This Bullshit Is Brought To You By The Letter “A”

A is for Alligator—look at that bite!
A is Albino—he’s totally white
A, Acupuncture; let’s poke him with pins
A, Anecdotal; the evidence spins
A is for Alt-Med, which doesn’t do shit…
A is for Asshole: I hope she gets bit.

Via the Beeb, a story (with video I can’t embed here, but he’s a cute little guy) of an albino alligator being treated with acupuncture at a Brazilian zoo. And for the record the “asshole” in the last line is me–if I am objecting to an alligator getting its jaw taped shut and pins stuck all down its backside (which you’re damn right I’m objecting to), it is a bit of an asshole move to cheer on the hypothetical alligator-bite injury of someone who is just (sincerely, I believe) trying to help.

The acupuncturist is not evil; she thinks she’s helping. The evidence strongly suggests that there is nothing beyond a placebo effect in acupuncture (or an expectancy effect in the case of animal acupuncture). It’s not easy to have double blind acupuncture, but the most methodologically sound studies I have seen have shown no difference between the “real” and control conditions (whether sham needles or wrong needle placement). My favorite report of this, though, came from an alternative magazine my sister sent me–it claimed that not only did acupuncture work, but so did sham acupuncture! (In other words, there is a significant placebo effect–and placebo is much different from “no effect”–but nothing beyond that.)

So I am not really angry with the acupuncturist. She’s trying to help. It’s the superstructure of alt-med pseudoscience that allows people to poke with needles, give sugar pills or distilled water, wave their hands vaguely, or think happy thoughts, and think they are helping. “But it can’t hurt–anything is better than nothing!”, I have heard… but there are people foregoing real cancer treatments (with their nasty side effects because the medicine is actually doing something) to gamble their lives on this institutionalized fraud.

Belief In Satan Leads To Terrible Things… In Priests.

It isn’t just God that believers believe in—
There are angels and demons as well;
But I don’t really think there’s a Devil at all
So I guess I’ll be heading for Hell

There’s a priest who believes that he’s figured us out;
Though his logic’s a little bit odd;
Not believing in Satan (he thinks) is the key
More than just not believing in God

Cos Satan’s a gateway, it seems, to belief
Or a gatekeeper, keeping folks in
Instead of ourselves, it’s the Devil to blame—
The personification of sin

But if there’s no Devil, no angels, no God,
No leprechauns, pixies, or elves,
No witches or wizards with magic to use
Then we’ll have to get by… by ourselves.

Yeah, so, this verse was just an excuse. The part of the story that amused me is what the verse covers–a curious bit of logic from a father Gabriele Amorth:

…one of the main causes of today’s atheism is that people don’t believe in the Devil any more. But Jesus said: ‘Who is not with me is with Satan.’ If you don’t believe in Satan, Satan has got you in his pocket.

So, yeah. Not believing in Satan is a gateway drug to not believing in God. Which, given how many times I’ve heard that atheists worship Satan by definition, kinda makes me think they aren’t reading the same playbook.

But you might have noticed the ellipsis at the beginning of that quote. Yup, I cut off something important, just a few words, but the devil (heh) is in the details, as always. See, the beginning of that sentence goes “The Pope’s exorcism is a splendid sign because…” Amorth is making the claim that the pope actually performed an exorcism (there is a video of the encounter at the link). Francis was giving blessings after a pentecost mass, and can be seen laying hands on the head of a boy in a wheelchair.

So…. kid in a wheelchair. Obviously time for prayer. Cos A) the kid might be possessed, rather than, say, suffer from epilepsy, or B) even if that’s not the case, his condition is likely a punishment from God for some sinful nature. Either way, the kid needs prayer. And yes, epilepsy and demonic possession go hand in hand. Here, from the point of view of someone with epilepsy… and here, from a slightly different perspective.

But the problem is not ignorance among priests, eager to have a practical purpose in life–no, the problem is too many possessed people. Not medical conditions, not stigmatization, not misunderstanding, not marginalization, not some mundane problem like that, that people need to do the work of fixing… no, it’s 2013–clearly the cause is demons in your soul. Priests need the proper education! Not in science, medicine, skepticism, and inclusiveness, but in casting out demons.

What could go wrong?


We ought, I thought (and thought I knew),
With some diseases, be all through—
There’s no excuse, I used to scoff,
To deal today with Whooping Cough.
We’ve got vaccines! And people know
It doesn’t cost a lot of dough
Compare the cost to other stuff
And really, now, it isn’t tough
To gain the health vaccines allow,
To run a shop, or push a plough…
Let’s hope vaccines again will pick-up,
And these few cases are just a hiccough.

Actually, I had a student who had had whooping cough. No excuse for it; it’s vaccine preventable, and it’s just horrible. In a classroom of students at the height of the vaccine paranoia (thanks, Wakefield), this student was a staunch advocate of vaccines. It is only a culture that is too unfamiliar with disease that has the luxury of vaccine denial.

Anyway, I also want to give a plug for my pal Kylie, who emailed me the following:

The documentary Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines <>  will be airing this Sunday on Australia’s SBS and I’ll be live-blogging it for overseas interested people (I think it will be online for all eventually). In the documentary, Sonya Pemberton interviewed people world-wide on what she has said is the “conversation, not debate, we need to have”.

The new Token Skeptic podcast is a live-radio show I did with Assoc. Professor Peter Richmond, from the Vaccines Trial Group here in Perth <>  on what people can do to get the facts and even help contribute to the Meningococcal B vaccine, by taking part in trials.

More information on the Token Skeptic blog at On Vaccinations – Australia Continues To Take A Stand For Health – Token Skeptic Podcast <> .

Burzynski The Bold (A Ballad)

Some folks would give up; Some folks would just quit,
When they look for three decades, but only find shit.
But some can make hay from a whole lot of zero…
Like Dr Burzynski, the medical hero.

Though his method is lacking empirical proof
Looking less like a treatment and more like a spoof
That won’t stop Burzynski, the brave and the bold—
He’ll do as he wishes, and not as he’s told!

When your data are meager, then there go your grants,
But Burzynski the Bold doubled down, took a chance:
“I’ll charge all my patients exorbitant fees,
And I’ll make up the difference, as quick as you please!”

Now, some wouldn’t do this; some people have morals—
But Dr. Burzynski, he didn’t have quarrels;
He overcharged bravely, where others might quail;
His ethics and morals were boldly for sale.

He kept at his work, like that battery bunny,
And lied to his patients and sucked up their money
“It’s legal, of course,” he explained with a smile
“This isn’t a treatment, but merely a trial”

He isn’t a weasel, as stories depict him—
Oh, no! He’s a hero, as well as a victim;
He’s willing to take the unpopular path
Like boldly stand up to a teenager’s wrath—

A boy, armed with nothing but brains and the truth
Makes people think twice, ere they threaten the youth;
But Dr. Burzynski? That’s not what he did
(Thinking twice, he did not; he did threaten the kid)

Burzynski the Bold found a lawyer with teeth
(Some feed at the bottom—he feeds underneath)
Who threatened the lad, saying “cease and desist!”
But there’s something the lawyer, it seems, may have missed:

On the internet, smart kids have plenty of friends;
You can threaten him, sure, but that’s not where it ends;
So Dr. Burzynski, the kid may be young…
But mess with a wasps’ nest—you’re gonna get stung.

World Polio Day

Lines on the return of Polio

A mother, doing what she thinks is right
Believes the lies and chooses now to fight;
She will not vaccinate. She is too young;
How quickly we forgot the iron lung.

So today is World Polio Day, and the news is mixed. The good news is, it’s still a preventable disease, and it’s roughly 99% eradicated.

The bad news comes from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s third report (pdf; do read it–it’s a remarkable report)– there are continuing deficiencies and weaknesses in the global eradication programs. With the exception of India and Angola, every country where polio persists has more cases this year than by this time last year. Three countries have already exceeded last year’s totals. The goal of worldwide eradication by 2012 is not quite impossible, but extremely unlikely at this point. Ineffective strategies continue to be pursued and politics (in both the national and internal senses) gets in the way of goals.

The problems vary from country to country, from war to ineffective leadership of eradication programs. The report is remarkable in its frankness; I hope that the people they criticize are willing and able to change.

Prayer ‘Cure’ Kills Three

Throw away your medicines!
God alone can cure!
Trust in Him, repent your sins
Make sure your thoughts are pure!
God can cure your HIV
With love that never fades
Trust in Him, and you will see
He’ll cure you of your AIDS
God’s healing is omnipotent
And infinite in worth
It brings an end that’s heaven-sent
To illness on the Earth
So throw away your medicines
Sing praises to His name!
And when your illness kills you, then
Your lack of faith’s to blame.

Deadly pinheaded faith-healing nonsense, after the jump:
[Read more…]

Throat In A Jar?

The same methodology used to produce
The remarkable “heart in a jar
Has created a trachea, almost from scratch,
And it looks like it’s working, so far!
The organ was made from the stem cells extracted
From marrow they drew from her hip,
And a collagen shell from a donor cadaver
Whose windpipe was one they could snip.
The trachea, treated with antibiotics
And stripped of its cellular coat
Was a scaffold to seed with her stem cells, to grow
A replacement for part of her throat!
So far it appears her recovery’s perfect,
The part’s recognized as her own;
What remarkable news! No concern of rejection—
It matches… because it’s home-grown!

Wow! This is just so incredibly cool! NPR’s “All Things Considered” reports on a trachea transplant success story with a twist–the new trachea was constructed using the recipient’s own stem cells!

Doctors in Spain have implanted a new windpipe into a woman whose airway was badly damaged by tuberculosis.

The pioneering operation used a section of windpipe engineered in a laboratory with adult human stem cells, according to Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, of the Barcelona’s University Hospital Clinic.

The stem cells were extracted from her bone marrow, cultured, and treated with chemicals to induce them to develop into cartilage, fat, and other tissues.

As the cells were growing in England, scientists began work on an even more crucial step — fashioning a kind of scaffolding out of tissue on which the new cells could grow.

They started with a trachea — a portion of the windpipe — taken from a 51-year-old man who had recently died.

The donor’s trachea was rinsed with antibiotics and most of the cells were removed with various detergents and enzymes, a process that took several weeks.

What was left was the shell of the trachea, essentially made up of fibrous collagen.

Yup, pretty much the same process as the heart-in-a-jar.

Over a period of four days, they applied nutrients and chemicals to promote the growth of new layers of tissues, which were composed of the same kinds of cells normally found in the trachea.

The airway was kept in a special container and rotated continuously to ensure even growth.

On June 18, Castillo underwent surgery in Barcelona to have a portion of her airway removed — specifically, the left bronchus.

Surgeons took the newly created windpipe and trimmed it to the proper size and fit it into place near the point where the trachea divides to supply both lungs.

The operation was in June, the report is out in today’s issue of The Lancet. So far, all is going well, without the need for anti-rejection drugs, because the body is recognizing that these are her own cells! That’s her picture at the top of the post–I bet it wasn’t hard coaxing a smile!

Oh, yeah… Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

T. M. I. (too much information)

…No, not the wonderful song by Roy Zimmerman, just letting you know that you might want to stop now, if you don’t like hearing about… well…

Oh, by the way, (Yes, this is by way of giving you enough time to change your mind–just don’t blame me, ok?) Roy Zimmerman’s new newsletter just came out; I’d copy it all here, but why don’t you just go to and look around for a bit? You won’t regret it. I have autographed copies of just about everything. Except the latest, I think. Roy is one of my idols (yes, I have a list–don’t you?).

Anyway, you now have officially had enough time to think “hmm, maybe he is serious about this too much information stuff…”, so at this point I am no longer responsible.

I had surgery last week. Yup. Wednesday. Been on painkillers since then, and what with the Myers vs Expelled stuff, I had my biggest hit day on this blog, for something written pretty much with just the reptilian part of my brain, because the rest was being used either feeling pain or watching the room decide which way to spin. And what does a cuttlefish do when bleeding, in pain and on oxycodone? Verse, of course.

Painfully, strainfully,
Digital Cuttlefish
Wishes his poetry
Showed some more class;

Sadly, effects of a
Limit his thoughts to his
Pain in the ass.

Yup, that’s a double-dactyl. They are fun. What is not fun, though, is the first bowel movement after a hemorh.. haeme.. after they cut part of your ass off. I thought I was fine–and I was, for the first couple of days. Took until Saturday for me to finally need to go… Now I know why they give opium derivatives. Ouch. ow ow ow ow ow ow owwwww….

Woozily, bruisily,
Suffering Sepia
Forces down fluids and
Tries not to strain;

Mutters his thanks to the
Chemist-magicians who
Manage his pain.

I actually did thank the pharmacological industry. I mean, I know there are people in my position (prone, currently) who thank god for their drugs; I figure if you are gonna give credit for the drugs, ya gotta give blame for the piles in the first place, and then it just gets silly. So, no.

But I did have a great experience with the hospital people. My surgeon rocks–I’d say she kicks ass, but that metaphor is a bit lost on me at present. My nurses were great. I think, having read The Head Nurse’s blog, that they were in fact the A team; lots of confidence, good humor, helping one another. The nurse who put in my IV was hilarious. Watching her, I said “looks like you’ve done this before”; without missing a beat, she replied “no, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

Anyway, time for bed. Whether I want to or not–oxycodone has that effect this late at night.

Sleepily, weepily,
Slumber is beckoning
Time to give thanks, cos it
Could have been worse—

Not to some deity,
I’ll give my thanks to each
Doctor and Nurse!

Good night, all.

Wonderful News! A Potential Cure For Diabetes!

A news release from Novocell today
Reports a major step to find a cure
For diabetes. They have found a way,
From embryonic stem cells, to make pure
And uncontaminated strains, in mice,
Of insulin-producing pancreas cells.
For human diabetics, this is nice
Of course, because this news potentially spells
The end to constant testing and injections,
Daily hassles, both the large and small,
Relief from greater risks of bad infections,
And generally a better life for all.
It’s time to end the ethical debate;
There’s too much cost in making people wait.

That’s right–The news outlets are all reporting on Novocell’s new discovery.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Human stem cells transformed into nearly normal insulin-producing cells when implanted into mice, possibly offering a way to treat diabetes long-term, researchers at a U.S. company reported on Wednesday.

The researchers used human embryonic stem cells — the most powerful but the most controversial source of stem cells.

Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the team at San Diego, California-based Novocell Inc said their work showed that human embryonic stem cells might fulfill the promise of treating or perhaps even curing diabetes.

“Our data provide the first compelling evidence that human embryonic stem cells can serve as a renewable source of functional insulin-producing cells for diabetes cell replacement therapies,” said Emmanuel Baetge, chief scientific officer of Novocell.

The actual report is in the journal Nature Biotechnology (abstract here)

Oh… some of you know already… my son has Type 1 Diabetes. So yeah, I’m happy.

(just noticed….I beat the science blogs to this, and I did it in verse!)

Vaccination Fixation

Oh, pity poor Orac! He’s feeling the love of the anti-vax folks, who apparently think he is a stupid-head. So this one, like it or not, is for you, Orac.

It’s obvious that ignorance combined with desperation
And deliberate distortion mixed with misinterpretation
Not to mention giant leaps of overstressed imagination
May result in opposition to a helpful vaccination.

The Mercury Militia calls for more investigation
Till the government reveals what must be missing information;
A disinterested observer soon would see the explanation:
Anti-vaxxers, as a rule, misunderstand the situation.

The evidence is crystal-clear; I have no hesitation—
Quite the opposite, in point of fact, I have an obligation
To preserve the herd immunity throughout the population
For the sake of both my children and their children’s generation.

But the anti-vaxxers have a beef with modern medication;
I suspect that they’re the people who protested fluoridation
And who’d never take a pill when they could use an incantation
Or a regimen of regular colonic irrigation.

It is possible these whackos have an honest motivation,
Ah, but ignorance is toxic when in such a concentration,
And the Mercury Militia have attained a reputation:
They’ve developed an immunity to science education.

Though the latest of the studies you can find in publication
Once again, despite the protest, shows a lack of correlation—
And by rights should be the harbinger of end of disputation—
I suspect the odds are better we’ll see porcine levitation.

That conclusion, I imagine, may elicit some frustration,
And a straining reminiscent of a mental constipation,
But allow me now to offer you this meager compensation—
That at least this little verse of mine has reached its termination.