Woo with a body-count: measles epidemic follows anti-vax scare

Wales is in the grip of a measles epidemic, thanks to the anti-vaccine scare more than a decade ago. Once the critical mass of herd immunity dropped below a certain threshold, in came the old, deadly -- and utterly preventable -- disease.

Death toll from the American anti-vaccine movement

The Anti-Vaccine Body Count site reminds us that since celebrities like Jenny McCarthy took the cause of scaring parents into avoiding life-saving vaccines, thousands of preventable illnesses and deaths have struck. Since 2007 alone, more than 110,000 preventable illnesses and 1,170 deaths have occurred. In that same timeframe, the number of autism diagnoses linked through scientific evidence and review to vaccination is zero. (via Making Light) Cory 119

Satan's Spiritual Scorecard: how'd you do?


This list of the components of Satan's Spiritual Structure appears on handouts given to attendees at San Diego Comic-Con by evangelical picketers. It seems to originate with a Jack Chick Tract, though I'm not sure if the protesters elaborated on the original or if it came from ChickCorp itself. Still, it's a great party game: I scored 20. How'd you do?


Update: Mark posted this last year and it turns out it's a hoax handout, parodying those infamous Chick tracts. Too good to be true, I suppose.

Here is the photo of the Devil probing a boy's head you were looking for


1847 was a banner year for phrenology textbook covers.

"The Devil Examining the Head of a Boy" Frontspiece to a Manual on Phrenology; 1847, The Wellcome Library

NZ Press Council finds against statement saying "Homeopathic remedies have failed every randomised, evidence-based scientific study seeking to verify their claims of healing powers"

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.

Case Number: 2320 CLIVE STUART AGAINST NORTH & SOUTH (Thanks, Juha)

Ordered list of credible fictions

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

Design Fiction: The Design Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief

Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense: chart of woo


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!)

Illustrated guide to insanity, 1883


"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."

Types of insanity, an illustrated guide in the physical diagnosis of mental disease [with manuscript notes] (1883) (via Retronaut)

Correlation between autism diagnosis and organic food sales


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.

/r/skeptic, I was practicing GraphPad and I think I may have discovered the 'real' cause of autism... (imgur.com) (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Stanislaw Burzynski, dubious cancer doc, gets off on legal technicality

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 Texas Medical Board has abandoned its prosecution of Burzynski, as noted in a previous Boing Boing post here with guest commentary by fellow anti-cancer-woo writer Robert Blaskiewicz.

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."

Read the rest

Blood type determinism in Japan

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.

Japan and blood types: Does it determine personality?

Quack medicine pills made from babies and super bacteria smuggled from China to South Korea

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.

S Korea 'to target powdered human flesh capsules' (via JWZ)

Spooky delicious pizza


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.

Spooky ghost pizza recipe (via Neatorama)

High-flying financiers subscribe to high-ticket astrologers


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.

Astrology guides some financial traders (via Lowering the Bar)

(Image: Astrological Clock, Torre dell'Orologio, Venice, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from spencer77's photostream)

Tobacco enemas for everyone!


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]

Tobacco Enema Kit, 1774 (via Richard Kadrey)