Posts Tagged “pseudoscience”

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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Saudi Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaydan said driving 'could have a reverse physiological impact' on women. (Al Arabiya)Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are forbidden to drive. Even other Islamic countries, which repress women remorselessly, don’t have this sort of prohibition. Because this policy is unique, it gets a lot of attention. Recently, as al-Arabiya reported, a Saudi judicial official declared the ban is necessary because — get this! — driving injures women (WebCite cached article):

Saudi women seeking to challenge a de facto ban on driving should realize that this could affect their ovaries and pelvises, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan, a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, told Saudi news website sabq.org.

Driving “could have a reverse physiological impact. Physiological science and functional medicine studied this side [and found] that it automatically affects ovaries and rolls up the pelvis. This is why we find for women who continuously drive cars their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees,” Sheikh al-Luhaydan said.

Yes, you read that right. This moron seriously thinks that driving injures women! (Yes, even though riding in a car with a man driving doesn’t harm them. I guess. Somehow. I have no idea how that works, but what could a cold-hearted cynical godless agnostic heathen like myself possibly know about such things?)

I haven’t been able to locate these studies cited by al-Luhaydan, nor could anyone else (that I know of, yet). There are no medical findings — again, that I could discover — which demonstrate that any child’s disorder was definitively attributed to his/her mother driving. He offered no documentation or support of any kind for what he said. I can only conclude, therefore, that he fabricated this “scientific” claim, and is therefore a liar.

While al-Arabiya characterizes al-Luhaydan as merely “a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association,” that diminishes his authority and significance. The truth is that he’s much more powerful and influential than just being a “consultant.” He is, first of all, an Islamic cleric by profession, and in Saudi Arabia, that matters a great deal, all by itself. Moreover, he also is a member of the Ulema Commission (cached), and had been head of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judicial Council. So he’s not merely a “consultant”: He is, in truth, an influential part of the Saudi judiciary. So, as much as some would like us to think so, it’s not possible just to dismiss this statement as being merely one man’s idiotic opinion. Al-Luhaydan carries weight in the Saudi government.

In any event, this misogynist cretin’s lie forces me to create a new “lying liars for al-Lah” club, and make him its inaugural member. I’m sure he’ll be joined by others of his ilk, who will approve of his vile hatred, howling barbarism, and outright lies.

Any Religious Rightists out there, especially of the Neocrusading sort, who read this and snicker at this kind of medieval thinking on the part of a Muslim scholar, don’t pat yourselves on your backs for being more advanced than he is. People from your own ranks have been known to lie about female physiology in order to promote their own militant religiofascism. Among them are Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin, Congressman Joe Walsh, and Congressman Trent Franks, among many others, including supporters who insisted — in spite of the facts — that they were correct. This is no time for you to get on your high horses over a Muslim cleric’s ignorance and lies. There are way too many ignoramuses and liars among your own kind, for you to get away with that!

Photo credit: Al-Arabiya English.

Hat tip: Richard Dawkins, via Twitter.

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2008-08-29_a_Imhoff-Schokoladen-Museum-24The fraudulent “Maya Apocalypse” is just under two weeks away as I type this. As one would expect — with humanity being a collective mass of ignorance and stupidity — this lie has touched off panics in various places around the world. The (UK) Telegraph reports on several of these (WebCite cached article):

Ahead of December 21, which marks the conclusion of the 5,125-year “Long Count” Mayan calendar, panic buying of candles and essentials has been reported in China and Russia, along with an explosion in sales of survival shelters in America. In France believers were preparing to converge on a mountain where they believe aliens will rescue them.

The article cites panics in places like Russia and China. But it adds:

Meanwhile in Mexico, where the ancient Mayan civilisation flourished, the end time has been seen as an opportunity. The country has organised hundreds of Maya-themed events, and tourism is expected to have doubled this year.

I say, good for the Maya in Mexico! Go ahead and take advantage of the “Maya Doomsday” fraud, and milk the idiots who subscribe to it for all you can get. When December 22 dawns, laugh at the fools all the way to the bank!

As I always do when I blog about this, I’ll make the situation as clear as possible. The Maya “Long Count” calendar will not “end” on December 21, 2012. All calendars are cyclical and perpetual. They never “end.” The Maya calendar can no more “end” than our own can. What will happen on that date, is that we’ll go from the 13th baktun to the 14th. That’s all. As for Nibiru, it doesn’t exist, it never has, and it will never collide with the earth. It’s a fantasy spun by a crank who claims to be the world’s only expert on Sumerian and Babylonian texts, but who actually knows nothing about them. Put bluntly, it’s a lie.

NASA has a very useful page explaining everything you need to know about the so-called “Maya Apocalypse 2012.” There’s also an excellent compilation of “Maya Doomsday” bullshit — and a thorough refutation of it all — at 2012hoax. I suggest going to either site and being educated about this presumed doomsday.

Photo credit: pakitt, via Flickr.

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InscriptionsOver the last couple of years, I’ve blogged a few times about the so-called “Maya apocalypse.” That’s the assumption that the Maya prophesied that the planet would be destroyed — or the universe grind to a halt — on December 21, 2012 because (supposedly) that’s the day their long-count calendar will “run out.”

Since this whole pseudohistorical and pseudoscientific scenario is predicated on Maya astronomy, the folks at NASA have, over the last several years, been barraged with questions about it. In response, they’ve periodically released information intended to calm the fears of many who actually believe all of this bullshit. As December 2012 arrived, they published an article on their Web site explaining the nonsense (WebCite cached version):

Dec. 21, 2012, won’t be the end of the world as we know, however, it will be another winter solstice.

Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, the claims behind the end of the world quickly unravel when pinned down to the 2012 timeline.

Here’s a Newsy video report on NASA’s latest debunking effort:

They address a number of claims that have been made about what will happen on December 21, 2012. Among them is the wild-eyed claim that a planet Nibiru will collide with the earth. (That particular aspect of this lunacy owes its origins more to the laughable spew of Zechariah Sitchin than to anything the Maya left behind.)

That said, I have no doubt this will not actually calm the fears of the “Maya apocalypse” true-believers. Rather, they’ll decide that NASA’s efforts to debunk their delusions and lies are merely further evidence of their veracity (for instance, they’ll ask, “Why would a federal government agency spend so much time debunking ‘nonsense,’ unless there was something to it in the first place?”). The backfire effect is a powerful psychological force and it will certainly infect many, as the next couple of weeks go by.

As I’ve done previously, I’ll point out a few simple, obvious facts that explain how this whole “Maya prophecy” is pure bullshit:

  • The Maya calendar can no more “run out” than our own can. Calendars are by nature cyclical and perpetual. You always go from the last month of one year, to the first month of the next, over and over again, without letup. The Maya calendar works no differently, in this regard. December 21, 2012 will be the transition between the 13th baktun and the 14th. That’s all.
  • The idea that the Maya had any special knowledge of the future is laughable on its face. This is especially true when one realizes they never foresaw the collapse of their own civilization, which happened back in the 10th century. The upheaval the Maya experienced in the 10th century — a time in which they did not all “disappear” or “die out” as sometimes has been alleged, although many of their city-states declined measurably and in many cases precipitously — ought to have concerned them immensely, had they seen it coming.
  • Modern Maya (yes, the Maya still exist as a people!) don’t buy any of this bilge, themselves. Since they’re in a better position than the rest of us to know what the classic Maya thought and said, it’d behoove us to pay attention to them.

The bottom line is that the so-called “Maya apocalypse 2012″ is a flat-out lie, cooked up by an assortment of New Agers and cranks who have precious little knowledge of the Maya; they’ve taken that little bit of knowledge and extrapolated it to ridiculous proportions. It’s time for them to just fucking stop their lies.

Previously, I issued a challenge to the Maya-apocalypse-promoting cranks, and I’ll repeat it here: Will you state in advance — right here, right now, without reservation — that, once December 22, 2012 arrives and there’s been no “Maya apocalypse,” you promise to issue an unqualified apology for having lied to people, and without delay or equivocation donate the proceeds of your doomsaying to charity?

My guess is, none of them are sincere enough in their (crazy) beliefs to accept this challenge and make this pledge. More’s the pity.

Photo credit: selkie30, via Flickr.

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Placebo BalanceI’ve blogged before about the worthless Power Balance bracelets, which supposedly enhance people’s athletic performance. It turns out — by their manufacturer’s own admission! — that they do nothing at all. Despite this concession, and the fact that the bracelets haven’t been shown to do anything but drain the checking accounts of idiots foolish enough to fall for their manufacturer’s laughable pseudoscience (WebCite cached article), Power Balance bracelets continue to sell. Celebrities of all types continue to be seen wearing them. And the NBA, among other entities, has decided to go along for the ride and cash in on the public’s gullibility, by shilling these useless pieces of plastic. This hasn’t stopped Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, from speaking out against the deal, as ESPN reports, and calling it what it is — a scam (cached):

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes that one of the NBA’s marketing deals is “a scam,” and he said Monday that he banned the product from the team’s locker room.

Cuban made his opinion clear in a video he posted to YouTube last week in which he criticized Power Balance bracelets before throwing the display case that was in the Mavericks’ locker room in the garbage.

“See this stuff?” Cuban said on the video, grabbing the display. “It was a scam when they were on ‘Shark Tank.’ It’s still a scam. I don’t care if the NBA was dumb enough to sign an agreement; this is going where it belongs.”

At that point, Cuban put the display case in a trash can.

His video on the subject is right here:

It’s nice to see at least one NBA team owner taking on his own league, against this scam. Would that more owners did so, and more celebrities spoke out against Power Balance and the fraud it’s perpetrating on the public, rather than embracing and fostering it.

Photo credit: Lonjho, via Flickr.

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'Wifi equals Death!' the battle-cry of electrosensitives / PsiCop, based on originals by shokunin & johnny automatic at Open Clip Art LibraryThere are many forms of woo and nonsense cluttering up the world of healthcare. A lot of them are causal claims that many people believe exist, but which haven’t been demonstrated scientifically. I’ve blogged many times about the antivax movement, for example, claiming that vaccines cause autism — which is absolutely untrue — but there are many more forms of this pseudomedical phenomenon. One of them is electrosensitivity … the notion that EMFs cause any number of health issues, ranging from the mildly annoying to the downright debilitating. The Santa Monica Daily Press reports one electrosensitive in California is suing that city because she thinks their wireless parking meters are harming her (WebCite cached article):

What is the value of human health?

Denise Barton has a number: $1.7 billion, plus another $1.7 million every month thereafter.

Barton, known amongst City Council regulars for her detailed reports during public comment periods, filed a claim against City Hall for that hefty sum alleging that new “smart” parking meters were impacting her health.

In the claim, Barton asserts that radiation from the wireless signals emanating from the meters, which is similar to Wi-Fi Internet or cellular waves, is causing ringing in her ears, ear infections and tightness on the back, left side of her neck.

She’s convinced the city’s new meters are causing her health issues:

Barton’s problems began in April, not long after the meters began rolling out throughout the city.

But let’s examine the nature of the injury the wireless meters supposedly caused her:

She went to the doctor in late May with an ear infection, which required antibiotics to cure.

That’s funny. I’m no doctor, but I’m fairly sure that infections are caused by pathogens (e.g. bacteria or viruses). I wasn’t aware that infections were caused by radiation. But then, what could I possibly know? Ms Barton’s supposed “evidence” for the connection between her problems and the wireless meters is reported — uncritically — by the Daily Press:

Barton is concerned because there is some evidence, including a flag raised by the World Health Organization, that the low-level radiation may cause cancer and other illnesses in humans.

What the paper does not relate, is that this is NOT at all what the WHO has to say about low-level radiation. The truth is, the WHO says precisely the opposite of what Barton claims it says (cached):

In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Despite the feeling of some people that more research needs to be done, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals. Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.

So here we have two problems. First, Ms Barton lied about what the WHO has to say about EMF and health. Second, the Daily Press didn’t bother to confirm the WHO’s views about EMFs … when all they had to do was go to the WHO Web site and look (as I did)! Note, it’s not unusual for the proponents of pseudomedicine to lie, nor is it unusual for the media to refuse to call them on their lies. In fact, it seems to be standard operating procedure. The mass media have long been complicit in the promotion of woo and nonsense.

Allow me to conclude this by noting that I do not claim that people who think they’re electrosensitives have made up their problems or that they’re only “in their heads.” I’m not saying their maladies are fictional. I’m not saying Ms Barton didn’t have an infection. Electrosensitives’ afflictions are no doubt very real. What I — and nearly the entire medical world — dispute, is whether low-level EMF is causing the problems they have. There are very likely other causes, which simply haven’t been found yet. EMF becomes a convenient scapegoat, but it’s not the culprit. Something else is. And since electrosensitives’ symptoms run the gamut of just about everything that could go wrong with a person, I assume there are actually many different “somethings” causing their afflictions.

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

Hat tip: Consumerist.

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Cartoon ghost / lemmlingA man right here in Connecticut claims he’s invented a ghost detector. And at least one newspaper has published an article about him which conveys his claim and leaves it unchallenged. This is all part of the “hauntings as news” motif I’ve noticed over the last couple of years and have blogged about on numerous occasions. At any rate, here’s the venerable Hartford Courant‘s puff-piece on this “engineer” who now claims to be able to detect ghosts (WebCite cached article):

In 2004, 17-year-old Melissa Galka, a senior at Granby Memorial High School, died after the car she was driving hit a tree in town.

Within days of her death, her father said, she begin communicating with her family.

“She started doing things like ringing the doorbell, changing TV channels, turning lights on and off,” Gary Galka said Monday. “Then one time she came into my room and I felt her sit on the edge of the bed.”

Now Galka has a thriving trade in paranormal detection devices, launched as a result of those eery events.

Note the obviously-sentimental and sympathetic lede in this story. The reader is supposed to believe what this guy tells us, because as a bereaved father, he somehow “knows” more about ghosts than any of the rest of us. While I sympathize with his plight — I really, truly, honestly do; I have lost relatives myself, after all — and while it makes for a dramatic story that reporters and editors are sure will “sell,” none of this grants Galka’s invention any veracity, and it doesn’t make what he’s doing “news.” It just doesn’t.

I also honestly doubt there’s anything new here. After all, “paranormal investigators” have been using EMF detectors to chase after ghosts, for decades. I’m not sure how Galka’s device is appreciably different from any of the myriad other EMF detectors that have been used this way … except that he seems to be marketing them specifically to ghost-hunters.

I suggest Galka and/or fans of this device — if they’re so convinced it does what they claim it does — put this device to the test, and collect a huge payday, while they’re at it. They should immediately submit an application to James “the Amazing” Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. I’m not sure why they would not want to do so; a million dollars is, after all, a lot of money to just leave there, waiting to be claimed.

It’s inevitable that grieving people will come up with things like Mel-Meter and the SB7 Spirit Box. It’s quite natural. And as I said, I really do sympathize with Galka. What I find unacceptable here is the Courant‘s lazy and uncritical reporting on Galka’s devices. The story clearly implies they do precisely what Galka says they do — i.e. detect ghosts — however, they in fact do nothing of the sort. In truth, ghosts do not exist; they cannot be detected; they don’t haunt buildings or graveyards; psychics do not talk to them; and science has never demonstrated that they exist. The Courant doesn’t even include a brief comment from a “token skeptic” — but it does add Galka’s own childish swipe at skeptics, expecting them “to ‘take a better position’” (as if it’s up to him, personally, to decide what “positions” are “better” than others). The nation’s oldest newspaper can do better than this … and it should. What a waste.

Photo credit: lemmling, via Open Clip Art Library.

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