Sunday, 29 November 2009

Homeo-phobic musings..........

Well, I woke up, tuned in early to make sure I had a connection and settled back to watch as the homeopathic top dogs crumbled under the barrage of evidence. The live streamed House of Commons Science and Technology sub-Committee’s question and answer session on the 25th of this month was as I expected it to be. Scientifically based responses from the supporters were non-existent and Dr Ben Goldacre, Edzard Ernst and Tracey Brown were like Man Utd. playing in the park on a Sunday against a bunch of school kids. So bad were the answers given in response to questions raised by the committee that I was forced to read the Guardians comments arriving on their Science Blog rather than look at the faces of the stuttering defenders of this sham that is homeopathy.    

What was most memorable about the whole days homeo bashing was not the contents of the video of the session its self, but rather interestingly the stubborn defence of homeopathy that continued to drip in for the rest of the day on the aforementioned comments. Mostly based on anecdotal evidence, ranging from a South African guy who's dog managed a leap up on to the sofa after being given some "memorised water" to a rather spirited attempt by a young lad who's father had been brought back from the brink after years of conventional treatment only to miraculously recover after some quack remedy. Like I say mostly anecdotal and the arguments kept coming. Nothing the sane and enlightened amongst the commenter’s could say would sway these people and their steadfast beliefs. This got me to thinking about something I have suspected for a long time. Once a person has stepped onto the pseudo band wagon, it’s VERY hard to get them to even consider that they may not be doing the right thing. I suppose it has a lot to do with human nature. The same is not generally true of the skeptics I find, although we have our zealots too. All we want is to be shown hard evidence. Show me and I am converted. I can see how it works from the other side though, after all I have kids and they do it all the time. Picture this:

Son : "I am so into xxxxxxx. they’re great and are bound to be around for years and years. I think I am gonna have their name tattooed on my forehead."

Dad: "That’s a really bad idea, apart from ruining your looks and making your self look foolish, history tells us that most bands don't make it past a couple of years and your opinion of them could change."

Son: "That’s never gonna happen, these guys are great."

Dad: "……’s a bad idea, the past has shown...."

Son: "What do you know, you don't even listen to `em"

Dad: "I am just saying that ......."

And so on and so on...... The kid is not going change his mind on the say so of his “square” old man. And so it is with people who have had the use of a homeopathic "drug". If they don't kick it in to touch when it doesn't work first time they are going to believe it has worked forever. That their bruising or rash can go away on its own won’t even come into it, nor will they ever see this as a coincidence if the homeopathic route was taken. Once the ego has "set" it’s very hard to change back. It takes a strong mind and the ability to show you made a mistake and that’s not easy for anyone to do. If it was, divorce and marriage guidance councilors would have no need to exist because we would all be able to see our own faults and apologise and change our behavior accordingly.

The motivation behind the scientific and corporate minds defending homeopathy at the Home Office party last week have another agenda, of course, driven by another ugly human trait. Greed, plain and simple. What worries me though is not that they are making money but that the arguments for the efficacy of the treatments just do not stand up to any form of scrutiny at all and they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge this. Contradictions were flying all over the place and so much waffle and stuttering going on it was like catching a kid red handed with his hand in the cookie jar. I am happy to believe in homeopathy if you can just show me it works. Just show me, that’s it. Clear up a random rash and let me see the results, repeat the exercise again with a further random sample and then again with another. Do it over and over, until there can be no doubt that this works, the same way as the big pharmaceuticals have to do it. Bringing a drug to market is a long process and a very costly one at that. Why these charlatans should get away with this scam is way off the scale of normal rationally working minds. I think it should be stopped in its tracks.

Never mind that its supposedly harmless –( what the hell point is there in a harmless drug, by the way), the facts are that it’s not. Australia found out recently the hard way with the death of a 9 month old baby girl who was killed by her parents withholding conventional medicine in favor of homeopathic drops to cure eczema. Well, it didn’t cure her, it killed the poor mite. Now you know why I can’t believe in it. There was a perfectly random rash to be cleared up and HOMEOPATHY COULDN’T DO IT. Do us all a favor, spare Boots the chemist any more “Ratner” moments and don’t allow any more people to die needlessly. It’s the end 2009, it’s about time we let go of this ancient and useless rubbish and let science, with all its faults, free to get on with the job of curing us of our ails.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

When your heroes let you down.

So far in my forays into the world of skepticism and science based reasoning, I have come across many things I would like to write about.  Future topics will include, I hope,  space exploration and its value to human kind.  Something where science is actually making a difference to human living.  Some of the experiments being undertaken outside of the constraints of the earth's gravity will impact on us as humans directly.  The Urugan experiment is establishing an permanent hurricane and natural disaster monitoring station aboard the ISS which will actively monitor areas at risk in real time and provide "eye in the sky" feed back to those on the ground so that loss of life can maybe be limited at least, if not altogether avoided.  Science is working in real situations that we can see benefits for and because of the scale of it, although relatively small physically, the fact that it is a truley international affair with input from the US, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agencies and recently Brazil.   

Whilst the ISS is getting on with things with little opposition, complaints have mostly been about colossal budgetary deficits and the inability of Russia to deliver a module or two here and there, other areas of science continue to battle wild accusations and exaggerated claims while they get on with the same business of saving lives and improving survival rates of vulnerable children in areas where it is difficult to grow crops.   Unfortunately I am talking about Greenpeace's stance on Genetically Modified crops.  To quote the UK head, Lord Melchet, when asked if Greenpeace's stance would relax subject to further scientific research and improved procedures, his reply was - " It (Greenpeace's view) is a permanent and definite and complete opposition (to GM Organisms) based on a view that there will always be major uncertainties. It is the nature of the technology, indeed it is the nature of science, that there will not be any absolute proof".  Disappointing to say the least.   I wonder if any Greenpeace supporters with, or who have children with severe nut allergies will stick by them should the GM hypo-allergenic peanut become a reality.

I won't go into the intricacies of GM food production because it is neither my place nor do I completely understand the specific science.  But I do know that we have effectively being doing it for hundreds of years by cross breeding plants and there is no man eating triffid that I know of.  Seriously, there are legitimate claims and concerns regarding modern agriculture, but I have to say I am satisfied that the world has in place a stringent enough regulatory system to deal with it.  Apart from the potential amount of lives that could be saved, thousands of tonnes of herbicides are NOT being used.  

It seems that Greenpeace have shot themselves in the foot a bit here. Having such an inflexible, static stance, leaving no room for new evidence to influence their campaigning seems an intrinsically weak position to argue from, leaving aside the fact that rigourous regulation of GM foods and crops IS in place already. Maybe they also buy into the organic food myth. They seem to be suscepible to a bit of woo, it wouldn't surprise me that they have persueded many to unwittingly protest against the life saving crops that can breath under water by extending a snorkel like straw up wards. How can they face themselves in the morning when they look at starvation ravaged villages. Do they think they bring comfort to those poor souls when they are screaming against GM crops dressed in a chemical suit. Scare tactics are in poor taste in this instance.

The pro's seem to outweigh the cons by a long way in my eyes.  Shame on the stubborn stance of GREENPEACE.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A Real Life Story of Death by Homoeopathy (....almost)

This REALLY needs to be seen by a LOT of people - this is the real harm that is being done by the alternative medicine and homoeopathy crowd.  Please copy this and post it in as many pllaces as humanly possible.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Lightning Process

ANOTHER jumped up pyramid scheme hidden behind a psuedo scientific nonsense.


At least this guy has the balls to tell all.  Well done.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Critical Thinking = Open Mind

I have been reading a lot about my new found interest in all things "Skeptical" and one thing sticks out above all else.  The importance of trying to stay open minded and keeping a cool head in the times we are confronted by an issue we don't agree with. 

Being open minded has so many advantages over closing ones ears to anything new that its fast becoming my mantra, and anybody that knows me will tell you that I have been more than a little guilty of closing the door on views opposing my own.   Imagine how much easier the world could run if everybody took the time to digest an opposing viewpoint and to think before opening ones mouth and metaphorically jerking a knee in the  groin of the person you may not have the same beliefs as.

Listening to Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics on the Canadian Skeptically Speaking Podcast made me think about my own tactics in dealing with people with strange (to me)  ideas about alternative therapies etc.  Richard warns us not to be confrontational and aggressive in our stance as it can weaken your position.  I pricked my ears up on hearing this as I do want to warn people as to the possible dangers of say, supporting homoeopathy, but I also want to keep some of my friends.  As he rightly points out, if a group of 5 random people you meet at a cocktail party ask you what you think of Reiki and you tell them that you think its a load of bullshit, you are going to offend at least one of them. If you argue that its a load of crap this IS going to happen.  If, however you can make your feelings clear using non confrontational terminology, you have a better chance of prolonging the conversation with all five people and thus increase the chance of one or more of them maybe having a review of their own position on the subject.  People don't like looking stupid and if you can argue without antagonising them, which generally makes them put up a kind of defence against what they perceive as an attack on them, then it has to be better, surely.

Obviously, this is not the easiest thing to do as you yourself are having your strongly held view attacked in a way so your natural instinct is to attack.  This is where the admiration level meter rises all the way to the top for me where people like Dr. Eugenie Scott, Dr. Steven Novella and Brian Dunning are concerned.  Their ability to perform under pressure is legendary.  They do have the upper hand on most of us though in that two of them are fully fledged scientists and the other more or less does the skeptic thing for a living.  Their backgrounds have armed them with a pool of knowledge that we mere mortals have to learn from scratch unless we are also scientists.  But having all of the facts at your disposal isn't a guarantee to winning an argument or getting your point across because at the end of the day, some people just plain refuse to bend when it comes to their personal woo.  If this is the case then we just have to walk away and chalk up a loss without prejudice.  If you have managed to keep cool and dignified you may also still be friends and you live to get the chance to maybe take them on again.  If you waded in with the "this is a load of crap" method, that chance is probably lost along with a certain amount of credibility and possibly at the extreme end of the scale, your friendship.

This is really grass roots stuff and I apologise for anyone reading this for whom this style of arguing is the only way to fly.  But we are not all blessed with fantastic debating skills and it is for those of us that have a voice but don't really know how to use it that I am directing this to. 
So here's to a new beginning for me, open government my own style, "New Marc" after many years of stuffy old me and my strange "don't start him off" views.   I throw open my mind and renounce my own attacks and bitter ranting at the things that piss me off and see if I can find that extra patience needed to change the mind of a believer,  give peace a chance and all that.  I realise I am a tiny wheel in this gigantic machine, probably only an iron filing if the truth be known, but I have aspirations to become a drop of oil and who knows, maybe a fully fledged and well lubricated cog.

Homeopathy - revisited

This is a repeat posting in the hope that it will remain an issue in the public eye.  

Homeopaths Censor Blogger
From Orac I learn that The Society of Homeopaths was successful in getting blogger The Quackometer to pull his post entitled The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing ? an expose of how homeopaths falsely claim that homeopathy can prevent and cure malaria. As Orac says:

Gee, aren't legal threats the way that the evil big pharma and conventional medicine "suppress" the "truth" of alternative medicine and homeopathy? Why is it that the Society of Homeopaths is behaving like a thug and taking advantage of vagaries of British libel law, which is notoriously weighted towards the plaintiffs [?] in order to try to suppress evidence-based articles that are not flattering to homeopathy? Notice that, instead of debating, instead of presenting arguments and evidence for why they thought Le Canard Noir was incorrect, the Society of Homeopaths tried to suppress his right to free speech by making legal threats to his ISP, which caved.

Precisely. So in the interests of free speech, and to demonstrate to the homeopaths that bullying will not work (they can still refute the article with evidence ? or they could if they had any), I will join many other bloggers (see the end of Orac?s post for the updated full list) and reproduce in full The Quackometer?s censored article. The following is what the homeopaths were frightened you would read:

The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing

By The Quackometer

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.

The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48: ? Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority. ? No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72: To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. ... The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs...

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that 'she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics'. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for 'treating' various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let's remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won't find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the 'immediate priority' to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?

Friday, 11 September 2009

My Latest TV Series

I have just found out the last TV series I wrote the music for, with a freind,  is due to be aired this Monday , 14th September 2009 on the Crime and Investigation Channel in the UK and each Monday there after at 9.00pm.  Here is a taster. If there were God, he was a complete bastard to these poor families, and some of them STILL turned to the church for comfort, something that I can not get to grips with.  I hope He is pleased with Himself.  Of course, as I am a non beleiver I wont accept that "He moves in mysterious ways" for an explination, nor that the families in question must have deserved it or any other clichéd pap from the holy books.  It was a very hard series to write for and you can only feel compassion for these poor people.  I beleive that in death there is nothing and so they can not suffer anymore at least - I hope those left behind find strength in reason and civility and steer clear of quack relief in all its forms, however hard it may seem considering the state of their greiving minds.


Thursday, 10 September 2009

Am I Clever Enough?

I am fresh from a new month of podcast listening and reading and have ended up not so much downbeat, but more - a little deflated. I met a real journalist this month, one with a fantastically sharp mind and who's massively talented boyfriend I have been an admirer of for some time for his attitude and maturity and creative spirit. I hope they wont mind me putting their names, they are; Shanta Barley and Marmaduke Dando . It is fair to say that meeting Dan again and his girlfriend Shanta for the first time were not the reason for my deflation. They are two passionate, pro-science young people (compared to my 43 years at least) who actively think about and do things to raise awareness of causes they believe in - like global warming. Shanta through her reporting and blogging for the BBC and more recently New Scientist - and Dan through his commitment to and involvement with the popular Power Down acoustic gigs that take place in London quite frequently. Plus his well educated and well travelled outlook on life I find very refreshing - he cares about the envirnment and he cares about all of our futures and he has opened his eyes and seen the things he has been privelliged to see through older and wiser eyes than his age belies. Both of them are ACTIVE. Something that despite my reading and listening and occasional blogging about, I find I don't do very well at.

I feel that my contributions turn peoples perceptions of me into that of a soul-less nerd with nothing better to do than crap on anything "alternative" and as my arguments have become more coherent the more I read, the less people want to engage in conversations as their flimsy evidence for crystal healing falls by the wayside. They feel hurt and I don't like making people feel like that, but I also hate the notion that someone is taking money from them due to a belief in this bullshit.

I also fear posting on certain skeptical blogs because there is an extremist element to the sceptical movement that can be read as quite intimidating and sarcastic, although a certain lack of expressionism through the medium of typing on a computer keyboard could also play a part, its quite a turn off. I read the Bad Science forum and see the number of people who are real Doctors and -ists with masters in -isms and -ologys and as a musician don't feel I can stand shoulder to shoulder with these people, certainly not at an academic level, the same as any of them playing the piano in front of 1000 people would make them feel probably. Yet despite the mass of academically superior beings that populate the forum Ben Goldacre has done more to bring bad scientific practices to the general public at large than any one else I can think of through his fantastic book Bad Science and his blog in the Guardian newspaper. To me, its at the general-public-lay-person level that the most work needs to be done, because they are (we are) the people being taken in by the schemers and charlatans.

Its been said before that from a marketing point of view, the world of alternative therapies and treatments including religions and cults leave the skeptical movement for dead. Surely as we are the ones promoting the safe and sensible side of the case, its a travesty that this should be the case.

To promote critical thinking to the wider audience we have to try to keep academic jargon to a minimum and help the casual listener understand as much of what is being said without feeling patronised. If you think about it, TV ads for expensive cosmetics use the simplest forms available, full screen computer generated graphics showing the hair changing from a limp, weather beaten clump into the most shiney and managable set of locks in the world with just one application.  Stick in some actor in a lab coat and you have closed the deal.  People BUY it.    Experts arguing or agreeing amongst themselves (who can tell sometimes if you don't have 5 years medical training) on various forums is fine if you want people who have stumbled upon you to click away. It creates cliques and leaves the average person cold whilst perpetuating the nerd stereotype and is actually, in my opinion, a very negative thing for the community as a whole. Imagine if you will, attending a comic book convention for the first time and having no clue as to what all the in-jokes are about, who the characters are, which comic book they are from, and indeed, what everybody is going on about in the conversations around you.  I know as a relatively new attendee to the skeptical movement that a lot of these feelings passed through my mind when I first began reading through the skeptical forums. One of them told me, in reply to my introductory post, that I would learn nothing new from the jaded old opinons held there in  and to look elsewhere as most subjects had been discussed to death.

Brian Dunnings excellent Skeptoid podcast helped ease me into it eventually and it is there I recommend anybody begins.  The pod casts are bite sized enough to digest whole and are extremely well researched and put across so that anybody gets it, even if you don't at first agree with it. At least you can understand it well enough to maybe have an opposing opinion. The same I find true of the Skeptics Guide To The Universe, although, and I hope Brian Dunning takes this the right way (I would be surprised but also honoured if he did read my little blog, despite my earlier "skeptic about the skeptics" rant I still find his podcasts fulfiling and honest) - I find it a bit of a step up as the length of the podcast allows for more in depth discussion and having a posse of experts and skeptics on hand allows this to happen with multiple opinions over the subject, albeit with a common overall view. Dr Steve Novella always attempts to explain for example, a medical condition before getting too heavily into discussion about it or some quackery cure for it, therefore giving the casual listener a chance to understand whats going on and assuring them that he does indeed "know his onions" as we say in the UK.  I thank them for all for their laid back yet understanding-it-all style in this respect because it works.

So, now having read back what I have written, I feel better for getting some things off my chest that maybe I am a bit over sensitive to - but mostly I feel that I have actually been just a little bit active if only for pointing people to Mr Dunning and The SGU along with Marmaduke and his lovely girlfriend Shanta.

Viva science and reason.............

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Do You Believe You Dont Believe?

Where do you stand? What is your position? Is your ability to have a faith but don't have one going to waste? Do you simply just not believe and that's enough for you?
I do quite often. But then I hear some pious utterance from someone doling out heaps of rubbish whilst wallowing in his own self importance - wearing a dress over his civvies and it gets me all riled inside. How can they really believe that stuff. I just don't get it, to me its the same as believing in green flying elephants or the British prison system. Everyone knows you would be put away, or at the very least slapped on the wrist for wasting police time for walking into a police station and reporting a green flying elephant. So how do they get away with the weekly laying on of guilt derived from the anecdotal evidence of a book that has been translated and interpreted through the centuries into many languages and back. I don't believe a word of it myself, or any other religion, cult or following either - but that's by the by.

The "church" will have you crawling around all over accepting tea from the best china and I even remember households reserving an entire room for "best" that the vicar was duly ushered into when he came to discuss funeral arrangements. I dont remember them ever saying "No, Mrs Johnston, the chipped mug is fine for me and I would feel more at home in the kitchen with the washing hung around the fireplace, this parlour is far too grand for a mere vicar like myself" I'm sure the manners have changed a bit by now as young "with it" vicars stand shoulder to shoulder at footie games and even indulge in a few down the pub after, but the thing that got them to wrap that white collar on hasn't changed in two thousand odd years. Its a true calling that's for sure, but why? What's the deal with it?

They say it gives people comfort. Mmmm, well those seats that I have seen in the churches around the world don't look like they contribute to those feelings. What's more, it also seems that the higher your hat, the grander and more luxurious the chair is at the "stage" end of the church. The ceremony involved in your average service is not much to shout about these days, but then how can you keep the same old stories fresh - as futuristic and fantastic as some of them are - i.e walking on water to name but one. CGI has certainly not helped, with the line between real and computer generated becoming ever more difficult to distinguish on the TV screen, how can you compete with that whilst recounting the tale of the feeding of the five thousand from a dusty old book again.

But still they come. 200,000 pilgrims were said to have amassed in Sydney in 2008 when the pope turned up to do something to them all in a spiritual way. And that was just catholics I assume. I stood trying to get night time shots of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House and was surrounded by a throng of multi national clergy. Now, 200,000 is not a huge number compared to the Hajj's 2 million pilgrim-a-thon that occurs in Mecca, but you have to remember that Sydney is not in the center of the world surrounded by densely populated countries each with a main road system that leads to everywhere. Sydney is relativly difficult and expensive to get to. And before you say that Mecca is hardly a Soho in the heart of London, it was a very important trading post 2,500 years ago and its status and its involvement in the fifth pillar of Islam - well you would have to be living under a rock in the Arctic Circle to not have heard of, or know where it is.

I have recently read that 22% of the population of the world are Muslim, and that number is growing every day. And 33% are said to be Christians. Thats a lot of people getting their kicks from a God and there are hundreds more religions I have not mentioned. So what the heck gets them there. And how is it that some of us just don't get it. I honestly just don't get it - not only that, I am not bothered that I don't get it, nor am I that bothered that others do. It does however get me mad to see people of the same faith but different splinter groups getting stuck in with the bomb vests, and I get upset watching "muslim on christian" action and vice versa. It really gets up my nose when someone says to me "Jesus said....." like they were there when he said it - and I hate it when people are reverent around the Reverend - overly respectful and genuflecting for no good reason but to show off that they know all the God "moves".

Most people just get on with their God and we never know anything about it other than they are missing a few hours a week when the rest of us are watching Farming Outlook and thats fine. Others tend to like others to know they are deeply religious by ending their lives and those of others too by blowing theselves into tiny pieces and making life difficult for the undertaker to know who he has boxed up. I am in the first camp but in the non beleiving version of human being - except, hang on - I am not!! Here I am going on about it in a blog.....having thoughts that could get me killed by at least one religion. Infact I am not having thoughts so much as this is how I am - and its not like I have not tried with it all - years ago I visited churches and spoke to religious friends in the hope of finding peace after close bereivements - I just was not presented with any answers, no matter how deep I looked inside my self plus I just go to pieces laughing when the Noahs Ark bit pops into my head. "He's gone to a better place" is a stupid thing to say unless you know the person in question has left the dole queue in Middlesbrough for a job in the Caymen Isles keeping the skin of 18 year old super models sun-creamed up and ready for the beach.

No, I truly believe that I don't believe.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Marc Johnston has invited you to Dropbox

We're excited to let you know that Marc Johnston has invited you to Dropbox!

Marc Johnston has been using Dropbox to sync and share files online and across computers, and thought you might want it too.

Visit to get started.

- The Dropbox Team

Monday, 13 July 2009

Living without a faith.

Well, I have to say - living without a faith is very easy for me. Compared to the stuff going on in some peoples heads, its a breeze. Even fellow non believers have a lot going on that gets them all worked up about religion, but somehow I don't have these issues.

It was brought home to me watching a recent YouTube video posted on Facebook by my mate Wyn, a fervent atheist and very talented magician. The video was a reading from a book called "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes" by Daniel Everett. Its a sample of the audio book version and tells the tale of a Christian missionary who ended up converted to atheism by the very tribe he was sent to "Free". The Pirahá tribe in Brazil were already happy and didnt need "saving" and made the writer question his own faith as he witnessed them genuinely, happily living their lives without Jesus. A nice story and not in anyway confrontational. A calmly read narrative accompanies the video, made up of a slide show of photos of him and the tribes-people.

You can find it here. Its Lovely.

What I did find disturbing though, were the comments underneath at the time I viewed it. I quote

"So your telling me a grown man was convinced by a tribe of idiots who live out in the woods to completely throw away his faith and he is not a joke? BTW you continue to mention the ark. you clearly know very little about the bible."

All of a sudden, the peace loving tribe were condemned to being a "tribe of idiots who live out in the woods" by some bible reader who also announces the converted author "a joke" for "throwing away" his faith. He then goes on to tell the world he knows a lot about The Bible. His interpretation of its contents are dubious in my opinion and a great reason to question the following of a religion when you just DONT GET IT - as the commenter so clearly does not.

So much for tolerance, but then thats not a concept many religions accept too openly. I find this thuggish commenter no better than the football hooligan kicking the head of a fellow man for daring to wear a different coloured shirt than him.

There were a few other comments going on at the time I viewed that video, an equally vicious exchange between an Intelligent Design advocate and a non believer which ended up in name calling. Theres barely a comment without vitriol of one sort or another. Not at all productive. I don't believe in
ANYTHING - but does that make me "a joke" - are people like me, who don't have a faith, all "tribes of idiots" whether they live in the woods or not.

My interest in having a blog at all is to try and help bring an end to the kind of quackery that masquerades as medicine and pseudo-scientific charlatans relieving the gullible and vulnerable of their hard earned cash. I am used to having an opposing view and its hard, especially when confronted by a close friend who believes in some spurious nonsense, to make your point without offense. Its my primary concern not to offend anyone, not jump on them and bash their very personal beliefs, but to point them towards the truth with evidence to back it up.
Calling them "a joke" would not be productive. Had the author of the book succeeded in converting the tribe to an ancient and out dated belief based on purely anecdotal evidence, I am sure the commenter would have been over the moon. Instead, he just made himself look foolish and the urge to call him a name is right now so great that I am going to have to do what
HIS BLOODY BOOK says and turn the other cheek.

Funny how I can do that naturally without the help of regular Sunday meetings.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Already put my foot in it...........or have I?

I  was having another look at my site of the week.  The very excellent and the information therein.  Its got to be said that the sites principle, Brian Dunning, is very well informed and I find his articles an invaluable source of information.  The article on the Min Min Light  was great.  For a subject,  the explanation of which to have alluded serious reason for so long,  I found both amazing and relieving.  Some things are just difficult to explain but I am certain that most things do end up with a rational scientific explanation  even if i may not understand that explanation in full.  I know that sounds a bit strange but I prefer a scientific explanation to anything spiritual because it satisfies my curiosity in the same way that any metaphysical one leaves me cold.  I had never heard of the Min Min Light and to discover the phenomenon and the explanation in the same article was quite a catch.  

That got me to thinking.  Was I a bit hard on Brian in my last post for him trying to prise almost a whole dollar for one of these articles? Its something I pondered for a while.  If THIS blog grows he should be receiving more traffic and thus increase his chance of making more money from his site.  He should be as entitled as anyone else to make a few quid from his hard work of course.  But something about charging anything at all over the operating costs doesn't sit well with me, especially as sceptics spend a considerable effort debunking people making pots of cash for nothing more than pretending to bend a spoon.  Its an awfully good site and I am sure the extra hours tagged on to Brian's week are hard to come by.  I have a family life to juggle in amongst my work and private time so I understand the commitment he´s making,  a noble one.  But he´s selling a book and a Video / DVD and has a website to help him promote these things along with going to the trouble of having T- Shirts printed up - (not cheap either).  There is something of an marketing plan in place here somewhere.   

I´m happy to support Brian's efforts to inform us and maybe entertain us a little.  I´m not ready to stump up a dollar if 69,000 others are doing the same every week and netting him a cool  3.6million bucks a year for his  450 odd hours work.  That's some hourly rate which ever way you look at it and a LOT of money.   I doubt that is happening of course,  he seems a very likeable guy,  and as he is an incredably well informed  sceptic as well I ask my self;  would he pull the wool over everybodys eyes and say that only 6 people are bothering with the donations?  I don't actually believe he would,  I think he´s trying to cover his costs and make a few extra buck,  but as a sceptic myself I don't know for sure.  In short,  I don't want to pay for him to get rich but I´m happy to pay my share of a decent and honest return on the investment he makes of his time.   I do hope that he continues,  I find him very easy to listen to and his research seems thourough.  I will make a decision soon about this and keep you informed.........I´ll probably end up subscribing, I will definatly be spreading the word about his podcasts, I have 150 of them on my phone and have barely listened to anything else since I discovered him so I guess you could say I am a fan.   Check him out 


Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to say hello and introduce my new blog.   

My name is Marc Johnston,  and I am a musician by trade.  I have always had an interest in theology,  faith and philosophy but I am always left wanting more.  Religion doesn't do it for me, I cant see it.  I hate watching people getting screwed by psychic hot lines and spoon bending maniacs.  I recently found that there are a movement of people who think a bit like I do and while I don't claim to understand or agree with all they say,  I do find a certain comfort in their being around.  I´d like to have a few sentences at the start of this scary but exciting time to outline my intentions for this place so here we go.

1.  These are just my own views and as I am embarking on a journey into skepticism and my own reaction to it,  will very likely change frequently.  I am currently very open to all things aimed at outing the underhand removal of anything of any value from the vulnerable, be that money, material things or just messing with their mind.  Amongst other things, this means psychic drivel,  paranormal bullsh!t and mass scaremongering for the benefit of any kind of gain and that includes the regular collections in churches, TV evangelism and Astrology.

2.  I don´t believe in a higher supreme being,  God,  Deity,  sun worship or any other kind of worship FULL STOP - for now,  nor am I looking to.  I am trying to stay open to what I don't know and don´t personally understand,   but so far have been repelled (rather than attracted to)  by any kind of organised religious faith by the very means and ceremony used to entice and call to prayer.  This DOES NOT and I want to make this perfectly clear,  ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT  mean I have any problem with anybody else exercising their right to what ever belief comforts them and I will never intentionally set out to personally offend anybody.  If my beliefs clash with anybody Else's,  I hope we will be adult enough to understand that its this diversity that makes for intelligent debate,  and we all know where misinterpretation and non compliance in religion can get us,  even putting aside the cultural differences that religious belief can add to the mix. 

Its going to be difficult at times,  I know.  My inspiration for this blog comes from the discovery of James Randi and his Educational Foundation,  from there I have read a few other sites,  links, blogs and downloaded podcasts from them also,  and at times it seems the movement its self is becoming a little too like a religion.  Herein lies a problem for me.  I don´t like being corralled into anything.  

One podcaster,  Brian Dunning at the excellent Skeptoid  is asking for donations of 99c a week for his very well put together weekly podcast,  but goes on to say that 70,000 people downloaded the last one.  If half of them paid (i didn't, but I am considering a smaller contribution as I realise the work that goes into the recording and his hard work does deserve re numeration)  his (and I´m guessing here) $35,000 podcast starts to look a bit like the reason I am starting this blog - even a tenth of that for a 10min mp3 is enough in my eyes.  Go to any half decent hotel and you will find those helpful Gideons have nipped in before your arrival and placed a copy of the bible there for you for free.  The TV programs churning out vast amounts of woo-woo are even provided for free in my country of residence.  

Now I admit,  I can no more understand the finances relating to the maintenance of a site of the magnitude of than I can those of a lunar landing.  I simply do not understand the amount of physical work that goes into the production of that excellent podcast in terms of research,  but as a recording engineer - part of my job as a musician,  I would consider myself lucky indeed to be re numerated to the tune of a few hundred dollars for a 10 minute recording of a single voice.  I am guessing again here as the sonic quality could be somewhat obscured by the effect of the compression applied on conversion to mp3 format,  but it does sound a bit on the "home made"  side especially the production technique using "telephone EQ" setting for external quotes,  but I digress,  I love them.  All of them have so far given me something - I just can´t seem to put a dollar value on them when there are 70,000 of them going out each week,  these are just audio fliers at the end of the day.  It must be the natural socialist in me and I apologise if the poor guy is taking a hit producing them,  but my opinion is,   for what it may or may not be worth,  its too many beans!.  

So,  even in my intro I am doubting my own doubts........skeptical of the master skeptics.....well, lets see where it takes me.  Again,  I have no wish to offend.  I hope to spread the word of Skeptiod and sceptic related sites like JREF,  and maybe people will find the excellent work appealing enough to pay the full whack - I´m not ready just yet. 

I hope you come along for the ride on my journey and I am looking forward to some scintillating debate.