Saturday, September 30, 2006

Royal Show - Charles not amused?

I dragged myself around the grounds this morning - mainly to see the horses.
Checked out the marketting pavilion for woo. Was less prominent than expected - suppose they usually hold their own psychic fairs and here they have strong competition from the likes of vege peelers, dog fur removers, termite exterminators and massage sofas.

Was a slick Chinese Acupoint Massage booth set up like a progressive dinner. A front row stool offered a taster: "squat for a free neck rub" which progressed to the middle row: "sit on the chair and pay for an upper body rub" then at the rear were couches for the "full deal and hand over all your money rub". I decided to sample the reflexology. It involved some pretty unnatural things with my feet - hammering, rotation, toe plucking etc. At the end I expected a diagnosis but it was just all honest hard work and no woo. The masseur said they had flown in from Sydney for quick cash.

However, was not entirely disappointed. Found an Acu-Pal stand selling little bottles of herbal magic lotion for $20 (or two for $30). It professed "it's not a miracle ... only natural" and dealt with shingles, anaemia, cold sores, varicose veins, toothache, thyroid problems, peptic ulcer, warts, stomach pain, asthma and ADHD. A sign stated "According to Eastern Medicine all ailments are resultant from a blockage in the lymphatic system". Aren't they taking liberties? What about the chakras and qi?

I searched in vain for a woo show bag. Closest were "Fairy Tales" (complete with wand and a pink tutu), Magic bag (with cards, fake poo and blood capsules), Natural Lollies, and best of all, Idiot Bag (plastic roaches and a Dr Fart).

Homeopathic Hospitals Diluted

We all know how homeopaths are so proud of being supported by elite scientific figures (such as Prince Charles) and also like to claim legitimacy since they have five whole "homeopathic" hospitals in the UK. Well, sadly, it's now four. A campaign to Save Our Magic Delusions has been started to preserve this bastion of alternative reality.

[A spokesman for the Primary Care Trust] explained that the hospital as a whole was not facing closure, just the homeopathy department. The hospital also houses community paediatrics and a child and adolescent mental health service. Mr Thallon said in future all patients referred for homeopathy would be considered by a special panel to ensure their treatment was appropriate. "Homeopathy has been around since the 18th Century and has got a large body of very convinced adherents, but in the era of evidence-based medicine it's beginning to struggle a little bit, so I'm afraid that we're reflecting this in our decision."


This is obviously terrible news. Closing down a whole department that relies on magical nonsense and nonexistent remedies in favour of that nasty stuff like paediatrics and mental health. How could they? EoR also enjoyed the Primary Care Trust's spokesman's none-too-subtle dig at homeopathy: belief is not evidence, and this is no longer the 18th century (only in the minds of homeopaths do these two statements still retain validity). How could anyone perpetrate this travesty solely because there's no evidence for homeopathy?

EoR hopes everyone will calm down. He can't even see what the problem is. For a start, the homeopaths should be happy they're getting less money. Doesn't homeopathy teach that diluted substances are more powerful? So less money should actually go further. And surely they never need to get any more supplies in until the heat death of the universe? They can just go on diluting all the ones they've already got. For ever and ever and ever.

Friday, September 29, 2006

SolarisCare - Evidence Based Woo

The Mind&Body supplement in the West Australian for September 19, 2006 contains two articles espousing the wonderful work being done at the SolarisCare Foundation. Apparently, this is the new name for the old Brownes Cancer Support Centre at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (the linked website appears to have last been updated in 2004).

The first article is "Tackling Healing Feet First" about the wonderful magic of reflexology. Consider the logical impossibility of the following:

Maybe try reflexology, an ancient therapy that applies pressure to the feet and hands to promote natural healing within the body. Reflexology is considered a complementary, not alternative, form of therapy and was developed in the early 1900s.


It seems in altieworld that 1900 is "ancient".

The article doesn't claim reflexology cures anything, only that it is "used alongside" real therapies "to assist with symptoms of illness" (funny, EoR thought alties always lambasted real medicine because it only dealt with the symptoms, not the illness) such as migraines, back pain, arthritis, stress, hormonal imbalances and cancer. The Solaris support centre manager, David Oliver, is quoted as stating reflexology is not a cure, while the state director of the Reflexology Association of Australia (EoR imagines their AGM involves a lot of footsies under the tables) Anne Young claimed reflexology "was very successful in strengthening patients' spirits". Presumably, that's as measured on the ISO standard Acme spirit-o-meter.

More of this fatuous propaganda appears in the second article, "REDUCING CANCER ILLS" with the subheading:

New WA research is showing the benefits of complementary therapies not only for cancer patients but for their carers too.


EoR is always pleased to see research providing new information about disease, and new ways of tackling them. Research such as that discussed recently by Orac where breast cancer patients (in an admittedly small study) who only used alternative therapies had vastly poorer outcomes than those using conventional treatments. So, what new research has SolarisCare come up with to prove the efficacy of their magic methods? Yes, it's the altie gold standard of a customer satisfaction survey, as bravely pioneered by desperate homeopaths.

Cancer patients who have undergone complementary therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and reiki at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital's SolarisCare centre have reported a massive 50 per cent improvement in their symptoms. More than 800 WA cancer patients, who collectively received more than 2000 treatments at the centre (previously known as the Brownes Cancer Support Centre), were asked to respond to a research survey. David Joske, director of the SolarisCare Foundation and head of haemotology for Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, said the five years of research data into the effects of using complementary touch-based medicine alongside standard medical treatment had shown it was an overwhelming success.


"Overwhelming success"! "50 per cent improvement"! It's like an advertisement for soap powder. Dr Joske, however, is no fool and knows his science:

"We are using a scientific approach to consider the possibility that within each of us lies a form of energy that can be harnessed to benefit our health," he said.


Like fairy dust, EoR presumes. Or perhaps he could investigate the possibility that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists within all of us (it does, but science isn't going to prove it).

EoR would like to know: where has this customer satisfaction survey been published? How many surveys were not returned? What was the customer satisfaction level from those who gained no benefit or died?

The article is accompanied by a photograph of a Mind&Body regular, "Pranic healing therapist Rae Yorg treats carer Beth Douglas at the centre". Can you see the magic invisible undetectable woowaves?

Pranic woo

Skeptical Australians Double In Number

Astute skeptics who like to look at the details will have noticed that the skeptical bloggers at The Second Sight have now doubled, with the addition of Lucy Jr. to the contributors.

(EoR would also like to apologise for yesterday's multiple postings. Blogger is just weird at times. Either that, or it's evil spirits).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Faith in Dying

This Monday's Health Report dealt with the dying, rather than the living.

Dr Frank Brennan, who works in palliative care, shared some heart-rending stories - but his remarks along the way bothered me. Firstly, his admission that palliative care physicians tend to be opposed to euthanasia, and secondly, that this choice of vocation may be related to their faith.

Dr Brennan professed to humility: "there's a tremendous sense of professional humility really that comes over me often." But he also said: "because our confidence in dealing with so many of these difficult symptoms,"..."perhaps takes away the need then to, beyond the course of the ethics and the law relating to euthanasia, the need to even pursue that line of discussion."

Humility, or an overdose of confidence? Are palliative care doctors benevolent wardlords with the power to tease out rations of morphine, crumb by crumb - sufficient to maintain life, block bowels and induce dribble - but not for a dying wish? Wasted and desperate, the subjects linger on while their loved ones, pitifully coy, inquire after a "needle to end suffering". Did Dr Brennan not wonder why, if palliative care worked, this request for a needle was so familiar he had a rote answer "prepared and clear" ready to roll?

Eventually the dying are too weak to make requests, or too comatose. At this point euthanasia is no longer an issue, for, as Dr Brennan says: " the natural process of dying, already progressing, would inevitably lead to her death." Right-to-Lifers score again!

If hospices and their physicians in Australia are largely religious and keen to stifle debate, how is euthanasia to get a fair hearing whenever these experts are consulted? Is faith a barrier to humane solutions? Are vocations in palliative care sought opportunistically to indulge one's faith, defend one's faith (block euthanasia) and even to proselytize?

Lucy Jr.

Exclusive Manipulation

This week's edition of Four Corners dealt with the cult of the Exclusive Brethren. While their political machinations were mentioned in passing (even though they falsely profess to be forbidden from such worldly things) it was mainly about the controlling, manipulative nature of the sect and their successive leaders (including a recording of one leader giving an extremely drunken and incoherent "sermon"), as well as the terrible (and, one might say, unchristian) psychological damage they have done to families.

As evidence of the god-fearing, devout, wellspoken, holy christian people these cleancut demure souls are, take the example of a couple of devotees who noticed the camera crew filming in the street (as they had a perfect right to do):

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: As the Brethren have become politically more visible, Four Corners has been approached by former members, concerned that the real story of the sect's family values isn't being told.

YOUTH 1: Get out of here, or I'll boot the whole thing over.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Four Corners set out to uncover that story - but it wasn't easy. The Brethren wouldn't be interviewed, and their attitude to being filmed is hostile, as we discovered when we were quietly filming in a public Perth street.

YOUTH 2: We just realised that you're a camera crew, so we're just giving you crap.

YOUTH 1: So, who called you up here, who called you up here - opposers?

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Are you supporters?

YOUTH 1: Supporters of what?

YOUTH 2: Mate, just by the way, I'll just warn you, in five minutes, if you don't get off, you'll be very, you'll be...

YOUTH 1: Have you got a fear of the government of God?

YOUTH 2: Are you believers?

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: You're threatening us?

YOUTH 2: No, we're not threatening you.

YOUTH 1: Are you believers?

YOUTH 2: We are not threatening you - you are threatening us.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: No, we're not threatening you.

YOUTH 2: Yes, you are.

YOUTH 1: What are you doing here?

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In what way?

YOUTH 2: Yes, you are.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In what way are we threatening you?

YOUTH 2: Do you believe in God?

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Do you believe in God?

YOUTH 1: Get a real job, earn a wage, mate.

YOUTH 2: Yes, I do. I do believe in God.

YOUTH 1: Waste your film, mate. Poor cunts.


If you're in any doubt that some of the most evil acts in this world have been perpetrated by those professing the highest motives, you only need to watch this program.

Of course, the EB haven't neglected their duties to meddle in worldly things. They recently hired a private investigator to "dig up dirt" on the New Zealand Prime Minister, and rumours that her husband might be gay were bandied about. Now, while it might be smallscale political manipulation to suggest that the Australian Greens do obscene things with native animals (or whatever ungodly, un-christian-family thing it was they were suggesting had upset their holier-than-thou cherry-picked bibble wisdom), it isn't wise to go after the leader of a country.

Initially reluctant to distance himself from the EB (and their cash - another example of how uninvolved the EB are in the world and politics), the leader of the NZ opposition has now caved into pressure:

The New Zealand Opposition has cut its ties with the Exclusive Brethren. The Exclusive Brethren's fall from grace has been swift and dramatic. Just two days ago Opposition Leader Don Brash said he was not about to sever ties with the secretive sect, which helped bankroll the National Party's last election campaign. "Quite often I bump into those people... they normally simply say 'we're praying for you'," he said. Mr Brash says he now wants nothing to do with the Brethren or the underhand tactics he says they have used to influence the New Zealand political process. His colleagues say they have done more harm than help to the conservative cause. It is also likely they will also lose their exempt status under the labour laws, which has kept trade union officials locked out of Brethren businesses.


Since the Australian government is a conservative, god-fearing lot, the EB are probably in no danger in this country.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Zhentong Han: Tosser Spammer

EoR is receiving comment spam from Dr Zhentong Han in the following form (all links removed so as not to further Dr Han's plan to destroy Google by replacing it with links only to his commercial activities):

Hi.very good site.so what do your think about the following things:

Seven " facts "about acupuncture .

Myth: Acupuncture is widely used in China

Truth: Acupuncture is not widely used in China

Acupuncture is not widely used in China as a part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) - TCM also being a phrase that originated in the 20th century (1954). Acupuncture declined in popularity once scientific medicine was introduced to China." In 1995 the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) went to China and found that around 15-20% of the population used TCM (not just acupuncture), and that those people used TCM in conjunction with scientific medicine: what we would term complementary medicine. This level of use is at the lower end of the scale compared to other countries with advanced healthcare systems and it falls well short of countries such as Germany, Canada, France and Australia where the use of alternative remedies is more than twice that of China. China's use of alternative remedies is actually lower than the UK population's - currently around 25%.

Myth:Acupuncture can stimulate the body's own healing response and help restore its natural balance by "Qi"

Truth: There is no evidence for the existence of this universal energy("Qi")

There are no scientific instruments that can detect it. It seemingly can only be detected and adjusted by practitioners. It is not a falsifiable hypothesis (it can't be tested) and as such is meaningless.

Myth: Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese cure that has existed, unchanging, for centuries.

Truth: acupuncture was formalized in a complex way over the past 100 years, mostly in Europe and France and after the Communist takeover in China. Before that time there was no consistent formalization of acupuncture points or what each place was supposed to do. It was largely regional, and the thinking varied from city to city."

Myth:Acupuncture offers specific cures

Truth: Acupuncture doesn't offer specific cure .

If it has the effect of, say, releasing endorphins through the application of needles, well, many things release endorphins -- a walk in the woods, a 5-mile run, a pinch on the butt."

Myth: Acupuncture can claim to have an effect many condition.

Truth: Acupuncture can only claim have an effect very few condition.

If there is one area that acupuncture can claim to have an effect it's in pain relief. Although most evidence supporting acupuncture can be dismissed as anecdotal, trials have been done where acupuncture does show a pain relieving effect above placebo. The effect is not large, of the same magnitude as taking Aspirin or Ibuprofen, but nonetheless it's there and cannot be ignored.That's not to say that there are not problems with such claims however. Pain is an entirely subjective experience; it cannot be directly measured and the severity felt depends to a large extent on the patient's state of mind; which can be influenced by the practitioner giving the treatment. This leads on to the problem of blinding procedures with acupuncture. The practitioner is always aware of whether he's giving real or sham acupuncture and which patients he's giving them to.The pain relief effect does seem to exist; however, it's not clear whether it's a real effect of acupuncture or a strong placebo effect that's induced in the patient by the elaborate procedure of an acupuncture treatment

Myth: Acupuncture is very safe:

Truth: Acupuncture is not inherently dangerous but being an invasive technique, it is not risk free.

Haematoma may result from the accidental puncture of a circulatory structure. Nerve injury can result from the accidental puncture of any nerve. Brain damage or stroke is possible with very deep needling at the base of skull. Also rare, but possible, is pneumothorax from deep needling into the lung, and kidney damage from deep needling in the lower back. Needles that are not properly sterilized can transfer diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. There is also the danger, common to all alternative therapies, of not seeking proper medical treatment because of an over reliance on alternatives. Acupuncturists are not doctors and will not have the capability of diagnosing a serious illness from its typical symptoms.

Myth: Acupuncture is more effective.

Truth: Acupuncture is not very effective.

The practise is based on untenable principles and the small amount of evidence there is to support its use in pain relief can also be called into question. Although there are claims that it has a mild pain relieving effect, it probably does so simply because it's an elaborate placebo. Whether the mild pain relieving properties are of acupuncture are real or not, most claims for the efficacy of acupuncture are grossly over-exaggerated. If there is a use for Acupuncture, it can only be in mild pain relief. The question then becomes a matter of whether the cost of acupuncture for this mild pain relief can be justified

(Content from internet)

Bristol Chinese Pain relief Acupuncture


It was nice of Dr Han to admit he plagiarised his cut'n'paste essay from the internet even though he failed to credit its author (Wallace Sampson, editor in chief of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine).

Dr Han's website is a mess of bad english:

For a limited time, Dr Zhentong Han, the more powerful name in local alternative medicine circle, is offering an absolutely no-obligation FREE Initial Consultation (excluding treatment and advanced holistic exam). This is where you get to spent some time with Dr Han ,(former medical doctor and acupuncturist of 20 years), to discuss about the health concerns or to get a second expert opinion.


More altie lying: the consultation's FREE [sic] as long as you pay for only the treatment and exam (and how can a "holistic exam", by definition, be either advanced or basic? it's either "holistic" or it's not).

So take advantage of this limited time offer and come experience the natural benefits and results of time-tested of 3000 years of natural medical therapy from us. [...] I am dedicated to staying current with the latest advances in the profession.


Right: a "time-tested" (not the same as scientifically tested, incidentally) therapy that still has advances.

He appears to have started his own blog. Like all spammers, he seems to also have a fascination for sex (the blog is titled English Teacher in Shanghai but the URI is sexandshanghai.blogspot.com. Would you trust a man willing to use sex (at least in name) to promote himself to also lay his hands on you?

Elsewhere he spams comments presenting himself as the lonely unassuming misunderstood healer of lost souls (also at Dr RW and probably hundreds of other sites as well):

Dr Han claimed that he regretted deeply for the matter, but he didn’t want to get involved in this legal dispute, for the purpose of having a website is not to score high on the network, but to have more patients understand the most veracious Chinese traditional acupunctural techniques through his website, so to help more patients get rid of the pain.


Actually, google Dr Zhentong Han and see all the link sites and referral engines this man has posted his website to. EoR is amazed and wonders how this magical man gets any time to even see a single patient in between his spamming activities. Pretending that there's no correlation between search engine ranking and patient enquiries (and, hence, income) is either disingenuous, or indicative of an amazingly high level of idiocy.

He also appears to be quite happy posting anywhere he can, apparently encouraging people to bring their horses into his clinic to lie down on his couch and get a bit of needling, and quite happily and extremely accurately describing himself as a tosser spammer. Oh, the ignorance of the truly stupid and desperate...

EoR normally just deletes this sort of rubbish (and has done so in this case as well), but this man's stupidity and dullheaded doggedness deserves its own post. EoR cannot understand spammers (what sort of idiot markets his company by pissing people off, and by using a method favoured of illegal scams?), but a retarded spammer? Promoting his "service" by giving all the arguments why acupuncture is a load of bollocks? What does EoR think about this? EoR thinks Dr Han shows himself to be a prick in more than one sense of the word.

Dr Han failed to steal (sorry, provide an "unattributed quote") the following statement from Professor Sampson:

"I look at it this way: what if acupuncture didn't exist?" he says. "Would medicine or society be any worse off? If no one knew about it, nothing would change."


What if Dr Han didn't exist? Well, there'd be one less weasly unethical lying spammer (and tosser) and the world would be a happier place.

Thank you for asking, Dr Han.

Monday, September 25, 2006

print *,"Happy Birthday Fortran!"

Fifty years ago the first high level programming language, Fortran had its first manual issued in October 1956 (it was April 1957 before an actual compiler appeared). EoR first learnt to program in Fortran many years ago (specifically, a dialect called Miniwaft). Programming in those days involved coding punched cards using an unbent paperclip, sending them off to the West Australian Regional Computing Centre at the University of WA, hoping the card reader didn't chew the cards up, and waiting a week for the printout to come back with its list of compiler errors which prevented the program running.

Later computer users had it easy, what with cradle modems, teletypes and Basic's GOSUB statement. Then, of course, people started producing compilers that wouldn't even fit on a single 5¼" floppy disk.

And you try and tell the young people of today that... they won't believe you.

Patient Rejects Organ

In the quintessential "organ" transplant a man in China has successfully received a donor penis to replace the original which was damaged in an unspecified accident. Unfortunately, the offending organ has since had to be removed for psychological reasons.

Although the operation was a surgical success, surgeons said they had to remove the penis two weeks later. "Because of a severe psychological problem of the recipient and his wife, the transplanted penis regretfully had to be cut off," Dr Hu said. An examination of the organ showed no signs of it being rejected by the body.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Gentle, Natural Alternative

As all EoR's readers know, herbal remedies are more natural and gentle, and safer, than those nasty pills and pharmaceuticals that the Evil Medical Establishment try to push at every opportunity, and which always come with terrible life-threatening side effects.

For example, for pain relief, there's marijuana. For gentle relaxation there's alcohol, and for a natural weight-loss solution, there's tobacco.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is Edgar Allan Poe, from "Never Bet the Devil Your Head".

Mr. Dammit lay particularly still, and I concluded that his feelings had been hurt, and that he stood in need of my assistance. I hurried up to him and found that he had received what might be termed a serious injury. The truth is, he had been deprived of his head, which after a close search I could not find anywhere; - so I determined to take him home, and send for the homœopathics. [...] He did not long survive his terrible loss. The homœopathics did not give him little enough physic, and what little they did give him he hesitated to take. So in the end he grew worse, and at length died, a lesson to all riotous livers. I bedewed his grave with my tears, worked a bar sinister on his family escutcheon, and, for the general expenses of his funeral, sent in my very moderate bill to the transcendentalists.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Dopes and Ponies

A pony doping scandal has rocked the insular equestrian world of Jersey according to metro.co.uk (Pony doping scandal shock - worth viewing just for the image of "A pony: note the vacant stare").

In some kind of crazed mash-up of Dick Francis novels and kids books about ponies, the world of junior showjumping was stunned today by claims that children's ponies were drugged at a national championship. It is believed that the ponies may have been fed a fast-acting sedative to ruin their chances at the the British Show Jumping Association's under-16s junior championships in Jersey. The mother of one eleven-year old competitor is thought likely to be questioned by police, after witnesses reported seeing her giving several ponies what appeared to be mints.


One of the ponies apparently didn't like the taste of his "mint" and spat it out, which it is claimed was found to be acetylpromazine, a common sedative in the horse industry.

EoR's a bit bemused by all the upset about this. Doping in the equestrian world is fairly widespread (so he hears - EoR wishes to make it clear that he has never shot up anything or imbibed anything illegal behind the stables). Usually, however, the doping is being done by the competitor on the competitor's own horse in order to hype it up or calm it down (as required). A lot of doping is performed "legally" in that the presence of banned substances is only an offence if they're detected during a competition. Use prior to competition and allowing the substances to clear the body is not an offence (but could certainly be considered questionable). Since different metabolisms excrete chemicals at different rates though, sometimes competitors get caught out at competitions. Just as in human sport, the pressure to succeed can be immense and even at Olympic levels there have been doping scandals in the equestrian events.

Doping other owner's horses is far less common however, simply because the other people tend to notice there's something wrong with their horses and complain about it.

The woman at the centre of this scandal, and who is alleged to have fed the suspect mints, has been forced to come out and explain herself.

Eight days after the event, 36-year-old Mrs Baudains is feeling understandably bruised. "I did not feed those ponies anything other than Polo mints," she insists, after emerging to give her first interview. "Instead of pointing fingers at me, they should find out what the real reason was for those ponies being lethargic." With her shoulder-length mousey hair and oversized lilac sweatshirt covered in dog hair, Kim Baudains does not look like a typical horse-doper.


Oh, tell us please, what does the "typical horse-doper" look like? Then we'd all know who to look out for (EoR suspects it's someone with a shifty look and hat pulled down low over his head, and who does a lot of skulking).

Mrs Baudains cries, pleads poor, and berates the "Pimms Parade" - all those well-to-do moneyed johnny-come-latelies whose only merit is the possession of money. Yet, strangely,

Wealthy parents, she says, will pay up to £25,000 for their child's horse in the hope of winning local tournaments. One mother bought a pony from Mrs Baudains and insisted on a receipt. "She left that receipt on the dashboard of her 4x4 for weeks, just so all the other mums on the school run could see exactly how much she paid", she says.


So, isn't Mrs Baudains the one with the money (and the excessively priced ponies?).

EoR would consider anyone at a competition wandering around feeding other people's horses (and it is claimed that Mrs Baudains only fed the ponies of people competing against her son) suspicious behaviour. At the very least, you'd be pretty stupid not to think you weren't leaving yourself open to accusations of various sorts.

Mrs Baudains has learnt her lesson:

"Well, I will never feed a pony a mint again. It will be carrots from here on in. So many awful things have been said about me, I'm afraid the mud will stick."


A common way to feed substances to horses (such as medication) is to hollow out an apple or carrot and put the substance inside. Perhaps Mrs Baudains knows about this as well? Or is she really the archetypal naif ingenue?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Retreat From Reason

EoR discovered the Yemaya Horse Retreat while researching brain laterality in horses.

Have you ever felt that you and your horse should be able to form a better partnership? Do you want the horse to look at you as someone he can trust his life with, as well as a buddy, partner, and a creative individual who does "fun stuff?"


Stevi Weissbach, the author of this site, has some profoundly interesting ideas about achieving this goal. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be fictional ideas at best.

This means that if the horse is uncertain or feels threatened, he or she will do everything possible to leave the situation, by either leaving physically or dissociating emotionally. What dissociation means is that something traumatic has occurred so part of the animal’s soul has left its body for a period of time. Have you have ever seen a horse with a "glazed over" look, or they are completely panic stricken? A part of their soul will have left its body because it is no longer safe, given the situation. [...] Offer them your heart and with it, tell them of your spirit, your dreams, and what you want from the relationship, and they will tell you what they want if you are listening quietly. Horses are meant to be equals, as another spirit journeying in a world we have to share.


EoR has seen panic stricken horses. They are definitely not soul-reduced entities requiring chatting about dreams and so on. They are dangerous, thrashing masses weighing up to half a tonne expressing quite vividly their survival instincts.

In the article on "Intuitive Horsemanship" Stevi asks in the very first paragraph whether horses are telepathic. By the third paragraph (with no digression to explore any evidence) the 'reason' for their telepathy is being given:

The reason horses can communicate through telepathy is because they are honest with each other when they are scared, upset or content.


EoR could discuss lack of logical rigidity, the ability for horses to respond to subtle body language cues as a survival strategy, or wishful thinking on the human's part, but he'll just respond with the much simpler: bullshit. But wait a minute, the true believer says, you can prove this for yourself!

If you believe your horse can listen to your thoughts, try this.
Think of a task you want him or her to do.
For example: Walk on, or go forward.


Apparently this won't work if you don't "believe" in it, but any horse watched in a paddock for any length of time (usually quite short) will walk forward. It's not natural grazing behaviour, it's proof of telepathic powers! Try it - but make sure you believe in it really and truly and deeply, and trust wholly in the power of the magic fairy dust, and you'll see precisely the results you came to see). Of course, if this were really possible, predators have had more than enough time to develop their own horse-controlling telepathic powers: "Dinner time! Come over here!"

In the magic kingdom of Yemaya, telepathy (which is a given) works through the agency of auras (another given, of course):

Everything and everyone has an energy field. Some would call it an auric field. To "see" where this field starts on your horse, walk up to your horse from a distance. There will be a point in which you will notice your horse responds. Whether he twitches his ears, drops his head, or makes a "be-line" for the hills, he is showing you where this zone starts. Each being’s space is at different lengths, and everyone responds differently when their "energy field" is entered. When you know you have reached your horse’s auric field, you want to have permission to cross it. Stop approaching when you are on the edge of his or her energy field. You want to wait for a positive feeling that invites you to approach.

May the force be with you ;)


Telepathy. Auras. Energy fields. All much more likely answers than something so mundane as personal space and a survival instinct.

No! If you give out the right "vibes" then

He will understand that you are truly here to help him.


At least this claim gets supporting references. To Quantum and Subspace Biology (EoR's always wanted to meet a "subspace biologist" but, alas, never has). And a "crop circle research" site. Oh dear.

Meanwhile, Andrew McLean (The Truth About Horses, Viking Books 2003, pp20-21), who is not quoted on Stevi's inspirational site, says

The truth is that the horse has simply grasped the correct response during trial-and-error learning. The failure of horses to comply with the aids is often seen as a moral failing on the part of the horse, not a failure of the training system. [...[ Horse training is not a magical process; it is a systematic science.


Unless you happen to be Dr Weissbach-Doolittle, and can talk to the animals.

Letter From An American Ghoul

EoR always enjoyed listening to Alistair Cooke's longrunning radio essay Letter from America which was broadcast up until the presenter's death in 2004. Then news started coming out that Cooke's body had been involved in an illegal body parts harvesting scheme. And the saga continues, with claims of all sorts of fudging of details of his death to facilitate the scam (cause of death was wrong since the body parts of those who die from cancer - which Cooke did - are not considered suitable, age was fudged, authority was fudged). The company in the middle of this fiasco, Regeneration Technologies Inc, is denying all responsibility. True, they didn't fake the documents or steal the body parts, but it seems they certainly weren't very interested in verifying where the body parts were coming from.

Mastromarino, Aldorasi and two other BTS employees were charged in an indictment February in a Brooklyn court. All four have pleaded not guilty to charges of enterprise corruption, body stealing and opening graves, unlawful dissection, forgery and other counts.


It sounds like an awful 19th century horror story, but it isn't.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Flat Out Laughing

Probably old news to American readers, but EoR has just discovered Flat Daddies via The Guardian.

Americans. Always thinking up something new to keep the rest of the world amused and bemused.

Wouldn't it make more sense to send the cardboard cutouts off to war, and keep the real daddies at home?

Both Sides Now

Science fiction is a delicate artform. The author has to create a world that doesn't exist and quite possibly can't exist (think Faster Than Light space travel) while still maintaining an air of verisimilitude. Lesser writers just throw everything into the mix and hope no one notices the holes and logical gaps.

Even poorer quality hacks write some sort of fantasy cum bizarro philosophy, title it The Road To Horsemanship Series, 1.5. Right Brain / Left Brain, and get it published as a work of fact.

The horse, as with all creatures, has two sides to its brain; the left brain or logic side and the right brain or instinctive side. When a horse is thinking it accesses the left side of its brain. When it is reacting or listening to Mother Nature, it accesses the right-brain.


The left brain/right brain split is big news in its many applications to human activities, and is a particular favourite of lifestyle coaches and motivational speakers of all ilks. Never mind that the idea is a gross simplification with no relationship to the reality of brain functioning. As Wikipedia puts it,

One explanation for being so prone to exaggeration and false application, is that the left-right brain dichotomy is an easy-to-understand notion, yet is often grossly oversimplified and misused for promotion in the guise of science. This is often known as right-brain mythology, and is associated with occult notions such as yin/yang, righteous and sinister, and day and night. The research on lateralization of brain functioning is ongoing, and its implications are always tightly delineated, whereas the pseudoscientific applications are exaggerated, and applied to an extremely wide range of situations.


Including totally unrelated and untested situations like, oh, for example, training horses. While asymmetries have been demonstrated in many species, the situation is much more complex than a simple "switching" of brain hemispheres, or even that specific tasks are solely (or even always across individuals) performed in a single hemisphere. For example, people may be left- or right-handed, but the majority still process language in the left hemisphere.

Nonetheless, this horse site informs its readers quite confidently:

When a horse switches from right brain to left he'll do something unique...he'll lick his lips. This is an indicator that he has just learnt something. [...] Signs like licking of lips, blinking eyes and lowering the head are all good indicators that your horse is thinking or down-loading an idea, hence using his left-brain. When your horse is right-brain, his head will probably be high, his ears will be pricked, his eyes will stare, his mouth will be clamped shut and his body will be prone to flight. When the left-brain takes over a gain, you will see the opposite signs; the head will lower, the eyes will start to blink, his body will relax, he will lick his lips. He may even sigh or express air quickly from his nose. These are all clear indicators that he has thought about whatever it was that just happened and logged it away as something learnt. Whenever you are teaching your horse something new, it's important to give him the chance to blink his eyes or lick his lips after you quit. If you try to teach him something new and then move on again without giving him time to digest what you have just done, chances are you'll have to teach him all over again tomorrow.


This is an idea also promoted by Pat Parelli (in an article where he talks about desensitizing, pressure, and reprogramming, but he's really only describing the wellknown phenomenon of habituation):

Watch the way his mind starts to work. Every time he learns something, or his brain shifts from right (instinctive) to left (rational), he will lick his lips. Give him a few moments to do this.


Understanding learning and brain functions in another species is notoriously difficult (no one really knows what a horse thinks, nor is it easy to get a horse into an MRI scanner), let alone the doubts and controversies that still surround studies in humans. This idea of left-brain/right-brain "switching" as a measure of learning in horses seems to be some bizarre bastard child of the pop psychology personality typing, itself a bastard child of legitimate studies into bicameral brain functioning.

EoR checked multiple references for information about brain laterality and learning in horses to confirm these ideas (R H Smythe: The Mind of the Horse (1965), Lucy Rees: The Horse's Mind (1984), Stephen Budiansky: The Nature of Horses (1997) and Andrew F Fraser: The Behaviour of the Horse (1992)). Would anyone be surprised to learn that there was no information about this bizarre idea at all?

Indeed, Mr Parelli's claim (at the site above) that the reason horses need to be worked on both sides to learn something is due to their brain laterality is not supported by science.

"We look for myths that people believe, like horses being colour-blind - which they’re not, by the way," Hanggi says. "And then we test these things." [...] For instance, Hanggi wanted to explode the myth that horses can’t transfer information from one side of the brain to the other because the two sides aren’t connected. The theory didn’t make sense to Hanggi because anatomy shows that the two sides of the horse’s brain are connected. So she set up a board with two openings in it that revealed different shapes. Then she blindfolded one of the horse’s eyes. We [taught] the horse to choose one of the two different shapes until it consistently chose that shape," Hanggi explains. "Then we switched eyes and tested it, and it chose the right one right away."


The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says about lip-smacking horses:

Alpha horses confirm their dominance by moving their subordinates into retreat with a threatening gesture. No one has permission to step into their personal space uninvited. After retreating, the subordinate will open and close his mouth in a chewing motion. It is one of the ways he acknowledges the alpha, and we see it frequently in training. [...] The horse has a far smaller ratio of brain size to body size than the human. Much of the human’s comparatively large brain is dedicated to the thought processing cerebrum. This area controls memory, communication, and association. The horse’s brain, however, is largely cerebellum, the part that is responsible for gross muscle co-ordination, balance, and body functions, and thought to be involved in learning patterns of movement. We can’t count on our horses to interpret and reason through a skill that we are teaching them. Horses learn by repetition and drill, and come to associate cues with movements. In the human, there is a mass of neural fibres that connect and communicate between the two hemispheres of the brain. There are relatively few of these connective fibres in the equine brain, which would suggest there’s also less transfer of information from one side to the other


In The Truth About Horses: A Guide to Understanding and Training Your Horse (Viking, 2003), Andrew McLean writes (p107):

When the horse is developing the beginnings of a clear learned response, it may emit a long snort. This shows that it is breathing easily. The horse may even shake its neck slowly, or lick its lips; these are all signs of relaxation, and indicate that a clear response is emerging from the signal. [The training] should be repeated for three or so sets of five improved or correct responses daily for three or four days.


and (p124):

The horse requires repetition and practice to develop clear habits. Most of all it requires time. Too many responses too quickly can mentally tire a young or inexperienced horse. [...] Correctly trained horses usually return from a break in training as good as or better than when they left in terms of their trained responses, because of the consolidation that occurs during the rest period. Some trainers believe that during the turn-out the horse "thinks" about its training, but this is unlikely given what we know about the horse's mental processes. Rather, the consolidation is the result of the maturation of newly laid-down neural pathways in the horse's brain.


In The Horse's Mind Lucy Rees writes (p73-75):

Other mouth movements of a less dramatic kind are seen in horses that are relaxing after being tense. Tense horses tend to stiffen the jaw and neck especially, and when the tension dies down they will often make small munching movements, much as we wriggle our shoulders after they have been held stiffly.


So: is there any evidence that horses learn by transferring ideas from their right brain hemisphere to the left, while also smacking their lips to indicate that the idea has "downloaded" to their permanent file storage area? No. Is ensuring horses are relaxed during training a good thing? Yes. Is the first idea a fabulation based on a misinterpretation, while the second is an observation of actual behaviour. Yes.


Left Brain Right Brain: Fact or Fiction?
'Right Brain' or 'Left Brain' - Myth Or Reality?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Reinventing Naturopathy

Naturopaths are fond of presenting a veneer of science: they like quoting scientific studies that support their particular views and which, especially, support the use of the products they sell. When studies come along that contradict their worldview, or present evidence that doesn't meet with their expectations, that thin veneer is quickly lost.

New Scientist recently published an article discussing the evidence for the use of antioxidants (subscription required, but large quotes can be found at Later On). Reported in the West Australian's Mind&Body supplement for 12th September 2006:

The controversial article penned by Lisa Melton, from the London-based Novartis Foundation, looked at disagreement between the vast body of epidemiological studies and randomised clinical trials for the prevention of diseases by anti-oxidants. It concluded that while the epidemiological (or population-based) evidence linking dietary anti-oxidant intake and the reduced incidence of a range of diseases is strong, when such anti-oxidants have been extracted, purified or synthesised and put into supplements, the results, according to the randomised clinical trials (RCTs) do not produce the same benefits and may even be harmful.


One of these studies was performed in EoR's home state by Dr Ian Puddey at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. It found that a trial of vitamin C and grapeseed extract on 69 patients with medically treated hypertension resulted in a significant increase in blood pressure.

Now, of course the beauty of science is that results are published so that others can confirm them, replicate them or dispute them. Naturopaths take it a step further: in their version of science, the results are already known, and any studies or suggestion that these results may not exist cause naturopaths to run around like headless chickens.

The Mind&Body supplement quotes from NutraIngredients.com in order to "present the other side of the story". New Scientist slams antioxidant supplement benefits as 'myth' and Antioxidant supplements - myth or misunderstood?. The naturopaths are seeming to argue for a homeopathic-type effect for their "scientific" products (of course, the two arguments are mutually exclusive):

Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA from NOW Foods, said: "It is telling that much of the criticism of antioxidants comes from science that is testing single nutrients, using a drug model. But knowledgeable antioxidant researchers are aware that this is a 'family' of nutrients that can synergistically 'recharge' each other, making single nutrient studies fairly irrelevant as to the holistic interaction of these substances in vivo."


The following manufacturer of these products seems to be arguing both for their ineffectiveness, and that they should never be taken with real medicines:

Jerry Hall from Balanced LifeStyles agreed: "The supplements formulation, binders, whole food extracts, etc, would all play in the efficacy, the absorption of the nutrient. Secondly, as mentioned, the population used in the study surely would result in a negative result. And third, when vitamins are combined with drugs, both the drugs and the vitamins efficacy can be compromised."


Meanwhile, Henry Osiecki ("leading Australian naturopath and biochemist") is interviewed by the West Australian:

He said the dose of anti-oxidants required varied with each individual and medical trials gave everyone the same dose. Many people buying anti-oxidants over the counter could be doing themselves little benefit and it was best to seek advice from a qualified naturopath or a doctor specialising in nutrition, he said.


So it seems naturopathy, like homeopathy, cannot be tested because the same disease requires different treatments (just like homeopathy and - of course - it could still be tested even under such conditions), and it uses some magic energy or a "synergistic recharge" (just like homeopathy is claimed to work via magic potentisations). EoR also awards points for managing to get in the usual naturopath claim that store purchased products are worthless, but the expensive naturopath provided substances are really really real (just like homeopathy - sugar pills with no active substance bought at a store will not work but sugar pills with no active substance bought from a homeopath will). He also awards points for at least mentioning doctors at the very end (but don't naturopaths discourage doctors since they only ever do three hours of nutrition studies and what would they know anyway?).

Another argument being used against the article is that the studies haven't looked at the effect of antioxidants in a healthy population (note, in passing, yet another commercially vested interest). Which is not the point of the argument. If these naturopaths and supplement companies are so sure of the benefits of their products (EoR means the benefits to the consumers, not the benefits to the stockholders) they might like to fund some research and then discuss those results.

If you're really desperate, you could just claim to have a detailed rebuttal due any day now, and in the meantime make various ad hominen attacks: the author once claimed antibiotics were "the great warriors of modern medicine" (the point being?)and previously published an article where she considered the "possibility of 'antioxidant pills' being used to counter free radicals which trigger sleep apnea" - actually, this site then makes itself look really "amusing/interesting/embarrassing" (in their own words) when they quote the article to show that Ms Melton was reporting another person's speculations.

Or are the naturopaths just worried that the best way to get antioxidants, it seems, is through eating a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables? Isn't that the sort of non-drug, holistic view they should be supporting? The sort of view they always claimt to support? But which seems to be instantly forgotten when their cashflows are threatened.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Haunted Minds

Peter Brugger from the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital Zurich has made available a chapter he wrote for "Spirited Exchanges: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Hauntings and Poltergeists" entitled From Haunted Brain To Haunted Science: A Cognitive Neuroscience View of Paranormal and Pseudoscientific Thought..

Guidebooks to haunted places usually organize their contents according to geographic criteria or to the main
types of "paranormal" events a visitor is invited to expect. This chapter is intended as an introductory guide to the most
frequently and thoroughly haunted site, indeed, the cradle from which all hauntings ultimately emerge. It is the human brain.


Peter Brugger addresses the nature of the human being to believe he is the agent of a behaviour (he gives "facilitated communication", that wellknown con in autism, as an example), and "how smooth the transitions are from individual
delusions to the madness of crowds". The other mechanism of pseudoscience he deals with is "the pervasive tendency of human beings to see order in random configurations".

As a case study in the former, the tale of Ludwig Staudenmaier is given. Ludwig was initially ordained, and then became a 19th century scientist who became fascinated by the then trendy phenomenon of seances (oh, how little things change!), and then became a convinced believer:

Staudenmaier's initial insight into the central nervous system origin of his perceptual experiences slowly vanished. He was convinced of the possibility of photographing his visual hallucinations and is thus an unappreciated precursor of the more modern protagonists of "thoughtography" . He was also convinced of the possibility to move objects by means of his will, although he admitted that at times the arm of the balance he tried to psychokinetically manipulate in one direction maliciously moved in the opposite direction. Such instances of PSI-missing (as modern parapsychologists would label the phenomenon) were occasionally followed by the appearance of a gnome sitting on the balance and grimacing at him, seemingly ridiculing his failed endeavor -- Staudenmaier had definitely lost the sense for the borders between perception and imagination, between experience and belief, and between volition and automaticity.


The same thing has happened with the burgeoning of "facilitated communication" (FC):

Nourished by the poltergeist within (the unconscious guidance of another person's hand), FC has thus
developed into a truly large-scale haunting. Propagators of FC behave like little Staudenmaiers; they are playing around
with a pervasive, powerful force the agency of which they deny. Like Staudenmaier, they have, as a community, lost the
sense of the borders between magic and science.


As a case study in randomness and order, the example of August Strindberg is offered, and his writings describing his own psychotic episodes.

The disastrous aspects of Strindberg's psychotic crisis involved painstaking delusions of persecution, encompassing the fear of being tortured, paralyzed or killed by electric currents, and a sometimes barely controllable urge to commit suicide. Those aspects of Strindberg's psychosis which certainly offered an "opportunity" to his writings are best captured in what is considered a key symptom of florid psychotic experience, i.e., a hightened awareness of the "meaningfulness" and personal relevance of any event together with the absolute conviction that no two things in the world are devoid of meaningful connections. Conrad (1958) coined the term "apophenia" for this manner of seeing and interpreting the world. He defined apophenia as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness" (p.46). Table 2 (see pages 17-18) presents selected descriptions of apophenic reactions from Strindberg's Inferno and From an Occult Diary (Strindberg, 1897/1979). The instances listed in Table 2 were elicited by visual stimuli of either highly ambiguous character (such as the formation of clouds, the patterns observed in rocks and pieces of wood, or the folds in a pillow) or whose spatial arrangement invites inferences of non-random origins (e.g., fallen twigs seem to form a symbolic shape, the arrangement of furniture is felt to carry a message). Apart from these visuo-spatial triggers of apophenia, Strindberg also described a vast number of temporal coincidences, of which Table 2 contains only one characteristic instance, i.e. the reading of the word "thunder" in a Bible verse coinciding with a clap of thunder during a storm.


As a final example, a computer tomography image of a "haunted scrotum" is presented:

haunted scrotum

Figure 5 (from Harding, 1996) provides a final visual summary of the main points discussed in this chapter's
three sections: (1) poltergeists are confined to one's own body, (2) an overinterpretation of patterns in chaos may give
the impression that they are "out there", and (3) as long as not indicative of obvious pathology, any ghosts would best
be met with a good portion of humor.


Of course, it may not be a testicular ghost. EoR has a nasty feeling it looks exactly like an alien implant!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Signs And Portents

EoR has been playing around with various sign generators on the net, following a link provided by BronzeDog. So he's managed to create literature for woos:

Reiki for Dummies

A business card for the modern professional health practitioner:

The new doctor

The official seal for alties:

Official seal

And a saying of the day for users of "complimentary" therapies:

Confusion says

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Never Need A Vet Again

Just out, and an essential addition to any horseowner's first aid kit, is the new edition of The Treatment of Horses by Homoeopathy by George Macleod MRCVS, DVSM, Vet FF Hom (though EoR is rather confused by why a new edition is required when the tenets of homoeopathy haven't changed since the days two hundred years ago of vital forces and magic essences).

With the aid of this book you will be able to save immense amounts of money, since you'll never need a veterinarian again. In fact:

It offers a speedy and effective method of treatment which can often deal with so-called 'incurable' ailments by the use of medicines that are absolutely safe, easy to administer and have no side effects. This book is the culmination of many years' experience of a very well respected veterinary surgeon who proved that the methods used are superior to all others.


Did you spot that? Not only can homoeopathy cure "incurable" ailments, but it has been "proved that the methods used are superior to all others". All others. No quibbling. Forget medicine. Forgot the scamsters claiming reiki, acupuncture, herbs, aurasweeping etc etc work. They're all lying! EoR wonders where this "proof" is, why it's never been published (other than, presumably, in this book), and why Dr Macleod never got the Nobel prize.

If you thought drops of water, or sugar pills, were only for mild ailments that would resolve anyway, and the main purpose of which is not to make the horse feel better but rather the owner, think again. The table of contents lists a plethora of applications, including open wounds of the eye, meningitis, myocarditis, hepatitis, bacterial diseases, viral diseases and just about anything you can think of.

But how could you not buy this book when there's an urgent exhortation from an animal communicator (who, herself, performs spiritual healing while chatting to angels): "Every horse owner should have this essential book to hand."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Man Believes Hearing Voices Makes Him Genius

EoR feels you can never have enough magic woo machines. Eventually, every home will have one of these incredible devices and no one will ever get sick again and we will all be at one with god(dess) and living in total harmony and bliss. Incredible devices like those proffered by Pillar of Light, a site that promotes post-Darwinian and post-Newtonian science, leading to such amazingly modern new concepts as feng shui, divine inspiration, prayer, meditation, crystals, chakras (this system is so scientific the author has discovered four new chakras that no one else ever has before) and Energy & Vibration. [sic].

There's the Violet Ray Crystal Resonator. A device inspired by god and Saint Germain and which is "compatible with the human aura". And what does our intrepid scientist exclaim when he perfects the metaphysical resonator? Eureka!, of course. More scientific information follows:



While communicating with his teachers & guides, Jack was taken in a visualization way back through time where he witnessed an ancient culture in an area that is now Bolivia. He noticed that everyone was wearing a hat or Skull Cap with a particular symbol made of some kind of metal on top. When Jack asked what this was, he was told thataaeons ago, mankind had once been able to receive high frequency GOD energies directly without needing interpretation or transformation. Then came a time that mankind "Fell from Grace" as many metaphysical sources tell, and that we could no longer receive these high frequency GOD energies as a collective whole. So in this ancient culture, the Shamans of the time were given the Symbol to be placed on the Skull Cap and worn by its citizens. This Symbol acted as a Step Down Transformer and converted full wave God energies to half wave that the people could receive and let in. It was a way of staying in touch with divine intelligence. Jack was instructed to make his Triad Antenna in the form of this ancient Symbol on their Skull Caps. He did so. Not only was the symbol shape needed but that Germanium Diodes and Amethyst would be necessary for adapting the signals coming and going through the symbol to the electronics of the VRCR.


EoR wonders why "god" energy is only twice the frequency of "human" energy? Hardly an omnipotent omniscient power level.

We are also informed, rather ominously,

Jack has so many stories, most of which are not written down at all.


Thank god for that! How much deranged quantum woo gibberish can one man spout, you ask? Well, even more than this (and EoR's giving only the heavily abridged version, the pages on this site go on and on and on - lots of word but no logic or sense).

What about the Dual Vortex Structured Water Machine which does something to do with "Dr" Emoto and his magic water pictures but EoR couldn't figure out what because his head was hurting so much by this stage. Though it does seem to be modelled heavily on Orac (this Orac, not that Orac).

Would anyone be surprised that this magic scientist recommends What the bleep do we know? as supporting evidence? How surprising. A mishmash of fictional and deluded ideas being offered to support machines made from a mishmash of fictional and deluded ideas.

Nonetheless, this man not only understands biology, electronics, chakras, auras, god and water, but also, apparently, string theory and the multidimensional mathematics required to explain it (which is way beyond EoR's mathematical skills). Why isn't this tremendously talented man Emperor of the Universe (except the voices probably tell him he already is)? And why can't the voices tell him how to spell Buddha correctly?

A Disagreement Of Naturopaths

Holistic medicine, as we all know, is thousands of years old. You'd think, in all that time, they could have at least come to some agreement about their tenets.

EoR has been reading a number of articles recently about that favourite altie practice, detoxing: Detox Delight, Brew It Up (both in the West Australian's Mind&Body supplement of 5th September 2006) and Spring Cleaning (in the September 2006 issue of Nova).

He now understands that:

The [65-hour juice diet detoxing] involved drinking only fruit juice in the morning and vegetable juice in the afternoon. [DD]


Doing a juice detox is not a good way to detox the liver. [SC]


[Tea and coffee] are very harsh on the liver and the central nervous system. [SC]


Anti-oxidants in coffee are being credited with reducing the risk of serious health problems, ranging from diabetes to heart disease. [BIU]


Caffeine, alcohol and refined foods were avoided [during detoxing]. [DD]


The last two quotes in fact appeared right next to each other on the same page. So who do you believe? Who cares, as long as the money keeps rolling in. And EoR also appreciated the candour of the naturopath who, unlike some other practitioners, at least felt you should keep your patient minimally alive:

Ms Oakes said her diet ensured the client got enough energy to continue their daily life.


EoR suggests the collective noun for a group of naturopaths should be a disagreement.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Secret Cult Runs Astronomy Agenda

So, the latest dwarf planet is to be named Eris. This is obviously a power play by the secret cult of Discordianism in their occult plan to take over the world and make everyone a Pope. POEE!

43rd Skeptics' Circle

The lastest Skeptics' Circle is available at Adventures in Ethics and Science. Go there and save a puppy's life.

Astrology And Fiction

EoR was recently browsing the September issue of Nova (so much for the alties who claim he has a closed mind - he just has a logical mind that sees no sense in the articles) when he was intrigued by a prediction in the Vedic Astrology column:

Individuals may experience some depressing nature as the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Ketu and the Sun are going to be together in Virgo


Hang on... Ketu? A little research quickly revealed that not only is Western astrology a fictional "science", but Vedic astrology even more so:

RAHU & KETU: Then we have two imaginary planets in Vedic Astrology called RAHU and KETU. Rahu represents mystery and cruelty and KETU represents Spirituality and Spiritual experiences. The position of these planets in different houses at the time of birth determines one's Destiny.


"Imaginary planets"? What the hell are those? How on earth (so to speak) can you determine the position of an "imaginary" planet at the time of birth? And what about the influence of Trantor or Arrakis or Old North Australia? Shouldn't those and countless other imaginary planets be taken into account? For those who are really interested:

Ketu is what remains of the body of Rahu. Ketu is a headless half-planet, shadowy as Rahu and malefic, though not as malefic as Rahu. It is therefore considered a moksha-karak (cause of liberation from the cycle of birth and death). It bestows spiritual tendencies, ascetism and nonattachment to worldly desires and ambitions.


All this pondering led EoR on to the larger subject of which is real? Western astrology? Vedic astrology? Chinese astrology? How can they all be true and yet all so different (though, unfortunately, this site refuses to deal with Chinese astrology altogether since "It is so different from others that any attempt would be futile")? They start out with different lists of planets. In one the sun is most significant, in the other the moon is. They have different conjunctions. And so on. Chinese astrology (and others such as Babylonian, Mayan, Aztec, Inca and, presumably, Eskimo) are all different again as How Stuff Works explains (when EoR visited this site popular searches included creationism, tarot and witchcraft - all of which must strain the definition of stuff "working"):

The Mayan, Aztec and Inca cultures of South America had complex astrologies based on a zodiac of 20, including symbols like the jaguar, the earthquake, the ape, rain and the dog [...] The Chinese had developed one of the most complex astrological systems by 1000 B.C., with some characters in written Chinese languages corresponding to their constellations. This system combined 24 divisions of the year with a 28-part lunar zodiac, as well as 12 branches that correspond to an animal.


Of course, in the world of woo everything is true no matter how self-contradictory holding such beliefs might be:

We are aware of the fact that in other parts of the world, there are great astrological traditions that differ from ours and are just as valid.

The State Of Astrology

Never let it be said that astrologers are living in the past. Okay: astrologers are living in the past. astrostarcharts.com still has a page on the astrological significance of the planets, as well as selected non-planets such as Pluto (well, only one non-planet - what about all the other Kuiper Belt Objects or the asteroids or the Oort Cloud?).

Pluto symbolizes the capacity to change totally and forever a person's lifestyle, thought and behavior.


Such as the changes astrologers have to make every time a new planet is announced, and every time a planet is demoted...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Future Of Health Care

The NHS in the UK have decided to streamline their health system by enabling people to manage their health issues online.

Unaustralian

Prime Minister John Howard has been voicing his concerns lately, including in a recent edition of Four Corners, about a certain section of Australian society which refuses to assimilate, to learn our language, and which goes about wearing strange clothes and following a foreign religion.

LIZ JACKSON: As the fifth anniversary of September 11 draws closer, the Prime Minister has highlighted his concerns about the Islamic community in Australia...

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: There is a section of the Islamic population which will not integrate, does not - does have values and attitudes which are hostile to Australia's interests, and I have said that before. And I would like the rest of the Islamic community to join the rest of the Australian community in making sure that the views and attitudes of that small minority do not have adverse consequences.


His comments have also been reported widely by the media, including in this article:

Mr Howard sparked controversy yesterday by saying on talk-back radio that a small group of Muslim migrants had refused to accept their adopted country's values and had not learned English. [...] "There's a small section of the Islamic population which is unwilling to integrate and I have said generally all migrants ... they have to integrate." Mr Howard denied he was singling Muslims out for criticism over the way some immigrants fail to integrate into Australian society. "There's a small section of the Islamic population which is unwilling to integrate," he said. "And I have said, generally, all migrants ... they have to integrate, and that means speaking English as quickly as possible, it means embracing Australian values and it also means making sure that no matter what the culture of the country from which they come might have been, Australia requires women to be treated fairly and equally and in the same fashion as men. And if any migrants that come into this country have a different view, they better get rid of that view very quickly. I don't retreat in any way from that. It doesn't involve singling out a group."


Of course, this is nothing new to Australians. There have been other waves of immigration to this country, and these have also included people professing un-Australian value systems opposed to the values of this country's inhabitants, who refused to learn the language of the country they had come to, who dressed in strange and inappropriate ways for our climate, who openly advocated and practised violence and who preached a bizarre religion and wish to convert the inhabitants to their particular beliefs.

Meanwhile, Kim Beazley, leader of the opposition, not to be outdone, has called for everyone coming to Australia, including visitors, to "sign up to Australian values".



The view from IslamicSydney.com

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Astop To Evidence

The West Australian reports:

Perth entrepreneur Kevin Parry is back in business, as thousands of bottles of his probiotic remedy to relieve asthma symptoms find their way back on to WA shelves after a three-year absence. After several setbacks, including a factory fire which stopped production of the supplement marketed as Astop, Mr Parry is preparing to float the company Astop Biohealth and launch his product in the US and Japan. The company has built a $1.5 million production laboratory in Belmont which can produce enough freeze-dried probiotic powder to make 8000 bottles of the supplement a week. Developed 4 1 /2 years ago by nutritionist Kay Whyte with financial backing from Mr Parry, Astop also contains anti-oxidants and vitamins. Although it is used by people with asthma to prevent wheezing, coughing and breathlessness, it can only be marketed as a complementary medicine which "maintains healthy respiratory function". But Mr Parry, whose son Cameron now runs the company, said people who used the medicine said it made breathing easier. He wants the State Government to provide a $1 million grant towards a laboratory in Peel to research the use of probiotics in warding off respiratory conditions such as asthma. "We've got the runs on the board after four years and while we don't tell people it replaces their asthma medication we believe these natural medications could help prevent a lot of hospital emergency visits," he said.


Incidentally, the printed version of this report included a photograph describing the product very clearly as a "medicine".

Probiotics to "relieve" asthma symptoms! As well as "anti-oxidants" and "vitamins". Developed, not in a research laboratory by a team of scientists, but by the brave efforts of a lone "nutritionist". And, although it can't legally be marketed as a medicine (because it's not) Mr Parry wants the taxpayer to give him $1 million to support his commercial, publicly floated endeavour, all on the basis of how people tell him they "feel" and his "belief" that somehow this magic potion will cut down on hospitalisations from asthma (which usually is the result of a little more than simply suffering minor asthma symptoms).

Can anyone else smell the reeking scent of woo, patent snakeoil, and also the possibility of commercial scam just to round out the efforts of deception and lies?

What they're not telling you is the extent of the impossibility of this "non medicine", nor all the telltale signs of quackery the company is giving out.

Astop Biohealth Ltd is listed in the Western Australian Biotechnology Directory 2005:

ASTOP BIOHEALTH LTD is an Australian biotechnology company that holds the world exclusive rights to an exciting new medicine, proving to be a successful remedy for respiratory complaints. ASTOP BIOHEALTH LTD has conducted clinical trials on more than 400 respiratory sufferers since late 2001 and continues to conduct research in the area of respiratory diseases and the development of its natural medicine. [...] Randomised Double-Blind Clinical Trials are currently being completed on 100 participants. [...] The ASTOP medicine is supplied as a free flowing powder in capsule form. It is not a puffer and it is not a steroid. ASTOP is a breakthrough medicine that targets the causal factors of respiratory complaints and has proven to be effective as a preventative medicine and also to provide relief from immediate symptoms. ASTOP is comprised of several beneficial probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and a homeopathic content. It is postulated that the unique synergy between the components stimulates the correct response of the Liver Enzyme System [thereby assisting the detoxification of Free Radicals]; helps correct nutritional imbalances and enhances the body's immune system.


That's a straight quote of the company press release (in fact, it's pretty much the only information they provide, being repeated throughout its various documents and websites). It's the Complete Woo System! It's homepathic! And what on earth is a "homeopathic content"? Does it mean the addition of a small (or even an immense) amount of nothing? Not only does it help "respiratory complaints" but it's a nutritional supplement to boot! Who knows how it works, but it's got "synergy", "stimulation", "detoxification" and, of course, it "stimulates the body's immune system". Oh dear. The only woo word it's missing is "quantum", but EoR expects that ommission to be rectified shortly.

There's a very minimal website for Astop (about as minimal as the evidence for its use) where you can either preorder the product, or view the Offer Information Statement (limited to shareholders of West Australian Metals Limited - which has "invested" $1,000,000 in what was then called Asthmastop, so you won't be able to get in on the ground floor of the next big advance in medicine just yet). The document provides some helpful information:

The formulation has Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) listing as a complementary medicine with the clailm "Helps Fight Mild Upper Respiratory Complaints". [...] ASTOP is non-toxic and has no known side effects.


Yes, it is registered with the TGA. There's no evidence for it, and no further information, just a registration number. But it sounds impressive, nonetheless.

On the Scientific Advisory Panel is, among others, Professor Marc Cohen, Foundation Head of the Department of Complementary Medicine at RMIT. Personally, EoR is getting sick of just how deeply mired in woo RMIT is. Do they not do any real science there? It should also be noted that a share float document is not a scientific paper or any guarantee of medical efficacy. A share float document simply needs to meet the legal requirements applicable to that form of document. Spruiking ASTOP in every venue except the scientific arena is a pattern: it turns up at the Real Estate, Lifestyle and Investment Programme, and at the WA Business News where it is bizarrely apparently being touted as the "answer to bird flu" (the article requires subscription, but the headline itself is enough to scare EoR). Even so, the claims have been considerably watered down from when the product was quite clearly intended to cure asthma (hence its original name, Asthmastop) to now when it simply "helps fight mild upper respiratory complaints".

Asthmastop, the precursor name to ASTOP, has its own website which describes the invention of this miracle product by Kay Whyte (aka S Kay Whyte aka Susan Kay Whyte - sometimes different versions of her name are given on the same page):

The inventor of the ASTHMASTOP medicine, S. Kay Whyte, is a qualified health professional who has had a career-long interest in nutrition, allergies and the enhancement of the immune system. In 1992, her son developed acute asthma and she sought to find a remedy to alleviate its impact on him. At a very early stage Ms Whyte recognised that there are a large number of triggers for respiratory system diseases that may operate either in isolation or in combination. She decided to tackle the problem from a holistic point of view (that is taking into consideration all aspects of a person's health and wellbeing, their domestic and external environment, nutrition intake and immune system balance) rather than limiting her focus to just the symptoms her son was suffering. Ms Whyte concluded that a multifaceted approach promoting beneficial bacteria, vitamins incorporating anti-oxidants and providing minerals to address deficiencies could target the betterment of the respiratory system and bolster the body's natural defense systems. This approach has culminated in the ASTHMASTOP medicine following a process that could be likened to that of Lorenzo's Oil. This dedication and research has now resulted in a unique medicine that may help millions of asthma sufferers not only alleviate their symptoms but overcome the cause of their respiratory system disease and breathing difficulties. This new nutritional medicine targets the causal factors of respiratory system complaints. A pilot study on children and a broad-based trial on more than 250 Australians has shown that the ASTHMASTOP medicine helps fight mild upper respiratory complaints with outstanding success. Results in both the pilot study and the broad-based trial showed a benefit in over 70% of trialists - ranging from moderate benefit to total relief of breathing difficulties.


It's the Lorenzo's Oil of asthma treatments! It cures asthma (at least, that's what EoR takes "overcome the cause of their respiratory system disease" to mean, even though the same page goes on to vaguely claim only a mild effect on upper respiratory tract complaints). It's holistic! And multifaceted! It's made from vegetable products, not animal, so it won't cause allergies (of course, no plant material has ever caused any sort of allergic reaction - which just about shows the level of scientific understanding of the people behind this commercial). Ms Whyte "recognised" that asthma is caused by a range of triggers. Didn't she "recognise" that this is already wellknown? And didn't she know that any doctor dealing with asthma adopts a "holistic" approach, taking a multifactorial approach to dealing with the complaint? Oh, she meant "holistic" in the sense of "woo remedy with no evidence". Sorry.

There is also the massively overwhelming clinical evidence. Well, if you consider unpublished trials with as few as 11 participants, as well as graphs that purport to show reductions in symptoms of around 70% (but 70% of what - the y axis has no units of measurement, only some unexplained numbers - are they cases? percentages? cosmic radiation levels? who knows). Elsewhere the site claims a 100% success rate with children. So is the measurement some scale of "success"? Despite claiming elsewhere that it works within 12 minutes (ignoring that many other, proven, relievers work within minutes as well), another unpublished study claims it is effective in reducing bouts of severe coughing after four weeks (EoR suspects a nice rest would work just as well or, at the very least, the figures for a control group should have been provided). A search of Pubmed showed, unsurprisingly, absolutely no published data about ASTOP or Asthmastop. In fact, this "nutrient medicine" is so effective, that users are strongly urged not to rely on it:

ASTHMASTOP users should continue to take existing medications as required whilst seeing how ASTHMASTOP works for them. ASTHMASTOP Ltd recommends that people always consult their doctor before altering any dosage of a prescribed medication (e.g. steroids).


So, keep taking the real medicine, take the woo homeopathic immune system boosting supplement, and credit any improvement to the latter. You know it's what is really making you better.

Let's see; what else would be a clear sign of no measured effect, no valid studies, and we really just want to take your money very quickly? How about testimonials? Yes, pages and pages of them. Why bother even doing any studies if people already think it's working its miraculous effects on them? Or you could present some vague scientific document in the hope that people will think it already has scientific backing. Oh, something like a University Pharmacy Toxicology Report. Nothing about efficacy there, it's just not poisonous (unless you have kidney disease). Or maybe you could go for the spruiking on lowgrade national "current affairs" television programs? Interestingly, this last page no longer appears to be extant, but a woo believer has kindly made it available on a page of, appropriately enough, suppressed cures (yes, so suppressed the company has a website, a previous website, stock exchange documents, articles in the state newspaper, registration with the TGA etc etc - must be some woo definition of "suppressed" that EoR doesn't know about - perhaps he means "suppressed" as in "all logic has been suppressed"?). Nonetheless, it's interesting to see how the claims about this wonder product have been toned down from the simply medically impossible (and dangerous) claims being made a few years ago to today's rather fey claim to reduce "mild" symptoms as long as you keep taking your regular medication:

Asthmastop is the new venture of Perth entrepreneur, Kevin Parry - the man who bankrolled our defence of the America's Cup in the late 1980s. Parry says Asthmastop is made out of a group of natural products that have special benefits for the body and treats asthma, "from the stomach and liver up". He's also prepared to say that the trialists using the product not longer carry their puffers with them.


People are probably better served seeking information about asthma from the Asthma Foundation or Asthma Research Online (but don't bother looking for Astop on either of those sites - they're obviously part of the conspiracy to suppress this wonderwoo).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Throwing Googlies

EoR has been playing around with Google Trends, and is reassured that the majority of people seem to have some understanding of evidence based medicine, or at least an interest in same. For example, internet searches for acupuncture, chiropracty, reiki, homeopathy, and western medicine shows that the trends for the woo alternatives have been declining for the past couple of years. "Western Medicine", as a search term, rates far below the magic options but EoR suspects that anyone seriously interested in that subject is more likely to look for information somewhere other than the internet (or, specifically, Google). The internet functions much better as a repository of delusional and unproven ideas.

google screenshot

Nonetheless, surgery is still a much more popular option to alternative therapy.

google screenshot

And, sadly, that renaissance woman, Hulda Clark, still has a long way to go before her worldsaving theories become as popular as Einstein.

google screenshot

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Monty Roberts: Saviour Of Palm Island

Monty Roberts doesn't just sell horse-stuff to the credulous equestrian set. He's also happy to sell his secrets of Equus to the business community. And his Join-Up® works for troubled indigenous populations as well.

Monty Roberts has been visiting Australia doing his Join-Up® demonstrations for the past 5 years, and it was on a visit in 2003 that the RSPCA Queensland asked Monty if he would help them with some cruelty problems they were trying to combat on Palm Island with the islands horses. Palm Island lays 70 kms off the North Queensland coast. On appearances Palm Island is the epitome of a Tropical paradise, in fact it could rival some of the great holiday destinations in the Pacific, with its natural beauty and tranquil coast line. It is the traditional home of the Man Bara people and there is as many as 43 different tribal groups making up the current community. Unfortunately for the island’s 3000 or so residents this natural beauty of their home can often be a huge contrast to the reality of their lives. In 1999 the Guinness book of world records listed Palm Island as the most violent place on earth outside a war zone. This violence has also made its way to the wild horses on the island. The RSPCA stated that this was the worst case of mass scale cruelty and neglect that they have ever seen in Queensland. The RSPCA and the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) had tried to rescue the horses from the Island before but they had no support from the local community, and their attempts became ineffective. Monty Roberts knew that to be successful in saving the horses from Palm Island that the RSPCA and the DPI needed the support of the community. He wanted to bring together two Palm Islanders who would have influence on the island, and an RSPCA inspector to become their partner. Two local Palm Island horse lovers Jason Thimble, and Noel Cannon were chosen to work in conjunction with Shayne Towers Hammond the RSPCA inspector from Rockhampton. The three were flown to Millamolong Station in the NSW Central West to attend a 2 day Join-Up® Camp Monty was conducting with some youth from the Charity group - The Exodus Foundation. The idea was to teach them Monty’s training methods and to devise a plan to rescue the horses. He also wanted to show Jason and Noel how powerful Join-Up® was with breaking through to youth at risk. Something they would be dealing with when they got back to the Island. During the course of Youth Camp, Jason, Noel and Shayne made a pact to work together to rescue the horses on Palm Island, and in conjunction with the Department Of Primary Industries several horses were saved, and have now been re-homed.


While EoR doesn't dispute the facts of this story, there's definitely a certain spin applied to the tale to show Monty as the Saviour whose miraculous methods succeeded where others have failed (and engendering a sense of failure is vital to "natural" horsemanship purveyors - they first have to convince you, like all advertisers, that you are lacking in something or incompetent in something so that they can push their particular brand).

Monty downplays (or ignores totally) the efforts put in by others to resolve the welfare issue of horses on Palm Island, such as education efforts by the local pony club, and ongoing efforts by the Department of Primary Industries, as well as a Shared Responsibility Agreement between the Australian Government and the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council. The ABC also provide a Monty-less report on this issue.

Monty's bravery in dealing with the "most violent place on earth outside a war zone" (even if he did most of his work well away from the danger area back on the mainland) is also highly contentious.

The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, Judy Spence, said on this day the facts about Palm Island highlighted the outlandish nature of the Guinness Book of Records' claim it was the most violent place on earth outside a combat zone. The 'record' was apparently based on an article published in the Sunday Times magazine in the UK earlier this year, but that article was discredited because it was founded on fictitious data, Ms Spence said.


That's a quote from 1998, but Monty is still promulgating that particular myth on his website and in his propaganda. The Guinness World Records 2000 Millenium Edition does not include the category of "most violent place on earth outside a war zone" so it seems at least the publisher was quick to distance themselves from the claim.

But Monty continues to push his own agenda forward.

Funnily enough, every time EoR types Monty, his fingers revert to automatic typing, and he wants to spell it "Money".