Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Chiropractic Patients Should Know Risks

Posted in News by Skepdude on December 31, 2009


Fit and 48 years old, Janet Levy went to a chiropractor to try to relieve a sore shoulder back in 2002. She nearly lost her life. A manipulation of her neck led to a stroke, then brain surgery, paralysis and years of therapy for the Woodbridge woman.

But that personal battle seems small compared with the struggle that Levy has undertaken to try to bring a basic reform to chiropractic care in Connecticut. Levy — who leads Victims of Chiropractic Abuse and is behind those ads on the sides of Connecticut Transit buses warning about chiropractors — and a handful of others have for years waged a failing effort to persuade the state legislature to enact legislation to force chiropractors to be a little more frank about what they do.

Now, the two sides will dramatically face off again Jan. 5 at 10 a.m. at a hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford before the obscure state Board of Chiropractic Examiners, which has been asked to make a “declaratory ruling” on whether chiropractors should be required to inform their patients about the risks of neck manipulation. The outcome could affect chiropractors, and their patients, throughout the country.

No state currently requires that patients be warned of a stroke risk from cervical manipulation. I’ve written about this strange conflict surrounding “informed consent” a few times before, mostly because I can’t understand why chiropractors — who are in the business of relieving pain — are trying to block something that would help their patients make educated decisions.

“I, unfortunately, was not given that information, which would have saved me two years out of my life,” Levy says in testimony she has filed with the chiropractic board in advance of the hearing. “Chiropractors need to give their patients informed consent to tell them about the possibility of a stroke. … The controversy about how often it occurs should not be the primary concern. The severity of the outcome is what should matter.”

The reality is, the risk of stroke is remote. But shouldn’t patients at least know? Shouldn’t they be told how to recognize a stroke in case a problem develops after a visit to the chiropractor? Not according to the various trade groups fighting Levy and another woman, Britt Harwe, who leads the Connecticut-based Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group. The International Chiropractic Association says — remarkably — that informed consent wouldn’t “best serve the public interest.”


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Measles kills the unvaccinated in Zimbabwe

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on December 29, 2009

CNN reports that 22 people, most of them children, have died of measles in Zimbabwe.

WHO’s head in Zimbabwe, Dr. Custodia Mandlhate, told journalists in Harare the outbreak has totaled more than 340 suspected cases this year, and “this is not acceptable.” She said the outbreak came about “mainly because of people who have denied their children vaccination.”

She said that all of the 22 people who died were unvaccinated. Measles is a disease that can be easily prevented with the MMR vaccine.  Since the MMR vaccine was introduced in the US, measles cases have gone down by 99%.   According to the CDC website:

However, measles is still common in other countries. The virus is highly contagious and can spread rapidly in areas where vaccination is not widespread. It is estimated that in 2007 there were 197,000 measles deaths worldwide—that equals about 540 deaths every day or about 22 deaths every hour.

Thus, what has happened in Zimbabwe is not an isolated case. It happens worldwide every hour. There is a simple lesson in these stats. Vaccines save lives. Not vaccinating causes death, mommy instincts be damned!

It’s Jesus on a banana peel…or is it a monkey from Planet of the Apes?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on December 28, 2009

Lisa thinks she’s found Jesus on her banana peel (insert your own crude sexual joke here). She ate the Jesus banana (insert another crude sexual joke here). I don’t know what to say. To me it looks like a primate. Judge for yourself. Here is the Jesus banana.

And here are some pics of the apes from the latest Planet of the Apes movie.

I see ape! I don’t see jesus at all. What do you see?

PS: POA fans, please don’t get on my case for referring to the apes as “monkeys” on the title. It really doesn’t matter.

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Why aren’t America’s psychics helping keep us safe?

Posted in Center for inquiry by Skepdude on December 28, 2009


As I’m sure you heard, a Nigerian suicide bomber tried to blow up Northwest flight 253, from Amsterdam to Detroit, on Christmas Day. He managed to get 80 grams of the high explosive PETN on board, though his plot was foiled by a faulty detonator and a fast-acting nearby passenger. Fingers are still pointing about who is to blame for the usual laundry list of security lapses. The story of course didn’t get as much press as it would have if the bomber had been successful, but it provides what I like to semi-sarcastically call a “teachable moment.”

There are thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of people who claim to have psychic powers. Some of them can be found in little storefront shops not far from where you may work or live. Some of them can be found on TV, such as convicted felon Sylvia Browne, James van Praagh, John Edward, Alison DuBois, Carla Baron, and others. But all of them have one thing in common: they claim to have specific, accurate information about things outside their immediate knowledge. Some say they can read minds or auras; others say they can predict future events.

Which brings us back to the would-be Christmas bomber. The biggest challenge to national security, by definition, is that there is no way to distinguish threats from non-threats, passengers from terrorists, false-positives from positives. Airport security must thoroughly screen every single passenger, from the wheelchair-bound grandmother to the harried businessman to the nose-picking toddler, because everyone must be suspect; anyone could be a potential threat. Psychics, if real, could change all that.

If what they say is true—if these people have the powers they claim, why are 99.99% of innocent airline passengers subjected to invasive screening, delays, and hassles, when a psychic should be able to identify the terrorists and direct the security resources toward those people?


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The difference between skeptics and anti-skeptics

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on December 28, 2009

Well a difference anyway, boils down to the difference between could and is. Skeptics operate, or better we strive to operate, within the limits of IS. Anti-skeptics operate within the limits of could; affirming it as an IS and disregarding if it CAN!


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Pope gets knocked down

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on December 25, 2009

I don’t endorse physical violence, but I thought the way he went down was kinda funny.  Glad he’s ok though!

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Ye shall steal!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on December 22, 2009

Says Father Tim Jones, a clergyman at St. Lawrence Church in York, England, so long as you don’t take more than you need and only steal from the big chains, that is. I gotta say I find this amusing, what with the whole “thou shall not steal” deal and whatnot! But the thing is that besides food, water and clothing, not much else is “needed” and usually most places, especially big european countries like England have shelters and charities of all sorts. So why a priest would recommend stealing before going to the charities, or begging beats me, but that’s what he’s sticking with.

“My advice as a Christian priest is to shoplift,” Jones reportedly told churchgoers during his Sunday sermon. “I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.”

“I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses — knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices,” he continued.

“I would ask them not to take any more than they need, for any longer than they need … My advice does not contradict the Bible’s eighth commandment because God’s love for the poor and despised outweighs the property rights of the rich.”

Yeah, why not? Sure he gave us 10 commandments he wants us to follow, but what the hell, apparently they’re not as rigid as we thought, dare I say, they’re not written in stone?

What, If Anything, Can Skeptics Say About Science?

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on December 22, 2009


NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, Larry Stock, Robert GerstenNASA visualization of arctic surface warming trends. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, Larry Stock, Robert Gersten

As many skeptics know by now, legendary skeptical trailblazer James Randi set off a firestorm last week with two Swift blog posts about global warming. His first post carried his strong suspicion that consensus science on climate change is incorrect, while his followup post wondered “whether we can properly assign the cause to anthropogenic influences.”

Skeptical bloggers were swift to respond. Critics (including PZ Myers, Orac, Sean Carroll, and James Hrynyshyn) chastised Randi for speaking outside his domain expertise; for dissenting from current consensus science; and for lending his name to the disreputable “Oregon Petition Project.” Others, like Phil Plait, corrected Randi while sensibly reminding us that “anyone, everyone, is capable of making mistakes.” And, inevitably, global warming deniers seized upon the event. (One headline, at Britain’s, gleefully crowed “James Randi forced to recant by Warmist thugs for showing wrong kind of scepticism.”)

But, of the many posts to respond to Randi, two in particular caught my attention. SkeptiCamp pioneer Reed Esau asked,

So what happens now? That uneasy feeling you are now experiencing may be the implications of the situation setting in. … Most of us are laymen who don’t have the professional experience and analytical skills to properly evaluate the data and the methods. To pretend we do (or to reject it on a hunch) separates us from the very scientific enterprise we skeptics purport to value.

Similarly, according to Skeptical Inquirer columnist Massimo Pigliucci, “we need to pause and think carefully about the entire skeptical movement in light of episodes like this one.”

So, What Happens Now?

I’ve long argued that our patchy and lukewarm acceptance of mainstream climate science is skepticism’s greatest failure. I’ll return to that argument in future posts, but today I’d like to concentrate on the general question raised by Esau and Pigliucci: what is skepticism’s appropriate relationship to consensus science? What — if anything — may skeptics responsibly say on mainstream science subjects?

Organized skepticism has always talked about science. Certainly, we use science-informed arguments when critiquing paranormal claims. We use techniques from science (and from other investigatory disciplines, such as history and journalism) when digging into strange stuff. The promotion of scientific literacy is also a core part of our traditional mandate (as I argued in the essay “Where Do We Go From Here?”).

Nonetheless, it’s my opinion that there are severe limits on the kinds of scientific arguments into which skeptics may responsibly wade. If we’re serious about our science-based epistemology, we must be prepared to consistently defer to scientific consensus. As Esau puts it,

That consistency is essential, because without it people like myself will ask “So, what’s the point?” To waver from that consistency risks calling the entire enterprise into question.


Autism Prevalence

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on December 21, 2009


The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published the results of their latest study on the prevalence of autism. There is no question that in the last 20 years the number of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses has increased. What is also clear is that during this time there has been increased surveillance and a broadening of the diagnosis of ASD. Whether or not this accounts for the entire increase in ASD numbers, or if there is a true increase in there as well, is unknown.

Into that context, the CDC adds their most recent numbers, concluding:

In 2006, on average, approximately 1% or one child in every 110 in the 11 ADDM sites was classified as having an ASD (approximate range: 1:80–1:240 children [males: 1:70; females: 1:315]). The average prevalence of ASDs identified among children aged 8 years increased 57% in 10 sites from the 2002 to the 2006 ADDM surveillance year. Although improved ascertainment accounts for some of the prevalence increases documented in the ADDM sites, a true increase in the risk for children to develop ASD symptoms cannot be ruled out. On average, although delays in identification persisted, ASDs were being diagnosed by community professionals at earlier ages in 2006 than in 2002.

That 1 in every 110 children on average now carry an ASD diagnosis is not new news. This CDC data was actually released ahead of publication in October. At the same time a phone survey published in Pediatrics found 110 in 10,000 children carried an ASD diagnosis – or a little more than 1%. This 1% figure seems to be highly replicated – a National Health Services survey released in September also found a prevalence of 1% for ASD in the UK.


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James Randi, global warming and the meaning of skepticism

Posted in Rationally Speaking by Skepdude on December 17, 2009


James “the Amazing” Randi is an icon of skepticism. The man has done more — over a span of several decades — to further the cause of critical thinking and to expose flimflammery of all sorts than arguably anyone else in the world, ever. That is why I was struck with incredulity and sadness yesterday when I read Randi’s latest take on global warming. He begins by stating that, contrary to scientists’ own self-image as almost preternaturally objective human beings, “religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.” Well, true, to a point. Many philosophers and sociologists of science have said that before (and documented it), but your baloney detector should go up to at least yellow alert when someone starts a commentary on global warming with that particular observation.

The following paragraph is perhaps one of the most astounding I have ever seen penned by a skeptic. It reads in part: “some 32,000 scientists, 9,000 of them PhDs, have signed The Petition Project statement proclaiming that Man is not necessarily the chief cause of warming, that the phenomenon may not exist at all, and that, in any case, warming would not be disastrous.”

Wow, Randi fell for the old “thousands of scientists are against science” trick! First off, I’d like to see the 32,000 signatures (there is no link from the essay). Second, last time I checked, in order to be a career scientist you have to have a PhD, so how come only 9,000 of the signatories did? Did the rest not manage to finish graduate school? But more importantly: were the 32,000 climate scientists? Because if not, then it doesn’t matter how many of them signed the petition. I can easily get thousands of medical doctors (are they “scientists”?) to sign a petition to the effect that evolution doesn’t occur, or an equivalent number of assorted PhDs to express doubts on quantum mechanics, and so on. Having a PhD in a particular field provides no expertise whatsoever in another field, and Randi, of all people, should have known this.

“History supplies us with many examples where scientists were just plain wrong about certain matters, but ultimately discovered the truth through continued research” continues the essay. Another logical fallacy. Yes, the history of science has documented many blunders made by scientists, which usually are redressed by the built-in self-correcting mechanisms of science itself. But to imply that therefore the idea of human-caused global warming is another of these mistakes is like saying “Van Gogh was a great artist and he died penniless; I am penniless, therefore I am a great artist.” It is a non sequitur.