Top scientist turns to alternative medicine
Prominent physicist and science commentator Sir Paul Callaghan is resorting to vitamin C megadoses and Chinese medicine to treat his terminal cancer (Dominion Post, 22 September).
Diagnosed in 2008 with aggressive bowel cancer, he has been advised by his oncologist to take a break from chemotherapy to establish the full extent of the cancer’s spread. He is using the time to trial “unproven but interesting” therapies, including traditional Chinese medicine, intravenous vitamin C and “Uncle CC’s famous vegetable juice”.
“Let me be clear. I do not deviate one step from my trust in evidence-based medicine,” Sir Paul said in his blog. However, if there was a potentially effective but unproven drug, “Why would I not try it?” he reasoned. “Am I mad? Probably.”
Victoria University’s Professor Shaun Holt said he could understand terminal cancer patients clutching at straws, but there was no evidence to support vitamin C treatment. It could be harmful, causing kidney problems and interfering with effective treatments such as radiation therapy.
He was concerned Sir Paul’s use of the treatment would further increase the already high number of cancer and leukaemia patients asking for the injections.
GG swears by homeopathy
Another high-profile New Zealander expressing interest in alternative therapies recently was new Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae The 56-year-old revealed in an interview (Dominion Post, 2 September( he and his wife Janine, Lady Mateparae shared an interest in homeopathy.
He said he had not taken a sick day since 1998. “We’ve practised a certain way of looking after ourselves which has been very good for me.”
Perhaps he feels it’s part of the job, given his position as the Queen’s representative in New Zealand, and the royal family’s well-known interest in the field.
Blogger John Pagani commented: “Placebos get you quite a long way, but only so far. After that you need actual medicine. If a soldier gets shot up on a battlefield in, say, Afghanistan, he doesn’t want Sir Jerry rubbing arnica cream on the sore bit.”
Divine solution to liquefaction
A Sefton water diviner believes he has the solution to Canterbury’s liquefaction problems (Central South Island Farmer, 7 September).
Dave Penney says he can identify underground water flows by running a crystal over a Google map, followed by on-site investigation. While the article quoted one happy customer, Waimakariri utilities manager Gary Boot was unconvinced by Penney’s proposal that “confluences” of underground flows could be located and drilled, to reduce pressure and stabilise the land. Areas with the worst liquefaction had widespread and very consistent groundwater, Mr Boot said.
“Finding the groundwater is not the challenge. The challenge is how best to treat the land in an affordable manner.”
iPhone trumps psychic
Chilean authorities have used a psychic to help find 17 missing bodies after the crash of a plane near Robinson Crusoe Island killed all 21 people on board (NZ Herald, 6 September).
“Not only are we using all of our technological capabilities, but also all the human and superhuman abilities that may exist,” said Defence Minister Andres Allemand.
He did, however, seek to lower expectations of recovering all the bodies.
The plane’s fuselage was located a few days later, in part using information from a passenger’s iPhone, which transmitted its location shortly before the crash (AVweb, 9 September). Now if only psychics were as smart as iPhones.
Spontaneous Human Combustion in Ireland?
An Irish coroner has ruled a pensioner found dead at home was a case of spontaneous human combustion (NZ Herald, 25 September).
Unsurprisingly, given the history of this phenomenon, 76-year-old Michael Faherty’s charred remains were found on the floor near an open fireplace. Forensic experts concluded the fire was not the cause of the blaze, and that there were no accelerants at the scene. The only damage to the room was a scorched ceiling and floor adjacent to the body.
The case sounds like a classic of its type: an elderly diabetic with presumably limited mobility is found next to an open fire, with his body consumed but his head left unburned. In 1998 scientists on the British TV programme QED (available from the NZ Skeptics video library( showed how this happens, using a pig carcass wrapped in fabric to simulate the victim. An ember spat from the fire catches in clothing and starts to burn; the fire is then fed by fat from the victim (who has already died of a heart attack, or is about to due to the stress of finding himself alight) as it melts and ‘wicks’ into the clothing. The head, lacking a decent supply of fat, remains unscathed, and any sign of heart disease or other pathology is burned away. QED, indeed.
Medium caught cheating
Sally Morgan, who styles herself “Britain’s best-loved psychic” has been caught receiving outside information during one of her shows (The Guardian, 20 September).
Chris French, editor of UK magazine The Skeptic, relates how an audience member named Sue reported on an Irish radio station how she had been impressed by Morgan’s accuracy during the first half of her performance.
“But then something odd happened. Sue was sitting in the back row on the fourth level of the theatre and there was a small room behind her (‘like a projection room’) with a window open. Sue and her companions became aware of a man’s voice and ‘everything that the man was saying, the psychic was saying it 10 seconds later.'”
Other callers to the radio show confirmed Sue’s account.
Sue said she believed the man was feeding information to Morgan via a microphone. The voice would say something like “David, pain in the back, passed quickly”, and a few seconds later Morgan would have the spirit of a David on stage with just those attributes. When a member of staff realised several people were aware of the voice the window was gently closed.
Sue speculated that information had been gathered in the foyer prior to the show by an accomplice engaging audience members in conversation, a technique French says ‘psychics’ use widely, as their marks naturally discuss among themselves who they are hoping to hear from.
The theatre’s general manager claimed the voice came from two theatre staff members. Sally Morgan Enterprises also denied that the medium was being fed information during the show.
French compared the incident to James Randi’s use of a radio scanner to pick up messages sent to faith healer Peter Popoff’s earpiece in 1986, the subject of an entertaining YouTube video clip. Although his exposure led to him declaring bankruptcy the following year, Popoff is back; his ‘ministry’ received US$23 million in 2005. History suggests, says French, that most of Morgan’s followers will continue to adore her and pay the high prices demanded to see her in action, despite this incident.
Just one more small piece on Ken Ring then no more, I swear. Despite promises to get out of the earthquake prediction business, he was in Upper Hutt recently declaring Wellington could expect a magnitude 7 quake some time between 2013 and 2016 (Upper Hutt Leader, 5 October).
Of course, predicting earthquakes in Wellington is a bit like predicting drought in the Sahara, and a four-year timeframe is a bit vague, to say the least. He says Wellington gets magnitude 7 quakes every 11 to 13 years (really?) and this period is when the next one is due.
I guess any half-way decent shake in the next eight years or so will be put down as a hit, and if nothing comes along before the end of 2016, who’s going to remember what he said in the Upper Hutt Library in October 2011? How can he lose?