Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

But real skeptics still accept a preponderance of carefully examined evidence even when some elements of a complex systems problem remain unresolved, and they do not pretend that when there are loose ends some well-established preponderances don’t exist — that is beyond skepticism to denial, or often political convenience. So a skeptic questions everything but accepts what the preponderance of evidence is, and a  denier falsely claims that until all aspects are resolved we know nothing and should do nothing-often motivated by the latter. If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to idoelogical denier.

Stephen H. Schneider – Skeptical Inquirer, may-June 2009, Vol 33, Issue 3, Page 16

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$2.5 billion spent, no alternative cures found

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 10, 2009


BETHESDA, Md. – Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.

Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence.

Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special “master” can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

“You expect scientific thinking” at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of “Snake Oil Science” and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency’s top-funded research sites. “It’s become politically correct to investigate nonsense.”

Many scientists say that unconventional treatments hold promise and deserve serious study, but that the federal center needs to be more skeptical and selective.

“There’s not all the money in the world and you have to choose” what most deserves tax support, said Barrie Cassileth, integrative medicine chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Many of the studies that have been funded I would not have funded because they seem irrational and foolish — studies on distant healing by prayer and energy healing, studies that are based on precepts and ideas that are contrary to what is known in terms of human physiology and disease,” she said.


One more reason why I drink Pepsi

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

Because Coke is a corporate partner with the Creation Museum. I hope Pepsi doesn’t sponsor some equally stupid movement. What am I supposed to drink if they do, **gasps**  Doctor Pepper?


Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on June 10, 2009


The first panicky retreat in the war on free speech in the UK has begun.

As I wrote last week, the British Chiropractic Association is suing science journalist Simon Singh for saying that chiropractors practice “bogus” medicine. Instead of defending what they do with research and testing, they are acting to silence Singh and chill anyone else who may want to expose what they do.

This attack on free speech has been rippling outward over the past few days, and now there is an ironic twist: the McTimoney Chiropractic Association has strongly warned its practitioners to take down their websites and replace any information on their techniques with just brief contact information. Why would they do that?

Because of what we consider to be a witch hunt against chiropractors, we are now issuing the following advice:

The target of the campaigners is now any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research. The safest thing for everyone to do is […] [i]f you have a website, take it down NOW.

Heh. Gee, why the heck would anyone want to make sure that a chiropractor — a person who will be futzing around with your spine — be able to substantiate their claims with (gasp) RESEARCH?

It’s very telling, isn’t it, that the McTimoney group isn’t telling its people to only stick with proven methods, but instead to take down any claims that might get them sued.



Heaven for sale

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on June 10, 2009


Now, for the low, low price of $12.79, you can reserve a spot in heaven for yourself. This is a real business selling tickets, certificates and ID cards that claims to give you a direct line to an afterlife in paradise, with a money-back guarantee. You might think it’s just a gag…but it’s the same thing as Catholic indulgences, so it’s a gag with a little bite.


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Acupuncture and heartburn-are we really doing this again?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

I feel like every other week, there is another acupuncture study. I don’t see this happening with say chiropractic or homeopathy. For some reason researchers have singled out acupuncture as the most likely of the sCAM modalities to have an effect, and they are desperately, judging from the design of their studies, doing everything they can to find it. MUST FIND EFFECT!

But all these studies are similarly flawed, and the latest Brazilian Study which according to the news item headline shows that “Acupuncture May Relieve Heartburn In Pregnancy“, is no exception to this rule. You can read the details of the article yourself but I want to point one major issue with this study. There was no placebo control, no control group!

Now the control group is meant to control for other variables one of which has to be placebo. What these researchers did is the following:

For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 42 pregnant women with indigestion to dietary counseling plus antacids or to dietary counseling and antacids plus acupuncture once or twice a week. The researchers assessed the women’s symptoms at the beginning of the study and every two weeks after that for eight weeks.

Not surprisingly they found that the group that got the antacids PLUS acupuncture, did better than the group that got the antacids only. So they conclude that this suggests that “acupuncture can relieve symptoms of indigestion“. No it doesn’t! What this suggests is that the researchers either don’t know how to properly set up a study or they are intentionally setting it up to get a result in favor of acupuncture.

This study does not show  if the effect is due to placebo or not. It cannot distinguish because it did not have a fake acupuncture group. We are not just beginning to study acupuncture and these observations have been done hundreds if not thousands of times. Any respected researcher ought to be aware of these issue and incorporate them in their study design. The fact that they continue to use flawed protocols implies either incompetence on their part or an intention to skew the results.

And I am not the only one picking up on this.

Dr. Richard Frieder, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, doesn’t think that acupuncture works any better than conventional treatment.

“This is an interesting idea but far from proves any benefit, as the control group did not have any type of placebo treatment, such as fake acupuncture to make the control and test group comparable,” Frieder said.

Elemantary Watson! Apparently not elementary enough for acupuncturists though.

“It is a well-done study and it is expected that there would be positive results,” said Dr. Marshall H. Sager, past president of the American Society of Medical Acupuncture and an acupuncturist in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

No it is not a well-done study Sherlock! It is a very poorly-done study by any scientific standard available. But I forget, acupuncture does not play by the rules of reality or science. It’s holistic!

Either way the study does not show that acupuncture either can or may help with heartburn. The title could have very well been “Acupuncture may not relieve heartburn in pregnancy” and that would have been more in tune with the results and the way the study was run.

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Posted in JREF by Skepdude on June 10, 2009


Sigh. This is ugly. Really really ugly. The Huffington Post has been getting bashed by skeptics lately for being credulous at best and downright silly at worst. And now I can see why.

Most of you know that Oprah was called to task in Newsweek recently. I was going to mention it in Swift, but I  stopped myself for two reasons: 1) everyone else mentioned it, and 2) it lauded Dr. Mehmet Oz as a voice of reason on Oprah’s show. He’s not, and it doesn’t take much research to see that.

Anyway, today, Deepak ChOPRAH weighed in on Oprah’s side. Yes, I’m going to spell his name like that. Deal with it.

So here’s the article. Please read it if you can. I won’t blame you if you can’t. I’m going to go through it here anyway.

ChOPRAH says:

The (Newsweek) story failed to gain traction for obvious reasons. Oprah has aired innumerable shows on health, of which the controversial ones are a tiny minority. Her intention to improve women’s lives on all fronts is so obvious as to be almost above criticism. The credibility for women’s well-being and welfare she has earned day after day over the past two decades will not be undone with a story that cherry-picks the guests who can be made easy targets of ridicule by the medical establishment. And the fact that she has celebrity guests who have causes and crusades in the area of health, such as Jenny McCarthy or Suzanne Somers, is not the same as Oprah herself endorsing what they say.

Ok, please. Deepak, spare us your manipulative rhetoric. The piece failed to gain traction? I don’t see it stuck in the snow anywhere… it was all over the place, and got enough “traction” for you to respond to it. As for her intention to “improve women’s lives,” consider that she’s a billionaire. She earned it, I have no qualms about that, but she earned it the old fashioned way: her intention was to make as much money as possible.  And to say that Oprah doesn’t endorse Jenny McCarthy is simply dishonest. She gave her a show!