Friday, 18 April 2008

They should have seen this coming

The rather useless "Fraudulent Mediums Act" of 1951 is set to be replaced with new legislation being discussed in Parliament soon. The old act pretty much failed, probably because it tried to distinguish a fraudulent medium from a genuine one. It must have been tough, separating out the people who knew it was crap from the true-believers, in fact very few prosecutions were even brought and the vast majority failed.

The new laws will bring all forms of paid-for psychic and mystical services under the Consumer Protection Act. In other words, mediums will have to provide some form of proof that they are contacting dead people and can be held liable for harm resulting from their nonsense. Oddly, the psychics are a little miffed about this. Even more oddly, they waited until after the legislation was announced to submit their petition to 10 Downing Street. I'd have thought the most convinding time would have been, you know, before. They're meant to be psychic after all.

I can see why their pissed off though. If I'd made a career out of defrauding people with my carefully honed cold-reading skills, I'd be pissed off that my cushy little job was going to be "regulated."

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Ono, Here we Go

OK, I'm gonna talk about Expelled again. I'll get the warning in early so you don't feel disappointed.
You see, I wasn't surprised when the producers of Expelled pissed of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers. I wasn't particularly surprised when their film was so bad that even Fox News slated it. I wasn't even surprised at the monumentally bad way they have handled their PR - although perhaps I should have been with a film that has plainly spent orders of magnitude more on PR than on making a good film. I was, however, pleasantly surprised when I discovered the latest thing they've done.

They've only gone and pissed off Yoko Ono. Some would speculate that this isn't particularly hard to do, and might go on to remind us that she broke up the Beatles. Or allegedly broke up the Beatles, or in fact they broke themselves up. Even amongst secular music lovers her involvement with John Lennon towards the end of the Band's career seems to be regarded as an unholy act, a deadly sin, truly unforgivable.
Now, I would speculate that this is all just a bit melodramatic and a waste of time, but it doesn't matter any more. Because, atheist music lovers, she has a chance to redeem herself of any sin you think she may have committed.

She could sue the arses off Expelled for a start. You see, over the course of the film they play Imagine, by John Lennon. You might think this would be in some kind of ironic capacity, but from what I've heard, you'd be wrong. It seems that they play the song beside images of wars purportedly caused by "Darwinisn" (which in their minds = Atheism) presumably in order to claim that this is the result of "no religion."

Of course, being the smart business-people they are, the producers of Expelled got permission to use the song. Right?

Her lawyers are apparently "exploring all options," which I hope is lawyer speak for "putting together a cast iron case and demanding all their money off them." I'm always a little wary of the litigation culture, but if it applies to one it applies to all. If the lone file-sharer or school play that uses material without permission gets sued, then so does the film company.

This will, of course, be in addition to the other impending law suits pertaining to the other stuff they nicked from other people's work. I'm starting to wonder if they made any of the film themselves. Of course, all the bits with Ben Stein in are probably theirs and we can't sue them for that.


Friday, 11 April 2008

OK, let's all be aware

Today is the second day of World Homeopathy Awareness Week, which starts on a Thursday for no Earthly reason I can understand. So, since they want us all to be so "aware" of their pseudo-medical, fraudulent, dangerous nonsense I thought I'd help out. After all, it'd be rude not to.

So, I thought I'd start with the British Homeopathic Association since they're, well, in Britain and so am I. They're website contains a helpful FAQ on homeopathy , which will save me a lot of time thinking about what to write. Being the lazy sod that I am, I shall simply run down their questions and answer them as best I can. Kind of like an open-book exam where the open book has all the wrong answers in it.

1. What is Homeopathy?
They say:
"Your homeopath builds up a complete picture of you and prescribes treatment for you as an individual, not simply for your complaint."
Doesn't that sound lovely? They'll make a treatment up just for you. One that takes into account that you're 5'10", slightly overweight, work in sales and support Arsenal. I think I'd rather have the treatment for the complaint please. Of course, what this really means is that they take more time to talk to you than our often-overworked GPs. Placebo effects have been shown to be stronger if you take longer to reassure the patient and make friends with them. Of course, throwing in a few jibes about "Big Pharma" trying to kill you with it's poisons probably won't go astray either.

2. How Does it Work?
I have to tell you, I was really looking forward to this one. In my minds eye there was a detailed description of the mechanism by which water "remembers" a molecule it once saw briefly or how shaking it up makes it remember it even more. After that there would, of course, be a description of the biological effects as tested in vitro and in clinical trials.
They say:
"When you have symptoms of illness, your homeopath will give you a remedy which would produce similar symptoms if taken when you were healthy. Sometimes referred to as treating like with like. But this remedy is given in minute quantities so that it triggers your body's self-healing response without any other ill effect."
So, if I have an inflammation that causes pain and swelling, they will give me a very tiny amount (ie. NONE) of something that would normally cause me pain and swelling. Apparently the body will recognize this pain and swelling agent and respond to it, thus reducing my actual symptoms. Now that all sounds very reasonable doesn't it? yes, yes it does, if you are a yoghurt!
Seriously! I have symptoms that are being caused by something. That something is presumably in my body somewhere causing the initial symptoms. How exactly is adding a little bit to those symptoms meant to help me? (assuming of course that nothing in water can cause symptoms at all) I also get somewhat vexed by people who harp on about the body's "natural healing response" as if it's some mysterious entity when in fact it's an inter-related system of very complex mechanisms all acting on specific threats to the survival of the host.
Also, if I am suffering from cyanide poisoning what do they give me? Oh yes, tiny amounts of cyanide! This would be actively malevolent if it weren't for the fact that what I'd actually get is imaginary amounts of cyanide. No, then it'd just be negligent.

3. Why should I try Homeopathy?
You shouldn't. Let's just get that clear now. Don't waste your money and don't buy into the crap about conventional medicine either.
They say:
" Homeopathic remedies are mainly made from natural materials and have almost no side-effects. They are particularly appealing to people who prefer natural products to conventional drugs, those with chronic conditions, and to parents and others responsible for the care of children."
Where to start? Right, "natural" remedies then. Let us say that there is a tree bark that contains an active ingredient that fights, ooh maybe malaria? Right now we can chew on that bark a lot, or preferably mix it into our cocktails if we're feeling refined. So we may very well avoid malaria because of the quinine we got from the bark. However, if we take the bark, we can extract the pure quinine and then run a trial to see how much is safe and how much we actually need to stop the jungle fever. What we then have are two alternatives.
On the one hand we can chew some bark and probably get some quinine out, along with a bunch of other stuff like beetles, animal droppings, moss, earth and any other drugs that are also in the bark. On the other hand we can have our 100mg of purified quinine, administered in the most efficient manner. Which would you choose?
You see, "natural" just means dirty and uncontrolled. People who prefer natural remedies are just fooling themselves that they're not taking drugs when they are. Dirty drugs. Taking properly controlled and tested medications is not the same as eating too much over-processed homogenised food or too much refined sugar no matter how un-New-Age it might seem.
And as for those responsible for children: Take them to a GP. Seriously, they know quite a bit about what might be wrong. And they can tell you about how things actually work in the actual human body. Do not trust made-up medicine, especially when it comes to your children!

4. What can Homeopathy Treat?
Well, it's done wonders for my insanity recently... And as for my lycanthropy, I'm alright noooow? No, alright, don't give up the day-job. Apparently magic water can treat everything:
"from asthma, rheumatism, arthritis, eczema to more simple cases of cuts and bruises."
Well, let's start with this one. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TREAT YOUR ASTHMA WITH HOMEOPATHY. Really, modern medicine has had quite a while to develop drugs that alleviate the chronic and acute symptoms of asthma. They're not perfect, but then things so rarely are. Expensive little bottles of water are not going to make your asthma go away!
Homeopathy, like all placebos, can treat some symptoms. It can alleviate pain and a nice long conversation with the "doctor" will do wonders for stress. Any symptoms that can be exacerbated by stress may well decrease as a result. The underlying cause, however, will remain.
I am also intrigued as to how it treats cuts and bruises. Although I can't find anything specific on that. All I will say is that the first thing I think of when I cut myself is not taking drugs of any kind (even pretend ones!). Put a sticking plaster on it and some antiseptic cream!

OK, there's more in the FAQ but it does get rather tiresome so I'll just skip on to:
"A fascinating but as yet unexplained characteristic of homeopathic remedies is that the more dilute a remedy, the more effective it is. For example, a remedy diluted 30 times by a factor of 100 (strength 30C) is much more potent than a 6C remedy, even though it contains less of the original substance."
This is about the most wrong statement homeopaths make. The implication is that less of something does more to me than more of something. So I should be able to get homeopathically drunk for a few pence. Hell, we've got ethanol in the lab here, I'll just dilute that a billion times and down a glass! [Disclaimer, do not drink laboratory chemicals...]
I'd love to see them try to back this bollocks up with any kind of logic. Even some common sense would do. There's a reason chemicals have LD50 numbers on them. (Lethal dosage in 50% of people, rats etc.) Less doesn't kill more, it kills less! It's one of those things we've known about for quite a while. By their standard I should either die or be cured of all ills every time I drink tap water which is probably a 30C dilution of almost every known chemical.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Welcome to the Highlands: Home of... creationism?

Well, I'm a little surprised. Here was me thinking that most of the really dumb religious people were located here in the South. The Press and Journal, however, has proved me wrong with an article proving that, actually, most of the loonies are up north.
It turns out there are cretinists in Inverness, gateway to the Highlands (or whatever the PR material says these days). I always knew that a certain minority of fruit-loops gravitated north, get-away-from-it-allers are a common enough sight in Orkney (where, for the two of you that may not know, I went to school) and we even have our own reasonably crazy monks, but I'd really hoped that the cretinists hadn't made it that far up. The article ends with this little gem:
"Derick Gillies, of the Free Church of Scotland, said there was an unbalanced debate between those believing in creationism and those believing in evolution."
He's right you know. The fact that the cretins get any air-time at all means the debate is already far too unbalanced, away from reality!
Ah well, it's good that they managed to secure a speaker like Dawkins though. You often get the impression that, for the high profile speakers, Edinburgh is as far north as Scotland goes.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Cardinal Keith: Liar, Lunatic or Lord?

Well, it's definitely not option 3 folks. In case you were wondering. The good Cardinal continues to tout the same old arguments about animal/human hybrid embryos undermining the dignity of human life and all that religious stuff, only this time with a twist. This time it's really obvious that he doesn't know what he's talking about.
"You might think I'd object to animal-human hybrid embryos on moral grounds. I do, but it's their bad science I really take exception to"
Can you guess, dear reader, exactly how many examples there are of "bad science" in his article to reassure you that he knoweth of what he speaks? Zero. Not one. He is at pains to explain that he is a science graduate - BSc Science Edinburgh University - yet he fails to present any of the promised scientific arguments.

It seems he is also most vexed by the fact that embryo research "may" or "might" produce results. This is odd behaviour for one so scientifically literate as any scientist knows that the outcome of their research is not a foregone conclusion. One can never say "my research will do the following," that would be bad science.

Apparently a survey has also shown that 67% of the British population oppose the creation of animal/human hybrids. I can't find any evidence for this opinion poll anywhere. What I did find, however, was a Guardian piece from 2007, describing the consultation process for the HFEB as follows:
"The consultation, a £150,000, three-month mix of opinion polls, public meetings and debates, found participants were initially cautious of merging animal and human material, but became more positive. "When further factual information was provided and further discussion took place, the majority of participants became more at ease with the idea," the HFEA's report says."
So perhaps the Cardinal's opinion poll is taken from the Journal of Knee-Jerk Religious Reactions in the Face of Incomplete Knowledge. Ah, that most respected of totally made up science journals.

It seems to me that religious leaders have been aware of this Bill, and the consultation surrounding it, for some time. It seems that they waited until now because they were hopeful that the Lords might deal with it quietly. Since the Lords haven't capitulated, they have decided to try and drum up the most vocal minority they can.

Thousands upon thousands of people marched in opposition to the war in Iraq. If the government is to maintain consistency it most certainly should avoid changing its mind over a few thousand postcards from poorly informed parishioners and the dishonest ravings of a few Cardinals.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Do you have a burning need to be really pissed off?

I seem to. It's somewhat akin to a hobby for me. I also find it great stress relief to get really pissed off about things. I also find the smell of people being Wrong on the Internet irresistible.
I also find that a frustration shared is a frustration-made-much-more-fun-in-a-nefarious-kind-of-way. That certainly doesn't have any kind of ring to it. I'm quite busy with this whole science thing right now so I'll admit that this post is kind of a filler. So here goes:

Anyone heard of Vox Day? I don't remember if I mentioned him before but he is a sort of ultra-religious, ultra-right-wing and ultra-bigoted blogger who styles himself a "forensic atheologist" whatever the hell that's supposed to be. You can find his blog here if you really must. What follows is a simply a list of quotes intended to give you a little taster of why his blog might piss me off:
"As with the universities, the influx of women into science is having the observable result of degrading its quality." - Blog 31/3/08

"I note that I am a global warming skeptic myself. Greenland is still colder now than it was when Norse settlers were raising crops there in the eleventh century. So I don’t see why a return to those temperatures should present a problem." - The Irrational Atheist p. 46
" occurs to me that since atheists are disproporationately prone to social autism, it's not hard to understand why so many of them have such a difficult time understanding why they are disliked so intensely by such a wide variety of people." -Blog 30/3/08
"The curse of women is their eternal desire for control, coupled with a total aversion to responsibility." - Blog 21/2/08
"I'm not particularly into biology, but I've never bought into the "science" that oil is nothing but squished dinosaurs and sufficiently fermented ferns." - Blog 2/2/08
"And before the gay apologists bring up the ubiquitous and demonstrably false claim that pederasty has no connection with homosexuality..." - Blog 12/10/07
"Homosexuality is not immoral. Okay. So, how about theft, is theft all right now? Or drinking blood, I'm particularly interested to know if blood-drinking is no longer to be considered immoral. I assume rape is fine, of course." - Blog 16/3/07
(Discussing Hilary Clinton's statement that homosexuality was not immoral.)

In addition to this, the European Union is the "Fourth Reich", and his links to Sam Harris' blog and the Richard Dawkins Foundation are labeled "My Bitch" and "My Other Bitch" respectively. Oh yes, and Barak Obama is "the Magic Negro."
OK, my brain has now melted, but I thought I'd just get this in so that yours could melt too. Vox Day has to be amongst the most objectionable people I have come across on the internet.

Normal service (if such a thing exists) may, one day, be resumed.