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Why we can't win

Posted by James Garrison on November 23, 2015 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

I normally label articles like this as being an opinion piece. This time I'm not, because it's not really just my opinion. It is unfortunately a fact of life for the critical thinking/scientific skepticism communities, and I believe most of us have known this for years.

 

 

I have recently began responding more often to various pseudoscientific and blatantly false claims, such as one I've seen a couple of times recently. (I've been doing this partly because bad information aggravates the hell out of me, and partly because I want people to be able to look at all the information without any sort of fear mongering and come to a conclusion based on the data.) This one in particular reads: "The FDA has changed the name of aspartame to AminoSweet!" First of all, the FDA doesn't name products, they only give guidelines on the labeling. As well, it was one company that is based in Japan that is changing the name, not every manufacturer on the planet. I pointed these two facts out, simply trying to point out the post was false, and try and give anyone that actually reads the comments a starting point to find the real information. Shortly after, the original poster came back with a comment that stated the FDA still allows poisons to be put into our food, and aspertame is a neurotoxin according to FDA investigator Arthur Evangelista (who is a former FDA investigator) I have written about aspartame before, and I am passingly familiar with some of the claims that folks make about it. Especially the neurotoxin claim. I pointed out that water and oxygen, when applied directly to a neuron, will act like a neurotoxin, killing it. The someone else asked to see water and oxygen tumors and posted pictures of the rats used in the highly flawed Seralini GMO/RoundUp study. I asked him what genetic line the rats came from, and he said GM Corn. WHAT THE HONEST FUCK!?! I asked about the rats and he says GM Corn? I pointed out that the genetic line of rats used in research are going to affect the way the study turns out. If they had used rats designed for diabetic research, the study would have shown drinking RoundUp causes diabetes. "Sorry Mr. Brimley, your diabetes wasn't a genetic issue. You shouldn't have been drinking RoundUp and eating GMOs while filming Cocoon." I pointed out the study that he has decided to use to refute aspartame was highly flawed. I did make an error here and not point out it had nothing to do with the original statement. I was just so surprised by it, and I was in full "learning moment" mode that I tried to show how that was wrong as well. Luckily, there was another member of Oklahoma Skeptics Society reading the thread, and he had good info that he added to the discussion. It basically ended with several statements that I've heard way too often lately concerning a surprisingly wide variety of topics, and I'm going to address them. Unfortunately, these statements demonstrate why critical thought will never completely prevail over superstitious thinking and bad information.

 

Before I go any farther, I have to mention that this is only the most recent example of a common trend that I have been seeing for a long time.

 

Scientific Consensus

 

The first was "Why is it when a "scientist" (I added the quotes because they are rarely dependable or reliable scientists) has a finding that isn't part of the consensus, he's labeled a fear monger?" The simple answer is....because they are. If you have 1 scientist that reports a finding saying a common food or medical treatment is dangerous, sends out press releases before peer review, and they promote their findings, (and alternative products on occasion) and they claim it has very extreme effects, and no other group can reproduce it in any meaningful way, then yes, they are trying to scare people away from something that, at the least isn't harmful and at best is highly beneficial. This is the definition of a fear mongerer. The reason that there is a scientific consensus is because the findings are relatively consistent and can more than likely be trusted as fact. Granted, I am not really a fan of Monsanto, mostly due to their legal practices, but I fully believe that GM products are going to be the major contributor to feeding the planets growing population, especially with climate change altering growing cycles. But once again, the Seralini study had nothing to do with the initial conversation, it was a weird combination of the Gish Gallop and Moving the Goalpost. This entire tactic (invoking bad studies, wild claims about the dangers, and the Gish Gallop Goalpost) are often used by climate change deniers, the anti-vaccine crowd, anti-GMO advocates, creationists, and many other proponents of pseudoscience. Especially the ones that either have some sort of religious or political spin to them. They also tied in a conspiracy theory saying Monsanto is covering up any negative studies. Once again, way the hell off the original topic, which was misinformation about a products name change. Plus I doubt Monsanto has bought off 99% of the agricultural and food scientists. But people that rely on the "rebel scientists" are generally very distrustful of any sort of large establishment, such as governments and international companies. They tend to feel that governments and governmental agencies, such as the FBI, the CIA, the NIH, the FDA, the CDC, and the NWO (I had to throw that one in because a lot of these people believe there is an evil global conspiracy), as well as large companies, will lie and mislead the public for some nefarious purpose. They will think that the one person that works outside of the system and finds something no one else ever has is the only one telling the truth, and if you dispute the claim of the person, you will often be called a shill, a sheeple (damn I really hate that word), or naive. They will also tell you you need to open your eyes and do research. Which happened during the course of the original thread. When I said I do research things, and that is why I wanted to know what genetic line the rats were, and what the protocols used for his study were (which I already knew), the other person quit replying. I have to wonder if he went and actually looked into it a little deeper from sources other than NaturalNews and Mercola, or if he rage quit. My money is on rage quit.

 

Why do you care what we do?

Another statement that was made during the discourse, and I am paraphrasing, was "Why does it matter if we don't want to eat this stuff? Why do you care what we do? Everyone should be allowed to keep things out their bodies they don't want!" I agree wholeheartedly! If you want to avoid consuming something, by all means, do it. More for me. Especially you have a legitimate reason for avoiding them. Say you have PKU, then yes, you have to avoid aspartame, and for good reason. But just because you're scared of something after visiting some Woo Woo sites, you really shouldn't be posting misleading and false statements purposely designed to scare people into doing the same. The original post was created specifically to invoke a fear response from people that are already wary of big companies, chemicals, and the government. It was set up as a warning that the scary gubberment is letting Big Chemical try and sneak one past the unsuspecting and gullible people. These damn things are the meme equivalent of the guy on the corner with the sign that claims the world is ending soon. They are false, there is no evidence, they often smell a bit funny, they get creepy after a while and seem to follow you around the internet.

 

I won't believe your "Science"

You want to piss me off, say "You can show me all the studies and science, and I'm still going to believe what I want." This is basically the last thing that was said in the thread, outside of being accused of starting a fight, and me reiterating my initial position (and I actually received a sort of, almost apology) These anti-science sentiments have been getting more and more vocal in the past few years. When you say this, basically what I hear you saying is "I don't care how reality works, I'm going to make up my own thing so I can feel comfortable and justify my life choices to myself." This sort of thinking is the cause of so many problems when it comes to the results from research. Some people won't believe any research unless it jives with their previously held beliefs. Then, anything that disproves that is part of some huge corporate/governmental/military cabal bent on global domination and the complete subjugation of the population. And yes, it does escalate that quickly. The most aggravating part of this type of thinking is that the more evidence you provide, the more that people will dig in and hang on to their beliefs. This is called The BackFire Effect and you can read more about it on The Skeptics Dictionary. These are the type of people that, as critical thinkers, skeptics, humanists, and scientifically literate people, we need to convince the most to look at all the information. Yet, and let's be honest with ourselves, we know that nothing we do will convince them to look at other evidence. You can try and convince them, but as soon as you push a little too hard, suddenly you're a bully, you're hassling them, you're blinded to the truth, etc. If someone presents me with evidence that is contrary to what I feel is a fact, admittedly my first response is to dismiss it. But then I realize that my personal bias' have kicked in, and I will look at their evidence and try to keep an open mind. And my opinion has been changed by doing this. I have rarely seen anyone from the pseudoscience side of things do the same. (And they call skeptics close-minded?)

 

Conclusion

The best way to deal with a fight you can't win is normally to just walk away before the damage is irreparable. However, we just can't do that here. As several other people have pointed out in the past, skepticism in the intersection of scientific literacy and consumer protection.

 

 

 

We can't just say "Screw you guys! I'm going home!" We have to continue the good fight and yes, it is a battle on multiple fronts with various opponents using different tactics. (And yes, I know that the phrasing I'm choosing makes skepticism sound fairly combative, but when peoples lives are at risk, then yes, it is a fight.) Instead of focusing our time and energy on the hardcore, full tilt woo woo bullshit believers that we know are never going to change, let's focus more on the fence sitters and the general public. Let's try and provide good information that people can look into and come to an informed decision themselves. It may not always be the right decision, but at least they will be using all the available information. As a whole, people are sensible, rational creatures that do respond well to facts, and when presented with all the available information, generally they will make an informed choice, politics not included. We also need to work harder to inform the general population on what makes a study good or bad, how to read a scientific paper, and how to properly interpret data for themselves instead of relying on others to do it for them. (Remember when only the clergy could read the bible and the congregations had to rely on the priest to tell them what it meant?) We also need to show people how to distinguish blatant propaganda and scare tactics from factual information. This is why critical thinking and scientific literacy need to be core classes in elementary schools. Until then we will always be dealing with James Randi's "Unsinkable Rubber Duckies"


I didn't reply to the initial Facebook post to be a self righteous dick. I simply intended to put accurate information out to help people make an informed decision. Of course, by the end, I seemed to be the bad guy for attacking their beliefs, though that was never my intention. I just have an issue when people seem to rely on Facebook memes to make decisions concerning their health and nutrition.

 

Recent Podcast appearance!

This isn't related to the topic but I really wanted to promote it. I am a contributor on a podcast called the Unseen Podcast. It is primarily devoted to astronomy, astrobiology, and space exploration (I have no idea why they let me on, but they did) We recently did our Halloween episode, and I was the host. We had: C-Webb from The Paranormal Skeptic Academy podcast, David Flora from the Blurry Photos podcast, Mike Bohler from The Skeptics Guide to Conspiracy (and he's also a regular contributor on Unseen), and Paul Carr, the main host, and Marsha Barnhart as panelists. We spoke about cryptids, conspiracy theories, evidence, UFOs, played the drinking came created by yours truly, and got really damn silly. If you've ever wondered what I sound like, are a fan of C-Webb, Blurry Photos, or Mike Bohler, you should really check it out. You can find The Unseen Podcast Episode 31 here! Thanks for reading, and hopefully listening to the episode. I am hoping to start my own skeptical podcast, with my wife and son as co-hosts, in the next couple of weeks, though I will still be a regular contributor to both the WOW! Signal podcast and the Unseen Podcast.

 

I have also started a Facebook page called Oklahoma Skeptical Media, with the hope to promote Oklahoma Skeptics and any sort of media that they are involved in. The main goal is to show the rest of the country, and even the world, that Okies aren't all a bunch of backwoods hicks. We do have very educated and intelligent folks in this state, and the rest of the world should know about them.

 

 

 

What's the worst that could Happen? How about Death?

Posted by James Garrison on November 23, 2015 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

How's it going folks? If you've been involved in the skeptical community for any length of time, you'll notice a phrase repeated fairly often. When talking to proponents of almost any form of pseudoscience, at some point, you'll hear them say something along the lines of "What's the worst that could happen?" To be blunt, the worst thing that can happen is almost always death or financial ruin. Everyone can point out the dangers of the anti-vaccer movement and the alt-med crowd. But many other forms of pseudoscience can have dangerous results.

 

Many people feel that a belief in cryptids is a bit of harmless fun, and can be entertaining. Most of the time, this is true. However, some people have sunk large amounts of money into the search for these supposed unknown creatures. They buy the latest and greatest pieces of equipment (that they don't always fully understand how to use properly), rent or buy land that they feel have the creatures living there, buy books, movies, go to lectures, and otherwise spend their hard earned money. Granted, it's not normally as bad as other forms of pseudoscience, but there is still a lot of money changing hands. There are also injuries and deaths associated with cryptids, especially Bigfoot. From CNN.com, there is the story of the poor man that was trying to hoax people with a Bigfoot costume and was hit by a car and killed. From HuffPo comes a story out of Oklahoma. A man was shot during a Bigfoot hunt, and 3 people were arrested. Of course, they have been a great many injuries suffered by folks looking for various cryptids. Falls, burns, cuts, scrapes, broken bones, and so on, though these are also injuries that anyone can get while hiking and camping, so they aren't really unusual.

 

Ghosts are another flavor of pseudoscience that is often thought of as being safe and harmless. Much like the cryptid hunters, they tend to buy a lot of equipment (that, once again, they don't often know how to use). They also buy books, go to lectures, and travel long distances to visit supposedly haunted locations. And much like looking for cryptids, it can be dangerous. They often go into dilapidated buildings, run around in the dark, and generally scare the hell out of themselves. From CNN.com, there is a story of a group of ghost hunters investigating a 119 year old train crash and 2 were killed. From WeekInWeird.com comes the story of a group of ghost hunters that burnt down a historic plantation in Louisiana. There are a lot of stories of ghost hunters being shot at, injured, or killed on a site called Theoccultsection.com.

 

Going to a psychic or a medium is just a bit of harmless fun, right? Not quite. There are dozens of stories about so-called psychics being arrested for fraud. On HuffPo, there are several links to stories of these folks being arrested. From the NYPost site, they have a story of a man being taken for $700k after his girlfriend died. And yet another story from the Skeptics Guide of a poor fellow being taken for a lot of money to remove a "love curse". When it comes to bodily harm and death caused by people going to a psychics instead of an actual medical professional, the CDC and the WHO don't really keep records. However, there are quite a few stories about folks being injured because they heeded the advice of a psychic. The problem with trying to Google these events is that they get buried under dozens of positive results concerning these hucksters. Most skeptical websites, such ashttps://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"> Sciencebasedmedicine.org and the Neruologica Blog, will have stories about people being hurt by psychic advise.

 

Of course, there is the anti-vaccination group. These are the people that will claim that vaccinations can cause autism, cancer, neurological damage, and pretty much any other sort of illness you can imagine. The people that promote the anti-vaccination message are normally the same people that push all the varieties of alt-med B.S. There can be a financial deficit from believing the anti-vaccers, mostly from trying to treat an easily preventable disease. This is definitely a case of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The treatments of preventable diseases are normally many times more expensive than the vaccinations. From the CDC, there are a lot of numbers concerning people being hospitalized or dying for vaccine preventable diseases. Of course, there is the infamous Jenny McCarthy Body Count site. You can also look at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) for even more numbers. This is one of the most dangerous forms of pseudoscience that is out there. Not only is it dangerous to the people that practice it, but it is actually dangerous to everyone around them, especially the very young, the old, and the immuno-compromised.

 

And of course there is homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, crystal healing, and other alt-med treatments. There are so many stories of people spending their life savings on alt-med treatments that I'm not even going to try and link to the stories. There are also a ton of stories that demonstrate the physical dangers of trusting in these quacks. What a lot of these alt-med practitioners either won't tell you or they don't know is that there can be dangerous drug interactions between actual medicine and their so-called treatments. On Tim Farley's What's the Harm site, he lists not only the number of people that have either died or been injured by naturopathy, but also has economic damage listed for naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, and other pseudosciences.

 

As I said in the beginning, the simple answer to "What's the worst that could happen?" is death. It's almost always death. Putting your trust in any sort of pseudoscience, especially when it comes to a persons health, is a dangerous proposition. I know that anything I write or say is not going to convince the hard core true believers. But hopefully, if anyone is undecided, some of this will at least get you to do a bit of research yourself. And also make sure that you validate the sites you're looking at. There are a lot of them that are just fear mongering sites. They have their own products they are trying to sell, and will attempt to scare you away from actual science in order to make a few bucks. Even though they aren't infallible, the CDC and the WHO are trustworthy sources. They have no financial gains from saying something does or doesn't work. They are simply trying to get the best and most accurate information out there.

Essential Oils cure Everything? Only if it stinks.

Posted by James Garrison on October 21, 2015 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Ok folks, it's time for another post about something that has been increasing in popularity over the last few years. I have been seeing more and more posts and articles about the healing power of essential oils. I've heard people say that they can help with everything from asthma and sleep apnea to helping with skin conditions and curing cancer. As the hosts of the Sawbones Podcast say, cure-alls cure nothing.So, as usual, I'll start with what essential oils actually are. I am going to say now that the research for this topic was not easy. Almost every search result took me to a lot of naturopathic and alt-med websites. I had to sort through a bunch of bullshit to try and find even a kernel of unbiased truth. There is a lot of misinformation or mis-interpretation in a lot of alt-med, and essential oils are no different.

 

What are essential oils?:

 

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, essential oils are defined as:

 

an oil that comes from a plant, that smells like the plant it comes from, and that is used in perfumes and flavorings

 

Essential oils are volatile compounds that quickly disperse throughout the medium they are used in. They are the basic component of most air fresheners, colognes and perfumes, and are very useful in baking. They are normally produced by extracting and concentrating the oils of various plants. Almost every plant has an oil component which can be extracted. As I said, some of these, such as peppermint oil, are useful in cooking and baking as they greatly enhance the flavor of the item. They a large part of any sort of odor based item you use everyday, and they are the major component of aromatherapy.

 

History:

 

The history of essential oils most likely dates back to before recorded history. Various oils have always been used to eliminate foul odors and to prepare bodies for burial, cremation, or for mummification. Of course, they have been used as a means of protecting health or even curing various illnesses. According to an article on crucible.org, they are one of the oldest forms of medicine known to man. And this is correct, but if you continue reading the article, it quickly devolves into a Woo fest, talking about vibrations, energies, frequencies, and Egyptian mythology. So basically, it becomes a bunch of gibberish. And this is a main problem with researching this sort of thing. You find a bunch of crap with a few nuggets of truth. Of course, I looked to Wikipedia for more history on this topic. According to them, though they have been used all through human history, the earliest written record of how to produce them was from roughly the early 13th century. And that was about it. To be honest, I have not been able to find any dependable information on the full history of essential oils. Most of them start out being sensible, and then quickly dive deep into the quack pool.

 

Uses:

Actual uses:

There are honest, legitimate uses for essential oils. The most obvious are are air fresheners, colognes, and perfumes. Essential oils are what give most of these their distinct aromas. Because memory is strongly linked to the sense of smell, they can invoke a variety of memories, ranging from happy and pleasant to remembrances of sad or terrifying events. This might be part of why fans of aromatherapy believe them to have a curative effect.

Essential oils are are beneficial to bakers and cooks. They are used to improve the flavor of a variety of foods such as cookies and cakes to roasts and vegetables. Vanilla and peppermint are probably 2 of the most popular flavors commonly used in the culinary arts.

There might be evidence that there are actual medical uses for essential oils. In a recent article in The Atlantic, they might be able to function as an antibiotic. If these initial studies pan out, then we might have a weapon against antibiotic resistant bacteria. This still has to be more fully evaluated, and the results reviewed. Of course, this is nowhere near what the alt-med folks claim that they can do.

Alt-med uses:

Proponents of essential oils make a variety of claims as to what they can do. The claims, for the most part, are completely unsubstantiated. The alt-med crowd will often say that essential oils can be used for respiratory problems, skin problems, cancer, and pretty much any other ailment that you might have. If you go to (and I really flamin' hate using this jackass as a reference!) Mercola.com and look up essential oils, he seems to have a fairly comprehensive list of essential oils and there supposed uses. Of course, like so many other claims made by Mercola, these are pretty much unproven at best and completely disproven or dangerous at worst. I have even heard of uses for essential oils in veterinary medicine. I know this is an anecdote, but unfortunately it's not the only time I have heard of people doing similar things. During the course of my day job, I occasionally interact with different veterinarians. During one visit, they had a litter of puppies that were diagnosed with parvo, which is a dangerous disease in dogs. A client came in, saw the sickly pups and informed the vet that she knew what would cure them. She told the vet to rub oregano oil on the stomachs of the pups and they'd be fine. I seriously doubt that rubbing oregano oil on the stomach for a virus is going to have any sort of an affect.

 

Evidence:

Now comes the fun part of the research for essential oils. Trying to determine if there is any evidence for the efficacy of their use. I found a website called childrensMD (here, MD stands for Mom Docs, not Medical Doctor and no way in hell am I going to link to them) that starts with an anecdote of a Harvard lawyer being at an essential oils party and promoting the products. They seem to think that a lawyer is going to have an understanding of basic science and medicine. Granted, she went to Harvard, but not to the medical school.Just because someone is highly educated doesn't mean that they are going to have any knowledge in areas outside of their expertise. Not a lot of research here. Looking through PubMeds, the NIH, and the CDC, the most I've been able to find is that there are preliminary studies that show they might be useful as an antimicrobial treatment. Nowhere could I find anything that shows essential oils are useful for treating asthma, sleep apnea, cancer, or most skin conditions. As with most alt-med claims, these can be dangerous, because people will think that they are treating an illness, and forgo actual medical treatment. They will often use The Argument from Antiquity, saying that because essential oils were often used by many ancient cultures that there must be a benefit to using them. They often ignore the fact that in the old texts, different cultures recommended different oils for the same thing. As a matter of fact, the same oils would often be used for exactly opposite conditions in different cultures. They also will use the Naturalistic Fallacy and claim that because the oils are all natural, refined, and purified, they are automatically good for you. (Arsenic, uranium, and meteors are all natural too) Trying to find dependable information requires quite a bit of digging, and a bit of scientific literacy. If you just go off of the first few hits on Google, then all your information is going to come from sites like NaturalNews, Mercola, NaturalMomma, and other New Age/spiritualism/alt-med pages.

 

Dangers:

Like most of the alternative medicine modalities, there is a risk of people not using conventional medical treatment and instead using the "all natural, no chemical (major misnomer there) , no side effects etc.." treatments. Which in turn can cause a minor, easily treated illness become a major, life threatening one. Unlike Woo based medicines like homeopathy, there can be very serious side effects from these oils, and some of them are just flat out dangerous if not used properly. Some of them interact poorly with medicines, and can even cause some severe side effects. Even inhaling some of them can cause the lungs to become more permeable to substances like nicotine or cause a drug interaction. If they are used on the skin, they can be absorbed and cause drug interactions with heart medications and a few anti-psychotics, and other prescription medications. On WebMD, they report that citrus based essential oils can cause phototoxicity and that some practitioners develop a contact allergy. Severe allergic reactions have been known to occur. Anecdotally, I suffer from an allergy to cinnamon, which can be an essential oil that is used in quite a few treatments. When my skin is even lightly exposed to cinnamon, I break out in hives. If an aromatherapist were to try one of these treatments on me, I would have a severe reaction which would cause me a good bit of pain. If essential oils are used directly on a baby or people with sensitive skin, they can cause chemical burns to the skin. Also, if a baby inhales essential oils, especially for extended periods of time, they can cause respiratory problems.

 

Conclusion:

Essential oils, while smelling nice, helping to improve the taste of foods, and possibly being able to prevent or at least mitigate bacterial infections, really don't have a lot going for them when it comes to a persons health. They don't cure cancer, won't help with most skin conditions, and may actually cause skin irritation. They can be dangerous to the very young, cause severe and dangerous drug interactions, and have very little science or facts to back the claims that are made about their properties. The Argument from Antiquity and the Naturalistic Fallacy are not proof for any type of medical treatment. There needs to be well controlled, testable, and repeatable studies done before anything can be said to be an effective treatment for anything. So, if you have an illness or condition, go and see an actual MD (Medical Doctor). Otherwise, you may just end up leaving a pleasant smelling corpse.

 

Please feel free to leave a comment, email me at [email protected], find me on Twitter or Facebook, or even on The Unseen Podcast (I'm now a contributor on that show).

Homeopathy and the Hound

Posted by James Garrison on July 31, 2015 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Hello everyone. No long rambling preamble this time, but I am going to ask a favor. If you enjoy this post, or any others I have written, please share it on Twitter, Facebook, or print it out and hand out copies to strangers on the street. Everyone will thank you for it. Now for todays topic. And as a quick aside, I've been working on this for quite a while. I keep getting so frustrated I have to leave it, and later come back and edit out most of the swearing.

 

Homeopathy and animals.

Most of the time, when I see articles about alternative medicine, they normally relate to the U.K. or central Europe. This time, it was Oklahoma's Channel 9 news that did a story on people using alt med to help their pets. You can find the article here. What really gets me is that the people interviewed claim there was an immediate improvement when they began the treatments. I do understand the use of the placebo effect on a human when it's end of life care and all other options have been utilized. But as far as I can find, there are no reputable studies that show the placebo effect has any benefit to animals. I think this is more for the relief of the owners than the animals. Alt med hasn't really been shown to have much of an effect on an animals level of stress, which is about the only way to determine pain in an animal that is unable to talk. If the pet isn't responding well to science based medicine, and the owners decide to go down the alternative medicine path, the owners feel better, because they feel they are doing everything they can to help the animal, which in turn will reduce the stress levels of the pet. So I guess, in a round about way, a placebo does have an effect on pets, just indirectly through their owner. At the end of the article, it says that the dog has the energy of a dog half her age. In an ironic twist, I am going to use an anecdote. I have 3 dogs, all are stock dog varieties, 2 Heelers (which are stock trained) and 1 Australian Shepherd. The oldest is around 15 years right now, (and the 7 dog years to every 1 human year is just an old wives tale.) and occasionally suffers from arthritis. The symptoms come and go. For a couple of days, the dog hobbles around the yard, barely mobile, and then he's running and playing with the others. This is normal, though most of your standard alt med practitioners won't tell you this. Most of these treatments tend to rely heavily on the fact that most symptoms will come and go as the condition continues. And before anyone starts saying "You skeptics have never worked with a homeopath!", I have worked with a homeopathic/naturopathic vet. She was nowhere near as effective at treating the animals in our care as any of the other vets I have had the pleasure to work with.

 

I, like most other people in the blogosphere that could be called skeptics, have written on homeopathy, folk medicine, acupuncture, and naturopathy. (click the words to read some of my previous articles.) We are fairly familiar with these alternative medical modalities, and the placebo effect, and are aware of the fact that they most likely don't work. But I think there is more at work here than just the placebo effect that you normally find in alt med. I really think that the Clever Hans effect is involved. Just in case you aren't familiar with this fallacy (and it's pretty interesting), I will try and give a brief overview of what is.

 

Clever Hans

In the later part of the 19th and early 20th century, a German math teacher named Wilhelm Von Osten tried to teach a horse to do math. I have seen a couple of reasons for this. One was that he was trying to show that his teaching methods were so good that he could even teach an animal to do math. Another one I've seen is that he felt that animal intelligence had been greatly under estimated, so he was trying to prove that animals were smarter than people thought they were. Either way, he worked with a horse named Hans, and eventually was convinced that the equine scholar could answer math questions by stamping out the sums. During the training phase, the horse received praise and a treat when he answered correctly. (standard animal training/Pavlovian response) Von Osten began showing off the horse, and of course people were amazed. There was an investigation of the animals abilities, and when they brought in the psychologist Oskar Pfungst, he found that the horse wasn't actually doing math. Instead, he was picking up on subtle body cues and responding appropriately. When his tapping would reach the correct number, his owner would minutely shift his body, and the horse would stop. They even tried having other people ask the questions. His accuracy dropped a bit, but not by much. But if Hans couldn't see the questioner, or if the questioner didn't know the answer ahead of time, he got the answer wrong. Still an impressive ability, even if the horse can't do your taxes. There are quite a few articles on this, including The Skeptics Dictionary, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Wikipedia, and Damn Interesting and they go into a lot more detail.

 

So what does the Clever Hans fallacy have to do with alternative medicine and veterinary medicine? Quite a bit actually. Pets can't talk and tell you how they feel. An animal could be in pain and a human wouldn't be able to tell because their body language is different from ours. We can tell if they are limping, not eating, or whining, but minor changes in their body language are difficult for most people to pick up on. Domestic animals, namely dogs and to a lesser extent cats, will normally respond to a humans body language, however. If you're happy, they'll act in a manner we interpret as happy. If you're sad or upset, their behavior will change. When you take your dog to a vet, quite often, you're nervous and anxious, which will affect how the dog is acting. Afterward, if you think the treatment is working, you'll be happy, and your pooch will respond to the change in body language. Combine this with the fact that most ailments wax and wane, and you can see why some people feel that alt med can be effective for treating animals. That's may be why the people claimed that there was an immediate change in their animal. Of course, they are possibly biased towards alternative medicine (it doesn't come out and say it in the original article, so I am making a supposition here) and to prevent cognitive dissonance, they have to believe it's working and they see results, sort of like prayer. That also may explain why they felt that actual vet care wasn't working. Vet medicine, just like human medicine, isn't fucking magic. It can't treat everything, and when it works, it will sometimes take some time before any sort of improvement is noticeable. Whereas alternative vet medicine is just like magic. It's an illusion that is designed to make you feel better about yourself, take your money, and isn't real.

 

Conclusion

So, before spending a large piece of your money on acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic treatments for your furry friend, do some research, preferably through reputable sources (avoid Natural News at all costs!) and determine 1) If the treatments are actually for you rather than your pet, and 2) Will they really give your animal a marked improvement in the quality of life. To be frank, these alt med treatments don't work. All they do is empty your wallet, and possibly prolong the suffering of an animal. Finally, whenever you are contemplating using alternative medicine, either for yourself or for your pet, remember what Mark Crislip of Science Based Medicine says:

Supplements

Complimentary

Alternative

Medicine

 

I'll end here before I go off on an expletive filled rant. As always, find me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, add me on Google+, and until next time, Be Good and Be Skeptical.

 

The Skeptical Okie.

The Four Horsemen of Derp!

Posted by James Garrison on July 31, 2015 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)

In most peoples everyday life, there are a few websites that they visit on a regular basis. Things like Facebook, Instagram, Pornhub, BuzzFeed. You know, normal sites. In the skeptical world, we have Wikipedia, Snopes, the C.D.C., and PubMed. In the dark realm of pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and new age weirdness, they have their own flavor of preferred information. And the ones I'm going to talk a little bit about today could possibly be called

 

The Four Horsemen of Derp!

 

InfoWars

 

This site, along with AboveTopSecret, is one of the primary purveyors of conspiracy theories on the planet. Their tagline is "Because there is a war on for your mind" Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it. If you go to the site, and I highly recommend you don't, one of the first things you'll see are ads for various liver cleaners, anti-fluoride campaigns, and very odd supplements, on top of links to brilliant articles like "Herbicide Resistant Insects are Destroying GMO Crops Like Never Before"(seriously, that one is on there, I thought it was an Onion article) There are also a bunch of conspiratorially flavored "news articles" blaming almost everything on Obama, atheists, and anyone that's brown. It's a deep rabbit warren of actual news stories with a seemingly slightly plausible conspiracy spin to them. (They should use that as the tag line) This site is part of the Alex Jones media empire, and he uses it, just like his radio show, to promote his particular flavor of crazy. It almost feels like an "End of Days" vibe, with everything going to pieces all around us. If you look at a lot of their advertisers, you'll quickly notice a common theme. They're trying to get your money. That and they tend to be geared more towards the survivalist type of consumer. You know the type, guys (and a few gals) with more guns and ammo than some small countries. They also normally have a bunker, which may be an actual bunker or a converted basement or tree-house, full of MRE's and canned food and water and they also seem to have a perpetual nervous twitch. These people also seem to tend towards the sovereign citizen brand of lunacy. I often see very large trucks with lift kits blowing past me on the highway with InfoWars stickers all over them, as well as people wearing their merchandise with slogans like "9-11 was an inside job!" If you hear about a crazy anti-government conspiracy, or that the world is about to collapse and the New World Order is going to take control, odds are, either InfoWars is covering it, or they started it.

 

Mercola

 

This one is probably the grandaddy of the Alt Med sites. This one was started by Joseph Mercola, who is an osteopathic physician. He just happens to give advise on every other facet of health. His site tends to have articles that basically say "Don't listen to your doctor, listen to us instead!" All over the site you'll find ads for..wait for it....Dr. Joseph Mercolas health products. *gasp*. He sells a variety of supplements, vitamins, and books, all from his company. I know that it's his website and he can do whatever he damn well pleases, But at least he could try and make it look like he was supporting other Woo-mongers. This is just greedy. He also has an ad that claims his is the #1 health website in the world. I'm not going into that one too much. The internet and search rankings is a finicky mess as it is. He has a sitemap at the bottom with a section called "Special Info Sites" that cover all of the following delightful topics:

  • Aspartame
  • Cancer
  • Fitness
  • Fluoride
  • Fructose/Sugar
  • GMO
  • Mercury
  • Nutritional Typing
  • Pets
  • Vaccines
  • Vitamin D

 

Voice-over: No, I don't think these alt-med folks are trying to scare the shit out of people. These are just topics that are controversial and so people are looking for non-biased, informative and easy to understand data.

No, they're trying to scare people. Plain and simple. On top of that, they're trying to make a profit doing it. Some of these guys make me think of the Ferengi from Star Trek. The site is kind enough to let you know that every purchase helps to fund a variety of charities and organizations. Charitable giving, wow! Ok, so maybe he's not as bad as I thought. Let's see, what are the groups that are getting a cut of the money. They include:

  • Campaign for Mercury Free Dentistry
  • FluorideAlert.org
  • National Vaccine Information Center
  • Institute for Responsible Technology
  • Rabies Challenge Fund

You get the general idea. The money from the sales of pseudoscience products are going to fund pseudoscience groups. What really makes me sick about a lot of the alt-med crowd is that they have a tendency to discourage their clients from continuing treatments from an actual M.D. and use whatever snake oil they're selling. This puts people in danger, both financially and physically. Financially because this shit isn't cheap, and you have to keep coming back for more (drug dealer business model) and physically because they aren't actually getting help. Sure, these websites will have anecdotes and testimonials from customers that they helped (the disease or problem either went away on its own, or wasn't there to begin with). The reason you rarely see any negative statements is because the dead don't have anecdotes.

 

Natural News

 

Mike Adams, Health Ranger!, is the purveyor of the Beautiful Sunshine that is Natural News. This one site has it all. Conspiracy theories, health claims, anti-government rhetoric, promotion of alt-med, phrases like Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Brother, and on and on and on. One such headline claimed "The Department of Homeland Security still Controls what you Read" (Ironic, if it's true). There aren't as many ads on here as I've seen on other pseudoscience sites, but there are a damn lot of articles that try and make science sound evil and corrupt, and yet promote themselves as the only truly scientific authority on a variety of topics, ranging from women's health to genetics, and from nutrition to pharmaceuticals. However, this site, like so many others of its ilk, is just trying to scare people into buying their particular flavor of Woo. Mike Adams, Health Ranger!, tends to be a bit more vocal and aggressive than most other supporters of alternative medicine and organic food. As some of you know, not too long ago, Mr. Adams, Health Ranger!, made a comment basically saying it would be fine if someone were to kill proponents of GMOs. Then suddenly, there was a website, putting a hit on various scientists and skeptics. He claimed to have nothing to do with it, but a bit of internet detective work traced the site back to the same computer he used to manage the Natural News site. To be honest, I'm not sure what has been done about this, or if anything can be done. What I do know is, if you piss off Mike Adams, Health Ranger!, you might end up on an actual list.

 

There are so many flamin' bullshit loaded sites that choosing only 4 was not easy. I could have used MUFON, CryptoMundo, BFRO, or any number of other sites. I basically decided on my top 4 based on fitting with the 4 horsemen theme, popularity, influence, lack of scientific reliability, and danger. So based on all of this, and the fact that she really pisses me off, I present to you the last of the 4 Horsepeople of Derp!

 

Food Babe (Admit it, you knew this one was coming!)

Vani Hari is the Food Babe. Plain and simple. This woman lives the role. She famous for saying "If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it." Also, she has said that chemicals don't belong in food. Apparently, she doesn't realize that if you break anything down, at some point, it's all chemicals. That's basically what your body does. Her site has a lot of ads for her books (she has more than 1, what the hell!) and booklets, as well as a couple of ads for various supplements. It is basically her blog, which admittedly looks a hell of a lot better than mine. I'm not shy. She has a tendency to throw the word "toxin" around a lot. I don't know what toxin she's talking about. She never names it, just that it gets in your body. She is notorious for raising 9 kinds of hell about food additives that she thinks are bad for you, and bringing the full weight of the "Food Babe Army" (which makes me want a "Skeptical Okie Army". I'm sure we'd be way cooler.) against any company and using public opinion to make them change their products, all because it scares her. At the top of her page, right below the picture of her holding a magnifying glass looking at a package of...something, she has a few selection for her readers. They include Investigations, Recipes, Travel, Eating Guides, and of course Shops. Her current front page has a recipe for raw coconut macaroons, This simple food can help Acne, Eczema, Digestive Issues and More! and 3 Things Doctors say You Should Do...But Shouldn't. Here again is that distrust of the medical field that seems to pop up in all these sites, except for InfoWars. I will bet you, if any of these yahoos were to break their arm (I'm not saying it should happen, and I don't wish them any harm), they would be at a hospital in no time asking for a doctor to help them. The Food Babe site is actually a lot cleaner and easier to navigate than a lot of the other pseudoscience pages I look at while doing research for the blog. It's not as cluttered with ads and links, and is pretty straight forward. However, it doesn't change the fact that she is pushing her own brand of B.S. on an unsuspecting public. Ms. Hari says that she researches her claims, and she might. But like most people, both believers and skeptics, she tends to let her bias get in the way. She doesn't want to listen to the other side of the issue, and if someone calls her out and backs up their claim with evidence, she seems to have a tendency to just pull the blog post instead of admitting she was in error. She probably isn't as dangerous as Mercola or Natural News, but due to her influence in main stream media, she does have a tendency to make relatively simple issues way more complicated and difficult than they need to be.

 

All of these sites, as well as the thousands of others, have a few things in common. They have merchandise they want to sell. They have something they want to say, though I don't know if they actually believe what they are saying or if they are just trying to make an easy buck. They have a very devoted, almost to the point of rabid, following. They all promote some form of junk science or misinformation in a form that makes it easier for large numbers of people to grab onto it and believe it; If you want to keep a bit ahead of what the next weeks conversation at work or when visiting relatives is going to be, take a look at these sites. Just be sure not to read too much at one time. You've seen the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, right? When everyones faces melt. I'm pretty sure that may happen if you spend too much time that far into the Woo side of life. I just thought that I would introduce you to a few of the promoters of the crap that gives critical thinkers and skeptics such headaches. So with that pleasant thought, I shall take my leave. As always, I'm on Twitter, somewhere on Facebook, on some podcasts, and if you ever meet me in real life, be sure to say hi.

Until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure your phone is charged.

 

The Skeptical Okie

Mosquitoes....Natures Syringes

Posted by James Garrison on June 24, 2015 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Hello loyal readers. The Skeptical Okie seems to be back in business, at least for now. I've got a doozy this time, so lets jump right into it.



 

 

 

 

This is the topic of the post. Recently at work, I met a very interesting , uh... gentleman? One aspect of my current employment is that I deal with people from every aspect of society. The intellectuals, the uneducated, the rich, the poor, the famous, and the unknown. We had a gentleman come in, and by some odd twist of the universe, I had to speak with him. Actually, there wasn't anything odd about it. He was either scaring or creeping out the other employees, so I got nominated to assist him. Due to the fact that there is a legal matter involved, I can't disclose much information about this person, except to say he was in his 70's, and on a fixed income. (These had no relevance to the case, but are actually fairly important to the reason I'm writing about him.) While I was trying to get all the pertinent information, this fellow began going on a rant about how he doesn't have to worry about any diseases. He said, and I quote, "I take 5 grams of pure vitamin C every day! I ain't got to worry about no damn disease!" I am going to paraphrase the rest of his story, due to the fact he kept repeating himself, and his liberal use of the word fuck, as well as other various combinations of cuss words and racial slurs aimed at the Irish, Germans (which I am a good bit of both) and Hispanics. Now, keep in mind that I am just trying to get his name, age, contact info, and the when, where, and how concerning his incident. He then told me that his doctor told him he had a condition (he tried several times to pronounce it and couldn't. I have no idea what his condition was supposed to be.) He didn't like his treatment option, which was a high level dose of antibiotics. He went to another doctor and got what this guy kept calling a "Super Shot". the doctor then told him to take pure vitamin C and it would cure him. He said he gets it in powdered form, and adds it to his morning orange juice. Something tickled my memory at this point, but I couldn't quite recall what it was. He emphasized that he took 5 grams of vitamin C everyday. I'm looking at him thinking "Why haven't your kidneys shut down yet?" I said that I believe the daily recommended dose is much, much less than that, and that doses that high could have some serious health problems later. I asked if he had spoken to his doctor about taking it, and he told me he had dumped him because he wouldn't tell him what he wanted to hear. Then he told me that he also doesn't have to worry about getting sick because of mosquitoes. I look at him and politely asked him "What the fuck? How does that work?" He informed me that mosquitoes are natures needles. They fly around and they bite someone that's sick. Then they bite someone else and give them just a little bit of the disease. From there, as he put it, "It's science". The person naturally builds up an immunity to whatever the disease is. I asked him what about Malaria, West Nile, Heartworms, Dengue, and Yellow Fever? These are all transmitted by mosquitoes. He then told me that, no, something else does this. What, he didn't know. The only disease that mosquitoes can spread is AIDS. AIDS isn't caused by people humping (his word), or blood, or kissing, it's the damn mosquitoes. I told him I really don't think the virus could live in a mosquito long enough to be transmitted, but he was adamant that it would. While he was saying this, I began sketching the lovely piece of art you see at the top of the page as a way to cope with the massive amount of Woo coming my way. I pressed him for the rest of his info regarding his incident, showed him to the front of the building, and went back to finish my report. I can't understand how one person can know so much wrong. I've been stewing on this for a little bit, partly so I can research it, and also partly due to some legalities and protocols at my place of employment.

 

So now I'll share what I've found. Starting with the bit about vitamin C, according to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily dose is 65-90 mg per day, with an upper limit of 2,000 mg. I've done the math, and 5 grams = 5000 mg. So he is basically taking 21/2 times the upper limit of vitamin C. Some of the symptoms of a mega dose like this are :

Diarrhea

Nausea

Vomiting

Heartburn

Abdominal bloating and cramps

Headache

Insomnia

Kidney stones

(You can find this info from the Mayo Clinic HERE)

The last couple of years, mega doses of various vitamins, especially C, have been the popular thing to be offered by a lot of the Alt Med crowd. The problem is, unless you have a nutritional deficicency due to an illness or a genetic condition, most Americans easily get all the vitamins they need in just their diet alone. No need for supplements. Increasing your daily intake of any vitamin rarely does you any good, your body will just get rid of the excess in your waste. So it is literally money down the toilet.

 

The thing that tickled my mind about being familiar finally fell into place. Around the same time, there was a former doctor going around Oklahoma City offering what he called the Jesus Shot for $300 dollars, and former and current military got a discount. He claimed it would cure you from pain for the rest of your life. His description of the shot sounded similar to what other people had described, and I think he got swindled by the same quack.You can read a bit more about it from the Raw Story HERE. There is also an article from one of our local news affiliates, News9, but I really didn't want to link to it. The comments on the article are very disheartening. Person after person either claiming that his treatments worked for them or someone that they know, or else they are begging, literally begging to know where he is now so they can get the "Jesus shot" to help manage their symptoms. It's pretty damn depressing.

 

Finally, about mosquitoes transmitting AIDS, Looking through PubMed, I didn't find anything saying that it could be transmitted by this route. From what I could find, outside of a few fringe sites, everyone pretty much agrees that you can not get AIDS from a mosquito. First off, the virus is incapable of reproducing in any arthropod (mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, etc). Secondly, The viability of the virus outside of a human host is extremely short. The virus would most likely die between feedings. You can read the abstract from the NCBI HERE.

 

So, in conclusion, this guy was severely deluded or mislead, and possibly putting himself at great risk from trusting quacks and hearsay. This is one of the major reasons that the skeptic community and movement exist, to protect people from charlatans, misinformation, and misconceptions. Relying on Woo and pseudoscience can be costly ($300 a pop for a "miracle shot?) and dangerous (not going to real doctors). We need to pick our battles, yes, and I know that if someone is a true believer in some form of pseudoscience, you are not going to change their mind. But I will still attempt to at least give these people some additional information to hopefully get them looking at a more science based approach to their problems.

 

So until next time, whenever that might be, remember you can find me all over the internet these days, and feel free to reach out to me about anything. And as always, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and be sure to tip your waiter.

 

The Skeptical Okie.

Baby Quackery!

Posted by James Garrison on June 24, 2015 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Greetings everyone, I'm back!!!!

 

I know it's been a while since I've written anything on here. There are so many things I want to write about that I tend to stress myself out trying to figure out how to approach it, as well as by the time I can get around to it, most of the skeptical and science podcasts and writers have already covered it, so I think "What other information could I possibly add? I'm just a skeptic with a little, poorly written and opinionated blog in Oklahoma." Due to recent developments, as well as a request from my wife, my muse has finally returned. (I hate it when they go AWOL). Something anyone that is expecting a child will notice is all the odd advice and products aimed towards new parents. There are a ton of different things out there, so I won't cover them all. I'm just going to look at a few that have caught my attention recently.

 

 

Homeopathic Teething Medicine

Recently it was brought to my attention that Orajel is now offering a homeopathic version of their teething gel, with the added label of "Belladonna Free". The name of this product line is Orajel Naturals. The reason for this is because in 2010, Hyland's, a very popular manufacturer of homeopathic baby medication, had a recall of their teething tablets due to" FDA notified consumers that Hyland’s Teething Tablets is being recalled because the tablets may pose a risk to children. The tablets are manufactured to contain a small amount of belladonna, a substance that can cause serious harm at larger doses. For such a product, it is important that the amount of belladonna be carefully controlled. FDA laboratory analysis has found that Hyland’s Teething Tablets contain inconsistent amounts of belladonna. " (From the FDA website. The entire article is here) This is actually rather ironic in that a homeopathic medicine actually had a detectable amount of a substance in it, other than sugar and water. For those that don't know, belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, is a poisonous plant that, to be honest, can have medicinal effects in the proper dosages. If the dose is wrong, however, it is extremely toxic, with symptoms including, according to Wikipedia: dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, tachycardia, loss of balance, staggering, headache, rash, flushing, severely dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, urinary retention, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions. Death is also a possibility, with a sufficient amount. Of course, the dose makes the poison, and generally, in homeopathic medicine, there are no active ingredients in the final product. (For more information on homeopathy, see my post here). I have personally had an issue with Hyland's for years because of the homeopathic baby medicine, and now Orajel, which has always had a pretty good product, is jumping on the homeopathy bandwagon. I imagine that if a person were inclined to contact them and ask why are they selling these alt med products, they would probably give the standard line of "People want it". I'm really getting tired of hearing that bullshit line. You know what? People want tanks. People want to set things on fire. People want to do lots of shit that really isn't good for them. We don't, as a society, let them do this things. Why should companies be able to sell products that don't work and just say "people want it"? I know a few of the readers out there are saying "What about X pharmaceutical company?" With the big companies that actually make real medicine (and yes, I know a lot of them have gotten into the homeopathic and naturopathic products) have years of testing and re-testing before a product gets to market. Yes, there are occasionally bad batches, or unforeseen side effects, but as a whole, they are fairly dependable, and actually do something, other than draining your wallet. A major issue with homeopathic medicines is that there is very little regulation or oversight. The fact that this isn't even close to the first time that actual medicine (or in this case, poison) has turned up in homeopathic medicines should demonstrate the lack of controls. So, to all the new or expecting parents out there (and I know you guys are getting tired of everyone throwing advise at you) stick with the real Orajel or similar products when junior starts teething. Just be careful and use it only when it's absolutely needed.

 

I'm going to try and keep it short (if you have a new baby you may not have gotten this far) and only discuss one other topic that I see a lot, and to be honest, pisses me off.

 

RANT WARNING

Baby Chiropractic

Don't. Just fucking don't do it. There is absolutely no reason that a baby or toddler should ever be taken to a chiropractor. (which I plan on doing a stand alone post on soon) Your childs reoccurring ear infections, colic, autism (yes, some do claim to treat autism) or other childhood issues will not be mended by fixing the subluxations in the spine. What can happen is permanent damage to the spine or neck, strokes, or death. As I've said in the past, chiropractors may be able to help with some back pain, but not much else. To top it off, a respectable chiropractor won't touch a baby due to the extreme risk of permanent injuries. There are, of course, chiropractors that claim they specialize in treating children. They always seem to have a ton of clients, and lots of great recommendations that they successfully treated this problem or that. If you want to read some truly horrible stories, just Google the following: Child, Chiropractor, and Injury. There are constantly stories cropping up of children being crippled or worse because a treatment by a chiropractor went wrong. Chiropractic is rarely an answer to an adults problems, and never to a childs problems.

 

I'm not going to put a bunch of self promotion at the end of this one. I'm just going to say Be good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to rotate your tires.

 

The Skeptical Okie

 

Why the Skeptical community is important!

Posted by James Garrison on January 27, 2015 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Hey folks, I know it's been a while, but I'm back, at least for now. There's been a subject that I've heard come up occasionally in various conversations that I've been trying to put words to for a while. The topic basically breaks down to "Why do we even need a skeptical community?" It's been brought up in blog posts, podcasts, and even in casual conversation, so I thought I'd give my opinion on the matter.

 

On episodes 3 and 4 of "The Blue Ball Skeptics" for example, Damion and Chas spoke to Matt and Sharon Madison, a couple that have been involved in skepticism for quite a while (before the founding of the JREF or CFI). They seem to feel that there isn't really a need for a skeptical community, and during the course of their interview, they state the reasons they feel that way. (To hear the entire interview click this link).

 

One of their main concerns deals with a "Cult of Personality" forming around a few key members in the movement (Randi, Shermer, Harris, etc), and dividing the community into various camps for or against various people. I actually agree with them on this fact. We've seen this happen with Rebecca Watson, Michael Shermer, and various other "Skeptical Leaders", for lack of a better term. They become popular in not only the skeptical communities, but also noticed by the various religious and pseudoscience groups, and even main stream media. These people have some very vocal opponents, so any discretion is quickly jumped on. By the same token, you have the proponents of these personalities that will verbally rip you to shreds if they think you've written anything disparaging about their favorite skeptic. All I'm going to say on this matter is that skeptics are only human, and we screw up from time to time. I'm not excusing any alleged behaviors, nor am I placing any blame. I do not know any of the major players in our community personally, nor do I have all the information to make an informed opinion one way or the other. I'm simply saying don't elevate someone above reproach, nor reprimand another for speaking their mind, without making sure you know all the details first. Even our heroes should be approached with a skeptical mindset.

 

Another issue that they have is the term "skeptical movement", which they state, and I also agree, sounds like a politically driven group. However, I don't have a problem with skeptics being involved in policy making. We have as much right as any other group of people to have a say in the rules under which we live. Religious organizations, alternative medicine, and other such special interest groups have some very powerful lobbyists working for them to push their agendas to the politicians, so why shouldn't we? At least we have research, critical and rational thought, and science backing our claims, versus their wishful thinking and 2000 year old books. Unfortunately, we don't have the same level of financial backing that they do.

 

Back to the main point of my post, "Why do we need a skeptical community?" I know that other people that are much better writers than I am have written on this topic, but I feel the need to add my 2 cents on the matter. I feel that we need a skeptical community, and a skeptical movement, to help show people that they aren't alone. Growing up in the middle of Oklahoma, where you can see a homeopath next door to a psychic, and both go to the same church across the street, you tend to feel very lonely, and slightly frightened if you would rather trust science than have faith. When looking for others that share your views, you sometimes have to be very careful how you phrase things, especially if you live in a rural area. A skeptical community helps people find others that share common interests and ideas, without the constant fear of being isolated from society. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone that's been through, or is going through, the same things you are. A skeptical community or movement can also show a unified front when dealing with some of the bull that is currently being proposed in the various states legislatures. Normally, there may be a few random people writing to senators or congresspeople to complain about a certain bill, These are usually sent a pacifying form letter and promptly forgotten. However, if there is a group of people that write in expressing similar concerns, politicians will usually take notice. Awareness of the issue may be all that's accomplished, but it's a start, and this is much more easily achieved as part of a group than as a solitary person.

 

Another reason for a skeptical community is the sharing of information. Yes, the internet, journals, and books are great sources, but sometimes just being able to talk to someone that knows information that you don't is the best way to learn it. This allows for the quick and instant exchange of ideas and information that message boards, blog posts, magazine articles, or Youtube videos just can't duplicate.

 

The community doesn't have to have a strict hierarchy, it can just be a loose association of people with a few common interests that sometimes get together to talk about various topics while enjoying a variety of beverages. A loose organizational structure can possibly prevent, or at least slow down, the development of the "Cult of Personality" that seems to have risen in the larger, more organized groups.

 

I personally feel that the skeptical community is a valuable part of society, and as time goes on, it will become more important and more influential. It also has a bit of an advantage over many other types of communities in that we aren't as driven for fame or recognition as other groups. If we were, more skeptical bloggers would be using their real names and flashier headline grabbing posts. Yes, fame and/or recognition is great, but from what I've seen, most skeptics do what they do out of a genuine love of humanity.

 

Now for the obligatory self pimping. You can find me on [email protected], email mail me at [email protected], I've been on a couple of podcasts in 2014 (extra points if you can find them) and various other places around the web. Until next time, be good, be skeptical, and be sure to finish your brussel sprouts.

 

The Skeptical Okie

A quick question to the loyal readers. Please comment

Posted by James Garrison on December 16, 2014 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Hey guys, I know I haven't written in quite a while. Things have been crazy as hell here at the Skeptical Okie Headquarters. There's been issues with work, the house, a hernia and other health issues, and a lot of other little things that have severely eaten into any time I might have used to write. Upside to all the craziness is that OKSS is doing pretty good, Oklahoma had a skeptical convention (SkeptiOKcon), and there's been a few things happen worth writing about. I've been a guest on the BlueBall Skeptics podcast and joined the Wow Signal Podcast as a contributor. I'm also actively job hunting, so it all adds up. I keep sitting down at the keyboard to start writing and something else crops up.

 

My question to anyone that has read more than one of my posts is this: Are they too long, just right, or too short? Are the topics fine, or should I stick to one or two general areas? I'm trying to improve the blog, and I'm looking for your input. Let me know what I can do to make it better, what you like, don't like, or any other suggestions you might have. You can leave a comment, email me, find me on Twitter, etc.. These days it seems I'm everywhere. So until next time, be skeptical, be reasonable, and be sure to clean behind your ears.

 

The Skeptical Okie


*UPDATE*

I'm seriously beginning to wonder if anyone reads the blog posts on here. If you do, please leave a comment. It doesn't even have to be a full sentence. I'll take a random string of letters and numbers, to so I can tell if anyone is actually reading these. I'm going to try and get a few more people to write some blog posts so this is more of a community effort.

Now taking requests. Please leave a comment.

Posted by James Garrison on December 16, 2014 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I'm still around folks, just trying to make a living, so unfortunately, the blog had to be put on the backburner for a bit. I do have a question for anyone that is still reading this. What topics are YOU interested in? Cryptozoology, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, urban legends, mythology, or something I've missed? Let me know and I'll start researching and writing. I've got so many ideas that they are just jumbling up and I don't know where to start, so I'm asking for your help. Let me know what areas you're interested in, and I'll start covering them. Thanks, and until next time, be good, be skeptical, and be rational.

 

Skeptical Okie


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