be in the catalogue of any reputable publishing house. In fact, I found that the publishing house which puts it out is anything but reputable, but the really surprising thing is that almost all of the other titles in the catalogue relate to health in some way, although at the extreme quacky end of the health spectrum. (There are couple of autobiographical books about the horrors of a girl growing up in an undeveloped country.) By now you should be able to guess that this execrable book is published by New Century Press, owned by the Queen of the Quacks, not-a-medical-Dr Hulda Clark. Clark's own books are filled with lies, but they are her lies, not someone else's. I wonder what motivation, other than money, would compel her to add a racist, anti-Semitic title to the list of books she publishes. I can only assume that she agrees with and approves of its content. If so, she has achieved the almost-impossible and fallen even further in my esteem.
Speaking of not-a-medical-Dr Clark … (13/3/2004)
Sometimes you just can't win. Someone asked on a public forum this week if Dr Clark actually held the PhD she claimed. I responded by quoting the following from the University Microfilms database (capitals in original): "A STUDY OF THE ION BALANCE OF CRAYFISH MUSCLE; EVIDENCE FOR TWO COMPARTMENTS OF CELLULAR POTASSIUM. CLARK, HULDA REGEHR, PHD. UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, 1958. 74 pp.". I was immediately accused of lying by a Clark supporter. Note that when someone doubted Clark's qualifications I supplied the evidence that she has the degree she claims, but somehow the records held at University Microfilms lose their truth when filtered through my keyboard. Bizarre!
Watch out, doctors, the quacks are after your patients! (13/3/2004)
I gave an after-dinner speech to a group of doctors and medical students during the week. It is too long to have on this page, but you can read it here. Well, you can read what it was supposed to be, because I started off by washing down a handful of homeopathic sleeping tablets with a glass of wine. It is quite possible that this combination of powerful drugs and alcohol affected my performance, but somehow I got home in one piece and didn't need resuscitation (as far as I know).
(Coincidence Department: The doctors were in Sydney to attend a course about hyperbaric medicine. When I searched Google for a picture of a hyperbaric chamber, the image at the right was the first one to come up. It is from a web site of someone who was treated for the bends by one of the doctors who was at the dinner. You can read the story here.)
Thanks for the tanks, Yanks (13/3/2004)
Australia is starting to see the benefits which accrued to the country from our participation in the liberation of Iraq. (Iraq has been liberated, hasn't it? Democracy restored, everything working again, peace everywhere, people happy and prosperous?) The first benefit was the loss of about a billion dollars of wheat sales each year to Iraq. It seems that the person put in charge of arranging such contracts thought that life would be much better for Australian farmers if US farmers did all the work instead. And got the money, of course. The next benefit was a Free Trade Agreement which allows immediate and untrammeled access to all Australian markets for all forms of goods and services made, grown in or provided by anyone in America, but sensibly applies an 18-year phasing in period (with almost all of the phasing in the 18th year) for free access for Australian farmers to US markets.
The most recent benefit is the great deal we have got on new tanks for the army. Well, actually they are second-hand tanks. We are going to get 59 ancient Abrams tanks (which have been completely refurbished, of course) at the knock-down price of only $10 million each. We could have bought many more Leopard tanks for the same money, but they would have come from Germany, and where were the Germans when the shells were falling on Baghdad? Actually, the advantages of the Abrams tanks are obvious. Apart from them not being new, they weigh 67 tonnes each, and consequently have to be transported around the place on special trucks with lots of wheels and big signs saying "Wide Load" and "Heavy Load". There are many bridges in this country which have load limits of less than 67 tonnes (plus truck) on them. The next advantage is that they use so much fuel that it is difficult to drive them out of sight, so as well as the fleet of trucks to carry them between fighting places we need more tankers to carry the fuel. Better still, they use a fuel which is not made in Australia, so we will probably need a boat or two to ferry the fuel from wherever the factory is. I hope the Indonesians give us a lot of warning before they invade.
The antics of politicians would be hilarious if they weren't spending our money.
Pasteur's death bed recantation (20/3/2004)
Pseudoscience has few heroes. There's Immanuel Velikovsky and Nicola Tesla, of course, and perpetual motion frauds like John Keeley, but nothing like the pantheon of genius that real science can point to. One way of redressing this imbalance is to adopt real heroes and show how they were right when others around them were wrong (Galileo and Semmelweiss, for example), as if all it takes to be right is to have people say you are wrong. They also like to point to failed predictions by famous people, apparently to convince us that because, for example, Bill Gates was wrong in 1981 about how powerful personal computers would become that scientists could be wrong when they say that homeopathy, mind reading or faster-than-light travel are not possible. Another tactic is to discredit real heroes by suggesting that the heroes themselves have recanted and admitted that their work was a fraud. One target of this kind of attack is Louis Pasteur.
It might surprise you to find that there are people who deny that infectious diseases are caused by infectious agents like bacteria and viruses. By doing this, they are able to support other mad ideas such as the "myth" of AIDS, and also to generally attack most of conventional medicine. (I am always amused when these people forget and offer Ingaz Semmelweiss as an example of a person persecuted by conventional medicine. If there are no germs, who would hand washing matter?). As Pasteur was such a seminal and important figure in the history of microbiology and medicine he and his works had to be discredited, so a story was fabricated that he had renounced all his works on his death bed. There are various versions of the story, but they usually look something like this example:
Pasteur had the gold. He forced other competing theories to his germ theory to be ignored. I do believe that his biographer was correct when he reported that Pasteur said: "Bernard is correct. The bacteria are nothing. The soil is everything." Pasteur was revealing to the world that his germ theory of disease was concocted and false. Sad, isn't it, that modern docs still believe his lie.
Well, I obtained a copy of Pasteur's biography, and to nobody's surprise, he said no such thing.
(Read the rest of this article here)
A timely reminder (20/3/2004)
There has been an outbreak of anti-Semitism lately in an online forum that I participate in. Race and religion have nothing to do with the objectives of the forum, but that hasn't stopped people from derogating others with both direct and implied slurs. Statements have been made that Jews are liars, suggestions have been made that people should not do business with a certain forum participant who just happens to be a "Jew boy" (and the bigotry in that expression has been denied), Jews have been blamed for killing Jesus and have been described as Satan's disciples. During the week I have been reading Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman's excellent book about the Holocaust and the people who would have us believe that it didn't happen. One of the things the authors looked at was the historical and philosophical environments which fertilised the bigotry that spawned Nazism and the Holocaust, because these things don't just pop up out of nowhere. One thing they found was Antisemitem-Katechismus, or The Racists' Decalogue, written in 1893 by Theodor Fritsch. It is tragic to think that anyone could have taken these ravings seriously at any time. It is doubly tragic that there are still people around who believe that they may contain some truth. Read the words, look at the picture, see what a slippery slope looks like.
Something I didn't want to be reminded of (20/3/2004)
I spent some time this week in the emergency ward of the local children's hospital. In the bed next to the child we were visiting was a small baby making the most awful noises as he tried to breath. It was hard to imagine how noises this loud could come from so small a body, but it was not hard to imagine the effort and distress this baby was going through in order to stay alive. This particular child was lucky as he only had croup and could be expected to get over it after a few hours of breathing moist oxygen, but I told my wife to remember these sounds and to think what it would be like for a baby to be put through this not for hours but for weeks. She would then understand my attitude to the anti-vaccination liars who want to stop children being vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough. In case you feel the need for a reminder yourself, you can hear the sounds of pertussis here.
That's how science works (20/3/2004)
Some anonymous person sent me an email containing the message "It must be very traumatic to be defending the goal line when it keeps movin (sic)". I was then referred to an article from the Washington Post about how as we learn more about how things work we abandon, or at least give less credence to, things that have been done in the past. Some of the things mentioned in the article were old folk remedies which have been shown to not be as useful as was once thought. I suspect, judging from the choice of words and the fact that the correspondent hid behind the coward's cloak of anonymity, that I was supposed to be concerned that real medicine and real science were being shown as having weak foundations, unlike pseudoscience where the facts are known and are known forever. Well, the clown can think again, because the time to start worrying is when science isn't questioning everything. That's the difference between science and non-science, between knowledge and dogma. The very fact that homeopathy, chiropractic, iridology and other invented belief systems haven't changed is evidence that there was nothing there to change in the first place. Whichever way you look at a vacuum, it's still empty.
Those needless deaths in hospitals (20/3/2004)
The lie about the number of deaths caused by those evil doctors in Australian hospitals each year has risen to the top of the swamp again, so I have tidied up the article I wrote about the reality of the situation. You can read it here.
Crazy night in Georgia (27/3/2004)
A pack of bigots called "Crusaders for Christ" are trying to have some books removed from reading lists in some Georgia schools because the books are too offensive for children to be reading them. The head kook, the Rev. Dwight Holcomb, told the Bartow County Board of Education: "You're going to answer to God Almighty for your decision". Three of the books the Crusaders for Christ want banned are Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I have tried very hard, but it is beyond my intellectual capacity to imagine what God Almighty could possibly find wrong with these books, unless the teachings of Jesus about the necessity for compassion towards others were rescinded while I wasn't looking. Perhaps it's just that the Crusaders for Christ want to change the status of Ray Bradbury's other classic, Fahrenheit 451, from a fictional, speculative, thought-provoking warning into a work of actual prophecy. Anyone feeling the need to read some offensive great literature can click on the pictures below to buy the books. Crusaders for Christ might like to buy some books for their next bonfire. I have included Fahrenheit 451 because 451 + 233 (451°F in Celsius) – 27 (today's date) + 3 (the month) + 6 (the sum of the digits in 2004) = 666.
It seems like it's crazy all over the world (27/3/2004)
Everyone hates advertising, although we all seem to like the things that advertising pays for, such as television, radio, sporting events and so on. Advertising on the Internet has always been controversial, for a variety of reasons. Some people expect that everything made available on the web should be free. Advertisers have found that banner ads can be virtually useless, with ads being displayed tens of thousands of times without anybody clicking on them. One of the problems, and it applies particularly to third-party advertising services, is that advertisements can be displayed which directly contradict the content of the page they are on, or even advertise competing products. The latest organisation to get into the ad serving business is Google, and they have tried to get really smart by analysing the content of the web page and then showing ads which are directly related to words on the page. The problem is that their artificial intelligence system which examines page content is really artificial dumbness. It looks for words and displays ads for people who have purchased these words. This is not the same thing as examining what the page is talking about and then advertising relevant products and services.
Over the last few weeks I have seen some bizarre examples of how this can go very wrong. One example was pages which were critical of pyramid schemes while carrying advertisements for blatant MLM frauds (I know that "MLM frauds" is a tautology). The idiocy reached its nadir with a story on the Washington Post site about cancer quackery which was embellished by three advertisements for laetrile. The article specifically mentioned how this old fraud had been exposed years ago, but after reading the article viewers were told where to go to buy it. I realise that any reputable newspaper will maintain a Chinese wall between advertising and editorial, but I cannot imagine the Post running random ads produced by a third party and publishing them sight unseen in the print edition. Pure madness.
I was hoping to run some Google ads here to demonstrate the stupidity of it all, but Google takes a few days to approve applications and they haven't done the paperwork yet. Maybe next week. It will be interesting to see what the Google machine makes of the words on this page, but at least I will have a disclaimer near the ads saying that they might not represent my views.
Talking about censorship and advertising always raises an interesting paradox. Extreme opponents of censorship often state that words and images can never influence anybody, so there should be no restrictions at all on what can be said or published. Strangely, many of these people are opposed to advertising because of the way it changes the recipients' behaviour! Most sensible people, however, recognise that if advertising works then other forms of persuasive communication may also change or reinforce attitudes and behaviours. We all have different lines in the sand, but most people would agree that there are and should be some limits to free speech. It is impossible to imagine a sane person defending child pornography, for example. (I was once attacked by an "all censorship is bad" person who claimed that I was infringing the rights of free speech of the perverts at the North American Man-Boy Love Association by calling this filthy bunch of paedophiles "perverts". He ran away and never came back when I asked him how old his children would be when he handed them over to strangers for casual sex.)
I have recently found one of my own personal limits. I have had some contact over the past few weeks with an adolescent who is suffering from emotional and psychological problems, resulting in several hospital admissions following self-destructive behaviour. This person's favourite musical artist is Marilyn Manson, so I took the time to listen to some of the songs and I forced myself to read the lyrics of all of Manson's rubbish. I should point out that I don't object to Manson because of the quality of the music (there is no quality to object to) or the constant use of profanity in the barely literate lyrics (because kids hear this every day at school). What I object to is the relentless assault on the self-esteem of the listeners, the constant reinforcing of the idea that the child listening is worthless and despised. What angers me most is that while Manson talks about "disposable teens" and makes himself rich exploiting the vulnerabilities of the kids he ridicules and demeans, he hides behind a false persona and won't let people see his face. Adolescent suicide is a terrible problem and what adolescents don't need is a celebrity endorsement of depression, inadequacy and hopelessness. After reading the words of his songs I had the strange feeling that if I were to wake up one morning and hear on the news that Marilyn Manson had been killed in a car accident, for the rest of the day the sunlight would be a little brighter, the flowers would smell sweeter, and I would have an extra spring in my step.
Can we learn from our mistakes? (27/3/2004)
It doesn't seem like 18 years since the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl self-destructed when someone pressed the wrong button. My personal view is that nuclear power generation can be a clean and green way to provide the energy that we need to keep our society and industry running, but it must be managed with skill and care and commitment to safety. When things go wrong they can go horribly wrong, and there could be no better reminder of this than to look back to what happened at Chernobyl in 1986. A young Russian woman has compiled an amazing photo essay showing what Chernobyl and the surrounding area looks like today. One of the most disturbing images in the film Terminator 2 was the scene where the heat and blast from a nuclear explosion passes through a children's playground. There were playgrounds in Chernobyl, too. You can click here to see Elena's odyssey.
Speaking of nuclear things ... (27/3/2004)
A friend of mine, Dr Colin Keay, has written several small books demolishing some of the myths surrounding nuclear energy. You can't get them in bookshops, but you can buy them from the author. (One of Colin's claims to fame that not too many others can share is that he actually has a heavenly body officially named after him. It's the minor planet (or asteroid) 5007 KEAY, and you can read about it here.)
[Sadly, Colin passed away in 2015. He was a personal friend as well as a solid member of the skeptic community.]
Wasting time and money (27/3/2004)
The security measures forced onto air travellers are a real nuisance, but most of us just grumble and recognise that a bit of inconvenience on the ground is preferable to what might happen if no precautions are taken. A bomb scare adds to the inconvenience, and the passengers and crew of American Airlines Flight 1304 were certainly inconvenienced on Friday, March 26, when the time it took to search for a non-existent bomb not only delayed the flight but put some crew members over their allowed work hour limits so everyone had to be transferred to other flights. Usually, bomb scares are the result of real threats, hoax callers or intelligence gathered by security people, but this was different. This bomb was "detected" by a "psychic", and, unfortunately, all threats have to be taken seriously.
People often tell me that psychics and other paranormal pests are harmless and should be treated with amusement. I am sure that this view is not held this week by American Airlines, or the bomb disposal team who placed themselves in potential danger to check the plane, or the passengers and crew of Flight 1304 who got to where they wanted to be hours late, or the airport management and traffic control officers who had to relocate planes and people to create a buffer around the suspect aircraft, or the other passengers in the terminal who had cause to think that they might be in danger. The "psychic" should be given a bill for the full cost of the futile exercise, and then perhaps he will think twice before making his delusions public in the future.