Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Jenny McCarthy’s relationship with poo

Posted in White Coat Underground by Skepdude on May 15, 2009


I’ve decided I love Jenny McCarthy’s Oprah-blog. It’s like watching a mad scientist—you know he’s gonna blow something up, but still, those Tesla coils have a beautiful inutility. Her latest piece is truly a monument to stupidity, and if she really keeps this up, I’ll never run out of blog-fodder.

It’s called “Poop Stories“, and it’s about, well, Jenny’s poop, so pull on those hip-waders and let’s go take a look.

I don’t know why I’ve always loved talking about poop, but to me it is a great tool in detecting what’s wrong in our bodies.

Heh heh. She said “tool”.

I continuously monitor Evan’s poop by sending it to labs to get tested to make sure things are all running smoothly (no yeast, no bacteria, no infections).

That poor child. He can’t even go to the can in peace. I send patient’s stool to the lab from time to time. The lab loves me for that. I’m not sure how looking at it shows if things are “running smoothly”, and I’m pretty sure that everyone’s poop is chock full of yeast and bacteria. As far as infections, well, if someone has an infection–of the, what, colon?–then it’s not too hard to find common pathogens like giardia, Salmonella, etc. Most cases of gastroenteritis are viral and we rarely recover the pathogen.

Sometimes these things can exist without any physical manifestations, so I like to test for them to make sure he is in perfect health.

I never knew Jenny was a Zen sensei. What does it mean for something to “exist without any physical manifestations?” Great. Now I can’t stop thinking of a monkey.

I decided to take the test myself and see how my body was doing, considering I come from a history of lifelong constipation (I’m talking once every 14 days before a movement).

Lovely. I’m sure the stool sample will explain that.

Low and behold, my tests came back and I’m a mess!

Yes, but I don’t think you needed to send poo in the mail to find that out.

I have two gnarly gut bugs, and I have extremely high amounts of yeast in my gut.

I’m not sure what that means. Poop is naturally full of micro-organisms, and the alternative medicine gurus frequently tell us not to screw around with all those yummy, beneficial bacteria. Both the alties and real doctors agree that you shouldn’t just pop antimicrobial meds like amphetamines jelly beans, but that won’t stop you. Jenny will not be deterred!


Quacking Like a Duck

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on May 7, 2009

One of the oft heard complaints about modern medicine is that it’s dominated by “big pharma,” that is greedy, soulless corporations who lie to us and suppress less expensive and more effective treatments for monetary gain. While it’s true that corporations are out for monetary gain, and there have been irregularities as with any big business, let’s take a look at the pot that’s calling the kettle greedy here.

Consider a single product: Oscillococcinum.

Their site never actually says that the “FDA regulated drug” does anything… really, read carefully. It doesn’t. They do claim it is a “Flu Medicine.” And they claim studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing flu symptoms. We’ll save examining the studies for another time, for the purpose of this article, let’s focus on the ingredients.

Pharmaceuticals such as Tamiflu and Zithromax are tested for years before they’re released to the public. Teams of chemists, lawyers, doctors, nurses, clinical researches, and study subjects go over every conceivable side effect or quality control issue before the drug is released to the market. These procedures cost an incredibly large amount of money, and while it may, in fact, be ridiculous to charge $5 for a pill, there is at least some basis for them being expensive. Part of that basis, is that they have active ingredients.

Not so for Oscilloccinum.

Each capsule is 1mg, and it contains a 200X preparation of muscovy duck heart and liver, .15mg of lactose (milk sugar), and .85mg of sucrose (table sugar). For those unwilling to do math, the sugars add up to 1g. Er.. where’s the duck liver? Well, a 200x preparation of anything is past Avogadro’s limit. It’s chemically impossible for there to be even one molecule of duck liver in an Oscilloccinum capsule. That means… there is exactly no duck liver in it. In fact, it’s a capsule of sugar, more suited for sweetening tea than reducing your flu symptoms. The tea might help though.


Can you spot what’s wrong with this statement?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 6, 2009

After 18 years of pain Marilyn finally feels like herself again. It took two years of acupuncture, antibiotics, and trials of drug cocktails to effectively knock out her symptoms. Unfortunately, she knows they could come back at any time.


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Quack remedies spread by virtue of being useless

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 6, 2009

Eating a vulture won’t clear a bad case of syphilis nor will a drink made of rotting snakes treat leprosy, but these and other bogus medical treatments spread precisely because they don’t work. That’s the counterintuitive finding of a mathematical model of medical quackery.

Ineffective treatments don’t cure an illness, so sufferers demonstrate them to more people than those who recovery quickly after taking real medicines.

“The assumption is that when people pick up treatments to try, they’re basically observing other people,” says Mark Tanaka, a mathematical biologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, who led the study. “People don’t necessarily know that what somebody is trying is going to work.”

The World Health Organization is demanding better proof that folk medicines work before they can be approved. And the Malaysian government has rejected more than a third of the 25,000 applications to register traditional medicines it has received because the treatments are ineffective or dangerous.

Despite these efforts, quack medicine persists around the world. Some Nigerians treat malaria with witchcraft, a South African health minister recently claimed that garlic and beetroot treat HIV, and western health stores brim with unproven treatments for almost any disease imaginable. For instance St John’s wort does nothing for attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children, a recent placebo-controlled trial concluded.


Dead baby’s parents ignored advice: QC

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 5, 2009

THE parents of a nine-month-old girl who died from septicemia were responsible for their baby’s death because they shunned conventional medical treatment for her eczema in favour of homeopathic remedies, a court heard yesterday.

A homeopath, Thomas Sam, 42, and his wife, Manju Sam, 36, are standing trial in the NSW Supreme Court charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence after they allegedly resisted the advice of nurses and a doctor to send her to a skin specialist.

Instead Gloria Thomas, who was born in perfect health in July 2001, allegedly died with malnutrition and eczema so severe that her skin broke every time her parents removed her clothes and nappy.

The Crown prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, QC, told the court they sat on this advice for two months and then saw a general practitioner who was so concerned by her condition that he told them to see a skin specialist immediately. But again, they demurred.

On the few occasions that they did follow conventional medical advice, Gloria would improve, but they would soon revert to homeopathic remedies and she would continue to deteriorate.

Thomas Sam’s sister allegedly “pleaded” with him to send Gloria to a conventional medical practitioner. He allegedly replied: “I’m not able to do that.”


Skepdude says – for an overview of the disease and it’s treatments check out

Swine flu Woo

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 30, 2009

It has been predicted that the Swine Flu would bring out the quacks by the millions and the stupid would pour  like the rain in the Flood. And boy has that prediction come true, none more so evident than here. It is too much for any reasonable person to handle. I have writen to the Rogues at the SGU pleading them to handle this on the podcast, as this one is beyon even my mightly skeptical powers. Hopefully they will give her what she deserves.


I moved the over-the-top profanity below the fold

Posted in White Coat Underground by Skepdude on April 29, 2009

Here at ScienceBlogs we have a (very) informal agreement to try to avoid profanity-laden titles. Personally, they don’t bother me at all, but I can see the point—there are lots of folks who probably don’t want their feed reader to pop up with what I’m about to say.

What the FUCK hath swine flu wrought????

I warned you that swine flu would bring out the charlatans. In the course of hours to days, a virtual zombie army of immoral, idiotic, evil fucking quacks has risen to fan your fears and take you cash.

It’s really hard to overstate this, but the people who engage in this fact- and morals-free exploitation are some of the worst people on this planet. Humans invented words for people who exploit and prey on your fears in order to benefit themselves (and, no, the word is not douchemonkey): evil.

Take “Dr” Wegmann at that execrable waste of bytes, the Huffington Post. This guy can’t even write a title without lying: 3 Sure-Fire Strategies to Prevent the Swine Flu.

Hey, fuck face: we don’t know enough about this thing yet to use the hack phrase “sure-fire”. Of course, that doesn’t really matter to you, you lying sack of excrement-filled kishkes. The lies pour out of you like pus from a diabetic foot wound (but less bonum et laudum). You actually go on to recommend fucking glorified massage therapy to prevent the fucking flu! That’s not even wrong! You reason that since chiropractic enhances the immune system (according to some dude–what, did you hear that at the bar?), that it is a “sure-fire” way to prevent the flu.

Now, ignoring (if that is humanly possible) the fact that rubbing someone’s back cannot prevent an infectious disease, and ignoring the vacuously meaningless statement of “boosting immunity”, even if we could “boost immunity”, who’s to say that’s a good thing? One theory for why the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 killed so many young people and spared the very young and elderly (unlike the usual flu) is that their relatively more robust immune systems killed them by over-reacting.

Oh, and you just “happen” to sell these “sure-fire” treatments. Yuck. I feel like I have to wash my brain out with bleach.


Of course, no one brings the cynical, I’ll-make-up-the-problem-and-sell-you-the-fix paranoidwackaloongoatnuts insanity like Mike Adams. He actually does something clever with this one—he tells just enough truth to make a credible lie. It is true that data on wearing masks to prevent flu transmission is incomplete. Current recommendations are based on best available evidence and experience, skewed to the safer alternative. But let’s let him show off his stoopid skillz. What he is doing is telling people not to be deceived into buying masks to prevent flu. Rather than explaining that is is largely unnecessary at this point, he sets of the mark:


Anomaly Hunting

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on April 27, 2009

There are numerous ways in which thought processes go astray, leading us to false conclusions, even persistent delusions. Skepticism, as an intellectual endeavor, is the study of these mental pitfalls, for a thorough understanding of them is the best way to avoid them.

Science itself is a set of methods for avoiding or minimizing errors in observation, memory, and analysis. Our instincts cannot be trusted, so we need to keep them in check with objective outcome measures, systematic observation, and rigid control of variables. In fact bias has a way of creeping into any observation and exerting powerful if subtle effects, leading to the need to completely blind scientific experiments. Good scientists have learned not to trust even themselves.

One of the most common and insidious bits of cognitive self-deception is the process of anomaly hunting. A true anomaly is something that cannot be explained by our current model of nature – it doesn’t fit into existing theories. Anomalies are therefore very useful to scientific inquiry because they point to new knowledge, the potential to deepen or extend existing theories.

For example, the orbit of Mercury could not be explained by Newtownian mechanics – it was a true anomaly. It and other anomalies hinted at the fact that Newton’s laws of motion were incomplete in a fundamental way. This recognition eventually lead to Einstein’s revolution of relativity theory.

Pseudoscientists – those pretending to do science (maybe even sincerely believing they are doing science) but who get the process profoundly wrong, use anomalies in a different way. They often engage it what we call anomaly hunting – looking for apparent anomalies. They are not, however, looking for clues to a deeper understanding of reality. They are often hunting for anomalies in service to the overarching pseudoscientific process of reverse engineering scientific conclusions.

What this means is that pseudoscience almost always works backwards – that is its primary malfunction, starting with a desired conclusion and then looking for evidence and twisting logic to support that conclusion.

With regard to anomalies the logic often works like this: “If my pet theory is true then when I look at the data I will find anomalies.” The unstated major premise of this logic is that if their pet theory were not true then they would not find anomalies. This is naive, however. Another component of this line of argument is the broad definition of anomaly.


Case study : Bad Studies

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 13, 2009

Homeopathy enthusiasts are pointing to yet another bad study as proof that homeopathy has a basis in science. This one is from March 2007 and is titled “Homeopathic and conventional treatment for acute respiratory and ear complaints: A comparative study on outcome in the primary care setting“. It purports to show that homeopathic remedies worked just as well as conventional remedies to treat “accute runny nose, sore throat, ear pain, sinus pain or cough”. You can read the details at the link above. What I want to concentrate here is on just how badly designed this study is. It seems to me as though it was set up specifically to produce the sort of answer that the homeopaths were after. Nevertheless let me present my arguments and you can make up your own mind.

Before we look at this specific study, let us go over the basic things to look at when reviewing any study. How well the study is designed and how well it conforms to certain rules has a profound effect on how much reliance we can put in its results. One way of assesing how good a study is, is what is known as the Jadad Scale. The Jadad scale is a simple checklist that helps you decide how well designed, therefore how trustworthy a clinical study is. It concentrates on the following areas: Randomizatin, Double Bliding, Withdrawals and Drop Outs. Here is a typical way of calculating the Jadad Score.

Basic Jadad Score is assessed based on the answer to the following 5 questions.

The maximum score is 5.

Question Yes No

1. Was the study described as random? 1 0

2. Was the randomization scheme described and appropriate? 1 0

3. Was the study described as double-blind? 1 0

4. Was the method of double blinding appropriate? (Were both the patient and the assessor appropriately blinded?) 1 0

5. Was there a description of dropouts and withdrawals? 1 0

Quality Assessment Based on Jadad Score

Range of Score Quality

0–2 Low

3–5 High

So let us go over the homeopath’s study and see how it ranks based on the Jadad Score.

1-Was the study described as random? NO – 0 points (cumulative)


The study was designed as an international, multi-centre, comparative cohort study of non-randomised design.

Not only that , but the patients were asked which group they wanted to be in, homeopathy or conventional medicine (misspelling of the word enrollment is theirs not mine! Also emphasis is added by me).

Upon enrolment in the study, patients, or the patients’ legal guardians were asked for their treatment preference. In the homeopathy group, 81% of patients had a preference for homeopathy, 18% had no treatment preference. In the conventional group, 55% of the patients’ preferred conventional treatment, 2% homeopathy and 43% had no treatment preference.

Fun Fact – 81% of the patients in the homeopathy group had chosen homeopathy and the results from the homeopathy group were…drum roll….86.9% reported complete recovery. Can you say placebo?

2-Was the randomization scheme described and appropriate? There was none. – 0 points (cumulative)

Randomization is very important when setting up clinical studies. Not only is it important to randomize the patients, but also how you randomize them matters. Different methods of randomization rank higher than others. According to Wikipedia:

Randomisation is a process to remove potential distortion of statistical results arising from the manner in which the trial is conducted, in particular in the selection of subjects. Studies have indicated, for example, that nonrandomised trials are more likely to show a positive result for a new treatment than for an established conventional one.

I haven’t checked that claim on the last sentence, so take it with a grain of salt, even though it does make sense.

3-Was the study described as double-blind? No, there was no blinding whatsoever, doctors knew what treatement each patient was getting and patients knew it too (they got to choose remember) – 0 points (cumulative)

Since it was not possible to blind patients for their treatment, potential reporting bias from patient’s expectations may have influenced the outcome.

You think?

4-Was the method of double blinding appropriate? (Were both the patient and the assessor appropriately blinded?) There was no double blinding, there wasn’t even single blinding. – 0 points (cumulative)

This is where I would start worrying if I was trying to use this study to prove my point. We’re up to question 4 of 5 and they have 0 points!

5-Was there a description of dropouts and withdrawals? Not even close, they only mention that 6 people who got no treatment were dropped. – 0 points TOTAL!

This study ranks as possibly the worst designed study you could come up with. There was no randomization, no blinding of any sort, let alone double, no control group, in other words nothing that would lend it even a slight amount of legitimacy. The authors seem to have benn aware of this, for they make sure to make the following point: None of that stuff really matters, our study is good enough as it is! Notes in red are my comments.

Objective data collection and evaluation is needed to assist physicians in patient care and advance the quality of medical practice [2] This study will presumably be objective!. Clinical trials, especially randomised controlled trials (RCTs), are generally accepted as producing the highest level of evidence for medical interventions. I feel there’s a “but” coming! Driven by the discovery of new pharmaceutical substances, demands from regulatory authorities for clinical data and the need of physicians for evidence based treatment strategies, the methodology of RCTs became the subject of research itself. Within this context, the strengths and weaknesses of such trials have been debated [3]. Placebo-controlled RCTs are indispensable for the development of pharmaceutical agents with unknown efficacy and safety profiles Such as maybe homeopathic agents. On the other hand if the efficacy and safety of an agent is known why would one even bother to do a study?. Their limitations result from highly standardized study protocols and patient populations, which may create artificial situations that differ from daily practice Oh, I see they are more tightly controlled and have stricter requirements, and THAT makes them problematic. What? . Moreover, even the fact that patients are enrolled into a placebo-controlled clinical trial will influence treatment outcome, sometimes leading to high placebo or low verum response rates [4] Somehow I did not think it was a matter of high or low, I thought it was a matter of the truest measure which is the point of the control groups. Further, proper blinding should guarantee the truest results possible. Consequently, more practice-based studies have been developed such as pragmatic RCT’s or non-randomised cohort studies. In other words, when you can’t live up to these standards make up more lax standards and claim they are just as good. Pathetic! Especially non-interventional outcomes studies have only few inclusion and exclusion criteria. Therefore they may provide information about a broad and heterogenous patient population thus resulting in high external validity for daily medical practice Actually lack of controls will result in exactly the opposite, it will be useless for daily medical practice. It may provide a good gauge for people’s ability to deceive themselves though. However, the fact that patients are not randomly assigned to treatments in such outcome studies may lead to baseline differences between groups and makes the interpretation of the results more susceptible to bias. May? That’s putting it mildly! This disadvantage may be overcome, at least in part, by the application of statistical methods to control for baseline differences between treatment groups No it can’t, otherwise randomization would not be required, EVER. Good statistics can never make up for bad data. Statistics rely on the data itsel. The above claim makes no sense!

Fun Fact –

Apart from the ongoing discussion about clinical evidence, complementary therapies are well integrated into primary care in most Western countries

Yeah appart from the fact that CAM has not been shown to work, IT IS POPULAR. Good enough for me!


This study is horrendously designed. It lacks all of the basic requirements that every clinical trial should have, such as randomization, double blinding, control group etc.  Based on that fact alone, regardless of the sample size, regardless of how careful and precise the statistics, the results of such study will be completely unreliable. The data set is corrupted due to the lack of controls, as such it does not matter how carefully you analyze it, the result would be meaningless. Even if it had told us that homeopathy is useless, we would still have to ignore it. And ignore it, I, we and all the science based community will. Sorry homeopaths, you’re still stuck at 0. Good luck next time.

The Royal Society is no match for these three

Posted in News by Skepdude on April 12, 2009

Madonna, Stella McCartney and Gwyneth Paltrow

Behold, the most serious challenge to the Royal Society in that august body’s 350-year history – the medical musings of Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Stella McCartney. These women are not just singers, or actresses, or fashion designers. They are distinguished professors at the University of Celebrity, and are coating your understanding of science like a totally amazing organic body oil.

On top of this, they are best friends, so we can say their pronouncements are peer-reviewed in the best sense of that term. Can you imagine their gatherings? It must be as if Isaac Newton were taking antioxidant tea with Robert Koch and Marie Curie.

We shall come to her latest discoveries shortly, but by way of background, do recall that Gwyneth has formerly claimed that eating “biological foods” can prevent cancer, reminding us that starring in Iron Man and maintaining a glittering career in clinical research are not mutually exclusive. Then we have Madonna, who has cited the extraordinary healing powers of Kabbalah water, which costs $4 a bottle, is said to have had energy injected into it, and may or may not have been blessed by the former insurance salesman who dreamed up her religion.

Other fields of specialism? Alas, Lost in Showbiz hasn’t the space today, but Madonna has previously championed a soi-disant scientist who claims to have reversed the second law of thermodynamics. And then there’s Stella, who launched her organic skincare range with the warning that “lots of skin products use the same petrochemicals as the antifreeze in your car!”, and is one of those celebrities who thinks they eat “chemical-free” food and use “chemical-free” products. I beg you not to tell her that water and trees are made of chemicals. The shock could finish her off.