Popping Your Beliefs, One Candy at a Time

In my previous post (yes, the one about Playboy), I mentioned that it is sometimes good to challenge yourself on things you consider “facts” or where you assume something to be the way it is. It is a fun skeptical exercise that keeps you on your toes. Consider it the sort of skeptical antitheses of the Queen in Alice in Wonderlandunbelieving six things before breakfast.

Take for instance the carbonated candy that pops and fizzes when you put it in your mouth. In the States it started as “Pop Rocks,” but it has been marketed under several brands since the 1980s by General Foods (later Kraft Foods). This year it made an appearance in the chocolate eggs for Easter. I’ve eaten it before, mostly in the context of modern cooking (see my post on Cooking for Geeks) and I had always assumed it was some sort of weird chemical, reacting with the saliva in your mouth. My friend Helmut challenged me to find out if that was true and, if so, which chemical. As it turns out, it’s not some special industrial chemical, and although there is indeed chemistry involved, Pop Rocks mainly pop because of physics.

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4.20.2015

Holy Hardcore! Australia Nixes Religious Exemption

PMAbbott

PM Tony Abbott

When I wrote about Ausrtralia’s new antivax policies last week, I was impressed by its boldness and wished other countries would follow its lead. Since that article, the Aussie vaccination crackdown has gone a step further: they’re eliminating religious exemptions.

The original policy change cracked down on “contentious objector” antivaxxers, but at the time it was reported that religious exemptions would remain in place and would be “tightened” so that religious objections could only be gained if the objector is “affiliated with a religious group whose governing body has a formally registered objection approved by the federal government.” This was already going to make getting religious objections difficult as, it turns out, there was only one such religious group with Australian approval: the Christian Scientists.

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4.14.2015

Three Classic UFO Conspiracy Theories

As a skeptical blogger, I’ve often found topics that are interesting enough to research, but don’t really have a lot of “there there,” so to speak. Most just kind of appeared on the internet in the early days of conspiracy mongering (the early 90’s) and don’t have much of an origin story. But they have a number of devotees, and have had books, articles and even television episodes devoted to them.

Here are three, concerning UFO’s and aliens – all with fairly significant internet presence, but with little in the way of evidence to support their existence: / read more…

4.13.2015

Will Australia’s New Anti-Vax Law Be a Bellwether?

DoHAlogoBy now, you’ve likely heard something about Australia’s move this past weekend to enact a first-of-its-kind initiative to tie government childcare benefits to vaccination. Specifically, families in Australia seeking public childcare assistance who opt out of vaccinating their children for non-medical reasons will be denied two childcare assistance payouts meant in part  to cover the cost of a babysitter or daycare. The government is also tightening religious objections, requiring that objectors belong to a religion whose ruling body has officially taken an anti-vax stance.

The Australian government has wisely chosen to frame this law aimed at “vaccine hesitancy” (so-called by the WHO) as one meant to protect other children. It cites the danger that non-vaccination poses to the public at large and insists that it gives vaccinating parents “confidence that they can take their children to childcare without the fear that their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others.” As anyone who has done rational research into vaccination knows, the herd immunity issue is a huge one, and basing this decision in that reasoning is sound. Vaccination is very much a public health issue; and those who work against the public health will now be denied the public’s help.

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Joint Pain: Scams, Lies, and Exaggerations, Part 2

As an orthopedic nurse practitioner I see a constant stream of joint pain complaints. They stem from a variety of sources: injury, age-related changes, lifestyle issues, and autoimmune disorders. Patients will often Google their problems and/or their symptoms, and like most medical issues you can find truth on the Internet, but it is never easy or quick. A lot of what I do with patients is teaching, with a good deal of that time spent addressing long-standing myths or marketing scams. This post is part of an ongoing series about orthopedic problems, scams, and myths. Part 1 focused on the myths and quackery surrounding pain in weight-bearing joints. This post will focus on one of the most pervasive types of joint pain: back and neck pain. / read more…

4.3.2015

Electrohypersensitivity and Bad Reporting

The April 2015 issue of Popular Science includes a bizarre feature article that might give many readers cause for a double take: a detailed promotion of a thoroughly debunked pseudoscience. It is largely a profile of one woman, Diane Schou, and a few of her friends, all of whom have diagnosed themselves with electrohypersensitivity (EHS). EHS is psychogenic, and very treatable; but you would never guess that from Popular Science‘s treatment. According to Schou—and to writer Steve Featherstone’s unfailingly credulous presentation of her misinformation—it is a physical and growing public health threat. As such, the article accomplishes exactly the opposite of what those who would hope to help EHS sufferers want: to reduce their very real suffering. In this response to that article, I’ll offer a tool to help EHS sufferers better understand the root cause of their affliction, and hopefully find a path toward treatment.

The Green Bank Telescope, in West Virginia, which is surrounded by the US National Radio Quiet Zone. Photograph by MetroNews.

The Green Bank Telescope, in West Virginia, which is surrounded by the US National Radio Quiet Zone. Photograph by MetroNews.

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3.31.2015

L. Ron Hubbard’s Military Service

With the Church of Scientology in the public spotlight due to the recent HBO documentary “Going Clear,” numerous claims about the Church and its founder L. Ron Hubbard, are being debated by both Scientology-watchers and the general public. Most of these center around allegations against Scientology, counter-allegations by the Church and the alleged cult of personality that revolves around its high-ranking figures.

But there’s another way to look at Scientology, beyond the controversies about Xenu, billion-year contracts, punishment details, beatings and movie stars. And it starts before Scientology even existed, with the military career of L. Ron Hubbard – both what he did and what he didn’t do during the Second World War. / read more…

11 Skeptical Reasons to Read Playboy

There used to be an old wives’ tale back in my student days at the University of Leuven’s philosophy department: that we were “allowed” to read the Playboy—as if one would need permission for that. We didn’t read it for the vestimentary-challenged ladies; it was of course for the articles. More precisely, it was especially for an article by Leslie Fiedler, published in the December 1969 issue, that helped start the postmodernism.

Now I’m not a fan of postmodernism, not in literature and certainly not in philosophical matters, so I wasn’t actively following the magazine. It was only through Wil Wheaton’s interview of Patton Oswalt [link to Playboy.com] that I browsed their website and found the following list. As with most entertainment or even “news” sites, such lists are ideal clickbait with an attention-grabbing headline. Playboy plays the game rather well, feeding itself mostly on Reddit conversations about sexuality and related matters. But this one [link to Playboy.com] was not only (mostly) unrelated to sex, but also skeptical: 11 common “facts” that are incorrect, and only two related to sex (guess which ones…). The list is hastily compiled (as most of these lists!), they are really “common misconceptions” sometimes mixed with the correct explanation, as you can see in the list below.

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3.23.2015

Have You Seen This Peruvian “Flying Humanoid” Video?

When I write about unidentified flying objects, I’m used to it being of the alien spacecraft variety. But apparently in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, there’s another phenomenon making the rounds: an unidentified flying humanoid. This is revealed in a new video posted to YouTube last week by Dr. Anthony Choy, who bills himself as an investigative journalist and National Coordinator of the Peruvian Association of Ufology (APU) (though it seems like he is the sole face and voice of the org, as well). He claims this is part of a “phenomenon” of flying humanoids he’s been researching since 2010.

First, let’s roll that beautiful flying humanoid footage:

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3.18.2015

Joint Pain: Scams, Lies, and Exaggerations, Part 1

Matthew Bilancia, U.S. Air Force team member, straps on his knee brace as he prepares for track and field events during the 2011 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 17, 2011. The track and field events are the first ones during the weeklong Warrior Games. Via Wikimedia.

As an Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner I see a constant stream of joint pain complaints. They stem from a variety of sources: injury, age related changes, lifestyle issues and autoimmune disorders. Patients will often Google their problems and/or their symptoms, and like most medical issues you can find truth on the Internet, but it is never easy or quick. A lot of what I do with patients is teaching, with a good deal of that time spent addressing long-standing myths or marketing scams. I find the most prevalent and pervasive pseudoscience in orthopedics revolves around joint pain. Although Dr. Harriet Hall has occasionally reviewed some of these myths for Science-Based Medicine, she has made a few minor errors on some subjects and in my opinion been uncharacteristically generous with her opinion of glucosamine and chondroitin supplementation. Since this is my field of expertise, I felt it was finally time to dole out some advice and data on some of the more commonly marketed joint pain treatments.

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