Fish-oil on trial

Ben Goldacre’s excellent badscience site has an update on the absurd “trial” (now rechristened an “initiative”) of the effects of fish-oil supplements in Durham schools. His piece starts:

I think it’s clear now that Madeleine Portwood and Dave Ford, the leading figures behind the Durham fish oil “trial”, will be providing us with comedy and teaching opportunities for many years to come.

There was no astonishing increase in the GCSE results of those kids who took the fish-oil capsules then? Blimey, what a shock.

Bad Science and Elections

Now, I am sure every one knows that New Scientist is “pop science” – scientific news processed for laymen. In general this is great as is gives people an insight into the wonders of science without the tedium of years studying. Peer review is great, but only in its place. New Scientist is not the place.

Sometimes, this causes problems.

In this weeks issue, there is an article titled “Read my lips… and my voice, and my face” (online version titled “Software spots the spin in political speeches“) which is (at best) bad science being used for electioneering purposes. On the surface this is nothing more than the old idea that you can tell when people are lying by their gestures and use of language. This is a subject close to my heart and generally falls foul of the greatest of problems – it is sort of true. Body language, eye access, word selection and the like can give you an indicator of lies (for example) but only in the broader context of the persons behaviour.

Take the often cited example of people rubbing their nose when they lie. Yes, some people do this. But most of the time it means the person has an itchy nose and nothing else. The same with eye-access (as highlighted in The Negotiator), but the problem is people are different – not everyone looks the exact same way. Language choice is possibly the worst indicator as this is dictated by your background, education and the like. Simply put, there is no easy way you can use this information as a reliable indicator of deception or misdirection. You need to study the person in a variety of controlled circumstances and build up a pattern of their behaviour.

With this in mind, we can return to the New Scientist article. It seems someone has come up with an automated way of monitoring the terminology used, the voice and the facial expressions of politicians to measure how much “spin” there is in their speeches. Amazingly this has not resulted in 100% returns each time. This is how it is described:

The algorithm counts usage of first person nouns – “I” tends to indicate less spin than “we”, for example. It also searches out phrases that offer qualifications or clarifications of more general statements, since speeches that contain few such amendments tend to be high on spin. Finally, increased rates of action verbs such as “go” and “going”, and negatively charged words, such as “hate” and “enemy”, also indicate greater levels of spin. Skillicorn had his software tackle a database of 150 speeches from politicians involved in the 2008 US election race (see diagram).

Now, this strikes me as inherently flawed given that politicians have their speeches written for them by teams of “experts” (who are more than capable of concluding which words mean which things), and are nearly always well coached in delivering them in a manner to “stir” the audience. It strikes me that adding an arbitrary judgement as to what is, or is not, spin gives nothing that even resembles science. In an attempt to dismiss this, Skillicorn (the systems creator) says:

Additionally, [Skillicorn] says, little details count: pronouns such as “we” and “I” are often substituted subconsciously, no matter what is written in the script.

But you have no idea which ones are added by the script writers, which ones are subconcious and you certainly still haven’t proven that using “we” means there is a lot of “spin” in the speech. We still don’t really know what “spin” is – is it a good or bad thing?

The “Headline” results of this study are that Obama’s campaign has more spin than any of the other politicians (+6.7, where 0 is average for a politician) while McCain’s campaign had the lowest (-7.58). It states this supports McCain’s claim to being a “straight talker” (*cough*) and on the surface looks like it is a Republican Political Campaign masquerading as Science. In the articles defence, there is some balance:

So the analysis appears to back up McCain’s claim that he is a “straight talker”. However, for the purposes of political speech-making this may not be an entirely good thing for him. “Obama uses spin in his speeches very well,” says Skillicorn. For example, Obama’s spin level skyrockets when facing problems in the press, such as when Jeremiah Wright, the reverend of his former church, made controversial comments to the press.

Great from a science point of view. We would like to think that the readers of New Scientist are able to accept the idea that spin is a positive force for a politican.

However (and this is supported by a quick scan of the printed media that have picked up on this), the general population are not. We have been indoctrinated by decades of thinking politicians spin is an inherently bad thing. This article has generated several headlines in the free media about Obama being full of spin and McCain being straight talking. Both can translate into political capital. Shame on the New Scientist.

One funny bit which never quite made it into the free-papers is this nugget:

“The voice analysis profile for McCain looks very much like someone who is clinically depressed,” says Pollermann, a psychologist who uses voice analysis software in her work with patients. Previous research on mirror neurons has shown that listening to depressed voices can make others feel depressed themselves, she says.

Well, that pretty much summed up the effect his speeches have on me.

It is during the US Presidential elections that I thank Loki I live in the UK….

Science lessons?

I am rubbing my eyes in disbelief. No, I can’t make the news item disappear. It’s still there but it still doesn’t make any sense. The Guardian reported David Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society (let me just put that in bold, director of education at the Royal Society)

Creationism and intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons, according to a leading expert in science education.

Reiss’s argument is that teaching real science puts off the supposed 1 in 10 kids from religious homes who have been taught creationism. I don’t even believe the spurious “one in ten” homes bit, but let’s accept it as true.

In that case, how urgently do schools need to teach real science? It would be an educational emergency. The reasonable response to such a horrific statistic would be to expand science teaching and do it right. Not to give up the unequal struggle to challenge ignorance.

Why stop at science if you accept the principle that “school subjects that conflict with idiots’ values should be changed to fit those values”? English lessons can be tough for kids who haven’t got any books at home. Why not just let them uncritically watch daytime TV shows, instead? No, that wouldn’t happen, because there are no vocal US-funded “pro-soap” groups demanding daytime TV instead of literature and claiming the spurious authority of “faith.” Unlike the case with evolutionary biology.

This Reiss guy is in the wrong job. He’s the Royal Society’s director of education and he doesn’t even grasp the role of the Royal Society or understand what science education is.

Reiss agreed that creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but he said that did not automatically exclude them from science lessons. “Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from the science lesson …”

It seems like a good enough reason to me. “Science lesson.” The clue’s in the name. (I think it means education about science, although I may be mistaken.)

If science lessons are to become a free-for-all, there are plenty of more engaging alternatives apart from the “magic man did it” claim in one particular old book. What about teaching numerology in the mathematics class? And how does physics get off so lightly when faith comes into the lab? The physics of angelic visitations has been heinously overlooked.

Blimey, my school geography teacher never even bothered teaching us the controversy between dull soulless-sciencey people who think the earth is a sphere and the view common at Unseen University that the world is a disk carried through space on the back of a turtle and giant elephants. The holy books of the Diskworld canon probably outsell the Bible. (They certainly get read more, with more attention.) So, how come this debate isn’t taught in science lessons?

New national curriculum additions to satisfy people (like me) who find real science too boring:

  • Metaphysical chemistry
  • Mythamatics
  • Organic Alchemy
  • Geomancy
  • Astrology
  • Long divination
  • Theoretical Psychics
  • The dark side of the Force

(I just realised that Harry Potter got there before me. What a pity that creationists don’t like Harry Potter, given that the Hogwarts curriculum would fill the educational bill so well for them)

Placebo effects

The placebo effect is popular this week. There’s a New Scientist article that you can read half of without a log-in. There’s a badscience article in the Guardian, in which Ben Goldacre discusses research that suggests that things you think are healthy for you become so.

Topical for me. I managed to cover my legs with nettle stings from the knee down. This felt rather as if I’d smeared patches of petroleum jelly on my lower legs and set them alight. I still have burning blisters a couple of hours later. That was one mean nettle.

There was a brief time in which I assumed I’d been attacked by a mutant nettle and would now have amazing comic book crime-fighting powers that appeared whenever I got nettled.

The powers didn’t materialise. So. I started googling for remedies. Not just any remedies but things that I might have in the cupboard at a time when any nearby shop is shut. I’ve recently been buying antique household chemicals in yet another ludicrous attempt to make my life more ecologically pure. So I was hoping there would be some solution that involved borax or bicarb (having got the borax when I remembered that it is supposed to treat wasp stings, this being dying wasp season.)

I was more than happy to accept a placebo effect treatment. I’d already channelled Dr Hibbert from the Simpsons (“Anything I can give you would only be a placebo.” “Where can we get these placebos.”) As long as my legs stop burning, I’d suspend disbelief in almost anything.

WikiHow gave me answers that nettled me some more.

  1. Move away from the nettles to a nearby area, otherwise you could get stung again.
  2. Clean any mud and dirt from the affected area of the sting using clean, cold water on a clean cloth, towel or rag. Do not rub too hard or you will agitate the sting more.
  3. Look for a plant called the “dock plant”. This plant usually grows low conveniently around nettles. It has large leaves and a thick stem. Snap off a leaf with a stem.
  4. Chew on the end of the stem for about 3 seconds to soften the fiber (or rub with your forefinger and thumbnail), then rub the end of the stem on the sting.

Number 1 is comical. If you don’t have the sense to respond to a nettle sting by moving away from a nettle, you are probably a leper. In fact, unless you are actually standing in a nettle patch with your laptop using a wifi connection, you are almost certainly not getting actively stiung as you read it.

Anyway, the dock leaf advice that we all grew up with is almost certainly the very model of placebo effect advice. I doubt anyone on earth ever got real relief from a dock leaf. Searching for one does fill in time that you might otherwise spend whining and obsessing about the stings. And they are likely to be a bit cold and damp when your skin feels burning. But I bet that’s about it.

(Not that I wouldn’t have tried to find a dock leaf, but the offending nettle has forced itself through a slab of concrete and no handy docks have done the same.)

Anyway, rather than distracting myself in a futile dock leaf hunt, I got distracted by weird links that appeared in response to my Google search. Notably a link to natural pet care for stings. I was hoping it would say “smear sting with cream of tartar, cover with vinegar and brown paper,” or something reassuringly medieval like that, that I could at least try…

But, no. Even more off the wall. Some spray product that is a fair bit costlier than anything you’d buy in a pharmacy. Plus a link to Holistic pet consultation & Distance Energy Healing

Long Distance Pet Healing Service
Remote holistic energy healing for pet emergency, pet first aid, acute illness, chronic diseases, near death trauma, death-birth transition, physical symptoms, psychological & behavior cases. No shipping required.

Basically, you send money and somebody sends out holistic healing energy to your injured pet. (Or not, of course.)

The advertising blurb points out that, among its other advantages, this saves you wasting your time waiting for the express delivery service to bring you anything in exchange for your cash. The holistic healing is instant, as soon as your money is dispatched. :-D You aren’t waiting for anything.

Does the placebo effect work on animals? Or just humans? If so, can I send you cash and you heal my nettle stings please?

Cunning new plan. I’ll pretend to myself that I’ve sent cash to holistic pet healers (placebo shopping) and just wait out the time I’d have spent failing to successfully pay for anything over tinterweb (if past form is any guide) and the stings should be miraculously healed.

Mayonnaise have seen the glory

In an Olympic event for the dumbest so-called experts, food experts would probably get a gold.

According to this story, in the Guardian and elsewhere, they can’t tell their stir-fried arses from their lightly fricasseed elbows.

How bad for you is coleslaw?
In the light of a Food Commission report showing that a large pot of KFC coleslaw contains 22.4g of fat – more than its fillet burger (15.6g) or large fries (19.4g) – it is perhaps reasonable to wonder that if a mix of shredded cabbage, carrot and mayonnaise isn’t a healthy option, what on earth is?
…..
A survey of leading nutrition and obesity experts bears this out, with none of the 66 specialists capable of telling from a menu description which item was the least healthy option.

Firstly, what is “healthy” in the context of food. Surely, short of actually putting poison in your mouth, all food is only “healthy” in terms of what it contributes to your overall diet. Cabbage and carrot have obviously got less protein and more vitamins and anti-oxidants than a burger, no matter how much fat they are sitting in. What’s “healthier” – protein or vitamins? You can’t live on either, by itself.

Secondly, why is it assumed that fat is automatically unhealthy? There are several kinds of fat – saturated, unsaturated, monosaturates (or something like that. I’ve forgotten the other kinds but, then, it’s not me who’s supposed to be the nutrition expert, ffs.) Whether any given one is essential or dangerous seems to be a matter of fashion.

The type of fat in the coleslaw isn’t likely to be the same as the types of fat in the burger or on the fries. The body of a person who wasn’t getting enough to eat would probably be well served by any of them. Fat can surely only be considered unhealthy for those of us who are already overweight and got that way by taking in too much fat, over a long time. But the experts are just taking it that any fat is “bad” and, by definition, unhealthy for everyone.

But my main quarrel with this is its bloody stupidity. Let’s temporarily assume for the sake of argument that all fat is by definition bad.

Do I have to take it that 66 “leading nutrition and obesity” experts really don’t know that coleslaw is made with mayonnaise. And don’t know that mayonnaise is made from oil and vinegar and egg yolks. Please note, that’s oil. (Don’t make me post a mayo recipe here.)

A bit more from the Guardian, making me wonder how people can really be this stupid about something so important to survival as food.

Confusion often stems from nutritional truth running contrary to accepted food wisdom. After all, surely vegetarian options are healthier? Not if you choose the Subway Veggie Patty Sub, which has more calories than either the steak and cheese sub, or the turkey, ham, bacon and cheese sub. Salads healthier than burgers? Not if you pick the McDonald’s crispy chicken and bacon salad, which has 15g of fat per portion, almost twice as much fat as a simple hamburger (8g)

I’m a vegetarian but I don’t assume vegetarian food was “healthier” and certainly not in this novel sense of “healthier” as meaning only “having less fat and/or fewer calories.” I have been on the planet long enough to know that food is “vegetarian” in the sense of “not being made from meat.” (Any other use of the word is usually a marketing tool.)

Which is a “healthier” lunch – a pile of candy or a steak? Here’s a clue. The candy is vegetarian.

Which has less fat – a cupful of olive oil or a plate of fried chicken and chips? (That’s french fries to you, Americans.) No matter how much we have been brainwashed into assuming that fried chicken and chips are “bad” for us, because they contain fat, I think you’ll find that olive oil wins this competition.

What about “Salads healthier than burgers? Not if you pick the McDonald’s crispy chicken and bacon salad.” This is confusing the definition of a salad – raw vegetables – with a labelled dish that has the name salad in its title but contains “chicken” and “bacon”, not normally considered raw vegetables the last time I checked.

The Guardian writer’s argument here is in support of the Food Commission’s aim to have nutritional information available for all foods at the point of sale, just as it is on supermarket foods.

This would be a rather more convincing argument if the “nutrition experts” knew enough about food to be aware that mayonnaise is made from oil, hence would recognise that any product swimming in mayo will have a high fat content.

Assault on Science

As I write this, it is the end of an interesting week where the western worlds decline to pre-enlightenment understanding of science has continued. Obviously, when I said “interesting” I meant sad…

The really annoying leader of this decline has to be Mary Midgley, as Heather previously addressed, who seems to think that “Science” is some dark art that has no relevance on any other aspect of society. Oddly she seems to be calling for the implementation of social policies, laws and the like without any scientific input. Obviously the idea that laws should be formulated without any experiemental reason to think they would ever work – I mean we are innundated with such laws now… Who cares if it can be demonstrated that Law X doesn’t work, as long as we “feel” it is a good law… Well done Mary.

Next in the firing line is the case of Dawn Page and here “nutritional therapist,” Barbara Nash. In a nutshell Page followed Nash’s frankly crazy advice and suffered major brain damage. Bad Science has an excellent take on this – the media as a whole has ignored the general trend of crazy advice by self appointed “Nutritionists” and focused on Nash as a one-off crank… The sad reality is the western world is inundated with fruitloops like this who go on about Chakras, Detox and the like. The even sadder part is that we fall for this nonsense without having the basic scientific reasoning ability to question their basically insane claims. I am all for sticking it to “professionals” who abuse their position (and I think £801,000 was a trivial sum in this case) but, for Toutatis’ sake, why on Odin’s Earth didn’t Ms Page go to the bloody doctors when she felt sick. When uncontrollable vomiting set in, most normal people (you would hope) would go to the hospital, probably via a 999 call to an ambulance. Not Ms Page, who returned to her nutritional therapist for more advice. As I see it, this is where Nash commited the greatest crime. Rather than telling Ms Page to seek real help, she stuck to her woo. Stupid or greedy? Who knows? Who cares – it still screams criminal negligence as far as I can see.

Closing on the heels of the above, and a strong candidate for the worst abuse of scientific illiteracy is the media’s “feeding frenzy” on the decision by Ronald Herberman (Director of the University of Pittsborough Cancer Institute) to issue a warning to his staff to limit their use of mobile phones due to the risk of cancer. Now, I am going to assume that Herberman is a scientist and aware of the nature of scientific reasearch – and indeed, he did say the “evidence is controversial” that phones cause cancer. The same can not be said for the media vultures that descended on this…

First off, often decisions have to be made on “inconclusive” evidence, so that in itself is not a bad thing. By its very nature a scientific proof is still liable to be disproven at any moment. In this manner, it is perfectly reasonable (there is that word again) for Director Herberman to send a memo to his staff saying that, in his opinion, they should limit their use of phones. Does this count as “evidence” there is an increased risk of cancers forming in users of mobile phones. No. Does this mean the “scientific community” (in as much as one can exist) thinks there is a greater risk today than they did two weeks ago – again, no.

If you were to absorb any news from the UK this week, however, you would think this was fundamental proof that mobile phones are dangerous. New calls are all over about how phone masts cause “electrosensitivity” and similar woo. It seems that people have assumed, that because Dr Herberman has sent out this message it must be true and obviously because Dr Herberman works at a Cancer Institute he must be correct, notwithstanding the fact that Cancer Research UK reported (in February) that phone users were no more likely to get cancer than someone who had never touched a phone. Obviously, as journalists are functionally incapable of reading research they go with what ever seems to have the power to sell as many issues as possible…

The Guardian newspaper on Saturday identifies what it sees as the logic at work here (and sadly this is where Dr Herberman seems to fall down). First off, it explains the problem in trying to find out what is a “cause of cancer” with:

Here’s the thing. Almost everything that causes cancer does so by causing mutations in our cellular DNA that accumulate over years and often decades before culminating in a tumour. So to prove something increases a person’s cancer risk, scientists must often not only wait for years to see a significant peak in the disease, but also be able to rule out any other possible cause. That could be changes in diet, environmental factors, lifestyle, the list goes on.

Yes. It it hard trying to work out what causes cancer, this is one of the reasons we have so many “institutes” around the world looking into it. I don’t seem to recall any of them having solved the problem yet though. The Guardian finishes with: (emphasis mine)

The independent Stewart review into mobile phones in 2000 advised children to limit their use as a precaution. Dr Herberman is following the same logic. “We shouldn’t wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later,” he said.

Wow. A fail for science there. I think that funding research institutes causes cancer. Rather than wait to see if any study can agree with this, why don’t we withdraw the funding now so we can err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later.

Shame on you Dr Herberman, you have opened the floodgates to woo….

Religious stupidity (Is this an oxymoron?)

The silly – albeit flattering – view that atheists are not as stupid as religious people, according to some deeply spurious IQ -based research, has suddenly got a boost from an unexpected quarter.

“God is not just for the stupid, say Christianity’s clever people”, according to the Telegraph.

Who are these clever people?

“The Christian think tank Theos “

Well, that still makes none, by my reckoning.

The post about this daft research on the Register also brought a swathe of Christian commenters who all seemed to know their “IQ” to the exact unfeasibly high last digit. (Thereby suggesting, if nothing else, that a high level of belief in the objective validity and accuracy of IQ scores correlates with a high level of belief in, well, anything.)

Nice comment, from “Carl”

I always thought that the reason that there were less stupid comments on El Reg articles on a Sunday was because IT pros don’t work weekends – now I know it’s because they’re all at church…

Charity begins at school

I’m baffled as to why insulting blogs fits into an evaluation of whether private schools should be considered charities. Charity Commission report was brought to my attention by a badscience post that linked to a podnosh blog about it.

Well, that speaks for itself, in terms of whether blogs can have educational value….

And props to Ben Goldacre for this fine defence of open knowledge:

Without even thinking about what effect it might have on the people who read it, I can say for certain that writing here has had a huge impact on the way I work and think: it has made me more rigorous and more transparent in my reasoning, because I can get away with nothing; it has made me think about the importance of finding and linking to primary references, attributing ideas, sharing workloads, and collaborating. It’s also reinforced for me the value of open access publication, as I’ve seen more and more people from outside of academia who wanted to read academic papers, simply for their own interest and edification.(from badscience)

The Charity Commissioners say that blogs and wikis have no educational value, because

the content is superficial and this information is not verified in any way, it would not be accepted as having educational value without positive evidence.

Clearly, they are just looking for a reason why they don’t have to include educational websites and blogs in their “charities ” definition. Fair enough. There are enough bogus charities without everyone who posts a page on wikipedia being able to solicit tax-exempt donations.

However, this looks a lot like they are tying themselves in knots to find ways to tip a wink to private schools as to how to meet the new rules that require them to justify their charitable status.

(Sadly for them, they can no longer rely on the self-evident charitable-ness of giving the sons and daughters of the upper classes a better education than the rest of us peasants. )

According to the document,

Charitable purposes (or aims) are those that fall within the various descriptions of charitable purposes in the Charities Act 2006, set out below, and any new charitable purposes that might be recognised in the future.
a) The prevention or relief of poverty;
b) The advancement of education;
c) The advancement of religion;
….

Blimey, plenty of room there for a swathe of minor private schools to experience a magical overnight religious conversion. How convenient that religions don’t have to prove that the things they teach are “verified in any way.”

Preach the Controversy…

The nonsense, and false controversy, created by Expelled just seems to never want to go away. In this respect the Discovery Institute really hit on to a winner with what could best be described as a poor first attempt by an art student film. Atheist and science blogs have been discussing the nonsense for what seems like eternity. I cant imagine how anyone could even begin to pay for this amount of publicity but there you go. Sadly, I actually feel that all this furore around the crap film is actually required.

Gorilla's EyesOnce upon a time I was optimistic about the human race. In this mindset I would have thought to myself “everyone seeing this film will realise it is total bullshit and ignore it.” I have, sadly, learned to think differently. When nonsense is placed into the public domain it can be either challenged or ignored. By challenging it the nonsense rises to the status of “controversy” and there is (in the public mind at least) the concept of a debate taking place. By ignoring it, the unthinking public begin to think it has merit and it slowly becomes an accepted “truth.” It really is a lose:lose situation for rational science. I can not think of a way to avoid the nonsense taking over the Earth, but at least, where I can, I will try to challenge it.

With this in mind, I came across a gorgeous picture of an American church on flickr. This is a very attractive picture so please, take a moment to visit and have a look – if you have a flickr account, please let the photographer know what you think of the picture (and he has a pretty good photostream).

It all went downhill, however, when I read the description of the picture.

Freedom of thought and expression are two of the most basic tenants of any free society.
Without those two things, you do not have a free society.

Well, I pretty much agree. They may well not be the most basic tenets of society but freedom of expression is very important. On a pedantic note, I cant see how (realistically) you can take away someone’s freedom of thought until mind-reading becomes commonplace.

We went to a must see movie this weekend. In Ben Stein’s (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”) new documentary movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed Ben shows how little academic freedom exists in our universities if you want to discuss unpopular topics like the origins of life. (links removed here but intact on the original)

Ouch. And he had got off to such a good start. Notice how this brings in the Creationist stand-by of creating the false associations with “academic freedom” and “unpopular topics”? Creationism / ID relies on trickery to convince the unthinking that it is a legitimate “alternative” and some secret cabal are trying to repress it. The “freedom” word is thrown around whenever someone tries to point out is not science to the extent that the average non-scientist actually thinks it is an oppressed viewpoint. Amazing really.

Much of the academic world thinks that the conversation should be closed because Darwinian Evolution has answered all of those questions… But, is that true????

Another creationist gem. This is a great question because it is massively false. No scientist, especially evolutionary biologists, think the conversation should be closed. That is the claim made by the creationists. However, this 180 degree spin goes a long way to masking that.

If you do not think that is true as a professor, get ready to loose you job. Yes, that politically incorrect thought has been banned in the university… I thought the university was a place of open discussion and thought???? Think again…

And here is the first falsehood. No professor who thinks the question about origins of species is not closed would lose their job. A professor who is so confused about their subject area as to think Creationism is an “alternative” to evolution should lose their job in the same manner that a physics professor who thinks the luminiferous ether exists, and propagates light, should lose their job. Imagine a woodwork teacher who thought you could cut would with butter, should he remain teaching? No. But not because “politically incorrect thought has been banned.”

Further on, as part of a short debate, the photographer comments:

You are exactly what the movie was talking about… you just to creationism the moment that intelligent design is brought up…
and you assume that all tenants of darwinian evolution are true..
and you think they are well defined….
Darwinian evolition is a mess… It is not science in the least…

More weirdness. Creationism is ID. No one assumes all the tenets of “Darwinian Evolution” are true, no one even assumes all the “tenets” of Evolution are true. That is not what science is about. The odd bit is the claim that Evolution is not science… I really struggle to get my head round the idea that people can honestly think Creationism Intelligent Design is “good science” compared to evolution. Where is the falsifiability? Where are the predictions?

After a while others join in the debate with things like this (from an otherwise reasonable person):

All that said, Wayne I completely agree that the way the discussion is silenced in academia is shameful. When scientist trot out the “earth is flat” idea they forget that at one time “scientiist” accepted that idea too. In other words, the commonly accepted “facts” might be wrong.

Argh. Do people honestly think that the academic world should engage in constant debate over all possible alternatives to a scientific theory? When did scientists EVER think the world was flat?

The last point I want to make before I remind everyone to go and look at the picture themselves is based on this:

We know from the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) www.entropylaw.com/ stuff always breaks down and degrades…. macro evoution requires more information to be added to produce more complex things…. second law of thermodynamics directly contratics that…. btw.. this is a law… meaning it always happen… not a theory like evolution…

Ouch. That good old standby the 2nd law. Obviously the Earth lives in isolation from the rest of the universe and no information (energy) can be added. Damn that Sun…

The best bit is the Law / Theory nonsense. Do people really not understand how the words work? Obviously not, because when challenged on the matter, our creationist photographer responded:

With all due respect, you are wrong about scientific law and theory.
You can read here science.kennesaw.edu/~rmatson/3380theory.html and a million other places…

Argh. Such madness, especially as the link doesn’t really support his claim but I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to try an educate him.

Please, take a moment to visit the Flickr photo page. It is a nice picture and the more sensible, reasonable and educational comments he get, the greater the chance he (or others) will learn something. If the nonsense is ignored, then the nonsense prospers.

Where can we get these placebos?

Ben Goldacre (BadScience columnist from the Guardian) presented a programme about nutrition fads, on BBC Radio 4 today. It’s the first of a two-part series, The Rise of the Lifestyle Nutritionists. You can hear a podcast on the Radio 4 site. (Pick Monday’s choice.) It’s quite entertaining. In this part, Goldacre talks about the history of some classic quackery.

In contrast, today’s Guardian prints a piece by Madeleine Bunting in favour of unscientific medicine. Referring to several anti-alternative medicine books, as well as Dawkins’ 2007 TV series The Enemies of Reason. Bunting says:

It seems the aim of some of these authors is to finish off a burgeoning health industry that they believe is based on charlatans and quacks preying on the gullible and desperate.

This is one of the most common charges made against complementary medicine – that most of it is no better than placebo. But there is a way of turning that accusation around: perhaps complementary medicine is an effective way to harness placebo as one of the most powerful – and cheapest – of healing processes.

Mind and body can’t be conceptually separated. We know relatively little about how they interact. There’s plenty of room for research into how we can use the mind to fight illness. But I still can’t see how this can justifies encouraging the sick to believe in lies.

Why bother with scientific medicine at all, if you can just carry out a ritual or hand out a sugar pill?

Reason number 1 comes down to a similar point to that expressed in the question “Why won’t god heal amputees?” Can you cure cholera by reflexology? That is, alternative medicine “works” where symptoms are ill-defined and at least partly emotional in nature. Or as Bunting says, putting a positive spin on it:

Complementary medicine is most popular where conventional medicine fails, such as with musculoskeletal conditions and mental health – stress, depression, anxiety

Well, if some people’s mental conditions can be cured by ritual, surely these are revealed to be states of mind rather than organic disease. I bet the rituals don’t work so well with brain damage, dementia or full blown psychosis. So isn’t that like saying, lies aren’t powerful enough to cure real diseases.

Reason number 2. There are plenty of things that can make you feel happier/more relaxed/more cared for. These can be your own ritual practices or substances. (In the Asterisk books, the Brits’ magic potion is a cup of tea.)

You don’t necessarily have to pay for them. You do have to pay for alternative medicine.

In its raw form, a placebo may indeed be one of the cheapest healing process (as Bunting says). However, once you pay for the time of the “understanding” practitioner who prescribes you a 30 ml bottle of water, you enter into a commercial transaction that compares very badly with the cost of visiting a doctor, if you live anywhere with a public health service.

Reason 3: Alternative therapies are “alternative” because they haven’t been proved to work. End of story. Yes, medical research is pretty flawed in many ways. But, the very fact that new drugs are immensely profitable for drug companies and expensive for healthcare funders indicates why promising new treatments are unlikely to be ignored. If an alternative medicine or treatment worked, there would be an unseemly scramble to patent it or to use it to replace expensive drugs.

There must be hundreds of traditional medicines and bizarre treatments that would be effective against various illnesses. The only way to find this out is to test them. Why would the discoverer or inventor of an unusual cure not want to test it? Fear it doesn’t work. Fear of loss of profit.

Reason 4: Alternative medicine is generally the exact reverse of “empowering” despite the claims of its supporters. When you give up your power to evaluate solutions to your physical and mental illnesses, you must take the practitioner’s rituals as authoritative, with no basis for doing so except their claims.

Most of us would feel ripped off if we went to buy a toaster, paid for a toaster and were told – in a caring way – that we had got a toaster, when all we took home was an empty box. So, why is it OK to sell people treatments that don’t work? Indeed, not just morally acceptable but apparently desirable, according to Bunting?

One discoverer of double-helix turns out to be fool

Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes (which has some almost painfully funny posts, like this on Beowulf, and some generally sparkling use of language) quoted Answers in Genesis on the racist garbage reported as having come from the mouth of (Mr DNA) Watson.

What is perhaps most notable is that despite the flak from other scientists, Watson is being entirely true to his atheistic, Darwinist beliefs.

This got me frothing with righteous rage, as nothing has since – well – yesterday, probably. I am going to say this once, despite my desire to repeat it infinitely. But I ‘ll use Bold and caps. Just in case, it’s not clear.

THE CONCEPT OF RACE IS NONSENSE. THERE ARE NO “RACES”

It is science in the same way that crystal aura therapy is medicine.*

Everyone on the planet is of mixed genetic heritage.

However, the human race seems to have indeed originated in Africa, which makes us all genetically African. Which is obviously a problem for Watson, because that includes him in the allegedly less intelligent section of humankind. (Along with, oh I don’t know, 100% of the human species.)

Watson’s adherence to a completely stupid belief system (the unfounded belief that there are races and that there are better and worse ones) does not relate to his atheism. Nor even to his so-called “Darwinism” (which I will take as referring to his recognition of the evidence for evolution, as I am unaware that Darwin devised a philosophical system.)

Wingnut daily took evident delight in drawing a connection between Watson’s casual Jade-Goody-style racism and his failure to believe in God. As if they somehow reflected on atheism itself, in conceptual contrast to the rainbow-coloured-group-hug gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ. As if atheism breeds racism…..

It’s therefore worth pointing quite how recently the US religious right became anti-racists. There was virtual apartheid in the Southern States until the 1960s. And it didn’t go quietly either.

**************************************
*Unnecessary footnote to spell this out but I’m going to anyway. Just in case someone like Watson ever reads this:

Think “human race.” In this case, the word “race” means “species” – an abhorrent connotation when it’s carried over subliminally into the whole discourse of “race” to refer to … well, what? What else does “race” mean. It would have to have a definable meaning, surely, if Watson believes it can be used in “scientific” experiments to measure “intelligence” (and since when have we had valid cross-cultural measures of that?)

As a concept, “race” has a relatively short and murky history. It was developed, as an ideology, in support of the genocide of the native population of the Americas and, above all, the Atlantic Slave Trade – in order to appease the consciences of the societies that profited, by inventing categories of human beings who could be considered less than human. The idea of race was further refined through centuries of European colonial expansion.

(The Romans had slaves who were mainly Northern Europeans. They characterised all non-Romans as barbarians, i.e. not fully civilised human beings. This [seeing people you are oppressing as not really beings human] seems to go with the slavery territory. However, it wasn’t full-blown racism. Maybe you need pseudo-science to underpin that.)

From the European perspective, “race” got a pseudo-scientific gloss, in Victorian times, along with lots of other wierd pseudo-science concepts about human beings, like phrenology or Lombroso’s identification of criminals by their facial features.

Racist ideas were thus conveniently placed to support the full-blown era of European colonialism in Africa, in the later years of the 19th century. In the 1930s, as colonialism was falling apart, “race” appeared as part of the odious concept of eugenics, which, of course, found its full expression under the Nazis.

In the USA, false concepts of race were used to “justify” slavery and post-slavery Jim Crow laws until the mid-1960s.

Racism seems to have two main flavours: the monochrome (blacks/whites) version or a graduated scale (e.g. the brazilian version with seemingly dozens of distinctions between moreno and louro).

Trying to treat this hateful concept with some undeserved respect, at best it could be seen as a shorthand to describe varying collections of physical and ethnic characteristics. Hence, the Victorian English were able to conceive of the Irish as a different race, on the basis of a slightly greater statistical preponderance of red hair, a different accent, a potato-heavy diet and an adherence to the catholic religion.

The very fact that races cannot be defined outside of culture should be a clue to the purely cultural nature of the construct of race.

Racial definitions continue to manifest themselves very differently throughout the world. In the US, you are racially black if you have even one distant African ancestor. Americans who would be considered unquestionably white in Africa are considered unquestionably black in the US. Do they gain or lose IQ points according to their surroundings?

Baseless Creationist Arguments Find a New Home

Blimey, yesterday, Heather wrote about some empty nonsense being spouted by a blog on the atheist blogroll. In a nutshell, Tom Stelene, writing on the Al-Kafir Akbar blog, has spent a few days recently, ranting about how environmentalism is a “secular religion,” how global warming is a scam, how people who care about about the environment are dirt worshippers and so on. Over the last few days, Heather, Blacksun Journal and Salient have drawn attention to the nonsense he spouts.

Sunrise in AutumnTom Stelene has tried a comeback blast with a post titled “Deniers” (Blog Action Day Continues), and it is well worth reading if only to see the logical holes presented as “argument” and the good rebuttals from BlackSun and Salient. They have both done an excellent job of taking his nonsense to task.

Not being grown up enough to be bothered engaging in reasoned debate, I am simply going to point out some of the more obvious bits of nonsense Tom has turned into bits on the internet. Fisking is fun. If we start with the opening paragraph:

Amidst the latest politically-correct trend of environmentalists to throw out the smear, “global warming deniers,” I sense that by and large they probably have little familiarity with the science and reasoning as to why some deny “global warming” – as most narrow-minded religionists are unfamiliar with the reasons and arguments of atheists – or, better still: “God-deniers.”

Sunrise in Autumn 2By Toutatis, that is a difficult sentence to read. It is completely meaningless but it is still difficult to read. It makes a single attempt at a real claim and, personally, I doubt that this (basic) claim is true. If he is saying, as it seems to read, that his detractors have little understanding as to the science about why the detractors deny global warming. After the headache (caused by trying to resolve this tortured line of attribution) cleared, I decided he must be talking about the psychological reasoning as to why some people will pathologically deny the evidence which is presented to them and disproportionately give value to the minority evidence which can be interpreted as arguing against the mainstream. I am sure that there is a term for people who evince this weird behavioural trait, but I am not a psychologist so I have no idea. Generally, most of the people who do this seem to be arguing for the creationist brand of woo.

After I realised where I had seen this idiotic type of “argument” before, it suddenly became clear that pretty much all of Tom’s “arguments” against AGW fall from the Intelligent Design is Science school of idiocy. Blimey. Loki must have been having a field day letting this one out into humanity.

Tom claims his area of expertise is philosophy, so we can look at the first type of argument he uses and critique it with a philosophical point of view attached.

Swan in flight - Vignette addedOne of his oft-repeated claims is that those who advocate action to combat human-influenced climate change are following a “secular religion” – he uses such entertaining terms as “dirt worshippers” and so on. All very clever. This is the same as the ID / Creationist claims that “Darwinism” is a religion. The reality however is different.

Religion, in its normal use of the term, tends to mean people are holding to a belief either without any evidence or will hold to the belief in the face of evidence to the contrary. In keeping with the creationists, Tom holds to his beliefs without any evidence and retains the belief in the face of contrary evidence. Yet he still claims it is his detractors who are holding to a religion. Yeah, seems odd to me as well.

The next issue I have with his claims is, still in keeping with the creationist ideal, the idea that the isolated – often badly interpreted – data which may be interpreted as contradicting Anthropogenic Global Warming is so significant and Earth shattering it means more than the mountains of data which support AGW. Here Tom shows he doesn’t understand science – something he freely admits – and really should try to learn some more before demonstrating his ignorance. The fact of the matter is there is nearly always some data published which can be interpreted as contradicting a scientific theory.

Little Burrowing MammalMost of the time this data is the result of experimental issues – poorly designed experiments, mistaken conclusions, equipment issues and so on – but some times the data is valid and does pose a contradiction. What happens next is part of the broader scientific method – something Tom seems to neglect – the data is double checked, additional experiments are conducted and, if it is verified and repeated, the theory is adjusted to account for the new information. Despite the greatest wishes (and prayers) of the creationists, isolated findings do not count as evidential falsification. Likewise, Tom has fallen into the layperson’s trap of finding isolated contrary reports and attributing to these much greater weight than they deserve.

Here is a quick quiz question: If 99 reports conclude humans are responsible for climate change and one doesn’t, which should you go with?

The most blatant example of Creationist-Inspired woo-nonsense comes in this little gem:

Precisely because science is not my area (that being philosophy) I have to carefully consider both sides, and for some twenty years as a curious observer (if man causes global environmental problems I obviously want to know) I have read and listened to environmentalist claims – which get plenty of publicity – yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.

Chimpanzee on a TreeThis is seriously worthy of some further examination. It reeks of the same lack of understanding which tries to push ID into the classroom. There are not “two sides” to the argument (if anything there are dozens), so considering “both sides” is meaningless. In the past, I have commented on the debate problem which creates the illusion there are “both sides” regarding evolutionary theory. It seems the same fallacy applies with regards to AGW.

The idea that some one completely ignorant of the methodology and theories of climate science can accurately assess the validity of any competing theories (and there are dozens) is interesting – strictly speaking the layperson can go through the published data and draw their own conclusions, but the chances of that conclusion being a valid expression of the reality are not great. It would be better for Tom to say that, because science is not his area he would be better off listening to the scientific consensus.

For my, cynical, mindset, the reason why he has not gone down this route is borne out by the last part of that sentence. It reeks of the conspiracy-theories pushed by all kinds of deviant scientists.

“…yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.”

Utter nonsense. The “science” that challenges the various AGW theories is not “ignored” by any stretch of the imagination. Where science does challenge the theory it is investigated – sadly most of the claims of “science” which challenges turn out to be bad science at best. This, as with most of Tom’s arguments, is straight from the ID School of non-science. When people from wildly unrelated scientific disciplines (at best, often it is complete non-scientists) write a pile of nonsense about Evolution / AGW, it is quite rightly ignored. The pro-ID / Anti-AGW crowd then pick on this nonsense and scream about some hidden cabal who are suppressing the “alternative theories.” Total nonsense.

If some one can prove AGW is false they will be in line for the Nobel, along with all the people who can invent perpetual motion machines, prove ID, falsify GR, falsify SR etc., etc.,

Until then, science is science. You can rail against the findings all you want, but remember it is akin to shouting at the sun that your “research” shows it should be dark…

When Education Fails People…

Well, the wonderful Atheist Ethicist blog has pointed to some, frankly, insane ramblings coming out of one of the Professors at Baylor University. Alonzo has pretty much summed up the logical faults with the ramblings by Dr Roger Olsen so I am largely left to simply poke fun at the complete lack of any form of understanding or critical reasoning abilities his writing demonstrates.

Basically, it is shameful that a professor (albeit of theology) is so incapable of following the basic process of reasoning and it is a sad indictment of the effects of “faith” that it has made him blind to the monumental confusion his posts displays. If Dr Olsen were an undergraduate, you’d hope this sort of writing would pretty much end up with an “F.” At best.

If there were any form of World Justice, this sort of nonsense would soon cause people to stop enrolling at Baylor. Unfortunately, I suspect it will have the opposite effect when other members of the “faithful” see this sort of thing and decide they would rather avoid an education at Baylor than elsewhere.

Dr Olsen sets the tone for his gibberish article with:

I feel sorry for atheists. They are so much in the minority in American society and they are bound to feel some marginalization if not persecution.

Oh what wonderful patronisation. I am not an American so I have no idea if this is true or otherwise. However it speaks volumes as to the true nature of Dr Olsen. Here he is claiming “Atheists” are a tiny minority who feel persecuted. Rather than demonstrating the “Christian charity” he is more than happy to continue, and increase, the persecution. If the word “atheist” were replaced with any other minority group, he would never have had the temerity to write the words which follow on. Equally interestingly, if Atheists are such a minority, why does Dr Olsen care?

With an interesting twist of linguistics and some (frankly confusing) logic, Dr Olsen continues with this wonderful snippet:

Christians should be the last people to persecute anyone — including atheists. But that doesn’t mean Christians have to accommodate atheism as they tolerate and love atheists.

I am intrigued as to how you can “tolerate atheists” while not accommodating them? Obviously Dr Olsen is one of those confused people who believes that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion and would rather someone worshipped Baal than didn’t worship any gods.

The confused diatribe continues. Dr Olsen seems to mainly hate atheists because:

So far, at least, atheists haven’t demonstrated their concern for others in any organized way.

Blimey. Here we fall once more into the weird idea that “Atheists” have to become an organised religious group before it can be tolerated. In some respects this is not completely different to some of the ideas kicked around by prominent non-theists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, where there seems to be some urge to organise and politicise atheism. This is something which has been mentioned here in the past, and largely I am not in favour of it. Atheists only share one thing in common and can cover the full political spectrum as well as demonstrating varying levels of rationality. Creating a Church of Atheism is (IMHO of course) foolhardy and does nothing but pander to the thoughts of nutcases like Dr Olsen.

As Alonzo points out on his blog, atheists do huge quantities of good deeds, build hospitals and donate fortunes to charities etc., but they are generally not done under an “atheist” umbrella. From Dr Olsen’s post, he seems to acknowledge this but continues to rail against atheism for no reason other than the lack of organisation. This really confuses me.

Does Dr Olsen honestly think it is such a big deal? Is every religious organisation a “Good Thing” or are they a combination of good, bad and indifferent? Atheists support religious groups and non-religious groups. Is Dr Olsen completely unaware of any organisation which seeks to help others and is not religiously motivated? If so, I suspect he really does need to broaden his horizons somewhat.

As he continues, Dr Olsen shows that having a doctorate and a professorial appointment is no indication of anything beyond a basic education outside your own highly specialised field (in this case, invisible people theology):

And atheism has no answer to social Darwinism — the idea that society should not help the weak because it’s nature’s way to weed out the less fit.

This is mind boggling. Fifteen year olds come up with more robust arguments. Here, Dr Olsen shows he has no understanding of what “Darwinism” really means, so one is led to suspect he is firmly entrenched in the creationist corner. If he honestly thinks this is either true or a good argument against atheism, I am truly ashamed for Baylor university.

Sadly, it seems he does think this:

Helping the weak goes against nature and if nature is all there is, well, why should we fight it? A person might choose to, but not because of any transcendent, objective obligation (such as that all persons are created in God’s image).

Obviously, Dr Olsen believes that without belief in a deity (any deity) people will not help the weak. He is so woefully unaware of nature that he must either think animals have gods or he has never seen herd animals (for example) helping their weak and sick. That aside, it is simply an empty argument. Belief in a deity is not required to make people help others – atheists who help others disproves it immediately – therefore having this as his basic premise shows his entire line of argument is logically flawed.

Dr Olsen seems to think that if a person chooses to do good simply because they are good person it really means they are an evil atheist. Whereas a person who does good against their will because they are scared the invisible Sky Elf will punish them is actually a good theist.

Madness. Pure Madness.

For Dr Olsen, once he set off on this path of logical fallacy, there was no turning back:

The only logical option for the atheist is nihilism — belief that nothing has any objective meaning or purpose.

Wow. The only people who think this is true are poorly educated, ignorant, theists. I feel sorry for people like this because they really are lost sheep. They would be out in the streets killing, raping and stealing before they killed themselves if it wasn’t for the basic fear they have of the apparently kindly-yet-massively-vengeful deity who watches their every movement.

The reality is for atheists life on Earth tends to have much more meaning and purpose because it is all we have. There is no afterlife where we can relish the rewards for our Earthly behaviour. There is no atonement for every sin. There are no virgins waiting to serve us if we kill ourselves and take a few infidels along for the ride. All we have is here on Earth so, generally, Atheists will (or at least should) do their best to make it the best possible Earth.

As he gets his full head of gibberish going, Dr Olsen writes:

Küng admitted that atheism is a rational “basic choice” and it cannot be proven wrong in any kind of absolute way.

But most atheists demonstrate their basic trust in the meaningfulness of reality by being outraged at evil and injustice, thereby demonstrating that atheism cannot be lived out consistently.

What makes something evil or unjust if nothing like God exists — if nature is all there is? Only subjective choice either by an individual or a society. But that can change and it often does. Without God, the social prophet has no way out of relativism.

Wow. Küng wrote it therefore Dr Olsen’s interpretation must be 100% true…

The massive ironic part of this is that the Religious definitions of good and evil have changed over time along with society. Despite the stone-like qualities of the ten commandments, even these are not set in stone. Nations Under God are allowed to kill if the secular nation decided it is in its best interests. God does not decide, people do. Activities which were “sinful” a thousand years ago are commonplace now and vice versa. Can you imagine picking up a sword, killing fifty people then paying a priest to absolve you of your sin? Well if you believe in God this was acceptable for most of the history of Christianity.

Fundamentally, pretty much everything Dr Olsen has wrote is incorrect or logically flawed. His basic premises are complete nonsense:

  1. Being organised does not make good deeds better, not being organised does not make them worse.
  2. Religious definitions of “good” and “evil” have changed over time in keeping with society.

That such nonsense could be written by a “Professor” (even one of theology) is mind boggling. He seems unable to carry out basic research into anthropology, evolution, history (etc). What does this say about Baylor university…

Baylor and universities like it exist to promote objective values and meaningful existence.

Obviously anything resembling an education is a very distant runner up.

Dr Olsen finishes with:

Finally, let me repeat that I have nothing against atheists as persons and neither does Baylor University.

But in my opinion, they are people of character and virtue in spite of their philosophy of life — not because of it.

In a similar vein, I have nothing against people who believe in fairies, elves, ghosts, trolls, demons, deities etc. In my opinion they are, generally, people of character and virtue in spite of their madness belief, not because of it.

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…)

Phat city?

In an enthusiastic, if last-minute bid for a Nobel-prize, the UK Health secretary claims that fatness is as great a threat as climate change.

Must try harder, Alan Johnson.

Unless of course, Mr Johnson is implying that all the fat people in the UK will do something along the lines of knocking the Earth out of its normal orbital path, plunging it into months of unbearable heat, followed by months of intolerable cold.

To be honest, I doubt this is likely. I think that Alan Johnson is just trying to get some media attention by slinging empty soundbites around, if he gets to re-direct some public funds then it is just a bonus for him… Am I too cynical?