On the 16th April 2010, another episode of the pro-parapsychology show Skeptiko addressing the topic of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) was posted by its host, Alex Tsakiris. This was part of a series of episodes looking at NDEs and featured the return of a previous skeptical guest Dr. G.M. Woerlee. Dr. Woerlee is an anesthesiologist and has written a couple of books on NDE from a skeptical perspective. As for the content of the interview itself, I recommend anyone interested in NDEs ignore the dismissive title and introduction and take a listen, as there is some good discussion to be heard.
The first thing to note about the episode is that the interview itself is actually quite balanced. Alex makes his case for why NDEs are simply unexplainable by current medical knowledge and Dr. Woerlee responds by presenting and discussing the natural explanations for NDEs. As you might predict, Alex does not find such explanations compelling and Dr. Woerlee similarly does not find Alex’s conclusions- that NDEs prove dualism correct and that consciousness can survive bodily death- to be convincing. However, despite the disagreement a respectful tone is kept throughout the interview and Alex gives Dr. Woerlee the time to present his case and respond to points he raises.
Skeptiko is a pro-parapsychology podcast which attracts a mix of ire and exasperation from the skeptical community due to its misleading title and the tendency of its host, Alex Tsakiris, to promote the show as being an agenda free exploration of ‘controversial science’. A quick listen to any episode of Skeptiko will confirm to an impartial listener that the host, far from being ‘agenda-free’, possesses a painfully evident bias which infusses the entire character and tone of the show. Tsakiris tends to fawn over guests who are on to promote forms of parapsychology he supports and is openly hostile to- the point of occasionally berating- skeptical guests.
In light of the above, and to try and redress some of the bias inherent in the show, I have decided that I will try and offer some skeptical commentary on the Skeptiko shows as Alex adds them and I get time to go through them. It is unlikely that this will have any impact on Alex or the fans of his show, but it might mean that someone who listens to Skeptiko without an agenda and then does a google search on the topic could come across an alternative perspective rather than falling further down the Skeptiko rabbit hole.
So without further adieu, here are my thoughts on ‘Skeptiko episode 100: Dr. Garret Moddel Brings Psi Research to University of Colorado Classroom‘.
My Oxford studies might still be kicking my ass and making me break all my blogging promises but I simply cannot let last weeks development in the Simon Singh case past without comment.
Simon Singh finally won his appeal!
Detailed analysis of the victory and what it means, as always, is available from Jack-of-Kent who has provided four excellent articles on the decision (one, two, three and four). Jack’s dependable analysis has also been joined on this occasion by a raft of coverage in the mainstream media, with articles and news segments appearing on practically every notable UK news source (a partial roundup is available here).
The impact of the coverage has particularly struck me, in that I have had friends and family who previously knew nothing about the case (and thus suffered at the hands of my diatribes), contacting me to ask if I saw the decision on the news. The coverage has also typically included discussion of the wider campaign for reform of the libel laws and has therefore increased the publicity for this excellent cause too!
A few days ago ‘Charles’ a chiropractor left quite an extensive comment on an post from a few months back about the Simon Singh case. Since his arguments are raised frequently I felt it would be useful to offer a response and I also decided that if I was going to compose a long response I might as well put it in a new post where it may be read (at least by someone).
So here is my response to Charles the chiropractor…
Repeat with banging
Over the past week there has been an ongoing ‘evidence check’ by the ‘House of Commons Science and Technology Sub-Committee’ to see whether the governments current policies on issues relating to homeopathy were supported by scientific evidence. The manner in which the evidence is being checked largely revolves around a series of expert panels being questioned by a committee of MPs.
In the first of these panels which took place on the 25th November 2009 the panels of experts stacked up as follows:
Dr. Ben Goldacre– Medical doctor, writer and Guardian columnist. Merciless mocker of bad science and tireless advocate of good science.
Tracey Brown- Managing director of science advocacy charity Sense About Science. Another tireless promoter of science who is a familiar face to all those following the Simon Singh libel case.
Prof. Jayne Lawrence- Chief Scientific Advisor for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Title says it all really.
Paul Bennet- Professional Standards Director of well known pharmaceutical retailer, Boots. Present because Boots is one of the largest retailers of Homeopathic remedies in the UK.
Robert Wilson- Chairman of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers. Shockingly an advocate for homeopathy.
Prof. Edzard– Director of Complementary Medicine Group at Peninsula Medical School. Long term researcher into the validity of alternative treatments and co-author of Trick or Treatment: Alternative medicine on trial with Simon Singh.
Dr. James Thallon- Medical Director of NHS West Kent. Not familiar with the chap but he seemed to be an advocate of evidence based medicine and hence less than impressed with homeopathy.
Dr. Peter Fisher- Director of Research at Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. Hard to direct research at a homeopathic hospital without being a staunch advocate for homeopathy. A practising homeopath and a medical doctor.
Dr. Robert Mathie- Research Development Advisor of the British Homeopathic Association. Another staunch advocate for homeopathy.
Thanks to investigative blogger gimpy I was made aware of an article published in an alternative medical journal a few days back by Lionel R. Milgrom, a prominent British homeopath. Gimpy will be producing a more detailed analysis 0f the lunacy in this article and the failures it represents in the (near?) future and when he does I’ll post a link to it (here it is) but until then I couldn’t let the sheer forehead slapping stupidity of this article pass without offering some comment.
I first wrote about Simon Singh’s legal woes with the BCA back on the 30th March 2009. It’s now coming up to seven months later and with Simon we’ve been through one preliminary hearing, one refused written application for permission to appeal and now one ACCEPTED oral application for permission to appeal. The fact that it has taken over seven months just to get to a point where Simon has gained permission to question the validity of Eady’s (bogus) interpretation of the meaning of his article is a testament to just how time consuming and complex legal cases, and libel cases in particular, can be.
However, before slipping right back into depression over the UK’s libel law and their plentiful, and all too apparent, problems I think it is worth celebrating the fact that a judge, in this case Lord Justice Laws (what a name!), seemed in making his judgement to take due account of all the arguments and evidence that Eady so casually dismissed as irrelevant. At present it seems that the actual judgement has not been published, or if it has then it has not yet been presented and explained in detail to us non-law folk by the estimable Jack-of-Kent, however by all anecdotal accounts it seems that the judge considered a) the relevance of the surrounding paragraphs- the all important context and b) how it would be all but impossible for Simon to know or prove that an entire organisation was being deliberately dishonest.
This is just one judges opinion but I think it is an excellent illustration of the value of persistence and a clear indication that Eady’s interpretation of the meaning is not necessarily an interpretation that a different judge would have made. This is important because and vindicates the position that the case is worth pursuing not just for its symbolic value. Simon may still win and we may still see a court case that addresses the alleged ‘plethora’ of evidence for the BCA’s claims.