Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sense About Science: Celebrities and science 2010

I have referred to "Sense About Science" in the past and I think they are a wonderful (and necessary, unfortunately) organization that is dedicated to showing what the science really says about issues that are often misrepresented.

Each year they put out a report that reviews the health claims that are made by celebrities and other people in the public eye. 

This year they tackle issues ranging from magnetic bracelets and Power Balance bands to "detox" diets and homeopathy.

You can download the PDF report or read some of the news coverage here and here.

(They tackle the "full of chemicals" claim that I, often, have to counter - Nothing is chemical free: everything is made of chemicals.)

The poor need help all year long (And helping isn't something only Christians do!)

On Monday, a letter to the editor was printed in The Observer regarding a church helping a particular woman. Below is the letter (with a few comments from me inserted):

Church comes to aid of woman (link)

Sir: This time of year, the media reports the generous acts of so many inspired by the spirit of Christmas. Invariably, we lament this spirit does not last all year long. It does.

The Christians of Bluewater Baptist Church quietly (so quietly that she's bragging about it in the newspaper - luckily Jesus didn't say anything about being humble) and diligently watch over and provide for so many of the small needs of a close friend who lives in a dilapidated old house with her cat. Her small disability check barely covers her needs.

She is so poor that even a box of Kleenex, toilet paper, fresh fruit, bread and milk are a luxury she cannot afford in the middle of the month after all her bills have been paid. Every bout of cold or flu is an emergency for her since she rarely has any of these little comforts on hand. Moreover, her immune system has been compromised by the chemo pills prescribed for her arthritis and she gets sick a lot.

Her hands are so crippled that she cannot shovel her own sidewalk and keep her porch steps snow and ice free. She depends on the kindness of neighbours and friends.

God bless the Christians (and none of the others? Oh, right, my bad - god doesn't exist) who make a point of providing for her small needs, who rake the snow off her roof in the winter, who clean her eaves troughs in the fall, who paint the peeling house and mow her lawn in the summer and who recently added a handle to her door-frame so that she could pull herself through the doorway -a thousand small acts of kindness each year.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us (as long as people adhere to illogical ideas and dogma, for sure). At any time, if we truly want to be doers of The Word and not merely hearers of The Word, we can put our faith into action.

We can extend small acts of kindness any day of the year. We can welcome the poor and the lonely into our homes to share a meal and enjoy our company. These small works are opportunities for us to grow as human beings in charity for it is when we are giving that we are most fully human. (Especially if the giving is to support a million dollar church.)

Let us recall frequently the words of Blessed Mother Teresa, "Love gives until it hurts." (Now, Mother Teresa probably isn't someone I'd refer to - and I suspect Linda wouldn't either if she didn't just blindly accept what her pastor tells her from the pulpit.)

Linda Kennedy
Aside from the suggestion that it is only Christians who help others (which doesn't explain why the greatest philanthropists are non-believers), and the blatant bragging, Linda's letter is a good reminder to everyone (especially Christians) that help is needed all year long.

It bothers me that Christians, like Linda, can't see the sad truth that the millions (tens of millions) of dollars spent on churches (in our own community alone) and their upkeep/staffing could be used to address the problems of people like the woman referenced in this letter. She must ignore the fact that the vast majority of money given to churches does not go to help others - it stays in the church to pay salaries, upgrade churches, buy vehicles, install bigger parking lots, purchase nicer digital signs, etc.

Mother Teresa, as I mention above, is not someone to be idolized - she was a friend of poverty but not a friend of the poor. Mother Teresa was against birth control - she equated it with abortion and murder. We know that one proven method for elevating a society out of poverty is the empowerment of women. Giving women control over their reproductive cycle and providing them an education does wonders. (Which reminds me - Bluewater Baptist Church is intimately involved in the horrendous Pregnancy Centre.)

And, finally, if Christians do good because of the reward in the afterlife, they're simply doing good things for bad reasons. Doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do is a more honourable reason.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fear as a motivator - an excellent example

I was recently browsing a local online classifieds site ( and saw an ad:

Wanted: Health Wellness Work From HOME (Note: Since I started writing this entry the ad has been removed)
Are you sick and tired of all the hazardous and toxic chemicals found in your household products?

Well here's a solution!!!

It's a group called Motivated Moms. It's a team built up of mothers from all across North America who support each other by making a safer and healthier environment and lifestyle for you and your family, while still making extra cash!

If you are sick of all these brand name products being recalled, and want to convert to environmentally friendly products, or just want to make some extra cash then this is for you! You don't have to be a mom, ANYONE can join this group.

If you are interested or need more info email me!
Too often the method for attracting/motivating people is the use of fear in the advertisement.  Some examples are a little more subtle (ie. When cholesterol was being talked about as being "bad", McCain's started advertising that their french fries were cholesterol free.  The reality is that potatoes have always been cholesterol free.) but this "ad" goes straight to it.

The first sentence is simply poisoning the well - the idea that the "chemicals" found in household products are "hazardous" and "toxic" hasn't been established in the claims.  One is to assume that it is true (and true of all household products - except the ones that she is trying to sell) and the logical position to take would be for you to be "sick and tired of" them. 

Now that they've identified a horrifying problem they, as marketing wizards, introduce the solution.  They suggest that their products are safer and healthier for the environment and, here's a great bonus, you can make extra cash!

The next paragraph builds on the promotion of "fear" - "all these brand name products being recalled" and "convert to environmentally friendly" are designed to provide a false impression.  Not very many (relatively, at least) "brand name" products are being recalled and not all "brand name" products are the opposite of "environmentally friendly". 

Her claims are unsubstantiated, they utilize fear as a motivator and are used to ultimately push a multi-level marketing scheme (I talked about these a few entries ago) - warning signs galore. 

Using the word "toxic" is almost a guaranteed sign of "fear mongering" - the toxin is in the dose.  Few would say that vitamins and minerals are "toxic" but, at the right dose, they are.  Water is toxic if too much is consumed.  "Chemicals" is a scary word for many people - possibly because of our lack of science education - but it shouldn't be.  What is made of chemicals? Everything.  The products that she is selling are most definitely made of chemicals too.

Think about it - doing so could be what saves your health, your life and your pocketbook.  Skeptical thinking could help reduce the number of people who are taken in by such outlandish claims and destined-to-fail marketing schemes.

(Additional info.  I went to (I assume that is the website for the "company").  I read the "work from home" and "get more info" pages.  They claim not to be a multi-level marketing company and that you don't need to make any sales.  Yet, when you visit their success stories it is clear that products are being sold and you are recruiting other people.  What makes it even more silly is that at the bottom of the site it states who engineered/maintains the site (an MLM marketing software company) and that "this is not an mlm site" but links to, you guessed it, an MLM software site.  If it quacks like a duck and is greasy like a duck... something like that.)

(A blog follower pointed out the irony of a "program" that says you don't have to make sales (and recruit) actually posting an ad to sell products (and recruit members).)

Update (December 28, 2010 - 4:23PM) :  I sent an email to the person who posted the original ad asking for more information ("than is supplied here..." with a link to this blog).  She responded without, apparently, reading my blog:

i am with a company called Motivated moms and we are teamed up with a wellness company called melaleuca. Melaleuca has over 400 products that are safer then the grocery store brands with no harmful chemicals! If you would like i can book you in for a presentation it takes about 45 mins. and then you can learn all about what it is we do and how it works and how you can be on your way to making 500-1000 extra a month! Just let me know a day and time that would work that you can be infront of your computer for the presentation. Thanks!

You can do your own searching on Melaleuca :) 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quickly - A couple letters to the editor

Bob Maniuk writes to The Observer in response to a column by Bob Ripley.  You can read the letter to the editor here:

The letter had a number of sentences and words that weren't necessary.

Sir: Regarding the column "Reason in the Christmas season" by retired Rev. Bob Ripley (The Observer, Dec. 18, 2010).

I read his column each week, and although there are times I do not agree with him, he does offer a unique perspective. But this is the first time I've felt compelled to respond. I have never heard Rev. Ripley sound so cynical sensible.

He seems to question the Virgin birth of Jesus, and that He was the Savior of the world. He goes on to lament that the "kind Bishop St. Nicholas has been hijacked into a mythological marketing tool." The last part That I agree with.

As a child, as I got older and realized that there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy, I wrongly concluded there was no God or Jesus Christ, and that was my thinking as I entered into adulthood.

When I was 23 years old, a miracle happened. Jesus made himself known to me personally, and I experienced the New Birth. The Bible says God is Spirit, and we must worship him in Spirit and Truth. We are body, soul and spirit. When God said "Let us make man in our own image," it is our Spirit that is in His image. Once I experienced the Supernatural miraculous awakening of my spirit, it was only reasonable to accept the Virgin birth of our Savior.

As an adult, I determined to tell my children about the truth of Jesus. I also determined not to lie to them by trying to make them believe in myths that I knew they would eventually grow out of, and come to know were false. I determined that my children would only hear me speak the truth, and that they could trust me. I would always give them my best, and would never steer them wrong.

Rev. Ripley is correct, that at Christmas time we are asked to "ponder the immortal and invisible becoming mortal and visible," although he suggests this is suspect. I believe it with my whole heart. A miracle, by definition, is going to suspend logic and what is reasonable, for if it was reasonable, it would no longer be a miracle.

The Rev. Ripley goes on to say, "The only reality is the family feud and the annual coping binge." As for my extended family, we love being together and there is no feuding. And as far as coping, it is only the details of coming together, which are kept to a minimum as we keep our focus on the "Reason for the season"-God's Gift to mankind, the Lamb of God who would become Savior and Redeemer: Jesus. man's gift to the god they created - the repurposing of pagan celebrations by illiterate men writing their own myths to replace older myths.

Bob Maniuk, Petrolia


Ken L. Maness Jr.'s article needed a lot of cleaning up.

Sir: I have a Christmas thought to share.

I would like to inform those who don't know that tobacco is a sacred gift given to First Nation people from Lord God and Creator, the Great Spirit, Chi GitChi Manitoo. It was given to Turtle Islands' (North America's) original Greenpeace Turtle Clan people as a natural healing medicine so that the life circle of Mother Earth could be sustained and maintained for the benefit of all life on her bosom.

Dictatorship and controlling people would eventually land on the last unconquered territory and try to assimilate a people used to living in harmony with all of creation as foretold by Christ before promising his return to finish his "natural" teachings.

Is it?

Fast forward 2,010 years of recorded history to present day and the dictatorship of British hierarchy continues to blindly tell us how to be in a supposed "free" country. First Nations people were corralled on to reservations of jail-like conditions and design so they could practice their spiritualism at a distance.

Tobacco is our strongest of many medicines and has quietly encompassed the world. Global smudging, world cleansing and/ or devine intervention would follow when the Great Divide realized how in the wrong they were and were given the respect and acknowledgment to the original keepers of the sacred and holy ways.

When other cultures and creeds of our Mother realize their wrongs and listen to our strong and natural voices, a vibrant culture will emerge and reality will be again gifted with the missing lessons and teachings necessary for our world to live as one body.

Do not judge others until you have run in moccasins and experienced firsthand what First Nations people have had to endure and still maintain.

Don't hate. Just love and all will benefit from what other culture has to offer.

The heartbeat of Mother Earth is represented in the drum. If you like music and the arts, then you are part of our assimilation plan laid out by God before time became.

"X" marks the spot and Sarnia is the heart of Turtle Island and our Mother Earth. Stop her abuse and listen to her pleas for world peace and goodwill to reign supreme towards all men, women and children on her bountiful bosom.

(He should have added:
We're all related - take care of each other. )

Ken L. Maness Jr. Sarnia


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Is your Power Balance wristband wearing out? Get a refund.

Okay, so your Power Balance bracelet never worked in the first place:

"Power Balance slammed by ACCC for misleading wristbands"

(To save you from having to read the 5 lines that I didn't quote...)

"All users who purchased the wristbands can now get a full refund if they feel they've been misled".

"Power Balance has admitted that there is no credible scientific basis for the claims and therefore no reasonable grounds for making representations about the benefits of the product."

"Consumers should be wary of other similar products on the market that make unsubstantiated claims, when they may be no more beneficial than a rubber band."

(Funny thing about this article is right below it (for me anyway), I see an ad for: "Pure Energy Bands Canada" - - a site that is selling the same bullshit.  They are making unsubstantiated claims that are not supported by reality.  Time for a complaint?)

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m An Atheist

Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts. 

Continue Reading...


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Darin James Revisited

I've talked about this tool, Darin James, before.  He had advertised his claimed psychic services on a local classifieds site so I called him out.

As a result, I would say that Darin and I had become friends - but we haven't really kept in touch. This is my attempt to rekindle our relationship - an olive branch of sorts.  (Do you think I should have held off on calling him a tool at the beginning of this entry?)

Regardless, Darin came to mind because I had received an email from a blog follower regarding another woo-woo peddling scumbag in Sarnia - Mary Demitro/Mary Young (whom I've also mentioned in earlier entries).  The emailer wanted to alert me to a site on the internet (this one).  The link he had included, however, didn't work so I searched for "psychic sarnia" (the same search he claimed to have done).   The first link I came across was the above one but I also saw the second link (Darin James - Medium / Psychic Counsellor).

I was browsing Darin's site and came across the following statement:

Note from Darin James:
It is all about the energies and the emotions that I pick up . All readings are kept very private and I will never use any person or case to promote myself. If I can help I do and if not I will say so ....... trust is a two way street .
To all my current clients thank you so much for your faith and trust. Blessings DJ.
(Found near the bottom of this page.)

It brought back memories of Robbie Thomas ( - another person who is not psychic - and his self-promotion that included using the names of dead people and the suggestion that he had solved their crimes.  Since Robbie Thomas did not solve many of the crimes that he mentions (he hasn't produced any evidence to support the claim that he has solved any and he certainly hasn't solved the ones that are listed on his site as of this posting), he was lying.

I commend Darin for not using other people's tragedies to further his goal (the goal of helping people fix their fat wallet syndrome).  So Darin, here's my olive branch to you - could you work with us to help stop other psychics from referencing horrible crimes they didn't solve to suggest they have abilities that they don't have?

Consider a quote I found on a psychic's blog:
Years ago when I was working on the Bernardo case I had to take a long break from doing these kind of cases due to the disturbing nature of the crimes and the things I seen and experienced via my gifts. It was good to get alot of the information I recieved and to have an arrest shortly after. I am not saying I completely solved this case by anymeans but any info that helped in a conviction is the important thing here.
(You can find this quote in this entry.)

Wait a minute - that's your blog, Darin!  You lying piece crap.  You can keep the olive branch - insert it where the sun doesn't shine. 

(For the record, Darin James' name is not mentioned a single time in the court documents of the Bernardo trial - nor was any evidence brought forward that was credited to a psychic.  Homolka did report that she, herself, had seen a psychic for some advice after the murders had occured.  One of the investigators had this to say:  "No. The answer to your question is no. We did not receive any useful clues from psychics." when asked if psychics helped solve the Bernardo case. )

Friday, December 17, 2010

It is not cynicism, it's skepticism.

I am often troubled by comments that friends make - allowing the statements to go unquestioned would go against everything I'm hoping our society could achieve. On the other hand, however, I need to balance the desire to keep my wife from getting mad at me for "offending" a friend.

Typically I simply try my best to avoid topics where pure stupid can be exhibited by those who have done little (no) research on the area of discussion. However, there are times when it is inevitable, a topic is being discussed that asks for (no, requires) a response.

When my friend responded with a statement of idiocy (when they gently punched my shoulder I joked about having just got my flu shot (I got it months ago) but they responded about not getting the flu shot because it is a "scam" - they referred to homeopathy, at first, and then vitamins and supplements - for the record they were unaware that homeopathic "remedies" were not the same as "herbal remedies" nor did they know that 200C meant "1 drop in 'there-aren't-that-many-drops-of-water-in-the-whole-universe"). I stopped, for a second, and weighed, quickly the benefits and drawbacks of responding. My skeptical side won out (to the chagrin of my wife).

This person suggested that they (and their kids) take an homeopathic (or herbal - it's the same thing to them! :) ) "treatment" and the kids "never get sick" but "when they do get sick, I give them X treatment and it works". Either the kids "never get sick" or they do - but no time for semantics. Mark Crislip ( mentioned a quote in one of his podcasts that I often attempt to repeat (but fail miserably as you'll see): "If you have a common cold and take an over-the-counter cold remedy, you'll get better in about 7 days but if you don't take anything, your cold will get better in about a week."

Regression to the mean, the natural history of the disease and the FACT that most (all?) common cold viruses are self-limiting often result in people attributing a causal effect of a (non-)treatment with the improvement of a set of symptoms. The anecdotes that follow seem compelling and interesting but, as far as evidence goes, anecdotes are of little value - whatever the plural of anecdote is, it is not data.

I thought I would speak to them, a bit, about Airborne but when I mentioned the product, they quickly responded with "yeah, that stuff works great, I take it before I travel or when I start to feel a cold coming on". It put a smile on my face, I could hardly hold my excitement. Airborne was falsely claiming that its product could prevent the common cold or reduce the effects of it and the FTC called them on it - as a result they had to refund purchasers' money (

Explaining the airborne refund lead my friend to ask "why are you so cynical?" It is a question that skeptics, on occasion, will have to face. Ironically, we're not the cynics - we have a positive view of the strengths of science and humanity - someone who believes in homeopathy or is anti-vaccine or believes that 9/11 was an inside job (activate comment trolls!) is cynical - they're suggesting that the "medical industrial complex" or "big government" is actively trying to profit with no regard for their fellow humans/citizens. We (skeptics) have a positive view of humanity, not a cynical one. We just happen to require a little more evidence before we accept a life-affecting proposition.

Skepticism is a positive and healthy approach to take. It is educational and rational and can help one avoid scams, health risks and abuse. So go out, be skeptical - you're helping, not hurting, your fellow human, your family and your planet.

(As a side note: Ironically, this person, who is rather against the idea of germ theory (seriously!), carries around a container of anti-bacterial hand wash.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pope: F#$k the minority unless that's us!

Maybe the Pope didn't say it as it is being reported...

When condeming "the West" for enforcing the strict separation of church and state, the Pope says: "denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens".  (Majority Rules!)


"In the message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, marked on Jan. 1, he also reiterated recent condemnations of lack of religious freedom in countries in the Middle East where Christians are a minority, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia." (Hey, the minority rights matter!)

And then he adds this:
“The same determination that condemns every form of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism must also oppose every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life.”

It's what the Bible says and endorses that worries me.  Having people live it out in civil and political life is dangerous. 

Tim Minchin said it best...

Multi-level Marketing: The math doesn't work

This is an interesting topic to handle but since it is the holiday season and my wife is getting more and more invites to "parties", I thought I'd discuss, quickly, multi-level/network marketing.

Some of the most known multi-level marketing schemes (look up 'scheme' before you wrongly suggest that I'm poisoning the well) include Amway, Mary Kay, Qixtar, Tupperware, Avon, Herbalife, etc. Some of the newer/more recent ones that you might have heard about (or are hearing about) include: Arbonne (Cosmetics), Stampin Up, Tahitian Noni Juice, etc.

Most network/multi-level marketing organizations rely on recruitment to build an income. It is thinly veiled in the idea of selling a product and earning an income from that but sales, alone, don't allow for a real profit (unsustainable, at the very least).

For the most part, people are sold on the idea that they often buy many of the products that the particular MLM company is selling and "why not make money while using and selling the products you're going to buy anyway?" A simple and compelling concept - if it were true. They add in the idea of recruiting a few friends or family members who, like you, are also using these products in their homes. If they get a few people under them, too, and you're making commissions on their purchases and their sales, you can be making "thousands of dollars a week" or "conservatively, a couple thousand dollars a month" (these quotes directly from someone who was trying to get me to attend a "sales presentation" on Qixtar).

Without speaking about a specific multi-level/network marketing company, let us consider the simple math.

If they suggest profits based on having 5 people "directly below" you, that seems like a simple number to achieve. You have 5 friends or family members. They only need to get 5 people below them (each) - surely they know 5 people who'd be interested. If they each get 5 and that group, too, gets 5, and that group another 5 and you, along with them, sell $500/week (easy, huh, you'll spend $100 a week yourself and the people below you will as well.. all the way down the line) - you'll make $2000/month.

5 levels of 5 people - 3905 people
10 levels of 5 people - 12 million people
15 levels of 5 people - 5-6 full planets of people

Schemes like this can't simply work - there are not enough people on the planet to sustain them. Sure, the few people at the "top" might make a bunch of money (for a short time) but would you be comfortable with knowingly screwing your family and friends to make a bit of money in the short term?

Even if it only required 3 people - 363, 88572, 1/3 of everyone on the planet.

The companies selling the products/services are often selling over-priced items/services so not only are you not making money, you're spending more than you should on a product or service of similar quality/benefit. The net result is that you have better odds of making money at a casino than you do with any recruitment driven (no matter how much they try to hide that) method of earning/paying.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Santa Claus <> Real, Zombie Jew = Real

Forgive me for having to reiterate this.  I spend countless hours trying to remember this and if what they say is true, by teaching everyone else, I'll learn this twice.

Archbishop Fabriciano Sigampa reminds us that it is Santa Claus that is not real but the Zombie Jew (aka Jesus) is.

Now that we've dealt with that, get back to celebrating the birth of the Zombie Jew - after all, he was born (though likely never existed) on December 25th - just like the bible says!

Whether you believe in a god or not, happy holidays (oh, and there is no war on Christmas).  Enjoy this lovely Christmas song.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hold your false look of surprise: Robbie lied

(Note: This is a cross post from

Well, the publication ban has been lifted on the Tori Stafford case and, as suspected, Robbie Thomas was NOT involved in solving that crime (he has never solved a crime using his claimed psychic abilities).

Details also show that, not only was Robbie not involved in solving the crime, he (as mentioned here and on actually told the family that Tori was alive and would be found alive and well - about a week after she was brutally murdered.

April 8 - Tori goes missing. (Abducted)
April 8 - Abductors buy garbage bags and a hammer.
April 8 - Lifeless body is disposed of.
April 13 - Robbie Thomas claims (on X-Zone radio) that Tori Stafford would be found alive and safe. (He also told the family this as was reported in the London Free Press and other websites)

I will make a prediction now.  Robbie Thomas' solved cases counter will not change in the next 9 years.  Robbie Thomas has solved 0 cases in 18 (or 20) years.  A perfect record!

If you have a moment, congratulate Robbie - (and, if you do, carbon copy us -

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yes!!! Now we're getting somewhere!

I am so excited to see the latest marketing campaign from CFI Canada.  Following up their "There's probably no god" from last year is a campaign focused on a wider set of claims.

What I like most about this ad is that we're not skirting around the issue - belief in god is just as wild and crazy as accepting the existence of bigfoot, zeus, psychics, homeopathy (and the site goes on to include: chiropractic, boogiemen, vampires, leprechauns and many more) or, from the other side, believing in homeopathy or zeus or boogiemen is just as wild and crazy as accepting that a god (or gods) exist(s).


Monday, December 6, 2010

Amanda Brown Responds with what is in Homeopathic 'Treatments': Nothing

After posting the first entry on Watford's own Amanda Brown, I invited her to comment or add something to the discussion.  Another post followed shortly and then, like magic (like Homeopathy?), an email from Amanda.

The content of her email was eerily similar to Homeopathy - empty but with some suggestion of content.

Sarnia Skeptic,

I just wanted to let you know that I have now read both your blog entries, and you obviously have your mind made up about homeopathy and myself! Everyone has a right to their own option. I wish you would have made reference to all the websites that confirm the amzing things Homeopathy helps people to achieve. But like you said, you are Sarnia's very own Skeptic!!! I really do not have anything to add or to comment on, because I believe and stand behind Homeopathy 100%!

Thank you for pointing out my spelling error on my initial consultation form, I will be correcting that today!

Yours in health,
I have, since, responded to Amanda with a request that she not only imply that there are "websites that confirm" but actually include them for us to consider. I suspect our communications have ended as a result - how dare me ask such impossible questions! (Almost a month has passed, as of this posting, and no response.)

I do think that Amanda is sincere in her belief in magic (homeopathy) - I've never met a Homeopath who didn't appear to be.  I think, like all of us, the desire to believe can sometimes allow us to cherry-pick information that agrees with our position (confirmation bias) and ignore the contradictory evidence.

Without a doubt, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of websites that contain countless anecdotes about people overcoming the impossible with the help of homeopathy.  One must be reminded that the plural of anecdote, however, is not data.
In the past, I have linked to studies done on homeopathy (real studies) that show no benefit beyond placebo and I have linked to a couple of tiny studies that suggest further study is required and that there may be a small benefit to homeopathy.  Small studies with limited (no) controls are not what science relies on.  Larger and more complete trials have shown, conclusively, that homeopathy's benefit is simply equal to (if not because of - which I would suggest it is) the placebo effect.
The reality of homeopathy is that it isn't based on reality - to accept that extremely dilute substances, so dilute that they can't possibly contain a single molecule of the 'active' ingredient, can affect the natural history of a disease would require us to forget what we know about biology and chemistry (nevermind physics and modern medicine).

Amanda Brown is pushing products that have no plausible mechanism of altering specific outcomes of a disease but, as a result of seeking homeopathic "treatments", having people delay real treatment can have terrible effects.  Homeopathy is not only silly, it has real potential consequences.

The Real "Secret" - Alternative Medicine is a killer

From David Gorski at Science Based Medicine: Death by “alternative” medicine: Who’s to blame? (Revisited)

I hate stories like this. I really do. I hate them with a burning passion that makes it hard for me to see straight when I first find out about them.

In fact, you might even say that stories like this are a major part of the reason why I do what I do, both here and elsewhere. They’re a major part of the reason why I’ve recently branched out into public speaking, something that used to terrify me beyond belief but that lately I’ve become at least competent at–sometimes even not bad at all. Sadly, the story I’m about to tell is one I’ve told before, most recently at the Lorne Trottier Science Symposium, where I gave a talk on cancer cure “testimonials,” although at the time I gave the talk the story’s outcome, although predictable, was not yet known.

Now it is.

The woman to whom I refer is named Kim Tinkham, who was diagnosed with breast cancer over three and a half years ago. Regular readers may recall that Kim Tinkham achieved fame not long after that when she was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in an episode about The Secret, an episode I discussed posts entitled The Oprah-fication of Medicine and On the nature of “alternative” medicine cancer cure testimonials. I don’t want to discuss the utter nonsense that is The Secret in any detail here. However, for those unfamiliar with this particular bit of New Age woo, it’s important to point out that The Secret’s “Law of Attraction” takes the germ of a reasonable idea (namely that one’s attitudes and wishes influence whether one gets what one wants in life, something that’s been known for millennia) and goes off the deep end of woo by proclaiming that, in essence, you can get anything you want by wanting it badly enough and thinking positive thoughts. Basically “The Secret” is that you have the power to “attract” good to yourself by thinking happy thoughts (hence “the law of attraction,” which, according to Secret adherents always works). It’s an idea that resonates in so much of “alternative medicine,” such as German New Medicine or Biologie Totale. Of course, the implication of “Secret” thinking is that, if you don’t get what you want, it’s your fault, an idea that also resonates with so much “alternative” medicine, where a frequent excuse for failure is that the patient either didn’t follow the regimen closely enough or didn’t want it badly enough.

Basically, The Secret is what inspired Kim Tinkham to eschew all conventional therapy for her breast cancer and pursue “alternative” therapies, which is what she has done since 2007. Before I discuss her case in more detail, I’m going to cut to the chase, though.

This weekend, I learned that Kim Tinkham’s cancer has recurred and that she is dying. On Saturday, a reader of my other blog sent me an e-mail...

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Michael Shoesmith: Should atheists be asked to leave Canada?

A follower of my blog has suggested that The Sarnia Observer has an internal bet going on about how long it will take for me to respond to some of the rubbish they publish.  Sadly, if they're entertaining themselves, it comes at the expense of perpetuating the ignorance that is rooted in religion. 

Michael Shoesmith had written a letter to the editor with the title of my blog as the headline - asking if atheists should be asked to leave Canada.  Before you read the letter to the editor, let us answer the question based on how religion has asked in the past - No, True Christians(tm) wouldn't ask, they'd murder them(us).

I don't have much time to completely respond to his letter but I have highlighted a few of his words/phrases with links.  The truth isn't what Michael wishes it were, you'll quickly see.

Here is the letter to the editor (yes, it really was published - see it here):
Sir: The United Nations has released their best and worst list of places to live. Norway has made the number one spot this time and Zimbabwe has hit rock bottom.
Here's the reality. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Norway is 90% Christian while Zimbabwe is 75% Syncretic. While you're all dusting off your dictionaries consider this question: Should atheists be asked to leave Canada? Well, according to our national anthem, the answer is yes. Since part of the anthem is an actual prayer to the transcendental creator of the universe, atheists aren't even a factor in our most important representative symbol.
In case you're wondering which God the anthem is referring to, keep in mind that the french version makes direct mention of the "cross."
It should come as no surprise then that countries which promote atheistic tenets have the highest rates of suicide (China, et al). Therefore, the less atheism that exists in a culture, the happier the people will be.
Perhaps the non-atheist country of Zimbabwe could learn something from Quebec which has included the cross in its symbolic expression of the national anthem. Because blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.
Mike Shoesmith Sarnia
To sum it up - Norway is among the most secular nations in the world.  China is hardly non-religious (it's one of the most religious) and Quebec is possibly the most secular province in Canada.  I agree, maybe we could learn something from them.

If Norway is among the most secular nations in the world and it is the best place to live, then the premise of Michael's letter is completely backwards.  Norway IS among the most secular nations in the world (Society Without God) and it IS the best place in the world to live (as Michael has stated) so asking atheists to leave would make Canada a worse place to live (following Michael's logic).

It turns out, too, that "our" national anthem was based on a version from 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir:
O Canada! Our home and native land.

True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
And stand on guard, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, glorious and free,
We stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
The link (according to our national anthem) above states "The official English version now in use incorporates changes recommended in 1968 by a joint committee of MPs and senators that added the lines "from far and wide" and "God keep our land glorious and free!"" That's hardly in agreement with the idea that Mike is trying to put forward - the "god" part was added 60 years after the original was written and 101 years after we were (Canada was) given autonomy.

Arguing that mention of the "cross" in the French version implies that it is the Christian god makes little sense, too, when you consider that the cross symbol, itself, is of pagan origin.  Come on Michael, is this the best you can do?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Robbie Thomas Supporter Responds

I logged in to my blogspot account to find a bunch of comments requiring "moderation".  After an article has been posted for a certain length of time, any comments added are automatically set for moderation.  If you post a comment shortly after the article appears, the comments will automatically appear.  (I have since approved all but two of the comments awaiting moderation - one of them is why I'm writing this entry.)

The comment that I thought deserved some attention was the following from an anonymous person that was recently posted:

You know, I have had dealings with Robbie Thomas, and he "saw" something that I had in my house that had belonged to my parents. There was no way that he could have known that these things even existed. Why do you people have to be so hateful and jealous. Do you have nothing better to do with your time than to try to bad mouth other people. Give me a break. Just because he made the mistake by going "public" with his gifts just opened the door to people like you. I think that you just have nothing better to do with your time than smash other people. If you people were responsible for low ticket sales at his shows, then I dont blame him for cancelling the rest of his tour. You people seem to know it all dont you.....well you know what, from what I can see you are all nothing but some small town people that arent happy unless you are bad mouthing someone or other, and he, because of his talents, is a good target for you.
I must start off by saying "No, I didn't know.  I'm not psychic, just like Robbie."  Thanks for the anecdote (void of any real content, mind you) about what Robbie "saw" and how that suggests he is "psychic". 

"Hateful and jealous"
I don't hate Robbie Thomas and I'm certainly not jealous of him.  What Robbie does, however, is deserving of substantial amounts of hate - he is destroying the memories of lost loved ones, preying on already victimized people and lying about his abilities. 

"Nothing better to do with my time than to bad mouth other people"
To be completely honest, no.  I think spending time to out liars and frauds is an important and necessary duty that we should all be involved in.  More appropriately, however, is that I'm not "bad mouth"ing other people - the truth can be painful to those it exposes and I offer no apologies. 

"Just because he made the mistake by going 'public' with his gifts"
Though you fail to mention what such "gifts" Robbie has, I must assume you are referring to his claims that he is "psychic".  If that happens to be the case, let me say this: Robbie Thomas is not psychic.  If he was, he'd go collect the million dollars from the JREF.  Better yet, have Robbie actually find a missing person using such "gifts".  In 20 years he has failed to do so and I'm fairly certain that the next 20 will be just as fruitless.

"If you people were responsible for low ticket sales at his shows, then I don't blame him for cancelling the rest of his tour"
First off, I hope we were responsible (or partly so) for his low ticket sales but I doubt that is the case.  All of his shows had very few attendees so I'm doubtful that we played any part in it.  Being a commercial failure is likely why he cancelled his tour (though his former "manager" might suggest different reasons for the shows failure).  Since most people who would have went to his "shows" would have been fairly credulous (and already believers), they wouldn't have sought out dissenting opinions.

"You people seem to know it all don't you"
Yes. Great point. :)  No, we don't know it all but it isn't necessary to know everything to see a fraud.  If someone claims that they have solved crimes using psychic powers but can not (or will not) present the supporting evidence, we should have no reason to accept such a claim.  If we have evidence that is counter to specific claims that the person has made, we have reason to suggest that they are lying or are being fraudulent.  Specifically, Robbie Thomas did not solve the Victoria Stafford case nor did Robbie Thomas solve the Cezar Cano case.  He has also not solved the Natalie Holloway case.  One could assume, then, that he is lying if he claims otherwise.

"Because of his talents, is a good target for you"
Robbie Thomas is a valid target because of his claims.  He doesn't have any supernatural talents.  He makes testable claims that are blatantly false.  Until such time as he stops victimizing people, he, and those like him, will continue to be "targets". site is dedicated to stopping the abuse by psychics.  Much more on Robbie Thomas (who is not psychic) is available there. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Joan Hall: Jesus Offers Hope for Today's Teens

Joan Hall, a resident of Sarnia, wrote a letter to the editor of The Sarnia Observer about Jesus and, in fine Observer form, they published it. (I swear they do this simply to entertain me.)


Sir: The Oct. 30 Observer article "Finding the Light," concerning "a spate of recent suicides," reminded me that back in 1963 (47 years ago) prayer (and God) was removed from the public schools.

Point made - only youth in public schools (and none in Catholic of Christian schools) commit suicide.  Oh? Maybe not?

Before 1963, chief problems with kids included talking, chewing gum, making noise, getting out of line, etc. After 1963, things escalated to the problems becoming rape, robbery, assault, murder, suicide, etc.

The absurdity of that statement is amazing.  No murders, assaults, robberies, rapes and suicides before 1963?  Shake your head.  And next are you going to tell us that before "god" came down to Moses, people didn't know not to kill and rape?  And how many people have committed suicide because of the oppression and subjugation brought on by people who believe in "god"?  Homophobia, oppression of women and out-group hostility are victimless crimes?

Did you know that when public schools were founded, the Bible was the main textbook? Also, Harvard, Yale and Princeton were all founded as Christian colleges for the purpose of teaching the Bible.

You talk about kids behaving badly and then mention the bible?  Time to stone the kids!  (Joan, please read your bible, it obviously doesn't say what you think it does.)  And who cares what Yale, Princeton, etc. were founded with/to do(never mind that you have your facts wrong)? Over 300 years ago, we didn't have "modern science".  The Universities have grown up - you should too.

There is an answer to the "light" that today's children/ teens are looking for. It is Jesus Christ.

And here I thought they didn't want light - I was thinking they wanted to be recognized as equal and valuable members of society.  Maybe people do yearn for people to call them sinners and sick and abominations and they simply also need Jesus Christ to be invoked when all that happens (as if that isn't the reason for a good portion of it already).  Thank you, Joan.  Your logic is perfect.

Do you wonder why young and old alike are lost, confused, depressed with no reason to live? They have no hope.

I wonder if that is because they've prayed and prayed and prayed and have never had a prayer answered?  They've been lied to all their lives about the existence of some sky-fairy who will look after them when they need help and now, in times when they need help, he's not there (and never has been).

Jesus is the answer. He will enter into your life -just ask Him.

Jesus?  Still nothing.

Jesus offers and gives hope. But you have to go to Him. He's always waiting.
-- Joan Hall

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

God will save us from climate change...

When the headline of a major Canadian newspaper is "God will save us from climate change: US Representative", I can't help but laugh - at first.

John Shimkus really is a member of the house in the US.  He really does believe that man cannot destroy what "god" has created.  That's funny in the sense of "that's fucking stupid." It's not funny in the sense of "wholly fuck - he's actually an elected member of the house who can affect policy change".

You see, no matter what your beliefs/ideas are about global climate change, the idea that ONLY "god" can end the existence of humans is wrong and the implications of such an idea could be horrible.  Humans do have the ability to end humanity.

The most religious nations on earth have stockpiles of nuclear (and other) weapons.  So maybe John is right - "god" may save us from climate change - by having "his" followers, on earth, continue the war over who has the best imaginary friend.  Total destruction of humanity in the short term would save us from extinction in the long run.

God belief is stupid: Confrontation works!

I'm a dick but I think that being a dick has value.  Many argue that confronting the beliefs of others only makes them retreat to their side and never results in a change of their beliefs.  I've said (and will continue to say) that different things work for different people and we need to take a number of different approaches.

To the people, however, who suggest that the likes of "The Four Horsemen" are not changing people's minds, check out this story:

The claim that the only people that Dawkins (Hitchens, Dennett and Harris) convince are the "fence sitters" is a bit silly when you consider that "Adam (one of the ministers in the story) said his initial doubts about God came as he read the work of the so-called New Atheists -- popular authors like the prominent scientist Richard Dawkins. He said the research was intended to help him defend his faith."

Though I disagree with the claims that people like Dawkins are "strident" and "shrill", I will say that they are not apologetic and they have no problems with pointing out absurd positions.  I think that is a valuable approach.

Now, there is a difference between saying someone is stupid and saying that some one's beliefs are stupid.  There is also a difference between tolerance and respect - and Penn Jillette says it well:
“There’s a big difference between tolerance and respect. Tolerance is you saying something crazy and me smiling and saying ‘that’s nice.’ Respect is when you say something crazy and I say ‘you’re out of your f---ing mind.’ Direct confrontation, direct conversation is real respect. And it’s amazing how many people get that.” The Toronto Star, "Penn Jillette and the gospel of disbelief"
So, yes, the beliefs that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, that dinosaurs lived alongside humans and that we don't share common ancestors with all living species are stupid beliefs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Amanda Brown and the Power of Nothing

I have to say Amanda Brown's information about Homeopathic Flu "Vaccines" was among the most disturbing things I've seen since I started blogging.  As a result, I have this real urge to continue to point out the stupidity of homeopathy - so...

After writing the last blog entry about Amanda Brown "CHom", I sent her an email to see if she had anything to add.  She has yet to respond.  I'm doubtful that she ever will.

A comment on my blog referred to a Science Based Medicine article on Homeopathic Vaccines that appeared shortly after I posted my blog entry.  I happen to be a big fan of Mark Crislip's writings and his podcast ( so I was happy to see him cover the topic.  It is well worth reading.

Below is a video with Ben Goldacre ( explaining Homeopathy.  It is about a year old but does a good job of quickly explaining how it is supposed to work and the ethical question surrounding the use of Homeopathy.

Often people argue about the value of Homeopathy - since there is supposed to be absolutely nothing in it, the risk of Homeopathy, it is said, is none.  'If there is no risk but people can "feel better" by taking it, what is the harm?'  Assuming that this statement were accurate (Homeopathic 'medicines' have been known to be adulterated or have been contaminated so the risk isn't "none".), however, REAL medicine isn't about making people "feel better", it is about actually making people "better".  Feeling better is not the same as being better.

The argument of "what's the harm?", I would suggest, is a horrible one for a number of reasons but, without getting into that (yet anyway), when you consider the "replacement" of a vaccine with a homeopathic "treatment", the risks are real.  The flu is real - it costs thousands of lives every year (in North America alone).  Not everyone who comes in contact with the flu virus gets the flu and not everyone who gets the flu dies from it.  Not getting the flu shot, however, means that you are at an increased risk of becoming infected and, as a result, falling ill.  Taking "nothing" (replace "Homeopathic Remedy" with "nothing") can be harmful.

There are risks to Homeopathic "treatments" as well.  If a person with a cold takes a Homeopathic Remedy and shortly after gets "better" it is possible that they will attribute the "healing" to the Homeopathic "treatment".  It is often said that if you have a common cold, taking an over-the-counter cold remedy will result in the cold lasting only 7 days.  Without taking the over-the-counter remedy, it would last about a week.  The natural progression of the common cold is, generally, not altered by treating it with most over-the-counter products.  The natural progression of the common cold is not altered by treating it with a Homeopathic remedy so the person giving credit to the Homeopathic "treatment" is wrongly associating the "remedy" with causing them to get better.  This is where it can become a problem.

The next time the person feels ill then, as a result of what they might feel was a "successful" treatment of their cold, they may attend a Homeopathic practitioner instead of seeing someone who actually might be able to help.  Delaying the treatment of, what could be, a serious illness can have real harmful effects.  Also, taking a homeopathic treatment and "feeling better" while the disease continues to run rampant can further delay the real treatment. 

Homeopaths should never be diagnosing a person - they, almost without exception, have very little (if any) scientific training and often no real-world clinical experience.  The "school" that Amanda Brown claims to have "attended" offers clinical experience via DVD.  Her "certificate" (whatever) is something that is achieved with only 20 weekends of study (500 hours total).  (Oh, and over $9000!)

On browsing Amanda's website (she has since moved her website:, you will come across her form for an "Initial Consultation" (her form is no longer online) - it is no wonder that most people who have seen a Homeopath will not talk openly about them.  It's like Scientology - "tell us all of your dark secrets, it will only help you" and then when you try to leave the cult, "ummm, you do remember that form you filled out with all of your dirty secrets? WE wouldn't want anyone to find out about that, would we?" :) 

I'm not saying that is what Homeopaths do but are you really going to tell some unregulated (and, in so many ways, uneducated) person about your medical history?  The form asks you to list "medical conditions" that you have had in the past or that you currently have, including, "HIV/AIDS, Gonnerrhea, Syphilis, Parasites, Drug Abuse, Alcoholism, Cirrhosis, Miscarriage, Herpes (gentalia)" (and, yes, the spelling is how it is found on Amanda's form).  Ready to sign up yet?

Update: See "A Bitter Pill to Swallow" by Edzard Ernst. (Posted today - November 8, 2010)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Michael Shoesmith - Need I say more?

Michael Shoesmith (formerly known as "The Internet Pastor") has written another letter to the editor of the local newspaper (The Sarnia Observer).  The main point of the message, it seemed, was about parents being aware of what their children are doing on-line.  Wow, I thought, something sensible from possibly the least sensible person I know.

Sadly, that wasn't really all he had to say.  He suggested that TV is really really bad and should be removed from homes with children and that letting your child use the Internet unsupervised is like knowingly leaving your child with a serial child molester.

Near the end of the article, however, he states the following:
Finally, while modern scientific enlightenment has come a long way to make our lives easier and more exciting, the term "science" has been hijacked by agenda-driven atheistic groups and Darwinian evolution plays a large role in promoting the attitudes of these groups. Evolution has become a religious tenet in the main stream scientific community, even though real science is happily performed without it.
Parents must realize that there is a battle going on for the hearts and minds of their young ones. Neither you nor your children are animals. Real science makes no such claim. Intra-genus micro adaptation is an obvious reality, but gametic isolation restricts any extreme extra-genus variance and none has ever been observed. Remind your children that they are special, unique creations and there is a God in heaven who loves them.
Starting from the first paragraph, let me say that science has done more than make life "more exciting" - it has made our lives, on average, twice as long.  It has brought about some of the greatest and most awe inspiring discoveries of all time and it has (and continues to) provided us with a greater knowledge of the universe.  In turn, one could argue, it has removed the necessity for belief in sky-fairies.  The scientific method is self-correcting and, because of that, can't be hijacked.

The statistics tell us that the higher level of education a person has, the less likely they are to hold beliefs in a god.  They also show that an overwhelming percentage of scientists do not hold on to supernatural beliefs.  The agenda, if any, is to find the truth.  Science is about following the evidence and building comprehensive theories that successfully explain the evidence.  From there we are able to make valid predictions and, in turn, create new medicines, new technology and much more.  As a result we have been able to increase crop yields, decrease childhood mortality, extend life, generate electricity, improve quality of life - the list is almost endless.

Evolution is, in many ways, the central unifying theory of biology.  Without evolution, biologists can make little (no?) predictions and have little to explain life.  Without an understanding of evolution, little (if any) modern medicines would exist and germ theory doesn't make sense.  To suggest that "real science is happily performed without it" is ignorant (at best), but (more likely) blatantly misleading and false.

Michael - you, like all other humans, are an animal.  We are all animals and every living thing on this earth is related.  We share a common ancestor with apes, aardvarks and apples.  Simply wishing that were not the case does not change that fact.  Get over your self-importance. 

And, people, remind your children that they are special - imagine how many chance occurrences had to have taken place for them to have ever lived.  Billions of possible sperm, thousands of possible eggs - for each generation before them, billions of possible pairings of couples - and, in all that, the statistical improbability still resulted in them having the fortunate (and nearly improbable) ability to ever experience life.  That is pretty special.

As Richard Dawkins said in his 1998 book, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

Homeopathic Medical Council of Canada Website: Just like Homeopathy

The Homeopathic Medical Council of Canada website (which was launched in 2008) is, as the title suggests, just like Homeopathy.

How, you ask?

1.) For the most part, it has nothing in it.  Most of the links have no content (ie. "Work in progress. Please visit again to view these details.")
2.) There is nothing helpful in the site.
3.) It is completely useless.
4.) It can distract you from going to something that might actually be worthwhile.

See for yourself:

(This was going to be a blog entry about a Woo-woo homeopathic practitioner in Watford - YAY WATFORD!! - named Amanda Brown but after I had written the entry, I looked for some links to include about Homeopathy and came across this one.  The link talks about what is found on the Society of Homeopath's website about Homeopathy - something I didn't think they'd really admit to.  As a result I wanted to see what Canada's own "group" had to say about Homeopathy... apparently not much.)

But I can't let Amanda Brown off so easily.  Amanda has a flyer about "Homeopathic Flu Prophylaxis".  What is amazing about Homeopathic Flu Protection, as Amanda states it, is that it "has been proposed as safe and effective way to protect against childhood and other epidemic diseases including influenza."  Seriously!  She is claiming that a non-existent amount of the flu virus contained in a highly-dilute liquid can protect against more than just the flu!

"This remedy is a homeopathic preparation of the flu virus.  It is produced by Dolisos Pharmacy, using the flu virus strain recommended by the World Health Organization vaccine production."  (Interestingly, the World Health Organization doesn't produce vaccines.)

She then claims "the remedies used for homeopathic protection are prepared according to safe homeopathic principles.  They are free of harmful components... " (Hmmm, it contains the ACTUAL flu virus (which vaccines don't, by the way) and thus the statement is not true or it doesn't contain the flu virus and the former statement isn't true.)  It continues "...and capable of stimulating a strong protective response from the body, increasing its resistance to disease."  Really? You have the nerve to state that when there isn't a single scientific study to support your claims? 

Here's my favourite part... "Homeopathic flu protection is safe for all ages.  It can be used with babies through to the elderly and even during pregnancy.  There are no adverse reactions or side effects associated with these vaccines."  Right.  Except if the person who is simply using the Homeopathic protection actually encounters the virus it is supposed to protect against.  The fact of the matter is this:  If there is no potential for harm from ingesting a "medicine", there can be NO method of action therefore it is not possible for it to provide any benefit.  (Misusing real medicine doesn't have the same effect.)

If you didn't read the article I referenced above, I suggest that you read it now

Monday, November 1, 2010

The End Goal Isn't Acceptance of Evolution

First of all, the "accommodationists" that suggest we need to work with the religious who accept evolution fail to realize that the "evolution" they accept is not evolution as it occurs.  (Most fail to accept common ancestry!)

On to the point of this entry.

I've blogged, in the past, about many of the "flock" not knowing what their official church doctrines are - they don't.  Surveys and studies often show that many Catholics do not know that the official stance of the church is acceptance of evolution - and though that is on the topic of this entry, I don't suggest it is the only spot where followers are unaware of official doctrine. 

So we need to get more Catholics to accept the official church doctrine, right?  Wrong. 

Many "accommodationists" will suggest to others that they will have a better chance of convincing others to accept evolution if they can point to other believers who also accept evolution.  Many argue that you can keep your faith and accept evolution - "Look at Francis Collins" or "Take Kenneth Miller for example" or "Even the Catholic church officially recognizes evolution". 

The first point I want to make is that we're appealing to authority - ie. you are to throw out that dogmatic belief because someone in a higher position in the church has done so OR someone seemingly smarter than you says you should/can OR someone closer to "god" says you now should/can.  Not only has it failed to work, it is the wrong approach.  We want people to think, to follow the evidence and to accept things on their own validity - not to simply believe/accept things because others say it is okay to accept them.  If the argument is not valid, it matters not who is making it. 

The second point that needs to be made is that it isn't only the topic of evolution that we need to tackle - people who don't think for themselves and don't demand adequate evidence before accepting a life-affecting (their life or the lives of others) proposition have not moved much further ahead if they simply accept evolution as a scientific fact.  (As an aside, evolution is occuring (fact) and the theory of evolution by means of natural selection is one of the most tested and supported theories in science.)  We need people to consider the evidence and understand what is necessary for a "theory" to be generally accepted - it has to account for all of the evidence, it needs to make predictions and it needs to be falsifiable. 

I'm not going to argue that we should all take the confrontational approach or that people are wrong for trying to partner with believers to keep evolution in the school curriculum (NCSE, etc.).  That is an important temporary measure but the need goes away when we get people to respect science and trust the scientific process.  Sadly, many accommodationists are willing to sacrifice what is "true" to achieve a single (and short-sighted) goal. 

Though I realize different people respond to different methods of criticism or argument, don't sacrifice the truth.  Use a different approach, sure, but keep in mind that we should be arguing against appeals to authority (or arguments from authority) and other methods of coercion.  We're arguing for a skeptical and scientific evaluation of the evidence before accepting a proposition.  Saying "well, Mr. Famous accepts it so you should too" is the wrong direction.  And sacrificing honesty with the goal of getting (keeping) evolution in the science curriculum also does not help achieve the real objective.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Emile Varsava's Letter to the Editor - Sarnia Observer

In a recent edition of The Sarnia Observer, Emile Varsava writes:
Sir: After Adam and Eve were put out from the Garden of Eden, the Bible states that they had two sons, Cain and Abel (they had other children also), Jealousy developed between Cain and Abel, because Cain's sacrifice to God was not accepted like Abel's was. In anger, Cain killed his brother. God called to Cain, and asked, "where is your brother Abel?" Cain answered, am I my brother's keeper? The Bible does not state if God answered Abel.

Centuries later, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus gave the answer to Cain's question, am I my brother's keeper.

Lawyer asked Jesus, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus asked him what is written in the law, he answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with thy soul, with thy mind, and love thy neighbour as thyself. Jesus said thou hast answered correctly. The lawyer asked, who is my neighbour? Jesus told him the Good Samaritan story. How a certain Samaritan stopped to help a man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead.

The Samaritan poured wine and oil on the victim's wounds, put him on his own steed, took him to an Inn, paid the innkeeper to look after the victim until the Samaritan returned. Jesus told the lawyer, "go and do likewise." What Jesus said to the lawyer, Jesus is saying to all of us, go and help those in need.

John's Gospel tells us to love one another. Our live must be active, we must all be Good Samaritans. The doctrine of feeding the hungry was introduced by the Prophet Isaiah, who lived 750 years before Christ. Isiah said feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, help those in need. This is the foundation of Christian faith.

-- Emile Varsava Sarnia
If that were all that the Christian Faith was all about, I can't see many people being against it.  However, I think the foundation of the Christian faith is dogmatic acceptance of unbelievable (literally) doctrines.

As an aside, when one reads a letter like Emile's they should be driven to ask "Is that why Christians spend billions and billions annually on their massive houses of worship?" but I digress.

Without getting into whether or not Jesus or Isaiah existed, the reality is that the idea of taking care of others pre-dates Christianity by many many years.  Humanity has existed for a couple hundred thousand years and it is clear that co-operation is what enabled our species to thrive.  It didn't take some sky-fairy to tell us that murdering was bad for us to realize that permitting murder wasn't in our best interest.

Since all of us (but the truly wacky) realize that Adam and Eve (Cain and Abel, etc.) did not exist, the premise of Emile's first paragraph is no stronger than referring to a Berenstain Bears story or one from another children's book.  (Though I think the Berenstain Bears probably make the points better without getting into a jealous papa bear that kills off thousands of his "children" for owning something like a stuffed teddy bear.)

Emile goes on to relate her reading of Luke when she speaks about the lawyer asking Jesus how he is to gain eternal life (which almost certainly does not exist).  The "law" states that you must first love "god" (what a jealous bugger he is!) and then love thy neighbour.  The concept of mutual respect, again, predates Christianity and can be derived from a naturalistic set of morals based simply on the goal of reducing human suffering (and likely was arrived at that way in the beginning).

In other words, (and using Emile's), "the foundation of the Christian faith" is copied from earlier myths and societies.  That's not much to base your beliefs on!

Though the bible does suggest some pretty good things, we can't forget the other doctrines of many faiths that are based on the very same book (not to consider the many things that were justified/supported for years by the bible - slavery and other horrific ideas like an eye-for-an-eye or stoning people to death for not believing). 

Many people use the bible, today, to support the restriction of human/equal rights for women, homosexuals and others.  It also interferes with science education, medical research and other attempts on reducing human suffering (ie. population/birth control, contraceptives, vaccinations and others).  It leads people to hold irrational beliefs about the destruction of our planet and how we should treat it - the idea that only "god" can destroy what he has created.

So, Emile, let's agree that we should work together to alleviate the suffering of others.  Let's give credit where credit is due, however - to humanity.  The golden rule was a man-made construct as your letter suggests (Isaiah wasn't "god") - we need not believe in any "gods" to accept it and we need not give credit to anyone or anything else. 

And keep that in mind the next time something "amazing" happens - like when miners are rescued from a collapsed mine by technology and humans - thank those who are like you and I - the people who want nothing more than for the human condition to be improved.  It is no time to be thanking a "god" - it is time to be amazed and intrigued by human ingenuity, the search for "truth" and the continuing advancement of technology.  The world, as it is, is amazing enough - we don't need to make crap up.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

You say my car is crap but you don't even have a car yourself?

I was recently at an auction and standing beside a grey truck waiting for some people to clear out before we left.  The conversation that followed actually happened:
Man standing beside me: (Him) "Is that your truck?"
Me: "No, sorry." (I thought he was going to ask me to move it.)
Him: "Good, Chevy makes a horrible truck.  I wouldn't drive a Chevy if someone gave it to me."
Me: "Oh, what kind of a truck do you recommend?  Or should I ask what kind of a truck do you drive?"
Him: "I don't own a truck but I'd definitely buy a Ford if I got one."
Me: "Oh? What kind of a car do you own?"
Him: "Well, I don't have one at the moment."
Me: "So you'd probably drive a Chevy if someone gave you one?"
Him: "Yeah, if someone gave me one."
Me: "That's what I thought."


I had a giggle at his expense and I hoped that he learned how silly his argument was.  He probably didn't.

It reminds me of people who are Intelligent Design advocates.  They're knocking a theory, that does everything that it needs to, simply because the theory they don't have but wish they had would be better than evolution.  Intelligent Design advocates have yet to postulate a theory to replace the theory they vehemently oppose. 

Stupid squared.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Back to Basics: Debating the uninformed

Sometimes I'm just stuck for what to blog about.  Many arguments against religion, alt medicine, anti-vaccination are so basic and have been used for so long that I wonder what it is going to take to get people to start thinking.

The recent Pew study that showed that atheists and agnostics have a greater knowledge about religion than the religious is pretty telling of what I should be blogging about - the basic arguments.  It is often clear in my daily discussions that many "believers" haven't even thought about some of the main concepts and doctrines of their own religion so when they are faced with a rebuttal to a new-age-ish philosophical argument their faith is unchanged.  I think the same can be said for alt-med acceptance and other odd beliefs.

Maybe it is truly time to get back to the basics.  Maybe a simple understanding or explanation of the elementary aspects is what we really need to be doing.  Maybe I've missed out on opportunities to get someone to think simply by making an argument that is far more complicated than anything they think they'll ever spend the time/energy to comprehend (nothing against that, there are times when I wish I didn't feel the need to understand the justification for things - ask my wife, sometimes she'll lose me for hours as I try to find out WHY it is that something might be true or WHY it is that something works).

The Pew Study is a great place to start - and to expand on some of the questions.  Here are some simple arguments (or ideas) that I think we often skip right past and they're ones that might just be ones people haven't thought about. (This list is obviously not exhaustive.)

When discussing evolution with a Catholic who doesn't accept evolution, maybe a simple reminder (it turns out that maybe it isn't a reminder) that the Catholic church accepts evolution.  They also accept that the earth is billions of years old.  (That leads to Adam & Eve not existing - what does that mean for original sin? The creation of the earth in 7 days? World-wide flood?)

For people who suggest that the universe needed a creator and that creator was "god", ask them what created god?  If god, himself, didn't need a creator, then why must the universe have needed one?  You are forced with the ultimate regression (what created god? what created that? what created that?) - at some point something would have had to come to being without a creator.  To postulate a god is to complicate things unnecessarily.

Questions relating to god's ability to do anything and the idea that prayer works:  Why doesn't god heal amputees?  If other species are able to do it (as George Hrab said - You can cut off a starfish's limb and not only will it grow back but that fucker will never mouth off to you again.) why couldn't humans?

Many are not aware that the stories about Christ were not written by eyewitnesses - it wasn't even written by people who were alive at the time that the events supposedly happened.

Speaking of the Christian bible, I often am discussing it with people who don't even realize that it wasn't compiled until hundreds of years later.  Depending on your faith, the bible contains a varying number of books too - if it is the word of god, do you think he's pissed that people are leaving out some of his books (or including books that aren't his word)?

The bible doesn't state that Adam ate an apple.  It doesn't even specify the fruit - many Christians are surprised to learn that (especially after claiming that they've read the bible many times).

There is no supporting evidence outside of the bible of Jesus' existence.  There wasn't a census around the time of Jesus' birth and, even if there was, it'd be no reason for Joseph to have headed "home" - Jesus wasn't from Joseph's bloodline (immaculate conception) and, if he was, the logic fails as to why you would be counted where your ancestors (many generations removed) lived.

Jesus wasn't born on December 25 (if he even ever existed, that is) - Christmas was moved to that date to coincide (take over?) the pagan holidays of the time.  The bible clearly (ha!) states when Jesus was born and it wasn't December 25!

Simple bits of information can be provided to dismantle other beliefs as well:

Have a belief in homeopathy?  Do you know that many homeopathic "medicines" are so dilute that they can't simply contain a single molecule of the supposed active ingredient? 

Ionic Foot Cleanse?  When you go for your foot cleanse, don't put your feet in and the water will change colour just as it does if you put your feet in.

Ear Candling?  Burn the candle without putting it in an ear - the same "debris" and "wax" will result.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I can't explain it, but it worked for me!

To begin let me assure you that I am not picking on Jeffrey Needham anymore than, say, doctors are picking on a section of skin when they are attempting to remove a patch of skin cancer.  There is little in chiropractic that has been proven to offer benefit but, given that there is some areas where it MAY be helpful, I do not think that chiropractic is worthless.  Much of what Jeffrey Needham "pushes" is bullshit.  Chiropractic does not cure colds, asthma, bed wedding, ear infections, etc.  Without reservation I would discourage a child from ever seeing a chiropractor unless under the specific direction and care of an orthopedist (which will seldom, if ever, happen).

A number of people have sent me emails or, in person, asked me questions about Chiropractic and many of the defenders of it say "I can't explain it, but it worked for me!"  That is almost a standard line used by any "supporter" of alternative medicine.  Most importantly, the question is "by work, what did it do?".

Many diseases are self-limiting - they follow a natural course and, ultimately, go away.  The common cold, headaches and ear infections are examples of diseases that typically run their course on their own.  It is often said that when you have a cold if you take some cold medicine, it goes away in 7 days whereas if you do not, it goes away in a week.

Muscle soreness, joint pain, back pain, etc., often follow cycles - periods where it isn't as bad compared to periods where it seems worse.  Some people with chronic pain report periods of little (or no) irritation and periods of increased pain - with no apparent contributing causes (or changes in activities).

Before suggesting that chiropractic "worked", we must be sure that the explanation doesn't lie elsewhere.  For chiropractic, it is often the case that the pain would have naturally diminished (or gone away) and, in some cases, would have done so sooner without chiropractic.

This fallacy that people fall victim to is the correlation not causation fallacy.  Simply because some "thing" occurs after another "thing" does not mean that the first thing "caused" the second thing.  (I've mentioned in an earlier blog that blaming autism on vaccination is like blaming vaccination for the child turning 1.)  The fallacy is often called "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" (translates to "after this, therefore because of this").

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

An unexpected pregnancy is no time to take advantage of people

Let me make this clear:  You may agree or disagree with this blog entry solely on your preconceptions of abortion.  This blog is not about whether or not abortion should be legal (it is in Canada. In Ontario it is a practice that is covered by OHIP) - it is about lying for Jesus.

I've recently noticed an advertisement for The Pregnancy Centre on a local website in Sarnia.  I have discussed this "organization", in person, with a number of people and the discussion almost always seems to be trumped by the word "abortion".  I'm not pro-abortion (I don't think anyone is) and I promised my mom that I'd never have one - a promise that I have kept and will keep.  (My mom was proud to hear that I'd never consider an abortion but she was probably concerned I didn't realize that, as a boy, I couldn't get pregnant anyway.)

The Pregnancy Centre is a front for a religious attack and not only on the woman's right to choose - but (and most importantly) on a woman's right to make an INFORMED choice.  They spend a lot of time advertising many of the services they offer - pregnancy tests, options counseling, support groups and material support.  I applaud organizations for their willingness to fill gaps in services and I find it even more noble when they are able to offer the services at no charge to the client. 

Though the services (or most of them) are offered "free" at The Pregnancy Centre, not all of them are - some come with pretty serious requirements.  However, most of the services they offer are offered for free already.  Pregnancy testing is even covered by OHIP!  Counseling is also available (and from licensed professionals, none-the-less) as well as support groups.  More importantly, the counseling available elsewhere (and government supported) is non-sectarian and is designed to be based on the best available knowledge not an ancient text. 

The "Material Support" that is offered from the Centre is not quite free - yes, you can borrow clothing from them but in order to do so, you have to take part in their activities.  To get "baby bucks" (as they call them) to "buy" stuff from them you have to take their courses.

The problem that we should all have with The Pregnancy Centre is that it is a front for religious instruction and indoctrination.  The agency is not government funded (and it shouldn't be), it is funded by a couple dozen churches, is (or was) operated by the wife of a Baptist minister in Sarnia and the sales pitches that it makes to churches is FAR different from those that it makes to the general public.  The Pregnancy Centre lies for Jesus.

The Pregnancy Centre's "options" counseling never includes a referral or true information on getting an abortion - they spend a substantial amount of time speaking with clients about belief and trust in "god" and discourage abortion with "horror stories" (yes, stories - some of which could be completely made up and others might be exaggerations).  Vulnerable and confused women (often teenagers and young adults) are subjected to images and stories to discourage them from considering their options.

Whether or not you agree with abortion, lying about it is not a reasonable or humane way to "inform" a person - especially a person facing an enormous life-changing decision. 

If you know someone (or are, yourself) in a situation where you need advice and information about the options available to you in situations like these - stay away from The Pregnancy Centre - misinformation, shame and Jesus are a dangerous mix. 

(Options counseling, material support and support groups have a strong Christian/Jesus focused theme. Don't believe me? Let them tell you about it...)