Archive for quackery

Brauer: Natural Quackery

Posted in health, pseudoscience with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2010 by cpolsonb

I was in a local pharmacy the other day when, as I normally do I sought out the “natural” alternatives that were made available. I guess I do this in the hope that once, just once the pharmacy won’t be selling utter nonsense to an unsuspecting and trusting public. That day has not yet come and as usual I located the rather extensive homeopathic range by Brauer Natural Medicine. Brauer is the quack medicine distributor I most commonly see in local Perth pharmacies and I have had the privilege of personally testing their product by taking a “dangerous” overdose of homeopathic pills as part of this years 10:23 challenge. So anyway, on this particular trip to the pharmacy I decided to pick up one of the free “product selector” booklets that Brauer medicine produce to peddle their snake oil. In this blog entry I present for you a quick run-down on what Brauer says about their product, why science says it’s total nonsense and why it is dangerous.

I won’t get into a long discussion about the history and nature of homeopathy as I wish to focus on the specific case of Brauer medicine. For a more detailed and referenced rundown on why homeopathy is bunk please check out these excellent resources: The 10:23 Website, The Skeptics Dictionary, SkepticWiki, Quackwatch. For a very quick rundown homeopathy is a system of claimed alternative medicine invented in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann. Since it’s invention it’s core beliefs have remained unchanged despite the world’s advancements in health and medicine including the discovery of viruses, bacterial infection, cancers, vaccines and genetics. It is by all accounts a relic of medieval thinking from a time when the leading hypothesis was that sickness was a result of imbalances in the four bodily humors (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile). Homeopathy itself is based on three laws; the law of similars, the law of infinitesimals and the law of succussion.

The law of similars says that in order to cure a problem you need to consume whatever causes the problem. This extends to such things as caffeine for sleep disorders, sore eyes with onion and rashes with poison ivy.

The law of infinitesimals says that the more diluted a substance the stronger it’s medicinal effect. This means that the vast majority of homeopathic solutions are diluted to the point that not a single molecule of the active ingredient remains, including dilutions of 1:1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000. Of course even if some of the active ingredient remained, the ingredient itself is worthless medically.

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Breaking News – Victory to Simon Singh BCA Admits Defeat!

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , on April 15, 2010 by cpolsonb

How totally cool! Big win for skeptics and rationalists in the UK as the British Chiropractic Association admits defeat and ceases legal proceedings against Simon Singh. There have certainly been a lot of ups and downs in this case, with most of the ups coming in the last 6 months of so after a shaky first year for Simon. What trickle down effects this will have for chiropractic remains to be seen but one things for sure, the old addage “any publicity is good publicity” doesn’t really apply here. This victory is of course unrelated to the continuing campaign for libel reform in the UK which hopes to ensure this kind of legal bullying cannot happen again.

The BCA today served a Notice of Discontinuance bringing to an end its ill-fated libel claim against Dr Simon Singh arising out of criticisms he made of its promotion of treatments for childhood ailments.

Dr Singh’s predicament as the sole defendant in an action brought in respect of a comment piece in the Guardian newspaper (to which the BCA never directed any complaint) was seen as a rallying point for those concerned about the abuse of UK libel laws in connection with scientific debate.

Interest intensified when Eady J ruled that his words were not comment and that in order to defend himself he would have to prove the objective truth of what he wrote.

Earlier this month the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling and this has lead the BCA to abandon its claim.

The Big Libel Gig!

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2010 by cpolsonb

This past Sunday (14/3) at the London’s Palace Theater in jolly old England, artists, scientists, authors and performers from all walks of life put on a show to help raise awareness (and money) for the fight for libel reform in the UK. For more information on what Libel Reform is all about take a read of my previous blog on the subject here. This Big Libel Gig really did have a stellar bill, including such talent as: Dara Ó Briain, Tim Minchin, Marcus Brigstocke, Robin Ince, Ed Byrne, Shappi Khorsandi, Professor Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Professor Richard Wiseman, Dr Peter Wilmshurst and Dr Ben Goldacre. All of these talented and gifted individuals gave wildly popular talks/performances many of which had the audience in stitches (figuratively).

Seeing such a group of people come together for such a worthy cause is just super awesome, how I wish I could have attended. Libel Reform is such a passionate issue of mine because it is well beyond a mere scientific issue, it is one of human rights. This is an issue that any member of the public can feel outrage over, regardless of their religious or philosophical viewpoint. For me it’s much more of a humanism fight than a scientific one. It is also a prime example of how a ground swelling of support from the skeptical movement can translate into a public issue. There is perhaps no better current example of the influence that skeptics and rationalists are actually capable of wielding. So far 197 members of parliament have signed “Parliamentary Early Day Motion 423” and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, leading Tories and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP have all praised the Libel Reform campaign since 10,000 letters were sent to MPs. This comes on top of the chilling effect it’s had on UK chiropractors (a prime example of abusers of current libel) which you can read about in my blog entry here.

For a taste of what was in store at the Big Libel Gig I’ve embedded two videos of backstage interviews conducted by skepchick founder Rebecca Watson and host of the Little Atoms podcast Neil Denney. The first is with psychologist, author, magician and master of British wit Richard Wiseman and the second is with wildly popular musician and comedian Tim Minchin.

Enjoy!

Coarse Language Warning (including some Libel of their own)

Quick Update: UK Chiropractors on the Ropes

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , on March 2, 2010 by cpolsonb

Just a quick update to let everyone know that chiropractors in the UK have taken another serious blow. The latest news is that Simon Singh’s case and the libel reform campaign that took off in his wake are having some major effects on the ability of chiropractors to ply their trade. According to this article in The Guardian a staggering 1 in 4 of the 2400 chiropractors in the UK are now under investigation for making misleading claims. This is a fifteen fold increase since before Simon’s case hit the news stands! Check out this juicy quote from the Guardian article:

As the British Chiropractic Association’s battle with Simon Singh continues to work its way through the legal system, chiropractors are counting the financial costs of a major backlash resulting from a libel action that has left the Lord Chief Justice “baffled”. What was originally a dispute between the BCA and one science writer over free speech has become a brutally effective campaign to reform an entire industry.

A staggering one in four chiropractors in Britain are now under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in advertisements, according to figures from the General Chiropractic Council.

What an awesome blow against quackery! It’s probably too much to ask for but a small part of me can see this really snowballing into a complete collapse of the BCA (warning: wishful thinking). The poor chiropractors have really been suffering blow after blow this last year or so. Back in June a leaked e-mail from the McTimoney Chiropractic Association had this warning for it’s 800 members:

“If you have a website, take it down NOW.

“REMOVE all the blue MCA [McTimoney Chiropractic Association] patient information leaflets, or any patient information leaflets of your own that state you treat whiplash, colic or other childhood problems in your clinic or at any other site where they might be displayed with your contact details on them. DO NOT USE them until further notice.”

Sound like someones panicking? Does to me. What was equally as awesome was when the BCA was pressured into revealing the “plethora” of scientific evidence supporting it’s claims that it had been citing tirelessly for some time. They only ended up showcasing 29 citations, every one of which was ripped to shreds by science bloggers. The icing on the cake was when the esteemed British Medical Journal also took a swing and releasing their own scathing critique of the poor excuse for science that was the BCA’s “plethora” of evidence.

That’s all for now. I’ll be sure to keep a critical eye out for any other updates on this promising campaign.

Simon Singh & British Libel Reform

Posted in health, News, pseudoscience, skepticism with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by cpolsonb

Some of you may have noticed a new flashy icon asking you to sign a petition to help reform libel defamation laws. The libel (aka defamation) laws in question are those of the UK’s, and if you’ve not heard already they are an absolute joke. I’ll briefly outline some of the most egregious aspects of British Libel Law:

No Evidence of Harm Required
For a party or individual to begin legal proceedings in a libel case they need not demonstrate how the supposed defamatory remarks in questions have caused financial or personal harm. This means anyone can open legal proceedings in a libel case at any time, no evidence required.

Reversal of Burden of Proof
In a typical court system (including the UK’s for most other crime) the burden of proof falls on the accuser rather than the accused. For example if you are accused of murder, the burden of proof is rightly on the prosecutors to provide evidence that you are guilty, rather than on you to provide evidence that you are innocent. Not so with libel laws! If you are accused of libel in the UK then it falls on you personally to provide evidence that you either didn’t mean it to be defamatory (easier said than done) or that there is no chance it will cause harm. All the accuser need do is sit back and watch you squirm.

Enormous Cost
The price tag for seeing a libel case through to the bitter end for both accuser and accused can be upward of $2,000,000AU! This of course means that large multi-million dollar corporations and industry are able to quickly silence small critics with the mere whisper of a libel case. The legal costs are often 100times higher than the damage caused by the libel.

No Legal Defense
No legal defense is provided to the accused in cases of libel. This means that unless you are an expert on British Law or have money to spend on an expensive lawyer you are left relatively in the dark as to the meaning and consequence of a libel suit. It is also left up to you to gauge whether the case is worth defending or not.

“No win, No fee”
Often times no win, no fee arrangements are made in libel cases. This means that if you wish to prosecute a libel case against someone and lose it’s at no or little cost to you. It does not mean that if you wish to defend against libel and lose then it’s at little or no cost to you. These arrangements were implemented to encourage smaller parties to face up to larger parties but failed miserably as even when a small party wins a libel case they often pay 100 times more in legal fees than they get as compensation from the case. All it has done in practice is allow big companies to stomp on small voices with even less to worry about.

Case In Point
The massive case in point at the moment is that of The “British Chiropractors Association’s” libel case against UK author Simon Singh for his reference to Chiropractic as “bogus”. Simon has been dragged through the legal mud for over 2 years now and is very far from seeing a light at the end of his tunnel. Instead of backing down Simon has bravely chosen to fight on in an attempt to not just stand up to a bully but to bring public awareness to the problems with British Libel. The “Keep Libel Laws out of Science” and the “Libel Reforms Campaign” have sprung up largely because of Simon’s brave efforts and I strongly urge you all to take a brief moment to click the banner on my homepage and sign the petition. You can follow Simon’s efforts here. To read more about British Libel law to a look at this article from New Scientist magazine.

Coverage in the mass media has been swelling steadily and across the board has been sympathetic to Simon’s (and others) case. Articles covering this issue have been seen in The Observer, The Sunday Times, BBC News, The Times, The Mirror, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Sky News, The Scotsman, Time Magazine, The Independent, Press Gazette and many more.

Good luck to Simon and good luck to the Libel Reform Campaign!