Read and weep for the children that happen to be born to criminally deluded or gullible parents… From the Sydney Morning Herald we learn that a mother
[...] had sought in a injunction in the Family Court to stop the father and his partner from immunising the child without her written permission.

She made the application after discovering that her daughter’s stepmother had secretly taken the child to a medical centre to have her immunised against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, polio, HIB, measles, mumps, rubella and meningococcal C.
Crucially, we learn that:
Previously, the mother had been arranging homeopathic vaccines
The father and stepmother, took their 8 year old for immunisation because:
[...] when the girl was five, she contracted whooping cough, and the father and his new partner became concerned that she was not vaccinated, possibly placing their new baby at risk
So the mother is deluded and actively placing the child’s life in danger from potentially fatal diseases. The father and stepmother are only acting normally, as any concerned parent that hadn’t had his brain diluted in water should do.

However, here is where it gets even more preposterous and depressing:
A doctor in homeopathic medicine told the court that homeopathic vaccination was safe and effective, whereas traditional vaccination had short- and long-term risks, including a link to ADHD and autism.
This “doctor” should have his practising license immediately revoked, criminal charges levied against him, and all his previous patients’ warned and their medical history and treatments revisited. As a doctor, it is one’s responsibility to know the evidence for and against any medication or treatment he advises, and he must be up to date with any developments in his field. This “doctor” fails miserably on both counts.

He clearly lives in a different universe when he arrogantly claims efficacy of homeopathic vaccines, in a court of law no less. There is absolutely no basis for this claim, just like there is no basis for putting the terms “effective” and “homeopathy” in the same sentence without any negative adverbs present. He should therefore be prosecuted either for intentionally misleading a court of law, or for criminal negligence for his ignorance of the facts relating to the treatments he recommends and applies to his patients.

Secondly, of course he is also clueless as to the claimed links of vaccines to ADHD and autism. This hypothesis has been conclusively disproven about a million times before, and anyone even remotely following medical and public health stories should already know that (you know, like anyone claiming to be a doctor). So, similarly, he should have his whatever practising license revoked before he kills any of his patients.

However, no one seemed to be concerned with this, and everyone focused on the deluded mother instead. Just to be clear, I also think the mother should stay as far away from the child as possible and never be permitted to have children again! But I wonder why no-one thought to deal with the lunatic “doctor” as well…

To wrap this up in yet another preposterous note:
The case is one of several before the courts that involve differing philosophies over childhood vaccination
Differing philosophies“?!? Aaaargh! What philosophies?? Vaccination is a method that has been scrutinised by science, found to be one particularly effective in eliminating or containing infectious diseases, and is one of the most successful scientific medical modalities ever devised.

What on earth has ideology and philosophy to do with this? A child’s right to a healthy life trumps every conceivable ideological or philosophical right of the parent that may (for whatever crazy reason) go in the opposite direction. Simples.
Brief weekend break to Berlin to see Parov Stelar live last Friday (19th October) at Collumbiahalle. We looked a bit outsiders since we did not constantly carry a bottle of beer in our hands, but other than that great gig, very entertaining show.Get a glimpse of it below with “Matilda” and “Jimmy’s Gang”.




I learned from BBC today, that CERN has invited philosophers and theologians to debate the origins of the universe, following the discovery of the Higgs boson (or something of the sorts) a few months back.

Now, I can see how some philosophers can potentially contribute to certain questions regarding the origins of the universe (as well as origins of humanity, consciousness, morality etc.) No problems there. They can ask some good questions and pave the way for science to find the answers. They may even provide some quasi-answers as well I guess, depending on the subject.

But what on earth are theologians doing there? How can a theologian possibly contribute to this debate? Or any other debate for what matters. An expert in fantasies and fairy tales is still a useless bystander in anything that has to do with reality. As Thomas Paine put it:
The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing
and that’s about it.

Moving on; I am not sure I’m liking this stance from CERN. Trying to find “common ground” with religion and theology is a pointless appeasement tactic in my view. It lends unwarranted credence and an undeserved forum on religious dogmatists that will obviously try to borrow some free shine from the scientists and philosophers around them. Not good stuff.

And CERN is making more enemies than friends this way. I mean, they forgot to invite astrologers, scientologists, reiki-masters, church of the Jedi representatives, and flying teapot worshippers. All of them with equally valid worldviews with theologists and equally able to contribute in the origins debate (that is, do nothing). So why the preference in the masters of this specific kind of nothingness is beyond me…
You may or may not have already heard about the recent study published in the “Food and Chemical Toxicology” journal, linking genetically modified (GM) maize with aggressive tumour formation and premature death.

Yes, the stuff of nightmares if you are a proponent of GM foods as a potential solution to world hunger. Or if you’re just worried about what goes into your food (which you should anyway). On the other hand, great stuff if you are the Daily Mail! However, this study is severely flawed.

I’ve been following the aftermath of this publication with interest, as I find this subject fascinating -I frequently find myself awestruck by the advances in genetic engineering, and I believe that such technology should certainly be on our arsenal against diminishing food supply -honest question: what else is on that arsenal?

Much more qualified people than me have already reported on this, so I will just be lazy and point you to a few such articles. First, a brief overview of the “study”:
This two-year animal research included 200 rats (100 of each sex) divided across 10 groups. Three groups each containing male and female rats were fed different concentrations of a GM maize crop. Another three groups were fed GM maize that had been treated with the herbicide “Roundup”. These six groups were then compared with one control group of rats fed untreated, non-GM maize


Then, a list of some typical bad science stuff in this “study”:
  • Inadequate controls: “for tests of this duration, the OECD recommends at least 20 rats of each sex per group for chemical-toxicity studies, and at least 50 for carcinogenicity studies” not 10 for each sex group in this study!
    Further, the rat line selected is notorious for developing spontaneous tumours, with a probability of surviving for the two year duration of the study less than a third for males, and less than half for females.
  • The authors reported the cancer outcomes as the major finding, even though the experiments have not been designed to identify differences in tumour incidences.
  • Some pretty bad conflicts of interest there. The main author, Gilles-Eric Séralini, is a well known opponent of GM organisms (GMO) in general, and I believe the publication of this paper coincided with the publication of a documentary and a book about his work (confirm anyone?)
  • As many have pointed out, there does not seem to be a dose-response, which makes one wonder how much of the outcome was actually due to the toxicity of the rat diet or pure chance…
But the thing that I found most arrogant and ludicrous, was this:
Journalists often receive embargoed journal articles, and standard practice is to solicit independent assessments before the paper is published. The agreement for this paper, however, did not allow any disclosure and threatened a severe penalty for non-compliance: “A refund of the cost of the study of several million euros would be considered damages if the premature disclosure questioned the release of the study
In other words: here’s my paper; you cannot get any independent experts’ opinion before reporting; also, if you write anything questioning my paper you may end up owing me several million euros

This is not proper science reporting, and the whole story is covered in mysticism, questionable methodological quality, and strong idealogical biases. On the whole, this is bad science.
Fellow Greeks, we’re not doing very well lately, are we? What with owing to everyone that ever had a dollar of investable capital, the austerity measures, the unemployment, the ubiquitous corruption, and of course the loss to Germany in the Euro 2012 quarter finals. Yes, we’ve had better times in the past -I remember reading about some Pericleus dude in Ancient Athens…

Not sure whose to blame; it’s probably everyone.

I’ve learned a few things over the last two elections though, mostly solidifying my belief that we are pretty much screwed and there is no way out of this mess. But then again what do I know…

It must have been pretty darn difficult to vote for someone without feeling you’re doing your country a disservice -maybe that explains the high abstinence levels; that or laziness/surrender.

So a big chunk who decided to vote did so for the radical left Syriza party, whose economically illiterate leader, Alexis Tsipras, had some brilliant ideas on how to get the country out of this mess, including but not limited to increasing the minimum wage (fantastic idea when the unemployment amongst the less skilled is at such high levels), nationalising the banks and stopping all forms of privatisation (wtf? Seriously, wtf?), expanding the public sector (WTF??). He got one right though, but probably by mistake and motivated by the wrong reasons: cut taxes.

Another significant chunk voted for the fascists, ultra-nationalists, Golden Dawn, whose top members like to slap female opponents on national television, and then sue them for participating in a world-wide smear campaign against this pure and innocent party. No further comments.

Most of the rest did the usual and voted for the two parties that brough he country to this mess.

So it was really a case of voting for the least destructive option -a case of preferring cancer over a stroke. The end result wil probably be the same, except for the amount of suffering until the last lingering shades of hope disappear.

But I have to say, the cookie for the least in touch with reality politician has to go to this guy: Adonis Georgiadis.



Sorry it’s in Greek, but here is the jest of it: This joke of a human being, probably oblivious to the shitty sitution the country is in, thinks that members of the parliament are too good to be using public transport, and it is a humiliation to ask them to do so -implicitly by revoking their right to a free taxpayer-paid car* .

Well then I have two options for you Adonis: go buy your own f***ing car you asshole, or even better, go bury yourself as soon as possible and leave this tormented country alone. It has suffered enough of f***wits like yourself, only interested in short term personal gains not giving a damn about the country.

I can’t end with such foul taste though; so here’s a relevant anecdote: A certain Steven Weinberg was mostly using the subway to go to his certain Wall Street office, justifying this by saying that travelling amongst the people gave him the best possible insight into what’s going on in the real world, thus helping him make better decisions for the certain investment bank he was leading; a bank that the people of a certain country don’t even want to mention its name out of hatred.

---
Footnotes:
  1. * I guess high profile politicians in major European economies that use public transport, bicycles, and trams just have no self-esteem at all []

Just a quick word about my visit to CERN over the weekend: not what I expected.

The CERN website is a bit ambiguous when it comes to defining expectations for visitors. I, for one, expected to visit at least one of the experiments and the Large Hadron Collider itself (that is, some section of it, not circle the whole 27km and go through passport control twice).

However, on arrival, we were shown a (very bad quality) introductory video, dated 2004 if I remember correctly, followed by a few words by a PhD student and a particle physics professor -our guides for the day.

We then split into two groups and went for a tour of the visitor centre -how exciting! A visitor centre! I always wanted to see how one of these looked like…

Another out-dated presentation followed, before we were allowed a sneak peek into the ATLAS control centre, where a few engineers were checking some monitors -even though the LHC was shut down, just like every winter due to high electricity costs.

And that was as close we would get to the magnets for the day. Nothing else. Nada. Not even a view from the shaft. Only a fake magnet section where we could take some photos (and, evidently, fool some of our friends on facebook ;-))

lhc

Some photos and maybe more details to follow in a subsequent post. For now, I will keep this item on my list, contrary to other, similarly misled CERN visitors…
If you have not picked up the sarcasm in the title then you may want to look away…

As BBC reported Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) boss Stephen Hester rejected his £1m bonus in restricted stock, following very strong political pressure. This sent shivers down the spines of the public, mostly those that are a bit out-of-touch-with-reality and have very superficial understanding of how these things (should) work. Let me use this example to talk generally about the situation with high pay and bonuses in the banking sector.

Earlier, Labour said it would force a vote on the issue after Prime Minister David Cameron refused to block the bonus from the mostly publicly-owned bank.
What on earth were they thinking?? This serves no other purpose than attract voters in a subject that, as always, few understand, but many are willing to exploit for political reasons. This shameless populism I find extremely annoying. Vote-hunting from Labour MPs, that creates a very bad situation indeed, as a financial analyst notes:
[...] William Wright, investment bank analyst for Financial News told the BBC: “It sets a very dangerous precedent for RBS.

“It raises the level of political risk and political interference in the day-to-day running of RBS to what some people many consider to be intolerable levels.

“It raises very serious questions about who actually is running RBS day to day.

“Shareholders, in this case the UK government, appoint a board, which in turn appoints an executive team to run the bank, and here we have a situation where the board agrees something, which has been signed off by shareholders and then they have been forced into a U-turn by political opinion.”
I think people conflate shareholding with management. It’s one thing shareholders having a say in some important decisions, but they have neither the skills nor the experience to get involved in the day to day operations of the company and decisions that otherwise need a good understanding of the market. Up to a degree, it’s acceptable in taxpayer-owned companies to have a higher level of scrutiny, but this doesn’t justify reversing previous decisions, or acting hastily in the light of “public opinion” or “public pressure”.

If the CEO of a big bank manages to increase the value of the company by, say, £200m in a year, then getting him at £1m per year is a bargain! And of course the board knows this, as well as the fact that to attract top talent you need to pay top money as well. Private companies know this all too well: they typically pay higher salaries and bonuses than public ones (and certainly than mostly government-owned RBS). If they did not think they were getting better value for their money, why would they do this? Supply and demand: to attract and keep good performers you need to splash out good money and link the bonuses to performances as much as possible.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said Mr Hester was already being adequately rewarded for his performance.

“He received £1.2m a year - that’s 46 times the average salary of an average employee in this country - to do that job,” he said.
That is one of the most meaningless comparisons I have seen: this guy is NOT doing an average guy’s job. He does not have the average guy’s stress or responsibilities. People always focuses on inequalities, but this is the wrong attitude. Inequalities in salaries reflect inequalities in the amount of training, experience, skills, and opportunities and (yes) luck each one had in reaching the level of productivity they have. The market will generally “decide” correctly how much this is worth, and companies wanting to attract the top will, naturally, pay top money. Why is inequality an issue? It should be the general level of poverty and the standard of living that should be in people’s minds, not salary inequalities, because these are only natural. From the perspective of the government, they should ensure that people get equal opportunities, not equal rewards!

And of course this is not a zero-sum game: a CEO getting a high bonus does not mean that my salary will be smaller! Not to mention that a CEO has the ability to contribute (directly or indirectly) a lot of value for the economy in general that may benefit others as well.

“Usually you receive a bonus when you’ve done something above and beyond - exceptional, extraordinary.”

“But many of the things that have been cited in terms of things that he’s done for the bank are things that you would expect him to do.”
I disagree with this. Bonuses are there to reward strong performers, not necessarily extraordinary performers. And I think Shadow secretary here confuses descriptive with prescriptive: what is someone expected to do, does not mean one will achieve them with efficiency or even at all. A strong performer may reach targets earlier or more efficiently saving more in the process. And besides, this is a competitive jungle out there: many CEOs will not indeed achieve the things they were “expected” to achieve.

Former Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott said Mr Hester’s decision was “better late than never”.

“I’m glad that eventually Stephen Hester has seen sense and seen the outrage of most people in this country, and Lib Dems who have been complaining bitterly about this for weeks,” he said.

“I’m very sorry that David Cameron and George Osborne didn’t see that, and have been defending the indefensible right up to today.”
More bullshit here. How on earth do “most people in this country” know how to run or what is best for RBS? Why should they have a say in matters of compensation or other operations of the bank when they do not understand how the market works? The only thing they seem to understand is “bankers make much more than me, therefore we should tax them more” logic…

And why is it that people always care about bankers’ bonuses, but not salaries of, say, professional athletes, celebrities, movie stars, etc? Many of those get a lot more than, e.g. an RBS boss would take, and yet all the rage is on the bankers. And let’s not even go into the level of responsibilities. David Beckham losing a penalty will result in a couple of lost points and a couple of boots flying around. A big bank’s CEO’s mistake could cost the viability of the bank, and the jobs of thousands of people -evidently.

The only grey area in my mind has to do with golden parachutes, potentially large amounts of money given to executives that failed to do their job properly and were fired. However, even in this case, it may make sense for a company to try to get rid of a failed executive quickly so as not to increase of another potentially disastrous decision or a lengthy court battle which could cost much more than the severance package would.

I think bonuses need to be more tightly connected to performance -even after an executive has retired or moved on, so that accountability does not finish when one leaves a company, and executives do not suffer from short-sightedness, disregarding longer term consequences of their actions, in the name of near-term profits.

Other than that, this was full of the usual: populism, ignorance, and bad reasoning…
Yes yes, one of our favorite subjects: magical healing and other fairy stories! From a Telegraph article by a Ms Anna Tyzack entitled: “Complementary medicine - does it work?“. Of course we already know the answer for a large number of modalities that fall under the umbrella term “Complementary”. This is a just dose of the same old really bad reasoning, which over the years has allowed all sorts of pseudoscience and crank degrees to creep into academia, national health systems, etc.

The author starts well with:
“Quackish” degree courses, such as aromatherapy, reflexology and acupuncture, are being scrapped at many universities. Homoeopathy has been dropped altogether, due to declining student applications and campaigns by scientists against non-evidence based forms of medicine
Prof. Colquhoun has been updating us very regularly for the last few years, as he was a prominent figure in the charge against pseudoscience being taught in UK universities -with the above mentioned very positive results.

Now to the point of this post (yes, there is a point in this post):
the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) insists the course closures are “very disappointing”.

“A significant number of people find complementary health therapies to be very helpful; it would be a shame if there were no trained practitioners to treat them,” says Maggy Wallace, chair of the CNHC.

“It’s arrogant not to accept an individual’s opinion as evidence that a certain treatment has benefited them.”
I really don’t know where to start with the above statements. A shame that no trained practitioners would exist to treat with magic?? What about astrology? Many people believe it helps them, and yet for some reason no one complains that astrology is not being taught in Universities. This is all too resembling to the Creationism vs Evolution debate, and it boils down to this: we should not be teaching stuff that have neither a plausible scientific foundation nor good evidence base.

But the next one is even better: “It’s arrogant not to accept an individual’s opinion as evidence that a certain treatment has benefited them!!” A complete misunderstanding of how science works and evidence collected? Or a purposefully stupid comment to promote an agenda? Make your choice. It seems the CNHC want to put aside all sorts of cognitive biases, placebo effects, regression to means, and what not, and simply take one’s word to assess the efficacy of a treatment (on second thought, this is exactly how unproven treatments have been promoted for so long: “it worked for me, therefore it works -period“).

post hoc ergo propter hoc
[there seems to be an xkcd comic for every situation!]

The rest of the article is yet another anecdote, with a large number of red flags culminating in a shameless advertisement of a woo practitioner -with very reasonable prices too: sessions start from only £70.
I was as sceptical as the next person about complementary medicine.
The number one red flag that this is a biased article. Now back to Ms Wallace from CNHC:
According to Wallace, doctors and scientists are wrong to adopt an “if it isn’t proven, it doesn’t exist” approach to complementary healing techniques. “It’s ridiculous given how much of conventional medicine started off in this way,” she says.
A straw man argument. The correct statement is: “if it isn’t proven, well, then it isn’t proven!” Most “conventional” medicine (also known as, you know, simply “medicine”) started off building on at least some plausible hypothesis or verifiable observation, and then on positive trials or a good track record.

Magic medicine on the other hand, have started with someone usually coming up with stuff out of one’s arse, probably while high on some strange substance (Chinese life forces and meridians; Samuel’s homeopathic “principles” based on unverifiable instances of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies; Reiki’s magic remote energy healing, and the list goes on). Also, where does the “started off” apply? In homeopathy (200 years), acupuncture (around 100 in its modern form), energy healing (Jesus, anyone ;-))? They have had more than enough time to find mechanisms of action and clinical evidence for their spectacular claims. And they have failed miserably. So no comparison there Ms Wallace, sorry.

But she goes on undeterred:
There should be a pragmatic approach to ‘evidence’ with less emphasis on clinical trials that can’t be successfully applied to complementary health.
In other words: science cannot prove my pet modality, so instead of concluding that the modality does not work, let’s instead say that science does not work. A very common “defence” of clinical trials: they cannot properly evaluate magic medicine because it is very individualized (never mind that individualized trials can and have been made numerous times) or it is very “holistic”. Of course it is the same people that are touting any inconclusively positive clinical trial for their magic stuff (despite the fatal conclusions of the majority of systematic reviews for the same stuff). Moving the goalposts is typical of pseudoscience proponents. It is no different in this case.

Bottom line is: no, we do not need to be teaching magic medicine and fairy tales in universities. No, the majority of the alternative treatments simply do not work- otherwise they would not be called “alternative”. Get over it and find another career.

And most importantly: stop bothering us and getting our tax money for crying out loud!