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.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hello Goodbye

Goodbye: Flea has disappeared from the blogosphere, apparently due to legal threats, and will be sorely missed.

Hello: two blogs of a skeptical nature that have come to EoR's attention recently are Sum ergo cogito, cogito ergo dubito (the number of Australian skeptics continues to increase) and Wandering Primate (a US veterinarian who has made some posts recently referencing "Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine Considered: An Appraisal" by David Ramey - a book EoR has just finished reading and an impressive hardcover that would do well in an emergency to beat altie vets over the head with).

My Hands Are Shaking! It Can Only Be Woo!

The ABC, Australia's national taxpayer funded broadcaster does a remarkable job of promoting fantasy as reality. From the alternative "medicine" show Second Opinion, to the recent psychic-as-real-crime-solver drama documentary Psychic Investigators, the ABC unquestioningly presents impossible ideas as proven fact.

Now, the rural current affairs show Landline continues this great tradition. In a program featuring the efforts a group of monks are taking to transform their country property, the program also produces a Dowsing Monk.

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: But in rural circles it's Brother Clement for whom the monastery is best known. Brother Clement has an unusual gift. Today he's on a vineyard and grazing property near Young divining for water.

CLEMENT HOLZ: I found the water because of the water wire turning in my hand. Well, an uncle of mine lived at Singleton, which is east of the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. And one day he handed me the wire and said "just try yourself out" and it worked with me. Well, I can tell how wide the actual water is underground. But this is extraordinary, seven-foot wide. And I find the quality of the water, of the wires crossing like that. I wait for the reaction of the wires, right? And the wire, they're crossing. This is most important. Those wires are actually crossing. I find the depth by one piece of wire; 19, 20, 21, 22. That's the end of that. It's 22 metres down to the water.

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: And what does it actually feel like when the...

CLEMENT HOLZ: Well, it's actually tugging on your hands. It's impossible to hold it up. And I use a stick, a willow stick, to check out the wire, because on five occasions I've had wire saying that it was OK, and I tried the willow stick and the willow stick wouldn't have anything to do with it.

EoR's a little confused. Is the wire reliable, and the willow stick not? Or the other way around (in which case, why bother with the wires)? Do the wires and willows have arguments about who's right?

The monastery at one time had 10 brothers and 25 fathers. Like most such religious enclaves, it is declining. Today there are only 3 brother and 5 fathers, the youngest being 73. It's not stated how old Brother Clement is, but EoR would be surprised if a piece of wire he was holding didn't shake, even without the ideomotor effect (something that has been known since at least 1852, but clearly not to the ABC).

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: Ever counted how many times you've found water?

CLEMENT HOLZ: No, I'd have no idea. But a lot. I could say it'd be... It could be hundreds. It would be hundreds in the last six years.

Well, if he says so, it must be true. Let's not spoil a good story by checking facts. The reporter even goes so far as to prove it to herself in the most bizarre of tests:

CLEMENT HOLZ: Not everybody can do it but I'll find out whether you can do it or not. You're going to walk over there now and stand there. That's the edge of the bore.

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: Look at that. Look at that! I'm not moving that!

CLEMENT HOLZ: Yeah, yeah. They're going across.

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: You can see my hands aren't moving.

CLEMENT HOLZ: That's always good quality water.

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: Gosh, I couldn't control that if I tried!

CLEMENT HOLZ: No, it's impossible.

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: That is amazing!

CLEMENT HOLZ: Yep. And people have said to me "Why don't you look for gold, you're doing so well?" I said, well, water is more important than gold and that's what I believe, you can't keep stock and people alive with a bit of gold but you can with water. And if I can help out I'm only too happy to, but when it rains, I will be out at work. And thank goodness for that, too! (Laughs)

So, the reporter stands in a place where she already knows there's water, experiences the ideomotor effect and, hey presto! The ABC promotes yet another myth.

Why doesn't Brother Clement look for gold? Well, for one, it's a lot rarer than water, and a lot less likely to be found by chance. Though, again, EoR is confused about how he'd do it anyway. Do the wires shake in a different way for gold?

Meanwhile, at least other monasteries in Australia are more accepting of the scientific approach (this is also from the ABC, but it's from George Negus Tonight - George Negus, one of Australia's senior and most respected journalists, no longer works at the ABC, they "let him go" by not renewing his contract).

The monks of St Clements also offer online prayer requests.

Thanks to Sheep Groper for bringing this remarkable gentleman to EoR's attention.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A 101 Uses of a Dud Angel

When I think of angels, I used to think of Berlin, but since receiving the amazing gift of Doreen Virtue's CD "Angels 101: An Introduction to Connecting, Working, and Healing With the Angels", angels remind me of those hundred and one dead cats of Simon Bond.

Doreen Virtue Ph.D. says she produced this discourse to satisfy consumer demand for "a book about angels for someone who’s a complete beginner". Which makes it by a complete beginner, for a complete beginner - a winning combination. Of course she has credentials, but I won't dwell on them here, suffice to say she has been a guest of the Oprah show and she looks remarkably like Destiny Angel from Captain Scarlet.

Angels 101 explains angels are "heavenly postal carriers" that know what you need and will help out with absolutely anything and everything. So far, so good, but there are billions of us and barely ten archangels. Don't fret. Dr Virtue says they can help everyone simultaneously. Better still, we have a couple of guardian angels each, to "ensure we stay safe, happy and healthy and fulfil life's mission".

You may well think it's a disgrace. Why all the accidents, misery and sickness, as reported on the news? Are there flocks of angels just swanning around, neglecting basic duties? The explanation, says Virtue, is simple. Angels have a noninterventionist policy. But now, thanks to Angels 101, you can reclaim your bolshie guardians. All you have to do is ask, as as often as you wish. Angels don't have regulated hours, and they never wear out.

I won't bore you with angel taxonomy, but let me assure you it's all here on the CD, right down to their body coating (sounds awful, but they are skinless), wing formation (they don't flap to fly), and colours (but not racial colour). Doreen, rather breathlessly, recites their duty statements - which archangel to call for help with menstruation, or motions, or police officers, or simply for an inventory of life. I don't like to admit to a favourite, but mine would have to be Archangel Michael, who may be called upon to "vacuum your child to remove lower energies".

The tricky part is angelspeak. You start to see why people aren't doing so well, even if they ask. Angelspeak is fleeting and symbolic. For example, irrational thoughts, flashing lights before your eyes or ringing in your ears, are not signs of illness - they're angelspeak. As Dr Virtue says, angels have a sense of humour. If you need help, you first need to solve riddles.

Stepwise solutions are offered. First, you must breathe. Angel messages are carried on molecules of oxygen (no smoking please). Next, you must relax (easy, now that you're breathing). Thirdly, "follow guidance" and finally, if still at a loss, tell your angel you give up and ask for more signs. You may need to breathe again. A sign could be an angel-shaped cloud (and angels come in all shapes and sizes) or a book title, or a smell, or a feather. Confused? It's your fault for trying too hard.

Fortunately there's another method. Angels like to do it by numbers. Dr Virtue says to watch out for digits that catch you attention, such as on letterboxes or car plates. Commands are somewhat as follows: 1 = watch your thoughts, 2 = feel the faith, 3 = Jesus is with you, 4 = angels are assisting right now, 5 = change ahead, 6 = fears release, 7 = keep going, 8 = abundance is coming your way, and 9 = you are going the right way!

These can be combined to make complex instructions. For example, you are driving on a mountainside and notice an oncoming numberplate "7563". Number 7 tells you "to keep going". If the road twists and you career over the edge, it explains the warning in 5 as in "there's a change ahead", and 6 "fears release", and then finally 3, "Jesus is with you". I recommend you buy a dictaphone and recite meaningful numbers as you drive. Best to decode afterwards, as this can be distracting in heavy traffic.

Dr Virtue guarantees angels can eliminate the small irritations in life. No more parking fines, red traffic lights or running out of fuel. You'll be driving on empty, angels will grab the stearing wheel to avoid collisions, and you'll never need to search for a parking space. When travelling by plane, ask your angel to sail through security without being searched, get upgraded, smooth the turbulence, and find lost baggage. Angels will also get you a great home, top job and friends.

I felt uncomfortable here. Don't angels play fair? What if everyone cheats? What happens at the crossroads if you all want green lights? What if everyone demands to be first at the check-in? Can everyone's bags get unloaded first? What about lost revenue from parking meters and others unable to get a spot? What about air safety with those security breaches? Why should latecomers jump queues? Unfortunately Dr Virtue skips the virtue lesson.

But she does embrace troubled relationships. I'm sure your partner would warm to hearing you recite her recommended affirmation: "I am willing to release that part of me which irritates me when I think of you." And if that isn't enough, Dr Virtue suggests writing a hate letter and "pouring your heart out". She even recites a form letter to aid in seeking your soulmate (addressed to the guardian angel of your soulmate). Should your non-soulmate stumble upon such, it would certainly free you up.

Dr Doreen Virtue chirped on and on. Would she never run out of breath? My angel must have been listening. I heard tinkling music and the CD terminated at last with "all you need to do is ask".

Reality Fails To Match Woo Claims. Again.

One of the leading mantras of the woo movement is the urgent, constant, and never-ending need to "detox" your liver. It sometimes seems that this alone will heal all your ills (as the woos say: on all levels - physical, spiritual and mental, though for the life of him, EoR can't see how spiritual toxins are handled by the liver). Regular detoxes will also prevent you dying, at the very least, if not actually "anti-ageing" you.

It then seems a little ironic that green tea (one of the super-foods these people are so enamoured of and part of the spiritual path to total woo adherence) can cause liver damage.

Green tea is good for you, but only if drunk in moderation. While the polyphenols in green tea are credited with preventing heart disease and cancer, it seems they can cause liver and kidney damage if consumed in very large quantities, a review of studies into the toxicity of polyphenols has shown. "People shouldn't be too alarmed by this, but those taking supplements may experience problems," says lead author Chung Yang of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He stresses that up to 10 small cups of green tea a day is fine. Problems are likely in people who take supplements, which can contain up to 50 times as much polyphenol as a single cup of tea.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

There Really Must Be One Born Every Second

This turned up in EoR's letterbox:

Slim-Spray Instant
  • No harsh diets
  • No strenuous exercises
  • No dangerous drugs or chemicals
Just instant, natural slimming in a spray.

Amazing! Instant spray-on weight loss! What will they (the scammers, that is) think of next?

It must work, there's a (probably fake, given the improbability of this product) testimonial:

Lose up to 1 kg every 8 hours! "Slim-Spray was so great for me! I've told all my girlfriends to get some pronto! So far I've lost 12 kg just last week. Now whenever I feel like trimming down a bit, maybe for a beach party or beauty pageant, I just have a couple of sprays and in no time I've lost some more weight. Now I know why everybody's getting some - it's just the best thing ever." - Tiffany Bloomberg, Hollywood

Well. If someone EoR's never heard of in Hollywood uses it for beauty pageants, then it must be real.

People who are more firmly grounded in reality would know that the idea of spray on weight loss is not only a scam, but farcial (unless, EoR presumes, the product was a fairly strong acid). Such people know you only have to think yourself thin

Saturday, May 12, 2007

It's Not Money! It's Energy!

EoR thinks Deborah Ross has the right idea: alternative therapies deserve alternative methods of payment.

There has been much fuss this week about the 'scientific status' of homeopathy, just as there is always a fuss about 'alternative' treatments generally. Personally, I have no patience with the dismissive and often contemptuous attitude these therapies can attract, as there are many useful treatments and products on offer out there. These include: THE ALTERNATIVE CREDIT CARD (Guaranteed APR - Actual Patient Rip-off - of not less than 100 per cent). THIS is an absolutely essential item for anyone considering any kind of alternative treatment. Indeed, as alternative as any therapist might be, he or she is not, I have discovered, generally keen on accepting any alternative kind of payment. For example, I once tried to pay an aromatherapist alternatively with an old shoe, and she wasn't having any of it.

EoR particularly likes the idea of paying homeopaths with the fluff from your pocket. Think of the infinitely diluted financial potentisation such fluff has received from constantly succussing with small change!

Reiki healers could be paid with an offering of a ball of glowing qi (if they can't see it, they're obviously fakes).

Psychics could be paid with spiritual credits on the other side.

Craniosacralists and chiropracters could be paid with a nod of the head.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Alternative Beliefs: The Zebra In The Room

EoR sometimes thinks people who use alternative therapies are like customers lining up for a ride on a white pony that someone's painted with a few stripes, and labelled a zebra.

You can see it's not a zebra. You can see it's nothing like a zebra. You can see a white pony next to it so you have no trouble knowing it's a con. You can see you're being conned. But no one is willing to be the first to speak up.

Meanwhile, EoR was listening to the late night radio quiz recently. One question was "What type of animal is a bandicoot?" Overseas readers might be more familiar with koalas or kangaroos, but a bandicoot is not a rare Australian animal. Before the correct answer ("Marsupial") was provided, the guesses included a rodent, a rat (presumably, of the non-rodent variety), a bird and a reptile. All of which just goes to show how a basic scientific education seems to be so lacking today, allowing the alternative con artists free rein.

As if in confirmation, another question on the same night was "Does sound travel in a vacuum?" The contestant immediately answered "No!" and lost since the announcer believed the answer was "Yes". EoR assumes he bases his quizzes on Star Trek. Alties certainly base their science on such programs. Angered, a couple of callers rang to point out the error, but the announcer seemed far from convinced. The third complainant came back with the stunning retort: "If sound doesn't travel in a vacuum, how did we hear the astronauts on the moon?" EoR guesses they shouted. Very, very loudly.

Of course, with the greed-driven, platitude-based moronic statements of The Secret now having been revealed to the world (in exchange for money), EoR suggests the purveyors of this scam can demonstrate its easy powers by being placed in a vacuum. They could then talk to the rest of us in the reality based community, simply because they wanted to.

When you send all your cash to me,
Makes no difference who you are,
Anything your heart desires,
Will come to me.

     (To the tune of "When You Wish Upon A Star")

60th Skeptics' Circle

Woo becomes real when Infophilia dares to take on the confusing and myriad forces of magic at the 60th Skeptics' Circle.

EoR's pick of the submissions is from Wandering Primate.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More Alternative Horse Weirdness

While EoR is discussing strange behaviours with horses that, normally, would be frowned upon as unusual, if not even abberational or illegal, and which are permitted under the guises of Natural Horsemanship or various altie therapies, here's a handy hint from the May 2007 issue of Dressage Today:

Gelding scars - the area where the horse was cut when he was gelded - can cause restrictions and gait deviations. Restrictions are usually present if the gelding scar is cool or cold to the touch, indicating a lack of circulation due to scar tissue. Massage can also help to eliminate the restrictions, improving how the horse moves behind.

That's from an article on "Equine Massage Therapy" by Ute Miethe. The article verges on woo continuously, without quite stepping over the boundary. It's full of "I treated this horse and the lame walked" self testimonials, and comments about "releasing metabolic wastes" (rather than "clearing toxins"), before and after photos (where the photos are at slightly different angles, in slightly different light and it's hard to tell if there's really a difference or not, nor how long any difference was maintained) and "it has been proven" without any supporting evidence. If there was any doubt, however, her website shows her true colours. Here she reveals her techniques include shiatsu, accupressure, reiki (how do you "massage" with reiki?) and craniosacral. She also urges regular maintenance, and "less is more" (ie the less you do the more magic it is). She makes comments about diet referring to "the Chinese" (what? all of them?) and "barefoot shoeing" promoter Pete Ramey.

Neoprene is also nasty:

In other cases the signs are more subtle. My horse would always fidget when I put his neoprene galloping boots on. No amount of slapping or yelling made him stop.

It couldn't possibly be because the horse was expecting a good slapping everytime he saw the "special" boots coming out... Could it? Or was he worried about the "special" massage?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sacrifice A Horse To The Sky God For Health

This week's alternative universe embracing edition of the West Australian newspaper's Mind&Body supplement features ayurveda on the front page.

It is said to be the oldest healing system in the world, though no one really knows exactly how old it is, ayurvedic lifestyle consultant Ruth Heenan says. "The Rig Veda, India's oldest philosophical and ayurvedic writings, was written between 4500 and 1600BC," she said. And today, the principles of ayurveda remain relevant to modern society.

"Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant"? WTF?

The Rig Veda is not an ayurvedic text, much as Ms Heenan might wish it to be. It is a religious text. It advocates things such as making sacrifices, including sacrificing horses (Rig Veda 1.162). It believes the sun is the child of the earth and sky, that he travels in a chariot, that he is magic, and that he milks the earth (Rig Veda 1.160). It contains prayers for pregnancy and safe birth (Rig Veda 10.184 and 10.162). It is as appropriate for use as a medical textbook as the Bible (Christian Scientists need not apply).

According to EoR's edition of the Rig Veda (translated Wendy O'Flaherty, Penguin Books, 1981), it was written circa 1200-900BC, more recently than Ms Heenan claims. But alties realise the power of having the oldest therapy to promote. It's like a competition to have the oldest, most basic, and least evidence supported therapy. Never mind any advances that may have been made since that time, the older the therapy the better. The whole of healing science was created de novo like Venus on the half shell, perfect and unchanging. It certainly makes life easy if you never have to upgrade your skills.

Never mind that acupuncture also claims to be the oldest therapy. As does herbalism. As does even reiki (when it was invented only last century).

Never mind that evidence for trepanning goes back 40,000 years, yet alties seem reluctant to use it regularly to release demons, or bad qi, or toxins, or fairy dust, or whatever the health djinn du jour is.

As far as EoR can see, ayurveda seems to be health care by the use of astrology. There are five elements (air, earth, ether, water and light) which "shape the nature of an individual's dosha - their life force, or constitution". There are, however, only three doshas, an "air type", a "fire type" and a "water type". Why are there no earth or ether types? Why is this so arbitrary?

Principal consultant of the Applecross-based Ayurveda Awareness Centre, Neerja Ahuja, said detoxes were essential for eliminating toxins and restoring health and wellbeing. [...] "It is a highly effective way of de-stressing and reversing the ageing process, and can be used to treat over 80 different diseases," she said.

Only 80? What do you do for all the rest? Though EoR is intrigued by the claim to "reverse" ageing. If ayurveda really works, why aren't all the practitioners babies?

YES - The Coming Health Crisis

While some people argue that electromagnetic waves causes all sorts of illnesses, even leading to its own syndrome of "electromagnetic sensitivity", evidence is scarce. Various people claim that the source of various symptoms are the result of mobile phone towers, or wi-fi networks, but which group of workers would clearly show such an effect, if it existed?

What about electrical utility company employees?

The study included more than 28,000 workers at 99 utility companies in Denmark. [...] They used Danish medical records to track new cases of leukemia, breast cancer, or brain cancer among the utility workers over nearly 23 years, on average. Johansen's team noted whether the workers had normal, medium, or high levels of on-the-job exposure to electromagnetic fields. The researchers found "no compelling evidence" of links between cancer and the workers' exposure to electromagnetic fields. The vast majority of the workers didn't develop leukemia, brain cancer, or breast cancer during the study period. On-the-job exposure to electromagnetic fields apparently didn't affect cancer risk in the 70 men who developed leukemia, the 188 women who developed breast cancer, and the 110 men and women who developed brain cancer, the study shows. Since there were so few cases of women who developed leukemia and men who developed breast cancer, the researchers did not include them in the study analysis. "The results do not support the hypothesis of an association between occupational exposure to magnetic fields in the electric utility industry and risks for leukemia, brain cancer, and breast cancer," write the researchers.

As the details provided in the short report explain, linked national health records were consulted to match the employee histories with any records of the specific cancers studied. Cancer records went back to 1968, giving a total of 642,108 person-years of follow-up, with an average of 22.8 years. Still, the hypothesis remained unsupported.

Meanwhile, Gypsy Maggie Rose reveals in the local paper her Feng Shui Tip of the week:

DO use lighter colours for ceilings, to bring in more yang energy.

EoR's ceilings are a lighter colour! Could this explain the various aches and pains and nonspecific illnesses he gets, which the doctors only tell him are psychosomatic and prescribe painkillers for? Clearly, in recent years with the proliferation of alternative practitioners manipulating qi willy-nilly, and reiki healers throwing away bad aura energies without any safety standards whatsoever, we are becoming surrounded by an ever increasing field of confused and bad qi. In fact, EoR is convinced he is suffering from Yang Energy Sensitivity. YES is the answer, and we need to take steps now to ban the uncontrolled handling of such a powerful universal force by every man, woman and their dogs. Act now before it's too late.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Does This Explain Why So Many Women Support Natural Horsemanship?

According to a poster at a horse forum, Natural Horsemanship doesn't just involve special "strings" and "sticks" and "be kind halters":

"I have yet to find a commercial trainer that recommends using a vibrator to desensitize a horse to clipping...I think I'm gonna patent that one!

I can't believe I didnt catch this before, and if I did and said something already, I'm sorry BUT Pat [Parelli] does talk about this! He said it down at the Madison clinic and my dad brings it up alllll the time."

EoR remains confused about where the vibrator is supposed to be placed. How is this "natural"? Is it some strange form of vibrational healing? And will it stop the urge so many of these NH followers have to "connect" with their horses?

Why Do Alties Ignore This Powerful Traditional Therapy?

This is probably the most powerful therapy available to boost one's health and, yet, alties seem to fail to utilise it. EoR can't see how that can be, since it meets all the requirements for their preferred methods of treating ill-nesses and dis-eases and, in come cases, far exceeds the paltry efforts of such johnny-come-lately therapies like homeopathy.

This therapy is "one of the oldest medical practices, having been practiced among diverse ancient peoples, including the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Mayans, and the Aztecs". If it's been practiced for such a long time, and by such a wide diversity of cultures, then it must work. There's even the "theory" behind just how it works (remember: altie theories are actively discouraged from having any relation to scientific principles as we understand them today, preferring to instead rely on "subtle" effects and "other ways of knowing"): in this therapy, Erastistratus stated problems are "caused by plethoras, or overabundances, in the blood, and advised that these plethoras be treated, initially, by exercise, sweating, reduced food intake, and vomiting". Just like acupuncture, there are even diagrams of specific "points" to be used on the body for various conditions. For example, there is a point on the right hand for liver problems, while the left hand's point is applicable to problems of the spleen. People such as George Washington used this therapy. It became the predominant therapy for all kinds of illnesses.

With the rise of "science" and "evidence-based medicine" this therapy mysteriously disappeared from common usage (though it is still used for hemochromatosis and polycythemia), to be replaced by the Big Pharma driven drug-pushing empire we are forced to endure today, with all its side effects and failure to treat anything other than the symptoms.

The therapy, of course, is bloodletting. And it's time this traditional, effective, proven therapy was brought back to the forefront of rebalancing and adjusting ill bodies. EoR calls on all alties to utilise bloodletting at every available opportunity. Remember: it's the therapy "they" don't want you to know about!

And it's not just for humans. From The Standard Horse Book by Dennis Magner (published Chicago, 1895) is the treatment for laminitis (inflammation of the feet):

I know of its effectiveness from personal experience. If the case can be treated as soon as the disease begins to develop, bleed from the neck vein from four to eight quarts, according to the size and condition of the horse. [...] Afterward give a purgative ball. [...] If the case has run two or three days without treatment or has not been treated properly, I would advise opening both toes by thinning out their soles, and the feet put into moderately hot water so as to extract a quart or more blood from each. If this cannot be done, then open the veins freely at the coronet.

For congestion:

There is some difference of opinion among practitioners in relation to bleeding for congestion. Dr. Summerville, who is a very able and successful practitioner, instructed the writer as follows: "If there is much congestion, it is necessary to give prompt relief, which can be done best by taking four to six quarts of blood quickly from the neck vein; stimulate the sides and legs, and give fever medicine as for pleurisy." While he condemns bleeding for pleurisy or inflammation of the lungs, he says, "In a severe attack of congestion, bleeding cannot only be resorted to with safety, but, as above stated, is indispensable"

For colic:

Give from two to three ounces of laudanum and a pint of raw linseed oil. If not better in an hour, give two ounces of laudanum and the same quantity of oil. If there is not relief in a reasonable time after the second dose is given, take from six to twelve quarts of blood from the neck vein, according to the size of the horse and the severity of the attack. Always in bleeding make the orifice large, and extract the blood as quickly as possible.

For inflammation of the brain (phrenitis):

Copious blood-letting must be at once resorted to; no time should be lost in giving a strong dose of purgative medicine. One or both jugulars may be opened, or where, from the restlessness of the patient or danger in working about him, this is impracticable, the lancet should be plunged into the temporal artery.

For periodic ophthalmia:

Bleed from the facial vein, and follow by fomentations of hot water to the eye.

The general advice:

The operation of blood-letting is now almost discarded in modern practice. It is simple, and can be performed by almost any one with a steady hand.

Monday, May 07, 2007

It's Not What It Looks Like! I Was Only Raising My Ch'i!

If Western practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are to be believed, TCM is a powerful holistic modality that comes with the imprimatur of thousands of years of tradition that increases its proven benefits. Wade James, for example, in his column in the West Australian's Mind&Body supplement regularly warns of "ill winds", "stagnant chi" and "rising heat". Still other practitioners accept a direct connection between the bowel and the brain.

If you're going to fall for this magical thinking EoR presumes you have to accept all of its tenets, rather than pick and choose arbitrarily which you want to believe. Given some of those examples above, it seems there's little discrimination in marrying "traditional" wisdom with something that could be shown to be false by a simple autopsy.

EoR therefore assumes practitioners both regularly imbibe, and encourage their patients to also imbibe, cinnabar and gold.

The Pen Ts'ao, oldest of Chinese medical works, declares: 'People have long been taking cinnabar to brighten their faculties, maintain their youth and make their bodies light.' Ko Hung, learned scholar that he was, spoke highly of this substance, saying: 'The longer you refine cinnabar, the more wonderful its transformations; as for gold, it can be refined five hundred times and not change its composition. These two can assist in attaining immortal state.'

Practitioners presumably also perform the following necessary ritual (though EoR has never been at the TCM doctor's at the required time, thankfully).

According to Yuan Liao-fan, transmutation of the ching [essence] can be assisted by an esoteric practice that involves rising at midnight, sitting down on the bed, placing one hand round the scrotum and the other over the navel. 'Then shên [spirit] will congeal in the inner channel of the scrotum and, with long practice, the ch'i [vitality] can be made refulgent.'

EoR just bets it does.

The quotes are from Taoism: the Quest for Immortality by John Blofeld (Unwin Paperbacks, 1979).

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My Magical Weekend - Part Three

The morning after, our cottage resembled an orthopaedic clinic. In the dawn gloom, twisted and bent figures hobbled to the breakfast table. There were frozen shoulders, spasmed muscles and buckled backs. My friend was the worst afflicted. She could either sit or lie down, but not stand upright.

Apart from hayfever, I was fine and, as we had food to use up, did my bit
with leftover Pavlova and plum cake. My friend rumbled disapprovingly and assembled her mostly-natural pharmaceuticals (today enhanced by codeine) but the others followed my example and fortified their pills with leftover dessert.

Breakfast talk turned to women's issues. One of our group was booked for a hysterectomy and wondered if she'd need hormone replacement. Hormones are one of my favourite topics, but I had resolved to stay on best behaviour. I dug my fingernails into the edges of my chair and tried to resist the call.

Someone else was on the brink and deciding which way to go - "naturally" or "synthetically". My friend confessed she used conventional HRT. Herbs had not quelled her hot flushes, but now she was doing well. She'd also lost the excess weight that had accumulated soon after menopause. Easy weightloss solutions are always enticing. Several of the party looked interested.

Our herbalist frowned. She said you may have to try many herbal products but eventually you'd find the one for you. Nails dug deeper as my inner autocritic whispered: "What? Just keep shopping? There'll be a fresh herb out by the time the last one has proven useless!" But I didn't speak - yet.

My friend excused herself by quoting a recent large study that dismissed many of the feared side-effects. The herbalist smiled wryly. "Funded by a drug company?" she suggested. My friend looked worried.

The herbalist said her natural oestrogen product was safe because it was bio-identical. My fingernails started to crinkle. Hours of NOVA by the fireside had lowered my resolve. I tried to think calming, holistic, woo-infused thoughts: "I believe, I accept." I spoke..."Actually" I said, "bio-identical is a furphy. If something has an oestrogenic effect it can also have oestrogenic bad effects. It might not cause breast cancer, but it could stimulate an existing tumour."

There was a jolt in the atmosphere. Was I spoiling it for others by introducing nasty, critical, evidence-based science? But our inhouse expert wasn't about to lose face. She declared her form of broccoli-extracted, bio-identical oestrogen had liver-cleansing qualities. It removed bad effects while promoting good ones. What more could I say? Who can argue with liver cleansing?

My friend, still in considerable pain, was prescribed Bowen to help get her home. The table was cleared, set with a mattress, and Bowen sessions commenced. I declined a kind offer to Bowenise my sinuses, and went to prepare the horses and muck out their paddock.

As I laboured, I tried to make sense of my anger. I decided it was the futility of dealing with intangibles. Qi, liver cleansing, subtle energies etc rely on faith and are equivalent to, or even replace, religious belief. As such, criticism and a call for evidence is not just unwelcome, it is socially offensive. Has science been scuttled by magic?

In fairness, I must admit these women are suffering and conventional care is not up to their expectations. What, I wondered, did our parents and grandparents do when they hit middle age? Did they just endure? We certainly don't intend to. We don't deserve to grow old.

On the drive homewards, our mobile phones chimed as they came back into range. I found a belated text message from another of our riding friends, who had been unable to join in this weekend. She is a younger woman, inclined towards practical joking and irreverent behaviour: "well i know you r all not enjoying the camp due to missing me and my beautiful farts and burps... hope u r all having a great time ps hope im getting you out of bed". I felt wistful. How I would have welcomed her stink bombs, water torture, far-fetched tales and juvenile pranks this weekend!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Sky Is Falling! What Government Won't Tell You!

So there was EoR, minding his own business, when a copy of The New Citizen was forced upon him, without anyone even demanding the $2 cover price from him. Apparently this journal originated from a person who was standing outside a school and forcing it on passing children.

The New Citizen is the journal of the Citizens [sic] Electoral Council, a political party that makes One Nation look all touchy feely and sensible. The headline screamed "Global Warming is a Fraud!" and, as EoR read further, his mind gradually dissolved in a pool of Lyndon LaRouche inspired (the majority of the journal consists of speeches by Mr LaRouche) conspiracy mongering and antiscience extremism (EoR is reminded of Jerry Falwell's famous answer to a reporter enquiring about his political position: "I'm to the right of wherever you are").

EoR now knows that there is no such thing as global warming; that global warming "violates the laws of the universe"; that the breakdown of the world financial system is now "inevitable"; that Queen Elizabeth II personally controls the totality of the world's banking through the Cayman Islands; and that "enviromentalism" is just the new word for "genocide":

[T]he eugenics studies of Harriman and company, and Morgan and so forth in the New York crowd, were the studies which were used by the Nazis, for their program of mass murder. Now, at the end of the war, Hitler wasn't so popular any more. People don't like to be associated with a loser. So they decided to change the name of the game. And the name of the game is called, today, "enviromentalism." The intent of enviromentalism, and the practice that was the result from it, is genocide used against masses of the human population. That's the intention. And if you look at the studies that were done in Austria, with the relevant accomplices - and in Russia, also, as well as in London - the intent was to reduce the population of the planet, selectively.

You need to understand that, somehow, Hitler, George Bush, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nicholas of Cusa, Dick Cheney, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Al Gore, Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger and Winston Churchill are all involved in this decade-spanning massive conspiracy. What EoR wants to know, is: why aren't the CEC telling us that all these people are shapeshifting reptiles? Why are they hiding this wellknown fact? Who are they really working for?

Right wing commentator Gerard Henderson found the CEC ridiculous, back in 2004:

In May and June, the Citizens Electoral Council - an Australian-based lunar-right group that has links to Lyndon LaRouche's extremist movement in the US - ran paid messages in the press. On May 18 the Herald carried an advertisement titled "Stop the Fascist Police-State Laws!". According to the council, "the Big Business-controlled Liberal Party has passed more police state powers, with Labor's help, than Hitler himself had in early 1933". Got it? John Howard and Mark Latham circa 2004 are potentially more repressive than Adolf Hitler circa 1933.

Channel 9's Sunday program also looked at the CEC in 2004:

Based in Melbourne, the party is fielding 106 candidates around the country. Its guiding principles can be found in the conspiracy-based philosophy of American Lyndon Larouche. A key LaRouche target is the British monarchy. It is seen to be responsible for much of the world’s ills, a view echoed by CEC's National Secretary Craig Isherwood and his wife Noelene, who is the party's National Chairman. Noelene Isherwood tells Sunday that the Queen "is the figurehead for a network of oligarchical powers that influence very much the shape of the drug trade and other less savoury industries that are carried out around the world." In line with the statements of their guru Lyndon LaRouche, the Isherwoods also charge that the September 11 attacks on the United States took place with the collusion of senior US officials. According to Craig Isherwood, "...this could not have been done by an al-Qaeda operation without collaboration of some sort with the highest levels of military intelligence and so forth within the United States". Lyndon LaRouche’s US organisation is often accused of anti-semitism. Whether or not that description should attach to the CEC is an open question. However, the party certainly adopts an anti-Israel position

The Sydney Morning Herald follows the money and finds a rationalising candidate who did poorly:

Asked how he went at that election, Mr Gillham said: "No good." Why? "I don't know. It doesn't add up to me. It's not right. A bit of skulduggery going on. There's got to be."

Or maybe it was just people exercising their democratic freedom of choice not to elect an apparent loony.

For those with the stomach, or who need a good laugh, or who just want to be thoroughly bemused, you can download a copy of The New Citizen online, as well as issues with headlines such as "World War III, or Mastering the Solar System?", "LaRouche Warns of Cheney Plans To Launch Iran Strike in June", and "LaRouche Exposes Cheney Plot for Nuclear War, Dictatorship".

In the last Federal election, the Citizens Electoral Council gained a mere 0.4% of the vote, which pretty much gave them zero political clout.