Saturday, February 25, 2006

Midweek Cuckoo: Milking it for all it's worth

i was watching SABC Africa the other day, and Peter Ndoro was interviewing Dr. Magde Nkoane (from some south african Nutrition Center i didn't catch the name of) about the dangers of pasteurized milk. There are danger? i ask myself. I should watch this.

She started out innocently enough, explaining that the pasteurization process destroys not only the bacteria present in milk, but also some of the nutrients. Well, that doesn't sound so implausible, i think. She may have a point.

But then she went off the deep end. According to her, before africans drank pasteurized milk, there was no osteoporosis or allergies in africa. What? Are you trying to tell me that the process of pasteurization somehow imbues milk with the ability to leech calcuim from bones, or to trigger the body's autoimmune system into overreacting to bees (she didn't specify only an allergy to milk, so one can only assume she means all allergies)? She was billed as a doctor, but i wonder about that, given her apparent misunderstanding of how the human body works.

It got even worse, of course. She went on to claim you don't need to drink milk at all to get calcium, in fact you should never drink milk after about 3 years of age. Later, she suggested that in rural areas where no refridgeration means pasteurized, long-life milk is the only option, that africans return to drinking maas, or soured milk. Wait, so we shouldn't drink milk as adults, but africans should drink soured milk? I was shocked that Peter Ndoro didn't pick this up. You would think it was the job of a professional journalist and interviewer to notice when the interviewee is contradicting herself.

Later, Peter asked her how drinking pasteurized milk is affected kids today. She explained that we are now seeing higher incidences of allergies and ear infections. Ear infections? From drinking milk? What, are parents feeding their kids through their ears now?

But it's not just her. A little googling reveals a wealth of international crackpottery on the subject of milk, pasteurized or otherwise. Dr Gina Shaw (not sure what she's a doctor of, the letters after her name do not include M.D.) says that milk does not provide any calcium because "[t]he calcium in cow's milk is pasteurised and therefore inorganic which means that it is largely unusable to the human body". I'm not sure in what reality the element calcium has ever been organic. She goes on to say that "[t]he only type of milk which is fit food for humans (in particular baby humans of course) is the milk of our own species". Why? Is the calcium in that milk somehow not made of calcium anymore, and therefore usable? This woman demonstrates a complete lack of understand of the difference between an element and an organic molecule, or the body's ability to process either.

She goes on to say that because dairy products are mucous-forming, "[they] are implicated in almost all respiratory problems. Hay fever, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, colds, runny noses and ear infections can all be caused by the consumption of dairy products. Dairy products are also the leading cause of allergies." Again, no specification of only allergies to dairy. So again, somehow dairy products are the leading cause of allergies such as those to pollen, dust mites and nickel, one can only suppose. Also, again with the ear infections. Mucous causes ear infections?

Dr Shaw also argues that lactose intollerence occurs because we're not meant to be producing the enzyme that breaks lactose down after about the age of 3. People who drink milk after this age must therefore run the risk of becoming intollerent to it. Of course, she fails to mention the fact that many people are born lactose intollerent.

I did a little looking around for Dr. Shaw. She lists her full qualifications as DS, MA AIYS (Dip. Irid.). Now, DS could mean Doctor of Surgery, or Doctor of Science. But here's where it gets interesting. Searches for 'MA AIYS' or 'AIYS Dip Irid' with the inclusion of -shaw yielded zero results from google, so she seems to be about the only person in the world with this combination of qualifications. Breaking it down, MA might be Master of Arts, AIYS in a nutritional context is probably Association of International Yoga School, and Dip Irid. is very obviously a Diploma in Iridology. Only the AIYS doesn't seem to offer a Dip. Irid. Odd.

What the hell is iridology anyway, you ask, and i'm glad you did. Iridology, sometimes referred to as iris diagnosis, is the bizarre belief that each area of the body is represented by a corresponding area of the iris of the eye. I'm not kidding, you can see for yourself on Dr. Shaw's website. There are people out there diagnosing and offering treatment based on the colour of your eyes. You can read more about it here if you're interested.

She is a vegan, raw foodist, and has written a number of books on the subjects of why eating meat is suicide and how good raw foodism is for you. And she believes she can look into your eyes and tell you what's wrong with you. What more do i need to say?

Are You Crazy Enough for this Church?

I received a scientology personality test in the mail the other day. It takes the form of a 200-question quiz that you answer, send in, and apparently receive 'in person an in-depth, accurate analysis of the results of your test form an evaluator, obligation free.' (their emphasis).

Now, the test is made up mostly of the usual wishy washy personality questions. Do your past failures still worry you? Do you make efforts to get others to laugh and smile? Can you "start the ball rolling" at a social gathering?Are you logical and scientific in your thinking?

Seems like a genuine personality test, right? Except the Oxford Capacity Analysis™, as it is called, has been dismissed by psychologists as having no worth. It also has nothing to do with Oxford university, regardless of what the salespeople will try and make you believe. A study in 1971 found the following:

Taking the procedure as a whole, one is forced to the conclusion that the Oxford Capacity Analysis is not a genuine personality test; certainly the results as presented bear no relation to any known methods of assessing personality or of scaling test scores. The booklet itself might produce genuine scores but these are not the scores presented on the profile. The legend 'produced and edited by the Staff of the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International' which appears on the cover is totally inappropriate to a personality measure - such an instrument is not 'edited', it is developed through painstaking research. The validity of the OCA booklet itself is therefore in doubt.
{Enquiry into the Practice and Effects of Scientology Report, Sir John Foster, 1971}

Author Chris Owen has delved into the test in plenty of detail here.

The general consensus seems to be that it is just a recruiting tool designed by Hubbard himself, offering a means by which to introduce Scientology to a society that places a lot of value on personality quizzes, a la Cosmopolitan. It's designed to make you feel bad about yourself, and to want improvement. The job of the evaluator is then to offer you scientology courses as that improvement. Remember, they earn commission on each sell they make.

But reading through the questions makes me wonder if there isn't something more sinister at hand. Hidden amongst innocent questions that seem oh so familiar to anyone who has read a woman's magazine, there are a few that are just plain disturbing:

6. Do you get occasional twitches of your muscles, when there is no logical reason for it?
18. Does an unexpected action cause your muscles to twitch?
72. Do you ever get a single thought which hangs around for days?
130. Are you aware of any habitual physical mannerisms such as pulling your hair, nose, ears, or such like?
142. Do you get very ill at ease in disordered surroundings?
146. Do you have a tendency to tidy up a disorder of somebody else's household?

37. Do you consider there are other people who are definitely unfriendly toward you and work against you?
45. Do you often feel that people are looking at you or talking about you behind your back?
55. When hearing a lecturer, do you sometimes experience the idea that the speaker is referring entirely to you?
194. If you lose an article, do you get the idea that "someone must have stolen or mislaid it"?

61. Do you ever get a "dreamlike" feeling toward life when it all seems unreal?
71. Do you often "sit and think" about death, sickness, pain and sorrow?
106. Do you sometimes wonder if anyone really cares about you?
113. Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?
148. Do you often feel depressed?
191. Does life seem rather vague and unreal to you?
197. Do you have spells of being sad and depressed for no apparent reason?

14. Would the idea of inflicting pain on game, small animals or fish prevent you from hunting or fishing?
98. Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?
136. Do children irritate you?
149. Are you ever ill at ease in the company of children?
163. Would you take the necessary actions to kill an animal in order to put it out of pain?

Is it just me, or does it look like they're really trying to single out the obsessive compulsives, paranoids, suicidals and potential serial killers? I think certain answers to any of the above questions will point you out to the evaluator as a definite candidate for scientology. After all, you have to be a complete nutjob to believe it.

Oxford Capacity Analysis, copyright 1997 Church of Scientology Intl. (CSI). Dianetics, Scientology and OCA are trademarks and service marks owned by the Religious Technology Center

Power to the People

After a week of sporadic electricity supply, Cape Town is back in running order. For how long remains to be seen.

For those of you who may not know, this is the breakdown of what happened: Cape Town is supplied by South Africa's only nuclear reactor at Koeberg, which has two units. At the end of last year, Unit 1 was down for refueling, leaving only Unit 2 in operation. As could be expected, there were a number of power failures during the refueling process, as any trip on the grid would result in Unit 2 going down, with no second unit to back it up. These were only somewhat inconvenient (and it was a lot of fun to watch Eskom blaming one of the failures on fires under the transmission wires, with the Fire Department going 'There weren't any fires in the area at the time'). Eventually, just in time for christmas, Unit 1 was brought back on line and everything seemed peachy.

Until Unit 1 suddenly failed unexpectedly. Investigation found holes punched through the rotor and stator, by an 8-inch bolt that was rattling around inside the reactor. A bolt that was meant to be holding down a hatch on the outside of the reactor. Now, Eskom is naturally investigating everything from human error to sabotage, but word from people inside the plant is painting a different picture. One which looks much more plausible, at least to those familiar with local work ethic. The suspicion of the plant engineers is that during the refueling, that hatch had to be removed. There are four bolts holding down the hatch. When it was replaced and the worker discovered there were only three bolts left, what did he do? Open it again to check that it hadn't fallen in? Of course not. He went to storage, got another bolt, and screwed it in. Which is why on final checks before bringing the reactor online, no one noticed that there was a bolt missing. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the South African work ethic in action. The worry is not that you may have damaged something, only that you may get caught. Not surprisingly, no one has yet admitted to being the twit who left the bolt inside the nuclear frigging reactor.

Anyway, the result of all this was that Unit 1 went down again for repairs. And while it was down, Unit 2 suffered a massive trip on Saturday night, leaving the entire Western province without power for most of Sunday. Eskom's excuse? Mist and pollution caused it, in the grand old tradition of marsh gas, weather balloons and the light of Venus. I'm sorry to say, but if your power lines cannot handle mist, how the hell do they manage to operate in the middle of a winter deluge in Cape Town?

So while Unit 2 was brought back on line (a process that lasted until Friday) we were bringing power down from the north of the country. But because the transmission lines could only handle a fraction of the load, Eskom employed a process of rotating power cuts known as 'Load Shedding'. In the words of Synkronos, what this means is that Eskom proceeds to shed a load on its consumers. Despite the publishing of a timetable for power cuts, and the assurance that cuts in each area would last no more than 2 hours at a time, they proceeded to employ complete randomness. The power would go off for 18 hours at a time in some areas, and then come on for 3 hours at 2am. The list would say that power was due to come back on in an area at noon, instead it would go off at noon. Some residential areas that were near industrial areas were treated in the same way, having power during the day when everyone was away at work, and then no power all night. Traffic lights would be down, with no traffic officers there to keep the cars moving. In fact, the only traffic officer i saw directing traffic during the entire week was doing so at a working intersection.

What this resulted in was near-apocalyptic conditions in Cape Town. You really don't think about all the consequences of a sustained power outage. Petrol stations close because the pumps don't work. Shops close. Traffic becomes hellish because no one seems to understand the concept of a four way stop. Sewerage pumps stop working, food spoils, geysers cool, ATMs don't work. What you're left with is a city full of people who have no idea what to do with themselves. They can't work. They can't play. They can't eat a cooked meal, or take a bath, or draw money or fill their cars. It's just like a zombie invasion, only we're the zombies. And we don't want brains. We want power. Patience dwindles, tempers flare, and suddenly what you have is a city of people ready to snap. Keep it up for another week, and who knows what could happen.

Of course, we may very well find out soon enough. Unit 1 is still not back on line, as Eskom desperately tries to find second-hand parts overseas. If that doesn't work, it will take at least a year to manufacture new ones. In the meantime, Unit 2 is scheduled for refueling next month. The process takes a month at least. Eskom thinks they may be able to postpone the refueling by a month or two, but there's no guarantee that Unit 1 will be up by then. So stock up on gas stoves, torches, batteries, baked beans and toilet paper, my friends. It's Y2K all over again, only this time it's actually going to happen.

By the way, if you want to know how long the power would last if we really were invaded by zombies, check out this Straight Dope Staff Report.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

We Will Resume Normal Service Shortly (We Hope)

Thanks to constant, lengthy power outages since saturday, i have not been able to blog as i have been spending uptime doing valuable stuff like actually working. Cape Town and the Western Cape as a whole is experiencing drastic power cuts as the country's electricity provision policies finally catch up with it. Welcome to the third world, here are your candles and matches.

Anyway, i will return as soon as things are more or less back to normal, with posts about how sustained power outages are not unlike zombie invasions, and how pasteurized milk apparently causes osteoporosis and ear infections.

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Serenity

If you're a fan of either Warren Ellis or Joss Whedon, you have got to read the comments to this post at warrenellis.com. I think my geek gland exploded.

For those of you who do not know, Joss Whedon is the creator of Buffy, Angel, and more recently the greatest sci-fi show in the history of the universe, Firefly. The fact that this show was cancelled after less than a season will stand out as the greatest travesty ever committed by a network, ever. Yes, Fox, i'm talking about you. We should just start calling it 'Fux'.

If you are one of those people who 'always meant' to watch Firefly and never did (and damn you for dropping the ratings to watch whatever substandard drivel you did), i suggest you buy, beg, borrow or steal a copy of the box set. Now. And then set aside a weekend to watch it, and stock up on food and wetwipes, because once you start you're not going to want to stop to do anything like eat, talk, or clean yourself. I'm serious.

And then immediately go out and get the movie, Serenity. Watch it. Watch it again. When you find yourself compulsively watching it a third time, stop and acknowledge the fact that you were a dumbass for not watching the series when it was on Fox, and thereby contributing to its premature, abortive death. Shame on you. Self-flaggelate a bit. Then watch the movie again.

Oh, and go here and fill in the FireFly Season 2 survey.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

And in the news...

Bast commented that she was surprised I hadn't had something to say about Dick Cheney this week, so here goes:

For those of you who've had your head up your ass for the last few days, United States Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a friend while they were both hunting at a private ranch at the weekend. Now, hunting accidents happen all the damn time, and it's only to be expected when you've got a bunch of people running around with guns, shooting anything that moves. I also don't have anything against game hunting myself. But here's the list of things i find absurd or even worrying about the whole thing:
  1. The VPs office didn't report the shooting to officials until 24 hours later, and only then after a local paper had already reported it online (after the ranch owner had called them). The fact that the vice president would shoot someone and not report it immediately to the authorities is just plain disturbing.
  2. Cheney didn't have a legal permit to hunt quail at the time, so yet more law breaking going on.
  3. Cheney's PR people originally started off blaming the victim, saying that he had gone to locate a lost bird and then failed to indicate to the VP and others that he was behind them. Frankly this kind of statement should get the entire PR department fired (or at least shot at a little). Cheney himself has finally come forward and said "You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend."
  4. The PR office tried to pass it off as a minor incident, saying the Whittington never lost consciousness and was fine. They failed to mention he was rushed to ICU. On top of it all, he suffered a mild heart attack a few days later when one of the pellets of birdshot found its way to his heart. Playing down the gravity of the situation was certainly not going to save Cheney any face, so why even bother? Again, some mild shooting is required.
  5. I'm not bothered by hunting when it's done by serious hunters and where the animals or birds have a fair chance to outwit or escape the hunters. But the birds Cheney was hunting were pen reared and released right in front of him, to be shot in large numbers as they flapped around in utter confusion. This isn't hunting, it's target practice. The 10-person hunting party downed 417 birds in one morning. There's nothing even vaguely skillful about it. Cheney paid good money for a guaranteed kill. He almost got one more kill than he bargained for.

Really, that's about all i have to say about it. The whole thing is really laughable.

Even more disturbingly in news from the States this week, child murderer Dena Schlosser is pleading insanity after she chopped the arms off her infant with a kitchen knife. While this would normally be an open and shut case of severe post partum depression, what makes it utterly creepy is that when she emergency personnel arrived at the house after she calmly called 911, they found her sitting in the living room, covered in blood and still holding the knife, listening to a church hymn. The day before, she told her husband she wanted to give the baby to God. The family is saying she was influenced by the charasmatic leader of the non-denominational church she attended, Rev. Doyle Davidson. Apart from telling her husband she wanted to give her baby to God, she also said she wanted to give her to Doyle. The fact that her husband didn't think this was worrying only goes to show how deeply imbedded they were in their religion.

Now, there's no doubt that she was crazy. She'd been charged with neglecting her children earlier that year, and had displayed symptoms of post partum depression after the births of her two elder children too. But had she not been a religious woman, entrenched in a religious community with a religious husband, it is entirely likely she would have been urged to seek psychiatric help, rather than religious help. She was not possessed by demons. She was not having trouble interpretting what her god wanted of her. She was crazy. She needed help. Maybe if she'd got it, instead of religious platitudes, she would have been stopped in time.

But that's just my opinion.

Things I've Often Wondered

For those of you who are big fans of Bill Watterson's work, there is a searchable Calvin and Hobbes database.

I'm glad to see Calvin is doing important Exploding Head research.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Midweek Cuckoo: Playing with Jesus

The whole idea of merchandising religion just seems somehow... wrong. But the Catholic Family Catalog doesn't seem to think so. They're making cash for jesus. And while selling holy shortwave radios and statues with Real Bleeding Action™ seems like a great idea, it's the toys that are the best.

You can have your very own Jesus action figure. And if he's lonely, get Samson, David and Goliath to keep him company in their biblically accurate costumes. Also note the true-to-life scale difference between David and Goliath. Accuracy is the name of the game here.

And if playing with their saviour isn't enough, let your children clothe themselves in the armour of the lord, including play safe plastic sword of the spirit, helmet of salvation, shield of faith, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, gospel of peace shin guards, and shoelaces of falling over in the dirt. No schoolyard smiting is complete without this set.

But they have some competition as far as jesus toys go. This one has Real Gliding Action (thanks to wheels in the base) and posable arms (for reaching up to heaven of course). This one comes with five loaves and two fish, and a jar ready to turn water into wine. He also features glow in the dark Miracle Hands! I hear he's a great hit at kids parties. There's also a Moses action figure, complete with tablets for delivering testaments and staff for delivering plagues. Just don't let your kids take it anywhere near the pool, there's no telling what could happen.

But this is the Chuck Norris of Jesus Action figures. He comes complete with Ninja-Messiah throwing nails, pump action over-under shotgun, and his own cross. This Jesus is not messing around.

What next? New Deluxe Jesus Action Figure, with Walk On Water™ Action! Comes complete with cross and three nails, and our patented EZRemoval® nail remover so you can crucify the Saviour over and over again! Small parts, not suitable for children under 3!

Malibu Jesus. Disco Party Jesus. Jesus PlayHouse. There is so much potential here.

Seriously, though, i wonder what the blasphemy ramifications are of your little sister stealing Jesus to join Barbie and My Little Pony for a tea party. Would Jesus want to be seen at the same tea party as a slut like Barbie? What if little sis decides Jesus' dress is a little boring and he would look better in Sindi's miniskirt? What if Jesus gets left in the garden and chewed on by the dog? Does the company selling these make you sign an indemnity form against divine retribution for abuse of Jesus?

It's all fun and games until you walk into your son's room to find David and Goliath have been left on the desk in a naked embrace, their enmity forgotten in a whirl of passion. Now there's learning while you play.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

When you wish upon a star

It's Valentine's Day. While that may mean flowers and candy and unicorn giggles for some, for newspapers it means trotting out all those same dusty ideas for spontaneous and exciting gifts. The one that irks me most is naming a star after your loved one.

Seriously, how do people fall for this money-making scheme? Let me make it very clear for you: you do not actually get a star named after you in any sense that means anything at all to anyone.

This is what happens: some company gets themselves a database of star names. You pay them a whack of cash for them to go into their database and change the name of one of the stars. In their database. Which no one else in the entire world refers to. At all. And maybe, if you're really lucky, they will print out a certificate for you. Which also is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Some go to even further lengths. They let you use a robotic telescope to look at the star which they have renamed (in their database) for you. Some even blast their list of star names into orbit. Why the fact that they are throwing the list away (admittedly in a very expensive manner) makes it somehow more valid, i'm not sure. And they claim that they are not creating orbital litter because the satellite eventually comes crashing back down to earth and burns up in the atmosphere. So, basically, they don't just throw the list away, they incinerate it. Romantic.

And for this they charge you a minimum of $20.00. This is not a service i would pay 20c for. It is no different than some company starting up a 'Name a Hollywood Star' service. You could keep a list of the names of all the hollywood stars, and charge people to have someone's name changed (in their database). You could pay $20.00 to have Tom Cruise's name changed to Big Giant Doo Doo Head (in their database). You may even get a certificate to say that his name has officially been changed to Big Giant Doo Doo Head (in their database). But in no way whatsoever is this going to change the fact that the entire world still calls him Tom Cruise.

At least to his face.

And it is exactly the same for those big fireballs in the sky. Just because some company has told you they've changed the name of the star, don't start expecting science papers entitled 'Late-Time Spectroscopy of Jenny Bloggs: The Prototype of a New Subclass of Type Ia Supernovae', or for scientists to announce they've just discovered a new planet in orbit around John Smith.

Man, people are such suckers.

They Should Rename it the Ministry for the Promotion of Death and Disease

In yet another blow to Aids treatment in South Africa, the Health Ministry has declared that people who prefer to use traditional Aids treatments, even untested ones, should be allowed to do so.

Yes, you read that right. Even untested ones. The Ministry of Health is advocating that people take untested treatments for life-threatening illnesses. I wonder why all those cancer clinics in Tijuana don't just up and move to Cape Town right now.

Here are some fantastic quotes from the article:

"It is not about choosing one or another," ministerial spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said on the topic of advising Aids sufferers about conventional antiretroviral treatments as opposed to traditional ones.

Yes, yes it is about choosing one or the other. You may as well say it's not about choosing a long life or a quick death. As far as most people are concerned, there is no choice between the two.

The Democratic Alliance said Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang would be responsible for any deaths resulting from her alleged promotion of untested treatments... The ministry hit back with an accusation of racism, saying the DA undermined traditional African knowledge and practices."It is disturbing to note that the (DA) continues to perpetuate racist stereotypes that African traditional medicines are inferior products manufactured by wizards," it said in a statement.

Racist? I should be shocked by the absurdity of this statement, but to be honest cries of 'racism' are a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to our goverment. They bring it up at the least provocation, like some sort of get-out-of-jail free card guaranteed to focus attention elsewhere by vilifying the complainant. And are you telling me that African traditional methods are not 'inferior products' manufactured by 'wizards'? Has there suddenly been some sort of explosion of clinical trials? Have sangomas suddenly stopped being witch doctors and started getting medical degrees? I think not.

African traditional medicine was providing relief to millions of Africans despite sustained efforts to undermine its credibility, the ministry said.

Really? Show me the studies and the papers to back that up, please.

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni had told a home-based care project, run by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka's mother, to administer the ubhejane herb mixture to HIV-positive patients. According to the newspaper, Ubhejane is a mixture of 89 herbs said to have a "potent activity" against opportunistic infections associated with HIV/Aids. It said the University of KwaZulu-Natal's medical school was conducting research on its effectiveness. The DA said Ubhejane was being administered to patients in KwaZulu-Natal, reportedly on the instruction of the minister and MEC, despite not having been proven to be effective. The drug's inventor has not submitted it for testing, and would not disclose what it contained, the party said. Also, a month's supply of Ubhejane cost R342, more than the cost of mainstream antiretroviral treatment.

So let me get this straight: people who are at the very highest level of those entrusted with the nation's health are giving untested drugs to HIV patients, at a higher cost than tested ones? Not only is the efficacy not yet shown, if the drug's inventor won't disclose what it contains how exactly is it being checked whether or not it contains allergens that may be fatal to those consuming it? Side effects? Contra-indications? Anything?

This kind of behaviour is irresponsibility verging on the criminal. That it comes in a country with more than a 10% infection rate, from the people who are meant to be helping and healing, is just disgusting. DA health spokeswoman Dianne Kohler-Barnard put it so well that I can do no better than to close with her words:

"The efficacy and safety of any medicine must be proved before it can be advocated or provided by the State; if this is not done, then any deaths that result will be the direct responsibility of the minister."

Monday, February 13, 2006

News from the Science Front

In some very interesting science news (thanks TW), physicist Dr. Franklin Felber will present his new exact solution of Einstein's Gravitational Field Equation to the Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF) in Albuquerque. While this sounds very dry and uninteresting, one of the consequences of the solution is the revelation that any mass travelling at over about 0.57 times the speed of light creates an anti-gravity field.

This is totally cool for a number of reasons:
  1. It's anti-gravity. How is that not cool?
  2. Because it happens for any mass, and is only dependant on speed, it can actually be tested in particle accelerators where small particles can be accelerated to the required velocity.
  3. From the abstract of the paper (pdf): "At relativistic speeds, a suitable mass can quickly propel a heavy payload from rest nearly to the speed of light with negligible stresses on the payload." Translation - high speed space travel.

Now obviously this is all in the early stages and there's plenty of hammering out that still needs to be done. Felber doesn't see it resulting in any meaningful tests of actual massive payloads (i.e. spacecraft) until around the end of the century. But still... so damn cool.

Also, George Deutsch continues to make an utter fool of himself.

In personal news, I actually told my sister's boyfriend this weekend that colloidal silver causes argyria. There was a brief struggle where i considered if it was worth it to wait for his fingernail to start going grey before i did, but since that can take years i though i'd better get around to it sooner. Naturally, he gave the only response alternauts know: that it was all a conspiracy by the big pharmaceutical companies, that FDA trials (and all medical trials conducted by non-alternauts) are by definition biased and under the control of the evil pharmaceutical companies, and that there's no such thing as argyria.

I actually laughed. Really. I tried not to, but it was so perfectly verbatim from so many of the fanatical websites and comments i've seen. He's obviously been reading the altworld manual.

When you think about it, though, it's a very good example of the lengths people will go to in resolving cognitive dissonance. The idea that colloidal silver works and has no side effects, and the idea that it doesn't work and has pretty bad side effects, cannot both be held at the same time. Something's gotta give. Most rational people will realise that evidence for the second greatly outweighs evidence for the first, so will abandon the first. But there are those who (for reasons that can only be described as faith) cannot dismiss the first, so must find some way to dismiss the second. And along come a wealth of conspiracy theories about how the evidence has to be faked, or the real evidence is being suppressed, by those greedy capitalist companies who just want to keep selling their evil anti-biotics.

But let's really think about the logic. Let's say a company runs some trials on a new alternative medicine, and discovers that it is not only easy to manufacture (it must be, those alternauts don't have big pharmaceutical companies backing them, so one can only conclude it's being made in someone's garage), it's also very effective and has no side effects. Now, what is the most logical choice if you're a greedy corrupt company that only wants to make money:

  1. Register the patent, quit making the expensive stuff and start selling the cheap stuff, only at a higher price because it's safer (people love that safety crap), thereby making a killing. Also avoid all possible lawsuits revolving around side effects. Save even more money. OR...
  2. Suppress all knowledge that it works. Spend extra money funding some more tests to show that it doesn't work. Pay off a whole lot of people to lie and say it gave them argyria. Pay for some more tests to show argyria exists. Keep manufacturing expensive anti-biotics at the same profit margin.

I know if i were a money-grubbing, amoral pharmaceutical company, i would definitely go with option 1. The fact that everyone who buys into this fairy tale disagrees with me only goes to show their conclusions are not based on any kind of logic. Because when it comes right down to it, what makes more sense:

  1. There exists a worldwide conspiracy by health practitioners to pretend that colloidal silver doesn't work and is bad for you, because the worldwide health community, made up of people who have dedicated their lives to helping people, is somehow threatened by the possibility that there might be safe drugs with no side effects. OR...
  2. Joe Bloggs, whose entire career is staked on telling people colloidal silver works, will do anything to pretend that it still does in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, because to admit to the evidence means admitting he has been poisoning people for years.

Really, let's be honest. We know, for a fact, that when the medical community finds evidence that a drug has side effects that outweigh its helpfullness, that medicine is off the shelves faster than you can say 'see you in court'. Think Thalidomide. Not so alternative medicine. No matter how strong the evidence, they keep selling it. Ban it, they will move to a country where the drug laws are less stringent, and keep selling it.

Who, then, comes across as the greedy, amoral industry?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Let Them Eat Cake

After the World Trade Organization ruling that the EU and six of its member nations had broken trade rules by refusing import of GM food and seeds, African countries like Zambia are now claiming they will continue to resist.

What I fail to understand is why. Africa as a continent is starving. We are plagued by drought, disease, pests and rampant overpopulation. Children lie in the dust with skeletal limbs and bloated stomachs, dying of malnutrition, and their parents are refusing food? Africa begs the world for help, and then refuses it when it comes?

This is a true case where misunderstanding of science is actually going to mean lives lost. African countries as a whole are still drowning in magical, superstitious, unscientific beliefs - i should know, i live here. Where people still believe in witch doctors and curses, the ground is fertile for all kinds of fear-mongering anti-science. The fact that entire governments seem to have latched on to the lies of people who campaign against GM foods and crops is only going to result in their people continuing to starve and die. In Zambia, the lives of the entire population are in the hands of an agriculture minister who cannot be bothered to go and look at the facts, instead of believing the bullshit.

Here's the low down on genetically modified crops and foods: the procedure of using recombinant DNA to insert genes from one species into another is no different than the art of cross-breeding, which farmers and gardners have been practising for centuries. Oh, except for that it's faster. And it's safer. And its better regulated.

The advantages of using GM crops are enormous in Africa. Crops can be bred which are resistant to pests, meaning you massively cut down on the cost of pesticides, leaving more budget for more crops. And because plants that are bred to be pest resistent are only resistent to the pests that actually attack them, there is no fallout to surrounding innocent insects, no poisonous chemicals leeching into the soil to be washed by rain to drinking holes, no environmental impact. Now, you could do this with cross-breeding, taking 20 years and hundreds of generations of painful trial and error before by sheer luck the right gene gets passed into the cross, OR you could just select the gene you want and do it in one generation. The end result is identical. In fact, no, it's not, because you DON'T run the risk of also passing across unwanted negative traits. So really, there is no questioning which is the better method. At all.

Never mind that GM crops can be bred to need fewer soil nutrients, or can be grown in soil with higher salt content, or to produce crops that have a higher starch content. All of these make GM crops the best thing that's happened to Africa since, well, crops. But yet they refuse them? Why? Stupid scare tactics that say GM foods are less nutritious? Bullshit. That's like saying seedless grapes, or bananas, or kiwi fruit, or peppadews are less nutritious. They're all the result of cross-breeding, which is an identical (but slower) process. Or is it because they say that GM foods will result in a superpest that is resistant to all known pesticides or genes? Bullshit. It's biologically impossible for one bug to be resistent to all the antigens it has never encountered, and statistically impossible for it to have encountered all of them. Is it because African countries think GM food producers are going to dominate the economy? So what? Move with the times and the technology, and if you're not ready to do that, then stop asking for help.

People may think i'm not being very politically correct here, but don't forget that i live right in the middle of this nonsense. Africa sits in the dirt with her hands out, her children at her side, and she begs for help. Yet when someone comes by in their BMW and offers it, she spits at them? Even if she doesn't like having to accept charity from people who are better off, does she have the right to make that decision for her starving children?

I say no. No. Not in any way, shape or form. Sentencing to die the people who look to you for protection, because you are too stupid to find out the facts, is murder, plain and simple.

And when you are responsible for a whole country, it's genocide.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Quackery is Thriving in Tijuana, Mexico

Coretta Scott King was an incredible woman, and the widow of an incredible man. So it is only fitting that her death, like her life, should help to expose injustice. Mrs King did not die peacefully at home in bed, or in a hospital surrounded by doctors trying to save her life. She died in a quack cancer clinic in Tijuana, Mexica, run by a known fraud. That a woman who showed such strength during her life could succumb to fraudsters at the end of it, only shows how desperation can affect even the best of us and cloud our judgment.

The good to come out of this is that the clinic's operator has been exposed to world attention, and his clinic has been shut down by Mexican authorities (who are being tight-lipped about why but motivations should be obvious). Unfortunately for some, it is too little, too late. There are at least 35 other opportunistic clinics in the border town of Tijuana, offering fake cures and alternative treatments for everything from cancer to AIDS. They operate in Mexico, right on the border of the United States, because most of them use methods and drugs that are not approved in the US. Among them is the clinic of not-a-medical-Dr. Hulda Clark (I've blogged about her before). According to the ABC news link above, Hulda's Tijuana clinic was closed in 2001 for operating without a licence. Interesting then that on Hulda's own site, she lists her clinic as being in California, but both the phone and fax numbers are Tijuana numbers. Either that's the most pointless automated redirect I've ever seen, or Dr. Clark is still operating in Tijuana. She certainly can't have her offices at the California address, because it's a private mail box at a packaging and shipping service store called The Mail Room! This is a trick she learnt from her spokesman, Tim Bolen. His 'office' is also a mail box. Must be cramped in there.

These clinics and the people who run them exist only to sucker the last few dollars out of the desperate and dying. That it takes the death of someone as famous as Mrs King to bring this to the attention of the media is a disgrace. Many more have died after foregoing conventional treatment and packing their bags for Tijuana, but nothing is said of them.

For my local readers: the following practitioners are voluntarily listed on Hulda Clark's website as using her treatments on their patients. Do NOT, under any circumstances, believe them when they say they can cure cancer. They claim it's caused by an 'intestinal fluke' which can be zapped with electricity! Don't waste your money and your life on people who are at best fatally misinformed and at worst, outright charlatans.

Shelley Keith
P.O.Box 101018
Scottsville 3209
KZNatal
South Africa
P +27 33 330 7613
F +27 33 330 2698

Ben Ashoori
94, 22nd St.
Menlo Park, Pretoria
0081
South Africa
P +27-12-346-3472
F +27-12-346-3439

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Update on George Deutsch

To follow up on this post...

Wow, apparently despite the fact that the papers have been calling him a graduate of Texas A & M University, George Deutsch didn't actually get his degree! Blogger Nick Anthis, himself an actual graduate from Texas A & M, did a little sniffing around and brought this to light.

And even better news, in the wake of all this international pressure, Deutsch has resigned.

Story obtained via Pharyngula.

And more from the Bad Astonomer. Seems the journalists who broke the story officially credits Anthis with the find, and the discovery he had lied on his CV lead directly to Deutsch resigning. Yay! Go bloggers!

Just for Laughs

On a lighter note:

The Design Institute should consider updating their FAQ to this one, it's much more accurate.

And if we are God's ultimate creation, he's got some explaining to do.

Midweek Cuckoo: George W. Bush

Well, it had to happen eventually. George Bush has made a statement that moves him out of arena of political buffoon and into the arena of kook.

On the last day of January, Bush gave his State of the Union address. You can read the full transcript here. He spends the first half of the talk justifying America's ongoing international meddling. Then he goes on to say:

"A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners, and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our Creator -- and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale. "

My emphasis. I am very interested to discover that George thinks The Island of Dr Moreau was a documentary. Bad luck for all those minotaurs and centaurs out there; you're about to be banned. Get those AD&D freaks over here quick, i hear they know how to dispatch these things real fast.

But laughter aside, if George is serious about this, he doesn't seem to know the consequences of that statement. Never mind that he's already talking about eradicating all stem cell research, depending on how far he's going to take hybridization prohibition, he could be screwing us all over:
  • Does he mean the insertion of animal parts into humans? Everyone on a waiting list to receive a pig valve for their heart can just go away and quietly die.
  • Does he mean insertion of human tissue into non-human cells? Insulin is manufactured that way; diabetics can just go ahead and die too.
  • Does he mean insertion of human genes into non-humans? Insertion of a complete human chromosome 21 into mice is how we are studying and better understanding Downs syndrome. So all the retards can just shut the hell up, they're probably not going to survive to voting age anyway.
Bush has demonstrated time and time again that he is not a friend to healthcare or scientific advances therein. His stance on abortion is ludicrous, his stance on stem cell research is uninformed and religiously biased, but this.... this is just lunacy. Truly Midweek Cuckoo material.

See what a biologist has to say about it here.

Here's another fun bit from his speech:

"Keeping America competitive requires us to be good stewards of tax dollars. Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of non-security discretionary spending, and last year you passed bills that cut this spending. This year my budget will cut it again, and reduce or eliminate more than 140 programs that are performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities. By passing these reforms, we will save the American taxpayer another $14 billion next year, and stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009."

My emphasis again. Interesting that those non-security programs which are not fulfilling essential priorities include both the education system (planned education cuts make up $2-billion of that $14-billion figure) and the national healthcare system. But this is totally consistent with the Bush administration so far, which has also supported the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools, opposes the legalization of same sex marriage, and is trying to get abortion passed as murder.

Not just a kook, the most dangerous kook of them all at the moment.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Smooth Criminal

So the Catholic Church may be getting Michael Jackson to put the late Pope's prayers to music. MJ has been plagued by allegations of child molestation. The Catholic Church has been plagued by allegations of child molestation.

It makes perfect sense to me that they'd want to collaborate.

On some child molestation.

The Big Bang Happened. Get Over It.

Yesterday someone asked me if I'd heard about the new discovery about the Big Bang: the so called 'Axis of Evil', an axial anisotropy in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation that supposedly 'disproves' the Big Bang.

Now, the person asking was doing it with highly transparent intentions, as a Christian who would believe just about anything to preserve his precious creation myth and sees the Big Bang as a threat to that myth. So I said that truthfully I had not heard of it and I would do some reading up before I responded. So today I did just that.

The anistropy is real and measurable, and comes from the latest WMAP imaging of the CMB. However, it is totally unreasonable to assume that it is in any way a blow to Big Bang theory. A paper has already been published by Chris Vale of Fermilab showing how it can be explained by gravitational lensing caused by the nearby Shapley Supercluster. And even if there were no conventional scientific explanation for it, to say that a new discovery in a field is by definition a blow to that field shows a complete misunderstanding of how science works. In science, additional knowledge and data can either disprove a theory OR refine it further. An axial anisotropy in the CMB, if unexplained by conventional theory, would only result in cosmologists gaining further insight into the details of the Big Bang. It would not, however, disprove the Big Bang, because the CMB itself is proof that the Big Bang happened.

The exact same thing happens every time new evidence or new questions are raised in the theory of evolution. Additional data is only going to affect the theory of how evolution happens; the fact of evolution is a reality. The theory only tries to explain the mechanism for that reality. The same with the Big Bang: we know, for a fact, that the universe as we know it was once in a high energy, high density state and has been expanding and cooling from that state ever since. As we cannot measure anything that happened before that high energy state (the high energy itself obscures any photons that may have come from an earlier time) that point can, for all intents and purposes, be called the beginning of the universe. Why and how that high energy state existed and is expanding, is what Big Bang cosmology is about.

But this kind of sensationalism is so typical of anything that might impact on scientific theories that specifically go against biblical myth. Any time a supposed 'crack' in the theory is 'discovered', the media jumps all over it and makes out as if scientists around the world are sitting about scratching their heads and wondering about a career change. Not so. As Chris Vale has shown, science moves on. Calling something like this the 'Axis of Evil' (and i blame the publishers of the first paper here entirely) is totally irresponsibly and is only likely to cause more unnecessary public misunderstanding. It was a dumb move.

On a similar topic, the US government has been giving NASA scientists gag orders, and purposefully messing with information on the NASA site, in order to promote its own unscientific agenda. This kind of gagging of a national science foundation that is sponsored by tax dollars is unquestionably disgusting, and the Bad Astronomer had a lot to say about it. To cut a long story short, George Deutsch, a presidential appointee involved in NASA public relations, not only gagged a paper on global warming because it made america look bad, the same guy also ordered that everywhere in the NASA website that the term Big Bang appeared, it was to be appended with 'theory'. This, on its own, is not really an issue, apart from public misunderstanding of the word 'theory'. The Big Bang theory is a theory. But the motivations behind the addition are far more sinister: in Deutsch's own words, the Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion." He goes on to say, "It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."And it gets worse: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

What??? This is a science foundation. It is only interested in proven scientific fact, and the existence of the Big Bang is fact. It is also not the place of NASA to educate the youth about religion. It is certainly not, in a secular country, the place of a tax-dollar supported institution to teach religion. Deutsch is so far out of line he's not even on the same planet. In a case like this, such an appointee should very swiftly be un-appointed as he has proven he cannot do his job.

It is not the place of the government, or the media, to decide what is and is not scientific fact, or when a theory is or is not in crisis. That's what scientists are for, and they are a good deal better at it than your average newspaper hack or government toadie, i can promise you that.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Colloidal Silver

So yesterday I'm at my parent's place, talking to my sister and her boyfriend (total altworld groupies) and the subject of antibiotics comes up. The boyfriend mentions that he takes colloidal silver and it's great. Not knowing what it is, I just smile and nod. He offers to loan me some literature. I say I'll just google it.

And google it I did.

Here are some interesting facts about colloidal silver:
  1. It has been shown to have dubious if any efficacy against disease (despite claims it is effective against HIV/ AIDS, cancer, and just about every other disease known to man including the common cold).
  2. The amount of silver actually contained has been shown to vary from 15.2% to 124% greater than that printed on the label (what is this 'dosage accuracy' you speak of?).
  3. The FDA have concluded that the risk of taking colloidal silver exceeds any unsubstatiated benefit.
  4. On September 17, 1999 the FDA issued a rule banning the claim that colloidal silver or silver salt products are effective in the treatment of disease. They can however still be sold as a nutritional supplement (supplements don't need to be useful, they only need to supplement, and since we don't generally ingest silver, any silver is supplemental).
  5. In 2000 the FDA issued warnings to more than 20 companies still advertising colloidal silver as a therepeutic product. Several subsequently required court actions to cease and desist with their claims. The FDA was successful in all counts in obtaining such actions.
  6. Peddlars of colloidal silver products not only make dubious claims about its efficacy, they also claim it has no side effects. This is not true. Continual exposure to colloidal silver products causes a condition called argyria where your skin turns irreversably grey. See an in depth medical report on the subject here. See a victim's website here. More pictures here.

So it's been shown to have dubious efficacy, claims of it having efficacy have been banned by the FDA, and it has permanently deforming side effects.

Sure, see me rushing out to buy it right now. No really. I'm going. Because I want to look like this:


Thursday, February 02, 2006

2003 UB313 in the House of STFU

New results have shown that the diameter of Kuiper belt object 2003 UB313 is greater than that of Pluto. In fact it's nearly as big as the moon. Not surprisingly it was real scientists and not astrologers who have brought us this new information. I can guarantee you won't be seeing 2003 UB313 in your horoscope any time soon.

In other breaking news, other real scientists have succeeded in creating an Avian Flu vaccine that is 100% effective in animal studies. I'm waiting to see what the reaction to this is amonst the anti-vaccination movement in altworld. 'What?' you say, 'there are people opposed to vaccinations?' Amazingly yes. There are groups of people who are thoroughly invested in preventing routine vaccination of both children and adults, based mostly on misinformation, ignorance and blatant stupidity. It ranges from the old chestnuts of 'mercury in our vaccines' and 'vaccines cause autism' to 'vaccines are a plot by the white man to kill africans'. These are universally bogus. In addition they tend to outright lie by saying that the diseases we are vaccinated against are 'harmless', making statements like 'no one has died from polio in the united states for decades'. Gee, i wonder why. Because they vaccinate against it!

And lastly, this is what happens to anti-retrovirals in africa: the government steals them.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Midweek Cuckoo: Astrology Part 2: Reality

In Part 1 of today's midweek cuckoo i discussed why phsychologically we tend to believe horoscopes. This assumed that they are not in fact based on a working model of prediction and rely on human tendencies towards self-flattery to work. But where do I get off assuming they don't work? So in this entry i'm going to examine why, if astrology obeys its own rules, it cannot possibly work.

Assumptions

For astrology to be able to make reliable and consistent predictions for the future, it must itself be reliable and consistent. If the rules that govern astrological principles are random or arbitrary, it loses any ability to make predictions, and therefore any value outside of flim flam. So we are going assume that the rules of astrology are consistent, and then show how this cannot be true if they relate in any way to the real world.

I'll be basing my review on the concept that the position of the sun, moon, planets and stars at the time of your birth affect your personality and can be used to predict future events. For this to be true, the method in which these real heavenly bodies affect you must be consistent (or no astrologer would ever be able to make the supposedly 'reliable' calculations they do when creating your chart).

I'll address why this cannot be true one example at a time:

The Zodiac

One of the principles of your star sign or zodiac sign is that it is supposedly decided by the constellation the sun was rising in at the time of your birth. In other words, if you are a Virgo it is because the sun was in Virgo on the day you were born.

This has no relation to reality. Astrology uses 2000-year old star maps that have changed since they were drawn up. The axis of earth has a wobble in it, like a spinning top. This wobble (called precession) causes the signs of the zodiac to shift with respect to the sun over time. People born on September 1 for example are not actually Virgo, they're Leo. They would have been Virgos in 140 AD, but it's not 140 AD now is it?

In addition, there is actually a 13th sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus the Snake Handler. The sun rises in Ophiuchus from December 1 to December 18, which is about three times as long as it spends rising in Scorpio. So you can see that the supposed 'sign' you are given has absolutely no bearing on the rules that supposedly decide you're that sign. If the positions of these heavenly bodies really do affect your personality, then why haven't astrologers noticed that every single one of their readings is out by at least one sign of the zodiac?

See what sign you really are here.

The Outer Planets

In addition to the stars and sun, the positions of the planets are meant to be important to your horoscope. Ignoring for now effects of mass and distance, each planet is supposedly as important as the other in its effects.

So here's the question: why didn't astrologers discover Uranus, Neptune and Pluto before astronomers? If their effect on horoscopes is so important, didn't astrologers notice that every single horoscope cast before 1950 was wrong? And if they weren't wrong, that means the outermost planets aren't important after all. If so, why do they include them now? And what about the new 10th planet? Since it hasn't been included yet, does that mean all current horoscopes are wrong?

Distance and Extra-Solar Planets

Lets assume for now that not discovering the outer planets was some crazy mistake, and that all the planets that are equally important in casting horoscopes. If this is so, then distance cannot possibly be a factor. But if distance is a factor, why don't planets around other stars affect us? That they are far away should not matter - pluto is as important as mars to astrologers despite the differences in both mass and distance, so neither of these can be a factor. And we are discovering new planets every single day. Even if only a tiny fraction of stars in the universe have planets, if distance is not a factor then in total they should be utterly drowning out the effects of our local planets. It would be like whispering at a concert.

Local Solar System Only

Lets assume for some reason only local bodies affect us, and we can ignore other solar systems. We know mass is not a factor, because Jupiter and Pluto are just as important as each other. We know composition is not a factor, for the same reason (Jupiter is all gas, Pluto is mostly rock and ice). Now, just beyond the orbit of Pluto sits the Kuiper belt, filled with millions and millions of planetoids that are composed exactly like Pluto, are about the same size as Pluto, and are about the same distance as Pluto. Even if distance, composition and mass were all important to astrology, every single on of these Kuiper belt objects should have a measurable effect on us, just like Pluto does. And there is only one Pluto, and millions of these Kuiper belt objects, so again we are in the position of one little effect being drowned out by many others. When you add in all the comets, and all the asteroids, they outweigh in every sense the effects of the planets. Yet no horoscope takes them into account.

The Moment of Birth

All this aside, natal astrology is based on the idea that this measurable influence only starts affecting you at the moment of your birth. Why? It can supposedly penetrate thousands of miles of rock to get to you (i.e. when you're born at night the sun has to be affecting you through the entire thickness of the earth) but it cannot penetrate an inch of meat that is all that stands between you and fresh air? Never mind that this doesn't make sense, it would mean that if your horoscope says you're going to have a bad day, just step into a sphere made of steak and the universe will not be able to affect you. Granted, spending your day in a steak ball may be considered to be a bad day.

Conclusion

Any which way you twist the rules, the measurable, observable universe will refute them. I haven't invoked a single law of physics here, only common sense you can work out for yourself at home. Believe me if i started talking laws of nature, the ammunition only gets better on my side. The only conclusion is that astrology on one hand claims that the observable universe affects your life in a measurable and predictable way, and on the other hand cannot decide on a single rule for prediction or measurement that is reliable or reflective of reality. So we are left with the simple conclusion:

Either astrology is wrong, or it is so inconsistent as to be utterly devoid of any kind of predictive value.

I hope i've covered all the bases, but if i've left anything out, please leave a comment.

Midweek Cuckoo: Astrology Part 1: The Psychology


The results are in! Firstly, thank you to all who participated. Without you, I would have had to make the results up.

Secondly, an insight into my methods. Some of you asked and were informed that you were part of a control group. What i failed to mention was that you were all in the control group. We already know that people in general rate their horoscopes as accurate, or astrology wouldn't have survived this long. So, apart from the very first paragraph, you all received exactly the same horoscope. All material however was taken from actual horoscopes.

So here are the results:

Participants: 27
Average accuracy rating: 7

On the whole, you rated the accuracy quite high, regardless of star sign. There were a few dissidents outside the bell curve at 3, but 81% of you rated the accuracy as medium or above. For an astrologer, this many hits would correspond to a very satisfied customer base.

In order to explain why you could all get the same horoscope yet rate it so accurate, let me lay out some of the basic principles of how horoscopes work:

Keep it Generic

Some of you complained that the horoscope was extremely generic and could have applied to many people. I'll mention again this was a real horoscope. They really are that generic. By making blanket statements that will apply to many people, they increase their chance of getting a hit. By making statements like 'You are sometimes X and sometimes Y' - where X and Y are polar opposites - they cover all their bases. In this way, they guarantee maximum audience satisfaction. The tendency of people to rate generic statements as highly accurate to them personally is known as the Forer Effect. Forer took his 'personality test' from a newsstand astrology column - you might recognize some of the text.

Keep it Positive

Horoscopes rely heavily on wishful thinking and subjective validation. We all have preconceived notions about ourselves, and most of them make us out to be better than we are. Making positive statements increases the likelihood that people will apply them to themselves, even when they are not exactly applicable or even true.

Even the Negatives are Positive

To not make the entire horoscope seem too congratulatory, astrologers also add in a few negative statements, things about your personality you could improve. However, these are very carefully worded so as not to be really negative. A statement like 'You spend too much time taking care of others' seems negative on the face of things, but socially this is not really seen as a flaw. Many people would like to think they are less selfish than they are. In truth, this is yet another positive statement that anyone would like to apply to themselves.

People will Remember the Hits and Forget the Misses

In astrology, just like in cold reading, the reader relies on the tendency of the customer to only pay attention to the statements that they see as comfirming their belief in astrology and in their own personality, and ignoring those that do not. This is referred to as confirmation bias. This is most obvious when we notice seeming coincidences: something happens that seems incredibly unlikely, but it only seems so because we ignore every other instance where it didn't happen as not worth noticing. The same occurs in astrology: we pay attention to the hits and dismiss the points that do not agree. Readers will often inform their audience that seeming misses are not even misses, that they will be revealed at a later stage, or that you are blocking a memory and preventing yourself from realising that they are hits. In this way, the fault of the miss is shifted from the reader to you.

For those who were already skeptical, congratulations. For those who believe that horoscopes really work, i suggest you keep some of these principles in mind when reading horoscopes in future. How many of the statements really apply to you, and how many would you just like to apply to you? How many do not apply to you at all, and how likely is it that you would dismiss them out of hand if you weren't really trying to assess things objectively? If you thought the survey horoscope was extremely accurate and were disappointed to discover it wasn't yours, bear that in mind next time you pick up a magazine to check your sign. James Randi once made a bit of cash on the side as the successful astologer Zo-Ram, and admitted that he pulled the daily horoscopes out of a hat. Yet his readers rated them as highly accurate.

Next post: Why astrology doesn't even follow its own rules.

Additional reading:

Skeptic Dictionary entry on astrology
An interesting test of agreement between astrologers
And another test