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22/07/2014 / Jo Alabaster

“Contains Phenylalanine” – Advisory and Warning Statements on Australian Food – Podcast Report

Those warnings in bold capital letters on food labels beneath lists of ingredients – “CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE”, “CONTAINS QUININE”, “UNPASTEURISED”. Why are they there, who are they directed at and what are the health ramifications of these ingredients?

Contains Caffeine, Contains Phenylalanine

Earlier this month, I gave a report on advisory and warning statements on Australian food labels on The Skeptic Zone Podcast,  you can listen to it on episode #298 {Permalink}, and I have included the transcript below.

I would like to apologise for writing so infrequently here of late – I now have a regular segment on The Skeptic Zone (also titled Evidence, Please) and have been off learning the podcasting ropes. I do have several topics that I’d like to cover over here though – between planned posts (augmented perhaps with a few transcripts), more regular content should be appearing again soon.

 

Please note: Transcripts are published as-is, please excuse the lack of referencing.

Further Reading: Warning and Advisory Statements – Food Authority New South Wales

Read more…

10/07/2014 / Jo Alabaster

Queensland to Provide Whooping Cough Vaccines for Pregnant Women – Campaign for all Australian States To Follow

On July the 9th, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg made a long hoped for announcement – Queensland will be providing free Whooping Cough (Pertussis) vaccinations for women in their third trimester of pregnancy, following dedicated campaigning by doctors, parent groups and concerned citizens.

Read more: Free whooping cough vaccine for all pregnant women in Queensland Courier Mail, 10th July 2014.

Premier Campbell Newman and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announce free whooping cough vaccinations for pregnant women in Queensland.

Premier Campbell Newman and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announce free whooping cough vaccinations for pregnant women in Queensland.

 

This is wonderful news for newborns and their families in Queensland. Maternal immunisation during the third trimester of pregnancy and the resulting passive antibody transfer to the infant has been shown to provide substantial protection to newborns during the first two months of life, before they are able to begin receiving whooping cough vaccinations (a three dose schedule, which is completed at six months). Maternal immunisation can also prevent the mother from contracting whooping cough herself, risking passing it on to her vulnerable infant.

Hopefully Queensland’s new policy will pave the way for other Australian states and territories to institute similar schemes, allowing families better access to a measure which can protect newborns from illness, disability and death.

If you are so inclined, please consider writing to and/or tweeting your state or territory leaders, health ministers and shadow health ministers to let them know that there is high community support for the provision of free whooping cough vaccines for pregnant women. I have listed contact details and Twitter accounts for them at the end of this post, and have been tweeting myself, using the hashtag #freewhoopingcoughvax.

 

 

I would like to share with you this letter written to the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, and the New South Wales Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner. It was composed by Heidi Robertson and Alison Gaylard on behalf of the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters, a community group of concerned citizens who support vaccination and live in an area of New South Wales with alarmingly low vaccination rates.

 

Wednesday, 9th July, 2014

Dear Premier Baird and Ms. Skinner,

We write with regards the initiative announced by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman this morning (9th July 2014). Premier Newman revealed that Queensland Health will be funding a free Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine for women in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

We sincerely hope that NSW will follow suit with this initiative. It is of course based on the latest research and evidence which states that the Pertussis vaccine given in the third trimester is very effective at protecting the newborn baby during those crucial first two months before they can receive their first Pertussis vaccine. Mothers-to-be are also protected from Pertussis with this initiative which of course reduces the chances of transmission to the baby. Mothers, often being the primary caregiver of the baby, are in close physical proximity on a 24- hour basis and are often inadvertently responsible for passing this potentially deadly infection on to their babies.

Losing a baby to Pertussis, a Vaccine Preventable Disease, is of course devastating; the economic cost to government will also be greatly reduced if less infants need to be hospitalised in Paediatric Intensive Care Units (over 9 out of 10 babies under three months of age need to be hospitalised as a result of contracting pertussis).

Please consider following Queensland in this important endeavour.

Regards,

Heidi Robertson and Alison Gaylard – acting on behalf of Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters.

 

Again, if this issue is important to you, please consider writing or tweeting to your state or territory health MPs. Thank you.

 

State and Territory Contacts:

 

New South Wales

Premier Mike Baird
Twitter: @mikebairdMP

Health Minister Jillian Skinner

Shadow Health Minister Dr Andrew McDonald

New South Wales Health Department
Twitter: @NSWHealth

 

Western Australia

Premier Colin Barnett

Health Minister Dr Kim Hames

Shadow Health Minister Roger Cook

Western Australian Health Department
Twitter: @WAHealth

 

Victoria

Premier Dennis Napthine
Twitter: @Vic_Premier

Health Minister David Davis

Shadow Health Minister Gavin Jennings
Twitter: @GavinJennings

Victorian Health Department
Twitter: @VicGovHealth

 

South Australia

Premier Jay Weatherill
Twitter: @JayWeatherill

Health Minister Jack Snelling

Shadow Health Minister Stephen Wade

South Australia Health Department
Twitter: @SAHealth 

 

Tasmania

Premier Will Hodgman
Twitter: @WillHodgman

Health Minister Michael Ferguson
Twitter: @fergusonmichael

Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White

Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services
Twitter: @DHHSTas

 

ACT

Chief Minister and Minister for Health Katy Gallagher
Twitter: @KatyGMLA

Shadow Minister for Health Jeremy Hanson
Twitter: @JeremyHansonMLA

ACT Health
Twitter: @ACTHealth

 

Northern Territory

Chief Minister Adam Giles
Twitter: @adamgiles

Minister for Health Robyn Lambley

Shadow Minister for Health Susan Manison

 

More information on maternal immunisation for whooping cough:

Tdap for women – information for providers, CDC, 5th March 2014

Get whooping cough vaccine while you are pregnant, CDC, 11th June 2014

Push to immunise against whooping cough in the womb, ABC 7:30 Report, 4th July 2014

NSW Health New Pertussis Vaccination Recommendations, 15th July 2013

NSW Health Whooping Cough – Recommendations for Adults

 

Stories regarding whooping cough and infants:

An open letter from Toni and David McCaffrey

Pregnant mum feared she would lose baby, Sunday Mail, 13th April 2014.

 

Community groups in Australia campaigning for maternal immunisation for whooping cough:

Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters (Facebook) (Twitter)

Dana Elizabeth McCaffery (5 February 2009 – 9 March 2009)

11/06/2014 / Jo Alabaster

A Letter to the Editor of the Sunshine Coast Daily

Accuracy, Clarification and Accreditation

Dear Sunshine Coast Daily,

I am writing to you regarding a piece which was published on the 5th of June online (initially titled, “Viral anti-vaccination meme shocks professionals“, later updated to “Druggie meme set up to enflame vaccination rage”), which appeared in print as, “Anti-jab meme was done in humour”.

The original online version of the article was written without the knowledge that the meme graphic was a parody of anti-vaccination posters – which could have easily enough been discovered by performing a reverse Google Image Search or checking the Something Awful watermark on the original uncropped picture. I left a comment on your website to let you know the origin of the image, with a link to a blog post that I had written explaining the location and context from whence it came.

I checked the online version of the article again when I received email confirmation that you had received my comment and discovered that the article had been updated to include an explanation as to the origin of the image.

The re-write of the first paragraph began,

UPDATE: MEMBERS of the online community have claimed responsibility for an internet meme linking vaccination to drug abuse.”

I would like for it to be clarified that no members of the ‘online community’ have claimed responsibility for the image; it has been on Something Awful’s website for all to see since July 2013. The wording of your article can be read as implying that I may be claiming responsibility – I wish to stress that I have no affiliation with Something Awful, nor the creator of the image. I was made aware of Something Awful’s Photoshop Phriday when it went online, as I am a strong advocate for vaccination and monitor the activity of anti-vaccination groups. Furthermore, I would like to make it clear that I do not endorse the creation, nor sharing of this image.

I was also somewhat surprised when I read the updated article to find that my blog post that I’d given you a link to in the comments had been quoted rather extensively in the article – seven paragraphs, no less. While I am more than happy that you updated your article to improve its accuracy, I would have greatly appreciated being credited for my research and writing. The online copy had an inline link to my blog, which read “A post explaining the meme said:”, while the paper copy merely had this text with no attribution at all. My name, blog name and contact details appear prominently on the blog post from which you took my writing and I would have been pleased to have been quoted for your article, had there been reasonable attribution provided alongside my work.

Also, in the print version, there is a typo. In my post, I wrote “It has been said that some of the most effective satire is nearly impossible to distinguish from the truth.” – the print article has replaced “effective” with “active”. While I agree that this meme was rather active at the time of publishing, this is not what I wrote!

Finally, I would like to note that “Druggie” is a pejorative label for people with substance addictions and that perhaps a different term may have been more appropriate to use in your publication.

Best Regards,
Jo Alabaster
Blogger, evidenceplease.net

UPDATE 12th June 2014, 1:45pm: I have just received an email from the acting editor of the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper, letting me know that they’ll be publishing my letter (edited for length).

Original text of the Sunshine Coast Daily article on the parody anti-vaccination meme, published 7:06am 5th June 2014, by Megan Mackander:

Viral anti-vaccination meme shocks professionals

A CONFRONTING image circulating on social media, connecting drug-use to vaccination, has mortified Sunshine Coast doctors.

The image, which came from an unknown source, flies in the face of experts driving a campaign to boost vaccination rates across the Coast.

The Sunshine Coast has the lowest vaccination rate in the state and the third lowest in Australia, with only 87% of five-year-olds fully immunised.

An alarmingly low 64% of five-year-olds in the 4552 region – which takes in Maleny, Conondale, Witta, and Crystal Waters – are fully immunised.

The image, which depicts a drug addict slumped in a corner with the text “their first injection was a vaccination: protect your children from vaccinations”, has gone viral on social media and has recently found its way to Coast news feeds.

[image]

The meme that is circulating at the moment has caused concern for Sunshine Coast doctors.

Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association president Dr Di Minuskin described the image as “outrageously incorrect” and reiterated that vaccinations remained a safe and effective measure of protecting children and the larger community.

“I am horrified that this type of message should gain any validity,” Dr Minuskin said.

“If anyone receives this image via social media I would recommend they swiftly assign it to the trash box where it belongs.

“Not only is the information outrageously incorrect, it is irresponsible to be creating unwarranted fear about such an important issue.”

The image, which is not new, but has recently gone viral across the Coast, comes just weeks after anti-vaccination campaigner Meryl Dorey was allowed to deliver a 90-minute address at the Sunshine Coast Healthy Lifestyle Expo.

Ms Dorey declined to comment about the image.

Sunshine Coast Public Health director Andrew Langley said while vaccination rates had been on an upward trend since the 1990s, the current level in the region should be higher.

Updated version of the Sunshine Coast Daily article on the parody anti-vaccination meme, published 12:17pm 5th June 2014, no author credited:

Druggie meme set up to enflame vaccination rage

UPDATE: MEMBERS of the online community have claimed responsibility for an internet meme linking vaccination to drug abuse.

The meme found its way on to Sunshine Coast Facebook pages- some for and some against the messages the meme was sending.

The sharing of this images prompted outrage from Sunshine Coast doctors.

The image flies in the face of experts driving a campaign to boost vaccination rates across the Coast.

The Sunshine Coast has the lowest vaccination rate in the state and the third lowest in Australia, with only 87% of five-year-olds fully immunised.

An alarmingly low 64% of five-year-olds in the 4552 region – which takes in Maleny, Conondale, Witta, and Crystal Waters – are fully immunised.

The image, which depicts a drug addict slumped in a corner with the text “their first injection was a vaccination: protect your children from vaccinations”, has gone viral on social media and has recently found its way to Coast news feeds.

A post explaining the meme said: “… the most effective satire is nearly impossible to distinguish from the truth. As such, occasionally a graphic or quote which has been created as a parody is shared on social media, creating confusion, fear and outrage among a wide range of people… particularly those not familiar with the source and their particular brand of humour.

“One such example is currently doing the rounds; a graphic which appears to be an anti-vaccination claim, which seems to suggest that childhood vaccination leads to heroin use, due to needles being regarded as something positive.

“I’d like to reassure anybody concerned that this has not been created by an anti-vaccinationist (though, being familiar with the wide range of bizarre claims made by anti-vaccination campaigners, I can understand why it could be read as real).

“Furthermore, in case I need to clarify this, there is no known causal link between vaccination and intravenous drug use later in life.

“This graphic was created as a part of Something Awful’s Photoshop Phriday in 2013, in which SA forum participants tried to create over the top parodies of anti-vaccination posters.

“After showing some examples of actual anti-vaccination memes, the SA admins issued a challenge: “If they can take anti-vaccination posters to this level of absurdity, imagine what we can do!”

“Unfortunately, this one has escaped its context and repeatedly gone viral..”

[meme image]
The meme that is circulating at the moment has caused concern for Sunshine Coast doctors.

Sunshine Coast Local Medical Association president Dr Di Minuskin described the image as “outrageously incorrect” and reiterated that vaccinations remained a safe and effective measure of protecting children and the larger community.

“I am horrified that this type of message should gain any validity,” Dr Minuskin said.

“If anyone receives this image via social media I would recommend they swiftly assign it to the trash box where it belongs.

“Not only is the information outrageously incorrect, it is irresponsible to be creating unwarranted fear about such an important issue.”

The image, which is not new, but has recently gone viral across the Coast, comes just weeks after anti-vaccination campaigner Meryl Dorey was allowed to deliver a 90-minute address at the Sunshine Coast Healthy Lifestyle Expo.

Ms Dorey declined to comment about the image.

Sunshine Coast Public Health director Andrew Langley said while vaccination rates had been on an upward trend since the 1990s, the current level in the region should be higher.

Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper, week of 5th June 2014, no author credit.

Thanks to PK Kent for sending me a photo of the print copy.

Thanks to PK Kent for sending me a photo of the print copy.

Transcript:

Anti-jab meme was done in humour

MEMBERS of the online community have claimed responsibility for an internet meme linking vaccination to drug abuse.

The meme found its way on to Sunshine Coast Facebook pages – some for and some against the messages the meme was sending.

The sharing of the image prompted outrage from Sunshine Coast doctors.

The image flies in the face of experts driving a campaign to boost vaccination rates across the Coast.

The Sunshine Coast has the lowest vaccination rate in the state and the third lowest in Australia, with only 87% of five-year-olds fully immunised.

An alarmingly low 64% of five-year-olds in the 4552 region – which takes in Maleny, Conondale, Witta, and Crystal Waters – are fully immunised.

The image, which depicts a drug addict slumped in a corner with the text “their first injection was a vaccination: protect your children from vaccinations”, has gone viral on social media.

Created about a year ago, the image was revealed yesterday as a parody competition, where forum participants on a site called Something’s [sic] Awful, were challenged to create over-the-top parodies of anti-vaccination posters.

An online post explaining the meme said: “… the most active [sic] satire is nearly impossible to distinguish from the truth.

“As such, occasionally a graphic or quote which has been created as a parody is shared on social media, creating confusion, fear and outrage among a wide range of people… particularly those not familiar with the source and their particular brand of humour.

“I’d like to reassure anybody concerned that this has not been created by an anti-vaccinationist.

“Unfortunately, this one has escaped its context and repeatedly gone viral…”

05/06/2014 / Jo Alabaster

PSA: The “Vaccinations Lead To Heroin Use” Graphic Is A Parody

It has been said that some of the most effective satire is nearly impossible to distinguish from the truth. As such, occasionally a graphic or quote which has been created as a parody is shared on social media, creating confusion, fear and outrage among a wide range of people… particularly those not familiar with the source and their particular brand of humour.

One such example is currently doing the rounds; a graphic which appears to be an anti-vaccination claim, which seems to suggest that childhood vaccination leads to heroin use, due to needles being regarded as something positive.

Image

Parody image by Something Awful forum user Bog Chef, using a photograph sourced from Flickr user e_monk.

I’d like to reassure anybody concerned that this has not been created by an anti-vaccinationist (though, being familiar with the wide range of bizarre claims made by anti-vaccination campaigners, I can understand why it could be read as real). Furthermore, in case I need to clarify this, there is no known causal link between vaccination and intravenous drug use later in life.

This graphic was created as a part of Something Awful’s Photoshop Phriday in 2013, in which SA forum participants tried to create over the top parodies of anti-vaccination posters. After showing some examples of actual anti-vaccination memes, the SA admins issued a challenge: “If they can take anti-vaccination posters to this level of absurdity, imagine what we can do!”

Unfortunately, this one has escaped its context and repeatedly gone viral – on its current round, it has managed to spread far enough to grab the attention of the media, with the Sunshine Coast Daily reporting, “Viral anti-vaccination meme shocks professionals“.

“The image, which depicts a drug addict slumped in a corner with the text “their first injection was a vaccination: protect your children from vaccinations”, has gone viral on social media and has recently found its way to Coast news feeds.”

The version of the image which has been received by the Sunshine Coast Daily has been cropped of the Something Awful watermark and as such, is not identifiable by doing a reverse Google Image Search. Generally though, reverse image searching is an excellent way to check the source of an image – and if there is a watermark present, do check the nature of the website it came from before sharing.

If you see this image on social media, my recommendation is not to share it, but to let others know that it is both factually incorrect and was created as a parody by the Something Awful forum participants.

UPDATE 05/06/2014 11:41am: The Sunshine Coast Daily have updated their article, with information from this post.

UPDATE 05/06/2014 10:30pm: Ten News Brisbane have also reported on the meme, acknowledging that it is a parody image. Video report: Confronting Parody

UPDATE 11/06/2014 5:40pm: I have written a letter to the editor of the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper regarding their use of the above post in an article.

11/05/2014 / Jo Alabaster

Wireless Armour: A Pseudoscientific Bunch of Pants

An audio version of this post appears on The Skeptic Zone podcast, episode 290 {permalink}.

An article by technology reporter James Billington appeared on news.com.au on the 7th of May 2014, titled, “The Smart Underwear Designed to Shield Against Mobile Phone Radiation“.

“For any man who still feels a bit uneasy about the side effects of carrying around a mobile in their pocket, a new pair of underwear has been developed to protect their packet from any potentially harmful radiation”

Following, was a piece, which could well be read as an unpaid advertorial, for “Wireless Armour”, a UK startup who have developed men’s underwear which incorporates silver into its fabric to allegedly shield the wearer from electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phones.

The news.com.au article states,

“With scientific studies on the link between exposure to wireless radiation affecting sperm count, and with most men carrying their mobile phones in pockets or using laptops on a daily basis these boxers costing £24 ($43) when available could be the solution to that worry many males face.”

Interesting language. The news.com.au article mentions that there are “scientific studies on the link between exposure to wireless radiation affecting sperm count”, but does not actually state that any such link has been discovered, nor the outcomes of any studies. A caption beneath a photograph of the underwear similarly avoids making any direct claims, “This pair of hi-tech underwear has been designed to protect men from the potential harmful effects of mobile phone radiation.” (emphasis mine).

That said, the founder of Wireless Armour, Joseph Perkins (who holds a BSc in physics and is a former physics teacher) is quoted in the article as saying,

“Wireless Armour is designed to protect the health of a wireless generation glued to their mobile devices. The fabric has been put through rigorous testing from external electromagnetic consulting company, Wave Scientific. Results indicate that Wireless Armour fabric blocks 99.9% of harmful radiation, making the garments an extremely effective form of protection,”

Joseph Perkins seems to be making the claim that radiation from mobile devices, such as smartphones, causes harm. He’s running an Indiegogo Campaign to fund the first run of Wireless Armour and, by attaining a position as one of the “Top 10 Back of an Envelope Start-Up Ideas“, has courted the support of none other than Sir Richard Branson in his endeavours.

 

 

Well, what’s the evidence?

Fortunately, Wireless Armour are active users of Twitter (@WirelessArmour) and provided a link to “peer reviewed studies” when questioned on their claim. The link, to a page on the Environmental Working Group’s website, cites several studies – a couple which conducted lab based in-vitro analysis of sperm samples exposed to varying levels of electromagnetic radiation (the results of which are interesting, but not necessarily representative of real life situations) and several which used self-selected samples of men who were self-reporting on questionnaires – a form of data collection which is not necessarily reliable. I think it is fair to state that the studies cited are far from conclusive.

Looking at Wireless Armour’s website, other sources are also linked to support the suggestion that electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phones can be harmful, including a website which sells “Laptop Radiation and Heat Shields” and a website, www.best-emf-health.com, which recalls the sad account of an individual who has suffered cancer, personally believes that his cancer was caused by electromagnetic radiation and goes on to attribute many health conditions, from allergies to miscarriages to multiple sclerosis to electromagnetic radiation – a fine example of what Ketan Joshi refers to as “Anything Syndrome”, in which self-reported ailments are attributed to a cause, often a technology, with no proven causal link.

On their website, Wireless Armour seem to bounce back and forth between claiming that electromagnetic radiation is harmful and stating that it is potentially harmful – in the latter case, they strongly question whether people wish to wait for conclusive evidence before taking risk-avoiding measures: “At Wireless Armour we do not want to wait around whilst the government and scientific community confirm 100% whether it is harmful to our health, we would rather protect ourselves now and find out later. Don’t Be A Test Subject!”

In response to tweets stating that radio signals have never been proven to lower sperm count or cause cancer and that the studies cited by the Environmental Working Group were nonsense, Wireless Armour responded, “You are entitled to that opinion, it is the fantastic thing about living in a free world.”

Where opinions count when it comes to making claims that information is factual and scientifically based, I am not sure.

 

wirelessarmourtweet

Storify of conversation can be viewed here.

 

So for those people who feel that the potential for harm from electromagnetic radiation, while never proven, is still something they wish to protect themselves from… how is Wireless Armour purported to work?

From Wireless Armour’s Indiegogo Campaign,

“Wireless Armour’s products have a mesh of pure Silver woven into the fabric of each item. This encases the user in a cage of metal. This is a special type of cage called a Faraday Cage, named after the man who invented it, Michael Faraday. The reason that this cage is special is because any electromagnetic radiation that hits it is distributed evenly around the cage, therefore not allowing it to enter the cage and affect what ever is stored within it”

Uh, no. While the silver weave fabric may have some shielding properties, these underpants are not behaving as a Faraday cage.

A Faraday cage is a fully enclosed container made from a mesh of highly conductive metal – often brass or copper – which blocks external static and non-static electrical fields by channeling electricity around the cage, preventing it from entering the space within. The mesh itself must be thick and contain holes which are significantly smaller than the length of the wave of the electromagnetic radiation it guards against, so that the wave is reflected, rather than allowed to permeate the mesh. Faraday cages are connected to an earth ground, to dissipate any currents induced from external or internal electromagnetic fields.

A pair of mesh underpants on the other hand, has three rather large holes – one for the wearer’s torso and two for their legs – which renders it… not a cage. Additionally, unless the wearer has a copper wire, which is attached to their underpants at one end and to a copper rod driven a metre into the ground at the other, a pair of mesh underpants are not grounded. A pair of mesh underpants are not a Faraday cage.

 

 

Wireless Armour do, however, have a backup claim. In response to questions on the plausibility of their claims regarding electromagnetic radiation’s effect on sperm and the necessity for protective underwear, Wireless Armour have stated on their Reddit thread,

“IF it comes out that EM radiation is not bad for us then people still have very comfortable underwear with all the other beneficial properties of Silver.

“We have a lot more silver in our products (above 20%) than other antimicrobial underwear (~5%) and so ours will be very good at odour resistance and stopping the growth of bacteria.”

Well, yes… but frankly, I would be much more inclined to take my $43, purchase several pairs of cheaper cotton underwear (and perhaps some soap) and maintain clean and dry nether regions. I’d like to note that if you have concerns about unpleasant smells or bacteria, a check in with your GP would perhaps be wise.

 

In summary, Wireless Armour are marketing a product that is extremely unlikely to be necessary and embracing a concern which is not scientifically supported in order to market them – and even if radiation from wireless devices did affect sperm quality, the mechanism by which they claim that their product operates is a physical impossibility. How somebody with a physics degree is unable to realise this, and why news.com.au (and several other media outlets) and indeed, Richard Branson himself, are unwilling to properly investigate such before promoting this underwear, is quite a mystery to me.

One claim I am willing to make with relative certainty however… is that Wireless Armour, are indeed, a bunch of pants.

 

As of the 11th of May 2014, neither Indiegogo, nor Richard Branson have responded to emails (sent 7th of May) explaining the nature of the claims Wireless Armour are making.

I would like to thank @weezmgk from Twitter for his help with this post, in particular for performing fact checking from a broadcast engineer’s perspective and for contacting relevant parties for comment.

 

UPDATE: An email has been received from Indiegogo’s Trust and Safety Team, dated May 13 2014, stating that,

“Indiegogo empowers campaign owners and contributors to raise money for, or support, the things that matter to them. Since Indiegogo is an equal opportunity platform, we let our users decide whether they want to contribute and support the campaign after performing their own due diligence on the company, campaign owner, and its cause.

“That being said, the campaign will stay live on our platform and continue to receiving funding. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Disappointingly, it seems that Indiegogo are comfortable supporting the marketing of sham products via their service, under the guise of “equal opportunity”. As such, I would recommend due diligence before supporting any Indiegogo campaign.

14/04/2014 / Jo Alabaster

World Homeopathy Awareness Week – Raising Awareness that Homeopathy is Bulldust!

Well, this week is rather special – it’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week!

First, a very brief primer on homeopathy. Homeopathy was founded in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his postulation that “like cures like” – for example, a small amount of a stimulant, such as caffeine, is purported to help with sleep troubles. Homeopathic preparations are produced by “dynamisation” or “potentisation”, in which active ingredients are diluted with alcohol or distilled water, then “succussed” (a form of ritualistic vigorous shaking). The dilution process is repeated until the likelihood of a single molecule of the original ingredient being present in a bottle of homeopathic “remedy” is as close as can be to zero.

Homeopathic remedies are sold as liquids or sugar pills and can be found in health food stores, online shops and to my great disappointment, in pharmacies in Australia. Homeopathy is at times confused with herbalism, as it is included within the scope of “natural medicine”, thus it is worth noting that while herbal remedies contain active ingredients, homeopathic remedies contain no detectable trace of such. For more information, visit the 10:23 Campaign’s page, “What is Homeopathy?” 

 

Beginning on the 10th of April each year,coinciding with the birthday of Hahnemann, World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) has been established by the World Homeopathy Awareness Organization to coordinate global promotion of homeopathy by those who practice and advocate it. Simultaneously, WHAW has been embraced by critics of homeopathy as a fine time to raise awareness of the lack of plausibility behind the mechanisms used to create homeopathic “remedies”, and the lack of evidence that homeopathy has any physiological effect beyond that of a placebo.

This year, WHAW related discussion kicked off a couple of days early, as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council released a draft of their information paper, “Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions“. The NHMRC is accepting feedback on this paper until May 26th, so if you wish to provide them with any feedback for consideration, details on doing so are available via the above link.

Admittedly, when I first heard that the NHMRC were conducting a review on homeopathy studies, I was flummoxed – I was familiar with the findings on homeopathy already, and it seemed akin to reviewing findings on whether the sky was blue, or whether water was… wet. However, more public awareness on homeopathy – and the findings that no credible evidence supports its efficacy – has been a great prompt for the media to get on board and for public discussion of homeopathy to increase.

In short, people are still investing their money and hope in products and treatments which have no plausible mechanism of action beyond a placebo. Pharmacies are still selling homeopathic products, in what I consider to be a terribly unethical case of lending false credibility. A small but important minority of general practitioners are referring their patients to homeopaths and naturopaths (some of whom include homeopathy in their practice). There are people who, heart-breakingly, eschew evidence based medicine in favour of homeopathy – as was seen in the tragic case of Penelope Dingle. As such, I believe that it is worth getting the word out, loud and clear, that homeopathy is a sham.

 

I’ve spotted a few fantastic reads during WHAW this year. First up, Ken Harvey has written a piece on The Drum titled “Homeopathy – We Can’t Have it Both Ways“, in which he discusses the fact that, while the NHMRC paper condemns homeopathy, other authorities still give it legitimacy, by accrediting the study of homeopathy, including it in health insurance plans and allowing it to be sold in pharmacies.

From the Good Thinking Society, here is a wonderful page on Homeopathy Awareness Week, with a list of twelve quick facts on homeopathy. The project director, Michael Marshall, explains the importance of the site and of awareness of homeopathy in his Guardian piece, “Homeopathy Awareness Can Make The World A Happier and Healthier Place“.

This week’s episode of The Skeptic Zone Podcast (permalink) has more information on homeopathy than molecules of active ingredients in a homeopathic dilution, and includes my first attempt at a podcast report (replete with awful jokes, such as the one I’ve just made), in which I cover a minor skeptical activism success on the Better Health Channel’s promotion of WHAW. After an impromptu letter writing and social media campaign last week, and in light of the NHMRC draft report on homeopathy, the Better Health Channel made the commendable decision to remove WHAW from their events calendar. If you’re not already a regular Skeptic Zone listener, I encourage you to give it a go this week – despite my cheesy lines, the show is great.

Speaking of humour, I’d like to provide two more links on which to end this post. They’re not to be taken seriously, but sometimes laughter is… the best medicine. (Sorry – I’ll see myself out).

How Does Homeopathy Work? (from the 10:23 Campaign)

List of scientifically controlled double blind studies which have conclusively demonstrated the efficacy of homeopathy (from RationalWiki)

10:23 Campaign Against Homeopathy – Antarctic 2011 (a short video via The Skeptic Zone, in which Dr Paul Willis puts himself on the line and takes a homeopathic overdose!)

2009-11-02-homeoComic by Luke Surl, shared under Creative Commons Licence

11/04/2014 / Jo Alabaster

Anti-Vaccination Advocates on the Front Line of Public Health

I have a confession to make, people. Sometimes I read the comments. And sometimes I even join in.

Earlier today, ABC News posted a news article on their Facebook page regarding Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton’s meeting with his state counterparts to discuss a possible decision to withhold Family Tax Benefit payments from parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, for non-medical reasons. It’s a complicated issue and one that Dr Julie Leask has addressed in the news article itself.

ABC News’ Facebook moderator invited comments from Facebook users on the topic, prompting much discussion, both advocating and opposing vaccination itself, and agreeing with or criticising the proposal to withhold benefits from families who choose not to vaccinate their children. Having a little free time on my hands, I had a look over the comments and made a few myself; predominantly providing rebuttals to anti-vaccination rhetoric and suggesting that people discuss any concerns that they may have about immunisation with a qualified health professional.

Here’s a fairly typical example of the sort of comment that those who oppose vaccination make on such threads:

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Usually I’ll respond to this sort of statement with an explanation of herd immunity, that unimmunised children increase the risk of vaccine preventable diseases entering our community, the importance of protecting children for whom vaccines are medically contraindicated (be it due to medically diagnosed allergy, an immunocompromised state due to cancer therapy or organ transplant, or being too young to yet be immunised), that vaccines aren’t one hundred percent effective (often noting that seatbelts aren’t either, but it’s sensible to take the high level of protection that we can get over none at all).

We’ve got a couple more fallacies here. “Straight up poisons” sounds fairly terrifying, but doesn’t take into account the rigorous testing vaccines go through, nor the doses at which vaccine ingredients are administered. Break down our foodstuffs and you’ll find scary sounding chemicals in many fruits and vegetables in minute amounts; some of which also occur naturally in our own systems.

To suggest that anybody is proposing that parents will be “forced” to immunise children is also disingenuous. The current proposal is to withhold a payment as an incentive, the option to refuse to vaccinate would still be available.

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Earlier, I mentioned that I often suggest to people that if they have concerns about immunisation, they should discuss them with a qualified health professional. Here, Deb has informed us that she is indeed speaking as a health professional.

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In fact, she is a nurse. The sort of person we should reasonably be able to trust for sound advice and information on vaccines. A practitioner of evidence based medicine.

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Here are some odd generalisations regarding lifestyle choices! Thankfully, many parents who ensure that their kids get outside and play and give them… food stuff that is actually food stuff… also choose to vaccinate.

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Which epidemics? Were vaccinations around during these epidemics also?

Sanitation is a marvel for public health, but it is not responsible for the significant lowering of vaccine preventable diseases. More information on this frequently repeated myth from WHO.

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A healthcare practitioner who buys into the “Big Pharma” business?

It troubles me. Out of curiosity, and using publicly available data, I found Deb’s LinkedIn profile. Her name (she uses a pseudonym on Facebook, but her Facebook URL contained her surname), photo and job description matched, so I am quite confident that I’ve identified her correctly. She works as a clinical nurse in what she describes as a “large, busy, Metro ED Department”.

Her refusal to have the influenza vaccine leaves her prone to contracting it… and working in an emergency department, she is likely to have a high risk of exposure to the virus. If she is at work while contagious, there’s potential for her to pass it on to some very ill and vulnerable patients under her care.

What is also deeply disturbing to me though, is that somebody on the front line of public health – in a position of authority on healthcare – would hold views that so strongly reject many tenets of evidence based medicine. We should be able to trust clinical nurses to know better.

 

 

19:20 – 12/04/2014 Edited to add: Two more of Deb’s posts on the ABC News thread, presented without comment.

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Although the discussion on ABC News’ Facebook page is a public one and Deb uses a pseudonym, I have chosen to pixelate her photograph and surname for this post, as I am noting her as an example of a health professional who espouses anti-vaccination views, rather than an individual to be exposed.

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