Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Leave it to the naturopaths…

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 27, 2009

…to give you an insight of what delusion sounds like . I probably should apologize for the prolonged absence from the blogosphere, but what the hell this is my blog and I’m not going to. It’s not like there was any void of skeptical goodies to peruse during my absence, so suck it up and stop whining. As I am still not back 100%, I don’t intend to make this a long entry, but somehow I think I’ll fail at that.  I mean what can you expect given that I’m looking at something titled “Counterpoint: No ‘magic’ involved in naturopathic medicine”? Oh boy here we go!

Progress often faces resistance. Even with the substantial challenges facing health care in Ontario, the province’s recent decision to award prescribing authority to naturopathic doctors has its critics, as evidenced by Scott Gavura’s op-ed piece in Nov. 24th’s National Post.

Well, I’m going to adopt a famous Sagan saying and say that while progress does often face resistance, not everything that faces resistance is progress. A progressive idea must be established on its own merits, not the amount of resistance it encounters; therefore give up the genius-being-laughed-at complex and act like an adult! So let’s read through, I’m sure the “merits” of naturopathic “medicine” will be clearly and unambiguously revealed.

Ontario’s decision is a step forward in improving patient care by allowing naturopathic doctors to use their training to help address the substantial health challenges facing Ontario.

Their training? Training? Let’s see, according to Wikipedia the training, for the licensed ND that actually do go to some sort of school, “includes the use of basic medical diagnostic tests and procedures such as medical imaging, minor surgery, and blood tests. The CNME also provides for the inclusion of optional modalities including minor surgery, natural childbirth and intravenous therapy, though they are not generally licensed to perform these functions; these modalities require additional training and may not be within the scope of practice in all jurisdictions.”  Wow, I’m sure this sort of training must be making many nurses jealous….not (if you imagine Borat making this not-joke it might be funny!)

While it would be easy to dismiss Mr. Gavura’s opinions as alarmist, there’s something to be learned from it: Many Canadians aren’t aware of how safe, scientific and effective naturopathic medicine is.

And this is where I start cringing, because you see in reality most naturopathic treatments are neither safe, effective nor scientific (are you sh@%ing me?). Best case scenario they convince desperate people to avoid real medical treatments that do work; waste their time and money, and some times make them waste their last days in this universe chasing empty dreams and promises, thus robbing them and their families of much needed time together.Worst case scenario, you have 9 month old babies dying of infections that can easily be treated by real medicine. Yes I am looking at you homeopathy, don’t you dare to act all innocent, I-have-no-side-effects in front of me. As far as effectiveness is concerned, I will yet again make the claim that there are no rigorous scientific studies that will withstand scrutiny that show naturopathic medicines to work. You think I’m wrong? Pick your favorite alternative medicine modality and show me 3 proper, scientific studies that show a positive effect above and over the placebo effect. Set and ….go! I know you won’t be coming back with anything. Scientific? Hahaha, thanks for the good laugh. But seriously read a few sentences back. The same challenge applies. I have ample room in my comments section for many, many links. Get to linkin’!

Naturopathic medicine is based on the scientific assertion that the body, when given the appropriate support, has the potential to heal itself. This isn’t a “magical and transcendent anomaly of physics.” It’s how the body works — and we’ve known it for centuries. Each time you heal from a cut, a cold or a broken bone, you’re seeing vis mediatrix naturae, or “the healing power of nature” at work. It’s not magic, just good science.

Sneaky! Nice try. Yes, the body can heal itself, but that is limited. Medicine kinda implies human intervention for the sort of things the body cannot handle on its own. I guess by this logic vaccines are also naturopathic because they give the immune system “appropriate support” by teaching it how to fight invading agents so that in the future it can handle such agents without us intervening. Hey who knew, vaccines are naturopathic. Nice!

As well, many patients have not had success with conventional options to address chronic or unresolved conditions

Oh really? I need some clarification here: are the patients themselves assuming that they can find success with the naturopathic modalities, or are the naturopaths claiming that they have solutions to things real medicine cannot yet handle? If the latter is the case, I’d like to see a bit of evidence, just a tiny bit really. It would be great if some of these things included cancer or HIV or something like that.

This complementary system is vital when we are living in a society that is increasingly focused on symptom management.

And there it goes, the symptom-only-management fallacy. Forgive me for being a bit, what is the word…skeptical but when was the last time that doctors treated a shooting victim for the pain he was experiencing while ignoring the bullets lodged in his body? I’m sorry I can’t hear you…a bit louder please….oh you got nothing to say?

Most importantly, what patients want is to not be sick in the first place. The American Institute for Cancer Research determined that one-third of all cancers could be prevented through exercise, diet and weight management. Naturopathic doctors have the clinical skills and training to help patients integrate these preventative strategies.

Ha, and so do most all dietitians, no need to bring in the holistic nonsense. Exercise, diet and weight management have been around for a long time and have solid scientific support to have positive effect, this was not discovered by naturopaths by any stretch of the imagination.  They’re just latching onto it simply because it fits in with their whole anti-drug stance. Prevention is important but is not the end-all be-all in medicine. By their own citation, a full 2/3 of cancers can’t be prevented so show me what you can do about those dear naturopaths? Can you show that your methods increase life expectancy in a 5-year span? I didn’t think so.

There is more and more evidence in support of the approaches to health that NDs employ. Diet, lifestyle, stress and environmental factors have been a focus of naturopathic care long before evidence fully showed the importance of these approaches.

Isn’t this one of those can-never-be-verified claims? I guess the implication is that they were championing diet and exercise before the medical community was. Huh! Even if true, what does that have to say about acupuncture or homeopathy? Can you say diddly squat?

Meanwhile, the limits of randomized control trials favoured by the pharmaceutical industry are being increasingly recognized. Randomized control trials tend to test a single treatment approach to the eradication of a symptom. This approach works against individualized care, and tends to be biased toward over-treatment rather than prevention. Clinical studies are critical to advancing knowledge, but in themselves they are not the solutions to health problems.

And there goes the Special Pleading. Don’t tell me you weren’t expecting this now, what kind of skeptic are you? Obviously naturopathic medicine is scientific, as they said in the beginning, but here they go pleading for us not to look at randomized, controlled studies, which is what scientific tends to mean, for proof. Trying to have your cake and eat it too huh dear naturopath? But you can’t have it both ways. You see if you claim your modality is scientific then it is bound by the rules of ….guess what? Science! I know I shouldn’t load your cute little brain with this sort of heavy logic but you can handle it. Really, you can.

HPRAC also recommended that Ontario’s NDs, similar to NDs in almost every other regulated jurisdiction, have the capability to take on a larger role in primary care with access to basic primary care pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics.

Now wait just a minute! These guys want to be able to prescribe the same pharmaceuticals, an over-reliance on which according to this same article “may be making us sicker”? Isn’t that ironic? Drugs are bad as they don’t treat the root problem; I want to give you an all natural alternative to drugs; but let me have the ability to prescribe drugs nonetheless? What? Do they not really see the lack of logic in this line of thinking? Do they really think people are that stupid? Well, strike that last sentence!

As naturopathic doctors transition under new regulation in Ontario, there is an opportunity for us to work collaboratively with every member of an individual’s health-care team, forming a new model that acknowledges the choice that patients are making for the more natural approach that Naturopathic Doctors employ.

I must say for being a pile of crap, this is marketing genius. Honestly I must take my hat off to these folks for coming up with some pretty darn sweet sounding selling points. Just look at these two phrases. Who doesn’t like to collaborate? Or have a health care team all of his own? Or having a choice? Or going all natural? It all sounds so good! God if I didn’t know none of it has ever been shown to work,scientifically,I’d be definitely sold.

My verdict? Well if it isn’t clear by now I can recap it: I think naturopathic “medicine” is crap that makes people feel good but ultimately cannot objectively help with anything that can be measured. I think no alternative modality has ever been shown to work under rigorous scientific testing protocols, and when that happened it became part of real medicine thus loosing it’s alternative medicine status. I think that all of the alternative medicine modalities of today work no better than placebo, and that is the reason why their practitioners rely on testimonies and use a Special Pleading argument to be excused from the rigorous requirements of science, while at the same time proclaiming their modalities to be scientific, a bit misguided if not outright hypocritical in my eyes. So generally, I think naturopathic, alternative, integrative, non-conventional, call it whatever you want, I call it wishful thinking “medicine” is baloney; and there are few people who would be happier than me to if it turned out to be in fact useful to any degree. Until then, it is nothing but magical thinking.

Homeopathy for cats

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 20, 2009

As if this nonsense wasn’t bad enough as is, I ran accross the following question and answer in some obscure website (rel=”no follow”-ed of course!), I’d never heard off:

Question 1: I have 2 cats who are great feline companions-unless the weather turns stormy, with lots of lightning and thunder, or they’re about to have their toenails trimmed. Are there any natural ways I can help them calm down?

Friend of Felines

Response: When “meow” turns to “yeeoowwwww,” we all need help with calming crazed kitties. In addition to keeping them in a safe area, like a quiet room or other place where they can be as comfortable as possible, homeopathy offers a potential way to deal with the situation. Homeopathy is based on using diluted versions of a variety of natural remedies, including herbs or other nutrients. Each remedy is diluted thousands of times, resulting in an end-product that no longer contains the original material, only its electromagnetic essence.

Edie Snow, Shiatsu therapist at Pathways to Wellness, is a cat aficionada who has rescued several felines. She recommends using Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic approach to calming people or animals. It is a liquid dispensed from a dropper, and can be applied to a cat’s gums or inner lips. Rescue Remedy helps to relax an animal after any trauma, and can be used to deal with wild kitty behavior, fear, or over-stimulation. Rescue Remedy can also be used on the way to see your veterinarian.

So let me get this straight. First these cats get crancky because of lightning or having their nails clipped. That would be the cause of the crankiness. Since hoemopathy says like-cures-like, I can’t help but wonder just what in the hell would you dilute to calm down a cat that’s freaked by lightning and thunder? Furthermore since this Rescue Remedy can calm both animals and people, does that mean it can only calm people that get scared from lightning or are phobic about cutting their nails? Just wondering out loud here, not trying to be close-minded.

The Great Skeptical Blindspot

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 9, 2009

The Atheism issue revisited

My entry on skepticism and atheism from a while ago, has been getting quite a bit of attention lately with comments being posted on the comments section of the entry itself and on Twitter. The issue of atheism has become quite sticky, I think, in the skeptical circles. My diagnosis is that some skeptics are not applying skepticm consistently when the issue of religion/God is involved. In this entry I will try to rehash the arguments and hopefully be a little more clear as to why I take such a position. My only request to would-be commenters is to criticize my directly stated arguments/premises. I have noticed that this argument tends to drift away into other areas that are not implied/stated and becomes a useless war of words where both sides are not talking about the same thing. If there is something wrong with my definitions/premises/arguments let us pick that apart. If not you must grant that my argument is valid.

The first thing that needs to be clear before we can engage in a meaningful dialogue, is what atheism is. What does it mean to be an atheist? How do you define atheism? Another thing I have noticed is that people hold various ideas of what atheism is. It has even been said to me that because people hold various ideas about atheism, my argument basically becomes invalid. I do not think that is the right way to go about this. Regardless of how many competing definitions of atheism there may be out there, we must agree that surely we should try to use the one that most acurately describes us, regardless of the multitute of other definitons. It doesn’t matter what most people think an atheist is or should be, all that matters is what an atheist actually is!

So how do you go about defining a group of people? Well, I would think that you would start with the characteristics that they all share. You would have to be able to find something that they all have in common, so that you could point to this something and say “any person that has characteristic X” becomes part of this group of people. So if you look accros the spectrum of atheists what is the one (or more) common characteristic? What is the one thing that they all share? I propose that this thing is the lack of belief in Gods! That’s it, pure and simple.

Point of contention #1 – You disagree that my definition of atheism is the most correct one that applies to all atheists. Please provide your arguments.

Now on to skepticism. I think this one is harder to nail down correctly, but easier for most of you to agree with.  A skeptic is a person that applies skepticism. Ha, I know that’s a bit circular, but I’m not done. Skepticism is a method of evaluating the truth value of a claim, which relies heavily on the rules of logic and the scientific method. Now I know that those philosophy lovers out there can go on forever talking about what relying on the rules of logic and what the scientific method really entails, but I do not intend to get into much of that, for many reasons. That could be food for thought in another entry but not this one.

Point of contention #2 – You disagree that my definition of skepticism is the most correct one that applies to all skeptics. Please provide your arguments.

So having these two definitions down I make my claim: Skepticism must lead to atheism. Skepticism doesn’t equal atheism; they are not one and the same, but one (skepticism) leads to the other (atheism). I’ve made that point at my other entry already. People can be atheists for various reasons, and a committment to the rules of logic and the scientific method is but one way one can use to reach atheism. Being an atheist does not require one to be a skeptic. But I do think that being a skeptic requires one to be an atheist.

If we agree on the definition of atheism as stated above this is almost too obvious. Either the evidence presented for Gods is sufficient (thus you must declare belief in God), insufficient (thus you must lack belief in God) or is somewhere in between leaving one unsure. Now most skeptics, almost every single one I’ve ever known fall into the second and third camps, either they are declared atheists or they seem to be unsure, using terms such as “agnostic” to describe their stance. Which introduces another term that needs to be defined, agnostic, but I will sidestep that bomb and simply say that agnostic captures the third category, the first two being theist and atheist. And please let us not get into a discussion about agnosticism. I can choose not use the word agnostic, and go with something like the-jury-is-still-out to describe this camp. The definition of agnosticism is not at all relevant in the argument that I am putting forward.

So how can a skeptic apply skepticism consistently AND not be an atheist, meaning lacking belief in God (i.e. being agnostic about God)? Well, it can be done only if one can show somehow that there is at least some evidence, which is consistent with the standards of evidence that skeptics require of all other claims, that supports the God Claim. I claim that all the evidence that has been presented in favor of the existence of God does not hold up to the standards of evidence that we apply to all other cryptozoological creatures or pseudoscientific/paranormal claims.

Point of contention #3 – You disagree with the above sentence. You think some good evidence exists in favor of the God Hypothesis. Please provide said evidence.

So I have provided folks with at least 3 points of contention that can topple my argument. And let me recap my argument quickly:

Atheism=Lack of belief in gods.

Skepticism = Relies in rules of logic and scientific method

No convincing evidence has been put forward for the God hypothesis

The lack of evidence must lead to lack of belief in gods (not certainty of their inexistence)

Skeptics, which rely on evidence, thus must lack belief in gods

Skepticism must lead to atheism

Another point to make here is that there is one major unstated premise in my argument: I am relying on the definition of God as the one that the major monotheistic religions of our day see him: a God that is directly involved in the creation, and running of our universe; one that is meddling in all the time with miracles and such; in other words God as most people believe him to be from Muslims, to Christians, to Jews. I am aware that if someone claims that God does not interfere at all with our universe, that he just set he wheels in motion and is now sitting back, completely undetectable, that falls outside of skepticism, and I would say outside of humanity’s ability to know period. To those folks I have only one thing to say: What the hell is the point in believing that, and isn’t that a bit of special pleading or moving the post? Does this not remind you of Sagan’s invisible, non-heat fire breathing dragon in “Demon haunted world” (that is the correct book right? I’m pulling that from my memory!) But that’s their choice.

That is why I say that unless one is willing to take the same position about other claims, such as Bigfoot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Russell’s teapot, they cannot give the God Hypothesis this preferential treatment. But many do, and that is what I call the big Skeptical Blindspot, the inability to see how this “agnosticism” about God, but not about unicorns, conflicts with skepticism. If I am wrong please tear this argument apart. I am not particularly attached to the conclusion “Skepticism-> Atheism”, I just happen to think that, based on my reasoning above, it is the right one.

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Putting God out of the ethics business

Posted in News by Skepdude on November 6, 2009


By now you may have heard about or seen the “good without God” posters in the subways of New York City and elsewhere. Media outlets from the New York Times to Fox News have characterized them as ads promoting atheism. Yet while the campaign aims to reach out to nonbelievers, it also raises a broader issue–something most people seem to have missed.

The obvious meaning of “good without God” is that atheists can be good people. But a closer look reveals a more universal message: people can be good regardless of their beliefs about God. From this perspective, the ad was not about atheism, but about the nature of morality. (I’m writing this blog post along with Michael De Dora, Jr., a spokesperson for the New York City campaign.)

When we act ethically, our reasons are usually nothing transcendental, just simple respect and compassion for others.

With split seconds to save a stranger from death on the tracks at the 137th Street subway station, Wesley Autrey didn’t pause to seek divine guidance or reflect on his reward in heaven. That would have been one thought too many, as the moral philosopher Bernard Williams would say. As Autrey later explained, “I just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right.” The exact words that went through his head were, “Fool, you got to go in there.” Responsibility is like that. No one else can claim it for you.

Moral choices are not always as clear-cut as Autrey’s. The solution to complex ethical debates is seldom as clear as a stone tablet or a voice from a burning bush. One problem with stone tablets is that there is only so much you can fit on them. Lists of shalts and shalt nots in and of themselves can never be comprehensive and precise enough to render right answers on borderline cases and contemporary issues. “Shalt not kill” does not resolve whether one-week old embryos count as the kind of thing that may not be killed; “shalt not steal” does not explain when derivatives trading becomes stealing.


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Stand up, stand up, against Jesus

Posted in News by Skepdude on November 6, 2009


Religious teachings promise us much — eternal life, spiritual salvation, moral direction, and a deeper understanding of reality. It all sounds good, but these teachings are also onerous in their demands. If they can’t deliver on what they promise, it would be well to clear that up. Put bluntly, are the teachings of any religion actually true or not? Do they have any rational support? It’s hard to see what questions could be more important. Surely the claims of religion — of all religions — merit scrutiny from every angle, whether historical, philosophical, scientific, or any other.

Contrary to many expectations in the 1970s, or even the 1990s, religion has not faded away, even in the Western democracies, and we still see intense activism from religious lobbies. Even now, one religion or another opposes abortion rights, most contraceptive technologies, and therapeutic cloning research. Various churches and sects condemn many harmless, pleasurable sexual activities that adults can reasonably enjoy. As a result, these are frowned upon, if not prohibited outright, in many parts of the world, indeed people lose their lives because of them. Most religious organisations reject dying patients’ requests to end their lives as they see fit. Even in relatively secular countries, such as the UK, Canada, and Australia, governments pander blatantly to Christian moral concerns as the protection of religiously motivated refusals to provide medical professional services demonstrates.

In a different world, the merits, or otherwise, of religious teachings might be discussed more dispassionately. In that world, some of us who criticise religion itself might be content to argue that the church (and the mosque, and all the other religious architecture that sprouts across the landscape) should be kept separate from the state. Unfortunately, however, we don’t live in that world.


Behold the Jesus Venn Diagram

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on November 3, 2009

Clusterflock brings us this cutie:

Jesus VennDiagram_jesus1

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