Slapping Therapy – Hongchi Xiao’s ‘Paida and Lajin self-healing’

The media has been reporting that a very sad and rather distressing event has taken place in Sydney this week, in which a seven year old boy whose parents brought him to the seminar of a visiting practitioner of alternative medicine has died the evening following his attendance of a ‘Paida and Lanjing self-healing’ workshop.

The boy, who it is understood had diabetes, attended a workshop run by practitioner Hongchi Xiao, who advocates some rather worrying methods for the treatment of medical conditions.

Hongchi Xiao in Australia in 2013. Photo: Facebook

Hongchi Xiao in Australia in 2013. Photo: Facebook

Hongchi Xiao developed what he refers to as ‘Paida and Lajin self-healing’, which can be used for almost all diseases, in which slapping and patting the body, and stretching tendons, is claimed to promote healing. Xiao claims that repeatedly slapping one part of the body “builds heat, causing blood vessels to expand, and ‘chi’ to flow strongly. Yang rises, yin melts and long-held toxins and blocks are released”.

Video testemonials from Xiao’s website show people slapping themselves until they are bruised – there are reports of people vomiting and falling unconscious. Testimonials also include mention of parents using the slapping technique on their children.

Xiao, who is from China, has been touring Australia and presenting workshops on his method – reportedly the week long Sydney workshop cost $1800 to attend. He is believed to have left Australia after being questioned by police regarding the death of the seven year old boy.

Obviously, we’re not in a position to say precisely what happened to the boy, beyond reports that he and his parents attended the workshop, that he was very unwell afterward, and that he passed away in an ambulance that evening.

For any details beyond that, and before we go forming any certain conclusions on this specific case, I think that we must await the coroner’s investigation and subsequent report.

Based on the news reports though, it’s very difficult not to have an emotional response to this story – I certainly have. The Telegraph have reported that the boy was made to fast for days before the workshop, it is possible that his insulin was
withdrawn as part of Paida and Lajin protocol, and the notion of repeatedly hitting a young child is frankly incredibly sickening to me.

I’ll check in again on this case after the coroner has performed an investigation and their report has been made public. Until then, a note for our overseas listeners… Hongchi Xiao is scheduled to conduct workshops in Salshausen, Germany
later this month, in Hong Kong in June, in Bandung in Indonesia in June and July, then in Seattle in the USA in August.

Should his tours still go ahead, please keep an eye on him – unfortunately he slipped under the radar for us here in Australia, but perhaps if he’s scheduled to visit where you live – if you’re in Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia or the United
States, you’d be able to let people know what Xiao’s methods involve and their potentially dangerous outcomes.

This post is a transcript of Evidence, Please on The Skeptic Zone Podcast, episode #341 {Permalink}.

Reading Signs Skeptically – The Toxic Talc Myth

There’s an inner city suburb in Sydney called Newtown, which is a fantastic place to spend a few hours, wandering up and down the main street, looking at shops and stopping for a coffee or a snack.

Newtown is around four kilometers south-west of the Sydney CBD. In the 1960s and 70s, affordable share-housing and the suburb’s close proximity to the city and universities drew in a large student population and Newtown became something of a bohemian centre, with a thriving cafe and live entertainment culture. Currently, Enmore Road and King Street host over 600 shopfronts… and some of the retailers who have set up in the area make some rather questionable claims.

Recently, The Skeptic Zone took a walk down King Street, Newtown, and in the window of a natural cosmetics shop, noticed this sign:

toxictalcsign

“TALC is closely related to ASBESTOS.
talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries + lungs of cancer victims…
TALCUM is often the No. 1 ingredient in cosmetics. Its cost is ⩷ $50 PER METRIC TONNE! $ $ $ $ DO THE MATHS!!

T.C.K. IS A NANO-FREE ZONE

nano particles are the ticking time bomb of this generation – along with G.M.O
these particles cross the brain/blood barrier.
A BILLION NANO PARTICLES FIT ON THE HEAD OF A PIN!
The Rave of ‘invisible sunscreens is not so glamorous!
WE DON’T USE “Z-COAT ZINC” IN ANY FOUNDATIONS!!! OR PRODUCTS!!!

* KNOWLEDGE; IF NOT APPLIED, BECOMES A BURDEN…

xx”

So that’s a rather scary claim, that talc causes cancer… and I’m very happy reassure you that it is a myth. It’s an interesting one though, as it did originally have some basis in fact.

The shop window sign claims that talc is closely related to asbestos. This sounds rather alarming, given that most Australians are quite familiar with asbestos fibre inhalation related illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, and the controversy surrounding and closing down of the asbestos mining and manufacturing industries.

As far as mineral composition goes, talc it fairly closely related to asbestos – talc is hydrated magnesium silicate, asbestos constitutes a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. However, this does not suggest that talc is a danger. A parallel claim would be to suggest that water, H2O, is dangerous because it has a similar chemical composition to hydrogen peroxide, H2O2. Unlike water, hydrogen peroxide is an oxidant, corrosive and creates localised capillary embolism on contact with human skin. That one extra oxygen molecule resulting in an unstable peroxide bond makes a heck of a lot of difference.

So where’s the fact?

Because of their similar composition, talc deposits are often found close to asbestos deposits. As such, talc deposits can be contaminated with asbestos. While the talc itself is very much innocuous, talc products produced prior to 1973 were sometimes contaminated with asbestos. In 1973, regulation of talc products was introduced, resulting in prior risks associated with contaminated talcum powder being abolished.

Modern talc refining processes are stringently monitored and there is no risk of lung disease associated with modern talcum powder or talc products.

The ovarian cancer claims are based on studies which found an increased ovarian cancer risk associated with the use of talcum powder, but relied on self-reports over a large time period and as such, were unable to measure either the purity of the talc used by participants, nor the frequency and dose at which it was applied. As such, no causal link has been drawn between talc and ovarian cancer, and studies have been deemed inconclusive.

Now… nanoparticles! There is no known health risk associated with products containing nanoparticles applied to the skin. In 2013, the Therapeutic Goods Administration published a review of relevant studies, which concluded that nanoparticles do not penetrate the skin beyond the outermost layer. Systemic absorption of nanoparticles is unlikely. Zinc oxide nanoparticles in particular have been studied; when exposed in vivo to human immune cells, the immune cells absorbed the nanoparticles and broke them down.

Claims regarding the dangers of nanoparticles in skin products are not based on any credible evidence… nor, for that matter, is the other suggestion slipped in on the sign that GMOs pose a health risk to humans, (despite the public successes of anti-GMO campaigners).

You know… I get the impression that the people who run the natural cosmetics store very likely believe that they are doing good. I could be cynical and come to the conclusion that they’re knowingly using bnon-evidence based fear tactics to sell their products, but that’s something I rarely come across when encountering people who manufacture products based around naturalistic fallacy and false dangers.

I think that it’s far more likely that perhaps at some point the store owners came across misinformation on the dangers of talc and nanoparticles, took it as fact, and built a business around something that they felt was going to be good for people. Likewise, the vast majority of alternative medicine practitioners, crystal sellers and other assorted woo-peddlers strike me as genuinely wanting to and believing that they are doing good.

Does this excuse the fact that their practices are not based on solid scientific evidence? Not at all – I feel that everybody has a responsibility not to spread misinformation and pseudoscience, particularly when such can cause people to forego evidence based medical assistance or advice, be seriously out of pocket buying magic beans, or place faith in myths rather than facts.

However, I still try to remain somewhat charitable in dealing with the people who make these claims… they’re rarely made with malicious intent. Likewise, I hope that people are able to understand that when we question their claims and ask for evidence, we’re not doing so to be malicious, smug or dogmatic.

Anyhow – I think that it’s worth keeping an eye out when you’re passing by shop windows or public notice boards, particularly in areas with higher concentrations of alternative lifestylers, alternative practitioners and the like. It can make for a good opportunity to keep on top of the sorts of claims being made, and prompt some interesting fact-finding and discussion!

This post is an excerpt from Evidence, Please on The Skeptic Zone #335 {Permalink}. Also included in the podcast report, are Richard Saunders and Ian Bryce discussing another sign spotted in Newtown, which made claims regarding “crystal bed” therapy, which was in a new age shop window.

Further reading:
American Cancer Council Fact Sheet on Talcum Powder and Cancer
Cancer Council Western Australia: Cancer myth: Talcum powder and cancer
Cancer Council Australia: Nanoparticles and Sunscreen

On Taking Health Advice from Gandhi… World Homeopathy Awareness Week 2015

World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) is approaching once again, to take place from the 10th to the 16th of April 2015.

Last year’s WHAW took place just as the NHMRC’s draft information paper examining evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy in treating health conditions had been made public, which led to a substantial amount of awareness raising via the media that homeopathy is not an effective modality. Similarly, this year WHAW is taking place the month following the release of the NHMRC’s completed review on homeopathy. This review has lead to headlines stating the findings that homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo, which makes for some fine public awareness of homeopathy from an evidence based perspective.

World Homeopathy Awareness Week’s theme for 2015 is, “Homeopathy For Infectious Diseases’.

There is no evidence for, nor plausible mechanism by which, homeopathy can be of any use in treating infectious disease; and I feel that it is highly unethical and very dangerous to mislead people by claiming such, particularly in the midst of the US’ current measles outbreak, and the ongoing ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The belief that ‘homeoprophylaxis’ (also referred to as ‘homeopathic vaccination’) provides any protection from diseases which ought to be prevented with immunisation leads to parents falsely assuming that they have adequately addressed preventative healthcare. This false sense of safety is both incredibly dangerous and cruel – ‘homeoprophylaxis’ (and homeopathy in general) cheats consumers into believing that they are looking after their own and their childrens’ health.

Speaking of unreliable and non-credible health advice, the organisers of WHAW have uploaded the image below as their cover photo on the Facebook page for World Homeopathy Awareness Week 2015, featuring a pro-homeopathy quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.

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Source: WHAW Facebook

Mahatma Gandhi is a widely influential and highly esteemed man; a peace activist, civil rights pioneer and the preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. His philosophies regarding human rights, non-violent civil disobedience and the nature of humanity are valued by many people worldwide.

Did this qualify him to speak on matters of medicine and health with any authority though? He had no medical training or expertise (he was educated in law), but nonetheless penned a treatise on health matters, in which he noted, “I have arrived at certain definite conclusions from that experience, and I now set them down for the benefit of my readers.”

“A Guide to Health” by Mahatman Gandhi is available as a free ebook, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. It contains some quite fantastic claims and philosophies about the human body and the nature of disease, which I will gently describe as “ill informed”. For example,

The world is compounded of the five elements,—earth, water, air, fire, and ether. So too is our body. It is a sort of miniature world. Hence the body stands in need of all the elements in due proportion,—pure earth, pure water, pure fire or sunlight, pure air, and open space. When any one of these falls short of its due proportion, illness is caused in the body. – p12

On the cause of fever:

As most fevers are caused by disorders of the bowels, the very first thing to do is to starve the patient. It is a mere superstition that a weak man will get weaker by starving. As we have already seen, only that portion of our food is really useful which is assimilated into the blood, and the remainder only clogs the bowels. In fever the digestive organs are very weak, the tongue gets coated, and the lips are hard and dry. If any food is given to the patient in this condition, it will remain undigested and aid the fever. Starving the patient gives his digestive organs time to perform their work; hence the need to starve him for a day or two. – p100

On smallpox:

In fact it is caused, just like other diseases, by the blood getting impure owing to some disorder of the bowels; and the poison that accumulates in the system is expelled in the form of small-pox. If this view is correct, then there is absolutely no need to be afraid of small-pox. If it were really a contagious disease, everyone should catch it by merely touching the patient; but this is not always the case. – p105

Incidentally, Gandhi is highly quotable by anti-vaccination campaigners:

Vaccination is a barbarous practice, and it is one of the most fatal of all the delusions current in our time, not to be found even among the so-called savage races of the world. – p107

On first aid for burns:

If the skin has simply got red by the burn, there is no more effective remedy than the application of a mud poultice. If the fingers have been burnt, care should be taken, when the poultice is applied, that they do not touch against one another. This same treatment may be applied in cases of acid-burns, and scalds of every description. -p132

(Incidentally, for evidence-based guidelines on treating burns and some unfortunate quackery regarding burns, here is an excellent report by another of the Skeptic Zone reporters, Heidi Robertson.)

Gandhi himself ruminated on whether indeed he was qualified or correct in writing on health matters:

One question which I have asked myself again and again, in the course of writing this book, is why I of all persons should write it. Is there any justification at all for one like me, who am no doctor, and whose knowledge of the matters dealt with in these pages must be necessarily imperfect, attempting to write a book of this kind?

My defence is this. The “science” of medicine is itself based upon imperfect knowledge, most of it being mere quackery. But this book, at any rate, has been prompted by the purest of motives. The attempt is here made not so much to show how to cure diseases as to point out the means of preventing them. And a little reflection will show that the prevention of disease is a comparatively simple matter, not requiring much specialist knowledge, although it is by no means an easy thing to put these principles into practice. Our object has been to show the unity of origin and treatment of all diseases, so that all people may learn to treat their diseases themselves when they do arise, as they often do, in spite of great care in the observance of the laws of health. -p143

Unfortunately, pure motives are not enough when it comes to dispensing health advice, nor was Gandhi’s necessarily qualified to pass judgement that most science based medicine is ‘mere quackery’. It is also pertinent to remember that Gandhi wrote this treatise in 1921 – our body of knowledge in the field of medicine has grown immensely over the past century.

I invite you to have a fossick around “A Guide to Health” (his thoughts on chastity and childbirth were too long to include in this post, but they’re quite amazing) and come to your own conclusions as to whether you think he is a reputable source of health advice.

I ask you to then consider whether the endorsement of homeopathy cited by WHAW holds much gravitas when you’re aware of Gandhi’s ideas on health and medicine in general.

Finally, please take into account what is possibly the icing on the cake here… I have not been able to find any evidence that the quote used by WHAW can reasonably be attributed to Gandhi. Neither have these skeptics on stackexchange, or commenters on this post of Orac’s. Likewise, @zeno001 has been searching for an original source for the quote, to no avail (but he has listed some examples of Gandhi mentioning homeopathy, seemingly not in a favourable light)*.

The only place I’ve found the Gandhi quote “Homeopathy… cures a larger percentage of cases than any other method of treatment and is beyond doubt a safe, economical and a most complete medical science” (or any variations thereof), has been on pro-homeopathy sites – not in any independent archives of Gandhi’s writings or speeches. As such, I think that it’s a fair call to label the quote as unverified.

So to summarise, the WHAW organisers have used an unverified quote from a source whose health advice is highly questionable, to promote awareness of a modality for which there is no evidence of efficacy in treating disease greater than that of a placebo.

World Homeopathy Awareness Week 2015. Once again helping to raise public awareness that homeopathy is bulldust.

* Updated 24/03/2015, thanks to zeno001 for the additional information.

Adult Pertussis Boosters – Please Help Protect Babies from Whooping Cough

There has been some incredibly sad news this week.

Four week old Riley John Hughes from Perth, Australia, has died as a result of contracting whooping cough (pertussis).

Baby Riley John Hughes (Source: Facebook)

Baby Riley John Hughes (Source: Facebook)

I cannot fathom what Riley’s family have gone through over the past weeks, caring for their son as he was ill, then holding him as he passed away. The loss of a newborn is a tragedy I have no words for, especially to a cause that we as a society have the capacity to minimise risk for. As with other families who have lost a baby to whooping cough, my heart and all of my support are with the Hughes family, now and in the future.

The capacity that humans have to get through unimaginably awful circumstances is something which I am in awe of. In an unfathomable show of strength and caring, I have witnessed people who have undergone the most terrible losses make the decision to campaign publicly in the hope of affecting change.

Two such people, the parents of Dana McCaffery, who have campaigned extensively for the prevention of whooping cough since losing their beautiful four week old daughter in 2009, brought my attention to the profound importance of vaccination, and inspired me to join others in the fight to prevent the lives of children being placed at risk by this disease.

The parents of Riley John Hughes have also made the decision to go public with their tragic story, in the hope that Riley’s passing will promote public awareness of the danger of whooping cough.

From a post on the Light for Riley Facebook Page, set up by Riley’s family as a contact point with the public and media, Riley’s father Greg has written,

“We’re desperate to ensure the passing of our child has not been in vain and to try and assist other families who may be potentially suffering from similar circumstances,”

“Long term we’d ideally like to be the drivers of change within this country surrounding the treatment, management and long term eradication of this horrific disease.”

Riley’s family have also set up a fundraising page in conjunction with Princess Margaret Hospital, to honour their son’s memory and raise money to be used by PMH to help fight whooping cough, respiratory illness and other preventable diseases.

Following the news of Riley’s death, the NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, announced that free pertussis vaccines will be made available to pregnant women in their third trimester. Shortly after, WA Health Minister Kim Hames announced to in Parliament that a no cost pertussis vaccine program for pregnant women was being fast-tracked and will be available in two weeks’ time. This will bring New South Wales and Western Australia in line with Queensland and Victoria, who have already implemented free maternal vaccination for women in their third trimester – a strategy which provides both protection to the mother, so that the risk of her contracting whooping cough and passing it on to her newborn is greatly minimised, and protection to the newborn child through passive antibody transfer in-utero.

This is very welcome news, and I hope that the remaining Australian states and territories will follow suit (the Northern Territory offers free pertussis vaccines to parents and close family members of children under seven months old, but no maternal third trimester immunisation). Still, I believe that we need to do more to prevent the spread of whooping cough.

When my son Oscar was born in 2009, New South Wales provided free pertussis vaccines not only to parents of newborn children, but to family members who were likely to come into contact with the child during those most vulnerable few weeks. All of my son’s grandparents and his aunt took this opportunity to access the whooping cough vaccination, which provided us with protection known as the cocooning effect – surrounded by immunised people, he was less likely to be exposed to pertussis.

Sadly, this strategy was unable to completely reduce the risk of my children being exposed to whooping cough. My daughter Daphne arrived in 2011, meaning that both of my children were born during the 2009-2012 whooping cough outbreak, and I was concerned when my children were out in public – particularly as I live in an area with one of the lowest vaccination rates in Australia. Several local playgroups are attended by families who openly don’t vaccinate, and I wasn’t willing to risk my children being exposed to whooping cough; particularly before they turned six months old and had completed their course of three vaccinations (the acellular pertussis vaccine is given at two, four and six months of age, as per the Australian National Immunisation Program Schedule).

I wasn’t only concerned about unvaccinated children and low herd immunity in my local area though; many adults in Australia do not have immunity to whooping cough – be it through not knowing that pertussis vaccines are available, not being aware that adult immunity wanes after 5-10 years and that boosters are required, or not realising the potential outcomes of contracting pertussis… sustained serious illness and the risk of passing it on to others.

Indeed, Riley Hughes’ family members had been vaccinated against pertussis. This minimised his risk of exposure, but was not enough to protect him.

According to the 2009 Adult Vaccination Survey, carried out by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, only 11.5% of adults in Australia have received a pertussis booster.

The people at Tiny Hearts Paediatric First Aid have launched a petition to increase the availability of pertussis booster vaccination at low or no cost for all adults in Australia, and have suggested that people who are concerned about low adult pertussis vaccination rates contact their state health ministers – a call to action which I am firmly behind.

While I acknowledge the difficult job that those creating and implementing public health policy have, performing cost-benefit analysis to determine where limited public health money shall be spent, I strongly conclude that resources are urgently required to increase public awareness of the importance of adult pertussis boosters, and that they need to be accessible to all. Neither cost, nor lack of awareness should be barriers to preventing the unnecessary tragedy of infant death due to whooping cough.

As the importance of adult pertussis booster vaccines is not widely understood, nor are vaccines currently freely available, I would like to ask that you help spread the word – by sharing this post, the graphic above compiled by Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters, or the videos below (the first a segment from The Project, the second an interview with Toni McCaffery on Today Tonight) which outline Riley’s story and the importance of pertussis boosters for adults.

Additionally, if you have not had a pertussis booster within the last five years and are able, I hope that you will consider speaking with your GP about a booster vaccination. Not only will it provide you with protection from a nasty illness which can persist for several months, with greater numbers of adults in our society immunised against whooping cough, transmission rates will fall. Please help minimise the risk of another baby being lost to this horrible disease.

Psychics and Ghost Hunters and Skeptics, Oh My! The Australian Paranormal and Spiritual Expo 2014.

Early in October 2014, along with my Skeptic Zone cohorts and members of the Australian Skeptics, I was invited to attend the Australian Paranormal and Spiritual Expo in Casula, New South Wales. Held in the old Casula Powerhouse, reputed to be haunted, the expo featured a main floor with displays and stalls, a room in which several psychics were conducting readings and a main theatre where workshops and talks were taking place.

The Skeptic Zone contingent, Maynard, Richard and Jo.

The Skeptic Zone contingent, Maynard, Richard and Jo.

Frankly, I had utterly no idea what to expect, this being the first event I’d attended based around things we skeptics tend to be skeptical about. I wondered whether my lack of belief in the supernatural and tendency to question paranormal claims would be a source of conflict or hostility, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel, being immersed in a group of people with such different beliefs to my own. I took comfort in the fact that Richard Saunders had been invited to speak though, and that Australian Skeptics had been given a table on the main floor – surely we were welcome.

Skeptics! Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

Skeptics! Richard Saunders and Tim Mendham. Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

The expo organisers were kind enough to provide me with a media pass, so I decided that I would spend the day immersing myself in the workshops and talks that I had access to.

Before the workshops began, I had a bit of a wander around the tables that were set up in the main hall downstairs to see who was there and what sorts of things they were talking about or selling… and they were a varied bunch: ghost hunters, psychics, people concerned with auras, crystal sellers, all sorts of fun novelties (inflatable aliens and Edgar Allen Poe action figures were spotted!), people drawing portraits of spirit guides, people selling clothing. What stood out to me was that it was all quite… well, benign, really. I’m the sort of skeptic who struggles most with medical quackery; comparatively, I actually find the paranormal side of things quite fun. Not to say that I think that it’s all harmless. I worry about people handing money over to shonky psychics who aren’t on the up and up, I get a little concerned as to whether claims to be able to contact the deceased interfere with people’s grieving processes – but all in all, belief in the paranormal isn’t something I tend to feel any need to rail against.

 

A Witch’s Circle and a Visit to the Spirit Plane

The first workshop for the day was run by Kylie Allerton, titled “A Tarot Ritual – connecting you with the spirit world”. I entered the theatre to be greeted by an interesting scene on the stage – a circular mat was on the floor, surrounded by cushions – and on the mat were an assortment of items; a small cauldron sort of a thing, a little resin cast human skull, a couple of long bones, some goblet type cups, an incense burner and a deck of tarot cards.

I took a seat near the front of the theatre and took a moment to take everything in… for somebody who doesn’t tend to get too much exposure to the world of spirituality, it was an unusual scene for me to behold. Before long, the friendly people who were running the expo introduced Kylie Allerton.

Kylie is a psychic reader and practicing white witch who incorporates crystal balls, the tarot, and palmistry when conducting readings. Today she was working with the tarot – and us! The audience, there were perhaps forty of us, were invited to come and join her on stage and create a circle around the mat. It took me by surprise, frankly – I was expecting something akin to a lecture, rather than a participatory exercise – but I decided on the spot that I’d take the opportunity to join in and experience everything that I could.

I hoped that nobody would mind a non-believer taking part in what was about to happen… if such a thing as negative or cynical vibes exist, I aimed not to emit them. I did my best to be open to whatever occurred, to join in rather than pooh-pooh things that I don’t necessarily believe in.

Down we went, we formed a seated circle around the mat, some people removed their shoes and got comfortable. Kylie explained that we were going to do some summoning and that she’d give us each a tarot card to use as a portal to the spirit plane.

Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography

I was under the impression that purple would be appropriate, but it seems I could have just worn black. Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

We began the ritual with some breathing exercises, during which we were to consider a person who had passed away that we wished to get in contact with, and a question that we would like to ask them. The incense was heady and I focused on my breath, so I didn’t really spend a great deal of time paying attention to what the other participants were up to, but the room seemed incredibly calm. Then Kylie began to open a witch’s circle. This isn’t a subject that I know too much about, but she recited incantations, blessings and called upon the spirits of air and fire – when she did this, we joined in with a little chanting. Bones were struck together, something was set on fire and we were ready – Kylie walked around the circle with a deck of tarot cards held out face down and we were instructed to choose one each.

My chosen person who had passed away that I thought I’d like to have a conversation with was my beloved grandmother… and the tarot card that I had selected was The High Priestess. The character in this card struck me as rather matriarchal – a wise woman, as I considered my grandmother to be. Some others, particularly those who had cards from the minor arcana (sort of the equivalent of numbered cards, rather than face cards) didn’t see immediate relevance in the cards that they had selected. Kylie invited us to think about our first impressions on seeing the pictures on the cards, to study the colours and details, and offered to chat with people throughout the day if they wanted a hand interpreting their selection.

The High Priestess.

The High Priestess.

Next, we used the cards to create portals to the spirit world. We followed Kylie’s instructions and examined them with our regular eyes, held them to our foreheads and examined them with our third eyes, put our cards down and visualised them with our third eyes, then imagined them growing, to the size of a painting, to the size of a doorway, into a doorway, which we then stepped through.

I found this fairly simple to go along with, it was much like participating in guided mediation, and I went with whatever came to mind as we were taken through a scenario of walking into our cards, through a landscape – this was the spirit world – then toward our deceased loved one, who we conversed with. The background of my card seemed to be tropical fruit, so I imagined walking through a plantation of pineapples, which became a very odd forest, where I eventually met my grandmother. I remember my grandmother fairly well, I think – though I’m aware that our memories aren’t entirely reliable – I imagined a fairly believable conversation with her (she wasn’t a believer when she was alive and acquiesced in our conversation that she was a composite of my memory and imagination). Then Kylie guided us through saying goodbye, heading back across our landscapes, back through our doorways and told us to shrink the cards back down to their actual size again.

The circle was closed and we toddled off with our cards.

 

Ghost Hunters!

The next session, “Communicating with the Dead – Modern Techniques and Victorian Twists”, was with Rob and Anne from Eastern States Paranormal, a paranormal investigative team based in NSW.

Rob and Anne were very affable speakers and presented us with an overview of their experiences attempting to communicate with the dead and the techniques that they’ve used to do so.

We were taken through some audio of different techniques they’ve used in reputably haunted locations to contact the spirits – singing, stomping, chanting, singing in tones which clash. Anne and Rob played us some recordings of EVPs, electronic voice phenomenon, which are sounds found on electronic recordings that some interpret as ‘spirit voices’.

Eastern States Paranormal... ESP! Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

Eastern States Paranormal, or… ESP! Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

The audio recordings were of varying quality and I cannot say whether or not what we were hearing were the voices of spirits, but I was incredibly aware of the concept of pareidolia while throughout this presentation – pareidolia being our tendency to recognise patterns within random stimuli, with or without suggestion. It’s an interesting phenomenon: we hear phrases when songs are played backwards, we see faces in the surface of mars. I feel that a desire or expectation to see or hear something, sometimes combined with suggestion, can account for many things which are heard in EVPs, or seen in spirit photography, which was also presented in Eastern States Paranormal’s talk.

Toward the end, we were given an interesting rundown on the history of different modalities which people have used to attempt to contact the spirit world – Ouija Boards, tipping tables and the like. As a skeptical type, I suspect that the ideomotor effect comes into play when such devices are being used, but I find them to be fascinating curiosities.

Anne and Rob struck me as kind and good humoured people – they were curious about contacting the other side, they were very respectful in their approach and they demonstrated a genuine desire to help others who are experiencing otherwordly concerns.

 

Mitchell Coombes, Celebrity Psychic

After a break for lunch was the drawcard of the expo, Mitchell Coombes. Billed as “Australia’s most trusted psychic medium” and awarded 2011 Psychic of the year, Mitchell Coombes is an author, appears on radio and television regularly and was one of the contestants on season one of The One, a reality tv show pitting psychics against one another, on which our very own Richard Saunders was a judge.

While I’ve seen broadcasts of many psychic shows on television and YouTube and have seen Mitchell himself on daytime television, this was the first time I’d been an audience member… it was a very different experience. Mitchell is a very charismatic speaker; he’s high-paced, energetic and very good at engaging his audience. After he had introduced himself and told an anecdote about a client who wasn’t certain she’d had an experience with contact from the afterlife – of course she had! – Mitchell asked us to help him raise the energy of the room by standing up, stomping our feet, clapping our hands and cheering. It reminded me of being in an evangelical church or a faith healing service – the crowd went wild and the excitement in the room was palpable.

Mitchell then seemed to receive messages from the spirit world to be passed on to members of the audience.

I found this part a little difficult. A couple of days prior, I’d been chatting with Richard about the talk he was going to present and one of the things he covered were questions that psychics can use to gain more information from the audience: “I’m getting an ‘A’ name”, “I’m getting a blue car”, etcetera. Well, Mitchell did get an A name, but the car (or motorcycle) was red.

Mitchell Coombes speaks with an audience member. Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

Mitchell Coombes speaks with an audience member. Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

The audience did seem to get a lot out of his readings though – there was a lot of laughter, a few tears. I’d recommend that anyone skeptical of psychics attend such a show, experiencing the emotion in the room gave me a greater appreciation of how psychics can interact with their audiences. Usually when I see readings done, I’m able to rewind, rewatch and analyse while removed from the situation – live shows are a very different experience to witness than recorded sessions.

 

Energetic Healing

Next up was Sue Bishop, presenting a workshop on “Energetic Healing – are your thoughts and feelings making you sick?” Sue is a metaphysician, psychic, teacher and author and is the co-founder and director of the Chiara College of Metaphysics, which offer courses on metaphysics, parapsychology, spiritual healing and intuitive sciences.

This session was the closest the expo came to presenting what I felt was questionable health advice, I did struggle with some of it a little. Sue believes that blocked charkras can be responsible for disease, that tending to the spiritual self can prevent disease from taking hold and that energetic healing can be conducted, attending to a person’s auras, to manage their wellness. Sitting and listening to her speak about these things and tell us of how she prevented the diabetes that she had a genetic predisposition toward by making lifestyle changes and letting go of troubles from her past, I frequently wanted to ask her where her knowledge came from and how it was that she knew it to be true – but interrupting her talk would have been very rude. I would be curious to speak with her more about her beliefs in the future though.

Sue then had us come to the stage for an energetic healing workshop – we were to pair up with strangers and prepare for the first exercise. My partner was a sweet woman around my own age, and I found myself worrying that she would feel that I was being somewhat disingenuous, being a skeptic taking part in something which may be important to her. I took part in the exercises with good intentions, absolutely wished her well and followed the instructions that Sue gave as best as I could.

First was an exercise in which we were instructed to take turns channeling white light into our crown chakras, then focusing to make that light either cool fast moving blue or warm slow red, then passing it to our partners, who had to guess what colour light they had been given. My partner did the channelling first and was surprised that I’d guessed correctly that she’d aimed to pass me blue. Frankly, the odds were fifty-fifty to begin with; then I took into consideration that cool blue was much more appealing than warm red under the hot stage lights and that my partner had an expression on her face which was somewhat serene and seemed to match better with the former colour choice.

Then it was my turn to pass a colour. I’m not entirely sure what white light, or energy, is – it isn’t visible light – but I know that a crown chakra is located around the forehead, so I imagined a beam of literal white light entering my forehead, moving through my body into my hands and turning a cool, calm, flowing blue. I made a gesture of passing it to my partner and imagined it moving to her hands, she told me it was blue. Again, I’m inclined to put it down to probability, environmental influences and visual cues – and perhaps the way Sue described the two colours as she was giving us our instructions made one seem more appealing than the other. I didn’t have an opportunity to note the trends of the entire group.

Our next exercise was to do the same, but instead of passing a colour, we were to pass an emotion from our memories. Sue asked us to keep our faces neutral as we recalled a time of joy, to be visualised as yellow, or hurt, which was to be visualised as a hot murky red. My partner went first and I watched her concentrate. Her face did remain fairly neutral, but she took some time before she was ready to pass to me and her body language struck me as quite unhappy. I was actually quite concerned for her – when she made a passing gesture to me, I told her that I felt that things weren’t too good for her and asked if she was okay. She was incredibly apologetic and all I could think to do was reassure her that I was fine, just concerned for her, and opt to send her joy in return. She seemed a little fragile and sad to me, perhaps she’d been through hard times, and I hoped that my good intentions were more important somehow than my lack of belief.

Then we moved to the front row of seats, partner number one standing behind partner number two, and performed what we were told was a short energy healing session. There was a lot to it… white universal energy from above, grounding earth energy from below, healing angels standing behind us. Chakras, auras, miasm, many different colours, silver filaments, fohat, akasha and ether, nadis – this was complicated stuff. Sue talked us through everything, she spoke of energy to visualise, what each aura looked like, that we were to transfer energy from various places through ourselves and to the person we were healing, massaging their auras. The massage was literal, we placed hands on one another, then raised them to where each aura was meant to exist around the body and sort of smoothed them out.

I wasn't sure how to draw 'miasm', but I did get distracted playing in Photoshop for a good fifteen minutes trying to show what I was visualising during the energy healing workshop.

I wasn’t sure how to draw ‘miasm’, but I did get distracted playing in Photoshop for a good fifteen minutes trying to show what I was visualising during the energy healing workshop.

 

When my partner was being the healer, I sat peacefully in my seat and listened to descriptions of colours and patterns and lights – frankly, it was quite pleasant to just sit passively. When asked how I felt afterward, I truthfully replied that I was ready to get into bed – it had been a long day and I welcomed more stillness!

Next was my turn to stand while my partner sat – I imagined light coming from above, energy coming from below, somebody standing behind me passing general healing sort of vibes through me. I put my hands on my partner’s shoulders, smoothed out what are to me imaginary auras and generally hoped that she was well. She seemed happy afterward.

One thing I really want to say about the energy healing workshop: I thought that it was very much to Sue’s credit that she mentioned several times that one of the things people do when they’re experiencing the onset of disease is to dismiss thoughts of going to their doctor, and that this was a problem. I agree with her strongly here – if things are potentially amiss, see your GP!

 

The Skeptical Perspective

The last talk of the day was from Richard Saunders; and I’d really like to credit the organisers of the Australian Paranormal and Spiritual Expo for inviting a skeptic to speak at their event. I feel that it’s a testament to their sense of enquiry that they’d include the perspective of a non-believer in their programme.

Richard Saunders with Spoony Action at a Distance.

Richard Saunders with some Spoony Action at a Distance.

I really wasn’t sure how Richard’s talk would be received. After introducing himself, explaining his background and what the Australian Skeptics get up to, Richard posed some questions about the nature of ghosts and spirits and the mechanisms people use to detect and communicate with them, discussed the fallibility of human memory and perception, noted some questions that psychics who aren’t on the up and up can use to gain information when cold reading, explained how paradolia works – and it was all really well received. I noticed a lot of people in the audience nodding along in agreement, a few “Ah ha!” moments and a few giggles at Richard’s jokes.

We had a few people approach us afterward to say that they were happy that we were there – including my partner from the energy healing workshop, who I was glad to have the opportunity to have a bit of a debriefing chat with and let her know that I wished her the best.

I really appreciated Richard’s approach to speaking at the expo. Perhaps some people expected a skeptic to be negative and make claims that the paranormal does not exist; there was none of that. He primarily approached the topics that he covered from a consumer affairs angle – with tips on not being cheated by psychics who weren’t on the up and up – and gave reassurances that human minds can very easily be fooled.

... but there were cosplayers!

Have you or your family ever seen a spook, spectre or ghost? Photo by Darrin Langbien Photography.

So, that was my day at the Australian Paranormal and Spiritual Expo.

I can’t honestly say that I saw any evidence of an afterlife, anybody’s ability to communicate with those who have passed on, the existence of psychic energy, spirits or the paranormal in general, but I did encounter many people who were welcoming, good humoured and kind hearted. I would like to thank the organisers and attendees of the Australian Paranormal and Spiritual Expo – I had a lot of fun and look forward to doing it again in 2015!

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Surprise Jawa! Picture by Darrin Langbien Photography.

 

This article originally appeared in The Skeptic Magazine Vol. 34 No. 4, and a version of it was on episode #312 of The Skeptic Zone Podcast {Permalink} – also in this episode, Maynard speaks with several expo attendees. With thanks to Darrin Langbien Photography and The Australian Paranormal and Spiritual Expo for professional photographs reproduced in this piece

Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, a pro-disease book for children by Stephanie Messenger

This report appears in The Skeptic Zone Podcast #330 {Permalink}

"Marvelous"

“Marvelous”

In the wake of the current US measles outbreak, which began at Disneyland in California and has so far has resulted in 121 infections and thousands more people exposed across seventeen states (figures current for 15/02/2015), public and media attention has been directed toward the issues of vaccination and the anti-vaccination movement.

As we witness the very real effects of lowered herd immunity due to vaccine refusal, vocal support for vaccines has been prominent, as has criticism of anti-vaccination misinformation. In particular, public attention has again been drawn to “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles“; a picture book which attempts to reassure children that it’s a good thing to experience measles infection, written by Australian vaccination opponent Stephanie Messenger.

The blurb on the back cover gives a good summary as to what the book is about:

“Melanie’s Marvelous Measles was written to educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully. Often today, we are being bombarded with messages from vested interests to fear all diseases in order for someone to sell some potion or vaccine, when, in fact, history shows that in industrialized countries, these diseases are quite benign and, according to natural health sources, beneficial to the body.”

You know… this book is troubling on so many levels. When I decided to cover it in my report this week, I initially wondered whether I’d have to present you with ten minutes of stunned silence.

The story within follows Tina, who arrives at her first day back at school after the winter holidays to find that her friend Melanie is absent. Their teacher, heavily pregnant, advises the class that Melanie is at home with measles. Some children are concerned and worried about catching measles.

“Tina heard Jared tell Travis, the boy beside him, that he wouldn’t get the measles because he had been vaccinated.
Travis said that he wasn’t vaccinated, but didn’t mind, until Jared then told him angrily, “Well, you’re going to die if you don’t get vaccinated.”
Travis thought about this for a minute and said to Jared “Well, I know that isn’t true because I haven’t had any vaccinations and I am still alive!”
Jared didn’t know what to say to that!”

And why should Jared? He’s a kid… a fictional one at that. However, adults – adults who write books for children – certainly should know better.

Of course kids who aren’t vaccinated aren’t necessarily ‘going to die’… the nuances of risk are utterly lacking in this book. It’s also a little heavy handed in portraying a vaccinated kid in a negative manner – more on this later.

Tina returns home after school and chats with her mother about Melanie, measles and the other children’s reactions. Tina’s mother, who has not vaccinated Tina after attributing an illness Tine’s older brother experienced to his vaccination, reassures Tina that the measles don’t hurt. She tells Karen that children get spots on their body and can feel very hot for a day or so, and that for most children it is a good thing to get measles, as many wise people believe measles make the body stronger and more mature for the future. Tina then asks her mother why the other children were scared. Her mother replies,

“They are scared because they don’t know much about measles and most people fear things they don’t know anything about. It’s a bit like being scared of the dark.”

irony!

Tina’s mother then tells her about pox parties, and “natural lifelong immunity”

This has always puzzled me greatly. If measles and chickenpox are absolutely fine to experience, why on earth do some anti-vaccinationists declare immunity gained by experiencing an illness to be a good thing? Bizarre.

The story continues. Tina asks her mother if she can go and visit Melanie in the hopes of catching her measles. Her mother feels that this is a great idea and suggests bringing carrot juice and melon to help Melanie recover.

Yep, they’re having a pox party for two.

Melanie greets Tina at the door and proudly shows off her spots, reassuring Tina that they don’t itch or hurt at all. Melanie’s mother is nonplussed at the efficacy of the measles vaccine Melanie recieved and mentions that Melanie has the worst case of measles the doctor had seen in years.

Melanie’s family doctor… must be rather limited in his experience, if an active and happy child with a rash is the worst case of measles he’s seen in years. Common measles symptoms include fever, malaise, runny nose, dry cough, conjunctivitis and rash… complications can include middle ear inflammation, diarrhoea and vomiting, respiratory infections, pneumonia, miscarriage and premature labour in pregnant women (such as Tina and Melanie’s teacher), encephalitis (which occurs in around one in a thousand measles cases – 10-15% of people with encephalitis die, 15-40% end up with degrees of permenant brain damage). There’s one complication of measles that Melanie’s family doctor wouldn’t have been able to spot though – subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, or SSPE. It’s rare, affecting around one in a hundred thousand cases of measles, but nasty… SSPE is progressive inflammation of the brain that causes loss of personality and intellectual disability. SSPE usually begins around seven years after measles infection.

It’s hard to fathom how anybody could be aware of these facts and still classify measles as a benign short-lived children’s illness… and one to actively seek out exposure to.

Back to the book, Tina’s mother talks about the ability of ‘plenty of vitamin A’ to prevent measles and assist recovery from measles. The girls play with dolls, hug and display wonderful manners.

A week later, Melanie is back at school with no rash. Tina and her mother are incredibly disappointed that Tina hasn’t contracted measles – Tina’s mother attributes this to Tina’s immune system being in good condition, because she eats lots of raw fresh food, drinks plenty of water and plays outside.

As much as it’s feeling like shooting fish in a barrel to point out the inaccuracies in this book… I find the downplaying of how highly infectious measles is is one of the most troubling elements in Melanie’s Marvelous Measles. Measles is airborne and lives a long time outside the human body… a person can become infected with measles by entering a room that somebody carrying it has been in two hours prior. It is estimated that nine in ten people without immunity who have contact with someone who is carrying measles will contract it. Measles symptoms usually occur 10-12 days after infection… all of this means that measles can spread like wildfire – particularly in areas of low herd immunity.

The book ends with the news that Jared, our vaccinated strawman, did get the measles. Tina attributes this to Jared eating so many sweets and chips, and sanctimoniously wishes, “I hope the measles make his body stronger and more mature and that he learns to eat more fresh foods so he can take better care of his body,”. The accompanying image is of an annoyed Jared laying in bed covered in spots with a hamburger, chips (labeled ‘MSG enriched, GM Full, I kid you not), cheezels, soda, cupcake, chocolate bar on his bedside table.

The emphasis on nutrition is heavy here – as is the suggestion that good foods can prevent disease as effectively as we know vaccines can. Of course good nutrition affects general health, but as my friend Alison so eloquently put it recently, “Diseases don’t care if you’ve eaten kale or McDonalds.”

The last page features Tina beaming up at her mother, juice in hand, fruit beside her, and exclaiming, “Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to catch measles next time someone we know has them!”

There’s a dedication in the front of the book, which I’m thinking some of the book’s intended audience, children from four to ten years old, would read if they were reading independently. It states,

“Dedication . . .
This book is dedicated to Jason, my first born son. In his short life he taught me to be a more responsible parent, and with his death from vaccinations, came my life purpose.”

It seems that Stephanie Messenger has experienced terrible grief in her life, which has led her on the path she pursues. However, I question whether it is responsible to associate infant death with vaccination in a book for children – at all, but especially when the dangers of measles are downplayed so greatly – the risks of vaccination versus the diseases they prevent are utterly skewed. If I were a kid, who trusted in this book and the adult who gave it to me, I would be terrified of vaccines and fairly blase about measles. Which is perhaps the aim of this book – but goodness, I find it troubling. Kids trust their caregivers to provide them with accurate guidance in life and this book does anything but.

Mainstream media outlets, news websites and forums have been linking to Amazon’s listing of Melanie’s Marvelous Measles – and the torrent of negative reviews which Amazon users have been leaving.

Now, I don’t know how many of these people who have reviewed the book have actually read it, or whether many are just responding to its very existence. Some of the reviews are rather poignant – amongst the anger, frustration, mockery and black humour, there are some salient points which I feel bear repeating, such as this review from “Seabisquick”:

“My infant daughter went blind after contracting measles from an unvaccinated child, and yet there’s no braille version of this wonderful book for me to give her someday to explain to her how awesome the disease that took her sight away is.”

Also this, from someone identified as “AD”:

“Wow! I will have to buy this for my Dad. He and my uncle had Polio as toddlers and both were left with permanent disabilities. Now, in their golden years, they get to suffer from Post-Polio Syndrome as an added bonus! Preventable diseases truly are “marvelous” – just ask my Dad!”

A five star review from “M. J. Willow”:

“I’m so glad this book is out! Here I was thinking the two weeks of my childhood spent in a darkened room with blinding headaches and a burning fever were not fun. It was the early sixties and the measles were all the rage, but I was too young and ignorant to realize I was experiencing a miracle. This book has opened my eyes. I had to read it through some thick eye glasses though. They’re almost as fun to wear as the little, plastic sunglasses I had to keep on when I watched tv with my viral pals, The Measles. To this day the measles protect me from getting too much sun as the sensitivity to light has never left me.

Just to be a part of history and to have lived under a quarantine that stretched out to almost a month when my mother took ill with my marvelous measles is an honor I didn’t recognize. Lucky for me though! I had immunity to the disease! Good thing my mother wasn’t pregnant then. At least, I don’t think she was. I have no siblings.

I must apologize to my children for withholding such a glorious experience from them. Vaccines were available and free for the taking when they were young. I can’t believe I fell for that. Hopefully, they will forgive me for denying them this life-changing experience.”

And finally this, from user “TampaGirl”:

“What a dirtbag move to steal the title of author Roald Dahl’s book “George’s Marvelous Medicine”– Roald Dahl’s daughter died of measles. This so-called author is just a leach on society, children, and the memory of Dahl’s little girl.”

Indeed, the title “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles” does bear resemblance to the title of Roald Dahl’s book “George’s Marvelous Medicine”.

Which leads me back to the media coverage relating to the current US measles outbreak. Circulating widely at the moment is an open letter which Roald Dahl wrote to parents in 1988, in which he urges them to vaccinate their children and speaks about his own experience of losing his seven year old daughter Olivia to measles in 1962.

It’s a heartbreaking but important read, and has been republished on many websites over the past few weeks; I’ll put a link in the show notes to its publication on Snopes, which also includes Dahl’s harrowing recollection of his daughter’s last day, and his wife Patricia Neal’s perspective on losing Olivia and the effect it had on Roald Dahl.

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“For Olivia 20 April 1955 – 17 November 1962″, in the front cover of The BFG by Roald Dahl.

So much of this is sad… that there’s an outbreak of measles in a country where it was considered eradicated, that some parents need convincing in order to vaccinate their children, that dangerous anti-vaccination misinformation – some directed at children – exists at all. Based on what I’ve been observing over the past month and a half since the US outbreak begun though, more and more members of the public are standing up for vaccination and criticising misinformation – and the media are acknowledging this sentiment.

While it’s lousy that it’s taken an outbreak to catalyse this wave of public support for vaccination, and the outbreak is unfortunately far from over, hopefully the pro-vaccination sentiment will strengthen as a result and some parents who are complacent or on the fence regarding vaccinating their children may reconsider their positions.

Sherri Tenpenny’s Australian Tour Cancelled #StopTenpenny

The following can also be heard on The Skeptic Zone #328 {Permalink}

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on anti-vaccine advocate Sherri Tenpenny’s planned speaking tour of Australia and the #StopTenpenny campaign. Well, there have been some developments… and at the risk of breaking continuity (and potentially the space-time continuum, who knows?), the big news first… on the 28th of January 2015, Sherri Tenpenny and tour organiser Stephanie Messenger announced that they had canceled their series of Australian seminars.

I left off my report on the 11th of January with news that all but two of the venues scheduled to host Tenpenny’s events had canceled their bookings. On January the 14th, Michael’s Oriental Restaurant in Brisbane made the announcement that they would no longer be hosting Sherri Tenpenny. Then on January 19th, an announcement appeared on the event page for the seminar to be held at Rydges Southpark Adelaide saying that the venue had cancelled the booking.

From the Eventbrite page:

“IMPORTANT NOTE:

The venue has cancelled our booking due to bullying by vested interests who do not believe in informed consent, free speech and respect for other’s rights, and who appear to support censorship of thought and science.

A new venue is being sought now so please book your ticket

You will be notified of the new venue in due time.

Thank you”

Indeed, the organisers of the event were still encouraging people to buy tickets, despite the fact that every venue had pulled out.

Meanwhile, those who had already bought tickets to the seminars were left with little information as to what was going on… no emails were sent, nor announcements made beyond the one I just read, which was placed on each Eventbrite event page.

The media coverage was equally as ambiguous. Tenpenny herself appeared on The Today Show, in which she referred to those who have campaigned against her seminars in Australia as “extremists” and mentioned that “bomb threats” have been recieved.

In fact, Sherri Tenpenny has mentioned “bomb threats” repeatedly to the media. Bomb threats are rather serious and ought to be treated as such – and of course, reported to the authorities for investigation.

The bomb threat that I have witnessed, and several people have made screen shots of, was left in a comment on the Facebook Page of Michael’s Oriental Restaurant.

vazquez

That’s not an okay thing to say.

Unfortunately, when Tenpenny has referred to the bomb threat, she has omitted mentioning who it came from… one of her supporters. The gentleman in question has a rather substantial history of making threats to vaccination advocates. Presumably he was angry at the prospect of Michael’s Oriental Restaurant potentially cancelling Tenpenny’s booking.

Now, I’m not willing to judge all of Tenpenny’s supporters by the actions of one person – all sorts of people take up causes without necessarily behaving in ways that are approved of by others who they campaign alongside. However, I am incredibly disappointed that Sherri Tenpenny has decided it acceptable to tell the media that bomb threats have been made without disclosing that they were made by one of her supporters. This omission, alongside claims that those who have campaigned against her seminars are “extremists” and “terrorists”, suggest to the public that one of her critics made the bomb threat, and I find this disingenuous to the extreme.

Some media outlets have, unfortunately, run with the “bomb threat” story without diligent investigation. I’m heartened though that others have looked into the issue further, witnessed the threat itself and its context, and have reported accurately.

The “bomb threat” was featured in a press release made by Sherri Tenpenny on the 28th of January, titled, “DR. SHERRI TENPENNY’S SPEAKING TOUR CANCELLED FOR REASONS OF SAFETY AND SECURITY

You know… I’ve been watching the #StopTenpenny campaign fairly closely and I have not witnessed any threats of violence coming from vaccination advocates. If I ever do witness such, I will condemn it incredibly strongly – threats and intimidation are utterly unacceptable. Any such behaviour should be reported to the authorities.

What I have witnessed are community members coming together to campaign against anti-vaccination seminars, which would have misinformed parents and parents to be on how to best protect the health of their children. They have done so via social media, petitions, letter writing to venues and MPs, collating publicly available information and blogging it, and engaging with the media.

To then have that characterised as a hateful campaign involving terrorism and extremism, to be compared with the Charlie Hebdo killers in Paris and the gunman behind the Sydney seige… well, how else are those who’ve had to back down going to frame their decision to do so. Claiming persecution perhaps fits their self and public images better than having to admit that an overwhelming number of Australians are willing to stand up and say no to the spread of misinformation that harms children.

I’d like to finish off with a few exerpts from Stephanie Messenger’s public announcement that the tour has been cancelled. To be frank, I find some of it a little bizarre… and I’m glad that she posted it, as perhaps a few people who came to hear of Sherri Tenpenny and Stephanie Messenger via the media coverage of the now cancelled tour, will have a look at where Stephanie Messenger is coming from and find it… a little less likely to be evidence-based.

From Stephanie Messenger.

“With the pro-vaccine extremists running their campaign of hate, intimidation, bullying, sabotage of businesses and threats of violence, we could not in good conscience put the attendees, speakers and new venue owners at risk of violence and harassment. We are mindful that at each seminar there were already people booked in who were bringing babies and children along and as we are all about protecting babies and children, we are not willing to go ahead and risk their safety.
When you are dealing with extremists, you just never know what they are capable of doing as we have recently seen with the Sydney siege, and also, the Paris violence against free speech.
These pro-vaccine extremists are actually:
terrorists against free speech – they are against people accessing all information to make an informed decision regarding this medical procedure,
they are in favour of human sacrifice as they know some babies are injured and killed by vaccines, but think this is OK ‘for the ‘perceived’ good of the community”,
they are against people sharing whatever information they want and therefore they are in favour of censorship,
they believe bullying is acceptable when they do it. Venue owners were threatened, harassed and intimidated to cancel the contracts we had in place. This is bullying.
Of course they deny all this, but please look to their actions – these speak louder than the words that they speak with their forked tongues. What you do and say in this world is a declaration of who you really are, and these people certainly made plenty of statements about themselves. Basically they are low vibrating souls who have behaved in rude, arrogant, vile, intolerant, controlling, abusive, manipulative and ignorant ways and so, have declared this is who they really are. They are so far away from truth that they are trying to hold on to their ignorant and fearful position not matter what. Just know, as higher vibrating souls who have learnt the truth, you can do much more to advance the truth for all to learn by speaking out whenever you have an opportunity.”

That’s about half of it – you can read the rest at your own leisure on the GanKinMan Foundation’s Facebook Page.

And for anyone wondering, this ‘low vibrating soul’ received an automatic refund for the full purchase price of the ticket, $79.92, from Stephanie Messenger, via Eventbrite and Paypal yesterday.

eventbrite