Skeptico has been pilotless for the last seven days while I have moved house – I never
thought it would take so long to get a new broadband connection. Anyway, I’m back. Oh and if you haven’t already, you should
checkout the 32nd
Skeptics’ Circle at Pooflingers Anonymous.
On Wednesday, the Bush administration published new standards for S.U.V.'s and other light trucks…
Ugh! In the English language the apostrophe is used to denote possession not plural. Thus “S.U.V.'s” means “belonging to an S.U.V.” (for example, “the S.U.V.'s tire was flat”). The plural of S.U.V. is S.U.V.s, not S.U.V.’s. It makes no sense to write S.U.V.'s as the plural of S.U.V. You wouldn’t write the plural of “sport utility vehicle” as “sport utility vehicle’s”, so why write the plural of “S.U.V.” as “S.U.V.'s”?
I wrote to the NYT and someone called Joe Plambeck from the Office of the Public Editor responded: “It is straight from the paper's stylebook”, as if that makes it correct. When I pushed him further to explain why it is in the stylebook, he responded:
While many authorities prefer to omit the apostrophe in these cases, it is necessary for clarity in all-uppercase headlines. Therefore use it in other kinds of copy also, for consistency.
So consistency is the goal. Never mind they are inconsistent about their use of periods in initials (for example, they write C.P.A. but VCR), and never mind they would write “sport utility vehicles”. Never mind that this wasn’t an all capitals headline, or that (as far as I can tell) they don’t use all capitals headlines anyway (well, I can’t see any). Or that it is confusing – I read quickly and was starting the next sentence before I realized that what I had just read made no sense – I had to go back and read it again. So this “style” hardly aids comprehension, as they imply: it is actually confusing. And that is why it is wrong.
I sent another email to Joe Plambeck to express these thoughts, but with no reply. I guess when you work for the high and mighty New York Times, small matters such as what is correct and what is incorrect don’t bother you too much.
“The Complete Plain Words”, Sir Ernest Gowers – page 237
It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (Da Vinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright
Pretend historical books? That’s got to hurt. Still, it’s good to see the Judge wasn’t fooled by the Priory-de-Sion hoax that apparently fooled the authors of HBHG. (Or, at least, the hoax they wrote about as though they believed it.)
In my view the lawsuit had to be a publicity stunt. After all, the DVC was nothing but good publicity for HBHG, the sales of which apparently soared on interest from DVC believers. And they’re still cashing in: Michael Baigent – one of the authors of HBHG - has a new book out called “The Jesus Papers”. And from what I can discern from this interview this book just a re-hash the crucifixion portions of HBHG anyway. And it’s not the first time they’ve pulled this one: in 1986 the authors of HBHG published “The Messianic Legacy” – another book that as far as I could tell added nothing but padding to what they had already covered in HBHG.
Perhaps Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln should sue themselves for copyright infringement. Hell, they might even win that one.
The comedy/sketch program Mad TV (Fox, Saturday 11.00pm), can be pretty funny at times – it’s what SNL might be like if they had decent writers. I just caught a rerun of what I think was their 11th season opener, and saw a hilarious spoof of an infomercial selling “miracle cures”. The sketch consisted of an interviewer played by Nicole Parker, and a guy promoting the miracle cures, calling himself Robin Kirkley, played by Michael McDonald.
Now, I’ve never actually seen a Kevin Trudeau infomercial, although I have seen him interviewed on TV. I have seen picture of the cover of his book though. Take a look at this frame on the left from the Mad TV sketch. Look at the book he is holding up (as he does throughout the whole sketch), and see if you think
there is any similarity to another book you may have seen.
Of course, Mad TV never say it is Kevin Trudeau – it’s “Robin Kirkley”. And the book is "Miracle Cures" while Trudeau's book is "Natural Cures" – completely different. I typed up a small portion of the sketch:
Robin Kirkley: I want everyone out there to know I’m not in this for the money. I just want everyone to have the information in this book… for $39.95.
Interviewer: (holds finger to ear) Wait, my producers are telling me something. Is this true? You’re giving away a DVD for free.
Robin Kirkley: Yes, I absolutely am. I am giving away this DVD for free and in it you find out how to use simple herbs to cure every disease known to mankind absolutely free… for $39.95.
Interviewer: You say that these simple herbs can cure every disease known to mankind.
Robin Kirkley: Yes, they absolutely can. They can cure heart disease, they can cure emphysema, cure lupus, leprosy,
Interviewer: That’s a big one.
Robin Kirkley: It’s very big these days, yes. They can cure… micro-testicles, phantom leg syndrome, unfunnyness – go on, name some more.
Interviewer: I’ve got one! Liver disease.
Robin Kirkley: Cured!
Interviewer: Oh no! You tricked me. You knew your herbs can cure all diseases known to man and I fell for it.
Robin Kirkley: Yes, I’m sorry but I had to trick you. You see it’s important for you to know that I only lie when I’m trying to show how honest I am.
Interviewer: I wouldn’t be doing my job as an infomercial journalist if I didn’t ask you a couple of tough questions.
Robin Kirkley: Go ahead.
Interviewer: OK then. If these miracle cures have been around for centuries, how come I’m only just hearing about them now?
Robin Kirkley: (Pauses – looks surprised) Wow! I didn’t see that one coming. Think about it: if all these diseases were cured it would bring the pharmaceutical industry to its knees. That’s why the Federal government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars prosecuting me for things like fraud, false advertising and baby trafficking.
The sketch continues with an interview with a “doctor” shown only in shadow, who relates how he was using the miracle herbs to cure all his patients of all their diseases and save their lives, when a man from the government came and threatened his family with a live hand grenade unless he stopped curing his patients with the herbs and went back to using pharmaceuticals.
It’s a classic sketch. If I was a faster typist I might transcribe some more (although then I might be infringing their copyright). It’s a perfect example of how good focused comedy is as good a debunking tool as facts and evidence. Not that it was really about Kevin Trudeau, oh no.
Anyway, if you get a chance, you should Tivo it. Highly recommended.
Of course, if there has been no increase in autism, the case against vaccines being responsible for this (non) increase is weakened quite a bit (or a lot). Unsurprisingly the vaccines-cause-autism industry wasted no time in smearing Shattuck with the usual personal attacks, claims of bias due to funding, and phony links to discredited researchers. No valid criticisms of the actual data, though. For a good take-down of these fallacious smear tactics you really should read (this time) Orac’s take down of Shattuck’s critics.
Also, you should read the comments section. Shattuck himself leaves a detailed comment, and I thought I would highlight a couple of the points he made.
First, he tackles the accusation that he received a large grant from the CDC:
As for the $540,000 from the CDC...it's not entirely clear what they are talking about. I certainly don't have a grant that big from anyone. They are probably talking about the autism surveillance grant that our center received from the CDC...a proposal which I helped prepare but am not listed as a co-investigator and am not funded from. Our University is one of several sites around the country funded to do prospective monitoring of the prevalence of autism and other disorders...am not sure why that is so horrible in the eyes of some advocates.
So his critics essentially made that one up.
On whether being a autism skeptic is actually a lucrative career for a researcher:
If I was truly an unscrupulous researcher looking to boost my grant portfolio in any way possible then I would be better off trying to stoke concerns about an epidemic, rather than do the research I've undertaken. I've actually had colleagues from other universities nervously joke that if concern about autism fades then their research funding might dry up. So, the "unscrupulous researcher bends findings to boost financial self-interest" angle doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
What do you know? Pushing vaccines-cause autism is where the money is. (That would explain the Geiers.)
And on the smear by association – the claim that a fellow researcher had been discredited (and so by association Shattuck must also be tainted):
Finally, yes there was a graduate student who was caught doing bad things at the same University where I was a graduate student. She was disciplined appropriately by the University and the NIH, and the small amount of affected data was quickly quarantined and never made its way into any published work. The attempt to paint me as guilty of data falsification because I was a graduate student at the same time as this person is just incredibly insulting.
Lame, just lame. And totally dishonest.
And a general comment on the (lack of) honesty and integrity of Shattuck’s critics:
It's worth noting none of the attacks on me have actually addressed the evidence presented in my paper. It's been my experience in debating that when one side abandons talking about evidence in favor of personal attacks it's usually because they have no credible evidence to bring to the table themselves.
Precisely. It’s called ad hominem, and it’s a logical fallacy for the reason that you don’t arrive at the conclusions they want you to from the arguments they present.
I don’t know if thimerosal in vaccines causes autism, honestly I don’t, but I doubt it for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that autism and mercury poisoning appear to be different. But I could be wrong – I’m not an expert on this subject. But you would think that anyone honestly out to find out what causes autism would be interested in Shattuck’s study, and would at least examine the data to see if it was good. That they don’t is telling. When the vaccines-cause autism group appears only to be interested in shutting down opposition by smear tactics and other dishonesty, you’ve got to wonder what they have to hide.
I’ve been saying it for a while and now apparently some leading scientists agree with me, according to the Times Online:
SOME of Britain’s leading scientists have accused the BBC of “quackery” by misleading viewers in an attempt to exaggerate the power of alternative medicine.
The criticisms centre on Alternative Medicine, a series broadcast on BBC2 in January, in which some of the most memorable scenes included open-heart surgery apparently carried out using acupuncture as an anaesthetic.
In another episode, brain images of patients undergoing acupuncture were claimed to show that the procedure had an effect on the parts of the brain that experience pain.
This weekend scientists turned on the programme’s (sic) accusing them of distorting science in an attempt to present an unjustifiably positive image of complementary therapies. “They are peddling quack science,” said David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London.
The most serious accusation concerns the BBC’s presentation of the anaesthetic powers of acupuncture. A heart patient underwent surgery in a Chinese hospital with a number of acupuncture needles stuck into her body.
Critics say that the needles could be credited with little real effect because the patient was also receiving three powerful conventional sedatives — midazolam, droperidol and fentanyl — along with large volumes of local anaesthetic injected into her chest.
They’re obviously referring to the so-called acupuncture anesthesia operation I commented on before. Although perhaps they also read one of the otheracupuncturearticles I also commented on. Each of those articles seemed to imply that acupuncture worked, although the studies they were commenting on clearly showed no such thing.
I don’t know why the BBC feels the need to pander to popularity in this way – it’s certainly not in its Royal Charter (but then again the Royals are quacks too, so perhaps it’s not surprising). If I still lived in the UK, and still had to pay the TV licence fee, I might be tempted to email a complaint. If I felt in the mood.
In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. In fact, patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications.
No real additional comments to be made except to highlight this gem from the director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center:
There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no real theological grounds to expect a result either.
Science is not designed to study the supernatural.
Really? Well, it is true that science can only study things that have a measurable effect, so if this “supernatural” he talks about has no measurable effect then I suppose he is correct in saying science can’t measure it. The only question I have would be: what is the difference between something that has no measurable effect and something that does not exist?
Many have claimed there are risks to using cell phones – specifically risks of brain
damage. This claim has been
controversial, but it seems there is new evidence cell phones might be
dangerous after all. Take note.
Reader woly sent me this link to Pherotones – apparently these people are selling ring tones for your phone that they claim act like pheromones to attract the opposite sex:
Can one ringtone make you irresistible?
Are you ready to unlock your sexual potential in an adventure of self-discovery through untamed passion and incredible pleasure? If you said “Yes,” then you’re ready for Pherotones, the ringtone secret that can make you irresistible to the opposite sex. Click on these absolutely free Pherotones and listen for yourself.
So what evidence do they have to back up their claims? Well, it’s just the usual bunch testimonials dressed up with pseudo-scientific language and lame appeals to science doesn’t know everything. Get a load of this from How Pherotones Work:
Modern science has only begun to unlock the secrets of the human brain. While making great strides in mapping the neural pathways and chemical triggers that incite various moods and behaviors, mainstream scientists have yet to grasp exactly what makes human beings, and their brains, tick.
Scientists don’t know everything about the brain so Pherotones work. I’m convinced. And of course the establishment wants to keep it secret:
Pherotones are presently too controversial and too hot for mainstream science. Established scientists, with their cushy university jobs, are afraid to probe the secrets of Pherotones too deeply, lest they offend the sensibilities of their colleagues. Only a brave few have dared to publish their Pherotone findings.
In reality, any scientist would jump at the chance to prove something like this works, if it did. The best evidence they have for this stuff is this lame video which I find hard to believe wasn’t faked (you have to watch it to the end to see what I mean). Who do they think they’re fooling?