Pay no attention to that woman behind the finger!

It’s been all over the news about this fellow who’s been in a coma for 23 years can “type” with the help of an assistant. Lots of people believe it’s a sham and I have to agree. If you watch the video, the woman is just typing with his finger. Facilitated communication has long been debunked anyway. It’s like a ouija board where people choose the letters to say what they want to say. I’m guessing if you asked the “assistant” to leave the room and told a couple of letters to the dude, the “assistant” wouldn’t be able “assist” to pick the right one when she came back. But she’d probably come up with excuses why it wouldn’t work.


I have several floaters in my eyes. They look faintly like hairs or fuzz that follow wherever I look. I was reading about them and the most interesting thing about the article was that we still have humours. The technical name for eyeball gel is “vitreous humor”. Who knew? Although, at least it’s not the crazy humours from ancient Greek medicine.

It's Homeopathic Awareness Week!

I’ve been reading Trick or Treatment, which is a book about testing alternative medicine. It starts off with an interesting account of the death of George Washington (via bloodletting) and the history of mainstream medicine. (For a long time, mainstream medicine was just ancient Greek medicine that nobody had ever bothered to question and mainly involved bloodletting. It was horrible and ended up killing more people than it helped.) Then, one day, a dude thought, “Hey, maybe we should actually test this stuff.” Everybody else got mad and sued the dude. The book talks about acupuncture and chiropractic therapy, which are both the manipulation of magical energy (chi and “innate intelligence”) in the body that “can’t be detected through any physical means.” It talks about homeopathic medicine, which some German guy came up with in the 1700s (before we even knew about germs) and claims that the more you dilute homeopathic medicine, the more powerful it becomes. So, super-diluted homeopathic medicine (water) can cure almost anything because water has a “memory”. (Who knew?) The descriptions of chiropractic manipulation were just downright scary…having some guy shoving your spine around using 1800s pseudoscience. Sounds like a plan.

But the book also points out that these things actually help people feel better. How can this be? It turns out that if you really expect something to make you feel better, then it may do the job. The example cases were pretty amazing. Because of a lack of morphine at a military field hospitals, an anaesthetist in World War II, Henry Beecher, would sometimes inject saline into a patient and say he was giving a powerful painkiller. The patients relaxed and showed no signs of pain. The book also points out that there is great variety in the quality of studies out there. There are many ways you can cheat in a study…even unintentionally. Biased researchers who want to make their theory come true, lack of any group who thinks they’re getting the treatment but aren’t really (to check for placebo), lack of reproducibility, stacking the deck with different types getting the treatment and the placebo. It takes careful examination of a study to make sure it’s of good quality and not cheating in some subtle way.

So what’s the harm in these treatments if they make people feel better? For one, people may think it’s working and forego something that might work better, as in the case of malaria or even something as simple as eczema. Another problem is the cost. It can all be very expensive for no real reason. As an example, a single duck’s liver goes into making millions of dollars worth of oscilicoccinum (a homeopathic flu remedy). (Remember, the more diluted, the more powerful.) That’s an expensive duck!

The book points out that clinical studies aren’t just a conspiracy to take down alternative medicine, but that such studies also take down conventional medicine theories that turn out to be invalid and even validate alternative medicine theories that turn out to be useful. The book is willing to admit when good clinical trials show a remedy to be effective, as in the case of some herbs that are actually effective in some cases…not because a bunch of anecdotes say so, but because of good testing.

You have the eyebrow ridges of a web developer!

Is phrenology making a comeback? Well, hopefully this page is just a joke. Phrenology was a pseudoscience in the 1800s that some guy just pulled out of the air. He claimed you could tell everything about someone from the shape of their skull.

But with things like this, I wouldn’t be surprised if phrenology made a comeback. The UK version of the FDA has watered down their regulations to allow for the sale of homeopathic remedies without disclaimers. I figure it shouldn’t be long before the FDA follows suit. (It’s all politically very popular on both the left and the right.) Shouldn’t be long before leeches and bloodletting make a comeback and we can go back to the four humours.