"I am all in favor of the skeptical mind. Do not believe anything unless you have experienced it. Do not believe anything - go on questioning, however long it takes." - Osho

Thursday, 10 November 2011

More about why I'm awful.

I know, I know, I know.

Don't be a senior in high school if you want free time, ever.

I'll do my best to improve. But who knows- got a whole lot on my plate right now. I'm in a Shakespeare production which is taking up 8 hours of my week, plus ballet, homework, coursework. Ouch.

I'll stop making excuses and get better. Maybe.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

It's a Storm in a teacup.

The story of two Canadian parents who decided to keep the gender of their baby a secret was actually making the rounds a few months ago, but I've decided to blog about it because gender issues have been annoying me recently. The debate is still going even now about whether the parents should have chosen this for their child, and it'll be an interesting social experiment to see how it pans out... And yet I can't help feeling that it's a bit, well... wrong (read about it here).

Friday, 5 August 2011

MICROBLOG: I live in UFO town.

My hysterical friends and I encountered a UFO walking home. It was a Chinese lantern; but apparently hundreds of these things are taken as mysterious alien craft every year! Spooky.

Did I mention I live in the UFO capital of the world/UK/Scotland? It depends who you listen to. Locals say the world.

Yes, I live in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. Yay!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

Why yes, yes it does, as I found on July 4 in Florida, USA. I was so happy and in 4th of July mood, until I realised it was slightly weird for me to be celebrating the independence of what was once part of my own nation's territory. It was like "Yay! Ruined empire!" But I quickly forgave you, O Wonderful America, because your candy it is so yummy, and your weather it is so warm. Only thing I never forgave you for was coaxing me into visiting Disney's Magic Kingdom for the (admittedly stunning) firework display, because it took us four hours to get out of the place. I think I now believe in Hell.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Busy week, and holidays.

Yes, I am a lame blogger; I've been incredibly busy. I've been jaunting about pretending to have a life (I don't).

I am also going on holiday at 7am tomorrow, to lovely Florida. I will hopefully see some juicy yummy pseudoscience that I can blog about on the netty-book whilst I am away, however I'm not sure my resort has wifi. Oh well. We shall see!

I have a wee post scheduled for Monday on Teen Skepchick, so give it a look when I'm gone please!

Yeah I'm really tired. See you in two weeks, when I will have stopped pretending not to be socially awkward!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Microblog: Super sand!

Researchers have come up with a new way to clean dirty water- and the promising venture could be a low-cost way to purify water in developing countries. This awesome technology involves coating sand grains in graphite (yes, the stuff in pencils) and running water through it- apparently draining the water of many pollutants.

P.S. I've been really busy the last week, hence lack of blog posts. However, look what I have! It's my interview with Sue Blackmore! Admittedly, only the first half. I recommend it, though, it's fascinating. And took me four hours to transcribe half of it. Yay!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Why do we condemn assisted dying?

Assisted suicide, or "assisted dying", as it is sometimes called, is a topic which is regarded in our culture to be taboo- and at the very least, controversial.

To give a brief overview, assisted suicide is when someone, almost always with a terminal or progressive disease, is given help to die peacefully. This is usually done by drinking a very strong drug, which first puts you to sleep, and then kills you by cutting off oxygen supply, and then stopping your heart.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Dr Susan Blackmore

I just finished an interview for Teen Skepchick with Dr Susan Blackmore, a psychologist and ex-parapsychologist, and I must say it was fascinating. She's a very interesting woman, who clearly has a passion for what she studies, and I really enjoyed interviewing her. It was my first interview, but she was very easy to talk to and I felt it went well. We largely talked about parapsychology and scepticism, and although I had originally intended to ask her about memetics it would have taken the interview way over time! It will probably take me a day or two to write up and edit it, as it was quite long, but as soon as I have finished I'll post the link up here so you can take a look.

p.s. Thank you, PZ. Thank you lots. Also, thank you to Brian Engler for sending a little note to PZ Myers. Excellent- I appreciate it!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

MICROBLOG: Exoplanets

An impressive ten new planets have been discovered outside our solar system by the Corot satellite. However, seven of them are said to be gas giants like Jupiter, so close to their sun that they orbit in just a few days. Definitely no chance of life there, then!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Measles: the comeback tour we aren't so keen on.

Apparently measles are making a big comeback this year. There have been 334 cases of measles in the UK in the first three months of 2011 (Jan-Mar). This is very bad news, which you can think of in context once you realise that there were only 374 cases in all of 2010. Of course, one case of vaccine-preventable disease is too much in what is supposed to be a developed country such as Britain- so a ridiculous amount like that is downright frightening. It has been said, unsurprisingly, that the majority of people who contracted measles had not had their MMR vaccine.

Firstly, let it be known that measles isn't a joke. You don't necessarily recover in a few days. People seem to have forgotten that measles can still be fatal, even in 2011. That's why we vaccinate against it. The symptoms are horrible, and the consequences can be worse. It isn't like catching a cold, or a tummy bug.
It can definitely be said that Andrew Wakefield is partly responsible for parents not wanting to vaccinate their children, after his horrible 1998 study which apparently showed that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Although he was later shown to be a fraud - conducting the study with conflicts of interest- and his study to be inaccurate, his data had cultivated doubt about vaccines in the minds of the public.

I'm mentioning him for two reasons: one- that anybody with doubts about vaccines should know who he is, and that he's a quack, and two- that although correlation by no means equals causation, most of the cases of measles in England and Wales this year have been in kids ages 10-14. These are the children who should have been vaccinated around when Wakefield's original Lancet paper was published, but before it was shown to be bunk. Of course this is just me speculating, but it seems possible that his study could be part of the cause. Or maybe just a coincidence that makes him look even worse.

Also- I checked the stats on the OECD website, and apparently the United Kingdom only has an 86% vaccination rate- that's horrific. We are 25th of the 29 countries with data on the site. Ouch.

It's not just the UK either! Jenny McCarthy & Co seem to have been working their evil, evil magic in the USA- they've seen 118 cases so far this year. Normally they only see 50 cases of measles in a full year- this is the highest number for Jan-Mar since 1996.

I know that teens aren't the most likely people in the world to be having dilemmas about whether to vaccinate their kids, but hey, there's no reason not to know about the anti-vax movement. You can be of use to your own parents and relatives, friends- or anyone who's confused or unsure about the safety of vaccines. Or you can store the info in your amazing, ultra-cool noggins and bring it out in the event you do have children. The overwhelming message? VACCINATE YOUR BABIES PLZ.

As a last note, I think I'm going to start including page breaks in these after today, because it'll tidy up the blog quite a bit. So (unless it's a microblog) if my entry seems rather short, click the title/link and you can read the rest.

Oh also, David is amazing. Best not to ask.

Friday, 3 June 2011


I was gunna start a new microblog feature so that I can update even when I'm super busy, be it about sceptical topics or cool news stories- I was gunna keep it arouuund 200 characters? Yay or nay? It would be something like the Twitter format if you're familiar with it. For example:

"The new strain of E-coli that has had an outbreak in Germany has been found to be unrelated to Spanish cucumbers, as the Germans first suspected. Spanish farmers are now looking for compensation."

Friday, 27 May 2011

What do Jesus, Mayans, and the Large Hadron Collider have in common?

There seems to be something ingrained in human nature that makes us completely obsessed with death. Maybe it’s something about its inevitability that fascinates us- or maybe we’re all just kind of morbid. Either way, it can’t be denied that every time a new theory about how the world is going to end emerges, thousands of people buy it hook, line and sinker.

Apocalypse predictions come in many shapes and sizes, but they all seem to have an irresistible appeal for a lot of people. Take the Large Hadron Collider, for instance. Remember when this was first set to be switched on back in 2008? I certainly do- because a load of my classmates came into school crying and being generally dramatic about how it was going to create a massive black hole that was going to SUCK IN THE EARTH! Oh wait, hold on a second; that didn’t happen. It’s actually been fairly promising and is still being used now- almost without incident. Scientists said all along that fears were unfounded. The main problem there is that tabloids see “black hole”, and report as such. The public at large pay attention to the newspapers, not the scientists. Mock the Week have a hilarious take on the issue. Although perhaps not so sceptical.

Then there are the Mayan predictions. We’re all supposed to die on 21st December 2012 because that’s when their calendar ends, which is somehow assumed to be a death sentence for us humans. Even assuming that the Mayans had been amazingly accurate in their predictions (they weren’t), the end of this calendar still doesn’t signal the apocalypse. The consensus opinion between scholars is that this was just when their date cycle ended, signalling the beginning of “the 13th era”. It’s a similar concept to having centuries or millenia in modern culture. Besides, would the Mayan gods be cruel enough to kill us all in the holiday season? We could try to sate their thirst for blood with a big cup of eggnog instead.

Lastly, there’s the reason I chose this week to blog about apocalypse predictions- Harold Camping and the somewhat anti-climactic “rapture”. If you haven’t heard about this guy- as I hadn’t until last week- I suggest looking him up. Camping predicted that Judgement Day was coming back on the 21st May 2011, but unfortunately for him all of the non-believers are still here- in fact, nothing happened at all. He then revised the date to October 21st this year, as only a silent, spiritual judgement had taken place. In October the real rapture is going to happen, and that’s when all of the sinners are gunna get it.

People have freedom of religion of course, and if Christians believe that Judgement Day will come, nobody should judge that. However, guessing when it’s going to come is a different matter. It seems downright silly that after predicting the rapture in 12 different years since 1844, they haven’t given up yet. Why are people so eager to have the world end? It certainly doesn’t seem to be something that most folk would look forward to.
However, there’s no use denying that life as we know it can’t last forever; it can’t. But in reality, the earth has around 7 billion years left. That’s a really, really long time. The bad news is that life on earth is only supposed to have another billion or so years left- but then again, that’s also a really long time. Who can say what science will bring in that sort of time? We might have civilisations all over the universe and beyond, or we might find a way to save our own little planet from destruction. At the moment it looks like we still have a good few years left- and the end of the world should probably be the least of our worries.
I feel like I should grovel for going so long without posting anything new, but I won't. Hope you guys like the post, keep the feedback coming in! I want to hear about all of the apocalypse theories you've heard!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Extremists suck.

I was watching a British TV show this morning called The Big Questions. It airs every Sunday, and normally asks three different political or religious questions which an invited audience then proceed to debate over. However, today they asked only one question: does Britain have a problem with Muslims?

That isn't the debate I want to get involved in- it's a smaller issue within that which someone in the audience mentioned. During a discussion about Muslim extremists, it was asked why the world tends to focus on Muslims when they're talking about extreme religious views. This is a question which I've often wondered about myself.

File: Wikimedia Commons
The most profound example, for me, is America's invasion of the Middle East (I know that Britain also invaded them, but this is not as applicable to British society). How can America- more specifically the Bush administration-  justify invading another country partly due to religious extremism when they seem to have a huge problem with it on their own soil? In my mind, it should be more important to counter the growing religious fundamentalism and racial hatred in their own country.

In an age when Neo-Nazism and similar movements appear to be on the rise in America, something should be done about countering this craziness at home before a hypocritical move is made into other countries for the same thing. Although I'm aware that this isn't the only reason why Iraq was invaded, it can't be denied that it is a factor- Bush wanted revenge after 9/11.

I'm not saying that Muslim extremism isn't a problem- of course it is, and we've seen this repeatedly over the last few decades. I completely condemn any person or organisation who would think to harm people over what they do or do not believe in. I'm also in no way saying that I believe that soldiers who fought and died in the ongoing war did so for nothing; ultimately, peace and religious freedom are worthy causes, and we should be proud of our military for fighting for them. I simply believe that before other countries are invaded, we should first address the same issues in our own nations.

This might fuel a debate... So go ahead and comment. I'm interested to hear other people's views.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Magneto boy!

What the heck? Just read this story on a few websites.

Six year old Ivan Stoiljkovic claims to be able to carry metal objects of up to 25kg stuck to his skin. But his family claim that this is because he is literally magnetic. Right. Perhaps a more likely reason is that he has sticky skin? A similar thing happened with this Malaysian man in the early 2000s. His skin produced incredible amounts of friction, which gave it a "suction" effect.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

He also claims to be able to heal people by holding his hands over the area of their body which is sore. His family then claim that his hands become hot, and the pain goes away. Of course, this can be attributed to their expectation that his doing so will make him feel better, and their desire to believe that their child is miraculous.

An interesting story to examine methinks. I'm no expert on the science of this one, but I can't say that the idea that the kid is a walking magnet really sticks with me. Any opinions?

Beccy :D

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Whimsy is good, right?

As surprised as I am about it, I somehow managed to snatch a little time away from studying and sitting exams to write a partway decent post. Just thought I would share a little bit of interesting-but-not-very-important science with you.

I was thinking about the evolutionary benefit of different features, and started thinking about cuteness. Is there an evolutionary benefit of being cute? The idea seems to make sense; most people find babies cute, right? At a very basic level, that might be part of the reason why people feel an urge to care for babies, regardless of whether they're their own.  It might even be useful for other species to have cute offspring- you look at a super cute kitten, and you don't want to kill it and eat it or anything, do you? If you're normal anyway. That could be useful, because if we aren't killing adorable cat-babies, and we're looking after adorable human-babies, they can grow up, and reproduce, and carry on their genes. It's a cool thought. 

So I looked it up, and found a couple of articles examining exactly that question! It's interesting to see other peoples' views on this type of subject.

Here's one in the New York Times about why cuteness is so appealing.

And here's one about why we find animals in specific cute, and empathy between animals.

Interesting, right? Besides... Everyone loves cute pictures of my pets. SAY AWW. If anybody has other sources, or is an expert in a related topic, leave a comment! I'll check them out and edit this post accordingly.

Lastly, I've volunteered for the Woo Zoo piece in TS for next week. This is a post in which the contributors relate times when they've given up on woo, for various reasons. However, all of their posts seem to be pretty deep and thoughtful- largely about religion, or triggered by a monumental event. Having been brought up in a completely non-religious household, I'm struggling to find something profound to write about, so I've settled for something a little more light-hearted.

Should I write about abandoning homeopathy, or about abandoning belief in the Loch Ness Monster?

Beccy :D

Monday, 9 May 2011

A quick update...

Just promising everyone that I'm alive. I'm annoyed that I haven't had time to write a decent post; such is life I'm afraid. Had my biology exam today, kind of thankful it's over, but there are a bunch more this week and next I'll have to deal with before I write a proper post again.

Studying is a bore. I started drawing fractals yesterday instead, and generally doodling, before slapping myself like a bootcamp leader, and yelling in my own face to hurry up and get some work done. So I did, eventually. But I still prefer doodling.

But cheers to everyone checking the blog out- I promise it won't be this lame in a couple of weeks. Life, sadly, is interfering at the moment. Also- vote on my poll and look at the stats. They're hilarious! It's pretty obvious that most of my readers have been directed here from the Skeptic's Guide!

Ciao! Beccy :)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Permission to squee like a fangirl?

Just listened to the most recent episode of the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (#303)- they read my brother's email and gave me a mention- I couldn't believe it, didn't even realise it was being read until someone commented my blog saying so. But basically, thanks to the folks at the Skeptic's Guide for taking the time to do that for me- and to anyone else that doesn't listen to their podcast- go forth and download!

I've been thinking of a few things I might write for Teen Skepchick; haven't decided on anything specific as of yet, but I probably won't be able to post right away thanks to having four darn exams next week and two the week after. However, after that, I'll try to start posting and prove that I'm alive, and will pull my weight.

Off to study more biology. I'm a good little scientist, I swear (Although after five hours, plants and cells and organs begin to lose their charm). So thanks to anyone checking out my blog due to the podcast. You're all awesome, and I less than three you. <3

Friday, 6 May 2011

The SNP make me want to hit stuff. ):

Great, just great. A landslide victory for the Scottish National Party in our elections was announced today. I am not overly happy about this, because Alex Salmond is not someone I love and the SNP are not a particularly likeable party. To give them some credit, for anybody that doesn't know- they're in no way involved with the BNP, who are a significantly less likeable party. Just in case you maybe thought they were, like, the Scottish counterpart. 

I just read their manifesto, and they do have a couple of good policies. Loving the free education thing, obviously. No university fees for little old me = yay! On the other hand, their main focus is making Scotland independent. We would fail at independence. I shall now proceed to tell you why... But feel free to tell me why you disagree.

If Scotland was separate from the United Kingdom, it would lose most, if not all, of its political influence in the world. For example, Alex Salmond campaigns for fishing rights, but if Scotland was separate it would have to give in to the European Union and accept the common fisheries policy. Scotland is a small country, with a population of only 5.09million people. This is only 8.5% of Great Britain’s population. There are fears among many Scottish voters and some political parties that Scotland may not be taken seriously as a single independent nation.

Secondly, Scotland cannot afford to become an independent nation. There is a gap between public spending of £40billion and revenue of £27billion raised here. This means that a Scottish government would have to choose between raising our taxes and cutting our public services, neither of which would be beneficial to the people. The truth is that Scotland does receive subsidies from the UK government annually to boost our economic growth. We receive more from the government than we gives to it. The income from oil reserves alone would certainly be insufficient to maintain Scotland’s current growth rate, and as oil is a fossil fuel, the reserves will run out eventually, so we cannot rely on this as our sole income. If we want to climb higher up the economic ladder, an independent Scotland would not help to propel us to greater heights. The integrated British economy is much more capable than an independent Scotland would be of meeting the challenges of globalization. Likewise, having independent defence and security structures in Scotland would put far too much strain on Scotland’s resources. 

AND A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF. <- most intelligent part of my argument.

But I've been distracted, because I've been asked by Teen Skepchick to become a contributor. This makes me incredibly, utterly happy. Also, I should credit my brother- he forwarded my blog on without my knowledge. (= best brother ever)

But yeah. Gimme your opinions on independence people! 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Psychics, and that horoscope thing!

And I shall go forth, and I shall educate thee about the dangers of Sylvia Browne, John Edwards and psychic surgeries...

Perhaps not in that tone. Though. Just sayin'.

I was talking to a couple of my friends today about what I should do my next longer, editorial-style piece on, and we settled on a take-down of psychics. One of them wanted me to tackle astrology as well, but it's a pretty separate issue so I'll save it for another time.

If you want a little something to research in the meantime though, look up this bundle of supernatural joy.

Her name is Sylvia Browne. You can see her various FAIL moments plastered all over the web. I do not like this woman very much. And I can't promise to stay away from the ad-hominem attacks, because she's too much of an idiot. But hopefully you can see through that to the actual evidence, whenever I get round to ruining psychics with words.

And if you're not sure what ad-hom means, this is a brill wee site to get your brain ticking. Have a read and tell me what you're thinking. 

Also, if you have any suggestions of what you would like me to write longer pieces on, give me a bell (or just a comment but a bell would be cool).

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Osama is dead, then?

Looks like Osama Bin Laden is dead. This, of course, is good news, but as my brother so wisely pointed out, all of the dancing and celebrating in the streets seems a little distasteful. However, at least the no.1 most wanted man in the world died, and can now make place for a new one.

I understand why they dumped his body at sea; they didn't want it to become a shrine for religious extremists to flock to. However, I wish the press and government would stop bullshitting us and telling us it's part of Islamic tradition; the single thing that was Islamic about it was quick disposal of the body. Another thing, though, is that this lack of physical, concrete evidence is going to give rise to a whole lot of messy conspiracy theories. The 9/11 "truthers" will be all over this one like a fat dude on a beefburger. But we'll have to see how it pans out.

One good thing that comes of it is a huge upsurge in support for Obama all of a sudden. Democrats are so much more science- friendly than the other main parties, to me it's important to see them get another term in office... Not to mention, I really love Barack Obama. A lot. Not that I can vote.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Will and Kate, luvrz 4evz.

Just watched the Royal Wedding, after months of hype it's finally here!

It was nice. But a bit of an anticlimax. Kate looked nice, Will looked good, nobody was late and nobody died. All of this = good thing.

But hey, at least they look like they really love eachother.

I hate hype though, it ruins nice things sometimes. Only thing that surpasses is anything Harry Potter related. (I'm not a nerd, shut up...)

Bex. ;D

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Apple, and the best podcasts ever.

Currently, I am eating an apple.

But that isn't the point. I'm on about Apple, the company.

If you have an iPod, and you listen to podcasts, my favourite by far is called The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. If you don't listen to it, you should download it and give it a little listen. I was hooked right away, and even better- there are over 300 episodes to listen to! The Rogues are hilarious and it's a fun way to educate yourself on the latest scientific and sceptical issues. Even if you're not a big science fan, they talk about the paranormal and cryptozoology, and UFOs and conspiracy theories- something for everyone, and a great intro to the sceptical movement.

However, there are a ton of others to listen to- some of the Skepchick podcasts are hilarious- I recommend "Birds- smart, or SCARY SMART?" and "Ladies hath run amok"- so funny! The banter between the girls is great too.

If you're a bit more into scepticism, there are a couple more podcasts you might like. The Amazing Show with James Randi is great, just the Amazing Randi chatting about everything from Happy Days to Uri Geller.

Little Atoms does some good interviews, but they stick to the one subject. Skepticality is slightly more disorganised and funny, but has some interesting content. And if anyone has more suggestions, that would be great! I love adding new gems to my collection.

And if you don't listen to podcasts... Start. They're a life saver in boring journeys and doing chores. (:

Beccy ;D

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Homeopathy Kills! No, really, it actually kills.

You might have heard of a type of alternative medicine called "homeopathy", but if not- don't worry! All shall be explained ;D

There are few images more appalling to modern culture than that of a suffering child. Imagine then, a baby covered in suppurating sores, her skin so cracked that she is barely recognizable. Imagine her once jet-black hair turned bright white, and her incessant crying from the agonizing pain she is suffering. One would assume that this child was living in a third-world country, suffering from some incurable disease. You would acknowledge the tragedy of the situation, but accept that it's unlikely that anything could have been done to help her.
Those details are easy to assume, but are also completely untrue. The baby in question was nine-month-old Gloria Sam, daughter to Thomas and Manju Sam. The family were residents of Sydney, Australia, and had access to excellent healthcare. The child was not suffering from a tragic, incurable disease- she was suffering from a fairly common dermatological condition called eczema. In cases of severe eczema, the skin cracks all over the body, causing itching and pain, and it can be dangerous if left untreated.
Eczema proved to be more than just dangerous for little Gloria Sam. Her skin was so badly damaged that it no longer acted as a barrier against germs. She was covered in infected sores, and developed septicemia as a result of this. She was eventually admitted to hospital, but her condition was so advanced that nothing could be done to help her. She died just three days later, from an illness that had plagued her for her entire short life.
Many people would be inclined to blame her parents, asking why they did not seek help earlier. In truth, they did take Gloria to a doctor almost six months before, who in turn referred them to a dermatologist. Sadly, this is where the decisions of the parents determined the child's fate. They decided to ignore the advice of the specialized doctors, and treat her only with an increasingly popular alternative medicine called homeopathy, which contributed greatly to her tragic death. So controversial was this move, that both parents were jailed in 2009 on charges of manslaughter by gross criminal negligence.
Why, then, is homeopathy so controversial? In order to determine the answer, it is necessary to first discuss the main concepts of the practice, and the claims of the doctors who use it. Homeopathy was first devised in the late eighteenth century by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann. He developed the treatments based on the assumption that "like cures like"- the idea that a substance which brings about a symptom in a healthy person can be used to treat the same symptoms of a disease. For example, if the patient suffers from asthma, homeopaths would concoct a cure containing animal hair.
The other main feature of the treatment is that each cure has to be diluted using an elaborate process, which originally involved hitting the container several times off a wooden "striking board". The medicines are diluted to the point that it would take swallowing a sphere with a diameter equal to the distance between the earth and the sun to ingest just one active molecule- in other words, the substances contain none of the original active ingredient. Homeopaths dismiss this, however, explaining the concept of "water memory"; quite literally, that water remembers every substance it has come into contact with. They propose that this is how the cures can still be effective when they contain only water- this way, no active molecules are required.
Homeopathy is part of the complementary and alternative medicine market, or CAM. Their treatments are available readily from chemists and specialized health shops, and are very popular, particularly due to the huge demand for natural remedies. The medicines are available for a huge range of ailments, from hay fever and asthma to malaria and cancer. Homeopaths are keen to promote the treatments, claiming that they relieve symptoms from every illness imaginable. However, scientists and conventional doctors often oppose these claims.
The main reason that scientists cite for opposing the practice and promotion of homeopathy is that there is little evidence to prove that it works at all in treating the symptoms of any disease. Homeopaths often refer to positive studies which show that there is a definite benefit to the use of homeopathy. However, they are prone to using an unscientific and biased method called "cherry picking". This means that they choose only to publish favourable studies, and within these studies they promote only the positive data. Even those who oppose homeopathy agree that there is some benefit to the use of the treatments, but that it is no more effective than placebo. This shows that any improvements in health are due to the mental effects of taking a drug which you feel will relieve your symptoms, or even just to sheer coincidence.
Positive studies are also often disregarded by the scientific community due to the methods used. These studies are not always controlled, and rarely blinded. "Blinding", when used in a scientific context, refers to the practice of literally blinding all parties involved in the experiment so they do not know what they are taking or prescribing. In a homeopathy trial, this would involve giving some of the subjects the treatment and others a placebo, with both the patients and the prescribing physicians unaware of which drug they are receiving. This prevents subjects from experiencing the placebo effect; they will not know whether to expect to get better or not. All scientifically valid studies - those which have been properly blinded and controlled- confirm the idea that homeopathy performs no better than placebo.
This then raises the question; if it performs no better than placebo, is it ethical to market homeopathy as a medicine? Proponents of the practice argue that their painkillers have every right to be on a shelf next to Paracetamol and Codeine, and that the public should have a choice of which drug they wish to take. Most of those who oppose homeopathic treatments do concede that choice is vital, and that the public should certainly be allowed to make the decision of which medicines they use. However, their issue is that there is not enough information available for members of the public to be able to make an informed choice about their medical treatment. People already understand the effects of mainstream pain medications, but if they see a homeopathic treatment on the same shelf, then they might be inclined to go for that medicine rather than the scientifically tried and tested examples. This is often because homeopathic remedies are marketed as “natural” and “gentle to your body”, which attracts people for many reasons. They may live- and, more crucially, buy- under the assumption that what is natural is always better, which is a very common belief. They may simply prefer the idea of a side-effect free drug to one which might give you a headache or make you drowsy.
However, there is nothing alongside the claims on the packaging to show the scientific consensus on the effectiveness of homeopathy. There is no label saying “No better than placebo!” or “Ineffective!” There is certainly no cigarette inspired packaging- “Homeopathy kills!” it could say. Having seen the case of Gloria Sam and other tragic victims like her, this is not said at all in jest. Perhaps such clear packaging should be considered, so that the general public can be alerted to the dangers of branching out of conventional medicine, and into, as the British Medical Association dubbed homeopathy, the practice of “witchcraft”.
The area in which the dangers of homeopathic drugs become most apparent is in the treatment and prevention not of aches and allergies, but of serious, life-threatening diseases. For example, homeopathic medicines for the prevention of malaria are readily available, including from the UK’s leading manufacturer of homeopathy; Nelson’s pharmaceutical company. Nobody, not even the homeopaths themselves, can effectively argue that their treatment is a safe way to prevent malaria. There is no placebo effect when it comes to a life-threatening disease; chronic pain is very different to an attack from a deadly parasite. More alarming than their shameless promotion of dangerous treatments is the way that many homeopaths actively advise against taking any form of conventional medicine alongside them.
In 2006 BBC Newsnight conducted an undercover investigation to see if such claims were true of Nelsons, the aforementioned company. This was deemed important as they held the monopoly on the production of homeopathy in the UK and should therefore have been the most strictly regulated of all drug companies which produced the treatments. However, when the BBC investigator managed to talk to the Nelsons advisor she was told that there was no need to complement her homeopathic anti-malaria pills with any other medicine; simply vitamins and garlic capsules. When this information emerged, the then-president of the Society of Homeopaths in the UK could only insist that her organization did not advise against vaccines for malaria, or proper preventative medication. This clearly shows that there is a lack of continuity and regulation within the industry of homeopathy, which is the root of thousands of crucial, life-threatening mistakes.
One has to ask, why are these mistakes allowed to happen? It seems as if there is a single rule for alternative medicine in the UK which differs from that which applies to conventional medicine. Homeopaths argue that their treatments should be afforded equal rights concerning manufacture and sale, however they are unable to conform with basic regulations which science-based medicines are expected to adhere to. According to Liberal Democrat member Dr Evan Harris, “People need to consider homeopathy in the same way as they treat faith-healing and witchcraft.” If this is the case, and individual faith healers are being prosecuted when their actions result in death, then why is it that companies such as Nelsons are not held accountable when their actions contribute to the same dire outcomes on a larger scale? This is yet another example of justice not being served due to the government’s need to pander to every belief of their electorate. Few politicians will stand up against complementary and alternative medicine, as its proponents compose a significant percentage of their voters who they do not want to lose, regardless of the consequences.
Therefore, it seems to be a sad fact that, despite the stacks of evidence against its effectiveness, homeopathy will remain as popular in the United Kingdom now as it has over the past several years. This is partly due to an unwillingness to admit that we may have been wrong in our original estimations of homeopathy, and to the hope that alternative medicines offer to people when all other treatments have been exhausted. However it is mostly a product of the reluctance of figures of authority to adopt an official stance on the issue, as they disregard any moral and ethical issues they may have with these “treatments” in favour of their personal popularity or the popularity of the companies and parties they represent. One can only guess how many more babies like Gloria Sam will be forced to suffer at the hands of homeopaths before society rids itself once and for all of this dangerous parasite.

On another note, I'm hoping to post one of these more detailed essays every month or so. Hold me to it- seriously.

An introduction to scepticism, and me.

I'm Beccy, I'm 16, and I'm a sceptic.

Now the AA bit is over, I'll just say straight out that I feel like I want to contribute to the sceptical movement more, by creating a blog that I hope will be accessible for young people, but still respectable enough to be appreciated by everyone. I hope, mind. No promises.

Also I'm used to writing skeptic instead of sceptic, but I'm Scottish so I'll try to remember to spell it the British way. Don't kill me.

And apparently, AA doesn't have many benefits. Just sayin'.