Archive for May, 2009

NICE work: acupuncture coming to a primary care trust near you

When I first set up Merseyside Skeptics, I had only one real rule in mind – “no sacred cows”.

I’m always fascinated by which ideas people hold as their metaphorical cow.  A few years ago, when I first started getting enthusiastic about skepticism, I was ranting in the pub with a doctor friend of mine about homeopathy, crystal healing, iridology, and their friends.  We laughed and joked together about the implausibility of it all and the lack of credible evidence, until I mentioned acupuncture.  Suddenly, his face fell and his tone became more stern. “Actually, acupuncture is effective and there are good scientific reasons for that.”

I was briefly taken aback by this.  My friend is one of the most fiercely scientifically-minded people I know, to the point where he has been accused of bringing down a fun, but daft, conversation by pointing out how daft it is from a scientific stand point.  He was the last person I would have expected to claim efficacy for a pseudomedical practice like acupuncture and looking back now, I should have asked him to explain.  Instead, the subject was dropped, glasses were refilled and conversation breezed on to something else.

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Don McLeroy – standing up to those damn experts

Homo sapiens, humans, us, you and me, are thousands of years old – not personally, of course, but as a species. America was colonised around 50,000 years ago; humans reached Australia within a few thousand years of that time.

Older still, evidence of a 500,000 year-old ancestry to humans, Homo Heidlebergensis has been found in Boxgrove, England.

At least, that’s what the experts tell us.

America (or Texas, to be more precise) has decided to take on these experts. Humans on the American continent at 50,000 BC? A not-quite-monkey-not-quite-man who is 500,0000 year old? Who lived in 497,991 BC? Why, that’s older than the Earth itself! These ‘experts’ trust the collaborating data from dozens of different scientific disciplines, but ignore the one, just one, that doesn’t fit in. The scriptures don’t collaborate. But these experts ignore scripture, they shun the foundations of all our knowledge – when you live on the second floor, you don’t demolish the first floor because the neighbours are noisy!

“I disagree with these experts. Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts that are… I don’t know why they’re doing it.” – Don McLeroy (Source: TFN Insider)

Don McLeroy is standing up to these experts.

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Cola and hypokalaemia

Coca-cola gets a bad rap.

How many coke myths can you name?  You must have heard the one about coke being so acidic it can dissolve a steak (or tooth or penny)? What about “pouring coke on raw meat makes worms crawl out of it”? And, of course, there is the Mythbusters favourite: eating mentos with diet coke will make your stomach explode.

All bollocks, of course.

This week, the press have come up with a new one: drinking cola will damage your heart and cause paralysis.  This was variously reported as “Cola drinks can be bad for the heart” (Express); “Too much cola zaps muscle power” (BBC); and “Drinking large amounts of cola can cause paralysis, doctors warn” (Telegraph).

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Joe Power: Psychic Detective… although not a detective, and not psychic

The Liverpool Echo today runs a charmingly-sympathetic feature on local corpse-finder and celeb-séancer Joe Power.

For those of you with good memories for niche outré pieces of pop-culture tat (and why the hell wouldn’t you?), Joe was the chap who chatted with a posthumous John Lennon back in 2006.  The reason why many of you wouldn’t have known that – coincidentally the same reason that all of modern science wasn’t turned entirely on its head, causing scientists and philosphers the world over to fall to their knees, beating their breast and cursing their wasted lives in pursuit of damned reason – was that he didn’t actually talk to John Lennon.  John Lennon’s dead, he’s not talking to anyone these days, least of all Joe Power (his name gets better the more you say it aloud. Joe Power. Joe Power).  More details on that can be found all over the internet.  Go ahead, check, I’ll wait.

These days Joe tends to use his ‘powerful gift’ (because his name’s Joe Power.  Good punning, Liverpool Echo) to help police with their investigations – the latest being his help in locating Madelaine McCann.  Joe Power says:

“I believe I have seen the face of the person who abducted Madeleine and it is not dissimilar to the sketch which the detectives released after help from Jane Tanner”

So his psychic ability appears to have led him to confirm the information police came up with on their own and which they have been working on for a while now.  Handy.  Coincidentally, my own psychic ability leads me to predict that the River Mersey is wet, that the sky is blue, and that Joe Power is a fraud.  If he can retrodict, so can I.

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Alternative medicine: no alternative at all

“You know, if conventional medicine hasn’t worked, there are alternatives you can try”.

A friend said this to me recently, referring specifically to our vitalistic, magical friend homeopathy.  I’ve heard the same sentiment repeated many times with regard to any number of so-called alternative medicine practices – acupuncture, naturopathy, reflexology and more.  The usual suspects.

When in a charitable mood, you could describe these practices as “unproven modalities”.  I’d be more inclined to describe them as dangerous pseudo-scientific quackery, since they lack any plausibility or consistent evidence-base to suggest efficacy.  But maybe that’s just me.

The point is, given that these modalities lack consistent evidence and a plausible mechanism of action, in no sense can any of them be reasonably described as an alternative form of medicine.  However, the fact that these modalities are constantly referred to, even by skeptics, as “alternative medicine”, represents a significant propaganda victory for the alt-med advocates.

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