10.28.2014

The Ebola Outbreak Is Not That Bad

It’s hard to say anything new about the Ebola pandemic, for a few reasons. First, it’s still happening, so anything I write is liable to be out of date sooner rather than later. Another is that it’s hard to find a balance between “OMG we’re all gonna die!!!!” and “we’ve got nothing to worry about.” Neither of those happen to be true, but both are the narrative being pushed by various corners of the media.

A man protests in front of the White House (Reuters)

A man protests in front of the White House (Reuters)

However, there are some things that aren’t disputable about Ebola. Facts are facts, and despite everyone’s different flavor of panic, race-bating, quackery, conspiracy theory and nonsense, the facts don’t change.

The facts are that the Ebola pandemic isn’t really that bad.

Oh, it’s bad in West Africa. But is it worthy of the panic it’s causing in the US? Not a chance. / read more…

10.27.2014

Black Cats are Victims of Our Own Imaginations

It’s Halloween this Friday, and that felt like as good a time as any to talk about black cats. These poor critters live with the weight of several erroneous beliefs on their feline shoulders, all because of their high melanin count. Are cats bad luck? Are they victims of occult malfeasance? Are they less likely to be adopted? The answer to some of these may surprise you.

/ read more…

10.27.2014

The Heavy Cost Of Weight Loss Supplements

Weight loss is one of the most lucrative areas of commercial chicanery in the United States. Complicated health issues like obesity and weight loss have no easy answers. That fact doesn’t stop the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry from spending millions in marketing trying to convince you that miraculous solutions exist. Most weight-loss products or methods are promoted as “the answer,” often making grandiose claims of 97% success rates, promising 90-day money-back guarantees, asserting “clinically proven results” etc. Such marketing can sound very convincing to consumers. Realistically, they are promoting ideas that have no credible science to back them up. Such claims are often misleading, and are occasionally out-and-out lies. And supplements that promise miracle weight loss without dietary changes or exercise, are some of the most problematic and dangerous products for consumers. / read more…

The Skeptical and Belgian Hip-Hop of Stromae

George Hrab can be considered the skeptical maestro-in-chief. His songs are witty, musically interesting, and the texts have a very clear skeptical theme. He’s also very fond of explaining his first appearance at The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, where he performed in front of more 1,000 people. Not only that, he managed to get those 1,000 people (including James Randi) to sing along with him. He is rightly proud about it, and I don’t mind he has already told the story multiple times on his Geologic Podcast.

I don’t think the following Belgian artist can top that, especially considering that his theme is not skeptical at all, but he made a good effort. The artist in question is the bow-tie-wearing Stromae (real name Paul Van Haver), presenting hip-hop and electronic dance music that gets you dancing and singing along. His topics, however, are quite deep and serious, singing about lost love, racism, or the difficulty of growing up fatherless in a large metropolis like Brussels as a son of a mixed couple (Rwandan and Belgian).

Stromae (source: Flickr, released under CC0)

Stromae (source: Flickr, released under CC0)

/ read more…

10.20.2014

Please Don’t Tell My Daughter There are ‘Chemicals’ in Her Soda

cremesodaI had a special moment with my daughter, Dawn, the other day. I shared a Faygo Creme Soda with her. Faygo’s a Michigan thing — a local bottling company who makes a wide variety of soda drinks. When I was a little Michigander, Faygo Creme Soda was my mother’s favorite flavor and as such it became one of my favorite flavors. I don’t generally buy soda anymore, but I had a craving and I knew Dawn would like it if she tried it.

As we were sitting there sharing the bottle (she loved it, BTW), she said, “My teacher said we shouldn’t drink a lot of pop because it has like 24 spoons of sugar in it.”

I nodded. “Well, it has a lot of sugar in it. That’s why I only have it as a treat.”

“Do you drink diet pop?”

“I don’t drink much pop at all.

“Good, because my teacher says you should never drink diet pop because it has chemicals in it.”

/ read more…

10.19.2014

In Defense of Electric Silence

For some time now, a few activists have proposed that a danger of electric cars is their silence to unsuspecting pedestrians. According to this claim, pedestrians are more likely to be struck by cars that they cannot hear coming. A suggested solution has been to add artificial noise to electric cars, supposedly making them less dangerous to semi-conscious pedestrians, and definitely making them annoying to everyone else. Having been both a pedestrian and a driver in my life, I am not a fan of this proposal.

The Nissan Leaf is one electric car that produces an artificial engine noise, ostensibly for the protection of pedestrians.

The Nissan Leaf is one electric car that produces an artificial engine noise, ostensibly for the protection of pedestrians.

/ read more…

10.14.2014

Food Babe vs. the Glucose Tolerance Test: Another Science Fail

When it comes to unscientific nonsense wrapped in a toxic shell of concern trolling and naturalistic fallacies, you can’t do better than the Food Babe. The food crusader and blogger, whose real name is Vani Hari and whose background is in computer science, has become the darling of the anti-GMO, pro-alternative medicine set. She’s achieved her status by marshaling an army of social-media followers into crusades pressuring major companies to remove “harmful chemicals” from their products.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Who wants to eat harmful chemicals, right? But in reality, Hari is almost always either taking information out of context, displaying a shockingly poor understand of science, or just simply wrong. / read more…

A Lucky Find in Egypt

I really liked the following news item, and for two reasons. Well three, actually, because it’s about archaeology (favorite subject of mine), but also because it features a really lucky once-in-a-lifetime find and because it features experimental archaeology (trying to recreate artifacts using old techniques).

/ read more…

10.11.2014

The Cost of Not Vaccinating

vaccines-are-not-toxicInstead of finishing and posting a normal blog post this week, I wanted to share something that came across my social media feed thanks to the Anti-Vaccine Body Count page. While normally I would post about the statistics and science of how vaccines work and about their safety, sometimes using the same tactics as anti-vaccine, anti-science peddlers is effective in at least getting those on the fence to more closely examine their beliefs and hopefully the science.

Let me address some of the possible comments first. Yes, I know vaccines do occasionally cause an injury. Statistically, the chance of any permanent injury is so rare that you have a much better chance of being struck by lightning than you do getting permanently injured by a vaccine. However, there are many more people who are in danger of being harmed by the diseases they are designed to protect us from. / read more…

10.10.2014

The Last Bigfoot Post I Will Ever Write [Maybe]

simpsons_nelson_hahaI was soooooo ready to write a fun Bigfoot post today. It has been a busy couple weeks for the fine art of Squatch-Watching. Not only has someone Photoshopped the Gimlin film to within an inch of its life, but there was also video of a strangely unmoving Bigfoot in the night and even a tiny invisible Bigfoot. These videos weren’t going to mock themselves!

Then Dr. Steven Novella had to go and rain on my parade.

/ read more…