Skeptivism: Jamie’s story

My Blogathon efforts left me far more drained than I thought it would. By the time 6 hours of recording was up, I didn’t have much left in the tank for blogging. All is not lost, however, because a friend of mine from Vancouver has been engaged in some truly impressive local activism, so I asked Jamie to sum up the events for you all to take a look at:

I’ve been writing a lot about demonstrations, protests, nearly frothing at the mouth while yelling profanity, and taking my top off, all in the name of exercising bodily autonomy as a person who has two X-chromosomes. I mean a lot. This entry concerns a summary version of what is contained in all those posts, with links to the original writing.

The inciting incident concerned a woman in a sun dress, who felt particularly brave one afternoon while approaching a pro-life group that appears at the same intersection every weekend, to the Great Annoyance of the entire neighbourhood and virtually all passersby. She said “If a woman is raped and conceives from it, should she be forced to carry the child?” and was answered with “If she’s dressed like you, she should.” When I found out she wanted to organize the community to hold them accountable, I flipped all my shits. Read about it here.

Read Jamie’s epic saga; it’s really impressive.

I will be back to normal tomorrow, I bet. Plus I still owe a bunch of people cover tunes, so that’ll happen.

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Help a sistah out

Long-time Cromrade Autumn is proposing an interesting experiment:

I hear all the time from Christians that they feel discriminated against in day to day life. I find myself skeptical. I pretended to be Christian for years to avoid discrimination and harassment. This lead me to an idea. I’m uncertain about it so I thought I would put it up here, while I was thinking about it. I propose to dress in a manner that visually links me to a particular faith (and/or denomination) and record how I am being treated. At the end of the experiment, I will compare my notes to see if there was any difference, and if so, what- in the way I was treated.

This would mean dressing with a devotional scapular and a crucifix to be “Catholic” or underclothes to mimic the look of the undergarments and a CTR ring or jewelry when being “LDS,” etc. An atheist t-shirt would be my atheist “test” and no visible signs of any religion would be my control.

She is looking for some feedback on both the research question and the ethics of deception. Go read over her proposal and see what you think. Feel free to cross-post your comments here as well. My own thoughts below the fold:

[Read more...]

I’m going to Kelowna!

I talk about CFI Vancouver often enough, since I am a volunteer (at least as much as my schedule will allow). What my Van-centricity may have obscured is the fact that there is an active CFI branch in the interior of British Columbia. Unlike Vancouver, which is besotted with a brand of woo-ishness that is more self-injurious than dangerous to others, CFI Okanagan’s umbra is spread over communities where religion (the aggressive, angry kind) runs more or less unchecked.

Thus, it is into this maelstrom of unrestrained non-skepticality that I find myself vaulting with abandon this coming April:

The poster for the 'All About Vaccines' event

That’s right, I’m returning to my childhood stomping grounds, as I’ve been invited by CFI-Okanagan to act as “celebrity”* moderator for a panel of people who actually know what they’re talking about. My job titles will include “introducing the panelist” and “shutting up” and “pointing to people in the audience so they know when it’s their turn to ask a question”. Gruelling stuff!

If you live within easy driving distance of Kelowna and are interested in learning more about vaccines, or you just want to see my shutting up skills in person, come check it out! There are rumours of a party happening on the Saturday night – if you want details you should check out the CFI-Okanagan Facebook page.

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*Said with the rollingest eyes ever

Petition: Make stupid American school stop being morons

COMMENTER UPDATE: The preamble now says (presumably an update):

“I’d like to thank everyone for their support. I never imagined that the petition would gain so much attention. However, this whole situation has been a large misunderstanding between myself and the administration. I never meant to shed Paradise Valley in a negative light. PV is an accepting community of diverse students and staff. I have met with my principal and this situation has been resolved. The misunderstanding was completely on my end of things. Again, thank you all for your activism and support.”

That doesn’t sound coerced at all, but whatever.

Ugh. I know how incredibly awful it is to say that someone is “asking for it”, in light of how often that canard is used to excuse horrible violence against women, but really… these guys are asking for it.

The administration at Paradise Valley High School in Arizona has apparently asked students wanting to start a secular club to get signatures in support before they’ll allow the club.

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/allow-the-secular-student-alliance-at-paradise-valley-h.html

This is, of course, illegal as all hell.  Under the Equal Access Act, if your school is an open forum (a status achieved by having a single non-academic club) you must allow all clubs.  The signatures are irrelevant.

So fly, my moderate number of minions! Sign the petition and teach the administrators what it means to fuck with the godless. Show them that young atheists seeking to organize have a shit-ton of backup, even if they live in Arizona. Show them that this kind of stuff can’t be swept under the rug anymore.

Dear Arizona: We see you.
Signed, people you DON’T want to fuck with

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Special Feature: I Occupy Vancouver

Every now and then I actually do stuff out in the real world. I recognize the fact that this practice is risky, but what can I say? I’m a thrill seeker. This Saturday, as I announced previously, I spent the afternoon downtown Vancouver as part of the Occupy Vancouver protest event*. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, the movement started in September. People who are frustrated with the way that the economy is being run, and that extremely shady and disruptive bank practices were being pursued – despite the fact that those same practices resulted in an international financial collapse, began sleeping and living in a park in the middle of New York City’s financial district. The movement quickly caught steam after police tried to suppress the people’s legitimate rights to protest, and has spread across the United States and into other countries around the world. Why was I there? I am, at least for now, comfortably employed at a job I love with pay that is adequate for my needs. Canada has a secure banking system with regulatory safeguards to ensure that the practices that screwed the world over can’t happen here. We have strong corporate lobbying laws that make it impossible for companies to buy influence the way that they can in the United States. So what on Earth was I doing getting involved in a protest about things happening in someone else’s country, that Canada can’t control? [Read more...]

‘Couv team… ASSEMBLE! (Oct 7th, 2011)

I just wanted to drop a couple of news items in front of your eyes for those of you who live in the Vancouver area. I’m going to try to do these at least once a week, because I think there are some people out there who are under the impression that Vancouver is not a hotbed of skepticism. IT IS, YOU FOOLS!

OCCUPY VANCOUVER

I’m sure most of you are aware of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that has been spreading quickly throughout the United States. There is a sympathy protest happening here in Vancouver, starting next Friday (October 14th). I am planning on taking the day off work to attend. I am part of the 99%, but as someone who is employed full-time with benefits and no student debt, I’m more like part of the 30%. This is something that affects us all, and the media is beginning to take it seriously. Now is not the time to slow down – it’s the time to get organized.

Interestingly, while some have been contrasting the Occupy movement with the Tea Party – calling it the “left” response to that other famous populist movement, Lee Fang provides an interesting perspective on why the Occupy movement is far more aligned with the original Boston Tea Party than this corporate rebranding of the Religious Right: [Read more...]

Special Feature: I participate in SlutWalk Vancouver

This past Sunday, I participated in the local (to Vancouver) SlutWalk event. I have spoken previously about the issues that preceded this event, so if you haven’t heard of it you should probably read that post. I will attempt to summarize: a police officer in Toronto suggested that women who don’t want to get raped probably shouldn’t “dress like a slut”. Giving Constable Sanguinetti the benefit of the doubt for a moment, I’m sure what he was trying to say is that rapists are more likely to target women who are wearing clothes that expose skin than someone dressed in, say, business casual (more on this later). What followed was a backlash against the idea that rape victims are “asking for it” through their dress, as though a woman’s job is to not provoke the ravenous male hordes through improper dress.

Obviously, when put into context, this idea is not only wrong but very dangerous. Women are often blamed for being raped, disbelieved by even their own families and the judicial system. This kind of slut-shaming double standard inherently disadvantages women – “slut” is always a gendered term even when used (subversively) to describe men. Inherent in the word slut is the idea that a woman enjoying her sexuality is dirty and immoral. It is leveled against women irrespective of their level of sexual activity – a girl who sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time (or indeed, who has never done anything sexual) is just as likely to be called a slut by those around her as is a professional sex worker. Neither of them deserves the appellation – the word should never be used.

In this post, I will give some of my reactions to the event.

The Good

1. Attendance

I wasn’t sure how many people would bother to come to an event like this. Keep in mind that it was pouring rain at various points that day (this is Vancouver, after all), but there was a crowd of around 1,000 people (my estimate would have been higher, but that’s what the paper said) there. Some were dressed in a variety of costumes: three men in operatic drag, a woman in a Saran Wrap dress, a young woman in a really uncomfortable-looking corset, a guy wearing a tiny t-shirt and silver bicycle shorts (not a flattering look… they kept slipping down), and my personal favourite: bandana man – so named because that’s all that covered his junk. My response to my friend (who I will call “Julie” just for simplicity’s sake) was “wow, who knew people actually cared about women’s rights?”

2. Who Attended

One would expect that an event like this would be almost entirely women. I was pleasantly surprised at the gender mix: still majority women but with a lot of friends, spouses, boyfriends, and people like me who simply care about the issue there. It is a sad fact of the sexual double-standard that these kinds of issues only seem to gain real traction when men start speaking about them, but at least the Y chromosome camp was well-represented. It certainly surprised a couple of knuckle-draggers who showed up expecting a parade of sluts, and were instead confronted by a group of passionate feminist allies.

3. Support

This was not a fringe event where only a few whackos showed up (although there were a few of those, to be sure). In addition to various legal and social support organizations, the deputy mayor of Vancouver Ellen Woodworth showed up and spoke at the kickoff to the march (“As a lesbian, a queer, a dyke… I know the power that words have”). Media were present, and sponsors had donated materials and time to the event. The Vancouver Police were also on hand to block traffic, which was important because there were a lot of people on the streets.

4. The Reaction

Nothing was more rewarding than seeing people’s faces as the parade moved past. People were shocked to see not only the attire, but the word “SLUT” paraded defiantly and openly through the streets. I said to Julie “that is the face of consciousnesses being raised.”

The Bad

1. Messaging

One of the stated purposes of SlutWalk was to reclaim the word ‘slut’, in order to rob it of its power. Ultimately, I disagreed with this part of the campaign. Like with the word “nigger”, I don’t think that re-appropriating words is a useful endeavour. I am of the opinion that people should be forced to deal with the full history and implication of a word like ‘slut’, and to understand that it is a word that cannot be separated from inherent hatred of women. Once people understand not only where it comes from, but how it is used to silence, shame and victimize women, they won’t want to use it. I have never been the target of the word ‘slut’, and so it is not my place to say that women shouldn’t re-appropriate it; my criticism is of the idea of re-appropriating words in general.

2. Failing to understand the point

I spotted a number of signs saying things like “real men don’t rape” and “don’t tell me how to dress; tell men how not to rape” and “rapists cause rape, not women”. Even one of the organizers went up and said “women don’t need to be reminded not to dress slutty; men need to be reminded that they will go to jail!” While I understand the spirit behind the statement, I think it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of rape and slut-shaming. Men that rape women do not do so because they want to get laid*. They certainly don’t do it because they “are rapists” any more than people commit crimes because they “are criminals”. Failing to understand this is committing a fundamental attribution error.

Rape is an issue of control and respect. Rape is the result of someone believing that their own wishes supercede the rights of another person, and that the victim deserves her/his treatment for whatever reason. Rape, like all violence against women, is the product of the idea that women do not have the right to sexual self-determination. The word ‘slut’ is a manifestation of that idea. It is the idea that needs to be fought, rather than focussing on “rapists” – as though that was a group in and of itself that must be identified and punished. A man who doesn’t rape because it’s illegal will rape as soon as he thinks he can get away with it. Better to make fewer men that think rape is acceptable.

3. Failing to address the fallacy

There was a particularly powerful moment during the introductory speeches, where one of the organizers said “I am a woman, a colleague, a friend, a girlfriend, and a person deserving of respect.” She then removed her pants, revealing a short sequined skirt, followed by the words “I am still a woman, a colleague, a friend, a girlfriend, and I am still a person deserving of respect.” It was a perfect demonstration of the fact that regardless of a person’s apparel, she/he should be treated as a self-determining individual whose body is her/his own. However, as great as the demonstration was, it skipped over an important point.

While it is difficult to get exact numbers on this (since many sexual assaults go unreported, particularly in places where they are not taken seriously), I hope those of you who are skeptically-minded will allow me to get away with the following assertion: places that have strict dress codes for women do not have lower rates of sexual assault. While it is my suspicion that these places have higher rates of assault, at least we can conclusively state that covering women head to toe does not eliminate the risk of sexual victimization. The fallacy committed by Constable Sanguinetti was not that he was impolitic in his wording, it’s that the original statement is nonsense. The way that women dress is not related to their risk of being raped, at least at a population level.

I am reminded of the old joke about the two hikers that run afoul of a bear. While the first hiker starts running, the second quickly starts putting on his running shoes. “You fool!” calls the first hiker “Those shoes aren’t enough to outrun a bear!” The second hiker says “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you.” There is no standard definition or quantitative parameters for what “dressing like a slut” means. It is entirely subjective – the things that are worn by the women I work with would be considered pornographic in many Middle-Eastern countries. The problem is not the clothes; it’s our attitudes towards women and sexuality.

This point was not adequately addressed by the speakers, and I think it was a real missed opportunity.

The Ugly

1. The Racial Double-Standard

Vancouver is a city with a large East- and South-Asian population. Black women and aboriginal women are disproportionately more likely to be victims of sexual assault (including rape) than are white women. Neither of these facts would have been apparent while looking at the crowd. Like most feminist and social activist causes in North America, SlutWalk Vancouver was attended by white people, organized by white people, and focused on issues that do not include race. One of the speakers was Angela, a woman who works front-line for a victim support service in Vancouver’s downtown East Side (DTES). She began talking about the work that she and her colleagues did while dealing with assault victims, and whenever she talked about defending women from rapists, her every sentence was greeted with enthusiastic applause and cheering.

When Angela pivoted to point out that there is a racial component of the word “slut” that is largely ignored, that women of colour don’t particularly want to take back the word “slut”, that this wasn’t an issue of wearing a little black dress but of not being beaten and subsequently ignored by the legal system, the reaction was far more muted. I think I might have been the only person who cheered.

There is a common theme in the intersection between race and feminism. Feminism is well-tended by white women, and many women of colour recognize that there is a need for shared mutual struggle. However, when issues of race and racism – particularly the fact that PoC are disproportionately affected by sexism – come up, there is significant hesitation to face those head-on. Aura Blogando calls this ‘white supremacy’ – I think that characterization is perhaps a bit strong. I think of it more in terms of “white blindness”, or more familiarily, privilege. White women are very enthusiastic to address those issues that are germane to themselves, but more reluctant (it seems) to bring issues affecting PoCs to the fore except in very tokenistic ways (for example, the organizers of SWV noted correctly that Vancouver is built on unceded Saalish territory, but didn’t say word one about the fact that Aboriginal women are more often the victims of assault).

By completely dismissing, or at least not making a point of raising, the issues associated with race, SlutWalk Vancouver allowed white people to feel good about themselves for standing up to one injustice, without having to deal with the related injustice in which their own (unexplored) attitudes play a role. This criticism should not be interpreted as an indemnification of white people, merely an observation that these issues tend not to become publicly-relevant until they affect the majority (in much the same way as sexism issues don’t get treated seriously until men complain about it too).

So in all of it, the good bad and ugly, I think SlutWalk Vancouver was a success. People from many different walks of life were present to raise consciousness about an issue that I think is very important, and hopefully a conversation will be sparked about not only the word “slut”, but how we think of women in our society in general. I was proud to participate, and look forward to more opportunities to do the same.

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* I will no doubt be criticized for making the generalization that it is only men that rape women, or that only women are raped. I fully recognize that men rape men, and less frequently women rape men or other women. Rapists are not exclusively male, and victims are not exclusively female. I also recognize that transpersons are caught in a tricky gender classification limbo, and are disproportionately more likely to be victims of sexual assault and rape than are cispersons. It is not my intention to diminish these cases, and I hope I do not come across as dismissive of this very real issue.

No refund policy? No, refund policy!

This is the second part of this morning’s story of my homeopathic overdose.

After the “overdose” failed to accomplish anything, I went back to Finlandia and told the person behind the till that I was dissatisfied with the insomnia homeopathic preparation I had purchased, because it didn’t do anything. I told her that it had not changed my sleeping pattern whatsoever, and that as far as I could tell it didn’t work. She went and got the manager, who informed me that there was no refund policy on homeopathy. Peeved, I started to walk out. She stopped me and said that she might be able to do an exchange, although that was against policy too.

The reason for the policy, she told me, was that homeopathy doesn’t work right away. If I was looking for a “quick fix” I should try something else, but that homeopathy supposedly “regulates” my sleeping cycle. I pointed out that it hadn’t done anything like that, even after taking an entire bottle. She suggested that I needed to give it more time and keep going. I said that I was warned about that, and that I wasn’t interested in buying more of a product that didn’t work the first time.

As she ushered me over to the counter of sleeping stuff, she introduced me to the devil herself – the Heel Homeopathy rep. I described my issue to her and she gave me a bunch of the same nonsense about how it was working to ‘balance my energy’ and that I would need to wait for at least a week to see any effect. There was a guy behind the counter who said “it takes time, and homeopathy doesn’t work for everyone” (that old gem). I pointed out that when I came in, I told them I was having a sleeping problem, they gave me something they told me would help – at no point did anyone say “this will help in a week’s time” or “this might not work for you”. I was just told to follow the instructions. There is a difference here between things like antidepressants that actually do take a while to take effect – this information is disclosed to you when they are prescribed. These scam artists had told me no such thing at the point of purchase, and were then trying to evade having to pay me back when their snake oil didn’t work.

The assistant manager quickly swept me away from my debunking, and back to the sleeping pill counter. She then tried to up-sell me a bunch of stuff. The one she pushed the hardest was $44 a bottle! I put on my best skeptical face and said “look, I’m a scientist. I know a thing or two about how the body works, and none of what you’ve said so far addresses my problem.” Sensing defeat, she then buckled and refunded my money in full. Of course, on my way out she tried to sell me a bunch of other stuff, and told me to “do my own research”. Silly manager, I’ve done LOTS of research – you’re full of crap.

I do kind of feel bad about taking the refund under false pretenses, after buying the product under OTHER false pretenses. However, since it was PRESCRIBED under false pretenses, and the people who provide this stuff really ought to know better than to make false health claims, I will sleep just fine tonight (*rimshot*). I will donate the $18 to the James Randi Educational Foundation.

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My homeopathic overdose

If you’re reading this, then I survived a deadly overdose on sleeping pills. It wasn’t my iron constitution, survival instincts or even the quick work of trained medical professionals that saved my life; no, it was the fact that I used homeopathic sleeping pills.

Many of you have probably heard of homeopathy, but don’t really know much about it – this is how they make money. Like Scientology, the explanation is so stupid that once you know about it you can’t believe anyone buys into it. Basically, homeopathy operates on the principle that “like cures like” – for example, an herb that causes fever symptoms is a good cure for fever. The secret is that the substance must be super dilute, and the more diluted it is, the stronger it becomes. Avogadro’s constant (6.02 x 10^23) describes the number of molecules present in a mole of the substance in question – there are, for example 6.02 x 10^23 molecules of O2 in 38 grams of oxygen gas. What this means is that if you dilute something past 23C (C is a number which denotes the number of 100X dilutions a substance has undergone), there is essentially zero chance of even one molecule of active substance being present in the “remedy”.

Many homeopathic drugs are diluted to 30, 100, even 1000C – a sphere of water the size of the entire universe wouldn’t even contain one molecule of the substance. Homeopaths counter this by saying that water has “memory”, and can “remember” what was diluted in it. How it distinguishes between the herbs you want and the thousands of animals that have peed in it, the rocks it has passed over, and the other homeopathic remedies that have been in the same water (more dilute, therefore much stronger) is a question for which an answer has never even been attempted.

For a better explanation of how homeopathy works, go to this website: http://www.howdoeshomeopathywork.com/

It’s no exaggeration to say that homeopathy is completely useless. It couldn’t possibly work without re-writing the entire understanding of chemistry and physics, developed over hundreds of years. Even still, it has been tested – it doesn’t work. While a handful of “studies” (no control group, no proper blinding, small sample size) have shown a small effect for homeopathy – an effect that is much smaller than the claims that are made by homeopaths – every single rigorously-controlled study has shown it to be no different than a placebo. You could give someone a glass of water, tell them it’s homeopathic, and get the exact same result as if you put a drop of onion juice in it then diluted it a billion times.

However, despite the fact that it can’t work, and that it doesn’t work, people still buy into homeopathy in a big way. Walking the streets of Vancouver, it’s easy to stumble across a “natural” pharmacy that sells herbs, vitamins, and of course homeopathic preparations. Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar industry – essentially the largest legal scam ever perpetrated (aside from, perhaps, religion) – separating desperate people from their money one vial of water or bottle of sugar pills at a time.

What did I do?

On Wednesday, October 27th, I participated in a mass suicide bid along with a handful of other Vancouver skeptics, organized through CFI Vancouver. I went to Finlandia, a naturopathic pharmacy on Broadway, to procure myself some homeopathic sleeping pills. I presented myself to the person behind the counter as a person suffering from insomnia, and curious about homeopathy (which, I would imagine, is a fairly reasonable case study). Without hesitating, the naturopath behind the counter pulled down a bottle of Neurexan, described on the bottle as a “Homeopathic preparation for the treatment of sleeping problems”.

Neurexan - homeopathic sugar pills

You’ll notice that the non-medicinal ingredients are sugar. Nothing else, just sugar. The suggested dose is 3 pills, so consuming the whole bottle would be about 16 doses of sleep meds.

As I would do with any new medication, I asked a few questions:

  1. As a larger person, sometimes I need a higher dosage. Response: It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 lbs or 1000 lbs, use the same dose.
  2. What happens if I miss the directions, or otherwise misuse the product? Response: If you miss a dose, just take a bunch extra.
  3. I’ve used sleeping pills before, and I woke up groggy. Response: Won’t happen with these.
  4. Is it possible to overdose? Response: You can’t overdose on homeopathy because it’s just energy.

If you go to a pharmacy and they tell you that the dose doesn’t matter, that you should just take a bunch extra if you miss the protocol, that there will be no adverse effects at all regardless of your previous medical experience, and that it’s impossible to overdose, make sure you haven’t stumbled into Bizarro world. Such advice from a real pharmacist would be recklessly irresponsible, which is why you get specific instructions when you buy medications.

I honestly don’t think that Jane (not her real name) was out to defraud me. I’m certain she believes that homeopathy works, as do her bosses. However, personal belief is not enough when you have someone coming in with a real medical problem. I might believe that punching you in the uterus will fix your infertility problem, but would you let me? Should you let me? Should you let your sister or wife or mother come to my uterus-punching clinic because she believes it too? No, what you’d likely do is demand some proof from me that it works – proof that you’d examine closely because of how implausible my “treatment” is.

While not the same as an uppercut to the babymaker, the bottle of pills cost me $18 – that’s some expensive sugar! On my way out of the pharmacy, I grabbed myself a copy of this little gem:

Pharma Fiction magazine

You saucy little minx – tell me how it’s the pharmaceutical companies that are defrauding me by selling me stuff that’s been shown to actually work. I’ll believe anything that you and your smoking bottle of pills tells me.

I met up with a group of CFI Vancouver skeptics in front of Vancouver General Hospital. They had all brought their own homeopathic concoctions, including a popular homeopathic flu medication, sleeping pills, arsenic pills and belladonna (the latter two being highly toxic when undiluted). All of these were available from places like Choices and Whole Foods – none of them were particularly cheap. At the appointed hour, we opened our bottles of pills and tossed back the entire thing.

To be clear, if you did this with sleeping pills that you could get as a prescription, or even over-the-counter things like Tylenol, cough medicine, antihistamines, pretty much anything you could get in a real pharmacy, you’d probably die. Even if you didn’t die, you’d be sick as a dog as the pharmaceuticals do what they do inside your body. Even if you didn’t get sick, you’d most assuredly feel something – high, woozy, drowsy, hyper, something. The most likely outcome of downing a whole bottle of sleeping pills is death.

What happened?

Nothing. Nothing happened at all. We stood around for an hour, waiting to feel something. Nothing happened.

What did we learn?

We are not the first group to perform this stunt – a group out of the UK called the 10:23 Campaign first did this on January 23, 2010 as a massive protest against Boots, a naturopathic pharmacy. Since then, the National Health Service (NHS) has called for the stoppage of funding for homeopathy with public money, doctors have petitioned the government to stop licensing homeopaths, and a great deal of light has been shone on this shadiest of practices.

Here in Vancouver, naturopaths are being given diagnostic and prescription privileges. People are flocking to places like Finlandia on the mistaken assumption that the stuff in the bottle does what it says. Homeopaths are banking on a combination of the scientific ignorance of the populace and the veneer of respectibility that accompanies being called a “doctor” to push placebo medicine to desperate people. They compound this by railing against the pharmaceutical companies and the government health regulators, stirring up hostility against the scientific community at large. In fact as a skeptic, it is almost inevitable that you will be accused of being a “Big Pharma Shill” when you bring up the fact that most “alternative medicines” don’t actually do anything (or at least they don’t do what they claim).

The predictable response from those who endorse “alternative” or “natural” medicines is to say “what is the harm? If people think it makes them feel better, why tell them otherwise?” I’ve dealt with this question before, which is to say that the truth is important if we are going to live in a society with other people and make decisions that affect each other. In this particular case though, there is a more tangible cost. This website lists cases of people who died or were seriously injured by belief in quack medicine. Obviously no treatment is perfect, but to convince people to forgo treatment that has a chance of working because you want to sell them something that doesn’t work is tantamount to abetting involuntary suicide.

Another tired trope is that homeopathy only works on some people. It’s quite the coincidence that none of the people who have tried the overdose or who have been observed in carefully designed clinical trials are the ones who it “works” for. The whole point of a study is to control for random differences between people, so that the only difference is the treatment you’re giving them. It would have to be the mother of all coincidences that nobody in these rigorous studies, nobody in our group, and nobody in the 400+ skeptics in the 10:23 campaign felt any effect in the slightest. It would have to be coincidence if it worked – but it doesn’t. The easiest explanation is that homeopathy is just water, with no more “medicine” in it than what comes out of the tap.

We were lucky as well to have the entire thing videotaped by CBC Marketplace as part of their exposé on Boiron, the largest manufacturer of homeopathy in Canada. The episode is due to air this Friday at 8 pm, so you should check it out. I’m not sure if I got on TV or not. Hopefully our merry band of skeptics can help convince people that spending any money on homeopathy is a complete and total waste, because it doesn’t do anything.

Incidentally, I slept pretty much the exact same as I always do that night. I woke up around 3:00 in the morning, rolled over and went back to sleep.

TL/DR: Homeopathy doesn’t work either in theory or in practice. Taking an entire bottle of pills doesn’t have any effect. Homeopaths are defrauding people and giving them sugar pills instead of real medicine.

Make sure you read part two of this saga.

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‘Tis the season… to shove it in their faces!

Cross-posted from Canadian Atheist, in direct (and repeated) violation of the unofficial policy prohibiting such things.

This one will brief, since Hemant over at Friendly Atheist has already given us all the relevant information:

The Atheism subReddit has taken up the cause to raise $42,000 for Doctors without Borders — the amount is an homage to Douglas Adams.

This is a friendly competition with the members of the Christianity subReddit, who are donating to the World Vision Clean Water Fund. Much like with Kiva, we’re crushing them with our generosity :) (I should’ve pointed out that this is hardly a fair fight because the Atheism subReddit outnumbers the Christian subReddit by a longshot. There’s waaaaay more of us. So the “competition” is all in good fun. Still, Christians are more than welcome to try to beat us :) )

As I write this, the atheists have already raised $30,000. The Christians have raised a little over $10,000.

Let’s help the atheists reach their goal (and, as a bonus, give more than the Christians).

If you’re in the U.K., you can give here.

If you’re in America (or elsewhere), you can give here.

I just gave $10. What are you donating?

Personally I think this is an awesome idea. Despite being at odds with a large segment of the atheist community with my stance toward religion, I think this is the kind of collaboration and friendly rivalry that the “accommodationists” are talking about most of the time. I’m happy to channel some of my vitriol (and one night out’s worth of cash – I donated $50) into a cause that sees real and positive results for someone else on the planet.

So atheists, put down your deep-fried baby sandwiches, click on the link, and cough up whatever dough you can spare to finally destroy Christianity once and for all! Or, get a poor kid some medicine. Whatever lifts your luggage. Christians, you can donate here.

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