The Year In Nonsense. And Stuff.

December 28, 2010 at 7:10 pm (Miscellaneous, Onanism)

Story in here texty texty texty texty in here in here here here.

No, I haven’t lost it. 2010 will of course be remembered as the year in which Hugh Muir’s diary was published one Thursday with only nonsense filler text (the first line of which I reproduce above). There was also a lot of Stuff and Nonsense elsewhere in 2010.

In January, I began by looking at Dr Richard Halvorsen’s alternative vaccine schedule. As well as remarking on the not inconsiderable financial cost of following such a schedule, I looked at what price might be paid in terms of illness, hospitalisation, or serious complications arising from infection with a vaccine-preventable disease.

My blogpost on unsung heroes of science such as Lucy Wills and Janet Lane-Claypon was, perhaps ironically, read by very few people. There was more interest in the post I titled “Andrew Wakefield: Misleading and Irresponsible“, posted on the day that the GMC announced their findings – their findings being that the allegations against him could amount to serious professional misconduct.

February began with a blogpost about various claims relating to “balancing neurotransmitters” and “boosting serotonin”. In writing this blogpost, I came across a review of St John’s wort for depression. The authors of the review noted that the interpretation of the evidence was complicated by the association of country of origin and precision with effects sizes. This led me to post a blog titled “cultural bias in scientific research“.

The two papers I based this blogpost on were (a) the Linde et al review of St John’s wort (that had found that the remedy was only found to be effective in trials published in German-speaking countries) and (b) the perhaps better-known review of acupuncture and other interventions that asked: “Do certain countries produce only positive results?” The authors of the latter review concluded that “Some countries publish unusually high proportions of positive results. Publication bias is a possible explanation”.

I wrote several other posts in February, one of which looked at Cochrane reviews of homeopathy. This post attracted critical comment from both skeptics and advocates of homeopathy.

One commenter worried about researchers thinking it’s okay to “throw out a few centuries worth of physics, chemistry and biology in order to raise an absurd pseudoscience’s prior probability off the floor”. Another was convinced that the sheer number of animals treated with homeopathy meant that any observations could not be biased. (For those who haven’t already guessed, the latter comment came from Oliver Dowding.)

In March, I wrote about one of my favourite books, Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland: Let’s not kid ourselves – we are all irrational. I also mentioned again one of my unsung heroes of science – Janet Lane-Claypon (this time for Ada Lovelace day).

April began with some good news for skeptics. Great news, in fact – in the case of Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association, Singh won a “resounding victory” in the Court of Appeal. April was also World Homeopathy Awareness Week, and several bloggers duly obliged – writing blogposts about the nature of homeopathy in order to raise awareness.

In May, there were two stories in particular that interested me. The first involved a doctor being struck off and the second related to a study in which pins were stuck in mice.

On the day that Andrew Wakefield was struck off by the GMC, I looked at the Daily Mail’s coverage of Andrew Wakefield and the MMR scare. You won’t be surprised to learn that I was able to summarise the Mail’s reporting as “they ran sensationalist stories about unpublished research and ignored reliable evidence”.

I sarcastically summarised the reporting of the sticking-pins-in-mice research with this headline: Acupuncture works, say scientists. The media (like the authors of the study in question) ignored previous trials on the efficacy of acupuncture. Trials that found it was no more effective than a sham version of the treatment.

In June, there was yet another blogpost about Andrew Wakefield. I hadn’t planned on writing about him again after his being struck off by the GMC, but James Le Fanu’s article in the Telegraph drove me to it. I wrote about another anti-vaccine fail, when I posted about a silly graph and sillier claims on the Child Health Safety website.

June ended for me with the depressing and surprising news that Nadine Dorries and David Tredinnick had somehow become members of the newly-formed Select Committee on Health. Why anyone would want the ideologically driven Dorries and Tredinnick (neither of them strangers to unscientific thinking) on the Select Committee on Health is beyond me.

In July, I wrote about the nonsense that is homeopathic St John’s wort and also looked at homeopathy and the NHS, writing both to my MP and to my local PCT. In the same month, I wrote An Anti-Vaccine History, including comment on various anti-vaccine groups and some background to the pertussis and MMR vaccine scares.

August: apart from a curiosity piece on Victorian electro-quackery, the only post worth mentioning is one on the Daily Mail. Or, as I call it, The People’s Medical Journal.

I failed to write a proper blogpost in September, so now have to move on swiftly to October. I went for a slightly different approach in writing a post urging people to protect themselves and others and get vaccinated, making more use of anecdotes than I normally would. I also looked at how the Daily Mail were reporting on flu vaccination.

For the first time in November, I hosted a guest blog post (from WH). A second guest post appeared at the end of the month (written by Peter Flegg).

I was able to return to familiar ground in November – legal chill. This was thanks to the stance Rodial took when their “Boob Job” cream was criticised.

And, finally, we come to December. As well as posting a couple of waffly pieces about debate and how people do (and how people should) argue, I wrote two more blogposts to add to the many previous posts I have written on vaccination and the mainstream media.

There was also a Beginners guide to Reflexology, which is basically a foot rub with added pseudoscience, and a post about the bias blind-spot – the cognitive bias of failing to compensate for one’s own cognitive biases.


  1. Tweets that mention A late contender for the worst blogpost of 2010: -- said,

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by James and James. James said: A late contender for the worst blogpost of 2010: […]

  2. jace said,

    i’m curious as to your opinion on psych drugs. as a victim of them (yes, victim), i have a very very bitter and negative feeling toward ANY idea about modifying a human being’s body with drugs, especially psychiatric. to me, this stuff is equal to quack science except that there’s so much money invested in buying credibility in society and with governmental regulatory agencies. like the DSM, once the FDA approves something, most of the world just tends to believe it’s “Good Stuff.”

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