Article Archive for July 2009

University of Westminster: FOIA Response
By jdc325
Posted in syndicated on 31 July 2009
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In which a Daily Mail advertorial promoted body wraps using a “study by scientists at the University of Westminster” - and the University were curiously reluctant to provide detail.

Chiropractic care and treatment for scoliosis
By apgaylard
Posted in syndicated on 31 July 2009
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A link to my blog revealed an article promoting chiropractic care and treatment for scoliosis. It claims that, “it has been proven to be just as effective, if not more, than the existing treatment options [preventing] further progression” and also, “momentous improvement” from using chiropractic. Is this true? No.

Tijuana Zebras: the myth of organic vs conventional farming
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 31 July 2009
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Earlier this week, the Food Standards Agency upset the organic apple cart when they published a review of available literature that failed to find any health benefits associated with organic food. Moreover, the nutritional value of organically-produced food was little different to that produced by conventional farming.

As the Islington set choked on their (Duchy Originals) cornflakes, the backlash was as quick as it was predictable. Nobody likes to feel they’ve been taken for a fool, especially those who can afford to pay £3 for a loaf of bread.

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Joanna Blythman: Please Read the Data Appendices About Organic Food Before Conjuring ?Cancerous Conspiracies?: Part 1
By dvnutrix
Posted in syndicated on 31 July 2009
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Joanna Blythman and the Soil Association accuse the Food Standards Agency of ignoring the statistics in its own review for differences in nutrient levels between organic and conventionally produced food. We suggest, respectfully, that Blythman and the Soil Association are wrong and refer them to the original data.

Simon Jenkins on AIDS
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 31 July 2009
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In December 1993 the Time published this article by Simon Jenkins in defence of the Times’ support of Duesberg and other HIV denialists, this resulted in the Nature response I blogged previously.  There have been over 300,000 estimated deaths in South Africa alone attributed to views similar to and influenced by those expressed in this [...]

What would $34 billion of Quack money buy you?
By Le Canard Noir
Posted in syndicated on 31 July 2009
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Beware the spinal trap ? with added amateur legal musing
By draust
Posted in syndicated on 30 July 2009
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Having written some long-ish comments about it in a thread on something else, I have “promoted” them here, a bit altered, as an excuse for being the last blogger to reprint the “decaffeinated” version of Simon Singh’s now legendary article about chiropractic. So if you read my comments threads you’ve probably seen all this already. [...]

The kid’s autistic: the Generation Rescue website says so
By Sullivan
Posted in syndicated on 30 July 2009
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Michael Jackson and the Rise of the Celebrity Psychologist
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 30 July 2009
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In the nine years since Big Brother turned psychoanalysis into a spectator sport, the media have decided that no story about a major celebrity is complete without an assessment of their mental health. The death of Michael Jackson provided celebrity psychologists with perhaps their greatest subject yet.

But what are the ethical responsibilities of these media psychologists? Should professionals be commenting on the wellbeing of celebrities on the basis of articles in Heat magazine?

Continue reading my latest attempt at proper journalism over at Guardian Science.
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Organic ‘has no health benefits’
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 30 July 2009
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Food fad fading fast

IACC seeking input on the Strategic Plan
By Sullivan
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Homeopaths: Do You Really Want Statutory Regulation?
By Le Canard Noir
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Internet 2, BCA 0
By jaycueaitch
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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[BPSDB]Most members of the sceptical blogosphere will be aware that the British Chiropractic Association is suing Simon Singh for his suggestion that the evidence base underpinning chiropractic is somewhat lacking. They must be regretting it now. First there was the slight upsurge in the number of complaints to the General Chiropractic Council about their members’ [...]

Autism Omnibus: Hazelhurst appeal denied
By Sullivan
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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“We are more possible than you can powerfully imagine”
By Ben Goldacre
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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All The Way up To Eleven? Beware The Spinal Trap
By jdc325
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Following the decision of the BCA to sue Simon Singh for his 2008 article Beware the Spinal Trap (published in the Guardian), much has happened. Two bloggers made omnibus complaints about hundreds of chiropractors, for one thing. I’ve written a number of posts about chiropractic myself, but today’s post is a reprint of Simon Singh’s [...]

Harry Potter’s Satanic Influence
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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With another Harry Potter movie set to dominate the Summer box office, it’s time to ponder an important question - what impact will the series have on the development of our children? Well, not my children since I don’t have any, but children in general. After all, Daniel Radcliffe has already come out as an atheist, and if the Christian Answers Network are right, then in fact watching the film could have sinister consequences. It could turn children into satanists. Indeed, it might even make them gay.

Or, well, not. Leaving aside the obsession that certain people on Britain’s growing religious right have with homosexuality (*cough*Littlejohn*cough*), Satanism is a threat taking surprisingly seriously by modern Christians who really ought to know better, and Harry Potter has become a sort of bête noire for fundamentalists. A former housemate of mine at university had parents who campaigned bitterly against the books and films, and who in fact burned his younger brother’s Pokemon cards.

The desire to burn books and ban films isn’t one that I really relate to - and I speak as somebody who was made to see Titanic three times in two weeks by an ex-girlfriend, an experience that left me feeling a bit like Malcolm McDowell’s character in A Clockwork Orange - so I thought I’d take a look at what they have to say. Here then are extracts of an assessment of Harry Potter’s satanic influence by the Christian Answers Network, complete with my commentary.

Reading is a good thing, but not all is as innocent as Potter fans would have others believe. Young Harry is given a strange marking on his forehead.

Good god!

Rowling, a graduate of Exeter University in England, is very familiar with occultic practices, using elements and philosophies behind “pagan religions, celtic religions, the religions of the druids, witchcraft, [and] satanism.”

The clear implication here is that Rowling may well be a witch. Of course, if we’re going to be scientific about this we’ll need to test this somehow. Of course, we know that both witches and wood burn, so if we get a du… oh just watch the instructional video:

Christians employing scientific tests for the evaluation of witchcraft.

Even some Christians leaders agree that it’s ‘just fantasy’…

It’s an ambitious use of the word “even”, you have to give them that. Did you know that some people even believe that the world is round? I know, shocking. Anyway, to bolster their case they draw in some experts in… evil stuff. One of them is called Caryl, and Caryl is particularly

As one example among many, Caryl points to a chapter in the fourth book entitled “Flesh, Blood and Bone”.

“Harry is magically transported with his friend Cedric to a dark, scary graveyard. There, Harry is tied to the headstone of Lord Voldemort’s father’s tomb by Voldemort’s slave, Wormtail—a shapeshifter who takes the form of a rat. A slithering snake, synonymous with the presence of Voldemort, circles around Harry. Following an order to kill from a voice of unknown origin, the slave utters a death curse. In shock, Harry witnesses the murder of his friend Cedric.”

Perhaps all of this sounds a bit scary, but nothing to be concerned about. Potter fans say that this world is just make believe and has no bearing on the real world.

Potter fans and, to be fair, most sane people.

While a few Christians don’t even like to read or see classics such as Sleeping Beauty, Lord of the Rings, or Chronicles of Narnia due to the mere presence of evil, most Christians recognize the good vs. evil element as being clearly delineated. Evil is evil, and good is good, and good is promoted while evil is not.

But in the Potter series, the line is not so clear. The “good” guys practice “white magic”, while the bad guys practice the “Dark Arts”. Readers become fascinated with the magic used (explained in remarkable detail). Yet God is clear in Scripture that any practice of magic is an “abomination” to him. God doesn’t distinguish between “white” and “dark” magic since they both originate from the same source.

Joking aside, what’s remarkable about these two paragraphs is the extent to which they reveal the defensive psychology of the people at the core of these complaints. These are people so terrified of being somehow “contaminated” by evil influences that even fairytales become sinister threats to them and their children. They adhere to a philosophy of rigid moral absolutism and reject anything which cannot be neatly assimilated into that framework.

But the real world isn’t a black and white place, and good and evil aren’t clearly defined. People are a complex mixture of good and bad, and understanding this is one of the most important stages of the moral development of any child. It’s a stage that these people appear to have missed, and as a result they respond to fantasy fiction with fear and bewilderment.

The problem is, witchcraft is not fantasy; it is a sinful reality in our world.

Yes. Only last week a friend of mine was turned into a newt after spilling someone’s pint. Fortunately he got better.

“J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has gone through an awful lot of research. She is very accurate (otherwise we would have witches all over the country and the world saying ‘this is not a true representation of our religion’.)

Alternative explanations are that this hypothetical international army of witches may a) not be particularly bothered about it or b) not actually exist in the first place. But in fact the Christian Answers people contradict themselves later in the same article when they note that:

While some practicing Wiccans flatly deny any link between Potter’s world and theirs, the evidence is undeniably clear that Potter promotes an interest in magic and the occult.

Actually, what makes this more dangerous is that it is couched in fantasy language, and children’s literature, and made to be humorous, and beautifully written and extremely provocative reading. and it just opens up children to want to have the next one. This is what is so harmful.”

No - that’s what’s so good. Children should read provocative material, words that make them think about the world and ask difficult questions. If you can’t deal with your kid seeing the “real” world and asking questions about it, then perhaps the problem isn’t the book they’re reading - perhaps you need to rethink your approach to parenting.

“Clara Sessoms, who manages Living Water Christian Books in Marion, Ind. [says] ‘I don’t think people fully realize what they’re dealing with, and I think anyone who knows anything about spiritual warfare knows those books can open the door to spiritual bondage.’

Oo-er…

‘And I think it’s worse that children are the target,’ said Jessica Ruemler, a buyer for Living Water. ‘It opens the doors for young minds. You put sorcery in, what do you expect to get out?’

Imagination? Creativity? A sense of and wonder? An ability to tell the difference between fantasy and reality that the kids’ parents are apparently severely lacking?

So, what is a Christian to do? Ask, seek, and knock. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you lead your family in taking a biblical worldview of morality, seeking to please God (and not conform to man). Seek out what the Bible says about the occult (be sure to read our other articles) and how Christians are to react to it. And knock on the doors of your friends who may also be unsure what to do with Harry Potter. We highly recommend obtaining a copy of Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged to share with your family, your church, and others.

Don’t worry folks, the solution is clear. You could simple exercise your right to not buy things you don’t like. You’re free to do that, even if I think your reasons are a bit stupid. But somehow that wouldn’t be enough… no, the best thing to do is to go out and buy another book explaining all about the witchraft in Harry Potter so that you can get even more outraged by it. It’s kind of like buying the Playboy Guide to Porn in protest at the adult entertainment industry, but hey, at least another Christian can make some money out of your fear.

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Simon Singh: “Beware the spinal trap”
By Paul Wilson
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Beware the Spinal Tap - revisited
By teekblog
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Beware The Spinal Trap - Lawyer-friendly reprint
By Dr* T
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Beware the Spinal Trap Redux
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Today a number of magazines and websites are publishing Simon Singh’s Guardian article on chiropractic from April 2008, with the libelous part removed.
They are reprinting it because they think the public should have access to the evidence and the arguments in it that were lost when the Guardian withdrew the article after the British Chiropractic [...]

One of my t-shirts is in the… in the Daily Mail
By Ben Goldacre
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Simon Singh on chiropractic
By David Colquhoun
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Today, 29 July 2009, a large number of magazines and blogs will publish simultaneously Simons Singh’s article. The Guardian was forced to withdraw it, but what he said must be heard (even if the word ‘bogus’ is now missing).
This is an edited version if the article in the Guardian that resulted in the decision of [...]

Beware the Spinal Trap
By Le Canard Noir
Posted in syndicated on 29 July 2009
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Simon Singh: Beware the Spinal Trap
By Martin
Posted in syndicated on 28 July 2009
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Sense About Science, on behalf of the Singh campaign, have asked various bloggers around the world to take part in a mass posting of Simon Singh’s 2008 Guardian article “Beware of the Spinal Tap” - the subject of an ongoing libel case instigated by the British Chiropractic Association. Since I’m always willing to inflict more misery on the BCA - whose lawsuit has done for the chiropractic profession’s reputation what a faulty temperature dial and absent-mindedness did to my pizza earlier tonight - here it is.

BEWARE THE SPINAL TRAP

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

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Autism and Gastrointestinal symptoms: two new studies
By Sullivan
Posted in syndicated on 28 July 2009
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SciencePunk in the Guardian: Guerilla scientists gatecrash Secret Garden Party
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 28 July 2009
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SGPMy coverage of the awesome Science Tent at the Secret Garden Party is now up at Guardian Science Blog. Pictures of the science debauchery to follow:

I’m standing in a field in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. All about are the typical trappings of a music festival. The bright morning sun is glinting off discarded canisters of nitrous oxide, testament to the strict search policy in place at the gates. Revellers lie asleep where they fell, skin reddening, and sullen queues of hungover men and women snake from the standpipes and toilet blocks.

This is the Secret Garden Party, one of Britain’s new breed of boutique festivals, and in the midst of all this the Guerilla Scientists are folding back the canvas of their ex-army tent and arranging lawn chairs and hay bales inside. It’s 11am, music systems are again beginning to throb across the site (apart from those which played through the night), and the team is preparing for another day of lectures, workshops and live experiments, bringing science to the seriously unwashed masses.

Continue reading at the Guardian Science Blog, and find out how the whole tent ascended into a massive hip-hop dance party at the end.

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Solve the puzzle, win a pair of shoes
By SciencePunk
Posted in syndicated on 27 July 2009
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Focus Features have a little contest going on for the chance to win a pair of rather tasty limited edition Pony shoes created specially for 9, the upcoming science fiction feature from director Shane Acker, produced by Tim Burton. I’m interested in the role of science in the film - the central figure is The Scientist, whose creations bring about the end of mankind, but are also responsible for the continuation of humanity. So is science the hero or villain in this film? I’m trying to nab an interview with either Shane Acker or writer Pamela Pettler to explore these issues further.

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Halvorsen on Swine Flu and Vaccines in The Times
By jdc325
Posted in syndicated on 26 July 2009
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The Times have published an article by Richard Halvorsen on vaccines (apparently, he has a book on vaccines coming out next month). Background: Halvorsen runs a clinic that offers single vaccines for measles and rubella (at a cost of £95 each) and he has written and commented on vaccines and autism.

Society of Homeopaths reject Ofquack regulation
By gimpy
Posted in syndicated on 26 July 2009
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Following my reporting of the announcement that the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are seeking registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC) I have seen an email from the SoH to their membership.  This email, while mostly restating their press release, makes clear that the SoH have decisively rejected regulation under the Complementary and Natural Healthcare [...]