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November 8, 2008

Another unhappy visitor (8/11/2008)
An osteopath was displeased with something I wrote. Here is the correspondence.

Subject: Response to September Issue Cam or Scam
Date: Thu, 06 Nov 2008 16:44:50 +1100
From: "Mark Smith"


I was surprised to find your article on homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic. [See this article here. PB] I didn't realize there where people "out there" dedicated to look for anything negative related to "alternative" therapies.

Why not? Did you assume that quackery would be immune from investigation?

In fact, I would have thought that if this were the case that allopathic medicine would have been your first port of call, as the leading cause of death in the USA is from iatrogenic sources

Ah, yes – The Lie That Will Not Die. I don't know why later figures aren't available, but here are the 10 leading causes of deaths in the USA in 2005. If you have any later information you might like to let the CDC know so that they can update their web site.

Number of deaths for leading causes of death:

  1. Heart disease: 652,091
  2. Cancer: 559,312
  3. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 143,579
  4. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 130,933
  5. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 117,809
  6. Diabetes: 75,119
  7. Alzheimer's disease: 71,599
  8. Influenza/Pneumonia: 63,001
  9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 43,901
  10. Septicemia: 34,136

(it is the third leading cause of death in Australia).

Australian numbers are more up to date, but again I encourage you to contact the Australian Bureau of Statistics with your later information so that they can update their web site. Here is the situation in 2006:

  1. Ischaemic heart diseases – angina, heart attacks, and blocked arteries of the heart (I20-I25): 22,983
  2. Strokes ( I60-I69): 11,465
  3. Trachea and lung cancer (C33-C34): 7,348
  4. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease (F01-F03, G30): 6,542
  5. Chronic lower respiratory diseases – asthma, bronchitis and emphysema (J40-J47): 5,443
  6. Colon and rectum cancer (C18-C21): 3,858
  7. Blood and lymph cancer (including leukaemia) (C81-C96): 3,693
  8. Diabetes (E10-E14): 3,662
  9. Diseases of the kidney and urinary system (N00-N39): 3,192
  10. Prostate cancer (C61): 2,952

From what YOU say alternative medicine (I prefer to use the term complementary) has no effect (other than placebo).

I didn't say that at all. What I said was, and I quote, "All of the above treatments work. They work provided that the patient has a self-limiting or mild psychosomatic condition". Real medicines have a placebo effect as well. The objective of clinical trials is to see if the medicines have an effect greater than placebo. If all you can claim is placebo then all you can claim is nothing, so there should be no charge. Why do quacks want to charge money for things that do nothing? Surely that would be fraud.

If this was the case then at least the mortality rate would be a lot less!!!

Are you saying that the mortality rate for alternative medicines is the same as for real medicine and can be reduced? I'm pleased about that and I look forward to reading the research on how that can be achieved. A good start would be a system of reporting adverse effects.

I agree that there are charlatans out there that exploit people who will do anything to relieve their symptoms but that is not due to the professions out there, it is more related to those individuals, and it occurs in medicine also. The biggest charlatans are the pharmaceutical companies who drive the medical machine, their guinea pigs are the general public. If their product kills or maims enough people they take it off the market and repackage it as something else.

So all alternative and complementary medicines undergo extensive safety trials involving millions of test subjects to prove absolute safety before they are sent to market, do they? As an example, the day after Vioxx was withdrawn from the market I was offered a quack substitute that was guaranteed to be safe. How could this be known? (By the way – the people who suffered ill effects from Vioxx were not using it according to the clear instructions on the label, but why should that fact mean anything to the critics?)

Yet, if someone has an allergic reaction to royal jelly, the AMA wants to shut down the whole naturopathic community.

You might like to point me to the safety trials for royal jelly that were undertaken before it was sold to the public. You might also like to consider risk/benefit ratio. As the risk of allergic reaction to bee products is quite high and there are no trials or research indicating any benefit of royal jelly (except to the wealth of those selling it), the ratio is infinite. Here's something else to think about – should royal jelly be "prescribed" for someone who is also taking one of the large number of alternative products which "boost the immune system"?

By the way – the AMA has no say over who practices what in the medical field. They can express an opinion but they can't stop anyone doing anything.

I would have thought that if you were going to make comments such as you have that you would have done a little research (there is a plethora of research articles out there on the benefits of "alternative medicine") beforehand. Having said that I understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if you feel the need to spread your opinion to as many people as possible. But I would be interested to find out your opinion based on the same scrutiny of the pharmaceutical and medical industry.

And I would be interested in your explanation of how the mutually exclusive world views of chiropractic (or in your case, osteopathy), homeopathy and acupuncture can be reconciled. Do bacteria and viruses cause disease?

Mark Smith

Note to people outside Australia: In the USA osteopathy has managed to achieve a degree of respectability and people bearing the title Doctor of Osteopathy have similar training to that of real doctors, with a tinge of woowoo on the side. In Australia the woowoo is all there is and osteopaths are definitely not medical practitioners. Here is the definition according to the Australian Osteopathic Association:

The human body operates in much the same way as a machine, with all parts interrelated, and with structure being closely related to function. Further to this and extending the machine analogy further, damage to one part can have adverse effects on other systems or organs.

Underlying this theory is our belief that the human body has all of the necessary elements to attain, and maintain, optimal health, and an in-built repair system that enables us to recover from injury and disease.

As with any system in the body, this in-built repair system functions best when the machine is functionally sound. By using clinically developed techniques, that promote sufficient blood flow, osteopaths help maintain optimal function of the internal organs, which in turn promotes and maintains the body's balanced production of natural chemicals.

Sound familiar? Well, it should, because Daniel Palmer cloned chiropractic from it.

Two faces of Islam (1) (8/11/2008)
The people responsible for murdering more than 200 people in a Bali nightclub in 2002 have been executed in Indonesia. The killers had been treated almost like heroes and were making "I'm proud of it and can't wait to die and get my 72 virgins" claims to the media almost up to the moment of their deaths. (Rumours are that when the actual dying part started happening there were loose bowels and bladders and a lot less confidence.) Unfortunately the Indonesian government didn't follow up on my suggestion to sew the killers into pig skins before shooting them and then throw the bodies into a garbage tip.

The executions have prompted fear of reprisals because the murderers were just following the precepts of Islam when they killed all those strangers. It seems that murder is acceptable conduct for some Muslims provided that the victims are dhimmis.

A few days earlier, a 13-year-old girl, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, was buried up to her neck and stoned to death in Somalia. About 1,000 people watched and the local authorities trucked in the rocks for the killing. How this came about was that after she was raped by three men her father reported the rape to the police. The girl was immediately arrested, charged, tried, convicted and executed for adultery.

So it is acceptable behaviour to kill more than 200 people because you don't like the way they dress but it is a capital crime to be raped. And we are supposed to respect the people who think like this.

Two faces of Islam (2) (8/11/2008)
The two cars below are regular competitors in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship series. One of the rounds of the series is held in Bahrain, and for that race the cars looked a little different.

Here is what they looked like in Bahrain.

Obviously the cars had to be repainted in order to not offend any Muslims who might be watching, as everyone knows that Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol. (As an aside, this is an event for international television, not for local consumption. The brief glimpses of the grandstands during the telecast suggested that the number of officials and competing team members exceeded the paying crowd by at least one order of magnitude.)

There are other things that are supposed to offend good Muslims, and two of these are images of people and charging interest on loans. Almost every television advertisement that I see for Vodafone tells me that I can keep in touch with my girlfriend by taking and sharing pictures with my mobile phone and the last time I looked I was being charged interest on my car lease, but strangely the two cars in the picture below didn't have to change the signage for Bahrain. (One of them even won all three races on the day). It seems that outrage and offence is selective. But why should hypocrisy be separated from religion just for a car race?

Speaking of offence ... (8/11/2008)
Cleaning out houses before moving can turn up many surprises. While brushing at fossils with my little archaeologist's whisk I came across a book called Taboo containing cartoons that had been rejected for publication by various newspapers and magazines. The book was published in 1966 so you might expect that everything in it would be completely acceptable today, but you would be wrong. Some things never change, and there are always new people to be offended by the most innocuous material. Here is one cartoon that I am sure would upset several sections of today's society.

November 29, 2008

It's sold!! (29/11/2008)
The sale of Ratbag Castle and its extensive grounds has passed the time when anyone can pull out. Unfortunately, this means that I will have nowhere to live in a couple of weeks unless drastic action is taken. (The plan to move way out west into the sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, has had to be put on hold for a few months because of some family matters. This means that we have to stay somewhere near Sydney for a while and the commuting continues.) While I am looking at potential rental properties and then moving all that stuff I can't be doing much else, so you can expect me when you see me. An added problem is that pets are anathema to most landlords so Cody The Religion Hating Dog might have to be placed on agistment. We haven't told him yet, because he was really looking forward to going to somewhere where he could chase rabbits, sheep and tumbleweeds as a change from Baptists.

It's all coincidences (29/11/2008)
One of the common themes that appears across the spectrum of anti-science, non-science and irrational thought is that coincidences have meaning. What else could cause autism except the vaccinations that are given at the age when autism becomes detectable? If I take a 6C nat mur homeopathy pill and my cold gets better in a week instead of seven days it must have been the homeopathy that cured it. If I just know that it is a real estate agent on the phone before I answer it then I must have psychic powers. (Nobody claims psychic powers for correctly guessing that the ringing phone in the middle of dinner heralds a call from a telemarketer, of course.) Strange things happen within five days either side of the moon being at any of full, new, first quarter or last quarter. A psychic on stage gets a message from someone whose name starts with "M" and several people in the audience of 4,000 know someone called Michael, Margaret, Martin or Michelle.

My weekly commute to the boondocks takes a few hours whether I go by train and coach or do the driving myself. I use the time to catch up on radio programs and podcasts that I don't have the time or schedule gaps for during the rest of the week. I don't necessarily get to everything in the same week that it is broadcast, and a couple of weeks back one of the items on the program was an interview that had gone to air in early October with Richard Holmes, author of the excellent book  Holmes was talking about how the poet and renowned opium doper Samuel Taylor Coleridge had been brought to science by his friend Humphry Davy. (As an aside, it was Coleridge who invented the word "scientist". To show that some things haven't changed since the nineteenth century, one immediate reaction from some cleric was to declare that "scientist" and "atheist" were synonymous.) Much of the book is about how Davy, unschooled in the sciences, went on to become one of the outstanding figures in the history of science. At the first mention in the interview of Davy I looked out of the window of the bus and saw the distinctive architecture of the Lithgow Visitors' Centre, which you can see at the right. Explain that huge Davy lamp, skeptics!

The next program on the iPod was a book review. The book was by Christopher Paolini and I had never heard of it before that day. Note that I didn't say I hadn't heard of it before hearing the review, because the lady sitting opposite me in the train to Lithgow had been reading a copy and I had noticed the weird title.

Now for the mundane facts.

Brisingr is apparently one of the biggest selling books in the world at the moment. People who travel in trains, especially on relatively long trips, often read books and the books they read are very often current popular favourites. (Have you ever seen anyone reading Harry Potter on a train?) I travel by train at most twice a week, but if I had been commuting daily I have little doubt that I would have seen several people reading this particular book. Just think about why it was being reviewed on the radio – it wasn't because it was out of print, it was because it was a current best seller and was relevant to the normal subject matter of the program, which is people's beliefs in strange and weird things. Also, I probably would have forgotten completely about seeing the book on the train if I hadn't heard a review an hour later.

I pass the Lithgow Visitors' Centre twice a week either in a bus or in my car, and I am very familiar with the unique style of the building. Had I heard the name Humphry Davy at any time on the trip (or during the week, for that matter) I would have immediately thought of the structure. It was fortuitous that I happened to be travelling through Lithgow while listening to the program, but it wasn't any strange coincidence that I saw the building just after hearing Davy's name. I looked out the window because of where I was and I knew what I was going to see.

Isn't life dull for us skeptics, without the wonder of the unknown and unexpected? Well, no, it isn't. How could it possibly be dull to think about how people like Davy stretched knowledge. Seeing a memorial to one of his inventions at the same time was just gravy on the steak.

The mortgage (29/11/2008)
I will very shortly be free of my mortgage, at least if and until I decide to buy another house. I will not be unhappy to see the back of another banker. Here is Woody Guthrie's comment on that class of individual.

The Jolly Banker

My name is Tom Cranker and I'm a jolly banker,
I'm a Jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I safeguard the farmers and widows and orphans,
Singin' I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When dust storms are sailing, and crops they are failing,
I'm a Jolly banker, Jolly banker am I.
I check up your shortage and bring down your mortgage,
Singin' I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When money you're needing, and mouths you are feeding,
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I'll plaster your home with a furniture loan,
Singin' I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

If you show me you need it, I'll let you have credit,
I'm a Jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
Just bring me back two for the one I lend you,
Singin' I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When the bugs get your cotton, the times they are rotten,
I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I'll come down and help you, I'll rake you and scalp you,
Singin' I'm jolly banker jolly banker am I.

When the landlords abuse you, or sadly misuse you,
I'm a jolly banker, Jolly banker am I.
I'll send down the police chief to keep you from mischief,
Singin' I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

More coincidence (29/11/2008)
December 1 is World AIDS Day, and by a happy coincidence a fool who had been trying to convince me on the Australian Skeptics Facebook site that the Perth Group of AIDS deniers has anything worthwhile to say chose that day to admit defeat in the face of my closed mind and inability to understand the facts as presented by a pack of lunatics. I was particularly impressed when he asked me:

Do you even know what they mean when they say that "HIV doesn't exist"?

I replied:

Tell me.

What does "HIV doesn't exist" mean if it doesn't mean "HIV doesn't exist"?

Answer required using the rules of the English language and the principles of formal logic, please.

This elicited a link to the Perth Group's web site where they said:

The Perth Group does not broker beliefs and has never claimed HIV does not exist. (Neither have we claimed AIDS does not exist although we and our colleagues are often referred to as "AIDS Denialists"). What we have argued on numerous occasions in our publications and presentations is there is no proof that a retrovirus HIV does exist

What made the correspondent flee was my pointing out that this paragraph immediately follows a claim that they don't deny the existence of HIV with a statement that HIV has not been proven to exist. In other words, they don't deny it but they do. The clown had already shown his displeasure at my pointing him to the 436,000 results returned by a Google search for the term "HIV genome". The true high point of the conversation, however, was when he replied to my saying "There isn't enough time between now and the heat death of the sun to read every piece of anti-scientific nonsense vomited up from the decayed minds of madmen, let alone refute it all" by telling me that this was an admission of my "limited capacity". That's right, folks. I am so limited in my capacity that I won't be able to get everything finished in the next five billion years. We should all be so limited.

Anti-vaxxers demonstrate intellect (29/11/2008)
I have received a couple of emails recently from vaccine opponents which show how much smarter they are than me. The first one was prompted by this.

From: Paul Sintra
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2008 21:51:57 -0800

"This is as much a form of abuse as beating them or having sex with them. Perhaps more, because bashers and sexual predators usually don't publicly boast about the fact and show photographs to strangers in order to progress their perverted agendas"

Were you molested as a child?

This person was correct in one way, at least. A fool has fooled them.

Date: Wed, 19 Nov 2008 10:17:24 -0800
From: Tam erica
Subject: It takes a fool to fool a fool...

Wow! What a wonderful anti-vaccination site this is!! Now Im even more sure of the choice I made NOT to vaccinate my precious, healthy children that God has blessed me with.

When I was twelve years old, I stood in a line, in the hallway of my school with all 48 of my classmates. I was waiting for my turn to have several needles, all connected in a circle, injected into my arm all at once. I bare the scar from it to this day as a reminder. When I think back about that day now, as a 41 year old, I see it from a ceiling view and it makes me think of the Pink Floyd video where the children are lined up and marched into the meat grinder. "All and all, we're all just bricks in the wall"...... and im nothing to the government. Well, except for maybe a test subject. We'll always be good for that, as long as we accept it. I wish my mom would have stopped it from happening to me. I wish I would have listened to the child voice in me, as I stood waiting in that line, that said, "this is strange.. this is wrong.", and stepped out of that line and said, "I have rights and it will be a cold day in hell before you inject me!". But, I was only a child and didnt know I had rights..... and my parents were out to lunch.

My children attend public school in Indiana and they "tryed" to trick me into thinking that I had to have them vaccinated. Thank the good Lord that I knew better. And I cant believe the amount of people who told me I was wrong because they had believed the lie and were pressured into having their children vaccinated by the schools, until I proved them wrong by sending my unvaccinated child to school by signing a paper saying that I didnt agree with vaccinations for both medical and religious reasons. Unfortunately, it was too late for my best friends little girl, who was developing normally until her first vaccines at age two, now she has slight autism. She didnt want to vaccinate her but didnt believe me that she didnt have to in order to enroll her in pre-school. Now she has guilt that haunts her.

I didnt plan on typing past my first two sentences because I agree on one thing with "what's his name" that runs this site....... no sense in talking to fools.(unless you're after easy prey) Guess I got carried away. Have a great day and God bless us all even though we dont deserve it.


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