Lose No Weight and Lots of Money with Acai Berries

15 08 2009

acaiforcemax 2For those you who have a Facebook account, you may have noticed the advertisements that regularly pop up on the right side of the screen. Now I understand that Facebook is a business and that an important way of making money for the company is through advertising. However some of the ads that regularly feature are not just lame, but have the elements of a scam.

Specifically there are those ads that entice you in with the prospect of turning that keg into a six pack with minimal effort and a short timeframe. Such ads I have encountered have included are Dave’s Personal Blog and Getting Your Six Pack. While at a glance they appear to be different from each other, there are a large number of similarities between the two sites including in the layout and language used. In particular the endorsements received from members of the public are identical – right down the usernames and dates that the comments were posted. On the face of it looks like these guys who run these sites have been sucked into a multi-level marketing scam, until you click any one of the links and they lead to one website – acaiforcemax.com. I suspect that these websites are actually sockpuppets for acaiforcemax.com.

The websites provide the typical anecdote of the Joe Bloggs who obtains an incredible physique through the consumption of Acai berry fruit juice – the most recent fad in pseudo-nutritional supplements. There is no evidence for its efficacy as assisting with weight loss – nor for the range of other claims made for it such as cleansing colons (which is a scam in itself) and enhancing ones sexual prowess. Check out the Skeptic Doc’s blog entry on acai berries and what is interesting is that there is a range of other exotic items such as blueberry juice, grape juice, and red wine that have more anti-oxidants than acai juice.

However, if a person wants to part with their hard earned money for another useless supplement then go ahead – knock yourself out. What is more concerning is the deceptive techniques that many of these online companies use to trick people into subscribing for expensive products – and what you will find is that by signing up to one of the free trials of acai berries will mean that you will lose a lot more than a few kilos.

Lets take acaiforcemax.com, a website where whoever has registered the domain has gone to some lengths to protect themselves from identification. The free trial is aggressively pushed in the website and hey – if they are giving it away is there any harm in trying? As they make it clear that there are only limited supplies one better quickly work their way through the process to get their free trial. The first step is to take their test to see if you qualify. I decided to misrepresent myself as a 137cm tall, 72 year old Munchkin whose goal was to move from being 115kg to 160kg and strangely enough I qualified for a free trial!

acaiforcemax 7You then need to provide them with a range of personal information including an e-mail address (bring on the acai berry spam) and the only cost involved is a US$4.95 postage fee for the free acai berries and guess what? You also are entitled to become a member of their Elite Customer Club.

The membership of this club means that you are also billed US$79.95 for the acai berry supply (that you have not asked for) and you also obtain access to their World Club Fitness and Weight Loss Resources for a meagre US$6.95 and US$8.95 per month. So in total this “free trial” will set you back US$100.80 (NZ$148) per month. You only need to Google the terms ‘acai berry scam’ to see the number of people who have fallen for this scam and find themselves jumping through numerous hoops to get the payments stopped.

My advice is that if something is marketed as free on the Internet it will be too good to be true.

What’s Wrong With Catching the Measles!

22 07 2009
A child with Small Pox in Bangladesh 1973

A child with the now eradicated small pox in Bangladesh 1973

A recent article on the warning of a measles epidemic in New Zealand bought out some of the weird and wonderful ideas a (hopefully small) proportion of New Zealanders have about the measles.  What a polarizing subject it is!  The majority of people who were questioning the vaccination were taking what on the face of it is a reasonable stance in that the state should not be able to dictate health care to the public.

For a comprehensive discussion of the scientific reasons why such an argument is flawed I would suggest that you read the Science Based Medicine Blog.  But to summarize there are two principle issues namely herd immunity and risk.

There are members of the community who cannot have vaccinations due to age (such as babies) or due to medical conditions and therefore the only protection that they are afforded is herd immunity to avoid contracting preventable diseases.

Depending on the disease, for effective herd immunity the threshold for the percentage of the population to be immunized is between 75% and 95%.  Effectively, while there is a high number of immunized people, a parent who chooses not to immunize their child will be taking advantage of the herd immunity.  However, when to many parents refuse vaccinations the threshold drops to a point where the disease can thrive and even cause an epidemic.  Once an unvaccinated child contracts a disease they then have to deal with the next principle issue of risk.

The statistical likelihood of a child being harmed by a vaccine is considerably lower than if they actually contract the disease.  Diseases like the measles will cause a small proportion of children significant long term harm or even death due to pneumonia or brain swelling caused by encephalitis.  Such risks are dramatically reduced through the use of vaccination.  People with immunodeficiencies are far also more likely to suffer the extreme effects of these diseases.

So, when many parents refuse to vaccinate their children, it ends up putting many other children at risk.

That’s enough of the dry stuff.  I want to point out some of the pearl’s of wisdom out of the many anecdotal stories that came through the readers comments to the article:

Leigh # 4 asks:

“I would also like to question why the alternative homeopathic vaccination program that was available 20 years ago, which I used successfully, has been removed from the market? Yes, we middle-class parents like to question- and with very good reason!”

I can probably answer this one – it’s because injecting children with magic water does not vaccinate them against diseases!

Phil # 16 after accusing all studies that show the benefits of vaccines as being fraudulent stated:

“Please don’t vaccinate your children, they need to get measles, mumps, chicken pox etc. No-one wishes suffering for any child, but the human body needs to be exposed to these things to work correctly later in life. I believe, through years of research, that vaccinations may well be child abuse.”

So everyone who has had a vaccination and not subsequently contracted disease can not expect to have a body that works correctly later in life…show me the evidence.  Also, I would suggest you observe a child going through the discomfort of the measles, mumps, or the chicken pox – allowing your child to be inflicted with such diseases when they are preventable could also be argued as child abuse.

Les # 19 Does his best to totally butcher year 9 probability:

“Educated parents are aware of the risks, that’s why. A basic risk analysis will show the vaccine isn’t worth it. From the MOH own vaccination site: 1 in 1000 measles cases get inflammation of the brain so using 100 cases a year, it will take ten years before someone should have that complication. However, the same site shows the vaccine causes convulsions in one in 3000 recipients, and inflammation of the brain in 1 in a million. Assuming even 30,000 doses a year, thats at least 10 having convulsions. Not my child thank you”

So lets fairly compare 100 people who are not vaccinated and contracted the measles with 30,000 people who are given a vaccination…spot the imbalance!  In fact according the website if one thousand children contract the measles approximately one will get inflammation of the brain versus 0.001 children in one thousand who suffer inflammation of the brain from the vaccination (of course there still will be a small proportion of vaccinated people who get the measles – but usually because there is no herd immunity!).

Phil # 62 After providing an anecdote that shed no light on the discussion he said:

“Herd ammunity has been proven to be a load of hype, and cannot work. Outbreaks will always happen, and some cases will result in death. No vaccination campaign will ever stop that, even if you choose to believe it will. Vaccines are fraud. End of story, and the MoH knows this but will never back down in their promotion of it. So sad, for the millions who are harmed through vaccines. The diseases will happen anyway: it is not vaccines that has stopped them.”

And small pox just stopped itself…

I thought that Tim #31 gave a good summing up of the skeptical position:

“How is it that in this day and age we have people who believe that vaccines cause autism, 9/11 was carried out by the CIA, the moonlandings were a hoax etc etc. BUT they don’t believe the brain damage and harm the real diseases like measles can cause?

I am a ‘middle class, educated parent’ whatever that means. I say it is a crime not to vaccimate your kids when they are supplied free of charge by the government. What will happen when we have a polio outbreak? or worse… Just get the poor kids vaccinated NOW.”

Apollo 11 Degaussed?

18 07 2009

Buzz Aldrin Apollo 11NASA’s recent reported admission that the original footage from the Apollo footage was degaussed along with 200,000 other tapes has resulted in a flurry of discussion on New Zealand’s Stuff website.  This combined with the release of re-mastered digital upgrades of footage taken of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing has provided additional ‘evidence’ for moon hoax conspiracy theorists that the USA never sent people to the moon.

However, I would be keen to know if anyone has a link to the news conference where Richard Nafzger, a NASA engineer, is alleged to have made the admission of the degaussing.  The news story reported on Stuff originated with Reuters and the identical story has been reported all over the world.  The NASA website simply states that a final report is nearly completed in relation to the missing tapes that will be released in the near future – or is this further evidence of the conspiracy?

It goes to show how far reaching the 2001 documentary “Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?” has entered into the popular consciousness and contributed to the creation of a bizarre but persistent conspiracy theory that is alive and well in New Zealand.  While many of the comments on the Stuff website were either indifferent or ridiculing the moon hoax conspiracy, a small but vocal minority were insistent that the USA never sent people to the moon.

One of the fervent moon hoax conspirators called ‘Paul T’ made a number of comments claiming that the classic image of Buzz Aldrin used on the Stuff website (and reposted above) is evidence of a fake as it shows evidence of having multiple lighting sources aside from the sun.

For a more comprehensive explanation, I will direct you to Phil Plait’s excellent Bad Astronomy website, but briefly Paul T is right – it does have multiple lighting sources, but not from stage lights.  The obvious lighting source is the sun and the others are the reflective surfaces around Buzz in the photo namely the moon itself!  The moon’s surface dust reflects a small percentage of the sunlight (which is why we see the moon from the Earth) and it serves to slightly illuminate images.  The exposure length and aperture of the camera will also be important in determining the brightness of the reflected light.

‘Paul T’ also makes the ridiculous claim that there were astronauts who were going to speak out about the hoax who died in mysterious circumstances.  This is presumably a reference to the tragic death of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a launch pad fire.  All I can say is – show me the evidence!

However, the Stuff’s decision to focus on what are minor points in the scheme of the Apollo moon landing are unfortunate given its wide readership in New Zealand.  Lets hope they have something more of celebratory tone for Apollo 11’s 40th anniversary on Monday the 20th of July.

Skeptics in the Pub – Coming to a Pub Near You

3 06 2009

As advertised on the recent episode of the Skeptic Zone, a Skeptics in the Pub has been planned for those with a skeptical inclinition who are living in Christchurch. On Monday the 8th of June 2009 the inaugural Skeptics in a Pub will be taking place at 6:00pm at The Twisted Hop situated at 6 Poplar Street. With 20 people confirmed going and a further 11 maybes it should be a good night! For more information go to meetup.com.

New Zealand’s Best Known Homeopath is Interviewed

25 02 2009

Recently “New Zealand’s best known homeopath” (I have never heard of her – perhaps I don’t watch enough television), Gwyneth Evans featured on Breakfast on TV One to respond to the criticisms made by Dr Shaun Holt that homeopathy only operates due to the placebo effect.

I would hope that the average New Zealander would watch this clip and not require a deep understanding of science or the scientific method to see homeopathy for what it is – wishful thinking.

While briefly explaining the underpinning framework for homeopathy, Mrs Evans says that it has been around for 200 years. The only comment I have in response to this is that I am pleased that due to modern medicines reliance on the scientific method, it has done away with bloodletting, the theory of four humours, and astrological influences on medicine.

However, rather than presenting a general critique of homeopathy (if you are interested then have a read of Dr Stephen Barrett’s article) I want to touch upon some of the things raised by Mrs Evans.

When asked about the efficacy of homeopathy, her reply is that rather than relying upon a crude physiological drug, there is a homeopathic energy or vibration that is retained in the substance that triggers the bodies own innate healing power.

As with most woo, once again ‘energy’ is presented as some kind of magical field or property (for which there is no scientific evidence of). To borrow the term used by Brian Dunning, energy is a measurement of something’s ability to perform work. It is not some all encompassing field that impacts upon vials of water sold as medicine or people, in this respect there is a distinct common misunderstanding about what ‘energy’ actually is.

Consider Einstein’s well known and little understood equation of E=MC2, mass can be expressed in grams and speed in metres per second. So simply put an objects energy equals the amount of work it takes to move a few grams a few metres in a few seconds. Energy is a measurement of work, not some bizarre made up energy field akin to the Force from Starwars.

With this in mind, it simply does not make any logical sense to say that the water retains the energy or the vibrations of original substance it contained and that it somehow interacts with the body’s ‘energy’.

Furthermore, if it did indeed trigger the body’s innate healing power, then this should be something that can be scientifically observed and I am still waiting on the evidence for this and the underlying theory about its mechanism.

While I am on this subject, further on into the interview Mrs Evans is asked about the scientific evidence for homeopathy, and she pulls out the old “it’s a different paradigm” card. What she means is that the homeopathic community has decided that the rigorous testing that science demands no longer applies to them as it has a different understanding of disease and health when compared to evidence based practises.

I would hazard a guess that the reason for such an attitude is because there is very little scientific evidence for her discipline, if the scientific evidence supported homeopathy, do you think that homeopaths would be saying that the positive results did not apply to them as their paradigm cannot be measured by science? On the contrary they would be quick to trumpet the results.

It is quite simple, there is no paradigm shift, homeopathy claims to cure people of illness and therefore its effects are measurable. Homeopathy claims to trigger an innate healing ability and therefore there is a physiological response, which requires a mechanism.

Evidence Based Faith

16 01 2009

In Thursday’s letter to the editor section of the Dominion Post, there was a response to the proposed guidelines to allow students to opt out of religious activities in New Zealand’s public schools. A letter written by Jeff Tallon of Muritai says:

The Human Rights Commission’s draft guidelines on religious education state that everyone’s beliefs should be treated respectfully and all views are equally valid (Jan 10-11).

Though I don’t support compulsory religious education, the commission’s position is questionable. All views are not equally valid – we must apply rational tests to beliefs.

The commission has painted itself into an empty corner. It is really asserting that no religious system is true or can be taken to be true and so none should take precedence.

But this ignores the rational basis for faith. One hundred and fifty years ago, Christian/Jewish faith was essentially a blind belief in ancient stories. But that has changed. Archaeology, epigraphy, ancient history, astronomy and even modern cosmology and molecular biology present a powerful body of evidence for traditional Christian faith. And if a religious system is true in the historical, scientific sense, then perhaps it deserves precedence.

Our national position on religious education comes from our commitment to secular government, not because faith has not rational basis, and definitely not because of tacit assumptions that all religious faiths are untrue.

While I appreciate that the short word length expected of a letter to the editor means that it is difficult for all the evidence to be laid out, the writer of the letter appears to be believe that a rational basis for Judeo-Christian beliefs can be found throughout the sciences. The initial question that comes to mind is what particular brand of belief is he referring to, as many different denominations accept or reject (or as a middle-ground, accept as metaphor) a wide variety of Biblical passages. They also have different concepts of God and other supernatural beliefs. Is he referring to the ‘evidence’ that shows that the Earth was created 6000 years ago according to the Book of Genesis or the scientific evidence that it was created 4.5 billion years ago?

Such a sweeping scientific claims are hollow as there is no scientific consensus across all of the disciplines mentioned that anything supernatural could account for observations or discoveries that have been made. One could employ the logical fallacy of final consequences and say that the Christian faith must be true as the perfect nature of the universe is a testament to God’s ability for creation. Perhaps it is the argument from personal incredulity, in that the writer believes that due to the complex nature of the world that no other explanation apart from God is possible. Such arguments are implied through the use of such a broad range of scientific disciplines to support the rational basis of the Christian faith. Of course such arguments are invalid and therefore have no rational basis.

What is clear from the scientific evidence through the application of cosmological, geological, and biological observation and theory is that supernatural forces are not required for the existence of the universe, the Earth, or people. The current scientific thinking across all disciplines does not provide support for the proposition that omnipotent Gods, demons, or angels have previously (or currently) impacted upon the lives of people.

Many claims made within the Bible, while theoretically possible to test, are now impossible to test due to the passage of time and all that remains is faith on the part of the particular religions followers. The few things that have been amenable to testing, such as the shroud of Turin, have proven to be at best controversial and at worst shown to be medieval forgery.

Furthermore, apologists from a variety of other religions as varied as Islam, Mormonism, and Scientology would make similar claims about the validity of the scientific underpinnings of their religions.

Mr Tallon has made an assumption that the underlying rationale for the guidelines is that all religious faiths are equally untrue. The employment of such guidelines does not say anything about the veracity of a religious position. Rather it reinforces the secular nature of our Government and our country, while allowing those minority groups with different belief structures freedom from pressure to conform to the religious beliefs of another group.

Stop Boris Kreiman

4 11 2008

A person going by the name of Boris Kreiman has whipped up the www.stopsylviabrowne.com domain while its owner, Robert Lancaster is recovering from a serious stroke that he suffered some months ago.

Initially a psychic service operated by Kreiman was put on the site that directed users to www.lifepsychic.com. Upon being informed of his actions (presumably in many colourful words from many angry sceptics) he offered to sell the site back for $20,000. When his offer was (unsurprisingly) refused he then tried to sell it on Ebay.

Kreiman left a post on Randi’s swift blog that said:

Hi My name is GM Boris Kreiman and I did buy domain Stopsylviabrowne.com. I dont know why you people writing this bs. I offered to sell it to the owner and his friends. There is NOTHING WRONG with buying GOOD DOMAINS. I am not pro or against Sylvia Browne. I tried to put up objective content but got many insults in the email. Please stop this harassment because I dont want to file any law suits. I hope we can call it as misunderstand and you guys put your money where your mouth is and BUY STOPSYLVIABROWNE.com

Kreiman picked up the domain at auction for $495 when it expired and the proper thing to do given Robert’s unfortunate circumstances would be to sell it back for a reasonable amount.

For those of you who have links to Robert’s website, the new domain is www.stopsylvia.com.