Saturday, March 31, 2007

Barefoot In The Head

If you ask most horse owners whether horses should be shod, they'll probably answer "If it's needed". If you ask the adherents of the "Barefoot" movement, the answer will be a resounding and unequivocal "No! Under no circumstances! Ever!".

Personally, EoR believes horses should only wear shoes when required for a specific reason or purpose, not least because of the extra cost involved, but according to these "Barefoot" devotees, shoes are the source of all evils in horses and must never ever be used.

One example of this argument, which is high on rhetoric but low on evidence, is provided by Carola "Yarraman" Adolf NEP/SHP:

Unfortunately, with the nailed-on horse shoe, one of the most resourceful and ingenious inventions of the human mind (besides the wheel and the stirrup), also co-incides the appearance of pretty much all "modern day" hoof problems! Why? Because the hoof can not function if it is nailed onto a brace that restricts its physiological flexibility. [...] A "physiologically correct" barefoot trim is created almost like a "piece of art", it has "flow" and "balance" and most of all: Function. Its model is a healthy self trimming hoof as we would find it in the wild.

This article also states:

When looking at statistics, we see that almost 85 percent of usually teenaged performance horses have to be retired (or worse) due to problems with their movement apparatus.

There's also a scary graph accompanying that scary statistic. Except the graph shows "Reasons for the destruction of domestic/performance horses", not just retirement. Also, the "almost 85%" column is for "Movement apparatus", which presumably includes feet, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves, and is not headed "Shoeing induced destruction". There is no citation for the source of this graph so EoR can't confirm what the sample was, how large it was, where it was and so on. Were the figures collected from veterinarians, from slaughterhouses, or both? Many racehorses, for example, are destroyed because they aren't fast enough, not because they have any actual physical problem. Is that classed as "Movement apparatus", since there's no "Other" category listed? Statistics on horse slaughter are difficult to locate. The Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation provide a document on Wastage in the Australian Thoroughbred Racing Industry which points out that any of its findings are not necessarily applicable to other breeds and disciplines, nor even to Thoroughbreds in other countries (due to differences in training, management and racing). While many injury risk factors are considered (age, sex, exercise intensity and racetrack surface and condition), shoeing is not one of them.

Wikipedia has a contentious article on barefoot horses (when EoR visited its neutrality was under question - it was also full of assertions and almost devoid of citations). The Wikipedia article on horseshoe is more circumspect:

Horseshoes have always been viewed, even by professional farriers, as an aid to assist horses' hooves when subjected to the various unnatural conditions brought about by domestication, whether due to work conditions or stabling and management. Countless generations of domestic horses bred for size, color, speed, and many other traits with little regard for hoof quality and soundness make some breeds more dependent on horseshoes than feral mustangs, which develop strong hooves as a matter of natural selection. Nonetheless, domestic horses do not always require shoes. There is near-universal agreement among professionals that when possible, a barefoot hoof, at least for part of every year, is a healthy option for most horses. Farriers usually agree that some horses may even be able to go without shoes year-round, using temporary protection such as hoof boots for short-term use. However, farriers are equally adamant that horseshoes have their place and can help prevent excess or abnormal hoof wear and injury to the foot.

This is about more than just being barefoot, however. It's a whole (or is that "holistic"?) way of life:

Dr. Strasser developed a method of horse care, and not simply a style of trimming. This seems to be frequently overlooked, as many people try to compare her "method" to current styles of trimming - which are, indeed, simply man-made "styles" of trimming the exterior of a horse’s hoof. Dr. Strasser did not invent the parameters upon which her method is based. These parameters were invented by the horse himself, Equus Caballus. This species of animal has distinct biological needs, for both lifestyle and hoof form, in order to be healthy. Dr. Strasser compiled and outlined these needs, and developed her method based solely on this scientific basis. She is a veterinarian and researcher, and her work will have far reaching effects upon the world. What, then, is the Strasser Method? It is simply a system of caring for the domestic horse with natural lifestyle and physiologically correct hoof form. [...] Dr. Strasser’s parameters for trimming are a reflection of the natural horse, and were also not invented by her; however she is the first in modern times to aknowledge these parameters. Healthy, wild hooves demonstrate 30 degree hairlines, ground parallel coffin bones, and low heels. Coffin bone measurements show a consistent 45 degree angle on the front surface of a fore foot coffin bone, and 55 degrees on the front surface of a hind foot coffin bone.

Strangely, a 45 degree angle on the front hoof, and 55 degrees on the back hoof, are also part of "traditional" shoeing.

The slope of the toe at the wall varies with the conformation of the foot; it averages 45° to 50° on a fore-foot, and 50° to 55° on a hind-foot. [Colonel Reginald S Timmis, DSO: Modern Horse Management (Cassell and Company, London, 1949)]

Also, unlike a proper study, no failures of the Strasser Method are mentioned.

I had a recent email call for help from a woman who had purchased my HOOF-LINE and had a 10 year old horse that had recently gone barefoot because of farrier problems. ‘Horse coped fine barefoot, then had a Strasser trim, and went 3 legged lame a week later, refused to walk and had a digital pulse in off side fore. Vet was called. X-rays showed no bone movement, though did show slight pedal ostitis. Horse was put on 2 butes a day for week and improved significantly. Horse was Strasser trimmed again a couple of days ago and presented lame. I checked his feet with your HOOF-LINE and they measured up perfect. I have poulticed his foot. Should I put shoes back on him?' My answer to her was "Shoeing is not necessarily the answer. After your Strasser trim, is the hoof weight- bearing on the capsule or on the sole?" It was weight bearing on the sole. The poor horse! The horse should carry its weight evenly on the full hoof capsule with considerable frog pressure on the ground.

Other vets (who are not training students in their "method") are less didactic about shoeing:

In summary, many barefoot proponents have taken an extremist view that shoes and nails start the feet on a destructive road, purporting this belief without looking at the overall scientific and physiologic picture. There are advocates of the barefoot movement that claim through their research that applying shoes to the horse is detrimental and therefore all horses need to be barefoot. This research claims that nails placed in a horse's foot are toxic, that the bars in the heels should be removed as they impinge on the circulation and that all horses should be trimmed in the same specified manner. Yet I have never been able to find this research. I have never seen a scientific publication that states nails are toxic when placed in a horse's foot. If we think of the hoof capsule as a cone - one quickly sees the necessity of preserving the bars as they provide stability and allow the hoof capsule to expand which in turn allows the normal physiology of the foot to take place. Finally, if we consider the various breeds of horses, individual foot conformation, structures of the foot, phalangeal alignment, etc, it would appear highly unreasonable to trim all horses in the same manner. As all horses are not created equal, neither are their feet. Shoes have been known to cause lameness and change the hoof capsule; shoes have also been documented to treat lameness and improve the structures of the hoof. So when we decide whether a horse can be kept barefoot (and many can't), considering the variables involved, the answer may be "it depends".

This new method of horse foot care (based on wild horses) reminds EoR of the marvellous new method of horse foot care (based on wild horses) that was the Four Point Trim (does anybody else remember this?) which was the Next Big Thing that came along just before the Next Next Big Thing of Barefoot.

A lot of folks, both farriers and veterinarians, are advocating a system of trimming horses' feet that involves just enough science to sound plausible; however, on closer examination, the methodology requires belief in the horsy equivalent of the Tooth Fairy. [...] Basically, the so-called "four point trim" or "natural trim" is a reflection of the wear of horses' feet in abrasive environments, but such wear cannot be demonstrated to be a Good Thing. Trimming a horse a certain way because they will eventually wear their feet in that manner is just as logical as rasping off the rubber on one's tires because that's the way they'll eventually wear. [...] Every few years, somebody attempts to relate the feet of feral horses to those of domestic horses. [...] Unfortunately, the latest jumpers-on of the feral bandwagon have failed to see the forest for the trees. They point out that feral horses have box-like, semi-clubby feet with broken-out quarters and, since it occurs in feral ("wild") horses, they assume this represents "natural" wear and is thusly a Good Thing. Which is okay, until they attempt to extrapolate that data to domestic horses. It doesn't work that way. The so-called "four-point trim" is bad science for several reasons. A domestic horse, used under saddle, is required to carry as much as 20% of its body weight on its back. Furthermore, 60% to 65% of that added weight will be carried on the horse's front end; additionally, many domestic horses, both ridden and driven, are required to engage in forced, repetitious exercise. Since these factors are not considered, observations on the foot wear of feral horses without regard for the relationship of anatomical form to efficient function become meaningless because they cannot be logically applied to domestic horses.

As far as EoR can see, Dr Strasser's beliefs are:
  1. Horses have only been shod for the last thousand years or so, and were successfully used without shoes prior to that period

  2. Putting shoes on horses is not "natural"

  3. Shoeing is the source of all health problems in horses

  4. Horses should not be stabled for large periods every day, but allowed freedom of movement

Apart from what has already been mentioned, there are a few other points to address:
  1. How long horses have been shod is not relevant to whether shoeing causes harm or not (though the British Museum states the Romans used nailed horseshoes). Nor is there a lot of information about how "successful" horses were prior to shoeing - were is the data about when or if they broke down, or how long they survived?

  2. Not being "natural" is not the same as not necessary - humans don't "naturally" drive cars and such activity causes pollution, accidents and death. Does Dr Strasser refrain from driving?

  3. There is no evidence that shoeing causes the vast range of conditions that Dr Strasser claims.

  4. Horses should be cared for in an environment that accomodates, as closely as possible, their biological needs. One care system is not universal. Performance horses in Europe, for example, can be stabled for 23 hours a day. Such a system would be remarkably unusual in Australia. Is shoeing acceptable then in Australia?

And EoR hasn't even got on to Dr Strasser's belief that metal anywhere on the horse appears to be dangerous (Metal in the Mouth. The Abusive Effects of Bitted Bridles, W. Robert Cook & Hiltrud Strasser, 2002, or an online article by Dr Cook) or her followers idea that rugging horses is also dangerous (apparently rugs can raise the internal body temperature to possibly fatal levels, while not wearing a rug will not have the same effect in lowering the internal body temperature to possibly fatal levels). Though EoR is fascinated by the claim made in The Harmful Effects of Shoeing by Dr Strasser (for those interested, that article is pretty much the Sacred Text of the Barefoot movement):

Luca Bein, in his 1983 dissertation in Zurich, measured the shock absorption of barefoot, shod, and alternately shod horses. He concluded that a conventionally shod horse shows an absence of 60-80% of the hoof's natural shock absorption. He demonstrated that "a shod foot on asphalt at a walk receives THREE TIMES the impact force as an unshod horse on asphalt at the trot." Bein also found that a shoe vibrates at about 800 Hz, damaging living tissue.

This is perilously close to altie beliefs in "vibrational medicine", though in this case the vibrational effect is harmful (in passing, EoR wonders how the practitioners of such healing ensure that they don't also cause damage to tissue?). In fact, it's more than close to it. Here's another "alternative" vet, Sarah Wyche (more nominative determinism!) in Foot Balance (Horse and Rider, UK, September 1998):

The electrical energy of these collective processes flows in characteristic channels; like all electricity it flows to earth. One researcher has found that metal horse shoes oscillate at 800Hz. What effect this has on the natural and healthy flow of bio-energy is unknown, but logically, the less well-balanced the foot, the more the physical properties of the horseshoe must interfere with these bioenergetic currents. Harmonising the flow of bioenergy is the principle of many alternative therapies, in particular acupuncture.

In fact, there's nothing logical about any of that. "Harmonising the flow of bioenergy" is a meaningless statement, even if it does sound sort of, you know, nice. In fact, it is the metal shod hoof that would have a better flow of "bioenergy" to the earth. Read that statement again, but replace "bioenergy" with "fairy dust". It's just as meaningful.

EoR was unable to locate any evidence of the "dissertation" by Luca Bein, other than repeated references on Barehoof sites. Luca Bein is now a South African winemaker. According to this forum post:

I spoke to Dr. Bein and his wife back in Feb or March [2005]. He is a wine maker in South Africa now afrer retiring from vet practice. I asked about his study showing that shoes cause damaging vibes, and he said that the barefoot only crowd has taken things out of context, and that he suports proper horseshoeing.

So why are the Barefoot Brigade still using him as a poster boy?

Of course, if you choose to follow the Barefoot movement, you should not trust any farrier who wears shoes. EoR also assumes that Dr Strasser and her followers also do not use any form of footwear. Humans evolved to be barefoot. Shoes (and even worse, some people wear clogs!) are restrictive of the foot's normal movement and action. We can see this most clearly in the example of Chinese footbinding. Having heels (or, worse, high heels) dramatically alters the function and forces applied to the limbs leading to all sorts of muscoskeletal problems and dis-ease. Just ask a chiropracter.

The arguments are just as applicable to humans as to horses. EoR suspects, however, that they will have various excuses from actually applying the argument fully.

Dr Strasser has a website in German. The English website is for promotion of merchandise only, and mercifully free of any scientific content whatsoever (unless you class "homeopathics" as scientific). Though you can buy bumper stickers there.

In conclusion, here's Tom Stovall, CJF again:

I have several times suggested a simple test of the efficacy of these claims relative to the veterinary application of Strasser's system involving a horse diagnosed with navicular syndrome and shod with bar shoes, only to be met with specious arguments claiming that it is somehow "better" for a horse to endure the pain of various pathologies affecting the foot (e.g., founder, navicular syndrome, P3 fractures, pedal osteitis, articular ringbone, etc.), instead of having the
pathology treated, or the pain associated with the pathology palliated, by mechanical means. Any competent farrier can easily demonstrate the efficacy of various traditional methods of mechanical treatment/palliation because horses shod with such devices become lame without them. When one considers that the pain of some incurable, insidious pathologies can be readily palliated by traditional farriery to such a degree that the horse is pain free for years, Dr. Strasser's credo of, "no horse needs shoeing", becomes an indictment of her hypotheses. [...] In terms of objectively quantified biomechanical efficiency, the current practice of shoeing/not shoeing horses according to the individual's needs and the dictates of their environment is clearly superior to the concept of "barefoot is best". When barefoot horses start outrunning shod horses, jumping higher, or pulling more weight, then an objective observer might begin to believe some of the claims emanating from the barefoot camp. Until then, a horse owner would be well advised to relegate the claims of the "barefootedness" bunch to the muck pile - along with gallium nitrate, magnetic doodads, Cytek, and all the other flim-flam scams that exist without scientific basis on the fringes of the industry.

Some horses need shoeing, some don't. Simple as that.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Carnival Time

Let's make love under the stars and watch for UFOs
And if little baby Martians come out of the UFOs
You can fuck them
Yeah Yeah Yeah.

The zebra spilled its plastinia on bemis
And the gelatin fingers oozed electric marbles
Ramona's titties died in hell
And the Nazis want to kill everyone.

     John Trubee

A Dash Of Cinnamon

Those woo advertisements on the radio just keep coming thick and fast. Now it's cinnamon extract as an alternative to diabetes drugs. Why it's spoken in a German accent is anyone's guess, but some of the claims are that:

Special cinnamon extracts supports the regulation of sugar metabolism by making body cells more sensitive again to insulin. [...] Clinically researched. To work.

There's a definite pause right at the end, so EoR assumes that those last two statements are separate sentences and, therefore, meaningless.

The manufacturer's page, while it maintains the veneer of science, is fairly wishy-washy. According to its advice:

The components of the cinnamon extract support the blood sugar-metabolism and can help to improve sugar regulation. However, GLUCOPTIN does not replace blood sugar-modifying medicines.

What's the point of taking it then? It's just another drug to add to all the other pills that seems to be totally superfluous. EoR was also confused by the claim that:

No genetically modified organisms are used during the manufacture of this product.

But it's made from "selected cinnamon bark". Maybe they mean it's not made from genetically engineered organisms? Which may be a minor point, but indicates a sloppy approach to science.

Five studies are mentioned:

  • Mang et al, Euro Jnl Clinical Invet, 2006 which found "The cinnamon extract seems to have a moderate effect in reducing fasting plasma glucose concentrations in diabetic patients with poor glycaemic control."

  • Qin et al, Hormone and Metabolic Research, 2004 which found "These results suggest that early CE administration to HFD-fed rats would prevent the development of insulin resistance at least in part by enhancing insulin signaling and possibly via the NO pathway in skeletal muscle."

  • Qin et al, Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 2003 which found "These results suggest that the cinnamon extract would improve insulin action via increasing glucose uptake in vivo, at least in part through enhancing the insulin-signaling pathway in skeletal muscle."

The two other studies are not listed on PubMed, but two further studies found:

These results suggest that cinnamon extract has a regulatory role in blood glucose level and lipids and it may also exert a blood glucose-suppressing effect by improving insulin sensitivity or slowing absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine.


Rats were given Cinnamomum cassia bark or extracts from Cinnamomum cassia and zeylanicum to evaluate blood glucose and plasma insulin levels in rats under various conditions. The cassia extract was superior to the zeylanicum extract.

While the studies so far are promising, it needs to be noted that these are studies in rats, various doses were used in the different studies (so no best dose has been established) and the species of cinnamon used may also be a factor. The Pharmaselect product uses Cinnamomum Zeylanicum, which was found in that last study to be less effective.

The Mayo Clinic is cautious:

This is a topic of debate. While some research suggests that cinnamon enhances the effectiveness of insulin, resulting in lower blood sugar levels, other research contradicts this conclusion. A 2006 study found that cinnamon extract has a moderate effect in reducing blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. However, another study published in 2006 concluded that cinnamon supplements don't improve blood sugar control in postmenopausal women. More research would be needed to determine what role cinnamon may play in the treatment of diabetes.

A search of Diabetes Australia found no search results for cinnamon extract.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Power Of Fairy Dust

Some therapies bear no relation to reality at all. Take Neural Depolarization (which, for some unexplained reason, is abbreviated to NDP) for example.

Neural Depolarization is Kathy Oddenino’s technique that she uses with clients as a unique spiritual energy to balance the nervous system, stop pain, balance our energy flow, and prevent disease. Kathy was taught this technique by her spirit consciousness when she was a child and learning to heal herself.

In terms of its ability to ramble on meaninglessly about "energy", "balance", "flow" and its multilevel healing ability, NDP is actually far from unique. It's just like all the other countless "rebalancing" woos out there. Just with a different trademarked name.

Depending upon Kathy's assessment, the client may lie on a table or sit in a chair, as Kathy uses her fingertips to work with the client's own energy and the nerves in the client's body.

Work on the nerves? How? Why? You're also advised to wear clothing made from natural fibres since, for some further unexplained reason, non-natural fibres adversely affect this magic energy. How? Why?

Luckily, Ms Oddenino is prepared to explain the science behind her spiritual guide revealed healing. Well, her version of science anyway:

Our physical external interpretation of our design, structure, and function has kept us from knowing ourselves as a fractal pattern of Nature, Earth, and the Universe.

Remember: you're just a fractal pattern of nature. Presumably, no matter how closely you look at the human body, it will always, infinitely, look exactly the same. Little homunculi in homunculi.

We are whole as a chemical dual soul, spirit, and physical body.

What's a "chemical dual soul" anyone? Again, it sounds like more renaissance alchemical mysticism meets meaninglessly inserted scientific keywords. It's a sort of mumbo-jumbo Neoplatonism. EoR wonders why Ms Oddenino doesn't also refer to the authority of the Sephirothic quantum uncertainties of our bodies, or Hermes Trismegistus's electromagnetic writings? Oh, hang on, there's this:

Our nervous system provides the electromagnetic energy to heal our physical body. The relationship of our nervous system to the anatomy, physiology, and physical function of our body can now be understood. Once we can understand this relationship, we can learn the "secret" of Kathy Oddenino’s Basic Energy Healing Techniques. This understanding will allow us to go one step further in our personal and societal healing process by using these Basic Energy Healing Techniques as a non-invasive energy therapy in all diseases of the physical body. When we follow the Basics of Healing and we use Neural Depolarization on a systematic basis, we can keep our physical body balanced and youthful. Neural Depolarization is effective in most forms of disease and pain.

You can use it "in all diseases of the physical body" (sadly, not the chemical dual soul, or the spirit) even though it's only effective in "most" diseases. Presumably, it's also "non-invasive" since it can't even penetrate non-natural fibres. Then there's the claim to more woo secrets. And why would anyone want to be neurally "depolarized" in the first place? Even if it wasn't a meaningless statement? Well, maybe to stop yourself exploding in a poof of releasing energy:

When we do not have the proper chemicals, our cells begin to create a distortion of the cell as antimatter.

Antimatter in our cells! Run for the hills! Be very careful to avoid sick people who, EoR assumes, have the largest amount of antimatter polluting their bodies.

The diseases and dis-eases are excesses and deficiencies that are not recognized by medicine because they do not understand the lifeforce energy within the physical cellular matter. [...] We cannot live without our lifeforce energy flowing through at least the primary nervous system of the dual soul and spirit consciousness.

Medicine does recognise the lifeforce energy within the physical cellular matter. Oh, hang on again. Ms Oddenino means some sort of unseen, unseeable, undetectable, unmeasurable (read "nonexistent") mystic energy. EoR likes to call it "fairy dust".

EoR also looks forward to the revised biology textbooks that also include chapters on the separate nervous systems in the soul and spirit consciousnesses.

As spiritual sensory beings, we are created with an infinitely beautiful design as a thinking mind, loving emotions, and spirit senses. What we create, we can heal.

Which must mean, surely, if Ms Oddenino can "heal" people, she can also "create" them (stop snickering at the back there)? Or has EoR just become confused by the total lack of logic here?

As human beings, we are equal in our design. We are created to be self-healing organisms.

So, we don't actually need Ms Oddenino then?

Maybe Ms Oddenino would like to discuss our "equal design" and "self-healing" marvels to sufferers of cystic fibrosis (for a start). Then multiple sclerosis. And Parkinson's Disease. And Autism. Etc.

[Thanks to Liz Ditz for destroying EoR's mind by bringing this to his attention.]

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Small Reminder

It's World Homeopathy Awareness Week! Well, in Australia anyway, where WHAW is celebrated from the 28th of March to the 4th of April. Elsewhere in the world, you may have to wait until the 10th of April until the 16th of April (and note also that Australia gets an eight day week!).

EoR hopes all his readers will celebrate this marvellous week by being very very quiet about it, and telling as few people as possible, which will demonstrate the power of infinite dilution. EoR also hopes that the incredible efficacy and power of homeopathy will, in future, be demonstrated by a holding a Backroom Homeopathy Awareness Minute.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Psychic Predicts Massive Price Rises

Orac has his own blog mascot, but it's been a while since EoR visited his own pseudo-mascot, one who has a similar colonic-cleansing effect: the universe's bestest realest psychic Anthony Grzelka. Obviously, coldreading as a party trick is big bucks. But not enough. Mr Grzelka is increasing his prices (hell, Sylvia Browne can get away with ridiculously high prices for a complete scam...). Readings are going up 33%, to $A200. Group readings are going up the same amount, plus 66% for every extra member, to $A50 per person. Readings can be as short as half an hour.

EoR knew inflation was bad, but that bad?

While the rates don't go up until July, it's too late!. Mr Grzelka is booked out for the next year and a half! Who knows how much he'll be charging by then... Well, of course, Mr Grzelka knows, but he doesn't appear to have a list of all future price rises and when they'll happen.

EoR has previously analysed how bad Mr Grzelka's coldreading skills are (links at the Anthony Grzelka Debunked page), and here's another classically incompetent performance at the JREF Forums. He even makes the "M or A" name guess that appears to be complusory for psychics (EoR suspects that it's on page one of "How To Do Coldreading To Amaze Your Friends and Make Money").

Mind you, Mr Grzelka is probably kicking himself for not just coming out as an illusionist: a fee range of $5,001 to $10,000! At least Billy Riggs states openly:

Billy is also a world class illusionist, delivering his spectacular illusions on ten cruise ships and before audiences as large as 20,000.

Billy Riggs is also much better with the spirits than Mr Grzelka:

SPIRIT CURTAIN: An astounding and hilarious re-enactment of a method used by fraudulent mediums to convince others of the presence of a conjured spirit. Five members of the audience assist in this illusion. One sits inside the curtain and four work outside as assistants in securing Billy with ropes, blindfolding, lifting and dropping the curtain. Inside the curtain various things happen to the volunteer while Billy is completely secured with ropes.

EoR would take exception to the description "fraudulent medium" though. That's a tautology. Mr Riggs also seems able to channel Mr Grzelka:

PROZAK, THE PSYCHIC HEAD: The world's worst psychic (a live human head carried through the audience on a silver platter) "psychically" answers questions from the audience in hilarious fashion, does funny readings, then mysteriously predicts the humorous content of several identical sealed fortune cookies.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Advice From The Herbalist

Some wise words from Robert McDowell, herbalist.

Does colloidal silver help a mare with blood in her urine?

You can keep giving the Colloidal Silver and if feeding her you can dampen the feed down with Rosehip tea. It is very high in Vitamin C, iron, copper, cobalt and biotin and is an excellent tonic for the kidneys, adrenals and circulation. Make it up using 4-6 teabags or 3-4 dessertspoons of the granules to 1 litre or boiling water. Allow to cool and use half to dampen the morning and half for the evening feed. These are not a solution to the problem but can be used a support in her treatment.

So, see a vet (interestingly, almost all the herbalist's answers are to seek advice from a vet - why not go straight to the vet and cut out the middle man?) but keep applying the herbal products.

What about a gelding suffering from grief and depression?

We can provide a specific Bach Flower mix (and any herbs that may applicable depending on health history you can supply) that will help him slightly BUT this must be used with a good training program to get the full benefits and get him over this.

Just how "slightly" is "slightly"? It's just the middle man again, promoting his products to be used in conjunction with a real solution (assuming, of course, that "grief and depression" is a real complaint in equines, and that's highly debatable).

Then there's the horse grieving over its departed dam.

There are two Bach flower remedies that can assist with grief, Walnut and Honeysuckle. These should be available at a health food store. They could also get some rescue remedy (another Bach flower remedy). Several drops of each can be placed directly in the horses mouth or they can put the drops in approx 5-10ml and syringe it in her mouth. Do this as often as possible.

Finally, something that doesn't need to be used in conjunction with a real solution (though EoR wonders how the vet would react when asked to diagnose and treat "grief"?). How often is "as often as possible" though? Daily? Hourly? Every minute? That's an awful lot of rescue remedy...

Meanwhile, at his own website, Mr McDowell offers relief for horses suffering from squamous cell carcinoma:

We are successfully treating Squamous Cell Carcinoma topically with an extract of Comfrey, Golden Seal, Thuja and Maritime Pine, with the Bach Flowers Crab apple and Rescue Remedy added, mixed in an ointment base. [...] The herbal prescription for internal use specifically targets those aspects of the immune system which allowed the Carcinoma to develop in the first place. It contains homeopathic ingredients as well as specific herbs to support skin health and the body systems in rejecting the Carcinoma which will often fall off or almost always, reduce in size quite quickly.

Now, "successfully treating" is a little vague - does he mean he can cure the cancer completely and for all time, or is it just alternative speak for "do this and it won't cure the cancer but it will make you feel better by believing you're doing something"? If you're unsure about his belief in his powers, take a look at the page source, where these phrases, presumably targetted at search engines, are to be found:

healing cancer in dogs, healing cancer with herbs, herbs for cancer support, herbs in healing, herbs to cure cancer, herbs to cure

There you have it. Guaranteed: herbs that cure cancer. EoR seriously doubts it. EoR seriously doubts that there is any solid proof for these claims. If such claims were made regarding treating cancer in humans they would be in contravention of Therapeutic Goods Administrations legal requirements.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Why Skepticism Is Important

The Media Report recently interviewed Stephan Lewandowsky, Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Australia, on the subject of how we remember things even when we know they're not true (the interview is about two thirds of the way down the transcript).

Stephan Lewandowsky:: It is simply the case that when people have memorised some piece of information, it becomes remarkably resilient to change later on. And just to give you an example, we've done a study that dealt with information surrounding the initial stages of the Iraq war in 2003, where on a number of occasions we were told certain things that then later on turned out to be false. For example, Prime Minister Blair claimed on one occasion that the Iraqis had executed Coalition prisoners-of-war after they surrendered. And the next day, his own Ministry of Defence said, 'Well hang on, no, we actually don't know that.' So the information was retracted, and so what one should do as a consumer of the media, is to then update one's memory and kind of purge that information from memory. Well as it turns out, what we found with our research is that people often unable to do so, and they continue to believe in the initial information. And so there appears to be this pattern of media coverage during the Iraq war where things were first reported and then retracted, and we tested something like 500 or so people in three countries around the world, in Germany, Australia and the U.S., and we tried to find out whether they were able to adjust their memories when things were corrected after first being said. And basically, the answer is only those people who were suspicious of the motives underlying the war, were able to correct their memories once the misinformation was put out.

Most people get their information from the standard media (television, papers, the internet) rather than specialist sources, and the media these days tends to be just as accepting of anything they hear as the general population (unless you're writing the Mind&Body supplement, in which case you live in a surreal alternative universe of flowing qi and telepathy).

Antony Funnell: So in terms of using the media to get a message across, the initial information that's disseminated on a subject, whether it's true or whether it's deliberately deceptive, that's the most important piece of information, regardless of the prominence or extent of the correction. It's getting in there first with the message is it, that's most important? If you're being tactical about it, say a politician.

Or a homeopath? EoR wonders.

Alties would have us believe that "skeptics" are simply nay-sayers, who believe in nothing, but of course that's not true. Skepticism is a method of critical thinking. It's a process that's important in order to determine what can be believed, what can't be believed, and what is undetermined. Without such an approach, people can be led to believe anything.

Stephan Lewandowsky:: It does not have much of an effect, unless, again let me get back to the theme of our first study on Iraq, unless people are either suspicious or critical or sceptical of the information in the first place. And we find that confirmed in a whole variety of studies all across the board, for example in jury decision-making, jurors, just like anybody else will not disregard tainted evidence even if instructed to do so by a judge. Unless they're being made suspicious or sceptical of why that information was put out in the first place. So there is a lot of evidence to suggest that what we have to do is to get people to be critical and sceptical of information in the first place, and that, if you wish, is immunization against misinformation. And I think that's where the media play a very important role in encouraging scepticism, by being sceptical and inquisitive themselves.

Well, he's lost the whole altie audience there, asking them to be "immunized" against untruths... Stephan Lewandowsky also points out that the more strongly false information is disproved, the more strongly it can be confirmed in the minds of people who have already been led to believe it. Deprogramming is much more difficult than initial correct education.

One other thing we find in our research is that even sceptical people, even people who are suspicious, will believe things that have not been corrected. They are quite capable of believing things that they have heard and they haven't been corrected. Where sceptics differ from other people is in their ability to adjust their memory for that information that has been corrected. So it's a selective ability to disregard falsehoods and it does not impair your ability to remember other things. So it's not total cynicism that I'm talking about.

EoR remains skeptical about these findings, and awaits confirmation or otherwise.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Don't Tell Anyone About This...

Via the Campus Crusade for Chthulhu and the Universal Conspiracy Against Everything comes this handy little reckoner to conspiracy theorists and other assorted nonconformists throughout history (anti-vaxxers were missing, but EoR has remedied that):

The Devil
| | |
Arabs Biblical Giants-------Hittites-----|
| | | |
| Babylonian Mystery Religion | |
| | | | | | |
| | | | | | Pagans
| |---|---Merovingians |--------Hindus |
| | | | | | | |
| The Protocols of the Elders of Zion Barney
|------| | | | | | | |
| | | | | | | The Yellow Peril |
| | The Illuminatti--| | | | |
| | | | | |--|--|-Santa Claus-------Elves
|--|---|-The Ismailians---| | | | |
| | | | | | | | |
| | |---|-Rosicrucians-|--|---------Elvis Satanism
| | | | | | | |----| | |
| Shriners| |---Catholics | | | | |
| | | | | Easter | Space The
| |---Masons | Cathars Bunny | Aliens-----Pope
| | | | | | | | |
| |----Templars---------| | | Rock |
| | || | | The |-----and Proctor
| Mormons || Carbonari Media |-Roll and
| | || | | | | Gamble Inc.
| | || Protestants | | | |
| | || | | | Evolutionists------Science
| | |---The Hell-Fire Club | | | | |
| | | | | Theosophy---Free Love--Golden Dawn |
| YWCA/YMCA | Country | | | Mad
| | | Music EST Hippies Smurfs Scientists
Turks | | | | | | |
| | Promise Keepers Skull & Bones | |
| | | | | | | |
| ||--The World Bank Foreigners | Scientology |
| || | | | Hari | | |
| The UN-----Communists Fascists Krishnas | | Computer
| | | | | | | | Nerds
| The Military/Industrial GM/Ford TM |-----Thelema | |
| | Complex | | | | | | Blogs
| | | | Crown of England UFOs | | | |
| Eastern Liberal Establishment | | | Your Great-Aunt Tillie
| | | | Republicans | | | | |
| | Janet Reno | | Internet Role Playing Games
| | | | Rush Limbaugh | | | | |
| The Medical Establishment | Science Fiction--|-----|--Cthulhu
| | | | EEC | | | |
| The Pyschiatric Establishment | | | Women's Lib |
| | | | | Gurus | |
| Homosexuals | Nazi Pagans | | |--Atheists----|
| | | Identity----| |--------New Agers-| | |
|----NAACP | Movement | | | | |-Abortionists |
Black | | Bar coding |Anti-| | Computer Porn
Muslims | California | |Vaxxers | Criminals---|
NEA---Liberals---Ecologists--Yuppies |Neo-Pagans |
| | | | | | |
Moonies |--Animal Rights--|----------Wicca-----Renaissance
| | | Faires
New World Order Anybody not in your sect
| |
(When your sect goes to Heaven,
and all the rest of them go to
Hell. Nyahh! Nyahh!)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bad Journalism. Worse Science.

This week's edition of the Mind&Body supplement to the West Australian newspaper contains a number of gems (or is that crystals?) of woo masquerading as science.

Should EoR concentrate on SolarisCare's manager? SolarisCare is part of Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and he comments that

he had seen patients after breast and abdominal surgery who benefited from reflexology and reiki in recovery

Or maybe the report based on comments by a woman described as "a scientist" that even "natural" and "organic" products contain carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens, as well as allergens and irritants? EoR suspects that these are the same sort of chemicals that normal products contain and are just as dangerous if anyone is stupid enough to use thousands of times the quantity in the products themselves. It all goes a bit pear-shaped two thirds of the way through the article though, when it is revealed that the "scientist" is touring the land promoting her own brand of "certified organic" skin care products (so there couldn't be any nasty substances in them at all). Imagine if a "scientist" working for A Big Pharmaceutical Company was to go around commenting on the danger of drugs, and then recommending his own company's better product. Do you think any of the readers of this advertorial would not be up in arms about conflict of interest, at the very least?

Okay then, what about the article on Ayurvedic therapy? Especially since

It is recognised by the World Health Organisation as "the world's most complete, natural, scientific and holistic system of health care" and teaches people the skills to empower their own health.

That's a strange quote. The WHO website returns no results for a search on that phrase, but the quote marks would indicate that the journalist was quoting some source, sadly uncredited. Doing a search for those keywords (such as "complete", "scientific", and "holistic" along with "ayurveda" and "World Health Organisation" returns quite a few sites, such as The Raj where it states:

Ayurveda, the traditional health care system of India, is recognized by the World Health Organization as a comprehensive system of natural medicine.

So, it's not quite the same thing as the journalist is claiming. It seems strange to EoR that the WHO isn't brave enough to admit to its own purported claims, but only ayurvedic sites seem to be able to state the the WHO supports them. The WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005 makes only very brief reference to ayurveda in passing. The only place EoR could find that exact phrase was in a document from the Ayurveda Awareness Centre at the Australian Natural Therapists website (again, without any attribution to the quote). Surely the journalist wouldn't be quoting uncritically from a secondary and biased source like that? Even a trainee journalist would first check the primary source, wouldn't they? Nonetheless, if this journalist is to be believed, putting dough and ghee on your eyes will:

nourish the nervous system, improve eyesight and eye problems, including muscle spasms and itchiness, and will bring a rich lustre to the eyes. It is also said to soothe away wrinkles, promote softness (inside and out) and leave you with a feeling of deep contentment.

Promote "softness" on the inside? EoR isn't even going to touch that!

What about the article pointing out that the "detox" kits you can buy off the shelf are a load of rubbish (something Choice magazine has pointed out over a year ago)? Not because they don't work, but because they're not quality detox.

Naturopath Lesley Oakes said the kits could provide a very basic detox. "Often they just help people clear out their bowels," she said. "Whereas (naturopaths) focus on a deeper cellular level detox."

Obviously, it's better to clear out the contents of your cells, rather than just your bowels. But isn't the cleansing of unclean bowels a fundamental part of altie philosophy?

No: none of those are suitable. This week's most impressive non-fact-based pseudoscience is from Dr Charmaine Saunders' Dream Reader column. In answer to one reader's query regarding dreams of talking to someone he knew twenty years ago, Dr Saunders states (categorically):

Lots of research is constantly being done in dream theory. You'd be astounded at some of the resulting evidence. Telepathy, astral travelling, fulfilling instructions during dreams and such like are now commonplace. So, the short answer to your question [whether communication through dreams by telepathy is occuring] is yes. [...] I remember a woman telling me once she dreamt of a friend in England who appeared like a spirit all in white in her dream one night. She naturally thought he had died but when she rang, found out he was alive and well but had missed her intensely that night and had thought about her for a long time.

Notice how Dr Saunders is convinced that a "telepathic" dream that didn't come true is proof of telepathy? This is the beauty of altie beliefs: if they come true, then that's proof, but if they don't come true, that's equaly as convincing proof.

She tells another reader (who dreams of meeting an ex-boyfriend that she left because of his alcoholism, and making love with him):

I think your ex-boyfriend is in trouble, wherever he is. The car is his life and it's broken. [...] It's probably a metaphor for his life and, somehow, he's communicating with you via your dream.

Look, he's drunk, and his life's a mess. He hasn't seen you for ten years. But he'd really like you to pop round for a quickie... EoR's readers have been suitably warned. Telepathy in dreams had been conclusively proven by scientific research. When you dream of someone (known or unknown, presumably) you're "communicating" with them. Be careful what you say. Or do.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

EoR Has A Little Think

EoR has been tagged by Sandy Szwarc at Junkfood Science as a thinking blogger (which is some sort of achievement for a small stuffed donkey).

There are certain requirements:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.

Five blogs that make EoR think? What about some unusual suspects? Some not from the usual skeptosphere? Though there are many more that could be in the list.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Voices In The Head Come From Horse

How do we know whether alternative therapies used on horses work? Should we run studies and trials, even, Cthulhu forbid, double-blind placebo controlled studies? Of course not. We can know simply by asking the horses themselves, as Holly Davis does.

One day Kayleigh was having her Bowen treatment out in the field and wasn’t wearing a headcollar. After the first few moves she walked a 2 metre circle around myself and friend then came back and asked for me. I asked her why she had done this and she told me she was grounding herself. From that day on I have always had their feet on earth and left them untied for their treatments [...] One day during a Bowen treatment Kayleigh made a strong statement. She told me when vibrational medicine was done incorrectly it was like butchery! I later found out that one of the most famous homeopaths of all time had once said that he would rather be butchered by a surgeon with a knife than by a homeopath.

Do any of EoR's readers understand that? Why would a homeopath rather be treated by a surgeon than a fellow believer? Is it because he knew homeopathy is one of the best examples of delusional thinking around? Or is it because a homeopathic butcher would have to use an infinitely diluted blade?

On one treatment, Kayleigh asked me to ask the practitioner to just stand 2 metres from her right shoulder. As soon as she stood on this spot she burst into tears and Kayleigh walked off. I don’t know what was released that day but it seemed to be an emotion she had been clinging to for a very long time. On that same day, Kayleigh kept asking for her seat bone area to be treated in a certain way. But every time the practitioner tried to do it she would walk away... so instead of trying to ‘touch’ Kayleigh she decided to perform the Bowen moves on her energy field from about 5 feet away.

Bowen performs its magic by "cross fibre" manipulation of "energy" in muscles. Though this unnamed practitioner can do that special woo massage without even touching the horse. And just what was this horse thinking, telling the medium to be touched in a certain spot repeatedly, but then not allowing it? Cynical readers might think that the medium was making it all up and not really performing a miracle by talking to a horse. EoR couldn't possibly comment.

I’ve had many conversations with Kayleigh about healing. She tells me that holistic medicine, done correctly, should work on ‘levels’.

EoR also feels that the medium should be taking Kayleigh to the theatre for some intellectual stimulation. This genius of a horse shouldn't be left standing in a paddock munching grass and passing manure. Forget the theatre. She should be enrolled in a university to fulfill her "levels". Preferably a holistic one.

Talking to horses is much more powerful than anything else out there. And it's certainly out there, in the extreme:

Another horse I worked with had a severe problem with napping and spinning in circles in the road to the point he was dangerous to be ridden. He appeared genuinely afraid every time he was out. He communicated to me that he could see black holes everywhere and that when he ‘touched’ them he felt that they would spark and hurt him, as you can imagine he was very frightened. From how he explained things, I took it to mean that the black holes he was describing were in fact negative earth energies so I went in search for a solution to his problem. I asked his owner to attach a piece of rose quartz to his bridle or saddle and to make sure he was wearing it whenever he was taken from his field. From the moment he first wore it he was calm and the erratic behaviour stopped after many months of him not being ridden due to his fears.

More than that, chatting to equines and hanging crystals from them is an almost instantaneous cure for everything:

I have even come across horses who have been diagnosed with neurological problems due to certain behaviours, even ones whose owners have been advised to have destroyed as they are dangerous. Many of these horses actually had problems of an energetic nature which within a few hours were cured.

EoR certainly wouldn't be so curmudgeonly as to demand actual proof of these claims.

This site also sells Natural Horsemanship Rhythm Beads. Why hanging magical beads on your horse to do something with "chakras" and "energies" and "colour healing" has anything to do with horsemanship, natural or unnatural, escapes EoR totally. Of course, that's probably because he hasn't been listening hard enough:

Yes, that's right. The colour pattern was picked by my perfect equine partner! Here is how the colour choices were explained: "I love green, all shades of it because it reminds me of fresh pasture. I also like yellow, the colour of hay, the blue of the sky, and purple. There is a flower I am fond of that is purple."

Sadly, even though the speechifying horse knew what pasture and hay were, it couldn't name the special flower. Never mind.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More Secrets

Though it's hardly a "secret" anymore, now that Oprah's pushing it. Shouldn't we just rename it to something like "The Scam"?

Now, you too can buy the DVD and understand how The Secret works. Actually, you don't even need to buy it to understand how it works, since they're charging $54.83 for it, when the standard price for a new release DVD in Australia is around $28.

This is a perfect demonstration of the tanstaafl principle.

Or it could just be a repackaging of a Gene Wolfe short story from 1987:

God forgive me, I thought it was a joke, a game. I asked, "But this book tells you the secrets of life?"

He nodded solemnly. "Teaches you to read -- thought I knew, hah! Didn't. Music in your head, after you read that. How to tie shoes, write a check. How old before you learned?"

"Seventeen, I suppose."

"Liar! Twenty-five a least. How to get the girl, easy as snapping fingers -- all the ways. Make friends, influence people. Sports -- quarterback -- Olympics. Coordination and balance, that's all -- anything your body can do. Hah! Meditation and exercises. Easy, really."

As Krafty Skeptic points out though, the required mantra is it works every time. Believe that and you'll believe anything:

Also, I implore you to do a bit of research on the individuals they claimed knew about the secret. I IMPLORE YOU! If they knew of "the secret" you’d think they would have more before they died, right? Einstein would have had his "Grand unification theory", Newton would have worked out Alchemy, Beethoven would have been able to hear, and Lincoln wouldn’t have been shot.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Alternative Theraphies

Every now and then there's a new blog that just demands being added to the blogroll, such as: Homeopathy is Not a Placebo Theraphy.

Sadly, EoR couldn't really understand what it was about:

It can be concluded that,

"There is variability in physical and physiological parameters in the natural regulatory mechanisms in the universe."

"The variability in the natural regulatory mechanisms in the universe is similar at a given time."

"Individuals differ due to space or time effect."

So, that's all clear then? EoR would love to see some rigourously designed experiments proving or disproving these claims, but he feels the query "Is time a 'real' dimension?" would have to be resolved first.

EoR also isn't sure what a "theraphy" is, but apparently it's a standard treatment amongst alties: the Well Being Center for Animal Healing offers, among its services, "Alternative Theraphy". So it must be real. Eor feels that one of the main requirements in order for these alternative theraphies to work is:

We find that animals can heal remarkably fast; probably because they do not have to contend with the overriding negative influence of the educated mind.

Intelligence bad. Superstition good. Vaccinations bad. Links to good.

The practice of vaccinating our animal companions on a yearly basis started many years ago and lacks scientific validation.

Obviously, the whole site is adhering to its stated principle of avoiding education at all costs.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Guest Blogger

Today's guest blogger is Raymond Chandler:

Once I asked a Dominican why, if God were all-knowing and all-powerful, he allowed so much suffering and cruelty, so many abominations to the innocent, so much of the jungle in His world. The Father said: 'He wanted to create man free to mould his own destiny.' I said: 'Well, man has had at least ten thousand years to work at it, and he doesn't seem to have made much progress, if Belsen and Dachau and Buchenwald are still possible, if the Russians can destroy a nation as a political move, if ordinary decent people can be tortured until they lose their minds or 'brain-washed' until they become semi-idiots. And apart from man, what about animals? I suppose God made them too. The very existence of animal life in the wild depends on the killing of the weak by the strong. Is that the sort of world God wanted?'

The Dominican said: 'I don't know. But I must believe.' He wasn't very pleased with me, nor I with him.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bad Depression Treatments

In a recent edition of the West Australian's Mind&Body supplement Dr Dingle discusses "New Ways Out of Depression".

How we treat depression is of great concern. The drugs we give to our kids don't solve the problem, at best they manage the symptoms. As a result, the underlying problem remains. In addition, these drugs can have many adverse side-effects. Drugs can be effective when used with other treatments that identify the cause but the first action should always be treating the illness through modifications in diet, environment, attitude and lifestyle.

Dr Dingle then goes on about cognitive behavioural therapy, diet (mainly tryptophan rich foods and omega 3 fats), exercise, "relaxation and breathing techniques" and meditation. He concludes:

Medication can be a part of this but only in conjunction with other, safer treatments, along with common sense.

While EoR doesn't disagree that many of those things may help people with depression, the subtle message here is "Drugs bad". Just because medication for depression treats the "symptoms" and not the "cause", why is that a bad thing? Many medications for depression have side effects (including weight gain and lethargy). As an alternative to not taking drugs and suffering suicidal ideation and its potentially fatal consequences, the side effects may be preferable. This seems doubly dangerous advice since Dr Dingle appears to be targeting his message to children (or their parents at least).

Dr Dingle also makes much of SAMe:

More than 100 double-blind studies have shown that supplementing with SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine), a chemical natural to our body, is equal or superior to using antidepressants. SAMe doesn't appear to have side effects and has many potential benefits. SAMe has been shown to increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in depressed patients.

Dr Dingle has no qualifications to provide medical advice that EoR is aware of, nor to suggest treatment for mental disorders. Real psychiatrists are a lot more cautious:

A 58-year-old man’s condition was stable on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) after 3 major depressive episodes in the previous 10 years. He disliked the idea of taking a drug for a long time and at one point took himself off the SSRI and started taking St. John’s wort. However, the reappearance of symptoms of depression soon persuaded him to go back on the SSRI. [...] [SAMe side effects] were few in the published studies, but all the studies were
short term. There is no systematic evidence about long-term side effects or toxicity. The oral doses used in published studies are most often in the range of 400-1600 mg per day, but there is no evidence about the best dose. SAMe is usually sold over the counter in tablets with a stated SAMe content of 200 mg or 400 mg. A major problem is that SAMe is very unstable at room temperature when exposed to air. It is not possible to know how much SAMe might remain in tablets bought over the counter. [...] Although SAMe and 5-HTP may have antidepressant effects when given in an appropriate way, there
is no evidence that either compound would be effective or safe in the long term using the preparations sold over the counter in the United States and via the Internet. Neither can be recommended.

Indeed, the concern that people with depression may be using SAMe in Australia without regard to advice from a doctor or psychiatrist has led to the Therapeutic Goods Administration issuing a regulatory notice for inclusion on the product:

"Individuals who are using prescription anti-depressants or suffer from bipolar depression should not use this product unless under the supervision of a health practitioner"

Dr Dingle does a disservice, at the very least, not to emphasise this point. It is also concerning that his articles promoting the dangers of various toxins, poor diet and learning problems could not be said to be untainted, since he also promotes "The Dingle Deal" as a commercial enterprise.

This program takes an integrated approach through Diet, Environment, Attitude and Lifestyle (the DEAL) to
provide the participant with immediate steps to reduce stress and the impact it has on health and productivity.

Dr Dingle claims he's been researching these topics for a good long time. Since he was two years old, in fact:

GEORGE NEGUS: [...] Why should we listen to Dr Peter Dingle?

DR PETER DINGLE: One - I've been researching it ever since I can remember, about two years of age.

GEORGE NEGUS: How would you describe yourself academically? Um, a behavioural scientist or what?

DR PETER DINGLE: No, I now describe myself... Are you ready for this one? It's a nutritional and environmental toxicologist.

GEORGE NEGUS: Oh, simple, yeah. But you do actually have qualifications that allows you to sound off and be a soothsayer on this whole issue.

DR PETER DINGLE: Correct, correct. We've got research happening in the behavioural sciences. We've got research happening in the nutritional area. We've got research happening in the environmental area, and the lifestyle too.

Notice Dr Dingle doesn't actually answer the question about his qualifications. He is an Associate Professor in the School of Science and Engineering, Environmental Science, at Murdoch University. EoR was unable to locate any mention of research being undertaken in that school that appeared to match Dr Dingle's claims above, though there is a list on his details page. A search for any publications returned zero results (obviously, Murdoch University does not index the populist press).

Of course, Dr Dingle knows his target audience. He regularly publishes columns in the alternative health section of the West Australian newspaper, has a regular column in the newage Nova magazine, and is clearly happy to associate himself with the "curers" of autism and ADD such as Defeat Autism Now!, chiropracters, craniosacralists, homeopaths and Mr Sichel.

Dr Dingle's aim is to live to 140 (that would make 138 years of research!). He himself describes his presentations as:

personal and memorable stories interlaced with a bit of magic.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hot Treatments For Autism

Via Liz Ditz EoR is informed about: Hyperbaric therapy for autism.

It's all the usual suspects: "giving new hope to Autistic children", "Parents say they're noticing a huge improvement in their kids" and "While overseas studies have shown the therapy can have a positive effect on Autism, no such research is being done here as Australian doctors are divided on whether the treatment actually works".

In other words, it's yet another unproven therapy being pushed to desperate parents. It's also very telling that googling "hyperbaric therapy for autism" comes up with pages and pages of people selling the therapy or promoting it in one form or another, but very little research (research, of course, is not required to sell something, it is only required to prove it).

In one study, Daniel A Rossignol, MD states (EoR's emphasis):

Our recent retrospective case series demonstrated that HBOT may improve symptoms in autistic children. We recently completed a prospective pilot trial using HBOT in 18 children which demonstrated significant clinical improvements in autistic children on several standardized scales. Most of the scales were parent-rated, although some were rated by teachers. However, parents were not blinded to the fact that their children received HBOT and evaluation of the children was through parent-rated scales, either of which could lead to bias. There was no placebo or control group. Therefore, the improvements found in this prospective study could have been due merely to chance or the natural development of the children. To determine if HBOT improves symptoms in autistic children, a double-blind placebo controlled study is needed.

The Association for Science in Autism Treatment advises:

There have been no studies with strong experimental designs on hyperbaric oxygen therapy for individuals with ASD. The equipment may pose a fire risk, and the intervention may have significant side effects such as damaging the middle or inner ear and raising blood sugar levels.

Dad of Cameron provides a lot more information about the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy hypothesis (which is all it is at this stage).

Unless you happen to be one of the few parents with an autistic child who also has wounds, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning or the bends, sticking your child in a hyperbaric chamber is probably just an expensive way to pass time.

Meanwhile, A Current Affair recently promoed a segment on a "new miracle cure" for troublesome children. EoR missed the show last night, but a quick check of the program's website ("Lachlan's miracle" [sic]) shows it was just some free national advertising for the Dore program. So, it wasn't "new", a "miracle" or a "cure". Prometheus explains why parents fall for these things, even if there's no proof or they've been disproven.

Incidentally, EoR wonders why any child suffers autism since there are so many "cures" out there and they all work (EoR knows, he's read the testimonials). Or is it so that, when one miracle cure fails, the parents have always got another miracle cure to turn to in order to spend more money, before the next miracle cure (repeat ad infinitum)...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"The Discovery of the Hobbit" by Mike Morwood & Penny van Oosterzee

If you have been enthralled by the Hobbit of Flores find - this book is essential backfill. Mike Morwood indulges the armchair paleoanthropolgist. You are transported from a burning clump of spinifex on Australia's north-west coast to the sunbleached central basin of Flores, then onward into the cavern of Liang Bua - a cool umbrella on a steamy hillside of coffee trees.

You will vicariously delight in details of the dig and feel the clay impacting beneath your fingernails and the reverberating hum of the generator. Mike introduces us to people involved, from the feisty PhD student whose state of undress distracted the men, to the ballad singer of the coffee break. We hear of pigdogs and Flores ponies, whipping ceremonies and crimes of passion, and the sweet spiced coffee and coconut milk. And then the tantalising find - a petite skeleton, more like an early African hominid than anyone from around these parts.

The nickname "Hobbit" was inspirational, resembling as it did Tolkien's little people in stature, unusual feet (long - perhaps hairy too), pot belly and, if folklore is to be believed, pointy ears and a legendary appetite: "If food was served to them on plates made of pumpkin rind, they would eat the plates too."

But it's not all "National Geographic". We follow Morwood's trauma of having the team's precious discovery handed over to appease an oldboy obligation - at the cost of scientific fair play and integrity of the specimens.

Morwood wasn't one to rollover. He had a wildcard on hand in the form of Peter Brown, an experienced palaeoanthropologist, who was plucked from Australia at a critical moment. This delayed - but didn't ultimately prevent - the handover. Brown initiated investigations such as estimation of cranial capacity. This was achieved by the startlingly low tech, but efficient, mustard seed method. You actually do use mustard seeds, filling the sealed-off cranium, then pouring out the seeds into a volumetric measure. Technophiles may be reassured to know a CT scan was also performed. The tiny brain size had everyone buzzing. How could such a creature use fire and tools and make the sea crossing to Flores? Furthermore, to prosper for millennia, until recent times, seemed incredible.

It was startling to be reminded how accepted knowledge may be an artefact of the technical abilities of the day. The Hobbit lay dormant thanks to the difficulty of deep excavation, which requires skilful shoring. Sites were prematurely abandoned when the layers became 'sterile', thus missing enriched layers beneath. Morwood boasts his shoring skills were passed on to him by colleagues who attended a grave-digging course. We also learn the commonly quoted date for human colonisation of Australia (40,000 years ago) was the product of a dating technique of the times, and a gross underestimate.

As well as the struggle to retain, and then reclaim, the specimens, Morwood's team had another trial to endure. Dissenters rallied in noisy public denial. Folk were disgruntled for a variety of reasons, from personal to ideological. They spouted excuses as shamelessly as creationists: these midgets must be diseased - microcephalics, cretins - anything but a new species. As Penny Van Oosterzee explained on Radio National: "I suppose people really don't like having their sacred cows jumped up and down on, it causes a bit of flatulence."

Penny Van Oosterzee has an interest in the Wallace line and Island Theory. She describes how isolation and limited resources can mold species. We are served a freaks' parade of island fauna - from mini elephants to monster rodents (both the size of small bears) - as a backdrop to the discussion on how and where the Hobbit could fit into our family-of-hominid album.

Another of Morwood's strengths is his willingness to respect local customs. When the need arose, chickens were sacrificed and entrails consulted, and work continued smoothly. He also pays homage to the Catholic priest Father Verhoeven, who was one of the first to take notice of stone tool remains and made the radical deduction hominids had reached Flores about 750,000 years ago. Liang Bua had served as his classroom before excavation there. Now it has become a classroom to the world.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Why Is God Japanese?

The mysterious, secret symbols used in reiki (that ancient healing therapy that was invented a hundred or so years ago) are well known to be Japanese Kanji symbols (though they can be drawn in the air more or less accurately, and the woo still works):

Usui Reiki symbols are not as mysterious as they might seem. They have actually been created from Japanese kanji which means they are simply words from the Japanese language. Their names can be found in a Japanese/English dictionary.

Or, as Joumana Medlej states:

That's what you least need to worry about. Most of the symbols that are being handed down in the Western world, some of which were published by Diane Stein for the first time, are themselves total distortions of the original symbols. Strictly speaking, they have as much to do with Reiki as a dollar-store dreamcatcher has to do with Plain Indians. The only value of a symbol resides in its efficiency as a trigger. Whether you use these, the originals, symbols you further modify yourself, symbols you make up or symbols you bring in from other traditions, you will not lose efficiency. If you forget how to draw a symbol in the middle of a working, you can still fly on intent, which is all you actually need anyway. Energy flows where your intent is. Everything else is just there to help until the day you can control your energy as naturally as you can move an arm.

Since reiki is a direct line to the energy of god

EoR wonders, therefore, why non-Japanese practitioners of reiki continue to use Kanji characters (debased or otherwise)? Why don't they just trace "heal" or "love" in the air over their intended victim? Is it because it would make them look silly? Exactly the same silliness works for Mr Emoto (according to his own claims).

More importantly, doesn't this mean god is Japanese? Otherwise reiki would be a Hebrew healing art.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What EoR Wants To See On TV

EoR has an idea for a pilot for a new television series.

Medical dramas such as Grey's Anatomy and House are becoming passe, as are shows about psychics such as Medium and Supernatural. It's time to combine the two into Psychic Medical Intuitive!

Each show will follow the familiar formula: a patient with a life threatening condition is rushed to Really Big Hospital (fully endowed by Big Pharma through various Swiss bank accounts). Dr Arrogant and his amazingly well-groomed team will spend most of the show attempting various tests and treatments (all of which will be very expensive and induce various more, life-threatening, complications). At various points our heroine, named Anastasia Starwoman (an Indigo child who dreams of one day being able to run her own crystal shop and healing academy, but who is currently forced to work as a cleaner in said hospital) attempts to point out to Dr Arrogant that she can sense the real problem, and heal the patient. Her claims, of course, are scoffed at.

In the final act, Dr Arrogant writes out the ultimate prescription ("You are hereby officially being Sent Home To Die") when Anastasia Starwoman insists on practising her woo on the longsuffering indigent. Since they can no longer come up with any more tests and complications, and hoping her treatment might lead to further medication being required from them, Dr Arrogant and his team permit our heroine to approach the patient.

Going into a trance, communicating with her angels, and muttering about meridians and qi, Anastasia Starwoman waves her hands over the affected patient's organs as she does a little dance. Almost instantly, the patient arises, painfree, walking, and completely cured.

The patient is eternally grateful to his saviour, but Dr Arrogant clearly now has it in for Anastasia and her remarkable gift.... Roll credits.

Of course, if Psychic Medical Intuitive doesn't succeed as a drama on commercial television, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation could always run it as a documentary.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Wishful Reiki Thinking

EoR appears to have missed all this research: There are now quite a few experiments that validate the usefulness of Reiki and Reiki like healing techniques.. Perhaps EoR's readers could let him know which issue of Scientific American, New Scientist or the British Medical Journal published these findings? Though it appears these scientific proofs are "experiments", not studies as such.

Now, something like could hardly be described as independent, so EoR went looking for these studies so he could read the full report and assess the evidence himself (note to trolls: EoR is quite happy to assess the evidence and make up his own mind, rather than accuse people of being "closed minded").

This is the first study:

Wendy Wetzel, a registered nurse describes a Reiki experiment she conducted in her paper, "Reiki Healing: A Physiologic Perspective." In her study, forty-eight people made up the experimental group while 10 made up a control group. Both groups had blood samples taken at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. The experimental group received First Degree Reiki training. The control group was not involved in the Reiki training. The blood samples were measured for hemoglobin and hematocrit values. [...] The people in the experimental group who received Reiki training experienced a significant change in these values with 28 percent experiencing an increase and the remainder experiencing a decrease. The people in the control group who did not receive Reiki training experienced no significant change. It is thought that changes, whether an increase or decrease are consistent with the purpose of Reiki which is to bring balance on an individual basis. One individual experienced a 20% increase in these values. She continued to treat herself with Reiki daily and after three months, her increase had been maintained and in fact had continued to improve. This improvement was appropriate for her as she had been experiencing iron deficiency anemia.

There's no actual data there: a "significant change" is what exactly? Over what period? Eleven people experience an increase, 37 a decrease. So, any result, whether an increase or a decrease is proof? Apparently this is because the body "knows" whether an increase or a decrease is needed though there's no indication of whether the increase or decrease was appropriate in each case (note: apparently none of the experimental group were healthy enough to maintain the same values). The control group was also very small.

Nonetheless, EoR expected that all these questions would be answered in the actual published paper. And here it is:

I can't give permission to reprint my study since I don't hold the copyright... you can reference it however.... and back issues of the Journal of Holistic Nursing are available thru many libraries...The citation is Wetzel, W (1989). Reiki Healing: A Physiologic Perspective. Journal of Holistic Nursing 7(1), 47-54.

So EoR's questions apparently can't be answered. Not unless someone with access to an academic library would like to source that particular publication.

EoR was unable to locate the next study, by one Otelia Bengssten MD, but it appears to be similar to the above study. Patients self reported improvements, and there were also "significant increases in hemoglobin values". Self reporting is, of course, notoriously subjective and patients often feel a need to validate their treatment and not upset their practitioners. Such self reporting is one of the commoner forms of "proof" offered that alternative therapies work.

The next experiment:

Laying-on hands healing has been validated by experiments carried out at St. Vincent's medical Center in New York. The experiment was carried out by Janet Quinn, assistant director of nursing at the University of South Carolina.

EoR could not find a "Janet Quinn" at either St Vincent's Medical Center or the University of South Carolina. The claims and data were therefore unable to be confirmed.

The next experiment:

Daniel Wirth of Healing Sciences International in Orinda, California conducted a tightly controlled experiment involving a Reiki-like healing technique. Forty four male college students received identical minor wounds deliberately inflicted by a doctor in the right or left shoulder.

Whilst EoR rather enjoys the idea of a doctor deliberately wounding 44 people, Daniel Wirth is a familiar name. He is one of the co-authors of the infamous and fraudulent "praying to get pregnant" study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, and his claims to veracity are flimsy.

The next study involves the use of a Superconducting Quantum Interference Device to measure magnetism, conducted by a Dr. John Zimmerman of the University of Colorado. Again, Colorado University shows no trace of this person. Perhaps he's this chiropracter?

Another experiment by a disappearing scientist comes next:

Dr. Barnard Grad of McGill University in Montreal, used barley seeds to test the effect of psychic healing energies on plants.

McGill University has no record of Barnard Grad.

Frankly, EoR was getting sick of trying to confirm these claims by this stage, and couldn't be bothered looking for the published results for the final "proof". For those interested, here it is:

In another experiment involving psychic healer Olga Worrall, Dr. Robert Miller used an electromechanical transducer to measure the microscopic growth rate of rye grass. The device used has an accuracy of one thousandth of an inch per hour. Dr. Miller set-up the experiment in his laboratory and then left, locking the door behind him to eliminate any unnecessary disturbance. Olga, located over 600 miles away was asked to pray for the test plant at exactly 9 PM that evening. When Dr. Miller returned to the laboratory the next day, the test equipment had recorded normal continuous growth of 6.25 thousandths of an inch per hour up to 9 PM. At that time, the record began to deviate upward and had risen to 52.5 thousands of an inch per hour which was an increase of 840 percent! This increased growth rate remained till morning when it decreased but never to its original level.

Unless "psychic healing" has been proven this is just measuring one unknown by another, and unless plants don't normally grow at variable rates, and unless there was a control group of plants, it's probably safe to say that this is yet another case of confirmation bias. Assuming it's even been published. EoR also wonders why an electromechanical transducer was used as a recording device.

So, basically, reiki and its ilk has not been proven scientifically, no more than homeopathy. Though there are a lot of home experiments and lowgrade studies that the believers desperately cling to in order to support their claims. They could, instead, run larger studies with proper protocols and controls and, with all the money alternative therapies generate, EoR wonders why they don't.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Here's some of the advice proffered by the radio nutritionist, Helen Frost, this week:

"If you put any chemical in the body the body freaks out." EoR doesn't know what the answer is to this problem. Presumably, eating and drinking nothing, and ceasing breathing.

Sweets "rot your joints".

"Caffeine is a toxic and addictive substance" without any health benefits, and the equivalent of 4-5 cups injected straight in to the vein can kill you. EoR doesn't know too many people who take their caffeine intravenously. What's the point of this meaningless scaremongering though? Any substance can be toxic. As we've seen recently, drinking too much water can kill you. By Ms Frost's logic we shouldn't be drinking any water either.

"A lot of kids are dying faster than their parents (because of junk food)". Eor has no idea what "dying faster" means. It's just more scaremongering without any science.

"Candida albicans on the tongue can spread right down to your backside." Eeeeww. Erky perky! Of course, Candida albicans is probably all over the skin, along with a vast number of other microbial organisms. Coffee kills off the friendly bacteria in the gut and lets C albicans overrun the body. C albicans "digs holes in the intestine", "burrowing" like rabbits, and runs rampant in the body. The answer is to starve them out: no sweets, white foods or junk foods.

This sounds like the pseudoscience promoted by William G. Crook, M.D, though with the special "coffee is the root of all evil" twist.

Crook claimed that the problem arises because "antibiotics kill 'friendly germs' while they're killing enemies, and when friendly germs are knocked out, yeast germs multiply. Diets rich in carbohydrates and yeasts, birth control pills, cortisone, and other drugs also stimulate yeast growth." He also claimed that the yeasts produce toxins that weaken the immune system, which is also adversely affected by nutritional deficiencies, sugar consumption, and exposure to environmental molds and chemicals. To correct these alleged problems, he prescribes allergenic extracts, antifungal drugs, vitamin and mineral supplements, and diets that avoid refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and (initially) fruits and milk. Crook's concepts are a mixture of fact and fancy.

Returning to Ms Frost: "Rats fed white bread over 7 days get bloated and die". Ms Frost loves her dead rat studies (she mentioned another study last week where rats were fed either breakfast cereal or breakfast cereal boxes - apparently the first group died earlier, though Ms Frost may be misremembering the experiment described here). True Bread relates that:

It has been reported to us that an authentic experiment was done concerning the difference between white and whole grain bread. In 1970, Roger Williams, a biochemist at the University of Texas, fed "enriched" white bread to rats, and within 90 days two thirds of them were dead, the others quite sick.

That's 90 days, not seven. EoR isn't quite sure why this should be described as an "authentic" experiment, but he isn't that surprised that any animal fed consistently on a restricted diet would show signs of ill health or debility. True Bread then extrapolates rather wildly from that authentic experiment to state:

But the True Bread of pure religion still remains unchanged from its original pure, whole state.

EoR doesn't know if there really was a Roger Williams who did carry out such an authentic experiment. The Common Sense Chronicle quite clearly uses the same text, except it begins:

It has been reported to us that an authentic experiment was done concerning the difference between white and
whole wheat bread. Though we have no dates and places - Common Sense teaches us that this is true!

Roger Williams has disappeared, and Common Sense is all the Authority needed. Common sense also tells us that the Earth is flat, that the Earth is at the centre of the universe, and the Sun revolves around the Earth.

Here's another variant on the "we're all dying like rats" urban myth:

It has been found that a group of rats were fed diet of raw vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains from birth grew into completely healthy specimens and never suffered from any disease. They were never ill. They grew rapidly, but never became fat, mated with enthusiasm and had healthy offspring. They were always gently affectionate and playful and lived in perfect harmony with each other. Upon reaching an old age, equivalent to 80 years in humans, these rats were put to death and autopsied. At that advanced age their organs, glands, tissues all body processes appeared to be in perfect condition without any sign of aging or deterioration. A companion group of rats we fed a diet comparable to that of the average American and included white bread, cooked foods, meats, milk, salt, soft drinks, candies, cakes, vitamins and other supplements, medicines for their ails, etc. During their lifetime these rats became fat and, from the earliest age, contracted most of the diseases of modern American society including colds, fever, pneumonia, poor vision, cataracts, heart disease, arthritis, cancer and many more. Most of this group died prematurely at early ages but during their lifetime most of them were vicious, snarling beasts, fighting with one another stealing one another’s food and attempting to kill each other. They had to be kept apart to prevent total destruction of the entire group. Their offspring were all sick and exhibited the same general characteristics as there parents.

This is not a published study. It is an excerpt from "God’s Way to Ultimate Health" by Dr. George H. Malkumu with Michael Dye. Yet again, there is a clear religious agenda to these rat studies. Apparently, rats fed a natural diet live in a blissful, unfallen state of innocence and eternal life (they had to be euthanased). Rats fed an "American" diet suffer all the slings and arrows of Original Sin, living a vicious, short, dis-ease ridden life. Clearly, eat raw foods, find Jesus, and you'll live forever.

If Ms Frost is going to keep quoting rat studies, EoR wonders if she'll mention this 1912 study when rats were fed a strictly vegetarian diet (pretty much what Ms Frost urges on us all):

The vegetarians were emaciated and skinny. Their back arched and more or less stiffened. The fur was harsh and ruffled, and the tail and nose inclined to be more or less covered with dry scale and sores. The attitude presented extreme lassitude and indifference. They remained in a crouched position most of the time, their legs appearing too weak to support their weight for only a short while. They lacked energy...

While EoR is quoting ancient rat studies, it seems from 1921 that it's not so important to be fed whole wheat bread, but rather that it be made with milk:

When even one-half of the water used in bread-making was replaced by milk, and still more when the bread was made entirely with milk instead of water, the improvement in the food value of the resulting breads (containing 5 and 10 per cent of their calories respectively in the form of milk solids) was strikingly apparent in feeding experiments upon growing animals.

Ms Frost's little radio corner is like an amazing fantasy land of alternative "science' and bizarre urban myths promoted as reality. Oh, and it was a quiet week this time: there were only five mentions of her seminars.