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Commentary archive #4

Entries from: October 2005 to November 2005

Commentary Menu

Index for this page

29th November 2005
The astrological gravy train

22nd November 2005
Ghost Towns - meet Derek's imaginary friends
Other stuff

12th November 2005
Ghosts, Mediums and why I’m sceptical
Other stuff

28th October 2005
The Game's Up - Most Haunted Exposed!

23rd October 2005
Acorah rebuffed
Not having an open-mind
Other stuff

14th October 2005
If it sounds like a duck..
The Association for Skeptical Enquiry

 

29th November 2005
The astrological gravy train
It should come as no surprise to readers of this page that I regard astrology as having no scientific basis. In many ways it is such obvious nonsense that if it were not for the fact that it has survived for centuries, sceptics could safely ignore it.

Of course in the dim and distant past when little was known about stars and planets it was perhaps understandable that astrological charts produced little more than vague generality, covered with a layer of obscurity and sprinkled with a light dusting of educated guesswork. But whilst science has progressed at a phenomenal pace astrology proudly remains the half-baked nonsense it always has. For a start Uranus was discovered in 1781 (Sir William Herschel). Did this momentous occasion result in improved astrological forecasting? Neptune turned up in 1846 and Pluto as recently as 1930. Are there records that show the vast amount of astrological research that followed these discoveries? None that I know of, and yet the “life principle” of Uranus is “Deviation, through invention, independence, drastic change*. Similar and equally doubtful “life principles” apply to the other two as well. I think it’s also worth mentioning the amazing fact that we have no idea if many of the stars that pepper the sky, actually still exist. Sure the light is still travelling towards us but the stars that caused that light may have long since died.Zodiac

Isn’t it a little surprising then that modern astrology is still, “little more than vague generality, covered with a layer of obscurity and sprinkled with a light dusting of educated guesswork”?

Since those far off days one thing hasn’t changed: Today’s astrologers, just like their predecessors can count on enough people, with enough credulity to provide them with a nice living.

By some small way of illustration I have reproduced below four pieces of astrological wisdom for Virgos everywhere. These were lovingly compiled for the tabloid press by those at the very top (at least financially) of their trade. I have chosen Virgo as my own birthday falls within that period and presumably allows me to make some informed comment as to their accuracy. All these are for today (29th November 2005).

Jonathan Cainer - Daily Mail(actually he’s off at the moment so credit must go to Eric Francis)

Don’t worry that people seem not to understand you. You barely understand yourself. The advantage you have is that you believe you’ll get there one day. While you can’t quite credit others with that possibility. This matters because you really do want and need to be accepted for who you are. And here’s the catch. The more boldly you can be who you are, the more confident you’ll feel that other people ‘get’ you. It’s hiding inside yourself that results in your mistrust. And I have every faith that you’ll emerge exactly when the time is right.

The next few weeks have something special in store for you. To find out more, call Jonathan:….

My evaluation: Drivel. Still, perhaps I should cough up more money and call Jonathan for more of the same.

Justin Toper – Daily Express
The constant arguments are taking their toll, especially on the family. On the other hand, you may be so absorbed with what is going on elsewhere that you don’t even notice someone. In any case, you can expect an act of defiance today. What you might have to provide is a domestic service. Call my Starline to find out about a homecoming.

My evaluation: No arguments – family based or otherwise, no acts of defiance, no performance of a domestic service. Okay it’s only general – but it’s generally wrong.

Mystic Meg – The Sun
The rebel planet, Uranus, clashes with the sun and makes you feel independent – but be sure the people you care about don’t feel locked out of your life. Single? The name is the same as your first love but the personality is very different. You could write new words to an old song.

My evaluation: Money for old rope. Who needs to work when you can get rich turning out mindless pap like this?

Debbie Frank – Daily Mirror
The light touch is most effective with Uranus working it’s magic on the Sun in Sagittarius. What seemed to be just a bit of fun may turn out to be more, as long as you don’t put reins on someone. You’re willing to experiment, although part of you would like matters to be more cut and dried. To hear how to become the centre of attention call me on ….

My evaluation: Mystic Meg seemed to think the Uranus/Sun connection would make me feel independent whereas Debbie suggests, “a bit of fun might turn out to be more”.

These are all for the same bloody day! Not one of them agrees with the other. Presumably if I were predisposed to believe this claptrap I could make it all fit – but I’m not and it doesn’t.

Isn’t it time we all grew up and consigned this most timeless of con tricks to the dustbin of history?

I’ll get my coat….

* Teach Yourself Astrology - Jeff Mayo


22nd November 2005
Ghost Towns - meet Derek's imaginary friends
Well Derek Acorah has finally got the series he wanted. Not only is he the star of the show but he is completely unencumbered by any pesky sceptics that might express doubt about his absurd rapport with the dead.

Whereas on ‘Most Haunted’ he usually limited himself to the occasional possession he can now easily pack in at least two per episode. His penchant for instant ‘channeling’ remains unique among celebrity psychics. There are aspects of ‘Ghost Towns’ strangely reminiscent of his previous series. Low camera angles shot spookily in black and white ensure viewers remain depressingly familiar with Derek’s flaring nostrils. The residual energies are still there along with other 'Derekspeak' phrases such as, “coming into the atmosphere” (trans. “turning up”) and “coming in visitation” (trans. “ghosts come and spy on you”).

Not only that, but he still uses favourite phrases that have stood the test of time. “Lovely ladies and/or Gentlemen” come into the atmosphere as do “loving souls”. “CancerDerek Acorahand “loss of body weight” return to take their rightful place in Derek’s cold reading lexicon.

The rest of the show’s team is made up of Danniella Westbrook (a believer) and Angus Purden who is billed as “an open-minded sceptic”. As I’ve yet to hear him say anything that sounds remotely sceptical I’ll withhold judgement on that for now. The most onerous duty in their collective job description seems to be that they have to take Derek seriously.

Part of the format includes Derek turning up on some poor sod’s doorstep offering to give them a reading. Like a spiritualist version of a Jehovah’s Witness he descends uninvited in an attempt to convince you his invisible friends are real. The only positive thing about this segment is that Derek’s obvious cold reading skills are laid bare for all to witness. The downside is that he tries to convince an otherwise rational member of society to start believing in fairy tales.

Towards the end of the show some professory looking parapsychologist is asked to list the possibilities of what happened. Either Derek did really channel the spirit of a long dead person or perhaps it came from somewhere in his own subconscious mind. The two alternatives are not weighted so presumably we are meant to think that they both have equal merit. I would like to suggest a third possibility - Derek is just playacting. I think this is a good theory and fits in well with current scientific knowledge but apart from that I can offer nothing else in its favour.

In summary then Livingtv continue to produce junk TV that promotes paranormal nonsense unfettered by any real sceptical input. Perhaps the cash cow that is ‘Most Haunted’ is showing signs of running dry and this mutation will fill the coffers for a while longer. Still if you want to produce supernatural drivel Derek’s certainly your man.

Other stuff
I gave an interview to Rick Wood this week who is the ever patient host of AudioMartini which is sponsored by BadPsychics for your listening pleasure. If I'm too boring it's still worth you going and listening to some of the other interviews. Especially Ciaran O'Keeffe of Most Haunted fame.

Daily Planet - Discovery Channel Canada
I helped out with a psychological experiment recently, the purpose of which was to evaluate the power of suggestion. You can view the results for yourself on this video segment. I'm not sure how long this link will stay current but I'm in the bit called, A nail bending suggestion.

The View from Number Eighty shows the eloquence of his scientific literacy as yet another attempt is made to overcome the laws of thermodynamics and Randi’s Commentary shows that we’re not all barking mad in the UK.


12th November 2005
Ghosts, Mediums and why I’m sceptical
I was recently contacted by a woman, who shall remain nameless, who in essence told me she had been to see a Medium who she felt had managed to get in touch with one of her dead relatives. In effect she challenged me to explain the reading but sadly I couldn’t do this to her satisfaction.

And there’s the rub – I’m supposed to do the explaining. Well I’m writing this ready for the next time it happens. To save time I’m including ghosts as both Mediums and ghosts seem to be forming an ever closer relationship. Nomadic bands of ‘Most Haunted’ wannabes all feel obliged to take along a local Medium who will pick up on residual energies just like Acorah does. “I sense an awful smell coming into the atmosphere.”

Reasons to be sceptical – part 1.
Once upon a time people had no real explanations for how we got here or indeed why things were here at all. But then, perhaps as a way of solving this problem, religion was born. Religion could explain all sorts of stuff.

Any questions?
How did the world begin?
God did it! Next question please.

I’m betting that even back then there were a few sceptical people around and perhaps they asked for some evidence to back up this unlikely claim. I’m guessing now but probably one suggestion from the tribal priest might have been, “Well it’s up to you of course but you’ll be stoned to death if you don’t believe it.” I imagine that this was a pretty compelling argument at the time and anyway then, like now, the sceptic was asked to come up with a better answer. Well eventually they did and it was called the “Big Bang” theory.

This still left the vexing question about how we, i.e. humans, got here but eventually Charles Darwin put us on the right track – evolution by natural selection.

Are you with me so far? Well at this point there is hardly anything left for this ‘God’ thingy to actually do and allowing for the fact that nature, and therefore evolution, was a nasty, brutal system, if there was a Creator of some kind we can be fairly certain that he, she or it wasn’t very nice.

If some sort of life after death is a possibility, then at some point on our journey from mollusc to Homo Sapien we must have acquired a spirit body which was presumably given to us by the afore mentioned ‘God’ thing. It cannot have developed as a natural part of evolution and therefore can only have had a supernatural origin. In others words,

How did we get spirit bodies?
God did it! Next question please?

So whereas once this answer was given to explain the natural world, i.e. something that obviously existed, it is now given to explain the supernatural, which makes it a somewhat circular argument.

How do you explain our supernatural spirit bodies?
They were given to us by something supernatural.

No one should be impressed by such an argument.

The simpler explanation is that from nought point bugger all after the big bang right up until now is the whole thing was an entirely natural process. I mean ‘natural’ as opposed to supernatural.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelmingly strong. Not enough possibly to persuade George W. Bush but pretty good nonetheless. The only other suggestion being….

God did it!

There is another point we might consider while we are at it. All the evidence we have suggests that consciousness is dependent on the physical brain. You get a knock to the head and bingo you lose consciousness. People suffer some terrible trauma to the brain, or maybe it is starved of oxygen for too long and the result is severe mental disability. It’s not like you just get problems with speaking, hearing or feeling following brain damage and that your mental faculties otherwise stay intact, because they don’t. In fact there are many things that work on our brain such as a whole host of narcotics, one example being the mind altering drug L.S.D.

To summarise
We no longer need to invoke the God hypothesis to explain not only our world, but the whole universe. Perhaps there are some huge mistakes in both the Big Bang and evolution theories lurking in the background waiting to be discovered, but even if our current level of knowledge has a few gaps they are far better theories than, “God did it!” Especially when you consider no one bothers explaining what they actually mean by “God”.

Reasons to be sceptical – part 2.
Now to the other side of the argument. I think it is reasonable to ask if either Mediumship and/or ghosts have ever been proven by science. The answer is obviously no. I’ll give you that scientists have tried and on occasion have claimed success but as for proof – zilch.

Another useful question is whether Mediums have ever been caught cheating. Oh yes, and how! In addition let’s ask if it is possible that we could make perceptual mistakes when we think we’ve seen a ghost? You betcha. Can cold reading been used to duplicate Mediumistic readings? Damn right.

So what is it that persuades people that some man or woman can actually talk with the dead? It usually boils down to just one thing, “He told me things he couldn’t possibly have known.” And that’s about it.

So I’m supposed to ignore well established scientific facts and concentrate on explaining how someone could possibly know that their husband liked gardening and had a blue jacket.

All my suggestions are dismissed out of hand and I’m supposed to concede defeat on nothing other than the trivial babblings of a Medium, as related to me by the imperfect the memory of the sitter, who in all probability is desperate to believe anyway.

Imagine if you will a set of scales with known scientific facts on one side and my inability to explain your reading on the other. Wadaya think?

My last word is for Mediums everywhere. You are not really talking to dead people. There are no dead people capable of listening to you. You know you cannot prove your ‘gift’ and that you are relying on the ignorance and desperation of those who come to you seeking solace. There are people right now trying to make our world a better place and we’re learning more about ourselves and the Universe all the time. You are not helping by dragging us back into superstition and darkness.

Other stuff
In the dim and distant past Derek Acorah aligned himself with a group called ISPR which was headed by Dr Larry Montz. Well Paula Nicholson has been looking into Dr Montz and you can read her excellent report here.

Meanwhile Derek Acorah has received yet another bashing in the press this time courtesy of Ally Ross in The Sun. I have emailed the paper to ask if I can reproduce the story here but no word as yet. Randi also wades in with this week's Swift. Is Derek's star finally beginning to wane? We can but hope.

This week The View at Number 80 has stuff on Allison Dubois, Intelligent Design and finally Hindus have something to feel pissed off about.

Last of all Brendan Kilmartin of The Supernatural World very kindly asked me to do an interview. The result of which is here.


23rd October 2005

The Game's Up - Most Haunted Exposed!
The unconvincing fiction that is Most Haunted Live has finally been exposed in a national newspaper. The Daily Mirror has interviewed one of the show’s sceptics Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe and beans have been spilt and no doubt gooses will be cooked as a result.

SPOOKY TRUTH
TV'S MOST HAUNTED CON EXPOSED
TV medium 'faked' being possessed by dead jailer Producer hit soundman and pretended it was a ghost.

The headline refers to the show’s producer Karl Beattie’s apparently thumping his sound man and pretending it was a phantom.

Happily the fake “Asylum” gets a mention which, as I have stated repeatedly was just a convalescent home and nothing at all to do with incarcerated patients dying in torment.

The article also reveals the truth behind the Kreed Kafer and Rik Eedles stories (anagrams of Derek Faker and Derek Lies respectively), they were from the imagination of Ciaran himself in an attempt to trap Acorah – a trap which obviously worked.

Derek’s hilarious “possessions” also get mentioned which Ciaran describes as, “showmanship and dramatics”.

The article raises another question: Is Ciaran the only person on the entire show with the personal integrity to tell the truth? Richard Felix famously said that if anything was shown to be fake he would “walk”. After the ‘asylum’ farce I emailed Felix twice challenging him to be as good as his word. I never received a reply. Perhaps he’s “walking” as I write, I wonder? Personally I find it inconceivable that anyone on the show wasn’t aware of the ‘asylum’s’ true history so perhaps we should expect a mass walkout.

Embarrassingly the show is scheduled to run tonight with Acorah & Co on the trial of Jack the Ripper and for all the wrong reasons it should make interesting viewing. It’s Acorah’s last appearance before he is replaced by barber Gordon Smith who is ‘Hailed as the UK’s most accurate medium’ . We’ll see.

Along with the exposure story there’s an amusing piece by Jane Simon. She wonders how an Ethiopian who supposedly lived 2,038 years ago (Acorah’s ‘guide’ Sam) managed to learn perfect English. Acorah’s partially coherent answer was, “When you leave the physical plane of life there’s no barrier of language because it’s universal.” I take him to mean Esperanto has finally found its niche.

 

23rd October 2005

Acorah rebuffed
It’s so useful to name drop from time to time especially if you’re trying to work your way up the celebrity ladder. For example it didn’t exactly do David Blaine any harm to mention his friendship with Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s also useful if you are re-climbing your way up, remember Uri Geller’s “wedding” in which he invited his old pal Michael Jackson. I doubt that it would have received the publicity it did without Jacko’s seemingly reluctant appearance.

And of course we have Derek Acorah (minor celeb) courting favour with Robbie Williams (major celeb).

Now Robbie, if newspaper reports are to be believed, is not exactly a hard line skeptic. For example a report in The Daily Mirror ( 20/09/2005) claims that Robbie is a bit of a UFO buff and he is quoted as saying;

"I think they are definitely on their way, seriously. Mark my words. From now until 2012 - watch out, kids.”

In another Mirror snippet we discover he is a bit of a medium himself;

The Daily Mirror 21 October 2005

ROBBIE: I CAN SEE THE DEAD

By Cameron Robertson

ROBBIE Williams claims he sees ghosts and could have been a medium.

The star, 31, said: "I think I have powers.

"I've seen things - my sister's dog jumping up at her feet when it had passed away years before.

"Security locks opening and closing in front of my eyes. TVs switching on and off."

And had his pop career flopped he could have become "a holistic man of medicine and spirituality", he claimed.

Robbie also said he dreamt of hosting a TV show on the paranormal like author Arthur C Clarke.

I can’t help wondering about the accuracy of these reports, even if we assume they are true perhaps they were just off the cuff comments. However Robbie must have some interest in the subject because he invited Derek Acorah over to his Chelsea penthouse.

I got this next report from www.robbiewilliamsoz.com which says it came from The Sun in which Derek gives his account of the meeting. The subtle headline is;

I HELPED ROBBIE WILLIAMS TALK TO HIS DEAD GRAN

Casting discretion to the wind Derek Acorah tells us,

"Robbie invited me to his apartment in London . He was really friendly and started calling me Degsey immediately.

"We chatted and he told me how much he loved the programme. He said he had given Most Haunted DVDs to lots of friends including Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal and that they were all hooked on the show.

"We sat chatting for while but I noticed he had something on his mind, I sensed he needed reassurance so I offered to do a reading.

"I was able to contact a couple of his loved ones, including his grandmother, whom he dearly loved. It was very emotional, he was moved to tears. But he was thrilled that I was able to make contact. She told him some personal things he said only she would know.

"And he was gobsmacked when his gran gave her opinion about a women he had asked on a date.

"I can't say who it was but he couldn't believe it saying, "No one knows that. It only happened 36 hours ago."

Well if you can’t tell the world about a personal meeting what can you do?

However in a Times article this week we get a somewhat different perspective. Here Robbie Williams is being interviewed by Caitlin Moran.

In part of this interview Williams gives his account of the same meeting. First we are told.

Acorah came up with little more than what a search would yield on Williams’s dead relatives, albeit rendered in a blaze of peerlessly camp Scouse dramatics.

Not quite "moved to tears" then?

Disappointed that his faith in Acorah’s ability to contact the dead appeared to have been misplaced, Williams thanked him, saw him out of the flat and resolved not to see him again. Acorah, however, had other ideas. “The next thing I know,” Williams says, lighting another cigarette while scratching at his broken arm, “he rings up and goes ‘Robbie! Robbie! I’ve just been on the phone to the head of LIVINGtv and he says — and listen Robbie, this is true — he says that you can do whatever you want. Whatever you want! Make any show you like!’ And I’m on the other end going, erm, I think I could get ABC if I wanted, to be honest. I’ll be OK, Derek.”

Still nice of Derek to offer Robbie a bit of a hand up. There goes the Arthur C. Clarke thing.

Still, Acorah didn’t give in. Having failed at brokering the pivotal LIVINGtv deal, a week later he rang Williams to tell him that he’d arranged a dinner for himself, Williams and “my great friend, Uri Geller”.

Wow! He passed up the chance to see the bent spoon trick. You know, that one Uri never seems to do on TV anymore. Just imagine spending and evening with both Geller and Acorah. Personally I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a stick.

There’s more.

Despite Acorah’s pleading, Williams did not turn up for this paranormal tête-à-tête.

“I thought, I’m not talking to you, you ****ing idiot. You’re outside the circle of trust. Next thing I know,” Williams says, rattling his belt buckle with his knuckles in a surge of nervous energy, “he’s promoting a DVD in a double-page spread in the Daily Mirror, going “Yeah, I got (contacted on ‘the other side’) Robbie’s nan. And when Robbie’s in America , his friends watch my DVD. Robert de Niro, Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman.”

Robbie does a face of scandalised boggling.

“I’VE NEVER MET THEM!” he shouts, slowly, as if communicating with a deaf idiot on the other side of the Thames . “I DON’T KNOW DUSTIN HOFFMAN! And hang on a minute — YOU’RE ALSO SELLING A DVD USING MY DEAD NAN !" Robbie sighs.

Go Robbie! Which sums up the whole distasteful encounter. If you could actually talk to the dead and if you actually got in touch with someone’s dead relative is it a nice thing to do to use this as part of your sales promotion? No it bloody well isn’t. Such an encounter would be deeply personal.

Full credit for Robbie for seeing right through this charade. I’m even tempted to buy his new album. Tell you what Robbie next time you're up this way do drop in and we'll give Dustin and Robert a call and we'll all go down the pub. I think I could get you a slot on Karaoke night if you're interested? Any song you want!

The advantages of not having an open mind
Have you ever been accused of being close-minded? It's a favourite retort of many defenders of the improbable. If you have you might well have rushed to your own defence rather than debate what is actually at issue. By contrast open-mindedness is perceived as a positive virtue and to some extent it is but surely there comes a point that to continue with an open-mind is ridiculous. Are you open-minded about the flat earth theory? Probably not.

Some parapsychologists seem to perpetuate this idea. They have to maintain an air of open-mindedness as they feel it would be perceived as "unscientific" to do otherwise. Don’t misunderstand me many parapsychologists do a great job in investigating paranormal claims but others are doomed to present an ever open mind which can give quite the wrong impression.

I’ll take mediumship as my example. If you ask someone, “Do you think X can communicate with the dead?” then the scientific answer will probably be, “Well I’d have to test them.” Whereas I just say no they’re not.

On the face of it this looks like the scientist is keeping an open mind while nasty old dyed-in-the-wool skeptic (me) is obviously a close-minded bigot.

The point is you can’t stay open-minded forever. When you first look at something then of course you should be open-minded in your search for the truth but when you have researched the subject in some depth then you are entitled to come to some conclusion. With post-mortem communication we might consider the following;

  • Spiritualism’s long history of deception.
  • The proven effectiveness of cold reading.
  • The trite rubbish spoken apparently by “the dead”.
  • The fact that no great scientist ever returns and improves upon their earlier work.

You get the idea. That sort of stuff. So at this point I consider that, as the probability of an afterlife is somewhere between slim and nothing anyway, mediums are probably not a genuine phenomenon. I should emphasise here the importance of weighing the evidence carefully and to help with this process you would use usual critical thinking tools.

Having arrived at my conclusion it does not necessarily rule out the possibility of my being incorrect but something, some additional piece of evidence needs to turn up in order to persuade me to change my mind. This evidence would need to be very great indeed and simply testing one medium is not going to carry much weight at all.

So when I hear about various celebrity mediums such as, Colin Fry, Tony Stockwell, Derek Acorah, Gordon Smith, James Van Praagh and John Edward I do not say, “Well without testing them I can’t be sure if they are genuine or not.” What I say is that the chances of them being genuine are even less likely than a tadpole becoming the next Pope. The onus is on them to supply me with hard evidence. In fact the onus is on them to supply humanity with hard evidence but the sad fact is that they don’t. Despite all their posturing and attempts to appear all spiritual and superior they have absolutely nothing to back up their claims.

So no, I am not open-minded about mediums: all the credible evidence tells me such claims are nonsense. Which of course raises another question: Are they lying? Here we depart from scientific enquiring into the world of litigation, you see you just can’t go round calling people liars. Perhaps they are deluded, perhaps they have some psychological illness but as to whether they are actually lying it is a matter of opinion – and opinions can be wrong. So I don’t call them liars but what I do say is that no medium, which includes all those named above, have ever provided sufficient evidence (by a wide margin) to give me the slightest reason to suppose they are genuine and until they do I say unambiguously that I do not believe them. To quote Penn & Teller they're just talking bullshit.

Other stuff
This week I received my DVD of the JREF Amaz!ng Meeting 3. If you are a skeptic then surely you must buy these. They are absolutely wonderful to watch. BUY THEM NOW!

Shameless plug. I have given an interview to Skepticality which you can listen to here. I was interviewed by Fraser Cain, who was very nice to me and let talk incessantly. Derek Colanduno continues to improve and will hopefully be returning to Skepticality sometime soon. Meanwhile Swoopy continues to keep the flame going. If you haven’t been to this site before then that’s your next stop (after the DVDs). You can also listen to interviews with Randi, Bob Carroll, Dr Michael Shermer and many others.

I really must get around to discussing the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. Meanwhile go to No.80 and read, Intense Dislike Anyone?


14th October 2005

If it sounds like a duck...
Does paracetamol help headaches? I ask because if you think they do I wonder how you know. Don’t forget all those evil drug companies are just desperate to rip you off. I’d like to offer some new evidence following my own research. The other week I had a terrible headache (and this really is true), so bad in fact I had to take the day off work. I took two paracetamol tablets and another two six hours later and on neither occasion did my headache go. Based on this exciting research perhaps paracetamol should be withdrawn? Obviously the forgoing shouldn’t be taken very seriously, not least of all because the sample size (me) is too small to draw any valid conclusions.

The same reasoning would apply if just before my headache disappeared I had eaten a banana and claimed that was what cured me. Would you eat a banana now every time you got a headache based on my opinion? You would be wise not to.

Okay so you don’t believe someone and insignificant as me but supposing Mick Jagger said it? I mean he’s famous and everything so perhaps that would carry more weight. Alas no, because singing with The Rolling Stones doesn’t make you an expert in evaluating the medical effectiveness of subtropical fruit does it? Perhaps you would be more impressed if a GP said it. Whilst it could be argued she might be better informed than Mick it doesn’t follow. So what would count? A randomised double-blind clinical trial would be a start.

Now bearing this in mind tell me why I should be impressed that Peter Hain (Secretary of State for Wales) thinks homeopathy works based on the fact that his son who had asthma and eczema got better after taking a homeopathic (i.e. water) treatment?

According to the Guardian that’s what he claims. Naturally he has heartily endorsed the United Kingdom’s most famous rationaliphobe* Prince Charles in this bid to get us, via the NHS, to pay for this pointless, unproven, ineffective and obviously crackpot pseudomedicine.

Hain was speaking at a one-day conference held in St James’s Palace for the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, specifically the network of “GP Associates” some of whom, I’m assuming, have signed up to the Prince’s magical world view that homeopathy works.

By contrast a recent trial of homeopathy in the Lancet (reg. required) the findings were summarised as follows;

Biases are present in placebo-controlled trials of both homoeopathy and conventional medicine. When account was taken for these biases in the analysis, there was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions. This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects.”`

So in the blue corner we have Prince Charles, Peter Hain and X number of General Practitioners and in the red corner we have a scientific study. Perhaps you’re still inclined to go with the blue corner in which case what was it that convinced you? What actual evidence, anecdotes apart, do you find so persuasive?Charles discusses triple water vaccine.

The bases of homeopathy, “like curing like” and that the treatment becomes more effective with increasing dilutions are nutty enough without the coup de grace of clinical trials but I really start to worry when government ministers offer their public support on the basis of personal experience rather than scientic research.

*Going with the tendency to add the suffix “phobe” to everything, e.g. homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. I made this word up. If it gets into the OED I want the credit.

The Association for Skeptical Enquiry
I thought it was about time I gave ASKE a plug. Are you a skeptic? If so why not join ASKE? It needs members who are willing to get involved and drive its message forward. If you’re interested then please visit the website and sign up.

OINKPig headed or pig ignorant?
There are some things that are even more difficult to believe than Most Haunted. Are we all nuts? Can you nominate a public body who grovels in the face of crackpot religious demands? Click on the pig and look for O.I.N.K.


 

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