Archive for July, 2009

Homeopathy for Emergencies???

Homeopathy is the process by which a tiny drop of an active ingredient is diluted in water until there isn’t even a molecule of the substance left, and then calling that medicine. It’s laughable, it’s pre-scientific magical thinking, it’s completely without evidence, and yet the idea that it works persists.

I recently came across this article, in which the author, who apparantly works at a hospital in India that incorporates homeopathy with traditional medicine, believes that homeopathy is useful in emergency medicine:

I have been hospital-based and practically living on campuses of various hospitals for the last ten years. I can assure you that this is not exactly pleasant; nor has it been a necessity forced on me by circumstances; I have done it only to experience firsthand and at close quarters the power of homeopathy in critical moments of life and death. The experiences have destroyed the last vestiges of doubt about whether homoeopathy works in critical situations. I believed that the Law of Similars of the chronic conditions should work in acute situations too. If it did not, then there were only two conclusions. Either we do not know the way of practicing homeopathy in critical situations or the science of homeopathy was incomplete and had a serious limitation.

Uh-huh…

Homeopathy

Perhaps homeopathy appears to work when used alongside conventional medicine, but IT’S JUST WATER!!! Sometimes satire is the best way to make a point, so have a look at this video to see what would really happen in a homeopathic ER.

Newspaper Apologizes for Starting Prime Minister’s Wafer “Scandal”

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a very strange news story in which there were reports of outrage over Prime Minister Stephen Harper not eating a communion wafer.

Communion Wafer Stephen Harper

Now, the newspaper that ran that story is apologizing to the Prime Minister,

The Telegraph-Journal, based in Saint John, yesterday disavowed the tale, saying it “sincerely apologizes to the Prime Minister for the harm that this inaccurate story has caused.”In a rare front-page apology, the newspaper said the story “should not have been published.

“We pride ourselves in maintaining high standards of journalism and ethical reporting, and regret this was not followed in this case,” the newspaper said.

Kudos to the paper for not burrying the retraction in the back pages.

This story is no longer about the communion wafer, but instead about the state of journalism in our country. This is an example of how accurate reporting gets lost in the editing process:

“Our reporters Rob Linke and Adam Huras, who wrote the story reporting on the funeral, did not include these statements in the version of the story that they wrote. In the editing process, these statements were added without the knowledge of the reporters and without any credible support for them,” the newspaper said.

It’s difficult to trust newspapers with the knowledge that editors are sometimes willing to simply make something up in order to sell more copies. We’re living in an interesting time in which print journalism is in decline and the best reporting is now sometimes coming from amateurs posting on blogs (I’m not talking about mine here!).

Beware the Spinal Trap

The article pasted below was written by Simon Singh and published in The Guardian on April 19, 2008. Singh was pointing out the fact that chiropractors promote treatments that have no basis in evidence. After this article was published, rather than presenting any evidence, the British Chiropractic Association sued him for libel.

British libel laws are such that the burden of proof is on the defendant (in other words they are presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence), and that the plaintiff carries almost no risk. These cases are usually settled out of court because of the tremendous expense imposed upon the defendant, but in this case Singh has decided to fight the suit in order to bring attention to the unjust libel laws.

By suing Singh for libel, the BCA was attempting to silence their critics. But this case is an example of the Streisand Effect, in which the attempt to hide information results in the information being reproduced and brought further into the light. In a show of solidarity with Singh’s mission of championing evidence-based medicine and bringing attention to the ridiculous British libel laws, bloggers everywhere are reproducing the infamous article. I’m posting the version of the article that has had the libelous sentences removed, but for the unedited version, see Orac‘s blog.

One more thing before I let you read the article…please click below to sign a petition (if you agree) to keep libel laws out of science.

free debate

Beware the spinal trap

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Saturday April 19 2008

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

“You can always change your mind”

Last week at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival I was walking around with a friend taking it all in, when a street musician asked us if we wanted to see a trick. I love magic so I would have loved to stop, but my friend was on a mission and politely declined. That’s when the magician said this:

“You can always change your mind.”

I turned around and flashed him a huge smile before my friend dragged me away.

He had summed up the philosophy I now try to live by. Changing my mind is what it means to be a skeptic. It’s about basing my knowledge on evidence and new information, and being open-minded enough to change my mind in spite of  my prior beliefs.

Cheers  to you, Mr. Fringe  Magician Dude!

Conversation with Thunderf00t Absent from Ray Comfort’s Newsletter

I found it strange that Ray Comfort neglected to even mention the conversation he had with Thunderf00t in his weekly newsletter. It’s as if it never happened! Comfort mentioned during the recording that he had cameras filming it as well, but there’s nothing new on his YouTube channel. I also couldn’t find any mention of it on his website.

I suspect that they’re going to edit it and play around with some ominous music and release a video making it look like Thunderf00t thinks rape is good or something…we’ll see.

I did have a laugh reading their newsletter when I read this quote by Charles Spurgeon that they had posted:

“I am sure our Lord Jesus Christ does not want His ministers to deliver magnificent orations, spread-eagle sermons, with long and elaborate sentences in them. He wants them to just come and talk as He talked, in all simplicity, so that the very poorest and most illiterate of their hearers may understand their meaning, embrace the Truths of God they proclaim and find everlasting life in Him of whom they speak.”

I see so they’re targetting the illiterate, that explains why they always sound like they’re speaking to children. How insulting! Kirk Cameron says:

We must remember that it is not the wise, the mighty, and the noble that God has called, but rather the foolish, weak, and the base, so “that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

There’s one way to weasel out of speaking to someone who will actually critically analyze what you’re saying. But what does this say about how they think of the people they do approach?

Cameron also typed out this gem: “The Pharisees loved the sound of their own voices”…pot, meet kettle.

Kirk Cameron, everyone.

Family Guy’s Abortion Episode Aborted

Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane revealed on a Comic Con panel that Fox may not be allowing the release of an episode dealing with abortion:

“20th Century Fox, as always, allowed us to produce the episode and then said, ‘You know what? We’re scared to f–king death of this,’” MacFarlane said.

I’m completely against censorship, so I was hoping that they would cave and allow the episode to air, but then Fox released this statement:

“Fox will not air the ‘Partial Terms of Endearment’ episode of ‘Family Guy,’ but we fully support the producers’ right to make the episode and distribute it in whatever way they want.”

Pathetic! Seriously I think it’s impossible to offend Family Guy fans, why draw a line now? Hopefully this one goes the way of  “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” and makes it to the air eventually.

family-guy-censorship

Thunderf00t Converses with Ray Comfort

Pearlist (Physical evidence and reasoned logic supporter) youtuber Thunderf00t, and Creationist Ray Comfort recently sat down for a conversation. It’s really long, but touches on some interesting subjects so if you want to watch you can take a look here.

I always have mixed feelings about these discussions between, because it’s hard to see whether they accomplish anything. Neither is going to change the other’s mind, and Thunderf00t, by sitting down with Comfort, is in a way giving him credibility.

I thought it was an interesting discussion, and I found it easier to watch than most between creationists and non-creationists, mostly because it didn’t turn into a shouting match.

Here are some observations I made during the conversation:

  • Comfort starts off by poisoning the well, saying he thought Thunderf00t goes by that name because he “likes stomping on Christians.”
  • Thunderf00t drives in the fact that he doesn’t know everything, he doesn’t know why we’re here, but Comfort asserts that he does know. Comfort doesn’t seem to understand the difference between knowing something and believing something. Comfort even goes as far as to say that statistics show that more people believe in an afterlife. That may be true but the popularity of an idea doesn’t make it true.
  • Comfort reuses his tired old anecdote that if you see some writing somewhere you know it was put there by a person, therefore looking at the universe, you have to think that it was put there by something intelligent. I like Thunderf00t’s answer to this, and that is that we can deduce that a person created the writing because we have observed people doing this before, so it logically follows. So far we have no evidence that would suggest that an intelligent being created the universe, so it isn’t reasonable to assume so.
  • Comfort is always using special pleading.  He asserts that he knows the answers because god has shown him the answers, for example at 4:30 “He’s made everything clear to me.” Comfort’s use of logical fallacies such as this one throughout the conversation make it extremely difficult to have a reason-based discussion.
  • At the transition between parts 3 and 4, Comfort quotes Penn Jillette, and completely misunderstands the quote. It’s kind of hilarious and really pathetic.
  • In part 4 my desire for Thunderf00t to really go after Comfort is somewhat satisfied when he criticizes Comfort’s street preaching techniques. Watch this video for an example. It’s really dispicable how he makes people feel guilty, and then puts them in a position where they want to prove themselves to him. Comfort’s style of preaching is just plain mean, and he clearly makes people uncomfortable.
  • In part 6 Comfort really falls into his preachy rhetoric. He’s pretty pathetic to watch throughout the conversation, as he is always trying to change the subject while Thunderf00t is making a point, and when all else fails he starts quoting the Bible and talking about sin and the ten commandments. So sad.

I think Thunderf00t did well at driving in the point that what Ray Comfort is doing is retarding the advancement of human knowledge. He is claiming that the Bible has all of the answers, and thus discouraging people from free inquiry. Comfort is unable to see the world outside of the framework of the Bible, and I suppose doesn’t want anyone else to be able to either.

I think the kicker is in Part 7 at about 7:33, Comfort says “All you need is an overactive imagination to believe in evolution.” Replace the word ‘evolution’ with ‘god’ and it sums up Ray Comfort’s beliefs. In fact, believing in evolution does not require a lot of imagination because of the wealth of evidence to validate the theory.

Comfort seems to think that everyone needs some kind of god to have faith in. Throughout the recording he says that Thunderf00t’s god is evolution or science or time. But when one uses physical evidence and reasoned logic to form ones body of knowledge, faith is not necessary.

Brad Pitt Atheist/Agnostic

I knew there was a reason I liked this guy:

Brad Pitt

…It couldn’t have anything to do with the way he looks, no, that’s not possible.

In a recent interview Pitt revealed that he doesn’t believe in god:

“No, no, no!,” he declared, when asked if he believes in a higher power, or if he was spiritual. “I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, until then there’s no point thinking about it.”

I think it’s risky for someone whose career depends on people liking them to admit something like atheism, especially given the negative connotations associated with the word.

Good on you, Brad! (As if we’re on a first name basis)

Can Babies Understand Dogs?

Here’s a story I thought was kinda cute…

Babies Can Understand Dogs, Study Finds

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but babies might also really understand Fido.A new study found that 6-month-olds can match the sounds of an angry snarl or friendly yap with photos of dogs showing the corresponding body language.

The results, published in the July issue of the journal Developmental Psychology, suggest that babies can decipher emotions even before they learn how to talk.

“Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world,” said lead researcher Ross Flom, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Barking dogs

The study involved 128 infants, with 32 from each of four age groups (6, 12, 18 and 24 months), who had little or no exposure to dogs.

The babies first looked at two images of the same fluffy canine, one showing the dog in an aggressive posture and facial expression while the other showed the dog in a friendly stance.

The researchers wanted to figure out whether infants had a preference for one expression over the other before including the dog barks. They didn’t.

Then, the researchers played a 2-second sound clip of either a friendly or threatening dog bark while the child viewed the two images. In the next trial, the other sound clip (aggressive or friendly) was played.

The 6-month-old babies spent most of their time staring at the matching photograph, so a mean bark would garner a stare at the dog with the vicious facial expression.

“The six-month-olds would look in that direction and kept looking in that direction,” Flom told LiveScience. “The older kids would glance at it and then kind of look away as if to say, ‘Oh yeah, I get it, it goes with that face. The task is ridiculous. I’m going to move on and look somewhere else around the room.’”

Baby smarts

The results suggest both 6-month-olds and babies up to 2 years old could distinguish a rowdy bark from a benign one. But the older babies just showed their correct responses differently than the 6-month-olds.

Interesting study, but I feel like this article might be sensationalizing the findings of the study a little bit…I wouldn’t be surprised.

The headline makes it seem like babies have some kind of intuition that puts them in tune with the dogs’ emotions. However I read it more as providing evidence that babies are able to perceive threats, which makes evolutionary sense to me!

Religious Email Forwards

Like most people, I hate getting email forwards. But some annoy me more than others, and some just insult my intelligence. I got one of these the other day and I have to wonder if the people that send them are actually reading what they’re forwarding on to their friends.

The subject line in this email was “I love the message,” but I didn’t see anything about the message that was worthy of my love:

Concentrate on this Sentence

‘To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.’ When God takes something from your grasp, He’s not punishing you, but merely opening your hands to receive something better. Concentrate on this sentence… ‘The will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not protect you.’ Something good will happen to you today; something that you have been waiting to hear.

This is not a joke; someone will call you by phone or will speak to you about something that you were waiting to hear. Do not break!

Send it to a minimum of 2 people… JUST DO IT!

What a load of crap.

The will of god will never take me where the grace of god won’t protect me? Bullshit. You mean I’ll never be in too much trouble because god will always get me out of it? Pfft, talk about wishful thinking. Is the person that wrote this email living under a rock?

The thing that really gets to me about this email, though, is that it makes such vague claims about what will happen when you forward it on that if anything good happens that day people will take that as evidence of their god. That’s called confirmation bias, “a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and to irrationally avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.”

The person who sent me this email is one of the sweetest people I know, so I know her intentions were good. I just wish people would actually read and think about things like this before passing them on.


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