Saturday, March 27, 2010

A god who can do anything is nothing

From Massimo Pigliucci, biologist and philosopher:

[Can God make a mountain so heavy he can't move it?] If you answer “yes,” it looks like god can do something that he cannot undo, which means that he is not, after all, omnipotent. If you respond “no” then you are immediately acknowledging a limit to what god can do, so again it turns out that he is not omnipotent. Try getting out of it, you’ll either laugh all the way to your logic class (if you are an atheist) or get a really bad headache (if you are a theist). (The funniest variation of the paradox is due to that immortal philosopher, Homer Simpson: “Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?”)

It would seem, then, that an omnipotent god is a logical impossibility. Since logical impossibilities are stronger than physical and contingent impossibilities, it follows that there cannot be such a thing as an omnipotent god. Oops. So the next time someone says something as inane as “anything is possible,” ask them about the paradox of omnipotence: you will kill two birds with one stone, showing both that not anything is possible and that the most common type of god worshiped nowadays is a contradiction in terms. Then go out for a drink to congratulate yourself on a job well done.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Of Batmen and Supermen

In Batman whenever the help of the caped crusader is needed the commissioner or chief of police would switch on a huge searchlight which illuminated the clouds with the bat symbol. In minutes the hooded man in black would be at the scene giving likewise hooded men a taste of his knuckles. Superman, without contest a far superior bloke, on the other hand has no walkie talkie or cell phone or anything with which he could be reached. As luck would have it, he's there at just the right moment to foil bank robbers or save the citizens of his city and the world.

There is a need for superheros of course. Just look at the number of criminals who're able to get away with their dastardly deeds. Think of the number of lives that needn't be lost or wouldn't be traumatized if we had Batmen and Supermen. Imagine the wars we won't need to fight because a flying human, impervious to bullets and bombs, and with the strength of a thousand bulldozers could nip a greedy general's ambitions. Imagine how oppressive regimes would be a thing of the past given the deterrent factor that superheros would bring to the world. It's a kind of deterrence that no ICBM can offer.

Humans are prone to fantasizing. We all daydream. We all run imaginary scenarios in our heads. We visualize. We all have hopes. While these are abilities which distinguish as from other species and have allowed wondrous works and discoveries to be made, it is not without its drawbacks. Often we are unable to distinguish reality from fiction. We go overboard and begin wholeheartedly believing in the reality of ideas that we have drenched our minds with or ideas that have been handed down to us via family and culture. We can fail to apprehend that human constructs such as superheros are just that--imagined beings born out of our fervent hopes for Justice and Freedom and Liberty and Peace, hopes for a utopian society.

Yet more than such lofty yearnings, there are more immediate needs that Batman and Superman serve. They swoop down and catch  the child who accidentally plunges down Niagara Falls. They rescue the passengers of a plane that's been sabotaged by terrorists. They divert missiles headed for the heart of the city. Saving lives is the primary job of a superhero. We need them to keep us from harm. The survival instinct is so strong in us that during those times when the end is imminent, when we are powerless to change our fate, we call upon and implore them to yank us out of the jaws of death.

One such crisis:
[H]eavy rains and zero cloud visibility forced the landing of the chopper carrying Legarda and five others in Sariaya, Quezon yesterday.

...

Legarda's chopper was forced to land at a vacant lot at the Avalon Subdivision, Barangay Sto. Cristo, Sariaya, at around 12:30 p.m. after hovering around Sariaya for several minutes because of dark clouds and heavy rains.

Legarda started praying the rosary, given by healing priest Fr. Fernando Suarez, when they spotted the open field.

"We were battered by the heavy rains and strong winds. It's fortunate we found the spot," she said. "Thank God that he spared us from danger and I thank the people here in Barangay Sto. Cristo who went to our rescue. Inaamin ko na nagkaroon ako ng kaba. (I admit I got nervous)."


In desperate situations, fearing death, sensing doom, the likes of Loren Legarda reach out to their superheros. No cell phone required. No searchlight need be turned on. A whisper uttered or mere thought addressed to the savior is all that's needed: "Help me." The supernature of her hero guarantees the missive will be received instantly.

Humans are fallible, most fallible. Humans are weak--feeble minded and psychologically fragile. The desire for superheros is an order of magnitude far stronger than the imperative to face reality at all costs.

For the Legardas of the world supersaviors are not mythological. They are very real--not because they've seen their heroes, not because they are as tangible as the ground into which the chopper will smash, but because these superbeings without question exist in their minds. Existence in the head is all the Legardas, Ratzingers, Suarezes need in order to feel and know that their superhero is out there somewhere ready at their beck and call to come to their rescue.

And if Superman fails to appear? There are a thousand and one reasons for his absence, but certainly not because he is a figment.

And so God the superhero is real. He's alive and lives in the billions and billions of neurons that orbit a star in a galaxy called the Milky Way.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A multi-reincarnated bad-energy busting hypnotherapist

Alice McCall is a psychologist who I think you may agree needs to have her head examined before she merrily goes off examining others'.
McCall said she discovered her own past lives in 2000 and used her knowledge when diagnosed with breast cancer. Through regression therapy, McCall says she learned of her past lives, dealt with unresolved issues and was healed of her cancer.

Since then she has gone on to help others discover their own past lives and facilitate healing of physical and mental maladies.

“I don’t go looking for them, they just come up during hypnotherapy,” she said.

As for her own lives, McCall knows of more than 15, possibly more than 20. She says she once was a high priestess and leader of a mystic school in Egypt during the time of the pyramids.

Hey, if she was a priestess, then I was King Tut. Just to make it very clear, Dr. Hawass, I own that pyramid in the desert, ok?

McCall is one heck a woowoo. Apart from her two dozen or so former lives, she talks of "negative energy" which she claims makes us "malfunction." She practises "holistic" healing--which usually translates to "a mish mash of treatment options, however wacky, ridiculous, untested, or disproved they may really be."

In her website she talks more about this bad energy.
The basic premise behind Alice McCall's energy healing is that when you hold on to a strong negative thought or emotion, it can be buried in your body. The memory of it is held in your cell as a negative, dark dense energy.

Whoa! Dark, dense energy trapped in our cells. She must talking about mitochondria, right? And "negative" ATP in those power plants, right? (A type of energy which the hundreds of thousands of biologists and biochemists have somehow missed in the last hundred years of study). Or could she be alluding to dark energy in the cosmos? Or ultra high gravity black holes perhaps?

So how do you counter cytologically-entrenched evil energy? Why you turn to sky daddy of course. Thus, McCall uses "God-based" energy healing to "remove blocks of dense, negative energy at the cellular level."

I didn't even bother checking out everything on Alice's site. It's a Wonderland and the rabbit hole I can tell is pretty deep.

Another quack, another crank. Isn't there an agency in Florida that can restrain this nutcase from treating the sick?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This medicine doesn't work unless...

I just received a free sample of a new super antibiotic in liquid form called Panbiocin. According to the person handing it out it is effective against every known pathogen--bacterial and viral. This is astounding to say the least since conventional antibiotics are effective only against certain bacteria and antibiotics are useless against viral infections. So I took home the sample bottle and read the label more carefully. Well, I got the surprise of my life. Right there below the brand name it states:

ATTENTION: THIS ANTIBIOTIC DOES NOT REALLY TREAT INFECTIONS. IT IS YOUR FAITH IN ITS CURATIVE POWERS THAT WILL INACTIVATE MICROBES. WITHOUT FIRMLY BELIEVING IN ITS EFFICACY, PANBIOCIN IS USELESS.

You are encouraged to make a trip to the heart of the Amazon rainforest where the active ingredients for this incredible medication is made from. Being in the midst of Mother Nature and the very flora that go into this antibiotic promotes faster healing. Chanting "I am getting cured, I am getting cured!" when taking Panbiocin has also been shown to increase its effectiveness.

What's even more amazing is that Panbiocin is said to be effective in any concentration, such that it can be endlessly diluted and still possess the same potency. Thus, the manufacturer suggests:
Should you wish to share Panbiocin with friends and family simply add a drop to a gallon of clean, boiled water and mix thoroughly. Bottle the resulting dilution and distribute freely. Tell the recipients that they too can do the same and produce more of the product. Remember, it is not the antibiotic that cures, it is your unwavering belief in its healing powers.

At the back of the bottle users are encouraged to send in their success stories:
If you or someone you know is satisfied with this product please send your story to the email or postal address below. We broadcast positive testimonials to those who suffer from all kinds of infections to give them hope and show them that Panbiocin can cure all manner of bacterial and viral diseases.

A most incredible product indeed. And unlike homeopathic remedies, concentration/dilution does not affect its potency. The one thing that the label fails to mention, however, are the side effects. It's a heuristic in medicine that the more powerful the drug, the more powerful its side effects are as well.


On another front I need to mention that I had heart surgery last month. Before going under the knife the surgeon explained to me the nature of the operation in complete detail including how effective it is, what he and his team will be doing, what my chances were, and possible post-op complications. He then asked me to sign a waiver. Among other things, the 500-word document included the following clause:
I, the undersigned, fully understand that the coronary surgical procedure I am about to undergo is COMPLETELY USELESS, that it has been shown to have NO therapeutic benefit over and above sham heart surgery, and that only my belief in its efficacy confers it any chance of effectiveness. I hereby expressly agree that any failure or lack of complete success of the procedure to cure my condition shall be attributed to dearth or paucity of faith (belief) on my part, and that neither doctors nor staff nor this hospital shall be accountable for such failure.

Yeah, I signed it of course given how I had and still have complete, absolute trust in my surgeon and in his procedure of choice. Hey, look, I'm alive today, right? Time to mail in my success story.


I don't think anyone is gullible to the point that they would believe either of the treatment claims above. Well, I should hope not. Both are fictitious, of course. The point of churning out such ludicrous therapeutic claims is that the one coming right up isn't made up at all. Journalist Bernardo V. Lopez wholeheartedly believes it. Hermie Santos believes it. The nuns of the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM) believe it too. And those who flock to the Mother Ignacia Healing Ministry compound in Novaliches in search of miracle healings blissfully join the bandwagon.

Couple of weeks back I found out that the Mother Ignacia Healing Ministry is giving away free healing oil via snail mail. Peachy! How could I resist. Today I received the oil endowed with supernatural curative powers. The cloth inside the ziplock bag is 1.5 x 1.25 inches in size and is soaked in some odorless oil. (My camera has been on the blink so the image quality is poor.)




From what I've read, the Ministry claims the oil mysteriously appeared on the floor of their chapel late last year. They couldn't explain how it got there. In one video (6:45min into it), a nun speculated that the ceiling might have a leak but then cursory ocular inspection ruled this out. Happening in the chapel, the nuns couldn't help looking for significance in the drops and puddles of oil. It happened in a place of worship and a healing center so the sisters mused that the oil could be for healing. Sure enough when Sister Raquel Reodica, the resident miracle healer, applied it on the sick some claim to be healed.

What I'd dearly want to do is to be able to get hold of her bottle of healing oil (without anyone knowing of course) and replace it with canola, hydraulic, or some other oil. Bet we'll get the same "healing" results statistically.

Early this year the Ministry began making the healing oil available for free upon request. Which of course made me wonder how they can possibly have enough of the oil from the floor to accommodate the, I imagine, hundreds if not thousands of requests.

When I requested for the oil my plan was to send it to a laboratory for analysis to find out what it's made of. Could it be some compound unknown to 21st century chemistry? Some exotic chemical which destabilizes and decomposes at room temperature but miraculously doesn't in this case? Or would it be discovered to be extra virgin olive oil for salads?


A computer printed letter accompanied the oil-drench cloth. Here are images of that document.



Here's the full transcript.
HEALING OIL GUIDELINES

Dear recipient of healing oil,

PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS "HEALING" OIL DOES NOT REALLY HEAL. IT IS JESUS HEALING PEOPLE THROUGH THIS BLEST OIL, A MATERIAL OR PHYSICAL MEDIUM SIMILAR TO THE SACRAMENTS, I.E. WATER FOR BAPTISM OR SALT FOR CONFIRMATION. WITHOUT PRAYER OR FAITH, THE OIL IS USELESS. IT CANNOT HEAL.

YOU ARE ENCOURAGED TO MAKE A PILGRIMAGE TO THE HEALING CENTER, IF YOU CAN, WHERE THE OIL MYSTERIOUSLY APPEARED. YOU CAN ACHIEVE HEALING BETTER THIS WAY. YOUR PILGRIMAGE IS A FORM OF POWERFUL PRAYER AND SACRIFICE. YOU ARE ALSO ASKED TO SHARE THE OIL WITH OTHERS, ESPECIALLY THE TERMINALLY SICK AS YOUR PARTICIPATION IN THE HEALING MINISTRY. FOR DIRECTIONS AND SCHEDULES, GO TO - www.sisterraquel.com

First step is to read the background and history about the oil so you understand the healing process. go to the link http://www.sisterraquel.com/2010/02/announcement3-%E2%80%93-blogsite-library-links/

Put emphasis in praying and strengthening your faith rather than just thinking the oil will heal you. As soon as you receive the oil, before you apply it on yourself or the sick, all present must pray together to Jesus the healer while touching the oil container. Put yourselves in the presence of Jesus and thank Him for bringing the oil to you. Then ask Him for healing. Ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, foundress [sic] of the congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary or RVM, of which Sister Raquel Reodica is a member. Sister Raquel invokes Mother Ignacia in her healing prayer. DO NOT APPLY THE OIL WITHOUT PRAYING. Only after praying should you apply the cloth with oil on the part of the body which is sick, breast, forehead, abdomen, etc., preferably while saying "Jesus, Jesus" and "Mary, Mary" continuously. For non-Catholics who do not pray to Mary, pray to Jesus directly. Again, without prayer, the oil is useless. It cannot heal. Only Jesus heals.

There are only 14 drops of oil on the cloth you received, to avoid leaks in the mail. So that you do not run out of oil and you can share with others, Sister Raquel suggests you wash and dry a small empty perfume bottle, put the healing oil cloth you received by mail in it, and mix it with ordinary baby oil until it is full. Optional but recommended, have your local priest bless it. If you distribute the oil to friends, do the same thing, put oil on a small woolen cloth in a small zip lock bag or small bottle and let the recipient add baby oil into it and have it blessed. Make a photocopy of this document and give to all you give the oil to.

The oil you receive comes from the tabernacle lamp of the adoration chapel, which is constantly replenished as many pilgrims are allowed to take some. This lamp, which has an eternal flame, mysteriously overflowed and created a large pool of oil on the floor on November 6, 2009, a First Friday. On that day, nine lines of oil appeared in an orderly equidistant line on the floor from the back of the chapel to the altar. The oil was wiped over by a towel and applied to the sick, many of whom were healed, some instantly. To view or download photos of the healing oil, go to the link http://www.sisterraquel.com/2009/12/poster37-40-mysterious-oil-and-cloud-at-healing-center/

The oil you received was blessed by Fr. Teo[filo], healing center chaplain, and by Sister Raquel. It was offered at the healing fountain of the same adoration chapel where many have been healed. It was offered to the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Child, Sacred Heart, Blessed Virgin, Mother Ignacia, St. Therese of the Flower, Padre Pio, and St. Michael the Archangel at the healing center before it ready [sic] to be given away.

If you or someone is healed by the oil, please report this to the email address below, so that it is included in the ministry archives. These testimonials are broadcasted to desperate terminally-sick [sic] people to give them hope and to make them understand that nothing is impossible for Jesus the Healer. eastwind@motherignaciahealingministry.com

The healing oil you receive is given free. The ministry spends for postage cost. There is no need to give a donation. However, if you still wish to make a donation, no matter how small, and participate in the healing ministry, please send by postal mail any amount 1) outside the Philippines, international money order in dollars pay to HERMIE SANTOS, 8 Dockery Drive, West Orange, NJ 07052, U.S.A.; 2) in the Philippines, deposit cheque or cash at the nearest Bank of the Philippines Islands branch to BPI Savings Account No. 0086-3992-84 in the name of BERNARDO V. LOPEZ. In both cases, email Mr. Santos at hermie.santos@verizon.net or Mr. Lopez at the eastwind email address above that you have sent or deposited your donation. You will get a reply once the donation is received.

Please visit our website www.sisterraquel.com/ and subscribe as member if you are interested in 1) asking for prayers for the sick sent to our prayer warrior group with worldwide members; 2) receiving regular notices of the ministry's healing guides and inspirational materials, such as youtubes, powerpoints, prayer-poems, testimonials.


Given the above text I now believe having the oil analyzed is unnecessary. The "healing oil" I received is most probably lamp oil, either spilled or fresh from the dealer, and "blessed by Fr. Teo[filo], healing center chaplain, and by Sister Raquel." The Ministry admits the oil did not actually have miraculous origins--it didn't even condense out of thin air. Instead the oil comes from the tabernacle lamp. You gotta give them a thumbs up for honesty. The oil reservoir they say "mysteriously overflowed and created a large pool of oil on the floor." "Mysteriously"? Wonder if they bothered checking for a cracked or leaky container. I'd also like to have a word with the guy who tops up the lamp's fuel tank. And since visitors are allowed to take oil home, a video of what happened the day before the pools of oil appeared may be revealing. Here is a screenshot of what may be the oil lamp (9:37min into the video) in question.





Apparently, oil has been seen on the floor on at least two occasions--September 25 and November 6, 2009*. Though I haven't found an admission, the Sept. 25 oil spill probably has something to do with the tabernacle lamp oil as well.

As with the makers of Panbiocin, the Ministry is adamant that "THIS 'HEALING' OIL DOES NOT REALLY HEAL." Rather it's a 2000-year old corpse that actually makes you well: "IT IS JESUS HEALING PEOPLE THROUGH THIS BLEST OIL." So how do we get the zombie to cure us through the nonhealing oil? Beseeching and believing: "WITHOUT PRAYER OR FAITH, THE OIL IS USELESS. IT CANNOT HEAL." So the oil by itself does not possess curative powers. But if one prays and has faith that can move the whole Himalayan mountain range, do we still need the oil? Can't we just pray and believe till we're blue? Can't Jesus heal directly without the use of chemicals? You can bet that miracle healer Benny Hinn et al. would belt out a Yeah, baby, yeah! Then again, if Jesus can heal directly, who needs Hinn & Co.?

And as in the case of Panbiocin, the oil can be also diluted--in this case with baby oil--and still retain its full potency, not least because as they warn the oil does not really heal. Chances are--and the Ministry might cautiously agree--you can use sunflower oil, peanut oil, motor oil, ... instead of mineral oil and it shouldn't make a difference. The Ministry may even approve of a Vitamin E enriched healing oil. Or what about a rose scented oil to please Doctor Jesus? We can even use that famed panacea--virgin coconut oil (VCO)--and in teaming up with the supernatural endow it with even more magical powers. I'm sure Doc Jesus will bless the Philippines for using indigenous products.

As for claims of healing, need it be said that all the Ministry can show are testimonials? One story is not proof. A thousand anecdotes ain't evidence. Certainly not when the cherry picker shamelessly tells us to send in only happy stories:
If you or someone is healed by the oil, please report this to the email address below, so that it is included in the ministry archives. These testimonials are broadcasted to desperate terminally-sick [sic] people to give them hope and to make them understand that nothing is impossible for Jesus the Healer.
Well, if I count only my hits and ignore my failures, then I'm an A student in all subjects from kindergarten to university, a genuine psychic, a top marksman, numero uno in the diagnosis of illnesses and electronic faults, ....

Finally, having watched Bernardo Lopez's videos and having corresponded with him, I can only say that he is utterly deluded and has not a single critical bone in his frame. For instance, in his latest videos (12A and 12B) he totally believes in the power of prayer. His reason? Post hockery. He recalls and makes known only those instances when a desired outcome came after the nuns prayed and ignores those instances when prayer was not followed by a desirable outcome (we know this because the nuns pray everyday). Yes, Lopez is the Ministry's resident cherry picker. And then of course there are the testimonials he features. On the flimsiest and hyper unreliable kind of evidence he is persuaded that indeed the people in his videos have been cured of their ailments and that the oil or Sister Reodica or prayer or a zombie or what have you is what cured them. Non causa pro causa. Amen.

Lopez is older than I am. He's probably in his 50s or 60s. And yet there is something rather intellectually sophomoric about him. I don't know if he knows this but he shared a tidbit that might shed light on his mental/intellectual constitution:
i have a very strong faith
which is from the heart
you are arguing from the mind
intellectual plain
i am not there

And that segues onto the matter of his writing style in our correspondences which both irked and puzzled me at first. In each of the seven emails I received each line is less than 10 words. I initially thought the short lines was a quirk of his email software, that it was adding a carriage return (yeah I'm from the typewriter days) automatically. Only later did it dawn on me that he was deliberately writing in verse form. Duh! Artistic? I say crank. The obsessively, fanatically religious all are.



----

* In this video, Bernardo Lopez says oil appeared on November 26, 2009 which according to him is a First Friday, which can't be since Nov. 26 was a Thursday. Furthermore the photos he shows are those of the Nov. 6 oil appearance. In all probability he just made a booboo and actually meant to say Nov. 6. In an earlier video Lopez claims oil also appeared on the floor on October 16, 2009. Strangely he does not mention this in his Inquirer article.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Falsehood in advertising pays

I was at the drugstore today and while waiting for the pharmacist to bring out the medicines I saw on one of shelves behind the counter a dark green box labeled "Coldease." Well, that caught my attention because I remember a Coldease in the US that's being sold as a homeopathic cure for, well, colds. Unfortunately, it isn't homeopathic, meaning that the amount of active ingredients in the preparation is nowhere close to infinitesimal. In fact there's enough of the zinc compound to cause adverse effects, loss of smell being one of the more notorious ones.

When the pharmacist returned I asked if I could take a look at the green box. Closer examination revealed this Coldease probably isn't homeopathic at all. The pharmacist told me it's actually an herbal remedy--meaning there is an appreciable amount of the active ingredient in it and the ingredient is of course plant-based. And sure enough it is. The description said it contains, among other things, Echinacea, a plant touted, for Zeus knows how many centuries, as a treatment for colds.

I googled Coldease the moment I got home and turns out my memory was--as is usually the case--on the blink. The American "homeopathic" remedy is "Cold-Eeze," and it was through James Randi that I first heard of it. Coldease on the other hand is a brand by the Philippine pharmaceutical company United Laboratories (Unilab). I couldn't find this product on their website. Instead I found the following Coldease TV ad uploaded by Unilab on their Youtube channel. According to the info they provide the ad was produced in late 2009. In the video Unilab boasts Coldease can "help stop a cold before it starts." But can Echinacea--presumably the major active ingredient in Coldease--in fact stop a cold before it occurs?

Studies, systematic reviews and meta-analyes of trials have come to conflicting conclusions. The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) tells us:
Study results are mixed on whether echinacea effectively treats colds or flu. For example, two NCCAM-funded studies did not find a benefit from echinacea, either as Echinacea purpurea fresh-pressed juice for treating colds in children, or as an unrefined mixture of Echinacea angustifolia root and Echinacea purpurea root and herb in adults. However, other studies have shown that echinacea may be beneficial in treating upper respiratory infections.

Most studies to date indicate that echinacea does not appear to prevent colds or other infections.

On the other hand, a 2007 meta-analysis by Shah et al. published in the British medical journal Lancet found that "Echinacea decreased the odds of developing the common cold by 58% and the duration of a cold by 1.4 days."  However, in June 2008, Craig Coleman, one of the authors of the meta-analysis, in reply to a letter, wrote in the Lancet:
I agree with Andreas von Maxen and Peter Schoenhoefer that the studies on echinacea included in our meta-analysis are heterogeneous in their methodological quality. We attempted to cast a broad net to see whether or not a difference in the incidence or duration of cold was evident when the whole of the literature on echinacea was summarised, but as described in our paper's conclusions, we too suggest caution in over-emphasising the results before they can be confirmed with more rigorous, larger randomised controlled trials.

Meanwhile, a 2007 Cochrane Collaboration systematic review by Barrett el al. concluded,
Echinacea preparations tested in clinical trials differ greatly. There is some evidence that preparations based on the aerial parts of E. purpurea might be effective for the early treatment of colds in adults but the results are not fully consistent. Beneficial effects of other Echinacea preparations, and Echinacea used for preventative purposes might exist but have not been shown in independently replicated, rigorous RCTs.

That such large studies and reviews come out with contradictory and cautionary results may imply that the effect size of echinacea is very small or nonexistent--that is, its therapeutic efficacy over placebo may be zero to minimal. Whatever the reason for the differences in conclusions, however, it is inadvisable to tout echinacea as effective against colds or in preventing it when the jury is still out on the matter and no definitive evidence is at hand to support a claim to efficacy.

Unilab and others who promote and market echinacea as a cold remedy are, to say the least, jumping the gun. Why not wait until there is firm, conclusive evidence that it is effective? Because when it comes to profit the end justifies the means.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The asylum known as the Vatican

85-year old Father Gabriele Amorth has been the Vatican's chief exorcist for the last 25 years. He's come across some 70,000 demonic possessions. Amorth says the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Church lately is evidence that the Devil is within the Vatican itself.

Amorth also claims that a number of the possessed he's encountered "spat out nails or pieces of glass." "Anything can come out of their mouths – finger-length pieces of iron, but also rose petals," he says.
Well this is most interesting. If humans--whose mouths and guts are devoid of the said materials--actually can be shown to produce nails, cullet, bolts?, bullets?, lava?, flowers and what have you, then this would be a truly incredible phenomenon meriting study and investigation from a host of disciplines. Hell, this would mean that Hell might actually be real!

To kickstart the investigation I've got a suggestion. The next time Amorth rushes to exorcise a human Gatling gun, I urge him to bring along two conjurers/magicians. No need for scientists. They'll just be a hindrance. A couple of seasoned illusionists will do just fine. Let them stick around, poke around, and check out the (purportedly) possessed and the (supposed) projectiles shooting out of them. I bet you a thousand dollars they'll come back home yawning. While Amorth will continue to insist that demons and possession are as real as the brew of delusions his brain is marinated in.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

When MDs fail us

You'd think that doctors have had years of training and continually attend conferences and seminars such that they know which treatments/medications out there in the market work and which don't. Unfortunately, reality doesn't bear that out. Case in point: My 72-year old mom had experienced excruciating pain in the knee for about a month. When the pain failed to diminish after three days, she went to see an orthopedist who quickly  diagnosed her as having osteoarthritis of the knee and made out just one prescription: 1500mg of powdered glucosamine sulfate to be mixed with a glass of water and taken once a day. My mom dutifully followed the doctor's instructions and began taking the medication in the hopes that her torment will end.

Unfortunately her doctor had prescribed something that simply wouldn't work. You see, glucosamine sulfate has already been clinically tested, and the best studies to date show it does nothing for osteoarthritis. Back in 2007 when his Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary Medicine was published, R. Barker Bausell said that the definitive study on glucosamine was one published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006. That study tested glucosamine, chondroitin, glucosamine with chondroitin, and celecoxib (an already tested and proven pain medication). The results? Except for celecoxib, all the others performed no better than placebo. In other words, glucosamine et al. were all ineffective.

Since 2006 several other studies have been done.

One 2007 study showed that glucosamine sulfate was better than placebo for knee osteoarthritis.  Another 2007 study showed that glucosamine HCl and chondroitin, with or without exercise, were no better than placebo for knee osteoarthritis. Sources like the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database believe the evidence favors glucosamine sulfate but not glucosamine hydrochloride. A new study was published 19 February 2008 in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine.  It is arguably the best study to date, and may shed some light on the controversy. Carried out in the Netherlands in a primary care setting, it studied 222 patients with hip osteoarthritis over a 2 year period. Half the patients took glucosamine sulfate 1500 mg a day; half took a placebo. They concluded that glucosamine sulfate was no better than placebo in reducing symptoms and progression of hip osteoarthritis.

Thus, to date, the best studies show glucosamine to be mere placebo for osteoarthritis of this and that part of the body.

When there are conflicting studies such as in the glucosamine controversy, the better studies (better means bigger trial size, better designed, more stringent controls, stricter blinding, multicenter vs single center, etc.) are of course given more weight. But supposing all the studies are of equal quality and that they're all good studies. Then the mere fact that some show that X works and some conclude that X is no better than placebo, almost certainly means that the latter conclusion is correct. Why? Because, if X actually works and works significantly better than placebo then any good study will almost surely find a statistically significant difference between X and a placebo. That some good studies find it effective and some equally good ones conclude it isn't implies that the difference between X and the control is probably small. Thus, even if all the studies for glucosamine thus far are equally good studies--they're not--then it is more likely that further studies--better ones--will show X to be no better than a lactose pill.

And here's something to think about. Glucosamine is already present in our bodies, the amount of which is far far more than the recommnded dose:
[Dr.] Wallace Sampson, one of the other authors of this blog, has pointed out that the amount of glucosamine in the typical supplement dose is on the order of 1/1000th or 1/10,000th of the available glucosamine in the body, most of which is produced by the body itself. He says, “Glucosamine is not an essential nutrient like a vitamin or an essential amino acid, for which small amounts make a large difference. How much difference could that small additional amount make? If glucosamine or chondroitin worked, this would be a medical first and worthy of a Nobel. It probably cannot work.”

Hence, my mom's orthopedist had prescribed expensive crap. If the good doctor knows this then he was intentionally prescribing a placebo--hoping the placebo effect would kick in, leading to a reduction in the unbearable pain that mom was experiencing, and/or perhaps hoping that the pain would naturally subside and that she would attribute this to glucosamine. On the other hand, if this doctor actually thought that glucosamine is effective, then he's one hell of an ignorant "expert."

The sad thing is that another doctor--a general physician--whom she consulted thereafter most confidently backed up the glucosamine prescription, and went a step further and suggested glucosamine with MSM, saying in effect it's even better. A simple check on Quackwatch reveals that MSM stands for methylsufonylmethane, and that there are few studies involving MSM, and practically no clinical trials showing MSM as efficacious against any human disease. And so this doctor's recommendation is perhaps even worse, given that efficacy and safety studies on humans at the suggested dosage levels have not been carried out.

About two weeks pass and mom's burning pain does not subside. There are days when it feels less painful and days when it's hell. But overall there has been no improvement. So off she goes to see another doctor. After examining the patient and looking at the xray he ordered, this orthopedist tells her she doesn't have osteoarthritis at all. In fact her knee joint is in excellent condition. Instead she has a nerve problem.* And he prescribes an anti-neuropathic drug as well as two anti-inflammatory medications. But before mom leaves the clinic, the good doctor advises her to also look for an acupuncturist. He says that while he can't explain how it works, acupuncture can do wonders. For instance, he's heard of performing an appendectomy using only acupuncture as the anesthetic! And acupuncture has been around for thousands of years so there must be something to it.

To say that this is disappointing to hear is an understatement. The best studies on acupuncture--those that employ the most credible sham acupuncture procedure and have the best single/double blinding--show that "needling" at the, so to speak, magical points on the body is no better than poking needles anywhere else nor is it better than pretend pricks. And of course the traditional explanation for how acupuncture works is utter nonsense (where oh where could those dang meridians be and what exactly is the nature of and what instrument can measure the qi energy that's supposedly coursing through our bodies?). Needless to say, the doctor's argumentum ad antiquitatem is an elementary error in logic. And the story of doctors using acupuncture as the sole anesthetic invites the question, How true is it? As with anecdotes of cures the story is suspect. The devil is in the details you know. Even acupuncturists in China don't have magic needles.

My mother has been to five doctors in the last two months for this pain of hers. The above three have actually prescribed CAM treatments whose efficacy has been, for all practical purposes, scientifically refuted. It seems quite clear that at least two of the above doctors don't know this.

In a recent interview, Dr. Harriet Hall, aka SkepDoc, confirms that many doctors are now prescribing/suggesting alternative remedies to their patients (pertinent quote at 27:40 min of the podcast). The truth is, just because they have "MD" trailing behind their names doesn't mean that what comes out of their mouths is biblical and true and right. Doctors are fallible. They may not be cognizant of which treatment modalities are science and evidence-based. They can enthusiastically give their patients belief-based treatments (as Dr. Hall rightly calls it). They can misdiagnose and/or mis-treat.

It's bad enough when quacks peddle snake oil and nostrums. There are enough gullible, nonskeptical, uncritical people who fall for them daily and are even prepared to defend them (self-proclaimed panacea guru Eli Edwin Casimero just keeps coming to mind). But it's much worse when licensed doctors become knowing or unwitting hucksters themselves. Since doctors are legitimate experts on disease and their treatment we seldom or rarely question their pronouncements and the scribbles they hand over to us. We take their word for it that we are going to get better if we follow their instruction and pop this and that pill three times a day.. Thus, when our physicians start prescribing nostrum, there is a good chance that we'll end up believing these "alternative" treatments to be in fact effective remedies. The onus is, of course, on them. It is their ethical responsibility to know and make sure the treatments they offer their patients have been tested safe and effective. On the other hand, it is our lives we are placing in the hands of another human being. We owe it ourselves to make sure that this person isn't putting us in danger or giving us worthless treatments. So, caveat emptor. Be a smart patient. Be critically-minded. Be scientific. Read up and check the body of evidence.


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* This highlights yet another problem that I pointed out yesterday--that misdiagnosis is not a rarity at all. My mother went through 4 doctors before the cause of her pain was finally correctly identified. Two of those doctors had completely opposing diagnoses.

Monday, March 08, 2010

No, Marie, there is no Santo Papa's ghost

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre had been diagnosed with Parkinson's.

In 2007 Simon-Pierre could barely move her left side, could not write legibly, drive or move around easily and was in constant pain. Her disease worsened after [Pope John Paul 2's] death, and her order prayed for his intervention to ease her suffering. Then after writing his name on a paper one night, she woke up the next day apparently cured and returned to work as a maternity nurse with no traces of the disease.


Mirable dictu! Well, it was wonderful to relate and was of course held as a miracle ... until the nun's disease returned.
[O]ne of the doctors charged with scrutinising the nun's case believed she might have been suffering from a similar nervous disease, not Parkinson's, which could go into sudden remission. A report on the paper's website went further, saying that the 49-year-old nun had become sick again with the same illness.

Don't you just love these post hoc ergo propter hoc stories? Mr. G rubbed a crystal on his belly for a week. On the seventh day the abdominal pain was completely gone. Hallelujah! Crystals work wonders! This should be yet another cautionary tale for anyone who's into so-called complementary and alternative medicine (SCAM) including religion-based cures. Simon-Pierre's "miracle" reminds me of a Lourdes "confirmed" miraculous healing some half a century involving a woman who had Budd-Chiari disease. Turns out doctors back then didn't understand enough of the disease to know that it could go into natural remission. The woman eventually died of the same disease. And the part about the possibility of a misdiagnosis is a big deal. Doctors and diagnostics are not perfect. Misdiagnosis is a not an infrequent event! Everyone will be led astray if we think that the person has X which is incurable when in fact he's down with Y which can go into spontaneous remission. Anything he was doing at the time of the remission will be touted as a miracle cure.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Casimero's romance with Hulda Clark

I got around to checking some of Edwin Casimero's other health sites (including Fertility Help Network and Eczema Cure) and one cannot miss how he worships Hulda Clark and her zapper. In Dengue Cure, for example, he tells us that if his own children were to come down with dengue hemorrhagic fever, among the things he'd do is to use Clark's zapper which "destroys viruses via their positive electric pulsations." In Diabetes Cure Asia he plasters Clark's zany diabetes treatment which of course employs the zapper. Apparently, diabetes is caused by wood alcohol (methanol) in one's pancreas, the presence of which "attracts" the cattle fluke Eurytrema pancreaticum. As to how that parasite gets to humans and makes its home in the pancreas Casimero does not tells us.

I wouldn't be surprised if Casimero swears by Clark and her crackpot devices. Which of course makes you wonder how a computer techie like him (he's a web developer) can be duped by a patently zany quack and her bogus gizmos. Perhaps because he's not an electrical/electronics engineer? No. I think it's because he's had unfortunate experiences with doctors--the "western" ones--which made him decide to go over to the dark side (ostensibly checking his brain at the border). He is so sold on CAM and quackery that he practically doesn't ask such basic questions as, Is the principle upon which the zapper is said to work sensible and plausible? Can it really be that all cancers and most diseases have just one cause and of all the possible causes, it would be one species of parasite? Casimero has completely lost his faith in conventional medicine and now puts his trust in anything nonscientific, nonevidence-based, unconventional, and traditional. He's become not just skeptical of mainstream medicine, he's absolutely cynical. And because he and his family do need medical care from time to time, his cynicism has led him to completely embrace and promote CAM uncritically without a hint of skepticism whatsoever. Over time he's become so confident about his knowledge of disease and healing that two years ago he began offering face-to-face cancer cure consultations for PhP500.00. We can infer from this that "hubris" has not made it into this hobby healer's vocabulary. He also declares that "I am not responsible for your health unless you are my wife or my child." For someone who publicly dispenses his cure for all diseases and charges for consultations I wonder how he defines "responsible"?

Let's take a quick look at Hulda Clark and her claims. Clark earned her degree in naturopathy from Clayton College, a "correspondence school" in Alabama. Unfortunately,
naturopathy degree issued by Clayton College is not considered a valid credential by any state licensing naturopathic doctors. It is also not considered a sufficient credential to sit for the national naturopathic licensing examination (NPLX).

On the other hand, Joseph Pizzorno is the "top naturopath" in the USA. He is the founder and "president emeritus of Bastyr University, the first fully accredited, multidisciplinary university of natural medicine in the United States" and "senior editor of the Textbook of Natural Medicine, the most authoritative textbook on natural medicine currently available." So, in terms of professional prestige if not authoritativeness in the world of naturopathy, Pizzorno outdoes Clark.

In her books Clark claims that a single parasite, the fluke Fasciolopsis buski, is the cause of all cancers and a host of other diseases including AIDS, Alzheimer's, Crohn's, Kaposi's sarcoma, and endometriosis. It's strange enough that Clark would name one cause for a large number of different diseases. It's even more puzzling when it comes to light that F. buski is found only in East Asia. Pizzorno informs us:
There is no research documenting the association of F. buski with cancer or any disease other than fasciolopsiasis. Considering the well-documented level of infestation in these other [East Asian] countries, if the Clark theory was true we'd see an equally high level of cancer, which we don't.

As for the zapper Pizzorno says,
No research is presented demonstrating that the Zapper has any physiological effects, let alone ability to kill parasites or cure cancer. The claim that mild electrical shocks to the skin can eliminate intestinal parasites is, frankly, preposterous.

Even celebrity CAM meister Andrew Weil has in effect described her a crank: "No studies have backed up [Clark's] bizarre claims, and it’s unclear whether the cancer patients she’s supposedly cured ever had cancer to begin with." And the Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer (SCAC) reports:
There is no scientific basis for Hulda Clark's hypotheses and recommendations, including her suggested treatments.

The parasite Fasciolopsis buskii does in fact exist, but only in Asian countries, so that an infection in our country is ruled out. Consequently, this parasite does not enter into consideration as a cause of the numerous cases of cancer in the Western countries; at most, it might be one of several causes of liver cancer (and only for this type of cancer) in the Asian countries.

As a whole, Clark's thesis cannot be comprehended, nor is it proven.

Which of course makes me wonder how Casimero could possibly have fallen for these utterly crackpot ideas. Casimero is a graduate of one of the top universities in the Philippines (University of the Philippines) which at the very least shows he has enough brains to have been accepted and make it through. So how does a person like that get taken in by a nutcase and fugitive like Clark?

Having been into both religion and various woo myself, Michael Shermer's explanation may hold a clue. Since there are not a few very intelligent people like Frank Tipler who believe in very goofy stuff, Shermer poses the question, Why do smart people believe in weird things? And his answer is,
Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. [Shermer, p.283]

So I'm wondering whether UP-bred Edwin Casimero has been able to skillfully delude himself with rationales and explanations which he finds sensible and adequate but in reality hold no water. Then again, perhaps he has simply assumed that anything outside conventional medicine must be right. Maybe he's just still too starstruck that it has not occurred to him to question the plausibility of the claims of his gurus. Or maybe, and this is an uber remote possibility, he's just too scientifically illiterate.

On the other hand, what is most certainly the case--as I have discovered through his email to me--is that he does not have a grasp of what constitutes good evidence. For him anecdotes are enough. If he's tried it or on his family members and they seem to have gotten better, then the CAM remedy must be effective--a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc mistake as I told him in my email.

Will reason get through to Casimero? Will he see the light, so to speak? Cognitive dissonance theory predicts that people who've heavily invested their head and heart and made a commitment publicly and have had the belief system for a long time are not about to suddenly have a change of heart and mind. That's the exception. Instead they will redouble their efforts and resort to rationales and self-justifications to bring back consonance. Their press release will read: Mistakes were not made and certainly not by me!



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Michael Shermer, Why People Believe in Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, Owl Books, 2002. An online excerpt is available.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Casimero's Cure Manual for All Diseases

Edwin Casimero maintains the website The Cure Manual whose tagline reads, "Banish Fear from ALL Diseases. All Diseases Curable." Just from that last claim you may already be rolling your eyes. His site provides cures for a variety of illnesses.

Is Casimero a doctor? A scientist perhaps? Apparently, he has no qualification whatsoever in medicine, biology, biochemistry, or anything related to human physiology, metabolism, and disease. Instead he describes himself as a "hobby healer," which simply means healing is a hobby of his.

Nothing wrong with sharing information and educating people about health matters. But only if the said advice and treatments are backed up by good objective evidence showing to some degree of confidence that they actually work and are safe.

Unfortunately that is hardly the case with this site. Casimero has guzzled the whole pitcher of Kool Aid. He's not just knee-deep in quackery. He pretty much eats, breathes, and lives it. He doesn't believe in "western doctors" anymore. He stopped vaccinating his children because he "found out that the whole vaccination theory and paradigm was completely false." He and his wife give chiropractic for heart ailments a thumbs up. He's been through colonics. He worships such sultans of nostrum as Hulda Clark, Andreas Moritz, and Bruce Fife. He avers that "'wholistic' healers are correct" while "pharmaceutical and surgical dominant medical superstition is absolutely false." In other words conventional medicine is bunk; it's the quacks with their snake oil who are the real doctors with real cures. (About Cure Manual, About Me)

Casimero makes the following statement:
They admit themselves that they have zero cures for all the diseases of civilization. They admit they only have treatments. They admit they have only symptom alleviation / masking / coverup drugs, radiation and surgical procedures.
Firstly, who's "they"? A list of names of those who made and make the claim would be helpful. Dr. Harriet Hall has an illuminating article explaining who's treating symptoms and who's actually ferreting out the real cause and treating it.

The wonderful thing about such sweeping claims as Casimero's is that we need only provide one disconfirming instance and the claim gets debunked. In logic the classic example is: All swans are white. If we find a swan of a different color, we instantly refute the claim. So does conventional medicine have zero cures for all diseases? When was the last time you had a bacterial infection that didn't go away or couldn't have gone away on its own? Were you prescribed antibiotics? Did the antibiotic just target the symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, etc. or did it rid you of the infection? Ever since the discovery of penicillin, millions of people have been routinely cured of a host of bacterial infections. They've proven so good in fact that we have forced artificial selection on pathogenic bacteria, thus leading to the problem of antibiotic-resistant strains flourishing. So there, Casimero's claim falsified.

But bacterial infection is hardly the only condition "western medicine" is able to address. There are a host of conditions that it can treat and cure. Herniated vertebral discs which cause nerves to be pinched leading to pain in the limbs are routinely surgically remedied. If doctors merely drowned the patient with NSAIDs and other pain relievers, that would be treating only the symptom. But if the pain is caused by a herniated disc then treating the spinal problem would be going right to the cause. Casimero's claim is dealt another blow.

And what about parasitic infestation such as ameobiasis and tapeworms? What do drugs such as metronidazole, paromomycin, and niclosamide do? They rid us of the parasites. Now is that treating the symptoms or the cause? Yet another machete strike. Do we have go on hacking and mincing this mythical horse?

Ok, just one last chop. Over five years ago my brother-in-law just suddenly collapsed in a mall. Tests revealed he had colon cancer. He underwent surgery. Part of his colon was removed. Annual check ups thus far show he's cancer-free.

Casimero continues:
A doctor who says your disease has no cure has no business serving you! A doctor who says your disease has no cure does not deserve to be paid.
Perhaps Casimero can enlighten us as to what the cause of death of various deceased alternative medicine practitioners have been. What can he say of those who succumbed to diseases? For instance, what, may we ask, did Hulda Clark die of? Clark whose books include The Cure For All Cancers and The Cure For All Diseases endured a series of ailments that even she could not address, thus leading her to (occasionally) turn to, gasp!, conventional medicine--pain relievers and hip replacement. "She suffered more than she should have because she wanted to solve her problems herself." Implied is that she couldn't and wasn't able to. The guru who had all the cures couldn't cure herself. In the end she apparently died from a form of cancer. Oh, the irony.

Here's Casimero's cure for all incurable diseases. I guess Hulda Clark failed to read Casimero. If only she had been on the "right diet," had not "polluted" herself, "cleansed" and detoxified her organs, "nurtured" herself, had taken nothing but raw foods and drank not water but coconut juice, used no toiletries of any sort, she never would have had any disease whatsoever and any disease she contracted would've left her in a zippy. So fear not malaria or dengue or hemophilia or sickle cell anemia or glaucoma or ... so long as you follow Casimero's recommendations. Remember, as with Clark he has written the definitive Cure Manual for All Diseases.


One of the things I've experienced with some religious sites and blogs is that they moderate comments. They probably want to screen out spam, ad hominems, crank messages, and the like. But I found to my chagrin that besides these obvious annoyances, some of these sites never allowed my comments to be posted. No, my remarks did not contain flames or insults or gratuitous derision. They were on-topic rational critiques. Which of course leads me to believe that these sites and blogs are afraid of analyses, facts and the truth. Perhaps because allowing dissenting views and informed criticism would open the door to questioning and disillusionment. They want their readers shrouded from reality, doubt, logic even. Thus, any views or facts for that matter that rock the boat will not be permitted to appear on their site.

Well I've had the same experience with Casimero. He too has blocked what I posted on his beam ray machine article. I've learned my lesson from sites that trash my comments so I now keep a copy on my computer, at least until the comment is posted. Here's what I wrote on Casimero's page:
1. The mechanism by which the beam ray is said to work has not been determined to be true. There is no good scientific evidence that various "frequencies" can detect/treat illnesses such as internal infections/infestation.

2. There are no impartial, randomized, double-blinded, controlled clinical trials that show beam ray machines can treat diseases. Thus, no good evidence exists that these devices actually work.

3. A good number of sellers of "beam ray" devices have been convicted of fraud and other felonies. Some beam ray devices have been linked to various deaths. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Rife#Modern_revival.2C_marketing.2C_and_health_fraud.

4. Hulda Clark's claim that all diseases are caused by parasites has no basis in reality. Her "zapper" machines are bogus. Clark has run afoul with both the US and Mexican government for issues related to her practice of medicine. She is not licensed to treat people. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hulda_Clark)
Instead of publishing the above, he emailed me. Seriously, I appreciate that he did. It shows he does in some way care about the matters I raised. In his missive (which I won't copy and paste, having no permission to do so), he acknowledges my "healthy skepticism" and provides a series of positive personal anecdotes which he uses to justify his belief in the beam ray machine he's been exposed to and Hulda Clark's zapper which he purports helped save his brother's life. In answer to my statement that no RCT has been conducted to evince the efficacy of beam ray machines, he told me to finance a study myself, adding that I'll need half a billion to a billion dollars for it. I'll presume he isn't ignorant and was merely in a hyperbolic mood since even the NCCAM gets only a billion to fund a whole range of CAM studies.

I replied informing Casimero of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and how factors such as the placebo effect, natural history of diseases, regression to mean can mess up causal inferences vis-a-vis treatments. I also asked him whether he allows rational critiques on his site and if not, why? That question must've been a show stopper since I have yet to hear from him. I'm afraid that as with the religious sites I allude to above, Casimero will not allow anyone to rock his boat, lest the truth be let out of the bag and infect the minds of his readers, and perhaps family members as well. Could it be that his cure-all regimen might prove ineffective against critical thinking? And maybe, just maybe, he harbors the fear that he could be terribly wrong about CAM.

Finally, just for entertainment, here's how Casimero's site rates on the Quackometer (click for the larger image):



A full 10 Canards! Congratulations! Woo hoo!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Medjugorje prophecy looking more and more bogus

A few days ago I said that I searched the Medjugorje messages from 1984-2010 for any reference to the Philippines being the global spiritual center and came up empty-handed. Since then I've received a response from the webmaster of medjugorje.ws to my inquiry on this. According to Marek over the last ten years he's read all the messages from 1981 onwards but has not come across any mention of the Philippines. Although this doesn't close the book on the claim, Marek's input heightens my confidence that the "prophecy" is just an urban legend. It could be an outright hoax, a pious fabrication, or some actual fact which after having being passed from one person to another has been embellished, edited, mangled, mistransmitted and thus mutated into what it is.

Let's just backtrack a bit and look at the claim. Bernardo Lopez, a journalist in an article in Business World over five years ago wrote:
It is reported that Our Lady of Medjugorje gave a message saying that the Philippines will one day be a global spiritual center. It is hard to imagine how a poor Third World nation, 70% of whose populace live below the poverty line, would be a spiritual mecca for an ailing world full of wars and chaos.... Is the healing ministry of Sister Raquel and the RVM sisters the first step towards fulfilling the Medjugorje message? Nobody knows.
Allison Lopez of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in December 2007 tells us, "In Medjugorje, Mary’s message was that the Philippines would one day become a global spiritual center. Was the message about Montemaria?" Bingo P. Dejaresco, in the now apparently defunct Bohol Chronicle website wrote, "A message from Our Lady of Medjugorge spoke of the Philippines to become the 'global spiritual center.' Will this become a reality soon?" And someone with the handle georgemortel13 states in his video, "After her appearances in Lourdes and Fatima, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared last in Medjugorje - leaving one prophecy for the Philippines: that the nation will become the global spiritual healing center of the world."

Bernie Lopez is affiliated with the Mother Ignacia Ministry and runs a YouTube channel under the handle eastwind7. The channel features his videos of miraculous healings by Sister Raquel Reodica and Father Fernando Suarez. Given his religious zeal, I emailed him, telling him of my failure to find the Medjugorje message that contains the prophecy and asked for his source for the report. He replied within the day and admitted that his sources were second and third hand reports and were unreliable, that if I couldn't find the message then perhaps there is no such prophecy. I was kind of surprised by his candidness and honesty. Kudos to him for not resorting to self-justification maneuvers.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But of course if the prophecy doesn't exist then quite naturally there won't be any evidence for it. The day I contacted Marek I also emailed the exact same missive to medjugorje.org, asking for information on the 1981 to 1983 messages and stating that I am looking for the message that contains the Philippines-as-spiritual-center prophecy. I have yet to hear from the site.

I'm not holding my breath on this claim. My money is on the hypothesis that it's false.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Superman's wife

Former actress Elizabeth Oropesa has been practicing something called Tetada Kalimasada for the last seven years. According to her she has "X-ray eyes" which gives her the ability to see people's internal organs. Terrific! Forget MRI, CAT, PET, endoscopy, colonoscopy, angiograms, etc. Have St. Luke's Medical Center hire this human x-ray vision machine asap!

Well, not to boast, but I have a thirteenth sense which gives me the hands-down, spot-on ability to peer into people's brain even via cyberspace, without even having the person present, thus letting me know unequivocally that Oropesa is suffering from delusional disorder.

Visit the link above and read the entire article. More cranks therein talking about "energy centers" in the body. Pure gobbledygook. Test them if they even understand the string of words coming out of their mouths: Ask them to locate anatomically these energy centers and show their physiological mechanism. Ask them how they measure the so called energy and whether they use the physics unit Joules or some Never Never Land unit such as Tinkerbells. Chances are they'll duck and dodge and point to or pass the buck to even more poppycock like invisible, intangible, undetectable spiritual planes and energies.

The Suarez delusion: The continuing story

You may remember Fr. Fernando Suarez the healing priest who hit the front pages a couple of years ago. Back then plans were underway to build a large shrine including a statue of the Virgin Mary taller than the Statue of Liberty on a mountain in Montemaria, Batangas. It was said that Montemaria is a special place and would become a healing center, perhaps the global healing spiritual center purportedly prophesied in one of the Medjugorje messages*.

But even before any makeshift chapel had been put up, people began flocking to the site to gather stones. You see, a Fr. Nap Baltazar had earlier gone to the site, sensing that it was somehow sacred, and saw the grassy area littered with stones. He gathered about a dozen of these pebbles and brought them back home with him, believing they can be used for healing, given the import of the Montemaria. Some folks began using them and experienced healing of sorts. After the news of this spread, you had all these faith-heads going up to Montemaria gathering miraculous healing stones which I presume they shared with friends and family. Since then there have been various accounts, including video testimonials, of conditions such as diabetes and cancer being treated and cured with these stones simply by rubbing them on the body.

However, on February 16, 2010 Suarez's group officially announced that plans for the said Montemaria shrine have fallen through; negotiations for the 5-hectare land have completely bogged down. Instead, the shrine will now be built somewhere in Tagaytay**. Given the specialness of Montemaria and the fact that its stones have been "proved" miraculous, it behooves us to ask whether Montemaria and its stones had ever been supernaturally special. If Montemaria was never "fated" to be the site for the shrine and healing center, what do the faithful now say about the stones? Do they admit the stones were in fact ineffective and did not have supernatural healing powers? Do they say the stones were effective and therapeutic while the illusion about Montemaria lasted but are no longer anymore? Will some cling to the belief that the stones were and will forever be miraculously therapeutic? Or would they say, as not a few have stated even before, that it is not the stones that heal but people's faith in their deity? As to this latter claim, it is interesting to note that early on some have already been saying that people don't even need to attend Suarez's healing Masses, that they can get healed simply by either praying, or watching an online video of Suarez's healing sessions, or even via cell phone text messages.

Now that Montemaria is no longer the blessed site, will newly picked stones from that mountain possess any magical powers? Perhaps people will now find the stones or some tree or the water in the new location of the shrine as possessing special magical powers. This is not unlikely since there have been some who've fantasized about Montemaria as the next Lourdes and Fatima. So be not surprised if in the coming years people begin raving about the healing waters of Tagaytay Shrine, and the sick from all over the country and the world come flocking. When that happens the government of Tagaytay will be the first to shoot me down for exposing religious quackery.


As for the advertised miraculous cures, they have not been investigated by medical experts. Presuming these testimonials are true and ingenuous, it is most doubtless that these infirmed who had rubbed the stones on their bodies experienced massive doses of the placebo effect. Think about it. These people had serious diseases which they wanted to go away, were religious/superstitious, and truly believed the stones possessed some magical powers which would cure them of their ailment. These are exactly the conditions that elicit the placebo effect. Moreover, when did these folks provide their testimonials? Well, certainly not on those days they were in pain or bedridden. Rather they gave their stories of miraculous healing at the time when they were (relatively) painless and in good spirits. Their pronouncement or videos are a snapshot in time, a frame in a movie that's months and years long. And so we should ask, Can we please see more of the movie, say, a frame from each week till the present, beginning well before the stone rubbing? Patently, if we're only given one picture and one where the patient is smiling, we're being afforded only limited and biased information. If I let you view only the video of my mom walking pain-free after acupuncture, you'd most likely be misled into believing that the acupuncture worked for her. But if I let you watch the epic length recording showing how her pain kept cycling--abating for two days and coming back to torment her for the next couple of days only to wane once again and wax and wane and... regardless of acupuncture and drugs--you'd come to a very different conclusion, right? More importantly we are not told what treatment these people had been receiving in conjunction with the stones. If I take antibiotics for a kidney infection and rub a healing stone on my lower back three times a day for ten days, I will most certainly get well. But which of the two treatments actually licked the infection? The magical stone, right? Well, that's what the superstitious will tell you since they cherry pick which events in the timeline they share with us and which one they choose as the cause of their recovery. So the question that always needs to be asked when we're treated to anecdotes and testimonials is: What haven't we been told? What crucial information have been left out? What's the whole picture? What are the biases in the information and how do we address them?

Given our current body of robust understanding of reality, what is the probability that some stone--or boulder for that matter--or tree, or pond, or what have you, possesses some magical, supernatural power that can cure such life-threatening diseases as cancer? Exceedingly infinitesimal of course. Prior plausibility for magical healing is, for all practical purposes, zero. So why would people believe in something extremely implausible? For one thing, these religionists already have implausible, irrational beliefs--deities. Deities are supernatural. They are not constrained by any laws of nature. All things are possible with gods. They're Magicians. Neither material reality, physical laws, logic, nor ethics constrain them. They transcend any and all of these. Thus, those who believe in deities with such attributes cannot but have a worldview wherein nothing is impossible and where plausibility and probabilities have no impact if not no meaning.



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* I searched the Medjugorje messages from 1984 to 2010. There is no mention of a healing center or the Philippines. Messages from 1981 to 1983 don't seem to be available online.

** One feature of the religious mindset is how they come up with ad hoc rationalizations to deal with disconfirming events. Suarez, his group, his followers, Baltazar and his followers all "knew" that Montemaria was special. They publicized these sentiments. The stones were magical because of Montemaria's sacredness/holiness. Now that Montemaria is history, the rationalizations are pouring in. Suarez's group, Blessed Mary Mother of the Poor, Inc., has this unverifiable/nonfalsifiable excuse:
There is much pain in this decision [to let go of Montemaria], Montemaria having been our beacon and common aspiration for the last three years. However, the preferential will of God seems clear, and we must allow the Holy Spirit to lead.

Yeah, right. The know-it-all, omniscient, omnipotent, perfect god of theirs changed its mind. Do "oxymoron" and "contradiction" exist in their vocabulary? Their deity misled Suarez, Baltazar, et al. He tricked them into believing Montemaria was going to be the holy land. Either that, or these religion-intoxicated people will have to admit their sensors were totally on the blink in picking up Montemaria as their god's choice. Or, these individuals can just accept the truth--that they were completely deluded and it's time to grow up and face reality and the hard cold fact that there is no daddy and cop in the sky.