Archive for November, 2009

Horse Placenta Therapy: Foal Play?

Robin Van Persie - Placenta Forward

Robin Van Persie - Placenta Forward

Footballers, by and large, and by largely stereotypically-derived reputation, are not widely perceived to be among humanity’s great critical thinkers. Arsenal player Kolo Toure was yellow carded last season for refusing to enter the field of play before every other member of his team had crossed the line ahead of him. In the 1998 World Cup, Fabian Barthez iconically received a good-luck kiss on his bald head from compatriot Laurent Blanc. To this day French manager Raymond Domenech adheres strictly to horoscopes, stating his distrust of Leos: “When I have got a Leo in defence, I’ve always got my gun ready, as I know he’s going to want to show off at one moment or another and cost us.” It’s fair to say, they can be a somewhat credulous bunch.

And it’s not just superstition that the players of the beautiful game have been guilty of – with the pressure to get fit and back to action increasing as stakes (not to mention financial factors) continue to rise, a whole range of alternative therapies have been trialled over the years, from the unusual-but-plausible to the downright quackish. Florent Malouda and Robert Pires have both found the cure for aching muscles can lie not in his limbs, but in the teeth – turning to a dentist to fix their fatiguing fangs. Michael Owen, Arjen Robben and Jurgen Klinsmann have all had goats’ blood and cockerel extract injected into troublesome hamstrings. Cristiano ‘pretty boy’ Ronaldo even tried turning to a local wizard when he was sidelined last month. It seems like almost anything goes. Which leads me on to Robin Van Persie – centre-forward for Arsenal and the Netherlands, and now poster-boy for a new treatment that’s causing a stir in treatment rooms, newspapers and quite likely stables across the country: horse placenta therapy.

The injury-prone Dutchman, who tore his ankle ligaments in a match against Italy, flew out to Serbia to meet with the proponent of the horse placenta therapy – Marijana Kovacevic – in order to trim his recovery time down from six weeks out of action. Van Persie, who has inevitably become the butt of a load of ‘Pla-Centa Forward’ gags, isn’t the first footballer to go in for the equine rub – with fellow Premiership stars Yossi Benayoun, Glen Johnson and Frank Lampard all putting their faith in Kovacevic’s hands. Read the rest of this entry »



Psychic Healing? My Dog’s Arse!

The Heart-Shaped Dog Patch. Apparently

The Heart-Shaped Dog Patch. Apparently

Sometimes you come across a story so wildy, stupendously, Earth-shatteringly stupid you wonder what actually passes for journalism in the modern media. I tend to have at least three of those moments a week. But this latest is a real humdinger. I’ll give it to you slow:

“MYSTIFIED medics are trying to get to the bottom of how a dog saved her owner from a heart attack – with her rear end” – Source: The Sunday Express

Already, I can tell you’re interested. The ‘doctors-baffled’ angle is always a winner; the ‘dog saves owner’ format is tried and tested; and then pow! – dog’s arse. Right there, sentence one. If any one of you saw that coming, you should get on the phone to Randi immediately.

To continue:

Stricken Piotr Wagner, 50, collapsed with agonising chest pains as he watched telly at home in Kazimierza Biskupiego, Poland. But when his pooch Pearl – a two-year-old Jack Russell cross – turned a heart-shaped patch on her flanks towards her master, he told doctors he felt the pain melt away.

Medics are baffled by the dog’s apparent healing powers, as reported by the Austrian Times. “He certainly had a heart attack but it seems to have suddenly stopped and he is now healthy and back to normal,” said one.

Piotr said: “I want everyone to know about my big-hearted dog.”

Now, this story is quite clearly ridiculous, so I won’t waste your time with a full, wordy, lengthy debunk. Suffice it so say there’s a couple of reasons this is a) utter nonsense and b) completely un-newsworthy Read the rest of this entry »

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What’s That Cross on The Wall For?

Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights decreed that the crucifix should no longer be hung in state schools in Italy. They found in favour of Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born atheist living in Padua, who objected to her children being taught in classrooms that prominently displayed a Christian symbol. The judges ruled that its presence could “disturb” children of other faiths or none, and that it violated pupils’ rights. The ruling wasn’t just for Soile Lautsi’s children’s school, but applied to state schools across the whole of Italy.

I’m very much a supporter of seperation between church and state, and believe secular states (of which Italy, perhaps surprisingly, is one) are a progressive way forward into a less ideologically narrow world future. Coming from that viewpoint, this seems to be a reasonable judgement. One which will cause consternation to a large number of people (which I’ll come to later), but a rational and wise judgement none-the-less. At the same time, whenever I hear about rulings of this kind, I feel slightly uneasy. I suspect it’s the language used by the judges when they give their verdicts. For example:

“Its presence [the crucifix] could disturb children.”

‘Disturb’ implies an air of threat or unease, something which constantly distracts and worries. Now, a naked dead man in a torture pose probably isn’t the greatest image to expose your nation’s children to, but is it really going to disturb them? Children aren’t that easily disturbed when it comes to graphic violence (remember watching Robocop as a kid and loving it?), and in the home country of the Vatican, Catholicism’s particular brand of torture porn is everywhere anyway. You can’t walk down a street in Italy without seeing a crucifix. In fact it’s more likely to engender indifference or annoyance than anything else. I’m not sure ‘disturb’ is an accurate word in this regard. Read the rest of this entry »


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Baby-Spinning – The Homeopathic Way

Sometimes I wonder if there’s anything homeopathy CAN’T do. I mean, we all know it’s great for curing colds. And we all know it can cure back aches. And we all know it can help boost the immune system. And we all know it can help increase your energy. And we all know it can build your vitality. And we all know it’s a great alternative to vaccines. And we all know it can get rid of monsters under the bed. Those things are the obvious benefits to using tiny drops of substances diluted into levels equivalent to a body of water greater than the known universe while at every stage being tapped against a Bible.  Despite it’s zero science, zero plausibility and zero active ingredients. Despite it’s pre-scientific belief in the causes of illness and disease, and it’s like-cures-like nonsense.

We all know homeopathy can do all that, tell us something new!

Well, just when you thought you knew the limitations of homeopathy (Avogadro’s number, for example) there it goes and surprises you all over again. Because those little sugar-pill drops of magic and nothingness can also help un-breech your foetus, according to Canadian homeopath Piper Martin, who features the following claim on her website:

Directions for Turning a Breech Baby

Pulsatilla is a homeopathic remedy made from the Windflower. I have had a high success rate of using this remedy to turn babies in the breech position within a 24-hour time period.

Now, for the non-foetus-savvy of you who can’t be bothered with the three or four clicks it would take to Wikipedia it, a baby is breech when the it’s upside down in the womb – rather than being born head first, breech births involve the child emerging feet first. Although relatively common at many stages of the pregnancy, obviously a breeched baby presents a real risk during labour, so it’s best to be avoided where possible. There are ways of turning a breech baby non-homeopathically, of course – a technique called external cephalic version (ECV), for example, involves no Pulsatilla and no diluted water, it turns out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Don’t Label Me: The Atheist Billboard Campaign (or Atheism 101: What is Atheism?)

The final phase of the astonishingly-popular Atheist Bus Campaign launched recently.

First, a little background.  The Atheist Bus Campaign was launched by the lovely Ariane Sherine, the comedy writer and blogger who recently spoke for us at Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub.  After spotting an advert on the side of a London bus proclaiming something along the lines of  “Join the Jesus Fan Club or Burn Forever™” (I may be paraphrasing slightly) Ariane devised a campaign to fund similar ads promoting the slogan “There’s Probably No God”.

Read the rest of this entry »


Comas And Communications

When Belgian Rom Houden was left in a coma following a car accident in 1983, his family feared he’d never come back from it. Little did they know, throughout his 23 years existing in what was thought to be a vegetative state, Rom was actually fully conscious and suffering from a condition known as ‘locked-in syndrome’ – where the sufferer is completely paralysed but otherwise mentally sound. In a report which has garnered international interest, Rom has been shown having learnt to communicate by typing on a keyboard with one finger, while his hand is held and supported and moved around by his helper.

Or so the report tells us.

Upon closer inspection, it seems the miraculous breakthrough might not be so amazing at all – a fact which James Randi picked up for the JREF site in a post he titled ‘This Cruel Farce Has To Stop‘. Having studied the video evidence, Randi is convinced Rom’s communications mount to little more than standard ‘facilitated communications‘ – in essence, that his helper is in fact the one doing the typing, and poor Rom is merely a helpless puppet. Read the rest of this entry »