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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Homeopathy by the (mind-boggling) numbers

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 21, 2010

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT TIMESONLINE

I have just purchased a packet of Boots-brand 84 arnica homeopathic 30C Pills for £5.09, which Boots proudly claim is only 6.1p per pill. Their in-store advice tells me that arnica is good for treating “bruising and injuries”, which gives the impression that this is a very cost-effective health-care option.

Unlike most medication, it didn’t list the actual dose of the active ingredient that each pill contains, so I checked the British Homeopathic Association website. On their website it nonchalantly states that to make a homeopathic remedy, they start with the active ingredient and then proceed to dilute it to 1 per cent concentration. Then they dilute that new solution again, so there is now only 0.01 per cent of the original ingredients. For my 30C pills this diluting is repeated thirty times, which means that the arnica is one part in a million billion billion billion billion billion billion.

The arnica is diluted so much that there is only one molecule of it per 7 million billion billion billion billion pills.

It’s hard to comprehend numbers that large. If you were to buy that many pills from Boots, it would cost more than the gross domestic product of the UK. It’s more than the gross domestic product of the entire world. Since the dawn of civilisation. If every human being since the beginning of time had saved every last penny, denarius and sea-shell, we would still have not saved-up enough to purchase a single arnica molecule from Boots.

Then the process of consuming enough pills to get that one molecule also boggles the mind. You can try imagining Wembley Stadium completely filled with people, all drinking pints of medicine at the rate of two an hour. For just one of these people to eventually consume one molecule, you would need a million Wembley Stadiums all at full capacity with people who have drinking pints constantly since the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. Oh, and you’d need 737 million such Earths.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT TIMESONLINE

Psychic Detectives Allow Murderer to Escape Death Penalty

Posted in LiveScience by Skepdude on September 21, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT LIVESCIENCE

Last month I pointed out how a self-proclaimed psychic detective failed to help find a young girl,Jaycee Dugard, who had been abducted and held captive for nearly 20 years. In addition to Dugard, Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart — and, well, every other missing person — psychic information failed to recover Brooke Wilberger, a university student missing since May 24, 2004. Police said they received more than 500 tips from psychics about Wilberger’s location, though she has only now been found.

According to ABC News, “Five years after Brigham Young University student Brooke Wilberger vanished from an Oregon apartment complex, her remains have been found. Authorities told The Associated Press today that her suspected killer, Joel Courtney, told police where he’d left Wilberger’s body following her 2004 disappearance. His admission was part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty. It was not immediately clear where the remains were found. The Benton County District Attorney’s office said Monday that Courtney, 42, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The deal allowed Wilberger’s family to finally learn what really happened to their daughter after all these years.”

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT LIVESCIENCE

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on August 6, 2009

Homeopathic “remedies” are licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority. But Professor Michael Baum, of University College London, says: “This is like licensing a witches’ brew as a medicine so long as the bat wings are sterile.”

“Regulating quacks helps them prey on gullible patients” – The Sun Newspaper

Quack Clinics

Posted in Science Based Medicine by Skepdude on August 5, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT SCIENCE BASED MEDICINE

Reuters recently reported on the raid of a stem-cell clinic in Hungary. This is welcome news, if the allegations are correct, but really is only scratching the surface of this problem – clinics offering dubious stem cell therapies to desperate patients. And in fact this is only one manifestation of a far greater problem – the quack clinic. They represent a serious problem for patients, doctors, and health care regulation.

Stem Cell Clinics

There is a very disturbing trend in the last few years – the proliferation of clinics offering stem cell therapy for a variety of serious, often incurable, diseases such as spinal cord injury, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders. These clinics claim to improve and even cure these diseases by injecting stem cells into the spinal cord or other parts of the body. Treatments typically cost 20-25,000 dollars, plus travel expenses, for a single treatment.

The problem is that these clinics do not have any published evidence that their treatments are valid. There is good reason to think that they are not – stem cell technology is simply not at the point yet where we can use them to cure such diseases. There are many technical hurdles to be overcome first – knowing how to control the stem cells, to get them to survive and become the types of cells necessary to have the desired therapeutic effect, and also figuring out how to keep them from growing into tumors. Basic issues of safety have not yet been sorted out.

So in essence what these clinics are claiming is that they are years, perhaps decades, ahead of the rest of the world. And yet they have no science to show for it. They should be able to produce dozens of studies demonstrating their technology, but they can’t.

Further, they should ethically be giving such treatments as part of clinical research, to establish their safety and efficacy, but they haven’t. What little information we have comes from outside observation. For example, Bruce Dobkin published a review of cases at one Chinese stem cell clinic. He concludes:

The phenotype and the fate of the transplanted cells, described as olfactory ensheathing cells, are unknown. Perioperative morbidity and lack of functional benefit were identified as the most serious clinical shortcomings. The procedures observed did not attempt to meet international standards for either a safety or efficacy trial. In the absence of a valid clinical trials protocol, physicians should not recommend this procedure to patients.

In other words – we don’t even know what the clinic doctors are injecting into patient and what happens to the cells, if any are even present. There are risks to the procedure without any evidence of benefit. And the clinic is not following standard ethical procedures for experimental treatments.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT SCIENCE BASED MEDICINE

FDA Warns Web Sites against Marketing Fraudulent H1N1 Flu Virus Claims

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 15, 2009

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “FDA.GOV”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is enforcing the laws that protect consumers from illegal products marketed through the Internet that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

On May 1, 2009, the FDA warned consumers regarding products related to the 2009 H1N1 flu virus offered on the Internet. The products involved are those that are promoted and marketed to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat, or cure the 2009 H1N1 flu virus but are not approved, cleared, or authorized by the FDA. The agency advised operators of offending Web sites that they must take immediate action to ensure that they are not marketing products intended to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat, or cure the 2009 H1N1 flu virus that have not been cleared, approved, or authorized by the FDA.

Since then, the FDA has issued more than 50 warning letters to offending Web sites and as a result, more than 66 percent of these Web sites have removed the offending claims and/or products.

“We are committed to aggressively pursuing those who attempt to take advantage of a public health emergency by promoting and marketing unapproved, uncleared, or unauthorized products,” said Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “We have achieved some success and will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect consumers from these fraudulent, potentially dangerous products.”

Examples of unapproved, uncleared, or unauthorized products targeted by the FDA include:
–A shampoo that claimed to protect against the H1N1 flu virus;
–A dietary supplement that claimed to protect infants and young children from contracting the H1N1 flu virus;
–A “new” supplement that claimed to cure H1N1 flu infection within four to eight hours;
–A spray that claimed to leave a layer of ionic silver on one’s hands that killed the virus;
–Several tests that have not been approved to detect the H1N1 flu virus; and
–An electronic instrument costing thousands of dollars that claimed to utilize “photobiotic energy” and “deeply penetrating mega-frequency life-force energy waves” to strengthen the immune system and prevent symptoms associated with H1N1 viral infection.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “FDA.GOV”

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Chiropocalypse

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

The first panicky retreat in the war on free speech in the UK has begun.

As I wrote last week, the British Chiropractic Association is suing science journalist Simon Singh for saying that chiropractors practice “bogus” medicine. Instead of defending what they do with research and testing, they are acting to silence Singh and chill anyone else who may want to expose what they do.

This attack on free speech has been rippling outward over the past few days, and now there is an ironic twist: the McTimoney Chiropractic Association has strongly warned its practitioners to take down their websites and replace any information on their techniques with just brief contact information. Why would they do that?

Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is […] [i]f you have a website, take it down NOW.

Heh. Gee, why the heck would anyone want to make sure that a chiropractor — a person who will be futzing around with your spine — be able to substantiate their claims with (gasp) RESEARCH?

It’s very telling, isn’t it, that the McTimoney group isn’t telling its people to only stick with proven methods, but instead to take down any claims that might get them sued.

Interesting.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

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”

Quack remedies spread by virtue of being useless

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 6, 2009

Eating a vulture won’t clear a bad case of syphilis nor will a drink made of rotting snakes treat leprosy, but these and other bogus medical treatments spread precisely because they don’t work. That’s the counterintuitive finding of a mathematical model of medical quackery.

Ineffective treatments don’t cure an illness, so sufferers demonstrate them to more people than those who recovery quickly after taking real medicines.

“The assumption is that when people pick up treatments to try, they’re basically observing other people,” says Mark Tanaka, a mathematical biologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, who led the study. “People don’t necessarily know that what somebody is trying is going to work.”

The World Health Organization is demanding better proof that folk medicines work before they can be approved. And the Malaysian government has rejected more than a third of the 25,000 applications to register traditional medicines it has received because the treatments are ineffective or dangerous.

Despite these efforts, quack medicine persists around the world. Some Nigerians treat malaria with witchcraft, a South African health minister recently claimed that garlic and beetroot treat HIV, and western health stores brim with unproven treatments for almost any disease imaginable. For instance St John’s wort does nothing for attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children, a recent placebo-controlled trial concluded.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “NEW SCIENTIST”

Dead baby’s parents ignored advice: QC

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 5, 2009

THE parents of a nine-month-old girl who died from septicemia were responsible for their baby’s death because they shunned conventional medical treatment for her eczema in favour of homeopathic remedies, a court heard yesterday.

A homeopath, Thomas Sam, 42, and his wife, Manju Sam, 36, are standing trial in the NSW Supreme Court charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence after they allegedly resisted the advice of nurses and a doctor to send her to a skin specialist.

Instead Gloria Thomas, who was born in perfect health in July 2001, allegedly died with malnutrition and eczema so severe that her skin broke every time her parents removed her clothes and nappy.

The Crown prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, QC, told the court they sat on this advice for two months and then saw a general practitioner who was so concerned by her condition that he told them to see a skin specialist immediately. But again, they demurred.

On the few occasions that they did follow conventional medical advice, Gloria would improve, but they would soon revert to homeopathic remedies and she would continue to deteriorate.

Thomas Sam’s sister allegedly “pleaded” with him to send Gloria to a conventional medical practitioner. He allegedly replied: “I’m not able to do that.”

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “SMH.COM.AU”

Skepdude says – for an overview of the disease and it’s treatments check out WebMd.com

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