Product stop press

This blog having temporarily started acting like Which Magazine’s Provisional Wing, I have to draw your attention to another amazing wonder-product….:-) It costs more in a their real-world shops, but you can apparently make a saving if you buy Boots Hot Weather Cooling Spray online. Only £3.89 for 125ml (plus £2.90 delivery charge for delivery in 4 days, though free if you pick it up from your local shop.)

£31.11 per litre. (Not counting delivery costs.)

What’s the magic cooling ingredient?

Hmm, water. Well , “Aqua.” Not even bloody drinking water. Just water in a spray can.

As a random comparison of the cost of fluids, you can buy a 70cl bottle of 10 year-old Isle of Jura single malt whisky from Waitrose for £27.59.

OK, it wouldn’t cool you down much (indeed, it could make you smell pretty rough if you sprayed it on your face on a hot day) but it would be the product of centuries of brewing and distilling skills. It would have had to sit round using up caskspace for a decade. It’s lavishly bottled and packaged. And it manages to pay a huge cut to the revenue and still appear on Waitrose’s online shop for less than the cost of a litre of spray-on water.

Quite apart from the bottles of Evian and Highland Spring, Boots sells expensive water in many more forms. In the homeopathic department, anyway.

Water converted into pill form even. Or “pillules”, “pills” and “tablets.” (The distinction may be technical.)

Their homeopathic remedies actually contain water so expensive that it makes the cooling spray seem relatively cheap. Because they are pills (sorry, pillules) so they are dry, containing only the memory of the water that was used in making them. But that water itself only contains the memory of the active ingredient that was used to make it, many dilutions in its past

But, as the the water’s magical healing powers get stronger with each dilution, doesn’t it follow that you could increase its potency by another order of magnitude by dropping one of these dry pillules in a bath full of water.

The bathwater would then be imbued with the memory of the memory of the memories of the first water, but made even more memorable after conversion into and out of dry water-memory states in the middle stage. And so, these remedies could be strong enough to wipe out all disease on the planet….

New business plan – to take homeopathic remedies and sneakily intensify them by this method, then sell them as being EVEN more effective than the ones you can buy from a high street chemist, if that were indeed possible.

Genius, huh?

Moral panic of the day

China is so often first with its master-class examples of how moral panics can justify social repression. Here’s another one. China has used an imaginary illness (online gaming addiction) as an excuse to remove Internet users’ anonymity, according to the Times.

The system is aimed at combating gaming addiction particularly among the young, according to the Chinese authorities. Gamers have to give their real names when they register as well as the code from their government ID cards. Gamers are still allowed to use their gaming names in the games themselves (wizardlordofall13571) but their account must have the correct information including the gamer’s age.

“… as well as the code from their government ID cards.” 😀 Western governments will be taking notes. “If you’re not doing anything wrong”, and so on.

Some text-book elements of this strategy are:

  • the use of fear. China doesn’t have The War Against Terror, so they have to use “public health”. What kind of anti-social bastard wouldn’t care about public health?
  • concern for the young. Fragile innocents are under attack. You must protect them by forbidding action x.
  • government must always act to protect its people, whether from others or from from themselves.
  • start a war against an abstract noun (“gaming addiction”)

OK, by the standards of moral panics, this is farce rather than tragedy. It doesn’t turn the public against a hated minority group. So, it won’t end in pograms and ethnic cleansing and massacres. A few thousand gamers will have lost some rights and a few companies will be shut down.

(It might also damage the bizarre WOW-related mini-industry that has grown up in China, with urchins spending long shifts grinding WOW levels to earn online gold, in order to get cash from Western players too lazy or busy to play their own characters. )

The first casualty of war is supposed to be the truth. War-against-abstract-nouns has the highest truth-casualty rate. The war has to start by defining its abstract noun as self-evidently evil. So step up, internet addiction, your time has come.

Addiction is a spurious concept, at best. Internet-gaming addiction is off the far edge of any validity it might have. However, according to ars technica (the Times’ source for the story)

The addictive nature of online gaming has been proven, at least anecdotally, time and time again. While not everyone who jumps into the digital realms of World of Warcraft or the various other massively-multiplayer online role-playing games is liable to get endlessly sucked in, those with addictive personalities certainly run the risk.

LOL. “proven, at least anecdotally.” Somebody skipped Epistemology 101.

There is little doubt that the potential for addiction exists with MMORPGs. ….. countless anecdotes from the East have produced horror stories that have gone so far as to end in death from malnourishment.

Well, there’s plenty of doubt from me. Just because you add up a list of anecdotes, they still don’t constitute scientific proof.

China, Korea, and even Japan have had a long and sordid history with online gaming addiction.

(I am momentarily distracted by the “and even Japan” phrase.) All the examples come from the far east, maybe because of some sense that readers will see the far east as so exotic that it might really have “diseases” with which we westerners are unfamiliar. Like bird-flu.

What are the symptoms of this Asian internet-flu? To quote another ars technica story:

If you find yourself using the Internet for more than six hours per day and exhibit at least one of a number of symptoms, you could be addicted. The list of symptoms is about what you would expect, including things like insomnia, difficulty concentrating, mental or physical stress, irritation, and spending time wishing you were online.

Blimey, we’re all doomed. If you work at a PC – which is most of us – you could find yourself well and truly in the “addicted” range without even logging on at home. The symptoms? I suspect they could be called the “human condition”. But if we can all become unstressed, focussed, easy-going people who sleep like logs, just by not playing WoW, most of us should be already there.

Scientologist Woo Spread Over eBay

Well, the internet really is a wonderful, entertaining, educating thing…

Today, I was looking over eBay trying to find some things to buy (as you do). I started off my search looking for camera filters but after a while I got fed up reading page after page of “UV Filters” for sale from Hong Kong (I have a UV filter…) and searched for other things. I have a certain amount of interest in philosophical topics, so I thought checking out what philosophy books were available would be worthwhile.

So, off I go to books -> educational textbooks -> philosophy and I am presented with a list of books. Second on my search is one titled “ALL ABOUT RADIATION.” Now, call me old fashioned, but I really found it hard to work out what was philosophical about radiation, so I had a look. Boy was I in for a treat. Now this auction (see it for yourself) only has 11 hours left to go as I write this, so in case it is gone by the time you read this post, I have taken a screenshot of it for you:

Scientologists disguise dianetics book to sell on ebay

This priceless bit of nonsense reads:

Written by L. Ron Hubbard and two well-known medical doctors, this book provides the facts surrounding the effect of radiation on the body and spirit and offers solutions to those harmful effects. An immediate sellout in bookstores when originally released, All About Radiation tells the truth about the little known and talked about subject of radiation, and introduces the Purification program as the technology to handle its cumulative effects. (See companion lecture series, Radiation and Your Survival where L. Ron Hubbard details the subject of radiation and its effects.)

Amazing. It almost beggars belief that people actually fall for this sort of nonsense, but that is a topic which has been done to death many a time in the past. The idea that radiation is harmful to the “spirit” is comical, as is the idea that these two unnamed yet “well-known” medical doctors have had any scientific input into this drivel.

What interests me in this auction, is the way this woo-filled nonsense is being sold.

Obviously the proponents of this dianetic / scientologist gibberish are aware that if they label it as scientologist people will steer clear en masse. To get round this, and obviously draw some level of interest, they have:

  1. Marked it as a Medical / Nursing book (which I suppose is almost close to the truth… almost)
  2. Placed it in the “philosophy” category
  3. Been strangely not-forthcoming in the title (most ebay titles read like the whole item description…)

I cant help but think that if Scientology / Dianetics is such a “sensible” and genuine “school of thought” (sorry for all the sneer quotes, but I cant help but sneer at this), then they wouldn’t have to resort to underhand tactics. Sadly, and in a blow against my innocent view of the world, it seems scientologists rely on this as their main form of recruitment.

The one bit which really made me laugh was the idea that radiation is “little known and talked about…” That might have been true in 1920, but this is 2007. People shouldn’t be jumping to mad ideas about electromagnetism and radiation. (Ah… I might be wrong here…)

Square-eyes

Watching over two hours a day of television is damaging to kids, according to the BBC, unselfishly reporting a study that clearly contravenes its own interests. This takes up a theme from past articles about stopping kids watching TV, on the grounds of behavioural problems, obesity or whatever is the current concern about kids and television.

Off the top of my head, I have a few questions about the evidence for all this.

  • Does “watching tv” mean sitting in rapt attention or having it on in the background, as so many of us do?
  • What are the mechanisms supposed to be that connect the square box and all these aspects of young humanity? Radiation? Mental torpidity? Engagement in popular culture? Exposure to advertising?
  • What type of tv? Are toddlers equally affected by watching CBBC or Men and Motors?
    Does the content make a difference? I’m prepared to argue that hours of watching reality tv and soaps would blunt the brain capacity of Einstein, but that’s just my bigotry. What about watching non-stop thought-provoking and educational programmes?
  • What about class effects? Middle-class kids are generally less likely to watch lots of tv. They are also less likely to be judged as having behavioural problems or be obese. Why single out tv as the crucial lifestyle difference, rather than, for example, having a decent family income, better access to other activities, less depression in the parents or any one of a huge range of distinctions?
  • Why two hours? Think of a number…..

My main quibble with the evidence is that it comes from people’s reports. When it comes to characterizing one’s parenting, no one wants to see themselves as being a “bad parent.” So, if they have soaked up any of the current standards in parenting, (i.e if they have any contact with other humans), they will claim to be keeping to them.

Parents who see themselves as bringing up their kids responsibly (who are probably those parents whose kids are least likely to fall on the wrong side of all the behavioural bars) are likely to say their kids watch a moderate apparently-ordered amount of tv. When these people are responding to survey questions, 2 hours sounds about right. They aren’t not exposing their kids willy-nilly to trash culture nor eccentrically cutting them off from the mainstream. This doesn’t mean it’s true.

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hours of tv that children of self-identified responsible parents see (according to surveys…) can tell you what are the current social values for responsible tv watching. This is not the same as meaning x hours are healthy and >x hours are bad.

Do you know how much tv you watch? I have no idea. I can’t even define “watching” let alone count the hours.

What pills would Jesus take?

Months late to pick this up but this clip from Current TV still interesting if you haven’t seen it. It’s a piece about a Christian “aid organisation” distributing pills with a cross and “Jesus saves” stamped on them (a sort of medicinal LoveHearts, for those who know the traditional cheap British sweets) to Indonesian Muslim tsunami victims.

Lots of comments claimed that it doesn’t matter what’s on the pills if people in need get medicine. A commenter called danm8r made the excellent point that:

I would love to see a medication distributed in this country (US) with the inscription “Allah Akbar” printed on it. I’m guessing it would be the people posting approvingly of the “Jesus Lives” medication that would be the first to freak out about a Islamic phrase on their medication.

And Skullboy said, in another spot-on comment:

Imagine how pissed a person of the Christian faith would be if they took a pill with an upside down cross or a pentagram on it. It’s Christians taking advantage of a peoples losses and the poor.

.

On one hand, there are lots of people with strong religious beliefs who are helping people in need. I think there many more people doing it just out of a sense of common humanity. In any case, all our attempts to help people can easily have unintended consequences that are bad.

In this case, the unintended bad consequences seem almost willfully present right from the start. The level of stupidity is awesome.

What were they giving out anyway? An anti-worm medicine seemed to have been taken as a toothache remedy by one man, as far as i could make out.

What sorts of lunatic distribute medicines to try and sneak fresh adherents into their fold?

Did they believe that writing Jesus messages in English on pills would mean anything to non-English speakers.

Did they assume the “Jesus saves” words would have a magical effect and heal the sick at the same time as insidiously converting them?

The most obvious impact this sort of activity does is to breed justified suspicion of medical aid ventures.

This justified suspicion of many forms of Western-originating medical aid is the very thing that is having a disastrous impact on world efforts to deal with diseases that threaten billions. The reaction to proselytizing western government actions and religious NGOs can be seen in a swathe of bad effects: HIV denial. Adoption of local diet and plant-based “AIDs remedies” that cure nothing. Refusal of polio vaccination as somehow “un-Islamic.” The spread of stories that make you want to kick the people responsible – such as the (physically impossible) idea that European condoms are deliberately infected with HIV.

Hollow holistics

People who feel they need more attention and who express this feeling through medical symptoms will usually feel better after getting some attention.

(This is a theory based on anecdotal evidence but it could easily be tested)

Does this mean that denying the reality and giving them what they want is a good thing? Maybe adding to the world’s sum of myths that people forget are metaphors doesn’t matter. Except for the danger of suckering in the ill?

The mind is involved in many diseases, so you can’t rule out the effectiveness of the placebo effect, whether it’s sparked by consuming a well-marketed drug or by a set of rituals. The more incomprehensible the ritual, the better it seems to work. White coats and a prescription pad reassure some of us. A claim to focus mystical energies work on others. However, just because a fair bit of modern medicine is woo doesn’t make complete tosh is a reasonable alternative.

Here’s one of the most comprehensible bits of a thread from a homeopathy forum:

Scientific Validity of Homeopathy:– Dynamic effects from higher potencies are well observed and experianced by homeopathic community but not by scientific community, consitently in DBPC studies. Furthur science of homeopathic effects and presence of raw remedies substances in higher potencies remained unmeasurable, a truth, miss or weakness as per their current measurable technology of science. As such, homeopathic effects are interpreted as placebo effect by them and its legal and moral validity/existance may be based on “posing no harm”. But still ,some basis of “time lapse” in giving the needed treatments can pop up anytime in view of inconsistency in outcome, non-presence of raw remedy substance, placebo effects, least side effects etc.

Can’t make head nor tail of that? Homeopathy is at the almost-credible end of the alternative therapy chain. Go down the ladder a bit and homeopathy seems almost to make sense, in comparison.

Kinesiology? Sounds impressively scientific. What is it then? Buggared if I know after looking at a few websites. For instance, the Health Kinesiology definitions page says that:

Common forms of treatment include the use of magnets, homeopathic remedies, flower essences, or even a particular thought. ….In a single session, the therapist may identify allergies, rectify nutritional imbalances, deal with phobias and psychological stress, rebalance chakras and start the process of detoxifying the body from heavy metals, vaccinations, drugs etc.

So, it can treat everything by doing whatever the “therapist” feels like, then?

Crystal healing? (Do crystals really get sick?)

.. not part of standard medical theory, but it is included in a broader view of crystal power that says crystals, which are minerals with a periodic atomic structure, possess metaphysical abilities.
Crystal healers say that it works because everything is energy and vibrates at various frequencies and that crystals work via these vibrations. Every living thing has a vibrational energy system, which includes chakras, subtle bodies and meridians. By using the appropriate crystals one can allegedly retune an energy system or rebalance a body’s energies, thus improving well-being.

Reiki? (In the absence of a pseudoscientific name, an implied reference to the inscrutable powers of the east will have to serve the purpose.)

There is no need to remove any clothing as Reiki will pass through anything, even plaster casts. The practitioner gently places their hands non-intrusively in a sequence of positions which cover the whole body. The whole person is treated rather than specific symptoms. …..
It is possible to heal at any level of being: physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Acute injuries can be helped to heal very quickly but more chronic illness takes longer. In some cases such as terminal illness, there is not enough time for the progress of the disease to be reversed….. The practitioner is a channel which the energy is drawn through by the need or imbalance in the recipient.

Sorry, I know this is getting boring. Treating the whole patient, rebalancing energies .. But, I am going somewhere with this. As it seems, incredibly, that your tax pounds are.

A website called NHS Directory of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners says that it is

compiled and managed only for use by NHS healthcare professionals by the NHS Trusts Association, the leading professional association for primary care in the UK

It purports to be a guide for NHS Trust staff so they can find alternative practitioners when they want to refer patients to them.

There are a few things in its list of therapies that don’t seem exceptionable (like counselling) but most of them are complete and utter nonsense.

Despite my fervent hope that this is just a phishing site, i am afraid that it’s real.

Mad scientists

Blimey Britain leads Europe in something! Don’t start waving the flags yet though, it’s the number of animal experiments. Peter Tatchell’s Comment is Free points out that animal experiments are at an ll-time high.
The Home Office website provides some details here.

Mice, rats and other rodents were used in the majority of procedures; eighty-three percent of the total. Most of the remaining procedures used fish (9%), and birds (4%).

Dogs, cats, horses and non-human primates, afforded special protection by the Act, were collectively used in less than one percent of all procedures.

The number of procedures using non-human primates was 4,200 down by 450 (10%) from 2005, mainly due to a decrease in old-world primates. The number of animals used was 3,108.

Genetically modified animals were used in 1.04 million regulated procedures representing thirty-four percent of all procedures for 2006, compared with thirty-three percent in 2005 and eight percent in 1995. The vast majority (95%) of these procedures used rodents, most of the remainder were fish and amphibians.

Around thirty-eight percent of all procedures used some form of anaesthesia to alleviate the severity of the interventions. For many of the remaining procedures the use of anaesthesia would have potentially increased the adverse effects of the procedure.

Apparently these procedures are now increasing and will increase further with ever greater demand for GM beings.

One of the people who framed the animal experimentation legislation has very severe doubts about its operation.

Prof Balls said he was dismayed that progress in science had not produced more alternatives to using animals in research. “As a scientist I’m entitled to believe in modern technology to deal with these problems, but I’m disappointed that more effort hasn’t been put into bringing the numbers down,” he said

There are some issues that leap out as you read the bald statistics, such as,

  • if this is just ‘science’, how it is it that the cute pet factor seems to influence the choice of animals? Shouldn’t it be the similarity to human biology that determines their sacrificial value?
  • Is a mouse genetically modified to have disease x really very much like a human being who has developed that disease?
  • What can fish and amphibian experiments tell us about human biology? They might indicate levels of river toxicity.
  • 72% were conducted without anaesthetic, then….

I’m far from absolutist on this. If the sacrifice of some poor mammal can spare great human suffering, then I’d have to go for saving my own species.

All the same, it’s well nigh impossible to skim through a few issues of any pop science magazine without finding large numbers of experiments that are so morally dubious and seemingly pointless that you wonder what ethics committees are for.

The naive observer, i.e. me, would assume that you couldn’t torture animals unless human life hung in the balance and there was literally no alternative way to get the information. These should surely be the mininum requirements.

There has just been a ruling on a judicial review sought by the British Unnion for the Abolition of Vivisection . A High Court judge ruled that the government acted unlawfully in allowing some experiments on primates. Astonishingly, cutting the top of a primate’s head to induce a stroke was seen by the government as causing ‘moderate’, rather than ‘severe’, suffering. The mind boggles at a definition of “severe”.

In any case, I didn’t realise there was a problem with strokes in people who have had the tops of their heads cut off. Wow. that must affect approximately, erm, 0% of the population.