Archive for July 2009

7 Year Old Skips Church, by Taking Car

July 30, 2009

This kid’s got the right idea.

“A 7-year-old boy led officers on a car chase Sunday through Weber County in an attempt to avoid going to church, authorities say.”

He gets demerits for the execution, though.

“Dispatchers received reports of a child driving a vehicle recklessly near 4100 West and 1975 North around 9 a.m.

The motorist who called in the complaint followed the child and witnessed the boy drive through a stop sign at 4700 West, Anderson said.

Two deputies caught up with the boy a few blocks away and attempted to stop the car, but the child kept driving, Anderson said.”

Hey, I don’t really blame him. Not only was it church, it was church in Utah! But seriously folks, there’s a lot better ways to learn about religion than going to church. Like any other way.


Beware the spinal trap

July 29, 2009

The following is an article by Simon Singh. It got him sued by the British Chiropractic Association because of accusations of libel even though it brings up some very legitimate dangers of the chiropractic trade.

It is also posted at Respectful Insolence and Pharyngula, both of which have some very insightful comment threads going on.


Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Saturday April 19 2008

This is Chiropractic Awareness Week. So let’s be aware. How about some awareness that may prevent harm and help you make truly informed choices? First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

I can confidently label these treatments as bogus [changed to “utter nonsense” in the scrubbed version] because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Professor Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Bearing all of this in mind, I will leave you with one message for Chiropractic Awareness Week – if spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

ยท Simon Singh is the co-author of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial

God is a Construct By Which We Measure Our Brains

July 29, 2009

There is a (mostly) pretty good outline on which parts of the brain produce which “religious” experiences on NPR.

  • Serotonin triggers mystical experiences
  • The temporal lobe, under seizure conditions, can experience voices
  • Frontal lobe activity is increased by meditating, regardless of on what

Then there’s the mostly

  • “New Research” says thoughts can increase your immune system (why is all the woo always credited to “New Research” or the “New Science”? Meaningful results only come after years of research and combined efforts)
  • NDEs (sigh)

News articles on Near Death Experiences are always sloppily written. Even when the rest of the articles are concise and objective, sections on NDE’s seem to always contain snide comments and dismissive terms like “materialists” to undermine any finding that doesn’t conform to a spiritual interpretation of the data. And they very often try to spins the reports with a strong reliance on anecdotes from doctors who were obviously not even trying to study the phenomenon and therefore didn’t have any notes or adequate test plans to draw on.

Vague explanations ( like “it looked like a toothbrush”) are accepted without question as a descriptions of high tech medical instrument that may look roughly toothbrush shaped in black and white silhouette and stories told months or years later are admitted as evidence.

Any real study needs to be set up so that they can’t be vague; this is the same sort of thing that muddles the study of psychics, the use of descriptions that can be interpreted in multiple ways must be questioned.

The tests that have been specifically set up to eliminate this vagueness, like the placing of written cards on top of cabinets, have come up a no go.

Unfortunately the NDE article is written by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, and she does have a book on spirituality called Fingerprints of God that pretty much depends on fuzzy anecdotes and woo.

Anecdotes are not evidence. They can help to flesh out evidence but are pretty much worthless on their own.

Chimpanzee vs. Human Learning

July 28, 2009

Q: How do chimps learn?

A: The same way humans do.

Just a little better. This scientist shows that humans keep repeating ritualistic movements (religious or not) that are clearly unnecessary. Chimps do not.

But, of course, only the Kwisatz Haderach can learn to the master the gom jabbar.

Eddie Izzard on Creationism

July 27, 2009

The Pope Lays the Smack Down

July 27, 2009

Well, tickle me Elmo, he’s actually following through with it. Early this year the Pope claimed he was going investigate Virgin Mary sightings and there would be hell to pay if they weren’t authentic. Turns out, the old man was serious. He just defrocked a priest in Bosnia that was apparently running a Virgin Mary scam to get pilgrims into his area.

From the article:

“In the midst of a spat with the local bishop and the Vatican, he had earlier made a prophecy that the Virgin Mary would appear in Bosnia.

Months later, six local children said they had seen the Virgin on a nearby hillside. Soon after Father Vlasic announced he was ‘spiritual adviser’ to the ‘visionaries’ who now claim that Our Lady has visited them 40,000 times over the last 28 years.

An estimated 30million pilgrims have visited the shrine since 1981, including many from Britain and Ireland.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, issued a ban on pilgrimages to the site but this has been widely ignored.”

Why don’t they apply these same rules to other tourist attractions? There’s that shroud that they tried to date, but then decided to hide then the dating didn’t go there way. And, there that piece of meat in a jar that some priests are claiming is a transubstantiated cracker. Millions of people pay to travel to see those relics, many of whom cannot afford to do so. Are some hoaxes immune from this sort of investigative rigor?

What's the deal with this cross. There looks like there's a piece of meat hanging on it. Is that to attract the Virgin Mary?

What's the deal with this cross. There looks like there's a piece of meat hanging on it. Is that to attract the Virgin Mary?

Wild In Church

July 27, 2009

I’m not one of those that thinks wild charismatic church members are crazy. Any person can act out in outrageous ways when put into an environment when it becomes socially acceptable to do so. It’s the Christianity part of it that’s crazy.

Anyway, they are still fun to watch.