Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Things More Likely to Save You From Swine Flu Than Homeopathy

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on April 28, 2009

(x-posted on Skepchick!)

  1. Private island
  2. Gas mask
  3. Real medicine
  4. Aliens
  5. Mace
  6. Jesus (note: only if you’re in a Stephen King novel)
  7. Superman
  8. Your own immune system

A short recap for those stumbling upon Skepchick for the first time: homeopathy is nothing more than regular water, shaken up and packaged in boxes covered in lies and sold to people who don’t know any better. For a more thorough overview, see this post.

Mark, an official Friend of Skepchick, tweeted us a link to this ridiculous site trying to sell homeopathic remedies by capitalizing on the world’s panicked reaction to outbreaks of swine flu. Here are some highlights (bolding mine):

It is important for those more at risk to seek professional help from their homeopath, GP or health practitioner now. Constitutional treatment is the best way for anyone to strengthen the immune system and Helios would recommend consulting a homoeopath.

Sorry, no. Just . . . no. If you are “more at risk” to have a deadly infectious virus, like you just got back from a pig-licking tour of Mexico* where you were repeatedly sneezed on, then you should see a real medical professional. Homeopaths do not necessarily have medical degrees and all they can do is give you sugar water and then maybe contract swine flu from you and then you can die in one another’s arms, just like Romeo and Juliet only stupider, which is really saying something.

At present we do not have a nosode, i.e.a remedy made from the disease material. However, we do have existing remedies which have been used successfully over many years to treat all stages of flu. These are safe for everyone from babies to the elderly.

Man I am so hoping they manage to get their hot little hands on a vial of swine flu so they can bust that sucker open and dilute the crap out of it until they have their extra special magic water, which they can then drink to cure the swine flu they just gave themselves.


Lose Weight – With Lasers

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on March 9, 2009

Listener, Nick,  sent in the following e-mail:

For a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to lose weight the old fashioned way. Eat less, move more. Today my personal trainer suggested this weight loss clinic that uses some foam wrapping and infrared lasers. My trainer said she’d tried it and it works and gave me the web site. I’m looking over the website and I’m not buying it. But I’m not that good of a skeptic and don’t know why I’m not buying it. I just know, I’m not buying it. Would the skeptics be so kind as to tell me why this doesn’t work? Thanks, and I love the show.

Wow. This is one of those websites that just overwhelms you with pseudoscientific technobabble. There is far too much nonsense here to tackle in a single blog, so I am going to focus on two claims – the low level laser therapy (LLLT) and the infrared body wrap.

But first, for a little background, it’s interesting to note that spas have had a tradition for literally hundreds of years of promoting wellness (that is, there own financial wellnes) through pure BS. The basic marketing strategy is to convince people with disposable income and too sedentary a lifestyle to come in, relax, and passively receive exotic treatments that will cure whatever ails them. Spas have often been on the cutting edge of health pseudoscience. Today they incorporate the latest fads in CAM – from aromatherapy to reflexology.

The infrared bodywrap is in the sweet-spot of the spa tradition – and now you can enjoy the same exploitation at home. The basic claim here is that the wrap system contains infrared radiation, which penetrates the skins and (you know the drill) – removes toxins, increases blood flow and oxygen delivery, and melts away fat and cellulite. Right.It promises you will lose weight and inches.

Of course, all such wraps do make you lose weight and inches – by dehydration via sweating. That’s the core trick here. Of course, water loss is not fat loss and in fact is counterproductive. But it is highly profitable.


Audio Pareidolia

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on March 2, 2009

Have you ever been singing a popular song along with the radio when your friend turns to you and asks, “What are you singing?” The incredulous look on their face suggests to you that perhaps you are not singing the correct words, and eventually you both get a laugh at how horrendously you mangled the lyrics. I friend of mine, for example, once confessed that they thought that in the  song “little red corvet” Prince was singing “pay the rent collect.”

This is a form of audio pareidolia. Pareidolia is the neurological phenomenon of seeing a pattern or figure in random noise – a face in the clouds, or Jesus on a tortilla shell, for example. The images are not really there. There is just the suggestion of a face or some figure in the image and our brain does all work, finding the closest match to a recognized pattern, and then enhancing and even filling in details to create the illusion of a face or whatever.

Audio pareidolia is hearing words in sound that are not actually there. This can occur by misinterpreting words that are being said, or by hearing words in random noise. The phenomenon is the same as with visual pareidolia, in that the brain is searching for a recognized pattern, finds the closest match, and then processes the incoming sensory information to enhance the apparent match.


Proving God?

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on November 17, 2008

Listener David Driscoll from Atlanta thought this video of Frank Tipler explaining his “proof” for the existence of God would make a good Name that Logical Fallacy. I agree. Tipler is a crank, plain and simple. That he is a professor at Tulane University must be somewhat of an embarrassment for Tulane.

Others have already dissected Tipler’s nonsense, such as this article in the Skeptical Inquirer. I want to focus on the core fallacy of Tipler’s logic.

He says that the math and the physics lead directly to the conclusion that God exists. In the ridiculous local news video, where we are assured the reporter asked the “tough questions” (cough, cough), they even show some mathematical-looking equations on a blackboard leading to the final conclusion – “God exists.”

Tipler’s main logical error is that he is confusing explanation for proof. He believes that since he can concoct a highly speculative explanation for God or for specific miracles in the Bible (amounting to nothing more than special pleading) that God and the miracles are proven.

For example, he argues that because physics can explain the conversion of matter to energy and back gain, this “proves” the Biblical account that Jesus vanished in the tomb and then later reappeared before the disciples.

His proof of God is too complex for him to summarize it in any meaningful way (according to him) so you better buy his book. But it distills down to some fanciful descriptions of cosmology leading to the dubious conclusion that the universe will end in a singularity without an event horizon requiring infinite information. This singularity (which Tipler dubbed the Omega Point) is God.


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Dying for Sleep

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on October 6, 2008

There is a silent epidemic of sleep disorders in the US (and probably other developed countries as well). Increasing diagnoses of sleep problems is likely a combination of increasing incidence and increased awareness. Recent studies showing that sleep apnea (blocking of the air passageways during sleep) increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. Poor sleep is also linked to diabetes and may be the true underlying cause of up to half of people with the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Lack of sleep also exacerbates many conditions, from migraines to seizures, and correlates with a decreased life expectancy. In short – we need our sleep. Our bodies, especially our brains, do not function optimally when deprived of sleep. Everyone should strive to have good sleep habits – avoid caffeine in the evening, don’t eat right before going to bed, and try to consolidate your sleep so you get it all at once rather than napping throughout the day. If you still have poor sleep, consult a physician – you may have a treatable condition that can be diagnosed with a sleep study.

But for every such truth in medicine there seems to be a quack willing to take it to absurd extremes in order to sell their books, supplements, and devices. I recently received the following e-mail asking about such extreme claims.


The Mentalist

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on September 28, 2008

This week I caught the pilot episode of The Mentalist on CBS. My first impression is that this show has the potential to be skeptically awesome. I hope it lives up to my early expectations. It was refreshing to watch a show with a lead character who is unashamedly skeptical and likable at the same time.

Other shows have done this to some degree. House is clearly a critical thinker, but we like him despite the fact that he is a complete jerk. Grissom from CSI is a likable skeptic, but his skepticism is very much in the background. And I despise pseudoskeptics like Scully from the X-Files, who relentlessly doubts the obviously paranormal activity around her. Scully was designed to be a hopeless character – because she lives in a fictional paranormal world.

Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a mentalist who consults for the CBI (I guess that’s a fictional FBI) using his keen powers of observation and critical thinking to solve cases. He is very much a Sherlock Holmes type character, and is very likable.

Even better, Jane used to be a stage fake psychic very much in the mold of John Edward. In the pilot episode we see Jane doing a fake reading. The TV audience is keenly aware that Jane is faking it, but the woman for whom he is giving a reading is reduced to tears of joy at contacting her loved-one.


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October 11 – Mark Your Calendar

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on September 22, 2008

Just a quick, but important, message this week: please mark your calendars for Saturday, October 11 and join all of us at The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe for The Perry DeAngelis Memorial Lecture in Perry’s hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut.

Special guests Steve Mirsky, host of the ‘Scientific American 60-Second’ and ‘Science Talk’ podcasts, and Terrence Hines, author of ‘Pseudoscience and the Paranormal’ will be joining The SGU for a live panel discussion on a bevy of topics, all scientific, all skeptical, and all in honor of the memory of Perry.


Denying Intelligent Inference

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on September 15, 2008

Listener Dex Wood sends us the following question:

I am kind of concerned about proving our ability to extrapolate with past evidence.  This concern came from a discussion I was having with someone about evolution.  I claimed that the large body of evidence allows us to determine the course that evolution took in the past.  They returned with, “You weren’t there, and there was no direct observation.”  It is true that I was not there to directly observe it, and showing someone that evidence being used as observation is valid, seems difficult.  How do you deal with someone arguing that things could have been different a long time ago?  This can apply with radioactive dating or physics in general.
Thank you for your reply,

Dex Wood

This is a classic strategy of denial, used most prominently in evolution denial (i.e. creationism/intelligent design). It is simply an attempt to deny one form of legitimate scientific evidence and reasoning.

First, I want to point out that “extrapolation” is not the best word to use for what Dex is asking. Extrapolation specifically means to find a pattern within existing data and then to project that pattern beyond the data. The specific example he gives, figuring out the path of prior evolution, is mainly interpolating – filling in data between existing data points. The fossil evidence represents snap-shots of the evolutionary past and we infer what happened between those snap-shots.


Tooth or Consequences

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on September 8, 2008

My daughter, Rachel, who is 5 years old, lost her first baby tooth last night. It was a rather tender moment – she was giving me a hug goodnight as I was tucking her in to bed. During the hug, she pressed her head very firmly against mine, so much so that the force of my face up against hers actually sent the already loose lower right incisor free from the gum. I could actually hear the “crunching” sound of the tooth coming away from its socket, and I knew right away that the tooth popped out. The sight of blood coming from her mouth caused her to cry for a minute, but it was quickly replaced with pure elation and giddiness of this momentous occasion in the life of a 5 year old.

At this same moment came a time of pause and reflection on my part. Do I, a skeptical non-believer in non-science, willfully add to my daughters growing mental rolodex of fantasy creatures and characters by re-enforcing the idea that there is a “Tooth Fairy” that will come in the middle of the night tonight to take away the tooth and leave behind a gift?


A Naturopath On Water

Posted in The Rogues Gallery by Skepdude on August 12, 2008

It is a menace to the public when governments license nonsense. It is a betrayal of the public trust, it diminishes all professionalism, and it generally propagates confusion in an area where licensure is meant to provide clarity.

One egregious example is naturopathy, which is licensed in 15 states in the US. Naturopaths are health care pseudoscientists (here’s a good overview). Essentially, they are what happens when medicine is completely disconnected from science, evidence, and even common sense. They generally endorse any medical woo they come across, without any coherent philosophy – although they do weave together some recurrent themes.


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