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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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…)

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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…)

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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.
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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.

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CICAP announces XV course for skeptics and “mystery investigators”

Field work during CICAP's course for skeptics

“L’arte del disinganno”, the XV course teaching skeptics to debunk tricks and lies of the occult world, to investigate past and present mysterious events, to take part in experiments with psychics, and to understand hoaxes will take place in Padova during 7 weekends from January to June 2017.
Students will be able to attend lessons held by a pool of 20 experts, with theoric lessons and practical work and activities.

Diabetic woman dies after ‘slapping therapy’

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after a 71-year-old diabetic woman died following a workshop in Seend, Wiltshire based around slapping as a form of ‘self-healing’.  It is understood that one of those arrested was Hongchi Xiao, a Chinese therapist running the paida lajin retreat. He promotes the controversial therapy as ‘a way of purging toxins from patients’ by slapping them or getting them to slap themselves. Last year, Hongchi was questioned by police in Australia after the death of a seven-year-old boy from Sydney who had attended one of his workshops.

Swedish antroposophical clinic to cut staff

The Swedish only antroposophical clinic “Vidarkliniken” has announced plans to lay off up to 17 out of 100 employees. Vidarkliniken is the only clinic or hospital in Sweden that has permission to use antroposophical “medicine” as a complement to evidence based treatments. The Swedish government decided in July to phase out this permission over five years.

The news of cutting staff also follows the clinic having received scathing criticism after an audit pointed out severe problems with documenting patient records and failure to advocate conventional medicine to patients. This in turn led to the clinic recently losing three important public contracts, which is cited as the direct reason for the cut back.

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Faith healer’s prison term extended

A ‘faith-healer’ who operated from Leicester, England, has had his nine-year prison sentence extended by five years as he has not paid back £613,500 conned from his victims. ‘However, the extension to Mohammed Ashrafi’s sentence could be cut if he pays back the missing cash. Ashrafi (51) was found guilty last year of 14 counts of fraud involving 18 victims, by falsely claiming that in return for payments for materials required for prayer, they would win the lottery, between January and April 2014. He called himself Kamal-Ji, and purported to be in spiritual contact with an Indian Saint, Sai Baba, with special powers to solve problems and financial difficulties.’

Why do we believe in silly things? The social problems of pseudo-science.

 

This science communication session will be held during the morning of the 18th November at the University of Alicante and addresses the two issues in the title as well as closing with the session:

Fecalmagnetism: the art of selling shit. A case study where two friends invented a pseudoscience just to see how far they could get with barefaced lies? The answer is highly disturbing.

https://web.ua.es/es/seus/torrevieja/documentos/cursos-y-jornadas/2016-2017/programa-jornada-divulgacion-cientifica.pdf

‘Evidence Matters’ meeting at UK Parliament

On Tuesday November 1st a meeting organised by Sense About Science was held in the Speaker’s room in the UK Parliament. It was attended by MPs, civil servants and 100 members of the public. The purpose of the event – ‘Evidence Matters’ – was to promote the importance of evidence to people across all walks of life. Sense About Science put out a call for stories of the importance of evidence, and collated them into a booklet that was handed out at the meeting.

Skeptic Van Erp sued by Ruggero Santilli

Ruggero Santilli. (Photo: Globalreach1 at en.wikipedia)

It appears the legal threats of American–Italian fringe scientist Ruggero Santilli to Dutch skeptic Pepijn van Erp are not as empty as first thought. At a Florida court, Santilli has now officially sued both Van Erp, the company that hosts his website, and Frank Israel, president of the Dutch skeptics foundation Stichting Skepsis. He claims to have been ‘defamed’, and demands damages in excess of 15,000 dollar.

Van Erp is quite confident it will not lead to a conviction:

It’s an undeniable fact that Santilli is seen as a fringe scientist by mainstream scientists. And I think it’s a fair and justifiable question to ask about anyone who sells telescopes which simply cannot work as described, whether he does this out of a completely wrong understanding of science (“a mad professor”) or perhaps, more cynical, just to make money fully aware that what he states cannot be true (“a cunning scam artist”).

Finnish Magician Miika Pelkonen Reminds People to Stay Skeptical Regarding Extraordinary Claims

Finnish Skeptics had their own table at “Hengen ja tiedon messut” (annual new age / paranormal event) in Helsinki where Uri Geller was one of the main attractions this year. The skeptics came well prepared and had Miika Pelkonen (European Champion of Card Magic) performing at their table as a counter example to all the extraordinary claims made everywhere else in the area. Metal was bending, minds were read, and cards changed their their colours, all this in front of 10-20 people gathered close around Miika, and without any claims of paranormal. More impressive than Uri Geller? Yep. Check out a video of Miika in action from Skepsisfinland’s YouTube Channel.

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Swedish Humanists criticizes the visit of Pope Francis

The Swedish Humanist society protested the current visit of Pope Francis in Sweden. Hours before a sermon held by Pope Francis at the Cathedral of Lund, Sweden on October 31, activists posted a poster containing ten theses on the Cathedral door, mimicking Martin Luther’s protest 500 years ago. The poster was swiftly removed by church officials, but contained a call for reforming the Catholic church regarding:

  1. Equality for Women
  2. Equality for LBTQ persons
  3. Freedom of religion for children
  4. Full right for women to decide about their own bodies
  5. A stop for the opposition to contraceptives
  6. Every human’s right to euthanasia
  7. All child abuse to be reported to the authorities
  8. A stop for blocking certain scientific research, especially stem cell research
  9. A stop for the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope
  10. Each person’s right to define their own moral code.

Irish “bishop” convicted for unauthorised supply of ‘miracle’ cure for autism

A leading Co Kildare member of the Genesis II Church was convicted at Naas District Court yesterday for manufacturing a miracle cure which is said to cure autism.

Patrick Merlehan, Newtown House, Newtown, Moone, Co Kildare, was charged with manufacturing a product, not in accordance with the Health Products Regulatory Authority, contrary to 2007 Regulations, on November 6, 2014.

The man who calls himself a “Bishop” of the the Genesis II Church was also charged with placing Miracle Mineral Solution( MMS) on the market, contrary to 2007, control of placing on the market regulations.

The conviction came about after authorities were alerted about the malpractice by skeptical activist Fiona O’Leary, founder of ART Autistic Rights Together. (http://autisticrightstogether.ie/index.php/)

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Doctors campaign against ineffective mainstream medical procedures

Skeptics in the UK rightly campaign against money being wasted by the National Health Service on alternative medicine.  But it seems that much more money is being spent on ineffective treatments and procedures that come from within mainstream medicine. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) has announced that dozens of treatments for ailments ranging from small wounds to cancer make little or no difference compared with no treatment at all, while also potentially incurring side effects. The organisation, which represents 22 royal medical colleges, has called for doctors to think more carefully and critically before they prescribe the treatments, warning that ‘more doesn’t always mean better’. The AMRC has previously estimated that up to £2bn per year may be wasted on pointless treatments.

Skeptics’ Mass Suicide Attempt

Skeptics in several European cities have taken homeopathic overdoses today to show there’s nothing in it. Despite the lack of any active ingredients, manufacturers and homeopaths claim it becomes dangerous if the prescribed dosage of a homeopathically diluted and shaken remedy is consumed several times. But that’s a myth, the skeptics say, which they’ve gone to prove today.

The events are the latest edition of the 10:23 Campaign, first held by SKEPP in Ghent, Belgium in 2004. In 2010, the event was reinvented by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, and first named 10:23 after Avogadro’s number, in several British cities. In 2011, the campaign expanded to a worldwide protest against homeopathy, with people on all seven continents (yes, that includes Antarctica) across 30 countries in 70 cities, with at least 30 participants per city attempting to commit homeopathic suicide.

This video (German) was recorded by the GWUP skeptics in Hamburg, Germany. Simultaneous events happened in Prague (about 100 participants) and other Czech cities (Brno, Ostrava) and in Bratislava (about 60 participants), Slovakia. Everyone survived, just like in previous years.
An interview with the Czech Skeptics’ Club Sisyfos chairman Leoš Kyša can be read here (Czech).
This year’s event in the Prague took place in front of the Czech Ministry of Health.
Apart from the usual skeptic crowd, the event welcomed members of the Atheist of the Czech Republic, including their chairman Petr Tomek.

Other interesting participants were the three pro-homeopathy demonstrators, who were disgusted with the whole lot, and left soon after they found out none of the media – TV stations and newspeople – paid them any attention. Pets, cats and dogs, could have been spotted in the crowd, being given homeopathic remedies by their owners.

To make things a little more interesting, the Prague skeptics demonstrated the making of a homeopathic remedy, using rum as the original substance to be diluted.
In the end, even small children, participating in the even with their parents, were allowed to drink the homeopathic rum.
Outrageous?! Why? There’s nothing in it.

More photos: Lidovky

Article photos credits: Vendy

 

 

Keshe foundation claims to heal cancer

Keshe foundations claims to heal cancer in an interview with local newspaper “Itromsø“.

The foundation claims to have made a machine that uses “plasma” to balance the body and therefore cure cancer. The interview was held in a local alternative fair and Keshe foundation had a stand at this fair.

In Norway, such claims are forbidden by law, and norwegian consumer authorities will investigate the foundation.

The people behind the foundation are also associated with the Magrav Power Plasma generator which claims to provide free energy and the norwegian alternative website “nyhetsspeilet”.

One can suspect that the claims are a calculated risk, because the norwegian laws are quite clear regarding such claims, but the penalty is not very severe.

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Telepathy: CICAP performs tests on two Italian women the newspapers claimed to have telepathic powers.

In north Italy, Massimo Polidoro and Luigi Garlaschelli have conducted tests with two women, mother and daughter, that some newspapers had called “telepathic”.

Newspapers were reporting an extraordinary rate of success (an average of 25 correct cards guessed out of 25 attempts). It was therefore important to verify the validity of tests.

Tests performed by CICAP have shown that, by adjusting the conditions to eliminate any chance of sending visual or sound signals, the rate of correct guesses dropped to the expected average for random guesses.

The monthly magazine Focus has published an article with an account of the test carried out by CICAP on the two women in recent weeks.

If you trust Facebook more than Wikipedia…

Freemasonry symbol.

A conversation between German pupils (translated by Leon Korteweg).

Apparently, René has a school assignment to write about freemasonry, but he is a bit lazy, so he asks his Facebook friends.

René: “Can anyone say something about the Freemasons? What they are what they do etc”
Christine: “How about checking Wikipedia?”
René: “Thanks Mrs Clever but [the teacher] said we couldn’t copy from Wikipedia.”
Jan: “Then read it through and summarise it.”
René: “Nah too much text, I already got bored at the first sentence.”
Jan: “Ok then I won’t be like that for once. Freemasons are former East Germans that we’ve got the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall to thank for. Namely, they tore down the Wall with hammer and sickle. Hence the name Freemasons [Freimaurer, lit. ‘Free-Wallers’]. Today, they are a kind of secret society. In the winter, they live in the mountains and dig for Christmas bread, in the summer they bend bananas straight to conform to EU standards.”
René: “Wtf? Would you be angry if I would just copypaste this from you?”
Jan: “Oh no, not at all. Don’t worry.”

The Süddeutsche Zeitung (South German Times) got hold of this conversation, where Jan successfully jokingly fooled René, who ignored Christine’s and Jan’s rather good idea to read Wikipedia for basic –and generally reliable– information. The Zeitung comments: ‘We couldn’t have explained it better’, referring to Jan’s fictional summary of freemasonry.

Skeptics in the pub, Bergen

We are happy to see that Skeptics in the pub has been started in Bergen.

If you are visiting Bergen and wish to meet fellow skeptics, click the link and see if something is happening, or send a message

Half of health research reaches public

Norwegian psychologist and scientis Jan Ola Hesselberg claims in this article that half of all health research does not get published.

The problem stems from publication bias and sees researchers only publishing positive reports or surprising findings. The norwegian foundation Extrastiftelsen works together with 18 norwegian health organisations to sign the petition alltrials.

Hopefully this will start a trend where research generally and health research especially is registered and will show more than clickbait headlines.

Severe hypercalcaemia in a child due to alternative medicine

Police were called to investigate a naturopath who had advised the family of a 4-year-old boy to give their son a combination of 12 different supplements and ‘natural therapies’ including calcium, vitamin D, camel milk and zinc. The boy had been vomiting and constipated for three weeks and lost 6lb (3kg) in weight before he was taken to accident and emergency and diagnosed with severe hypercalcaemia – very high calcium levels in his blood. Writing in the British Medical Journal’s Case Reports, doctors from Barts Health NHS Trust in London said, “Many families view these therapies as safer ‘natural’ options. But as this case demonstrates, there can be significant adverse effects which may go unrecognised due to lack of monitoring, recognition and experience with these therapies.”

The boy made a full recovery two weeks later.

And the Golden Board 2016 goes to…!

The German-speaking skeptical society GWUP nominated three people/institutions for “the most bizarre, most outrageous, brashest pseudoscientific nonsense contribution” in Germany, Austria and Switzerland of 2016: Ryke Geerd Hamer (founder of the dangerous Germanische Neue Medizin), Roland Düringer (comedian turned politician who spreads lots of conspiracy theories) and Krebszentrum Brüggen-Bracht (alternative cancer clinic of Heilpraktiker Klaus Ross). The award is called the ‘Golden Board in Front of the Face’, to rebuke purveyors of pseudoscience who don’t see the harm they’re doing.

The award ceremony was held on 11 October in Vienna, co-organised by the Viennese regional GWUP group Society for Critical Thinking (Gesellschaft für kritisches Denken) and the Freethinkers League of Austria (Freidenkerbund Österreich). A side-event was held in Hamburg Skeptics in the Pub with a livestream of the Viennese ceremony.
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Rolf Luneng´s medical license still withheld

Doctor Rolf Luneng lost his medical license in 2013. The norwegian health directory found his treatment of lyme disease unsatisfactory. Rolf Luneng ran his own center of lyme disease.

Luneng´s treatment consisted largely of great doses of antibiotics, and he claimed that 70% of his patients got well, or better.

The local neurological ward, and other general practitioners voiced concerns over Luneng´s methods after a patient developed liver failure and other complications.

Rolf Luneng still has the right to an appeal.

Dutch vet society wins quack award

Logo of the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Medicine.

Last Saturday, the Dutch Society against Quackery (Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, VtdK) has given the Master Quack Award (Meester Kackadorisprijs) to the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Medicine (KNMvD). Out of five nominees, the july ruled that the vet society promoted quackery in the Netherlands the most last year.

It had given the non-accredited Study Group for Complementarily Operating Vets (SCwD) too much room to practice freely, ‘shamelessly’ granting it a seemingly official status, on top of the fact that the SCwD makes ‘unjustified health claims’. According to the jury, Utrecht University’s Faculty for Veterinary Medicine, that offers the only accredited training for veterinary surgeons in the country, has – unlike the KNMvD – always clearly rejected alternative medicine as unscientific.

KNMvD president Dirk Willink was personally present to receive the ironic award, which he did ‘not regard as a reprimand, but as an open invitation to begin a discussion with people who think differently’. He opined that there is much science doesn’t know yet, and there should be tolerance for alternative therapies, even if it is unknown if they even work, and if so, how. Piet Borst, a renowned Dutch skeptical physician, urged Willink to check whether the KNMvD was correctly applying a 2008 Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) guideline, that rules that ‘physicians may only practice irregular treatments under strict conditions’; Willink promised they would.

Homeopathy is safe, belief in it isn’t

Maarten Boudry. (Tim Deschaumes CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Belgian philosopher Maarten Boudry (SKEPP member) wrote in an NRC Handelsblad opinion piece that medicines that rely solely on the placebo effect have one vital ingredient that patients need to supply themselves: belief. However, one cannot choose to believe something; you either believe something or you don’t, depending on circumstances you can’t control. We can’t force ourselves to believe a glass of ordinary tap water can relieve our headache. Likewise, once you know a certain medicine is nothing but a sugar pill, the placebo effect has worn off. Boudry calls this the ‘involuntary nature of belief’.

We can’t force ourselves to believe shaken water cures anything.

He therefore disagrees with the seemingly reasonable suggestion of ethnologist Peter Jan Margry, who argued we should draw a sharp line in alternative medicine between healthy and dangerous treatments. You can’t choose your own illusions, Boudry says, and illusions are always prone to harmful side-effects.

Unlike regular medicines, homeopathy may be said to be side-effect free: a sugar pill or a bit of shaken water does nothing whatsoever, neither good nor bad, and some people may get a placebo effect from it. ‘Should we therefore ban the Dutch Society against Quackery (Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij), and all start swallowing shaken water, in the hope we’ll someday all believe it works?’ Boudry asks. He points to an undercover investigation by Simon Singh and Alice Tuff (Sense about Science), who found all ten homeopaths they consulted recommended shaken water against malaria: potentially lethal illusions.

Homeopathy itself may therefore not be dangerous, but belief in it can be, especially when it’s considered a valid replacement of real medicine. Besides, the latter also offers a placebo bonus, so why resort to possibly harmful alternatives?

Catholic Church to raise standard for miracles

Francis canonising John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014. (Jeffrey Bruno/Aleteia CC-BY-SA 2.0).

‘Under the current rules, the Vatican declares something a ‘miracle’ if more than 50% of all experts (several dozens) vote in favour,’ the Dutch (Protestant-leaning) newspaper Trouw reports. ‘That bar will be raised to 66%.’ Apparently, the pope still doesn’t realise you can’t just suspend the laws of nature by majority vote.

Interestingly, the paper adds that ‘the number of miracles was already declining in recent decades – possibly because doctors can explain more and more’, implying that declaring something a ‘miracle’ may be nothing more than an argument from ignorance.

Date: 4th October 2016

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Original news: link
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Members are leaving the Swedish church, just like in Norway and Denmark

Both the Norwegian and Danish national churches have lost a lot of members over the last couple of months. In Norway this started with a web service that facilitated for anyone to leave the church and in Denmark a secular campaign over the summer has driven many to cancel their membership.

Now the turn has apparently come to Sweden. In Sweden the national church has been separated from the state since 2000, but still has some special privileges. The most important one is that the membership fee, which used to be a tax, is still collected via the income tax return. The membership fee is based on your taxable income and averages at about 300 euros per year.

Just like in Norway, the Swedish church recently published a webpage where you can easily leave the church, the only thing required is the digital signature according to a system used by all Swedish banks . Earlier you would have to acquire a physical form to sign and send back to your local church administration centre. Apparently this new way of leaving is a service that people appreciate, because after less than two weeks about 10000 people have decided to opt out of the church.

With Norway and Denmark losing tens of thousands of members over the last couple of months, and now the same in Sweden, it seems we are witnessing a crisis for the old national churches in Scandinavia.

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Wirral CCG drops funding for homeopathy and Iscador

Earlier this year Liverpool CCG stopped funding homeopathy thanks in large part to Michael Marshall and the Good Thinking Society.  (In England, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are responsible for the planning and commissioning of health care services for their local area. There are now 209 CCGs.)  It has just been announced that Wirral CCG have confirmed their decision to end funding, following a public consultation which found a 95% majority in favour this action.  The only remaining English CCGs that provide the treatment are North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, near Bristol – where, until recently, there was a homeopathic hospital – Bristol itself, and some London CCGs.

An anti-homeopathy editorial in leading Spanish national paper, El Pais.

 

El Pais, on 3 October, published an editorial supporting Spanish pharmacists who want to get homeopathy kicked out of pharmacies.

The author clearly states the opinion (that skeptics share) that homeopathy has no place being sold in establishments that have the right to dispense medicines. Why not? Because homeopathy isn’t medicine.

 

 

FarmaCiencia’s campaign against homeopathy got a boost from…Edzard Ernst!!!

FarmaCiencia’s campaign by ethical pharmacists to get homeopathy kicked out of pharmacies received a great tweet of support by none other than Edzard Ernst. Please retweet to your heart’s content.

 

Science’s Turn-the whole course now available

The 4th edition of this course was held this September and dealt with a wide range of topics of skeptical interest: what is and isn’t medicine, the psychology of irrational belief, the scientific method in everyday life and many others.

This is a great resource both for skeptics and students of Spanish.

The full course can be watched at:

https://youtu.be/m175nclWQ-Q?list=PL7njOoD8BmpyVOSWP6em1kwZZC0MxFRvJ

 

 

Date: 30th September 2016

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Original news: link
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Report on NHS Funding for Homeopathy in Wirral

The Good Thinking Society has just reported that ‘Following a lengthy public consultation by NHS Wirral CCG on the funding of homeopathy and Iscador therapy (mistletoe extract), the CCG has published a full report highlighting “an overwhelming majority consensus from the consultation respondents to cease funding Homeopathy and Iscador treatments in Wirral, from NHS funds.” The report will be discussed at the CCG’s Governing Body meeting on Tuesday October 4th, where the CCG will decide whether to join NHS Liverpool CCG in ending funding for these ineffective therapies’.

 

Nominees for the Golden Board 2016

This year’s nominees for the GWUP’s ironic award Goldenes Brett vorm
Kopf (‘Golden Board in Front of the Face’) are:

  • Ryke Geerd Hamer – founder of the dangerous Germanische Neue Medizin (Germanic New Medicine);
  • Roland Düringer – a comedian who has entered politics and spreads all kinds of conspiracy theories;
  • Krebszentrum Brüggen-Bracht – the alternative cancer clinic of Heilpraktiker Klaus Ross, where at least three patients died recently after receiving fatal injections that have stirred up controversy.

The website www.zentrum-der-gesundheit.de receives the Golden Board Lifetime Achievement Award (Goldenes Brett fürs Lebenswerk).

The annually awarded Golden Board honours “the most bizarre, most outrageous, brashest pseudoscientific nonsense contribution of the year in German-speaking countries.” This year’s winner will be presented on 11 October in Vienna, Austria.

More information in GermanSamenvatting in het Nederlands

VtdK Symposium 1 October 2016: ‘Quacks’ Tax-exempt Status a Legal Error?’

The Dutch Society against Quackery, Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK), will hold its annual symposium on 1 October 2016 at De Nieuwe Liefde in Amsterdam. This year, the conference will focus on the tax-exempt status of many alternative therapists, which might lead to the promotion of quackery, and giving it undue legitimacy.

Speakers:
– Prof. dr. René van der Paardt, professor in excise taxes at Erasmus University Rotterdam
– Dr. Cees Renckens, honorary chair of the VtdK and emeritus gynaecologist
– Mr. Saskia Huizer, tax advisor, specialises in VAT, Rotterdam

The symposium will start with the presentation of the Master Quack Award to whoever promoted quackery the most this year in the Netherlands (read here who were nominated). Also, the Bruinsma Brothers Medal will be awarded to Henk van Gerven, MP for the Socialist Party, who has a long record of questioning and criticising dubious medical practices both within regular medicine as well as numerous alternative therapies.

Entrance fees are high for non-members; they are recommended to join the Society, or go along with a member as an introducee.

Skeptics form new association in Portugal

A group of Portuguese skeptics has established a new national association to coordinate their activism and build a community of critical thinkers across the country. COMCEPT, or the Comunidade Céptica Portuguesa (Portuguese Skeptical Community) has existed informally as a group of friends with a love for science education ever since 2012, but now the tedious process of registering legally has finally been completed.

The first formal general assembly of the Portuguese Skeptical Community was held on 24 September 2016, where the three boards were elected. (Photo: António Vilas–Boas)

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MMS Promoter dropped from Science Week Talks Program

Josep Pàmies, a notorious proponent of MMS (a product more commonly known as industrial disinfectant) for therapeutic purposes was due to give a talk extolling the benefits of this dangerous practice at Science Week (Madrid).

Happily his participation will no longer be required. More information about this unscrupulous individual:

http://www.escepticos.es/node/4293

 

Date: 27th September 2016

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Friends of the Earth misled the public about fracking

Friends of the Earth (FOE) misled the public in a leaflet which claimed fracking can cause cancer, UK’s advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said. A leaflet issued by FOE also featured a photo of Grasmere in the Lake District – despite there being no plans for fracking in the area. A draft report from the ASA said that the charity failed to substantiate its claims about the dangers. The provisional ruling, which was apparently leaked to The Times newspaper, was produced after the ASA received a complaint from energy firm Cuadrilla.

Prominent Swedish Skeptic gets prestigious award

Dan Larhammar, current board member and former President of VoF (aka the Swedish Skeptics Association) has been appointed “Pharmacist of the year 2016” by the organisation Svensk Farmaci (Swedish Pharmacy). The prize is awarded every year to a “phamacist in Sweden who through his/her actions has contributed to strenghten, develop or confirm the role of pharmacy in society”.

Dan Larhammar pharmacist

Dan Larhammar is a pharmacist and a professor of molecular cell biology at the University of Uppsala. He is also a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Science and is a long time member of the board of VoF, where he served as President 1998-2004. His research includes functional studies of neuropeptides and peptide hormones. His research in the 1990s was the first to be able to clone receptors for the neurotransmitter neuropeptide Y (NPY), which among other things are associated with obesity, memory and learning.

Henk van Gerven receives Bruinsma Medal for fighting quackery

The Dutch Society against Quackery, Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK), has awarded the 2016 Bruinsma Brothers Medal to Member of Parliament Henk van Gerven (Socialist Party). The Society praises him for his long record of fighting dubious medical practices:

Henk van Gerven in 2012. (Bas Stoffelsen / SP CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Van Gerven’s Socialist Party (SP) has revealed itself as a party that doesn’t just combat abuses in regular medicine, but also deals with quackery in our country. Unlike other parties, the SP has consistently denounced all unproven therapies. The party’s parliamentary questions about non-regular medicine, first by Agnes Kant, and in the last ten years by former GP Henk van Gerven, are numerous. The jury ruled that both were very well aware of the dangers of such types of medicine.

Van Gerven will be presented with the award during the upcoming VtdK Symposium on 1 October in Amsterdam.

The Bruinsma Brothers Medal (Gebroeders Bruinsma Erepenning) was introduced at the occasion of the VtdK’s 125th anniversary. The name refers to the brothers Gerard and Vitus Bruinsma, who founded the Society in 1880, making it the oldest skeptical organisation in the world.

FarmaCiencia – Responsible pharmacists speak out against homoeopathy

A new community of Pharmacists dedicated to the promotion of scientific medicine and resistance to pseudo medicines has announced its constitution by sending an open letter to the Ministry of Health, President of the Pharmacist’s College, the Deans of Pharmacy Faculties and the Presidents of Pharmaceutical Sciences Associations.

The letter condemns the presence of homeopathic potions in pharmacies and urges all parties to live up to the profession’s ethical code and not to allow pseudo medicines to hide behind the shield of pharmacist’s respectability.

Jesús Fernández, a Pharmacist in Madrid, is the spokesperson and driving force behind this initiative.

http://www.escepticos.es/sites/default/files/FarmaCiencia%20carta.jpg

Date: 26th September 2016

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Today the ECSO is 22 years old

These are the ECSO’s founding documents: the Establishment Agreement and Charter, as adopted on 25 September 1994.
They were drafted during the sixth European Skeptics Congress that was held in Oostende, Belgium. At earlier conferences and in letter correspondence in the run-up to this weekend, extensive negotiations had taken place between eight organisations from different (Western) European countries with the same goal: to protect the public against harmful misinformation, to investigate extraordinary claims and to promote evidence-based science policies. As it happened, the French skeptics’ representative had to return home due to grave family conditions, so seven organisations (including the U.S.-based CSICOP) became the founding members (with the later approval of the national and regional organisations’ boards). Here is a photo of the people who signed on behalf of each (you may recognise some of them):

The seven signers of the founding documents (left to right): Amardeo Sarma (GWUP, Germany/Austria/Switzerland) Michael Howgate (UK Skeptics, Britain), Miguel Angel Sabadell (ARP, Spain), Paul Kurtz (CSICOP, USA), Tim Trachet (SKEPP, Belgium), Arlette Fougnies (Comité PARA, Belgium), Kees de Jager (Stichting Skepsis, Netherlands).

22 years later, the thus established European Council of Skeptical Organisations has grown and expanded to include many more groups across the continent, especially the east and north. Ten more Congresses and several symposia and campaigns have been held in support of transnational skeptical activism. The ECSO is currently looking to cooperate with associations in countries where organised skepticism is still relatively new and could use the support and know-how of the old family. Internationalisation requires skeptics to work together, because pseudoscience and extraordinary claims have also profited from fading boundaries and new technologies.

Date: 25th September 2016

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Back issues of the Finnish Skeptikko magazine available for free

The Finnish association of skeptics have released most of their back catalogue of Skeptikko magazine free of charge and for everyone to read or download. Full issues of the magazine are available from the year 1988 up to the year 2014. Get full PDF-versions of the magazine from the home page of Skepsis ry and have fun learning about the history and current state of our activities and skeptical topics in Finland.

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Miracle Mineral Supplement-MMS

Despite being widely condemned for what it essentially is, industrial bleach, MMS has been cropping up a lot lately among the regular smorgasbord of SCAMs (Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicines).

José Ramón Alonso is Professor of Cell Biology at the University of Salamanca and Director of the Laboratory of Neural Plasticity and Neuro-repair at the Neuroscience Institute of Castilla y León. In this article he explains what MMS is, its origins as a “therapy” and why it’s dangerous.

http://www.escepticos.es/monografia/4611

Date: 23rd September 2016

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Norwegian food conglomerates requests government to stop GMO import

Norwegian food retail giants Rema, Coop and Norgesgruppen requests government to stop the import of GMO corn, (corn 1507).

The corn is mostly used to feed livestock, and is not actually in use in Norway. The reason for the proposed ban, is that the norwegian environmental department have proposed that the corn should be allowed for import.

The food retailers claim that the norwegian consumers are fearful of GMO products and pesticides. And that the norwegian market therefore do not want GMO products.

The norwegian government currently does not allow import or harvesting of GMO plants to feed human or livestock, but the government will be reevaluating this fall.

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Another False Sighting of a UFO

On 20.9.16 people near Dartmoor in South West England were shocked when a UFO was spotted over their area. The object, ‘a bizarre light’ can be seen hovering in the distance in amateur footage taken by Tanya Davis and her daughter Charlee. They claim that it remained there for around two to three minutes, after which it slowly disappeared into the distance. ‘Friends told them that the light could have originated from a drone, but the pair said that it was “too big” and “silent” for that to be the case’.

However, a police officer dismissed the UFO theory, announcing that the lights were caused by a source closer to home and planet Earth. ‘I can confirm there are no #UFOs over #Okehampton. @BritishArmy have an exercise ongoing with flares. Countless 999 calls now… #WordsFail’ – he tweeted. (See Aliens are not launching an attack on West Devon – it’s just an Army exercise)

Dartmoor is used mainly for training exercises by Royal Marines and other forces.

Dutch Defence Minister amongst quack award nominees

Dutch Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert is a nominee.

During its 1 October symposium, the Dutch Society against Quackery, Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij, will announce who has won this year’s Master Quack Award (Meester Kackadorisprijs). Nominated are:

  1. The Donders Institute at Radboud University Nijmegen
    Because of a bad dissertation on acupuncture. See also
    Acupunctuurpromotie RU: niet meer dan placebo-effect volgens promotor Coenen (Dutch)
  2. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Minister of Defence
    Military personnel has, without their knowledge, been given a health insurance, where alternative care has been included in basic care.
  3. Dutch Royal Society for Veterinary Medicine (KNMvD)
    The organisation lets alternatively operating vets, united in the Study Group for Complementarily Operating Vets, practice freely. Nominated for the third time.
  4. André Rouvoet, chair of VEKTIS
    VEKTIS registers alternative healthcare providers, which they require in order to be eligible for compensation by health insurance companies. According to the Society, VEKTIS’ assessment procedure is a farce.
  5. Huub Savelkoul, professor at Wageningen University
    Nominated for a second time, this year for his cooperation to a course on ‘orthomolecular dietetics’.

The prize is meant for the institute, person or enterprise that has contributed most to the spread of quackery in the Netherlands last year by means of act, word or writing. On skeptical blog KloptDatWel.nl, you can vote for whom you think should receive the 2016 ironic award until Friday 16:00 CET.

Dutch physicians: vaccinate against rotavirus

The Dutch Health Council (Gezondheidsraad) is letting babies and their parents down in the fight against rotavirus, medical experts say. While all surrounding countries have adopted a vaccination policy against the diarrhoeal disease, that annually kills up to half a million young children around the world, the Netherlands are yet to develop an immunisation programme.

In 2010, the Health Council, which advises the government on medical matters, actually held a majority vote in favour of adopting the rota vaccine, but it wasn’t carried out. The minority, who held that the consequences weren’t severe enough and the project too expensive, had their way. Emeritus professor in child medicine Ronald de Groot adds that ‘there are fears of rising opposition to vaccination in society. But you simply need to inform people well. (…) [Since 2010] we’ve added to the record dozens of dead children and thousands of hospitalisations that could have been prevented.’

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Skeptics in the pub – Madrid

If you are in Madrid on Saturday 24th September at 19:00 you can enjoy the first talk of this season “The Hyper credulous mind or the brain that doesn’t search for the truth” at Moe Club.

Giving the talk is Manuel Martín-Loeches, Professor of Psychology at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and responsible for the Cognitive Neuroscience section at the Mixed Centre UCM-ISCIII of Evolution and Human Behaviour.

Date: 16th September 2016

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Ask for Evidence to hold Meeting in UK Parliament

The Ask for Evidence Campaign has been making the case to politicians and civil servants in the UK that evidence matters when it comes to policy-making.  The Speaker of the House of Commons has now agreed to make his rooms in Parliament available for a meeting on November 1st at 12.30.  Ask for Evidence is calling for people to send in their reasons why evidence matters to them, in preparation for the meeting, and to come to the meeting to discuss this with politicians and civil servants.

Skeptics in the pub Barcelona – cancelled

The ARP – SAPC (Spanish Skeptics) is sorry to announce that the Skeptics in the Pub session due to take place on the 17th September in Barcelona has had to be cancelled. Due to the recent, tragic loss of his brother Sergio (see previous post), Alfonso López Borgoñoz is unable to give the previously planned talk.

Alfonso and all their family and friends are in our thoughts at this difficult time.

Date: 15th September 2016

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How dangerous is belief in conspiracy theories?

Dutch journalist Maarten Reijnders wrote a book about the currently most popular and (in)famous conspiracy theories and their proponents in the Netherlands. The book, titled Complotdenkers – Hoe gevaarlijk is het geloof in samenzweringstheorieën? (‘Conspiracists – How dangerous is belief in conspiracy theories?’) was deliberately published on 11 September 2016, because the 9/11 Truth movement is one of the most prominent of these phenomena in Western society at the moment. Skeptic Pepijn van Erp wrote a review; here is an excerpt:

Reijnders defines ‘conspiracists’ as people who believe in lots of different conspiracy theories at the same time, or draw rather far-reaching conclusions from such a conspiracy belief system. He calls a collective of such conspiracists a conspiracy church. That is a broad church, with many schisms. With liberals and literalists. With soft, kind and harmless believers, but also with some extremist fundamentalists. (…)

It can lead to contempt for innocent people and minorities, and we can still see enough suffering caused by that today. And we also know the example of the disastrous HIV/AIDS policy in South Africa under Mbeki, based on completely pseudoscientific ideas, that has led to an early death for an estimated 330,000 people.

In memoriam: Sergio López Borgoñoz

It is with the greatest sorrow that we must report the loss of one of the longest standing and much loved members of the ARP-SAPC (Spanish Skeptics).

Sergio López Borgoñoz passed away as the result of a traffic accident on the 12th September 2016. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends at this difficult time.

Sergio will be missed and remembered by us all.

 

Date: 14th September 2016

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Skeptics in the pub – Valencia

This season in Valencia kicks off with “Science in the Shadows-forensic Investigation; science and fiction”.

Want to hear about how a body decomposes or if DNA is infallible? Then come along to Ben’s Inn on the 22nd September at 20:00 to hear this talk by chemist and science communicator J M Mulet.

Date: 14th September 2016

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Skepsis Congres 22 October 2016: ‘Unconvinced by Science’

The Dutch skeptics foundation, Stichting Skepsis, will hold its annual congress on 22 October 2016 at De Eenhoorn in Amersfoort. This year, four pairs of speakers will jointly give a presentation, and then discuss the topic with each other and the audience:

  • Maarten Boudry (philosopher UGent, SKEPP)
    & Massimo Pugliucci (prof. Philosophy CUNY, Rationally Speaking podcast):
    ‘Why do people cling to unproven ideas?’ (keynote session, in English)
  • Peter Jan Margry (prof. Ethnology UvA)
    & Cees Renckens (gynaecologist, former VtdK chair):
    ‘Alternative treatments’ (in Dutch)
  • Brecht Decoene (ethicist UGent, SKEPP)
    & Leo Polak 
    (popular science journalist):
    ‘Conspiracy theories’ (in Dutch)
  • Martijn van Calmthout (Volkskrant science journalist)
    & Patricia Osseweijer (prof. Science Communication TU Delft):
    ‘Science Communication’ (in Dutch)

The ASKE Paranormal Challenge

The Association for Skeptical Enquiry in the UK now offers an award of 10,000 pounds to anyone who is able to pass a scientific test demonstrating that they have a ‘paranormal ability’.  For details visit the ASKE website (see link).

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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.

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Anthroposophy under pressure in Sweden

The anthroposophical movement in Sweden has its stronghold in the town of Järna, south of Stockholm. This is also the location of Vidarkliniken, a hospital founded in 1985 based on anthroposophical values and ideas. Since 1993 Vidarkliniken has a regulatory exception renewed year after year, which means they have permission to use anthroposophical remedies along side conventional, science based treatments.

After years of criticism from EU and the Swedish medical community, the Swedish government finally decided on 30 June 2016 to phase out the exception over a period of five years. Since then Vidarkliniken has lost their contracts with two local county councils and received bad press in Swedish media.

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The norwegian podcast ”saltklypa”

”Saltklypa” is a norwegian podcast that focuses on skeptical themes and consists of a small band of skeptical nerds doing their best to sift through pseudoscience in Norway and the world on a weekly basis.

They started the podcast in October of 2010 and have by August 2016 released over 120 episodes

Andreas Wahl third season of ”Folkeopplysningen”

Physicist and norwegian leading skeptic Andreas Wahl have been given a third season of ”folkeopplysningen” on NRK, Norways leading channel. The show focuses on a different pseudoscience or bogus claim each week and aims too research and test the claims.

Andreas have been active in the skeptic movement in Norway several years, and have also managed to get a firm foothold in the media with his science information.

Lighthouse vs. aircraft carrier hoax resurfaces in Holland

A Canadian lighthouse. Travis D (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

This urban legend is so old and has so many variations that it’s gotten a Wikipedia page in five languages. Snopes.com traces the earliest and most primitive version back as far as 1931, and just like Wikipedia it mentions the more elaborate 1995 Canadian version as the most common. The basic story is that a marconist warns a ship, redirecting it a few degrees to avoid collision. The captain angrily and arrogantly replies he won’t change course, and the marconist should change his ship’s course. The latter then reveals he’s not on a ship himself, but in a lighthouse, and he’s telling the ship to steer clear from the coast. However, a recent video shows a more sinister story. (more…)

Sense and Nonsense about the Sign of the Cross

While spending his summer in Poland, someone brought an interesting article to Dutch physicist and skeptic Martin Bier’s attention. It has now been scientifically proven that making the sign of the cross over an amount of water significantly diminishes the amount of bacterial pathogens in that water. Is the making of the sign of the cross a matter of antibacterial hygiene just as much as it is a matter of piety? Bier decided to inquire…

Read article in English – Lees artikel in het Nederlands

Orgasm injections are rubbish, say Dutch skeptics

A sexual hype from America has crossed the Atlantic and is finding fertile ground in European countries such as the Netherlands. The so-called ‘orgasm injection’ is claimed to increase sexual excitement, deliver better orgasms, give women a tighter vagina and men a larger penis, prevent incontinence and solve erectile dysfunction. The first clinic on Dutch soil, Artz Medical in Rotterdam, is run by physician Olivier Groh, who says it ‘really works’. However, at €1000,- per treatment it’s not exactly cheap, and effects are said to last only temporary. Moreover, these amazing promises are not backed by any scientific evidence, according to many critical physicians and sexologists.

The Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (Dutch Society against Quackery) is skeptical. “It makes no sense at all”, says Cees Renckens, a former gynaecologist and board member of the society. “It takes blood, tinkers a bit with it and then injects it back in. And that is supposed to make your penis longer and your vagina more flexible? It’s quackery, I’m convinced of that.”

Gynaecologist Cees Renckens (Vera de Kok CC-BY-SA 4.0)

He calls it ‘absolutely repulsive’ that the clinic is making boatloads of money off a treatment which hasn’t been demonstrated scientifically to work. “It’s a scandal that this man is still a GP. He should know better than to trick people out of their money with false hope. There is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to sexual dysfunctions and complaints, those often involve complex problems. This treatment cannot be distinguished from fraud. The Health Care Inspectorate should take measures against the clinic.”

When inquired, the Dutch Health Care Inspectorate responded they are currently conducting an investigation into the practice.

Evil barcodes!

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any crazier…. conspiracists are able to surprise you.

MG_0151

In Germany, some companies have started printing a horizontal bar through the barcodes of their products. According to a group of conspiracists, barcodes are a kind of radiation antennas, and the number ‘666’ is hidden in it. Scanning the barcode would also bundle negative energy, and influence the product in question. There are videos on YouTube of people who, using dowsing rods, are trying to demonstrate how a barcode affects one’s aura. Since 2013, the Lammsbräu firm has been printing a horizontal bar through the barcode of its mineral water to ‘undisrupt’ the water.

Klaus Ross clinic deaths ‘due to bad regulations’

Klaus Ross’ now closed clinic. (Käthe und Bernd Limburg, www.limburg-bernd.de / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The alternative cancer treatment clinic of Klaus Ross in Bracht, Germany was recently closed after one Flemish and two Dutch cancer patients received fatal injections. Two Dutch women who were hospitalised are still recovering.

According to Menso Westerouen van Meeteren, former inspector at the Dutch Health Care Inspectorate and currently working for the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (Dutch Society against Quackery), this and similar incidents involving German Heilpraktiker (alternative healers) could have been prevented if Germany had put more rigorous regulations on alternative medicine. The Netherlands passed strict laws on healers three years ago, in the wake of the tragic death of famous actress Sylvia Millecam. ‘For example, since then, alternative therapists are obliged to inform their patients if there is a better regular treatment, and if the patient rejects that treatment, they are forced to break off contact.’

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Can calcium preparations cure allergies? No, Hungarian doctors say

In some European countries there is a common belief that calcium preparations have beneficial effect in curing allergic reactions of any origin. However there is no evidence-based data to justify this procedure. Now Hungarian doctor Dr. Hunor Novák – who is rather actively promoting evidence based medicine in wide range of media – launched an petition on his Facebook page against using calcium for these conditions. Many well known doctors and researchers joined so there is a good chance that this old will disappear soon in Hungary.

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Swiss Skeptics Discussion Paper on CAM

The Swiss skeptics have published their second discussion paper about CAM: “Evidence-based vs. complementary and alternative medicine: It’s about epistemology (not about evidence)”. In the document they present the argument that the problem with CAM is not a lack of evidence – but the defective epistemology of CAM.

Alternative healer Brian Clement’s venue has been cancelled in Stockholm

This June/July, American alternative cancer healer Brian Clement is touring Europe to give talks about how cancer can be cured with diet and various other things. His venue has cancelled the booking in Stockholm after a major Swedish news paper today posted an article: “Allegedly fraudulent health speaker stopped”.

What are the beliefs of the Swedish public? – The VoF Study

False ideas both historically and today, have in many cases led to disastrous consequences. To achieve a deeper knowledge of how Swedes today relate to these questions, VoF (aka the Swedish Skeptic Association) commissioned an opinion poll in the early summer of 2015. This survey covers a wide range of issues that are of interest from a skeptical point of view.

A PDF document (in English) can be downloaded from VoF’s web site here: The VoF-study 2015

Homeopathy is advertised on TV by wellknown actors and actresses

Hungarian Society of Homeopaths (MHOE) launched a controversial TV advertisement campaign with testimonies of well known actors and actresses. This caused an uproar in the scientific community resulting several the publications of critical articles even in daily papers and on generally not so critical portals. Now the videos and related materials can’t be found on the MHOE home page and on their YouTube channel. Some copies had survived the cleaning however.

1943 dissertation critical of homeopathy now online

David Karel de Jongh.

In 1943, David Karel de Jongh M.D. defended a Ph.D. dissertation on homeopathy, which he ended by concluding that homeopathy should be abolished. He based his judgment on his meticulous examination of many hundreds of articles and books and his experiences while working for quite some time in a homeopathic hospital in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

The dissertation has been is digitised in its entirety by Stichting Skepsis, because, according to secretary Jan Willem Nienhuys, ‘de Jongh’s conclusions [on homeopathy] are still as valid as ever’. A summary of de Jongh’s research can be read in English herein Dutch here and in German here.

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Graphology is banned from Hungarian court rooms

Until March 2016 graphologists had been used as forensic experts in Hungary. Graphologists used their unproven methodologies even in serious cases. For example in a child abuse case based on the parents’ handwriting they established that those could not have committed crime. Graphologist claim that hand writing analysis can be used to detect lies and to determine personality trades. Now the online portal Index.hu reported that the Ministry of Justice had removed graphology as a method to be used in the court rooms.

“Iceman” Wim Hof’s Cold Trickery

Wim Hof during a cold endurance record attempt (Aad Villerius CC-BY-SA 4.0).

Dutchman Wim Hof earned his nickname ‘The Iceman’ for his world records involving the cold – standing for almost two hours in a crate full of ice cubes, that sort of things. But in recent years he is promoting the methods that he claims enabled him to achieve these records as a method for achieving better health as the ‘Wim Hof Method’. Lacking scientific evidence, Hof is careful not to claim explicitly that his method can cure diseases like cancer, but he definitely suggests that improving the immune system can achieve this. Already he has gained a lot of enthusiastic followers and he has been training many people to propagate his method. But how is it supposed to work, and does it? Skeptic Pepijn van Erp investigates…

Read article in English – Lees artikel in het Nederlands

Healer found guilty

A norwegian healer have been found guilty according to norwegian quackery laws.

The healer originally started to treat a middle aged woman for migraines in 2008. When the woman two years later was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, she kept using the healer for help. The local cancer ward advised chemotherapy, which supposedly was halted due to the healer claiming that the therapy interfered with his treatment.

The healer continued his treatment even after the hospital asked the healer to discontinue the treatment.

The woman died in 2010 and the healer was given a suspended sentence of 30 days in 2014. After a retrial in 2015 the court doubled the sentence to 60 days. This is one of the few times the norwegian court system have implemented the quackery laws.

 

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Petition about Homeopathy in Hungary

Prof. Zsolt Boldogkői, molecular biologist, head of Department of Medical Biology at University of Szeged (Hungary) launched a petition among fellow scientists and physicians today with the title: Homeopathy is pseudoscience.

During the last two years Boldogkői had written many articles, was invited to several media programs and participated in quite a few debates on homeopathy and on other controversial medical practices. He is very active on the social media. It is very promising that he had already gathered many physicians, scientists and university students around him. Most of them had been in silence about these topics before, but now ready to drop what was considered as “political correct” behavior toward these unscientific ideas and towards colleagues practicing alternative medicine.

Clairvoyant medium is a hoax claims skeptic Tjomlid

Two of Norway´s foremost skeptics have condemned Michael Winger´s supposedly finding of a body earlier in 2014.

Winger claimed he used his powers to locate the body of a missing man in Nes county in Norway. He found the body of the man in the woods together with a local dog owner.

Skeptics Gunnar Tjomlid and Didrik Søderlind picks the claims apart in the news article and Tjomlid also wrote a longer blog post which is more precise.

In short terms, the skeptics showed that Winger already had been in the area, and that he knew where the search parties, yet hadn’t looked.

Video interview: Comparing environmental impacts of conventional and organic farming

Dr. Hanna Tuomisto explains the results of her meta-analysis regarding environmental impacts of conventional and organic farming. The researchers analysed data from 71 studies published in peer-reviewed journals that compared organic and conventional farms in Europe. The results suggest that organic farming is more marketing hype than real life benefits for the environment, especially considering land use, eutrophication potential and restrictions of modern technology.