Archive for the ‘Skepticism’ Category

They Are Who We Thought They Were

I’ve remarked before that PUMAs are perhaps the stupidest group of people I’ve ever encountered on the internet (well, short of YouTube commenters).  Lady Boomer NYC provides the example par excellence in describing her secret weapon to take down Barack Obama:

Concurring with riverdaughter about the anger, I think it’s time to bring out the heavy-duty tools—as in prayer and intention! You know about The Secret? Sshhh, don’t tell, but as Norman Vincent Peale and healers believe, “You Can If You Think You Can.” It’s like The Little Engine That Could, right? I saw The Secret the movie, didn’t read the book, hah, but it’s about manifesting your life by feeling, thinking, seeing, and being your intention in every cell of your body. Actually, that’s how I work with chronic pain as a somatic practitioner and hands-on-healer.

Group prayer can create miracles for its willing recipients.

I’m not saying only pray. I’m saying pray and take action. Harriet says: Be pro-active! Do whatever you can to stop Obama.

I’ll link to Skeptico’s classic takedown of The Secret, but really, if you have to be told that you can’t use magic to manifest your innermost desires, you’re probably past the point of listening to any sort of reason at all.  I’m not at all shocked that Lady Boomer NYC is an alternative medicine provider, either; it takes the same sort of intellectual laziness to dish out bullshit medicine as it does to swallow the cockamamie logic of PUMA adherents.  Only in a movement so ensconced in groupthink and conspiracy theories could such a person be thought of as an intellectual.  

Choosing One’s Battles

I went to a hookah bar in Arlington last night to hang out with two friends and enjoy the legal indoor smoking in the Commonwealth.  We were also joined by two others who were friends with my folks, but who I had never previously met.  Chatting with one of them, I mentioned that my birthday was only a week away.  This revelation led to the following conversation:

Her:  So you’re an Aries?

Me:  Yeah, I guess, but I don’t believe in astrology.

Her:  You know that means…[vague and universal predictions about my personality]

Me:  But I don’t believe in astrology!

Her:  Well I do!  And it’s very important to me!

At which point I dropped my objections and she continued to “analyze” the others at the table based on their astrological signs.

My actions were in the best interests of social harmony last night, to be sure, but I’m still not really sure if I made the right decision.  As a skeptic, shouldn’t I be combating woo wherever I find it?  Surely she, a true believer, wouldn’t be swayed by anything I said, but perhaps it would have given the others something to ponder.  And if I can’t debunk something as obviously stupid as astrology, what good am I anyway?

However, I’m also thinking that a protracted squabble over astrology wouldn’t have changed anyone’s mind and would have simply ruined the evening.  If that’s true, I definitely made the right call.

So what say you, Internet?  Was I right in not confronting astrology head on, or should I have been more forceful in the service of anti-bullshit?  Have you had similar experiences, and if so did you react in a similar fashion?  I know that one of my old high school classmates is a homeopath now, so I should probably figure this out before I run into her again.

Ethical Quackery, the Monarchy and Kate Moss

This is a repost of a blog entry originally posted at The Quackometer by  Le Canard Noir, which has now been taken down by his ISP due to a legal threat by Joseph Chikelue Obi.  Obi is, of course, a disgraced UK hospital worker turned alternative medicine maven who apparently is upset that the Quackometer noticed he was a complete fraud.  As when Quackometer posts were taken down when threatened by the Society of Homeopaths, skeptical bloggers are reposting the offending items on their own blogs.  For the full story, please check out No Nonsense

Originally posted 10/12/2006 (link now 404′d).

No, this is not about our Defender of Quackery, our Quack-in-Chief His Royal Quackiness, Prince Charles, but about the Distinguished Provost of the Royal College of Alternative Medicine, Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi. And yes, it is just a rather lame story written solely to get a picture of Kate on my blog.

I’ve written a rather lazy blog on the distinguished professor before that was just a bit of a gawp at his quacktastic website and what looks like a health phone-line scam.

Well, I’ve done a little more digging with Google and it has revealed a few quack gems. It has been pretty hard work, since Google returns some 6,000 pages, the vast majority just appears to be Prof Obi’s self-promotion. However, if you persist in digging a few interesting facts turn up.

So, what has the little black duck found out about the “most Controversial Retired Physician and ‘A-List’ Medical Celebrity, Dr Joseph Chikelue Obi”?

Here we go…

1. The Irish Independent reports that his college does not exist at the Dublin address given on the web site. There’s a surprise! It’s just a front.

2. The Independent goes on. “In January 2003, he was suspended by for serious professional misconduct at South Tyneside District Hospital. Among the allegations made were that he failed to attend to patients, wrote strange notes about colleagues and at one point gave a dating agency phone number to a psychiatric patient.”

3. He was being investigated by the police for taking thousands of pounds of a 58 year old woman to in order to cure a long standing illness.

4. The GMC strike Dr Obi off their register for “serious professional misconduct”. So much for him being retired.

5. On another tack, Dr Obi has been involved in a little cyber-squatting. This looks as if it took place while he was a doctor – always after a few quid!

6. Since then, now self-titled Prof Obi, a few new avenues have been opened, including trying to entice Kate Moss away to one of his ‘safe-houses’ in Ireland. Hat’s off!

He is quoted as saying:

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, Miss Moss still has fundamental rights, just like anyone else out there, and as far as I am concerned, she is not guilty of anything until an Ethical Jury says so.

(I mentioned before that ‘ethical’ was one of his favourite words.)

7. Prof Obi has been developing a Penis Enlarger (watch out Kate) that his own Royal College has now endorsed.

8. At least one person (out of the targeted million) has paid Prof Obi the fees for his college to accredit them. Dr Michael Keet (8 Canards) of the Central London College of Reflexology handed over ‘hundreds‘. Do we feel sorry for out-quacked quacks? I guess we ought to.

9. For those of you wanting to see behind the grand titles and see the real human being, Joseph lists his interests as Comedy in London, Whole Food Nutrition and Christian Music. On this ‘Meetup’ site, he describes himself as “Just a very ordinary guy . . .”. That’s nice.

10. His name appears very often on the blog Abolish The General Medical Council (GMC), often reporting something he has got up to. The blog describes itself as:

An ethical blog for those who publicly feel that the General Medical Council (GMC) should be Statutorily Abolished in favour of a Medical Licensing Commission (MLC) to solely register and revalidate Doctors who practise Conventional Medicine in the UK. The Blog also recommends that the GMC/MLC hands all disciplinary functions over to an Independent Clinical Tribunal (ICT) in keeping with the EU Convention on Human Rights ; to avoid (both) Institutional Bias and Multiple Jeopardy.

Oooh. There is that word ‘ethical’ again. And ‘European Human Rights’. No name is given for the blog author but the avatar is a portrait of the queen. Another apparent obsession of Prof Obi – royalty. Could the author be none other than the Professor himself, a little agrieved for his ticking off? I hope you all click through to the blog. Maybe we will show up in his stats and whoever the writer is can get in contact and confirm one way or another.

I rather hope it is, as the final thing I turned up would just be fantastic…

11. Is the Distinguished Provost of the Royal College of Alternative Medicine, Professor Obi now selling ethical ring-tones? I do hope so.

Watch out Crazy Frog! Here comes the Crazy Provost…

Right Royal College of Pompous Quackery

This is a repost of a blog entry originally posted at The Quackometer by Le Canard Noir, which has now been taken down by his ISP due to a legal threat by Joseph Chikelue Obi. Obi is, of course, a disgraced UK hospital worker turned alternative medicine maven who apparently is upset that the Quackometer noticed he was a complete fraud. As when Quackometer posts were taken down when threatened by the Society of Homeopaths, skeptical bloggers are reposting the offending items on their own blogs. For the full story, please check out No Nonsense.

Originally posted 09/28/2006 (link now 404′d).

I had to share this with you. Following on from my recent Quack Word ‘Doctor’ blog, I came across the Royal College of Alternative Medicine (RCAM) , a Dublin based – well, I’m not sure quite what it is…

What caught my eye was just the shameless aggrandisement of the site. It is quite hilarious, if not a little repetitive at times. Calling yourself ‘Doctor’ is somewhat pompous when all you have done is paid for some international postage. However, the man behind RCAM has absolutely no shame and titles himself as the:

Distinguished Provost of RCAM (Royal College of Alternative Medicine) Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi FRCAM(Dublin) FRIPH(UK) FACAM(USA) MICR(UK)

Wow! Probably, just Joe to his mates. Naturally, when you Google the qualification FRCAM(Dublin), there is only person who appears to revel in this achievement. I’ll leave the rest as an excercise for the reader.

The distinguished provost looks like he is just another pseudoscientific nutritionist, his spin being “Nutritional Immunomodulation”. This is obviously a lot more clever than Patrick Holfords mere ‘Optimum Nutrition’, but having only one ‘omnipill’ is probably a poorer commercial decision that Patrick’s vast range of supplements.

Obviously, Professor Obi has had a few problems with what probably amount to bewildering comments about his site as the legal threats and press releases concerning his ‘ethical’ responses to criticisms cover more space than anything else. ‘Ethical’ is a favourite word on the site.

The most recent press release states,

7th September 2006 : The Distinguished RCAM Provost, Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi FRCAM(Dublin) FRIPH(UK) FACAM(USA) MICR(UK) has formally accepted appointment as Chief Professorial Examiner for the Doctor of Science (DSc) programme in Evidence Based, Alternative Medicine (EBAM) of a highly respected International University in one of the British Commonwealth Protectorates.

This new qualification is primarily aimed at Medical Graduates, Physicians, Surgeons, Pharmacists, Dentists, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Opticians, Wellness Consultants, Herbalists, Acupuncturists, Naturopaths , Healers, Podiatrists , Chiropodists , Scientists , Healers ,Therapists, Homeopaths, Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Nurses wishing to ethically upgrade their current Qualifications in Alternative Medicine over an exceedingly intensive 12 – 36 month period of study.

British Commonwealth Protectorates? Could that be Dublin?

I really have no idea what this organisation is all about. But it looks like it could be getting quite big soon…

RCAM currently has International Vacancies for One Million (1,000,000) ‘Foundation Fellows’ (‘Movers and Shakers’) ; who will independently play a highly pivotal role in diligently mentoring (and regulating) it’s future Global Membership.

So if you really think that you seriously have what it takes to become a ‘Leader’ in Alternative Medicine , then (perhaps) RCAM may definitely be exactly what the Doctor ordered for you.

One million. That’s a lot of quacks! And they are just to mentor (and regulate) the wider quack membership! This man has ambition.

The Big J really hates real doctors. This is his most recent press release…

RCAM would like to warmly commend the various Chieftans of the National Health Service of the United Kingdom for ethically and appropriately ignoring utterly misguided calls (from a rather amusing Group of thirteen Clinical Yestermen) to compel Hard-Working (and Tax-Paying) British Citizens to additionally pay for Life Enhancing Alternative Medicine Interventions out of their very own pockets – rather than get such treatments free via the NHS. RCAM would like to also categorically state that such exceedingly flawed ‘G-13′ demands that the National Health Service of the United Kingdom expediently abandon Alternative Medicine altogether (in total favour of Conventional Medicine) be diplomatically treated with the very utmost contempt which such unguarded verbal flippance duly deserves ; as none of these 13 ‘Eminent UK Scientists’ behind such calls has professionally attained Globally Acceptable Fellowship Qualifications in Alternative Medicine and as such cannot be deemed competent enough to make such sweeping ‘Shilly-Shally’ statements about the noble independent specialty of Alternative Medicine.

RCAM therefore publicly advises the General Public to lawfully go about their normal Wellness-Seeking Behaviour as usual – without any unwarranted prejudice or fear resulting from such highly self-serving, morally unethical , abjectly crude , totally unprofessional, utterly unstatesmanly, morbidly barbaric, wantonly uncivilized, profanely undemocratic and unspeakably sacrilegious perpetual affronts on the therapeutically formidable institution of Alternative Medicine.

ow, I do not have ‘Globally Acceptable Fellowship Qualifications’ in Santa Clause Studies to know he does not exist. But hey. I must be a morbidly barbaric and profanely undemocratic, unethical duck.

So, struggling around the acres of pomposity I find one place where Prof Joe might be making some money. You can call him to seek his wisdom, after pre-booking an hour’s slot (and handing over your credit card) for a mere 300 Euros. Alternatively, you can pay by the minute on the contact line for a trifling $10 per minute.

Its going to cost you $20 just for Joe to say Hello and to read out his numerous titles, qualifications and names. Not bad ‘ethical’ work.

Bill Maher is an irrational douchebag

PZ Myers gives some love to Bill Maher for this appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien:

Best line: “You can’t be a rational person six days a week…and on one day of the week, go to a building, and think you’re drinking the blood of a two thousand year old space god.”

Which is nice and all. But lets take a look at what Maher said two nights earlier on the Late Show with David Letterman:

Maher: You know, I do love health as an issue. This is what I read about when I have time off.

Letterman: Are you interested in medical journals and that sort of thing?

Maher: Not western medicine, I think we’re being poisoned…I would love for you to investigate the possibility that your health issues might have arisen from the fact that you’re being poisoned by America.

Just to be clear here, Maher’s not talking about pollution here, he’s talking about pharmaceutical drugs. He’s a well known proponent of alternative medicine, and as Skeptico and Orac point out in the comments to PZ’s post, he denies the germ theory of disease, thinks vaccinations are poison and ineffectual, and is a proud supporter of PETA. That’s not exactly the resume one would expect from a rational, pro-science person.

It’s infuriating when a prominent rationalist like PZ approvingly cites Maher’s atheism or his takedown of the Troofers as a gain for rational thought in this country, because it’s abundantly clear that Maher himself isn’t a critical thinker. Sure some of the ends of his thought process align with the reality-based community, but the process itself is still tainted by magical thinking and outright lunacy.

Maher rightly views the evidence-free assertions of Christian supernaturalism as bullshit, yet amazingly can’t bring this skepticism to bear on non-Christian supernaturalism. This is because his views arise from mindless contrarianism, not critical examination of the evidence. He’s an atheist because everyone else is Christian, not because the evidence of a deity is lacking. Similarly, he’s an altie because most people use scientific medicine, not because he’s actually looked into the scientific validity of what he’s saying.

Since the “skeptic as mere contrarian” is a stereotype rationalists have been fighting for a while, it’s a shame that leading freethinkers continue to promulgate it by praising Bill Maher.

The Blogosphere is PWNED

A few weeks back the Blog Readability Test was making the rounds, and many bloggers tempted by immediate intellectual vindication ran the test and posted the results on their site.  As Charles Arthur reports at The Guardian, they were all played for suckers:

Anyway, once you’ve input your blog’s URL, you’ll quickly get a graphic showing your blog’s “readability” by school age – elementary school, high school, undergraduate, postgraduate, genius and so on. It seems to happen really fast, given the sort of linguistic analysis that must be needed, but computers are fast these days, aren’t they?

Then you have an image, which you can – if you’ve got the time and energy – copy, upload to your blog, and display; or a bit of HTML, which is much simpler, to paste in your page or profile. No muss, no fuss.

I was looking at this when I started wondering about the HTML. It has an image link – img style=”border: none;” src=”http://www.criticsrant.com/bb/readinglevel/img/junior_high.jpg”. All well and good. But then there’s the ALT tag – remember, the stuff that search engines actually index: alt=”cash advance” Get a Cash Advance”.

And that phrase “cash advance” has a link to an entirely different site, called cashadvance1500.com.

Now, what happens when happy bloggers – or MySpacers, or Facebookers, or whatever, laughing over their blog’s or profile’s readability or lack of it, paste the code on their site? Search engines index their site and find a link from them pointing to “cash advance” and that site. Well, that sounds like a recommendation for the site, the search engines decide.

The result? When you do a Google search for “cash advance”, lo and behold, there at the top of the “natural” results is cashadvance1500.com.

I have to say this was a particularly brilliant marketing ploy.  It understood a weakness* endemic to the blogging type, namely a desire to appear intelligent, and let the fooled do all the work.  As I’ve said before, you should be more skeptical than you’d normally be when someone is telling you exactly what you want to hear.

*I was skeptical about this test when I first saw everyone linking to it, but only because the results were rather random, not because I suspected an underhanded marketing strategy.  If I hadn’t been such a bad blogger lately, there’s a good chance I would have posted my results as well.  I have the exact same weakness, I’m not trying to say I’m better than anyone else.

I can haz magik water?

Via Orac, the newest craze in the LOLverse: LOLQuacks. My favorite of the bunch thus far:

LOLPope

Plus one I just came up with:

LOLGrohl

Original Dave Grohl image by Flickr user Lola’s Big Adventure! modified under a Creative Commons license.

Not this shit again

Immediately after posting the previous item, I checked my reader for new posts, only to find zuzu from Feministe proving my point, responding to Matt Yglesias’ take on the abortion study I linked to previously:

What I’m interested in right now is the privilege on display — Matt, who will never have to face the question of whether to have an abortion, dismisses the Guttmacher study as “questionable.” And why? Because, gosh, it just doesn’t make any sense that women would seek abortions where they’re illegal and dangerous! It’s quite telling that Matt can’t get past the mathematical modeling of it all to reach the understanding that the reason that reproductive-rights advocates argue in favor of safe and legal abortion is that women will get abortions regardless of whether or not they’re legal, and they will get abortions regardless of the possibility of injury or death, because the alternative for them is worse. IOW, criminalizing abortion does not make abortion stop. It simply makes it more dangerous.

In other words, Matt’s purely scientific concerns with the study’s methodology are without merit, because the study agrees with zuzu’s ideology. Also, Matt is sexist.

Sigh.

zuzu is, of course, employing the patented “Privilege Defense” employed by some feminist bloggers. It’s a version of the ad hominem retort that involves ignoring the merits of your opponent’s argument, dropping words like “privilege” and “patriarchy”, insinuating that your opponent is sexist, and hoping they’re cowed enough not to respond. It’s the worst kind of well poisoning, and frankly it’s complete bullshit and needs to stop.

For further insights into the Privilege Defense, see Mike Meginnis. He knows more about it than anyone really should.

I’m right because of SCIENCE!

Jessica Valenti over at Feministing had two posts on Monday about studies that told her exactly what she wanted to hear. Unfortunately for her, they’re both pretty flawed, and the conclusions Jessica is drawing from them are ridiculously overstated.

The first, from the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization, claims that abortion rates are constant across all nations, regardless of abortion’s legality. Matt Yglesias and Megan McArdle have already done a good job debunking this, so I’ll just sum up by saying that there are too many outlying variables across countries to really make this conclusion on solid footing, and when you look at just one country over time, abortions tend to rise after legalization.

The second, from Rutgers University, claims that having a feminist partner makes for more fulfilling relationship with better sex. This study should in no way be touted as hard science. The sample size, while not tiny, is still probably still too small to support the conclusions the authors draw, and there doesn’t seem to be anything resembling a control group. Their method of data collection is an online survey, meaning every data point is self-reported without any sort of independent verification (see the brouhaha over the Generation Rescue phone survey to see why this a horrible way to conduct research). Furthermore, the variables they’re testing are empirically vague and completely subjective, which leads me to question why they even did this study in the first place (by empirically vague, I only mean that “I’m a feminist” is a much less objectively verifiable assertion than “I weigh 165 lbs”). Even if this study wasn’t as flawed as it is, it’s still only one study, making it slightly less than completely meaningless.

Of course, debunking these studies does nothing to delegitimize the pro-choice position, nor does it call the very enterprise of feminism into question. I’m left pondering, then, why Jessica chose to wholeheartedly endorse them without a whiff of critical thinking? Surely she doesn’t need scientific endorsement to be a pro-choice feminist? Aren’t these sorts of opinions based off of objective truth rather than determined by them?

I feel like I’m picking on Jessica a little bit, so let me just say that this sort of thing happens all the time. Not a week goes by where I don’t see a blogger trying to elevate their opinions to the level of scientific fact, using either bad studies or bad articles about good studies. As I noticed in one of my very first posts, it seems we’re so desperate for our arguments to be right that we look to science to bless them its authority. It’s absolutely ridiculous to think this way, though; different people can look at the same set of facts and come to wildly differing conclusions, that’s called politics. It’s only when you start to lie or willfully delude yourself about those facts that we have a problem.

Think of the possible conservative positions on global warming, for instance (excluding any sort of heterodox environmentalism). In this position, one could take a look at the facts and decide that any sort of drastic action to stem global warming was not worth the economic pain it would bring, and that our hope should lie in technological progress. I would disagree with this position, but at least it’s factually based and logically defensible. On the other hand, one could take a look at the facts, ignore them, cherry pick from bad studies, and conclude that global warming isn’t happening. This is a completely different thing altogether; here our hypothetical conservative is denying objective reality. The first position is a rational opinion based on the facts, the second is an attempt to change those facts to fit one’s opinion.

Abortion should be legal because women should be free from onerous and discriminatory state control over their bodies, among other reasons. Feminism is a force for good because it seeks to stop discrimination and violence against women, and to change the culture so that we’re all treated equally without regard for sex, among other reason.

Amazingly, I wrote that last paragraph without even putting on a lab coat.

Cool new webcomic

Cectic by Rudis Muiznieks. Some choice examples:

  1. Conclusive Proof
  2. Astrology Misconceptions
  3. Herb Roasted Metastasis

Someone’s getting added to the blogroll.

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