Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Hypnosis and hot flashes: When will they ever learn?

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on October 8, 2008

For women undergoing menopause, hot flashes are a real problem. In my specialty, as I’ve pointed out before, women undergoing treatment for breast cancer are often forced into premature menopause by the treatments to which we subject them. It can be chemotherapy, although far more often it’s the estrogen-blocking drugs that we use to treat breast cancers that have the estrogen receptor. Estrogen stimulates such tumors to grow, and blocking estrogen is a very effective treatment for them, be it with tamoxifen or the newer aromatase inhibors like Arimidex. The utterly predictable consequence, unfortunately, is an artificially-induced menopause.

I’ve written at least twice before about this topic in the context of various poorly designed studies of acupuncture for breast cancer-induced hot flashes. There’s a reason for this. Despite studies demonstrating that hormone replacement therapy doesn’t decrease cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women and increased the risk of breast cancer, for severe menopausal symptoms in women without breast cancer, estrogen remains the gold standard, and it’s reasonably safe to use for short periods of time. Consequently, for menopause having nothing to do with breast cancer, estrogen can be used, at least for the short term, if nonhormonal therapies don’t work. Not so in the case of women rendered menopausal by breast cancer therapy. Indeed, it defeats the purpose of antiestrogen drugs to replace the estrogen they are blocking. Not only that, but even after breast cancer therapy when a woman undergos menopause naturally, estrogen replacement increases their risk of a recurrence. Consequently, if nonhormonal methods supported by science don’t work, then there’s nothing else, and, unfortunately, most science-based nonhormonal therapies such as antidepressants do not work very well and have significant side effects.

That’s where the temptation to turn to woo comes in.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “RESPECTFUL INSOLENCE”

Scientific bias and the void-of-course moon

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on October 6, 2008

Stuart Buck persists in claiming that scientists have a bias against the supernatural, and that we dismiss it out of hand. This isn’t true; the problem is that supernatural explanations are poorly framed and typically unaddressable, so we tend to avoid them as unproductive. What one would actually find, if one took the trouble to discuss the ideas with a scientist, is that they are perfectly willing to consider peculiar possibilities if they are clearly stated. We’ll even briefly consider something as insane and worthless as astrology, which is even less credible as a field of study than Intelligent Design.

Here’s an example from years ago on Usenet, in the newsgroup sci.skeptic. An astrologer, Thomas Seers, was insisting that his weird little pseudoscience was a suitable topic for a science course. One of the skeptics, Robert Grumbine, politely asks him for specifics:

Robert Grumbine: Let us say that I teach astronomy.  Let us suppose I’ve decided to spend an hour on astrology.  What would my presentation be?  Keep in mind that this is a science class, so part of my job would be to discuss what experiments have been done that demonstrate that it works, as well as to describe how it works (in the sense of how the students could make the predictions themselves).

Thomas Seers: Hello Robert,
You appear to be asking a serious question, so I will give you an experiment to try.  This will also give you an insight to what Alchemists did years ago.
On 10/20/99 from 2 AM to 8 AM EDT, mix a bowl of jello and you will find it won’t jel. My basic students have this as a homework assigmnet to learn of a void-of-course Moon period. Silly thing, huh. It can be repeated over and over again. Don’t spill it now :-).

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “PHARYNGULA”

Scientific Consensus

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on September 30, 2008

I often refer to the “consensus of scientific opinion” and was asked to elaborate on exactly what that is and, more importantly, how it is determined. From a practical point of view, how can the average citizen get a handle on what the scientific consensus is on any given topic? For some burning questions, like whether or not there is significant anthropogenic global warming, much of the debate centers around whether or not there is a consensus and what it means. For others, like should we invest in biofuel from corn, a consensus seems elusive.

The Role of Consensus

For anyone trying to take a scientific approach to knowledge about the world, we must rely heavily upon experts, or those who are more knowledgable than we are. There is no choice – there is simply too much specialized scientific knowledge for anyone to be an expert in everything, or even a significant portion of scientific disciplines.

Further, being an educated layperson is usually not enough to form your own opinions on specific scientific questions. Forming a reliable opinion often requires a level of detailed knowledge that only an expert in the field can obtain. Even experts can be wrong, of course, and since lay opinions are likely to span all possibilities, some are bound to be correct. Experts, however, are far more likely to have an opinion that accurately reflects the evidence and to understand how to incorporate new evidence as it comes in.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “NEUROLOGICA”

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.

READ THE REST OF THIS AT “THE ROGUES GALLERY”

How To Improve Science Education

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on September 5, 2008

The stated “mission” of the loosely defined “skeptical movement” is to promote science and reason. At the core of this mission is the promotion of life-long quality science education. The many blogs, podcasts, magazines, lectures, and books primarily serve this purpose – to popularize science and help teach scientific philosophy, methodology, and facts to the public.

But what about formal public science education? There appears to be general agreement among skeptics that the quality of science education is generally poor, and yet is critical to our goals. But what have we done about it? Too little, I think.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “NEUROLOGICA”