Friday, 29 January 2010

No rest for the wicked

The weekend is supposed to be for resting and shopping for shoes, right? This weekend is going to be super hectic for me though as tomorrow (Saturday 30th Jan) I am heading to Bristol at around 9am to take part in a mass overdose of homeopathic medicine as part of the 10:23 campaign being run by the Merseryside Skeptics society and being run in Bristol by the Bristol skeptics society.

As soon as this event is over I'll be hopping back on a train and rushing home to get ready to head off to Swindon to lend a hand as a member of the Weird crew (shut up) at the first ever 'Weird Talking event' being held in Old Town, Swindon where we will be listening to Maria Wheatley and Busty Taylor talk about some of Avebury's allegedly best kept secrets. Not exactly my cup of tea but well worth a listen I should think.

Very kindly my fellow crew members Tom & Liz have offered to lend me and another crew member their spare bedroom for the night and a lift home! I'm so glad to have met such lovely people.

This is the first of many talks taking part over 2010 so if you're interested you should visit the Weird Events website and click on the 'Weird Talking' button for more information.

I'm also hoping that once I get home on Sunday I can pop over to Avebury to start preliminary work on the first of Wiltshire Phenomena Research's 2010 project pied piper case studies.

There truly is no rest for the wicked. I'm not complaining though because these last few weeks have been incredibly fun!
Though, one down side is that I'm doing all of this whilst battling with a throat and ear infection, tension headaches and a possibly compacted wisdom tooth. If you see me this weekend and I looked down it's because I'm in constant pain. No fun.

Ooh. Also worth a mention is that it has now been five days with no meat for me! Today I did my food shop and bought my next lot of vegetarian dishes and snacks etc. and some of the stuff out there truly is scrummy looking.

Oh, and another 2000 words in the bag for my story today. Rock on.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

A new project for me

I've been quite busy since the new year and I thought I ought to share some of the things I'm up to because I'm told that if you hold your exitment inside for too long you explode. I don't want to explode.

Basically, I've been working on a book which is the majorly exciting thing that I aimed to do in 2010.

No, don't judge me. It's NOT a paranormal book and has nothing do to with the paranormal, paranormal research or bananas. (Only my team mates will get the bananas thing, for those of you who don't, it's hysterical.)

My book is a supernatural thriller fiction book based in modern day Britain. I like to think it's kick arse but then I'm biased.

I've been writing articles for a long time that have been featured on numerous websites about numerous things. I even co-authored my very first magazine article with local ghost guru Dave Wood last year that wound up in Paranormal Magazine which I was immensly proud of.

However people don't tend to know that I've been writing fiction stories since the age of fourteen. None of them have ever been published because I've never tried.
Whether that be down to a lack of confidence or because I liked them being my secret I don't really know, but speaking to a friend last year inspired me to actually write something that I intend other people to read. Talking to another of my friends online today made me think about announcing it on my blog.

Perhaps in a couple of decades time I will put my pen to paper and write about my time as a paranormal researcher. Yet, as it currently stands I've only been researching the odd for five years which hardly gives me any authority in the subject at all - I'm still learning.

I'm going to stick to my fiction at the moment and as the story progresses I'll be updating this blog with how it's going. I may never get published, and that's not something I'm really worried about because I'd rather finally stand up and try to get one of my stories published and fail rather than never have tried in the first place.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

"and sometimes she's a brat..."

This year things are going to change for me that are completely out of my control. Somebody who means the world to me more than any other living person is going to be going away for a long time to start an amazing career that will set him up for success for the rest of his days.

This makes me so happy for this person, but at the same time it makes me wonder what else life is going to chuck my way. This ground I stand on is unsteady, always shifting and turning me into surprises. Sometimes I like surprises - "ooh, shoes? for me?" and sometimes I don't - "What do you mean when you say 'tumor in my ear?"

Whatever it brings, I guarentee you that I'll be ready for it. I'll make the most of it, as this year is for living. I sit here, feeling very happy and I'm blogging this as a reminder to myself that no longer shall I accept the bullshit some people like to throw my way. Seriously, it's old now.

If you have a problem with that, or if you have a problem with me then slap yourself on my behalf biatch as I really, don't, care :)

Paranormal research or selfish motives?

Not holding a personal belief in the existence of ghosts or an afterlife does not make me a bad paranormal researcher because all aspects of research are meant to be unbias and belief shouldn't come into it anywhere.

I was recently questioned during a live interview why I was a paranormal researcher if I didn't believe in ghosts. It honestly made me want to scream because so many people seem to miss the point.

Paranormal research isn't about ghosts/spirits or whatever it is you choose to believe in. It's about taking the claims made by people who have witnessed something seemingly unexplainable and trying to work out exactly what happened. It's a hard task and one that many people don't seem to grasp very well at all.

Unfortnately there are a lot of people in the field of paranormal research who actually just want to prove that their belief in ghosts or spirits is justified. They do this by using some very odd techniques that don't really work at all.

They use gadgets and misintepret the readings - or, in the worst case scenario don't even understand that which the gadget is designed to read. These people use theories that don't actually make sense and go against scientific evidence. However, because it suits their belief system they use it, even if it means twisting the facts to make it sound like they know what they are talking about.

Of course, this is a form of cherry picking and as we all know that's a logical fallacy. Sadly, the field of paranormal research is flooded with such illogical thinking.

What annoys me the most though is the fact that Wiltshire Phenomena Research, the organisation that I work with, work really hard to stay up to date with our facts and our research and people who think illogically, or who preach about unproven, unscientific theories dare to tell us that we have no place in paranormal research when in fact it's very much the other way around.

As a skeptic I am always willing to be proven wrong and to update my understanding of what I know to be right. I never assume that I am better than anybody else or that I know more. Yet, so many people refuse to give up the belief they hold in sill things such as orbs, or EVP, or a photograph they took that has a supposed ghost in it, or an eye-witness testimony that has been debunked by others but is still proof to them.

There are things I have witnessed in the past that I thought we ghosts, but I've been big enough to hold my hands in the air and say that people have shown me how I was wrong about that.

It's not so scary to have no conclusion about what we're dealing with.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

For Muriel Dunne. My nan.

I've seen numerous skeptical bloggers writing about why they are behind the 10:23 campaign and why they are taking part and I felt it would be a neat thing to write about from a personal POV.

Clearly, one of the main reasons I am taking part it because Michael Marshall of the Merseyside skeptics society who has been heavily involved with the organisation of the campaign happens to be one of my cohosts for the Righteous Indignation Podcast and I've watched and listened from the sidelines (so to speak) as the campaign has come together in the hands of the MSS and it proved to me that great things can be achieved by holding a passion for something and the determination the guys from the Merseyside Skeptics Society held for this campaign and everything it stands for rubbed off on me a little bit.

It made me stop and consider just how outrageous it was that Boots - a brand we trust with our health, were selling homeopathic remedies that don't work (I should point out now that if your name or pseudonym is Nancy Malik you can sod right of before posting a reply to my blog, got it?)

The thing that set me apart from most other people I knew who supported the 10:23 campaign was the fact that I didn't have a personal experience with any type of alt med. I mean, sure, I go on enough about how conventional medicine saved my life twice and how I will always be thankful and I believe this is enough of a reason for me to take part - yet, I read the blog posts from others who had experienced close shaves because of homeopathy. I've even reported on stories about people dying because they, or their parents used homeopathy to cure their illnesses or conditions rather that medicine that actually works.

However some weeks ago I was having a discussion with my mum as we made a cup of tea about the campaign and how I felt it was important that misinformation wasn't allowed to just be spread around without somebody challenging it. The discussion was mainly focused on my challenging an article published in a local magazine by a local homeopath.

My mum told something that I had never been told before and it really made me think and realise just how right we are to challenge misinformation as we do.
My nan died in 1995, she was extremely ill and her health had been deteriorating for such a long time.

In fact, I'll share a secret with you. I used to sleep at my Grans house (my dad's mother) all the time and being the emotional child I was it made me feel guilty that I never stayed at my nans house (my mothers mum) as often. I slept at her house for one night and on the second occasion that I was supposed to sleep there my gran threw up violently and it scared me be more than I've ever been scared by someones health and I demanded my mum take me home.

It wasn't even a year later that she died and from the day she died, when I realised just how ill she was, I had a dirty lump of guilt in my stomach because I refused to stay over at my nans house because I was a scaredey cat. It brings tears to my eyes right now because if I had known how little time I had left with her, I would have slept over. It's silly, but it made me feel terrible for years and years...

Anyway, back to the story. About a year before my nan died she visited her GP because she was suffering from pain - I can't remember where the pain was, but her GP recommended that she took pain killers very four hours.

He forgot to tell her that once the pain had gone she could stop taking the tablets.

This resulted in my nan, who at this point was very ill and, as my mum put it 'going slightly senile' taking pain killers every four hours for roughly three or four months. Non stop.

This is when she started to throw up for 'no apparent reason.' It was after these months had passed that my mum one day asked my nan why she was taking pain killers, she questioned whether she was in pain or not and my nan told my mum she had been told to take them every four hours.

That's how easy it is for information that might seem harmless to become harmful by becoming misinformation.

When my nan went to see her GP he didn't know she would mistake his instructions as she had done. If she had taken the tablets as instructed just until the pain went away it wouldn't have made her even sicker - but it did, because she didn't fully understand what she was being told.

She was vulnerable and was misled.

That is why whenever I see somebody offering or promoting a health service that is quackery at it's worst I think of my nan. I think, if Mr local homeopath had written his article when my nan was alive and she had read it, she would have probably believed that her flu vaccine didn't work and that homeopathy would have helped treat flu should she catch it.

If Mrs Spiritual healer told my nan she could cure her illnesses using a special magic power that she reckons she has my nan might have believed her and may have parted with her cash to receive this healing.

That's why I always speak up when I see something that is wrong.

I do it for nan, I do it Muriel Dunne.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

White Noise Paranormal Radio

Last night from 10pm until Midnight I was interviewed by the White Noise Paranormal Radio show - live online to answer their questions about my paranormal research, Righteous Indignation and all other sorts of questions you might ask somebody like me.

Despite being quite nervous prior to the interview, when we got going I started to have great fun. For a while now I have been involved in the skeptical podcast - Righteous Indignation and all the tasks that come with it. So, to be able to step back and discuss my paranormal research with people whose first interest is paranormal resarch and all that comes with it was a very nice change.

One thing I have to credit Jason & Kelly - the hosts of the show - for, is the manner in which they put the questions across. I didn't get grilled for being a mean skeptic and I wasn't made to feel like I had to prove myself as I was made to feel on a prior paranormal radio show I was interviewed on last year.

The highlight of the interview though had to be the quick-fire questions towards the end where I was asked to sum the questions up with brief answers. When asked what I thought was behind internal-human combustion my answer was "Fire."

Brief enough? Yes. True? Yes. Funny? Well... I like to think so ;)

Thanks to Jason and Kelly and all the folks who made White Noise work, and thanks to everyone who sent questions in. Yes, even those of you who sat in the chatroom, sent in questions and listened to the show despite the fact that they cannot stand me. That was humourous to say the least.

You can check out my interview by clicking here.

Another thing worth mentioning is how a member in the chatroom at one point was reported to me to have said that I sounded knowldgeable and brave on the show but they would like to see me spend the night in a well known haunted location to see how brave I would be then.

Bring. It. On.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Crimes against decent tea



There is one thing you can be sure of with regards to my mothers family, and that is that when we have medical dilemas - we have proper, serious, scary medical dilemas.
Another thing, I guess you could say, would be the fact that no matter what wrongs have happened in the past, what opinions may be held, when something goes wrong for a member of our family as it has this week, they become the priority for the entire family.

One of my aunts is currently very, very ill in hospital. She went in for a routine check-up due to her diagnosis of bone cancer a while ago and whilst in the room with the consultant she has a sezuire and has continued to have them whilst still in the hospital. She has fluid on the lungs and irregularities in her brain. Yet, rather than dissolving into panic, my family united in support for my aunt and the phone hasn't stopped going as we all keep each other updated.

However, over the last few days that have been hectic with visits to hospital, and with moments of worry as the seriousness of her illness sunk in, one thing has stood out in my mind as something quite prominent.

It's really silly though and something quite insignificant and so I haven't shared the thought with any of my family because I just know the look I'd get and so I've decided to blog about it.

It's all about a cup of tea.

On Saturday my mum visited my aunt in hospital with two of her three brothers and her younger sister. When she arrived back home my mum mentioned to me that as she had been sat at my aunts bedside a nurse had brought my aunt a cup of tea.

She told me how it was a poor excuse for a cup of tea or, in my mums words 'a wish washy cup of tea' - a cup of boiling water that had only briefly met the tea bag before it was cruelly snatched away before they could become proper aquaintences.

It's sad because, as though that wasn't torture enough they then threw sugar into the cup and drowned the essence of tea in milk. Tragic.

Even more tragic is the fact that this was then given to a lady who is currently suffering from a very serious illness. In a cup, with a straw.

Yes, the straw was there so she could drink it through her oxygen mask - but the point I am trying to make is that if it had been a decent cup of tea the fact it was through a straw wouldn't have been a problem.

I honestly think that the NHS do a wonderful job. Yet, don't they realise that sometimes - when you're at your lowest and feeling sicker than you ever have before all you want is a decent cup of tea?

Is that so much to ask for? Really?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

A local life reply to my request

Below is the response to the email I sent to 'a local life' asking if I may be allowed to write a piece that countered the promotion of homeopathy as being able to treat seasonal flu better than the flu vaccination.


Hayley

I am sorry that you were not happy with the article in issue 2, however I would like to explain that as a free magazine that we build relationships with local businesses and advertorial is paid for as you can see the article is accompanied by an advert. In the article it does not state that this is a cure - I would be happy for a doctor to write an article, however people are intelligent and able to draw their own conclusions. I personally have no firm view from wither side other than whatever works for the individual is positive, it's great that you take the time to comment but the article is not one that requires a counter comment , my aim for the magazine is to promote local business, community events and causes that affect the local area.

I feel that there are many other worthy causes that I would rather give space to, the main contents deadline is the 5th of the month so on this occasion we are unable to do anything for the February issue. In the future if you wish to contribute on other issues I would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about future contributions.


Very best wishes

Andre

From Andrew Ward

She is welcome to contact me to discuss the evidence. I have re-read the piece and as far as I can see I have made no claims to cure anything. The idea , and the headline, was to inform people of the ability of homeopathy to enhance and protect our immune systems. This was reiterated in the text. No mention of curing anything.
As for allopathic medicine I make no apology for stating the obvious that they have no answer to the flu and never have. Otherwise it would no longer exist! In fact it is becoming more virulent by the decade vis. H1N1, Bird 'flu etc.

I said use homeopathy to protect and combat seasonal 'flu. NOT cure it and nowhere have I said that we should "ditch" conventional medicine. I just stated that it was not the most effective treatment.


Sometimes you just can't make people understand. So I sent this reply to them. I didn't beat around the bush.

Hello,

Thank you for your reply.
I do not wish to be blunt but after several emails to and from Andrew I do believe that the point is being missed here.
Homeopathy is nothing but water and the idea that the water holds memory of ingredients it has come into contact with is an unsubstantial claim. I know the science behind homeopathy, I know the claims and I don't agree with them.

The problem I have with the article in your magazine is that you freely published the idea that the influenza vaccine does not work. This is just a theory and there are numerous studies that suggest otherwise - studies whose data adds up and makes sense. The NHS would not provide the public with a vaccine that did not work, it really is as simple as that.

For you to publish in your magazine that the flu vaccine does not work is irresponsible of you. It doesn't matter whether you are a free magazine who builds up a relationship with local businesses etc. - you still have a care of duty over what you publish because what you publish as fact is being presented to the general public - some of whom may not have the knowledge to counter your claims. It's dangerous and I'm disappointed, as a resident of Bradford-On-Avon that such uncritical publishing is allowed to be send out to the residents of this town.

Therefor I have made a complaint to the Advertising standards agency as I feel you have breeched the care of duty you hold to the people who read your publication.

It has been suggested by Andrew that I am a child who does not know what she is on about who will learn the hard way. What an horrible ageist opinion to hold. I know the facts about homeopathy, I know the facts about vaccination success.

I do my research before I publish articles or make accusations. Such a shame that it isn't common practice.

Yours Sincerely

Hayley Stevens.

busy, busy, busy!

A few things that are worth a mention:

1) Jon Donnis has kindly published my 'a local life' article on Badpsychics, Badhomeopathy and the Parawatch website. Thanks Jon!

2) This Friday (22nd) I will be on the White Noise Paranormal Radio show - an online radio show, talking about investigating the paranormal from a skeptical POV. I will be on air with Kelly & Jason from 22:00 until midnight. Please come and listen!

3) Please visit the 10:23 website and sign the open letter to Boots, asking them to remove homeopathy from their shelves - it's a great campaign that I've been following.

4) This Saturday I will be out at part of the 'Weird Investigations' team at a location in Warminster. It's quite exciting and there are still tickets available! Why not come and join in? There's something strangely wonderful about sitting in an ancient building in the middle of the night drinking tea from a flask. hehe.

5) On January 30th the 10:23 live events will be taking place across the UK. I will be attending the Bristol event where I will be interviewing people for Righteous Indignation. If you want to chat, pop along and say hello. Location details will be announced via the Bristol Skeptics wbsite closer to the time.

6) Episode 32 of Righteous Indignation is out on Monday! Woohoo!

Busy times ahead, but it's all good fun!

Finally, Thank you to everyone who has been visiting my blog over the last weeks. It's been great to read your comments, see the re-tweets on Twitter pointing to my blog etc. - I'm very greatful!

A summary

I felt compelled to blog today after I had a sort out in my bedroom and cleared out everything I have been hoarding that I don't need.
As I was sorting through things I came across a big bundle of photographs that I'd placed in the back of a box and had forgotten about and as I looked through them I realised they were all of me - from when I was born up until now. My whole life in photos. I've put them in an album now but it inspired me to sit down and write out who I am. See, the photos made me reflect just how far I have come from when I was a child in one of the photos. This is what I wrote in a scrap piece of paper I had to hand. I'll probably end up loosing it so I thought I'd put it on here. It's the first time I've really summarised everything I am and it made me feel happy, so that can only be good, right?



I am just a person who has faced many challenges - like everyone else. However, they are MY challenges and have shaped me into me. I've lost those I love and I've gained many friends. I have seen things that have taken my breath away, I've been to places that some people don't even know exist while other people call them home. I've been moved to tears by the gestures of strangers, I've felt the pain that others have felt and I've shared it to relieve their burdens.
I am my mother, I am my father, and I am everybody that came before them. I am free, I am wise, I am young, I am naive, I sometimes feel frightened and confused, I feel passionate about a lot of things - chocolate, laughter, kids not growing up too fast, human rights, simple happiness, free speech, equality, and warm, crispy bread rolls with lush creamy tomato soup.


I ask questions - people hate me for it, others admire me for it. I smile at strangers, I love it when they smile back! I like silence, I day dream when I shouldn't, I rise to challenges and make the most of a bad thing, I like to watch people as they wander around me, I like the colours of the natural world - stop and look around you, it's stunning. I like bad jokes that make you giggle anyway, I like pulling goofy faces, I like smiling at babies who smile back - especially when nobody else knows, I like talking to people on the bus or train, or in the doctors waiting room or in the street - people I don't know, people I won't see again, about insignificant things that just for a moment make them smile.
The NHS saved my life - twice. I still hate going to the dentists though, I like chocolate milkshake the best and never care how much fat is in food or if it is or isn't good for me. If it's tasty, it's good for me - simple as that. I like the rain, especially when I can hear it falling on rivers, I enjoy feeding the ducks, geese and swans that live locally and ensuring they all get a share of the bread. I enjoy going for long walks without a destination in mind, I like being angry about the injustices in the world that inspire me to stand up and do something about it, I like rooting for lifes underdogs and giving people a chance, I like the benefit of doubt, I like working something out that I didn't understand, I like quirky people, I like the universe and how big it is and the fact that I'll never see it all. I love trying something new and sticking to what I know, I love all the people around me who inspire me to be a better person, and most of all I like that no matter what has happened in the past I am still here and I am happy. Everything will be okay because no matter what life throws at me life goes on...

...& I like that.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

A local life & the promotion of homeopathy

I live in Bradford-On-Avon - a small town in Wiltshire, England. To my dismay the town is very heavy with the promotion of alternative medicine, spirit healing and other such woo practices. It's enough to make a skeptic heave.

Simply because of the amount of alternative stores in the tiny town I am always vigilent for the promotion of services that could mislead people - especially the vulnerable.

For example, a while ago I was involved in the exposure of a local 'spiritual healer' who claimed to be able to cure cancer - a claim that was removed from their site shortly after it was pointed out how the claim was - er, slightly illegal. I was accused of being a liar and threatened with the police. However, the screencaps are available for everyone to see.

Anyway, the first case of nonsense that I have come across in 2010 dropped through my letter box in early January. It was a free magazine called 'A local life.'

On the cover of the magazine were the words 'A healthy start to 2010' and this got my skeptical senses tingling.

When you've lived amoungst the woo of Bradford-On-Avon for as long as I have you spot potential woo from a mile off. So, I gingerly read through the magazine wondering what I might find and I was pretty much shocked into silence when I discovered the following article.

Homeopathic medicine - enhance and protect your HEALTH and IMMUNITY.

Winter is upon us and the temperatures are beginning to fall. Seasonal flu is already widespread in the area. It is an epidemic disease that occurs in distinct waves of about 13 - 15 weeks. Usually it coincides with lower temperatures and then the outbreak effects susceptible persons. Normally, although uncomfortable, the illness is not serious however for a few individuals it can be serious. Conventional medicine has no answer to these outbreaks. Even the well known vaccines have now been shown to be of no real use.

Homeopathy has always provided the best solution to the prevention and treatment of this debilitating illness. We can show that by raising your level of health you can become less prone to the illness or if contracted you can recover much more quickly with less after effects. One of the complications of the 'flu is respitory symptoms such as bronchitus or pneumonia. Again homeopathy can help preven[sic] this or treat quickly if it arises. Often an acute illness will resolve more quickly with the right homeopathic prescription than with antibiotics, and with no side effects!

Some examples

In cold wet spells BRYONIA is a good choice with a hard dry cough, flushed face, tremendous thirst, pains, irritability but wants to remain still and coated tongue.

In milder spells GELSEMIUM can be used with exhaustion, heavy eyes, thirstless and aches.

Also EUPATORIUM with extreme bone and muscle aches, restless, coated tongue, fever but no sweat, and great thirst.

If 'flu appears after exposure to chill then think of ACONITE with hot burning face, restlessness, fear, and fever.

ARSENICUM will often abort an attack of 'flu with restlessness, chill, thirst for sips (especially warm drinks) prostration, anxiety/aggrevation after midnight and desire for reassurance.

SEASONAL FLU


Have you thought about using homeopathic medicine to help you to protect and combat the seasonal flu. My experience shows that homeopathy is the most effective treatment for this debilitating illness. Not only does it help the person overcome the illness more quickly, it can help to avoid any unwelcome left-overs from the illness. This is common after 'flu. The person feels tired and listless, without the usual amount of energy. I have many examples of this scenario helped quickly with the right prescription.


This article then ends with a bright orange, eye catching advertisment for Homeopathy-UK

So, I decided that this couldn't just be left as it was and I emailed the magazine via their website (here) to raise my concerns that they were uncritcally promoting very dangerous ideas relating to the flu vaccine and the claims of a local homeopath.

I recieved no response for the next couple of days. I don't like being ignored, especially when it comes to something as crucial as this and so I did the next thing I could think of.

I logged onto the Advertising standards authority website and logged a complaint about Homeopathy-UK for the article and advert that was published in the 'A local life' magazine.

I recieved a letter from the ASA a couple of weeks later asking me to send on a copy of the original article and advert to them so that they could pursue their complaint and so I did.





click here for the full size picture :)


I genuinely hope that it will amount to something as the uncritical promotion of homeopathy as a cure for seasonal flu in 'A local life' was pretty horrendous.

After I had sent the copy of the article to the lady from the ASA I sat at home discussing what I had done with my mum when an idea popped into my head.

Wouldn't it be amazing if 'A local life' were to allow an article to be published in their magazine that counters the claims made by homeopathy-UK and promotes a common sense approach to conventional medicine and the flu vaccine?

This prompted me to get in touch with the editor on 'A local life' via the email adress on their website and this is what I had to say:

Hello,

Following the uncritical promotion of homeopathy as a cure for seasonal flu in Issue 2 I was wondering if you would be willing to allow me to publish an article in the local life magazine that counters such ideas?

I live in Bradford-On-Avon and I am a co-host of the Righteous Indignation podcast that takes a critical look at claims made that appear to go against scientific fact. The claims made by homeopathy-uk in Issue 2 went against scientific fact and I was hoping that in the interest of free speech you would allow me to write an article explanining the benefits of the flu vaccine and why homeopathy alone is not a good cure.

I am worried from your article about homeopathy as a flu cure people who fall into the vunerable patient group such as the elderly or people with heart or lung conditions may be convinced that the flu vaccine does not work and will stop taking it.

I have had articles published in the past in national magazines and I have also written contributions to several books, I wouldn't ask for any fee or any sort of gain from this - I am simply interested in getting a counter argument for conventional medicine to the people who read your magazine.

If you would be willing to let this go ahead please let me know as soon as possible with details of how many words the article should be etc.

I look forwards to your reply,

Kindest regards,

Hayley Stevens


Let's wait and see what the outcome of this is, shall we? I'll update my blog as I recieve replies etc.

A lesson in good tatse

Here is a very quick, two-point lesson in good taste for all of you people out there who take their time to read this blog.

When a devestating natural tragedy occurs on the planet earth that kills hundreds of thousands of people you:

1 - Should not use it as a way to selfishly preach your silly religious beliefs to other people.

2 - Should not do point 1 on television (see example below)




This is considered to be bad taste by any decent person and just isn't a smart thing to do. This is because as we all know, no matter what you religious, personal or political views may be, talking about the deaths of thousands and thousands of people in such a dismissive 'well, you know, they asked for it don't ya know" manner is truly sickening and will not make you popular. Especially when you are doing so to try and preach an out-dated, barbaric, and silly religion.

It will also make you appear to be an even bigger arsehole than people originally thought.

Thank you for attending todays lesson. If you enjoyed it, perhaps you can show your appreciation by donating to the red cross who need help to help Haiti.

Thank you.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Blipfoto

I was recently inspired to sign up to a photo share site called Blipfoto by an twitter friend of mine who had been posting their totally kick arse wildlife photos.

The concept of blipfoto.com is basically that each member has a photo journal and the aim is to upload one photo taken each day to the journal. Of course, you can miss days out if you want to, but when you do upload one the rule is that it MUST have been taken on the day you uploaded it.

I joined yesterday and so far have uploaded two pictures (obviously) and the feedback I've had from other members has been wonderfully encouraging. It's sort of relit my passion for photography - something I'm not amazing at, but something I just enjoy trying.

If you are a photography fan or a budding photographer you should give Blipfoto a try. It's fun.

Celebrity quacks *sigh*

Episode 31 of Righteous Indignation is now online and for my news story of the week I chose to talk about how Sense about science recently released a ‘celebrities and science’ review of 2009 in which they reviewed celebrities’ dodgy science claims - from special diets and ‘miracle’ cures to chemicals, vaccines and evolution. Sense about science put these celebrity quotes to scientisits and experts who provided th facts behind the myths.

They mention on their website that they were disappointed to note that, for the first time, sporting names were prominent in the review, particularly for endorsing unproven therapies. They say that over 2010, they will be taking the ‘check your facts’ message into the sporting world, in an effort to turn this around so that UK athletes will lead on scientific sense in the 2012 Olympics.

Now, I won’t go through the whole review as it’s six pages long and would be timely.

However, I do encourage people to go and have a read because the responses to the celebrity claims by scientists are actually quite interesting. For example, the review mentions how taking vinegar shots to flush fat and digest food more quickly has become all the rage with some celebrities including Cindy Crawford, Megan Fox and Fergie, from The Black Eyed Peas. Fergi is quoted to have said:

“I do vinegar shots. It has to be organic apple cider, unfiltered. Two tablespoons. For some reason I’ve noticed a difference on my stomach.”


It’s the sort of thing that, when read by members of the public who don’t know the facts behind the ,could be seen as the easy answer to loosing weight.

However, Lucy Jones, an NHS dietician comments in the review that:

“As attractive as it sounds, there’s no magic pill, lotion or potion for a quick fix to weight loss. The body, including the liver, is a well-oiled detoxing machine, which will not be improved by vinegar, whether it be organic, apple cider, unfiltered, or your bog standard malt vinegar!”


Another celebrity that the review names and shames is Suzanne Somers who commented on the tragic death of actor Patrick Swayze from pancreatic cancer by saying, in reference to his chemotherapy:

“[They] put poison in his body…Why couldn’t they have built him up nutritionally and gotten rid of the toxins?”


As part of the review Marianne Baker a PhD student with Cancer Research UK commented on this ridiculous and potentially dangerous claim by saying that:

“Suzanne is correct in stressing the importance of nutrition in recovering from serious diseases. Chemotherapy is poison, it must be in order to kill cancer cells so that they can’t grow and multiply. The drug doses are optimised so that they travel in the blood to target the cancerous cells but are flushed out by the body before damaging most healthy cells.”


A quote from an article about Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue” reported that she:


“Didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea” or from “monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.”


Professor Richard Dawkins comments in the review that:

“To speak of ‘sprouting’ and ‘swinging’ suggests sudden events, whereas evolutionary changes happen almost imperceptibly, over many hundreds of thousands of years. What happened in our fish ancestors, as we know from excellent fossil evidence, is that lobe-shaped fins changed into walking legs, so agonizingly slowly that you couldn’t detect the change in a hundred human lifetimes. Evolution is not a matter of belief; the evidence is there in fossils, in embryology and in genetics."


These are just some of the silly quotes from celebrities that are tackled in the sense about science 2009 review, others include quotes from Denise Van Outen and Natasha Hamilton who spoke about the dangerous chemicals used in some deodorants that can cause cancer – something which is unlikely and unsubstantiated, the horse placenta treatments received by a small number of athletes in 2009 are also talked about as are multiple other claims and quotes too. It’s a great read, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

Interestingly enough though I’m not the only person who has been promoting the sense about science celebrity review because the daily mail have also gotten in on the act with their article from the 4th of January titled “Don't be taken in by the celebrity quacks, says charity”

The paper says:

“Their speciality subjects are singing, posing and pouting - not science. But that hasn't stopped celebrities from trying to teach us a theory or two this year. From Megan Fox's ideas about vinegar (a weight-loss tonic, apparently) to Gwyneth Paltrow's warnings on pesticides, all have been lapped up by an adoring public. Now the charity Sense about Science has singled out the worst offenders, and urged them to either brush up on the facts - or hush up.”


Yeah! You tell them Daily Mail! You stick it to those nonsense promoting celebs!

However, actually... lets step back a moment and think this one over shall we?

One of the claims in the mail article promoting the sense about science 2009 review is the claim from Roger Moore that eating foie gras causes Alzheimer's, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. This claim is of course dismissed as nonsense by the sense about science review, something that the mail article backs up – however, the article written by Moore in which he makes these claims was actually published by the Daily Mail without criticism on the 22nd November 2009.

Another claim in the sense about science report that actually originated from the mail was a comment made by Shilpa Shetty about carbonated drinks in an interview with the paper.

It’s the same with the claims made by Denise Van Outen about dangerous chemicals in deodorants that the mail happily published in an article that covered Van Outen stripping off to launch a range of deodorants.

Tabloid Watch report that of the 14 articles that Sense About Science highlight in their latest bulletin, ten come from different publications ranging from the New York Times, Cosmo Girl, Observer, Guardian, New York Post, Telegraph, Daily Record, US News & World, Good Housekeeping and the Reading Chronicle. The other four were all in the Mail.

In summary I guess you could say that with their article entitled don’t be taken in by the celebrity quacks you would think that perhaps the daily mail would do well to start practicing what they preach? Or am I hoping for too much? Hmm?

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Social anxiety: An insiders view.

Hope. It’s what drives us on. It’s sometimes all that people have left.

In 2009 I was diagnosed with severe panic disorder and social anxiety after nearly a year of refusing to go and talk to a doctor. In the end my mum practically forced me to and the journey to the end of my problem began.

I look back at the months through which I was at my worst and it reminds me of how far I have come, yet back then I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me it was possible for me to feel any better. I wanted to sleep. That’s all. I just wanted to curl up under my duvet and sleep. I didn’t care if I didn’t eat, I didn’t give a damn what was happening in the world around me and I didn’t care what I was doing to myself.

You tell somebody you suffer from social anxiety and you never know what kind of reaction you are going to receive. They will either treat you like you are made of glass or they will laugh at you and tell you to pull yourself together. Everyone feels stressed and worried sometimes – you just have to learn to deal with you know.

Well, you know what, get lost. If you are one of those people who has ever said that to somebody who feels like I used to feel then you should be ashamed.

Whenever somebody would say such a thing to me I would lock myself in my bedroom and cry. My doctor once asked if I had ever thought of killing myself and was shocked because I said the thought had never crossed my mind.

Suicide is something I’ll always be too scared to try thankfully, but the feeling of hurt inside when somebody is cruel because they don’t understand what you are going through makes you wish you were dead. It really does.

Luckily for me, for every critic of my condition I encountered I had angels standing besides me to counter their attacks. I don’t mean angelic angels either – but my friends. Christopher for one.

Chris, you probably wont read this, but when those people I used to work with mocked me online for being signed off of work and you posted on facebook in my defence knowing full well they would see it, you lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders and made me smile a genuine smile for the first time in what had probably been months.

My parents were also rocks of support and I grew closer to them as I fought with myself to gain control on the situation I was in. Even my younger brother, who was at first skeptical of my illness, looked out for me and would phone for help when I had a bad day if he knew nobody was around to help me. Often I would get phone calls that started with “Charlie told me you were having a day, are you okay?”

What more could a girl ask for? A doctor who understood? Ah yes, because that’s what I had.

The biggest fear for somebody suffering with social anxiety is that your doctor wont understand and that you will be made to feel like a fool if you explain the way you are feeling.
I can guarantee though that this did not happen and after I had listed everything to the doctor that I was feeling I felt a tingling through my chest. Relief. It felt good to finally let somebody know that I needed help.

Now, I’m off of my medication and I am back to my normal self. If you can call this normal…

During my worst time at the grip of social anxiety I wrote on a support forum ‘What is the point of me even trying to achieve my goals when it won’t ever happen?’

Three months later and I am sat here writing this. Sharing my dirty secret, my weakness – my social anxiety – with everyone. Tomorrow I have a job interview with a company that I really, really want to work for when three months ago I didn’t think I would be able to do anything successful. Most of all though, I am laughing and smiling with my family. I am able to go for walks with the dog and sit in the lounge and just watch television in the company of the people who mean the world to me.

Such privileges were snatched away from me by my social anxiety when it got out of hand. They were the loneliest months of my life because I craved company but felt I didn’t deserve it. I would wake up in the middle of the night and walk through the house hoping that my mum or brother would be awake so that I could talk to them, but they never were and so I’d go back to bed and lay there, listening for the first sounds of them waking up so I could say hello.

It’s a terrible existence and I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody.

If you are in a similar position to the one I was in, believe me when I say that talking to your doctor is the best thing you can do. I didn’t believe it until my mum dragged me to see mine. I gave my mum clear instructions that at no point was she allowed to let me back out of the doctors appointment – something I was prone to doing. She didn’t, and now I feel a million times better for it.

If you know somebody who suffers from social anxiety ask them how they are feeling, don’t underestimate the problem they face. Sometimes all you want when you are stuck in a dark, lonely place is a friendly face.

Hope. Yes, hope. It’s what drives us on. It’s sometimes all that people have left.

Thanks!

I'm writing this blog post whilst sat in my bed, the electric blanket donated to me by my dad is warming my frozen toes and I'm feeling extremely happy and so I apologise should this get at all mushy as it progresses. I happen to love this electric blanket and it makes me go all existential as I lay trying to go to sleep but not wanting to go to sleep because I feel so lovely and toasty.

Ahem. Anyway. I've been reflecting on the weekend that has just happened. It's been manic to be quite honest with you.

On Friday I submitted this blog to the Haunted England Top 100 paranormal website ranking list in the skeptic category. I thought it would be a giggle if I could get to the #1 spot above all the woo websites.

I'm sure you can imagine the surprise I got on Sunday morning after I wrote on twittr asking for votes only for JackOfKent - that notorious blogger whos blog you can visit via my links to the right of this page - retweeted my message and then continued to get people to vote for me until I have recieved over 170 votes which pushed me straight into 4th place.

Not even after 24 hours of being on the list and I had made it to 4th place. Incredible. It made me feel so humbled by his actions. It made me feel more humbled when I then had a nosey and found out that all of the following people had also spread the message to get me some votes.

Westminster skeptics, Bristol skeptics, Greater Manchester skeptics, deebdublin, pulseproject, taffysaint, purepareidolia, Iszi_lawrence, geoglyphentropy, Podblack (!), Zeo001, sminhinnick, Markpack, DrRachie(!), luv_top10 and John_the_monkey too. I was really amazed by the response and I owe these people hue thanks for helping me in such a silly task.

Thanks guys & girls! x

Friday, 8 January 2010

Vote for me! Please!

Back in the day when I was a woo I would submit my websites and blogs to the 'Haunted England Top 100 Paranormal Websites' rating site where it would go up and down in popularity depending on how many woo's voted for me.

Years have passed in which I forgot all about the Haunted England site until I stumbled over a button for it yesterday on another paranormal website.

I thought it would be funny to add this blog to their site for ranking because when you click on their 'sceptic sites' cateory there were only two - three now that my blog is there.

So I am pleaing for any of you who read this to please click on the button below and then click on the 'Enter and vote' link which will register a vote for me.

It would be hysterical if we could get my blog, a typically skeptical site, above all of the woo sites and those of paranormal commerical companies.

What can I say? I have a twisted sense of humor. Thank you.


Haunted England Top 100 Paranormal Websites

Conspiracy research

Last year I was a guest on The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast and my chosen conspiracy was the Princess Diana 'assassination' theory. As Karl Mamer pointed out on the podcast I had originally set out to talk about the conspiracies that involve the idea that toys and console games are designed to train children for combat or fighting.

However, as the time approached for my interview we happened to interview Jon King, host of the conscious ape radio show on Righteous Indignation. Jon has authored books on the Diana conspiracy. He supports the conspiracy and believes that there is more to her death than the inquiry concluded.

The research I did prior to the interview with King was extensive and I became a little bit obsessed with it and this is the reason I asked Karl if I could change the conspiracy I was covering.

I forgot all about the research that I had done in preparation for the chat with King that I also used as my notes for the Conspiracy skeptic interview until I stumbled upon it this morning whilst cleaning up my documents. I thought I'd write them up on here because one thing I noticed what I was doing my research was that there wasn't one place that laid out all the facts about the tragedy in the Alma Tunnel. I spent ages going from site to site trying to piece together something that made sense.

Be warned, it's a lot of reading, so here goes.

What happened?

I was ten years old when Princess Diana died and I can still remember the public outcry at her death, the mass of people grieving and throwing flowers at her coffin and even the pull out order of service that could be followed by those watching her funeral at home on their television sets. It was a death that seriously affected the country and so it is little surprise that her death is still a hot topic twelve years later.

Diana died in Paris aged 36 on 1st of August in 1997. The Mercedes that she was travelling in was involved in a high speed car crash in the Alma Tunnel – a site that was, and still is, a notorious accident hot spot.

Prior to the car journey that was to end in tragedy, Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed had entered The Ritz Hotel but, being hounded by the paparazzi they were forced to abandon plans for a romantic meal and instead decided to go to Dodi’s apartment on the Champs Elysees. The deputy head of their security team, Henri Paul, was called back to drive the couple away from the hotel.

They planned to avoid the press by sending a decoy driver and security vehicle to the front of the building whilst Princess Diana, Dodi, Henri Paul and bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones attempted to slip out of the back of the hotel unnoticed. However, it didn’t work because the waiting press gave chase and rather than taking the direct route to Dodi’s apartment, the Mercedes that they were travelling in tried to outrun the paparazzi.

They headed for a dual carriageway by the River Seine and 4 minutes later the car entered the Alma tunnel.

Because Diana was such an extraordinary woman to so many people, lots of people find it completely unacceptable that someone like that should have such an ordinary death - a simple, tragic car crash and within hours of Diana’s death being announced, suggestions that she had been murdered began to appear to do the rounds.

Marriage & Pregnancy

Some conspiracy theorists claim that Diana was murdered because she had divorced Prince Charles and there were rumours that she was to announce her engagement to Dodi Al Fayed. One book ‘Diana: The hidden truth’ claims that Diana had been chosen to marry into the Royal Family because she, as a Spencer, was of the ‘grail bloodline’, and could improve the family as breeding stock.

It should be noted that this claim is unsubstantiated though, yet the authors claim that two of the ‘Saunière Parchments’ contained the grail genealogies, and that MI6, the SOE and the CIA were “largely instrumental in their transfer from France to Britain during the 1950s.” Yet, they name no source for this information and we simply have to take their word that what they say is true. Something I choose not to do, for obvious reasons.

Mohammed Al Fayed, Dodi’s father, believes that their marriage provided the motive for the British establishment to commit murder. It is well known that Al Fayed claims Prince Phillip was behind the assassination plot and when questioned about if he felt what happened was caused and authorised by Prince Philip, Mohamed Al Fayed said:

‘Definitely. He, himself is a racist - it is well known. Grown up with a Nazi - You think he would accept my son to marry Princess Diana, the mother of the future king of England?’

However, Al Fayed also claimed that the princess was killed because she was pregnant. When he was asked how he knew this he claimed that Diana had told him over the phone. Yet – there is staggering evidence against Diana having been pregnant.

For example, the autopsy carried out on Diana when she was back in England showed that she was not pregnant. Also, Diana had visited a clinic in London ten days before her death for treatment for PMT and checks carried out by her consultant, Dr Lily Hua, confirmed that Diana was not pregnant and yet, Mohammed still claims that the pregnancy was covered up and that she was murdered because of it.

During the inquest into the tragedy, Lord Justice Scott Baker told the jury:

"There is no evidence that the Duke of Edinburgh ordered Diana's execution, and there is no evidence that the secret intelligence service or any other government agency organised it."

Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 and director of operations at the time of Diana's death, testified that no assassinations had been carried out under his authority, nor had he known of any in his entire career from 1966 to 2004. He said Mohammed Al Fayed's suggestion that the UK was really run by Prince Philip and the security services, was "absurd" and "completely off the map".

It was the driver, with the car, in the tunnel

Conspiracy theorists believe the security services orchestrated the crash. The most direct route from the Ritz hotel to Dodi’s apartment was along the Champs Elysee but for some reason the driver, Henri Paul, set off in a different direction, heading west towards the Alma tunnel.

This has led Conspiracists to believe he took this route not to escape the paparazzi, but because he was told to by his intelligence handlers.

It’s accepted that Henri Paul, as deputy head of security at the Ritz, came into contact with a number of security services but conspiracists go much further. They claim that Henri Paul was being paid by British Intelligence, particularly MI6 and that he was also being paid by the Paris Police and the Paris Special Branch -as well as being paid by the American Intelligence services.

This theory was fuelled when former MI6 agent Richard Tomlinson came forward with a sensational claim about Henri Paul.
Tomlinson claimed that in the two to three hours prior to making the car journey with the Princess and Dodi Al Fayed, Henri Paul had been absent and could well have been with an MI6 handler during that time.

But there’s a problem with the conspiracy and that is that it’s potentially a suicide mission because, as we know, Henri Paul tragically died alongside the princess and Dodi al Fayed.

Conspiracists claim though that he must have been tricked – just like Diana and Dodi and that he didn’t take the route knowing he was going to die.

The claims that Henri Paul had links with the secret services were investigated and it was discovered that he was just a low level informant for the French police. If you take into consideration that he was in charge of security at a large Parisian hotel it’s clear to see why exactly he would have such contacts with the police. He certainly wasn’t on the payroll as was suggested.

The flash conspiracy

Now, one of the first conspiracy theories that I can remember hearing about on the news was when a witness came forward and claimed to be driving through the tunnel at the time of the crash.

François Levistre’s story neatly fitted the conspiracy of secret service involvement in the crash. Levistre was questioned and claimed to have seen a massive flash of light before the accident that he claimed was much brighter and stronger than a camera flash. Lavistre claimed that just after the flash the Mercedes that the Princess was travelling in started to swerve across the road.

This supposed flash was somehow explained by conspiracy theorists as having been an anti-personnel device which when set off, gives out one enormously powerful flash of light that can stun people and blind them for several minutes.
Ex-spy Richard Tomlinson claimed MI6 planned to use exactly this piece of kit to orchestrate a fatal car crash in a tunnel. The target was former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. The death of Diana was straight out of an MI6 assassination blueprint if Tomlinson is to be believed – and that’s a big IF…

Upon hearing of this theory Mohammed Al Fayed jumped to the conclusion that this was what had killed his son and the world’s media seized on the conspiracy story but the French police had immediate doubts. Investigators pointed out that if there had been a flash, it would have blinded not only the driver of the Mercedes, but other drivers in the tunnel too and everybody would have crashed into one another at the same time. They dismissed Levistre’s claims but were soon inundated with eye witness testimonies from dozens of people who claimed to have seen the same thing but who were all deemed as unreliable due to the media coverage of the conspiracy.

The blood

Most of the conspiracy theories focus on the driver of the car. See, the official reason given for the death of the occupants of that car was that the driver, Henri Paul, was drunk. Conspiracy theorists claim that this was not so and that the blood samples that showed he was drunk were switched.

Why would this happen? Well, the idea is that the deceased driver was being used as a cover up by MI6, the CIA or whoever else it is that is supposed to have killed the princess.

The investigation into Diana’s death was the biggest ever conducted in French history and just 8 hours after the accident, the French Police carried out a post mortem at the Medical Legal Institute on the driver, Henri Paul. The tests carried out on his blood showed he was clearly drunk. They found between 174 -187 milligram’s of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of blood in his system. Now, the drink-drive limit in the UK is 80mg per 100ml and in France the limit is 50mg per 100ml.

Professor Robert Forrest, who reviewed the blood tests carried out by French doctors, told the inquest that the results were consistent with Mr Paul having had between five and eight 50ml shots of Ricard - a liqueur that he was known to be drinking that evening according to eye witnesses. This is the equivalent of drinking more than a litre of wine.

The results of the initial post mortem were meant to be confidential but were leaked to the press and the BBC reported to the public that Henri Paul had been 3 times over the legal limit and that this had been the cause of the accident. However, Conspiracy theorists believe the leak was designed to close the case as quickly as possible and hide a more elaborate plot.

The refusal to accept the official verdict gained momentum. Gerald Posner, an American investigative Journalist told the BBC how he apparently saw confidential reports from the first autopsy of Henri Paul and it was riddled with errors and omissions and that the body itself was left out for several hours before it was refrigerated and thus yeast could have grown effecting the final results to what the alcohol levels in the blood were.

He also claimed that serious errors were made at the morgue which French officials initially denied - such as Henri Paul’s blood samples not being labelled correctly and there being no log or record as to who had access to the samples.

Conspiracy theorists maintain the blood was tampered with, to frame the dead driver and Posner pointed out that “there were certainly mistakes and omissions made as happens in many autopsies but by the French hiding that information they have given grist to the conspiracy theorist who believe that they are hiding evidence of a murder.”

Shortly after the crash Mohamed Al Fayed called a press conference in which his spokesman Michael Cole said he could show that their employee, Henri Paul was not drunk.

They released CCTV footage from The Ritz hotel that, in their opinion – and in the minds of the theorists, shows that the driver couldn’t have been drunk. Also, the theorists point out that because there is no evidence that people saw him drinking we must assume that he wasn’t drunk and he wasn’t drinking which is just absurd.

The CCTV footage released also showed Henri Paul chatting to Diana’s bodyguards – Trevor Rees-Jones and Kez Wingfield.
The two bodyguards swore that Henri Paul was not drunk when he got in the car to drive Diana and Dodi and they said their job would have been on the line if they had allowed such a thing.

Henri Paul had also undertaken a rigorous pilot’s medical examination three days prior to the crash and there was no suggestion in the results of the exam that he was a drinker, or a drunk and this is enough proof to some that he couldn’t have been drunk on the night of that fatal crash.

Paul’s best friend Claude Garrec had lunch with Henri on the day of the crash and said: “I absolutely don’t believe that the accident was the fault of my friend. If you can fly a plane, at night, at 155 miles an hour, in the rain, you know what you are doing.”

However all of these points aren’t really relevant because nothing of the above means that Henri Paul wasn’t drunk on that particular night.

Within days of the crash, French officials realised the controversy over whether Henri Paul was drunk or not, was getting out of hand and they ordered a second post mortem.

The results were the same as the first. He was 3 times over the French limit but this was still plagued with claims that the blood samples had been switched as part of a cover up. People just weren’t going to be convinced.

Professor Derrick Pounder, a leading forensic pathologist analysed the post mortem results for the British Medical Journal and commented that “The second post mortem examination in terms of the toxicological analysis was the best that could be expected of anyone. It was first class.”

He said that “They took hair specimens and other tissue specimens, so that as a result of those analyses we know that the blood alcohol level is reliable.

He also commented on how the tests also revealed traces of a drug used to treat alcoholics. The concentrations suggested Henri Paul had been taking the drug for at least three months along with the antidepressant Prozac.

So what we know is absolutely clear is that Henri Paul had been drinking heavily and he was drunk when he was driving that vehicle. Not only that but he was taking an anti depressant which he should not have been while taking the other drug that was found in his system. Both the alcohol and drug in combination would have impaired his ability to drive the car.

However, there was still an abnormality in the post mortem findings that was seized upon by those convinced of a cover-up and that was the fact that Henri Paul’s blood samples contained unusually high levels of carbon monoxide.

Mohamed Al Fayed suspected foul play and is quoted to have said:
‘If you have carbon monoxide of 24% in the blood, you can’t walk, for I am certain there is foul play, I am certain it’s not Henri Paul’s blood.’

Conspiracy theorists were now fixed on the idea that the driver’s blood samples had been switched. There were rumors that there were twenty-two people who had died in Paris that night which were investigatable deaths. One of them was apparently a man who drank half a bottle or more of Vodka before sitting in his car after tying a hosepipe from the exhaust to the inside of the car and killed himself through carbon monoxide poisoning. Conspiracists claim that this mans blood must have been the blood that was switched with Henri Paul’s and thus, the samples of blood tested showed high levels of Carbon Monoxide.

Professor Pounder, who I previously mentioned has said he believes that there is an innocent explanation for the high carbon monoxide in Paul’s blood.
He pointed out how Carbon monoxide as a result of cigar smoking can be easily as high as twenty percent in the blood. Once we were made aware that Henry Paul was a heavy cigar smoker, it can be readily explained how the carbon monoxide levels were so high in his blood.

A speeding car & a mysterious photo

It was concluded that before Diana’s car entered the Alma tunnel it was going between 75 and 95 miles per hour when the speed limit is actually just 30 miles per hour. The Commander of the Criminal Brigade at the time of the accident pointed out that the driver of the Mercedes almost certainly lost control of the vehicle at the entrance of the tunnel, which explains why he braked and why there were tyre marks on the tarmac. The experts examined these facts, and concluded that he was driving at high speed.

Approaching the Alma tunnel would have been difficult for a speeding car because the approach involves a left turn and a sharp dip. It’s here where the car lost control before hitting the 13th pillar. The road has a downward slope of 6 percent and if the slope is taken at high speed there is a small pull on the steering wheel, which could explain why the driver lost control of the vehicle. Not to mention that the Alma Tunnel is an accident black spot because in the decade before Diana’s death eight people had been killed in the same area whilst another 8 were seriously injured. Yet, despite this conspiracist’s don’t accept that the Mercedes was being driven at high speeds and was out of control.

Their proof is a photograph supposedly taken from the CCTV camera at the entrance to the Alma tunnel. It was apparently taken a couple of seconds before Diana died and conspiracists claim it shows the car was only travelling at 64 miles per hour. It’s apparently taken through the windscreen of a car and is a CCTV speed camera shot. In the photo it is said you can clearly see Henri Paul the driver on the right, Rees-Jones, the bodyguard on the left, and in the back are Diana and Dodi.

However, when the photo was released the authorities involved with the French investigation were adamant that the picture was not from a CCTV camera. How did they know? Well, rather embarrassingly, it seems all the CCTV cameras along the route were switched off after 9 pm or were not facing the direction of the route taken by the Mercedes. This is, apparently, further proof of a government cover up according to conspiracy theorists.

However, this throws up the question of where the picture actually came from if the CCTV cameras were all switched off or not facing the right direction. Well, it has since been established that the picture is one of those seized from the arrested paparazzi photographers and it was actually taken as the Mercedes pulled away from the Ritz and it’s not a CCTV still from the Alma tunnel at all and so despite the conspiracists attempt to prise open gaps in the police account the available evidence suggests the Mercedes was travelling too fast.

The other car

There is evidence that another car may have been involved in the collision as orange, white and red bits of plastic were found on the ground and they looked like indicator lights from a car and there were also traces of white paint found upon the Mercedes. Forensic tests revealed the white paint and broken lights came from a Fiat Uno that had been manufactured between 1983 and 1987 and there were, at the time around 10,000 white Fiat Uno’s in France that matched that description that were still on the road which would warrant quite a search for the car. The Uno has never been found which conspiracy theorists believe is because the driver was part of the murder plot.

However, Senior British collision investigator Anthony Read told the inquest that a glancing collision with a 900kg Uno would not have caused the much larger Mercedes 280S saloon, weighing approximately 2 tonnes, to run off the road. He pointed out that the presence of the Uno may have caused Henri Paul, who was speeding, to swerve and in doing so he "over-reacted" and lost control of the car.

The authorities checked between 3 and 4 thousand vehicles through the months that followed the accident. They zeroed in on one car they thought might fit the description and three months after the accident they detained Le Van Thanh, a 23 year old Vietnamese. He was a security guard who owned the right model of Fiat, from the right year. It had been repainted, from white to red, the day after the Alma tunnel crash however, he had an alibi as he had been working at the time of the incident in the tunnel and the French Police closed the case. They since abandoned the hunt for the missing driver which has left the conspiracists to develop their own explanation that the car driver was involved in the plot against the princess and thus, the authorities don’t want to find him or her – however, there is no evidence to back this up. With the amount of cars that they had to search through it was a near impossible task.

The delayed journey to hospital

Those who believe that Diana was murdered also point out how it took 1 hour and 43 minutes to get her to a hospital despite only being roughly 4 km away. Conspiracists point out that surely, such a delay was purposeful and was to ensure that she died from her injuries that she may have actually survived had she been taken directly to the hospital.

However, in any road traffic accident or collision great efforts have to be made to safely remove the people from the wreckage of the car. In Princess Diana’s case she had to be placed on a stretcher to remove her from the car and while she was being removed she suffered a brief cardiac arrest and the medical team needed time to stabilise her.

This isn’t all though, as once the medics had the princess inside the ambulance onlookers commented on how the ambulance was travelling at little faster than walking speed and conspirators believe that this adds to their case that her arrival to hospital was delayed purposefully.

Yet, actually, the transfer to the hospital was deliberately slow, because for people whose blood circulation is very unstable even a slight acceleration or deceleration can cause cardiac arrest.

Criticism still comes though because Diana was taken to the pitie-salpietri hospital meaning that the ambulance ignored five other hospitals that were closer, however, the hospital was chosen for its expertise in treating serious trauma - most importantly, chest trauma and as Diana had suffered a massive tear in the main pulmonary vein to her heart it was deemed to be the best place to take her and yet, as valid and likely as these explanations are people are still convinced that she was purposely kept from a hospital so that she would die of her injuries.

Boston Brakes

The only references I could find online about the Boston Brakes idea were from conspiracy websites themselves. According to these websites, a former SAS sergeant revealed that the 'accident' in which Diana died bore all the tell-tail signs of a known Special Forces assassination technique known as the 'Boston brakes'. The testimony of former SAS officer and world famous explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes confirms that the 'Boston brakes' is apparently a commonly employed assassination technique used by hired 'hit squads', and that it involves the use of a device which remotely controls the target-vehicle's steering and brakes. Fiennes goes on to say that this method has been used at least once in England, and in this regard describes in some detail the assassination of one Major Michael Marman, who was killed in a 'car crash' near Stonehenge in 1986.

As I said, I couldn’t find any other mentions of this method. Pair this with the fact that there was no material evidence of such a device having been used to cause the crash in the Alma tunnel and this surely speaks for itself?

Paranoid princess

“If something does happen to me it will be MI5 or MI6 who will have done it ... Prince Philip wants to see me dead.” Princess Diana, November 1995.

Something else that conspiracy theorists use as some form of evidence that she was murdered is the fact that Diana feared for her life. According to Lord Mishcon, Diana's former lawyer Diana had told him that she had been informed by "sources" that the Queen would abdicate to make way for Prince Charles. Diana said efforts would be made to sideline her by engineering a car accident which, if it did not "get rid of her," would at least injure her enough to have her declared "unbalanced."
The princess's former boyfriend Hasnat Khan also said in a written statement that Diana got rid of her black Audi car in 1995 telling him she was worried the brakes had been tampered with.

During the inquest into Diana’s death one of Diana's 'therapists' was called to give Evidence. The testimony of Miss Simmons, who describes herself as an ‘energy healer’ provided an insight into the world of the princess, including her belief in alternative therapies.

Patrick Jephson, Diana’s private former private secretary said the "paranoid" princess fell for more and more outlandish claims toward the end of her life.
Questioning him, Jonathan Hough, the Diana inquest counsel, said: "She continued to heed her astrologer's predictions, the more dire the better, particularly where the prince was concerned. "She was rewarded with regular forecasts of helicopter crashes, skiing accidents and other calamities that obstinately refused to befall him."

He said he was worried that she put so much faith in astrologers and soothsayers because this "fed the paranoia that never lurked far beneath the surface".
By the time of her Panorama interview in 1995, he said, Diana "saw plots everywhere", even claiming that someone had taken a "pot-shot" at her with a gun in Hyde Park. "Needless to say, I had all the accusations checked out, but the threats were, as I had known all along, all in her imagination."
Mr Jephson said Diana consulted a "bewildering cocktail" of alternative therapists, including astrologers, reflexologists, psychoanalysts and soothsayers as well as having treatments such as colonic irrigation and massage. He said she was unrestrained in her appetite for such therapies, but that they "robbed her of her equilibrium at times of stress and dissipated her powers of concentration.

The Inquiry

It's hard to imagine a government inquiry more thorough than the 900-page Operation Paget, supervised by Lord Stevens - the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service at a cost of £4 million. Investigators not only checked each element of the predominant conspiracy theory - the one backed by Mohamed Al Fayed - against all available evidence and testimony, but incorporated Fayed's own research in their output.

Their findings were unambiguous:

"Our conclusion is that, on all the evidence available at this time, there was no conspiracy to murder any of the occupants of the car. This was a tragic accident."
"Three people tragically lost their lives in the accident and one was seriously injured. Many more have suffered from the intense scrutiny, speculation and misinformed judgements in the years that have followed. I very much hope that all the work we have done and the publication of this report will help to bring some closure to all who continue to mourn the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Al Fayed, and Henri Paul."

On April 7, 2008 the verdict of the coroner's inquest jury was announced:

Diana's "unlawful death" was caused by the recklessness of limo driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi pursuing Diana and Dodi Al Fayed through the streets of Paris.
Recently charges were made in France over the handling of the investigation of the crash and bodies of those involved (including the handling on the blood samples from Henri Paul) and this, according to theorists is proof that something fishy was going on.

However I disagree because as clear as it is that there were major flaws in the investigation this doesn’t instantly prove that the passengers of the vehicle were murdered. I’m willing to be proven wrong but it is safe to say that the case will never be closed in the minds of many. Despite all the evidence to the contrary many people will still choose to believe that Diana was murdered that night in that tunnel and I honestly don’t think anything they are told will convince them otherwise.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

My favourite science lesson

I was recently thinking back to science at school and how it would have had a bigger impact on my life if I'd realised the significance of the subject when I was actually at school rather than some years afterwards. Damn.

I was an average student and Science, Spanish and English were my favourite subjects, during my GCSE years I had two science teachers as I was doing double science - Mr Newman and Mrs Linton. Their lessons were very different in style but their lessons were my favourite during my latter years at school.

Mr Newman, was a lovely teacher, us kids considered him as cool and I liked and respected him because he would often tell me that I had the ability to raise my grades if I tried, and I did because it was nice to think that somebody thought I had that potential. I wasn't a very confident child at school - in fact, I was classed as socially inadequate and would have to go to weekly special lessons with other socially inadequate pupils to try and help us develop our personal skills

We were basically the kids who either had genuine social illnesses, were being bullied or actually had mental health problems. Looking back on it after being diagnosed with severe panic disorder and social anxiety in 2009 I can see that perhaps the problem my doctor diagnosed in 2009 had been effecting me for longer than I realised? Who knows...

The special class would consist of no more than ten of us who would sit around drawing and colouring in self esteem posters, or writing on a blackboard what it was we liked or disliked about ourselves. The lessons were designed to help us integrate back into the groups of our peers when in fact all it really did was make us Even bigger outcasts.

Mind you, we got to go on a free trip to McDonalds at the end of term so it wasn't all bad, and me and the other socially inadequate people (haha) actually became good friends and they were some of the nicest, decent people I knew.

Anyway, back to the subject, Mr Newman was well known for bringing his guitar into science lessons and I remember one memorable lesson in which he sat in front of the table I sat at with three other students and sang the class a song about atoms and particles. It was very entertaining, it was sort of like advanced playdays.

This is my third favourite science lesson simply because afterwards, whenever I was revising I would just sing the song back to myself. I don't remember the words now unfortunately, but I do remember it coming in handy during my GCSE exam.

Mrs Linton was a rather flamboyant mother like figure who was the wrong kind of person to get on the wrong side of. I can remember her voice being quite high in tone, but I'm convinced that this was just so that those of us who wanted to learn our education could hear her over the idiots in the class who didn't. She was a cool teacher.

I used to learn a lot in her lessons because she was a challenging teacher to learn from. I mean this in the sense that she never made it easy for us, but at the same time she made the subject so interesting (or at least, in my mind she did) that I would always push myself to understand what it was that she was explaining to us, and when I reached that moment where it all become clear it was a wondrous feeling.

It was with Mrs Linton that I got to dissect a pigs heart. Every student had a pig heart to themselves. We sat in groups of four, two students either side of a large table facing the other two, and I can remember my group of four really getting involved with our dissection and being able to physically handle and look at the parts of the heart we had been learning about. It was probably one of the best lessons I ever had. I think that secretly my inner science geek had been calling out but I had been too nervous in class to really get involved very often, but with this project my inner science geek was in heaven.

Obviously now that I am older and wiser I have mixed views on animal rights and whether I feel that sort of thing in the classroom is right or not. However, I'm glad I had the chance to do that because it was an incredible learning experience.

I rank it as my 2nd favourite science lesson of all time.

My most favourite science lesson of all time was during year eight. It was with a teacher whose name I cannot remember (and I feel bad for that, I really do.)

I had hated the class I was in because it had that group of bitchy girls in. The ones who thought they were hard. I'm sure you know who I mean. The ones who are only hard because they're like a herd of cows or a pack of dogs - get one on its own and you'd easily take it down. I knew that, they knew that, but that didn't make any difference.

These girls were really poor examples of the female species and I can remember one lesson with this specific teacher in. The teacher had left the room for five minutes and these girls started daring each other to down shots of the iodine that we were using as part of an experiment.

It was great to be in the same class as such shining examples of intelligence...

Anyway, my favourite lesson with this particular science teacher involved us learning how to make electronic circuits. It is my favourite because it's when my interest in science really ignited. My circuits were so much better and complex that everybody elses. I rocked everybody else right out of the window and into the pond. My inner science geek was in her element. It was the moment that I realised that science was interesting and that by doing certain things I could cause a reaction.

It was a glorious feeling because I was always the quiet one who nobody took any notice of. They were too busy messing around to care that they were disrupting the lessons. I showed them all up.

I probably got mocked for it behind my back but hey, I was in the special class, there was nothing you could have said to me at that point that would have lowered my self esteem any lower ;)

I loved science at school, I really did. I sometimes wish I could go back and redo it all just so that I could go deeper into the stuff I learnt about without the hassle of being a teenage reject getting in the way. It would be an awesome experience.

If there is one piece of advice I can ever pass onto anybody who is younger than me it would be don't do drugs, and listen in science class.

So, what was your favourite science lesson of all time? Let me know in a comment, I'm curious.

spoil sports.

Yesterday evening I was wasting my time on facebook when one of my friends sent me a message explaining how all the girls on facebook were playing a secret game with one purpose - to confuse the boys.

You had to update your status with the colour of the bra that you were wearing and the idea was that you then sent the instructions to all of your female friends in the hope that they too would update their facebook status with the colour of their bra and that a majority of the girls on facebook would just have a colour as their status and the boys would get confused and wonder what was going on.

Hehe. It was just a bit of cruel fun and, true enough to the predictions it got some of the male friends on my friends list and the friends lists of my friends questioning what was going on.

However, something that I noticed was how it was ruined after a while by some of the people who knew what was going on. I found it quite insightful to how some people think and it's sad that some people felt the need to spoil a silly game once they had found out what the colours were really about.

Okay, so this was just a silly game on facebook - but it was funny! It was fun! Yet, some girls quite openly told all of their male friends what was going on knowing it would give the game away for other girls.

Personally, I know certain things about certain events and organisations that I could reveal to people that would get me attention. Yet I don't because, as my blog name states, I'm a rather nice skeptic ;) I wouldn't dare reveal something that I had been asked to keep secret unless somebody was in danger.

Again, I stress, I know it was only a facebook game but I found it incredibly childish that some girls would ruin it for people. Nobody likes a spoil sport. How strange that some people would act in that way? I wonder what they gain? Ho-hum...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Here's a thought....

Jon Treadway has made a really good point in his latest blog that skepticism seems to have come of age in the UK. He says:

2009 feels like the year when skepticism came of age in the UK. Perhaps this is just a personal impression, but people like Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh and Tim Minchin are popping up far more frequently, and on higher profile programmes like Any Questions and Jonathan Ross. 2009 saw the 10 year anniversary of London Skeptics in the Pub, the launch of both TAM London and CFI London, and the emergence of significant new players like Sense About Science and (ahem) The Pod Delusion.


Jon then goes onto to say how it does have a drawback and that is those people who could have been part of a great movement who weren't, and he lists numerous people who have made great contributions to critical thinking. Read more here.

Jon's post made me think of my own journey into skepticism, I personally feel the same - 2009 into 2010 has been a great year for skepticism. It was the year in which I became involved with Righteous Indignation and really learnt a lot about some of the problems that rational thinkers everywhere are facing. The anti-vax movement for one, or the sheer amount of quackery being promoted to unsuspecting members of the public who trust people that make these amazing claims (that can't actually then be backed up.)

This was something I had been aware of for a while, some who know me will know of the part I played in the exposure of local spirit healer Nina Knowland who made the claim on her website that she could cure cancer amongst many other illnesses.

I however didn't know just how widescale this problem was, perhaps I was being naive in hoping that it was just a local problem, but it isn't.

I've really had a year of learning lots and lots and I have Trystan & Marsh to thank for most of that. 2009 was a real eye opener for me in terms of just how critical and rational thinking must be promoted to help make a difference in what would seem to be a very confused world.

On Righteous Indignation we recently handed out awards for 2009 in a review show and one of the awards was 'Skeptic of 2009.'
For me this was an incredibly difficult award to pick a nominee for because the one thing that has blown me away since the launch of Righteous Indignation is the sheer amount of people that I have come to know online that are involved with skepticism.
Whether it be the Merseyside skeptics and the things that they do to promote rational thinking, the guests on our shows such as Karl Mamer who hosts the fabulous Conspiracy skeptic or people such as Jack of Kent whose blog I hadn't visited prior to starting the podcast. All of these people are making such a valuable contribution.

Yet the thing that I really noticed was how many other people there were who take an interest in the podcast and the skeptical sites who are just normal, everyday people who dare to doubt things.
It really blew me away to see the feedback, comments and communication that was sent to RI from it's listeners who come from all sorts of lives. This is the contribution that I think makes the most difference.

I nominated David & Toni McCaffery for Skeptic of 2009 and they won our award which I was really pleased about, however I also think that all of our listeners, followers and supporters (including Jeff Illuminati) are the people who deserve a pat on the back because it can be difficult to question things.

I personally recall the backlash I recieved from my 'friends' when I turned my back on the woo methods of ghosthunting and became a lot more rational - sometimes having the guts to say 'actually, you know what, I don't buy that' is a big step and I think that anybody, anywhere that has ever been able to question things despite per pressure or the thoughts and judgement of others should be proud of themselves. Sometimes standing out against a crowd is a dangerous and difficult move to make, it costs some people their freedom and even their lives but taking such a step should never be underestimated.

I've seen people who listen to the show say I don't feel I make any contribution to skepticism at all.' However you don't have to write aritcles, record podcasts, speak publically or hold any sort of influencial role in society to be making a difference. You just have to be a rational thinker to know that you are helping to promote skepticism. Even if it is just a chat with your neighbour about how, actually, their homeopath is wrong then that's a difference made, even if it's just complaining to the ASA because of a healer in your town claiming to cure cancer - that's a difference made.

Amazing things come from rational thinking. I've been asked if turning my back on the woo methods of ghosthunting have made the experience lose it's magic and I can safely say that the answer is no because when you learn about the proper ways in which the world around us works it is more fascinating than any made up theory or claim ever could be.

So, to summarise I think you should go and real Jon's blog, and if you are a rational thinker or class yourself as a skeptic then you rock. Though, I'm sure you already knew that.