Friday, 30 May 2014

Armageddon For Brewmeister

Brewing is huge in Scotland, both in terms of popularity and the sheer number of breweries producing some truly wonderful beers. We're blessed in many ways, with enormous tracts of ideal land for growing barley and a plentiful supply of crystal clear water combined with mineral geology that is second only to Burton Upon Trent's legendary supply.  The industry has a worldwide reputation which is close to that of our whisky industry.

The business has changed over the years - the post-WWII period were dark times, and the industry went into decline, but over the last few decades many new breweries have sprung up, from the (literally!) archaeological origins of the Williams Bros, through the more traditional such as Stewart's and Harviestoun, and even tiny little one-man bands like Barney's, working from a little room in the centre of Edinburgh.

And, of course, there's the big bad punks of the world, Brewdog.  This relative newcomer have caused a bit of a stir with their anarchic marketing and PR, taxidermy bottles and experiments at the edge of what can be called "brewing", producing mouth-puckeringly bitter IPAs, annoying their critics with super-low-ABV beers that still taste of something, and most notably getting into an arms race to produce the "world's strongest beer" by using freeze-distillation to remove most of the water, leaving behind "beers" which are in excess of 50% alcohol.

And now to Brewmeister, who are trying do do almost exactly the same thing.  Same "anarchic" marketing, same fringe-brewing techniques, and a couple of beers claiming to be 60%+.

Only there's a huge problem.  Brewdog know what they're doing.  Brewmeister...well the kindest thing I can say is that they're incompetent.

After suspicions were raised by many people who had tried Brewmeister's Armageddon, a self-style 65% ABV "strongest beer in the world", the man behind the excellent Beercast blog teamed up with Edinburgh craft beer pub The Hanging Bat and had a few tests run, on both Armageddon and Brewmeister's follow-up beer, Snake Venom.  The results (to the nearest percentage point) are horrific.

Armageddon
Claimed ABV: 65%
Tested bottle: 23%

Snake Venom
Claimed ABV: 67.5%
Tested bottle: 41%

 Rich's full blog post on the matter can be found on his Beercast site and is well worth a read.

There's so many problems here it's difficult to know where to start. Firstly there's the fact that declaring the alcohol content of drinks is mandatory, and you have to be accurate to within a percentage point.  Get this wrong and you not only face legal action, but your customers (which for a brewery includes pubs and off-licences) could end up in court themselves.  It happened to a friend of mine with a bottle of vodka that had been adulterated, the court ruled that the only defence was testing each drink with a hygrometer, which no pub has ever done and is completely impractical.

Secondly it reveals, at best, a shocking lack of control in their brewing and freeze-distillation process.  It could have been done intentionally, but I have seen no evidence of this.

Thirdly, a complete lack of control shows that this isn't experimental brewing to push the limits of the science, it's what respected US beer blogger Garrett Oliver calls "clown brewing" - simply an attempt to garner publicity through shock value.  This is from a company who's stated intention is to "deliver you to drunksville", a concept that is firmly rejected by every other Scottish brewery, no only because it breaks alcohol marketing laws but also because it's tacky, stupid and is counter to just about every principle brewers pride themselves on.  You can't taste beer properly if you're utterly smashed.

Would you believe it can get worse?  It gets worse.

 Brewmeister have replied to some of these issues in a few paragraphs in the middle of a bigger blog post.  Their implied solution to the problem?  Adding industrial ethanol.

Seriously, if their beers aren't up to ABV after brewing and then freeze-distilling then their first suggested solution isn't changing the label on the bottle, but pouring in neat alcohol.

They seem cagey on whether they've ever actually done this, but the very idea is farcical.  If you do that it's not beer anymore, it's hardly even an alcopop.  It's just industrial alcohol flavoured with an overly-expensive malt extract, and frankly that sounds foul.

 It's not brewing.  It's not even clown-brewing, it's just...well, I don't know what it is, but they need to hand their reputations in and try not to let the jugs of alcohol hit them on the arse on the way out.  They're doing unimaginable harm to the Scottish brewing industry by simply existing and the sooner they fall by the wayside the better.








Tuesday, 20 May 2014

What Am I?

(Random rambling brought on by reading Why Would A Fundamentalist Christian Become An Atheist)

OK, so I'm an atheist.  But I hesitate to describe myself as such.  After all, I don't describe myself as a non-stamp-collector (although, as with religion, I gave it a go as a kid),  I don't find defining myself as a lack-of-a-quality to be useful in any way.  I could try capitalising Atheism, and joining other Atheists to talk about Atheism, but if Twitter is anything to go by this ends up being the same arguments going around and around and around...in fact the best people to talk to on Twitter about atheism tend to be the theists, as they are generally more likely to have a grounding in the relevant philosophy, Pascal's Wager and so on and so forth.

I'm certainly not a "New Atheist", they're far too pushy for my liking.  Religion is (currently) a part of humanity, we can't bully people out of it, and there does seem to be a psychological need to find an answer to "but why", which I'm guessing is why atheism and science, particularly maths, physics and cosmology tend to be associated when there's actually no logical link other than the fact that science classifies "god" as outside its remit.  On this count, living in a world where people disagree, I'm a Wheatonite.

Nor would I describe myself as an agnostic - I don't believe any current definition of "god" is good enough for me to accept as a possibility, and the standing "bigger than the universe" criterion means we won't have a good enough definition until we're finished doing science, which won't happen in my lifetime at the very least.  On this count I'm certainly an ignostic, but I find that even less satisfying as a definition than atheism, which at least defines what it is...or isn't, at least.

OK, so I'm a human, so what about Humanism?  Even then, it's a group of people who have got together and decided what a Humanist is, and written down the rules, and are probably still arguing over them.

I did toy with the idea of being Vulcan - yes, like in Star Trek - there's a lot to be said for the mentality, but I happen to like laughing till I cry and feeling overcome with beauty and all the other stuff.  Ditto Jedi and Avout - I may have bought the monk-style dressing gown, but I'm not going to buy into it 100%.


So I'm just going to stick with being Geoff.  I reserve the right to change my mind.  Your results may vary.


I'd recommend you try the same.  Not being me, of course, just being you.  You can try being me if you want, but trust me, it's just confusing.  I'm actually very happy with it, but it does (in my experience at least) take nearly 40 years of training to be me.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

How To Prove Einstein Wrong

Physics exists on a spectrum, from the incredibly rigorous, through the vague and "hand-wavy" to the borderline crackpot - and there's plenty of room at the bottom.  For some reason physics attracts the crackpot, there's no shortage of claims of perpetual motion machines, "proofs" of god and the great favourite, "I've proved Einstein wrong" - ask any physicist and you'll probably find they've received plenty of emails along those lines, almost all of which "aren't even wrong", a very specific physics insult used for hypotheses which aren't testable, well defined, or rely on the Universe doing things which would break every known and tested physical law.

Why does Einstein get singled out? Why don't we see claims of "proving Planck wrong" all over the internet? Or even Arthur Stanley Eddington, who despite being an excellent physicist had some exceedingly crackpot ideas himself and is very easy to prove wrong - and yet returns zero results?  I'd suggest Einstein's continuing fame is a major factor, everyone wants to beat the person at the top.  Add to this the fact that there's some known "issues" with Relativity, specifically the Dark Energy and Dark Matter problems, and he becomes the prime target.

But whilst the majority of attacks on Relativity lie firmly in the realms of crackpottery, "proper" physicists continue to examine, reformulate and test the theory.  A great example is Mike McCulloch's work, which I've spent some time getting my head around recently.  He's a lecturer in geomatics, the study of measuring positioning in space which, while technically and historically is a branch of geography, is conducted using GPS and other satellite based systems these days, which means you're working almost exclusively in Einstein's realm, the mathematical model of relativistic spacetime.

The theory he's developing is called "Modified inertia by a Hubble-scale Casimir effect", or MiHsC, and it's a fantastic example of a proper, non-crackpot, approach to the problems in modern cosmology.

The Problems

There are three main issues with the basic theory of Relativity, one from a theoretical basis and two brought up by observation. 
  The first is the simple fact that in the last fifty years we've not been able to mesh the two main theories of physics, General Relativity and Quantum Field Theory.  Both work, and for all everyday purposes we can pick whichever theory we need, quantum theory for anything very small (such as the subatomic experiments being conducted at the LHC) and relativity for the big stuff, like the orbit of planets or the behaviour of clocks on satellites.  We can even use them at the same time, such as the relativistic change to atomic clocks on satellites (which GPS relies on) or the way the LHC can give protons an bigger "punch" and create much heavier particles like the Higgs.  But push things too far - like the center of a black hole or the behaviour of the universe in the first tiny fractions of a second and things break down.  The graphs go off the scale, the theories don't mesh, and we end up with nonsensical results - that kind of thing makes a physicist's brain itch. A bigger theory is needed.
  The other two problems are both brought about by observation - if you take the simple, original version of relativity then it doesn't match what we see in the sky - galaxies rotate too quickly (known as the "Dark Matter" problem) and the universe is not only expanding, but the expansion is accelerating, which is the "Dark Energy" problem.  Don't let these names fool you, they're both really placeholders for whichever correction-or-replacement is needed in the current theory.
 

The Theory

MiHsC is a whole new approach to the origin of mass - specifically inertial mass.  It may surprise you to hear, but there's lots of different kinds of mass. The two we're looking at here are gravitational mass (the one that gives something "weight") and inertial mass, which is what makes something big more difficult to move.  The two are thought to be the same thing, something referred to as "the equivalence principle", but note that this is just a principle - plenty of experiments have been performed to check this principle, from Galileo dropping cannonballs from the Pisa's tower to the Apollo 15 astronauts dropping a hammer and feather on the Moon.  If the equivalence principle holds then dropped objects will always fall at the same speed - the inertial mass will always match the gravitational mass perfectly.  But these experiments aren't conclusive - we've not tested it in every regime, there's plenty of wiggle room for a difference to be found.
  What McCulloch is proposing is a new idea for an origin of inertial mass, and this could potentially result in the slight changes in behaviour at low accelerations, which could explain Dark Energy and Dark Matter without having to discover new particles or new energy fields, something which has so far eluded experiments.

This new origin is based on something called the "Unruh Effect" (in itself, not a proven concept, but a well developed and reasonably testable theory), which predicts that an accelerating object will "see" a field of radiation, in effect space "pushes back".  This already sounds like a form of inertia, and McCulloch develops this idea to look at what happens at the extremes.  The radiation pushing back must have a wavelength, and as the object accelerates faster the wavelength must be shorter, in the same way the Doppler effect makes a police siren sound higher and higher pitched (ie a shorter wavelength) as it accelerates towards you.  At the opposite end, for very low accelerations the wavelength must become longer and longer...which eventually gives us a bit of an issue. 
  The length of a wave can be limited - you can't have very long waves in small harbours, to steal his example, if there's a barrier of any kind then there's a limit to the wavelength, and we have a very considerable barrier at the largest scales, the "cosmic horizon".  The longest wavelength that can be part of the Unruh effect, he claims, is twice that of the diameter of the observable universe, in other words two nodes, like a guitar string being plucked with no harmonic.  To be longer than this the wave would need to originate outside our universe, to have started before time itself started, which is impossible.  This means that there's a limit to the Unruh effect at low accelerations, which means a limit to the inertia of an object - very low forces no longer perfectly obey Newton's laws of motion, there is a minimum acceleration possible, which is all starting to sound a bit like quantum theory.
 
Some physics-equivalent of back-of-an-envelope calculations shows that this could (to within an order of magnitude or so) provide the basis for Dark Energy - as the universe expands the cosmic horizon changes, meaning our "quanta of inertia" drops, leading to a feedback loop causing cosmic acceleration.
  Again, a rough application to galaxies shows that if inertia is reduced at very low accelerations - the outlying edges - then gravity would seem to have a larger effect than expected, which looks just like the solution to the Dark Matter problem.
 
So it's an attractive theory.  There's a realistic mechanism, it makes predictions which are testable within the limits of current or near-future technology and observations, and natural solutions to the two big problems within Relativity seem to just "fall out" of the theory.

Putting my "realistic" hat on there's plenty of pitfalls - it relies on an unproven effect and it's still at the "orders of magnitude" scale of development, the cosmology equivalent of a sketch.  But it's a recognisable sketch and it's a sketch doesn't rely on disproving the existence of metaphorical paper and pencils.  It doesn't prove Einstein wrong, it simply provides a slightly bigger picture which includes Einstein's work, but with subtle changes to make the limiting cases behave in a realistic manner - precisely what Einstein did with Newton's work in fact.

And so what if he does eventually turn out to be wrong?  If McCulloch didn't propose it then somebody else would eventually come up with the idea, so there's no time wasted, and the payback if he's right is huge, yet another "new view of the universe" moment.

And if we do want some crackpot in our theory? Well, it does raise the idea of blocking inertial effects in some way...


Links

Physics From The Edge - Mike McCulloch's Blog
arXiv paper - Testing Quantised Inertia On Galactic Scales
Mike McCulloch on Twitter


Thursday, 23 January 2014

What's It's Really Like To Be Under UK Government Surveillance

Our topic this evening, ladies, gentlemen and sleeper agents, is the world of government monitoring of their citizens.

There's clearly a lot of this in the news, with both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden playing a modern day Robin Hood and Guy Fawkes, and especially with the revelations of the extent of US and UK monitoring of their own civilian population.

Nobody seems surprised, of course, we all suspected it was going on (to various levels of tin-foil-hattery), but everybody's clearly annoyed that they've been covering up what we all presumed anyway.

At best, that's a big waste of taxpayer's money.

But let's flip it around, look at it from another angle:  My life since I was 16.


For the last 22 years of my life, I've let the UK government (specifically the military/intelligence networks) have privileged access to my life.  I signed up for a scheme that was (probably still is) called "positive vetting".  I'd applied to join the RAF and they obviously need to be able to check on applicants in some depth.  I essentially signed a bit of paper allowing them to spy on me to various levels without the whole court order thing required between the police and civilians, for example.  I don't remember the detail, but it was things like being allowed to monitor my communications (this was early 90s) and interview people who knew me.

Crucially, it doesn't expire.

My RAF career fell through just before I'd formally signed up and just after they taught me to fly, which was both disappointing and utterly exhilarating. But at no point since have I cancelled my permission for them to vet me.  I've never really felt the need to - bear in mind I was applying to this organisation knowing "fiery ball of death" was a realistic (but hopefully avoidable) part of the career ladder.

So for the last 22 years of my life "the establishment" have had legal permission to monitor me far beyond the levels revealed in the Snowden leaks, and I've been no angel.  I've not been an angel on the phone, at work, and I've not been an angel on the internet a LOT.

To be fair, I've never suggested actually overthrowing the government (in fact, I had to sign another piece of paper promising not to), but I've certainly had a good old bitch about various parts of the "establishment" over the years.

I'm into physics, and have done more than my fair share of searches on nuclear physics.  See also my interest in long term energy policy which involves the details of nuclear reactor design.

I'm a hacker.  I describe myself as such, specifically a white-hat but just being a hacker may raise a flag.  I'm interested in cryptography and the state's capabilities and/or denial of such. Quantum computing is a related interest.

I've smoked the odd joint. I've been involved in plenty of pub scraps and pickpocketings over the years - most of which I'm proud to say involved either people being mates at the end or thrown into police vans respectively, but working as a pub licensee is a really good way to stay on the radar.

My interest in science leads me to the science/religion debate, and that leads me to comparative theology, which ties in nicely with the current themes of terrorism and religion.  I've got one particular Muslim friend who loves cracking terrorism jokes with me. 

I'm quite honestly proud that the all-time most popular article on this blog is one of the top Google results for "how to destroy the universe."

You can see how that kind of thing can be read the wrong way.



I've got mates who are police officers, civil servants and serving members of the armed forces.


If people are going to be interrogated for their internet activities then I'm a prime candidate. 

But it's never happened.  

OK, if you want to get conspiratorial then my police/government/army mates are spying on me, but to be honest it's worth it if that's the case, they're genuinely lovely people.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Why Internet Filters Are (Mostly) A Dumb Idea

Here in the UK the Conservative-led government has just introduced, to much fanfare, internet filters.  The idea is, of course, to "protect the children", that classic "vote winner" in the lead up to a general election.

Of course, well implemented filters do have their place.  Workplace networks are a good example, they're used to protect sensitive data and to protect against malware.  In the home, however, it's a slightly different story.

The filters that have been introduced are at the "ISP level", meaning they are run and implemented by O2, BT and the rest of the main household providers, and the settings are (by default) the same for every household in the country.  It's not some sort of government mandated censorship scheme, whoever is paying the bills is able to turn them off and browse the entire internet to their heart's content, so there's no real "but we're adults" argument.  The problem is that it doesn't only fail at its main purpose of "protecting the children", it may actually make things worse.

The internet is, like the rest of life, a big bad world containing plenty of things that children shouldn't be exposed to.  Young children using the internet should be supervised, and older children should at least have had a little bit of education in the potential dangers and how to handle them.

Even if these filters worked well (which they don't, it's still a trivial exercise for a 10 year old to find porn if they're determined to), you can't replace being a parent with a list of bad websites.  The filters are incomplete and always will be, and telling parents that they will protect children is akin to telling them their kids can drive a car as long as they're wearing a seatbelt. 

What the government should be doing is teaching parents about hacking.  Firstly, just how easy it is to work around these filters, and secondly (and most importantly) that the most effective form of hacking ever devised is called "social engineering" and has almost nothing to do with computers.  If you wanted to break into Company X's network then you could either spend days running various attack scripts, all of which will probably fail, or you could simply start phoning around the employees, claim to be from an IT contractor, and sooner or later one of them will hand over their login details.  It happens every day.

Children won't be protected by filters, and suggesting that it's even possible is dangerous and misleading to parents.  To protect their kids parents simply have to use a little social engineering - in this context it's more often called "talking to your children".  You're never going to stop a teenage boy finding porn on the internet, but what you can do is make sure that when they do find it they know what they're looking at - a commercialised parody of what the average sex life is actually like.  You can't prevent your daughter receiving a phishing email, but you can make sure that she recognises what it is and doesn't respond to it.

Imagine you'd never been allowed to cross a road until you were 18, what would your life expectancy be?   You don't stop children crossing roads, you teach them to do it safely, and that's exactly how we should be treating the internet, not with crude, politically motivated "solutions" that are worse than nothing.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Robotic Cat Syndrome - An Owner's Experience

Our much loved cat, Henry, died a couple of weeks ago.  We had him euthanised because he had Robotic Cat Syndrome (RCS) and had reached the stage where he had trouble doing everyday cat things.  We're pretty gutted to be honest, but hopefully our experience can be of some use to others.

RCS is a fairly rare condition which only affects cats in the North East of Scotland, roughly the triangle formed by Aberdeen, Aviemore and Inverness.  The only real study of the condition and anecdotal evidence from our vet suggests a hundred or so cases have been found.  It's most likely a viral infection picked up from the bird or rodent population, and causes a slow loss of motor skills, typically over the course of a couple of years.

A disclaimer at this point - I'm not a vet, the only biological science education I have is a first-year biology course I did at university (Feynman's "map of a cat"), and I've not even been able to read the only peer reviewed paper on the subject because it's behind a paywall (insert rant here). This isn't veterinary advice, it's the experience of one owner. If you have any kind of concerns about your cat then please ask a real vet, not me.  DON'T PANIC. RCS is rare and restricted to a fairly small area. And it's not the end of the world, see below.

We first found out Henry had RCS because we took him to get his back claws trimmed.  We thought he was having trouble scratching because they were too long, but the vet immediately spotted that he was moving strangely.  I grew up with dogs, so I'm not used to cats, but a cat-fluent friend had also suggested something wasn't quite right.  He was holding his tail out a little stiffly and his back legs weren't quite as fluid as they should be.

Over the next six months or so he lost much of the strength in his back end, with the thigh muscles visibly wasting.  He stopped jumping up on objects pretty much in order of height - he'd previously been able to jump a good 4ft+ from a crouch, but six months after the first suspicion he was limited to the couch and (usually) my favourite chair.

He then gradually deteriorated over the next year, with movement becoming more and more awkward and moving forwards towards the head.  He was still capable of quick movements, as evidenced when he was startled by a friendly German Shepherd which snuck into the house, but that was clearly quite adrenalin charged, most of the time he adopted a careful plod which gradually got slower.

At no point did he seem to suffer from any mental problems - he was clearly a little frustrated, but he didn't exhibit any of the confusion that have been reported in some RCS cases.  Nor do we think he was in any great pain at any point.  When we last took him to the vet, about two weeks before he died, the vet didn't believe Henry was in any pain, but agreed with us that he was starting to lose his basic "being a cat" functions.

What You Can Do To Help The Cat

Ask A Vet. Ask A Vet. Ask A Vet.

Other Things You Can Do

Our vet prescribed Metacam, a drug similar to Ibuprofen, but for cats. Please, go with the proven veterinary pharmaceuticals, "alternative veterinary medicine" is designed to make you feel better, not the animal.  Metacam seemed to make Henry far more able to relax and he enjoyed it as a "treat" straight from the oral syringe.

Help them scratch/wash.  They can't reach up with their legs easily, so Henry seemed to enjoy a good firm rub with my palm.  I'd also moisten my hands with a little water and stroke him firmly to clear any matted fur.

Keep them active.  It can't hurt.  The cat finds moving difficult, so it will move less and lose muscle tone, which means moving is more difficult...if the cat enjoys chasing string or whatever then encourage this.

 
Don't Confuse It With:

Lyme disease & others - RCS does not make the cat sick (eg feverish, vomiting, loss of appetite).

Arthritis - The symptoms are similar, consult a vet.



Henry is buried in his favourite spot by the shed. 

He is now more powerful than the mice can possibly imagine.
 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

What "What Doctors Don't Tell You" Don't Tell You

As anyone who follows me, especially on Twitter, will be aware, there's been a bit of a fuss recently regarding the magazine "What Doctors Don't Tell You"  (WDDTY).

I've got enormous concerns about this magazine.  It's not simply an "alt-med" (alternative medicine) magazine devoted to home-grown treatments and alternatives to drugs.  It's actively telling people that homeopathy and various supplements are realistic treatment alternatives for conditions such as HIV and cancer, and that vaccines are dangerous and should be avoided.  Frankly I look forward to the days (around a decade from now) when children who have suffered life-changing measles infections bring their first legal challenges against the parents who decided they shouldn't be vaccinated.

However, there's always two sides to a story.  There is indeed a place on the magazine racks for an alternative health magazine.  I've been accused of both "moaning" and "bullying" for my anti-WDDTY attitude.  To counter this I've laid down a little challenge on Twitter: write an article that WDDTY should be about.  Not scaremongering, real criticism of the "medical establishment", just to prove that WDDTY could, if they wished, produce a responsible and useful magazine.

What Doctors Don't Tell You
One of the greatest challenges facing the medical establishment is the gradual failing of antibiotic treatments.  These were, when first discovered, one of the greatest human discoveries of all time.  Simple infections killed many people, from a simple boil to meningitis.  Any bacterial infection that the body couldn't handle had a high chance of killing you.  The discovery of antibiotics, penicillin and the like, was to change all of this in a manner which was frankly miraculous to anybody living at the time.  The equivalent today would be a cure for cancer, HIV, malaria, 'flu and car crashes all in one.

Penicillin was so useful, and so difficult to produce, that the urine of patients given the new wonder-drug was even filtered so the excess penicillin they excreted could be recovered and given to another patient.  It was, I repeat, miraculous.  I don't use that word lightly, what with not believing in god and miracles and all.

But we're facing a big problem.  It's not working any more.

Penicillin, the original drug, is of very limited use these days.  It has very little impact on most of the bacterial infections it used to cure.  There are very similar variants that have been developed - Amoxicillin, Dicloxacillin and lots of other things ending in "cillin", but they're still all just a symptom.

The problem is something else that appears to be contentious in the world of science: evolution.

The problem is, if you use a drug that kills 99% of germs then you're left with the 1% of germs the drug won't kill.  And then that 1% keeps breeding until there's as many as you started with.

This is the reasoning for all of the stern warnings on the antibiotic packets about finishing the course.  Yes, you feel better half way in, that's because half of the bacteria are gone and your body has a chance to catch up on the whole "immune system" thing.  If you stop taking the drugs, however, all you're doing is letting the drug-resistant versions (which have survived so far) take over.  It's like the 1940s USA dropping a nuclear bomb along with millions of leaflets on how to stop nuclear bombs exploding.  Sure, most of the leaflets will burn up, but one will survive, making all of your research null and void.

So if there's any criticism of the medical "establishment" to be made, it's that they've squandered an incredibly valuable resource.

Why did they do this?  It's partly simple human nature: we feel better, so we stop taking the drugs.  There's also strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that antibiotics have been over-prescribed, simply dished out to patients who have a bit of a cold and go to their doctor demanding the "miracle cure".  The fact that they have precisely zero effect on viral infections like the common cold seems to be lost amongst the sheer need to get rid of a demanding but would-get-better-anyway patient.

Antibiotics have been used as placebos over the years, because of budgetary pressures on GPs.  That's something which doctors won't tell you, because they don't have the time and money to discuss it.  They have to save the money for patients with advanced cancer who insist their "vitamin C tablets will deal with it, and by the way, can I have some more morphine?"