7.29.2014

Stop Comparing Everything You Don’t Like to the Nazis

The lazy shorthand for calling something or someone evil is to compare them to the Nazis. It’s a cheap and easily-understood way of demonizing something you personally don’t like. Call it guilt by association, with an association that usually isn’t real.

Not surprisingly, you find an enormous amount of these false comparisons among conspiracy theorists in the alternative medicine community. Even just a basic search reveals conspiracy and natural health websites spouting rumors of a vast counterfactual history of the Nazis. They theorize that it was really Hitler’s Germany that won the war, and is now ruling us through complicated plots meant to keep us fat, sick, stupid and weak. / read more…

7.27.2014

Truvada, the Preventative HIV Drug

The preventative HIV drug Truvada, one of several HIV pre-exposure prophylaxes (PrEP) endorsed by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease control, has renewed discourse surrounding sexual health in the LGBT community. The drug represents a major breakthrough in the decades-long struggle to control the AIDS epidemics, but critics fear that Truvada may encourage some to engage in unprotected sex, spreading other STIs and increasing the danger of HIV contraction among those who take the drug sporadically or not at all.
/ read more…

7.24.2014

“Wooo! What A Workout”

A senior citizen trying to slow down his process of aging by physical fitness exercises. Via Wikimedia.

We all want to be stronger, better looking, and more healthy. We all want it to be easy. Everyone is looking for “the method”—a straightforward method to get the most out of your workouts. After dietary pseudoscience, exercise is the next worst category of pseudo-scientific misinformation. The Internet and television are full of ideas and/or anecdotes recommending this or that. Exercise is a complex issue and, simply put, you are a custom build. There is no shortage of someone selling something to “make their workout better.” Like dietary “woo,” there is usually scant evidence and large amounts of ideological proselytizing.

In fact the evidence related to proper exercise is complicated and nuanced. Complicated science is ripe for exploitation. I myself have fallen prey to some of this type of chicanery. For example, I once had a pair of strength shoes, parodied as “Jimmy’s shoes” in an episode of the 1990s television show Seinfeld. They were advertised as isometric training shoes that would allow the wearer to jump higher. Not a shining moment as a nascent skeptic but still an excellent example, in my opinion, of the exploitation of plausibility. Needless to say workout routines, devices, and supplements are often completely based upon anecdote and athlete endorsements.

Lets look at some common workout advice skeptically. / read more…

7.23.2014

Origins the Series

My brother Abe sends me a lot of cool videos and articles about science: recent research, new inventions, educational materials, or the work of grad students who are sharing presentations of their findings on YouTube. This week he sent me this great video series, describing current theories for how life first appeared on Earth and how complex features like genetic code, sex, and intelligence evolved. It also provides some excellent rebuttals to common misconceptions and counterarguments:

/ read more…

7.22.2014

A Roundup of MH17 Conspiracy Theories

Absolutely nobody should be surprised that conspiracy theories and bad reporting regarding the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 tragedy sprang up almost as soon as the plane went down. And with complicated international politics at play, the conspiracies, misinformation and hoaxes came fast and furious.

At this point, the most widely accepted theory is that Russian paramilitary militiamen in occupied eastern Ukraine, irregulars trained and armed by Vladimir Putin’s government, shot down the plane with a Russian-made Buk anti-aircraft missile system because they thought it was a Ukrainian transport jet. Intercepted phone calls, eyewitness accounts, investigative journalism and signals intelligence all corroborate this story.

Of course, this is the “official story.” And as all dedicated Skeptoid readers know, the “official story” is not the one everyone believes. So legions of dedicated truthers are out there “doing their research” because they want us sheeple to “think” and “wake up” to what “they” are really doing. Most of their theories have nothing substantial to back them up. A few are just silly. But someone out there believes every single one of them. And so I’ll examine a few of the most interesting ones. / read more…

7.20.2014

Grounding 2: They Are Still Trying To Fool You

[Author's note: I made a couple of edits to clarify a couple of the science points. I want to acknowledge the changes, but I am removing or changing a couple of phrases. I would normally just use strike-through text, but it looks messy in this post so I am just making the edits instead.]

I feel pretty famous today. Apparently, my blog post regarding the pseudoscience of grounding did indeed make it into the documentary film The Grounded 2 (warning: woo found at this site). Steve Kroschel, the filmmaker, did have a conversation with me in the comments section of the blog in which he defended grounding. He did so mostly by moving the goalposts. Each time I refuted one of his claims, he would either change the claim or move on to the next. Eventually, the same claims I refuted would come back, and I would reference my previous comments. We went around for a long time, until Steve stopped commenting after accusing me of lying.

/ read more…

7.19.2014

Something Fishy About Omega-3 Supplements

Fish oil capsules. Via Wikimedia.

The Huffington Post recently published an article by Dr. Neal Barnard, MD. It is titled “New Study explodes the Eskimo Myth” and it makes some very salient points about the development of the supplement fish oil, its historical roots, and subsequent evaluations of its benefits. This was a pleasure to read—a rare science-based examination by the Huffington Post. Dr. Barnard points out that the original conclusions from investigating fish oil appear to be tainted by researcher error. The seminal 1976 survey  had demonstrated abnormally low rates of heart disease among Inuit despite a high fat diet. But further research has shown that the original study was in fact poorly done and did not properly evaluate the true health history of the Inuit. A recent study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology reviewed the original 1976 research and outlined its major flaws. In  2003 and 2009  follow-up studies demonstrated higher levels of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit peoples, essentially invalidating the hypotheses. If Inuit diets are not cardio-protective what does that say about diets high in Omega-3 fatty acids overall? What does this mean to fish oil supplementation?

/ read more…

7.14.2014

Abe Recommends: Magnets

My brother Abe sends me a lot of cool videos and articles about science: recent research, new inventions, educational materials, or the work of grad students who are sharing presentations of their findings on YouTube. This week he sent me this great video, explaining why iron is magnetic and how magnetic materials work, which actually has a surprising explanation:

/ read more…

7.11.2014

Is Science Close-Minded?

I’ve been frequently labelled “close-minded.” Usually the speaker (or writer) isn’t really targeting me. What they seem to mean is that “scientists are closed minded, and so are you people that worship them,” to only slightly paraphrase such sentiments. As you can imagine, this is after I or a friend has said that psychics or acupuncture or homeopathy or bigfoot or ghosts have what you might quantify as a dearth of evidence in support. But science is not close-minded. Far from it.
/ read more…

7.10.2014

The London Hammer: An Object Out of Time?

The London Hammer

The London Hammer. Via Wikimedia.

An old story regarding a hammer found encased within rock has recently resurfaced. It came to us in a question: is this hammer, the London Hammer, an example of an out of place artifact (OOPart) that calls into question geology, archeology, and the natural history of the Earth? Let’s take a look. / read more…