Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

New study dispels common medical myths

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

“It is that we are susceptible to believing unproven concepts if they are repeated often enough by ‘experts’ (real or self-perceived/self-proclaimed),” Mosqueda said.

So, believe it or don’t, but:

Drink eight glasses of water each day: The authors found references as early as 1945 suggesting that healthy people should stay hydrated by drinking eight glasses of water each day. But they say there’s a complete lack of evidence supporting that recommendation. Studies also show that most people get enough fluids through daily consumption of juice, milk and even caffeinated drinks.

People only use 10 percent of their brains: This myth has been around for more than a century. Some believe it came from Albert Einstein, although the authors found no evidence of that. What they did find were studies that show people use much more than 10 percent of their brains. For example, when almost any area of the brain is damaged, it has “specific and lasting effects on mental, vegetative and behavioral capabilities.” Also, imaging studies have found no area of the brain is completely inactive.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT THE TAMPABAY.COM

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Superstition can kill you

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas, where the highlight was attending a Penn & Teller show. They are the magicians who have an entire tv series devoted to debunking the paranormal, appropriately called Bullshit! As a skeptic, one of the most annoying questions I get (and I’m sure P&T do also) is “why spoil other people’s beliefs? What’s the harm? Why are you so cynical?” (Note: skepticism is most emphatically not the same thing as cynicism, either in English meaning or in terms of the original Greek philosophical traditions.)

Well, ask the young woman that a couple of weeks ago was seized by some of her neighbors in Papua New Guinea, stripped naked, bound, gagged, and set on fire on suspicion of being a witch. She died a horrible and senseless death. This is not an isolated case in that part of the world (or in Africa). According to the local police more than 50 people were killed in the past year in two Papua New Guinea provinces because they were suspected of practicing sorcery. Anthropologist Bruce Knauft of Emory University has conducted a study according to which over the past four decades local families have seen a full one third of their adults killed violently, 90% of the deaths being connected to superstitious beliefs about witchcraft and the like.

Papua New Guinea is one of four Asian countries afflicted by an AIDS epidemics, but many villagers think it is witches, not the HIV virus, that spreads the disease (again, the same position held by many people, and even some governments, in Africa). Superstition is an easy “explanation” when the reality is either too difficult to comprehend or too hard to accept, but people are literally dying as a result of it.

But that’s the third world, right? Yes, but does witchcraft really sound that different from the practice of, say, snake handlers and speakers in tongues, right here in the good old U.S of A.? Do you remember Sarah Palin saved by a witch doctor? Moreover, plenty of people in the Western world die or get ill because they take homeopathic “remedies” (i.e., water and sugar) for treating serious conditions, for instance. And there is, of course, the psychological (and more often than not, financial) pain experienced by people whose grief and hopes are exploited by those who sell them instant Jesus cures, or tantalize them with the possibility of once again communicating with their loved ones.

That is why the work of the skeptic is not simply a matter of enjoying the intellectual challenge of exposing the frauds, or even the educational challenge of raising the world’s critical thinking abilities by a notch or two. It is work that helps reduce the exploitation of people’s fears for financial gain, power, or prestige. And it is work that may eventually save lives like the one of the innocent young woman who died in Papua New Guinea, yet another innocent victim of ignorance and stupidity.

P.S.: After writing the first draft of this column I went for a walk in my progressive and liberal neighborhood of Park Slope Brooklyn, where the average income and level of education are both very high (there seems to be an uncanny correlation between the two). In the elevator of my building I shared the ride with a woman from another floor. We made small talk about the Obama inauguration. I said we can hope for a better presidency this time around, to which she replied that we don’t need hope, we need to pray. You see, that’s the most important thing, period. She went on to explain to me that 9/11 was — and I quote verbatim — a “glorious day” because the whole nation joined in prayer. Oh boy, we really have a lot of work to do.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE ORIGINAL ENTRY AT “RATIONALLY SPEAKING”

Christian Stupidity

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

There are homeless people to feed and clothe, thirsty children to give water to, sick people who need medication. Nevertheless the Pope has decided he needed to set time aside to bless two lambs whose wool will be shorn to make shawls for newly appointed archbishops to wear.

Each lamb wore a crown of flowers on its head. Let me repeat that: The lambs wore CROWNS OF FLOWERS IN THEIR HEADS…for the blessing…by the Pope! The stupid…it burns!

$630 million for new push to eradicate polio

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

LONDON – Bill Gates and other donors are giving more than $630 million to the international effort to eradicate polio, after the disease spiked and spread to seven countries that were previously polio-free.

Gates announced Wednesday that his foundation, along with the charity group Rotary International and the British and German governments, would donate the money in the next few years.

Despite the new injection of funds, the campaign still needs $340 million to get through 2010. The World Health Organization estimates about another $2 billion would be needed until 2013, when it hopes that polio will have been wiped out.

Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. In Nigeria, low vaccination rates have allowed the virus to surge, while the war on terror makes reaching every child difficult in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite continued vaccination efforts, the virus remains stubbornly entrenched in India.

Last year, cases were also reported in 11 other African countries and Burma and Nepal.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT YAHOO NEWS.

Trials for Parents Who Chose Faith Over Medicine

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

WESTON, Wis. — Kara Neumann, 11, had grown so weak that she could not walk or speak. Her parents, who believe that God alone has the ability to heal the sick, prayed for her recovery but did not take her to a doctor.

After an aunt from California called the sheriff’s department here, frantically pleading that the sick child be rescued, an ambulance arrived at the Neumann’s rural home on the outskirts of Wausau and rushed Kara to the hospital. She was pronounced dead on arrival.

The county coroner ruled that she had died from diabetic ketoacidosis resulting from undiagnosed and untreated juvenile diabetes. The condition occurs when the body fails to produce insulin, which leads to severe dehydration and impairment of muscle, lung and heart function.

About a month after Kara’s death last March, the Marathon County state attorney, Jill Falstad, brought charges of reckless endangerment against her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann. Despite the Neumanns’ claim that the charges violated their constitutional right to religious freedom, Judge Vincent Howard of Marathon County Circuit Court ordered Ms. Neumann to stand trial on May 14, and Mr. Neumann on June 23. If convicted, each faces up to 25 years in prison.

“The free exercise clause of the First Amendment protects religious belief,” the judge wrote in his ruling, “but not necessarily conduct.”

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT THE NY TIMES

The historical Jesus-Why care?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

There is a lot of time and effort spent by people trying to find out if a man named Jesus actually existed or not. The search for the historical Jesus is resurrected time after time. But why care? Does this missing piece of evidence matter? Why should we as skeptics care if Jesus really existed or not?

I suppose the answer is that we don’t, we shouldn’t. Jesus’ existence has nothing to say about his supposed miracles. We know John Edward exists, I can pretty much guarantee that, but that does not have anything to say about his supposed psychic abilities. That much ought to be clear to anyone, it’s simple, straight logic. But then why are people so obsessed with the quest of the historical Jesus?

I think at the heart of this lies a logical fallacy. At least based on what I have observed, I think that the religious folks are more obsessed with this issue than the non-religious. After all they are the ones trying to prove something. I think there is a thought in their head, albeit I do allow for the possibility that in many cases this may be unconscious, that if they prove that a man named Jesus actually lived, preached and died on the cross, that would lend more credibility to the Bible as a historical book, thus lending more credibility to everything the bible says, including the miracles and the whole God stuff.

I suspect they think that proving that Jesus existed will make his described miracles more true, than if he didn’t. In a certain sense that is true. He would have to have existed in order to have performed these so-called miracles. But nevertheless, just because a man existed does not, on its own, increase the likelihood of him having walked on water. Furthermore, when we as skeptics analyze the so-called miracles, we’re already assuming, for the sake of the argument, that that human being existed. We’re not even worrying about that, because as I said, if we did not assume that, there would be no conversation to be had. So we’re already giving the benefit of the doubt to the believer. You say there was a man called Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago. Fine, I’ll accept that claim. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and that claim alone is not so extraordinary. The miracle claims on the other hand are quite amazing, so for those we require much more evidence than a book.

So to answer my original question, we shouldn’t care. I don’t care, it makes no difference one way or another if Jesus turns out to have actually existed or not. It’s inconsequential to the issue at hand, and there’s nothing to be gained in this regard by that piece of information.

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepdude, Skepquote by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

If you’re always reaching a desired conclusion, take a second look; something is wrong. Reason and logic must lead one to undesired conclusions at times. So if  it seems you’re always on the right side of the argument take a second look; that thought alone validates this point.

Skepdude

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Needles, not method, may be acupuncture key

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 21, 2009

LONDON – Acupuncture prevents headaches and migraines but faked treatments when needles are incorrectly inserted appear to work nearly as well, German researchers said on Wednesday.

Their findings suggest the benefits of acupuncture may stem more from people’s belief in the technique, said Klaus Linde, a complementary medicine researcher at the Technical University in Munich, who led the analysis published in the Cochrane Review journal.

“Much of the clinical benefit of acupuncture might be due to non-specific needling effects and powerful placebo effects, meaning selection of specific needle points may be less important than many practitioners have traditionally argued,” he said in a statement.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT MSNBC.COM