Archive for category Activism

Are you a selfish bastard?

There are plenty of people who are critical of skepticism, both from within and without the skeptical community. We’re accused of being closed-minded, grumpy, bearded doubters and nay-sayers.  We’re accused of armchair skepticism, of ivory tower skepticism, of ‘scientism’, and of being in the pocket of a mysterious large farmer.

Some people think we aren’t pro-active enough.  Some people say we should let people believe what they like.  We’re accused of preaching to the choir, of living in an echo chamber, of not meaningfully engaging with the other side of the debate.  We’re accused of being dicks, or of not being dickish enough.  We’re accused of both accommodationalism and fundamentalism.

Some of these criticisms are valid, some are bogus. Some seem to assume that there is only one way you should behave if you’re a skeptic, when really – it takes all sorts.

So here is something positive we can all do.  It doesn’t get in anyone’s face, it isn’t dickish, it isn’t fundamentalist or accommodationalist.  And I’d actually be pretty surprised if any skeptic had a serious objection to it:

Become an organ donor.

It’s easy. It’s free. You won’t get anything out of it until after you’re dead, except perhaps a smug sense of self-satisfaction.  But if you don’t do it, you’re probably just being selfish.  Your kidneys are no good to you after you’ve wrapped a car around a lamp-post, but they may just save the life of one of the four people who die in the UK every day because of a lack of suitable organs.

So get on with it… register as an organ donor now. No ifs, no buts. Chop chop.

(With thanks to the Prof for suggesting we champion this.)

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Power Balance Admits No Reasonable Basis For Wristband Claims, Consumers Offered Refunds

Placebo bands - the skeptical alternative to Power Balance

Placebo bands - the skeptical alternative to Power Balance

Not for the first time, we at the MSS would like to offer our congratulations and our genuine awe at the work done by the Australian Skeptics. Not for their tireless work in fighting anti-vaccination in Australia, although this is indeed laudable. Not even for hosting TAM Australia, though the event sounded an overwhelming success, with precisely the kind of ethos and feel we’re trying to achieve with QED (tickets are still available, of course). No, this time our hearty congratulations are for their fight against the ludicrous nonsense that is Power Balance – the little bands of rubber, embedded with a neat little hologram and vibrating with a supposedly-ever-present-yet-oddly-undetectable energy which claims to help this, boost that and increase the other.

Or at least, they used to claim that. As of today the manufacturers will no longer be making those claims, after a ruling proved them to be unsubstantiated. What follows is a press release from the ACCC explaining further, but it’s worth pointing out that without the work of the Australian Skeptics in demonstrating the falsehood of Power Balance’s claims this ruling would never have happened. So, once again – excellent work, guys!

Power Balance Admits No Reasonable Basis For Wristband Claims, Consumers Offered Refunds

Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.

As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled.

Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd claimed the wristbands improve balance, strength and flexibility and worked positively with the body’s natural energy field. It also marketed its products with the slogan “Performance Technology”. The ACCC raised concerns that these claims were likely to mislead consumers into believing that Power Balance products have benefits that they do not have. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Mass Libel Reform Blog – Fight for Free Speech!

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
http://www.libelreform.org/sign

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NHS Highland ends support for homeopathy

10:23 Campaign

The 10:23 Campaign

In light of the recommendation by Dr Margaret Somerville to end support for homeopathy on the NHS in Scotland, the 10:23 Campaign reiterate our stance that NHS support for this disproven quackery must be withdrawn immediately.

Speaking in response to an investigation by the BBC, which included the exposure of three homeopaths willing to treat patients with ineffective homeopathic ‘alternatives’ to the life-saving MMR vaccine, Dr Somerville described a “settled, clear and unambiguous clinical opinion” that homeopathy should not be used in the NHS and advised support be ended immediately – advice which has been taken on board by the NHS Highland, who opted to cease funding for the treatments today.

Michael Marshall, speaking on behalf of the 10:23 Campaign, today offered support for Dr Somerville’s statement:

“It’s immensely encouraging to see the Director of Public Health for the NHS Highland making so categorical and clear a statement, and to see the board follow through with decisive action. The evidence for the use of homeopathy is at best poor, and at worst non-existent. While belief may exist amongst practitioners that further studies are needed, such studies should be undertaken at their expense, rather than supporting the ineffective therapy with funding from taxpayer’s money in the meantime.

Speaking of the revelations in the BBC investigation, Mr Marshall continued:

“That the BBC found homeopaths willing to partake in some highly dubious and downright dangerous practices is little surprise to those of us familiar with the system of homeopathy. While homeopathic treatments themselves are often harmless – indeed, they’re chemically indistinguishable from simple sugar pills – the associated anti-scientific philosophy is often a breeding ground for poor health information and anti-vaccination propaganda.

This isn’t the first time such dangerous advice given by homeopaths has been exposed – a previous BBC investigation revealed homeopaths willing to offer ineffective replacements for anti-malarial drugs, and our own investigations have found countless tales of other homeopaths willing to offer treatments for AIDS, cancer and all manner of genuinely serious illnesses, based on no proof of efficacy and no reason to believe homeopathy to be useful.

This investigation didn’t reveal merely three rotten apples in an otherwise sound barrel, it exposed symptoms of a rotten system – teaching anti-science and actively promoting dangerous health information. It’s for these reasons that we applaud Dr Somerville, and all who similarly campaign for sense to triuph over nonsense, and it’s for these reasons that we strongly applaud the action from the NHS Highland and urge other areas of the NHS to follow suit”.

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New Diploma in Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine

QED: Question. Explore. Discover.

Get your QED ticket now!

Here at the Merseyside Skeptics Society, we heartily endorse awareness-raising publicity stunts. Obviously. After all, we organised for nearly 500 people worldwide to ‘overdose’ on homeopathic products. Pretty hard to deny our love of a good publicity stunt, then. Plus, on September 14th our BBC documentary involving the creation and distribution of homeopathic ‘QED Vodka’ will be screened. So, yeah, publicity stunts are our thing, really.

So when I saw that the Voice of Young Science are to take to the streets of London to hand out qualifications in Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine, I was very interested indeed. Unfortunately, I can’t make it along to the event, so my practice of traditional old-wives-tale remedies will have to remain strictly that of an unlicensed amateur, but if you’re around and free, why not pop along and get yourself a qualification? It beats spending 5 years learning to be a ‘Doctor’ of homeopathy, and leaves you just as qualified to treat people. Details of the event are below, and you can RSVP on Facebook too (if you do, tell them we sent you!).

New Diploma in Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine

Do you remember how your grandmother thought burns should be treated?  What happens to your hair if you don’t eat your crusts?  If you think you can answer questions like these and your hands are clean, why not become a registered practitioner of Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine?

The Voice of Young Science School of Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine will hit the streets of London on Wednesday, handing out diplomas for people to practice Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine. Young medics and researchers in lab coats will be registering members of the public who can correctly answer questions about traditional advice and cures.

Find out if you qualify for a diploma at the Department of Health, Richmond House, Whitehall, SW1A 2NS, on Wednesday 8th September 11.30 – 12.30.

The VoYS Network is launching its Old Wives’ Traditional Medicine Accreditation Scheme to draw attention to the Department of Health’s proposed professional registration scheme for practitioners of traditional medicine, which will regulate everything except whether a practitioner has medical training or is practicing an evidence-based discipline. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dear Luciana Berger MP: Homeopathy? Really?

QED: Question. Explore. Discover.

Get your QED ticket now!

It’s been a little while since the furore over the pro-homeopathy EDMs and David ‘hand in the till’ Tredinnick‘s one-quack crusade to have homeopathy recognised as the greatest thing since succussed bread, but one name that stood out to me on the roll-call of signatories and seconders was that of Luciana Berger MP, and it was a name I couldn’t let lie.

You see, Luciana is MP for Wavertree, Liverpool – not more than a couple of miles from my home, and the constituency in which I’ve spent much of my 9 years in Liverpool. What’s more, Luciana seems to be a pretty reasonable MP – she’s in favour of equal rights for women, equality for those of all sexualities, against all forms of racial discrimination and generally appears to be a fairly-well-informed MP, certainly when compared to Mr Tredinnick, whose EDMs she’s signed.

It struck me that rather than based on ideology, Luciana’s support for Tredinnick’s pet pills might well be a simple case of her not knowing what homeopathy is really about – which is relatively understandable, given the high percentage of the public who think ‘homeopathy’ is just another term for ‘herbal medicine’ and aren’t acquainted with the scientific literature.

Clearly, then, the best approach would be to politely offer to engage over the issues and present the science, rather than berate Luciana with the intensity and single-mindedness we ought to save for those whose belief in homeopathy is blindly ideological (Tredinnick, yes, we mean you). To this end, on the 11th of August I took it upon myself as representative of the 10:23 Campaign and the Merseyside Skeptics Society – a pro-science group with significant numbers in her very constituency – to contact Luciana and offer her our side of the story.

She hasn’t yet responded, which is what has prompted me to share this letter with the MSS readers, to not only convey what I believe to be the best way to engage with those who may not fully understand what homeopathy is, and also to prompt Luciana into the response I sincerely hope she is willing to provide. To reiterate – I don’t believe she deserves abuse, or indeed anger, but wish to simply open the lines of dialogue to put forward the science on homeopathy. Perhaps when given the chance to hear what homeopathy is, and why it’s implausible, the evident common-sense Luciana displays in other policies will win out on the subject of the sugar pills. The full letter is provided below. Read the rest of this entry »

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