Friday, June 15, 2007

Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is George Orwell:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
  1. What am I trying to say?

  2. What words will express it?

  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?

  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:
  1. Could I put it more shortly?

  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lucinda McAlpine

Lucinda McAlpine is a British Grand Prix dressage rider. She also seems to support some fairly outre ideas.

Having kept horses in the conventional way Lucinda has gained vast experience throughout the gradual process of returning many different breeds and types of horse to a more natural state, and as a result is more than aware of the pros and cons of both systems of management. She is also continually building a list of contacts in the fields of alternative veterinary medicine, which includes chiropractors, aromatherapists, acupuncturists, distant healers, Reiki masters, sports massage therapists and teachers of awareness techniques. The field of equine science is also expressing an interest in her work and she hopes to be able to link these varied experts through study and discussion days at Bowhayes Farm.

She espouses something she calls "intuitive riding".

Lucinda uses various techniques to work with both the physical and the mental/emotional problems with an aim to finding the best that the horse can be. The work is both from the ground and also ridden, as necessary, and she works from an intuitive standpoint using her bond with that horse to dictate the course of the session.

Sort of like Natural Horsemanship with added doses of newage platitudes, intuitive riding promises:

Today I want to present to you the idea that perhaps you are the person that knows best and with the help of your like-minded horse to mirror you, the solution can be found within yourself. If you can listen to your horse he/she will tell you the way to find the harmony you are searching for. No one can tell you about right or wrong - that is a question of your own perspective. We are all individuals with different likes and dislikes (Thank God, or all women would be after the same man) What matters is what makes you happy - what FEELS good.

Like woo, it doesn't succeed or fail. Whatever happens, intuitive riding is working! It's all about feelings, not achievements or goals. Call EoR an old stuffed-stick-in-the-mud, but he believes firmly in skills and abilities. Without the appropriate skills and techniques, a rider is simply an untrained passenger.

Undergoing a road to Damascus experience when she encountered a therapist who practiced "focusing" (whatever that is - EoR suspects it has nothing to do with cameras) she appears to have gone completely over to the Dark Side:

At this point four or five years ago, when she was beginning to question how things were done, that she was introduced to the alternative therapist, Trudi Hills, whose techniques include physiotherapy, cranio-sacral therapy and focusing. Lucinda explains that Trudi showed her what could be achieved by treating her horses in a more natural way. She also introduced her to work with a dog, where the horse and dog play and work loose together. 'In those days we had shoes and boots, and I always rugged them, all sorts of non-sense. So it was a bit alarming that I was taking them out in the field... to be supposedly chased about by a dog." The belief is that the dog identifies where a horse's tension lies, and makes the horse aware of them. The dog doesn't chase the horse; the dog may initiate movement, but the horse actually follows the dog most of the time.

You see: the dog knows where the tension is! It feels which is the correct way to train the horse!

Ms McAlpine has now evicted all the owners from her agistment centre who still had rugged and shod horses, and subscribes to the "encouraging the self-healing ability of the horse" fallacy (if that's true, why do they get sick? why does she need therapists?).

The woo doesn't just stop at touchy-feely newage horsemanship platitudes. She also links to and utilises the services of Roger Meacock MRCVS (a qualification that indicates he should know better):

This then leads to both horse and rider being treated by Roger Meacock MRCVS, of Natural Healing Solutions, with the Scenar. This is a hand-held electrical device, which uses frequency and electrical properties to find out where tissue is not functioning properly. "This can be skin, muscle, bone, cartilage, even organs," he explained. "The Scenar then sends signals set to mimic nerve impulses. These cause the body to release endorphins and neuropeptides into the system, and to heal itself." Lucinda sees the Scenar as an essential tool in her work.
Susannah Commings: Intuitive Horsemanship (Horse and Rider, July 2007)

So much for the body being able to heal itself. The Scenar is the more expensive version of the ENAR. Its principles and plausibility are the same. And isn't there something a trifle unethical about a veterinarian "treating" a human with this magic machine?

At Dr Meacock's website there is a quote:

Oxygen deficiency: "the single greatest cause of all disease" Dr Steven Levine, USA

Hang on. What's the Scenar doing then? It's electrical? Does it somehow generate oxygen in the body? And why can't the body's "ability to heal itself" simply generate the required oxygen? Or, could it be, just possibly, that this is a whole load of barely plausible ideas thrown together to give an air of scientific authenticity? Though Dr Meacock also claims:

There are very few conditions that the body cannot recover from given the correct energetic input.

He doesn't state which those conditions are, however. Dr Meacock provides further advice about how his non-standard methods work (sorry - help the body to heal itself!):

Pain relief is extremely effective with Scenar. By triggering the body to heal itself at the DNA level, Scenar treatment will not mask an underlying problem but forces the body to address it, reversing the pathology.

Yes! The Scenar can alter DNA!

Dr Meacock has also fallen for (or at least, he promotes) the use of magical software that does incredible homeopathic healing with energies:

e-Lybra® 8 is a groundbreaking, fully automatic PC-based energy-balancing and complex homeopathic remedy production system. e-Lybra® 8 checks the database of around 200,000 different energy signatures including physical and psychological disorders, allergies, poisonous substances, viral, bacterial, parasitic and other infections against the energy field of the individual to establish which signatures are required to help energetically balance that individual. e-Lybra® 8 makes bespoke complex homeopathic type remedies, determined by the fully interactive electronic biofeedback equipment. Remedies can be produced using a hair sample as a witness or from distance radionically using personal details. Various different technologies have arisen from the original e-Lybra® technology. These include the e-Lybra® iPod which uses an iTrip to broadcast various formulae constructed to help balance individuals suffering from a range of commonly encountered health problems.

Homeopathy. Energies. Frequencies. Distant healing. And why doesn't Dr Meacock include the mandatory ® for the iPod®? Doesn't he realise that's a trademark as well?

Dr Meacock, who clearly has forgone everything he once learnt, also promotes herbs (but these are Indian ayurvedic herbs), oxygen therapy, and orgone energy. The page also mentions something really bizarre: "aerobic oxygen". EoR's always preferred that to the anaerobic variety.

Meanwhile, the RSPCA in the UK warn More than 200 dog attacks on livestock in UK.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Liz Ditz alerted EoR to Cellfield. Aimed at dyslexics, Cellfield states:

This is why Cellfield has developed a program that targets phonological awareness in a unique way, freeing working memory for better comprehension and enhanced language skills. This is why after only two weeks, decoding skills can improve by almost two years and comprehension can improve by one year, whether your child is normal or dyslexic. (See The Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities Vol 10 issue 2).

Cellfield was developed by Dimitri Caplygin, a Science and Engineering graduate of UNSW. In a worrying example of how people with little experience in a specific area suddenly "see" the solution that the experts fail to notice, he states:

A chance encounter with severe reading disorders provided that connection in an emotive way, which led to that familiar inventive 'flash'. Dimitri was moved by the widespread suffering of dyslexics and was bewildered by the positions of exclusivity taken by many scientists as to the causes of dyslexia. With the fresh eyes of an outsider, Dimitri thought their positions were largely not contradictory, but part of a continuum of causes that could be tied together through computer science.

Such an insight is not, of course, impossible, but it is also one of the cardinal signs of "theories" and therapies lacking evidence. The FAQ is more marketing-oriented, rather than providing information.

Why does Cellfield work?

Brain scanning research shows a 'bottleneck' in areas where 'cross-communications' between the auditory, visual and motor functions normally take place. Addressing this neural abnormality is critical to the development of language skills. Cellfield is the first to target these 'cross communications' by simultaneously activating visual, auditory and motor pathways. Cellfield's research based design also induces attention, expands working memory and provides novelty with reward.

EoR was a little concerned about this sentence though, on success rates:

For illustration, somebody claiming a 90% success rate targeting a subgroup that represents only 20% of the reading disorder population is only an 18% success rate.

No. It's a 90% success rate in a specified subgroup. Extrapolating that success rate unmodified to different groups is unwarranted. It may be more successful in a different population group. It might be less successful. It might have the same success rate. This is the sort of error journalists fall into ("a study shows 90% of us are in danger of..." when it's actually 90% of middle-aged executives with prior heart problems, or so on) but EoR wouldn't expect a trained Engineer and Scientist to fall for it.

The only published evidence appears to be a Peer-reviewed and published study of 262 subjects who completed Cellfield Intervention, Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities Volume 10 - Number 2, 2005 which Cellfield makes a copy available of on its site.

The study provides this description of the Cellfield Intervention:

The intervention comprises ten one-hour sessions, each consisting of ten exercises. Some of these target phonological processing, requiring the concurrent activation of visual and auditory processing. Other exercises involve decoding and encoding activities using tasks such as finding text embedded in continuous random text without spacing. Motion graphics designed to stimulate the magnocellular pathways and other visual exercises requiring eye/hand coordination are also incoroporated into each session.

The children involved in the study were 187 males and 75 females ranging in age from 7 to 17 "who undertook intervention at the Cellfield Clinic at some time during a 24-month period". There was no control group. While impressive gains were made, the Discussion at the end of the study (EoR wonders if any of the parents considering using the Cellfield Intervention will bother to read the report, or make it to the end) is cautionary:

Notwithstanding these impressive results, there are several limitations to this study that should be taken into consideration. Firstly, a convenience sample of those seeking intervention for reading difficulties was employed. Thus, the generalizability of these results is uncertain. The students who undertook the Cellfield treatment during the span of this study may be peculiar to the population of Australian students who experience difficulty learning to read. The Cellfield Intervention is a commercial venture that requires a certain monetary investment on behalf of parents and thus the participants in the present study's sample may be representative of those who have reading difficulties but who have the financial resources to ameliorate their predicament.

The study also notes that longterm benefits, if any, have not been established. Furthermore, some of the scales used to measure improvement were based on norms established in US and British populations.

On its links page, Cellfield claims support from authorities such as Professor John Stein at Oxford University and Professor Max Coltheart at the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science. EoR could locate no reference to Cellfield at either of the relevant Professors' sites.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

EoR Attends Rehab

The University of Missouri-Columbia's Region VII Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program provides an interesting history of rehabilitation.

Early healers used a "naturalistic system" based on observation of events and "what seems to make sense". Today their advice sounds like bizarre folk remedies, but these physicians were trying to do the same things modern physicians are - reduce suffering by treating symptoms with prescriptions. The illnesses they treated include both "acute disease" (broken bones, abdominal pains, etc.) and chronic conditions, which we would call disabilities ("crippled", "possessed", "feeble minded", etc.). [...] Even though some of these prescriptions seem disgusting, if you look at what the writer says, he always talks about first listening to the patient's description and observing their symptoms. Next he describes a "diagnosis" based on the description, and only after that does he decide what treatment to use. Even though he uses very strange terms and treatments, he is using the same "systematic medical approach" that doctors use today. This is the beginning of medical care for people with disabilities.

Sadly, today many alternative medicine (an aside: medicine is "the science of preventing, diagnosing, alleviating or curing disease"*, therefore the "alternative" to medicine is not doing any of these things) still adhere to "what seems to make sense" and have made little or no progression since the first days of medical treatment (indeed, the older the therapy the greater the cachet it has).

Page three has some wonderful illustrations of medieval medical treatment that resonate strongly with the practices seen in the parlours of reiki healers and the rooms of homeopaths today:

At this point, society is still using magical thinking to understand mental problems, instead of what we would call science.

Even the anti-vaccination brigade have their precursors:

The "new inoculation" is one of the first vaccines - a small pox vaccine derived from the sores of infected cattle. Its development was a major victory for germ theory, but people were not enthusiastic about being injected with something so crazy and disgusting. Notice how parts of their bodies change into the heads of cows, representing the kinds of things people were afraid might happen to them.

EoR was also impressed by the advertisement for Hamlin's Wizard Oil. Was it really made from wizards? Or was it used to lubricate wizards?

Monday, June 11, 2007


The drought in Australia has become so severe that old Adaminaby, buried under water in 1957 to create Lake Eucumbene as part of the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme has started to reemerge.

Drowned 50 years ago for progress and the promise of near limitless water, the town of Old Adaminaby has re-emerged from its sunken grave as drought ravages one of Australia's biggest lakes. The country's battle with climate change and the worst drought in 100 years is stark at Old Adaminaby, where looters pick through the relics of a bygone farming town. On the floor of Lake Eucumbene lie the remains of an old truck stand on what was once a street and the foundations of nearby houses lie covered with cracked black mud.

Sadly, rather than highlighting the necessity to do something about global warming now (a subject the Coalition government seems less than keen to address) the main issue raised by this situation has been looters.

Some of EoR's more erudite readers might recognise Adaminaby as the name of a port on Old North Australia.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Ultimate Out-Of-Body State

Sweat lodges are wonderful ways to get in touch with your holistic inner self. Native Americans had a way of knowing that was more holistic than Western systems of knowledge. Natural healing energies are more potent than drugs and modern hospitals. The body's own innate healing ability is more powerful when unhindered by Big Pharma poison pills.

Meanwhile, back in the real world where the rest of us are forced to live, the South Australian coroner is hearing a case in to the death of a man who collapsed in a sweat lodge ceremony conducted by a "new age healer", David Jarvis (as reported by Adelaide Now).

Other people with the dead man, Rowan Douglas Cooke, 37, failed to seek assistance for him because they believed he was on astral travelling.

The South Australian Coroner's Court today heard Mr Cooke was undertaking a ritual called a pipe ceremony, where participants sweat out toxins and spirits to enter an out-of-body state. [...] The campers dragged the two men out of the lodge and attempted to revive them by performing a series of spiritual rituals including chanting and drumming, she said. They also massaged their hands and feet, buried their feet in the soil and smashed sacred ceramic pipes over them to set their spirits free. "They believed they had been astral travelling or were in a deep meditation space," Ms Davis told the court. Mr Asfar later regained conscious but Mr Cooke did not. At daybreak, two of the campers left the isolated camp to seek help from a homestead, but an ambulance did not arrive to treat Mr Cooke until after 8am. He was pronounced dead at Leigh Creek Hospital at 11.30am after resuscitation efforts failed.

Mr Cooke's partner is, understandably, upset at the moronic treatment the man received.

The partner of a man who died while on a native American purification ritual in the South Australian outback has described the people who played drums and chanted as he lay unconscious as poison. [...] "I feel those people are a poison beyond comprehension and my hope is that no one else is unfortunate enough to encounter them," she wrote in a statement to the media. Theare said she was angered at the failure of the campers to seek immediate medical help and their ritual antics were laughable. "What I think about what happened that day goes beyond anger," she said. "If I could direct what I feel at those close 'friends', they would incinerate from the inside out.

Nonetheless, that report concludes with a bizarrely delusional statement from a clinical psychotherapist explaining the benefits of a sweat lodge vision.

"People do not hallucinate per se, it is the small things of nature that talk to people and everything around you. You can look at a rock and it might communicate with you about the hardness of life or you might observe a grub walking around a leaf and it might turn into a butterfly."

Talking rocks! If that isn't hallucinating "per se" EoR doesn't know what is. Wrapping a dehydrated man in blankets and chanting for spirits to heal him comes pretty close, though. reports Mr Jarvis as saying:

"Not long after, I noticed a particular energy coming out of the lodge, it was quite strong in nature," he told police. "I noted two people were having an out-of-body experience."

The newage: killing believers one at a time.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

EoR Considers An Education

The Australian education system demonstrates how easy it is to run courses on just about any subject, plausible, implausible, proven or not. EoR recently had some courses offered by the state run Adult Education Tasmania brought to his attention, but the situation is the same in other states as well.

Homoeopathy for Home & Travel
Gain the confidence to treat yourself and your family for a range of minor injuries and common acute ailments in the home, or while travelling, using homoeopathic remedies alongside conventional first aid techniques.

"Alongside"? Why? Because homeopathy doesn't do anything, and would just be a wasteful extra inconvenience while trying to administer effective first aid?

Therapeutic Touch - Energy Therapy
Therapeutic Touch is based on extensive scientific research. It is designed to facilitate the body’s own healing through rebalancing energy and is taught in hospitals and universities in over 80 countries.

Look at all the meaningless woo doublespeak there: "facilitate" (ie doesn't do anything), "body's own healing" (ie therapeutic touch doesn't do anything), "rebalancing energy" (ie no measurable outcomes). Therapeutic Touch is based on science in the same way that Star Wars was.

Have You Been Here Before?
Ever wondered about all this 'past lives' talk? Curious about who you have been? Hear about karma; past life clues and stories; and birth and death as critical points for karmic experience. Experience some exercises and a regression.

Well, at least that description is accurate. This sort of nonsense is contributing to a regression in logic and understanding.

The Goddess in Everywoman
An introduction to using your astrology chart, uncovering your hidden talents and learning to recognise the goddess in your friends and family. No knowledge of astrology is required.

Since astrology is not a "knowledge" system, that final sentence goes without saying.

Meanwhile, TAFE Tasmania is jumping on the barefoot horse bandwagon, and offering a course in "natural" trimming:

This course has been developed as a partnership between TAFE Tasmania and Natural Hoof Care Practitioners, to meet an increasing demand in the Horse Industry, to educate and qualify people in the natural care of horse’s hooves.

The course is being run by Jeremy Ford who is Wild About Hooves! ("Do no harm, respect the healing powers of nature"), though he also appears to offer one day "mentorship" programs.

Free hoof trimming is offered by students of this course but, strangely, "Shod and foundered horses/ponies welcome". EoR wonders if the evil shoes are removed by the students while they "Tut, tut!" loudly, and are the horses then sent home to a metal free bliss?

It isn't just TAFE and Adult Education that suffer from these oddities. In EoR's home state he can study government accredited courses in Ayurveda ("Advanced Diplomas can be upgraded to a Bachelor of Health Science degree by completing additional units with the Charles Sturt University" - presumably by unlearning everything that has already been taught about doshas and ayurvedic astrology) and homeopathy ("Advanced Diplomas can be upgraded to a Bachelor of Health Science degree by completing additional units with the Charles Sturt University" - presumably by unlearning everything that has already been taught about miasmatic remedies and homeopathic first aid).

Friday, June 08, 2007


Ways to avoid saying "whip" in the Natural Horsemanship world:

Carrot stick
Communication stick (strangely, the Communication stick is exactly the same photograph as the Carrot stick on Pat's site above, rotated 90°)
Handy stick (being used for "whipping the ground" - shouldn't that be "sticking the ground"?)
Training stick ("The training stick is used as an extension of your arm - it's not a whip" - to EoR's uneducated gaze it's remarkably similar to a whip)
Training arm ("Used as an extension of your arm - not a whip")

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Obesity Epidemic

The obesity epidemic juggernaut rolls on. Our children are obese. Our pets are obese. Now, our horses are obese, according to the respected International League for the Protection of Horses.

Is equine obesity really a problem?

In recent years the perception of ‘good condition’ has changed dramatically and as a result many leisure horses are carrying more than the ideal amount of body weight.

EoR is a bit confused as to how a "perception" results in actual weight changes, but perhaps it's something to do with a quantum consciousness entanglement matrix thing.

The ILPH are not taking this lying down:

To help horse owners establish what the right weight for their horse is, we will be running Right Weight Road Shows around the country. On these days the general public will be invited to bring their horse to be weighed on a mobile weighbridge.

Horseowners have always regularly been warned against overfeeding horses. This is not some new issue.

The quantity of hay should be carefully regulated, and never as much given as the horse will eat if at all voracious.
(Dennis Magner: The Standard Horse Book, 1893)

In the performance horse industries, especially race horses and pacers, there is an increasing trend to feed young horses much greater quantities of protein and grain in the rations than previously used.
R H Kerrigan: Practical Horse Nutrition, 1986

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

End Pain Forever. Maybe.

Australia. Land of myriad miracle devices. Such as the ENAR (Electro Neuro Adaptive Regulator), recently given nationwide publicity on A Current Affair ("Space-Age Pain Relief" - does that mean it uses outdated 1950s technology?).

A device designed for Russian astronauts can relieve chronic pain, according to a Macquarie University study.

They probably mean cosmonauts. It's also interesting that it's being touted now, when the study was conducted in 2005. Maybe they need a boost in sales.

As the segment mentioned a number of times, this device would "end pain forever". There was also the obligatory personal testimony, provided by a man who stated he'd been in pain for many years, and confined to a wheelchair for the last few years. After three and a half minutes with the amazing ENAR he says he no longer needed the wheelchair and got up and walked! And he's been fine ever since!

Well. EoR's convinced. Especially since the segment also touted scientific proof, provided by a study conducted at Macquarie University. Few actual details of the study were given, but it was done at a university! What more do you need to know?

There was a brief rebuttal from a skeptical doctor, expressing disbelief that such a handheld device would replace prolapsed discs, or reverse arthritis. But that man walked! It must be true! There's proof!

"I know it's nice to have a study that claims you've got these results," says Dr Rose. "But it's got to be statistically provable otherwise you can't really take anything from it."

No! No! A$1400 for pain relief "forever"? Surely that's not too much to ask for a little electronic zapper that will "end pain forever"? Who cares if some Big Pharma shill wants to poo-poo this miracle of modern science! It's only scientists who want statistically significant results. Statistically insignificant results are what's needed for marketing!

The ENAR FAQ provides some fascinating information about how this device "works":

ENAR/SCENAR technology interactively stimulates the body working with Reflex Bio-feedback to find and treat ‘Asymmetries’. These asymmetries are signs of difference that indicate nerve energy problems associated with injury, pathology and disease.

"Asymmetries"? How are these asymmetries located and measured? Answering "by the ENAR" is not acceptable. An article by Ellen Hodgson Brown, JD ("who has written nine books on alternative health care") explains the ENAR combines "Western electrical biofeedback with Eastern energy medicine" and "The device works on diseases and dysfunctions of every sort, by acting systemically on the energy field of the body".

The ENAR website provides copious proof of this machine's effectiveness. Such as a report from New Scientist. Well, if New Scientist are reporting on it, it must work! Surely? Actually, since the New Scientist report is about electrical currents in wound healing and the ENAR is being promoted for total pain relief, and specifically debilitating pain such as arthritis, it has no relevance whatsoever. Unless the inability to walk is caused by wounds.

Of course, this is how these devices are promoted. Any research, even if it's only vaguely related, no matter how small the study, no matter what statistical significance it may or may not have, is proudly displayed as proof of the device itself being scientifically plausible. That conclusion is not indicated. But what about that Macquarie University study? Isn't that proof? The only proof, in fact (the FAQ makes reference to other studies worldwide, but no details are provided - the only study that is being pushed so heavily is the Macquarie University study with repeated statements such as "DRAMATIC and SUSTAINED" - Pubmed returns no publications relating to the ENAR).

As this promotional article explains:

Paul Keetley was aware that he would have to deal with scepticism about any claims that he might make for the ENAR, particularly from Australia's Therapeutic Goods Authority, so he took early steps to get Macquarie University's Centre for Health & Chiropractic to carry out a randomised control pilot study using a patient group suffering from chronic neck pain.

If Mr Keetley really thought the TGA would be difficult to deal with he's living under a delusion. The TGA seem quite happy to register almost any magical device, as long as the promoters don't make too extravagant claims about it. And even if they do, that's okay until someone lodges a complaint.

It's good to know, however, that the ENAR has been tested by chiropracters. EoR can't think of a more worthy group of people to conduct the study (unless it be homeopaths). The use of chiropracters might also explain the "assymetries" this device detects, since chiropracters are also so beloved of such "asymmetries". The relevant people are Associate Professor Rod Bonello, described as "senior academic and founder of Chiropractic studies at Macquarie University". Among his publications is a paper on "Cancer and Chiropractic" in the prestigious Sydney College of Chiropractic Gazette. EoR would love to see that paper. His ENAR work only gets listed under "Poster Presentations". So, not only is it a small scale trial, it's apparently not even published. The student who actually conducted the study is Andrew Vitiello (inventor of the Chiropak - something that sounds to EoR like some horrible newage Deepak Chopra device).

The ENAR works with positive and negative electrodes. The device, which is the size of a mobile phone, is switched on and applied to the point of pain. "We followed participants over six weeks and measured things like pain intensity, functional capabilities, quality of life and neck disability," explains Vitiello. "We treated them intensively and then left them alone." Results showed that people who received the TENS therapy were no better off than if they received no therapy at all. People who received the ENAR therapy found that not only had their pain levels improved so had their functional capabilities and quality of life.

EoR is amazed that an electrical device works with both positive and negative electrodes. Cool, eh?

Mr Vitiello also states proudly:

I am juggling a few balls but I am excited about doing these things because it helps build the profile of Macquarie University, especially in a field we haven’t classically been involved in. We are now in the front line of clinical trials as the only University in the world who is testing the ENAR.

Which rather begs the question, why is no other university interested in this magic machine so soundly based on science and with such miraculous results?

Since the study apparently remains unpublished to date, readers need to rely on this document for details. Nine patients were treated with the ENAR, seven with TENS (Transcutaneous Electro Neuro Stimulation), and eight were treated using a switched off ENAR. Patients were treated for 12 weeks, and asked weekly about their pain levels. Various conclusions, and various graphs are then presented purporting to show that TENS and the sham treatment were the same (implying, of course, that TENS has no effect at all), while the ENAR dramatically and sustainably reduced pain.

There are, however, many problems with this study.

  • It is unpublished

  • The numbers were so small that statistical errors are bound to be exaggerated

  • The ENAR works by electrical stimulation - was it not possible that those receiving the sham treatment (a switched off ENAR) were aware of this?

  • The Visual Analog Scale runs from 0 to 10, but the first graph (Pre/Post Treatment VAS Scores) only shows a scale from 0 to 4.5, exaggerating any differences (the largest difference recorded is only 0.5 to 3.5). While a continuous graph is shown from the three data points, VAS scores at the ten intervening treatments are not reported.

  • There are further graphs presented, though the greatest differences seem to appear in self-reported assessments, such as the Change in Patient Specific Functional Scores after Six Months graph.

  • There is no information what other treatments the subjects were receiving, if any.

  • The conclusion ("There is no doubt ENAR works") is unwarranted and unsupported. ENAR may work. It may not.

  • Even so, the final paragraph of the report falls back on the lack of evidence by a call to testimonials and newage cliche: "There is a fast growing list of Western anecdotal case reports that suggest it might well be a quantum leap forward in therapy."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

If You Repeat A Statement Often Enough, People Will Believe It

EoR recently saw a fragment of a creationist video where the oft-repeated statement "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it" was displayed as a quotation from Adolf Hitler. Obviously, if Hitler said it, then evilution is a godless satanic plot.

But did Hitler say it? EoR had previously seen the statement sourced to Goebbels. Not so far from Hitler, perhaps, but an error of attribution nonetheless. So, EoR went searching on the internet. He quickly found the phrase attributed to Hitler, Goebbels, Reagan, Lenin, "and others".

Did they all say it? Simultaneously, or were they copying one another? The majority of references are, indeed, to Goebbels as the originator, but a popular vote still doesn't indicate proof. Since no one provides any primary sources that can be checked and verified, the question remains open.

Sometime ago, EoR was asked to verify the source of a rather obscure claim on the internet. As far as he could ascertain, all the quotes referenced each other, and there seemed no primary verification. Someone (who, it is unclear) had made the claim, and everyone else had repeated it as received truth.

This is a major problem of the internet. Much information is available. That information is available almost immediately. Sadly, very little of it has any imprimatur of truth or correctness, or lacks the necessary further information to confirm it. This is, of course, the problem with a lot of the alternative health information on the internet. Often, the same phrases and articles can be found from site to site, without any indication of who copied whom, let alone where the facts (if any) were obtained. It's not just a problem of altie beliefs, of course, but it's far too easy to make a statement than it is to prove it on the internet or to spend some time sourcing it and providing references.

It's not only the internet that no longer appears to have any claims to veracity or authenticity. The established media fell for the obviously fake photos of Hogzilla, and Mediawatch has exposed the Daily Telegraph for publishing statistics about the rise in ADHD cases and Ritalin prescriptions which where all false. Nonetheless, other media outlets repeated them, and now the Dore Program is using them:

Say no to high risk drugs
DORE developing skills, for life.

- The Daily Telegraph, 16th May, 2007"

Of course, this post is also published on the internet...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Car Dealer Alters Physical Basis Of World

EoR recently had occasion to attend at a car dealer's place of business. The saleswoman attempted to sell him electronic antirust protection which, she assured him, worked by "making all the neutrons in the car negative". EoR declined in case the car exploded.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Good Nutrition Bad Nutrition

Helen Frost, popular media commentator on nutrition issues hates white food ("white food is dead food"), she hates processed food (food needs to be ripped out of the ground or off the bone and eaten as "living food"), and she hates artificial additives since these are poisoning us (for example, her advice to go and look up Aspartame on the internet).

Why then doesn't she ever mention the possible adverse health effects of non-white, living food without additives? In her world such food is the heavenly source of all health. Yet the TGA has just revised warnings about possible liver toxicity from black cohosh. It can't be true! And will Ms Frost be warning us about this as well, or will she ignore it?

Meanwhile, Blacktriangle posts a salutary warning about additives and how food is killing us.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Return Of The Poo Fairy

This week's radio appearance by nutrition educator (not nutritionist educator) Helen Frost was almost wall to wall faeces (or "number twos" as Ms Frost prefers to term it, with the occasional reference to "whoopsies").

In fact, after this week's advice EoR is afraid to eat anything ever again. Did you know your "number twos need to stay soft" or your insides "get congested and fester like a dead kangaroo on the roadside"? Improper number twos mean "you end up with dead bits of sheep and cow and cake and biscuit and so on festering in your pipes". Worse than that, "so many people are poisoning themselves from the inside because the number twos aren't getting out - they've got the graveyards of dead animals inside them". EoR surmises that number twos not getting out could possibly explain the "obesity epidemic"...

Ms Frost also warned us that synthesized phenylalanine "becomes a brain toxin with 92 side effects" which will destroy the nervous system at the very least - this, she assured us, is "well documented on the internet - just put in aspartame". Phenylalanine is okay in natural food, however.

Of course, if you search for anything on the internet you're likely to find it. EoR, personally, is well aware that alien reptiloid masters from the planet Beta Atlantis-Chakra engineered the 9/11 attacks via hologrammatic government controlled cruise missiles containing aspartame. provides a more balanced view (and a lot of other links to confirm their statements) regarding Aspartame. Wikipedia also has a page on the Aspartame controversy.

Ms Frost also brought her mother into the studio with her. EoR wanted to know what she made of all this, but she remained strangely silent (though getting a word in when Ms Frost is in full faecal flight would be an achievement). Luckily, the show ended up with The Poo Fairy Song again. Apparently, people were actually requesting this! So, if you too have a burning desire to sing nursery rhymes about bowel movements: The Poo Fairy Song.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Religion. For Dummies.

Sometimes book titles are so unintentionally funny (or horribly accurate) that EoR wonders how they get past the authors, editors and marketing armies... EoR found these invaluably salutary titles at

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins' The Root of All Evil has just been shown in Australia (by the ABC, during the religious programming slot). EoR now understands from some of the erudite religious spokespeoples shown in that documentary that killing babies is wrong, evil and heathenistic. Killing godless abortion doctors is, however, not only acceptable and the right god-fearing thing to do, but is apparently encouraged. Rape is not an excuse to find a loophole to let god allow an abortion - rape is just part of god's wonderful plan for us all.

EoR feels reassured that religion provides some firm, moral guidelines to preserve our upright sanctimonious society. Without religion, atheists could do any arbitrary thing they wanted to. And then where would we be?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is Bertrand Russell:

I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Not The Secret

We all know how Secret pushers like to quote ancient and not so ancient identities as "proof" that their particular scam really really works, and to give their fatuous idea the semblence of historical authenticity. Strangely, they never quote the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece who, EoR imagines, would have known what they were talking about:

Call no man happy until he is dead.

There go all the marketing opportunities.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nutrition Is (Not) Killing Us

Helen Frost (who EoR likes to think of as the incarnation of the Poo Fairy, though apparently having no qualifications in the field of nutrition, nonetheless runs regular and popular seminars on the subject.

She regularly lectures children in primary schools on her beliefs.

She lectures the Western Australian Practice Nurses Association though she appears to have no qualifications to provide medical advice:

A Nutritional Update on Protein needs and how to calculate our needs when ill and for varying situations.

She gives presentations to Therapy Focus, an association dealing with disabled children:

"For the first time ever, children have a lower life expectancy than their parents," said nutrition educator Helen Frost. "It’s what you put in your mouth that makes you feel good or bad." "We’ve got choices to make. We can choose either live food that gives us energy or dead processed food that takes our energy. You can only build healthy cells, bodies & brains with live foods."

She gives presentations for the Kids Health Alliance along with fellow "food is killing us" promoters, Dr Peter Dingle and Julie Eady.

She is praised by parents.

You can read a flyer for her seminars ("Great for 1st timers, or as a review for 2nd & 3rd timers") where some scary, and amazing, factoids are offered:

* 2 out of 3 adults are dieing of cancer or heart disease. Diabetes is epidemic.
* Over 60% adults & kids are overweight
* Some Pharmacists report that every 2nd script is an Anti Depressant
* Children are at risk of dieing faster than their parents

Many of Ms Frost's statements are bizarre and unprovable. "Some" pharmacists means how many? Are these pharmacists located near psychiatrists who might prescribe more antidepressants than other doctors? And, surely, it is as equally valid to say "Some Pharmacists report that every 2nd script is not an Anti Depressant"? The statement Ms Frost makes is intended to scare, without actually containing any relevant or logical information.

Where are the "2 out of 3 adults" who are "dieing of cancer or heart disease"? Ms Frost apparently has trouble with expressing herself clearly, since there is no evidence that two thirds of everyone you see on the street is presently dying. EoR suspects she might mean that cancer and heart disease are the eventual causes of death in two thirds of the population but, again, that is not the same thing as the intentionally frightening statement Ms Frost makes.

"Children are at risk of dieing faster than their parents"? also is meaningless. "At risk"? How much risk? And what, exactly, is "dying faster"? Personally, EoR would prefer to die faster than suffer a slow lingering expiry. Ms Frost yet again makes a frightening statement that doesn't actually contain any clear meaning. Does she mean that life expectancy is lower? Perhaps she does, but that would require EoR making an interpretation that isn't supported by the actual threatening statement. As noted earlier, she does state that children's life expectancies are "lower than their parents". This is true, but only iff you happen to live in AIDS/HIV riddled Sub-Saharan Africa (from the wikipedia article on life expectancy). Everywhere else, life expectancy is on a fairly steady upward incline. Wikipedia states:

In recent years, obesity-related diseases have become a major public health issue in many countries. The prevalence of obesity is thought to have reduced life expectancy by contributing to the rise of cancers, heart disease and diabetes in the developed world.

Note: "thought" to have reduced (the statement is not supported, at least in the US, by the US Department of Health and Human Services' Health, United States, 2006 (page 60 forward - there is also a graph showing declining rates of death from heart disease, and a fairly steady rate from cancer at page 67). Wikipedia also provides a map of the world showing life expectancies by country from -50 to 80+ years (also available as tabular data). Very few countries rate in the 80+ category. Among them are Sweden, Iceland, Switzerland, Japan. And Australia. The land of doom and death, according to Ms Frost. Australia rates 8th in terms of life expectancy. The US rates 45th. Ms Frost (and the earlier mentioned Ms Eady) hold up the US as the paragon of side-effect-inducing additive banning, in contrast to the only subtly implied government poisoning of people in Australia. Yet, Australians are living longer!

What Ms Frost is really doing is heavily promoting a fundamentalist view. Evidence that antioxidants (something that have a job to do, and do it when in the required amounts but which may be harmful if in excess) might cause problems will not change her view, since her views are a matter of faith (supported by science when it can be cherry picked, otherwise supported by vaguely unprovable scare statements). Coffee is the drink of the devil, if Ms Frost's diktats are to be believed. Evidence that coffee might help prevent gout is unlikely to change her faith-based commandments. Ms Frost lectures in the superfood world where, if something is good, more of it must be better.

None of this is helped by the media reporting early studies and scientific "breakthroughs". Or the general population's ability to decide which foods are good and which are not:

The modern health media as well as the food and diet industries praise certain foods and food nutrients as being healthful while at the same time criticizing other foods and nutrients as promoters of obesity and disease. Do the categorical messages that much of the general public has assimilated concerning food influence judgements of the weight-enhancing properties of foods? In the present study a sample of adult participants (mostly middle-aged) rated the weight-enhancing characteristics of a group of snack names that possess positive health reputations (e.g. a banana) along with snack names that were more disreputable in terms of wholesomeness (e.g. bacon). The results indicated that lower-calorie (and in some cases lower-fat) disreputable snacks were generally perceived to promote greater weight gain than much higher-calorie (and in some cases higher-fat) reputable snacks. Beliefs about particular foods' goodness or badness as well as fat content were most often emphasized. The good versus bad message that Americans have assimilated concerning foods may be contributing to tendencies toward obesity.

Sandy Szwarc also addresses how this "eat better and exercise" message is unnecessary and ineffective.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Swiss Pocketknife Of Woo

Ho hum. Another day, another magic pendant being pushed by an Australian company. With all these healing devices hung around his neck, EoR is starting to get a bad back...

Tri-Vortex personal energy products resonate a natural energy field which replicates nature's creative processes. Anything that comes in contact with, or near Tri-Vortex products is returned, at a molecular level, back towards that which nature intended - whether plant, animal or human.

That statement doesn't mean anything. What "natural energy field"? Radiation? Heat? How does it replicate "nature's creative processes"? Does it perform sexual reproduction? What did "nature intend"? Do cotton clothes transform back to cotton plants? If you sit in a car with the Tri-Vortex marvel, does the car melt back into a sludgy pile of petroleum, metal and fabric? Does it contain Ubik?

Australian therapeutic legal requirements are fairly straightforward, but these people are quite prepared to ignore the law and state:

Tri-Vortex helps the following conditions;
Arthritis, asthma, headaches and migraines, gout, back pain, injuries and recovery, jetlag, jaw and neck pain, sciatica, knee, hip and joint pain, pregnancy, cholesterol, blood pressure, ganglion, sinus, hayfever, digestion, ulcers, coldsores, acne, diabetes, bruises, burns, myalgia, swollen joints, bone fractures, herpes, twisted joints, common cold, flu symptoms, carpal tunnel, head concussions, torn muscles, wounds/cuts, tendonitis, stomach ulcers, tooth ache, cancer, asthma, aids, eye injuries, general surgery, dental surgery, intense workouts... and many other ailments not listed.

Yes. Use it for cancer. Asthma. Pregnancy (does it return the pregnancy to what "nature intended"?). Fractures. Actually, anything at all and everything. It's a panacea, literally. If you're gullible enough to believe that, further down the page it states you can use it not just for health reasons, but also to "protect" yourself from electromagnetic fields and "electrosmog". You can use it on your drinking water. You can use it to make that cheap bottle of plonk taste better! It can be used to improve your hydration (as long as you remember these magic pendants "are part of a much bigger healing solution and should be combined with proper hydration"). Stick them on your pets. You can probably stick it in your rectum and get exactly the same "healing powers" (and, given the holistic obsession with colon function, EoR wouldn't be surprised by such a use). Stick them on all your electronic devices. Remember:

Alternating current electricity is chaos and provides no value or benefit to the molecules of the cells in humans, animals or plants. Some individuals and scientists believe alternating current electricity is electromagnetic pollution and hazardous to short-term and long-term human and animal health. Are you experiencing fatigue and soreness after watching television? Or working on your computer for extended periods of time? The molecules in your cells have been exposed to chaotic alternating current electricity or electromagnetic pollution. Tri-Vortex products transform the electricity in your home, office, school or workshop into beneficial left- hand turn energies that are biologically friendly, safe, healthy and energising.

Oooh! "Friendly" electricity. Much better than nasty chaotic AC. EoR assumes it transforms all currents to DC. Which nature intended.

There is a tiny link at the bottom of the page to a rather strange and lengthy disclaimer which seems to be a cut and paste collation of some US web based service. It states in part:

This offering is a contract between you the buyer and our business, the seller. The seller is located in the State of Nevada, U.S.A. and by doing business with us you agree that this offering is made from the State of Nevada, U.S.A. and shall be governed by the laws of the State of Nevada and the U.S.A..

EoR isn't a lawyer, but it would seem difficult to defend an Australian website, selling products in Australia, on the basis of Nevada law. Particularly when the same disclaimer also states: "Disclaimer Pursuant to Australian State & Federal Laws" and "These Terms of Use will be governed and interpreted pursuant to the laws of Victoria, Australia". Which also, apparently, includes the law of Nevada. Very strange. Furthermore, users are prohibited from anything that "amounts to a 'pyramid' or similar scheme" or "solicits funds, advertisers or sponsors". Apart from all the stuff that's there already, presumably. There is, however, in the whole disclaimer not one word about diagnosing or curing (or, as so often at these sort of sites, the lack of such ability in the magic product). And anyway, pyramids are good things to these sort of people.

A device doesn't need to be advertised as a cure for all those conditions listed earlier, it merely needs to make claim to be used on such a wide range of conditions to start breaching parts of the relevant legislation (Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and Trade Practices Act 1974). Further information for those interested (or those promoting TriVortex) can be found at the Therapeutic Goods Administration website. Complaints can be lodged through the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code Council website.

You know these pieces of plastic work because they've been tested. On other magic machines. At acupuncture points. Which we all know is much more proofy type proof than proper calibrated testing by standardised machines that measure real things (which would, EoR makes the bold prediction, show no result whatsoever for these particular devices). Nor are randomised trials of any worth in establishing whether energy is dechaoticised or not. No. Testimonials (the first and last refuge of the quack) are required. EoR particularly admired that from Clea F:

Clea has a tumour at the stem of her brain which caused a lot of pain and stiffness of the neck. Her left knee was swollen and very painful. She was unable to sleep and took lots of Homeopathic Medicines with little relief. She had no energy.

After one night on Tri-Vortex products:
- She felt re-born.
- She stopped medication.
- Slept very well.
- Swelling of leg went down all together.
- Her tightened neck disappeared.
- She goes for long walks without any ill effects.
- Able to work in garden again.
- Feels energetic and good.

Note the none too subtle dig at homeopathy (bad, nasty, ineffective non-magic therapy!). Apart from feeling good and being reborn (as a Christian?), what about the brain tumour? And why couldn't Clea F write her own testimonial? EoR is particularly amazed at the number of testimonials about conditions which appear to have reduced or resolved at almost exactly the same rate as they would have if these people had not stuck magic pendants on their body parts, and for which any number of alternative explanations are much more likely than that a magic cure was effected.

If you want to know how this device works, do not go to the page trying to explain it. Your mind will be dazzled by radial periodic tables, pyramids (see! they do really like pyramids!), Quantum Election Theory [sic], numerology, ESP and all manner of woo and nonscience.

These products range in price from A$40 for the pet pendant, to A$175 for the Tri-Vortex Solid Silver Twisting Oval Link Necklace ("boosted with energy in the Tri-Vortex chamber, with your Tri-Vortex Pendant to resonate even more energy.") Not forgetting the Tri-Vortex Green Laser for only A$495 ("The most powerful healing tool for pain relief and treatment of water and liquids." - what? the other products are inferior? and what happened to those magic red penlights that did exactly the same thing with a massive markup on the supermarket penlights?).

One of the people behind this product proudly states:

John is no longer involved in pure profit business initiatives.

Obviously, Mr Murphy has a good sense of humour. Alternatively, this is an "impure" profit business initiative.

Like all such "exciting" breakthroughs in science, the promoters are keen for you to join their affiliate program.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Aerial Recycling

Finished reading your copy of The Guardian and don't know what to do with it? Turn it into paper planes.

Must Avoid Electromagnetism... Brain Getting Duller...

The latest technology scare being pushed by various people and credulous news media is wi-fi sensitivity (mobile phone sensitivity seems to have been fairly quietly dropped by the majority of alties - perhaps because there's been sufficient time to determine that there's no observable health problem with their use).

Many think that this is jumping the gun, rather like promoting mercury as the cause of autism. It also seems somewhat less than reliable to claim wi-fi as the cause of various health problems when there is no proof other than some people claiming "it works for me". Such people try to avoid wi-fi (but not radio and television waves and, probably, televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, house wiring, clock radios, stereos, DVD players, computers, heaters, iPods, cars, telephones etc).

Yet, perhaps, there is something in this. Could the fact that people making and supporting these claims do not seem to be functioning with all their faculties be meaningful? Could it be that magnetism doesn't make you duller, but the opposite?

COULD magnets make the mind grow stronger? In mice at least, stimulating the brain with a magnetic coil appears to promote the growth of new neurons in areas associated with learning and memory. If the effect is confirmed in humans, it might open up new ways of treating age-related memory decline and diseases like Alzheimer's.

Does this mean that people avoiding electromagnetism are making themselves duller intellectually? Of course, one would first have to separate cause and effect.

And if you really believe that such forces are inimical, it might be hard for the alties to find anywhere in the universe to hide.

We aren't even sure such things exist. But that hasn't stopped two cosmologists from proposing that huge magnetic fields spanning the great voids of the universe could explain where dark energy comes from.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

National Day of Secularism

EoR has mentioned the political activities of the ostensibly non-politcal Exclusive Brethren before. The Australian Electoral Commission has also taken an interest:

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will announce today it is referring questions to the federal police about whether members of the sect lied about their links to the election campaign. The AEC has been following the source of money used to pay for pro-Liberal and anti-Greens advertisements and leaflets worth $370,000 in Tasmania, South Australia and Mr Howard's Sydney seat of Bennelong, shortly before the 2004 election, Fairfax said. A $10 company set up three weeks before the poll and deregistered 18 months after it was one of the top five "third party" political spenders in the poll. The company, Willmac Enterprises, was set up by Sydney man Mark Mackenzie, a member of the sect.

There is also a question of whether the Exclusive Brethren are involved in funding an appeal against a sex shop. EoR's understanding is that the Exclusive Brethren do not involve themselves in worldly matters.

Now, what was that injunction against "bearing false witness"?

National Day of Secularism
May the 26th

EoR was tagged for the National Day of Secularism, a protest against the National Day of Thanksgiving, by Dikkii, which tied in nicely with this matter appearing in the news. Maybe there is a Flying Sphagetti Monster after all...

It's also forty years since the Australian Constitution was amended by the Australian people (or a part thereof) voting to repeal Section 127:

127. In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

They also still have little to be thankful for.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Carnival Time

The 27th Carnivalesque carnival is at Aardvarcheology, gathering together the best blogging about ancient and medieval history.

The 61st Skeptics' Circle is at Memoirs of a Skepchick. EoR submitted something, but it appears to have been intercepted by the Poo Fairy and disappeared into the bowels of the interweb.


Helen Frost's weekly half hour of nonscience on the radio becomes increasingly surreal. EoR expects that one day soon she'll just break down, and admit that the whole thing has been a vast practical joke. Or maybe not.

This week, she objected to being introduced as a "nutritionist educator". The correct term she requested was "nutrition educator". Only a subtle difference, one would think, except that a nutritionist who educates implies some sort of qualification, as opposed to a person who educates about nutrition.

A female caller congratulated Ms Frost on a statement she made at one of her seminars: she wishes doctors wouldn't just give medication but helped people to find a solution to their problems. Obviously, medication, when indicated, is not a solution. The woman complained that her neurologist just wants to put her on drugs. She much prefers the homeopath. One treatment from her homeopath cured a "lifelong" eye problem that the doctor had given her drops for. EoR is willing to bet that the homeopath "prescribed" drops for her as well, but at least these would have been magic drops.

Yet again Ms Frost reiterated her statement that certain foods have no nutritive value. "You cannot build live body parts out of dead junky food. You can't do it!" she stated forcefully. In fact, you need to eat "as close to out of the ground as possible". EoR imagines you need to crawl around the vegetable patch on your hands and knees carefully munching at the cabbages and nibbling the tomatoes.

Yet, all this was just the standard madness she provides every week. She finished by singing The Poo Fairy Song (which helps to get the poo through, she assured us). Sadly, EoR was so shocked and surprised he didn't get it all, but this is a sample (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star):

Fibre give my bowel a brush
Sugar and fats make sticky poo
When you do a number two
If your poos are hard and smelly
Get more water in your belly
Water give my bowel a brush
Soft and comfortable every day
Your body is better in every way

If you go to her frequently mentioned seminars, everyone gets to sing it together. Oh, joy.

EoR wishes he was making all this up. He isn't. It's as silly as a bumfull of Smarties.

Towelie Says

Don't panic, but it's Towel Day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Great ABC Swindle

ABC Television had demonstrated yet again its total rejection of any standards in presenting science programs. From Second Opinion to Psychic Investigators and now to a documentary of less than perfect journalism arguing that global warming is a myth.

A leading US climate scientist is considering legal action after he says he was duped into appearing in a Channel 4 documentary that claimed man-made global warming is a myth. Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the film, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was 'grossly distorted' and 'as close to pure propaganda as anything since World War Two'.

As The Australian reports:

THE ABC was under pressure from its board to air a British documentary that challenges climate change theories. The Great Global Warming Swindle, which aired controversially on Britain's Channel 4 in March, argues changes in radiation from the sun, not human activity, is the main cause of global warming. Scientists, including some featured in the program, said it contained fabricated data and misleading statements. The documentary will be shown on the ABC in July against the advice of ABC science journalist Robyn Williams, who instructed the ABC's TV division not to buy the program, Fairfax newspaper said. Mr Williams yesterday accused the broadcaster of "verging on the irresponsible" for airing a program that was "demonstrably wrong".

While EoR is sympathetic to Robyn Williams, he can't see the difference from every other instance of ABC television absolving itself of any sort of standards in determining what to broadcast, and whether to present it as fact or fiction. Sadly, the majority of ABC television these days seems to be fiction.

ABC Radio National still maintains some journalistic standards, particularly with programs such as The Health Report, Ockham's Razor, and The Science Show. Even The Philospher's Zone, dealing as it does with much more nebulous concepts, still understands what proof and logic are.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Blistering Barnacles, Tintin's Motion-Captured!

Tintin is returning, again. This time on the big screen,with big money and motion-capture technology. Can the likes of Spielberg and Jackson and their lavish CGI recreate the simplicity and clarity of Herge's style? Wouldn't Tintin be more suited to a Miyazaki-type rendition?
Three stories are to be selected for production. Will they adapt scenarios to suit our times? And which do you think they'll choose? I guess as follows...

"Tintin in the Axis of Evil": Tintin is captured whilst seeking the WMD.
Beheading is imminent. Snowy fetches Captain Haddock, who, in a drunken
outburst, is mistaken for Saddam's ghost. He engineers Tintin's release,
only to be thrown into Abu Ghraib by the 'coalition of the willing'. Haddock's alcohol dependency convinces the guards of his true identity.

"Tintin in the Republic of Congo": Deep in the jungle, where guerrillas are waring with gorillas in the mist, Tintin and Snowy hunt the legendary Mokele-mbembe. Tintin fells the ancient beast and discovers it was but one of a thriving population. Local pygmies embrace the bushmeat trade. Meanwhile, in London, Ebola is rife and Thomson and Thompson investigate. Back at Heathrow, Tintin is arrested for quarantine violation.

"Tintin - Destination Mars": When Calculus mysteriously summons his friends, they fear he has been kidnapped by North Koreans. On coming to his aid, Tintin, Haddock and Snowy become pioneers in China's Marsproject. They explore the red planet and its extraterrestrial life. An extraterrestrial Chineseherbal-bushmeat trade is born.

So... we shall have to wait and see. I hope there are no aliens, armies or orcs in the new productions.

His Greyish Materials

EoR enjoyed reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, in which the deity is the evil force to be defeated (and also written partly as a protest against the cosy religiosity of C S Lewis' Narnia books). There has been a film in the works for a long time, and now it seems not too far away, but this statement worries EoR:

Chris Weitz, its screenwriter and director, used the event to address speculation about whether the books' firmly anti-religious message would be retained. Referring to the Magisterium - the all-powerful religious body that wields total political power in the world of Lyra, the heroine - he said: "In the books the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic church gone wildly astray from its roots. If that's what you want in the film, you'll be disappointed. We have expanded the range of meanings that the Magisterium represents." [...] Weitz said: "Philip Pullman is against any kind of organised dogma, whether it is church hierarchy or, say, a Soviet hierarchy. We often deal quite obliquely with it in the film ... but we have done service to Pullman's books. Those people who read them for their philosophical content will not be disappointed."

Of course, EoR hasn't seen the film yet, and Philip Pullman is quoted in the report as stating he is happy with the screenplay, but EoR hopes that "expanded the range of meanings" and "obliquely" dealing with the central theme of the books doesn't mean that it's been watered down or obscured.

Now, what EoR really wants to see is a screenplay of a Pullman novel written by Richard Dawkins...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The New Scribes

The Guardian reports how the Bodleian Library is assisting Google to scan out of copyright books.

The future, generally speaking, isn't the sort of thing that happens in the hushed corridors of Oxford University's Bodleian Library. And superficially, there's something low-tech about the curious performance that has been taking place there every day for some time now. Each morning, a team of technicians carts piles of books from Oxford's collection of 11m titles to a nearby building. There, behind closed doors, they are placed on scanning machines. It is laborious work: each page must be manually turned. After that, however, the technology kicks in.

EoR can't help thinking of the medieval monks who spent their lives laboriously copying out books. Back in those days monks would occasionally put little images in among the glosses as a sort of "I was here" marker. The new method doesn't seem very different:

It is already possible, at, to search thousands of works, both in and out of copyright, and in many cases to access scanned images of a few pages. On some of them - as critics of the project have delighted in noting -you can see the fingers of the person who scanned them.

The Guardian also provide some frightening statistics:

In 1450, new titles were published at a rate of 100 per year. In 1950, that figure had grown to 250,000. By the millennium, the number published exceeded a million.

So, in 1450, the leisured classes might, if they wished, have kept up with published books. By the time of mass production, this was clearly now impossible. And by the millennium, it was beyond a joke.

How do you decide which books to read? How do you know whether you're missing anything important or of quality? And, as authors attest, it's becoming harder and harder to get anything published these days in the modern, marketing driven, profit up front, economic rationalist publishing world; if you're J K Rowling, you can become a multimillion dollar bestseller even before the book is published - if you're a struggling first time author you're unpublishable (because you've never had a book published).

In which case, where are all these books coming from?

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Leap Of Faith Is Not A Logical Proof

Wilf Hey, longtime contributor of the Programming column in PC Plus, and originator of the acronym GIGO amongst other achievements, died earlier this year.

Mr Hey's columns addressed fundamental issues of mathematics and programming, rather than specific languages, covering issues from sorting algorithms to traversing complex network diagrams. His thinking was always rigourous and clear, as is required for effective (and elegant) programming.

While looking him up on the interweb, EoR discovered that Mr Hey had, not so much a secret life, as a whole other side which demonstrates how apparently logical minds can still be partitioned off into sectors of illogicality.

Here is his article on Religion and the Bible: Is the Holy Book Trustworthy?. The argument effectively offers an unproven assertion, offers some possibly correct (but irrelevant argument), and reaches an impossible conclusion.

The writings of other religions and philosophies are often very valuable. They encapsulate the wisdom and experience of the best people this world has seen. But they do not represent the mind of God, our loving Father and Creator.

How does Mr Hey know that other religious writings do not represent the mind of god, as opposed to the Bible? Because the Bible says so. It becomes its own ontological proof. Of course, this is the same argument that adherents of other religions offer for their own particular version of theology.

Mr Hey then offers some woolly thinking. We find Plato reliable, he states, even though the earliest manuscript of his works we possess is from AD900. Yet we have copies of the New Testament from AD130. Ergo, the New Testament is reliable.

In fact, the New Testament is by far the best-attested ancient work, the runner-up for the prize being The Iliad. Homer's first major work exists in some 644 copies, the earliest of which is all of 500 years removed from its original.

All of those dates may or may not be correct, but they're not of relevance to whether the holy book is "trustworthy". Mr Hey then argues that there was scrupulous error checking by scribes to ensure there were no errors in the New Testament. Of course, all such manuscripts have errors and ellisions. Such as a surreal image of a camel passing through the eye of a needle instead of the clearer metaphor of a rope passing through.

Mr Hey's conclusion follows:

With these exacting methods, we can be certain that the oldest manuscripts we have of the Old Testament are virtually identical to manuscripts from hundreds of years earlier. So we see that what we read in the Bible today is reliably God's Word as He originally delivered it through the original authors. It can be trusted, as He can be trusted.

Now, the first sentence of that conclusion may or may not be true, but it has no connection with the second sentence. He could have just as easily argued that Moby Dick or Ulysses are virtually identical to their manuscripts. Therefore God is real. It just doesn't follow (of course, Ulysses with its numerous typographical errors probably isn't the best choice, especially when trying to argue that chronological closeness to source eliminates any copying errors). The final sentence of the conclusion is a standard religious confirmation.

It's not called a "leap of faith" for nothing.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Online Poll

Horse and Rider magazine in the UK is running an online poll on the subject of "Do you use alternative treatments on your horse?" (bottom right hand side of the page). Currently, 66% (of 53 responses) are Yes.

Go along and make your vote. Don't own a horse? You can still take part with a clear conscience, since the answer to "Do you use alternative treatments on your horse?" is also No.

The Secret Of Gullibility

Bryony Gordon at the Daily Telegraph has written a very funny and horribly true critique of The Secret. It's very funny, because Ms Gordon follows the principles of The Secret to the letter. With, need it be said, absolute failure.

For a meagre £12, and over just 198 pages, The Secret promises to show you "how you can have, be, or do anything you want". That's quite a claim. In America, there are a lot of people who must by now have everything they want because it has sold two million copies there.

So, already £12 down, and the magic Secret Genies haven't even started working yet...

As most people know by now, the gullible and the incredulous alike, The Secret is the Universe's own Mega-Department Store. It's like the Galactic Vending Machine from Lost in Space.

The Secret says, if you think bad thoughts, then how the hell can you expect nice things to happen to you? Thoughts become things! We are all human transmission towers! Give off good signals and we will receive good things! It is all down to the law of attraction, apparently. "The law of attraction is always working, whether you believe it or understand it or not." It will deliver you whatever you want - your dream job, a million pounds, a strapping hunk - as long as you think wishfully and most of all believe.

Yes! Everyone in the world can have a million pounds, or dollars, or zloty or dong, or... As long as you wish truly and deeply and with all your heart. Flocks of pigs are already lining up on the runway, taxiing for takeoff. More concerning, however, is the quotation from Secret "discoverer" Rhonda Byrne:

But be warned. "If you are complaining, the law of attraction will powerfully bring into your life more situations for you to complain about. Even if you listen to other people complain and sympathise with them, you are asking for misery yourself. It is simply a matter of changing your thinking."

Serves all those Jews in Germany in 1939 right. Bloody whingers. And EoR just wishes all those starving Africans would just stop complaining. Jesus! Anyone would think they had it tough! Don't even listen to them! They're a waste of time, and they'll stop your greed-driven path to riches and arrogance.

Given that The Secret is obviously being targetted at the same general audience who will be flocking throughout Australia to worship at the celebrity feet of the Dalai Lama, EoR wonders how they reconcile The Secret's Selfishness with Buddhism's Compassion? Maybe you can be compassionate, as long as you still ignore the poor, the sick, the huddled masses.

Here's another fantasy "law" from Ms Byrne:

"Food cannot cause you to put on weight, unless you think it can."

Oh, if only Ms Byrne would prove that by eating nothing but chocolate, burgers and chips for a month.

By Day Four of Ms Gordon's travails with The Secret, it is still only what it is: platitudinous crap.

Still no strapping hunk. How long is this going to take? I consult my manual. "Time is just an illusion," it tells me. "Any time delay you experience is due to your delay in getting to the place of believing." It is not until I really believe that I am going out with a strapping hunk that it will actually happen. In other words, I have to be utterly, gloriously deluded. I spend the day telling friends that I am going out with Brad Pitt. I am manic in my need to convince them that it is true. People start avoiding me. Worse, I receive a call to go and meet the subject of my existing tricky relationship for a "summit". He dumps me. I smile throughout. The Secret has not delivered me a single thing: it has actually taken away from me.

It has, however, delivered more than generously to Ms Byrne. So, is The Secret really only that one or two can become fabulously rich? Preferably if they believe really and truly that the multitude of people lead lives of quiet desperation, and that enough are suckered in to any scam, be it spam emails or promises of fabulous wealth on Oprah, to make it worthwhile promoting the old "something for nothing" shell game.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What Bowen Is Not

An anonymous commenter to an old post about Bowen Therapy drew EoR's attention to, describing it as explaining "Bowen Therapy using a Brief Anatomical and Physiological Explanation for the Medical Profession".

Scoffing commenters aside, EoR is actually very interested in the scientific evidence for alternative therapies. He's also fascinated to find science making new discoveries and turning previous knowledge, if not on its head, at least off-kilter. Such research is always more interesting than self-serving advertising, or unsupported claims of some mysterious power that miraculously cures and mends myriad ailments.

Sadly, disappointed EoR. It consists of a single page, "What is Bowen Therapy and How Does it Work" written by Robert M. McCusker, and a PDF download of a number of newspaper clippings about Robert M. McCusker. Robert M. McCusker is also, unsurprisingly, the domain holder.

While the page is described as a "thesis" EoR can't imagine any university passing this as such. The argument seems to be that Bowen Therapy squeezes blood and lymph fluid out of muscles, "similar to squeezing toothpaste out of a toothpaste tube" (though, to make the analogy more correct, you'd have to squeeze the toothpaste out with very light, gentle touches across the toothpaste tube). It is claimed this allows "fresh blood to enter the muscle from the artery". EoR would suggest that more than massage might be required if blood and lymph flow is compromised so seriously that it is collecting in stagnant pools such that circulation ceases to function.

Bowen Therapy, as a "holist treatment" [sic] allows the skeleton to adopt better posture. This, in turn, stops the internal organs from being "squeezed and squashed out of shape". EoR hates to think what happens every time he bends over.

The final magical method is "gentle Bowen Therapy relaxation treatment" which seems to be functionally equivalent to patients being placed into a coma.

Because of the affect Bowen Therapy has on improving posture, improving the blood and lymphatic flow, the improvement in organ function and the way it allows the body to go into automatic repair mode, Bowen Therapy has a legitimate claim to being the most holist form of health care ever invented.

Mr McCusker, sadly, fails to provide any references to published, peer-reviewed evidence of these claims.

The newspaper reports include various testimonials to Mr McCuskers's ability to cure arthritis, acne, asthma, paralysis as a result of a stroke (while it is noted that this particular patient was also undergoing regular physiotherapy, the Bowen is promoted as the sole saviour), "dodgy" knees, indigestion (something EoR feels would resolve without any intervention at all), shortness of breath, hayfever, bedwetting, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fibromyalgia, infertility and depression.

Need EoR point out to his readers that one of the signs of a quack treatment (or the presence of the placebo effect only) is a claim to treat a vast range of unrelated conditions?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Alties And Textual Criticism

In The Monsters and the Textual Critics paleographer, bibliographer and handwriting expert Tom Davis investigates the differences and similarities between textual and literary criticism. Towards the end of this essay he provides some interesting comments that reflect on how people can also be led to believe in improbabilities such as psychics and homeopathy:

If a passage looks odd for some reason, or if we see two or more texts that are assumed to be versions of the same, but which differ, what we do is, we make the situation make sense by normalising the offending irregularity against expectations derived from the text, and other texts, and from a large number of other sources, just as we do when we read, or for that matter when we perceive the world in any way whatsoever. In the case of reading and textual criticism (and for some people, of course, in perceiving the world) it is comforting to think that we are thereby getting in touch with the intentions of an author, an author who is in charge, in control, and has the whole text in his or her head. This is not so.

This makes sense of why it is so hard to persuade believers in the fantastic that their beliefs are unfounded. Any brief look at Nova, for example, shows an almost overwhelming desire to believe in an "author" in a cosmic, life-affirming sense. They may no longer call it God, but there are numerous references to "life force", "the universe" (as sentient being), "quantum connectivity" and so on. Since these people have already put their contradictory and unsupported beliefs within the framework of a larger, encompassing, framework it becomes almost impossible to disabuse them of their fantasies.

The distinction crystallised for me in a conversation with a lawyer; we agreed that the essential difference between us was that his job was to make a case, and mine was not; the scientist's role is to let the evidence speak through their knowledge, skill, and theoretical framework; but it can say only what it has to say, not what they want from it. This may be hard for the defendant or (more normally) the prosecution, but that is the way the real, as opposed to the fictional, world happens to be constructed. Scientists run up all the time against the intransigence of nature, who will not easily conform to human expectations and desires; it is part of the job, taken for granted: expected, in fact. Textual critics, who deal in fiction all their working lives, are locked into the messy and rather corrupt obfuscations of ideology, which creates monsters that are not theirs. If the evidence will not deliver what the literary criticism needs, either because it is intransigent or absent, or because the needs are incompatible with the way the world is, then it is not for the textual critic to do anything other than point this out. They must offer a solution, since the job-description (dictated by literary critics) demands one, but they should make absolutely clear the degree of unlikelihood, or impossibility, that that solution represents. Modesty, and a sense of humour, are the answer; not reverent appeals to literary judgement, or a non-scientist's version of science; nor, most of all, to the reification of the text, the author, and his or her intentions. If we can do this, and can simply accept, like any scientist, the intransigence of nature, his or her stubborn refusal to open up secrets to even the most dedicated enquirer, then the monsters, I suggest, vanish away. Textual criticism is then a perfectly possible and satisfactory activity: after all, we do it every day.

So: the alties are the lawyers at the edge of science, making their cases, fitting facts into holes they don't fit in, discarding inconvenient truths, and forcing the method to fit to the outcome. Or they are the literary critics, bending a text to fit their aim, reifying their own beliefs beyond evidence and truth. Scientists, meanwhile, are regularly stumped, confused and questioning, but at least they have a method (the scientific method) to chart some path through the unknown.