Space City Skeptics

The Official Blog of the Houston Skeptic Society

Archive for April 2009

Facebook Group Secedes From the United States…..

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Cambridge, MA-In a suprising move earlier today, administrators of the Facebook social group, “1,000,000 People Who Love Kittens!!!”, officially declared their secession from the Unites States.

The group, started by New Jersey homemaker Jeannie Baker in August of last year, currently consists of Jeannie, Jeannie’s best friend Luanne Watkins, and a man listed only as Steve. Displayed in the group’s photo section are nearly three hundred pictures of Jeannie and Luanne’s cats, Monsieur Muffin and Señor Whiskers respectively, as well as a number of drawings of cats by Steve.

President Obama, upon learning of the secession, reacted by ordering an immediate review of the groups submitted secession paperwork. “I immediately put my best people on this,” Obama explained. “But after a thorough review, it’s all there and the administration’s hands are tied on this.”

Constitutional scholar Mort Fishbein agrees. “This isn’t the first time a small group of organized citizens has left the Union. Of course we all learned a powerful lesson from Reagan’s 1983 thermonuclear strike on the Greater Newark Dungeons & Dragons Club. Diplomacy is really the way to go here.”

When told of the groups secession, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed regret but also understanding. “I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. My girlfriend told me that one day my free-access social networking website was going to end up tearing this nation apart.”

Written by skepticpedi

April 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Facebook, Satire

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My Family Members Aren’t Immune

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A few days ago, my aunt sent me the name of a ‘nutritional supplement’ that her cousin had sold her sometime back.  When she first told me about it, I pointed out that it sounded fishy.  I did some research on the product, and found that it a product sold through a multi-level marketing company called “FirstFitness“.  The website is more dedicated towards promoting new distributorships than its products, and like most MLMs, stresses how the participants can quit their stressful, high income jobs and work from home a few hours a week, and eventually win a Mercedes, dream vacations, and the like.  Of course, you have to sign up 10 people, who each need to sign up 10 people…

She was persuaded to buy something called Lipomax 10, advertised as a homeopathic remedy to ‘support optimal liver function’  and ‘help relieve the symptoms of bloating, fatigue, water retention, allergies, sluggish bowels and a sluggish metabolism.’  That’s some powerful stuff!

The ingredients include ground dandelion seed, ground Celandine stem, milk thistle powder, and a ‘proprietary blend’ which is 99% turmeric extract, turmeric being a spice that gives mustard its characteristic yellow color and is a component of many curry powder blends.

For milk thistle, I did find that some research has been done, through the National Institute of Health, but through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines.  If you’ve kept up with the news, you’ll remember that the sponsors of this center have been disappointed that the research has turned up no efficacy in anything they’ve studied to date.  As far as milk thistle:

  • There have been some studies of milk thistle on liver disease in humans, but these have been small. Some promising data have been reported, but study results at this time are mixed.
  • Although some studies conducted outside the United States support claims of oral milk thistle to improve liver function, there have been flaws in study design and reporting. To date, there is no conclusive evidence to prove its claimed uses.
  • Recent NCCAM-funded research includes a phase II study to better understand the use of milk thistle for chronic hepatitis C. Additional research, cofunded by NCCAM and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, includes studies of milk thistle for chronic hepatitis C and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (liver disease that occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol).
  • The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Nursing Research are also studying milk thistle, for cancer prevention and to treat complications in HIV patients.

In other words, nada.

My quick search of the dandelion and celandine showed even less promise – all the links were to natural or homeopathic sites, and talked about the wonders of these all-natural ingredients, and how they have been used ‘well known and used throughout Europe’ which apparently is meant to confer status.  The sites claim that these herb promote health, aid digestion, improve liver function (apparently most of us are going around with non-functioning livers), prevent colds, inhibit tumor growth, improve appetite, cure yeast infections, and decrease glucose levels.  Considering that my aunt is a diabetic, I’m not sure that taking dandelion capsules would be a good idea, if it really did change glucose levels in the blood willy-nilly.

I think my aunt was a bit embarrassed, and threw the stuff away.  I suggested that she take the company’s money-back guarantee to heart and get her $35 back.  She needn’t be embarrassed.  I don’t know the cousin who sold her the stuff very well, but I recall that she is a bit incredulous about a great many things (she out one time belonged to a religious group who thought they could raise people from the dead), and was likely merely trying to supplement her income.  The herbal, natural, and homeopathic supplements generate billions of dollars in sales each year, so there are a lot of well-intentioned, educated people who are uninformed about what is being sold, legally.  Oprah is a big source of unsubstantiated garbage.  For instance, she touts Acai berry, and sales increase dramatically.  Wikipedia states:

Recently, the açai “berry” has been touted and marketed as a highly beneficial dietary supplement. Companies sell açaí berry products in the form of tablets, juice, smoothies, instant drink powders, and whole fruit.

Marketers of these products make claims that açai provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiberantioxidant content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels. More dubious claims include reversal of diabetes and other chronic illnesses, as well as expanding size of the penis and increasing men’s sexual virility and sexual attractiveness to women.[1][2] weight loss product.

As of March 2009, there are no controlled studies backing up any of these claims. According to ABC News correspondent Susan Donaldson, these products have not been evaluated (in the US) by the FDA, and their efficacy is questionable.[3] In late 2008, lawyers for The Oprah Winfrey Show began investigating alleged statements from supplement manufacturers who suggested that frequent Oprah guest Dr. Mehmet Oz had recommended their product or açai in general for weight loss. (Link)

The best we can do is to educate, gently, one person at a time. This morning, my mom sent me another one of those emails about how Swiffer cleaning solution kills pets, and added this note:  ” thought I’d send it on just in case. please don’t google it and correct it,  just delete.”  She meant, don’t send her a link fromSnopes about how this is not true.   I of course looked it up, and found that it not only wasn’t true and had numerous factual errors, the manufacturer of Swiffer, Proctor & Gamble, had issued press releases about the misinformation being circulated.  Someone sent that link to my mom, someone who had probably received it via email on a list with hundreds of other email addresses in the chain, and some people would stop buying a perfectly safe product, and pass the email along yet again.  I love my mom, and I’m not criticizing her, but she didn’t want to know the truth, and certainly didn’t want to respond back to the person who sent the email to her.  And that is why bad information persists against the evidence.


Written by Geek Goddess

April 25, 2009 at 8:31 am

Unintelligent Design…..

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If man was created in god’s image, then god has lower back pain and an enlarged prostate.

Written by skepticpedi

April 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Evolution, Religion

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Starbucks to Offer Retail-Based Health Care Clinic…..

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Seattle, WA-Starbucks, the largest coffeehouse company in the world, announced earlier today that it would begin opening retail-based health care clinics in select locations as early as July.

According to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, the decision to expand into medical care was inspired by the growing popularity of clinics in supermarkets and pharmacies. “Folks are hurting out there, and retail-based clinics are a more economical option in many circumstances,” Schultz explains. “Starbucks will offer convenience and reasonable prices for the treatment of common medical concerns just like we do for whole bean organic Mexican shade grown medium roast coffee.”

But Schultz adds that Starbucks won’t be unveiling just another version of the CVS MinuteClinic or Walgreens Take Care Clinic. “There is a growing mistrust of mainstream medical establishments, regardless of whether they are located in a doctor’s office, a hospital, or a Walmart. And this won’t be one of them.”

Schultz points to a 2008 survey of health care consumers from the Center for Responsible Application of Pseudoscience (CRAP), a Seattle based think tank coincidentally located in the basement of a Starbucks. Advanced statistical analysis of the survey of nearly eleventy thousand adults revealed that almost 80% of responders would prefer that their medical care be provided by practitioners open to drawing from the world of alternative medicine for more natural treatment options. In response to epidemiological data like this, and the mounting evidence in CRAP approved peer-reviewed journals supporting the safety and efficacy of alternative therapies, Starbucks will staff its clinics with acupuncturists, chiropractors, and energy healers instead of the typical nurse practitioner. These operations will be supervised by naturopathic physicians.

Written by skepticpedi

April 22, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Dan Aykroyd on UFOs…..

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While not having achieved nearly the same degree of irrational thinking as Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccine brigade, SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd has in the past few years surfaced as a UFO conspiracy theorist. I stumbled on this video of Aykroyd taken from an April 9th promotion of his Crystal Head vodka in Morris County, New Jersey, home of a recent high profile UFO hoax. In it he commits a few errors in thinking.

“Well I’ve seen two of them. They were flying end to end, wing to wing, at about 100,ooo feet doing about 20,oo0 miles per hour, zig zagging through the sky and meteoric bolides don’t do that. I’ve had unsolicited in seven states that I’ve been through at least twenty people come up and privately tell me their experiences. And they didn’t seem crazy to me.”

Aykroyd considers his own personal anecdotal experience to be valid evidence. Sometimes personal observances of unusual phenomena are helpful, but rarely in cases of unusual occurences such as UFO sightings. They invariably prove to be innaccurate. Steve Novella sums this up well:

“Sometimes people do report details, like windows or fins. They also report objects moving at fantastic speeds or carrying out seemingly impossible maneuvers. However, when viewing an object against the sky, without a clear background for reference, it is impossible to estimate size, distance, and speed, and we are subject to optical illusions. Such details are therefore not reliable, and there are numerous cases when they are demonstrably wrong.”

Meteoric bolides don’t do that, as Aykroyd correctly points out, but because of the weaknesses inherent in human neurology, he can’t really say for certain that what claims to remember is what really happened. We would have to know more to the story but I think that if there were a series of pictures or a video of the sighting it would have made the rounds by now. At best, all Aykroyd can claim is that he saw something which he could not identify. In reality, this could have been any of a large number of objects, including an alien piloted spacecraft, but it is a rather closed-minded argument from ignorance to assume that it is a visitor from another galaxy.

Many people who would not be deemed crazy, to use Aykroyd’s word, by most folks have reported UFO sightings. But even if these reports numbered in the millions it would still not serve as proof that alien beings are making pitstops here on earth. The plural of anecdote, as they say, is anecdotes not evidence. Even the most skilled observers have been fooled by ordinary objects. And all of us have had even so-called flashbulb memories become warped over time.

I hope Aykroyd does well in the vodka business, at least better than in his movie career since the 80’s. Regardless, as one woman in the video exclaims, proving there are some decent skeptics in New Jersey, “I’d physically have to see the little guys running around in front of me before I’d believe it.” While not completely accurate, as I’d settle for less than that, such as a few unambiguous photo series or videos that don’t fall apart under scientific investigation, her statement exemplify the classic skeptical adage that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Written by skepticpedi

April 12, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Acupuncture for Chronic Itching?…..

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The following gem was included in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report on the recent identification by University of Minnesota researchers of specific spinothalamic tract neurons implicated in the sensation of itching and shut down by the act of scratching. The researchers, whose study is published as a Brief Communication in the April issue of Nature Neuroscience, express hope that now that this pathway has been discovered, it may eventually pave the way for treatments, pharmaceutical or involving electrical stimulation, that replicate the phenomenon and render scratching obsolete. For folks with certain conditions associated with chronic itching, which can be debilitating for some, this would be a welcome advance.

“Professor Marcello Costa, a neuroscientist at Adelaide’s Flinders University, says a pain treatment like acupuncture could be developed for itching.

“The acupuncture is not damaging, it’s a little bit invasive but it works very well because it activates much better than just rubbing,” Professor Costa said.

“So we all discovered rubbing by ourselves, just like we discovered scratching; we have a scientific rubbing which is called acupuncture but we don’t have a scientific scratching. So I expect this paper will generate interest in developing such a scientific scratcher.””

In the article, it is implied that Costa was one of the scientists or doctors in Australia excited by the team’s findings, and he appears to have no connection with the research. In reading the full text of the paper, I can find no mention of acupuncture so it would seem that Costa came completely out of left field with this comment, which makes not a lick of sense. How does one develop a new acupuncture treatment? Does a new acupuncture point, where there exists yet another mysterious blockage of “energy” as it courses along its equally enigmatic meridian, need to be discovered? One that impacts this specific spinothalamic tract pathway?

Clearly Costa already knows that acupuncture “works very well” for itching because it “activates much better than rubbing”. But activates what? Regardless, I’m sure we will soon be reading about a landmark study proving that acupuncture cures itching. It will involve a small number of unblinded subjects with no control group naturally but that won’t matter to the people that already know it works.

Written by skepticpedi

April 10, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Skeptics’ Circle #109 is Up…..

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Check out the 109th edition of the Skeptics’ Circle, posted by Martin at The Lay Scientist.

Written by skepticpedi

April 10, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Announcements

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Simply Brilliant: A Must See Video on Being Open-Minded…..

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Written by skepticpedi

April 7, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Supervillain Solomon Grundy Calls for More Research Into Pediatric Cancer…..

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Memphis, TN-During a widely publicized press conference held today at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Solomon Grundy, a former member of both the Legion of Doom and Lex Luthor’s Injustice Gang, called for an increase in government financial support of research that may lead to a cure for childhood cancers.

“This is a real shock to the pediatric oncology community,” St. Jude spokesperson Jim Whitstock explains. “We really didn’t see this coming from someone so, well, I mean, he’s an evil two hundred year old zombie for pete’s sake.”

Grundy, a frequent nemesis of Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern explains “Me Solomon Grundy think children are future. Also me have niece with leukemia.”

Written by skepticpedi

April 6, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Posted in Satire

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Chiropractic Paleoanthropologists Discover Neanderthal Subluxations…..

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Port Orange, Fl-Shocking the scientific community today, and perhaps taking the first steps towards a new theory on the history of human evolution, chiropractic paleoanthropologists working at the Institute of Chiropaleoanthropological Studies (ICS) announced the discovery of several vertebral subluxation complexes in the well-known Kebara 2 and Shanidar 3 Neanderthal spine specimens.

“This report is the culmination of many months of painstakingly detailed research,” chiropaleoanthropologist and lead researcher Frank Grimes explained. “Not only did our highly trained team employ gentle palpation of the spine in each of the two sets of fossilized remains in order to help diagnose the lesions, the specimens were further analyzed by full spinal xrays, surface and infrared electromyography, thermal scanning, contact reflex analysis and leg length measurement.”

After a consensus vote confirmed their findings, the team set out to explain why the C-4, C-6, T-2, T-8, L-4 and L-5 vertebrae were affected in the two Neanderthals. After weeks of frustration, Arthur Fernandez, an expert in the science of Applied Kinesiology, was brought in. His involvement would prove to be a key component of the unraveling of this prehistoric enigma.

“Chiropractors aren’t used to working with patients that are deceased,” Fernandez revealed. “But we do take care of children. When I realized the connection, the similar inability of both dead people and infants to talk, it hit me.”

Using his chiropractor’s intuition, Fernandez placed his hands on a segment of subluxed Neanderthal spine and tested his own muscle strength while holding a variety of vials, each containing a substance potentially toxic to Neanderthal physiology. “When I noticed my arm feel weak as soon as I grasped the bottle of mercury, I couldn’t help but think of the irony. The same substance which is damaging so many kids today used to wreck havoc on this ancient population of monkey/human hybrids.”

With a diagnosis and an etiology in hand, the team from ICS decided to go public with their findings. And though they are all excited about the potential for future discoveries, team leader Grimes has unearthed a more melancholic interpretation of their results. “Just thinking about how an entire species was wiped off the face of the earth because chiropractic healing techniques were discovered 30,000 years too late, is a little unsettling. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to us.”

Written by skepticpedi

April 1, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Posted in chiropractic, Satire

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