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Sad news (7/7/2007)
I was saddened to hear that Barry Beyerstein had passed away. Barry was a tireless opponent of woowoo in general and medical quackery in particular. Living as I do on the far side of the world from everyone I don't get much opportunity to meet the heroes of the skeptical movement, but I met Barry at the 2000 World Skeptics' Convention in Sydney. I am not sure that it was a highlight of his visit to Australia but he was a participant in The Great Clown Car Trip, when more people than could possibly fit into my rather cramped sports coupe were uncomfortably transported between Sydney University and the Opera House for the convention dinner. I'm not going to write an obituary (because I couldn't do a better job than Barry Karr from CSI). All I'm going to say is that there are too few skeptical heroes, and now there is one fewer.
Another of my personal heroes is Dr Paul Offit. Here is a man who is so despised and reviled by the anti-vaccination liars that just the mention of his name is enough to send them into paroxysms of mouth-foaming hatred. He shares my uncompromising approach to them and, like me, sees no reason to be polite or to concede that they have any valid arguments at all. I was very pleased, therefore, to be told that The Millenium Project gets a reference in his latest book, Vaccinated : One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases. I haven't read it yet, but a copy is on its way to me across the Pacific Ocean even as we speak.
More good news (7/7/2007)
The headline in the Dallas Morning News says it all: "AG sues Coppell's Mannatech over health claims - Company accused of exaggerating benefits of its supplements". You can read the story here. Mannatech's official response is beautiful. In a media release which takes about a page to print, the only response is:
"We are aware of the situation and will be taking appropriate action to address any issues or concerns from the Texas Attorney General's office," said Terry Persinger, Mannatech's President. "We take matters of this nature very seriously and intend to cooperate to reach a resolution."
Some forms of idiocy never go away (7/7/2007)
Any journal with the name Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine might seem a little oxymoronic, but a tolerant skeptic might assume that someone is trying to do the right thing and conduct properly-managed research into the effectiveness of snake oil. Then you find that they have published a paper with the title Housing in Pyramid Counteracts Neuroendocrine and Oxidative Stress Caused by Chronic Restraint in Rats. That's right - someone put rats in a pyramid to see what happens. The abstract of the paper starts off with "The space within the great pyramid and its smaller replicas is believed to have an antistress effect" and goes downhill from there. Read the paper here. I won't say "Enjoy", but I might say "Laugh".
Speaking of pyramids ... (7/7/2007)
I received the following email from an Ambot. I don't think I'll bother to reply, because I have said it all before and they either don't listen or don't hear. I love the bit about bumble bees. I bet that bit of long-refuted nonsense is offered by uplines as a guaranteed objection-stopper. It's a pity that there is nothing in physics which suggests that a bee can't fly once you know how it actually moves its wings. Still, why should facts interfere with a sales pitch.
Subject: Wondering and having a jolly good laugh at the same time
Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2007 22:37:24 +1000
Goodness me, you certainly are a ratbag aren't you?
Even with all your logic, you can't explain why the Amway Corporation continues to prosper and why people volunteer to "have a go" and why some, not all, achieve their aims and that really sticks in your craw doesn't it?
(Where's your rant against the bumble bee, then? How dare it fly and defy physics! To the laptop!!!)
Why? What is so reprehensible to you that you must embark upon such vitriolic perambulations of the mind?
What is causing you to choose to project an image of being such an unpleasant individual?
You're obviously not involved, and have no interest, so why get so hot and bothered? Why display your baseless hostility so blatantly? What's the payoff?
Do you do the same when some prospect refuses your software/hardware? That would be fun to watch, I'm sure….
If I were to say that you a lying crook for offering someone your highly suspect software/hardware products and call anyone buying them a sucker then I daresay you would do one of two things. Dismiss them as ignorant or get undone. From the tone of your writings I'm thinking the latter. I may be wrong.
As I don't know what products you're offering, I wouldn't embarrass myself by appearing ignorant.
You are choosing to remain clueless about Network 21 and unwilling to learn different. Good for you.
You obviously choose not to agree with the judgement of the authorities in the United Statesthat the business model is not an illegal pyramid, a view supported in Australiaand at least another 90 countries/territories. Bully for you.
In the end, your opinion can be summed up in two words.
Right minded individuals will investigate and judge the business on merit and on how it can help them achieve whatever it is they want.
Others will succumb to the preachings of a naysayer like you. At least you're assured of being less misguided than them.
It's a pisser of a way to get recognition though…
Relax a little. Find something useful to do…
And while we're talking about email ...
I received a piece of extremely cogent criticism of me and this site which I have decided not to publish on the front page. This is a family web site and the message contained some rather ribald language. I have, of course, put it in the Hate Mail collection and you can read it there. Please tell your children and maiden aunts not to click here.
Science as she is spoke (7/7/2007)
I have written an article to be published in the August edition of the magazine Australasian Science. It won't be on the newsstands for a few weeks, but you can go here to read it. If you live in my part of the world and are interested in science I recommend this magazine. You can see more about Australasian Science (and even subscribe) here.
Extreme optimism (7/7/2007)
I am not sure where this writer is getting his information, but if he wants my domain name it will cost him. I don't know what the price is, but retirement to a nice beachside apartment with a large amount of spending money should be factored into the calculations.
Hi. I have a question about your domain name "ratbags.com" -- I noticed that the site is shutting down and wonder whether you would be willing to give up this name if you are no longer using it. I am starting up a new site and think that this is a cute name for it -- but, as I am putting the site together now, I'd prefer not to wait until the name expires. I understand from my web service provider that transferring names is a pretty easy process. Please let me know if you are willing to do this and I'll reach out to my provider and see what steps are required. Hope to hear from you soon!
The count is in (14/7/2007)
In October last year I was challenged by a supporter of Hillsong (my local cult of cash) on the basis that Hillsong was "one of the biggest [churches] in NSW and Australia", nyah, nyah, nyah! I pointed out at the time that the 2006 census numbers were not available, but based on the 2001 figures Hillsong had a long way to go to worry the traditional churches. The results of the 2006 Australian census have just been released, and they show something surprising. The fastest-growing religion in the country over the previous five years was Hindu, but it started from a low number. The second-largest percentage increase was in people declaring that they had no religion at all (or who nominated atheist, agnostic, humanist or rationalist). (The religion question was optional and this group does not include the people who chose not to answer at all, although it could be reasonably assumed that a significant proportion of the "no answer" group would have no religious leanings.) Yes, Pentecostals did grow, but they still lag in numbers behind Buddhists, Muslims, Lutherans, Orthodox, Presbyterians and those many millions of Catholics and Anglicans. I don't suppose that will stop any pastor from telling his flock about how they are taking over the world.
You can see more about the census results here.
Churches of Christ
Latter Day Saints
Presbyterian & Reformed
Australian Aboriginal Traditional Religions
Other Religious Groups
|Other religious affiliation||56,121||0.3%||354,628||1.9%||497.7%||133,820||0.7%||-64.3%|
|Religious affiliation not stated||1,550,585||8.7%||1,835,598||9.8%||12.0%||2,223,957||11.2%||14.5%|
Explanatory note: The rather amazing peak in the "Other religious affiliation" shown in the 2001 census was the result of an absurd campaign encouraging people to lie on the census forms. Most of the publicity was trying to get people to write "Jedi" as their religion, and the story was being spread around that the "religion" would be specifically included in the next census if more than a certain number of people nominated it. As can be seen from the 2006 question above, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is not populated by fools.
Anti-vaxxers at it again (14/7/2007)
The Life Matters program on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's national network ran a series of three programs about vaccination this week. The program talked to some parents about vaccination and had two experts. One was Professor Robert Booy from Westmead Hospital, who could be expected to know something about vaccination, and the other was Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination Network, who could be expected to know nothing about vaccination except that it is an evil practice. The three sets of parents were all from the NewAge, mungbean-munching district of New South Wales (the region with the lowest vaccination rates in the state, which suggests that they were recruited through AVN which is also headquartered in the area) and therefore could hardly be seen as representative of families who live in cities and other populated parts of the state. I posted the following comment to the Life Matters guest book:
It is rather ironic that a program named "Life Matters" should be providing a platform for anyone who is opposed to vaccination, which is probably one of the greatest life-savers ever to come out of medicine. In fact, it is bizarre that there is even any debate about vaccination today. It is hard to imagine how life could matter to anyone who would deny children the opportunity of a life free of the diseases which have killed and maimed (and still kill and maim) millions.
I realise that the anti-vaccination campaigners will deny that they are opposed to vaccination per se and will just say that they want vaccines to be proved safe. When they say this they are lying, because they will not admit to the possibility of a safe vaccine. Just ask them. Ask for an example of a safe vaccine, or what it would take to convince them that any vaccine is worth the "risk".
A thousand children die each day from measles, but one of your guests has described the disease as "benign". Perhaps she should be asked how many dead children it would take to make her think that a disease is serious.
Well, Ms Dorey actually repeated her disgusting an ill-informed comment that measles is benign. She later posted a gloat about the program to the AVN mailing list, and predictably had this to say:
Peter Bowditch (self-proclaimed ratbag) from the Australian so-called skeptics was the first person to put up a post on this subject.
Equally predictably she had to attempt to belittle me. I am a self-proclaimed nothing - anybody reading the front page of the RatbagsDotCom site can see what the word means, and the use of the expression "so-called" just indicates nothing except the inability to make a point. The legal name of the organisation is Australian Skeptics Inc (and I am not "from" there). Possibly even more predictably, she claimed something which is not only false but easily demonstrated to be false. My message was posted at 11:41am, which would seem to be some time later than 10:55am when the first message (supporting vaccination) was posted. Still, there is a war against vaccination to be fought and someone once said that truth is the first casualty of war.
And speaking of vaccination ... (14/7/2007)
In the same week that the program went to air, Australia had its first case of polio for more than 20 years. A passenger on a plane from Pakistan was identified as a possible case, although it now appears that he will not suffer any ill effects. And what did the anti-vaccination liars have to say about this? Well, one said that the man probably caught the disease from vaccination and another said it didn't matter anyway as polio was just the effect of DDT. And they let these people vote and drive cars.
Scientology claims some more victims
In an eerie reminder of the murder of Elli Perkins in 2003 (see a video about this here), a young lady attacked her family last week in Sydney, killing two and seriously wounding another. Yet again, it seems that the influence of Scientology has come between a person with severe mental problems and the treatment that the person needs. I can't say much about the case at present as the names of the parties have been withheld from the media for the time being (it is the subject of police action and a coronial enquiry is yet to be held), but that hasn't stopped the media from launching into an attack on Scientology. Ever ready to help, I appeared on the television program A Current Affair to lend a hand. I'm not sure how I became so popular, but when I got home I found that a daily newspaper had been chasing me for a comment as well although it was too late for their deadline by the time I got the message. (Irony time - the television network which shows A Current Affair is very closely associated with James Packer, although he has been selling down his holding to finance his company's expansion into gambling. Mr Packer is probably Australia's richest person, and is definitely the country's most prominent member of a certain religious group. You are free to speculate about which group that might be.)
Twelve seconds of fame, but it goes towards the fifteen minutes.
Do-it-yourself veterinary treatment (14/7/2007)
We are going to save a lot of money now that we will never have to take Cody The Religion-Hating Dog to the vet for anything ever again. I have acquired a plastic model showing the acupuncture points on a dog, together with a detailed description of what is treated by each point. As a bonus, the model and instructions work for moxibustion as well. That is where you allow smoke from something smouldering to flow over an acupuncture point. If the authorities ever question my possession of certain hand-rolled cigarette-like objects I can say that they are a vital part of maintaining Cody's health (and also the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood, because while he's giggling and munching he's not barking at lizards, birds, couriers and Baptists).
The subject of tail-docking came up in a conversation this week. This is the practice of cutting dogs' tails off for aesthetic reasons, and is now illegal where I live. I thought that the ban might be because cutting off the tail might remove access to vital acupuncture points, but it seems that my fears were baseless. The only point on the tail is Wei Jan, which is used to treat stroke, sunstroke and gastroenteritis, but losing this point is not a problem as there are several other points which can treat stroke and sunstroke. Gastroenteritis is treated by needling or smoking Hou San Li (on the rear leg), which provides the added advantage of also being useful for posterior paralysis, neuralgia, paralysis of pelvic limb, intestinal spasm and colic, arthritis, febrile symptoms and dyspepsia, as well as preventing diseases and making the dog strong and healthy. I am not making this up.
Some auxiliary items:
This week's mailbox (14/7/2007)
The Ambot who wrote to me last week has written again. I was right in not wasting time replying to him, as it has all been said before. See it on the page with other stuff about (sc)Amway. Another email was from someone smarter than me. I think the writer was trying to be rude, because he used words which seemed to be intended to offend. See the email and my reply here.
It's time for a laugh (21/7/2007)
Things have been getting a bit serious around here lately, so it is fortuitous that reader James King sent me some amusement. The first one is an oldie but goodie that I had seen and forgotten, but seeing it again didn't hurt at all.
The second is a comparison between science and faith as methods of knowledge acquisition. I will leave it up to you to decide which flow chart is which.
Guest author (21/7/2007)
I have added a few more articles by Bertrand Russell to the collection:
Is this the scammiest scam of all? (21/7/2007)
When I first came across Contact Reflex Analysis I thought that it might be a parody designed to make alternative medicine look bad. I acquired a copy of the training manual, and it reads like an attempt to synthesise all of the idiocy and fraud of quackery into one "healing" modality. Unfortunately, this scam is real, and its practitioners blatantly defraud people by claiming miracle cures for almost any disease you can think of. When I first got the book I tried to think of something that CRA could not cure. I failed. Of course it can cure leukaemia and small penises, but I gave up looking when I found that it could be used to treat all forms of paralysis and brain injury.
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2007 23:40:34 +0200
I'm glad to find that you actually believe in something. I noticed you mentioned the universe in one of your comments. CRA has remedied the damages caused by doctors both for myself and family and friends. However I am not embittered to doctors but I know from personal experience they make some serious mistakes. There are doctors who are dedicated and doctors who murder their patients for financial profit.
Do I detect some hyperbole (and perhaps paranoia) here? There are bad doctors who cause harm, but I'm not sure how many of them deliberately kill their patients in order to make money.
They are not all good as I am sure there are good and bad CRA practitioners.
There are good and bad CRA practitioners just like there are good and bad astrologers. If something is useless it doesn't really matter whether you are good or bad at it. Remember that I have a copy of the CRA training manual, so I have all it takes to become as good as anyone at doing it.
There are also good and bad opinions. You sound so cynical and bitter and twisted and I hope you learn to look for the good in life. You could learn much and create some happiness in your life from watching the Secret.
I am a bit surprised that someone writing from an email address associated with an organisation which offers guidance about meditation should recommend The Secret. If there is the slightest bit of credibility attached to that load of drivel then meditation is obsolete. All you have to do is to want something and it will happen. The people starving in Africa are only starving because they don't want food badly enough.
I don't mind whether you print this or not, I am sending this message to you because I pity your life. I hope you learn to FEEL GOOD.
Thank you. If you believe the "teachings" in The Secret then hoping will make it come true. I feel better already. I'll just go and have another read of the CRA training manual and I am sure that the amusement will make me feel even better still. Perhaps not, because it saddens me that sick people are being deceived and defrauded by the cynical criminals who invented CRA and the practitioners who perpetuate the scam.
It's not my fault for a change (21/7/2007)
Some time on Saturday, July 21, the FTP server at the place where this site is hosted stopped working. Email kept coming in and web pages could be displayed so I assumed that it wasn't because I hadn't paid the bill or because some whiner had pulled the old trick of lodging a legal complaint last thing on Friday. The hosting service has generally been very reliable over the time that I have been using it, but one of the extensions of Murphy's Law is that when things go wrong they go wrong just after all the technical support people have gone home for the weekend. The failure meant that I couldn't upload this week's updates to the site until someone came to work on Monday and spent a few seconds rebooting the server.
Murphy's Law squared!!! (21/7/2007)
This is how the Law works. You make allowances for it, you apologise for its effects, and then it applies itself as a metalaw and the problem disappears, leaving you looking a bit foolish. I set up my FTP program to automatically load the site updates whenever the FTP server became available again, and ten minutes later - there it was!!
Murphy's Law is usually stated as "If anything can go wrong, it will". The person for whom the Law was named was an aeronautical engineer and he was commenting about the problem of parts which could be fitted in several ways, some of which ways could lead to disaster. (An example would be a one-way valve in a hydraulic system.) His original Law was "If there are two ways of doing something and one way is wrong, the wrong way will be chosen first". He was asked one day about how his Law was always misstated, to which he replied "I guess that's Murphy's Law in action".
Fifteen good ones (28/7/2007)
The British Medical Journal was first published in 1840. Recently, the magazine conducted a reader poll to find the fifteen most important advances, discoveries or breakthroughs in medicine since then. I don't know if it's happening anywhere else, but the medical school at the University of Sydney is holding series of public lectures based on the list. You can see the timetable here, and I would encourage anyone who can attend to do so. If you aren't in Sydney you could contact the BMJ to see if there is something similar in your area. Here is the list:
Alternative medicine supporters will be especially horrified at the list, because not only does it contradict much of quackery by including germ theory and antibiotics, admit to the reality of mental illness by including the first anti-psychotic drug, highlight the value of evidence and recognise the value of vaccines, but one of altmed's most demonised villains (Louis Pasteur) was associated with two of the things in the list.
I therefore invite representatives of alternative medicine to provide their own list of the fifteen greatest discoveries in Supplementary, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (or SCAM, for short). Here are my suggestions, in no particular order:
Drugs in sport (28/7/2007)
The sports pages of the papers around my place have been full of stories lately about the Tour de France (or Tour de Farce, as it is generally known). There has been much excitement about the fact that an Australian is placed very highly in the field, although it is being politely ignored that a large part of his success is due to the attrition of known and suspected drug cheats.
It was not always this way, and, as the picture below from some time in the 1920s shows, the use of performance-enhancing drugs was once quite acceptable. I would like to think that those little bottles of refreshment clipped onto the bike frames didn't hold just water or electrolyte replacement fluids back then but contained something useful. Like absinthe.
Look who's on our side (for the moment)
Pope Benedict XVI had some words to say about evolution this week. In an address to a group of priests on July 24 he confirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and Christian doctrine. It seems that the speech is only available in Italian at present on the Vatican web site. I don't speak or read Italian, but I have been reliably informed that the relevant parts say that evolution and belief in a creator God should not be seen "as if they were alternatives that are exclusive - whoever believes in the creator could not believe in evolution, and whoever asserts belief in evolution would have to disbelieve in God. This contrast is an absurdity, because there are many scientific tests in favour of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and enriches our understanding of life and being. But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all questions, and it does not answer above all the great philosophical question: From where does everything come?"
I couldn't have put it better myself. (Thanks to the New York Post for the translation.)
A guest author (28/7/2007)
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had bought a book about vaccination by Dr Paul Offit. I have now read the book and it is an excellent history of immunisation, framing the extraordinary achievements of Maurice Hilleman. (How is this for coincidence? I went out to dinner during the week with a doctor who is in town for an AIDS conference. The book came up in conversation and she said that she knew both Dr Offit and Dr Hilleman.) I wrote to Dr Offit to congratulate him on the book, and while I was at it I asked permission to reprint an article he had written for The Wall Street Journal. He agreed, and you can read it here.
This week's polite email (28/7/2007)
I like it when emails provide conundrums and make me think. This came in during the week:
Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2007 00:14:14 -0700
From: JOE HARRIS'
Subject: Fwd: Dare to take on a dad of a mercury poisoned child on the true science
You never answer questions you just spout the pharma line. You are really not very smart or you are paid to defend thimerosal and keep us busy and lie to other people. You really need to think of judgement day and how you sold these little children out and what the god of the jews the lord jesus will do to you for the damage done by people like you. One more time looking for an answer if the MSDS sheet says pregnant women should not be exposed to the product thimerosal. Then maybe you can tell me how the CDC recomends two flu vacc. containing 25 micro grams each for preg. women ? ? ? ? ? are you really this stupid ?
Note: forwarded message attached.
Several things about this caught my attention. The first was that it wasn't addressed to any ratbags.com email address, but was sent to me at work. The second was that the forwarded message attached was a duplicate of the main message. (In fact, I received four copies - two each of plain text and HTML format). I was also intrigued by the accusation that I never answer questions but I answer questions with "the pharma line".
The really curious thing, however, comes in the second-last sentence - "maybe you can tell me how the CDC recomends two flu vacc. containing 25 micro grams each for preg. women". The CDC recommends two doses for children between the ages of 6 months and 9 years who have had a maximum of one shot previously, and everyone else only requires a single shot annually. Joe seems to come from a place where either women are pregnant for more than a year or girls under the age of nine are having babies (or both, perhaps). It doesn't sound like anywhere that I would like to live. Of course, there is always the possibility that Joe has been listening to anti-vaccination liars and accepting their lies as truth. The CDC flu site is quite large and includes a lot of big words, and my experience of the liars is that they rely heavily on nobody bothering to check on what they say. I checked.