Student Questions: The Montauk Monster and Bee Sting Therapy

Skeptoid answers some more questions sent in by students, on a variety of short topics.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #178
November 3, 2009
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

This week we answer some questions sent in by students. Today we're going to cover the Montauk Monster, the efficacy of skin moisturizer, bee sting therapy, aluminum antiperspirants as a cause for breast cancer, inexpensive gasoline, and the lifespans of homosexuals. If you're a student, please feel free to come to Skeptoid.com and submit your question for a future episode. Let's get started with a creepy monster story:

Hello Brian, this is Liam Heiland, and I'll be attending Hartwick College next year. I was wondering what your opinion on the Montauk Monster is.

The Montauk Monster was the name given to a strange dead animal that washed up in Montauk, New York in 2008. For some time, there was all kinds of speculation in the media as to what it might be. It was hairless, discolored, bloated, and partially decomposed, making identification impossible for the layperson. Some conspiracy theorists even claimed it was an escaped genetic abomination from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, a Department of Agriculture facility located offshore for the safe study of hoof and mouth disease.

In fact the Montauk Monster was simply a dead raccoon. Dead animals in water lose their fur rather quickly, leaving a hairless body. For some reason the Montauk Monster's nose was missing, either due to predation or decomposition or both, exposing the front part of its skull. It was also missing its top canines and top front teeth. In photos, you can see the holes in the upper jaw where these teeth were. If you do a Google image search for "Montauk raccoon" you'll find a comparison of an actual raccoon skull with a closeup photo of the Montauk Monster's head, including the exposed bone and tooth sockets, and the match is clear. But it sure was fun wondering whether it was some weird monster from Plum Island...

Hello Brian, I find myself perpetually confused by the pseudo-scientific claims of the beauty industry. I am 33 years old. Have I caused myself irreversible skin damage by never using moisturizer on my face?

You're certainly right to be skeptical of beauty industry claims. Reading any ad for a cosmetic product makes me gag: The all-natural fallacy abounds, as well as endless made-up statements about recharging, nourishment, regulatory molecules, rebalancing, and of course detoxification. I like to keep in mind that until relatively recently in human history, nobody ever used moisturizer; and even today, the majority of the world's population (including nearly all men) have never used a moisturizer. So all around you is good evidence that any benefit moisturizer may have for healthy people is not that big of a deal.

Moisturizer is, however, an effective treatment for a number of skin conditions. Retinol-containing lotions have been shown to improve the appearance of sun damaged skin. Another study found that moisturizer can reduce the symptoms of rosacea. Patients with atopic dermatitis also get some relief with moisturizer. But as far as long-term benefits for people who have healthy skin, I could find no studies either supporting or refuting this.

Sunscreen is, of course, another matter. Apply sunscreen whenever you go outside, and you'll end up far ahead. You'll have less sun damage and be far less likely to get skin cancer.

Hey Brian.  My name is Drew, I'm a student at the University of Southern California, and I was wondering what your opinions were on Honeybee Sting Therapy.

Yeeeaahhh... I actually hadn't even heard of this until I got this question. Apparently some people are marketing bee stings as an alternative therapy to treat a staggering array of conditions, including orthopedic injuries, cancers, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, eczema, chronic fatigue... I found one page where a guy gives you live bees to sting you and lists 35 different diseases he claims it will cure. Of course, for people who are allergic to bee stings, this "treatment" can easily be fatal; and for the rest, it amounts to little more than what we in the brotherhood call a "wallet extraction".

I found no research whatsoever supporting any kind of therapeutic use for honeybee venom, except in allergy shots for people who are at risk of dying from bee stings. This is called hymenoptera venom immunotherapy. Calibrated doses are carefully given (much less than you'd get from an actual sting), and this can confer a tolerance to the allergen. But even this is not guaranteed.

As far as the use of bee venom as an alternative therapy, this has all the signs of being just another excuse for quacks with no medical training to charge money for some useless trick that can be disguised as a medical therapy. But this is one case where I can absolutely guarantee you that if you give your money to one of these people, you will get stung.

Hi Brian, excellent show- this is Jim Van Dusen from Red River College in Winnipeg - I've heard and read that anti-perspirant has aluminum chloride in it that plugs pours and is a contributing factor in breast cancer! Please aim your skeptical eye (or nose) on this - thanks!

Aluminum is the active ingredient in antiperspirants, and it works by temporarily clogging sweat ducts. Some scientists have suggested that the aluminum can be absorbed by the skin where it can mimic the activity of estrogen in the cells. And since estrogen promotes the growth of breast cancer cells, a few scientists have connected the dots and suggested that antiperspirants can contribute to breast cancer.

This is one of those complicated medical questions that's hard to research because there is no clear consensus when you look at the studies that have been done. One survey of breast cancer survivors found that those who had used antiperspirants and shaved their armpits more frequently tended to have been diagnosed at a younger age. However nobody has been able to show that aluminum and related compounds are able to cause the genetic damage that leads to breast cancer. So far we have some correlations, and other studies finding no correlation, and no definitive causations. If there is a breast cancer danger from aluminum, the effect has been so small that we've not been able to clearly see it. So although the danger might be there, the evidence so far shows that it's probably not going to have an appreciable effect on whether or not you get breast cancer.

Either way, never take medical advice from any bonehead podcaster, any more than you should take it from any of a thousand web sites trumpeting the Big Pharma conspiracy to spread breast cancer through carcinogenic antiperspirants. Ask a medical doctor.

Hello Brian, I am Alessandro, and I would like to know if Arco gas is bad for your car.

ARCO is a discounted gasoline brand. Doesn't all gas come from the same commodities market? Is there ever a reason to buy expensive gas when the station next door offers the same octane level at a cheaper price? To get a truly authoritative answer, I consulted with Dennis Simanaitis, the longtime engineering editor for Road & Track. Dennis has forgotten more than most automotive engineers will ever know, and he always brings a rational, skeptical perspective to questions like this one.

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

According to Dennis, the more expensive name brands are more expensive for a reason: They're the ones doing all the R&D in the industry to improve the product and develop better additive packages. This means cleaner fuel injectors, longer lasting fuel lines, and hopefully more efficient combustion. Truthfully, it's unlikely that most people would notice any real-world difference between name brand and discount gasolines. Any benefit is likely to be cumulative over a long period. Whether you're getting 10 cents a gallon's worth of improvement is certainly debatable (and dubious), but it should be noted that the price difference is justified, at least to some degree, by more more work having gone into the product.

Hello, this is Trinity Sean Melvin from Northwest Florida State College, and I'd like to ask: what do you think about the claim that homosexuals have significantly reduced lifespans as compared to heterosexuals.

This is one of those rumors that's happily proclaimed by political groups, in this case the anti-gay lobby. But that doesn't make it false. In 2008, Danish researchers published a study in which they compared the mortality rates of over 8,000 people who married a same-sex partner. Interestingly, there was indeed a significant increase in mortality. The largest increase came from men who married before 1995, the period when AIDS was primarily in the gay male population and before effective AIDS therapies were available. For women during that period, and for men and women ever since, mortality among Danes with a same-sex partner is still 34% higher than for the general population, but only within the period of 1 to 3 years after marriage. The authors attributed this to people getting married to enjoy their final months together after a terminal AIDS diagnosis.

Another study from the Canadian Journal of Public Health confirmed that gay men are living longer now than they were prior to 1995. Because gays are one community in which AIDS incidence is higher than in the general population, gays overall do indeed have a shorter average life expectancy, though this has diminished as antiretroviral therapies have improved. But if you discount AIDS, then the difference in life expectancy disappears. Homosexuals without AIDS have the same life expectancy as heterosexuals. Thus, making the generalization "Homosexuals have reduced lifespans"is a bit like saying "Civil war veterans had poor manual dexterity" without happening to mention that the reason was that more of them were amputees.

Brian Dunning

© 2009 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Darbre P.D,. "Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer." Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. 1 Jan. 2005, Volume 99(9): 1912-1919.

Frisch, M, Brønnum-Hansen, H. "Mortality among men and women in same-sex marriage: a national cohort study of 8333 Danes." American Journal of Public Health. 1 Jan. 2009, Volume 99, number 1: 133-137.

McGrath K.G. "An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving." European Journal of Cancer. 1 Jan. 2003, Volume 12(6): 479-485.

MS Society. "No beneficial effect of bee venom in study using animal model for MS." MS Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. MS Society, 2 Jun. 1998. Web. 23 Dec. 2009. <http://www.mssociety.ca/en/research/CAT980602.htm>

Tucker-Samaras, S., Zedayko, T., Cole, C., Miller, D., Wallo, W., Leyden, J.J. "A stabilized 0.1% retinol facial moisturizer improves the appearance of photodamaged skin in an eight-week, double-blind, vehicle-controlled study." Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 1 Oct. 2009, volume 8 Number 10: 932-936.

Wallo, W., Nebus, J., Leyden, J.J. "Efficacy of a soy moisturizer in photoaging: a double-blind, vehicle-controlled, 12-week study." Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 6 Sep. 2007, Volume 6 Number 9: 917-922.

Wood, E., Low-Beer, S., Bartholomew, K., Landolt, M., Oram, D., O'Shaughnessy, M.V., Hogg, R.S. "Modern antiretroviral therapy improves life expectancy of gay and bisexual males in Vancouver's West End." Canadian Journal of Public Health. 1 Mar. 2000, Volume 91, number 2: 125-128.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Student Questions: The Montauk Monster and Bee Sting Therapy." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 3 Nov 2009. Web. 21 Nov 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4178>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 39 comments

Pub med is essentially a search engine. Scientific data and view is readily obtained using pubmed searches.

The above poster has no experience in chemical spectroscopy.

Scientists may indeed cite references that they have not understood and even worse, never read.

In the latter case, presenting a view of something you have not bothered to read (in your own publications) renders the article a view article with bias.

I am finally glad that the above poster realises what has been going on with reviewers he has read. I would expect the "expert tag" to be removed from such reviewers in future.

Mud, Sin City, Oz
November 4, 2011 10:00pm

The above poster correctly states that I have no experience with spectroscopy, but does not explain how this is relevant to whether sunscreen/sunblock ingredients produce radicals when exposed to sunlight.

The above poster also seems to assume that my sources have failed to analyze their references, which is incorrect. It is not enough to simply look at a source you disagree with and see that it has a vaguely similar view to assign that source as one of mine.

Jonathan S., Toronto
November 5, 2011 8:52am

The above poster has no understanding of chemical spetroscopy at all.

The above poster relies on view point for his views. Not at any stage has the above poster provided his own analysis.

The above poster may at this point understand the word "woo" as applied to an inability to analyse journbal literature.

He is good at parroting view, copying vie and unashamedly cuttiung and pasting.

When the above poster gets to college his lecturers and tutors will mark him down just as this commenter would if he saw his previous material.

It is a pity that this commenter does not lecture in Canada.

Muddie, Sutherland BatCave, Oz
November 5, 2011 9:01am

Spectroscopy was useful for determining whether those ingredients do indeed produce radicals when exposed to sunlight. That was already well-established, and studies confirming that those ingredients are degraded by sunlight are easily found in the literature. I do not see what further relevance spectroscopy has to this issue, or what point you are trying to make that is not already moot.

You now resort to overt ad hominem attacks instead of answering the original question. I am very disappointed, especially with the continued and particularly ridiculous accusation of copy and paste.

Jonathan S., Toronto
November 5, 2011 10:30am

The above poster has not understood chemistry.

The above poster is intensely aware that the commenter has pointed out that copying someones view is not presenting science, it's presenting poor philosophy redacted and harmonised to polemic.

The commenter would suggest prior comments of the above poster should be saved for arts and humanities papers. In such dissemination, polemic and rhetoric of orators and barely published rhetoric is important. But only in a historical or view sense.

The commenter would ask that the previous poster re read the commenter's last post. This is not an unusual request in light of the information it contains.

Unless the previous poster has finally bothered to analyse a journal publication that details scientific measurement, the commenter will not continue to comment on the posters misgivings.

Muddie, Sutherland BatCave, Oz
November 5, 2011 10:54am

I will not respond further to you unless you decide to directly address the arguments instead of launching vitriol at the one making them. I will also not respond further to arguments that are clearly designed to confuse and evade the original issue.

If you feel that sunscreen presents no more danger than sunblock because its ingredients are not degraded by UV light, you should simply say so.

Jonathan S., Toronto
November 5, 2011 11:07am

Its 11 days later and my previous post is confirmed many times over by admissions of not being bothered to look up/read/analyse.

The excuses have been numerous
The last two expositions too spectroscopy are too simplistic and the previous poster would have known this if he had only read the journal and a few text books.

I am afraid that various fields of chemistry are taught over a long time when you go to college.

Yes, some compounds will break down to form other compounds during irradiation. The process (photolysis) is extensively in industries.

What is inferred is that there may be a safety issue with some of the family of compounds that are use in sunscreens. From the literature there is a current ban on once used compounds in certain countries.

Amasingly, I stated that this was the case with sunscreen compounds over the past 4 decades in my first post or secnd in the discussion with above.

Apart from the grievous harm a comment such as Philipines/Australia may do for a reader who doesnt know that the prev reads woo sites and claims to be 17, Its mildly insulting to see something clearly copied from a woo site used as a question.

The poster had no understanding of the process and uses woo words signalling his intent.

Experience in marking has taught me one thing. People can be bone lazy when racing submissions in.

The internet is a boon for marking!! You can find where dumb ideas come from.

Mud, Back in Sin City, Oz
November 15, 2011 9:13pm

Hi Brian,
Thanks for another great podcast.

I saw this on the Dr Oz show while channel surfing.

http://www.drozfans.com/dr-ozs-advice/dr-oz-bee-venom-face-mask-bee-venom-night-cream-beetox/

Jon, Mill Valley, Ca
December 5, 2011 12:38am

Apitherapy has been used for centuries and is effective cure,permanent or tempory, for ms
arthritus, cancer, tumors.The venom has been known to science to work since the 50's and recently
been disected of its' total parts 'injected into cancer & cured
it. Never will it be told to the public , there are too many people
spending $ to remiss it.

A.A., Here
December 7, 2012 7:36am

please AA here, can we have some science based evidence for this as you allude or speculate toward that?

I personally am getting a bit underwhelmed by such statements as we do have a very good speculator here already.

PS, your first sentence has all four "certainly woo" conditions. A remarkable achievement and Brian should award that with an "Unusual Woo" praise comment.

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 3, 2013 6:27pm

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