skepticism


Recently on a trip to AZ, some friends and I visited Sedona.  Sedona is a funny place.  Outside of town, it’s a natural wonderland of red rock cliffs, pine filled canyons, and rolling streams.  Driving into town though, it’s quickly obvious that you are entering a land of spiritualism, mysticism, and new age nonsense.  It’s also obvious that there is a LOT of money being spent (I would say wasted) here.  There are miles of shops hawking all types of spiritual crap.  There are signs for psychics, aura photography, vortex tours, crystals, and more.  The list goes on and on.  The visitor center is filled with pamphlets providing endless ways for visitors to spend their money and the map they hand out even includes locations of some type of mystical “vortexes“.

All in all it seems harmless.  After all, why should I care that people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on readings, aura reports, crystals, magnets, or spiritual guidance.  For the most part, I find it humorous.  I’m sure some of the shop owners believe their own nonsense.  I’m also sure that others know full well what they are selling.  Sure, some could be considered crooks, but who cares as long as no one gets hurt, right?

Well, just a few weeks ago, two people died and over 20 were hospitalized after spending 2 hours in a sweat lodge “Spa”.  Apparently, these folks were participating in some type of spiritual cleansing ritual which is not uncommon here.  According to police reports, some people paid up to $9000 for the retreat.  Yep.  That’s right $9000 to be stuffed with 63 other people in a 3 foot high room made of branches and covered with blankets for 2 hours.  Oh and lets not forget the steam produced from pouring water over hot rocks.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  The fact that there is no established medical benefit to do this isn’t even considered relevant by the participants or organizers.  The spiritual teacher, James Arthur Ray, is being investigated and if justice is served, he’ll spend the rest of his life in jail.

So what’s the lesson here? Will anything be learned from this tragedy?  In short, no.  Life goes on in Sedona.  In a few days or weeks, this will no longer be news to anyone besides the families and friends of the sick and dead.  People will question Ray’s motives rather than the practice itself.  Scammers will thrive on the gullible.  People will engage in potentially harmful behavior and continue to line the pockets of the purveyors of woo.  Nothing will change.  It never ever does.

Two dead (so far) is one tragedy.  Another is that lessons that should be learned, won’t be.

On a lighter note, Sedona was beautiful.  I can see why people think that there is something special about this place.  There is.  It’s a beautiful landscape with endless natural wonders to see and explore.  One doesn’t have to look for mystical power sources or spend money on magic jewelery to appreciate the beauty that nature has provided.

Farrah Fawcett died today following a relapse of the anal cancer that she battled for the past three years.   I’m wondering what effect the high profile death will have on cancer awareness and the use of “alternative” therapies, in particular.  I’m not optimistic.

From what I have been able to gather, she was first diagnosed in Sep 2006 and following regimen of standard therapies, was declared cancer-free in Feb 2007.  A few months later doctors discovered a small polyp during a routine exam, and apparently she sought “alternative” treatment in Germany this time around.  I have been unable to determine exactly what the treatment was, although it’s been reported that it consisted of a combination of chemotherapy and natural supplements.

We don’t know what the specific treatment was, but we do know that it was not effective.  We’ll never know whether the “alternative” approach would have saved her life if she tried it first.  (I suspect not since natural supplements have no clinical record of curing cancer.)  Also, we’ll never know if the relapse would have been successfully treated by physicians using the latest FDA-approved, science-based treatments.  We won’t ever know those answers, but I do know that there will be loads of people claiming to.

(more…)

If you’re concerned about the dwindling populations of animals such as bears, rhinos, tigers, turtles, and sharks, consider the effects of using ‘Natural’ and ‘Alternative’ Medicines before you go spend your money on them.  Hundreds of species of plants are on the verge of extinction as well due to pre-scientific ideas about physiology, disease, and healing.

In many cases, the purported uses of the herbs and animal components have not been clinically verified.  In most cases, they have been shown ineffective or there is no plausibility of effectiveness.  When there has been a clinical effect, the active ingredient is typically isolated and synthesized.  Despite these facts, the consumption of natural resources for no reason continues, and does so at an alarming rate.

Got a few minutes?  Listen to Dr. Mark Crislip’s scathing review of the effects of TCM and other (S)CAM modalities on the environment: http://www.quackcast.com/spodcasts/files/archive-12-april-2009.html

I just linked to something from PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog that made me laugh almost as much as it made me nauseous.  Apparently creationist Eric Hovind (who I assume is related to “Dr Dino” Kent Hovind) has a website with one minute videos promoting creation science.  Of course, in this case ‘science’ really means ‘Christian fundamentalist dogma’.  But be that as it may, these videos are a flashy new approach to spouting the same old superstitious bible literalism nonsense that predates real science by thousands of years.  The production is smooth but the message is the same.

I don’t want to spoil the laughs (Hovind’s comedic timing could use a little work) but here are a few gems in case you don’t visit:

Creation Minute is an exciting series hosted by Eric Hovind that explores the creation worldview using cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology. Each episode challenges the evolution theory and gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

OK.  First sentence makes sense.   He does use new technology to promote fundamentalist non-scientific nonsense.  (That’s what it says, right?)  The second sentence is a real laugher though.

..gives evidence of the Bible’s historical and scientific accuracy.

You can’t deny that that’s a frggin hoot!  “scientific accuracy”…

A prime example of his Bible-based science is this formula:

Evolution Formula

Evolutionists are forced to believe that nothing + time = everything.

Seriously if want to waste some time (and maybe lose your last meal) watch some of these videos which use “cutting-edge visual effects and digital technology” to promote the same lame arguments that fundamentalists have been using against evolutionary biology for 150 years.  A new shiny package but inside it’s the same old pile of stinking crap.

Seriously, why are these backward close-minded irrational beliefs held by more than just the tiniest fringe of society?

Today’s lifting of the embryonic stem cell ban by the Obama administration has the conservative politicians and media engaging in a flurry of political rhetoric.  Of course this is no surprise as it’s certainly a hot-button topic.  One comment that caught my eye was from Rep Eric Cantor, the No. Republican in the house.  on CNN, he apparently said that we should focus on the economy rather than stem cell research.

“Frankly, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research can bring on embryo harvesting, perhaps even human cloning that occurs,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We don’t want that. … And certainly that is something that we ought to be talking about, but let’s take care of business first. People are out of jobs.”

OK.  Pretty strong rhetoric from a high ranking member of the Rep party.  Obviously this guy is either drinking the coolaid or being completely disingenuous.  How can anyone with any knowledge of the issue make those statements?

First of all, claiming that the Obama administration shouldn’t do anything except focus on the economy is ridiculous.  That is a False Dichotomy – claiming that the president can only do one thing or the other.  Of course the administration has a large number of issues to deal with.  The science, medicine research, and health advisers should focus on their responsibilities, not the economy.  If the administration was only dealing with the economic issues, it would negligence of historic proportions.

Secondly, the embryo harvesting and human cloning claim is fear mongering in the form of a Straw Man Argument.  How does Human Cloning have ANYTHING to do with stem cell research? Embryonic harvesting?  Are you fucking kidding?  Representative Cantor is either a moron or a liar.  (Which fallacy is that?)  Actually, since he is a politician, I suspect that he is both.

source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29586269/

Saw this and wanted to pass it along to readers of my last post about Autism and Vaccines.  Turns out that the doctor (Andrew Wakefield) who first proposed the link between autism and vaccines may have faked the data.  If true, that man should be shot (after a long torture session with Jack Bauer.)

http://www.parentdish.com/2009/02/11/doctor-who-linked-autism-and-vaccines-faked-data

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article5683643.ece

Of course, many people will ignore this and still not get their children vaccinated putting their children as well as others at risk.  When Jack is done with Dr. Wakefield, maybe he can visit Jenny McCarthy, Oprah, and the other anti-vaccination terrorists.  Yes I said terrorists.  The anti-science, anti-medicine, anti-reason people who promote not vaccinating children put far more people in danger than Al Qaeda and should be held accountable when helpless children die.

It’s a full moon today and I saw an article that I wanted to pass along.  I’ve blogged about moon phases before, but I fear that this story will never go away as long as there are people on the earth and a moon in the sky above.

SciAm.com today posted a short article discussing the “Lunar Effect” and asks “Does a full moon really trigger strange behavior?”  Too lazy to go read it?  I’ll cut to the chase for you: ABSOLUTELY NOT.

(more…)

Next Page »