Student Questions: Magic Wristbands, Laser Danger, and ManBearPig

Skeptoid answers another round of questions sent in by students all around the world.

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Skeptoid #369
July 02, 2013
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Once again we're taking a week to answer questions sent in by students all around the world. Any question is welcome from any student. Today we're going to explore the question of whether Stanley Kubrick made The Shining as a confession that he was behind the alleged moon landing hoax; whether acupressure wristbands are a way to cure nausea or just a placebo; whether you should use hydrogen peroxide as a bactericide on minor wounds; the song Gloomy Sunday and if it has indeed been connected with an increased number of suicides; the true nature of whatever danger can be expected from common laser pointers; and whether we need to worry about hoards of human-animal hybrids swarming down from the mountains. Let's get started at a creepy old lodge hidden away up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado:

Stanley Kubrick Faked the Moon Landings

Hello, Brian. I am a sophomore going to Mira Costa college in Oceanside, California. I recently heard about a conspiracy theory which states that Stanley Kubrick's film, The Shining, is actually a big allusion to the fact that he helped NASA cover up the moon landings. This particular conspiracy was recently featured in the documentary, Room 237, and I was wondering if there is any truth in this. Thank you for your help.

Room 237 was a 2012 documentary film that features five people, each of whom has a different obsessive interpretation of Kubrick's 1980 movie The Shining. One believes it was was really about the Holocaust; another believes it was about the plight of native Americans. One of the five was conspiracy theorist Jay Weidner, who believes that Kubrick made the movie to confess that he had faked the moon landing films. There are hardly any bizarre conspiracy theories Weidner has not promoted, including the 2012 apocalypse, the claim that Denver International Airport is a headquarters for the Illuminati, and that the Georgia Guidestones monument is actually some sort of Rosicrucian shrine.

Weidner's evidence that The Shining was Kubrick's moon hoax confession leaves one wanting, to put it mildly. The kid in the film wears a sweater with an Apollo rocket on it... and that's about all. The other points he raises are wrong; that 237 was chosen because the moon is 237,000 miles away (it's not), and that a pattern in the hotel's carpet looks like the Apollo launchpad (it doesn't remotely). The Shining was based on Stephen King's 1977 novel; Kubrick didn't even write it himself. Room 237 is not about The Shining, it's about five bizarre theories and the people who come up with them. Don't miss the point and assume that the theories were being seriously presented.

Acupressure Wristbands

Hi Brian, my name is Rachel Bloom. The other day, I was watching ABC's Shark Tank and a woman came on touting her own brand of anti-nausea acupressure wristbands. She said they were "FDA Approved." I have a lot of friends who use these wristbands, and, after doing a little bit of internet research, it looks like there have actually been studies where the acupressure wristbands were more effective than placebos in combating motion sickness and/or nausea. So, my question is: what's the deal with these wristbands? Thanks.

You bring up two points. First, FDA approval. This does not necessarily mean that the FDA has tested the device and found that it works. In this case, the applicants merely have to show that similar devices (which may or may not have been tested) are already for sale. This is all that's needed for the FDA to grant clearance for a company to market something. In the case of Sea Band, one of the more popular wristbands, such clearance based on the existence of similar products is all they ever received from the FDA. Obviously, Sea Band trumpets the fact as if it constitutes an endorsement, which it's not.

Second, whether they work. You are correct that tests have shown them to be effective, however all such tests that I was able to find were uncontrolled and unblinded. Randomized controlled trials of the wristbands, however, have had very different results. The Institute of Naval Medicine did such a test in 1990 and found that Sea Bands performed no better than placebo, and both were outperformed by scopolamine. Even in post-surgical nausea, controlled tests have found no improvement through the use of wristbands.

An interesting warning sign to be aware of is that research that tends to find a positive result usually has not only poor experimental design, but almost always mentions the "P6 acupressure point" on the wrist. This is a sure sign that the article is written from a pro-acupressure perspective. "P6 acupressure point" is not a medical or scientific term and is only used in the acupressure community.

Although the placebo effect can be very compelling and creates passionate believers, the wrist simply has no connection to your body's sense of nausea, and no plausible hypothesis has ever been suggested to explain how it might.

Hydrogen Peroxide as a Disinfectant

Hi Brian, this is Jon from the University of Kentucky. My family has always used hydrogen peroxide to clean out cuts and wounds, but I've heard that it may not be particularly effective -- or effective at all, despite the nice bubbling effect that accompanies its application. Can you weigh in on this?

The use of hydrogen peroxide for cleaning and disinfecting minor wounds is a lot like taking Vitamin C for a cold: it's something a lot of us do, because we've always done it and our parents did it, without ever really checking into its effectiveness.

When you put hydrogen peroxide onto a wound, it reacts chemically with an enzyme called catalase that is present in your cells and is released when you have damaged cells. This reaction breaks down the hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) into water (H2O) and oxygen gas (O2). This oxygen gas fizzes up through the liquid, producing the bubbling action we're all familiar with. However, these oxygen bubbles are harmless to bacteria, and there's no evidence that hydrogen peroxide reduces the chance of infection more than clean water or plain soap.

However, there is evidence that hydrogen peroxide can damage even more of your cells, potentially slowing the healing process. However any such effect is very small for practical purposes, and using hydrogen peroxide is not likely to either help or hinder the cleaning of a small wound. Save your money and stick with soap and water; but if you've got some hydrogen peroxide in the cabinet, it's probably not going to hurt you.

Gloomy Sunday Suicides

Hi Brian, my name is John and I'm from Stockholm. I was wondering if you could tell us something about the song Gloomy Sunday, and all the suicides it's supposedly responsible for.

Gloomy Sunday is an old Hungarian song from 1933, and various urban legends claim that it's been banned for causing suicides. This notoriety made it popular in the United States, where it became a jazz standard and was recorded by such artists as Billie Holiday. But while there's never been any evidence that the song actually caused suicides in Hungary, it has had enough of a pop-culture association with suicide that people who chose to end their own lives did sometimes includes its lyrics in their suicide notes or have the song playing in their room when they killed themselves. In Hungary, the song is something like the Golden Gate Bridge for American suicides, or Aokigahara Forest for the Japanese. Hungary has had one of the world's highest suicide rates for many decades, and Gloomy Sunday had the misfortune of becoming their principal suicide icon.

Many versions of the song, both in English and in Hungarian, both old and new, both instrumental and vocal, are available on both the American and Hungarian versions of iTunes, which is merely the first and only place I bothered to check — so whatever "ban" is said to be in place doesn't appear to be very effective.

Laser Pointer Danger

Hello Brian. I'm sure many people have seen those warning labels on laser pointers advising them not to point the laser directly into peoples' eyes as this can cause supposed vision damage. I was just wondering: can a small laser pointer actually cause substantial damage to one's vision, and if so, to what extent? Thank you.

Any laser pointer with such a warning label is both legal and safe. These lasers, which are red, are set to a power that's 1/10th of that needed to cause permanent eye damage. With that said, such laser pointers do cause flash blindness and afterimages that can, at worst, last for several days. Obviously you should never shine any laser into anyone's eyes or face.

Green lasers are another matter. The eye is far more sensitive to yellow-green light than to red, and a green laser, even of the same power as the red, is 30 times brighter and is easily capable of causing permanent eye damage. You should never use any green laser as a common laser pointer or shine it at anyone for any reason.

You should only buy, use, or possess a laser pointer that has a warning label and is in Class 2 or Class 3R. It should be a red color, with a wavelength of 630-680 nm, and should be between 1 and 5 mW. Even if it meets those specs, if it lacks a warning label it was probably illegally imported and may not have been manufactured according to federal specifications. And never, ever, use any laser that's any color other than red for anything other than intended professional purposes.

Update: Some readers have reported counterfeit laser pointers selling for very cheap, even bearing counterfeit warning labels, but still packing up to four times the power of a legitimate laser. So the best advice is to treat every laser as if it is dangerous.

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

Attack of the Hybrid Man-Beasts

Hello, my name is Bryan Klansek and I am a senior Micro/Molecular/and Cellular Biology major at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. Recently, some research I was doing revealed hundreds of websites asserting that godless scientists have begun, or very soon will have begun, creating half-man/half-animal creatures fit the Island of Doctor Moreau. My question is "Does the current state of science necessitate a debate on the ethical implications of man-animal hybrids, and at what point in my undergraduate or graduate career can I hope to start getting the more exciting laboratory jobs, like feeding and watering the ManBearPig?"

Yes, those ethical debates are already ongoing, and depending on your feelings about the use of human cells for research, you might well feel that the time is overdue. There's a lot we can already do with human-animal hybrids. But first it's important to understand what that doesn't mean.

Regarding the creation of new species, where a single genetic code defines a living creature with characteristics of two or more deviant species, we're nowhere near that, and it's not even on the horizon. The creation of a ManBearPig, or a TurtleBird, or a mix of the gametes of any two animals into a single zygote with a combined genetic makeup is called a hybrid. So far this is only possible by breeding compatible species, like lions and tigers to make a liger, or cattle and buffalo to make a beefalo.

But there are combinations that we already create, and that are the subject of ethics debate. These are chimera, which is a single organism made up of two or more distinct cell populations. A human who has received a pig's heart valve is a chimera. Some people born with an internal twin are chimeras. But the two genetic codes remain distinct, and always will; there's no mechanism by which those genetic codes might merge. The heart valve recipient will not grow a snout and hooves. Chimeras are usually created for research purposes by implanting the nucleus of one embryo into the enucleated egg of a different species. One popular purpose is to learn more about how diseases like AIDS or avian flu are able to cross from one species to another.

So students, if you're able to escape the ManBearPig, keep those questions coming in. Just come to Skeptoid.com and click on Student Questions.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianDunning.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Cunningham, P. "Ligers, Tigons, and Splice: Human-Animal Hybrids." Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Trinity International University, 20 May 2011. Web. 25 Jun. 2013. <http://cbhd.org/content/ligers-tigons-and-splice-human-animal-hybrids>

Johnson, D. "Can a pocket laser damage the eye?" Scientific American. 28 Dec. 1998, Volume 279, Number 6.

Jones, L. "Bands of Hope." New Zealand Skeptics. New Zealand Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, 1 Jul. 1992. Web. 26 Jun. 2013. <http://www.skeptics.org.nz/SK:VIEWARTICLE::waDeptTOC.1,A761>

Mikkelson, B. "Gloomy Sunday Suicides." Urban Legend Reference Pages. Snopes.com, 23 May 2007. Web. 27 Jun. 2013. <http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/gloomy.asp>

O'Connor, A. "The Claim: Hydrogen Peroxide Is a Good Treatment for Small Wounds." New York Times. 19 Jun. 2007, Newspaper.

Weidner, J. "Kubrick's Odyssey." Sacred Mysteries. Jay Weidner, 22 Mar. 2012. Web. 27 Jun. 2013. <http://store.sacredmysteriesmarketplace.com/kubrick-s-odyssey-part-1-dvd.html>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Student Questions: Magic Wristbands, Laser Danger, and ManBearPig." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 2 Jul 2013. Web. 23 Apr 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4369>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 32 comments

I think that dead thing with the beaky face is the Fiji Mermaid.

Swampwitch, Gainesville Fl
July 08, 2013 5:57am

I get seasick, carsick, and airsick. I've tried the wrist bands, and they do absolutely nothing for me. I've tried two different kinds on several occasions: One kind, mentioned on your show, has a little knob that presses on the inside of the wrist, and another kind, not mentioned, has a battery and delivers a light tingling electrical current. Neither kind does any good for me.

FWIW, I've also tried ginger and ginseng, both of which have been recommended by different people. Neither helped in the slightest.

Keeping my eyes on a fixed point or on the horizon helps, but does not prevent the nausea entirely. On a boat, remaining above decks and amidships also helps, but does not prevent the sickness.

Scopolamine is the best thing I've found. I like the oral tablet, sold in Australia without a prescription as Kwells, more than the prescription patch Transderm Scop, since the oral version gives me more control over the dosage.

Meclazine, sold OTC as Bonine, among other brands, is also helpful, though less so than Scopolamine.

But the wrist bands: USELESS!

Daniel, Spokane, WA
July 08, 2013 3:54pm

Two facts:
1: H2O2 is an effective oxidizer.
2: Oxidizers disinfect.

Unless one of those facts are wrong, I find in difficult to adjust to what this episode says about H202!

I have read the source material which bases its conclusion on two studies. Which is very interesting, but I still think they defy logic which implies trail errors. Also the studies look at H202 in practical use rather than if it is effective at all. This is what this episode sort of wrongfully advocates! In any case, it is not the same, as the first kind of research includes a multiple of other uncontrollable factors. If defying logic, a studies first step must always be to test this defiance, isolated and above all in ceteris paribus.

Do we have a chemical expert here to either confirm or disconfirm the two facts above?

And does anyone know of research that may support the disincentive benefits of H202 or better yet research that test the two “facts” isolated?

Jon Therkildsen, Warszawa
July 12, 2013 4:09am

Interesting about the wristbands. While I've never tried the accupressure ones, I have one of the electrical stimulating models, and it seems to work wonders for me. I first tried it during flight training in a Cessna 172. We were doing stall avoidance which includes a great deal of up and down pitching. Motion sickness drugs are not permitted (at least Dramamine) so I tried the wristband. We had done a few stalls, and I was feeling a bit queasy, so I turned it on. Queasiness went away in just a moment or two and we continued without issue. Very interesting that it could simply be (and apparently the research points to this) a placebo effect.

Gabe Wells, Northern VA
July 12, 2013 7:08am

Thanx for another hani hanjour testimonial...

When you promote anectdote as evidence even ducks can fly..

Skeptoid has at least 5 years of evidence that anectdote is BS.

Moral Dolphin, Greenacres by the sea Oz
July 13, 2013 7:06am

The point about the legal lasers being completely safe is false. Class 3R (legal, up to 5mw) lasers can and will cause eye damage with prolonged exposure. Flashing yourself in the eye with one won't do anything, but holding it there can cause damage.

Strictly speaking, 5mw green lasers are also safe AS LONG AS THEY HAVE SUFFICIENT IR SHIELDING AND ARE NOT OVERSPEC. While they are indeed brighter, a shielded 532nm pointer that's actually operating at 5mw will NOT cause permanent eye damage from flashing yourself in the eye (the brighter light MAY result in slightly more temporary vision disruption, but it doesn't really pose much of a greater risk for safety).

However, many green lasers are overspec (emit more than the rated wattage), and poorly shielded (they leak IR). The typical "5mw" 532nm from China will probably emit up to 30mw, some of which is almost certainly IR. For example, I tested two DX green AAA powered pointers rated at 5mw with a fairly accurate tester and discovered that both emitted roughly 22mw - over four times what they were supposed to be emitting!

Once you pass 5mw eye danger starts to appear, but the real fun starts at Class 4, where even the scattering from shining on a white surface is dangerous. I own several Class 3R and 3B lasers, but they're nothing compared to my 445nm 1.2W Class 4 (and even that's nothing compared to some other hobbyists, as 445nm diodes tops out at around 2W/diode, and you can go well past 100W with CO2 lasers).

JTR, USA
July 14, 2013 7:52pm

I always thought the point of H2O2 wasn't so mauch as a disinfectant but a decontaminant. It oxidises any organic material in the wound that isn't still living so the wound doesn't heal over foreign organic compounds or necrotic flesh.

peter.lindsay, Newcastle
July 15, 2013 9:08pm

Sadly, the difference there Peter is purely semantics.

Flushing a wound with peroxide may be applicable to a very few applications and would always come with some sort of quality based on experience and RISK.

Ask an emergency specialist if this still holds after 40 years of disaster management. As far as I knew, Cetrimide has held sway that long ago.

Of course I am happy to be corrected by an alien or chemtrail flier

Minced DuHedgehog, sin city, Oz
July 18, 2013 1:15am

Anyone know about these "BlissLights" laser projectors? They come in red, green, or blue and project a star field effect over a 25 x 25 foot area. Manufacturer claims they're safe, class 2 or 3, but I'm wondering about the green and blue lasers. I'm also concerned that they'll turn a respectable house into a garish discotheque, but that's another matter.

Ardent Crayon, Rocky Mountains
July 21, 2013 3:36pm

Garish Discotheque? That has got to be better than a household of Heretics, Chemtrail spotters, supernaturalists, randi prize claimants, quacks and dowsers!

Unless you are keeping the power bills down...Ardent, go the X-Ray specs..at least they are comic credible for 50 years..

Comic credible beats all of the above in any credibility stakes..

Midrash Delinquent, Gerringong NSW Oz
July 26, 2013 7:19am

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