Showing posts with label woo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label woo. Show all posts

Monday, 17 March 2014

Flight MH370: Doesn't Supernatural Conspiracy Woo Make It Even Worse?

(source)
So Sunday, a panel on Fox News CNN got tired of doing real journalism and went into woo crackpot supernatural conspiracy mode. I'm sure that just what the friends and families of the missing need to hear.


This part of the discussion is between CNN anchor Don Lemon and Decoded host Brad Meltzer. I've never seen this Decoded program but it seems to be a television version of Coast to Coast which would make it entertaining in very small doses.

There is also, apparently someone from Toronto on the right side but I am unable to identify him.

Brad Meltzer:
That makes it a mystery and mysteries are like any story. A story is not what did happen but what could happen.
Don Lemon:
Brad, I'm glad you bought that up. Because we have been talking about this. I have been getting questions from viewers on social media, though email and even on the streets. Especially today, on a day when we the deal with the supernatural, when we go to church,  the supernatural power of God. You deal with all of that. People are saying to me 'why aren't you talking about the possibility' and I'm just putting it out there, that something odd happened to this plane. Something beyond our understanding. 
Brad Meltzer:
I'm not one of those believers that aliens came down or anything like that...
Oh right, because -- aliens! Pfft! -- that would be completely unreasonable. Supernatural something or other did it is way more plausible. We've got this nice God/Supernatural gap here with no concrete facts! Better fill it in with woo.

Yes, something spooky and supernatural is apparently worth considering here, evidently. What's really ironic to me is that between the ridiculously improbable supernatural cause and the ridiculously improbable alien abduction, the aliens are actually slightly more likely because at least these would not require the introduction of some supernatural realm.

The Wonkette summed this up well:
And Meltzer readily agreed. Oh, sure, “People roll their eyes at conspiracy theories, but what conspiracy theories do is they ask the hardest, most outrageous questions sometimes, but every once in a while they’re right,” he said. And so apparently, we really do have to consider the possibility that something freaky-weird happened, because somehow it’s supposedly unlikely that a 200-foot airplane might be hard to find in a search area comprising thousands of square miles.

Monday, 6 January 2014

5 Ways Parents Abuse Their Autistic Children

Okay, first-off, I need to get one thing off my chest here.

As a blogger, I really cannot stand the formulaic list post that tell you N Ways or N Most or N Best, etc. It brings back horrible memories of those terrible countdown television programmes back when I used to watch it outside the safe confines of Netflix or Crackle.

Okay, so here's an article in Forbes that my wife pointed out to me. Given my utter revulsion at the alternative Autism treatment racket, I cannot help but pass it on. Read the woo and feel sorry for the children.

The 5 Scariest Autism 'Treatments'

This is a really good article that sums these dangerous and abusive treatments up really well. Author, Emily Willingham also provides links to her own scientific demonstrations of just how harmful or insane they are.

I'd quote more from the post but it seems like I'm unable to actually select any text on the page. No matter, I actually manually transcribed this part since so few horrendous treatments still rise up to be surprising to me and this one was one nasty surprise.
2. Chemical castration. Burning off the lining of an autistic child's intestines might seem pretty horrific, but it can pale in comparison to the tragedy that is chemical castration to "treat" autism. I have previously broken down the background of this concept, introduced to the world of autism treatment by the now notorious father-son team of the Geiers. These two, in a 20-year-long run of damage, might now be reaching the end of their particular race. The father has had his medical license stripped in several states. That didn't stop the Geiers père et fils from recently filing a patent for the chemical castration protocol.
How utterly nonsensical and ghastly. Have we fallen back into some kind of eugenic nightmare?

And it hits me at a personal level. Both my son and wife are autistic.

Anyway, go check it out and prepare yourself for the next time you run into someone who's convinced feeding bleach to children or injecting their own feces into their kid's butt is a good idea.

Friday, 13 December 2013

My Manic Mailbag: The Psychics Came Knocking

The Merry Mailman (source)
Few things make me happier as a blogger than receiving emails from readers, or even strangers who are not robots or people trying to scam me into something.

A couple of days ago, I got this interesting message. I'll just say it came from Suzanne but I'll leave out the last name.
Hello, 
I hope you don't mind me contacting you today. I currently work alongside a client who provides psychic readings and clairvoyancy services and came across mysecretatheistblog.com while looking for blogs and websites who may be interested in working with us.
 Ideally we would be looking to feature an article on your website. This could be in the form of either an article written by our professional in house copywriters or one of our specially made collages which our team would put together.
We would also be happy to provide examples of our previous work to assure you that it is up to the standards of your blog. 
If this sounds of interest to you please don't hesitate to contact me. 
Look forward to to hearing from you.
Now there's nothing new with messages like this one, format-wise. In the past year, I've gotten about a half dozen people emailing me to promote their freelance writing. They are always generic writers who research and write about just about anything for anyone. They're usually ready to provide content for free just to expand their exposure and portfolio.

It was the content that intrigued me. It seemed obvious to me that she must be sending this email out to pretty much any blogger out there, but didn't she see the title of my blog? Or was this a computer spamming me and simply inserting my domain name into the e-mail. How sad is that.

I responded to her:
Hi Suzanne, 
Thanks for your e-mail. 
My blog caters mostly to atheists, humanists and the skeptical community. So the only possible "fit" I could see would be an article where the psychic/clairvoyant would be in defense of psychic abilities and services, or addressing why no psychic has been able to win James Randi's $1,000,000 challenge (http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html). I, myself, and many readers, do not believe in claims of psychics and we often see them as either being themselves deluded or (even worse) as being scam artists. 
Hope none of that offended you and I sincerely hope you have a good day!
I sort of hope that my response reaches a human on the other end and they agree to submit a clever post defending psychic powers or volunteering for James Randi's 1,000,000 prize!

Incidentally, I did a little research on Suzanne and it looks like she may have graduated from the clairvoyant program at Psychic Horizons Center in Boulder, Colorado. Okay, it might not be her, just someone with the same name, but there's enough of a coincidence that I'll just throw it in here as a definite possibility.

With this in mind, I have a few questions.

If Suzanne is a clairvoyant or psychic then why must she email me (and presumably others) asking if they would host posts on their blogs? Wouldn't she just know who to go to?

For this twelve-month clairvoyant course at their Center, which costs $2,400 if you pay upfront for the year, does everyone pass? What I mean is, do they have a 100% success rate? If they do not, then I assume they will turn the ungifted ones down at the start of the course and not take their money -- because they would know who's got the gift ahead of time and to take their money would be unethical.

This clairvoyant course will help you!...
  • Receive validation for your clairvoyance
  • Gain conscious awareness of your wisdom as a spirit
  • Learn to attract the job, relationship and peace you’ve always wanted
  • Develop the certainty to communicate what you see
  • Participate in a community of like-minded souls
  • Access the Akashic records
  • Heal yourself and others without giving away your energies
  • Create and maintain healthy boundaries
  • Heal unwanted patterns

Out of all of the graduates of the program, any care to get scientifically tested for the above claims?

From their website.

And I'm not kidding about the graduates of the program. The school itself offers Graduate Classes. The ways you can fritter away your money on woo are manifold. They have "Pealing the Onion, Graduate Training", which might involve some tears, "Teachers Training", "Ministers in Training", "Trance Medium Program" and "One on One Training".

They also have their own Church of Inner Light.

Well, all this has me about has depressed as when I found out Toronto has it's own Homeopathic College. The woo is strong, Luke.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Calgary Mom Let's Sick Son Die: No Excuse Given. Homeopathy "Just Her Belief System"

So here's another story about the perils of alternative medicine after my other post today about homeopathy. Special thanks to the anonymous tipster on that previous post.


THIS is so disgusting that I wouldn't have it any other way. Mother apparently let her seven year old son lie in bed and suffer for ten days before his poor body finally gave up and he died of a perfectly treatable disease - the treatment's been with us for decades.
"The treatment rendered at home was homeopathic in nature. This would include herbal remedies. The mother refused to take the child to a medical professional. No excuse given — just her belief system," said Staff Sgt. Mark Cavilla.
This is more proof that belief systems, when they are not actually grounded in any form of reality, kill innocent children.

And this isn't some crazy religious lot in the US Bible Belt or anything. This is happening right here in Canada in Calgary, Alberta.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Deepak Chopra... My Brain!

Deepak Chopra (source)
I'm sure you've read about this elsewhere -- I believe Jerry Coyne has been interacting directly with him online -- but I've been a little out of touch lately and just ran into these little essays by Deepak Chopra on The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism. I think I can even hear Edward Gibbon rolling in his grave.

I had just collected the first two quanta of Chopra's nebulous work a few days ago.

The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism

The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism - Part 2

Only to be greeted by yet another yesterday.

The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism - Part 3

Goodness! Will he ever end? I'll be referring to these three parts. Just read them in order with me. If I can keep my brain from hemorrhaging long enough to formulate some comments about them in the next few paragraphs then I think we both deserve a cookie.

His first installment isn't so interesting. I guess it's sort of a mise en scène for later on in the series. It starts out with Chopra declaring that skepticism is in a real pickle (because it admits there is no evidence for a god). He slings the requisite amount of muck at Dawkins (it's what everyone's doing these days, you know), and then moves on to an interesting conspiracy theory about how a band of Wiki-terrorists have gained control of Wikipedia and are out to destroy him one edit at a time.
A distressing example has been occurring at Wikipedia, where a band of committed skeptics have focused their efforts to discredit anyone whom they judge an enemy. The problem has been slow to gain traction in the public arena, because Wikipedia has constructed an elaborate set of rules to minimize editorial bias. Ironically, the skeptics have turned these rules, which run to hundreds of pages, to their advantage. They have become so skilled at thwarting anyone who disagrees with their point of view that a small swarm of skeptical editors is capable of outnumbering, bullying, and even banning all those who oppose them.
This looks ugly. I don't know about this. I really haven't been paying attention. However, it's clear that this concerted attack on Deepak and his colleague, Rupert Sheldrake, is threatening Wikipedia itself! Science! Perhaps the world!
Skepticism has gotten itself into a pickle - perhaps something a lot more serious than a pickle - that is undermining its good name. The credibility of Wikipedia may be at stake (see below). 
Really? I mean, really? I took a look at this Wikipedia page on Sheldrake. Apparently, he's debated(?) for the existence of telepathy. Wow.

In the second part of his ever more confusing series, Chopra starts out saying that atheism has clothed itself in science. But that atheism has no scientific basis:
But there's no scientific basis for atheism, since God isn't subject to experimentation.
Checkmate! Atheists!

Okay, listen, there are many things, actually, that are not subject to experimentation -- like everything that doesn't exist!

But this doesn't phase Chopra one bit! He moves on and begins to clothe his own interesting ideas in science himself within a few paragraphs!

But first he gives a couple of zingers like "After all, no scientific discovery was ever made by negative thinking." Since when does scientific discovery require positive thinking? Is this the Secret? Do scientific discoveries hang in the rafters waiting for the scientist to lighten up a little before fluttering down into his brain-box? Come on!

Chopra goes on to mention that the 'standby of the scientific method - gathering objective data to prove objective facts - has been undermined.' 

Objective facts? Do we really have those in science? And is the scientific method gathering objective data to prove these facts? Sounds a little more like cherry-picking to me. How about working on hunches, experimental results, hypotheses and theories? Let's leave the objective facts to mathematicians and logicians.

And this is where we get to his main point, if it can be properly quantized at any finite point in time. It seems to be that Quantum Theory is so gosh darn hard and mystical and stuff that science just cannot get a proper grip on it anymore and we need to save it with a little woo.
  • Quantum theory just killed Science's objectivity!
  • The Uncertainty Principle affects out brains!
  • "The emergence of time and space, either through the Big Bang or at this very moment, remains mysterious. The pre-created state of the universe is a deep mystery." - I have no idea! But it sounds bad!
  • "... if consciousness is more like a field effect than a unique human trait, the universe itself could be conscious, or at least possess the qualities of proto-consciousness, just as DNA possesses the possibility for Homo sapiens even at the stage when life forms were only single-celled organisms." -- I have no idea! Perhaps because science is broken and the uncertainty principle pooched my brains and time and space, so now WHO KNOWS? UNCERTAIN! NO MORE OBJECTIVITY!
Chopra says that these four mysteries basically demolish militant skepticism because science is broken now, or something. Science is now really confused or uncertain so don't bother trying to get any help from it now.

He then tells us how we can fix Science. We need to some of his philosophy! Put down your beakers and atom-smashers and study some ontology or epistemology. And this is when we reach the Holy Mountain of Woo that only Chopra could bring us to. The scene has been set and we are now at the pièce de résistance. Gasp now, my friends, in awe!
The positive pole is located at the horizon of particle physics and cosmology, where figuring out what is real has become urgent business, now that the solid, tangible world of the five senses has been thoroughly undermined. It has become an object of fascinated study to look beyond our perception of space and time, and since the human brain operates in space and time, this new horizon requires sophisticated thinking about thinking itself.
What... the... he.. he.. hell...?


I tried to read the surrounding bits to get more context. I think it has something to do with epistemology.

I think he might be saying that we can just sit down and think really hard -- perhaps with some soft music and a crystal on our heads -- and because we're all part of one big mind, man, the answers will just flutter down into our mind cages.

Okay, I don't have the stamina to go on to part three. Perhaps another time, my friends. I need to lie down now.

Thank goodness Jerry Coyne can keep his mind together long enough to combat this onslaught of nonsensical pseudo-scientific woo-babble. No cookie for me. Just read what he says.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Jenny McCarthy Is Working For Big Tobacco Now

Jenny McCarthy blowing smoke from an e-cigarette that
contains tobacco and anti-freeze.
My four year old son has high functioning autism. So I've heard both sides of the whole Jenny McCarthy MMR vaccines-cause-autism fiasco.

We got our son vaccinated because there is no credible scientific proof that vaccines do cause autism. In fact, the original study that prompted all this was retracted three years ago.

We wanted our child to be vaccinated against diseases that could seriously harm him or even kill him.

Well, now Jenny McCarthy is saying: tobacco good and vaccine bad. Have we just landed back into the 1950s?

Sullivan (Matt Carey) over at Left Brain Right Brain has this excellent commentary:

Jenny McCarthy, shilling for big tobacco

In addition to pure nicotine, the e-cigs contain propylene glycol, which is what Jenny and her anti-vaxer ilk claim to be a cause for concern in vaccines. I understand that newborns aren't going to be smoking e-cigs but it's more than a little ironic. And then there's second hand smoke.
“Propylene Glycol“. That’s a form of antifreeze. A form that has been approved by the FDA for some food uses. Ms. McCarthy and her team falsely claimed that vaccines contain “antifreeze”. It’s scary in vaccines but OK in an e-cigarette. Is propylene glycol scary? No. But there is heavy irony in her promoting a product using an antifreeze after using this term (falsely) as a scare tactic about vaccines.
Go read it and prepare to be infuriated.

Editor's Note 2013-08-12: Here's another excellent article at the Globe and Mail: Why there’s nothing sexy about Jenny McCarthy’s e-cigarette commercial


Editor's Note 2013-08-12: I realized that I added "second hand smoke" which may actually not be nearly as bad as regular cigarettes. The science still hasn't been done on this yet so nobody really knows.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

A Plea To Autism Theorists: Test Your Theories! But Should It Be Them Doing The Testing?

Bottle of Household Bleaching Solution.
Some of you may remember reading my posts about the epidemic of outright quackery in the autism community. Eventually, I just got fed up with the extreme level of woo when it comes to untested treatments of autism out there: In Need of Woo-Less Help For Parents of Autistic Children.

Here is my rant.
Then there is the insane den of woo that is Autism One.  It decks itself out as being a legitimate scientific convention and forum for parents to have access to the latest in therapies.  But it turns out to be a forum for self-serving entrepreneurs to peddle unscientific, abusive and dangerous so-called treatments for Autism. Downright dangerous woo. 
But what's my point here?  My point is, it would be nice to have an organization out there to help support parents of children with Autism who are skeptical and rational.  Those of us who are not prone to jump onto the woo and religious bandwagons and for whom these crutches that people often reach for in times of utter desperation are no better than smoke and mirrors. 
Fellow skeptics, humanists and atheists, lend me your ear.  Does such a group exist?
Well, there is a similar sentiment in a recent article by Andrew Whitehouse, professor Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia.

Dear autism theorists, please stump up or shut up

For anyone else out there who doesn't know, stump up means to unwillingly pay for something. Essentially, it means pay your dues.

Like what I've been saying, much of the woo seems to be sincerely believed by its providers. There is an extreme desperation by loving parents and sympathetic people to find proper treatments for autistic children. Often, the mainstream medical community - the faces of which are doctors who are often improperly educated concerning autism - have unwittingly stood in their way.

My wife had to fight for two years with health professional after health professional until she was able to find a trained psychologist who could even diagnose our son's condition. And then there are the endless lines for government provided therapies that force us to seek out private providers.  It's no wonder parents of autistic children often give up hope in science based medicine as they watch their children's development flag and fall behind their peers, as they stand hopelessly while the window of optimal treatment opportunity closes before them with each passing day. It's not medical science itself, it's the implementation - the machine - that is at fault.

Whitehouse points out this problem. The problem of woo.
Taking autism as an example, there exists theories that vaccines, wi-fi, electronic media, and milk, cause the disorder. We also have people claiming that diet changes, bowel bleaching, and homeopathy can ‘cure’ the condition. 
All of these theories are scientifically unproven.
Like me, Whitehouse has serious problems watching families be worn down with untested treatment after treatment. Some waste thousands into unproven pseudo-science.
It is troubling to see families believe theory after theory, and try treatment after treatment, in the hope that these may help their child. It’s distressing to see hopes dashed time and again, but only after significant amounts of money has been expended. The needless drain on the energy, time and emotional capital of families breaks just about every code that we, as health practitioners and researchers, stand for when we seek to help those in need.
Whitehouse then offers a challenge - test your scientific theories.
But what people must do is test their theories. It is no longer acceptable to begin and end with the proposal of a theory. If you have a theory, then scientifically test it.
I agree completely with the sentiment! Believe me, these theories need to be either scientifically demonstrated or clearly shown to have no benefit whatsoever. And our family has even taken up this approach by limiting our intake of gluten - both parents and child.

But I understand that my little experiment is not a scientific study.
Here’s my challenge to those who have a theory: scientifically test your theories, or stop promoting them.
Again, I agree with the principle. But I would be very careful to qualify this appropriately. I would wager that the majority of people promoting alternative autism treatments actually do believe they are being scientific! Like the person who believes in scientific evidence of his daily God-affirming experiences, many of these people are also likely to be feeding off their own subjective confirmation biases and do not possess a firm enough grasp on the nuts and bolts of proper scientific method to truly do meaningful scientific research.

Remember, not eating wheat is one thing - that kind of scientific (or rather anecdotal) experimentation is rather harmless. It's when the stakes are even more high - when the experiment could be seen as abusive to any ethics committee, that we run into a serious problem.

Like when parents poison their children with bleach, or when they inject their children's anuses with their own fecal matter, or when they stop vaccinating them and compromise heard immunity.

Scientists should be doing the real science. But I'm also all for parents experimenting with alternate remedies. My only concern is with the stakes so high, with emotions of desperation so strong, who will serve as their objective ethics committee?  Who will be there to make sure they don't go too far?


Children standing in front of Kasese Humanist Primary School.
I've started a fundraiser to help build classrooms on newly purchased land for the Kasese Humanist Primary School.

Please consider donating!

Build a Humanist School in Uganda!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Hold The Phone: More Interesting Remarks From Yet Another Autism Foundation Head In Turkey

While trying to find the contact information for Fehmi Kaya, who claimed atheism is a form of autism, I just ran into more exciting insight into the state of autism understanding in Turkey.

Autistic children not atheists, go directly to heaven: Foundation head

I'm really not sure what the headline has to do with the contents of the article which seems a bit muddled.
All children with Down syndrome will directly go to heaven according to Islam, the director of an autism foundation said April 24 ...
This is coming from the head of the Anatolia Autism Foundation, Burhan Özfatura. I don't know what that has to do with autism. It looks like either he or the reporter is confounding autism with down syndrome - two completely different things. This doesn't bode well.

Özfatura also says this:
“Someone with very basic religious knowledge knows that there is a concept called ‘pubescent intelligence.’ In other words, the condition that the mind reaches a determined level is sought. All these children will directly go to heaven, according to the Islamic faith,” the head of the Anatolia Autism Foundation, Burhan Özfatura, said during a partnership protocol between the association and Aegean University in İzmir. 
Uhm, what does this have to do with autism or science in general? This seems like an exercise in religion to me. Are there any scientists working on the whole autism thing in Turkey? Could I possibly get any more depressed about this?
Özfatura, a former politician who served twice as mayor of İzmir, said Kaya’s remarks could not be taken seriously. “We don’t want to popularize [Kaya] more than that. If they take the most basic manual of Islamic faith and read it, they will see that it in detail,” he said.  
Yeah, that Kaya guy is such a quack with all his outlandish theories about autism that do not conform with even the most basic manual of Islamic faith. What a pseudoscientist. Unbelievable. But Özfatura doesn't appear to have any real credentials for his job either. He appears to be a politician.

What scientific basis does this have at all? If this is what the experts on autism are talking about in Turkey than I'll stay here in Canada to have my son helped, thank you very much.

And what does any of this have to do with atheists? Perhaps autistic children actually have down syndrome and so they go to heaven while atheists do not? I'm so confused.

But maybe I've got all this wrong? If anyone knows how, please enlighten me.

Editor's Note: It just occurred to me that 'Down Syndrome' could be a mistranslation from the original Turkish. If anyone can help me out with this it would be fantastic.

Turkish Sociologist Who Declared Link Between Atheism And Autism Apologizes (Sort of)

So around a week ago, I posted about Turkish sociologist Fehmi Kaya, head of the Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children who made the crackpot declaration that all autistic children are atheists and that atheism is actually a form of autism. Ironically, I was too busy today bringing my atheist son (un-indoctrinated) to an interview at a special school for autistic children to comment on the latest developments in this sad story, but here it is now.

Turkish Sociologist Fehmi Kaya Apologises For Suggesting Link Between Atheism And Autism

Right, so I think The Huffington Post left out the word NON from the front of Apologises in their headline, because if any apology exists there than it must be an absolutely perfect specimen of the genus non-apologetica. I'm sure the apology botanist readers will agree with me once forage through the article and present to you what's not merely rehash of previous reports.

Wikepedia has this to say about non-apologies:
A non-apology apology is a statement that has the form of an apology but does not express the expected contrition. It is common in both politics and public relations. It most commonly entails the speaker saying that he or she is sorry not for a behavior, statement or misdeed, but rather is sorry only because a person who has been aggrieved is requesting the apology, expressing a grievance, or is threatening some form of retribution or retaliation. 
An example of a non-apology apology would be saying "I'm sorry that you feel that way" to someone who has been offended by a statement. This apology does not admit that there was anything wrong with the remarks made, and additionally, it may be taken as insinuating that the person taking offense was excessively thin-skinned or irrational in taking offense at the remarks in the first place.
Now, observe exhibit #1:
The comments have caused a media storm in the country, with Turkish autism charities condemning the statement.
“This is a statement that could upset around 3.5 to 4 million people." 
Adem Kuyumcu, A Life Without Disabilities Association chairperson, told bianet: "We can't sue the association chair for his remarks, but we fear that the unscientific therapy practice could spread across the country," he said.
This demonstrates that his remarks are unfortunate in that they caused a veritable shit-storm of controversy across the country and drew some very negative international attention towards Turkey as well. This media shit-storm is key characteristic #1 in the formation of any good non-apology.

Observe exhibit #2:
Kaya, whose organisation is based in the southern Turkish city of Adana, said in a statement, intended for broadcast on Turkish television, that his remarks had been taken out of context, but apologised to families he had offended.
Notice how he isn't admitting he was wrong in any way or that he was doing anything wrong or misguided. He is only apologizes to families he had offended. This is classic non-apology makeup. I'm sorry what I said offended anyone. Now perhaps his words were taken out of context and we was misrepresented. But I see no alteration in his original course. The Huffington Post re-iterates his plans to  treat autism with a little good-ol' churchin'.
He explained plans for his organisation to hold sessions to help autistic children embrace religion, set to begin in June, according to Hürriyet.
The articles gives a couple of good follow-up comments from president of Atheist UK psychologist Mark Embleton and Carlos Diaz, president of the Atheist Alliance International. It ends to a link to a 2011 University of Boston study suggesting a higher propensity towards atheism amongst high functioning autistics. This is an intriguing study, but I have yet to hear of any other collaborating studies.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Turkish Sociologist: All Autistic Children Are Atheists And Atheism Is A Form Of Autism

Fehmi Kaya
Okay, so everyone knows I'm an atheist.  The blog title gives that one away. But some of you may not know I have a son with autism. So, this next story fires so many triggers on an emotional level with me that I'm really not sure where to begin.

All autistic children are atheists and atheism is a form of autism, says association head

This gem comes from the Hürriyet Daily News in Turkey.

It seems that sociologist Fehmi Kaya, who's the head of the Adana’s Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children is convinced that autistic children are “atheists due to a lack of a section for faith in their brains.”  He went even further and diagnosed atheism as a form of autism.

This, naturally, caused a great deal of outrage among autism associations around Turkey. Now, I find it outrageous because there appears to be no credible scientific study to back it up.  And if it is true that people with autism are statistically more likely to be atheists, then what's the problem?  In this sense they likely see the world more clearly than many neurotypical people who's brains seem to fall prey to superstitious mumbo jumbo.

But I suspect many people in Turkey (and pretty much everywhere outside of Sweden) find it downright threatening.  Because being identified as an atheist there is unlikely to help anyone who already has the sufficiently burdensome challenges of being on the spectrum or caring for someone who is autistic.  It's more than likely going to compound any problems you would already have navigating the healthcare system trying to find plausible treatments.
“The message I wished to give was not about autism and atheism, but to highlight that these children cannot communicate, cannot form empathy, live in their own worlds and are isolated. I meant that we should take them out of their isolation with proper therapy methods,” he said.
So these autistic kids (aka atheists), cannot form empathy and live in their own worlds.  Apparently a belief in god - faith - is an essential component for this. Teach them to believe in god and their empathy points will go through the roof.  Sure, we've all seen that play out over and over again ever since the Old Testament genocides.

But if there is anything that makes us human is the humane in all of us. The ability of empathizing with others forms the very bedrock of many ethical theories out there.  It makes me wonder a little what Kaya thinks about atheists.

He goes on to say that faith is a normal development in neurotypical children, while children on the spectrum are not aware of why people believe and so, like people with a hearing disability. And apparently what we need is proper therapy methods.

Kaya's solution to this problem? Brainwash the children until they share the same delusions as normal children.
Kaya also said they would turn autistic children into believers through sessions that would be offered for free at therapy centers in the future.  
The sessions, which have been confirmed by the Culture Houses of Adana’s Yüreğir Municipality, are set to start in June and will be able to serve over 30 children. The same houses will also offer further therapy sessions for children with disabilities. 
The story ends with Kaya asserting “every child understands when you tell him or her to fear God, but an autistic child will not.” So, naturally, one must brainwash the child and force this fear into them.  Because everyone knows that anyone who doesn't believe in a god and fear him is abnormal.

This is nothing new of course.  I cannot count the number of times I've heard people say that the cure to all our woes is belief in Jesus Christ.  He's essentially suggesting putting autistic children into churches. Here it's likely to be a belief in the prophet Muhammed.
“Once he starts to develop normally, belief will come in time. "
So... angry... so... angry...

The autism community is known here in North America for being soaked with woo.  It can range from the mildly amusing - hyperbaric oxygen treatment - to the downright criminally harmful: anti-vaxers and people who force their kids to drink bleach or injecting their butts with fecal matter.  But, truly, this takes the cake.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Secular Humanist: 1, Witchdoctor: 0.

Malawian Secular Humanist George Thindwa
"A traditional medical practitioner in the central region district of  Dedza who declared his capabilities to bewitch Association for Secular Humanism (ASH) Executive Director, George Thindwa, had his soft belly exposed when he shunned him this week."

Link: Malawi humanist Thindwa confronts man who threatened to bewitch him: Herbalist refuses to avail himself

I'm not real certain what the soft belly thing means, but the news out of Malawi is that Secular Humanist George Thindwa has neatly won his showdown against witchdoctor Masiyambuyo Njolomole who is also president for Dedza Herbalists Association.  The witchdoctor failed to show himself after having accepted Thindwa's open one million kwacha challenge to anyone who could bewitch him.
He claimed he had made attempts to discuss his bid with Thindwa through phone but he was chickening out. 
However, in a twist of events, the traditional healer lost his nerve when Thindwa came to Dedza to meet him on Wednesday.
Thindwa, who appears to be a rather large man, apparently stormed the Malawi News Agency offices looking for Masiyambuyo and the reporter who wrote the article about the planned showdown.  I wish I was there to see that, it must have been like something out of a movie!

It turns out the witchdoctor was afraid Thindwa may have plotted something against him and that he needed a guarantee of safety before doing the showdown.  Perhaps he was afraid his magic would not work against such a strong force field of reason and skepticism.

Thindwa has over ten people casting spells on him so far, with no ill effects whatsoever.

Thindwa is the Executive Director of the Malawi Association of Secular Humanism.  His organization recently received a half-million dollar grant from the Norwegian government to combat the harmful effects of the belief in witchcraft in the country.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

In Need of Woo-Less Help For Parents of Autistic Children

(source)
I don't usually complain about my personal life on this blog, but today was rough, really rough.

Both my wife and I likely picked up a bad cold from our son, who has apparently completely gotten over the one that's been dogging him over the past week.

His cold has been responsible for much lost sleep for us and him both but today he was fine and we're entering into the worst of our own infections.  It's a den of plague and suffering at the household this weekend.

To make things a little worse, my son is on the Autism Spectrum.  We love him dearly, but it can be a real challenge to our nerves dealing with him sometimes.  Just imagine the usual battle of wills and arguments that three year olds present on steroids. And he's full of near-hyperactive energy and bored while we're having a hard time keeping our eyes open. Today was a test of will.  For a brief moment I thought of the support groups out there an how parents who believe in a god cope.  Is it easier for them?

A simple search for autism and prayer brings up Autism Sunday which we just missed by a couple of weeks.
Autism Sunday, also known as the International Day of Prayer for Autism and Asperger syndrome, is observed annually on the second Sunday of February.
This seems like a fairly innocuous event.  Although the prayer achieves nothing whatsoever, it's nice to know people are at least meditating on the problem and focusing in on it.  One can only hope that some people take the next step and do something substantial rather than believing a simple prayer is enough.

But then things start taking a turn for the worse with this article at Pat Robertson's 700 Club, MIRACLE Indonesian Boy Healed of Autism.
"I thanked God because He was starting to heal William," Hilda says crying. "I was so joyful. He began to understand when we would call him. And when we would ask him his colors, he answered correctly." 
William quickly progressed to the point where he was able to attend a regular school with children his age. God had healed him of autism!
I'm happy to hear this boy is doing better now, but what does this do for others with this problem? If only God could be a more effective cure for all those other children with Autism.  I guess he works in mysterious ways.  At the end of the day, it's woo.

Then there's the Child of Destiny website.
JACK AND REBECCA SYTSEMA are both ordained Christian ministers who have been involved in international prayer ministry since 1993. They have also been involved with many autism groups over the past several years.
On their page Autism Strategic Prayer Network, they call upon people to pray daily to get God to help scientists out in finding cures and treatment strategies.
Because we believe so strongly in the power of prayer, we at Children of Destiny are now working to compile a list of people who feel called to pray for what is going on in the autism world. This network of people, who will be known as the Autism Strategic Prayer Network (ASPN), would be receiving periodic, as well as emergency, emails asking for prayer for important issues, events, and occurrences related to autism. 
Our goal in forming the ASPN is to identify and network intercessors who feel particularly called to pray at this level, and to make a significant impact in the world of autism through the power of prayer. The three main prayer objectives we focus on are:

1. That any and all causes of autism be exposed and recognized by those in authority so that the epidemic of autism is stopped;
 
2. That God would give strategy for how to best help those with autism medically, educationally, and spiritually; 
3. Those who are affected by autism would have all the necessary medical, educational, and spiritual resources available to them.
I know, I know.  What kind of lousy messed up God would even bring Autism into this world and why would he need such insistant prodding?  But I am not tempted to point out what a dick head he is.  Instead, I can only see that, as Christian ministers, this is what they have to lean on for comfort and support.  This is their support network when things get tough.  Of course it doesn't help and does nothing concretely for their goal, but it's not about that.  It's about community and shared suffering and challenges.  It's a shame it has got to have so much woo.

Then there is the insane den of woo that is Autism One.  It decks itself out as being a legitimate scientific convention and forum for parents to have access to the latest in therapies.  But it turns out to be a forum for self-serving entrepreneurs to peddle unscientific, abusive and dangerous so-called treatments for Autism. Downright dangerous woo.

But what's my point here?  My point is, it would be nice to have an organization out there to help support parents of children with Autism who are skeptical and rational.  Those of us who are not prone to jump onto the woo and religious bandwagons and for whom these crutches that people often reach for in times of utter desperation are no better than smoke and mirrors.

Fellow skeptics, humanists and atheists, lend me your ear.  Does such a group exist?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Woo Stops Being Funny When Parents Feed Their Autistic Kids Bleach

Kerri Rivera, with baby bottle in hand and bleach in another
hand.  This is a situation that should never happen.
Awhile back I wrote about how my wife and I attended our very first Autism conference here in Montreal: Autism in Motion 2012.  Emotions were still raw with me and I found the whole thing rather emotional.  I can be a real gushy dude.

There was some woo-based quackery there too, which I found at best comical and at worse a supreme waste of money:

Not Enough Time to be a Skeptic? (Part I: Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment)

Not Enough Time to be a Skeptic? (Part II: Far Out Sunny Chi Machines).

It was all a little silly and far out but I didn't feel the children were at any life-threatening risk.  Guard your pocket books.

Well, yesterday my wife pointed me to an alternative healing approach that's been making the rounds with parents of autistic children: Miracle Mineral Supplement or MMS for short.  It turns my stomach - it's really sad.
... an aqueous solution of 28% sodium chlorite in distilled water. The product contains essentially the same ingredient as industrial-strength bleach before "activation" with a food-grade acid. The name was first coined by Jim Humble in his 2006 self-published book, The Miracle Mineral Solution of the 21st Century. A more dilute version is marketed as Chlorine Dioxide Solution (CDS).
Sound like bleach to you?  Read on, if you can even bear it.
When citric acid or other food acid is used to "activate" MMS as described in its instructions, the mixture produces an aqueous solution containing chlorine dioxide, a potent oxidizing agent used in the treatment of water and in bleaching. The director of the New South Wales Poisons Information Centre has stated that using the product is "a bit like drinking concentrated bleach" and that users have displayed symptoms consistent with corrosive injuries, such as vomiting, stomach pains, and diarrhea. Sodium chlorite, the main constituent of MMS, is a toxic chemical that can cause acute renal failure if ingested.
Yes, it's bleach.  And people are feeding their autistic children this stuff.  Little kids.

And who should give a major talk at Autism One, but Kerri Rivera.  She advocates the poisoning of autistic children - the very children who will have the least ability to communicate their pain and suffering.  She suggests bleach enemas and putting drops of bleach into baby bottles - ramping the dosage up slightly every day.  She even suggests giving the child the bleach at least 15 minutes before or after their meals.   She recommends that they discount a treatment and try again if the child should eat food.  Heaven forbid the effects of the bleach be lessened by food.

It's all explained in this video I got from a newly favourite blog Science Based Medicine by blogger David Gorski (PhD) in a post called Bleaching Away What Ails You.  His post goes into disgusting, yet necessary, detail about this evil practice.


Video streaming by Ustream

This makes me angry and sick to my stomach.  I do believe this woman needs to be locked up.

And here's the really tragic part.  Back when I went to the Montreal Autism in Motion conference I saw a lot of desperate parents.  People who were yearning for a cure to this mysterious disease and I admitted that there is real pressure as a parent not to wait for the scientists to do their studies.  These people have given up on science - and hence reality.  They have fallen into an alternate universe with its own science.

Don't get me wrong!  I am human and I am a father of an autistic child.  And I saw Lorenzo's Oil and I wept out loud.  We've even cut down on wheat and gluten-based foods in the house and have observed some apparent improvement.

Yes, I get it!  Science may lag behind some miracle cure discovered by parents.  But parents who make their children drink bleach and force them to have bleach enemas have reached such a level of pure reckless deluded desperation  that they have lost their grip on reality.  At this stage, the children are being physically abused and they need to be removed from their parents - who in turn, require counselling and psychological assessment.

No Room For Humour Here - Picking Your Battles

Like the rest of pseudoscience and woo, there exists here an entire parallel culture that has its very own science and scientific vernacular.  They have their own conferences, health centers and professional titles and degrees.  It's really amazing and one could easily get lost in it.

This brings me to the skeptical community.  I'm all for debunking UFOs and Bigfoot.  I'm with you on your criticism of crystals, ghost hunting and palm reading.  But may I suggest picking your battles?

If there is some things we should really be mobilizing against it's this kind of woo.  The dangerous kind where well-meaning parents are poisoning their children while making quacks rich.  I'm not saying this is the only noble cause.  I can think of others: female (and male) circumcision, rejected blood transfusions and anti-vaxers to name a few.  

These causes have real social impact and they can make a real difference for children and the vulnerable.

But it's just a suggestion.

Picking The Right Battles Can Give You More Allies

Put yourself, for a moment, outside the skeptic movement into the mainstream outside-world.  Imagine watching a war brewing over magical crystals, Bigfoot, aliens and ghosts.  At best you would agree with the skeptics but the whole thing would seem a little comical - a little trivial.

Now imagine a skeptic community pointing out the danger of quack treatments such as MMS and the anti-vaccination crowd.  Bridges could be built with other groups - even religious groups - and much could be achieved.  Much mutual understanding and respect could be generated in the process.

I'm not saying we give up trying to educate people about homeopathy and alien abductions.  It's just that people are injecting bleach into the mouths and anuses of their own children and this makes me more angry than I can bear.


So I'll admit I'm new to this information.  Other folks in the community have done a brilliant job covering it:





Actually, I'm not even sure how much is being done in the skeptic community to counteract this insanity - not that it's their job or anything.  I don't mean to sit back and whine while doing nothing myself and expect others to pick up the aegis for me. My apologies, I'm still getting over my own emotional response to hearing about this horrendous practice.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Gluten

Back in August, while writing about the occasional near-charlatanism and general wooery found at the fringes of Montreal's first Autism convention, (which was otherwise fantastic), I made a sort of confession:
We are also moving toward a more gluten free diet.  It's something I heard works but there is no scientific evidence.   We are not considering a move towards elimination of casein.  Of course, there is no real scientific motivation for choosing one, both or neither.
We did this partially for ourselves - as an experiment - but mostly for our three-year old son who is on the spectrum.

The response I got from the Atheist and skeptical community was surprisingly understanding - not as angry as I was afraid of it being.

Well, it's been around three months now that I've been mostly gluten-free and we've stopped feeding our son products that contain wheat.  He's still eating kamut-based bread but no enriched flour or other wheat products.

It's surprisingly easy in Canada to do this - there is plenty out there that we can use and I'm confident my family is not missing out on nutrition.  However, my wife and I sometimes still break the rules and my son still gets fed regular pasta at daycare.

I'll have to say that I've noticed a difference, both when off the gluten and when I backslide back into it.         Wheat seems to put me into a daze for some reason - perhaps it's the caloric spike?  I'm pretty sure there may be something here but there is nothing scientific to back it up and it all could be placebo and other things.

There are also days - like yesterday - where we find our son zoning out, stimming, humming, eye rolling and head smashing much more than usual.  Basically going nuts more than usual.  So we ask ourselves, is there anything different about today?  With his routine or diet? And sure enough, we gave him regular Cheerios that morning and the morning before to get rid of them.  He ate them with great gusto where he hadn't been eating them before.

I realize this is merely anecdotal evidence.  There is nothing scientific here.  But we can't help but notice this.  And trust me, if even the mere illusion of a calmer environment is attainable from a simple change of diet then we will try it - as do many other parents of autistic children.  We want to do what works because things can become exhausting very quickly otherwise.

But the skeptic in me still feels a little dirty here.  Have I sold out to woo?  Are vibrating crystals next?

I would like to think that my redeeming grace here is that I know there is no scientific proof currently backing any of this up.  I have a little hope and it seems to do something for us - even if it's a placebo of some kind.  But I do not know that it's really effective and therefore I do not have faith in anything per se.

The last thing I would want to do is foist this diet upon anyone else.  And I realize that there is no scientific basis for it.  But in the end - it seems to be doing something positive for the family.

Perhaps my son's gut doesn't need to work as hard to digest non-wheat products - he was tested for celiac disease but came out false, but maybe he has some kind of intolerance that agitates him and this behaviour is how it manifests.  Or perhaps it's a shared project between my wife and me that gives us some sense of control over the situation and the calming effect of this changes our moods and is picked up by our son and, in turn, calms him?  Who knows?

All anyone knows is the science has not yet found that gluten or wheat-free diets improve the lives of autistic children and their parents.  And until it shows otherwise, what I'm doing is merely an experiment with no scientific basis.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Sylvia Browne Is Coming to Towne! (Maybe the audience needs more skeptics!)

Mark it on your calendars folks!  Sylvia Browne will be up here in Canada during her whirlwind 50th Anniversary Tour that will wrap up with four days in Tucson Arizona!  If you don't live in British Columbia, Alberta or Saskatchewan then I'm afraid you're out of luck - maybe it just wasn't in your stars.

Just to clarify things - I don't believe she has any powers - she is using cold reading and taking her audience for a ride.

Tickets are already sold out in a lot of venues I checked out.

So why am I apparently promoting this?  I think it would be highly amusing if a whole pack of skeptics descended on these shows and challenged her opening during her shows.

Although you would be supporting a high degree of woo I think it would be funny if a large block of skeptics bought tickets to see the show and made their presence known with amusing tee-shirts or faux baloney detector kits.  Maybe they could even give her a hard time in one of her cold reads.

Remember, this is the same Browne that was convicted of fraud.

And she accepted the James Randi $1,000,000.00 challenge on Larry King Live back in 2001 (only to chicken out of it later).

Information courtesy of: http://www.goddiscussion.com/101420/browne-50-tour/

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Not Enough Time to be a Skeptic? (Part II: Far Out Sunny Chi Machines)

Pictured above is a hyperbaric chamber.  The woman below
is lying with her pelvis inside a FAR Infrared Dome and her
feet are relaxing on the Sun Acon Chi Machine.  It all looks
very futuristic to me - if your idea of futuristc is also 
the gadgets seen on Space 1999.  Both pictures are from
pamphlets found in my swag bag from a conference on 
Autism a few weeks ago
A few weeks ago I attended my first Autism conference here in Montreal - which also happened to be the conference's first year.  In my first post covering the conference I go over some of my (overall positive) impressions of the conference.  I then get into describing some of the rather costly woo that was more or less preying on vulnerable parents there.

In that first post I wrote about hyperbaric medicine.  I also left the two very futuristic devices pictured on the bottom half of the post's leading photo for a future post.  I believe I wrote that I'd get to it next week.  Well, that's what you get for making promises you cannot ever hope to keep.


The FAR Infrared Dome

I'm unsure if this is the official website for this device or not but it was all I could find on Google.  For now I'll concentrate on the pamphlet.

It starts out appropriately enough with "DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD?"  Once that's got your attention the first statement is the rather impressive sounding:

Health Canada has given issuance 
to a Class 2 medical device 
that may now help your child deal with...
ADHD/ADD/Autism
Anxiety
Cerebral Palsy
Learning Disabilities
Down Syndrome

Let's start by defining some parameters.  The intended audience are parents with special needs children who are in some fashion developmentally delayed.

And what's the stated benefit of the treatment?  It's not to cure the conditions but to help the child deal with the conditions.

Also note the upfront statement of their credentials.  This dome is apparently a Class 2 medical device.

So what is a Class 2 Medical Device in Canada?  I found it challenging to find a really clear answer to this question.  In the end this site was the best I could do.  It explains how class 2 devices are inspected for quality of construction, safety and effectiveness.  Now I'm not really sure what they mean by effectiveness.  You'd think doctors everywhere would be pointing us parents of autistic kids to these machines if they really worked.

So  how would I go about getting this certification and how much would it cost?  I found the application form on a Government of Canada website.
The fee for the review of a licence application or a request for the reinstatement of a licence is $357. The payment must be included with the licence application.
Oh, that's expensive, eh? And I can see all the Medical Device classifications the company got in Canada here.

I suppose it could qualify for class 2 in that it effectively subjects the human to infrared waves without harming them and the machines are put together in a reasonably sturdy fashion.  But I suspect that this classification doesn't guarantee the machine will actually successfully treat or cure anything.

At any rate, here's a page that seems to claim FAR infrared basically treats everything.   Here's an extract under the rubric Dentistry:
Dr. John Tate, DDS, says, “I have used the FIR dome with over fifty high risk surgical cases without complication or dry sockets on 92% of the patients. The dome is placed over the patient in my office a half hour before surgery and then a half hour after surgery to promote an immune response. The patient then takes the dome home and applies the technology at home for two hours a day for the next three days. They get what we call complete healing. The macrophages produce collagen necessary to stimulate the fibroblasts, and the tissue of the fibroblasts then will stimulate the osteoblast, which is bone. That is where the bone forms - and it starts in the first three days - but it takes about six months for complete healing. The two main cells we need in dentistry and in surgery around the bone area are the macrophages and the neutrophils.” (which are activated by far infrared heat).
“The macrophage is called the “pac man” of the immune system. The macrophage is a cell that engulfs and digests microorganisms. Everything starts with the macrophage - “macro” meaning big and “phage” meaning eater. So we have a big eater here. The tentacle on the macrophage grabs the staphylococci and a bacillus rod, and that macrophage extends a pseudo paw to get the bacteria that is now invading our blood!”
You know, I guess I didn't pay enough attention in biology class.  The whole page sounds a little fishy to me but I just don't have the knowledge to even know where to begin.

But take a look at the very last paragraph:
The data presented herein is offered for reference purposes only and to stimulate further observation. No implication of Infrared to cure or treat any disease is implied nor should it be inferred.
Well then, I guess I'll just disregard the whole page.   At any rate, what I don't find in this page in any mention of Autism or other conditions.

But there are plenty more out there.  Most of them mention the treatment helps purge toxins in the body that either cause Autism or worsen the condition.  I suppose the infrared rays from the dome detoxify the blood which in turn helps autistic children.

From www.get-fitt.com:
Children with Autism are Poor Detoxifiers 
Children with autism often test positive for heavy metals and other chemicals which can disrupt the delicate balance of the intestinal flora. The result is unfriendly bacteria, viruses and fungus can flourish causing such problems as leaky gut and Candida to name but a few. This can result in gluten from wheat or Casein from milk entering into the blood stream inducing opiate like effects.Far Infrared treatment eliminates toxins on a cellular level stimulating cellular repair and healing.
To be countered by Wikipedia's article on Chelation therapy as a treatment for Autism:
Based on the speculation that heavy metal poisoning may trigger the symptoms of autism, particularly in small subsets of individuals who cannot excrete toxins effectively, some parents have turned to alternative medicine practitioners who provide detoxification treatments via chelation therapy. However, evidence to support this practice has been anecdotal and not rigorous. Strong epidemiological evidence refutes links between environmental triggers, in particular thimerosal containing vaccines, and the onset of autistic symptoms. No scientific data supports the claim that the mercury in the vaccine preservative thiomersal causes autism or its symptoms, and there is no scientific support for chelation therapy as a treatment for autism.
It's a little hard for me to take this seriously.  But it's such
a serious situation that I can see how people would.
You see.  That's two leaps I must make.  First that the dome actually detoxifies these toxins and second that these toxins are actually the problem to begin with - something the Wikipedia article dismantles!

But I'll have to admit that the boosters of this technology are so prominent and loud on the web that I nearly found it impossible to find very much skeptical or really credible material out there.  Is this an accepted treatment for Autism?  There are whole centers devoted to this treatment with doctors' offices and lab coats.  It all sound so official.  But if this is truly legitimate then why aren't we being directed to these treatments by health professionals?

The woo on this has reached a near deafening din.  Truly, I don't blame anyone for believing this is legitimate medicine.  After all, the pamphlet says it's proven technology - although it doesn't actually say how it is supposed to work at all.

But I did find some skeptical voices out there - floating like specks in an ocean of woo.  Here are a couple of articles from more skeptical sites dealing with these FAR Infrared ray saunas.

http://www.skepticblog.org/2009/02/24/people-grilling-machine/:
There’s so many false claims, voodoo magic and pseudoscience in this that I don’t know where to start, but you, my fellow readers, surely do.
Yep, I feel pretty much the same way. It's like I'm handed a Bible and asked where to start.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=heavy-metal-sweat:
But the most far-reaching assertions for this technology center on detoxification. Claims for the ability of infrared saunas to rid the body of heavy metals and the like populate the Internet like Viagra ads.
And...
I wasn't ready quite yet to go hunting down chlorella. I wanted to see what the allopathic (nonalternative) world had to say about detoxification. I called Roger Clemens, director of an analytical laboratory at the University of Southern California that evaluates environmental toxins in the food supply. Clemens remarked that the most efficient system for detoxification is not an infrared sauna but rather the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract and immune system. "Except when one of the major organs breaks down, there isn't a medical device or any diet that can accelerate the body's natural process of detoxification," he says.
Thank you Scientific American.  You have finally answered my question.

I was going to cover both the infrared dome and the Sun Acon Chi Machine.  But this post is long enough as it is.   I could say I'll get around to covering the last bit of technological woo next week, but that may be promising more than I have time to deliver.  I simply do not have enough time to be a skeptic - in this sea of never-ending woo.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Not Enough Time to be a Skeptic? (Part I: Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment)

Pictured above is a hyperbaric chamber.  The woman below
is lying with her pelvis inside the FAR Infrared Dome and
her feet are relaxing on the Sun Acon Chi Machine.  It all
looks very futuristic to me - if your idea of futuristic is the
technology off Space 1999.  Both pictures are from
pamphlets found in my swag bag from the conference last 
week.
Last week I wrote about meeting another parent of an autistic child - or rather a parent who seriously suspects his son is autistic.  He was the salesman who sold us our snappy new car.  We left the salesman a brochure for a new annual conference Montreal Autism in Motion 2012.

(Our new car is bright green.  My son chose the colour.  I had a green car when I was his age too.  It was my favourite toy in the world.  It's funny how genetics works.)

We went to the conference the Sunday before last and on the whole it was pretty good.  Although we didn't have enough time to listen to any of the speakers.  There is so little time.

We went mainly for the exhibitions and there was surprisingly little woo in quantity.  Occasionally I heard talk about homeopathy.  But this only seemed to be whispered peripherally into conversations - as if they subconsciously knew it was ridiculous.

What I did find was a couple of big Woo Fish in a small mostly-woo-free pond.  In this post I'll comment a little on the first questionable treatment I ran into: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.

I'll comment a little more on the far out Infrared Dome and the Sun Acon Chi Machine in a future post.


Part I - Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

Promoting healing for a better Quality of Life!

There was a prominent display purporting that increased oxygen for an extended period will help autistic kids.  Here's a brief synopsis of what it is from the Wikipedia article on Hyperbaric Medicine.
Hyperbaric medicine, also known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), is the medical use of oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure. The equipment required consists of a pressure chamber, which may be of rigid or flexible construction, and a means of delivering 100% oxygen. Operation is performed to a predetermined schedule by trained personnel who monitor the patient and may adjust the schedule as required. HBOT found early use in the treatment of decompression sickness. But it has also shown great effectiveness in treating conditions such as gas gangrene and carbon monoxide poisoning. More recent research has examined the possibility that it may also have value for other conditions such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, but no significant evidence has been found.
Hold on to that last phrase, no significant evidence has been found.  That's pretty much key to all of this.  The pamphlet is clever in only making positive claims that can be backed up and then it sort of throws Autism in with a kind of slight of hand.
Hyperbaric oxygen is a versatile therapeutic technique that is capable of providing impressive results in a number of conditions that are seemingly unrelated.
This is true, as the quote from Wikipedia above mentions.  Notice no mention of Autism yet.  The brochure immediately dives into the details.
How does Hyperbaric Oxygen Work?
Hyperbaric oxygen assists healing by activating the growth of new blood vessels, mobilizing stem cells, reducing edema, enhancing the function of the immune system and eliminating toxins from the body to provide the trigger for activation of many of our body's normal healing processes.
Again no mention of Autism directly.  I think there may be something implied here when they claim the process eliminates toxins.  There's a significant crowd that believe that autistic children are actually poisoned by heavy metals.  It's possible - I wish we knew.  Our environments have changed so much even in the last 50 years.  There are more chemicals, more plastics, more preservatives.  But there is no science yet to tell us where the toxins are coming from.

The pamphlet goes on to finally mention Autism.  But notice the wording - Who can benefit from Hyperbaric Oxygen?  The answer is not direct but rather an acknowledgement that Autism is treated at their center.

An example of where mainstream science accepts hyperbaric treatment is then given.
Studies have shown that HBOT is effective in healing diabetic and other difficult wounds that otherwise have not responded to conventional wound healing procedures in many cases avoiding amputation. 
The Wikipedia article does mention that this treatment has had success with healing wounds for diabetic patients.  But it's difficult for me to see any connection between all the established uses for this treatment and Autism.  It's sort of like saying the whole Bible is true because it got some of the geography of the time right.

Towards the end of the pamphlet we run into the only other reference to Autism.

Parents of children with cerebral palsy, autism, and other neurological conditions have reported significant improvement in global development.
I don't mean to diss the parents.  They have it the worst of everybody.  And it pains me to say that this is hardly scientific.  It's sad.  I wish it were an effective treatment but there just isn't any compelling evidence.

It's much worse than this though.  My wife spoke to the presenter and the recommended course of treatment is forty daily one-hour sessions over forty consecutive days.  The insurance companies won't cover this (because it's not scientifically demonstrated medicine).  My wife was quoted something in the order of $5,000!  When she asked if we could simply try it out maybe once a week for awhile and see if we find any small improvement she was flatly declined.  The presenter didn't want to let people go halfway and have it not work - that would be a waste of money.

I imaged how I would feel if I had to first dig $5000 into my line of credit.  I would then need to somehow find 40 consecutive days off work because they only do the therapy during working hours and it's well off-island.  I'm sure some parents may quit their jobs!  I would then stick my son into a tube for hours and hours - nevermind all the driving with traffic and missed naps!  With all of this I truly believe my brain would need to buy into a strong placebo effect as a way to cope!


Science Says...

The display had signs and books proclaiming in large letters that all this was backed up by science.  They even had a medical journal open to a scientific paper that proved hyperbaric treatment helped autistic children.  I believe I found mention of this in Wikipedia:
One small 2009 double-blind study of autistic children found that 40 hourly treatments of 24% oxygen at 1.3 atmospheres provided significant improvement in the children's behavior immediately after treatment sessions but this study has not been independently confirmed.   
More recent, relatively large-scale controlled studies have also investigated HBOT using treatments of 24% oxygen at 1.3 atmospheres and have found less promising results. A 2010 double-blind study compared HBOT to a placebo treatment in children with Autistic Disorder. Both direct observational measures of behavioral symptoms and standardized psychological assessments were used to evaluate the treatment. No differences were found between the HBOT group and the placebo group on any of the outcome measures.   
A second 2011 single-subject design study also investigated the effects of 40 HBOT treatments of 24% oxygen at 1.3 atmospheres on directly observed behaviors using multiple baselines across 16 participants. Again, no consistent outcomes were observed across any group and further, no significant improvements were observed within any individual participant . Together these studies suggest that HBOT at 24% oxygen at 1.3 atmospheric pressure does not result in a clinically significant improvement of the behavioral symptoms of Autistic Disorder. 
Nonetheless, news reports and related blogs indicate that HBOT is used for many cases of children with autism. HBOT can cost up to $150 per hour with individual’s using anywhere from 40 to 120 hours as a part of their integrated treatment programs. In addition, purchasing (at $8,495–27,995) and renting ($1,395 per month) of the HBOT chambers is another option some families avail of.  
When considering the financial and time investments required in order to participate in this treatment and the inconsistency of the present findings, HBOT seems to be a riskier and thus, often less favorable alternative treatment for autism. Further studies are needed in order for practitioners and families to make more conclusive and valid decisions concerning HBOT treatments.
So we have a few studies - one small one for and several against.  This is not science.  Nothing has been reproduced here.  How can they charge $5000 for this?

There is an excellent summary of the situation on CFI's Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS) website: Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment For Autism - Clearing The Air.  They further refute the initial study.

Furthermore, if you manage to get your hands on the refuting journal article by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) - only the lay press release can be found here - they have a Conflict of Interest section specifying that one of the researchers actually works in a center that provides hyperbaric treatment !

If this person is willing to go on the record refuting the sole study that would go to scientifically support their provision of this treatment to autistic children then I don't see much point in taking the initial study very seriously at all.

But this Facebook response to the above CARD findings pretty much summarizes a lot of the response I see in the Autism blogosphere I've encountered so far.



An Uneasy Tension Between The True And The Woo

A boy with ASD, and his father, in a hyperbaric oxygen 
chamber. (Image and caption text source: 
It's completely understandable why parents feel this way.  People are desperate - their children are sick and nobody knows why.  If there is any chance... I heard this works with X's child... With the right diet...

There is a real tension I feel as a parent of an autistic child between my skeptical mind and my paternal instincts to love and protect my child at any cost.  Everyone tells me I need to do something now while he's young to maximize his potential later on as an adult on the Spectrum.

Often the woo is very difficult to resist as the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months and you feel that critical point in your child's life where intervention would be most effective pass you by.  What if Science finds that toxin X is really the cause or therapy Y is an effective near-cure?  This is wonderful for future generations but what about my child?

I believe most parents are interested in the scientific literature an progress.  They don't want to be duped by charlatans or woo peddlers who may or may nor believe in their own therapies.  But they have their child who is sick and they don't know why.  There is a feeling of urgency - something needs to be done now to help their child.  I can understand these feelings - I have them myself.


Wikipedia mentions an important point.
Over a hundred treatments for autism are in use but unfortunately, the desire to develop new and alternative approaches often surpasses the scientific community’s pace at assessing them.
This treatment was never an option for me.  It's so expensive that I would require substantial evidence of its effectiveness before I would go into debt to use it - $5000 would pay for quite a bit of more established therapies.


Time Time Time...

I think many parents feel Trapped In Time.  Having a child with autism alongside a full-time job can limit any time available to investigate truth claims skeptically.  This is a straight-up lack of time.

We also have people constantly telling us that the greatest window of opportunity to help our child is now. This is time a'tickin'.  I don't know about other countries, but here in Canada most of our time was spent trying to convince doctors he has a problem, then getting a diagnosis.  We're now spending time waiting for placement into the affordable programs and even some non-affordable programs.  All the while waiting for the doctors and the government:  tick... tick... tick...


If it's Cheap Enough...

We are also moving toward a more gluten free diet.  It's something I heard works but there is no scientific evidence.   We are not considering a move towards elimination of casein.  Of course, there is no real scientific motivation for choosing one, both or neither.

Again ... it's lack of time.   I try to be a skeptical person but what if this helps?  I want to avoid the pseudo-science nonsense but why not try it?  It's cheap - it's not $5000 - and maybe we can afford to be wrong?  

If I simply acknowledged that it is not scientifically confirmed could I still accept myself as being a good skeptic?  How does this make me any different than those who swear by the oxygen therapy?  Would it be okay if I call this an experiment and see where it goes?  Would it be fine if I just give it a try but make no universal claims to its medical effectiveness?

But opinions are fluid.  Having read the Wikipedia article I can feel any hope I had regarding the gluten-free diet fading fast.  I suppose we'll see where it leads us.

Hey!  No pressure!  My son's entire future may be on the line.