Tag Archives: Skepticism

A light in the tunnel for Simon Singh?

I think I’ve been neglectful about reporting on Simon Singh’s case. I suppose it’s too late for me to go into a comprehensive summary of the case, but let me hit the high points as I recall them.

Simon Singh is a science writer in the UK, he wrote a critical article about chiropractors and their lack of reliable, objective evidence demonstrating efficacy of some of their claims, particularly with regards to certain childhood ailments and asthma. He used the word “bogus” and, having read the original piece myself, I think it was quite obvious the word “bogus” meant “ineffective” rather than “fraudulent”.

The British Chiropractic Association sued Singh under Britain’s laughingstock-of-the-free-world libel laws. The initial ruling was determined by a judge that Singh meant fraudulent and allowed the suit to proceed. In the face of enormous legal bills and with the support of skeptics, scientists and writers from around the world, Singh continues his fight in the hopes of causing much-needed reform of the English libel laws.

Meanwhile, the BCA has been unable to provide any real evidence that their claims are true, and have been caught instructing their members to remove such claims from their websites. (Nah, they don’t sound like they know their treatments don’t work, do they?)

Today, they were at a pre-trial hearing, and things are, for the first time, sounding good:

Presiding at the appeal court in London today in a pre-trial hearing on the meaning of words in a 2008 article by Singh criticising chiropractic treatments, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said he was “troubled” by the “artificiality” of the case.

“The opportunities to put this right have not been taken,” Lord Judge said.

He continued: “At the end of this someone will pay an enormous amount of money, whether it be from Dr Singh’s funds or the funds of BCA subscribers.”

He went on to criticise the BCA’s reluctance to publish evidence to back up claims that chiropractic treatments could treat childhood asthma and other ailments.

“I’m just baffled. If there is reliable evidence, why hasn’t someone published it?” [From Index on Censorship » Blog Archive » Judge ‘baffled’ by Simon Singh chiropractic case]

Update: You can learn more about the “problem” with English libel laws here: The Libel Reform Campaign

Charlie Brooker on Psychics and Creationism

I’ve only recently heard of Charlie Brooker, when one of his videos concerning how news reports are made went viral (or at least viral in the circles I follow.)

Since then, I’ve been “catching up” with his series, Screenwipe and Newswipe where he has a very refreshingly incisive view of television and the news.

Here he is in the newspaper, too, waxing very sensible about psychics (and creationism, too):

I mean, if you want to believe in psychics, fine. You’re a dangerous idiot and I wouldn’t trust you to operate a spoon without putting an eye out … but fine. Your choice. Delude yourself silly. Your world is probably more fun than the real one. There’s no death, just an afterlife filled with magic spirits who like to communicate with eerie, ugly, otherwise-unemployable bottom-of-the-barrel “showmen” back on Earth.

But don’t accuse anyone with the temerity to question your sad supernatural fantasies of having a “closed mind” or being “blind to possibilities”. A closed mind asks no questions, unthinkingly accepting that which it wants to believe. The blindness is all yours.

From The Guardian – When it comes to psychics, my stance is hardcore: they must die alone in windowless cells, by Charlie Brooker.

Snake oil isn’t dead

OK, we’re all feeling the pinch with gas prices, but I really hate it when people start taking advantage of others when they’re vulnerable. That’s bad enough, but when the local news helps them, I’m appalled.

Today, the local ABC affiliate, channel 15 published this story.

It’s about a company that sells magnets (yes, magnets) to improve your gas efficiency by 10%. Hmm, if only it were that simple. Why is it they just have testimonials from people who say things like, “Gosh, I sure was plumb skeptical of your claims until I tried this amazing product” rather than some real science explaining the principal rather than the pseudoscience babble on their site?

You’d think one of those darned smart scientists would have come up with this 50 years ago, wouldn’t ya? But, we all know, magnets are magic and their properties aren’t fully understood by modern science.

So remember, just because there’s no evidence for it, magical can magnets change the molecular structure of gas making it more efficient, they can realign the iron inside algae, making your pool more algae resistant, and they can filter free radicals from your blood.

I believe you can even buy magnetic condoms that go around your ankle. This system allows one to fully experience sexual intercourse without troublesome physical barriers and still prevents all forms of pregnancy, HIV or STDs. </SARCASM>

So this is a shame on ABC 15 for helping take money from people that could use it for something better – like a proper tune-up, which could actually help. What’s next? Psychic pet detectives can improve gas mileage by telling you where your dog should sit in your vehicle?