Friday, June 14, 2013

Buffy the Antivax Slayer

Internet polls are as unscientific as a poll can be, but I do find it hard to believe they don't usually indicate the direction the zeitgeist is blowing. 
The poll attached to this article on vaccinaton Is at the very least encouraging. 
At the time I put in my vote the numbers were about 89%  for fill household vaccination... Which while short of the requirement for communal immunity, is close

One can only hope the tide has turned. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Tiny Lesson in Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

My year and a half old daughter has become fascinated by what she calls "beeps."  And yes, they are in fact beeps, she is just (understandably) not looking at the bigger picture.  She'll get there.  I don't expect her to be a critical thinker just yet.

"Beeps" are the sound that is made by our apartment building front door when someone waves the lock-fob past the sensor.  Many doors are like this.  She takes great delight in it.

Yesterday we were standing at the front door making beeps, and I started pressing the automatic door opener when she beeped the door unlocked.  She was amused by this extra level for a while, but soon wanted the door closed.  It does close hydraulically of it's own accord after a few seconds - it is on a timer.

But that wasn't soon enough for her.  She started beckoning the door to close.  It wouldn't obey her.  Eventually she asked nicely "peease?"  (Which is "please" for those of you who don't speak her personal language - clearly it shares the same root as the English language derivative.)  And the door shut.

Oh my was she surprised and delighted!  Clearly she now knew the trick.  Obviously the door reacted to her pleasantry - it had closed, just as she wanted, immediately after her polite request.

The next few times I opened the door after one of her beeps, she lead with "peease?"  And the door did not obey.

Somehow I don't think she quite "got" the take away in it's fullness, but she did eventually give up on "peease?"  ....which upon further reflection may be something I must deal with further down the road.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is back… and this year more cities are participating than ever before.

The CCSS is a British-style pub-quiz that occurs every year on or around Pi-Day (March 14th) in multiple locations across Canada with local and national bragging rights at stake.

Form a team of up to four players and come down to the closest event near you. (Players are also welcome to come on down to the venue and form a team at the event.)

Where and when is it being held?
There are six events across Canada this year.

As of this release some details are still TBD on some events, but if you keep your ear to the ground and follow your normal local skeptical channels, you should catch wind of the specific whens and wheres.

All events will be occurring between Wednesday March 14th and Sunday March 18th specific times and places as currently confirmed are below:

CITY                 VENUE                   DATE              TIME

Halifax                TBA                       TBA                 TBA
Check with local skeptical groups.
Niagara Region   Mahtay CafĂ©           TBA                 TBA
Niagara Region Event Cancelled

North Bay           TBD                       TBA                 TBA
Check with local skeptical groups.

Ottawa                Foolish Chicken      March 14th      7:00

Vancouver          Billy Bishop Legion  March 14th      7:30

Winnipeg            Norwood Hotel       March 14th      7:00

(NOTE: TBAs and TBDs will be updated here on this post as new information becomes available.)

Participation is free.

A new champion will be named this year as the champion team for the past two years running is missing a core member. Come on out and give it your best. Have fun an maybe walk away as the new national champion!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

With My Freeze Ray I Will....

Now this is intriguing to me.

The Skeptic Family blog posted this article this week about people who can stop wrist watches.

Growing up, my Dad was one of those people.  He had a box of watches that would not run anymore in his bedroom.  In my memory's eye there were a half dozen watches in that box.

Unlike the situation in the Skeptic Family post, Dad's issue was with mechanical watches.

I recall sitting on his bedd with those watches and trying to wind them and get them to work.  They wouldn't even wind!  Okay, so 35 years later I'm thinking - those watches probably didn't work because they were - ta-dah! - overwound.

Dad eventually solved the problem when the earliest digital watches became available.  I remember being very excited that he was getting a digital watch for whatever occasion it was - his birthday, Christmas, Father's Day.  He has never looked back.  In fact I think his current watch is a battery driven standard analog watch.

But wait!  There's more!  It turns out that the ability to stop watches was inheritable.

I used to stop watches just by wearing them too.

As a child I don't know how many crappy watches I went through.  Lots.  You know the kind.  Made mostly of cheap plastic, couldn't keep accurate time for more than 12 hours running.  It's no wonder thos watches quit working.  They were all but designed to!

I really only ever had two decent watches as an adolescent.  The first was a Timex with (I have no idea why.) a Ritz cracker logo on the face.  I wore that thing a lot, (Again I have no idea why.) and rather indiscriminately.  It endured 'X' many games of Dodgeball, and went with me tree climbing and jungle swinging - which were both nearly daily activities year round in my semi-rural home domain.  In winter it went sledding.  As you can see from the picture, this really wasn't a sports watch.  It took a beating and kept on... on, no... actually it didn't keep on ticking.

The second watch of note was a Swatch bought at the Swiss pavillion at Expo '86.  I don't specifically recall how it met it's fate, but clearly when it stopped working I saw a pattern.  Just like Dad, watches simply stopped working when I wore them.  Would I have noticed the pattern without his previous example?  Probably not.  But I did have the example and I jumped to a conclusion.

By the time I was in University I had quit wearing watches all together.  It was an obvious waste of money, 'cause I did them in like (ahem) clockwork.  Funny thing is, I have roughly the same relationship with sunglasses.  I generally buy either cheap sunglasses or don't bother with them at all, because I just can't take care of them.  I have a head count where sunglasses are concerned.  I know it's not 'cause of some weird power.  I simply abuse sunglasses and they don't last, so why spend good money on them?

I can't say why I didn't just do the obvious thing and switch to a digital.  I had been so excited as a kid that he was getting a digital, and by the time I was a teenager digital watches were pretty darned cheap.  I guess maybe I was attracted to the idea of this "special power" I had, and that switching to digital would be doing an end run around it and I would quit being special?  I guess.

So I quit wearing watches altogether.  It's actually pretty darned easy to get along without a watch.  There are SO many clocks in the world.  When you don't carry one on you, you quickly get to know where all the local ones are, and habitually check them for reference even if you don't need to know what time it is this very moment.  Even when you are somewhere unfamiliar you develop strategies.  You begin to recognize where the likeliest places for clocks to be are, and I expect you also develop a pretty good internal sense of time.

Before too long, the assumed "fact" that I stopped watches faded into the background and not wearing a watch became habit.  Times of course change.  And one day - six years or so ago - I bought a cellphone.  It, of course, had it's own internal clock.  So now, why would I ever need a watch?  I've got a clocked that is synched to Greenwich Standard with me nearly everywhere I go!

Somewhere between having not wearing watches become a personal habit and the time I realised that I was a skeptic I totally forgot about my "special power."  I didn't even think about it until I read the post on the Skeptic Family blog.  Funny how these things go.

So yeah, I severely doubt watches stop when I'm wearing them.  I am all but certain it was little more than confirmation bias.

I'm not going back to wearing a watch though.  I've got the cellphone.

I DO have a watch.  It is actually a quite nice Rolex my Mom gave me for Christmas several years ago.  I have worn it twice.  Once to try it on when I first got it, and again just before Christmas this year, as a piece of jewelry for Jodie's company Christmas party.  I didn't even wind it up.  I just kept using my cellphone when I needed to know the time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Disseminating the Burzynski Plot

Obviously I haven't got a lot of time for skeptical activism these days.  My position on Maslow's hierarchy has shifted since becoming a father.  I'm not complaining, just stating a fact.  These days all I can really manage is a trip to SitP almost once a month (which is mostly social in tone) and to organize the yearly CCSS, and an occasional blog post...usually one that is largely pointing out something that should get as much attention as possible - not that my minor readership really boosts that my much.

This post is precisely that.

Perhaps you've heard about Burzynski Clinic and it's current shennanigans.

If you haven't then read this piece by Scott Gavura - yeah he gets a lot of love here - on Skeptic North.  It does a pretty good job of summing up the details. Then, if you are "in" pass it on.  Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Google+ - whatever.  Just help make these bullies get their just desserts.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Who is more foolish...?

Hey there, it's been a while. Life stays busy. 
But I do keep thinking of things I should blog skeptically about, I just have trouble finding the time to do so.
I recently received a rather ludicrous anonymous comment on this previous post about Mike Adams.  It is on one of my most popular posts, but you don't have to read the post in order to appreciate what follows.  But the content of the comment (essentially a diatribe about how great Mike Adams is and how filthy-evil modern medicine is) is germane so I'll post it in it's semi-literate un-edited entirety here:
Mike Adams rocks. A little liquid silver and I have been sick but once in 7 Years. I stop taking the flu shot and got well. Strange ain't. This old Mississippi girl listens to everything Mike Adams. If you look up what the flu shots for it would scare you. Most of my family and friends read Mike thanks to me and they trust him to. My dad would not listen and guess what I buried him 2 years ago. My daughter would listen until just the other dad. We took her to the doctor and the doctor said the other doctors had made her a drug addict.Now my daughter has to detox off of the garbage to great medical doctors gave her and will be going natural now. I wish more people would read Mike Adams, Dr. Mericola , and a whole host off people that are willing to really help you get well. People like you will never will see 100 plus. Your body is design to make it way passed 100 but thanks to modern garbage most of the people won't even see 80. Such a young age to die. Most people thanks to modern medicince are sicker, can't sleep with out meds, I could go on for ever at what modern medicine is doing for the people. Just read the side effects on one bottle. Then when the have to give you more meds for the side effect read it and when you have to take anther med for those side effects read the side effect again man a people would have to been very much in the dark to not listen to Mike Adams. I listen I am 54 years old And I am one of the healths people I know. Oh how I hope one day people like you will open you eyes to the Medicine people and see they are so trying to make you sick. If you are not sick they make no money. So PLEASE for your kids and all the people who love you listen to Mike Adams. He is one of the greatest men alive and he only cares about your health. Reading him is free so he makes nothing off of it like the doctors, insurance companies, Med companies and so on. Trust Mike Adams, he won't let you down.....
I began writing a response to that, and before too long it was enough for a post in and of itself... so here we go, my response:

Not to go all broken record here, but why is it always the anonymous comments that border on illiterate?  I mean, it's one thing to not proofread and then there is a level where proofreading would be pointless as the author doesn't grasp rudiments of spelling and grammar in the first place. 
But simply being incapable of communicating in functional sentences doesn't disqualify one from being right. However, in this case, it seems like every sentence is burdened by a logical fallacy. 

Liquid silver... has at best nominal efficacy as a disinfectant - possibly even hampering healing speed. And on top of that, there are some well-established deleterious effects to health. Funny thing, Mike Adams regularly rails against metal poisoning. Is seems that his discrimination as to which substances to fight for or against is based not upon medical value, but on the value he gains from products sold on his website. (Which I am not linking to here as to avoid giving him additional google-rank, but is easily found with any search for Health Ranger.) 

Anonymous Mississippi Girl (AMG) provides a few anecdotal single data points as evidence. We are forced to take her at her word that she is being honest when she says she has not been sick in seven years. We also have to take into account whether she is being honest with herself. Is she counting an occasional seasonal-sniffle, or just knock-you-off-your-feet ailments? And does she even realize that she is filtering out the lesser illnesses if she is doing this?  

I do know what is in flu shots - indeed I did a lot of work on this very subject during the Swine Flu outbreak two years ago, including the post that spawned this comment - and thanks to my ability to read and sort through scientific data in a logical fashion I am not scared of what is in flu shots. In fact I am kind of glad I don't have to live my life frightened by demons in white lab-coats. 

"Most of my family and friends read Mike thanks to me and they trust him to." ...a quote by Obi-wan Kenobi springs to mind: "Who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows the fool?" (On a side note, it has always seemed to me that Lucas missed the mark with that quote by being too on the nose. It would have been far more elegant if the second half was "...the man who follows the fool" - if they are already a fool, then following a fool can only amplify it whereas being a potential non-fool is sullied by following a fool which is already a double-shot of dumb - not only failing to think for ones self, but by doing so in the footsteps of a fool.... but I digress.) In this case though, it appears to be fools following a fool following a fool... multi-layered recursive stupidity. 

Dad died when he was somewhere north of 70 (Assuming he was 20 or so years older than AMG, who tells us she is 54 and he died 2 years ago.) Uh... so what?  That is utterly meaningless. Again, it is a data point of one. How many people die before 70? Many. One more is an example of precisely nothing. 

I'm not even really confident what part of the daughter's story to criticize. "We took her to the doctor and the doctor said the other doctors had made her a drug addict." Uh... so which doctor is at fault here? Okay, I am being a tad deliberately obtuse here, I know that the first doctor mentioned is the alt-med "hero" here. While I could analyze this mess in more detail, I'll sum it up by pointing out that the underlying argument here is essentially the naturalistic fallacy. "Natural" is in reality meaningless as not only are medical therapies perfectly natural but even when you break down the meaning into the meaning alt-med proponents typically mean (IE. Only un-manufactured ingredients as they are found in nature - nothing processed.) then as many so called "natural" remedies fail by those standards as not. The position simply doesn't hold up. 

"People like you will never see 100 plus." Most people don't see 100 regardless of lifestyle. Indeed reports (anecdotal as they are) consistently come about surrounding just how unhealthy by the yardstick of common practice most centenarian's lifestyles have been. And really, I could care less as to how long I live if my quality of life sucks, so I'll worry about that as (and if) it approaches. Which brings us to AMG’s claim that: "Your body is design to make it way passed 100 but thanks to modern garbage most of the people won't even see 80." Which is, to not put too fine a point on it, bullshit. Before modern medicine people died much younger than they do today. Just look at the UN life expectancy numbers and it is clear that a great number of industrialized countries have a life expectancy above 80. Canada is one of them, and while the US where AMG is from is only close, the average for women is above 80. Further to the point, looking at third world countries, the averages are dramatically below 80. Really, her contention is just completely fucking laughable. 

“I could go on for ever at what modern medicine is doing for the people.” Funny, I could say the same thing, except I would be saying what I mean to be saying, not the opposite. Sigh. Is it any wonder that people like this are dumb enough to fall for the crap Mercola and Adams flog? 

 “I listen I am 54 years old And I am one of the healths people I know.” Call me when you are 80.   :-)

“If you are not sick they make no money.” True. But that does not mean their intention is to keep you sick. Quite the opposite. The mechanic who can’t or won’t fix a car has no customers. The implication that doctors could successfully operate that way is absurd. 

“...listen to Mike Adams. He is one of the greatest men alive and he only cares about your health. Reading him is free so he makes nothing off of it...” Uh... wrong. AMG clearly has no idea about internet commerce. Check out Mike Adams’ Natural News website and full half of the real-estate on it is advertisement. And if I’m not mistaken, while it isn’t now, as little as two years ago you needed a subscription to his site in order to read the full version of his articles. (My memory may be faulty on this, but at least I am willing to admit to possible gaps in my position.  But I seem to recall that when Adams presumed to tell the world what skeptics really think that the full post wasn't readily available to non-subscribers.) Add to that that he quite blatantly has a “store” on his site - which you can even get a discount from just by subscribing to his newsletter (again, he does not actually provide his info strictly for free.) – it is patently untrue that there is no profit motive for Mike Adams. Anyhow, 

I’ve wasted enough time addressing this asinine comment. I’m out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Effective Citizen Policing

Just a quick note to acknowledge the effectiveness of one of David Brin's Transparent Society observations: on-line citizen policing.  (Not just on-line in his prediction, but in this case VERY on-line.)

Most skeptics will have heard of David Mabus, and probably know about the recent turns of event in his saga.  But if not, Tim Farley has chronicled it very well - as he was central to it.  It is a good read in terms of events in the skeptisphere and as an example of citizen policing... or hobby-level detective work (though that phrase seems a little diminishing.)