Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Skeptics Guide #241 and The Skeptic Zone #71

I'd like to barrow Parliament.

This week both the Skeptic Zone and The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe covered that the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recommended that the National Health stop funding for Homeopathic treatments and cease funding further studies into the efficacy of Homeopathic treatment.  This does not have the force of law, but it is a significant step that a popular form of alternative medicine is getting the suggested axe when the sovereign in waiting, Prince Charles, is a big homeopathic fan.  At the very least I hope this is the beginning of defunding such medical practices in the United Kingdom and perhaps other nations too.

This does have me thinking.  While I do not have any hard figures, I would hazard a guess that Chiropractic medicine is as big an alternative health problem in the States as homeopathy is in the mother country.  Here's my proposal, we borrow the House of Parliament for a weekend, and have them make the same recommendation here about Chiropractic medicine.  They do not even have to go to Washington, D.C.  They can first practice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania legislature in little old Harrisburg.  After a nice visit of the MPs hanging around Three Mile Island, and Chocolate World, and visting the Gettysburg National Battlefield, they can go back to England knowing they made a real difference with their petulant offspring.

On the Skeptic Zone, Kylie Sturgess interviewed the Young Australian Skeptics.  It was heartening to know that a new energetic generation of critically minded geeks are taking up the torch from elderly skeptics such as Rebecca Watson and Trystan Swale.  We geezers need a rest.  I like the ideas they discussed on not doing just another version of the SGU, and talking to people on the street about skeptical issues.  I also like the idea of an anthology of skeptical blog posts.  I do not follow if it was going to be in dead tree format or something online.  To have a dead tree format in the face of ongoing explosion of book readers and tablet computing seems to me an expensive step backwards.   On the other hand, to have someone point out various good block posts rather than wade through all the zillions of posts for the juicy bits is a worthwhile task.

Dr. Rachel Dunlop did a funny interview of her father, whom she refers to as Moose.  The interview focuses on her father's recent conversion into a skeptic, and that older dogs can be taught new tricks.  Dr. Dunlop's father was in the Australian Army for 25 years and retired a Lt. Colonel.  He had an interesting take on the waste the U.S. military spent on psi experiment and the bogus dowsing bomb detection device that is in use in Iraq.  To be honest, it was really nice to have a humanized view of a skeptic and hearing her refer to her dad, Moose, and her mum.  Obviously, Lt. Colonel Dunlop did a nice job in rearing Dr. Dunlop and turning her into the shiny star of the growing skeptical world.

Brian Dunning introduced the Diary of Samuel Hahnemann which spoofed what Hahnemann was thinking when he came up with his treatment notions.  It was spoken in a very bad Dr. Strangelove-style German accent, which could have been a bit better.  It made Jay Novella's British accent sound spot on.

Finrally, the episode concluded with a Think Tank including Dr. Dunlop, Joanne Benhamu, Dianne, Eran Segev, Stefan Sojka & Richard Saunders.  An episode of the Skeptic Zone that does not conclude with a Think Tank is like a visit to Disney World without visiting the Magic Kingdom.  As noted above, the panel discussed homeopathy taking it on the chin in Britain.  They also discussed how Meryl Dorey is no longer in charge of the Australian Vaccination Network, but the AVN may have raised enough money to stay open.  It was not clear based on the wording of the press release, but either way they are not currently shut down.  They also discussed how homeopathy plus has still not heeded a government order to publish a retraction statement that homeopathy was as good as a regular vaccine.  The government has not done anything to enforce this ruling, but Dr. Dunlop has taken matters into her own hands and used a Google product called side-wiki to show those who google the site that it is not in compliance.  Once again, don't mess with Dr. Dunlop.  You will regret it.

Other than a bad German accent, I enjoyed this episode a great deal.

The SGU panel discussed how Uri Geller, recently recounted how he used his psychic powers to catch a criminal that hid on his property while he was walking his dog.  The police were after two crooks, and they captured one, but the other hid somewhere on Geller's property.  Amazingly, Geller led the police to his hiding spot in his shed -incredible!  If this is not the goofiest alleged use of minimal psychic powers to find someone in an obvious spot, I don't know what is.  Geller managed to get his name back into print.  Good grief.

The panel discussed the much-hyped Bloom Box which is a refrigerator sized fuel cell that when you pump natural gas or biofuel in one end, out comes electricity on the other end.  CBS news magazine, 60 Minutes, did a cover of it.  While it might be a new way to have the source of the electrical generation in the house rather than many miles away, it is still nothing more than a generator.  My parents have one that runs on gasoline, and that is where I flew when the power goes out locally so I can watch television and enjoy non-spoiled food.  The whole story is an overblown yawn.

The panel also discussed a new book "What Darwin got wrong" by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a professor of philosophy and cognitive sciences at Rutgers University and a professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona, respectively.  As noted by P.Z. Myers, an actual biologist in the field points out that Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini get everything wrong.  Jerry and Massimo found a "hiccup" connecting the pressures of natural selection with non-related connected traits, so that a pressure for one trait might bring along with it another incidental trait.  The problem with their idea is that it was thought of and explained about eight decades ago.  This seems to be a situation where two smart guys had more than enough information and knowledge to be dangerous, but not enough sense to think someone in the field might have already examined this topic.  Science is tough.

The Rogues had a rollicking good interview with Daniel Wilson, roboticist and author of such books as How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Where's My Jetpack?, and How to Build a Robot Army.  When they introduced the topic, I had flashbacks to when Michael Vasser was interviewed about the singularity, and the entire interview was akin to having a tooth pulled by the gang in "The Big Bang Theory."  Instead, this was an enjoyable beer nuts and brew type discussion about the current status of robotics, where it is headed in the near and long term, and why we do not have robot maids that can speak and understand normal language.

This was a really fun episode even with the absence of Rebecca.  It made my trip from Hershey to York fly by as I drove down to meet some friends for dinner.   Strap on your ear buds and listen to both the Zone and the SGU, it was a fun week in skepticism.


  1. Hello! :) The Young Aust Skeptics 'Pseudo Scientists' podcast ran last year, if you want to check out their stylings? They're on iTunes.

    The blog anthology was just announced - it's here: - it will be available on both pdf and as a book, like the Open Lab anthology. :)

    [Psst, Richard is fluent in German, which makes your summation even funnier!! :D]

  2. WTF is this talking about? I didn't do anything in a German accent, good bad or otherwise.

  3. Brian, I think Nigel wasn't saying you did the accented voice. He just said you intro'd the piece. The follow on sentence reads "It was spoken in a very bad Dr. Strangelove-style German accent..." The "it" refers to the bit self, making no claim about who did the voice. I guess I would have assumed it was you but as the poster above indicates, it was Richard's voice. The accent was no doubt bad by design, part of the humor.

  4. [Well-spotted, Puffin Watch! :) And personally, I thought it was a very cute impersonation.]

  5. I am gutted. I was really looking forward to hearing Brian Dunning speak in a German accent. Would have sounded like a member of the royal family I bet!

  6. Which royal family? The Kaiser or the Queen? : )

  7. Aren't they one in the same, Nigel?

  8. It's all in the family really. (No offense to your Queen. I am the only one on this thread not a subject of Her Majesty.) Wasn't WWI just a big family quarrel whether cousin Nicky was the Tsar or the Czar?

  9. Homeopathic remedies kills cancer cells:

    Moshe Frenkel, M.D., lead researcher and associate professor at the University of Texas and the medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, said: “We felt homeopathy needed to be tested in the same way we test new chemotherapeutic drugs. We were quite impressed to find homeopathic remedies have similar effects to chemotherapy on breast cancer cells but without affecting normal cells, a very exciting finding. As far as we know, this is the first study that evaluated the effect of homeopathic remedies on breast cancer cells."

  10. Ann, I can't find any mention if the study was double blinded. You'll recall the lack of double blinding led Benveniste astray. His research assistant knew which cells were in the experimental group and then remarkably found the homeopathic substance had an effect. When the study was fully double blinded, the effect vanished.

    Unless the study you posted was double blinded, it's essentially worthless.

  11. Ann, you might also want to review these comments. First up is by an oncologist:

    "All of this means that its conclusions do not flow from its data and are not supported by its data."

    And this:

    "If the cell death induced by the solvent is significant, then the rest of the paper is worthless. But because there are no stats here, there is no way to tell if death by the solvent is significant."

    Sorry, Ann, the paper you cite lacks basic stats to determine significance. It offers no experimental evidence for homeopathy and is useless.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.