Category: Skepticism

Candida and Fake Illnesses

By Steven Novella

Savvy consumers have learned over the years that the primary goal of marketing is to create demand for a product or service. This has risen to the point of inventing problems that do not really exist just to sell a product that addresses the fake problem. Who knew that my social status could be destroyed by spotty glassware?

Better yet, if you can make people worry about a nonexistent problem, something that they were not previously aware of and don’t understand, they might buy your solution just to relieve their worry.

This type of “artificial demand” marketing can be very insidious when it occurs with medical products and services. The pharmaceutical industry has been accused of generating artificial demand for some of their drugs. For example, osteopenia is a relative decrease in bone density, but not enough to qualify for osteoporosis. Osteopenia is not really a disease, or even necessarily a mild version of osteoporosis, although it is a risk factor. Merck, however, was happy to broaden the market for its drug for osteoporosis and argue that patients with osteopenia should be treated also, even though the evidence really did not support this.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

This Weird Google Earth Picture Does Not Show a Crashed UFO

By Rafi Letzter

A popular YouTube channel that peddles conspiracy theories is trying to convince viewers that photos of an avalanche on an island near Antarctica depict an alien spaceship crash site.

In a video posted to the channel SecureTeam10, a narrator claims that an image of South Georgia Island taken from Google Earth shows the remains of an extraterrestrial craft that slammed into the side of a mountain and skidded a long distance across the ice.

The photo does show a lot of disturbed ice on the side of a glacier near Mount Paget, a 9,629-foot-tall (2,935 meters) prominence on the British-controlled island far to the south of Argentina. A long trail extends away from the main disturbed area, leading to a white object that appears embedded in the snow on top of the glacier.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Fighting back against ‘alternative facts’: Experts share their secrets

By Dan Ferber

Days after President Donald Trump took office, his spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway coined a term that ricocheted around the world. Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, confronted her about an overinflated White House estimate of the crowd size at the president’s inauguration. “Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck,” she shot back. “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. [But] Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.”

The exchange became fodder for a thousand late-night TV monologues, and it seemed to launch a new era of degraded public discourse, in which falsehoods become “alternative truths,” and unwelcome news for politicians becomes “fake news.” At a lively brainstorming session here yesterday at the annual meeting of AAAS, which publishes Science, approximately five dozen researchers, teachers, journalists, students, and science advocates brainstormed ways to push back.

Session leader Mark Bayer, an Arlington, Virginia-based consultant and former longtime aide to Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.), opened up with some cold water for the crowd. “Facts were never enough” to make a convincing case to people, he said, “so let’s just get over that.” Even Aristotle, in his classic Rhetoric, writes about the need to persuade the audience that you’re credible (ethos) and appeal to their emotions (pathos), as well as using logical arguments (logos), Bayer said.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Oprah Winfrey Helped Create Our American Fantasyland

By Kurt Andersen

Forty-eight hours ago, after watching Oprah Winfrey give a terrific, rousing feminist speech on an awards show, millions of Americans instantly, giddily decided that the ideal 2020 Democratic nominee had appeared. An extremely rich and famous and exciting star and impresario—but one who seems intelligent and wise and kind, the non–Bizarro World version of the sitting president.

Some wet-blanketing followed immediately, among the best from the New York Times Magazine writer Thomas Chatterton Williams in an op-ed headlined “Oprah, Don’t Do It.” “It would be a devastating, self-inflicted wound for the Democrats to settle for even benevolent mimicry of Mr. Trump’s hallucinatory circus act,” he wrote. “Indeed, the magical thinking fueling the idea of Oprah in 2020 is a worrisome sign about the state of the Democratic Party.”

Despite the “magical thinking” reference, neither Williams nor other skeptics have seriously addressed the big qualm I have about the prospect of a President Winfrey: Perhaps more than any other single American, she is responsible for giving national platforms and legitimacy to all sorts of magical thinking, from pseudoscientific to purely mystical, fantasies about extraterrestrials, paranormal experience, satanic cults, and more. The various fantasies she has promoted on all her media platforms—her daily TV show with its 12 million devoted viewers, her magazine, her website, her cable channel—aren’t as dangerous as Donald Trump’s mainstreaming of false conspiracy theories, but for three decades she has had a major role in encouraging Americans to abandon reason and science in favor of the wishful and imaginary.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Explainer: The Government Bill That Wants to Integrate Homeopathy and Modern Medicine

By The Wire Staff

Five hours into the all-India strike called by the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the Bill they were protesting was sent to a standing committee.

The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, was introduced in the Lok Sabha by health minister J.P. Nadda on December 29, 2017. It came up for discussion today. But the controversial Bill was swiftly sent off to a standing committee for scrutiny instead.

The Bill attempts to tackle two main things on quality and quantity: Corruption in medical education and shortage of medical professionals.

A product of the NITI Aayog, the Bill was drafted following a scathing standing committee report in 2016 on the corrupt functioning of the Medical Council of India (MCI).

The IMA opposed the Bill, calling it “anti-people and anti-poor”. To protest it, they called a 12-hour all-India strike on Tuesday, which has now been called off.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science. It’s immoral.

By Mitch Daniels

Of the several claims of “anti-science” that clutter our national debates these days, none can be more flagrantly clear than the campaign against modern agricultural technology, most specifically the use of molecular techniques to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Here, there are no credibly conflicting studies, no arguments about the validity of computer models, no disruption of an ecosystem nor any adverse human health or even digestive problems, after 5 billion acres have been cultivated cumulatively and trillions of meals consumed.

And yet a concerted, deep-pockets campaign, as relentless as it is baseless, has persuaded a high percentage of Americans and Europeans to avoid GMO products, and to pay premium prices for “non-GMO” or “organic” foods that may in some cases be less safe and less nutritious. Thank goodness the toothpaste makers of the past weren’t cowed so easily; the tubes would have said “No fluoride inside!” and we’d all have many more cavities.

This is the kind of foolishness that rich societies can afford to indulge. But when they attempt to inflict their superstitions on the poor and hungry peoples of the planet, the cost shifts from affordable to dangerous and the debate from scientific to moral.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

What Is ‘Water Memory’? Why This Homeopathy Claim Doesn’t Hold Water

By Rafi Letzter

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Dec. 18 that it plans to crack down on dangerous or dishonestly advertised homeopathic products — a class of products that sellers claim treat diseases by delivering extremely diluted traces of the substances that cause those diseases in the first place. If certain homeopathic remedies become more difficult to access due to the crackdown, what will homeopathy users miss out on?

Homeopathy dates to the 1700s, according to a statement from the FDA, and relies on the idea of “like cures like” — that symptom-causing chemicals can, at low enough doses when mixed with water, treat the symptoms that those substances cause. In other words, a chemical that causes vomiting would be given at a very diluted concentration to treat vomiting. And the more diluted the substance, the more potent the beneficial effects, the thinking goes.

But is there any real science behind this idea?

The British Homeopathic Association (BHA)’s website acknowledges that homeopathic remedies might seem “implausible for many people,” because “the medicines are often — though by no means always — diluted to the point where there may be no molecules of original substance left.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

The FDA Is Cracking Down on Homeopathic Remedies

By Kristen V. Brown

Gwyneth, watch out.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to crack down on so-called “homeopathic remedies”—treatments that due to agency enforcement policy have managed to avoid regulatory oversight.

But no more, says the agency. Many of those products, it said in a statement, aren’t just herbal tea cures for a sore throat. They’re products being marketed as treatments for serious diseases—hope bottled up and sold to desperate people, without any sort of clinical evidence that they might actually work.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a large uptick in products labeled as homeopathic that are being marketed for a wide array of diseases and conditions, from the common cold to cancer,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “In many cases, people may be placing their trust and money in therapies that may bring little to no benefit in combating serious ailments, or worse–that may cause significant and even irreparable harm because the products are poorly manufactured, or contain active ingredients that aren’t adequately tested or disclosed to patients.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Do Superstitious Rituals Work?

By Stuart Vyse

Let us stipulate that there is no magic. Sleight-of-hand, deception, illusion, and conjuring, yes, but no “real” magic. On this, most science-minded people agree. But when it comes to superstition, there has always been an additional, less obvious question. Of course, superstitions do not have a magical effect on the world, but do they have psychological benefits? Could superstitions make difficult situations easier to handle? Furthermore, if they have an emotional or psychological benefit, could they also produce better performance in situations where skill is involved? The psychological benefits of superstitions—if they exist—would not be expected to change your luck at the roulette wheel, but perhaps an actor’s pre-performance ritual could reduce anxiety, allowing for better acting.

Despite several decades of research on superstition, these questions remained unanswered for many years. Most researchers assumed superstitions were irrational and focused their attentions on discovering why people were superstitious. It was often assumed that there might be some direct psychological benefits of superstition, but these were rarely studied.

Then in 2010 there was a great advance—or so it seemed. Researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany conducted the now famous golf ball study (Damisch et al. 2010). Participants were given a putter and asked to hit a golf ball into a cup on the carpet of a laboratory. Half the participants were handed a ball and told, “This ball has been lucky today.” The other half were told “This is your ball.” As it turned out, more than 80 percent of the German participants reported believing in the concept of good luck, and when the results were tallied, the researchers discovered that participants in the lucky ball group sank significantly more of their putts than the other group. Furthermore, Damisch et al. replicated this result with different tasks and several different luck-activating superstitions. Of course, there still was no magic, but these studies seemed to have demonstrated that believing in luck gave participants the confidence to perform better than they otherwise would. A phenomenon long speculated to be a possibility had finally been demonstrated in a laboratory setting.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

Acupuncture in cancer study reignites debate about controversial technique

By Jo Marchant

One of the largest-ever clinical trials into whether acupuncture can relieve pain in cancer patients has reignited a debate over the role of this contested technique in cancer care.

Oncologists who conducted a trial of real and sham acupuncture in 226 women at 11 different cancer centres across the United States say their results — presented on 7 December at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas — conclude that the treatment significantly reduces pain in women receiving hormone therapy for breast cancer. They suggest it could help patients stick to life-saving cancer treatments, potentially improving survival rates. But sceptics say it is almost impossible to conduct completely rigorous double-blinded trials of acupuncture.

Interest in acupuncture has grown because of concerns over the use of opioid-based pain-relief drugs, which can have nasty side effects and are extremely addictive. Many cancer centres in the United States therefore offer complementary therapies for pain relief. Almost 90% of US National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centres suggest that patients try acupuncture, and just over 70% offer it as a treatment for side effects1. That horrifies sceptics such as Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine and founder of the blog Science-Based Medicine. Acupuncture has no scientific basis, he says; recommending it is “telling patients that magic works”. 

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.