Posts Tagged ‘Ben Goldacre’

The Tory, Privatise Enterprise Cure for Stressed Teachers: Electrostimulate their Brains!

July 3, 2017

Everything about this says Bad Science, as in the book by Ben Goldacre. And ‘bad’ in every definition of the word. Not only wrong scientifically, but also morally. But it’s what you get all too often with the Tories in charge.

Mike over at Vox Political has today posted up a piece commenting on a story in today’s Torygraph, hyping the use of an electronic device, the Alpha-Stim, which Leigh Academies Trust are offering to their staff at seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a special educational needs school in Kent to treat the symptoms of stress amongst their staff. The Torygraph says that the device is the size of a mobile phone, and works by sending micro-pulses of electricity to the brain to stimulate the production of alpha waves. This supposedly helps relieve anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. The Trust is offering it along with other therapies. The extract Mike includes in his piece quotes one Peter Caunt of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, who says ‘We know this type of therapy works’ before going on to say that the question is whether it is cost-effective.

Mike compares it to the shock treatment used on very disturbed people, which works by burning out part of their frontal lobes. He states that he personally knows people, who’ve had it done, and they have not been the same afterwards.
He asks why the schools management company isn’t trying to solve the problem by making teachers’ lives less stressful.

He wonders if the real reason is that the company’s bosses want to turn their staff into compliant little teaching zombies, who won’t complain, because they’ve had their conscience burned out of them along with the stress.

He also makes the point that the Trust used to be headed by Frank Green, who was appointed to a two-year stint as schools commissioner by Michael Gove. This shows the strong connection between the company and the Tory party.

The device should, apparently, be used for 20 minutes each, but some teaching staff are using it twice or three times. So Mike asks the obvious question of what kind of teachers they’re like afterwards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/the-tory-cure-for-stressed-teachers-is-electrocute-their-brains/

Everything about this is highly dubious. It looks very much like something straight out of the accounts of bad, if not pathological science, from the pages of Ben Goldacre, Martin Gardner and others. Ben Goldacre, you may remember, wrote a book, Bad Science, about this kind of nonsense a few years ago. the Sceptic, Martin Gardner also attacked bad and pernicious science a few decades ago in his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This looks like a prime example of it, to go with other, earlier pseudo-sciences like eugenics, lobotomies, Lysenkoism, Nazi ‘race science’ and monkey glands.

As for electro-convulsive therapy, it was devised by a German Jewish doctor, who fled Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy. Deciding that it could be an effective method of treating the mentally ill, he started by testing it on tramps he and the authorities rounded up off the street. Adam Parfrey published an essay on it, ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’, in one of his books on the extremes of belief in 1990s America, Apocalypse Culture or Cult Rapture. That essay made it very clear just how nasty it was.

It’s still used, but proper medical professionals only resort to it in the case of severely disturbed people, where there really isn’t much choice.

And everything known about the brain should say that tinkering with it, unless you know exactly what you’re doing, is an appallingly bad idea. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Modern neuroscience has succeeded in identifying which parts of the brain produces which mental function, but even so, there is a vast amount we don’t know. Raymond Tallis, who is a Humanist and former neurologist and neurosurgeon, wrote a book, Aping Mankind, with the aim to show that much human thought and mind couldn’t be reduced to neurological functions. He stated clearly that he wanted to show that thinking was ‘as mysterious as walking on water’. Given the vast complexity of the brain, and its vulnerability, it really is stupid and dangerous to mess around with it in this manner.

Remember a few years ago, when many doctors started to worry about possible brain damage caused by putting mobile phones next to your ear? They were afraid of the health risks posed by putting what is a microwave source next to your brain when talking on the phone.

It also reminds me of the ‘feedback cult’ of the ’70s. This also noted the connection between alpha waves and mood. It therefore encouraged people to hook themselves up to special monitors, which registered their alpha waves, and then learn how to control them and so altered their mood, all for supposedly beneficial purposes. That was also debunked some time ago.

The alpha-stim also sounds to be me like something that escaped from the Human Potential labs in the ’60s and ’70s. The Human Potential movement was one of those weird movements based on psychology that emerged in the 1960s, promising to bring people fulfilment and happiness through their programme of therapies. It still survives in various forms, and developed strong links with corporate capitalism, to the point where its detractors have called it a corporate mind control cult.

Adam Curtis devoted a programme to it in his documentary about the legacy of Freudianism, The Century of the Self, over a decade ago now. And what the programme revealed about it was truly chilling. The movement and its doctors managed to convince the medical profession to let them try to treat a selection of patients suffering from schizophrenia. The treatment consisted of dosing these poor souls up to the gills with LSD, and then attaching electrodes to electrify their brains. And all the while they were taught to repeat to themselves, ‘I am comfortable in myself’.

They interviewed one poor young woman, who’d been a victim of this nonsense. The treatment was a horrible, ghastly failure. It was perhaps a mercy that the woman said that she couldn’t remember much about it now, except that sometimes she had it done several times a day. It was this kind of appalling medical experimentation that the producers of Classic Star Trek took solid aim at in the episode ‘Dagger of the Mind’.

As for this latest rubbish, it also reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, when Doctor Bashir is called on treat Garak, the station’s Kardassian tailor and spy. Garak, like many other Kardassian secret agents, had a device implanted in his brain to stimulate his pleasure centres, so he could get through being tortured. Garak, however, has become so miserable that he started using it recreationally, and so has become addicted. Bashir has no choice but to find out what he can about the device, and try to remove it from his friend.

Which all sounds dangerously close to what’s going on here, with the exception that it’s teachers being treated with it, not alien spies.

I am really not at all surprised that it’s the Tories, or a company that’s associated with them, that’s peddling this nonsense. The Tories just love pseudoscience. I’ve reblogged stuff from Kitty S. Jones and other disability bloggers about the model of sickness devised by Unum and their pet psychiatrists at Cardiff University to have people thrown off benefit and declared fit for work, has been roundly debunked by other medical professionals.

And a little while ago, Private Eye in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column took a pot shot at a Tory-controlled council in Kent or that part of the world, where the local authority had cut council services, but was funnelling tens of thousands of pounds to a company headed by one of its female members, which specialised in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming or some other kind of dodgy therapy to offer spurious treatment to council staff.

Which, again, sounds very much like what’s going on here.

And then there was the case of the Leaderene herself, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was into Ayur Veda, a system of alternative therapies brought to the world by one of the dodgy Indian gurus, who rocked up here in the 1960s. Thatcher treated herself to baths, where along with the water there was a weak electric current. Obviously, she thought it would do her some good. I’m quite sure there were many others, who wish the voltage had been somewhat stronger.

This looks to me very much like a potentially harmful pseudoscience. As for Caunt’s statement that ‘we know it works’, that’s what Tory spokespeople have said about work improving people’s mental health, and other mental professionals, not to mention normal, ordinary people without a financial or ideological stake in it, pointing out that it’s rubbish. And I’ve no doubt it’s the same here.

This is just bad science, which is being hyped by company that obviously finds it cheaper to have their staff trying to make themselves less miserable by running electricity through their brains, than actually trying to do something more positive and concrete to improve conditions for them.

Pretty much like British society as a whole, where instead of offering real guidance and support to the unemployed, their harangued and demeaned by Jobcentre Staff through stupid, nonsensical models of unemployment and disability supported as government policy.

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More from Neurasthenia Milkshake on Ben Goldacre, ME, and Bad Science

November 2, 2015

Following my posting of their comments about ME, I got this appreciative comment from Neurasthenia Milkshake, discussing the problems at Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science website, and adding further information on the controversial nature of the findings of the Oxford scientists that, somehow, ME or chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is all ‘in the mind’. Here it is.

Why, thank you for this–what a pleasant surprise to find. This is a big story, though it never has been ,and, fortunately, it only seems to be growing. We may be coming at it from slightly different angles, but I believe firmly that there is an enormous story even beyond PACE, and if all the pieces are put together the right way by good people, it amounts to a medical scandal the likes of which I’m fairly sure nobody has ever seen. But that’s speculation, for another day, hopefully.

A last word on Ben Goldacre–this is a professional who has indeed spent a lot of his time working to expose poor science. It seems therefore a bit curious that he has never really said much about ME, or PACE, or related topics. I suppose it’s to his credit that he never lauded PACE, though it was vigorously defended on his forum.

(The backstory behind why that forum is no longer attached to his website is ugly and most definitely ME/CFS related, but with the relevant info no longer available, not provable. Let’s just say some commenters got out of hand, though in a most vicious manner ,and if I were Goldacre there would have been a time when I would have been concerned with legal action–but the ‘evidence’ has conveniently been lost. I can elaborate further, but only if requested, and specifically with the proviso that I can only describe what I know and saw, but not prove it, and Goldacre himself would almost certainly not have tolerated it, had he been aware, which I would guess he wasn’t.)

One might ask, then, why didn’t he speak up one way or another? Going on the assumption that he is indeed a crusader, I would suggest that he has connections, if not specifically to the PACE researchers (which is actually quite possible), then to their colleagues. It’s more than possible that he was not comfortable speaking up against these people. I’m sure this is not unique to this particular environment, but I have certainly heard tales of treatment of colleagues who do not share their views, and that’s not a pleasant matter, either. It’s especially frustrating, because one would hope that medical science would be devoid of such environments, all the more so when people are suffering horribly, and are treated poorly based on admittedly flawed perceptions of publications like PACE (i.e. that ME is psychological, in spite of the protests of the PACE team that this may not be so).

I apologize again for offering opinion when I would prefer to offer facts. There is a possibility Goldacre has been somewhat negligent if he spotted the flaws identified by Tuller and Coyne–but a large number of other researchers, physicians, and, importantly, journalists, never have, either. Do I point a finger at the PACE team? Yes. I point a finger at Sir SImon Wessely as well, although, with his formidable eloquence, he typically sidesteps efforts to paint him as a malevolent, all-powerful puppet master.

He is affiliated with the Science Media Centre, however. And the history of some of those folks–Revolutionary Communist Party, Living Marxism, Spiked…is something I expect someone will take a good, long look at. Someday.

Last word: you know about the DT–and you’ll know about some of the following from Tuller’s blogs.

Naturally, the NHS is still promoting CBT and GET for ME:

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2015/10October/Pages/Exercise-and-therapy-useful-for-chronic-fatigue-syndrome.aspx

In the US, so is the CDC:

http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/management/quality-of-life.html

http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/management/managing-activities.html

Although earlier this year the US Institute of Medicine issued a report saying the disease is definable by the relapse caused by exertion…

http://iom.nationalacademies.org/Reports/2015/ME-CFS.aspx

While in Norway, reseachers are actually publishing studies showing success with a chemotherapeutic agent, Rituximab (not that they or anyone else find it easy to secure funding):

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27813-antibody-wipeout-found-to-relieve-chronic-fatigue-syndrome/

So: CBT and GET…or…a cancer/RA drug?

How is this even possible?

I find it extremely encouraging that the Norwegians should be reporting success with drug therapy. It shows the flaws in our corporatist-controlled model of the disease very clearly.

I’m not particularly interested in the specifics of the furore at Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science website. These internet fights and controversies are quite common, and have affected no end of web sites. Given the controversial nature of what went on, and that Neurasthenia Milkshake says they can only describe what they saw, but not prove, it might be best to leave it at that.

I am, however, still very interested in any information that will rebut the psychological model of ME, and any similar disease, which the DWP are trying to fob people off by saying that it’s just psychological. And I completely agree with Neurasthenia Milkshake that there is something wider going on here. My guess is that the psychological origin of this and many other disorders is simply being driven by the insurers, like Unum. It also conforms to the ideology of the transatlantic Right, which includes Blairite Labour, that people taking leave off sick are essentially workshy malingerers, who should ‘pull themselves together’. Or have a ‘short, sharp shock’, and some other nonsense.

As for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it has its uses as the only successful therapy in for anxiety disorders, including depression and Obsessive-Compuslive Disorder. Even here, its success rate is mixed and it doesn’t work for everyone.

It’s promotion by the Tories as a panacea for nearly every disorder and disease they can ascribe to psychological disorders reminds me of the 19th century fad, Couetism. Monsieur Couet was a French doctor, who believed people could improve their mental health by repeating the phrase ‘Every day, I am getting better and better’. Now, an optimistic attitude definitely has its benefits, but it won’t make one’s mental health automatically improve, and certainly not if there is something seriously wrong.

And I remember it most of all from one of the Pink Panther films, when the Commissionaire, finally released from the mental hospital, goes completely off the rails and becomes a Bond villain after another incident with Clouseau. The last image of him is of him frantically playing the organ, eye twitching manically, before he finally disappears into a puff of smoke, destroyed by his own laser weapon.

If only that would happen to those promoting this nonsense.

Neurasthenia Milkshake on Ben Goldacre and ME Pseudoscience

November 1, 2015

Yesterday I put up Florence’s comments about the government-approved nonsense now being peddled about ME, which conclusively showed that it was drivel. Florence herself also had experience examining the corporate influence on science, which she concluded was corrupting it, just as Stalin’s ideological and personal preferences disastrously corrupted science in the former Soviet Union.

In the article I mentioned Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science as an example of a book on spurious doctrines passed off a science. In response I received the comment below from Neurasthenia Milkshake. They liked the article, but wanted to point out that there is evidence that Goldacre himself supports the kind of rubbish the government is now trying to foist on the rest of us about the disease. They also gave further links to sites disproving the ‘all in the mind’ theory of the origin of the disease.

Here’s their comment.

Thank you for covering this. There is one issue I want to raise–Ben Goldacre, who to my knowledge has never said much about PACE, or ME/CFS for that matter. However, there has been speculation that he studied, apprenticed, or otherwise worked with, in some capacity, Simon Wessely, who in recent years has accumulated numerous honors. Obviously one can not damn Goldacre on that basis; but that there may well be a connection there is worth taking into consideration. Wessely has authored papers with members of the PACE team, has published extensively on CFS, especially CBT as a treatment modality, and praised PACE for its scientific rigor. Although Goldacre pretty much severed ties to the forum that was attached to his Bad Science website, that forum hosted vigorous debates on CFS and PACE. It almost seems odd that Goldacre would not have ever commented on PACE, but to my knowledge, again, he has not. He is not viewed with admiration amongst many ME patients due to the purported (though not necessarily substantiated) connection with Wessely, who is viewed by quite a few as a villainous figure.

Here are links to an extremely detailed deconstruction of PACE:

Installment 1: http://www.virology.ws/2015/10/21/trial-by-error-i/

Installment 2: http://www.virology.ws/2015/10/22/trial-by-error-ii/

Installment 3: http://www.virology.ws/2015/10/23/trial-by-error-iii/

Coverage in Science: http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2015/10/criticism-mounts-long-controversial-chronic-fatigue-study

James Coyne weighs in: http://blogs.plos.org/mindthebrain/2015/10/29/uninterpretable-fatal-flaws-in-pace-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-follow-up-study/

PACE Trial authors respond to David Tuller: http://www.virology.ws/2015/10/30/pace-trial-investigators-respond-to-david-tuller/

David Tuller responds to PACE Trial authors: http://www.virology.ws

I have to say, I included Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science simply because it was one of the most recent and popular treatments of the subject, having been reviewed in the Groaniad amongst other newspapers, I believe. I really wasn’t aware of his own possible bias in this issue. I’m very happy, however, to put up Neurasthenia Milkshake’s comments on this, along with their further information on the pseudoscientific nature of the theory that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is purely psychological in origin.

The idea that it is somehow all in the mind, and that CBT can cure, is pure corporate bullsh*t and should be discarded as such, along with the scientific hacks that repeat it.

Florence on Government-Approved Pseudoscience In ME and the ‘Nudge Unit’

October 31, 2015

Yesterday I blogged on Mike’s article, criticising a highly dubious report by the Torygraph that scientists at Oxford had concluded that ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was all in one’s mind and could be cured through a mixture of exercise and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I took the view that this was basically pseudoscience. I got two highly interesting comments from Florence confirming this and providing further information. She writes

Reports in the literature from the USA on ME / CFS, The NIH for example, cite fMRI, PET scan (imaging of brain) evidence for CFS/ MEe, along with immunologic and inflammatory pathologies, ie it is a physical disease, with measurable physical changes in the patient. There are ample published critiques of the Oxford authors’ results, analysis and conclusions, poor experimental design and methods, and fatal flaws in the execution of the studies. Not least some medical researchers have raised ethical concerns regarding the Oxford Authors earlier PACE study, which is the basis for CBT/GET therapy in the UK. Indeed the IOM proposed a new name for the disease – Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, embedding the key concept of post-exercise malaise (mental or physical). So much for GET IN fact many of the committees and editorial boards of post-conference publications have expressly bewilderment and concern with the “UK model” of psychological illness. The prominence of this report in the national press demonstrates that these are the preferred Establishment scientists, and they are being rewarded for their work in providing (quasi) scientific support for a political view of this illness. Worrying.

In a nutshell, science has proven that ME is a real disease, and this tripe peddled in Oxford is purely politically motivated pseudoscience.

She adds

It dovetails nicely with the fake, and ethically-damned nudge unit foray into forced psychological “testing” of JSA claimants which was revealed a couple of years ago, plus the new forced CBT for JSA and ESA claimants in the Job Centres, illustrating the govt ideology that worklessness, like disability, is a psychological deficit in every individual. Many years ago I was asked to read & deliver my opinions on a number of publications by those working under Stalin (it was hard going). I took away a couple of things that remain relevant today. The Corporatist control of research, especially since Thatcher, has been quasi-Stalinist, and has been damaging to scientific research generally, but medical research in particular. Second, the current govt is following a descent into Stalinist state use of psychiatry and psychology against those it wants to control.

In other words, it’s just part of a general pseudoscientific model of illness that claims that somehow it’s all imaginary because this fits with Tory and Blairite attitudes to unemployment and those off sick through disability, in the same way that Stalinist policies corrupted science in the Soviet Union.

There are a number of very good books on pseudoscience, and the promotion of spurious, fake, and in the case of eugenics, murderous doctrines in the history of science. The one I mentioned yesterday was Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science.

Another book worth reading is Walter Gratzer’s The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-deception and Human Frailty (Oxford: OUP 2000).

Undergrowth Science Cover

This has chapters on the following fake science:

1. Blondlot and the N-Rays

2. Paradigms Enow: Some Mirages of Biology
Gurvich and his mitogenic radiation
The curse of the death-ray
Abderhalden and the protective enzymes
The case of the amorous toad
Memory transfer, or eat your mathematics.

3. Aberrations of Physics: Irving Langmuir Investigates
Capturing electrons
Allison’s magneto-optical effect.
Langmuir’s rules.

4. Nor any Drop to Drink: The Tale of Polywater

5. The Wider shores of Credulity
-This includes a number of weird ideas, including the controversy over Uri Geller and his supposed mental powers.

6. Energy Unlimited
– This is about Cold Fusion.

7. What the Doctor Ordered.
This includes a number of examples of extremely bad medicine, such as
-Ptosis, the doctrine that disease was caused by sagging organs, and which resulted in a fad of entirely
useless operation on perfectly healthy people, including their kidneys.
– Intestinal lavage, or colonic irrigation
– Surgical removal of parts of the colon to prevent aging.
– Monkey glands, or the surgical implantation of part of monkey testicles in order to rejuvenate people.
– Homeopathy.
– Drinking radium for your health.
– Lobotomy.

8. Science, Chauvinism and Bigotry.
This is about the growth of the nationalist belief of different countries in their own superiority as
scientists.

9. The Climate of Fear:
The tragedy of Soviet genetics
The spread of the contagion
Soviet physics: idealism, pragmatism and the bomb
Is there a Marxist chemistry?

10. Science in the Third Reich: Bigotry, Racism and Extinction
The Roots of Fascist biology
The Ahnenerbe: Himmler the Intellectual
Die Deutsche Physik (German Physics): Its friends and enemies
A deutsche Chemie (German chemistry)
Anti-Semitism and mathematics
The consequences of the Nazi incursion into science.

11. Nature Nurtured: The Rise and Fall of Eugenics
The birth of eugenics
Eugenics and politics in Europe and America
Eugenics in the Third Reich
Eugenic nemesis in the Soviet Union
The rise and fall of eugenics: a pathological science.

Ever science Sir Francis Bacon and Descartes in the 17th century, science has been one of the most powerful forces in human society for extending human knowledge, and improving health, living conditions and industrial, technological and economic progress. But it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s made by humans, sometimes fallible human, who can make mistakes, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Some of this is caused when science is moulded by ideological, particular political forces, such as in the Third Reich and Stalin’s Russia. While these cases are notorious, the topic is still highly relevant today, when it seems that nearly every day the papers carry stories claiming that scientists have found the cure for this, or that a particular disease is in reality caused by such-and-such. In many cases scepticism is most certainly warranted. And in the cases of the model of disease now promoted by the DWP, these should be taken with a whole mountain of salt. It’s clear to me that Ian Duncan Smith’s and John Lo Cascio’s ideas on the origins of the disease in the unemployed should also be consigned to the dustbin of dodgy, politically motivated pseudoscience, to be included in future editions of book’s like Glatzer’s.

The Sacrifice of Isaac: Francis Wheen Spouts Mumbo Jumbo

June 3, 2013

You may remember that way back in the last decade there was a spate of sceptical books attacking what their authors saw as pseudo-science. These included various New Age beliefs, and very often also Creationism and Intelligent Design. These books included Bad Science, by the Roman Catholic writer and science jounralist, Ben Goldacre, and How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World, by Francis Wheen. Wheen’s a left-wing journalist, who has, I believe, written for the Guardian. He is a frequent guest on the News Quiz, a satirical panel show about the news on BBC’s Radio 4. In his introduction he stated that part of his purpose in writing the book was to defend the Enlightenment. These revivals of what he considered irrationalism threatened it. He confessed his admiration for the Enlightenment and its values, including its secularism.

Strange Days and Paranoia, Terrorism and Psychiatric Abuse of Dissidents in the 1970s

Now Wheen is an excellent writer. His book on the paranoia and chaos of the ’70s, Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia, is very good. It begins with Nixon and Watergate, and expands to include the fear surrounding Mao and the Gang of Four. He traces the way Mao’s doctrine of guerilla warfare formed the template for that decades western urban terrorists, including the Provisional IRA in Britain, the Rote Armee Fraktion or the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany and the Maoist terrorists in France. These latter emerged following the failure of the 1968 uprising to topple French capitalism, and drew intellectual inspiration and support from radical academics. One of these latter appears to have done little except march around his university campus disrupting the classes of other lecturers he considered to be bourgeois and reactionary. He also discusses the murky events surrouding Harold Wilson’s prime ministership and the preparations to remove him in a coup by those who suspected him of being a KGB agent. One of the most fascinating, and relevant pieces in the book is his description of how Soviet psychiatry came up with a new mental illness that would justify the forcible incarceration of dissidents. This was done under the pretext that they must be insane to challenge the great, Soviet workers’ paradise. The Soviet political abuse of psychiatry strongly influenced the BBC SF series, Blake’s 7. In the series, the totalitarian Federation used mind control, including drugged food and water, and the conditioning, brainwashing and psychiatric brutalisation of dissidents to maintain its brutal and corrupt rule. This particular episode in Soviet history should be particularly alarming and provide a stark warning to people of faith concerning some of the pronouncements made by contemporary atheists. Some of the New Atheists, like the Rational Response Squad, made it clear they thought religion was a psychiatric disorder. Even now some professional neurologists have stated that they look forward to the day when neuroscience will be used to cure radical or dangerous religious beliefs. Blake’s 7’s fictional federation also closed churches. Science Fiction has been described as the literature of warning, and Blake’s 7 provided a fictional treatment of the Soviet psychiatric persecution of dissidents. The Soviet medicalisation of religion as a psychiatric disorder is one that some atheist scientists now seem to be following on their own. They’re either unaware of or unconcerned by their totalitarian predecessors.

Wheen’s Mumbo Jumbo and the Sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis

Much of Wheen’s book on ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ is unremarkable. It tackles some of the bizarre New Age beliefs. It shows his own left-wing views in criticising Thatcherism and her pursuit of the free market. Wheen is, however, an atheist. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, to which Wheen has contributed, has joked about how Wheen called him an ‘irrational theist’. The book makes it clear that Wheen views religion as not just wrong, but dangerous. It shows the effect of 9/11 and the subsequent jihadi attacks on atheist opinions towards religion in general. Wheen does not consider them the action of just one religion, or even or a movement within that religion, but due to religion as a whole. He specifically blames the patriarch Abraham and the sacrifice of his son, Isaac, for causing suicide bombing. God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is, in Wheen’s view, a demand for the blind faith and for believers to give up their lives in the service of their God. It is the origin of the blind faith of the suicide bombers. He then rants about how Abraham was a barbarian who should be excluded from the tables of civilised people.

This is profoundly wrong. Wheen misses the point about the sacrifice of Isaac completely. His Comments do, however, say volumes about received atheist opinion towards religion. Mostly, this is that many prominent atheists actually aren’t concerned about the basic facts behind religious events and phenomena before they utter their opinions.

Abraham and God’s Mercy: God Unlike Pagan Gods, Does Not Demand Human Sacrifice

For Jews, Abraham is not a symbol of fanaticism and blind faith, but mercy. This is shown by his conversation with the Almighty concerning the number of good people, who would have to be in Sodom before the Lord destroyed the city. This goes down to about ten, showing that even if only a minuscule number of righteous people are present in a place so steeped in evil that the outcry against it goes up to the Lord Himself, God will withhold His anger from it. As for the sacrifice of Isaac, that has to be seen in the context of the pagan religious practices of the Ancient Near East. Human sacrifice was an accepted part of the ancient Near Eastern religions. It’s found in the law codes of the Hittites. In ancient Phoenicia, Canaan and Carthage infant children were burned alive as sacrifices to the pgan gods. The tophets, the sacrificial altars on which these poor mites were killed, have been found in the remains of Carthage itself. The remains of these sacrifices have also been found in ancient Canaan. The point the story of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac makes is that the Lord does not want people to sacrifice humans to Him. Yes, He rewards the faith that makes people wish to fulfill His commands, even to death, but does not want them to make that sacrifice. Abraham does indeed make the pyre and prepare to sacrifice his son, but this is halted by God sending a ram, caught in a thicket, for the patriarch to sacrifice instead. The whole point of the story is against suicide bombing.

Wheen Ignorant of Scholarship on Ancient Paganism and the Meaning of Isaac’s Sacrifice

Few people are experts in Ancient Near Eastern culture. But you don’t have to be. I remember studying the sacrifice of Isaac in RE (Religious Education) at my old Church of England School. Wheen went to one of the British public schools, which in this case, for transatlantic readers, means that he went to an elite private school. Despite having a very expensive education, he clearly either didn’t study this part of the Bible in RE, or simply wasn’t paying attention when they did. Even if they didn’t study that part of the Bible, Wheen could still have tried to understand it simply by consulting a commentary. There are a number of good commentaries on scripture, some of which are available online. But Wheen didn’t. He simply assumed that the apparent message he read into the text was the correct one. His failure to consult a commentary or what Christians and Jews actually historically believe and say about this event also shows a completely dismissive attitude towards their beliefs. He appears to beleive that traditional Jewish and Christian views of scripture are of so little importance, so automatically wrong, that an atheist should not even remotely consider studying them before making their pronouncements.

The Marxist Origin of Suicide Bombing

As for suicide bombing, although this is now a favourite weapon of militant Islam, it was first used by the Tamil Tigers. As Marxists, they were atheists, who clearly wre not following a divine command, still less of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus Christ. But this is not mentioned by Wheen. Possibly he didn’t know about it. It does, however, show the deep antipathy of part of the atheist Left towards Judeo-Christian religion. There’s also an element of the secularist belief that all religions are somehow the same. If that is true, then therefore all religions must be equally violent. Thus Wheen sought to find the ultimate origin of the contemporary jihadist attacks not in today’s politics, or the violent theology and ideology of the terrorists themselves, but further back in Abraham’s lifetime, so he could blame and disparage all of the three Abrahamic faiths. Wheen’s other book are well worth reading, and much of his book on Mumbo Jumbo is too. Rather than being a product of reasoned thought and careful consideration, Wheen’s views on the sacrifice of Isaac in the Old Testament are merely the product of atheist ignorance and anti-religious bigotry.