The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What's The Harm?

I'm often asked, like many skeptics who get into discussions about "alternative" medicine, odd beliefs, or the paranormal, about what the harm is when people hold beliefs that can't be backed up by reason or evidence. With "alt. med" it is often easy to explain the drawbacks of the uncritical view - most people know someone who has had to deal with a very serious disease like cancer. Once you explain something inane like homeopathy and its history, most folks will agree that it is potentially dangerous.

A slightly more touchy area is the paranormal. When you talk to people about ghosts, for example, most who believe are not at all willing to give that up because it is so closely tied to a personal belief in the afterlife and religion. It's much deeper. While ghosts are still hip here, the stigma in the "first" world with regard to witches has dropped off to the point where you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who truly believes that people can cast spells and the like.

That is not the case in a place like Kenya. I would recommend reading this article and listening to the linked BBC radio show at the bottom called African Perspectives. It is disturbing to say the least to hear first-hand accounts of village elders being accused of witchcraft, beaten, and burned alive.

The The DEO (District Education Officer) of Malindi, Kenya (a small costal town about halfway between the borders of Somalia and Tanzania) was asked by the interviewer if she believes in witchcraft, to which she replied:
Witchcraft is there, even the Bible says in the time of Moses there were issues of witchcraft...I don't believe I can be bewitched because I believe in God and he is the one who is in control of the universe...
This is a huge problem. When the people who are supposedly educating the population believe in nonsense, you end up with a whole lot of people buying into (obviously extremely dangerous) bullshit from a very young age. She apparently read the Bible closely because the only two times "witch" appears is in Exd 22:18 (the famous, randomly out-of-place, "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" line, and also in Deut 18:10-12 which says:
There shall not be found among you [any one] that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, [or] that useth divination, [or] an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things [are] an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. (My bolding, here's the source)
So being a witch, according to the damn Bible, should be handled by God himself, not by his followers. So sayeth the Book. Maybe she didn't read it all that closely after all.

The DEO said that there is a "witchcraft act" in Kenya that can fine or imprison people who accuse others of witchcraft. It, obviously, is not enforced with any sort of rigor, however, as there are videos of lynchings and burnings with no authorities in sight. Quite frankly, if the "authorities" are anything like the woman quoted above, you probably wouldn't want her there anyway.

This is the danger of ignorance. This is where it leads. It turns The Crucible into a documentary, only with more fire and agony and ending up with no village elders to consult in times of need. There is a telling part of the audio where a man tries to explain why villagers think the old people are witches; he says that at about 60 years of age, some physical changes occur in the population, one of which is that their eyes often turn a reddish colour - a side-effect of smoke from a particular wood used. That, plus wrinkled skin equals accusation and violent death. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the visible changes and yet no one is launching an education campaign, no one seems to be taking charge, and the elderly are being savagely abused and killed.

I'm not saying that this is going to happen in Canada anytime soon, but the fact that it is happening ANYWHERE in the world in 2009 indicates that something is horribly wrong with us. Beliefs can and do kill. Brutally.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Martial Arts Retardedness

You must watch this video. It's from 2006, something called the "Pathgate Summer Retreat". We'll talk after.

Ok? Now, firstly, did you get through the whole thing? I know, it's hard because it's so goddamn stupid, but it shows a really nice parallel between martial arts believers and faith healer believers. When you get people who believe in you, they'll do whatever it takes to keep the myth alive. "Oh, you're a lama? Cool. You can throw people around and make them bounce like monkeys with your special lama energy? Cool. Oh, like those people...I see. Well, sure, I guess I'll try...I mean, there's been so many bouncing around already, it can't hurt." And off you go. Stupid belief, a couple true believers, mutual reinforcement, closed off from mainstream society. That's a recipe for...wait for it....

Benny Hinn! Aren't the similarities interesting? I know, this one was harder to get through, even with the annoying, chanty, brain-washing "hallelujah" muted. There are a couple of things to notice about Hinn, however, as he's working with a very large audience and has to find the believers that will most persuasively make his case for everyone else. He's a professional, after all.

Check out how he finds a live one at about the one minute mark and gets his ushers to grab him so Benny can fuck with him in front of the crowd. That gets everyone else primed to know what to do when Hinn waves his arms in front of them. Then he takes the three true believers up on stage so everyone can see. It's nice that he's got his ushers trained to fall and convulse when his arm waves happen to pass by them. It's sweet, really. By the 3:45 mark, he's not even putting effort into it anymore; the overweight couple just get nonchalantly dropped twice.

Ok, skip ahead (if you didn't watch it all yet) to about 5:45 and watch him drop what looks like the choir. Well, all except for the one guy in front row who, apparently, wasn't on script. He won't be back next show (although I'm assuming that because there was a translator telling them what to do - i.e. hold hands - he's probably a local there for his wife or something). Near the end of the clip (around 9:18 or so), he tries to drop a group on stage and a man and a woman don't fall. Hinn does his usual grab-the-motherfucker-by-the-face routine he pulls out when folks don't fall, but he's a believer so he falls easily. The woman next to him just sort of sways backwards and doesn't go all the way down. I guess the "FIRE" didn't fully flow over her....

These two embarrassing videos are a testament to the gullibility of our species and our desire to believe what feels good, to our eventual detriment. Benny Hinn steals money from these people for what amounts to a couple hours of "entertainment". The crappy part is that the people in these clips lose so much more than their money - they lose what is overlooked when the shruggies1 say, "What's the harm?". They lose their ability to detect baloney, and that can cause untold amounts of harm, like to that woman who went the "lama" for her back pain and was up "throwing" students around afterwards. I'd be interested in seeing her the next week....

1. Shruggie (noun): a person who doesn’t care about the science versus pseudoscience debate. When presented with descriptions of exaggerated or fraudulent health claims or practices, their response is to shrug. Shruggies are fairly inert, they will not argue the merits (or lack thereof) of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or pseudoscience in general. They simply aren’t all that interested in the discussion, and are somewhat puzzled by those who are. From Science-Based Medicine

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael

He turned into a weirdo...or maybe he was one from the get-go. Now we've got to put up with all the assholes giving their little stories and theories that don't matter worth shit. There's no forgiving child molestation, if he did it, but I'm not here to judge. I just remember the best Michael moment from my personal recollection:

Plus, you get to see Sammy, and he was the greatest ever. Period.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deepak's Tweets - #1

From Deepak on Twitter:
E. Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in less than 6 words. He wrote “Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” Can you write a story in 4 words?
Yep, I certainly can. "Deepak's research sucks ass." Jesus christ, he can't even get a fucking six-word story right. Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words or less and what he came up with was: "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn." That should tell you the level of research to which Deepak has committed; he literally forgot a third of the story. When the whole story is condensed into six words, you really have to think that there's a lot of meaning tucked into those first two words.

Man, it just never gets old.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pat Buchanan - Idiot

Proof? See here. Undeniable.

(horn tip to Mark at Good Math, Bad Math)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scope of Practice

Maybe you've seen the commercial on TV recently that features all sorts of kids doing a wide variety of activities and hobbies. The point and catch-phrase is, "No one's good at everything, but everyone's good at something." It's a great campaign to promote self-confidence in young people and to point out that you can be an expert in pretty damn much anything.

When you get into a specific field and study it all the time, you can become an expert. That happens most commonly with advanced education, to the point where people get Ph.Ds and lead cutting-edge research and development into new areas. It's inspiring.

The danger with higher education and advanced study is thinking you are an expert in more than your field. For example, I'm a massage therapist; I know more than the average Joe on the street about anatomy and physiology, but I certainly wouldn't call myself an "expert" by any real standard. You want an "expert", call an MD or preferably an anatomist. That being said, I tend to be the go-to fella with any medical question amongst our friend group because there's no one more qualified that we drink beers with.

Massage therapists have a limited scope of practice in that we work on soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, tendons) and joints. Our main goal 90% of the time is relaxation, whether it is for stress relief or therapeutic effect, so the actual massage doesn't vary too much. Sure, there's the odd joint mobilization or friction, but generally, our focus is quite narrow.

We step outside our scope when we say that massage can treat, say, MS or Parkinson's or cancer (the actual conditions, not the symptoms, which we can treat to a small degree). Going outside your specialty is a no-no and often gets a pass amongst lay-persons going for advice, or, more commonly, TV interviewers asking someone who has no business commenting for their opinion. You've all seen the "Man On The Street" segments where a reporter asks Julie, the McDonald's girl, what she thinks of the election results in Iran and what the government should do.

Now, I'm not saying that Julie the McDonald's girl is stupid, I'm not saying that she can't have an opinion, but does anyone care what she has to say? No one should care what I say about (anything, really....) economics because I know less that shit about economics. I have opinions, but they're uninformed and probably retarded. If I want to hear someone talk about Iran, the economy, NASA and the space program, or how to build a tree-house, I'd like to have someone who actually put some damn time into learning about that specific thing.

A few years ago, I went to a series of young Earth creationist (YEC) lectures. One of the speakers was a man named Bruce Malone who said he was a Ph.D in chemistry, but if you read some of his articles (like this one) over at Kent Hovind's site, you'll see that he dips his toes into evolutionary biology, astronomy, and geology - subjects that he has, at least in the case of evolution by natural selection, exactly zero grasp on.

Prime example of going well beyond your scope of practice/expertise. The thing about Malone is that he even screws up when he talks about his supposed area. I find that some of these people just can't do anything correctly. Look over at Orac's blog when he exposes Dr. Jay Gordon as a dumbass when Gordon should be an expert in vaccinations but chooses to keep his head firmly embedded in the sand of ignorance (otherwise known as Jenny McCarthy's cleavage). It's a wonder to behold.

So the lesson to be learned is to be humble about your expertise, but not so much that you let people who have only strong opinions (or a damn "mommy instinct") lure you away from science-based practice.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iranian Election Photos

Take a minute and go to Flickr to check out the amazing pictures coming out of Iran during the protests. The people are rising up and it is a thing to behold.
Mideast Iran Presidential Elections
(horn tip to Rebecca Watson via her Facebook)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iranian Protests

Wow, I usually don't delve into politics very much, but the protests in Iran are crazy. Check out this footage the BBC got from a cellphone. Apparently the protest was five miles long. That's some insane shit.

Presidential challenger Mir Hossein Moussavi has officially launched a complaint of vote fraud, but with the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supporting former and seemingly newly "elected" leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it doesn't look too promising for any sort of overturning.

It sucks lots that the elections were ostensibly "democratic", but when something smells fishy and a complaint is filed, the actual (unelected) leader pipes up and puts the kibosh on any shimmering of votes meaning anything.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chiropractors Ironically Covering Their Asses

Love Phil Plait. Love his blog. He posted this bit on the irony of chiropractors taking down their websites because they know they can't back up what they do with solid research (in response to the Simon Singh lawsuit - Go Simon!). Go and read his blog - regularly, if you don't already. It's a must-have on your daily hits.

Updated Info: Maybe it's me, but hiding isn't really addressing the issues at hand.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Deepak Chopra - Facepalm!

Once again, over at that bastion for woo, the Huffington Post, Deepak Chopra penned a tremendously stupid piece of ill-informed tripe. I shall begin the fisking, as it so deserves to be fisked:
The tone of the (Newsweek) article was the same tiresome blend of gotcha journalism and selective fact-reporting that fills tabloid coffers.
No, no, no, just because you do not like what is being said doesn't make it "gotcha journalism". Newsweek called out Winfrey because she promotes bullshit like The Secret, Suzanne Somers' insane pill-fiesta, and Jenny McCarthy's ignorantly arrogant anti-vaccine campaign to kill children. The "gotcha" here is that it took too long to get Oprah as cornered as she is currently.
And the fact that she has celebrity guests who have causes and crusades in the area of health, such as Jenny McCarthy or Suzanne Somers, is not the same as Oprah herself endorsing what they say.
This is tremendous bullshit. Oprah endorses a book, it goes to number one. She says a product is good, it flies off the shelves. Her audience is loyal, unquestioning and looks at her for their opinions - and as a meaningless anecdote, I have first-hand experience arguing with several of her minions and vouch for my own facts. Nyah nyah nyah.
...if people still trusted the health care industry to act in their best interest the way they did decades ago, then it would be unnecessary to brand Oprah for "crazy talk" simply because she occasionally provides a forum for ideas outside of mainstream medicine.
Again, no, no, no. She doesn't just "provide a forum", she makes these people stars. Dr. Phil, Rachel Ray, and next up is Jenny McCarthy. The Secret has sold over 100 million copies. Having Oprah give you time is as good as money in the bank from uncritical, easily led viewers.
Instead, we got a response from an oncologist in Canada repeating the establishment position: alternative treatments of cancer are bogus, subjectivity has no place in science, "soul talk" about illness is rubbish. This is exactly the kind of dismissive arrogance that drives millions of people away from conventional doctors.
My main problem here is Chopra's use of the term "dismissive arrogance". The doctors I check with are quite careful of their examinations of the studies and, in all honesty, would be intrigued if there was an actual effect found with any so-called "alternative" treatment. The reason Chopra's pet ideas are said to be "bogus" is because after looking at them, they fail time and time again to show any promise or efficacy. It is one thing to casually flip off something that may have use, it is quite another to continue down a wrong road decades after someone has shown you correct directions.
Scientific medicine by and large ignores wellness, prevention, and alternative medicine in general...As long as official medicine, backed by huge pharmaceutical companies, denies the existence of the problem, much less alternative solutions, the movement will remain patient-centered and the attitude toward alternative medicine will be one of unfounded disdain, suspicion, and ignorance on the part of physicians.
1. Science-based medicine does NOT ignore wellness and prevention. Saying this betrays an amazing ignorance of his own former profession. 2. The Big Pharma conspiracy shit has to stop. No one is arguing that huge pharmaceutical companies push drugs on doctors to give to patients, but not all the doctors are buying. Listen to Mark Crislip when he points out that the drug companies have amazing scientists doing great work, but then that work goes to scumbag businessmen and salespeople who foist it on the marketplace. That needs to change, but - and it is a large but - the care of science-based medicine is generally patient centered and not a dripping cesspool of corruption like Chopra and his ilk would have you believe.

Chopra then mentions positively this study which was demolished by both Steven Novella and the "oncologist in Canada", David Gorski, who both use better logic, more common sense, and, you know...science. This is embarrassing for Chopra who really should know better.
Iatrogenic disease, roughly defined as illness that results as a complication from a doctor's care, leads to between 230,000 to 284,000 deaths every year
Tu quoque much, Deepak? Again, no one is saying that science-based medicine is perfect or free from iatrogenic disease/screw-ups. That, in no way, makes acupuncture or any other "alternative" therapy valid.
Their (science-based doctors) own lack of curiosity and creative thinking is disturbing. Does the most brilliant researcher in the world know why cancer sometimes spontaneously disappears? Why a patient with obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression can respond equally well to talk therapy and drugs -- that is, why talk is as effective as chemicals in altering the brain? Or how the body's healing system is influenced by outside forces?
Man, this is like a "spot the logical fallacy" game. Oh, oh! I know! False dichotomy! Just because medical scientists and/or doctors do not know how or why something works is no reason to trust in people with no evidence or plausibility. "You can't show me every step in evolutionary history, therefore Intelligent Design is correct". Ummm...no. Please try again. We have some fabulous parting gifts for you.
Scientific medicine is leery of so-called anecdotal evidence, that is, individual stories of disease and cure. Their skepticism is rational and well-founded...But Oprah is letting individuals tell their stories for other, positive reasons: to share their pain, to reach out to others in the same circumstance, to provide hope.
I call bullshit. Oprah lets people like McCarthy, Somers, and The Secret peddlers on her show to passionately give their product air-time. As stated above, Oprah's influence is tremendous and for Chopra to ignore this is disgraceful and dishonest.
The article sneers at the popular movement linking autism with childhood vaccination, yet current understanding looks at autism as a complex, multi-factorial condition in which some cases could be influenced by an outside factor like a vaccine.
"Could be"!? This is just sad. Chopra has moved so far from rational thought here that it is almost as though he has devolved into some sort of sponge-like creature with no brain. Perhaps he, like Oprah and Jenny McCarthy/Jim Carrey, need a bit of a reminder of why we vaccinate. I would also suggest listening to Mark Crislip's Quackcast defending vaccinations where he says that, "the only greening coming from not vaccinating will be the grass growing on the graves of dead children." There is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL that autism is caused IN ANY WAY by vaccinations. Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey are idiots. The end.
One fears that all of these arguments will fall on deaf ears, because the schism between official and alternative medicine runs deep -- deep enough that the average physician doesn't bother even to skim the thousands of studies that bolster alternative claims.
Could it be that this is the Santa Claus problem? Once you wait by the chimney for 20+ years for the jolly old elf with nothing to show but rug-prints on your cheeks from falling asleep on the floor, are you really that expectant on the 35th year? Why skim studies purportedly showing that acupuncture works when you can be pretty much guaranteed that the controls were lax, the design flawed, and the experimenters biased? The well-controlled, blinded, placebo-including studies show that a modality like acupuncture is just not viable. Sorry. It's done, so toss it aside and let's see what else is out there.
This study suggests a human connection rather than a biological one. Or rather, human distress leads to biological distress. Doctors don't officially believe that; millions of ordinary citizens do.
Oh, well, if that many ordinary citizens believe it, it must be true. How many people believe that the iron in your blood will be attracted to a magnet? I bet you could convince Oprah. Once that happens, BAM!, you've got 30 million others who will likely believe it too. That doesn't change the fact that it is wrong and that magnets have no medical value (other than MRI, obviously).
Patients aren't supposed to know more than their physicians. The fact that they often do, at least insofar as alternative treatment goes, is both a sign of hope and cause for distress.
No, it is a sign that a degree from Google University is essentially worthless. It is like learning a black belt form in karate when you just walk in off the street. Sure, now you know a black belt kata, but do you really know more than the brown belt student who studied that particular style for years? You have no idea why your arm is in that position, why your foot is there precisely, or why you have to turn your wrist in that particular manner. Knowing about "alternative treatments" is no great feat; most are worthless, which is why they are "alternative" in the first place. "Alternative" can be exchanged with "implausible", "unproven", or in most cases, "disproven".

It is sad that so many people think that Deepak Chopra is a deep thinker with new ideas when he is really just mired in gobbledegook and new age babbling that means nothing. His understanding of what makes a good scientific study seems to be less than mine, and I'm a goddamn massage therapist with an English degree. He should be ashamed of himself - but, then again, he is rolling in that alt-med phat cash, so maybe it is me that should be getting on that bandwagon with him.

Nah, I like being able to look myself in the mirror.

(tip o' the horns to Rebecca Watson)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Alphonse de Valk - A Delusional Old Man

This just gets under my scaly skin. Yet another in a string of old priests getting their dresses bunched up about atheists - and getting pretty much everything wrong about us in the process.

Alphonse de Valk (I outright refuse to refer to these elderly experts-in-nothing as "Father" because, as should be obvious, I already have a father and he is infinitely more deserving of that title than any religious figure) publishes the oxymoronic Catholic Insight in which appeared the above-linked article. If I may quote:
The root cause of this prideful arrogance (atheism) goes right back to the beginning of human history. When Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan immediately following his baptism, the tempter besought Jesus to declare himself independent from God. Jesus refused.
Ummm...you realize that Satan is not real, right? You don't? Oh, you buy that whole some-people-get-possessed-by-Satan thing? You thought The Exorcism of Emily Rose was a documentary?

Sir, you have wasted your life. To continue:
The world-wide elitist hostility towards the Pope for contradicting the folly of the condom is good example of atheists at work.
When you say something as patently stupid as that, you really should provide some sort of reference showing why condom use is "folly". Just saying it means less than nothing, especially coming from you who has never had occasion to use one.

Again, you have wasted your life.

I would advise de Valk against using the term "witch hunt" when discussing the situation of Science Minister Gary Goodyear and his treatment by the press. Sort of in poor taste to bring up hunting witches when it was religions who burned and tortured women for a couple of centuries based on one bible verse. Goodyear is a chiropractor who suggested that he may not accept the scientific fact of evolution by natural selection - which, you know, might be important when you happen to be the fucking Minister of State (Science and Technology).

I love the smell a short-tempered anti-science chiropractor in the morning. No wonder de Valk likes him.... I'm going to end with de Valk's first sentence because it shows us so much about the man:
Atheism’s common form in Canada is secularism. As we have pointed out many times in the past, modern secularism is not neutral; on the contrary, it is aggressively anti-Christian. While they use the term humanism, there is nothing “humanistic” about atheism. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao Zhe Dong prove that. Atheism is destructive of the human person, as well as of society at large.
Do you love that? Oh yes you do. Basic misunderstanding of terms like "secularism", which, by the way, means: ": indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations" (from here), not anything to do with being "aggressively anti-Christian".

The sheer fact that de Valk brings up those names, once again, to try to paint atheism as evil is just embarrassing for him. I'm not going to waste my time and yours, fine readers, to again debunk the stupid reasons that this ignorant priest is wrong. Again.

Lastly, to Chief Water Buffalo, Grand Poo-bah Alphonse de Valk - you have wasted your life and your age is showing in your senile rants. Your church is dying a slow death and our society is much better off for it; no one will miss it when it's gone.

(tip of the ol' horn to Prof. Moran over at the always great Sandwalk)

Oprah = Weak

Seriously, she gets her ass kicked in Newsweek and in the Toronto Star, then responds by saying...this?
For 23 years, my show has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors' medical advice and personal health stories that have prompted conversations between our audience members and their health care providers. I trust the viewers, and I know that they are smart and discerning enough to seek out medical opinions to determine what may be best for them.
Jesus christ, that's a horrible thing to say. Shun your responsibility as the head of an Empire that millions of people listen to by basically saying, "hey, come on...I've been doing this for a long time...people are smart, they'll talk to their doctors..." You want to hear a sample "conversation" between an Oprah viewer who listened to "doctor's medical advice" on her show, and a GP? Sure:

Viewer: So I saw on Oprah that vaccines cause autism - I'm not going to give my child those vaccines.

General Practitioner: There is not one ounce of evidence that vaccines are harmful. I'd urge you to look into it and I have some great information here if you...

Viewer: No, no, my mind is made up. Please respect my wishes and DO NOT give my child any vaccines.


Once most Opraholics hear about Jenny McCarthy's goddamn "mommy instinct" or about how "The Secret" can cure your cancer, or how Suzanne Somers' stupid vagina injections can stop aging, they're in it. It's terrible that Winfrey passes the buck like that when she has a chance to turn herself around, but she's obviously not concerned with that when there's just so darn much money to be made! No wonder she gets along so well with Deepak "I left real medicine for quackery 'cause my shoes didn't contain enough crocodile skin" Chopra.

Oprah sucks.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

PETA

People Extremely Touched by Assholishness. Exhibit A. I think I'll have a steak with gravy made from the eyelids of baby seals drizzled over top tonight for dinner. Then maybe I'll take a picture of it, forward it to Ingrid Newkirk and Pam Anderson, and then kill a lamb for tomorrow night's supper.

Idiots.

(tip o' the horn to PZ)