Sweet Poison, Breastfeeding, Banned Foods, and Zombies
by Eric Hall
November 23, 2013
Skeptic Action.While I've spent way too much time this week responding to blog comments here on Skeptoid, I watched so many pieces of bad science flow through my social media feeds this week that it makes me weep knowing how poorly people understand the process of science. I don't even have time to read my whole feed every day, so I wonder how many more I missed. So let me just summarize the few zombie junk science that I saw repeated this week - including the woo links so they can be appropriately flagged for
Fellow Blogger Josh DeWald covers this subject pretty thoroughly (for example here) on a regular basis. The evidence against aspartame is all anecdote, and doesn't stand up to scientific scrutiny. The usual culprit is the formaldehyde which is formed when aspartame is metabolized. However, nearly any food with sugar in it (even fresh fruit) will form some formaldehyde, even more than a few cans of diet soda. Our body can handle it just fine. With the exception of a very tiny subset of people who have a genetic variant where they lack the enzyme to break down one of the amino acids in aspartame, it is very safe at the levels normally consumed.
A blog post showed up multiple times on my timeline (Warning: woo link) which claimed a story about someone being cured of all of their health problems when she stopped drinking diet pop (yes pop for us in Minnesota). Dated September 2013, but it had the feeling of being much older...because it was a slightly modified version of the same story going around e-mail for 15 years. The urban legend section at about.com has the original post. If you are into matching games - go ahead and pull up both links and see how many direct copied quotes you find. I stopped after 10, and I wasn't close to the end at all.
Don't worry though. The "author" Rhonda Gessner will sell you a $4000+ water purifier to replace those diet sodas.
This was a story of the usual list of all the "benefits" of breastfeeding. The list included many health claims, and I will highlight a few and why they are bad science (or at least incomplete science).
Note (update): I want to make it clear I am not discouraging breastfeeding. There are some small benefits to it that science has shown when the studies are taken in aggregate. I just don't want the science to be misreported or reported incorrectly. Here, it is OK for medicine to apply the "precautionary principle." There is little chance of harm (unless the mother is taking drugs or alcohol or has certain diseases) and there is possible benefit. My wife in her role as a labor and delivery nurse did encourage mothers to breastfeed. She also understood it was difficult for some mothers for many different reasons, including some pretty intense pain for some mothers (hence why in the past there were wet nurses). Go ahead and breastfeed, and understand there are many reasons why some mothers don't - and they are not harming their child for not doing so.
10 American Foods Banned in Other Countries
Even when I try not to, I end up writing about Mercola. His same bad misinformation must get copied to hundreds of sites and reported like they are news. Here, the website Eat Local Grown reprinted a Mercola article full of bad science. I will highlight just a couple.
I try to do my best to explain why these pieces are bad science to my family and friends. They are probably all sick of me commenting on every post like this, but I can't help myself. I cannot let pseudoscience spread without trying to do something to stop it. I know I can't completely stop it, but if I slow it down a little I hope to keep ahead of it.
Please help by joining Skeptic Action and rating these sites. It is free, voluntary, and something to do when you have a spare minute. No minimum participation required! Also make sure to keep a list of good links handy to debunk this stuff when people post it.
Back to trying to ignore my social media feeds...
by Eric Hall
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