Monday, January 23, 2006

Quackery: Alive and Well in SA

On friday i was off work (due to having worked all weekend previously) so no posts. But two things happened on that day that have confirmed in my eyes that quackery is certainly alive and well in South Africa, and there is much money to be made off the stupid and ignorant.


Driving past the local pharmacy, I noticed a sign that made me do a classic double take. In big colourful letters it proudly announced 'Melrose Pharmacy now has its own resident Homeopath! Private consultations available.'

Now, it only takes a high school knowledge of chemistry and about 5 minutes on the back of an envelope to work out that if the homeopaths actually follow the dilution ratios they claim to, the majority of their products to do not contain so much as a single molecule of the supposedly active ingredient. They are selling you water. Many of them, in the face of overwhelming evidence, have switched gears and claimed that yes indeed, after dilution there is no active ingredient. But, wait for it, the water remembers the molecules that were in it, and takes on their properties. Yes indeed, they are talking about the memory of water. Common sense alone should tell you this is bullshit. Why does it remember the shape of the active ingredient, and not also the shape of the container, the seal, the breath of the homeopath that mixed it, and the 5 million other things each molecule in the little ampule has come into contact with during its history on earth? But scientists, never relying on common sense alone, actually entertained this long enough to test it. And lo and behold, no evidence whatsoever for the memory of water. So really, homeopathy hasn't got a leg to stand on. I even blogged last year about a paper published in the medical journal Lancet that showed the effects of homeopathy to be consistent with that of placebos. In other words, they are as good as sugar water, because they are sugar water. QED.

Now, most consumers don't bother for 5 seconds to wonder about the rationality of what they're purchasing, so i can understand why homeopaths get away with this shit on their own premises. But here we have a case of a homeopath operating on the premises of a pharmacist. Correct me if i'm wrong, but don't pharmacists spend a really long time at university learning about the importance of things like clinical trials for efficacy, side effects and contra-indications, publishing results in reputable peer-review journals, and acceptance by national and international standards boards? We wouldn't expect anything less from conventional medicine. So how can a man whose career is staked on the importance of proving drugs to be both safe and effective, allow someone who does neither to peddle their wares in his pharmacy?

All I can say is, the recent issues that our dear health minister has caused in the pharmaceutical industry must be hitting hard, for a pharmacist to invite a fraudster into his shop in order to get a little more cash. However, he has obviousy thrown all his principles and training out the window. I'm ashamed, and I'm not going to be using that pharmacy in the future, you can be damn sure.

The Human Pin Code

South Africans are not beyond inventing quackery of our very own. I had the unfortunate experience of being at home on friday afternoon and catching 3 Talk with Nolene. For my international readers, imagine a talk show hosted by someone who desperately wants to be seen as the african Oprah, but has none of the intelligence, eloquence, ethics or style to pull it off. She's black, she's female, she's overweight, and she has a talk show. That's where the resemblance ends.

Anyway, she was interviewing the inventor of the Human Pin Code, South African Douglas Forbes. According to Forbes, important personality information is encoded in your birth date. Sounds a lot like astrology to me, but Forbes claims it is all science. The fascination came when they invited callers to phone in and give their birthdate, and Forbes would do a quick analysis (i.e. reading) for them.

Callers said hello, and gave their name and birthdate. And then came the kicker. 'Tell me a little about yourself and what questions you'd like the analysis to offer', asks Forbes. And that was when the caller spilled their entire personality over the phone. So he has their sex, age, and a smattering of issues that are important to them. Cue a very impressive but very transparent cold read of the caller. Callers were amazed at the relevance of a few vague and generic statements, blown away by how accurate he was. I was laughing my ass off at how easy it was to predict what he was going to say to each caller. I must be psychic.

And then came the funniest moment of all. A woman called in, and Forbes starts to talk about how she is a tomboy and always wears slacks or jeans rather than skirts. Is that accurate? She laughs and says no, not at all. Suddenly he switches gear! Oh, this is what we call a top bottom duality, she actually likes to wear very pretty tops and always makes sure her hair and makeup look good. How does that sound? The caller replies that honestly, he's completely off the mark. And watch how he slimes his way out of it by saying oh, she must be the 1% of people who do not follow their pin code.

What?? I nearly fell off the chair laughing. The caller wasn't impressed, but Nolene seemed unphased in her adoration of the guest and his thinly-disguised crap. But this is the same woman who interviews astrologers with a straight face, so i don't expect much more.

Seriously, people, don't be fooled by someone who is only a mediocre cold reader at best. This man has made a fuck-ton of cash off of gullible South Africans, and only stands to make more. Don't buy his books, don't believe his rubbish. There is no scientific basis for his 'scientific' theory, no more so than astrology. Take one look at his site and you will see he is only interested in making money off you.



Anonymous Adriaan said...

Is that a metric fuck ton?

February 20, 2006 2:58 PM  
Blogger moonflake said...

you should know by now i only work in metrics :)

February 21, 2006 12:17 PM  

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