Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ten23, or how I learnt to stop worrying and love Fred's Tripod

“Homeopathy. There’s nothing in it.”
This is the tag line of the Ten23 campaign ( , a campaign to increase awareness about the uselessness of homeopathic medications and the way that practitioners of homeopathic products are scammers, flim-flammers and hood-winkers (or complete morons who actually believe it works).
Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine (known in the sane world as “quackery”) that is based around the ideas of Hahnemanns’s “like cures like” theory and that dilution makes medical preparations stronger.
 The “like cures like” concept was put forward by Samuel Hahnemann, who invented homeopathy,  and means that if a person is suffering from an illness, let’s say a rash, a solution containing an ingredient that can cause a rash, let’s say poison ivy, can cure the rash. Funnily enough, some homeopaths point to vaccines as an example of like curing like, which is an analogy so stupid I won’t even bother refuting it. The dilution making medications stronger concept is just a silly idea to do with water retaining memory of the original active ingredient. But as a 30c dilution, or diluted to 10 billion times the volume of the earth (one of the more common dilutions in homeopathy), most likely doesn’t have any contact with any molecules of the water that were in the first dilution, the chances of contact with the actual ingredient are so low that I’ve got a much higher chance of winning the 2012 Superbowl then a patient actually coming into contact with the ingredient. And even if the water could remember the active ingredient, what about everything else that has been in that water? Poo, even fornicate in it...what is that goin to cure?
So Ten23 is all about making a point about how ineffective homeopathic “medications” are. How do we prove it? We take what should be a lethal amount of drugs as part of a mass overdose. In this case, a particular brand of sleeping tablets is the killer of choice. Here is an accurate recording of the Sydney campaign.
Sunday, February 6th, 2011.
 Botanical Gardens, Sydney.
A group of people from various sceptics groups (myself and others representing the Western Sydney Freethinkers *shameless plug*) gather near the Sydney Opera House entrance to the Botanical Gardens. The group is littered with some of the more infamous bloggers and tweeters, such as @DrRachie, @HappySinger, @BastardSheep, @RatBagsDotCom etc. There are interviews with those who are willing to risk their lives in a heroic manner to make a point. In the distance a ferry bell tolls – is it tolling for we?
The suicidal folk are sheparded into a group where their last words can be recorded for posterity. They all put on their bravest faces, as if staring into the eyes of the Grim Reaper himself and saying “come and get me”. Their last words, almost as if it had been pre-planned, are spoken in unison – “Homeopathy. There’s nothing in it”. Then they each ingest 10-20 times the recommended amount of sleeping tablets.
Some of the brightest stars in the heavens are on the verge of fading....
An hour later and all the would-be suicides are sitting around the pub drinking their own particular brand of alcoholic beverage (a real poison). The overdose has not worked. They all breath a collective sigh of relief.
This article was started 12 hours after I participated in the Ten23 overdose campaign, where I consumed 30 homeopathic sleeping tablets. I am starting to feel tired. Could it be that the tablets are starting to take effect? Is it that I’ve had a few whiskeys and I’m starting to get a little drunk? Is it that I’ve not had much sleep the last few days because my bedroom has been over 30 degrees Celsius at night time? I can’t be sure, so I have left instructions with my family to check on me if they can’t hear me snoring.
Now it’s the morning after. I have either not being killed by the sleeping tablets, or my afterlife is very, very similar to my before life.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I am just going to say this again – HOMEOPATHY!!! THERE’S NOTHING IN IT!!!
See you all later,
The Reverend Dok....wait a minute, I should explain the second part of the post title.
On the train home from the city I was browsing through some of the pictures of the Vancouver Ten23 event, taken by a certain Canadian giant we all know. Well it turns out a certain member of our ragtag group knows this giant apparently a little too well. For the sake of dignity I’m going to refer to this person by a letter, picked randomly by closing my eyes and stabbing my finger at the key board.
So “B” says, with a face of pure innocence, “(Canadian giant) is a tripod”
We all look at each other, trying to hold back the smirks.
“Because he is so tall”
Laughter escapes from us all. “B” spent the rest of the trip hiding her face behind her hands.
Good times, good times.
And that is all now.
See you at the next overdose. May dye my hair black and read crappy poetry beforehand.
The Reverend Doktor Bob

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vaccines - The obligatory blog post for every Sceptic blogger

Vaccines -  What can I say that has not already been said by a million other people?

Nothing. So what I will do is regale you with a couple of personal anecdotes derived from discussions I have had with genuinely concerned parents and batshit crazy antivaxxers.

Anecdote 1

Once, many moons ago, a young lad by the name of Bob was travelling down the broad highway of life with health and illness on each side...sorry about that, I'll tell this properly.  I was working on a ward in a Western Sydney hospital (BTW, I am a nurse) when I was approached by a woman who was obviously pregnant.  She was visiting a sick relative and I assumed she was going to ask me something regarding said relatives condition, to get something, etc.

I was taken back when she asked me, a long haired tattooed overweight MALE nurse, about vaccines. Apparently she due to give birth to her first child in a couple of months and was curious about vaccinations, the risks involved and what she should do about it. As someone who is university educated, trained in critical thinking and scientific research, has a profession caring for the health and wellbeing of people AND spends his spare time hanging out with sceptics debunking silliness, I would be considered as someone who is "unqualified" or "with a personal agenda" by the anti-vaxxer movement and therefore should not be seen by anybody seeking the "truth" about vaccines as a reliable source for information.

My first reaction was to stifle the outburst of "VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN!!!! IF YOU DONT YOU ARE A F#*KING IDIOT!!!!" because this woman was not saying she would not vaccinate, she was asking about vaccinations. So I took a deep breath, relaxed, put a friendly smile on my face and had the following conversation

RevDrBob - "What do YOU know about vaccines?"

Mum2Be - "Well I've read some internet stuff about vaccines and autism, but I thought I would ask some doctors or nurses  before making a decision."

RevDrBob - "Thats the best way to go about these decisions. I can tell you that all the research linking vaccines to autism have been shown to be false and/or flawed studies. The best option would be to talk to a paediatrician, who can supply you with the best information on what vaccines do, what the chances of side effects are, and what can happen if a child is not vaccinated."

Mum2Be - "That is what I have planned to do. There was something on the TV about some people in America, and here, who say that vaccines are bad. Are they doctors?"

RevDrBob - *clears head of thoughts of murder* "Usually they are not doctors. Usually they are parents of children with autism who are looking to blame someone for their child's condition. The few actual doctors who support them are a very small minority of the medical community. You'll hear all sorts of claims such as 'pharmaceutical companies bribe the doctors to give vaccines' or 'there are large amounts of heavy metals in the vaccines'. If you hear these things, I recommend looking up a group on the internet called (insert name of anti-anti-vaxxer group here), and see how those claims are debunked."

The conversation continued along this path for a few more minutes and ended with the woman saying she will talk to her OB/GYN and a paediatrician about vaccines. While I felt she already had the right idea, i.e. talking to a real doctor about vaccines, I couldnt help but feel as if I might have helped that future child to have a greater chance of survival in the harsh reality we call "Life". It makes me feel good inside.

Anecdote 2

 I was at a (unnamed) town fair a few months back when I noticed a 'natural health' stall that had several pamphlets displayed that were advertising Homeopathy, Reiki, Herbal treatments etc. Now to an evidence based medical person such as myself, these are all bad enough. But then I saw the pamhplet for Chelation Therapy (DRAMATIC EVIL MUSIC!!!!).

Chelation Therapy is a legitimate therapy for heavy metal poisoning(1) and iron overload due to transfusions in people who suffer from sickle cell disease(2), among other uses. What it is not good for, however, is curing autism, which is what the pamphlet claimed.

In my research, the only time I have ever found a positive use for chelation therapy for a child with autism was a paper that described a autistic boy who had heavy metal poisoning. The poisoning was not from vaccines, but from lead the boy had ingested because of his pica behaviour(3). One news article from the Journal of the American Medical Association(4) talks about the cancellation of studies into chelation therapy due to unacceptable safety risks, saying that while in one study using rodents showed some increased learning in lead-poisoned animals, it also showed significant long term cognitive impairment.

Anyway, back to my story. I decided to engage the vendors of this stand in a conversation regarding the claims made by the pamphlet. The discussion went back and forth with comments like "You know that doesnt work, right?" and "yes, it does"  to "there is no evidence it works" and "I read about a child in USA who it worked for", so on and so forth. It got around to vaccines, mercury and autism. While I knew I could not sway the opinions of these...purveyors of bullshit...I got louder and louder in my points of discussion, as to be heard by surrounding people and to spike their interest. All my points, while voiced loudly, were evidence based and matter of fact. Then they brought out the big guns...

"You can never be a mother! Mothers know what is best for their child!!!!"

The gates were now open...

Without going into detail, I questioned their claim, referring them to the amount of time spent in research to become a medical professional and inquiring as the source of their research. It ended up with them calling me a child killer, as I am a supporter of vaccinations. I left after a while to peruse other attractions at the fair.

While that "discussion" was my way of releasing stress and making myself feel better by asserting my moral and intellectual superiority over stupid heads, it had an unexpected benefit. A young mother followed me around the fair and caught up to me while I was enjoying some gozleme (mmm...gozleme...) to tell me she had looked at the natural health stall before I arrived. After listening to my discussions from afar, she came to the conclusion that the vendors were not the experts in medical care they claimed to be and that she would be wary about any such people in the future.


anywhoo, thats all from me for this time.

Catch you on the flip side.

The Reverend Doktor Bob


(2) Meerpohl, J. J., Antes, G., Rücker, G., Fleeman, N., Niemeyer, C. M., & Bassler, D. (2010). Deferasirox for managing transfusional iron overload in people with sickle cell disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 8.

(3) George, M.,  Heeney, M. M.,  & Woolf, A, D. (2010). Encephalopathy from lead poisoning masquerading as a flu-like syndrome in an autistic child. Pediatric Emergency Care, 26 (5), 370-373.

(4) Mitka, M. (2008). Chelation therapy trials halted. Journal of American Medical Association, 300 (19), 2236.