Protect your boundaries with agate

April 14th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, express, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, very basic science | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 14, 2005
The Guardian

· After years of hand-wringing about the decay of post-enlightenment rationalist values I’m beginning to wonder whether all is well, and the choice of alternative health guff in the Daily Express is deliberate parody. There is no other explanation for this week’s article entitled Embrace the power of crystals (“the special structure of a crystal lets it absorb, strengthen and transmit electromagnetic energy that can heal and energise”). It offers such useful nuggets as:”Protect your boundaries with agate” (read aloud for optimum effect) and what must be the prototypical Daily Express headline, combining as it does its obsession with Asbo tomfoolery and New Age nonsense: “Silence noisy neighbours, with white moonstone.”

· Meanwhile, if there was any doubt that Bad Science readers represent the definitive research tool, Dave Forbes wrote in, after I pointed out that Doctor Who had miscalculated the rotational speed in Britain of the Earth on its own axis in the first episode of the new series, to point out a precedent for this. “You might like to check out Paul Saint’s Doctor Who novel The Suns of Caresh,” he suggests. “In one scene the Tardis’s destination is unexpectedly diverted from Israel to Chichester. Since the settings had not been adjusted to take into account the different rotational speed of the Earth’s surface at this latitude, the Tardis leaves a wake of destruction across the English countryside.”

· Lastly, it was good to see one of the more bizarre untruths from the Terri Schiavo “right to die” case crossing the Atlantic and popping up in the Scotsman. In line with much of the US media, it refers to her parents’ doctor in the case, William Hammesfahr, as “a Nobel prize-nominated neurologist who has an international reputation for treating brain-injured patients”. Now, Hammesfahr was “nominated” for the prize by a Republican congressman, Michael Bilirakis, though he might just as well have been nominated by my dead cat Hettie, since the Nobel committee only takes nominations from 3,000 or so invited people, mostly previous winners and big-arse professors. My favourite detail from the grandiose letter (masl.to/?X1E723FDA) is where he is nominated for the “Nobel peace prize in medicine”. Even if such a prize existed, it would be unusual for a science Nobel to be won by someone like Hammesfahr who, according to Pubmed, has published no papers in peer-reviewed journals. But don’t let that stop you nominating Hettie.


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