Notes and Comment Blog

Time for Inspector Plod to go after the homeopaths

Apr 24th, 2013 4:51 pm | By

Willard Foxton, at the Telegraph of all places, asks a very good question.

If we can prosecute a man for selling fake bomb detectors, how are homeopaths still in business?

Why indeed?

Remember those fake bomb detectors? I remember blogging about that years ago. In fact [goes to find the posts] – yes, in It won’t work unless the operator is relaxed and Flashing lights, and a beeping noise. A bit from the latter:

Call me sentimental but I do think this is a quotation for the ages. It’s from the guy who made the ‘bomb detector’ thingy out of an antenna and a hinge and a plastic tag, and sold lots of them for $40,000 each, and got arrested on suspicion of fraud for doing that.

We have been dealing with doubters for ten years. One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights.

Do admit. The sunny innocence, the tenderly confiding honesty of that brings tears to the eyes, does it not? He sweetly admits there are ‘doubters’ – people not convinced that a stick and a bit of duct tape and a ‘card’ and a bit of plastic can actually detect explosives. He admits that one little stumbling block (to what? charging $80,000 apiece?) is that the ‘machine’ (the bendy stick with the bit of plastic inside) looks a little primitive even though in reality of course it is more elaborate and complicated and technical and sciencey than an MRI or a particle accelerator or an iPod or an electric toothbrush. And then, in the bit that is so limpid and childlike and of the dawn dawny, he murmurs of his exacting technical labors on a new model with flashing lights. So what you would have then, see, would be a bendy stick with a ‘card’ and a bit of plastic all topped, like a car wash, with flashing lights. So there you’d be shuffling around the checkpoint in Afghanistan, swinging your bendy stick around sniffing for explosives, and your life would be made more glamorous and exciting and Christmassy and convincing by these exciting flashing lights on your bendy stick. Until you stepped on the bomb, of course.

Actually that’s not a bit, that’s all of it. So that’s James McCormick and his amazingly expensive useless pseudo-machine.

At the old Bailey yesterday, the court was told McCormick’s detectors, which he had been selling at £27,000 a piece, were “completely ineffectual” and “lacked any grounding in science”.

When I read those words, I couldn’t help but think of all of the assorted homeopaths, wizards and internet psychics that plague the gullible online.

Why can’t they be prosecuted too?

Well, they could be. Maybe someday they will.

 no one is going to die using skin cream, or getting what I suspect is a shonky pseudoscientific facelift. The prosecution in the McCormick case said “McCormick showed a complete disregard for the safety of those who used and relied upon the device for their own security and protection.”

Isn’t that also true of people selling ineffectual medicines? It’s not hard to find posters on homeopathy message boards offering homeopathic treatment for everything from gout to cancer. No one will die as a direct result of taking these sugar pills, but in the same way as a fake bomb detector can kill you by not finding a bomb, taking an ineffective treatment can indirectly kill you. The difficulty in getting prosecutions for fraud on this sort of thing comes down to belief – the prosecution was able to prove that McCormick didn’t believe his products worked.

Hmm. Really? If people “sincerely” believe the magic works, it’s difficult to prosecute them? If that’s true it shouldn’t be. People will believe anything. We’re supposed to have laws to protect consumers; they shouldn’t be defeated by the credulity of people who market bullshit.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Beyond or just beyondish?

Apr 24th, 2013 11:39 am | By

What about transcendence?

I don’t like the word. I’m suspicious of it.

James Croft and Tom Flynn just had an interesting discussion of that on Facebook, with contributions from me and Alex Gabriel and Valerie Tarico among others.

What do we mean by it? It seems to need some pinning down; once there is pinning down there is more agreement. Are we talking about Something Beyond, or are we talking about this world experiences that feel beyondish but in fact are still this world experiences? The second, as it turns out, but with different views of words like “transcendent.” James likes them, you won’t be surprised to know; Tom and I not so much.

Tom said one thing that echoed something I was thinking yesterday, in the wake of disagreeing with Mehdi Hasan on the “meaningful” answer to questions about How It All Began.

We could have evolved to expect — even demand — that reality display a pattern analogous to that of human intention, when it just doesn’t.

I was thinking much the same thing yesterday. To me, it seems odd to find it satisfying to say “God” is the answer to questions about How It All Began, because of the obvious and much-cited problem that it just raises the same question. I was thinking about that, and why Hasan and many others don’t see it that way, and so I was thinking about the possibility – likelihood really – that it’s just part of the human cognitive equipment to see questions like that in familiar terms. How did it begin? Somebody made it begin. It’s a natural thing for us to think, in other words, so it’s hard or at least peculiar to overcome it or veto it.

(That thought doesn’t really solve the problem with people like Hasan, though, because he’s an intellectual. Overcoming our first thoughts or intuitions is something intellectuals do.)

Alex’s reply is amusing, as is so often the case.

I think very often, religion drills a God-shaped hole where one wasn’t before, so that it might claim to fill it.

I like the word “drills” there.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Excuuuuuuuuuse me

Apr 24th, 2013 9:54 am | By

Another wonderful column from Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, this time “apologizing” to “the #MuslimahPride social media jihadis.”

It’s amazing what a week of introspection can do. I now realise how ridiculous it was of me to try and promote Western, postcolonial and imperialistic ideals like gender equality and human rights. I realise how foolish it was to stereotype everything by quoting your authentic religious commandments and regularly reported events in Islamic countries. I realise how obnoxious it was to think that demonstrating against stoning women to death was a better cause than protesting against shameless infidels. Last week’s letter was clearly a remonstration against the fact that women spoke out, not against the fact that they could’ve spoken out against something more meaningful. In any case, who am I to judge what’s more deserving of a protest; women being stoned to death, or a protest against women being stoned to death. It’s obviously a cultural debate and has got nothing to with basic human rights.

Funny how it’s like “Dear Muslima” except it really isn’t. It even starts with “Dear Muslimaat”…but its point is quite different.

I was imprudent enough to believe that you could’ve taught those infidels the “right way” of preaching freedom, instead of showcasing denial about the atrocities that your fellow women face for not choosing the way of life that you’ve ostensibly chosen. I was foolish enough to think that a protest in hijabs in support of women being coerced into wearing them would’ve been an astoundingly effective way of telling the world that despite your differences you stand with those who face death threats and need liberation. I’m sorry I thought “Nudity doesn’t deserve brutal death” would have been a far stronger message than “Nudity does not liberate me”.

If only they will pay attention.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It is a definite sin to trust in medical help

Apr 24th, 2013 9:08 am | By

Killing one child by praying instead of going to a doctor isn’t enough. True faith requires killing another one.

A couple serving probation for the 2009 death of their toddler after they turned to prayer instead of a doctor could face new charges now that another son has died.

Herbert and Catherine Schaible belong to a fundamentalist Christian church that believes in faith healing. They lost their 8-month-old son, Brandon, last week after he suffered from diarrhea and breathing problems for at least a week, and stopped eating. Four years ago, another son died from bacterial pneumonia.

Well that sounds like a nasty slow death.

At a hearing Monday, a judge told the couple they had violated the terms of their probation, noting the Schaibles had told investigators that they prayed to God to make Brandon well instead of seeking medical attention.

“You did that once, and the consequences were tragic,” Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

The consequences were tragic, they were on probation as a result, yet they still didn’t learn.

The Schaibles

grew up in the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia and have served as teachers there. The church’s website has a sermon titled “Healing – From God or Medicine?” that quotes Bible verses purportedly forbidding Christians [to visit] doctors or [take] medicine.

“It is a definite sin to trust in medical help and pills; and it is real faith to trust on the Name of Jesus for healing,” says the message, from last May.

Really? Why? Is it also a sin to take the stairs instead of stepping out of the window? Is it a sin not to step in front of an approaching bus? Is it a sin to eat instead of trusting on the Name of Jesus to provide supernatural nutrition? Is it a sin to put on a sweater when it’s cold? Is it a sin to avoid poison ivy? Is it a sin not to step off the edge of a cliff?

What a nightmare.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Rowan on Children’s Nose Day

Apr 24th, 2013 7:06 am | By

Hello to you too!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The BBC cringes

Apr 23rd, 2013 2:59 pm | By

Oh the horror, Rowan Atkinson did an archbishop of Canterbury routine as part of Comic Relief. Cue Outraged of Basingstoke!

The monologue, which was broadcast on BBC1 before the watershed at 7.45pm, was the subject of 2,133 complaints to the BBC – making up the bulk of the 2,819 complaints received about the show overall.

The Atkinson sketch featured his Archbishop of Canterbury character – or “Arch” as he styled himself – underlining that he was not gay, using the phrase “arsing about” and the word “shagging”, and comparing One Direction to Jesus’ disciples.

The skit was pre-recorded on a studio set but was played out to the live audience at BBC Television Centre, who audibly gasped at the line: “Keep on praying – it doesn’t work, but it’s a good part of a getting-to-sleep routine if you’ve got insomnia.”


The BBC is vewwy sowwy.

The BBC has not included the sketch in its iPlayer compilation of Comic Relief highlights, and has issued this statement: “Comic Relief night features seven hours of live television and is known for pushing at the boundaries of comedy alongside heartfelt appeal films.

“It is made for a varied and wide-ranging audience, so getting the language, tone and content of the evening is extremely important to us… to any viewers we may have offended, we apologise.

“Rowan is well known for his comedy characters and this was an affectionate portrayal of an Archbishop figure, which was intended to amuse and entertain. We did not mean to cause any offence.”

I’m sure Rowan is very flattered by that endorsement.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Meaningful answers

Apr 23rd, 2013 11:41 am | By

Huffington Post UK helpfully reported on the Twitter blowup, with lots of tweets - so much pleasanter to read than Storify.

I went back to the December NS piece in which Mehdi Hasan confirmed his belief in flying horses. Really he’s not talking about the flying horse in particular, but about how reasonable it is to believe in goddy things overall. It’s the usual shifty kind of thing.

In trying to disparage “faith”, Dawkins and his allies constantly confuse “evidence” with “proof”; those of us who believe in God do so without proof but not without evidence. As the Oxford theologian (and biophysicist) Alister McGrath has observed: “Our beliefs may be shown to be justifiable, without thereby demonstrating that they are proven.”

Those atheists who harangue us theists for our supposed lack of evidence should consider three things. First, it may be a tired cliché but it is nonetheless correct: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I can’t prove God but you can’t disprove him. The only non-faith-based position is that of the agnostic.

That’s not the issue; the issue is which is more reasonable. Is it more reasonable to believe in an untestable hidden god that answers prayers, or is it more reasonable not to?

Second, there are plenty of things that cannot be scientifically tested or proven but that we believe to be true, reasonable, obvious even. Which of these four pretty uncontroversial statements is scientifically testable? 1) Your spouse loves you. 2) The Taj Mahal is beautiful. 3) There are conscious minds other than your own. 4) The Nazis were evil.

Shifty, shifty, shifty. Not even close to a good comparison. 1 and 2 are certainly susceptible to inquiry and evidence. 2 and 4 are value judgements, and thus a different kind of thing from an ontological claim.

Third, there are plenty of good, rational and evidence-based arguments for God. You don’t have to agree with them, but it is intellectually dishonest to claim that they, too, like God, don’t exist.

No it isn’t, not if the reason you don’t agree with them is because you consider them not good and/or rational and/or evidence-based. In any case the claim is shifty in the sense that it assumes that all those arguments are good arguments for God, when in fact some of them are arguments for a first cause and similare abstractions. The two are not just automatically identical.

Four hours ago Hasan replied to a tweet asking if he was equally ”open-minded” about dragons.

Mehdi Hasan@mehdirhasan

@Chriss_m But dragons arent the meaningful answer to any question. A divine creator is. To the question of existence. #nicetrythough

What the hell does that mean? “Meaningful”? That’s not any kind of legitimate criterion for how we know things or whether we have good reasons to believe something. An answer can be “meaningful” without being true. #nicetryyourself

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Unfortunately, I phrased it poorly.”

Apr 23rd, 2013 10:04 am | By

I hadn’t heard there was a thing about a tweet of Dawkins’s (another one? yes another one). Now I have, courtesy of Fidalgo’s Daily Morning Heresy. There was a thing, and as a result Dawkins wrote a piece saying he said it wrong.

First he gives the background.

Yesterday, on Twitter, I wrote of the British journalist Mehdi Hasan’s belief that the Prophet Muhamed flew to Heaven on a winged horse.  It is a belief at least as silly as Doyle’s belief in fairies, and it merits the same “It’s a rum do” comment on the paradox that Mehdi Hasan is simultaneously a very good journalist and political editor, who writes penetrating and sensible articles on current affairs and world politics. That such an effective critical intellect should simultaneously be capable of  believing in winged horses seemed to me to merit some sort of wry comment, comment of the “It’s a rum do” variety:  isn’t it odd, what a paradox, like Conan Doyle or Dowding and the fairies.

Ok first of all, sigh. “Yesterday, on Twitter” – sigh. You know what’s coming. Yes, Richard, on Twitter, as keeps happening. Can you not figure out that provocative tweets on large subjects tend to backfire?!

He may be beginning, just beginning, to figure it out.

Unfortunately, I phrased it poorly. Instead of saying “Isn’t it quaint that such a successful journalist can simultaneously believe something so daft”, I wrote, “Mehdi Hasan admits to believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees fit to print him as a serious journalist.”

I cannot deny that this sounds horribly like a call for New Statesman to sack him, and it is not surprising that it was taken in that way and became controversial as a freedom of speech issue. Even worse, some respondents went overboard and thought I was saying that no Muslim should ever be employed as a  journalist, or even that no religious person should ever be employed as a journalist.

I certainly never intended any of those meanings. Twitters’s 140-character limit is notoriously inimical to nuance.

Bingo! He’s figured it out!! Then again that “notoriously” seems to indicate that he’s known all along…so then, Richard, why do you keep making provocative tweets on large complicated subjects? It’s not a good medium for discussion of large, complicated subjects! It’s really, really not.

But never mind that. There’s a bigger thing here. “Unfortunately, I phrased it poorly.” Does that remind you of anything?

It reminds me of something. “Dear Muslima.” “Zero bad.” Unfortunately, he phrased those badly too.

Why can he admit bad phrasing in the one case and not in the other? Why can he amend what he said about one person and refuse to amend what he said about another? Why can he see in one case that he was pointlessly belligerent and refuse to see it in another?

I would seriously, seriously like to know. That’s all the more true because we get blamed for the damage that he did, and I frankly resent that.

His correction of the tweet suggests that he understands that he has the power – the popularity and ardent fans – to do a lot of damage, and that he ought to use it responsibly. So why now but not then? Why withdraw the one but not the other?

I would love to know.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All power to the fetus

Apr 23rd, 2013 8:59 am | By

News from Kansas.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a sweeping antiabortion omnibus bill into law, reaffirming the state’s current ban on abortion at 20 weeks (without exceptions for rape or serious fetal anomalies), blocking tax breaks for abortion providers, expanding “conscience protections” for anti-choice groups and writing into state law that life begins “at fertilization.”

Because it’s imperative to do what we can to make sure women remain enslaved by their own bodies.

…states like Arkansas and North Dakota have moved the bar for judging antiabortion legislation so far to the right that Kansas’ 20-week ban seems “modest” when compared to North Dakota’s six-weeks and Arkansas’ 12 weeks. But make no mistake: The Kansas law is equally dangerous for women, and still violates the accepted definition of fetal viability as defined by Roe v. Wade.

Because women are evil demons, so it’s urgent to give their early pregnancies more rights than they have, so that they can be punished for having the wrong kind of genitalia.

Particularly worrisome for reproductive health advocates is the new law’s language defining life “at fertilization.” Critics like National Organization for Women lobbyist Elise Higgins argue that anti-choice groups could use the language to legally threaten and intimidate abortion care providers.

Well that’s the whole point.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Another one

Apr 22nd, 2013 11:06 am | By

In El Salvador this time. (Blargh, what a name for a country, eh? Imagine being a citizen of The Savior. Gag me.) (And in this case, what a fucking bitter joke.)

According to a report from Amnesty International, a seriously ill and pregnant El Salvadorian woman may face jail time if she goes forward with a lifesaving and medically recommended abortion. Abortion is illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador.

The 22-year-old mother of one, identified only as Beatriz, is four-and-a-half months pregnant, but her doctors have confirmed that the fetus has anencephaly (developing without a brain and certain parts of the skull) and that the pregnancy is nonviable. In addition to the fetal diagnosis, Beatriz is experiencing critical health complications related to her lupus and kidney disease.

The hospital treating Beatriz requested legal permission to perform the abortion more than a month ago, but authorities have still not agreed to let them proceed.

The Savior to Beatriz: die, bitch.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

That is why they don’t know how to pray

Apr 22nd, 2013 10:53 am | By

Atheism is because of something missing in the brain.

Autism associations around Turkey have reacted angrily after the head of Adana’s Health and Education Associations for Autistic Children reportedly said autistic children were “atheists due to a lack of a section for faith in their brains.”

“Autistic children do not know how to believe in God because they do not have a section of faith in their brains,” sociologist Fehmi Kaya reportedly said. “That is why they don’t know how to pray, how to believe in God. It is necessary to create awareness [or religion] in these children through methods of therapy.”

He also reportedly said atheism was a form of autism.

Ok I know this one. It’s theory of mind. Autistic people can have a defective theory of mind. If you have a working theory of mind, you understand that other people have minds just as you do, and that they have thoughts that are theirs and not yours. You don’t know what they’re thinking. So…if you have a working theory of mind, you have the ability to believe in a pure Mind that is not in some body near you, it’s somewhere else altogether, and it’s mysterious and hidden.

Therefore atheists are autistic.

Makes perfect sense!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Let him die,” shouts another

Apr 22nd, 2013 10:16 am | By

Here’s a disgusting item. Trigger warning, and all that. Video from Burma, in which police look on while Buddhists trash shops owned by Muslims and kill a Muslim boy.

The footage, apparently shot by police officers, shows Buddhist crowds looting and ransacking a Muslim jewellery shop, cheering when Muslims are attacked, and setting fire to mosques and houses. Later, a man who has been set alight and is believed to be Muslim can be seen lying in the road, surrounded by a crowd of people. “Pour water on him,” a man in the crowd commands. “Let him die,” shouts another. “No water for him.”

Both Buddhist monks and police can be seen through much of the footage – the monks often taking part in the violence, the police watching immobile as it progresses.

Dear dear human beings. How we do disgrace ourselves.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Define your terms

Apr 22nd, 2013 9:17 am | By

An interesting question. American Atheists asked on Twitter:

Seeking input! What blog do you think best represents #atheists/#atheism positively? Doesn’t have to be an exclusively atheist blog.

But what does AA mean by ”positively”? I asked, in several doubtless annoying tweets, but AA had skipped off to other activities so I didn’t find out.

The word has come to be a blanket term for nice or not hostile aka not critical while “negative” has come to be a blanket term for nasty or critical or skeptical.

So you see why I asked. Organized, campaigning, activist atheists don’t necessarily see “not critical” as “positive”…so what are we talking about here?

Of course the candidate that came immediately to mind as answering the apparent question was The Friendly Atheist – and sure enough the three replies that came before my annoying questions all named that very blog.

But is that what we mean by representing atheists and atheism positively? If we say that aren’t we buying into exactly the canard that AA exists to combat? If we say that aren’t we buying into the conventional wisdom that outspoken unapologetic atheism is itself, and by itself, not “nice” and not “friendly” and thus not positive? Don’t we want to get away from that perception?

Plus there’s the problem that calling yourself The Friendly ______ implies that other ______s are not friendly, and that too is not altogether “nice” or positive.

So I replied Eric MacDonald’s Choice in Dying. I think Eric represents atheists and atheism positively because of his thoughtfulness, learning, careful argumentation, passion, commitment, and fire of indignation.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They obscure the fact that they fail to accomplish their aim

Apr 21st, 2013 5:29 pm | By

Allen Esterson has a wonderful article on a 2009 book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, in which they claim that moral passion about the horrors of slavery was Darwin’s motivation for “determined pursuit of an explanatory theory for the transformation of species of which he became convinced as a result of his experiences during the Beagle voyage of 1831 to 1836.”

I once tried to read their 1991 biography of Darwin but I stopped fairly soon because it’s full of nudging innuendo about motives and agendas and complicity – you know the kind of thing. It was obvious bullshit, because it was always stuff they were reading in, not anything they demonstrated or offered good evidence for. I found it very annoying and smug, and it’s a treat to see Allen whisk aside the curtain.

This article explores the means by which the authors seek to persuade readers of the validity of their thesis, and concludes that far from providing compelling evidence, by providing a mass of historically interesting material relating to slavery that is actually tangential to their case, they obscure the fact that they fail to accomplish their aim.

Yes that sounds like them.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Sunday afternoon too cute

Apr 21st, 2013 4:28 pm | By

I saw it on Facebook this morning and the thought of it has been making me smile all day so it would just be wrong not to post it here.


Do admit.

[click on it to see the larger version]

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Where else are women denied an input into their care?

Apr 21st, 2013 10:41 am | By

A talk show on RTE today, Marian Finucane, featured Dr Peter Boylan, the expert witness at the inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar, and Breda O’Brien, Irish Times columnist and patron of the Iona Institute. The Iona Institute is a reactionary Catholic group. has already done a transcript, which is helpful.

Boylan said something quite striking…

And we cannot, as doctors, be expected to do our ward rounds with a calculator in one hand and the law in another hand. We have to be given the liberty to do what we feel is best for a patient and in this…These circumstances are the only circumstances in obstetric care where a woman’s wishes are not taken into account. Where she has no input into her care. Now if you think of any other sort of situation like that you end up talking about the Taliban. Where else are women denied an input into their care? In what other clinical situation? I can’t identify any. Women are very much involved in their care in obstetrics, in decisions to induce labour, decisions about Caesarian sections, decisions about all sorts of things. And that’s how it should be. But in this circumstances, they are not allowed. And that’s the law.

O’Brien simply obfuscated, and Boylan kept having to tell her she had the facts wrong.

Finucane: “I should clarify that you yourself are a patron of Iona, just for the record.”

O’Brien: “Absolutely, sure the whole country, anyone who knows me knows where I stand on this issue. But it is important to clarify where,  I think everyone should lay their cards on the table, where they stand on this. So, the point I was making was…I communicated with three obstetricians. They said, one of them said that there were glaring signs on the Sunday night which should have triggered a whole series of interventions, in terms of standard, bog standard care.”

Boylan: “On Sunday night?”

O’Brien: “That, yes.”

Boylan: “On the night she was admitted?”

O’Brien: “They said, that…one of them said to me that because she was fully dilated and…”

Boylan: “She wasn’t.”


Boylan: “Sorry, keep going. But you’re all wrong.”

O’Brien: “Peter.”

Boylan: “I’m sorry…just keep, OK, look, I won’t interrupt you again but this is depressing.”

O’Brien: “OK. Peter. OK.”

Boylan: “This is revisionism and the rewriting of the history of what actually happened. I went through those notes forensically, I read the transcripts forensically. So, don’t, please try and revise what actually happened.”

She keeps on doing it though.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The inquest

Apr 21st, 2013 10:00 am | By

The inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar ended on Friday and Praveen Halappanavar still doesn’t have answers. He told us what he thinks of the whole thing.

The medical care she received was in no way different to staying home. Medicine is all about preventing the natural history of the disease, and improving patients’ lives and health. And look what they did. She was just left there to die. We were never – we were always kept in the dark. If Savita had known her life was at risk she would have jumped off the bed and seeked a different hospital. She was, we were never told, and it’s horrendous, it’s barbaric and inhuman the way Savita was treated in that hospital.

It’s very striking. She might as well have stayed home. They went to the hospital, naturally thinking that they would find there what you’re supposed to get at hospitals – treatment. They didn’t get that, and they weren’t even told they weren’t getting that. She was just left there to die. The medical staff went through insulting mocking motions of treating her – they stuck her in a bed, they took her vital signs, there were medical people around – but they didn’t do what they needed to do to prevent her from dying. They refused to interfere with the natural course of the disease. They decided, without telling much less asking the patient and her husband, that the risk wasn’t big enough for them to do anything about it. It is, indeed, horrendous and barbaric and inhuman.

The Independent reports:

The inquest had heard evidence from an expert witness that the only thing that could have saved Savita was a termination within a day or two of being admitted to hospital, and by the time it was lawful to perform a termination, she was beyond saving.

“An extremely rare condition had been dealt with as best as possible by hospital staff on duty,” he said, referring to the blood poisoning caused by E.coli that ravaged through her with frightening speed, causing her death by multi-organ failure.

Barrister Eileen Barrington said there was “no basis in fact or law” to call for the accountability of her client, Dr Katherine Astbury, the consultant responsible for Savita’s care while in hospital.

Everyone had done their best. No one could be reproached, as was frequently pointed out an inquest is not allowed to point fingers; that is for the civil and criminal courts.

No, everyone had not done their best. Maybe that’s not their fault, maybe it’s the fault of the law, but they did not do their best. Their best would have been a prompt termination, and they didn’t do that. It’s a lie to call what they did “their best.” That’s the whole point. It’s very sub-optimal, nonstandard, inadequate, bad treatment to refuse to terminate a protracted miscarriage. Do not ever call that “best.”

It cites the inquest’s expert witness, Peter Boylan, former Master of the National Maternity Hospital.

Mr Boylan made no criticism of Dr Astbury, Savita’s consultant. According to his assessment, the biggest factor affecting her treatment of Savita was beyond her control. In his medical report, Mr Boylan said: “The real problem was the inability to terminate the pregnancy, prior to Ms Halappanavar developing a real and substantial risk of death. By that time, it was effectively too late to save her life.”

Had this been done on the Monday or Tuesday, he said it was highly likely that Savita would be alive. But Dr Astbury, like other doctors, was hampered by the law, which prohibits termination unless there is a real risk to the mother’s life.

The disturbing (to put it feebly) thing about that is that outside Ireland the risk is considered real and substantial. That’s why the standard of care with PRM is prompt termination: because of the risk of infection. The Irish law is deeply, disturbingly fucked up.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Speaking in pubs

Apr 20th, 2013 5:30 pm | By

The Ada Initiative did an interview with Rebecca; she says a number of amusing and/or insightful things. (No not “inciteful” – that’s not a word. Insightful.)

On why she stipulates a minimum of 35% women speakers as a condition of speaking.

I’ve also seen that the more women who speak on stage, the more women show up in the audience. People feel more at home when they see people like them in prominent positions. Because the conferences I attend are usually heavily male-dominated, having a minimum of 1/3 female speakers is another easy way that conference organizers can show they place a high value on diversity. 35% is actually ridiculously low considering women are 51% of the population, but then, I’ve always been pretty easy-going. Despite the rumors. Next year I may up it to 40% and add a “non-white” percentage for fun.

And the year after that, total world domination.

She was asked what her dream speaking engagement would be.

I like speaking in pubs, because everyone is relaxed and there’s beer. So I suppose my dream speaking engagement would be on a panel with Hillary Clinton, Lucy Lawless, and Amy Poehler, in a pub full of sloths, and also we’re on a spaceship.

A pub full of sloths does sound ideal.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Stupid ways to spend time

Apr 20th, 2013 11:17 am | By

Repeating things 50,000 times has to rank high. It could always be worse though. It could be repeating things 100,000 times. Or 500,000 times. Or a million.

It’s a real thing in Turkey though.

A teacher in Istanbul has allegedly ordered his students to say God’s name 50,000 times and “prove it” for homework.

The teacher of a Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge class at Sancaktar Hayrettin Primary School in Istanbul’s Fatih district set fifth grade students the task of repeating “salawat,” meaning “peace be upon him” in Arabic, a phrase often used after the name of the prophet of Islam. The task was to be completed as homework during Islam’s holy week.

And “prove” it? How the hell would you do that?

Students told reporters that the most difficult part of the homework was “proving” that they had completed it. Some parents bought “a salawat-counting machine” called Zikirmatik, which is sold for 2 Turkish Liras (around 1 euro). Zikirmatik is a counter for people who have difficulties counting beads.

One parent said he had gathered his whole family and tried to reach the 50,000 prayers. “I calculated that every salawat lasted three seconds. This means is would take around 40 hours to reach the limit,” he said.

Some students found another solution by marking their notebooks once for each salawat.

Hello? That doesn’t “prove” anything except that you hit click 50 thousand times or that you made a mark 50 thousand times (which would be bad and stupid and tedious enough).

We know what the idea is though. Drill. Self-hypnosis. Self-conditioning. Believers use prettier language for it, naturally, but that’s what it is.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

There was a contrarian journalist

Apr 20th, 2013 9:49 am | By

Daphna Shezaf went to QED last weekend and wrote a blog post about it Thursday. Specifically she wrote about the panel that featured Brendan O’Neill doing his usual shtick and getting annoyed when it didn’t go down well. Shezaf made a substantive point about the subject, but in my frivolous way I’m going to focus on the O’Neill aspect, because after all he’s there.

There was the “is science the new religion” debate, which turned out to be about science and politics. It was really the only panel with someone from “the outside”, journalist Brendan O’Neill. He debated with physicists Jeff Forshaw and Helen Czerski, and comedian Robin Ince. As Vicky puts it, “it quite quickly deteriorated into an exasperated and highly entertaining bun-fight between” O’Neill and Ince. Ince blogged about the exchange, O’Neill published his “speech” and allegedly said that “QEDcon was like a crazy cult”.

So, there was a contrarian journalist, whose politics in almost any question are reversed to that of almost any other person in the room. It was a good show. O’Neill was the ultimate bad guy, Ince was fantastically enraged. The QED crowd got to be called consensus zealots on Twitter, which is utterly satisfying.

The reason I saw Shezaf’s post is because I first saw this tweet:


Patrick Hayes

Brendan O’Neill is “the ultimate bad guy”: . Confirms O’Neill’s claim he was #QEDcon‘s Emmanuel Goldstein

 Here’s what’s both funny and infuriating about that: Brendan O’Neill wants to be everything’s Emmanuel Goldstein; it’s what he does. If it weren’t and he didn’t he wouldn’t keep going out of his way to do it. If he didn’t want to get up everyone’s nose he wouldn’t write such awful shite.

And Patrick Hayes also writes for Spiked so he knows that perfectly well.

They’re such frauds, those guys, posturing for all they’re worth and then pretending to be wounded when people get exasperated with their posturing.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)