Thursday, 30 July 2009

Some ads suck, some don't

Recently, two somewhat similar TV advertisements have caught my attention. Both rely on foreign accents for their humour, yet I find one stupid and one charming.

The first ad is for Budget Direct insurance, where a young woman with an 'outrageous French accent' repeatedly asks an older, Aussie guy to "Googelay boojay direk" until the man puts her straight with "It's Google, love, Google Budget Direct". Patronising? Yes. Funny? No. The second is for Mainland Cheese, where the locals of a New Zealand town are preparing for the first annual Mainland cheese day, until they excitedly reveal the specially prepared banner which reads "Mainland Tuesday".

Both ads make fun of the characters accents, but in completely different ways. The first ad encourages us to laugh at the funny accent in a "aren't French people stupid that they can't even say Google properly" way, while the second uses a clever pun that just happens to only work with a New Zealand accent. No one is belittled by that, and most importantly, it's funny. The way the characters take the error is also incredibly endearing.
"Well, I guess we'll just have to celebrate every week."
Reminds me slightly of a Seinfeld episode where a non-Jew converts to Judaism for the jokes and Elaine asks Jerry if he is offended, as a Jew, and he replies "No, I'm offended as a comedian".

I don't know of Boojay is any good, but Mainland Cheddar is delicious.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Simon Singh's pulled Guardian article

I've been trying to think of something cool to post about and have been put off by my lack of real insight into, well, anything really. It's a bit of a problem, but hopefully something will come to me. In the meantime, what better way to get things rolling then to hear some true insight from a dead-set legend, Simon Singh. For those who don't know, Singh (author of several bestselling science books) was recently sued by the British Chiropractic Association for an article that appeared in the Guardian newspaper (more information here). His article has been pulled from the Guardian website, and today, a worldwide campaign has been launched, whereby the article will be posted in blogs and magazines worldwide in protest at what many believe is his poor treatment by the BCA and the British legal system. Hopefully it will be hard to miss. And here it is.

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Everyone's at it.

Hello and welcome to my new blog, The Crapologist. If you've made it this far then I've succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. Well, it's a start.

So what is crapology. According to the Urban Dictionary it has two meanings.
1. An apology that is crap.
2. The study of feces to predict the future.
I like both of those - and am particularly intrigued by 2. - but I was thinking more along the lines of...
3. Talking crap as if it were science.
I also found this eloquent definition from The Blogtionary.
Any body of conjecture, surmise or hearsay that is dressed up in the garb of scientific knowledge in the hope of passing it off as fact.
So what I said but written by a lawyer.

Whether it's intentional, poor research or just plain ignorance, crapology is a genuine social problem. It's also really annoying.

And because there aren't nearly enough blogs out there (15+ million, apparently), I thought I'd dilute things just a little bit more with yet another one.