Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Parents guilty of manslaughter over daughter’s eczema death

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 4, 2009


A couple whose baby daughter died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicine have been found guilty of manslaughter.

Gloria Thomas died aged nine months after spending more than half her life with eczema.

The skin condition wore down her natural defences and left her completely vulnerable when she developed an eye infection that killed her within days of developing.

Thomas Sam, 42, a homeopath, and Manju Sam, 37, of Earlwood, Sydney, were charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence.

The court heard the couple took Gloria to various health professionals, but while they abandoned each conventional medication she was prescribed within a short time of starting it, they solidly pursued homeopathic remedies.

The Crown said these did not work, and all the while Gloria’s tiny body required more nutrition than her mother’s milk could provide, and her immune system became ever more depleted.

By the time she died, she was the weight of an average three-month-old, her body was covered with angry blotches and her once black hair had turned completely white.

Gloria had developed eczema when she was four months old, a condition she probably inherited from her mother, which flared and subsided throughout the rest of her short life.

But the couple, who were raised and educated in India where homeopathy is accepted as equivalent to conventional medicine, were steadfast to their homeopathic remedies and ignored completely or quickly discarded other treatment.

A general practitioner booked them an appointment with a dermatologist they did not attend because they took the child to India instead, a course of action the doctor told them was “cruel”.

They also visited two doctors in India, but discarded the advice of one to return to him every second day, instead consulting a succession of homeopaths including Thomas Sam’s brother, who had recently completed his dissertation on eczema.


New look

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 4, 2009

What do you think? Does it look better than the older, less serious, too colorful look? Does this look make me sound more serious and trust worthy?

BCA v Singh The Story So Far 3 June 2009

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 4, 2009


By Simon Singh Main page

Simon Singh completed a BSc in physics and a PhD in particle physics at Cambridge University before becoming a director and producer in the BBC science department. He worked on Tomorrow’s World and Horizon and won a BAFTA for directing a documentary on the subject of Fermat’s Last Theorem. After leaving the BBC, he wrote a series of bestselling popular science books, such as “Fermat’s Last Theorem”, “The Code Book” and “Big Bang”. He has also presented several radio and TV programmes, and his educational initiatives include the Enigma Project and the Undergraduate Ambassadors Scheme. In 2003 he received an MBE for services to science education and communication.

I have remained fairly silent over the last year, ever since I received a letter from the British Chiropractic Association threatening legal action. This essay is an attempt to explain what has been happening over the last twelve months, why I have decided to apply to the Court of Appeal and what might happen in the future. I hope that bits of it are interesting, but in general this is my straightforward attempt to clarify a few points.

Back in 2006, I investigated the way in which homeopaths were recklessly offering homeopathic remedies as protection against malaria. This triggered a deeper interest in alternative therapies and eventually led to the publication of “Trick or Treatment?”, which I co-authored with Edzard Ernst, the world’s first professor of complementary medicine. In hindsight, it seems ironic that this book was subtitled “Alternative Medicine on Trial”.

When the book was published in April 2008, I wrote an article for The Guardian which focussed on chiropractic. The article also coincided with Chiropractic Awareness Week, which was organised by the British Chiropractic Association. The article discussed history of chiropractic and the founder’s belief that manipulating the spine could treat 95% of all diseases, because disease was supposedly caused by blockages in the flow of innate energy along the spine and through the nervous system. Many modern chiropractors have moved away from this fanciful model of disease and treatment, and instead have focussed on treating back problems. However, I pointed out that some chiropractors still believe that spinal manipulation can treat problems not related to the back.

In particular, I wrote about the likely risks of chiropractic treatment and whether or not there is any evidence that it is effective for various childhood conditions, including asthma. I thought it was quite an interesting, important and well-researched article, but unfortunately the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) claimed I had defamed their reputation and threatened to sue me for libel.

Initially The Guardian newspaper tried its best to settle the matter out of court by making what seemed to be a very generous offer. There was an opportunity for the BCA to write a 500 word response to my article to be published in The Guardian, allowing the BCA to present its evidence. There was also the offer of a clarification in the “Corrections and Clarifications” column, which would have pointed out: “The British Chiropractic have told us they have substantial evidence supporting the claim they make on their website that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying. (Beware the spinal trap, page 26, April 19).”

Unfortunately, the BCA rejected these offers and moreover made it absolutely clear that it was not suing The Guardian, but rather it was suing me personally. At this point The Guardian newspaper chose to step back.

To a large extent I understand The Guardian’s position and its decision. At the time it was involved in several other legal battles and it felt that it could not justify the financial risk of becoming embroiled in defending one more libel action. If The Guardian had stood by me and shared the burden then it would lose whatever the outcome. For example, if we had fought the case and won then we would still be out of pocket (perhaps by as much as £50,000) as it would be unlikely that we would recover all our costs. On the other hand, if we lost the case then we could lose £500,000 or more. In other words, a good outcome would be bad, and a bad outcome would be catastrophically bad.

This highlights the dreadful problem in the English libel system. Even large publishers are intimidated by the huge expense of fighting a legal battle. This means that articles that should be defended are dropped, and articles that should be written are shelved before they are even published because of potential libel action.

I would be lying if I said that I was not disappointed by The Guardian’s decision, but I do appreciate that it is hard for it to justify becoming embroiled in a costly legal fight when first it is not the subject of the legal action and second it is having to cut costs and lay off journalists in a harsh economic climate. The Guardian has, in the past, stood up to many libel threats and has lobbied hard for reform of the libel laws. And Guardian journalists have expressed their support for my position. However, the sad conclusion is that major publishers are terrified of the English libel laws.

So, why did I fight on alone?


3 kids in 1,000 have Tourettes – watch out for the anti-vaccine outcry

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 4, 2009

A new estimate claims that 3 out of every 1,000 children have Tourettes Syndrom, mostly boys. It’s an epidemic! Expect the anti vaccine crowd to jump on this and try to use it to pump their stupid “green our vaccines” mumbo jumbo mojo! Because, if something goes wrong with our children, well it must be the vaccines no? And this estimate is probably a low ball anyway:

“These are diagnosed cases, not necessarily all the cases that are out there,” noted study author Lawrence D. Scahill, an associate professor of nursing and child psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. “There is good reason to believe it’s an underestimate of the likely prevalence.”

Which makes it even more likely that the Jenny McCarthys and Jim Carreys of this world will find this bit of news appealing. “There goes anther childhood disease cause by vaccines” they will likely claim. “When will we draw the line?” they will ask.

That, I think, is a very appropriate question indeed.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad Day on the Set

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on June 4, 2009


OK, this is weird.

Today I was invited to host an episode of a new series for a major cable network in which I was to interview and administer a test to three professional psychics. This was the first episode they’d shot, and the producers and director were really nice and cool and it had all the makings of a fun and productive day. They had located three psychics who were all game, and were fully willing to undergo the tests under controlled conditions. Moreover, the show had even secured a $50,000 prize that any psychics who passed today’s tests would be qualified to try for. I arrived fully prepared, with some detailed protocols, and a raft of properly controlled materials.

Here’s the rub. The entire day was a setup. It was a gag, with Michael Shermer and myself as the unwitting victims.

The psychics and I began each interview with a discussion of each psychic’s personal history, what they knew about their abilities, and what they were able to tell us about them. Two of them, a pair of very friendly and positive ladies named Sylvie and Austyn, gave very fair descriptions of what they believed they could do, and sportingly undertook the tests. You can probably guess the results. But those tests were certainly not what the day ended up being about…

The third psychic was, unfortunately, not a psychic at all, but a young comedian who used to have a show on the BBC, and now appears to be trying to make a name for himself with a new character who is a wannabe nemesis of skeptics. He’s going to find this an uphill battle, as he’s neither clever, funny, particularly talented in any apparent way, nor does he seem to know much about psychics or criticism of psychics.

He goes by the moniker “Shirley”, and looks like a televangelist in a gaudy white suit with colored piping, and either the world’s worst hair or a gauche orange wig, I couldn’t quite tell which. When it was his turn to come out, Shirley came up to me, took his seat, refused to return my friendly greeting, and launched into what he seemed to think was a clever attempt to “get into my head” – insulting my parents, my wife, and “revealing” to all my terrible guilt at how I’ve treated people. Essentially, his routine was to ignore the reason [that I believed] he was supposed to be there, and try to establish himself as – well, I can’t even think what. He refused to participate in the arranged tests, instead throwing tantrums about each, constantly demanding that he be paid his $50,000.


Skeptify this poll

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 4, 2009

I know I know, I keep taking these from Pharyngula, but what can I do. He seems to find the best polls to Skeptify on the web. So skeptify this no brainer:

Creationism Vs. Evolution

Skeptify brother and sisters. Skeptify!

Singh Will Appeal – Keep Libel out of Science

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on June 4, 2009


Also, to put this in perspective we need to examine the English libel laws, which are themselves a scandal. The person accused of libel is guilty til proven innocent, and bears the burden of proof that their statements were true. Worse than this, however, is the fact that in English court the expense of defending a libel case in often in the tens of thousands of dollars, or more. Even if one successfully defends a libel case, it can be financially ruinous. Therefore, the threat of libel is an effective intimidation tactic. Strategically, it is much better to just settle (which means being silenced) that to incur the outrageous court costs.

Even worse, English courts will and have claimed jurisdiction over libel cases, even if the author is from another country, published in another country, and the target of their criticism is from another country. All that is necessary is for someone in England to have read the material. In the age of the internet this means that we are all potentially affected by the ridiculous English libel laws. This has lead to so-called libel tourism, where claimants will try to get their libel case heard in English courts.

Simon has decided to take a significant personal hit in order to pursue his defense for two reasons. The first is to stand up for his criticism of the BCA and their “bogus” treatment of childhood medical conditions with manipulation. The second is to urge the British government to reconsider their libel laws.  They really are anti-free speech and anti-science. They are a menace to free-speech throughout the world.


Are we supposed to laugh at them or with them?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 4, 2009

I know times are tough. As an accountant I deal with money, or lack there of, on a daily basis. I understand what it means to split the pie in a million possible peaces. Therefore, I understand how, in these tough times, people will look to save a penny anywhere they can, and that sometimes can take a weird shape and form. One of the weirdest I have come across are the Laughter Clubs that the Skepchick reported on at her Bostonist column. What is a Laughter Club? Glad you asked.

The clubs have formed in Arlington, Wakefield, and Somerville, and the “laughter leaders” who direct them say dedicated bouts of chuckling can provide a trove of mental and physical benefits.

According to Laughter Yoga International, an extended session of laughing provides a solid diaphragm and abdominal workout; it’s also said to diminish stress, depression, blood pressure, arthritis, and asthma, and boost the lungs and immune system.

I gotta tell you, whenever someone claims to “boost the immune system” my bullshit detector goes crazy. I can see how it may help with stress and depression, which have a big psychological factor to them, but arthritis? Asthma? Immune System? That’s pure and simple horse shit!

Club participants range from doctors and psychologists to Little Leaguers accompanying their moms. To stimulate snickers, members partake in various quirky miming exercises (anything from pretending to dunk a basketball, to simulating a trolley ride). Similarly, they’re encouraged to practice on their own – some giggle at their plants, others in the shower, many more bray in the car.

Oh, I see, so it is basically a bunch of grown ups acting like clowns, like 2 year olds. Why wouldn’t that help with your immune system?

In the beginning, it can be a little awkward.

No shit, Watson! (A rip off “elementary Watson”. Has nothing to do with the Skepchick)

But once people move beyond the initial oddity of it all, they build a “laugh connection,” Hobbs noted. “We are all just here in that moment.”

***Skepdude double checks the web address! Nope it’s not the Onion!***

Facilitating these sessions of hilarity takes more training than you might imagine; it’s essentially organized and disciplined laughter, based on what’s known as Hasya, or laughter, yoga. Leaders must be certified; many have done so directly with workshops led by the “Guru of Giggling” himself, Madan Kataria, an Indian doctor who founded the laughter mission.

Ah there we go. Laughter Yoga and an Indian Guru. Need I say more? And he offers research. Research! Surely this cannot be the kind of vague, inconclusive studies we’re used to see from people of this ilk. The offer two studies for us to consider, the Bangalore study and the US study.


In December 2006, Laughter Yoga International commissioned a scientific research project involving 200 IT professionals in Bangalore, India, to study the effects of Laughter Yoga on their stress levels. Seven Laughter Yoga sessions were administered to half the group over an 18 day period, with physiological, immunological and psychological tests performed on each person before and after the Laughter Yoga sessions.

The study was undertaken by one of India’s leading scientific research organizations.

The results of the Bangalore study were extremely positive. In the Laughter Yoga group there was a significant drop in heart rate, blood pressure dropped significantly, cortisol levels were significantly reduced, positive emotions increased by 17% and negative emotions dropped by 27%, perceived stress dropped significantly, and Alexithymia dropped by almost 9%, indicating a significant improvement in emotional intelligence.

Here is a brief summary of the Bangalore Study results:

Another important 2007 study in the United States looked at the effects of Laughter Yoga on personal efficacy in the workplace.

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to organize and carry out courses of action necessary to achieve a goal or manage a situation (Bandura, 1986). This personal belief influences the choices people make, the effort they put forth into working toward a goal, how long they persist when confronted with obstacles, and how they feel during the process of working toward goals. Self-efficacy beliefs affect performance in the workplace.

Personal efficacy testing was done the week before, the week after, and 60-90 days after the series of daily Laughter Yoga sessions. Laughter Yoga was administered for 15 minutes a day for 14 days.

The results show significant improvements of the Laughter Yoga group in all areas, with positive changes of 100% occurring in a number of areas. It is particularly interesting to note the long-lasting effects of the laughter interventions.

Here is a brief summary of the BRY Study results:

Ok, so let’s start the Red Flag observations:

Red FlagThey do not provide links to said studies, neither to the full study or an abstract, which strongly implies that said studies were never published anywhere. So we must take it on faith that these studies do in fact exist.

Red FlagThey even fail to provide the “brief summaries” they promise at the end of each study’s description. Again, we must take it on faith that these studies do in fact exist.

Red FlagThe Bangalore study was commissioned by themselves, and the second one seems likely to be the same, even though they do not specify. That fact alone does not disqualify the results but when coupled with the other red flags it adds to the question marks. Since it appears the studies were not published, let alone replicated, again we must take it on faith that they properly controlled the obvious bias and conflict of interest.

Red FlagNeither of these two studies seems to support their claim that their laughter yoga can help with diabetes, asthma, lungs or the immune system. So either they are misguiding their followers or the followers are misunderstanding the limits of this “technique”.

It seems we have to take to much on faith here. Sounds like a quack to me! Folks, if you want to laugh go ahead and laugh your heart out. But stop pretending it’s something it is not. Dont’ we have enough stupid claims out there already? Do you have to go and ruin laughing for us as well with stuff like this: “Laughter is the best medicine’ has scientifically proven to be the most powerful prescription for wellness.” No it hasn’t. Stop making shit like this up. Laughter is not medicine and the fact that some idiots want to cash in on one of the most basic bodily functions, laughter, is despicable. What will they try to charge us for next, breathing?