Archive for category Pseudoscience

Yes to life Chief Executive responds to criticism

In November 2014, myself and two other Merseyside Skeptics Society members attended a seminar hosted by the charity Yes to Life in Manchester. Yes to Life is an organisation that offers advice to people diagnosed with cancer with a focus on “integrative therapies” – that is, a combination of conventional therapies with alternative therapies including diet, detox and lifestyle modification. Despite the latter being supported by little to no evidence, the talks at the seminar suggested a scientific basis for a number of alternative therapies to an audience of cancer sufferers and their loved ones.

I wrote of my concern about this for the Guardian Science Blog, which elicited an email response from Sue De Cesare, Executive Director of Yes to Life. I reproduce the email in full below Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments

Exploring TCM: Dr & Herbs, Liverpool

Having a rare weekend free, and having the need to pop into town in order to buy secret things for my girlfriend’s upcoming birthday (July 22nd if you want to wish her a happy birthday, by the way), I chanced into St John’s Shopping Centre and came across the rather charming ‘Dr & Herbs’ Traditional Chinese Medicine outlet. Which I immediately dived into and immersed myself in, obviously.

I’d like to say up front, before I get into any real detail – the two people who seem to run the shop were helpful, kind and friendly. Unfortunately, they were also entirely wrong in a number of ways…

The first thing that struck me about the shop was the crude (and rather awfully-designed) posters in the window, listing various ailments and how TCM can help – the list was reasonably long, and didn’t include any more wild and dangerous ailments to treat, but I was able to grab shots of the claims for Thrush, StressEczema and Asthma.

Thrush: TCM treats this as a problem of damp in the body, usually internal damp caused by an infection or fungus; herbs are a very effective treatment.

While it’s true to say that thrush is caused by a fungus, it’s vague and bewildering to claim it a problem of ‘damp in the body’, and the bald assertion that herbs are a very effective treatment is an outright falsehood, unsupported by evidence.

Stress: According to TCM, Stress is due to too much dampness and heart heat from internal and external pressure. We can treat this by clearing the dampness as well as regulating your Qi (vital energy) through a natural process).

Here the issue is somewhat more fundamental – the notion of ‘stress’ is something favoured by pseudomedical practitioners because of its dual properties of vagueness and ubiquity. Many people believe they have stress; very few of them could quantify what they mean by the term. Fortunately, Dr & Herbs seem to know, and they’re pretty sure it’s to do with dampness – although, in fairness, dampness is their go-to diagnosis. That they can regulate this invented dampness – both internally- and externally-caused –  via the regulation of Qi is neither here nor there, given that Qi adds one more invented element to the pot. All in all, their claims to fighting stress don’t stand up to scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »

, , , ,

5 Comments

Circumcision: Genital Mutilation Under Another Name

Today, I want to outline something of a thought experiment – imagine for a moment a society where a baby is born, discovered to be a girl, and because of its gender and the traditions passed down for centuries, the baby is branded with a hot iron leaving a scar that lasts for life.

Now go a step further, and imagine that instead of branded, the baby has the end of her ear lobe cut off, again something this imaginary society only does to females.

It’d be a pretty horrific idea, and anyone suggesting we take on such practices and follow such rituals would be rightly thought not only to be utterly wrong, but entirely deranged, and no law would ever pass which would allow such a mass mutilation to take place.

But, for a moment, imagine that the affected children were instead male, and the part of the body to take a knife to at birth was not the earlobe but the penis… and you’ll find yourself not in some dystopian fantasy but in modern day America, and in parts of the UK and other countries too.

Each year, around 1.2 million male babies in the US are circumcised in medically-unnecessary procedures – and that’s discounting the cases where there is a genuine medical reason to do so, which I have absolutely no problem with. As an analogy, I can accept people having to have limbs amputated should injury or diabetes or gangrene warrant, but I’d advise against it becoming the first thing we do after cutting the umbilical cord.

Right now in San Francisco the issue of circumcision is very much in the news, after local anti-circumcision activist Lloyd Schofield collected enough signatures – more than 12,000 – to put a measure to the city ballot in November 2011, seeking to ban the practice of circumcision. Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , ,

22 Comments

The Boy Who Might Be Magnetic (Or, More Likely, Definitely Isn’t)

Reports in multiple sources at the moment, from the Guardian to CBS, have been telling the tale of a young boy in with what’s said to be an unusual talent.

Taking up the story from CBS:

“Six-year-old Ivan Stoiljkovic appears to be able to attract metal to his chest – including silverware, coins and even a frying pan.

His family says Ivan possesses extraordinary strength and even healing powers.”

“It started as a joke,” said his grandmother. “I said, let’s try this and things just stuck to him. The heavier things actually stuck more strongly to him.”

In total, his family says Ivan can carry up to 55 pounds of metal on his torso.

His upper body appears to be more magnetic and his family says his wounds heal very quickly and leave no scars.

Family members told Reuters that Ivan also has “healing hands” with which he alleviates his grandfather’s stomach pains and has soothed the pain of a neighbor who hurt his leg in a tractor accident.”

The story comes complete with a video of Ivan demonstrating his talents:

Avid magnetic-child-watchers may have heard this tale before, and indeed this isn’t the first time a child from Eastern Europe has been heralded as possessing extraordinary magnetic powers. In fact, just this February a seven year old Serbian boy called Bogdan was filmed demonstrating his own extraordinary skills. Read the rest of this entry »

, ,

3 Comments

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 »

, , ,

3 Comments

Dowsing For Danger: ‘Grosvenor Scientific’ Raided

Last night I got a very interesting phone call, just as I was about to rush off to Manchester for the Greater Manchester Skeptics In The Pub talk with Simon ‘Quacklash’ Perry (which was, as expected, brilliant). The call was from a journalist at ITV, regarding the bomb detectors which don’t actually detect bombs, and what I knew about a company called Grosvenor Scientific. The answer, alas, was pretty much zilch, although a quick Google got me the following:

Exporters raided in bomb detector fraud inquiry

Police have raided three companies suspected of selling ineffective bomb detectors to overseas markets, in a case that raises questions of whether Britain has done all it can to curb the much-criticised trade.

City of London police said yesterday that they had raided five properties and planned to interview a number of individuals as part of an expanding investigation into the sale of the hand-held devices, which critics say have endangered lives in Iraq and elsewhere.

The police action was launched after Britain introduced a ban in January on the export of the devices, but applied it only to Iraq and Afghanistan because it said it lacked the power to extend it to countries in which UK and allied forces were not engaged.

The police said they executed five search warrants at premises in Kent, Devon and Nottingham linked to the companies Grosvenor Scientific, Scandec Inc and Global Technical, seizing a large amount of cash and several hundred explosive detection devices and their component parts – Source: Financial Times

Now, Global Technical I had heard of – in fact I wrote about their GT200 back in April. It’s great to see the police taking action, finally. Still, while we’re aware of the actions of ATSC (whose CEO Jim McCormick is still on police bail after his arrest earlier this year over the same charges these new companies now face), and both Scantec and Global Technical are well documented too, Grosvenor Scientific appear to be somewhat off the radar – with very little information to be found on them. Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , ,

3 Comments