Tag Archives: Skeptical Raptor

High fructose corn syrup – it’s just sugar

Via The Original Skeptical Raptor

hfcs-fructose-syrup-poison_300pxOne of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.”
And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe. The so-called Food Babe has made a lot of money endorsing a belief that all chemicals are evil, ignoring the fact that all life, the air, and water are made of chemicals.
People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.
Another current satanic chemical is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into one of the the most “chemicals” of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?
That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.

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Your personal pseudoscience detector

By via Skeptical Raptor

pseudoscience_250px_250px_250pxPseudoscience is like bubble gum. It tastes pretty good, it’s fun to blow bubbles, and it annoys some people. But eventually, the flavor leaves, and you find that you’re just chewing on some nutritionally dubious substance. Now you have to find a place to spit it out.

Or I guess you can swallow it, and it stays in your intestines for the rest of your life. Oh sorry, that’s more junk science.

If 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. What we all need is an official, Skeptical Raptor endorsed, pseudoscience detector.

Here it is, your own pseudoscience detector, based on a scientific seven-point checklist for fake science.

  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.
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  3. 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.
  4. transparent

  5. 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.
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  7. 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  .  .  .

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Glyphosate Causes Cancer – So Do Apples

By The Original Skeptical Raptor via Skeptical Raptor

Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup)  is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that are known to compete with commercial crops grown around the world. glyphosate-roundup-monsanto_250pxIt has several advantages over many herbicides in that it breaks down in the soil into non-toxic organic molecules, reducing or eliminating contamination of groundwater and lower soils.

Monsanto has developed genetically modified (GMO) grains that are resistant to glyphosate, so that agriculture can apply the herbicide to kill the competitive weeds while not harming the crop. This allows farmers to suppress the weeds while allowing better production out of the grain crop.

Whatever the benefits of glyphosate, GMOs and the herbicide are tied together in many minds. And there has been an ongoing effort by many people to claim that glyphosate causes cancer. But let’s look at the science, because maybe we’ll get some information.

What’s this about cancer?

The famous (or is that infamous?) study from Séralini, which claimed that glyphosate and GMO corn caused cancer in rats, is quite popular with the anti-GMO forces. For many reasons, including bad statistics, improper experimental design, and bad conclusions, the article was retracted by the journal.

Because that article was retracted, it doesn’t actually count because it really doesn’t exist (but to be fair, it was eventually, re-published in a very low ranked journal). This story is frighteningly similar to the story of that cunning fraudMrAndy Wakefield, who wrote a fraudulent, and ultimately retracted, article about vaccines and autism. I guess Séralini  is the Wakefield of the GMO world.

There are better studies out there–maybe.

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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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About that tryptophan and turkey making you sleepy – not so fast

Happy Thanksgiving_600px

Via Skeptical Raptor’s Blog

turkey-dinner sleepA tiny handful of countries, most notably the US and Canada, celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving. In the USA, the holiday is held on the fourth Thursday in November and more or less starts the so called holiday season which ends with New Year. In most of Canada (excluding the Atlantic provinces), the holiday is held on the second Monday in October.

For trivia purposes only, the other places that celebrate a similar Thanksgiving are Liberia (which is populated by descendants of freed slaves who returned to Africa from the US), Grenada (a small English-speaking island in the Caribbean), Puerto Rico (a Spanish-speaking territory of the USA), and Norfolk Island Australia. Australia?

Generally, the holiday celebrates white English settlers arriving in North America. The tales usually include some peaceful sharing of food between the white settlers and native Americans (a nice myth without much actual historical support) prior to the first winter. turkey eat ham_225pxCanada’s back story on Thanksgiving is much more complicated, including ships getting stuck in ice and other legends.

In both Canada and the USA, the celebration includes tons of food (per person) including a roast (usually) turkey. Other foods may include mashed potatoes, yams (sweet potatoes), other meats, pies, corn, stuffing, and more food. It is a high calorie meal of epic portions!

There’s a legend that eating this meal, specifically the turkey, fills your body with tryptophan, and you fall asleep.

Nice story, but the science of eating, sleeping and turkeys doesn’t support this myth. Not even close.

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Chiropractic manipulation of neck may cause stroke

Via Skeptical Raptor’s Blog

chiropractor 733_cropped_275pxI usually don’t dwell too much on chiropractic, because so many other bloggers mock them so well. Chiropractors are generally antivaccination, they practice junk medicine in areas in which they are not trained, and they are essentially quacks utilizing some mystical alternative medicine, taking money from people who think they’re getting real medical treatment.

Basically, chiropractic is the belief in the “vertebral subluxation processes” that purportedly can be used to treat and cure a vast range of diseases which have no scientifically verified connection to vertebral anatomy. It’s based on the same general type of pseudoscientific mysticism that one finds with acupuncture.

Of course, modern chiropractic has tried to divorce itself from the vertebral subluxation, and attempted to evolve into the slightly more mainstream chiropractic treatment technique that involves chiropractic 732_cropped_250pxmanual therapy, including manipulation of the spine, other joints, and soft tissues. Chiropractic treatment also includes exercises and health and lifestyle counseling. Barely anything more than a good masseuse would provide to an individual.

Despite this evolution of chiropractic to the point that some health insurance companies actually pay for the procedures, chiropractic is a typical pseudoscience–make outlandish claims, minimize or ignore the risks, and make money off of those who think, or want to believe, that it works.

It’s appalling that some people, many who think that vaccines are dangerous (they’re not), believe that a chiropractor, who has very little real medical training, should manipulate the neck of a baby to treat some imaginary, or even real, condition. It boggles the mind.

So, what does real science say about chiropractic?

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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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Vaccine adverse events are rare–vast benefits outweigh risks

VACCINE 147 CROPPED
Via Skeptical Raptor

protected-water-vaccinesLike all medical procedures, devices and pharmaceuticals, vaccines are not perfect. What matters is that the benefits, not only medically but also economically, outweigh any risks. As far ask I know, no perfect medical procedures, devices or pharmaceuticals, none, that are perfectly safe or perfectly effective.

Sometimes the ratio is small. For example, there are chemotherapy drugs that only add a few months to a patient’s life, usually with substantial side effects to the medication. Yet, if you ask a patient whether it was worth it, to spend just a few extra months with their children and loved ones, the value becomes nearly incalculable.

But mostly, the FDA and other regulatory agencies demand that new products and procedures must meet or exceed the safety, and meet or exceed the financial and health benefits of currently acceptable versions. Actually, the FDA examines a lot more than that. They check packaging, shelf life, instructions, manufacturing practices, and so much more, it would take a book to explain it (and there probably are several). It may not be a perfect process, but it’s better than what we had 100 years ago, and it continues to improve every single day. People tend towards a form of confirmation bias where they remember where a drug may or may not have been found to be dangerous (best example is Vioxx). But they forget about the millions of medications and devices that save lives or measurably improve the standard of living. 

After arguing the scientific point of view with the antivaccination forces for nearly 15 years, I have observed that they tend to vastly overstate the safety risks, while vastly understating the financial and health benefits. It’s a form of the Nirvana Fallacy, which is a fallacy that if something is not perfect, then it’s junk. For some, if a vaccine is only 95% effective in stopping a disease, it’s worthless. And they want a “guarantee” that there are NO side effects of the vaccines, even when the “adverse effects” of a vaccine preventable disease could be hospitalization or death.

Of course, no pro-science proponent of vaccines would ever say “vaccines are perfect.” We never claim that vaccines never have an adverse effect, though there is no evidence that a vaccine has killed anyone in the last 30 years. On the other hand, I do have plenty of evidence that vaccine preventable diseases have killed children across the world, including the USA.

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High fructose corn syrup – myth versus science

Via Skeptical Raptor

HFCS-label-yum_300pxOne of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.” And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe.

People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.

Moreover, MSG has one of the evil chemical names. But MSG really is the salt of glutamic acid, a simple amino acid that is the basis of all proteins in the human body. ALL. When consumed, MSG disassociates into glutamate ions and sodium ions, both of which will be eagerly utilized by human physiology with no ill effects. Excess MSG could be problematic, not because of the glutamate, but because of excess sodium. MSG is found naturally through all foods, proteins, soy sauce, and on and on. It’s an absolutely ridiculous belief that people have, and the downside of removing MSG is that there’s less flavor. Because MSG enhances flavor–naturally!

Another current demon chemical of food is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into of the biggest pariahs of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?

That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.

MORE – – –

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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