Crying “wolf”

Remember all those tearful posts and editorials about WDDTY being bullied? Well, here’s a crystal clear explanation of what they consider to be bullying.

PS it’s a spoof account, taken over by real human beings when WDDTY – who had been using it for some time – went back to @wddty recently. That is: @_WDDTY is a spoof. The other one is very, very real.

Dental fillings could be causing decay in other teeth

… scream WDDTY on their webshite in a brief post dated Thursday, October 29, 2015:

Dental fillings could be doing as much harm as good. They trigger decay in surrounding teeth in more than 60 per cent of cases, new research has found.

The chances of further decay are worsened by the technique of the dentist, especially if he or she isn’t following the latest practices, and by the oral hygiene of the patient.

One possibility could be that the dentist is damaging surrounding teeth when drilling and preparing the tooth that is to be filled.

In a review of 750 patients who had fillings, 61 per cent had decay in adjoining teeth within five years, researchers from the Nordic Institute of Dental Materials in Oslo discovered. Of these, 30 per cent needed filling.

The researchers said the risk was similar with all types of fillings, including amalgam, gold, glass ionomer, and porcelain.

(Source: Journal of Dentistry, 2015; 43: 1323-29)

All very scary. For once, given WDDTY‘s tendency to muck up the references , the journal and abstract are easy to find: they’re here.

So, are dental fillings per se triggering decay in surrounding teeth? Well, in a word:


Yes, once again WDDTY has totally misrepresented the findings of a study. What the researchers really concluded, in as many words, was:

Both patient- and dentist related variables are risk factors for caries development on approximal surfaces in contact with newly placed Class II composite restorations.

What are these patient-related variables? Dental hygiene, or the lack thereof. But you’d guessed that.

What are these dentist-related variables? Skill and technique, says the study.

I suspect we can add to that: not enough time spent on educating patients, especially the very young, about the necessities of dental hygiene and why fluoride is a good thing. Of course, like most medical professionals, dentists often don’t have much time to spend on prevention. Which is why irresponsible lies and scaremongering by rags like WDDTY is all the more reprehensible: they try to frighten people away from getting proper preventive care and real medical care.

Why don’t doctors tell you dental fillings could be causing decay in other teeth?

Because it’s  exactly as true as saying cars cause car accidents.

Electro-pollution sensitivity and computer mice

Now this is an interesting situation.  We found two posts entitled “Electro-pollution sensitivity” on the WDDTY webshite that start with the same question. Even more curious: both posts are incomplete.

Notorious quackery promotion site to the rescue! We leave you to savour their presentation of the merits of WDDTY and the fuckwittery therein contained on a regular basis:

“The informed consumer is a safer consumer”
The acclaimed monthly publication, What Doctors Don’t Tell You scientifically reviews both conventional and alternative medicine and tells you the truth about both. Below you can search over 5,000 articles by subject from 16 years of WDDTY archives, either alhabetically (sic) by subject or by keyword or phrase.

You may also access key WDDTY articles under “Informed Consumer”, “Special Reports” and “Drug Safety” in the right hand column. Archives include 1991-2006.

It’s alright, you can stop laughing uncontrollably now. We don’t have the issue numbers according to WDDTY’s official Volume/Issue count, but this loonbaggery appears to date from early 2004. Eleven years in science is even longer than a week in politics, but quackery never changes.

Here is the original question:

This woman feels pain in her palm after about a minute of using her computer mouse, and is wondering if she’s experiencing a sensitivity to the electronic impulses, or electro-pollution. Has anyone had a similar experience? Suggestions on how to handle this would be appreciated.

It’s not complicated, is it? We’ve got an obvious case of RSI. How does one cope with RSI?

  • See your doctor, if only to rule out all other possibilities.
  • Take frequent breaks. You should be doing this anyway.
  • Make sure you’re sitting properly. A lot of problems are due to bad position/posture.
  • Try using forearm/wrist supports
  • Explore alternative mice (trackballs, touchscreens…). This includes a mouse that fits your hand properly. Shop around.
  • Explore alternatives to mouse clicking (touchscreens, touchpads…)
  • Try using adjustable keyboards. Sometimes changing the typing angle is all that’s required.
  • Try using other types of alternative keyboards: Dvorak, curved…

AND IF ALL ELSE FAILS  or the doctor starts muttering about surgery:

  • Don’t touch the computer at all

So, what sage advice does WDDTY have for us? Let’s start with the first reply. Sit tight, because there’s some remarkable dumbfuckery  going down:

What Doctors Don’t Tell You © (Issue 179)
Regarding EMF sensitivity, a Q-link necklace can have some benefit…

I looked up Q-link and my immediate reaction was: “obvious frauds”. How else can one respond to such claims as: “(Sympathetic Resonance Technology™) is an array of proprietarily identified frequencies that support and enhance the efficiency and performance of various organic and inorganic systems” and similar Quantumbo-jumbo? Hugely overpriced magic talismans for rich idiots.

Try to minimise things like metal beds, which tend to attract electromagnetic fields. You may need a comprehensive approach of shielding and abatement if there is a lot of sensitivity.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but mice rarely resemble metal beds, even in a darkened room after a night on the tiles. None of this has any bearing on what the poor woman actually has. Quacks aren’t interested in that, of course; they’re interested in trying to sell her as much guff as possible for what she thinks she might have.  This “comprehensive approach” – on top of the ruinous magic amulets, bracelets and… USB keys??? – includes an instruction to:

Check out Roger Tolce’s website.

Roger Tolce is a fully paid-up conspiraloon who claims, for a price, to clear your premises of electronic bugs and wiretaps. He is convinced that voice-to-skull technology is a Thing, which possibly tells you more than you wish to know about his mental health.

However, WDDTY is broad-minded enough not to forget that there are less conventional views out there:

A few readers felt that this problem is more likely a result of mechanical strain, especially if other electronic devices (mobile phones, land phones, hair dryers, etc.) don’t cause a problem.

So what does WDDTY advise for “mechanical strain”, aka RSI?

In that case, take vitamin B complex (this is good for stress too).

Bollocks. Complete and utter bollocks. That’s like telling someone who breaks a bone to eat plenty of oranges. The B vitamins help you digest food properly and contribute to making red blood cells. End.

An osteopath recommends trying another “rodent” – a pointing device that isn’t a mouse, such as a trackball or joystick. The action of gripping the mouse between the thumb and little fingers while moving other fingers on the buttons can often cause a strain, especially if your posture is incorrect, the mouse is too far away, or there is not enough room on your desk.

Stone me: good advice – as far as it goes, which isn’t nearly far enough (see list at top of post for details). Extra minus points for the word “osteopath”.  You’d get the same advice from a systems administrator, and she isn’t a qualified medical professional either. Scrub that, the sysadmin would probably give better advice: it’s a professional injury for her.

There will now follow a short reading from the Second Reply, because it’s frankly insane and unbearably funny.

What Doctors Don’t Tell You © (Issue 181)
A progressive kinesiologist recommends Jane Thurnell-Reads book about Geopathic Stress, which explains how to De-Gauss the body. This is beneficial for people experiencing static shocks, electro-magnetic pollution, headaches and general fatigue, and not only helps with electric type problems such as computers and Playstations, etc. but is also great for people sensitive to plastics. And we live in a world full of plastic and petrochemicals!

Note for the incurably gullible: degaussing is the process of removing/reducing  a magnetic field. Magnetic fields require iron. Our bodies do not contain sufficient iron to be degaussable. Plastics contain no iron at all.

I cannot believe some people think plastic can be magnetic.

Now then, not only should you ensure your mouth is free of drinks or foodstuff while perusing the next part, but we strongly advise you to empty your bladder as a precautionary measure.

To De-Gauss: Use an electric hairdryer, switched on. Run the dryer against your own body, going along the arms, back, front, legs and head, taking care not to get your hair pulled into the motor!

I’m not sure I want details of the unconventional way this person uses a hairdryer, which… Yes, quite right, miss, a hairdryer produces a weak electromagnetic field.

Do this for about five minutes. Wearing special ‘shields’ can also help, but do not suit everyone.

Tinfoil hat

It may sound weird but it is very effective and you feel great afterward. This should be done weekly. Use of the mouse can also aggravate the carpus of the wrist, so wearing your watch strap on that hand and ensuring it is quite tight will also help this problem, as it releases the radius and ulna from spreading with wear and tear and trapping the tendon, which causes pain right up to the neck and into the fingers.

I’m pretty fucking certain that a tight watch-strap would make things worse. You’d be increasing pressure on the median nerve, not relieving it.

You may also want to look into Compensatory Magnetic Oscillation (CMO) by Tecno.

CMO-TecnoI couldn’t find Tecno’s website, but I did find what they sell. It looks like the thing on the right. Apparently it creates a sort of invisible bubble 11 metres across that shields you from Electromagnetic Waves.  All in all, it’s a snip at €99. No evidence required!

More seriously: all in all, this is a litany of stupid and expensive “advice” which could lead to real harm. Surgery for carpal tunnel is neither fun nor cheap, and it carries its own risks, as does any major surgery.  It’s the ultimate resort, when no other treatment is possible,  and it’s a risk you really shouldn’t run when the use of your hand is involved.

This isn’t health advice, in spite of WDDTY’s labelling. It’s health sabotage.

Stop backing ASA faulty judgements, alternative medicine bodies urged

WDDTY is apparently hell-bent on encouraging a mass suicide mission among quacks. The editors consistently urge quacks and charlatans to openly defy the Advertising Standards Authority:

Alternative health practitioners are being urged to lobby their associations to stop recognising the judgements of the Advertising Standards Association (ASA), which has consistently ruled against practitioners’ advertisements and websites.

Why has the ASA consistently ruled against these people? There are two reasons:

  1. Misleading claims are endemic among quacks.
  2. Complaints are usually made by well-informed people, so few complaints fail.

The editors of WDDTY never let any opportunity pass for fallacious reasoning, so they choose to imply that rulings against misleading adverts are a problem, rather than the misleading adverts themselves:

Some practitioners have retired or gone out of business following an ASA ruling, believing it to be a government body, because they have been unable to state that their therapy has helped specific conditions.

No, they have not gone out of business because they believe anything about the ASA. They have in fact three options:

  1. Stop making false claims.
  2. Continue making false claims and take the consequences.
  3. Shut up shop.

So they have gone out of business because they believe they cannot legally continue to advertise fraudulent products and services. And in this, they are absolutely correct.

Lobby group Freedom4Health says the ASA is a limited company with no government sanctions or legal powers.

Lobby group Freedom4Health is this: wrong. The ASA is a voluntary regulator for the advertising industry, but it has relationships with statutory regulators and its codes are underpinned by consumer protection legislation. It has powers to regulate advertising output, and (rather more importantly) it is recognised as the arbiter of truth in advertising. In other words, an advertiser who wilfully ignores ASA adjudications and is then brought up in front of Trading Standards, can be in very deep trouble indeed.

“Unfortunately it’s being given validity by some practitioners’ associations and bodies who are recognising the rulings and are telling members to abide by them—although others support their members in challenging ASA decisions,” said director Martin Weightman.

Consider that statement for a moment. Apparently it is a huge problem that trade associations for quacks require their members to defer to an independent arbiter to ensure that their advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Well, yes: it is a huge problem in as much as the quackery industry evidently needs such a rule. How are you supposed to trust someone who has to be told by their regulator that they must withdraw misleading advertisements?

Of course most forms of quackery are unregulated, the purported “regulators” are merely trade bodies. Any quack who falls out with their regulator can continue to practice right up until the moment that Trading Standards shut them down.

Freedom4Health is now urging therapists to lobby their associations so that the truth about the ASA can be passed on to their practitioner members.

I have some bad news for you. They already tell their members the truth. The ASA is an independent arbiter of truth in advertising, and it is unethical and often illegal to continue to use an advertisement that has been adjudicated as misleading.

“Nobody wants to see dangerous or misleading advertising, but the ASA is ill-equipped to properly assess claims of efficacy of alternative and complementary therapies, and so finds against them each and every time,” said Mr Weightman.

What Mr. Weightman means is that the ASA are, in fact, extremely well-equipped to properly assess claims of efficacy of quackery. That’s why the quacks generally lose. They believe their nostrums work, but they don’t.

That is, after all, why they are alternative.

To avoid distress and even the closure of businesses, Mr Weightman wants the associations to explain to members that ASA rulings have no legal sanction and aren’t backed by the government.

To avoid distress and even the closure of businesses, Mr. Weightman wants the ASA to magically disappear. He’d be better advised to encourage his fellow quackery apologists to stop lying to people. And if their business cannot survive without dishonesty, I venture to suggest that the ASA is not the problem.

Further reading:

WDDTY: Sick or elderly person could be taking 30 drugs almost every day

This headline appeared recently on WDDTY’s appalling webshite:

Sick or elderly person could be taking 30 drugs almost every day

That’s an incredible amount, yet some people could be, although I doubt many young(ish) people fall into that category. Nevertheless, what’s surprising about the WDDTY headline is that it’s partly in the rough vicinity of the truth. It’s quite common for the very elderly (i.e. geriatric) to be on a staggering number of medications per day, and it’s a known problem that not only costs the State money but could also be shortening their lives.  Let me explain briefly and simply. There are several things to take into account, including:

  • The more medicines you take, the greater the risk of an interaction between them and the less chance there is of spotting it because, well, where to start?
  • As you grow older, your body becomes less efficient at eliminating substances. What was the proper dose for a chronic ailment at 50 may be an overdose at 80.
  • Some drugs – statins spring to mind as the most obvious example – are used to prevent health problems that may arise far in the future. There’s no point in giving someone a drug to prevent a heart attack or stroke in 20 years’ time when they’re 90.

The claimed source is “Daily Telegraph, 8 July, 2015”. This may well be, but not only is the Torygraph  quite definitely not a repository of peer-reviewed literature, I can find no article with that headline on its website. The rant below was, in fact, lifted from a story entitled:

Warning of ‘a nation of pill pushers’ as figures show 55 per cent rise in prescriptions

Which isn’t exactly the same thing. Now – bearing in mind that WDDTY promotes homeopathy, vitamin supplements and other forms of snake oil aimed at the healthy, thereby perpetuating the pill-popping culture – read on.

A sick or elderly person could be taking upwards of 30 different prescription drugs, often to treat conditions that could just as easily be managed by lifestyle changes.

The original article does not mention 30 different drugs a day at all, nor does it focus specifically on the elderly, except to state that 60% of prescriptions in 2014 were for patients aged 60+. Hence my clarifications above re the known problem of overprescription for geriatric patients.  Could the reworking and gratuitous augmentation of the text possibly be to twist it to the WDDTY agenda? Rumour has it that ursine excrement has been discovered in forested regions.

In all, UK doctors wrote one billion prescriptions last year for conditions such as depression and heart problems, costing the taxpayer £9 bn.

This is deliberate misrepresentation of sources. According to the Telegraph, the correct formulation should be “1 billion prescriptions… including drugs for conditions such as depression, diabetes and heart problems…”

Prescribing has increased by 55 per cent over the past decade, with the biggest rise in prescriptions for statins, for lowering cholesterol, which have doubled, followed closely by prescriptions for antidepressants, which have risen by 98 per cent.

No, statins more than doubled, while antidepressants rose by 97%, not 98%. You can’t even copy off the back of the cereal packet properly, can you?

The trend has been highlighted in a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which suggests that 20 prescriptions were issued to each person last year.

20 prescriptions on average. Incidentally that’s not 20 drugs a day, nor is it 20 pieces of paper with (possibly) several drugs on them. A prescription is one line on that piece of paper the doctor just gave you. I personally think it’s a bloody stupid definition to use, if the Telegraph got it right.

Example: I’m in my mid-50s. Say I see my doctor once every 3 months, excluding acute illness, and he gives me a quarterly prescription covering an allergy (2 items: tablets & eyedrops, or ointment), a HRT for a dodgy thyroid and … I dunno, let’s say an anxiolytic or something like that. That’s 4 lines, 4 times a year, which counts as 16 prescriptions, according to the official reckoning. If I only go twice a year for my chronic problems (it can happen), there would only be 8 prescriptions, even though the number of drugs consumed daily doesn’t change.

All I need now is to catch a cold which degenerates into bronchitis (they often do), or contract some other acute condition. Or even get an attack of shingles (increasingly likely as you age).  A dental abscess, requiring antibiotics & painkillers. A sports injury…

It doesn’t take much to get to 20, let’s face it.

As many people do not take any prescription medication,

This does not appear in the original article, certainly because it’s irrelevant. Healthy people tend not to visit the doctor and therefore won’t be included in the statistics. We are concerned only with people who do take prescription medicine. Because we’re talking about prescriptions. Practically the only medicine you give to people who aren’t sick is vaccines, you moron. Only quacks try to medicate the healthy. Of course prescription medication is for the sick. There’s no treatment for old age either. Medicine is supposed to alleviate the ills that come with old age.

the actual numbers given to the sick and elderly will be far above that average.

WTF? Do you even Truth? This is another piece of bullshit tacked onto the original report to deliberately distort the reader’s conclusions: PEOPLE WHO GO TO DOCTORS ARE PUMPED FULL OF DRUGS THEY ARE ALL GOING TO DIE BUY OUR ADVERTISERS ILLEGAL BULLSHIT INSTEAD.

Fuckwittery, and vicious fuckwittery at that. Take a statistic, add on 50%, replace “quarterly” by “daily”, and then claim, with no evidence whatsoever, that the reworked “figures” are in fact horribly understated.  Hamlet once denounced someone as having “the lie in th’teeth as far back as the lungs”. This lot have the lie in the teeth as far back as the arsehole.

In 2004, the average was 13 prescriptions per person.

And here, as with the Torygraph article, is the nub of the problem. While nobody disputes that there is overprescription of certain drugs –  especially to the very old (who may no longer need them) and to those whose psychological and/or behavioural problems would respond better to therapy – all other factors are being (deliberately?) ignored.

For example, is the increase in prescription for ED medications purely due to men wanting to show off, or are people now less inhibited about discussing the problem with their partners and doctors? What about all the new drugs that only came onto the market in the last decade, treating ailments that were previously neglected? There is a prescription drug in the process of being authorised in a number of countries for use as a prophylactic against HIV transmission between partners. We could only dream of it back in 2004.

Addendum: Many of these prescription items will also not be drugs at all. Incontinence pads and dressings are also covered, as are some gluten-free food staples for those diagnosed with coeliac disease.  Some prescriptions are for supplements, not drugs: those with osteoporosis or osteopenia will typically be prescribed calcium and Vitamin D. We’re shocked – shocked! – to see WDDTY engaging in such simplistic anti-medicine rhetoric. – Ed.

The UK is fast becoming a nation of pill pushers, says Katherine Murphy, of the Patients’ Association, who believes that prescribing is now “out of control”.

That is not the meaning of the original text, which runs:

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the public’s increasing reliance on pills was becoming “out of control”.

My emphasis. In other words, Murphy, unlike WDDTY, is not blaming the doctors. Funnily enough, WDDTY carefully omit every single reference to the horrified reaction of the medics themselves to the problem. And I quote:

Earlier this year, the medics – who represent all 21 medical royal colleges in the UK – said too many patients were being given treatment and tests which could do more harm than good.

The senior doctors are currently drawing up a list of medical treatments which should no longer be routinely offered, in a bid to halt over-diagnosis and needless treatment.

Prof Bailey said: “Doctors and patients should all recognise that resources aren’t unlimited in the NHS and we must all work together to be good stewards of the resources we do have. “Doctors and their patients should always discuss whether a particular prescription is really necessary and reach the decision together,” she added.

So in fact this overprescribing problem is something the doctors have already told us about. Not that it stops WDDTY smearing them by omission and implication. And we finish with the standard quack assertion that what they consider to be a proper diet will cure everything:

Instead, doctors should be advocating lifestyle changes, such as an improved diet and exercise.

… which we compare and contrast with what was actually reported in the Torygraph:

She said far more needed to be done to encourage people to eat more healthily and take regular exercise.

Can we go back and change the past?

Can we go back and change the past? asks Lynne McTaggart in her latest blog post. And there we have a perfect example of Betteridge’s law of headlines.  The answer is, of course: no.

One of the most basic assumptions about intention is that it operates according to a generally accepted sense of cause and effect: if A causes B, then A must have happened first.

No, that’s just the post hoc fallacy. Oh, wait: intention, as McTaggart defines it, is the post hoc fallacy.

This assumption reflects one of our deepest beliefs, that time is a one-way, forward-moving arrow. What we do today cannot affect what happened yesterday.

It’s more than an assumption, it is a fundamental law of physics. It is inherent in the structure of space-time, tied to the speed of light as the “cosmic speed limit”. There is some speculation as to the possibility of closed time-like curves, but this still would not permit us to influence past events – the “grandfather paradox“.

As an author of a book supposedly on quantum physics, you’d think Lynne would know this – but of course her book is actually quantum flapdoodleW.

There are, however, some cranks who think otherwise. I wonder if that’s who Lynne has been referring to? (Rhetorical).

However, a sizeable body of the scientific evidence about intention violates these basic assumptions about causation.

I see where Lynne went wrong there. There is no scientific evidence of intention. There’s a good deal of scientific evidence refuting it, and some pseudoscientific pseudo-evidence supporting it.

Since Lynne is a source and proponent of pseudoscientific pseudo-evidence in favour of intention, she naturally thinks it is scientific and evidence.

She is this: wrong.

The evidence is clear: just like homeopathy, the apparent effect of wishful thinking intention reduces as methodological rigour increases. It only “works” if you allow the subjectivity and bias of belief to skew the result.

Research has demonstrated clear instances of time-reversed effects, where effect precedes cause.

No, it has not. Retrocausality remains hypothetical.

Indeed, some of the largest effects occur when intention is sent out of strict time sequence.

Your logical fallacy is: begging the question. Lynne may believe that this is so, but the standard of evidence required to establish this as fact would be very high indeed, and since none of it has even been published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal it’s safe to say that we are very much not there yet.

These studies offer up the most challenging idea of all: that thoughts can affect other things no matter when the thought is made. In fact, they may work better when they are not subject to a conventional time sequence of causation.

No they do not offer it up, they simply demonstrate that you are so caught up in belief that you have suspended your critical faculties. If your “tests” of wishful thinking intention show that it works backwards in time as well as forwards, that is clear evidence that your methodology is hopelessly wrong. Only a fool would conclude that this instead shows that they have the ability to violate causation. It is hubris of an extraordinary kind.

Princeton University’s former dean of engineering Robert Jahn and psychologist Brenda Dunne discovered this phenomenon when they investigated time displacement in their random event generator trials. In some 87,000 of these experiments, volunteers were asked to attempt to mentally influence the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ random output of random event generator (REG) machines in a specific direction anywhere from three days to two weeks after the machines had run.
As a whole, the ‘time-displaced’ experiments achieved even greater effects than the standard experiments.

Jahn is notorious. He was the founder of Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab (PEAR) and was (indeed still is) a believer in parapsychology. There are many skeptical reviews that challenge the validity of their claims (e.g. this in Skeptical Inquirer).

The important thing to remember is that science by definition generally cannot prove a negative; however, the effects proposed by PEAR always fit the following criteria:

  1. The effect size is very small. Only a very tiny amount of bias need creep in to produce this effect.
  2. The effect size is greater when subjectivity is involved in judging outcomes.
  3. The apparatus is generally not calibrated by running the trial with and without the purported input, sequentially.
  4. The effects are generally not replicable by independent groups.

This is not a sound basis on which to make any confident claim. There is too much risk of subtle and not-so-subtle bias.

This is well explained by Caroline Watt in this interview for the European Skeptics Conference podcast. A multi-centre study with pre-planned analyses and a pre-planned meta analysis showed no effect.

The very idea that intention could work equally well whether ‘backward’, ‘forward’ or in sequence made Jahn realize that all of our conventional notions of time need to be discarded. The fact that effects were even larger during the time-displaced studies suggested that thoughts have even greater power when their transmission transcends ordinary time and space.

Whereas it should in fact have caused him to go back and question  his assumptions and try more rigorous tests.

Future shock

Dean Radin, chief scientist for the Institute of Noetic Science, also tested the possibility that, under certain conditions, a future event can influence an earlier nervous-system response. He made ingenious use of a strange psychological phenomenon called the ‘Stroop effect’, named after its discoverer, psychologist John Ridley Stroop, originator of a landmark test in cognitive psychology.

Dean Radin does not “test” anything. He sets out to provide evidence to support a hypothesis: the very definition of pseudoscience. Bob Park, Richard Wiseman and Chris French have all analysed his and Jahn’s work and pointed out glaring flaws, on the border of outright fraud in places. Wiseman and Julie Milton have written an excellent book on how to exclude these biases.

The Stroop effect of which McTaggart speaks is the one in which people are required to read out the names of colours; when these names are printed on cards in the wrong colour, the speed and accuracy of reading reduces. This is actually relevant, but not in the way McTaggart thinks: it is a form of cognitive dissonanceW, which helps to explain why believers in some phenomenon find it hard to accept disconfirming results.

It is abundantly clear that the work of Jahn and Radin cannot be replicated by others in properly controlled conditions. They have a variety of excuses for this, all of which amount to special pleadingW.

Swedish psychologist Holger Klintman devised a variation on the Stroop test. Volunteers were asked first to identify the colour of a rectangle as quickly as they could, then asked whether a colour name matched the colour patch they had just been shown. A large variation occurred in the time it took his volunteers to identify the colour of the rectangle. Klintman discovered that the identification of the rectangle colour was faster when it matched the colour name shown subsequently. The time it took for people to identify the colour of the rectangle seemed to depend on the second task of determining whether the word matched the rectangle colour. Klintman called his effect ‘time-reversed interference’.
In other words, the later effect influenced the brain’s reaction to the first stimulus.

Woo alert.

The two papers by Klintman are:

  • Klintman, H. (1983). Is there a paranormal (precognitive) influence in certain types of perceptual sequences? Part I. European Journal of Parapsychology, 5, 19-49.
  • Klintman, H. (1984). Is there a paranormal (precognitive) influence in certain types of perceptual sequences? Part II. European Journal of Parapsychology, 5, 125-140.

Research published in parapsychology journals has to be treated with immense caution, due to the influence of True Believers.

And in fact in 1987 Camfferman tried to replicate the experiment (Time reversed interference: A replication study. European Journal of Parapsychology, 7, 13-31), and failed, following which interest in Klintman’s findings fizzled out.

It’s just one more in a long line of false positives caused by adding two and two and getting 5i.

Radin created a modern version of Klintman’s study. […] In four studies of more than 5000 trials, all four showed a retro-causal effect. Somehow, the time it took to carry out the second task was affecting the time it took to carry out the first one.

I’m pretty sure that this paper was published in Radin’s own journal, and has had no effective peer-review.

The implications are enormous. Our thoughts about something can affect our past reaction times.

They would be, if they were robustly established and independently repeatable. Which they aren’t.

So what on earth is going on?

Self-delusion, for the most part. Systematic, sustained and by now pretty much willful. Radin believes in precognition and is uncritical towards claims that support his belief.

Radin discovered more evidence that our mental influence is operating ‘backwards’ in an ingenious study examining the probable underlying mechanism of intention on the random bits of an REG machine.

No, he set out to produce more “evidence”, but he failed to follow an appropriately rigorous methodology so the result was what is technically known as wrong.

Radin first ran five REG studies involving thousands of trials, then analyzed two of his most successful experiments through a process called a “Markov chain”, which mathematically plots how the REG machine’s output got from A to B.

[…] Radin’s analysis of the data had one inescapable conclusion: this was not a process running forward, in an attempt to hit a particular target, so much as an “information” flow that had traveled back in time.

So, starting from the premise of precognition, he produced evidence of precognition. Voila! Homeopaths are very adept at this too.

There is a long history of PEAR and its fellow-travellers combining large numbers of failures to provide claimed success.

To pretend that his findings are compelling, even unarguable, as McTaggart seems to believe, is to overstate the case massively. The same problems noted above, apply: the effect size is tiny and independent replication is absent.

Seed moments

So if we’re not reaching back in time, but our future is affecting the present as it unfolds, just how much of the past can we change in the sticks-and-stones world of real life?

We can’t. These experiments, even if they did demonstrate limited precognition, would not allow wholesale violation of causation. And actually they are almost certainly bollocks.

And actually when one looks at the supposedly “robust” basis for Radin’s claims one finds:

Radin is aware of the file-drawer effect, in which only positive results tend to get reported and negative ones are left in the filing cabinet. This obviously can greatly bias any analysis of combined results and Radin cannot ignore this as blithely as he ignores other possible, non-paranormal explanations of the data. Even the most fervent parapsychologists recognize this problem. Meta-analysis incorporates a procedure for taking the file-drawer effect into account. Radin says it shows that more than 3,300 unpublished, unsuccessful reports would be needed for each published report in order to “nullify” the statistical significance of psi. In his review of Radin’s book for the journal Nature, statistics professor I.J. Good disputes this calculation, calling it “a gross overestimate.” He estimates that the number of unpublished, unsuccessful reports needed to account for the results by the file drawer effect should be reduced to fifteen or less. How could two meta-analyses result in such a wide discrepancy? Somebody is doing something wrong, and in this case it is clearly Radin. He has not performed the file-drawer analysis correctly. – Meta-analysis and the file-drawer effect, Stenger (emphasis added).

All scientific findings carry the caveat: this might be wrong, but…

Radin, like most parapsychology believers, is insufficiently self-critical, excuses away prosaic explanations, and seeks to support not refute his beliefs. Nothing Radin writes shows any hint that he considers that he might be anything other than correct, and this applies vastly more strongly to McTaggart, who doesn’t have any of the scientific background that would be helpful in understanding the risks of self-delusion in experiments with subjective or debatable outcomes.

For McTaggart, these are religious truths that she wants to be scientific, so she seeks science that supports her beliefs.

This is, of course, exactly how creation “science” works.

Psychologist William Braud has pondered this issue at length. He once observed that those moments in the past most open to change might be ‘seed’ moments when nature has not made up its mind – perhaps the earliest stages of events before they blossomed and grew into something static and unchangeable: the brain of a child, which is far more open to influence and learning than an adult’s; or even a virus, which is far easier to overcome in its infancy. Random events, decisions with equally likely choices, or illness – all probabilistic moments are those most open to change.

Always keep an open mind, just not so open that your brains fall out. Lynne McTaggart has a closed mind. Her mind is not open to the scientific consensus view on homeopathy, vaccines or anything else where she has made up her mind.

That’s presumably why her “intention experiments” are not considered worthwhile enough for publication in any reputable journal.

Although our understanding of the mechanism is still primitive, the experimental evidence of time reversal is fairly robust. This research portrays life as one giant, smeared-out here and now, and much of it – past, present and future – open to our influence at any moment.

No, the evidence is not robust, and our understanding is that the observed effects are consistent with bias. Prosaic, but science tends to be that way.

You generally can’t tell from McTaggart’s writing which studies she is referring to, but there are a large number of studies by Radin that have been systematically demolished. His “Global Consciousness Project” is actually a global nonsense project. Noetic “science” is just new-age claptrap and Dean Radin is a crank.

And even if all that were not true, the effect is so tiny (fractions of a percentage point different over large numbers of repetitions and very short periods) that it would be ignorable for all practical purposes.

But that hints at the most unsettling idea of all. Once constructed, a thought is lit forever.

Pure chopralalia. That sentence has no objective meaning whatsoever.

Making Waves: A WDDTY disinfobox

Making wavesAs part of an article promoting the non-existent chronic Lyme disease, and the quack cures that charlatans sell to those suffering from something else (quite what, they have no idea),  WDDTY includes one of its infoboxes full of disinformation. We call them disinfoboxes.

The Scalar Wave Laser is one
alternative treatment that helped
Wendy, especially with her pain
symptoms. She even uses it on her
dog, Charlie (pictured).

Aw, sweet. And of course animals don’t experience placebo effects, do they? Oh, wait, they do. Continue reading Making Waves: A WDDTY disinfobox

July 2015 in review: Part 4

So far we’ve reviewed the cover stories, pages 1-10, pages 11-21 and pages 22-39.  We’re nearly at the staple, without a hint of any remotely credible advice that doctors don’t give you. Lots of adverts, though.

Page 40  is the start of an article titled “sweet not-so-nothings”. (it runs on pp. 41, 43, 44, 47, and a listicle on page 49 (the intervening pages being advertisements), and  which advances this idea:

Artificial sweeteners may have zero calories, but they cause weight gain by boosting blood sugar and crippling the system that regulates it.

Aside from the missing word “may” (as in they may cause weight gain and it may be by this mechanism), this is all consistent with current science.

The inherent problem with artificial sweeteners is that they are promoted as a magic bullet to achieve weight loss without changing your behaviour. Any long-term reader of these pages will know that miracle cures, never are.

And the essential problem with the WDDTY article is that it uses studies such as Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-term Weight Gain to assert a proven causal link. Continue reading July 2015 in review: Part 4

Woman who died from measles had been vaccinated

WDDTY headline with obligatory scary needle shot.
WDDTY headline with obligatory scary needle shot.

The Holy Trinity of anti-vaccinationists runs thus:

  1. Vaccines are dangerous.
  2. Vaccines don’t work.
  3. Vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t serious anyway.

And when one is rebutted they move to another, frequently in rotation, perennially moving the goalposts.

What WDDTY Don't Tell You about infectious disease.
What WDDTY Don’t Tell You about infectious disease when there is no vaccination.

Still, deaths from preventable disease are the anti-vaccinationist’s worst nightmare. Their narrative can only succeed in an atmosphere where the realities and consequences of preventable disease are a distant memory. We do recommend you watch The Vaccination Chronicles by Australian skeptic and all round good egg Richard Saunders.

Provable deaths in the newspapers are the ultimate heresy to the antivax cult. You need only look at the torrent of vile abuse heaped on the parents of Dana McCaffery by Australian antivax whackaloon Meryl Dorey. Your child died of vaccine preventable disease? Off-message. STFU.

So it is with the recent death of an American woman from measles.

The first death in 12 years from measles was reported last week from the USA, which had doctors emphasising the important of vaccination. However, what doctors didn’t tell you was that the woman who died had been given the MMR vaccine.

What they did tell you, however, was that she was immunocompromised, and thus in the high risk group for exposure to measles, a highly contagious disease. Hilariously, WDDTY try to spin this as an anti-pharma angle:

It’s believed the woman caught measles when she was in hospital, and she died because her immune system had been seriously compromised from too many pharmaceuticals.

Let’s get this straight, Lynne: you have no fucking clue why she was immunocompromised. She was on immunosuppressant drugs, there are a number of reasons for using these including transplants, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, control of severe allergic asthma.

The immune system is a complex beast and when it works against you, as it does in autoimmune disorders, you can suffer dramatic and life threatening symptoms.

All in all it’s just as well that all those products you pimp for “boosting your immune system” do no such thing. If they could, they would be dangerous.

Doctors at the hospital in Washington state, where she died, confirmed she had had the MMR vaccine when she was a child. One, Dr Jeanette Stehr-Green, also said on local TV that the woman had been taking medication that had interfered with her immune system, and made her more vulnerable to the measles virus.

Right, so you assumed that she was actually taking “too many pharmaceuticals” when actually you (and we) have no idea at all of her health history or the reason she was on immunosuppressant therapy. But you assume… What? That the doctors put her on it on a whim? Fatuous.

The hospital has refused to reveal the age of the victim, but have said she was not elderly.

Indeed. Measles kills indiscriminately, including years after the event due to subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. Odd that something as natural as measles turns out to be a real bastard. And don’t pretend you don’t know about SSPE: in October 2007, WDDTY said:

Latent infections also lie at the root of a number of serious chronic diseases that are dependent upon the immunological response, including progressive multifocal leucoencephalopathy, a rapidly progressing neuromuscular disease, and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a rare progressive brain disorder caused by an abnormal immune response to the measles virus. In fact, the latter is thought to be triggered, in some cases, by the MMR vaccine.

You cited this source: Latent Virus Infections. See where it mentions immunisation as a source of SSPE? Me neither. Of course nobody has ever checked this, have they? Oh, wait, yes they have:

For situations where cases of SSPE occur in vaccinated individuals who have no previous history of natural measles infection, the available evidence points to natural measles infection as the cause of SSPE, not vaccine.

WHO, Jan 2006.  And while it might be charitable to attribute your ignorance of the falsity of your claim, it would also be incredibly naive.

Mind you, that’s pretty tame. In September 1994 you said:

Besides causing dangerous mutations like atypical measles, the measles portion of the [measles] vaccine has been associated with numerous side effects, including nerve deafness, encephalitis, epilepsy, febrile convulsions, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (a paralysis) and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a fatal wasting disease rarely associated with measles .

That was characteristically inaccurate, in that these things have “been associated” primarily by anti-vax cranks.

What does the reality-based community say? Two thirds of people with Guillain–Barré syndrome have experienced an infection before the onset of the condition, usually gastroenteritis or a respiratory tract infection. Vaccines can prevent some causes of these. In many cases the exact nature of the infection can be confirmed: approximately 30% of cases are provoked by Campylobacter jejuni bacteria, which cause diarrhea. A further 10% cases are attributable to cytomegalovirus (CMV, HHV-5). Despite this, only very few people with Campylobacter or CMV infections develop Guillain–Barré syndrome (0.25–0.65 per 1000 and 0.6–2.2 per 1000 episodes, respectively).[1] The strain of Campylobacter involved may determine the risk of GBS; different forms of the bacteria have different lipopolysaccharides on their surface, and some may induce illness while others will not.

While rare cases of GBS have been reported following flu vaccination, a link with measles virus is explicitly ruled out in “Pediatric Guillain-Barré syndrome”. Current Opinion in Pediatrics 25 (6): 689–693. doi:10.1097/MOP.0b013e328365ad3f

On we go:

She was receiving hospital treatment for several health problems when she caught measles from another patient. As her symptoms worsened, she was taken to the University of Washington Medical Centre in Seattle, where she died from pneumonia due to measles last spring.
Doctors did not establish the cause of death until the autopsy was carried out, as the woman did not display any of the usual symptoms associated with measles, such as a rash.

Yup. Rare, but not unheard of especially in the immunocompromised. It’s quite likely that there have been other deaths that were never identified as being due to measles, because these patients are by definition very sick anyway.

No other patient developed the disease, and the hospital is confident the outbreak has been contained.

Good, but it should never have had to be contained.

Measles cases showing uptick due to antivaccinaitonists.
Measles cases showing uptick due to anti-vaccinationists.

Measles vaccination rates declined due to anti-vaccination activists and especially the fraudulent work of Andrew Wakefield. As rates dropped below the levels required for herd immunity, measles infection rates rose.

Antivaxers are responsible for the greater prevalence of measles. Antivaxers are responsible for its return from near-eradicated status in the 1990. Antivaxers are responsible for the fact that the virus can circulate among a larger pool of people who are not immune. The unvaccinated are much more likely to contract measles than the vaccinated.

What "What Doctors Don't Tell You" Don't Tell You

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