Sunday, December 27, 2009

Should you be remembered for an invention that never actually worked?

Reading a review on the book Firepower: The most spectacular fraud in Australian History, I came across the story of engineer Ralph Sarich and his orbital engine.

I first heard of the Sarich Orbital Engine back in the 1970's from our neighbour who talked about it enthusiastically and, I believe, was an investor. Since I had an interest in mechanical/electrical inventions even back then, I kept my eyes and ears open for news on this engine which made some impressive claims. It claimed to have more power and have less emissions. Sarich won numerous awards because of this engine. The company created to make the engine raised millions of dollars on the stock exchange.

You may ask in which cars is the engine being used right now and why haven't you heard about this great Australian invention. During the research and development of the engine, it was found that it was difficult to lubricate and it suffered from overheating. These technical problems were so limiting that no production model could ever be successfully developed. But there was some good news. In the research process, the company did invent a new fuel injection method which is currently used in motor boat engines.

Now, Sarich ain't no fool and must have seen the writing on the wall, and by 1992 had sold all his shares and intellectual property in the engine for about $200 million. By 2004 the company had accumulated losses of around $480 million.

So what did Sarich do with all this cash. Invest in research and development of other technologies? No. He bought real estate and is now one of the richest in Australia. In this article about his real estate investments, he says that retiring and playing golf is a "waste of the brain". What, and real estate investing during a boom is rocket science????????

It's interesting to note that in the above mentioned article it makes even more claims about the engine saying it "was 40 per cent lighter, 60per cent smaller and 35 per cent more efficient than standard car engines. Why it never took off in cars remains in dispute". Why it never took off in cars remains in dispute????? It's only in dispute from conspiracy theorists. It didn't take off because it was not feasible. Even Sarich knew that and got out back in 1992. Why else would he get out? Why didn't you ask him in the interview?

Anyhoo, he now plans to get into green technologies. As he said, "At the moment we haven't done much (but) it's an area that I really like. I think there's great potential in it". Why has it taken him 15 or so years from 1992 to be interested in green tech? Wasn't one of the reasons for inventing the orbital engine back in 1972 to decrease fossil fuel use because of the environmental concerns back then? If he was really keen on green issues surely when he got his $200 million he would have put some of the into that area. Call me cynical, but I doubt this guy has got any environmental concerns. It's cash, cash, cash, and more cash. Which really means me, me, me, and more me. It seems that he is only interested in something if it can make him a crap load of money. The environment is just a means to achieve that goal.

But, you may say, he just donated $20 million to build a neuroscience wing in WA. Doesn't that show he's not just thinking about himself? Hmmm, as a young man he was involved in a car accident and severely injured his back. Maybe he's thinking that those injuries may come back to haunt him later in life and he needs appropriate facilities to deal with that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

High Brow Time

I've been watching a bunch of talks given by Nobel Prize winners on the history of particle physics, both experimental and theoretical. They are fairly technical but I did like the talks by Glashow, Veltman, t'Hooft, Cronin and Myers.

Myers talked about some of the problems of LEP which were caused by some strange situations. If you thought that a baguette was a strange thing to shut down a machine, what about two deers shagging!

Friday, October 16, 2009

ABO - no, I'm not being racist, it's about blood

Back in the mid 90’s a book was written by Peter D’Adamo advocating that your diet should be different depending on your blood type. It also claimed that if you ate the wrong food for your blood type, you would not be well. An interesting premise. The question arises, is there any evidence for this claim?

This interest by D’Adamo came about through his father’s work. His father James noticed that different diets affected people differently at the European health spas he was working at. So with his “keen powers of deduction and insight” he asked himself the question what nourishes the body, and his answer was blood (whether this is true or not shall be looked at later). So his conclusion was that people with different blood types should eat differently. He based his work initially by only looking at the ABO grouping. Eventually he published a book about diet named after himself and set up an institute. As a side note, it’s interesting that this institute also practices cranial manipulation, spinal manipulation, and structural alignment. He claims that some of these practices can solve emotional and mental problems, but that can wait for another post.

So Peter jumps on his fathers idea about blood type and diet, and begins to search for evidence. He finds two studies which he thinks vindicate his father. The first one is a study about peptic ulcers and the second about stomach cancers. Now from the text it is hard to pinpoint exactly the studies he is refering to, but looking in the index it looks like these studies are both by
E. Aird et al., both published in 1954. One is called "The Blood Groups in Relation to Peptic Ulceration and Carcinoma of Colon, Rectum, Breast, and Bronchus". You can read the paper here. This is enough to convince him his father is correct.

Now, this in the 1980's. Why doesn't he search for more recent data? Why rely on only two studies? I shall ignore those crucial questions and look at the above study. Its results say that in the British hospitals where they gathered their data, blood type A was more common in patients suffering from cancer of the stomach, and O-type was more common in patients suffering from peptic ulcers. Notice that there is no mention of diet in the study. Nowhere is there a claim that diet is causing the stomach cancer or ulcer. That is a huge leap to make. But that's not all. I hope he kept reading the paper because here is an interesting extract from the comment section:

"The simplest, though not necessarily the most acceptable, explanation of ouir findings would be the assumption that A substance is carcinogenic with respect to the stomach while both A substance and B substance protect against peptic ulcer."

So there is another possibility about why the difference. Maybe it's inherent in your genes. There is no way diet can affect that.

Now firstly we should really do other studies to see if this finding holds true for other groups of patients. You should never rely on just one study. So has any other studies been done? How about this one by Akumabor, "The ABO blood groups in relation to carcinoma of the stomach and duodenal ulcer in a Nigerian community" published in, wait for it, 1986. Why didn't he use this one? It was while he was researching his book. It was published way before his book was released. Maybe because of this conclusion:

"Contrary to expectations, carcinoma of the stomach in this community predominates in group O persons, occurring in 64·2%, whereas blood group O occurs in only 55·6% of the population. This is in contrast with previous studies in which carcinoma of the stomach was commonest in blood group A patients."

So in this study, it O types are more common with stomach cancers. This negates the data his beliefs are founded on. Maybe if lots of data from all around the world was taken, all these blood type differences would cancel each other out and there would be no relationship between blood type and stomach cancers. There goes one of his main reasons for believing what he does.

But what about peptic ulcers? Could there be reasons other than blood type and diet? Stress and stomach acid were common reasons people thought why ulcers may be induced. And there was this Australian named Robin Warren who claimed that is was a bacteria that caused ulcers of the stomach. Initial people thought he was ga-ga, but as the evidence mounted up and mounted up and mounted up, the doubters changed thier minds and agreed that he was right. His reward, the 2005 Nobel Prize. It is now know that bacteria is the main cause of ulcers.

So where does this leave D'Adamo? Firstly, he should have based his ideas on more than a couple of studies. He should have looked for evidence that contradicted his theory. Good research involves trying to find holes in your own theory. Your theory and the evidence supporting it has to be watertight if you wish it to be accepted.

That's quite a long post and it's just about the introduction. He's not off to a good start. But let's ignore all of this as I'll look into why he thinks blood type and diet are interlinked in my next post.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Is this irony?

Poster on a church in North Fitzroy.

A close up

Monday, September 21, 2009

Through the streets of your town(s)

Don't let the green tram fool you, it's not Melbourne circa 1990......

Creativity thrives in the streets....

All that remains .....

Deadpool 2009 - Mel is the bringer of death

Well, Mel is surely the best contestant ever in this competion. 5 down and still three months to go. A miracle is required for her not to win.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Deadpool 2009

With the passing of Michael Jackson it is time to update the deadpool for 2009. There are only 3 competitors in this years competition and Mel has been outstanding.

I'm on holidays and moving............ must post more often.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nut-job of the Week - No. 6

There was an article in The Sunday Age M magazine (March 15th) titled "Can a common herb really help combat the common cold?" by Paula Goodyer. The common herb is Echinacea. There used to be a copy of this article on the web, but somehow it has now disappeared.

I wonder why it was pulled?

Could it have been because the only studies quoted in the article were one supportive of echinacea being helpful in combating a cold and one not supportive. Good balanced journalism. Maybe the next time The Age reports on, say, whether the MMR vaccine causes autism, they would have a balanced article by mentioning one study showing it does, and another showing it doesn't. Because science works by opinion, doesn't it???? Forget evidence.

How could they forget to mention this study or this one?

No. It's probably more likely they got rid of it because of what Professor Marc Cohen of RMIT said. Here is his testing procedure to determine if the echinacea you buy is legit. This is the relevant extract from the article:

"Some research suggests that an effective extract or tablet will make your tongue tingle when you swallow it" he says. "Another guide is the price - if a product is cheap, it's probably not effective - although a high price is no guarantee of quality."

There you go, check the tingle and the price. Maybe an expensive 9V battery has the same effect! No mention of looking for the mass of active ingredients on the bottle's label. Probably because there is none. That is because the manufacturers do not have to provide evidence for the effectiveness of this supplement. This basically means that anyone could put some echinacea extract in a bottle, jack up the price, and start counting the profits. There is no need for rigorous scientific testing to see if any chemicals in the echinacea can help with colds. Just use anecdotes.

Dr Cohen received his Phd in Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering from Monash and has another Phd in Traditional Chinese Medicine, form the Open University for Complementary Medicine. Now I can find Monash Uni easily on the Web, but the other place I can't find. says:
"The Open University for Complementary Medicine (in Sri Lanka) has no academic standing and does not provide a proper basis for calling oneself a medical doctor."
If anyone can find any info in this institution let me know. Maybe I can get my PhD from there.

So for those comments, Professor Marc Cohen, welcome to Nut-job of the week.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nut-job of the Week - No. 5

The line of self help gurus is never ending. Every now and again Oprah has her favourite and they appear on her show. You just know that the cash registers will start ringing and that this latest guru will make a bundle. And of course they do a world tour to cash in on their success. So welcome to Australia, Eckhart Tolle.

I don't care how slowly he speaks, it still doesn't make any sense. Can someone please translate this? WTF?

Just read this line from his book The Power of Now,

The pain-body consists of trapped life-energy that has split off from your total energy field and has temporarily become autonomous through the unnatural process of mind identification.

And people pay money to hear this guy? It'll cost you $165 if you go and see him in Melbourne!!!!

You're on the list, Eckhart Tolle, Nut-job of the week number 5.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nut-job of the Week - No. 4

I’m back on, having been reconnected to the interwebs. The deadpool is still open for those that want to enter.

It’s time for another nut-job of the week. We don’t have to go far, this week it is that Start Catch the Fire Ministries Pastor, Danny Nalliah.

I like the way he links Victoria’s bushfire with abortion bills being passed in the Victorian government. Those country Victorians must be so evil. Also, he says that god told him back in october that bushfires would come to Victoria. Most of us know the simple equation Summer+HighTemperatures+Victoria=Bushfires. No need for a man with a long beard in the sky.

Here are some of his other views (thanks

Nalliah on multiculturalism: "Like a pressure cooker or bottle of soda water waiting to explode, the simmering racial war will reach its inevitable climax later, if not sooner... The multicultural melting pot has turned into a pressure cooker and it’s now a case of assimilate or implode Australia."

Nalliah on himself: "Pas. Danny has traveled to many countries in Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa, USA, Australia and has ministered to crowds of more than ten thousand people. He has seen thousands come into the Kingdom of God during these meetings and many blind, deaf, dump (sic), crippled people healed by the power of God. He also writes in his book of a dead girl who came back to life, when he prayed for her in Jesus Name."

CTF on homosexuality: "Nicola Roxon, and by implication the Prime Minister, has now stated that homosexuality is more important than fatherhood. Along with pandering to homosexual couples by changing laws to normalise what God says, and nature proves, is unnatural, the Labor government is now telling us that if you don’t agree you can have no place in government initiatives."

We have former treasurer Peter Costello trying to distance himself from Danny. But Peter was best buddies, and probably still is, with Danny. Check out his Australia Day message to Catch the Fire Ministries.

How can you turn your back on Danny, Peter? He was one of the few that stood up for you and anoited you as Australia's next prime minister. Surely that was also revealed to Danny via god. Other gods in conversations with their prophets must have crossed lines with Danny's conversation. Heaven really should be looking into their telecommunication problems.

So Danny, welcome to the honoured list that is Nut-job of the Week.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Among the Living: 09 first entries in

Here are the first entries:

1. Patrick Swayze 18/8/1952
2. Christina Applegate 25/11/1971
3. Michael Jackson 29/8/1958
4. Winona Ryder 29/10/1971
5. Steve Jobs 24/2/1955
6. Kent Hovind 15/1/1953
7. Dick Fosbury 6/3/1947
8. Herbert "Herb" Alpert 31/3/1935
9. Patrick G. Duffy 17/3/1949
10. Robert Culp 16/8/1930

ms dodo
1. Peter Falk 16/9/1927
2. Zsuzsanna (Zsa Zsa) Gabor 6/2/1917
3. Bernard Schwartz (Tony Curtis) 3/6/1925
4. Nicolas Sarkozy 28/1/1955
5. Patrick Swayze 18/8/1952
6. Hazel Hawke 20/7/1929
7. Steve Jobs 24/2/1955
8. Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) 17/1/1942
9. Ronnie Biggs 8/8/1929
10. Ted Kennedy 22/2/1932

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Death and needles

Deadpool '09
Entry: get it in before 31/1/09.
Remember: Choose 10 people who will not make it through the year. The younger the better.
Check here for points details.

News flash
Wow, knock me over with a feather! Studies continue to confirm that it doesn't matter where you stick needles into your body, traditional acupuncture spots or not, there is an anelgesic effect. This is most likely due to a strong placebo effect.

Now any rational person might begin questioning that maybe the underlying theory of traditional acupuncture maybe wrong. If it doesn't matter where the needles are, maybe there are no meridians in the human body. Of course, we have never found these, nor any signs of Qi, the magical life force. However, we get comments like the following from the above article -

"She said the success of "fake" acupuncture was due to a strong placebo response from sticking a needle in the body."

Let's see, the results from fake points are exactly the same as from real points, yet the effect from the fake points are a placebo response but the real points aren't. But you can't tell the difference. No meridians found, no Qi found, the same effect. Wouldn't you think it's all a placebo response? Occam slaps palm against forehead.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nut-job of the Week - No. 3

Breatharians believe that you don’t need to eat or drink water to remain alive. They claim that air, sunlight or some supernatural source is all that is required to survive. Jasmuheen (Born Ellen Greve) is an Australian who has repeatedly claimed to live on nothing but tea for months on end. Here is a video in which see outlines her theory. Warning: It’s 30 minutes long. (Or you can read this transcript in which she makes her claims.)

Do I really need to write anything here? This is a dangerous belief. There have been cases of people dying because of this.

She was challenged to demonstrate her claim for only one week by 60 Minutes which she accepted. They had to stop it after 4 days when she showed signs of becoming seriously ill. Of course she had an excuse. On the second day she said the air was polluted, so they moved her to a mountain retreat. Guess what? She continued to worsen hence they stopped it. Do you think this experience would make her rethink her beliefs? Don’t be stupid.

So, Jasmuheen, you are the Nut-job of the Week.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nut-job of the Week - No. 2

Here is Dan Aykroyd promoting a brand of vodka.

This is not, I repeat, not a joke. It is not satire, even though it may appear to be. He actually believes this. This is why, in the main, actors should not be listened to. The make-believe they are a part of starts affecting their brain. Rationality seeps out and is replaced by woo woo.

Inspiring the last Indianna Jones film, these crystals were held to be made by Aztecs and ‘baffled’ scientists. Sorry boys, but these skulls have been shown to be products of the 19th century during which the trade in pre-Columbian artifacts was rife. Fakes were abundant.

What a convoluted and crazy way to sell booze at inflated prices. And to think people buy this shite.

So for this, Dan Aykroyd is my Nut-job of the Week.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nut-job of the Week - No. 1

I’m going to try and post a bit more regularly and the only way I’m going to achieve this is to give myself a deadline. So I’m going to introduce a weekly post about the person who has done his or her bit to decrease the average intelligence on this planet. They will become my Nut-job of the Week.

The first Nut-job of the Week.

Just when you thought Riverdance was a nightmare you only had to experience only once, the man behind it is back. And he thinks he’s recovered from his ‘mystery virus’ thanks to the ‘Plexus System’. According to their website:

The existence of energy has always been accepted. As the Master of Science, Einstein concluded that everything is energy and beyond energy is a Supreme Intelligence. Within the Plexus System, we have begun to understand the powerful effectiveness of this intelligent life force.

First of all what do you mean by energy? And hang on, everything is energy and beyond energy is Supreme Intelligence. But if everything is energy, how can there be a beyond???????? WTF?

You know this stuff is complete shite when you have statements like these:

The Plexus System has, for many people, accentuated their vibrational frequency

What the hell are our vibrational frequencies and how come my doctor never checks if mine are OK?

The intelligent life energies take a number of forms and are normally in a state of continuous flow throughout the body. Similar to nervous impulses, they travel through a system of definite channels and in recent research these channels have been extensively mapped out by Scientists measuring variations in electrical skin resistance.

Give me your references for proof of these intelligent life energies and these so called channels in which it flows. Sure scientists have mapped skin resistance, but what the hell has that to do with intelligent life energies. Those maps give us an idea of how electricity may flow in the body. You know, electricity, the stuff which is used to power your computer on which you compose this trash. It ain't intelligent, we have to direct it and we can control it.

So for embracing this, Michael Flatley, you are the Nut-job of the Week.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I’m listing. Better straighten up then.

December is usually the time everyone puts together their list of top 10, 50, 100, or googol of the year 2008. So what the hell I’m doing one as well but it’s in January. What a rebel. Anyway, this is my top 10 list of top 10 lists of 2008.

10. The top 10 scientific discoveries.
This scrapes in because it does highlight great science. However, this list should really be called “The top 10 scientific achievements”. For example, the LHC hasn’t discovered anything yet. Lift your game Time Magazine.

9. The top 10 Onion headlines.
The Onion never fails to disappoint. ‘Wealthy Teen Nearly Experiences Consequences’. So close to the truth…

8. The top 10 most popular searches in google.
Guess who was bigger than the Olympics this year? Did someone say Sarah Palin??

7. The top 10 strangest stories.
This makes it because it has the “Bigfoot found” hoax. Those guys were even interviewed on radio 774 Melbourne by Red Symons. People are so gullible. Some of the other stories are just plain weird.

6. The top 10 worst predictions.
There’s nothing like predictions by journo’s, pundits and those that think they know. Economists are the worst, like Donald ‘There will be no recession’ Luskin.

5. The top 10 athletes.
Because the Olympics were held in Beijing, I’ll let the Chinese newsagency pick these. Not a bad list. At least it isn’t USA centric. The lists produced by US papers always contain obscure names from sports like the NFL. Widen your view.

4. The top 10 astronomy pictures.
Simply out of this world.

3. The top 10 viral videos.
Shoes being thrown, crazy Christians, and how to use your fridge to score. Did I see Sarah Palin??

2. The top 10 jackasses of the year.
This list contains those whose faculties for reason and clear thought are either non-existent or have left them. Is that Sarah Palin again??

1. The top 10 skeptics who kicked ass.
To balance the nut-jobs in the previous list, here are the guys that did the most to promote sanity and that’s why it’s number one on my list. Hats off to The Guardian in conjunction with Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Among the Living 08: The round up

Well, that's another year gone. How time flies. '08 brought many things. For some it was a sad time as we farewelled Jane McGrath, Charlton Heston, Arthur C. Clarke, and Suharto. But this list brought happiness to our winner, Minkey. Could you image the joy she must have felt when hearing that poor Jane has finally succumbed to cancer, knowing that she couldn't be beaten unless a miracle occurred.

However there were some we wished we would be saying goodbye to. ms dodo must be feeling extremely unlucky. She put Chemical Ali on her list. A wise choice one might have thought. He'd been given five death sentences and was due to be executed in February. The Iraqi has held out and has made it to 2009 and has been given another death sentence, which takes his tally to 6. Will someone choose him to cease existence in 2009????

Elizabeth Murdoch just keeps going on, and on, and on. She turns 1oo in February this year. I'll wish her a happy birthday because we all know she be kicking on.

Other popular names that disappointed us this year were Amy Winehouse, Ariel Sharon and Ben Cousins.
So here are the final points for all participants.

Does anyone wish to play again????