Monday, 17 December 2018


Here we go again, then. The annual round-up of the good, the bad and the ugly in healthcare, nutrition and general daftness.

Let’s start with some good news: this is a great thread by Simon Singh on Skeptic successes in the past few years. 

Following a consultation, the Charity Commission has decided that charities must support their alternative medicine claims with good scientific evidence.

In other good news, homeopathy is no longer publicly funded on the NHS – and about bloody time too - but of course they won’t go down without a fight: homeopaths are going to take the NHS to court

Homeopathic vets also had a hissy fit because the RCVS demands its members use evidence-based treatments. Because science doesn’t know everything, right? Even though vets are scientists. 

Cancer patients using alt med rather than conventional treatments have a worse survival rate. And it’s not just people self-treating; research finds that ‘Doctors who are attracted to homeopathy despite a lack of evidence may be generally less good at keeping up to date on treatment guidelines and safety alerts or be less willing to work with colleagues to improve. Doctors who offer it to patients tend to do worst on scores for effective use of conventional medicines.'

Mixing alt med with real meds is like running an unsupervised and potentially deadly experiment.  Natural does not equal better. Or safe. Look at what happened to that great self-doser Dr Jekyll.

Twenty years on, the legacy of the MMR vaccine and autism scare lies continues to take its toll across Europe. Cases of measles have hit a record high, according to the World Health Organization. Experts blame the surge in infections on a drop in the number of people being vaccinated. Although, inevitably, it’s a bit morecomplicated than that.

There has been some interesting research on how anti-vax attitudes correlate with belief in conspiracy theories and how this may affect pro-vax campaigns. It’s not surprising that there would be cross-overs as the same mindset is transferrable from one false belief to another.

It wouldn’t be a Skeptic Round-up without some mention of La Paltrow. Don’t put coffee up your bum even if she tells you to. And don’t use live bee stings either, even if she says ‘I’m open to anything. I’ve been stung by bees. It’s actually pretty incredible if you research it.’ Probably not so incredible for the bees, though.

Paltrow says anyone who challenges the healing powers of her 'wellness' products is against the empowerment of women. As if that passive aggressive act would shut down all debate. Lucky for us, her main challenger is a woman.  The wonderful Dr Jen Gunter attended the GOOP conference and reported from the frontline of 'wellness' where she found that the Goop store is “90% quackatorium, and there was no evidence supporting Gwyneth Paltrow’s claim that Goop does not engage in pseudoscience as a commercial venture."

There is some good news. Goop has agreed to pay a substantial settlement over unproven claims about the health benefits of its infamous vaginal eggs.  ‘Under the settlement Goop is banned from making any claims regarding the efficacy of its products without reliable scientific evidence.’

Enough about her.

Plain packaging doesn’t decrease the number of smokers – quite the opposite. It’s also failed in France and Australia. It certainly wouldn’t have deterred me when I smoked. The intention may be to deter new smokers (children) but it's impossible to determine accurately whether any one factor has an influence on either current or potential smokers.

A naturopath treated a child with rabid dog saliva to cure behavioural problems, claiming he was in a ‘dog state’. She claimed that "The dog that bit him may have recently been vaccinated with the rabies vaccine or the dog bite in and of itself may have affected the boy with the rabies miasm … Either is possible and the phenomenon is well-known in homeopathy. A bite from an animal, with or without rabies vaccination has the potential to imprint an altered state in the person who was bitten, in some ways similar to a rabies infection."

A miasm is a homeopathic term for ‘the ghost of the disease state still rampant in the energy system.’  The non-homeopathic definition of the word is ‘noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter; poisonous effluvia or germs polluting the atmosphere’. Pretty much sums it up. Just as well it wasn’t a werewolf that bit him.

Another naturopath is promoting peat tampons. Just don’t go there. 

Weight loss magnets – at last, what we’ve all been waiting for! Oh, wait a minute … This is why magnets don’t work like that.

Taking fish oil supplements for a healthy heart is nonsense says a Cochrane report.

Is sugar the new heroin? Normally everything ‘bad’ is compared with smoking these days. And ‘bad’ has become shorthand for ‘I disapprove of…’ Sugar is not addictive. Repeat. Sugar is not addictive. Sugar is not addictive.

The truth about Public Health England’s sugar reduction scheme: ‘The idea is to reduce sugar content in most foods by 20 per cent by 2020. The first target was a five per cent reduction by 2017 but this has not happened. It was never likely to happen. Instead, there has been a two per cent reduction across the eight categories that PHE is most interested in… Food companies need little incentive to shrink their products while keeping the price the same (Nestlé and Mars were frantically shrinking their products before the sugar reduction plan officially began - and before Brexit). But the government is now encouraging them to do it. Indeed, it is effectively compelling them to do it because that is the only realistic way of cutting sugar content in chocolate, confectionery and biscuits, which are the main sources of sugar.’

In some cases, the sugar content has gone down but overall calories have gone up. If you take the sugar out you have to put something in so that the product doesn’t taste like cardboard smeared in brown fat.

And other research states "We were unable to find evidence that any sugar tax actually implemented anywhere in the world has led to improvements in health." Sorry, Jamie Oliver. 

Water has become a big fad this year. There has been a new raw water craze. Mmm yummy poo and germs and bits of twig and insects and insect poo.

Need a mental boost? Try rosemary water. Only £4 a bottle. Check out the science section: ‘The herb features in Greek mythology, the New Testament, and Shakespearean drama’. Yes, it did say science.

Or there’s alkaline water that has been treated to have a higher pH level than the usual 6.5-7.5. The makers say it provides “better hydration” and is “designed to obtain optimum body balance” because it “uses specialized electronic cells coated with a variety of rare earth minerals to produce scientifically engineered water”.

Science says: “Your body regulates its [blood] pH in a very narrow range because all our enzymes are designed to work at pH 7.4. If our pH varied too much we wouldn’t survive… you’re literally just flushing money down the drain”.

A sceptical look at the long history of Personality Testing – including the bunk that is Myers-Briggs which is basically corporate astrology. 

Exorcism is on the rise. These truly are the Dark Ages.

A Mexican priest claims: ‘The vast majority of people who see him have normal problems or mental illnesses, and he says he has sent people to seek psychiatric help. But he says 2-3% show signs of demonic “vexation” … His subjects, he says, have problems that cannot be explained in normal medical terms. One, who he believes may have been cursed by her mother-in-law, feels an almost constant sensation of daggers entering her legs, knitting needles in her arms, and a clenched hand at her chin. Another was so obsessed by self-gratification that he masturbated 40 times a day. “Normally speaking it is humanly impossible … so that is a satanic thing”.’

I do like the term ‘vexation’ and will attempt to use it in general conversation. How does the woman know what daggers entering her legs actually feel like, or knitting needles in her arms? As a knitter, I can say that it would be bloody hard to stab with a knitting needle, they’re just not sharp enough. I’d use an embroidery needle.

It’s not just Mexico where exorcism is on the rise. A top Irish exorcist called for more exorcists because ‘there has been increasing evidence of the malicious activity of the evil one’. Pope Francis gave formal recognition to the International Association of Exorcists in 2014. According to Fr Collins, ‘it’s only in recent years that the demand has risen exponentially’ and he blames ‘a growing apostasy within the Church’. Scare tactics, then. Come back to Church or the Evil One will get you.

The ‘malicious activities of the evil one’ has a great ring to it. I shall be using it to refer to anyone I don’t like in future.

According to vets, the government is being very economical with the truth about the efficacy of badger culling: “Badger culling has not worked. They are issuing barefaced lies in this matter." The former head of DEFRA’s wildlife epidemiology unit who advised the department on its TB strategy for more than 40 years says: "Defra has been cherry-picking the science since they started culling. The fact that they are rolling it out on such a vast scale is a travesty of the available science." 

The Indian education minister says evolution is ‘scientifically wrong’ because no one has ever seen an ape turn into a man. He seems to be confusing science with shape-shifting. I have however seen a man turn into an ape on several occasions. Generally after the application of alcohol.

This debunks the myth that women talk more than men. Men of course have much more important things to say. At great length. Even when we’re the expert in the subject and they just read an article by Jordan Peterson and shut up or I’ll send you death threats on social media for daring to mention this. 

The ‘psychology’ of the power stance has also been debunked. Politicians should keep on doing it. So much of what comes out of their mouths is inane/terrifying/depressing that they might as well give us a laugh.

So-called ‘healing crystals’ often come from ethically and environmentally dubious sources. So they’re not just pretty shiny things.

Koko the gorilla’s language skills were not at all as we’d been lead to believe, more a mixture of wishful thinking and ignorance about how language actually works. Damn it.  Who doesn’t love a chatty gorilla with a pet kitten? 

There is no evidence that tech is as ‘addictive as cocaine’. Nor are cupcakes, ice cream, power, carbs, World of Warcraft, sugar etc etc. Claims are often based on a misunderstanding of what addiction is and an oversimplified description of what the brain chemical dopamine does, according to clinical psychologist Vaughan Bell.

Hunt’s screen time limits for kids is yet more evidence free policy, yet another moral panic: ‘the recognition of so-called gaming disorder by the World Health Organisation is premature.’.

Andy Przybylski, associate professor and director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute said: “The thing that is very, very important to understand about this is that these correlations are extremely small,” he said. “And 99% of a child’s wellbeing has nothing measurable to do with screens, no matter how you measure them.”

It turns out it’s a myth that Victorian doctors treated hysterical women with vibrators. Damn, that’s another fun one out the window then.

There are times when I so wish magic was real. A coven of New York witches put a hex on US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and, just to make the story even more fun, a Catholic priest and exorcist in California countered the spell by saying prayers for the justice at Mass, saying "This is a conjuring of evil - not about free speech."

They claim that similar hexes on Trump have been successful "We feel the rituals were a success as they sought to expose Trump for what he is, and that has happened on many levels; from the Russia probe to the exposé on his finances to Stormy Daniels."

It is of course impossible to tell without an unhexed control Trump whether they worked or not.

A real treat to end with– an archive of occult recordings. Everything from the voice of Alistair Crowley to voices beyond the grave to all manner of spooky shit. Enjoy.

For vaccination against nonsense, dangerous or otherwise, join us at London Skeptics in the Pub  or find your local Skeptics group. London is the original SitP and 2019 sees the twentieth anniversary of our founding. There will be celebrations and they will not be carb-free.