Student Questions: Magic Wristbands, Laser Danger, and ManBearPig
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Attack of the Hybrid Man-Beasts
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.
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