Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Trepanation: A most extreme form of quackery

Posted in Depleted Cranium by Skepdude on April 23, 2010


If there’s anything that can be said in favor of this idiotic procedure, it’s that at least it usually tends to be self-inflicted by those who actively seek it and is not normally something that quacks convince people, who would otherwise not do such an act, to do.   However, this is not always the case.   In 2000, at least two men were arrested in Utah for practicing medicine without a license after preforming trepanations on several individuals. The practitioners claimed that they could provide relief for a variety of conditions ranging from depression to addictions.  There is, of course, no scientific evidence of this being the case.

Warning: The following video contains some slightly graphic scenes of an actual medical trepanation. It’s only brief and relatively clinical, but if you’re really squeamish you may not want to watch. However, the second of the two videos is not graphic at all.

There are a number of individuals and organizations that push the procedure and advocate the benefits of trepanation.  One of the most vocal is Bart Hughes, who, despite often being called one, is not a doctor at all.   As recently as this year, Hughes has been publishing various articles and press releases claiming that the procedure has numerous benefits and can enhance human consciousness.  There is even an international trepanation advocacy group.

It is true that trepanation has a long history in both Western culture and other places in the world.  That said, “Well doctors in the middle ages did it,” is generally not recognized as a means of validating as good medicine.   Whether or not it ever had any therapeutic value is, at best, questionable, although few medical procedures of centuries past did.   Skulls with apparently intentionally created holes have been found in Asia, Europe and the Americas.   A few show signs of healing, indicating that not only was the hole created on purpose, but that the individual survived the procedure.

It is a fallacy to presume that there must be some special significance to a custom that was independently developed in multiple cultures.   In the case of trepanation there are examples of the practice from around the world, and some have used this as evidence that various societies must have discovered the effectiveness of the procedure.  There is, however, a simpler explanation.   Headaches are a common complaint in humans and have a number of causes.   They can range from irritating to nearly debilitating.  An individual suffering from persistent or severe headaches may feel as if there is pressure inside their head that must be relieved or that there was some need to release bad energy or spirits from their head.  Lacking an understanding of medicine and the human body, it’s easy to see how putting a hole in the skull might seem like the logical thing to do.


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Aussies Fight Back Against Anti-Vaccine Nonsense

Posted in Depleted Cranium by Skepdude on August 13, 2009


The anti-vaccine movement is nothing new.    The US, the UK, Germany, Canada and many other countries all have their own anti-vaccine activists, working to misinform the public and kill people through preventable infectious disease.   In the US, we have Jenny McCarthy, who I may remind everyone, is only well known because she showed everyone her who-who in 1993.

In Australia they have the AVN, or “Australian Vaccine Network.” The Australian Vaccine Network claims to be “pro-choice,” as opposed to “anti-vaccine,” as many other organizations do.  They also claim to be empowering people by providing information, although their information ranges from one-sided and misleading facts to outright lies.   The biggest anti-vaccine assclown in the Australian anti-vaccine movement is Meryl Dorey.   Ms. Dorey makes the standard comments, claiming that vaccines cause autism (they don’t) and that they harm the immune system (they actually stimulate antibody production) and that they’re ineffective.

Click here for a video of the news report that got this started.

But recently there has been a major shift in public opinion in Australia, as a series of events have lead to the AVN getting some well deserved bad press...

What touched this off was a story on Australia’s Channel Seven over the tragic death of Dana McCaffery.   Dana was only four weeks old when she caught whooping cough, the disease that would ultimately kill her.  This disease was almost eliminated in most of the industrial world decades ago but is making a comeback.   At such a young age, Dana had not yet received the vaccination that would have saved her life, and thus was counting on the “herd immunity” of the community to keep her safe and healthy.

I really don’t like the term “herd immunity,” but it’s an accurate way of describing how widespread vaccination can prevent illness, even in those who are not vaccinated.   In any population, there will be a few individuals who are not immune to a disease through no fault of their own.  Some of these individuals are simply too young to have had the vaccine.  Others may have immune system diseases like AIDS.   Still others may have received an organ transplant or have an auto-immune disease which requires immune suppression drugs.  Yet in such cases, their chances of getting a disease is very low as long as the community has a high enough rate of immunization.   For a disease like whooping cough to exist at all in such a community, it must be introduced by an outsider, who must transmit it directly to one of the individuals without the immunity.  Even if this happens, the disease will not have a chance to get very far, because there are not enough suitable hosts to sustain the pathogens spread.

One could compare the concept to critical mass in a nuclear reaction.   Bellow critical mass, one might get an occasional fission and it may even trigger a second, but it will not create a significant propagation of the effect and the reaction will die out rapidly.

So why didn’t herd immunity protect little Dana McCaffery?    It seems that in her region of Australia, the level of vaccination has fallen to the point where the disease can take hold.   This is not unique to Australia, as whooping cough has made a comeback in the US, along with diseases like measles.   Full blown outbreaks of such diseases have occurred in areas that had not seen them in decades.

There is one thing that sets Australia apart from most other countries, however:  the report on the death of Dana McCaffery seems to have touched out an appropriate level of outrage and the AVN has been enduring some very very bad publicity…