Category: "Debunking"

Acupuncture - the BBC nails it

It's very rare I read an article in the mainstream press which makes so much sense, and tackles a scientific topic so well.

Simon Singh +1 point(s), but as he's the co-author of 'Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial' maybe he should get an additional point.

Ever since receiving my first ever acupuncture session last month, I have been repeatedly asked whether or not it was effective.


[W]hy on earth should my personal experience be important, when we have evidence from tens of thousands of patients who have received acupuncture during carefully observed scientific trials?

Excellent, now if only all journalists could learn this skill when dealing with a scientific topic, especially when it concerns something health related. We use science to decide if something works or not, because its the most reliable method we have.

He then goes on to talk about the scientific evidence and how there is no evidence to suggest acupuncture is effective.

Good stuff. I'm fed up with the free-ride alternative crap-based medicine is getting in the press, and I'm furious with how much public money is wasted on junk like homeopathy and the rest. The proponents of this sort of stuff aren't just taking people's money like most pseudo-scientific nonsense, they're screwing with people's health too.

What makes us evolve, answering a creationist

I had a few comments from creationists left on my blog lately. One from somebody who identified themselves as '?':

i have a did creatures change from generation to generation to be better suited for their environments? i mean, if i moved to (i don't know) africa, and i had kids with an another person with my skin color, the color wouldn't change in my great grand children to make them better suited for their environments. it's called mating with another type of your own species, not evolution right?

To start off I'll briefly talk about how variation comes about. If the first self-replicating molecule could create perfect copies of itself, there would be no evolution, the world would be full of clones of that original molecule. Evolution by natural selection requires variation for it to act upon. Originally all that variation came about by mutations, either errors copying the DNA (or RNA), or by damage from cosmic rays. If the changes were advantageous the mutation would spread throughout the population. Around 1-1.5 billion years ago another tool to increase the variation evolved sexual reproduction, no longer did life descended from those cells create clones of themselves, instead they would re-combine their DNA with that of another, ensuring that children are not clones of the parent. This variation also provided something else for natural selection to act upon.

Darker skin evolved in humans in Africa around 1.5 million years ago, back in the time of Homo ergaster, as we began to lose our hair. At some point mutations happened in a gene (or genes) which darkened our skin, this may of been gradual or happened in a single mutation. This mutation was beneficial because it better protected the body from ultra-violent radiation (previously our hair protected us against it), and alas it spread throughout the population.

Around 40000 years ago, Homo sapiens began to move north into Europe. At this point another mutation happened, we know it was a change in a single nucleotide, out of 3.1 billion which make up our DNA. This produced a pale skinned individual. Further north we required less protection from UV radiation so maintaining our dark skin became less important, but this also had a benefit, it increased the amount of vitamin D that Europeans who carried this mutation produced. Some lines of evidence such as cave paintings suggest some Europeans could of been dark skinned up until just 13000 years ago, today however 99% of Europeans carry the mutation.

The original question set up a premise that the skin of their descendants would not darken from living in Africa. Obviously it is impossible to predict random mutations in the future, and the selective value of dark or light skin is less than it used to be before we invented sun block and had better diets. But if the climate of Africa remained the same, and if you could stop your descendants from mating outside of your family (both of which aren't realistic in practice) the skin of your descendants would almost certainly darken. We've seen skin colour changes happen multiple times independently in human populations in the past, and they will undoubtedly happen in the future.

Given enough time if you could prevent your descendants from breeding with the rest of Homo sapiens they would eventually form a new species, enough mutations would of happened in each population, and as no changes would be passed back and forth between the two groups eventually they'd no longer be compatible, of course this could take anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years for the differences to gradually build up.

Take our friend Su Kong, if the Earth went into a major ice age in the late 19th century and the rest of us were freezing to death around him (presumably we'd have to forget how to make hats too) his descendants could well make up Homo thefuture while Homo sapiens are strewn across a thin layer of dirt - so much for the species made in god's image!

Changes in our genes happen over time, and natural selection will act upon them.

it just doesn't make sense to me. i mean, all you have to do is think about evolution and it just doesnt make sense. u can't just scratch the surface. and also

Once you understand evolution it makes perfect sense, you develop an understanding, a real understanding of how life on Earth is so diverse, you see the interconnectedness of all life, how we are all descended from a four billion year old self-replicating molecule and you see that nothing is stationary and things are constantly changing.

how has evolution been scientifically proven? the only facts ive ever seen have DISPROVEN it.

I've never seen facts that disprove it, in fact everything has gone evolution's way, if genetics worked differently evolution could of been falsified etc. If anybody finds fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian that'll put a sizeable hole in the evolution by natural selection boat. If you're reading creationist sources, of which I am familiar, well let's just say somebody who spends their time studying the bible instead of the world probably isn't in a position to know a lot about the world.

BBC Watchdog loses the plot over psychics

So I was half watching Watchdog yesterday, and a caught the presenter mention something about proving things about psychics, which sparked my interest.

Somebody sent them in some amulet to heal his aura, whatever that is. To which Nick Campbell said:

"If anyone tries to charge you for this sort of thing, psychic or not, they saw you coming"

That's a pretty crappy attitude to have. You could say the same thing about anything, if you gave a company money for a ticket you never got, they saw you coming. If you gave some company money for product X that doesn't work, they saw you coming. A significant part of the population are way too susceptible to this sort of woo woo, and it should not just be brushed aside.

You're supposed to be in favour of the consumer, no matter if they're handing their money over to so-called psychics with false claims or some greedy company or dodgy individuals.

So I did a bit of searching to see if there was any reason for this just popping up, and as it turns out on last week's episode they did a piece investigating some psychic whackjob who claims to do something or other and charges you thousands of pounds for the privilege.

After the piece was over it went back to the studio where Julia Bradbury said...

"Because of course there are genuine psychics out there"

*Bangs head on the desk*. WHAT?

"Because of course there are genuine psychics out there"

She was speaking to some bloke from the Office of Fair Trading, who strongly emphasised that every investigation they've done has revealed no genuine psychics.

Honestly what the hell.

So anyway, after watching yesterday's episode again to catch what Nick Campbell said, apparently they had a few letters from viewers stating that they think all psychics are "at it", he went on to say:

Proving the authenticity or otherwise of all psychics is slightly outside our area of expertise.

What do I think is going on here? Their legal team are scared of being sued. There have been many cases across Western Europe over the last few years of psychics using the threat of legal action to silence their critics. When it has gone to court, because the legal system so heavily supports the claimant in cases of slander or libel there is a real danger of the defendant actually losing. There was a case in Belgium or the Netherlands a couple of years back where one of Europe's first sceptical societies was ordered to take out a full-page newspaper advert saying that some psychic was actually genuine, simply because they couldn't afford to fight the case and as such disproving the claimants accusation. I'm not sure what happened, but I'd hope they'd close their doors before ever doing such a thing.

This is because here the burden of evidence in slander and libel cases is placed upon the defendant. Instead of in most other areas of law where the burden of evidence is placed upon the claimant.

In the United States you never see this happening, because the burden of evidence is placed where it belongs. It should be up to the psychics to prove they are psychic. Not the defendant to prove a negative (which is impossible).

Three things need to happen:

  • We need to change the law so the burden of evidence is correctly placed upon the claimant.
  • Watchdog also need to stop pussy footing around worrying that they'll upset the woo woo crowd.
  • All psychics, or any other practitioners of nonsense should be arrested and charged with fraud.

Julia Bradbury's bio on the BBC website mentions she's done lifestyle shows, great, the plague of television. And mentions she's coped with John Travolta (Scientology nutjob) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (right-wing Republican asshole). That's a lot of whacky stuff to fit in just one paragraph, maybe there is somebody better for the job out there.

Oh wait, one last thing I'd like to see happen as I've said before, put the BBC under the control of Patrick Moore, Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough. The BBC needs to raise its game, it needs to stop the dumbing down of its science shows and get rid of every ounce of woo woo in the rest of its programming.

Questions for "Evolutionists"

Update: This is part of a fairly long series now, click here for the full list of articles in this series.

Questions for Evolutionists, whatever an evolutionist is, from Mr Kent Hovind. I'll just go and find a biologist to tackle his attempt at disproving evolution by natural selection.

Oh wait hang on...

1. Where did the space for the universe come from?

That sounds like a cosmology question Kent. The universe doesn't displace anything, and as such requires no space. The universe creates its own space, which it is still doing at an increasing rate even today.

2. Where did matter come from?

The matter condensed out of the energy of the Big Bang, after inflation the matter in the universe was a mix of quarks and gluons. At 1.0 × 10-6 seconds after the Big Bang they formed protons and neutrons.

3. Where did the laws of the universe come from (gravity, inertia, etc.)?

The laws of nature are inherit to the universe, they were created at the Big Bang.

4. How did matter get so perfectly organized?

I don't accept the premise that matter is perfectly organised.

5. Where did the energy come from to do all the organizing?

Actually it was the energy of the Big Bang that kept atoms from forming, the temperature and density of the universe had to decrease before quarks and gluons could form baryons (protons and neutrons). They were literally too energetic whizzing around too fast for the nuclear forces to have any impact.

More of his silly questions to come at a later date, maybe he could get onto biology.

More nonsense from the Catholic church

So the Catholic church is on the move to try and shoot down the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which will come before parliament later this year.

Normally I wouldn't be too bothered about them up to their usual ideological agenda stuff - after all if I went after them on every single little thing they do, I'd be spending every waking minute on it. But they've stepped over the line on this.

I'm talking about this little document. This nonsense has been spread to their followers over the last couple of weeks.

Hybrids: The Bill will allow scientists to create embryos that are half human, half animal. For example, from the egg of a woman and the sperm from an animal. To do this would be a radical violation of human dignity.

Trying to conjure up images of half human half animal babies being born. Yeah right, and the world is flat.

What the scientists actually want do is quite different. For example an egg from an animal will be taken, its genetic information removed, and a human cell will be implanted, this will create embryonic stem cells, genetically identical to the person who's cell was implanted. There's no animal genes involved.

None of these may be implanted into a woman, and they must be destroyed within 14 days, or at the first signs of development of a nervous system.

Of course all of what they say is pretty meaningless, after all we are animals. May be half-human half-cow would be more appropriate, hey like my Tauren!

They go on to say this:

How Future Decisions are Made: At present, decisions are made by an unelected and unrepresentative body. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority appears to exclude people who cherish human life from conception.

Exclude people who cherish human life from conception? Wait, I know what you mean! You mean its those evil scientists doing their own thing. Once again this is the church trying to interfere in science - they even try and play the dictatorship card. You've done enough meddling in our schools as it is, why are you trying to get your fifthly hands into the science lab?

The answer is simple, to destroy science. They're upset at the progress that has been made over the last 300 years, they're upset they can't burn people alive for saying the Earth goes around the Sun any more.

What do I think? Let the scientists do the science. Science must be free of all external ideologies for it to perform to the best of its abilities. Scientists should decide what research they do, and be free to do it.

The church should not be stopping them from perusing areas of research they believe will be fruitful, neither should any other organisation - not even the government. Scientists believe it or not are human beings too, and they can make judgement on what they believe is right or wrong just like the next person.

Then they use the abortion card.

The Bill may be used as a vehicle to make abortion more common.

Abortions need to be free and easier to get. Although they like to use the pro-life slogan, and they've been banging their drums on this issue lately, trying to get the 24 weeks reduced. Ultimately this is about the rights of the woman to control what's going on in their body. I of course recognise the collection of cells has the potential to become a human being - which is why I don't think termination should be allowed up until birth, 24 weeks is a fine cut off point.

The fact they mention abortion seems to me like they're desperate to drum up support from the Catholics who are bright enough not to fall for their half-human half-animal nonsense.

One bishop commented in New Scientist:

If people are unhappy about genetically modified tomatoes, they should be made aware of proposals in the bill to allow the creation of genetically modified human embryos!

There's two reasons why people are opposed to genetically modified tomatoes, they're either new-age woo woo fans who think anything to do with science is tainted, or they're ignorant. Oh wait, that's only one reason.

We've been genetically modifying food for thousands of years. Virtually everything we eat is not in its "natural" (whatever that means) state. Using modern technology just allows us a finer level of control over it, instead of breeding different varieties and hoping some of the offspring have the traits we want.

I'm all for genetically modified human embryos if it means future generations won't have to deal with all the genetic faults we've inherited, all the diseases and the death we have to deal with. If we can create cures for Parkinson's disease and other crippling disorders science, and those people suffering shouldn't have the door slammed on them just because its against a religious ideology.

Just in the last few months science has made some amazing breakthroughs, growing organs - virtually from scratch, tailor made for whoever the organ is for to reduce the risk of rejection, using their own progenitor cells. We're quite literally in the middle of a revolution in medicine, to the point where many believe there are people alive today who will live for several hundred years.

The sooner we get religion stripped out of science and all public affairs the better, you only need to look to Africa to see the damage religious propaganda has on things like the spread of HIV.

Mystery image of 'life on Mars'

That's a headline of a recent article on BBC News covering this early image from the Spirit rover.

Spirit photo of Mars

An image of a mysterious shape on the surface of Mars, taken by Nasa spacecraft Spirit, has reignited the debate about life on the Red Planet.

A magnified version of the picture, posted on the internet, appears to some to show what resembles a human form among a crop of rocks.

It goes on to say...

When the robotic rover set down on 24 January 2004, its images disappointed space-watchers hoping for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Now they appear convinced that this image provides the evidence they have been trawling Nasa's photo files for.

The blown-up image seems to resemble a figure striding among the Martian rocks.

The internet has been abuzz with postings offering theories.

One said it was a garden gnome, another that it was the Virgin Mary.

A third suggested Bigfoot, the hairy bipedal mountain beast that appears in various guises in a number of legends around the world.

But the consensus seemed to be that it bore a striking resemblance to the Little Mermaid statue in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

Now I know this is being treated as a fluff piece, but come on this is the BBC, not the Sun. No sane person in the world expected either rovers to photograph life walking around on the Martian surface.

This is an example of pareidolia and nothing more. When we see the human-shape in context with the rest of the image. We can clearly see it is only about a metre from the rover, making it much smaller than what the images thrown around in the media imply. Also we should keep in mind that these photographs are taken through different filters and then merged to create a final image, this photo would be composed from at least three different photographs across perhaps as much as a minute in time, and in that time as we clearly see the object has not been walking around.

The best evidence of ancient life, or any life for that matter, on Mars is in this image, taken under high magnification it shows a bacteria-like structure in a meteorite from Mars.

The BBC should try reporting real science.

An image of a mysterious shape on the surface of Mars, taken by Nasa spacecraft Spirit, has reignited the debate about life on the Red Planet.

Debate, what debate? The real debate is on if the bacteria-like structure in meteorite fragment ALH84001 is actually evidence for Martian life or not. Not if one of the early photos from Spirit showing a rock a couple of inches tall that looks like it has a head and an arm is life or not, there's no debate there at all, every rational person knows exactly what it is, a rock and too much pattern recognition going on in our brains.

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