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Posts Tagged ‘activism’

Reasons to rethink how you use your credit card

February 11, 2010 Comments off

Time for a public service announcement… of sorts.

If you’re anything like me, you’re now at the point where you withdraw a small amount of cash to carry around with you until next payday to cover incidentals (lunches, drinks, bread and milk, etc) and do the bulk of your regular purchases either by plastic at the point of sale or online. What’s more, the government and the credit card companies are trying to make this practice the de-facto standard to address things like fraud, money laundering and the universal catch-all for any modern government initiative: terrorism.

The downside to this is that cards are relatively easy to forge and misuse. This problem and its likelihood varies throughout the world with the USA (the last time I checked) being one of the least secure in just requiring a signature and Australia having had mandatory PIN usage for almost 30 years. The UK has only moved from signatures to PIN within the last 5 or so years.

With all that security you may think that your credit card information would require some kind of gadget to read your card while at a cashpoint/ATM (I always check for add-on fascias) or sleight-of-hand to skim it at a restaurant (my card never leaves my sight), but there is a guaranteed exclusion to the PIN entry requirement: online and telephone orders. Such as when you call an order through to your local takeaway delivery place and pay with your card because you don’t happen to have enough cash at home. Most won’t provide a mobile card machine so you have to read the details through to them over the phone: name, card number, expiry date and security code (on the back of the card). Everything a scumbag needs to spend your money.

And that’s exactly how I’ve just been done. Again. And quite likely via the same shop, though I’ve only just deduced that by elimination. I received a letter from my bank today advising that it has put a hold on my Visa debit card (current account with its own Visa card number) due to some unusual transactions. My initial thought was that they’d gone bananas — as a former bank had done some years ago, resulting in every single transaction being flagged as fraudulent (which is why I say former bank) — but when I called them they advised that on Tuesday they detected seven fraudulent transactions totalling £1,300 and blocked them all.

Needless to say I’m quite pleased with their hit rate, particularly as they just got 7/7 hits and I’ve not been inconvenienced in any purchases recently (zero false-positives or -negatives). I wish my email provider’s antispam detection facilities were that good. Of course the bank then tried to upsell me some card protection insurance, which I politely declined after pointing out that now was perhaps not the most ethical time to try to pitch a sale, it being the functional equivalent of a mortuary attendant trying to sell me a burial package while there to bury my dear old aunt.

So I’m going to re-think my approach to giving card details over the phone. My seldom-used credit card has a facility called a “webcard” which allows me to generate a single-use virtual credit card with the maximum transaction value I choose and an expiry date of one month. Although it will mean being at a Windows PC every time I make a phone order, it should do the job nicely. And I won’t be buying any more scumbags the latest flatscreen TV.

 

Update 1: It seems my credit card provider discontinued its “webcard” product as of October 2009 without telling anyone. Unless I can find something else to replace it with, it seems that I’ll no longer be doing business with takeaway delivery places that don’t offer either a mobile card reader or online ordering facility, or indeed with anyone who requests my card details over the phone. I really like their food, too. Oh well.

Update 2: To address a few queries I’ve had so far: I am not going to name the takeaway place. Blogging is a medium that English & Welsh law (insanely) considers actual publishing, like a newspaper or book and therefore subject to its even more insane libel laws, you want me to name the shop without proof? Not going to happen.

Update 3: Just to make things more interesting — the almighty chip-and-PIN system has just been cracked, and can be accomplished by anyone with a stolen card and doesn’t require much technological savvy.

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Homeopathic overdoses are homeopathically dangerous

January 30, 2010 Comments off

Today is the day of the worldwide homeopathic overdose that originally started with groups of skeptics throughout the UK — the 1023 Campaign — planning a protest (or a demonstration, in the literal sense of the word) in front of a high street pharmacy chain against their insistence on selling homeopathic products, despite repeated scientific analysis and practical demonstrations proving they are no better than the placebo effect.

I had arranged to attend the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub event due to take place near Radcliffe Camera, but — despite getting everything prepared last night, including programming my satnav for a carpark near the event — I forgot to set my alarm. I admit it: I am an idiot.

So I dropped an email apology to the organiser and prepared to ‘overdose’ at home… without the homeopathic protection of homeopathic medical services against this homeopathic act of homeopathic self harm. Homeopathically dangerous, I’m sure you’ll agree.

At precisely 10:23 this morning, I broke the seal and emptied the contents of my pre-purchased container of “30c Homeopathic potency of Sepia officinalis” — as it says in bold red lettering on the label — into my camera’s lens cap and then swallowed it all (minus the lens cap) in one sugary, children’s sweets-like gulp, washed down with a few mouthfuls of water. It’s now some time later and I’m feeling homeopathically ill, the world is homeopathically spinning around me, and I think I may homeopathically pass out anytime soon. Or put another way: I’m typing this blog post while drinking a nice cup of tea, and considering making myself a late breakfast. I am, by all accounts, homeopathically dead.

And while I couldn’t quite work out how to take photos while in the process of swallowing the sugar pills, I did take some. Behold! The mighty power of the sugar pill!

Pics 1 & 2: Note the therapeutic indications line in the second image.

 

Pic 3: Every pillule emptied into my camera’s lens cap.

 

Pic 4: Oh look, it’s 10:23! We know what that time means…

 

Pic 5: All gone! Sweet sugary goodness… and utter pseudoscientific bollocks.

 

You only have my word to go on that I committed homeopathic harakiri today (although my cat witnessed it, I’m not sure she’d be suitable to give testimony), but in this article alone I have provided orders of magnitude more evidence of me swallowing these pills than exists for the efficacy of homeopathy. I did indeed swallow them all in one gulp, and it’s over 90 minutes since I did so and the world (or my world, at least) has not ended. And I paid £4.99 for the privilege.

If you think that homeopathy has helped someone you know, then neither of you understand the importance of the placebo effect. Please learn about it — it’s a very real effect with measurable positive results. Ultimately there is no direct harm in taking homeopathic products (as all 1023 campaigners have proven today), but there is harm in taking these products instead of seeking medical advice. Particularly if they have an ailment where earlier diagnosis can make the difference, or affect long-term health or even life. They may feel better taking these pills for a little while, but eventually even they’ll stop working as the problem gets worse and by then it may well be too late.

But I’m not trying to convince you of anything that’s not provable or measurable. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions — even if a thousand or more skeptics around the world ‘overdosing’ on homeopathic products isn’t enough to convince you (for some Twilight Zone reason). Perhaps pick up a book by an actual scientist and medical doctor, and examine what research they’ve done to research their conclusions. I’d highly recommend Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (Amazon or Amazon UK), as it’s very readable, full of information (including this topic), and it’s all supportable by evidence.

 

Update: Thanks to Antony, we have some video footage of the the Oxford event:

1023 Homeopathic Overdose – Oxford

Update 2: Courtesy of Science, Reason and Critical Thinking, we have some video footage of the Southampton event:

1023 Southampton

Update 3: Richard Saunders, Skeptic Zone ringleader, and Sydney skeptics have some footage of the event in Sydney, Australia:

ten23 Homeopathy Protest – Sydney 2010

Update 4: Courtesy of Kylie Sturgess, footage from my home town’s skeptical group, Perth Skeptics:

The 1023 Event with the Perth Skeptics

Update 5: And now the walls begin to fall. The New Zealand Council of Homeopaths has just admitted that… Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It! It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the homeopathy industry worldwide admit the same or begin circling the wagons. Either way, the truth is now public knowledge and we should see less of this:

Homeopathy: There’s nothing in it (Oxford)

January 25, 2010 Comments off

Many news outlets of the less credulous persuasion are talking about the upcoming national (UK) protest against the household name of Boots the chemists who happily sell homeopathic products even though they are aware there’s no proof they work.

As the Director of Professional Standards for Boots himself said:

There is certainly a consumer demand for these products. I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious. It is about consumer choice…

On one level I can understand the free market, capitalist ideal of “There’s a market for it and people are willing to buy, so what’s the problem?” The problem, of course, is that some people who are seriously ill will turn to expensive tap water instead of seeking actual medical advice or treatment.

‘Natural selection,’ you may cynically retort… but now imagine that person is your grandmother.

As the legendary Tim Minchin says in his excellent beat poem, Storm:

You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.

It’s as simple as that. Unless you’re some kind of conspiracy nut (“they are hiding the truth”), a deluded fool who thinks reading a few pseudo-scientific layman blogs qualifies you to know more than proven, peer-reviewed science (particularly meta-analyses of methodologically-reliable scientific studies), or think you have an open channel to some kind of supernatural force.

If you’re not familiar with the ‘theory’ of homeopathy, it consists of finding an agent that, when swallowed, generates symptoms that resemble the patient’s symptoms (e.g. food poisoning and Ipecac Syrup both induce nausea), dilute it to the point where there’s statistically no chance of a single molecule of the agent remaining, banging it a specified number of times to shake it up, and then believing that such super-dilution magnifies the healing properties, because it somehow remembers the life force (or something) of the original agent. Again, I refer to Storm:

Water has memory! And while its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite, it somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

Homeopathy is magical thinking based on poor science, logical flaws and unsupported assumptions. It’s water. I suspect the two main reasons that homeopathy is so popular is because its methodology sounds similar to the principle behind vaccination (a small amount of an antigen is given, allowing the body to generate antibodies) and because major, trusted retailers sell it alongside actual medical treatments.

And this last point is what the 1023 Campaign in the UK is addressing:

At 10:23am on January 30th, more than 300 homeopathy sceptics nationwide will be taking part in a mass homeopathic ‘overdose’.

The closest protest to me is taking place in Oxford, and is being run by Skeptics in the Pub (Oxford). If you’re nearby and interested in attending, please visit the event’s page:

Skeptics In The Pub: Oxford ‘mass overdose’

More importantly, please contact Rosie (on the above page) to let her know you’ll be attending. You’ll also need to bring along your own Boots brand 30C homeopathic remedy pills.

Let me make this perfectly clear: this is a peaceful, harmless protest against a company that has a business practice that some of us consider unethical or harmful, it is not against government or other authority. Leave your politics and Guy Fawkes masks at home.

Why 1023? How’s your middle/lower school science memory? Avogadro’s Constant! A fitting use for it, I think.

Update: It appears this campaign has gained some momentum, with various skeptical groups worldwide planning their own ‘homeopathic mass overdoses’ this coming Saturday. Check with your local skeptics group, the 1023 Campaign website, the #ten23 hashtag on Twitter, Facebook or forums such as the JREF for more information.