Bill Maher gets the Richard Dawkins Award? That’s like Jenny McCarthy getting an award for public health
Through it all, even though I don’t always agree with Richard Dawkins mostly on matters of religion versus atheism and how to advocate for reason, I have never doubted that he is a force for reason to be reckoned with. I’ve even briefly met him, although I highly doubt that he’d remember me, my being one of dozens of people who shook his hand that day nearly two years ago in New York. There’s even an award named after him, the Richard Dawkins Award, which the Atheist Alliance awards to one person every year based on these criteria::
The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.
Past recipients have included James Randi, Ann Druyan, Penn and Teller, Julia Sweeney, Daniel Dennett, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, all worthy recipients.
So the other day I was rather shocked to see who the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award will be. If you read Pharyngula, you knew the answer a couple of days ago.
When I found this out, all I could think was: WTF?
Let’s backtrack a minute. Longtime readers of this blog know that I do not think much of Bill Maher. Oh, sure, I find him occasionally somewhat amusing. For example, his New Rules segment is sometimes pretty funny. However I can’t really watch Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO, mainly because Maher’s smugness irritates the crap out of me. But none of that has anything to do with why I find his receiving the Richard Dawkins Award to be about as inappropriate as giving Jenny McCarthy a public health award–and for much the same reasons. After all, Bill Maher is a woo-meister supreme and, like Jenny McCarthy, an anti-vaccine crank, as I’ve documented time and time again on this very blog. He’s also a big time PETA supporter and a germ theory denialist.
If there’s one characteristic of the anti-vaccine movement that helps define them as true cranks, it’s a streak of conspiracy theory mania. It’s not too much of an exaggeration when I wonder if they think that the Lizard Men have taken over the government, the CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics in order to use vaccines in a New World Order plot to make all of our children autistic. Or something. I’m never quite sure. Knowing this particular aspect of the anti-vaccine movement, the only thing that surprises me is that they haven’t joined the forces arrayed against President Obama’s effort to reform health care in this country. While there may be principled and reasonable objections to elements of the plan or even philosophical objections to the very concept of the government funding health care, this rant is none of those. Written by Terrence P. Jeffry and entitled Health Care Bill Will Fund State Vaccine Teams to Conduct ‘Interventions’ in Private Homes, it has that lovely “Oh, noes, Obama’s coming to steal our babiez” sort of vibe that I just can’t resist:
(CNSNews.com) - There is a knock at the front door. Peeking through the window, a mother sees a man and a woman, both in uniform. They are agents of health-care reform. “Excuse me, ma’am,” says the man. “Our records show that your eleven-year-old daughter has not been immunized for genital warts.” “And your four-year-old still needs the chicken-pox vaccine,” says the woman. “He will not be allowed to start kindergarten unless he gets that shot, you know,” says the man–smiling from ear to ear. “So, can we please come in?” asks the woman. “We have the vaccines right here,” she says, lifting up a black medical bag. “We can give your kids the shots right now.” “We are from the government,” says the man, “and we’re here to help.”
Oooh. Scary! Run! The guv’mint’s coming to vaccinate your babies!
Before delving into the deepest, darkest depths of paranoia, Jeffry shows a rare flash of self-awareness:
Is this a scene from the over-heated imagination of an addlepated conspiracy theorist? Or is it something akin to what is actually envisioned by the health-care reform bill approved this week by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.
Not surprisingly, he then proceeds to get the rhetorical question he asks himself so utterly and completely wrong by over-reading the text of a draft of the Senate version of the health care reform bill. Not surprisingly, as a bill designed to promote better health, its authors have included a provision designed to encourage immunizations. That’s where Jeffry gets his panties all in a knot. Actually, he gives himself a turbo wedgie with his tighty-whiteys over the immunization provision:
In keeping with Homeopathy Awareness Week (which still runs until June 21), I can’t resist commenting on this gem of a story that was sent to me the other day. I mean, we’re talking super duper heaving shopping in the very heart of London. It turns out that the Helios Homeopathy Shop right in Covent Garden will fix you up with homeopathic plutonium if you need it:
Dr Fiona Barclay, a chemist at RGB Research in west London, made this discovery. Her company specialises in selling collections of the periodic table elements (with the exception of those elements that are illegal or are so very short-lived – a few seconds or less – that they invite frustration). Some elements are easy to purchase: carbon, sulphur, iron. For others, one can turn to eBay, where arsenic, uranium (in the form of uranium-tipped missiles), and other elements of ill repute are commonly on offer.But plutonium proved hard to find … until Barclay turned to Google, which directed her to the Helios shop. She explains what happened next:
“I went to Covent Garden and went into the shop and said, ‘Please, may I have some plutonium.’ And the lady behind the counter said, ‘I shall fetch the chemist.’
“The chemist was duly fetched, and I said, ‘I’d really like a sample of plutonium.’ She asked, ‘And how strong would you like it, madam?’
Now there’s customer service! When told to jump, smile and ask how high! Of course, there’s one catch:
“I had gone in there with the very good intention of asking what their original source was, because it’s my understanding that, although they dilute everything until there’s not even a molecule left, they do start off with one drop. But I got frazzled, and forgot to ask.”The chemist gave me pillules, which very entertainingly have a ‘best before’ date of the 31st of March, 2013. And as I was leaving she pointed out that there was no plutonium in it.
Indeed, that’s what homeopathy is all about: not a trace of anything, therapeutic or otherwise, left in it. Of course, given that several isotopes of plutonium have half-lives on the order of thousands of years, one wonders why Helios’ homeopathic preparation would have only a four year useful life. Maybe the water “decays” faster. Or maybe the sympathetic magic that is homeopathy has a half life. Who knows?
I was intrigued; so I had to look up plutonium nitricum, which is the homeopathic version of plutonium being sold. Of course, at this point it is worth noting that, even if Helios (or any other homeopathy seller) did use plutonium to start out with, by the time it’s diluted to 30 C, it’s incredibly unlikely that there is even a single atom of plutonium left, which is convenient if you don’t want to be flooding your body with highly radioactive metal. On the other hand, if dilution and succussion truly does make the plutonium stronger, as homeopathic principles teach, then wouldn’t homeopathic plutonium be a great starting point for an unlimited supply of fuel for nuclear reactors or for the most powerful nuclear bomb ever? Truly, homeopathic plutonium would be dangerous stuff! One has to wonder why nuclear physicists and the military aren’t more interested. This could be a major breakthrough in unlimited civilian power and in military technology. I also have to wonder whether it would even be safe to succuss the mixture between each step, so potent would the plutonium become. And what would one do with all the waste water from the process of dilution and succussion? After all, if water has memory, the discarded water at each step would have a memory of the plutonium, wouldn’t it? True, it wouldn’t be as potent as the final remedy, but, following the law of infinitesimals, each succeeding set of waste water would be imbued with more plutonium goodness. Truly, it would be a horrible radioactive waste disposal problem.
I was going to handle this myself, but then I found out Orac handled this already, and who can beat Orac when it comes to this sort of stuff, right?
I have to hand it to acupuncture mavens. They are persistent. Despite numerous studies failing to find any evidence that acupuncture is anything more than an elaborate placebo whose effects, such as they are, derive from nonspecifice mechanisms having nothing to do with meridians, qi, or “unblocking” qi. Moreover, consistent with the contention that acupuncture is no more than an elaborate placebo, various forms of “sham” acupuncture (needles that appear to insert but don’t or acupuncture in the “wrong” locations, for example) produce results indistinguishable from “real” acupuncture.
That record won’t change with the latest acupuncture study for low back pain that was published on Monday and is making the rounds through the media. Let’s start with a news report on Medpage Today:
WHEELING, W.Va., May 11 — Acupuncture was more effective than conventional treatment for relieving lower back pain in a randomized trial, but performed no better than poking patients gently with toothpicks.The editors of Medpage Today should really know better than to publish nonsense like this. They shouldn’t have allowed a story about this particular study to start out by saying that acupuncture was bound to be “more effective” than conventional treatment because this study showed nothing of the sort, for reasons that I’ll discuss later. Actually, I bet that astute regular readers here will be able to identify immediately exactly why such a conclusion is unjustified when I describe how the study was done. If not, I promise I’ll make it painfully clear to you by the end. I’ll also feel like I’m repeating myself because I’ve mentioned this very same defect in acupuncture studies. In any case, the study did show that “real” acupuncture was no better than sham acupuncture.
Back to the study. It appeared in Archives of Internal Medicine and was published by a team of investigators led by Dr. Daniel Cherkin of the Center for Health Studies in Seattle; investigators from Northern California Kaiser Permanente, Cancer Research and Biostatistics in Seattle; Department of Family Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University; and (of course) the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Yes. NCCAM had a hand in this study. Is anyone surprised? In any case, the study was entitled A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture, Simulated Acupuncture, and Usual Care for Chronic Low Back Pain (Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(9):858-866).
After writing about a new low of pseudoscience published in that repository of all things antivaccine and quackery, The Huffington Post (do you even have to ask?), on Tuesday, I had hoped–really hoped–that I could ignore HuffPo for a while. After all, there’s only so much stupid that even Orac can tolerate before his logic circuits start shorting out and he has to shut down a while so that his self-repair circuits can undo the damage. Besides, I sometimes think that the twit who created HuffPo, Arianna Huffington, likes the attention that turds dropped onto her blog by quackery boosters of the like of Kim Evans. Certainly, the HuffPo editors seem utterly untroubled that, among physicians and medical scientists, HuffPo is viewed with utter contempt and ridicule. Certainly, I view Arianna’s vanity project that way whenever it publishes the antivaccine stylings of ignoramuses like Deirdre Imus or cranks like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and David Kirby, especially now that HuffPo’s decided that antivaccine nonsense isn’t enough and that it needs to “kick the pseudoscience up a notch” with its latest quack recruits.
Apparently, HuffPo has decided that even Kim Evans is not enough to bury its reputation when it comes to any form of medical science so deep into the mud that it would require nuclear weapons to blast it out; that is, if you even accept the contention that HuffPo even has a reputation for medical science. What am I talking about? I’m sure many of you know; you’ve deluged me with copies of links to this article. No, no, don’t worry, I’m not annoyed. It tells me that you, my readers, feel that this article is something that so desperately cries out for a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence and that said Insolence is what you desperately want to see applied to it.
Never let it be said that I don’t give the people what they want.
In fact, I so wanted to give the people that what they wanted on this one that I decided to save the post as a web archive and write this on the plane as I was coming home from Denver last night, leaving only the addition of relevant links as necessary upon my arrival home. So, welcome the latest arrogant idiot to the Huffington Post’s merry band of antivaccinationists. No, it’s not Jenny McCarthy, although I’m surprised that HuffPo didn’t recruit Jenny McCarthy to blog for it long ago. Unfortunately, it did recruit her boyfriend, perhaps because his A-list celebrity (as in danger of fading to B- and C-list as it is) far outshines Jenny’s D-minus-list celebrity. Yes, I’m talking about Jim Carrey, who applies his “intellectual firepower” (such as it is) to an article entitled The Judgment on Vaccines Is In???
Oh, the stupid, it does so burn.
You know, reading this article, a horrific vision came into my head. What if Jenny and Jim actually had a child? What if they actually reproduced? What would their offspring be like? I fear he would be the Antichrist of Stupid, whose power would suck all intelligence, reason and science out of the world, the better to usher in an Armageddon of Stupid against which the armies of reason might not be able to stand. If that were to happen, it would usher in a new age of dumb, a dumb so deep and profund that it might be thousands of years before humans were able to rub two stones together and make fire again.
But I digress.
Let me say right up front that I’m not entirely sure that the victim–I mean target; no, I mean subject–of this week’s little excursion into the deepest darkest depths of woo is not a parody. That’s the beauty of it. I’ve never heard of it before, but a little Googling brought me evidence that it may not be a parody, that the guy purveying it may actually believe it. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself, or, if you’ve heard of this guy before, to chime in and let me know the deal. I’ll also point out that parts of this website are not entirely safe for work. Actually, a couple of the pages are not safe for work at all. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on directly linking to any those pages, but you could hit a link while exploring the site and accidentally find yourself looking at something you really don’t want to. Trust me on this.
And what woo it is!
Have any of you ever heard of Happeh Theory? You haven’t? Well, you have now! Suffice it to say that Happeh Theory has an odd obsession. More about that later. First, it starts out a lot like any other run-of-the-mill woo site, only with cheesier graphics. Specifically, Happeh Theory seems to think that we all have “energy bodies” that are in essence duplicates of our own body:
Treating the energy body of a human being as an exact duplicate of the physical body can be especially helpful in discussing the movement of the energy body from it’s proper location and orientation on the physical body.The reason why knowing if the energy body has moved away from it’s proper location and orientation on the physical body is important, is that any movement of the energy body away from it’s proper orientation or location is usually associated with the development of some type of health problem, and because the exact way in which the energy body has moved, will provide insight into how the physical body of the individual moves.
And, of course, there is “intent”:
It is the nature of the energy of the human body, that the light reflected by the body usually corresponds to the energy level of that region of the body. A bright and well lit part of the body would usually be an area of the body that was filled with energy, or had a high energy level. A dark part of the face would usually be an area of the body that had a low energy level.A phrase that is used to name the low energy areas of a person’s face, is the phrase “black in the face”. Calling the low energy areas of the face “black” simplifies talking about the subject.
The usage of the phrase “black in the face”, would be by describing the amount of black an individual’s face had in it.
An individual whose face was mostly well lit, would be an individual who had very little black in the face. Since black in the face corresponds to low energy, a person who had very little black in the face would be a relatively healthy person, because their face was filled with energy.
Everyday language supports that claim. A healthy or happy person can be described as “beaming”, which is a word associated with bright lighting.
He’s convinced me! If I just shine lights all over my body, then I, too, can be filled with energy all over. I wonder. Happeh Theory seems to imply that if I were to shine light on my head, that would fill it with energy, boosting its level and (hopefully) increasing my intelligence beyond its already stratospheric level to the level of Super Genius, just like Vox Day likes to tell us he is.
So far, this is the standard sort of “energy” woo that is hard to escape on the web and, sadly, increasingly hard to escape in some of the formerly greatest academic medical centers in our nation, given how many of them have embraced “energy healing” modalities like reiki and therapeutic touch. Be that as it may, there is one aspect of this woo that distinguishes it from the usual run-of-the-mill variety. Suffice it to say that Happeh Theory has a rather strange obsession. While Robert O. Young may be obsessed with pH and “acid,” Hulda Clark with liver flukes, and autism quacks with mercury, but Happeh Theory has found a new scourge, a new horrible cause of so many of the ills that plague modern humans.
According to Happeh Theory, masturbation will cause a person to become crippled and blind in one eye, as well as causing many other physical health problems. Excessive masturbation will also lead to the development of gay tendencies, as well as other alterations to the personality or mentality of a person.The most common question that is asked in response to the claim that masturbation makes the human body blind and crippled, is “How does masturbation make the human body blind and crippled?”. Or to phrase that question more accurately “What does masturbation do to the human body, that causes it to become blind and crippled?”
Masturbation causes the human body to tighten up or become tense. That tightness or tension impairs the ability of the limbs to move properly, and impairs the ability of the eyes to see properly.
Indiana Jones had a saying: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” This line was most famously delivered in Raiders of the Lost Ark after he and his friend Sallah had opened the Well of Souls and were staring down into it. Sallah noticed that the ground appeared to be moving within; so Indy shined a light down the entrance, only to see thousands of snakes waiting for him at the bottom.
Sallah then drily observed, “Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.”
As we knew from earlier in the movie, Indiana Jones hated snakes and was afraid of them; so it was only natural that later in the movie he would encounter a floor literally writhing with thousands of them. So it was when I innocently picked up the latest issue of TIME Magazine and started perusing it yesterday. What to my fearfully wondering eyes should appear but an article entitled Mind over Chocolate. Because I like chocolate, I was curious and began reading:
Move over, organic, fair trade and free range–the latest in enlightened edibles is here: food with “embedded” positive intentions. While the idea isn’t new–cultures like the Navajo have been doing it for centuries–for-profit companies in the U.S. and Canada are catching on, infusing products with good vibes through meditation, prayer and even music.
My reaction was much like Indy’s: “Intent. Why’d it have to be intent?”
To which my imaginary companion replied, “Emoto. Very woo-ey. You go first.”
So I will, because as much as the whole concept of “intent” in various “alternative medicine” and other woo irritates the crap out of me, it also holds a bizarre fascination as well.
Before I go on to deal with these products, let’s take a trip back down memory lane to nearly two and a half years ago. That’s when I first encountered the infamous Dr. Emoto and his amazing water woo. Naturally, being the…pioneer that he is, a lot of this business of “imbuing” water and food with happy “intent” can trace back to him, at least as a business plan, given his H20m water. The long story is in the link immediately preceding this; the short story is that Dr. Emoto believes that water can somehow be altered by “vibrations” sent from someone focusing his or her intent upon it and that those vibrations leave behind residue of that intent that can then be imparted to the people who consume H20m. As “evidence” for this, Dr. Emoto cites “studies” (I’m using the term very loosely here, as you might imagine) in which he claims to be able to differentiate different ice crystals on the basis of whether “good” or “bad” intent had been directed at them. Being of an entrepreneurial bent, Dr. Emoto decided to scale up his focusing of intent on water into an industrial process, infusing the water with happy thoughts thusly:
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:
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) owes me a new irony meter.
I’ll explain in a minute, but first you have to know why I even give a rodent’s posterior about Harkin. As you may recall, no single legislator in the U.S. has done more to damage the cause of science- and evidence-based medicine than Tom Harkin. It was through his efforts that the National Institutes of Health, despite the fact that its scientists were not agitating for it, had the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) rammed down its throat, first as the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) and then, when NIH Director Harold Varmus tried to place OAM under more scientific NIH control in 1998, by elevating OAM to a full and independent Center within the NIH.
I’ve complained many times about how NCCAM funds studies of pseudoscience and quackery and even more about how it promotes unscientific medical practices. I’ve said time and time again that there is nothing that is funded by NCCAM that wouldn’t better be dealt with by other Centers or Institutes within the NIH. I’ve also pointed out Harkin and other CAM-friendly legislators created and promoted NCCAM not for the purpose of rigorous scientific evaluation of CAM practices, but rather to promote CAM and ultimately “integrate” it with scientific medicine. At this they have been enormously successful.
At “proving” that CAM works, not so much, so much so that Senator Tom Harkin is very, very unhappy with NCCAM and said so recently, as pointed out by Majikthise. On Thursday, Harkin told a Senate panel that he was disappointed that NCCAM had disproven too many alternative therapies. The video can be viewed here. In addition, Harkin’s statements have also been posted to his Senate blog:
I am pleased to co-chair this morning’s hearing with Senator Mikulski. And I am eager to hear our distinguished witnesses’ ideas on using integrative care to keep people healthy, improve healthcare outcomes, and reduce healthcare costs.It is fashionable, these days, to quote Abraham Lincoln. So I would like to quote from his 1862 address to Congress – words that should inspire us as we craft health care reform legislation. Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty . . . . As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
Clearly, the time has come to “think anew” and to “disenthrall ourselves” from the dogmas and biases that have made our current health care system – based overwhelmingly on conventional medicine – in so many ways wasteful and dysfunctional.
I note that on the video, Harkin does not say “conventional medicine.” Rather, he says “conventional allopathic medicine.” And, as any regular reader of this blog knows, anyone who uses the term “allopathic” in such a contemptuous manner to describe conventional scientific medicine has clearly drunk the Kool Aid. But, consistent with how I’ve warned that CAM advocates would do their best to hijack any effort on the part of the Obama administration to reform the health care system by trying to link all manner of unscientific woo to “prevention,” Harkin goes on to do just that:
Alright, I know that, after yesterday’s epic post (which was long even by Orac-ian standards), I said that I was going to try to get away from vaccine blogging for a while. I lied. Well, not really. At that time I really did mean it. But then I came across something that I just couldn’t leave alone.
Regular readers of this blog know my opinion of Andrew Wakefield, namely that he is a fraud, a quack, a charlatan, and a danger to the health of autistic children and public health in general. There is, as documented in my post and elsewhere, abundant evidence to support my opinion. But apparently there are some who don’t think the way I do. Apparently to some, the revelations of his research fraud notwithstanding, Andrew Wakefield remains a hero. In fact, there has recently appeared a website called We Support Dr. Andrew Wakefield.
Hand me a barf bag.
Let’s take a look at the “petition” they want people to sign
I had originally planned on a bit of deconstruction and translation, but Holford Watch beat me to it with a spot-on annotated version that I wish I had done. Instead, I was interested in who set up this website. A quick Whois revealed that the registrant is Edmund Arranga. I had no idea who Arranga is; so I Googled him. Guess what I found?
Edmund C. Arranga is the co-founder of Autism One, a charity organization devoted to the care, treatment, and recovery of children with autism. Currently, a diagnosis of autism comes with the prognosis of forever and nothing could be further from the truth. Our children get better; some recover completely given the proper treatments and therapies.
AutismOne? That quackfest? Well, that explains a lot. Just look at the speaker list for this year’s AutismOne. It’s a veritable Who’s Who of autism quackery, fronted by Jenny McCarthy as keynote speaker and including Andrew Wakefield himself.
Still, there were a few parts of Arranga’s petition that struck me as worth commenting on. For example:
We declare that:1. Dr. Wakefield is a man of honesty, integrity, courage, and proven commitment to children and the public health.
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Oh, heheheheheheheehee! Ahahahahahaha!
Oh, me! Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. Heh. Hahaha. Must. Regain. Composure.
There. Now I’m better.
2. Dr. Wakefield’s research is rigorous, replicated, biologically valid, clinically evidenced, corroborated by published, peer-reviewed research in an abundance of scientific disciplines, and consistent with children’s medical problems.
Dammit. That one caught me by surprise, just as I had composed myself. I’m sorry; I just can’t help it. That’s too hilarious! But I do thank whoever is behind this effort. I’m still not back to normal after the death of my mother-in-law. Anything that makes me laugh so raucously is good in that it lets me forget my sadness for a while.