Listener Feedback Episode VIII: No New Hope

Some more jabs and punches between Skeptoid and its most vocal listeners.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #161
July 7, 2009
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

Again it's time to give a voice to our listeners. Some approve, some disapprove, some are insane raving lunatics straining at the straps of their straitjackets and flapping around on the floor like landed fish. But I love them all.

Responding to my episode on Detoxification Myths, the gift that keeps on giving, Devon from Austin, TX gets us started with some familiar arguments against Big Pharma:

As hoaxy as many natural "cures" can seem, I think the author puts a bit too much faith in conventional medicine. It's important to remember that conventional medicine is basically controlled by drug companies. It's much easier and more profitable for a physician to write a prescription for a pill than to spend some time looking for a natural cure... Deciphering the real deal from the scams is no easy task; it takes rational thought and thorough research, but natural medicine is not to be written off.

I commend Devon for standing out from the crowd a little bit, in that he does seem to appreciate the value in finding treatments that actually work. But I'm not quite sure what his point is. No drug companies or doctors "write off" natural compounds. The majority of drugs are developed from natural compounds — that's why drug companies have field researchers in rainforests and the like — but Devon says such treatments are not to be trusted because they come from drug companies. Who do you expect them to come from? The drug stork?

When he says it's more profitable for a doctor to write a prescription than to "spend time looking for a natural cure", that's obviously true; doctors couldn't be very productive if every time they saw a patient they had to hack their way through the jungle with the gas chromatograph. The drug company has already done that for him. Moreover, they've also tested the drug for safety against rigorous standards, purified it, developed it, and determined proper dosages. My sense is that Devon is unaware of the process of developing drugs, and has been more impressed by a naturopath who goes into his back room filled with jars of herbs and compounds and powders. Devon, the reason the naturopath does this is that he's untrained and unlicensed in medicine and it would be illegal for him to dispense anything that may have a clinical effect.

Truth is always more fascinating than fiction. Your naturopath can make up whatever magical stuff he wants to tell you about his jars of dragon's breath and hemlock, but have a conversation with a molecular biologist who works for a pharmaceutical company. You'll be blown away by some of the exciting stuff they're doing with molecules found in nature. Not long ago I was down at the Scripps Institute looking into a tank of ocean scum, and my friends who are researchers there were pointing out some of the algaes and gross floating stuff and telling me what they're doing with it. Yes, Devon, drugs do come from pharmaceutical companies; but that's not a reason to reject them in favor of untested drugs. These are simply the type of resources that it takes to responsibly develop natural compounds into proven, developed treatments.

Josee from Raleigh, NC had some things to say about the episode where I showed that despite its vilification from the natural foods lobby, High Fructose Corn Syrup is indistuinguishable from natural sugar by your body, and is chemically identical once digested:

Personally, and, with only basic chemistry behind my belt, I understand one thing. If it’s a man-produced chemical, it is probably fair to say it isn’t meant for consumption... Ask yourself a simple question. Would I rather eat natural food, as Mother Nature intended – true natural foods – not necessarily the ones FDA says are natural – or, would I rather eat processed foods? My choice is clear.

Of course everything is a chemical: Citric acid in an orange is the same as citric acid in a pixie stick. Josee's point is that association with humans makes one automatically bad. Why is it that so many people seem passionately determined to find things to hate about themselves? Whether it's a crop that's been developed to thrive in poor conditions or a cancer drug, some group is vehemently opposed to it simply because it was created by people. At the same time, they embrace nightshade, toadstools, asbestos, curare, strychnine, and body odor because those chemicals come from Mother Nature.

Foods labeled as "natural" are regulated by the USDA, not the FDA. It's a definition that's constantly embattled. It's such a desirable marketing buzzword that every food producer wants the definition to favor its particular product. Consequently, the definition is pretty weak, and as Josee points out, foods sold as "all natural" rarely mean what the anti-human crowd hopes it means.

And as long as we've got sort of a theme going, why not hear from Tristin in Vermont who had a problem with my episode on Fast Food Phobia:

This [episode] really undermines your credibility. While I get your point — that fast food is not the source of all evil — you end up sounding like an apologist for an industry that puts much higher amounts of sodium, sugar, fat, etc into food than anyone ever would at home.

I wonder what research Tristin did that led him to conclude that fast food restaurants spend extra money to do this. I'll tell you what research I did. Among other things, I went into a couple of fast food restaurants, photographed the nutrition information on their most popular items, then compared the ingredients with items from the supermarket that you use at home. The ketchup, the bread, the ingredients in the milkshakes. Big surprise, they're all the same. But just consider the logic: Would it add to McDonald's profits to go out and buy additional sodium, sugar, and fat to mix in with their ingredients? Of course not. Their ingredients come from the same producers that wholesale to other restaurants and supermarkets. If you make yourself a 32-ounce milkshake and a Big Mac equivalent at home, do you really think it's going to have fewer calories than a McDonald's version?

Apparently, doing such research "undermines my credibility". Sorry, Tristin, next time I'll follow your example, and uncritically parrot popular anti-fast-food rhetoric from the mass media, regardless of whether it even makes any sense, and call that research.

OK, change of pace. Dan from North Carolina, who works on F-15 computer systems for a living, had this to say about the NTSB's findings on TWA Flight 800, which exploded after takeoff out of New York City in 1996:

You seem to be taking great faith in the fact that a missile attack is improbable. It is very possible with the right science, and motivation. The evidence is slim either way. But to rule that out is foolish in my opinion.

The evidence is not slim, and following the evidence is not the definition of "great faith". 95% of the aircraft was recovered and reconstructed. 95%. Missile strikes and explosives leave unmistakable signatures: High speed impacts, chemical residue, and heat damage to name a few; none of which was found on a single square inch of the aircraft. Forensic pathology on the bodies proved no exposure to explosives. Radar data from over 20 different sources proved no contacts ever approached the aircraft. This is not "slim evidence", this is exhaustive and conclusive evidence. We don't know what caused the plane's center fuel tank to explode, but we know it exploded, and we know it was not caused by either a missile or an explosive planted on board. This conclusion is not reached "foolishly" as Dan describes it. It is what's absolutely supported by all available evidence.

John from Sydney, Australia wondered if I was really serious in my discussion of the Fatima Miracle of the Sun, where I proposed explanations other than the sun actually did spin around and dance through the sky for a crowd of devout Catholics in Portugal in 1917:

Brian, if something remarkable really does occur, you will always spin an argument why it didn't occur or must have been something else. It is a mentality of naive denial. Sorry to be so blunt but if you ever do find the truth you will never be able to accept it, whatever it is.

John, it is not naive to seek out the most probable explanation for reports of a strange event. It is, however, naive to uncritically accept a religious cleric's account of that event written to support a bid for canonization. (Father John de Marchi literally spent years building evidence to support the divine nature of the story, and the surviving accounts that we have of the sun's strange behavior come from his writings.) It is not naive to consider the reliability of second or third hand anecdotal evidence, nor is it naive to consider that no observatories anywhere in Europe reported any unusual behavior by the sun on that day. What we're left with is a lot of solid evidence that nothing extraordinary happened, and a small amount of very poor evidence that a miracle was made visible to a select few scattered among a group of onlookers; those few evidently not including the photographers who documented the day, showing nothing unusual.

I did not say that "it must be something else", nor did I say that nothing happened. I merely concluded that Catholics should probably reconsider their position based on the available evidence. John, should you ever decide to re-examine the validity of any of your religious beliefs, try to do it with the impartiality you'd give to a Mormon or Muslim claim. My sense is that you're a little too predisposed to assign undeserved credibility to poorly sourced reports simply because they come from your own church's doctrine.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Finally, I'll close with the following email I received, which speaks for itself:

Mr. Dunning,

We the members of the myriad global conspiracies wish to express our sincere thanks for the work you have done in suppressing knowledge of our existence. Skeptoid has been instrumental in combating those who wish to reveal our existence and the real truths of this world (see: ). To this end we have "donated" the sum of US$24.37 through your website; this sum is payment in full for over two years of loyal service at the NWO-1 "useful idiot" pay grade. We apologize for our delay in compensation; due to an internal processing error your payments were being billed to the Reptoid account instead of your own. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope you will serve our dark purpose for many years to come (barring your death in 2012).


The Corporate Paymasters
Big Pharma
Zorlab the Destroyer of the Reptoid Coalition
The New World Order
The United Bankers of Zion
The Bilderbergers
Lord Xenu III

Brian Dunning

© 2009 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Newman D., Cragg G. "Natural Products as Sources of New Drugs over the Last 25 Years." Journal of Natural Products. 23 Mar. 2007, Volume 70, Number 3: 461-477.

NTSB. "In-flight Breakup Over the Atlantic Ocean Trans World Airlines Flight 800 Boeing 747-131, N93119 Near East Moriches, New York July 17, 1996." Aircraft Accident Report. National Transportation Safety Board, 23 Aug. 2000. Web. 7 Jul. 2009. <>

Rudolph, T., Ruempler, K., Schwedhelm, E., Tan-Andresen, J., Riederer, U., Böger, R., Maas, R. "Acute effects of various fast-food meals on vascular function and cardiovascular disease risk markers: the Hamburg Burger Trial." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1 Aug. 2007, Volume 86, Number 3: 334-340.

Ryan, Matt. "Steve Mayfield: Globally Impacting Both Medicine and the Environment through Green Algae." The Scripps Research Institute. The Scripps Research Institute, 7 Jun. 2010. Web. 27 Jul. 2010. <>

Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Chloride and Sulfate. Washington DC: The National Academies Press, 2005. 37-49.

Wald, M. "T.W.A. Crash Investigators Ridicule a Missile Theory and Pin Hopes on Research." New York Times. 14 Mar. 1997, March 14, 1997: B1.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Listener Feedback Episode VIII: No New Hope." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 7 Jul 2009. Web. 28 Aug 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 48 comments

I'm confused by this comment after your last podcast: "it's time to give a voice to our listeners... some are insane raving lunatics straining at the straps of their straitjackets and flapping around on the floor like landed fish."

So, what happened with "Is an ad hominem attack really the best way to express disagreement?" Brian???

Have you changed your mind now, and agree with those that call Palin, Bush, etc. dumb as hell? :)

Adam Freeman, Springfield
July 20, 2010 3:31am


I would like to see the relationship between obesity and convenience food in the west.

Time and time again I notice very cheap vegetables and ingredients being bypassed at a supermarket for the apparent "deals of the century" in the frozen section.

All this talk of "mince" and "patties" and fast food immediately had me wondering; "Do you guys actually cook? If so, why do you mention these take away and convenience foods so often?".

My daughter "refrigerator archaeologist" actually wakes up to nip into cauliflower, carrots, cabbage breads and tomatoes.

Both my kids would think you would be mad eating junk when you can make the same dishes tastier and healthier with real ingredients.

Food and sex are the major drives apparently. I take it you don't justify a lousy sex life, why food?

Hi sodium-low cal, high transfat, HFCS are your worries because you are looking at a population that couldn't give a damn about.

Mums of the world, whip your man in the kitchen as well.

Throw out the lousy food and wake up to a new taste sensation.

PS why I drifted from humanitarian food raising to blither about how bad certain foods are I'll never know but just consider that the way to a persons nether regions is through their stomachs. Save the money on your next date and cook a fine meal. My daughter was cooking roasts unassisted at 10-11, there is no reason you cant (she is not the chef either!)

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
October 14, 2010 7:38pm

Freezing food isn't a bad way of storing it - often better than simple refrigeration and certainly better than irradiation

I buy quite a lot of frozen berries and currants etc for desserts - as for vegetables I prefer fresh for taste and texture but frozen vegetables are quite a good standby

My Scallops are caught near New Zealand and processed on Japanese ships, where they are frozen. Fresh are better, but when you only need a dozen for a risotto... or a pasta dish, they'll do. The mussels are easily obtainable fresh

Phi, Sydney
April 10, 2011 3:58am

"Freezing food isn't a bad way of storing it" except over in the other threads where you clearly state you want your food fresh and not cold stored.

Tom H, Kent UK
April 10, 2011 8:32am

Ridiculous Tom and another form of straw man attack

There are a number of items that are grown here only with great difficulty or sold in ridiculously useless small quantities. In Sydney almost the entire berry and currant group comes into this category - So I have to use frozen items - mostly from New Zealand

Cold storage and freezing are not the same. Cold storage can refer to the practice of refrigeration without freezing. Most vegetables and fruits are little affected by it - but tomatoes for some reason are very badly affected. They lose almost all their flavour. Never put a tomato in a fridge and buy unrefrigerated items

Present apple storage methods seem to result in the retailing of a very inferior product. When I can I go directly to orchards and buy unwaxed and unrefrigerated fruit. But sadly with the closure of most orchards near Sydney this is becoming more difficult here

I travelled 140 km return journey to get my potatoes last week from the farm. The farmer is not organic but uses very little artificial fertiliser or pesticides. I'm sure around Tunbridge Wells (did you say they still vote Tory there by the way?) you need shorter journeys.

As to freezing - if I could grow enough produce I'd use it more myself. I don't understand your problem with it. It beats irradiation or gassing and acts as an excellent form of sterilisation for many organisms. As to refrigeration we need it here to get down to 18 degrees much of the time! It's 22c today.

phi, Sydney
April 28, 2011 2:41pm

It sounds like a kid at the end just after Brian's Outro, I can't make out what they say. I know it is about the e-mail and Brian laughs but what do they say exactly?

Harry Phillips, Brisbane, Australia
May 2, 2011 4:28am

Phi, why is it ridiculous? You complain about foods being frozen in another thread, then advocate here. Which is it? Does it degrade the quality of foods or not?

Tom H, Kent
June 10, 2011 1:02pm

whats wrong with food preservation?

Ton the previous correspondent is out of school on preservation techniques and spending $15 on petrol to get possibly 10 kg of spuds that he will never effectively preserve is environmentally reckless.

Its good to see some folk boast of luxuries called potatoes they wish to drive so far for when they can be simply ordered over the net or by phone here in Sin City.

We have a show called "Pie in the Sky" here about a cop/chef who has no trouble sourcing what's available. It would be a good example for our commenter to watch.

He should have picked up some cider apples on the trip. There are plenty of them from april -july. Possibly a food or beverage preparation book on the way.

A boot full of different things to be used now is far more sensible than trying to keep a boot full of one produce you dont know how to preserve for longer than a few weeks.

Henk v, Sin City NSW, Oz
September 8, 2011 8:47pm

1 1/2 years later and someome such as Phi could have grown that monthly 10 kg of spuds in his own garde all year round from cut top and lawn clippings..

Jeezers, cronulla is perfect for it...

thats recycling..

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 28, 2013 9:33pm

I truly enjoy your podcasts. They are always thought-provoking. I had a comment about your response to Devon here.

I think you're correct in everything you said to him, it just occurs to me that it might be useful sometimes to discuss some of the real problems that feed the myths that

"conventional medicine is basically controlled by drug companies. It's much easier and more profitable for a physician to write a prescription for a pill than to spend some time looking for a natural cure"

The work done by drug companies is crucial, but there is evidence, especially but not exclusively in psychiatry, that some reps have been actively engaged in pushing off-label uses for drugs, and aggressively marketing them - even through giving samples - to doctors. This is an equally pernicious form of pseudoscience for profit as "natural cures". Also, given the current medical system and insurance structure, biomedical doctors, especially GPs, have less and less time to spend with patients. This means less time to focus on prevention, and an increased (though still rare) likelihood of unnecessary prescription drug use.

These problems are real, and contribute to the beliefs espoused by Devon. It just seems to me that entertaining some of them and considering them on their merits might help people like him take a more rational viewpoint that incorporates the benefits and flaws of the biomedical system as it exists.

Bridget, Colorado
May 6, 2014 9:25am

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