Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Head of ATSC ‘bomb detector’ company arrested on suspicion of fraud

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 22, 2010

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT TIMESONLINE

The boss of a British company that has sold million of dollars worth of “bomb detectors” to Iraq’s security forces has been arrested on suspicion of fraud.

Jim McCormick, 53, the managing director of ATSC which is based in a former dairy in Sparkford, Somerset, has been questioned by detectives from Avon and Somerset Police after a complaint that he misrepresented the devices.

In November, Mr McCormick, a former Merseyside police officer, told The Times that his devices, which consist of little more than a telescopic antenna on a molded plastic handle, are able to detect explosives in the same way as a dowsing rod finds water.

Thousands of the devices are in use at military and police check points across Baghdad where they are used to search vehicles and pedestrians for explosives. In recent months hundreds of people have died after car bombers were able to penetrate the security cordon supposed to protect the centre of the Iraqi capital.

Colin Port, the Somerset and Avon Police Chief Constable, personally ordered the investigation. A force spokesman said in a statement: “We are conducting a criminal investigation, and as part of that, a 53-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of fraud by misrepresentation. That man has been released on bail pending further inquiries.

“The force became aware of the existence of a piece of equipment around which there were many concerns, and in the interests of public safety, launched its investigation.

“It was reported to the Chief Constable Colin Port, through his role as the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on international development. He is chair of the International Police Assistance Board.

“Given the obvious sensitivities around this matter, the fact that an arrest has been made, and in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, we cannot discuss it any further at this time.” The Iraqi Government has spent a total of $85 million (£52.7 million) buying 1,500 of the bomb detectors from ATSC.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT TIMESONLINE

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Quacking Like a Duck

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on May 7, 2009

One of the oft heard complaints about modern medicine is that it’s dominated by “big pharma,” that is greedy, soulless corporations who lie to us and suppress less expensive and more effective treatments for monetary gain. While it’s true that corporations are out for monetary gain, and there have been irregularities as with any big business, let’s take a look at the pot that’s calling the kettle greedy here.

Consider a single product: Oscillococcinum.

Their site never actually says that the “FDA regulated drug” does anything… really, read carefully. It doesn’t. They do claim it is a “Flu Medicine.” And they claim studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing flu symptoms. We’ll save examining the studies for another time, for the purpose of this article, let’s focus on the ingredients.

Pharmaceuticals such as Tamiflu and Zithromax are tested for years before they’re released to the public. Teams of chemists, lawyers, doctors, nurses, clinical researches, and study subjects go over every conceivable side effect or quality control issue before the drug is released to the market. These procedures cost an incredibly large amount of money, and while it may, in fact, be ridiculous to charge $5 for a pill, there is at least some basis for them being expensive. Part of that basis, is that they have active ingredients.

Not so for Oscilloccinum.

Each capsule is 1mg, and it contains a 200X preparation of muscovy duck heart and liver, .15mg of lactose (milk sugar), and .85mg of sucrose (table sugar). For those unwilling to do math, the sugars add up to 1g. Er.. where’s the duck liver? Well, a 200x preparation of anything is past Avogadro’s limit. It’s chemically impossible for there to be even one molecule of duck liver in an Oscilloccinum capsule. That means… there is exactly no duck liver in it. In fact, it’s a capsule of sugar, more suited for sweetening tea than reducing your flu symptoms. The tea might help though.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RANDI.ORG”

The most massive scientific fraud ever?

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on March 12, 2009

Science as it is practiced today relies on a fair measure of trust. Part of the reason is that the culture of science values openness, hypothesis testing, and vigorous debate. The general assumption is that most scientists are honest and, although we all generally try to present our data in the most favorable light possible, we do not blatantly lie about it or make it up. Of course, we are also all human, and none of us is immune to the temptation to leave out that inconvenient bit of data that doesn’t fit with our hypothesis or to cherry pick the absolutely best-looking blot for use in our grant applications or scientific manuscripts. However, scientists value their reputation among other scientists, and there’s no quicker way to seriously damage one’s reputation than to engage in dodgy behavior with data, and there’s no quicker way to destroy it utterly than to “make shit up.”

True, opposing these forces are the need to “publish or perish” in order to remain funded, advance academically, and become tenured, a pressure that can be particularly intense among basic scientists, who will basically lose their jobs and very likely their academic careers if they cannot cover 50% or more of their salaries through grants. I always remember that I’m fortunate in that, even if I failed utterly to renew all my grants and burn through whatever bridge funds my university might give me, I’d be unlikely to be fired, as I could just go back to operating full time. Indeed, I’d even be likely to generate more income for my department by doing surgery than I could through research. Clinician-scientists are in general a drag on the finances of an academic department.

Despite the pressures, however, I’m still left scratching my head over this recently revealed massive scientific fraud, as reported in Anesthesiology News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. A bunch of you sent it in to me, and when that happens, I usually conclude that I’d best comment on it. First, the fraud:

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RESPECTFUL INSOLENCE”

Lightning bolt makes healer of Indonesian village boy

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 6, 2009

Actually, no it didn’t, superstition did. According to this article at theage.com.au (sounds suspiciously close to New Age for my blood):

MOHAMMAD Ponari was, until last month, a typical kid in the impoverished East Java village of Balongsari. Then, quite literally, lightning struck.

The nine-year-old, who had been playing in the rain in his front yard, was hit by the thunderbolt but, to the astonishment of his young friends, he was unharmed.

All the more bizarre, according to an account by his village chief and his family, when he came to, he found a stone the size of an egg on his head, and was convinced he possessed healing powers.

This has the makings of a Marvel superhero comic book. Boy gets hit by lightning. Boy miraculously survives. Boy gets mysterious superpowers. Or as in this case, A ROCK! Sounds made up so far to me, more specifically the kind of made up a 9-year old would come up with. Nevertheless, let’s continue reading:

A boy next door with a fever was his first patient. The stone was placed in a glass of water and the boy drank deeply. His fever vanished.

Wow! Fever vanished! But wait a minute, don’t most fevers vanish at some point? When did this other boy’s fever vanish? How long had he had the fever? Was he being treated with medicine already? How much of a fever did he have anyway? Of course those details are omitted. Why spoil a perfectly good story with facts and stuff. Moving on:

Then another neighbour approached him, a woman in her 30s who had suffered from a depressive condition for 15 years. She, too, was healed.

The miracles, large and small, kept coming, said Nila Retno, the local village chief.

It is a miracle indeed, a miracle that such a pathetic story is being reported at all, but we shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen this too many times before. Anyway, the boy becomes so famous for his healing stone water ability that soon enough thousands were lining at his door. And what happens next:

Stampedes erupted on at least three occasions, resulting in the deaths of three people and injuries to dozens more.

3 people died. Let’s stop for a second and do a quick cost vs. benefit analysis here. This boy allegedly is “healing” a few fevers, depressions and sprained arms and on the cost side we have 3 fucking dead people and dozens of injuries. I wonder if the injured were treated for free by the magical lightning stone water, because did I mention he was obviously making money out of this. No? Must have skipped my mind.

Even so, as much as 1 billion rupiah ($A120,000) has been raised through a charity box outside his home. This, many adherents to mysticism believe, was poor form indeed. Dukuns are not supposed to profit from their activities.

But that is the whole point of charlatans like this, to make a quick buck, or a few quick millions, at the expense of the ingorant and the hopeless. They are supposed to profit from their acitivities, dukuns or not!

Ay the stupid….the stupid… it burns!

the-stupid-it-burns

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on January 14, 2009

I want my commenters to be uncivil. There is no virtue in politeness when confronted with ignorance, dishonesty, and delusion. I want them to charge in to the heart of the issue and shred the frauds, without hesitation and without faltering over manners. These demands for a false front of civility are one of the strategies used by charlatans who want to mask their lack of substance — oh, yes, it would be so goddamned rude to point out that a huckster is lying to you. I am quite happy that we have a culture of being rude to frauds here.

Pharyngula

Stop Sylvia Browne site Hijacked?

Posted in Thinking Is Real by Skepdude on October 30, 2008

It appears the domain/URL for Robert Lancaster’s Stop Sylvia Browne website has been taken over during his recovery from a stroke suffered earlier this year. While it’s unclear how the domain was transferred to the new site owner, there’s no suggestion of hacking or other illegality at this stage.

The alarm was raised in a stopsylviabrowne discussion thread on JREF. It appears the site is now in the hands of someone with a less than skeptical view of the self-professed psychic and the paranormal industry. Here’s one quote from the contact page on the “revised” website:

“Have a psychic story? Whether you experienced a great psychic reading that came true or were sucked into a scam, write to us and we will post your story. If you would like to show your support to the cause of revealing the fake psychics and standing up for those with true gift, please write to us your story and we will post it on our site!”

READ THE REST OF THIS STORY AT “THINKING IS REAL”

Hat tip to Podblack Cat for pointing us to Thinking is Real.

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