I checked your archives and did not see anything that you may have done on acupuncture. I did some research myself and found conflicting studies on the efficacy of acupuncture. I am a little torn on this because while I personally can not understand how your “life force” can be disrupted by a tiny needle, I recently spent some time with people who I would not usually expect to place any credence in such a procedure but had experience and thoughts on the procedure which have given me pause.
One person having had bad back pain for years and after trying a myriad of medical procedures said that after treatment by acupuncture she was much better. She has a science background and is not an alternative medicine person – in fact, she is helping her very sick mother working closely with many doctors seeking the best traditional medical treatments.
The second person had a comment which I found very intriguing. This is a MIT PhD in physics with a long career in science – and also not a CAM person by any means. When I said that I could not understand what the underlying science is of acupuncture, he responded that while that may be true, I should not rule out thousands of years of trial and error. I am forced to see the logic in this statement – and not finding any definitive materials on the subject thought it may be something you could comment on.
Of course, if I missed a blog, please point me to it!
I also mention it frequently in other entries, but the ones above are specifically on acupuncture (14 directly addresses your question)
Regarding your two points:
- Anecdotal evidence is never compelling or definitive. You can find similar stories to support any treatment, no matter how far-fetched or even disproven. Only controlled studies can settle the question. You seem to be grossly underestimating the degree to which memory of personal experience can deceiving or just quirky.
For three thousand years the humoral theory of illness flourished in the West. Thousands of years of anecdotal trial and error were 100% wrong. Chi and acupuncture were cultural embedded ideas, perpetuated through belief, confirmation bias, subjective validation, and cultural inertia. They were not systematically tested.
Once scientific methods were used to systematically test ideas – multitudes of ideas that had previously survived for thousands of years fell one-by-one.
Finally, by coincidence, I was just asked to submit an article on reasons I do not think acupuncture works. Look for this in the near future.
Um, because I’m lazy and I’d like someone else to compile all the information, I’d love to see a series that looked at the biological and neurobiological aspects of various “mystical” experiences in a systematic way. But perhaps you’ve done this and I should just check the archives
Can you do something on placenta injections? A female friend in Korea ran out of her doctor’s office after he offered to inject her with Japanese placenta, claiming it would pretty much cure anything. Google shows others have quacky ideas. And just recently some a list hollywood star claimed placenta makes good fertilizer:
I would like to know your opinion, both as a doctor and as someone who can deconstruct an argument, about the expanding roles of and reliance on Nurse Practitioners in todays healthcare. I know that there is much debate from both the ANA and various physicians groups about whether or not the public should be treated by NPs. The most recent article against was written by a DO and can be found at the following link:
I find it a little difficult to separate the fact from the fiction regarding medical marijuana (MM). The MM movement still seems to me to mostly be about providing a legal back door to allow people to get high, but I know there have been a fair amount of studies on using marijuana to treat pain and nausea. The MM movement tends to go a little far and suggest that marijuana can cure everything. Which studies have shown real benefits from MM and have they been repeated often enough to make them fairly convincing?
it would be most interesting to read your analysis of Jill Bolte Taylor’s reflection of her stroke she has been widely expressing in media and in her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. TED has her talk, which is the most e-mailed and much discussed of all TED talks.
Her experience has been an inspiration to many people, but some say that despite of her scientific background she has taken a leap of faith into New Age mysticism.
My dad was recently diagnosed with Cerebrospinal Fluid Leaks. He’s been referred to a university hospital in North Carolina for treatment. My mom is a kind of freaked out about the whole thing and has been doing a lot of research on the internet. She explained the surgery he might go through to me, but wasn’t really sure about what type of treatment he would have.
Are you familiar with the treatment? My dad hasn’t had sinus surgery in the past, but he has had multiple strokes and did have heart bypass surgery several years ago which left him in a coma for several months during recovery, possibly resulting in additional strokes. The site of leakage is his nose and he’s apparently been having leakage for several years, although he didn’t know it was spinal fluid until about a month ago. I know the primary concern is bacterial infection, but I don’t know if there are any other risks or concerns due to his past medical history.
I’m confident that he’ll receive good treatment and I accept that there are risks to any type of treatment. I’m hoping to learn more to help put my mom at ease. My parents have a hard time accepting science and are suspicious of doctors, especially after my dad’s previous surgery.
I think a great topic for either the blog or podcast would be the recent announcement by columbia neuroscientists in which motoneurons were produced from stem cells that were derived from reprogrammed stem cells.
I´ve just left a comment on ´The Color Test´, in which I mentioned NLP. I don´t know if you know a lot about the subject, but if you do it could be an interesting topic for a post; NLP (´Neuro-Linguistic Programming´) hangs on to scientific-sounding and neuroscientific terms to give an air of credibility, promises much and can be found in various forms in both personal-empowerment literature and management seminars. The Skeptics Dictionary has a good introduction to it, and even if you don´t decide to write a post on it I´m sure you´ll find the subject interesting, as a neurologist and skeptic.
I´d also like to secind Fifi´s suggestion re: mystic experiences, mainly as I´ve had a number of very powerful ones!
Regarding mystical experiences, it is likely that some of them are mediated though the effects of NO as a neurotransmitter. Those NO effects occur at NO levels in the range of a few nM/L, (on the order of 30 parts per trillion).
Some of the physiological states associated with mystical experiences include acute fever, hypoxia, other near death experiences, following orgasm, childbirth, and meditation. Some of these are associated with high NO levels, but that association is not well understood.
I suspect that the experience of something “mystical” is to provide a rationalization for transformative changes to ways of thinking. The physiological extreme state results in a reprogramming of neural physiology that is discontinuous with neural physiology prior to experiencing the physiologically extreme state.
I suspect that the most extreme “mystical” states will occur due to high NO following extremely low NO. I see that in terms of functional connectivity (mediated largely through NO as in the fMRI BOLD measurements). Low NO causes a relative disconnection of the long range functional connectivity, in effect “re-booting” the long range functional connectivity scheme the brain is using. High NO then restores that long range connectivity, in effect restoring the integrated functioning of multiple brain regions “in sync”, but with a somewhat different connectivity.
I think this is what happens during things like Stockholm syndrome. The extreme stress of abuse causes low NO which fragments the “mind” and allows for independent activity of different brain regions to allow for better “multi-tasking” to survive the extreme stress. (I see multiple personality disorder as a manifestation of this) When the stress is reduced, the reformation of the long range connections can lead to people attaching to those who caused the stress via abuse in the first place. A useful survival feature in “the wild” where abuse of females by alpha males is not uncommon.
My wife recently gave birth to our second daughter at the beginning of June. She’s had a series of issues that are as yet un-specifically defined but are currently being termed neurological in nature.
Specifically she has an uncoordinated swallow that leaves some liquid going up rather than down and she doesn’t seem to trakc and focus as well as her peers.
Anyway, we’ve had an ultrasound (nothing found) and have an MRI, as well appointments with a neuro-opthamologist and geneticist in the coming weeks (All at Mass general Hospital in Boston).
So, our daughter general practitioner has us reading up about everything from Cerebral Palsy to mitochondrial diseases but is also cautioning that she may just be “a little behind in the curve”.
All that to get to this: She recently asked us to consider the Rotavirus vaccine but didn’t provide a lot of information about it. Instead saying we should research it on the web and let her know if we wanted to do it. She mentioned if our daughter had a mitochondrial issue that it would be important for to have had the vaccine.
So, the only things I could find about it are that it is relatively new (only 70k children have had the new vaccine) and that there is a specific time-line for when you need to take the doses. if I recall correctly the first dose was noted for 8 weeks but our daughter is currently 14 weeks old.
So, I’m not afraid of vaccines and autism and all that silly stuff, I’m just concerned that only a small amount of children have had the new vaccine and from what i read online the prior version was proven to have some issues and was removed from the market.
Do you have any thoughts/data you could share on this vaccine? And perhaps any thoughts in general on how a parent should decide when to accept a new vaccine or treatment that is on t he market? We all know that some products come to market and are later proven to cause more harm than good, even if they have been through clinical trials, but I’m guessing that is more the exception than the rule.
Thanks for your thoughts and keep up the good work!
Regarding the topic of binaural and structural integrity of brain training. There is a company known as “Volition Thought House. inc”, this company claims to have incorporated a technology known as imagince, which incorporate a series of beats that are hidden within music (giving the music slightly choppy quality) which travel through your ears and towards your brain, where it induces certain brainwaves, such as Alpha, Beta, Delta and so on. As a result, listening to their commercial products provides ‘beneficial’ results, such as increased mental capacity and speed processing, as well as a greater feel for comprehension in terms of understanding topics. These beats apparently stimulate specific brainwaves and brain activity, once again their scientific basis and justification lies in the studies shown by the EEG studies, and a series of controlled experiments conducted involving small numbers of people. Not only do they have commercial products for brain training, with the fabricated promises of increased IQ, but they have other inducing soundtracks which can either evoke an array of frequencies, such as aiding with sleep. “iMusic”, is the term used for this specific product, although there is many reviews, I believe that most of this has been fabricated to an extent. I’ve also checked some of the acclaims, and some apparent, iconic figures are seemingly non-existent.
There are also a variety of articles.
What I would like to know if is their claims of increasing IQ and cognitive function simply by listening to their music true?
I’ve already read from your previous archives, about a similar incident regarding, “Neuro Programmer 2″, but I feel this is quite different, for one, this is an entirely different company, with different principals and so called technologies for enhancing cognitive function.
There are also so many reviews, which help reinforce and justify the belief that “iMusic”, works, is this true? Or is it merely a product of the placebo effect or the expectancy effect?
Are you familiar with the claims of Suzette Foster? (http://www.suzettefoster.com/) She claims to have suffered a spinal-cord injury (she provides an MRI image as evidence) and states that she recovered through the magic of energy healing. Now, she is using her experience to recruit people suffering with SCI into “healing circles” with the promise of curing them. All for a fee, of course.
Worse, yet, she is reportedly going to receive national attention on Oprah’s radio show.
I’ve been a tetraplegic for over 14 years and have heard similar claims a thousand times before, but never suspected they might receive media attention that could provide them a modicum of legitimacy. Her claims not only dupe desperate people of their money, but also of their hope, while undermining an already ignorant public’s understanding of SCI. If she and most TV movies are to be believed, every person in a wheelchair is just too lazy, or too faithless, to cure themselves. These memes infect public perception and conceal the reality that spinal-cord injuries are devastating and, given time, fatal, because of the many respiratory, renal, and ulcer issues that occur as a result of SCI.
Could you comment on her claims, SCI, and perhaps the state of current SCI research? Thank you.
What is the responsibility of competent scientists to conduct well-designed studies on CAM? Given that money is going to be given to NCCAM and that there is loads of private funding for this research, do competent scientists have an obligation to compete for that money to do quality research on CAM, instead of letting the funds go to badly designed studies that will simply propagate misinformation? Probably best to ignore the fact that I have no idea how to ethically design an IRB protocol or informed consent for something like a homeopathy clinical trial.
Dr. Novella and anyone else with Stroop information,
I am an honor student in the 7th grade. Last year I did a science fair project on how age affects results in the Stroop color test. I won first place in my category and was lucky enough to be selected to go to the regional science fair with my project.
This year I am working on a continuation project. I am working to find out how the test was or still is used in spy work. Unfortunately, I am having trouble finding information on this subject for my research paper. Since you mention this in your posting of August 28, I am hoping that you can help me.
If you or anyone else has any information on how the Stroop test was used to detect foreign spies, or if you are familiar with resources that I can look at please post it to this site. I hope to win my school fair again this year and participate in this year’s ISEF regional science fair.
I know you have posted before on NLP in the context of mental health and counselling but I would be interested in your views on its application on other health areas, such as allergy, where NLP practioners make what seem to me to be poorly evidenced claims. See e.g. this blog post and comments:
The NLP practitioner in question has been brave enough to show up in the comments and talks quite a bit about psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), which he says is a field of medical immunology. I don’t know what the standing of PNI is in medicine but it does appear popular within NLP.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on osteopathy. Is there any real distinction between the D.O. and the M.D. aside from training in OMT? Isn’t “osteopathic medicine” a philosophy-based medicine? I hear that osteopaths emphasize preventive medicine, and treat “the whole person.” Isn’t such rhetoric misleading? Why does osteopathy exist as a unique discipline?
I hope you or one of your colleagues at SBM can address this topic.
The History channel ran a program about the brain last night (November 10, 2008). In typical History channel fashion they provided some very good information and then proceeded to undermine the credibility of the entire program by including some shameless pseudoscience. They actually spent time speaking with a researcher who is convinced John Edwards is a “real medium”.
This made me wonder if there were other aspects of the program that were fallacious, but not as obvious to a non professional. I would love to hear your views if you happened to see the show.
I greatly enjoy your many blogs (where do you find the time) and podcast, keep up the good work!
I would like to hear you discuss the current state of understanding of Narcolepsy and “Idiopathic Hypersomnia”. I was diagnosed with the latter a couple years ago, and discontinued treatment recently due to a lack of progress. I spend some time on Narcolepsy message boards and hear a lot of rumors, speculation, and quotes from obscure studies. I’m very skeptical of what is true or not regarding these conditions. Thank you.
My mission as a researcher, an activist and mother of 2 vaccine-injured boys is to keep you informed and that is with articles and documents that will help you see outside the box!!!
It has been proved by many scientists, and doctors that vaccines cause brain inflammation, and micro-vascular strokes… That is where you can compare our children with people who have suffered strokes and have the same language problems… Our children’s problems are originated in the brain, Motor planning, and liver: muscle tone (mitochondrial issues)… That being said each child is different and some are affected more than others… if your child only has language delay, than you are a few of the lucky ones, some are autistic, epileptic and CP… some have a combination of this and have far more difficult road ahead… but, they can all recover, as long as we can determine the cause or origin, to work in pro of building their brains and other affected organs…
By the way, not so long ago two Mexican scientists found a possible relation between the virus that causes chickenpox, chickenpox-zó ster, and cases of multiple sclerosis in active stage.
The investigation was developed by Adolfo Martinez and Julio Sotelo, who identified the presence of the virus just chickenpox-zó ster in a group of 62 patients with multiple sclerosis when it was in active stage.
The virus of chickenpox would cause in the brain a scar that would prevent the myelin production, a protein that surrounds nervous fibers and facilitates the transmission of the nervous impulses.
The investigation was published in the Annals magazine of Neurology.
“In resistance, were not viral particles in samples of patients with multiple sclerosis in phase of remission or subjects to neurological control”, indicate the conclusions of the scientists.. .
“We considered that this is the cause. Or he will see himself if it is cause or one of the causes”, indicated Julio Sotelo. “In these initial findings he can be one neither forceful nor dogmatic one”, said the scientist.
The multiple sclerosis affects the spinal marrow and the brain, causing damages in the coordination, the balance and the memory; in addition, it hits the muscular development and the visual capacity.
Now correct me if I am wrong… but MS cases are also on the rise along with Alzheimer’s and ASD, Remember that MS and ASD share same mitochondrial issues… And the most common exposure to chickenpox this days is childhood VACCINES!!! What do you think?!!!
Here it is straight from the horse’s mouth:
The following document is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and lists the inactive ingredients in vaccines along with the materials that are used to culture or grow mass quantities of vaccines.
Thanks for the original and follow-up info on Acupuncture.
How about “cold laser” therapy? I just found out that it is being used in rehabilitation of someone I know and find the plausibility that low-level light therapy has any beneficial effects to be negligible at best. (I will ignore the fact that the practitioner told the patient that they could do the procedure through clothes – seems to violate some basic principles of light!?)
Given that from my basic research, cold lasers are also being used as an alternative to needles for acupuncture, I would be curious to get your take on this device and its applicability to medicine.
Roy Asim has “finally” published his controversial theory on the brain. According to him, different parts of the brain are controlled by a master controller. I gather he repudiates the power of self-organization that we see so often in nature. It sounds like this might be right up your alley so I thought you might want to make a few comments about it.
Have you looked into the film, “The Beautiful Truth?” It appears to be a propaganda film extolling the virtues of how an organic food based diet will cure cancer. It’s getting a fare amount of press about how it “takes on the medical industrial complex.” Here’s a link to the film’s trailer and a misguided review of the film. Please shed some light on this dark, dark territory.
I have heard you say a number of times on your podcast that—as best as memory serves—“correlation is not causation.” It is a phrase which has made sense to me per your usages and I recently wanted to invoke it myself for my new blog at http://www.amorphousintelligence.wordpress.com. But I also wanted to provide a link that gave a rational justification for it. I was hoping you had written about it; alas, I was unable to find it if you had. So I checked many other science-based and skeptical blogs as well as doing a broad Google search. The closest thing I could find that was accessible to the lay reader was a Wikipedia article titled “Correlation does not imply causation,” which I at first thought was close enough. (In fact, if one types “correlation is not causation” in the search box one is directed to “Correlation does not imply causation.”) But then I heard your most recent SGU 5X5 podcast (#46 “Skepticism 101-Confusing Correlation With Causation”) in which you point out that correlation can, in fact, imply causation, so a more accurate phrasing would be “correlation is not necessarily causation.” Upon further reflection this now makes even more sense than the aforementioned phrase (which makes me wonder if all this time you had been saying “necessarily” and I just hadn’t clued in to it). Which now leads to the two points of my writing you: First, given the apparent inaccuracy of the Wikipedia article, I recommend that you try to fix that article or write a wholly different one altogether. (I would gladly do it myself but it seems you are far more qualified than I.) And second—especially if revising/rewriting the Wikipedia article is too much effort—might I recommend that you blog about this phrase? It strikes me as a highly useful phrase that the average person can find an application for its usage on a near daily basis which, in fact, I do use on a near daily basis. For us lay skeptics it would be nice to have an authoritative, easily readable article to point others to, though. (And yes, I understand authority is not science, but it does persuade.) It would be especially helpful to say something like: “What? Don’t believe me? Check it out on Wikipedia.” After all, if Wikipedia says it, it must be true.
Has all the earmarks of of quackery based in ignorance (and sounds remarkably like the anti-vaccine screeds), how ADHD doesn’t exist, it’s all a massive criminal conspiracy between “big pharma” and the government, and it can all be cured with a diet change and it’s all the fault of boring schools anyway.
And the very specific claim that Ritalin causes stunted growth in children.
As you may or may not know, David Kirby has been posting to Huffington Post almost weekly regarding the vaccine/autism connection fallacy. I know you’ve addressed this topic many times before, and I have been attempting to be a counter, however small, to all the misinformed posters lauding Mr. Kirby’s assertions. As expected, most of those supporting him are the same dozen or so, but there is an alarmingly growing number of people claiming that because of theses articles they are now concerned about vaccinating their children. I know all that can be a ruse to feign larger support, but it still concerns me that Mr. Kirby isn’t being refuted by a knowledgeable source.
With respect, I am imploring you to please attempt a rebuttal, or at least try to get an authority in this specific field to write an article that calls out the fallacies in the anti-vaccination argument. I am troubled by Huffington Post’s continually giving Mr. Kirby an opportunity to feed this conspiracy (and his book sales). I think it could be argued as irresponsible, if not dangerous, as the ramifications are huge to the public health.
Thank you, as well as all the Skeptical Rogues, for all that you do, and as a big fan I hope to meet you all soon someday!
I received a recent one from my sister, detailing the threat of receiving a business card from a stranger, that may be dosed with Burundanga (aka: Scopolamine/Datura) and will render the subject almost instantly intoxicated.
What alarms me about this sort of thing, is that there is usually a grain of truth somewhere. Yes, scopolamine can be used as a “date rape drug”, but ten minutes on the internet will reveal that it can’t be absorbed in transdermal fashion in sufficient quantities to cause intoxication and that the e-mail is an established hoax.
Looking at the e-mail itself, my sister appears to have received her copy of the message from a serving police officer (a detective no less). You really would expect the police to be a bit more critical in their thinking before sending out this sort of thing.
I’d like to suggest an article (or Podcast segment) on the recent Nature paper suggesting that use of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall by people wishing to improve cognative ability should be legalised.
Jenny McCarthy has been sharing her medical expertise via the Oprah show, Larry King, etc., and now her boyfriend, Jim Carrey, is getting in on the act. Here’s some fascinating medical advice from Jim Carry in the current issue of Us Magazine:
“At the risk of like opening up the whole Tom Cruise Prozac argument, you know, I don’t disagree in many ways,” Jim Carrey said. “I think Prozac and things like that are very valuable to people for short periods of time. But I believe if you’re on them for an extended period of time, you never get to the problem.
“You never get to see what the problem is, because everything is just kind of OK,” he said. “And so, you don’t deal. And people deal when they get desperate.”
Carrey’s solution: “Supplements,” he said.
“It is vitamins. But it’s also certain elements of the brain like Tyrosine and hydroxytryptophan that they’re treating depression with now,” he said. “It is a natural substance that’s in your brain. Instead of being a Serotonin inhibitor, which just uses the serotonin you have and Prozac and things like that — it just uses the Serotonin you have and it doesn’t allow it go back into the receptor.
“It metabolizes your serotonin after a while and you have to keep taking more and more to feel good.
“This actually creates dopamine and creates serotonin,” Carrey continued. “It’s a wonderful thing. It’s amazing. I’m going to talk a lot about it in the near future.”
Oh, and I would like to second the suggestion from SatansParkakeet on 8-14-08. When my mother was dying of cancer in the 1990s, she had a prescription for Marinol, which I understood to be “medical marijuana” in pill form. If this is already available legally, why are people still fighting to make marijuana legal for medical purposes? Why do they insist on the smokeable kind?
I’d like to have a reading list for people with a scientific interest but who are not trained scientists. For example, I’m a special education teacher. I have not trained in the hard sciences nor did I take anything but 100-200 level science classes when I was in college.
If you had a list of 12 books, we could read one each month. At the end of that month, you could write a blog using the knowledge base gained from that book. Of course, I’m thinking like an old-timer. You could just as well have links listed that need to be digested before reading the target blog.
If you posted the book 6 weeks in advance, for example, we could get the book from Amazon and read it by the time the target blog comes out.
There is a recent death in the news, John Travolta’s son, reportedly due to a seizure secondary to Kawasaki Syndrome. It is an interesting case because the Kawasaki Syndrome was reportedly improved by a detox system based on Scientology.
I am an esthetician (facialist) and am constantly confronted with pseudoscience in the spa industry. I would love to hear your thoughts on:
- salicylic acid versus willow bark extract (it’s my understanding that salicylic acid is derived from willow bark and that both are anti-inflammatories related to aspirin, but the true-believers say that willow bark is gentler, healthier, and just as effective because it is more.. ahem.. natural)
- lymphatic massage for normal, healthy individuals
- high frequency therapy done to eliminate acne
- colloidal silver used topically (not internally)
I also consider myself a feminist and it saddens me that the beauty industry does such a good job of convincing women (who, as a whole, are already behind their male counterparts in savings and investings) to turn over their hard-earned cash for questionable treatments. I try to do my best to bring reason to my industry, but it is a constant battle.
Aspirin is the brand name of a very well known salicylate-containing tablet introduced in 1899.
Aspirin is named so after Spirea ulmaria (meadowseet, today Filipendula ulmaria) that is another salicinproducing plant.
The active compound in these plants, among which the willow is probably most know, is salicin that will be metabolized to salicylic acid in the body.
Yes the extract should be milder. According to Akao et al “[salicylic acid] appeared slowly in the plasma and levels increased gradually, in contrast to the rapid appearance observed after oral administration of sodium salicylate… [salicin] did not induce gastric lesions even at a dose of 5 mmol/kg; conversely, ["aspirin/salicylic acid"] induced severe gastric lesions in a dose-dependent manner at 1, 2.5 and 5 mmol/kg. …These results indicate that [salicin] is a prodrug which is gradually transported to the lower part of the intestine, hydrolyzed to [saligenin] by intestinal bacteria, and converted to [salicicylic acid] after absorption. It thus produces an antipyretic action without causing gastric injury.”
In sum taking salicin is “milder” as it does not get metabolized into salicylic acid until in the bloodstream, while aspirin means salicylic acid is directly ingested into the stomach and can cause upset. This probably also means that salicylate poisoning is less likely as concentrations are lower.
Planta Med. 2002 Aug;68(8):714-8. Evaluation of salicin as an antipyretic prodrug that does not cause gastric injury. Akao T, Yoshino T, Kobashi K, Hattori M.
Write about the New York Time’ latest op-ed contributor, Bono. It doesn’t have to be off topic.
Bono is a terrific lyricist, as evidenced by the millions of CDs and albums he’s sold. So why was his first op-ed a muddled, incoherent, unreadable mess? Could it be that the skills we possess in one area do not necessarily translate into another, seemingly related area?
Thus we have competent chemistry department chairs pumping out muddled, incoherent papers on autism. And chiropractors sharing worthless advice on nutrition and toxicology with parents of autistic children.
The NY Times will soon enough realize its mistake, and replace Bono with an bona fide essayist. Anti-vaxers will take longer.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the increased use of non-invasive diagnostic medical imaging use and the movement of imaging studies out of the radiology reading room and into the practicing physician’s office.
We (FiatLux Imagine ) have used computer gaming technology, in the form of Direct X, to harness the inate capability of everyday computers to provide 2D and 3D rendering capabilities to view these medical images in any location, independent of costly specialized servers. By doing this at an affordable price, we see an ability to provide medical images anywhere, anytime, to any practicioner.
With the ever increasing ability to diagnostically peer inside the body, and with the increasing technical ability to render those images into physiologic appearing 3D volumes,an ever increasing number of specialties are now proficient at doing their own interpretations and moving ahead with treatment regimes and surgical planning.
I have done some rudimentary digging and can’t find much in the way of reliable information regarding the “Post-Massage Malaise” that many masseurs warn against. They profess it’s due to released toxins…so a real explanation is certainly lacking. I’d love to read your thoughts on it.
I was recently struck by the current TV commercial war between Campbell’s Soup and Progresso Soup over inclusion of MSG. Campbell’s Soup trumpets the ‘All Natural- no MSG’ line, and Progresso goes with the ‘more people prefer their taste’ approach.
What caught my interest was what’s really wrong with MSG anyway? So I did a little research, since I had heard MSG being used as a ‘bad guy’ ingredient for many years, and I found out that, while it has been suspected as a headache and asthma trigger in the past, there doesn’t appear to be any well controlled studies to bear this out.
Is this a case of anecdotal stories and ‘common knowledge’ maligning a perfectly good flavor additive that adds the UMAMI taste to foods, or is there any really good reason for people to avoid it? FYI, I have no dog in this fight except to know the facts.
mindme, I do not have time to read the paper, but at a first glance it is on a condition that is not well defined and with subjective data points, as noted here:
“Tender point count and tender point pain on examination by a medical assessor uninvolved in providing care, self-rating scales on fibromyalgia-related quality of life, pain, mood and global health at baseline and 3 months, were the primary clinical outcome measures for this report.”
It is the “self-rating” scale that makes it not so good.
For a better idea read the book “Snake Oil Science” by R Barker Bausell.
In your recent discussion with a Creationist blogger, he avoided actually answering your challenge by dropping some random questions, one of which ran along the lines of “How do you explain the origin of the Universe?”.
Although it had nothing to do with the subject at hand at that time, it does represent an interesting question.
I think I remember reading something on this in Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion”, although it might have been another book I was reading at that time. I think I remember that he wrote about a couple of different possible explanations being explored on this, and I remember distinctly that they had to do with the properties of vacuum (symmetry). I’ll do my homework and look for this reference, but I did want to ask you if you have some reading material on this, or can reference me to a good source, and most importantly, blog about it or discuss it in the Skeptics Guide.
Thank you for your time and the guiding beacon you represent to all of us Skeptics out here.
Steve, have you ever done any research on, or are you aware of any good research on candida and “the candida diet”. A friend of mine went to a alt medicine practitioner who used a vega machine to diagnose her with candida (amongst other thing). I have been trying to find some solid information and research on this condition and the supposed diet-cure but have been unable to find anything worthwhile on the net. Thanks.
I have been a vegan for 7 years and a vegetarian for 13 before that. I would be interested in hearing your perspective on the science behind the John McDougall and Dean Ornish diets, as well as the research conducted by Colin T. Campbell (author of The China Study) and Neal Barnard (who is the president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine). All of these individuals advocate the importance of a vegetarian/vegan diet for optimal health. I have always been impressed at the quality of the scientific/medical research on which they draw. I’d love to hear your take on the science that these individuals use to promote their position.
Now I think his stance here is a little bit too far (Alone, on the whole, seems to indulge in the Galileo Fallacy– “my ideas are unpopular and marginal, and thus must be right”), but it does make me ask:
How can a layman spot bias in a study? You’ve written a few times (as have others) on how the media spins research, but if I go to the original paper to get past that how do I tell if the writer of that paper isn’t working an agenda beyond testing a hypothesis?
There is a recent article in the New Atlantis (link) called “Why Minds Are Not Like Computers”, that I think is problematic. There are bits, such as…
… arguments for strong AI typically describe the lowest levels of the mind in order to assert its mechanical nature. The rhetoric of mechanism pervades the writing of AI believers, who claim again and again that the brain is a machine. In his 2002 book Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us, roboticist Rodney Brooks declares that “the body, this mass of biomolecules, is a machine that acts according to a set of specifiable rules,” and hence that “we, all of us, overanthropomorphize humans, who are after all mere machines.” The mind, then, must also be a machine, and thus must be describable in computational terms just as the brain supposedly is.
Both these positions fail to acknowledge that the mind may be simultaneously like and unlike a machine, depending on the level at which it is being described. That is, perhaps it is the case that the highest levels of mentation cannot be described in computational terms, but some lower level can.
I think there is something slippery going on here- if I understand it correctly, all that we mean when describing “mind as machine”, is that a scientific account of the proccesses in a mind must be mechanistic. The article suggests that at some point, the mind is becomes so complicated that it’s somehow not mechanistic any more.
This suggestion that the minds processes can be explained without reference to its underlying physical components strikes me as a not very scientific position to take, and similar in spirit to arguments against evolution, that life could be “so complicated” that it’s impossible that natural systems could describe. But it’s also a fairly well written piece, and on my readings the problem is really difficult to unpack, so I thought it might be of interest here.
I had a relative with a significant alcohol problem and I was shocked at how little connection there seemed to be between the academic research and the firmly held beliefs surrounding treatment.
In the uk it’s unacceptable for a medical proffessional to push religion, yet the spiritual cure for a frequently sloppily diagnosed ‘disease’ (or even worse ‘spiritual disease’) seems widespread even in the state provision of healthcare. Things are changing but slowly but over the years that have since past I have still never encountered such an odd mix of disease versus behaviour and state funded spiritual cure, often mixed with secular, medical solutions.
It’s a can of worms to be sure – but for an innate skeptic it seemed a shocking state of affairs in such a widespread and actually well researched issue.
The preceding article discusses a study that appears show that being raised in poverty can result in lower working memory as an adult due to stress, caused by poverty, on adolescent brains. If true, the findings have many interesting implications.
I would love to get your take on the article, the underlying study, and the potential implications of the research.
The study, as given at the end of the article is:
“Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory.” By Gary W. Evans and Michelle A. Schamberg. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 106 No. 13, March 30, 2009.
I would love to see a post regarding mitochondrial disease. I had never heard it until it took our daughter’s life. Treatment is vague and a cure seems to be nowhere in site. I have read everything there is to read but I would like to know more about what is up and coming in terms of testing. UMDF has been a great resource but I need more.
My boyfriend had an interesting discussion regarding his theory that people who truly believe that they can see auras, may be suffering a neurological condition, specifically synesthesia. We both said “I wonder what Steve would say about that?”. Thanks!
Here in San Diego a man who ran a CAM clinic and sold “drugs” to people in and out of the area is being prosecuted for, amongst other things, practicing without a license. His Name is Kurt Donsbach and he actually ran a clinic in Mexico where Coretta Scott King died from cancer while receiving his “treatments”.
Included in the comments of the article was the post that I pasted below from John Hammell, the President of the International Advocates for Health Freedom. In it, he mentions some pretty scary ways for CAM proponents to dodge prosecution…
“Mexican authorities will allow any clinic to remain open if it pays the bribe money unless they’re leaned on by US Authorities to shut a clinic down. Mexico is a totally corrupt country, but then so is the USA. You can’t judge any clinic just because the Mexican government shut it down. There are a lot of very good clinics in Mexico that aren’t operating in the USA due to major corruption in the USA that suppresses alternative treatment modes employing the use of treatments that threaten pharmaceutical profits. These suppressed treatments include bioxidative treatments such as ozone and hydrogen peroxide. Cancer is anaerobic, it can’t live in the presence of oxygen, but no money can be made off these treatments which play hob with Big Pharma’s money game. Don’t kid yourself, the pharmaceutical industry and mainstream medicine are like the mafia. They wield enormous political power, and thats NOT in our best interests. I once worked for Kurt Donsbach at his Hospital in Rosarito Beach. I witnessed the man save a lot of lives. He is not a criminal, the AMA are criminals, mainstream medicine is chock full of criminals who do everything humanly possible to maintain their monopoly at our expense.
Donsbach should have joined the Nemenhah Band of the Native American Church. He would have come under the protection of a Supreme Court Decision (Gonzalez v O Centro) that extends only to members in good standing in the Native American Church, which anyone can join, regardless of whether or not they have so much as a drop of Native Blood. In Ohio, a woman who was charged recently with “practicing medicine without a license” was apologized to by the Judge when she explained to him that she was under the protection of this Supreme Court Decision and that he had no jurisdiction over her: http://www.nemenhah.org
Any alternative practitioner reading this should join so as to avoid Donsbach’s fate. What happened to him didn’t have to happen. This Supreme Court decision allows members of the Native American Church to consider any substance to be a sacrament used for healing, including peyote and marijuana, and this extends to all substances sold in health food stores. Supplement manufacturers should join and set up Buyers Clubs that only members in the Nemenhah band could enter. This would remove them from FDA jurisdiction so they could then make medicinal claims on product labels. They would be allowed to do this because they would not have entered into interstate commerce, so FDA would have no jurisdiction. See http://www.nemenhah.org/internal/resources.html
John Hammell, President
International Advocates for Health Freedom
One of my ‘the truth is out there’ friends sent me a link to a film on youtube about how the universe and intention (mind power) are connected and one can physically influence the other, it’s called The Science of Miracles.
I have not watched the whole series (there are eight episodes), but in the first episode, the narrator claims one of the studies that supports this theory is a russian study that has been coined the ‘Phantom DNA’ study. The scientist, who ‘published’ the study from what I think is a russian university that specializes in ‘psychic phenomena’, is Pjotr Garjajev.
This study is being retro-fitted into some old psuedo-scientific favorites and my bologna detector is ringing like crazy.
I’ve been looking into Live blood/cell analysis recently. My first stop was a search of your blog (long time reader, first time poster, that sorta thing) but couldn’t find anything.
After coming across some investigative sites I found that the wikipedia page seems to sum up the field well with:
Live blood analysis is an unestablished diagnostic test promoted by some alternative medicine practitioners, who assert that it can diagnose a range of diseases. There is no scientific evidence that live blood analysis can detect any disease state, and it has been described by medical authorities as a fraudulent means of convincing a patient that they are ill and require treatment with dietary supplements.
As you follow anti-vaccine rhetoric more than I do, I am curious if you know anything about a particular part of it. Have any anti-vaccination campaigners ever suggested any sort of idea as to how their chosen bug-bear caused autism? As in, which chemicals had what effect on the body, and the way this caused the child to develop the traits specific to the spectrum of autism?
Or is the claim of correlation usually considered sufficient?
I recently came across a book by Robert Mellilo titled ‘Disconnected Kids’.
in it he claims something called the brain balance program can eliminate something called functional disconnection syndrome.
I am all of 10 pages in and my skeptic alarm has sounded at least 3 times, particularly when he claims that he has reversed autism in a thousand patients and when he claimed that adhd autism, tourettes and ocd all have the same root cause.
just wondering if anyone has come across this. from what i gather, without reading too much farther, he is advocating various brain exersices, so i don’t know if there is any harm in it even though he appears to be Jenny McCarthy level crazy.
again, just wondering if you or anyone else here has come across this guy. ran a few web searches and couldn’t come up with any skeptic viewpoints.
“While the self-styled animal communicator from North Bondi can communicate with living animals…”
I cannot believe I am reading these words? What a credulous, lazy and demonstrably false statement to make! Never in the history of the human species has anyone ever been able to demonstrate, under proper controlled, blinded conditions that there is any reason to believe that the is such a thing as a psychic. In every single case, psychics are either calculated liars using cold reading techniques, or deluded.
The statement above asks us to accept that this person can ‘read the minds’ of animals, and that the ‘phenomena’ is real. Why havn’t they claimed James Randi’s $1M prize then?
No wonder the ‘journalist’ makes the statement “…and please be nice”. They know this intellectually lazy, clap-trap is going to get slammed for the waste of time it is. Please don’t make things worse by promoting these deceptive, morally bankrupt frauds.
Quirks and Quarks is a science series on CBC radio. It has a good reputation for popularizing credible science, so I was surprised to hear that the title of one of the segments on 2 May was “Fever & Autism” (mp3). I feared that it was going to be about a disease-based claim for the cause for autism. However, it turned out to be an interview with Dr. Dominick Purpura about his hypothesis that, if many autistic children exhibit reduced autistic behaviours when they have fevers, then perhaps autism is caused by a developmental dysregulation related to the locus coeruleus. He admits that he has lots of testing ahead of him to see if there is any merit in his idea. Since the story was about neurology and autism, I thought you might be interested.
I’m curious about veterinary woo– “alternative” medicine for pets. I’ve gotten into some arguments about this, and have referred people to whatstheharm.net though this only has human examples of possible harm from chiropracty, homeopapthy, acupuncture, etc. that is now being applied to pets. I haven’t been able to find studies on this, and any discussion in the media are anecdotes about how it “works.” I know this isn’t your specialty, but do you know of any studies or even real-life examples that I could use in the future? Any strategies for discussing this with folks who argue that as long as you also see a traditional vet, what could go wrong?
Medical woo is always upsetting, but it really bothers me when its applied to animals (and children) who don’t have a say!
Sorry, I just thought of one little addition that might make the topic I suggested above more interesting to blog about:
From my scattered reading on the vet woo issue, it seems like vet medicine is often operating in a fairly evidence-poor environment, especially on issues of nutrition and pain management. How should a skeptic go about choosing vet care under these circumstances? One argument I’ve heard about some of these treatments is that though they’re not science “yet,” science changes. My alarm bells go off when it is some homeopathic remedy they are talking about, but under what circumstances would it be ok to try a treatment that hasn’t been scientifically proven, given a general lack of research?
Perhaps you can write on the water fluoridation issue? (And other sources of fluoride/fluoridation) There is so much information it is difficult to separate the facts from the myths. What is the history of the fluoridation practice? Are there health risks? Is it a case of unethical mass medicating? what are your own ideas? how has the issue been distorted by media, special interest groups, individuals, conspiracists etc.
I stumbled upon a site on CAM for Swine Flu. Among the usual homeopathy nonsense I found something new (for me at least):
Emotional Freedom Techniques.
“There are many accounts of reduction in symptoms using EFT. Although it takes a few minutes to learn the fingertip tapping sequence, it is free to the public and always available.”
A few minutes! Woohoo!
I then googled EFT and found it’s proponents, among them Deepak Chopra, claim it can “influence gene activity”, cure “everything from the common cold to multiple sclerosis”, “fear, trauma, depression, grief and schizophrenia”.
But it doesn’t stop there. There is a series of videos you have to see over at emofree dot com / freevideos.aspx – the video with the vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is disturbing on so many levels.
Basically, EFT “works” by tapping “energy centers” with the fingers. It’s like accupuncture for belonophobics.
I am sure you will have a field day with this monstrous load of nonsense.
I searched through the archives and the SGU podcasts but couldn’t see if you have touched upon it already.
First, I want to thank you and your compatriots at NESS for the weekly podcasts and your tireless advancement of reason over irrationality. It’s a great comfort to me, someone who doesn’t work in a scientific setting and is confronted with irrational, magical thinking by people on a day to day basis.
On to my question. I stumbled across an idea being promoted by Bruce Lipton, Ph. D. that smacks of pseudo-science and I wondered what you might have to say about it. Lipton’s argument is that “mind” is a factor in epigenetics, via our subconscious thoughts mainly. He posits that we can avoid disease and heal ourselves via “mind’s” interaction with genes, with the mind commanding the use of various genes as blueprints for protein production that would be better for us versus the blind, predisposed march of genetics.
He goes on to claim that theory is supported by the concept of epigenetics and is proven by the placebo effect. My skeptical “spidey sense” tells me this is probably nonsense and that the elephantine concept he’s trying to get by me is the existence of “mind” – which I see you debate on the site. Seems to me to be typical new ager nonsense. When you boil the argument down, it’s essentially that some entity or emergent property that can’t be explained is actually in control of our physical existence and that we can control it by some equally opaque process that at it’s best is a black box or at worst a “then some magic happens” step in the theory he’s positing.
Care to comment? I’d appreciate it. Again, thanks!
Would love to hear your thoughts on this piece from NPR (see link below), especially the details of Dean Radin’s study and its findings mentioned toward the end. I know why the quantum entanglement hypothesis is bologna, but any skeptical thoughts on the following?:
“After running 36 couples through this test, the researchers found that when one person focused his thoughts on his partner, the partner’s blood flow and perspiration dramatically changed within two seconds. The odds of this happening by chance were 1 in 11,000. Three dozen double blind, randomized studies by such institutions as the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh have reported similar results.”
read your thoughts on stem cell treatment in china, and one reader’s comment that he just sat back and let his kid die rather than pursue a longshot. i’ve been trying to help a 28 year old bulgarian girl with sma type 2. her doctors tell her there’s nothing she can do, so she is fund raising for treatment at beike. she’s only set on that option because nobody has offered up any alternatives. what do you suggest to someone who doesn’t want to sit back and die? i agree that it’s unproven, maybe a total fraud, but what else is there. i thought maybe she should try to get her hands on a drug being tested for similar conditions, like iplex, but even that isn’t safe or easy to find.
I’m a 22 year-old university student from canada, and I love you blog. Refreshing and intelligent writing.
I would love to see what you have to say about the persistent fear-mongering urban legend that radiation from wireless devices like cellphones and wifi routers causes every terrifying disease under the sun.
To be honest, this seems like a very damaging idea. It has already caused several towns and cities to rescind their plans to increase wifi coverage, sometimes even banning it completely. Its a global phenomenon, and unlike many pseudo-scientific conspiracy theories, these ones do use some scientific data (sufficient or not).
This idea is spreading and as a prominent scientist with a relevant specialization I think it would be useful for you to weigh in on the issue.
A topic I haven’t seen addressed on skeptical blogs yet is the efficacy of gastric bypass for long term weight loss. There’s a number of people on the internet (such as http://www.sizewise.com/docs/wls.html) who claim there is no weight loss benefit and the complications just horribly awful. I have no doubt some gastric bypass patients do suffer from serious complications. But trustworthy sources on weight loss results and complication rates are hard to come by.
Most of the interventions are undoubtedly good things, like daily bathing and thorough cleaning of patient rooms. But the yogurt and the pH balanced soap? I’d assume staph operates within the same pH range that we do.
I’ve sent this to Quackwatch, SGU forums, & Respectful Insolence. I hope someone with a big following starts talking about it. This autism clinic (!) in Austin is getting sued because it told a man he had Alzheimer’s & then chelated him for 10 months.
This spreading of the chelation market is very creepy to me. Writing this I remembered that I recently saw something at Age of Autism linking heavy metals & ALS. ( I troll there periodically to see what people are saying. I work with a number of well-off autistic kids, so I try to keep up with the fads).
I was wondering if you or any of the other bloggers on SBM have tackled the topic of “medical foods”? It seems to me that this is just a method to get FDA approval for a product without going through the same rigorous clinical trial process that a drug must endure. It also seems to be a potential way to give CAM therapies a patina of legitimacy that is not valid. Case in point – Axona. Thanks for all the work you and the others do!
Yesterday I was listening to Obama’s address to the Nation about health care reform. One point he emphasized was in order to pay for the new plan was to re-allocate money from programs that have proven not to work. A few things came to mind: abstinence education and alternative medicine. Could Obama’s new health care reform be the death blow to alternative medicine if the government refuses to cover payment for it?
I recently got into an argument about critical thinking and neuroscience. I tried to take the stand that critical thinking was a skill and firmly in the nurture camp. Others thought that critical thinking had (and I really hope I’m not misrepresenting their argument) a biological basis. (i.e. that some people by the virtue of their brains are better at it)
When I returned home I tried to find research on the subject, and I can’t find any. Is there any research on this question? What would your thoughts be on the subject?
Thanks for the great blog and podcast,
I don’t have access to the full study so I can’t really gauge anything here – and it would seem to contradict a recent post on your blog linking to a study showing low-level thimerosal exposure to kids in Boston having no such effects….
Do you know anything about the journal it was published in?
A friend of mine is interested in the research of Daniel Amen (www.amenclinics.com) and Guy Berard (“auditory integration”). Both look extremely shady to me. I’d be very interested to get your expert opinion on their claims so I could respond to my friend with some specifics. There was a show on PBS recently about Amen, so I expect your comments on him would be of interest to many people besides me.
Placebos are getting more effective? Most of the references to that are related to depression drugs. One cannot help but wonder if this is because depression is over diagnosed, at least in some areas. If you’re told you have depression, you’re likely to believe it (the “nocebo effect”). Then you get drugs that you’re told will make you better, so you feel better. For those on real trial drugs, at least some of them will suffer from the very real side effects, which could well lead to making the depression symtoms (real or imagined) worse.
Recently in my philosophy class we discussed conciousness. It really urked me because they were using it as proof of a dualistic univerise, because it couldn’t be reduced to smaller parts. Has neuroscience got anything to say on the topic?
I was given a book called In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science by Nathan Aviezer. Aviezer accepts evolution and seems pretty pro-science, but the book argues for a reinterpretation of the Genesis account as a metaphor for what science has discovered about the ancient past. The science in the book is pretty basic, but there’s one part I wasn’t sure about as my knowledge of biochemistry doesn’t extend very far. Aviezer writes:
“[L]iving cells need both proteins and nucleic acids … [but] neither of these complex molecules can have produced without the other. Therefore, it follows that life could not have developed from inanimate matter because inanimate matter contains neither proteins nor nucleic acids.”
Aviezer solves the paradox with a “God of the gaps” conclusion, but I’m curious about whether what was quoted about is an accurate description of the present understanding of biochemists.
Not sure it commands a whole post entry, but it might be nice to acknowledge the death this weekend of a science giant who is virtually unknown to the general public. Norman Borlaug has died, aged 95 years. Rest in peace.
The Slashdot bit was fun, the article was pretty good, but the paper itself was outstanding. It’s 80 pages long and I read the entire thing in one 2 hour sitting. What struck me about the article was its sober parsing of the controversy, the science, and the relevant personalities, and the way it weighed issues rationally against each other while describing, in great detail, all of the logical fallacies and cognitive errors that could come into play.
Frankly, I thought the author sounded very much like you, Dr. Novella… except he seems to come to different conclusions than you do on the topic of the LHC (specifically, he knows he is unqualified to make a determination on the safety of LHC but makes a convincing argument that the case should be decided in court).
If you have the time and inclination, I encourage you to read it and possibly discuss it on your blog. Even if you don’t have an opportunity to read the whole thing, the MIT piece does a decent job of distilling it, but you’d be cheating yourself out of a great read.
I am new to the Skeptic community and am unaware of another blogger who tackles themes of immigration/racism. Perhaps something you could have a look at if you are in need of a topic is a video currently circulating (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-3X5hIFXYU).
I found some of the assertions in the video suspicious. For example a supposed quote from the German office of statistics and census (I am paraphrasing the title of the office) citing unsustainable fertility levels. I have searched the offices website and find no direct link to any such study.
An additional assertion was that France “as we know it” would be extinct in precisely 39 years.
I have no evidence yet to hold these claims in refute though I am, well, skeptical of them.
Hi all, just joined the site as i am looking for opinion on something myself and others may have discovered that is not yes oriented.
i invite you to watch this video, the technique can be repeated anywhere in the world and is 100% succesful so what are we filming, instructions are provided if you wish to try yourself and I hope that you do.
Ignore the small white dots, I cannot prove they are not insects so will accept they may as well be.
Perhaps the objects are due to camera distortion somehow but the same objects have been filmed in different parts of the world, maybe a new species of animal? I dont know.
I am convinced they are not green/grey dudes in space ships but am leaning to a kind of life that inhabits our atmosphere , they are visible in Infa Red but not clearly in visible light so are hard to see with our eyes, easy with a camera.
i have provided a quick demo on how the camera picks up IR at the end of the 1st video.
Anyone can video them, no cgi is used, try for yourself and decide what you think.
If its a new species of animal, I want one named after me.
The assassination of JFK. I noticed you and an emailer discussed it briefly. If it has been examined elsewhere on your website, I haven’t found it. I appreciate your scholarship.
Several issues trouble me.
1.) Marina’s involvement with Lee; her answers to the WC, the SS and the HSCA.
2.) The condition of the bullet after it penetrated JFK and Connally.
3.) The direction of the break in Connally’s radius and the trajectory of the missile.
4.) Statements made by Dr. Gregory and other M.D.s regarding the probability that WC Exhibit 399 caused all the wounds in JFK’s back/neck and Connally’s torso, right forearm and left thigh.
5.) Bertrand Russell’s questions, particularly on the appearance of a conflict of interest with the investigators and the government that assigned them.
a presentation from David Blaine was recently posted on the TED.com website. In it, he explains how he successfully held his breath for 17 minutes on an Oprah Winfrey show. He explained his technique for pulling it off. Should one believe him? Does it defy current medical understanding? He did say that he consulted neurologists and other doctors in his preparations for this stunt.
I thought that if a magician explains the secret to his/her trick, you can usually be sure that the explanation given isn’t the actual secret at all. Rather, it is a means to propel the mystery and awe further.
Just came accross Oxytocin. Here is a brief summary that I think I know.
Our bodies can produce it. If it is given to a person as a nasal spray for example, it can increase empathy, reduce fear etc.
So I was thinking. How much is empathy something that is a chemical reaction and how much can it be learned? Is learned empathy someways different? Should it be called something else? If you increase your ability to empathize by, lets say, working in a place where you can help people out, is it somehow different if you just “take a hit from the ol’ Oxytocin bottle”?
How would “Oxytocin shots” help for example prisoners to become “better humans”?
Hey love your blog… I’ve got a few suggestions.
1. Often psychology & psychotherapy is attacked for not being backed up by tangible proof of efficacy. However, Freud argues in his introduction to Lectures on Psycho-Analysis that this is because psycho-analysis and its use cannot be demonstrated to the public as that would be a breach of ethics–it can only be described. What do you think as a neurologist & a skeptic about psychology’s merits as a discipline or as a practice?
2. I was having trouble earlier this year because I would struggle staying awake after 10 hours of sleep a night with 30 min. naps around 3:00. I went to my neurologist (who I was originally referred to for migraine problems) and he prescribed Concerta (methylphenidate HCl). He then described to me in such non chalante tones how he often self-medicates with it when he needs to focus. What do you think about the off-label use of Alzheimer’s of ADHD drugs as so-called “brain boosters”?
3. There is a lot of crap out there as far as the dietary benefits of Ginseng, Mate Vana, herbal remedies, and antioxidants as far as their effects on overall health & longevity. Obviously these things cannot be taken seriously, but what can you, as a doctor, tell us about increasing longevity & bodily health? Do we stick to conservative, recognized pillars of good health, or can we do something more?
4. I have been reading Think Smart by Richard Restak, M.D. and Brain Rules by John Medina, and what struck me most (more from Brain Rules) was the mass of knowledge on how to teach and learn, and how little these facts are being applied. Especially in the realm of math & science, I have noticed that my teachers (11th grade) seek to assign work and get through the day as opposed to teaching fundamental concepts. For example, my anatomy & physiology teacher bases his class solely on the rote memorization of muscle names (he doesn’t even explain how they were named; this would help immensely), while half the class still does not understand how a muscle contracts. I know you already did a piece on science education, but I am curious to know what measures should be implemented to make for a more educated America in the subjects of the future.
Thanks, hope you read this
We need some help to reach the growing community of energy conscientious consumers, motivated by government stimulus, who do not know much about electricity and are vulnerable to these scam people who prey on misfortune.
Many of the web sites promoting these products are in fact affiliates, out of work people, duped into buying a web business that is now the perpetuation of a scam based on a scam.
I just ran across this blog and thought this might be an interesting topic to cover since it talks about why Dr. Lawrence Dubuske resigned from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s hospital when they recently changed the rules regarding taking money from pharmaceutical companies. Also, Dr. Carlat and his efforts seem worthy of a post themselves. (Sure it’s fun to castigate the woo merchants, they’re easy targets, but it’s also good to promote those fighting the good fight and to make it clear that there are many doctors and psychiatrists doing this!)
Now I am no fan of Monsanto but given that the Huff Post is completely run over with wacko’s my assumption is that whatever they say is opposite the truth. On the other hand even the National Inquirer occasionally gets it right (John Edwards love child).
So I would appreciate it if you could review the study and let me/us know. If you are aware of any rational fair minded report that could explain it in layman terms, that would also be great.
Thanks for being a voice of reason in the world of illogic
Mr. DULLES – Could you tell at all how the arm was held from that mark or that hole in the sleeve?
Dr. SHAW – Mr. Dulles, I thought I knew Just how the Governor was wounded until I saw the pictures today, and it becomes a little bit harder to explain.
I felt that the wound had been caused by the same bullet that came out through the chest with the Governor’s arm held in approximately this position.
Mr. SPECTER – Indicating the right hand held close to the body?
Dr. SHAW – Yes, and this is still a possibility. But I don’t feel that it is the only possibility.
Senator COOPER – Why do you say you don’t think it is the only possibility? What causes you now to say that it is the location—-
Dr. SHAW – This is again the testimony that I believe Dr. Gregory will be giving, too. It is a matter of whether the wrist wound could be caused by the same bullet, and we felt that it could but we had not seen the bullets until today, and we still do not know which bullet actually inflicted the wound on Governor Connally.
Mr. DULLES – Or whether it was one or two wounds?
Dr. SHAW – Yes.
Mr. DULLES – Or two bullets?
Dr. SHAW – Yes; or three.
Mr. DULLES – Why do you say three?
Mr. DULLES – Oh, yes; we haven’t. come to the wound of the thigh yet, have we?
Mr. McCLOY – You have no firm opinion that all these three wounds were caused by one bullet?
Dr. SHAW – I have no firm opinion.
Dr. SHAW – All right. As far as the wounds of the chest are concerned, I feel that this bullet could have inflicted those wounds. But the examination of the wrist both by X-ray and at the time of surgery showed some fragments of metal that make it difficult to believe that the same missile could have caused these two wounds. There seems to be more than three grains of metal missing as far as the I mean in the wrist.
Dr. SHAW – I feel that there would be some difficulty in explaining all of the wounds as being inflicted by bullet Exhibit 399 without causing more in the way of loss of substance to the bullet or deformation of the bullet.
(Discussion off the record.)
“I think it is hard to say that the first bullet hit both of these men almost simultaneously.
You might want to review this article by Christopher Ketcham in GQ, asserting among other things that cell phone radiation is known to be “genotoxic” and that American corporations are covering this up.
Hi Dr. Novella,
Are you familiar with the x-ray of Connally’s radius? It poses a problem for me when I look at it carefully. The angle of the break goes in the opposite direction of the path of the bullet. That is, if the bullet actually passed through the governor’s chest and his right radius and ended up penetrating his left thigh.
“Mr. SPECTER. Now looking at that bullet, Exhibit 399, Doctor Humes, could that bullet have gone through or been any part of the fragment passing through President Kennedy’s head in Exhibit No. 388?
Commander HUMES. I do not believe so, sir.
Mr. SPECTER. And could that missile have made the wound on Governor Connally’s right wrist?
Commander HUMES. I think that that is most unlikely … The reason I believe it most unlikely that this missile could have inflicted either of these wounds is that this missile is basically intact; its jacket appears to me to be intact, and I do not understand how it could possibly have left fragments in either of these locations.
Mr. SPECTER. Dr. Humes, under your opinion which you have just given us, what effect, if any, would that have on whether this bullet, 399, could have been the one to lodge in Governor Connally’s thigh?
Commander HUMES. I think that extremely unlikely. The reports, again Exhibit 392 from Parkland, tell of an entrance wound on the lower midthigh of the Governor, and X-rays taken there are described as showing metallic fragments in the bone, which apparently by this report were not removed and are still present in Governor Connally’s thigh. I can’t conceive of where they came from this missile.”
His reluctance to endorse Exhibit 399 does not jive with the Commission’s conclusions about support for their SBT position.
Hi, Dr. Novella. I would really appreciate your analysis and opinions about antidepressant drugs. I recently read Sharon Begley’s article in Newsweek and was very surprised to read that the evidence for their effectiveness in general seems to be pretty thin. I also found the “pro-drug” response by a psychiatrist to be unconvincing.
Your post here http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=24 says “A common belief is that the placebo effect is largely a ‘mind-over-matter effect,’ but this is a misconception. There is no compelling evidence that the mind can create healing simply through will or belief.”
Ben Goldacre says “the placebo effect shows the amazing power of the mind over the body”.
This is gaining media attention in Australia and the Pacific Islands. It would be interesting to hear your take. If this interests you let me know I can provide material, sources etc.
Many things are claimed including detox, faster healing etc.
Another claim is that because the “virgin coconut oil contains mainly medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and some short-chain fatty acids, which has a different effect on the body than the typical long-chain fatty acids (in both form saturated and unsaturated), prevalent profusely in meat and vegetable oils.” (from the media release copied below.)
According to proponents the MFCAs mean cholesterol is not raised as with other saturated fats.
Proponents also use the “other oil manufacturers (such as olive oil) have waged an anti-coconut oil propaganda war on us” line.
16 FEBRUARY 2010 SUVA ( SPC) —– Pacific Islanders have used coconut for centuries as a vital source of food for health and general well being and everyday “The Tree of Life” in contributes in hundreds of different ways to
towards the sustenance of life.
Abandoning recent unhealthy lifestyles adopted by many urban Pacific Islanders and reverting to wholesome natural local foods such as coconut can help reduce the incidence of several devastating non-communicable
diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
To encourage communities to re-evaluate locally available resources which have major export market potential, the European Union funded Facilitating Agricultural Commodity Trade (FACT) project is organising a
media conference to raise awareness on the health benefits and potential of virgin coconut oil.
The FACT project is implemented by the Land Resource Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) with the goal of increasing agricultural and forestry trade within the region and exports from it by ensuring
a consistent and quality supply.
According to Dr Epeli Nailatikau of Strauss Herb Company Fiji Limited, virgin coconut oil contains mainly medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), and some short-chain fatty acids, which has a different effect on the body
than the typical long-chain fatty acids (in both form saturated and unsaturated), prevalent profusely in meat and vegetable oils.
“These same medium-chain fatty acids play a crucial role in cleansing the body from toxins.”
“Coconut oil is heralded as a natural health food, and a coconut oil detox simply speeds up healing results by thoroughly flushing the entire body of toxins in a short time,” said Dr Nailatikau. “Blood cholesterol levels remain
normal with the intake of virgin coconut oil and the body’s immune system is also boosted.”
Dr Nailatikau also added that the chemical composition of virgin coconut oil is very stable hence it can be kept for almost a year without losing its quality.
Apart from its eating qualities, the other medicinal benefits of VCO outweigh any disadvantage it may have. VCO can be identified by its colourless appearance and is processed with low or without any heat application
while normal coconut oil is golden in colour and produced with high heat application. For about 3960 years of the of the past 4000 years of the documented historical use of the fruits of the coconut palm as a food and a pharmaceutical, the news has all been good. It was seen as a sustainable resource providing materials that influenced every aspect of the lives of Pacific communities.
Studies have shown that virgin coconut oil has numerous health benefits. If you’re not using virgin coconut oil for your daily cooking and body care needs you’re missing out on one of nature’s most amazing health products….PNS (ENDS)
I’d appreciate it if you took a look at Dr. George B. Roth. He’s quietly building an empire based on first class pseudoscience, and charges his patients hundreds of dollars for unsubstantiated and unscientific treatments. He also runs frequent seminars for other CAM practitioners that see huge turnouts.
This might lie outside the parameters of your blog but it’d be informative nonetheless.
I’m an interior design student and often find it hard being a skeptic amongst the sustainability movement that currently categorizes architecture and design. For the most part it is solid, but when it comes to aesthetics things get a little wishy-washy for me.
Specifically, in a building systems course we were discussing HVAC systems. At one point we started talking about indoor air quality where my professor mentioned multiple chemical sensitivity which I immediately marked as bullshit and once I did a little research found out it was. I was happy to see that you even had an entry about it!
Because of the eagerness to mark MCS as a real illness I began to wonder about other “facts” design students are being told. So, I’m curious about the actual facts regarding the importance of Low or no VOC paints, the harm in offgassing (ie:carpet, textiles, certain finishes etc.) It’s my understanding that materials and paints offgas but is it “toxic” enough to cause actual physical harm? Are these concerns legitimate like the concerns once surrounding asbestos and lead paint?
If you’re not able to answer these particular questions maybe you could lead me to a source that could. I’ve found it difficult to find any information regarding my skepticism.
A mammal Brain is a dynamic structure reflecting every moment in a body life. Not events in the environment, but life of a body. Because of that modeling of a brain is not possible, nor required to understand how a body is determine it own behavior.
Attempt to understand how a brain functioning could bring a lot of benefits in medicine. Take a look on the Russian project “Transparent brain”, as example. However. that is fruitless in attempt to design a machines capable to behave reasonably.
When I remember an activity I’ve been engaged in, my memory isn’t of myself inhabiting my body looking out through my eyes, but rather it is of an external view of myself. As if I’m looking at a movie of myself.
I’ve asked around and the people I’ve spoken with have a similar experience.
Why is that? Is this universal? What is going on neurologically. What, if anything, does this have to say about out of body experiences?
There is so much wrong with the miracle fruit juice, MonaVie. It cures everything from cancer to athlete’s foot AND is a pyramid scheme. It’s almost too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel….although apparently that is kind of difficult according to Mythbusters!!! There is a so-called “study” that shows that the juice kills cancer cells.
Steve, I just saw this headline in the New York Times:
“Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets”. It talks about a new strategy by anti-evolutionist to try to teach the “controversy” of divisive subjects such as evolution, global warming, origins of life,etc. in public schools. Here is the link to the online article, if you haven’t seen it yet: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/science/earth/04climate.html?exprod=myyahoo
As a parent with children exhibiting sensory integration disorder and some ADD, I’m always looking for help since we’re on five waiting lists for assessment and appropriate therapy. I ran across an ad in our local once-a-week newspaper recently that touted something called “Crossinology BIT.” The website and ad are here: http://www.southwesttherapy.com/. Sounds great! No meds or invasive procedures, but will ERADICATE all kinds of problems! In as little as ten hours!
However, at this website (http://www.crossinology.com/), I found a smorgasbord of woo! Chi, acupressure, meridians, muscle testing, applied kinesiology, and more! “Research” articles from the website appear to be unpublished papers written by Ms (Dr?) McCrossin and reference tons of other woo-meisters.
As a neuroscientist, I thought you might be interested. This “technique” seems to be gaining steam in the US. The individual to whom I spoke by phone claims that Ms. McCrossin is training people in several states to perform these miracles whereas until recently, there was only one center, in Colorado. Unfortunately, my state (NM) is one of those that now has a center.
That individual also specifically told me what diagnostic codes to tell our pediatrician to use in order to help get insurance coverage for the “technique.” Is that even ethical?
At any rate, here’s some neuro-woo for you! Happy trails!
Was just about to post the same story. Choice quotes:
“…given the present state of the science, the proven benefits of vaccinating a child to protect them against serious diseases far outweigh the hypothesized risk that vaccinations might cause autism,” Autism Speaks said in a statement.
Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation: “There is not a bottomless pit of money with which to fund autism science. We have to use our scarce resources wisely.”
I’d sure like to learn how to navigate this blog. I can’t even find the letter I wrote to you about MS and my wife and the Zamboni and other approaches. Help! I want to get some comments, and I want to help some of you. I’m a very successful guy, but how the hell do I navigate this place. Is there anybody there that doesn’t do webspeak, not to mention checking in with those unreadable Avatar language words by someone who never learned how to write. Or is this site only for geeks and people with iq’s of 320, and not for an ordinary guy who runs a business with almost a hundred employees, not to mention two or three degrees. Oops, just lit and history, I slept through chem, doesn’t mean I don’t have common sense.
I’ll even go a step further. If someone has iron deposits in the brain tissue while the hell do they call it something like hemachromatosis, at least six goddamn syllables, and why do all the comments sound like Ph.D. theses. I took a master’s in journalism and wrote some bad TV scripts that were actually done on some good shows, but thank heaven for little girls, oops, I mean than god I don’t get that language. Will someone please begin to write in the English language. I’ll be glad to edit.
Oh, XYZ, CCSVI is not junk, it’s just good plumbing and electrical. I have remodeled many buildings and when the pressure in the pipe gets too high and doesn’t drain well, then you get oxidation and the pipe becomes occluded. I’ve got some sample pipe from an old building across from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk where I had to replace damn near all the plumbing because a contractor cheated in the beginning. Just like god cheats some folks early on with not enough Vitamin D, or they wear too many religious garments, short their pregnant ladies on Vitamin D, and voila, MS. More prevalent in middle east in the poor ladies than on their menfolk. Zamboni was just a damn good plumber-electrician and not a neurological genius feeding immune systems with poisons. Did I mention the study that indicated that anti-bodies stimulated by Big Pharmas steroidals stick around over four years sometimes. Not to mention my wife got pneumonia right after a four hour infusion of Solu-Medrol, another miracle drug. Come on, take me on, I’m very angy about what conventional docs have done to my wife and others. Speak up, skeptics, you may be skeptical about the wrong thing. Come to one of my three motels in Morro Bay on a sunny day and get some Vitamin D, plus relaxing anti-depressants. Phone me for a special rate. I’m not always mad, only at some of my wife’s doctors and their FDA papers. Plus, John McCain now wants us to get a letter from Congress everytime we go to buy some Vitamin D, which might improve his Alzheimer’s and not remembering he gained thirty pounds in captivity. I hope he marries Sarah Palin, and they come up with a treatment for their retarded chldren. He’ll get support from Big Pharma.
Very truly yours,
I just read this, about a Canadian traveling to Poland to undergo a “controversial” therapy for Multiple Sclerosis. Of course, the fact that Canada’s health system doesn’t cover this treatment — and even the MS Society’s recommendation to avoid it — is being seen in conspiratorial terms (check the comments section.) Seems like your kind of issue, Dr. N.
I’m sorry, but we just had a horrible family incident. So I may not be coherent, and I am using this as an outlet. A family member who was big into alternative medicine, but was also dealing with serious mental illness, just committed suicide.
Just once in the last five years she seemed to be doing well, and that was after she left the county psyche ward after six weeks of real treatment. She got real medication, talk therapy and support. While she ended up in there because she had a breakdown and her mother called the police, she was the happiest and felt better after she left.
But then the support stop. Since she was unemployed, and was not a danger to anyone the system let her seek help voluntarily. So even though they do provide outpatient care, she actually had to want to go… so it was downhill from there.
Suggestions include (and they might be good for ScienceBasedMedicine) is:
1) Lack of mental health services, especially for those without insurance (she quit her job in a what could have been a manic state).
2) The issue of whether or not you can “force” a person to accept psychiatric services.
3) If it is possible or even fair to diagnose promoters of certain alternative medicine with mental illness. Like those who come back over and over again with the same “facts” even after they have been refuted. Especially with those that focus on a single issue.
4) Also because of lack of mental health services, are some alternative medicine claims seem attractive as a way to alleviate health problems that may be because of, or amplified due to the mental health issues (our relative recently became very sensitive to sound, while in the basement she could hear a tea cup being put into the microwave upstairs in the kitchen on the other side of the house).
Other ideas (and yes they are related to our relative):
A common theme from this evening was “At least she is no longer in pain.”
She suffered from chronic migraine headaches, starting from when she was 18 years old. She tried for over thirty years to get rid of the pain. And I have just been told the hypersensitive hearing was not uncommon among sufferers of migraine headaches.
So ideas of topics include: migraine headaches, sensory issues with them, and mental health issues with migraines.
First of all, congratulations for running and updating a fascinating blog.
What brings me to write today is the following: my girlfriend has recently started to carry out leaver flushes. She has been having digestive problems for years and believes that these flushes can do her some good. She hasn’t been to a doctor nor has she been diagnosed with gallstones.
The flushes do not seem to be dangerous, but they are certainly not a pleasant experience. Being a skeptic myself, and having never heard of such things, I started to investigate and found an article on Science Based Medicine (http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=93) about these flushes. I am however disappointed since this article is not providing me with strong evidence. It does debunk a few improbable facts about flushes but does not provide me with an airtight clinical trial addressing this issue, and I find the style of writing sometimes condescending and certainly not really suited for a proper scientific discussion. Would you be aware of any reference/trial on this topic that confirms these flushes are a scam or is this still an open question ?
This topic isn’t skeptical, it is more science-y than magick-y (as Tim Minchin often says)…
Since it’s neurologica, and that deals with nerves… how about something like actual discussions regarding nerve cells.
My personal favourite is schwann cells or neurolemmocytes… I’d always wondered how the wrap around nerves or form near them in any case. And how they sped up propogation. Always thought that was an interesting topic…
After listening to a recent Quackcast episode, I was hit with an idea (I’m sure it’s not original):
I wonder if it would be easier to tease out placebo effects if studies — especially those that rely on subjective reporting — included groups who were intentionally given false information about the treatment they’re receiving.
So, in addition to double-blind control for treatment and placebo, there is a single-blinded group that is told which treatment is being given, and there is a single-blinded group that is lied to about the treatment.
So this breaks down into six sets:
1. Double-blinded group receiving treatment.
2. Double-blinded group receiving placebo.
3. Single-blinded group in which patient receives treatment and is told it is the treatment.
4. Single-blinded group in which patient receives placebo and is told it is the placebo.
5. Single-blinded group in which patient receives treatment and is told it is the placebo.
6. Single-blinded group in which patient receives placebo and is told it is the treatment.
If a result differs significantly based on the patient’s assumption about the treatment, could the data be used to blunt the placebo effect and give a better picture of the efficacy of the treatment?
To reduce the effect of bias in the single-blinded groups, the researcher who actually implements the treatment also could be blind to the type of treatment; in that case, he/she would only be passing on (either true or false) information given by those who set up the study.
This approach wouldn’t be feasible (or ethical) in all cases. And my characterization of the patient being “lied to” could be softened: Some studies could tell patients up front that the information they receive about the treatment may be false (though I wonder how this would affect the placebo reaction).
I think of studies like those that use “sham acupuncture.” I could envision patients being told they were getting the real thing reporting the same results as those receiving the real thing, and patients being told falsely that they were receiving the sham reporting the same results as those who were receiving the sham. This might more clearly show the ineffectiveness of the treatment.
(And, yes, I know there still would be special pleading.)
I am an SGU listener, Rogues Gallery reader, skeptic blogger, licensed psychologist, and autism specialist.
Parents have been inquiring about Dr. Robert Melillo’s Brain Balance program for children on the Autistic Spectrum. He is a chiropractic neurologist. Really??? there is such a thing??? Evidently this program costs $6000. My research brings up only pseudo science indicators. Is this something you are familiar with?
Mayim Baliak (Blossom), who contrary to Jenny McCarthy is somewhat educated after earning a Ph.D in Neuroscience, is nonetheless the spokesperson for The Holistic Moms Network (http://www.holisticmoms.org/), which, among other things, “believes that parents need to make informed and educated choices about all healthcare options for their children, including vaccination, and that they deserve the freedom to make the choice that works best for their family”. One of the experts on vaccinations is Lauren Feder, M.D., “who specializes in primary care medicine, pediatrics and homeopathy”…
The network has such sponsors as the National Center of Homeopathy.
Practitioners can be looked up through The Wellness Possibilities website (http://www.wellnesspossibilities.com/), but I’m just too scared to even open the page and look what cranks might advertise themselves on there…
Just read an internet story ” the Great Atlantic Garbage patch”, sounds fishy(HaHa). To me at best this is dramatic and lacks plausibility since UV light completley degrades plastics given my understanding.
I would like to see something on low-level laser therapy or cold laser therapy for pain. I understand that it’s considered experimental now, but I’d like to see your opinion of the evidence that exists.
I came across this anti-anti-depressant post by Mark Hyman on the HuffPost, which (thanks to you) I know is a hotbed for pseudo-science and demagoguery. I’m pretty sure you’ve talked about this guy Hyman before, and his diatribe against anti-depressants struck me as odd. After reading it and finding no explanations of why these drugs don’t work other than his argument that there are lots of “unpublished studies” that suggest otherwise, I am a little skeptical about his conclusions, which seem to do little more than support the alternative therapies he’s pushing.
As a user of anti-depressants, I know for a fact that they do have an actual effect (they are “drugs” for a reason, yes?). Whether or not they are the best treatment is a valid question, one that I have a personal stake in answering. But Hyman’s accusations that the studies are all pushed by pharmaceutical companies (a pseudo-science red flag you’ve warned us about) aren’t convincing, and they certainly don’t jive with what my doctor says. So, I was wondering what your take is on the use of anti-depressants. Patients being treated for depression need to be able to know who they should be listening to.
A couple of topics I’d like to see discussed on your blog, I’m sorry if they’ve been aforementioned.
1. Binaural beats. I’ve done my own research and found some of the actual studies I’ve read say positive things about the claims made. I’m curious what your opinion on the matter is. It seems to good to be true. And if it does prove to have legitimate benefits for human brain function, I’m afraid that this technology has the potential to be misused greatly. Sounds paranoid, I know.
2. Lucid dreaming as a way to treat anxiety symptoms such as nightmares. I’ve even seen claims of lucid dreaming helping sufferers of PTSD.
3. What are your thoughts on the existence of advance animal life in the universe. I read a book by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee entitled Rare Earth which delves deeper into the Drake equation and gives more rigid qualifications for sentient life using Earth and it’s life as an example.
I’m a practicing veterinarian in the UK. We have a weekly news journal for the profession here called the ‘Veterinary Times,’ whose letters page can often be filled with discussion about homeopathy and other nonsense- but one letter from a vet using homepathy over here stood out last week. I’ll quote a short part of it.
“I would like to commend to you a website (www.homeopathyeurope.org) to your readers. It features reports of the effects of ‘homeopathic dilutions’ and their electromagnetic properties.
The Nobel Prize winner Luc Montagnier, a French virologist who discovered HIV and won the Nobel Prize in 2008, and his team, report the results of a series of vigorous experiments investigating the electromagnetic properties of highly diluted biological samples. Before any of you criticise this work and disagree, do remember Prof Montagnier has won the Nobel Prize.”
The guy who wrote the letter also describes his success treating all kinds of cattle disease with nosodes.
I just wondered if you’d come across homeopaths using Luc Montagnier’s work as ‘evidence’ before?
Here’s a topic that needs more exposure. According to City Pages News (http://tinyurl.com/29f6jlo), a tenured college professor with questionable credentials is selling junk science on the side to earn a six digit supplemental income. It’s not just nonsense – he is causing real world harm.
Part of his side business involves being a paid expert witness, representing police officers accused of using excessive force. In nearly 100 cases, he always supports the use of force and always defends police when they are accused of overstepping their bounds. He charges $475 an hour for his work as an expert witness. By his own estimate, he bills upward of $100,000 a year in expert testimony fees alone. The article says that he is often called upon to present a scientific-sounding justification and then responds with junk science.
This article reminded me of the excellent Law and Disorder chapter in the book, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tarvis.
I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now – thank you for all the amazing work!
I stumbled upon an article in AlterNet today that I’d love your take on. It’s an interview with an author who claims that psychiatric drugs are only making us worse, not better, and is claiming itself to be the “Silent Spring” of the antidepressant world.
I’m inclined to think that the reason mental illness rates have gone up are due to the ability to better diagnose disorders, but I’d love to hear you take on an issue that’s near to my heart (and my brain).
The one where they are using optical techniques to stimulate specific populations of neurons. I haven’t gotten to the library to get the whole paper yet, but what I found very interesting in her write-up was the mention that stimulating the excitatory neurons caused an increase in the BOLD fMRI signal and stimulating the inhibitory neurons caused a decrease.
I mentioned this in a comment there, but I think what this is showing is that both excitatory and inhibitory neurons are coupling to what ever it is that regulates vasodilatation (which we know is NO).
This implies that the basal blood flow is regulated by the basal level of what ever it is that these different populations of neurons are changing to cause the acute vasodilatation and acute vasoconstriction. This also implies that disorders of reduced basal blood flow in the brain (i.e. all of the neurodegenerative disorders plus some more) are characterized by reduced basal levels of what ever it is that is regulating vasodilatation (which we know is NO) which shifts the operating point of the dilatation/constriction trade-off to less dilatation.
The reduced blood flow associated with neuroinflammation (i.e. via TNF-alpha) is then seen as a “normal” (normal as process, not necessarily normal as outcome) perturbation of the basal NO level (via superoxide). The prompt effects of Etanercept on Alzheimer’s can be rationalized via a prompt effect on local superoxide by blocking the action of TNF-alpha.
I wanted to give you a heads up on this paper and what I see are the implications of it for disorders characterized by reduced brain blood flow, and how those couple to disorders characterized by reduced functional connectivity.
I’m a long-time reader of your blog, and I thought you might be interested in the story I’m linking here for you. This seemed like the sort of thing you might be interested in getting out to a wider audience, both because of the ethical concerns and because it happened despite the oversight process that is supposed to prevent this sort of thing happening in a place of science-based medicine.
Here’s the story: Alice Dreger and Ellen Feder have called into question the research of Dix Poppas of Cornell University. He has been performing surgery to reduce the size of the clitorises of very young girls, because he decided that they were too big. The point of this seems to be so that he can demonstrate that he can hack out the clitoral tissue to shorten the clitoris without disturbing the nerve connections to the clitoral head. His follow-up, for that reason, consists of applying a vibrator to the clitoris of each girl and asking her to rate the intensity of sensation.
Dreger and Feder point out that this is appalling, and wonder how such a thing could have been approved by the Cornell review panel. Not only do the tissues removed play an important part in normal sexual response, but the follow-ups seem practically designed to traumatize the 5- or 6-year-old patients.
What I hope you will do is offer some commentary on what the heck might have happened at Cornell to allow what is essentially female genital mutilation to occur under the auspices of clinical medicine. I work on songbirds, and I expected that the ethical standards for human experimentation to be a bit more restrictive than those covering my subjects. Certainly, Poppas talked the parents into allowing it, but I don’t think he should have been allowed to.
I personally think the very ill should be free to pursue untested or experimental treatments, assuming they are reasonably aware of the risks. Having driven our citizens out of country by not giving them that option here, we really now have NO control over what kind of treatment they get. That’s just my read on it, of course.
It will be no time at all before the Creationist-minded get a hold of this legitimate study and start using it for all kinds of batty things. The article practically begs them to, with its references to insta-canyons and mega-floods.
I’m going to put the over-under for that at… let’s say three days.
Could you comment on Brain State Technology. It comes from a guy named Lee Gerdes. It involves some aspects of biofeedback with other ideas. I have several people I know doing it and it seems suspicious. I also can find no scientific articles on its validity, just testimonials on their website.
Sigh, I underestimated the creationists. They cited the rapid canyon formation as proof of biblical creationism way back in 2007 when it occurred. In retrospect, I guess there was no reason for them to wait for geologists to study the phenomenon. Why does science always take so much longer than religion?
Not a topic suggestion, but a category suggestion. It seems you’ve stopped using the “autism” category label since January. Can you add it to the relevant posts since then? Thanks, great work, much appreciated.
I think a lot of folks would appreciate your thoughts on CTE in the wake of the findings on Chris Henry, a 26 year old active NFL player who died in a car accident.
He had a string of what we call bad behavior but his autopsy showed he was suffering from an advanced case of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
As a lot of new evidence is coming to light about long term affects of concussions and sub-concussive hits, those of us who played football, ice hockey, wrestled or soccer in high school, college or even just weekend warrior style are concerned.
Should we allow our kids to play these rough contact sports? When does CTE start? How soon is it to stop? Pop Warner, Junior High, High school?
How many cases of irrational or violent behavior can be attributed to undisclosed cases of CTE?
Is it just professional athletes at risk or anyone whose played contact sports for a long time?
There are semi pro football leagues, fireman vs. policeman leagues, full contact flag football leagues, adult ice hockey leagues, etc…etc…
Can many cases of Alzheimer’s really be CTE misdiagnosed?
And since there is no way of diagnosing it while alive, is there anything that can be done about it?
Please consider the subject. A lot of concerned former players and parents to future players would really like your insight on this very important subject.
Anyone I’ve talked to about the issue seems to think that MS has been cured all of a sudden. My question is this: Is Dr. Zamboni wasting precious research time and money by hyping a pet theory, or is this a legitimate area of research that deserves the attention and funding it’s getting?
What causes the episodic, variable, and often excruitiating pain of severe chronic prostatitis, an illness that accounts for an estimated 2 million doctor visits a year in the US?
On the one hand, there is a school of thought that suggests that the problem is neuromuscular. Supporting this thought is the observation that pelvic trigger point release can in some cases bring relief. The data are skimpy and the reported relief is short lived. I know of no data beyond a few weeks.
On the other hand are recent observations, as partly described on the Prostatitis Surgery site, that support a primary prostatic origin. This is because excisional surgery in some cases completely, immediately, and durably eliminates the pain. The videos illustrate just how severe chronic prostatitis can be. And just how badly doctors can treat their patients. Including doctor patients.
I’d like to see an article on coherence between the two brain hemispheres. A devotee of transcendental meditation claims “In normal waking activity for the average person there is dissonance between all parts of the brain meaning there is “incoherence”. For criminals and drug addicts the incoherence has risen to such a degree that they can’t think clearly and make mistakes.” He also says that “What I witnessed in my EEG signal during practice of TM was astonishing. The incoherence suddenly faded and the different lobes of the brain became coherent – as if the various parts of the brain were talking to each other.” It seems obvious that we don’t know whether brain waves are in sync or not while a person is writing a book or robbing a bank unless we have him hooked up to a device that can measure brain activity. Is there compelling evidence that coherence or lack of it in brain waves correlates to ability to think critically, mental disorders such as schizophrenia, or criminal (anti-social) behavior? Is there evidence that any particular set of brain waves achieved during meditation correlates with any positive set of mental or physical skills post meditation?
I just read an article on Huffington Post by Mark Hyman, MD. about “yeast overgrowth.” Apparently, yeast is responsible for my chronic fatigue syndrome and my digestive issues.
In his post, Dr. Hyman uses several references to seemingly back up his claims, and not all of the references are from alternative medicine journals. For instance, he cites a study from the May 2010 issue of the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility which supported the hypothesis that “intestinal microbiota may play an important role in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.” I don’t have the scientific background to figure out if this has anything to do with yeast, but the study appears to come from a legitimate journal.
I checked your archives and I didn’t see anything on yeast overgrowth. Have you heard of this before? I think it’s scandalous that this yeast problem has overlooked by conventional medicine. I’d like to know your opinion on whether I should start taking two to three activated charcoal capsules every four to six hours (I ate a big loaf of bread earlier today).
Like others, I was initially impressed by the (apparently flawed) systematic review on this topic that was published in the Lancet.
2nd, after finding this site, I did word searches on some topics that are of interest to me: trigger points, Feldenkrais, and physical therapy. I have some objections as well as questions about what little I found, but unfortunately the comments are closed. For that reason I hope you’ll post on these topics again.
Lately I’ve seen a great deal of commentary over a list published by the Environmental Working Group concerning skincare products and sunscreen. They are infamous for having raised the alarm about pesticides in produce and for making the false claim that organic produce is nutritionally advantageous without a substantive platform of evidence and review.
I’ve seen some responses to this listing by mothers and other consumers worried about what products are safe for use with their infants/children due to various ingredients that have shown carcinogenic properties (oxybenzophenone, retinyl palmitate) in animal trials (though not in any in vivo study). Additionally there is some concern over persistence of nanoscale material entering the bloodstream transdermally (like zinc oxide) and other materials having teratogenic consequences. I’ve even seen comments where people have totally overhauled their entire product selection of skincare and other dermatological products in favor of super expensive or “natural” products in an attempt to purge their lives of chemicals that have shown no conclusive danger to their health.
I’ve scoured the references listing provided by EWG and read over the methods they’ve used to discern X from Y product, but I feel like I just don’t have the experience/expertise to tell what is or isn’t good about the science that supposedly supports these assertions (that sunscreens and their ingredients are somehow carcinogenic or worthy of concern).
I think this highlights a important dilemma: that somehow people feel they cannot rely on the FDA to tell them the truth or to have taken the precautions required to keep them safe regarding personal care products. As a result, in swoops an NGO with a consumer first message that may or may not be scientifically or statistically rigorous enough to be free-standing.
Although my gut feeling is that it is largely post hoc reasoning, false analogy, appeals to mistrust or failures by the FDA, or some other naturopathic gimmick against “the establishment”, I think it would help dispel myths that are everyday and important to our hyper-hygienic society if a little truth-testing were sent down upon this topic from an experienced and qualified observer in healthcare/research.
I’m posting a link to these studies below and thank you for you time. I enjoy reading your blog terribly.
It could be interesting to discuss some of the arguments for children born without (much of) a cerebral cortex being conscious. There are almost annual reports of parents who claim that their particular anencephalic or hydranencephalic child is, in fact conscious, and there have been a few articles in the literature recently where the authors have made similar claims. I think it’s BS, and that it stems from a all-or-nothing view of consciousness, whereby a child that smiles MUST have the same emotional capacity and hence THE SAME conscious states as other humans.
Hi, my name is Eric Hannum. I’m a big fan of the Skeptic’s Guide podcast and the co-founder of the Atheist’s and Skeptic’s Club at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Anyway, I was on facebook and saw my friend who is studying to become a nurse post the following:
Interesting…. [Ibogaine] will never be legal in the U.S because Pharmaceutical companies cannot profit from it. But imagine, curing long term opiate addictions in less than 24 hours.”
The “big pharma suppressing miracle cure” part of it is what got my attention and made me immediately skeptical, but addiction medicine is something I’m really interested in so I decided to see for myself if there’s any science behind ibogaine. I tried going to PubMed but I couldn’t find much and what I did find was either too vague or too technical for me to understand. Everything I could find on it was just way above my head other than the facts that it made some mice cut back on cocaine (by how much and for how long, I don’t know), Dr. Drew says it doesn’t work, and someone died from using it on an episode of CSI.
I was wondering if you could offer any insight into this as a neurologist. What does the science say about ibogaine? Does it work? If so, is it safe? If so why isn’t it used? Or is this just another miracle cure from the internet?
PS. Have you written any books? You do a lot of writing for free on your blog but I would totally pay money to read a whole book by you.
He’s essentially talking about completely rewriting some basic axioms of biology and genetics. He makes claims like “Our beliefs change our genetics” and he appears to be teaming up with people like Wayne Dyer and other new agey-type folks due to these “revelations.”
Some searching has shown that he has published scientific papers on his topics, I think.
BTW, these videos were brought to my attention by my girlfriend who said that they played this in her biology class at SF State. I believe he’s made these presentations at least at San Francisco State University and Stanford.
It claims to allow users to:
“Use your thoughts, feeling, and emotion to dynamically create color, music, and art.”
“Life changing applications for disabled patients, such as controlling an electric wheelchair, mind-keyboard, or playing a hands-free games”
“get true insight about how people respond and feel about material presented to them. Get real-time feedback on user enjoyment and engagement. ”
“14 saline sensors offer optimal positioning for accurate spatial resolution”
It charges $299 per set.
Is it bogus or genuine?
would be interested in your answer either here or on the SGU
He peddles the usual tropes: cholesterol is actually good for you because all cells need it, it is a poor indicator of heart health, inflammation is a much better indicator, he claims that doctors don’t understand the importance of inflammation with regards to heart health, cholesterol drugs have terrible side effects, and finally he gives advice on how to lower cholesterol naturally, in direct contrast to the fact that he spent several paragraphs explaining cholesterol is natural, important and does not need to be lowered.
Apparently ALS can be mimicked by traumatic brain injury. Presumably that means shared final common pathways. I suspect neuroinflammation leading to low NO and insufficient mitochondrial biogenesis leading to low ATP, chronic ischemic preconditioning and eventual neurodegeneration.
I want to point you to a little known problem. Forty years ago designers hired to modernize the business discovered that subliminal sight operating under “special circumstances” could cause mental breaks.
The cubicle was designed to deal with it by 1968.
There is no research about this phenomenon. No one in mental health services is aware it exists.
I have a friend who has been suffering (for years now) from a condition that causes chronic inflammation in his lower GI tract (it’s unclear if it’s Crohn’s, colitis, IBS…) . The real doctor’s he’s seen have only been able to alleviate the symptoms, and only then temporarily. To make matters worse, the treatments have scary side effects like increased risk of tumors.
As you know, this sort of situation makes a person ripe for being lured by woo. Since college, he has steadily descended deep into the woo machine (even taking out huge loans to enroll at a CAM school). It’s difficult to talk about how baseless I think ALL the CAM stuff is, especially when my friend is now SO invested in it.
His latest venture is with the GAPS diet. I trawled through their site and, although the doctor who invented it (she is actually a real doctor, sad as that is) knows how to throw around medical terminology, there’s nothing there but the standard woo nonsense: toxic load, autism/ADHD and diet, chemicals from modern society, etc.
So, I have two questions/topic suggestions:
1) I’d love to see you do a take-down of the GAPS diet
2) Do you have any strategies for deprogramming a friend who has been “woo washed”?
I was wondering if you could give an overview of the research surrounding Melatonin supplement and its efficacy in assisting with sleep and jet-lag. I’m under the impression that the evidence is still largely inconclusive. A very prominent neuropharmacologist at my school (Dr. Eric J. Nestler) believes that all talk of Melatonin supplements actually working to assist with sleep is basically utter crap, but I know there have been quite a few clinical studies showing some small benefit.
Hi i recently found this book called “The Yeast Connection” among my mother’s things. It set off my skeptic sense by its one cure for all attitude. Saying that yeast is causing all these people to be sick.
It even makes you take a quiz in the beginning of it.
However i’m not a doctor and could be completely wrong, i’d love to hear your opinion of it.
Do you know anything about the so called electroneuromedulary therapy for management of pain? This guy even says he has been nominated for Nobel prize in medicine….
Dr. Font’s approach bears similarities to neural therapy, and might even be considered a variation of neural therapy. However procaine is not a primary part of treatment, nor are interference fields searched for in the usual ways. Where it resembles neural therapy is its effect of altering abnormal autonomic nervous system tone, particularly in the region of the spine.
Electroneuromedular medicine targets the spine, more specifically the dura mater. In cases of chronic pain or spinal cord injury, a long acupuncture needle is inserted into the spine until the tip touches the dura mater. The patient feels a sharp pain, often in an extremity, and the operator feels a powerful shock in his or her fingers through the needle from the dura itself. Dr. Font explained that dura mater carries a voltage of approximately 115 volts at a 60 Herz frequency, i.e. much like that in North American house wiring.
How about a review of ADHD?
We now have two sons who are in their 20s and have been on medication since they were seven.
We took the best medical advice at the time, but have been going through 9 levels of hell for the past 15 years with failed schooling, failed apprenticeships, criminal behaviour, suicide attempts and a total inability to integrate into adult society.
I would love to know what the current thinking is as the parents of gen r struggle with their adult offspring.
Cheers from Australia
I live in Japan and am recently hearing a lot about enzyme supplements. A quick look at some sites on the web immediately sent up red flags. Although I found some skeptical pages critical of enzyme supplements for healthy people, I haven’t found a good overview of the topic. I would like to hear your views on the subject.
This PLoS 1 study just came out on OG vs. Commercial Strawberries. It’s an interesting study and appears to me [a non-scientist] to be well done. I’d love to read an analysis from a scientist. The interest to your readership would be the relationship of these findings to the Organic Fallacy.
Could you please blog about or talk about in your podcast (SGU) about the heritability of intelligence and its scientific merit?
Just recently Thilo Sarrazin, a German economist published a book called “Germany does away with itself” (which is, by the way, largely popular). The book is controversial because it touches on the topic of eugenics, immigration and the heredity of certain traits (such as intelligence).
Here is an exert from the economist:
“…because people at the bottom of the social pyramid are less intelligent and have more children than those at the top, and because intelligence is largely inherited, “the inherited intellectual potential of the population is being progressively diluted.” http://economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2010/09/immigration_row_germany
Thanks, looking forward to your unadulterated thoughts.
Is there any evidence to support a gluten-free diet/lifestyle for the general population in the absence of celiac or gluten-sensitivity symptoms? My son came home from school and announced that he wasn’t going to eat bread for a week at the suggestion of his P.E. teacher. I emailed the teacher to inquire about the rationale behind this idea, since while reaching for a cereal bar, my son obviously had little understanding about why he was participating in this no-bread experiment.
The response I received supported my hunch that he was promoting a gluten-free diet. It seems to me that most of the evidence he presented were studies of gluten-free diets on those with diagnosed autoimmune disorders such as celiac sprue and rheumatoid arthritis, not studies of why a gluten free diet is healthier for the average person without these afflictions.
Any insight is appreciated and I’m happy to forward the 34 page powerpoint presentation he sent me if you’re interested.
though a little past the time of your debate with homeopaths at the University of Connecticut Health Center: A Debate: Homeopathy – Quackery Or A Key To The Future of Medicine? (2007), i’m wondering why in your response to the actual debate on your blog you respond in the comments section to a post:
“The bottom line is that homeopathy is a tangle of magical thinking, every element of which lacks a theoretical or empirical basis.”
i’m unsure how you can make this statement when Dr. Rustom Roy disproved one of your main arguments, that homeopathic medicines are merely placebos, showed evidence that the structure and thus function of water can be changed for extended periods of time. this evidence presented refutes that the remedies are merely water, the inert substance that we all think it is. your quote above entirely ignores and contradicts the evidence that was shown to you.
Following on from your Sept 3rd post, I was interested to see the news stories in the British press today claiming that a £0.10 daily cocktail of B vitamins may significantly reduce brain shrinkage in Alzheimer’s patients; for example this one: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11232356. I note that it’s a relatively small study – 168 patients.
In looking at stories on Digg using the keywords “Alzheimer’s Vitamin B”, there seems to be a less clear picture; some of the stories there suggest the opposite; that B vitamins do *not* slow the condition. In fact, while they did demonstrate a reduction in the chemical homocysteine, they did not detect any change in cognitive outcomes. An example would be this story: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/125432.php (which was based on a study of over 400 people).
Now, that last link is from 2008, and the positive story is Sept 2010. I wondered whether you might consider picking through the facts for us? I assume that cognitive outcomes are the important thing here – that there is a clear improvement whether in symptoms or in slowing the onset or progression of the disease?
It would be too wonderful to hope that we’ve had a major breakthrough in the battle against this terrible illness, but I would really appreciate your insight.
I was wondering if you’d ever heard of Dr. Bonnie Burstow? She was a professor of mine at the University of Toronto and she has some wacky ideas about trauma and the relationship between men and women. She also is an increasingly prominent spokeswoman for the anti-psychiatry movement in Canada and the U.S.. For example, she believes that any psychiatric label (i.e. Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia, etc.) given to a patient is a form of abuse and torture. For the past few years she has been spearheading a movement to get electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) banned. In her view it is a form of torture used by a facist society to victimize vulnerable people, especially those who have been traumatized by the male hegemony (which is inherently abusive and victimizes women). I’m not necessarily writing to you about your views about violence against women and feminism, but I’m interested in your views about mental illness denial and more specifically about ECT. Being a neurologist, I’m sure that you have interesting views on these subjects. You can hear a short interview with Dr. Burstow on the CBC show “The Current”:
Steve–I know you avoid politics, but you have never really posted your opinion much on the tough debate between religious freedom and safety; can you weigh in on the (possibly stupid) debate about whether people were legitimately criticizing Jones, and why he should have backed out, or not?
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she is starting brain reprogramming, or brainwave optimization, today to treat her migraines and chronic depression. When I looked at the websites I could not find a clear description of what the procedure involves beyond monitoring the brain frequencies and sending other frequencies back into your brain. Additionally, a simple google search did not reveal any real scientific evidence for or against this treatment despite it being one of the topics of conversation on Oprah this week. I am very skeptical about any medical treatment that is preformed by a technician who bought an online kit and does not have medical training. I would greatly appreciate your feedback/opinion on brainwave optimization.
I was wondering if you’ve ever written anything on “Wind Turbine Syndrome”. Sounds like medical/scientific bunk to me and has all the hallmarks of a pseudoscientific movement (i.e. big industry pulling the wool over people’s eyes for profit, unspecified health effects of wind turbine noise, unscientific research, etc..). Check out this website where Dr. Nina Pierpont is promoting her new book: http://www.windturbinesyndrome.com/
This is a real issue in Ontario, where there is a big fight to prevent the building of wind turbines in rural areas for electricity generation. The issue is coming to a head in my small, rural community, where a bunch of people are protesting the development of a number of wind farms.
I would really appreciate your point of view on this topic.
I have a cousin who was raving about a book. “The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman”. It seems fishy to me, but I was wondering if you wanted to take a look at it.
I’ve been reading your blog and SBM for close to a year now, and I really appreciate what you do. As a 2nd year medical student, I’ve had friends and family ask me about certain medical/scientific concerns, and while now I’m getting much better and finding, dissecting, and interpreting information from PubMed, NeuroLogica and SBM have been an incredible resource!
Over the holidays, my sister-in-law asked me about “The Dirty Dozen” and the pesticides used in conventional farming practices. Supposedly these are the 12 produce items that should be purchased organic so as to limit pesticide residue exposure by 80% or some such, at least according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). I’ve had trouble locating the original study the EWG is referring to, and I can’t find much information about the EWG that isn’t directly from a pro-organic website.
I know that talking about reducing your exposure by 80% means very little if you go from .1% of toxic exposure to .02% of toxic exposure, but I don’t know what the absolute exposure levels are nor what is an acceptable exposure. I advised her that “organic pesticides” are still used in organic produce, and if she’s worried about pesticides to just wash all produce before preparing it, but I would love to have some actual evidence-based information for reference. And should there be any legitimacy to this claim, that would be useful to know as well.
Thanks for everything you do and keep up the great work!
Thank you for publicizing the recent episode of Marketplace that turned a skeptical eye on Homeopathy. As a Canadian, I was proud to see homegrown skepticism go mainstream.
The CBC website garnered a lot of comments, many of them angry accusations of obvious bias – not too surprising since it’s hard to argue with the science.
However, one sciency-sounding argument cropped up again and again: homeopathy works in animals, therefore in CANNOT be attributed to the placebo effect, therefore homeopathy works.
Is it true that an effect is seen in animals, and if so, how does this square with what we know about homeopathy in humans? If I had to guess, I’d say that any results seen in animals are thanks to either improper blinding (ie. the people judging the animals’ health know which ones have been given a homeopathic preparation) or improper controls (ie. no one even bothered to have a control group).
I’d like to have a counter-argument ready the next time I hear this claim, so any help you can offer would be appreciated.
Agreeing with “skepdic”, in more detail: I’m wondering whether you’ve read Robert Whitaker’s book “Anatomy of an Epidemic” (2010, Crown Publishing Group) and if so what you think of it. He’s not a mental illness denier, but argues that long-term use of psychotropic drugs may have actually increased the amount of disability from mental illness.
NaturalNews is publishing a pamphlet that is simply drenched in antivax poison. It’s being promoted as written by the “International Medical Council on Vaccination” and is basically just the most concentrated source of misinformation on vaccination that I have ever come across.
He basically says that exposure to UV rays increases vitamin D production, which has lots of benefits. He also says you can’t get sufficient vitamin D from food, and he is reluctant to recommend vitamin supplements in pill form.
Any veracity to these claims? I’m under the impression that the increased risk of skin cancer outweights the benefits.
I have come across an interview with the author (unfortunately in my native Slovak language) where he states various and outrageous things- like all vaccines, even those against hepatitis or polio are useless; or that an aspirin can kill you etc. I am worried, because in my neck of the woods this man is treated like an insider hero, who knows what is going on in the world of big pharma etc.
I have searched several skeptical blogs and websites to find out something more, but came up with nothing. The anti-vaccines movement in Slovakia is young but gaining momentum- ironically even after Andrew Wakefield has been discredited and this book adds another spin to the whole issue.
I would love to see an article on amber teething necklaces. http://www.amberbebe.com/
These charming trachea sized beads are said to ease teething pain. WOW what sort of lowlife promotes fake pain relief for children ? These amber choking necklaces are very popular here in hippieland, as yet I am unaware of any deaths resulting from them but it seems inevitable.
Oh well at least they are not full of toxins……OOOOOHHHH the toxins
“Physicians and par- ents should consider whether to administer the vaccine. While the subgroup results were often not statistically sig- nificant, except for the polio vaccine, it would be justifiable to abstain from immunization in this subgroup at present.”
Also, Maybe on here or SBM you or one of the other authors could cover the Delta 32 mutation that apparently makes people immune to HIV and I beleive there were some other claims of immunity to other things as well. I recently saw in the news that a man has apparently been cured of HIV after a stem-cell transplant (whatever that means, just a few? all of them transplanted?) from a doner that had the Delta 32 mutation. If the hype is to be believed, then it seems like a promising avenue to head down, I could just use some help seperating fact from exageration.
I’m not buying their hypothesis about chemicals being the cause of lowering sperm counts. We are undeniably safer about the way we approach exposure today than we were in the 80s, and likewise we were safer in the 80s than we were in the 50s. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
I suspect nutrition in utero is probably more important. What makes more sense is the fact that, at least in the USA, we started our unhealthy relationship with food (leading to increasing obesity) in about the mid-70s. As over-eating and weight issues took off, sperm counts lowered. Perhaps the same aspect of obesity that causes girls to start puberty earlier also negatively affects sperm counts in men? That’s my hypothesis. Now, this study was done in Finland, so it is important to note that Finalnd’s rate of obesity is not the same as the USA’s. I think they actually peaked in obesity rates in the 80s and then had their rates come back down, so my hypothesis is totally testable by seeing if sperm counts increase in children born in the 90s or if they can account for BMI of mothers during pregnancy.
Anyway, I was hoping you could weigh in on this because “chemicals” just doesn’t sit right with me. It sounds too much like “toxins,” which elicits a knee-jerk negative reaction from me.
Personally I’m a big fan of the articles where you sort of go back to the basics. You have an inspiring way of writing, which I really enjoy to read. I have showed some of your texts to other people interested in public debates (such as the debate on evolution and climate) and they are very impressed as well.
I was wondering if you could do a piece on how to refute an argument or assertion. I have heard that the only way to refute an argument is by showing that one or more of the premises are wrong, or by showing that the conclusion does not logically follow the premises.
Then compare this fact with how creationists and so called “climate sceptics” tries to refute arguments.
In my opinion they fail at doing so, because they neither attack the premises nor show that the conclusion does not follow the premises.
I know I should ignore YECists, but there’s a guy on a forum where I hang out making a lot of noise about the Hubble Constant. His conspiracy theories tend to gravitate towards the idea that evolution is a sham and that scientists are on a bandwagon in order to gain grant money (or something like that). Along these lines, this YECist is claiming that the Hubble Constant has been changed many times to accommodate the size of the universe. You see, scientists are vested in keeping the universe large to make it appear old in order to keep the theory of evolution alive. I’ve done a lot of reading about the Hubble Constant (good site here: https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~dfabricant/huchra/hubble/) and I’m finding it to be a fascinating subject.
According to Wikipedia: The law is often expressed by the equation v = H0D, with H0 the constant of proportionality (the Hubble constant) between the “proper distance” D to a galaxy (which can change over time, unlike the comoving distance) and its velocity v (i.e. the derivative of proper distance with respect to cosmological time coordinate . . .
I was hoping you could put your word wizardry skills to good use and explain the Hubble Constant to a layperson such as myself. What is the significance of the Hubble Constant and why is it so difficult to get a handle on the value H0?
I stumbled upon this and it seemed interesting and potentially worth getting into a bit more detail about.
If zero G can trigger an acceleration in some infections, maybe exposing patients to a higher G force (like in those giant centrifuges) may be beneficial? Or maybe even a variable G force may do something to screw up the molecular triggers….
It’s fun to speculate as a layman, not sure if it tickles your higher expertise.
I don’t know if you have done a talk on anti-expert ideas but I thought it might be an interesting topic. I did a quick search and didn’t see any articles specifically on this subject.
I just watched a TED talk by Noreena Hertz who boldly states that we need to challenge and rebel against experts. She has a bit of a point that in some cases we should ask questions of experts to make sure they aren’t making a mistake but the talk appears to go much too far and implies that non-experts should have more of a say in fields that generally require expertise.
The TED talk just made me think that we skeptics need to battle back against anti-expert ideas and try to raise awareness on why its important to trust experts rather than trying to comabt them with our own limited knowledge and also how to know when it is reasonable to question experts.
My wife and I are discussing starting a family, and she has been researching midwives vs. hospital births. Could you shed some light on the safety of both, the effects of drugs and any other aspects of birth that we might find helpful in understanding this topic? Thanks!
“Laughter has shown physiological, psychological, social, spiritual, and quality-of-life benefits. Adverse effects are very limited, and laughter is practically lacking in contraindications. Therapeutic efficacy of laughter is mainly derived from spontaneous laughter (triggered by external stimuli or positive emotions) and self-induced laughter (triggered by oneself at will), both occurring with or without humor. The brain is not able to distinguish between these types; therefore, it is assumed that similar benefits may be achieved with one or the other. Although there is not enough data to demonstrate that laughter is an all-around healing agent, this review concludes that there exists sufficient evidence to suggest that laughter has some positive, quantifiable effects on certain aspects of health. In this era of evidence-based medicine, it would be appropriate for laughter to be used as a complementary/alternative medicine in the prevention and treatment of illnesses, although further well-designed research is warranted.”
My son’s speech was delayed and looking for info on the topic I came across this group which pushes supplements as the answer to delays defined as Apraxia.
The discussion group is worthwhile entertainment.
President CHERAB Foundation
Communication Help, Education, Research, Apraxia Base http://www.cherab.org
Food dyes are in the news now, here’s an msnbc news item about the ‘link’ between dyes and hyperactivity: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42338423/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/
Is there anything to these claims? Your thoughts? It seems to me that a diet rich in these dyes is also probably rich in crap we shouldn’t be eating a lot of anyway (salt, fat, and sugar.) Could cutting back on these foods themselves, regardless of dye use, cause ADD-like symptoms to lessen after switching to a more healthy diet?
Thanks for all you do!
It would be great to discuss in a more comprehensive way some topics like: how we can improve our mental capacity, learnig skills, memory (all kinds), and if there is any “natural” and also “medically proven” way of adding some supplements (or so) to our diet to energize brain.
Also it would be nice to comment about the claims of Amen Clinics (I mean by D.Amen in his books, blog etc.) about the correlation between using natural supplemnts (certain)(and also other lifestyle changes-but supplements are emphasized) and making the brain “better” which is seen via SPECT scans.
I would love to hear your comments, either in blog form or a discussion on SGU, about Sam Harris’s perspectives on science and morals. You’ve often said that there is a reasonable divide between science and decision making and it’s because you need a value judgement. Science can only inform those judgments with information. I think Harris would disagree with that assessment, and instead say science can definitely tell you some values are better than others, under simple assumptions, and to me he does so pretty convincingly.
Hello and thanks for running a great blog and podcast!
While specific misconceptions can be very interesting, I have become especially interested in how thinking in general goes wrong. The biggest problem, as I see it, is our tendency to subconsciously twist facts and logic to fit whatever we want to be true. People often mention this problem, but I have never read a discussion about how we can avoid it in our own thought processes. How do we fight a problem when we don’t even recognize it in action? For example, I have had good, insightful conversations about cognitive biases with people who believe strange things; they can often see these issues in other people, just not in themselves.
While this topic is important for skeptics, I think it is even more important for the world at large. After all, if otherwise intelligent people can be led by their personal desires to fall for something like homeopathy, what chance does logic have with complex and subtle political issues like healthcare reform?
I recall awhile back an article, that I THINK was written by you, defending the field of psychology against claims of it being… less then adequate. If I’m mistaken, I apologize right off.
But if I remember correctly, I was wondering if you could direct me to some materials or people in that field with some good research. I have a side interest in people’s behavior, and am working my way through “The Lucifer effect” by Philip Zimbardo. He seems a bit more on the up and up(although I’m not done it yet), but as for other subjects, like schizophrenia, I’m not sure where to look. The best I found was a “how to cope with a family member with…” style books, not really anything comprehensive on the subject. I bought a book recently on sociopaths and was disappointed that it was just kind of an allegorical fear tale about how they’re everywhere and plotting against us, not really anything about what mechanisms are involved, genetic or through raising, and so forth.
But at any rate, anything I find on the shelf at my local chapters/indigo (like barnes and nobles in the states) seems like a lot more opinion then fact (especially one that was saying fundamentalism in religion was a healthy mental construct, but for all I know). So long ramble short, any suggestions?
essentially I need a good starting point, otherwise I’ll have difficulty in evaluating the information if it contradicts my viewpoint. which for some issues, I know i’ll ignore, if I’m not 100% sure the person is on the up and up.
Likewise I have an inkling that a lot of the skeptical community may be.. giving less then adequate attention that people are irrational by nature and perhaps should work within those confines.. But I won’t know until I read more~ Although I do know, the whole “don’t be a dick” conversation factors into these concerns.
Are there any blogs of note written by people higher up in the psychology field? I know some of these issues relate to your field as well, and any thoughts too on where neuroscience and psychology interweave would be helpful.
I am a long time listener and lover of your show, it’s always the first podcast I listen to each week. As an English major I’m very interested in the ways that literature and art might interact with science. Your show has highlighted a number of artists who help to disseminate scientific ideas to the general public but I don’t recall any interviews looking at how art itself could aid more directly in the progress of science. One recent book that I’ve encountered, Angus Fletcher’s “Evolving Hamlet” (2011) takes up this subject by extending William James argument that Pragmatism could provide an ethical dimension to evolution. I would love to see a treatment of this topic either on your show or on your blog.
Thank you again for a marvelous show and for your being a leader in the fight against pseudoscience everywhere,
I had a fried post a link to this on facebook and thought you might want to address it in a blog post or on the podcast. Supposedly sunscreen is causing cancer not preventing it, yes great work from good ‘ol Dr Mercola:
I am a biology major at Florida International University who loves your blog. I read this article today, Rewrite the Textbooks: Findings challenge conventional wisdom of how neurons operate
Neurons are complicated, but the basic functional concept is that synapses transmit electrical signals to the dendrites and cell body (input), and axons carry signals away (output). In one of many surprise findings, Northwestern University scientists have discovered that axons can operate in reverse: they can send signals to the cell body, too.
I would love it if you could critique this article, which I think is the most exciting paper I’ve ever read in neuroscience.
The authors are described as an “independent researcher” and “independent computer scientist” Right away that rings warning bells….
Anyway in my amateur opinion the paper is phony as correlation does not imply causation.
But I would appreciate some help from you or the other commenter looking at the statistical part and underlying data, as my stats skills are not the best. In other words does this correlation even exist
Dr. Novella, it’s ironic that you claim to be of “science-based” medicine when you in fact sherk the principles of science, and by your own admittance, by tryting to create your own new scientific paradigm: “plausibility.”
“To make matters worse, Dr. Steven Novella, the self proclaimed defender of science based medicine, (and what is that exactly?) sat on a panel discussion to defend his miopic stance on the science and plausibility medicine…I think Dr. Novella’s expertise is best used in lab, removed from humans and the conditions they suffer from.”
“Study Suggests Autism Rate May Be Underestimated”
May 9, 2011
An exhaustive study of autism in one community has found that the disorder is far more common than suggested by earlier research.
The study of 55,000 children in Goyang, South Korea, found that 2.64 percent — one in every 38 children — had an autism spectrum disorder.
“That is two-and-a-half times what the estimated prevalence is in the United States,” says Roy Richard Grinker, a professor of anthropology at George Washington University and one of the study’s authors.The South Korean study probably produced such a high figure because it screened a lot of kids who seemed to be doing OK and included in-person evaluations of any child suspected of having autism, Grinker says.
“Two-thirds of the children with autism that we ended up identifying were in mainstream schools, unrecognized, untreated,” he says.
Interesting stuff, with links to studies showing benefits from mediation, would be nice to dig deeper into these. Would also be interesting to have Sam on SGU talking about the issues raised about his new book on morality and of course about meditation, how it differs from normal relaxation, and how we can get the most out of it without deluding ourselves, or can we.
“Conclusions: A low-fat diet was not significantly associated with adverse glycemic effects up to 6 y after random assignment in postmenopausal women. However, diabetic women experienced adverse glycemic effects of the low-fat diet. This trial is registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT00000611.
Received December 21, 2010.
Accepted April 15, 2011.”
I just read a blog post from a poltical/policy site discussing something called the “Free to Choose Medicine Initiative.” (available at: http://www.frumforum.com/fast-tracking-the-fda ). i think this could be especially interesting as there is not a great deal of cross-talk between the political reading I do and the scientific discussions that occur on this site
The article discussed the possibility of a second approval track through the FDA, that would basically be saying, “We think this is generally safe, but we haven’t gotten through enough testing & trials to be entirely certain, but doctors & patients may choose to accept a heightened risk and utilize the medication.”
Some other details (e.g., full disclosure by pharmaceutical companies in re: 2nd-track drugs, mandatory reporting into a central database, etc.) are offered, but I am wondering if you have heard of this proposal and what you make of it? The opinion piece, if not the proposal itself, seems reasonable and well intentioned, but I am interested in a take that more explicitly addresses the ethical considerations affecting the choice to use riskier medication.
I know that you advocate for using the best available evidence to make the best decision balancing risk and benefit. It appears that this, or a modified version, could fulfill that goal, but what is your take? This would seem to be an area where a scientific-minded physician can contribute as the emotional appeal to allowing for extraordinary and experimental measures can be great
Annie Jacobsen a contributing editor at LA Times Magazine has written a book ‘Area 51′ about …well area 51.She was interviewed today on Fresh Air by Terry Gross.Much of the early part of the interview was about various military secrets surrounding the base,but the part that caught my ear was when she went off the rails about a conspiracy theory concerning the Roswell incident.Ex:
“The Horten brothers were involved in the flying disc crash in New Mexico. And that is from a single source. … There was an unusual moment where that source became very upset and told me things that were stunning that’s almost impossible to believe at first read. And that is that a flying disc really did crash in New Mexico and it was transported to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and then in 1951 it was transferred to Area 51, which is why the base is called Area 51. And the stunning part of the reveal is that my source, who I absolutely believe and worked with for 18 months on this, was one of the engineers who received the equipment and he also received the people who were in the craft.
“The people were, according to the source, were child-sized pilots, and there’s a lot of debate about how old they were. He believes they were 13, although other people believe they may have been older. But this is a firsthand witness to this, and I made a decision to write about this in the very end of the book, after I take the traditional journalist form of telling you everything in the third person, I switch and I kind of lean into the reader and I say, ‘Look, this is not why Area 51 is classified to the point where no one in the government will admit it exists. The reason is because what one man told me.’ And then using the first person, I tell you what I was told. And there’s no doubt that people are going to be upset, alarmed and skeptical of this information, but I absolutely believe the veracity of my source, and I believe it was important that I put this information out there because it is the tip of a very big iceberg.”
This topic isn’t quite neurology but I think it is quite interesting (and is in my area of expertise, pharmacology).
Have you thought about doing a piece on the pseudoephedrine/phenylephrine debate? With the methamphetamine problem in many Western countries, it is quite a topical discussion and with governments looking for an alternative there is a big push for phenylephrine as a replacement. Personally, I suffer from hayfever and pseudoephedrine is one of the few treatments that provide me with relief. Unfortunately, it is getting harder to find pharmacies that stock pseudoephedrine-containing products and I find that OTC oral phenylephrine is ineffective. Having had a look at some of the literature myself, there is certainly an interesting debate going on that is a small microcosm of the scientific process and the external factors that influence it.
“The director of GM Freeze, an umbrella group for community, consumer and environmental organisations opposed to GM farming, described the research as ‘very significant’.
Pete Riley said: ‘This research is a major surprise as it shows that the Bt proteins have survived the human digestive system and passed into the blood supply – something that regulators said could not happen.
‘Regulators need to urgently reassess their opinions, and the EU should use the safeguard clauses in the regulations to prevent any further GM Bt crops being cultivated or imported for animal feed or food until the potential health implications have been fully evaluated.’
The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, which speaks for the GM industry, questioned the reliability and value of the research.
Its chairman, Dr Julian Little, said: ‘The study is based on analysis that has been used in previous feeding studies and has been found to be unreliable.’
He said the toxins found are also used in other farming systems and gardening ‘with no harm to human health’.
Dr Little said: ‘Biotech crops are rigorously tested for safety prior to their use and over two trillion meals made with GM ingredients have been safely consumed around the world over the past 15 years without a single substantiated health issue.’”
Last night my local PBS station in Dallas aired a program titled:
‘Under Our Skin: A Health Care Nightmare’
It was a very biased and manipulative documentary on Chronic Lyme Disease and how “Big Pharma” and the insurance companies and mainstream medicine are preventing CLD sufferers from getting treatment (long term antibiotics).
I know that you have written about the CLD controversy previously and wondered if you had seen this piece of propaganda,and what you made of it.I was very disappointed that my PBS station aired this,and wish that they could balance it out with better science based information.
I keep thinking about a couple years back when a blind man was shown not to consciously see things, but he could still move around fairly well because he subconsciously saw them. The connections were still firing in his visual cortex, he just wasn’t aware of it.
I understand that Gödel was just using it as an intellectual exercise, but apparently, many theists use this to support the argument of a diety.
I see many issues with proof and a few premises that require fideism to be true. It also appears to not allow for the agnostic point of view, instead relying either the theist or atheist with no in between.
I would love to read your insight into the issue.
The company that promotes earlights to combat serious depression (and has already sold them in numerous different pharmacies and stores for months) has released new information about the science behind it all:
Would you please speak about the surgical treatment of Diabetic Neuropathy? Namely I’m inquiring about the decompression of leg and foot nerves (i.e. tarsal tunnel syndrome) a.k.a. the Dellon procedure.
What is the real science behind DM neuropathy, the production of sorbitol absorbtion of nerves, compressive neuropathy in the diabetic.
This procedure has been presented to me as a treatment with an up to 80% positive results. It’s the same result quoted over and over but I cannot find the result replicated in the literature.
I’m writing about the chat room section of your “Skeptics’ guide to the universe” podcast website. And I am doing so here to steer clear from any further dealings there.
Are you aware of the goings on taking place in that chat room? I made several attempts to join in and was met with what amounted to a lot of demeaning language (including silly words describing female body parts), uncalled for retorts, and basic juvenile nastiness. Some of which not only seemed out of context but also made no sense. My motive for going there in the first place was to get ideas for a skeptics’ group that is taking shape in my area. I somehow thought I was joining a place to maybe hear about similar experiences. But no, it was just a small group of mostly unruly people using that chat room for unrelated socializing – something to which they admitted. My short stay culminated in one person posting my family’s IP address so everyone present could see where I was located, and then immediately banning me from the group. Wow, that’s not only childish but also pretty low, isn’t it?
Since all this reflects on you I thought you might like to know about it. As for a suggestion: I suggest you eliminate the chat room section from the above mentioned website.
First of all I would like to say thanks for all of the information that you have provided in your various blogs and on the SGU. I would be interested in your thoughts on physicians that follow the path DO rather than MD. I started going to a new doctor about a year and a half ago and he is a DO. I have done some of my own research, and after talking with him about some of my concerns I feel fairly comfortable with his knowledge and the care he provides. He has mentioned acupunture to me once, which made alarms go off in my already skeptical head. I would really be interested in your thoughts on the topic (DO, not acupunture. I agree with your ideas on acupuncture). Thanks again for your many contributions to society.
Fan of SGU, and enjoyed meeting you at Tam Oz last year (is it last year already?)
Just watched a documentary on Stilnox – which apparently is able to give stroke victims some lucid time for an hour or so after taking it, but then patients return to their previous state.
It’s being pushed by two South African and Uk doctors who have shares in its marketing. Normally I would be skeptical, but the doco was persuasive.
This seems to be in your area of specialty – any thoughts?
“Professor Helen Hazuda, of the University of Texas’s health science centre, said diet sodas and artificial sweeteners may foster a sweet tooth, distort appetite and even damage key brain cells. As a result, treating them as healthy alternatives may be ‘ill advised’
The professor, who no longer drinks diet colas and lemonades, said: ‘They may be free of calories but not of consequences.’”
I shared some of your thoughts regarding anti-depressant medications with a friend who has been taking them long-term for diagnosed depression. She has often shared with me her frustration at having to take a medication that comes with such a social stigma.
After reading your blog posts she followed up by reading some of the actual studies for herself. Based on your comments and what she found during her research she decided to stop taking the anti-depressant.
The author makes what appear to be very valid points about the problems with the studies involving anti-depressants, the difficulty the industry is having in dealing with the placebo effect (including some of the things that have been tried to mitigate/eliminate its impact on validity) and perhaps a bit of sensationalism on the part of the mainstream media seeking to pile on a hated industry (big pharma).
There were some studies in mice showing rapamycin increased longevity in rodents; supposedly mimmicking at the biochem level the effects of calorie restriction (that leads to increased longevity): supposedly relating to cellular efficiency and energy use.
I see that you’ve posted on mTOR before, in the context of AD.
I was at a meeting yesterday of scientists in psychiatry (focusing on successful aging) and rapamycin got raving reviews as a silver bullet. However, I am skeptical and I see a “bubble” forming as researchers hop onto this bandwagon. I could conceivable propose to do research myself with rapamycin and healthy aging …. various cognitive & behavioral tasks in mice whose lifespans maybe were extended by rapamycin followed by neuropath assessments, but it seems like we’ve gone down this road before and it’s just a shiny object to distract us from making newer discoveries.
Rapamycin has been around for decades and decades. I have read studies showing its effects as “neuroprotective” in specific situations. It is mainly used as an immune suppressant to prevent rejection in organ transplants. But: cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, longevity, etc?
“In persons under 20 years of age Pandemrix to be used only in the absence of seasonal trivalent influenza vaccines, following link to very rare cases of narcolepsy in young people. Overall benefit-risk remains positive.”
I was prompted to look more deeply when the results graphic included in Mr. Nusca’s posting showed a sample size of just 29 participants, and found a review of the software in its use for the general student (as opposed to those with autism) at the U.S. Department of Education – Institute of Education Sciences (see http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/reports/adolescent_literacy/fastfw/index.asp ). They categorized only a small sub-set of the entire published evidence (2 articles outright, 8 more with reservations; see references listing at http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/reports/adolescent_literacy/fastfw/references.asp ), and excluded the article cited to support the effectiveness of the software for autism “The study is ineligible for review because it does not use a comparison group.” The Dept of Ed – IES concluded “Fast ForWord was found to have no discernible effects on the alphabetics and general literacy achievement domains, and potentially positive effects on the reading fluency and comprehension domains for adolescent learners.”
Steven, one of the right wingers at the office sent this link (along with a commentary about how Al Gore invented global warming and it’s nothing more than a myth). I notice that it doesn’t say anywhere in the article that global warming is a myth, just that the alarmist are….well, alarmist. My impression is that this has always been the case and that it has been the generally accepted consensus that the alarmist were blowing things out of proportion. I’m curious rather this NASA data is all that new and changing the informed conclusions of the consesnus at all about how serious of a threat global warming really is. If you have time, maybe you can cover this.
Regarding my previous request, Steve, you have your hands in so much that I didn’t even notice that I posted the request to talk about global warming in an inappropriate place. Not really something to be covered on Neurologica, more SGU material. Additionally, I have already looked into this guy, Dr. Ray Spencer and found that he has a long history of questionable science and conclusions that are based far more on political ideology than science.
With many comments denouncing the parents as being unresponsible and damaging the child’s development.
Personally, I think it’s ridiculous as young children are exposed to countless stimuli, some of them scary (toaster, pets, phone) and the occasional being-shocked-and-crying is a normal part of growing up.
Some people argue science is becoming the new religion. With topics as cryogenics and the immortality promise I think it would be interesting for the audience in this blog to know which are the facts, what can we really expect from science and from an skeptical point of view.
I think that would help wrt skepticism, science, and neurology to clarify how much science is really in it and how much fiction, how much is sales patter and hopes with no base to be sustained. I think skepticism and good knowledge about science is specially important with those topics and facts that are claimed to be more scientific than they really are, those are the hardest to identify as trustworthy (as trustworthy as science can get) or not.
It would be also interesting to know which are the chances of resucitation, of information loss (in different scenarios, I think the normal scenario is to wait too much to undergo the procedure). But maybe that’s too much.
In any case, thank you very much for your attention.
and it set off my skeptic alarm immediately. I would love to hear your opinion on this particular discovery. It feels very much like one of those situations where scientists come out with experimental results and then non-scientific people extrapolate the outcomes and make extraordinarily bold and underinformed statements about the discovery.
A friend of mine recently purchased and installed about 50 of these “Stetzerizer Filters” (http://www.stetzerelectric.com/filter/) in her home. From what I understand, the point of these is to cleanse a household of “Dirty Electricity” – a term which I have never heard of before now. Apparantely this dirty electricity can have negative long-term health consequences, and even effect sleep. The front page of the product website seems to be a bunch of technobabble, however that could just be my lack of understanding. Right now I’m leaning towards scam – what do you think?
If this has basically been coverend Steve, then I am sorry. I have read quite a bit of your archives so far, but not came across something that addresses this directly anyway.
My question/issue is regarding debating someone about an intervention that has not been proven effective yet they clearly tell you that it is effective for them.
Take acupuncture. I was talking to a nurse practitioner colleague just today about acupuncture as one of the MD’s at my facility does it and has done it for her. She basically conceded that there is not strong evidence that it works, but she has had it done for her headache 5 times with “very good” results”. She said one of the five times it made her nautious, but this was “expected” for the first treatment and subsequently it eliminated her headache. She told me it did nothing for her back pain or for her TMJ. I have no explanation for as to why this intervention worked in this case for “headache”, but I find myself in that instance without good rebuttle for such, except to thinking to myself that yeah, placebo works too for subjective outcomes.
Similarly my colleague who is a psychologist and really a fellow skeptic reported taking glucosamine chondroitin for his chronic back pain. We discussed the data for a bit and he acknowledged the lack of data and that he too is skeptical that it would work for most any person, but at the same time he says that when he goes off of it for a few days, he has significantly worse stiffness and pain. I told him that based on the “mechanism of action” of this supplement that this timeline makes little since to me and suggests strongly a placebo effect, and that if the effect was not placebo effect, then such a robust response would surely be found within the literature to date, which it is not. But in the end, he was like, “well I do not care really, it works for me”….and It was hard to argue with that…
I just do not know how to respond to such people at times. I find myself going back to the evidence and reporting that this is just an anectdote, that this is likely a placebo effect…but am I missing something in my thinking?
“Next weekend (January 21-23) Dr. Brock will be giving a three day lecture and hands on workshop dedicated to needle EMG in Orlando. This is a great review of peripheral nerve and primary muscle disease. Evaluating all electromyographic waveforms will also be conducted.”
i would like to know how a keen wannabe skeptic can do internet detective work online. a post explaining how people can do research on their own would be fantastic.
for example, a friend of mine said he would abstain from masturbation for one month to increase his testosterone. he thought it would be him more attractive to the opposite sex, and also make his attempts to seduce the opposite sex more succesful because of the increased motivation. also he mentioned a couple of other benefits to do with general fitness.
doing a brief look on google brought in some studies, but i found it hard to reach any sort of meaningful conclusion.
so something like an internet skepticism 101 would be greatly appreciated
There’s an article in today’s LA Times about IBM’s Watson being used to assist in diagnosis. My fear is if the algorithms are in error and steer the clinician down the wrong path. Far too often I notice an over-reliance on technology in medicine instead of just using it as another tool in our arsenal.
Your thoughts on the use, benefits and potential pitfalls of this tool would be very interesting.
Apparently its a syndrome where people suffer from wifi, cellphone and even TV waves. The WHO says its a non-thing.
BBC did an article about a town built in a wifi free zone because of their radio telescope. The folks with EHS are flocking to it. I’m at a loss as to why the telescope isn’t bothering these folks. But I admit my science isn’t strong.
I am really learning about evolution at age 28 in detail for the first time in my life…its very eye opening…I mean I knew the basic premise, but not in detail that made it concrete in my mind…
Anyway..I heard about this issue of vestigial DNA listening to dawkins on youtube….I googled it and the entire first page and all was creationists’ websites refuting evolution including any attempt to point to “junk DNA” as not proving evolution in any way shape or form…
Anyway…I find this disturbing that an issue related to science fundamentally cannot be searched on google and quickly read about and understood…..
Not sure what you would do with this….but it cannot be good for spreading accurate information about science…and it may incrementally be a reason that people on the fence would fall on the wrong side….
I am a regular listener to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. The show is great and Joe is a very smart guy. While mostly being skeptical he is a big fan of Graham Hancocks theories regarding ancient advanced civilisations and also holds some not entirely skeptical ideas about psychedelic drugs.
Those subjects, however, aren’t what I would like to ask you about. I would like to ask you about nootropic drugs.
Lately on the podcast Joe has been pushing a nootropic drug called Alpha Brain. He has a small stake in the company, and the company is run by a friend of his. I think Joe is a decent guy and I don’t think he is trying to con people out of their money ($34.95 for 30 pills), but I also feel like this doesn’t seem entirely legit.
So I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on both Alpha Brain and nootropics in general.
“Steve Jobs was a quackery victim. Steve Jobs, the ultrasuccessful Apple Computer CEO who died this week of pancreatic cancer, delayed recommended surgery for nine months while treating himself with a diet. Although Jobs stated publicly that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, a Fortune Magazine reporter learned that Jobs was actually diagnosed in 2003 with a rare form of pancreatic cancer that has a high cure rate if treated early. But instead of undergoing the operation, he relied on worthless dietary treatment. [Elkind P. The trouble with Steve Jobs. Fortune Magazine, March 8, 2008 (http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/02/news/companies/elkind_jobs.fortune/index.htm)] It may be impossible to determine whether the delay decreased his survival time and quality of life. But it is clear that whatever time and energy he used in pursuing ‘alternative’ methods could have been spent doing something more useful.”
I’ve been hearing a lot about this guy, Chris Kresser, who is an acupuncture “therapist” who regularly blogs and consults on all manner of topics from diet to mental health. Recently, I ran across an article he wrote on how western medicine (which he bashes on regularly) is wrong about chemical imbalances in the brain causing various personality disorders and mental illnesses, that pretty much was the last straw for me:
I was wondering if you had any comment on this and his philosophy of anti-SBM as a whole. Or perhaps, if you have the time and desire, you could further address the seeming rise of anti-SBM alt-med that appears to be sweeping across the country (if you don’t think that subject has been beat to death by now).
It’s just disheartening to see so many people falling for these so-called experts who have little in the way of actual education and training, yet don lab coats and talk in tech-speak as if they are hip-deep in scientific studies.
Yep, I agree with rez, I too have seen a lot of references to Chris Kresser in Facebook and other social media hubs. He used to go by the name of “Healthy Skeptic”, but I guess this is his main website now:
“Pranayama is another solution that will give permanent results when followed with punctuality. Shitali pranayama is also known as the cooling breathing exercise. This involves rolling your tongue like a tube and breathing in air through your mouth. You will feel your saliva and your tongue cooling while you inhale. Exhaling is done from the nose. Following this breathing technique regularly not only keeps you healthy but will be a sure solution to bring your headaches down and also keep your body cool and the pitta in check.”
My company recently made some changes to their health insurance, prompting me to look closely at the coverage options. We are able to put pre-tax dollars into a medical savings account. I was looking at the types of “medical treatments” those dollars could be used to pay for and was apalled to see Christian Science Practioners on the list. I quickly went to Neurologica and found the following post from November 2009.
I would love to see a follow up on this and what has happened in the past 2 years. It looks like this list (link below) comes from the IRS, and I would be interested in finding out what we could do to have Christian Science Practioners removed from the list.
Thought you might want to know about the anti-science brigade at VaccineInjury.info who are running a survey geared at showing vaccinated children are less healthy than unvaccinated children. Perhaps it would be possible to inject some reality into the survey as it seems to be publicised only on anti-vax sites.
Based on the article, it seems like the TV station handed the naturopath community an easy victory.
“The gist of KSTP’s story was that Susan Anderson, then known as Susan Wahl, a Hudson doctor of naturopathy, had “de-prescribed” anti-anxiety medication to Cheryl Blaha. Cheryl Blaha then claimed to KSTP in interviews that she had tried to commit suicide as a result of being weaned from the medicine by Anderson. … In her suit, Anderson claimed medical records indicated that Blaha’s own medical doctor had reduced the medication and that there was no proof of the alleged suicide attempt, said Patrick Tierney, Anderson’s lawyer.”
“However, now scientists have come up with a new way of tackling seasonal affective disorder (SAD), that they say cures it in just eight minutes a day.
The technique involves beaming light directly into the brain through the ears.
It is based on the discovery that the brain itself is just as sensitive to daylight as the eyes, with ‘photoreceptive’ parts using it to help set our biological clocks.
At least 18 brain regions contain light-sensitive opsin proteins, which are also found in eyes, discovered scientists at Oulu University in Finland, a country with high rates of SAD.”
Ok, so I have seen this flying around facebook on my local “occupy birmingham” facebook site….it seems highly apparent that this is conspiracy thinking non-sense, but I cannot seem to find a good skeptical blog post regarding this fantasy….I know in listening to your show, that wireless power is far from a reality at this point, but hearing them speak it is stowed away in some JP morgan or government drawer along with the cure for diabetes, HIV, and the plans for the car that runs on water.
“Out of the 89 volunteers, 74 to 75% responded positively to the ear treatment and found that their SAD symptoms had improved. A further 62% who had the lower intensity light therapy said their seasonal depression had improved, as well as general anxiety levels.
“We have always been aware from previous research that the human brain is sensitive to light,” says Juuso Nissila, Valkee’s co-founder and chief scientist. “Our latest clinical trial, via the ear canal into the brain’s photosensitive areas is far quicker and more effective way of preventing and treating symptoms of SAD.”
Valkee and the University of Oulu have been studying brain photosensitivity and its therapeutic ability to help cure depression and sleep disorders, since 2007. Prior to the recent findings, Valkee discovered that the human brain responds to light via the ear canal and that the human brain, not just the visual system, is sensitive to light.
“These two trials show that bright light channeled into the brain via ear canal is an important future method to treat seasonal affective disorder,” says professor Timo Takala, MD, PhD, and chief physician at the University of Oulu.”
Recently my friends and I have been discussing the mind, in so far as, is it physical or electrical. It has been an interesting discussion but as an acclaimed neurologist your input would be invaluable.
I’ve recently seen some articles about health affects of BPA. It seems to be the new media scare for health. I’m wondering if there is any real risk or hyperbole over misunderstood studies. I don’t think you’ve done a post on this before.
Arguably the greatest hockey player in the world, Sidney Crosby, missed 10 months of play due to a concussion suffered last January. A major story coming out of his return last week was how treatment he received from a neurological chiropractor was pivotal in his recovery. I know hockey is not as popular in the US so I’m not sure how aware of this situation or treatment you might be. I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Here is a link to a story that aired last night in Canada featuring the methods used by this practitioner.
It bandies about one unsubstantiated claim after another. Now Consumer Reports has gotten involved. I was wondering if you had any new thoughts on this…
It’s little wonder that people are so misinformed these days. The media outlets are equally misinformed and do little due diligence, a skill that was once the mainstay of most journalists. I guess it’s more important to them to receive those advertising dollars than to actually be accurate in their reporting.
How can we allow modern universities to teach CAM courses? And when I say “teach CAM” I mean be CAM apoogists….to teach for example pharmacy students about evidence based medicine as a core principle, but then allow some person(s) to “teach” CAM in a way that fails to point out all of the fallacies, lack of data (quality data that is), and the inherent idiocy of creating a separate non-sensical class of treatments?
I have spoke to the assistant dean at my university (pharmacy school, back in 2007 she was my advisor) and asked her if they had yet canned the crank that thought “pharmacognosy” – in which class his opening remarks were anti-evidenced based medicine…textbook CAM apologist…and the remainder of the course was NOT AT ALL about evidence, it was about dogma.
Her response included some apologizing for support via citing vaguely “well there is data for some of it”…and when I pressed her about that hollow claim, she then stated something to the degree of “that why we teach EBM as a foundation of your pharmacy training”….
It is all likely very political at this point I am sure…but I think if I were ever a rich alumnus to give money to make a new building, one string would be get the woo out of my pharmacy school.
***disclaimer, 99.99% of what we did in pharmacy school was evidence based based, and we as modern pharmacists are on the whole, very much proponents of evidence based medicine and are very skeptical of CAM, but they could stand to be as professionals more clearly skeptical….because we see people buying this garbage at the forefront…the previous pigasys awards with CVS case and point….having said that, pharmacists rarely in my experience endorse the herbals etc OTC, in fact, in my experience, patients who buy it rarely ask us because they know the answer they will get (sorry, that is only anecdote). My desire would be that every MD, PharmD, CRNP, etc…take a course that has both voices for pro-CAM folks, AND people teaching evidence based science without the CAM exception****
My question is…how do skeptics penetrate back into our schools a message that addresses this garbage…when I look back at all the money I spend getting an education….those 2-3 credits were expensive, and I am appalled that I had to take them….how do we best lobby our alma matters best Dr. Novella?
I’ve just found this recent post which posed the question: why did the Whitehouse send out a ‘variation’ (see what I did there) of its 2011 Christmas card with an image of a UFO hovering above the Whitehouse?
I just thought it might bring some festive cheer to the odd skeptic out there who might be getting another Occams razor for Christmas instead of that Braun, which is what is truly required.
One subject I’ve seen coming up in interesting debates is water fluoridation, not something I’ve yet seen as a (central) topic of discussion here or SBM. The debate seems to fall into two categories: conspiracy, and personal liberty.
Water fluoridation seems to be something a lot of conspiracy theorists find easy to latch onto, which as usual is a springboard for the spread of misinformation, pseudoscience, and scientific misrepresentation.
On the other hand, the idea of personal liberties is a more interesting topic. Many countries have adopted alternate forms of mass fluoridation, such as adding fluoride to table salt instead of the water supply, in essence giving people the option to forego fluoridation if they wish. Unlike vaccines, which the avoidance of can actually effect other people (herd immunity), the only ones that fluoridation affects ARE the individuals who choose to avoid it.
So, this to me begs the question: is fluoridation ethical since it’s pretty much compulsory in nations that fluoridate the water supply, since avoidance of fluoridation poses no health risks to anyone other than the individual who avoids it?
Another question is: in developed countries, where dental care is highly available and personal hygeine is statistically high (fluoride products), is fluoridation beyond this actually necessary and worth the expense?
I tend to reject conspiracy claims for what they are, but to me the “personal liberty” question is more interesting, as is whether fluoridation is relevent anymore (some studies also seem to indicate a higher incidence of fluorosis in fluoridated areas).
Could you discuss this article/research on GM corn causing organ failure? It’s in the Huffington Post, which tends to make me disregard it automatically but many of my friends have been posting it on their Facebook pages… If the article is misrepresenting the facts, overvaluing a bad study, etc. I’d like to explain that to them. If not, it would be nice to no what conclusions should be drawn (their research summary comes from “Food Freedom,” which hardly sounds like an unbiased group).
I’ve read your previous posts on GM foods and am interested to see what you would make of this!
We recently watched a TED talk by Dr. Terry Wahls, a University of Iowa Med School clinical professor, on how she was able to reverse her MS symptoms through what she calls a hunter-gatherer diet. As indicated in this news release from U of I (http://www.news-releases.uiowa.edu/2011/November/111411MS_study.html), some type of clinical study on this diet (plus an unspecified electrical stimulation) is currently underway. Having trekked on Mt. Kilimanjaro with several MS patients, I know that this type of a program will attract a lot of attention. What is your assessment of diet being a means of treating neurodegenerative diseases like MS or Parkinson’s.
We’re expecting a child in May, and have started looking for research in to Neurology and babies – There is an awful lot of pseudoscience out there and I’m struggling to find the most up to date literature on the subject (in a consolidated form at least – I can always look at pubmed).
I came across John Bruer’s “Myth of the first three years” through a skepdic links, but this was published in 1999.
Are you able to suggest some more up-to-date sources? My interest is to read around the subject, rather than looking for something specific that can give my child an advantage – Certainly from reading John Bruer’s book, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything credible one could actually do in any case, but I’d be grateful for a better understanding of the area.
I’ve been noticing friends posting this video regarding Iron filings being in breakfast cereal recently and it has all the signs of pseudoscience but I don’t have the background or knowledge to comment on this to correct my friends. I didn’t see any previous posts on this issue and wondered if the amount of Iron in cereal actually is excessive with respect to an acceptable daily dose or whether the test used in the video is just dramatic showmanship.
recently I came across an interesting cognitive illusion. It goes like this:
A persons Mum and Dad give him $25 each, giving him a total of $50. He then goes out and spends $45, leaving him with a new total of $5. Next he gives his parents $1 each, leaving him with $3.
It appears that his parents are each owed $24 each now and the son comes out $1 ahead. Clearly not possible, when I work the same problem using just Mathematics and not Natural Language then the illusion disappears(i.e. 25 + 25 = 50, 50 – 45 = 5, 45 + 3 = 48, 50 – 48 = 2).
How extensively do such Cognitive Illusions effect us. I’m intrigued by how the illusion appears in English but in Mathematics the illusion disappears. Also I observed I could see how to work around the illusion with ease but my partner(who is a bit ‘mathphobic’) could not see how to work around it, even when I showed her in several differing ways. Could such illusions be a factor in some peoples tendency to believe in various Woo?
I know that you’ve already discussed acupuncture at length, but the topic seems to be rearing its head again.
I listened to NPR’s Science Friday and Ira interviewed Ted Kaptchuck on Jan 6, 2012 and he discussed his paper in NEJM. “Active Albuterol or Placebo, Sham Acupuncture, or No Intervention in Asthma,” (July 14, 2011). Dr Kaptchuck seemed to imply on the radio interview that the placebo effect observed in his study — that subjective patient-reported improvement, was no different than Albuterol, even though only Albuterol yielded object FEV improvement — somehow suggests that placebo therapies (like acupuncture) are valid recommendations to patients in certain situations.
I had a look at the NEJM article, and it seemed as though this rhetoric was toned down a bit. In discussing the study, he also repeated that the placebo and acupuncture yielded an improvement greater than nothing (sitting in the office doing nothing), in looking at the data, it seemed to me that this “improvement” was nonexistent or within statistical noise, negligible Cohen’s d (0.02), so on the radio, it was dishonest to talk about the “objective improvement due to placebo inhaler was the same as sham-acupuncture.” (because there was no objective improvement).
Regarding the subjective (patient-reported) improvements; the sham acupuncture was only single-blinded, so the interviewer recording the patients’ responses could have had an influence. I also feel that the presentation of the data is misleading. The patients rated their improvement on a scale of 0-10 (0 = nothing, 10 = complete improvement). These were somehow converted to a %Change, then they used error bars to report the standard error of the mean, which not the appropriate statistic, it grossly under representing the variance and they should have reported the standard deviation. Why didn’t they just report the average & standard deviation of the ratings? Or better yet — dots representing all the individual data points or box-and-whisker? The answer is that they were shamelessly hiding the huge variance in this outcome.
This probably is a boring topic for a blog posting since it’d just be a rehash. But maybe timely for the podcast since the panels seems willing to rehash a topic when there are new developments.
Also: I wonder if patients’ subjective responses would be influenced if they were informed of their objective test results? If you administered the placebo & the Albuterol. Performed the FEV; with one group: told them what their improvement was, another, did not tell them….. then asked for the subjective rating — would those that had been told of their objective measurement report higher improvement than those that didn’t? Would those given the placebo and told that their FEV was no-change report no improvement and those that weren’t told anything report an improvement?
Whilst napping in front of the 49ers game on sunday (my team being the Green Bay packers, I was somewhat disinterested) I perked up when the announcer said that one of the players had been checked out by the team chiropractor and deemed safe to return. I am shocked that a chiropractor would be allowed to make such a judgment and also incredulous that a professional athletic team would use a chiropractor for an acute injury assessment. Did I hear wrong or are they as woo-ified as that?
The science section of this website is, of course, rampant with pseudoscience:
“…provide the level of energy, metabolic anti-oxidation and detoxification power and optimal hydration needed to achieve and maintain optimum nutrition, fitness and holistic health”
“…the most energizing, detoxiying, anti-oxidizing and hydrating water on the planet. Using [hydrogen fortification] vortex technology, we’ve created hexagonal water that quenches your thirst from inside out.”
Just a sampling of the garbage this website claims and promotes.
The Atlantic has been publishing some crazy things lately, so at first I took this with a grain of salt. My first thought was that this would get washed out in independent replication, but, it seems like there might actually be something to this. With all the data coming out suggesting that there are quite a few microorganisms that can have behavior-altering effects on their host, is it really that hard to believe? I’m still a bit skeptical, but this is certainly interesting.
Our physiotherapy clinic recently purchased an “AlterG antigravity treadmill” (http://www.torontophysiotherapy.ca/AlterGTreadmill.html) which is a unique body weight supported treadmill that uses differential air pressure to allow the user to decrease their body weight in 1% increments while maintaining normal gait and stride length. Basically the user’s lower body is zipped into an air bubble! There are obviously numerous rehabilitation applications for the technology in orthopedic physiotherapy, but we are also keen to explore its utility for neurological rehabilitation populations including stroke, Parkinson’s, etc. Body weight supported treadmills have long been used as a rehab tool for these populations, but the ability to reduce weight without restricting gait and stride is unique to this device.
A recent NEJM publication (“Body-Weight–Supported Treadmill Rehabilitation after Stroke”) suggested no difference in functional level of walking at 1 year post-stroke, for stroke patients receiving physiotherapy, or physiotherapy involving a body weight supported treadmill. While the paper is well done, it compares (among other things): three intensive 90 min sessions of physiotherapy per week over 12-16 weeks, with three 90 min sessions of locomotor training involving 20-30 min on a body weight assisted treadmill for 12-16 weeks and ground walking. It’s not too surprising that there was no statistical difference in outcome given the intensity of the physiotherapy regime, the proportionately minor use of body weight supported walking in the locomotor training group, and the use of a body weight supported system that does not allow for NORMAL gait, stride and balance training in a supportive environment. I would hypothesize that true functional training with the AlterG would result in greater outcomes, in part due to the psychological lift and confidence provided by device. What are your thoughts on this?
I would like to see a post about Neurology and advertising. AKA neuromarketing
I know the advertising are partnering with some neurologist to create better ads, and perhaps ads that can bypass you natural impulse buying defenses.
How effective is neuromarketing? How wide spread is it’s use?
Last year the Australian Veterinary Association annual conference had the theme “Evidence Based Medicine”. I point out to you that EBM is used in Australia like you in the US would use SBM. On this basis, I took umbrage to a lecture given by Huisheng Xie, DVM PhD MS of the Chi Institute, 9700 West Hwy 318
Reddick, Florida, USA. The first paragraph in the lecture reads as follows:
What is Acupuncture
Acupuncture may be defined as the stimulation of a specific point on the body, referred to as an
“acupoint”. Physiological changes in response to acupuncture point stimulation is the basis of
clinical treatment. Some of these changes include release of endogenous opioids, immune
system stimulation, and blood pressure regulation. Stimulation of an acupoint causes activation
of Aα and Aβ nerve fibers to conduct electrical signals through the spinothalamic tract to the
hypothamalus and cause release of β-endorphins. Acupuncture also causes activation of the
descending pain inhibitory pathway which activates the periaqueductal gray matter to release
more β-endorphins and the nucleus raphe magnus to release serotonins 1. Pain is blocked with
the release of these endogenous opioids and neurotransmitters. Acupuncture can also activate
T-cell lymphocytes and increase the number of white blood cells for the treatment of pathologies
due to immuno-deficiency.
This first paragraph contains a list of highly improbable effects of acupuncture such as little needles stimulating the immune system. The remainder of the lecture appeared to be an attempt at self justification of acupuncture…oh no, it really DOES work. And of course the lecturer failed to mention the true effects of quack treatments like acupuncture brought on by innocent dogs, cats etc receiving this useless treatment instead of genuine, scientifically proven effective treatments. THIS is the worst part of using CAM on animals, they do not get to choose!
I have been a listener to The Skeptics Guide To the Universe since about 2006 (I’m 32), and I love reading your posts on Neurologica and Science-Based Medicine. My father is a pediatrician and started teaching me a bit about woo, though he never called it that, at an early age. So I’ve been skeptical of all the stuff that comes out about “energy fields” (and this device I’ll show you is all about the energy fields) and the rest of that sort of thing.
One thing incidentally: the woman in the interview mentioned ANSAR testing. I’ve been looking for information on ANSAR, and it seems to me that it’s a credible thing in itself, but I suspect it is being misused by people such as this woman.
I thought this might make a good blog post, for someone else you know if not you yourself!
Psmith (Sorry, since I mentioned my dad I don’t want to use my name.)
I recently saw this article about sleep, and how earlier humans may have used a double 4-hour sleep period, separated by 1-2 hours of wakefulness. I haven’t seen much from you on sleep. Since everyone spends nearly 1/3 of their lives sleeping, it’s a pretty important issue!
i would really like to hear you guys weigh in on nootropics. i looked for a legal adderall alternative that was also a natural alternative. i finally found something called addieup at the site http://www.addieup.com can you guys take a look at this and tell me if i’m just experiencing the placebo effect?
You’ve been parachuted in the middle of the Atakama Desert with your daughter. The bad guys took all your belongings. After a few seconds, Julia, petrified, ask: “Are we going to live daddy?”. What would be your answer?
You’ve been parachuted in the middle of the Atakama Desert with your daughter. The bad guys took all your belongings. After a few seconds, Julia, petrified, ask: “Are we going to die daddy?”. What would be your answer?
As I am unaware of any correct scientific name for this experience I could not search to see if you have covered it. I was wondering if you have come across anything similar in your line of work.
I think it is a very interesting area and I wonder if rather a lot of people have this feeling but as no name exists for it we feel in a minority.
Personally I feel this “ASMR” the strongest when watching video clips of pseudo-scientific things such as Chiropractic treatments, Applied Kinesiology and Acupuncture. It seems the higher the level of Woo (e.g. KST Chiropractic) the stronger the feeling. For this reason I think the proposed name is a little ill though through as it suggests this sort of pseudo-science rather than an actual scientific phenomena worthy of investigation.
I have often wondered whether the feeling is an evolutionary throwback to Ape grooming and social bonding as it is very pleasant and moreish. Further to this I wonder if it could be the driving force behind these new-age and quack practices; people chasing this elusive feeling and being willing to part with their cash to feel it.
If this were ever to be studied scientifically it would be interesting to see if a link existed between the mild euphoria it brings and such things as meditation, spirituality, placebo effect, etc.
You never know, it may prove to be the scientific explanation behind a lot of this nonsense. Or I may just be dreaming.
“The question is whether the plaintiff was fired simply because he was wasting people’s time and bothering them in ways that would have led him to being fired regardless of whether it was about religion or whether he was treated worse based on the religiosity of his beliefs,” said Volokh. “If he can show that, then he’s got a good case.”
It would be kind of neat to see you take on some of ADHD treatment woo that’s out there (eg: blaming it all on sugar, blaming it all on bad parenting, claiming it’s just “kids being kids”, focusing obsessively on Ritalin and its side effects despite there being approximately umpteen million other ADHD drugs on the market….). Not sure if that’s up your alley, but it might be fun.
Alternatively, do you know of any other neurology/skeptic blogs that do cover that stuff? There’s an outstanding amount of it out on the internet, and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t at least one person who’d thought to tackle it.
thanks for your blog and podcast. I have become an avid reader/listener.
Have you ever written about the active process of forgetting dreams ? It seems like the brain is wired to forget everything that happened a few moments before, right after waking up. A significant chunk of our experiences (that can often be quite interesting and worthy) are being actively destroyed. Do we know what the neural mechanism is ?
Also, you recently stated (on the SGU podcast) that the brain in the dream state was fundamentally different from the brain in the waking state. I am an avid lucid dreamer, and have come to believe that the “quality” of dream imagery matches that of the waking state. Michel Jouvet who worked extensively on dreams wrote that “wakefulness is but a dream restricted by the senses” (my translation).
So apart from disabled motor skills as well as a lack of critical thinking (which you can overcome – especially if you are a regular lucid dreamer), what are the big differences in between a dreaming brain, and a waking brain ?
I enjoy your blog Stephen. It has become a life line for me in coping with the credulous beliefs I encounter daily in my work as a therapist. I strive to practice only methods proven effective and based on real scientific testing and attitudes. I hold it is unethical to practice things which have been proven ineffective, a rare stance among therapists as far as I can tell.
I regularly get patients referred to me by physicians for damage control-people who did not receive effective help from their first counselors. I have seen many weird and wonderful practices, and altogether too much harm. One new one is called ” One Eye Integration” claimed to be an effective trauma treatment. The website is http://www.sightpsych.com
This looks very suspicious, and needs a good debunking. It shows the typical pattern of little research, grand claims, being offerred as effective before real studies are done, and of course is offered for sale to therapists for a high price. It makes neurological claims without evidence, and looks like a derivative of EMDR. It was developed at Trinity Western University, a former bible college.
This idea is beginning to show up as “therapy” among some counselors in British Columbia, and could use some critical exposure and deconstruction. Every bit of resistance helps!
Here is what the website says:
“Some observers have said that OEI is like a combination of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), Educational Kinesiology (‘Brain Gym’), and Gendlin’s Focusing. Others have noted a similarity to Dual Brain Psychology (Schiffer). It is important to recognize that OEI is none of these other therapies, but in fact has developed into an entirely new and different psychotherapy.”
One of the inventors says this: “Shortly after initial training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, was using EMDR with clients and having excellent results, particularly with single incident traumas. She had never found a tool so useful for trauma and, to a lesser extent, for compulsive behaviour. She had a client who had one eye that was focused differently than the other. Because she had a background in Educational Kinesiology, she was familiar with the concept of hemispheric integration in the brain. As she experimented with those ideas, she found this integration proved very useful for many of her clients. She found that OEI techniques were gentler for those individuals, and that some of these tools could be used without a therapist present. Tapping techniques are also very helpful, and she uses EMDR, tapping, TAT, and OEI together, or separately.”
Somehow, these statements are not reassuring. I respectfully recommenr OEI as a topic for Neurologica.
Neurologix, the company that last year reported a successful trial of a gene therapy product for Parkinson’s, just went belly up. Hey tough economy, sh*t happens. But patients have been complaining about one of the docs involved with the study not returning phone calls for a couple of weeks. Office staff say he’s “on vacation,” but are vague about when he’s going to be back. That seems like a red flag to me. Doctors aren’t supposed to vanish without arranging coverage or at least providing a good explanation to their patients.
Anyway, maybe that Parkinson’s study in the March 2011 Lancet needs a careful look by someone with a skeptical eye.
There are plenty of techniques for memory retention circling around the internet, and I’m curious about the science behind them, if any.
Some of the techniques are so common that I’d (almost) be surprised if there wasn’t at least some evidence behind them, such as associating the memory with a sound, a mental image or the like. Other techniques, such as “spaced repetition” sound reasonable, but again, many things that sound reasonable end up being disproven when the evidence starts rolling in.
The last one, spaced repetition, is something I’m particularly interested in because I recently started using a free flash-card program that’s built around this principle.
I was able to find scant studies about some memory techniques, but it’s hard to deduce if they are done by a neutral party or by someone deeply invested in the particular technique, be it for monetary or ideological reasons. (Your mention of the acupuncture studies all turning out positive from a certain country (Was it some cardinal direction of Korea?) comes to mind).
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for your blog (and a thousand other things), wether you decide to take me up on this or not.
I would agree with this too. Maybe start with the ADHD DSM-IV definition which involves ‘climbing trees inappropriately’ or even ‘forgetting homework’ in order to show proof of a mental disfunction/disease/disorder/syndrome etc. It is complete woo isn’t it?
Maybe you could do a piece on blog Trolling? What are the motivations and psychiatric disorders they may be avoiding by trolling instead of dealing with the issue. Not truly science and skepticism but interesting.
Missmayinga brings up a good point. There is a lot of of ADHD woo out there. Your previous posts on ADHD were excellent. This quack was invited to speak at a medical school recently by the CAM club on campus. I could not have been more disappointed. She is a mental illness denialist. She believes psychiatrists aren’t practicing medicine and are just prescribing “cocaine” to patients to mask symptoms. She thinks ADHD is a food allergy and a whole bunch of other quackery. In true quack fashion, she claims psychiatrists all have financial incentive (via ties to Big Pharma) to sell their drugs but I am pretty sure she makes a hell of a living selling her books and snake oil.
I suspect you or one of the SBM bloggers is planning to tackle this, but today seems like a good day to suggest covering the recent CDC press release regarding increasing autism prevalence, since today is World Autism Awareness Day. Cheers! http://www.cdc.gov/Features/CountingAutism/
Thousands have petitioned against changes to the DSM. The annual meeting of the APA in May 2012 will be subject to ‘occupy’ type protests. The DSM5 is floundering. Is this the end of ‘biological’ psychiatry?
It is my view that the so called ‘placebo effect’ is unscientific nonsense and is purely a measure of subjectivity as opposed to any objective fact. If one examines placebo responses in different aspects of medical care there are significant differences. Can the placebo effect actually change physical or objective measures? For example, it has an obvious change to the way that we report pain. But our measurement of pain is subjective (so my wife continually reminds me). My sugar pills seem to relieve my depression so that I feel happier to take them. Especially since my psychiatrist has convinced me of their efficacy. But can a placebo reduce the size of my growing cancerous tumour, or clear my arteries from clogging? Can a placebo affect my bacterial infection, or reduce my need for insulin? (I do have a few issues…)
Does the placebo pill, whether it is blue, red or green result in an objective measurable physical change in the body? I think not. But I have been mistaken many times….
One important aspect of this – is that we should question all research studies that demonstrate a significant placebo effect – for example, in those which involve anti-depressant medication or even ECT. It is my belief that the greater the placebo effect measured, the more we should be skeptical about the objective methodology of the study. As far as I am aware this factor has not been sufficiently examined. But I am happy to be proved wrong. Even though the little white pill has been administered.
I am interested in you addressing the topic of religious freedom as applied to the birth control mandate in the new health care law. I keep getting forwarded emails from family on this topic, especially this one on the “Parable of the Kosher Deli.”
I’d be interested reading about narcolepsy and cataplexy without narcolepsy, and the associated disorders with the latter.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders, particularly the state of the evidence for various treatments like melatonin, light therapy, chronotherapy. (Anecdotally I take melatonin to help fall asleep, but have much more frequent sleep paralysis and a new problem of waking up ridiculously early)
Physiologic sleep architecture
Sham stem cell therapies for multiple sclerosis, autism, etc.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (a psychologist mistook my autistic sensory sensitivity to some odors as this, which looks like it’s mostly a psychological thing, maybe as a learned sensitivity to the odors by associating them to “chemicals” and this anxiety triggering symptoms, since tests show the presence or absence of the “offending” chemical has no bearing on the symptoms).
Anti-psychiatry v. legitimate criticisms/controversies in psychiatry – perhaps the ways we determine how much of psychiatric disorder is socially constructed and how much is a brain malfunction, from clear-cut cases to the grey areas of disorders that are maladaptive in some circumstances, but in different life circumstances are adaptive, which doesn’t inform treatment too much when circumstances are very difficult or virtually impossible to change, since dysfunction is dysfunction, but is an interesting exercise in understanding of what disease or disorder is. (I mean, cancer is pretty much always a negative. But then you have conditions like DSPS which is bad if you want to do college (specifically a program they don’t have night school for required classes) and lots of mainstream careers, but neutral or positive for working night shifts or are self-employed. Similarly, there are cases of ASD that are disabling everywhere, while others due to severity and specific profiles of strengths and weaknesses are at least neutral to certain niches, if not a boon).
Illusions, hallucinations – differences and similarities (while they are defined as distinct phenomena, is it really more of a spectrum, or are they sharply distinct in the mechanism?)
Evidence for/against marijuana having a causative relationship with psychosis, or is it merely correlation, or do we not know? (Personally not invested, as I avoid marijuana like I do alcohol due to effects on sleep – lots of what I’ve read is either Reefer Madness II or Natural Herbs are Happy Herbs!).
Deconstruction of AR arguments that animals aren’t needed in medical research, because scientists can just use cell lines and computer models (and if that’s not enough, then screw scientists and just use all the nice, natural herbal remedies Mother Nature so thoughtfully provided to cure all illnesses that a perfect vegan diet, exercise, and sunshine don’t cure). Oh, also the idea that humans are natural herbivores (selectively looking at molars and somewhat long gut while ignoring canines and such), which I hear a lot in vegan circles.
Fad gluten free (casein free) diets, versus Coeliac, and nutritional impact of following a gluten free diet while maintaining healthy nutritional intake.
The technology they’re working on where an implant somewhere near the brain to let people who had strokes communicate by training to associate thinking letters to a computer that would recognize the signal and type. I heard about it on some news story and wonder how far along that is, and the usefulness in practice and limitations for the near future.
The history of defining autism, from a symptom of schizophrenia (Bleuler?) through to infantile autism and the modern autism spectrum. A lot of people, even who know the diagnostic criteria expanded a lot recently, aren’t aware of the way and extent this concept has evolved. Between this history, the diagnostic substitution studies, and the exposure of Wakefield as a fraud, it’s very clear to all but the most emotionally invested that the evidence for an autism epidemic is so scant it should hardly be the default assumption.
Also, any advice on what to do when a teacher (say, at high school or college level) endorses or promotes rank quackery (I don’t mean promote as in advertising for money, but things like “There’s a real scientific controversy about whether vaccines are safe, and I didn’t vaccinate my kids because the risks are too great” or “Cell phones causing cancer is going to be a new big public health scandal like cigarettes” or “I went and got this stem cell treatment and cured my MS without drugs” when they aren’t a professor of a scientific subject)? I’ve heard these things (paraphrased) during a class I took at college, from a prof professing to teach about logical argument and critical thinking.
Worse, she’s looking into doing science journalism – yet another reason to add to why I think science journalists should all have at least a bachelor’s in a science in addition to being good communicators – it wouldn’t stop the terrible science reports, but maybe stem the tide. Unsurprisingly, she saw nothing wrong with the state of science journalism, which only strengthened my conviction that there IS something wrong, something grievously wrong (most saliently, stories being written to hype or scare according to what the media corporation and the editors whose jobs are on the line think will sell, with little regard to ethical or accurate reporting beyond the minimum, but that’s a more intractable problem than science-ignorant people getting a podium to promote their woo).
While I questioned the prof in question during class, pointing out the fallacies employed and the basic science and studies omitted from discussion, I have no idea what (if anything) can be done to address things like spreading dangerous medical myths in a classroom. My grade didn’t suffer for arguing during class about these or for writing my paper on why vaccines are safe and don’t cause autism, so I can’t file a complaint on that basis. It just rubs me the wrong way that there’s NOTHING you can do.
The trial of Breivik commenced today. Psychiatrists, after 2 months of interviews stated he was a paranoid schizophrenic. Another lengthy evaluation by other ‘experts’ have stated he is sane. I have read little commentry about this issue that proves psychiatry is not a scientific medical field but a pseudoscience akin to astrology. Of course we are told that mental illness is a disorder just like any other medical disease such as diabetes. What rubbish. David Rosenhan in 1973 demonstrated that psychiatrists could not tell who was ‘mad’ or ‘sane’. Nearly 40 years later nothing has changed and no progress has been made. Psychiatry is a pseudoscience. You are being fooled.
I have begun attending some meetups in my area (live in the deep south). These are meetups with atheists, evolutionists (which some are believers, a few), and generally most would call themselves “skeptics”…..
I have noticed that I am a bit of a loner (relatively) when it comes to issues of evidence based medicine…CAM…etc….I had a discussion one day and began to respond to the idea that for example glucosamine/chondroitin is really effective…started to explain that it is not and why I am asserting this…had a similar discussion about accupuncture….and have noticed that some of these health topics can really make me out to be some sort of “apparent cynic” rather than a “proper skeptic”….I try and carefully make my arguments, cite research, and respond to claims….but it would seem that to teach proper science based medicine related skepticism to broader groups of skeptics is a bit scary! In one of these examples someone got a bit testy with me….we are all still cool, I did not respond with any hostility (despite the person really being nasty at me for defending my position dispassionately).
Anyway, any advice for a pharmacist-skeptic that may take on some discussions on these matters more formally at meetups? They have some discussion nights where people sign up for a topic and discuss….I have a number of ideas that would perhaps prove “controversial” with many in the group (luckily by far not all however). Any ideas on an approach in such a scenario or advice on avoidance of land mines?
First, thank you so much for the time and dedication you’ve given to this blog and to the EBM blog. These discussions are invaluable to the larger discussion of science in our culture; neither is an easy thing to maintain amidst your undoubtedly busy schedule. As a longtime reader, I’ve directed many friends and associates to your posts in hopes of advancing more analog conversations.
To the point: I stumbled across a rather frustrating article yesterday on Salon, apparently excerpted from a book with an equally frustrating title. The article concerned Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and Out-of-Body Experiences by Mario Beauregard. http://life.salon.com/2012/04/21/near_death_explained/
Succinctly, my frustrations, though many, can be summed into two points: the article is littered with logical fallacies (never the sign of a good argument) and concludes essentially endorsing the dualism that died with Descartes… without sufficient evidence to do so. What’s more, the author ignores varying examples of non-lethal NDEs (such as the NASA “centrifuge” trainees). He seems to cherry-pick his data. For myself, I tend to see consciousness as an emergent behavior of many operations in the brain, not a locally-specific one.. therefore the idea that such an NDE event (assuming one takes the anecdotes as examples, problematic at best) occurs might also be non-localized seems unsurprising. Beauregards seeming insistence that the phenomenon is either localized/singly mechanistic or supernatural seems just another false dichotomy.
Further, the author dismisses the recent Nature publication on the subject, speaks incredulously about anecdotes as evidence, etc.
Perhaps most disturbingly of all, he specifically seeks to differentiate (and even by implication villify) what he calls “materialist scientists.” As though there were any other kind.
I know you have previously discussed NDEs, but I would appreciate your view, especially if specific to any of the research Beauregard cites.
For my part, I can only confirm that Dr. Beauregard does actually have a PhD in neuroscience, and has previously been published in research that culminated in “The Spiritual Brain.”
I recently was referred to a guy named Dwight Lundell, a former cardiac surgeon who had his medical license revoked a few years ago for questionable practices and has more recently been making a pretty decent profit selling supplements, blogging on hhfound.org (Health Humans Foundation, that he created) and on various other naturalistic websites, and off his book “The Great Cholesterol Lie”. I noticed there was no reference to him on this website or SBM, and thought you may be interested in doing a review of some of his work, since he still seems to be going strong spreading around his quackery.
Otherwise, I would love to hear your views on an argument one could raise in support for homeopathy (if you haven’t yet addressed the question).
It often happens that pro-homeopathy advocates, when cornered during a debate, try to escape the conclusion that one should not take homeopathy by conceding homeopathy is nothing but placebo effect. Nonetheless, the argument goes, why should one take an expensive antibiotic (which one’s body would get accustomed to and hence reduce its efficiency over time when one would really need it) when one could be treated for “cheap” by the placebo effect inducing medication?
The kind of argument I have in mind is really a family of practical reasons for letting people believe in homeopathy. It’s the kind of last resort argument put forward by a cornered homeopathy advocate.
I live in Switzerland, near the french border, and homeopathy is all over the place. I often find myself arguing with relatives and friends about these issues, and I guess I’ve been able to convince them about the sientificity of the process, but I still find myself quite puzzled by this last issue. They might have a point, obviously not a very consistent and compelling one, philosophically speaking, but a practically good one.
Anyway, thanks again for your work, it’s a genuine pleasure to read you!
Here we go, this was on my darwin meetup email listerv locally sent out by a fellow skeptic who finds accupuncture an interesting alternative and refuses to hear me out that it is quackery.
Please review this concept…the whole thing is silly it:
1) presumes that accupuncture is clinically effective vs. sham accupuncture
2) that this effective accupuncture has a known and valid “molecular mechanism”
3) and even suggests that this new “PAPupuncture” therapy may be more effective when used in the accupressure points.
Oh please…review this and I am going to share it with our list-serv. Hopefully you will go over some of the high points that I have already covered and perhaps you will see some things with this PhD neurologist and the research that I missed that are interesting.
there is this supplementary listing of the major studies that we ofen cite…notice closely that within the results column, they show multiple differences “favoring acupuncture” over sham is how they write it, but it is not statistically significant….just writing it that way shows how flawed they see this….no it could not just be a trend caused by some noise…it must favor accupuncture? Not sure if I am reading into this, but I would make sure to qualify it as “not statistically significant” or better yet, “no difference detecte”
So, Steven, let us cut to the chase now. What is the purpose of your blog? Do you just want to attract acolytes to pat you on the back, tell you how wonderful you are, and feed your egotistical self importance. In which your endeavours have been very successful I must say. Well done! Or is the purpose of your blog to attract the average bloke down the pub supping on a single malt? Like me. I am no scientist and my background is in anthropology, myth and language.
So, who are you trying to reach out to? Do you think you are succeeding? It seems to me that anyone attempting to question your views are drowned out by a mass of tepid water. So they do not return. Those that question you are bombarded with insult and thus retire from the debate. This I think is a self defeating strategy.
Regarding that Salon article mentioned above: Salon quickly published an article debunking it, then a response from the original author, then the debunker’s response to the response to the debunking. I think they’ve got it pretty well covered.
Don’t ya just love this guy’s smile and his promotional posters! A guru wannabe! I notice he hangs out at the ‘Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds. Ha! I was banned from there a little while back because I have a mental illness… a disease similar to diabetes so I am told.
Discussion about launching a Dr. Novella fringe treatment to give believers hope, move believers money into the pockets of skeptics, and to further scientific inquiry by means of uncontrolled observational data collection from the customers.
Bacterial replacement therapy:
The Human Microbiome Project has the “goal of identifying and characterizing the microorganisms which are found in association with both healthy and diseased humans.” For the unhealthy believers, a product can then be marketed with the hypothetical foundations that bacterial composition may be the reason for their ill-health, and changes through bacterial replacement therapy will restore their vitality. Healthy individuals looking for greater vitality are also in luck too.
The treatment would involve removing the patient’s microbiota with various sterilizing processes (antibiotics, irradiation), then introducing new bacteria from selected healthy individuals through stool transfer.
1) The believer pays for a treatment that has roots in science.
2) Treatment is “natural”, designated with the popular CAM label.
3) Auctions where healthy spiteful skeptics can bid for the privilege of having their stool stuffed into the stomachs of believers will be joyous and fatten the bottom line of the business.
4) Customers are all case studies for scientific investigation.
5) Dr. Novella administering the therapy can always, and enthusiastically suggest to the therapy seeker that a more natural way of administration would be for them to eat the stool.
6) Set up therapy as 4 or 5 sessions/stages so variables can be controlled for science data.
7) Stool eating uploaded to Youtube celebrating natural medicine treatments, videos go viral, more devout customers who swear by the process Steve becomes a guru.
8) $ + happy believer + science data + believer eating fecal matter = Extremely gratifying.
I think I have uncovered a new source of CAM being ‘make up that shit’. It is called Psychiatric genetics. It is not even a proper field of study. It is a sub-field of neurobabblititus.
This is what it is about.
Psychiatric genetics, a subfield of behavioral neurogenetics, studies the role of genetics in psychological conditions such as alcoholism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism. The basic principle behind psychiatric genetics is that genetic polymorphisms, as indicated by linkage to e.g. a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), are part of the etiology of psychiatric disorders.
The goal of psychiatric genetics is to better understand the etiology of psychiatric disorders, to use that knowledge to improve treatment methods, and possibly also to develop personalized treatments based on genetic profiles (see pharmacogenomics). In other words, the goal is to transform parts of psychiatry into a neuroscience-based discipline.
Linkage, association, and microarray studies generate raw material for findings in psychiatric genetics. Copy number variants have also been associated with psychiatric conditions.   
Steve: I’ve read with attention all your blogs, including those on dieting and food faddism.
It isn’t a topic that interests me particularly (when I needed to lose some extra weight, I went by the consensus science and rapidly achieved the expected results). However, a friend of mine, who is otherwise a very rational person, has been taken in, hook line and sinker, by what I would characterise as Taubes’s conspiracy thinking and rank pseudoscience.
I tried unsuccessfully to talk her out of it, but I have no medical background and she can easily Gish-gallop circles around me, by citing all kind of factoids and cherry-picked peer-reviewed papers, which I suspect she can’t even properly understand.
She has even listened to all your medical lectures, but declared you “wrong on this one” (she is no physician either, mind you).
If it isn’t too much of a hassle, I’d really appreciate one of your wondrous dissection-and-demolition jobs over this fresh article by Taubes, which in my opinion packs even more dubious claims than customary.
Given that, in your words, psychiatry is a subset of neurology, I am astonished to find that you have totally ignored the massive controversies currently being debated over the field trials of the DSM 5.
I, and I suspect many others here, would very much like your opinions on this. Maybe you are still collating your thoughts and will astound us all in the very near future. I hope so.
Isn’t ‘mind reading’ a part of a long line of medical and societal quackery? Why do you think that psychiatry is given such credence ensconsed by law? It is because of the magic of technological progress as determined by lobotomy, ECT or fMRI scans? Or do you dismiss such studies as these?
Over at Why Evolution is True Jerry Coyne wrote about Ben Carson, the creationists doctor at Johns Hopkins, saying some bizarre stuff about evolution. In the comments a couple people have made the point that they don’t think understanding evolution is directly relevant to being a doctor (especially a surgeon, ENT, or oncologists). One commenter even said he thought oncologists “have precisely and exactly zero need to understand evolutionary theory.”
I tried to argue that understanding the foundational principle of biology was directly relevant to physicians, in a variety of areas. I am very interesting in your views on the subject. Does understanding evolution help a doctor be better as her/his job? Is understanding evolution going above and beyond as a doctor, or something that should be expected of physicians?
So I had got to arguing with a group of local skeptics on our local list-serv for an atheist meetup….
We got to debating alternative medicine topics and sure enough out come the woo woo apologists. After a long debate about acupuncture, the two that were arguing basically backed down, but would not concede that sham acupuncture simply a placebo….and skeptics like myself should not be “too eager to dismiss”
Anyway, what was more interesting was that in the process of talking and debating about alternative medicine, there were a number of folks that felt the need to “balance” the alternative medicine debates with “proper” criticisms of “orthodox medicine”. The manner in which they chose to criticize “mainstream” medicine, was essentially the whole “death by medicine” routine – 1998 JAMA and IOM reports.
I was advised by a couple folks that any criticisms of alternative medicine should be properly “balanced”.
One of the folks applauded my thorough breakdown of acupuncture, but wanted me to use this same rigorous approach, to also criticize “orthodox medicine”. This same person also interestingly was trying to prove a point, and was using the term “quackery” for criticisms of “orthodox medicine”. He found my reluctance to use this “highly pejorative” with equal enthusiasm and felt him using it in his own ways was an equally good use of the term and that my reluctance points to a bias that I have….
So what happened in my view was that I made criticisms of alternative medicine, then they threw out red herrings into that conversation that were by no means necessary to that discussion, all driven by a straw man they assume that pretty much seems that I unequally apply proper skepticism to mainstream medicine….then they try and push a false equivalency – “quackery exists in mainstream as well as alternative medicine all the same and the term applies all the same”…..or the false equivalency they perceive is also apparent in their sense of a “need for balance when bashing alternative medicine”
And to top it off, any attempt at minimizing the “death by medicine” talking points (by the way, if you have never read the “cancer cure foundation” website, I recommend…it is apparently a big google hit on this topic….I was floored to see a skeptic quote that website) was then proof that I was simply an apologist for the big pharma scam….or at least that I was willing to apologist at all for mainstream medicine much, but was not equally as forgiving of alternative medicine. Basically any attempt to balance the “death by medicine” stuff, then I was asked why I felt to need to balance these criticisms (which gets back to the false equivalency issue I think).
Anyway, much is in there….perhaps something to use….for me the big issues were the straw man issue (you are not a proper skeptic of mainstream medicine because you do not bash mainstream medicine the same) and the false equivalency trying to be pushed (that mainstream medicine can be bashed in a similar manner as often and it should be at all times).
Also, I work at a federal VA healthcare facility…..there is some chatter with a couple docs I heard that they want to study acupuncture in combination with something like prolonged exposure or something like that for the treatment of PTSD….seriously? Why? How would it work? How are modern day doctors (these are medical doctors by the way, just with some acupuncture training and experience) buying into this premise at this point? These two docs are not on my team, so I am pretty sure the issue will not come up in conversation, but a clinical psychologist in my carpool told me about it, and he was voicing some severe skepticism about the idea….rightfully so I would think!
I think you have always done an excellent job on critiquing the autism-vaccine link (or lack thereof) on your blog. A few days ago, I saw a similar meme pop up. I had not heard of it yet, but I am quite sure it is just as unsubstantiated as the autism-vaccine link. However, that does not mean it won’t be successful in spreading.
”Doctors working with autistic children are noting many correlations between the rats fed genetically modified feed and autistic children. When you look at the stomachs of the GMO-fed animals, they have all of the severe allergy responses, the inflammation and the reddening. The intestinal lining is deteriorating. The smell of the intestinal contents is very rank. The biology has been drastically changed. Doctors say that’s exactly what they’re seeing with autistic children.”
- Brand new research findings from Finland published in a peer-reviewed medical journal
A recent placebo-controlled study reveals new evidence of trans-cranial bright light’s effect to brain functions when administered through the ear. Bright light stimulation was found to increase activity in brain areas related to processing of visual sensory information and tactile stimuli. The findings constitute the first ever published scientific article about functional modulation of the brain with bright light delivered to the brain through the ears. The study was published today May 29th, 2012 in the World Journal of Neuroscience.
Irving Kirsch does research on placebo effect. He has stated that anti-depressant studies have a publishing bias and that for mild to moderate depression they are no more effective than placebo.
There is some effectiveness for major depression.
Is there anything wrong with his studies? Is he a crank, or does he have a scientifically strong position?
I found out about him by reading this transcript of a 60 minute interview. Stahl has definitely sided with Kirsch and there is little time given to explaining the other side of the story, so I don’t know.
Don’t know if this has been covered yet but it is hilariously sad. Gary Null makes a documentary declaring the FDA to be a rogue agency that uses armed agents and “Gestapo” tactics to force mainstream medicine and agriculture on people. Gasp!
The author teaches philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. I would be interested to read your take (neurologist, as opposed to a philosopher) on her treatment of determinism vs. free will as it applies to addiction either here or on the Skeptics Guide podcast. (And maybe she might even be a good interview guest for SGU?)
I agree with @Sara’s post about Irving Kirsch’s claims that antidepressants are no more effective than placebos. I would love to see you tackle this in a way that is easier to understand than the current literature available.
Also, agree with @Sparticles in that I would love to hear a neurologist’s take on Adrian Owen’s claims.
The idea that “the drugs aren’t getting worse, the placebos are getting better” sounds suspiciously like Dr. Crislip’s favorite “look! Sham acupuncture works just as well as real acupuncture” article.
Sadly, the article is behind a paywall (so I don’t have immediate access) and even if I could get the article, it is enough outside of my area of expertise that I’m afraid I’d miss some nuance that might be important.
Do you think that somewhere in your vast multimedia empire you could tackle it? Here, SBM, SGU…doesn’t matter.
Below is a link to a video from a Chinese news outlet (in English) about a “mystery” under the Baltic Sea. This seems like an interesting case of UFO hunting gone crazy, but I would love to hear your insights.
The study (small) purports to show that the composition of the diet significantly affects resting energy expenditure (REE) total energy expenditure (TEE), hormone levels, and metabolic syndrome components.
“The technology for developing new scientific evidence for the validity of a classical fact or concept will have to be created afresh precisely to test the original knowledge without distorting the same to suit the application of the new methodology. Any undue compromise in this regard is unwarranted because Ayurvedic biology and therapeutics are fundamentally different than the contemporary sciences, hence routine modern research methods will prove futile. I personally feel that at present there is more a need of research in developing an appropriate research methodology for Ayurvedic research than actual clinical or therapeutic research in Ayurveda.”
Melanie Thernstrom’s book The Pain Chronicles ends with an anecdote comparing the difficulty of locating pain in the brain to that of locating beauty. I sense that Dr. Novella tends to be optimistic about this sort of thing, so I wonder if he might have a guess at how long it might be before we can have an objective measure for pain.
It seems to me that the benefits of this would be enormous, both fto clarify certain aspects of the placebo effects, and to avoid unwonted suspicions that suffers might be faking.
(bearing in mind that the pain experience is complicated, and pain intensity, even if could be measured objectively, is not the be-all and end-all, blah, blah blah)
And while I’m on the subject of stuff I wish scientists would hurry up with, when is somebody going to figure out how to control scar tissue from surgery? I read something about some sort of experimental saran wrap that supposedly might be useful for this.
Also, it seems that word, “unwonted,” does not mean what I think it means. Try “unwarranted.”
The conscious self called Min is an illusion produced by the brain in which it is contained.
If an identical copy is made of a brain which includes in its repertoire a conscious self called Min, the identical copy will include an identical copy of the conscious self called Min. The two Mins will be completely indistinguishable. Each Min will feel itself to be the one true Min. And neither Min can be so to the exclusion of the other. But only for an instant. After that the two conscious selves will have different experiences and will progressively diverge.
But that is true also of an uncopied conscious self travelling through time. The conscious self called Min is different now from the conscious self called Min of a second ago, and the conscious self called Min a second later will be different again . If you don’t think so, think again. Is the Min of today the same Min aged seven years? Aged one year? One hour? There was a time Min hated the taste if beer/boys/sex. Now Min loves beer/boys/sex.
However, most physicists think that it will not be possible to produce an identical copy of a brain. It has to do with the impossibility of duplicating quantum states.
Is it possible that we can get around or escape the mechanism of natural selection.What I mean is,can humans with their command of science and medicine out pace the slower temporal action of natural selection.With the advances in stem cell science,immunology and medication,does external biological selection get tempered or superseded by cultural forces.
I was listening to a Weekly Wienersmith Podcast recently where they were talking to a neurobiology researcher about recent work done on glia signalling and the signalling connections between glia and neurons.
From what they were saying, it seems there’s a whole “slow brain” system based on chemistry that our current functional neuroimaging technology can’t even begin to see. This would seem to make a lot of sense out of the fairly common experience we have of “sleeping on it”, and suddenly remembering things a few minutes after we stop trying.
This would also answer those dualists who are saying that the inability to directly correlate functional MRI results to thought patterns implies a separate “mind”. In a way, it makes them somewhat correct, although wrong if they are determined to say the other “mind” is not biologically based.
Anyway, I’d like to hear/see what you have to say about this. Is this good science, or is this a quack fringe? Google Scholar finds me a few articles that seem fairly widely cited, but I’m not qualified to judge the quality of this kind of work. It does sound absolutely fascinating, though.
(yeah I know) they had this story about a woman in Houston who is supposed to be the Guinness Book record holder for solving (helping) the most crimes at about 1300.
Her name is Lois Gibson,and according to the story,she has worked for 30 years as a forensic artist for the Houston Police Dept. where using her talents she has at least contributed to somewhat under 1300 crimes solved. She also claims that forensic artists have a 30% success rate for helping solve crimes.
Now I have no idea if any of this holds up to scrutiny,but on the face of it,it seems to fly in the face of everything that I have learned in the skeptic movement concerning people’s ability to accurately record and play back memories in eyewitness testimony,especially in trying circumstances such as a crime.
Not only is the witness usually unreliable,there is the added element of a non-witness trying (maybe influencing?) said witness into recalling and recording the facial details of the suspect.The whole exercise seems fraught with potential biases and cognitive errors to the point that even if they did get a reasonable likeness in some instances,that the many other instances that were wrong would severely compromise the process.
Also,the small amount of research that I did do,turns up success rates of much less than 30%,but if you Google the subject you will see many instances of very close matches of sketches supposedly made by an artist,and the eventual perpetrator.Some of these just look too good to be true,almost as if the person doing the sketch were looking right at the suspect,but some are more plausibly close,with minor errors of scale and such,but I can’t help thinking that these ‘matches’ were cherry picked from 1000′s of sketches,most of which were not even close.
Going back to Lois Gibson,there is something in the way that she presents herself that seems very much like what I have seen with psychics,and other wooish presenters.It very much had my skeptical senses tingling. (see also : http://vimeo.com/37703927)
I would be interested in hearing your opinion on PANS (Pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome, formerly PANDAS). After my daughter experienced an acute episode of obsessive – compulsive behavior shortly after recovering from a strep infection, there was some discussion by her psychiatrist that a diagnosis of PANS (diagnosis being a strong word given that PANS is not a currently accepted medical diagnosis) might be appropriate.
I teach AP Statistics and use the vaccine/autism cultural controversy (scientific non controversy) as a case study in my class to teach critical thinking and the basic concept of epidemiological studies. This familiarity and some of the surface similarities between PANS and vaccine/autism theories lead me to be very skeptical of PANS. It seems to me that it is possible that PANS can be seen as a small scale, parallel version of vaccine/autism debate, but one that is still evolving and doing so without the contributions of a vocal fringe element and criminal actors (Wakefield,et al).
Either way, I would like to thank you for all the valuable information I have gleaned from you over the years and assure you that it has made a positive impact on my students.
I am a recent visitor to your site, and I thank you for the great work on behalf of critical thinkers.
I have recently run into several pseudoscientific devices. For example, the “Activated Air” device made by http://www.eng3corp.com , the same people that brought us “activated water”! All very sciencey sounding with terms like “Reactive oxygen species”, “oxidative stress”.
But, enough of that. The real reason I’m commenting is to ask you to look at “Heartmath technology”, or so its called.
“The core of the HeartMath philosophy is that the heart, physically and metaphorically, is the key to tapping into an intelligence that can provide us with fulfillment. Science has shown that the heart communicates with the body and brain on various different levels. ”
“The latest research in neuroscience confirms that emotion and cognition can best be thought of as separate but interacting functions or systems, each with its unique intelligence. Our research is showing that the key to the successful integration of the mind and emotions lies in increasing the coherence (ordered, harmonious function) in both systems and bringing them into phase with one another.”
The topic seems right up your alley as it tries to utilize neurological science to support what appears to be a very well crafted pseudoscience. I was motivated to explore this after having someone in a group I attend suggest that we invite someone from the Heartmath institute to present. I prefer to avoid apparent frauds.
Thank you, I hope you’ll consider a review. I would be very interested in what you have to say about the current understanding of the relation between heart function and cognition.
I read your blog daily. I saw a new website on Geekosystem that is very interesting. http://www.iamscientist.com/ This might be a new way for people interested in science to get involved on a personal level and support the scientific community.
Why the warm and fuzzies?
Why do people only have certain spiritual experiences when the circumstances are really dire?
The journey from a mormon counsellor to the bishop to a freethinking atheist with a skeptical bent has been anything but smooth.
When i discuss god with believing mormon friends it always comes down to one moment in their lives. They can without problem see all the logic that i point out to them but still they will cling to their faith because of the one experience that they can’t explain away using logic or science.
Almost without fail it is based on a spiritual experience they had when they were in a really tough spot and they turned to god for help. Immediately or shortly after saying a prayer (probably the most sincere prayer of their life) they felt a warm feeling of love and/or peace.
Now I can speculate from what I have learnt about how the mind works what may cause these feelings, but I wonder if you can help me explain what processes are at work here.
WOW: So many comments and suggestionsd how can you respond??:
Last night on ABC’s Nightline (aug 18) Ted Carrick, D.C. was headlined: A chiropractic neurologist, perhaps the “MAYO” of CN’s.. Well he obviously treats neurological disease with motion of your parts or motion of your total self in the GYROSTIM!!! please go to gyrostim.com for more information .. YES this machine is an ultimate totally enclosed contraption that can be rotated in all axies!! Wow an ultimate nystagmus inducer!!! There are gyrostim’s in maybe 33 chiropractic neurological centers here in the US..
I can think of only one possible treatable medical condition that it may be efficacious.. i.e. dislodging otoliths in the semicircular canals.. I was so incensed by this Nightline article that my wife got pissed at my rant that she turned off Nighline and me as well LOL!!!…This nonsense needs debunking.. WHO is neurological science advisor for ABC???
“I can think of only one possible treatable medical condition that it may be efficacious.. i.e. dislodging otoliths in the semicircular canals.”
I have this condition.
It is called BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo)
And I would not go into one of those machines if you paid me to do so.
When the condition is active, I suffer from vertigo whenever I extend my neck. After a bit of educated googling, I came to the conclusion that it was caused either by a brain tumour in the cerebellum or, more optimistically, a malfunction in the labryinth of the inner ear. I was about to see a doctor for the first time in about two decades. Drat! But I was saved by my audiologist niece who made the diagnosis and suggested the Epley Manoeuvre. I found a demonstration by a physiotherapist on youtube. The symtoms resolved within about six minutes. And I’d been putting up with it for six months.
My gut feeling is that the machine would be an expensive aggravator of this condition.
And I mean ‘gut feeling’.
Pretty typical altmed stuff. Her mom got cancer, given a death sentence, cancer was treated convetionally *and* alternatively. Patient went into remission. Must be the alt meds that cured her!
I’m very happy that her mom got to live longer than expected. I think that is wonderful. I just can’t stand this woman because her argument is that mainstream doctors are too arrogant when in fact she is the one that’s being arrogant.
“Massimo Pagliucci (sic) names you in a very nice way”
And so do you name Pagliucci in a very nice way. However, there’s no getting around it. It’s “PIG” not “Pag”. (;
Well, wouldn’t the world would be a dull place if we all approached scepticism in exactly the same way, especially the way Pigliucci wants it done.
I reject Pigliucci’s censorship.
Skepticism is a horse of many colours, and thank god for that.
For what it’s worth, two of the unmentionables are PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne.
Check them out.
I am a 2nd year PhD student at Purdue’s management school. During this weeks seminar series I am assigned to present and critique a paper in the Entrepreneurship literature co-authored by a renowned management scholar – Scott Shane.
The title of the paper is “Is the Tendency to Engage in Entrepreneurship Genetic?”
The major premise of the paper is that genetics play an important explanatory role in determining propensity of individuals to become entrepreneurs. The authors use a behavioral genetics method of twin-studies to explore this claim.
In their theory development, they use the following four mechanisms to support their hypothesis (recall:”Genetic factors have a statistically significant and substantive effect on the propensity of people to engage in entrepreneurship”):
1)Genetic differences have chemical impact on the brain, which predisposes people to engage in entrepreneurial activity. The example of the Taq A1 allele of the DRD2 gene is used as an example of the “gambling gene”. If there is a gambling gene, why not an entrepreneurship gene?
2) “Genes might predispose people to develop individual attributes that affect tendency of people to engage in entrepreneurship.” Example used: Since extraversion is heritable, and entrepreneurs are extroverted, entrepreneurship is heritable.
3) rGE or gene-environment correlation is used by the authors to argue that since genes (i.e. intelligence gene) lead people to select their environments (i.e. a higher level of education) and environments shapes behavior (i.e. entrepreneurial success), entrepreneurship is heritable.
4) G X E or gene-environment interaction is used similarly to the example above. If certain individual characteristics (i.e. greater level of awareness) are heritable and they manifest in some environments (i.e. the business environment), individuals with these genes are more likely to become entrepreneurs. Here the authors use the example of the dopamine D4 receptor gene, which has apparently been shown to increase the salience of information.
Without summarizing the rest of the study and the twin-study methodolgy, the authors do find a very significant genetic explanation for the propensity to become an entrepreneur. They find that 42% of the genetic and environmental variance in the propensity to become self-employed is explained by genetic factors. None of the variance can be attributed to shared-environmental effects, while 52% can be attributed to nonshared environmental factors plus measurement error.
I have two fundamental problems with the article:
1) My skeptical alarm went off immediately after I read the title. I asked myself, “is it really that simple?”
2) I am not familiar with behavioral genetics and a number of cited articles.
To rectify problem one, I had to do some significant additional research (first solve problem 2). Unfortunately, Wikipedia was not very helpful in this case. Behavioral genetics and twin-study articles were very neutral and brief. An article in Scientific American seems to be very skeptical about behavioral genetics studies that perpetrate any attribution of cause and effect between genetic factors and “squishy” behavioral traits – like entrepreneurship. Your blog seems to be fairly silent on the issue as well. I read an article in Nature titled “Gene-environment correlations: a review of the evidence and implications for prevention of mental illness”, but that was of only limited help.
I hope that you can, at the very least, help shed some light on this issue for me – specifically the validity of behavioral genetics and the four mechanisms the authors use to generate their hypothesis. I will do my best to present the article fairly, given my limited knowledge of the topic. My only fear is that I am so skeptical about these findings, and behavioral genetics in general, that it will cloud my objectivity – the overly skeptical problem, I guess.
Thanks Steve. My wife and I love your show more than I can express in words. Say hi to the entire gang and good luck with Occ the Skeptical Caveman!
Is ths a reasonable case for a potential root cause of autism and, if so, is there any relationship between the mother’s immune reation affecting fetuses during pregnancy and subsequent vaccination of those children compared to a group where the mother had no infection during pregnancy?
Because if the first factor is true, the the anti-vax community will likely try to claim the second as a “triggering effect” because they both involve the immune system. It might be useful to sort that out as early as possible.
Thanks. Love the blog and the SGU podcast (I’ll be catching up on Ep. 371 this afternoon).
I’d like to see the skeptical movement make a statement of support for President Obama in the US 2012 presidential election. I see a clear delineation between the republican party’s disdain for science, and the democrat’s support. I also see greater tolerance in the democratic party for non-religious faith or lack of faith (or whatever), and policies that support human rights (as opposed to simply giving them lip service) We have a lot of problems with our government no matter who’s elected. But if we really want science to flourish, we need to take a side in this election, and not be afraid to say where we stand. Otherwise we’re just talking heads postulating and posturing about the importance of science from high atop our ivory towers.
I’m a philosopher of science and am amazed at some of the medical advice I’ve heard from professionals.
This week: a pediatrician recommended the supplement Algin by Nature’s Sunshine to treat high blood lead levels in an infant. “Well,” she says, “some of my patients report a benefit, and at any rate, it can’t hurt!”
Can you confirm my suspicion that iron supplements compete with lead for absorption and so are supported by medical evidence but that “detox” supplements are successful only at calming nervous but gullible parents (while increasing their out of pocket costs)?
Here we go again:
From the always respectable Mail Online
Are wind farms saving or killing us? A provocative investigation claims thousands of people are falling sick because they live near them
Wind Turbine Syndrome. Until you’ve seen for yourself what it can do to a community, you might be tempted to dismiss it as a hypochondriac’s charter or an urban myth.
But the suffering I witnessed earlier this year in Waterloo, a hamlet outside Adelaide in southern Australia, was all too real.
The symptoms they claim to have suffered may vary – dizziness; balance problems; memory loss; inability to concentrate; insomnia; tachycardia; increased blood pressure; raised cortisol levels; headaches; nausea; mood swings; anxiety; tinnitus; palpitations; depression – but the theme remains the same.
According to a study by U.S. noise control engineer Rick James, wind farms generate the same symptoms as Sick Building Syndrome – the condition that plagued office workers in the Eighties and Nineties as a result of what was eventually discovered to be the Low Frequency Noise (LFN), caused by misaligned air conditioning systems.
The combination of LFN and ‘amplitude modulation’ (loudness that goes up and down) leads to fatigue, poor concentration and dizziness.
“Acupuncture for Chronic Pain – Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis
Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option. Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo. However, these differences are relatively modest, suggesting that factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors to the therapeutic effects of acupuncture.”
In the September catalog for Great Courses I was alarmed to see a new course: The Science of Natural Healing. It includes lectures on all the basic altmed topics with the exception of outright quackery like acupunture and homeopathy. Most alarming lecture title: Biofield Therapy. I think this course needs a takedown either here or on Science Based Medicine. Perhaps you have enough influence to convince them to reconsider the offering. I am a recorded lecture junkie, I bought one of your courses, and would prefer to see them retain the high standards they have so far met. Note: I lvery much enjoyed your course of neurology and critcal thinking. I intend to relisten to them soon.
I’m wondering if you have any comment on a recent IgNoble Prize winner,
NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.
REFERENCE: “Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction,” Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, 2009.
The article took an angle I hadn’t heard before — farmers are supposedly claiming that Monsanto’s GMO corn and herbicide has triggered a little natural selection in the corn fields. Weeds that couldn’t stand the heat died off, and “superweeds” that are resistant became prevalent and are now a big problem. And hence the new round of Monsanto bashing. Or at least a round of “don’t genetically mess with nature”.
In the comments section, I noticed someone who wrote: “A small California biotech company, Epicyte, in 2001 announced the development of genetically engineered corn which contained a spermicide which made the semen of men who ate it sterile. At the time Epicyte had a joint venture agreement to spread its technology with DuPont and Syngenta, two of the sponsors of the Svalbard Doomsday Seed Vault. Epicyte was since acquired by a North Carolina biotech company. Astonishing to learn was that Epicyte had developed its spermicidal GMO corn with research funds from the US Department of Agriculture, the same USDA which, despite worldwide opposition, continued to finance the development of Terminator technology, now held by Monsanto. ”
That seemed like a tall tale. I googled it, and found a lot of articles claiming that this was indeed true, although I’ve yet to find it at a known reliable news source. On the other hand, simple googling couldn’t turn up a rebuttal to it either.
Do you know anything about these items? And, more generally, should there be concerns about GMO crops from the perspective of (1) unintended consequences like super weeds and (2) companies genetically engineering contraception into the food supply, or other unintended side effects?
Healing touch therapy and guided imagery for PTSD!
From a description of the “Intervention,” describing healing touch therapy: “HT is a type of biofield therapy that involves gentle, noninvasive touch by trained practitioners, who utilize specific techniques with the intention of working with the body’s vital energy system to stimulate a healing response.” …. and so on.
Holding the science quite apart for the moment, I find it fascinating that Dr. Alexander automatically frames his near-death experience as proof of a Christian god. Even if we believe his account (which is similar to thousands of such recollections), why is this proof of a ‘God even more grand and unfathomably glorious than the one I’d learned of as a child in Sunday school’?!
I am being followed on twitter by a gentleman named Dr Peter May who claims to be a
LENS Neurofeedback practitioner.
Here is the website: http://www.brainneurofeedback.com/
I would love it if you could look at this topic.
There are several studies listed on the website that are supposed to prove the efficacy of this intervention.
I would love to sit and search through the studies myself but I am incredibly busy at the moment and you are the expert!
Thank you again for the fantastic work – the SGU, the blog, all the outreach. Great stuff.
“Undertaking regular jogging increases the life expectancy of men by 6.2 years and women by 5.6 years, reveals the latest data from the Copenhagen City Heart study presented at the EuroPRevent2012 meeting.”
“Presentiment without any external clues may, in fact, exist, according to new Northwestern University research that analyzes the results of 26 studies published between 1978 and 2010.”
“”But our analysis suggests that if you were tuned into your body, you might be able to detect these anticipatory changes between two and 10 seconds beforehand and close your video game,” Mossbridge said. “You might even have a chance to open that spreadsheet you were supposed to be working on. And if you were lucky, you could do all this before your boss entered the room.”
This phenomenon is sometimes called “presentiment,” as in “sensing the future,” but Mossbridge said she and other researchers are not sure whether people are really sensing the future.
“I like to call the phenomenon ‘anomalous anticipatory activity,’” she said. “The phenomenon is anomalous, some scientists argue, because we can’t explain it using present-day understanding about how biology works; though explanations related to recent quantum biological findings could potentially make sense. It’s anticipatory because it seems to predict future physiological changes in response to an important event without any known clues, and it’s an activity because it consists of changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin and nervous systems.”"
I just happened across a new documentary on Canadian Netflix called “Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution”. In this AFA-funded three-volume series, a former dentist named Dr. Jobe Martin makes some horribly inaccurate claims about radiometric dating, evolutionary biology and cosmology.
I was shocked to see such a wreck of a documentary being promoted on Netflix, especially in Canada where the number of available titles is rather limited. I shudder to think how many people with a superficial understanding of evolutionary biology will be sucked in by his outrageous claims. I think this documentary would make excellent fodder for your blog.
I received this today from a friend. It was dated Nov. 1 and was entitled:
Casey Daily Dispatch: Is GM food killing us?”
From: Casey Research
What I read was, to put it mildly, a little one sided.
What’s really different this time – and what has Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, NZ, and Associate Professor Judy Carman, a biochemist at Flinders University in Australia, holding press conferences to garner attention to the subject – is the technique employed to effectuate the genetic change. It doesn’t modify the genes of the wheat plants in question; instead, a specialized gene blocker interferes with the natural action of the genes.”
And there’s a whole lot more.
I Googled Prof. Heinemann and all that came up was these rabin anti-GM sites, all with “official” sounding sites. Most ended in .org, which I’m learning seems to mean less and less
I’m sure you probably have already seen the news about a heart study that supposedly confirms positive effects of chelation therapy. When I looked at it, it seemed the study had a number of flaws, one of which was some statistical fudging.
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting for you to take a stab at it, seeing this kind of thing falls directly under what you’re trying to fight against.
Publishing memoirs, esp of significant events, is heavily dependent on fallible memory. We are capturing memories of vets of previous wars before they (sadly) die off. A grounding in skeptical thinking and understanding of neuroscience is very helpful in reviewing and contextualizing ones memories of traumatic events.
I recently published an article in a history magazine of events in which I was a participant during the Vietnam war. I discovered that 2 significant events had been reversed in the timeline of my memory. Other folk’s memories did not, and could not, match mine. In the end I had to sift through the documentary evidence, and sort the sometimes irreconcilable memories of other participants. The result can only be “most likely” scenario. Once something is done, it can never be completely recaptured.
Exposure to fact based thinking from communities such as this were most helpful in allowing me to create a most likely scenario, and kept me from clinging to certain narratives regardless of evidence. Thanks for that.
That being said, if I am listening to the reminisces of a 90 year old WWII vet, I WILL respect his memory. I may just not buy it. But neither will I challenge him at this stage of his life.
This past summer, tragically a little girl in my area fell in a pool and almost drowned, but pulled out and put on life support. She still is alive today, months later, with some progress but unknown outcome. The family has set up a facebook support page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Please-Pray-for-Rosalie/113775598763720) and if you look at the “sept 9″ post, it states that the little girl received a “gentle adjustment” from her favorite chiropractor, Matt. This is a little girl who has had severe brain damage; should a chiropractor really be touching her? I was wondering if you would write about the safety of this, and if you think that was a very dangerous decision for the chiropractor to accept such a vulnerable patient?
Would love to see a review here or on SBM of recent research conducted by Yale scientists led by Dr. Hugh Taylor on the effect of microwaves on fetal development and ADHD in mice. Press release at http://www.yalemedicalgroup.org/cellphonestudy2012
There was a private research scientist named William Dobelle that developed an artificial vision system that incorporated implanting an electrode array into the visual cortex that was connected to a wearable video camera. According to the press, he was able to restore, at least partially, some vision to one or two patients. His story is fascinating as he did not take a traditional career route and rather self-funded his own experiments and technology. He died in 2004, and his invention was transferred to a nearby university, but I don’t believe any further progress has been reported.
I’m surprised this did not make a bigger splash, so I’m wondering if this was a hoax. Please take a lot into this, I think you’d find this interesting.
Here’s an article that claims that the scientists involved in the search for the Higgs boson only found a positive result because that was the outcome they were looking for. “They wished for it intently, obsessively, and incessantly. They visualized it, spoke about it, and many even put their careers on the line in the hopes of finding it.” In other words, their expectations altered the physical results of their experiments.
I am curious as to your opinion of the hypothesis that assortative mating is playing a role in the occurrence of autism spectrum disorder. Here is a link to the earliest study I’ve found mentioning the topic.
Brazilian Mediums Shed Light On Brain Activity During a Trance State
ScienceDaily (Nov. 16, 2012) —Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil analyzed the cerebral blood flow (CBF) of Brazilian mediums during the practice of psychography, described as a form of writing whereby a deceased person or spirit is believed to write through the medium’s hand. The new research revealed intriguing findings of decreased brain activity during the mediums’ dissociative state which generated complex written content. Their findings will appear in the November 16th edition of the online journal PLOS ONE.
Hi- I did a search and found nothing regarding NLD. I am a 51 year old male who just was diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disorder. My verbal IQ was tested at 130 and my nonverbal was 85. I was not listed as having an actual disability, however, even though I had to leave a job because of the NLD. This disorder has been beyond problematic in schools. Math is extremely difficult. Is the difference between the verbal IQ and nonverbal an actual disability?
(CBS News) Modern wheat is a “perfect, chronic poison,” according to Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who has published a book all about the world’s most popular grain.
Davis said that the wheat we eat these days isn’t the wheat your grandma had: “It’s an 18-inch tall plant created by genetic research in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said on “CBS This Morning.” “This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there’s a new protein in this thing called gliadin. It’s not gluten. I’m not addressing people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. I’m talking about everybody else because everybody else is susceptible to the gliadin protein that is an opiate. This thing binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year.”
I have heard the “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” argument when discussing, with others, personal privacy and information sharing among government agencies. I really have no problem with the argument itself, but I do feel the need to test its validity. Most of the arguments against it involve what I believe to be slippery slope arguments, i.e. “IF there are information leaks/pirating, then this could happen.” But maybe I’m missing something. Additionally, the Constitution does not explicitly express any right to privacy and the Bill of Rights only mentions it in the context of home privacy. I really enjoy your clear-cut analyses and I would greatly appreciate some clarification here. Thank you.
A recent article in the Kansas City Star states that the anitbiotics used in beef production have led to antibiotic-resistant bacterial disease in humans. The article cites lots of anecdotes and correlations, but fails to clearly establish cause and effect.
The tone of the article is anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, with a bit of animal rights sentiment thrown in for good measure. I would think that such a lengthy exposé on the subject should have included references to research and objective data on the subject, but I am suspicious of the author’s motives because it does not.
Assuming there is one, what is the scientific consensus on the subject? Does the data exist to support a connection between anitbiotics used in beef production and antibiotic-resistant bacterial disease in humans?
The objective of nutrigenomics medicine is to provide the nutrients that each person requires for optimal health. An individual’s ideal nutrients are established by evaluating their genetic blueprint, or DNA. For the sake of simplicity, it may help to think of your genes as a series of piano keys. Each key is unique and makes a different sound, yet they are all necessary for making music. Even when several keys are broken you may still be able to play music, though the melody won’t sound the same and depending upon the song, these failings may or may not make a difference. However, if you are to play in a symphony, you will have three options:
1. You can ignore the differences, playing music that is off key,
2. You can try to use the black keys instead, to bypass the changes, or
3. You can address the problems and call a service person to repair them.
In treating genetic vulnerabilities we have similar options:
1. You can ignore the problem, living with poor health,
2. You can change your diet to eliminate some of the toxic triggers, thereby circumventing some of the damaged genes, or
3. You can address the faulty genes at their root cause, applying specific nutrients, RNA, nucleotides, and other genetic reinforcements.
In choosing the last two options, you achieve a balance that allows your body chemistry to work more efficiently. This also targets the root cause rather than simply applying Band-Aids with various therapies and medications. We welcome you to personalized medicine of the 21st Century!
I wonder if you can shed some light on an everyday occurrence that always strikes me as odd and interesting. Many times after using my cellphone, I put it aside on my desk and focus my attention on my computer or some reading. My phone’s touch screen remains lit for a few minutes before shutting off to save battery life.
Here’s what’s weird: when I notice the screen turning off out of the corner of my eye, it actually feels like noticing a light TURNING ON. I used to think I had just received a new text, and was bewildered to see a dark screen when I looked at the phone directly, but in time I’ve learned not to be fooled by this weird illusion.
Why would my brain perceive a light turning off as a light turning on? I’d expect to sense a “darkening” out of the corner of my eye, not a brightening and then a darkening. Is one level of my brain aware of the dimming screen before “I” am, and messing with the order I’m perceiving this? If so, that’s kind of spooky.
It seems that a lot of alarmist naturalistic/organic-leaning websites and media outlets have been running with this study, obviously concluding that antibiotics are likely a cause of obesity in today’s society, as well as making several other reaching claims (with a healthy dose of conspiracy theorizing).
I don’t know if this is even worth bothering with,but apparently there has arisen a ‘Sandy Hook is a hoax’ community out there that is a conspiracy mongering bunch that link the “hoax” to government seizure of guns and other nefarious goings on.There is even a site dedicated to it…I won’t promote them by linking to it. See YouTube for some crazy ramblings.Oh,and I think Alex Jones may be fueling this as well…big surprise!
There was a story about lead paint as a great cause of juvenile delinquency making the rounds today. They all seem to point back to this article in The Guardian. As a neuroscientist and skeptic, what do you make of it? To me it seems fishy (correlation/causation). He has a lot of sources, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of many of them.
I have seen many “cancer cures” chain posts on Face Book but one that seems to be coming up more recently touts marijuana concentrate as a new cure for cancer. It usually involves motions of some new study or personal anecdote and oddly shows large syringes filled w/dark brown tar that is supposed to be injected into the patient. It might be that i live in and am FB friends with mostly people in Colorado and MJ is a hot topic lately. Sorry i cont have a link but i don’t have access to FB from here.
I saw this article today. It claims that levels of lead exposure in populations not only correlates with but is causative of violence in populations. He’s citing a meta-analysis and a lot of studies. He’s claiming the only dissenting study was run by manufacturer of products containing lead…
Fancy a look? http://www.monbiot.com/2013/01/07/the-grime-behind-the-crime/
Jack Krasuski MD runs something called the American Physician Institute for Advanced Professional Studies, which offers specialty board prep courses and an ezine called “GeniusBrief.” The link above has a blurb about a study showing vitamin D is good for autism. But it’s a bit of a leap, as you might expect.
Here’s the blurb:
“Vitamin D Reduces Risk of Autism
A study conducted by Vitamin D Council Executive Director Dr. John Cannell and Dr. William B. Grant—a former NASA atmospheric research scientist and founder of Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center in San Francisco, California—found additional evidence that vitamin D reduces the risk of developing autism. Researchers assessed the variation of autism prevalence by state for individuals who were 6 to 17 years of age. Results showed states with higher solar ultraviolet-B doses in summer or autumn had half the rate of autism compared to states with lower doses. Vitamin D is thought to reduce the risk of autism by strengthening the body’s immune system and reducing inflammation. Recent findings also indicate that vitamin D increases neurotrophins, regulates glutathione levels, increases DNA repair enzymes, and protects against mitochondrial damage. To learn more about vitamin D and its beneficial effects in deterring the development of autism, click here.”
And/or concussions, degenerative brain disease, the NFL, and bullshit treatment strategies:
“[Former Miami Dolphins QB Bernie] Kosar contacted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and told him about [Dr. Rick] Sponaugle, whose complex treatments to improve blood flow in the brain include intravenous therapies along with dietary supplements.”
While at MIT Swartz downloaded a ton of scientific papers from JSTOR to make them publicly available. I sympathize because I think I could figure out a lot of stuff with access to the scientific literature over the Internet. Multiply me by millions of educated people and you potentially have a world of individuals doing better work daily. Surely the public benefit in that trumps the public benefit of the intellectual property to the publishers.
Maybe the public can automatically buy the rights to papers which pass a period of post-publication review –e.g., a year goes by with no one pointing out serious flaws in a paper from a worthy journal and it gets uploaded to a national library.
Would you consider doing a blog post going into further detail on your “Lie to Me” comment in the recent Sandy Hook conspiracy theory post? In other words–how well can we detect whether someone is lying? This includes not only body language, but things like polygraphs. I’ll post this in the suggestions.
During a recent conversation about pregnancy a co-worker of mine claimed that use of epidural analgesia during child birth caused breast-feeding issues. I hadn’t heard of this before and my skeptical alarm bell went off so I did a bit of research into it.
From what I can tell it seems that this is a genuine controversy. I don’t have access to the journal articles involved (behind pay-walls) and have only been able to read a few summaries of the evidence. My reading of these is that the evidence is mixed and the studies to date have a host of methodological flaws with correlation/causation issues.
It might be topical at the moment with certain of the Rogues so I thought it would be a good topic for research/discussion.
During a recent conversation about pregnancy a co-worker of mine claimed that use of epidural analgesia during child birth caused breast-feeding issues. I hadn’t heard of this before and my skeptical alarm bell went off so I did a bit of research into it.
From what I can tell it seems that this is a genuine controversy. I don’t have access to the journal articles involved (behind pay-walls) and have only been able to read a few summaries of the evidence. My reading of these is that the evidence is mixed and the studies to date have a host of methodological flaws with correlation/causation issues.
It might be topical at the moment with certain of the Rogues so I thought it would be a good topic for research/discussion.
I am wondering about the surge in FDA indications for botox. It has been approved for chronic migraines, and its use is widely accepted (although there are very prominent skeptics, suggesting that the small significant differences between placebo and verum could be due to partial unblinding). Indication for neuropathic pain is pending (there seems to be very little literature, few studies with small N), spastic bladder just approved. Is botox becoming an FDA approved snake oil, or are all current and future approvals rock solid?
I wondered if you could take the time to write a post on the use of Iberogast to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
My gastroenterologist has recommended I try taking Iberogast (I have mild IBS). I find that it seems to help a bit, but I’m not sure why it is helping. I could be experiencing a placebo effect. I have skimmed through what studies the university I work at has access to, but there isn’t that much literature, and although I work in the life sciences, I don’t know much about clinical medicine. This study seems the most convincing of the ones I have read: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14984373
I also noticed that Iberogast was recently featured on the Dr. OZ show, which makes me extremely wary of its effectiveness. I would feel a lot better and it would mean a lot to me if you could weigh in on this.
I have looked through the site, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t posted anything on how to talk to a CAM believer. I work at a local (I’ll say it, natural) grocery store where many of my friends and co-workers believe strongly in detox, cleansing, herbs and special diets. This wouldn’t bother me so much but one friend in particular is using the alkaline diet to help push her cancer into remission. She is hoping to stop chemo all together, and just rely on the alkaline diet. It’s getting harder to bite my tongue.
My question is this, how do I talk to these people with out sounding like an a-hole? I feel like every time I try to have a conversation about these things I just get angrier and angrier with their lack of knowledge, and just plain ol’ distrust of medicine and science all together. What do you say to hopefully make someone listen? How do you talk to a CAM believer?
I realize this is Huffington Post we’re talking about here, but the activists and SCAM proponents are already screaming bloody murder and claiming victory. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on it.
What may be worthwhile to address is that individual cases of compensation do not necessarily reflect actual wrongdoing, and definitely do not impugn the whole of vaccination medicine. I have been having a discussion with a worried mom who wants to do the right thing for her kids, but has been getting an earful from anti-vax activists and natural alt-med types. This kind of article just scares her some more.
There are lots of things wrong with it, from the fact it is two out several millions of vaccine doses given each year in the USA, and the testimony from the parents was often not precise. The level of evidence in the Vaccine Court is very small, especially for table injuries. Here are the statistics: http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/statisticsreports.html
Remind your friend that about four million children are born in the USA each year. If just 90% get the two doses of MMR at age one and four, then there are several millions of MMR given each year. And two cases out of that is a probability of what? Then compare to the one in a thousand chance of a child getting encephalitis, a much much higher chance of pneumonia from actually getting measles.
Harvard Study Confirms Fluoride Reduces Children’s IQ
A recently-published Harvard University meta-analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that children who live in areas with highly fluoridated water have “significantly lower” IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas.
In a 32-page report that can be downloaded free of charge from Environmental Health Perspectives, the researchers said:
Another NYT “pro alternative medicine” story. I really hope you’ll pick this up. As someone who actually has rheumatoid arthritis (that’s been thankfully stopped/slowed in it’s tracks by Methotrexate and Humira), this article made me extremely angry.
“Acupuncture improves sleep in postmenopause in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.”
Conclusion: “Acupuncture was effective in improving reported sleep quality and quality of life in postmenopausal women with insomnia.”
Judging from the abstract, it seems to me that the conclusion is not reasonable. They found an improvement in ONE metric, in a small study of 18 patients overall.
And also they say:
“Comparison of baseline and post-treatment data of the acupuncture group showed that treatment resulted in significantly lower scores on the Pittsburgh Questionnaire and an improvement in psychological WHOQOL.”
Meaning the test subjects “improved” after treatment – that’s really astounding. And no word on comparing the improvement to the control group.
Maybe this is worth a mention on SGU/SBM/Neurologica?
Having used it for a day I found it helpful, but that is possibly because I really want it to help and therefore have get a placebo effect from it. Is the idea plausible? Is there relevant research to this, and what does it say?
I don’t think we know enough about neural correlates of both procrastination and music to be able to design music that would reliably reduce procrastination in all people. Music can have a powerful emotional impact, but individual reactions are very diverse.
I had a look at the website and I didn’t see where they promised to help with procrastination — they pretend to be able to help you keep focussed by playing a sequence of 20-minute tracks from:
“Our exclusive instrumental music library is scientifically and artistically curated, and includes a significant number of newly commissioned works from well known music producers and composers that you won’t hear anywhere else.”
I don’t know if it has already been covered, but the folks at Sacred Scalar Energy Empowerment serve some very potent woo:
“The IQ session is designed to assist EVERYONE interested in achieving optimal health. We utilize a non-invasive brain entrainment Scalar IQube technology for stress reduction and relaxation training while enhancing left and right hemisphere coordination to promote whole brain thinking. Sessions provide a deeply relaxing experience bringing greater coherence in brain function, cellular communication and hydration.”
Was listening to a City Arts and Lectures piece with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor discussing her book Stroke of Insight about her recovery from stroke. She seemed pretty up and up on her science and her credentials are pretty impeccable however I found the talk and her conclusions to be full of woo like language and pseudoscientific sounding assertions. Like Left brain=masculine male, Right Brain=Female, feminine. A lot of what she was saying sounded a lot like something found in The Secret, or even Voltaire’s Candide. Just wanted to get a neurologists view on her work and its
legitimacy. She even made quite a view arguments from personal experience, basically I got better from my stroke so you should follow what I did if you want to get better.
Hello, love the blog. Its a daily visit for me. This may not be your cup of tea, but I was wondering if there is any good information out there for the “Keto” diet. The following is the very quick overview from http://www.reddit.com/r/keto FAQ:
“The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. It has a lot of health advantages compared to the standard western diet. Most people do keto because of the weight loss, but it also has other health advantages like lowering risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and much more. Just follow these simple rules:
1.Low in Carbs
•Less than 50g/day for most people, better below 20g
•Majority of energy
•Variable depending on goals of weight loss or maintenance
4.The Right Kinds of Fat
•Eat monos and saturates for fuel (butter, olive oil, coconut oil)
•Limit high polyunsaturated sources (soy, corn, cottonseed)
•Supplement sodium 2g/day (e.g. drink 1-2 cups of broth per day)
•Replace magnesium to stop muscle cramps
•Drink lots of water
6.When in Doubt, Eat Less Carbs
7.When in Doubt, Eat More Fat”
It is quite apparent through the success threads on the site that it does succeed at weight loss (As would any low/no carb diet), but what I would love to find out is the professional opinion on the health risks of such a diet. Thanks for any help!
Facilitated Communication in the Netherlands: The Dutch documentary ‘Een Dansend Hart’ shows how severely disabled Niek Zervaas appears to communicate via a facilitator. At some point Niek ‘says’ he wants to stop taking his anti-epileptic medicines. He ‘says’ he is aware of the risks. The doctor agrees. Some time later Niek dies. Not a word that the method is bunk. The doctor, either very poorly informed or afraid of hurting the feelings of Niek’s parents. Not a word about it in an interview on national television with the parents either. http://dewerelddraaitdoor.vara.nl/media/213667 (in Dutch).
How about discussing the most important part of a stethoscope ie. the part between the ear pieces. As a fellow Neurologist, I am confronted with medical students and residents who fail to take a comprehensive history and exam. This leads to deficiecies in neurologic localization and diagnostic formulation. In this day and age we rely so heavily on diagnostic testing (eg. MRI, EMG, etc…) that the art and science of the 19th century Neurologist is thrown by the wayside. Is it any wonder that the recent Medicare cuts are hurting our profession. Your thoughts?
I’ve recently come across this site http://www.dietdoctor.com/ and am not sure how credible all of his claims are since many of them seem to contradict what has been said though other sources but I’m not familiar with most studies. They have studies supporting their claims here http://www.dietdoctor.com/science however I could always use another person to look at this.
I was thinking/noticing this on a bike ride the other day and its probably most likely overactive pattern recognition, but is there any link to the age of parents and the rates of autism. I mean I hear that people are tending to have kids later and later, but also that after a certain age the likelyhood of a “bad”, “mutated”, or whatever the word is, egg being fertilized increases quite a bit. Has any research been done on the age of parents vs autism incidence.
I’ve been reading the blog for a couple of years, but never posted before. My wife says aspartame makes her feel ill, and that when consumed, it breaks down into formaldehyde, which is actually embalming fluid.
I’ve been looking around for something on this, but all I can find are places that say the same thing over and over without any evidence, studies, or research. Not even Snopes has anything on it. Do you know anything about this?
I recently got into a debate about the efficacy of bicycle helmets and — as someone who wears a helmet religiously and credits one with once saving me from serious injury — I was amazed to find that the research into this subject is… well, I’m not sure if “messy” or “inconclusive” is the right word:
There are numerous articles on Science Based Medecine, Snopes, and if you check Harriet Halls blog I believe she does a good take down of this myth. However, her is some food for thought, formaldehyde is generated by the body in many digestive processes, when she eats a salad full of tomatoes here body generates far more formaldehyde then the miniscule amount that is generated from the miniscule amount of aspartame in a soda.
As an anecdote I switched from regular soda/juices or any high caloric sugary drink to diet only and not only did it facilitate loosing weight but I’ve never felt better, and have had consistent good health reports from my doctor. Take it with a grain of salt.
Hi! I have a question/topic. This might have been covered elsewhere and my google-fu is just failing me, but a search of several science-based/skeptical medical blogs/sites has left me empty-handed.
Is there any evidence that GABA supplementation works? I have had some pretty severe health problems over the years, the last couple years since Dec. 2010 especially (15 abdominal surgeries, loss of all but 75 cm of small intestine and much of my stomach, other stuff). Because of this, I have been on quite a lot of pain medication, IV for much of the time when I was NPO (I am allergic to fentynal so patches–the obvious, easy solution–are out). Right now, I’m on a lot of oral methadone and morphine–more than the usual dose because I have severe absorbtion issues–but I want to start moving off of the heavy duty narcotics, for a lot of reasons. I’m working with a pain specialist. I know from past experience that this process will be very Not Fun, even if I go slow. In the past, I used Suboxone to get off narcotics (the IV dilaudid, mostly), but the doctor doesn’t want to use suboxone unless I really can’t handle the withdrawls, because suboxone blocks the receptors he wants to have open if I have an emergency medical situation.
So, my pain specialist recommended that I use GABA supplementation as I go through this process. He gave me an article in the NYT that said GABA is an “anti-addiction” pill. I know that your brain chemistry goes through a lot when you stop using narcotics, and I can expect dips in my dopomine and other happy-making chemicals (like I said, been there, got the t-shirt). If it helps with all that, I don’t mind spending the 30$ a month or so, but I’m skeptical. And I’m having a hard time finding information, either pro or con, online. And because my pain doctor has also recommended some rather woo-ish treatments in the past (like acupuncture and TCM), I’m really hesitant to just go with his opinion.
What do you think? Are GABA supplements a good idea?
well, the VA hospital in my area now have and offer for pain management in veterans acupuncture…..
For any form of drug product, herbal, supplement – if there is no evidence for it, we do not provide it…including most all multivitamins….no herbals….almost no supplements…
But for pain, placebo medicine is the norm.
The MD doing it is a believer….although I have never really debated it with him at this point so I am not sure what his point of view about it (ie, does he think it is a “super placebo” vs. he thinks “true acupuncture” is truly better than sham?
I know that one limited encounter I had 3-4 years ago with this doctor, I distinctly recall in our conversation about a subject of research about a drug….”well, 90% of what we do is not truly evidence based”….well, you know where I am going with that I think.
Is it right that the VA hospital is paying for what is increasingly appearing to be placebo medicine? I am not sure how many other VA’s offer it…perhaps it is rare? I really do not know.
A relative of mine (medical Dr.) mentioned his hospital doing some experimental/trial technique in the Cardiac Unit in which a heart attack or maybe stroke patient is resuscitated outside of hospital, brought into the hospital, then basically frozen for a night, then thawed back out. Kind of like putting them into suspended animation or hibernation. “Induced” or “therapeutic hypothermia” or something along those lines. He said they were having amazing success doing this, particularly since it seems to avoid damaging.
Have you done a blog post about medical screening? I think it’s an interesting topic and I’d be interested to hear your opinion on the subject. I bring this up because there was a Science or Fiction question last week on CRC screening. Many people in the public and a sizeable proportion of residents and medical students seem confused about what screening is.
As for acceptable numbers needed to screen and so forth, I recall reading a Cochrane review about both FOBT screening and mammography. The numbers needed to screen were shockingly high (to me at least); the numbers were 671 and ~2000 respectively (I can provide references). The cost per life year gained for both translates to between 8000.00 and 16000.00.
I am in first year of family medicine residency at U of A in Canada and find these screening things interesting. What do you think?
Dr. Oz and many other physicians seem to be losely endorsing the ideas of “reactive nutrition”. I have done some preliminary searches and found very little concrete information about the proposed mechanim which seem to be as follows:
subject A eats a “reactive food” –> gets inflammatory response —> results in immediate weight gain
I cannot find any research supporting this hypothesis. I can find plenty on three types of histamine receptors variably mediating weight loss, diurnal rhythm, etc.. and when specifically targeted, these can have adverse effects on diet from initial weight loss to overstimulating appetite via Leptin (the net result being obesity in mice, for example).
In short, I smell a gigantic pile of bullshit.
Additonally, what sets off my bullshit detectors in this are the players..
Dr. Oz needs no introduction.
Dr. Leo Galliland, to quote, “nternationally recognized as a leader in integrated medicine.”
Lyn-Genet Recitas — a nutritionist, naturopath, herbalist etc.. with not one qualified physician on her entire staff. (she gets her props from Dr. Oz, though). Lately, she’s best known as they author of The Plan, which advocates low-calorie eating (though it claims low calories have nothing to do with weight loss) and then says that any weight gain must be due to these reactions as you test foods. The idea of variant weight as a daily norm is apparently fairly lost on these folks in general.
The rest of the supporting cast varies.. but they share some common traits in general–no real science background, lots of nutritionists, even one PhD in “reactive nutrition” from a for-profit university.. the only degree of its kind in the nation.
I’m smelling the bull. But I’m having trouble understanding a. what parts of this picture are valid, if any, b. what the takehome is for the consumer. It feels like a great way to sell books, and another completely oversimplified answer to a more complex problem. Can you tell me where, if anywhere, this can be verified as “science based”?
I know this is not your field, just wanted a little insight on p-values and standard deviations and study practices.
Also, feel free to join us at r/GMOFacts we try to moderate as best we can to keep the discussions on topic. We have low patience for accusations of shills, sheeple, and hippies and try to keep the discussion based on facts.
On a recent boardgaming night I had I got into a debate with some friends on the topic of are we getting smarter or dumber. I was on the smarter side both of them on the dumber side. They sited the Flynn Effect and the “G” Factor.
After doing some research on the Flynn Effect it appears it actually supports my stance rather than theirs as they believed. However, I couldn’t find much on the “G” Factor other than its Author is Arthur Jensen who has been touted as a “raciologist”, not sure if thats the right word. He has been criticized pretty heavily in his work but I couldn’t find much specifically on the “G” Factor. You or the rogues have any info?
In regards to my topic suggestion above about G Factor and the Flynn effect, I think I’ve mostly concluded the Flynn Effect supports the theory that humans are getting smarter. However, in my reading about G Factor I’ve found out about psychometrics and to my laymans eyes it appears to be just the other side of science and bordering on outright pseudoscience and is heavily used in psychiatric evaluations of intelligence.
After doing research I’ve found that psychometrics arose around the turn of the century and was used by Arthur Jensen to develop his theory of the G Effect. There appears to be a lot of circular reasoning in its testing and very little attempts to falsify it. I could be wrong though.
I found this quote interesting coming from people suggesting a multi-faceted view of intelligence that does not hinge on G-Factor, IQ Tests, and psychometrics.
“In 2004 Sternberg and Grigerenko stated that there were no validating studies for multiple intelligences, and in 2004 Gardner asserted that he would be “delighted were such evidence to accrue”, and admitted that “MI theory has few enthusiasts among psychometricians or others of a traditional psychological background” because they require “psychometric or experimental evidence that allows one to prove the existence of the several intelligences.”
G Factor and Psychometric appear to be a sort of paradigm among psychologists but there are alternate theories such as the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I know sound statistical analysis has been done on the former with conclusions being drawn on strong correlative data. That raises some skeptical flags for me though.
The Multiple Intelligence Theory seems like it has more biological and neurological plausibility to it and sounds a lot like it is an example of Brain Plasticity.
I think the topic of psychometrics would be a great subject for this blog or for the SGU as it is the basis for much of the personality tests that exist in the corporate world today.
Also Stephen J Gould wrote a book on the G Factor called The Mismeasure of Man, however it has been pretty thoroughly criticized by psychometric and G Factor proponents and with good reason it appears in some cases.
One interesting thing I noted was you had a blog post about video games and psychometrics
which I think inadvertently seemed to be evidence against G Factor. Seeing as G Factor concludes that intelligence is partially inherited, contradicts the plasticity of the brain for adapting to new things.
As a neurologist it would be illuminating to know whether psychometrics and G Factor have more biological plausibility or the theory of multiple intelligences.
Either way I think this would make a great discussion topic.
Can you discuss Ben Goldacre a little bit? His book “Bad Science” is excellent, but he seems to be developing a cult following of Huffpost crazies, and SCAM pushers. His latest TED talk even has an ominous title, akin to some of the scare talk you see on SCAM sites, “What Doctors Don’t Know About the Drugs They Prescribe”. One of the posts in the comment section pretty much sums up exactly how I feel about this:
“Yes, drugs have negative aspects to them and are controlled by greedy wealthy pigs. However, drugs also save lives and make lives more manageable. This whole paranoia regarding the pharmaceuticals is getting old. ”
The older Boston Marathon bomber was reportedly a boxer and also developed extreme rage. Isn’t rage sometimes a side effect of traumatic brain injury? Is that something they should look for in the autopsy? Not to excuse his behavior, but perhaps to increase regulations on boxing to prevent TBI.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on the rather sensitive, and loaded, topic of rape/sexual abuse – specifically the role that “power” plays as a motivation for the abuser.
I haven’t researched it at all, but it’s clear that the established theory is that rape is almost entirely driven by the desire to have power/control over the victim, and the fact that the act also involves sexual gratification for the perpetrator is incidental.
My gut feeling is that this is a bit of a myth and a simplification of the topic, possibly driven by politically correctness, sensitivity, and political agendas. Admittedly I haven’t looked into it at all, but my impression is that it is a bit taboo to challenge this received wisdom; certainly, media coverage of rape begins from the premise that rape is about power, and that is never challenged. I wonder if this has influenced the research at all, because I gather the literature tends to support the “power” theory.
What comes to mind about this is what Michael Shermer has said about conspiracy theories: people find it so hard to believe that someone so important and significant as JFK, or so powerful as the United States, could be killed by something as petty as a disgruntled Communist sympathiser with a rifle.
Would there be a similar motivation to deflect from the notion that rape could be a purely carnal act, that feminist researchers are not willing to let themselves be objectified in such a manner, so they seek deeper explanations?
That’s my “back of a beer mat” theory, anyway!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. It might be better suited for Neurologica, because I fear the eggshell-walking around feminist issues that the skeptical community has to engage in these days might dilute the discussion if it were to come up on the SGU!
As a geek, addict to computer gaming and with a bad case of amblyopia (not discovered for a long time and then a wrong correction for a few years…), this study is really interessting.
I always heard that it was way to late for me to train my right eye (it’s supposed to be useless after 12). Do you have any idea if this is really something promising for the treatment of adult amblyopia ?
This came up in The Guardian and I couldn’t parse a lot of the jargon in it but it seems Raymond Tallis is criticizing a lot of research in the field of fMRI and neuroscience disciplines. In trying to dissect the jargon it seems like he thinks there is more to emotion and human’s than what is in the brain. I don’t understand why the brain is not enough as it is a marvelous and unique adaptation that has made mankind the dominant species on the planet. He seems to be afraid that in describing how emotions are generated in the brain we are some how diminishing human experience to mere mechanics, which I disagree and think it adds to our understanding of how we work. What do you think?
I suspect that you’ve already heard about the kidnapping case in Cleveland where three young women have been held for a decade or so and escaped yesterday. Apparently there is a Sylvia Brown connection to this case.
The mother of Amanda Berry went on Montel Williams show to ask Brown about the fate of her daughter about a year and a half after she disappeared. Brown told her that she was dead and gave a vauge description of her killer.
Her mother died a year or so later, having said that she had nearly complete faith in Brown.
Here is a quack and master charlatan from the Russian Federation: Ernst Mudlashev and his Alloplant. He has claimed that he has regenerated an eye using processed tissues from a cadaver donor. He’s also a mystic and has written several books describing theories of origins of human race as descendants of some previous god-like races of giants or Atlanteans.
He’s pretty famous in Russia, unfortunately.
Would be interested to hear your take on somatic experiencing and/or poly-vagal theory. Emily Nagoski talks frequently about a cyclical process model for the human stress response system that incorporates elements of both, and while she is generally a very good thinker and studious reader of the scientific literature, I’m not sure whether or not it makes sense to take this particular model too seriously – it’s hard to tell whether either somatic experiencing or poly-vagal theory have much to them.
I spend about sixteen hours a week in my car. I listen to ‘Skeptics Guide’ and several other podcasts to better spend my drive time. I would LOVE to see your blog posts in a digital audio format and available via rss.
I saw this suggested up thread and thought I’d add to the support for a survey of medical marijuana. I feel that the research gets over stated on both sides and I leave confused. At the moment I turn to general medical associations for their statements on the issue, as they seem to have a fairly balanced take (e.g., cancer.org). In particular, I’m curious if smoking it is as safe as proponents claim (in particular claims to not increasing the risk of lung cancer), if it is addictive, what benefits would outweigh these risks, and if the more controlled drug formulations are effective and safer.
I’d be curious to know if there is any research or data on what parts of the brain are involved with the myriad cognitive biases that afflict us. For example, do we know what regions light up on an fMRI when we exhibit confirmation bias? (Of course, that brings up the question of how we can detect confirmation bias in real-time.) Alternatively, are there theories about the mechanism by which confirmation bias occurs?
I’m a Belgian and in Belgium among skeptics adhd isn’t considered a disease at all. A prominent medical doctor states that adhd is just one end of a spectrum of activity. Some children are more active then others and the most energetic are called adhd-children.
The author Tom Hartmann has a radical new approach to this subject. I also read a book “driven to distraction”, written by two psychiatrists.
The thing is, I can recognize myself strongly in the descriptions that Hartman give’s.
I’m 36 of age and will never be diagnosed with adhd by a Belgian psychiatrist because they consider adhd a childrens thing.
Hartman talks about fundamental differences between adhd-people and “normal” people.
Could there be a fundamental neurological difference between adhd-people and normal people?
I have troubles accepting the idea about adhd as it is discussed in my country.
To me it’s a real problem. I consider myself a skeptic but I feel myself to be different to pretty much everyone I now.
I’m a musician. I graduated in double bass and music theory (harmony, counterpoint, fuga). I’m very much not successful and I have problems with connecting to people.
I cant do small talk, it’s to boring to me.
I can only talk about subjects that I find exiting. That would be history, music or science. I can’t find a job outside my interests because I can’t concentrate on it.
I would like to know. Is adhd like Hartman puts it a real thing? Am I suffering from it or am I just weird.
“Our gut bacteria contains the same metabolic pathway found in plants that is targeted and disrupted by RoundUp. Is it any wonder that leaky gut syndrome, IBD, colitis and other gastrointestinal diseases have spiked since the onset of RoundUp Ready GMO crops? — Dr. Stephanie Seneff, PhD, Senior Research Scientist at MIT.”
I couldn’t find any readily available counter to this claim.
I can’t seem to find the actual study anywhere on my limited internet access, and the comments to the article itself is a mixed bag, and I am tempted to call it outright pseudo-science as they reference the left and right sides of the brain.
The podcast referenced not being able to remember telephone numbers but is that really something we should be concerned about? I would rather use my limited brain capacity to remember and process much higher functions than remembering 8 or 9 digits in a sequence. I feel articles like this hinder progress more than help it, but a I missing something in my lay view of the world?
On a more serious note is there any evidence whatsoever that digital media has any impact on dementia prevalence? I suspect the higher prevalence has a lot to do with us living longer and much better diagnositics… is this a fair stance to have?
Today in the news, a group called The Center of Environmental Health issued a warning about alleged carcinogens in sodas, claiming that the chemical 4-methylimidazole present in Pepsi and Coke causes cancer. This conclusion is apparently based off of a mouse study wherein the mice were fed high levels of the chemical and cancerous tumors developed. This led to California limiting the amount of the substance in foods to contain less than 29 micrograms or be required to carry a cancer warning label.
My take on this is that it’s a lot of fear-mongering by an ideologically-driven environmental group – the science simply does not support the assertion that the levels of the chemical present in sodas are sufficient to be considered a cancer risk, even if consumed at consistently high daily volumes. I was wondering what your take was on this as it appears to be an ongoing issue.
Hello Dr. Novella. The August issue of Psychology Today(p23) lists two books with disturbing titles :
“Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience” and “The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers” – I can only imagine how much information you have to read through – are you familiar with these – how do you rate them – thank you so much.
Being highly imaginative animals, humans constantly recall past experiences. These internally generated stimuli sometimes get associated with concurrent external stimuli, which can lead to the formation of false memories. Ramirez et al. (p. 387; see the cover) identified a population of cells in the dentate gyrus of the mouse hippocampus that encoded a particular context and were able to generate a false memory and study its neural and behavioral interactions with true memories. Optogenetic reactivation of memory engram–bearing cells was not only sufficient for the behavioral recall of that memory, but could also serve as a conditioned stimulus for the formation of an associative memory.
Just ran across a news item that’s making the rounds about a mosquito repellent patch called Kite being promoted by a venture capital group called ieCrowd.
The basic claim is that it makes you “practically invisible to mosquitoes” via blocking of CO2 receptors by the substances contained on the 1.5 inch square that attaches to clothing.
They are not selling any product currently,and seem to be raising funds for research,and for a project in Uganda as a test bed.
The idea seems plausible,and they cite research at U.C. Riverside by associate professor Anandasankar Ray (Yale grad) at UCR. But something about the whole thing seems a bit off.
I know it’s more pedi neuro than adult neuro, but still seems strange to me and I worry that child neurologists are gonna get lots of phone calls about marijuana for their Dravet patients (or other intractable epilepsy patients). If CBD/marijuana is that potent at controlling seizures, then why don’t we isolate the compound and use it as a medication like we did with THC/marinol. There is a huge naturalistic fallacy at work here. I caught some of the hour-long special that Dr. Gupta did and it was riddled with anecdotes like this one. Very little science.
As the school year begins, we are yet again being trained in a “brain-based” system of student engagement called “Conscious Discipline”. It claims to offer a “neurodevelopmental model of the brain” that helps us “understand the internal brain-body states that are most likely to produce certain behaviors in children and in ourselves.”
Is there a way that you might review some of the components of this program, particularly the assertions made about brain functioning? Sometimes, when I in these trainings, I feel like I’m going through some weird, cultish rituals.
This is all being shoved down out throats fairly aggressively, ironically enough.
I’d be interested in a discussion on polyphasic sleep. The school year is starting and some students are turning to alternative sleep styles to get more hours of activity. It also appears to be gaining ground in some skeptic/transhumanist circles, with the idea being we can be more effective humans by adopting these sleep schedules Two popular ones appear to be “uberman” and “everyman”. Uberman is typically 6 20 minute naps spaced out equally during the day. Everyman is one “core” block of sleeping (about 3 to 4 hours), with three 20 minute naps during the day that have some flexibility to them.
Just saw this article about yet another ‘culprit’ for alzheimer’s disease being found.
The research seems legit,but there have been so many false starts and blind alleys that I now view these things with a wary eye:
“Copper Identified as Culprit in Alzheimer’s Disease”
Copper appears to be one of the main environmental factors that trigger the onset and enhance the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by preventing the clearance and accelerating the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain. That is the conclusion of a study appearing today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This is a bit of a personal issue. I have a friend who is suicidally depressed, who is really smart, and who strongly believes that there’s no evidence that antidepressants work better than placebos. Is he right about this? Despite his beliefs, we have convinced him to seek counseling, and he’s been taking Celexa for a couple weeks now. Reading the wiki, under efficacy, seems to support that SSRIs don’t work.
What makes matters worse is that counseling doesn’t seem to work, either, because he treats it as a cleverness competition instead of a collaborative process. I have no real idea how to improve that situation.
I was recently recommended the works of a guy called Joe Dispenza who claims to be a Neuroscientist. After looking at some of his offerings on the internet I can only conclude that he is a snake oil salesman, who is glib and arrogant and whose knowledge of Neuroscience is way off the mark, even his knowledge of basic anatomy such as confusing the Midbrain with the Limbic System
Would you concur?
Here’s a link to the “Brain Quiz” section of his website you may like to attempt the questions.
There has been a recent buzz in news articles about the radiation levels spread to north America from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. Some are obviously grossly overreacting and fear-mongering such as http://nodisinfo.com/Home/holy-fukushima-radiation-from-japan-is-already-killing-north-americans/ this article. However, reading into other literature, it has been hard for me to come to a conclusion on just how much north America is expected to be affected by the radiation spread across the ocean. If you could give your input on the subject that would be excellent!
I am skeptical of this due to the clear agenda of the organization as well as their history of overblowing issues. Plus, there is no independent corroboration of their analyses (no peer-review). Do you feel this any cause for concern?
This life is a tasking, enduring, teasing and a torturous pastime. A place basked in displeasure and enduring pain. One minute you are in extreme distress, then peppered with specs of gold promising to guild you enduring happiness, which are only and quickly blown away by the winds of reality.
The wedding day, your childhood Christmas, that promotion and a good grade are pleasures that you endure pain to achieve and are whisked away in to the darkness of maybe a non-exact expectation but most certainly by the coming day.
You have your moment to shine and they’ll say well done for your moment to then bathe in boredom, be king hit by your next Monday and be bathed in the sodden saliva by the next retred human.
They say that suicide is so bad and not to be done. But why should one ask? The fear of eternal damnation, the fear of the unknown, the hope of a better gold glitter day, or your responsibility mistakenly bestown? It’s true or even possibly not that this is the only one that you will ever be given, but it’s so crap, why keep it?
I don’t think that it is fair to be given a sentence of such a nature, to be placed in such a cannibalistic place, human eating human, pleasure from pain and nothing to learn, nothing to pass on and nothing to gain. And an eject button, suicide, making an educated and logical decision is cause for self-blame and the most costly, most painful hesitation for a right that is most certainly yours.
There are answers that may never be known, a torture more putrid than the spiteful hand of ‘Mother’ Nature. Why is the survival instinct so strong to overcome logic, if there were a purpose to it all it would be called a scam. When will the moronic species look and see that your achievement today will be paid tenfold in misery tomorrow.
When will the moronic understand that your discovery today only leads to your discovery for tomorrow? Your self propelling procreation of discovery, your cumulative procreation of your species, your self wanting destruction of yourself, your surroundings only propagates your misery, the misery from which I was born into and the misery from which I was born. What is the purpose…….?
Why are we here? What is the purpose? What is the meaning of life? A simple question that cannot be answered in this ‘place’, I put this to you, you who reads this message and all that have asked the question. If this were a pleasurable place, if this were a pleasurable experience, if this were an existence without ANY pain… I doubt the question would often be asked, and if it were it would be simple. “so that we may experience this wonderful existence and bring as many as possible to share it so that as many as possible may enjoy this wonderful experience that we call life, that is why we are here, the meaning of life is simply happiness”. This life however is not as such, so with torture, the ‘human’ endures its pointless, psychopathic mission into the darkness of the future with hope, a short memory and in slavery.
So, I was was a couple weeks ago working with my treatment team (primary care team, me a PharmD, an LPN, an RN, dietician, and our physician) doing a “shared medical appointment”…we do these for veterans (VA hospital) here once per week – the focus of the group clinic is to discuss cardioscular health and cardiovascular risk….it great fun and we enjoy this format…..we focus much more on lifestyl changes, motivational interviewing, education, and if needed med adjustments/changes.
Anyway, I do a discussion about medication…..during this discussion a patient asked me about late nigh infomercials and various treatments that were being advertised and asked us about a particular product.
The PCP in this case was quick to want to sort of get past this by giving what he always says is his “simple answer”…”I cannot comment on that, it is uncertain.”
It was my talk so I took a couple minutes to go a bit further about how he as a patient/consumer should be significantly skeptical about such products advertised in such formats and discussed a couple of reasons why that is.
I have found it very effective to bring up the snippet from the movie “the outlaw josey wales” where he spits on the carpet bagger’s white clean coat and asks him “how’s it do for stains”….
I told the patient to be as skeptical as josey wales and if you want come and ask us about it and we will research it for you if interested.
I think reflecting on the doctor’s comment kinda highlights a problem as I see it for how we are collectively responding to such questions. Pharmacy schools, medical schools, doctors, nurses, etc….so many seem to have the total “shruggies” (to use your term) on this topic….
I am not asking them to spend a great deal of time…but instead of saying “cant comment”…perhaps say “very very unlikely, would not risk it or waste your money without discussing it with me and we can review the evidence together”.
That does not take that much more time and effort.
I briefly discussed this point with the team afterwards, but it did not get a heck of alot of traction.
I very often discuss these ads and SCAM therapies with patients…they get weird newsletters in the mail…hear the ads on the radio…hear about various thing via word of mouth and I have seen people drop off of their coumadin, blood pressure pills, and other treatments with the idea that they may no longer need those treatments with the use of the new “wonder drug”.
How can I get my team to see it more my way? In particular the physician?
I came across this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette siting a study conducted in the UK by the University of Southern Denmark that is claiming a huge percentage of chronic lower back pain can be treated with antibiotics. It made me think of your blogs. Have you seen this? What do you think?
Hi Steven, I was talking to a friend who’s just started studying anthropology, and we got into the the topic of people doing stupid things. She bursted out “Well, sometimes when people do stupid things I try to look at the size of their forehead to see if it’s noticeably smaller. Since the frontal lobe is the centre of logical reasoning and planning, you can sometimes see that their frontal lobe is smaller”.
Luckily we had recently seen “Django unchained”, so I tried to jokingly dismiss it with some analogies from the movie, but I’m not sure if the point got completely across to our friends who were in the same conversation. I must admit I see the appeal of the argument that since logical planning and reasoning resides in the frontal lobe, a small frontal lobe could have a diminishing effect on those very features.
I remember reading somewhere that first of all, intelligence seems to be more correlated to ease of forming new synapses and brain plasticity, as opposed to sheer size. The same source (which I’m afraid I lost) mentions that the shape of the cranium correlates pretty poorly with actual brain size, which by itself would render her argument invalid. Be that as it may, I’m still very interested in hearing what you have to say about the topic being a neurologist. For example, I’m sure a _pathologic_ change in brain size could be very detrimental to a persons intellect.
As you may know we have a bit of a CCSVI problem up here in Canada – there is a huge push for the treatment from different interest groups and it has received legitimization through some government funding (for treatment and for study). I was wondering if you could address the latest article from a CCSVI-cheerleading journalist, here: http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/09/24/time-to-liberate-liberation-therapy-from-ms-3/
I think it’s interesting that she, and other stakeholders connected to CCSVI seem to be changing their tact a bit – this is no longer about MS specifically, but about liberation therapy itself – her article basically assumes the treatment works (I mean, look at all the anecdotes she sights!) and now just needs to find the right disease to treat… which is sort of backwards way of doing medicine, I think…
Also her casual throwing of science under the bus (in the paragraph where she states ‘clinical trials have come under scrutiny of late’) is especially rich (doubly so considering she quotes extensively and uncritically from people performing the treatment, as if they are experts not to be questioned….).
Anyway – this is getting a lot of play here in Canada, and governments are now forking over money to fund it, sadly… so a nice exploration of the treatment, of Ms. Kingston’s ‘journalism’ or of the stakeholders new non-MS tact would be appreciated…
Can you comment on the apparent increase in fetal toxicity to the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccine from 2009-2010, as reported by VAERS? I’ve seen a lot of anti-vaxxers peddling articles claiming the increase in deaths is due to the vaccine.
Have been in a debate with some fellow skeptics about aspartame safety. The rub has been my confusion about why CSPI (center for science in the public interest) position on aspartame…they give it a “red X”
“Those new studies may have found problems that earlier company-sponsored studies did not because the newer cancer studies used far more animals and thus were more capable of detecting adverse effects. Also, the Italian researchers monitored the animals for their lifetimes: as long as three years for the rats and two and one-half years for the mice, instead of just two years in the company-sponsored studies. (Most chemicals are tested for two years.) Two-year-old rats are roughly equivalent to 65-year-old people. The many tumors that occurred after two years would never have been seen in industry’s studies. Furthermore, two of the new studies included exposure before birth, a highly sensitive time, which increased their ability to detect cancer (only one of the industry studies did).
The food industry and the European Food Safety Authority contest the Italian findings, pointing to what they consider serious flaws in the design and conduct of the study and evaluation of the results. However, scientists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and others, citing evaluations sponsored by the National Toxicology Program and the Environmental Protection Agency, found industry’s and EFSA’s allegations to be without merit. For its part, the FDA has not accepted the validity of the Italian studies.”
Why shouldn’t systematic reviews trump this? It seems they are trying to justify cherry picking? Special Pleading of sorts?
It seems their analysis is heavily anchored to those 3 studies (and as I recall ERF did a 4th study that contradicted the first 3)….are they right in doing so?
“New peer-reviewed research finds that 30 minutes’ exposure to LTE [4G] cellphone radiation affects brain activity on both sides of the brain.”
“The researchers employed a double-blind, crossover, randomized and counter-balanced design to eliminate any possible study biases.The resting state brain activity of each participant was measured by magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at two times — after exposure to LTE microwave radiation, and after a sham exposure.”
“The current study establishes that short-term exposure to LTE microwave radiation affects the users’ brain activity. Although LTE is too new for the long-term health consequences to have been studied, we have considerable evidence that long-term cell phone use is associated with various health risks including increased risk of head and neck cancers, sperm damage, and reproductive health consequences for offspring (i.e., ADHD).”
Tonight, the “documentary” titled “Toxic Hot Seat” airs on HBO, regarding the supposed toxic time-bomb of fire retardant chemicals found in most modern home furnishings. In it, they claims that fire retardant chemicals are host to a number of health related issues, including numerous cancers in firefighters as well as health issues to children and families that use furniture.
There have been some rebuttals to this so far, but it’s been pretty limited. This show, to me, represents fear-based activism with little actual science to support it that represents a real threat to fire safety if fire retardant chemicals were banned. In California, for example, labels are already mandated indicating the presence of these chemicals, and there are no longer requirements to include fire retardant properties in furniture, etc. Obviously, they use emotional pleas from concerned parents, organizations, and firefighters, correlation-causation fallacy with case studies, pseudoscience, and a lot of fear-instilling anecdotes, with little or no science involved.
I thought this might be a good subject to dig into.
I was wondering if you could comment on the theories of Stuart Hameroff and his ‘conscienceness in microtubules’ hypothesis.
This seems to be the usual quantum babble but also seems to be taken relatively more seriously in academic circles than the usual quantum-consciousness stuff. He’s published papers in peer reviewed journals and it seems like this would be a little more challenging for you to debunk due to the fact that it seems like his arguments are partially based in facts and he refers to real experiments and data. Maybe a bit too technical to discuss on the blog?
People like Dawkins must be confronted head-on. To defend ‘quantum healing’,
attack Dawkins’ so-called strength, put him on the defensive. Be as biological as
possible. He really doesn’t know much about it.
According to Stenger, there is an ideological- religious dimension to the ideas of those who say they are trying to insert quantum mechanics into the question of consciousness and the brain. He maintains
that holistic philosophy is an obsession with New Age gurus, who are trying to solve the world’s problems with love. In fact, classical reductionist physics (materialists and atheists) does not make people selfish; they were selfish long before that. The new quantum holism feeds our obsessions and tells us we are a part of the non-living cosmic mind. In this way, traditional religions are being modernized. A mystical physics is basically a wrong understanding of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. Another reason for this approach is that it brings Man back to the centre of the universe. Four hundred years ago, Copernicus provided strong proof that we were not at the centre of the universe, and as time has passed, we have had even stronger proof. This feeling of being nothing special has created a great feeling of disillusionment. Therefore, being able to contribute human consciousness to the solution of the problem of measurement in quantum mechanics is part of the effort to return man to his privileged place at the centre of the universe (Chalmers, 1995).
While it’s no doubt that over-consumption of sugary beverages can contribute to health issues, so can a myriad other foods and substances when consumed in very high amounts. For instance, if people consumed five pounds of white rice a day, most of them would be exhibiting the same conditions. It seems to me that over-consumption of pretty much any food will lead to health issues.
While I think it’s good to form recommendations about limiting simple sugars in the diet, it seems little more than fear mongering to demonize Coca Cola, soft drinks, etc., and to claim conspiracy when they defend themselves against shoddy science and the fallacious conclusions they form.
Case in point: one can also form the same conclusions about bad diet choices and sedentary lifestyle contributing to the same health issues.
While few can expect a financial rag to be a source of sound science reporting, it’s surprising when a venerable institution like the AHA can form such conclusions, especially based on a study that never received peer-review.
I think perhaps something about how to determine if an article in a journal like that is relevant, or even reliable. Apparently Russell Blaylock has recently published several papers in it, and I am having my doubts about that journal’s review process.
The description sounds like your typical woo recital; a cancer patient that has been failed by all standard treatments (described as “poisons”) is given a new, experimental treatment that somehow “trains” the body to fight cancer (with simplistic analogues to fighting the common cold), and of course at the end of it he’s “cancer free!”
The article is replete with overly-credulous reporting, headings like “A Whole New Realm of Medicine” etc., so my woo and BS detector is flashing like crazy.
But … but … they claim they’ve repeated this study, it comes from some reputable sites (U Penn and Sloan Kettering), is on CNN of all places, and the exceptionally vague description of how they genetically modified T cells doesn’t sound completely bogus. And no one named Burzinsky is mentioned anywhere!
Today’s Los Angeles Times has an article about a severely autistic 17-year-old who has written a book. The “quotes” from him are well written, but it appears to be facilitated communication (FC), since he “types” far more quickly on a cardboard letter board than on his iPad. In addition, it seems rather odd that a teenager who says, “osha, osha, osha,” when he’s hot and wants to go to the beach can write, “My dogs bark like shotguns. The gardeners mow with tanks and blow leaves with hurricanes.”
And–get this–he sees auras, which allows him to gauge peoples’ temperaments. Purple is the most open-minded color; brown the most closed off. I guess skeptics must all have brown auras.
All of this was written in the most credulous manner. Lots of prominent people seem to buy into the family’s narrative; he was invited to speak at the Cal State Northridge department of special education commencement–speaking by the iPad reading what he had ‘written’ earlier.
This would seem to be the latest example of someone remarkably eloquent trapped inside an autistic body. I’ve written to the Times asking them to be more skeptical in the future, because this is remarkably cruel to other parents of autistic children who may question whether they have a genius hidden inside their damaged child.
Here’s the link. I’d really like to know what you make of this. So far the comments are all credulous, but I wrote one questioning whether or not this was FC and expect some negative responses.
Thanks for your blog. http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-c1-autismland-20131222-dto,0,7512437.htmlstory#axzz2oF2KOTZi
I just saw an article and video about Peter Gøtzsche, MD on the site Mad in America that piqued my interest. He has a new book out called Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Health Care. Normally, I wouldn’t trust this type of thing, but because this doctor is listed as a co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration (and due to that organization’s focus on evidence-based medicine), I hesitate to discount it completely. While I don’t fully trust the pharma industry, I have far more trust in pharma than I do in alternative healthcare and the like; and I tend to equate anti-pharma sentiments with those coming from that perspective, even though not all anti pharma folks are into alt med. The Mad in America site also has that anti-pharma/anti-psych feel to it.
In the video, he does bring up an oft-repeated and over-simplified rebuttal to the (also over-simplified) argument that giving antidepressants to someone with depression is akin to giving insulin to somebody with diabetes due to the serotonin model of depression. Despite this, and despite the anti-pharma/anti-psych tone of that site and his arguments, I’m still curious if there is anything to this. For instance, I know I’ve read that antidepressants (as well as stimulants for ADHD) work short term but not long term. I’m curious what the research really says on this, and as a nonscientist, I’ve had difficulty finding answers I can trust; and it is difficult for me to understand results that may turn up in a PubMed search without a solid grounding in either the science or in statistical analysis. (I’ve had a particularly difficult time trying to find longitudinal studies of stimulants for ADHD hat I can comprehend.) [I'd put my level of understanding a little above requiring "plain English" explanations but way, way below being able to understand the scientific literature without any translation at all - with a big healthy dose of not understanding what it is I don't understand.]
As an adult with depression and ADHD, I’m very interested in this topic, especially since I am on long-term maintenance therapy (though with a class of drug unrelated to the SSRIs). My main question is in regards to Peter Gøtzsche’s statements, with a secondary question about long-term efficacy and safety of antidepressants (and stimulants) in general.
Thank you for this very informative, trustworthy blog. I really appreciate your work.
Arthroscopic Partial Meniscectomy versus Sham Surgery for a Degenerative Meniscal Tear
Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy is one of the most common orthopedic procedures, yet rigorous evidence of its efficacy is lacking.
In this trial involving patients without knee osteoarthritis but with symptoms of a degenerative medial meniscus tear, the outcomes after arthroscopic partial meniscectomy were no better than those after a sham surgical procedure.”
I’m curious if you’ve looked into the latest research based upon having a variation of the MTHFR gene?
From what I’ve been reading it seems that it limits a person’s ability to process folate and B12, so compensating the condition with methyl based supplements should greatly help treat the condition. But many of the sites list a variety of ailments that this might cure… everything from Chronic Fatigue to IBS to hypertension to insomnia to autism and the list goes on. Well, that seems like a red flag from the start.
Other red flags are that a lot of the proponents tend to start talking about candida, environmental toxins, GMOs, etc.
Anyway, I was hoping that you might be able to provide some clarity on the issue.
Science Friday replayed a 1996 interview with Carl Sagan this week,and I was really struck by how well it held up in terms of relevance to the exact same issues that skeptics deal with today. It is really worth a listen for those who missed it.
He discussed what was then his recent book ‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle In the Dark’ which is of course a skeptical classic,and I was a bit surprised by Ira Flatow’s somewhat confrontational tone at times during the interview.It may have been nothing more than a devil’s advocate approach that anticipated listener’s possible objections,but it didn’t feel right at times.
There was also the moment when a caller to the show asked Dr. Sagan about his view on spiritual beliefs,and secondly about what he thought about the Roswell crash and UFOs,and Ira quickly chimed in and said well let’s take the second question first,as if to avoid talking about religion (at least that was my take on it).To Carl Sagan’s credit though,he said I’ll answer the second question,but I don’t want to shy away from the first,and then spoke unflinchingly about both issues in a clear headed manner.
There is a good reason why Sagan is still held up as one of the heroes of the skeptical movement.The man had a clear and cogent message about the importance of science and critical thinking and appropriate skepticism about things that people believe without good evidence.
I was recently forwarded this information in a discussion regarding Aspartame, where apparently the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has taken a stance against the substance, citing the Italian studies (and seemingly ignoring the hundreds of other safety studies). In effect, they have placed Aspartame on their “avoid” list.
This is confusing since they typically are well-balanced and science-based. I’m curious why they would go against the consensus. They do acknowledge some of the criticisms, but seem to shrug them off and continue to accept the minority opinion. Hopefully, they aren’t going the way of the UCS.
I realize that Aspartame has been done a lot already, but this seems more related to CSPI and how “even good advisers can sometimes go bad”. Would you happen to have any insight on this?
Liposomal vitamin C; genuine thing or scientific-ish woo?
Recently browsing for an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner I began to notice a lot of the reviews suggested that people used these devices for making Liposomal vitamin C. I’d never heard of this particular form of vitamin C, but the tone of these reviews immediately set my woo senses tingling.
Armed with a glass (or two) of wine I decided to disappear down this particular rabbit hole and see what I could find out.
My usual Google-fu starting moves pointed me in the direction of Neurologica/SBM entries on general vitamin intake and the dubious/non-existent benefits but I could find very little on Liposomal vit C.
What I did find was the usual kind of hits from the peddlers of nonsense;
Claims that Drs don’t want you to know about this;
Attempts to claim the term Skeptic (ie, I was a skeptic until I tried it, now I am a believer);
Claims that Big Pharma weren’t interested because it can’t be monetised – directly alongside recommendations for expensive “natural” supplements for sale on sites such as Mercola.com
Perhaps the biggest red flag though were the lists of benefits this panacea seemingly provides, ranging from clarity of thought, better skin and hair all the way through to curing cancer.
The biggest realisation I gained was this:
Surely if such a wonder-drug/natural cure-all existed, Big Pharma, with all its money and resources would notice and would pounce on it. Even if they could not copyright a certain product, surely the first company to industrialise (and probably patent) the mass production/distribution process could make a fortune and save lives at the same time.
I often hear the argument (in support of vitamin use) that our food now is nutritionally deficient. That between picking the food and shipping it to the local grocer, the nutritional value of, for example, a tomato, approaches nil. This smells like bullshit to me but I’m unfamiliar with the processes that could possibly drive this claim so I am trying to reserve judgement. What are your thoughts on this argument?
“A total of 51 tons of antibiotics are consumed daily in the United States alone, so the selective pressure in favor of resistant pathogens is strong.” Preserving Antibiotics, Rationally, The New England Journal of Medicine, Hollis & Ahmed. http://bit.ly/JHHPdX
Will the continued use of antibiotics in plant and animal agriculture cause antibiotic resistance to occur in human bacterial pathogens?
Heard this story on NPR’s weekend edition Sunday show…ugh!!!
Say a child has memories of being a Hollywood extra in the 1930s. Is it just an active imagination, or actual evidence of reincarnation? Jim Tucker, a psychologist at the University of Virginia studies hundreds of cases like this and joins NPR’s Rachel Martin to share his research on the science behind reincarnation.
The possible mechanism for how a consciousness can be reincarnated into another being?…Quantum mechanics of course,complete with a Max Planck quote. Sigh
Jim Tucker is making the rounds promoting his new book about this released last December. Amazon had mostly positive reviews on it,but even among the negative ones there was not one skeptical of the ‘fact’ of reincarnation.
I had the same exact reaction as tmac57 listening to NPR this morning…triple ugh!!
I kept waiting for some rebuttal from the host – something, anything – other than, (a paraphrase), “Well, you know some scientists will disagree.”
My second thought was, “I’d love to hear Steve Novella’s takedown of this. Maybe I should write in and post it as a suggestion for a new topic.” So, thanks tmac57.
Maybe Joe Nickell could do one of his great investigations into this as well.
Do you think NPR would air a rebuttal??
Hi Steven. I’d love to see your take on the Jahi McMath case that has been in the news. This is the 13 yr old girl in Oakland CA that was declared brain dead on 12/12/13, and has been kept on a ventilator by her family who refuse to believe she is dead. I wonder how common these cases are, and whether the hospital could have handled it differently? I also wonder how long she can be kept on a ventilator without special care/drugs, etc., i.e., outside an ICU. I also wonder whether any “medical team” could be found that would supervise her, esp. during transport, and during an extended period on the vent? Are there docs that would do this? Anyway, a lot of interesting questions here, at least for a layman like me.
I did apply some basic skepticism to the subject, and I see his argument is not very well backed with evidence as he suggests, although it looks very much like a true scientific experiment, with control groups and all! Since neurology and scientific skepticism are both your specialty, I would like to have your opinion on such semi-scientific claims.
Not a topic suggestion per se, but thought you might find this interesting and useful to at least reference in future posts. An excellent TED talk about how our attention is both limited and shapes our ability to perceive as well as our reality. Essentially, why magicians make the best skeptics but not from that slant.
I don’t think this is well enough confirmed or explained to be accepted yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another explanation was found, such as contamination of the testing area with stress odors or something.
This thing has bullshit written all over it, but it’s hard to piece apart the spin of this article from any potential actual science. I mean, sure, studying microtubules as a part of synaptic transmission is totally a thing. But… I don’t know. Just read it for yourself.
“Discovery of quantum vibrations in “microtubules” in side brain neurons corroborates controversial 20-year-old theory of consciousness”
Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of talk about alkaline diets, as well as a lot of pseudoscience regarding it. I’ve seen articles here and SBM on claims made about alkaline water and such, but nothing so far on alkaline diet other than tangentially when discussing other topics. I was wondering what your take on it was and if we could get a cogent article directly addressing the claims made by alkaline diet proponents. It would be nice to have something to refer to here.
I was wondering what your take on the polio eradication program in Pakistan. The program has been under attack in last few years, with 6 security police killed and a child killed in the process just yesterday.
What is the cause of this resistance and do western antivaxxers play a role?
Seems that the Pakistani resistance is based mostly on the CIA using a vaccine program to find Osama Bin Laden.
At what point should they win and the program be abandoned, if at all?
198 polio cases seems trivial to 33 dieing in violence. Of course I am ignoring the consequences.
What hope is there to change minds, when the staggering statistics don’t work?
25,000 cases in 1994 and 198 cases in 2011.
Dr. N, would love to hear your thoughts (and others in the skeptical community) on this post about Occam’s Razor versus Hickam’s Dictum…specifically whether this issue applies inside and/or outside medicine, and what it might mean for the use of Occam’s razor in today’s world:
“In this study published in the Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena, researchers used in-line phase contrast CT imaging with synchrotron radiation on both non-acupuncture points and acupuncture points. The CT scans revealed clear distinctions between the non-acupuncture point and acupuncture point anatomical structures.”
You wrote about aspartame in 2010 on sciencebasedmedicine.org, as you reminded in yesterday’s post. I had a fierce debate with my partner on this issue. Because of the recent EFSA statement that aspartame is safe for human consumption I changed my mind, I used to think it was dangerous (in Europe this idea may be even more widespread among the general public, like with GMOs). She told me about the 2005 ERF study, and I replied it had been debunked a year later by an EFSA report I also read in its entirety.
I have to say first that I am absolutely no fan of conspiracy thinking. I agree with you that companies aren’t always (if not rarely) eager to sacrifice profit for absolute transparency though. I learnt that apparently the EFSA had had some conflict of interests in the past because of close ties with the industry, including for the debate on Bisphenol A. For instance, it turned out that the president Diana Banati belonged to the board of the ILSI, which is considered as an international lobby whose members are from the food and beverage industry. Therefore I don’t know if I can trust the paper I read (http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/Scientific_Opinion/afc_op_ej356_aspartame_en1,2.pdf), as I’m not particularly familiar with medicine jargon. I don’t know if the objections they find to the method carried out in the study are relevant and they could easily make me believe one thing and its opposite because it would probably make sense to me anyway.
There’s also a recent paper you cited (Aspartame: a safety evaluation based on current use levels, regulations, and toxicological and epidemiological studies.) that I can’t download because of its limited access, but I would like to see if they were biased in any way (maybe in the Acknowledgements section…). Basically I don’t know to what extent the research is independant and what does indepenant reseachers say. Being part of a large European or international institution does not prevent you from being completely trustworthy (cf the infamous WHO report on acupuntcture led by Chinese medicine enthusiasts). And in your post it seemed that you referred to the EFSA as an ultimate source of evidence.
As a conclusion, I really don’t know what to say on this issue. I came to think that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t ?) have any clear stance on this particular debate, because of a divide in the litterature and possible biased studies. I guess you have a better understanding of both the technical details and the litterature, how can you be so sure the EFSA is right ?
Another case-control study on pesticides published online recently at Journal of the American Medical Association, Neurology and getting lots of media attention: “Elevated Serum Pesticide Levels and Risk for Alzheimer Disease”, Jason R. Richardson, et al. (http://bit.ly/1neaGGW)
Many cases are without elevated serum pesticide (DDE) levels and outliers among cases makes me wonder about variables that were not addressed. Furthermore, what do levels of serum DDE of around 10 ng/mg or less say about lifetime exposures? Any clinical significance expected between 2-3 ng/mg and 10 ng/mg? I also found it odd that a study cited by the author, “Levels of DDT, HCH, and HCB Residues in Human Blood in Ahmedabad, India”, V. K. Bhatnagar, et al. (http://bit.ly/1neaVBV), reported serum DDE concentrations in the range of only 20 ng/mg for a country where DDT was still in use. Why isn’t there already a definitive study on this subject since there are clearly opportunities for comparing populations with very low levels of exposure to those with very high levels of exposure?
Perhaps enough has already been written on this general topic, but would be interested in your thoughts on the strength of this particular study.
There is a push in my school district to explore later start times for high schools (where I teach) and the proponents often state that research on teen brains supports this shift:
“Past research has shown teenagers excel when they are allowed to sleep later in the day since it accommodates their natural teenage physiological needs. Researchers have found if teenagers are allowed to sleep later in the day, they perform better at school.”
I can’t discern if this is quality research or hand-picked studies, but the push for later start times seems to come up again and again.
Here’s the latest article in my local Williamsburg, VA paper about our school board’s recent discussion on the topic: http://feedly.com/k/1hMCVsf
Yesterday I noticed a sign in Alhambra that said 負離子燙髮, and I did some googling when I got home, and what I learned is that there are “negative ion hair curlers” and also that there is “ionic hair straightening” using negative ions. This is so confusing! OK, I lied. It’s not actually confusing. Anyway I know you never take any of these topic suggestions but I thought it was funny.
Myles Power who has been making excellent Skeptical Youtube vids as well has do it yourself science and outreach. It is really an amazing channel and Myles is doing great work, it would be great if you guys could have him on your show.
Sadly though his recent debunking of AIDS Denialism has landed him with a DMCA by the originators of the film he is trying to expose, effectively silencing that video. Mirrors have already been put up, but it would be nice to get a good Streisand effect going. If you could give it a mention either on the podcast or on the blog that would be awesome.
Subway, one of the world’s biggest bread bakers, is about to remove a chemical from its breads that raised the ire of an influential health activist and food blogger.
The world’s biggest sandwich chain says it’s in the process of removing the chemical known as Azodiacarbonamide from its sandwich breads — a chemical that Vani Hari, who runs the site FoodBabe.com, says is commonly used to increase elasticity in everything from yoga mats to shoe rubber to synthetic leather. It’s used for the same reason in bread, she says, as a dough condition
I wonder whether you’ve had a chance to read Michael Graziano’s Consciousness and the Social Brain where he describes and attention schema theory of consciousness. I just read the first part of the book and the theory is interesting, if a bit confusing (maybe circular?). Just wondering what your thoughts were.
While out shopping today I came upon a stall in the center of the mall. It was selling HiDow home pain relief. I immediately smelled woo. The blurb on the stall said:
THE HIDOW MASSAGE IS A PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL DEVICE that combines traditional chinese acupuncture with deep with deep tissue massage sensations to relieve tension without medication or side-effects. It sends bio-electrical signals directly to the muscle to relieve stress.
I bit down the urge to yell at the elderly couple who were sitting having the electrodes placed on them to “Run for your lives, escape while your wallets are still in tact” and instead opted to see what was available online about the device.
So my question; is TENS a scientifically valid mode of pain treatment? If it is, it is interesting that HiDOW do no not promote this on the marketing material at their stall, even though they do promote it on their website. This seems to further blur the line between woo and medicine.
Thanks for the time and effort you put into Neurologica, I have found your site fascinating and an invaluable resource in navigating the lies and misinformation that bombard a health consumer trying to look out for the best outcomes for myself and my family.
This isn’t a topic suggestion, but the link to “Your Deceptive Mind” on the front page is broken (who links to Barnes & Noble over Amazon?).
Also, is there a way to send feedback to the site except through comments? It’d be nice to be able to send general feedback or specific corrections (eg, pointing out typos in posts) outside of comments sections (not everyone needs to see grammar corrections).
I’d be interested to hear your take on sensory integrative issues. There is a smattering of material in the literature that has arisen from the occupational therapy field, mainly from the work of Jean Ayres in the 1970s. Some of this dovetails with the sensory issues that have been noted in people on the autism spectrum.
Some parties, however, have declared for a definition of dysfunction, or syndrome or disorder (http://www.spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder.html), perhaps without a solid enough grounding in data or research. I’ve always been curious to know how much consensus is necessary for a syndrome to be recognized (I don’t think sensory processing disorder has any recognition, but I’m not even sure who would do the recognizing. the AMA? the APA?)
I ran into the same question while looking at benign fasciculation. It seems to be a syndrome mainly because someone defined it as such in a paper, and a few other specialists took up the label. Then it begins to proliferate on Web sites, and people start forming special interest groups. I suppose fibromyalgia is the paramount example of this.
While personal experience inclines me to agree with the possibility of a sensory processing disorder and a collection of tactile prejudices and aversions, I don’t find the evidence particularly compelling either way. There could for example be other explanations than Ayres’s. How does a layperson navigate this sort of thing?
I would enjoy seeing your blog here or at SBM discuss the latest scare word among the “natural” crowd – “nano-technology”. I am seeing posts all over about this by the anti-GMO folk, and evidently we are supposed to be VERY afraid of “nano technology”, it “makes pesticides look like a day in the park”. I’ve now read a couple of articles about it, and other than the fact that it’s “any food using nano materials”, and that nano materials have “special properties”, I still can’t figure out why we are supposed to be terrified.
Here is an interesting article on the retraction of a couple of studies by Dr. Pamela Ronald, a researcher in the area of genetic engineering of food crops. Activists are claiming a victory for their movement, as evidenced by the article, without understanding how peer review works. I thought this would offer up a good opportunity on the peer review process, intellectual honesty, and how science is self-correcting.
Long time SGU listener and even longer time skeptic.
My wife and I attended a free lactation/breastfeeding ‘class’ at a local Babies’R’Us branch here in North Scottsdale, AZ. The speaker was “International Board Certified” Lactation Consultant Rene Moore. I place the certified bit in scare quotes because the consultant made several pointed references to being certified and emphasized how authoritative that would make her.
What followed was a series of mostly reliable factoids regarding breastfeeding presented in a fairly haphazard manner. And then when the class became a bit more interactive the wheels rapidly came off.
First the magical healing qualities of breast milk were touted – from ‘drip some in baby’s eyes for eye infections’, to going all the way ‘…drops of breast milk kill cancer cells in petri-dishes… Oh yes…’ This was interspersed a few times with advice to mothers to ignore what your paediatrician tells you if it conflicts with your lactation consultant’s assertions or your own ‘instincts’. Where have I heard that before…?
Then someone asked what to do if a baby tends to favour only one breast. The answer was that the baby may have some neck discomfort and Ms Moore recommended taking the baby to a chiropractor or a cranio-sacral therapist to have the problem sorted. By now, in my turbulent mind, the cart’s wheels were long gone and it was skidding bouncily on its undercarriage over some pretty rocky terrain.
Then, in final remarks, upon a request for recommended literature, Ms Moore gushed on about the wonderful series of books by Dr Sears, including a strong emphasis for every one to also invest in “The Vaccine Book” – scare quotes intensely intended.
Having read previous contributions about ‘Dr’ Sears’ shenanigans on Science Based Medicine, and also in the primary literature (the Pediatrics paper by Offit and Moser and Mnookin’s commentary on PLoS Blogs), the cart was now happily doing cartwheels of carnage through my mind. …And the intro notes of Maestro Minchin’s ‘Storm’ became audible…, but I behaved myself and did not make a stink. On the ride home my wife voiced almost identical concerns.
Finding the emphasis on being board certified a bit odd, I looked into the IBLCE (www.iblce.org) but it just looks like a group promoting mostly healthy attitudes toward breastfeeding. If you have more info on this group that might be of concern I would appreciate some info.
Furthermore, seeing that Babies’R’Us is one of the major product resources for new parents, and by extension also an information resource, would it not be in their best interest to better vet the speakers they present for the accuracy and validity of opinions expressed in classes they sponsor? I know, from SGU that your aim is to use Science Based Medicine to strongly promote sound medical advice and combat dangerous misinformation. Does your organization already have the gravity to influence big retailers such as Babies’R’us to be more circumspect in their choices of speakers? If not yet, how can I help to add said gravity?
I will be writing to he specific branch voicing my concerns as an about-to-be-father of twins.
In closing, I’m always delighted to get my weekly mental SGU fix.
An email/forum response back would be fantastic but is not required at all. A brief discussion of retailers peddling dangerous pseudoscience on a future SGU show, and also, advice on how to strongarm these retailers in favour of sound science based advice to customers added to such a discussion would be a delightful bonus.
Some biographical background about me:
I’m a South African born entomologist, specializing in insect ecological and evolutionary physiology, and research faculty at Arizona State University. I’ve been a skeptic since my late teens, took a postdoc position in AZ in 2004 and have been listening to SGU since its inception.
I also have the distinct honour (or honourable distinction) of having a paper I was co-author on to be the topic of a “Science or Fiction” installment in 2007. We did the work on insect tracheal dimensions and the limitations on body size.
PS. Is the Science Based Medicine site down for a reason?
I’d be curious to hear your take on James Fallon’s “discovery” that he is a “psychopath.” He seems to be a reasonably well respected neuroscientist and neuroimaging researcher at UC-Irvine. However, I think he goes a bit off the deep end to promote his book “The Psychopath Within.” Lots of media coverage (CNN, NPR, etc) with very little skepticism:
He apparently diagnosed himself by using genetic markers that lend themselves to violent/psychopathic traits and PET imaging. From what I understand about fMRI, PET, SPECT, etc you should always be extremely cautious when drawing conclusions from these studies when used in such a manner as this. It also bugs me that for a neuroscientist working in the department of psychiatry, he makes no attempt to use the right nomenclature. I might be wrong, but I thought psychopath and sociopath were outdated terms.
Science News Magazine (Society for Science and the Public) carries advertisements for alternative medicines such as AloeCure for acid-reflux problems(2/22/2014). This pseudoscience ad has no place in SN. We should expect better.
All this discussion about improving research standards and peer review criteria has me wondering about all the not-so-successful research (in terms of hypothesis testing). I wanted to know if there are any journals/databases that solely collect research BECAUSE the results are negative. In doing literature reviews, or just looking stuff up out of curiosity, it seems that one can find papers that are substantial and impressive in their implications, but it seems that a lot can be missed by not taking notice of the more mediocre (with respect to results, not methodology) information that is found. Is it possible that there are large volumes of good information not being utilized because it is being overshadowed by the few sources presenting more impressive results, or is this accounted for as well? Thanks.
Another Boston Children’s Hospital media circus much like the PANDAS kerfuffle a year ago. This time a family have been told their child has a mitochondrial disorder by outside MDs while the doctors at BCH feel the child’s symptoms are better described as a somatoform disorder.
Interestingly some of the same patient advocates involved in the PANDAS struggle are involved in this one as well. I wonder if BCH doctors have pissed off DAN! doctors and other quacks so much that they’ve become the focus of a black PR campaign intent on breaking their resolve. Plenty of the other Boston programs quietly tolerate a certain amount of “integrative” stuff.
I feel sorry for the family. They’re probably being encouraged to take sides in what ought to be a non-political process of weighing evidence. The real fight ought to be happening within the medical literature, not at the bedside.
So add “patients getting caught in the middle” to the list of “what’s the harms.”
As was common in mitochondrial disease cases, Justina was taking a long list of pills, prescribed by various specialists, including Tegretol for neurological problems, Metoprolol for a rapid heart rate, and Midodrine for boosting blood pressure. In addition, she was taking a vitamin cocktail prescribed by Korson to help with her weakness and fatigue.
Lou insisted that Justina not be taken off any of her medications until the Children’s team had consulted with Korson and Justina’s cardiologist from Tufts. He trusted the Tufts doctors and said he worried that if Justina were taken off her drugs, she could die.
Vitamin cocktail for mitochondrial disease? Mark Korson is Chief of the Metabolism Service at Tufts so I assume he knows what he is doing. Just wasn’t aware vitamins did much.
Anyway imagine doctors at Tufts saying your child might die if meds are stopped, then doctors at BCH saying that the meds are gonna be stopped. Obviously patients should not be placed in such positions. The doctors need to hash out their differences without the parents in the room. Then they should outline the pros and cons to the family, being clear about which part of the info is evidence and which is personal opinion. Really awkward though if the current treatment team thinks the prior treatment team performed unnecessary surgery. But hey, thick skin and put the patient first regardless, right?
Now I myself promote a plant based diet for both health, environmental, and ethical issues and I think this speech is very entertaining and informative. However as a skeptic I must also of course look beyond the quite evident agenda that Dr. Michael Greger M.D here has:
Given that I’m not a physician it would be really interesting to see what Dr. Steven Novella’s take on this would be given that I have an emotional bias and lack of education on the subject. Although I do find much of it consistent, yet perhaps a tad bit over-hyped.
So far I’ve only noticed one minor insignificant mislabeling in the video though compared to the original study but that’s easily overlooked. And as convincing as it is to me I assume that not everything else is correct either.
I have just read about Cannabis killing cancer cells, according to Dr. Christina Sanchez, a molecular biologist at Complutense University in Madrid. I quick Google of her and the topic turned up nothing of great interest, that is in the form of journal articles, and so I suggest it might make an interesting topic for you especially given the current change in attitudes towards and legality of Cannabis.
Some respectable people going in this direction it seems.
Are we all, skeptics included, kidding ourselves re: the health of our diets? It sounds like the guy from Sloan Kettering will not eat sugar in any form if he can help it.
“I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can,” Thompson (president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) told me, “because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.”
just looked at the date and realized it’s a few years old – maybe you’ve talked about it already.
Here’s an article up your alley. I thought it would be a good opportunity to point out the bad science that’s occurring not only with the “study” in question, but with science reporting as well. It has to do with charting the brain during an alleged out of body experience:
The study concludes the following:
SUMMARY: Clinical trials on Gardasil have been largely inadequate, the efficacy of the vaccine
in preventing cervical cancer has not been demonstrated, the benefits of vaccination have
been exaggerated and safety concerns downplayed, thus preventing parents from making
informed decisions for their children. Routine immunization against cervical cancer with
Gardasil is not supported by the current data. The benefit of vaccination is uncertain and the
risks of serious adverse effects are substantial
I really think it’s BS. But the Neural Dynamics Research seems to be a respectable entity linked to the British Columbia University.
1. The author cites her own studies a lot.
2. Lists a lot of correlation without establishing causation.
3. Seems to cherry pick some studies to support pop-science points.
4. Trots out the “cell phones as potential carcinogens” FUD.
And last, but maybe not least:
5. It’s a science-ish article on the Huff-Po.
Any chance of a skeptical analysis either here or on the SGU podcast?
Just this morning I received an invitation to an event in our area sent out to the senior management of the Health and Social Care partnership I work in. The following is a blurb taken straight from the invite:
“You may have seen Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) featured in the television coverage of Crufts Dog Show over the last few days. Suitably trained dogs can play a significant role in supporting the lives of people with diabetes. We are planning to support efforts to make them more widely available, including in Moray.
We are extremely fortunate Dr Claire Guest (CEO) and Michael Brander (Chairman) of Medical Detection Dogs are coming to [your area]. They’ll be accompanied by Claire Moon, who has Type 1 Diabetic, with her Diabetes Alert dog, Magic.”
(yes, the dog is called Magic)
Being a skeptic, I looked this up and found on clinical study that showed dogs were not able to detect diabetes:
The recent studies describing the creation of “STAP cells” ( stimulus triggered acquisition of pluripotency) are quite interesting, as they described a fairly simple process that has yet to be replicated. Although the studies seemed initially to be well done (but perhaps too good to be true), some red flags began to be identified, and now it appears that one of the authors has even backed away from the studies… asking others to take a look at their data and and attempt replication. It is looking more and more like this story will continue to grow, and is a good example for the topic of the process of science.
I ask for forgiveness in advance, as this isn’t a topic suggestion but a plug for a one-day neuroscience conference on March 28th being organized by a former music student of mine currently studying at Boston University:
Music. Neuroscience. Intersections. Connections.
A symposium dedicated to exploring music and the brain featuring renowned
neuroscientists Aniruddh Patel, Gottfried Schlaug, and Robert Zatorre, the
Boston Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet, and musicians from the BU School
Kameron is double-majoring in neuroscience and music and is quite passionate about both subjects. If any of you are within striking distance of Boston and have an interest in the subject, the conference should be both informative and entertaining.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled neuroscientific, skeptical, critical thinking blog. My apologies for any inconvenience.
I’d like to see you write about the idea of paid organ donation. I lean very libertarian, and applying market mechanisms to organ donation makes sense to me. I understand that there are serious risks to allowing people to be paid for organ donation; but if people are dying or suffering for lack of available organs, and paying people for them could help alleviate this problem, it seems like the obvious way to go. Apparently, Iran has had some success in organ markets, especially with kidneys. I haven’t deeply researched the topic yet, but as a medical professional with a good understanding of medical ethics, your thoughts on this would be very helpful.
How about Fibromyalgia? I’ve been seeing alot on this issue for some time now but am having a hard time understanding if it’s just a blanket term to cover several unknown issues or if it’s become a legitimate diagnoses?
How about taking people who would otherwise quickly bleed to death, replacing their blood with a cold saline solution, performing surgery, and then resuscitating them with warm blood? They’re doing a clinical trial in Pittsburgh:
I think there are multiple interesting aspects to this, including it’s probability of success, issues it raises for the definition of death – the subjects will be mostly (functionally/totally?) dead, and possible applications to long-term human “hibernation” (e.g., for space travel).
Sadly, my dad was diagnosed with Type II diabetes.
I took him to the pharmacy to pick up the various medicines prescribed by his doctor and some other items recommended by his new home-visit nurse, who apparently specializes in diabetes treatment. I didn’t talk to the nurse for very long… which I now regret.
She sent him to buy something called Cinnatrol, which proclaims itself an all-natural health drink that is “clinically proven to decrease the symptoms that commonly accompany elevated blood sugar and its effects.” The ingredients were essentially fruit juice, sugar, herbs, and cinnamon. This got my skeptical spider sense tingling, so I looked the product up.
The website is terrible; a veritable who’s-who of woo claims.
It claims its effects are backed up by clinical research. Well:
In order to determine the efficacy of Cinnatrol, recently, a randomized double blind clinical study was undertaken, the summary of the results are as follows:
… Cinnatrol has been shown to have a positive impact on Type I and II Diabetes (can be used with insulin and oral hypoglycemics) in reducing blood sugar levels. Also, there are the positive affects on patients suffering from hypercholesterolemia (can be used with cholesterol lowering medications), therefore, the improvement noted in the study would warrant Cinnatrol as a first line product, as an all natural agent. Cinnatrol enhances the body’s immunity, which demonstrates a whole host of anti-aging benefits, disease fighting and prevention properties. CRP levels are now accepted by mainstream medicine to be the most accurate predictor of cardiovascular disease. Cinnatrol has demonstrated that this inflammatory protein can be managed in a natural manner, thus decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving cardiovascular health.
Such encouraging results are the reason that many having tried Cinnatrol are continuing their use and self reporting improvements in their health and well being.
That sounds nothing like the results of a formal trial. It sounds like a sales brochure. And there was no link or reference to follow to the actual “trial.”
I confronted my Dad about this, and he literally said “If it makes me feel better, even if it’s just a placebo, why would you want to take that away from me?”
Well, for one reason, a one-liter bottle of this stuff is $38. I told him I could bottle placebo-juice for him myself for a small fraction of that. For another thing, it’s sugary fruit juice… is it really safe to give to a diabetic? Couldn’t it make him WORSE?
Anyway, any thoughts about this? Is diabetes snake oil a big industry? And is it possible I’m being too hard on Cinnatrol?
PS: Cinnatrol “contains Miracle II electronically engineered eloptic energized stabilizer.”
Interesting dilemma. As with crops like tea, coffee, and Cavendish bananas, wine grapes are vegetatively propagated and are at risk of being wiped out should a lethal pest be introduced to a growing area. One can’t just choose to grow a resistant grape variety because resistance and organoleptic qualities of the wines produced by those grapes are not closely linked. It would be like saying: “Can’t grow Pinot Noir? Suck it up and grow Concord grapes instead”. What if there is no money to be made growing Concord grapes? What if the wine grapes I grow are perfectly suited to my soil and environment and are highly prized by wine makers? What if every alternative returns far less profit or no profit at all?
The usual response by farmers and regional authorities has been to do everything possible to exclude pests that can threaten a highly vulnerable crop to that degree. But what if exclusion fails? The next step is to control the pest by whatever means is responsible and effective. But what if attitudes about pesticides limit one’s control options? I guess growers in that area have to accept their misfortune and the fact that one grower will determine the fate of neighboring businesses that have otherwise been able to survive for generations.
Reminds me of the anti-vaccine issue in certain respects. I understand that, in this case, pesticide application (vaccine) will actually cause harm in that the organic grower will no longer be able to represent his product as organic, but sticking to his values will also cause harm to others. Where is the compromise?
If we only had a technology whereby one could insert genes for disease resistance and preserve all the other qualities that make wines from those grapes so special… But I guess that is off-limits too.
Ms. Hirsi Ali first appeared on my radar while watching DVD of the 2007 AAI Convention. What a powerful story and sympathetic character. Looks like at least one secular institutions is giving Islam a pass. Perhaps a discussion of this issue is more appropriate among atheists than among skeptics, but still, if an otherwise respected university sucumbs to bullying by religious interests, I would think that has implications for skeptics as well. Will the former influence of Christian dogma and politics on campus now be replaced by Islamic dogma and politics? I am sure we will see an outpouring of support for Ms. Hirsi Ali from skeptics at academic institutions all over the country, right?
You wrote about how our moral sense is reflected in our fiction:
“I think this attitude is reflected in our fiction. Enemy soldiers, who need to be killed in large numbers, are generally faceless automatons. They are uniforms, not people. Think of the Stormtroopers in Star Wars. A general rule of science fiction is that there are certain things the hero(s) can kill with abandon (without moral judgement): robots, insects, undead, monsters, and Nazis. Nazis can be thought of generically as any faceless evil enemy soldier, which is perhaps why so many science fiction enemy armies have a Nazi vibe to them.”
This is, of course, also the case in LOTR, in which the heroes can kill orcs with abandon (Gimli and Legolas even compete about who can kill the most). If there is any research made on how our moral sense is reflected in fantasy or science fiction, it would be very interesting to read it.