Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz


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QEDcon 2016

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Part of this year’s goodie bag – a QED sticker to adorn whatever you fancy

After about 13 hours of sleep post-QED, I started to write some words about it!

6 years in a row. A strange feeling walking back into a hotel room like one I stayed in 3 years ago, but quickly settling into familiarity, largely because of all the friendly faces to see and hugs to give/receive.

I haven’t been to many conventions in my time, but of those few, this skeptical event has to be the best by a long way.

Not just because the organisers are very talented and kind people I’m proud to call friends, or the consistently excellent, approachable and affable speakers, or because fellow attendees are a joy to be around (in all states of sobriety and so far from it). All of that and more.

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QEDcon 2014

My QED write-up this year is extremely late but I’ve backdated it so you’ll never know, mwuahahaha. Oh.

qedconAs ever, it was a fun, friendly, fascinating, inebriated weekend with the new venue (more on that later) full of lovely people whom I very much look forward to seeing more of next year (and throughout the year, for those who live near-ish by).

The speakers were fantastic as expected and the new addition of the Skepticamp during the first day as people arrived was well-received. It’s a great opportunity for people to showcase their talks on subjects they care about to a receptive skeptical audience – so if you’ve got one brewing, hopefully it will be back next year!

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Libel Reform update: 3 years on

Background

A couple of years back I attended a Skeptics in the Pub meeting in Holborn at which Dave Gorman and Prof Brian Cox came to support Simon Singh. He had been served a libel threat by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for criticising claims from chiropractors about curing colic in babies and so on. A dangerous claim to make, and, as Simon put it, a “bogus” one.

Fortunately, Simon won his case. Others haven’t been so lucky, and more threats are being issued.

There are many problems with the UK libel laws – lots of background information can be found here at libelreform.org and I’ve written some posts over the years (really rather a lot of posts actually), if you’re interested in past events.

Essentially libel laws are often used to silence fair, necessary and important criticism. People without the money to fight these hideously expensive cases tend to just give up. Individuals are bullied by large corporations, medical debates are stifled, unethical behaviour is hidden.

The libel reform campaign has been set up and run by the three charities, Sense About Science, English Pen and Index on Censorship. Two years ago there was the Big Libel Gig, to fundraise for victims of libel threats.

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Science Wooseum Revisited

Time for an update on the Science and Art of Medicine – Living Medical Traditions exhibit in the Science Museum, London!

If you’re not familiar with the backstory, do check out these posts or listen to my report in the Pod Delusion live 2nd birthday episode – go, make some tea and a sandwich while it’s on or something 😀

Briefly, we’ve been trying to improve the Science Museum’s alternative medicine exhibit as there were some serious problems with it. It largely came across as promoting alternative treatments, even advertising practitioners and generally being worryingly uncritical, with no reference to the results of reliable studies (i.e. that most of the ‘treatments’ are no better than placebo and many carry serious risks) – and indeed no mention of the wonderous placebo effect at all.

I’ve highlighted some of the original displays and issues in this photo gallery, now with some new photos – though a lot of them are appallingly blurry, apologies – in this new set.

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Burzynski

I think it’s time for me to say something on this subject. It is after all very closely related to my current… vocation (if one can call it that, being a PhD student still!) and impacting directly on some of my friends.

One of those friends is my co-host of our long-neglected podcast, Super Duper Woo-Fighting Duo (With Capes)! – Rhys Morgan.

Edit: even BoingBoing is on it this evening!

Background

Feel free to scroll down to ‘The Threats‘ and ‘Some Interesting Correspondence‘ sections if you know all this…

The subject is one Stanislaw Burzynski, based in Houston, Texas. He offers an experimental treatment (though to call it that is probably a bit generous) to cancer patients called “Antineoplaston Therapy”. These antineoplastons are claimed to be peptides (bits of protein – though they’re generally not, technically – see comment 11 for more) found in urine. When a difference between cancer patients’ and healthy individuals’ urine peptide profile was found, an assumption was made that cancer sufferers were lacking these protein chunks and therefore replacing them should be an effective cure. A list of his patents and publications can be found here. This NYT article is extensive and demonstrates the shocking wealth accumulated:

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Wooseum to Museum?

The saga of alternative medicine coverage in the Science Museum, London: an update!

Background

My colleague (well, ex-colleague now he’s gone and emigrated!) Alex Davenport wrote a post for my blog describing an exhibit up in the Art and Science of Medicine section of the Science Museum that he’d taken issue with.

For good reason; it was full of advertising for alt med practitioners, a complete lack of scientific examination of beliefs and traditions of alt med types they’d chosen to present – but simply reiterating the beliefs and often presenting them ambiguously in a way that could easily be misinterpreted as promotion or at least uncertainty about their efficacy.

Simon Singh had resigned from the museum’s board of trustees partly due to this exhibit – fighting a lawsuit brought by the British Chiropractic Association at the time; it’s difficult to defend your stance of calling out baseless alt med claims as ‘bogus’ when the Science Museum is giving them time and you’re apparently supporting that!!

As a result of Alex’s post, the museum issued a response.

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‘Living Medical Traditions’

Another update to the Science Wooseum story.

I took some time to document more of the exhibit, which is indeed tucked away on the top floor, sandwiched between two very good (and bigger) displays relating to the development of modern medicine. Some really amazing pieces in there. I’ve made a web album of the photos.

The Living Medical Traditions section is definitely worrying. It has a completely different feel.

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