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Sad email of the week (1/5/2004)
The following email shows why sites like this one need to exist. When people are faced with desperate situations it is understandable that they will seek out desperate solutions to their problems. Charlatans and crooks like not-a-medical-Dr Hulda Clark are only too ready to offer illusory comfort to these people, while simultaneously emptying their wallets and stealing the remaining months of their lives. You can read here about a family who were robbed of $30,000 and their dignity by this hag and her family. I don't know what to say to the person who wrote to me, except to warn her to stay away from Clark unless she is prepared to see her boyfriend broke, disillusioned and sicker because his HIV has not been treated.
hello, my name is ginny. I recently heard of Hulda Clark.My boyfriend is HIV positive, so naturally, we are curious. I got the book from a friend's dad who actually followed her medical suggestions and survived his battle with cancer at the time. He was on his death bed. I am of course very skeptical about the whole thing- it just sounds crazy. But I was wondering... Is it possible? Do you know of any of her patients who have actually tried the herbs? I visited the self Health Resource center in Chula Vista, ( I live in San Diego) and one of the women there said that people come from all over the world to see Clark, and they have had successful results. It is just so hard when you are looking for anything to help... a cure would be nice. I am not a scientist by any means, so I am not sure if what she is talking about is just flat out nuts or if it may actually make some sense. I just wanted advice I guess. Do you know anyone personally that I can talk to? My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your time
If you click on any of the pictures below you can see what Clark's Tijuana clinic looks like. (A Clark supporter has accused me of "doctoring" the photographs. I would have expected no less.)
And where is Clark? (1/5/2004)
Over the last week various Internet mailing lists and forums have been carrying an open letter from Hulda Clark to the Federal Drug Administration offering to show them around her clinic and meet and interview some of her "patients". This has been praised by her supporters, who now claim that the ball is in the FDA's court and that she has proved that she has nothing to hide. It is seen as a mere triviality that the FDA has no jurisdiction in Mexico, and even if they did send someone to look at her clinic there is nothing they could do about what they saw there. In fact, Clark herself could walk from the clinic to the pedestrian entry into Tijuana in about two minutes and thumb her nose at FDA officials standing the other side of the turnstile and there would be nothing they could do in response. Her supporters claim that she is not hiding in Mexico, but someone I know who runs an investigation and security business was not able to locate a telephone number or address for either Clark herself or her business called "Century Nutrition" anywhere in the USA. The return fax number on the message to the FDA is in Mexico.
Clark is no stranger to hiding where the authorities cannot get to her. In 1999 she was charged with practising medicine without a licence. On the day that the court decision was handed down she made sure that she was in Tijuana, so that had she been found guilty (the case was dismissed on a technicality) the state of Indiana would have been put to the expense and time penalties of extradition procedures.
That kitchen must be hot! (1/5/2004)
It is not just Clark who likes to hide from critics. It is quite common for skeptics to be banned from alternative medicine mailing lists and bulletin boards, and hardly a week goes by without someone asking the skeptics in the Usenet newsgroup misc.health.alternative (which was established for the discussion, pro and con, of alternative medicine) why they participate in the group. There seems to be this fear that any contrary opinions will destroy the edifice of alternative medicine. Surely, if they are so sure that they are right then criticism should not worry them.
Curezone.org claims to be one of the most popular alternative medicine sites on the Internet. It consists of a large number of forums devoted to every imaginable form of quackery. At about 11am on Friday, April 30 (Sydney time), I posted the following message in response to one of Clark's press releases about her clinic:
"With this letter, I am inviting you to visit me, and view my work at the medical facility known as "Century Nutrition" in Tijuana, Mexico on a date of your choosing.. Several patients of the facility will be available for interview between 10 and 4.at that time"
Pictures of this medical facility can be seen at https://ratbags.com/rsoles/comment/clark7.htm
The forum software told me that my message had been accepted and the elapsed time since the last post was updated, but the message did not appear on the forum immediately. I assumed that the this was because the first message from a new member might be moderated, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Twenty-four hours later the message had still not appeared, but there were three messages posted after the time I had written mine. Person A had posted the same link as I had, Person B had wondered how long that message would last before it was removed, and Person A had commented that censorship seemed to be a problem at Curezone. I replied that I had posted something the day before, and this time my message was displayed immediately. Shortly afterwards I went back to the site and found that all four of these messages had been deleted by the forum moderator. I went looking for reasons why these messages were apparently so offensive and I found, under the heading "Rules of the Game" that the following should not be included in messages:
Links to quackwatch.com or to other similar websites pretending to be the "voice of skepticism", while in reality they are just a "voice of deception". Those web sites are created with one and only purpose: to scare people from natural and traditional therapies. Some of the therapies attacked on those web sites have been successfully used for many thousands of years. If those web sites would be the real voice of skepticism, then you would for sure expect to see some references to 150 medications removed from the market by the FDA every year (because of the side effects), while those same medications have been previously approved by the same agency! You would also expect to se some references to vaccination, amalgam, environmental toxins and other serious health threats ....but guess what: there is nothing like that on those web sites! Similar links will be removed unless posted in special forums for discussion on quackery and other subjects like: Medical Ethics and Medical Politics.
So there you have it. It seems that I have been lumped in with Quackwatch, and Stephen Barrett and little old me are so dangerous that the denizens of Curezone can't even talk about us. It made my day to find that these people have so little confidence in what they say, and their fear makes it obvious that they know they are lying. (At least iVillage had the courtesy to write to me when they censored me.) By the way, the forum where they allow mentions of us representatives of Satan has only had two posts allowed through this year, and one of them was off-topic.
Contempt of a contemptible court (1/5/2004)
Everyone who has had children and a job at the same time knows that sometimes there are competing demands on their time. For most people family comes first, but everyone can remember a time when someone just had to bring the kids to work for a short time because there was no alternative. A prostitute was in court this week near my place, charged with putting her children at risk when she took them to work. I should point out that I am not criticising this woman for the job she does, but her occupation is relevant here although there was no suggestion that the kids were in the room where she was working. While she was entertaining her client, her three-year-old daughter took five Ecstasy tablets which had been hidden inside a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg. As if that wasn't bad enough, when they finally got the little girl to a hospital (the client drove them there) the woman refused for some hours to tell hospital staff what the girl had eaten. So what did the court do to a woman who endangered the life of her child by hiding illegal drugs in a container designed to attract children and then failed to help the medical team treating the emergency? Well, nothing at all really. The magistrate was so impressed with how she was getting her life together that he didn't even give her a fine. The only person to come out this sorry mess with any credit is the woman's client, but in the bizarre way that the law works the woman's name has been suppressed but his name is in the paper for his wife or girlfriend to read. I wonder how this magistrate will treat the next teenager hauled up before him for popping some eccies at a dance party. Probably a custodial sentence and a hefty fine, I suppose. Sometimes the law really is an ass, and I don't mean a donkey.
The coming week includes the 50th anniversaries of two significant events in human history. May 6 marks fifty years since Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. Bannister was inspired by the success of Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay in the previous year when they had been the first people to reach the top of Mount Everest. The fact that many hundreds of people have repeated these feats since does not detract from those who did it first. They were the ones who showed that what some had said was impossible was in fact possible.
The second anniversary is of something which had much more effect on the world, although I would almost bet money that fewer people would know about it. On May 7 it will be fifty years since the French forces were defeated at Dien Bien Phu by the Vietminh. This led directly to the "temporary" partitioning of Vietnam across the 17th parallel, which in turn led to the carnage of the Vietnam War. This was a case where what was thought to be possible turned out to be impossible. It worries me when I hear people talking now about partitioning Iraq into areas for Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds until everything can be sorted out in that country. Perhaps the strategists who are proposing this should go here and here to see some of the unintended consequences of a previous attempt at doing something like this.
MindBodySpirit Festival (1/5/2004)
Next weekend a group of friends and I will be making our semi-annual visit to the world of woowoo and weirdness that is the Sydney MindBodySpirit Festival. Wandering around the exhibition hall we are often mistaken for a group of bipolar disorder patients let out for the day as our moods oscillate rapidly across the spectrum of excitement, hilarity, sadness and despondency as we walk past the various exhibits. There are lectures and workshops to attend, and live entertainment on stage (musician Tim Wheater is very good) and all sorts of psychic and occult readings. On a previous visit I commented that some food offered should have been labelled "may contain nuts". My astute daughter replied with words that I wished I had thought of myself: "There should be a sign like that on the building". If anyone in Sydney wants to join us, we are meeting inside the entrance to Exhibition Hall 1 at darling Harbour at 10am on Sunday, May 9. I can usually be recognised by my distinctive aura which is this colour , but as a backup anyone planning to come should email me so that we can swap mobile phone numbers.
By the way, someone told me during the week that I should try typing "mind body spirit festival sydney" into Google. These things can change daily of course, but on Tuesday the first page returned by Google was in my Quintessence of the Loon site. Sometimes I love Google.
Terrible effects of vaccination (1/5/2004)
Someone with rheumatoid arthritis has written to me to explain how his condition was caused by a tetanus vaccination. I feel very sorry for him because it is very apparent that his arthritis has progressed so far that he can no longer operate the Caps Lock key on his computer. Or the spell checker.
Subject: Did you know???
Date: Sun, 18 Apr 2004 23:30:53 +1000
DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO A VIRUS WHEN YOU MODIFY IT AND PLACE IT INSIDE A PROTEIN CELL THEN INJECT IT INTO THE BLOODSTREAM OF A PERSON THAT DOES NOT EVEN KNOW HOW A VIRUS WORKS, WHEN THE PROTEIN CELL IS BROKEN IT RELEASES THAT MODIFIED VIRUS AND IT WORKS THE SAME WAY, BY MULTIPLYING THE SAME WAY A VIRUS DOES. HOW DO I KNOW THIS BECAUSE I HAVE ONE OF THESE MODIFIED VIRUSES AND I CALL IT MODIFIED TETANUS , THE MEDICAL PROFESSION CALL IT RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS AND I ASK ALL RHEUMATOID SUFFERES WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU HAD A BOOSTER OF TETANUS. IT MIGHT OF BEEN TEN YEARS AGO BUT IF I CAN FIND ONE PERSON THAT HAS GOT A RHEUMATOID AND CAN PROVE TO ME THAT THEY CONTRACTED THEIR ARTHRITIS FROM NATURAL CAUSES I WILL REST MY CASE. THE MEDICAL PROFESSION USED TO BE EASY BUT NOW BECAUSE THEY KEEP MODIFYING DIESEASE THEY KEEP MAKING NEW ONES SO WHO ARE THE SMART ONES, THEY ARE THE ONES THAT WORK OUT WHAT THIER UP TO. THE NEXT THING IS WHO ON THIS FUCKING PLANET ARE GOING TO STOP THEM (THE GOVERNMENT) NO TO MUCH MONEY INVOLVED HERE. THEY WILL KEEP MODIFING DIESEASE UNTIL THESE BRIGHT SPARKS WALK OUT INTO THE REAL WORLD AND SEE WHAT THEY HAVE DONE AND SAY OPPS
THESE CHEMICALS THAT THEY USE IN VACCINES ARE NOT MADE FOR HUMAN TISSUE THEY ARE FUCKIN DEADLY, I KNOW I HAVE USED THEM BEFORE
ITS ABOUT TIME THE MEDICAL PROFESSION SHOULD GROW UP , OWN UP AND FUCKIN DO THINGS PROPERLY.
Well, it WAS Mothers' Day! (8/5/2004)
OK, so I'm late with the update again, but I can plead family responsibilities. With three generations to buy for (my mother, my kids' mother, my grandson's mother), no shopping done until Saturday, and the shops all sold out of the strongly hinted-at DVD there was a lot to do over the weekend. And then there was the MindBodySpirit Festival ... And the client who rang my mobile phone on Sunday afternoon and expected me to fix their computer crisis while I was standing next to a geodesic dome filled with crystals and chanters, just across the aisle from some chiropractors and around the corner from some angel worshipers (complete with a big wooden cross and a bearded man in white robes who was having his feet washed with special vibrating water), and just out of sight of my daughter and her friend who were stalking a Babygoth and tormenting two people dressed in spherical foam tangerine costumes.
Everything this week is in response to email I have received about recent articles here. If it's good enough for James Randi to get his readers to write his weekly column, I should be allowed to do it occasionally as well.
A reader named Karsten sent this email following up on what I wrote last week about Curezone:
I had a similar experience with Curezone, except mine was actually posted, then removed. On their cardiovascular group, someone wrote that their doctors were suggesting surgery to correct his congenital aortic regurgitation, as his heart was entering heart failure in his thirties. He was looking for alternative therapies to correct this anatomical defect. I am medical student, who just happened to have covered this problem in class, and responded. My email was very careful not to tread on alternative therapies' toes, and pointed out that while anyone would want to avoid surgery, this is a very serious condition with poor prognosis. I also said since he was born this way, the rational of 'restoring the body to its natural state' doesn't even hold. Well, the service accepted the post, posted it, then when I checked for responses in a few days - no post! I can only hope this man ended up listening to his doctors, not the lunatic censors on Curezone.
Supporters of quackery like to use the term "complementary" to describe their favoured alternatives to medicine, but the truth comes out when they will not even countenance the possibility that there might be some value in real medicine or that there could be something for which there is no alternative treatment. There would be no problem if what was being offered was truly complementary and they let the doctors get on with the real cures, but the arrogance which causes all doctors to be classed as just money-hungry advocates of ineffective slashing, burning and poisoning will inevitably lead to needless deaths. You can read about a specific case of this here.
Needless deaths (8/5/2004)
Ron Law from New Zealand has written to me complaining about something I said about him a few weeks ago. His email message kept crashing my mail program for some reason, but I was eventually able to extract its contents in another way. I will have a full response here next week, but in the meantime Mr Law should perhaps think about the utility of showing me a screen image containing the number "10,000" as a means of proving that the number is really 14,000.
Four minute mile (8/5/2004)
Keri, also from New Zealand, pointed me to an article in The Guardian newspaper which suggested that Roger Bannister was not the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, and that this feat may have been achieved as early as 1770 by James Parrott. I find this a bit doubtful, although I do agree with the suggestion that the activities of professional sportspeople were ignored by the snobs who saw sport as a proper pastime only for indolent and rich amateurs. The strongest argument against it is that 963 people have now run a mile in less than four minutes and in the 45 years between Bannister's run and the current fastest time by Hicham El Guerrouj (1999, 3:43.13) the time dropped by more than 16 seconds (7%). If someone had been running that fast 184 years before Bannister then it is hard not to believe that there would have been so many people doing it by 1954 that no amount of aristocratic censorship could have kept it hidden. (The Guardian showed its own skepticism here.) Perhaps the story of James Parrott is like the ones about Royal Rife seeing viruses through an optical microscope before the invention of the electron microscope or Philo Farnsworth sustaining a nuclear fusion reaction for ten minutes on a benchtop. They are things which some people know, but they are things which just ain't so.
Splitting up countries (8/5/2004)
Regular correspondent Sheila from the UK commented on what I said about partitioning countries by reminding me of Ireland. An imposed split of a country can only succeed if the people on both sides of the dividing line see themselves as different to those across the border and don't really want to have anything to do with them. Different languages help, as does a mountain range or a wide body of water. Sometimes religion is enough for an initial justification, as was the case when Pakistan was sliced off India, but it still requires that the two groups are prepared to drift further apart. Artificial divisions where a homogeneous population is divided by some external power will usually only survive if force is maintained (as in Germany) or, if left alone, both sides either can't or won't fight each other (Korea). If both sides want to keep fighting each other then the partition is a waste of time (Vietnam). Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do because everybody seems to be mad (Ireland and the Middle East).
Forced amalgamation or federation of heterogeneous groups can be just as much a disaster, and my worry is that if Iraq is partitioned on ethnic and religious lines it will be difficult to put back together again without creating the potential for another Yugoslavia in a few years time. There's enough madness, hatred and fighting in that part of the world now without creating the conditions for more chaos.
Of course, if I had the answer to all (or even any) of this I would probably get the Nobel Peace Prize in perpetuity. I'm very glad that I live in a country with no land borders with anyone else and where the closest we come to war in the place is in a few scuffles at interstate football matches.
I wouldn't know MLM from a pyramid in the desert (8/5/2004)
Mark doesn't like the fact that I don't like pyramid schemes, but he seems to miss the point somewhat. He starts of well, but then emotion gets the better of him.
Hi my name is Mark and I am an independant distributor for KLEENEZE. I am proud of what I do as is my wife and the whole team of distributors we have shared this opportunity with. We are now full time distributors as the income generated is more than working as a carpenter !!! We took 18 months to establish our business and can now afford extra small luxuries that we coundn't before.
Because of some close minded fools, MLM has gained a bad reputation. Avon, Kleeneze and Betterware have been going for near on 80 years. If they were illegal, we would all face arrest.
MLM is the process of taking products froma company, to a distributor and on to a customer. The removal of all the middle men means that the savings can be paid to the distributors.
No Hauliers fees, NO STOCK, no advertising, no reps fees, company cars and expense accounts. IN fact 60% of the end price is taken away just by the direct sale. Company - distributor- customer.
It would take a complete retard not to understand this
That 60% saved is paid to the distributors. That is where the money comes from.
Still have problems understanding a basic, free enterprise concept ???
Arse holes like you with limited IQ and nothing better to do than slag off something you have ne idea about should be made to state where you got your evidence from. Its all wrong.
Here are some links to really see what this industry is about before you shout you mouth off, spouting complete nonsense.
the true definition of pyramid sales is the continued re-sale of a product that increases in price each time it is sold and doesnt generate any tax or vat.
In our industry, we ALL recieve product direct from the company. There is no re-sale, therefore we all generate the same retail profit and the same company bonus.
Mark should think before calling people arse holes. I have direct experience with Betterware because my wife worked for the company which took over their operations in Australia. It was a standard wholesale/retail operation with defined territories for distributors. Nothing like MLM at all.
MindBodySpirit Update (15/5/2004)
I have brought in a guest columnist this week to report on the Sydney MindBodyWallet Festival.. The article will also be published in the next newsletter put out by my good friends Richard and Alynda of The Mystery Investigators. They go into schools and use a combination of theatre and magic to show kids how to evaluate evidence and use critical thinking. I saw their show over the weekend and I recommend that any high school science teacher in New South Wales (or anywhere else for that matter) who wants students to have a better appreciation of what it means to be "scientific" should contact them immediately. (One of the things that they do is to find the most psychic person in the audience. The fact that on this occasion this was me did not in any way influence my recommendation. In any case, someone in the audience pointed out that I probably had advance notice of the questions to be asked, because in my introduction to the Mystery Investigators show I had conclusively shown that the events of the night had been predicted with uncanny accuracy in the 1967 song "A Whiter Shade of Pale".)
MindBodySpirit Festival, May 2004 (15/5/2004)
By guest columnist Belinda Bowditch. Click here to read it.
Apogee or nadir? (15/5/2004)
I received a rather long email during the week from someone spouting all sorts of lies about vaccines. Strangely, this person thinks that God hates vaccination, so much so that He apparently relaxes the rules against lying if the lies are told about vaccines. The email led me to what seems to be the epitome of anti-vaccination liar web sites. This site has everything - lies about mercury, lies about autism, lies about shaken baby syndrome, lies about vaccine ingredients (including the aborted foetuses lie), lies about how Christians shouldn't vaccinate their children, lies about SIDS, lies about vaccines being used for population control, lies about ... . The last time I saw this much madness in one place there was a fence around it, locked doors and burly nurses. The front page even has a tasteful sound track of a crying baby. (If you turn your speakers off you can hear the sound of a baby who has died from a vaccine-preventable disease.) You can see this collection of vileness at http://www.vaccinationsandsids.com (I apologise for not making the link live but I have no desire to add to its Google page ranking). You know how people sometimes put the single-word sentence "Enjoy!" after recommending something? Well, in this case I will alter that and say: Puke!
Eureka Prizes (15/5/2004)
This site has been nominated for the "Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science" in this year's Australian Museum Eureka Prizes. These presentations are made for the promotion of science and scientific thought, and are Australia's most prestigious science awards. The nomination is only the first step, and I have until Friday to produce the documentation that the judges will use to make their decisions. As I have also been personally nominated for two book proposals and for a collection of journalistic articles, it looks like I am not going to have much spare time this week.
Spam of the week (15/5/2004)
This got through the spam filters because it looked like it was personally addressed to me. I think that the War on Spam will be just about as effective as the War on Drugs, because the spammers seem to be able to create new loopholes as fast as the old ones are closed.
Hey my name is Kara and I just got out of a long term relationship. I read your profile and you sound like the kind of man I am looking for. Just so you know I am not really looking for anything serious but rather for someone who doesn't mind being a rebound, which by the way does require some hot physical action so if you don't mind
Book Review (15/5/2004)
I have written a review of Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe by Professor Victor Stenger. This book is another step in the never-ending journey towards either a reconciliation between science and religion or the routing of one side by the other. It should be easy to guess which side I'm on, and Professor Stenger is over here as well. The difference between us seems to be that he thinks that he has already won the war and not just a battle. You can read the review here.
Weird emails of the week (15/5/2004)
I received a couple of very strange emails during the week. One person wrote to me twice. The entire content of the first email consisted of the words:
JESUS LOVES YOU!! John 3:16-17
The second one was a long and rambling account of how the writer had been out converting people to Jesus. The weird part is that this person seemed to think that I have or run some kind of a church and my preaching inspires people toward evangelism. I can only assume that he thought that he was writing to Benny Hinn, so I have added the letter to the Mail to Benny page. If I am Benny Hinn, how come I don't drive a Mercedes Benz M500 and live in a $3 million house?
The other amazing correspondence came from Fahid in Saudi Arabia, who wanted to know how much I charge for a degree in Business Administration and whether the degree would be accepted around the world. I suppose that if he sent me $500 I could fire up my brand-new inkjet printer and print him a certificate, but I don't remember ever saying that I was a university. Perhaps Fahid found my page about Greenwich "University" and then got a little confused. Still, this sort of thing makes life interesting and is a nice change from people wanting me to help them fill out their trousers better.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day (15/5/2004)
It's a rare day when I agree with anything written by an enthusiast for any alternative treatments for cancer, but I must congratulate Dr Ralph Moss for the following comments about Mangosteen, the latest miracle cure to sweep the quackery and MLM world. (In fairness to Dr Moss, he does seem to be honestly appraising alternative cancer treatments and is not opposed to conventional treatments where they provide an advantage to the patient. As well as that, anyone who thinks that Hulda Clark is a quack can't be all bad.)
Thus, despite what you may read at any one of those 21,000 promotional websites, very little scientific evidence exists concerning mangosteen's anticancer activity in humans.
In my opinion, what we have here is simply an overpriced fruit drink. Fruit drinks are often healthful beverages. But the only reason I can see that the promoters of mangosteen can get away with charging $37 for this product is that they are playing on patients' hopes and fears in a cynical way. Without the health claims, open or implied, the product could only be sold for at most $5 or $6 (which, for example, is the cost of antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice).
The mangosteen phenomenon is a reprise of the aloe vera, gingko biloba, and especially the noni juice story, complete with exaggerated claims for the health benefits of an exotic fruit. It should come as no surprise that both the President and the Chief Financial Officer of Xango once worked for Morinda (now called Tahitian Noni International).
Compounds found in plants have long been of great interest to cancer researchers. We must never forget that about one-fifth of all chemotherapeutic agents (including Vincristine, Vinblastine, Etoposide, Teniposide, and Taxol) are ultimately derived from plant sources. Many of these took a long time to pass through the regulatory process, since serious research into botanical medicine often goes begging for financial and intellectual support. Starved of funds in this way, the riches of the natural world are often neglected by mainstream science, only to be plundered by less scrupulous organizations. The patient loses twice - by not having the fruits of serious research and by being deceived by slick operators posing as friends and benefactors. Some may even opt for unproven miracle juices in lieu of more certain therapies that might save their lives.
When it comes to cancer, we truly live in a topsy-turvy world.
It's been a busy week (22/5/2004)
As predicted, I have had a very busy week preparing entries for the Eureka Prizes. I had to write five sample book chapters, plus write a few thousand words to support the nominations, as well as collecting a set of articles I had written for various publications over the last year. I had been thinking about doing the two books for some time (one about alternative medicine, one about the psychology of weird thinking), and it didn't hurt to have an absolute deadline to produce a plan and some words. If I don't have any success with the Eureka Prizes, at least I have the proposals to pitch to other publishers. The plan is to have one book out towards the end of 2004 and the other one early next year, although the sequence hasn't been fixed yet.
Next week looks like being busy as well, as I am the keynote speaker at an international medical conference. Some essentials props for my talk have finally turned up so my anxiety level is back to normal, but I couldn't really prepare until I had these things in my hands. Now, if PowerPoint keeps working, and my new scanner does what the book says it can, and there is something to project the slideshow with when I get there, and ...
Why I am a skeptic (22/5/2004)
People often ask me why I spend my time with this web site and with skeptical people like Australian Skeptics and the James Randi Educational Foundation. The passage below is the first draft of the introductory chapter to my planned book about woowoo and weird thinking. Perhaps it offers some sort of explanation for what I do and why I do it.
I can remember two times in my life when I experienced an epiphany.
I suppose I have always been skeptical and too ready to ask difficult questions. I tried to take religion seriously when I was young (my parents only ever attended church for weddings, funerals and baptisms, which, in retrospect, I realise moulded my thinking), but I was always being told things in Sunday School and from the pulpit which didn't sound quite right. I remember being taken to the museum when I was in primary school, and we were encouraged to think about such topics as evolution and the evidence for it. I can remember getting up early in the morning to watch school science shows from a local university where famous scientists talked about science. I have what the psychologists call a flashbulb memory of Professor Julius Sumner Miller asking Professor Herman Bondi if a tube was empty. Bondi, whom nobody has ever thought was not smart, replied "Yes". Miller said "Wrong. It is full of air", and then went on to make it into an organ pipe using a Bunsen burner. I even remember "why it is so".
For some reason, scepticism is often equated with atheism in the minds of the public. Certainly, the existence of a supernatural god is something to be sceptical about, but most of the time such a belief does no harm. One of the epiphanies that I had was the realisation that I did not need a personal god. It was at my grandmother's funeral, and the priest was desperately trying to explain how, in a just world, a person who had led an unblemished and charitable life should have been stricken with a disease which caused her to spend the last years of her life in increasing pain. I realised that a god who could do that was not the sort of god that I needed to believe in. I have no problem with other people who want to believe in a personal god, unless that belief leads to harm to others.
The second epiphany took place in a coffee shop in Glebe Point Road in Sydney. I had gone out for lunch and spent some time in a book shop where I found a copy of Martin Gardner's book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which I had wanted to read for some time. I stopped for a coffee on the way back to work, and I didn't get up from the table until I had finished the book. The tragedy of this book is that it was written over fifty years ago, but it reads like it was written yesterday. It told me that there is a permanent need for people to educate the public about mad, bad and just plain weird thinking.
I haven't forgotten you, Ron (22/5/2004)
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was writing a response to Ron Law, New Zealand's nemesis of medicine, who had had something to say about all those people killed by doctors. To support some facts I have to get a copy of a paper from a medical library and I will be picking it up during the week, so the response should be here next week.
Or the Salt Shakers (22/5/2004)
At about the same time I also mentioned a religious group called the Salt Shakers, who don't like seeing homosexuals on television and don't want anyone else to see them either. I have received a couple of emails from people who have had dealings with them, and it appears that they can become very unChristian if provoked. One of these emails arrived just as I was about to publish this week's site updates. It is very long and raises some points which need further investigation so I can't say much more about it now, but it certainly appears that the Salt Shakers react very badly to any criticism. I think I will ask them some kind and gentle questions, and perhaps I can become one of their enemies too.
Speaking of enemies ... (22/5/2004)
Well, not really an enemy, more of an enema. The Gutless Anonymous Liar reappeared this week with some coarse remarks about my wife, apparently triggered by a photograph of her on this site. As there is no picture of her on this site, I can only assume that GAL (or its puppeteer, Mr William P O'Neill of the Canadian Cancer Research Group) is suffering from some visual defect. Perhaps it didn't pay attention when its mother (if it had a mother) found it playing with itself and told it that if it didn't stop it would go blind. Also, before he puts the puppet back into the shoe box, perhaps Mr O'Neill might explain to GAL the futility of abusing my wife and family. After all, Mr O'Neill's first ever email to me mentioned my wife, and that was four years ago and I am still here.
Quackery to the max (22/5/2004)
I have in front of me two bottle of "alternative medicine". One of them is completely harmless if taken but has "scientific" claims on the label which would be laughed at by any child who had read a book with more chemistry in it than Spot the Dog. The other product could directly kill someone with certain medical conditions if taken as directed, or indirectly kill people with other conditions by deluding them into avoiding real medical care. It is quite possible that the ingredients listed on the label are not what is inside the bottle, in which case selling it is financial fraud, but the promises it makes are dangerous enough. These products will be used in an attempt to expose and close down the people selling and promoting them, but I suspect that they will still be available from other outlets within minutes of any action against the current sellers. I must remember to ask the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia what they think I should do about these frauds. Give them a medal, I suppose. I will have more to say about this after some testing has been done and some lawyers have been spoken to.
Speaking of speaking (29/5/2004)
I was honoured to give the keynote address at the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney during the week. I will translate the talk from "man with laser pointer in front of PowerPoint slides" into something readable and put it up here next week. In a wonderful confluence of Murphy's Law and irony I was prevented from attending the conference dinner by what appeared to be a brief attack of bronchitis or some other chest infection but if I had been well enough to go to the dinner I would have been in a room full of doctors who, in one way or another, were experts in breathing.
Google advertisements (29/5/2004)
Google are not pleased with me. When I looked at this site during the week I noticed that no advertisements from Google were appearing. It seems that I have somehow transgressed against my contract and their Terms of Service by the comments I made in April when the ads first appeared here. Apparently, mentioning the advertisements and commenting about their occasional incongruity is abusing the system in some way, and Google have cancelled my advertising account. As I was about to put the ads on around a thousand web pages on various sites that I manage, Google may have done one of those nose-cutting, face-spiting things that our mothers warned us against. Negotiations are continuing, and I hope to have the advertisements back here shortly.
Yes, we have no dissenters, we have no dissenters today (29/5/2004)
A few weeks ago I mentioned the reluctance of Curezone.com to allow anything critical of quackery or supportive of medicine to appear on their online forums and how any such messages are promptly removed. During the last week I have seen a couple more cases of this fear. Someone I know was banned from the vaccination forum at Mothering.com for no other reason than asking a question about polio vaccine. She was accused of having an "agenda", apparently because the question wasn't of the "How can I increase my child's risk of paralysis?" kind. I had a look at the forum and it contains the usual collection of lies and fearmongering. There's that old proverb about silver linings, though, and the rather pathetic and half-hearted attacks on me have encouraged me to try harder. I was reminded of the optimism in the song at the end of the film The Life of Brian, where everyone sang "Always look on the bright side of death".
The second case of censorship was on a site run by someone called Chris Gupta. The site had a set of messages attacking Dr Terry Polevoy of Healthwatcher.net. As posters could use any name they liked and any email address they wanted, it was pretty obvious that the messages supposedly from Dr Polevoy's son and mother were fabrications, as were those "signed" by Dr Polevoy himself. Several messages indicating mild support for Dr Polevoy were posted but they were very quickly removed, leaving only the lies and falsely attributed messages behind. Coincidentally, I received an anonymous email during the week which had the subject line "chris gupta loves you". Strange. The body of the email was completely empty, like the sender's brain and Chris Gupta's conscience.
It is interesting to note the difference between quacks and racists when it comes to freedom of speech. The racists realise that an attack on anyone's rights is an attack on everyone's. Some time ago I decided to test someone's declared commitment to free speech by creating a mirror of this site at a virulently racist hosting service. Not only was it accepted, but the host owner told me that he admired my collection of hate mail (apparently he only received death threats) and I was invited to join their users' steering committee. I declined, as I thought that any meeting which included assorted skinheads, Nazis, Holocaust deniers, white supremacists and me would be uncomfortable for everyone.
Polio in Nigeria (29/5/2004)
At one time it was thought possible that polio would be eliminated from the Earth in 2003, but reality has a habit of disappointing us. An idiot wrote to me this week rubbing his hands with pleasure and gloating about the success of the anti-vaccinators in aborting the attempt to eliminate polio from Nigeria. In this case the anti-vaccination liars have been ably assisted by racists and religious lunatics, and the result is not only an increase in polio in Nigeria but also an epidemic across neighbouring countries. The lie being told in this case is that the polio vaccine was designed to cause women to become sterile as part of some white Christian plot to reduce the birth rates of Muslims and members of certain ethnic groups. This nonsense would be laughable if it wasn't being fed to people whose critical skills have been crippled by exposure to superstition and idiotic tribal traditions.
To placate the anti-vaccination liars, I have included some pictures of the sorts of things that they would like to see in every school and hospital.
Speaking of chiropractors ... (29/5/2004)
After my talk at the hyperbaric medicine conference I was talking to some doctors who were outraged at the abuse of their specialty by a chiropractor in Melbourne, Australia. This quack offers treatments for a range of diseases and disorders which goes far beyond the limited set of conditions for which high pressure oxygen therapy is approved or indicated, and he does it without the inconvenience of any form of medical training (although he pretentiously calls himself "Dr" as if he is a doctor). While he is a "registered Chiropractor" (notice the additional hubris of the capital "C") and a "Master in Clinical Acupuncture", these "qualifications" have nothing to do with the conditions he treats or the methods he uses. As with many quacks, he preys on people who have had less than successful treatments from real doctors or who have chronic (but variable) illnesses like multiple sclerosis. Like the quacks in Tijuana, he has people who will put together travel packages for interstate and international victims so that they can be robbed a little more and a little more conveniently. He is apparently quite litigious when anyone suggests that he is a crook and a charlatan, and with Australian defamation laws as they are I probably can't mention his name. The only advice I can give is that if you are planning to have spinal rehabilitation in Melbourne, make sure that the person doing it is a real doctor, not some crooked wannabe in a white coat.
Universal constants (29/5/2004)
Despite what the cultural relativists think, there are some signs and emotions which seem to be common to many cultures. The picture at the right shows Fernando Alonso spinning out of last Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix. After this shot the television director cut to the in-car camera in Alonso's car to show him giving a middle-finger salute to Ralph Schumacher. It was encouraging to see that despite having an accident at about the fastest point on the circuit and being trapped in a wildly-gyrating piece of machinery with bits falling off it, Fernando had the presence of mind to remember the need for Road Rage and to demonstrate it in the tiny amount of time available before the other driver got away. (It made it even better that the incident was Alonso's fault, not Schumacher's.) The next cut was to a close-up of Renault team manager Flavio Briatore to catch his reaction to seeing one of his cars crashing out of an almost-certain third place in the race. There was no sound, but his lips formed a very Anglo-Saxon word starting with "f", although as he was speaking French it probably ended in "uque". Sometimes we are all one people with a single common language.
Scamsters exposed, maybe (29/5/2004)
A couple of years ago I mentioned how my daughter and her boyfriend had been ripped off by a photography studio. I was interviewed during the week by some journalism students who are compiling an investigation of the studio as a class project. One of them had found what I had written here and it matched the stories that many of the studio's customers had told. There is a possibility that the project may end up being telecast on one of the local television current affairs programs, so, though it is too late to save my daughter's money, the warning might get out to other potential targets of the crooks.