Sunday, 20 December 2009

Happy Heraklesmas

Jesus is not the only birthday boy. There is another son of a virgin and a god born at this time.

Having a divine father and human mother was pretty routine in ancient mythology - Dionysus, Zoroaster, Perseus, Jason, Minos and Asclepius did, among others.

And Herakles, son of Zeus and the virgin Alcmene.

He was not just a strong man who performed Twelve Labours and became the star of a slightly daft TV series, he was worshipped around the Attic world as a saviour who died and rose again.

He was known to his followers as the Prince of Peace, the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World, the Shepherd. He was greeted each morning in his solar incarnation with the words 'He is risen'. (Sound familiar? See the Gospel of Mark 16:6)

Herakles (aka Hercules in Roman mythology) was born at the Winter Solstice, sacrificed at the Spring Equinox, rose again and ascended into heaven to be with his divine father. The winter solstice was celebrated on December 25th in the Julian calendar, which was in use from 45BC.

When he was born, the jealous goddess Hera tried to kill him. When Jesus was born, the jealous king Herod tried to kill him. There is equal historical evidence for both events. None. Herod died in 4BC.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's because Tarsus was one of the centres of Herakles worship. It was also the home of St Paul, who appears to have been into recycling in a big way.

And here is a picture of the Son of God with his shirt off.

There are no surviving images of Jesus flexing his pecs for comparison. Herakles was quite a fan of sex too, with both men and women, which makes him a much hotter man-god. As far as I know, there have been no wars declared in the name of Herakles although both he and Jesus had dads who could be pretty grumpy and were a bit too fond of smiting.

I am now going to eat mince pies and have unholy thoughts about the Son of God. You know which one. Happy Heraklesmas.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Pouring Petrol On The Flames

As the season of the Virgin Birth bears down on us, the media is carrying a story about teenagers being given the contraceptive pill 'on demand'.

Reporting varies from the factual to 'The pill is being handed out to teenagers like Smarties, it's the end of civilization as we know it' (again).

First, the facts. An NHS pilot scheme is offering the Pill to teenagers in pharmacies without prescription in Southwark and Lambeth, two London boroughs.

Just to reiterate, it's a pilot scheme. It may work, it may not. That's what pilots are for - to try something and if it doesn't work, then it's on to the next thing. Doing nothing is not an option in any responsible society, as the current statistics show.

In 2007, 4.2% of women under 18 in England got pregnant. In Southwark, it was 7.6%. So it would seem a good idea to trial new preventive measures there.

The morning after pill is already available over the counter (except from pharmacists who have religious objections to selling it). And contrary to what some papers are implying, the Pill is already available 'on demand' from doctors. Teenagers in Southwark and Lambeth are not just being given it in cavalier fashion. Three specially trained pharmacists are offering contraceptive consultations to young women asking for the morning after pill. They are taken through a series of checks similar to those done by GPs. The idea is that this will be a more accessible service for young women who may also have issues around confidentiality with family doctors and potential parental disapproval.

If the trial works, the scheme will be rolled out more widely. This would seem to be a sensible idea - fewer abortions, fewer single mothers, fewer young couples struggling to raise children, often in deprived areas. You'd think the right wing press would be in favour of anything that cuts down on the number of dole scroungers.

But yet again, voices of moral and religious opposition are being raised against the trial in the mainstream media.

Tory MP Julian Brazier said: 'This looks just like an advertisement for washing powder. It is very worrying. It is yet another example of Labour abandoning civil society' and another Tory, Nadine Dorries, said: 'The poster looks as though it's designed to market something as benign and attractive as sweets, sending entirely the wrong moral message'. Could there be an election coming up?

The spokesman for the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) said: "I'm not aware of any evidence this is going to be effective. It may be pouring petrol on the flames".

By which I assume they mean the usual 'it will just encourage them to have sex'.

The CMF and I are old friends (I use the term loosely). I've already written about their take on abortion (makes you mad and gives you cancer) and their interesting relationship with the truth about condoms. I've also written about how religious groups try to whip up fear and loathing over PSHE (sex education), another vital way of helping teenagers understand and manage their sexuality. As far as the religious are concerned, it's abstinence or nothing. And we all know how well abstinence works.

Of course, there are other issues; preventing pregnancy is not the whole story while transmission rates of STIs grow. But it's a start.

One surprising voice in favour of contraception is Cherie Blair. This good Catholic girl is anti-abortion but pro-contraception. In an article in the Tatler, she said that "Controlling our fertility has been one of the key reasons why women have been able to progress."

Not surprisingly, some of her fellow believers have been outraged by this. John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said that her comments 'are wrong in so many ways'. He recommends the Billings Ovulation Method. But only for married women, of course.

This method was invented by John Billings, a staunch Catholic who got a Papal knighthood for it. It's a newer version of the rhythm method that relies on women being aware of changing sensations in the vulva and variations in vaginal discharge. It also relies on them being able to fend their husbands off at fertile times and does not protect from infections. There is some evidence that trials in third world countries and China have found it successful but the evidence is presented by its religious proponents so needs closer examination.

The Billings website says that 'Emotional harmony between husband and wife is also essential for normal functioning of the woman's reproductive system'. If that were true, the birth rate would be a whole lot lower worldwide. There would be countless malfunctioning wombs.

The Billings Method, abstinence promotion and the current outcry about the Pill have one thing in common. They may claim to be founded on care for women, especially in poorer countries, on helping them control fertility and preventing them being infected but in reality, they are all founded on the religious disapproval of sex outside marriage and/or contraception.

For believers, sex is only for married couples and the outcome of it must rest in God's hands. There must be a chance that a sperm can connect with an egg if He so wills it.

I'm not sure why an omnipotent being can't get a sperm through a condom or cap, and why he can't make a baby when a woman is on the Pill. But apparently he can't, even though he managed to put baby Jesus into Mary. And so women must be either virgins or mothers (or both at once in Mary's case).

Even media and people who are not ostensibly religious are culturally informed by this view, this moral disapproval of sex for fun that has its roots in Christianity and more specifically in the writings of that gift to womankind, St Paul. This is the root of ideas about sex being special or a sacred act or dangerous or for reproduction only. Women's sexuality in particular must be controlled.

There are class elements (the plebs are at it like rabbits and our taxes have to support them) and elements of wilful ignorance (why let the facts get in the way of a good story?) but once again it's about certain people and organisations giving themselves the authority and moral right to decide who can have sex.

Meanwhile, 4.2% of young women are getting pregnant.

Dr Petra Boynton has also covered this story in her excellent blog.

26 April 2012: There's an update on this story here. A pilot scheme found a significant drop in emergency contraception after the launch of over-the-counter pill access. The study by NHS South East London judged the scheme a success. Its report also recommended providing the service to girls from the age of 13 as a way of helping to reduce teenage pregnancies. Inevitably, the Christian Medical Fellowship wheeled out its same old objections.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Chocolate Serum That Isn't

A company called Ikove is advertising on its website an Acai Chocolate Age-Resisting Serum. The magic C word caught my attention.

According to the press release: 'ikove means 'keep alive' in Tupi-Guarani, an indigenous South American language, and the luxurious Ikove Acai Chocolate skincare range does just that!'
Resisting the temptation to apply some of the products to a small dying animal to see if they would indeed keep it alive, I looked at the description of the serum.

Açaí Chocolate Age-Resisting Serum
This 100 percent plant-derived concentrate is formulated with antioxidant açaí and cocoa, nutrition-rich rosehip oil and revitalizing Amazonian botanicals. It protects against the negative effects of aging and the environment while at the same time deeply nourishing and moisturizing your skin. Directions: Apply to the face and neck areas that require special attention.98% certified organic 100% natural 100% vegan

Just for once, I won't do my usual tirade about anti-oxidants NOT WORKING because there is, in my eyes, a far greater sin here. The ingredients are:

Ingredients:•bertholletia excelsea (brazil nut) seed oil, •rosa aff. rubiginosa (rosehip) oil, •orbignya oleifera (babaçu) seed oil, •euterpa oleracea (açaí) fruit extract, •chamolilla recutita extract, •equisetum arvense (horsetail) extract, •calendula officinalis extract, •lavandula officinalis (lavender) extract, vegetable glycerin, bisobolol oil, •citrus reticulata (manderin) oil, •citrus aurantium dulcis (sweet orange) oil, lavandula officinalis (lavender) oil.

Have you spotted yet what's missing?

Their other choco-products - moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, exfoliant and cleanser - include theobroma cacao L (cocoa) liquor or cocoa butter. But not this one.
There is no chocolate in the Acai Chocolate Age-Resisting Serum.

I rang the head office, which is a company called PhytoScience, and asked if there was any chocolate in it. A nice man called Chris told me that 'If there's no chocolate on the list of ingredients, there's no chocolate in it. Sorry to disappoint you'. He was very keen to tell me about acai, which was actually quite interesting. But not interesting enough to make me forget that there is no chocolate in it.

Did they just forget to mention it? Was the person writing up the ingredients list distracted by something shiny? Is it 'chocolate' in some sense that is unknown to me? Does the word 'chocolate' mean something else in Tupi-Guarani?

Not that I was thinking of spending £18.95 on a tiny bottle of serum but to promise chocolate when there is none is a crime against humanity.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Right For All The Wrong Reasons

Nursing Times has an article by Fiona Mantle warning of the dual dangers of consumer magazines giving advice on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and of self-diagnosis. But all is not as it seems.

Mantle looked at 15 UK consumer magazines for one month and found 150 articles on CAM. She accepts that this is a small study but 150 articles in one random month are at least an indicator of the state of play. The British public spends £1.6bn a year on CAM so why would magazines not want in? That's a lot of potential advertising revenue and no one ever lost money by giving the public what they want. Mantle says that the majority of CAM articles are by contributors 'whose key remit appears to be new product placement'.

Of these articles, '131 remedies were proposed by contributors with no medical qualifications'; 95 were on ingested herbal remedies, 25 on nutritional supplements, 10 on homeopathic remedies and 20 on essential oils.

Occasionally, she says, there are warnings to consult doctors, but not always. Even worse, of the five contributors who were medical doctors, not one of them highlighted any potential herb/drug interaction 'with two prescribing liquorice without any reference to existing cardio pathology, diabetes or hypertension'.

Mantle is particularly concerned about a self-help leg massage feature for 'heavy legs' that 'failed to offer any contraindications in relation to varicose veins, previous or suspected DVT or localised dermatological conditions'.

So far, so good.

The World Medical Association states that individuals have primary responsibility for using OTC products, but if they choose to self-medicate, they should be able to:
  • Recognise the symptoms they are treating

  • Determine that their condition is suitable for self-medication

  • Choose a suitable product

  • Follow the directions for use

That's quite a leap of faith to take in your own abilities and a lot of trust to place in a magazine article - not to say dangerous, stupid, gullible, desperate (add your own adjectives...). Mantle is quite right to caution against it.


There's a bit of a twist in the tale.

Amazon describes her: 'Fiona has been a nurse health visitor and teacher for over 30 years and started the first CAM introductory course for nurses in 1999. Since then she has taught in a number of universities, written exclusively on CAM in the nursing press, contributing chapters to a variety of books and has spoken at national and international conferences. She holds the Diploma in Applied Hypnosis from University College London and has qualifications in reflexology, homeopathy and is a Registered Bach Practitioner.'

Reflexology, homeopathy and Bach Flower remedies. Ah. OK.

In other articles for Nursing Times, she has described reflexology as 'a fascinating system that maps and treats human organs through pressure points on the feet, face, ears, hand and back' and homeopathy 'has a wide range of applications for both acute and chronic conditions'. She has written A-Z of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A guide for health professionals: A Practical Handbook, an article about CAM in the treatment of post natal depression (PND) and much else.

While she is cautious in her tone - aware of interactions, for example - there is no doubt for her that CAM works.

Her good advice against self-diagnosis or treatment and her objections to magazines advising readers on products begins to look more like a call for the public to see 'proper' CAM practitioners. Does she belong to the Prince Charles camp, supporting regulation to save the public from 'bogus' CAM therapists?

It would be interesting to know what she thinks about the recent cross-party inquiry into the NHS spending money on homeopathy, which concluded that it is an unethical and dubious use of public money. A spokesman for Boots said: "I have no evidence to suggest that [homeopathic remedies] are efficacious. It's about consumer choice and a large number of our customers think they work." Mantle would no doubt object to these remedies being sold over the counter to poeple who read about them in a mag - but not to them being dished out on the NHS.

She promotes the use of many kinds of CAM by the NHS. That's the NHS which is already struggling to pay for treatments that are proven to work and for enough properly trained staff. This is part of a letter she wrote to The Journal of Holistic Nursing:

This looks like a good example of out-quacking the quacks. It's a bit like a medium saying that yes, a lot of people who say they are psychic really aren't, but I am. She's not saying - don't read these magazines and don't self-treat with CAM because there is little or no evidence that most of it works any better than a placebo.

She's saying - don't trust them, trust me.

Surprisingly enough, I don't.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Super Lady Peachy Pants

Debenhams has launched Peachy Body Pants, the 'cellulite-busting pants'. For any readers who are not aware of it, cellulite is The Great Shame that every woman must fear and fight with all her might. Certain magazines are full of pictures of celeb cellulite, also known as orange peel skin, for women to either gloat over (if they have less) or feel comforted by (if they have lots).

Not only do these pants help fight The Great Shame, they also 'contain a patented weave knit system to stimulate the skin and massage the active ingredients of peaches (to moisturize), green tea (as an antioxidant) and coffee beans (to eliminate water) into the problem areas of the body'. Looking at the picture, they also appear to have a bit of a bum bra built in. Which is nice.

As if this weren't enough, the pants are made of Polyamide Meryl Skinlife, to help the process. According to research done for PeachyPink by Dr Tamura of Tokushima University in Japan, in collaboration with the Technology Research Institute, if you wear the pants eight hours a day for 21 days, you will lose between one and three inches. That's just enough time to look lovely for Christmas if you buy them now.

I asked Debenhams if I could see this research but they didn't have it. So they must be writing their press release from a version of the findings sent them by PeachyPink. I'd like to know what the placebo group wore, for starters. Pants with no green tea in? And how they randomized the test so the subjects didn't know if they were wearing the real pants or the placebo. Or maybe they wore no pants at all.

The press release explains how the pants work. The combination of ingredients 'warms the body, increasing the circulation of the blood and helping to prevent and break down fatty deposits and retained fluids. Toxins are flushed away, leaving waist, hips, stomach, rear and thighs resulting in a slimmer, toned and moisturized figure'.

Oh dear. Where to start? There is so much to say about all of these claims, but let's just look at a few of them.

Polyamide Meryl Skinlife (whose acronym is the not very attractive PMS) 'accumulates and transfers moisture to the surface of the filaments [which] allows it to easily absorb and transport perspiration.' It's also 'the first bacteriostatic microfibre' according to a specialist textile website.

So PMS pants help prevent a nasty sweaty crotch full of tiny living things, which is a blessing if you're going to be wearing them eight hours a day for 21 days. You really don't want festive thrush.

The press release includes helpful pictures to show how the pants work.

Now for the bad news. Nothing gets rid of cellulite. There is very little scientific evidence that any product even makes a dent in it. The best way to deal with it is never ever to turn your back on anyone while naked and keep the lights off at all times. Or just ignore all the insidious propaganda that makes you feel bad about your body to sell you stuff and buy a cake.

As to the peach moisturizer - how many washes will that survive?

Green tea antioxidant. Sigh. No matter how many articles like this one and this one state that antioxidants have not been found to do anything at all, products still include them as a magic ingredient. I'm not sure how these antioxidants would be absorbed but presumably they prevent your bum from ageing.

Next up are coffee beans to eliminate water. Which is where the PMS fibres come in, I guess, although the press release doesn't say where this water will come out. Coffee beans have been shown to help reduce hypertension but I don't think the subjects in the proper scientific tests were administered the extract through their lady parts.

Then there is the detox claim. Sense about Science say that 'Detox has no meaning outside of the clinical treatment for drug addiction or poisoning'. You have this thing called a liver that gets rid of anything your body doesn't need. Isn't nature wonderful? No, it evidently needs all the help it can get. Hoorah for the pants that promote the 'drainage of stagnant liquids', toxins and fatty deposits, packing them off to the liver and kidneys. Otherwise they might have ended up in your brain.

Oh, and they also give you a micro-massage. How thoughtful.

The pants are presumably an attempt to capture some of the market that John Lewis attracted earlier this year with their fetchingly named Scala Bio-Fir kickers embedded with bio-crystals which allegedly sold 25,000 pairs a month. Let's not even get into the bio-crystals or we'll be here until Christmas.

PeachyBody Pants cost £25 or £30 for the high-waist version and come in black or 'nude'. Oh, and they come as leggings, too. How many pairs would you need if you're going to wear them for 21 days straight?

Tip to men: despite Debenhams calling the pants 'the must-have stocking-filler this Christmas party season', don't buy them for your ladyfriend or you're likely to get asked a lot of very unfestive questions along the lines of 'so you think I'm fat?' and there won't be much joy in your Christmas stocking.

Not that many men would be tempted by them. Just how unsexy are they? If I put a lot of time and effort into seducing a lovely lady only to find that lot under her party frock, I think I might report her to Trading Standards for misleading advertising on the packaging as the cellulite reveals itself and the stagnant liquids seep out through the PMS. Just because they are black does not make them sexy, not even with high heels. And the so-called 'nude' version is inevitably going to be some sort of pinky beige colour that bears no ressemblance to any living skin.

If any woman revealed to me that she was wearing detox or antioxidant pants, my laughter would probably put paid to any further action.

The nice lady at Debenhams was very keen to send me a sample by courier and they were waiting for me when I got home. They look sort of crinkly, like a deflated black balloon and they smell funny. Not peachy, just sort of sweet like cheap air freshener. If anyone would like them, let me know.


In the interests of science, I have now tried them on. I measured waist, hips and thighs before and after. The result was that I instantly lost 0.75 inches off my thighs but my hips increased by 0.5 inches because the bum bra shoved everything up and made it stick out more. My waist increased by 0.75 inches. They looked very unsexy indeed. My flatmate laughed.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Doctor Jesus The Franchise - The Diagnosis

Following the post I wrote in November about the Healing Rooms, I have now heard back from both Halifax and East Renfrewshire Trading Standards. The Advertising Standards Authority were not interested in this one and passed me on to TS.

The results are not exactly pleasing.

Halifax TS (where the Healing Rooms English HQ is) said: ‘Having examined these websites I do not consider that they contravene the provisions of the Cancer Act 1939 nor the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.’

East Renfrewshire TS said: 'In response to your complaint I can confirm the following.

East Renfrewshire Council Trading Standards do not enforce the Cancer Act 1937.
Healing Rooms have indicated that they will make amendments to the website as follows:
Include a disclaimer re not a substitute for medical advice/treatment
Ensure testaments are directly from individuals

I trust this deals with the points raised.'

Well no, not exactly.

The man from East Renfrewshire TS rang me a couple of times to discuss the complaint. He was sympathetic but explained that the laws were a little different in Scotland and that he was only allowed to act within a narrow remit of consumer protection.

He also said that it was a rather 'subjective' matter when it came to beliefs. I tried to explain the difference between evidence and faith but he said he could imagine what would happen if he took such a complain 'to the fiscal'.

The claims the Healing Rooms are making are exactly the same as those made by the Body of Christ International Ministries as I posted not long ago and the ASA did uphold a complaint against them so I don't know what went wrong here.

I'll be back.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Revenge is sweet

We received a small donation at work this week, inside a card. On the front, it had the picture above and said:

The Fund was established to disburse a small sum of money left by the late Michael Young who died in August 2000 shortly after his 100th birthday.

He was not a good man – quite the opposite. He was strongly anti-Semitic, had a deep-rooted distaste for coloured people, who he feared would pollute the white races, propagated a mean-spirited and unforgiving interpretation of Christianity.

He paraded these beliefs under the banner of patriotism, was a founder member of the League of Empire Loyalists and claimed, with pride, that he tipped a bucket of offal over Jomo Kenyatta, at that time President of Kenya, a member of the Commonwealth.

He corresponded with, and supported financially, Lady Birdwood and John Tyndall of the British National Party as well as various fringe religious movements. He wrote a number of poisonous pamphlets.

He was wholly self-centred, had no interest in anything beyond his Bible studies and preparation of his meals, neither read a newspaper nor stirred out of his house for the last 10 years of his life. It is hard to find any redeeming feature in the man.

So, it seemed a nice idea to pass a little of the money he left to some of the individuals and small organisations who try to do some good in the world, and, where possible, to ones he would have disapproved of.

His 'mean-spirited and unforgiving interpretation of Christianity' as well as his political affiliations mean he would have been horrified that any of his money should go to the National Secular Society (

On the back, there is an explanation of how the Fund works:

If you like the idea of making small grants to decent people but don't want to set up your own fund, email a request for some of these cards to You can use them yourself or ask us to post on your 'grant' if you want to remain anonymous.

What an excellent and classy way to take revenge on a nasty old man. It's almost enough to make you wish there was an afterlife so his ghost could watch and be tormented by what is being done in his name. That would really be hell.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Doctor Jesus - The Franchise

Coming soon to a town near you – healing through the power of prayer.

A group called The Healing Rooms is spreading its tentacles across the UK. The Starbucks of faith healing, their mission statement is:

We have a vision to see every town and city in England with at least one Healing Room and many Healing Rooms in larger cities. This is part of a wider vision to see Healing Rooms set in around the world. The first IAHR Healing Room in the UK opened in Halifax, West Yorkshire at the end of January 2003. There are now 50 registered IAHR Healing Rooms in England and if you include those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the total is 79 Healing Rooms in the UK. Worldwide there are just over 1,000 Healing Rooms in 47 nations all linked together through IAHR.

The parent organisation, the International Association of Healing Rooms is based in America.

They were brought to my attention at work by someone who had seen the glowing article in his local paper, the Wee County News, on 7 October 2009, about a branch opening in Moncrieff Church, Alloa.

IAHR claims include the usual gamut of minor afflictions as well as curing cancer, HIV, ME, asbestosis and restoring a liver. Testimonies from the London branch include these cancer cure claims:

I am giving a testimony on behalf of my sister who received her healing from cancer. I used to come to the Healing rooms every week to pray for her when she was diagnosed and to the glory of God she is healed and completely free. I believe that God answers prayers, all we have to do is to ask and I am living proof. There is nothing too difficult for Him and with Him all things are possible. All the doctors in South Africa where she was receiving treatment were completely amazed by her recovery. She has gone for several other check-ups and no tumor is found.


I was diagnosed with cancer over 11 years ago. In Dec 2005 I had a body scan and was told that there were 3 tiny nodules in my left lung and many lesions throughout the vertebral bodies and pelvis. I have been going to the Healing Rooms for nearly a year and I am very pleased with the result I have today. God is good to me and has answered my prayer. The last report I had was really good and my consultant is very impressed. He told me the body scan showed no evidence of bony metastases. I feel very well in myself and praise God daily. Thank you Jesus, for you are the same yesterday today and forevermore. You are the greatest healer. A big thank you to the Healing room staff for their patience and love.

There is also this oddity:

I came on Wednesday evening and the welcome was very loving . I had prayer and my lower back and crushed disc was healed and my right leg grew 1.5 inches and I no longer have any pain. It is so wonderful, no pain, peace at last. God is wonderful, thank you Jesus. I have been so blessed my family relationships have improved and my brother phoned me after 2 years.

Doctor Jesus made this man’s leg grow one and a half inches. That's an observable and quantifiable effect. There is no mention of whether the leg was measured by a doctor before and after prayer, of course. And how nice that Doctor Jesus also got his brother to call. They must have been praying extra hard that night.

Healing Rooms also have something called a Prayer Cloth:

In Acts 19:11-12, it speaks of how cloths (aprons and handkerchiefs) were touched by Peter and Paul and taken back to the sick who were often cured of their ills. It says that "God gave Paul the power to do unusual miracles, so that even when handkerchiefs or cloths that had touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and any evil spirits within them came out." (The New Living Translation) The cloths are anointed with oil and prayed over by our intercessors before we mail them out to you.

Testimonials for this include:

A prayer cloth was sent to a man in Australia who had Asbestosis, for which there is no cure. When he received the cloth he put it on his chest. On his next visit to the doctor, he was told that all traces of Asbestosis have now gone - he is completely healed.

If these cloths worked, the NHS would be mighty interested as it would save them an awful lot of money. In fact, why not get rid of all the doctors and nurses and just hire Healing Rooms to service the entire UK? Oh right, you only get healed if your faith is sufficiently strong. That rules out all the non-Christians. Doctor Jesus is a private practitioner. Or maybe it's not part of His Great Plan to cure you. Who knows? He moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.

From the Scottish branch claims include:

Danny was waiting to go to hospital to have an arm amputated from the elbow as he had no feeling or movement in it and nothing could be done to save the arm. After prayer his hand began to tingle and move and he can now clench his fist and move all his fingers. No amputation will now be needed!

He will no doubt be using that hand to put against the other one in prayer.

And there are many more testimonies on the American site.

Not only do IAHR claim to heal any number of problems through prayer, they also train people to heal. So if you want a new hobby, pop yourself along to one of their centres and you can set up your very own franchise. I'm not sure why you have to go along to the Healing Rooms to get fixed - does Doctor Jesus not make house calls?

As I mentioned in my Doctor Jesus post about Body of Christ International Ministries, as soon as a claimed cure for cancer is spotted, the alarms go off because such claims are in contravention of the BCAP code of practice 50.27 viz Marketers should not falsely claim that a product is able to cure illness, dysfunction or malformations and also the Cancer Act 4.1.(a) 8:

No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement—

(a)containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof;

(8) In this section the expression “advertisement” includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper or other document, and any announcement made orally or by any means of producing or transmitting sounds

For this and other reasons detailed in the Doctor Jesus post, I have reported them to Trading Standards and the ASA.

For every group making a claim that the ASA rules against, more spring up. They are hydra-headed and the more canny ones make no actionable promises or claims. But it's important to keep chipping away and to publicize the facts about faith healing - that there is NO EVIDENCE AT ALL that it has anything more than a placebo effect at best. That's NO EVIDENCE AT ALL.

Of course, if you have faith, then evidence is nothing. Proof is nothing. Facts are nothing. It's a miracle, praise Jesus and pass the collection plate. You can't put a price tag on the Love of God but there's no such thing as a free miracle.

It doesn't take long to fill in the Advertising Standards Authority complaints form or to send an email to your local Trading Standards office.

In the words of eco-campaigners: think global, act local.

And if you'd like to know more about the Alloa branch, you can ring local director Elaine McDonagh on 07742 175 453 or email

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Normal Service Will Be Resumed...

There may now be a slight hiatus while I relocate from Bloomsbury to Camden as the lease is up and the street is being redeveloped into something shiny, smart and very very expensive.

It's the end of an era and I'm a little sad but after two months of looking at rat holes and shoe boxes, meeting the mad, the dubious and the dreary, it's a great relief to find a new flatmate and a new home that don't make me want to put my head in the oven.

Two people tried to scam me, I saw adverts from 'gentlemen' wanting young women to cook their dinner, iron their shirts and give them a massage in return for cheap rent and learnt just how small an alleged double room can be (about six by eight feet).

It has been fantastic living right in the heart of town with everything on my doorstep, walking to work and the gym, knowing the area inside out and having lots of space. But. The kitchen sink is now blocked beyond even the redemption of One Shot, the roof leaks, the mice are getting really cheeky, the plaster on the walls and ceilings is starting to look like crazy paving and the whole area is about to become a building site thanks to Crossrail. All of these things and more make it easier to go.

Change is never easy when it's forced on you and choices are limited; it was horribly stressful at times but there are very many worse places I could have ended up. My mother was praying for me - perhaps that's what did the trick. Or not.

I'll be living within yards of the place I lived in when I first came to London. I'm far enough away from the market to avoid the weekend hordes and still on the Northern Line - the devil I know. Camden really needs a good bookshop, though.

Moving is going to be one of the Twelve Labours of Hercules and it will take a while to get a new routine so there may be a blog break. Then it will be back to business as usual.

See you soon.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Doctor Jesus - Struck Off

Last month (October 09) I reported the Body of Christ International Ministries to the Advertising Standards Authority for their leaflet claiming to cure cancer, arthritis and an enlarged heart through the power of prayer.

The ASA has now contacted me to say that the BCIM have agreed to stop distributing the leaflet and will not make the same claims in any future leaflets.

This is just a tiny blow against the army of religious groups making dangerous, misleading and unscientific claims but it's important to keep chipping away at them, to let them know that they are being watched. They will no doubt try other tactics to lure people in. It's also important to explain to people why they should not trust these claims, however desperate they are.

BCIM - God is watching you and so are we.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Psychic Detectives

Evening all. Two jolly queer stories this week from Dock Green.

Firstly, Police in Lampeter spent £20,000 following up tips from psychics in a murder investigation. The suicide verdict was questioned when mediums told the police that a lion, a horse and a man called Tony Fox were important. So off went the Boys In Blue round all the local pubs with Lion or Horse in the name.

The police were told that the dead man's ghost had been in touch to say he was strangled by gangsters and forced to drink petrol and bleach. Oddly enough, a second postmortem found no trace of either substance. Tip for mediums: don't make claims that can be disproved in five minutes with a scalpel.

The Dyfed-Powys police said they followed up the leads 'to reassure the family that the full circumstances of the death were as they appeared. Police have a responsibility to the deceased, their family and the public to investigate all deaths thoroughly'.

Up to a point, lads. Going against post mortem evidence does not say a great deal for their trust in forensics either. The men and women in white coats can't be exactly delighted.

The dead man had a row with his girlfriend and local news added that 'Their relationship had deteriorated since the birth of their son Luca in 2005, and Miss Edwards, 23, said her former partner had developed bouts of anger. She said Mr Assaf, who had spent six months in jail for assaulting her in 2006, was addicted to amphetamines'.

Does this make the police more or less gullible? Were they fooled by an alleged psychic or were they just doing their job? Could the mediums have been giving them a real tip-off based on facts they were trying to dress up as knowledge from Beyond the Veil for who knows what motive? The police said they had to be sure no third party was involved and someone decided this was worth twenty grand of police time.

We will never know at what point in the mystic revelations the police decided they'd been had or, in their terms, decided that no third party was involved.

A police source commented: 'We are becoming a laughing stock'.

Well, yes.

Then, a few days later, there was another story, this time about Alan Power, a police trainer with Greater Manchester Police, who is going to court after being sacked because he believes psychics can help in police investigations.

Judge Russell at the Manchester Employment Tribunal said 'I am satisfied that the claimant's beliefs that there is life after death and that the dead can be contacted through mediums are worthy of respect in a democratic society and have sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance to fall into the category of a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Regulations'.

He is referring to the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. This is the same law used by Tim Nicholson when he argued that green beliefs are equal to religious beliefs recently.

There's respect for someone's right to believe any old nonsense and then there's taking that nonsense seriously in the workplace, which requires quite a leap especially in a job where lives and safety are at stake.

The judge said that a later hearing would have to establish whether Power was 'dismissed for the possession of religious or philosophical beliefs or for his alleged inappropriate foisting of his beliefs on others'.

Power has belonged to a Spiritualist church for 30 years. He told the hearing that he believed in psychics and their 'usefulness to police investigations'. He is to call a psychic he has known since 1980 to testify that his association with the psychic has proved 'detrimental' to his police career.

Greater Manchester Police are going to argue at an appeal that Judge Russell 'erred in law' because Power did not originally claim to have a religious belief, only that he had a belief in psychics and their usefulness to the Force.

They must be aware that their public reputation is at stake - something Dyfed-Powys police might like to have considered.

On the one hand, is there really any difference between believing that the dead can be contacted and that (fill in any mainstream religious belief of your choice here). If the latter is 'worthy of respect in a democracy', why not the former? What is the difference between praying to a supernatural being to guide you in your investigation, solving the case and ascribing it to His Wisdom and bringing in a psychic? Both are world views based on faith not science, evidence or any testable claim. Both often involve
post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning, confirmation bias, seeing patterns where there are none and a whole gamut of logical fails, not to mention leaps of imagination.

On the other hand, Manchester police do appear to be showing a lot more common sense than the Dyfed-Powys police. The fact that Power wants to prove his beliefs have been detrimental to his career means that he has form, that they have known about him for a while and he went too far.

If Power wins his case, then the floodgates will be open for people with any kind of belief to refuse to do certain work because it is against those beliefs, to bring those beliefs into the workplace, demand concessions or privileges and to appeal if they get sacked. As long as they can prove they didn't just make up a belief on the spot because they fancied a day off, they could have a case.

Two incidents of psychics and police do not make a trend, but it would be interesting to know just how many members of the Force have some sort of supernatural belief that they bring to work with them. There is a Christian Police Association , a Muslim Police Association, a Sikh group and a Pagan Police group.

The pagans wanted to take the Solstices and Halloween off and Hertfordshire police have appointed two pagan police chaplains. A member of Staffordshire Police is a practising Wiccan who has offered to do spells to help his colleagues.

In the light of all this, does using the dead to grass up the living seem so extreme?


Power's case has now been heard and the judge found against him.

The tribunal heard that Power was playing the part of an arrested shoplifter during a police training exercise near Warrington in 2004. But, according to the report, 'he became visibly aroused during the frisking process'.

A sergeant from Merseyside police saw this and decided not to use him again. Cheshire Constabulary made the same decision because of his 'inappropriate behaviour'.

So the perp had form.

The information came to light in October 2008 after Power, who denied the allegations, got a job as a special trainer with Greater Manchester Police. He was sacked three weeks later with the force citing his 'current work in the psychic field' as a reason.

It was also alleged that he had handed out inappropriate research materials to Merseyside officers about the World Trade Centre attacks.

The GMP said "The matter has never been about Mr Power's beliefs and we vehemently deny any claims he was discriminated against on those or any other grounds".

So first time round he was sacked for a stiffy, then either for his psychic activity or for handing out leaflets. Or possibly his pony tail. The evidence is not exactly clear.

Either way, this particular psychic will no longer be using his invisible friends as police informants or copping a feel-up on the job.

More importantly perhaps, citing discrimination against your beliefs is becoming an increasingly tenuous response to being fired.
UPDATE 26 November
This post appeared on the Friends of the National Secular Society Facebook page:
I'm the sister of the man in this story. I'd love to say lots more, but then he'd take me to court too! All I can say is that I'm very very glad he lost!!!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Arrogant Gods of Certainty

Scientists are arrogant, unimaginative and quite possibly insane. But luckily, AN Wilson is here to save us from the worship of science, the great superstition of our age.

He open with: the row between the Government and its scientific advisers blazes on like a forest fire.

And then proceeds to throw petrol on it.

First up is David Nutt and the uproar of self-pity and self-importance that his sacking has caused in the scientific community. But this is not just about Nutt, science itself is in the dock because what scientists say must be taken as true. The trouble with a 'scientific' argument, of course, is that it is not made in the real world, but in a laboratory by an unimaginative academic relying solely on empirical fact. Of course.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Wilson has no understanding of scientific methodology - randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed - you know how it goes. Or the way that, if a scientist gets something wrong, it is very often other scientists who point this out because they are the only ones who understand the mistake. Or the way that science is not a monolithic body - conservative, ignoring evidence, resistant to change, oblivious of the 'real world' and condemning anyone who dares to challenge orthodox views. That would be religion.

But he doesn't need to know any of this because he knows he is right. He is on his high horse - and from up there it's hard to see what is really happening on the ground.

So the 'scientific' argument (why the inverted commas?) is made in a laboratory, not in the real world? Well yes, scientists come from a parallel universe and have cloven hooves, for a start. They wear Star Trek T shirts to distract us. But look carefully and you will see that the crazy hair conceals tiny horns. Didn't you know that? It's a conspiracy theory! How do you make an argument in a laboratory? What kind of test tube would you need?

Wilson next objects to any suggestion that E may not be as bad as certain people in Government would like us to believe because of the devastation wrought in sink estates not only on the youngsters themselves, but on whole communities by the casual abuse of drugs.

He admits that smoking and drinking have more casualties but this does not mean it is safe to take ecstasy.

Two things. Firstly, no one is saying E is safe, just that it is not the danger to civilization that some people are making out. Perhaps some degree of rational and objective enquiry would be a good idea? Perhaps Government policy-makers might like to consider some evidence?

No. He doesn't want to know if it is less dangerous or should be re-categorized. Drugs should be presented as the Great Evil because of their effects on what he charmingly calls the murkier parts of our society. Lie to the plebs for their own good. Drugs bad. All drugs bad. Much easier than trying to educate people or to look at the underlying causes of drug and alcohol abuse among low-income groups. No Mail reader would want to hear about that.

Incidentally, I doubt if the average teenager of whatever background gives a stuff whether drugs are Class A or otherwise.

He goes on to say that what is on trial is the reputation of science. Not so much a trial as a kangaroo court presided over by Judge Wilson.

However, he does kindly allow a case for the defence: it would be folly to deny that we all owe a vast debt to scientific discoveries, made by patient, intellectually rigorous men and women over the past few centuries. Just think what we owe to developments in medicine, let alone all those technologies we now depend on, from cars to computers.

These Good Scientists presumably do not work in labs relying solely on the empirical method. Maybe they are the ones working in garden sheds or on the kitchen table using guess work.

How do you tell a Good Scientist from a Dangerous Lunatic? This is a serious point - how is the public to know? Who can understand the issues well enough to judge when science is good (useful to decent upstanding society) and when it is bad, and to inform us all? Never fear, Wilson is here. And it's not just the plebs on estates who need his wisdom.

There is an increasing presumption among many intelligent and good-hearted people that science is an absolute truth, that its methods of arriving at the truth are infallible and that scientists must be listened to at all times.

Aw, bless the poor little intelligent fools with their great big hearts cruelly deceived by wicked scientists. I presume he has a list of names and addresses to back up this claim?

To prove their wickedness and arrogance, he lists some science fails (according to him). The foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 and BSE, for example. Then he brings out the big guns.

The only difference between Hitler and other governments was that he believed, with babyish credulity, in science as the only truth.

With his wonderful grasp of history, Wilson sees the same habit of mind at work in Professor Nutt and his colleagues as made those mad scientists of the 20th century think they were above the moral law which governs the rest of us mortals.

This is stoking up the forest fire big time. We've gone from scientists = arrogant fools having hissy fits when anyone disagrees with them to scientists = Nazis. Nice move, Wilson.

Just to underline the comparison, he reminds us that scientists are tampering with the origin of human life itself in so-called stem cell research. So-called?

Not only are scientists dangerous, those who dare question science are demonised for their irrationality.

Two sorts of people questions science. Scientists who are doing their job and people who don't understand science but think it should serve their own moral, religious or commercial ends.

In Wilson World, scientists hate free discussion and are often seen burning down the houses of those who disagree with them - or taking them to court for libel. In his words: cast doubt on these gods of certainty and you are accused of wanting to suppress free expression... it is the arrogant scientific establishment which questions free expression.

Like the free expression of those who promote bogus cancer cures or claim that vitamins alone can cure HIV/AIDS or that God made the world in six days? Or just anyone who doesn't like the facts?

Don't scientists just love playing god - meddling with nature and claiming their own omniscience. That's when they're not too busy playing Dungeons and Dragons (or whatever it is - I have a life).

He continues:

Think of the hoo-ha which occurred when one hospital doctor dared to question the wisdom of using the MMR vaccine.

Ah, those scientists and their hoo-ha. How dare they slap down one brave man who dared to tell the world that MMR was a Bad Thing for all those poor little children? He had so much solid evidence after all. Oh wait, evidence is an empirical tool of the unimaginative scientists.

Then it gets a bit weird. After saying that scientists are up in arms about Nutt's sacking because they are arrogant etc etc, he talks about the way in which the scientific establishment closed ranks in order to assassinate him. Huh? This logic truly surpasseth all understanding.

He ends with a final fanning of the forest fire flames in case there are a few tiny creatures not yet burnt to a crisp.

And to everyone who thinks otherwise, I would ask them to carry out a simple experiment. Put a drug, bought casually on the street corner, and a glass of red wine on the table when your teenager comes home from school. Which of them, in all honesty, would you prefer him to try?

The irony of him suggesting an experiment is not lost. Mail readers skulking on street corners trying to score. Then standing over their kids wearing white coats, clutching clip boards, stop watches and whatever else it is that scientists do in their crazy labs (while lightning crashes around them). Don't forget to have a few monkeys on hand and some unspeakable things in jars. But only after the kids have done their homework, of course.

The article matters not because one silly bugger has got the wrong end of the stick and is using it to beat his moral agenda drum (sorry about that metaphor) but because it is another blow against the public trust in science. It matters because scientists have a hard enough time without being caricatured as arrogant, unfeeling, cold-hearted, hoo-ha-ing empiricists with a god complex. It confuses morals, evidence, social factors, logic, truth, half-truths and hysteria. And it matters because more and more money is being spent on 'alternative' medicine and dietary supplements because 'it worked for me' and 'science doesn't know everything'.

We all know that scientists sometimes get things wrong, even badly wrong. But relying on a journalist to sort out good science from bad or to judge which truths the public can handle is the real danger.

He accuses scientists of being like the Spanish Inquisition, trying to destroy all opposition, but he is the one mounting a witch-hunt. Maybe it's because it's Bonfire Night tomorrow and he's looking for something to throw on the fire - a bundle of scientists would do nicely.

There is so much more to say about this article but that will do for now.