Yet Another Kevin Trudeau Con

Kevin Trudeau is in the news for shenanigans other than the ‘alternative medicine’ scams he’s associated with. The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran an article on October 27, 2006 that exposes his involvement in organizing the International Pool Tour, which included a $3 million World 8-Ball Open in Reno, NV. Unfortunately, for the players, not all is on the up-and-up:

Six weeks after the IPT Open in Reno, Trudeau has yet to pay the winners. He has apologized for the delay, saying he fully understood and acknowledged the players’ frustration and concern.

“Critics quickly alerted players and industry reps about Trudeau’s controversial past,” Panozzo recalled. (Trudeau had spent 24 months in federal prison for credit card fraud and larceny.–MRI)

Of course, Trudeau responded with the same easy rhetoric that he offers critics of his pseudoscience claims in infomercials and books:

“When you create something new, like the IPT, the first reaction isn’t ‘Great!’ It’s ‘Witch! Charlatan!’ That’s what happens,” Trudeau said.

He pointed out that the opening quote in his best-selling book, “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You To Know About,” is by Albert Einstein who said, “Great spirits always get violent opposition from mediocre minds.” His book, which has so far sold more than three million copies, espouses cures and remedies that don’t require drugs and surgery. A pioneer of infomercial, Trudeau is now worth more than $2 billion.

$2 billion!? If you flip open the front cover of his Natural Cures book, you see the announcement that he makes no money from his work, but donates it all to furthering the cause of alternative medicine and ‘natural’ cures. $2 Billion?! I wonder what funds he’s given to whom for the good of alternative medicine?

Stolen and Looted: Who Does the Past Belong To?

It would seem that The J. Paul Getty Museum disagrees with the nation of Italy with regard to ownership of antiquities in their possession:

Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said that an offer by the J. Paul Getty Museum to hand over 26 disputed antiquities doesn’t go far enough and that the museum needs to return all of the artifacts Italy has requested.

Italy is asking for 21 others, including “Statue of a Victorious Youth,” known as the Getty Bronze. The Los Angeles- based J. Paul Getty Museum, the world’s richest private art institution, said on Nov. 21 that it would return only some of the contested objects.

In a statement issued after the press conference, Getty Museum Director Michael Brand said the museum was “deeply saddened” by Italy’s response, and offered to continue talks. Brand invited Rutelli, who plans to be in the U.S. next week, to the Getty Villa, a museum of Roman, Etruscan and Greek art, “so he can see for himself the impact the magnificent works of art displayed there have on the American public.”


The quote above is found at:
Italy Says Getty Needs to Surrender All Disputed Artifacts [www.bloomberg.com]
But it raises the question: “who does the past belong to?” I don’t know the provenance of the antiquities in question or read as yet whether or not there is any documented evidence of their existence before the 1970 UNESCO conference (though it would seem there isn’t given the Italian government’s interest in them), but should museums be required to give back antiquities that draw thousands of visitors and inspire many to take an interest in history and archaeology? I say yes. Particularly if the artifacts are post-1970 and have no provenance. Clearly, with these antiquities, museum curators should have known something was not on the up-and-up if a dealer was unwilling or unable to provide provenance. Museums stand to loose millions of dollars in handing back stolen and looted property, but such is the risk they took by accepting questionable goods to begin with.

In other looted news:

“Relics looted from the Middle East being sold on the Internet and at markets in Britain may be helping to fund international terrorism,” which can be read at: Artifacts sold in Britain could be funding terrorism [www.metimes.com]

Poverty makes Bulgarians Rob Archaeological Heritage – National Geographic [ www.sofiaecho.com]
The trade in artifacts is more profitable than drug trade in poverty-striken Bulgaria, where the middle-class is now “flat broke” and looking for subsistence. Their strategy is to loot their cultural heritage of Thracian gold. The risk associated with such activity was once considered great, but desperate times may call for desperate measures. It continues the question of “who does the past belong to” in a different perspective: do the Bulgarian people have the right to sell their own cultural heritage on the black market in order to sustain themselves? The archaeologist in me balks at the idea. The father in me understands the need to feed and clothe the ones you love beyond all else.

Holocaust heirs still being sought [www.praguepost.com]
The Czech Republic is wants to answer “who does the past belong to?” and has even set up a website to do it. During World War II, the Nazi regime and the Gestapo confiscated thousands of art and cultural items from Jewish citizens as part of the Holocaust. Earlier this month, the Czech Republic voted to abandon a deadline for the families of Holocaust victims to reclaim their property, which includes: “[o]
rnate metal goblets for the Seder table. Porcelain figurines and marble sculptures. Oil paintings dating to the 17th century. Hundreds of copies of the Torah and other Holy Scriptures.”

They’ve also established a website (set up by Sotheby’s, ironically enough) called Restitution-Art [www.restitution-art.cz] to help locate individual pieces of art and cultural items.


In the past four years, some 20,000 pieces — textiles, liturgical objects, furniture, paintings and sculptures — have been identified as Holocaust spoils, said Kraus. About 3,400 pieces have been entered into a searchable online database: www.restitution-art.cz. The rest will be gradually added, but until then a complete list is kept at the Culture Ministry.


The North Carolina Science Blogging Conference

Corturnix at A Blog Around The Clock asked some time ago if I would post about the upcoming North Carolina Science Blogging Conference. I meant to post this one (I really did!), but the email he sent me ended up at the bottom of my saved list over time. Luckily I discovered it while going through my saved mail and before the conference scheduled for January 20.

This is a conference I’d love to attend myself, but, sadly, time and funds won’t permit right now. Billed as “a conference to explore new ways in communicating the scientific exploration happening in our state,” by the conference’s website, BlogTogether, a science blogger (or even potential blogger) can attend with free registration and free wifi for the laptop!

Where: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
When: Saturday, January 20, 2007 (9:00 am – 4:00 pm)

Get more info at BlogTogether for the conference.
Get more info at Science Blogging – What It Can Be on the nature and possibility of Science Blogging by one of the best and most prolific.

Review: Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures, Part 2

Previous entries about Trudeau:
Review: Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures, Part 1
The Pseudoscience of an “Infomercial” Conman

In Part 1 of my review of Trudeau’s Natural Cures (linked above), I spent a bit of time examining his claim that he “should be dead” and that his mitral valve prolapse was cured by a “dermatron.” I also commented on his claims that cellular injection therapy are legitimate. The post continues to draw quite a few hits and there are several comments made by some significance-junkies and Trudeau followers that are offended that someone would dare choose science over quackery.

I’ll continue the series with a bit more brevity.

In chapter 2 of his book, “what’s wrong with health care in America?,” Trudeau continues with logical fallacy after logical fallacy and with his refusal to cite any sources of verifiable information. He states that the medical establishment is “absolutely, 100%, failed in curing and prevention of illness, sickness, and disease.” Not a single source for his information. Not a single statistic cited. Nada.

Obviously this is completely and utterly false. One need only think of diseases such as polio and small pox and realize that it is medical science that eradicated these from most of the world. A casual look at a biology book or text on sociology that examines global trends and it becomes clear that where western medicine is prevalent in the world, infant mortality declines and longevity increases. Such data is so easy to come by, I’ll not even bother to link or cite it. Of course, the significance-junkies and conspiracy-nutters that see Trudeau as a hero turn blind eye to any facts that don’t already fit their conclusions.

Trudeau continues his chain of logical fallacies by stating in this chapter that more people get “X” than ever before. For “X,” simply insert whatever disease or condition you prefer: MS, cancer, diabetes, lupus, asthma, acne, dandruff, etc.

This is actually true. More people today *are* afflicted with these diseases than, say, 100 years ago. Of course, the population in the United States has more than tripled since 1900! So it shouldn’t even be surprising that more people are also being treated medically than “ever before.”

The gist of Trudeau’s 2nd chapter is that medical science has failed “absolutely, 100%.” Yet he fails the reader by at least this same measure since he utterly refuses to show how he arrived at that conclusion, an insult to the intelligence of the reader as it seems that such a failure assumes them incapable of understanding the reasoning. Or, more likely, because the data exist only in Trudeau’s head, invented and concocted for the sole purpose of appealing to popularity in making himself appear as though he’s a voice for the people, fighting against the “establishment” bent on keeping us all sick and in need of medicine.

I’ll not pretend that there are no problems with the the health care industry. There are. Trudeau may even be right about some of them. However, one cannot solve real problems by lumping the entirety of medical science in with those that engage in price-gouging, monopolistic control of specific drugs, pressuring physicians to back specific drugs, convincing the public they need unnecessary drugs for vague symptoms advertised on television, etc, etc

Trudeau’s exploits the natural frustrations that people have with health care to make a dollar. He’s a criminal.

Stolen and Looted: Cultural History Lost and Destroyed for a Buck

Museums and private collectors are the motivations behind thieves that loot archaeological sites around the world, some of them never even known by archaeologists much less studied. Sites the world over are suffering major damage and destruction at the hands of a few that engage in illicit excavations to provide antiquities to the free market that isn’t exclusive to just private collectors but also includes major museums.

Sites in Peru, Iraq, South East Asia, and even South West United States have been plundered to the point that they look like the cratered surface of the moon.

The first of these two photos is a site in Iraq (courtesy of World Monuments Fund), the second is of a site in Cambodia (courtesy of Heritage Watch). They’re half a world apart but strikingly similar in the destruction wrought by looters bent on removing grave goods for sale on the black market.

In a recent article of the New York Sun, titled Collecting vs. Cultural Heritage, two perspectives were presented in the debate over antiquities trade and acquisition by museums. The article’s author reported on the talk given to the Chelsea Art Museum by Peter Watson, the author of The Medici Conspiracy: the Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities. Watson’s presentation was mostly regarding his book, an account of the investigation and subsequent arrest and prosecution by Italian authorities of antiquities “dealer” Giacomo Medici, Robert Hecht and Marion True (the former curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum). Watson’s implications were that museums were still culpable when it comes to illicit antiquities trade, and accused them of “dragging their feet” on the issue.

Museums like the Met, the Getty, and Boston’s MFA still have vast stores of unprovenanced antiquities – artifacts that have no documentation that places them in a private collection prior to 1970, when UNESCO established its convention prohibiting and preventing the trade of illicit antiquities.

The Sun’s author also reported on a presentation given by the Met’s director, Philippe de Montebello, who defended the collecting of antiquities by museums. His argument was that museums such as the Met, the Louvre, and the British Museum wouldn’t exist were it not for antiquities trade and acquisition. His statement was true enough, but one that may be irresponsible in today’s age. Colin Renfrew commented in Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology that should museums and collectors continue to collect unprovenanced antiquities, the looters and thieves will continue to have a market to sell them to. Their tactics are such that the artifacts are removed from their contexts without scientific discovery or documentation and, thus, anything that can be said about the culture being robbed is forever lost.

While de Montebello isn’t defending the illicit trade of antiquities directly, and he justifies his position by claiming that the acquisition of pieces by museums is such that it barely influences the illegal looting of sites (I suspect Renfrew would disagree), there are those that do defend looting as a legitimate pastime and occupation.

The Arizona Republic ran a series of articles by Dennis Wagner last week that discussed the looting and plundering of cultural sites in America’s Southwest and, in one, Wagner interviewed Rodney Tidwell who says, “[t]he word is not looting, it’s digging. We excavate.” Tidwell was convicted on 20 felony counts of stealing and selling Native American cultural goods and went to jail for 33 months for his “digging.”

Wagner’s primary article, Stolen Artifacts Shatter Ancient Culture, begins with this:

In the dead of night, looters are destroying the history of America, desecrating sacred Indian ruins. An estimated 80 percent of the nation’s ancient archaeological sites have been plundered or robbed by shovel-toting looters. Though some of the pillaging is done by amateurs who don’t know any better, more serious damage is wrought by professionals who dig deep, sometimes even using backhoes. The motive is money.

Wagner goes on to point out the plight of authorities to deal with looters bent on stealing and destroying cultural heritage in their greed to make a buck. The Bureau of Land Management has 261 million acres of responsibility and much of the land is not yet surveyed. Wagner writes that a federal report from 2002 estimates 32 percent of the Four Corners region of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona has been looted but archaeologists will generally lean towards 8 of every 10 sites have been looted.

Land management and lack of manpower isn’t the only problem authorities face, however. If a looter is caught, it must be demonstrated that the artifacts originated from public lands. Short of catching them in the act, this becomes a near impossibility and it is completely legal for looters to plunder, desecrate and destroy sites on private land in the United States. Indeed, many land owners lease their land for ‘digs’ and some looters have been known to buy land, plunder the artifacts (ignoring the scientific processes for recording and understanding context), then resell the land.

And with buyers, the problem is even more difficult since authorities must prove that the buyer knew the artifacts to be looted.

So what can you do?

  • Treat historic sites with care. If you happen upon an artifact notify your local land management office or park officials.
  • If you observe someone looting or vandalizing a site, contact a land management office, park police, or law enforcement officials ASAP, but don’t confront the looters.
  • Volunteer with your local historical or archaeological society and participate in legitimate cultural resource management projects!
  • Don’t buy or sell artifacts for personal gain.

Two Great Carnivals!

The second edition of Four Stone Hearth is up at afarensis, which includes posts from PZ Myers (Pharyngula), Chris O’Brien (Northstate Science), and Duane at Abnormal Interests. Great stuff so far, but I’ve only had time to read a couple posts. I look forward to reading the rest tonight after work!

As a reminder, Four Stone Hearth is the new anthropology blog carnival, so if you’re a blogger with an interest in topics of anthropology (archaeology, ethnography/cultural, linguistics, or physical/medical/biological), give it a look and submit a post. Some of the articles above are by bloggers who are not anthropologists, but have information useful to the field of anthropology.

The 47th Skeptics’ Circle is also up at Polite Company, which I had a sneak-peek at! (Sorry… was checking my hits the day prior) I won’t give it away, but this one might even give Karl’s podcast version a run for its money in creativity. I’m impressed! Good work! Click this link for the Hero Edition!

Forbidden Archaeology? The Exaggeration of the Antiquity of Man -part 3-

In two other parts in this series, I posted about the exaggerated antiquity of man in which proponents suggest that modern humans (Homo sapiens), have existed in present form for millions of years. Some of these proponents even suggest that, because of this, advanced civilizations once existed in the Earth’s past. This exaggerated antiquity of man lends itself well to fantasies about Atlantis, Mu, and Lemuria as well as others.

In the second part of the Forbidden Archaeology? series, I mentioned Michael Cremo’s article in Atlantis Rising about his recent visit to the Sterkfontein archaeological site. Cremo is also the co-author of a book called Forbidden Archaeology in which he presents much of his speculation about the antiquity of man and in this he has a section on the Laetoli footprints, which I found excerpted on the Internet. I’ll try not to spend much time on this since others have done a far better job than I could ever do in picking Cremo and Thompson apart on their book. The reason I’m mentioning it at all is because Cremo is still suggesting in his Atlantis Rising column that modern humans lived millions of years ago.

Forbidden Archaeology? The Exaggerated Antiquity of Man – Part One-
Forbidden Archaeology? The Exaggerated Antiquity of Man – Part Two-

The Laetoli Footprints According to Cremo

One of the things that first caught my attention in reading the excerpt of Forbidden Archaeology’s chapter on the Laetoli footprints was this:

Readers who have accompanied us this far in our intellectual journey will have little difficulty in recognizing the Laetoli foot prints as potential evidence for the presence of anatomically modern human beings over 3.6 million years ago in Africa. […] What amazed us most was that scientists of worldwide reputation, the best in their profession, could look at these footprints, describe their humanlike features, and remain completely oblivious to the possibility that the creatures that made them might have been as humanlike as ourselves.

As tempting as it is to offer a witticism about or deride the “intellectual journey” part, I’ll abstain. My criticism instead will focus on the credulous nature of Cremo and Thompson as well as their inability to separate “humanlike” from “human.” What we know from australopithecine post cranial remains is that they were erect and had a bipedal locomotion that may or may not have resembled that of modern humans (Marchal 2003). As far as I’m aware, the only remains found that date to the period of the prints is that of Australopithicus afarensis. Cremo and Thompson seem to have an affinity with quoting R.H. Tuttle who stated, and I’m paraphrasing, that had the ash been dated to a younger age, most scientists would have little problem assigning them “to Homo.” What’s important to note here the point which Cremo and Thompson are a bit deceptive about: Tuttle is referring to the genus Homo not the species Homo sapiens.

Cremo and Thompson also discuss Tim White’s experimental analysis of a reconstructed A. afarensis foot which fit one of the Laetoli prints better than either human or chimpanzee. They’re critical of White’s reconstruction method, in which he used Homo habilis parts to fill in for the missing afarensis ones, since a complete afarensis foot isn’t known. However, it occurs to me that if a habilis/afarensis hybrid works better than either a human or chimpanzee foot at the same scale, perhaps it wasn’t an out-of-place human. And it blows a hole in Cremo’s speculation to recognize the fact that ‘anatomically modern humans’ are very recent in the fossil record, perhaps up to 150,000 years ago, while australopithecines do exist at around 5-2 million years ago, followed by habilis at around 2.4 million years ago.

For those that have followed Cremo’s “work,” they understand that his speculations of exaggerated antiquity of man are based upon his particular brand of creationism. Cremo adheres to the Vedic mythology rather than the Judeo-Christian one that permeates the creation arguments of most in the United States.

Footprints in Mexico: 40,000 Years Old?

In the March/April 2006 issue of Atlantis Rising, Cremo wrote a brief article about the footprints found in volcanic ash near Valsequillo, Mexico in the bed of an ancient lake. One report places the strata that the alleged prints are in at over 40,000 years old (Gonzalez 2006) and another 1.3 million years old (Renne 2005)!

It’s possible, albeit not probable for hominids to have left foot prints 40,000 years ago in Central America. What’s more probable is that the dating methods are flawed or that the prints weren’t hominid at all since there is no other evidence to suggest that humans were able to reach this hemisphere by that time. After all, this was about the time humans were just starting to reach Australia and replace or assimilate Neanderthals in Europe. Moreover, 40,000 years ago was in one of the coldest phases of the Wisconsin glaciation which began at about 70,000 years ago and ended around 10,000 years ago.

Gonzalez’s speculation is that an early boat faring culture made their way to the Americas more than 40,000 years ago. This might have been how early humans made the relatively short jaunt to Australia from South East Asia and the Malaysian Islands, but there’s a lot of open sea between South America and Asia. The notion is romantic, but it’ll take more than some anomalous marks in volcanic strata for this to rise above anything but speculation.

Cremo says in his column that he believes the tracks to be 1.3 million years old and human, but one must give him credit since he does acknowledge other possibilities.

The other main possibilities are (1) they are 1.3 million years old and are tracks of Homo erectus, (2) they are 41,500 years old and are human, (3) they are not real tracks.

These prints have been interpreted as “human” (Gonzalez 2006) and a short description can be found at The Royal Society website. But the 40,000 year date is challenged by Paul Renne (2005) who performed both argon-argon dating and paleomagnetic analysis, which both yielded dates of 1.3 million years ago. To be fair, Cremo mentions this in his column, but the significance to him has the opposite effect. For the reasoned mind, this implies that the prints probably aren’t hominid after all if the date is correct. To the significance-junkie, however, this implies that hominids were populating Central America 1.3 million years ago.

Interestingly enough, there’s been a recent find of fossil footprints at Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico that are dated to more than 10,000 years old -a date that fits better with evidence already collected about human presence in the Americas. And these footprints look like footprints. Even the prints in Laetoli, at over 3.6 million years of age still look like human footprints. Over 200 prints were found near Valsequillo, of which 60% are alleged to be hominid (Gonzalez 2006), only a handful appears to resemble hominid prints. Each of the Cuatro Cienegas prints is about 25.4 cm long, just a bit larger than the average print found at Valsequillo. The Laetoli prints average about 19 cm. The feet of H. habilis and H. erectus, the hominids that lived at about 1.3 million years ago, are a bit longer than afarensis of Laetoli, but significantly smaller than that of modern humans. If the prints were hominid and could be dated to 1.3 million years ago, wouldn’t we expect them to be significantly smaller in length than that of modern humans?

This question is what leads Cremo to conclude that modern humans thrived millions of years ago, rather than settle for the more parsimonious explanations that the dating is either flawed or the marks aren’t hominid prints.

References:

Gonzalez, Silvia; Huddart, D.; Bennett, M.R.; Gonzalez-Huesca, A. (2006). Human footprints in Central Mexico older than 40,000 years. Quaternary Science Reviews, 25, 201-222.

Marchal, F. (2003) Size and Shape of the Australopithecine Pelvic Bone. Human Evolution, 18(3-4), 161-176.

Renne, P.R.; Feinberg, J.M.; Waters, M.R.; et al (2005). Age of Mexican ash with alleged footprints. Nature, 438, E7-E8