Posts Tagged “pseudoscience”

DryvaxAmong the ridiculous bullshit spewed during last night’s Republican primary debate on CNN … in addition to the bullshit Rick Santorum spewed that I already blogged about … another dealt with vaccines. As the Daily Beast reports, Donald “it’s my own hair” Trump once again repeated his asinine, pseudoscientific antivax position (WebCite cached article):

At the CNN debate Wednesday night, the GOP frontrunner broadcasted [sic] anti-science vaccine conspiracy nonsense—unchallenged by moderators or fellow contenders—to an audience of millions.

“We’ve had so many instances…a child went to have the vaccine, got very, very sick, and now is autistic,” he blathered. “Autism has become an epidemic. It has gotten totally out of control.”

Trump has long peddled goofy, debunked theories about a causal link between vaccination and autism. As far back as 2012, he suggested the practice of giving numerous vaccines to healthy babies is “monstrous.”

One of the physicians onstage, Ben Carson, was asked about Trump’s claims. Unfortunately, he punted:

“We have extremely well documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations,” Carson said. “But it is true that we’re giving way too many in too short a period of time. And a lot of pediatricians now recognize that, and they’re cutting down on the number and the proximity.”

It’s nice, I suppose, that Carson did acknowledge there being no link between vaccines and autism. But his little bit about there being too many and too frequent vaccinations is a lie, as a report the Daily Beast linked to makes clear (cached). The other physician onstage, Rand Paul, idiotically echoed Carson:

“I’m all for vaccines, but I’m also for freedom,” the curly-haired ophthalmologist said. “I’m also more concerned about how they’re bunched up. My kids had all their vaccines, and even if the science doesn’t say bunching ’em up is a problem, I might have the right to spread my vaccines out at the very least.”

His whole thing about “freedom” is a fucking joke. No parent in his/her right mind should use “freedom” to justify risking his/her kids coming down with preventable childhood diseases — which can, in some cases, be deadly (even if a lot of antivaxxers irrationally dismiss that danger). So I find Paul’s “freedom” objection to be, essentially, a non sequitur.

Look, I get why all these guys hate vaccines. It’s because they’re largely government-mandated (in most places kids can’t get into school without them), ‘n’ y’all knows how horrbull dat dere gummint is! Dem vaccine thangs jus’ cain’t be good fer da chilluns! Dat secret Muslim Barack HUSSEIN Obama is prolly usin’ ’em fer mind control!

Of course, hating vaccines for political reasons isn’t appreciably worse than hating them because of a fraudulent study by a con-artist doctor who’d imagined a scheme to sell bogus autism treatments.

The reality is — as Ben Carson conceded during the debate — that medicine has determined there is no connection between vaccines and autism. None. Period. End of discussion.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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'Wifi equals Death!' the battle-cry of electrosensitives / PsiCop, based on originals by shokunin & johnny automatic at Open Clip Art LibraryThree years ago, I blogged about a California woman who went to court because, she claims, municipal wifi devices made her sick. Well, it seems a family in Massachusetts is playing the same game. As the Worcester Telgram & Gazette reports, they’re suing a private school because its wifi service afflicted their child (WebCite cached article):

The family of a student at the Fay School in Southboro has filed a lawsuit claiming the school’s strong Wi-Fi signal caused the boy to become ill.

The unidentified plaintiffs, referred to as “Mother” and “Father” in the complaint, said their 12-year-old son, “G,” suffers from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome, a condition that is aggravated by electromagnetic radiation. The boy was diagnosed after he frequently experienced headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, and other symptoms while sitting in class after the school installed a new, more powerful wireless Internet system in 2013, the suit says.…

Along with the complaint, the plaintiffs submitted to the court several letters from doctors confirming the adverse health effects the school’s Wi-Fi, which the family says “emits substantially greater radiofrequency/microwave emissions than … more low-grade systems used in most homes,” could be causing illness in a sufferer of EHS.

It’s true that wifi systems intended to service the public, especially on school campuses, are more powerful than home-grade wifi equipment. It has to be, because it needs to reach over a much larger space and accommodate many more devices. To think wifi at a private school can’t be any more powerful than what’s found in homes, is asinine and ridiculous.

As I blogged previously, though, and as the T&G story explains, electrosensivity is not a recognized medical condition. But that’s not for a lack of examination of “EHS,” as the WHO explains:

A number of studies have been conducted where EHS individuals were exposed to EMF similar to those that they attributed to the cause of their symptoms. The aim was to elicit symptoms under controlled laboratory conditions.

The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals. Well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure.

That this family could find “doctors” willing to write letters to the court supporting their EHS claim, doesn’t mean much. If one is willing to pay enough, one can usually find “experts” in almost any field willing to say almost anything about it.

The question isn’t whether one or two — or even 10 or 20 — individual doctors say EHS is real: Rather, it’s whether the medical community as a whole, which is quite large, says it is. At the moment, given the studies done to date, the vast majority of medicine has determined electrosensitivity is pseudoscience — i.e. non-existent and a lie. And that remains true no matter how fervently this family believes otherwise or how many doctors their lawyer can convince to line up behind them.

P.S. None of this means there can’t be any drama associated with electrosensitivity. Michael McKean is great fun to watch as Chuck McGill on Better Call Saul, perhaps the most famous electrosensitive in the country … even if he’s purely fictional.

Photo credit: PsiCop graphic, based on originals by shokunin & johnny_automatic, both via Open Clip Art Library.

Hat tip: Rational Wiki.

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Observed departure of temperature from average for the period Nov. 2004-Mar. 2005. Superimposed in bold text is the winter forecast made in the 2004 Old Farmer's Almanac for the same period. The Almanac got four regions correct and eight incorrect, with two too close to call. / NOAA-CIRES & Climate Diagnostic Center, via Weather UndergroundEvery year around this time the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and its similar rival the Farmers’ Almanac, trot out weather predictions for the coming winter. And every year we’re treated to media stories about it … as though any of it actually means anything. Yesterday the Associated Press published a story with a lede guaranteed to pique Americans’ interest (WebCite cached article):

Just when you thought you had gotten over last winter, be warned: The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts it will be super cold with a slew of snow for much of the country, even in places that don’t usually see too much of it, like the Pacific Northwest.

If you don’t want to read about those four-letter words, there’s plenty more to peruse in the folksy, annual book of household tips, trends, recipes and articles, such as animal jealousy, the history of shoes and anticipation for the biggest Supermoon in decades in November 2016.

That crap is all I can take, so I won’t quote any more of it. In spite of the AP story’s paean to a supposedly accurate prediction last year, in truth, the two Almanacs” weather predictions are, in a word, bullshit! A steaming load heaved right out the back of the barn. Claims of over 80% accuracy are not true at all. They’re lies. Real meteorologists who really study the weather, who base their conclusions on real measurements, and who have real credentials that show they know what they’re talking about, have determined the Almanacs actually have very poor track records (cached and cached). The Farmers’ Almanac was, quite famously, wrong about Super Bowl XLVIII being hit with snow.

It’s utterly irresponsible of mass media outlets — especially those as widely-read and respected as the Associated Press — to treat this rank bullshit as though it’s news. It’s not. The Almanacs’ predictions are nothing of the sort! Making everything much worse … because this was released by the AP, it will get propagated by virtually every other media outlet in the country, and internationally too. Which is far more publicity than this crap deserves.

It’s time for the mass media, especially the AP, to just fucking stop falling for bullshit like this. Yes, as I said, the lede of this story is compelling. It’ll draw eyeballs for sure … but it will still be uninformative and useless crap that no one should bother seeing. Both Almanacs sell well enough that they don’t need the AP shilling for them.

P.S. Mention of the Almanac‘s prediction of a “supermoon” in 2016 is superfluous. A supermoon, aka a “perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system,” is a very predictable phenomenon. Astronomers (as in, real scientists using real equipment) can predict them many years in advance, and have done so — without the specious help of the Old Farmer’s Almanac or their mysterious, undisclosed algorithms.

Photo credit: NOAA-CIRES & Climate Diagnostic Center, via Weather Underground.

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Dr. Oz at ServiceNation 2008I’ve blogged a couple times about the woo and nonsense spewed by the famous “Friend of Oprah” Dr Mehmet Oz. The insipid nonsense he reels off has been questioned both by journalists and by US Senators. But he’s been able to keep his TV show and his jobs at Columbia University … feathers in his cap which grant him more apparent credibility than he deserves (WebCite cached article). The Associated Press reports a number of physicians have petitioned Columbia to remove him due to his pseudomedical advice (cached):

Columbia University has not removed TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz from his faculty position as a group of top doctors has demanded, citing his “egregious lack of integrity” for promoting what they call “quack treatments.”

“Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine,” said a letter the 10 physicians sent to a Columbia dean earlier this week. They say he’s pushing “miracle” weight-loss supplements with no scientific proof that they work.…

The doctors wrote that Oz, for years a world-class Columbia cardiothoracic surgeon, “has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.” They said he has “misled and endangered” the public.

But Columbia clearly has no problem with one of its faculty peddling pseudoscience and gibberish, and refuse to heed this petition:

The New York Ivy League school responded Thursday, issuing a statement to The Associated Press saying only that the school “is committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members’ freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion.”

Yes, Columbia University thinks “academic freedom” is a license to dole out lies and misinformation. I don’t see those in any definition of the phrase that I’ve been able to find, but they’re the ones who run an ivory tower, so I have to assume they know more about it than I — or the doctors who signed the petition — do.

Let’s face it, the man makes a shitload of money and has a daily nationally-syndicated TV show; he probably attracts a lot of attention for the college. That must be a lot more important than valid science.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Mike Huckabee at Thomas Road Baptist ChurchI’ve blogged a few times about former pastor, Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He’s said some pretty wild and fiercely Christianist things over the years. Until recently his pulpit had been a show of his own on Fox News, but he quit that lucrative job that in order to run for president again.

I guess the guy must now be really hard up for money. As the New York Times reports, this has caused him to remake himself into a snake-oil salesman (WebCite cached article):

In a wood-paneled study lined with books and framed family photos, the prospective presidential candidate looks into the camera. “I’m Mike Huckabee,” he says with all the folksy charm that propelled a career as a preacher, politician and broadcaster.

But this is no campaign ad. It is an Internet infomercial for a dubious diabetes treatment, in which Mr. Huckabee, who is contemplating a run for the Republican nomination in 2016, tells viewers to ignore “Big Pharma” and instead points them to a “weird spice, kitchen-cabinet cure,” consisting of dietary supplements.

“Let me tell you, diabetes can be reversed,” Mr. Huckabee says. “I should know because I did it. Today you can, too.”

The American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution against treatments like the one peddled by the company Mr. Huckabee represents.

Most medicos — as well as those with the illness — understand that diabetes is almost always a perpetual illness. If you have it, then you have it; for the most part it can’t be gotten rid of, only controlled. So Shucksabee is promising something that ostensibly he can’t deliver. As the Times explains, his putative remedy for diabetes is a combination of cinnamon (of all things) and chromium picolinate:

In his diabetes video, Mr. Huckabee promotes the “Diabetes Solution Kit,” a $19.95 booklet with advice on eating, exercise and dietary supplements. “Just sit tight,” he says in the two-minute, 40-second pitch, “because in a moment, a free presentation is coming up.” He promises it will reveal “all the natural secrets that are backed by real science that really work.”

But rather than science, the second, lengthier video peddles a diabetes “cure” consisting of cinnamon and chromium picolinate. Both the American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association warn that dietary and herbal supplements are ineffective for treating diabetes, which is an epidemic in the United States and is tied to obesity.

Yeah, I know what the quacks and their apologists will say: That the ADA is shilling for “Big Pharma” and is conspiring with greedy multinational corporations to make people sick in order to make a profit. Shucksabee is something of a medical-informational “freedom fighter” letting people they don’t have to be reeled in by pharmaceutical fraud and disclosing the “secret” to ending their diabetes. (Remarkably, these people screech and rail against “Big Pharma’s” profit motive, yet they happily and eagerly turn a blind eye to sale of these booklets at $19.95 each, not to mention the cinnamon and chromium supplements, which I’m sure are not dispensed for free, either.)

Among the most remarkable revelations in the Times article, is that Shucksabee himself never used the remedy he’s promoting:

Asked this month at an appearance in Iowa if he had used cinnamon and chromium picolinate to reverse his diabetes, he said he had not. “No, I reversed it by taking better care of my health,” he said.

Talk about “things that make you go, ‘hmmmmm’!”

Huckabee’s people claim his contract to peddle pseudomedicine has already concluded, but it’s curious that he was still contracted to do so at the very same time he’d started exploring another presidential run. Why would someone aspiring for such a high office stoop to selling snake-oil booklets? Why would he not have severed that contract at the same time he quit Fox News? It’s positively mind-blowing that he only just got around to ending his snake-oil gig.

In any case, Shucksabee hit the trifecta for suspicious characters: First, he’s a former pastor; second, he’s a former and possibly future politician; third, he’s selling snake-oil. About the only thing that could make this any better worse would be if he were to start selling used cars.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Afghanistan Measles Vaccination 2013OK, let’s get this out of the way, right from the start: NJ governor Chris Christie and KY Senator Rand Paul are both running for president in 2016. Yeah, I know neither has formally announced it, but clearly both plan to do so, and both are getting all their ducks in a row, doing all the things they need to do in order to get the Republican nomination. So I’m not going to call them “potential candidates” or “presumed candidates” or include any other weasel words or caveats. I’m going to call them “candidates,” because that’s precisely what they are.

Their candidacies probably explain why, as the Washington Post reports, they’ve both veered into antivax territory (WebCite cached article):

Medical experts reacted with alarm Monday as two top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination appeared to question whether child vaccinations should be mandatory — injecting politics into an emotional issue that has taken on new resonance with a recent outbreak of measles in the United States.

First, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, while visiting a vaccine laboratory here, called for “some measure of choice” on whether shots guarding against measles and other diseases should be required for children.

Then, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist who is also readying a 2016 campaign, said in two U.S. television interviews that he thinks most vaccines should be voluntary, citing “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

“The state doesn’t own your children,” Paul said on CNBC, praising vaccines for their health benefits but insisting that the government should not mandate their use in most cases. “Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.”

Both used clearly flawed reasoning. First, Christie employed a fallacy:

Christie, however, said Monday that “there has to be a balance, and it depends on what the vaccine is, what the disease type is, and all the rest.”

His appeal to “false balance” — a variety of the more general invalid appeal to moderation — is fallacious because not every issue has two equally valid “sides.” In fact, sometimes, there really is only one “side” to an issue, and all other positions are just flat-out absofuckinglutely wrong — period.

Second, of Sen. Paul’s “parents own the children,” I can only groan. I assume he’s speaking metaphorically and not actually saying parents “own” children, as southern plantation owners once “owned” slaves … but he’s overdramatizing the situation. Parents should rationally be looking out for the welfare of their children. Vaccinating according to prescribed schedules will do that. Refusing to vaccinate kids will not help them. The ability to claim “ownership” of one’s children doesn’t absolve one of the obligation to act in their best interests.

Look, I understand the politics of this. Right now, there’s a large number of Republican voters for whom vaccine opposition has some appeal. They object to “big government” telling them they have to vaccinate their kids, even though it’s usually local school districts telling them to do so. They think, since vaccines are the purview of the CDC, an arm of the federal government, that they’re a tool Barack Hussein Obama is using to implement mind-control over their kids, even though widespread vaccinations predated Obama by decades. Really, I get the appeal to the paranoid wing of the Republican party. But with that said … there’s still no excuse for either of these guys indulging the paranoia. Much better that they just tell people to fucking grow the hell up already and get their kids vaccinated, fercyinoutloud.

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Mehmet Oz - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012I’ve blogged a time or two about Dr Mehmet Oz, aka “Dr Oz.” His friendship with Oprah Winfrey has given him his own TV show and small media empire. Some of his medical advice is fine, however, he occasionally waxes rhapsodic over spurious remedies which — as a physician who heads a program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and who’s on the faculty of Columbia University — he has to know have no meaningful scientific support.

What Dr Oz doesn’t seem to have been aware of previously, and which was the subject of a Senate hearing yesterday, is that his words are grist for the mills of scammers, liars, cheats and con artists. As NBC News reports, Sen. Claire McCaskill in particular confronted him about this problem (WebCite cached article):

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who frequently extols weight-loss products on his syndicated television show, got a harsh scolding from several senators on Tuesday at a hearing about bogus diet product ads.

Oz was held up as the power driving many of the fraudulent ads, even as he argued he was himself the victim of the scammers. The hearing is a follow-up to the Federal Trade Commission’s crackdown last January against fake diet products.

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said at the hearing. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

Dr Oz’s defense is that he’s giving people “hope”:

Oz, a frequent guest on NBC’s TODAY show, admitted he uses “flowery” language on his shows, and said he realizes that the moment he recommends a product, the scammers use his words to sell spurious products. “I concede to my colleagues at the FTC that I am making their job more difficult,” he said.

But he said he has to be “passionate” to engage his audience. “When we write a script, we need to generate enthusiasm and engage the viewer,” Oz said.…

Oz said the products give people hope to keep trying to lose weight — something almost all experts agree is a very difficult thing to do. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Ah. So that makes it all better, I guess. Somehow. The Senator hit back on this point:

McCaskill asked why Oz didn’t use his show to promote what actually has been proven to help people lose weight — careful eating and exercise. “I want to see all that floweriness, all that passion, about the beauty of a walk at sunset,” she said.

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of a few products that you have called miracles,” she added. “I just don’t understand why you need to go there … You are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space.”

Of course, it’s not just green coffee bean extract which Dr Oz has touted. He’s pumped other things, too, such as magical pajamas. Yes, you read that right: Pajamas. Note, this recommendation wasn’t a general or generic one, like, “avoid salt” or “eat oranges.” It was a specific recommendation for a single, proprietary product known as “Goodnighties” (cached). Dr Oz also cooked up a weird, pseudo-scientific justification for believing in the claimed magical powers of Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium. Pardon me while I laugh at the famed towering intellect of this academic-physician. I’m neither an academic nor a physician, yet I know there are no magical health-granting pajamas, and I also know that no one can talk with the dead.

Having said all of this, Dr Oz wasn’t the only one criticized at this Senate hearing, according to NBC News:

McCaskill also rebuked media companies that run the ads. “I find it troubling that broadcast and satellite radio witnesses who were asked to be here today were unwilling to appear. To me, this indicates that either there is something to hide or they don’t have a good story to tell,” she said.

The Senator has a good point. Media companies happily carry ads and promote shows that they, also, must know promote useless products. But they didn’t have the courage to appear before Congress and defend that practice. Hmm.

Although I’m gratified that the Senate held a hearing to expose this problem, I’d much rather they took meaningful action that would truly make things better. Perhaps the most important of those would be to repeal the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (aka the DSHEA). This act removed “dietary supplements” … which would include things like green coffee bean extract … from FDA oversight, thus creating a vast market for bogus products that are peddled behind cowardly little legalistic caveats like “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” If any of these things actually did what their makers imply they do, it ought to be possible — if not trivial — to demonstrate it using the same sorts of studies which the FDA requires for pharmaceuticals. Sure, it’d cost money … but so what? We’re talking about people’s health here! Why is it so onerous or unreasonable to expect the makers of “herbal remedies” provide medical evidence for their claims, when we have no qualms about demanding the same in the case of pharmaceuticals? I don’t see how or why there should be any difference.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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