Porridge for Chess – Phiona Mutesi

My sister, Elodie, is getting married next weekend.

When I was young, I loved chess. As a 7 year old boy though, I didn’t have many people to play it with, though. Elodie, was 4 years old at the time. I taught her how to play chess and she picked it up quickly, but she lost interest in it just as rapidly as she lost interest in most of her boyfriends in later years. (until Justin came along). 

So I made up a story. This being the early ’80s and South Africans still being taught to hate & fear the Russians, I told her that if she couldn’t play a good chess game, men from Russia will visit and chop off her head. She believed me and within a few short weeks  Elodie was South Africa’s best 4 year old chess player… 

I was reminded of this today as I read about Phiona Mutesi. Phiona grew up in the Katwe slum of Kampala, Uganda. Her family was starving. 

She heard about a sports centre that was giving free chess lessons. And free porridge. She went there with her brother, but was chased away because she was too dirty. 

“My brother was very annoyed and took me back to my mom. My mum told me to never go back to chess, but I went back because I wanted that cup of porridge” 

She walked six kilometres ever day to play the game. Two years later, she won the Uganda women’s junior championship. 



Markham Nolan: How to separate fact and fiction online


Ben Goldacre – Battling Bad Science

I’ve recently been getting more flack about exposing the Truth about Natura Rescue Remedy so started doing some more reading, when I found this fantastic TED talk by Ben Goldacre. Enjoy!

Big Pharma bad? Here are some facts about the “alternative”

With their money, myopia and abuses, these pill makers match big pharma

The food supplement industry likes to style itself as people’s medicine, but the way it stifles debate is far from democratic

Ben Goldacre
Friday September 12 2008 19:00 BST
Matthias Rath today pulled out of a legal case against the Guardian which has cost the organisation £500,000 to defend. I am proud that we fought it. Rath is an example of the worst excesses of the alternative therapy industry; UK nutritionists make foolish claims on poor evidence – they can make your child a genius with fish oils, or prevent heart attacks in the distant future – but Rath transplanted these practices into the world of HIV/Aids, where evidence really matters.

The potential consequences of his actions are outrageous, but he is by no means untypical. This sector has engineered a beneficent public image for itself, a warm and friendly cottage industry; but that fantasy is not borne out by the facts.

First, despite claims about the true evils of “big pharma”, presented as if they were evidence that vitamin pills are effective, there is little difference between the vitamin and pharmaceutical industries. Key players in both include multinationals such as Roche and Aventis; BioCare, the vitamin pill producer that media nutritionist Patrick Holford works for, is part-owned by Elder Pharmaceuticals, and so on.

The food supplement market, comprising products like vitamin pills and herbal supplements, is worth $50bn worldwide (against $600bn for pharmaceuticals). It has lobbied angrily and successfully against safety regulation, and the vitamin industry is also legendary in the world of economics as the setting of the most outrageous price-fixing cartel ever documented: during the 1990s the main offenders pleaded guilty and had to pay $1.5bn, the largest criminal fine levied in legal history.

That’s quite some cottage industry, and it is tightly linked to the “nutritional therapists” community. Bant, their UK membership organisation, recently changed its code of conduct in accordance with the wishes of pill manufacturers, so that members can now take undisclosed financial kickbacks for the pills they prescribe to patients. Doctors are struck off the GMC register for this activity, and rightly so.

Last year I went to a public meeting hosted by Matthias Rath in east London. He spoke for three gruelling hours, and every time he mentioned the side-effects of a treatment prescribed by doctors, the people in the seats behind me growled the word “murderers” in a venomous tone. Their hatred was intense, and it was unnerving to sit near them.

How do people become so extreme in their views? How have they been isolated from the realities of the miracle cure industries? A combination of wishful thinking, successful PR, and legal muscle.

When I attempted simply to write that the Dore miracle cure for dyslexia had not cured three people, we received several legal warning letters, delaying the piece by a month. An academic who dared to criticise the evidence base for the programme received a threatening legal letter delivered by hand to her home address.

Gillian McKeith has made repeated legal threats against websites who have dared to discuss her work, and her lawyer husband has threatened an academic who suggested testing her ideas. She also has a legal case hanging over the Sun that has seen little movement in three years.

When chiropractors had their practices challenged in the New Zealand Medical Journal they simply sent a threatening legal letter (“Let’s hear your evidence,” said the editorial in response, “not your legal muscle”). A herbal pill entrepreneur – and academic – had Professor David Colquhoun’s website removed from UCL servers after he dared to question her evidence. The Society of Homeopaths had a blogger silenced by threatening his web host.

I could go on. And of course, deterring dissent goes wider than the use of libel law. There is also the bizarre smear operation against critics of the food supplement industry, and an elaborate campaign conducted by homeopaths against Professor Edzard Ernst, an academic who has simply dared to examine the evidence for their claims, which ended up with his employers at Exeter University being harassed to silence him.

Meanwhile the alternative therapists who run university BSc courses refuse to release their lecture notes, or let anyone see their exam papers, in a desperate attempt not to engage with critical appraisal from the worlds of scientific evidence of which they purport to be a part.

This is not just unpleasant, it is also unhealthy. Ideas improve when they are challenged and questioned. I am a doctor, journalist and academic. I criticise the activities of doctors, journalists and academics in each of my jobs, and I welcome other people criticising my ideas.

Nothing could be more anti-democratic or stifling to debate than using money, law and power to regulate what can be discussed, and yet those who do it have the gall to represent themselves as the outsider, the little man, concerned with the medicine of the people. In reality they behave like nothing more than commercial entities.

The food supplement pill industry is phenomenally powerful, extremely lucrative and incredibly influential, but it has shown itself to be philosophically and commercially incapable of critical self-appraisal. Rath is its product. It is inconceivable that any individual within th
at industry would be brave enough to stand up and criticise his activities – and for that, more than anything else, it should be condemned.

Ben Goldacre, a medical doctor and author of the book Bad Science, writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian

Airlines Going Vegetarian Could Lead to Massive Carbon Offset

If every American ate just one meat-free meal per week, the emissions
savings would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our
roads” – http://is.gd/d3BdM


Unfortunately the article above doesn’t say over what time period, but
I assume over the lifespan of the average American, which is 78 years.


There are an estimated 300 million Americans, so you’re talking
roughly 15.6 billion vegetarian meals (300 million * 52) per year being
the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the planet’s roads.


There are projected to be 2.75 billion airline passengers in 2011


Assuming 1 meal per flight, and that 75% of current meals are
non-vegetarian, you’re looking at 2.62 billion meals.


Now, if all of those meals were to become vegetarian, the offset would
be equivalent to taking 840,000 cars off the planets roads.


The question now becomes how we can ‘nudge’ the airlines to make this “small but big change”

The Truth About Natura Rescue Remedy

I’ve heard a couple of friends and family swear by Natura Rescue Remedy, “for Shock, Anxiety & Sleeplessness”. So I thought I’d do a bit of research. Here’s what I found: 

Firstly, let’s have a look at the ingredients listed on the Natura website. (The ingredients don’t actually matter, but more about that later.)

  • Ambra grisea D6
  • Banisteropsis caapi Spag D60
  • Clematis vitalba (Clematis) aqua inf.
  • Helianthemum nummularium (Rock Rose) aqua inf.
  • Impatiens glandulifera (Impatiens) aqua inf.
  • Melissa officinalis Spag D3
  • Moschus moschiferus D6
  • Ornithogalum umbellatum (Star of Bethlehem) aqua inf.
  • Prunus cerasifera (Cherry Plum) aqua inf.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

Ingredient Natura Says In reality
Ambra Grisea supports the functioning of the nervous system to treat anxiety, fear, hypersensitivity, shyness and numbness of the body. biliary secretion of the intestines of the sperm whale … was used as a fixative in perfumery
Banisteriopsis caapi helps calm extreme nervous hypersensitivity
Hallucinogenic used by native American tribes and some religious sects. Entheogenic.
Clematis is a flower essence indicated for inability to focus on reality and the present and is useful in the treatment of shock. Essentially toxic. Causes internal bleeding of the digestive track. Despite its toxicity, it was used by Native Americans in small amounts to treat migraines.
Rock Rose is the flower essence that relieves extreme fear and a feeling of panic This is a good nectar source for bees
Impatiens glandulifera acts on the nervous system to relieve irritability, restlessness, hyperactivity and impatience When crushed has a strong musky odour.
Melissa Officinalis has a carminative and sedative action to help induce restful sleep, prevent insomnia, soothe irritability and help cope with stress and tension.
Wikipedia actually notes one study that did find it “may” relieve stress, though even the authors of this study state that further research is needed to confirm it. 
Don’t expect much from this as Natura dilutes this ingredient 1000 times before adding it in with the mix of other ingredients.
Moschus moschiferus acts on the central nervous system to relieve fainting, shock, anxiety and fear
Siberian Musk Deer. Hunted for its musk gland (believed to have aphrodisiac qualities). Classified as a threatened species by CITES. 
Now Natura is helping to kill endanged animals!
Star of Bethlehem is the principle flower essence specifically indicated for shock Wikipedia says: “The plant is toxic.”
Cherry Plum is a flower essence that acts on the nervous system to treat anxiety and fear Wikipedia says: “excellent for jam making”


Hopefully by now you’ve figured out that Natura is trying to fool people and relieve them of their money, rather than their anxiety. Firstly, not a single one of the ingredients has been proven to have any of the effects Natura proclaims. Furthermore, the ingredients are so dilute that they wouldn’t have any effect in any case.

If you thought that you’d at least get a little bit high from Banisteriopsis caapi as the Native Americans did, think again. It is diluted 1×10^60 times before it’s added. This means that there is 1 part of this in every 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 parts of water. That’s a pretty big number. Let me try put this another way: It will take 2 billion doses, per second, to 6 billion people, for 4 billion years, to deliver a single molecule to any one patient.

I.e. you haven’t a snowball’s chance in midsummer to get any effect from Banisteriopsis Caapi. 

And that ain’t the end of it! Hold on to your chair for this one:

According to homeopathy principles, the more dilute the solution, the stronger the effects! I kid you not.


Now, I know some of you reading this are saying: “But I’ve tried homeopathy and it works for me!”. And this may well be true, because of the Placebo Effect, and it has indeed been scientifically proven that Placebos do help with symptomatic relief.

The question is: How much are you willing to pay for a Placebo?


Please share this article with your friends and family. Even if Rescue might have no effects on your body, the long-term effect on the environment from manufacturing and distribution of these remedies is highly destructive.