Episode 109: The Quiz Show Show!

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn, Laura, Gem, and Lauren each prepare a quiz to test their fellow panelists’ knowledge in a variety of scientific and pseudoscientific domains.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics.

Pregnancy Quiz (Laura): 6 Bizarre Childbirth Myths From Ancient History | 15 Ancient Childbirth Myths | In Search of Human Placentophagy: A Cross-Cultural Survey of Human Placenta Consumption, Disposal Practices, and Cultural Beliefs | Against all odds | Miracle child | Vanishing Twin Syndrome | The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery

Cat Genetics Quiz (Ashlyn): Genetic Anomalies of Cats | Sphynx Cat | Tortoiseshell cat | Manx cat | Basic Feline Genetics | Basic Genetics as Revealed by Cats | Cat coat genetics | Cat body-type mutation | Strange but True: Cats Cannot Taste Sweets | Inherited deafness in white cats

You Have a Degree in Baloney! (Gem): Institute for Integrative Nutrition: Curriculum Guide | Canadian School for Natural Nutrition: Natural Nutrition Courses | Canadian School for Natural Nutrition: Advanced Holistic Nutritionist Workshops | Toronto School of Traditional Chinese Medicine: Courses | Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine Post-Graduate Program Outline | Pacific Rim College Community Herbalist Certificate

Peril! (Lauren): Can We Trust Crime Forensics? | Pseudoscience in the Witness Box | The Criminal Profiling Deception | CSI effect | How to Interrogate Suspects | Turkic mythology | List of flood myths | List of Māori deities | Leviathan | Viracocha | Curiosity Sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to Itself On Mars: Video | Planets & Their Moons | Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is Shrinking | Islets of Langerhands | J! Archive

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Toxic waste (of money): detoxes and cleanses

Cross-posted from Dietitian at Home.


Apparently we are all chock-full of toxins that need to be flushed out of our bodies; who knew? If we are to judge this claim based on the number of detox kits and programs available, I’d say this problem has hit epidemic proportions. Removing bad stuff from our bodies to feel better and prevent disease, and lose some weight to boot, what’s not to love with this diet trend.

Before we move on, we will need to get these horses to catch up with the cart. Our zealous, hyper health-conscious society simultaneously encourages fear over threats to our well being and aggressive, excessive measures to purge the ills and return to purity. The idea of a detox in the sense intended above is full of assumptions that are often glossed over by the marketers and not actively sought by the consumers. This fantastic article outlines the common myths around detox claims, I highly suggest you read it. To summarize briefly, despite the many claims promoted by these regimens, all fail to explicitly show key evidence for the need for the product. It is not demonstrated that our bodies are truly under attack and unable to cope with environmental exposures. There is no evidence or consensus of which, if any toxins are causing disease. There is no good or compelling evidence to show that these programs are effective in removing any toxins or treating any other illnesses we may have.

As is often said, the dose makes the poison. We encounter thousands of highly toxic substances every day, some naturally occurring, some a product of the human-made environment. Given this hellscape, we still manage to survive to see another day because most of these toxins are in such minute quantities that they pose no health risk, and our bodies are able to effectively eliminate them. The human body has excellent, built-in detoxification systems in the form of the liver and kidneys. These organs are not merely fleshy filters; they are able to convert toxins and waste products into safer forms and safely eliminate them from the body. The best part is that they are self-cleaning, no vitamin-and-cayenne-pepper-laced organ drain-o needed.

Similarly, the intestines (often claimed to harbor toxin-laden sludge) are, by their very nature, self-cleaning. Specific foods/herb mixes/protein shakes/etc. will not make these organs work better or clear more wastes from your system. As for the weight loss accompanied by, or at least touted by these cleanses, this is usually a result of:

  • a) following a very low-calorie diet for a week. Some provide as little as 500-600 calories a day, while 1200 kcal is often considered a bare minimum intake for adults.
  • b) water and muscle loss, particularly with programs involving laxative use.
  • c) removing most processed and restaurant foods from the diet.

When finishing the detox and returning to normal dietary patterns, the weight lost will more than likely return. No, this is not toxins reaccumulating, it is simply the body responding to weight loss and a return to higher calorie intake.

So how to respond to those who report feeling so much better after a cleanse. This is likely the placebo effect at play, often in combination with a more healthful diet. A person wanted to feel differently, so they made a change they believed would be beneficial, they expect positive results, and they are then more likely to report positive results regardless of the clinical outcome of the intervention.

The only times that person will truly experience a toxic overload of a particularly substance is a short period of high exposure, chemical dependency (as with opiates or alcohol), or if the liver or kidneys are failing. If this is the case, these detox kits remain useless and one should seek science-based medical advice immediately. This, though, is a rare occurrence and not one most healthy people should worry about.

Detoxes often make extraordinary and numerous claims, for which they provide little to no evidence. A cleanse product that may plausibly work would need to identify which toxins it removes (preferably explaining the process in a physiologically sound way) and provide good quality evidence to back up the claims. Seeing the dearth of such products at present, best to save your money and spend it on fruits, vegetables, and some stress relief strategies. Your liver and kidneys have got you covered.

Episode 101: “Trace Amounts”

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn subjects Gem, Laura, Ian, and Dave to a viewing of “Trace Amounts”, a prominent anti-vaccine “documentary”. It is… not good.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics.

Note: After we recorded this episode, news broke that prominent anti-vaccine group “SafeMinds” funded a $250,000 study in an attempt to demonstrate that thimerosal causes autism. The study was published at the end of September, and actually found no evidence that the thimerosal in vaccines has any link to autism or autism-like changes in the brain. And they killed 79 macaques to do it. Links discussing the study are provided below.

Links: Review of Trace Amounts (Skeptical Raptor) | Do vaccines contain toxic ingredients? (Public Health Agency of Canada) | The Alleged Autism Epidemic (Science-Based Medicine) | Chelation therapy (Wikipedia) | The CDC Whistleblower William Thompson Appears to Have Gone Full Antivaccine (Respectful Insolence) | Antivaxxers Still Flogging Thimerosal (NeuroLogica) | Has the Government Conceded Vaccines Cause Autism? (NeuroLogica) | Autism Court Ruling: Vaccines Didn’t Cause Autism (NeuroLogica) | Legal Courts and Science (NeuroLogica) | Spurious Correlations | Anti-Vaxxer Group Pays $250,000 for Study Showing That Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism (Raw Story) | Killing Monkeys to Prove Vaccines STILL Don’t Cause Autism (Rebecca Watson) | TRC #370: Antibacterial Soap + Maple Water + Anti-Vaxxers Funding Fail + Top CO2 Emitters (The Reality Check) | PilesOfEvidence.com

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Episode 74: Nutritional Supplements

Episode 74: Nutritional Supplements

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble discusses some of the science (and pseudoscience) behind nutritional supplementation with Richelle McCullough, Laura Creek Newman, and Lauren Bailey.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: What’s in Your Supplement? | New Concerns About the Safety and Quality of Herbal Supplements | Bad Science Watch Criticizes “Vanessa’s Law” for Neglecting Natural Health Product Users | Vitamin C and the Common Cold | Dianazene | Glucosamine | Hyaluronan | Plasma and Dietary Antioxidant Status as Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors | Chromium Deficiency, Glucose Intolerance, and Neuropathy Reversed by Chromium Supplementation | Eggshell Membrane: A Possible New Natural Therapeutic for Joint and Connective Tissue Disorders | Is There Anything the Natural Health Products Directorate Won’t Approve? The Antioxidant Edition | Scientology’s Purification Rundown (Purif) | Critical Analysis of the Purification Rundown | Precious Bodily Fluids: Scientology and the Purification Rundown | Narconon

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Bad Science Watch Criticises Patient Safety Act for Neglecting Natural Health Product Users

Reprinted from Bad Science Watch.

Bad Science Watch Criticizes Patient Safety Act for Neglecting Natural Health Product Users

Bowing to lobbyists the Harper Government has excluded Natural Health Products from newly tabled “Vanessa’s Law”, sacrificing consumer safety for political expediency

Toronto, ON – December 6, 2013 – Bad Science Watch has criticized the newly tabled Patient Safety Act, known as “Vanessa’s Law”, for explicitly excluding Natural Health Products from the regulations to appease lobbyists.

The consumer protection organization claims that the already insufficient regulation of NHPs will be weakened as a result, neglecting the safety of NHP users and practitioners and compromising informed healthcare choice.

“What is otherwise an excellent proposal is horribly undermined by this glaring omission,” said Jamie Williams, Executive Director of Bad Science Watch. “The exclusion of Natural Health Products from the definition of ‘therapeutic products’ means the government would be able to issue a recall for a bad batch of lip balm, but not for herbal remedies adulterated with pseudoephedrine or tainted with toxic heavy metals.”

Bad Science Watch believes Canadians deserve robust safety and enforcement regulations for all health care products, and will be fighting to have the Act’s definition of “therapeutic products” amended to include NHPs.

Bad Science Watch is an independent consumer protection organization dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians by advocating for good science in public policy. More information can be found at www.badsciencewatch.ca.

For More Information Contact:
Jamie Williams
Executive Director
1-888-742-3299 ext. 102
jwilliams@badsciencewatch.ca
http://www.badsciencewatch.ca

Episode 65: Homeopathic Nosodes and Nostrums

Episode 65: Homeopathic Nosodes and Nostrums

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman talks about homeopathic medicine in theory and practice, and is joined by Michael Kruse of Bad Science Watch to discuss the Stop Nosodes campaign.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: SkeptiCamp on 14 September 2013 | Bad Science Watch | Bad Science Watch: De-Registration of Homeopathic Nosodes | StopNosodes.org | Samuel Hahnemann | Paracelsus | Efficacy of Homeopathy | UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee: Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy | Health Canada: Natural Health Products | Remedy Regulation: Homeopathy in Canada | Slipping through the Cracks: Health Canada, Traumeel, and Homeopathy | Homeopathy Gets a Reality Check in the UK | Trituration Proving of the Light of Saturn | E-mailed Antigens and Iridium’s Iridescence | Nasal spray can cause loss of smell, FDA warns | Aspirin: Mechanism of Action | Hormesis

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Natural Remedies Never Kill?

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

"Medicine" Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
“Medicine”
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

Hey, look! Another completely absurd and almost fact-free article from syndicated columnist Dr. Ken Walker (who writes under the name W. Gifford-Jones):

“Health Canada has been raiding health-food stores, terrorizing proprietors and confiscating natural food supplements,” Dr. Zoltan Rona, an expert on natural remedies, recently told me.

Walker’s article is alt-med propaganda at its most pedestrian. He presents those who peddle “natural remedies” as embattled heroes who are being bullied by Health Canada, which is in the pocket of corporate interests. I find this especially amusing, given that Health Canada has recently been censured for its decision to loosen the licensing requirements for natural health products while bypassing important safety and efficacy checks. (A decision that heavily favours corporate interests, yes: the corporate interests of the multinational corporations who manufacture and distribute natural health products.)

It’s been a while since I’ve played Name That Logical Fallacy, but let’s see… The reader is presented with a false dichotomy in the form of a choice between corporate-controlled pharmaceutical medicine and feel-good “natural” remedies; the deaths resulting from the use of pharmaceutical interventions hint at the fallacy of the perfect solution (the government shouldn’t approve drugs that aren’t perfectly safe and perfectly effective); there’s at least one appeal to antiquity (Nattokinase “has been used for centuries” in Japan); and finally there’s Walker’s completely dishonest (or unforgivably ignorant) claim that “prescription drugs can kill, natural remedies never”: while this isn’t a fallacy, it is the false premise that lies at the very heart of the article.

Walker’s point seems to be that Health Canada should just get out of the way: if the remedy is “natural” (whatever that means) and/or has been used for a long time, its safety and efficacy are unimpeachable. Walker seems to be advocating for some sort of medical free market paradise, a deregulated Wild West of frontier medicine in which the government gives any old snake oil a free pass—snake oil, of course, being completely natural.

“Alternative” medicines can and do kill, directly and indirectly. Natural remedies often lack proper controls to prevent contamination or adulteration; herbal remedies are drugs, and their use in concert with pharmaceuticals can result in unexpected drug interactions; the dose of the active ingredient in herbal remedies is often inconsistent or highly variable (while it is precisely controlled in pharmaceuticals; that’s sort of the point); and when presented with a “natural alternative”, some patients may eschew science-based interventions (that are actually effective). If you’re looking for heart-wrenching stories of people killed as a result of so-called “natural” medicine, here are a couple hundred of them. “Alternative medicine” is most often simply an alternative to medicine.

Walker should be ashamed of himself for promoting such absurdities. But that’s nothing new.

Online Skeptical Activism: Does It Work?

The Winnipeg Skeptics is first and foremost about community: until 2010, skeptics, critical thinkers, science enthusiasts, and curmudgeons in Winnipeg didn’t really have a group to call their own, and so we created one. But many of us also care passionately about skeptical activism—and one of the easiest places to “do skepticism” is online.

In addition to our Facebook page (which you should “like”, by the way), we also have a Facebook discussion group (which we welcome anyone to join). I always enjoy engaging in critical discussions on scientific topics in the comments section of the blog, where I recently had an extended conversation about the purported dangers of radiofrequency EMF. (It’s worth noting parenthetically that “how do i start an anti wifi group” is currently one of the top web searches that leads to the Winnipeg Skeptics site.)

But one of the questions that I frequently encounter when discussing online skeptical activism is simply: Does it work?

I believe that it’s important to counter misinformation wherever and whenever we find it (especially when it seems likely that those who are misinformed may come to serious harm), and confronting pseudoscience on social media serves a valuable role. While you may not persuade those with whom you’re arguing directly (not immediately, anyway), you can prevent bystanders and passers by from being convinced by shoddy evidence, and you can help curtail the spread of bad science.

Members of the Winnipeg Skeptics are always doing battle against pseudoscience, and so I thought that I might share some of our recent social media escapades. I’ll note that a few of the snippets that I’ll present have been reordered slightly. This is because in some cases many people were posting to a thread simultaneously and responding to each other’s comments, and I’d like to present sufficient context for the discussion without forcing the reader to wade through every single comment. I’ll also link to a full screenshot of each discussion for those readers who would like to see each comment in its original context. I have also redacted the names of those participants who I don’t know to be “out” as skeptics. On the one hand, that’s sort of a shame, because there were a fair number of very solid points made and credit should go where credit is due. On the other hand, I feel that leaving these people’s names in there without permission would be rather rude.

We’ll start off with a discussion on the Little Remedies Canada Facebook page from a couple of months back. In their original post they claim that, flu season having arrived, squeezing a clove of garlic into your child’s food would give their immune system a “super boost”. (Full discussion.)

Little Remedies Canada, Image 1Little Remedies Canada, Image 2Little Remedies Canada, Image 3Little Remedies Canada, Image 4Little Remedies Canada, Image 5Little Remedies Canada, Image 6Little Remedies Canada, Image 7

Next, I’ll present a brief exchange that Richelle had with the proprietor of Calgary’s The Naked Leaf tea house, in which they slyly claim-without-actually-claiming that their tea treats high cholesterol and high blood sugar. (Full discussion.)

The Naked Leaf, Image 1The Naked Leaf, Image 2The Naked Leaf, Image 3

The response is classic: they promote nonsense, they’re called on it, and they responded with the old, “Well now, we’re not making any claims! We’re just letting other people make claims on our behalf!” (This is standard operating procedure for multilevel/network marketing schemes, incidentally.)

The last discussion that I’ll cite in detail comes from the Facebook page of Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region. At the end of last month they announced, “Planned Parenthood is proud to be hosting ‘Night with a Homeopath’ on Tuesday February 26th … [to] discuss what a homeopathic practitioner is and what they can do for us.” PPWR described the event as a great chance to learn about “alternatives to ‘modern medicine’.” The skeptical response was swift and decisive, with Rebecca Watson and members of the Winnipeg and Ottawa Skeptics spreading the word on Twitter and Facebook. (Full discussion.)

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 1

That first comment pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 2Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 3Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 4Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 5Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 6Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 7Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 8Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 9

All of that took place within an hour of the announcement. It seemed like Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region wasn’t going to back down, given the fact that they opened with the “you’re not being open minded” gambit, entreating us to just hear the homeopath out. But we were determined to spread this story far and wide, and just a few minutes later links to the announcement returned this:

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 10

And this announcement followed soon after:

Planned Parenthood Waterloo Region, Image 11

How’s that for a win?

And this news came just a few days before it was announced that the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation had dropped notorious anti-vaccine crank Jenny McCarthy from their Bust a Move charity fundraiser in response to pressure from groups like the Ottawa Skeptics and Bad Science Watch. The #dropjenny campaign, spearheaded by the Ottawa Skeptics’ Chris Hebbern, took place almost entirely on Twitter.

So, online skeptical activism: Does it work?

It certainly seems to.

Episode 46: Home Birth

Episode 46: Home Birth

Trigger Warning: There is a discussion of “birth rape” 42 minutes into this episode.

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Richelle McCullough, Laura Creek Newman, and Dr. Laura Targownik talk about home birth, “natural” childbirth, and other pregnancy-related topics from a science-based perspective.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Home Births Rise Despite Higher Neonatal Mortality Rate | Orgasmic Childbirth | Benefits of Natural Childbirth (SheKnows Parenting, JustMommies, Attachment Parenting Advice, allParenting) | Natural Childbirth, Pain, and Shame | In Passionate Support of Caesarean Births | A Plan For Natural Birth: Hold The Drugs, Please | Yes, There Was Pitocin: A Birth That Didn’t Quite Stick to the Script | Home Birth with Midwife Safe as Hospital | What is “Birth Rape”? | Women’s Health Clinic Principles of Service for the Birth Centre

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Episode 43: News Update

Episode 43: News Update

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble, Donna Harris, and Mark Forkheim discuss local and international news of interest to skeptics, including Palestine’s admission to the United Nations, a study demonstrating the benefits of flax, the Pope’s new Twitter account, and more.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Apocalypse 2012: The End of the World Party (Facebook Event, Meetup Event) | Flaxtastic! | The Palestinian UN Bid: What Happened and What Changed | Everyone Can Benefit from Naturopathic Care (apparently) | Pope Gets More Than Half a Million Twitter Followers Without Sending a Single Tweet | Cambridge University to Open Centre Studying the Risks of Technology to Humans | What If? The Robot Apocalypse

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