6.23.2015

A Skeptical Look at Neil Young’s New Album “The Monsanto Years”

Going back to the late 60’s, rocker Neil Young embodied the social consciousness of rock music, in some ways picking up the torch of protest singing that Bob Dylan dropped after he went electric. During a diverse and willfully eclectic career of nearly 40 solo albums, Young has continued making music in this vein. In recent years, he’s used music to attack the Bush administration of the conduct of the Iraq War, criticize “factory farming”, stump for the electric car and lament the death of American traditions.

Neil Young, angry about something. (AP)

Neil Young, angry about something. (AP)

But his newest album takes aim at the most sacred of all hippie sacred cows: Monsanto. On his new album “The Monsanto Years”, Young pulls out all the stops and pulls no punches. He attacks corporate giants like Wal-Mart and Chevron, blasts genetically modified organisms, slams campaign finance law for crushing democracy and laments that people only want love songs, not to be told what’s really going on with their food and politics. But it’s Monsanto that Young saves his sharpest barbs for, explicitly slamming the agribusiness monolith over and over for its perceived vice-like grip on the food supply. / read more…

6.22.2015

The United Kingdom Is Poised Turn Medical Care Back To Medieval Care

As of June 16, 2015 ,the United Kingdom is poised to elect a demonstrably anti-science politician to the most influential medical position in government. In my opinion it would be a disastrous outcome for the people of the Untied Kingdom and give cause for quacks everywhere to rejoice. Tory Member of Parliament (MP) David Tredinnick is attempting to become the chair of the influential Commons Health Select Committee, of which he is currently a voting member. Although I am a resident of the United States, I’m still appalled that a person who openly advocates for magical nonsense could be in such an influential position in a socialized health system, and even worse that he intends to head that same committee. Let’s review some of his publicly available positions on healthcare and take a really hard look at how bad politicizing your healthcare can get. / read more…

The Mystery of Napoleon’s Body That Isn’t

This week we remember (especially in Europe) the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s ultimate battle (and defeat) at Waterloo, Belgium. Napoleon is a famous and infamous figure in Europe. He was both a brutal dictator—responsible for the death of thousands of people—and an enlightened despot. For instance, much of law in France and Belgium (where I live) is still based on the legal code he implemented. It sure makes for a bizarre reading when a ministerial dispatch mentions the laws applicable, and refers even to the French Revolutionary Calendar for its date of implementation!

Given the impact Napoleon had and continues to have, it is no wonder that he, too, has a fair share of conspiracy theories attached to him. I won’t talk here about Napoleon’s cause of death, partially because I have the impression that there a lot of complex but valid arguments in favor and against the British being directly or indirectly responsible for the demise of the former Emperor. Instead I will mention a more preposterous one, namely that Napoleon’s body was switched with another body (that of his majordomo) and buried elsewhere. Some theories even have him not dying at all, but silently leaving his exile in St. Helena and going to the United States. That one makes even for a mildly enjoyable film, Monsieur N (2003).

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A lithograph after a painting by Charles de Steuben, “Morte de Napoléon. (5 Mai 1821),” ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Print Shop.

/ read more…

6.14.2015

Quick Skeptoid News: 18-Month Old Dies When Parents Refuse To “Use Chemicals”

Thanks to “the Skeptical Beard” for bringing attention to this story.

An 18-Month Old girl in Pennsylvania died after what was likely a painful final couple weeks. The girl was brought to a local ER in cardiac arrest and later pronounced dead. The cause of death was “streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis” which originated as an ear infection. When the parents arrived at the ER, they told the nurse they had been treating her fever, headache, and earache with homeopathic and herbal treatments, because they didn’t believe in using “chemicals.”

If anyone asks why I react so strongly to stories of people using homeopathy, essential oils, or any other nonsense, especially on kids, I can just point them to this story as an example.

Read more at the Rocket Courier website.

Via Quackwatch, more quotes from the parents.

 

6.9.2015

The Truth About Waco Biker Shooting Truthers

May 17, 2015 saw a tense but regularly scheduled meeting at a Waco restaurant between members of rival motorcycle clubs the Bandidos, the Cossacks and smaller support clubs explode into a bloody shootout. When it was all over, nine people had been killed, 18 others shot and hundreds arrested, held on one million dollars bail each. The scene of the crime was chaos, with bodies and bullet casings everywhere, hundreds of police officers and SWAT members on the scene and bikers sitting under guard.

Naturally, any event that causes as much damage and carnage as the Waco Biker Shooting is going to have a number of inconsistencies in early reporting, and questions that remain unanswered even after those inconsistencies have been cleared up. Even now, nearly a month after the shootout, we don’t have a clear idea of who shot first, who shot whom, and which victims were shot by other bikers and which by the police. Some witness accounts have the brawl beginning in the parking lot when a Cossack ran over a Bandido’s foot, while others claim the shooting started on the restaurant’s patio. At first, reports said four bikers were killed by police gunfire, then that was retracted as further ballistics testing was required. / read more…

Who Killed the Pig?

How do you train an archaeologist? Sure, you can teach all the methods and precautions in a classroom, using books, photographs, and videos. But at a certain point in a time you need to get hands-on experience, preferably in the field. This raises two potential issues. The first is how to get lucky as an exercise. You might get an entire class to sift through a site and just get nothing at all. It sure makes for an interesting couple of days of sifting sand and going through the motions, but as a teacher you are still not certain that your students have learned something. And, secondly, you can’t be sure about the quality of work your students will deliver.

/ read more…

5.29.2015

Does A New Test Accurately Diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

National news media outlets are reporting a breakthrough in the diagnosis and treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Dr. Mark Pimentel, from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of Los Angeles, believes he has discovered a method to diagnose the disease using a pair of blood tests that he has developed. These tests are a creative attempt to streamline the diagnostic process for IBS and provide clinicians with a new tool to help treat the disease. This sounds like a perfect medical solution, but is it?

A simple laboratory blood test is the holy grail for most disease diagnosis. Very few medical problems actually offer such a simple diagnostic tool. Since irritable bowel syndrome is a complicated and controversial diagnosis of exclusion I was rather surprised to see a blood test as the answer. Let’s take a close look at this exciting research and parse out the facts.

A sick man stranded on the toilet after taking a laxative. Colored etching after J. Sneyd after J. Gillray. Via Wikimedia.

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5.26.2015

Lost Treasures of the 20th Century

Today we’re going to put on our best pith helmet, grab a metal detector and go in search of great lost treasures of the recent past. Contrary to urban legend, not all hidden stacks of cash and gold are 17th century buried pirate chests or great old Viking hordes found in the peat bogs of England. There are countless cases of stolen cash, plundered war loot, lost heists and treasures that have simply disappeared – and they’re all in the recent past.

Please note that many of these are legendary and probably don’t exist. Some others are lost for a good reason – they’re in incredibly inhospitable environments, and searching for them has claimed lives in a few cases. So please don’t go looking for them.

We’ll start with some lost treasures that were plundered during World War II. / read more…

An Awkward History of Kissing

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A drawing of pursed lips in the quintessential kiss shape.

Psychology Today is a magazine and website that aims to popularize psychology. It’s a good thing, too, as the more people get interested in this science topic, the better. The website also hosts a blog, where this article written by Neel Burton, caught my interest. It’s titled “The History of Kissing.” As a history enthusiast, that sounded right up my alley.

Sadly, I was disappointed. The subtitle hinted at a discussion between learned and natural behavior, with surprising evidence. Now to cut a long story short, no such evidence is presented or discussed in this article. It starts with a paragraph about some cultures not kissing, and refers to a scientific discussion about where kissing might have come from. It sounds a lot like a rehash of the opening paragraphs from Wikipedia’s kiss article, but there are no references to it (though other references are provided).

/ read more…

5.12.2015

Myths and Facts About Uber

I recently had the chance to take my first ride with Uber, the ride-sharing app that’s gone from completely unknown to a valuation of over $40 billion in less than six years. While I’d heard quite a bit about the company and its business model, I found that when it came time to decide whether to take a cab or try my hand at Uber, the information I had wasn’t enough to make a decision. So I went by the one thing I knew to be true – Uber is a hell of a lot cheaper than a taxi.

uber-logo

But what do you really need to know about the company that promises to change the way we move through our cities? What’s myth and what’s reality? / read more…