I’ve written a two-part epic account of what it was like to face my attackers in court, while Tara Wolf watched disinterestedly from the dock. I’ve decided not to publish it here but on my new blog at Peakers Corner.

 

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

George Orwell

 

Many of the posts on this blog have been written out of anger. This one is written more out of despair, which is why it’s been the hardest one I’ve ever had to write.

It’s about transgenderism. That will probably be enough to stop many of those who’ve read and enjoyed this blog in the past from reading any further. It appears to be a topic that skeptics don’t want to think deeply about and I can understand that – I didn’t myself for a long time. Sometimes things need to impinge on one’s personal life to make one sit up and take notice. This was the case for my husband – a respected and very active skeptic – whose interest in this topic only dates back to the events of 13 September 2017 at Speakers’ Corner.

But sometimes it’s simply a matter of having one’s eyes and mind open, seeing that harm is being done and wanting to do something about it. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, that was what happened with me and why I became very concerned about a year ago when I was horrified by reactions to what seemed to me to be perfectly reasonable opinions expressed by Dame Jenni Murray in the Sunday Times, by seeing a local newspaper report on a fugitive convicted rapist referred to as “she” throughout and by becoming aware of a website called terf is a slur, which documented tweets made by trans activists about women who disagree with them. The hatred, the vile sexual taunts, the exhortations to assault and kill those women labelled ‘TERFs‘ for having the temerity to disagree, shocked me to the core.

Since then, I have immersed myself deeply in the subject and read everything I can get my hands on from every point of view. I’ve collected several hundred links that I’ve put on a website I’ve made called Peak Trans. One purpose of this post is to introduce that website to those who don’t already know it.

Warning: one “skeptic” who saw it today called it “TERF central”, which leads me to the main purpose of this post and that is to ask:

“What the hell is going on with skeptics?”

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Helen Steel, one of the heroic McLibel Two and a Spycops abuse survivor, is being treated like shit by what appears to be a large section of the supposedly ‘anarchist community’, for want of a better term. They are offended by her having the temerity to try and protect women against bullying and intimidation by trans activists and their allies.

In solidarity with Helen, I am republishing below a statement she made about events that took place at the Anarchist Bookfair last weekend and I would urge that it is read by all those who consider themselves feminists as well as all skeptics.

Alternatively, you could continue to ring-fence trans ideology from skeptical inquiry and carry on like this. It’s up to you.

via GIPHY

Edited to add: Here is a video of a moving talk Helen gave on 23 November 2017.

Statement on events at Anarchist Bookfair 2017 – By Helen Steel

“I was in the process of writing a longer article around the events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, but I am also trying to stay on top of the rest of my life while dealing with the horrendous bullying of people around me which is underway by some trans activists and allies. I have been traumatised by my experiences on Saturday and by events since, resulting in a lack of sleep and inability to concentrate. I wanted to complete the longer article, but as lies are being circulated by those who attacked me, I feel I have to put out a shorter statement now.

When I refer to trans activists in this statement I mean people who are activists on trans issues, I do not mean that all of them were trans, nor that they represent the views of all trans identifying people. For those who don’t know what TERF means, it is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but whatever its origins it is currently used as a term of abuse to dehumanise women and so excuse violence and bullying against them.

I thank everyone who is taking a stand against bullying and I urge more people to stand in solidarity too. Those trans activists and allies who are carrying out the bullying can be defeated by growing numbers of people resisting that bullying. This will facilitate a proper space for the concerns of women and trans identifying people to be discussed.

Short statement on the facts:

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Edited to add: check out my new blog at Peakers’ Corner!

 

It’s been a couple of years since I last felt compelled to add to this blog but that has changed in the fortnight since I was a victim of assault, criminal damage and theft at Speakers’ Corner on Wednesday, 13 September. That corner of Hyde Park is, of course, historically associated with free speech. The irony that I was assaulted for filming a group of people trying hard to close down the free speech of others isn’t lost on many who’ve commented already on the incident. You’ll find a list of blogs and articles at the bottom.

And in case I forget, I’d like to thank every person who has messaged, tweeted, commented and written their support for me. You have helped me to rise above it all and stay sane. Here are three videos showing what happened from different angles.

 
 

Readers familiar with this blog may be surprised to discover that the hundreds of people who apparently think I deserved to be beaten up aren’t all homeopaths. The overwhelming majority hate me because I wanted to hear from speakers with a different view on transgenderism. The accusation – which is repeated ad nauseum by trans activists – that if we don’t see things their way, if we are concerned with the implications of the proposed legislative changes on the lives of women and girls, if we criticise any part of trans ideology, then we are responsible for causing mental health problems, suicide attempts or the violence they suffer from other people, is so patently ludicrous that it isn’t really surprising that all they can do is shout, insult, gaslight and abuse. There is simply no danger of their ever making a coherent argument that can be taken half-seriously and, at some level, I think they know this.

For those who don’t know the story, a meeting about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act was due to be held at the New Cross Learning Centre – opposite Goldsmiths University in South East London – that evening but after a bullying campaign (documented here) by people who just can’t bear the thought of anyone saying anything that might hurt their feelings, the Centre cancelled at very short notice.

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There is a bunch of homeopathic organisations in the UK. Unfortunately, one of them has the same initials as the British Humanist Association, an organisation I am proud to have been part of in various ways for some 20 years. Although I had no part in writing any text on the organisation’s website about homeopathy, I’m happy to defend its stance, which happens to coincide with my own. It is a stance entirely in keeping with a humanist world view, which judges each situation on its merits according to standards of reason and humanity.

The British Homeopathic Association is a charity whose overall priority is to “ensure that homeopathy is available to all”. It doesn’t appear to be a membership organisation but it seems anyone can become a ‘friend’ of theirs for an annual donation of £25.

Patrons are just royals and assorted celebrities. Idiots, obviously.

It seems the British Homeopathic Association takes strong exception to a short piece on the British Humanist Association’s website. Here’s a snippet:

British Humanist Association Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal said, ‘The fact that some NHS trusts continue to spend money on treatments known to be ineffective at a time when the health service is facing tremendous financial pressure is astonishing. Not only is this wasteful, but it could even put public health at risk. Public money could be better spent providing treatments that have been proven to work.’

A few days ago, Margaret Wyllie, Chair of the British Homeopathic Association, published the piece below on their website. It is so awful, I am happy to do them the kindness of bringing it to a wider audience.

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wonderlandIt’s good to see that Edzard Ernst’s latest book is already selling so well but if you haven’t yet got a copy, I hope a few reflections of my own will encourage you to buy it — especially if you are a devotee of any kind of ‘alternative’ or complementary medicine and especially if you think you already know all you need to know about Edzard Ernst.

A Scientist in Wonderland is more than an autobiography and I’m not sure I can do justice to the riches to be found in its pages. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of a black comedy, other times it’s almost too painful to read. If you already understand what is meant by scientific rigour and how medical ethics depends on it, there are parts of Edzard’s story that will probably make you despair.

But what if you don’t understand? What if you are one of those who accuses the man of being a liar, a fraud, a pharma shill — not because you’ve ever seen an iota of evidence that he is any of tweet2these things but because you are so deeply invested in what he famously opposes that this kind of vilification sounds intuitively right to you? Are you open-minded enough to read and learn from this book? I doubt it but I would love you to prove me wrong.

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The truth about the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can actually be found on its own website and on related websites such as those of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (asbof). But those whose living depends on being allowed a measure of artistic licence in how they promote their goods and services aren’t going to let the truth get in the way of an unbelievably silly smear campaign against the advertising regulator for trying to do its job properly.

The list of gripes they dream up in order to try and discredit the ASA is seemingly endless and, frankly, barmy but I think the main ones are: 

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If you leave a window of your house open when you go out, then come home to find you’ve been burgled, whose fault is it?

What if property is stolen from your car after you left it unlocked – who is to blame for the theft?

If you get roaring drunk on a night out, fall asleep on the bus home and end up at the terminus to find your wallet’s been nicked from your pocket – who is the culpable party?

In all such cases, haven’t you been a bit of an idiot?

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According the General Medical Council’s register, Dr Sarah Myhill was issued with a formal warning by the GMC in October 2012 to run until October 2017. The warning says:

On Dr Myhill’s website she made statements in relation to contraception and breast cancer screening that were factually incorrect; clinically unsubstantiated; and contrary to national guidelines. In so doing she used her position as a registered practitioner to exploit patients’ lack of medical knowledge by arousing ill found fears for their health. This conduct does not meet with the standard required of a doctor. It risks bringing the profession into disrepute and must not be repeated. The required standards are set out in Good Medical Practice and associated guidance. In this case, paragraph 57, 62 and 65 are particularly relevant. ‘You must make sure that your conduct at all times justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession.’ ‘You must not put pressure on people to use a service, for example by arousing ill founded fears for their future health’ and ‘You must do your best to make sure that any documents your write or sign are not false or misleading. This means that you must take reasonable steps to verify the information in the documents, and that you must not deliberately leave out relevant information.’ Whilst this failing in itself is not so serious as to require any restriction on Dr Myhill’s registration, it is necessary in response to issue this formal warning.

Though it may be true, that stuff about exploiting patients’ ignorance and fears isn’t a pleasant thing to have said about you, so it’s hardly surprising that the record of her battles with the GMC on Myhill’s website stops short of mentioning that the October 2012 hearing even took place, let alone the outcome. Even some of those who identify as Myhill’s supporters don’t seem to know about it.

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The pen is mightier than the sword, unless you’re Jerome Burne, who describes himself as a health journalist, who’s written for most of the national newspapers and a variety of magazines, in recent years mostly for the Daily Mail. Last year he won an award from the Medical Journalists Association. He also co-authored a couple of Patrick Holford’s books and is mysteriously described by Dana Ullman, of all people, as a ‘leading skeptic’. I confess I’d never heard of him until last week but then I don’t usually read the Daily Fail, so what would I know?

Being an award-winning medical journalist and having done all the careful, thorough and objective research that description implies, Jerome Burne will know all about homeopathy. He will know that it is based on fanciful pre-science notions about disease and he will know that most homeopathic products contain no trace of active ingredient. He will know that the homeopaths’ belief that diluting and shaking an ingredient increases ‘potency’ is irrational because it breaks basic laws of physics and chemistry.

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Most readers will already know that Holland & Barrett are currently running a promotion called ‘Ask our owls’, inviting customers to ask their specially trained staff about any of their products. If the staff member can’t answer, the customer gets a 20% discount. The month-long promo was launched on 9 June complete with one of these Twitter things #askourowls, thus providing, as this blogger put it, an open goal.

It was a sweet opportunity for the well-organised and gobby skeptics, who are waging a war on homeopathy ‘just because they don’t understand how it works’, to launch a…ahem..’spontaneous’ attack. (I imagine all you conspiraloon quacks reading this nodding sagely at this point.) The @Holland_Barrett twitter account was inundated with tweets and retweets by those seriously questioning their ethics, by those taking the piss and by those just gloating at how the H&B twitter account had been inundated with skeptics questioning their ethics and taking the piss.

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Although it only appeared last month, Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, written by Stephanie Messenger and published by Trafford Publishing, was raising hackles more than a year ago on the strength of the author’s promise to “[take] children on a journey to learn about the ineffectiveness of vaccinations and to know they don’t have to be scared of childhood illnesses, like measles and chicken pox. There are many health messages for parents to expand on about keeping healthy”.

A recent article by Tom Chivers of the Telegraph  mentions the book in the context of reports that “306 children died in Pakistan because of the infectious disease in 2012, a dramatic surge from the 64 children in 2011”. On Amazon the book got over 70 reviews in three days, every one condemning it.

But of those of you leaping to criticise, I have to wonder how many have actually read the book? I mean, are you not open to the possibility that it might actually contain valuable information that could protect our children’s health?

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A man in a white coat, smiles, offers an injection to an infant who is alone. “Innoculation is the perfect Medication” he tells the child after dancing and singing with a syringe. The nurse tells the children elsewhere that if they are vaccinated with the MMR they won’t get the Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Will it hurt asks the boy, well it might says DR Ranj, but you can cry if you want to. Without waiting for an OK, the doc injects the boy who says “I am not ready for my ‘jection”, but the doc marvels“I have already done it”. (sic)

Even if you didn’t see the TV show described above – and I didn’t – you probably sense the writer of that description didn’t approve of it and you probably won’t be surprised that the doctor and infant in question looked something like this:

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I would like to give this letter lifted from Stop the AVN some more publicity. I don’t imagine the anti-vax loon who, until I adjusted my spam filter, used to post hundreds of abusive and anti-vax comments on this blog, will have the brains to comprehend it but you never know.

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Oh, good grief! I’ve just read the Alliance for Natural Health’s report on a meeting convened last week by David Tredinnick MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Group for Integrated HealthcareMiles Lockwood of the Advertising Standards Authority was the invited speaker. The exact purpose of the meeting is left to our imagination and I imagine Miles Lockwood used it to put people straight on a few things. The purpose of the ANH report was evidently to try to make it look as if the ANH are doing something useful in the battle for the rights of promoters of mostly useless ‘therapies’ to mislead the public.

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It’s high time I jumped on the Burzynski bandwagon. The reason I didn’t do so earlier is that I was aware of a bizarre correspondence taking place between award-winning grassroots skeptic, Rhys Morgan, and one Marc Stephens, who claimed — truthfully, as it turns out — to be representing Stanislaw Burzynski. I was waiting for Rhys to tell the story publicly and now he has.

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No, the misspelling was mine. I was hoping to fool readers into believing I'm not very familiar with the name and that I'm not on their payroll. Sad, I know. Corrected it now.
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Oscar Wilde regarded the theatre as the “most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being”. I’ve no idea what he was talking about but I often feel I don’t want to read or write another word about homeopathy, so it’s nice to blog about something else for a change.

Alternative is a new comedy play presented by Trunkman Productions — a small production company working mainly in fringe theatre — in association with the Nightingale Collaboration.

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More than two months after its launch, the Nightingale Collaboration is still attracting flak from CAM practitioners who apparently can’t abide the prospect of being held to the same standards as advertisers of other products and services. I don’t expect many of these critics to have the stomach to read much of what I say here. For them, I’m putting the case for the Nightingale Collaboration in a nutshell at the beginning:

P1. We believe we should be able to make an informed choice about healthcare treatments as we do about anything else
P2. Making misleading claims about healthcare therapies in order to encourage sick people to try them is unethical and potentially dangerous
P3: The vast majority of misleading claims are made about CAM treatments
P4. There are regulations in place intended to prevent questionable claims being made in the promotion of healthcare therapies
C1: Healthcare practitioners shouldn’t make misleading claims in their advertising
C2: We can and should challenge those misleading claims and try to get them withdrawn.

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Sorry, regular readers, I’ll be back to ranting about quackery or religious nutjobs very soon but, in the meantime, my attention has been drawn to a story that concerns subjects particularly close to my heart: humanism and, in particular, the critical thinking skills that every humanist should be striving to develop, especially if they aspire to positions of responsibility that affect other people’s lives.

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In support of the Libel Reform Campaign I am pleased to publish the following blog:

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

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Science says that thinking for myself is dangerous. You must trust in the Lord Science.

You have to hand it to those homeopaths! They are terrific at sending themselves up, generously giving us a laugh at their expense. Very much in vogue at the moment is the creation of little animated dialogues between typically dim-witted homeopaths and typically arrogant skeptics. My favourite one appears on UK Homeopathy News. (Edit: if it can no longer been seen there, this site also has it.) The homeopath’s vacuous arguments could have been lifted from any homeopath’s blog.

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When I wrote my last blog, I didn’t anticipate that my next one would be devoted to defending it from a charge of ‘religious hatred’ by an angry Wiccan. I’ll call my critic by his Twitter name of ‘Rushyo’, though he does use his real name on some of his comments under my last blog. To introduce him, here’s a clip from his own blog:

As readers of this blog will be aware, I’m currently attempting to put a journal to study witchcraft. In the interests of good research, I openly disclose the fact that I am a) part of the skeptical community and b) part of the Wiccan community. A skeptical Witch.

Rushyo basically has two issues with what I wrote: one is that the blog contained a “horrendously poor skeptical analysis”. The other is that, in my response to his first comment beneath the blog, I’m guilty of religious hatred/intolerance. I’ll try to address both of these.

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This will be short. In a previous post I quoted Dr Tom Dolphin’s dignified apology to witches for ever calling homeopathy ‘witchcraft’. Since his retraction, I have been mildly irritated by the continued references to his original description. I still keep seeing the claim that “the BMA calls homeopathy ‘witchcraft'”. Not any more! It’s now just “nonsense on stilts”, OK? (And, of course, the BMA did not call homeopathy anything. The BMA simply voted in favour of a perfectly polite and reasonably-worded motion to stop funding this batshit insanity on the NHS.)

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I’ve been off-line for a couple of weeks so this is a very belated response to Frank Swain’s gig at Westminster Skeptics at the beginning of August.

Frank Swain, aka SciencePunk, no longer calls himself a skeptic. This isn’t because he’s become less of one. On the contrary, he described himself as being “born of the skeptic movement” and “hugely enamoured” with it. But he has, in recent years, distanced himself from the “skeptic community” because he doesn’t want to be associated with its attitudes and behaviour.

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