Wear sunscreen

As a relatively pale person of northern European descent, I find sunscreen to be invaluable. ug-leeI have absolutely no problem being the guy with the light bulb nose. It’s way better than the Rudolph nose later, and undoubtedly superior to developing skin cancer or even just unsightly sunspots.

Now that the weather is getting nicer, sunscreen sales will be increasing, but not everyone is happy about this. There are a number of quacks out there who will peddle false information about vitamin D. Some of them will go the even more egregious route of saying sunscreen doesn’t protect against cancer.

Don’t let these quacks fool you. Sunscreen absolutely protects against the rays of the Sun which can and often do lead to cancer:

Sun protection is essential to skin cancer prevention – about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Furthermore, years of scientific research have provided compelling evidence that the daily use of sunscreen helps lower the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers. Most recently, in a rigorous study of more than 1,600 adults over the course of a decade, researchers determined that subjects applying sunscreen with an SPF of 16 daily reduced their risk of melanoma by 50 percent.

Unlike quack medicine, sunscreen is safe and effective. I foolishly got a sun burn last month, acting on the assumption that “Maine”, “April”, and “sun burn” were three things I would never have to use in the same sentence. I was wrong. I’ve been making it a point to protect my skin every nice day we’ve had since. It can be tedious, and it’s not always convenient, but cancer treatment is often pretty tedious and inconvenient itself.

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What killed Andreas Moritz?

Andreas Moritz, a man who put people in danger by directing them away from real medical treatment, died at least two weeks ago. According to various places on the Interwebs, his cause of death would be released soon after his funeral. However, that doesn’t appear to have been accurate information. There is no information available anywhere on his website to date, and people on his Facebook page are getting upset that quotes by him keep getting posted without anyone saying a single thing about how he died. I suppose there isn’t really a hard timeline when it comes to funerals, but it has always been my experience that they occur within a week of death. Something seems fishy. Just take a look at this tribute on his website:

It is natural for all of us to wonder about the cause of a dear one’s passing. As we know, the soul will find an effective way – an ‘exit strategy,’ if you will – to accomplish its loving, compassionate journey home to the higher realms once our Mission and soul’s work is complete on Earth. Many of us have read about spiritual teachers, including well-known yogis and Masters, who have transcended into the Light in any number of ways. When it is ‘our time,’ the soul will find an outlet to accomplish this transition purpose.

I usually only find myself thinking about topic sentences when someone misuses the concept of them. This is one of those times. It appears as though whoever wrote this tribute thought about addressing questions over Moritz’s cause of death, but quickly changed course. That leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that it is unlikely anyone outside Moritz’s family and friends will ever know what killed him.

But let’s not be coy: I strongly suspect he died of cancer or some other disease he spent decades upon decades campaigning against getting treated properly. If that is the case, then it makes sense that his family and followers wouldn’t want to go public with the cause of death. It isn’t hard to figure out why that is, but I’ll spell it out: If he died of a treatable type of cancer, then everything he worked to do will be undermined. His death would likely be the result of his own negligence and the ineffectiveness of the malarkey he practiced and promoted. Everything people in the sciences have been telling him would be bolstered and his career as a snake oil salesman would be exposed.

Let me emphasize one thing, though: This is only a suspicion of mine. I am not claiming that he died of any particular cause. If it turns out that he was in a car accident, it can’t be said I ever denied that as a possibility. I just simply suspect there is a compelling reason why his people refuse to say anything.

Andreas Moritz is dead

About a week or so ago, Andreas Moritz died. This is posted on his website and Facebook page:

~ Announcement ~

It is with a mixture of profound human sadness and deep spiritual gratitude that we announce to the world that Andreas Moritz has returned to the Realms of Light.

During his all-too-brief stay here on Earth, Andreas touched the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Through his teachings, his books, his art, his personal guidance and inspiration, he helped people throughout the world to restore their health and well-being, and, in so doing, transform their lives.

As his mission here on Earth was nearing completion, he worked passionately to write and complete four more books, and they will be released in the coming months.

As we each deal with this shock and our personal grief surrounding his transition, the greatest gift we can give to Andreas is to send Love and Gratitude to assist him as he continues his Mission from the higher dimensions.

At some point in the future we plan to co-create a global celebration of his life and many blessings to the world.

~ The Ener-Chi Family

His cause of death appears to be unannounced by his family, but various sources on the web say that that information will be released after his funeral. Given that he died at least one week ago, I imagine that means we’ll know soon. I will be interested to see if he had cancer or any other disease he claimed was not disease. If he did, I’ll make a new post about it. Otherwise, I imagine I’ll just update this post.

I’m never happy about the death of a fellow human, and I have no intention of gloating about a single thing here. However, I do lament the fact that there are apparently four more Moritz books due to be released. Just as the world didn’t need his death, it didn’t need any of his work. And now that it does have his death, I wish it would do away with his work. This is a man whose legacy should be carried on solely as a private endeavor by his family, friends, and loved ones.

I’m tired of the Andreas Moritz defenders

I get a new comment on my post about what a moron Andreas Moritz is every so often. If they don’t show up on that post, they show up somewhere else or on another blog of mine. I rarely read them because when I do, I come across garbage like this:

Your science is limited to that which can be measured, usually by a machine. It is insufficiently advanced to cope with the whole human phenomenon.

It is immediately evident that this person, just like Moritz, has no formal science background. It would be a greater use of my time to argue with young Earth creationists.

So here is what I am going to do now. Every time I get a new comment, I am going to go to Moritz’s fan page, find someone who is asking him for help, and privately message that person to let him or her know that Moritz is a quack who cannot help. I realize I could simply close comments on the posts I have about him, but that isn’t good enough. Every time someone comes over here to defend the quack, I want to steer dupes/customers away from him. I did it once before – it felt great.

So remember, anyone who cares to defend Moritz is actually taking business away from him. It’s like a Chinese finger trap but useful and potentially life-saving.

What Christians keep telling me

I keep hearing over and over that I think all Christians and anyone else who disagrees with me is plainly stupid. Here are the stats:

In fact, this post from a recently-removed-from-my-blogroll-blog largely had me in mind, as I was told shortly after it was written. But this goes beyond me. Richard Dawkins and other Gnu Atheists get the same crap – so much so that Dawkins even penned a piece about the issue six years ago:

“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” I first wrote that in a book review in the New York Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.

This is largely my position (including beyond the subject of evolution). I think Christian arguments are almost universally awful and I find most creationists to be ignorant, but that does not mean I think every person who holds a contradictory view to me is stupid. Sure, I’ve called people stupid. Sarah Palin comes to mind. Leading creationists who should know better, such as Ken Ham, are obviously lacking in intellect. I have no doubt Andreas Moritz is a dolt. But notice: I keep it specific. I’m not saying all Republicans are stupid because Sarah Palin is stupid. I’m not saying the creationist who hasn’t sat in a biology course since high school is a moron. I am not saying all alt-med quacks are idiots. If I wanted to say any of that, I would say it. I try to be exact in my language; it is unlikely I would ever make such an oversight in my writing.

I have no delusions about how I write. I’m aggressive and unapologetic. I have little patience for bad ideas that have little to no evidence for them. I often pepper my paragraphs with disparaging remarks about the quality of whatever argument it is I am facing. It has long been my view that undeserved respect is…well, undeserved. It would be dishonest of me to pretend I hold something in esteem when the fact is I think it’s just a steaming pile. However, none of this means I think others are morons by virtue of disagreeing with me. Such a conclusion is, I hate to say, just stupid.

Andreas Moritz has stupid followers

My posts on Andreas Moritz get a fair number of hits, both here and at other blogs, even though I haven’t really written about him in awhile. That makes me happy because it means I still show up high enough in search results for people to notice my warnings. As a result, it is without exaggeration that I can say there is a good chance I have indirectly saved a life, perhaps several. Of course, this isn’t something that can easily be measured, but anyone who has had a life-threatening disease and decided to get real medical help instead of reading Moritz’s horseshit in hope of a cure has been saved. (Those who have had normal aches and pains have at least had their wallets saved.)

One might think that getting people to a point where they can be helped would be praised by all. Not that I’m looking for praise, especially since I’m acting as little more than a helpful road sign that points people to the hospital, but my actions are far from bad. Unfortunately, Moritz’s supporters don’t see it that way. That’s why they show up in the Recent Comment widget from time to time. In fact, even though I never use the blog, they show up on Without Apology quite frequently. They never say anything remotely intelligent, which is why I generally ignore them bar the occasional trolling, but one recent comment was especially unintelligent. Let’s take a looksie:

You guys who put down an outside opinion on health matters must also be Christians…

After all, before Jesus Christ fell on the scene 2,000 years ago, by their belief, every single human being went to “hell”. Now, there have been humans on Earth for many, MANY more years than Christianity, and I seriously doubt they all went to this fictitious (My Opinion) “hell”.

It is ok to believe what you like. That’s what makes us all learn and grow. But to put others down for their beliefs in this life, especially those well intentioned to helping others, even slightly skewed as you may view it, is a mark of your own character. History remembers these types for what they were, bitter.

Not only is this commenter, Justan Observer, under the incorrect impression that a whole slew of atheists must be Christians, but he has caused the irony alerts in my head to go crazy. “How dare you silly, gullible Christians insult my precious quack! I question your character for putting others down on the basis of their beliefs.” Gold. Absolute gold.

Isn’t it funny how adherents to a cause can be so telling of the cause sometimes?

Christopher Maloney and the lawsuit that almost was

Christopher Maloney, Q.E. - Quack Extraordinaire. via http://www.maloneymedical.com

We all know Christopher Maloney by now. He is the quack who, in conjunction with Andreas Moritz, worked to get my site shut down in February 2010. They were both upset that I had called them quacks, among a variety of other derogatory names, so they put forth their best efforts and succeeded in quieting FTSOS for 6 days. Of course, the Internet came to the rescue, worsening their lives while making the world a safer place. Once FTSOS came back online, things should have died down given a little bit of time. But of course, that didn’t happen. And it was their fault.

Moritz had little chirps here and there, but he eventually slunk away. Maloney, on the other hand, went on a crusade. He created a series of pages on his site well after the fact, responded to every critical post he could find in the world, and even started stirring the pot in threads on PZ’s site that had nothing to do with him. Then, eight months after the fact, he sent PZ a cease and desist notice. Of course, that just made things worse for him. A few months later, I got a similar notice. Following PZ’s lead, I uploaded the notice, called Maloney a quack, and went on with my day.

What did I mean then, and what do I mean now, by saying Christopher Maloney is a quack? Simply this: I mean that Christopher Maloney openly and aggressively promotes naturopathy, a bogus and unscientific ‘discipline’. Regrettably, it’s a bogus and unscientific discipline that the State of Maine sees fit to license. That’s as embarrassing as if Maine licensed astrologers. I’ve repeatedly written about why naturopathy is bunk, and why Christopher Maloney’s advocacy of it is quackery. As I’ve specifically said before, I’m sure Christopher Maloney is qualified in the eyes of the State of Maine to practice naturopathy – it’s just appalling that the state endorses such things, and appalling that Maloney promotes such bunk.

Move forward several more months and I get a second letter delivered to me. This one is actually threatening a lawsuit. (In fact, its vague wording led me to believe that it had actually been filed, but that was not the case. See a pdf of the lawsuit here.) I needed a lawyer.

Enter Ken White of Brown, White, & Newhouse, LLP and the law blog Popehat.

Like the call for Batman but with fewer gadgets and more resultant paperwork. Neat, though.

I contacted Ken because, while I could amply respond to the logical mistakes and factual errors that were strewn throughout the lawsuit for the sake of a blog post, I am not a lawyer. I don’t know the actual legal procedures involved, nor would it be prudent for me to defend myself alone anyway. Originally I was only seeking Ken’s help to put me in touch with people who could help me at reduced rates – I’m responsible with my money, but that doesn’t mean I have it laying around for lawyer fees – but to my delight, he offered his services pro bono.

Ken also recruited prominent First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza. (I dare say, the man has more than a little kick and a little zest to his words. I love it.) I also sought out local counsel in case push came to shove and Maloney actually filed suit; Ken and Marc are both located out of state, so a Maine-based lawyer was necessary. I found and secured the help of Jed Davis, a Princeton and Yale man, of Mitchell & Davis. Needless to say, I had a heck of a team.

So let’s get the heart of the matter. Maloney and his lawyer/wife/state representative Maeghan Maloney sent me a lawsuit, ready to be filed with the courts, claiming I had committed libel and defamed Christopher. When I saw this, I thought the heart of the matter would be that either 1) I have called him a quack or 2) I have said he is not a doctor by scientific standards, but that there have been times when I haven’t explicitly spelled every bit of that out (i.e., I just left it at saying he isn’t a doctor). Number one is obviously a false premise for a libel suit. As Ken wrote in a post about Maloney’s threat to PZ, the term “quack” is protected opinion under the First Amendment in the way I used it. Number two, which I suppose would have been their strongest route, would have been dismissible on grounds that it ignores the context of FTSOS and the fact that I have acknowledged that Maloney is a “doctor” by Maine state standards in plenty of places.

No Habla Español

So which was it? Well, the first one. Sort of. See, the Maloneys were confused. While Maeghan did display a tremendously awful understanding of the law, arguing that the term “quack” is not protected because it implies her husband is unqualified to be a naturopath (it doesn’t, and I’m sure he is qualified to be a naturopath; it doesn’t take much to be a quack, after all), she and her husband also argued that I had been harassing the guy for 2 years. Two straight years. How is that, you ask? Well, first we need to get a fundamental misunderstanding of the Internet under our belts.

They were under the impression that the Tag Cloud widget I had on the side of FTSOS was something I maintained and tended to every day. They believed it was something I was actively messing with in order to manipulate Google searches for “Christopher Maloney Maine” under 24 hour searches. (It took forever to get them to specify that they were talking about 24 hour searches, not regular searches.) Of course, this is silly. A Tag Cloud is an automated feature common to virtually all blogs, including Maloney’s. (I checked his theme and it is an option for him.) Moreover, with or without the widget, a regular Google search showed a whole host of sites, some with and some without it, before mine.

It seems serendipitous that this happens to be a duck.

As it turns out, the widget was probably affecting 24 hour searches. But not in the way the Maloneys thought. If I made a post and someone searched “Christopher Maloney Maine” with the quotations, my blog with that new post would show up. But of course, that post had nothing to do with Maloney. In fact, a search of his name will show that I have only written about him three times this entire year before today. It was delusional of them to believe I was obsessing over the quack every day for two years straight. They simply did not understand the technology at hand. And despite this, it was the primary premise for their lawsuit (making their case more about harassment than defamation, but whatever – they were wrong either way).

But let’s get down to the actual law aspects. As I said, they were claiming that by calling Maloney a quack, I was implying that he was unfit to practice naturopathy under his licensure. Since the state of Maine says otherwise, and since I don’t have any basis for disagreeing, that would be a false statement on my part. If the law worked in weird and inconsistent ways like this, they might have a case. But as a simple Google search would have shown them, they didn’t know what they were talking about. From Ken’s post:

I wonder whether, before sending her feckless and thuggish missive, Meaghan Maloney researched how courts have treated the word “quack” in defamation cases. I did. It took me about five minutes to learn that multiple courts in multiple states in multiple decades have found that calling someone a “quack” is protected opinion and not subject to a defamation suit, particularly when the context shows that it is hyperbole. Yiamouyiannis v. Thompson, 764 S.W.2d 338 (TX 1989) (calling an opponent of flouridation and vaccines a “quack” was pure opinion protected by the First Amendment); Dowling v. Livingstone, 108 Mich. 321 (1896) (it was opinion, not defamation, to refer to an anti-immigration scheme as a “quack remedy”); Gonzalez v Gray, 69 F.Supp.2d 561 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (husband’s claim that his wife had been having “sex with a quack” was opinion, not defamation against the doctor); Spelson v. CBS, INC., 581 F.Supp. 1195 (N.D. IL 1984) (statement that “nutritionist” treating cancer patients with “vitamins, minerals, and extracts of raw animal organs” was a “cancer quack” was protected opinion). In the rare cases where courts have not protected terms like “quack,” they were used in a context specifically suggesting untrue facts. See, e.g., Nasr v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, 632 F.Supp.1024 (E.D. IL 1986) (though calling a doctor a “quack” has been found to be protected opinion, when used in manner suggesting false underlying facts, it was actionable). Courts have made similar findings regarding other epithets, including “charlatan.” Ernst v. Basset, 521 So.2d 414 (La. 1988) (“charlatan” was non-actionable statement of opinion).

In other words, there is at least 125 years worth of case law on not merely libel/defamation cases, but on libel/defamation cases specifically dealing with the word “quack”.

I gather some might consider it bad form to quote any of the communications had amongst the lawyers involved, so I will only paraphrase the wonderfulness of our response. Essentially, it was 10 pages of this: “No, fuck you, and if you sue, we’ll file an Anti-SLAPP motion, seeking attorney fees, and maybe sue you and your lawyer for malicious prosecution.” And while the lawyers were at it, I was ready to make this a public spectacle all over again. I had already secured a promise of help from Simon Singh. It would only have been a matter of hours before the Internet was once again buzzing with “Christopher Maloney is a quack”.

So the result? Well, Maloney wanted a settlement which stipulated that I would remove all tags of him from FTSOS, that I wouldn’t speak of him again in practically any writing, that I would delete all my past writings about him, and that I would pay his attorney fees incurred to this point. There was never any chance of me signing away my rights like that. In fact, there was a deadline placed on the attached agreement which I fully ignored before I was even able to obtain legal assistance. I may not know all the procedures involved, but I know I like my First Amendment rights. (I admit, though, it was tempting to find out just what it was Maloney’s wife had charged him for fees.) But once I did obtain assistance, I realized the value of throwing out a minor gesture of good will to avoid the nuisance of litigation. I know, I know. It’s so unlike me. Actually, I did try to just completely say no to the idea. A man who threatens me with a frivolous lawsuit deserves nothing.

But as I said, I am not a lawyer.

The best course of action, I came to understand, would be to avoid litigation all together. While all the case law and common sense is on my side, and while we would almost certainly prevail in both fighting the lawsuit and our subsequent malicious prosecution suit, the law is an uncertain thing. A judge unimpressed by a young-looking 20-something who has a couple of high-priced out of state lawyers may decide a (lawless) lesson needs to be taught. It’s unlikely, but certainly possible. Moreover, while these lawyers are generally high priced (at least in my world), they were doing the work pro-bono. They were there to assist me whatever my decision, but if a gesture of good will would get all of this put behind me while I still retained all my rights, then it would save everyone a lot of trouble.

I find it entertaining that this image even exists.

So the gesture of good will. Well, as I said, the Maloneys believed the Tag Cloud was something I was messing around with every day for the sake of tormenting some guy I’d never met (despite his invitation and subsequent refusal to actually meet in person). It wasn’t, but if that’s what they believed, then I decided to just offer to take it down. But nothing more. The thing really meant nothing to me, frankly, so it was no loss, and it was actually a reasonable offer. I clean up my site a bit and retain every single one of my rights. If that’s all it was going to take to make this nuisance go away, then great.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that straight forward.

At our offering of the removal, Maloney and Maloney came back with settlements that included ridiculous things like the effective silencing I mentioned (removing all tags, never writing of him again, etc). At one point they wanted to create a system where a third party arbitrator would be used to settle any future disagreements – and the costs of all that would be split. We refused each time. Eventually things came to a clear impasse. This was all being done under a tolling agreement in the first place, and that was about to expire. The Maloneys wanted to extend the agreement and continue negotiations, but there was no point. I would do no more than remove an inconsequential widget from my blog. If that wasn’t good enough, they were more than welcomed to sue. It would have been a delight to watch the Internet light up over an alt-med ‘doctor’ and his elected wife suing a college student over what amounted to a little name calling. My attorneys made it plain that we were locked and loaded and ready to fight.

So the Maloneys caved.

I agreed to take down the widget, but every single post about Christopher Maloney, every single tag of Christopher Maloney, and every single opinion I have ever expressed about Christopher Maloney remains. And none of it is going anywhere.

Ultimately, this is a good outcome. Sure, the ideal would be a big middle finger and nothing more, but this has all taken a bigger toll on me and my time than I thought it would. I work overnights and go to school full-time. My sleep schedule is just awful and my courses are not simple. The spring is shaping up to be even more difficult. My instincts tell me to be as pugnacious as always, but my preference for doing well in organic chemistry is stronger. I’m happy with the result, and I can’t thank Ken, Marc, and Jed enough.

P.s., Christopher Maloney is a quack.