UK Roundup 21/10/09

21 10 2009

UK newspapers, notably The Telegraph, are reporting the latest figures released from Allergy UK that apparently claim that 45% of the UK’s population are suffering from food intolerance of one sort or another. I checked Allergy UK’s website but couldn’t find the press release that backed up these claims so I called them and was met by a wall of vagueness. Perhaps they are just tardy in updating their website… Assuming that the release is genuine it seems an extraordinarily high figure. Unfortunately The Telegraph only features quotes from people with a vested interest in food intolerances; an author with a book on the subject, one doctor from a company that sells intolerance testing kits and another from a company making food suitable for people with intolerance. They come out with the usual claims such as ‘A big part of the problem is that we are assaulting our children with chemicals because the food that we are feeding them isn’t real anymore, it’s just a bunch of food additives, flavourings and colourings’ and ‘if people are eating foods straight out of a chemical laboratory then diabetes and obesity, heart disease and cancer will be a result of these intolerances’.

Not For Me, Thanks

Not For Me, Thanks

Well apart from the fact that in fact everything is “chemicals” I’m pretty sure it’s quite possible to provide for your family without ‘assaulting’ your children. I’m firmly of the opinion that while there are obviously people with serious allergies, a great number (not all) of those who claim ‘intolerances’ are jumping on the bandwagon because it’s very easy to attribute various vague symptoms to food intolerance. I’ll keep an eye out to see if the Allergy UK figures are released on their site.

In other news the Pope has upset the Church of England by announcing that he will issue an apostolic constitution, a form of papal decree, that will lead to the creation of “personal ordinariates” (whatever they are) for Anglicans who convert to Rome. This effectively means that all those in the C of E who are against female priests and homosexuals can escape to Catholicism. Sound like a complete fudge to me but it’s amusing to watch the churches going at it while trying to appear pious at the same time. Meanwhile at the same time as some of the bones of St Therese are being toured around the country, no doubt performing miracles left right and centre, Jesus has appeared on a toilet wall in Glasgow.I’ll say this much for religion – it’s certainly entertaining.

UPDATE: I called Allergy UK and found one extremely woolly article on their site based entirely on anecdotal evidence. You can find it here look under ‘Stolen Lives Five’ report. There’s also a thread I started over on Bad Science here which has some interesting input. I emailed Allergy UK to see where they get their figures from but no response. I am not holding my breath.





UK Roundup 02/09/09

2 09 2009

The British Humanist Association has sparked a bit of controversy by attacking a creationist zoo called Noah’s Ark Farm, near Bristol. The BHA claims that the zoo misleads large numbers of visitors and wants the British and Irish Zoo Association and a number of other tourism agencies to delist them from their promotional material.

 Creationism - No. Tapirs - Yes

Creationism - No. Tapirs - Yes

It’s an interesting case because the zoo seems to be quite open about it’s stance and features a ‘creation research’ link prominently on it’s website, leading many to ask what the problem is. Personally, although I think the zoo’s owners are as mad as a box of frogs, I don’t really see why they can’t run their own private zoo in whatever way they see fit provided it’s quite clear to visitors what they’re in for, and as long as the government isn’t promoting it or paying for it. Hopefully people can see straight through attempts to equate creationism with science and concentrate on the animals instead. Apparently they have some nice tapirs.

Keeping on the theme of animals, a group of USA based atheists have come up with a terrific money making scheme involving post-Rapture pet care. Eternal Earth-Bound Pets offers pet care to those who believe that the worthy (ie those who believe in Jesus) will be swept up to heaven in what is commonly know as ‘The Rapture’. ‘You’ve committed your life to Jesus. You know you’re saved. But when the Rapture comes what’s to become of your loving pets who are left behind?’ the group’s website asks. Having signed up a number of certified blasphemers and sinners to act as animal minders, they are able to guarantee first rate pet care to those animals left behind post-Rapture – for a fee of course.

If you would like to cast your eyes over a truly bad piece of journalism, The Telegraph can help. This week someone called Lucy Pinney wrote a cringe-inducing article on the possibility of ‘remote viewing’ being useful in healthcare. Apart from being possibly the most credulous journalist in print, she was even criticised by her subject Andrew Usher (dean of British Institute Of Homeopathy), who took umbrage at an incorrect statement stating the NHS was investigating remote viewing. So not only does she write a piece free of any journalistic balance, she happily includes references to CIA studies on remote viewing (which found no evidence for it) as evidence, and on top of that misrepresents one of her main subjects. Way to go Lucy.





UK Roundup 6/08/09

6 08 2009

London homeopathy purveyors Ainsworths have incurred the wrath of the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for selling a remedy known as ‘Swine Flu Formula’. The company claims their pills ‘override the symptoms’ of Swine Flu. This is compounded by the fact that the company has a royal warrant, which means it apparently sells its goods to members of the royal family – no prizes for guessing which ones. The MHRA is investigating the company and I could find no mention of the product on their website, which is well worth looking at. What did disturb me was that you can quite happily order whichever remedy you want on their site without any sort of check, which would seem incredibly dangerous (presuming that they actually contained something other than water of course).

In light of the recent furore over the research by the Food Standards Agency stating that organic food has no better nutritional content than ‘normal’ food (see article below) the head of the Whole Foods chain here has said indeed the shops sell ‘ a bunch of junk’ (he’s American). What effect this has on sales remains to be seen.

A Degree - Why earn one when you can just make your own?

A Degree - Why earn one when you can just make your own?

And in a shock revelation that will surprise pretty much no-one, it has been revealed that L Ron Hubbard’s claim to have been awarded a PhD was a complete fabrication. The British consulate investigated Hubbard in the 1970’s because they were concerned about the possibility of a libel case after they banned Scientologists from entering the country in 1968. Subsequent investigations found Hubbard and his cronies had created a fake entity, Sequoia University, and promptly awarded each other degrees. The ‘university’ had never been accredited by the state and it fact didn’t even have any premises. The story has made the papers now as the Times have managed to obtain classified Health Department documents under the Freedom of Information Act. No response from Tom Cruise as yet.





UK Roundup 17/07/09

17 07 2009

In Ireland this week some labourers discovered an image of the Virgin Mary holding a baby in the remains of a tree trunk that they had just felled. The grain of the willow tree revealed by the chainsaw cut left the vague shape of Mary, enough to impress locals who immediately started a petition to turn the stump into a permanent shrine. Now these things happen every so often, and there is certainly no doubt that having a full time shrine would bring a bit of money into a fairly rural area of Limerick, which I’m sure was a consideration for some of those signing the petition.

However it was the reaction from the church that caught my attention. Father Willie Russell, the parish priest, said: “There’s nothing there, it’s just a tree. You can’t worship a tree. A tree is a tree. A person with imagination is a person with imagination.” While Father Paul Finnerty, the spokesman for the Limerick Diocese, said: “The Church’s response to phenomena of this type is one of great scepticism. While we do not wish in any way to detract from devotion to Our Lady, we would also wish to avoid anything which might lead to superstition.” On one hand this reaction is encouraging, however a Catholic priest ‘wishing to avoid anything which encourages superstition’ strikes me as somewhat strange. Perhaps he is working from a different definition of ‘superstition’ than I am.

As the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings hits the news, so do the large numbers who believe the whole thing was some sort of cosmic hoax. It’s quite amazing that people are so willing to believe in conspiracy theories that fly in the face of such overwhelming evidence and basic common sense. Without going into the seemingly interminable arguments over whether the flag should have been waving, or the lander should have made a bigger impression etc etc it seems to me that to perpetrate such a hoax would have been a bigger achievement than actually going to the moon. The fact that the Russians didn’t immediately debunk such a cover up, and the sheer number of people who would have been in on the scheme in the US seems to me pretty conclusive, given that government ministers today can’t even claim a few extra quid on expenses without being discovered.





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.