Mommas don’t let your babies grow up to be Fundamentalist Christians

For all those interested, the following story is worth reading.

When I was young I went to a bible camp. I can say it was nothing like what Kathryn Joyce wrote about, per say. I think the worst I had to endure, other than the constant Christian subliminal brainwashing, was the milk served at meals. Every meal came with a glass of powdered milk. Every drop had to be consumed or you where not allowed to leave the table. I wonder what was in that “milk”.

Archie and the Gang are up to no good. Tune in next time when Jughead eats all the wafers.

I nearly died in that camp as well. The camp was located next to a lake and there were daily swimming sessions which were monitored by an adult. When walking along the bottom of the section designated for swimming I lost my footing and went under water. Luckily I was pulled out, resuscitated and proceeded to cough out water.

Still, nothing I can relate to compares to the horror that these young women go through. Young girls may rebel, may fight and swear, but no one deserves this torture. I you know someone who is currently rebelling, help them. Just talking about issues may actually accomplish something. Refer them to secular counselling that will look at what is actually going on, rather than attempting to exorcise demons.

If you know of a parent who is thinking of sending their child to a place like this, forward them this article. Hopefully they cringe and decide to see professional help as opposed to spiritual help.


In Which I’m an Axe Grinding Whinger

Well, the trolls finally found my blog posts from this spring, in which I am accused of conspiracy, lies, and scientific tyranny. Yay! I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls and all, but I would like to point out one simple thing: I honestly don’t care about geocentrism. I’m not a physicist, I’m not an astronomer. I am nothing more than an astronomy cheer leader, because I have always been fascinated by the stars and the planets and the galaxies. I was sort of sad when Pluto was downgraded from planetary status, but in a momentary “d’aw shucks” sort of way. I mourn the death of the American space program, that I never got to see a shuttle launch (though we did fly over Cape Canaveral once when a shuttle was on the launch pad. I took pictures). Any major changes to astronomy would interest me, because I have no vested interest in one theory or another. String theory can come or go – I’m a biologist and it makes no difference to me.

The hilarious thing is that apparently, according to my trolls, I have an axe to grind, and I am sitting here bitching and complaining and protesting because that’s all I do. This delights me, because I’m a busy woman with my own science to worry about. I had never even heard of geocentrism before I saw it on a Kijij listing for the lecture, and since I wrote the articles I have not worried about it for a moment since (barring my post earlier this week about the movie, which I wrote on a 10 minute break to lament science education). I wrote two comedy-based articles debunking the talk for the amusement of my fellow skeptics, and that was the end of it.

Now, I’m being challenged as a liar who misrepresented the evenings, even by those who have seen copies of the events that went on. What I find interesting is that these are only wild assertions. Which part, specifically, is untrue? Although I have not yet gone back to transcribe his talk, I certainly could to prove my point. Or perhaps, yes, I made a typo, or didn’t cover something in the notes I took. However, it is difficult to respond to such criticism if you don’t mention what I’m wrong about.

And yet, even though I spend both summaries asking over, and over, and over, “Please, somebody, just show me some evidence!!” none of them have presented any direct evidence for geocentrism. They all fall prey to the thinking of many creationists: if the current theory is wrong, then mine must be right! I am open to the concept that there is a better explanation for the way the world is than Newtonian physics. However, you must present this alternative theory!

In a geocentist world, this is what the solar system looks like. Please explain why planets are doing weird little circles all on their own. Please explain why Mercury never slams into the Earth. Please explain the forces that sustain this model.

Until then, truly, I’ve moved on with my life. The universe is not the focus of my scientific work and what frame of reference we use to describe it doesn’t particularly matter to me. This is not my field. I have far more to “whinge” about when it comes to people promoting medical quackery. You know, the stuff that is actually killing people.

Earth Wars: Revenge of the Geocentrists

So it looks like Robert Sungenis is no longer willing to just give poorly attended lectures and enter stacked debates, but has decided that he needs to go Hollywood with his poorly founded, ignorant, and paranoid ramblings. Seriously, they’re trying to make a documentary, Expelled-style. I’m not going to lie: I’m scared. Not scared of what he has to say, not scared of his challenge to science, not scared of dissent.

I’m scared of all those Good Christians™ of America will see this crap and think that God mandates that we give equal time to this “theory.” It scares me to see the world slipping backwards, the public’s hearts more easily swayed by rhetoric and conspiracy theories than good, evidence-based, exciting knowledge. Superstition and paranoia is so much easier than the truth for far too many. Sungenis is charismatic and assertive enough that this stands a chance of having someone listen –  and what then? With the death of the American (and, by proxy, Canadian) space program, will we ever look up at the night sky and be humbled as Sagan did when he waxed poetic? Or would we allow those gaps that contain God to grow?

"There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." - Carl Sagan

How can we make science capture the imaginations of people the way that these cons can? It becomes more and more clear that the only way forward is to proactively prevent these blatant attacks on science. We need to be loud, active voices for rational, skeptical thinking. Anyone with any iota of skepticism will easily see through Sungenis’ fallacies, and misrepresentations.

I fear for the ones who don’t.

Prayer in Manitoba Schools: Here to learn, except when you’re not

The Free Press (why do I read the paper?) is reporting that numerous schools in Manitoba still have students recite the Lord’s Prayer. This makes me especially sad as many of the schools listed are ones that myself or my brother have attended. I have no recollection of this, to be honest, with the exception of at J.A. Cuddy in Sanford. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t always been the case, but I’m sincerely confused because I attended Oak Bluff for a few years, and don’t ever remember doing it. Perhaps it blended so seamlessly into my expectations that I never thought it notable enough to remember.

In any case, everyone knows the entertainment in news stories comes from the comments. There are plenty of people spewing venom at this devious, atheist lawyer who is asking the schools to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are a few main themes for this objection:

Kids today are worse than they used to be! This is because they took prayer out of schools! Umm, I’m pretty sure the point of this article is that prayer is still in schools even though it’s not supposed to be. Most likely, you have a nostalgia bias, and remember things better than they were, and any real decline in good behaviour at school is due to other factors.
This country was built on Christian values! WTF, really? First of all, the argument from tradition is one of the worst fallacies. Second of all, this country has committed numerous atrocities based on those same Christian values. Xenophobia, racism and superiority lead to residential schools, Japanese internment camps, anti-Semitism, lack of women’s rights, etc. If those are the sort of values you think we should value and that Christianity promotes, you freaking suck, and Christianity sucks harder.
If you don’t like it, you should go to a country that doesn’t believe in God. Um no, first of all, a country cannot believe in God, only its people can. Furthermore, this particular country enforces the freedom of religious belief, INCLUDING atheism, agnosticism, and all other religions. There are very specific rules for how religion can enter public schools, and it is not allowed to be on school time. If you would prefer a country that does enforce such things, as pointed out by another commenter, I hear Iran is really nice for religious fundamentalism this type of year.
The Lord’s Prayer says nice things that all children should hear, regardless of their religion. First of all, no it doesn’t say anything that is worth saying. Talking about heaven on earth and being forgiven are explicitly Christian sentiments which are not universal. As for the bits about not doing or suffering from evil, isn’t that a given? Why do we need to teach our children, using religious doctrine, not to do evil? Do we need them to pray to an invisible man when someone has done wrong to them, or should we be encouraging them to actually do something about it?
“Who is Chris Tait? Who is he to dictate to others that they can’t pray in school? So schools are [sic] suppose to drop the Lord’s Prayer because some atheist lawyer says so?” No, schools are not supposed to use the Lord’s Prayer because our CHARTER says so. It is the law, the lawyer is reminding them of it!
“Heaven forbid, no pun intended, that the kids of today start their day being thankful, by reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s not have them learn about empathy either. However, if a dissident from an obscure tribe wanted part of their ritual ackowledged or believes read that would be ok, right.” Honestly, I don’t read any part of being thankful in there. I hear praise to God, which is quite different than, golly gee whiz, I’m sure thankful I am a Canadian kid who has rights and laws protecting me like freedom of speech and education! Furthermore, the law is quite clear, it doesn’t matter who you are, you are not allowed to promote religion in school. True, we do teach kids about Native history (grade 6, I think) but I also distinctly remember learning about the Reformation during European History in grade 7. It’s okay to learn about such things for the purposes of knowledge. Just because we made bannock in grade 5 doesn’t mean that the school division is promoting being a Voyageur! There is a difference between knowledge and promotion.
If we don’t allow God in our schools, where will he be when things go wrong? We do not need God to deal with our problems. We deal with problems. If someone is about to be raped, are you going to stand there and let God intervene, or are you going to call the cops?
A Christian agenda teaches love and forgiveness! No, a Christian agenda is a Christian agenda, and as such you cannot teach it in public schools. What is so difficult about this? Can someone seriously argue with me that you cannot teach someone what love is without talking about God? That it is impossible to forgive someone for a wrong without them pleading their case before a man in the sky first? Seriously?
Why don’t people deal with more important issues? This is irrelevant! While it may be true that there are serious issues that require attention, that doesn’t negate the fact that the law is being broken. Should we ignore drunk drivers because there’s a serial rapist? Should all the police in the city work in the North End, because it has some major crime issues, and ignore the rest? Just because X is not as popular as Y doesn’t mean it deserves to be ignored. A similar issue is happening in research. A lot of women get breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need money for Parkinson’s Disease or Huntington’s.
This is an atheist deception! What? How? What? Saying atheists are deceiving you, and then listing a bunch of bad things that happen (including in schools that have 100% compliance with the prayer!) is not an argument, it’s a non sequitir.
Children in schools have to hear pro-choice, pro-homosexuality and pro-evoution lectures! This is infringing on our religious freedoms just as much!! No, the charter guarantees that everyone will be treated equally and fairly. Imposing your religious beliefs on everyone is very different than being provided with information that disagrees with your bigoted religious beliefs. The Charter does not protect your right to be an asshole.

Sorry, WFP commenters. If fallacies and false equivalences are all you’ve got for me, I remain unconvinced. Kids go to school to learn information and to learn how to think critically. They spend all day saying, here kids, figure this out! Then they say, okay, now shut off your minds, and talk out loud to a man in the sky. It’s not learning, it’s brainwashing. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s your kid, that’s your own choice, but if you want to brainwash for Jesus, there are plenty of schools that are more than willing to oblige you.

Biology and medicine – the scapegoats of our time?

You know, the blogosphere is all a-twitter (see what I did there?) with the story about asking Miss America contestants whether they think evolution should be taught in schools. I won’t go into it, since my feelings can basically be summed up here. Frankly, I’m not shocked in the slightest. However, it did get me thinking. Why, why, why does good science, especially that in the fields of biology and medicine, get turned into the enemy by the general public? And more importantly, why those specific fields? Sure, you could say that the opposition to the majority of biology comes from evolutionary theory, and its conflict with Biblical (or Qu’ranic or… Toraic?) literalism.

Not pictured: evidence

I would argue that there is something deeper than that. After all, Big Pharma conspiracies abound. If someone suffers at hands of a nurse, doctor or pharmacist who was not on the ball that day, we discuss the failure of the entire medical system, not that single individual. We say MEDICINE failed them. When a terminally ill friend or family member receives no cure, develops cancer after stem cell treatment, or dies on the organ transplant list, people don’t discuss the nuances of translating basic research to clinical settings, or perhaps the misguided research of a dogmatic investigator. People say SCIENCE failed them. When the best efforts are made to save someone’s life and we fail them, people actively question the basis of “conventional” medicine, regardless of their knowledge, rather than attempting to educate themselves on it. When biology challenges long-held superstition, the expert becomes the unreliable witness, not the untrained observer. They don’t even doubt the competence of the individual they’ve dealt with – they challenge the very core of the science. One could argue that well, in these cases lives are at stake. People become emotional and are looking for a monolith to assign blame to.

You have failed us all, science!

No dice. Engineering is equally responsible for the lives of millions. Personally, I’m not particularly knowledgable in physics and engineering. I understand the core concepts, but all the formulas make my brain hurt. I acknowledge that it’s not a strong point for me, and so, like most Western individuals, I defer my opinion to the scientific consensus at this time in those areas. I don’t know precisely how the combustion engine in my car works, but I don’t need to as long as we have people we pay to know about it. I trust (with a reasonable amount of skepticism) that the people who build and design automobiles know pretty much what they’re talking about. So do most people who have equivalent levels of ambivalence to the topic. And yet, when someone’s car abandons them at the side of the road in the middle of a blizzard, we don’t blame ENGINEERING for endangering their life. We might blame the driver for abusing the vehicle, or the mechanic for giving it poor maintenance, or maybe the car’s manufacturer for producing a lemon, but never do you see people questioning the effectiveness of the combustion engine! No one seriously advocates going back to using horses for transportation because we have a rich cultural tradition of using them!

My horse is significantly prettier than my car, though. p<0.001

Similarly, when bridges with motor traffic on them collapsed in Minneapolis and Montreal, no one attacked the idea that concrete could be used to make bridges. No one asked who paid off Big Eng to design shoddy bridges to line their pocket books. No one questioned Western Bridge Design and suggested we return to traditional wooden bridges, which have been safely used in China for millennia. And yet, both of these situations are ones where people distinctly neglected proper construction and maintenance to make a profit. The majority of engineers are not in the public sector – both of the bridge collapses I mentioned happened in part because the engineering firms who were overseeing the projects cheaped out. And yet, no one talks about Big Eng just being out there to make a profit. They (reasonably) blamed the people who were responsible for the poor construction and shoddy maintenance.

This distinction, to me, seems totally arbitrary. When a promising new pharmaceutical has unexpected side effects leading to a recall (thalidomide leaps to mind, but there are better recent examples, like the narcotic painkiller Darvocet), the wolves leap at the throats of the pharmaceutical company who made it, the doctors who prescribed it based on trials demonstrating efficacy and safety, and anyone who defends the biology, pharmacology, biochemistry and physiology that supported the drug before the side effects were known. The response is, rather than “How can we modify this potentially useful medicine to make it safe?” is “MEDICINE HATES BABIES!” as if that were the very foundation of the science.

Maybe it’s because I’m so immersed in biology and medicine that I see the way it is prone to systematic denialism. Tell me, people from other professions, do you get this level of crazy conspiracy theory about your work? Am I wrong?

Thrills, Chills, and Big Pharma Shills

“Big Pharma shill” has been bandied around so much that it has really started to lose all meaning. Your family doctor is a dealer, the hospital doctors promote drug dependency, scientists have blinders on to all but positive data about drugs, and anyone who says otherwise is brain washed. However, sometimes, there are actual shills for “Big Pharma.” Take, for instance, Ronald C. Petersen, M.D., Ph.D. He recently wrote a Clinical Practice article for the New England Journal of Medicine, detailing what’s currently known about the etiology, diagnosis, progression and treatment of mild cognitive impairment, and makes recommendations for clinicians seeing someone with mild cognitive impairment in their practice. He’s a director for the Mayo Clinic’s research centre on Alzheimer’s. He’s also a (cue ominous music) Big Pharma Shill.

Dr. Petersen reports receiving consulting fees from Elan Pharmaceuticals and GE Healthcare, receiving royalties from Oxford University Press, and serving as chair of data monitoring committees for Pfizer and Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy.

With odious credits like working for both GE and a pharmaceutical company, being paid to write books, and playing watchdog for Pfizer, surely the recommendations were to drug them up, use expensive equipment to poke and prod patients, and admit them to a care facility immediately to start billing the insurance company!

…Or not. (Emphasis added)

Depression should be ruled out. Referral for neuropsychological testing may be appropriate, particularly if the concern is the degree of impairment relative to the cognitive changes of aging…  An MRI scan is suggested to rule out other conditions that might explain her memory loss (e.g., vascular disease, tumor, or hydrocephalus); the results might also show changes (e.g., hippocampal atrophy) suggesting that she is at increased risk for rapid progression to Alzheimer’s disease, although more data would be needed to justify the use of MRI for this purpose.

…  At this time, I would not routinely recommend tests to predict the risk of progression (e.g., 18FDG-PET or measurement of biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid) but would encourage the patient to consider participation in research evaluating these tools. I would explain that at present there are no FDA-approved medications for this condition; I would also review the negative results of medication trials thus far and explain the costs and potential side effects of pharmacotherapy. I would recommend engagement in aerobic exercise, involvement in intellectually stimulating activities and participation in social activities, given that these might be beneficial and pose little risk, although more data are needed to inform their efficacy in reducing the risk of progression to the dementia stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s true! The “Big Pharma shill” is saying, you know what, don’t waste your time and money on fancy tests because we’re not sure they’ll work. He’s explaining to his patient that medication is not a good option due to all the failed trials out there, and explaining why the drugs would be expensive and harmful. What should his patient do instead? Exercise her body, and exercise her brain.

Why? The evidence is unclear on all current therapies for halting Alzheimer’s progression, the cause of mild cognitive impairment is probably multi-factoral, and until we know why it happens, we can’t stop it from happening.The drugs available to treat it are cost-prohibitive and detrimental to the patient’s quality of life in other ways. Many people who develop mild cognitive impairment will not progress to dementia, and our tests are just not good enough to distinguish between the stable individuals and the ones who need intervention. There is some demonstrated benefit to physical and intellectual stimulation, and there’s no downside to it.

When it comes right down to it, he’s saying it because the evidence is unclear, and this is how a good doctor and scientist deals with muddy evidence, no matter who is paying his salary.

The power you’re supplyin’, it’s electrifyin’!

Every once in a while I stumble across one of the dark recesses of the internet in which commercial websites shill “free” health information in order to promote their insane pseudoscientific therapies for diseases that may or may not even exist. Let’s play a little game of Sales Pitch Vs. Reality.

Sales pitch:

Rev. Tom Lawler BBA, MBCP


Well, the title isn’t too scary. Electricity is absolutely vital to the normal physiology of everything from the smallest cell to the largest mammal. Electricity is just the movement of ions, and the movement of ions powers everything from import of nutrients into our cells to the spread of information in nerve cells to muscle contraction to heart rhythm pacing.

Why do I get the sinking feeling that this will not have anything to do with this article?

Oh, I know, because the author proudly displays his utterly irrelevant degree titles – he’s a Reverend of the Universal Brotherhood (an online “spiritual” diploma mill), has a Bachelor of Business Administration (so?) and an MBCP, which as far as I can tell is a Master Business Continuity Professional certification, which means he worked in the industry of creating plans of action in worst case scenarios for businesses for at least five years. Oooooh. I am so impressed at your credentials as a health professional!

Sales pitch:

The first reported use of electricity in medicine was in 2750 BC. Several descriptions of therapeutic benefits, including pain control from exposure to the electric eel, were described by the Greeks in the first century.1 Around 1600, William Gilbert, an English physician, coined the word “electric” and established the difference between electricity and magnetism. In 1752, Johann Schaeffer published the book “Electrical Medicine.”
Electrodermal (sublingual) testing and treatment techniques offer tremendous benefits and safety as compared to traditional invasive testing. Effective results often occur within minutes from the time support is started instead of taking months, years or never with more traditional approaches.
Electrodermal testing utilizes micro amounts of electromagnetic energy to trigger a biofeedback response detectable with very sensitive computerized equipment. It is now possible to electronically “view” the inner workings of your glands and organs non invasively – even from the comfort of your own home.


Not only is this painfully self-contradicting (advocating that there’s “nothing new” and then criticizing “traditional” medicine) but it seems that he’s trying to say that because we have a tradition of using this particular concept, we should continue to do so. It works because it’s always worked, i.e. argumentum ad antiquitatem, the appeal to tradition. Please ignore the fact that the ancient Greeks lived to an average age of 28. Please neglect the fact that the Egyptians referenced in 2750 BC electrocuted people with catfish as a treatment for gout, which is sort of just adding insult to injury.

Geez, you're looking pretty inflamed. Here, hug this.

Also, the distinction between electricity as treatment and electricity as diagnostics seems utterly lost here. This false equivalence is hilarious – treatment is doing something while diagnostics tells you something. Imagine if someone started using a deck of playing cards to tell the time because it’d traditionally been fantastic at passing the time. People would think they were insane!

Of course, the blinding with science fallacy comes into play. It’s not applying an electric current to your skin, it’s “electrodermal testing.” It’s not low voltage electricity, it’s “micro amounts of electromagnetic energy.” It doesn’t monitor your skin’s electrical current, it “triggers a biofeedback response.” He finishes off by claiming that electrical energy in the skin allows you to measure the inner workings of both your organs and your glands, since apparently the glands have been demoted and no longer count as organs.While appropriately placed electrodes can indeed measure the electrical impulses of the body, such as those which are active in the brain, heart and muscles, there is little electrical activity that correlates with, for example, insulin resistance. He’s taken a well-known technique like the electrocardiogram, and generalized it to everything. He clearly hopes that people will assume “If it works for your heart, why shouldn’t it work for your pancreas or your liver or your kidneys?” Mechanism be damned!

Sales pitch:

Incredible advancements in the emerging field of Bionetics has now made it possible to send a sample of your own DNA (via blood, urine, saliva, finger nail or even hair) to a state of the art testing laboratory for a BioScan. This computerized process can now accurately identify the underlying stressors in one’s body that can precipitate disease. This process is so sensitive, as many as 10,000 stressors (toxins, bacteria, viruses, mold [sic], etc.) can be identified years before they even appear as symptoms. Thus it is possible to both address active issues and prevent future issues before they may manifest as a symptom or disease.


Bionetics sounds eerily similar to dianetics, Scientology’s junk science, so right off the bat I’m wary. Then, they talk about taking a sample of DNA and using it to identify diseases. This, by itself, is the basis of many genetic tests, which are extremely useful for the identification of people with Huntington’s, or Down’s Syndrome, among many, many other diseases. They can also be used to screen for cancer risk. However, the crazy quickly creeps in here. The author marvels at the ability to get your DNA from your hair or saliva, when these are methods usually used to obtain samples, as they’re minimally invasive and rich in cells, and thus DNA. Urine is a silly way to get DNA, because you’re relying on cells that line the bladder, ureter, etc. shearing off and finding themselves in the urine. Not a very high concentration. Blood is even sillier, because the majority of the cells are red blood cells, which are most notable for their complete lack of a nucleus, and thus their lack of genetic material. It is possible, of course, as there are white blood cells circulating as well, but considering it is painful for the patient, if you’re only looking at DNA, why should you look at the blood? And finally, the finger nails? Well, not only are they ridiculously hard to get appropriate samples from, they’re usually only used to get other people’s DNA, from blood, skin cells, or other potential sources that end up trapped underneath the nail. Fingernails, as it turns out, are just made of keratin, not living cells imbued with our DNA. It’s possible to get our own DNA from them, but in order to get at it, you have to break that hard keratin apart. Why go to all this ridiculous trouble when a simple cheek swab will do? (By the way, the cheek cells are what we’re after with the swab, not your saliva.

Of course, all of this is completely ignoring the fact that this information works on the base assumption that 10,000 stressors can be found in your DNA, and not just floating around in these various samples that you’re giving them. Why, exactly, would mould be in your DNA? Some viruses can be found in your DNA, but if you find them there, you have much bigger problems than the kind you’ll fix with electricity..

Problems like AIDS. Yeah, I don't think you want to be treating that with anything but a hell of a lot of drugs.

Illnesses are usually a manifestation of some sort of impairment of the functional aspect of our bodies – the proteins. Although finding the DNA of pathogens in our system is certainly a definitive diagnosis of infection, it isn’t necessarily a diagnosis of illness. Carriers can have a pathogen and never feel ill. Their immune systems deal with it, no intervention required. What is a definitive diagnosis of illness is when we see stuff going wrong at the functional level, and perhaps a DNA test could tell us what the underlying cause is. However, we are not looking at our DNA. Furthermore, what the hell is a toxin? Could someone please define this term for me? You know, aside from “random pseudoscientific word used to mean anything that is bad for you or even potentially bad for you and usually something that isn’t there to begin with.”

Sales pitch:

Despite the wonderful progress in this technology, it hasn’t been easy to get to where we are today. Around 1910, the Carnegie Foundation established a commission headed by Abraham Flexner, who relegated the well supported science of electrodiagnosis and electrotherapy devices to “quackery” in favor of the more lucrative drugs invested in by Carnegie. Anyone using these devices were cast as charlatans and thus the dominance today of drugs, surgery and radiation.

It has been estimated that only 10 to 20 percent of all procedures currently used in medical practice have been shown to be efficacious by controlled trials.


I was unaware that profit and efficacy opposed each other? People make profit off of both efficacious and non-efficacious medicine – see homeopathy, for example. In any case, they make themselves out to be falsely vilified, and yet don’t explain how their devices are well-supported by science. It’s easy to make a claim like that – where’s the proof to back it up? In any case, here’s a fun game. Google “10 to 20 percent of all procedures currently used in medical practice have been shown to be efficacious by controlled trials.” You’ll find websites advocating pretty much every alternative medicine out there, but not the original paper this is supposedly cited from. Interestingly, I could not find this phrase at all in an otherwise decent but anecdotal review of the current (circa 1983) uses of electricity in medicine. The cited data comes from this 1978 paper advocating science-based medicine. The paper throws the statement in as a one-off, with no empirical data to support it. No data, no fact. This is not to say that all procedures in medical practice are efficacious, of course. Overprescription of antibiotics is a major issue. However, to assert something as patently silly as 10% of all procedures in medicine are actually doing anything, we need to demand more than a haphazard statement. Which controlled trials? How long ago? How many people were in them? What was the definition of efficacious? None of these answers are, of course, to be found here.

Sales Pitch:

“We are accustomed to having men jeer at what they do not understand.”
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, 1700’s


Poor, poor salesman. It’s so much easier to accuse someone who disagrees with you with persecution than to actually deal with their arguments. It must be hard, being asked for proof and mechanism all the time. Life is hard. It’s this sort of persecution complex which lends people to really want to believe stuff like this is true. We want to root for the little guy who’s being censored by the big bad evil government/corporation/entity. Unfortunately, that sort of sympathy prevents us for criticizing the little guy, and little guys can be douchebags too.

Stick it to Big Pharma!... Buy from me.

Sales Pitch:

In spite of the virtual disappearance of all electrical therapy, investigation has continued particularly by Dr. Reinhold Voll, a German medical doctor in the early 1950’s. He developed an electronic testing device (EAV) for finding acupuncture points electrically, known to Chinese acupuncturists for millennia. Voll then began a lifelong search to identify correlation’s between disease states and changes in the electrical resistance of the various acupuncture points. He found, for example, that patients with lung cancer had abnormal readings on the acupuncture points referred to as lung points.


Remember that article that he just cited? Yeah, um, I think that sort of proves that electrical therapy has disappeared. Reinhold Voll’s method is essentially dianetics, only instead of holding the electrode, it’s placed on acupuncture points. The needle moves, you make some conclusion from it. The claim that he could detect abnormalities in lung cancer patients – it cites a book, which as far as I can tell only exists for the purpose of this article, from 1980, not the original data. In actuality, studies have been done on EAV devices, especially for detecting allergies. Guess what? Readings are utterly random. Since people are prone to make patterns of random statistical noise (the very concept of “luck” is based on this), maybe a single individual could find meaning in the needle jumping around from reading to reading, but ultimately, there is nothing there.

Now we get to the fun bit.

Sales Pitch:

BioScan (remote DNA resonant testing) – This procedure utilizes extremely sensitive EAV computerized equipment to accurately measure stressors in the body. It bombards the clients sample DNA (usually hair) with up to 10,000 frequencies to locate bacteria, viruses, pesticides, heavy metals, industrial pollutants, chemicals, parasites, foods, allergies, dental materials, trees, weeds, pollens, inhalants, molds, yeast, fungus and many other substances that poison the environment today. These stressors and related deficiencies are identified in print form for the client along with the organs and glands affected by the stressors. Supplements are suggested that resonate with the test subject and homeopathics are customized to support the body to remove the stressors and return to homeostasis.


Remote DNA resonant testing? What in the what-ing what-now is that? Remote means from a distant. DNA is genetic material. Resonant means vibration. How the hell do you combine those? Are they saying that they, from a distance, can measure the vibrations of your DNA for diagnostic purposes?? How do you utilize electroacupuncture (EAV) to analyze DNA? Certainly you can use electricity to move DNA (since it has a charge). But where does the acupuncture bit come in? How can electricity tell you about the foods and weeds poisoning your environment? Did you notice how they embedded the craziest things in the middle of that list? Dental materials are poisoning you? Trees? Is M. Night Shamaylan a prophet?

If so, Marky Mark will save us all, and that is not a world that I'm ready to be a part of.

Then they suggest supplements which match your “resonance.” What? Yes, everything vibrates but… What? Oy, so much craziness here, I don’t even know what do with it.

And of course, the old stand-by, homeostasis. Do you know what homeostasis is? That’s your base measures that your body maintains to keep you functioning. Things like 37 degrees Celsius, or fluid retention, or oxygen levels, or blood sugar. Do you know what happens when those go out of whack? You die. Homeostasis is a really, really important part of being alive, and any major fluctuation is lethal. It’s only with modern medicine that things like diabetes aren’t an immediate death sentence. Returning to homeostasis is something our bodies do remarkably well – and if they don’t, you need a little more than an iron supplement help you with it.

Thanks, body, for letting me eat candy without dying!

Sales Pitch:

It is the belief of this writer that the use of electrodiagnostic testing fulfills all the requirements to be considered adequately proven including:

  1. A number of double-blind studies from various centers validating its efficacy.
  2. Experts in the field who deal with this technology acknowledging its usefulness and accuracy.
  3. Electrodiagnostic testing having been in use around the world for many years by thousands of medical doctors.

Because it has virtually no dangers and is very inexpensive, anyone who singles out this procedure for investigation above the myriad of medical procedures which are much less proven, more dangerous and more expensive, does so arbitrarily and capriciously and for reasons other than a concern for the patient’s health and well being.


1. Positive clinical trials don’t exist.
2. Appeals to authority aren’t data.
3. Tradition is not evidence.

Because it has no supporting evidence and is a complete waste of time and money, anyone who uses this procedure for investigation above the myriad of medical procedures which are much more proven, more accurate, and more effective, does so arbitrarily and capriciously and for reasons which are based in concern for their own bank accounts and not the patients’s health and well being.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Bring on the conspiracy theories!

If your present domicile is rather cold, damp, and dark, and if your neighbours happen to be an assorted group of earthworms and beetles – congratulations, you’ve been living under a rock, and Osama bin Laden is dead!

For everyone else, this is old news I’m sure for all of you, as is the debate about whether the US should release photos of the newly dead-ified bin Laden. I’d like to throw my hat in the ring on this one, though I’m sure I echo the sentiment of many.

First of all, I would like to say that people will come up with conspiracy theories about just about anything. This does not (necessarily) mean that they are mentally ill, just that we, as a species, love to associate random snippets of information into a cohesive whole. Usually, these snippets are lacking a lot of necessary detail, and so we fill it in with the best available knowledge we have. That is to say, we make shit up.

Of course, we don’t know we’re doing it, as it’s an unconscious process. We think snippet A and snippet B are part of the same story, and the things that connect them are just pushed in by whatever it is the most actively activated pathway in our brain. If we think about aliens a lot, we’re likely to fill in those gaps with aliens. If we’re religious, we might fill in the gaps with God, angels, or demons. If we’re fearful of our government and people in authority – so births the government conspiracy theory. And indeed, on the surface, a lot of them seem plausible. But, perhaps the biggest problem with conspiracy theories is not that they would require a massive number of people to be utterly silent about nefarious goings-on, but that real conspiracies tend to be way crazier than our plebeian minds can gasp.

This is the A-12 OXCART Reconnaissance Aircraft. It was flying around Area 51 in the 1960s, over twenty YEARS before the introduction of the "first' stealth plane, the F-117 Nighthawk, in the late 1980s. Consider your minds blown.

Basically, if the government has something to cover up, they’re not just going to tell you that they did something, and then straight up not do it. No, they’re going to tell you, oh, we’re not doing anything at all, please look over there at the pretty pony while we create the insane freaking things that you only hear about in science fiction. The government, for all its inefficiencies and laziness, is not going to half withhold fake information. Why would they? I mean, if they wanted to boost the approval ratings, why wouldn’t they say they did it, photoshop some pictures, produce somebody else’s dead body, and be done with it? If they were worried about it being a gruesome photo, couldn’t they have just faked a politer one where he was shot in the heart? And if it really was an evil conspiracy, why wouldn’t it have happened a lot sooner?

This is one of the few situations where I’m willing to say that the lack of evidence being produced actually strengthens my feelings that is true. It’s not a matter of “Why would they lie?” – that’s a silly premise to work on.

Everybody lies.

No, I think it’s real because if they are faking it, they are pulling the worst possible fake ever. Let’s look at the information that has come out of the White House.

1) The Press Conference

It was called with little notice, to be held nearly at midnight in Washington. The majority of your East Coast Americans, the ones who were the most impacted by the events of 9/11 and the ones who would feel the strongest about it, are in bed and likely asleep. If you wanted to schedule something for publicity, wouldn’t 9:30 EST  have had a lot more impact?

2) The Sea Burial

I’m not going to lie: this one perplexed me at first too. Why would they take the only tangible, irrefutable evidence they had, and dump it in the ocean? From a “prove it” standpoint, this is utterly ridiculous. Why not bring the body back to America or bury it someplace? There are a couple reasons forthcoming for this one. First of all, why should secret government operation, which until that point was operating completely under the radar with the express purpose of leaving no trace of their efforts suddenly shift gears to utter transparency? The beginning of the mission was completely secretive for the purposes of the security of the mission as well as national security. Why should those priorities change? “But, Flora,” the hypothetical conspiracy theorist replies for the purpose of advancing my argument, “doesn’t the government have a responsibility to its taxpayers?” Of course it does, but this is not a clean cut situation. Bin Laden might be dead, but al Qaeda is not. Imagine if George W. Bush had been assassinated and his body taken to some Afghan cave by terrorists. Wouldn’t the American South been screaming bloody murder for the return of his body? Is there any doubt that the US Military would have rampaged in after the terrorists for the sole purpose of retrieving the corpse? Bin Laden’s body buried ANYWHERE would only lead to the potential of innocent lives lost to reclaim it. However, if you dump it in the ocean, al Qaeda can scream all they want – they’re welcome to go try and find it themselves. No burial means there is no target.

Furthermore, as much as I don’t think the guy deserved appropriate Muslim burial rights, it was the right call. In our hypothetical Bush situation, imagine if the terrorists desecrated the body with Sharpie, wrapped it in a gay pride flag and tossed it in a garbage bin. How much would you want to have to go into the American south as a Muslim person after that? When someone already hates you, nothing good can come out of pissing them off even more. Normally I’m not for this sort of pandering to religious beliefs, but we could at least do our best to not intentionally give them the finger.

In any case, it is possible that they simply told us that this is what happened to quell the potential for attacks – but, really, what are they going to do with the body? An autopsy is irrelevant. We know he died of a bullet to the head. What possible use do we have for the rotting, smelly corpse of a dude that we really, really don’t like? And what country would be willing to take his body within its borders?

3) The Meeting Photo

In what has become an iconic photo, the Obama administration’s national security team is being briefed about the upcoming mission to kill bin Laden. Although the intensity on the face of Barack is striking, what makes this image so arresting is Hillary’s hand, covering her mouth in horror of what’s being shown to her. Or, you know, coughing because of seasonal allergies. Whatever.

Either way, this really advances nothing other than their attempt to quell people’s curiosity while utterly failing at it. Again, if this was a cover-up, if this was a conspiracy, why on earth would they be so damn bad at it?

(Side note: is it just me or does Joe Biden over there look like somebody just killed his puppy?)

He was just six days from retirement, too!

4) Information About The Operation

What they have given us a lot of information about was the operation itself. We know a team of 25 Navy SEALS entered a compound 116 kms northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan. No Americans were injured. They avoided civilian casualties. One of bin Laden’s couriers returned fire. We know they were airlifted out by up to 4 helicopters. One helicopter crashed just inside the walls of the compound. Four other people died – three men and one woman. Two women were injured. One of his wives was one of the injured and is talking to the press. There were 13 children also living in the compound. The compound raised suspicions because of its lack of phone or television lines, and the fact that its residents burned their garbage within it. Bin Laden and his Yemeni wife had not left a singular room in the compound for 5 years. He was unarmed. He was, in what I believe to be cruel of them, killed in front of his daughter. They fully admit that they never had any intention of capturing him alive. BBC has extensive coverage about it, if you really care for all the details.

There are also graphic photos of the scene here, which I don’t care to include directly. WARNING: There are bodies and blood.

And yet, people are crying conspiracy! People are saying, “why aren’t you giving us more information? What do you have to hide?” What more could they possibly want to know? On the radio, I heard one morning show host stupidly asking for the names of the heros who partook in the raid. Are you kidding me? These people have families, lives outside the military, and they want the entire world to know precisely who took down the man that people are willing to die for? If they released the names, anyone named Joe Smith and Jane Doe and any of their families would be at instant risk for kidnapping, torture and horrible, gruesome deaths. Why on earth should the government endanger its citizens like to that? To fulfil the curiosity of some nosey conspiracy theorists who won’t believe you no matter what you say anyway?

5) The Lack of Photo

This is what you need for proof? Really? All of that wasn’t enough? You would like to have racist, ignorant Americans to have access to that photograph as a trophy? I can already see the bumper stickers with that photo and “DON’T MESS WITH THE US!”  You want to have a really gruesome photo for the Muslim extremists to have as proof of America’s corrupt cruelty? You want the inevitable plastering of that photo all over the internet and newspapers for shock value? And that would be irrefutable proof?

In the coming days and weeks, more information will likely come to light. And in all likelihood, it just won’t matter. The “birther” theories continue despite Obama’s short and long form birth certificates being produced. People still believe that aliens visited Roswell, New Mexico, despite the fact that all known instances can be explained by a combination of hoaxes and recently declassified military operations. If they produced the photograph, people will be screaming “SHOPPED” and denying it just as loudly as they do now. The confirmation bias means that we ignore and discount any evidence which conflicts with our current views – that’s how insanity like this persists. The anti-vacc’ers still think Wakefield is a hero, the creationists still think evolution is an elaborate scam, and Robert Sungenis still thinks the universe revolves around the earth. And unfortunately, the more vocal and adamant about our position we are, the stronger the confirmation bias is. At this point, Obama could produce of video of bin Laden saying “Hello, I am Osama bin Laden. I have been captured by American infidels,” and a soldier saying “Hi, I’m Joe Smith from Newark, New Jersey, 39 Elm Street, and I’m about to kill Osama bin Laden with a bullet to the face,” followed by Joe Smith from Newark, NJ shooting Osama bin Laden in the face – and that wouldn’t be enough. You could build a time machine, take someone back in time and let them watch it unfold, and they would accuse you of some sort of Matrix-style shenanigans. The fact that al-Queda isn’t releasing a video of bin Laden saying “Ha ha, you didn’t get me, suckers!” is telling. The fact that his wives and his children are not screaming that the Americans are dirty filthy infidel liars should say a lot.

At this point, if you don’t think that Osama bin Laden is actually dead, then I don’t think there will be any convincing you. But then, maybe I’m wrong – I’m welcome to hear what sufficient proof would be.

UPDATE: This morning, May 6th, al Qaeda confirmed bin Laden’s death. Case closed.

In Which the Universe Revolves Around Robert Sungenis – Part 1

On March 29, 2011, Dr. Robert Sungenis descended on the puddled and pot-holed campus of that pinnacle of higher learning – the University of Manitoba. He provided a comprehensive lecture on why modern science is a large, looming monolith which suppresses reality, ostracizes non-believers and does some downright dirty things… which he, of course, kindly contrasted with the Catholic Church. He spoke (after a 20 minute technical delay) to a packed lecture hall 29 people who were willing to take some time out of their Tuesday night to entertain the notion of geocentrism. That is, Dr. Sungenis argued that the entire universe, including the Sun, revolves around us.

Dr. Sungenis is one of the top names in geocentrism, having co-written the definitive, and, as near as I can tell, only, modern textbook on geocentrism. (Side note: He shamelessly promoted this book throughout the lecture, claiming to be holding back valuable evidence in support of his ideas. The thing itself could be used to hold down a helium balloon in a hurricane, though at the $80 price tag, I would suggest finding a moderately sized boulder instead.) He obtained his PhD. from an unaccredited distance education program, and is quite proud of the fact that his doctoral dissertation is over 700 pages long. By contrast, normal research-based theses are around 150-200 pages long. Not only does that indicate the sort of quality of education Dr. Sungenis received, it is a lovely demonstration of his complete inability to get to the point.

Pictured: "Totally not a diploma mill" PhD education in Theology, Homeopathy or Energy Healing. Not pictured: PhD education in Website Design

So, Dr. Sungenis began his talk with a long and drawn out discussion that hardly seems worth mentioning but for two points. The first is that he quote mined and then insulted Carl Sagan. Blasphemer! The second is that his logic seems to come down mistaking correlation for causation in the downfall of the Catholic Church. It is as follows: People use Galileo as an example of things that the Catholic church has gotten wrong in the past. Since Galileo’s time, the Church has fallen in prominence and atheism has gained in popularity. Ipso facto, heliocentrism leads to atheism. Later on in the lecture, he actually said verbatim that if you did not believe in a geocentric universe you were atheist. He mentioned nothing of the numerous rational individuals who manage to somehow synthesize heliocentirsm and Catholicism. Nor does he ever demonstrate how accepting his model would mean that the Church is and always has been right about everything.

Ray Comfort - Prominent atheist?

Early in the lecture, I became acutely aware of the fact that Dr. Sungenis is a huge fan of quote mining. I was willing to forgive him for the Sagan misquote, as it is easy enough to unintentionally misconstrue Sagan’s literary devices and poetic language. However, one of his early quotes (and honestly, I don’t remember which, as there were plenty of them) contained so many ellipses that my only notes on the subject are “Ellipses seizure!!” This was a recurring theme over both days and descended from the precipices of “casual and appropriate reference to someone who had something thoughtful to say” to the dark depths of “dredging scientific papers for things that could be deliberately misrepresented.”

Dr. Sungenis, hard at work.

He then continued to say that current theories based on heliocentric models have not been proven. This is a familiar creationist claim that has been so thoroughly debunked that it’s almost tiresome to mention it. He, either deliberately or through some vast oversight in his research, fails to understand that theory cannot ever be 100% proven. The theory only works in every conceivable situation we have applied it to – and there are a great deal of those! Of course, what he asks scientists to provide him with are absolute certainties, and being good scientists, they give him assertions with qualifications. He interprets this as uncertainty and dissent, when in reality, it’s intellectual honesty.

Then, he moves onto a history lesson. He barely touches on Copernicus, except to say that he thought that the orbits should be perfect circles and that this was incorrect. He argues that the advancement of this knowledge proves that previous theory should have been utterly discarded when it was in fact refined (and simplified) to fit the observable evidence. Of Galileo, he has much to say. He argues that the Church was right to condemn his works, though fails to mention his imprisonment. Implicitly, he condones the censorship as the right call – the very censorship which he claims and opposes for today. He argued that the only reason that the Church (much later) allowed Galileo to be stricken from the blacklist was through “subterfuge.” Yes, it was a grand conspiracy, as Napolean had stolen the relevant records from the time, and someone else had argued that the Church objected to one particular aspect as opposed to the whole thing, but no one could prove anything, and so the church revoked the ban on publishing but did not condone heliocentrism.

That shifty jerk probably spat on orphans, too.

Though interesting from a historical perspective, I was confused as to what this had to do with anything. Though he was pointing out numerous ad hominem arguments against a sun-centred solar system, he did not stop to consider that perhaps, jackasses can have good ideas too. Whether there was grand conspiracy or not, whether some heliocentrist killed a geocentrist in a duel or not, whether Galileo had a fun time poking dying people with a pointy stick – it’s all irrelevant to the quality of the theories which they supported. Although Dr. Sungenis never considers his critiques a fallacy, could we hardly expect more from someone who has clearly never learned how to critically dissect science.

Of course, Newton was the next to come up. Although Physics, as a discipline, is a mysterious entity that my brain simply refuses to fully grasp, I could see the basic flaws in his critique of Newton’s Laws. “F = ma!” he stated as if he had struck upon something significant. The same slide espoused Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. “Look,” he opined, “The force is the same no matter which object is rotating around the other! Geocentrism is just as valid as heliocentrism and Newton proved it!”

Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation

As Tim Minchin says in Storm, “Hm that’s a good point, let me think for a bit; Oh wait, my mistake, it’s absolute bullshit.” Dr. Sungenis defeats his very own point by referring to F = ma, which means that acceleration = Force/mass. Therefore, acceleration will decrease proportionally with the mass of the object, and the sun, which is far more massive, will accelerate less than a much smaller Earth. This point was never questioned, but I am truly curious as to how Dr. Sungenis fails to comprehend this basic observation about reality. You don’t need Newtonian physics to understand that the same force applied to a ping pong ball and a cement truck will have a lot more affect in accelerating a ping pong ball.

She could totally send your house flying with that paddle.

Perhaps anticipating that argument, he asserted that the earth was the central mass of the universe, and yet did not show how we could possibly exist on a planet, which, being more massive than anything else in existence, would not crush us into a fine dust by that same gravitational law. Ultimately, I believe that such confounding arguments were part of his strategy – if you get everything so utterly wrong, it’s nearly impossible to refute him without going back to the beginning and giving an hour long Grade 10 level lecture on Newtonian physics.

Ultimately, he asserted that Newton and Einstein should be made pariahs on the basis that they took a theory (heliocentrism) and modified it to fit the evidence. This was the proof, at last, that the whole system should crumble. Those nasty scientists had the gall to observe the universe and find a way to improve our model of it! I’m not sure what he would rather have – since Dr. Sungenis repeatedly attacked science for being stuck in a paradigm, does he want change, or doesn’t he? He seems to misunderstand that scientists don’t treat theories like antique vases. Nobody says, “Look, we’ve got a theory now, so put it on a shelf and for God’s sake, don’t break it.” Science takes that vase and throws it against the wall for the express purpose of breaking it. Usually, it doesn’t, but where the real science happens is when everyone bends down to pick up the pieces.

One set of those pieces that scientists are currently trying to put back together is the so-called “Axis of Evil.” The hullabaloo is that the axes seem to point to the plane of our elliptical around the sun. This is consistent in the dipole, quadrupole and octopole. Here it is:

And there you have it. Geocentrism is fact, ladies and gentlemen.

If you’re confused, so was I. I have no idea what these diagrams mean aside from something to do with cosmic background radiation. He referred to these images over and over again as proof of… something? Honestly, he made no effort to explain what we were looking at or what it meant. He did take this out of a Science editorial in 2007 by Adrian Cho (subscription required), who summarizes the controversy nicely.

Some suspect that the axis may be an illusion produced by an unaccounted bias in how the satellite works. And even those who have studied the alignments note that exactly how unlikely they appear depends on which mathematical tools researchers use to analyze them. Still, many are taking it seriously. “I would say that with a bit more than 99% confidence you can say there’s something strange,” Schwarz [of the University of Bielefeld, head of one of two teams who discovered the findings] says.

So, we found something we can’t explain. And, because we’ve not got another universe to compare this one against, we have no idea if this interesting phenomena is a statistical fluke, or something else entirely. We have no control group. It’s an observable thing, but, so far, it’s just a thing. The fact that I had spend 20 minutes reading about this phenomena to even have a cursory understanding of what he was talking about shows just how poorly he explained the concepts involved. It was a “Look!! Science!! I’m smarter than you so you couldn’t possibly understand this, but trust me, this is science!” kind of moment. He threw around words like “quasar” “isotropic” and “anisotropic” without definition or explanation. I was annoyed.

Na na na boo boo!

Other “evidence” was the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which showed all the galaxies in the observable universe, with us at the centre. By definition, if we can see a specific distance all the way around us, we will be in the centre.

Look, we're at the centre of the observable universe!! ... Wait a minute...

The diagram which Dr. Sungenis showed had a much larger “void” in the middle where there were no galaxies, likely due to a logarithmic scale, but I can’t be sure as he did not tell us what the scale was or what it meant. The galaxies also seem to occur in specific periods around the Earth, which he pointed out, but again, this proves nothing, as there could be a repeating period, and we are in the one across the middle which includes the Milky Way (not shown, because the Milky Way obscures our view of the universe)

Finally, he came to his piece de resistance, luminiferious ether. Not only has this concept been thoroughly debunked, he didn’t bother to explain what ether was, or why it had any sort of relevance to his theory. Honestly, I just don’t get it.

Ultimately, Dr. Sungenis’ arguments fell into one of many fallacies: ad hominem attacks, nirvana fallacynegative proof fallacy, appeal to authoritycherry picking… it goes on and on. Dr. Sungenis’ talk was heavy on just that – talk – but it came up several furlongs short of anything a rational mind could call evidence.

Part 2 – the Debate, can be found here.