News headlines from Europe about skeptical activism, mythbusting, science related policy decisions, consumer protection, frauds, health scams, alternative medicine, bad scientific practices, pseudoscience etc.

Antivaxx fake news: ‘dead’ child is alive

The “Vaxxed” conspiracist film logo was used to spread the fake news.

Warning: anti-vaccination groups all over the world are trying to push a fake news story (using #Icantforget) about a kid that supposedly died from SIDS (also known as cot death). However, the kid in the photo is alive and well, and vaccinated. The antivaxxers didn’t even have permission to use the photo; it was stolen from a photoshoot series of the son of Australian photographer Brayden Howdie.

Read the full story in Le Monde (French).

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UK water companies use dowsing rods

‘Almost all of the UK’s water companies have admitted their engineers use dowsing rods to detect leaks or find pipes, despite there being no scientific evidence for their efficacy. Ten of 12 companies confessed their occasional use of divining rods – a form of magic that dates back hundreds of years which, in reality, relies on the same unconscious muscle reflexes as ouija boards.’

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Gwyneth Paltrow’ GOOP brand wins pseudoscience award

The ‘wellness’ brand GOOP owned by Gwyneth Paltrow has been awarded the first ever ‘Rusty Razor’ award by UK’s Skeptic Magazine for being the ‘best’ promoter of the worst pseudoscientific nonsense. The award came as part of the magazine’s annual ‘Ockham Awards’. Goop was invited to collect its award, which was being handed out at the recent QED Conference in Manchester, but sadly no one from the company responded. Skeptic Magazine Editor Deborah Hyde said: ‘We were surprised at quite how many public vote nominations GOOP received for the “Rusty Razor” award for pseudoscience – it’s certainly a popular win. When there are so many issues affecting public health today – the rise of measles and whooping cough due to reduced rates of vaccination, for instance – it’s a shame that many people prefer to contemplate their yonis than engage with evidence-based reality’.

 

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Measles ‘eliminated’ in the UK

‘The elimination of measles has been achieved in the UK for the first time, the World Health Organization says. The global health body classes a country as having eliminated the disease when it has stopped it freely circulating for at least three years. While there are still small clusters, many of these are brought in from abroad and they are not spreading. But health experts said there should be no complacency, warning there were several large outbreaks across Europe. The news comes just a week after it was announced England had achieved the target of getting 95% of children to have had the first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine by their fifth birthday. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were already achieving it.’

European Skeptics elect fresh leadership

Last Sunday, one day before its 23rd anniversary, representatives of member organisations of the European Council of Skeptical Organisations (ECSO) elected a new Board. This happened during the 17th European Skeptics Congress in Wrocław, Poland. The ECSO Board 2017-2019 is constituted as follows:

President: Claire Klingenberg
(Czech Skeptics Club Sisyfos, Czechia)
Vice-president: Tim Trachet
(SKEPP, Belgium)
Treasurer: Amardeo Sarma
(GWUP, Germany/Austria/Switzerland)

Member: Paola De Gobbi
(CICAP, Italy)
Member: Pontus Böckman
(Vetenskap och Folkbildning, Sweden)

Associate member: András Gábor Pintér
(Szkeptikus Társaság, Hungary)
Associate member: Michael Heap
(Association for Skeptical Enquiry, UK)
Associate member: Catherine De Jong
(Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, Netherlands)
Associate member: Leon Korteweg
(De Vrije Gedachte, Netherlands)

Photograph of the newly elected board.
The newly elected ECSO board, convening at the 17th European Skeptics Congress in Wrocław, Poland. Back row: Catherine de Jong, Paola De Gobbi, Pontus Böckman, Amardeo Sarma, András Gábor Pintér. Front row: Michael Heap, Tim Trachet, Claire Klingenberg, Leon Korteweg. Photo taken by Eran Segev (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

Gábor Hraskó has stepped down as president, and was thanked for his efforts in chairing the rationalist pan-European umbrella in the past four years. Hraskó, though unofficially in capacity, will still be instrumental in the functioning of ECSO.

The Council also welcomed a new member organisation to its ranks: the Polish Skeptics Club (Klub Sceptyków Polskich, KSP), founded in 2010 and co-organiser of the 17th European Skeptics Congress.

Aside from choosing a fresh leadership, reforms and expansions of the ECSO’s functioning, activities and international cooperation were extensively discussed. One of the first orders of business is to analyse relationships that ECSO has with its member organisations and see what the new Board can do to make ECSO a powerful ally for its members, both nationally and internationally.

COMCEPT publishes its first book

“Não se deixe enganar” – in english “Do not be fooled” – is the first book published by COMCEPT, the Portuguese Skeptics Community. Written as a practical guide on how to survive in the modern world, the book covers such diverse topics as alternative therapies, anti-vax movements, psychics, ideomotor effect, ancient astronauts, conspiracy theories, science in the media, or the concept of post truth, among others.

The authors – Diana Barbosa, João Monteiro, Leonor Abrantes and Marco Filipe – not only criticize pseudoscience, but also analyze what is wrong in the scientific process, pointing solutions to correct it. In the end, to relax, they leave the suggestion of how to play the “Bingo of Pseudoscience”. The reader may find that this is a book which looks to serious subjects with a little of humor.

The book has had a good reception in the Media, and the authors have been interviewed by more than a dozen newspapers, magazines and radio programs.

 

‘Complementary’ cancer treatment nearly kills man

‘A cancer patient nearly died from cyanide poisoning because of his burning passion for apricot kernel extract. The unidentified man, 67, consumed two teaspoons of the ‘complementary medicine’ each day, in the belief it would keep him in remission. He was also taking three tablets of Novodalin – a commercially made herbal fruit kernel supplement daily for the same reason. But his habit eventually caught up with him, a case study reveals. He was beginning to become starved of oxygen – which is how cyanide kills. Doctors found him to have 25 times above the safe limit of the toxin in his body – an amount that can have serious side effects.’

Psi-Tests in Germany

This August, the German skeptics conducted their annual psi-tests. We tested two dowsers and a person claiming to have psychokinetic powers. The first dowser wanted to detect whether an electric cable was plugged in or not. We gave him 50 cables, randomly plugged in or not. The chance expectation obviously is 50/50, that is, 25 hits. His test yielded 26 hits. We required 40 to pass the test.

The second dowser was unable to do any indoor tests due to various “energetic disturbances”. We agreed to test him outdoors if he managed to find an area containing only one “water vein”, while the rest of the area was “clean”. Finding such a place on the surrounding lawn was surprisingly easy for him. We marked the “vein” with sticks. He was then blindfolded and walked around for disorientation (guided by a supervisor). He then had to cross the “water vein” from different vantage points and distances. He was also informed that in some cases he will be asked to walk without crossing the vein. In this case his dowsing rod should not move. The dowser did not have a single correct hit or non-hit in 15 trials.

The third claimant hoped to rotate, just by his psychokinetic powers, a 3 x 3 cm piece of tinfoil balancing on a needle. The needle with the foil was placed under a glass vase to prevent blowing or movements from natural air convection. During the pre-test phase it was obvious that the foil was only moving when he put his hands on the glass, probably causing air convection in the vase. When he kept his hands away from the glass, as he was supposed to in the actual test, nothing moved. And so there was no result in the real test either. -mm-

Veterinary Complementary and Alternative Medicine

At a time when the availability of homeopathy in the UK’s National Health Service is diminishing we now have an assault on its use (and the use of other alternative medical procedures) with animals. No Way to Treat a Friend: Lifting the Lid on Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine by Niall Taylor and Alex Gough “is an informative and readable exposé of CAVM. Written in an accessible style and illustrated with stories and cases from veterinary practice about real animals, this book is a counterweight to the mass of ‘pro’ literature in existence which uncritically promotes CAVM without consideration of whether or not it works or could even be harmful to our animal companions”. The book is due out in October and may now be ordered online.

No way to treat a friend