Thursday, 27 January 2011

Possibly creationism's best ever attempt to explain feathered dinosaurs

Almost every creationist argument is based on the assumption that Genesis is an account of actual events, and that the bible is the word of God and therefore the only truth. This is one of the main reasons why all their attempts at science have failed, because they only look for 'evidence' which is remotely compatible with their own assumptions. Alternatively they look for 'evidence' (a term we should use very loosely in this case) that contradicts their own grotesque caricature of the theory of evolution, often based on misunderstanding, deliberate misinformation, and complete ignorance of reality.

The idea of dinosaurs with plumage has often ruffled the feathers of the creationist movement. They've never really tried to explain why dinosaurs have feathers at all. All previous attempts by creationists to explain can be summarised by at least one of these points :
  • In Genesis- birds were made on the 5th day, but God filled the land with animals on the 6th so birds must have come before dinosaurs. Look, it's in the Bible - which is the word of God because it says so in the Bible- therefore it's true.
  • When I don't inspect it closely, it looks more like a bird than a dinosaur. It's a bird.
  • Evolution is only a theory.
  • I don't know much about the natural world at all.

 However, after searching through I finally found an attempt at an explanation that tickled me.
Dinosaurs ate Birds. Birds have feathers. Dinosaurs therefore ate feathers. If you completely ignore every piece of scientific evidence which suggests that dinosaurs had feathers and completely ignore the context in which these these sort of observations should be made- it makes perfect sense.

If you want to know more about evolution, two books I'd highly recommend are Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters and Why Evolution Is True.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Homeopathy: Declared unfit for animals, yet still the perfect prescription for gullability.

Homeopathy has been declared unfit for use on animals in the UK because of a complete lack of proven efficacy, but this late-18th century German fruitloopery is still available for those who suffer from gullibility or deliberately mimic the symptoms of complete and utter stupidity. Harsh words? Not really when you think that more common sense is being applied to veterinary medicine than our own.

The concept of homeopathy is that diluting  a substance which produces similar effects to the symptoms of a known illness and diluting it again and again (until it is basically indistinguishable from water ) actually increases its potency to cure that illness. Scientists have pointed out time and time again that the little success from homeopathy (supported only by anecdotal evidence) is due to the placebo effect.  One of homeopathy's main arguments against this claim has been that the placebo effect does not occur in animals (a very debatable point) so successful homeopathic remedies in veterinary medicine prove that it works. Recently, vets seem to have been asking "What success?".  In December 2010 the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) made clear that remedies could only be classed as medicines, and therefore be prescribed by vets, if they could scientifically demonstrate their efficacy- and that homeopathic remedies do not meet these requirements by any standard. The VMD Director of Operations, John FitzGerald, said:
“Some of these products are claiming to be effective and safe when no scientific evidence has been presented to us to show they are.
“Animal owners have a right to know if a product does what it claims. The products claim to treat diseases which can cause serious welfare problems and in some circumstances kill animals if not properly treated. So in some cases owners are giving remedies to their pets which don’t treat the problem.”

Other examples of unproven quack-shite under the axe of the VMD include:
  • Animal food supplements – known as neutraceuticals, which claim to treat diseases or bring extra health benefits such as improved mental ability in pet animals.
  • Herbal liquids, powders and pellets – sold as herbal wormers – claiming to irritate and repel parasitic worms from the guts of horses, livestock, and pets.
So why are homeopathic medicines still being funded by the NHS despite the fact that they're unsuitable as medicine for animals? The reason is simply because the government believes that it is very important to give people the choice to take alternative medicines rather than treatments which have been scientifically proven to work. It is yet another example of how confused the government is about the scientific evidence concerning particular substances and treatments and the moral implications of giving people the choice the use of them or endanger their lives.

Why is it that the government seemed reluctant to permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes (the benefits of which have been scientifically proven), yet is fine with the use of alternative medicines which have no proven medicinal benefit or may even exacerbate the problem. It also  supports giving people the choice to endanger their lives by ignoring medical advice and taking ineffectual preventative remedies when travelling to areas of the world stricken by malaria and polio - yet at the same time wastes millions and millions of pounds a year trying to stop people from choosing to use substances that they have made illegal for reasons which are contradictory to current scientific evidence.

They obviously can't decide whether patient health is more important than patient choice. In the Guardian, Drevan Harris explained the faulty reasoning behind the confusion:
"The Labour government of the day, in their evidence, defended the use of homeopathy on the NHS on the basis of "patient choice" and the fact that because some doctors swore by it, the efficacy question was not settled.
Some science teachers swear by creationism, but that does not mean that evolution is an unsettled question and that school science lessons should offer creationism as an alternative to their choosy consumers."

 The government's chief scientific adviser, Professor John Beddington, also agrees that the the NHS should not fund homeopathy. The last labour government ignored him and now the new coalition government has issued an equally pathetic response based on the same wishy-washy 'patient choice' nonsense. I wonder how long a government which claims that severe cuts are needed everywhere can keep funding an alternative medicine based on scientific nonsense despite the fact it costs them "only a few million pounds" each year.

The other problem is a very, very misinformed idea that old traditional medicines are better for you. Old traditional medicines that have been proven to work are known as... medicine. Those that doesn't work are known as alternative medicine or new age quack-shite. For example the demand for traditional Chinese medicine is growing in western Europe. Remember that this area of medicine includes grinding up phallic like parts of endangered animals to cure problems like erectile dysfunction and infertility. Yet at the same time, these parts of the world have taken to western medicine with open arms. In Africa, they're dying (literally) for western medical aid because their traditional remedies don't work at all, yet 'new age' members of the middle class over here reckon they can cure all their illnesses by chanting ancient languages or touching 'magic crystals' which produce 'resonant frequencies' or 'energy'  and various other idiotically vague terms.

Personally I think that because the principles of homeopathy state that a substance becomes more potent the less it is used, the best way to use homeopathy is not to use it at all.

Recommended Reading

In his brilliant book Bad Science, Ben Goldacre explains and destroys pseudo-scientific nonsense such as homeopathy, aqua detox and advice from 'nutritionist' Gillian McKeith who claimed to have a PhD (one of a number of qualifications she basically bought on the Internet including a professional membership to the American Association of Nutritional Consultants which Ben Goldacre's dead cat, Hettie, is now also part of for a mere $60).

What is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine, which involves  treating illnesses with severely  diluted remedies (and common sense), first proposed by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th Century. Hahenemann observed that ingesting cinchona bark produced side effects similar to the symptoms of malaria and therefore prescribed it as a treatment for malaria. He then found that there are many other natural substances which produced side effects similar to the symptoms of known illnesses, so he conjured up the "Law of Similars" and decided that like must cure like. He believed that diseases were merely disturbances in a hypothetical "Vital Force" or "Life Force", and that mimicking the symptoms would stimulate the Vital force into expelling the original disease. These assertions have no basis in reality and  would still have the same credibility if he had claimed that they were based on instructions written in unicorn blood on an invisible piece of parchment written by Jesus Christ reincarnated as a chameleonic Hypno-Toad. 

The lack of common sense did not end there. He then decided that a normal dose would produce artificial symptoms but that a heavily diluted would actually cure it. He then created the Centesimal scale (C) to describe how much a substance should be diluted by a factor of 100. For example:

A 2C dilution requires a substance to be diluted to one part in one hundred, and then some of that diluted solution diluted by a further factor of one hundred. This works out to one part of the original substance in 10,000 parts of the solution. A 6C dilution is 1 part of the original solution per 1,000,000,000 parts of water. By this point, the remedy is almost indistinguishable from water, yet it is apparently more potent than the remedy. A 30C dilution (prescribed for many illnesses) is only one part of the original substance per  1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 parts water. The homeopathic remedies for flue like illnesses can be 200C dilutions!

There is no scientific evidence for the purported efficacy of homeopathy. The only thing supporting ridiculous claims made this deranged form of alternative medicine is a whole host of anecdotal 'evidence' (a term I prefer to use rather loosely in this case).

This absurdity of homeopathy is highlighted in this Mitchell and Webb sketch - Homeopathic A&E.