5 May 2009

Homeopathy and more Most Haunted

Yesterday, I tweeted this story about a 9-month old child with eczema whose parents decided that rather than provide proper medical care, they would instead 'treat' her with homeopathy.

Unsurprisingly, the child contracted septicemia due to numerous infections and, tragically, died.

I was, as you can imagine, absolutely incandescent with rage about this story and I'll explain why.

Whenever discussions arise, usually at work, about alternative therapy (or complementary medicine as they now like to call it) I always take the view that there is no evidence that the majority of alternative therapies work, so I'm disinclined to believe in them.

Invariably, I'm then placed on the spot as various colleagues throw anecdotes and half-remembered tales at me masquerading as evidence, then sit back, fold their arms and say, "explain that then." Once I offer an explanation, speak about the placebo effect, and point out that, on the basis of testable evidence, these therapies simply don't stand up to the claims made about them, some of my colleagues then become rather defensive and utter the immortal line, "well, if it doesn't hurt anyone, what's the harm?"

Well, if you have a moment, please do read the article above and I think it will illustrate perfectly what the harm is. If you don't have time, then allow me to present a quote from it.

The child's parents knew she "was suffering eczema on her face, arms, legs and torso at four months - but they failed to follow the advice of doctors who referred her to a dermatologist.

The court heard that by the time Gloria was six months old, the eczema had begun weeping and her clothing and nappies would stick to her skin and tear it whenever her parents changed her.

Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC said the baby girl's skin began to peel off, allowing infections to enter her bloodstream."

What in the name of Christ is going on in the head of someone who lets that happen to their child? Obviously, I feel enormous sympathy towards that little girl who lost her life, but I also can't help feeling sorry for the parents who, due to their blind faith in an unproven therapy, ended up killing their child. They'll have to live with that terrible decision for the rest of their lives.

That is why sham treatments such as homeopathy are harmful, because they can encourage people to bypass conventional medicine. I urge you to visit this site, www.whatstheharm.net to read about other, similar cases.

Now, many people have written at length about homeopathic solutions, how they're prepared and what the ingredients are, so I won't go into detail. Instead, I'll point you in the direction of this article from the website www.ukskeptics.org.uk which sets out the fundamental concept.

The wonderfully nonsensical part about homeopathy is that once the solution has been prepared to the common 30C dilution, there is not a single atom of the original active ingredient left in the water. Ah, say the homeopaths, that doesn't matter because water has a memory. Well you know what? Recent evidence shows that they're actually right, water does have a memory. Sadly, however, that memory is fifty millionths of a nanosecond, so doesn't back up their bizarre claims one iota.

Interestingly, after I'd tweeted about the original article, I received a tweet in return from a sadly misguided woman who said, "@Rablenkov could direct your anger to some horrific figures re seroxat being unleshed on the public... and more re allopathic negligence. Empiricism in medicine is wrong ."

I responded with, "Yes, I could, but I'd rather rail against the utter disgrace that is homeopathy. Give me evidence over superstition any day", wondering whether she would attempt to engage me in a conversation. So far, she has remained silent.

She did, however, send the following tweets to other people over the course of the evening:

"homeopathy = disintergration of empiricism in pharmacology. You only need research the appendix to auswich and follow the heads and rebranding of BASF to get a taste of how big the drugs industry is. Good luck in old age if you ever end up on combo prescriptions. I know of no medical research testing cocktails of drugs.... Yet much of public mix RX's"

"Seeing a lot of antagonist comments re homeopathy. Do they quantify and rant as passionately about morbidity rates due to allopathy?"

"Homeopathy when applied is a science and art with exceptional results."

To be honest, when someone mentions homeopathy and Nazis in the same breath, and then dips their toe in the ocean of Big Pharma conspiracy theories, I think they're probably someone that I would have little chance of entering into a meaningful dialogue with.

I hope for the sake of her and her loved ones that, should she become seriously ill, she abandons complementary medicine and goes to see her doctor. If not, she may well end up as another cautionary tale floating around on the Internet.


I received a couple of nice comments on my Most Haunted rant yesterday, including one from someone I used to go to school with who now owns a beauty salon and teaching school. Therapies available include Reflexology, Reiki and Hopi Ear Candling. I shall bite my tongue and remain uncharacteristically silent. :o)

One of the comments directed me to this wonderful clip of Most Haunted with the now exposed Derek Acorah in full flow. It's absolutely hilarious and I thank whoever brought it to my attention.

3 May 2009

Most Haunted

It's been a good day, all told. I haven't actually achieved very much in terms of advancing my life, but neither have I murdered, raped or hurt the feelings of anyone, so that must be a good thing, surely?

After a marathon session on the xbox 360 this morning (Portal, if you must know) I decided to see what was on the TV.

Now, something you should know about me is that I really don't watch much television. Generally, there are one or maybe two programmes that I'll make a point of watching over the course of a week and, usually, these are pretty seasonal. For instance, until last week I was watching only 'Charlie Brooker's Newswipe' and 'Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle'. Both series have now finished their current run, so it's unlikely that I'll watch anything for some weeks now.

For the most part, however, I tend to disregard the television entirely, preferring to watch a movie or mash the xbox controller with my big, clumsy fingers.

Today though, I decided to channel-surf. Thus, I found myself sitting in utter bewilderment watching 'Most Haunted', a programme so astonishingly bad that it surpasses 'laughable' and actually starts to make you quite angry that the people involved haven't been a) sectioned under The Mental Health Act, b) beaten with knotted ropes, or c) sectioned under The Mental Health Act and then beaten with knotted ropes.

For those who haven't seen it (please bear with me and pretend that this blog has a readership when, in actual fact, I'm well aware that I'm simply talking to myself) the programme consists of a group of blithering idiots who travel to somewhere creepy, film themselves with night-vision cameras and pretend to get punched by ghosts.

I think you'll find that very accurately sums up the entire show.

There are, of course, other elements involved. The show has had a number of resident 'psychics' whose job is to wander around feeling the walls, screwing their eyes up and making lots of guesses about who might have lived, and died, in the building. Some of it relies on nothing more than standard 'cold reading' techniques, but other statements are so impressively accurate that you wonder how they could possibly know these things. It's almost like they've spoken to someone who has intimate knowledge of the building's history - someone, for instance, like the show's 'historical expert' who turns up early on, gives various bits of information about the location, and then watches spellbound as the 'psychic' regurgitates that exact same information later in the programme.

In today's show, this team of stumbling morons visited a beach with a World War II bunker on it. A trio of seemingly menopausal women giggled their way through the woods, claiming to hear footsteps, observing a ghostly lantern (beach = seamen = lanterns, presumably) and being routinely pinched, touched and generally indecently assaulted by whatever roving sex-pest spirits were in the vicinity. I know that being a dead sailor must leave you with a considerable appetite for female company, but even ghosts must have standards, surely?

Meanwhile, two male Tourettes-sufferers blundered their way around in the bunker, stopping every few seconds to shout "Did you hear that?" and then talking in loud stage-whispers, very effectively preventing the audience from listening to whatever groans and mutters they'd just claimed to hear. One of the men held a camera up to his own stupid moon-face and, whilst talking, was audibly smacked in the gut, accompanied by an incredible display of gurning and rolling around on the floor. Whether he was an ex-footballer or not, I have no idea, but his pitiful lurching around reminded me briefly of King Kong trying to swat away biplanes.

He then enacted a reconstruction of the event by slapping himself in the stomach several times to demonstrate what had happened. Interestingly, the sound of his gloved palm colliding with his jacket was absolutely identical to that made when he was 'punched by a poltergeist'. A more sceptical person might suggest that he had done it to himself, but I certainly wouldn't utter such a terrible slander.

Sadly, they then decided to head out of the bunker in an effort, so they claimed, to avoid further poltergeist activity. This meant that I was denied the hoped for spectacle of seeing one of them slip on some loose rubble and get impaled through the eye with a rusty iron pole.

The most amazing thing about the programme is that all of the action inevitably occurs off-camera. Strange cowelled figure? Sorry, didn't catch it. Flying hairbrush? Oops, just out of shot. Line of undead Roman legionnaires marching slowly along a corridoor? Bugger, the camera was in the other room.

The thing that really bothers me about this is that all those involved must unavoidably fall into one of two camps - either 1) they're suffering from a terrible delusion that the events are real, in which case they should be given psychiatric help, not a television show, or 2) each one of them is an active, knowing participant in a childish charade which, by its very existence, lends credence to the multitude of other scam artists out there. People offering false hope of the afterlife to those who, whether through grief, despair, or just sheer unhappiness, regularly hand over fistfuls of cash for some small measure of misplaced comfort.

So, in case you were wondering, I won't be adding 'Most Haunted' to my list of must-see TV.

1 May 2009

Waterstones update

What lovely people they are at Waterstones.

I received an email response from them (which I won't post here due to a confidentiality statement at the end of it) that was wonderful. Adam, the chap who originally tweeted me, answered nearly all of my questions, set me right on a couple of points I'd misinterpreted, and was very pleasant indeed.

Yes, they have problems with their website, yes there are certain procedures that they need to review and update as their current processes leave something to be desired.

However, the most important thing they've got right is that they're listening to their customers and making changes based on feedback. You can't really ask for more than that, can you?

So, I shall be keeping an eye on the Waterstones site and hope that they bring it more in line with what customers actually want.

Waterstones website - 5/10
Waterstones customer relations - 10/10