Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Standards And Standards

Reported in Equus (December 2006) is an Evaluation of glucosamine levels in commercial equine oral supplements for joints (text requires payment).

Only 60 percent of the oral joint supplements analyzed recently by Canadian researchers contained the level of glucosamine specified on their labels. [...] Fourteen of the products tested matched their label claim of glucosamine content, nine did not and four of those varied "substantially," meaning they deviated more than 30 percent from the label claim. [...] The researchers also noted a disparity between the dosing instructions on the products and the standard recommended dose of 10 grams per day, which is based on previous research. The average label dose was half of the standard recommended dose. [...] These findings, say the researchers, reveal the need for better oversight and regulatory control of supplement contents to protect consumers.

Now, EoR feels compelled to point out this wasn't actually a study, it was a short communication. Also, it's not clear how many samples of the various products were tested. Nonetheless, it is clear that relying on supplements to provide a specific dose (or, indeed, any dose) is pretty much a hit and miss affair.

This is not a one-off in the alternative and complementary supplements market. Pan Pharmaceuticals in recent history in Australia were shown to provide what could only be called a fairly random quality control of their products.

Of course, if you're not sure that your product is effective, you could always try adding some real pharmaceutical drugs to it.

So: what's in that supplement/alternative treatment/herbal mix you're taking? How do you know? Is the dose of any active ingredients as stated? Is it less? Is it higher? What are the effects of under/overdosing? What standards (if any) does it have to adhere to? Are these the same as registered pharmaceuticals?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

MS Cured

Some claims made for various supplements are so wayout and unsupportable that even the Journal of Complementary Medicine finds them hard to swallow.

Take Progurt. The Jan/Feb 2007 issue of the JCM (EoR's favourite article in this issue was by a doctor explaining the importance of "subduing rebellious qi" in treating Gastro-Oesophogeal Reflux Disease) comments that Progurt is:

just a yoghurt culture and incubator, ie food, not supplement. And any untoward waist expansion from the litre daily dose is matched by a lightening of the wallet or purse by over $1000 a month!

According to the manufacturers:

Much of our food today contains insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and preservatives.

Eor doubts very seriously that food available in Western countries contains any of those products, except for the last, otherwise there would be massive product recalls. Does the company mean that insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers are used in agriculture? Why don't they make this clear? Because fear is a potent way to sell things. By the same sort of logic, people "contain" burgers, sprouts, vegetables, muesli and so on.

Progurt is a magic product:

Most people experience almost immediate benefits from eating Progurt. For healthy people it is a sense of increased awareness and wellbeing. For those with health problems there are often dramatic improvements in their condition.

EoR wonders how exactly "a sense of increased awareness" was measured, and what studies were undertaken to confirm this claim, and where they have been published. He suspects the answers are: you don't, they weren't and they haven't. Notice also the prominent sign of a quack product: a "condition" will improve through the use of this wonder product. Not a specific condition. Not even a group of specific condition. Any condition. Every condition. From eating yoghurt. Oh, if only it were that simple.

The company doesn't exactly have a disclaimer, and they appear to have skated beyond the thin edge of exactly what sort of claims can be made for supplements in Australia and still remain legal, though they do state:

We stress that Progurt is a health food, not a medicine. But the fact is that it has certain effects on the metabolism which can directly affect many health outcomes.

So, it's not a medicine. It's just food. But it still cures incurable diseases. And that's a fact!

Strangely, for a company selling a product, their site is remarkably free of products to buy and prices to pay. Thankfully, other people have made their pricelist available online (from someone who was rather upset that their "free" offer cost money, and that they refuse to reveal their "secret formula" - Eor suspects it's nine parts snake oil). $US80 for an incubator, and $US20 for a Progurt sachet, plus optional extras, plus $US40 freight. Even when you get it it may not work, since you have to maintain a close to sterile environment when making it. When hospitals struggle to contain breakouts of infections, how are you going to maintain such an environment in your home?

Progurt has provided sufferers of multiple sclerosis with "positive results" within hours. No studies to support this assertion are given. Nonetheless, it appears popular amongst the Big Pharma just wants us to stay sick and not cure us brigade (why do these people think Big Pharma couldn't make heaps of money if they came up with a cure for MS? or cancer? or arthritis? or any other chronic condition? do they think people wouldn't flock to buy such a product?).

Nonetheless, even some fringe practitioners don't believe in Progurt's magic:

Herbs, vitamins, minerals, yoghurt, progurt, diets, pumpkin soup and any so-called magic formulas or potions "WILL NOT HELP IN THE LEAST" --- unless you redevelop peace of mind during sleep and correct the anatomical functions of your body that are no longer working efficiently and you will only do this by following the eight steps I have outlined in this eBook "Multiple Sclerosis The Greatest Medical Mistake."

EoR reads that as meaning "it'll work if you convince yourself it does".

MS sufferers could save a lot of money and false hope, and go down to the local supermarket and buy some yoghurt directly.

Monday, January 29, 2007

How To Adhere To Alternative Belief Systems

Feng Shui posits that where objects are positioned can harmonise or interfere with universal energy flows. It's newage and holistic. It's about respecting the Earth and the spiritual value of our environment. Except when it interferes with the view from your house.

A Taiwanese man has been sentenced to four months in jail for cutting down more than 40 trees at an apartment complex, claiming they would undermine the feng shui of his nearby house, a newspaper said yesterday. [...] The Taipei District Court convicted "feng shui expert" Lo Pu-yi of cutting down the trees in an apartment complex next to his home on a hill in suburban Taipei, the Apple Daily reported. It said Lo's neighbors had accused him of cutting down the banyan and willow trees, as well as bamboo, saying the foliage blocked the flow of air and could undermine his livelihood. A separate court will handle his neighbors' claim for NT$400,000 (US$12,000) in damages, the paper said. Lo could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, we all know miracles at Lourdes are real. And if your prayers to heal your terminal illness don't succeed, well, God can resurrect you instead.

The body of a terminally ill British woman lay concealed by her mother for nearly five months at their home near the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes, it emerged today. French police discovered the body of Marian Therese Kearney, 46, last Thursday after being alerted by her 11-year-old daughter's teacher, who suspected from the child's demeanour in the classroom that something was wrong within the family. Sources close to the French investigation told the AFP new agency that Ms Kearney had been suffering from cancer and had moved to Lourdes, where her mother Irene Kearney lived, in the hope of finding a cure from the spring waters. Investigators say both women were religious mystics who shunned conventional medicine and sought help instead from the healing powers of the Catholic shrine.

Four and a half months, waiting for the magic fairy dust to work. How sad.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is G C Lichtenberg

It is almost impossible to bear the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing somebody’s beard.

Thousands can see that a proposition is nonsense without possessing the capacity formally to refute it.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Nominative Determinism

Nominative Determinism was popularised by New Scientist magazine some years ago, but it seems the principle goes back at least as far as the writings of C G Jung.

Nominative Determinism predicates that your choice of career is determined by your name.

Hence, someone called De Cock becomes the HIV/AIDS Director at WHO, while a psychologist accused of beating a patient with wire and a cat o'nine tails is a Dr Beaton.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Psychic Investigators 9

The (cryptic) ABC promo of this week's episode:

A psychic reading is interrupted by a vision of a young man who tells the psychic he was attacked.

This week's incredible, amazing, unbelievable, really true, unique, stunning, always correct, professional psychic police aide is Diane Lazarus aka Diane Lloyd-Hughes ("rated one of the top five psychics in the world" - she doesn't say who did the rating or what the criteria were).

Ms Lazarus has stated "I will catch the Suffolk Strangler" and that he is a "young lad, a hoodie". No. She didn't. He wasn't.

She claims to have helped police solve numerous crimes, including the murder of Mark Green. There is no evidence for these claims.

In fact, the West Midlands Police state "No psychic was used to locate the body".

I have consulted with all of my senior investigating officers (SIO's), and none can recall using such a person. I have personally received letters on an unsolicited basis from individuals claiming to have information; often these are of little if any value and will not be acted upon. They can often be misleading and inconsistent with the facts. The investigation of murder is, like all major crimes, merely a systematic approach using standard procedures in a methodical way. They are often complex processes using multiple and concurrent lines of enquiry but again like all crimes the police rely heavily on information it receives, most often from eyewitnesses, other witnesses, and technical and scientific support. We also work very closely with the families of the deceased, this is a sensitive area and often information given by well meaning individuals can cause hurt and often disappointment to the family.

South Wales Police are also dubious of her claims of association with them:

I have spoken to the Senior Investigating Officer dealing with the Muriel Drinkwater murder (1946). He has no recollection of South Wales Police ever using a psychic on any murder enquiry over the last 30 years, including that of Muriel Drinkwater. South Wales Police have had no dealings with the named Diane Lazarus and can confirm that the statements you allege she has made on her website are untrue.

"Untrue"? A psychic lying? Tell EoR it isn't so! You mean, they're making the whole story up? EoR is shocked and incredulous. Probably like the viewers of Psychic Drivellers.

As per usual in the program (cue techno-X-files style music) "the police were baffled". Apparently Ms Lazarus makes tape recordings of all her seances (yes, she still practices the Victorian parlour game of "seances"). There were even images of a tape turning around while we heard a couple of Ms Lazarus's spooky predictions. But was this the original tape? Everything else in the program was a reconstruction years after the event. At one point Ms Lazarus's image, speaking the words, is superimposed over the image of the spinning tape. EoR is very doubtful that this is the original tape, which would, however, make very interesting listening. We could actually hear the original guesses, wrong or right, complete and unedited, rather than this heavily biased propaganda.

The investigating detective seemingly went on a TV show. Whether to appeal for information, or to spruik psychics is a little unclear. A couple of (extremely brief) segments were shown, but the only thing EoR got from that is that the interviewer was a little bemused by her describing the information provided by psychics as "enhancing" her job.

Well, if the reconstruction of the detective and psychic "teaming up" to solve the crime is anything to go by, it can't have enhanced it very much. In the reconstruction, the detective very carefully explains to Ms Lazarus where the CCTV camera was, where the missing man was walking, and all about an unidentified person he is seen with. How much else did she tell him at the time? How much else did she gain from the media coverage of the disappearance?

The psychic did not solve the crime. Again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Critical Toolbox

In a recent edition of The Philosopher's Zone Martin Bridgstock (from the School of Science at Griffith University and winner of the inaugural Australian Skeptics Prize for Critical Thinking) looks at skepticism.

He concentrates on three critical thinking tools: the burden of proof, Ockham's razor, Sagan's balance.

The burden of proof demand is simply that if somebody makes a paranormal claim of some kind, an astonishing claim of some kind, then the onus is upon them to establish that in fact their claim is justified. Other people don't have to disprove it [...] Ockham's razor is the principle laid down by William of Ockham, who was a mediaeval theological politician. And basically it says that one should always prefer the simplest explanation, one doesn't add on explanatory entities that you don't need. [...] [Sagan's balance] is that if somebody makes an amazing claim, then the evidence has got to be very strong in order to back up that claim. If somebody makes a very minor ho-hum boring claim, such as that a car drove past my house this morning, very little evidence is required to make a reasonable person believe it. But if it's an amazing claim, such as mind-reading or foreseeing the future by paranormal means, then the evidence has got to be very strong indeed.

Dr Bridgstock uses these principles in his university course on Skepticism, Science and the Paranormal to educate his students with good critical thinking skills.

As he points out, he doesn't attempt to dissuade his pupils from any fantastic beliefs they may hold, but rather gets them to apply these tools to beliefs and claims.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

More Horse Woo

EoR looked at a woo-full method of using equines for healing yesterday, but there are other methods that seem to be more scientific, at least at first glance.

This report appears at a number of places on the internet, identically quoted. EoR isn't sure if there's an original source that everyone is copying from or whether it's a press release by the researcher herself (the same document at Alliant International University is presumably the original).

Horse Heart Coherence May Be Key To Non-invasive Stress Detection

A horse's heart rhythms reflect their emotional state and can respond to the emotional state of a nearby human, according to a pilot study conducted by Alliant International University Professor Ellen Gehrke and the Institute of HeartMath. When in contact, a horse's heart rate may mirror a human's emotions, signifying a close unspoken form of communication between man and beast. The horse as emotion detector may be the key to eliminating invasive procedures such as those that measure cortisol, a stress hormone. Horses have long been known to be sensitive to their environments. The preliminary research project "Horses and Humans Energetics: The study of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) between horses and Humans" is the first step to proving horses to be as equally sensitive to the humans within that environment. [...] The study took place at Dr. Gehrke's San Diego ranch where ECG recorders were placed on her and four of her horses. The subjects were monitored during a 24-hour period in which the horses experienced normal conditions and activities such as eating, grooming, being alone, and being ridden and accompanied by Dr. Gehrke. The ECG recorders projected increased coherent heart rate variability (HRV) patterns for the horses during times of close, calm contact between them and Dr. Gehrke. Coherent HRV patterns are the result of positive emotions and facilitate brain function. [...] As a professor at the Business Management Division of Alliant's Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, Dr. Gehrke often brings students to her horse ranch for human development, leadership and team-building.

There are a few things up front that worry EoR about this study. Any study that refers to "energetics" (and isn't a physics paper) is already a warning sign of alternative thinking. There was no control. There was only one (human) subject who already has preformed ideas about the outcomes. The human subject was also the author of the study. Dr Gehrke has qualifications in Natural Resource Management, Marketing, and Organizational Development. EoR doesn't see anything there about biology, medical science, or veterinary science.

Furthermore, Dr Gehrke also runs Rolling Horse Ranch, a commercial venture which is:

committed to assisting people and organizations generate and sustain exceptional levels of energy, passion, inner strength and commitment.

In partnership with horses, programs and services are designed to:
  • improve the ability to think and focus on real problems and solutions in life

  • enhance communication skills so there is more clarity and coherence

  • help individuals discover the core of their leadership presence

  • identify those areas in life where one feels more energetic and passion about work and self

  • help reduce reactive responses to stress and stressful situations

  • work more productively with more care and appreciation in teams and human systems

The claim in the press report that Dr Gehrke "often brings students to her horse ranch for human development" is certainly disingenuous, to say the least. Amongst the workshops on offer, you can "Build Coherence In Your Life":

Deep, personal and heartfelt work describes this workshop. You will work at recognizing stress points in your life, how you respond to them and then making choices to manage your perceptions and reactions to stress so that you feel more balanced and in control within your heart as the source of your intuition and your mind as the guide to sound decisions. The horses partner with individuals to offer insight as to how to recognize and build a coherent intelligence.

If that doesn't sound sufficiently newage and touchy-feely to you (as opposed to statements based on science and evidence), consider the FAQ:

At RHR, we are committed to changing the leadership and organizational environments by respecting our partnerships with horses. A great deal of time and energy goes into honoring and engaging the RHR horses as cofacilitators - sentient beings who have much to offer in learning and awareness.

Or the About Us page:

[Horses] have an uncanny ability to accurately sense energetically your level of trust, confidence, awareness, and interpersonal skills.

There's nothing "energetic" about it. Horses rely on a remarkable ability to use and respond to subtle signals (body language). Dr Gehrke would do better researching Clever Hans, the amazing psychic horse who wasn't.

The only information EoR could find on "coherent heart rate" were a plethora of copies of the original story quoted above, and sites like Heartmath, which Dr Gehrke is also associated with, or sites like the woo-filled Heart Coherence team:

Life-force universally flows where attention is focussed, and vice versa. But either of the two is unstable all by itself. Wellness is created only when emotion and action are harmonically inclusive and coherent. This will turn them from opposed and blindly attractive or dissipative, into mutually stabilizing, uplifting and empowering.

Is that clear, then?

So, do horses somehow magically affect human heart rates? Or is it more likely that a horse will be calmer around a calm human and, hence, have a lower heart rate (and vice versa: if the horse is calm, the human is more likely to be calm)?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Magical Equine Science

EoR has previously looked at Equine Assisted Therapy (a belief that hanging around horses will act as a powerful form of psychiatry) as well as Quantum Savvy (natural horsemanship that has nothing to do with quantum mechanics other than the name). But what about Holistequine? Billed as "The Horse as a catalyst for Healing and Personal Development", Holistequine takes working with horses further than before into the depths of woo.

Holistequine represents a study of whole bio-energy fields, the subtle energy fields that connect all kingdoms in Nature. The findings of this extensive research have now been formulated into a method called "Whole Body Intelligence". [...] During our investigations we found that once we started working with the horses to integrate the clients "whole" body (or energy field) it not only had a positive effect at the emotional and spiritual level but it also had domino effect on the intelligence and the healing capacity within the physical body. [...] The technique can also be applied to improve children's learning, to improve communication (i.e. relationship problems and parenting), in vibrational healing and also in programs to promote personal development and Business and Life Coaching. The gift of the animals is to open humanity to the next evolutionary step on our journey. The animals will help us to explore and to trust our 6th sense and to gain insight into claiming our higher perception and intuition.

"Study"! "Extensive research"! "Findings"! There's a whole mix of weirdness there, and that's just the front page. Further on there are articles where you can discover such information as:

When we look at life as a whole we see that every living thing is made up of Energy. Animals, like humans are just another expression of that Energy reflecting back to us qualities that we need to integrate into our lives (ie. unconditional love, loyalty, and trust). We often project onto our pets the love we cannot give to ourselves. The Astrological symbols give us clues to the importance of this mirroring effect. [...] How it works- You choose a horse which reads your energy and reacts to it (he usually will not follow a simple request). We then use muscle testing to interpret his reaction and correct the thought pattern causing the problem ( re-wire the neurological pathways). The horse then sees your lighter energy field and treats you positively. During our sessions we focus on the solar plexus chakra.

How the horse's reaction is interpreted is not clear, nor how the "thought pattern" is corrected. Nor are we told what evidence shows that horses see "energy fields".

The Articles page goes on and on (including, for some strange reason, a cut and paste copy of a "Well Being Manifesto" which is a left-wing political tract. These guys certainly don't leave anything out.

They also do Holistic Horsemanship which is the next level up from "the male oriented Natural Horsemanship programs of the past" (actually, anyone who's been to a natural horsemanship show will notice the preponderance of females there though the sellers are usually male).

Holistequine represents horsemanship from a higher perspective, it is the next level of understanding from being either too forceful and dominant with our horse or being too soft, gentle or ineffective. By learning the W.B.I. method we become "the iron fist in the kid glove" thereby gaining a natural hierarchy. We now have a third way.

Well, it worked for Tony Blair...

For a view of the therapists behind this magic, meet the staff.

This might just seem like more mystical madness floating around on the internet, but EoR was led to it by a story at Eques ("When you are listening to your horse magic happens every day").

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Question

This is from a chiropracter's website but the argument is essentially the same for all alternative practitioners of whatever ilk:

1. The body is a self-healing and self-regulating mechanism. In other words, it is designed to heal itself.
2. The nervous system is the master control system of the body.
3. Any interference in the function of the nervous system must then result in a malfunction in the body.
4. My task is to eliminate that interference so that the body can function normally.

So, if point one is true, points three and four must be false.

If points three and four are true, patently point one is false.

Or is EoR just confused?

Sunday, January 21, 2007


EoR recently had reason to google for some "affirmations" on the interwebby. Imagine his disappointment when he went along to Affirmations, only to be peremptorily informed that "Sorry, your web browser isn't currently supported by this site". Hardly affirmative.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Carnival Time

Some recent blog carnivals:

Choice Herbal Information

Choice, the consumer magazine, has looked at natural first aid. Sadly, the reality of these products falls far short of the claims:

Claims for natural remedies’ use as first-aid treatments are more often than not based on traditional use, and often aren’t backed up by evidence from clinical trials (where patients are methodically treated and observed in a clinical setting). This doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t work: often no clinical trials have been carried out due to lack of funding. Generally speaking, though, the lack of large, good-quality clinical trials explains why natural remedies are unlikely to be used as first-aid treatments in a conventional medical setting.

This may come as shocking news to the purveyors of such products, from the corner herbalist to the major pharmacy chains, but it's very unlikely to affect sales of a multimillion dollar market.

Though the fact that it has been covered on national commercial television news certainly gives it wide exposure, and the statement by the Choice media spokesperson indicates some consumers are uncertain about the barrage of advertising posing as science:

"We've received a number of queries from consumers over the last year about which remedies they should buy and why," Ms Naidoo said.

The television report concludes with Australian Integrative Medicines Association president Professor Marc Cohen crying poor. It's the usual "how can we afford research when it costs so much?" which is a bit like Bill Gates asking for change for a cup of coffee.

The report is also covered at Terra Sigillata.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Psychic Investigators 8

This week's episode is a little different. No heinous murder, just a couple of scammers (is it only EoR, or do others experience a frisson of delight at a psychic being set to find a scammer?):

In September 1975, two con-men who had swindled millions of pounds vanished without a trace. The case was going cold until psychic Bob Cracknell had a vision and put his reputation on the line. Cracknell was convinced that the two lay preachers who disappeared after a massive fraud scandal involving the financing of church organs came to light, were hiding on an island off the coast of Scotland.

It's a strange choice of case since this particular psychic is "The UK's Number One Psychic Detective" and also solved the Yorkshire Ripper case (well, he provided invaluable information to the police - or he told them something - or whatever. Anyway, there's a picture of him standing in front of the Ripper's house on his website). He was "100% correct" about that case, as usual, even though:

Cracknell was engaged by the newspaper to travel to Bradford and was driven by car around the area. Without any prompting, he directed the driver past all the landmarks he had previously described - until eventually they had left the built-up area of Bradford and finally arrived at a T-junction Cracknell was then asked the most important question - 'Which way do we go now?' He chose left. As a result the car ended up in a desolate area. Cracknell was unable to come up with anything else, other than that he knew the Ripper lived close by. After the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe, it became quite clear that had Cracknell chosen to turn right, instead of left, they would have located the murder's home - which was a few hundred meters further down the road.

So, given a 50/50 choice and, choosing the wrong direction, makes him 100% correct?

Mr Cracknell's biography may be a miracle of psychic powers, but it's also a wonderful demonstration of how not to write English, how to mix metaphors, and how to abuse hyperbole:

Abused and tormented as a lonely war child separated from his mother, and never knowing his father, Cracknell's desperate search for survival and emotional succour unlocked the psychic gateways - and the genie was very much out the bottle - the painful voyage of psychic and personal discovery had begun. Cracknell suffered a nervous psychic breakdown which cut short his military service in the RAF. His psychic abilities had simply developed beyond his current understanding and capacity to control them. Cracknell made a physically fruitful yet mentally barren marriage of misunderstanding. Then came the final emergence as the honed psychic adept from the nurturing chrysalis under the guidance of aged masters of the psychic and spiritual arts.

Poor English, of course, isn't a sin in itself, but this man has written a number of books, including one that promises to make you a psychic just like him. Here's a sample of the turgid prose it contains:

My name is Robert Cracknell. I have risen to the top of my profession. I am a psychic whose abilities have been forged in the harsh fires of a cynical, fearful, stereotypical world. I state that I am a psychic in the same way as another person might say: "I am an electrician," or "I am a baker." Unlike other professions, my apprenticeship has taken place over a period of thirty-five years, where I have continuously and steadfastly sought to improve my abilities - and will continue to do so until it is my time to leave this third-dimensional existence.

Those of us living in a four-dimensional world may be feeling sorry for the man, though at least he's improving his skills in answering difficult questions such as "Which way do we go now?"

Mr Cracknell also spends time encouraging conspiracy theories (the wrong man was convicted of the murder of Martin Luther King [Jr], and the truth was deliberately covered up), and also appears to be a qualifed quantum scientist as well (at least in the company of dowsers):

Bob will explain all about Entanglement, how it makes dowsing work and how it affects Ley lines. This is where the Quantum scientist meets the psychic and the dowser. Whatever happens to one particle will thus immediately affect the other particle, wherever in the universe it may be. Einstein called this "Spooky action at a distance." Bob Cracknell is a former Instrumentation Scientist with the Defence Research Agency. His research includes understanding the Ley line signal, the dowsing mechanism and gravitationally entangled protons.

How dowsing works? When was that proved? Steve Luttrell provides a more coherent explanation of entanglement.

Back to Psychic Investigators. EoR really doesn't want to waste his readers' time by going over the same ground again, so he'll just point you to Mr Cracknell's own incredible telling of the tale (including his taunt to the police to "prove him wrong") and will just go over a few points.

The events described took place 31 years ago. While Mr Cracknell claims his visions were documented in the Daily Express they are not available online and EoR does not have access to them to verify those claims. The case was high profile at the time though (as evidenced by a number of newspaper cuttings shown on the program - none of which were about Mr Cracknell's supposed involvement and revelations) which leads to an interesting statement by a journalist. Either Mr Cracknell was amazingly psychic (how else could he have known all those details?), or...

"If he'd done some research, then he might have known."

Mr Cracknell was convinced the fraudsters were hiding in a monastery. Or a church. Or a cave (his claims altered over time). The fraudsters were heavily involved in the church, they were lay preachers, their scam involved church organs, and they had also talked about joining a monastery. Apart from all those clues, those are pretty amazing psychic guesses.

There is no monastery where Mr Cracknell apparently said the men were hiding. They did, however, spend some time in a stone building and, as the stunned narrator says:

A primitive stone dwelling not entirely unlike a cave!

Retrofitting "clues" is such a fun game! And the "church"? They also spent some time on Priest Island! Get it? Priests? Churches! It's so obvious (after the fact). How could the police have been so stupid to not find them?

And in what is fast becoming a cliche for this program: the psychic did not solve the crime (the breakthrough came when a colleague of the fraudsters confessed to the police).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Happy Birthday

And big 50th birthday wishes to The Sky At Night.

The Webster Technique

EoR doesn't want to go back to NOT again, but he was interested enough to follow up on claims in The West Australian regarding chiropracters' amazing ability to resolve breech births.

Also known as the Webster Technique:

The Webster Technique is defined as a specific chiropractic analysis and adjustment that reduces interference to the nerve system and facilitates biomechanical balance in pelvic structures, muscles and ligaments. This has been shown to reduce the effects of intrauterine constraint, allowing the baby to get into the best possible position for birth. Dr. Larry Webster, Founder of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association discovered this technique as a safe means to restore proper pelvic balance and function for pregnant mothers. In expectant mothers presenting breech, there has been a high reported success rate of the baby turning to the normal vertex position.

There is a study (published in the July/August 2002 issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics) that reports

82% of the doctors surveyed reported a high rate of success when using the Webster Technique.

Many sites reference this study without further details. EoR is suspicious that this is a case of one site copying another (though at least one site claims the success rate as 92%).

The abstract for this single "study" is available at PubMed:

Surveys were mailed to 1047 US and Canadian members of the ICPA. RESULTS: One hundred eighty-seven surveys were returned from 1047 ICPA members, constituting a return rate of 17.86%. Seventy-five responses did not meet the study inclusion criteria and were excluded; 112 surveys (11%) provided the data. Of these 112 surveys, 102 (92%) resulted in resolution of the breech presentation, while 10 (9%) remained unresolved. CONCLUSION: The surveyed doctors reported a high rate of success (82%) in relieving the musculoskeletal causes of intrauterine constraint using the Webster Technique.

A survey may provide some preliminary data for further investigation, but it is not a scientific study of the effectiveness of the technique in relation to other techniques, nor in relation to any control group. There are also other concerns with the data:

  • The survey was retrospective, which means it was subject to recall bias (selective reporting of favorable results).

  • Only 187 chiropractors -- 18% of those surveyed -- returned the questionnaire. Such a low response rate is inherently subject to bias (chiropractors more apt to report cases they believe were successful).

  • In 59 of the cases, the breech presentation was not confirmed by ultrasound, which introduced the potential for medical misdiagnosis.

If the Webster Technique doesn't work, you might like to consider lighting a candle by your toe, visualisation, homeopathy, or talking to your baby.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What Would Be The Correct Term?

EoR feels rather proud to have been lumped in with Orac, Abel Pharmboy, P Z Myers, and The Amazing Randi et al at a post by Random John.

Well, we’re all sick, so what better to do than peruse the slums of the skeptical internet and point out all the bad arguments pseudoskeptics make in the name of "debunking" pseudoscience. I had taken this up as a hobby a little over a year ago, but, because it’s really too painful to read some of the garbage that people are willing to say in the name of debunking what other people say (whether they are debunking garbage or not). They debunk things that are both pretty out there and things that are actually true. (And things that are both.) Unfortunately, their "arguments" do little to separate the truth from the chaff.

But how do you tell the "truth from the chaff" then?

Second Sight offers some pithy responses about NOT but not much else. I guess, also, he doesn’t like psychics and seems to have the sinking, suspicious feeling that someone, somewhere, might choose alternative medicine over conventional.

Actually, EoR loves psychics. They provide some of his best material (Simon Turnbull, ex Psychic of the Year, was on television this week predicting Malcolm Turnbull will become leader of the Liberal Party this year - just like he predicted in 2004; oh, and a dirty bomb will be exploded in a US city this year. You have been warned).

Apparently, we're all pseudoskeptics. Some of the telltale signs are:

The tendency to deny, rather than doubt
Double standards in the application of criticism
The making of judgements without full inquiry
Tendency to discredit, rather than investigate
Use of ridicule or ad hominem attacks
Presenting insufficient evidence or proof
Pejorative labelling of proponents as 'promoters', 'pseudoscientists' or practitioners of 'pathological science.'
Assuming criticism requires no burden of proof
Making unsubstantiated counter-claims
Counter-claims based on plausibility rather than empirical evidence
Suggesting that unconvincing evidence is grounds for dismissing it
Tendency to dismiss all evidence

Rather than be accused further of some malicious pseudoskepticism, EoR will simply leave it to his readers to decide how many of those points Random John qualifies under.

Now, if only Random John had provided reasons why NOT, psychics and alternative medicine should be considered differently...

And so to EoR's dilemma. What do you call a person who is pseudoskeptical about pseudoskeptics? A pseudoskeptic pseudoskeptic? A pseudopseudoskepticskeptic? A pseudoskeptic2?

PS: EoR is offended by the description of his corner of the blogosphere as a "slum". "Boggy", yes. But not a slum.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Methods Of Attack

EoR has pointed out previously that the Dore program's latest radio advertisements work on the scare tactic that ADHD drugs are causing strokes and heart attacks in children.

In Australia, that doesn't seem to be a wholly true statement.

It’s not easy for consumers. There is a theoretical risk from ADHD medications and they should only be used when they’re needed. Nothing you swallow for therapeutic purposes is absolutely safe whether it’s a herb or a pill. We also have an appalling system for monitoring medication side effects - so it’s hard from random reporting to ascribe cause and effect. Governments need to insist that post marketing surveillance - watching drugs once they’re on the market - is the rule rather than the exception.

EoR is also fascinated about the comment in the story that

In Australia the Church of Scientology, which is ideologically opposed to medications for mental illness, has been whipping up concern with stories of hundreds of complications.

EoR wishes to make it clear he is in no way suggesting a link between the anti-psychiatry Church of Scientology and Dore. He just finds it fascinating how the two organisations seem to be operating from similar assumptions.

Meanwhile, Dore is causing problems in the UK, as reported by Liz Ditz. Five members of the editorial board of British Dyslexia Association's (BDA) Journal, Dyslexia, have resigned in protest at some rather poor research published in that journal regarding the Dore program. Questions of funding aside (and they are not totally irrelevant), EoR fails to see how a reputable journal could publish research about dyslexia that fails some extremely basic scientific principles:

The study also faced criticism as most of the children assessed were not dyslexic. Some were 22 months ahead of their reading age before the treatment while the writing and semantic fluency of most was above average. John Stein, professor of physiology at Cambridge University, was also concerned by the lack of a control group and the small scale of the study.

So how can a therapy be said to assist a certain disability group, if that disability group was not assessed in the "scientific" study? Or were the whole group the control?

Monday, January 15, 2007

How It Feels

Saturday's West Australian newspaper includes a "How it feels" column. Previous stories have included "How it feels to be shot" and "How it feels to be attacked by a shark". Yesterday's column was "How it feels to be an animal psychic" by Amanda de Warren.

Ms de Warren described her incredible success channelling all manner of beasties, and how she's always right! She's so adept at this that the animal doesn't even have to be alive, or even present. Woo thoughts can be channelled equally well from a photograph. She's also not restricted to the standard cats and dogs.

This boy had a pet spider and the house had caught on fire and the family couldn't get it out, so it perished in the fire. THe spider came through and had a chat.

She also apparently helped a zoo with an elephant that refused to eat. She was, of course, supremely successful but, sadly, she's not allowed to say which zoo. Zoos never want any sort of publicity. It just makes more people go there and waste everybody's time paying for entrance and looking at the animals.

I'd like to speak with whales about why they beach themselves - I think it could be such a bonus for science to use my skills.

Well, why doesn't she talk to the whales? She's already said they don't need to be present in her loungeroom for the chats to come through. Though EoR fails to see what use cold-reading skills would be to a scientific investigation of whale beachings.

She's also much better than going to a veterinarian. She can easily tell what ails them without putting them through "expensive and painful tests". And she can save on surgery costs.

A few months ago, a lady rang up because she was having trouble with her dog and I was able to see that its bladder had been nicked in a recent surgery and had been leaking ever since. A really strange thing happened then; I felt my soul going into the dog's body and I pinched the bladder where it had been nicked and later I heard from the owner that the bladder had not leaked since.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc! Undeniable proof of psychic surgery! Never pay a vet again!

More: she solves crimes (why hasn't she been on Psychic Investigators?). She's spoken to a dog who witnessed a murder and knows whodunnit. Worse, the "police seem ready to charge the wrong person" (the police are always so inefficient when they don't rely on psychics and only use investigative techniques and forensics).

I've told this information to the people involved but I don't know if it has been passed on to the police.

Another psychic who knows all about the murder, but steadfastly declines to tell the police. Or us.

She also has rather a grandiose view of her work's importance:

It's quite important because I don't think there is anyone else who can do what I do.

EoR's readers either realise that Ms de Warren is lying or very illinformed. For example, there's a whole page of animal psychics on the internet. Or, in Australia, have a look at Ms de Warren's name in a whole slew of psychics, all claiming to be Australia's best psychic. Heck, there's even a "self-proclaimed horse psychologist and animal psychic" in the children's television show The Saddle Club (yet another hattip by ABC television to woo promotion - this time to the kiddies).

The column concludes with a touching episode in the life of an animal psychic:

I don't eat animals since discovering this ability. I used to, but one day the lamb I was eating came through to me and ever since then I haven't been able to eat meat.

Regardless of Ms de Warren's perception of her own amazing powers, EoR finds it sad when even a commercial television show can easily prove she's not so good at guessing as she claims:

With absolutely no background information, and armed only with photos of deceased pets Lulu and Mickey, Amanda starts the reading with Emma on the telephone. "You have one animal that's still here? Yes. You have a dog that's still here, is that right? Yes. Does he love water? No, he hates water. He hates water? There's connection with water, beach something. He says he loves your mum, he adores her." Amanda charges $70 for a 30 minute pet reading like this. So after her psychic session, what was Emma's impression? "I would say that she had about 40% of things correct and around about roughly 60% not so correct."

Oh: such obvious coldreading. Ask questions. Guess. Latch on to anything that seems like a hit. Expand the guesses if they're going horribly wrong. Oh, and most importantly: mention water. Look: it's a dog. Dogs like water!

Ms de Warren has since significantly increased her charges.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Be Like EoR

You will be like Eeyore.

Remember, dignity is a good thing. No matter what the cheerful people think, they are not dignified. Stand tall and be proud of yourself as a non-perky person. You're making the world a more tolerable place.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

NOT Science

The West Australian's MIND&BODY supplement for Tuesday 9th January 2007 warns parents that "Therapy begins in the womb".

For some children, chiropractic management begins in the womb. The manipulation is used, with varying reports of success, to move babies out of the breech position in the uterus.

Note that warning, "with varying reports of success", that indicates that a perceived effect probably has less to do with causal correlation than wishful thinking. Another chiropracter warns that it doesn't work "in 100 per cent of cases". What per cent does it work in then? What studies have been done to prove this "effect"?

Parents are also strongly urged to have their newborns given a checkup by chiropracters.

The Chiropracters Association of WA recommends that every newborn has a check-up to see if their spine needs adjusting after childbirth. Dr Grant said 30 to 50 per cent of babies might require some spinal adjustment after birth. [...] Chiropracters argue that abnormal biomechanics of the spine can interfere with the child's developing nervous system. Subluxation is the chiropractic term given to this altered nerve function. Dr Grant said though the cause of colic, or irritable baby syndrome (IBS) had not been proved, a chiropractic adjustment often resulted in its symptoms, such as sleeplessness and constant crying, subsiding.

More than such a remarkable ability to "heal" already self-limiting conditions such as IBS, chiropracty can also apparently cure learning disabilities, using the remarkable NOT (neural organisation technique). This appears to EoR to be something like NOT science, NOT plausible and NOT proven.

Chiropractic treatment is also being used in WA to treat children with disabilities, including cerebral palsy, autism and learning disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia. [...] [The NOT] system had given some insight into how to put a body back together once it had become disorganised. The technique involves a combination of manipulation, applied kinesiology and cranio-sacral therapy.

While EoR frankly remains bemused by "disorganised" bodies (do the internal organs slide out of place? EoR certainly knows of (equine) chiropracters who claim to put slipped pelvises and other bones "back into place") he remains reassured that the marvellous chiropracters can put it all back together again. A bit like Meccano, he presumes.

NOT is obviously very powerful, being not just one woo but three together. The magical applied kinesiology with its ability to spot far more allergies than a trained allergy specialist (via an unproven effect), craniosacral therapy with its ability to cure all ills by light presses on the skull (via an unproven effect), and chiropracty with its ability to convince parents that their children are doomed unless their invisible subluxations are remedied as soon as possible (and usually as often as possible for the rest of their lives).

NOT gives many of the signs of quackery, as evidenced by claims on the Australian NOT site that it can cure a vast range of conditions, including allergies, ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, scoliosis, immune disorders, endocrine and circulatory disorders, head injuries, women's hormone problems, hypertension, phobias and "Emotional Stress Clearing". Furthermore, the "discoverer" of this technique, Dr Carl A Ferreri (that's "doctor" in the chiropractic sense) is said to have:

discovered many things, not previously known about how the human body works.

That's certainly two signs of quackery: that the therapy cures a huge range of (unrelated) conditions, and that the therapy is based on information that has been suppressed or is unknown to orthodoxy.

Strangely, it's also noted that Dr Ferreri recently suffered a stroke and then was hospitalised for a triple bypass operation. Why do these alternative practitioners who all claim to have such powerful paradigm-busting therapies always opt for real treatment in real hospitals? Can't they cure themselves? What's wrong with their magics? EoR is reminded of the homeopath who advertised in a recent edition of Nova by saying she is back at work after spending some lengthy time in hospital for an (presumably homeopathically-resistant) unstated condition.

Be prepared for some serious alternative biology and uberwoo if you undertake reading Dr Ferreri's explanation:

The treatment protocols are then designed to specifically organise or reorganise a disorganised central nervous system. A disruption of the natural balance within these previously synchronised processes will cause a change in the electromagnetic field in various parts of the body. This EM change can then be measured, analysed and treated. Homeostasis is then restored to the body by activating combinations of the known reflex systems, acupuncture meridians, muscle spindles, magnetic energy, cranial and spinal bone balances and nutrition which control these systems. The key to the success of this treatment protocol is that it recognises the need for the specific organisation and integration of all systems within the body. The body is a totally integrated biological and energetic entity where everything affects everything else in one way or another and as the old song goes, the "head bone" is really connected to the "foot bone". It is impossible to treat one part of the body without affecting or causing stress or change somewhere else in the body. The list of conditions treated with this method almost reads like a pathology book because it is so diverse.

But not, of course, stroke or heart problems, apparently. The above mentioned page is worth visiting, however, for its series of pictures of Dr Ferreri performing his magic tricks. EoR is particularly fascinated by the image of him "correcting pterygoid muscles" where one hand is gently laid on the patient's forehead, while the other hand, incredibly, appears to be fondling the patient's crotch. Why do so many "manipulative" therapists feel such an urge to realign energies and resolve blockages by fondling the patient's genitals? Could this explain why the largest number of complaints against alternative practitioners (at least in Australia) is for "inappropriate touch"?

Chirobase points out the main danger with this therapy:

I recommend against using any chiropractor who claims to diagnose problems throughout the body by testing the strength of the arms. The systems that rely on this test are potentially dangerous because they use misinformation to guide patients away from appropriate medical care.

Though there are also other dangers that the West Australian fails to mention:

NOT came to public attention in 1988 when chiropractors subjected children to it in a "research" program sponsored by school officials in Del Norte County, California. For five months, dozens of children from age four to sixteen, with epilepsy, Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, and various other learning disorders, were "treated" by having their skull compressed with viselike hand pressure. The children were also forced to endure painful thumb pressure against the roof of the mouth and finger pressure against their eyes. According to news reports, the children struggled, cried, and screamed as they were forcibly restrained. One reportedly experienced his first seizure when his eye sockets were "adjusted." Some of the children became violent, explosive, rebellious, uncontrollable, and lacking in self-motivation and drive. In 1991, a jury ordered Ferreri to pay $565,000 in damages to seven children and their parents who had filed suit for physical and emotional pain related to the treatment. Two other chiropractors involved in the case settled out of court for a total of $207,000.

The West Australian includes a remarkable testimonial about a child who, it is argued by her mother, was transformed by NOT into a "different girl". EoR is somewhat confused by her condition, however. The article states:

Five-year-old Kaliesha Martin has dx cerebral palsy, an acute condition caused by a lack of oxygen during her birth, which left her with severe disabilities including difficulty swallowing, eye-tracking problems and a lack of co-ordination.

"Dx cerebral palsy"? You see what happens when a "doctor" reads a Doctor's notes? They go on their merry way applying the woo without a clue. EoR expects chiropracty to be equally as valuable dealing with the severe forms of dx headache, dx ingrown toenail and dx gullibility.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Psychic Investigators 7

This week's sham documentary packs a double whammy. After Darryl Cozart goes missing:

Jeannette's mother took some missing person flyers to the newsstand owned by psychic Mary Ellen Rodrigues and when Mary Ellen touched the paper she had a vision of Darryl standing beside her. The psychic told police that Darryl was dead; that he had been shot; that there was something around his neck and that his body would be found in a marshy area. She also reported that Darryl's spirit repeated the word "fickle". When the police found Darryl's body it was exactly as Mary Ellen had described. New evidence then led the police to the killer; the husband of one of Darryl's work colleagues. Frank Fickle was found guilty and locked up for life.

Look: a psychic who not only said "near water", but knew the killer's name! Now that's a definite rarity.

The program itself, however, was the usual mishmash of claimed recollections (nearly ten years after the event in this case) and a police investigation and prosecution that proceeded entirely without the services of the psychic.

Unlike other psychics, Ms Rodrigues became quite talkative with the murder victim. She claims he was a "constant companion" since his murder, talking to her (but, sadly, she couldn't always understand what he was saying - particulary the essential stuff), even going so far as banging on her walls (was he using Morse code?), ringing her telephone (but not, apparently, speaking to her on it), and grabbing the steering wheel of her car. He told her things like "I'm so sorry!", that he was shot, that he'd have a rope around his neck, and the word "ghost". Well, the last was proof enough for the murder victim's wife, since Ghost was their favourite film! Heaven forbid that a psychically channelled spirit might say "ghost" for any other reason.

What she told a policeman didn't seem as specific: he was in a field or a swamp, and there was a rope or chain around his neck. Hmmm. Getting vaguer.

And, according to the actual investigating officer, he only confirms that she said he was shot.

More astonishing revelations: the spirit kept saying "It's fickle! It's fickle!" This meant nothing until Frank Fickle was arrested for the murder.

While driving around searching for his body, Ms Rodrigues claims to have found a sneaker (his sneaker? - nothing further is mentioned about it) lying by the roadside pointing west. Obviously: a Clue. She found the street where the killer lived. She was revealed much more secret information. Alas, fearing "no one would believe her" she told no one until, presumably, this documentary.

Call EoR obtuse, but "predictions" are usually only so when they precede an event. These are not predictions but rather a format for a so-called documentary puff piece.

Nonetheless, in the words of the breathless voiceover: "All her predictions came true!". All? How do we know? According to the police officer, there were things she couldn't have known which were true. He suggests one possible answer: coincidence.

Oh, and much is made of the fact that she kept claiming the murder victim had a bandana on (though it wasn't on him when his body was dumped and Ms Rodrigues failed to mention that). Strangely enough, she had been browsing a well detailed Missing poster distributed by worried relatives, which included at least two pictures of him wearing... Yes. A bandana.

For a ghost who was so talkative, failing to give the location of his body, the first name of his killer, or any real information is an unnecessary oversight. Come on, Ms Rodrigues: you must try harder. He can bang walls, ring phones and drive cars! But he can't give specific, useful information...

Ms Rodrigues is given as a creditable psychic since she is a businesswoman, running a newsagent, though EoR can't see the connection. Perhaps she is happy with her employment, since there appears to be little trace of her on the internet.

The murdered man's parents are promoting Parents of Murdered Children, Inc and a Fight Crime initiative. There is no mention of psychics. Strangely.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dolphin Assisted Therapy - Dolphins Fight Back

Could this be the end of swimming with dolphins in order to communicate with angels and usher in the Age of Aquarius? Recently, we heard about the New Zealand woman who was hospitalised in a critical condition after a dolphin jumped into her boat and landed on her. At the time it seemed to be a terrible accident. But could it have been more? Was the attack deliberate?

Now EoR learns of an incident in the Ukraine where a swimmer was attacked by a pod of killer dolphins.

As we know from the meanderings of Deepak Chopra and his acolytes, there is no coincidence in wooland. All is inextricably linked at a quantum vibrational level.

EoR suspects the dolphins are telling us woo is silly and not to believe in it.

Either that or "So long, and thanks for all the fish".

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

De-Lurking Week

Delurking week buttonIt's De-Lurking Week. Comment now! Can you afford to risk being left behind?

A Mirror Of Woo

The US National Library of Medicine has an online exhibit entitled The Horse: A Mirror of Man looking at parallels in early equine and human medicine.

Concentrating on a time when anatomical studies were flowering, and veterinary and medical science was still developing, it looks at things such as Disease, Zodiac, & Bloodletting Charts.

An important ingredient to medieval and Renaissance human healing was Astrology, whereby the influence of the stars on the body was studied and carefully charted. Veterinarians did the same with horses. In these two charts, the signs of the zodiac are associated with different parts of the body: for example, don’t treat the head while Aries is in the sky.

Of course, ideas that were implausible, unsupported by evidence or which just failed were eventually abandoned. These people didn't simply believe in nonsensical things: they were attempting to systematise medical knowledge and understand disease processes. It is through them that we have our current knowledge (which, in itself, is still developing and certainly not complete).

Nonetheless, there are others today who still, in the face of evidence and knowledge, still practice arcane arts in the treatment of horses, such as pricking undetectable, unseen meridians, manipulating invisible, untouchable "energies", gazing into the horse's eye to diagnose, and a plethora of other "traditional" (but discarded) methods.

Such people would do well to consider the Zodiac Horse of Filippo Scaccho da Tagliacozzo and the Zodiac Horse of Martín Arredondo. The astrologically affected areas are different in each case. Though it is traditional, and it has been around for hundreds of years. Which does not make it proven.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

BMJ Survey

The British Medical Journey has an online survey of the top 15 medical advances since 1840. EoR was shocked to discover that homeopathy, acupuncture, kinesiology, dolphin-assisted healing, quantum-anything nor aura cleansing were listed. Instead, there are things like evidence-based medicine and vaccines.

It's obviously just a Big Pharma plant.

EoR voted for evidence-based medicine.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Crazy Psychic Powers

While certain parts of the ABC seem happy to promote psychics as real and scientific, others take a more cautious, if contradictory, view.

Back in August Can We Help? (EoR hasn't watched this but it seems to be a fairly lighthearted show) looked at a haunted hotel.

Anthony Grzelka - the only ghost whisperer in Australia endorsed by james Van Praagh, heads in to identify the ghost as none other than Thomas Jecks, the gentlemen who built the premises.

The program, however, recommends other methods to detect the dead, such as land titles, cemetery records and police records. They also clearly state:

Points to note:
  • No murders in Australia have ever been solved by a psychic

  • No clear historical evidence of untimely deaths at the pub, though some of the residents did die young

  • Australian skeptics offers $100,000 to anyone who can prove extraordinary powers - to date no one has claimed the prize

So, if a light entertainment program can get it right, why is it so hard for the rest of the ABC TV hierarchy to admit that psychics do not solve crimes?

And a further Grzelka moment that EoR missed at the time:

UNLIKE the rest of the world, Australian ghost whisperer, Anthony Grzelka was "not at all" shocked when he heard of Steve Irwin’s death. "When I heard of Steve’s passing, I sort of almost felt him around," he said. "I know that’s crazy, it wasn’t a tangible connection, but it was as if, if his wife was sitting right there, we could have made a connection." It’s just a day in the life of Grzelka, a regular interviewee on Australian radio and television, who makes a living talking with the dead. "It never ever scares me," he said of his gift.

EoR must be psychic too. He "sort of felt" JFK around after his assassination, and John Lennon, and he recently "felt" James Brown, Philippa Pearce and Magnus Magnusson hovering around. In fact, check with EoR after any famous person dies. He'll guarantee he's had a really truly honest-to-god ectoplasmic "sort of" contact with him or her. Just don't ask him prior.

At least Mr Grzelka knows what he does is "crazy". The ABC could take guidance from that. Perhaps they could start each episode of Psychic Investigators with a disclaimer: "Talking to the dead is crazy"?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Psychic Of The Year Achieves 100% Prediction Result!

For further humour, journey back to a previous Australian Psychic of the Year predicting what will happen in 2005:

Simon Turnball, Psychic of the Year, hereby predicts 2005 will see:

Terrorism will start to abate
Wrong. The number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased nearly fourfold in 2005.

The people who are responsible start to be caught
Wrong. Al-Qaida was adaptive and resilient, however, and important members of its core cadre remained alive and were adjusting to our operational tempo.

Relations for George Bush Jr and George Bush Sr will be difficult
Wrong. Father and son did not fall out in 2005.

Malcolm Turnball will be the next Liberal leader
Wrong. The Liberal leader remained John Howard throughout 2005.

Hilary Clinton moves one step closer to the Democrat hierarchy
Wrong. 2005 was an uneventful year though EoR is willing to admit that Ms Clinton may, at some stage in 2005, have physically stepped in a direction that was closer to the Democrat hierarchy.

Nicole Kidman will marry Steve Bing
Wrong. Nicole Kidman has split with film producer boyfriend Steve Bing, claims The Sun. She reportedly told pals she dumped the millionaire because he doesn't want to get married. The 37-year-old Aussie actress called it a day after only four months together in January [2005].

The drought will end with flooding rains
Wrong. Despite a June drenching, rainfall deficits extending back over three years and longer [...] still remain across large parts of eastern Australia (other reports for 2005).

There will be a death in the English royal family
Wrong. No deaths were reported. Unless it was a corgi.

The stock market will continue to rise, though there will be a sharp dive around August
Wrong. The stock market increased steadily throughout 2005.

The name of the Melbourne Cup winner will be "Shh" (or the trainer, or the jockey)
Wrong. Makybe Diva, ridden by G Boss, trained by Lee Freedman..

There will be a major Australian discovery around February and March "related to health such as cancer"
Wrong. While there were announcements of "breakthroughs" regularly throughout 2005 - just as every other year (see here, here, here, and here) none of these are "major breakthroughs" but are rather a result of the media's predilection to over-promote the results of research.

So, rather than some hits and misses correlating closely with chance, the Psychic of the Year achieved a 100% (failure) rate for his 2005 predictions.

EoR is bemused and severely disillusioned. If that's the quality of the Psychic of the Year, how appallingly bad must all the others be?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Psychic Of The Year

EoR was privileged to catch a brief interview with Patrick Avenell on the radio yesterday. He has been proclaimed West Australian Psychic of the Year by the renowned Australian Psychics Association.

The APA proudly has a Code of Ethics, including this point:

6. At no time should professional members promise to be 100% accurate. Allowing for an error margin in predictions and the like is quite reasonable. Making ridiculous claims does not increase your standing in the clients` eye. Honesty, on the other hand, will always serve you well.

It seems to EoR that most psychics adhere stringently to this requirement, allowing for at least a 50% error margin ("You may be having a minor operation in the future").

EoR is also a bit bemused about a psychics' organisation voting for various "Psychics of the Year". Do they have all the trophies engraved prior to the voting? Why bother voting when they already know who's going to win? Why don't the winners come out with their acceptance speeches before the awards are announced? Or is that just bad manners?

Back to Patrick. He has an amazing bio. His grandfather was a Professor (but only in the carnival sideshow sense, it seems), while his aunt is the "famous Madame Romany". He claims to have studied science, but offers "how to" guides on:

Witches, Ghosts and Hauntings, Nature Spirits and Earth Energies, Vampires, Voodoos, Werewolves, Cybernetics and Awakening Kundalini

In his radio interview he was asked how he converts skeptics. His answer was "You don't". EoR thinks he meant "I can't", but he could be wrong. Mr Avenell went on for a brief time about how skeptics (EoR is certain he kept saying "septics"! Oh, how EoR laughed!) are impossible to convince. No, Mr Avenell. They only require evidence.

When asked to give his predictions for 2007 he stated he doesn't "predict the future" but rather "reorganises the problems people have". Whatever that might mean.

Pressed on the issue, he firmly and boldly stated 2007 would be:

the year of seeing things differently, of doing things differently.

EoR thinks that will profoundly affect us all, and is almost certain to come true. Though EoR is still thinking the same things about so-called "psychics".

Friday, January 05, 2007

51st Skeptics' Circle

The Skeptics' Circle touches down this fortnight at See You At Enceladus.

Psychic Investigators 6

Here's this week's spooky synopsis:

When psychic Angela McGee visited the scene of the crime she experienced strong visions of three men entering Mick's quarters via the fire escape, the attack, and three men fleeing the scene carrying a shoe box shaped object. Mick's spirit also told Angela that he knew one of his killers.

But do you think he could remember that damn name?

Leaving the hotel, Angela had a terrifying feeling. She knew the young man serving drinks behind the bar from her vision. The police were astounded by the accuracy of Angela's visions. They knew that the shoe box shaped object was the hotel safe which was stolen on the night of the murder. Angela's supernatural visions helped the police bring the brutal killer to justice.

Look! Finally! A psychic who helped the investigation. That makes a change for this series. Of course, the truth is a lot less stranger than fiction.

Being more recent than some other tales in this series, this particular murder is well served via the BBC and the West Midlands Police site.

Murder hunt after landlord's body found (28th April 2003): Mick Hughes' body was discovered in his bedroom at the Royal Oak Pub, on Norton Road, in Pelsall, Walsall just after 0900 BST on Sunday. Mr Hughes, a divorced father-of-five, had suffered a head injury. West Midlands Police believe it was a burglary which went wrong. Cash was stolen from a safe in the pub.

Divers search for murder clues (29th April 2003): A post-mortem examination has shown the divorced father-of-five died from head injuries following an attack - but no weapon has been found. Cash had been stolen from the pub's safe and West Midlands Police believe the incident was a burglary which went wrong. On Tuesday, a team of police divers from Nottingham began a search of the nearby Wyrley and Essington Canal for any clues. Police officers also resumed forensic examination of the pub, on Norton Road, and the car park there remains sealed off.

Van may hold clue in murder (30th April 2003): West Midlands Police are anxious to trace the driver of a small van seen parked in the pub car park by anglers, fishing in the area, at 0700 BST. The vehicle is described as about 10 years old, in average condition, with two solid back doors without windows. Detectives investigating the murder said Mr Hughes had closed the pub at 2300 BST on Saturday and had carried on entertaining four friends until 0200 BST on Sunday. A West Midlands Police spokesman said the pub had been broken into, several rooms searched and a safe, which may have contained a small amount of cash, was stolen.

Murder police seek teenagers (1st May 2003): Police are keen to trace two girls and one boy who they believe happened to be in the area at 0130 BST on Sunday, saw lights on in the pub and went inside to buy cigarettes and crisps. [...] Underwater searches of the nearby canal are due to resume on Friday and police said they were following up reports of possible sightings of the cream-coloured van seen parked in the pub car park at 0700 BST on Sunday morning.

Family appeal over publican's murder (16th May 2003): On Friday, two of Mr Hughes' daughters appeared at a news conference at Bloxwich Police Station and said the death of their father had devastated the family. [...] Mr Moore said there had been a "tremendous response" from local people in the area, including a businessman who has offered a £1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the murder.

Murder police confirm safe find (24th May 2003): Police investigating the murder of a pub landlord from the Black Country have confirmed a safe, taken from the pub, has been found in the Wyrley and Essington Canal in nearby Bloxwich.

Pub murder police seek carpenter (22nd July 2003): Detectives investigating the murder of a landlord in his Black Country pub are trying to trace a carpenter who fitted a safe at the property. West Midlands Police stressed that the man they wish to speak to is not a suspect, but could have vital information to help officers catch the killer of Michael Hughes.

Search results for "psychic" at the West Midlands Police website: no results.

Search results for "angela mcghee" at the BBC: no results.

The chronology presented on the television show was unnecessarily vague. It seems Ms McGhee attended the scene of the crime "within days" of the murder. That's as meaningless as the statement later that the trial took "three long weeks" (were they eight days long?). She saw such amazing things as "bodies struggling" and "blood" and "head injuries". This is not "psychic" information - it's all there in the BBC reports. The day after the crime. She also claims she saw three people running from the hotel and, indeed, three people were eventually convicted, but how can we know if this is what she claimed at the time?

She states she saw the deceased's spirit, who stated that the killer (not three, just one) was known to him, and he had drunk with him, and had fished with that person. We don't know if that was corroborated, since it's never mentioned again, but why, oh why, if he knew him so well, didn't he know his name?

Amazingly, Ms McGhee, as she was leaving the hotel, saw the culprit behind the bar (in actuality, not in visions and dreams) but not his face. Nonetheless, she knew he was the killer. What did she do? She "ran from the pub" and told nobody about it. Wow. That's impressive sleuthing. Of course, she's a psychic and this is a documentary, so there's absolutely no possibility that's she making it all up after the event.

"Months later" the police contacted her. She apparently provided much amazing information that only the police knew but there was no way she could have. Unless, EoR assumes, she had read the papers and watched the news. The police state "some" of the information she provided was accurate. So how much was inaccurate, and what was it's nature? Why are we only being told of claimed "hits"? Only providing matches and ignoring errors is a false and deceptive attempt to claim 100% accuracy. The police further state that her information was "of limited value". In fact (and EoR is getting tired of repeating this) her "information" added nothing to the course of solving the crime, arresting the suspects and obtaining a conviction.

Much is also made of Ms McGhee knowing about the recovery of the safe from a canal. She had rambled on about having visions of a dolphin. Only one hundred and fifty yards from the canal where the safe was eventually found was the Dolphin Pub! What actual relevance that had to the crime, why she couldn't have just said "near water", and what else existed in the fairly near vicinity, is never answered. Nor is the fact that this vision seems to occur months after the crime (remember, the police had not contacted her earlier), yet the BBC non-psychically reported the finding of the safe only a month after the murder. Before her vision.

Ms McGhee certainly seems to have some remarkable skills: self-promotion, and an ability to magically report the news well after the event.

She has a (poorly designed) website, the main purpose of which seems to be selling tickets to her theatre performances, in between promotion as a psychic Miss Marple and channelling Linda McCartney.

EoR feels that if you're going to bother making a fictional load of bollocks, you should at least make some pitiful attempt to make it slightly believable. The producers of this mush, however, obviously have a low opinion of their target audience (ABC Programmers and newagers?).

Meanwhile, not only are other people upset at the ABC's dumbing down of science, but it also appears that the ABC now utilises the services of astrologers to predict the outcome of sporting events. So why bother broadcasting the events? Just give us the psychic results and then we can all go out for a healthy walk. EoR expects that we will shortly be seeing numerologists delivering the weather forecast, and haruspicators picking through the entrails to report current affairs.

Coincidentally, this week's repeat of South Park on SBS was the psychic detectives episode (the one where Cartman claims to be psychic even though he hasn't filled in the coupon on the back of the comic book and paid the $25 fee to join the licensed psychics). Not only did it make a lot more sense than Psychic Investigators, but it was also funny.

Kyle: The plain simple truth is nobody is psychic, there's a logical explanation for every single psychic story you've ever heard.
Cop 1: Do you think that's true?
Cop 2: It must be true, the kid is psychic...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Homeopathy In Australia

Alternative medicine enhancerEoR is pleased to learn that there is such a thing as The Australian Register of Homoeopaths Ltd. It doesn't make the "science" behind homeopathy (or homoeopathy either) any stronger, but it makes things look so professional, and the placebo effect relies heavily on the appearance of professionalism, knowledge and effectiveness of the proferred remedies.

The Register kindly provides a Homoeoprophylaxis Statement (it's actually to do with immunisation, but it seems homeopaths can't bring themselves to use that word - not that any homeopathic treatment qualifies as immunisation). Due to the rather stringent legislative rules in Australia about who can claim to cure what, Australian homeopaths are not quite as free as those in other parts of the worlds to dismiss immunisation. They can only encourage their customers to "make informed decisions" based on "balanced information".

In the course of consultation, Homoeopaths must avoid exerting undue influence upon the patient’s decision on the treatment of their choice. When asked for advice about immunisation or prophylaxis, practitioners should avoid giving directives and instead encourage their patients to inform themselves of potential options, from a wide range of sources. Practitioners must encourage patients to make their own informed decisions about their treatment choice, in the light of their own particular circumstances.

In other words, homeopaths must provide the science and recommended, proven course of immunisation, as well as explaining other "options" (ie not immunising and taking a placebo instead, though he doubts it's couched in quite those words). Customers are required to sign a Consent Form stating:

  • I understand that no prophylactic treatment guarantees immunity from infectious disease

  • I understand that evidence for the efficacy of homoeopathic prophylaxis is limited and is not accepted by public health authorities

  • the practitioner has informed me that there is a range of evidence and views in regard to homoeoprophylaxis

  • I have selected homoeoprophylaxis by free and informed choice, not as a result of pressure from the practitioner.

  • The practitioner has made me aware of the NHMRC guidelines and management strategies for acute infectious childhood illnesses.

Certainly, "no prophylactic treatment guarantees immunity", but certain methods provide higher levels of immunity than others.

Not in the policy document, but included on the FAQ page, is this answer:

Are homoeopaths opposed to vaccination ?
There are different schools of thought about this within the homoeopathic community.

So, is that a "yes" or a "no"? Doesn't the Australian Register of Homoeopaths Ltd know the answer?

Some Homoeopaths support vaccination.

Others are concerned that the long-term effects of vaccination on the immune system are not fully known and therefore not taken into consideration in cost/benefit calculations. There is evidence within the mainstream medical literature that vaccination may predispose towards auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

The AHA believes that:
Parents have a right to make their own informed choice about whether to vaccinate their child or not.
More research is needed to elucidate the long-term balance of costs and benefits arising from vaccination.

Given that Edward Jenner was experimenting with vaccination as far back as 1796, shouldn't we be avoiding the much younger "science" of homeopathy since that's had far less time to assess its "long-term effects [...] on the immune system"? What other unknown evils could homeopathy be performing on the human body? Of course, there's no answer to this since homeopathy does not operate on the principle of logic (not even highly diluted logic). Science is bad because it's not "proven" (a falsehood, by the way). Woo doesn't need proof because it feels nice. EoR suspects that anyone consulting a homeopath about whether to vaccinate or not would already be a part of a heavily biased subset of all parents.

Meanwhile, the WA College of Homeopathy (only one "O"), is offering Homeopathy for Accidents and Emergencies & Intermediate First Aid Certificate in conjunction with the Australian Red Cross. EoR was unable to find any information about homeopathy at the Australian Red Cross website, receiving the gramatically clumsy, but presciently accurate statement that Sorry no pages where found using homeopathy..

EoR is actually rather frightened that someone might offer water drops in an emergency rather than effective first aid treatment. Nonetheless, there are the personal testimonials (as always):

On Kate's most recent trip to the UK on Emirates flight EK 421 from Perth to Dubai on 16th September, an announcement was made asking for a registered nurse or doctor to make themselves known to the chief steward. A strongly built white South African man had collapsed in the aisle and needed assistance. He aready had an oxygen mask on, and a pulse monitor showed his pulse was 68 beats per minute. However he had been unconscious for 20 minutes and was not coming round. After gaining permission form his terrified wife and giving her Arnica and Aconite for the shock and trauma-Kate then gave her husband Arnica Carbo Veg and Camphor from her Helios (UK) Acccidents and Emergencies kit and Traveller's kit. The pillules were placed between the lower teeth and lower lip. The patient moved spontaneously after the first dose and after the second (given a few minutes later) the man sat up, demanded to know what was going on, got up and sat back in his seat. Kate was asked for her contact details by the chief steward who was amazed by the passenger's swift recovery. In 8 years of being a chief steward for Emirates he had "never seen anything like it"In fact the crew was wondering what to do as there was no space anywhere on board to put the patient. Every seat was taken in First Class Business Class and Economy. A registered nurse who also came to assist and witnessed the recovery, was also astonished by what she saw. Both she and the chief steward took the opportunty to learn something about the healing power of Homeopathy from Kate. You too can help in a life threatening situation if you attend a First Aid course with Arnica Montana

EoR is perfectly willing to believe that a registered nurse was "astonished" at what she saw. A collapsed man was being given magic potions by an unqualified person! Even more amusing, the saviour provided her nostrums to the collapsed man's wife first!.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Beyond Healing

EoR has been browsing the NM Essences Spiritual Self Help - On-Line Healing pages. According to this page, there are "spiritual" treatments for conditions such as aura cleansing, boredom, cancer, childhood abuse, depression, DNA transformation, gender wars, ghosts healing, and sexual abuse.

Those are some pretty serious issues. Cancer and mental conditions such as depression are not things nonprofessionals should be treating. Or pretending to treat. Luckily, of course, as the disclaimer at the bottom of the page points out, these "treatments" or "cures" or whatever they are, do not in fact do anything to alleviate the listed conditions.

Nothing in this website, including this "Self-Help On-Line Healing" Section, is intended to be taken as "medical advice" or medical treatment. We do not, in any way, claim to offer any products, treatment, service, or advice, that purports to cure, heal, alleviate, or prevent, any illness or medical condition. Anyone with any medical condition is advised to seek the appropriate advice and treatment from the appropriate health-care professional.

So it would seem that these "spiritual essences" are good as long as you're not suffering any sort of medical condition, and you don't expect them to provide any sort of alleviation or do anything. Which leaves EoR pondering the question: "What is their purpose?"

Perhaps you need to be an Indigo Child to understand the logic:

Anchoring in the stellar patterns of our past. Sixth-dimensional, from when we were connected with Sirius and the Sacred Geometry. For people who are ready for the higher wisdom. An awakening. [...] The stone that this sea-essence is made with looks like an aerial photo of an ET landing zone.

Irregardless of disclaimers, these essences are being promoted for such things as healing marijuana dependency (though how it does that without alleviating the condition is a mystery). For those of EoR's readers who want to give up the evil narcotic weed, go along to the page and follow the simple steps:

While looking at photo of flower..... Breath slowly and deeply, and imagine the old stale energy leaving your body on each out-breath, and new, healing energy coming in with every in-breath. Connect with the energy of the flower.... sense its vibrancy, its life-force. Allow this vibrant and healing energy to enter your body, and to penetrate every cell and every atom of your body. Repeat the affirmation several times, while still also focussed on the flower. (The affirmation is in green.) Just allow the healing process to occur.... and stay with this flower for as long as it feels appropriate. When finished, ask for the healing energies to continue to be "sent" to you on an ongoing basis for as long as needed.

The (non) cancer cure sounds even more worrying:

Assists people on to the next level of their emotional journey with cancer (whether that be freedom of spirit or freedom of body).