The person who has just been appointed to the head of Australia’s once(i) world-admired science organisation, the CSIRO,(ii) believes in magic.
Yes dear Cowpokes, Dr Larry Marshall, a man whose scientific credentials barely cast little more than a dim glow from within the deep shadow of his business escapades, and whose tumbling grammatical trainwreck of a biography uses expressions like ‘leverage’ and ‘serial entrepreneur’, wants to create water dowsing machines.
Larry says he would…
…like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.
“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said. “When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’
You know what, Larry? When you see that – as a scientist – you should actually ask yourself why no real scientists believe, for even a nano-second, that dowsing works.
You have no idea how they do it? My suggestion is that you look up the ideomotor effect and watch this video. Several times, if you don’t get it on the first run through.
I say ‘once’ because, like everything else in this country lately, it seems that the idiotic buffoons who aspire to be some kind of ‘government’ here, are hell bent on making it the laughingstock of the educated world. [↩]
You know WiFi? The CSIRO invented that. Yeah, WIFI! [↩]
Image: Bill Brooks Creative Commons; Some Rights Reserved
Or: You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means
Homeopathy is crap. Serious, unmitigated, archaic, superstitious hogwash-laden crap. There is no defensible argument for why it might have the magical qualities with which it is imbued by some. On that, Faithful Acowlytes, I think you and I are agreed. I’ve noticed in recent times, however, a growing tendency from the dozen or so remaining supporters of homeopathy, to wheel out the justification that its validity might lie in the Placebo Effect.(i) The Placebo Effect is also cited by supporters of various other dubious unscientific medical practices (yes, I’m looking at you Mr Acupuncture) as a possible legitimate modus explainii.(ii)
The problem is that the concept of the Placebo Effect has become eroded over the decades into a magical-thinking term of its own, specifically, a notion that a placebo invokes some kind of Mysterious Ability Unknown to Science for the human body to heal itself, based on a sort of ‘mind-over-matter’ mechanism that remains to this day entirely unexplained. As someone who understands what the Placebo Effect actually is, this really annoys me. And when I’m annoyed, I dust off the soapbox.
Today on TCA, we’re going to look at the exact meaning and intention of running placebo mitigated trials in medicine, and why the explanation for the Placebo Effect is most likely dull and unexciting. Prepare to have your illusions shattered.
To help illustrate things, I’m going to give you a very basic example of how a clinical trial involving placebos might work – it’s not the definitive way of conducting a placebo-based experiment, but for the sake of simplicity it covers all the issues that we need to examine.
Imagine that you have invented a new drug for the relief of nausea. All your theory says that this drug is the bees knees, but to meet the many requirements of getting a modern pharmaceutical legally to market, you must demonstrate this to the satisfaction of the various bodies that regulate this kind of thing (and, as unbelievable as a lot of people seem to find it, this is actually quite tough). What you are obliged to do is to set up a blind – or double-blind – trial (we’ve talked about blind trials before on the Cow, but click on that link it you want a refresher) which takes into consideration numerous factors that might influence your potential outcome. Understand: you do this in order to rule out as much external influence as possible that might offer alternative explanations for results of your experiment. In other words, you’re trying to demonstrate that your drug, and your drug alone, is responsible for any observed lessening of nausea for your patients.
The problem is this: in many areas of medicine, the results of interventions are not totally clear cut. Experience of nausea, for example, is partially subjective, and what you’re trying to do with your experiment is to get an objective overview of how your drug influences a patient’s assessment of nausea. It is very important, therefore, to iron out any irregularities that might be caused by, for example, a subject’s expectation of what a treatment might do.
If you have a hundred patients, and you give fifty of those patients a pill and fifty nothing at all, then half your study knows with certainty that they didn’t get the ‘anti-nausea pill’. This might influence what they report in regard to their nausea. Maybe it won’t, but you have to consider the possibility that it will, and set about ruling it out. The obvious thing to do, then, is to split your group into three parts instead of two, give one third the new drug, one third a capsule identical to the one containing the anti-nausea drug – but with no active ingredient – and one third nothing at all. If the drug has any merit, then what you would expect to see here is positive results from the drug, and then equally neutral results from both the the empty pill (the placebo) and those who got nothing at all.
Are you with me? Does this sound reasonable?
Well that’s exactly what scientists do in blind test trials with placebo controls. Only… pretty much every time this kind of experiment is run, the results inevitably look funny. If the drug is efficacious, the patients who get an active ingredient post a positive assessment of their nausea relief, as you would indeed hope. The patients who got zip (representing what is called the baseline) report a neutral assessment of change in nausea levels. The placebo arm in this kind of experiment, however, almost invariably returns a result of marginal improvement. Better than baseline, but not as good as the active drug. In other words, it seems that the patients who think they might be getting some kind of medicine appear to get an actual physiological benefit from simply popping a pill.
How utterly weird is that? Imagine the puzzlement among experimenters the first few times these kinds of results came back!
Now we get to the real problem of the misunderstanding of the Placebo Effect. Over the years, this result, which is a very real result and is seen almost without fail in a great number of clinical trials, has been taken to mean that the ‘idea’ of taking a pill (or indulging in some other kind of intervention) can have an actual physiological effect on a patient. To put it another way, it appears that if someone thinks they’re being treated, then somehow they seem to physically benefit from being under that illusion.
Only, that’s not exactly what the Placebo Effect is showing us.
In science, a placebo trial has a specific and clearly defined purpose: to account for all other variables from the experiment that can’t be explained by the agonist of the experiment itself. This would indeed include any strange psychological influence on physiology should such a thing exist,(iii) but it need not necessarily be constrained to only this. What most people fail to understand is that the Placebo Effect may also include numerous other factors. Some of these are: patient reporting bias; risk justification; confirmation bias and even just the kind of bias that might be inherent in being involved in a clinical trial in the first place. What do I mean by some of these? Well, let’s say you’re a patient in a study such as the one I suggested above. You are given a pill twice a day for the period of two weeks. You’ve given up some of your time to be on this trial (recording and reporting results and so forth) and you like the doctor who is treating you. This might very well influence what kind of modification to your results you record – only a little bit, perhaps, but ‘only a little bit’ is the scale of the typical observed Placebo Effect.(iv) Note that you might not necessarily be really feeling any difference in your nausea levels, but you are being ‘kinder’ on reporting them to the nice doctor (you would not even be aware of this – you are being given a pill and, in your mind, hey, it might be the anti-nausea drug… maybe you should be feeling a little better…) In addition to this kind of scenario, people involved in clinical trials behave differently to people in their actual usual lives. There is a tendency, for example, for them to be more aware of their day to day health and to take a little more care than usual with it. This of course can produce real physiological results that can easily colour their experience in the trial.
These things are very difficult to iron out of an experiment, and that’s EXACTLY what the Placebo Effect is all about – it is a generic container for the strange and uncatchable inconsistencies that occur when attempting to run an experiment where there are a lot of variables.
To boil all this down, it may well be that the Placebo Effect in any given clinical trial – and perhaps in all clinical trials – is down to nothing more than erroneous reporting; not any kind of physiological outcome at all, but just a noise phenomenon in the experiment that produces illusory effects simply because it is an experiment and not reality. In the actual real world, the thing we think of as the Placebo Effect may not even exist, and it’s impossible to verify such a speculation since trying to do so would necessitate the undertaking of an experiment and thus risk producing a horrible spiral of nausea-inducing recursion.
So the next time you hear someone justifying some kind of pseudoscientific ‘alternative’ remedy or other by invoking the Placebo Effect, I suggest you do the following: look them squarely in the eye and say, with a lisp… “Inconceivable!”
For numerous reasons that I won’t even bother to go into here, that’s seriously clutching at straws, in any case. [↩]
Yes, I know that I just made that term up, and it bears not even the faintest resemblance to correct Latin. [↩]
And it should be noted that in the special case of pain – and a few other stress-related illnesses – it has been shown that a psychological element can come into play depending on the subject’s mental state. It is well to clearly understand, though, that it’s rare for such a psychological element to come even close to matching the level of pharmacological effects [↩]
While Violet Towne was waiting at the pharmacist recently, she noticed the above item which she knew would pique my interest. This, Faithful Acowlytes, is ‘The Original AntiSnor Acupressure Ring™’ a little piece of cheap metal that probably costs a fraction of a penny for the material of which it’s made, but reels in a massive $39.95 for its purveyors.(i)
How does it work? Well, I’m glad you asked. According to the AntiSnor website, the ring is worn on the sucker’s user’s little finger ‘to apply pressure to the nerve points to activate the muscles which control upper airway patency to help reduce or prevent snoring’. And, to make it all sciencey and stuff, there’s this diagram that I’ve featured over to the left there. Yup. The red line that runs out of your little finger connects directly to your snore centres. Can’t argue with a diagram.
OK, so let’s firstly assume that acupressure/acupuncture works – which it doesn’t, but hey, just saying it did, what do the interwebs say about acupressure points that relate to snoring? I’ll tell you what they say – they say that the people behind AntiSnor just pulled the above ‘fact’ out of their asses. Aside from direct links to AntiSnor or AntiSnor publicity, there is absolutely no reason to think that there’s an acupressure point for controlling snoring anywhere near the point on your little finger at which the AntiSnor ring applies its pressure. Being very charitable, I will concede that some acupuncture charts show ‘sinus’ points on the tips of the fingers around where the sketch at left terminates its little red line. But if you can employ acupressure on a line drawn from one arbitrarily-chosen place to another on a diagram of the human body, why the fuck are there pressure points? Why don’t acupressure sessions merely consist of fat people sitting on you?
Puzzled by this conundrum, I ventured further into the wilds of the internet woo to see if I could find another diagram to help me out with the Mysteries of Acupressure. Oooh. Here’s one showing the supposed acupressure points in a hand:
Let’s have a closer look at the little finger:
Uh-huh. So if acupressure worked – which it doesn’t, but hey, just accepting for a moment the daft ‘logic’ of millennia-old Chinese hocus pocus, according to the chart the AntiSnor ring might conceivably be affecting your skin (wtf?) or your kidneys or your spleen, but I’m still not getting how it’s linked to snoring.
But I think I know what’s going on. Let me try to explain further via the use of another diagram of acupressure points on the hand.
You see what I did there? That, my friends, is science – am I right? Frighteningly, the people behind the miraculous AntiSnor™ ring can’t make sense of their product even by making shit up.
The AntiSnor website comes replete with the ubiquitous glowing testimonials, of course, but you know what I’m looking for dear Cowpokes, don’t you? That’s right, a science page. And I am full of glee to find that there is one. Well, ‘science’ in the duplicitious and disingenuous manner that we’ve come to know from people like this, anyway. Somewhat smarmily, on this site the page is called Medical Philosophy and we will see why AntiSnor have shied away from using the actual ‘S’ word in a little bit.
The more astute of you will have noticed on the AntiSnor red-line ‘explanatory’ diagram, a little logo with a microscope that says, intriguingly, ‘Clinical Trial 2012′. Violet Towne spied this same boast on the packaging, but with the rider: ‘European clinical trial. Details inside’. She was, unfortunately, unable to see these details as an obvious manufacturing error has rendered the AntiSnor boxes sealed shut with security stickers. Oh noes! Well, it has to be a mistake. It’s not like they’d want to hide such convincing evidence of efficacy from a potential customer, right? After all, if the sealing of the boxes was intentional, why, they’d have put such important information on the outside!
The ‘Medical Philosophy’ page might give us a clue to what’s inside though, because there’s some wonderful swagger right at the top, which I’ll quote here in full:
CURRENT MEDICAL RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT STIMULATION OF THE NERVES THAT ACTIVATE THE MUSCLES THAT SUPPORT THE AIRWAYS … MAY HELP REDUCE SNORING.
Reference: Inspire medical systems. Collaborated with Paul Van de Heyning.M.D.Professor of Otorhinolaryngology and head and neck surgery, and Wilfried De Backer, M.D. professor of Respiratory medicine of the University Hospital, Antwerp.
But wait a bit – the astonishing thing is that this claim does seem to hold a degree of truth! Indeed, Professors Van de Heyning and Doctor De Backer (and others) have a published scientific paper to the effect! Actual science! Only… it doesn’t have fuck-anything to do with acupressure, Chinese meridian lines, little fingers or metal rings. It’s about directly stimulating the nerves in the throat with electricity to cause muscle contractions.
AntiSnor is saying, without even flinching – proudly, even – that ‘Our product is effective because some scientists have shown that a procedure completely unrelated to anything we’re selling – except that it concerns snoring – might possibly(ii) work’.
This, it appears, is the extent of the AntiSnor™ Clinical Trial evidence.(iii) Oh, sorry, I forgot – there’s a picture of a microscope too.
The rest of the ‘Medical Philosophy’ page goes on with a whole lot of waffle that attempts to tie the nerves of the little finger into the picture but makes about as much sense Melissa Rogers explaining quantum mechanics. There are, of course, lots of CAPITAL LETTERS, because, you know, IMPRESSIVE. I was concerned for a moment that they might not get to tell us that the ring is hypo-allergenic. But I need not have worried.(iv)
The sneaky tricksy nature of this site intrigued me somewhat, though, so I wondered what else I could find out about AntiSnor and why they were being so cagey with their language. Well, it didn’t take more than a second to find out that they ‘have form’, as the constabulary puts it. In 2010, Australia’s Competition & Consumer Commission (the ACCC) well and truly bitch-slapped the maker of AntiSnor, ATQOL Pty Ltd, for misleading consumers on the efficacy of their product. In short, ATQOL was compelled to remove claims that their deceitful little gadget ‘had a ‘proven history of successful drug free treatment of snoring’ and was ‘Tested and recommended by a Physician’. As a result of the ruling ATQOL provided the ACCC with court-enforceable undertakings that it would:
• not make absolute representations that the Anti-Snor Ring will stop snoring or relieve sinus problems, restless sleep or insomnia
• not represent that the ring has a ‘proven history of successful drug free treatment of snoring’ unless it has caused clinical trials to be undertaken to prove such a history
• not make any representation that the ring has been tested, approved or recommended by a health professional unless that health professional has undertaken testing in accordance with accepted standards for the design, conduct, records and reporting of clinical trials
• amend the ATQOL website and any current and/or future advertisements or publications to remove the incorrect representations
ensure that all future representations made in the promotion and/or sale of the ring comply with the Act, and
• implement a trade practices law compliance program.
So what do we think, my Crusading Cowmrades? Has ATQOL lived up to their end of the bargain? Are they giving consumers a fair appraisal of the efficacy of their shiny little trinket, or is it time for the ACCC to pay them another little visit…?
Or more if you don’t buy it directly from the AntiSnor website. The pharmacist was whacking on a hefty $10 margin. [↩]
The authors of the paper quite clearly state even in the abstract that ‘Further research is needed to evaluate this… as a strategy’ [↩]
I will accept here that there may be different ‘evidence’ hidden away inside that sealed package, that is, through some massive oversight, nowhere mentioned on the AntiSnor website. But I sense that you are already feeling the magnitude of my disbelief. I’m certainly not forking out fifty bucks to prove myself right. [↩]
And I bet it’s hypo-allergenic as in ‘cheap stainless steel’, rather than as in ‘expensive gold’. [↩]
One area of hokum into which I’ve not ventured much here on the Cow(i) is the murky depths of the profession known as ‘psychic mediumship’ – or, by those at Cow Central as ‘despicable emotional opportunism’. This morning I saw on my friend Dr Rachie‘s Facebook page an ad for a purveyor of this nonsense, one Lisa Williams,(ii), who is, it would seem, currently plying her wares on my turf. I thought it might be time to turn the eye of the Cow onto things clairvoyant.
According to her advertising, Lisa Williams is apparently ‘TV’s top medium and psychic’, but as I rarely watch tv I can’t speak to that claim. All I can say is that I’ve never heard of her, so she’s obviously not as famous as people like John Edward or Sylvia Brown. A Search™ for ‘tv’s top medium and psychic’ also tends to throw a little doubt on the assertion since people like Michelle Whitedove, June Field, Carla Baron, Colin Fry and Sally Morgan – along with numerous others – purport to hold similarly lofty distinctions. In fact, the search returned so many names that the full scope of this industry put me on the back foot slightly. Psychic mediums are astonishingly big business it would seem.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by that – it just confounds me that, here at the cusp of the 21st Century, people are still being sucked in by the same sort of flimsy trickery that has been around for millennia.
Lisa Williams’ website is a veritable library-full of addled waffling and nutty feel-good advice. I will allow here that there is a vanishingly small chance that Ms Williams actually believes all the stuff she says, but it should be clearly understood that the ‘gift’ she so often talks about in her writing makes her a packet of money. And while I say there is a chance, I’m being very generous. Quite frankly, I think that Lisa Williams, like so many of these so-called spirit mediums, is a fraud.
Ms Williams features on her site a page called ‘Messages From Beyond’ – or, more accurately, ‘Messages from Beyond®’, for it seems that she has successfully registered this fairly common phrase as a legitimate service mark. How this kind of thing gets through the US Trademark office completely boggles my mind. Pretty soon you won’t be able to write an English language sentence without paying royalties.
There are a couple of videos on the this page and these are what make me think that Lisa Williams is less a dizzy self-deluded fruitcake than a cynical opportunist. Watch this one and we’ll talk about it:
Oh boy. Well, the very first thing that happens revealing: “Fantastic, I think this is it,” she says outside a hotel door. As if she’s ‘psychically’ arrived here. This is a small thing, but it sets up the tone of what’s to come. Lisa Williams is already hiding facts (things she previously knows) under the guise of flakey absent-mindedness. It’s so ingrained that it’s a habit.
What follows inside the room is a classic – albeit heavily edited – cold reading (although, for all we know it could have been a ‘hot’ reading – we have no idea what Lisa Williams knew about these people before she arrived. She could have had someone assemble a complete dossier on them).(iii) This is nothing more than a performance. Personally, I find it so offensively manipulative and cynical that I was almost inclined not to embed it. Taking advantage in this way of bereaved and emotionally fragile people like Joanna, the young woman in the video, is, in my opinion, despicable. Putting the video on your website in order to attract more business is the lowest form of exploitation I can think of.
As I said, this clip is quite obviously edited, and we simply can’t tell what was removed. We can be totally sure that we’re only seeing the things that we’re meant to see – no bad guesses, no flubs, no ‘fishing’ for hits. Even so, there are some telling moments:
“I see a wedding picture on the wall”, says Lisa, a punt which Joanna immediately contradicts. She had a wedding picture, but she took it down. Lisa Williams makes this seem like a hit, but it just plain isn’t. It’s a complete no brainer to guess that a person who has been relatively newly married will have a wedding picture on their wall somewhere, but in this case it’s actually a miss so Ms Williams swings around for “Oh, he [the husband] ‘interfered’ with it”. Whoa. That could mean just about anything – and sure enough, Joanna looks for an explanation. Cold Reading Basics #1: be general and allow the mark to fill in information for you. I’m sure this is what fills up most of the stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor, but for some reason, this one survives – probably because it’s rectified so favourably.
If you think I’m being unfair here, take a look at the second video on that page.
This one features some stuff from a live show, and the major observation I can make is that if this is a portmanteau of Lisa Williams’ best stuff then her usual show must be appallingly transparent. Watch her fish for a rube with this one:
“I see a little girl on a scooter… riding up and down… with a cat in a basket. She’s got one sock rolled up and one rolled down and she’s waving at you…”
All the time she’s scanning the audience… but no-one’s biting.
“She’s showing me that she’s, like, your grandmother, or your mother, or…
OK, she’s now expanded the possibilities from ‘little girl’ to include ‘mother’ and ‘grandmother’ and ‘or’. Remember here that a large number of people that make up Lisa Williams’ audiences have come to hear their dearly departed make contact, so in this case we’ve cast the net so wide that really the only females not specifically included in that kind of description are young women who haven’t had children – the least likely part of the female population to have recently died, and, of course, they were little girls once, so that’s covered too. And there’s the hugely all-encompassing ‘or…’. That little girl could be ANY female. I’m sure that with some deft footwork Lisa Williams could get transgender folks in there too.
…it’s like a red scooter… And I want to say there’s a connection to the name Mary. And her feet blew up.”(iv)
“Come on, help me out here,” pleads Lisa Williams to an audience frantically trying to find relevance in their own lives to her vague fishing. The happy little girl on the red scooter means bugger-all to them.
When she does get a response, you get the distinct feeling that it’s more out of sympathy than for even a small shade of accuracy. It’s a young woman who obligingly feeds our ‘clairvoyant’ more information to be recycled as ‘psychic’ insight. Once Lisa Williams cottons onto the fact that the mark is Eastern European (the woman has a pronounced accent) all manner of opportunity presents itself. It appears that the ‘departed’ in question is the woman’s grandmother. Ms Williams runs with it using lots of hand gestures to help make generalised visual impressions. The grandmother wears ‘some kinds of rags and mismatched clothing’ which apparently explains the socks from the first fishing expedition. There’s ‘something about vinegar’. Oh please – there’s probably also ‘something about’ potatoes and pickled fish. This stuff is banal and offensive. Somewhere along the line the little girl riding a scooter with a cat in the basket goes by the way. Somewhere along the line the name ‘Mary’ is completely forgotten. In fact, that picturesque image first conjured up by Lisa Williams – a feisty little girl called Mary with odd socks and a happy wave, riding on a red scooter, has been deftly supplanted by a manky European babushka with bad teeth and appalling table manners. It’s truly audacious swindling.
I won’t go on. Watching the two videos above is so distasteful to me, that I almost abandoned this post several times. I find it terribly hard going to see people being hoodwinked so blatantly and so callously – and, more troublingly, so easily and transparently.
The main content on the Lisa Williams’ Messages from Beyond® page features another riff on the Law of Large Numbers. It is in fact a psychic win/win scenario. Here, Ms Williams features from time-to-time a ‘message from the other side’ that has come to her while on the toilet or picking her nose. It’s a great con. She can put any old shit here – being 100% wrong has no negative consequences whatsoever. All the lame waffling will go unnoticed for the most part, but should anything happen to ring true with someone who reads her website – Bingo! She’s a psychic! And you can bet that Ms Williams will make sure everyone knows about it.
It’s truly shameful.
And, if nothing else, the awful faux Comic Sans-style font in which all these revelations are proffered is embarrassingly childish. As is the appalling spelling. For the record, Ms Williams, ‘purserver’ is actually spelled ‘persevere’, it’s ‘feisty’ not ‘fistey’ and ‘hypercondriac’ is usually penned as ‘hypochondriac’. But I suppose it’s really the ‘spirits’ who can’t spell, right?
Well, excluding our interludes with Sister Veronica, that is. But I’m fairly sure you understand that as just silliness. [↩]
Dr Rachie wasn’t advertising it, you understand – she was holding it up to scrutiny. [↩]
Just to clarify, in case people don’t know these two terms: a ‘cold’ reading is where the supposed psychic fishes for evidence from the victim using vague catch-all language, and builds on any hits by emphasising the stuff that fits and de-emphasising or ignoring stuff that doesn’t. A cold reading also involves scrutinizing the mark’s body language and other physical signs such as accents, type of clothing being worn and so forth. A hot reading, on the other hand, is built on knowledge that the psychic has already gathered in some manner, and which is known to be true. This kind of information is often accumulated by accomplices who mingle with the audience before the show begins, pretending to be punters themselves and asking questions like ‘Ooh, have you lost someone too dear? I lost my old Uncle Gilbert – who did you lose? Was it long ago?’ etc. It’s a technique that is widely used by stage psychics and faith healers such as Peter Popoff. It can be astonishingly effective if you’re not aware of it. [↩]
This kind of language – ‘her feet blew up’ – is enormously useful in cold readings. This could mean the ‘departed’s’ feet could be swollen. It could also mean an accident, like a land mine. The first one is very general – I defy you to find a grandmother who hasn’t had, at some stage, swollen feet – but the second meaning might pay off on the very odd occasion, making it seem like a totally astonishing hit. If you are clever and do this kind of thing often enough, eventually you’ll get a very powerful payoff. [↩]
Sometimes some things just annoy the crap out of me. What is it with the daft ‘Keep Calm and [Insert Any Lame Thing Here]‘ plague that stuck its head above the ramparts some years ago now and is STILL lumbering across the memetic landscape like a zombie hopped up on qualudes? Why the hell do people think this is still cool/funny/witty/whatever? In fact, why did they EVER think so?
You will no doubt have read of the Amazon ‘Keep Calm’ debacle in recent weeks, where an apparently random ‘Keep Calm’ generator designed by t-shirt vendor Solid Gold Bomb created almost unbelievably offensive slogans that actually appeared for sale in the Solid Gold Bomb Amazon shop. The mechanics of what happened have been thoroughly examined elsewhere so I won’t go into it here, other than to add the admonishment that you play with random processes at your peril.
The extreme unpleasantness of the affair notwithstanding, it seems to me that the greater crime has been left unexamined: why the fuck is anybody still allowed to sell anything with ‘Keep Calm and [Whatever]‘ emblazoned upon it anyway?
As a meme it started with little value in the first place and proceeded from there on a downhill trek to banal in about the time it takes for a bunch of comedy writers to roundtable and discard a crummy routine (usually about 38 seconds, in my experience). It is a blight upon humanity and people caught perpetuating it (except in the course of exposing its lameness to the world, it goes without saying) should be incarcerated for long periods of time. No, fuck it – let’s bring back drawing and quartering.
Let’s see ‘em keep calm while horses tear their limbs off.
Say what you will about the various social media, there is one thing at which they really excel: providing a brand new platform for the endless circulation of the kind of inane and poorly informed pop ‘wisdom’ that we love so much here on TCA. Just recently, for example, I’ve been sent the same exhortation about five times to sign an Avaaz petition against Bayer for being responsible (via their manufacture and marketing of insecticides called neonicotinoids) for bee Colony Collapse Disorder. Now, while I don’t particularly hold with the use of Bayer’s products, and don’t even particularly like Bayer as a company, this irks and frustrates me. What Avaaz is doing here is piggybacking an agenda on top of an emotionally-charged issue to give the impression that CCD is being caused by one simple mechanism, and that Bayer should be held responsible. As I’ve written before, it is far from being quite that simple.(i) Unfortunately, very few people who get the link to the Avaaz petition will know much, if anything, about bee Colony Collapse Disorder, and not bother to take the trouble to research the Avaaz claims. And so the ‘OMG! The Bees Are Dying Sign the Petition’ suggestion will no doubt circulate for another few weeks, etching into people’s minds the notion that Evil Bayer is Killing Bees (supplanting the previously-etched notion in most of those same people’s minds that the culprit was mobile phones).(ii)(iii)
Anyhoo, that’s all really just a way of introducing the real subject of today’s post, which is another wonderful social media ‘advice’ epidemic which also concerns honey. Honey and cinnamon, in fact. It’s very lengthy, so I’m not copying it here, but you should really go have a look at it so you can witness the true scale of its stupidity (you can find it linked just about everywhere across the net, so ubiquitous has it become).
Synopsizing, it begins with a warning that ‘Drug companies won’t like this one getting around!’ and goes on to list ways in which the combination of honey and cinnamon will cure EVERYTHING. Well, I’m exaggerating, but not by much.
Here are just some of the troubles that you will no longer have if you imbibe and/or smear yourself liberally with honey and cinnamon:
I’m totally sure the drug companies would be mightily pissed off if there was even a grain of truth in any of it, but there ain’t so they happily continue with their business of converting their piles of cash into cocaine and snorting it off stripper’s tits.(iv)
The long list of cures ends with the folksy signoff: ‘Remember when we were kids? We had toast with real butter and cinnamon sprinkled on it! Re-post!’
Because, you know, we never had any of those problems when we were kids, right? Except for the poor tykes with cancer who obviously didn’t eat their cinnamon toast.
The thing that really ticks me off is the completely undiscriminating way in which this stupid piece of internet diarrhoea is pooped all across the various social media platforms even by those who should know a LOT better. This is the internet, people. It should be the work of moments to find out the bona fides of this gob of banal hogwash.
And moments it takes. Less than thirty seconds of Searching™ turns up the original source of the Cinnamon and Honey gumpf:
That’s right, Space Cadets. The provenance of this piece of 21st Century wisdom is an article published in 1995 by that veritable shining bastion of scientific respectability, The Weekly World News. It’s travelled down almost two decades unscathed. What’s that you say? What other scientific discoveries has WWN delivered up? I’m so glad you asked.
I mean, for fuck’s sake. Who’s going to believe Dick Cheney is a robot? We all know perfectly well that he’s really a lizard!(v)
As we have seen time and time again here on TCA, human beings just lurve to fall for the most simplistic solutions to complex problems. Our brains shy away from complexity. We are not made to cope with it, and we deal with it badly. [↩]
What’s actually killing bees, my friends, is that voracious, deadly scourge of the planet Earth – human beings. Our demand for cheap honey (and for cheap fruit and flowers and grains and all the plants that the bees rely on to make that honey) is creating a population pressure on the bees that is just not something that they cope with well. We’ve made bees into something they are not, for our own purposes, and while that works to an extent, it is truly not surprising that it is not a sustainable prospect. [↩]
One friend commented to me that surely the fact that Bayer was not necessarily responsible for CCD is irrelevant if they’re doing something environmentally irresponsible – an ‘end-justifies-the-means’ argument, if you will. That’s all well & good – maybe the petition will get one environmentally undesirable substance out of the way BUT the bees will still be dying. It deflects the view of the public away from addressing the actual problems, and so is, in my opinion, doing more harm than good. [↩]
This is a colourful metaphor, intended to provide humour. It is not meant to imply that drug companies make huge swodges of profit at the expense of our health. Because we know that they are all doing it for the love of humankind. [↩]
This QED really is SOOOO much better than I could ever have hoped for. I wish all rubbish of this kind was so easily slapped down. [↩]