Archive for April, 2010

In memoriam

April 30, 2010

In which Dr Aust gets a bit poetic

Today the Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH) announced that it was to close its doors.

(There is some suggestion that if you look at the logo for long enough the feathers will start to droop.)

The announcement follows recent revelations about the FIH’s finances, sources of income for at least one of their more notorious projects, and the police investigation into allegations of serious fraud at the charity, including the arrest of at least one ex-staffer.

Though the announcement states that the closure of the charity was “already planned”,  it acknowledges that it has been brought forward by the ongoing police investigation.

The story has already attracted coverage in the media – both mainstream and scientific/medical – and on the blogs.  Some links are at the end.

However, as yet, no-one has penned a valedictory poem.

Though I suppose it is possible Poet Laureate Carole Ann Duffy will rise to the challenge in due course, in the meantime I thought I would have a go.

So, with apologies to E.J. Thribb, I give you:



In Memoriam
Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health

So. Farewell
Then. The
Prince of Wales’ Foundation
for Integrated Health

As it so
Happens a
Much disputed term

“Integrated Health”
You said.
“Quack nonsense” said
The scientists.

“Achieve optimal health
and wellbeing”
You said.
“If you buy this Duchy dodgy
Herbal potion
They mocked.

But of course now
That all the
Money has disappeared
It might
Appear rather


I have also been trying to come up with a suitable epitaph for the FIH

So far my favourite is:

Requiescat in ridiculo

or perhaps:

Requiescat in ridiculo (a)eterno

Which latter version would have the neat acronym – at least for anyone who has ever studied French at school – RIRE.


More coverage:

From Pulse (with quotes from FIH’s Dr Micharl Dixon and Edzard Ernst)
From Nature (with comment from Edzard Ernst)
From David Colquhoun’s blog (with updates promised)
Google collection of news stories


Quantum homeopathic bollocks: self assessment

April 21, 2010

In which Dr Aust sets a small – though not quite homeopathically small –  test.

I had meant to post something for World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW), which was last week.

However, I got a bit distracted by other things, like the dropping of the BCA’s lawsuit against Simon Singh (including whether the BCA had been reading my mind).

I was also hampered by the fact that, whenever I think about writing anything MORE about homeopathy, I tend to find myself losing conciousness.

Or the will to live.

This partly reflects just how many words – undoubtedly running into the tens of thousands – I have expended on homeopathy, both on this blog and elsewhere, right back to around four years ago when I started commenting on Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog (e.g. here).

But, though WHAW 2010 has now been properly homeopathically diluted into the infinity of time, I would still like to do my little bit to mark its passing.

So I thought I would offer you a small literature comprehension exercise.

And as it is coming up to the summer exams season in Dr Aust’s University, I have formatted it in something like our house style.


Unreality Detection 101  (Quantum Flapdoodle)

April 2010

You are provided with the URLs of two freely accessible online papers concerning quantum mechanical descriptions of homeopathy:

Paper A – Is a Unified Theory of Homeopathy and Conventional Medicine Possible?

Paper B – Towards a Quantum Mechanical Interpretation of Homeopathy

One of the two is a spoof.

One of them is not.

After reading briefly through as much of the papers as you find necessary, answer the following multiple-choice questions:

1. A scientist or scientists with a PhD wrote
A  paper A
B  paper B
C  both paper A and paper B

2. The spoof paper
A  depends which universe you are in
B  is paper A
C  is paper B

3. The likelihood that a homeopath can tell which paper is the spoof is
A  high
B  low
C  homeopathically dilute

4. We know this because homeopaths posting pro-homeopathy links on Twitter have linked approvingly to
A  paper A
B  paper B
C  both of the above

5. Avogadro is the name of
A  a character in The Magic Flute
B  a song recorded by Iron Butterfly
C  a scientist who worked on molecular theory

[Key below]


Now, you might feel, having completed that exercise, that any further comment is superfluous. But here’s one.

Whenever I think about homeopathy, the following line always floats back into my mind:

“Only two things are infinite…..

…the universe and human folly.”

* pause *

“..And I’m not sure about the universe.”

– Attributed to Albert Einstein



Mostly or all A: Oh dear. Your grip on reality is somewhat tenuous. You may even be a homeopath. Although you could be a chiropractor. Or Prince Charles.

Mostly or all B: While you have some grasp of reality, you need more scepticism. A copy of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science might make good bedside reading.

Mostly or all C: You are probably a skeptic, or a scientist, or even both. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster lead your path toward enlightenment. Or the bar.

Catholicism plus writing in the Telegraph apparently makes you barking mad

April 19, 2010

The Catholic church has not been having a good time of late.

There is the global furore over the long-standing problem of child abuse and sexual molestation of children by priests and by members of lay Catholic educational organisations.

Then there is the growing clamour about the inability of the Church hierarchy, right up to the Pope, to see that their prioritising of the church’s image and “public propriety” over abused children’s well-being and rights is viewed by most people as utterly abhorrent.

Then there is the phenomenon that part of this inability to grasp the issue periodically manifests as Catholic Church grandees lashing out with ludicrous “Epic Fail” comparisons, likening the ire directed at them to the persecution of the Jews (see here) or alternatively constructing ridiculous conspiracy theories.

And some of the UK papers have been having fun reporting the story that some atheists might try and stage a “Citizen’s Arrest” of the Pope when he visits the UK  (exploding volcanoes and others “Acts of God” permitting) later this year (see discussion at Heresy Corner).

In among all this ongoing meltdown, the Catholic Church clearly has bigger fish to fry than the UK general election. However. religious, and more specifically Catholic, prejudice has now raised its head in the campaign with a bizarre and spiteful attack by Daily Telegraph columnist, and prominent lay Catholic, Cristina Odone on Dr Evan Harris MP.

Odone’s article can be found here. Do read it quickly if you are interested, as I rather wonder how long it will stay up. It also has a marvellous comments thread testifying to many people’s evident disgust at Odone’s labelling of Harris as “Dr Death”. Some readers may remember that this was the sobriquet directed at Harris by the People’s Medical Journal Daily Mail during the debate over the Abortion time limit a couple of years ago (coverage on this blog can be found here and here).

Harris’ response to Odone can be found in the Telegraph comments. It is calm and reasoned (and just a bit puzzled) and is well worth a read. However, I think the single best response (and certainly the funniest) is the one by the Skepchick, aka Rebecca Watson:

“Thanks for the heads up, Cristina! Now I know to cheer for the LibDems. I want to know that if I end up in a vegetative state, I’m given a peaceful death rather than my own Telegraph column.”

They think it’s all over – it is now – BCA drop lawsuit against Simon Singh

April 15, 2010

In which Dr Aust wonders if the BCA’s PR people are “channeling” his thoughts.

The blogosphere (and indeed the mainstream news media) is aflame with the news that the British Chiropractic Association has dropped their libel claim against Simon Singh. They served a “Notice of Discontinuance” this morning.

Though the financial situation is still to be revealed/resolved, it seems likely that the BCA will have to meet most of Simon Singh’s legal costs, which may well run into a couple of hundred grand.

Over the last couple of weeks bloggers had been speculating about what the BCA would do after the Court of Appeal’s landmark judgement. Dr Aust had even laid out a likely course of action for the BCA were they to decide to bail out. I thought it might be interesting to show you this, and then what the BCA have actually said today.

Here is Dr Aust’s prediction, from a week or two back (April 7th)  of a likely “Exit Stategy”, taken from the comments thread under Jack of Kent’s “Open Letter to the BCA”:


If the BCA’s PR agency were any good – and they certainly seem to get paid plenty of money – then they could easily try and “spin” pulling the plug as follows:

(i) we genuinely thought Simon Singh had accused us of being dishonest, which we took MOST SERIOUSLY

(ii) we still think this was meaning the original words conveyed, BUT we reluctantly accept Appeal Court’s view… and we are MOST GRATIFIED Singh has stated publicly that he didn’t mean we were dishonest (quote Simon’s public statements to this effect)

(iii) given protracted nature of legal proceedings… we are persuaded that the financial burden on our members… need the money to do important work promoting chiropractic… etc etc.

All done by press release w/out taking questions.

Arguably outside the Skeptosphere it will all be a storm in a teacup.

Of course, notwithstanding their large tab, the BCA’s PR team seem thus far to be as sharp in their judgement as the BCA’s lawyers.


So that was the prediction.

And here, hot from their website, is the BCA’s press statement:



Having carefully considered its position in the light of the judgment of the Court of Appeal (1st April 2010), the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has decided to discontinue its libel action against Simon Singh.

As previously made clear, the BCA brought the claim because it considered that Simon Singh had made a serious allegation against its reputation, namely, that the BCA promoted treatments that it knew to be “bogus”. The Honourable Mr Justice Eady, the UK’s most experienced defamation judge, agreed with the BCA’s interpretation of the article and ruled that it made a serious factual allegation of dishonesty.

The Court of Appeal, in its recent judgment, has taken a very different view of the article. On its interpretation, the article did not make any factual allegation against the BCA at all; it was no more than an expression of ‘honest opinion’ by Simon Singh. While it still considers that the article was defamatory of the BCA, the decision provides Dr Singh with a defence such that the BCA has taken the view that it should withdraw to avoid further legal costs being incurred by either side.

As those who have followed the publicity surrounding this case will know, Simon Singh has said publicly that he had never intended to suggest that the BCA had been dishonest. The BCA accepts this statement, which goes some way to vindicating its position.

The BCA takes seriously its duty and responsibilities to members and to chiropractic patients. The BCA has considered seeking leave to take this matter to the Supreme Court and has been advised there are strong grounds for appeal against the Court of Appeal judgment. However, while it was right to bring this claim at the outset, the BCA now feels that the time is right for the matter to draw to a close.

More media information from Carl Courtney on 07785 397321 but no new information will be given.


Now, I will make no claims for my own future-predicting powers, or PR wizardry, as the likely structure of the retreat was pretty obvious to anyone who has been following the case.

I, will, however, quote another of my lines from the same Jack of Kent thread:

“Of course…the BCA…could have taken broadly the course of action I recommend nigh-on two years ago and likely saved themselves several hundred grand.”

But more than that, the BCA have now made it more, not less, likely that overreaching claims by alternative therapists will be publicly challenged in blunt terms from here on out.

This is because the legal result of the BCA’s suit has been to leave us with a judgement from the Court of Appeal’s senior Justices that makes very clear their view that scientific debates should not be settled in the courts.

While how much of this view is “legally binding” is open to discussion (which inevitably will probably be discussion by highly paid lawyers), the net result in practise seems certain to be that chiropractors, and other alternative medicine types, are less likely to try suing critics to silence them in future.

It bears saying, yet again, that had Simon Singh not had the guts to put his own money on the line when the BCA sued him personally, we would not be at this point today. As I wrote on yet another of Jack of Kent’s threads:

We know Simon [Singh] is prepared to lose his own money on a point of principle. We know [this] since he kept going after Eady’s initial ruling, when his lawyers almost certainly advised him that he was now highly likely to lose the case at trial, that the appeal on meaning was a long shot, and that the “percentage” choice would be to cut his losses and offer a limited apology.

And all scientists, and indeed everyone who opposed libel being used to silence criticism, owes him a debt.

Simon, we salute you.