I have great news of another big skeptic victory: Power Balance, a company that makes magic rubber wristbands, has been cited with making misleading claims about the bands.
<Nelson Muntz>HA HA!</Nelson Muntz>
Like many of the skeptic victories this year, this one comes from Australia, specifically the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a government watchdog group that has legal authority over businesses. And they’ve exercised that authority: according to the Australian Skeptics (linked above), the ACCC has ordered Power Balance to
• remove misleading claims from their website and packaging
• publish advertising informing consumers that they made claims that could not be substantiated
• offer refunds to all consumers who feel they may have been misled and
• remove the words “performance technology” from the band itself.
I’ve written about similar bands before; basically, these are silicone wristbands, sometimes marketed with a hologram inserted into them which are "tuned to your body’s frequency", that manufacturers claim will help you in all sorts of manners including athletic performance, balance, stamina, and so on. Now, far be it from me to say that a product cannot possibly do what the manufacturers claims lest we need to erase everything we have learned about science, physics, and the Universe itself for the past three centuries, but I suspect these bracelets’ abilities to do anything beyond the placebo effect may be slightly exaggerated. And I’m glad the ACCC agrees.
The antivax group Australian Vaccination Network has been found to give "misleading and inaccurate information" to its followers, according to an Australian government investigation. The investigation also concluded that despite their many denials, the AVN is in fact an antivaccination group and must make that clear when disseminating information.
The entire report can be downloaded here from the Antivaxxers.com website.
Here’s the background: Meryl Dorey is the head of the AVN. She travels across Australia talking about the dangers of vaccination, and by "talking about" I really mean spewing misinformation. She says things that are not correct, cherry picks data, misrepresents scientific studies, and basically distorts reality in order to push her propaganda about vaccines.
The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is one of my favorite podcasts. It’s funny, informative, goofy, but most importantly goes right to the heart of a lot of issues important to the critical thinker.
I’ve done a lot of interviews with them, and sometimes they call me at the last minute when there’s some breaking astronomy news. So a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t too surprised when Steve Novella sent me a note asking if I could record with them that evening for their annual year-end wrapup episode.
What did surprise me is why they wanted me on: the SGU listeners had voted for me as Skeptic of the Year!
Well, wow! I was really floored when they told me this during the interview. It was totally unexpected, and quite an honor. I made some jokes about it in the interview, but now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I want to reiterate how honored I am. It was a great year for skepticism and skeptics themselves, with Simon Singh publicly defending himself from craven chiropractors who tried to sue him into silence, Amy Wallace writing about antivaxxers in Wired magazine, the Australian Skeptics heroically taking on (and being attacked by) the awful antivax guru Meryl Dorey, Randi publicly fighting his cancer with medical science, and so many more.
In that company, I stand paradoxically humbled and proud. My sincere thanks to everyone who cast their vote my way on the SGU forums.
I always really like the SGU year-end wrapup; it’s fun to listen in on the rogues reminiscing on the past year. This one in particular is a great episode. Here’s a direct link to the MP3 of the show, and if you don’t already subscribe to SGU, then go do it now!
Continuing with Australian Skeptics awards, they are giving out a new award in honor of Fred Thornett, a skeptic who died earlier this year. The first recipients of The Fred, given to outstanding promoters of reason, are David and Toni McCaffery.
The McCafferys are heroes of mine. Earlier this year, their four week old infant daughter lost a battle with pertussis. Yes, whooping cough. She was too young to be vaccinated, and because the antivaccination movement is strong in their area, vaccination rates were low, and the herd immunity was in turn too low to help little Dana.
When this grieving couple was shrilly and mercilessly attacked by Meryl Dorey and the AVN, the McCafferys fought back. They went on TV, they gave interviews, and they told the truth: their daughter died from an easily preventable disease, and that people like Dorey and the AVN are a public health menace.
Mind you, this was mere weeks after their daughter had died. If I had been in that situation (and every parent, including me, has nightmares about it), I probably would have curled into a little ball and shut the world out. But not Toni and David. They spoke up. They also created a website in honor of Dana, to make sure her story gets told. They have been astonishing examples of what humans can achieve, even when dealing with something that must have been too heartbreaking to bear.
The Australian Skeptics have a video of the award ceremony. Richard Saunders tells me there was not a dry eye in the house, and just watching it — just writing about it now — chokes me up.
To Toni and David: I am so, so sorry you were eligible for this award, but I am very, very glad you two have done what you’ve done. Congratulations. And may your story save more lives than the AVN and its ilk can endanger.
Meryl Dorey — the truth-impaired mouthpiece of the Australian Vaccination Network, a group of antivaccination conspiracy-mongers who couldn’t find reality with both hands, a compass, and detailed instructions — was "honored" by the Australian Skeptics this week. Richard Saunders and Rachel Dunlop (pictured), on behalf of the AS, gave Dorey their annual Bent Spoon award, awarded to "the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle". Dorey certainly fits that bill! She hasn’t met a conspiracy theory she hasn’t loved, or couldn’t use to threaten the public health with:
Meryl appeared on national television telling a reporter that “we didn’t die from (these diseases) thirty years ago and we’re not going to die from them now”, juxtaposted alongside footage of babies gasping for breath as the journalist detailed the story of the death of Dana McCaffery from the vaccine preventable disease, whooping cough.
Dorey is also an HIV denier, and, as you can see from reading those links, doing her damndest to threaten public health. It’s a shame someone like that has any voice at all in the media, as she spreads misinformation that can lead to the deaths of many people, and we know for a fact that the drop in herd immunity in areas where the AVN is loudest has resulted in deaths from preventable diseases.
The Skeptic Lawyer has more to say about her as well. Dorey is going on the offensive, issuing a press release, going on radio, and being interviewed in papers saying how she’s proud to get this award, since skeptics are obviously just dogmatic shills for Big Pharma, etc.
And while she says this, people — including babies — sicken and some die due to vaccine-preventable illnesses. Nice work, Dorey. I’m so glad you’re proud of the damage you’ve done.
Recently, science writer Simon Singh was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for having the audacity of telling the truth in a newspaper article about chiropractic: while it may have some small efficacy when treating back problems, there is exactly zero good evidence that it can treat illnesses, and in fact can be very dangerous when people get their neck manipulated.
The Australian Skeptics posted Simon’s original article so that it would get more attention. And it worked, kinda: like a fly to honey, one chiropractor took offense at what was written, and decided to send them a nearly logic-free letter. That’s fine, and pretty much what I expect from a vocal alt-med devotée. As justified, Eran Segev, president of the Australian Skeptics, responded.
All well and good, until…
… two weeks after responding we received a letter from the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) indicating Mr Ierano [the chiropractor] has lodged a complaint against Australian Skeptics. The letter attached to the complaint was the same one that Australian Skeptics had received and responded to.
Well, that’s a bit odd! I mean, why go to the trouble to pursue legal action against someone responding to your claims when it should be easy to present a simple rebuttal based on the evidence that chiropractic works?
… oh, right.
What’s funny is that originally, the BCA (the group suing Simon in the UK) tried to defend their position, and presented a poorly-researched, off-topic press release that somehow managed to make them look worse. Apparently, that’s a theme amongst chiropractors trying to support some of their less reality-based claims.
And while I’m using a light-hearted tone here, I’ll note that this is a very serious issue: there are people out there trying to stifle free speech. It’s that simple. The UK libel laws are draconian and designed to shut up any protest, making scientific objections and investigations into potential and real quackery very difficult. As Eran says on the AS page:
Australian Skeptics sees this complaint as lacking any merit even if it did not include some factual errors (e.g. the claim that a British court ruled Simon’s article is biased). We have prepared a detailed response to the HCCC and will be defending our right to publish articles relating to any scientific issue, as long as they are backed by scientific evidence.
Good on ya, mate!