Thinking Clearly About Medical Marijuana

An ounce of Green Crack bought from a dispensary in California Via Wikimedia

Medical cannabis (aka medical marijuana) is currently being used as a medical treatment. It has many concerning similarities to many types of alternative medicine. Unlike most alternative medicine good research does show promise as a reliable medical treatment. This is a fascinating dichotomy to me as a medical professional and the use of medical cannabis is an interesting thought exercise for the critical thinker. There is good evidence for some uses and myriad of poorly supported treatment modalities. Advocates both for and against demonstrate a disdain of scientific exploration. As a skeptic I think this is fertile ground for flexing our critical-thinking muscles.

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2.4.2015

Are You Orthorexic? Our Obsession with Healthy Eating

We seem to have forgotten that humans are omnivorous. Around the world and throughout history, people have thrived on diets diverse and extreme enough to shame the fad diet section in any modern bookstore. Populations have flourished on staples like whale blubber, insects, roots, or grains, often with little else. Even in recent centuries of European plenty, generations of aristocracy touched virtually nothing but sugary cakes and alcohol, while peasants across the street survived on rotten vegetables and hard biscuits; yet both experienced similar outcomes. In fact we differ little in this respect from the humble rat, able to live healthy lives on just about anything we can stomach.

Where we break from the rat is in our intelligence (though, as the impressed father of a rat-rearing daughter, I find the difference, in some cases, may not be as marked as we think). We have the conscious ability to analyze the content of our food, to understand its constituents. We know that too little food causes malnutrition and too much makes us fat, and we understand the consequences of both. The benefit of this understanding has driven some of us to seek deeper, and sometimes illusory, targets of super-health that are not merely within the wide margins of healthy eating, but that attempt to constrict those margins to allow only very specific foods in hyper-controlled portions. When taken to the extreme, the compulsion for such restrictive diets can lead to an eating disorder that may actually cause nutritional deficiencies (even as far as starvation and death) or, even more commonly, social isolation and obsessive behavior. This disorder is called orthorexia, from the Greek meaning “appetite for the correct food.” While the anorexic feels compelled to eat ever less in pursuit of an impossible body image, the orthorexic fanatically focuses on certain foods and avoids others, chasing an imagined model of perfect health, sometimes to the point of delusion.

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2.3.2015

Will Disneyland Change the Vaccination Debate?

Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

By now you’d have to be pretty disconnected to have not heard about the Disneyland measles outbreak: over 100 cases and counting, and — surprise! — most of them are not vaccinated against the disease. It’s even been a recent topic here on Skeptoid. In case this has somehow failed to cross your particular media stream, here’s a rundown from the CDC. [Or check out this timeline from the Onion, which is less detailed but probably sadly accurate ]

It’s a serious outbreak and in regards to short-term public health, no good can come of it. In the long run, though, it’s possible that the Disneyland measles outbreak has a silver lining. Ultimately, it could serve as a watershed moment, a sign that the anti-vaccination movement has moved past its peak and towards the same fringes that conspiracy theorists and other science deniers occupy.

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2.3.2015

Four Lies About the Measles Outbreak

The Disneyland measles outbreak hasn’t shown any signs of doing anything other than getting worse. As of right now, over 100 cases have been diagnosed in states across America. Most are situated in Southern California, and the vast majority are among people who aren’t vaccinated. Sadly, this is mostly children who never gave their consent to not be protected from preventable disease.

Nobody who follows the anti-vaccine movement, and deals with their arrogance, chemphobia, fecklessness and endless self-delusion should be surprised by any of this. And nobody should be surprised by the lies that have emerged around this measles outbreak. Because that’s inherently what the anti-vax movement is about — lies. Lies about coverups, lies about toxins, lies about the real causes of disease, lies about the danger, lies about who caused it, lies, lies and more lies.

Here are four of the worst lies, but by no means are these the only ones: / read more…

2.2.2015

Winter Storm Juno: A Lesson in Reading and Thinking

A deserted street in an otherwise busy neighborhood, despite clear streets and operating subways and buses. Photograph by Anthony Quintano.

A deserted street in an otherwise busy neighborhood, despite clear streets and operating subways and buses. Photograph by Anthony Quintano.

The Skeptoid Blog’s volunteer contributors are spread out all over the United States and even the world. I happen to live in New York City, where we’re currently experiencing winter weather. The following story might strike some readers as too local and small beer, but I think it offers some valuable lessons.

I love cold weather and snow, though a lot of people don’t, understandably. It has been very surprising to me to see how exercised people get about the routine business of being chilly this time of year. And we just recently went through what appears to be an annual tradition: public shock and outrage at a blizzard. We a lot of snow overnight on this past Monday and Tuesday. The storm of exaggerated anger the weather incited was almost as much fun to watch as the kids running around pelting each other with snowballs.

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A Passion for Science and Reason

This Monday, well-known science advocates and atheists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss came to Belgium. As far as I know, this was the first time either of them visited the country for a public event. The setting was a screening of a film in which they both are featured, The Unbelievers, followed by a discussion moderated by Julia Galef, a science writer and co-host of the podcast Rationally Speaking.

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1.30.2015

Paying The Toll For Anti-Vaccine Rhetoric

The anti-vaccination movement has run a two-decade-long campaign of fear-mongering. It’s a well-funded campaign with a provocative narrative. They warn anyone who will listen that vaccines are dangerous, useless, and that they may cause autism. They spread propaganda originating from a fabricated 1998 study by ex-medical doctor Andrew Wakefield. It continues to be a difficult misinformation campaign to blunt. Wakefield’s proposed autism-vaccine link is now completely debunked, yet the anti-vaccine movement finds new reasons to fight vaccinations. The movement has responded with disdain to the mountain of evidence showing safety and efficacy. What began as fear surrounding autism has become a more generalized and less specific narrative. Whenever a specific objection has been disproven they change the argument, consistently, ideologically, skewing or even replacing the facts to fit their preferred narrative that vaccines and vaccination schedules are unnecessary and dangerous. Despite vitriolic rhetoric from the anti-vaccine community, the science clearly shows that vaccines are low risk and high reward—a consensus shared by the vast majority of medical and public health organizations. Now, a measles outbreak in the state of California presents a scenario that epidemiologists have feared for years: the decline of herd immunity and the return of vaccine-preventable diseases with all their fury.  / read more…

1.28.2015

Finally! Real Research On Curing Autism!

Temple_Grandin_at_TEDOK, not really. For those of us in the skeptic community, we understand Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex set of brain-based disorders that share some common traits but can vary greatly in severity. In many cases, autism isn’t necessarily something that needs a cure, but instead just requires training for both the autistic person and the people interacting with the autistic person. These traits often convey benefits in their different way of thinking. Famous examples of the immense benefit of seeing the world differently, and consequently leading to major scientific contributions, include Temple Grandin and Albert Einstein. [Note: Yes, I know Einstein wasn’t diagnosed, and it is just a hypothesis. I’m not arguing the details of that here.]

I also know many of us in the skeptic community are tired of having to repeat ourselves about the state of science regarding autism and vaccines, diets, contrails, detox, and just about every other nonsense “cure” that comes along every other week. So forgive me for needing to let off a little steam as I tackle yet another couple pieces of nonsense floating around social media. / read more…

1.21.2015

Those UFO Files

UFOYou may have already heard the news, however, in case you haven’t, a massive amount of US Government UFO files—from Projects Blue Book, Sign, and Grudge—has recently gone live on the web. Fox News has reported on the information, citing an article at MilitaryTimes.com/ read more…

1.20.2015

What the Swiss Franc Means for the Iraqi Dinar (Spoiler Alert: Nothing)

On January 15, Switzerland shocked the financial world by removing its self-imposed cap on the value of its currency, the Swiss franc. The cap had been put in place in 2011 to prevent the overvaluing of the franc against the Euro, as many foreign investors had been parking their money in Switzerland to avoid getting entangled with Europe’s debt crisis.

The reasons why Switzerland capped the exchange rate of its currency, then removed the cap, are complicated, and good explanations can be found on a variety of financial websites, written by people who understand this stuff much more than I do. But it boils down to bringing the franc back in line with its natural value / read more…