11.10.2014

Yes, the Dose Really Does Make the Poison

toxic-sign_shutterstock_97201652One thing that frustrates me in conversations about “harmful chemicals” on Skeptoid and elsewhere is when individuals display a complete lack of understanding of dosage. This comes in two forms.

The first form is the passive argument that completely omits”dosage” from their point entirely. I can never tell if someone overlooking dosage is being uninformed or dishonest; part of me wants to give the benefit of the doubt, but another part of me finds it hard to believe they’ve never encountered such a basic concept as dosage. The second is the active argument that “Dosage doesn’t matter” or “dosage is irrelevant“, which is often used to imply that some chemical or other is so bad that is always should be avoided. Invariably this is directed at some chemical that millions of people ingest everyday without obvious harm.

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Sometimes a Cable Isn’t Just a Cable

A while ago I blogged about an expensive USB cable that claimed to increase the quality of music playback from a digital hard disk. That claim, of course, was complete and utter nonsense, as the playback is digital, so apart from bad soldering or cutting the cable, the playback remains the same—because it is, you know, digital.

I read about that particular fraud on Bobby Owsinski’s Big Picture blog. He is a well-known music producer and engineer, and has written several books on music and music production. On his blog, he has a lot of articles where he criticizes those ultra-expensive cables as being good for only one thing: emptying your wallet. So I was a bit surprised to hear him say on an episode of his podcast, Inner Circle, that he actually tested some expensive cables, and found them very good.

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11.6.2014

Can Zinc Help My Cold?

Cough drops that include zinc. Via pharmacy-tech-resources.com

Cough drops that include zinc. Via pharmacy-tech-resources.com

I’ve had a cold since Sunday and it’s pretty miserable. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing to do but wait it out. I’ve tried various treatments for symptoms, with limited results. Looking through the rack at the drugstore the other day, trying to pick up some cough drops and pain relievers, I got to wondering about the effectiveness of one particular chemical palliative: zinc.

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11.3.2014

Big Scary Words

201px-Arbre_de_Diane_sorti_du_bécher_13When I wrote a post complaining about chemophobia a couple of weeks ago, I expected to see certain arguments crop up in the comments section and I wasn’t disappointed. A lot of common chemophobic points reared their heads in the comments to that post. One, in particular, caught my attention because it is a particularly flimsy one. Commenter “David” introduced it in its (chemically) purest form:

When she [the teacher] uses the word chemicals, it is abundantly clear that she means substances with long names, such as sodium benzoate etc. Just read the list of chemicals that you might find in ordinary hair shampoo or shower gel. A lot of them are almost unpronounceable, and probably a lot of them are potentially dangerous.

“Chemicals” that are “unpronounceable” and therefore “potentially dangerous” is a common argument with many “all natural” proponents, despite the fact that it is a completely toothless argument.

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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.

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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)

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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.”

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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.

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