Help Take Down Naturopathy

By Michael Hawkins

There usually is no central theme to Without Apology. This is premised on the notion that a broad band of ideas is the most fruitful method of reaching people. However, sometimes there are more pressing issues.

It may have been noticed that a number of articles are devoted toward discussing naturopathy – the belief in a magical “vital force” which is central to the body being able to heal itself. At first glance this belief may seem harmless, but reality shows otherwise.

Naturopaths are licensed as a certain type of doctor in the state of Maine. This is a mistake. It would be inappropriate to go to one of these individuals for medical care. (Indeed, one of the health methods of some naturopaths is iridology; this is where one looks at the color patterns and other characteristics of the iris to make determinations about certain aspects of a patient’s health.) The low qualifications needed to become a naturopath, the sub-standard medical training, and the plainly silly diagnostic methods give the very real possibility of a naturopath prescribing contra-indicated drugs. At the very least, a waste of time and money is highly likely.

It is important to the health and safety of all Maine citizens that naturopaths lose their right to practice medicine in Maine. We ought to hold our medical professionals to higher standards.

Please email your state senator about this. Actually do it. It only takes a minute –

If you do not know your state senator, email Libby Mitchell –

The health of the gullible, the ignorant, and the simply deluded is at serious risk right now in Maine because of the status of naturopaths. It is paramount that everyone do what he or she can to prevent dangers in the healthcare industry. Write your representative and ask that Maine become the third state to have an outright ban on the practice of naturopathy.

Naturopaths Are Not Doctors

By Michael Hawkins

Okay, maybe that headline isn’t entirely accurate.

Naturopaths are people who practice an alternative form of medicine which has little to no basis in reality. Under Maine law, they are actually considered doctors. They aren’t medical doctors, mind you. No, no. Maine law holds them to a lower standard, meaning they are Naturopathic Doctors (ND), not MD’s. This also gives them fewer rights than real doctors. Be thankful.

Naturopathy is a belief that the body can heal itself via its “vital force”. This is entirely magical thinking which has no basis in science, is contradicted by everything in chemistry and biochemistry, and has never had any significant research done in its favor.

One local naturopathic ‘doctor’, Christopher Maloney, wrote a letter to the editor of the Kennebec Journal several months ago. In it he espoused several untruths, verging into flat out lies. This is common practice for these sort of people, so it isn’t surprising. What was especially unfortunate, though, was that the KJ ran an extra blurb explaining that naturopaths are considered to be a certain type of doctor under Maine state law. This was entirely unnecessary and, if one is to use the standards of the medical community at large, dangerous because it gives undue gravitas to a field where relatively little medical training is actually required.

One of the dangerous things Maloney told readers was that the flu vaccine only provides 6 to 15 percent protection. He misconstrued some basic statistics. In reality (and according to the CDC), the flu vaccine offers upwards of a 90% reduction in becoming infected with the flu for healthy adults. And even in the instances where someone still gets the flu after being vaccinated, the virus is much less intense.

The reason Maloney and other naturopaths want the public to believe these things is that they are generally hyper-skeptical of vaccinations (just like Jenny McCarthy). While a faux-sympathetic tone towards vaccines is sometimes taken by these people, they actually seek to raise significant doubt; it’s one of their most obvious goals. Of course, ask them to supply any evidence to the general danger of vaccines and, well, “evidence” may well need to be defined for these people.

For instance, a review of Maloney’s site,, shows a section on autism and vaccines where Maloney offers several links to a single anecdotal story (which isn’t convincing on its own merits anyway). He ends with several other links, the most prominent of which may be his own personal anecdote.

This is not evidence.

Deepening the hole into which he placed his anti-scientific letter, Maloney goes on to state that the flu vaccine has no effect on deadly complications for any population group. What he doesn’t say is that the non-mountebank truth is that they reduce hospitalization in the elderly by 50-60% (CDC). Death rate falls by 80% (CDC).

Next – and this one really irked me – Maloney tells readers that black elderberry has been shown to “block” H1N1. The worst thing about this blatant falsehood was just how easy it was to find out the truth. PubMed features two peer-reviewed studies on this. Both (by largely the same group) show that black elderberry had some positive effects for the regular flu, but the study size was small and thus more research needs to be done. (In other words, no respected member of the medical field would ever start making recommendations on such a miniscule sample of evidence.) At no point in the paper was it indicated that black elderberry has any sort of vaccination properties (either for H1N1 or what it was actually studying – the regular flu), which is what Maloney seems to imply.

It’s because of this sort of malarkey that naturopaths are not generally considered doctors within the medical community at large. Maine law must change to reflect this fact.

The Views Atop Little Spencer

By Michael Hawkins

Fierce views are difficult to tame. They inhibit legislatures, sometimes cause violence, and all too often mar friendships. So when two creationists and an atheist who constantly debate and argue with each other decided to hike Little Spencer Mountain near Moosehead Lake, context was ripe for torn relations and strained propinquities.

As with most Maine hikes, this one began with a long drive. Navigation was eased by a brand new GPS (with the British voice setting, of course; the “motorway” is much classier than the Interstate). Of course, technology only goes so far. Roads eventually cease to exist on any maps. This was remote country.

When we did find the undoubtedly dirt road – or the middle of the road-less woods, should you believe my GPS screen – we were quickly greeted by a familiar Maine native: a big, honking moose. He stopped to stare at us. We returned the favor. Infatuation seemed to be equal for both parties. Of course, the first to break the spell was the non-primate among us all. We quickly followed.

Reaching the point where the moose entered the more comfortable setting of the woods, my friends ran up a mound of dirt on the shoulder while I stood on the back of my car. There was at least one other moose in there to sustain our excitement. Soon, though, they both disappeared into the thickening Maine green.

But no, this wasn’t the end of our roadside entertainment. It turns out that one of my friends managed to step too near a black ant colony. They filled the car like something out of a movie. We soon made them the only residents of my vehicle – until The Great Insect Genocide of 2009 began. Rest their souls.

This was a good start to a hike. No Real Hiker wants any of his experience to be bland, even the parts that don’t involve walking up big hills or across wide expanses. Of course, it’s those big hills and wide expanses that are the real draw.

We ran into some trouble finding our starting point. The marking for the trail head was well hidden. This would be a common theme for Little Spencer. After see-sawing the road a little bit, we finally found the marker and began our trek to the peak of this 3,040 foot mountain.

All the information we found for this hike told us to expect about 4 hours for the totality of our journey. We were thinking it’d be a bit less – why, a few strapping men like ourselves (my best attribute is that I’m too humble) – but we had no hurry.

It wasn’t too long until we came to the Bermuda Triangle of Little Spencer. There were two rocks, both with identical white paint, both pointing toward plausible trails. One seemed to go up while the other went down. We naturally chose the “up” route.

That was wrong.

A solid 45 minutes later and we were back to the Triangle. It turns out the other trail only went downward until it reached a short curve around which we couldn’t see.

Sidebar, Your Honor: Is it legal to spray paint rocks and trees to better mark hiking trails in Maine? Someone seems to be doing it – just not well enough. I mean, I appreciate all the effort that goes into trail maintenance throughout the state, but come on. I can’t be blamed for losing the trail every single time it happens, can I?

Once we were back on our way, it wasn’t long until two notable events occurred. First, nature called. The names involved in this trip are Matt, Luke, and Michael. For the sake of the innocent and the guilty alike, let’s just say this caveat is about Bill. Well, Bill had a no-choice situation. It happens to the best of us. If you go up Little Spencer, don’t venture too far from the trail for a couple weeks.

Second, we approached a steep incline. This wasn’t just regular steep. The Cathedral Trail on Katahdin is regular steep. This was thank-goodness-there’s-a-rope-here steep.

This had to be one of the, frankly, coolest things I’d seen in all my years hiking around Maine. The rocks were narrow, wet, loose, and the rope was soaked and fraying. It was perfect.

We tackled this obstacle one-by-one. The trick was taking our time. No rushing, no dumb moves. It was a workout, it was dangerous, and it was tough, but even while grasping that rope in an effort to bring my weight closer to the peak, I couldn’t help but wait for the climb back down.

We pushed on, stopping only to live the day well: we seized all the scenic outlooks. They came as advertised.

Standing on one rock outcropping, we surveyed the great landscape before us. Spencer Pond lay before the grandeur of Moosehead Lake, completely dwarfed. Katahdin was easily viewable in the distance. The darkened clouds around its peak on this otherwise sunny day looked more like Mordor than a mountain in Maine.

It was here that I couldn’t help but imagine the immense power of the glaciers which slowly carved out the landscape that lay before us. There were great lakes and seemingly endless ponds. A great expanse of land set flat between the mountains. Perhaps it was a valley; it seemed too wide to be one to me. The colossal process that resulted in all this profound beauty only ratcheted up the intensity of this experience. If the majesty of this temporal view can be so uplifting on its own, then shouldn’t a much more grand and sweeping contemplation of deep and ancient time and measure be all the more enlightening?

Once we reached the summit, we were greeted with views of Little Spencer’s cousin, Big Spencer, to the east, and directly on the peak we discovered that we had all earned lunch. Normally the height of any hike, the top wasn’t my biggest anticipation. It was going back down that fraying rope.

Two hikers were just reaching the top of the rope when we returned. The first one to the top, Grizzly Adams beard and all, waited for his companion to reach him. I couldn’t wait for our turn.

It was one-by-one again. The rope had no knots, so it was all the more difficult going down. Momentum swung me into the narrow rock walls. Rocks slipped from beneath my boots. It was better than I had expected.

We soon returned through the Triangle, down the rest of the trail, and to my car. We came in right around 4 hours, even with our 45 minute detour. Egos were satisfied.

It’s funny. Mountains seem to have a way about them. Philosophies, theologies, politics: They all tend to fade into the background when faced with the scale, depth, detail, and outright beauty that a good hike has to offer. I’m not going to say who the creationists were and who the atheist was. We lost track of that ourselves up there on Little Spencer during that sunny Saturday afternoon.

Extra! Extra! Without Apology hits newsstands worldwide!

Okay, so maybe my publication is actually still sitting in my car. And maybe it’s only going to mostly get around my university’s campus. But it is on the world wide webernets.

For those not familiar, I have a physical publication printed in news style (but it is not a newspaper) which I distribute to friends and neighbors and around my university. For this edition I have a couple new contributors for whom I am greatly thankful. Make sure to check out some of the photography contributed by Michael Amalfitano.

So head over to Without Apology and read all the new posts. There are 9 articles in total, and a couple repeat themes I’ve expressed here, but there’s more original work than not.

One of my particular favorites is the one by Matt titled Poker Legends and the Game of Life.

Infuriatingly silly

Jerry Coyne has a post about why Francis Collins pollutes science with religion. It’s a succinct piece that basically nails Collins for all his silly, childish, superstitious, frankly stupid beliefs.

The most inane and disingenuous part of Collins’s argument is his claim that without religion, the concepts of good and evil are meaningless. (Collins’s slide 5 in Harris’s piece: “If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?”) That’s palpable nonsense. Good and evil are defined with respect to their effects and the intents of their perpetrators, not by adherence to some religious code. It is beyond my ken how a smart guy like Collins can make a claim like this, even going so far as to argue that “strong atheists” like Richard Dawkins have to accept and live their lives within a world in which good and evil are meaningless ideas

It’s inconvenient for Collins or any other religiously-driven person to admit that morality is a purely human affair. And really, it’s getting to be a tiresome argument. Explanations abound for how morality could have naturally evolved. That should be good enough to force any reasonable person to admit that, no, morality need not have a god, it need not adhere to the whims of one individual entity, and it definitely is not universal. Our ideas of morality change with the times, with cultures, with known facts, with context. The only real constant is that every human society has developed a moral system. The details within each system may vary wildly – in bin Laden’s, the death of most of America is just – but they are always put within some sort of construct. That does not mean that bin Laden’s version of morality is equal to any other version which may exist. One key component in any moral system is basing premises on facts. That’s the main reason that god-based moral systems tend to fail or be wacky (see inane hatred of homosexuality among, well, almost all the religions). It’s one of the reasons bin Laden’s system doesn’t work and is not equal to mine or yours or most Americans’ or other Westerners’ (or even most Muslims’).

Collins, like most Christians who think they somehow own the moral high horse, despite all the contrary evidence, does not understand that morality is not universal. It is only moral systems. His is broken and can only work because he’s made it malleable to the progression of secular values and understanding. Indeed, if religions weren’t so agreeable to such change, Christianity would be as much a relic as slavery. Of course, that isn’t to suggest that religion so easily moves along with reason. It doesn’t. It usually comes kicking and screaming, forced by the hand of rationality.

There are, of course, also statements made without evidence, including this one: “God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the Moral Law), with free will, and with an immortal soul” And this (slide 4): “We humans used our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God.” How does he know? What’s the evidence? Isn’t the distinction between the science slides and the faith slides being blurred here?

One thing I’ve been forcing myself to ask myself a lot lately is “Where’s my evidence?” I recently went on a big hike through the 100-Mile Wilderness, the most remote and difficult section of the Appalachian Trail. I recall passing a tree root that had made a sort of rainbow shape. Each end was in the ground, but the middle was up in the air (as opposed to laying against the ground). It was unusual, but I quickly thought “It must have been buried at some point before being exposed, thus causing it to pop up”. I had to stop myself right there. How did I know that? I didn’t. It was a plausible guess, but other explanations were also plausible. It could have grown that way. Another tree could have been there before being removed, long ago, by the Maine Appalachian Trail Committee (MATC). It could just be a brief, weird angle I had making me think it was a root when in reality it was just a fallen branch that appeared buried in the ground. All I had was a hypothesis, and one I wasn’t about to test. I had to settle with “I don’t know” as an answer. Sometimes that isn’t just a temporary answer. Every single claim/question about the after-life that Collins makes deserves a permanent “I don’t know”. He doesn’t have the evidence. As a scientist, he should value that above all else in his work.

But then again, he is a Christian. Religions do not value evidence.