The milk of human kindness

Dec 2nd, 2011 2:52 pm | By

And then there’s Gulnare Freewill Baptist church, which told a parishioner - ever so politely, you understand – that her fiancé couldn’t come to the church again, on account of how he’s not a white person. Perfectly understandable. It’s because they (church members who voted on “the issue”) want to promote greater unity among the church body and the community. Obviously you can’t do that if there’s a not-white person at the church when all the other persons there are white. That would promote lesser unity. Everybody would look around uneasily and kind of split apart.

Melvin Thompson, former pastor of Gulnare Freewill Baptist church, proposed the ban after Stella Harville brought her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, to services in June. Harville, who goes by the name Suzie, played the piano while Chikuni sang.

Interracial couple Stella Harville and  Ticha Chikuni banned by Kentucky church

Before stepping down as pastor in August, Thompson told Harville that her fiance could not sing at the church again. Harville is white and Chikuni, a native of Zimbabwe, is black.

Last Sunday, church members voted 9-6 in favor of Thompson’s proposed ban. Others attending the church business meeting declined to take a stand on the issue.

“That the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage,” the resolution states, according to WKYT.

“Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals. All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.”

God is love.

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

Oh yes, go right ahead

Dec 2nd, 2011 11:32 am | By

Memri reports a fatwa that says it’s fine for mujahideen to kidnap “the infidels’ women” and rape them, because once they’ve been kidnapped the infidel men don’t own them any more.

The inquiry in response to which Al-Athari issued the fatwa reads as
follows:[1] “Is it permissible for mujahideen in jihad fronts
to kidnap the infidels’ women and hold them as their captives? What is the
ruling regarding a captive in our times? How should they be divided [among the mujahideen]? Is it permissible to imprison [an infidel woman who has been taken captive] in an infidel land, or must she be brought to Dar Al-Islam[the abode of Islam]? How much time must one wait before having sexual intercourse with her, regarding both one who is a virgin and one who is not?”

Notice the assumptions. Notice first the assumption that women are property – “the infidels’ women”; and notice second that they are things, which can be carted around, divided, taken, brought, and generally handled as one might handle a desk or a lawnmower – heavy but manageable; and notice third that the whole point of them is to fuck. Is it permissible for mujahideen to grab other men’s women and bring them back in order to fuck them? That is the question.

Al-Athari replies: “There is no doubt that taking the women of the combatant infidels captive – whether they are from AhlAl-Kitab [i.e.,
Christians or Jews] or pagans – is permitted according to the shari’a…

And that’s all that counts. The holy book of roolz says it’s permitted, so of course there’s no need to think about it, to evaluate it, to try to empathize with the women and judge whether or not it’s really an ok decent humane thing to do. There’s no need to try to have the imagination and compassion and sympathy to realize that kidnapping and raping people is 1) shitty 2) a war crime (because of 1). Just ask an imam and that’s the end of it.

In his discussion of “concrete proofs,” Al-Athari quotes Al-Qurtubi, who says: “Most scholars, including Malik [ibn Anas], Al-Shafi’i, Abu Hanifa, [2] and others, thought that taking [infidel women] captive removes the protection [they previously enjoyed], and permits whoever is holding them to have sexual intercourse with them.” Al-Athari also quotes another scholar whose interpretation of Al-Qurtubi’s ruling says that the latter uses the word “protection” to refer to married women, who are forbidden to men other than their husbands. That is, when these women are taken captive, their marriage contracts with their infidel husbands become void, and they become permissible to their captors. Al-Athari adds that the amount of time a captor must wait until having sexual intercourse with a captive infidel woman depends on her condition: if she is pregnant, he must wait until after she gives birth; if she is menstruating, he must wait until after her period is over; and if she is young and has not yet begun menstruating, he must wait a month from her capture.

That last is a nice touch. If she’s seven and hasn’t reached puberty, the guy who kidnapped her has to wait a month before raping her.


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

There goes the neighborhood

Dec 1st, 2011 4:41 pm | By

I saw Joseph Hoffmann’s post saying how tiny atheism and atheists now are a few days ago, when it was new, and decided to ignore it*, on the grounds that it was little different from its many predecessors and that nobody except one indefatigable fan was paying any attention so why bother. But then I saw that PZ had done a post on it, and then I saw that Eric had, so starving the beast is not an option, therefore I might as well do my share.

What does it say? That atheism is not good enough.

I cannot imagine a time in the history of unbelief when atheism has appeared more hamfisted, puling, ignorant or unappealing.

Is this because its savants are also described by those adjectives, or because their fans are just being fans, merchandising the cause: t-shirts, coffee mugs, quick fixes, blasphemy competitions, and billboard campaigns? (Axial tilt is the reason for the season: Honest Jethro,  I thought I’d never stop laughing). I mean, who are we unless someone is offended by who we are?  What good is blasphemy if no one is getting their knickers in a knot anymore, for Christ’s sake. How can we “come out” when there’s no one standing outside the closet to yell “Surprise!” at? And, by the way you churchy jerks: we are victims.

Atheism has become a very little idea, an idea that has to be shouted to seem important.  And that is a shame, because God was a big idea, and the rejection of the existence of God was also a big idea, once upon a time.

But now, ah now, the grubby vulgar unlearned rabble have gotten their nasty unlearned hands on it and ruined it. It smells like a locker room now. It has potato chip crumbs all over it. It puts its shoes on the furniture. It chews with its mouth open. It doesn’t quote Goethe.

The post starts with a little display of erudition meant to put us in our place.

Lieber Gott: Bitte kommen Sie wieder.  Wir sind sehr traurig, daran zu zweifeln Sie.  Ihr, Faust.

Cool, except that a commenter at Eric’s is a German speaker and says the quoted bit doesn’t make any sense. The “Ihr, Faust” particularly reeks of a machine translator – translating “Yours, Faust,” which isn’t said in German. So that’s pretty funny – a display of snobbish hostility that starts with…ahem.

It gets worse as it goes on. It’s an unpleasant, even embarrassing display. There’s no apparent point to it except to express disdain and superiority.

Atheism has become a very little idea because it is now promoted by little people with a small focus.  These people tend to think that there are two kinds of questions: the questions we have already answered and the questions we will answer tomorrow.  When they were even smaller than they are now, their father asked them every six weeks, “Whadja get in math and science?” When they had children of their own, they asked them, “Whadja get in science and math?”  Which goes to show, people can change.

They eschew mystery, unless it’s connected to a telescopic lens or an electron microscope or a neutrinometer at the Hadron Collider at CERN. “Mystery” is not a state to be enjoyed or celebrated like a good wine or a raven-haired woman with haunting and troubled eyes: it is a temporary state of befuddlement, an unknown sum, an uncharted particle, a glimpse of a distant galaxy, the possibility that Mars supported microbial life.



*Apart from a brief mention on the interview post, that is.

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


Dec 1st, 2011 3:16 pm | By

It’s funny, in a way – Iran’s infamous PressTV is claiming that its embassy in London has been attacked.

Iran’s embassy in London has been attacked by a group of anti-revolutionary elements in an organized campaign after its closure by the British government.

Reports suggest that the residence building of the Iranian ambassador to London has also been targeted.

Uh huh. Sure. Odd that no one else is reporting it though.

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

And they lived happily ever after

Dec 1st, 2011 10:59 am | By

Oh how sweet, Hamid Karzai has pardoned a woman who was serving a 12 year prison sentence for…arson? Armed robbery? GBH? No; for being raped. That’s what women who are raped get in Afghanistan (and not only there): they get long prison sentences, and that’s if they’re lucky; the less fortunate ones get stoned to death. Here’s why: it’s because a man was able to get access to the aperture between her legs, and allowing a man to get access to that is of course a horrendous crime. It’s no good calling it “rape”; it’s the woman’s job to make the aperture inaccessible, period; it’s not the man’s job to refrain from shoving his penis into it when he gets the chance.

But in this case it all works out, because Gulnaz, the woman in question, isn’t actually being set free (to go on making her aperture accessible to random men, the slut), she’s being let out of one prison so that she can enter another: marriage to the man who raped her.

Some 5,000 people signed a petition for Gulnaz’s release. News of her pardon came in a statement from the presidential palace.

It said a meeting of the judiciary committee had “discussed the issue of rape… and the issue of her imprisonment”.

“As the both sides [Gulnaz and the rapist] have agreed to get married to each other with conditions, respective authorities were tasked to take action upon it according to Islamic Shariah,” it said.

Darling Islamic Shariah, which hands a rape victim over to her rapist.

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

Squaring the circle

Nov 30th, 2011 3:57 pm | By

Part 2 of Julian’s cunning plan. His suggested stripped-down religion isn’t finding many takers.

But since the main purpose of posting my articles of 21st-century faithwas to find out just how many could support them, the project is not worthless if we find out the answer is hardly anyone at all.

To recap, there’s a lot of complaint that “new atheist” criticisms of the supernatural aspects of religion miss the point. If that’s true, then it should be possible both to set the atheists straight and establish the credibility of religion by clearly stating what faith without silly, primitive beliefs looks like.

Sure! You bet. I’ve always said so (provided we use the word “religion” and don’t use the word “faith” – it was a mistake to shift from the former to the latter there). Religion without silly, primitive beliefs looks like people joining together to participate in a ceremony or ritual. I haven’t a word to say against it (assuming the ritual doesn’t include elements like animal or child or woman sacrifice or other kinds of harm).

The articles aim to set out what is required for reasonable faith in the most general, minimal terms possible. Then, by seeing how many people can agree with them, we can ascertain whether or not there is real and widespread support for a form of religion that avoids the new atheism’s harshest charges.

Here’s my prediction: no, there isn’t, not widespread. The fans of this line wildly exaggerate how widespread the support for it is. They talk as if it were obvious, and mainstream, and central. But it’s the doctrinal kind of religion that’s gaining adherents, not the “reasonable faith” that Julian has in mind.

Preliminary feedback is not encouraging. Before posting the articles I approached a few commentators for their opinions.

Top of the list was Karen Armstrong, since she has been the most prominent advocate of seeing religion as mythos not logos: roughly speaking, as about values and practices, not beliefs about what exists or has happened on earth or beyond. So not surprisingly she agreed with the first article, which asserts that creeds or factual assertions are at most secondary and often irrelevant to religion. She also agreed, with some reservations about the wording, with the second, that religious belief does not, and should not, require the belief that any supernatural events have occurred here on Earth, and the third, that religions are not crypto- or proto-sciences.

Although she said that she was with me on “religious texts are the creation of the human intellect and imagination”, she said “your wording is prohibitive”, because it “would antagonise a lot of people. It is too bald and needs nuance. There needs to be some acknowledgement that the ‘supernatural being’ is only a symbol of transcendence – something that many religious people understand intuitively – even though they might not express it explicitly. That religious language is essentially symbolic – pointing beyond itself to what lies beyond speech and concepts”.

In other words you have to do what Armstrong does: bullshit and obfuscate. You have to have it both ways. You have to talk piffle about a symbol of transcendence while at the same time insisting that religion is practice not doctrine. You have to avoid antagonizing people, you have to say things that are not “too bald,” you have to add lashings of nuance so that almost everybody can recognize her/his own brand of religion and go home happy. You have to refuse to be clear and understandable, and instead blow a lot of smoke so that all can win, all can have prizes.

Mark Vernon thought the wording could be better. Massimo Pigliucci said it’s ok but he didn’t see the point. John Gray said hell yes but wouldn’t sign anything.

Qualified support, then, but only from a confirmed atheist who is unusually supportive of religion, an agnostic ex-priest, an ecumenical former nun who has rejected all dogma, and another atheist.

It’s like discovering that central state socialism has its defenders, it’s just that none are actual central state socialists. In this case, the worry is that people who do not at all represent real, existing religion are defending it by appealing to characteristics it doesn’t actually have.

Exactly – and this is what the gnu atheists have been saying all along, and getting yelled at for saying. But we were right. Julian can’t get any takers.

If the articles of faith are to provide any hope of establishing the existence of the kind of reasonable faith I think should be possible, we need to get support for them from people who are actually actively and self-consciously religious.

So far, that has not been forthcoming. Theo Hobson, for example, a self-described “liberal” theologian, says: “I’m afraid I don’t really sympathise with this. Christianity can’t be reformed by the neat excision of the ‘irrational’/supernatural. It is rooted in worship of Jesus as divine – the ‘creed’ side is an expression of this.”

Nick Spencer, research director at the eminently reasonable public theology thinktank Theos, was even clearer in his rejection, saying, for instance: “Although religious texts are indeed created by human intellect and imagination, that doesn’t mean they can’t be taken as expressing the thoughts of the divine … I don’t see what’s left of the Abrahamics if you do take this out of the equation in this way”. Spencer also provides little hope of finding too many other supporters out there, adding that “there would be precious few Christians I know … who could sign up to all your points. To take just the most obvious example: according to mainstream Christian thought, Christianity is founded on a belief in the physical resurrection.”

Giles Fraser, even though he is a radical cleric who recently resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, says this is “tricky” and “I’m not sure I can assent to any of these. Which is not to say that I agree with their opposite either. These are just not the terms in which I do God.”

[Chorus] This is what the gnu atheists have been saying all along. Religion really is religion, theism really is theism. They aren’t kidding. They aren’t secretly atheists who just like to go sit with the neighbors of a Sunday morning.

One source of resistance is that the articles are expressed as beliefs when for many, the whole point is that we need to move away from putting beliefs at the centre. Hence Gray would prefer the second article to talk of “religious practice” not “religious belief”, while Hobson says “believing in God” is “rather unhelpful” and that it’s “better to talk of ‘doing God’,” which is just the phrase Fraser used when expressing his reservations.

But I’m afraid I find this all too evasive.

So do I. That word is one of the most tattered and worn in my vocabulary, I give it so much use.

Julian remains optimistic though.

However, even if this middle path does vanish, that does leave one intriguing possibility open. Could it be that the common ground I’m looking for is not one centred on belief at all, but something else, such as a commitment to certain values around enquiry and coexistence? I think it might and it’s a possibility I hope to come back to in due course.

Does one really look to people who have supernatural beliefs for a commitment to “values around inquiry”? I don’t. I think people who have supernatural beliefs are more committed to their supernatural beliefs than they are to values around inquiry. That’s why I’m not a fan of the supernatural beliefs.



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

Few takers for sophisticated version of religion

Nov 30th, 2011 12:44 pm | By

I’m beginning to think Julian set a cunning trap with his Heathen’s Progress series. He started with everybody gets it wrong, it’s more complicated than that. He went on to let’s offer a minimal version of religion and see if all those non-literal (sophisticated, “it’s more complicated than that”) believers will sign up to it. He pointed out that he had the most to lose if they wouldn’t, because he’s been saying that new atheists get it all wrong by ignoring the non-literal sophisticated “it’s more complicated” segment of believers.

If it really is the case that lots of mainstream religious leaders and believers can happily sign up to this, then religion really is the much more benign, unsuperstitious thing that liberals and agnostics have said it is all along. If not, then I hope these voices will concede that theirs is a vision for how religion should be, not as it is, and join in the criticisms of the religions that actually surround us today.

And guess what – they fell into the trap. Jonathan Chaplin said pretty much what we pesky new atheists say – that religion really does include some actual supernatural beliefs.

Baggini’s article 1 requires those occupying his putative common ground to affirm that “to be religious is primarily to assent to a set of values, and/or practise a way of life, and/or belong to a community that shares these values and/or practices” and that “creeds” are secondary at best. But no one who wishes in any way to stand within historic Christianity could possibly assent to that reductionist assertion.

Well quite – which is what we’ve been saying all along. Karen Armstrong would assent to that assertion – she wrote a whole book making it – but her claims that that view is central and normal are not believable, as Jonathan Chaplin helpfully confirms.

Admittedly, Christians have sometimes been overly preoccupied with defending creedal assertions at the expense of communal practice. But to imply that an insistence that creeds are essential to religion is to be “hanging on to outmoded doctrines” is crassly pre-emptive. It will simply ensure that the “believers” who huddle together with Baggini on his supposed common ground are all rather like the theologian Don Cupitt, who ended up not believing in anything resembling a Christian God, and whom the atheist philosopher AJ Ayer, in a famous television debate invited (I paraphrase) to “come clean and admit you are on our side”.

Exactly. Julian interviewed Cupitt for TPM years ago, and had pretty much the same thought.

Has he been planning the trap all this time? Sly devil.



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

Burzynski clinic issues press release

Nov 29th, 2011 5:40 pm | By

Yes that’s right, a press release. They’ll be doing the Colbert Report next.

Marc Stephens no longer has “a professional relationship” with the clinic. The clinic thinks it was inappropriate – yes that’s right, inappropriate – to send “a blogger,” meaning Rhys Morgan, a picture of his own house. The clinic apologizes.

But apology or no apology, the wheels of justice grind exceeding fine: attorneys will be contacting UK bloggers about what the press release says is “inaccurate information.” UK bloggers…why UK bloggers? Could this be another case of libel tourism?

This, as the saying goes, ain’t over.

Update 11/30 morning: Jen dug into the clinic’s list of publications and found it wanting. A must-read.





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

That’s the way to silence bloggers

Nov 29th, 2011 4:45 pm | By

Josephine Jones now has 103 blog posts on Burzynski v Andy Lewis and Rhys Morgan in her list. She’s stopped counting. Another epic win for threatening bullies.

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

Residual respect for an enduring institution

Nov 29th, 2011 1:05 pm | By

I did an interview with Geoff Whelan of QED which is now posted.

One of the questions was

Are you dismayed when those who you would think naturally would support a strong atheist position turn their criticism against those who directly challenge religion? Is there something about free thinkers that encourages dissent? Or are we talking about Dennett’s belief in belief, in the sense that someone may realise on an intellectual level that religious belief is false but that they still have residual respect for an enduring institution?

Funny, PZ has a post about yet another example of that kind of thing, just today. The yet another example is yet another by Joseph Hoffmann, yet again in the same style – loose generalities about atheists, with no specifics to dispute. I saw it a few days ago and was going to retort but then deflated out of sheer boredom. It’s just the same old dreck. Hate-mongering, basically, stirred up against a category that is already thoroughly hated, and without any pesky particulars or evidence. It’s not an impressive or responsible thing to do.

But never mind. Speaking of impressive and responsible – who do you think is going to be at QED too, along with his father? Rhys Morgan! Booya.


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

Why Burzynski matters

Nov 29th, 2011 12:16 pm | By

Craig Malisow doesn’t mince words in his blog post for Houston Press about his neighbors at the Burzynski Clinic. Maybe he’s hoping Marc Stephens will offer to threaten him too.

Here’s a warning for anyone out there considering blogging or tweeting anything questioning the greatness of cancer-curing Houston doc Stanislaw Burzynski: You will probably be threatened by the head of marketing for the Burzynski Patient Support Group.

We first heard about loose cannon Marc Stephens’s weird diatribes Monday, when a guy in England informed us that Stephens had earlier this month threatened 17-year-old Welsh blogger Rhys Morgan with a libel suit if Morgan didn’t remove any of his comments questioning the validity of Burzynski’s claims. Morgan is one of several bloggers around the world that Stephens has been threatening.

Giving the false impression he was an attorney representing the Burzynski Clinic, Stephens demanded Morgan “immediately cease and desist in your actions defaming and libeling my clients. Please allow this correspondence to serve as notice to you that published libelous and defamatory information.” Showing off his legal chops, Stephens busted out the all-caps to admonish Morgan that he best “GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.”

No words minced there. Loose cannon, weird diatribes, giving the false impression he was an attorney, and the sarcasm about his legal chops – those words are whole and entire.

We’ve left several messages for Burzynski Clinic spokeswoman Renee Trimble, trying to find out if they knew about — or approve of — Stephens’s actions, but we haven’t heard back. That’s what we call primo PR, Renee! Keep it up! We also e-mailed Stephens and have yet to hear back from him, either. But maybe we will as soon as he finds out that “third parties” read this blog. (Usually, we write for just first parties, and in some cases even second parties, but we figured this was deserving enough to reach out to that coveted third-party market.)

But then the joking stops. The Burzynski Clinic is not, fundamentally, a joke. It is deadly serious.

If you ever want to tinker with your notions of the existence of God, or of justice, then we suggest you talk to a father of a six-year-old girl dying of brain cancer.  That’s what we did a while back. He explained that, not being a rich man, and being warned of the severity and time-sensitive nature of his daughter’s condition, he was under the impression that he had one shot to save her life. One chance to liquidate every asset and every ounce of his life savings and put it all on one treatment, and hope it was the right one. Burzynski’s treatment would wipe him out financially, so if it didn’t work, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to afford any other treatment.

And that’s basically what we’ve been wondering about this whole time. Burzynski fanatics like Stephens operate under this rubric whereby it’s some vast Big Pharma-doctor conspiracy to keep kids sick and prevent Burzynski from helping people. But we think it’s the exact opposite. In the past, when Burzynski had the opportunity to work with government-sponsored researchers and get on the path to get his treatment FDA-approved and covered by insurance, he aborted the study.

So instead, he just sits on what he claims is a remarkably effective cancer treatment, charging exorbitant amounts that most people have to mortgage their homes and sell everything they own to afford. In other words, he’s the only guy in the world with the cure, but he doesn’t want to give it away for free or share it with anyone else.

Not funny.

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

Don’t Streisand that blog, my friend

Nov 28th, 2011 5:52 pm | By

And more #Burzynski.

Richard Wilson at Don’t Get Fooled Again.

While the UK media has been characteristically slow in picking this up – presumably the Murdoch press are too preoccupied with their own problems and the Guardian Media Group still frozen in the headlights after the Observer got sucked into the  controversybloggers all over the world have been ensuring that this story continues to grow.

Josephine Jones has a list of posts on the subject. There are a lot. More not-going-well for the intimidation thing.

The likelihood of Stephens contacting me now seems to be getting ever smaller. Critical Burzynski posts are popping up all over the internet almost faster than I can read them.

Despite his confident assertion that Quackwatch, Ratbags, and the rest of you Skeptics days are numbered, surely Mr Stephens will not be able to deal with us all individually?

You will find a growing list of new Burzynski posts here), where anarchic teapot points out the perils of unleashing the Streisand Effect.

Spartacus Streisand is all over their ass.


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


Nov 28th, 2011 4:25 pm | By

More on the Burzynski Clinic – yes Google I said THE BURZYNSKI CLINIC – and Marc Stephens and Rhys Morgan.

From Phil Plait.

In Houston, Texas, is a man named Stanislaw Burzynski. He claims he has a method for treating cancer. He calls it antineoplaston therapy. However, according to the National Cancer Institute, “No randomized, controlled trials showing the effectiveness of antineoplastons have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.” That’s a bad sign. Furthermore, the FDA has not approved of antineoplaston therapy for use. Also telling is that “… other investigators have not been able to obtain the same results reported by Dr. Burzynski and his team”. Yet, despite this, Burzynski charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to get his therapy — though he has to say they’re participating in research trials, since the FDA won’t allow him to use his ideas as an actual treatment.

Those are red flags, to be sure.

However, I am not an expert on cancer, so I rely on the advice and expertise of others. Dr. Steve Novella, who certainly is an expert both in medicine and the misuses thereof, has some choice words about Burzynski and his ideas. So does David Calquhoun, a British pharmacologist. So does — at great length and detail — Dr. David Gorski, and so does the website Quackometer (and again here as well) and so does the Cancer Research UK Science blog.

Oh gee. The whole threatening-trying-to-silence thing doesn’t seem to be working very well, does it.

Most importantly, so does Rhys Morgan. Who’s that? He’s a 17-year-old high school student who has blogged about Burzynski, in a factually stated but highly critical manner. So what did Burzynski’s clinic do?

They threatened to sue.

In general, it’s a little unusual, to say the least, for a team doing medical research to sue someone for criticizing them. That’s because real science thrives on criticism, since it’s only through critiques that the potential errors of a particular method can be assessed — that’s why research is supposed to be published in peer-reviewed journals as well. Suing is the antithesis of that idea.

Which must make it all the more frustrating that it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

From Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Whether or not Mr Stephens is a lawyer, his responses to several skeptics who questioned his “client”‘s science are not, in my opinion, in keeping with good science or good public policy. The world of science has no room for angry threats when a claim is put forward. The scientific method demands that skepticism be rebutted with proof, not threats. On seeing this, I am led to the opinion that these threats are being offered because the proof isn’t there.

I also stand with the scientists and skeptics who find themselves facing aggressive, hyperbolic legal threats for doing what we should all do: carefully research and debate matters relating to life-or-death health issues. No doctor should respond to critics in this way. No lawyer should address potential litigants this way. In my opinion, these are serious ethical breaches, and in my opinion, “antineoplaston therapy” is almost certainly without merit. I urge anyone considering spending their money at the Burzynski Clinic to carefully read the notes attributed to the clinic’s representative and ask yourself why a clinic with a sound scientific footing would respond to critics with threats, not proof.

Yes, not going well at all. Not helping Dr Burzynski’s reputation. Not causing people to pipe down. Dear oh dear.



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

Streisand that clinic

Nov 28th, 2011 11:55 am | By

A 17-year-old schoolboy has been in receipt of blustering threats from Marc Stephens, who “represents” (as he says) the Burzynski Clinic. That’s a funny word, “represents.” In this context it suggests “as a lawyer” – but in fact Marc Stephens doesn’t actually say he’s a lawyer, even when urgently invited to do so (instead he says “you should stop asking me if I’m a lawyer,” which is no help). It’s hard not to think he would say he’s a lawyer if in fact he were a lawyer, so his consistent failure to do so seems to point to the likelihood that he isn’t one.

But lawyer or PR hack, whichever, Marc Stephens has been sending blustering threats to Rhys Morgan, including a screenshot of his house.


This is my THIRD AND FINAL WARNING to you.

Please convey this message to your entire Skeptic Network, which includes but not limited to,, thetwentyfirstfloor, quackwatch, etc. I represent Dr. Burzynski, the Burzynski Clinic, and the Burzynski Research Institute. I’ve attached Azad Rastegar, and Renee Trimble from the Burzynski Clinic for your confirmation.

In the following weeks I will be giving authorization to local attorneys in multiple countries to pursue every defamation libel case online, including your online libelous statements. I suggest you shut down your entire online defamation campaign about Dr. Burzynski, and remove ALL recent or previous comments off the internet IMMEDIATELY. The minute you post any libelous comments online about my client I will pursue you and your parents/guardians To the Full Extent of the Law. I have no obligation to train you, or teach you, the meaning of defamation. Google it, or go to the library and research it.

This is a very serious matter. Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as (my address). If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.

Now Rhys wants our help getting the word out.

Since the initial email, I have discovered others have received similar legal threats from Marc Stephens including Peter Bowditch of, who blogged about Burzynski eleven years ago, but is only now receiving this legal threat. Another blog threatened includes from Andy Lewis, A.K.A Le Canard Noir. You can find a blog about his ordeal with Marc Stephens here:

I posted the blog so that patients, their friends and families would be aware of the whole story about Burzynski and his unproven therapy. I want them to be aware that the treatment seems to be in a constant cycle of trials generating unpublished results. As Dr Howard Ozer, director of the Allegheny Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said – it is scientific nonsense.

So in order to spread the word, I need your help. I would really appreciate it if you could do
the following two things:

Tweet about the Burzynski clinic. You could either write your own tweet or you could retweet my suggested tweet: RT @rhysmorgan Patients need to know the whole truth about Burzynski’s cancer treatment claims:

OR you could retweet this: RT @rhysmorgan Dr Burzynski does not want you to know the whole truth about his cancer treatments, which is why he tried to sue me

Add a link to this blog from your website so that it will increase the PageRank for this blog so that when patients search for Burzynski, they discover this blog as well as Dr Burzynski’s propaganda. This way, they can discover the whole truth and determine for themselves whether it’s worth investing in his treatment.

You know what to do.

Steven Novella has. PZ has. Kylie Sturgess has - to name only a few.

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

The archbish live and in person

Nov 28th, 2011 10:49 am | By

I say I say – you can watch and listen to the archbishop of Canterbury telling the House of Lords why bishops should go on being there, live, right now. Andrew Copson of the BHA is also there and I think either going to talk or finished talking – or maybe both.

One gem from the ABC so far -

Nobody is looking for theocracy, nobody wants to turn the UK into Iran – but – the role of faith in asking questions is a very significant one.

And the difference is…?

Ah – and now he’s admitting that women aren’t in the picture much.


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

A scientist would not threaten critics and try to silence them

Nov 27th, 2011 5:12 pm | By

Andy Lewis of Quackometer wrote about his concerns about the Burzynski clinic, where Dr Burzynski charges people hundreds of thousands of dollars for an unproven urine-based cancer therapy. Within 24 hours he was in receipt of a threatening message from said clinic.

You have a right to freedom of speech, and you have a right to voice your opinion, but you do not have the right to post libelous statements regardless if you think its your opinion or not.  You are highly aware of defamation laws. You actually wrote an article about defamation on your site.  In addition, I have information linking you to a network of individuals that disseminate false information.  So the courts will apparently see the context of your article, and your act as Malicious.  You have multiple third parties that viewed and commented on your article, which clearly makes this matter defamation libel. Once I obtain a subpoena for your personal information, I will not settle this case with you.  Shut the article down IMMEDIATELY.


Hm. I bet law schools teach prospective lawyers never to write ALL IN CAPS on the first day. I bet that message IS NOT FROM A LAWYER.

Andy Lewis replied civilly asking for specifics of what he got wrong. The reply sounded much less lawyerly.


I am not here to grade your article, or play games with you.  You fully understand what you’re doing, which is why you are trying to hide behind your so-called “opinion”.  You have a history of lying in your articles since 2008. All articles and videos posted from your little network are being forwarded to local authorities, as well as local counsel.  It is your responsibility to understand when you brake[sic] the law.  I am only obligated to show you in court.  I am giving you final warning to shut the article down.  The days of no one pursuing you is over.  Quackwatch, Ratbags, and the rest of you Skeptics days are numbered.

So, when I present to the juror that my client and his cancer treatment has went up against 5 Grand Juries which involved the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Aetna Life Insurance, Emprise, Inc., Texas State Medical Board, and the United States Government, and was found not guilty in all 5 cases, you will wish you never wrote your article.  In addition, my client has treated multiple cancer patients around the world, which is fully documented by the FDA, NCI, and Kurume University School of Medicine in Japan, and has finished Phase II clinical trials with FDA approval to move forward with Phase III.  I suggest you spend more time with your new child then posting lies and false information on the internet that will eventually get you sued, which will hurt you financially.  I am going to pursue you at the highest extent of the law.

Oooh ya that doesn’t look lawyerly at all. That “has went” is fatal, as is “you will wish you never wrote.” Dr Burzynski should get his assistant some help with the grammar parts.

Andy Lewis had a similar thought.

This foam-flecked angry rant did not look like the work of a lawyer to me. And indeed it is not. Marc Stephens appears to work for Burzynski in the form of PR, marketing and sponsorship.

Lewis made further attempts to get specifics, Stephens sent more threats, and Lewis said what all this looks like.

I believe my article was raising serious issues concern on matters of public health and the ethical issues of charging hundreds of thousands from the desperate parents of terminally ill children. It is an important set of issues that the Observer failed to pick up on in an uncritical piece that may well send more parents down a path that has the potential to do serious harm.

In science, the truth emerges after ideas have been subjected to thorough experimental testing, and the results critically appraised by peers. This process can be harsh – and it needs to be. In medicine, despite the best of intentions, it is possible to do great harm when you believe you are doing good. Ideas only emerge as bad because of intense critical appraisal.

Dr Burzynski presents himself as a man of science. But, I would say to him and his associates, a man of science would welcome critical appraisal, would publish all the data he has, and allow the world to come to conclusions based on how good that evidence is. A man of science would not threaten critics and try to silence them. That is a sure and certain way that you will end up harming patients.

Stay tuned.



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

Sigh ents 4 gur ulls

Nov 27th, 2011 11:46 am | By

Oh look, science for girls – how kind of the boys to make some science for girls so that the stupid weak fluffy pink little things won’t feel left out. You’ve come a long way baby!

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

Jesus and Mo chat about modesty

Nov 27th, 2011 11:38 am | By

And the relativity of distance.


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

Tacit consent

Nov 27th, 2011 11:14 am | By

Nick Cohen ponders the absence of news coverage of the murder of Rafiq Tagi.

Emin Milli, a liberal Azerbaijani writer, told me that Tagi appeared to be recovering from his injuries in a state hospital and then took a turn for the worse. He wondered how that could be. He was as suspicious about the failure of westerners to take an interest in the murder of a writer, whose “crime” had been to speak his mind. He’d tried the BBC, newspapers… everyone he could think of and no one apart from Index on Censorship was interested. “Why don’t they care?”

Milli has a touchingly simple belief in the power of free speech, but his question was not as naive as it sounded. He knew from experience how effective democratic opinion can be when mobilised. He was one of the Azerbaijani “donkey bloggers,” whose persecution became a cause celebre in 2009.

The world did not stand by and say that Azerbaijan was none of its business. Barack Obama, the EU, the media and human rights groups took up the donkey bloggers’ cause and persuaded the regime to free them.

Milli is now studying in London and cannot understand why those who shouted with such passion about his conviction ignored Tagi’s murder. I tried to explain that Europe was not the brave continent that Tagi imagined. It would defend the victims of political oppression but not of religious oppression. Ever since the persecution of Salman Rushdie, many have been frightened of denouncing Islamism for fear of reprisals. Others were frightened of being accused of orientalism, neoconservatism or some other sinful religious or racial phobia.

To put it another way: there are no “communities” of corrupt officials living in neglected corners of Bradford or Birmingham, so it doesn’t feel like bullying to give support to their critics. The same cannot be said of “communities” of Muslims. It’s a mistake to think that resisting political Islam is a way of bullying Muslims, but it’s a mistake that a lot of people make. It would be nice if those people could learn to make the necessary distinctions.

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

Welcome to Kalispell

Nov 27th, 2011 10:13 am | By

I guess Kalispell, Montana is off the list of places I want to live in. (Was it on the list in the first place? No, but now it’s on the Do Not Add list.) It seems it’s being colonized by white supremacists and anti-government right-wing lunatics.

The Pioneer Little Europe movement has brought dozens of white supremacists to the Flathead Valley. They are increasingly making their presence known by staging public events, openly recruiting and distributing racist literature, stocking up on firearms at area gun shows while dressed in neo-Nazi clothing, working for local anti-gun control and anti-abortion campaigns (according to Gaede), and issuing violent threats to perceived enemies, including Media Matters, which is now under “indictment” for treason to the white race.

The growing numbers of PLE white supremacists in the Flathead Valley parallels a recent influx to the area of ultra right-wing “Patriot” movement leaders and their followers. Their combined forces are rapidly transforming the region into the hottest flash point of right-wing extremism in the country.

In addition to calling on fellow right-wing extremists to move to the Flathead Valley, leaders of both the PLE and the Patriot movements in the region are urging followers to exploit Montana’s weak firearms regulations by stocking up on guns, including .50 caliber sniper rifles and assault weapons, says Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, which closely follows PLE and Patriot activity, including online communications.

Oh goody, sounds like another Ruby Ridge or Waco in our future.

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