1847 was a banner year for phrenology textbook covers.
— FEATURED —
— FOLLOW US —
— POLICIES —
Except where indicated, Boing Boing is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution
— FONTS —
1847 was a banner year for phrenology textbook covers.
Juha sez, "Amazingly enough, New Zealand's North and South magazine has lost in the NZ Press Council, after a homeopath filed a complaint against an article that stated: 'Homeopathic remedies have failed every randomised, evidence-based scientific study seeking to verify their claims of healing powers.'"
"Mr Stuart [a homeopath] supplied the Press Council with a letter from Dr David St George, Chief Advisor on Integrative Care for the Ministry of Health, who advises the ministry on the development of complementary medicine in New Zealand and its potential integration into the public health system. He was not speaking for the ministry in this case but offering a personal view.
Dr St George believed the statement in North & South's article arose from a misunderstanding of the Lancet study, which had compared 110 published placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy with the same number of published placebo-controlled trials of conventional medical drug treatments. He said most of the 110 homeopathy trials in that study were "randomised, evidence-based scientific studies" which demonstrated an effect beyond a placebo effect. "
Dr St George said there was no debate about whether there were scientific studies demonstrating homeopathy's therapeutic benefit but rather, whether those studies were of an acceptable methodological quality.
I love Bruce Sterling's "Design Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief," a list of fictions in ascending order of credibility:
9.4 New age crystals, lucky charms, protective pendants, mojo hands, voodoo dolls, magic wands
9.3 Quack devices, medical hoaxes
9.3 Fantasy “objects” in fantasy cinema and computer-games
9.2 Physically impossible sci-fi literary devices: time machines, humanoid robots
9.2 Perpetual motion machines; free-energy gizmos, other physically impossible engineering fantasies
9.0 State libels, black propaganda, military ruses; missile gaps, vengeance weapons, Star Wars SDI
8.9 “Realplay” services, “experiential futurism” encounters, military and emergency training drills, props and immersive set-design, scripted personas
8.8 Online roleplaying scenario games
8.7 Net.art interventions, diegetic performance art, provocative device-art scandals
8.6 Guerrilla street-theater; costumes, puppets, banners, songs, lynchings-in-effigy, mock trials, mass set-designed Nuremberg rallies, propaganda trains
8.5 Fake products, product forgeries, theft-of-services, con-schemes, 419 frauds
Spoiler alert: the list ends with these:
1.0 Engineering specifications, software code
0.5 Historical tech assessment of extinct technologies, the “judgement of history’
0.0 The ideal and unobtainable “objective truth” about objects and services
Sometimes, when confronted with woo, it is hard to know exactly what sort of woo you're dealing with. To simplify this challenge while sparing you the agony of enduring any more explanations of ear-candling or aromatherapy than is strictly necessary, Crispian Jago has compiled a handy Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense.
The curiously revered world of irrational nonsense has seeped into almost every aspect of modern society and is both complex and multifarious. Therefore rather than attempt a comprehensive taxonomy, I have opted instead for a gross oversimplification and a rather pretty Venn Diagram.
In my gross over simplification the vast majority of the multitude of evidenced-free beliefs at large in the world can be crudely classified into four basic sets or bollocks. Namely, Religion, Quackery, Pseudoscience and the Paranormal.
However as such nonsensical beliefs continue to evolve they become more and more fanciful and eventually creep across the bollock borders. Although all the items depicted on the diagram are completely bereft of any form of scientific credibility, those that successfully intersect the sets achieve new heights of implausibility and ridiculousness. And there is one belief so completely ludicrous it successfully flirts with all forms of bollocks.
Religious Bollocks ∩ Quackery Bollocks ∩ Pseudoscientific Bollocks ∩ Paranormal Bollocks = Scientology
The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
"Types of insanity, an illustrated guide in the physical diagnosis of mental disease" from 1883 is not just a frightening look at the inhumane treatment of people with mental health problems in the 19th century, it's also full of sensitive charcoal portraits of inmates in various asylums, along with their tragic personal histories: "X______ has been melancholic for some years, and the disease is drifting into dementia."
Redditor Jasonp55 has a neat demonstration of the perils of confusing correlation with causation, and his well-chosen example makes this a potentially useful chart for discussing this issue with friends who won't vaccinate themselves and their kids.
Oncologist and cancer-woo-debunker Orac has more on the legal details that allow this man to keep practicing medicine in Texas: "the dubious doctor known as Stanislaw Burzynski, who charges desperate patients with advanced (and usually incurable) cancer tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in his 'clinical trials' of antineoplastons, compounds that he claims to have isolated from urine and that he now represents as a promising new treatment that can do much better than existing therapies with much less toxicity, even though there’s no evidence that it can."
The legal underpinnings of the case will be interesting to some, and too tedious for others, but here's the tl;dr from Orac's post: the outcome does not make the case that Burzynski's "science" is valid. The board simply found that, "as a matter of law, the TMB couldn’t bring action against Burzynski on the basis of actions performed by doctors under his supervision."
On the BBC, Ruth Evans describes a widespread Japanese superstition about the relationship between blood-types and personality. Apparently, the modern junk-science belief originates with a crank called Masahiko Nomi who published a "a book in the 1970s" about it, and his son Toshitaka has continued the family tradition with more woo books and an "Institute of Blood Type Humanics." However, Evans implies that the origin of this belief is the eugenics-grounded ideology of the Imperial militarist Japanese government of the 1930s, who "formed battle groups according to blood type."
It's apparently a very widespread belief. Employers ask prospective employees for their blood-types. Dating sites use blood-type to make matches. Blood-types form part of the plot in manga, anime and games. And big companies, sports teams, politicians and teachers are all known to discriminate based on typing:
The women's softball team that won gold for Japan at the Beijing Olympics is reported to have used blood type theories to customise training for each player. Some kindergartens have even adopted methods of teaching along blood group lines, and even major companies reportedly make decisions about assignments based on employees' blood types.
In 1990 the Asahi Daily newspaper reported that Mitsubishi Electronics had announced the creation of a team composed entirely of AB workers, thanks to "their ability to make plans".
These beliefs even affect politics. One former prime minister considered it important enough to reveal in his official profile that he's a type A, whilst his opposition rival was type B. Last year a minister, Ryu Matsumoto, was forced to resign after only a week in office, when a bad-tempered encounter with local officials was televised. In his resignation speech he blamed his failings on the fact that he was blood type B.
Not everyone sees the blood type craze as simply harmless fun.
It sometimes manifests itself as prejudice and discrimination, and it seems this is so common, the Japanese now have a term for it - bura-hara, meaning blood-type harassment. There are reports of discrimination against type B and AB groups leading to children being bullied, the ending of happy relationships, and loss of job opportunities.
The South Korean customs department is going to target its inspections in order to intercept shipments of Chinese quack medicine tablets made from the flesh of babies and foetuses, which are sometimes infected with superbacteria. From the BBC:
"It was confirmed those capsules contain materials harmful to the human body, such as super bacteria. We need to take tougher measures to protect public health," a customs official was quoted as saying by the Korea Times.
Inspections are to be stepped up on shipments of drugs arriving from north-east China, Yonhap news agency reported.
The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said that capsules were being dyed or switched into boxes of other drugs in a bid to disguise them.
Some of the capsules were found in travellers' luggage and some in the post, customs officials said.
Allegations that human flesh capsules were being trafficked from north-east China into South Korea emerged last year in a South Korean television documentary.
The thing I don't get is why the rip-off artists who sell these things don't just fill the tablets with sugar and say they're full of powdered baby. It's not like the credulous dunces buying the stuff will be able to tell the difference, and surely sugar is easier to get hold of.
Chef Mom's mozzarella ghost and olive spider Hallowe'en pizza literally made my mouth flood with saliva. Spooky, spooky drool.
Slice the fresh mozzarella. Using a ghost cookie cutter cut out some ghost shapes. Place the ghosts on top of the pizza sauce. Using the finely chopped olives, place eyes on the head of the ghosts. Bake the pizza for about 5 - 6 minutes, or until the cheese is fully melted.
Once the pizza is baked, make spiders by sticking the rosemary leaves into the green olives. Place the spiders next to the ghosts and serve.
According to Heidi N. Moore's report in Marketwatch, thousands of high-flying Wall Street traders secretly rely on advice from "financial astrologers" who tell them what the stars and planets predict for the market. One trader requests his newsletter in a plain brown wrapper so that his colleagues won't know his secret.
Financial astrologers like Karen Starich say traders know they're up against a lot of rich, smart people.
"They want to have that edge," she says. "They want to know what the future is."
Starich chargest $237 annually for her newsletter, which 300 traders subscribe to for news of what will happen to the stock prices of companies, or even bigger, to the Federal Reserve. She sees dark times ahead in the Fed's horoscope.
"They now have Saturn squared to Neptune, which is really bankruptcy," Starich explains.
Out of the depths of historic woo rises the ancient and leathery tobacco enema kit. Gaze with horror. Gaze!
Made by Evans & Co of London, this apparatus was used to revive people who were ‘apparently dead’, by making use of tobacco’s stimulant qualities. The bellows were used to blow tobacco smoke up the rectum (or into the lungs) … Tobacco enemas were popular from the 17th to the early 19th century. [Source]
A group of MIT students decided to test the performance of different tinfoil beanies to see how various designs (the "classical," "fez" and "centurion") interacted with commonly used industrial radio applications. They found that all three designs actually amplified these
mind control rays radio waves, suggesting that the tinfoil hat meme might be a false-flag operation engineered to trick the wily and suspicious into making it easier to beam messages into their skulls.
Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.
... We evaluated the performance of three different helmet designs, commonly referred to as the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion. These designs are portrayed in Figure 1. The helmets were made of Reynolds aluminium foil. As per best practices, all three designs were constructed with the double layering technique described elsewhere .
A radio-frequency test signal sweeping the ranges from 10 Khz to 3 Ghz was generated using an omnidirectional antenna attached to the Agilent 8714ET's signal generator.
The Manchester Evening News's Richard Wheatstone has done a good investigative series on the Victorious Pentecostal Assembly Manchester, which hard-sells a "holy" cure-all (made from black currant drink and olive oil) that the church's leader, "Pastor Mbenga," claims will cure cancer, HIV and diabetes. In one article, the reporter presented himself to Mbenga, saying that he was worried about his uncle's cancer. The pastor advised him to pray and buy a lot of miracle cure, which the pastor would bless. The pastor's hard sell included stories of people with cancer and diabetes who "had been able to throw away their medication after making a full recovery." The pastor instructed the reporter to dilute the blessed sugary drink three to one with olive oil and administer it to his uncle, whereupon "God will take over with divine intervention and the cancer will disappear."
When subsequently cornered, the pastor insisted he harmed no one and framed his sales of the "cure" as an issue of religious freedom:
He said: "It is the word of God, it is in the scriptures that God can heal these illnesses and that is the message we are passing on to people.
"I wasn’t aware of that law, but we live in a free society and if this is what people believe then people should be free to believe in it and carry out their faith.
"We have seen divine intervention in the past where people have been healed of terrible diseases and believe that God has the supernatural power to bring about miracles.
"This is what we believe and we are just trying to help people, trying to help them live a better life by giving them the power through God to make changes in their lives. We are not hurting anyone."
Just in case you couldn't imagine Boots being more profit-led (rather than "pharmacy-led") marvel at the fact that the company refuses to withdraw products from Nelsons, a homeopathic manufacturer, even after the US regulator banned Nelsons products over fears that their sugar pills (which include "teething remedies" that are meant for babies) contained fragments of broken glass.
Boots's answer to a concerned customer? "Don't worry, the broken glass isn't in the stuff they sell to us."
How could Boots know that the lax production standards applied only to shipments to the US? The products are made in Wimbledon. Do Nelsons have ‘lax Fridays’ where they all bunk off to the pub while the US export runs are made?
This response lacks any credibility.
I wrote to Boots when I received this to ask how they can be confident that these problems do not affect the UK. I have received no response.
Of course, we know Boots have a rather cynical attitude to the homeopathic products they sell. When giving evidence to parliament, Paul Bennett, professional standards director and superintendent pharmacist at Boots, admitted they have no evidence these products work, but sold them because they could.
One then might understand they were unconcerned about the homeopathic pills not being manufactured correctly – it does not matter one jot if the sugar pill receives a drop of magic ju-ju juice – it’s just water. But why would Boots be unconcerned that their products lack the quality control procedures to prevent glass entering products? To remind you, Boots sell homeopathic babies teething powders – a completely useless product, but may make the baby forget its teething pain if it crunches down on shards of glass.