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

Keywords:

Anthroposophical Remedies No Longer Allowed in Sweden

As of 1 September 2019, the exception for Anthroposophical remedies in Sweden is history.

In November of 2017 the Swedish government published their decision to phase out an exception from 1993. The exception allowed one Anthroposophical hospital called ‘Vidarkliniken’ (also known as ‘Vidar Rehab’), to use Anthroposophical remedies as a complement to evidence-based treatment. Vidarkliniken has up until now been located in the city of Järna, just south of Stockholm.

As of 1 September, the transition period is over and the former exception is no longer in effect. The Swedish government had stipulated that in order for continued use of Anthroposophical remedies, Vidarkliniken would have to file for approval of their treatments according to the same regulations and rules as other medical treatments. No such applications has been registered.

Vidarstiftelsen, the foundation behind Vidarkliniken and its related activities has recently applied for voluntary liquidation, stating that without public support and permission, their activities are no longer financially sustainable. A local Anthroposophical pharmacy in Järna run by the international company Weleda has now also declared that they are closing as of 1 September due to financial reasons.

Link to article, see left.
Additional link: The Swedish government press release in 2017.

The Joy of Skepticism – 18th European Skeptics Congress

August 30th – September 1st, Ghent, Belgium

Every other year skeptics from all over Europe come together to meet at the European Skeptics Congress. 
They listen to talks about a variety of subjects, participate in debates, 
exchange experiences with colleagues from abroad while having a great time together. 
This year we are meeting in Ghent, one of the great historical cities of Belgium, 
home to one of its main universities, with a pre-program ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ event in the center of Brussels. 
Come and join us for 3-4 days of fun and learning with Edzard Ernst and Kavin Senapathy, 
and don’t forget to sample Belgium’s fine beers and chocolates while you’re here. 
All information on www.esc2019.be
 
 
Register on our website. 
Special discounts for members of skeptical organizations and students.



Join the banquet on Saturday night in the company of the finest selection of skeptics in Europe (separate ticket).
 

 

Teaching critical thinking

Michael Marshall Project Director of UK’s Good Thinking recently visited King Alfred’s Academy in Oxfordshire on an unusual mission: to highlight proofs that the Earth is actually flat, and to encourage students to question the shape of their world. The goal of the talk was actually to encourage critical thinking, and to get students to question what sources they can trust and what arguments can be taken as credible.

Keywords:

National clinical trial transparency strategy

A national clinical trial transparency strategy will be published before the end of this year, the UK government has announced. The statement marks a significant step towards ensuring that all clinical trials conducted in Britain are registered and publish their results. The new strategy is expected to include central monitoring of all clinical trials conducted in the UK to check if they were registered and reported.

Keywords:

QED, Manchester, October 2018

An account of the QED meeting that was held in Manchester in October 2018 has now appeared in the Observer newspaper. This includes interviews with Michael Marshall, Chris French, Jonathan Jarry, and Deborah Hyde.

Swedish Skeptics Awards for 2018

The Swedish Skeptics (a.k.a VoF or Vetenskap och Folkbildning) announced the winners of their 2018 awards on 2 Jan.

Winner of “Enlightener of the Year” award was “Fråga Lund” (“Ask Lund”) which is a popular TV show where viewers submits questions to a panel of professors, researchers and experts. Fråga Lund, which was revived in 2016 after an hiatus since 2000, has had a great outreach with over a million viewers per episode.

Winner of the ironic “‘Bewilderer’ of the Year” award was the author and public speaker Thomas Erikson, for his book “Omgiven av idioter” (“Surrounded by Idiots”). The book and its sequels are based on the DISC / DISA personality inventory theory and claim to teach you how to divide people into red, yellow, green and blue personality types and how to best handle them based on their colour. The theory has no scientific support and Thomas Erikson has gained a big following with the books selling up towards a million copies, despite having no grounds in proven theory.

Date: 6th January 2019

Countries:
Original news: link

The Skeptical Circle of Spain announces winners of the Pepe Cervera and the José Carlos Pérez Cobo prize.

The well-known paediatrician and media commentator Lucía Galán has been awarded by the members of the Skeptical Circle of Spain with the Pepe Cervera Award for the promotion of critical thinking in the media and digital media for her constant defence of scientific evidence-based medicine against the pseudo-therapies and anti-vaccine movement.

Lucía Galán is a champion of the effectiveness of vaccines and science. “I cannot remain silent when I hear in the media that vaccines produce autism or that homoeopathy cures. I cannot. And I speak, of course, I speak. And I will continue talking with the authority that my training and my profession gives me, “said the winner.

The recently deceased palaeontologist Pepe Cervera (1964-2018) was known for promoting science and knowledge through social media.

Lucia Galán, known as ‘Lucia, my paediatrician’ uses the social networking platforms as well as mainstream media to combat misinformation. In her blog, Instagram and Twitter, and in her interventions on radio and television, she firmly confronts pseudoscience.

The third edition of the José Carlos Pérez Cobo Prize for journalism and critical thinking has been awarded to journalist Marta Ley Barnuevo for her article “The most expensive placebo in the world,” published in the newspaper El Mundo, part of a special on pseudoscience coordinated by Virginia Hernández.

The award-winning article reviews the history of homoeopathy in Spain, from its introduction in the 19th century to the current situation. Focusing on the peculiar legal situation of this pseudoscience and doing an exhaustive study of how this pseudoscience considers the different colleges of Physicians, Pharmacists and the different Health Departments.

The jury was composed by the journalist Ángela Bernardo as the winner of the previous edition, the journalists Manuel Rey and Olga Pereda and the members of the Skeptic Circle Cesar García-Perez and Manuel F. Herrador.

The prizes will be awarded on December 19, 2018.

The event will also include the appointment of a new honorary member of the Skeptical Circle.

 

Date: 11th December 2018

Countries:
Original news: link

Roger Scotford

The latest Newsletter of the British False Memory Society (see link) conveys the sad news of the death of Roger Scotford. Roger founded the BFMS in 1993 amidst concern about the growing number of families in North America, Europe, Australasia and elsewhere who had been torn apart by accusations of historical sexual abuse against a parent and sometimes other relatives and even neighbours. These accusations, sincerely held to be true by the those making them, were solely based on ‘memories’ of the alleged events uncovered during psychotherapy. Often the information thus elicited was extensive and elaborately detailed, and would become increasingly so as the therapy proceeded. Roger had his own personal experience of this and with his colleagues at the BFMS he worked tirelessly to bring this dreadful scandal into public awareness and to provide help and guidance to many people in the UK whose lives had been ruined by such allegations.

Despite there being no other evidence to back up the accusations, and even contrary evidence, the accused persons were sometimes charged, tried, convicted and sentenced. It may come as a surprise to some readers that miscarriages of justice are still happening, as the November 2018 BFMS Newsletter reveals. So let us remember Roger and continue to support his fight for justice and reparation for those unfortunate enough to be caught up in these terrible events.

Dr Ben Goldacre

Dr Ben Goldacre, author and head of the Evidence-Based Medicine DataLab in Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, has been appointed chair of the UK government’s new HealthTech Advisory Board. The appointment was announced in a speech by the health secretary at the NHS Expo in Manchester setting out ‘plans to make the NHS an ecosystem for the best available technology, including innovations in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning’. The HealthTech Advisory Board will report directly to the Secretary of State and ‘will highlight where change needs to happen, where best practice isn’t being followed, and be an ideas hub for how to transform the NHS to improve patient outcomes, patient experience, and to make the lives of NHS staff easier’.

Keywords:

Fake news enquiry

A UK parliamentary committee has published a preliminary report highlighting what it describes as ‘significant concerns’ over the risks to ‘shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions’. It calls for ‘urgent action’ from government and regulatory bodies to ‘build resilience against misinformation and disinformation into our democratic system’: “People are increasingly finding out about what is happening in this country, in their local communities, and across the wider world, through social media, rather than through more traditional forms of communication, such as television, print media, or the radio. Social media has become hugely influential in our lives. Research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has shown that not only are huge numbers of people accessing news and information worldwide through Facebook, in particular, but also through social messaging software such as WhatsApp. When such media are used to spread rumours and ‘fake news’, the consequences can be devastating.”

Keywords: ,

Report on Research Integrity

The UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has issued its latest report on Research Integrity (Sixth Report of Session 2017–19).  “This inquiry looks at trends and developments in fraud, misconduct and mistakes in research and the publication of research results. Research by Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology indicates the trend in misconduct/mistakes in publishing is still upwards. There has also been a so-called ‘crisis in reproducibility’ of research. The Committee continues the previous Committee’s inquiry, taking forward the evidence it had received before the General Election.”

Keywords:

Hans Rosling to be commemorated by annual day

World renowned Swedish medic and professor, Hans Rosling, known for his popular adult education talks at TED and other places, will be celebrated with an annual popular adult education day. The theme of the first Hans Rosling day will be ”Factfulness”, named after the book released earlier this year.
The founders are Gapminder Foundation, Nobel Foundation and Nobel Center.

Date: 10th June 2018

Countries:
Original news: link

Keywords: ,

Sale of MMS banned in the Netherlands

Very good news: the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) has issued a ban on the sale of MMS.

Miracle Mineral Supplement, also known as Miracle Mineral Solution or Master Mineral Solution, is frequently sold on the Internet as an alleged cure for numerous diseases. However, research has shown that the use of MMS can lead to serious health risks, including burns in the digestive tract, breathing problems and kidney and liver failure.

In 2010, MMS caused controversy in countries around the world. At the time, the NVWA warned against the product, but this did not result in a decrease of MMS sales. After stuyding its effects, the Authority concluded it was too dangerous to be available. The NVWA has also advised the Dutch health minister to encourage stricter regulation of MMS throughout the European Union.

 

#ProVaxChallenge

Dear skeptics (not only) in Europe!

As many of you know, the lack of vaccinating is becoming a serious issue (again, not only) in Europe. That is why the Czech Skeptics Club Sisyfos has created the #ProVaxChallenge.

“It is a challenge for all, who are not afraid of needles. And an even bigger challenge for those, who are. Join MUDr. Jaromir Sramek, the chairman of the Czech Skeptics Club Sisyfos, in a 2018 vaxathon. Immortalize yourself either while getting a vaccination or with a post-vax band-aid. Take photos of your vaccination cards. Don’t be afraid to involve your kids and pets. Share your photos on social media with the #ProVaxChallenge.

The goal of this challenge is to show people that vaccinating is a part of life in the 21st century. The first compulsory vaccinations were introduced in the half of the 19th century. One of the most significant accomplishments of preventive vaccinations was the eradication of variola in 1980. Many other diseases, for which vaccinations do exist, have not been eradicated. A new wave of, an already numerously overcome, fear of vaccinating is causing a resurgence of diseases, which doctors, until recently, saw only sporadically.

In 2016, almost 10% of newborns worldwide were not vaccinated. What’s alarming is that nearly one-half of these newborns live in countries, where medical care is available, but their parents refuse to vaccinate, many times for irrational reasons. That is why the number of unvaccinated children in developed countries is growing.

The ECDC reported 4,643 cases of measles in 2016. In 2017 there were more than 20,000 with 35 deaths. The pathogen is not picky about where its focal point is, so there were measle hotspots not only in Romania (10,623), Italy (4,991) or Greece (1,463), but also in Germany (926), Czech Republic (146), France, Great Britain, and Sweden. No one can come up with an estimate of how many people will succumb to measles in 2018.

The USA is suffering from exponential growth in cases of mumps.

Europe as a whole is suffering from growth in cases of hepatitis A.

257 million people are living with hepatitis B, which managed to take the lives of 887,000 lives in 2015. Even though children can be protected from this disease by vaccinating.

There are vaccinations available for all of the diseases mentioned above. However, most of these cases manifested in unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated individuals. According to WHO, in 2016 the vaccination coverage of the second dose of the measles vaccine has dropped under the needed 95% in twenty of the twenty-seven EU countries. The WHO also reports that the vaccination coverage of DTP3 fell under 50% in the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, as well as Ukraine.

Though it is slowly changing, vaccinations remain voluntary in many European countries. Due to the lack of experience with diseases, due to relying on lies and myths propagated by “alternative” experts and under the emotional duress brought on by antivaxx activists, their active suppression of facts and fearmongering, many people are afraid to vaccinate, especially when it comes to their children. Then they, in good faith, endanger herd immunity and thus are endangering not only themselves but also those, who cannot be vaccinated for valid reasons.

Let’s lead by example and practically show that vaccines are safe, apart from sharing scientific data and statistics. Let’s show that we are not afraid of vaccines, we do get vaccinated, and vaccines don’t harm us!

Help us, in 2018, raise awareness of the number of adults and children, who are protected by vaccines.”

Aneta   Pierzyna

#ProVaxChallenge

Skepticism Reloaded

My take on the cause and priorities of contemporaty skepticism. We need to make clear why we exist, our commitment to science and critical thinking, and how we set our priorities. I am looking forward to the discussion around my article.

Amardeo Sarma

Date: 6th March 2018

Original news: link

Some problems of the skeptic movement

Many amazing people put a lot of effort into rational skepticism. Overall, however, the movement remains rather ineffective. In a new blog post, we try to understand why that is the case.

There are, we argue, several big problems in the skeptic movement, and we need to address them if we want the movement to become more effective and more efficient. It is not going to be easy, but it is far from impossible.

Read the full article here:
https://www.skeptiker.ch/some-problems-of-the-skeptic-movement/

Transparency of evidence of government policy

Sense About Science has published a report with the title Transparency of evidence; a spot check of government policy proposals July 2016 to July 2017.  The report ‘scores 94 government policies produced by 12 departments, to assess how transparent they were about the evidence behind the policy. It is designed to show where departments are on transparency, and shows how they can improve further’. The research was conducted in partnership with the Institute for Government and funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Alliance for Useful Evidence.

One of our own needs our help!

Dear skeptical friends!

You may know that Britt Hermes, Ockham Awards laureate, who is an international skeptical campaigner about naturopathy, is currently being sued for defamation. 

Britt used to be a naturopath herself, but she now spends a lot of time and effort exposing naturopathic practices, including on her blog “Naturopathic Diaries”.

She’s been taken to court in Germany by US-based naturopath ‘Dr’ Colleen Huber, who is claiming that Britt has defamed her on her blog. Huber is a critic of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatment. Instead, she uses ‘natural’ therapies that include intravenous infusions of vitamin C and baking soda.
 
The international skeptical community is concerned that the case against Britt may have the effect of silencing a major campaigner against unproven and disproven ‘medical’ practices, through the imposition of considerable legal costs.

For this reason, the Australian Skeptics have set up a fund-raising campaign to help cover Britt’s legal costs.

If you would like to contribute to the fund, or want more information, then go to www.skeptics.com.au/BrittHermes.

March for Science 2018

Dear skeptical friends!

The March for Science is a few months away. Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the following questionnaire about your organization’s involvement in this year’s MfS.
I am hoping that this year, we can add a pan-European aspect to our national Marches.

QUESTIONNAIRE

Thank you for your time!

Claire Klingenberg

Swedish Skeptics’ awards 2017

The Swedish Skeptics, VoF, have announced their awards for 2017:

Science Educator of the year: the winner is Emma Frans, a doctor of epidemiology who is tirelessly tweeting, blogging and publishing articles one of Sweden’s largest newspaper about how separate false information from correct, and about common health myths. The prize is accompanied by a cash award of 25000 SEK (about 2500 Euros).

Misleader of the year: Life, a Nordic e-commerce company and chain of boutiques. Life is the largest provider of so called alternative and complementary products in the Nordic countries, with a yearly turnover of about 200 million Euros. Their products include everything from multivitamins to colloidal silver to fluoride free toothpaste, sold with dubious and misleading health claims.

Prominent Skeptic new head of Swedish Royal Academy of Science

Dan Larhammar, Professor of molecular cell biology at Uppsala University and board member of the Swedish Skeptics, has been appointed head of the the Swedish Royal Academy of Science.

Dan Larhammar has been a member of the Royal Swedish Academy since 2007 and has was President of VoF, or the Swedish Skeptics Society, between 1998-2004. He is still on the VoF board and very active in the skeptical movement.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Dear skeptical friends,

I wish you happy holidays, a wonderful winter, and love, health and success in the New Year of 2018!

I am looking forward to working with you to make Europe more skeptical.

Best regards,

Claire Klingenberg

Date: 22nd December 2017

Original news: link

Science Friction

Peter Boghossian in Australia during his "How do you know?" tour
Many scientists, science communicators, or skeptic activists know, how uncomfortable and disinforming it is to have your message misquoted, edited, or twisted to fit the narrative. How serious are the consequences?

A new documentary Science Friction plans to explore the consequences of misinterpretation, but they need your help. The creators and producers Skeptoid Media, Inc. are raising funds for their endeavor.

If you are still looking for a holiday gift for yourself or others, donate in your name or in the name of your loved ones! All donors will be thanked in the end credits.

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).

Keywords:

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.’

Keywords:

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’.

 

Keywords: ,

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

Keywords: ,

TheESP podcast on Wikipedia

Thanks to Adam Kumiszcza, TheESP now has it’s own Wikipedia page! The European Skeptics Podcast (TheESP) is a weekly podcast hosted by three skeptics representig several European skeptic organisations in Europe: András G Pintér from Hungary, Jelena Levin from Latvia and Pontus Böckman from Sweden. The main goal of the podcast is to support European level actions within the skeptical movement.

TheESP podcast

Comité Para, the world’s first skeptical organisation, takes a new breath

The Comité Para convened its annual general assembly in Brussels last June. For a long time, the French-speaking Belgian association strived to get younger members and wanted to renew its board. And, finally, the general assembly has elected four new critical thinkers at its head. Jérémy Royaux has been elected president, Dorian Neerdael vice-president, Thomas Guiot secretary- treasurer and Emmanuel Marseille has become the assistant secretary.

They plan to give the Comité Para a new fresh start and they give themselves one year to revive the Comité. –See you soon

Comite-Para

NHS consultation on unjustified prescribing

This July the National Health Service in England published a report with the title ‘Items which should not routinely be prescribed in primary care: A Consultation on guidance for CCGs’. The report lists a range of treatments currently prescribed within the NHS without sufficient justification. To the delight of skeptics these include homeopathy and herbal remedies, which the report considered to be of no proven efficacy. Until October 21st people will have the opportunity to give their views on these proposals using an online form.

Logical Fallacy Cartoons

As skeptics we are constantly on the lookout for Logical Fallacies both within our own reasoning and in wider society. Here you can find a series of cartoons illustrating different fallacies ready for distribution on your social networks. Laugh, learn & share.

 

New MEP ‘mad as a box of snakes’

Rupert Matthews – described by one Conservative MP as ‘mad as a box of snakes’ – has been automatically made a Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands this week after the sitting MEP won a seat at for the UK Parliament in the June general election. Mr Matthews is ‘an expert on the paranormal’. As well as his work with the International Metaphysical University, he the author of a range of parapsychology books including titles such as Paranormal Surrey and A History of Alien Activity from Sightings to Abductions to Global Threat. He also has a theory that the Lisbon Treaty gives the European Commission the power to invade Britain. He believes that ‘They could go to the German government and say please send us a Panzer division, and if the German government said yes, then the European Commission could send that Panzer division to London and there is nothing the British government could do about it’.

James Randi to attend CICAP-Fest

James Randi will be back to Italy and will attend CICAP-Fest in Cesena from September 29 to October 01.

Randi will also be a special guest at the magic workshop held at CICAP-Fest, giving people the opportunity to learn from him how to create and investigate “paranormal” effects.

James Randi is a retired stage magician and a scientific skeptic, co-founder of Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). He has extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.

Keywords: , ,

The universe in one minute

This series of short, informative videos go into a wide range of topics such as “What’s the Milky Way like?”, “How did the continents form?” or “What use is cloning?” among many others. Each video is complimented by free teaching material and distributed under a creative commons licence making them available to all.

Keywords: , ,

Blasphemy laws repealed in Denmark

On June 2, the Danish parliament (“Folketinget”) repealed the 334 year old blasphemy law.

The debates about repeal where among other things shadowed by the Muhammad cartoons controversy in 2005, and also came to the rescue for one individual who in December 2015 published a video on-line showing the burning of a copy of the Quran. These charges were now dropped due to the change in legislation.

Promotion of alternative medicine by charities

The UK’s National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) ‘has urged the Charity Commission to improve its registration processes as part of its response to the consultation on charities providing complementary and alternative medicines’. The Charity Commission’s consultation closed earlier this month ‘with the regulator receiving more than 300 responses. It plans to set out a revised approach to registration in the autumn. This could result in the removal of hundreds of charities and was prompted by the Good Thinking Society, which is a charity set up to promote scientific thinking’.

CICAP-FEST2017 events and registration

The agenda of the first edition of CICAP-FEST is finally online, and registrations are now open.
The event will take place in Cesena from September 29 to October 01, 2017.

CICAP-FEST is a new national and international event for the promotion of the understanding of science. The event, along with some of the most prominent players in research, public understanding of science, and entertainment, focuses on current issues such as fake-news, pseudosciences, hoaxes and scientific disinformation, while at the same it puts on stage some authentic wonders, research, science and art, to generate genuine amazement.

Three days of events dedicated to adults, students and children will make Cesena the “capital” city of critical thinking and curiosity for a full weekend.

75 speakers will be on stage, including Piero Angela, Silvio Garattini, Antonella Viola, Enrico Mentana, Giacomo Rizzolatti, Marco Malvaldi and many others, as well as artists such as Silvan, Banda Osiris and Raul Cremona. Over 100 events that will include meetings, debates, performances, shows, reading, workshops, exhibitions, surprises and wonders of all kinds.

The CICAP-FEST, which for this first edition has the title “The Value of Facts in the Age of Post-Truth”, is a show dedicated to all curious people and all those who love science and are fascinated by the unusual and wondrous. A new way to stimulate curiosity through science, art, music and performances.

UK Foreign Secretary’s false claims

With a general election campaign raging, the British public are having to put up with more than the usual level of dishonesty from their politicians. Following a recent radio interview of UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘More or Less’ had a close look at some of his extraordinary statistical claims. Noteworthy was his boasting that that when he was London’s mayor it was ‘the fourth biggest French city in the world’ on account of their being 400,000 French residents there. There were actually 90,000 which wouldn’t put London in the top 40. Questionable also was his claim that ‘Of all the kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers in the world, 1 in 7 were educated at British universities’ and this is of ‘enormous practical economic value to the UK’. In reality the figure is about 1 in 9 and includes only 3 of the 50 most populous countries of the world, the largest being Iran. Other countries include Zimbabwe (Robert Mugabe) and Syria (Bashar al-Assad). The programme can still be heard at the link provided.

Keywords: , ,

Science facing up to religious beliefs

On the 4th of May at the University of Granada, the biochemist Juan Antonio Mochón, will be giving the talk “Science facing up to religious beliefs” as part of the monthly series of talks Knowledge, rationality and secularism that is running till June of this year.

The talk will be followed by a discussion among the attendees.

Romania taking a stand against anti-vaccination with a new law

In recent years, Romania’s vaccination rates for MMR have dropped dramatically. The causes for this are multifactorial, however, one of the main reasons is parents refusing vaccinations under the influence of antivaccine propaganda. Other issues include lack of access to medical services and lack of vaccines (though not relevant for MMR)

As a consequence, a measles epidemic has broken out in 2016 and last week it reached almost 5000 cases. There have also been 21 deaths, all of them in unvaccinated children.

Following multiple years of work, the Health Ministry has now proposed a new Vaccination Law which tries to cover multiple issues facing the country.

The law would make vaccination mandatory for school access, it would guarantee that the Ministry of Health buys sufficient doses of vaccines for 1 year of stock and it would also compensate in cases of vaccine injury. It also creates commissions where those that refuse vaccinations could go and discuss their decision with medical doctors.

The law is currently in the public debate part of the process, it will then follow the parliamentary course of review and vote before being signed into law by the president.

Keywords:

NHS England boss slams spending on homeopathy

Responding to concerns that NHS England’s plans to stop prescribing some medicines as part of cost-cutting measures, but still spends £4 million on homeopathic medicine, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 31.3.17 that homeopathic medicine is ‘placebo at best’ and it is ‘absurd’ for doctors to prescribe it. The online recording of the interview is available for the next month on Radio 4’s website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08k1b4s).

Talk in Malaga about CRISPR

On the 1st April 2017, at the University of Malaga, the researcher Enrique Viguera will give a talk about the gene editing technique CRISPR under the title “Is the limit in ethics?

This is part of a series of talks called UCIENCIA that are aimed at the general public and, in this case, is timed to coincide with the annual general meeting of ARP-Sociedad para el Avance del Pensamiento Critico (Spanish Skeptics).

Keywords:

Princess Anne backs GM crops

Princess Anne has said genetically-modified crops have important benefits for providing food and she would be open to growing them on her own land. She told BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today “we have to accept” the process could help production and livestock health. Her brother, the Prince of Wales, has previously warned GM crops could cause an environmental disaster. But Princess Anne said: “To say we mustn’t go there ‘just in case’ is probably not a practical argument.”

“Learning styles” under attack

Teaching children according to their individual “learning style” does not achieve better results and should be ditched by schools in favour of evidence-based practice, according to leading scientists. Thirty eminent academics from the worlds of neuroscience, education and psychology have signed a letter to the Guardian voicing their concern about the popularity of the learning style approach among some teachers. They say it is ineffective, a waste of resources and potentially even damaging as it can lead to a fixed approach that could impair pupils’ potential to apply or adapt themselves to different ways of learning.

 

MEDICAMENTALIA –Vaccine information

The CIVIO Foundation, an organization dedicated to data transparency as a means to strengthen democracy, has produced a highly detailed and accessible web page with quality information about vaccination called MEDICAMENTALIA.

Available in both Spanish and English this is a great resource available to everyone.

 

Probability, black swan events and conspiratorial thinking

Black swan events are highly improbable events that have great, negative impact. Conspiracy theories are coping mechanisms for black swan events: They try to explain them. However, conspiracy theories are epistemologically defective because they mistake the very low probability of black swan events as impossibility, and thus, a conspiracy as the only possible explanation.

Read Marko Kovic’s article Probability, black swan events and conspiratorial thinking on Skeptiker.

Climate denier amends Dutch Liberals election programme

Party logo of the Dutch Liberals (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).

Investigative journalism platform Investico, reporting in newspaper Trouw, discovered that during its November 2016 congress, a majority of the Dutch conservative liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) members approved an amendment to their election programme, submitted by a climate change denier. The sentence that climate change leads to ‘rising sea levels and heavy rainfalls‘ was taken out, because according to the submitter ‘it isn’t all that bad’, claiming levels only rose 1.8 mm annually, and that they’ve done so consistently for the past 500 years.

Climate scientist Reinier van den Berg responded with disgust: ‘This is scandalous, toe-curling and outrageous. There is a gigantic acceleration of sea level rises, right now at 3.45 mm a year. We can provide evidence for it everywhere: it’s already causing a lot of water damage. We cannot afford to let this happen to everything that lives on Earth, and generations after ours; we need to take serious action now.’

The chairman of Liberal Green, an environmentalist faction within the party, disagreed with Investico’s conclusions, saying the VVD is clear about the urgency of the consequences of climate change, and the necessity of the Paris Climate Agreement, and that the amendment’s submitter was just a ‘lone climate sceptic’. The question remains why a majority of party members then agreed with a proposal that would violate the VVD’s supposed ‘green core’.
With parliamentary elections in the Netherlands coming up in two weeks, Van den Berg concluded: ‘A party that denies such important problems, does not deserve even one vote.’

Is alternative medicine widespread but not widely used?

When it comes to debates and reasoning, alternative medicine proponents used to refer to popularity and customer choice issues (instead of efficacy). However there are several thorough surveys that seems to show that the use of alternative medicine is not at all so widespread. Does everyone speak about it but only a few using it?

Alternative medicine use in the UK

NatCen – Britain’s largest independent social research agency – launched a blog series where they plan to go through the European Social Survey data to know more.

Hungarian version of “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” magazine is launched

Hungarian version of quack magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You is launched this month. The March issue costs cca. 1.3 EUR, for the next ones one should pay 2.3 EUR.

What doctors dont tell you in Hungariann

Magyar Nemzet Online ran a critical article last Thursday, where the author discussed the original newspaper as well.

[Lecture 1.3.2017] Sanal Edamaruku: Lure of the Oriental Magic

On wednesday 1.3.2017, the legendary mythbuster, skeptic, atheist, Chairman and CEO of the Rationalist International, Mr. Sanal Edamaruku, lectures to Skepsis Finland about “Lure of the Oriental Magic”. Mr. Edamaruku will speak to Finnish Skeptics about yoga, meditation, pranic healing, reiki, feng shui, astrology, etc.

The event is free of charge and open to everyone interested. On behalf of the Finnish Skeptics, welcome!

Polish Health Minister denies smog is harmful to humans

Polish Minister of Health officially denied that smog poses a risk to health despite solid evidence saying otherwise. Konstanty Radziwill claimed that protecting members of public from air pollution is not a health priority and can virtually be ignored, as there are more pressing health issues.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that over 45,000 Poles die from air pollution each year – second highest number (per 1000 citizens) in Europe (after Bulgaria)

Evidence-based education

Nick Gibbs MP, one of UK’s Education Ministers, spoke on ‘the importance of an evidence-informed profession’ on February 16th at the University of Buckingham.

“Debunking the neuro-myths that surround teaching is an important endeavour as, unchecked, they can pervade classrooms throughout the country, damaging educational achievement. A decade ago, the neuro-myth of Brain Gym was prevalent in England’s schools. In schools afflicted by Brain Gym, pupils were instructed to activate their brains by rubbing so-called ‘brain buttons’, located in different areas of the body. By having pupils rub their clavicle, various regions of the brain would light up – so went the theory. In the oddest cases, pupils were instructed to slowly sip water in the hope that water would be absorbed into the brain via the roof of the mouth, thus hydrating the brain!”

Keywords: , ,

Polish Skeptics Club – Darwin Days in Wroclaw

In just a few days Wroclaw (Poland) will host annual festival of science and reason co-organised by Polish Society of Rationalists with University of Wroclaw. Polish Skeptics Club will be represented as well during Darwin Days 2017.

Polish Skeptics Club (Klub Sceptyków Polskich, KSP) will be represented by Dr Tomasz Witkowski who will give a lecture titled Evolution of gods in our minds. Tomasz will try to answer a series of intriguing questions, such as: what does computer virus and God have in common? How Punch (a puppet) became a god? What can children teach adults about evolution of gods? Was Dr Pangloss right? Is Santa any different to God? Are we born as creationists?

Second KSP lecturer – Dr Łukasz Budzicz – will present a lecture entitled “Evolutionists guide to culture”.

Among other guests we will also hear from Dr Bartosz Borczyk, Kasper Hlebowicz, Sidey

Source: Polish Skeptics Club
(article in polish)

Keywords: ,

Autism charity founder is anti-vaccination campaigner

The founder of a British autism charity is an anti-vaccine campaigner with strong links to the discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield. Polly Tommey, who believes that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, founded the US and UK branches of the Autism Trust and produced a highly controversial film (Vaxxed) directed by Mr Wakefield alleging a link between vaccines and the condition. Scientists and campaigners have expressed concern that Ms Tommey’s role in the charity was in conflict with her views about vaccines. Jon Spiers, chief executive of the charity Autistica, called the film highly irresponsible.  (From the Times, 1.2.17)

Prof. Hans Rosling dies at the age of 68

Swedish professor Hans Rosling has died on 7 February 2017, a year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 68 years old.

Hans Rosling

Professor Rosling made a name for himself internationally as an outspoken promotor of a factual approach to looking at the state of the world. Celebrated by the Swedish and international public for his dedication to demonstrate how the public world view is often inaccurate, Prof. Rosling was highly regarded by the skeptical movement, among other things giving a superb talk at the European Skeptics Congress 2013 in Stockholm, as well as several TED talks.

Prof. Hans Rosling received the award “Enlightener of the Year” 2006 by the Swedish Skeptics Association (VoF).

Over the last couple of years he continued to work relentlessly to show the true facts about the immigration crises in Europe among other things, and during the Ebola epidemic 2015 he personally flew down to Liberia and spent several months there helping out as a volonteer, while constantly keeping the public at large informed of the extent of the disaster. Often controversial in his approach, he resented the focus on him as a person while insisting that the facts are what is important.

Keywords:

Memorandum “About pseudoscientific status of the homeopathy” by Russian Academy of Sciences

The Committee Against Pseudoscience and Falsification of Scientific Research under the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences has prepared a memorandum “About pseudoscientific status of the homeopathy.” The document says: “The treatment of ultra-low doses of homeopathic remedies does not have scientific basis”. The Committee offered to withdraw all homeopathic medicines from public clinics, prevent misleading advertising for them and do not offer customers homeopathy alongside traditional medicines. The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS Russia) supported this memorandum. The Ministry of Health promised to respond to the arguments of the memorandum after it goes into the possession of the Office.

A manifesto for reproducible science

El País, one of Spain’s biggest national dailies, recently published this article discussing the crisis of reproducibility and quality of papers and research in medicine and science in general.

The article came as a response to the publication of a manifesto for reproducible science by a group of investigators from the USA, UK and the Netherlands led by John Loanndis from the University of Stanford.

British study to ‘immunise’ against fake news

Scientists from the University of Cambridge, led by Dutch social psychologist Dr Sander van der Linden, are developing a method to ‘vaccinate’ news readers against misinformation.

Their research, using climate change denial as an example, shows that it works well to briefly mention that there is criticism against the consensus on the subject, but provide an easy-to-refute example of this. When someone will later come across similar criticism in a fake news story, they will be prone to reject it. However, if conspiracy theories are given too much attention, and treated with a more detailed debunk, this has an adverse effect on the readers, who will more likely believe the next hoax article that they are presented with.

The key is finding the right dosage that helps people protect themselves against nonsense.

More information in English – Meer informatie in het Nederlands

The new media crisis – Part 1: Fake News

The ongoing process of digitization has changed both the media and also us as media consumers profoundly. On the internet, you can not only inform yourself about almost anything, but you get bombarded with information from all sides. This has certainly positive effects. But, unfortunately, there is one major downside: How should you know which content you can trust?

Marko and Tobias explore the different types of fake news in the latest episode of the podcast skeptisCH.

Electromagnetic Radiation, Antennae and Health

Want to learn more about electromagnetic radiation in general? Mobile telephone towers? Human health and electric fields? Is there a connection between high tension electricity cables and cancer? Tired of the hype and outlandish claims?

Spanish skeptics have an extensive archive with loads of information about this and other subjects. Like this one, they haven’t all been posted in the last fortnight but they’re still have plenty to offer.

Check out this deep dive into all these questions and more.

 

Keywords: , ,

Mystery of ghostly noises in Swansea solved

An amusing story about a monthly wailing noise that has been troubling the people of Swansea in Wales for the last two years (Google ‘Swansea siren’). Until recently the source of the sound was a mystery but much importance was attached to the fact that the city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Maybe the noise was the ghost of the warning sirens that sounded 75 years ago (http://tinyurl.com/jv7b26r)? Officials spent more than a year investigating the sounds, which start before dawn and go on into the early morning. Now the source has been traced to Vale Europe nickel refinery in nearby Clydach which is required to test its emergency evacuation procedure once a month. But will this explanation satisfy everybody?

Swedish Skeptics announce the awards for 2016

The Swedish Skeptics Association (aka Vetenskap och Folkbildning, or VoF) has awarded science editor Maria Gunther and medical journalist Amina Manzoor of the science editorial at DN (Dagens Nyheter) with the prize Enlightener of the Year 2016 (DN is the largest morning paper in Sweden). The Swedish Skeptics Association hereby wants to emphasize the importance of leading media understanding the value of maintaining a permanent and accurate reporting of current scientific research.

Says Dan Katz, Press Officer at VoF: “It is imperative that the established media helps the public to navigate the arbitrary flow of information which bombards us all on-line. In this turmoil the science editorial of DN are shining like beacon of facts in the dark.”

The award for Obscurantist of the Year 2016 goes to former head of Karolinska Institutet (KI), Anders Hamsten, together with others in the management of KI who helped to cover up the fraudulent research performed by surgeon Paolo Macchiarini.

Says Peter Olausson, acting president of VoF: “It is particularly severe that the management totally disregarded the investigation that pointed out what had happened. It is a mockery of the patients concerned and of all serious science researchers who cannot, and will not, compromise ethics and good science.”

New Wikipedia biography about Dutch skeptic

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

In recent years, mathematician Pepijn van Erp has risen to prominence within the skeptical movement in the Netherlands. He started blogging about flawed application of statistics in both scientific and pseudoscientific articles, and got involved with Stichting Skepsis as a board member in 2012.

Nowadays he regularly writes articles on various dubious claims in an investigative journalistic style on skeptical blog KloptDatWel.nl (mostly in Dutch) and his own website (mostly in English). Van Erp is occasionally invited to give his expert opinion on radio shows about conspiracy theories, fake news and other topics that skeptics are concerned about. To him, skepticism is ‘interesting and funny’, but also a ‘civic duty’ to protect people from harm.

The team of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia has written two new biographies about Van Erp, one in English and one in Dutch, to explain to the general public what his activism is about.

Knowledge, rationality and secularism

This was the first talk in a series of the same name that will have monthly editions till June 2017. Experts from the fields of Philosophy, physics, anthropology, medicine, chemistry, biology and sociology will all contribute to these reflections on secularism and freedom of conscience.

If you are going to be visiting Granada in the upcoming months why not check out a session, all of which will take place at 19in the University’s scientific documentation centre.

The video for the first session is now available.

https://laicismo.org/2016/video-conferencia-conocimiento-racionalidad-y-laicismo-por-andres-carmona-en-granada/156232

Netherlands: 50% officially not religious

Author Franca Treur (atheist) and presenter Tijs van den Brink (Protestant) discuss religion in TV series “Adieu God?” (2013)

For the first time in Dutch history, the official number of religious and irreligious people is equal, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports.  The percentage of religiously affiliated citizens above age 18 dropped from 55% in 2010 to 50% last year, a turning point in the ongoing process of secularisation. The current figures are:

  • Roman Catholicism: 24%
  • Protestantism (various denominations): 15%
  • Islam: 5%
  • Other (incl. Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism): 5%
  • Unaffiliated: 50%

There are large geographical differences, with the more urbanised West (North and South Holland) being the most secular, the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg being the most (nominally) Catholic.

Church service in Doornspijk, the Bible Belt. (Rubenf CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Only 1 in 6 people still regularly attend religious services though. In the conservative Protestant Bible Belt, running across the country from the southwest to the northeast, this figure is higher, sometimes over half, and in the case of Urk 94%.

The actual percentage of believers is much lower than 50%, however. A lot of people still registered as members of a church are actually not religious (anymore), but for various reasons have not officially renounced their membership (yet) – a phenomenon known as ‘belonging without believing’. An earlier 2016 survey by Bernts & Berghuijs showed that people’s actual religious convictions were as follows:

  • Roman Catholicism: 11.7%
  • Protestant Church in the Netherlands: 8.6%
  • Other Christian denominations: 4.2%
  • Islam: 5.8%
  • Hinduism and Buddhism: 2.0%
  • Unaffiliated: 67.8%

This shows a big disconnect between membership and actual adherence. Especially the Catholic Church often claims that a quarter of the Dutch population is Catholic, pointing to the official stats, but when questioned, fewer than half that number associate themselves with the Roman faith.

2009 Dutch atheist billboard: ‘There’s probably no god. Dare to think for yourself and enjoy this life!’

According to Bernts & Berghuijs, their attitudes regarding the existence of (a) god(s) were:

  • Atheism: 24% (I don’t believe in gods)
  • Agnosticism: 34% (I don’t know if there are gods or not)
  • Ietsism: 28% (I don’t believe in gods, but there must be something higher/supernatural/more than we can observe)
  • Theism: 14% (I believe there is a God / are gods)

A December 2014 survey showed a similar reversal in public opinion, when for the first time in the Netherlands’ history, more than half of people (63%) thought that religion does more harm than good.

‘Integrative Care’ beds to disappear from Glasgow hospital

A National Health Service board in Glasgow has decided to remove seven inpatient beds at the Centre for Integrative Care at Gartnavel Hospital.  NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde voted to end funding the beds at a meeting on 20.12.16 in order to save money; services will continue to be provided on an outpatient basis.  The NHS Centre for Integrative Care is the only such service in Scotland and offers a range of alternative therapies for people with long-term conditions such as chronic pain, low energy, low mood and anxiety. It previously operated as the Homeopathic Hospital.

How marketing is exploiting our cognitive biases – Discussion paper

Swiss skeptics published their final discussion paper for 2016. It’s about consumer behavior and cognitive biases. The abstract says:

As consumers, we are rational in principle, but all too often irrational in practice: A number of so-called cognitive biases impact our rational decision-making. Our tendency for irrational decision-making is compounded by marketing, which is little more than the art of exploiting cognitive biases. Cognitive biases affect consumer behavior on two dimensions, preference genesis and preference order.

Prevalent though they are, cognitive biases in consumer behavior are not inevitable. There are two general strategies for reducing the impact of cognitive biases: Debiasing and self-nudging.

Download the paper directly from here:

Kovic M., Laissue N. – Consuming rationally: How marketing is exploiting our cognitive biases, and what we can do about it – Swiss Skeptics Discussion Paper Series Volume 1, Issue 3

Video extracts of ‘Evidence Matters’ meeting

Sense About Science has now prepared a short video (see link) of extracts from their meeting ‘Evidence Matters’ on Nov 1st 2016 held at the UK Parliament. Over 100 people from all walks of life attended to make parliamentarians, ministers and officials more aware that evidence matters to the public. Sense About Science had put out a call for stories illustrating the importance of evidence, and presented them in booklet (http://tinyurl.com/jtrmyx5) that was handed out at the event. Some of the vignettes included in the booklet were presented by their authors – fifteen members of the public who included a teacher, a cycling campaigner, a housing officer, a football supporter, and the mother of a child with a rare heart condition. It would be wonderful if similar meetings could be held in parliaments across Europe.

Get tickets to the ESC ’17

Dear skeptics!

As I am sure you all know by now, the next ESC ’17 will take place in Poland in September of next year.

The Polish Skeptics Club and the Czech Skeptics Club Sisyfos have a holiday surprise for you. Starting tomorrow, December 12th at 12:12 CET, you can start purchasing TICKETS to the ESC! Also, the first 50 Good Tickets are 20% off – 80 Eur instead of the regular price of 100 Eur.

What this all means is that not only do you save on your ticket, but you can get a wonderful present for your loved ones who are skeptics and for your loved ones who aren’t (yet).

Happy holidays!

Quack scandal in Swedish Public Health Service

A psychologist employed by the Swedish Public Health Service has privately offered and sold healing treatments to patients who she was treating in the public clinic. The treatments have been following the teachings of “Access Consciousness”, a sect-like movement founded in the eighties by a former Scientology member called Gary Douglas.

The situation was revealed on 7 December by an investigative journalist in the TV program “SVT Dold” (SVT Hidden) at SVT, the Swedish public service broadcasting company.

The Swedish Skeptics Association (aka VoF) published a highly critical debate article on 8 December (http://www.svt.se/opinion/vof-om-sekter), explaining how important it is that the Swedish Health services take every step to not expose patients to quackery, and that they have to ensure that dangerous sects and other scams are kept out of public health care.

Debate: What Role Should Nuclear Power Have in Mitigating Climate Change?

Skepsis ry from Finland is organizing a debate titled: What Role Should Nuclear Power Have in Mitigating Climate Change? Should The World Build More Nuclear Power or Not?

Speakers of the debate are Rauli Partanen, an independent science writer and energy-analyst for the Ecomodernist Society of Finland and professor Jouko Korppi-Tommola, the founder and director of the centre for renewable energy at the University of Jyväskylä.

The debate will be held at the House of Sciences in Helsinki, first wednesday of December (7.12.2016) at 18:00. Entry is free, and everyone is welcome.

Non-GMO GMO news

Activists in France destroyed a farm of non-GMO plant that was most probably created using mutation breeding. This technology is used since the 30th and some of the plants and plants created this way had not been the target of anti-GMO activists so far. Those had even been used in organic farming and product created from them had been sold as “natural” or “organic”. See for example here: Delicious mutant foods: Mutagenesis and the genetic modification controversy

Anti GMO activists now widen the definition of the enemy into such a scale that would practically include all plants and animals – including us.

English translation of the French news: Activists destroy conventional rapeseed (canola) fields in France, claiming they are GMOs

Lack of evidence to support ‘add-on’ fertility treatments

Many claims made by UK fertility clinics about the benefits of treatments that are offered in addition to standard IVF procedures are not backed up by evidence according to a study published in the online journal BMJ Open.  The findings were featured in a Panorama undercover investigation broadcast on 28.11.16 on BBC One television.

Keywords:

Society of Homeopaths and advertising

In the UK, advertisements thought to be misleading may be reported to the Advertising Standards Agency.  The ASA will investigate them and may instruct that the advert must be amended or withdrawn.   ‘The Society of Homeopaths seemed to be taking responsible action to curb the claims of their members. But what’s been going on behind the scenes?’  The Nightingale Collaboration investigates.

Skeptics in Russia hold 3rd Skepticon

This weekend, the Russian-speaking Skeptic Society (Общество скептиков, Óbščestvo skeptikov) holds its 3rd Skepticon (Скептикон) in Moscow. Based on the number of tickets sold, about 350 attendees have joined the conference, which centres around Health Myths this year.

      Speakers are:
Alexander Sergeyev.
          • Alexander Sergeyev, science journalist and member of the Commission to Fight Pseudoscience and Falsification of Scientific Research, on ‘Pseudoscience under the guise of fighting against pseudoscience’.
          • Vasily Vlasov, MD, professor of School of Economics, editor of several scientific medical journals, on ‘Myths about evidence-based medicine’.
          • Natalia Zakharova, psychiatrist, PhD, at the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology of the Russian National Research Medical University, on ‘Recovery from depression’.
          • Sergey Velkov, chemical engineer and blogger, on ‘Placebos without deception’.
          • Anton Zakharov, psychologist and populariser of science, on ‘Genetics of sex’.
14264120_1141047562640986_4605935236252775202_n
Elena Rydkina.
        • Elena Rydkina, sex education
          author and co-founder of the Sexprosvet18+
          conferences, on ‘Myths about sexuality’.
        • Alexey Payevsky, science journalist and editor-in-chief of the portal Neuron, on ‘What we have learned about the brain in the last half century?’
        • Katya Zvereva, co-founder and coordinator of Obscestvo skeptikov, on ‘But it works for me!’ Logical fallacies in defence of alt med.
        • Boris Tsatsulin, author and presenter of videoblog CMT. Scientific approach, on ‘The benefits and dangers of vitamins’.
        • Alisa Kuznetsova, good cop in the Prize named after Harry Houdini, and massage therapist, on ‘Alternative Medicine: Insights’.

          TIm Skorenko.
        • Tim Skorenko, editor of the magazine Популярная механика (Popular Mechanics) and the website popmech.ru, on ‘Technical quackery: bio proofreaders, the healing power of the Egyptian techniques and other amazing devices’.
        • Konstantin Kunakh, practicing psychologist-consultant, on ‘Psychotherapy: Can something that has not been proven scientifically actually work?’
афиша_скептикон_2016_sched6-01-01
Skeptican 2016 programme in Russian.
Keywords: ,

Death from acupuncture

Norway´s national broadcaster NRK this week featured a case about a death related to acupuncture.

In February of 2015 a man died of infection shortly after visiting an acupuncture clinic. He had been there for treatment many times before, as this was a training clinic for new acupuncturists.

This time the student inserted the needle, discovered that the needle was placed wrong and proceeded to extract the needle before reinserting the same needle.

Four days after the treatment, the man fell ill. He was quickly committed to hospital, where the doctors could conclude that he had a blood infection. In the following four days he gained 20 kg from swelling and after 2 cardiac arrests his body could tolerate no more.

Eight days after the acupuncture treatment he was dead and his wife of 15 years marriage left a widow.

The autopsy never clearly stated that the death was caused by acupuncture, but no other reason for the rapid blood infection was found.

Why fact-checking news reports is important

Viralgranskaren (‘The Viral Monitor’) is a standing column of the Swedish branch of the international freesheet newspaper Metro (that is also originally from Sweden). They specialise in finding out whether viral videos and stories are actually true, and encourage people to fact-check before sharing something on social media.

On 18 November 2016, they created both a Swedish and an English version of a video explaining why fact-checking news reports is important.

The example they give is of a story that went viral in late October 2016. It was based on a real news article from Sveriges Television (SVT). However, xenophobic conspiracy right-wing websites, blogs, shock-logs etc., especially outside Sweden (e.g. Infowars), seized upon the article – that didn’t even mention Islam, Muslims or refugees – to claim that decorative Christmas lights were ‘banned to avoid offending Muslim migrants’. (more…)

Keywords:

Official statement issued by the Hungarian Skeptic Society reflecting on an anti GMO article

HSS press release

Head of the Department of Ecotoxicology of Agro-Enviromental Research Institute (AERI) Béla Darvas recently wrote an article on Átlátszó.hu – a Hungarian watchdog portal – discussing GM organisms. In his piece, Darvas – a prominent anti-GMO advocate – refers specifically to the Hungarian Skeptic Society (HSS) and various scientists as promoters of GMOs, claiming that for these “pro-GMO” organizations and individuals “GMO is beyond any scientific criticism and is the only viable way, providing the perfect solution”. Apart from the logical fallacies applied, including that of a straw man argument, there are several elements of his claims that should not be left unanswered. Thus, yesterday, the board of the Hungarian Skeptic Society issued a statement with regards to these claims. (more…)

Keywords:

Review of regulations on cryonics

Earlier this year a judge granted a 14-year-old girl’s wish to have her body cryonically preserved and transported to the USA.  Her estranged father was opposed to her undergoing this procedure.  The girl had terminal cancer and has now died.  Her hope was that in the future, when a cure has been found for her cancer, she can be revived and treated.  The procedures used by the cryonics team who attended the hospital at which she died have caused concern.  The Department of Health is reviewing regulations on cryonics after it was revealed that children as young as 7 have been signed up for the procedure.

 

Main Hungarian portal launches Pseudoscience-debunking collection

Index.hu - tematic collections

The most popular Hungarian internet portal “Index” had recently launched a new format by organizing the articles into folders based on topic. They call the structure as Index-Files referring to X-Files. During the last period the quality of scientific articles on Index is increasing rapidly and they bravely and thoroughly cover several topics related to skepticism. Their new Pseudoscience – Debunking “Files” collects related articles from the past years.

Reviewing alternative cancer clinics in Germany

David Gorski speaking at TAM 2012. (Brian Engler CC-BY-SA 3.0).

After a recent series of controversies surrouding German cancer clinics, in which so-called Heilpraktiker (alternative therapists such as Klaus Ross who require fewer qualifications than regular physicians) are allowed to perform invasive treatments, American oncologist David Gorski (Orac) of Science-Based Medicine has extensively studied this phenomenon and published his results.

The conclusions are damning: although some ‘legitimate’ experimental drugs (like 3-BP or DCA) that might have promising future applications are being tested in these clinics, ‘German clinics often charge enormous sums of money for treatments that range from the unproven to the dubious to pure quackery’, whilst offering false hope to desperate patients around Europe. He recounts the story of British stomach cancer patient Pauline Gahan, who has put her faith and fortunes (£300,000; some of it raised publicly) in the Hallwang Clinic in Dornstetten.
(more…)

Portuguese skeptics ‘Explain the Brain’

On 19 November 2016, the Portuguese Skeptical Community (COMCEPT) hold their 5th annual conference – ComceptCon – in the city of Porto. This year, the recently formalised association focuses on the theme “Explain the Brain!” (Esmiuçar o Cérebro!), and is supported by the Associação Viver a Ciência and facilitated by Pólo das Indústrias Criativas da UPTEC. About 100 guests are expected to join the convention, which is free to attend.

The speakers, coming from several different disciplines and Portuguese national institutes, are:

  • Ana Matos Pires: medical psychiatrist and professor from the University of the Algarve, on exploring the line between ‘normal’ and mental illnesses.
  • Diana Prata: biologist and researcher at the University of Lisbon, about the current state of knowledge of the human brain.
  • Júlio Borlido dos Santos: biologist and science communicator from the University of Porto, on neuro-enhancement (cognitive improvement).
  • Maria Ribeiro: neuroscientist and researcher at the University of Coimbra, about how are senses, especially our vision, can deceive us.
  • Miguel Remondes: molecular biologist and researcher at the University of Lisbon, on the reliability of our memory.

Norwegian organisation “SKEPSIS” wakes from slumber!

The norwegian skeptical association, SKEPSIS have not been very active the last few years. This has been due to problems with the board, and an organisation which was not rigged for adversity.

Some members have soldiered on through these tough times, and the organisation has stayed afloat, despite not organising events or collecting membership fees.

After talks about closing down the organisation this summer two former board chairmen decided to try too collect a new board and keep the organisation working.

This October a board consisting of 4 people were elected to assemble the pieces. The boards first assignment is to start up the organisation anew, to get noticed and make a platform for further growth.