Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In One's Mind's Eye Lies Iridology

I apoligise for the lateness of the post, I had some problem with some incorrect Html coding that transfered from a typing program I use. To correct this I had toretype some of it and copy and paste other areas through notepad etc. Because of this I might have missed some hyperlinking or some hyperlinks might be down or incorrect in this edition. Please report back to me if you have any difficulties.


Iridology is a technique in 'alternative' medicine that is theoretically able to determine information about a patient's health by close examination of their iris. By comparing patterns, colors and any other markings and characteristics of a patients iris to 'iris charts', which segment the iris into a variety of zones that supposedly correspond to specific parts of the human bodies, practitioners of Iridology are supposedly able to tell "weaknesses and strengths" of the corresponding areas.

In their own words;
"Iridology is the study of the iris, or coloured part of the eye. The iris reveals changing conditions of every part of the organ of the body. Through various marks, signs and discolouration in the iris, nature reveals inherited weaknesses and strengths. Iridology cannot detect a specific disease however it can tell an individual if they have over or under activity in specific areas of the body"

"Iridology is generally safe, non-invasive and painless. It is not a treatment therapy but rather a diagnostic tool used to detect underlying signs of developing disease. The goal of Iridology is therefore to recognise health problems at their earliest stages and to suggest ways to keep disease from developing.." - Natural Therapy Pages

Here I think it is important to note that here they say it focuses on general health problems, such as back problems for example, and not necessarily arthritis or any specific problems. Some Iridology practitioners claim however that they can diagnose a patient's complete history of past illness and previous treatment. Many claim that they can predict a patients possible upcoming health problem.

Iridology counts on there being connections from each organ to the iris.
"The iris is the most complex enternal structure of the human anatomy. It has a reflex connection to every organ and tissue of the body by way of the nervous system. Through the optic nerves, which are attached to the eyes, visual information is sent to the brain. At the same time there is information sent back to the eyes from the brain about the state of the organs and tissues in your body." - The intergrated Iridology Textbook - Toni Miller

To start with these claims it is important to realise a few things about the eye that go against Iridology. The iris colour is determined largely by three main genes. The colour we see is a combined effect of texture, pigmentation, fibrous tissue and blood vessels within the iris stroma (in brown eyes the vessels in the stroma have pigmentation and in blue or albino eyes they don't). The iris is found to generally not undergo substantial changes over an individuals life and instead shows little change after one year after gestation. Freckles and other variations can occur because of glaucoma treatment but this is a known symptom and is not area specific as diseases are believed to be in Iridology.

The following quotes are from a former Iridoligist, I strongly recommend reading the article;
I soon found that structure "changes" could be created on the video record by changing the angle of the light to the eye. Areas that I thought were dark would suddenly show healing lines when the position of the light changed. Thick white lines would change to thin gray lines when the light moved. More than once during this period an eminent Iridologist would call me to his office and show me a change he had recorded in patient's iris minutes after doing a spinal adjustment. After closely examining his recordings, it became obvious to me that his light position and the angle of the camera to the eye had varied from time to time causing the appearance of a change in the iris.

The changes I found in a few irises were actually in the color. When I experimented with changes in angles, I found that the angle of light going into the eye, and the level of lighting in the room, had an effect on pupil size. Pupil size had a direct link to fiber size, and fiber size seemed, in some cases, to be related to colors that appeared in the iris. This was more obvious in someone who had more than one color present in his or her iris. I, for example, have brown, green, yellow, and blue appearing in my iris. In different degrees of lighting my eyes have a different appearance. It is for this reason that different people have told me that my eyes are entirely brown, green, or blue."

"In a smaller way pupil size affects the appearance of color in a magnified iris. Not only does light have influence on pupil size, but the autonomic nervous system also has an influence on the pupil size, thus a person's degree of fear or alarm can change pupil size. An Iridologist purports to be capable of telling a great deal about a person based on the color of single fiber. This variable became quite important for that reason. When I corrected for all these variables, I found very few iris changes. More importantly, I found very few iris changes in people who had significant health changes in the prior months. In many of the cases where the iris seemed to have changed, it had changed inappropriate to the physical changes that had been known to occur. In other words, I discovered that the iris did not reflect the level of health in the body.” - Confessions of a former Iridoligist - Joshua David Mather Sr.

So science is against Iridology, but what do the studies show. In 1979 Bernard Jensen, a renown alternative medicine practitioner who wrote many books, taught Iridology and saw (he claims) 350,000 patients in his life, and two other Iridologists took part in a scientific test. In the test published in the Journal of the American Medical Association they examined the eyes of 143 persons in an attempt to determine which ones had kidney impairments. 48 were diagnosed with impairments and the rest had normal function. So what were the results? Well;

  • All three failed to have a statistically significant ability to detected kidney disease
  • One judged 88% to of normal patients to have kidney disease while;
  • One judged that 74% of patients needing treatment were normal
“Three ophthalmologists and three Iridologists viewed the slides in a randomized sequence without knowledge of the number of patients in the two categories or any information about patient history. Iridology had no clinical or statistically significant ability to detect the presence of kidney disease. Iridology was neither selective nor specific, and the likelihood of correct detection was statistically no better than chance.” - Journal of the American Medical Association

But one study isn't always convincing on it's own. A study posted in the British Medical Journal tested Iridologists ability to detect gall bladder problems. Paul Knipschild MD, University of Limburg, chose 39 patients due to have their gall bladder removed the next day as well as 39 control subjects of the same sex and age. The following is an excerpt from the report;

The presence of an inflamed gall bladder containing gall stones is said to be easily recognised by certain signs in the lower lateral part of the iris of the right eye. Stereo colour slides were made of the right eye. Stereo colour slides were made of the right eye of 39 patients with this disease and 39 control subjects of the same sex and age. The slides were presented in a random order to five leading Iridologists without supplementary information. The prevalence of the disease was estimated at 56%. The median validity was 51% with 54% sensitivity and 52% specificity. These results were close to chance validity (iota = 0.03). None of the Iridologists reached a high validity. The median interperformer consistency was 60%. This was only slightly higher than chance consistency (kappa = 0.18). This study showed that Iridology is not a useful diagnostic aid.

So the Iridologists were not able to correctly identify which patients were which any more than statistically probable (4% difference). I further read a short paper in defence of Iridology.This paper claimed links between short sightedness and a variety of things. Some of it reminded me of astrology, I found nothing worth mentioning here but I thought I should link to it to let people make up their own minds.

The logical thinker is a nearsighted person who talks a lot, asks questions and gives the impression of being rigid in their ideas and willingness to step out of their inflexible belief system.” and etc.

I advise reading at least some of it as this is something that is being cited as a successful “study” on some iridology sites. The author Roberto M. Kaplan is not to be confused with the mainstream doctor Robert Kaplan.

In my point of view I can't find any convincing evidence for iridology. It has no basis in science and has been shown to not work in double blinded clinical studies. The belief seems to be encouraged by the age-old saying that the eyes are a window to the soul and there is little other evidence out there to give it further credence.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Patent This

Recently there has been an ongoing debate in both the legal and scientific communities, my two favourite communities, over the controversy of gene patenting. Isolating and identifying genes, as well as the uses for those genes, are all becoming increasingly important and these advancements are occuring more frequently with improved technology.

So, what's a gene patent and why should you care? I guess I should start by describing what a patent is for all of those out there who aren't familiar with it, or aware of it's changing standards.

Patents are licenses granted by a government to an inventor to give them more exclusive rights to their invention. Through the courts it allows the prevention of rivals or other people from using or selling a patented invention without permission. It allows the invention to be treated as property and therefor, the patent can be bought, sold rented or hired.
In Australia there are 2 types of patents;
  • "a standard patent gives long-term protection and control over an invention for up to 20 years.
  • an innovation patent is a relatively fast, inexpensive protection option, lasting a maximum of 8 years. The innovation patent replaced the petty patent on 24 May 2001"
Gene Patenting
"A patent is a right granted for any device, substance, method or process which is new, inventive and useful." - government patent site

As can be seen in the quote patents can be given only to something that's both inventive and useful. The "inventive" requirement for patents is one of the major focuses in the debate of gene patenting. Gene patents are "patents that claim genetic materials or biological materials in various ways, either as the materials themselves, and the uses of those materials in various medical and scientific ways." - Luigi Palombi, Law Report
Being able to isolate genes is incredibly important as their use is a key element in a variety of research. Recently there has been a senate inquiry into gene patenting that has been looking at
"The impact of the granting of patents in Australia over human and microbial genes and non-coding sequences, proteins, and their derivatives, including those materials in an isolated form, with particular reference to:
  • the impact which the granting of patent monopolies over such materials has had, is having, and may have had on:
  1. the provision and costs of healthcare,
  2. the provision of training and accreditation for healthcare professionals,
  3. the progress in medical research, and
  4. the health and wellbeing of the Australian people;
  • identifying measures that would ameliorate any adverse impacts arising from the granting of patents over such materials, including whether the Patents Act 1990 should be amended, in light of the any matters identified by the inquiry; and
  • whether the Patents Act 1990 should be amended so as to expressly prohibit the grant of patent monopolies over such materials." - Senate Website
So essentially what's happened with gene patents so far and what might happen, what that will effect, and then either what can be done to reduce negative effects if gene patenting is allowed or should it be prohibited explicitly in an amendment to the Patents Act.

'An article in 'The Australian
' reported that "Restricting the research use of a gene sequence could delay the development and testing of truly inventive and practical uses of the gene and its protein product for diagnosis and therapy. This would be to the detriment not only of the wider community, but also of the biotechnology industry itself." This can be seen in the following case.

The senate committee was a result from a letter sent out mid last year. The letter was one of a series of letters from an American company called Myriad Genetics demanding that all public labs in Australia cease performing breast and ovarian cancer gene testing within 7 days because it was in violating 4 patents granted to them, and that the Australian company Genetic Technologies was the only Australian licensee.

The test in question was one where they would look for mutations within the specific BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The US National Cancer Institute gives the following explanation of the genes;
"A woman's risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a deleterious (harmful) BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Men with these mutations also have an increased risk of breast cancer. Both men and women who have harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may be at increased risk of other cancers..."
As can be seen from this, testing for the gene mutations is fundamental in identifying elevated risk of breast cancer in men and women.

So if there had been compliance with the demands there would have been the instigation of an exclusionary monopoly on gene testing all throughout Australia. All labs and the hospitals that used these labs woulds be directed to send samples to be tested at the Genetic Technologies' laboratories in Melbourne.

The Country Woman's Association is one of the many groups that are taking part in the senate's hearing. They argue that currently woman can receive these tests at public laboratories and those scans will be done without charge. They say however that if the company were to be granted it's legal rights, and were to assert them as it seems they will do, those scans will be done at a figure closer to $2,100 per test. They conclude that this will not be a public good.

In the ABC law report interview of Patent Lawyer Luigi Palombi by Damien Carrick, Palombi went on to say the following about Gene Patenting;

Luigi Palombi: Strictly speaking, the patent monopoly should only be granted in respect of something that is an invention, and that's one of the things that this inquiry's going to be looking at: are genes in an isolated form — and by that I mean genes that have been removed from the human body or removed from their natural environments — are these inventions? And the scientific community seems to be pretty clear that they're not, and I'm certainly of the view, and I have been for many years as a patent lawyer, of the view that they are not inventions and cannot be inventions, because essentially they are identical or substantially identical to what exists in nature.

Damien Carrick: So you would argue that when scientists identify or isolate a gene or similar sort of material, they are discovering something that already exists, they are not inventing something, and therefore they are not deserving of an exclusive right, which is traditionally seen as a reward for inventiveness.

Luigi Palombi: Well that's correct. In short, a patent is about an invention, and if you don't meet that threshold for whatever reason, you just don't have an entitlement to a patent.

Damien Carrick: Isn't in the modern day, the test a little more complicated? You need to establish these days, in order to get a patent that there is a new and practical use for the sequence that you've isolated, or identified. That is evidence of inventiveness, that there is a practical application sometimes.

Luigi Palombi: Well I don't think it's evidence of inventiveness, it's just evidence of further discovery. Merely linking an isolated gene to a particular function, whether it be in the form of the production of a hormone, or linking it to a mutation which is associated with a particular disease, that's just no more than an extension of discovery, that's still not an invention.

The company is also being fought domestically within the USA on pretty much the same grounds that are in dispute here. There is however a great importance in patenting for the scientific community and the general community if patents are issued appropriately. Patents allow for an increase in investors who see a probable return, these kind of developments aren't free and therefor there needs to be means for financial reimbursement for advancements. However, it comes down to that these are not inventions, they are discoveries. Discoveries, even if they are of something as complex as a gene, can not be patented.

Patents do still play an important part in gene technologies. If something useful is invented using genetic material that achieves a new and useful result then it should be entitled to a patent. Things like vaccines, treatments and things like that are all examples of gene related inventions that can be patented. Palombi argues that some things, like the test for BRCA1 and BRCA2 was "so elementary, so obvious, that it really lacks inventive steps". He claims that this was more a discovery of correlation. Requiring a higher level of an inventive step is something also required to issue a patent.

Even with all this debate, there is debate over whether or not gene patents have had an actual negative effect so far. There have been studies in Canada finding no evidence of any negative effects of patents so far. These studies are restricted however and though they do hold some weight they are limited in scope; they had a small amount of respondents and limited questions being asked. It is clear to me though, that whether or not they had caused problems, if this injunction is forced upon Australian hospitals and labs, there will be.

Word of the Blog
1. a trifling away of time; dawdling.
2. amorous toying; flirtation.
3. a tongue beast?

Video of the Blog
If you thought guns were just generally a bad idea, this ridiculous invention won't be inspiring any hope. Watch till the end for the grenade rounds. No surprise, there are some really offensive comments on the video so I advise not paying any attention to there.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why do I write this blog?

What is skepticism?
Firstly, it is not cynicism. It has been greatly frustrating to me, and to all the other skeptics I follow in the media, to have skepticism constantly confused with cynicism. Some people use the interchangeably and some people claim they are the same, some people just haven't heard anything about the two. Except for those who blatantly ignore the differences between the two I hope I can help the others (but mainly skeptics) by showing some differences.

Cynicism, at least in my eyes (I'm sure there's a cynic out there who will be disappointed with my definition, but then again... you would be. Just kidding, write me in one and I'll put it in over mine) centers around the general distrusting or disparaging of motives and the contempt for some accepted standards. I find that often alternative medicine followers, as well as other like minded people, will often dismiss scientific studies, dismiss skepticism, and place a great amount of distrust in the government and pharmaceutical companies to allow them to both feel more passionate about what they believe in, as well as sometimes to justify their beliefs. This is cynicism, the very same thing that they often accuse and confuse skeptics as having. To listen to scientific studies posted in peer review journals, ones done empirically with defences against the folly of human nature and psychology, while dismissing quackery and conspiracies that CAN NOT produce evidence for their claims is not close minded and it it not clinical. It is logic.

Skepticism, once again to me, lies in questioning and critical analysis. Sagan once said that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" this is something I cannot agree with more. If someone makes a claim of something, I will ask why their claim is true. What is the basis for the claim, where is the evidence. Also, what is the quality of this evidence. To me anecdotes are not evidence and I think that this is where I and skeptics differ from a lot of people. I think that they can be good indication of where research can be done. If 1000 people think there are ghosts in a building this is not evidence that there ghosts, or ghosts in this building. However, why not look into the ghosts and see if there indeed ghosts , or if not give these 1000 people an answer to why they thought there was, tell them whats happening don't just let them. If anecdotes were true then there would be an explosion of truth, conspiracy theories would come to life and a whole lot of editing would have to be done to the majority of science textbooks.

I think it is also important, as a skeptic, not to go into anything with a preconceived conclusion. I went into my Spot Reduction Myth post with uncertainty in my mind and I did a great deal of research before I posted it. It is also important to be able to change your mind. People may assume I am stubborn merely because I am passionate and I will argue my points. I find the accusations upon me and others that they "always think they are right" as outright ridiculous. Who is ever thinking that what they are thinking is wrong. I believe what I think and if there is uncertainty I leave it at thinking I'm uncertain, as does everyone. I only argue the points that i really believe in and that is why it often seems I wont back down about my opinions. As for things I've changed my mind on, I changed my mind on area specific toning, on vitamins and the immune system, on acupuncture, on placebo and on a variety of things. It is going around the skeptics in the media, and I agree, to sit down and think about what you have changed your mind on. When someone says you are stubborn, single minded, or another of these generic insults, bust out your short list and put a stop to it.

My mother is an alternative medicine advocate, I grew up without immunisations, believing in a lot of things I have come to disagree with. I grew up with a great trust in the world but as I aged I no longer took peoples word for it and wished to do my own research. There is a great deal of information out there and that's why I wished to write this Blog and bring some attention to the information that I think is not heard enough. People are wrong and wrong people will often do wrong things, furthermore these things often catch on. Sometimes people are deliberately misleading, I hope that this is not the majority of what we see. Alternatively, there are things that come to be proven and believed. If alternative medicine actually did what it was supposed to, it would be quickly absorbed into mainstream medicine. Instead there is, instead of a medical or scientific push, a push in public demand in alternative medicine to be inducted, a push because of misunderstanding and the spreading of misinformation by its proponents. I however do not believe in the many 'big pharma' conspiracies and those who do may find fault in that statement. I think though that this all shaped me to have a good starting point to research into a lot of alternative medicines.

Skepticism has been negatively branded by those who have not wished to understand it. To seek out evidence and to doubt claims that are backed by nothing but anecdotes is not close minded, it is logical. It might be counterintuitive to believe scientific studies that were conducted by people that we do not know are more trustworthy then even the closest of friends, but it is something that I have come to think and strongly support. To rather trust someones personal opinion is to fall folly to the many faults that exist within the human psyche. People make mistakes and the brain plays tricks. There a number of reasons that even I can name to show why we cannot trust ourselves. The majority of people do not have a great level of understanding for the placebo effect, or the natural history of a disease, nor the ideom motor effect or the other plethora of factors that contribute to humans often believing in things that are wrong. This is why a test done with defences against these factors, or done with these in direct consideration are far better sources of information then someones personal experience with something.

"Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, which involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. Some claims, such as water dowsing, ESP, and creationism, have been tested (and failed the tests) often enough that we can provisionally conclude that they are not valid. Other claims, such as hypnosis, the origins of language, and black holes, have been tested but results are inconclusive so we must continue formulating and testing hypotheses and theories until we can reach a provisional conclusion." http://www.skeptic.com

Why do I want to question? I think that whereas accepting something may allow you to experience one wonder of the world, you can think that someone can call down spaceships or that homeopathy can cure you, doing research and realising the ever growing and amazing science is an option full of much more wonder and prestige. Science that corrects itself, science that admits its faults. This is why I will always remain, above all, a skeptic.

A note from the creator of this blog.

I will be posting 2 blog posts today, I had a busy weekend but did a lot of thinking so if you only catch this post their will be, hopefully, another one before tonight. I would like to accentuate a few points here. They may be repeated in my next blog, it will be on skepticism so is related, but I would like to make them separately all the same.

Hey Jerks, leave a Comment.
Benjimine Franklin was once misquoted saying ""In this world there is nothing that is certain except death, taxes, and that if Uncle Sam had posted a blog it would be this one."
So far there has been no commenting here and a fair amount of commenting on my facebook links to the blog. I'm pretty sure it isn't that hard to post a comment here but I will do one as a test shortly, so could you please just pleasure me a little with some feedback and criticism.
Why comment?
Maybe you just want to put your word out, maybe you just like having your name attached to something as awesome as this blog? You might want to agree, you might want to disagree. If you want an argument about it leave a comment. If you want to lose that argument definitely leave a comment. If you want to suggest a topic, video, word of the blog, or ridiculous picture for me to use for a blog leave a comment. I would greatly appreciate notifications on spelling errors, grammatical errors, and unclear sentences (so far this has been done by Josh and Elwyn over messenger, thanks guys). However;

Think About It
If you want to criticise or argue here (and anywhere really) be prepared with a thought out argument and evidence to back it up. Check your definitions, check your sources. Anecdotes are not evidence, I do not care what your uncle's brother's sister's mother says she had happen to her unless she very carefully experienced it in a double blind test or if she has some level of expertise in the field. If you personally experienced something then you can tell me and I will ask you about it but first research into what you used and see if it can be simply explained (I suggest looking into the placebo effect and the natural history of disease).

Anyways, because you are all lazy i guess... whoever leaves the best comment of every post can have their name subliminally entered into the next post. Or... You can just have a dollar when I'm famous or something. Just do it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Burning The Candle At Both Ends

Ear Candling
Today, looking for something to write about, I went about thinking of some of the quackery I had heard about. I wanted something risky, something funny, and something semi popular so I figured, what fits this criteria more then shoving a flaming pipe in your ear? Not to much. So hear we go, it's called Ear Candling.

So what is it?
Yet another alternative medicine, Ear Candling involves the placing of a hollow end of a candle into your ear, either vertically or horizontally, and the lighting of the other end. Why would anyone light a candle in their ear you say? Going through the easily findable websites that both sell and advocate ear candles and ear candling I found that a lot of them don't actually tell you what they are for. Some who sell them are more honest claiming only relaxational (so not a word) benefits and, though I don't see how it would be relaxing having a burning tube coming out of your ear, I commend them for showing some honesty...even though it is crap.

One one site I found the following answer in the FAQ section of the website;

"Q. What is the primary purpose of Ear Candling? Does it have a therapeutic or medical basis? A. Ear Candling is a pleasant non-invasive treatment that can help to promote an enhanced state of health. It is used primarily to relieve conditions in the head and ear area, such as sinus problem, compacted ear wax, tinnitus and headaches or simply as an enjoyable means of relieving stress. Research for our book indicates that ear candling has a beneficial effect on the subtle energy – helping to calm and revitalize the chakras. Ear Candling is used as a complementary therapy and in recent years is gradually being embraced by the National Health Service. Some medical practices are using ear candling as an alternative to syringing for the treatment of excessive earwax - this is because, in some cases, syringing can perforate the eardrum."

Man. Firstly they avoided the question of 'medical basis' completely. In fact, they spent the second half of this lengthy paragraph trying to detract from the lack of medical basis. Where a simple no would suffice they have to go and mention chackras. I shed a single, skeptical tear every time I read the word 'chakra' or 'energy' in this kind of context. I would like to see the "research" for their book that was able to show a beneficial effect on chakra.

Secondly, no. No to everything but the purely
subjective calming effect. There is no suction or heat produced in the ear, one of the founding principles of ear candling. On the efficacy, pubmed has a relative abstract from a study.
"This study evaluates the efficacy and safety of this alternative method for cerumen management. Tympanometric measurements in an ear canal model demonstrated that ear candles do not produce negative pressure. A limited clinical trial (eight ears) showed no removal of cerumen from the external auditory canal. Candle wax was actually deposited in some. A survey of 122 otolaryngologists identified 21 ear injuries resulting from ear candle use. Ear candles have no benefit in the management of cerumen and may result in serious injury."

Another abstract, this one from 'Ear candles: a triumph of ignorance over science - ERNST E.'

"The procedure is used as a complementary therapy for a wide range of conditions. A critical assessment of the evidence shows that its mode of action is implausible and demonstrably wrong. There are no data to suggest that it is effective for any condition. Furthermore, ear candles have been associated with ear injuries. The inescapable conclusion is that ear candles do more harm than good. Their use should be discouraged."

So with evidence mentioned but unlisted by the ear candle advocates and evidence stacking against them what else can we say. Well, it probably doesn't help that even manufacturers don't believe in the candles. I found on one site that sells candles the following disclaimer,

"DISCLAIMER.......please be advised that © Alternet Detox Hopi Aromatherapy Ear Candles for sale are not intended to diagnose, cure, mitigate, prevent or treat any disease or health condition and they are not a Medical Device. Please, consult your primary health care provider if you have any questions on the use of any of our Products...."

That can't be a good sign, what else you ask? Well, the candles are actually banned in Canada, and i've been teasing Canadians for being slow. So, Whats the worst thing about Ear Candles you most definitely ask? These things can be bought in chemists. Banned in Canada, yet we happily sell them along side our medicines. Furthermore, googling (what a verb) ear candles and ear candling brings up at first a majority of sites selling and advising on use of ear candles. I had to put in 'skeptic ear candles' to get to the debunking sites, though the Skeptic Zone has a good page on ear candling.

One last thing, many of the Ear Candle sites and promoters claim reasoning for the candles to work as to their cultural underlying in many indigenous peoples and particularly the Hopi Indian tribe. Not only is this a great example of the Cultural Origins logical fallacy, where someone claims something is good because it is popular in a certain culture or group, but it seems to be entirely incorrect.
"M Harmony PhD shared her search result looking into verifiable ear candling data. She researched what constitutes a safe and healthy candle as well as the origins of ear candling and the ancient practices that have lead to ear candling. She caused controversy when she stated that the Hopi Native American tribe has been stunned by the revelation that they were supposed to have lent their name to the most famous ear candle in the world. Michelle said she had spent a lot of time with the Hopi's to find out that the Hopis have never used ear candles and have never heard of it." - http://freespace.virgin.net

So if you see these for sale in a local pharmacy, or see anyone advertising these as a medicine, be sure to ask about them and their evidence. Remind pharmacists that they have a duty of care and that people trust them to be selling evidence and science based medicine. You can contact the PureCalma website, who so generously gave me material with those FAQ questions here.

Samael O'Neill

Monday, August 10, 2009

Spot the Myth in Spot Reduction

Spot Reduction - The Targeted Fat Burn

The Spot Reduction Myth is the myth that you can lose fat specifically in one area, through the focusing of exercise on that area, and is one that's caused both exercising disappointments and the success of the sham exercise machines that frequent daytime TV infomercials.

Spot Reduction is what can be referred to as a 'Factoid Propagation'. A factoid propagation, known sometimes as a truism, enshrined myth or false assumption is a logical fallacy where a mere proposition has become stated as one that is either:
  • "(a) an objectively established fact; or
  • (b) so taken-for-granted by 'reasonable people' that it is 'beyond question'" - Hunting Humbug - Jef Clark and Theo Clark (the free eBook version can be viewed here).
The factoid has been so commonly assumed to be true that it has become known as the truth and therefore becomes more and more enshrined as a well established truth, far off its actual status as a mere preposition. This is certainly the case of the Spot Reduction weight loss myth.

Upon eating fats, they are chemically broken down by the enzyme lipase into smaller chemicals, a main one being glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine), as well as the ester glyceride. These smaller chemicals are able to pass through the wall of the gut into the blood where they can be reconstituted as fat, that consequently travels through the blood stream to be used. What isn't used it stored as fat to act as an insulator, a shock absorber and a fuel reserve.

"Although fat is lost or gained throughout the body it seems the first area to get fat, or the last area to become lean, is the midsection (in men and some women, especially after menopause) and hips and thighs (in women and few men)."

"Fat is lost throughout the body in a pattern dependent upon genetics, sex (hormones), and age. Overall body fat must be reduced to lose fat in any particular area." - http://www.exrx.net

Ergo, in men the apple shape and in woman the pear shape.

The Spot Reduction myth is most often known because of the many misconceptions of toning. Toning is essentially gaining muscle mass and lowering your overall fat percentage as to gain that more 'cut' muscular appearance. So focusing on muscle groups will, if done properly, give you muscle growth and this is important in toning. However if you were to focus on a particular muscle group, such as the commonly targeted abdominal muscles, you will not use up the fat surrounding this area but will merely lower your overall fat percentage.

Word of the Blog
val⋅e⋅tu⋅di⋅nar⋅i⋅an - [val-i-tood-n-air-ee-uhn]
1. an invalid.
2. a person who is excessively concerned about his or her poor health or ailments.
3. in poor health; sickly; invalid.
4. excessively concerned about one's poor health or ailments.
5. of, pertaining to, or characterized by invalidism.

Video of the Blog
Sent to me by Sam Barber

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Cream of the Flop

The Best.

The James Randi Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge (see last blog) has attracted a host of people claiming to have rare abilities worthy of the prize. I took the liberty to wade through the first 5 of the pages of, er, "applicants". I would have done more, I was prepared to, but after 5 pages I had filled my Insane Quota for the day and had well enough for a Blog post. The applicants page can be found here and I strongly recommend you have a look because there is plenty of hilarious up there.
Here is the best I saw on the first few pages:
    Natal'ya Vorotnikova applied, with all required documents, with the claim that she will be able to identify a box containing a male who speaks Russian in a warehouse type setting.
    According to Ms. Vorotnikova's Challenge claim, she will be able to identify a box amongst many identical boxes if there is a Russian male inside. None of the other boxes can contain people, and the test should take place in a large room, like a warehouse.
    Suggested Protocol - Mrs. Vorotnikova has approved of a protocol that will use a school corridor lined with classroom doors and agreed that she will be able to identify which classroom contains a person, even without touching the doors or pausing at them while music is playing in the corridor.
  • ADAM BIALECKI - X-ray Eyes
    Adam Bialecki has applied with the claim that he is able to diagnose individuals using 'x-ray eyes'. He has provided both media presence and academic affidavit.
  • COLIN ROSS - Eyeball Energy
    Colin Ross has applied with the claim that he can cause a tone to sound by shooting energy out of his eyeballs.
    He has provided both academic affidavits and media presence.
  • GREG PRICE - Dowsing Circles
    I thought this guy really had it in him. Greg Price entered the competition before there was a requirement for media presence, his claim is that he is able to dowse circular paths that he had recently walked on.
    "I will walk four times clockwise in a circle. I will then mark that circle by using two brass dousing rods. I will do this walking forwards and backwards and blindfolded if you wish.
    The area for this demonstration can be a parking lot or lawn or golf course, etc. I would first walk the area before and check for pipes, wires, water, etc. that could complicate the demonstration."
    He received the following reply
    "Thank you for your continued interest and patience. I am still unable to see how your claim constitutes a paranormal ability. Please clarify. Are you saying that, after walking a circular path a few times, you are able to walk the same circular path with dowsing rods? Surely remembering where you walked is not a paranormal ability?"
    Unable to clarify how his ability is paranormal, his file was closed.
  • Marcus Tisdale - Street Light Controller Claims to, by paranormal or otherwise unknown circumstances, turn regular street lights on and off solely as a result of my presence and not by coincidence. The request for the required 3 affidavits has remained unmet. He was recommended to ask an electrical engineer to sign one. Kramer, who used to handle the claimants, said to him that "Perhaps the answer you seek is simpler than the one you have imagined." As he never replied I guess he may have been right.
  • Kirti Betai - The Confident Inventor
    These are quotes taken from the page from Kramer and Mr Betai respectively
    "This claim arrived in 1999, on the official stationary of India's MODERN VASHTU ENERGY SCIENCE organization, in Agra. As this applicant's file contains no evidence that any response from the JREF was offered, I must assume that my predecessor felt it unworthy of one. One can hardly blame him. Since my arrival here, no claim letter has gone unanswered." - Kramer

    "WHAT WILL CONSTITUTE TEST: 1- Your representatives will bring 5 plates of freshly cooked vegetables. Of these 5 plates your representatives will put snake poison of your choice in 4 plates. 2- Pendulum Querying System will be used to detect the quality of the vegetables. I will detect the plate of vegetables that is without any poison & eat a portion of it to demonstrate the zero-error capability of pendulum querying system designed and developed by me." K. Bertai
  • The PROPHET YAHWEH - UFO Summoner
    I read through too much on this page, it was painful, funny and frustrating. I recommend you read it at its page. This is a very cut down version, if you read it properly it actually gets a bit of a plot line going. I guess I better put in a SPOILER WARNING. Essentially Prophet Yahweh (Yes, really. He legally changed his name to this from Ramon Watkins) claims to essentially be able to summon spaceships. He begins by saying he is too good to be able to sign the necessary documents to get the claim, but they can feel free to give him money anyway. He then goes on to say he will do it and give it to charity and later that because of the publication of his application he is getting death threats, Subsequently this leads to a lot of what I call "shitting around" on his half. He goes on for a long time only to say, just before the challenge, that there will be armed guards, to which Kramer responds
    "The JREF cannot be involved in any Challenge test at which firearms of any kind are present. I deeply regret to have to say this, but if you insist on having armed security present at the test location, the test will be immediately cancelled. This point is not negotiable."
    It was then discovered that the Prophet Yahweh was a client at Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health at their Mental Health Authority called "The Village." Here you can see that site that worried Kramer, 'PROPHET YAHWEH DECLARED MENTALLY ILL',
    'Yahweh gives him some funny advice after that, so read the page already.
Word of the Blog

ebullient \ih-BUL-yuhnt\, adjective:

1. Overflowing with enthusiasm or excitement; high-spirited.
2. Boiling up or over.

Video of the Blog
Sent to me by Robbie mann.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge

What is it?
The Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge is a challenge to all those out there claiming they can exhibit "any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event". It is a brilliant strategy set out by James Randi (Left) and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), magician and critic, to help debunk major frauds in the media. People who refuse to apply for the challenge can be seen as most likely knowing that there claimed abilities are exaggerated, fraudulent or unlikely.

In some people's defence there are some claims that cannot be tested by the foundation (Such as ones that require people to stop taking medication, ones that may endanger any person's health, one's that cannot be tested, etc). Also, some people may just wish not to deal with the foundation, though this seems a steep issue to uphold for the 1 Million dollars offered and the huge amount of media attention and credibility anyone would gain from winning the prize. So can you win

To clearly state the JREF's purpose I will quote from their page on the Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and provide this direct link;

"The Foundation is committed to providing reliable information about paranormal claims. It both supports and conducts original research into such claims.

At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The JREF does not involve itself in the testing procedure, other than helping to design the protocol and approving the conditions under which a test will take place. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform a relatively simple preliminary test of the claim, which if successful, will be followed by the formal test. Preliminary tests are usually conducted by associates of the JREF at the site where the applicant lives. Upon success in the preliminary testing process, the "applicant" becomes a "claimant."

To date, no one has passed the preliminary tests."

So, Can you win $1,000,000?
To all of you people remembering those brief stints of telekinesis, those moments of dowsing, your mind reading abilities, thinking "Oh Sam, please, help me win $1,000,000", hmmmm.
Probably not.
After enduring what must have been countless fraudulent, erratic or just the thousands of crack-pot applications they should have expected the JREF finally limited new applicants to ones with a decent media presence and anyone who has one of them is almost undoubtedly not reading this blog. But, in my opinion, there's no rush.

As the JREF states, no one has yet passed the preliminary challenge, and though Randi had early this year stated the Challenges retirement, at The Amazing Meeting (2009) he officially announced that the Challenge would be left open.

In the Next Blog?
I'll be giving a list of a few of the many, more "incredible", applicants listed on the foundations site. So to all you people who haven't subscribed, bookmarked or become a follower of the blog (all 3 of you) get on it.
I also would like to point out that in this blog I successfully went without using wikipedia, god of the Internet, as a source or reference point.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dowsing for Truth

I should first point out, before I write anything about it, that I do not believe in dowsing in the slightest. Because of this it is likely that I suffer at least some confirmation bias which may lead to my sarcastic and negative point of view. On second thoughts, it's probably just because it's about as much use as trying to find water by repeatedly rolling dice until it begins they begin to wear away at the earth and you eventually hit the water table. Oh, wait that's much more useful then dowsing.

OK, now, onto a more proper look at


According to wikipedia, the god of the internet, "Dowsing, sometimes called divining, doodlebugging (in the US), or (when searching specifically for water) water finding or water witching, is a practice that attempts to locate hidden water wells, buried metals or ores, gemstones, or other objects as well as currents of earth radiation without the use of scientific apparatus. A Y- or L-shaped twig or rod is sometimes used during dowsing, although some dowsers use other equipment or no equipment at all."

I do feel however that wikipedia was a bit blasé on the issue of "or other objects" because it seems that this really does stretch to anything. A good section of the James Randi One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge applications have been one form of dowsing or another. This includes:
  • Connie Sonne - able to dowse for certain numbers when they are written on one side of a piece of cardboard and the other side is blank, and the cardboard is shuffled and placed on a table numbers-down.
  • Greg Price - ability to dowse circular paths that he (or others) had recently walked on. He has since been disqualified from the challenge with the response "I am still unable to see how your claim constitutes a paranormal ability. Please clarify. Are you saying that, after walking a circular path a few times, you are able to walk the same circular path with dowsing rods? Surely remembering where you walked is not a paranormal ability?"
  • Mike Guska - able to tell whether a cannister contains gold, silver, or nothing through dowsing.
  • James Dawson - can tell, with certain information, whether a person is alive or dead and what position they were in when they died.
Though some older studies concluded that some dowsers "in particular tasks, showed an extraordinarily high rate of success, which can scarcely if at all be explained as due to chance ... a real core of dowser-phenomena can be regarded as empirically proven." these 6 out of 43 dowsers (selected as the best candidates out of 500 people) showed only better then statistically probable. Though my knowledge of statistics is limited, I would assume that through chance it would be likely that some would do better then average.

More a recent study however showed no significant results. Also, no one has ever passed the preliminary test of the Million Dollar Challenge.

So, The truth in Dowsing. The Ideomotor Effect

"The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously. As in reflexive responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action. For instance, tears are produced by the body unconsciously in reaction to the emotion of sadness.

Automatic writing, dowsing, facilitated communication, and Ouija boards have also been attributed to the effect of this phenomenon. Mystics have often attributed this motion to paranormal or supernatural force. Many subjects are unconvinced that their actions are originating solely from within themselves." - Wikipedia

Clearly this is the source of almost all the "Dowsing Phenomena". For me that's a case closed.