A new claim from the quack decapitator

Sergio Canavero is now claiming to have achieved successful repair/regeneration of severed spinal cords by something he pompously calls The Gemini Protocol. This is simply severing the cord with a sharp knife (good to know he’s not using a dull one) and immediately squirting the cut with polyethylene glycol (which we’ve known for decades will cause cells to fuse). He has photos of rats that he said managed to start walking again two weeks after slicing through their spinal cords.

This is pretty much guaranteed bullshit.

More qualified experts than I say the same thing.

Critics of the proposed human head transplant have been vocal since it was first announced. Commenting on it in 2015, Chad Gordon, professor neurological surgery at Johns Hopkins University, told BuzzFeed : “There’s no way he’s going to hook up somebody’s brain to someone’s spinal cord and have them be functional. On the conservative side, we’re about 100 years away from being able to figure this out. If he’s saying two, and he’s promising a living, breathing, talking, moving human being? He’s lying.”

Jerry Silver, Professor of Neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, works on repairing spinal cords after injury. Commenting on the latest study, he tells Newsweek it is unclear whether to team had truly severed the cord completely. “I notice that in the last paragraph they state ‘In conclusion, we have shown that the paralysis following full severance of the dorsal spinal cord can be reversed—to a significant extent—by immediate application of a fusogen.’ Did they sever only the ‘dorsal’ cord?” he says.

He said the team also claims the axons—which form part of the spinal cord—had regenerated, but “they show no evidence for regeneration.”

“There is no histology [the study of the microscopic structure of tissues] which is the only way to assess what is really going on here,” Silver said, adding the BBB scores—the scoring system used to assess motor function in rats—were unrealistic.

“Two treated animals supposedly recover locomotor skills that are nearly normal (BBB scores of 19 and 20 out of a possible 21 total) and as a group they average a score of 12 which means that they can on average take multiple weight bearing steps. [This is] unbelievable. Too good to be true in my opinion, which mandates that these results will have be independently verified and properly analyzed before this work can be accepted as scientifically valid.”

No histology. Partial cuts? Poor documentation of supposed recovery. This guy is a quack.

By the way, he’s also abruptly dropped plans to do the first human experiment on a man with a degenerative disease, Valery Spiridonov, and is instead planning to do it on an unnamed Chinese victim patient, just as he has announced Chinese government support.

Don’t take Canavero seriously, unless it’s to drag him off to the Hague for prosecution. His proposal is a glory-seeking sham.

The meeting circuit

Some people expressed surprise that I was at the Midwest Zebrafish meeting. They have meetings about zebrafish? How weird. Only not. What I find weird is that people are unaware of this mundane part of the science experience, so I thought I’d briefly explain it.

Every sub-sub-discipline does this. There are zebrafish meetings, fly meetings, worm meetings, mouse meetings, bat meetings. There are meetings dedicated to specific diseases. There are meetings for organs and tissues: brain meetings, kidney meetings, hair cell meetings, enteric nervous system meetings, ear meetings. There are meetings dedicated to the mechanisms of vomiting. There are meetings with 50 attendees, others with 30,000. They are going on in every city of the country all the time. We are right there under your nose.

Why do we hold these meetings?

  • Practice. It’s part of student training.

  • Networking. Bringing together people with similar interests is a great way to make connections.

  • Sharing new ideas. Sometimes an experiment might not be right for publication, so you get feedback on preliminary results.

  • Inspiration. We learn all kinds of cool stuff we can try in our labs.

  • Good times. You know how nice it is to hang out with weirdos with the same interests?

Who gets to go? Anyone. They’re open to anyone willing to pay for registration (which may be a few hundred dollars). You don’t want to go. It’s all very esoteric. This is where we let it all hang out: talks are wall-to-wall high-density jargon in which we assume everyone knows all the basics, or even the advanced stuff. It’s great, but lay people will be bored or lost. This stuff is often so rarefied and narrow that not even science journalists will be interested. It’s often condensed down to 12 minute talks — kind of like blipverts for the most technical stuff.

Sometimes people might wander by the hotel we’re having it in — it happened last night. The poster session for the meeting was held in the atrium, and we had a couple of people stop by and ask what it was all about. That’s great! We had a nice conversation and showed off some of our videos. Most scientists are happy to talk to anyone about the weird stuff we’re doing.

Now you know what it’s all about. Tomorrow I get to go home after an intense weekend…and I get to repeat it again in July.

The Ark Encounter: Wood, plus animal noises

I visited Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter today, and my title says it all: it’s a big wooden box full of more fake wooden boxes, with recorded animal noises playing constantly to make it seem like there’s something more. A hollow cacophony. Maybe if you’re a church-goer, you’re used to that, but I’m not. I tweeted a bunch of stuff as I went along, and I’ll post that below with a litte more commentary below.

[Read more…]

They scam horses, don’t they?

Hey, veterinarians have to be pretty smart and disciplined to even be in that career, so it’s nice to see how many of them have to be rigorous and skeptical. Here’s an example of the universal problem of quackery explained by a vet:

One reason that many products and treatment methods remain on the market is because of this simple, and not entirely irrational, thought process: “I tried it, my horse got better, so it works!” Unfortunately, even when a horse’s problem improves following treatment, this, by itself, often cannot prove that the therapy was responsible for the improvement. Here’s an example. In other times, people did rain dances when the weather was dry and occasionally, it must have rained. Thus, they kept on dancing. That’s the same bit of logic I’m talking about as applied to determining whether treatments really work, or not.

There are some ethics involved here, as well. I believe that people who provide treatments and therapies for animals have a moral and ethical obligation to prove, first, that they are safe and, second, that they are effective prior to selling them to horse owners (NOTE: Not everyone agrees, as evidenced by the buckets of BS that are currently being peddled). It’s usually not that hard to demonstrate that a therapy doesn’t do any harm to an animal – the treatment is given, the animal doesn’t die, and there you go. Proving that it’s effective can be quite another matter, even if effectiveness is easy to claim.

This is a very common psychological exploit. Most organisms do have natural healing abilities; I’ve noticed over the years that if I have a cut, it magically heals, even though I don’t understand everything that is going on. Unscrupulous humans are able to hover over that ongoing process and claim that they’re the ones responsible for activating the magical healing power, even when they’re not, and there isn’t anything magical about it. We’re usually quite eager to have wounds and disease go away, so we’re psychologically willing to accept the ‘aid’ of said unscrupulous guru.

It’s especially potent for problems that have a variable progression, like cancer or back pains.

And it works on horses, too. Well, not actually on horses, but on gullible horse owners, who often have a deep emotional and financial investment in their animals. Once you’ve got the horse folk convinced, it’s an easy jump to bilking humans over human diseases.

My favorite example is Tellington TTouch, a kind of psychic massage therapy.

[TTouch] is a bodywork and training method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body. The intent of the TTouch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence — “turning on the electric lights of the body.” The TTouch is done on the entire body, each circular TTouch complete within itself. It is not necessary to understand anatomy to be successful in speeding up the healing of injuries or ailments, or changing undesirable habits or behavior.

And, according to the unqualified and untrained woman who peddles this crap all over the world, it cures just about everything. Stress, migraines, depression, arthritis, stroke…it even enriches your relationships!

That’s a pretty impressive list of accomplishments for a system of touching rituals made up by one person based entirely on her own intuition. Unsurprisingly, however, there is absolutely no reliable evidence to support any of these claims. The TTouch web site claims, “We have also gathered a rich legacy of anecdotal evidence to support the effectiveness of TTouch to enhance personal wellness and quality of life” without any apparent recognition that this is meaningless in terms of validating the claims made for the treatment.

Unfortunately, the reason it’s my ‘favorite’ quack therapy is that it is heavily promoted by my university (well, one branch of my U — the backward and problematic Twin Cities branch) at the Center for Spirituality and Healing, the ongoing embarrassment thriving at the heart of one campus in this system. I’m looking at the long, long list of faculty and staff associated with this disgrace and thinking about how the science division at my campus is understaffed, and how all across the university we could use more support for the social sciences and humanities and arts, and how our students keep facing tuition increases, and right there is a fine piece of useless fat that could be cut away, and the loss would immediately benefit the University of Minnesota.

It’s a clear example of bad thinking doing actual harm.

I never get to feel smug about atheism anymore

The Southern Baptists had a big fight among themselves at their conference. What triggered it, among all the mundane minutia, was a proposal to repudiate the alt-right and reject racism.

…[a lot of “whereas”s citing the Bible deleted]

WHEREAS, there has arisen in the United States a growing menace to political order and justice that seeks to reignite social animosities, reverse improvements in race relations, divide our people, and foment hatred, classism, and ethnic cleansing; and

WHEREAS, this toxic menace, self-identified among some of its chief proponents as “White Nationalism” and the “Alt-Right,” must be opposed for the totalitarian impulses, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that infect the minds and actions of its violent disciples; and

WHEREAS, the roots of White Supremacy within a “Christian context” is based on the so-called “curse of Ham” theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years—echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos—which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation. The SBC officially renounces the “curse of Ham” theory in this Resolution; now be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, AZ, June 13-14, 2017, denounces every form of “nationalism” that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty; and be it further

RESOLVED, that we reject the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called “Alt-Right” that seek to subvert our government, destabilize society, and infect our political system; and be finally

RESOLVED, that we earnestly pray, both for those who lead and advocate this movement and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of their perverse nationalism, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people and tongue.

It was initially rejected, and they refused to bring it to a vote, which led to outrage and fury, especially among the black pastors, as you might guess. I’m reading a summary of the conference where all this battling went down, and feeling kind of smug and superior for an ephemeral moment, since we atheists would never have such a conflict. How can Southern Baptists be so obtuse and bigoted?

And then I remembered…you all must remember a few years ago when the big schism that split the atheist community was a simple statement that guys should maybe not hit on attendees at atheist conferences. Remember how people blew up at the very idea that there ought to be anti-sexual harassment policies at our conferences? Remember how some jerk atheist was made a pariah because he dared to publish an account of the rape of a young woman by a prominent speaker at those conferences? Or how about the long roster of loud atheist youtubers who are mouthpieces for misogyny and racism and the alt-right?

I’m also noticing that we atheists also do not have an organization that has formally denounced racism, sexism, and the alt-right as firmly as the goddamned primitive ‘stupid’ Bible-wallopers of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC has done better than atheists on this one, and there’s very little likelihood that we’ll improve, since the official policy everywhere seems to be that atheism will not take a stand on issues of moral significance. There is the Copenhagen Declaration, which is brief and general and takes a step in the right direction, but could use some greater specificity and should be updated to reflect current issues, and definitely should be at least as strong as the SBC statement.

By the way, despite the wrangling, the Southern Baptists eventually accepted a revised version of the proposal; the major change seems to be a deletion of the repudiation of the “curse of Ham” nonsense, which is unfortunate, since that was a major argument that led to the Civil War, among other ongoing atrocities.

It’s also not perfect. It still has a line about opposing “racism…and vice“, which is code for continuing discrimination against different sexual orientations. But at least they took a stand against Nazis, which is something atheists should do, too.

And probably won’t. Too many alt-right, Nazi, libertarian crapsacks in our ranks.

I love infuriating creationists!

We have angered Ken Ham!

In a recent blog post to his Answers in Genesis website, leading creationist Ken Ham laments the supposed power of atheists and the “secularist media,” complaining that they are damaging the reputation of his Ark Encounter, and the economy of the surrounding local businesses, writing:

Recently, a number of articles in the mainstream media, on blogs, and on well-known secularist group websites have attempted to spread propaganda to brainwash the public into thinking our Ark Encounter attraction is a dismal failure.

Sadly, they (atheists and the secular media) are influencing business investors and others in such a negative way that they may prevent Grant County, Kentucky, from achieving the economic recovery that its officials and residents have been seeking.

In other words, Ken Ham blames atheists for his trouble. Ham is refusing to take responsibility for his own failure, and refusing to take responsibility for his broken promises to the citizens and business community of Grant County, Kentucky.

Uh-oh. A collision is coming. On one side, a bitter, pissed-off creationist who wants to blame atheists for every failing of his horrible phony theme park.

On the other, a certain atheist who is planning to visit said theme park and to write mocking, sarcastic posts about it (unless, of course, they finally convince me that science is wrong) this weekend. Yeah, that’s me: I’m flying to Cincinnati tomorrow for the 2017 Midwest Zebrafish Meeting, and before that meeting starts I was going to zip out to the Ark Park on Friday morning. Maybe it’ll be a very quick visit if the creationists happen to recognize me.

I should warn them that bad things happen to people who throw me out of creationist events. Better to let me wander about and gather ammo for ridicule.