Tag Archives: medicine

Goat Testicles Make Me Skeptical

In the early 1900s, there was a man named John Brinkley who implanted the testicular glands of goats in men to restore their virility.

People who fell for this raved about the procedure, because, after all, it was expensive and they wouldn’t want to be seen as fools.

Because of those reviews, he went on to do the transplants for other illnesses.

It wasn’t until people started dying that he was stopped.

The story sounds so absurd, right? I know most people today would roll their eyes at the obvious quackery.

Here’s the thing. Think about how absurd this sounds, then consider this…

When you tell me about the newest “natural” treatment you got from your naturopath or chiropractor, or the latest miracle diet, or some rare herbal supplement you have to import from another country, but it “works so well,” I want you to consider how you feel when you hear the goat testicle story and realize that’s exactly how I feel when you tell me about your own brand of nonsense.

Emergence of the Science Communicators

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” – Carl Sagan

Today, as in his time, Carl Sagan’s words ring loud and clear to those of us on the forefront in the public discussion of science. Unlike in his day, however, scientific illiteracy today is not an epidemic. It’s a movement. Those who don’t understand science have banded together to ensure that others don’t understand it either. Lack of understanding and outright denialism has become a popular trend complete with celebrity endorsement and sponsors.

A group called U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) has been funded to the tune of $194,500 by the Organic Consumers Association to attack bioetch scientists using FOIA (freedom of information act) as a weapon. This has resulted in threats and harassment of scientists like Dr. Kevin Folta and others on the academic side of the science. They used the FOIA to gain large sets of data from emails so they could quote mine and try to find ways to discredit the scientists, since they couldn’t actually refute the science itself.

We’ve seen outbreaks of vaccine preventable illnesses such as measles and whooping cough thanks to an ever-growing movement that began with the fraudulent work of Andrew Wakefield. Now, with celebrities like Robert De Niro and doctors who know better, but are pandering to their ignorant fans, like Dr. Oz and struggling presidential candidate Ben Carson leading the charge against vaccines, we’re seeing more and more illness where there’s no scientifically-acceptable reason we should.

We even see science denialism along party lines with conservative think tanks built to politicize and propagandize a fundamental misunderstanding of climate change, often funded by oil interests for the sake of their bottom line.

With this rise in anti-science culture and funded science denialism, we’ve also seen something that gives a grain of hope against the rising tide: A movement out of the scientific skeptic community comprising people devoted to science communication and advocacy has arisen and is growing exponentially. This movement has created what amounts to a new professional field, or at least a newly revitalized and expanded one, that gives the scientifically literate communicator a real outlet.

We’ve seen viral successes such as SciBabe with her massively successful article on the Food Babe (aka Vani Hari, a computer consultant by trade with no formal dietary or nutrition training). From there, SciBabe has gained many new followers on social media and her YouTube channel, as well as radio and TV appearances, and even live speaking engagements to dispel myths and misconceptions about various scientific topics in the effort to help increase science literacy across demographics.

There are well-established and well-respected journalists like Kavin Senapathy who spend copious amounts of time writing about science and poking holes in pseudoscience proponents such as David Wolfe with the #DontCryWolfe campaign. All the while, Kavin remains very accessible engaging in outreach advocacy and discussions to help the general public understand the current issues and further science literacy.

With pages like Skeptical Raptor and Science-Based Medicine  have practically set the standard in science blogging. Sites like these have become convenient and credible resources on numerous scientific topics to serve as a resource to the many people that spend time and energy on activism within social media. These bolster the efforts of those engaging in the fight against spreading myths and misinformation to the public. With these resources, they’ve become well-equipped and effective. Even devout leaders in anti-science activism have changed their mind due to the efforts and outreach of science communicators.

With this seemingly “rising force” of science communication occurring within, and even powered by, the the public sphere continuing to gain momentum and influence, the question now becomes “where do we go next?”

Well, the answer is as complicated as the question is simple, I think. More people with the knowledge and background to effectively educate the public in all branches of science need to step forward and take up the torch. Those who have been doing it can’t do it forever, and certainly can’t continue to do it alone. Journalistic publications need to go back to the days of having dedicated science writers who understand the topics they’re reporting on, and know how to fact check claims to avoid even the inadvertent spread of bad scientific information, and ultimately reinforce literacy and understanding for the general public to benefit just about any education levels.

It’s up to all of us, and you, to pave the way for a more literate and scientifically progressive future.

FASTING, CANCER, AND SENSATIONALISM

A while back, The Telegraph posted a story.

Fasting for three days can regenerate entire immune system, study finds

They make some pretty sensational claims in this article that go far beyond the data of the study that they forgot to cite.

“Fasting for as little as three days can regenerate the entire immune system, even in the elderly, scientists have found in a breakthrough described as “remarkable”.”

“Although fasting diets have been criticised by nutritionists for being unhealthy, new research suggests starving the body kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection.”

“The researchers say fasting “flips a regenerative switch” which prompts stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, essentially regenerating the entire immune system.”

The study they’re referring to, which, again, they never bothered to cite, is here.

Prolonged Fasting Reduces IGF-1/PKA to Promote Hematopoietic-Stem-Cell-Based Regeneration and Reverse Immunosuppression

And the case series report is here.

Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report

They appear to be quoting one of the scientists on the study by the name of Valter D. Longo. He appears to be fairly well respected, however, he also shows up more often than anyone should like in the “natural” community websites, being cited for various diet and nutrition claims. Now, whether that stems from him or from the sensationalism that comes from those “journalists,” I don’t know. He does, however, appear far too often to promote various alternative medical claims.

That said, let’s look at the study itself. The article really pushes the idea of this “breakthrough” that even treats the elderly and cancer patients! Wow. It must have been SOME study.

Nope. Not so much.

The study included 10 people. They had a median age of 61, ranging from 44-78 years of age. They were all receiving chemotherapy. There was no control.

If anything, this is a hugely preliminary study. There is no good way to account for noise.  Even then, the“even in the elderly” quote from the article, mentioned as an aside, and the chemotherapy patients, also as aside, as if the data points to ANY other person in any other situation is demonstrably false. This is the poorest kind of science reporting possible.

Now, let’s consider the findings. What if they do a larger, placebo controlled study, and find that the results show that it DOES help with immune function post chemotherapy? That would be fantastic, however, it should still be taken tentatively. Asking chemotherapy patients, who are already struggling for nutrition and energy, to fast for 2-5 days, is potentially dangerous. Even if we find the effect to be actually present, it would be far better to then work to replicate the effect with drugs, as opposed to fasting.

So, is it possible? Sure. Is it a miracle discovery? Not even close. It’s more of a “Let’s turn them off, then turn them back on again, and see if that works” type of idea.

Not matter how you look at it, though, whether the scientists are right, or the critics are right, I think we can all agree that The Telegraph is just…wrong.

 

Big….”Whatever”

“Big pharma is only out for profits and wants to keep us all sick.”

or…

“Big agriculture is complete unregulated.”

or…

“Big government is watching you.”

or…

“You must be a shill for big….”

There’s a very distinct problem in the public discourse today in regards to larger industries or entities. The thought process seems to be that an industry is one singular being with evil in its heart and acts as one mind to make the world a terrible place.

This, of course, is absolute nonsense.

Earlier today, I saw this meme.

It really strikes at the conspiracy strings, doesn’t? The problem  is that the argument is complete garbage.

The main problem is representing the production cost of a pill as the only cost in creating a medicine. It ignores the huge amounts of money required to develop the technology, the medicine itself. It also contains zero sources for what medicine it’s referring to, because who cares, right? It only matters that the ambiguous “big pharma” is out to get us.

The reality is far more complex. There ARE problems in the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, there are problems is pretty much every single industry. Those problems SHOULD be discussed and addressed.

An industry, however, is populated by entities, people, and structures that are diverse. There are countless moving parts. While regulatory problems may affect more of an industry, most of the problems people categorize an industry with only affect a fraction.

Doing so by caricaturing an entire industry by those problems and using hyperbole and bad arguments is the absolute worst way to have that conversation.

7 Websites Every Skeptic Should Be Using

Being a skeptic isn’t always easy. We encounter so many varied topics, and it’s impossible to master them all. We’re expected to be able to handle nearly any conversation, any subject matter, as if “skeptic” meant “human encyclopedia.”

The challenge is really knowing what sources to use, and where to find the best information depending on the subject matter.

Here are 7 websites every skeptic should be using in no particular order.

Skeptical Raptor

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This guy is the gold standard for well-sourced articles. He covers a wide range of topics, though the focus is science in general.

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php

Science-Based Medicine

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This is a great blog with highly qualified contributors talking all things medicine. If you need a source to debunk medical woo, this is the place.

https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/

Quackwatch

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Quackwatch is sort of a catch-all on specific instances of harm by various forms of quackery and pseudoscience.

http://www.quackwatch.com/

RationalWiki

rationalwiki

The is the skeptic version of Wikipedia. It covers all things pseudoscience and deceptive and typically is extremely well-sourced. It’s the perfect reference site.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Main_Page

Metabunk

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This is another great catch-all that handles the paranormal and bizarre with a skeptical eye.

https://www.metabunk.org/

Skeptical Science

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This is a pretty comprehensive resource on global climate change. They debunk the “climate skeptics” and give great, accurate information.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/

Biology Fortified

biology-fortified

This site is a great source for GMOs and all things agriculture. It’s run by great people, working scientists, and is a fantastic resource.

https://www.biofortified.org/