As I announced at TAM 7, during a recent routine medical exam I received news that I have been visited by a most unwelcome guest. Now, I am fighting this with the aid of medical experts, and I have the highest trust -- not faith, mind you, but trust -- in their knowledge of and their ability to use state of the art medical science. No balms, distilled water, electrified needles, rubs, detoxifying agents, or poultices for me!
While I'm somewhat weakened by this state of affairs, I am emboldened by the support I have received from the JREF audience and community. Your emails and phone calls have filled me with (dare I say it) good spirits, and fight on I will.
However, on the advice of said medical experts, I must avoid crowds and public places. As much as I love to meet everyone and shake their hands, for the time being this has become impossible. Therefore I will not be attending Dragon*Con or NECSS in September, or TAM London in October. However, you can rest assured there will be a cadre of critically thinking skeptics attending and speaking at those conferences, and I urge you to attend them. As much as I wish I could go as well, I need to attend to my health first, so that I can be there in person next time.
And that, my friends, I fully plan to do.
We can post article after article, lecture, jump up an down and point to all the evidence in the world. But sometimes... all that's needed is a pithy comedian to set the record straight.
Dara O'Briain is such a man, and these six minutes encompass the mission of the JREF and other skeptical organizations succinctly and with hillarity.
The language is a bit rougher than you'd find on American broadcast television, so if you're offended by that type of thing, you might not enjoy this. For the rest of us, it's a treat. Direct link is found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIaV8swc-fo
The "complimentary and alternative medicine" business brings in some $34 billion a year in direct out-of-pocket spending from American consumers. The budget of the US National Institutes of Health - a major Federal agency - is not available to the average person, it seems. Looking in on the Internet for a simple dollar figure produces no results that I can find. A direct search for a "$" sign reports no hits...
My attention has been brought to this strange situation since I recently came into possession of a 62-page full-color booklet produced and distributed by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. This comprehensive publication - in its "Words To Know" glossary, begins with a definition of what is possibly the only form of quackery that outranks homeopathy for idiocy: acupuncture. It reads:
Acupuncture (AK-yoo-PUNK-cher): The technique of inserting thin needles through the skin at specific points on the body to control nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms.
Other literature issued by the NCI runs on and on about how ancient this idea is, that it is used in China, and how it's administered. Does it work?
Recently I read here that a study  had been conducted which looks at the trends between the study of certain subjects in college and religious observance. The study concluded that very religious high school students are more likely than less religious high school students to attend college.
This may surprise the skeptical world. I've heard many times that people with high levels of religiosity tend to be less educated and less intelligent whereas people with low religiosity tend to be more educated and more intelligent. Typically people cite an article published in nature as evidence for this phenomenon , if they cite an article at all. So why is this study saying that people who are more religious are more likely to attend college?
This last Sunday I posted "We Should be Insulted," a commentary on the seeming endorsement of acupuncture by US agencies. Following that, I sent an inquiry to Ms. Cynthia Bass at the National Cancer Institute [NCI] - a division of the National Institutes of Health [NIH] - with this direct comment and question:
I have seen references in NCI literature to the use of acupuncture in cancer treatment, to relieve certain side-effects of chemotherapy. My question: Is there any scientific, double-blind research that shows acupuncture is effective?
Please note: I specified "double-blind" because many non-blinded tests of acupuncture have been done, with mixed results, but no such tests can be considered as evidential unless done that way, and I've never found any records of double-blinded tests of this claim. Ms. Bass did not answer the question. She referred me to a list of frequently-asked questions - and the official answers - on the NCI site; this is not unexpected, considering the volume of inquiries that the agency must receive. I have selected here those that almost respond to my inquiry.
As we discussed in the Anti-Anti-Vax Panel at TAM7, scientifically illiterate activists are endangering our public health. Now they have a new target: the fast-track program to develop a swine flu vaccine in time to prevent a possible pandemic.
A correspondent in the Netherlands wrote me, forwarding this article a friend in the UK had sent him: http://www.globalhealthfreedom.org/?p=3081 Briefly, it says we are going to be offered a dangerous, inadequately tested swine flu vaccine for a nonexistent threat.
With the insertion of a new American President that actually wants scientists to be heard and (and to subsequently follow their advice), one can feel the winds of change blowing across the country and to a lesser extent, other countries as well. These breezes are bringing a breath of fresh realism to the people where science is no longer twisted or ignored to fit ideology, but rather it is being recognized as a legitimate source of information from which to base sound decisions.
Many skeptical organizations say that Education is the backbone of their activities, and if that's true then now is the time for them to move out into the education frontier and start fighting the battles to win the minds of our youngest students.
Readers will know that I've been expressing my objections to National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute [NIH/NCI] suggestions that acupuncture can/may/might offer relief of cancer treatment side-effects. I'll begin this entry by providing some explanatory background. I'm personally involved because I'm well into the process of chemotherapy, a "clean-up" procedure following a successful operation to remove a tumor. I prepared myself by reading up on the literature, and I must say that I'm doing very well - due to very recent improvements in the process, and new medications. I've experienced none of the possible nausea, though I'm weakened physically due to a decrease in red blood cells, and I have to avoid possible infection because of a lessened resistance. This, I hope, explains my considerable reaction to the irresponsible NIH/NCI comments on the efficacy of acupuncture for the relief of chemotherapy.
Many people have expressed interest in sending James "The Amazing" Randi birthday wishes on this, the first day of his 82nd year.
For your viewing pleasure, here's a link to a James Randi photo gallery that we put together a few years ago.
And for a unique view of Randi, check out this rare clip.
The James Randi Educational Foundation (http://www.randi.org/) is a not-for-profit organization that promotes critical thinking, science education, and skeptical inquiry by providing the public and the media with reliable information about paranormal, supernatural, and pseudoscientific claims.