It's holiday time (18/12/2010)
The Millenium Project will be taking a short break over the holiday season. The staff at Ratbags Castle West (not to be confused with Ratbags Rural Retreat, which is even further west) have been working hard all year and need some time to relax and spend with their families. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their efforts during 2010 and look forward to attacking nonsense and woowoo with increased vigour in 2011. I would also like to thank the more than a million people who visited this site during the year, including the people who didn't like what they saw. It makes it a lot easier to put in the effort if I know that it is being noticed. Thanks also to everyone who emailed me. I'm not going to pretend that I will one day get around to answering everyone, but I get many more messages complimenting me than I do saying nasty things. I especially appreciate the emails from people who thank me for helping them in some way, because a lot of visitors is one thing but being told that I might actually be making a difference is a whole 'nother thing altogether.
Because Christmas Day and New Year's Day are both on Saturdays I will be back on January 8 with my psychic predictions for 2011 (and the results of this year's predictions, which look like being about 75% hits as against 7% for professional psychics) and the Millenium Awards for 2010. I am open to nominations for these awards, so if you know of some web site that is particularly egregious, disgusting or just plain silly please let me know.
I will be in town for the duration, so if you are in Sydney and feel like sharing a celebratory beverage or two, get the emailer out. I know I'm going to be at the following events and everyone is invited to come along:
And, yes, I know that northern hemispherians claim that both Humanlight and Festivus are supposed to be on December 23, but we take the road less travelled up here in Australia. We are also just getting over TAM and need time for the liver detox to do its work.
As I say every year, drink sensibly, drive safely, do them on different days and let's make a date to resume hostilities against nonsense in early January. Have a Merry Christmas/Newtonmas/Solstice/Saturnalia/Hannukah/Humanlight/Festivus/whatever and a Happy New Year/Hogmanay/Sydney Fireworks Night.
Hear him talk (18/12/2010)
I will be speaking at the Humanist Society of NSW on Wednesday, January 12 on the topic "Uncritical Thinking in Alternative Medicine and Medical fraud". The location is Humanist House, 10 Shepherd Street, Chippendale, and proceedings kick off at 8pm.
The Atheist Cartoons site disappeared in 2014
Power Balance scam (18/12/2010)
That's a Placebo Band I'm wearing. It does everything a Power Balance band does (nothing) but costs a lot less.
Earlier this year the Complaints Resolution Panel of the Therapeutic Goods Administration took a close look at Power Balance. They decided that what was being said in advertisements for the magic rubber bands was less than truthful and ordered the company and three web outlets selling the things to stop making ludicrous claims and to display a notice saying that the bracelets were useless. I looked at the four web sites mentioned to see how compliance with the determination was going and found the following:
This now redirects to a web site hosted in the USA, which I assume they think takes them out of the reach of the TGA (it doesn't - they do business in Australia). I can't find any claims on the site about what the bangles are supposed to do, but there is the usual collection of testimonials from people who, in many cases, already have other paid sponsorship arrangements with various product manufacturers and suppliers.
I particularly liked the following items on the "Legal" page (and I make no apology for violating Power Balance's copyright by quoting them here):
|www.crazysales.com.au||Business as usual. The rubber bands are for sale in all sorts of sizes and colours, but no claims seem to be being made about what they do.|
|This site doesn't seem to have the bracelets for sale any more, but as they offer such frauds as live blood analysis for athletes, selling magic rubber bands was probably a bit low-tech for them anyway.|
And what did Power Balance say in their advertisements that caused all the fuss? The fact that people believe this rubbish is an indictment of the education system.
I know how Milton feels. There is a fruitcake division at Ratbags Castle.
See more Lola here
Even pentothal won't get the truth from an anti-vaccinator (18/12/2010)
My friend Ken McLeod (joint winner of the 2010 Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason) has spent some time examining statements made by Meryl Dorey, erstwhile President of the Australian Vaccination Network, with particular attention to veracity and truthfulness. He found little of either, and has gathered his findings into a booklet which not only examines many of Ms Dorey's claims, but provides copious evidence of their inaccuracy. Click on the picture below to start reading, and note with anticipation that it says "Part 1". There is more to follow.
The Scamway business opportunity (18/12/2010)
A few years ago Amway felt the displeasure of the UK regulatory authorities, and there was for a time the wonderful hope that they might even have to close up and run away. Unfortunately, they reached an agreement which allowed them to keep the doors open, and part of that agreement was that they had to introduce a class of dealers who only sold product, with no need to go out recruiting, and that they had to publish a report each year showing where the money went. The October 2010 report has fallen into my hands, so let's see how successful all the hive members were during the twelve months to September 3.
These are the people who just sold product. Remember that anyone showing the plan will tell you that it's all about selling products which everyone will clamour to buy because MLM will be replacing 50% of the supermarket trade any day now. Out of 13,270 Retail Consultants, only 5,522 received any income at all during the year. Any income at all. That means that the other 7,748 couldn't even sell enough to their families plus buy enough themselves to meet the minimum for payment of commission. I imagine, however, that those 7,748 people are very impressed with this amazing business opportunity and are already planning their extensive holidays on the Côte d'Azur on the income.
But how much did the people who made money make? Amway say that the "Average monthly CVR for Retail Consultants earning a CVR" is £42, but this is the average payment, not the average per month per participant. As it could reasonably be assumed that not everyone received commission every month, the actual monthly average is less than that. The maximum anybody got in any month was £976 and the minimum was £14, but it is quite possible that the people earning these only received one payment during the year. Whatever the case, it puts the maximum income for anyone in the category at something less than £11,712 per year, which I doubt is enough to fund a three-bedroom apartment at Canary Wharf with a Bentley in the garage. Actually, the maximum income is £6,999, because above this the member rockets to Platinum!
Certified Retail Consultants
Now we are getting into the real business opportunity, where participants get to build their businesses by creating a downline of people who will do the hard work of selling and then funnel the profits upwards. Members of this group are on the way to walking the beaches of the world while residual income just gushes into their bank accounts. There are 7,640 of these, of which 6,211 actually received at least one monthly commission payment during the year. The total number is interesting, as it is more than 50% of the number of "Retail Consultants". This must mean that there are people who have nobody or at most one in their downlines at all, made worse by the fact that many of the "Certified Retail Consultants" must be in the downlines of their peers.
Average monthly income for this group was £114, which seems hardly enough above the pay for just selling to justify the management hours that have to be put into recruiting and supporting the workers. Maximum monthly income of £4,200 sounds good when you multiply it by 12, but as getting that much would mean earning at Diamond level (see below) it is highly unlikely that anyone got it. In fact, getting the maximum for just two months would see the person promoted out of "Certified Retail Consultant" and into the rarefied air of "Business Consultant". And you would have to feel sorry for the "Certified Retail Consultant" who only got £5 one month, although he is luckier than the 1,429 people who got nothing at all for their efforts.
Here is where the big money is. These are The Big Pins, the people to be looked up to, idolised and fawned over at functions. The people who have made it. The people whose pictures are in the recruiting manuals, showing their boats, their cars and their fancy houses. And just look at how much money they make, Why, one of them, count that again, one of them gets more than £50,000 per year! Have I mentioned that every time I have been shown the plan I have been told that anyone can reach Diamond in two years? There must be a lot of losers doing stinkin' thinkin' among Amway UK's 20,959 participants if they can only turn up one Diamond to worship. Perhaps the three people getting more than £15,000 a year are approaching Diamondhood. And there's always the 0.21% of participants earning more than £7,000 at Emerald level who are on the ladder to success.
Wait a minute. 20,959 participants, with 1 getting more than £50,000, 4 getting more than £15,000 and 49 getting more than £7,000. It doesn't sound like a very good business to be in, especially for the 9,069 who get nothing at all. One person gets heaps at the top, a few get some crumbs at the next couple of levels down, and 43% getting nothing at all. I wonder if these figures are pointed out to new recruits. No, I don't wonder at all. The spiel will be the same as it has been for years - get in now and retire rich. It was a lie when the first pyramid scheme operator said it. It is a lie now.
Perhaps they could use this pyramidical graph as a training aid.
Autism amusement (18/12/2010)
The loons at Age of Autism had a neuronal twitch this week and decided to attack all those evil skeptics who dare to think that science is better than superstition. Of course, the pseudo-skeptics (real skeptics would question the orthodoxy of science and medicine) are in the pay of Big Pharma. Why else would we do it? The picture at right and the quote below appeared on the Age of Autism Facebook page (where, surprisingly, I am not yet banned from posting).
You think Wakefield haters and vaccine industry defenders united spontaneously in the twenty-something geek strata or do you suppose they had a little help? They say they're pro-science -- yet applaud the crushing of independent scientists and support pharm industry regulatory capture. They say they believe in global warming, yet support Big Ag. They say they're pro women's and civil rights, yet think it's fine that generations of once-working mothers are relegated to 20+ years of diaper duty and that third world countries are used as pharma guinea pigs.
This was followed by this beautiful stream-of-consciousness idiocy from the administrator of the page. I won't bother to correct the multitudinous errors and fantasies in it because it would interfere with the flow, and I want you to see how the minds of these people work. (As examples of errors in the first five lines, Australian Skeptics had nothing to do with US cinemas refusing to carry anti-vaccination propaganda, Meryl Dorey's blog is still spewing its filth, and the Skeptics grew out of an informal gathering to investigate water dowsing. So many facts to get wrong.)
the Skeptics-- it's written on the crapping bull. The Australian Skeptics are the ones who shut down the vaccine awareness blog run by Meryl Dorey and blocked the AMC release of the flu shot awareness public service announcement put out by SafeMinds-- which recommended consumers opt for mercury-free flu shots. Like a lot of astroturf ("fake grassroots") movements, the Skeptics started out as a sort of nebulous alliance who believed religion was interfering with science. Apparently once industry became involved and started backing various bloggers and sending paid speakers and pseudo-celebrities to spice up the "Skeptic" events, the movement gelled into a pro-vaccine industry and pharmaceutical lobby posing as an intellectual/nonsecular movement. There are followers of the Skeptics who remain unaware of this; some are survivors of cult abuse, etc., and have their own reasons for joining, though many who started out with personal reasons for being interested in the stated positions of the group are dropping out as the Skeptics take shape as a lobby. Other industries seem to be jumping on the bandwagon, noticing how many unsatisfied and unfocused twenty-somethings were wandering around on the web, having missed out on the sixties. So the Skeptics now defend GMOs. Since it's always a danger that the younger generation could start "getting ideas in their heads" and "rage against the machine", industry run "Skeptics" basically supply ideological "immunization" against involvement in real consumer activism and supply a straw-man construct of an enemy to "rage against". Which would be this blog and parents of vaccine injured children. The one big hitch for the Skeptics is that our side just won't fulfill the "anti-vaccine" straw-man posture they need us to stay in for target practice. Most people in the vaccine safety/vaccine-autism movement don't believe vaccines as a technological concept are the problem: industry corruption, untested ingredients, research fraud and hypermarketing are the problem. We don't tell people not to vaccinate; we just recommend consumers read inserts, research ingredients and look into industry conflicts of interest when taking in media accounts of the vaccine question
I have a couple of confessions to make. Before I started my own consulting business I ran the computer operation for one of Australia's largest distributors of farm supplies, and, yes, we even sold the dreaded Roundup. I have a flat in the delightful country town of Grenfell, and the silo in that town is the collection point for genetically-modified canola grown in the area. I run the town web site for the local council, and as it is an agricultural economy around there it is farmers who pay the rates that the council uses to pay me. So there you have it. I am a shill for Big Farmer, my car has miscegenenated canola pollen under the wheel arches, and my family (including the microchipped Cody The Religion Hating Dog and two cats) are all fully poisoned-up with vaccines.
Autism insanity (18/12/2010)
The second piece of insanity out of the autism swamp this week is a treatment. Some parents of children with autism are desperate and there is no shortage of ghouls and criminals ready to exploit this desperation. Most of the "treatments" for autism at least look like they fit into some wellness paradigm, regardless of the plausibility of what is done - chiropractors twiddle with the spine because that is what chiropractors do for everything, naturopaths recommend herbs, oils and juices because that is what naturopaths do for everything, the mercury mafia chelate the heavy metals because mercury is the second-most poisonous chemical on Earth (even though they don't believe that), homeopaths suggest water and lactose because that is all they have, ... . All useless.
A new treatment has now appeared and one can only wonder at how desperate a parent would be to subject a child to it and how ignorant of science they must be to not hit the practitioner with a chair at the first suggestion. It is fecal implantation. That's right - forcing excrement up into a child's rectum and intestine. But not just any old excrement - the parent has to collect his or her shit in a bucket for a week, mix it well and then pump it into the child. The whole week's worth, complete with the fungal growth that forms on stools exposed to the air.
It is almost impossible to believe that this idea did not come from the mind of someone who hates children so much that he wants to see them abused. (And I would assume that the practitioner would want to watch or even do the "implantation" himself.) Anyone promoting this should be locked up, preferably in a prison with a reputation for very harsh and insensitive treatment of child sexual abusers so that they can experience at first hand the sensation of forced rectal insertion. I don't usually condone violence, but when it comes to clear cases of child abuse because of some insane ideological opposition to the reality of scientific medicine I am prepared to make an exception.
Let's end on a more hopeful note (18/12/2010)
A stained glass window that I would like to see but doubt I ever will.
Bangles mangled, lies are balanced by truth (22/12/2010)
By Matt Golding at the SMH
Power Balance admits no reasonable basis for wristband claims, consumers offered refunds
Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.
As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled.
Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd claimed the wristbands improve balance, strength and flexibility and worked positively with the body's natural energy field. It also marketed its products with the slogan "Performance Technology". The ACCC raised concerns that these claims were likely to mislead consumers into believing that Power Balance products have benefits that they do not have.
"Suppliers of these types of products must ensure that they are not claiming supposed benefits when there is no supportive scientific evidence," ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said today.
"Consumers should be wary of other similar products on the market that make unsubstantiated claims, when they may be no more beneficial than a rubber band," Mr Samuel said.
Power Balance has admitted that there is no credible scientific basis for the claims and therefore no reasonable grounds for making representations about the benefits of the product. Power Balance has acknowledged that its conduct may have contravened the misleading and deceptive conduct section of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
The Power Balance wristbands were widely promoted in the media by various sporting celebrities. The wristbands were sold around Australia in sporting stores and also on the Power Balance website www.powerbalance.com.au
"When a product is heavily promoted, sold at major sporting stores, and worn by celebrities, consumers tend to give a certain legitimacy to the product and the representations being made," Mr Samuel said.
"Retailers that continue to sell the product with misleading representations on the packaging are warned that they may be open to action from the ACCC," Mr Samuel said.
To address the ACCC's concerns Power Balance has provided the ACCC with court-enforceable undertakings that it will:
Consumers with refund enquiries can call Power Balance on 1800 733 436.
And look for this advertisement in a magazine near you. Then laugh.