Sunday, 27 January 2013

Entertainment stuff from the week 21-27/1/13

Hi, princes and paupers

Well - i slept like a baby, last night - clutching, and dribbling onto, someone's breast.

I still have no idea who she was - so here's a shout-out - thank you!

The last few months of New Scientist magazines have been piling up, by my bed, because i've been reading other things. Like i said in this week's Pseudoscience article - "damn my FIFO principle!"

Most significantly, the 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: The Best of Forty Years' book' has been the target of my eyes.

As a result, this weekend's been a bit of a NS romp, for me.

And for this section of my blog, you'd think i'd lazily draw something out of the Feedback section for your amusement...

and i have. Here are some of the quirky goings-on that scientists notice, around the world:

HOW is this for an example of circular bureaucratese? Bill Corner's son Sean came across this statement in a US Inland Revenue form he was completing. Line 9a of Part II of IRS Form W8-BEN states: "For treaty purposes, a person is a resident of a treaty country if the person is a resident of that country under the terms of the treaty."
18 Aug

READER John Gledhill sends us a photo of a sign in a toilet with a picture of a cigarette with a line through it. It says in red letters: "WARNING. Toilet is fitted with automatic smoke detectors."
John is bemused. "I wonder how you would install a non-automatic smoke detector," he says. "Perhaps a little chap with a sensitive nose and a big buzzer?"
18 Aug

YOU can't accuse them of lying, but Peter James still thought there was something a bit off in the wording on the cone of cardboard fixed over the top of a bottle of Masterfoods sauce that he bought in Perth, Australia. The ad on the cone, which Peter scanned and emailed to Feedback, boasts: "Compare the value... Our 350ml bottle contains 40 per cent more sauce than other 250ml bottles."
Peter phoned the company's managing director and indicated that while he was very glad that Masterfoods was producing and filling sauce bottles of a size that compared favourably to smaller bottles, he was not convinced that the question of value was being addressed.
Shortly after, he is pleased to report, the promotion was discontinued.
25 Aug

Two insights into Olympian time: Stephen Battersby reports that on 6 August the organisers of the London Olympics sent an email to ticket buyers with the subject: "Day 10: Welcome to week two."
The morning before, Jenny Narraway noted that the UK's The Guardian website promised "minute by minute" coverage of Usain Bolt's defence of his 100-metre sprint title later that day.
25 Aug
{Minute 1: Usain approaches the blocks; minute 2: well - he won!}

READER George Waters was one of several who were surprised by an article in the June issue of Scientific Computing headlined: "Immune System Glitch Tied to Fourfold Higher Likelihood of Death."
The article begins: "Mayo Clinic researchers have identified an immune system deficiency whose presence shows someone is up to four times likelier to die than a person without it."
"Before I read this," George comments, "I thought my chances of dying were 100 per cent."
Meanwhile, reader Targ Parsons was equally puzzled by a story in SBS World News Australia with the headline: "A new study suggests that people who drink coffee are less likely to die."
Feedback agrees that these statements are surprising, if not nonsensical. At the risk of stating the obvious, we note that what's missing from them is the time factor. The Mayo Clinic article, for example, should have made it clear that people with the reported immune system deficiency have a four-fold higher risk of dying within a certain time period, which they neglected to specify.
Journalists, take care not to make your readers think they are immortal.
1 Sep

The scrolling information board of a Southeastern train that Anthony Daniel was travelling on in southern England counselled him: "Please ensure you are travelling in the correct portion of the train. This is coach No.9 out of 8."
1 Sep

SECTION 4 of the information leaflet for the drug Cordarone X that Bob Stephens has been taking lists its possible side effects. Under the section headed "Very rare (affects less than 1 in 10,000 people)", users are encouraged to stop taking the tablets if: "Your heartbeat becomes very slow or stops beating. If this happens, go to hospital straight away."
"Presumably," Bob speculated, "one should call in at the undertakers on the way."
8 Sep

Mike White notes the "impossible restriction" of a sign at a Waitrose supermarket at a UK service station on the M40 motorway: "Alcohol purchased in this motorway service area can not be consumed inside or outside the premises."
8 Sep

SECTION 2 of the driving licence application form D1, sent to Jim Moore by the UK Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, asks: "If any of your details have changed since your last licence was issued please give the previous details below."
An example the form gives of the kind of detail that might have changed is: "Country you were born in". Jim feels that to be consistent, the next print run of the D1 form should also ask respondents to state any changes there have been to their date of birth.
22 Sep

THE email that arrived in his inbox disconcerted Adrian Smith. Was it a spam message? Was it an unsavoury "business" proposition? Was it an appeal from a lonely heart?
With a subject line like "Search for Men", it could have been any of these - until Adrian opened it and found that the heading was truncated. In full, it read: "Search for Mentor under Indo-US Research Professorship Program".
22 Sep

A TEENY-WEENY bit of exaggeration, perhaps? Tony Harker notes that UK rail company First Great Western is putting up posters advertising the return of the refurbished Class 180 trains to its services. These proclaim: "There is no limit to the number of folding cycles the train can carry."
"The Tardis now standing at platform 3..." Tony comments.
22 Sep

A third incorrect attempt to enter his pass code led to Simon Bowden's 14-year-old son getting the message: "Ipod is disabled. Try again in 22,272,530 minutes"
22 Sep

FINALLY, imagine the surprise of David Purdy on receiving a special offer of the Family Tree Maker program at less than half price. How could he resist the chance to "find out whether any of your descendants were on the Titanic"?
22 Sep

The badteeth YouTube channel is now up and running, and i'm still only enamoured by the promise of cassetteboy and swedemason videos. Here's some, from cassetteboy:
'Inauguration 2013: Cassetteboy VS Obama // Bad Teeth'

A few films that never got made... but have been left over, on my computer, hence why i'm shoving them in here :-P

A Fish Called Wanda + The Towering Inferno = Cleese On Toast

The 39 Step Stairlift

E.T. + Under Milk Wood + Sugar Rush = A really good, strong cup of tea

Full Metal Jacket + Murphy's Law = A Jacket Potato

Swamp Thing + Slither + The Blob = Piers Morgan / Glenn Beck / anyone like that, really. Can you tell the difference?

The Onion Field + Murphy's Law + Silence Of The Lambs = A nice pot of stew

In Bed With Madonna + One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest = In Bed With Flu

{If you've suffered the last, you'll need to eat the one before, to "get your strength up" :-P}

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

"I like my eggs the way i like my women - ovar-iesy"

I'm showing you this, purely as a reference for that joke, LOL

Greg's main channel is Mr Stripy Head, which i first discovered via this video:
'Come Visit Mike Hunt' [sweary]
So funny :D

cyriak's done a new video, for music by Bonobo. His words:
"Here is a new music video I made for Bonobo. No horrible stuff in this one, unless you are freaked out by machines made of grannies..." :D
cyriak's channel, if you want to see more crazy mind-wangling stuff:

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Un-quote Of The Week: William Wordsworth -- "What rhymes with 'hills'?" #thingspeoplewouldneversay

Word Of The Week: hoyden -- a boisterous girl / tomboy {the best kind!}

Expression Of The Week: "Every little helps" -- included in Wellerisms as early as the 16th century. For example: "Every little helps, the old lady said, as she pissed into the sea"

Etymology Of The Week: nadgers -- slang for "testicles"

Quote Of The Week: "I don't think people realise the debt we owe to Mary Whitehouse, for her tireless fight against all forms of censorship. She's a shining example, because she has seen and read more filth and rudery than anybody else in the world. But it's had absolutely no effect. And she stands, now, before us, as wholesome and pure and nice as she ever was. Therefore proving that censorship wouldn't make any difference at all. Thanks, Mary." - Graeme Garden, ISIHAC, S11E3, 21st April 1984, in the round 'Justify'

{Mary Whitehouse was an ardent campaigner in favour of the censorship of anything that could be considered even mildly titillating}

Foodstuff Of The Week: Cholera Pie

Acronym Of The Week: RAMBO -- Randomly Active Main Body Object (asteroids that sometimes decay under solar radiation, like comets, to give a faint tail)

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'?? (The Elements song in Japanese)'
Well, why not? :-P

Nobody ever asks "...

These are from Doubtful News, over the last few months. I've picked out the most comic ones. You can find links to many more, in the
Pseudoscience section's article

'Tooth fairy accused of malpractice' - British Medical Journal
Every year, in December, the BMJ publishes a spoof/silly study. This one's about the tooth fairy :D

'Baby sprouts feather'
If you're easily-queezied, don't follow the link, to the picture.

'Bird abduction: Golden eagle grabs child video (HOAX)'
I wonder whether Captain Disillusion saw this.

'Eyewitness accounts of Santa. I’m not kidding.'

'Jesus of Japan'
People will shell out for any mythical rubbish, it seems!

'“REAL” astrologers angry with fake astrologers in India'
I'm trying not to laugh... oh i can't help it... bwahahahahahaha......

Pseudoscience stuff from 9/12 - 27/1/13

Although i've not been posting regular News round-ups since August '12, reality has continued to happen. What a surprise!

Here is a glimpse at what's gone on, in the last few months.

And here's my most-recent mini-essay, on the standards we should apply to pseudo-science proponents: Click here

Sections - Ben Goldacre; broad articles; specific articles - good news, then bad; WDDTY magazine; Doubtful News round-up by Swift of the JREF

Ben Goldacre:

Ben Goldacre's new book is out! I have already received this wondrous creation, via Winterval, but have yet to start reading it. Damn my FIFO principle!
Here's the foreword:

And he's been on TED too -- the trouble with forgetting negative results

Broad articles:

'Regulation of alternative medicine: why it doesn’t work, and never can'

How self-deception into pseudo-science works:
'Acupuncture, the Navy, and Faulty Thinking'

What To Do If Your Doctor Sells Woo

The food allergy and intolerance myth buster. Do you know the facts about allergies and intolerances?

Leo Igwe: 'A manifesto for a skeptical Africa'

When we think of Africa, many in The North ('The West' is an erroneous term) think of a backward place, rife with superstition, and dwelling in ignorance - but there are some Africans who are vying to change this. Leo Igwe is a key man, working to save his fellow Africans from their cultural mire. He outlines their predicament, here:

"Many irrational beliefs exist and hold sway across the region. These are beliefs informed by fear and ignorance, misrepresentations of nature and how nature works.
These misconceptions are often instrumental in causing many absurd incidents, harmful traditional practices and atrocious acts.
For instance, not too long ago, the police in Nigeria arrested a ‘robber’ goat which they said was a thief who suddenly turned to a goat. A Nigerian woman was reported to have given birth to a horse. In Zambia, a local school closed temporarily due to fears of witchcraft. In Uganda, there are claims of demonic attacks in schools across the country.
Persecution and murder of alleged witches continue in many parts of the continent. Many Africans still believe that their suffering and misfortune are caused by witchcraft and magic. In Malawi, belief in witchcraft is widespread. Ritual killing and sacrifice of albinos and other persons with disabilities take place in many communities, and are motivated by paranormal belief.
Across Africa people still believe in the potency and efficacy of juju and magic charms. Faith-based abuses are perpetrated with impunity. Jihadists, witch-hunters and other militants are killing, maiming and destroying lives and property. Other-worldly visions and dogmatic attitudes about the supernatural continue to corrupt and hamper attempts by Africans to improve their lives."

'“Antioxidant” is not a synonym for “healthy”'

The idea that "anti-oxidant" means "healthy" is bunk. If you put effort into eating foods because they have 'anti-oxidants' in them, you could well be corrupting your diet toward ill health. "Healthy, balanced diet" - recognise that clause? It feels like it's been the standard Scientific dietary advice since time immemorial!

"we at Cancer Research UK (along with many others) have been pointing [this] out for years. Large studies have repeatedly shown that, with the possible exception of vitamin D, antioxidant supplements have negligible positive effect on healthy people, at least in terms of important things such as preventing people getting cancer or dying prematurely. And some supplements – notably vitamins A, E and beta-carotene – even seem to slightly raise the risk of disease and early death."

'The continuing saga of Holland and Barrett'

Despite claiming to wilfully comply with medicinal advertising regulations, Holland & Barrett stores still show 'indications' for Nelson's homeopathics (adverts telling people how to use it).
I'm really not that surprised - H&Bs stocks a wide variety of quackery - mostly herbal non-medicine, but including (obviously) homeopathy, which is still nothing but shaken water.
But then, i don't expect them to care - quacks do what they do through business interests - not through medical interests.

'Chelation for Autism - Putting the Cart before the Unicorn'

(Chelation is a process which extracts metals from the blood-stream - whether they should be there or not)

"There is a cottage industry of so-called "biomedical" treatments for ASD - they treat ASD as a biological disease that can be cured or at least significantly ameliorated. This conflicts with the current scientific consensus regarding ASD, that it is a neurodevelopmental disorder (a result of brain wiring), and not an active disease. Legitimate interventions focus on improving function. Critics of biomedical treatments (myself included) argue that such treatments are unscientific, exploit parental desperation, and even victimize children with ASD."

Specific articles:

The good news

'A 180 degree turn on GMOs. Thank science.'

I'm drawing attention to this one because the anti-GM superstition is so pervasive, and yet bunk. Mark Lynas - a leading environmental activist - has seen science about GMOs.

"Lynas has changed his mind—and he’s not being quiet about it. On Thursday at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas delivered a blunt address: He got GMOs wrong.
To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on “natural” agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either."

The ethical case for Pink Slime (the stuff burgers are made from)

Are we all getting dumber?
I don't think so - we're just taking on tougher tasks than we did 2000 years ago.

The Bermuda Triangle, you say? It doesn't even exist! Even i thought there were some kind of anomalously high accident record - but not even that is true.

The bad news
'Wacky celebrity fads of 2012'

Homeopaths offer to rebrand damp sugar pills as confectionery:

Because, nudge nudge, wink wink, everyone will know that the sugar pills are actually homeopathy. The homeopaths are threatening to subvert medical regulations, and continue selling their damp sugar pills, but relabelled. Reasons this won't work:

- It's a bluff. They know only a tiny minority really cares enough about homeopathy to buy sugar pills, with a nudge nudge, wink wink.
- They really are sugar pills, but without flavouring. They will taste like shit sweets, and give their manufacturers a bad reputation.
- Their move to do so would get them more unwanted media attention, exposing them to scorn for deception, and for doing homeopathy (due to the improved awareness that will ensue)

{Four months on, and they haven't carried out their threat. I'm guessing they've either given up on the idea, or they're incredibly slow workers}

More on homeopathic superstition - 'homeopathic vaccines'
Read my mini-essay on why homeopathy can't work. It's helpfully titled 'Why Homeopathy CAN'T Work'

'Neti Pot: Safe and Effective?'
Only if it's done with a sterile applicator, and saline -- otherwise, it's a low-risk, but high-hazard superstition.

Death threats for criticism. Sound familiar? Superstition engenders intolerance of criticism, resulting in personalised attacks (offence).

Shark cartilage is a quack product that recently came to my attention. You're probably familiar with the idea that sharks don't get cancer - they do. But they don't get bone cancer. Of course not - they don't have any bones. They do, however, get cartilage cancer, and it is this supposedly-uncancerrable material that charlatans sell as an expensive non-cure for cancer.

They might annoy you, but that doesn't mean they annoy the mosquitoes
'High-frequency mosquito repellents don't work, study finds'

'What Doctors Don't Tell You' magazine

'What Doctors Don't Tell You' is a magazine produced by pseudo-scientist proponents of quackery. It makes all kinds of egregious, and dangerous claims, stating nonsense to be medicine, and medicine to be nonsense/conspiracy. The Nightingale Collaboration has devoted an entire series of investigations and subsequent reports to it, because it makes so many hazardous claims, which have all been filed to the ASA. The series so far:

'WDDTY #1 - The First of Many'
WDDTY #2 - The Second Wave
WDDTY #3 - Strike Three
WDDTY #4 - Feeling the heat?
WDDTY #5 - A Poisonous Problem?
WDDTY #6 - The Missing Link?

Doubtful News round-up, by Swift of the JREF. These are usually quite fun :)


Monday, 21 January 2013

Comment #18: -- Our Expectations Of Cranks

Date Started: 4/12/12
Date Completed: 7/12/12
Date First Published: 20/1/13


Cranks are pseudo-scientists who exploit outlandish claims, in the entrepreneurial spirit, in order to ‘make money’ (access other people’s money). (You might use the term differently, but for communication's sake, let's use this one, for now) [1]

I think we don’t demand enough from pseudo-scientists, and we certainly don’t demand enough of the cranks.

Some make claims that are bizarre but not widely employed – and hence don’t do much harm.

But some crank claimants are worse than this – they claim the counter-evidential, with the supposed substantiation of antiquity, and then sell you something on the basis of it – and many people are reeled in – hook, line, sinker, copy of Angling Times, and little fold-up seat.

For example: fad diet salespeople; vitamin pill salespeople; psychics; naturopaths; etc. They frequently claim thousands of years of application behind their products. Acupuncturists claim to have been employing ‘health by a thousand cuts’ for millennia, and it still doesn’t work! [2,1] Homeopathy was invented by Hahnemann 200 years ago, but some homeopaths claim millennial antiquity for that, too. Why? Because they’re pretending it’s not pseudo-science – they’re cloaking the nonsense with “natural”, “proven”, “wisdom”, “spirit”, “inner health”, and “wellbeing”, just like the guff Martha used to make. [2,2]

These people claim efficacy, and yet the tests always say “no”.

And then they gush with excuses – the most absurd-yet-frequent of which being “it didn’t work because sceptics were testing it” / “it doesn’t work under test conditions, but it does work under others” [3]

If you can’t do a test for it, then how can you claim to know that it works, yourself?

If you think you can verify the existence of spirits (or whatever) by doing ‘this’ then you are purporting success under test conditions (even if those conditions look like practice conditions – engineers, for example, can only really test their constructions when they’re actually in use – this doesn’t mean we can’t know how bridges stay up). A test’s a test, even if it’s a really shitty one.
(In Science, the term 'test' is used with an unspoken minimum standard in mind) [4]

The only way anyone can know anything, is by looking for the fact behind the claim i.e. testing the claim.

These people (cranks) want to sell us their metaphorical cake, but without ever opening the metaphorical box to see whether they actually have any.

Skeptical investigators, deploying the scientific method on these people’s claims - most famously the JREF - are incredibly lenient. They give away so many concessions, because they want people to turn up to their $1,000,000 challenge, or equivalent. [5]

But when they test them, they demand only that they get a smidgen over the pass mark. They have to show that they can do it; and that is all. No more. Just a pass. That’s enough.

And yet they still always fail.

That the JREF decides it wants people to enrol, and so sets an easy test, is fine. It is their money, after all! But we, as members of the public, should not be demanding just anything.

Many of these pe
ople behave as if they are plying a skill - providing a service – enacting a known Science (whether they would claim to be, or not).

Many of them have their own businesses, and are raking in profits – some are cottage industries, like reflexology, aromatherapy, psychics/mediums – others, like homeopathy, vitamin pills, chiropractic/osteopathy, or even diet fads, are multi-million-dollar industries.

But big or small, because they are behaving as professionals, this means we should expect professional standards of them. [6]

Let’s compare to some familiarly professional activities:

- Plumbers can still fix pipes with a skeptical housewife staring over their shoulder, pouring ‘negative energy’ into the room.

- Tennis players can still serve 9 out of 10 serves at more than 100 mph, in a howling gale, with people who ‘aren’t that keen’ on Tennis, lining the seats of the stadium.

- Accountants and solicitors can demonstrably verify their ability to do what they do, under exam conditions. Indeed, they have to, in order to become accountants and solicitors.

- Greengrocers have to actually know which vegetables are the peppers, and don’t get 37 chances to get it right

- Fishmongers can gut, weigh, identify and label a fish accurately and reliably... every time.

- Electricians are expected to get their job right, every time. No-one wants to be the customer they do a duff job on. And complaints will follow if they do get it wrong. Few such complaints follow pseudo-scientists around. I’ll let you wonder why... [6.1]

1 in 12 is not good enough. Not for psychics or astrologers or palmists matching identities to descriptions. Not for quacks pulling positive results out of studies. Not even for cold-fusionists cherry-picking the journalists they’ve conned.

We should expect, for the sake of their market (us), for them to be good at what they do – not just-about, barely, by-a-smidgin, stumbling across the dotted line of ability.

In medicine, the Cochrane Collaboration came up with the ‘Cochrane Ladder of Evidence’, with efficacy (being able to do what’s claimed) as the bottom rung; effectiveness (being able to do it well, in real-life circumstances) as the second rung, and cost-effectiveness (being able to do it well, in real-life circumstances, and without excessive expense) as the third rung.

This applies to medicine, but it also applies to other areas where a product or service is proffered.

Q1: Can you actually do plumbing?

Q2: Can you do it well, and in real-life situations?

Q3: Can you do it at a price the customer can afford?

Pseudo-scientists fail to climb even the first rung of the Ladder. And even after thousands of years of people trying, they still aren’t able to do so. [7]

The product doesn’t work, and so can’t work well, making any expense excessive!

This is not Science.

This is not a skill.

This is not a service.

This is cruel exploitation.

People who pretend to be able to do plumbing/electrics/whatever, but can’t, are frequently prosecuted, for extorting money from their customers.

We should do the same with all the charlatans/quacks/mounterbankers – they are fraudsters too. [8]

It’s essentially the same situation – they’re writing metaphorical cheques that just won’t cash.

And in return, we, as gullible customers, are writing literal cheques that do.

That’s not fair.

The only way we can prevent ourselves from being ripped off by these people, is to value our critical thinking skills, and to employ them at every opportunity.

I don't like to find i've been shafted; and i doubt you will, either. There's only one way we can prevent it from happening...

Be skeptical, everyone. Be skeptical.


[1] Pseudo-sciences are areas of inquiry that purport/present as a genuine science (meaning they are based in evidence) but are not. A pseudo-scientist, therefore, is someone who pursues pseudo-science as an avenue of inquiry. I distinguish cranks from other pseudo-scientists, by their tendency to take subjects that aren’t even scientifically contentious, and then pursue them.

For many centuries, ideas such as phlogiston, the ether, homunculi in reproduction, and alchemy, were taken seriously. Eventually, evidence made it clear that these were outlandish nonsense. Phlogiston gave way to notions of thermal energy; ether gave way to electro-magnetics and optics; homunculi gave way to gametes and genomics; alchemy gave way to nuclear physics and chemistry.

Back then, the ‘natural philosophers’ were pursuing pseudo-science (though they did not know it, because contemporary notions of the scientific method were not as advanced as they are now); today, only cranks pursue these ideas. This is my distinction between pseudo-scientists and crank pseudo-scientists – cranks pursue pseudo-sciences that are clearly ‘pseudo-’.

[2,1] On checking this mini-essay over for content, i discovered that acupuncture is, in fact, not millennia old, requiring a slight re-write (hence my mentioning two things that aren’t old). The thin needles for acupuncture would have been incredibly difficult to make, thousands of years ago, using only the forges that were available to them.

A reference for homeopathy:

[2,2] To an experienced rationalist skeptic, all of these terms are ‘red flags’ for woo. See Skeptoid’s ‘How To Spot Pseudo-science’

[3] This gushy excuse-making is known as ‘rationalisation’ which seems to have a rather derogatory etymology, to me. It isn’t rational to attempt to wedge the square peg of nonsense into the round hole of reality! If you spot yourself attempting to excuse failure, then you should think a little more about what you accept as a success. When psychics fail in tests, their expectations of themselves suddenly drop to their ankles – how convenient! “Well, i didn’t expect to do very well”. Then why do you take people’s money, for it? How can you know you’re actually succeeding, in that situation? Pseudo-scientists often unintentionally argue themselves into a corner, while attempting to excuse their failures. Not that i’d expect them to notice. The scientific method controls for this – decide what your test will involve, beforehand; write everything down; be brutally honest with yourself; get your figures checked by someone else; await someone else’s replication of your results, by doing exactly what you did, etc.

[4] I feel obliged, now, to say that a shitty test really isn’t what a good scientist would be aiming for. The kind of conditions that cranks use to ‘identify’ their ‘abilities’ might, technically, be test conditions, but they are really poor test conditions. What i’m getting at, is that cranks pretend they can know without tests – which is never the case. If they demonstrate their ‘abilities’ to anyone, then they will be doing something that can be counted as a test, no matter how poor. As mentioned in [3], the scientific method has been developed over centuries, to eradicate sources of bias, in order to distinguish positive results from negative ones, and to maximise the chance that any positive result is a real one. Pseudo-scientists can’t escape this, as much as they wriggle.

[5] The JREF still has $1,000,000 sitting on a cheque, waiting to be paid to anyone who can successfully demonstrate paranormal, supernormal, or occult abilities to an independent team of assessors. So far, no-one has won it. This comes as no surprise to me, of course – but people do still try.

[6] My default position is not to regard pseudo-scientists as explorative researchers – and it is not to regard them as well-meaning do-gooders, either – these people are taking money for what they do. They are businesspeople. This is how i think of them. Geologists do not have sections on their web-sites where you buy ‘100% natural, quantum earthquake cream’. Cranks, quacks, whatever you call them – they are the ones that do this. Why? Because they are, at least principally, businesspeople. They want our money, and they will make any claim, it seems, to get at it.

[6.1] Oh alright, i’ll tell you. It’s partly because they have bugger-all idea whether it worked - they’re ‘taking it on Faith’, too, remember - just like the perpetrator. But it’s also that they’ve built a rapport with that perpetrator – they’ve been taken in, and screwed around with – they feel violated, and live in a culture where it’s not seen as ‘done’ to shame a crank. Bloody ‘rape culture’... can you wonder why i get furious? Also exhibiting this effect, are the communities exploited by loan sharks – they tend to exploit whole communities, at once, and so it becomes quite dangerous for anyone to ‘grass’ on an entire street’s source of funding.

[7] The general drift of Science is to hone well-known disciplines down – to make them better, and quicker, and easier, and cheaper. Is this what’s happened with pseudo-science? No – it’s the same old stuff, which works just as fictionally (it doesn’t work) as it always did. Science builds on its achievements, and explores into further worlds (sometimes literally, in the case of Space Science) revealing more and more detailed understandings of how the world works. And the Eastern non-Medicinists still can’t give an adequate explanation of what a ‘chi’ is, or how exactly a ‘chakra’ can be wonky.

[8] fraud / frôd / Noun

1) Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

2) A person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.

Synonyms: cheat – deceit – deception – swindle – humbug – fake

Entertainment stuff from the week 14-20/1/13

Hi guys,

I just discovered that i was Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2006.

How did i miss it, i wonder!

Well, actually, everyone in the entire world won Time magazine's Person of the Year Award,9171,1570810,00.html

For this reason, i shan't be adding it to my CV :D

This is what i'm waiting for, from badteeth: Cassetteboy v. David Cameron
Moar! {please}

Here's an odd something i found, this week:

The Saunders triplets are accredited as playing the young Harry potter (young-er) in The Philosopher's Stone.

Because triplets at their age are so difficult to distinguish between, they are all accredited - no-one will really know which did which scenes.

Well, so far so interesting, but here's a twist:

One of those three is a girl!

So, in the film, we might be looking at a female Harry Potter, in some scenes :D

Incidentally, i'm not a Potterite (an HP obsessive - and i don't mean the sauce). I just happened to find a picture which made an erroneous claim, so i investigated it, and, surprise surprise, there was a superior truth to be found :)

This is the erroneous claim, btw:
(Albus Severus was played by Arthur Bowen - who was never a HP)

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

An outline of some of the exciting new changes coming to YouTube in February ;-)

Richard Wiseman's been sent some cracking stuff, this week:

'Best bookshop arrangement ever?'

'Can you figure out these photographs?'

'Great drive-through prank'
This is so well done! I love the reactions of the staff - especially the guy who doesn't trust his memory, so looks away and back, away and back, away and back :D

The Darkness - Love On The Rocks With No Ice - live in Atlanta, 12th Jan 2013 (that's the long one with the solos, the crowdsurfing, the call-and-response and all that shatizzle)
Thank you so much, Tenacious Debby!!!
(she has more, on her channel)

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: impecunious -- having little or no money

Expression Of The Week: "mirabile dictu" -- something wonderful to tell

Etymology Of The Week: odometer -- through french, from greek "the way"

Quote Of The Week: "In hotel rooms I worry. I can't be the only guy who sits on the furniture naked" - Jonathan Katz

Fact Of The Week: Humans have stripes

Joke Of The Week: What do you call a dessert that throws itself off cookers? Answer: A lemming meringue pie

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Jesus, Where Have You Been?'
An imaginary conversation (well, duh!) with Jesus, having come back... again:

I presume this work's called 'The Son Of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle'

'Gorilla Sales Skyrocket After Latest Gorilla Attack'
The Onion's satire piece on the recent serial killing in Connecticut.
"A spokesperson for the powerful yet controversial national gorilla lobby told reporters that a ban on gorillas would not end incidents such as that in San Diego, as those who want the large primates could simply buy them from illegal dealers who smuggle them into the country from the jungles of sub-Saharan Africa.
Many gorilla owners also told sources that the creatures are primarily used for legal hunting purposes and that the overwhelming majority of gorilla enthusiasts are completely responsible with their apes.",30860/

Oh great - now i'm even more scared of driving :-/
'Top crashes of 2012'
The last one's funny though. I can imagine Mr. T saying "you're supposed to drive the car the other way up, fool"

Your waffly wedded wife seems quite giggly. She must be nervous, LOL

'The Impotence of Proofreading'
I'm pretty sure i've heard this before, but hey, let's hear it again...

'Sunita Williams of NASA provides a tour of the ISS orbital laboratory'

Rearranged supermarket herbs get dirty :D
(via Lizzy)

Monday, 14 January 2013

Entertainment stuff from the week 7-13/1/13

G'day, folks

Some have said 2013's going to be a dull year, what with the Olympics having gone, and the apocalypse too...

But frankly, that turned out to be a damp squib, anyway... although we're sure to have more, LOL

If there's one thing we know about homo sapiens, it's that they will always be promising each other total annihalation in the ill-defined and vaguely-stated future, and then the excused-with-similar-facetiousness and later-covered-up-and-forgotten past.

It's been a good week for TV, though.

I say that as someone who strives to not watch it, due to the immense amount of fatuous-but-frustratingly-satisfying crap that it exhibits.

I refer to Stargazing LIVE, which was on the Beeb, this week:

Episode 1
E1 (extra chat)
Episode 2
E2 (extra chat)
Episode 3
E3 (extra chat)

Go here to help explore the surface of Mars (mentioned in the program)

On the undercover, embarrassing-film-versions exposé front, i've been risking my neck to bring you these --  cut-back versions of films that had the fortune to be made properly:

The Cruel Sea was almost made as The Tetchy Sink

The Deerhunter was once due to be cut back to The Mousetrap

Around The World In 80 Days almost got rendered as Around The Block In 5 Minutes

Far From The Madding Crowd had the good fortune to be upgraded from Far From That Rather Annoying Couple

12 Angry Men started out as Seven Brides For Seven Brothers
I didn't find out whether it was the brides' or the brothers' characters who became the angry men :P

Forrest Gump almost got logged back into a Sapling Stump

Double Indemnity almost got halved to Single Indemnity

And A Clockwork Orange was born from Forbidden Fruit

Did you know that (according to the British Book Of Lists) the most popular fancy-dress costumes are of Superman, Henry VIII, Batman, and a sea monster?

I know, right -- who, in their right mind, dresses up as Superman?!?!?

Also; do you know the connection between Tutenkhamun, Dolly Parton, Yuri Gagarin, James Madison, and Queen Victoria?

The answer: they were all under 5 foot 6 inches

Surely apart from Dolly Parton? She's still alive!?

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

A member of the EDL (English Defence League - a xenophobic, English nationalist organisation) has been arrested for illegally migrating into the USA!
Hahahahaha - a member of a staunchly anti-illegal-migration organisation has been arrested for illegal migration :D :D

Bobby Llew advertising his latest book - 'News from the Squares'
"yes - it's science-fiction" :)
Looks like an idyll, to me...

An explanation of what the badteeth channel's going to be about. I like the sound of regular swedemason and cassetteboy videos. The rest? Not so sizzling...

Lots of pictures of space, on my Tumblr!

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: codswallop -- meaning 'nonsense'

Quote Of The Week: “The most meticulous regulation of nonsense must still result in nonsense.” - Edzard Ernst, speaking of homeopaths' claims that regulated (and publicly funded) shaken water would be safer
[Nudge nudge] New mini-essay

Expression Of The Week: "get my goat" -- annoy

Etymology Of The Week: hoity-toity -- posh/boisterous

Anagram Of The Week: Kate Middleton -- Naked Tit Model

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

Want to get so confused that your brains start to melt out of your ears? Watch this:
'Holland vs the Netherlands'

Strangely entertaining :o)
'Amazing CCTV footage' - a kind of illusion, from a static camera on a rolling boat

Now this is a proper illusion!
'Man with non-existent beard…'

Haha - yet another flying car! But where, pray tell, does one put the children and the luggage? :D

In Queensland, August now has 24 days. Something to do with budget cuts, apparently...

What part of "....." do you not understand? #physicsnerd

The story of a jailbreak kitty who refuses to talk:

Terrible pun... absolutely terrible :D

What's your new year's resolution?

"i wanna get a dog, and call her "Naked" - so i can tell people i have to go walk naked round the block! hehe" - Lizzy The lezzy

Good manners can make all the difference :D

Mouthwatering muff now £1. I'll buy!!! 

"Wanna play trains? U sit on my face and Ill chew chew chew" - Anthony Garry Gregory on Facebook :D

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Comment #17: -- Why Homeopathy CAN'T Work

Date Started: 1/8/12
Date Completed: 6/12/12
Date First Published:13/1/13

Did you hear about the guy who died from a homeopathic overdose? He forgot to take his pill... 

Let’s be serious, though – here are a small sample of 437 people (at the time of writing) who have been harmed by homeopathic belief:

The water might be harmless, but taking it as medicine is not.

Homeopathy is a pseudo-science – a superstition. This means it is not derived from evidence.

Unlike some medicinal pseudo-sciences, like ‘herbal’ non-medicines, where some herbs do actually contain useful ingredients (e.g. aspirin – derived from the bark of a willow tree) amongst the thousands that do not; homeopathy can’t work. We’re never going to find a nosode that actually treats something. [1.1]

Homeopathy is the theism of superstitions – it isn’t just a set of beliefs that could be true but aren’t – its very nature – its essence – its composition, to its very fundament – is erroneous.

I am now going to tell you, not just why homeopathy doesn’t work, but why homeopathy can’t work.

If you're still reading, it's likely that you're not a fully paid-up subscriber to Bullshit Monthly Magazine, but you might find this interesting and amusing anyway.

If you think homeopathy might work; that it's worth 'looking into'; that it's not a horrendous cult of medical fraud perpetrated on patients and taxpayers alike; then i have news for you...

I am not going to list the principles of homeopathy for now (some homeopaths don't even keep to them), because i am interested only in what homeopaths actually do, to prepare their homeopathic, erm... treatment? Listing principles would distract from Practice, and treat the claims as Theoretical – or even hypothetical – which they are not.

Firstly, the homeopath takes something horribly poisonous – like Echinacea [1.2] – and they dilute it. And not just slightly, either.

They dilute it so many times that a proper analogy for the process would be more like dunking the ingredients in the water, and then removing them again. [2.1]

It is both clinically and physically [2.2] accurate to say that homeopathic preparations contain nothing but water. It is literally true to say of homeopathy that:
“There’s nothing in it” [3]

This is because of chemistry that was unknown at the time Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) dreamt homeopathy up, a couple of centuries ago. He was working from ideas that we now know to be erroneous. What can i say, but “GIGO”. [4]

The idea of a ‘mole’ though, is familiar to any school-kid doing GCSE Chemistry, nowadays.

1 mole is 1 Avogadro’s-constant-worth of material – in atoms, compounds, or molecules - 6.0221415 * 10 ^ 23. [5]

~= 600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

This might be a massive number, but the dilutions involved in homeopathy are even greater...

1 C dilution is 1 in 100; 2 C is 1 in 100*100 (or 1 in 10,000); 3 C is 1 in 100*100*100 (or 1 in 1,000,000). Clearly, we’re going to get a massive number pretty quickly.

With a 12 C preparation, we have a 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 dilution, which means a 6 in 10 chance that there’s just one molecule in the beaker in your hand. [2] 

A standard preparation is at least 23 C – the numbers for which are absolutely astronomical!

There is only water in a preparation of greater than 12 C.

It says something rather profound about the culture, in which we live, that this is a standard item in school-age Science teaching, to inform of this fact; and yet the homeopathy industry rakes in millions of pounds/dollars/Euros, every year, from people who fail to identify that this simple truth means homeopathy is empty, but very expensive, water – an empty, but very expensive, lie! [6]

Further to this fraud, is the notion that water has memory.

When compelled to rationalise the idea that water, which is water, and behaves exactly as you’d expect water to – as water – can somehow behave as if it’s something else – not water – homeopaths claim the notion of aqueous recall.

Memory, however, is not possible, by water alone.

The reason for this, is that memory is an encoded condition/pattern/signal, and therefore can only be recorded inside a material of fixed structure. Fluids can not have memory. [7]

The dilution nonsense was a principle of homeopathy; this memory nonsense is a principle of homeopathy; ‘like cures like’ is another principle of homeopathy [8]; and a kind-of meta-principle is that shaking and tapping against a magic saddle somehow makes all of the above come true! I kid you not.

These claims are all bunk.

The strength of an object’s effect is determined by its presence. This is a pretty-much tautologous statement: a faster arrow has more speed; a longer show takes up more of your day; a heavier box hurts your foot more.

And yet it’s a homeopathic claim that this incredibly-well-substantiated of facts magically reverses when someone says the ‘h’ word!

The effect that a chemical has is determined by what the chemical is, and what the object is – not what any of their users would like them to be.

Chemical properties are determined by the electrons in the atoms of the chemical. And the properties of the electrons are determined by the nuclear properties of the chemicals that they are in.

See a chemist explain how a particular chemical works the way it does. In this case, it’s ‘Very Fast Death Factor’. He explains that the way the chemical interacts is determined by its shape, and the atoms of which it is comprised. 

Here’s another Periodic Video in which Peter Liddle explains how a uranium-containing molecule (that he researched) behaves:

H2O behaves as H2O because, quite literally, it is H2O.

To behave as if it were some more-complicated chemical, such as the ones in the videos, it would have to be that chemical.

It would have to have the electrons, in all the same energy levels, in the same configuration, around the same number of nuclei, as that chemical. Because it is different, it interacts differently. 

Honestly – why do i even feel it necessary to say that? [9]

Even if the water were in its solid, crystalline form – ice – it would still behave as solid water – not as any medicine. [10]

If you took the prof’s plastic model and threw it in a tank, with a load of others, do you think it would react?

No – of course it wouldn’t. Because it’s all just plastic!

To get a real reaction, you have to have the real thing.

This is the crux of the matter – this is why homeopathy does not and can not work as a medicine.

This is why homeopathic preparations of aqueous water inside a wet solution of bis-hydrogen monoxic H2O and dihydrogen monoxide solvent will never behave in the same way as the medicine it is standing in for. [11]


This is not just a catchy tagline.

Homeopathy does not and can not work... BECAUSE IT’S JUST WATER 

For this reason, i prefer to refer to it as “shaken water” – because calling it ‘homeopathy’ invites people to speculate that there is more to it than that. Shaken water is all it is, and “shaken water” is what it shall be called, by me.

I think it's important to 'drive home' hard, with homeopathy, because it is such a perfect case study of superstition, and in the context of medicine.

If people can be made to realise that an apparently-well-meaning person/business will perpetrate crimes such as these, with a smile on their face, and a dreadful disregard for reality, then they will realise that they can't go through life without critical thinking skills. The markets for these people will dry up, and they will be forced to adopt more socially acceptable activities.

The rigours of Science are not just for balding White men in ivory towers - they are tools that everyone can and should use, in the real world, day to day - to identify charlatans by their claims and behaviour, and to not be duped by their charisma, or their empty promises.

I can’t resist quoting an adroit letter, sent in to New Scientist, some time ago, which refutes a homeopathy advocate in brilliant style. Here it is, in full:

Sugaring the pill
Colin Jacobson's letter on homeopathy (20 March, p 25) annoyed me.
First, he argues that homeopathy is good because it costs less than conventional medicine. Of course, water and sugar should be cheaper than clinically tested drugs, but that does not make it useful.

He then argues that homeopathy satisfies a real demand in healthcare, to the inconvenience of big drug companies, ignoring the fact that selling water and sugar to people is of great convenience to the big homeopathy companies.

Next, Jacobsen suggests that the author of the original article on homeopathy, Martin Robbins, should take into consideration the anecdotal evidence of his miraculously cured dog, disregarding the importance of the scientific method.

Finally, he rounds off by stating that homeopathy is "cheap, effective and safe". There are cheaper placebos on the market, more effective ways to treat people and there are safer, more reliable ways to run a healthcare system.

The day we found out we could give sweets to educated adults to make them feel better was the day we should have realised that people really are fools unto themselves, and that fools and their money are soon parted.

by Lee Hart, Oxford, UK

The referenced letter:

Martin Robbins's article on homeopathy (30 January, p 22) shows that he understands almost nothing about it. If he did, he would know that UK doctors using homeopathy cost the government considerably less than those who do not, and that the 40 per cent of French doctors who use homeopathy cost the French government less than half of those doctors who use conventional medicine.

If homeopathy is as useless as he makes out, why have both the World Health Organization and the European Parliament called for its closer incorporation into the western medical system?

The fact that homeopathy is increasing in popularity suggests that there is a very satisfied user base that globally saves their governments hundreds of millions. The big drug companies are not happy about this, and have tried for decades to discredit homeopathy, though I am not suggesting that Robbins has any association here.

As for arguments that homeopathy only works via the placebo effect, Robbins should talk to my 14-year-old dog. After months of conventional treatment for arthritis he could barely stand. Following a course of homeopathy he now joins me on a daily walk.

Homeopathy is cheap, effective and safe and should be a complementary part of every good healthcare system.

by Colin Jacobson, Kirribilli, New South Wales, Australia


[1.1] 'Herbal medicines' (i use the inverted commas because the name is euphemistic; most are not from herbs - just assorted plant matter - and very few can be counted as medicines, under modern standards) do, occasionally, have a chemical in them that will work. Medical people call this the 'active ingredient' - the acetaminophen in paracetamol, for example. There is no assurance that any 'herbal medicine' will have one of these, and this is how they don't work. But there is one thing 'herbal medicines' have in common -- all the rest of the plant gunk thrown in. All these thousands of extra chemicals are bound to interact somehow, and that is how 'herbal medicines' cause a myriad of side-effects (effects you don't want) whereas proper medicines cause only a few - the generic ones, such as nausea and headaches; and the occasional intolerance/allergic reaction. This makes the oh-so-natural-in-fact-it's-straight-out-of-the-cow 'herbal' bullshit much more dangerous than the stuff those mega-selfish-but-at-least-held-to-some-safety-standards pharmaceutical companies will sell you.

[1.2] One of the principles of homeopathy is that ‘like treats like’ – what harms is what cures, when in a homeopathic preparation – obviously, this is totally wrong, for the reasons outlined in the main text of this mini-essay. But, for some reason, homeopaths have inherited the trait of utilising poisons like Echinacea, (presumably from herbal non-medicinists) and claim they can be used in a wide variety of cases. This flouts their own principles, but hey – pseudo-science never makes sense anyway. Homeopathy certainly doesn’t. They have used this fudging of their own rules to make egregious claims like “[homeopathy can treat] the victims as well as the culprits of domestic violence”. I’m not joking. They are motivated by potential exploitation of the desperate! This, i consider to be sick behaviour. 
‘Claims that homeopathy treats domestic violence must be stopped, experts say’ 

[2.1] The Korsakof method doesn't even preserve the pretence of dilution - it's more akin to... well... rinsing the equipment out! The water's poured away and replaced, rather than a drop taken out and put in another vessel. 

[2.2] ‘Physically’ means there is actually nothing in it, in any sense – zero molecules/atoms. In the Biology of medicine, however, a tiny enough dose of anything can be ignored – treated as zero. Be it water, mercury, hemlock, or the famously radioactive uranium-235. Even in the occasional preparation that happens to have one molecule of the added poison, that lone molecule is nowhere near sufficient to have an effect. This makes it meaningful to say that there is nothing in it, ‘clinically’.

[3] The 10:23 campaign, which seeks to educate the public about homeopathy, and counter-lobby the snake-oil salesmen of the homeopathic industry, goes by the tagline of “There’s nothing in it” 

[4] Homeopathy really is that young – although many CAMmers (‘Complimentary and Alternative Medicine’ – although nothing under this label is actually either) claim that it’s derived from ancient knowledge. They do this because they think old things are always better. In Science, we know this as the ‘Antiquity Fallacy’ or the ‘Appeal to Tradition’. This fallacy’s entry on Nizkor:

“This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because the age of something does not automatically make it correct or better than something newer. This is made quite obvious by the following example: The theory that witches and demons cause disease is far older than the theory that microrganisms cause diseases. Therefore, the theory about witches and demons must be true.” 

 [5] One mole of water, for example, weighs 18g. A standard homeopathic preparation weighs just 2 or 3g. You’ll get even less if you buy it in sugar pill form, because all they do is sprinkle water into the packet – herein lies a further crime, because that way, you get moist pills at the top, and dry ones at the bottom – all the ‘dose’ (which isn’t real, but let’s humour them, for a moment) is in the first few pills, and none in the last. In real medicine, that would be a scandal!

This was actually a plot in an episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Dumb Witness – in which Emily Arundell died because she got a great big dose of phosphorus-containing medicine in the very last gulp of her doctor’s preparation (it had settled to the bottom). This killed her, of course. Regular doses are very important! 

[6] The 10:23 people estimate that the homeopathy industry’s worth £40 million in the UK, and €400 million in France and Germany combined. They don’t say whether this is profit, revenue, or equity, however. Any price for water (which you can get out of the tap, for a tiny portion of your local tax bill) is too much. And their prices for sugar pills are extortionate! They don’t even taste nice. That’s  £40 million that should be better utilised.

[7] Brains encode ideas into their electrical signals; silicon-based computers encode software and RAM into similarly electrical circuits; nitinol ‘remembers’ its shape at different temperatures by expanding and contracting in such a way that it occupies one pattern or the other, depending on temperature. 

[8] I would like to point out, here, that there is a notion which is easily confused as homeopathic, but is actually starkly different. ‘Hormesis’ sounds similar, and does involve small amounts, but is practically opposing in method. In homeopathy, the dose is extinguished by reduction; in hormesis, as big a dose is given, as can be afforded, in order to stimulate a response from the patient’s body. An example might be the case of inoculation, in which you’d give as much deactivated or mimicking pathogen as they can take (without being overwhelmed or running up a massive bill) so that their immune system gets a bloody good idea of what it should be dealing with. I repeat: homeopathy means zero dose; hormsesis means a big dose. 

[9] For the same reason that i feel the necessity to point out that gods and ghosts and ghouls don’t exist – because there are too many noisy people claiming that they do; and too many deluded, gullible, or just ignorant, people believing the claim!

[10] Most ice would melt, anyway, and lose any capacity to retain a shape resembling a medicine.

But if you could make ice crystals that retained their shape in >300 K environments (inside the body) it would still be water, and so would still behave as water.

These formations of ice crystal are not yet known to exist, but there are phases of ice that can exist well above the boiling point of liquid water, as long as they are under high pressure.

In the graph, you can see that phases VII, X, XI can all remain solid, above 650 Kelvin / 350 degrees Celsius, as long as they are under massively high pressures – unachievable inside the human body!

[11] “aqueous”, “water”, “wet”, “bis-hydrogen monoxic”, H2O and “dihydrogen monoxide” are synonymous. I hope you noticed :-P