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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 20:06

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine. 


Medical marijuana as the new herbalism, part 1: Science versus the politics of weed in New York and beyond (David Gorski)
Marijuana is alleged to have many medical benefits, but the hype goes way beyond the evidence. Dr. Gorski reviews the evidence for its effectiveness in pain and several other medical conditions and explains why he supports legalization but not for medical reasons. Parts 2 and 3 will cover autism and cancer. 

An Egregious Example of Ordering Unnecessary Tests (Harriet Hall)
A healthy 21-year-old man asked for a routine physical and got $3700 worth of lab tests he didn’t need. His insurance paid only $13.09. Gasters are flabbered.

Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine research conference disappoints even NCCAM (Jann Bellamy)
The director of research for the NCCAM expressed her disappointment at the quality of research reported at this conference. Many clinical research projects were not developed from adequate mechanistic studies, and their outcomes were not very informative. Examples demonstrate rebranding, tooth fairy science, and other problems.

The Truth? (Mark Crislip)
Autonomy is a basic principle of medical ethics, but patients can only make autonomous decisions if they are given accurate, truthful information. Even integrative medicine clinics at major institutions provide biased information about alternative medicine that is not just misleading but ethically questionable. Examples are discussed.

One Million Page Views (Paul Ingraham)
Science-Based Medicine’s traffic has passed a milestone and is now competing effectively with many popular websites about not-so-science-based medicine. 

 Did Facebook and PNAS violate human research protections in an unethical experiment? (David Gorski)
Facebook feeds were manipulated without informing customers that they were subjects in an experiment. This was unethical, and it wasn’t even particularly good research.  The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) failed to enforce its own requirements for publishing studies.

Stanislaw Burzynski’s propaganda victory on antineoplastons: The FDA really caves (David Gorski)
The FDA has lifted the restrictions they had placed on clinical trials run by the infamous Dr. Burzynski. They ignored 37 years of his abuse of the clinical trial process and his ethical violations. The FDA decision is an extreme dereliction of its duty to the public.

Why Doctors Order Too Many Tests (Harriet Hall)
Doctors who order unnecessary tests try to justify their actions with excuses that don’t hold up. Too many tests can harm patients in several ways. Patients should insist on understanding why a test is being ordered and what difference the results will make.

Beware The P-Value (Steven Novella)
The p-value is commonly misunderstood. It is not a measure of whether the phenomenon being studied is likely to be real; it only measures the probability that the data would demonstrate as much or more of a difference if the treatment had no actual effect. For unlikely phenomena, a significant p-value is even more likely to be misleading; a Bayesian analysis can be helpful in putting alternative medicine research into the context of basic scientific knowledge. 

The Center for Inquiry weighs in on the FDA’s mishandling of Stanislaw Burzynski’s clinical trials (David Gorski)
The Center for Inquiry has sent a hard-hitting letter to legislators protesting the FDA’s action in lifting the clinical hold on Burzynski’s research. They characterize the FDA’s action as “enabling his deceptive, antiscientific, and unethical medical adventurism and profiteering.”

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Separating facts from fiction (Scott Gavura)
Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) is a debilitating but subjective condition attributed to a variety of environmental agents. There is no real evidence that such a condition exists; it is not defined by any objective evidence or laboratory findings. There is no justification for treating these patients with “detoxification” or any other of the therapies being used.

The Buzzy: Revolutionary Acute Pain Management or Simple Distraction… (Clay Jones)
Buzzy is a cute device that looks like a bee and is used to apply cold and vibration to  children’s skin to relieve the pain of blood draws and injections. The proposed mechanism and research are unconvincing, but the device may serve as an effective means of distraction.

 Ketogenic diet does not “beat chemo for almost all cancers” (David Gorski)
Dr. Thomas Seyfried’s claim that low carb, high-fat ketogenic diets “can replace chemo for even the deadliest cancers” has been making the rounds on the Internet. The hypothesis is simplistic and based on misunderstandings of cancer biology; the idea is to starve cancers by decreasing the availability of glucose. It might be helpful for some tumors, but the evidence so far is thin and unconvincing, consisting only of preclinical studies and case reports.      

John Oliver skewers Dr. Oz for his hawking of diet supplements (David Gorski)
The HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” featured a long segment on Dr. Oz and his recent grilling by a congressional committee over his hyping of diet supplements as “miracle” weight loss solutions. It is both entertaining and informative, covering the regulation of dietary supplements and identifying Senators Hatch and Harkin as tools of the supplement industry.

Acupuncture for Macular Degeneration: Why I Reject the Evidence (Harriet Hall)
The Santa Fe protocol is a poorly defined mixture of techniques from 3 different schools of acupuncture (including ear acupuncture and electrical stimulation) that supposedly improves vision in patients with macular degeneration. The only evidence is a case series from one doctor; he used no controls and no blinding.  These and a number of other design flaws make it impossible to accept his study as evidence. 

Food Fears (Steven Novella)
A new study examines the origin of irrational food fears, and possible remedies. People are getting information from dubious sources that promote an ideological, unscientific approach to food safety and misapply the precautionary principle. The science is complex and people tend to fall for the “natural” fallacy and to have “chemophobia,” so they use shortcuts or heuristics to decide which foods to trust.

NY federal court hands triple loss to anti-vaccination ideology (Jann Bellamy)
In two recent cases, a New York court upheld the right of schools to temporarily exclude unvaccinated children from school during outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. It also upheld the denial of a religious exemption from vaccination, saying the students’ and parents’ constitutional rights had not been violated. Parental objections to vaccines are largely fueled by misinformation from anti-vaccine activists. The law is well-settled: states are not constitutionally required to grant non-medical exemptions at all. 

TCM Hodgepodge (Mark Crislip)
Some recent curiosities of TCM. Fire therapy is said to cure impotence: an alcohol-soaked towel is spread over the genitals and burned. The failure rate on acupuncture board exams is high; and the exams are laughable and fail to address sanitation, anatomy underlying the acupoints, or complications. The Cochrane group keeps suggesting more studies even when it finds no supporting evidence for acupuncture. A recent report analyzed 30 patients who contracted TB from acupuncture.

Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe): The Jenny McCarthy of food (David Gorski)
The Food Babe is the popular blogger who persuaded Subway to stop using a harmless ingredient in its bread because the same chemical is used in yoga mats. Now she is campaigning against allegedly toxic chemicals and GMO ingredients in beer. She is laughably ignorant about chemistry, and instead of going by scientific evidence she goes by whether she can pronounce the name of a chemical.

Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine (Harriet Hall)
Turmeric is claimed to have medicinal properties and to be as effective as 14 major drugs commonly used for serious medical conditions like diabetes, depression, etc. The hype far exceeds the evidence. Claims are based on preliminary findings from animal and in vitro studies but there are only a handful of preliminary pilot studies in humans, and their results are not impressive.

Surgery Under Hypnosis (Steven Novella)
The BBC recently reported another sensational case of surgery under hypnosis, this time a parathyroid operation in a Guinean singer who allegedly sang throughout surgery to protect her voice. The truth is less sensational: along with hypnosis she had local anesthesia which is sufficient to block all pain sensations by itself.  And it is not plausible that damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve could be avoided by singing.

Dr. Oz and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Scott Gavura)
Dr. Oz  was recently grilled in a Senate hearing for promoting “miracle”
 weight loss products on his TV show. Senator McCaskill took him to task for saying things he knows are not true, and pointed out that the scientific community is almost monolithic against him.  In his defense, Oz followed his usual M.O.: extrapolating from weak, cherry-picked evidence to make grandiose claims. He did not come off well.

Is There a Role for the Art of Medicine in Science-Based Practice? (Clay Jones)
Medicine is an applied science. The “art” of medicine is often defined as compassion, communication, treating patients as individuals, etc. The “art” of making a diagnosis is really just pattern recognition. The idea that medicine is an art is often taken too far and used as an excuse for all manner of bogus approaches to health care.


Author: "harriet.hall@comcast.net (Harriet Hall)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014 00:52

honestliarA winner!  Yes, “An Honest Liar,” the 90-minute documentary firm labored over and produced by Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom, had its world premiere in New York City on April 18th, then the Canadian premiere followed in my home town, Toronto. Deyvi and I have been busy ever since “on the road” trying to personally attend as many screenings as we can. The film has already been shown at numerous film festivals all over the world now, and we just received very welcome news. In theannual AFI DOCS, the American Film Institute’s 12th documentary film festival in the Washington, DC, area, this year’s Audience Award for Best Feature went to “An Honest Liar”! We won in a field of well more than one hundred contenders!

AFI DOCS is the only festival in the U.S. dedicated to screenings and events that connect audiences, filmmakers and policy leaders in the seat of our nation’s government. With such excellent judges as Ken Burns, Spike Lee, and Barbara Kopple on the AFI Advisory Board, I personally take this as a resounding endorsement. I’ve never forgotten Spike’s well-known advice: “Do the right thing.” Thank you, man…

Deyvi and I were at first just a bit surprised at the very serious – yet effusive – audience reaction to “An Honest Liar,” but we soon saw that this was going to be the response we should expect. People were teary-eyed yet smiling as they crowded around us, shook our hands and made their comments.  We’re very grateful to Justin and Tyler, as well as to their excellent crew who got it all together and now share our delight.

Thank you, folks, and you can look forward to yet more news on this film. No hints, but we’re only getting started…

James Randi.

Author: "astonishing@randi.org (James Randi)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Friday, 20 Jun 2014 22:13

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.


“Integrative oncology”: The Trojan horse that is quackademic medicine infiltrates ASCO (David Gorski)
At the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago there was a session on Integrative Oncology. The speakers misleadingly claimed that acupuncture and mind-body medicine are evidence-based, and they tried to rebrand things like exercise and nutrition as “integrative” when they actually belong to mainstream medicine. Although they gave lip service to identifying and avoiding quackery, they demonstrated that oncology has been infiltrated by quackademic medicine. 

Macular Degeneration and AREDS 2 Supplements (Harriet Hall)
Diet supplements based on the two AREDS trials are being sold to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness.  There is some evidence that supplements can slow the progression of moderate-to-advanced AMD, but the effect size is small and the studies have not been replicated. There is no evidence that supplements advertised to “promote eye health” can prevent AMD or slow its progression in the early stages, and the possibility that they might cause harm has not been ruled out.

Prolotherapy (Steven Novella)
Prolotherapy is the injection of irritating substances into areas of musculoskeletal pain to provoke a healing response. Preliminary clinical research shows symptomatic improvement but no change in objective outcomes; it is compatible with the hypothesis that there is no specific effect from prolotherapy. Caution is advised pending more definitive research. 

Reiki: Fraudulent Misrepresentation (Jann Bellamy)
The Cleveland Clinic offers reiki and advertises that it provides specific health benefits through its effects on the patient’s “energy.” They provide false information to induce patients to purchase reiki treatmens. If a patient sued them for fraudulent misrepresentation, he should win his case.  

Astrology, Alchemy, ESP and Reiki. One of These Is Not Like The Other (Mark Crislip)
The American public believes in a lot of things that are pure bunkum, from astrology to ESP. Reiki is made-up nonsense with no basis in physical reality and zero quality studies to demonstrate any efficacy beyond placebo effects, yet some 60 hospitals and institutions offer it.  Even if it doesn’t amount to fraud, the institutionalizing of magical therapies outside of Hogwarts is surely unethical.

Author: "harriet.hall@comcast.net (Harriet Hall)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Thursday, 12 Jun 2014 21:22

I enjoy plane trips because these are the only times I get to read for enjoyment. On a recent flight my book of choice was a title by skeptic Steve Cuno and Joanne Hanks. “It’s Not About The Sex” My Ass: Confessions of an ex-Mormon, ex-Polygamist ex-wife tells the fascinating story of Joanne’s personal journey from mainline Mormon, to fundamentalist Mormon, to non-believer. 

This case is interesting in that most fundamentalists are born into these groups, while Joanne and her husband chose to join a polygamist cult. Joanne and her chiropractor husband Jeff were raised as members of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). They both had family with a polygamist past. Following exposure to Second Coming propaganda, they decided that the end was nigh, and they needed to return to the original church to ensure their salvation. After shopping around for a sect, the couple and their three young children moved to Manti, Utah, and joined James Harmston’s True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of the Last Days (TLC). As per section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Jeff took a “celestial wife” and the family was promptly excommunicated by the LDS. 


The book covers many paranormal and pseudoscientific topics that will be of interest to skeptics, including creationism and alleged psychic abilities. The group’s leader claimed to be the reincarnation of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, while his wife was the reincarnation of Smith’s First Wife, Emma. Naturally, his other celestial wives (or women he coveted) were also reincarnated as Smith’s celestial wives. Other members purported to be such luminaries as Mary Magdalene, Queen Elizabeth the First, Josephine Bonaparte, and Isaac Newton. (Unfortunately, an argument once broke out when two different women both claimed to be Marie Antoinette). 

You may have heard of the LDS practice of “baptisms for the dead”. In this ritual, computer-generated lists of names of deceased people are read aloud (such as the names of Holocaust victims), and proxy Mormon baptisms are performed for them to save their souls. The TLC’s version of this was the “prayer session.” Joanne accurately defined these as séances, during which they summoned deceased non-Mormons via a channeler and had a nice chat with them. Then they asked the deceased if they would like to receive a baptism, which they invariably did. They always seemed to channel famous visitors including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill. Amazingly, Martin Luther, Wolfgang Mozart, and Joan of Arc spoke fluent American English during these sessions. 

For years, these strange beliefs and practices stirred skepticism in Joanne, which she shot down with her own rationalizations and the manipulation of the group. However, one incident (or lack of an incident) was too ridiculous to ignore. Harmston, as the group’s prophet, predicted that the Second Coming was going to take place on March 25, 2000. Everyone on earth would die, including mainstream Mormons, but the members of the TLC would be spared. The group planned for a massive celebration, but the day came and went without incident. Jesus was a no-show. How did the prophet explain his failure? Well, he didn’t fail! Jesus did return to earth and fulfilled the prophecy. Mercifully, God folded back time on itself by exactly one day and life carried on as usual…

False prophets and false promises were the final straws for Joanne and Jeff. They left the community and Mormonism altogether. (Jeff’s second wife had already left him and become another plural wife in Harmston’s growing harem of women.) In their search for a new church they eventually became atheists, with a little help from George Carlin and his humorous views on religion. In the end, the whole experience was destructive for the couple and it drove them apart. However, Joanne found a silver lining in her divorce. “At least,” I told Jeff one day, “I don’t have to defend chiropractic any more.” 

Joanne is a highly intelligent and rational woman, demonstrating that, under the right (or wrong) circumstances, we are all susceptible to cults and charismatic leaders. The book is witty and insightful, and the authors make many self-effacing and poignant observations that highlight the hypocrisy and manipulation of cults, and their considerable dangers. 

“It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass is available from Amazon in eBook and paperback formats.

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.

Author: "kstollznow@berkeley.edu (Dr. Karen Stollznow)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Monday, 09 Jun 2014 18:13

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared over the past several weeks at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.


Chiropractic Defense: Tempest in a Teapot (Sam Homola)
When Forbes published an article by Steven Salzberg about money wasted on chiropractors, chiropractors protested, characterizing critics of chiropractic as “disgruntled practitioners” and “medical bigots” rather than addressing the content of the article. Subluxation theory is alive and well despite a total absence of supporting evidence. Skeptical chiropractor Sam Homola has been criticizing chiropractic since 1963, when he wrote Bonesetting, Chiropractic and Cultism.

Forskolin: Here We Go Again (Harriet Hall)
Dr. Oz has done it again: hyped yet another miracle weight loss supplement, forskolin. He calls it “lightning in a bottle” and claims it burns fat without burning muscle. There are only two published studies in humans: they both showed that taking forskolin did not result in weight loss, and one said it changed body fat/muscle composition while the other said it didn’t. And there are concerns about its safety.

Delaying Vaccines Not A Good Idea (Steven Novella)
The anti-vaccine movement argues that vaccines are “Too Many, Too Soon,” and recommends delayed schedules. The recommended schedule is based on good evidence, and there are many studies showing that delayed or reduced schedules increase the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. Now a new study indicates that delaying vaccines can be dangerous for yet another reason: the delayed schedule increases the risk of seizures following vaccination.

Don’t supplement users deserve consumer protection, too? (Scott Gavura)
Proposed legislation in Canada would exempt “natural” health products from improved safety standards for prescription drugs. Natural does not mean safe, and there is no rationale for this double standard. 

VacciShield: Pixie dust for an imaginary threat (John Snyder)
A product developed by a naturopath is a mixture of vitamins, nutrients, and probiotics designed to “support” children during vaccinations. There is no need for such “support,” and a review of published studies on the ingredients shows there is no evidence to provide a rationale that any of them would benefit vaccinated children.

What’s in a name? NCCAM tries to polish a turd (David Gorski)
Dr. Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, wants to change its name to the National Center for Research on Complementary and Integrative Health, in order to “better align the name with the evolution in health care.” NCCAM continues to promote unproven practices, and this proposed “rebranding” is based on the fallacy of appeal to popularity. It is just another ploy to rationalize integrating quackery with science; it amounts to polishing a turd. 

Precision Medicine: The Coolest Part of Medicine (Harriet Hall)
One size seldom fits all. Science is making great strides towards individualized medical care with innovations like genomic deep sequencing, detecting cancer genes, stem cell manipulations, automated and miniaturized high-throughput screening that can perform over 1500 tests at once, and testing an individual’s cancer cells directly to see which drugs they respond best to.  CAM claims to individualize treatment based on fantasy and speculation; science is learning to individualize treatments based on reality and evidence. 

Vaccines Still Not Linked to Autism (Steven Novella)
Despite 15 years of evidence to the contrary, some people still want to believe vaccines cause autism. A new meta-analysis of 1,256,407 children provides icing on the cake: it showed no increased risk of autism following MMR, mercury, or thimerosal exposure. And the evidence suggests that the rate of autism is not increasing and that it is primarily a genetic disorder.

Beware the Integrative Pharmacy (Scott Gavura)
In addition to standard medications, most pharmacies sell products that we know are useless, like homeopathic remedies, just because they are popular and profitable. Pharmacists should eliminate quackery from their shelves and stop confusing and misleading customers. “Integrative” pharmacies are ethically troubling.

Separating Fact from Fiction in Pediatric Medicine: Infant Gastroesophageal Reflux (Clay Jones)
One of the pediatric recommendations from the Choosing Wisely initiative is to stop prescribing acid blockers and motility agents for physiologic reflux. Most babies spit up; it’s a normal aspect of physiology that is usually harmless and only requires reassuring the parents. Even true GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, diagnosed by endoscopy) can often be managed without drugs.

In which Dr. Gorski is taken to task by an eminent radiologist for his posts on mammography (David Gorski)
Dr. Kopans was unhappy when Dr. Gorski criticized his critique of the Canadian National Breast Screening Study. Kopans portrays any questioning of the value of mammography as motivated by rationing, and he essentially accused the researchers of fraud and misrepresented their research design. Dr. Kopans insists screening mammography should begin at age 40; Dr. Gorski continues to recommend universal screening after age 50 and personalized screening below that age only for high-risk patients.

Rope Worms: C’est la Merde (Harriet Hall)
Rope worms are alleged rope-like meter-long human intestinal parasites that have only been observed by devotees of cleansing enemas. There is no such critter: analysis shows only human DNA, and the “worms” are almost certainly an artifact produced when enema ingredients combine with intestinal mucus. Researchers have published two amusing pseudoscientific papers with an elaborate explanation of the worm’s anatomy, its 5-stage life cycle and other claims.  They were fooled by pareidolia, apophenia, and other errors in thinking. 

PETA Embraces Autism Pseudoscience (Steven Novella)
PETA is claiming a link between dairy products and autism, based on uncontrolled observations that have been refuted by scientific studies. Their claims that dairy products cause cancer and Crohn’s are also questionable. They are distorting the scientific evidence to promote their ideological agenda and argue for a vegan diet.

Harkin’s folly, or how forcing insurers to cover CAM undermines the ACA (Jann Bellamy)
Sen. Harkin inserted a provision into the ACA with the intention of requiring insurers to cover all licensed CAM providers. The interpretation of the law is being questioned, and HHS is asking the public for comments. Applying the provision mechanically would ignore cost effectiveness and safety and would undermine the very purposes of the ACA.

Of the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy, Bayes, the NIH, and Human Studies Ethics (Kimball Atwood)
The TACT study was ill-conceived; it violated the principles of equipoise, informed consent, appropriate medical care of subjects, Bayesian prior probability, and the need to carry out phase I and II trials before phase III trials. As predicted, it yielded ambiguous results that were misinterpreted as justifying chelation therapy, if only for diabetics. Chelationists see it as a free pass to apply their favorite lucrative remedy for over 70 disparate indications.

Author: "harriet.hall@comcast.net (Harriet Hall)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Wednesday, 21 May 2014 21:02

The Driskill Hotel is an historic building in downtown Austin, Texas. Opened in 1886 by Civil War Colonel Jesse Driskill, the compulsive gambler promptly lost the hotel in a high-stakes poker game the following year. In 1890, Driskill died a broken man, and is believed to haunt the hotel to this day. It is said that he makes his presence known by the scent of his cigar smoke and the occasional appearance in a guest’s room, and especially to the ladies. 

Driskill Hotel

On a recent trip to Austin with my husband and fellow investigator Matthew Baxter, we visited the hotel to check out some of the folklore. We approached the concierge, Marcos, and asked him about hauntings in The Driskill. He was well prepared for the question, “Here’s a handout of our ghost stories!” Marcos has been a member of staff for the past two years but he hasn’t experienced any paranormal activity. However, he has heard stories from staff and visitors of a paranormal prankster that operates the elevators, moves furniture, pushes guests out of their beds, and hides their belongings. Marcos recently received a phone call from a former guest who said, “Two years ago I stayed at the hotel and I left an offering in my room. Has the activity stopped?” He had to inform her that, no, the claims haven’t ceased. 

The landmark hotel has had a number of celebrity guests who report having brushes with ghosts. Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics once stayed at The Driskill during a tour. Undecided as to what to wear onstage that night, she laid out two dresses on the bed and took a shower. When she reemerged, the decision had been made for her as one of the dresses had been packed away. Concrete Blonde lead singer Johnette Napolitano also stayed at the hotel. Her song, “Ghost of a Texas Ladies’ Man” is supposedly about her encounter with the ghostly Colonel Driskill. 

I saw a face in the shower door

A cowboy smile came and faded

I reached for my towel on the floor

I didn’t think it was exactly where I’d laid it

“You don’t scare me, you don’t scare me,” I said

To whatever it was floating in the air above my bed

He knew I’d understand

He was the ghost of a Texas ladies’ man

Room number 525 is rumored to be the most haunted in the building. This is supposedly the scene of two suicides that occurred twenty years apart to the day. Known as the “suicide brides”, both women committed suicide in the bathroom on their honeymoons, for reasons unknown. People claim to see apparitions in the room of a woman wearing a wedding dress, and to have problems with lights and faucets in the bathroom. It appears this is an urban legend, as there is no evidence for these deaths, and the details change across different versions of the story. 

Haunted Painting - Driskill HotelThe most popular legend is that of four-year-old Samantha Houston, who was the daughter of a U.S. Senator. In 1887, the little girl chased a ball down the grand staircase when she tripped and fell to her death. As a tribute, the hotel owner commissioned a portrait of Samantha that still hangs on the wall of the fifth floor. The painting shows Samantha smiling sweetly as she holds a bunch of flowers and clutches a letter. Visitors claim to feel dizzy or nauseous when they look at the painting while some report feeling a strange sensation of being “lifted” off the ground. Others say Samantha tries to communicate through the painting, and that if you stare at her long enough, her expression changes. People believe they can hear her childish giggles throughout the halls of the hotel, and the sound of her ball bouncing down the stairs. 

There are many simple and natural explanations for the paranormal claims. Most damning of all, it turns out that the “haunted painting” isn’t a portrait of Samantha Houston. This is a modern replica by Richard King of a work entitled “Love Letters’ by Charles Trevor Garland (1855-1906). Prints of the painting, mouse mats, and even cross stitch patterns of the image are available everywhere online. Amusingly, this is not the only ghost story attached to the painting. Another tale online tells that the image depicts a little girl who holds the flowers and letter for her father who was a soldier in the American Civil War. (Little does she know that her daddy was already dead!) However, Garland was a British artist, and he was only ten years old when the war ended anyway. “Love Letters” is in the style typical of Garland’s works, and he is well known for his portrayals of everyday scenes, usually involving children and their pets. There is no ghostly story behind the original artwork. 

As usual, history spoils the hauntings.

Author: "kstollznow@berkeley.edu (Dr. Karen Stollznow)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Monday, 19 May 2014 21:45

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

A formal request for retraction of a Cancer article (James Coyne)
A plea for Cancer to retract an article claiming that psychotherapy delays recurrence and extends survival for breast cancer patients. It’s just another poorly conceived attempt to validate fanciful ideas about “mind over matter” in cancer treatment. Its conclusions are not supported by simple analyses, but only by the authors’ inappropriate multivariate analyses. The research design was flawed, there is no plausible mechanism to explain their results, it is essentially a negative study misrepresented as positive, and the authors attempted to block publication of criticisms.

Gary Taubes and the Cause of Obesity (Harriet Hall)
Gary Taubes wants everyone to adopt a low-carb diet. He offers a plausible rationale but admits that the evidence isn’t in yet. Whatever the underlying cause of obesity, there are practical ways to achieve weight loss by reducing calorie intake below expenditure while we wait for better evidence. Strict low-carb diets are one way to achieve lower total calorie intake and may be somewhat more effective than other diets in the short term, but they have not proven more effective in the long term. 

Dialogue on “Alternative Therapies”  (Steven Novella)
In an opinion piece in The New York Times, James Gordon represents many common misconceptions about mainstream medicine and CAM. Mainstream medicine does not “dictate” drugs and surgery, and nutrition and exercise are mainstream, not “alternative.” It is mainstream medicine, not CAM, that addresses underlying causes. The rising costs of health care can be best addressed by not wasting money on dubious treatments.

Legislative Alchemy 2014 (so far) (Jann Bellamy)
Legislative alchemy is the process by which legislators turn practitioners of pseudoscience into state-licensed health care professionals, unleashing quackery on the public. Recently, chiropractors have suffered some defeats; naturopaths have achieved licensing in two more states; acupuncture bills are pending; and Vermont has passed a “chronic Lyme disease” bill. You can track CAM-related bills in your state through a list maintained on the Society for Science-Based Medicine website.

More Dialogs (Mark Crislip)
Another response to Gordon’s opinions in The New York Times. Medicine has issues, but the solution is not to turn to therapies based on fantasy and magic. Dr. Crislip distinguishes 4 categories of SCAMS: magic, plausible, inadequately tested, and things that are not CAM at all, like diet and exercise. Gordon’s call for a dialog on CAM is only a distraction from effective efforts to improve reality-based practice.

Author: "harriet.hall@comcast.net (Harriet Hall)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Friday, 09 May 2014 20:32

It’s said that in the year 305C.E, an Italian now known as Saint Januarius, was martyred by decapitation. We're told that some enterprising bystander witnessing this festive event had the foresight to not only bottle some of the resulting blood but also to save the head of the unfortunate man.

In 1337, just about the time when relics-of-the-saints were becoming very popular among competing archbishops – the famous Shroud of Turin popped up at about that time, too – the Cathedral of Naples announced that the head of Januarius and the vial of his blood, recently rediscovered, were going on display. Mind you, the head was not actually shown. A silver urn said to contain it was displayed, as it is even to this day. It seems no one has ever troubled, dared, or cared – to look inside the urn. But faith is a wonderful thing.


Fifty-two years later, the Archbishop of Naples disclosed another wonderful discovery: under certain limited circumstances, he said, the red-brown congealed blood in its lavishly-mounted reliquary would miraculously liquefy -- if the congregation's prayers were earnest enough.

img111For the past six centuries, this popular wonder has been regularly exhibited at the cathedral to the never-failing astonishment of the public. In the ceremony, the reigning archbishop reverently inverts the bottle, the congregation prays fervently, the process is repeated many times, and eventually the "blood" becomes a bright red, freely-flowing liquid. Wow…

We're told that only the archbishop can bring about this transformation, and that the miracle only occurs – conveniently – on special feast days. The unfortunate fact is that the substance in that reliquary has often liquefied during the process of cleaning and polishing the device, while it is being handled – by quite ordinary folks – on any day of the year.

In recent years, three Italian chemists became curious about this wonder. One of them is Dr. Luigi Garlaschelli, who I know well, and he has been able to shed welcome light on this rather silly wonder. Unable to directly examine the substance due its sanctified nature, his team had to be satisfied with examining previous – very poor – evidence. Iron, an element present in hemoglobin, had been detected on the reliquary, and the resulting decision was that the substance held inside the reliquary was indeed real blood. Parapsychologists and other such folks don't need jogging or a treadmill for workouts; they get all their exercise from jumping to conclusions.

The chemist team, however, was unsatisfied with that conclusion. They reasoned that if they could replicate the observed effect, there might be some reason to doubt the validity of the miracle. Using materials that were available locally from the slopes of nearby Mount Vesuvius, and utilizing procedures that were well-known to medieval workers, the team eventually produced a liquid that in every way matches the liquid in the reliquary. I have a sample of their product in my prop-box. It is the correct red-brown color, it coats the interior surface of the container in the same way as the original, and it gels solidly after only a few hours if undisturbed. I often use it during my lectures…


Author: "astonishing@randi.org (James Randi)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Wednesday, 07 May 2014 19:35

If you are not an educator, please help us spread the word about this wonderful opportunity. 

Are you an educator who would like to bring more skepticism and critical thinking into your classroom? Would you like to be inspired, energized, and informed? The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 is a great place to meet other educators, gather materials (including printed copies of the JREF’s education modules for classroom use), pick up tips, and be inspired. 

In addition to three days of superb talks and panel discussions, TAM 2014 offers a full day of workshops, including two which will focus on incorporating skeptical thinking lessons into classrooms. This year’s theme, “Skepticism and the Brain” promises to be especially valuable to educators.

The Amaz!ng Meeting is attended by people from all walks of life and all over the globe. Speakers include scientists, philosophers, journalists, educators, activists, and even entertainers. Simply put, The Amaz!ng Meeting is James Randi Educational Foundation’s yearly celebration of science, education, and critical thinking.  Educators who attend TAM will be able to bring what they have learned into the classroom. 

And we would like to help you join us!

In an effort to expand our promotion of education and the development of future critical thinkers, the JREF established the TAM Teacher Scholarship Fund in 2013. The fund will pay the registration fees for a limited number (to be determined by donations received by June 15, 2014) of educators to attend The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 10-13. 

The best news is that due to the generosity of the skeptical community, we are already on our way to awarding grants and we have a pledge from one donor, Brian Walker, to send at least TEN more teachers to TAM 2014!

Details regarding eligibility, how to apply, and what to expect can be found here

If you would like to help send teachers to TAM 2014, you can do so here. Every little bit helps! Donations made after June 15, 2014 will be distributed to TAM 2015 grant recipients. 

Author: "tdonnelly@randi.org (Barbara Drescher)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Tuesday, 06 May 2014 20:39

Here is a rundown of the disturbing news that made your jaw drop courtesy of Doubtful News.


We range from the silly to the serious this week. 

Let's start with the serious. A case where facilitated communication used as a consent for sex will go to court. Will this be a statement about the bogosity of this technique?

A Forbes piece on money wasted on chiropractic prompted an angry reaction from practitioners who say subluxations are real.

A teen goes for an adventure in the Colombian wilds. It ends tragically as he ingests a plant-based drink prepared by a shaman and dies.

A faith healer promises to cure cancer and life woes by sending money to be hung on a magic tree. Yes, hundreds of thousands of dollars never made it to the magic tree.

Gef the talking mongoose, one of the weirdest stories from Fortean history, is featured in the Wall Street Journal.

The Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network (their new moniker) were labeled an unreliable source of information by the national health care commission.

A support group for alien abductees has the potential to be harmful even though the intention is good.

A video showing a plane landing in humid weather is said to be emitting chemtrails. Since water is a chemical, they are sort of correct...

Is the ghost hunter craze wearing off? A local board denies the TV investigators access to a historic location.

Meanwhile, a historic mansion claimed to be haunted gets scooped up in a foreclosure sale, bringing more than the asking price!

Word of the week: Spectrophilia. You may not appreciate knowing what it means but it's gaining popularity.

Finallly, poor Nessie is down and out. But the local businesses are desperate to keep her alive. They are desperate to the point of issuing these really terrible sonar traces.

Come visit Doubtfulnews.com for more stories like this every day. Check out our twitter feed @doubtfulnews and our Facebook page. Send your story tips to editor@doubtfulnews.com

Author: "idoubtit00@gmail.com (Sharon Hill)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Tuesday, 06 May 2014 20:31

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.


Traditional Chinese herbalism at the Cleveland Clinic? What happened to science-based medicine? (David Gorski)
The Cleveland Clinic has opened a new Chinese herbal therapy center, offering questionable treatments not backed by any scientific evidence and using bogus Chinese pulse-taking for diagnosis. The consent form even constitutes an admission that what they are offering is not real medicine.  A shameful example of the infiltration of quackery into mainstream medicine.

The Compassionate Freedom of Choice Act: Ill-advised “right to try” goes federal (David Gorski)
A bill for compassionate freedom of choice has been introduced in the US House of Representatives. It would expand access to unapproved therapies and diagnostics, bypassing the existing system that already provides a way to approve single patient trials for “compassionate use exceptions.” It is a terrible idea, constituting a stealth assault on the very heart of clinical trial ethics. 

How “they” view “us” (David Gorski)
We see ourselves as promoting science-based medicine and educating the world about quackery. Our critics see us as evil pharma shills with conflicts of interest, preying on sick people for profit and deliberately hiding the “truth.” They attack us from a level of pure venomous hatred, even comparing us to Nazis. They should not be our target; we should ignore their hatred and continue trying to provide accurate information to the fence-sitters.

Dr. Joe Writes About Quackery (Harriet Hall)
In a new book, Is That a Fact? “Dr. Joe” Schwarcz takes on quackery. He interweaves chemistry with medicine, critical thinking, and the scientific method. His analyses of quacks and frauds and his explanations of the chemistry of everyday life are simple, lucid, and humorous. The book is not only informative but is a delight to read.

Microwaves and Nutrition (Steven Novella)
There is an anti-science subculture that consistently misunderstands and misinterprets the evidence and arrives at the wrong conclusions. The Food Babe is a prime example. Her beliefs about microwave ovens are demonstrably incorrect and at odds with the scientific evidence. Microwaves are safe, and the net effects on health and nutrition are favorable. 

Telemedicine: Click and the doctor will see you now (Jann Bellamy)
The technology for telemedicine is already here; patients can interact with doctors via video communication. This has the potential to improve access and quality of health care when properly used. It could also decrease quality of care and facilitate quackery. Regulators are playing catch-up, trying to establish standards.

Cochrane Reviews: The Food Babe of Medicine? (Mark Crislip)
Systematic reviews are a way of evaluating all the published evidence to reach a conclusion, but they do a poor job of predicting the results of a definitive clinical trial. The Cochrane reviews are highly regarded, but they are flawed. Their conclusions frequently reveal reviewer bias and they fail to consider factors outside of study results. For instance, they discourage stockpiling oseltamivir for possible influenza epidemics based on data that would not be applicable to an epidemic situation. 


Author: "harriet.hall@comcast.net (Harriet Hall)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Friday, 02 May 2014 16:10

Thanks to Leo Igwe, many skeptics have heard of the strong belief in witchcraft in Africa, leading to torture, beatings and burnings of innocent people. Fewer of us have heard about the belief in some Asian countries that sex with a virgin will afford magical powers to men, leading to sex exploitation.


Skeptics dismiss “women’s magazines” as filled with frivolous fashion and gossip. Undoubtedly, many of them still publish horoscopes and articles that promote alternative therapies, although occasionally they feature an important piece. I came across such an article in the April 2014 issue of Marie Claire in which Abigail Haworth writes about Cambodia’s underground virgin trade. Haworth reveals a dangerous superstition; many older Asian men believe that having sex with virgins will prevent or cure disease and help them stay youthful.

These men pay anything from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars to have sex with underage girls. Clients come from within Cambodia, and also China, Singapore, and Vietnam. The practice is illegal, although the laws are not enforced. This is partly because the trade has gone underground and offenders are difficult to trace. These are intricate networks and the girls are often sold through brokers who deliver the girls to discreet locations. Furthermore, the perpetrators are in a position to protect themselves as many clients are rich and powerful high-ranking officials from the Cambodian government, the military, and the police force.

Thousands of young girls are sold every year and unfortunately, their parents are complicit in these activities. In the Cambodian culture, children have a strong loyalty to their elders, and a sense of duty to pay back their parents for raising them. Cambodia is riddled with poverty, and many families are financially desperate, some living on less than $1 a day. Some parents hope to pay back gambling debts with their ill-gotten gains, while others use the money to fund drug and alcohol addictions. Virginity can be faked, so the demand is for very young girls, usually 12 and 13-year-olds while girls as young as 8 are “reserved” by clients for the future when they hit puberty. When they are “used”, the girls are often then sold on to brothels to suffer a lifetime of abuse. Haworth tells the following story.

Dara Keo and her mother, Rotana, were both in tears when it was time for her to leave. A motorized rickshaw had arrived to transport 12-year-old Keo from her one-room shack in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, to an unknown location. Keo was crying because she was terrified. Rotana was crying because she knew she had done something unspeakable: She had sold her daughter's virginity to a rich, powerful man. The rickshaw driver took Keo to an underground medical clinic. A corrupt doctor on the payroll of brokers who arrange the sale of virgins examined her to check that her hymen was intact and gave her a blood test for HIV infection. “He confirmed I was a virgin and disease-free,” says Keo, now 17. “Then I was taken to the man who bought me. I had to stay with him for one week while he raped me many times without a condom.”

The superstition that having sex with virgins will restore health, bring good luck, and a longer life is not new. The belief that the touch of a virgin could cure disease goes back hundreds of years and can be found across cultures, including Taoist legend. In Victorian England, virgins were highly sought after in prostitution, as they would be free of diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea that were rampant at the time. This practice metamorphosed into the belief that having sex with a virgin would “cure” venereal diseases. Similarly, there is a modern myth across Africa that if a man is infected with HIV, AIDS, or other venereal diseases that having sex with a virgin will cure him of the disease. Sadly, there are many cases of men testing out this theory, and infecting young children with life-threatening diseases.

That these beliefs are still prevalent is a depressing sign of the lack of education and critical thinking in many societies. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations that have formed to help prevent the sale and exploitation of children in Cambodia, and which we can support. Riverkids ( http://www.riverkidsproject.org), She Rescue Home ( http://sherescuehome.org) and Bloom ( http://www.bloomasia.org) are just a few existing groups that offer refuge, education, and training for women in Cambodia, to save them from a life of exploitation.  

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here.



Haworth, Abigail. 2014. My Mom Sold My Virginity. Marie Claire Magazine.

Mikkelson, Barbara. 2007. Snopes. Rape of Innocents. http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/petition/babyrape.asp Accessed 04/26/2014

Knox, Claire. Virgin’s trade keeps plaguing Cambodia. Phnom Penh Post. http://www.asafeworldforwomen.org/children/c-asia-pacific/ch-cambodia/3051-virgins-trade.html Accessed 04/25/2014

Watson, Matthew. 2009. Movie - Cambodia: The Virginity Trade.

Author: "kstollznow@berkeley.edu (Dr. Karen Stollznow)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Apr 2014 14:57

This terrific blog piece on Forbes.com should be of interest to any and all supporters of scientific skepticism and spreading the rationalist worldview.  Beginning by pointing out the commonplace belief of Americans in pseudoscientific claims ranging from witches to ghosts to ESP, the writer, Steven Ross Pomeroy, right calls out media figures like Dr. Mehmet Oz, “who’s touted more than 16 weight-loss miracles on his show,” along with anti-science co-conspirators like Deepak Chopra and the TLC network for promoting “Long Island medium” Theresa Caputo.  


Shout-outs are given to the New England Skeptical Society, Center For Skeptical Inquiry, and the James Randi Education Foundation, while the focus is brought to bear on the need for changes in the educational system. Interestingly, data is cited about the difficulty of altering pseudoscientific beliefs, with even an undergraduate degree offering little movement in such beliefs.  

Offering a list of distinguishing features of pseudoscience vs. science – worthy of a close look by any skeptic! – a cautionary note is also offered concerning the hazards of using pseudoscience to teach about science, and the importance of “stressing the refutation of pseudoscientific claims more than the claims, themselves.”

In my own long-held opinion, the focus of early science education should be on the nature of scientific investigation and its approach to claims and evidence – the nature of the scientific method itself – rather than merely on the technical elements of specific scientific fields and subjects. We should not be teaching students to memorize the periodic table of the elements before we teach how science works. 

The inventor, entrepreneur and science and technology supporter, Dean Kamen and I discussed this issue at the 20134 TRANS4M conference (where we shared the stage with I.M.Angel Foundation founder Will.I.Am, along with President Bill Clinton and others), and Dean made an excellent point, suggesting that if we taught kids football the way we teach science, we would spend the first year teaching the rules, the second year the plays and strategies, and in the third year we would let them touch the ball.

But in addition to changing the way we teach science – to teach the methods of science and not merely the mechanics – it is also important to distinguish between science education and teaching critical thinking. As my colleague Steve Novella commented to me over lunch at last weekend’s Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism [www.necss.org] which I hosted in New York City, while there is overlap between science and critical thinking, there are distinct differences, and if you want to help immunize people from the thinking flaws that lead to the embrace of pseudoscientific claims, critical thinking skills are the most important protection.

In short, we are constantly reminded of the need for improved critical thinking skills – and the fundamental raison d’être for the continuing presence of the scientific skepticism movement. More than 350 such supporters joined us last weekend at NECSS, and enjoyed speakers like physicist Lawrence Krauss, astronaut Cady Coleman, developmental psychologist Alyson Gopnik, cognitive neuroscientist Heather Berlin, physician and author Paul Offit, and many more.  And we expect more than a thousand similarly-minded enthusiasts will join the cause and the fun at The Amazing Meeting this July in Las Vegas. Hope to see you there!

Author: "jis@jamyianswiss.com (Jamy Ian Swiss)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Apr 2014 14:50

Here is a rundown of the alternative views that will make you less smart this week courtesy of Doubtful News.


Skeptics were out in force calling out Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski for his unapproved (and likely ineffective and toxic) cancer treatment, antineoplastons. The work of skeptical advocacy has been crucial in turning up the heat for an investigation.

Another hot button topic has been the long tragic parade of needless deaths of children at the hand of parents who rely on faith healing instead of medical treatment. The Tennessee Supreme Court will address a faith exception in their law for caregivers. In Oregon, the defense wants to minimize the "faith" aspect of "faith healing" due to prejudice against the followers.

In another alternative attitude to medicine, celebrity anti-vaccination advocate Jenny McCarthy is toning down her opinion  on the anti-vax matters (too little, too late) while another bubbly blond actress "cluelessly" assumes the role of "expert" mom, advocating no medicine.

Hollywood is still promoting ridiculous psychic TV shows. The bar keeps getting lower as a psychic claims to help families of murder victims. It's not only informed skeptics who are appalled.

The media is desperate for any news on the missing-in-action Loch Ness Monster. So when people find glitches in satellite pictures of boats on the loch, that's news. That's Nessie!

Was it the ring of doom? No, but it was an interesting phenomena, quickly explained, but not by so called "UFO experts" - a vortex ring over UK skies.

A big shining bright spot this week for evidence-based skepticism was Bill Nye's insight into his February debate with Creationist Ken Ham. Bill clearly came out the crystal clear winner on all counts in this bout.

Finally, are you crafty with papier mache and fish parts? A new examination of a famous merbeing shows how you can construct your own gaff.

Add DoubtfulNews.com to your RSS feed or follow us on Twitter @doubtfulnews so you won't miss a story. You can even subscribe to the blog via email and have story links delivered to your email box as they post. Our Facebook page is also a great way to check in. Send your story tips to editor@doubtfulnews.com

Author: "idoubtit00@gmail.com (Sharon Hill)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Monday, 21 Apr 2014 17:16

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.


Bill and Hillary Clinton go woo with Dr. Mark Hyman and “functional medicine” (David Gorski)
The Clintons are getting their health advice from an unreliable source, Mark Hyman, who “integrates” science with nonsense and embraces the pseudoscientific so-called “functional” medicine. He advocates “detox” and sells supplements that are not based on acceptable evidence, such as PGX Fiber. He even paints current medicine as “obsolete” like bloodletting or phrenology, and is something of a germ theory denialist.

Risk of Intussusception with Rotavirus Vaccines (Harriet Hall)
A new study reported an increased incidence of intussusception with the two current rotavirus vaccines. The increase is small, the condition is reversible, and the risk is insignificant when weighed against the overwhelming benefits of the vaccines. Every year, they prevent 53,000 hospitalizations and 170,000 ER visits in the US alone.

GSK Investigated for Bribing Doctors (Steven Novella)
Eleven doctors in Poland have been charged with corruption for accepting bribes from pharmaceutical company sales reps. Such cases are the exception rather than the rule. Corruption can never be entirely eliminated, but laudable efforts to reduce it are underway. 

What Whole Foods Markets Doesn’t Tell You (Jann Bellamy)
Whole Foods Markets sell organic food and bogus health products like homeopathic remedies. They also sell a despicable magazine, What Doctors Don’t Tell You, that was created by the infamous Lynne McTaggert and Bryan Hubbard and is full of false claims and potentially dangerous advice, including anti-vaccine propaganda. This chain of “healthy” supermarkets is promoting quackery and conspiratorial rubbish. 

Moxibustion (Mark Crislip)
Burning mugwort over acupoints is yet another TCM modality with no utility for the treatment of any illness and with known complications such as burns, infections (including hepatitis C), and allergic reactions. The underlying mechanism is ludicrous, and systematic reviews of scientific studies are not supportive.

Author: "harriet.hall@comcast.net (Harriet Hall)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 05:00

Here is a rundown of the attempt to turn people away from science and reason this week courtesy of Doubtful News.


We have two big sarcastic "Thanks" to groups who make the world a more ignorant place. First, thanks to ghost hunters around the world for making people believe every noise, camera artifact or blip in the electromagnetic field is OH MY GOD, A GHOST! (And Thanks to USA Today for a total credulous story.)

And thanks to reprehensible anti-vaccination advocates who put babies in the hospital because of their propaganda.

In a related story, we were genuinely happy to report that restaurant chain Chili's backed down on a charitable event that would have given money to an anti-vax organization. Cheers!

In other alternative medicine news this week, we profiled another example of acupuncture not being so safe, let alone effective.

And it was Homeopathy Awareness Week. We made sure to join the voices yelling, "There's nothing in it!"

Say it ain't so, Captain Janeway? And she did say it. A new anti-science film sparks controversy which will unfortunately be great for ratings.

Our readers help figure out what's behind some photo mysteries circulating on the web. Come join the fun. 

Is this greenish glow a ghost? A glitch? We have some ideas.

Another strange anomaly showed up on Mars. A Martian flair? Or did that darn camera trick us again?

Finally, we have two updates on mysterious visuals from last week. Revisit these stories to see about the deer in the UFO headlights and the near miss meteoroid filmed by skydiver.

Add DoubtfulNews.com to your RSS feed or follow us on Twitter @doubtfulnews so you won't miss a story. You can even subscribe to the blog via email and have story links delivered to your email box as they post. Our Facebook page is also a great way to check in. Send your story tips to editor@doubtfulnews.com

Author: "idoubtit00@gmail.com (Sharon Hill)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Monday, 14 Apr 2014 18:59

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.


Mammography and the acute discomfort of change (David Gorski)
Clinicians are slow to embrace new findings from research. Two new studies cast more doubt on the standard guidelines for screening mammography. Overdiagnosis is a problem, and we have no data on woman over age 75. It’s frustrating for doctors who have to decide whether to stick to existing guidelines until new ones are issued based on new evidence or to use their own judgment about individual patients.

Ridiculous Warning from Chiropractors About Alleged Health Effects of Texting (Harriet Hall)
A chiropractic organization has warned that using mobile phones for texting could cause hyperkyphosis and shorten your life, and that poor posture is as big a health risk as obesity. They are wrong about these and a lot of the other claims on their website. They don’t even mention the real danger of texting: accidents that occur when people pay more attention to their phone than to traffic.

Another Damning Homeopathy Report (Steven Novella)
Homeopathy is nonsense. A new report from Australia confirms what we already knew:  the evidence shows it does not work. There is no rational justification for further investment in this pre-scientific and disproved notion.

New evidence, same conclusion: Tamiflu only modestly useful for influenza (Scott Gavura)
The drug Tamiflu is recommended for prevention and treatment of influenza and is stockpiled for use in a pandemic. Unpublished research has now been added to the dataset, but it hasn’t changed what we already knew. The benefits of Tamiflu are limited, but it may have a role in selected patients and in preventing the spread of influenza.

Amber Waves of Woo (John Snyder)
Teething necklaces made of amber beads continue to be popular. The alleged mechanisms of action range from the hilarious (“activates the solar plexus and root chakra”) to the just barely plausible. There is no evidence that they work and no reason to think they might work. And necklaces are hazardous to young children: they could cause strangulation.

Author: "harriet.hall@comcast.net (Harriet Hall)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Apr 2014 21:49

In recent weeks we’ve been following the tragedy and mystery of the Malaysia Airlines flight 370 that vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board. Less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing all communication was cut off. The plane diverted unexpectedly across the Indian Ocean and disappeared from civilian air traffic control screens. There has been much controversy surrounding the transcript of the last incoming transmission between the air traffic controller and the cockpit of the ill-fated flight.


We tend to have a morbid fascination with people’s last words. We assign profound meaning and philosophical insights to the final words uttered by those who face their fate ahead of us. There are numerous books and websites that chronicle the linguistic legacies of famous people such as Douglas Fairbank’s ironic, “I’ve never felt better”, to Woodrow Wilson’s courageous, “I am ready”, and the betrayal expressed in Julius Caesar’s, “Et tu, Brute?” Planecrashinfo.com maintains a database of last words from cockpit recordings, transcripts, and air traffic control tapes. These are disturbing announcements of impeding doom including, “Actually, these conditions don’t look very good at all, do they?” through to an assortment of cuss words, and moving farewells, “Amy, I love you.”

Commentators’ speculation surrounding the last words from the cockpit of MH 370 doesn’t only satisfy the public’s curiosity, but it was hoped to reveal the plane’s fate. During the early stages of the investigation, Malaysian authorities stated that the pilot’s hand-off was the unceremonious “All right, goodnight”. The informal nature of this phrasing increased suspicions that the plane was taken over by hijackers and the pilot was under immense psychological stress. If terrorists stormed the cockpit and seized the controls they might not be familiar with the complex register spoken by pilots. Alternatively, it was feared that such unconventional language might suggest that the pilot was suicidal, or a political fanatic who tried to sabotage the flight. (Some “experts” even believe that the Bermuda Triangle is to blame.) 

However, new information has now come to light that fills in the blanks. The Malaysian Transport Ministry has released the full transcript of the final communications between MH370 and the Kuala Lumpur air traffic controllers:

12:46:51 MAS 370 Lumpur Control Malaysian Three Seven Zero

12:46:51 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero Lumpur radar Good Morning climb flight level two five zero

12:46:54 MAS370 Morning level two five zero Malaysian Three Seven Zero

12:50:06 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero climb flight level three five zero

12:50:09 MAS370 Flight level three five zero Malaysian Three Seven Zero

01:01:14 MAS370 Malaysian Three Seven Zero maintaining level three five zero

01:01:19 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero

01:07:55 MAS370 Malaysian...Three Seven Zero maintaining level three five zero

01:08:00 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero

01:19:24 ATC Malaysian Three Seven Zero contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9 Good Night

01:19:29 MAS370 Good Night Malaysian Three Seven Zero

The final words were not “All right, goodnight”, but the more self-referential, “Good night Malaysian Three Seven Zero” (although Malaysian authorities didn’t explain the discrepancy with the initial account and why they let it stand uncorrected for weeks.) This correct transcript and its context shows that there was nothing out of the ordinary in this final transmission. According to the standard protocol for sign-off, the pilot names the air traffic controller, repeats their message, and closes off with the aircraft’s call sign. As we can see, the speaker didn’t address the air traffic control facility or repeat the final message. However, airline safety experts have stated that there was nothing strange about this sign-off, or even the incorrect version of the transmission.

Unfortunately, these final words from the cockpit don’t offer any clues about the plane’s disappearance, and what actually happened remains a mystery for the time being.  

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author, skeptical paranormal investigator and a research fellow for the James Randi Foundation. You can follow Karen on Twitter here. 



Federal Aviation Administration. Radio Communications Phraseology and Techniques.  https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/aim/aim0402.html

Pearson, Michael and Jim Clancy. April 2, 2014. Report: MH370 disappearance a criminal investigation, police chief says. http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/01/world/asia/malaysia-airlines-plane/index.html?hpt=hp_t1  

Plane Crash Info. http://www.planecrashinfo.com/lastwords.htm

MAS 370 Pilot ATC Radiotelephony Transcript. http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/04/01/transcript.pdf

Author: "kstollznow@berkeley.edu (Dr. Karen Stollznow)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 05:00

Here is a rundown of hoaxes, flops, and downright lucky breaks this week courtesy of Doubtful News.


The biggest weird and wonderful news stories this week involved animals. Doubtful News was the first non-woo-woo site to address the claims that animals were fleeing Yellowstone from some mysterious sense of coming doom. They weren't and here's why.

Any hairless animal is, by default, called a "chupacabra" (goat-sucker) and demonized in the media. This poor raccoon became a media star but deserved better treatment than that.

What was going on in these game cam pictures of a deer in Mississippi? It looks mysterious until you look closer.

In another geological hoax, a fake letter was circulated around southern California warning of an impending earthquake.

I wonder if this art exhibition has anything to do with a historic hoax of fairy photos. I'd worry if it doesn't.

It's unclear if this claim of a skydiver encountering a falling meteor is real or a hoax.

It's also unclear if these psychics who claim to have found a missing body were really any help at all. All we have is a story.

A miracle? No, this guy was extremely fortunate in this unfortunate turn of events - the Pennsylvania Chainsaw Miracle.

A Christian college disses its biology professors. Morale tanks. No surprise there.

In Australia, a court rules for a father who wants his children vaccinated in spite of the mother's anti-vax views.

The aliens have landed? For some reason, the small town of Elwood, Kansas was the target of a crazy social media frenzy.

Presidents are curious about the UFO question.

Gee, exorcists are getting younger and younger.

Finally, Doubtful News has a thumbnail guide to media sources that are so sensationalized and wackadoodle that we don't even address their claims. They are "beyond doubtful". You'll recognize many of the woo-meisters.

Come visit Doubtfulnews.com for more stories like this every day. Check out our twitter feed @doubtfulnews and our Facebook page. Send your story tips to  editor@doubtfulnews.com and please SHARE the stories you like with your social circles. 

Author: "idoubtit00@gmail.com (Sharon Hill)" Tags: "Swift"
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Date: Monday, 07 Apr 2014 22:23

Bernie Madoff worked hard to rob his victims of billions of dollars. Be it Monte or Madoff, con artists are skilled deceivers who understand human foibles and can use these skills to take unfair advantage. While there are always observers who are quick to blame the victim, people duped by con artists are not perpetrators. While it is true that human psychology and flawed thinking may help us become co-conspirators in such predations, nevertheless blaming the victim offers neither insight nor explanation. If we are going to understand how and why such schemes are successful, we must credit the con man.


The Honest Liar is presented by JREF Senior Fellow, magician and scientific skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss. Follow Jamy as he uses critical thinking, skepticism, and a healthy dose of humor, along with his expertise in legerdemain, to explore the facts behind false claims. 

Author: "tdonnelly@randi.org (JREF Staff)" Tags: "Swift"
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