Cork Skeptics

Promoting Reason, Science & Critical Thinking in Cork City & Beyond

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January news

At our last meeting, I discussed some recent news items that might be of interest to skeptics. Here is some further information about these news items. I should also have David’s speech online soon too.

2012 Doomsday

The media hype over 2012 is an example of Numerology, where numbers and dates are accorded a kind of mystical significance without any empirical basis whatsoever. Examples in modern lore include Friday 13th, and Blue Monday.

The myth behind 2012 is associated with calendars used by the Mayan civilisation that flourished in Latin America between 250 CE and 950 CE. By some reckonings, 2012 signifies the resetting of the ‘Long Count’ Calendar – a period of about 5,000 years, similar to the recent change in our calendar from the 20th century to the 21st century. There is no evidence that the Maya expected the world to end or for there to be huge convulsions on our planet during this time. All sorts of strange ideas have been postulated, such as a close encounter with a planet from far outside the solar system, to unprecedented solar activity, to calamities caused by an alignment with the centre of the galaxy. None of these speculations have any support and are widely dismissed by astronomers.

Another Doomsday prediction

After the mad biblical ramblings of Howard Camping in 2011, we expected 2012 to put this issue to bed, at least for a while. Not so. A preacher called Ronald Weinland has predicted the end of the world on May 27th, 2012, and that those who don’t take his message seriously will ‘die of cancer’. Nice guy. His sect, “God’s Church on Earth”, previously announced the return of Jesus in 1975. As Jesus was unable to make it on this occasion, we all got to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody instead.

Worst Quackery of 2011

Forbes recently announced Battlefield Accupuncture as the worst example of quackery in 2011. Invented just 10 years ago, quack physician Richard Niemszow has solicited tens of millions of dollars from the US military to stick needles in the ears of army veterans, supposedly to cure them of their ailments. The evidence for this is the usual pile of anecdotes and hearsay. Before the negative publicity, Niemstzow was hoping to train up to 30 acupuncturists in the war-zone.

Nutritional Therapists in the Hot Seat

Which Magazine in the UK carried out a consumer study on Nutritional Therapists in the UK. The results were scary. Out of 15 consultations made, 6 consultations were classed as “dangerous fails”. One therapist who believes that the cure for cancer is to starve the cells of sugar. Another therapist advised the patient to cut out red meat where proper medical advice would advise the exact opposite. Another therapist diagnosed “leathery bowel syndrome” for someone experiencing infertility problems. Just one nutritional therapist received a “borderline pass” for their consultation.

Burzynski sued in Texas

Stanislaw Burzynski has been getting a lot of flak from the blogging community since he set his attack dog on a young blogger in Wales. The Texas based cancer quack has been making a lucrative income out of patients who have incurable tumours, even though his therapies have neither been licensed or proven to work. A former patient, Lola Quinlan, has now sued him for failing to disclose that his therapies were part of a clinical trial and for coecing her into overpaying for medicine. If she wins her case, this could put an end to Burzynski’s right to practice in Texas.

Richard Dawkins claims victory over creationism

Richard Dawkins, Richard Attenborough, and a number of leading scientists in the UK have succeeded in ensuring that funding is withdrawn for any school that attempts to teach creationism as science. UK schools have been receiving creationist materials from religious groups in an attempt to influence education policies.

Andrew Wakefield sues to protect his nonexistent reputation

Andrew Wakefield has filed a libel suit against the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and Brian Deer, the journalist who exposed him for his fraudulent and unethical study linking autism to the MMR vaccine. On foot of Deer’s findings, Wakefield has been banned from practicing medicine and the original Lancet paper has been withdrawn. Wakefield’s attorneys are actually trying to argue that the BMJ libeled Wakefield to protect its “big pharma sugar daddy”, the vaccine manufacturers. Good luck with that.

Shamanic Rain Payment

At the Under-20 football World Cup last year, organisers are accused of paying a shaman $2,000 to ensure that it did not rain during the tournament’s closing ceremony. The organisers are claiming vindication because it didn’t rain during the ceremony, but could the reason have been something other than a magic man uttering mumbo jumbo?

Science Spot

A new part of our meetings will be fascinating science discoveries. In our last meeting we mentioned that a tiny frog had been found, measuring less than a centimetre from head to toe, now claims the record for the world’s smallest vertebrate creature. We also celebrated the 70th birthday of Steven Hawking, and the announcement, based on Kepler discoveries so far, that the Milky Way galaxy could contain billions of planets. These months also commemorate 100 years since the fateful Amundsen and Scott race to the South Pole. In more serious news, it was announced that an untreatable strain of TB had been identified in India.

Notable podcasts

A video well worth a look is the Royal Institution Christmas lecture presented by Bruce Hood. In the lecture, he talks about the human brain, one of the most amazing structures in the known Universe.  – Christmas Lecture

Upcoming conferences

In March, we are heading to Manchester to attend QEDCon – one of the biggest (and best value) skeptics conferences in Europe. Tickets are still available.

A series of public science lectures are currently taking place in UCC. This is definitely worth a look.