Burzynski Clinic – no evidence, just intimidation

A quick post to let you all know about the vile harassment and intimidation coming from the Burzynski Clinic. Stanislaw Burzynski has a treatment, which he believes can cure cancer. This would be wonderful if true, but sadly there is no good independent peer-reviewed RCT evidence supporting that claim.

This does not stop desperate, terminally ill patients raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a chance to take this wonder-treatment. Well-meaning celebrities have done fundraising gigs and auctions to help send people to the Burzynski Clinic. They’re being fed false hope.

They’re being taken advantage of.

A number of bloggers have written about this situation, and that is when the Burzynski Clinic showed their true nature.  Please read high schooler Rhys Morgan’s brilliantly-written piece detailing the harassment and legal threats he has received, for simply telling the truth.

Here are some other excellent links (courtesy of Lucas Randall) you should check out for more information:

And lastly, my good friend Lucas Randall has written some poetry about the saga. Here is the first stanza, you can read the full poem here.

Stanislaw Burzynzki has risen to fame
‘cross the Net, no less, due to making some claims
He can cure Cancer, in its many known guises
With a treatment derived from a source that surprises.

What really IS skepticism?

On Saturday, Melbourne held its first Skepticamp – an informal day of volunteer-given presentations and workshops. There’s no set schedule – anyone can give a presentation or hold a group discussion. It was a huge success, with around 80 people attending. A fantastic tribute to the two people who did most of the work ‘unOrganising’ the event*Chris Higgins and Lucas Randall.

What Really IS Skepticism?

Continue reading

Apple saves children from horrible foul language

So, last night I was looking at the iTunes page for the Science on Top podcast. Thanks to all the kind people who have written such nice reviews, it’s very much appreciated!

But while there, I noticed something strange. Our latest episode, “Bugs Bonking Bottles – The Ig Nobel Prizes” has been censored by iTunes. Now, I need to be clear here: the actual show has not been censored, and the show still has a ‘Clean” rating which means it’s not full of rude words. But the title, as it shows up in iTunes, has been censored.

The actual title:

SoT 28: Bugs Bonking Bottles – The Ig Nobel Prizes

Has been changed in iTunes to:

SoT 28: Bugs B*****g Bottles – The Ig Nobel Prizes

Screenshot of iTunes, with "bonking" censored

That’s right, that bastion of good taste has decided that the word “bonk”, with its obvious connotations of wild, vigorous lovemaking, is inappropriate for young children to read. Nevermind that the dictionary definition of bonk lists quite innocuous meanings initially:

noun /bäNGk/
bonks, plural

  • An act of knocking or hitting something that causes a reverberating sound
    • – give it a bonk with a hammer
  • A reverberating sound caused in such a way

And it’s only when you get to the third definition that bonk gets raunchy:

  • An act of sexual intercourse
  • A level of exhaustion that makes a cyclist or runner unable to go further
    • – we had the bonk when we were saddle sore

And personally, I find the words “saddle sore” far kinkier than the word “bonk”, but that could be just me.

Now I know it’s not cool to be ‘hating’ on Apple less than a week after Steve Jobs’ death. And believe me, I’m deeply saddened that the tech world has lost someone of such vision and capability. Were it not for Jobs, I would not be called a podcaster. I’d be a ‘netcaster’ or (shudder) a ‘Zunecaster‘. Even iTunes has changed the game and made it easy for people to find great podcasts like Science on Top. And I know, the word ‘bonk’ was probably automatically ‘bleeped’, I doubt there’s a human being who actually has a problem with the word.

Someone still had to tell the automated software to bleep out ‘bonk’.

And that’s just bonking stupid. #bonkgate

From Atlanta to New York, via Washington DC

I’ve not been very good at keeping this up to date.

Trouble is, I’m just totally in holiday mode. Living ‘in the moment’ and not thinking about keeping people updated with my travels. Sorry ‘bowt that, Chief!

So Dragon*Con in Atlanta was a blast. Lots of really interesting talks and panels on everything from science fiction (Mythology, Philosophy and Truth in Star Wars), science fact (DNA Sequencing and You!), space (The 100 Year Spaceship – NASA & DARPA working on manned intersteller flight) and skepticism (Everything Evolves – Including Creationism). And of course the parade was SO MUCH FUN! Just great to see so many people having a good time and being crazy!

I stuffed up my planning, though, and booked my hotel in Atlanta (and therefore my flight to Washington and check-in in DC) for the last day of the convention, so I missed a few panels and talks. Oh well!

Washington was great. It’s definitely a beautiful city. I went to the International Spy Museum which, as you might expect, is all about spycraft. With all the gadgets and things associated with espionage: cypher wheels from the American Civil War, bugs, micro-dot cameras and poison-dart umbrella-guns from the Cold War, footage from the McCarthy era, models of the Vietnamese tunnels etc right up to cyber-warfare and modern day espionage. A really interesting museum! They even had an Astin Martin DB5 like in James Bond: Goldfinger! 🙂

I also went to the National Air & Space Museum, where I saw the actual command modules from the early manned space flights and Apollo missions – tiny! Like tin cans!

The Museum of Natural History is also fantastic. Really well laid out and lots of interesting fossils and demonstrations.

I did a night-tour of the city, which included stops at all the usual landmarks – Capitol; Lincoln, Roosevelet and Martin Luther King memorials; Washington Monument etc. Only due to security restrictions we weren’t able to see the Whitehouse. Fortunately, I have watched all seven seasons of The West Wing so I’ve a pretty good idea what it looks like.

One of the newest and more interesting museums I went to was the Newseum. Originally at Arlington, Virginia since 1997 it moved to a huge building on Pennsylvania Ave in 2008. It takes a really in-depth look at journalism – from the invention of the Gutenburg press in 1455 right up to the modern internet age. And by doing so, it highlights many of the defining moments of history, particularly in the last hundred years. Lots of original newspapers and footage, and lots of commentary both on the events and the way the events were covered. There are a few special exhibits – a September 11 room with a piece of the WTC TV aerial, and covering the walls are front pages from newspapers all around the world. There’s also an exhibit about Hurricane Katrina, detailling how long it took the government to react and commemorating Pulitzer-prize winning newspapers like the Times-Picayune, a New Orleans paper that kept printing every day (sometimes two or three times a day) with updates and news. It also posed ‘ethical’ questions that confront journalists in such situations – at what stage do you stop ‘reporting’ and actually get involved with saving people etc.

Anyway, a fantastic building and excellent museum – sorry, Newseum. Well worth checking out.

I also took a long journey – train, bus and taxi – out to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. This is where many of the unmanned NASA missions are controlled. Unfortunately, though, the Visitor Center was much smaller and more boring than I’d expected. I possibly spoiled it by doing the Air and Space Museum the day before, but Goddard turned out to be a few models of the Space Station, the Shuttle and a bunch of “press this button to see how gravity works” type displays. Sure, would probably be great for young kids, but it was nothing new, interesting or exciting for me.

And yesterday I jumped on an Amtrak train and made my way to New York. Wow. Especially going from Atlanta and then Washington, once you get to New York it’s a huge culture shock! No longer can Sydney or Melbourne be called ‘cities’ – they’re barely even large towns compared to NY! I can’t believe how huge and more importantly how BUSY it is. Particularly Times Square, of course. Once I got settled I went for a walk to Broadway which is just phenomenal. Apparently Broadway now rivals Las Vegas’ strip in terms of ‘illuminated signs’.

Of course, 9/11 is on everyone’s minds, today being September 11. There are police on every street, and it was quite confronting when I got off the train and saw armed soldiers. And yet, they aren’t threatening and I feel oddly very safe and grateful for them. Although I know there’s not a lot they can do and if someone really wanted to do something it wouldn’t be too hard, it’s still strangely reassuring. It definitely doesn’t have a ‘police state’ feel to it.

I don’t know what my chances of getting to the WTC site are today – I’ve heard it’ll be survivors and families only. But I’ll wander over and see what’s happening. I can always go tomorrow, or later in the week. Also planning on a visit to the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium which are supposed to be excellent. Apparently you can get good views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the Staten Island ferry, and I might go for a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m very close to the New York Times building, which has a 9/11 memorial exhibit so I might look at that too. And then there’s the Empire State Building – I might do that in the evening to avoid crowds of tourists – and I’ve got tickets to a comedy show sometime this week.

So much to do, so little time!

Dragon*Con

This was originally going to be a reply to Dave’s comment on my last post, but it got so big it became worthy of a new post.

Food in Atlanta: my hotel is right across the road from Peactree Plaza, which has a huge food court. Lots of burger joints, but also Chinese, Mexican and pizza shops as well. The big thing I’ve noticed is that some burger joints don’t give you a choice of size – it’s large or nothing. Ones that do have small/medium/large etc everything is up one on the scale. So small is what we consider medium, medium is what we call large and large is enough to feed a family of 12.

DragonCon started today! The day after I got here was registration – so waiting in a queue for an hour or so to get my badge and program. Wasn’t too bad though. I spent the rest of the day walking around and exploring. Learning where the hotels are, and planning which panels and events I’m going to.
And today was Day 1 of DC. I went to a lecture on genetics and obesity which sounded really interesting but was actually boring and technical. And focused on rare genetic disorders rather than the common obesity problem. I also went to the Solar Obervation area, where a few solar telescopes were set up that you could look through and see what the sun’s doing. Was pretty cool.
I spent the rest of the morning taking photos of people in crazy awesome costumes. I’ll upload what I can soon!
Later today I’ll be checking out some astronomy talks, some robotics panels and hopefully get a few photos of the Klingon Karaoke.

Yes, Klingon Karaoke.
With actual Klingons.

This evening there will be telescopes set up to view the stars etc (although the light polution here will be pretty bad I think) and there’s an “all things Monty Python” event which I’ll try and get to.

Tomorrow: There’s three or four talks I want to see, but they’re all on at the same time as the DragonCon Parade – where all the costumed people parade down the main street. I’ve GOTTA go to that!
There’s also some skeptics and science talks on afterwards.

Having a blast!

The Adventure Begins

Greetings from Atlanta!

After a long day and a bit of travelling, I’ve finally checked into my hotel here in Atlanta.

The first delay was because of the death on the Freeway (a suicide, apparently?) which caused the catering truck to be late. So instead of leaving at 9:35am we left at about 10:05.

The flight was relatively uneventful. You get absolutely no personal space, even on the A380. You get a headrest, which is good – but meant I didn’t really need my neck pillow. And the screen on the chair in front of you is pretty good – a good selection of movies, tv shows, documentaries both recent and ‘classic’. I didn’t use it much though, as you need to use their headphones. I have active noise-cancelling headphones, which are AMAZING on a plane. Active noise cancelling is where the headphones have a microphone on the outside detecting the ambiant noise level, and it plays the ‘opposite’ of that to you, cancelling it out. Really was worth the $100 or so they cost me. So I was watching movies etc on my tablet. It helped pass the time, and it wasn’t too arduous a journey – but I was still glad when it was over!

That gladness was shortlived, however, as I had arrived at LAX. This was horrible. Three or four other planes landed at the same time as us, and we walked down a very long halway until all passengers converge in this huge customs check area. The ‘helpful’ staff are all directing people to go queue up here, or there, or somewhere else. I remarked to the Australian couple I had sat next to on the flight that you knew we were in America because we were already being shouted at.

Anyway, we’re herded into these lines and literally queue for two hours. I hadn’t been too worried at first, as I had 3 hours until my connecting flight to Atlanta. But the longer I queued the more anxious I got (which doesn’t look good at customs, and the officer gave me some funny looks when I finally did get to her).

Once out of the initial customs check I collected my luggage and headed over to… ANOTHER customs check! This was a lot faster though, and I was out in about 15 minutes. This is leaving me with around 40-45 minutes until my flight left! After a minute or so of confused wanderings, a helpful staff member showed me where to go to put my luggage on the right conveyor belt so it would go with me to Atlanta. And then I had to ask another staff member where *I* was supposed to go! “No problem,” she tells me, “out that door, turn right and walk for about five minutes to Terminal 5!” When you’ve been flying and queuing for 16 hours – and awake 19 – five minutes walk is more like ten!

I finally get to terminal five, muddle my way through the self-checkin process, and slowly progess through the security checks – shoes off, belt off, everything out of pockets, jacket off, laptop out of the bag, stand here for the nudey-scan, shoes back on, belt on, jacket on laptop back in bag.

I get to my gate ten minutes before take off, weary, hungry, thirsty but relieved. Everything is back on track.

Or so I thought.

Five and a half hour flight on a 757 – if anything, slightly more personal space than the A380 -and I arrive in Atlanta. Hurrah! The end of my journey is nigh! Although I’m still tired, hungry and thirsty – the airline food, while surprisingly quite nice, has been in small and infrequent quantities – but I’m nearly at the end!

Atlanta airport is huge. I took the train from my arrival gate to the baggage claim area. Which is where I waited.

And waited.

I waited some more.

An hour after landing, with my luggage nowhere to be found, I eventually notice two small computer terminals with signs saying “Can’t find your luggage?” I scan my boarding pass and it politely informs me that my luggage is on ANOTHER FLIGHT which will be arriving in half an hour. Nobody had thought it relevant to tell me that was happening!! So I stick around for another hour or so until it finally… FINALLY!! shows up.

Everything from then on was simple – taxi to the hotel, check in and then go check out my room. It’s a NICE room! I’m on the 49th floor, with somewhat disconcerting floor-to-ceiling windows and just a low safety rail.

I’ve ordered some room service – stone-grilled pizza – for dinner and then I’m going to crash. It’s 9:30 in the evening here. Which means I’ve been awake – I think – for forty hours.

I apologise for any typos, errors in grammar or anything that’s wrong or doesn’t make sense in this post. I’m quite certain my brain’s struggling a bit.

When I can, I’ll be posting selected pics to Picasa, here.

May Experience Some Slight Turbulence

So, as most of my peeps know I’m going to America on Wednesday. Dragon*Con in Atlanta to begin with, then Washington DC and New York after that.

Just for fun, I thought I’d take a look at where I’m going in Google Maps:

I'm going to Atlanta, Washington DC and New York.

Cool, huh? Looks so.. peaceful.

And then, just because I can, I decided to click the Weather overlay:

My trip, may contain traces of weather...

Fuck. I’m going to be killed by a hurricane called Irene. Of all the bad-arse names for a hurricane, the one that’s going to kill me is called Irene.

 

That’s an aunt, not a killer storm. FML.

Only 58% of Americans ok with homosexuality

Rip & Roll
The Rip & Roll ad campaign. (Image: Qld Association for Healthy Communities)

I’m not sure why, but I’m surprised by this. New figures from the Pew Research Center show that only 58% of Americans think homosexuality should be accepted, not discouraged. WTF?

This MUST be an exception, not the rule, surely? This is 2011, I’d be stunned if less than 75% of people were ok with homosexuality. Perhaps it’s an American  thing, maybe the rest of the world is just more tolerant? I think the recent Rip & Roll controversy in Queensland showed that only a small but vocal fringe element was behind it all. As Dale Leorke wrote on The Drum: “47 anonymous complaints … clearly don’t stack up against a tirade of 30,000-plus Facebook members”. The majority of Australians, to their credit, supported the ad.

I’m heartened by the youth statistics, however. Of adults aged 18-29, 69% of people were supportive. That’s still far less than ideal, but encouraging. Like all cultural changes, this is a generational thing and in thirty years we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Of course, I can’t help giggle to myself a little bit when I see these statistics. You see a study conducted in 1996 demonstrated that homophobic men are more likely to be aroused… wait for it… by gay porn! The study divided heterosexual men into two groups: those with homophobic attitudes, and those who were comfortable with homosexuals. A device was then attached to their genitals to measure arousal, and they were shown straight, lesbian and gay porn videos. Both men were turned on by the straight and lesbian porn. But interestingly – and despite claiming otherwise – only the homophobes showed any arousal from the gay porn.

It’s one study, with a sample size of only 64 people, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Perhaps the 42% of Americans who felt homosexuality should be discouraged are closet gays?

Budget 2011

I did not watch the budget last night. It was that or watching episodes of Yes Minister, and the bureaucratic poetry of Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon) was a clear winner. I have, however, had a quick look over various summaries and overviews of the budget and formed some observations.

What I like:

Cuts to middle-class welfare. Sorry, but if you have a combined income of $150,00 a year and STILL need government hand-outs, you need to reassess your lifestyle.

A huge focus on skills and training. Apprenticeships getting a $200 million funding boost and a complete overhaul, 15,000 visas for skilled workers and 130,000 new training places.

Money going to health. $1.8 billion for regional health facilities, $16.4 billion over six years for growth money for hospitals. Emergency departments are getting an extra $3.4 billion over four years, and finally mental health is getting some money: $2.2 billion. These are areas that – particularly in the case of mental health – have been neglected for years, and hopefully this budget will turn that around.

Cuts of $4.3 billion to our unnecessarily large defense force.

John Howard has slammed the budget. This has to be a good thing.

What I don’t like:

I am SO happy that the rumored $400 million cuts to the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) didn’t eventuate. However, in April Life Scientist reported on speculation that the rumours were to ‘soften the blow’ of lesser cuts: almost as if the Government was saying “we COULD cut $400 million, so don’t complain when we cut less than that”. And it seems to me that that’s what happened, as funding was cut to Cooperative Research Centres ($33.4 million over four years) and Collaborative Research Networks program ($20.7 million over last two years of forward estimates).  This is a shame, and even more disappointing is that no scientific funding was increased – the Australian Society for Medical Research made a request in January for a three per cent increase funding to the NHMRC.

More than $200 million to expand the National Schools Chaplaincy Program. Seriously, school’s bad enough without the God-botherers indoctrinating children. Separation of Church and State? What separation?

A new program, costing $425 million, that will reward the top performing teachers. I’m not sure this is a good idea. I like that teachers are all supportive and more-or-less ‘equal’. I don’t think this is an area where competition will be a good thing. Plus, I don’t think teachers are slacking off because they’re not paid much – I don’t think they’re slacking off at all. Quite simply, if you want to make money then teaching is NOT the job for you – never has been. That said, I’m all in favour of raising teachers’ salaries across the board.

Conclusion

These are preliminary thoughts. All in all I think it’s a mostly good budget – the cuts have not been too brutal and the bunk projects are fairly minimal. The rush to return to surplus is purely political – as long as the trend is towards surplus I’m happy. So essentially, it’s a fairly boring budget – could be better, could be far worse.

Of Monarchy, Fools and Speech

Last night I saw The King’s Speech and I must admit, it is as good as everyone says it is. Yes it’s in many ways a conventional Hollywood period piece, but it does a number of things incredibly well. It is funny, it is entertaining, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

And it is beautifully filmed.

It’s a movie that sucks you in, makes you believe you’re there. You feel the awkwardness, the nervousness, the joy and heartache of the characters. I was worried it was overhyped, but I’m happy to say it definitely lived up to the hype. Thoroughly recommended.

It did reinforce my anti-monarchist beliefs, though. In Australia, the government can be sacked by someone appointed by someone in the UK. This makes no sense to me, and I fail to see any advantage in it. And I fail to see how ‘divine right’ and birthright are suitable qualities for a head of state.

Which is why I particularly liked UK paper The Guardian’s April Fools Joke. Probably the best paper in the UK, The Guardian has long called for debate about the monarchy, but published on April 1 an editorial pledging “full-throated support for the British monarchy”.

The editorial claims it’s now time to get behind the Royal Family now that “Prince William has shown that he can be a new kind of king”, and “Prince Andrew [has used] his personal connections to plant the seeds of democracy in repressive regimes worldwide.”

“When the time comes,” the paper suggests, “we urge Prince Charles to redouble his focus on his important work in the field of alternative medicine, and to pass the mantle of head of state to his son.”

It’s clearly a joke. The paper even announces a 24-hour live blog of the preparations for the ceremony, asking “What music would you choose for the royal wedding?” and announcing the latest scoops: “For one of the royal wedding cakes, Prince William has requested a concoction of biscuits and condensed milk.”

But the sweetest  part of all comes from here in Australia. Our largest pro-monarchy organisation, Australians For  A Constitutional Monachy, appear to have fallen for the joke hook, line and sinker. They’ve published on their website a triumphant article celebrating The Guardian’s change of tune, offering “a welcome back to the prodigal son.” This endorsement from a leading progressive newspaper, the ACM believes, “will make it acceptable for ALP politicians to admit that they support the existing constitution”.

Brilliant. The King is dead, long live The G-g-g-guardian!

I still think you should see The King’s Speech, if you haven’t already. Alternatively, this is more or less the entire story: