Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
They claim in their letter that BodyTalk is based on Quantum Physics. They said “Quantum physicists discovered that physical atoms are made up of vortices of energy that are constantly spinning and vibrating.” To their credit one of them had the honesty to say that “I am not a physicist so do not think I am qualified to go into the nitty-gritty of what this is all about.”
Never has a truer word been written.
I’m afraid that their letter shows that they indeed know precisely nothing about physics and, if it were possible, even less about quantum physics.
For the record physicists discovered nothing of the sort. Quantum physics is simply a model of reality at a truly miniscule level. It describes the way in which particles and energy at the smallest possible levels behave and it had a remarkable impact on our understanding of the way the universe works. Without wishing to sound even more pompous and patronising than usual, unlike Ms Gilbert and Ms Cadfan-Lewis, I do know a little bit about the subject. However, like them I can’t claim to be a specialist but I do know what the theory is and, more importantly, what the theory is not.
One thing that is true about quantum physics is that because it’s quite difficult to understand it’s very often used by woo-woo, New Age, alternative, mantra-chanting, crystal-waving, alien-abducted, energy-medicine groupies to support the latest health fad they’ve heard about, or invented to scam the naïve. Saying that your new energy treatment is based on quantum physics may persuade the gullible but that doesn’t make it real. In fact it’s usually a warning of impending nonsense.
They make some claims about the miraculous effects of their silly technique. Apparently an occupational therapist in Hamburg could revive coma patients using this magic. In South Africa another was apparently able to improve the physical appearance of a child with Down’s Syndrome. However, and very strangely, they neglected to tell us when or in which hospitals these miracles occurred. They neglected to say which real medical journals published these astonishing findings. They neglected to tell us when the medical world started exploiting these findings to help humanity and when when the wicked pharmaceutical industry started making lots of money from it.
I wonder whether this is because these miracles simply didn’t happen. I suspect that this is just more fakery designed to give credibility to an incredible idea. As Carl Sagan famously said, “incredible claims require incredible evidence”. The BodyTalkers offer us the claims but don’t deliver the evidence.
So is BodyTalk a pseudoscience? Well, it’s not based on those old-fashioned but useful scientific ideas of plausibility, double-blinded experiments, peer review and not being silly. But it’s dressed up using clever-sounding scientific terms. Pseudo means “false”. It IS a pseudoscience.
One last thing. Isn’t it curious how they didn’t deny my report that BodyTalk involves pressing on a so-called “energy point”, lightly tapping the top of the head to “stimulate the brain center” and then “tapping the patient’s sternum to announce the corrected energy flows to the rest of the body”. Maybe they didn’t want people to read that bit again. Perhaps because it’s embarrassing and deeply silly? Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it again.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Monday, September 08, 2008
For every malfunctioning energy circuit found, the practitioner or client contacts the corresponding “points” with his or her hands. The practitioner then lightly taps the client on the top of the head, which stimulates the brain center and causes the brain to re-evaluate the state of the body’s health.”
“The practitioner then taps the client on the sternum to “announce” the corrected energy flows to the rest of the body.
Friday, August 15, 2008
My problem is that the so-called Dr Hilliard appears to break Harriman’s 1st Law of Evaluating Preachers. This says that you shouldn’t trust a preacher who drives a better car than you do or, in this case, a preacher who wears a more expensive watch than you do.
He also breaks Harriman’s Law of Doctorates. Anyone who claims to have a doctorate when in fact they bought it from a diploma mill is a fraud. Both Hilliard and his charming wife Bridgett have honorary doctorates from Friends International University. Not even the normal dodgy degrees purchased over the internet after submitting an essay, these guys got honorary degrees, presumably after dropping some cash?
I’ll put aside my personal beliefs for a while and will willingly acknowledge that certain religious groups do provide a real sense of community to their members, they provide moral guidance and a vision of hope. Frankly I don’t believe a word of it but each to his own I suppose.
My objection is to the flagrant abuse that televangelists get up to. Hilliard and his fellow ministers like Joyce Meyer (who also has a doctorate from an unaccredited university) and Benny Hinn, who is simply stealing money from his victims, are exploiting the gullible, the naïve and the sick. Benny Hinn is my “favourite” in that I find him particularly repulsive. A series of undercover operations have exposed the way in which his teams filter out the really sick from his televised miracle healing. His financial operations are notoriously secretive although he has recently been under very close review by the US Senate Finance Committee who wonder where all the money goes that he gets from his unsuspecting and hugely credulous viewers. His public appeal for donations towards his new $36 million personal private jet just seems to summarise his approach.
In my very brief research on Fake-Dr Hilliard I found an online invitation to his wife’s 50th birthday party in 2006. OK, you might think, how sweet of him to invite people to celebrate his beautiful wife’s birthday! But not so. Firstly you had to pay him $100 to attend and then you’re asked to bring her a present. There was even a list of gift ideas that included “Monetary gifts. Designer handbags: Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton. Gift Certificates: Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Escada”.
I confess I don’t know what half of those things are but the first one is just so blatant that it deserves repeating. “Monetary gifts”.
Roughly translated this means. “Pay me $100 to attend my wife’s no doubt spectacularly vulgar birthday party and bring along some cash to give her.”
As George Carlin once said about the typical evangelist’s message from God: “He loves you, and He needs money!”
This seems to be the basic message we get from the televangelists. The solution to the problems we face, whether it’s perceived family breakdown, HIV/AIDS, crime or old-fashioned social isolation, is to listen, switch off your critical faculties and to hand over the cash.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The loathsome Matthias Rath and his colleague David Rasnick have been banned from conducting their ridicuous trials of vitamins on HIV positive patients and from advertising their worthless products. Instead perhaps the people of South Africa can gain access to the ARVs they so desperately need and deserve?
Friday, June 13, 2008
Give it your best, see if you can have some noticeable effect on me. Don’t try to bring about something generic like bad luck or a difficult week or killing me, make it something obvious and unlikely to happen by chance. Make me go bald. Turn my skin blue. Make all the flowers in my garden die overnight. If you have just a fraction of the powers you claim then any of those will be easy.Bad news. I still have my hair, nothing's blue and my flowers are thriving!
Friday, June 06, 2008
Readers of local newspapers will perhaps have come across a strange advertisement from the so-called Lord Jaffa. His ad offers a range of paranormal services that can help us with our problems and he claims “no problem too big”. He offers “genuine talisman” (shouldn’t that be talismen?), occult books and can tell our fortunes. He can also teach us yoga, astral projection and “mystic science”. Wow, impressive, don’t you think?
For now I’m going to ignore the fact that fortune telling is ILLEGAL in
Usually I think of all these psychic frauds as being rather old-fashioned and out of date but this guy has ventured into the information age and has his own web site and fascinating it is too. Take a look for yourself at www.lordjaffa.com. Go on, take a look and see if you can keep a straight face.
The web site explains how well-travelled and educated this crook is and his various memberships of august professional bodies such as the Associate Union of Mystics, the Universal School of Mysticism and the Illuminated Path Society. That last one isn’t very impressive, I’ve got one of those in my garden.
My reaction was a mixture of things. First was genuine amusement. How have I lived without his “Witchcraft Expeller Bath Mixture”, “Pow-Wow, Long Lust Good Luck Medicine” or his “Peaceful Home Oil” which offers protection from “Robbers and buglers”?
Then I got angry. Really very angry. Fuming, smoke coming out of the ears, swearing angry. This charlatan, this fraud, this crook offers a whole page of remedies to real medical problems. For R350 you get a cure for measles. For R500 you get his remedy for hypertension. For another R500 you get a malaria cure. For R550 you get “Kali Seeds” which apparently are “for treatment of cancer and prevention of cancer spread”. Near the end of the list is the scandalous, outrageous, criminal offer of a R750 treatment for AIDS.
I’ve said this before but if just one person stops taking their real medicine because of this man’s ridiculous products then he will have blood on his hands.
So I invite him to do two things. Firstly, Mr Jaffa, if you have genuinely scientific evidence that your products work, you think it is legal to market them in
Secondly, if you really have the powers you claim then curse me. Give it your best, see if you can have some noticeable effect on me. Don’t try to bring about something generic like bad luck or a difficult week or killing me, make it something obvious and unlikely to happen by chance. Make me go bald. Turn my skin blue. Make all the flowers in my garden die overnight. If you have just a fraction of the powers you claim then any of those will be easy.
Of course if you can’t, we can just assume that you are what we all think you are.
Friday, May 30, 2008
There’s a big difference between an idea that is simple and one that can be expressed simply. Although scientists often describe a theory as “elegant” that doesn’t always mean that it’s easy to understand. Famously Richard Feynman said of quantum theory that if you think you understand it, then you clearly don’t understand it.
The trouble is that people often fall victim to theories and ideas that are just simple and no more. Theories that sound truly simple but are simply untrue.
The principle behind homeopathy for instance can be expressed very simply. A disorder can be treated with a tiny dose of the thing that caused it. Acupuncture can be “explained” by saying that it promotes the free flow of “chi” around your body to enhance your energy balance. Reflexology says that there are pathways between the soles of your feet and every organ of your body. Fiddling with your feet can therefore heal those other parts that are ill. All of these ideas can be expressed very simply, in no more than a sentence or two.
But simplicity is not the same as truth.
Every genuinely scientific study of homeopathy, acupuncture and reflexology shows that they are nonsense. They do nothing real. Any improvement can be traced back to the placebo effect.
If you want a real understanding of how health can be promoted and illness overcome then you have to do more than just come out with ignorant platitudes, you need to do some thinking. Real thinking. With your brain.
Real thought, real science and real knowledge are the sworn enemies of superstition, magical thinking and all the New Age lunacy that we see around us. They are also the enemies of prejudice in whatever form it shows it’s ugly face.
In a letter I wrote recently to the Guardian I mentioned that I resented being accused of being like a member of the Ku Klux Klan, the nasty, bigoted and profoundly racist hate group in the USA. This accusation was made because I had stood up for science, medicine and rationalism. During this letter I mentioned in passing that I was the “father of a Jewish son”.
Perhaps someone can explain to me the logic behind the comment in Bugalo Chilume’s tirade the following week when, referring to me, he used the phrase “In Israel, Harriman’s homeland”?
For the record, I’m not Israeli and neither am I Jewish. Similarly I’ve been to
The real danger we face in the world today is the epidemic of nonsense. The nonsense of AIDS denial is killing people. The nonsense of global warming denial is threatening to kill our grandchildren. The nonsense of xenophobic hatred as a cover for gross criminality is killing people in
I can be the father of a Jew without being Israeli. I can be white and, on a good day, a fairly good person. Chilume can be logical but he seems to choose not to be so.
Monday, April 14, 2008
In a letter to the Guardian on 11th April we saw the return of Bugalo Chilume. As Voltaire said about God, if Chilume didn't exist he'd have to be invented. He really is a walking advertisement for reason, rationalism and thought. OK, admittedly by NOT demonstrating any of those things but I think reading his writings is an educational experience nevertheless.
We are all used to his ravings about Mugabe and how he's such a nice guy, much maligned by the evil imperialist West and probably very kind to small animals but that's what we expect from him. Mugabe of course can do no wrong and the fact that his economy and in particular his currency are now a laughing stock is someone else’s fault. The fact that he brazenly tries to steal an election is no doubt another conspiracy by the CIA, Prince Philip and aliens to smear him.
However what provoked my greatest reaction to his letter was an implied reference to me.
The last sentence of his letter referred to the various letters and articles that Gilbert Sesinyi has written in the Guardian over the last few months. Most of these were in response to, or prompted, articles and letters by and from me. I wasn’t the only one who opposed Gilbert's ideas but I did play a significant role.
His last words describe Gilbert's opponent letter writers, and therefore presumably me, as "members of the local Ku Klux Klan sleeper cell".
Just in case anyone hasn't heard of the KKK they are a dreadful, despicable and disgusting racist group in the
However, despite a moment of anger I ended up rather amused by his comments. I couldn’t help but think that if that is the best he can do I must have overestimated his reasoning skills, although that IS quite a challenge I admit.
All I did was to express my belief that reason is better than superstition, that science is better than magic and that enlightenment is preferable to ignorance. If all he can do in response is launch an ad hominem attack against me and other rationalists then I find that rather disappointing. Where’s the argument, where’s the evidence that I’m wrong, where’s the critical reasoning? Somewhat absent it seems.
All we saw from him was the grossly defamatory suggestion that because I and others don’t share his views we must be a bunch of vicious racists. Come on Chilume, you can do better than that. Can’t you?
Thursday, February 28, 2008
I was appalled to see the article entitled "People living with HIV turn to homeopathy" in Mmegi on Thursday 28th February. Appalled because I don't think we should allow charlatans to sell their ludicrous products and, in so doing, exploit the desperate, the sick and the naïve.
Let's be clear. Homeopathy is based on nonsense. The article states that it is based on the idea of treating patients with a minute dose of the substance that causes the symptoms the patient is experiencing, but this is rubbish. What you actually get from a homeopath is water. Homeopathic "remedies" are so diluted that not a single atom of any original substance remains. If you push a homeopath on this subject you’ll eventually get them to confess that they believe the water somehow "remembers" a substance that it once contained. This is utter gibberish.
Every controlled test of homeopathic remedies has failed to show any real effect. The homeo-pathetic movement has consistently failed to help anyone other than themselves. Help themselves to fat bank balances that is. What the charlatans in Maun are really doing is breaking the law. Section 15 (1) (c) of the Consumer Protection Regulations forbids people from promising "outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis". If they take a single thebe for their water treatment they are breaking the law.
The most ridiculous aspects of what they say are almost unbelievable. The homeopath covered in the article confesses that she prescribed a "grief remedy" as well as something for liver toxicity. This is just scandalous.
So what about the wonderful effects the victims are supposedly seeing in Maun? They are nothing more than the placebo effect. Doctors around the world know that giving patients a totally ineffective medicine will make them a feel a little bit better for a short while. But that's more to do with getting a bit of attention and sympathy than any real effect.
What homeopaths pretend to offer people with HIV is hope. Hope is a great thing but only when it is based on a genuine hope, a real hope of improvement. What in fact homeopaths offer is false hope, based on a mixture of ignorance and lies. I have contempt for people who exploit the desperate. Utter contempt. I genuinely hope that nobody falls for this nonsense. If just one person does and stops taking their ARVs, the drugs that DO work, then the homeopaths who have come here thinking they can fool us will have blood on their hands.
Saying something out loud doesn't make it true. Writing something in a newspaper doesn't make it true. Even just believing something doesn't mean what you believe is true. In the past people were taught, and genuinely believed, that the world was flat. They believed that the stars were gods, that the Sun rotated around the Earth and that illness was caused by evil spirits. But we moved on. We embraced knowledge rather than superstition and we put behind us beliefs that had no foundation.
Or did we?
Last week the astonishing South African Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, stated that traditional healers, whose work is soon to be integrated into the conventional health system would not have to prove that their remedies actually worked. Specifically she said that traditional medicine should not be "bogged down in clinical trials". According to the BBC she said that "We cannot use Western models of protocols for research and development".
Yet again she has missed the point. There is no such thing as a "Western protocol for research". There is no such thing as “Western research”. In fact there is no such thing as "Western medicine" any more than there is "Western sunshine". Medicine is medicine and the only real distinctions we should make are between medicines that work and those that do not, between ideas that are useful and those that are not, between things that actually help humanity and those that do not.
The scientific method, the approach that genuine medicine really uses, is based on one key thing. It's based on predictions that can be falsified. Not things that can be proved but things that can be falsified and that's what the clinical trials that Manto complains about are really all about. They are about really testing a theory that something works and testing it rigorously. What she presumably fears, along with homeopaths, reflexologists and herbal medicine sellers is the dreaded "double-blind, controlled trial". You get two groups, one gets the medicine you are testing and the other gets something that looks and feels like the medicine but is really often no more than a sugar pill or a glass of water. The key thing is that neither the people taking the medicine nor the doctors or nurses who actually give it to them know which is which until the end of the trial. Only then are the details taken out of a sealed envelope and the results properly analysed. That way can you remove the effect of people’s expectations. That way you can rule out the placebo effect, which is what happens when people believe they are getting a medicine when in fact they are not but they get slightly better anyway, just because they believe something is happening. The placebo effect is a powerful effect and it’s only by “blinding” both the patients and the doctors in a trial that you can rule out it’s effect.
In that sort of trial we could see whether so-called traditional medicines work. Hopefully some of them would. Maybe we really would find something marvelous that can really help humanity. Maybe science and tradition could come together and we could see through the medieval distortions and ignorance surrounding usTrue science is a genuinely wonderful thing. Like justice it is blind. Blind to untruth, blind to expectations and blind to prejudice. Like all truth it is blind to prejudice, blind to ignorance and blind to lies.
Friday, February 01, 2008
It really is getting worse. In the past I’ve been irritated by the nonsense from various organisations trying to sell their useless rubbish. To begin with it was the Scientologists selling their ludicrous “we can fix everything” courses while hiding their deranged belief that our minds are inhabited by the souls of multi-million year old aliens. Then it was the alternative health movements who advocate fiddling with your feet, your bottom or your gullibility, homeopaths who think water has a memory of an ingredient that is no longer there, pseudo-oriental doctors who think sticking needles into part of you will rebalance your chi and then the silliest product in the history of unscientific rubbish: the detox foot pads.
This is all, of course, utterly unscientific, utterly without evidence and utterly useless. It’s all based on lies, naiveté or ignorance.
However despite this being completely silly I have always been able to see the funny side. Until recently every bit of pseudoscientific hogwash that I’ve come across has at least been amusing.
Until last weekend.
There I was strolling with my family around Riverwalk Shopping Centre when we passed by a pharmacy. An advertisement in the window offered “Rise-up and walk – the broad spectrum herbal medicine”. OK, I thought, here we go again, some herbal concoction made from leaves that hints, in vague terms, that it can help your immune system or can boost your health. Not so. This one was different. I won’t describe their claims, I’ll quote them directly:
“Effective Solution to Athritis, Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Cancer, Typhoid, HIV/Aids, Gynaecological Disorders, Viral, Fungal & Bacterial Diseases among others”.
Where to begin?
Well, perhaps by nominating the producers of this remarkable medicine for a Nobel Prize for Medicine. If this rubbish can, in fact, cure everything from typhoid to HIV/AIDS then the producers deserve a prize. At one stroke they have cured the world of AIDS, bacterial diseases like TB and typhoid and removed the threat posed by cancer.
Alternatively we can have the peddlers of this criminal rubbish reported to the Consumer Protection Unit for breaking the law. Our very own Consumer Protection Regulations state that suppliers have breached the terms of the Regulations if they quote “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated”. They are also in trouble if they promise “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”.
Let’s be clear about a few things. There are no products that can cure cancer that can also cure typhoid, HIV/AIDS and diabetes. Anyone who tells you differently is either a fraud or a fool.
I genuinely wish there was such a cure, I really do. If it existed my wife wouldn’t have lost her sister, my father wouldn’t have lost three years of his teenage life to TB and millions of other people would be alive today.
But it’s simply not true. It’s a deliberate lie. It’s an attempt to cash in on our desperation and that’s what makes it so repellant. Sooner or later someone is going to spend money on this worthless rubbish and will stop taking their real medicine. Then they’ll die.
I beg you all not to buy products from suppliers who sell false hopes to the desperate. We really must all stand up against this sort of deception. Lives are at stake.