Sunday, 27 January 2013

Pseudoscience stuff from 9/12 - 27/1/13

Although i've not been posting regular News round-ups since August '12, reality has continued to happen. What a surprise!

Here is a glimpse at what's gone on, in the last few months.

And here's my most-recent mini-essay, on the standards we should apply to pseudo-science proponents: Click here

Sections - Ben Goldacre; broad articles; specific articles - good news, then bad; WDDTY magazine; Doubtful News round-up by Swift of the JREF

Ben Goldacre:

Ben Goldacre's new book is out! I have already received this wondrous creation, via Winterval, but have yet to start reading it. Damn my FIFO principle!
Here's the foreword:

And he's been on TED too -- the trouble with forgetting negative results

Broad articles:

'Regulation of alternative medicine: why it doesn’t work, and never can'

How self-deception into pseudo-science works:
'Acupuncture, the Navy, and Faulty Thinking'

What To Do If Your Doctor Sells Woo

The food allergy and intolerance myth buster. Do you know the facts about allergies and intolerances?

Leo Igwe: 'A manifesto for a skeptical Africa'

When we think of Africa, many in The North ('The West' is an erroneous term) think of a backward place, rife with superstition, and dwelling in ignorance - but there are some Africans who are vying to change this. Leo Igwe is a key man, working to save his fellow Africans from their cultural mire. He outlines their predicament, here:

"Many irrational beliefs exist and hold sway across the region. These are beliefs informed by fear and ignorance, misrepresentations of nature and how nature works.
These misconceptions are often instrumental in causing many absurd incidents, harmful traditional practices and atrocious acts.
For instance, not too long ago, the police in Nigeria arrested a ‘robber’ goat which they said was a thief who suddenly turned to a goat. A Nigerian woman was reported to have given birth to a horse. In Zambia, a local school closed temporarily due to fears of witchcraft. In Uganda, there are claims of demonic attacks in schools across the country.
Persecution and murder of alleged witches continue in many parts of the continent. Many Africans still believe that their suffering and misfortune are caused by witchcraft and magic. In Malawi, belief in witchcraft is widespread. Ritual killing and sacrifice of albinos and other persons with disabilities take place in many communities, and are motivated by paranormal belief.
Across Africa people still believe in the potency and efficacy of juju and magic charms. Faith-based abuses are perpetrated with impunity. Jihadists, witch-hunters and other militants are killing, maiming and destroying lives and property. Other-worldly visions and dogmatic attitudes about the supernatural continue to corrupt and hamper attempts by Africans to improve their lives."

'“Antioxidant” is not a synonym for “healthy”'

The idea that "anti-oxidant" means "healthy" is bunk. If you put effort into eating foods because they have 'anti-oxidants' in them, you could well be corrupting your diet toward ill health. "Healthy, balanced diet" - recognise that clause? It feels like it's been the standard Scientific dietary advice since time immemorial!

"we at Cancer Research UK (along with many others) have been pointing [this] out for years. Large studies have repeatedly shown that, with the possible exception of vitamin D, antioxidant supplements have negligible positive effect on healthy people, at least in terms of important things such as preventing people getting cancer or dying prematurely. And some supplements – notably vitamins A, E and beta-carotene – even seem to slightly raise the risk of disease and early death."

'The continuing saga of Holland and Barrett'

Despite claiming to wilfully comply with medicinal advertising regulations, Holland & Barrett stores still show 'indications' for Nelson's homeopathics (adverts telling people how to use it).
I'm really not that surprised - H&Bs stocks a wide variety of quackery - mostly herbal non-medicine, but including (obviously) homeopathy, which is still nothing but shaken water.
But then, i don't expect them to care - quacks do what they do through business interests - not through medical interests.

'Chelation for Autism - Putting the Cart before the Unicorn'

(Chelation is a process which extracts metals from the blood-stream - whether they should be there or not)

"There is a cottage industry of so-called "biomedical" treatments for ASD - they treat ASD as a biological disease that can be cured or at least significantly ameliorated. This conflicts with the current scientific consensus regarding ASD, that it is a neurodevelopmental disorder (a result of brain wiring), and not an active disease. Legitimate interventions focus on improving function. Critics of biomedical treatments (myself included) argue that such treatments are unscientific, exploit parental desperation, and even victimize children with ASD."

Specific articles:

The good news

'A 180 degree turn on GMOs. Thank science.'

I'm drawing attention to this one because the anti-GM superstition is so pervasive, and yet bunk. Mark Lynas - a leading environmental activist - has seen science about GMOs.

"Lynas has changed his mind—and he’s not being quiet about it. On Thursday at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas delivered a blunt address: He got GMOs wrong.
To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on “natural” agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either."

The ethical case for Pink Slime (the stuff burgers are made from)

Are we all getting dumber?
I don't think so - we're just taking on tougher tasks than we did 2000 years ago.

The Bermuda Triangle, you say? It doesn't even exist! Even i thought there were some kind of anomalously high accident record - but not even that is true.

The bad news
'Wacky celebrity fads of 2012'

Homeopaths offer to rebrand damp sugar pills as confectionery:

Because, nudge nudge, wink wink, everyone will know that the sugar pills are actually homeopathy. The homeopaths are threatening to subvert medical regulations, and continue selling their damp sugar pills, but relabelled. Reasons this won't work:

- It's a bluff. They know only a tiny minority really cares enough about homeopathy to buy sugar pills, with a nudge nudge, wink wink.
- They really are sugar pills, but without flavouring. They will taste like shit sweets, and give their manufacturers a bad reputation.
- Their move to do so would get them more unwanted media attention, exposing them to scorn for deception, and for doing homeopathy (due to the improved awareness that will ensue)

{Four months on, and they haven't carried out their threat. I'm guessing they've either given up on the idea, or they're incredibly slow workers}

More on homeopathic superstition - 'homeopathic vaccines'
Read my mini-essay on why homeopathy can't work. It's helpfully titled 'Why Homeopathy CAN'T Work'

'Neti Pot: Safe and Effective?'
Only if it's done with a sterile applicator, and saline -- otherwise, it's a low-risk, but high-hazard superstition.

Death threats for criticism. Sound familiar? Superstition engenders intolerance of criticism, resulting in personalised attacks (offence).

Shark cartilage is a quack product that recently came to my attention. You're probably familiar with the idea that sharks don't get cancer - they do. But they don't get bone cancer. Of course not - they don't have any bones. They do, however, get cartilage cancer, and it is this supposedly-uncancerrable material that charlatans sell as an expensive non-cure for cancer.

They might annoy you, but that doesn't mean they annoy the mosquitoes
'High-frequency mosquito repellents don't work, study finds'

'What Doctors Don't Tell You' magazine

'What Doctors Don't Tell You' is a magazine produced by pseudo-scientist proponents of quackery. It makes all kinds of egregious, and dangerous claims, stating nonsense to be medicine, and medicine to be nonsense/conspiracy. The Nightingale Collaboration has devoted an entire series of investigations and subsequent reports to it, because it makes so many hazardous claims, which have all been filed to the ASA. The series so far:

'WDDTY #1 - The First of Many'
WDDTY #2 - The Second Wave
WDDTY #3 - Strike Three
WDDTY #4 - Feeling the heat?
WDDTY #5 - A Poisonous Problem?
WDDTY #6 - The Missing Link?

Doubtful News round-up, by Swift of the JREF. These are usually quite fun :)


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