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

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Science’s turn: Social problems of pseudo-science in the information age

The 4th edition of this course will take place from the 5th to the 7th of September at the University of Alicante, Spain.

Without doubt one of the most important events about critical thinking and skepticism organised by the university with the support of the ARP-SAPC (Spanish Skeptics), the course deals with such issues as: what is and isn’t medicine, the psychology of irrational belief, the scientific method in every day life and many others.

Comedian mocks conspiracy theories

Dutch comedian Arjen Lubach is well-known for his criticism of –amongst other things – religion, alternative medicine and the monarchy. This time, he addresses tensions on Turkish schools in the Netherlands between supporters of president Erdogan and supporters of the cleric Gülen, whose movement allegedly staged the 15–16 July coup d’état attempt in Turkey, and is currently facing governmental repression that has repercussions in other countries.

In an information video by a fictional school addressed to teachers, Lubach says that, to reduce tensions amongst pupils with different backgrounds, several measures have been taken, including:

In case of an emergency, pupils will be informed by telephone. (…) Jewish pupils don’t need to be called, they’ve already heard everything through the Zionist conspiracy.
Not all pupils have been raised with the same ideas about history. Therefore, different truths apply in different areas of our school building. The hallways have been equipped with different colour codes:
– In hallways with a green stripe, the Holocaust never took place;
– The Armenian Genocide is denied in the red zone;
– And if you see wallpapers with flowers, 9/11 is an inside job.

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Kritisch Denken – Russells Theepot

KD’s logo shows Russell’s teapot revolving around the Sun.
(Jozef Van Giel CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Kritisch Denken (‘Critical Thinking’) is a Dutch language podcast, founded in 2009 to promote critical thinking in Belgium and the Netherlands. The podcast aims to teach people not to just blindly accept what they hear, nor to brush it aside as a mere ‘conspiracy theory’. The goal is to develop a critical mind, that evaluates views critically, first of all one’s own views.
As of October 2016, Kritisch Denken is downloaded more than 20,000 times a week.

Kritisch Denken is produced by Russells Theepot (‘Russell’s Teapot’), a Belgian–Dutch team of skeptics, consisting Jozef Van Giel (host), Rik Delaet, Emile Dingemans, Stefan Suetens and Leon Korteweg. Russells Theepot makes information on skepticism and critical thinking available for the Dutch-speaking public. It takes the view that freedom of expression can only exist if people are able to critically examine all different opinions.

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Physician and pharmacognosist criticize famous Hungarian diet guru

Hungarian physician Dr. Novak and pharmacognosist Dr. Csupor criticize Norbert Schobert in several articles as the famous fitness and diet guru shared a dubious article about how baking soda mixed with lemon might cure cancer. “I always said that the most miraculous things are the simplest ones. Here is the proof” – commented Schobert the article of Ripost.hu. The portal refers to a one year old Naturalnews article: Baking Soda Plus Lemon- Saves 1000’s Of Lives Each Year. Dr. Novak and Dr. Csupor acknowledges Schobert’s positive works on pushing people towards healthy lifestyle, but warn him that that his one million (!) followers on his business Facebook page will not be able to make distinction on proven and unscientific posts if both appear on the same platform. Schobert did not take the warning and criticism well and started an attack on them on all his media outlets.

The diet guru had another controversial claim already this year, when he advertised that he had a common project with the British Dietetic Association, which was refuted by FDA on their Facebook page.

As the two authors had also posted their criticism on the Hungarian Skeptics public Facebook group (presently 3400 members), new join requests are arriving now every five minutes from both sides of the debate.

Should ‘Heilpraktiker’ be outlawed?

A syringe for injections (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Dutch TV show EenVandaag examined the Heilpraktiker system in Germany, where about 43,000 ‘healers’ are allowed to conduct invasive irregular treatments on patients, without being trained physicians. The recent controversy surrounding Krauss Ross’ alternative cancer clinic, which was closed after several patients received fatal injections, has stirred up debate on whether the system should be changed, or even downright abolished. In the Netherlands, such treatments are prohibited, leading some Dutch patients to try their luck across the border, where regulations are less strict, and thus the treatments more dangerous.

Physician Cees Renckens, spokesperson for the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (Dutch Society against Quackery), is in favour of expelling the Heilpraktiker from the ranks of legal professions. The interviewer responded by saying that some would argue ‘that things go wrong in the regular medical world all the time, too; that wouldn’t make you advocate for abolishing regular medicine either, would it?’ Renckens replied: ‘No, but in normal medicine, in hospitals, you can at least recover, because most treatments actually work. And if there is no benefit whatsoever [in a treatment], any risk, any complication, is unacceptable.’

Swedish schools spend money on “drug information” from scientologists

A non-profit organisation called Drogfritt (roughly translated to “no drugs”) is regularly hired by 65 (out of 290) Swedish communes, for lecturing about narcotics in Swedish public schools. Most of the employees of the organisation are Scientologists and their lectures are based on material from Narconon, a well known Scientological subsidiary. A representative from Drogfritt says he on average delivers “250-300 lectures per year” in Swedish public schools.

The target audience is children aged 14-15 years and many of the school officials seem unaware of the link between Drogfritt and Scientology.

The contents of the lectures are now criticized by internal school inspectors and an associate professor at the University of Malmö for being very misleading and factually incorrect.

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State-funded homeopathy declines in Scotland

The decline of state-funded homeopathic treatment within the National Health Service in England and Wales has been well documented for some time now. Now the Nightingale Collaboration has reported figures showing the same trend since 2005 for NHS Scotland.

‘God helmet’ experiment was fake; interesting placebo effects

At Lowlands, a huge music festival in the Netherlands, 180 volunteers participated in an experiment where they put on a so-called ‘God helmet‘.

The helmet succeeded in generating unusual, mystical-like sensations in half of them. In 20 people, the experience was exceptionally intense, research leader David Maij from the University of Amsterdam relates. Ten people indicated afterwards that they had felt contact with some ‘ultimate reality’; seven subjects had an experience that they called ‘holy’. Others could no longer move their body, were deeply emotionated or even claimed to have had an out-of-body experience. ‘One person saw themselves partaking in the experiment from a distance’.

What they didn’t know was that the helmet was fake, nothing more than a motorcycle helmet with a few wires held together by duct tape; the participants had all fooled themselves. More commentary here.

‘Alternative cancer treatments waste of precious time’

Dutch newspaper Trouw featured an article critical of alternative cancer therapies today, which highlights that unreliable anecdotal stories are easily found online, and omit the dark side of unproven treatments. It refers to a case in Skepter (magazine of Stichting Skepsis) where a woman, Willeke, died of breastcancer after having visited multiple naturopaths, who all claimed her worsening condition proved the treatments were working.

Frits van Dam at the 2014 VtdK symposium. (Vera de Kok CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Frits van Dam, secretary of the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK, Dutch Society against Quackery), points out that many of these treatments (Trouw mentions faith healing, bioresonance, mistletoe, an exotic worm called Fasciolopsis buskii, the Moerman and Houtsmuller diets, herbal supplements etc.) may often just be ineffective and not harmful in themselves. But they do waste cancer patients’ precious time (and money), in which they could have gotten a regular treatment, recovered and survived. Many alternative treatments may however be even more dangerous than the cancer itself, as evidenced by patients who died at the hands of Tullio Simoncini’s salt solutions or Klaus Ross’ glucose injections.

Empty legal threats from Italian pseudoscientist to Dutch skeptic

Pepijn van Erp at the 2014 Skepsis Congres. (Vera de Kok CC-BY-SA 4.0).

Once again, American-Italian fringe scientist Ruggero Santilli, notorious for his rejection of the theories of Einstein, the Big Bang, redshift and his antisemitic conspiracy theories about everyone who disagrees with him, has sent empty threats to Dutch skeptical activist Pepijn van Erp, board member of Stichting Skepsis. Recently, Santillo claimed to have detected Invisible Terrestrial Entitites with his ‘antimatter-light‘ telescope (an idea that became quite popular on UFO/paranormal websites), but, to his chagrin, Van Erp challenged his findings.

According to Santilli, his attorney wrote a letter (which, curiously, contains the same kind of grammar and spelling errors Santilli himself regularly makes) to Van Erp telling him to rectify three kinds of statements that supposedly harm his reputation:

  1. Van Erp calls Santilli a “fringe scientist”, “a mad professor” and “a cunning scam artist”;
  2. Van Erp states that “the whole concept of antimatter is bullshit”;
  3. and Van Erp ‘defined’ Magnegas Corporation a “pyramid scheme”.

However, Van Erp corrects him that he said ‘antimatter-light’, not ‘antimatter’, explains that under Dutch law, his accusations against Santilli are not defamatory or libelous and thus not illegal, repeating what these claims are based on, and then goes on to defend his criticism of Magnegas. If this comes to a lawsuit, Santilli will have no leg to stand on.