In a substantial victory for free speech, freedom of the press, scientific discourse, and skepticism, last Wednesday the British Parliament agreed on a sweeping new defamation bill that significantly reforms that country’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws.
Following a three-and-a-half year effort, the law now only awaits formal assent by the Queen, which is expected shortly. The campaign to bring the law in line with libel legalities in the United States and most of Western Europe began with the case launched by the British Chiropractic Association against the noted science journalist and author, Simon Singh, in a typical example of bringing suit in order to chill free speech.
In 2008, following the release of his book, “Trick or Treat: Alternative Medicine on Trial” (written with Edzard Ernst), a scathing and thoroughly researched critique of alternative medicine, Singh wrote an opinion piece for “The Guardian” on the occasion of Chiropractic Awareness Week. Therein, Singh called out The British Chiropractic Association for its “claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”
Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.
A very special issue of Medical Acupuncture(David Gorski) http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/a-very-special-issue-of-medical-acupuncture/ A special issue of an acupuncture journal was devoted to the science behind the therapy. The basic science “evidence” they offer is flawed in many ways: studies are unblinded, are about electroacupuncture instead of plain acupuncture, etc. None of the articles validate acupuncture or provide any compelling evidence for a physiologically plausible mechanism.
Too Much Information! (Harriet Hall) http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/too-much-information/ A new service offers seventeen and will eventually offer hundreds or thousands of blood tests by mail from a single drop of blood on a card. Doing all those tests without specific indications is a very bad idea, likely to do more harm than good. Even worse: this lab has not validated the accuracy of its results and does not plan to seek certification.
The growing acceptance of acupuncture is occurring despite a complete lack of compelling scientific evidence that acupuncture works for anything. In fact the evidence, if anything, shows that acupuncture does not work. Proponents of acupuncture have largely achieved this by misrepresenting the evidence.
We could take any of the many uses for which acupuncture is promoted as an example – for example, Bell’s Palsy (BP). BP is paralysis usually of one side of the face caused by inflammation of the facial nerve where is passes through a long bony canal to exist the skull. Within this bony pathway the nerve has no room to expand, and so the swelling caused by the inflammation compresses and damages the nerve, causing facial weakness.
In 2007, The Amaz!ng Meeting 5 took on the theme "Skepticism and the Media". In this video from our archives, the creators of South Park, Trey and Matt, take questions from the audience and thank James Randi as the inspiration for their John Edward episode. Penn Jillette gives the introduction.
You can check out JREF's other videos from The Amaz!ng Meetings, which have been viewed nearly 1.5 million times since we started making them available online for free, at YouTube.com/JamesRandiFoundation.
Has the Internet age created a bunch of cynics, or are there other reasons that UFOs and ghost are vanishing from pop culture?
In a lengthy article entitled “Seeing and Believing,” UK author Stuart Walton muses on why UFO sightings have been on the decline (along with psychics and other paranormal phenomena). He begins the essay with a recounting of his own UFO sighting many years earlier, and goes on to describe his reassurance that Britain’s Ministry of Defense took these early reports seriously enough to at least investigate. Walton also notes his slight disappointment that the “official story” had explained nearly all of these sightings as weather balloons or drunken anecdotes by the time the desk closed in 2009.
Walton continues on to explore why sightings of UFOs have declined, citing the pop-culture phenomena Close Encounters of the Third Kind that most likely lead to the increase in reports. Not only have UFOs sightings shrunk, but reports of poltergeists, ghosts, and goblins are also on the wane, Walton notes. Maybe this is because of growing skepticism in popular culture, Walton speculates, but maybe it is something else.
Wheeling through social theory and the evolution of mass media, Walton makes the case that the “spectacularisation” of pop-culture has diminished our ability to recognize true paranormal or extraterrestrial events (if any do exist). He claims, not that better technology should be able to sort out these questions, but that technology (especially video recording technology) has “hastened the decline” in the belief in the supernatural simply because we are too skeptical. The implication is that our bar is too high: we cannot expect video evidence of a ghost that is of Transformers quality.
In a world where nearly everyone can be fooled by a YouTube hoax, Walton may have a point, but he goes too far.