"Tivo-ifies the web" Paul Kedrosky

Confidential File: Medical Quacks

A half century old exposé on medical quackery from the television show Confidential File hosted by Paul Coates.

I’m putting this up to illustrate the point I’ve been banging on about in the comments thread under the clip of present day quack, Gary Null: that harmless things like homeopathy can kill people because they prevent them seeking proven treatment.

The interesting thing about this film from the 50s is that it was an era where science was perceived quite differently from now. Science was held in high esteem in the US, but for cultural rather than rational reasons. This was the post war era of scientific spectacle that stretched from the Atom Bomb to the Apollo Program.

The quack medicine in this clip is more stylistically modern than today’s, being based on science itself and machinery and terminology from the atomic age. Today’s quackery is more often based on a reaction against the clinical aspects of science and is more likely to use rustic, ‘natural’ terminology. However, with this fashion, comes a rejection of reason itself, everything becomes relative and expressions like ‘proven treatment’ are taken to be a matter of opinion rather than evidence. This often makes today’s pseudo medical practitioners very difficult to pin down.

Today reason is unfashionable. But it shouldn’t be a matter of fashion, either way. We have regressed, by mistake.

2 comments FEBL, pseudo science

Gary Null’s Anger Management

Today is FEBL day, and our last example is this from Gary Null. Null communicates all manner of nonsense about health and has a huge axe to grind against doctors. His ideas are widely accused of being very dangerous.

Null speaks in a a very soft, unnaturally calm voice, which scares me, and runs a class on anger management which we show at the top.

In the clip below, we see him becoming very angry and losing his shit altogether. The anger is directed against vaccination, something that individuals undertake for the welfare of the community, an act which has saved the lives of millions.

Null has a problem with the astronomical amount of evidence about the benefit vaccinations which seems oddly personal, and his rage seems to point to a slight flaw in his anger management teaching. Like many of the people in the FEBL category, however, he doesn’t seem to have a sense of irony or humor.

This for me sums up Null as an extremely unstable charlatan. He goes into the FEBL hall of shame.

32 comments FEBL, pseudo science

Laughter Yoga

From the laughing instructor in the video “the laughter does not need to be sincere, it can be faked or simulated”.
In other words, laughter yoga is like a comedy for people with no sense of humor. Anne Coulter fans will be right at home.

[Update - someone kindly dug up an example of this preposterous crap in action, I've added the clip below the original]

2 comments FEBL, religion

Ben Goldacre Interview

I’ve just finished Reading Ben Goldacre’s book, ‘Bad Science’, that lambasts various forms of quackery and pseudo science. Here is a New Scientist interview with him. I have also embedded a clip of Gillian McKeith a well know TV presenter in the UK, who encourages people to eat healthily, but does so in a way that is wrong and deceptive. A whole chapter of Bad Science is devoted to her.

For example, McKeith calls herself (or used to call, before the Advertising Standards Authority had a draft adjudication against her) a doctor and refers to her patients. She is neither a medical doctor, nor does she have a PhD from an accredited university. She does have an accreditation from a Nutrition institute that Goldacre managed to obtain membership for his dead cat for $100. The award hangs in his toilet.

Gillian McKeith is our latest recipient of the Smashing Telly FEBL (Fucking Entertaining Big Lie) award, which consists of being tagged FEBL

3 comments FEBL, pseudo science, science

Milton Friedman – the Bumbling Old Man That Killed the American Dream

The events of the last 6 months are more significant than 911 and will no doubt result in more suffering. They are partially a result of the ideas of the man whose choir performs the surreal song called ‘The Corporation’, in the first video. A more apt title might be American Requiem. Two other videos are more in depth pieces by Milton Friedman: on limited government and appearing on Icelandic State Television in 1984 (oh the irony).

The United States has recently had to nationalize the majority of mortgage lending and is in the process of nationalizing large sections of the banking industry which is now rated below Namibia. US treasuries are less credit worthy than the McDonalds hamburger chain’s, the stock market has had a worse week than during the crash that brought on the Great Depression, banks have completely stopped lending to other banks and ships are sitting in docks unable to sail without letters of credit. This cancer has spread, and with banks in many other countries being nationalized to avoid collapse, the IMF said today that we risk systemic global financial meltdown. And this is the sober world of finance.

The reason why this happened is not because of subprime mortgages, Collateralized Debt Obligations or Credit Default Swaps any more than the USSR fell apart because of Boris Spassky’s inferior chess strategy or a cunning plan by Ronald Reagan. Russia fell apart because of the increasingly powerful economic engine of the West and adherence to a flawed, extremist ideology.

The emergence of China’s economic leviathan is the root cause destabilizing effect that turns leveraged debt in the form of CDOs and CDSs into nation busters, but second component, the extremist ideology came from an unlikely source, a nice old man with patrician charm.

The nice old man was Milton Friedman, part of the Chicago School of economists who dreamed up monetarism, an extreme form of laisser-faire capitalist economics, not far removed from Social Darwinism. Economics is arguably not a science and I suspect that monetarism, when treated scientifically, reveals a scientific misunderstanding in its core premise, by thinking of the economy as a closed system rather than open one. I’ve outlined this hunch on my blog and I’d love if someone better qualified than me could someday prove it, however a formal proof of its fallacy is not required to identify its problems when adopted as ideology. Monetarism’s problems started when it morphed into a self-contradictory political ideology called Libertarianism which will be defined as the period from Reagan until Monday afternoon.

Political ideology is like diet, moderation and balance are good. You can’t have unregulated capitalism or people will make money out things like slave trading. Similarly you can’t have totalitarian socialism or you end up with everything run like the DMV, with unmotivated people doing things that people don’t want, slowly, and in drab environments.

On an ideological level, there is nothing consistently libertarian about flag waving Reaganite Republicans, or there wouldn’t be an American army or flag. There is also nothing intrinsically socialist about French left-bank intellectuals or there wouldn’t be any cafes or any music, after all, there is nothing more entrepreneurial than starting a band or opening a cafe. Both extremes are self contradictory, and the truth is somewhere in the middle, to paraphrase the architecture critic, Rayner Banham: politics is about creating a well tempered society.

Libertarianism is like Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, a form of political ideology where there is no polis, no society, to be political about. As with anything with a logical flaw, its adoption has ended up revealing that flaw. In this case, a Libertarian approach to capitalism, denying the existence of government, and therefore regulation, has ended up with the government owing much of the economy. This is a far, far worse outcome than if there had been well regulated capitalism in the first place.

15 comments business, FEBL

Zeitgeist and the Threat of Dangerous, Pandemic Internet Memes.

The comments thread under my rant against the execrable Zeitgeist has taken on a life of its own. Most people are clearly cranks, but a few are curious as to why I think such a seemly amateur and relatively unimportant film is worth talking about at all.

Rather than discussing the details of the film, which for me is like a chemist arguing with a priest as to whether you can turn water into wine by saying a prayer, I am more interested in the general pathology of conspiracy theories on the Internet (Perhaps this would be a good topic for some second-rate liberal arts degree).

The ability to travel to new continents created pandemic disease that wiped out many aboriginal Americans. The web has created a potential for diseases of the mind to spread more rapidly across continents than ever before. It is reasonable to take seriously the threat of idea pandemics caused by false ideas, spread via any new and powerful medium. The Rwandan genocide was triggered by the more traditional and less virulent medium of radio, as Hutus spread rumors that they would be attacked by Tutsi. I suspect that it is theoretically possible that an idea could spread via the Internet and translate into large scale violence, and that we should be on the look out for Internet memes that could mutate into malignant forms, just in case.

Current viral ideas on the Internet are largely benign, if bland or tasteless, from cuddly animals (LOLcats) to people drinking each other’s shit (2 girls one cup). Looking at the statistics from YouTube, conspiracy theory clips are extremely popular and increasingly so. Many of the ideas in these are only a few plot changes away from resembling those that have triggered violence, historically. Zeitgeist is a prime example.

Continue reading:

17 comments FEBL, religion

Germaine Greer loses it.

Carl Dowse (where I lifted this from) says it better than I ever could:

“a film dating back to 1968 starring the feminist writer Germaine Greer in a rather embarassing parody of herself prior to the publication of her international best-seller, The Female Eunuch”

Comments Off FEBL

Primal Therapy (FEBL media)

Watch the first clip for as long as you can stand it – I lasted 3 minutes, then watch the one below it. Even better, hit play on them both at the same time.

Like much cultish nonsense, primal therapy makes a case that sounds consistent (mad, but consistent), and then assumes that this equals the truth. What I like most about this, is that the woman above (who has all the left-bank, professorial moves down: using glasses as pointer; snapping her fingers for answers; nodding sagely; genuine French accent) is actually talking about the stuff below.

Remember folks, established cults do this stuff even more strangely.

4 comments FEBL, pseudo science

One Inch Punch Documentary – Buhooolshit.

One Inch Punch Documentary

One inch Punch is a very popular movie on YouTube with roughly the same viewership as an episode of CBS’ 60 Minutes. Its a full movie that is short enough for people with ADD and gives hope to those who have been bullied by colossal, barbeque munching, Nascar fanatics for having the withered limbs and pallid skin of a computer addict. It suggests that no matter how physically challenged you are, if you join a pseudo religion that looks like it has been created by Dungeons & Dragons characters, for Dungeons & Dragons fans – and work hard, you will be able to kick anyone’s ass.

I have chosen ‘One Inch Punch’ as representative of all martial arts movies which are supposed to be taken seriously and which seem to be another example of FEBL (Fucking Entertaining Big Lie) media. Its a succinct 7 minute piece that highlights perfectly what I have against spiritual fighting and in particular the bollocks that is called Kung Fu.

Yes, these guys are extremely fit, just as pro wrestlers look like Popeye, but that does not make Kung Fu any more real. What it does mean is that the One Inch Punch with a two foot follow through trick, can be performed by a suitably adept stuntman to make it look convincing. Add some commentary using hackneyed metaphors about ‘channeling energy’, by people who look like they can’t take a joke, to the de facto credibility of a tradition started by ancient monks and you have the makings of a proper little religion.

When it comes to religion I take the Hitchens amendment – i.e. what can be claimed without argument can be dismissed without argument. The reason martial arts can be dismissed is that they exhibit all the traits of a religion. They are a crypto-religious cultural artifact, the Eastern equivalent of fair maidens and broad-swords and traditional Western medicine such as blood sucking leeches, only interesting as fantasy or high camp slapstick.

9 comments FEBL, religion

Vaccination – The Hidden Truth

This terrible movie is another great example of FEBL (Fucking entertaining Big Lie) media. For some reason, in recent years a bio-luddite movement has formed against one of the greatest, proven, scientific discoveries in medicine and biggest sources of the relief of global suffering, the process of vaccination. A growing cult has chosen to identify vaccination as some kind of grandiose conspiracy and in doing so, they are engendering paranoia and endangering lives.

The format of this paranoia is very similar to both the Scientologists war on psychiatry or Evangelicals war on Darwinism. Rather like the fact that there are a small minority of biologists who believe in Intelligent Design, this documentary shows the views of some of a small minority of physicians who have problems with vaccination. There are risks with vaccination as there are with almost any medical procedure, and people who do not believe in it, but that does not mean that vaccination does not work, or that the benefits so vastly outweigh the risks that they are overwhelmingly worth it.

In the United States, the place of Tom Cruise for a war on physicians rather than psychiatrists, is taken by the quack radio host, Gary Null (who is not in this Australian documentary but is a popular anti-vaccination extremist). Null’s method is to setup vaccination as some kind of faceless government conspiracy compared with touchy feely alternative medicine, an argument which he delivers with a pleasant, soft, reassuring voice. This is an easy way to persuade people, because it is not comparing like with like.

Rather like the way that natural child birth surrounded by candles is a preferable environment to a sterile linoleum floored hospital room, but is a more dangerous one, vaccination only works if everyone does it, so vaccination tends to be delivered through the somewhat anti-septic environment of government organized vaccination programs. It is because government programs tend to be more faceless and sterile than private ones that they raise the suspicions of those who are susceptible to paranoia and equate truth with personal desirability.

The solution to damping this paranoia was spectacularly shown when we visited our pediatrician, Michel Cohen, as group of prospective parents, before our son was born. At the end of a question and answer session, one man said that he was wary of governments and therefore wary of vaccination. Dr Cohen’s answer was that although it should be the man’s choice what to ultimately do, vaccination was not so much about the individual as about the community.

By replacing society and government with ‘community’, telling the guy he had a choice and implying that lack of vaccination put the individual before the community, i.e. was selfish, Dr Cohen had pulled a Gary Null. He had expressed something in comforting terms, but this time it happened to be the truth. Brilliant, quite brilliant.

Vaccination Information Service/Taycare Pty Ltd
45 min 20 sec Jan 20, 2008


14 comments FEBL, religion, science