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.
Jeff Bradstreet, who has been described as a “controversial autism researcher,” has now become the center of conspiracy rumors after reports of his apparent suicide. His death is said to have followed on the heels of a raid by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of his Bradstreet Wellness Center in Buford, Georgia (update 27JUN2015: the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency is reported to have aided in the raid). A fisherman found Bradstreet’s body in a North Carolina river on Friday, June 19. Authorities in Rutherford County, North Carolina, state that he had a gunshot wound to the chest, “which appears to be self-inflicted,” according to the local newspaper, the Gwinnett Daily Post. The Post also reports that
“By Wednesday night, some of Bradstreet’s supporters were speculating that his death wasn’t a suicide, but a conspiracy.”
That speculation has spread like a virus through the community of people who are mourning the loss of a man whom they viewed as a courageous crusader against mainstream medicine and who believe, as Bradstreet argued, that the mercury in vaccines causes autism (the evidence emphatically indicates otherwise). According to his website, Bradstreet, whose own son is autistic, embraced a number of unproven or untested interventions for autism, including using stem cells in an overseas study he chronicles, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which the FDA cracked down on in 2013. He was known for his use of chelation therapy.
by Laurie L. Dove via HowStuffWorks
For 10 years, Nancy drank diet soda — sometimes as many as four or five a day. Otherwise, she ate and drank in moderation, exercised regularly and got plenty of sleep. Then one day, as Nancy picked up her glass of diet soda, it slipped from her fingers and crashed to the floor. Shocked, Nancy tried again, only to discover her hand wouldn’t properly respond. The problems subsisted for weeks, then her legs began to buckle and her vision to blur. Eventually, Nancy’s doctor diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
Desperate to know more about MS, Nancy scoured the Internet for answers. She learned MS usually strikes between ages 20 and 40, that it affects women more often than men and that scientists don’t yet understand its root cause (source: WebMD). Then she came across an obscure message board and realized she might have a clue after all. There might be a link between aspartame and MS. Wasn’t that the ingredient in all the diet sodas she’d had over the years?
While the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation stops short of saying aspartame — or any additive, for that matter — is 100 percent safe, it doesn’t subscribe to the notion that aspartame causes MS. Aspartame was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in carbonated beverages, and other beverages and foods in the 1980s. After a volley of complaints from consumers experiencing everything from insomnia to diarrhea after ingesting carbonated beverages containing aspartame, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated aspartame’s use and concluded there wasn’t any evidence that it caused these symptoms. More to the point, the CDC failed to find a link between aspartame and the onset of MS (source: Guthrie).
The idea that aspartame causes MS most likely stems from a supposed first-hand account of an aspartame expert that has persisted on the Internet and in chain e-mails since the 1990s. Although this article is frequently attributed to the author “Nancy Merkle,” nobody has ever come forward to take credit and the article contains no citations (source: Guthrie).
The FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research refuted the claims made in the account, which linked aspartame to a number of diseases and maladies, including MS. According to the FDA, aspartame is one of the most frequently tested food additives and there’s no evidence to support a link between aspartame and MS (source: Hattan). That’s good news for Nancy and others who drink diet beverages and opt for “low-cal” foods containing aspartame.
Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.
The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious.
[ . . . ]
But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends.
[ . . . ]
So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.
Continue reading: the 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked
Aspartame is sweeter than sugar and packs less of a caloric punch. Sounds cool, right? So why has aspartame become one of the most controversial food additives in history?
I have had a regular argument over the years with a family member about both the recreational use of pot and the use of pot and derived materials from pot. Many of the claims promoted by this family member surround its use in cancer. In fact, this person follows a group on Facebook called “Cannabis Cures Cancer.” Being a regular listener to scientifically-based podcasts, I was skeptical of the dramatic claims being made, as they seemed to be mostly anecdotal in origin. However, I thought I’d take a fresh look at the information to see where the science stands on cannabis.
In comparison to other treatments, the amount of information available discussing the science on this topic took a bit more digging. There are some preliminary studies for a wide variety of conditions, but no large scale studies or anything that would be close to market. To start, I looked over the information presented to me by this family member, which was a link to the National Cancer Institute at the NIH. I use the NIH website to find basic health information about medications I am taking, or to find out about treatments for minor injuries or illnesses, and find it to be a fairly trustworthy source.
However, this link makes me reevaluate that stance. Without any differentiation other than the web address, the entire topic falls under the umbrella of the NIH’s CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine) research. The only way to tell it falls here is in the web address itself; there is no disclosure on the page as such. The Science-Based Medicine blog does a great job covering why the NIH should not be promoting CAM. The problem I have lies with the lack of disclosure. The information in the article itself isn’t inaccurate, although the way it is written can be misleading.
One of the articles I did have in my stash of information is a recent blog from the Skeptical Raptor blog. This post does a great job summarizing the information being claimed about actually curing cancer. It actually uses published medical information, even linking to the abstracts in the NIH database. The article also addresses the above NIH National Cancer Institute page. Although some of the research into cannabis is interesting, it hasn’t progressed much beyond cell cultures and a couple of rat studies. The push-back I received using this article is because the “Skeptical Raptor” worked for the pharmaceutical industry, this is another attempt for “big pharma” to suppress the truth. The raptor does a great job addressing this:
…if cannabis or any of its components actually could show efficacy against any of the 200 or so cancers, Big Pharma would be all over it. Because, they would not be selling joints, they would be distilling the active ingredient, determining the exact dose, determining how to deliver it to the exact cancer site, funding clinical trials, filing documentation with the FDA, then getting it into physician’s hands. This is not an easy process, but it would be a profitable one if it worked. Big Pharma and the National Cancer Institute is looking at everything, and they ignore nothing for potential. If cannabis works (and it might), they are all over it. Big Pharma is providing a lot of the funding for it.
And he is right. A cure for cancer would be highly profitable. If it is one thing the conspiracy theorists and skeptics can agree on, it is that corporations are driven by profits. Making money in and of itself is not a sign of bad motives.
Anyone publicly writing about issues of science and medicine from a pro-science perspective likely gets many e-mails similar to the ones I see every week. Here’s just one recent example:
Im sorry the medical community has become decadent and lazy as most that follow your stance could care less to study the real truth. I have also seen it much more deviant as many professionals know the risks and harm vaccination cause but continue to push it through there practices because of pure greed. Many are also scared of loosing there practices for not following the corrupt industry. Im sorry but the medical industry has become drug pushing decadent slobs that only care about there bottom line.
The e-mailer clearly has a particular narrative that he is following (in addition to the amusingly common poor grammar and spelling). He even writes at one point in our exchange, “the details really don’t matter at this point what matters is what the bigger picture…” He is certain of his big picture conspiracy narrative. The details are unimportant.
Being on the receiving end of an almost constant barrage of such medical conspiracy theories it might seem that such beliefs are extremely common. Of course, such e-mails are self-selective and therefore not representative of the general population. I was therefore interested to see a published survey polling the general population about such beliefs. The survey is published in JAMA Internal Medicine, authored by Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood.
Here are the six survey questions and the percentage who agree or disagree (the rest indicating that they do not know).
The Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies. (37% agree, 32% disagree)
Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them. (20% agree, 40% disagree)
The CIA deliberately infected large numbers of African Americans with HIV under the guise of a hepatitis inoculation program. (12% agree, 51% disagree)
The global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto Inc is part of a secret program, called Agenda 21, launched by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations to shrink the world’s population. (12% agree, 42% disagree)
Doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders. (20% agree, 44% disagree)
Public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump the dangerous byproducts of phosphate mines into the environment. (12% agree, 46% disagree)
The numbers are not surprising, in fact I would have guessed they were a bit higher, but again that perception is likely distorted by my e-mail inbox. They found that 49% of Americans agreed with at least one conspiracy, and 18% agreed with three or more. This is in line with the level of belief in non-medical conspiracies. They did not publish, but I would be interested, in the percentage of people who said they disagreed with all of the conspiracies. Many of the respondents indicated that they did not know if a particular conspiracy were true, likely because they had not heard of it before, but were unwilling to disagree on plausibility grounds alone.
By Rachael Rettner via LiveScience
About half of Americans agree with at least one medical conspiracy theory, a new study suggests.
The study surveyed more than 1,300 Americans to see whether they agreed with six popular medical conspiracy theories — such as the discredited link between vaccines and autism, or the belief that water fluoridation is a cover-up to allow companies to dump dangerous chemicals into the environment.
Nearly half, or 49 percent, of those surveyed agreed with at least one medical conspiracy theory, and 18 percent agreed with three or more theories.
The most commonly endorsed theory was the belief that the Food and Drug Administration is “deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies.” More than a third of Americans, or 37 percent, agreed with this statement.
Twenty percent agreed with the statement: “Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them.” The vaccine-autism link was supported by 20 percent of participants.
Study researcher Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said he was not surprised by the findings. Studies of American’s belief in political conspiracy theories have yielded similar results.
“We see that Americans have conspiracy theories about a lot of things, not just about politics, but also about health and medicine as well,” Oliver said.
Via The Soap Box
Psychics, and alternative medicine practitioners. Two different groups of people who peddle BS pseudoscience that wastes gullible peoples money. But which one is worse?
Now many people would say that alternative medicine practitioners are worse, because not only are they peddling something and taking peoples’ money for products and services that do not work, they’re also physically harming people as well, and even risking peoples lives by not only selling them products and services that makes them think they can forgo real medicine and medical services that could help them and even save their lives for the alternative stuff, but also selling them products and services that really can cause harm, and possibly even kill you.
So it sounds like a no brainer, right? Alternative medicine practitioners are selling you products and services that could harm you and possibly kill you, while psychics are just taking your money. Except… many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they are doing is harmful, because some do seriously believe that alternative medicine does work (this is mostly due to anecdotal evidence).
People claiming to be psychics on the other hand are different, because while many alternative medicine practitioners might not know what they’re doing is fraud, psychics on the other hand almost always know what they’re doing is fraud.
Psychic powers simply do not exist. Every person who has ever been tested for psychic powers under controlled scientific testing conditions have always failed to prove that they have psychic powers, and the really famous so called psychics have never gone and had their alleged powers proven under controlled scientific testing conditions, so it is very safe to say that psychic powers don’t exist, and that anyone who is claiming to be a psychic is most likely lying (although it is also possible that they may be self-deluded and have actually convinced themselves they are psychic, or they’re just mentally ill) and therefore if they do take any money from you for their services, are knowingly committing fraud.
Besides committing fraud, psychics also . . .
Via USA Today
PHILADELPHIA — The 12-year-old girl arrived at the hospital wracked with abdominal pain.
Doctors diagnosed her with acute pancreatitis, in which pancreatic enzymes begin digesting not just food, but the pancreas itself.
The most likely cause of the girl’s condition: toxic side effects from more than 80 dietary supplements, which the girl’s mother carried in a shopping bag, says Sarah Erush, clinical pharmacy manager at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where the girl was treated last summer.
The girl’s mother had been treating her with the supplements and other therapies for four years to treat the girl’s “chronic Lyme disease,” a condition that, experts say, doesn’t actually exist. While some Lyme infections cause pain and other lingering symptoms, the infections don’t persist for years. And, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America, the infections don’t require years of antibiotics or other risky therapies given by some alternative medicine practitioners.
Doctors were able to control the girl’s illness with standard therapies, Erush says, and she was discharged from the hospital after two weeks.
Although the child’s story was unforgettable, Erush says, it wasn’t unusual. Parents now “routinely” bring children to her hospital with a variety of alternative remedies, hoping that nurses will administer them during a child’s stay.
There are an ever-growing number of supplements from which to choose: More than 54,000 varieties sold in stores and the Internet, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
About 50% of Americans use alternative medicine, and 10% use it on their children, notes Paul Offit, Children’s Hospital’s chief of infectious disease.
The girl’s story illustrates the serious but often little-known risks posed by some forms of alternative medicine, a loosely regulated industry that includes everything from herbal supplements to crystal healing and acupuncture, says Offit, author of Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, (HarperCollins, $29.99), being published Tuesday
Many consumers view alternative medicine industry as more altruistic and home-spun than Big Pharma. But in his book, Offit paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market.
“It’s a big business,” says Offit, best known for developing a vaccine against rotavirus, a diarrheal illness that killed 2,000 people each day, mostly children in the developing world.
- Book raises alarms about alternative medicine (richarddawkins.net)
- ‘It’s all in the mind’ (theage.com.au)
- The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine (shotofprevention.com)
- Debunking the myths of ‘alternative medicine’ (smh.com.au)
- Steve Jobs Killed By Alternative Medicine? Dr. Paul Offit Says Supplements, Alternative Therapies Could Harm Health (medicaldaily.com)
- Dr. Paul Offit on the Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine (blogher.com)
- Beware of alt med – It’s a dirty business (doubtfulnews.com)
- “Sense and nonsense” about alternative medicine in USA Today (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
Homeopathy is an alternative medical practice in which extremely dilute amounts of certain natural substances are used to treat various ailments.
Although homeopathic medicines are sold in health food stores and at high-end groceries, homeopathy is largely considered quackery. No scientific evidence supports its use; the theory of how homeopathy could work is beyond the realm of known physics; and governments worldwide are increasingly denying insurance payments to cover homeopathic treatment.
How homeopathy works
Homeopathy is based on rigorous dilutions and mixing, called successions. The dilution level is printed on the bottle of medicine. A typical homeopathic dilution is 30X, where the X represents 10. So, one part toxin (such as the aforementioned poison ivy) is mixed with 10 parts water or alcohol. The mix is shaken; one part of this mix is added to 10 parts of water or alcohol again; and the whole process is repeated 30 times.
The final dilution is one molecule of medicine in 10 to the 30th power (1030) of molecules of solution — or 1 in a million trillion trillion. At this dilution level you’d need to drink 8,000 gallons of water to get one molecule of the medicine — physically possible but implausible.
Other homeopathic solutions are 30C, which represents 100 to the 30th power (10030). There’s not enough water in the solar system to accommodate this dilution.
Hahnemann didn’t realize this because he developed his theory before the concept in chemistry of the mole and Avogadro constant, which defines the number of particles in any given amount of a substance. So, Hahnemann and his followers could do the mechanical actions of dilution, but unbeknownst to them, they were diluting the medicine right out of the solution.
Does homeopathy work?
Homeopathic practitioners today understand the concept of Avogadro constant. They attribute homeopathy’s healing powers to “water memory” — the concept that water has the ability to remember of shape of the medicine it once contained. There are, however, at least three problems with this stance.
First, this concept of water memory is beyond the realm of known physics. Water is not known to maintain an ordered alignment of molecules for much longer than a picosecond.
Second, if water can remember the shape of what’s in it, then all water has the potential to be homeopathic. Tap water, with its traces of natural substances sloshing about in pipes known to cause cancer and other diseases, would be therapeutic against these diseases.
Third, explanations of how it could work aside, there are no high-quality scientific studies to show that homeopathy is any more effective than a placebo. In testing homeopathy, two trends have emerged: Homeopathy is best at “curing” things that would soon pass anyway, such as colds, but would be dangerous for the treatment of serious ailments, such as diabetes; and the larger and more thorough the scientific study, the more homeopathy resembles a placebo.
Dangers of homeopathy
Don’t assume homeopathy, unregulated by the FDA, is safe. In some cases, the homeopathic medicine does contain traceable amounts of . . .
- What is Homeopathy? (livescience.com)
- Diluting the scientific method: Ars looks at homeopathy (again) (arstechnica.com)
- Homeopathy Dilliuted. (theportableatheist.wordpress.com)
- Can Homeopathy Be Both a Useless Placebo and Dangerous at the Same Time? (prn.fm)
- Homeopathy Under Attack in California (anh-usa.org)
- Homeopathy: It’s a mad mad mad NHS (doubtfulnews.com)
Are they indeed as terrible as some people say?
- Whole Foods, others to shun genetically modified seafood (reuters.com)
- Growing concerns: Rise of modified plants raise questions (poststar.com)
- Poll Shows What Americans Think Of GMOs (huffingtonpost.com)
- A founder of the anti-GM food movement on how he got it wrong (macleans.ca)
Testimonials and anecdotes are used to support claims in many fields. Advertisers often rely on testimonials to persuade consumers of the effectiveness or value of their products or services. Others use anecdotes to drive home the horror of some alleged activity or the danger of widely-used electronic devices like cell phones. In the mid-90s, there were many people, some in law enforcement, claiming that Satanists were abducting and abusing children on a massive scale. The anecdotes involved vivid descriptions of horrible sexual abuse, even murder of innocent children. The anecdotes were quite convincing, especially when they were repeated on nationally televised programs with popular hosts like Geraldo Rivera. A four-year study in the early 1990s found the allegations of satanic ritual abuse to be without merit. Researchers investigated more than 12,000 accusations and surveyed more than 11,000 psychiatric, social service, and law enforcement personnel. The researchers could find no unequivocal evidence for a single case of satanic cult ritual abuse.
There have also been scares fueled by anecdotes regarding such disparate items as silicone breast implants, cell phones, and vaccinations. In the 1990s many women blamed their cancers and other diseases on breast implants. Talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey and Jenny Jones presented groups of women who were suffering from cancer or some other serious disease and who had been diagnosed after they’d had breast implants. The stories tugged at the heartstrings and brought tears to many sensitive eyes, but the scientific evidence did not exist that there was a causal connection between the implants and any disease. That fact did not prevent lawyers from extorting $4.25 billion from implant manufacturers. Marcia Angell, former executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, brought the wrath of feminist hell upon herself in 1992 when she wrote an editorial challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to ban the manufacture of silicone breast implants. The scientific evidence wasn’t there to justify the ban. She eventually wrote a book describing the fiasco: Science on Trial: The Clash of Medical Evidence and the Law in the Breast Implant Case. The scientific evidence is now in. The implants don’t cause cancer or other diseases, and the FDA has lifted its ban. When the data were collected, they showed that women with silicone breast implants did not suffer cancer or any other disease at a significantly higher rate than women who had not had implants.
The public fear that cellphones might be causing brain tumors was first aroused not by scientists but by a talk show host. On January 23, 1993, Larry King’s guest was David Reynard, who announced that he and his wife Susan had sued NEC and GTE on the grounds that the cellphone David gave Susan caused his wife’s brain tumor. There was nothing but junk science to back up her claim, plus the fact that . . .
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