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What's the harm?

These links and comments illustrate the harm done by occult, paranormal, pseudoscientific, and supernatural beliefs. The harm may be tangible and easily documented: physical, financial, or interpersonal. »What's the Harm? archives

22 Nov 2010. Epilepsy patient killed during ‘exorcism’ An epileptic died in the Ghulam Muhammadabad area of Faisalabad, Pakistan, after allegedly being tortured by a witch doctor who had been called by the family to exorcise him. Ghulam Mustafa, the witch doctor, has gone into hiding. The brother of the victim filed a report with police, accusing Mustafa of murder, but the family has tried to withdraw the charge for fear that the family member who called in the witch doctor will be implicated.

27 September 2010. A severe case of exorcism involving two women of Greek origin is being tried the next few days in a courtroom in Sydney. The accused are two men who allegedly sexually abused the two women during a “false worship”. The women believed they were going for an exorcism but in reality they were sexually abused. The alleged perpetrators are 40 year Thanassis Psychogios who resides in Sydney and is a married father of three. The second is 62 year old Anthony Gkolosian. The men were charged with a number of categories which include intercourse without consent and sexual assault.

See also this similar story.

10 August 2010. 'Exorcisms' performed on Chechen stolen brides The Centre for Islamic Medicine near the center of Grozny is run by Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov's personal doctor. Most of the patients are young women who have suffered breakdowns after being kidnapped and forced into marriage. They are brought to be exorcised of the jinn believed to be possessing them. In its first year, the medical center claimed to have cured more than 60,000 people suffering from "psycho-neurological diseases." Kadyrov has a free hand to impose his own version of what he calls "traditional Chechen Islam."

In 2007, in violation of Russian law, he issued an edict banning women and girls without a headscarf from schools, universities and other public buildings.

Since June, unidentified men with paintball guns have driven round the centre of Grozny shooting at girls with uncovered heads.

On state television, Kadyrov said he did not know who was responsible for the attacks but added: "When I find them, I will express my gratitude."

27 July 2010. Man renounces Islam at lecture and is attacked by the audience When 37-year old Mohamed Nazim of the Maldives announced his apostasy in a public meeting, he caused a riot. He spent several days in police custody before announcing that he was no longer an atheist. Not long ago Ismail Mohamed Didi, a 25 year-old air traffic controller in the Maldives capital committed suicide after admitting he was an atheist and being denied asylum in the UK. Hugh Kramer writes: "The Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, is a 100% Islamic republic. In fact, their constitution states you cannot be a citizen unless you are Muslim." 34-year old freelance Maldivian journalist, Ismail Khilath Rasheed, was arrested after an alleged suicide attempt through the use of drugs. One of the charges against him is atheism. Many of his articles have been critical of the state religion.

21 July 2010. Girl beaten and burnt in exorcism ritual A 10-year-old girl who was bound, beaten, and burnt for a month as part of an exorcism ritual escaped after picking the lock on the chain around her ankle....the girl was left in the care of a relative in Taman Permas Jaya after her father passed away. The relative started performing the exorcism rituals on her shortly after a medium told him that she was an unlucky omen for the family.

15 July 2010. 4-year-old Russian boy dies after shaman performs exorcism to remove 'evil spirits' from his body A four-year-old boy with pneumonia died during an exorcism after his parents told a Korean Shaman to remove "evil spirits" from his body.

The child stopped breathing during the so-called healing ritual with So Dyavor, and her husband Kim Sende, according to The Moscow Times...."The investigation has established that the child died during non-traditional medical treatment," said a Russian investigator without citing an exact cause of death.

27 June 2010. FLDS TRIALS: Jeffs gets 17 years in assault Abram Harker Jeffs was sentenced to 17 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for sexual assault of a child, the lowest first-degree felony sentence yet for a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

18 June 2010. Circumcisions kill 20 boys in South Africa Circumcision is seen as a rite of passage into manhood in some South African communities....Illegal initiation schools have become common in the Eastern Cape, especially in rural areas. Unregistered surgeons often set them up as a way of making money...

26 May 2010. 5 sentenced to death in honor killing of Indian couple from same clan Chanderpati Banwala has been ostracized and his son murdered along with his young wife because in his village in rural India "village elders declared the relationship incestuous, a violation of ancient Hindu rules of marriage because the two were descendants of a common ancestor who lived thousands of years ago. As the couple tried to flee town, the young woman's family chased them down and dragged them out of a bus on a busy highway. The groom, Manoj, was strangled, and his bride, Babli, was forced to drink pesticide. Their bodies were dumped in a canal."

30 April 2010. Measles outbreaks threaten progress in child mortality in west and central Africa Insufficient immunization put children at risk. Sixteen countries of West and Central Africa are in the throes of a measles outbreak, with 22,364 cases and 185 deaths.

26 April 2010. Baby starved to death for not saying 'Amen'; mom gets probation At the time of Javon's death, Ramkissoon was living with a small religious cult led by a woman who calls herself Queen Antoinette....A jury convicted Antoinette, her daughter Trevia Williams and another follower, Marcus Cobbs, of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. They face 60 years in prison when they are sentenced next month.

21 April 2010. Senegal: Boys in Many Quranic Schools Suffer Severe Abuse Tens of thousands of children at residential Quranic schools in Senegal are subjected to slavery-like conditions and severely abused, Human Rights Watch said....

11 April 2010. Child bride, 13, bleeds to death A 13-year-old Yemeni girl died three days after marrying a man twice her age, due to internal bleeding following intercourse, a Yemeni human rights group and UNICEF said.

19 Mar 2010. TV presenter gets death sentence for 'sorcery' Ali Hussain Sibat, former host of a popular call-in show that aired on Sheherazade, a Beirut based satellite TV channel, was arrested by Saudi Arabia's religious police (known as the Mutawa'een) and charged with sorcery while visiting Saudi Arabia in May 2008. Sibat was in Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic religious pilgrimage known as Umra. On his show he would predict the future and give out advice to his audience. In November 2009, a court in the Saudi city of Medina found Sibat guilty and sentenced him to death.

Sibat is 48 and has five children.

update: 22 April 2010. Saudis not to behead Lebanese psychic Sibat's lawyer told The Associated Press that the Saudi ambassador in Beirut informed the Lebanese justice minister that the execution of Ali Sibat would not take place.

further update: 14 Nov 2010. Saudi court rejects death sentence for TV psychic "Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court has refused to ratify the death sentence of a Lebanese psychic convicted of practicing witchcraft in a case that has outraged international human rights groups....A three-judge panel said in its ruling Thursday that there was not enough evidence that Ali Sibat's actions harmed others. The judges ordered the case to be retried in a Medina court and recommended that the sentence be commuted and that Sibat be deported."

18 Mar 2010. Mexico Is Warned on Drug Detector The British government has notified Mexico that a handheld device widely used by the Mexican military and police to search for drugs and explosives may be ineffective....Although critics have called the GT 200 nothing more than a divining rod, Mexican defense officials praise the devices as a critical part of their efforts to combat drug traffickers....in November, at a checkpoint on the highway leading from Mexico City to Monterrey, the device pointed at a Volkswagen containing a man, a woman, and a child. Soldiers surrounded the vehicle and a search was conducted for illegal drugs. But all they found was a bottle of Tylenol — evidence, the soldier operating the device said, of how sensitive the GT 200 was.

Evidence of how stupid and gullible the soldier and his bosses are. The same device, made by the British company Global Technical Ltd., was sold to the Thai army. The army has said it will continue to use the worthless dowsing units even though testing by government scientists found them far less effective than specially trained dogs.

11 Mar 2010. Sect linked to measles deaths A religious sect known as the Vapositori has been implicated in the deaths of more than 100 children from measles, a Zimbabwe government report has revealed. Members of the faith refuse on religious grounds to have their children immunized.

5 Mar 2010. Self-Proclaimed 'Psychic' Charged with Investor Fraud A self-proclaimed psychic who called himself "America's Prophet" and claimed the ability to predict stock market changes was charged by the Securities & Exchange Commission with multi-million dollar securities fraud. Sean David Morton started to solicit investors in the summer of 2006 by promising to use his psychic abilities for investment guidance, the SEC alleged in the complaint....In all, Morton raised more than $6 million from over 100 investors in 2006 and 2007. Morton invested about half the funds with foreign currency trading firms and diverted some of the investor funds, including at least $240,000 into his and his wife's non-profit religious organization, Prophecy Research Institute.

2 Mar 2010. Is Conservative Christian Group, No Greater Joy Ministries, Pushing Parents to Beat Kids to Death? No Greater Joy Ministries takes the Bible's notion that "He that spareth his rod hateth his son" as an edict for child-raising, or, as the ministry's website phrases it, "child training" via "biblical chastisement." The Ministry's website says that "Proper application of the rod is indispensable to communicating the divine principle of retributive justice," and that people who avoid using the rod might be "emotional coward[s]." Some allegedly Christian parents charged with murdering their children claim they were just following the advice of No Greater Joy Ministries.

Prosecutors accuse Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz of Paradise, Calif. with beating their 7-year-old daughter to death with quarter-inch plastic tubing because she mispronounced a word. They say the girl's parents held her down and whipped her for hours causing massive tissue damage that resulted in her death. In Raleigh, N.D., 4-year-old Sean Paddock died from injuries incurred while being beaten by his mother with plastic tubing and wrapped in blankets so tightly that he suffocated.

2 Mar 2010. Jury deliberations begin in trial of alleged cult members Jurors began deliberations Tuesday afternoon in the case against three alleged cult members accused of starving a 16-month-old child to death in their Baltimore apartment because he did not say "amen" before meals.

28 Feb 2010. Chinese herbal pills destroyed UK woman's health English civil servant Patricia Booth, 58, took "Xie Gan Wan" tablets for more than five years [from 1998-2003] to treat a facial skin condition after being reassured by a traditional Chinese medicine lady named Ying "Susan" Wu that the pills were as safe as Coca-Cola. Booth's skin cleared up, but she had to have her kidneys removed, contracted urinary tract cancer, and later had a heart attack. Officers from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency visited Wu's Chinese Herbal Medical Centre shop after determining that the Xie Gan Wan pills caused Booth's health problems.

According to news reports, Wu, 48, told the officers that she was a qualified doctor in China, but not in Britain. She was cleared of administering a noxious substance, but admitted lesser charges relating to the sale of the pills. Judge Jeremy Roberts, who gave her a two-year conditional discharge, said the sale of traditional Chinese medicines was totally unregulated in Britain and so there was no evidence that Wu knew of the tablets' potential for harm.

One site that sells Xie Gan Wan claims:

Long Dan Xie Gan Wan (Long Dan Xie Gan Pian, 龙胆泻肝丸), literally "Gentiana Purge Liver Pills" in Chinese, is a famous Chinese medicine for its popular use in purging the liver fire, cleansing the liver, and hepatitis. However, in recent years it gets known to cause kidney damages in numerous cases (for example, see Herbal Safety) because of aristolochic acid the original formula contains.

The purveyor of this product claims that it can do wonders. It "clears away sthenic fire in the liver and gallbladder meridians, eliminates damp heat in the lower energizer." It's used for "headache, hypochondriac pain, conjunctival congestion, bitter taste in the mouth, deafness, otalgia [earache]. The Chinese medicine is also effective for downbearing of damp heat in the liver meridian marked by darkish turbid urine, vaginal pruritus, vaginal swelling, scrotal swelling, leukorrhea, reddish tongue with yellowish greasy fur, wiry and slippery and strong pulse [???]." The purveyor assures us that his product has not had any aristolochic acid in it since May 2007.

For more, see Ben Goldacre: How do you regulate Wu?

15 Feb 2010. Scientologist claims she was forced to have an abortion at 17 (she signed on for a billion years when she was seven). Another claims he was beaten several times by the head of the church.

15 Feb 2010. When a psychic's love spell failed, her client had her murdered. The client then stole the psychic's credit cards, jewelry, and cash. Tanya Nelson, a longtime client of Ha Jade Smith, blamed the fortuneteller for a fortune gone bad and was so angered that she decided to kill her, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Sonia Balleste, who is prosecuting Nelson at the murder trial in Orange County Superior Court.

update: 24 Apr 2010. Tanya Nelson, 46, of North Carolina was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of Ha Jade Smith, 52, and her daughter, Anita Vo, 23. Phillipe Zamora, who took part in the plot to murder Smith, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.

12 Jan 2010. Karachi couple kill 4-month-old daughter to exorcise demons. Police arrested Nadeem, 34, and Sana, 30, who allegedly killed their four-month-old daughter Fazeelat in an attempted exorcism. Nadeem says they believed they were cursed with demons because they broke an 8-day fast. He claims that their spiritual leader, living in Dera Ismail Khan, told them  that they had to silence the baby to get rid of the demons.

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About harm

It is difficult to assess the harm done to society and the world at large by the spread and encouragement of anti-scientific, irrational, and magical thinking. It is also difficult to measure the extent of harm done to individuals and their families who give up thinking for themselves to follow some guru astrologer, psychic, or cult leader.

It is impossible to calculate the losses to those bilked because they are ignorant of basic logical and psychological principles. Even so, Tim Farley gives it his best shot.

For those cancer patients who are thinking of trying an untested alternative therapy, please read Dr. Stephen Barrett's A Special Message for Cancer Patients Seeking "Alternative" Treatments.

Read this book and you will wonder no more about the harm done by false beliefs


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