Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

The savage reality of our darkest days

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 21, 2009


THE REPORT of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is the map of an Irish hell. It defines the contours of a dark hinterland of the State, a parallel country whose existence we have long known but never fully acknowledged. It is a land of pain and shame, of savage cruelty and callous indifference.

The instinct to turn away from it, repelled by its profoundly unsettling ugliness, is almost irresistible. We owe it, though, to those who have suffered there to acknowledge from now on that it is an inescapable part of Irish reality. We have to deal with the now-established fact that, alongside the warmth and intimacy, the kindness and generosity of Irish life, there was, for most of the history of the State, a deliberately maintained structure of vile and vicious abuse.

Mr Justice Ryan’s report does not suggest that this abuse was as bad as most of us suspected. It shows that it was worse. It may indeed have been even worse than the report actually finds – there are indications that “the level of sexual abuse in boys’ institutions was much higher than was revealed by the records or could be discovered by this investigation”.

With a calm but relentless accumulation of facts, the report blows away all the denials and obfuscations, all the moral equivocations and evasions that we have heard from some of the religious orders and their apologists. The sheer scale and longevity of the torment inflicted on defenceless children – over 800 known abusers in over 200 institutions during a period of 35 years – should alone make it clear that it was not accidental or opportunistic but systematic.

Violence and neglect were not the result of underfunding – the large institutions, where the worst abuse was inflicted, were “well-resourced”. The failure of the religious orders to stop these crimes did not result from ignorance. The recidivist nature of child sexual abusers was understood by the Brothers, who nonetheless continued deliberately to place known offenders in charge of children, both in industrial schools and in ordinary primary schools. At best, this represented what the report calls “a callous disregard for the safety of children”. At worst, it was an active protection of, and thus collusion with, the perpetrators of appalling crimes.

Nor did the abuse continue because of secrecy. Again, the very scale of the violence made it impossible to keep it sealed off from either officialdom or society at large. Contemporary complaints were made to the Garda, to the Department of Education, to health boards, to priests and to members of the public. The department, “deferential and submissive” to the religious congregations, did not shout stop. Neither did anyone else. Indeed, perhaps the most shocking finding of the commission is that industrial school inmates were often sexually exploited by those outside the closed world of the congregations, by “volunteer workers, visitors, work placement employees, foster parents” and by those who took them out for holidays or to work.

The key to understanding these attitudes is surely to realise that abuse was not a failure of the system. It was the system. Terror was both the point of these institutions and their standard operating procedure. Their function in Irish society was to impose social control, particularly on the poor, by acting as a threat. Without the horror of an institution like Letterfrack, it could not fulfil that function. Within the institutions, terror was systematic and deliberate. It was a methodology handed down through “successive generations of Brothers, priests and nuns”.


Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on May 21, 2009

It seems pretty clear that parents don’t have the right to sentence their child to death because they’re morons.

Amy Alkon

Immoral acts and the Vatican – An Irish tale

Posted in Uncategorized by Skepdude on May 21, 2009

It is final: Christians have lost their right to claim that one cannot be moral without belief in their God. Gone, see ya, good bye, sayonara! Because what has become crystal clear is that their religion and their institutions provided a sanctuary for immoral behavior, made it possible and covered it up when it happened, as the new Irish report on abuse clearly demonstrates. Here are some important things to keep in mind the next time a religious person tries to play the morality superiority card (emphasis mine):

After a nine-year investigation, a commission published a damning report Wednesday on decades of rapes, humiliation and beatings at Catholic Church-run reform schools for Ireland’s castaway children.

The investigation of the tax-supported schools uncovered previously secret Vatican records that demonstrated church knowledge of pedophiles in their ranks all the way back to the 1930s.

Wednesday’s five-volume report on the probe — which was resisted by Catholic religious orders — concluded that church officials shielded their orders’ pedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy.

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse concluded”

I do genuinely believe that it would have been a further step towards our healing if our abusers had been named and shamed,” said Christine Buckley, 62, who spent the first 18 years of her life in a Dublin orphanage where children were forced to manufacture rosaries — and were humiliated, beaten and raped whether they achieved their quota or not.

The report found that molestation and rape were “endemic” in boys’ facilities, chiefly run by the Christian Brothers order, and supervisors pursued policies that increased the danger. Girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless.

Tom Sweeney, who spent five years in two Christian Brothers-run institutions where he was placed for truancy, says he suffered sexual abuse and beatings. He also has bitter memories about more everyday humiliations — such as being forced to wrap his urine-stained sheets around his neck and parade in front of other children when he’d wet his bed.

Physician team’s crusade shows cracks

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 21, 2009


Dr. Mark Geier has, he says, solved the riddle of autism. He says he has identified its cause and, in the powerful drug Lupron, found an effective treatment — what he calls a “major discovery.”

But behind Geier’s bold assertion is a troubling paper trail that undercuts his portrayal of himself as a pioneer tilting against a medical establishment that refuses to embrace his novel ideas.

Time and again, reputable scientists have dismissed autism research by Geier and his son, David, as seriously flawed. Judges who have heard Mark Geier testify about vaccines’ harmful effects have repeatedly called him unqualified, with one describing his statements as “intellectually dishonest.”

“Dr. Geier may be clever,” another wrote, “but he is not credible.”A physician and genetic counselor by training, Geier, 61, presents himself as the scientist who has unraveled autism’s mystery, a claim that has won him a devoted following. He and his son tie the neurodevelopmental disorder to a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, which has been removed from childhood vaccines except for some flu shots.

The Geiers have won support from the parents of autistic children who share their suspicion of the medical community, even though mainline scientists criticize their views. Parents who have used the Lupron treatment also praise the Geiers, and Mark Geier said scores of severely autistic children are improving steadily.

But the Geiers have been widely criticized for both their methods and their treatment. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that a Geier study finding a link between vaccines and autism was marred by “numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements.”

The following year, the Institute of Medicine concluded in a report that the purported connection between mercury in vaccines and autism did not exist. The government-sanctioned committee of scientists reserved harsh words for the Geiers’ work, saying their research was “uninterpretable” and marred by “serious methodological problems.”


Anectodal Evidence – a refresher

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 21, 2009

We all know that anecdotal evidence does not constitute proof of anything, except a belief that a person, or persons, are holding for one reason or another.  Many pseudo-scientific fields employ the anecdotal evidence tool because it can be evoke powerful emotional reactions from people. Autism “alternative medicine” is not an exception. Here is your typical anectode from the parent’s of an autistic child who improved, due to a radical change in his diet…according to the parents.

To watch Harry Weaver color with his grandmother, you’d assume he’s like any other three-year-old. That was not the case a year ago.

“You could call his name and he wouldn’t respond to his own name.  You could go clap your hands behind his head and he would act like nothing happened.  Somebody could walk up and say “boo,” and he would go on about his business just doing what he was doing,” says Julie Weaver.

“He was doing the traditional route and it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working. I had to do something else. I was losing more of him every day,” says Weaver.

So Julie radically changed Harry’s diet. She took out foods that contained gluten, a wheat protein from flour, and casein, the milk protein in cow’s milk.

She said she saw an immediate difference, describing it as a fog being lifted from Harry’s eyes.“He entered our world. He started having meaningful speech.

He would point his finger to show us what he wanted now. And when the therapist would come to the house to do therapy, he would cooperate,” says Weaver.

First, I am glad this child was able to overcome some of the troubles autism brings to kids. But I can’t help but note the fact that when the new diet was implemented, the regular therapy continued. It is impossible to reject the hypothesis that the continued therapy finally started showing some results. This is a typical post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, one that no person alive is immune from, including your own. We naturally like to see patterns like this, and if it makes us feel like we figured out how to solve the problem, we tend to see the correlation even more, even when maybe it is not there.

Is anyone aware of any studies done about diet change and autism? Please let me know in the comments.

What is Dick Cheney really thinking? Let’s ask a psychic!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 21, 2009

Obviously,  if we want to know what Dick Cheney really thinks we should ask a psychic, so let us talk to Peggy Rometo because apparently, this guy has not made his ideas clear enough on various TV news casts and shows over the past few months. Peggy does not dissapoint, gracing us with gems like this:

wOw: Do either Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have regrets about implementing torture in the past?

Peggy: Cheney has none. He feels adamant that he defended the country and did what was necessary to ensure the safety of America.

No shit! I don’t think there is any person in the US who thinks Cheney has any regrets about the Bush Administration’s use of torture. Leave it to a psychic to tap into the great forces of the universe to tell us what everybody already knows. I made it to the bottom of the first page and could not get myself to waste any more time on this article.  How long will you last?

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I don’t hate acupuncture

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 21, 2009

I don’t actually, and I don’t even want to see it gone for good. What I do want is for its practitioners to let go of the qi fable, let go of the unsubstantiated claims about its powers and simply admit that is nothing more than a relaxing ritual. If someone makes the claim that it eases people’s stress, that it makes them more relaxed, I have no problem with that. This is what this acupuncture practice seems to be trying to do, for quite a cheap price, average of $18 per session.

“Most people just carry around the pain they have,” Van Meter says. “We’re great with stress — we put needles in them and they fall asleep for an hour. That’s good because most people could really use that.”

Now movie and popcorn probably will cost you more than that and if some people enjoy the ritual, the lying down, relaxing, maybe catching a nap, and wake up rejuvenated after it, for $18, I am ok with that. I know how relaxing a good massage can be, and I am willing to grant acupuncture that it can be just as relaxing. We already know that acupuncture is a placebo and as such can affect people’s perception of pain, and it can be helpful in such manner for little pains that do not represent a medical condition.

So I say go for it, but be honest, give up the qi crap, give up the meridian nonsense, focus on the ritual, the music, the nice table, the nap, the soothing aromas and whatever else helps people relax. Just stop with the bullshit claims!

PS: I do not understand how the journalist jumped from the story of an unemployed mother who needed daycare services to acupuncture, but I won’t dwell on that too long.

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