Groucho Marx

Blog Archive – March 2007

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Cherry picking

“ We have actually touched the Borderland where Matter and Force seem to merge into one another, the shadowy realm between the Known and Unknown ... I venture to think that the greatest scientific problems of the future will find their solution in this Borderland, and even beyond; here, it seems to me, lie Ultimate Realities, subtle, far-reaching, wonderful. ”
Sir William Crookes

“ The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth. ”
Niels Bohr

“ All great truths begin as blasphemies. ”
George Bernard Shaw

“ There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. ”
Søren Kierkegaard

March 25 2007


Poor Professor David Colquhoun. He's so caught up in his personal identification with what 'science' means to him that he's driven to ever greater efforts in his attempts to excommunicate subjects like homeopathy from not just his own world view but everybody else's as well.

He's not alone, of course. But the more he and those like him rant and rave about what does or does not deserve to be given the status of card-carrying member of the 'science' club, the more they reveal the emotional foundation of their position, and the less the argument has anything to do with real science. His latest effort is an article in March 22nd's Nature magazine entitled 'Science degrees without the science' in which he lambasts British universities for offering science degrees in complementary medicine, judging this as "anti-science".

Of course, the universities are just drawing their boundaries wide of Prof Colquhoun's personal comfort zone, which has very little to do with the fundamental nature of rigorous scientific enquiry. (See the essay Unscientific Attachment for more on this subject.) The paradoxical thing about Colquhoun's increasingly high profile position on the subject is that findings from disciplines likely well within the boundaries of his own definition of 'science' have already proved his thinking to be hopelessly flawed. (Not to mention that Jungian psychology also shows it to be highly self-reflective).

Many of the arguments put forward by complementary medicine's detractors owe more to 19th century scientific reasoning than they do to the 21st century, and where they do make a valid observation, they usually fail to see that exactly the same mechanisms are at work in their own field.

80 years after Werner Heisenberg demonstrated that events do not possess an absolute deterministic predictability independent of the people who are 'observing' them, medical science continues to worship the gold standard of the randomised double blind clinically controlled trial for all the world as if it's based on solid foundations instead of an invalid assumption and the type of linear logic that's more appropriate to understanding machines than living systems. While being able to readily perceive the fundamental flaws in RCT methodology when applied to 'unacceptable' subjects, the same individuals appear totally blind to the same flaws operating within the bounds of what they view as 'acceptable'. Trumpeting that 'belief' plays a large part in complementary medicine's effectiveness, they miss the fact that exactly the same process is operating in conventional medicine, and with far greater strength at that. Instead of taking the intelligent scientific view that such phenomena need to be properly investigated, tested and incorporated into our understanding of the processes at work, they simply let the evidence feed their unthinking prejudice.

What's more, that tired old chestnut that dilutions which contain no trace of material substance cannot possibly produce any result

" ... relies on a quaint old idea from the nineteenth century that the ONLY way that the property of water can be affected or changed is by incorporating foreign molecules. This is the Avogadro-limit high-school level chemistry argument. To a materials scientist this notion is absurd, since the fundamental paradigm of materials-science is that the structure-property relationship is the basic determinant of everything. It is a fact that the structure of water and therefore the informational content of water can be altered in infinite ways" ( Prof Rustum Roy PhD, Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State Emeritus; Professor of Science, Technology and Society Emeritus; Professor of Geochemistry Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University)

Landmark achievements in scientific enquiry owe most to individuals who have been able to step outside the prejudices of their conditioning and perceive natural processes in a fresh light without attachment to underlying assumptions. If anyone is "anti-science", it's those who cling noisily and somewhat desperately to the sacred cows populating their maps of the world, behaving exactly as one would expect from people who have projected their own individual sense of identity onto their chosen occupation and who experience some kind of personal affront when faced with a challenge to what they perceive as that occupation's fixed consensus view of the world. (In reality, no such consensus exists and what is generally held to be 'true' by any majority of the individuals involved is constantly changing and evolving.) People like Prof Colquhoun seem to feel that the solution to the problem is not to rise to the challenge but to try to bully everyone else into ignoring it or rejecting it in the hopes that it'll go away. Unfortunately, life just isn't like that and truth has a way of coming to light regardless.

Interviewed by Nature magazine for an accompanying news item on the subject of university degrees in complementary medicine, Ben Goldacre, a London-based medical doctor, journalist and frequent critic of homeopathy, says. "I can only imagine that they teach that it's OK to cherry-pick evidence. That's totally unacceptable." Indeed it is. But it seems that both Dr Goldacre and Prof Colquhoun are no mean cherry-pickers themselves. Didn't their mothers teach them to check themselves in the mirror before venturing out into the big bad world?

March 25 2007 | | | Permalink

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“ First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. ”
Mahatma Gandhi

March 21 2007

Closure threat

The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital is being threatened with closure. This appears to have very little to do with any falls in underlying patient demand or levels of satisfaction with the services offered by the hospital and rather more to do with politically-motivated agendas to undermine complementary therapies and restrict patient choice.

More details from Dr Peter Fisher, Clinical Director of the RLHH (and homeopath to the Queen) can be found here.

If you'd like to register your support for the hospital, there is a petition online at Number 10 Downing Street's website ... "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to honour Parliament's committment to patient choice by preserving the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and the service it provides as an integral part of the NHS." This petition can only be signed by UK residents. If you're from overseas, you can join the campaign to save the RLHH by contacting them directly. The address is available at the end of this article.

March 21 2007 | | | Permalink

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“ Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own. ”
Wangari Maathai

“ Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money. ”
Cree native proverb

March 19 2007

Dolphin massacre

An email from a friend today alerted me to a video of the annual dolphin slaughter in the Taiji region of Japan. Taiji is in the far south of the Japanese archipelago, surrounded by mountainous forests where the opportunity for agriculture is minimal. The people have traditionally survived on fishing and whaling.

In 1994, in the wake of an international ban on whaling, the people of the region published a letter to the international community describing their situation and making a plea for the preservation of their culture and way of life. They wrote:

"We believe we know more about our own sea in Taiji than anyone who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away from us. We also believe we are more concerned with its protection and assume more responsibilities than anybody else in the world. We are sure that the same view is shared by Alaskan Eskimos, Faroese, Greenlanders, Icelanders, Norwegians, and Russians in Chukotka as well. We hope many environmentally concerned people in the industrialized nations will understand our views and trust us as rational and humane people, and stop making whaling a "scape goat" of the environmental crusade and making inhumane attacks on whaling people. Cultural diversity is just as important as biological diversity in order to protect the earth's environment. After all, it is only a diversified people who can really take tender care of a diversified nature and make truly rational and orderly use of it."

To "trust us as rational and humane people" becomes near enough impossible once you have seen this video.

In January this year, Pedro Oliveira from Portugal started a petition to the Prime Minister of Japan demanding that this horrendous inhumane slaughter is stopped. As I'm uploading this, the number of signatories has now passed 828,000 and people from all over the world are signing up at a present rate of around one every 5 seconds. With the recent success of an online petition demonstrating to the UK government the strength of national feeling about proposed road taxation changes, this international demonstration has the potential to far exceed it and become a powerful statement of the will of ordinary people the world over. Let's hope it can achieve some concrete action on the part of the Japanese government.

March 19 2007 | | | Permalink

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Mar 06 2007

Dumb and dumber

Is it just me, or has the standard of what pases for 'science' and scientific reporting sunk even further into the dregs? The BBC News website today features a piece entitled "Coffee 'no boost in the morning'" claiming that coffee doesn't actually provide stimulation, it just negates its own 'withdrawal' symptoms. This stupefyingly trite study from the University of Bristol, led by Professor Peter Rogers, a biological psychologist, claims "We do feel a boost from caffeine in the morning, but that's probably due to a reversal of the withdrawal symptoms.That alertness you feel is you getting back to normal, rather than to an above normal level."

And this makes the front page of the BBC News site ... ?

Aside from the obvious fact that the morning cup of coffee does indeed pick us up, whether it's merely to pull us out of the doldrums of the previous cup or not, the biphasic action of drugs is something that's been well known and documented for centuries, so why exactly it was deemed necessary to produce some (no doubt costly) 'scientific' study to reiterate a matter of common sense experience, heaven only knows. This really does plumb new depths of banality. In the first phase of its action, caffeine is stimulatory. In the second phase, it's inhibitory. Push the pendulum in one direction and it swings back in the other. That's the story folks! That's all there is to it.

In order to try and percolate something newsworthy out of this pointless nonscience, Professor Rogers makes all sorts of sweeping generalisations about people's coffee drinking habits in an attempt to justify a judgement about coffee itself that is patently unsupported by the facts. Whether or not you time your next cup of coffee to coincide with the moment your metabolism gets into the previous cup's inhibitory phase is entirely up ... or perhaps I should say down ... to you. Regular and frequent drinkers will tend to a level of habituation – again, a common feature of any repetitive drug taking regime, and common knowledge since man and stimulants first made each others acquaintance. So it will indeed be the case that for some the stimulatory phase of the fresh cup short-circuits the inhibitory phase of the last and provides little additional benefit apart from increasing caffeine dependence, but this is not exactly rocket science. Or news. If this is an example of how the University of Bristol's professors (not to mention BBC journalists) justify their titles and salaries, then some serious questions ought to be asked by the governors and funders of these institutions. And we, as members of the public, should be asking ourselves what kind of idiots these so-called experts take us for if they expect us to swallow this as representative of worthy science without choking on our morning cuppas.

In its obligatory 'balanced' reporting remit, Auntie canvasses the British Coffee Association for a soundbite. Zoe Wheeldon, the association's representative, said the research was "interesting".

"But she added: "There are two sides to the debate and a wealth of scientific evidence suggests that moderate coffee consumption of four to five cups per day is perfectly safe for the general population and does have a beneficial effect on alertness and performance even in regular coffee drinkers.""

This is a debate?! And moderate coffee consumption = 4-5 cups per day?!! I'd hate to guess at what their idea of serious coffee consumption amounts to, or at what the "wealth of scientific evidence" comprises when studies such as those produced over 2 years ago by the University of Athens and Harokopio University found that drinking more than 200ml per day increased the chances of cardiovascular inflammation.

But never let it be said that science stands in the way of profit.

BTW I'm not some rabid anti-coffee campaigner ... I enjoy a good cup of coffee as much as the next person (though more than one cup in a day would have me climbing the walls), but "research" like this would be just a joke if it weren't such an appalling indictment of the quality of today's university level 'scientific' exploration.

March 06 2007 | | | Permalink

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“ A physician without a knowledge of Astrology has no right to call himself a physician ... There is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy. ”

March 06 2007

Astrological extensions

A new section of the website opens today.

I've studied astrology for some years now and the more I learn about it, the more useful it becomes, so it seemed time to allow it some space here.

Like the General Essays section, I'll be uploading articles on particular topics of interest as and when they get written. The first article in the new section is an exploration beyond the superficially discordant and chaotic appearance of the solar system's newest member, the (dwarf) planet Eris. The announcement of the planet's discovery was made in the very early stages of a proving I conducted in 2005 and the planet had a prominent place in the chart of the proving. This article connects aspects of the proving with themes and keywords identified for the planet by other astrologers and explores their deeper meaning in the context of the charts for the discovery, identification, announcement and naming of the planet.

March 06 2007 | | | Permalink

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