My old pal Richard Saunders from Australia skyped me up (which sounds dirtier than it is) and we chatted about doomsday prophecies — 2012, mostly, but also all the endless failed predictions of years gone by — for his podcast The Skeptic Zone (you can grab the MP3 here too). It’s always fun to chat with Richard. We’ve known each other a long time (as you can tell by the picture of the two of us there — click to southernhemispherenate) and I think that helps.
I also gush a bit about the live stuff I’m doing with Fraser Cain on Google+, including astronomy news roundups every Thursday, and live video telescope viewing via webcams. My part starts at about 12:30 in, but you should listen to the whole thing. It’s a good podcast, and he has an adorable accent.
Most of the time, so-called "alternative medicine" is treated very gently by television news. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t want to tick off their viewers, or the reporters don’t look into it properly, or if they believe in it themselves. But no matter the reason, it’s always refreshing to see a show really tear into something like homeopathy. That’s precisely what the Australian program "Today Tonight" did recently:
The report featured such noted skeptics as Simon Singh, Richard Saunders, and James Randi, and made it very clear that homeopathy is just very expensive nonsense. I’m glad they didn’t make the report "balanced" by giving a lot of time to promoters of homeopathy; that’s not balance any more than giving time to someone who believes in storks delivering babies in a segment about infant health care.
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.
Have you heard about these Power Bands, or Power Balance bracelets? The claims by the manufacturer and at countless demos are that these bands improve balance, flexibility, endurance, and strength by employing holograms which send frequencies that somehow interact with your body’s frequencies or electric field or glaven or some other undefinable manifestation.
Yeah. You can imagine what I think about that. And if you can’t, I’ll be clear: that claim is complete nonsense. Literally, it makes no sense. Holograms don’t emit anything, frequency or otherwise; there’s no such thing as your body’s frequency; and there’s no way inside the laws of physics that a rubber band with a cheap plastic hologram in it can affect your body, unless a) you’re allergic to rubber, or 2) it hits you at meteoric velocities.
We clear? OK.
So why on Earth would such a product be sold with a University logo on it? Yet, that’s what’s happening with the University of Colorado, among other institutions. Power Bands are being sold with the CU logo on them.
Now let me be careful here. These bands are being sold by the Power Force company online, as well as by the CU Athletic Department. The Athletic Department is separate from the University itself, and is the entity that licenses the logo used ("Ralphie" the buffalo).
Still, unsurprisingly, some local skeptics have taken exception to this, and have contacted the University about it. What did surprise me was how dismissively they were rebuffed. Read More
Oh yeah! He interviewed me for his podcast, The Skeptic Zone. We talked about Saturn, citizen science, the good old days of skepticism, and of course "Bad Universe". Give it a listen! And you can grab the MP3 directly here.
While I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 in Las Vegas in July, I was interviewed by my friends Richard Saunders and Rachael Dunlop from The Skeptic Zone, the premier critical thinking podcast in Australia.
We talked about TAM Oz, Minties, telescopes, WIMPs and MACHOs, the LHC, Brian Cox, and Gia Milinovitch, and my no-longer Sooper Sekrit Project.
Sometimes, news comes pouring in to Bad Astronomy HQ, and I am but a man, so I can’t keep up (writing about Saturn’s moons and giant galactic panoramas and big weird Scandinavian spinny thingies keep me pretty busy, y’know).
So here are some quick bits o’ interest.
2) You already knew this, but Rush Limbaugh is somewhat misinformed on basic matters of science and medicine*.
3) Obama’s science advisor John Holdren reads a book by my Hive Overmind compatriots!
5) My friend, the Aussie skeptic Richard Saunders appeared on national TV and handed an astrologer his head.
6) My evil twin Richard Wiseman is fun at parties. Here’s the video:
OK, good. That oughta keep y’all busy while I write up my next big astronomy post.
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.
Obviously, Pigasus is doomed.
For those not in the know. Pigasus is James Randi’s mascot (because the paranormal will be true when pigs fly). Richard Saunders, my friend who made the video, is a master origamist, and invented the Pigasus origami. He obviously has questionable taste.