via Science-Based Medicine
Any sociological question is likely going to have a complex answer with many variables that are not easy to tease apart. We should therefore resist the temptation to make simplistic statements about X being the cause of Y. We can still, however, identify correlations that will at least inform our thinking. Sometimes correlations can be triangulated to fairly reliable conclusions.
When the data is complex and difficult to interpret, however, evidence tends to be overwhelmed by narrative. The recent Sandy Hook tragedy is an excellent example. No one knows exactly why the shooter did what he did, so it is easy to insert your own preferred narrative as the explanation.
Another example is the phenomenon of so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Why has it been increasing in popularity (and is it, really?). Is it slick marketing, relaxed regulations, scientific illiteracy, a gullible media, or the failures of mainstream medicine? You can probably guess I think it’s all of these things to some degree. The most common narrative I hear by far, however, is the latter – if people are turning to CAM it must be because mainstream medicine has failed them. This version of reality is often promoted by CAM marketing.
The evidence that we have, however, simply does not support this narrative. Studies show that satisfaction with mainstream medicine is not an important factor in deciding to use CAM, that CAM users are generally satisfied with their mainstream care, and they use CAM because it aligns with their philosophy, and they simply want to expand their options.
None of this is to imply that mainstream medicine has no problems or failings – it does. We should, however, be working toward keeping and improving what works and fixing what doesn’t, not discarding science and reason to embrace fantasy as an alternative. This is often the false choice presented by CAM proponents, and is analogous to creationists pointing out alleged weaknesses in the theory of evolution as an argument for creationism as an alternative.
Geoffrey Dean via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI
Today, phrenology (“head reading”) is usually seen as the fossilized stuff of cranks and charlatans. But in the nineteenth century it had a huge influence at all levels of Western society, more than all of its later competitors (such as psychoanalysis) put together. It was influential because of its attractive philosophy and because practitioners and clients saw that it worked. But we now know that it could not possibly work; personal experience had led millions of people astray. Indeed, few beliefs can match phrenology for its extent of influence and certainty of invalidity. So it has valuable lessons about any experience-based belief.
In the nineteenth century, phrenology affected all levels of Western life and thought. In Britain, Europe, and America, its influence was felt in anthropology, criminology, education, medicine, psychiatry, art, and literature. In France, it eroded established power and led to wide social changes. In Australia, it rationalized the violence against Aborigines and explained the criminality of convicts. For ordinary people everywhere a head reading was often required for employment or marriage.1 But how could this happen if phrenology was totally invalid? For answers, we need to start at the beginning.
First Steps to Delusion
Around 1790, the German-born anatomist Franz Joseph Gall, one of the founders of modern neurology, put together his skull doctrine that later led to phrenology. He held that behavior such as painting or being careful had their own specialized organs in the brain, and that they influenced the shape of the skull. So the skull’s bumps would indicate behavior and abilities that were innate. Gall spent eleven years examining hundreds of heads to test his ideas: “If … he observed any mechanician, musician, sculptor, draughtsman, mathematician, endowed with such or such faculty from birth, he examined their heads to see whether he might point out a particular development of some cerebral part…. He also called together in his house common people, as coachmen and poor boys, and excited them to make him acquainted with their characters” (Spurzheim 1815, 271).
Gall’s seemingly logical approach had two fatal defects. First, his claims were often based on a single striking case, for example “Cautiousness” was placed above the ears because an extremely cautious priest had a large bump there. Second, Gall looked only for confirmingcases and ignored disconfirming cases, a flaw not lost on his critics. Thus David Skae (1847), a physician at the Royal Edinburgh Asylum, noted that once the truth is “fixed upon our minds,” looking for confirmation is “the most perfect recipe for making a phrenologist that could well be devised.” But to Gall and the thousands of phrenologists who came later, personal experience mattered more than procedural defects. Phrenology had taken its first giant step on the road to delusion.2 Note that the delusion of experience is not limited to artifacts of reasoning such as the Barnum effect.
What are the principles behind Homeopathy and does it work?
Here’s what to say to anti-vaxxers!
Beware! Pop culture tells us that the big pharmaceutical companies know all about the simple, natural cures for everything — cancer included — but are jealously covering them up. Should you be unfortunate enough to contract some terminal illness, the best the doctors are going to give you is some synthetic, patented drug that can be sold to you at a high profit. It won’t work as well as that natural treatment would, but that’s OK, because it means they get to sell it to you over and over again, until you finally die. Guess what? You’ve just been victimized by the Big Pharma Conspiracy, one of the most popularly believed conspiracy theories.
How could it be that I’ve been doing Skeptoid for almost 11 years and never covered the Big Pharma Conspiracy? Oh well. It be.
The basic Big Pharma Conspiracy says that pharmaceutical companies suppress natural cures on the principle that they are not patentable and thus not profitable to sell; so they instead distribute only patented, expensive, and less effective drugs. This allows them to keep profits up, and since the drugs are less effective, it keeps the patients sick enough to require more and more of the expensive products. Most familiar is the claim that a perfect cure for all cancers exists, but Big Pharma suppresses it because if everyone was cancer-free it would kill their profitable cancer business. A corollary takes it a step further, asserting that the drug companies actually create some of the diseases that make their products necessary.
Who exactly is Big Pharma? Author Robert Blaskiewicz describes them as:
…An abstract entity comprised of corporations, regulators, NGOs, politicians, and often physicians, all with a finger in the trillion-dollar prescription pharmaceutical pie.
This definition is important, because it allows the conspiracy theorist to vastly simplify what is, in reality, a complicated industry filled with conflicting roles and interests. Lumping them all together into a single entity turns them into a proverbial “they” at whom it is easy to point an accusing finger.
A quick and easy way to hear the Big Pharma Conspiracy elucidated in detail by someone in your neighborhood today is to talk with any alternative medicine practitioner whose diploma is unaccredited, like a naturopath or a chiropractor.
Hollywood celebrities have a reputation for espousing a sort of prepackaged, fast-food version of politically correct “liberal” issues, as if they buy a kit of personal convictions off the shelf at Whole Foods. It includes environmental concerns, usually exaggerated and often wrong; rejection of “all things corporate” including pharmaceuticals and biotech, with a corresponding embrace of alternative medicine, organic agriculture, and “empowered individual” philosophies like home birth. Then there are the outliers who go the other way toward full alt-right with an imagined superior insight into world affairs. They tend to reject history and science in favor of conspiracy mongering and alternative science, be it the young Earth, the flat Earth, or calling us all sheeple for believing in the standard model of the universe.
Interestingly, anti-vaccination is found in both camps. Left-leaning antivaxxers tend to reject it because it’s not a natural healing method, and right-leaning antivaxxers think it’s an evil government program of enforced mercury poisoning. It increasingly seems that a rational, level-headed, science-literate Hollywood celebrity is as rare as a truly good movie.
So here my list of top 10 celebrities, 2017 edition, who contribute to the Endarkenment by abusing their notoriety to spread misinformation far and wide:
#10 – Shaq and the NBA Flat Earthers
Former player Shaquille O’Neal and current NBA basketball players Kyrie Irving, Wilson Chandler, and Draymond Green have all expressed their belief that the Earth is flat, but I put them all the way down at #10 because it’s not clear that all four literally believe this. They may just be trolling. But whether they are or not, they do genuinely influence a huge number of young people, including some demographics where education is not necessarily a life priority. Guys, if you want to inspire kids to achieve and succeed, you’re doing it wrong.
#9 – Michael Phelps
I include him as a representative of the many athletes and celebrities who loudly and proudly promote cupping, the overtly pseudoscientific technique of suctioning great round hickeys into the skin by rupturing capillaries. A lot of trainers sell this because it costs nothing to administer, requires no training, and they can charge whatever they want for it; and since it’s unregulated, they make a vast array of claims for whatever workout benefits they say it confers. Usually, it just happens to solve whatever that athlete’s complaint of the day is. Phelps proudly shows off these ugly bruises, as do many other athletes and celebrities, and has even posted pictures of himself getting it done on his Instagram. Sellers have even come up with a sciencey-sounding name for it to impress the scientifically illiterate: “myofascial decompression”.
If you believe everything you read on the internet, then is seems that a chemical found in thousands of products is causing an epidemic of severe neurological and systemic diseases, like multiple sclerosis and lupus. The FDA, the companies that make the product, and the “medical industrial complex” all know about the dangers of this chemical but are hiding the truth from the public in order to protect corporate profits and avoid the pesky paper work that would accompany the truth being revealed. The only glimmer of hope is a dedicated band of bloggers and anonymous e-mail chain letter authors who aren’t afraid to speak the truth. Armed with the latest anecdotal evidence, unverified speculation, and scientifically implausible claims, they have been tirelessly ranting about the evils of this chemical for years. Undeterred by the countless published studies manufactured by the food cartel that show this chemical is safe, they continue to protect the public by spreading baseless fear and hysteria.
Hopefully, you don’t believe everything you read on the internet, and you don’t get your science news from e-mail SPAM, where the above scenario is a common theme. While there are many manifestations of this type of urban legend, I am speaking specifically about aspartame – an artificial sweetener used since the early 1980s. The notion that aspartame is unsafe has been circulating almost since it first appeared, and like rumors and misinformation have a tendency to do, fears surrounding aspartame have taken on a life of their own.
Keep Reading: Science-Based Medicine » Aspartame – Truth vs Fiction.
Mystical BS like this drives me crazy! Living without eating? Really?
Looks its this simple, you breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide. Thats because your body is using the oxygen to burn sugar in your body, then using that energy to live.
If your really nourished from prana… or chi…. why would you be breathing out carbon dioxide?
“Scientific research has shown that modern bird flu strains originated in migratory waterfowl in 1994.”
In 2013 China was hit by a terrifying threat: a new deadly strain of bird flu. But could this have actually been a manufactured attack by the United States? Did the USA Create Bird Flu?
This is an awesome documentary. Every minute is worth watching. – MIB
My favorite exchange between the interviewer (Matt Shea) and one of the (alleged) targeted individuals (Shane) begins at 26:33 into the video:
Targeted Individual: Everybody gets a stroke of bad luck every now and then, but to have it continual, to have it continuous … something is going on here.
Matt Shea: Of course there are some people who are just really, really, really unlucky.
Targeted Individual: Would you say somebody defecating in my bed is unlucky?
Matt Shea: Why would … ?
Targeted Individual: Why would I shit in my own bed? Seriously.
Matt Shea: Why would the government shit in your bed?
Targeted Individual: Or, why would the free masons shit in my bed?
Matt Shea: Why would ANYONE shit in your bed?
Targeted Individual: Exactly. Why?
Also see: I’m Being Cyber Stalked, Wiretapped and Followed (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
Also See: MMS and the Fake Clinical Trials –
Homeopathy is one of the most enduring forms of snake oil available to consumers; it has been duping people since 1814. But the United States government only recently decided to clamp down on these bogus treatments, with a new policy from the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC’s policy statement explains that the agency will now ask that the makers of homeopathic drugs present reliable scientific evidence for their health claims if they want to sell them to consumers on the US market.
Mustering that evidence is likely to be difficult given that homeopathy is a pseudoscience.
The main idea behind homeopathy is that an animal or plant extract that causes symptoms similar to the ones a person is suffering from can cure the symptoms. An example: Because onions make eyes tear and noses run, diluted onion extract is thought to cure cold and hay fever. So homeopathic remedies on the market are just extremely diluted versions of plant or animal extracts believed to bring relief to symptoms.
The trouble is that whenever researchers have looked at the homeopathic treatments, they find they do not actually contain traceable amounts of the original plant or animal material they were supposedly diluting.
Not conspiratorial, but still fascinating stuff from VSauce (Michael Stevens) 🙂
Many people believe homeopathy is a natural, herbal supplement like any other. But is it?
Via inFact -YouTube
Charlie Sheen is HIV positive. As was revealed on the Dr. Oz show, when diagnosed his viral load was 4.4 million. After six months of the a standard anti-HIV cocktail his viral loads were undetectable.
This does not mean he is HIV negative or free of this virus. As part of the viral life-cycle it goes into hiding inside of cells. It is undetectable while hiding, and also cannot be eradicated by medications. This is a major challenge to curing HIV, or even pushing the efficacy of our current treatments further. Researchers are looking into ways to force the virus out of hiding so that anti-retroviral medications can go to work.
With current anti-HIV treatment someone who is HIV positive can expect to live an almost normal life expectancy free of any major complications of the disease and will not go on to develop AIDS from the virus. The big challenge now is to get this modern medicine to those who are HIV positive in the third world, or to those who cannot afford it.
Interestingly, Charlie Sheen, who has all of the advantages of wealth in a Western industrialized country, opted for third-world treatment of his HIV. He recently went off of his anti-HIV medications and instead decided to rely on the ministrations of an unknown doctor in Mexico making bold claims.
This prompted an on-air intervention by Dr. Oz and Sheen’s own doctor (which was ethically dubious but good television, I guess), after which Sheen reported he would go back on his medications.
Of course, most HIV patients who are lured to Mexico with the promise of a miracle cure will not benefit from a personal intervention by Dr. Oz. Hopefully they will benefit from watching that episode, but if history is any guide (unfortunately) the exposure is likely to lead more people to the Mexico charlatan than warn them away.
Why People Seek Charlatans
The Sheen episode raises a fascinating and important question – what is the allure of the lone maverick making bold claims? Often the answer provided is desperation, but what makes the Sheen example so interesting is that desperation was not a factor. He was effectively in remission from his HIV with undetectable loads. He still has to take medications for the rest of his life, but that seems a small price to pay for taking a horrible deadly disease and transforming it into a benign chronic condition with a normal life-expectancy and quality of life. The situation did not call for desperation.
Don’t go on a juice cleanse. And please don’t do a colon cleanse.
It seems everyone’s on a detox for the new year, and don’t we all need one? Our bodies are full of toxic chemicals. It would be great if we could just purify ourselves with a few smoothies, right?
Tough luck. Detoxes are bullshit.
It’s easy to get drawn into the marketing of detoxes or cleanses (the two are basically interchangeable these days, both terms are used by those who shill them); they’re everywhere, doesn’t that make them scientific? Some of them claim to help you lose weight, some say they treat diseases, and some just … make you less toxic? Align your chi with your wallpaper? Organize your closet and tell your BFF that yes, her passive-aggressive Facebook status messages about her ex have been lame since about two minutes past the age of 15?
But they don’t work. Why? The answers lie in science, and according to the way our bodies work, detoxes could actually cause you harm. Here’s why you should suppress the urge to try out that next miracle cleanse.
Green Juice Will Not Purify You
Who doesn’t want to think that a delightful mixture of kale, twigs, tree sap, unicorn tears, and whatever Gwyneth Paltrow is raving about this week can make you pretty? It’s glitter in a bottle. Right? Wrong. For one, most green juices are just sugar water. Suja Juice’s Green Supreme has 42 grams of sugar, no iron or B vitamins, and minimal protein. At $6.99 to $8.99 per bottle, you’re getting …. juice. Similarly, BlueprintCleanse, Juice From The Raw, and JUS by Julie are not magic keys to weight loss and well-being. All are cold-pressed, organic, and sell at astronomically high prices with vague promises of making you less gross.
Lumosity to Pay $2 Million to Settle FTC Deceptive Advertising Charges for Its “Brain Training” Program
The creators and marketers of the Lumosity “brain training” program have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges alleging that they deceived consumers with unfounded claims that Lumosity games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions.
As part of the settlement, Lumos Labs, the company behind Lumosity, will pay $2 million in redress and will notify subscribers of the FTC action and provide them with an easy way to cancel their auto-renewal to avoid future billing.
“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, the Lumosity program consists of 40 games purportedly designed to target and train specific areas of the brain. The company advertised that training on these games for 10 to 15 minutes three or four times a week could help users achieve their “full potential in every aspect of life.” The company sold both online and mobile app subscriptions, with options ranging from monthly ($14.95) to lifetime ($299.95) memberships.
A new study out of Australia looked at 26 different Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) products purchased from stores. They performed three types of analysis: heavy metal screening, toxicological analysis, and DNA sequencing. They found that 92% of the products tested had at least one type of contaminant.
This adds to a growing list of studies and revelations about how poorly the supplement industry is regulated, and raises further concerns about the overall quality of herbal and supplement products.
A 2008 study found that about 20% of ayurvedic herbal products contained heavy metal contamination, often at levels high enough to be toxic.
“Although we were able to authenticate almost half (48%) of the products, one-third of these also contained contaminants and or fillers not listed on the label. Product substitution occurred in 30/44 of the products tested and only 2/12 companies had products without any substitution, contamination or fillers.”
A 2014 study published in JAMA found that half of the product recalled by the FDA for being adulterated with banned drugs were dietary supplements, including up to one third of products purchased online. Further, when the FDA followed up they found that 6 months after they had issued a recall for adulterated supplements, two-thirds were still on the market and still contained the banned drugs.
A friend of mine shared an eyebrow-raising article on Facebook. The linked story was along the lines of “private planes stolen by terrorists in the Middle East, and an attack is imminent”. The sensible people among his friends good-naturedly mocked him. They ribbed him about how ridiculous the prediction was. And all you had to do was consider the source.
My friend had shared the story from a notoriously crackpot Facebook page. The post lacked any merit, save a few tenuous and unrelated pieces of actual news. This behavior was typical of this particular page. Often, these types of pages hook you with a kernel of truth, and then wrap it in layers of idiocy.
When confronted, this friend said, “well, we’ll see who’s right in time.” The prediction by Natural News has failed to become reality almost a year later.
The Facebook fan pages below have a habit of spitting scientific inquiry and reason in the eye. They also have an unreasonably high number of fans who share their inanity. Shares from the following pages deserve a serious eye roll and shaking of one’s head.
#10 Alex Jones
Facebook fans: 856K
What He Says About Himself
“Documentary Filmmaker, Nationally Syndicated Radio Talkshow & Prisonplanet.tv Host – Free video/audio stream”
What He Really Does
Mr. Jones uses a ton of hyperbole, conspiracy theories, and a loose connection to reality, to whip up fear and loathing in his audience.
Whatever your feelings are on using legislation to increase vaccination rates, you won’t find any legitimate support for implications that vaccines contain toxic doses of chemical. Nor that there are aborted fetal cells in any of the shots we get.
Sample Fan Comment
#9 Food Babe
Facebook fans: 938K
What She Says About Herself
“Vani Hari started FoodBabe.com in April 2011 to spread information about what is really in the American food supply. She teaches people how to make the right purchasing decisions at the grocery store, how to live an organic lifestyle, and how to travel healthfully around the world. The success in her writing and investigative work can be seen in the way food companies react to her uncanny ability to find and expose the truth.”
What She Really Does
Ms. Hari, the “Food Babe”, parrots Dr. Mercola and cobbles together cherry-picked blurbs from questionable studies and Wikipedia. She uses the term “investigation” to excuse the fact that she often gives medical advice without having any education in the life sciences. She picks the weirdest ingredients to go after.
Sample Fan Comment
On Facebook, it’s only a matter of time before someone pulls out the EO sales kit.
I love anything having to do with brain functions. Enjoy 🙂
Houston doctor Stanislaw Burzynski – a rock star in the alternative medicine world – has spent decades fighting state and federal regulators, who often have taken a dim view of his claims to be able to cure the terminally ill patients no one else can help, using unapproved medicines available only from him.
The Texas Medical Board has repeatedly tried and failed to shut Burzynski down, arguing that the pugnacious Polish immigrant puts patients in danger by marketing unapproved and potentially risky cancer drugs of his own invention.
Burzynski’s latest battle begins Thursday, at a disciplinary hearing in the state capital.
Yet that disdain hasn’t deterred patients from around the world from seeking care at his Houston clinic.
Now, Texas medical officials are trying a different tactic.
Questioning whether this new spa treatment provides all the medical benefits it claims.
One of our most abundant renewable resources is bogus medical therapies. About every day, someone thinks up a new one: sometimes invented from whole cloth, sometimes extrapolated from a real therapy, sometimes tweaked from an old tradition. Today we’re going to look closely at one such spin-the-wheel-and-create-an-alternate-therapy: cryotherapy.
Don’t confuse this with medical cryotherapy, the freezing off of tissue, usually called cryoablation. Alternative cryotherapy is a hijack of an actual medical term repurposed to refer to the use of what they call a cryosauna, the opposite of a regular sauna. Rather than applying ice to a specific body part, a cryosauna is used for what they call Whole Body Cryotherapy. It’s a small room for one or more people, cooled by liquid nitrogen to extreme temperatures, usually about -125°C/-200°F but sometimes advertised as low as -170°C/-275°F. You have to wear special slippers to protect your feet since you can’t touch anything in there, and you have to wear a mask to avoid frostbite to your pulmonary system. You stay in for no more than three minutes.
What is the medical claim? Unfortunately, as it is with so many alternative therapies, cryosaunas are claimed to cure just about anything the proprietor says, and they all have different spiels. Most all of them say it treats inflammation, skin conditions, and aids in workout recovery. There are several spas, plus chiropractors and other alternative practitioners near me who offer cryotherapy, according to Yelp.
Almost all of the customer reviews are raving. Here are some samples:
“My inflammation almost immediately decreased and I felt a huge wave of euphoria similar to a runner’s high.”
“Felt great afterwards. Will try again to see if I have any lasting effects.”
“I feel euphorically energized after each session and I have noticed that my tendinitis has gotten better after 2 sessions.”
“I feel so good afterwards. I can tell this cryotherapy is helping to heal my body!”
Why do these people feel so good unless there’s something to cryosauna therapy? Is it possible their reaction comes from something other than genuine treatment of some medical condition? The evidence shows that it probably is.
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.
Update: 11/02/2015: Related Link: Man Who Sold Industrial Chemical As “Miracle Mineral Solution” Sentenced To 51 Months In Jail (consumerist.com)
By Carrie Poppy via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI
These are two of my own responses on public forums regarding the above infographic:
The guy who made this infographic (Former pharmacist Niraj Naik) is a well known quack, believing in things like:
- “sound healing” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZTqRvWTRCk),
- “scientific prayers”,
- “spiritually awakening sounds”,
- “Ayurveda” – a “5,000 year old system of natural healing”,
- “Trypnaural meditations. Trypnaural meditations feature an advanced form of brainwave entrainment using isochronic tones.”
He is a self-described “marketing expert.” He’s no different than Food Babe, he sells pseudoscience and makes outrageous claims as a way of self-promotion to make money.
His first claim is utter BS:
In The First 10 minutes: 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. (100 per cent of your recommended daily intake.) You don’t immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavour allowing you to keep it down.
- There is no “recommended daily intake” of sugar.
- According to the American Heart Association (http://tinyurl.com/momm5hu), “sugars are not harmful to the body, our bodies don’t need sugars to function properly. Added sugars contribute additional calories and zero nutrients to food.”
- The average 12oz can of Coca Cola has 39 grams of sugar. Ingesting this amount of sugar will NOT make you vomit – with or without phosphoric acid. As an example, most candy bars (see image below) have comparable amounts of sugar and WITHOUT any phosphoric acid and we don’t see people projectile vomiting in candy stores. This is ridiculous.
The galvanic skin response
I was recently asked to look into a product called Zyto technology. This is an electronic device that you place your palm on top of so that it can read your “galvanic skin response” (GSR) to specific stimuli. It then uses your responses to prescribe a specific treatment.