Scanning down the BBC News headlines page I came across a few headlines that bothered me and I think they show a disconnect between what the public think and what is correct. This has always been the case but social media and the ease of connectivity now means that people who are wrong can gather together and think that being in a community of like-minded people means that their views are correct.

Holocaust Denial
Holocaust Denial

Apparently 5% of the population do not think the holocaust happened. Whether this is the same as denial I am not sure. Perhaps they just haven’t appraised the evidence. Apparently 45% of people polled didn’t know how many people were killed in the holocaust but I think that is more forgivable. To know something happened is one thing but to know numbers about it is another. As long as they all know it was a bad thing then we should be ok. There were 17 million victims in total.

What this news article seems to be pointing out is that we clearly are not learning from the mistakes of the past. We are also pretty poor at appraising evidence. Too many people don’t understand how to read articles critically and to appraise their sources of information. Too many people can easily be swayed by group-think and the idea that many people saying the same thing over and over must be right.

What’s more these people also probably don’t care that they are wrong. They are going to believe what they want because they can. They also probably think that there isn’t objective truth. They probably struggle to cope with the idea that they can be easily manipulated and are possibly being used by other forces or that they are just stupid. The reason we have experts in certain fields of human endeavour is so that not everyone needs to be an expert about everything. People should be accepting of allowing us to defer our human knowledge to people who have spent their lives pursuing the best-as-we-know-it truth in these matters. We also need to understand that it’s not just a single expert we should trust but the consensus view of the world of experts.

This is what science does. Science changes its views with evidence and sometimes it changes quickly and sometimes its a more gradual change but over time the direction of scientific knowledge is to getting things correct. In terms of history we should listen to the consensus view of academics while we learn more and more. In terms of economics we shouldn’t really listen to anyone because it’s not a science, more a dark art. In terms of Brexit we should listen to the lawyers, the economists and the scientists. We should not be listening to the MPs because they aren’t experts in those fields. They are people elected by us to represent us whom, we would think, have the best interests of the country and its citizens as a whole. But we should also recognise that they are human and so fundamentally flawed individually.

We also need to understand that sometimes we just won’t know and answer to a particular problem or that the question isn’t a valid question. Think about something from history, something like what Masham said to Queen Anne. We can’t know what was said but we can use the best evidence we have to try and build a picture. Think about the start of the universe, we have a pretty good idea of what happened and asking “what” is a very legitimate question. The problem with that one is asking “why”. Although why something happens is a legitimate question the answer is unknowable and this makes the question reasonably void. It is these gaps in answers to questions that humans don’t seem to like and in those are inserted many stupid theories along with the concept of god.

Education is how we get out of this. We need to educate the country in particular matters so that people understand why and how. This is not an easy process. To allow a decent explanation to the country on matters of importance with a series on TV or radio or the internet somewhere. Mind you, you can’t make the horse drink. Some people will choose to be willfully ignorant and others are just ignorant. Personally I think this is correlated to good effect with empathy, but that is something I haven’t investigated.


This is how it is done. We educate people. We let them understand the experiences. We talk to them. We hope they are willing to listen and learn. I do think, however, that there is an awful lot of the Dunning-Kruger effect going on with people who choose not to learn.


Two more headlines next to each other on the very same BBC News front pages as the others in this communication. I did not read each article and that may be the start of the problem but I want to point out the following:

Astrology is bollocks and, unfortunately, people fall for its charm and simplicity. Perhaps if we could educate people more about appraising evidence and understanding a little more physics we could kill off this bollocks and other religious bollocks too.

Finally, putting a question mark at the end of a headline does not good journalism make. It is really lazy. It implies that the answer is yes but also shows that the journalist doesn’t really have any proper evidence to answer the question because otherwise the question mark wouldn’t need to be there. If you have evidence then it is fact and you can write something like that as an indictment of underfunding of our roads. But if you are just using “anecdotal evidence”, or to give it its proper name; “anecdotes”, then you are just a lazy piece of shit and you shouldn’t be a journalist.

Always remember when your aunt starts telling you that she took activated carbon tablets and that cleared up her cancer that the plural of anecdotes is not evidence. People are flawed and terrible at understanding evidence. That is why science and experts exist.

Therapeutic Massage

A short while ago I wrote about the Maidstone Sports Injury Clinic and Wellbeing, it was advertised at a gym in Maidstone. I explained that most of the stuff offered probably doesn’t work.

Today I look at Therapeutic Massage because I don’t really know what it is.

The Maidstone Wellness thingy has a page on the Massage and it explains what it is:

Therapeutic Body Massage works the soft tissue of the body, where knots, tension and muscle tightness can be found. It is from working into and around these areas that Therapeutic Body Massage can help ease stress and muscular tension.

To me that sounds like a massage. It seems that someone will massage you and you will feel better. I don’t think I have a problem with that unless there are specific medical claims made on the same page.

Guess what? There aren’t any specific medical claims. All the benefits are a bit shit and vague so that we don’t have to worry about them:

  • Reduction in muscle spasm, pain and tension
  • Release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers
  • Promotes relaxation, therefore reducing stress and anxiety
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Improves lymphatic drainage
  • Improves mobility

I guess if you stimulate someone then you create more blood flow and most of these claims are probably not too bad. Whether that does any good I don’t know.

I’ve had a look in PubMed, here are some of the results discussed:

Comparison of blood flow changes with soft tissue mobilization and massage therapy.
Comparison of blood flow changes with soft tissue mobilization and massage therapy.

Now, my comments. Firstly this was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine so that automatically means it’s bollocks. However, here’s what they found: someone’s calf when rubbed with something warmer than air temperature warms up. The killer line in this study is “a rise in temperature THEORETICALLY indicates increased blood flow”. Amazing!

Therapeutic massage of the neck and shoulders produces changes in peripheral blood flow when assessed with dynamic infrared thermography.
Therapeutic massage of the neck and shoulders produces changes in peripheral blood flow when assessed with dynamic infrared thermography.

I have the same criticisms for this paper. The journal is bollocks and the whole process is bollocks.

The anatomical study of the major signal points of the court-type Thai traditional massage on legs and their effects on blood flow and skin temperature.
The anatomical study of the major signal points of the court-type Thai traditional massage on legs and their effects on blood flow and skin temperature.

This one is from a different journal, this time the Journal of Integrative Medicine, which is a bollocks journal. Note that in the conclusion they state that the results might not be clinically relevant. Quelle surprise.

This next paper seems more realistic although the abstract is barely abstract it does say that it’s all a bit vague really.

The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention.
The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention.

Well, it seems that massage and blood circulation are common claims but there isn’t really anything to it as no-one is able to define what circulation means. This is classic alternative “medicine”. They make deliberately vague claims because those claims aren’t medically recognised terms and therefore don’t need medical evidence.

I reckon that having a massage won’t do you any particular harm. It might even make you feel better and more relaxed. Much like reading a book or having a glass of wine. I doubt there are particular health benefits to having a massage but if it feels good, do it.

False Debate

Well, I have had this communication as a draft title since 8 April 2014. I thought I should write some more on sceptical thinking matters since I wrote the piece on osteopathy. I have returned to this matter today because for the last few days the virtual world has been lit up by the news that the BBC are no longer going to be allowed to have quacks and frauds on TV programmes to give the “two sides to every story”.

In a nutshell you take a generally accepted view on reality and interview an expert in that subject and then because you can’t appear to be biased you give a nutter the chance to speak about what they think. So you might have someone on the news or science programme discussing evolution and to “balance” the argument (there is no argument, evolution is pretty much done and dusted) you get some religious nut who really thinks the Earth is 6000 years old and therefore evolution can’t exist.

When a view of reality is considered fact (as far as we can accept it) you then have to understand that it takes a huge amount of evidence to over-throw those views and not just someone from a lobbying group going on about how climate change doesn’t exist.

Here’s the link to the Telegraph’s new story.

Just in case you were wondering, here’s some things that are scientifically accepted:

  • Gravity
  • Evolution by natural selection
  • Immunisations
  • Anthropogenic Climate Change

Here are some things that are considered bullshit:

  • Young Earth creationism
  • Homoeopathy
  • Chiropractic
  • Osteopathy
  • Reflexology
  • Zero loss power machines
  • Astrology
  • Crystal energy

Here are some things you are welcome to argue the toss about but there is never going to be proof of the positive:

  • Existence of god and or gods
  • Telepathic powers
  • Mediumship
  • The “soul”

The Mass I Lost

The quick way but maybe not the easiest way I could lose mass would be to change the cross component of the Higgs Field, a by-product of which would be adjusting the mass of the Higgs Boson. I failed in my quest to do this, the scientists at Cern weren’t happy with my suggestions.

Towards the end of 2011 I wanted to lose mass. I had been large (95Kg) for a while and it was time to get fitter and aim for a healthy mass. I had heartburn a lot and snored a lot with some sleep apnea rolled in for fun. My details from Wolfram|Alpha.





By simply calorie watching and keeping to a maximum of 1800kCal a day I lost weight. Probably at about half a kilogram a week. The sums are quite simple! A kilogram of body fat contains around 7000kCal. So, if you reduce your calorie intake by 500kCal a day, you will lose around 3500kCal a week of body fat. If you don’t believe my fat energy content then just look up the calorific content of butter or margarine. They are both pretty similar to body fat.

Within 3 or 4 months I had reached a natural limit of mass loss by diet alone and so decided to up the game with some serious exercise. I started small. Running and jogging a mile. Eventually I built this up to 4 or 5 mile runs over about a period of six months. I lost the rest of the mass and settled at about 80Kg. I tried to do about three runs a week at roughly 500kCal each. That means about 3 miles per run. You could walk this distance and achieve roughly the same effect, it just takes longer to complete the 3 miles.




My heartburn has vanished. I no longer snore. I don’t have sleep apnea anymore. I have a resting heart rate of around 50 bpm and I can run for 10k without feeling dead. As long as I run I get to enjoy some bad foods now and then. I feel pretty great.

There are days I hate this. There are days I really don’t want to run or I find it particularly unenjoyable. You have to get over these. It’s so easy to slip back into old habits.

I know the BMI isn’t perfect as a measurement but it’s a good guide to use.

How You Know

The picture shows the window from a local “osteopathy” practice. One day I will go into the shop to ask them about their various practices. However, for now, I shall rely upon the scientific evidence for the following treatments.


This shop purveys:

  • Osteopathy
  • Homoeopathy
  • Allergy Testing
  • Chiropody
  • Beauty Therapy
  • Massage
  • Sports Injury
  • Ultra Sound Therapy

So, beauty therapy is fine. I don’t care what you slap on your face I’m pretty sure that, as long as they make no health claims, I couldn’t care what they do. Beauty advertising is beset with rubbish [the “n” signs of aging etc where “n” is a value between 3 and 11 and preferably an odd number]  so any claims should be substantiated but these are unlikely to be detrimental to the health of anyone, just their wallets.

Chiropody is a proper thing and I will not take issue with this.

Massage is ok as long as they make no claims to any health effects of massage apart from it making you feel nice. The potential benefits arise from being relaxed and calm, not from any particular aspect of the massage itself.

And now we head into more dangerous territory.

From looking around the web and critically assessing the evidence for therapeutic ultra sound I have to say I am extremely sceptical that it does anything. It is widely accepted as a form of therapy but there is remarkably little evidence that it works or does anything good. I think this is the first form of “woo” from this little shop. I doubt there are any good, documented benefits from this therapy.

Homoeopathy is rubbish. There is no good scientific evidence that it does anything or even contains anything. It is essentially water. I can’t reinforce just how much this stuff doesn’t work. If you have an establishment that is happy to dose people up with homoeopathy then you should be very wary of everything else that they do. It is utter and complete rubbish.

Finally, osteopathy. This mode of dealing with health problems is the most contentious here. The area I live in is blighted by the existence of the European School of Osteopathy nearby. My local doctors surgery even allows osteopathy to take place in its confines. I find this distressing. Osteopathy is an “alternative” medical treatment. This means it is not a treatment nor is it medical. It is based on a completely wrong understanding of how our bodies work. Scientifically osteopathy has been shown to be good for lower back pain and NOTHING else. The very best osteopaths practise what is more commonly known as physio-therapy. Much like chiropractic osteopathy has its roots in bullshit and has tried to change with a greater scientific understanding of medicine but can’t shoe horn itself in to the establishment. If you are suffering then you are best advised to see a physio-therapist, they at least have been taught the proper causes and effects of their work.

The problem with this shop frontage is that it has some [almost] legitimate services to offer and then it also offers utter bullshit.

You can tell osteopathy is rubbish by the company it keeps in these premises.

Dodgy Websites

Thank goodness for the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority). If we didn’t have them then the country would be full of misleading claims about products and services. However, there is an issue, adverts and websites can only be adjudicated once the ASA have received a complaint. This means that the misleading claims (lies) have to be made public before there is any action. Therefore most of the population aren’t aware of the fact that an advert might have been withdrawn. The damage will have been done. Perhaps adjuducations should be carried in a short segment at the end of the main TV news shows on ITV, BBC and Sky. This would cut some of the issues of publish and then retract, maybe making advertising even better than it is now.

If you are unsure of what sort of adverts have had adjudications then click here. This should take you to a page with the most recent rulings. Look carefully as this is a list of adverts and claims that have been ruled upon and not just those that are lies. Check the complaint to see what the issue was with the original advert.

The ASA also has a page of non-compliant online advertisers. The list is here. It will probably come as no surprise that a lot of these websites are for products or services that must be considered “woo“. If you can’t substantiate your claims then the chances are you are peddling bogus products or SCAMs.

I am proud to let you know that a complaint I sent to the ASA was acted on for print versions but the website of this company still (as of 7 Nov 2012) promotes amber necklaces for toddlers as a way of soothing teething pains. There is no good evidence that this works. The ASA page on this non-compliance is here. Avoid their products!