Category: Skepticism

Center For Inquiry Sues CVS for Defrauding Customers With Homeopathic “Medicine”

By Hemant Mehta

The Center For Inquiry has filed a lawsuit against CVS Health Corporation (which includes its nearly 10,000 pharmacies) for promoting and selling homeopathic remedies.

CVS is deceiving customers, CFI says, “through its misrepresentation of homeopathy’s safety and effectiveness, wasting customers’ money and putting their health at risk.”

Homeopathy is, of course the sham treatment that takes a trace amount of actual medicine, then dilutes it with water thousands of times over until no actual medicine remains. The resulting mixture of bullshit and nonsense is packaged and sold to customers who may not realize they’re being duped by nothing more than an expensive placebo.

“Homeopathy is a total sham, and CVS knows it. Yet the company persists in deceiving its customers about the effectiveness of homeopathic products,” said Nicholas Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Homeopathics are shelved right alongside scientifically-proven medicines, under the same signs for cold and flu, pain relief, sleep aids, and so on.”

“If you search for ‘flu treatment’ on their website, it even suggests homeopathics to you,” said Little. “CVS is making no distinction between those products that have been vetted and tested by science, and those that are nothing but snake oil.”

It’s not just a waste of time and money. Over the past couple of years, some homeopathic remedies meant for babies were found to harm them because the pills were manufactured improperly. (The makers found a way to screw up doing nothing.)

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Remembering ‘The Great Agnostic’

By Mike Hibbard

He has been called the most remarkable American most people have never heard of.

His name is Robert Green Ingersoll, and his birthplace in this tiny Yates County village has reached a milestone anniversary.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum opened for its 25th consecutive season. Officials said for a quarter century, the museum has restored the incomparable orator and champion of reason to his rightful place in American history and serves as the anchor of the historic Freethought Trail.

“There has never been a better time for Americans to rediscover the words and ideas of Robert Ingersoll,” said Tom Flynn, museum director and editor of Free Inquiry magazine. “As science and reason are under assault, and as the country is awakening to entrenched inequality, Ingersoll’s wit, eloquence and sense of justice are more relevant than ever.”

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No, You Probably Shouldn’t Follow Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Lectin-Free’ Diet

By Bahar Gholipour

In a recent interview with NBC’s Today show, singer Kelly Clarkson said her 37-lb. (17 kilograms) weight loss was a happy side effect of a diet she followed primarily to overcome her thyroid problem.

“I literally read this book, and I did it for this autoimmune disease that I had, and I had a thyroid issue,” Clarkson said. “I’m not on medicine anymore because of this book.” And along the way, she also lost weight, she said.

Clarkson was referring to the book “The Plant Paradox” (Harper Wave, 2017) by Dr. Steven Gundry, which was published last year and was followed by a cookbook this April.

The book comes with a big, controversial claim: Gundry says a broad group of plant proteins called lectins — found in grains; beans and legumes; nuts; fruits; nightshade vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes; and dairy — are the root of modern illnesses, ranging from obesity and gastrointestinal issues to autoimmune disorders and allergies. Lectins, according to Gundry, bind to sugar molecules in cells throughout the body, altering their function.

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Yes, There Are Bacteria on Your Kitchen Towel. No, They Won’t Make You Sick

By Rachael Rettner

Your kitchen towel may harbor a number of different bacteria, a new study finds. But does that mean your towel can actually make you sick?

Although the new finding may sound gross, it doesn’t mean you should ditch your kitchen towel; experts said the bacteria found on the towels in this study aren’t particularly concerning when it comes to foodborne illnesses.

For the study, the researchers gathered 100 kitchen towels from families. The scientists took samples from the towels — which had been used, without being washed, for one month — and cultured, or grew, these samples in lab dishes. The study found that 49 percent of the towels tested positive for bacteria and that the amount of bacteria was higher for towels used by large families or families with children, compared with towels used by smaller families or families without children.

In addition, towels used for multiple purposes — including wiping utensils, drying hands and wiping surfaces — grew more bacteria than towels used for a single purpose, the researchers found. And damp towels grew more bacteria than dry towels, according to the study, which was presented Saturday (June 9) at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Atlanta.

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Looking for Life on a Flat Earth

By Alan Burdick

On the last Sunday afternoon in March, Mike Hughes, a sixty-two-year-old limousine driver from Apple Valley, California, successfully launched himself above the Mojave Desert in a homemade steam-powered rocket. He’d been trying for years, in one way or another. In 2002, Hughes set a Guinness World Record for the longest ramp jump—a hundred and three feet—in a limo, a stretch Lincoln Town Car. In 2014, he allegedly flew thirteen hundred and seventy-four feet in a garage-built rocket and was injured when it crashed. He planned to try again in 2016, but his Kickstarter campaign, which aimed to raise a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, netted just two supporters and three hundred and ten dollars. Further attempts were scrubbed—mechanical problems, logistical hurdles, hassles from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Finally, a couple of months ago, he made good. Stuff was leaking, bolts needed tightening, but at around three o’clock, and with no countdown, Hughes blasted off from a portable ramp—attached to a motorhome he’d bought through Craigslist—soared to nearly nineteen hundred feet, and, after a minute or so, parachuted less than gently back to Earth.

For all of that, Hughes might have attracted little media attention were it not for his outspoken belief that the world is flat. “Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,” he told the Associated Press. “Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.”

Hughes converted fairly recently. In 2017, he called in to the Infinite Plane Society, a live-stream YouTube channel that discusses Earth’s flatness and other matters, to announce his beliefs and ambitions and ask for the community’s endorsement. Soon afterward, The Daily Plane, a flat-Earth information site (“News, Media and Science in a post-Globe Reality”), sponsored a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than seventy-five hundred dollars on Hughes’s behalf, enabling him to make the Mojave jump with the words “Research Flat Earth” emblazoned on his rocket.

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How Much Can We Know?

By Marcelo Gleiser

“What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning,” wrote German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who was the first to fathom the uncertainty inherent in quantum physics. To those who think of science as a direct path to the truth about the world, this quote must be surprising, perhaps even upsetting. Is Heisenberg saying that our scientific theories are contingent on us as observers? If he is, and we take him seriously, does this mean that what we call scientific truth is nothing but a big illusion?

People will quickly counterstrike with something like: Why do airplanes fly or antibiotics work? Why are we able to build machines that process information with such amazing efficiency? Surely, such inventions and so many others are based on laws of nature that function independently of us. There is order in the universe, and science gradually uncovers this order.

No question about it: There is order in the universe, and much of science is about finding patterns of behavior—from quarks to mammals to galaxies—that we translate into general laws. We strip away unnecessary complications and focus on what is essential, the core properties of the system we are studying. We then build a descriptive narrative of how the system behaves, which, in the best cases, is also predictive.

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The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

By Gabrielle Glaser

J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.

His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.

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Dr. Oz is a quack. Now Trump’s appointing him to be a health adviser.

By Julia Belluz

If you’ve wondered whatever happened to the snake oil–peddling celebrity physician Dr. Oz, and whether he’s still going strong, look no further than this news nugget today: President Donald Trump just announced he’ll appoint Oz to his Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.

Along with other sports and health celebrities — including the New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick — Oz is expected to serve on the council, created in 1956 with the aim of promoting “regular physical activity and good nutrition.”

According to Axios, the administration is concerned that “youth sports participation has declined over the last decade, particularly among young girls and children from economically distressed communities.” And of all the health experts to turn to, the president chose Oz.

Trump did this presumably not only because he has a penchant for celebrity and showmanship, both of which Dr. Oz has in droves. He did this because, despite Oz’s years of misuses and abuses of science, his years of misleading the public on health, Oz remains “America’s doctor.”

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As algorithms take over, YouTube’s recommendations highlight a human problem

By Ben Popken

YouTube is a supercomputer working to achieve a specific goal — to get you to spend as much time on YouTube as possible.

But no one told its system exactly how to do that. After YouTube built the system that recommends videos to its users, former employees like Guillaume Chaslot, a software engineer in artificial intelligence who worked on the site’s recommendation engine in 2010-2011, said he watched as it started pushing users toward conspiracy videos. Chaslot said the platform’s complex “machine learning” system, which uses trial and error combined with statistical analysis to figure out how to get people to watch more videos, figured out that the best way to get people to spend more time on YouTube was to show them videos light on facts but rife with wild speculation.

Routine searches on YouTube can generate quality, personalized recommendations that lead to good information, exciting storytelling from independent voices, and authoritative news sources.

But they can also return recommendations for videos that assert, for example, that the Earth is flat, aliens are underneath Antarctica, and mass shooting survivors are crisis actors.

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The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’

By Olga Khazan

In the early ‘90s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to sort through something that had puzzled him during his time monitoring classrooms as a school inspector. In the course of watching 9,000 different classes, he noticed that only some teachers were able to reach each and every one of their students. What were they doing differently?

Fleming zeroed in on how it is that people like to be presented information. For example, when asking for directions, do you prefer to be told where to go or to have a map sketched for you?

Today, 16 questions like this comprise the vark questionnaire that Fleming developed to determine someone’s “learning style.” Vark, which stands for “Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic,” sorts students into those who learn best visually, through aural or heard information, through reading, or through “kinesthetic” experiences.  (“I learned much later that vark is Dutch for “pig,” Fleming wrote later, “and I could not get a website called vark.com because a pet shop in Pennsylvania used it for selling aardvarks—earth pigs!”)

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