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Posted on: August 15, 2009

This blog has now moved.

That includes Segways

That includes Segways

A friend of mine has set up a new blog, In Mind.

Go check it out.

Go on.




Seriously, fuck off already.

Yesterday, while travelling back from some serious flat hunting, I happened to tune into Radio Two and was delighted to hear an interview with Richard Wiseman promoting his latest book. Whilst I was trying to decide whether being dubbed the ‘most quoted psychologist’ in the media was a good or bad thing along popped the next segment on Monday’s show; the live astrologer.

During this segment Sara Delphi, the astrologer, goes through the various astrological signs and gives vague predictions apparently based on the position of the planets. People then call in to tell her their star sign’s and their particular problem, since Sara also claims to be a clairvoyant (is there no end to her mystical powers?) one presumes this is a formality for our behalf. Sara proceeds to give people advice according to what the stars/planets are telling her. It was during this particular part of the programme that Sara felt confident enough in her pseudoscience to give someone financial advice and another advice to change her career, during a recession, based purely on the position of the planets. This is horrendous and despicable behaviour, she has absolutely no qualifications that suggest she is in any position to give this sort of advice.

Perhaps some could dismiss this as harmless fun but this is a very delicate time for a lot of families who are struggling to make ends meet and one of the most listened to radio stations in the UK is promoting advice based on nonsense. They should be telling those in financial trouble to seek advice from a FINANCIAL advisor not a crystal healing, psychic astrologer.

I always though that Steve Wright had come across fairly sceptical in the past so I was appalled to not only hear this segment on his show but later find out it is a regular Monday feature. Despite the slightly mocking tone he took with Sara Delphi he still gave her a platform on which to promote astrology as a legitimate means for making life decisions and giving advice on important issues which it quite blatantly is not.

I very much doubt that Sara Delphi will read this but should she and then have any problems with my questioning the validity of her psuedoscientific belief and her ability as a clairvoyant then I would invite her to take up the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge, which is offered to anyone who an show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. I don’t fancy her chances though; since it’s conception in 1964 the challenge is yet to unearth anyone that can even pass the preliminary test.


Posted on: July 30, 2009

I’m away for a few days with no access to a computer so unfortunately I won’t be able to update the blog.

Stay sceptical.


Yesterday I wrote about the decision by the MOD to try and claw back some of the compensation awarded to Cpl Duncan and Mne McWilliams.

Now Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has come running home from holiday to deal with the issue and as a result of this case is bringing forward their review of the compensation procedure for our troops. He said;

“As Defence Secretary I cannot allow the situation to continue that leaves the public in any doubt over my or the Government’s commitment to our servicemen and women.”

Really! Do you think so? Have you only just figured this out? I mean well done for cutting your holiday short and everything but what did you really think was going to happen when the MoD tried to take money back off someone THAT WAS SHOT?

It’s a wonder who is in charge of these decisions, did no one turn around and say “Here, do you think the public might be a little bit pissed off if we try and take compensation money off these soldiers?”

free debate

Previously I posted about the British Chiropractic Association who are suing Simon Singh for libel following his comments in a guardian article.

As an update to that original post the BCA did eventually produced a list of studies purported to support the questionable treatments, however these did nothing more than to support Simon Singh’s criticism. For a decent review of these studies check out Science-Based Medicine.

To help support his case and in order to make sure this criticism does not go unheard, various blogs are being invited to reproduce a version of his article. I haven’t been invited but here it is anyway!


Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that ‘99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae’. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: ‘Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.’

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher. If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singhis a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardianfor which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.