Posts Tagged “pseudoscience”

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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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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