More Brocken sightings
I enjoyed Jim Ring’s “the Spectre of Kahurangi” (Autumn 2001). In Kahurangi National Park there is a bridge called “Brocken Bridge”, quite close to Ghost Creek. Could this be an indication of supernatural forces emanating from this enchanting region?
As a NZFS park ranger there for two years, I discovered a more prosaic explanation, at least for the bridge. It seems that someone stampeded a herd of cattle on to the old bridge during a flood, and the cattle – and bridge – were lost in the floodwaters. The name then became “Broken Bridge”. We Forest Service staff were not renowned for our literary skills, and various track junctions started sprouting signs saying “Brocken Bridge”.
Rather disappointing, really.
As a result of an accident on State Highway One recently a quantity of rat poison was tipped into the sea near Kaikoura. At first sight this seemed to me to be Mother Nature setting up a large-scale test of homoeopathy. My reasoning was as follows: we have a poison diluted with an enormous volume of water (tides are strong and the sea very deep off the Kaikoura coast), and we have succussion (see the surf breaking over the rocks). The rat poison, brodifacoum, like the better known warfarin, is an anti-coagulant, causing death by extensive bleeding. So, by homoeopathic principles, a very high dilution should have the opposite effect, causing strokes and heart failure among the seals, dolphins and whales, brought on by clottability of their blood.
I could see that measuring this effect could be difficult, but I persisted with my calculations. Sadly, I abandoned the project, chiefly because the concentration of rat poison in the sea turned out to be far too high. The amount of material dumped in the sea, 18 tonnes, was quite large, and even allowing for only a low proportion of active ingredient in the bait, and assuming it to have been instantly and uniformly dispersed in deep water of some thousands of square kilometres in area, the final concentration was in the order of one molecule of poison in ten litres of sea. This is, of course, far too high for homoeopathic work, where concentrations of one molecule in a volume equal to that of the Earth are normal. Regretfully, I shall not be issuing an invitation to marine mammals to volunteer for a study of the after-effects of this accident.
In the last issue of the Skeptic (Autumn 2001), I quoted the reaction of the Commissioner for Children, Roger McClay, to the news of Liam Williams-Holloways death:
“Whether a different course of action would have been better, there’s not much point in worrying about it now.”
That response troubled me as it seemed so out of character, so I rang the office and asked Mr McClay about it. It seems that news of Liam’s death was sprung on Mr McClay while he was at a conference and he was asked to comment on the spot. The news upset him but he didn’t think it appropriate to take the family to task at that time, and this was the result.
The question now is, having had time to think about the implications of the whole saga, what will the office’s/commissioner’s response be next time? We’ll get a chance to find out at this year’s conference when an advocate from the Office will be speaking, so come to Hamilton with your own questions!
Rebirth of Quackery
G B Shaw once said that the only difference between animals and humans was that humans like taking pills. It’s clear things haven’t changed since his time when you visit a library and see the number of books on how to be healthy.
Many quack medicine producers have made their money here out of our gullibles and have moved on. Bowel cleansers, hair restorers, nail hardeners, bust developers and fat loss treatments to name a few.
As one example, Black strap molasses’s only virtue was that due to insoluble matter it acted as a bowel irritant with laxative results. Now if you have a lot of molasses left over from sugar refining, use it to make rum or stock lick and get rid of the rest as a good health supplement.
When deer lose their antlers in the wild they recycle them, but when farmed the antler is a dangerous weapon so they are removed at the velvet stage. Now because the Chinese have used them for medicine for thousands of years there is money to be made out of this by-product.
Bee keepers and retired politicians are extolling the benefits of pollen, bee venom and propolis. Their claims for vitamin, mineral and amino acid content are way over the top. All the bee venom rubs which claim to be the panacea of all our skeletal and muscular remedies have added counter irritants which give the impression that this wonder of bee venom is being absorbed, which fortunately it is not. Finally, we come to propolis, bee glue, a dark brown resinous substance collected by the bee from trees. This phenolic resin is used to seal the hive and retain warmth, the antispetic properties of the resin will have some effect in keeping the bacterial integrity of the hive intact.
These are but a few of the nonsense claims to which we could add, electrical devices, magnets, emu oil, homeopathics and a plethora of herbals. If proof of efficacy could be established then such items would be added to the orthodox medicinal armoury. Meanwhile remember “ashes to ashes and dust to dust, if the liquor don’t get you the free radicals must”.
Alan Pickmere, retired pharmacist