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.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Parte Incognita

For the record...

We shall see what happens in the next little while here, but I think that my head space has changed enough - or more accurately, clarified enough that wiping the slate clean here and starting over is a possibility.

I probably won't.  But in the time since DBAD and in the recent blood-feud over the common-ground between skepticism and atheism, I think I need to consider taking some stuff right off the table... not that many people are reading it here, but still.

Don't get me wrong, I am still on the "we need a spectrum of voices and communication styles" side of the argument, but I think my more strident opinions are too easy to take the wrong way and I should consider striking them from the record or maybe even starting fresh.  Probably not a new blog entirely, but we shall see.

These are uncharted waters for me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Placebos as Medicine: The Ethics of Homeopathy

Just yesterday I was at the pharmacy for the first time since I began self-identifying as a critical thinker.

The care the pharmacist took in explaining the use and interaction of the three drugs I was prescribed thoroughly impressed me - even in the haze of sedation I was still in the middle of. Fortunately Jodie was there to retain the actual instructions, because my focus was elsewhere in my delirium.

Addled as I was, I was still capable of reason. And I found myself thinking that that attention was, in its own right, an aspect of placebo - the non-specific effects of practitioner to patient interaction, to be more precise.  That led me to wonder what is new with my friend Scott Gavura, Blogger at Science Based Pharmacy, Skeptic North, and Science Based Medicine, as well as the only pharmacist I know.

I was too out of it to actually follow up yesterday. (Scott if you are reading this, I'll Tweet/Facebook soon.) But this morning, there in my RSS feed, was one of the more thought provoking articles on homeopathy, placebo-effects and ethics that I've ever read. And it was written by Scott.

Article is attached. Check it out.


Friday, May 27, 2011

CONTROVERSY: How to build bridges and trust with people who don't agree with you yet

Some interesting perspective and commentary from Paul at Save Yourself.

So true. Confrontations are pretty unproductive. Particularly to the confronted.

ControVERSY on the other hand can be compelling, interesting and entertaining. That may well be part of why people get so easily pulled into those fetid pits of mental vacuity - conspiracy theories - without ever considering that they are little more than beliefs "unsullied" by facts.


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown - 2011

Once again the Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is finished for the year. (And this year it truly was Cross Canada.)

Last year it was really the “Western Canadian Skeptical Smackdown” with the only cities participating being Edmonton and Vancouver. But in 2011, seven different cities at least toyed with the idea. (Three did not actually have events for a variety of reasons, but we do hope they are all able to overcome their complications and participate next year.)

The four cities that were involved were: Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and Halifax.

Vancouver competitors await the opening gun...

Halifax joined (making it a coast to coast event) with mere days to go, and as I understand it, the CCSS became the ice-breaker at the first ever Halifax SitP! (Haligonians please feel free to disabuse me of this notion if I am wrong.)

Vancouver’s event saw some real drama as the local lead changed back and forth more than once, and first place was determined by a mere two points. One team dropped out after the first round (having only received two points) and a table of legionnaires who had not come for the quiz, found themselves asking for spare answer sheets by the second round so they could play along.

Yours truly outlines the rules.

Quick rewind: The CCSS is a British style pub-quiz in five rounds focusing on science and skeptical subjects. 20011 was its second year and I dare say it is looking good already for year three. (If you think you might be interested in hosting an event in your city next year, do not hesitate to contact me (Send an email to my garbage email account – I check it irregularly – kgoodkey (at) hotmail (dot) com. You may need to be patient and persistent as sometimes I do go long periods without checking.)

The correct answers are announced.
If you’ve been following along… which I know is only a dozen of you… you know that last year in Vancouver we had a group of local skeptical heavy-weights banded together to make a dream team – “The Big Wang Theory.” And they kicked ass, winning the national title… which is nothing more than that – empty bragging rights. The question here in Vancouver was “were they going to reunite this year to defend their title.” It was a tightly guarded secret. Even I didn’t know until the last of them walked through the door 20 minutes to game time. Once again, they truly were the team to beat, but this year proved considerably harder. They lost the lead in the second round and didn’t get it back until the fourth, and in the final round there was real suspense - - did the upstart (and formed randomly there in the room that evening before the game!) “Everyone but Susan” manage to dethrone the champs?

As I mentioned above, it was a mere two point difference this year – the equivalent of one costly wrong answer in the fourth round – but Big Wang Theory did manage to hold on to their title locally.

The thrill of victory - Big Wang Theory

This year, unlike last year, where both events were held simultaneously, each city ran their event on a day and time of their choosing over the course of the (loosely speaking) weekend. All those events are now over and the scores have been compiled. There is some explanation worth adding at the bottom – hence the asterisks.

Big Wang Theory - 75.5 (VAN)
Everybody But Susan - 73.5 (VAN)
Chernobyl Babies – 69 (OTT)
Skeptics Not Septics - 64 (OTT)
Occam's Mach 3 - 63.5 (OTT)
Team Sexy - 60.5 (VAN)
Magnitude - 58.5 (OTT)
The Haligonians - 57 (HFX)**
Skeptical Believers - 56.5 (VAN)
Alliance of Unholy Eggheads - 56.5 (VAN)
Critical Mass - 55.5 (VAN)
13.37.Pi - 53 (EDM) *(70)
Three Wise Women and the Guy - 48.5 (EDM) *(64)
Chaos Riders - 44.5 (EDM) *(58)

*Due to time constraints the Edmonton event had to skip the fourth round (Too bad, it was my favourite!) The bracketed scores are what each Edmonton team would have finished with if they maintained the same percentage of right and wrong answers in the fourth round as they averaged in the other four rounds.

**The Haligonians – the sole Halifax team – was comprised from the entirety of Halifax SitP attendees that evening. As mentioned above it was used as an ice breaker with people coming and going throughout the event and answers being agreed upon by the ever morphing group as a whole.

The agony of defeat... Everybody but Susan narrowly misses winning the national title.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Four Dark Horsemen Brush on Past....

I am amused.

Sonja McLeod has posted scientifically legitimate information on her Little Mountain Homeopathy Blog.

Whatever you do, don't tell her.  She may feel the need to remove it.

Okay so quick bit of background.
Japan:  Earthquake - arrrrrrgh!
Japan:  Tidal Waves - Aiiieee!
Japan:  Nuclear Power plants in jeopardy:  Holy mother... have we learned nothing about nuclear power safety management?

So it certainly seems if you are following the news that while this situation is very un-cool (no pun intended) at Fukushima Daiichi, that the chances of serious amounts of fallout reaching our shores is currently very small, and there is every reason to expect that chance to dwindle.  Now, do not conflate that statement with the idea that there will be no effect on people half a world away from the plant.  No doubt someone will eventually do the math and come up with some estimate like (I am totally making this number up based on nothing more than a report I read on Chernobyl some years after it happened.) "The average lifespan on earth will be 7 minutes shorter as a result of Fukushima Daiichi." 

In any case the point being that there is no current reason to be taking potassium iodide in B.C.  That part she gets wrong (and if you read the comments it is because "What the CBC says is not gospel to me!" - fair enough... but she's walking up to the paranoia threshold.)

It is also clear upon reading that she is more in favour of other alternative means of preventing radiation (including x-ray) damage... of course, right at the bottom - she could not resist.... homeopathy.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm still looking for the place where he's a Dick...

Interesting piece on Skeptic North this morning.
I think my headline kind of sums up my position well.
How exactly is he being a Dick? Is the simple fact he approached a relation with this argument the reason? It seems so.
I've said before that being a jerk about skepticism is best left behind when talking with those you love. Erih sucessfully does this. His argument is clear, direct, well reasoned and even tempered.
As skeptics we must be able to approach those we care about most. It doesn't mean we will be successful, but if we can't try to nudge them, the people who trust us the most, in the direction of reason, then.... I don't know what, but then something is fundamentally wrong, don't you think?
Eric does everything right here. If this constitutes being a dick, then we truly must all be dicks, or do nothing at all.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quit boring me please!

Skeptics are not scientists. There are scientists who are skeptics but skeptics are not scientists.
We are NOT doing science. Our role is to communicate science to the public - largely at a grassroots level. For the most part that means talking to people at their level, touching the message in terms that speak to them.

I've said this all before.

I just read a post by a blogger who I have some personal connection to who time after time writes the most soulless, robotic feeling posts.  I don't wish to call them out personally - this isn't about that. I don't want to get petty with the in fighting.
What it is about is that my ire has been tweaked.

We are NOT communicating in scientific journals to scientists. Very few non scientists have any patience for flogging through BMJ abstracts. Skeptical outreach cannot read like that. It must entertain as much as it informs.

Many of us skeptics are outrageously enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is fun and infectious - write like that.  Many skeptics are fantastically clever, capable of great wit - write like that.  Many skeptics are masters of untangling mysteries. That is compelling! (How many books, films, & tv shows are about mysteries?) Write like that!  People respond to values-based language.  You can write like that without misrepresenting facts.  Write like that!

For crap sake! Quit doing a disservice by writing in a tone intended for a minute specialized audience. I know you feel the need for precision and specificity. Newsflash: the public could not care less. The scientists have done their job. You don't have to do it over again. What you need to do is translate it. Simplify it. Make it entertaining - for a large diverse audience.

Put some life into it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Asshole Skeptic Honour Roll #7 - Justified Disgust

If you haven't heard Tracey Spicer's discussion with Meryl Dorey about anti-vaccination and the declaration by the BMJ that Andrew Wakefield is a fraud on Australian radio, you have to do yourself a favour.

So often false balance is given to the opponents of reason.  You can't say that here.  It feels a little dirty that Spicer cuts Dorey off, but why give her any more opportunity to publicize her website?  Why give her the opportunity to gish-gallop away from the facts?

Ah... how refreshing.

For that I put Tracey Spicer on the Asshole Skeptic Honour Roll.

On a related note... check out Anderson Cooper serving Wakefield himself a nice helping of derision.  Do you get the feeling that beneath his well justified ire that Anderson is enjoying the shit out of himself?  "I'm not here to have you pitch your book.  I'm here to have you answer questions."  Tee hee.

And more... "we believe in facts here at 3-60."

Not Wakefield specifically, but more of the pastiche.  You know - the FACTS.

Oh wait!  Some Doctor on (no-longer a) Doctor action.

I could keep on posting links from the same series of related stories, but they are all on the same page as the videos above.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Star Wars vs. Armageddon

Courtesy largely of Phil Plant, there is a habit among skeptics to malign the bad science of Armageddon.

This chart puts it in starlight relief... as bad as it's science is, Armageddon only gets as much wrong as the widely beloved Star Wars gets right.

Image from The High Definite.

Sent from my HTC