Skeptic News: Randi responds, all is well.

James Randi giving a lectureFrom: Doubtful News

James Randi has left a comment on Doubtful News covering the uproar regarding comments he made to journalist Will Storr in an interview for his book “Heretics”.

We present a few exerts from this below as it is our policy to give equal standing to developments, retractions and explanations of the things we report in Skeptic News should they require clarification. We advise folks to read the whole comment over on doubtful news to avoid any further misinterpretation.

Until just recently, I did not recall having spoken with Mr. Storr years ago about certain comments posted on randi.org, and I barely recall that event, even now This is an understandable lapse, since I’m constantly being interviewed, and often under circumstances that call for my attention to be otherwise directed, Also, some interviews occurred during a time of my life in recent years when my health – and thus my cognition – were not at their best.

Above Randi provides a fair and reasonable explanation for his previous statement. Human memory is entirely fallible and no one can be expected to remember the exact words they spoke to a journalist in an interview that occurred years ago.

The unfair suggestion that Mr. Storr tried to provoke me, or that he’s a “bad guy,” is something I must dismiss, since I believe I would have remembered that sort of behavior. In any case, I now know much more about the described encounter, and I maintain that I would never have said I was a Social Darwinist, since I only recently learned in detail what that term really means, and in fact I was quite ignorant of the history of the movement organized around that false idea. I’ve been surprised that this was not obvious to people discussing the matter, but I accept that the conversation with Mr. Storr went just as described. No problem with that.

This would chime with the context of the term in the interview and it is gratifying to see that Randi doesn’t wish to stoke ill will against Storr preferring a mitigated mea culpa.

Survival of the fittest works very well. It’s what is responsible for the present success of our own species, despite what individuals try to do to make us fail. In our work with the JREF, my colleagues and I try to get individuals to think about what they’re doing by wasting their lives in acceptance of superstitious nonsense, because there are just no charities or government programs that provide that much-needed service. Folks, we care.

This paragraph seems to be at odds with an earnest and well held belief in Social Darwinism and in the following paragraph (which we shan’t post as it appears on doubtful news and to post too much would be a little rude) Randi reframes his belief as a matter of individual responsibility. An individual responsibility mitigated by social responsibility and admits that his “shoot from the hip” style of speaking may get him into trouble.

Randi ends by saying he hopes the JREF will not be adversely affected by those who would use these comments to decry the good work they do. A sentiment we concur with and applaud. To claim that the JREF followed a social Darwinist agenda would be laughable. Randi, as all good skeptics should, admits that he has made a mistake and that he has considered the criticism aimed at him and determined he was wrong.

One statement from Randis response provides us all with a lesson in how to be a skeptic and how to respond to criticism and how to react when we are wrong. He simply states:

Even at 84, I’m still learning. Please bear with me, folks.

A good skeptic should never stop learning, questioning or exploring even the issues that they make take for granted. If anything good has come out of this latest broohaha than it is a reminder of that lesson.

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Amazon UK seller breaches Cancer act (1939)

By Keir Liddle

a selection of homeovitality "remedies"Homoeopathic products are being advertised and sold through the Amazon UK site that are in breach of the UK Cancer act (1939).

A company named Homeovitality offers a range of “drug free” treatments for sale through Amazon all of these are advertised as promoting good health super naturally with drug free technology. They offer products that claim to promote more effective wound healing, promote fertility, boost and support a series of important immune systems that protect the body against bacteria and virusesstop the development of an undesirable immune response , help people may remember better and enjoy an increased IQ and indeed a number of products that they claim can treat cancer.

They offer fibrocare advertising it on Amazon using the following spiel:

“Homeovitality Fibrocare has been designed to target the genes, KEAP1, DEFB1 and PPARG. KEAP1 suppresses tumour growth. PPARG has been shown to kill fibroids cells and DEFB1 provides protection against infection. May be taken safely on a long term basis. What do the genes KEAP1, PPARG and DEFB1 do? KEAP1 is a recently discovered master tumour suppressor gene. Scientists at the M. D. Anderson’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology discovered how it works. It suppresses tumour growth by destruction of oncoproteins, proteins that promote tumour growth. It also inhibits tumour invasion or spreading and helps to cut off a tumour’s blood supply so that it its growth is arrested. Dr. Nam and colleagues have demonstrated that up-regulation of PPARG is helpful in treatment of (leiomyomas) fibroids. They have discovered that stabilisation of the activity of PPARG slows down the growth of fibroids. It also triggers a self-destruct mechanism which causes fibroid cells to kill themselves. When fibroid cells are killed by the action of PPARG for example, the uterus and uro-genital tract become more prone to infection. The DEFB1 gene produces a small natural anti-bacterial peptide that protects all tissue surfaces from infection. DEFB1 is targeted to help reduce the risk of intra-uterine infection when fibroid cell numbers are diminished.”

They also offer Cancer care with the following:

“For a cell to become cancerous it must first form a tumour and then develop the ability for some of the tumour cells to spread to other parts of the body. Homeovitality Cancer Care has been developed to target the KEAP1 and TIP30 genes to arrest tumour growth and stop tumour cells from spreading. May be taken on a permanent basis after diagnosis. What do KEAP1 and TIP30 do? KEAP1 is a recently discovered master tumour suppressor gene. Scientists at the M. D. Anderson’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology discovered how it works. It suppresses tumour growth by destruction of oncoproteins, proteins that promote tumour growth. It also inhibits tumour invasion or spreading and helps to cut off a tumour’s blood supply so that it its growth is arrested. The same scientists found that under-expression of KEAP1 alone resulted in poor survival among many different types of cancer patients. TIP30 on the other hand has been shown to play a very important role in inhibition of the spread of cancer cells, metastasis. Insufficient activity of TIP30 permits cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, up-regulation of TIP30 plays an important role in reducing the spread of cancer cells.”

Also available is TumOX40:

OX 40 plays an important role in enabling immune cells to work better and kill cancer cells more effectively. The Homeovitality TumOX40 has been designed to target the OX40 gene, the gene that encodes the OX 40 cytotoxic T-cell immune stimulant. What does the OX40 gene do? There are a number of different types of cells within the immune system. One of them, a type of T cell called a cytotoxic T cell, plays an important role in the killing of cancer or tumour cells. Recognition of the existence of tumour-specific T cells confirms that the immune response can be deployed to combat cancer. However, T cell cytotoxic activity is often suppressed in the environment of a tumour, resulting in impairment of the tumour specific cytotoxic T cell’s ability to kill its target tumour cells. In recent years, scientists have discovered that members of the tumour necrosis factor superfamily direct many parts of the immune system. One family member, OX40 has been found to be a key factor that augments T-cell expansion, cytokine production, and survival of tumour specific cytotoxic T cells. Studies over the last decade or so have also confirmed that OX40 does in fact increase the ability of cytotoxic T cells to recognise cancer cells as being immunologically foreign and increase their capacity to kill them. Reference to how OX40 can stimulate the activity of tumour specific cytotoxic T-cells is diagrammatically represented in the Agonox literature.

I have highlighted in bold the sections which appear to contrive the Cancer Act (1939) specifically the legal phrohibiton against adverts for drugs or treatments

“containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefore, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof”

Nearly all of the products offered by Homeovitality are homeopathic dilutions of 10^12 which makes it vanishingly likely that they have anything remotely approaching efficacy or that there has been any research supporting the companies claims. Indeed the only research offered in support of these claims by the company relates simply to the role of the various chemicals in the various conditions BEFORE any homeopathic dilutions have occurred.

It seems homeovitality have simple assumed that homeopathy works, despite all evidence to the contrary, therefore homeopathic dilutions of things that work must therefore work. A potentially harmful and dangerous view to take and one that plays as fast and loose with evidence and medical science as it does with their customers health.

The company could potentially weasel out of answering such concerns by noting they only claim their dilute versions of these treatments have simply being designed or developed to treat cancer. That the product descriptions clearly deal with research and claims into the non-homeopathic versions however it seems clear that the manner in which these descriptions and adverts are constructed that they have the potential to mislead cancer patients into believing they are buying an effective cancer treatment when in reality they are simply getting magic water.

However the company can not weasel out of the glaring contradiction apparent in their advertising. Homoevitalitys products are simultaneously being sold as “drug free technology” and based upon and containing cutting edge drug treatments. Perhaps this is a admission that there is indeed nothing in homeopathy?

I have complained to the ASA and hope to be able to report back on their adjudications. I encourage others to complain about the other remedies Homeovitality advertise for sale through Amazon. As unlike their own website (where they are far more careful about the claims they make) they make some obviously false and misleading claims.

I have also highlighted the issue to Amazon customer services who have assured me that they are now investigating the issue and will be contacting the seller regarding these claims. This action may lead to the claims being removed.

Homeovitality is a UK registered company, number: 07297274, based in Preston Lancashire and founded on 28-06-2010 by Dr Peter H. Kay. Alongside Homeovitality products he also offers a diploma in New Homeopathic micro-DNA Therapy and consultations at the Homeovitality “Natural Super Health Clinic“.

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Burzynski: Damned if he does and if he doesn't?

By Keir Liddle

Farside comic by Gary Larsson, someone is being cajolled by satan to choose one of two doors "damned if you do" and "damned if you don't". Captioned: "come on it's one or the other"Supporters of Burzynski like to take skeptics for task for all manner of imagined slights. I’d like to take the opportunity to address some of these and explain why I have written and keep writing about the Burzynski clinic and Antineoplastons.

I first encountered the Burzynski clinic following a high profile patient funding campaign that had been promoted by a UK celebrity.  Ironically it was the high volume of RT’s from skeptics that drew my attention to it and encouraged me to look into what was going on more. Simply because there were a couple of red flags that the tweets threw up mainly pointing out that this highly expensive “life saving” therapy was not available on the NHS.

Now despite the more ridiculous “death panel” views of the NHS and patient advocacy groups pushing for politicians to interfere in purchasing and procurement strategies for cancer drugs I know that the regulatory bodies NICE and the MHRA exist to evaluate the available evidence for new drugs and treatments and recommend whether our publicly funded, free at point of delivery, health service should offer them.  Unlike many of our more conspiratorially minded America friends I don’t believe regulation in healthcare is a bad thing or a conspiracy tied to the pharmaceutical industry. Rather I think they are a highly important line of defence between health professionals, patients and Big Pharma ensuring that the medical treatments recommended are done so on the basis of evidence and not the marketing muscle and hype of the Pharmaceutical industry.

So whenever I see “life saving treatment not available on the NHS” being thrown about it always gets my skeptic sense tingling.

Looking into the Burzynski clinic and ANPs I very quickly discovered that this therapy, which has been used for over 35 years, had a shocking dearth of evidence to support it’s safety or it’s efficacy. Very quicky it became apparent that the claims of Burzynski, appearing on all manner of famously credulous sites who support “natural” and “alternative medicines” and formerly on the clinic website itself, were over-hyped, inaccurate and potentially dangerous.

So I determined, after no small amount of soul searching, to blog about the clinic and to reintroduce people to the prior debunking work of Saul Green and others over on the Quackwatch website. I was worried about the impact that exposing the false hope I believed, and still believe, Burzynski was offering to patients could have on the very patients I was concerned about. It was not until after a few discussions on twitter and elsewhere that I determined any negative impact my writing on this could potentially cause was very much offset by the cruel and misleading impact false hope could have on potential patients.

I only came to this conclusion after hearing some truly shocking personal stories from the family members and friends of people whose loved ones were not only lost of cancer but also lost to chasing false hope. People deserved to hear the criticisms of the clinic and antineoplastons. Someone had to redress the balance of uncritical and conspiratorial fawning over Burzynski. I doubted I would, and still doubt I, have any big impact on the clinic or on people opinions about his treatment but morally I couldn’t reconcile myself to staying silent.

You may find this overly dramatic or self aggrandising and perhaps it is to an extent but it is also true.

What happened next I think surprised everyone and now it seems Burzynski has become a by-word in the Skeptic community for those who abuse science and medicine in the name of exploiting the vulnerable. Whether this is deserved or not remains to be seen. But there are those who would suggest Burzynski is damned if ANP work and damned if they don’t. Mostly I am inclined to agree with them.

We have had defences of Burzynski that rely on ANPs efficacy which to my mind means that there are two options given how Burzynski has conducted himself (rejecting a Big Pharma funded and organised conspiracy as nonsensical.):

1. ANPs don’t work and Burzynski, through hubris, incompetence, avarice or a mixture of all three has subjected countless desperate and vulnerable patients with terminal conditions to a pointless treatment for an exorbitant price.

Or

2. ANPs do work and Burzynski through hubris, incompetence, avarice or a mixture of all three has denied thousands of patients worldwide access to this treatment through a stubborn refusal to abide by the process, methods and regulations that everyone else in medical research is ethically and legally bound by.

Does that seem unfair? I don’t think so. Is it as clear cut as that? Morally I fail to see an alternative but scientifically the picture may be slightly blurred. Given ANPs may have some role to play in cancer, but not as a sole treatment rather as an adjunct to support chemotherpay, but even then research from others (focused more on Sodium Phenylbutrate an orphan pro-drug that metabolizes into ANPs) seems to suggest that if we are to be charitable and believe ANPs aren’t useless other, newer drugs are already far better at doing what ANP might do.

What of the incompetence? Well the issues with Burzynskis approach to research we have summarised in a number of previous articles.

We then come to the issue of how Burzynski sells and promotes ANP.

Though this is done at arms length through “independent” sites such as the Burzynski patient group and the Burzynski movie  the clinic recommends these sites to potential patients in their literature. Claims have been made that ANPs are natural and non-toxic that are untrue. Claims have been made that the clinic offers personalised or gene targeted therapies of which Burzynski is a “pioneer” which are also untrue.

As was helpfully pointed out in one of the comments on a previous 21st Floor post about Burzynski these claims are problematic, to say the least, if the clinic wishes to preserve it’s “unique selling point”. Wayne Dolcefino, in defence of the clinic, stated that:

““One other note, I notice people seem to have trouble with my comments about the vast majority of patients are not involved in clinical trials at the clinic. They are not. I am not sure how I can be any clearer.”

As the commentor notes:

This is very clear and, if true, very problematic. This means that Burzynski would be selling patients unapproved therapies outside a trial which is totally illegal. This is true both for “antineoplastons” as well as the convential drugs he is using off label i.e. in contexts not approved by the FDA. In defending Burzynski against his mistreatment of the clinical trial process, this – taken at face value – is an admission of far greater criminality.

The only defence would be that Burzynski is treating his patients with approved drugs for the correct indication. That destroys any claim to be in any way different to a standard, genuine oncologist.

So is it the Skeptic narrative that Burzynski is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t fair?

Regrettably I have to conclude it is. Publishing his results will go someway to settle the debate on whether or not ANPs work but as many have shown this now goes well beyond the simple matter of quack or not. The Burzynski affair has now highlighted a number of issues and problems with the clinic and it’s general practices that also need to be addressed.

It is very hard to believe that something is not rotten in the state of Texas.

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Skeptic News: Man pretends to be possessed to lure girls into sex

Simon Wong Choy on his mobile phone in a white shirtFrom: Asia One

He told the girls that he had supernatural powers and they had to perform sex acts to prove their love for him. The five girls were aged between 12 and 15 then.

Two of them even went on to become his accomplices, helping to coerce other victims into performing these obscene acts.

When he was finally caught and taken to court, he claimed the girls had forced themselves on him. Simon Wong Choy Chuan, 25, was on Wednesday convicted of 10 counts of sexual offences involving minors. His crimes were so extensive that it took the prosecutor nearly half an hour to read out the statement of facts.

When the judge asked Wong if he had anything to say in mitigation, he looked down for a moment before turning to the court interpreter.

“I don’t know what to say, only my mum can speak on my behalf,” he said with a smirk, adding that he had submitted a mitigation letter to the courts.

District Judge Siva Shanmugam pointed out that Wong had claimed in the letter that the victims had forced themselves on him, which was different from what he had admitted to moments earlier.

Wong replied: “I must consult my mother about this since she wrote the letter.”

This is a shocking case of a 25 year old man exploiting teenagers using paranormal persuasion. It is an abuse of powers we can be almost certain don’t exist but this makes it no less of a crime and no less horrible.

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Skeptic News: Measles : Vaccination call after south west Wales outbreak

Close up of a measles rashFrom: BBC News

People who may be at risk of measles are being urged to have the MMR vaccine following an outbreak in south west Wales.

There have been a reported 189 cases of the infection in Swansea and Neath-Port Talbot since November, more than the whole of Wales in the past three years.

Doctors say anybody who is not sure whether they have had measles or been vaccinated should have the MMR jab.

They said there is no upper age limit for the vaccine.

The outbreak so far only affects the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board area, where 32 secondary schools, primary schools and nurseries are affected.

Public Health Wales estimates there are more than 8,500 schoolchildren at risk of measles in the area.

Children who have not had the MMR vaccine will be at most risk many children missed the vaccine in the wake of the now-discredited 1998 report linking the MMR jab and autism when the vaccination rate dropped from 90% to 80%. It is now back to around 92%. Children should receive the first dose of the vaccine at 12 to 13 months of age and the second at three years and four months of age.

Measles can kill and one of the best things you can do to ensure your children are safe from this potentially deadly disease is to vaccinate them.

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Skeptic News: Skeptic awards shortlists announced

SkepAwardsLogoFrom: The Skeptic Magazine

The Ockhams are returning after the first year of the awards saw the nominees below pick up well deserved awards at a ceremony held at QEDcon (which understandably but cruelly doesn’t get to be nominated due to hosting the awards ceremony).

 

Best Science video: Daniel Keogh and Luke Harris for ‘The Strange Powers of the Placebo Effect‘..
Best Skeptical Video: ‘Tim Minchin’s Storm‘, accepted by Robin Ince on behalf of Tim Minchin, Tracy King and D C Turner.
Editor’s Choice: Mike Hutchinson

Best Podcasts

Best Blogs

The nominations for the second annual Skeptic Magazine (UK) has been announced and are as follows:

CATEGORY ONE: EVENTS/CAMPAIGNS

ROBIN INCE
WINCHESTER SCIENCE FESTIVAL
THE HOUSTON CANCER QUACK
SKEPTICS ON THE FRINGE
THE NIGHTINGALE COLLABORATION

CATEGORY TWO: PODCASTS

SKEPTICS WITH A ‘K’
TOKEN SKEPTIC
MONSTERTALK
POD DELUSION
SKEPRECHAUNS

CATEGORY THREE: BLOGS

HAYLEY IS A GHOST
JDC’s STUFF & NONSENSE
QUACKOMETER
DOUBTFUL NEWS

A marvellous selection is available in each choice. The blogging category could only perhaps have been enriched by the addition of a 21st Floor but at the time of nominations we has been taken down by the machinations of Uber Quack Errol Denton. C’est la vie.

Our picks for the awards are as follows:

Best event/campaign:  If we had our way this would be two separate categories with Skeptics on the Fringe taking the event crown and The Nightingale Collaboration taking the campaigning.

Best Podcast:  We would vote for the Token Skeptic this year. Though it is such a strong category it’s hard to pick which one will actually win out. All have a really good chance to win. Though we kind of assume that the Pod Delusion might not get two in a row (not because of quality but because it might not look all that great!)

Best Blog: We reckon the judges will be hard pressed to choose between Hayleyisaghost and the Quackometer.  We suspect they are likely to be chosen over doubtful news, due to it’s short post format, and JDCs blog.

We hope to be able to challenge for the blogging category again next year and all being well perhaps feature in the podcasting too…

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Skeptic News: Randi retraction

James RandiFrom: Doubtful News and Hayley is a Ghost

Doubtful News has posted a statement they received from James Randi in response to comments he made on a JREF swift blog and in an interview with journalist Will Storr for his book Heretics.

The reported statement from Randi is as follows:

“The statement “I’m a believer in social Darwinism,” did not come from me. In fact, I had to look up the expression to learn what was being referred to. This attack appears to be calling me a Nazi, nothing less. I demand that Mr. Storr refer me to the original sources to which we assume he has referred. Until then, I’ll only say that he has carefully selected phrases and statements out of context, not the sort of referencing that I would have expected from him.”

However Hayley Stevens took the time to contact Storr and he played her the interview with Randi over the phone. Her blog on this can be found here.

“when this was published I got in touch with Will to let him know what had been said and that’s when our phone call took place. I listened to the interview being played to me over the phone and I heard James Randi talk about how he believed that those addicted to substances should be allowed to “do themselves in“. He then said ‘I’m a believer in, if you call that Social Darwinism, I would have to generally agree”. There’s a pause and then Storr points out that many would consider such a belief to be a right wing view of other people. The conversation continues.”

Now it would take someone remarkably uncharitable to believe Hayley has any agenda to push against Randi and that her account is anything other than the truth. But no doubt some will take this view. We do not.

We note that Randi has demanded that Storr refer him to the original source of the quotes that he substantiate the claims Randi made and denying he made them.

Hayley notes that Randi could simply have forgotten what he said in the interview or that in the heat of the moment may have said thing he doesn’t mean. But this does not explain the remarkably similar views authored from Randi appearing on the JREFs own swift blog.

What Randi needs to do now is contact Storr listen to the interview and we suspect retract his statements. It may be tempting by many to paint Storr as the bad guy, and it remains possible that he conducted the interview in such a way so as to provoke such an utterance. But that would not excuse denying the utterance is made.

He shouldn’t feel the need to apologise for his political views, no matter how unpalatable they are to many, but the onus is on Randi to listen to the interview and if appropriate retract his denial.

It’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to hold unpalatable views. It is not ok to pretend you don’t.

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