Category Archives: Homeopathy

inFact: Homeopathy

Many people believe homeopathy is a natural, herbal supplement like any other. But is it?

Via inFact -YouTube

Click here for more information including full transcript and References.

Does Homeopathy Work?

What is Miracle Mineral Supplement/Solution?

By Myles Power via YouTube

From the video description:

What was once known as Miracle Mineral Supplement, but for legal reasons had to change its name to Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), is a 28% sodium chlorite solution in distilled water currently being sold online as a cure-all tonic. Jim Humble, the man who coined the name and who is also the self-styled Archbishop of his own church (Genesis II), believes that once “activated” by an acidic solution, MMS can be used to cure people of our most feared illnesses including HIV, cancer, and malaria.

In reality MMS is a harmful mixture of toxic compounds that is being aggressively marketed online as a panacea to very sick and unconsenting children. Put simply, it’s the worst kind of woo and should be avoided at all costs.

MISTAKE! i mixed up chloride and chlorite at the start.

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Update: 11/02/2015: Related Link: Man Who Sold Industrial Chemical As “Miracle Mineral Solution” Sentenced To 51 Months In Jail (consumerist.com)

Homeopathic medicine: What’s the potential harm?

By Emiliano Tatar, MD via philly.com

homeopathyWhat if I told you homeopathy is completely useless? I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical or feeling that such a statement is arrogant especially when made by an MD. Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar business and is widely available.

Unfortunately, it is essentially nothing more than distilled water and its use as a replacement for conventional medicine can, in some cases, be dangerous and even fatal. Last March, Hope Delozier, an 18-month-old Pennsylvania resident developed an ear infection. Her parents, who avoid conventional medical practices, tried to treat her with Homeopathic remedies. Hope soon died after the infection spread to her brain. Most tragically, this was completely preventable with inexpensive antibiotics.

The practice of homeopathy has been around since the early 19th century (invented by Samuel Hahnneman). It relies on several basic tenets. The two most important ones are “like cures like” and “potentiation.” Like-cures-like is the idea that, for example, if I eat plant X and it makes me feel warmth, then the plant has a substance that can cure a fever. Potentiation is the idea that the more dilute a substance is the more powerful it becomes medically. There is no other place in modern science where these principles are accepted except for in homeopathy. There is no reason to believe that “like cures like” and the idea of ultra-dilution making something more powerful flies completely against the laws of physics and chemistry.

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Are We Seeing the End of Homeopathy?

steven_novellaBy via NeuroLogica Blog

Several years ago, during a lecture on Science-Based Medicine, I noted that if there were one medical pseudoscience that was vulnerable to extinction it was homeopathy. Homeopathy is perhaps the most obviously absurd medical pseudoscience. It is also widely studied, and has been clearly shown to not work. Further, there is a huge gap in the public understanding of what homeopathy is; it therefore seems plausible that the popularity of homeopathy can take a huge hit just by telling the public what it actually is.

homeopathy-in-the-NHS-number-of-prescription-items
Further, homeopathy is in a precarious regulatory position. Homeopathic products are presented and regulated as drugs, but clearly they are not, and they are also not supplements, herbal drugs, nutrition-based, or natural products. They are simply fraudulent drugs riding a wave of ignorance.

In the last few years homeopathy has had a rough time. While the industry is still growing, there are signs of clear trouble on the horizon. Let’s review:

Some Background

homeopathy 803_250pxHomeopathy is a 200 year old pre-scientific system of medicine based upon magical thinking. It is mostly based on two notions, the first of which is that like cures like. In other words, a substance that causes a symptom can cure that symptom in extremely low doses. There is no scientific basis for this, despite the desperate attempts by homeopaths to invoke vaccine-like analogies, or their new favorite, hormesis.

The second notion is that you make a remedy more powerful by diluting it to extreme degrees. People have fun making comparisons, such as the need to drink a solar-system’s worth of water to have a 50% chance of getting a single molecule of active ingredient. No problem, say the homeopaths, homeopathic potions contain the magical “essence” of what was previously diluted in them. It’s turtles all the way down.

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The American Medical Association is finally taking a stand on quacks like Dr. Oz

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Julia BelluzBy via Vox

Medical students and residents frustrated with bogus advice from doctors on TV have, for more than a year, been asking the American Medical Association to clamp down and “defend the integrity of the profession.”

Now the AMA is finally taking a stand on quack MDs who spread pseudoscience in the media.

“This is a turning point where the AMA is willing to go out in public and actively defend the profession,” Benjamin Mazer, a medical student at the University of Rochester who was involved in crafting the resolution, said. “This is one of the most proactive steps that the AMA has taken [on mass media issues].”

dr_oz_1_0350pxThe AMA will look at creating ethical guidelines for physicians in the media, write a report on how doctors may be disciplined for violating medical ethics through their press involvement, and release a public statement denouncing the dissemination of dubious medical information through the radio, TV, newspapers, or websites.

The move came out of the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago this week, where representatives from across the country vote on policies brought forward by members of the medical community.

Mazer and fellow medical students and residents were prompted to push the AMA after noticing that the organization was mostly silent during the recent public debates about the ethics of Dr. Oz sharing unfounded medical advice on his exceptionally popular TV show.

“Dr. Oz has something like 4 million viewers a day,” Mazer previously told Vox in an interview. “The average physician doesn’t see a million patients in their lifetime. That’s why organized medicine should be taking action.”

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Sting Shows Supplement Regulation Worthless

steven_novellaby via NeuroLogica Blog

It seems that the regulation of supplements, homeopathy, and “natural” products in Canada is as bad as the US. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC, the equivalent of NPR and PBS in the US) recently conducted a demonstration of just how worthless and deceptive the regulations are.

snake-oil_275pxThey created a fake treatment called “Nighton” which they claimed treated fever, pain, and inflammation in children and infants. They then applied to the government for a Natural Product License. On the application they checked all the appropriate boxes and submitted as evidence copied pages from a 1902 homeopathic reference book. That was it. Five months later their fictitious product was approved as “safe and effective.”

What this means is that when the Canadian government approves a natural product as safe and effective, it is completely meaningless. It is essentially a license to lie to the public about a health product.

It is reasonable to assume that many if not most of the public, if they see a product on the pharmacy shelf with the label, “licensed as safe and effective for fever, pain, and inflammation,” with an official government issued product number, that some sort of testing and quality assurance was involved.

warning-homeopathy-not-medicineThe situation is identical in the US. Companies can market homeopathy products or supplements without providing any evidence that the product is safe, and can even make health claims (as long as they don’t mention a specific disease by name) again without the need to provide any evidence. In essence, in the US or Canada a company can put anything in a pill or bottle (as long as it doesn’t contain an actual drug), then without any testing market their random assortment of vitamins, herbs, or just water (in the case of homeopathy) with specific health claims. Pharmacies are happy to sell these fake products side-by-side with real medicines.

This is nothing short of a scandal.

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The results are in – homeopathy is water

By The Original Skeptical Raptor via Skeptical Raptor

homeopathy 803_250pxI intensely dislike all forms of medical quackery. Of course, my passionate, full-throated, defense of the scientific consensus on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is fairly obvious. There are literally mountains of evidence that support my skepticism of the antivaccine beliefs.

But there’s more junk medicine out there than the pseudoscience pushers running around the vaccine world. One of my favorite ones is homeopathy. It is a scam that tries to convince people that a vial of nothing more than water (and sometimes ethanol) has some magical medical properties. And it’s expensive water, much more expensive than some bottled water that claims it’s bottled at the source of some glacier in the Alps.

What is homeopathy?

But let’s back up a bit, and explain the “science” of homeopathy, because a lot of people, mostly Americans, conflate homeopathy with natural medicine, like herbal medicine. It isn’t. Basically, homeopathy, known as the “law of similars”, relies on belief that “let like be cured by like”, and is a term coined by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician who was appalled by the state of medicine at the time, the late 1700’s. warning-homeopathy-not-medicineAnd frankly, the state of medicine at that time was pretty bad, so any new idea might have been worthy of trying. However, when Hanneman was alive, basic scientific knowledge was missing. Cell theory and germ theory were a few decades from even a basic understanding.

Homeopathic potions are prepared by serially diluting the original substance (could be anything from diseased tissue to arsenic to snake venom plus mercury) with shaking and forceful striking on an elastic body, which they term succussion. Each dilution followed by succussion is assumed to increase the effectiveness. Homeopaths call this process potentization. So far, it’s just merely diluting and shaking, so nothing much there. But the level of dilution is such that there is only a tiny possibility of any molecule of the original substance showing up in solution.

The dilution is precisely described by Hahnemann. The first dilution is one part to 99 parts water. Then, one part of that first dilution is then diluted in another 99 parts water. Each of these dilutions is called 1C, so two dilutions would be called 2C, with one part of the original similar diluted in approximately 10,000 parts water.

homeopathic_dilutions
But it doesn’t stop there. Homeopathy uses >30C dilutions, which means that the final dilution is simply water with an almost 0% probability of including even 1 molecule of the original similar.

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This may sting a little…

Gordon Bonnetby Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia

At what point do homeopaths and other purveyors of woo non-medicine cross the line into committing a prosecutable act of medical fraud?

I ask the question because of a recent exposé by Marketplace, a production of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, called Vaccines: Shot of Confusion.  In this clever sting operation, mothers were fitted with videocameras on visits with their children to homeopaths.  The videocameras recorded, predictably, the moms being given lots of advice about the (mostly fabricated) dangers of vaccination, and how little pills with no active ingredients were a better choice.

Diphtheria_vaccination_poster_300pxOne mother was even told that “measles is virtually harmless for children over the age of one.”  This would have come as a shock to my grandfather’s two sisters, Marie Emelie and Anne, who died of measles in 1902, five days apart, at the ages of 22 and 17, respectively.

Not to mention the one million children who die annually from the disease, and the 15,000 a year who are left permanently blind from its effects.

The homeopaths in the video call today’s children “the sickly generation.”  And admittedly, there are some medical conditions that have increased in incidence in modern times (asthma, allergies, and autism come to mind).  However, it has been thoroughly demonstrated that none of the diseases which have increased are caused by vaccines (nor, by the way, are they treatable using sugar pills).  Further, given that there used to be epidemics of diphtheria, typhoid, measles, mumps, and other infectious diseases that killed thousands of children, you can only claim that this generation is “sickly” if you ignore historical fact.

Know of anyone in the last fifty years who has died of diphtheria?  Nope, me neither.

It seems to me that we have crossed some kind of threshold, here.

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Healing the ocean with syphilis

Water-drop-ocean_600px

Gordon Bonnetby Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia

I think the homeopaths have reached some kind of Derp-vana this week with the announcement by British practitioner Grace DaSilva-Hill that we need to administer homeopathic preparations…To_understand_ocean_circulation_250px
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to the ocean.

I’m not making this up.  In a story broken by Andy Lewis on Quackometer, we find out that DaSilva-Hill is lamenting the state of the world’s oceans, a sentiment with which I have to agree.  But what she proposes to do about it is to treat it with homeopathic “remedies:”

Thanks in advance to all of you who have already agreed to participate in this initiative of sending a homeopathic remedy to heal the oceans.
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The remedy that has been selected is Leuticum (Syph) in the CM potency.
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Just mix one or two drops in some water and offer it to the ocean wherever you happen to be, on 21 November, with pure love and intention…  If you live close to a river that can be done, too, or even just send the remedy down the toilet wherever you happen to be.

Well, I can’t argue with the value of flushing homeopathic “remedies” down the toilet.  In my opinion, that should be done right at the factory where they’re manufactured.

And what is “Leuticum,” you may be wondering?  According to a homeopathy website, Leuticum is a “nosode” — a “remedy” made from diluted bodily discharges.  And if you’re not sufficiently disgusted yet, the bodily discharge involved in Leuticum is infected material from someone with syphilis.

Oh, but wait!  Leuticum is good stuff!  According to the site . . .

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6 Fake Ebola Cures Being Peddled Online

snake oil elixir
By Matt Novak via gizmodo

Throughout history, hucksters have emerged to sell bullshit “cures” for diseases to fearful people. Today these frauds make their home on the internet. And they’re selling bullshit cures for Ebola. There is no known cure— or vaccine— for Ebola, but that’s not stopping shameless profiteers from exploiting the panic over this deadly virus.

Below, six “cures” and “treatments” for Ebola that you might see tumbling through the internet. Please, don’t waste your time or money on any of them.

1 • Nano Silver

Rima E Laibow

Image: Screenshot of Rima E. Laibow via YouTube

“Nano Silver is the world’s only hope against Ebola and the other antibiotics/anti-viral resistant pathogens,” claims the Natural Solutions Foundation. The company is run by a woman named Rima E. Laibow, a trained psychiatrist who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Which is why the FDA has told her to cut it out.

“It is said that there is no treatment against Ebola, and that is not true,” Laibow claims in a YouTube video — wearing a stethoscope and white lab coat, no less. “In fact, there is a well known, well characterized nutrient that is Nano Silver.”

The FDA has taken special aim at companies selling Nano Silver as a cure for Ebola. Some conspiracy theorists contend that the government crackdown on people promoting Nano Silver is because it works and “they” don’t want you to have the “real cure.”

“Nano Silver leaves the beneficial bacteria and the healthy cells of the patient unaffected but it does kill every pathogen against which it has been tested worldwide without exception,” Laibow explains without a single shred of evidence to back up her claims.

“Now, why hasn’t Nano Silver been brought forward already as a treatment against Ebola? There are many reasons. The fact is, it is available now,” she insists.

Good explanation. And available now, indeed! Available at your website!


2 • Sulphuricum acidum (and other homeopathic garbage)

Image: Homeopathic remedies at a pharmacy in London via Getty

Image: Homeopathic remedies at a pharmacy in London via Getty

A homeopathic “doctor” named Givon Kirkind is claiming that the best treatments for Ebola are sulphuricum acidum, crotus horridus, and crotalus cascavella. Which all have fancy scientific sounding names. But they won’t do shit for someone who actually has Ebola.

Why’s that, might you ask? Because homeopathy is bullshit. 100 percent complete and utter bullshit. The jury is not out on this one. Homeopathy is a $3 billion industry in the United States alone, but it’s completely ineffective and often dangerous.

Of course, Kirkind gets the disclaimers out of the way:

This article analyzes ebola from a homeopathic perspective and suggests possible courses of homeopathic treatment. Due to the seriousness of the disease, the treatments discussed would require an expert homeopath.

But since an “expert homeopath” is kind of like being an “expert unicorn psychologist” it’s probably best to just ignore his prescribed experiments altogether.

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Here Be Dragons (Brian Dunning)

Originally posted February 9, 2013 this video is definitely worth a second look.

Enjoy🙂

MIB


Here Be Dragons is a 40 minute video introduction to critical thinking. This video is on my “must watch” list for skeptics and critical thinkers🙂

Most people fully accept paranormal and pseudoscientific claims without critique as they are promoted by the mass media. Here Be Dragons offers a toolbox for recognizing and understanding the dangers of pseudoscience, and appreciation for the reality-based benefits offered by real science.

Here Be Dragons is written and presented by Brian Dunning, host and producer of the Skeptoid podcast and author of the Skeptoid book series.

Source: Here Be Dragons – YouTube.

Deepak Chopra tries his hand at a clinical trial. Woo ensues.

Choprawoomed

By Orac via Respectful Insolence

Of all the quacks and cranks and purveyors of woo whom I’ve encountered over the years, Deepak Chopra is, without a doubt, one of the most arrogantly obstinate, if not the most arrogantly obstinate. Sure, a quack like Mike Adams wins on sheer obnoxiousness and for the sheer breadth of crankery to which he ascribes, which includes everything from quackery, to New World Order conspiracy theories, to Scientology-like anti-psychiatry rants, to survivalist and gun nut tendencies, but he’s so obviously unhinged, as well as intermittently entertaining, that he doesn’t quite get under the skin the way Chopra does. CHOPRAThere’s something about that smug, condescending, incredibly arrogant manner of Chopra’s that grates even more in its own way than the clueless arrogance of ignorance of a person like Adams, Vani Hari (a.k.a. the Food Babe), or Joe Mercola (who appears to be far more about the money than actually believing in the quackery he sells). When Chopra tries his hand at science, woo ensues, as we shall soon see.

Perhaps the best recurring example of Chopra’s smarmy condescension coupled with magical thinking comes in his ongoing war with skeptics (most recently illustrated by his hilariously off-base “million dollar” counter-challenge to James Randi) and atheists, in particular Richard Dawkins. Given that this particular war seems to have heated up again, with Chopra having declared that he’s “pissed off by Richard Dawkins’ arrogance and his pretense of being a really good scientist,” it seems the perfect time to bring up a project of Chopra’s in which he pretends to be a scientist. But first, let’s get a flavor of why real scientists like Richard Dawkins (who, regardless of what you think of his ill-advised and offensive Twitter ramblings, is nonetheless a scientist in the way that Chopra will never be):

Boasting is not becoming of a beacon of inner peace, and Chopra knows it. I don’t want to hear him talk trash, and I ask him why he can’t just let Richard Dawkins go.

“With Dawkins, I am just pissed off. I am pissed off by his arrogance and his pretense of being a really good scientist. He is not,” Chopra says. “And he is using his scientific credentials to literally go on a rampage.”

But it’s more than that, I suggest. Chopra sits back and raises his hands, palms upward, smiling.

“I totally agree. It’s my last challenge,” he says. “It may be a very strange psychological issue.”

I don’t think there’s anything particularly strange about it. It’s incredibly obvious. Chopra, who started out as a real physician (an endocrinologist, actually) somehow got into quantum quackery and turned into a pseudoscientist and quack. Dawkins is a prominent real scientist who reminds Chopra that his blather  .  .  .

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Why reiki masters can’t lose

by Orac via Respectful Insolence

reiki 1225Regular readers of my not-so-super-secret other blog, where I write under my own name, know that last month Steve Novella and I published a rather nice (if I do say so myself) opinion piece in a peer-reviewed journal about what we called “clinical trials of magic.” In it, we argued that certain alternative medicine modalities are so incredibly implausible from a purely basic science viewpoint, on physics and chemistry considerations alone, that it is a waste of time and resources, not to mention unethical, to do clinical trials testing them. Two of the main examples we used were homeopathy (of course!) and reiki.

Reiki, as you recall, is a form of “energy healing” that I’ve discussed many times before. Its basic precept is that reiki healers, known as reiki masters, can, through a series of hand gestures that might or might not involve touching the patient and often involve symbols drawn in the air over the patient, tap into what they call the “universal source” and channel energy into the person being treated to heal them. You can probably see why I generally refer to reiki as faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for Christian beliefs. If you can’t see why, then simply substitute the word “God” or “Jesus” for the term “universal source,” and my meaning becomes obvious. Of course, reiki can get even more bizarre, particularly when it’s used in distant healing, which can only be likened (to me, at least) to intercessory prayer or when reiki masters claim to be able to send reiki energy into the past or the future. Yes, it does get even woo-ier than claiming to be able to channel healing energy.

reiki cat 139_300pxReiki is, without a doubt, far more a mystical belief system akin to religion than it is anything having to do with medicine. That much is obvious. That’s why I couldn’t resist a bit of amusement when I somehow (don’t ask how!) came across an article by someone named Tammy Hatherill, who runs Tammy’s Tarot and Healing entitled When Your Reiki Client Doesn’t Feel the ‘Energy’.

Wow. So reiki doesn’t always work? Who knew? Well, not exactly. Remember, reiki is a mystical magical belief system. Like a religion, it always works, and if it doesn’t it isn’t because the reiki has failed. You’ll see what I mean in a minute. First, savor the frustration of reiki masters who can’t get their clients to “feel it”:

It doesn’t happen to me very often, but on occasion it does. A client will say, “I don’t feel any different.” Or they may say, “In all honesty I didn’t feel the energy at all”.

What!!! How could the client not feel the wonderful and glorious energy that I felt and sensed whilst giving the treatment? How could they not ‘feel’ any different!!!

Please don’t despair, as the Reiki energy will still be working its magic and will still support the client on all the different levels (emotional/psychological/physical and spiritually.) Just because the client didn’t ‘feel’ anything doesn’t mean the Reiki wasn’t working.

reiki-cat 1104_250pxSee what I mean? If the patient doesn’t feel any different after the mystical magical glory that is reiki, it doesn’t mean anything at all. The reiki’s still working. How do you know? Well, you don’t. But if you’re a reiki master you do have a patter ready for your client before and after. Before, you basically tell the client that they will feel “something.” That something could range from tingles, colors, heat, cool, floating, heaviness, sleepiness, or peacefulness, to nothing at all. Convenient, isn’t it? I wonder what it would be like to be able to tell my patients that virtually any sensations they feel mean that the treatment worked—even if they feel nothing at all! Talk about a “can’t lose” setup. You really have to tip your hat to whoever thought of this scam.

Then, of course, there’s the after treatment patter for the mark client  .  .  .

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Drinkable Sunscreen Snakeoil

steven_novellaBy Steven Novella via Science-Based Medicine

In May, prompted by an uncritical article in the Daily Mail, the internet was buzzing about a company that was offering drinkable sunscreen. This is one of those game-changer health products that immediately garners a great deal of attention.

At first the claim seems extraordinary, but it is not impossible. It is theoretically possible to drink a substance that becomes deposited in the skin and absorbs or reflects UV radiation providing protection. Sunscreen_250pxHowever, upon reading the details it becomes immediately apparent that the product in question is pure snake oil.

The product is Harmonized Water by Osmosis Skin Care. In fact, UV protection is just one claim among many for the harmonized water line of products. The website claims:

  • Remarkable technology that imprints frequencies (as standing waves) onto water molecules.
  • Advances in the ability to “stack” thousands of frequencies onto one molecule.
  • Revolutionary formula allows us to reverse engineer the frequencies of substances found in nature and/or the human body.
  • Newly identified frequencies that have beneficial effects on the body.

The website does include the “quack Miranda warning:”

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The product list also includes this further disclaimer: “Recommended for (but not meant to replace effective medications):”

And is then followed by a long list of harmonized water products with the conditions they are “recommended for,” including arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, asthma, depression, and many others.

SnakeOil_200pxDespite the aggressive disclaimers, I do believe that mentioning specific diseases by name violates FDA regulations. I did file a complaint with the FDA but never heard back.

This is a common snake-oil scam – selling “magic” water for one thing or another. The basic idea is that you can give special properties to ordinary water, and that somehow the water will retain these properties. Homeopathy, of course, is the grandfather of all such water woo. Ionized water, imprinted water, and energized water are all variations on this common theme.

The harmonized water is also playing off another common snake oil theme  .  .  .

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How can homeopathy help to stop the Ebola outbreak?

Via Skeptical Raptor

In case you’re assuming that it can, it really can’t.

homeopathySince any reasonable person would understand that homeopathy violates some of the basic principles of physics, chemistry and biology. And because there is no viable mechanism that would make you think homeopathy actually could work, clinical trials show that it doesn’t work, or, at best, it is a mythical placebo. So, if it doesn’t work in clinical trials, and there is no possible mechanism underlying it, employing Occam’s Razor, we would have to say the simplest explanation is the best: Homeopathy does not work. It’s a lie. It’s a scam. Period. End of story.

The current outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa has been making significant headlines lately. The virus is deadly, with a mortality rate well over 90%, easily transmitted by any bodily fluid, and there is no known cure. The course of the disease is horrifying, starting with symptoms similar to a bad flu, but eventually leading to blood clotting problems, failing organs like the kidney and liver, then finally death. The disease is not selective about whom it attacks, young or old, healthy or not.

Early treatment may increase the survival chance, since there is no known cure. Treatment focuses on replenishing fluids, maintaining proper blood pressure, replacing lost blood, and treating related infections.

Ebola Virus Disease 838_225pxAnd there is no vaccine to prevent the virus from infecting individuals. This isn’t a massive conspiracy to prevent a new vaccine from coming to the market. Developing the vaccine has been incredibly difficult because traditional vaccine development strategies, such as inactivation, have not been successful. In fact, several vaccines have shown to be successful in preventing Ebola infection in animals and non-human primates, but as I’ve said many times, success in animals only rarely translates to success in humans. Those vaccines that have shown promise are now undergoing substantial clinical trials, but human clinical trials for vaccines are complex and take time. In fact, there might Ebola vaccines available in the next few months.

Of course, the lack of a cure or prevention for Ebola means the anti-science quack pushers are out in force. And that means homeopaths.

One of these deranged homeopaths even suggested a treatment:

SnakeOil_150pxDr. Gail Derin studied the symptoms of Ebola Zaire, the most deadly of the three that can infect human beings. Dr. Vickie Menear, M.D. and homeopath, found that the remedy that most closely fit the symptoms of the 1914 “flu” virus, Crolatus horridus, also fits the Ebola virus nearly 95% symptom-wise! Thanks go to these doctors for coming up with the following remedies:
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1. Crolatus horridus (rattlesnake venom) 2. Bothrops (yellow viper) 3. Lachesis (bushmaster snake) 4. Phosphorus 5. Mercurius Corrosivus

Yes, three snake venoms. Ebola is dangerous, but I’m not sure getting venom from snakes is a risk I’m willing to take, even if all of this pseudoscience actually worked. Oh, and the irony of “Mercurius Corrosivus”, which is nothing more than mercuric chloride. Yes, mercury. My irony meter just blew up.

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Cleansing Diets

It seems nearly all your friends are doing special cleansing diets. Should you do one too?

By inFact via YouTube

Transcript via inFact:

Cleansing diets are a food fad that’s been around for decades, from the Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet, to lemon & maple syrup concoctions, to today’s absurdly overpriced high-sugar fruit smoothie drinks that you buy an in impressively multi-colored, day-specific pack.

Notice that accredited healthcare providers like medical doctors and dietitians never recommend that you buy these cleansing products — they recommend the most basic (and free) health advice of all: eat right and get some exercise. It’s only the unaccredited, unlicensed tradespeople like nutritionists and yoga teachers who will advise you to buy cleansing products — and not surprisingly, will often sell them to you themselves.

Why don’t doctors advise cleansing for general health? Because there is no such thing in medical or dietetic science. The idea that toxic substances from a normal diet build up in your body and cause health problems is a fantasy invented by marketers. Proof: Humans and animals all exist fine, and have for millions of years, without these products. We have perfectly functioning systems already built in: kidneys and livers. The technical medical terms for detoxification are “poop” and “pee”.

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What is a homeopathic drug?

Many people believe homeopathy is a natural, herbal supplement like any other. But is it?

Via inFact with Brian Dunning

What is a homeopathic drug?

“All natural.”

“I would say it’s an herbal supplement that is prescribed by a doctor.”

“Just a little bit of active substance.”

Stop! You’re all wrong. By definition, a homeopathic drug is one that contains no active ingredients at all. None! Not a single molecule. That’s what homeopathic means.

But look at the ingredients. This one shows a 30C amount of Kali Bichromicum Powder. It’s listed, so it should be in there, right? Wrong. The only things actually in this product are the inactive ingredients, lactose, sucrose, or cellulose. Note the amount shown of the supposedly active ingredient: 30C.

What does that mean?

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Gerson Therapy

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

Gerson therapy is the name given to a regimen that claims to be able to cure even severe cases of cancer. The regimen consists of a special diet, coffee enemas, and various supplements. The regimen is named after Max Gerson (1881-1959), a German physician who emigrated to the United States in 1936 and practiced medicine in New York.

In 1977, Gerson’s daughter, Charlotte, co-founded the Gerson Institute, which oversees The Baja Nutri Care Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. The clinic’s website has a very strange message on its front page for such a cheery, optimistic site: BNC reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, at anytime without notice for any reason. It is still illegal for a clinic to offer the Gerson treatment as a cancer cure in the U.S. Charlotte is not a medical doctor but she was given on-the-job training in her father’s clinic. She trains physicians in the Gerson method, lectures widely on the benefits of the therapy and the evil forces trying to suppress it, and has written a number of pamphlets centering on testimonials from various people who claim to have been cured of their cancer. She’s co-authored a book on the Gerson way and is joined in her endeavor by her son Howard Strauss. Howard has a degree in physics and has written a biography of his grandfather called Dr. Max Gerson: Healing the Hopeless. Mother and son believe that Howard’s wife was cured of cancer by Gerson therapy.*

Gerson says he started on the road to his regimen when his migraines went away after going on a vegetarian and salt-free diet. The diet in the regimen eventually came to include lots of juice from organic fruits and vegetables, and to exclude coffee, berries, nuts, dairy products, tap water; bottled, canned or processed foods; and cooking in aluminum pots and pans. SnakeOil-250pxThe supplements came to include linseed oil, acidophilus-pepsin capsules, potassium solution, laetrile, Lugol’s solution (iodine/potassium iodine), thyroid tablets, niacin, pancreatic enzymes, royal-jelly capsules, castor oil, ozone enemas, vaccines, and vitamin B12 mixed with liver.* The liver injections were removed from the regimen after it became clear that it was making some people sick.*

Who was Max Gerson and why would anyone with cancer follow his advice of massive quantities of vegetable juice and daily coffee enemas? The second question is easy to answer. The therapy appeals to those who believe a “natural” cure exists for cancer and most other diseases but special interests (known in some circles as “they”) have suppressed these cures. It appeals to cancer patients who are extremely fearful of or violently opposed to surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. It appeals to cancer patients who have been told that science-based medicine has no treatment for them and who are desperate to continue living. The first question requires a longer answer.

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Autism cure promoters

autism water
By The Locke via The Soap Box

Autism cure promoters are people who claim they “cure” people with autism.

The claims made by these people are very conversational, both in their claims about autism and it’s causes, and what they say can cure autism.

Now there are a lot of different things I have noticed about autism cure promoters, but I’ve narrowed it down to five different things.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about autism cure promoters:

5. They’re closely aligned with the anti-vaccination movement.

VaCCINE-no-Autism_200pxAutism cure promoters and the anti-vaccination movement are pretty much like peas in a pod. Anti-vaccers often promote these so called “therapies” that the autism cure promoters claim can cure a person with autism, and autism cure promoters also tend to publish on their websites anti-vaccination movement propaganda, mainly in the form of claims that certain chemicals in vaccines can cause autism.

Some of these promoters also like to use certain words that the anti-vaccination movement also uses inorder to sell their therapies to people with autism or have autistic children, such as “vaccine damage”, “vaccine injury”, or “autism epidemic”.

They also ignore the fact that such words are not only incorrect and misleadinf, but very insulting to people with autism. Ofcourse they’re not actually promoting their therapies towards people with autism, they’re really promoting them towards parents of children who have autism and just want their kids to be normal.

4. They exploit the fears and desires of parents with autistic children.

For some parents when a child is diagnosed with autism it can be devastating to them, and the fact that there is no way to cure autism can make that devastation to them even worse. autism einstein 02_300pxThen comes along someone who claims they can do things that the medical industry cannot do and can “cure” their child of autism, and if they don’t know any better they may take that person up on their offer.

A person who is misinformed about what autism is and what causes autism, mixed with both the fear of what will happen to their child and how their life will turn out due to their autism, combined with their desire to have a “normal” child, would be very temped by someone whom claims they can cure their child of autism and give them a chance at a normal life and be willing to pay whatever price they can inorder to do so.

The people who are promoting these so called autism cures know this and know that they can exploit these fears and desires to sell people products and services that scientific research has concluded are useless at curing autism.

3. They’re trying to give a simple solution to a complex issue.

Autism is a neurological disorder, and like all neurological disorders it’s complex without any simple solutions.

Autism cure promoters try to make it look like autism is caused by toxins in the body, and that by removing these toxins a person whom has autism one can be cured of autism.

While some toxins can cause neurological disorders, all legitimate scientific research has shown that autism isn’t one them.

While the actually cause of autism is still technically unknown, most scientists who study autism agree that it’s  .  .  .

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The Weekend I Became a Reiki Healer

Carrie PoppyBy Carrie Poppy via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

I am a Reiki practitioner, but I don’t believe in Reiki.

That may sound like a contradiction, but apparently it isn’t. One of the lessons Jenny, my Reiki master, taught my class when we first gathered in her small, purple classroom in La Crescenta, California, was this:

poppy-reiki-certificate_cropped_350px“Belief is irrelevant. You don’t have to believe a single word I say. If you have the Reiki energy and even the vaguest intention to heal, it will work.”

Now I had paid $350 to learn the “ancient” technique myself in a class called “Reiki 1-2.” But, contrary to popular myth, Reiki isn’t all that ancient. This hands-on healing method was developed by Mikao Usui just shy of one hundred years ago. The stories are not entirely clear, but the general idea is that he went up on a mountain top in Japan, fasted, and ended up receiving special healing energy from the Heavens, which he then passed down to his students. Reiki is hugely popular in the United States, where you can find a healer in nearly every city. During a Reiki treatment, you can expect your practitioner to wave his or her hands over you, often without even touching you, to heal your body, mind, and spirit. The National Institutes of Health warn that Reiki hasn’t been thoroughly studied and should never replace conventional health care.[1] Our best bet, my instructor told us, was to always assume that whoever we were dealing with was skeptical of Reiki. And plenty of people are.

When I told Jenny I didn’t know whether I thought Reiki was real myself, she said, “Oh, perfect! People who believe in Reiki are so boring. Skeptics are so much fun! Skeptics are the easiest to work with, because they want to be fair. Just go through the motions, and let them tell you if it worked. Pretend you know what you’re doing.”

reiki-cat 1104_300pxThe six of us students looked at our hands, which would soon be divine instruments.

“This is a metaphysical software download,” Jenny said. “It works as long as you have the software.”

Jenny explained that everyone’s hands have some healing energy, but 10–20 percent of the population have enough to be healers already. People who get the special healing Reiki energy (passed down from Usui to every other master and student since Reiki’s birth) have the strongest, most divinely guided healing powers possible. And receiving the two “attunements” we would get in this class meant having “Super Hands” forever. It couldn’t be undone. Jenny had guided this process many times, training 2,000 students, ages five to one hundred, over twenty-three years.

For the most part, Jenny seemed like a warm, intelligent woman who defied my expectations of a Reiki teacher at every turn. She studied biology in college and was staunchly pro-GMO. Although she wore a fair amount of green and purple, her outfit was simple and all-American. Her long, brown hair was cut in straight bangs, and she was as glued to her iPhone as everyone else in the class. Besides her odd habit of saying “yesterday” instead of “tomorrow”—“We’ll learn about animal Reiki yesterday”—she was downright normal.

When it came time to receive the sacred Reiki attunements, we all sat in a circle, closed our eyes, and waited for Jenny to walk around the outer edge of our chairs, giving the six of us the holy energy one at a time.reiki 1225 I was sitting with my hands in prayer position, centering myself and focusing on the holy energy within me already, though what I felt most strongly was a longing for the Thai restaurant next door. She reached in front of me and grasped my palms with hers, lifting my arms above my head. Then she patted my crown three times, whistled a strange tune, and touched my back. That was it. I now had partial Reiki powers.

When we opened our eyes, my classmates and I exchanged notes. Richard felt his heart become heavy and his hunger go away upon receiving the energy. Mary felt lightning bolts in her head. Tasha felt vulnerable, like wings had popped open on her back, exposing her spine. Priscilla, a physical therapist, said she was relieved she could finally be a true healer. Pablo and I were the only ones who didn’t feel much. Jenny said all our experiences were equal. We didn’t need to feel anything.

Now that we had received half of the full Reiki energy, we practiced on each other. First, the class tried to cure my headaches by feeling for lumps in the energy field above my head. I was as lumpy-headed as my teacher had expected. My fellow students all stood above me, their hands miming the removal of stagnant energy about three inches above my skull.

“Oh wow,” they said. “I can definitely feel it.”

When it was over, the teacher asked me how I felt.

“Well, fine… But I didn’t have a headache before.”

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Mike Adams

by via The Soap Box

Mike Adams, the creator of the website Natural News, and one of the biggest promoters of alternative medicine there is, also known as non-science and non-evidence based medicine.

Now many things have been said about him and the way he acts, and I myself have noticed a few things about him as well.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about Mike Adams:

5. He’s a conspiracy theorist.

mike adams straight-jacket 02Mike Adams, despite the fact that his website, Natural News, constantly writes about stuff related to medicine (by that I mean bad mouthing science and evidence based medicine and promoting alternative medicine, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous it is) is neither a doctor, nor a scientist. He is a conspiracy theorist who promotes just about every conspiracy theory there is, although he mainly promotes “big pharma” conspiracy theories.

Even if he was an actual doctor or scientist with a legitimate degree in either science or medicine it still wouldn’t matter, because what he’s promoting is non-science based medicine, as well as other types of conspiracy theories besides just the big pharma ones, and he’s using fear mongering and paranoia inorder to promote these things, as well as bash science and evidence based medicine.

Pretty much his only “connection” with the health industry is his self appointed title of “The Health Ranger”, and that his website is used as an example by those in the health care industry and those who promote science based medicine as what a bad science website looks like.

4. He’s against all forms of science based medicine.

Mike Adams isn’t just someone whom believes that there are a few types of science based medicines and medical techniques that are bad for you. Nope, he’s against them all, Natural News's Facebook page.no matter how much scientific evidence there is showing that something works, like chemotherapy, or vaccines, or drugs that help fight HIV (which he thinks doesn’t exist in the first place).

It almost seems like anything that’s accepted and promoted by a valid and respected medical organization is automatically viewed by Adams as dangerous and part of a conspiracy. I bet he would even tell people who come to his website not to use homeopathy, acupuncture, or chiropractic “medicine” if several legitimate medical associations were to come out and say that this stuff works and works well. Infact I bet he would claim that people in homeopathy, acupuncture, or chiropractic “medicine” were hiding the fact that their stuff doesn’t work, and that they were sending out shills, or just using brain washed idiots to spread disinformation and make threats to try to scare off people who questions them, and even go so far as to sue people who criticize them…

Hopefully you see the irony in the that last sentence there.

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Earth Day Festival 2014: How was the Woo?

by The Locke via The Soap Box

Last Sunday, April 26, I went down to my town’s annual Earth Day Festival to check out everything that was there, just like I do every year.

Last year I was appalled by the amount of pseudoscience and alternative medicine woo mixed in with all of the legitimate booths and displays promoting legitimate environmental causes and advice [read about it here] to the point where they pretty much overshadowed what the Earth Day festival was suppose to be about.

The worst offender last year of course was a booth promoting Anti-GMO conspiracy theories.

Fortunately that person wasn’t back this year, but still there were people back again promoting the same woo, including the Astrology and Tarot Card reader from last year  .  .  .

DSC08168

.  .  .  and the chiropractors from last year are back as well  .  .  .

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.  .  .  but I have some new ones for this year, starting with this one:

DSC08189

Now I admit at first glance this one wasn’t that bad, even through it had nothing to do with environmentalism.

Creating art can help relax a person and cut down on stress. That’s the good part about what’s being presented there.

Then there’s the woo.

They also promote past life regression and trauma healing, clearing of curses, negative spirits, and other stuff of the like, and how to protect yourself from such things, all while using nature and spiritual energy.

In other words instead of addressing any real things that can cause stress in a person’s life, they’re just claiming that it’s supernatural forces, and use “techniques” they claim to get from Shamanism to “cleanse” a person of these supernatural forces.

The next offender of promoters of woo that I saw there was  .  .  .

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Kevin Trudeau’s $18,000 Weight Loss Plan: A Book Review

Carrie PoppyBy Carrie Poppy via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

When Kevin Trudeau was sentenced to ten years in prison recently, a lot of people scratched their heads. Sure, he had peddled and promoted a lot of nonsense in his day, from celebrating “natural cures” like homeopathy and “energetic rebalancing,” to recommending that his readers stop taking their prescription medicines. He had even tacitly encouraged parents not to vaccinate their children: “Vaccines are some of the most toxic things you can put in your body,” he said. [1] But this is America, where we don’t just send people to jail for saying things in books and on infomercials … do we?

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TV infomercial pitchman Kevin Trudeau was sentenced to 10 years in prison for bilking consumers through his infomercials for his weight-loss book. (nydailynews.com)

But it wasn’t selling snake oil that put Kevin in the slammer. In fact, it wasn’t even the “natural cures” books for which he became so famous. It was his relatively forgotten book, The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About.

In his infomercials, Trudeau had called his weight loss plan “easy” and said that those who followed the plan could “eat whatever they want.” A judge found that he had “…misrepresented the contents of his book [and] … misled thousands of consumers.”[2] The courts were especially sick of him because they had dealt with him a number of times[3] and had previously barred him from making outrageous claims about products in infomercials (at the time, he was selling a calcium product and saying it cured cancer).[4] Trudeau had carved out an exemption for his books, only to exploit it. He was charged $37 million in refunds to his readers, which he refused to pay, saying he was flat broke. The court knew he wasn’t because he kept buying things like $180 haircuts. This time, when he went back to court, the judge threw the book at him.

When I stopped by Trudeau’s Ojai, California, home to visit his estate sale for Skeptical Inquirer, I found about thirty copies of that very book in his den. I went home with one copy for $3. I wanted to see what fantastic weight loss secret was so good that Trudeau was willing to risk his livelihood. And here’s what I found out.

It’s Not “Easy” Unless You’re a Masochist

“The most common myth is that to lose weight, and keep it off, you must eat less and exercise more.” —Kevin Trudeau[5]

poppy-trudeau-weight-book_200pxTrudeau’s weight loss plan is long, grueling, and so confusing it might as well be a Dante poem. You, the dieter, will be doing the treatment for approximately ninety-six days, then following a maintenance routine. The plan itself is divided into four stages. But even these stages are not clear: part four contains elements of the diet plan itself as well as the maintenance program; at times he contradicts himself by saying you should have only one massage a week, then later saying that you should get three; at one point, he says you must always eat six meals a day, then later he recommends six meals a day “plus breakfast.” Not only is the diet not simple but the reading isn’t either. A graphing calculator may be recommended.

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Homeopathy is bunk, study says

By via World news | theguardian.com

homeopathy 803_250pxHomeopathy is no more effective than a placebo, according to an extensive study by a peak science body.

The draft paper by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) assessed research into the effectiveness of the alternative medicine on 68 health conditions and concluded “there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective”.

Homeopathy claims to “let likes cure like,” by using highly diluted forms of the ailment it is treating. The Australian Homeopathic Association states the practice treats patients as a “whole person, taking into account personality, lifestyle and hereditary factors as well as the history of the disease.”

But the NHMRC review, conducted by a working committee of medical experts, said it had no impact on a range of conditions and illnesses including asthma, arthritis, sleep disturbances, cold and flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, eczema, cholera, burns, malaria and heroin addiction.

For the 68 conditions – including those listed – the review either concluded definitively that homeopathy was not more effective than a placebo, or at the very least there was no reliable evidence to suggest it was.

Placebo Side Effects

“No good-quality, well-designed studies with enough participants for a meaningful result reported either that homeopathy caused greater health improvements than a substance with no effect on the health condition (placebo), or that homeopathy caused health improvements equal to those of another treatment,” read the report’s summary.

Doctors welcomed the findings.

Professor John Dwyer, an immunologist and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales, told Guardian Australia that the report was long overdue.

“Obviously we understand the placebo effect. We know that many people have illnesses that are short lived by its very nature and their bodies will cure them, so it’s very easy for people to fall in the trap that because they did ‘A’, ‘B’ follows,” he said.

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Essential Oil Claims – The Dangers Keep On Coming

Eric HallBy Eric Hall via Skeptoid

Today I am going to focus specifically on one essential oil blog which came to my attention through a Facebook post about making your own “dry shampoo.” Why did I click on it? Sigh. Well, I did. I ended up at an essential oil seller making not just bogus claims, but downright dangerous claims. doula1_250px Of course, this seller protects herself with the standard FDA fake medicine disclaimer. Let’s look at a few of the more dangerous suggestions on the site.

Let’s meet Dana. Dana says she is doula and certified by DONA international. A doula is basically a coach for the birthing process. It does not signify any medical training. Yes, before you comment, I know there are nurses and other medical professionals that also serve as doulas. But she does not reveal any medical training. So in essence, she is a coach for the birth. She says:

My mission is to provide women with the information they need to make confident decisions about their labor, the emotional support to motivate them to the next level and the physical comfort to embrace their birth experience.

Based on the information on her website, she isn’t doing a great job of informing.
Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 8.00.25 PM_250px
[…]

Let’s look at the information on how to become a “home healer,” which turns out she admits simply means you use lots and lots of the product she is selling. She starts by selling an over $150 “family physician kit.” I find this claim to be dangerous, as well as a bit insulting. Being a physician requires medical education and years of training. To call yourself a physician is a bit like calling myself a professional hockey player because I occasionally shoot the puck around. Here are a few of the claims of the oils in this kit:

You may have already heard me talk about how I only ever use doTERRA’s essential oils, because they are 100% certified pure therapeutic grade. This makes me feel great because I know that what I’m putting in/on my body and my family’s body, is safe and natural. There are no synthetics or fillers in the doTERRA oils and they are highly potent and effective.

What does 100% certified therapeutic grade mean? It turns out the phase is a registered trademark of doTERRA. The great irony is the proponents of these oils claim “big pharma” is shady. snake oil_300px I can only imagine how they would feel if “big pharma” reviewed their own science without any FDA or peer review – because that is exactly what doTERRA is doing here. They have no science or any details on what this process means. In other words, it is nonsense.

The next claim is that what you are putting in your body is safe and natural. These are fake (alternative/homeopathic/natural/naturopathic/etc) medicine buzz words. Just because it is natural doesn’t make it safe all the time and in every case. And natural is another weird word. Usually in fake medicine circles as “coming from a plant,” it has no real meaning since the chemicals in the oils are still processed to make them “100% certified therapeutic grade.” So is that natural?

The statement about highly potent and effective is interesting. Because one of my problems with these oils is that because they come from plants, and there is no oversight as to how the oils are processed, the potency is a bit of an unknown.

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Homeopathic Products Recalled for Containing Actual Drugs

Story H/T: @ Skeptic Wars


steven_novellaBy via NeuroLogica Blog

Homeopathy is bunk. It is 100% pure unadulterated pseudoscience. That is – unless it is adulterated with actual working medicine.

The FDA recently put out a safety alert warning the public that certain homeopathic products may contain measurable amount of penicillin, enough to cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive:

pleo-fortTerra-Medica, Inc. is voluntarily recalling 56 lots of Pleo-FORT, Pleo-QUENT, Pleo-NOT, Pleo-STOLO, Pleo-NOTA-QUENT, and Pleo-EX homeopathic drug products in liquid, tablet, capsule, ointment, and suppository forms to the consumer level. FDA has determined that these products have the potential to contain penicillin or derivatives of penicillin, which may be produced during the fermentation process. In patients who are allergic to beta-lactam antibiotics, even at low levels, exposure to penicillin can result in a range of allergic reactions from mild rashes to severe and life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. See the press release for a complete listing of products affected by this recall.

One has to wonder if the company was aware that their product contained penicillin.  That’s a pretty good scam. In the US homeopathic products do not require testing or any FDA approval process. They are essentially pre-approved by law. homeopathy 803_250pxWhile this is a shameful scam, at least homeopathic remedies are completely inactive – nothing but water placed on sugar pills. However, some specific products have been found to have functional levels of active ingredients, so they are not truly homeopathic. For example, some Zicam products were found to contain active levels of zinc, and was linked to anosmia (a loss of smell) in some cases.

In this way a company can market a drug that has actual pharmacological activity, but market it as a homeopathic product that requires no testing and is automatically approved.

This is obviously a dangerous situation. Drugs need to be carefully regulated because they can cause allergic reactions, they are not safe to use in certain condtions, and they can interact with other drugs. In this case there is also the issue of overuse of antibiotics resulting in increased bacterial resistance.

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Aromatherapy: Sniffing Essential Oils

The essences of certain flowers and herbs produce a pleasing smell, but is it also medicinal?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

The popularity of essences of aromatic plants appears to have skyrocketed in recent years. Normally they’re used as simple fragrances, in perfumes, incense, soaps and candles, or even potpourri. But their recent rise may be due in part to stinkier practices: a lot of people are now turning to essential oils for medical purposes. Some believe they promote general wellness, some believe they boost the immune system, and some depend on specific aromatherapies to treat very specific diseases. Are they right to do so?

Why don't you remember this headline?

Why don’t you remember this headline?

Let’s look exactly at what an essential oil is. First of all, the word “essential” means that the oil contains the “essence” of whatever plant it’s from; it does not mean that it’s essential (as in necessary for health). Leaves, stems, flowers, or whatever part of the desired plant is placed in a distillation vessel with steam. The heat releases the volatile organic compounds from the plant matter (volatile means they exist as a vapor at room temperature). Volatile organic compounds are what goes into your nose when you smell a flower. These compounds are then distilled into a liquid, which we colloquially call the “essence” of the plant. Finally, to make a nicely packageable product of desired consistency and concentration, the essence is usually mixed with an odorless carrier oil. Then, voilà: we have what’s called an essential oil, strong with the smell of the plant it’s made from.

It can be a massage oil; it can be the scent added to incense; it can be added to bath water, to soaps, or to candles; you can put some in your tea; or you can dab some on your skin for the fragrance. Many such aromas are delightful, even pleasurable. For a thousand years, people have been willing to pay a fair price for essential oils. But in recent years, prices have skyrocketed, especially among allegedly “premium” oils. Why might this be? The plants have not become any more scarce, and the production methods have only become more efficient and cheaper (particularly with our global economy providing the best access ever to bargain-basement oils produced in developing countries).

The answer is a resurgence of aromatherapy in the New Age and alternative medicine communities. But before we talk about its resurgence, let’s see how it first became a thing at all.

The principal anecdote cited by virtually all credulous articles on essential oils comes from the perfume industry.

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DEBUNKED: Myth: Cancer has become more prevalent in the USA

Via Skeptical Raptor’s Blog

cancer-foods-cause_250pxOne of the enduring zombified tropes of the junk science world is that the rate of cancer in people is higher today than it was in the past. Depending on the one screaming this myth, this rate of cancer increase is a result of A) vaccines, B) GMO crops, C) pasteurized milk, D) non-organic foods, or E) everything.

To be certain, there are a few things that do cause cancer, like smoking, asbestos, and obesity (and there are a lot of causes of obesity, it might be impossible to link the cause of obesity directly with cancer). Here and there, you might run across a study that mentions one thing or another may or may not increase or reduce the risk of cancer. But most of those studies are one-off primary research, usually using small groups, providing little clinical evidence that you may or may not be able to increase or decrease the risk of cancer. Wait until we can find these studies in large systematic reviews, before deciding that this or that may or may not increase or decrease the risk of cancer.

In the meantime, Joe Mercola certainly can make boatloads of money making such nonsense cancer claims.

Let’s go find out what the evidence tells us about the cancer rate. Let’s see if there are any real peer-reviewed articles that do a careful analysis of cancer rates over 100 years in the USA. Without much effort, I found one with the obscure and complex title of, “The decline in US cancer mortality in people born since 1925.” The paper by Kort et al., and published in Cancer Research in late 2009, reviewed data reported by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, was obtained from WHO Statistical Information System (WHOSIS). They examined the incidence (rate) and mortality from various cancers from individuals born in 1925 and after.

What the authors found was that rate of Cancer in each age group is holding roughly constant. However, since society as a whole is aging, overall cancer incidence is increasing slightly.

© Cancer research, 2009. All-site cancer mortality rates at different ages by decade of birth. Mortality rates for 40 to 79 year olds are plotted stratified by age and plotted by year of birth.

© Cancer research, 2009. All-site cancer mortality rates at different ages by decade of birth. Mortality rates for 40 to 79 year olds are plotted stratified by age and plotted by year of birth.

Well, the results are pretty clear. The rates of cancer for each age cohort appears to be flat, slightly increasing, or slightly decreasing. Overall, across all age groups, the cancer incidence is nearly flat (although the numbers are higher because the US population is larger and older than it was 60 years ago).

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Mike Adams, the “yoga mat chemical,” and the chemical apocalypse

by Orac via Respectful Insolence

Little Mikey Adams in his “forensic food lab.”

Little Mikey Adams exploring Chicken McNuggets in his “forensic food lab.”

Back in December, I was excited. The reason I was excited was because everybody’s favorite über-Libertarian, New World Order conspiracy theorist quack, Mike Adams, a.k.a. The Health Ranger, had made an announcement. That announcement was that on January 6, 2014 Adams would announce astonishing “scientific findings” about food that would “revolutionize” nutrition and health. Given Adams’ past history of doing hilariously off-base things with scientific instruments, such as putting Chicken McNuggets under a microscope and being amazed that things look a lot different when highly magnified, resulting in his misinterpreting dust and probably flecks of spice to be bizarre and alien fibers responsible for Morgellon’s disease, I was hoping for, as I put it, comedy gold and blog fodder galore.

I was disappointed.

January 6 came and went, and all I saw over at Adams’ repository of all things that quack, NaturalNews.com, were reports from the hilariously named Forensic Food Lab at NaturalNews.com finding heavy metals and all sorts of “toxins” in not just grocery store food, but organic foods and “superfoods.” Holy hell, even vegan foods and seaweed and sea vegetable products were not immune from Adams’ incompetent use of expensive scientific equipment to generate terrifying numbers for concentrations of lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals. However, it soon became apparent to me that Adams was clearly using his newfound ability to misuse actual scientific instruments to “find” horrifying levels of metals and various scary chemicals in a lot of the supplements and “superfoods” that you’d normally expect him to support. It was then that I started to realize that Adams’ lunacy wasn’t really about belief. Not really. Not this time. Rather, it was about eliminating his competition by testing their products and finding them to be “loaded” with various scary sounding chemicals. He even went so far as to publish an unstintingly funny (unintentionally, of course) article entitled Heavy metals discussions reveal striking state of denial in the minds of some natural products consumers, in which he had the chutzpah to state, “You can’t pick and choose which laws of chemistry you want to be true,” and then follow the section of his article following that title with a claim like, “There is also convincing evidence that at least some people are able to truly live off nothing more than sunlight and air.”

Uh, the laws of chemistry and physics say that living off of nothing more than sunlight and air is impossible for a mammal like humans. Mikey really needs to take his own advice. But I digress…

Yesterday, the old Mikey was back. Gone was the Mikey ruthlessly trying to eliminate his natural foods competitors by “revealing” horrible chemicals and heavy metals in their products, and back was the utterly nutty conspiracy true believer that we’ve all come to know and love. The old Mikey was back in the form of an article entitled Battle for humanity nearly lost: global food supply deliberately engineered to end life, not nourish it. To drive the point home, right next to the title is a picture of a man wearing a hazmat suit and a gas mask. As if that weren’t enough, the second paragraph  .  .  .

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Homeopathic Medicine

By via The Soap Box

homeopathyHomeopathic medicine is probably one of the oldest forms of alternative medicine there is. Infact it was invented in the late 1700’s by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, and has been with ever since.

Now there are lots of claims about homeopathy and what it does, and after looking into them I’ve noticed several different things about homeopathic medicine.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about homeopathic medicine:

5. You can make it at home.

Homeopathic medicine is very easy to make. You don’t even need a complex chemistry lab inorder to make it. You can make it right in your kitchen!

Got a headache and you want to make some homeopathic aspirin inorder to get rid of it? Well here’s what you do:

Step 1: Get one tablet of aspirin and about ten bottles of water.Step 2: Crush aspirin and put it into one of the bottles of water.

Step 3: Shake up bottle.

Step 4: Take one drop from said bottle and put it into the next bottle.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 until done doing so with all bottles.

Now if you do all of this you will have homeopathic aspirin and your headache should go away in a few hours… same as any other normal headache would if you were to take nothing at all.

Actually this might not work, and this is because…

4. You’re suppose to use something that can cause the problems that you currently have inorder to cure them.

homeopathy 803_250pxInorder for homeopathic medicine to actually work (atleast according to people who make and deal with homeopathic medicine) you don’t use heavily diluted medicine that would cure whatever it is that you have. What you actually are suppose to use is something that could cause the symptoms that you’re having rather than actually cure them. Think of it as a kind of like a vaccine, minus any backing from the scientific and medical communities.

So if you want to cure that headache of yours using heavily diluted aspirin isn’t going to work. What you actually want to use is something that can cause a headache if you take it in it’s pure form, like beer, only it has to be heavily diluted.

So using homeopathy logic the best thing to take when you have a headache is a ball park beer, because those things are watered down all to hell.

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67 claims about Coconut Oil: Which ones are true, and which ones are BS?

by via The Soap Box

coconut oil uses

Recently I came across this picture that were making all of these claims about coconut oil (67 claims to be exact).

Now normal when I see something like this and it has the word “Proven” in the title, I automatically assume that most or all of it is just a bunch of BS.

But I decided to give these claims the benefit of the doubt and examine all of them to see if there is any truth behind them.

1. To cook with instead of vegetable or seed oils.

This one is true. You can cook with it, but it’s advised by many health organizations not to, or not to use to much due to it’s high amount of saturated fat.

coco-milk-creamer-original2. In your coffee/tea instead of creamer.

Sure. Infact non-dairy creamers are often made out of coconut oil.

3. To wash your face with instead of soap.

Yes, this is true. Also most hard soaps are made with coconut oils.

4. To brush your teeth with.

You could. There’s nothing dangerous about coconut oil (except maybe increasing your chance of having a heart attack if you eat to much of it) but I would stick with good old fashion (and proven) toothpaste.

My advice is that you should ask your dentist first before using coconut oil toothpaste and see what they have to say.

5. For oil pulling.

Yes, you can use coconut oil for this, although oil pulling itself hardly does anything and only really decreases the amount of tooth decaying bacteria in your mouth. Mouthwash is far more effective to use, and takes less time. Vodka also works to, and unlike mouthwash, you can actually swallow it!

IMG_2636_200px6. As a body moisturizer.

Yes, this is true.

7. As a sun-screen.

Lets go back to #1 on the list, shall we. It’s used as a cooking oil. What do you think it’s going to do to you?

For those who answered incorrectly, it’s going to cook you!

8. As a hair conditioner.

It does reduce protein loss in hair, so yes you could use it as a hair conditioner.

9. As a supplement.

For what? That’s kind of vague. Plus considering how high coconut oil is in saturated fat, I wouldn’t use it as a food supplement.

massage1_250px10. As a massage oil.

You can use it for that.

11. To reduce scars.

It helps with dry skin, and it might help acne scars, but scars from a cut it’s not going to help.

12. To treat for lice.

Yes, you can, but you have to use a lot of it to work, and you have to leave on for 12 to 18 hours, and it probably won’t kill the eggs.

hair-growth.-Coconut-milk1_250px13. To soften cracked heels.

Yes, you can use it for this.

14. As a hair serum.

Yes, this is another thing you can use it for.

15. As a buttery spread.

Sure you can… if you don’t mind increasing your risk of having a heart attack in a few years.

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Homeopathic Emergency Department


On YouTube

Where is the Proof in Pseudoscience? (Op-Ed)

H/T: (Skeptic Wars)


By Peter Ellerton via LiveScience

homeopathy 803_250pxThe word “pseudoscience” is used to describe something that is portrayed as scientific but fails to meet scientific criteria.

This misrepresentation occurs because actual science has creditability (which is to say it works), and pseudoscience attempts to ride on the back of this credibility without subjecting itself to the hard intellectual scrutiny that real science demands.

A good example of pseudoscience is homoeopathy, which presents the façade of a science-based medical practice but fails to adhere to scientific methodology.

Other things typically branded pseudoscience include astrology, young-Earth creationism, iridology, neuro-linguistic programming and water divining, to name but a few.

What’s the difference?

science 824_200pxKey distinctions between science and pseudoscience are often lost in discussion, and sometimes this makes the public acceptance of scientific findings harder than it should be.

For example, those who think the plural of anecdote is data may not appreciate why this is not scientific (indeed, it can have a proper role to play as a signpost for research).

Other misconceptions about science include what the definition of a theory is, what it means to prove something, how statistics should be used and the nature of evidence and falsification.

Because of these misconceptions, and the confusion they cause, it is sometimes useful to discuss science and pseudoscience in a way that focuses less on operational details and more on the broader functions of science.

What is knowledge?

 John Dewey Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.


John Dewey
Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The first and highest level at which science can be distinguished from pseudoscience involves how an area of study grows in knowledge and utility.

The philosopher John Dewey in his Theory of Inquiry said that we understand knowledge as that which is “so settled that it is available as a resource in further inquiry”.

This is an excellent description of how we come to “know” something in science. It shows how existing knowledge can be used to form new hypotheses, develop new theories and hence create new knowledge.

It is characteristic of science that our knowledge, so expressed, has grown enormously over the last few centuries, guided by the reality check of experimentation.

In short, the new knowledge works and is useful in finding more knowledge that also works.

No progress made

Contrast this with homeopathy, a field that has generated no discernible growth in knowledge or practice. While the use of modern scientific language may make it sound more impressive, there is no corresponding increase in knowledge linked to effectiveness. The field has flat-lined.

At this level of understanding, science produces growth, pseudoscience does not.

To understand this lack of growth we move to a lower, more detailed level, in which we are concerned with one of the primary goals of science: to provide causal explanations of phenomena.

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5 Things I’ve noticed about… Alternative Cancer Cures

By via The Soap Box

cancer_quacks_250pxAlternative cancer cures.

These so called cures have been around with us for as long as science based cancer treatments have been around with us. In fact some of them have been around even longer than that.

These so called cures, while different, also have many things in common, which I have narrowed down to five different things.

So here are five things I’ve noticed about alternative cancer cures:

5. There’s a lot of them.

One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed about alternative cancer cures is that there are a lot of different types of “cures” floating around the internet and alternative medicine communities, and that there seems to be a new one that comes out every few weeks.

I’ve seen claims that balancing your ph levels, vitamins, organic foods, “detoxing” your body of chemicals, breathing in pure oxygen, and soursop can cure cancer, and in ways and speeds that would make conventional treatments obsolete.

The most recent claims I’ve seen concern cannabis oil. Along with doing all sorts of other stuff, the rumors spreading around the internet is that either cannabis oil can cure or at least stop the growth of cancer cells.

While there are a lot of different alternative medical treatments that are claimed to cure cancer, there are a few things that they all have in common, such as the fact that…

4. Many of the claims are exaggerated and dubious.

snake oil_300pxOf all the alternative cancer cures that I have seen floating around the internet they all just sound blatantly exaggerated, and when I do some research into these claims I find out that they are often times full of half truths, or are outright false. Examples of this would be Soursop which is claimed to be 10,000 times more effective than chemo (both exaggerated and false), and vitamins are often claimed to kill cancer cells because it can kill them in a petri dish (that doesn’t mean it can kill them in the human body).

Many people who promote these so called alternative cancer cures also claim that there is a “conspiracy” by “big pharma” to suppress these so called “cures” (which they have done a terrible job at) and is the reason why doctors won’t even mention these alternative “cures”. This is ofcourse made up nonsense and BS conspiracy theories. The real reason why doctors don’t recommend alternative cancer cures is because…

3. They don’t work and are dangerous.

As the old saying goes “You know what they call an alternative medicine that works? Medicine.”

The fact is that these so called alternative cancer cures don’t work. They have been tested in scientific laboratories, and have been shown . . .

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Also See:

What’s the deal with homeopathy?

Via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

Skeptics dismiss homeopathic medicine as pseudoscience and claim the industry bilks the gullible and desperate. However, advocates of homeopathic medicine believe the conspiracy lies within the pharmaceutical companies and western medicine.

The Tao of Chinese Medicine

by Yau-Man Chan via Skepticblog

sistem2I am not a medical doctor and I don’t even play one on TV!  So how am I qualified to write about Chinese medicine?  Well because I grew up with it! Is that really good enough?  Yes, and every Chinese who grew up in a Chinese household in a Chinese community are inculcated with knowledge about Chinese medicine and how it works.  Like any other Chinese kid growing up, when I was sick my mother could quickly diagnose my illness and if she couldn’t, she could turn to her mother or aunts or other higher authority figures. In more severe cases, there’s always the guy selling herbs. No formal training is required. By osmosis, we were all supposed to have absorbed medical knowledge and know what foods – plant/animal parts would be good medication for whatever ailed us.  I now live in a region of the U.S. very much enamored with eschewing Western evidence-base medicine for herbal treatments, acupuncture, and other Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cures. I can usually provoke shock and jaw-dropping silence when my response to questions about TCM is that I want nothing to do with it when it comes to the health and well-being of my family.  The two primary arguments in favor of TCM involve the classic logical fallacy of argument from antiquity and conspiracy theory about the evil intents of “Big Pharma. I will confine the rest of this blog to discussing the totally unscientific and perhaps even anti-scientific origins of TCM and leave debunking the Big Pharma Conspiracy to my fellow skeptics.TCM 704The argument from antiquity in favor of TCM usually goes like this:  it’s been around N-thousand years (replace N with your favorite integer between 1 and 5) and so it must have worked well! The truth of the matter is that TCM has no scientific basis and has been developed over the years on a foundation of very flawed understanding of the human anatomy and physiology.  Historically, the pathetically low cure-rate of diseases plaguing the Chinese population with access only to TCM resulted in the evolution of a hyper-superstitious culture bent on seeing ghosts and goblins around every corner and behind every bush, too ready to take another life away.   The inefficacy of their medical treatments throughout history, in my opinion, is responsible for the Chinese culture’s obsession with superstitions associated with maintaining good health and longevity.  78321115_XSThe list of superstitious do’s and don’ts are especially long when it came to childbirth, prenatal and postnatal care.  Please note that I am not talking about ancient history or even 100 years ago – I am talking about the persistence of these superstitions today in very modern Chinese communities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and big modern cities in China.

To understand TCM, you do not need to understand chemistry, biology, anatomy or physiology because the foundation of TCM has nothing to do with them.  You need instead to understand Taoism and Confucianism, as these philosophies are the founding principles of TCM. I will expend some ink here to explain these two very powerful underlying influences on Chinese society which gave rise to their understanding of the human body and the attendant medical fallacies.

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The Placebo Effect and Pharmaceutical Companies

Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube

Scientists have noticed that patients may experience improvements just from thinking they’ve had medicine, even if that medicine is fake. But why does the placebo effect work, and why do some researchers believe it’s growing stronger?

Your personal pseudoscience detector

Via Skeptical Raptor

sasquatch-pseudoscience_300pxIf you read something that makes some medical claim, here’s a quick and easy checklist to determine if it’s pseudoscience. Or real science-based medicine.

  1. The discoverer pitches his claim directly to the media. Going to media directly bypasses the all-important peer-review process, where real scientists can evaluate whether the claim is real science. There are some journalists that are thorough scientific skeptics, but it is rare. That’s why press releases rank near the bottom of acceptable scientific evidence.
  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his/her work. Special pleading for a conspiracy is just a logical fallacy. If someone discovers a cure for all cancers (probably not possible, since there are so many different cancers), the powers that be will be bringing truckloads of dollars to buy it, because they could market it for even more truckloads of money. But if you have no evidence that it cures all cancers, you’re not going  get anything.
  3. The scientific effect is always at the very limit of detection. This is the very definition of “it doesn’t work.” Moreover, if the thing being promoted has a tiny effect, then more of it will have more of an effect, the typical dose-response relationship expected from all compounds.
  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal. Anecdotes are not data. More anecdotes are not data. Anecdotes are not controlled, but they are subject to all sorts of bias. Like confirmation bias, where the observer only picks anecdotes that support their belief. The problem with that is we have no idea if the anecdote is, in fact, accurate; and we ignore all the data that does not support the anecdote. Randomized clinical trials remove bias, remove observer partiality, and blind the patients and the researchers to the experiment itself.

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17 Concise Reasons Why Homeopathy is a Fraud

by Jerry De Luca via My Best Buddy Media

One can’t help but be perplexed by the bizarre world of homeopathy. From miracle cures to snake oil peddling, from deceptive advertising to FDA warnings, from questionable medical claims to rigorous scientific testing, it’s an uncanny circle of health declarations and assertions. Here is hopefully a comprehensive overview of the evidence in 17 concise reasons……

1 • The active ingredient of a homeopathic remedy is diluted to a ratio of: 1 : 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.homeopathy just-water_250px Or to look it another way, combine all the world’s oceans, let one drop of the active ingredient plunge into the middle, stir, and the result is a genuine homeopathic cure. The world’s most powerful microscope would be needed to locate even a single molecule in the average pill or tablet. When two completely different homeopathic remedies with two completely different “healing” agents are compared under a microscope, they are INDISTINGUISHABLE from each other!

2 • Homeopaths claim their pills work because “the water remembers” – the active ingredient has made “contact” with it. This has never been proven in any field of science – chemistry, physics, and molecular biology. Furthermore, many homeopathic remedies are dry tablets or pills. There is no water to remember.

3 • The FDA does not require manufacturers of homeopathic products to prove their efficacy or safety. They are under no obligation to test their products. You have to take their word for it.

4 • Homeopaths advocate the “Principle of Similars”. They assert if you take the substance that made you sick in the first place, and dilute it to almost total invisibility, then ingest it, you will be cured. With a couple of rare exceptions (anti-venom is derived from venom, but contains numerous other elements), this has never been proven scientifically. homeopathyA comparable is the homeopathic remedy that is supposed to help you fall asleep – the sleeping pill. What is the miniscule active ingredient? Caffeine! Time and again skeptics have publicly ingested several full bottles of “sleeping pills” without exuding even a yawn (http://www.1023.org.uk/the-1023-overdose-event.php).

5 • Many homeopathic manufacturers lie when they claim on their product labels that the remedy is FDA approved. Most consumers assume this refers to its efficacy. In fact the FDA has only ratified its safety. These are the exceptions, as most homeopathic products are not sent for any testing to the FDA.

6 • In recent years the FDA has successfully sued several homeopathic companies for making unsubstantiated claims to cure a variety of diseases. However, many companies have found a legal loophole by claiming cures for general illnesses, not specifics. For example, the product will help your “liver problems”, with no mention whatsoever of hepatitis. Also, many homeopaths will make these claims verbally in one-on-one sessions with the patient, where there is no legal liability.

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Skeptic Presents: Get Your Guru Going

Via Skeptic Magazine

In this video — the fifth in our series of videos that promote science and critical thinking through the use of humor, wit, and satire — we present a Con Academy mini course in the techniques of New Age Spiritual Gurutry.

If you missed our first four videos, check them out:

Reiki

steven_novellaby via Science-Based Medicine

Reiki (pronounced raykey) is a form of “energy healing,” essentially the Asian version of faith healing or laying on of hands. Practitioners believe they are transferring life energy to the patient, increasing their well-being. The practice is popular among nurses, and in fact is practiced by nurses at my own institution (Yale).

From reiki.org, we get this description:

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

reiki-healing-the-world_250pxReiki is therefore a form of vitalism – the pre-scientific belief that some spiritual energy animates the living, and is what separates living things from non-living things. The notion of vitalism was always an intellectual place-holder, responsible for whatever aspects of biology were not currently understood. But as science progressed, eventually we figured out all of the basic functions of life and there was simply nothing left for the vital force to do. It therefore faded from scientific thinking. We can add to that the fact that no one has been able to provide positive evidence for the existence of a vital force – it remains entirely unknown to science.

But the discarded science and superstition of the past is the “alternative medicine” of today. There are many so-called “CAM” modalities that are based on vitalism, including Reiki. Reiki, in fact, is very similar to therapeutic touch, reiki-cat 1104_300pxanother energy healing modality that was popular among nurses, and although it continues to be used it is much less popular after 9 year old girl (Emily Rosa) performed an elegant experiment to show that it was nothing but self-deception. Reiki nicely moved in to fill the void.

The research on Reiki, and energy healing in general, is similar to that of many similar modalities – those with very low scientific plausibility that are not taken very seriously by medical scientists. The research is of generally low quality, poorly controlled small studies that seem designed to justify Reiki rather than see if it actually works. The most recently published study, for example, looks at anxiety levels and self-reported well being in cancer patient and finds, unsurprisingly, that patients feel better when they receive the kind attention of a nurse. The study is completely uncontrolled, and therefore of dubious value. One might consider such a study a complete waste of time and effort, as the results were never in doubt.

A 2011 review of reiki studies concluded:

The existing research does not allow conclusions regarding the efficacy or effectiveness of energy healing. Future studies should adhere to existing standards of research on the efficacy and effectiveness of a treatment, and given the complex character of potential outcomes, cross-disciplinary methodologies may be relevant. To extend the scope of clinical trials, psychosocial processes should be taken into account and explored, rather than dismissed as placebo.

In other words – existing research is a such poor quality we cannot draw any useful conclusion from it. I disagree, however, that this necessarily means that more research is needed. The low plausibility of using magical energy that has never been demonstrated to exist by medical science argues otherwise. Further, the last sentence is odd – it suggests the authors are trying to spin placebo effects into real effects. This is increasingly the strategy of alternative medicine advocates as it becomes clear that most of the modalities they favor do not work any better than placebo (which means they don’t work).

Reiki is now squarely in that camp.

MORE . . .

Also See: Full of Energy « Science-Based Medicine

Emergency Handbook: What to Do When a Friend Loves Woo

How you can help a friend or loved one with a potentially harmful pseudoscientific belief

Brian DunningBY Brian Dunning via Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Podcast. Read podcast transcript below or listen here.

It’s the #1 most common question I get: My wife, my friend, my mom, my boss, is investing their health or their money in some magical or fraudulent product/scheme/belief. What can I do about it?

StephnMedShow_250pxThis is a tough situation to be in. Whether it’s a loved one who’s ill and is being taken advantage of by a charlatan selling a magical cure with no hope of treating the illness, or a friend who’s out of work and is going into deeper debt to buy into a hopeless multilevel marketing plan, it’s really hard to watch. The hardest is when they have a real problem and are expending their limited resources trying to solve it with a medieval, magic-based system that you know can’t possibly help. But all too often, they think it’s helping. Cognitive biases, anecdotal thinking, placebo effects and cognitive dissonance combine to build a powerful illusion that our brains are hardwired to believe in. At some point, it falls to a caring friend to try and rescue them with a candle of reason.

You’re up against a foe who’s far more formidable than you might think. This isn’t like settling a bet with a friend where you can look up the answer on Wikipedia, see who’s right, then buy each other a beer. You’re going after someone’s religion. You’re setting out to talk someone out of believing something that they know to be true, for a fact, from their personal experience. That right there makes your task nearly impossible, but it’s worse. Their belief has spiritual underpinnings that make it deeply moral and virtuous. Imagine if someone came to you and flashed a magazine article that said it’s best to turn your children out into the street and never talk to them again. It’s not only unconvincing, it’s laughable. Your effort to talk someone out of their belief in their sacred cow is likely to be just as laughable.

pick your battles_200pxSo what should you do, give up? You may be surprised to hear it from me, but I advise you to do just that, in many cases. Know which battles to fight. Weigh the risks. Consider the context of your friend’s belief: Is he in imminent danger of harming himself or others? Probably not; and if not, this may not be the time to take what might be your only shot. So I want to make this a rule: Before you decide what to do, consider the risks and the context. How terrible are the consequences of your friend’s belief? Think that through comprehensively. Make sure you have a good understanding of the risks to your friend if you do nothing, and the risks to your relationship if you attack their beliefs and (in all probability) fail to convince them. It may well be that this first strategy I’m going to present is the safest.

Strategy #1: Do Nothing

acceptingDoing nothing now doesn’t mean giving up. When you choose not to confront your friend’s current weird belief, there’s still an effective strategy for helping him out that you can follow. By accepting and tolerating your friend’s weird belief, you’re actually setting yourself up to be in a position of great influence the next time something weird comes down the line. Your friend likely knows that you’re a skeptical person, and eventually he’ll recognize that you’ve been putting up with his weird belief and saying nothing. In fact he may someday ask you, “Hey, you know I believe in this weird thing, how come Mr. Cynical Skeptic has never tried to talk me out of it?”

Ask “Is it important to you?”

“Yes.”

“You’re important to me.”

Think what a powerful message that sends. It may sound corny, but it’s a statement that your friend will always remember. You’ve just communicated that your friendship is more important than your “evil debunking hobby”. You’ve made it clear, unequivocably, that you don’t want such differences to come between you.

And now look at the position you’re in. You’re trusted. You’re an ally at the most important and fundamental level. This is exactly where you need to be if you want to be influential on someone. You can now begin to introduce critical thinking using topics that are more about exploration than confrontation, and this is a journey you should take together. critical-thinking1_250pxNext time you’re in the car together, play a few Skeptoid episodes. Play episodes like The Baigong Pipes, Is He Real or Is He Fictional, The Missing Cosmonauts, and When People Talk Backwards. Topics such as these do not attack or challenge anyone, they instill an appreciation and a passion for the value of critical thinking. Once introduced, I find that most people want more.

Gather every bit of skeptical material you can find that you know will interest your friend, and that does not attack or challenge his belief. So long as you remain a trustworthy friend and not an irrational adversary, you’re in a position to introduce him to the fundamentals of critical thinking, and to the value and tangible rewards of reality. Don’t underestimate the value of seeds that are well planted in a good environment. If your friend comes around on his own, his growth is far more complete than any that’s forced upon him.

Always remember the story of the little boy who couldn’t get his pet turtle to come out of his shell. He tried to pull on its head, he shook it, he squirted water, he did everything he could think of. But the turtle wouldn’t come out. Then his grandfather took the turtle and placed it on the warm hearth, and within a minute the turtle was out of his shell. The little boy never forgot that lesson.

Strategy #2: The Intervention

Sometimes the situation is urgent and you don’t have time to do things the easy way. There might be a medical crisis, an emotional crisis, or a financial crisis, and an immediate intervention is needed. Sometimes a friend’s situation is dire enough that helping him is worth the loss of the personal relationship. In these cases, and probably only in these cases, would I suggest a confrontational approach. And to do this effectively, draw on the established principals of the counseling intervention.

interventionFirst you want to gather a group of friends or family, and you need to meet with them separately. Try to get a group, but even if there are only two of you, it’s worlds better than just you by yourself. Your next task is to present your evidence to the group that the magical system your friend is relying on is pseudoscientific and cannot help him. Do not expect them to accept what you say at face value, and do expect that some of them might buy into the magical system as well. Be prepared. Show your work. Print out pages from the web. Use the Science Based Medicine blog, use Skeptoid, use Quackwatch, use Swift. Search the best sources and have all your ducks in a row. The most important thing you need to do at this stage is to be certain that everyone in the group is united in their understanding of the useless, pseudoscientific nature of the magical sacred cow.

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On a related note . . .

Susan Blackmore – Fighting the Fakers (and Failing) – TAM 2013:

Susan Blackmore is a psychologist and writer researching consciousness, memes, and anomalous experiences, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. She is the is author of a number of books, including The Meme Machine and Zen and the Art of Consciousness.


What’s Wrong with The Secret

The Secret teaches that victims are always to blame, and that anyone can have anything simply by wishing.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via Skeptoid: Critical Analysis Podcast (2008). Read podcast transcript below or listen here.

Prepare to have everything you’ve ever wanted, simply by thinking happy thoughts about it; and be careful of negative scary thoughts which might cause those things to happen to you to too. Little did you know that, just like in the original Star Trek episode Shore Leave, whatever you think of — either good or bad — will actually happen! This is the premise of Rhonda Byrne‘s 2006 book and movie, both titled The Secret.

cccRhonda Byrne is an Australian television producer and author. Her book and movie propose that many of the most successful people throughout history have known a “secret” — a secret closely guarded in the marketing materials for the book and movie. The “secret” turns out to be nothing more than the old motivational speaker’s standby, that positive thinking leads to positive results. But she took the idea a step further. The Secret claims that you can actually cause events to happen by wishing for them hard enough, literally like winning the lottery or recovering from terminal illness. Similarly, a focus on fears or negative ideas will cause those things to appear or happen as well. The Secret calls this the “Law of Attraction”. The Secret further makes the completely unfounded claim that many great people knew and relied upon this wisdom, and taught it to others as “secret teachers”. “Secret teachers” included Buddha, Aristotle, Plato, Sir Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King Jr., Carl Jung, Henry Ford, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Andrew Carnegie, Joseph Campbell, Alexander Graham Bell, and even Beethoven. This claim is just a made-up lie: Most of these people lived before the “Law of Attraction” was invented, and there’s no evidence that any of them ever heard of it.

As of today (2008), a year and a half after its release, The Secret remains #26 of Amazon’s list of best selling books, better than any Harry Potter book. It has over 2,000 customer reviews. Half of them are 5 star, and a quarter of them are 1 star. This is the sign of a polarizing book. Most people either love it or find it to be utter nonsense. In the case of The Secret, most people love it. Thanks in large part to promotion by Oprah Winfrey, The Secret sold 2 million DVD’s in its first year and 4 million books in its first six months.

“Wealth is a mindset. Money is literally attracted to you or repelled from you. It’s all about how you think.”The Secret

Many of the people appearing in the movie version of The Secret are motivational speakers who spout the same old “If you can dream it, you can do it” nonsense that Amway salesmen have been chanting for decades. In essence, part of what Rhonda Byrne has done has been to simply repackage Motivational Speaking 101 inside the wrapper of a century-old philosophical construct, which we’ll look at in closer detail in a moment.

As you’ve probably heard, The Secret has been roundly criticized from all quarters. The most common criticism is of The Secret’s assertion that victims are always to blame for whatever happens to them. Whether it’s a rape victim, a tsunami victim, or a heart attack victim, The Secret teaches that they brought it upon themselves with their own negative thoughts. This idea is, of course, profoundly offensive in many ways. Doctors attack The Secret for teaching that positive thinking is an adequate substitute for medical care in cases of serious illness: Wish for it hard enough, and your cancer tumors will melt away. Religious leaders criticize The Secret for its ethical claims that victims are always to blame, and for promoting the attitude that anyone can be just like a god by wishing hard enough. Many financial critics and advisors have pointed out the dangers of yet another baseless get-rich-quick scheme. The list of critics of The Secret goes on and on, as tends to happen to any mega-successful franchise.

So the question people ask me is “What do I think of The Secret?”

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Bad Thinking Makes Bad Things Happen

by Jamy Ian Swiss via Bad Thinking Makes Bad Things Happen

The Secret teaches that victims are always to blame, and that anyone can have anything simply by wishing.

“The Secret teaches that victims are always to blame, and that anyone can have anything simply by wishing.” – Brian Dunning

For a moment there that headline might seem like preaching the converse of “The Secret”, the toxically ignorant book promoted by the toxically ignorant Oprah. But this isn’t about the notion that thinking bad – or good – thoughts produces bad or good results. That notion is just plain dumb. (It’s also hateful because it inescapably claims that bad things happen to people because they don’t think good thoughts.)

What I mean by “bad thinking” here however is poor thinking – the inability to think critically, the inability to understand or effectively utilize science and scientific reasoning. And when that kind of bad thinking is in effect, then in fact, very bad things do happen. Not to mention: to good people. And their children.

This was evidenced yet again a few weeks ago when a study published in the journal “Pediatrics” provided further evidence that the 2010 pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak in California was partly the result of increased numbers of parents opting out of vaccinating their children.

Sometimes too much education, too much disposable income, too much free time and above all, too much good medicine and good health, can lead otherwise seemingly intelligent people to make appallingly ignorant and hazardous choices. That appears to be the case evidenced by the new study. According to a story at salon.com (quoting a report on NPR):

“… a community loses herd immunity after the vaccination rate drops below 95 percent. In 2010, only 91 percent of California kindergarteners were up to date on their shots. The researchers found that in some neighborhoods, especially those with high income and education levels, exemption rates were as high as 75 percent.”

The significant point to understand about herd immunity is that the greater percentage of vaccinated community members in turn helps protect infants, who are too young to be vaccinated, and anyone else unable to safely be given the vaccine, from contracting the disease.

Guess which child was vaccinated.

Guess which child was vaccinated.

A piece in “Scientific American” points out that, “Unvaccinated individuals in the 2010 epidemic were eight times more likely to contract pertussis than vaccinated ones. But unvaccinated individuals pose risks to the community as well. ‘It’s a choice you make for yourself and a choice you make for those around you,’ Offit [Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia] says. “Infants need those around them to be protected in order not to get sick. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to our neighbors as well as to ourselves and our children.’”

So bad thinking does make bad things happen – and in this case, not just to the people doing the bad thinking, but to other people, and to other people’s children – and since I live in San Diego, my children are at risk thanks to that bad thinking. If you don’t think that science education and critical thinking skills are important, think again. If you don’t think the skeptic movement does important work, think again. If you don’t think that educating people about how to think about psychics and Bigfoot claims has a direct connection to the unnecessary medical risk my children face thanks to bad thinking – think again.

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▶ James Randi – Fighting the Fakers

Via ▶ James Randi – YouTube

James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural.

The Detoxification Myth

Everyone wants to “detoxify” their bodies. Is this for real?

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid

Podcast transcript below or listen here

Today we’re going to head into the bathroom and suck the toxins out of our bodies through our feet and through our bowels, and achieve a wonderful sense of wellness that medical science just hasn’t caught onto yet. Today’s topic is the myth of detoxification, as offered for sale by alternative practitioners and herbalists everywhere.

detox 853_250pxTo better understand this phenomenon, it’s necessary to define what they mean by toxins. Are they bacteria? Chemical pollutants? Trans fats? Heavy metals? To avoid being tested, they leave this pretty vague. Actual medical treatments will tell you exactly what they do and how they do it. Alternative detoxification therapies don’t do either one. They pretty much leave it up to the imagination of the patient to invent their own toxins. Most people who seek alternative therapy believe themselves to be afflicted by some kind of self-diagnosed poison; be it industrial chemicals, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, or fluoridated water. If the marketers leave their claims vague, a broader spectrum of patients will believe that the product will help them. And, of course, the word “toxin” is sufficiently scientific-sounding that it’s convincing enough by itself to many people.

Let’s assume that you work in a mine or a chemical plant and had some vocational accident, and fear that you might have heavy metal poisoning. What should you do? Any responsible person will go to a medical doctor for a blood test to find out for certain whether they have such poisoning. A person who avoids this step, because they prefer not to hear that the doctor can’t find anything, is not a sick person. He is a person who wants to be sick. Moreover, he wants to be sick in such a way that he can take control and self-medicate. He wants an imaginary illness, caused by imaginary toxins.

These mucoid plaque pills consist mainly of bentonite, an absorbent, expanding clay similar to kitty litter.

These mucoid plaque pills consist mainly of bentonite, an absorbent, expanding clay similar to kitty litter.

Now it’s fair for you to stop me at this point and call me out on my claim that these toxic conditions are imaginary. I will now tell you why I say that, and then as always, you should judge for yourself. Let’s start with one of the more graphic detoxification methods, gruesomely pictured on web sites and in chain emails. It’s a bowel cleansing pill, said to be herbal, which causes your intestines to produce long, rubbery, hideous looking snakes of bowel movements, which they call mucoid plaque. There are lots of pictures of these on the Internet, and sites that sell these pills are a great place to find them. Look at DrNatura.com, BlessedHerbs.com, and AriseAndShine.com, just for a start. Imagine how terrifying it would be to actually see one of those come out of your body. If you did, it would sure seem to confirm everything these web sites have warned about toxins building up in your intestines. But there’s more to it. As it turns out, any professional con artist would be thoroughly impressed to learn the secrets of mucoid plaque (and, incidentally, the term mucoid plaque was invented by these sellers; there is no such actual medical condition). These pills consist mainly of bentonite, an absorbent, expanding clay similar to kitty litter. Combined with psyllium, used in the production of mucilage polymer, bentonite forms a rubbery cast of your intestines when taken internally, mixed of course with whatever else your body is excreting. Surprise, a giant rubbery snake of toxins in your toilet.

It’s important to note that the only recorded instances of these “mucoid plaque” snakes in all of medical history come from the toilets of the victims of these cleansing pills. No gastroenterologist has ever encountered one in tens of millions of endoscopies, and no pathologist has ever found one during an autopsy. They do not exist until you take such a pill to form them. The pill creates the very condition that it claims to cure. And the results are so graphic and impressive that no victim would ever think to argue with the claim.

Victims, did I call them? Creating rubber casts of your bowels might be gross but I haven’t seen that it’s particularly dangerous, so why are they victims? A one month supply of these pills costs $88 from the web sites I mentioned. $88 for a few pennies worth of kitty litter in a pretty bottle promising herbal and organic cleansing. Yeah, they’re victims.

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Superstitious Nonsense that is Homeopathy (Quackery Awareness Week)

steven_novellaby Dr. Steve Novella via www.randi.org

In June of 2009 the British Homeopathic Association declared “homeopathy awareness week.” I obliged by writing a post making the public more aware of the superstitious nonsense that is homeopathy. I, in fact, want people to be aware of exactly what homeopathy is, because most of the public does not know what absurd pseudoscience it is.Now I have to extend the favor to naturopathy – because the US has declared October 7-13 Naturopathy Awareness Week. They managed to squeeze in this critical vote prior to shutting down the government. Here is the resolution:

S.Res.221 – A resolution designating the week of October 7 through October 13, 2013, as “Naturopathic Medicine Week” to recognize the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care.

alternative cam6_250pxSen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who apparently is enamored of alternative medicine, sponsored the resolution. The resolution is not a law and does not have any specific effects, but it is concerning none-the-less. Pseudoscientists are always desperate for the trappings of legitimacy and respect. They have become quite good and finding creative ways to make it seem like their nonsense is legitimate, because they cannot gain the one true measure – actual scientific legitimacy.

Naturopaths could, for example, conduct high quality clinical research that would establish in a convincing way that one or more of their preferred treatment methods are safe and effective, equal to or superior to standard medical care. They can’t do that, however, because their treatments are largely nonsensical and worthless, so instead they seek to have naïve politicians give them the recognition they crave.

Here is how naturopaths define their approach:

Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing process.  The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.

homeopathic-remedy-lol_200pxThis, of course, is propaganda and spin. They claim to use “scientific and empirical methods,” but that is mainstream science-based medicine. If they really used scientific and empirical methods, they would be practicing mainstream medicine.

The focus on the “inherent self-healing process” is a little closer to the truth, in that they tend to use modalities that make that claim. CAM practitioners in general have relied upon the “self-healing” gambit because they cannot actually treat diseases or identifiable entities – because their treatments do not work, because they are not based in reality.

Saying that a treatment “supports the body’s self-healing ability” is just hand-waving marketing hype. It gets around the fact that they do not have a plausible biological mechanism addressing a specific biological problem.

This claim is often attached to energy-based or vitalistic treatments, those that are based on the pre-scientific superstition that living things have their own “life energy” which is responsible for health. No such life energy exists, and therefore any practice based upon the notion of such energy is hopelessly worthless.

In practice naturopaths cobble together a wide range of unscientific, disproven, discarded, and fanciful treatments. They seem to prefer treatments that do not work to those that are safe and effective. Since regular medicine uses science to determine which treatments are safe and effective, this is the only way to distinguish themselves.

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Quantum, Information, Biofield Pseudoscience

steven_novellaBy Dr. Steven Novella via randi.org

2012conference_200pxI have to hand it to the snake oil peddlers over at NES Health – they have managed to squeeze just about every energy-based pseudoscience into one scam. What does “NES” stand for, you wonder? “Nutrition Energy System.”

The NES site itself (here & here) is beyond parody, so let me just quote them:

“Through its pioneering work with medical doctors and acupuncture therapists over the last decade, NES Health has not only discovered – and mapped – the human body field but it has also managed to integrate this ground-breaking knowledge with the principles of energy information.”

So, in the last decade they “discovered” the non-existent “human body field” that has been part of cutting edge pseudoscience for decades. Devices that measure the body’s “energy field” go back at least to the 1970s. A simple search on the term will indicate that this is nothing new, nor unique to NES.

The NES site continues:

“The link between biology and traditional Chinese medicine has been formally established by NES Health – and the organization’s researchers have identified that the human body field is a highly structured network of energy and information fields, which act as a master control system for the physical body.

As a consequence, it is now evident that to be healthy, the body’s energy fields must be functioning harmoniously – if their natural balance is disturbed, health consequently suffers.”

New technology meets ancient wisdom. I knew it had to be in there somewhere.

auraIn their promotional video they inform us that NES is ushering in the “quantum age” of healthcare. Skeptics have been joking for some time that you could simply put the words: “quantum,” “energy,” “vibrations,” “balance,” “harmony,” “information,” “healing,” “toxin,” “nutrition,” and other commonly used vague terms into a bag, or into a computer program that will spit them out at random, and you can generate endless alternative health products, with claims that are just as coherent and science-based as anything on the market. They did coin the term, as far as I know, “infoceutical.” Nice one – supplements imprinted with information. Personally I would have gone for the trifecta – how about, quantum-infoceutical?

Their products and claims are supported, of course, by testimonials. They even managed to land an endorsement by psi researcher, Dean Radin.

They do have a tab for “research,” which is always entertaining. On it you will find a few terrible studies that do nothing to support the grandiose claims of NES health. For example . . .

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Homeopathic chemtrail remedies

by via Skeptophilia

Following on the heels of my post yesterday regarding how much smarter and saner the conspiracy theorists are than us skeptics, today we will take a look at: homeopathic anti-chemtrail spray.

homeopathic anti-chemtrail sprayYes, folks, guaranteed to “alleviate symptoms of chemtrail exposure,” this homeopathic preparation (i.e. a bottle of water) is to be sprayed up the nose “until symptoms disappear.”

At first, I thought this had to be a joke.  Or, at least, unique.  Surely no one else would come up with the idea of using worthless remedies for nonexistent chemtrail exposure.

I was wrong.

Check out, for example, ChemBuster.  The website starts out by asking a very important question, namely: “Have you experienced symptoms of unknown origin?”  Because if you had “chronic fatigue,” “chronic pain,” “chronic headaches,” or “mental and emotional problems,” there could only be one answer:

The government is putting chemicals into jet fuel, so that when the jet fuel is burned, the chemicals are dispersed over the unsuspecting citizenry, where they are inhaled and cause you to feel crummy.

So who you gonna call?  ChemBuster!

ChemBuster contains 4 herbals and 9 homeopathics blended in a proprietary process designed to defeat, to annihilate, the pools of mycoplasma, heavy metals, respiratory problems and even mental problems associated with Chemtrail poisoning.

But ChemBuster has to be “activated” before use.  How do you activate it?  By purchasing an “orgone energy generator,” setting the bottle next to it, and turning it on, which will “potentiate” it, increasing its strength by a factor of ten (following the mathematical principle that 10 x 0 = 0).

At this point, I should mention that the “orgone energy generator” uses the power of gemstones to “collect, concentrate, transmute and radiate all ambient subtle energy into life force,” and that the person who came up with the idea of “orgone,” Wilhelm Reich, believed that it was the “life energy” that was released suddenly during an orgasm.  I’m not making this up, by the way.  So here we have a claim that combines four ridiculous ideas — homeopathy + chemtrails + gemstone energies + orgone.

Which may be a new record.

AlexJonesLunaticNow, if you don’t want to buy homeopathic remedies and orgone energy generators to combat chemtrails, there could be a cheaper solution, namely: a spray bottle filled with vinegar.  Once again, I feel obliged to state outright that I’m not making this up.  Last year, we had a claim going around that was given some momentum by such pinnacles of rationality as Alex Jones and Jeff Rense, stating that if you were worried about the government dousing you with chemicals, all you had to do to “cleanse the air” was to spray some vinegar up toward the sky.  So people did it, because of course there never is an idea so completely idiotic that there won’t be large quantities of people who will believe it.

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