Episode 84: Deepak Chopra & Dr. Oz

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Donna Harris, Richelle McCullough, and Laura Creek Newman discuss the scientific failings of popular spiritualist and guru Deepak Chopra and “America’s Doctor” Mehmet Oz.

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: Deepak Chopra | Dr. Oz | Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Dr. Oz and Nutritional Supplements | What’s the Harm: Herbal Remedies | New York Times: Herbal Supplements Are Often Not What They Seem | Calgary Strep Victim’s Mother ‘Will Be Held Accountable,’ Say Police | National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Using Dietary Supplements Wisely | National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Ayurvedic Medicine | Health Canada: Natural Health Products

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Homeopathy Works

Did that title get your attention?

Oh, don’t worry. It’s total nonsense. But I figured that it might be worth distilling some thirty comments down to a couple of words.

Nonsense
Pictured: not medicine.

A few years ago, Scott Carnegie had the audacity to state (factually, I might add) that KIDS 0-9 Cough & Cold remedy is not medicine. It’s homeopathic, and it doesn’t work. But we’ve been hearing about the wonders of this remedy (and homeopathy in general) in the comments section of this article ever since. These comments aren’t likely to convince anyone of anything (unless it’s that we should follow Popular Science’s lead and simply shut down the comments section altogether), but they do sometimes present us with a teachable moment.

A recent example:

Just wondering if you have seen the new scientific studies indicating that this diluted water holds a memory, thus explaining how homeopathic medicine works? If not, then you should. You cant pick and choose which studies to preach if you are really a man of science. Science must always keep an open mind.

I am a huge skeptic of alternative medicines, due to health conditions and chronic pain. I did try this out of desperation and it seemed to work.
So I conducted a study of my own. My son was sick with a cold and on alternating days I added the 0-9 kids in his juice and the opposite days, I just gave him juice. The result? All 3 nights with kids 0-9, he slept through the night. The other 3 nights in the experiment, he woke up crying about his throat and the sniffles. No other condition/element was changed in his bedtime routine. This was my CONTROLLED study.

You do not have to believe in something for it to be real. Some remedies work for some people, other not so much. Every individual is different, remember that before you one-sidedly decide to preach to parents something doesn’t work.

While I certainly appreciate this commenter’s attitude, she must see that the trial that she conducted is hardly sufficient to conclude that KIDS 0–9 is effective. Her “trial” was not double-blind, it was conducted on a single subject in an uncontrolled environment on a condition that is known to be self-limiting, and it is (of course) subject to all manner of bias on the part of the experimenter. I’m frankly astonished that anyone would conclude that the results (such as they are: I’m not too clear what her primary and/or secondary outcome measures were supposed to be) were due to the efficacy of homeopathy, rather than bias or random chance.

If this commenter is truly open-minded on the issue (which I hope), I’m curious as to why she would choose to ignore pretty much every systematic review and meta-analysis on the subject, and instead opted to conduct her own trial with n=1. For example, a recent meta-analysis conducted by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council that examined the efficacy of homeopathic preparations for 68 different conditions concluded:

The available evidence is not compelling and fails to demonstrate that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any of the reported clinical conditions in humans.

That’s no evidence for efficacy for any of the conditions studied—but her “trial” trumps that evidence, of course.

As to the question of water memory: this is total nonsense. Water memory was an ad hoc justification invented by Benveniste in an effort to deflect the reasonable criticism that homeopathic remedies are typically so dilute that they do not contain a single atom of the original “remedy”. Attempts to independently replicate his research fail again and again (for example), and a team of chemists from the University of Toronto demonstrated in 2005 that water loses whatever “memory” it might have after a mere 50 femtoseconds. Additionally, Benveniste failed to provide any compelling mechanism by which a homeopathic remedy (if it did happen to somehow “remember” what its active ingredient was supposed to be, but conveniently forgot everything else it had come into contact with before and since) could heal the body using this “memory”. It is also unclear how this “water memory” could be transferred to the sugar tablets sold at your local Whole Foods—or perhaps this commenter is suggesting that we should take “sugar memory” seriously, too?

She says, “You cant [sic] pick and choose which studies to preach if you are really a man of science. Science must always keep an open mind.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think that this is the true teachable moment. It’s easy, on the Internet, to find other people who agree with you on any particular subject. If there are twenty studies on a subject with p-values of 0.05, chances are that people on either side of the issue can point to a study that confirms their preconceptions. Evidence that you’re right is, after all, just a Google search away.

What’s hard is to take science seriously and to attempt to achieve a reasonable understanding of the body of evidence on a topic. It’s a lot of work, and it is contrary to the way we typically think on a daily basis. And so I challenge everyone (this commenter is far from alone!) to demonstrate that you are open to following the evidence wherever it leads, rather simply seeking out those few, poorly conducted trials that seem to support your preconceptions.

Those interested the history and practice of homeopathy can take a look at the presentation I gave for World Homeopathy Awareness Week a few years ago. It may prove instructive.

Episode 30: To Vaccinate, or Not to Vaccinate?

Episode 30: To Vaccinate, or Not to Vaccinate?

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman discusses the science (and pseudoscience) associated with vaccines with Dr. Laura Targownik, Richelle McCullough, and Laura Creek Newman.

This episode was recorded over Google+, so the audio quality is occasionally inconsistent. We’re working on correcting these issues moving forward.

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 Winnipeg 2012 | Todd Akin and “Legitimate” Rape (Coverage on Gawker, Kirk Cameron Defends Akin, “Legitimate Rape” – A Medieval Medical Concept) | Natural births, Not C-sections, Trigger Brain-Protecting Proteins | AAP Changes Circumcision Policy (New Policy Statement, Further Details, Canadian Paediatric Society Policy) | Whooping Cough Outbreak Worst in Decades | Bad Science Watch Targets Homeopathic “Vaccines” | Natural Health Products in Canada – a History | Andrew Wakefield – an Elaborate Fraud | Brian Deer Investigates Andrew Wakefield (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) | What Is Thimerosol? | Ethylmercury | Methylmercury | Universal Vaccine Could Eliminate Annual Flu Shots | Government Undermines Its Vaccination Message | Myths About the Seasonal Flu Vaccine | Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated | What’s the Harm?

What Are You Reading? The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, by Dan Ariely | The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker | 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, by Stephanie Nolan | Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman | Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut | American Gods, by Neil Gaiman | Why Are You Atheists So Angry?, by Greta Christina

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The Dangerous Truth Behind Cooked Food

Brevity is not one of my strengths. For this reason, what often begins as a minor correction or a response to a question in the comments section often becomes its own blog post (the character limits imposed by various blogging platforms also plays a role).

This is a follow-up to a post from several months ago, in which I discuss the shortcomings of an article from the hilarious TruthTheory.com: The Not-So-Dangerous Truth Behind Microwaves. Here, I respond to some criticism that I received.

This blog is no more an authority than the ones you mocked.

Excellent.

Seriously, that’s great! I’m just some beardy dude who likes science and occasionally has the opportunity to do science, but my specialty is in artificial intelligence (although recently I’ve been helping out with research in robotics and psychology). I make no claim to either authority (something that’s pretty much worthless in matters of science) or expertise (something that’s a little more relevant) in this (or any) subject. I’m trying to instill in people an appreciation for science and critical thinking generally. If you think that I want people to consider me an authority on matters scientific in any domain, either I’m not getting a properly skeptical message across (certainly debatable) or you’re not paying attention.

Firstly, lets define “harmful”: carcinogens are harmful…

Granted.

…as well as, destroying phytonutrients that the body needs to sustain itself and strengthen defenses.

I do not grant that the reduction of phytochemicals in food is harmful. Stipulating that the compounds in question are healthful, it does not stand to reason that reducing the phytochemical content of a given food is harmful unless it is also established that the subject has a deficiency.

To illustrate by example: I would not consider a carton of pasteurized orange juice to be “harmful” (although its high sugar content may be problemmatic for some), despite the fact that the pasteurization process destroys much of the vitamin C content in the juice (and not all manufacterers add supplemental vitamin C to their juices)—unless, of course, the person consuming the product were deficient in vitamin C and counting on the orange juice in this regard.

Returning to the point about carcinogenicity, I’ll remind the commenter that many common methods of cooking are implicated as cancer-causing, to some degree or other, including pan-frying, grilling, or barbecuing meat (source), smoking meats, roasting coffee beans, or even cooking with vegetable oils (source), or simply heating carbohydrate-rich food by means other than boiling (source).

This is complicated by the fact that several foods contain both compounds found to be carcinogenic and anticarcinogenic compounds.

What’s worse, these phenomena are much better established both epidemeologically and from a basic science standpoint than the carcinogenicity of some microwaved foods. So why the outcry over microwaves? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s because they’re scary and new and complicated, and people tend to distrust things that they don’t understand. Luckily, I’m under no obligation to hazard such a guess, so I won’t.

Name the evidence that would be good enough to convince you there is “proof”?

The word “proof” is in scare quotes, as though to imply I’m asking for proof. I’m not. Science doesn’t deal in “proofs”: it deals in evidence, and no level of evidence constitutes “proof” in any sense but the colloquial.

But here’s what I think would qualify as good evidence that microwaved foods are harmfully carcinogenic (for example): Replicable (and replicated), peer-reviewed studies establishing from a basic science standpoint that carcinogenic compounds are formed in foods heated or cooked in microwave ovens (and that these compounds are not formed in foods heated by other conventional methods), followed by epidemiological studies showing both statistically and clinically significant correlations between microwave use and cancer incidence.

That’s a lot to ask for, of course, but I’d be happy to give my provisional assent to the proposition if it looks like a consensus is forming in the literature. It would also help if the IARC recognised microwaved foodstuffs as even potentially carcinogenic (Group 2B); but, as it stands, microwaved foods don’t even make the list of things that the IARC can’t rule out.

Is it possible that some foods are less nutritious when microwaved? Of course! I’d say that it’s likely! But the same could be said for boiling, for frying, or for just about any other method of cooking, depending on the food.

Is it possible that some foods are carcinogenic when microwaved? Again, of course! But let’s look at the specifics, and let’s not forget (while we make sweeping generalizations), that the same is also already well established for many popular methods of cooking.

Do these admissions run contrary to my previous article on the safety of microwaves? Hardly. Even if it were (somehow) conclusively “proven” that microwaved food was harmful, that would not make the article I was critiquing “true” in any meaningful sense!

As I’ve said several times now, my problem with the original article had nothing to do with its conclusions and everything to do with the fact that it put ideology first and evidence second. It was horrendously sourced, made sweeping generalizations, got the basic science wrong, and cited as sources sites that were (to put it very mildly) disreputable and dishonest.

Bad Advice from Truther.org

The following is a guest post from Brendan Curran-Johnson, who was one of our presenters at last year’s SkeptiCamp. Here, Brendan responds to a few of the claims made in an image that’s currently circulating on Facebook, which originates from the hilarious den of conspiracy nuttery that is Truther.org.


While I certainly support people learning more about vaccines (because science and learning are awesome), avoiding vaccines has very real health consequences that affect more than just the people not taking the vaccines. In the past few years there has been a resurgance of a number of diseases that we had under control (pertussis, mumps, measles, etc.).

Most people cite the MMR/Autism connection when talking about the harms of vaccines, but the truth is that the study that is based on (the Wakefield study originally published by the Lancet) is not a valid study. The Lancet retracted it, and Wakefield was actually accused of deliberate fraud.

There certainly have been cases of drugs turning out to be harmful (thalidomide being the most obvious example), the process which the FDA and Health Canada use to screen drugs is very rigorous. The process is not perfect (no system could be 100% effective), but it is the most reliable system that anyone has come up with.

This is in stark opposition to homeopathy, which this photo advocates (kind of—marijuana and refusing prescription drugs have nothing to do with homeopathy). Alternative medicine (which is what they really are trying to advocate) suffers the problem that it has either not proven to be effective, or has been proven to not be affective (alternative medicine that has been proven to work is called medicine).

Homeopathy in specific is one of the silliest ‘medicines’ that exists. The two basic precepts of homeopathy are that like cures like (e.g., if someone is having trouble breathing, the proper medicine would be something that also restricts breathing), and that the more you dilute something, the stronger it gets. The typical dilution of homeopathic medicine is 30C. The system works as follows: take 99 parts water and 1 part ‘medicine’. That would be 1C. To make 2C, take 99 parts water and 1 part 1C ‘medicine’. The amount of dilution is 1 part per 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. If you were to make a sphere of water that stretched from the earth to the sun, you would add just one molocule of ‘medicine’ (that statistic is taken from Dr. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science).

The advice being given here isn’t just wrong, its actively dangerous (also counter to point 8: avoid fear, propoganda, disinformation). Medicine is far too important a subject to allow misinformation to be spread unchallenged.


Thanks, Brendan!

Bad Science Watch to Health Canada: De-register Homeopathic Vaccines

Reprinted from Bad Science Watch.

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bad Science Watch to Health Canada: De-register Homeopathic Vaccines

Toronto, ON – Wednesday August 1st, 2012 – Today, the new Canadian science advocacy group Bad Science Watch announced plans to convince Health Canada to de-register homeopathic health products that are offered as unproven replacements for childhood vaccinations. This project will combat the anti-vaccine camps within homeopathy that offer these so-called “nosodes”; the sale of which directly contradicts Health Canada’s own efforts to promote childhood vaccinations.

Nosodes are ultra-dilute homeopathic remedies prepared using diseased tissue, such as blood, pus, and saliva, that are based on the unsupportable “like-cures-like” hypothesis where you give someone a very low dose of the offending substance to then cure or prevent the disease in question.

Homeopaths in Canada are offering these nosodes for a variety of childhood diseases, like pertussis, or whooping cough, a deadly disease that is currently afflicting more Canadian children, mostly infants, than it has in the past 50 years. The anti-vaccine messages spread by homeopaths have caused parents to needlessly question the usefulness and safety of vaccines and as a result the level of vaccination in Canadian communities has dropped to as low as 62%. A level of 80% or higher is needed to have proper protection from pertussis in the community.

“The un-scientific approach of homeopaths is a real threat to parents who just want their child to be healthy and safe,” said Jamie Williams the Executive Director of Bad Science Watch, “and Health Canada, through their approval of these products, is complicit in this message. We will show that the policy of approving nosodes is working against the best interest of public health and we demand that Health Canada review these products and have them pulled from the shelves.”

Even a cursory search of the Natural Health Products Directorate, the agency that oversees the approval of non-orthodox alternative medicine products, brings up remedies purporting to prevent or treat such diseases as measles, polio, and mumps, three diseases that can be life-threatening in children and that vaccines have been effectively suppressing for decades.

“These nosodes may not directly injure a child, as they are so dilute as to contain none of the original substance,” said Michael Kruse, chair of the board of Bad Science Watch, “but they can give a very false sense of security. The basic tenets of homeopathy contradict basic chemistry and physics and there is no good evidence for its use in the prevention or treatment of disease.”

To get involved in the promotion of good science and help stop the spread of the anti-vaccine message, please contact info@badsciencewatch.ca.

Further Reference:

Evidence for Homeopathic Medicines Guidance Document – Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/prodnatur/legislation/docs/ehmg-nprh-eng.php

Pertussis Outbreak in Alberta
http://www.edmontonjournal.com/opinion/fashioned+killer+puts+Alberta+children+risk/6989299/story.html

Nosodes for Major Communicable Diseases Approved for Sale by Health Canada
http://www.badsciencewatch.ca/bad-science-watch-asks-health-canada-to-stop-approving-homeopathic-vaccines/

For media enquiries, or additional information, please contact:

Jamie Williams
Executive Director
Bad Science Watch
jwilliams@badsciencewatch.ca
1-888-742-3299 x 102

Bad Science Watch
180 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M3K 3P5
Tel: 1-888-742-3299
Fax: 1-888-813-3569
Email: info@badsciencewatch.ca


Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization that provides analysis of dubious scientific claims to Canadians, our government, and the media, promotes objective critical thinking and advocates for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.

Bad Science Watch is funded by individual donations, and is committed to organizational transparency.

Episode 26: “Thrive”

Episode 26: “Thrive”

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem Newman, Gary Barbon, and Mark Forkheim discuss the online conspiracy film “Thrive” with Robert Shindler, Richelle McCullough, and Greg Christensen.

This episode was recorded over Google+, so the audio quality is occasionally inconsistent. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, Greg, Richelle, and Robert had to drop out of the show early, but Mark, Gary, and Gem soldiered on!

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.

News Items: Bad Science Watch | Students at Quebec School Have Adverse Reaction to Hypnotist Act | Hypnosis (Wikipedia, The Skeptic’s Dictionary) | Obese Father Loses Custody of His Children | Do Atheists Have a Sexual Harassment Problem? | Freethought Blogs Roundtable (Harassment at Conferences, Why Talk About Social Justice?) | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg | Winnipeg Skeptics Anti-Harassment Policy | New NSA Docs Contradict 9/11 Claims (Salon, National Security Archive) | Prometheus: It Sucked

Addressing Some of Thrive’s Claims: Thrive | Entropy and Life | Graphical (Linear) Projection | The Flower of Life | Skeptoid on UFOs | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg: Perpetual Motion and Free Energy | The Hutchison “Effect” | The Death of Eugene Mallove (Suspects Arrested, Schaffer Enters Guilty Plea) | Interviewees Repudiate Thrive (Interviewees Distance Themselves from the Film, John Robbins Speaks Out Against Thrive) | Thrive Debunked (Index, Ancient Astronauts, Crop Circles, “False Flag” Attacks, Global Domination)

What Are You Reading? Hitch-22 | Against Intellectual Monopoly | Hegemony or Survival | Fundamentals of Computational Neuroscience | Going Solo | Singlism | Dying of the Light | John Dies at the End | Redshirts | I Am Legend | Why Are You Atheists So Angry? | Before Watchmen

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IgG and “Food Sensitivities”

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

A physician of my acquaintance recently brought this article to my attention. Written by Elaine Chin, a Toronto GP “with a holistic approach to health and wellness management”, it responds to a Globe and Mail article entitled “Tests for food allergies, sensitivities a ‘waste of money,’ doctor says”.

The Globe and Mail article is a good one, and I recommend that you read it, but I’ll summarize it for you here: Naturopaths and other “alternative” medical practitioners are sending their patients to be tested for immunoglobulin G, and suggesting extremely restricted diets based on the results of these tests. But according to allergist Dr. Elana Lavine, these practitioners haven’t established that IgG is indicative of food allergy or sensitivity of any sort: a positive test may be indicative of nothing more than repeated exposure to the food in question, which may mean that your favourite foods are more likely to find themselves on your stomach’s No Fly list.

My wife, who is a dietitian, has been seeing increasing numbers of patients come in with IgG panels, often showing “sensitivities” to just about every dietary staple. She also noted that at least one of the labs that sells IgG testing to the public describes immunoglobulin G as a “cell”, which is a disturbingly elementary error: immunoglobulins are proteins. For more background on IgG testing, I recommend this article by Scott Gavura of Science-Based Pharmacy.

But back to Dr. Chin, who was evidently unimpressed with the Globe and Mail article. On her blog, she writes:

Many of my professional colleagues have a contrasting position. Dr. Shelley Burns (a naturopathic doctor) and I use food testing to detect allergies, intolerances, sensitivities in our practice. We believe that such testing should be done under the supervision of professionals who understand the appropriate use of and know how to interpret the report. As well, the results are critically dependent on the source of lab testing. Only 3 labs in North America have been shown to have reliable and reproducible results – one of them is Rocky Mountain Analytical and their lab partner, US Biotek.

Dr. Chin works with a naturopath. I see.

I have along with Dr. Burns completed more than 100 Food IgG, IgE, and IgA tests in our practices for at least 5 years. I’m not at all certain that Dr. Lavine has worked with these tests and yet she is weighing in.

That’s right: Dr. Lavine, an allergy specialist, may have the necessary medical expertise, but does she have the appropriate personal experience? I think not!

I would also like to note that IgG, IgE, and IgA tests are not at all the same thing, and lumping them all together like that (especially when the article Dr. Chin is discussing was critical of only IgG testing) is indicative of sloppiness unbecoming a physician. Immunoglobulin E is closely associated with type I hypersensitivity (allergy), while immunoglobulin A has been linked to celiac disease.

By contrast, here’s what the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has to say about IgG testing: “IgG and IgG subclass antibody tests for food allergy do not have clinical relevance, are not validated, lack sufficient quality control, and should not be performed.”

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy adds:

There is no credible evidence that measuring IgG antibodies is useful for diagnosing food allergy or intolerance, nor that IgG antibodies cause symptoms. In fact, IgG antibodies reflect exposure to allergen but not the presence of disease. The exception is that gliadin IgG antibodies are sometimes useful in monitoring adherence to a gluten-free diet patients with histologically confirmed coeliac disease. Otherwise, inappropriate use of food allergy testing (or misinterpretation of results) in patients with inhalant allergy, for example, may lead to inappropriate and unnecessary dietary restrictions, with particular nutritional implications in children. Despite studies showing the uselessness of this technique, it continues to be promoted in the community, even for diagnosing disorders for which no evidence of immune system involvement exists. [Emphasis added.]

Back to Chin:

I would be willing at any time to challenge my colleague Dr. Lavine as to our experience with a series of case studies where the testing results have in fact made a difference and reduced the chronic symptoms of migraines, irritable bowel syndrome and asthma.

Case studies to demonstrate efficacy? Really? You wouldn’t want to, I don’t know, use any sort of controls or blinding or anything?

The first two cases to be reviewed will begin with my son and me.

You have got to be kidding. Remind me again: When conducting medical research, are we trying to maximize researcher bias, or eliminate it? Because I’ve lost all confidence that Dr. Chin even knows what bias is.

And then, there are dozens of my clients and their children whose lives have improved as a result of their testing and subsequent appropriate dietary changes.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc. It’s a good thing that there are no well-documented medical effects that may cause inert interventions to be confused for effective ones.

In fact, what is a waste of money are tons and tons of imaging tests which do not diagnose the cause of irritable bowel, the chronic use of steroids medications for unknown triggers for asthma (creating issues such as bone thinning), and loss of work productivity hours due to migraines.

And here is my warning to my physician colleagues. Before you comment in our medical journal, take the time to use the test before providing a professional opinion. Do your homework and due diligence as a scientist. I have done so.

Sure. Because “due diligence” means trying the test for yourself, rather than reviewing the medical literature and the best available scientific evidence. I’m honestly surprised that Dr. Chin didn’t make the “you’re just closed minded” gambit.

This article is almost a parody of itself.

There are legitimate allergies (and other hypersensitivities) that may require extremely restricted diets, and for those experiencing chronic symptoms of unknown origin it can be very heartening to think that they may have found the cause. But don’t waste hundreds of dollars on these tests and turn your diet on its head until IgG proponents have demonstrated that the results of these tests are medically useful.


Addendum: The fine folks at Bad Science Watch have pointed out a few other links of note.

First, the British Dietetic Association does not recommend IgG tests for food intolerance, based on the dearth of evidence:

This blood test looks at IgG antibodies present in the blood. It’s claimed that an increase in IgG to a certain food indicates an intolerance to that food. At present there is no convincing evidence to support this test, and it’s not recommended as a diagnostic tool.

Second, you can find an in-depth discussion of food intolerance (and IgG in specific) in the January 2008 issue of Today’s Dietitian.

The opposite of stumped: 9 unanswerable anti-vax questions answered

9 Questions That Stump Every Pro-Vaccine Advocate and Their Claims found its way onto the Facebook page for the Winnipeg Skeptics when a member’s friend posted it, along with the qualification “if you can give me a good, scientifically-backed answer to each of these questions, I will vaccinate my children.”

Oh, if it only were all so easy! The article claims:

I have never encountered one pro-vaccine advocate, whether medically or scientifically qualified, who could answer even 1 let alone all 9 of these questions.

Well, here’s one non-immunologist, non-virologist, unqualified physiology & medical student who had zero problem with finding scientific answers to any of their questions. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

1. Could you please provide one double-blind, placebo-controlled study that can prove the safety and effectiveness of vaccines?

Yes, although you can’t find any modern studies of old vaccines, because it’s unethical to deviate from the standard of care. However, there are tons of modern (i.e. internet searchable) literature on the subject. Honestly, go to Google Scholar and search “double blind placebo vaccine” I’ll start you off:
Prophylactic quadrivalent human papillomavirus (types 6, 11, 16, and 18) L1 virus-like particle vaccine in young women: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled multicentre phase II efficacy trial

2. Could you please provide scientific evidence on ANY study which can confirm the long-term safety and effectiveness of vaccines?

Yes. Seriously, it took me 30 seconds to find this. Google Scholar is your friend.

3. Could you please provide scientific evidence which can prove that disease reduction in any part of the world, at any point in history was attributable to inoculation of populations?

4. Could you please explain how the safety and mechanism of vaccines in the human body are scientifically proven if their pharmacokinetics (the study of bodily absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of ingredients) are never examined or analyzed in any vaccine study?

You can’t study the pharmacokinetics of something which is not physically acting on the body—rather, vaccines are designed to be acted upon. I can’t answer this; not because of a conspiracy, but because this is an unanswerable question. It’s like asking, “Why haven’t they studied the mating habits of tennis shoes?”

5. Could you please provide scientific justification as to how injecting a human being with a confirmed neurotoxin is beneficial to human health and prevents disease?

Neurotoxins are a matter of dosage, just like radiation, and all interventions are a risk-benefit ratio. You accept the risk of getting a chest x-ray if you might have pneumonia because the dose is very low, and you won’t have it done repeatedly. Also, for something to be a neurotoxin and have effects on the brain, it must be able to pass the blood-brain barrier. This is very, very difficult and chemists spend their entire lives trying to design something that will get across. Just because something can be toxic doesn’t mean it is, just because something has risk doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, and just because something has theoretical potential to do harm doesn’t mean that it will do harm.

‎6. Can you provide a risk/benefit profile on how the benefits of injecting a known neurotoxin exceeds its risks to human health for the intended goal of preventing disease?

See the above study on measles vaccines saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Any risk of “injecting a known neurotoxin” (Which one? At what dose? Neurotoxic to who? Correlation or causative?) is unequivocally lower than the very real and potentially lethal risk of an outbreak in an unvaccinated community or one with a low uptake.

7. Could you please provide scientific justification on how bypassing the respiratory tract (or mucous membrane) is advantageous and how directly injecting viruses into the bloodstream enhances immune functioning and prevents future infections?

Different parts of your body have different types of antibodies associated with them. In the mucous membranes of your body, like the GI tract and the respiratory tract, white blood cells at the membrane produce IgA antibodies on exposure to a pathogen. In the blood stream, you have direct access to the memory cells which produce IgGs: the more robust antibodies that provide lifetime immunity against a particular pathogen. Those memory cells will stay in your lymph nodes, ready to produce an onslaught of deadly (to the pathogen) IgGs whenever the body recognizes it again. IgAs are incapable of this, and many respiratory pathogens are defeated after exposure by the body’s initial defences, before an specific set of antibodies can ever be manufactured.

8. Could you please provide scientific justification on how a vaccine would prevent viruses from mutating?

Viruses mutate as they replicate, but fortunately, by definition, viruses require the machinery of living organisms to do so. To do this, viruses must enter the cells and hijack their function to produce more viruses. If the body is prepared to identify the pathogen, it can respond immediately to the pathogen in a matter of hours instead of days. Given that viruses can replicate at phenomenal rates, the faster the body responds, the less replication will happen, the less likely a beneficial (to the virus) mutation will occur. Furthermore, even if a mutation does happen, if individuals around the infected patient are all immunized, the mutation will not be carried on. The nice thing about adaptive (post-exposure) immunity is that it identifies a bunch of different parts of the pathogen as foreign, so even if little bits of it change, one antibody might be useless but all of the others will still work!

9. Could you please provide scientific justification as to how a vaccination can target a virus in an infected individual who does not have the exact viral configuration or strain the vaccine was developed for?

Although I sort of just addressed this, it’s a matter of phylogeny. If you look at human beings (obviously far more complicated than viruses, but work with me) almost all of our diversity and mutation is contained in a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of our DNA. This is because we all come from a common ancestor and we have been building off of that base DNA ever since, so we have more in common than not. Viruses work the same way. Each type of virus has certain defining characteristics, defining proteins that make it work. For retroviruses, this is something like reverse transcriptase, which allows the HIV to copy itself into our DNA and hide. So, if the vaccine causes you to develop an antibody against a particular protein, say one on the surface of a influenza virus, it’s going to make antibodies against little chunks of it, and the odds of a related virus having mutated all of those little chunks beyond the wiggle-room there is in these sorts of processes is pretty low.

Think of pathogens like fugitives and antibodies like really zoomed in “wanted” photos that the body has put up in the Post Office. The fugitive tries to hide by dying their hair, so maybe that photo of their hair is useless. And maybe they’ve changed their shirt, so throw out that photo too. But that hand is still a hand, and that mouth looks like the right mouth even though it’s got a moustache now. The fugitive is spotted—the white blood cells are primed to look for that mouth and that hand—and the pathogen is “arrested”.

That’s not to say that an imperfect match is going to lead to the best result. If you can put all those little snapshots together and get the whole thing, you’re even better off, just like a perfect match is going to trigger a wide variety of antibodies to be produced and the response will be more robust, but immunization with a closely related virus is going to provide some protection.

So no, Random Internet Website that hasn’t even bothered to try and learn about the immune system (I cannot reiterate enough that I am not an immunology expert and all of this information is freely available via appropriate internet search): none of these are stumpable questions. If someone is confused by your questions, it’s because they don’t make sense or because they are so unbelievably broad as to be useless.

Asking questions is good, and should be encouraged! You should know these things before you vaccinate your kids! However, critical thinking can teach you to ask better questions. For example: What sort of evidence is there for the 25 year safety and efficacy of the Canadian childhood MMR vaccine in a healthy Canadian population? This a specific, quantifiable, discrete question to which discrete answers can be obtained. These are the sort of questions that scientists ask—and the ones that drive the clinical trials you’re asking for.

The Not-So-Dangerous Truth Behind Microwaves

I received the following message the other day from a close friend of mine.

Hi!

I saw this and for a moment was terrified until I remembered that I’m friends with YOU and therefore a much more rational person than I might otherwise be just by sheer proximity. Regardless, please remind me again that microwaves aren’t destroying my baby and various loved ones.

http://truththeory.com/2012/01/27/the-dangerous-truth-behind-microwaves/

The link she provided was The Dangerous Truth Behind Microwaves by Mike Barrett of TruthTheory.com. Ah, EMF scare-mongering. It’s been too long, old friend!

I didn’t have much planned for the next few minutes (aside from playing some Super Meat Boy), so I dove right in.

The article is, as you might expect, riddled with misinformation. That misinformation, however, is crammed cheek-by-jowl with accurate statements, leading me to suspect that the author is guilty only of sloppy research, and readily accepted claims from both scientific and unscientific sources—with perhaps a modicum of cherry-picking thrown in. (This is borne out upon an examination of his source list, but we’ll get to that later.)

How Microwaves Work

Let’s start with the author’s description of the process by which microwave ovens heat food:

In order for something to heat in a microwave oven, water must be present within the substance. If water is not present, heating will not occur and it would remain cool. The reason for this is that water molecules within the food vibrate at an incredible speed, creating molecular friction which is responsible for the heating of the food. The structure of the water molecules are torn apart and vigorously deformed. This is much different than any other method of cooking, as other methods such as convection ovens heat up food by transferring heat convectionally from the outside inward.

This description is almost correct, but is guilty of much hyperbole. First of all, it is not true that, lacking water, heating will not occur. What we’re talking about is dielectric heating. While it’s true that dielectric heating works best on water or substances containing water, it will also work on fats, sugars, and anything that contains electric dipoles.

Second, while stating that “the structure of the water molecules are torn apart and vigorously deformed” sounds scary, I’ve been unable to find any evidence that this occurs, and it’s unclear what the dangers would be even if it did. While the molecules certainly do increase in kinetic energy (they move), the author seems to be suggesting that the molecular bonds are actually broken, which would cause the water to decompose into its component hydrogen and oxygen, as occurs in electrolysis. This is a fairly incredible claim that I’ve been unable to substantiate.

The Dangers of Radiation

The author admits that microwaves are not a form of ionizing radiation, although he stresses that non-ionizing radiation can still effect physical alterations. Sure! Like cooking stuff! He then says:

Other forms of ionizing radiation are visible light, ultraviolet and infrared waves, and waves emitted from televisions, cell phones, and electric blankets.

This is completely false. These are forms of non-ionizing radiation. While it is certainly possible that this was simply a typo, it remains irresponsible misinformation.

And then the real absurdity begins:

Although we’ve conducted study after study concluding that no amount of radiation is safe, we don’t really know what all of this means in the long term.

I’m not even sure the author knows what he means, here. He seems to be conflating all forms of radiation, and then stating that the body of scientific literature on the subject concludes that there is no safe amount of any form of radiation.

Of course some amount of radiation is safe! If there were no radiation, we would be blind and we would freeze to death! Just lumping all spectra of electromagnetic radiation together is eggregious, irresponsible nonsense.

The author claims that “Tissues directly exposed to microwaves are subject to the same deformities molecules go through”. This is very misleading.

Sure, microwave radiation can cause burns: that’s why microwave ovens have doors on them specifically designed to block microwave radiation. You don’t want to bathe your hand in high intensity microwaves for the same reason that you don’t want to stick it in a campfire: it’ll burn.

Now you might be worrying that your microwave door could be broken or cracked, and you’re being exposed to dangerous invisible microwaves without your knowledge! Well, stop fretting. If this were happening, you’d know it pretty quickly, because the microwaves would literally be cooking your flesh, and that’s something that we humans tend to notice.

Remember: microwaves are non-ionizing. They don’t cause cancer: they cause heat.

“Microwave Sickness”

The author of the article then provides a laundry-list of nonspecific symptoms that he attributes to so-called “microwave sickness”:

  • Impaired cognition
  • Nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Depression and irritability
  • Weakened immune system
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia and/or sleep disturbances
  • Frequent urination and extreme thirst

Sound familiar?

This so-called “microwave sickness” is just a repackaging of electrosensitivity syndrome, a discredited (and probably psychogenic) disorder that has been shown in controlled trials to no correlation (let alone a causal relationship) to EMF exposure.

Here’s the list of symptoms attributed to electrosensitivity:

  • Fatigue and mental impairment
  • Poor memory and reduced concentration
  • Headache
  • Altered sleep pattern
  • Skin rash

And here are some of the (many, many) symptoms linked to so-called adrenal fatigue:

  • Excessive fatigue and exhaustion, chronic fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance, insomnia
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating, brain fog
  • Low immune function
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sensitivity to cold or frequent influenza
  • Anxiety, irritability, or depression
  • Reduced memory

Dr. Steven Novella calls these “the common symptoms of life”. Talking about this purported adrenal fatigue, Dr. Novella notes:

Some of these people may have a real underlying disease, and can get distracted from pursuing a proper diagnosis by the offer of a simple fake one. Many people need lifestyle adjustments, and that is where they should focus their efforts – not on magic supplements to treat nonexistent syndromes.

And finally, just for fun, here are the purported symptoms of being attacked by a psychic vampire:

  • Leaky or diminishing aura
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of energy
  • Muscle tension
  • Mental confusion
  • Headaches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Physical illness

I’m convinced.

And while we’re on the subject…

It’s true that mobile phones, WiFi, etc. use radio waves in the microwave spectrum, but they are hilariously low-intensity. One of the ways that you can tell is that even the tiny bit of radiation that leaks out of a microwave oven is enough to interfere with wireless router traffic: and, as I said earlier, that’s obviously not enough to do any damage.

Cell phones and WiFi, and their related impact on health, are heavily scrutinized, and there is no strong or even middling evidence linking these devices to health problems such as cancer. There are a small number of studies by a few fringe researchers which have failed reproduction by the scientific community. Many of these experiments have startling methodological flaws. Dr. Steven Novella has a great summary of some new research on the subject here.

Also worth noting: any case or covering that purports to block the EMF emitted by cell phones, laptops, etc. (and such devices are popular!) will fall into one of two categories: (1) it won’t do anything; or (2) it will work, and your cell phone/WiFi will immediately stop working, because its signal is blocked.

So… keep that in mind.

The Nazi Connection

And this is where the author of this article really jumps the shark:

Microwaves were first invented by the Nazis in order to provide a method of cooking for their troops during World War II.

Godwin always makes me laugh. Also, I can find no evidence that microwaves were invented by the Nazis, and substantial evidence to the contrary.

The Sources

The author of this article has obviously taken no care in choosing his sources, which all seem to share strong (and fairly transparent) ideological convictions that bias them against good science. They are also uniformly hilarious.

Here are the websites linked to in the “Sources” section at the bottom of the article:

  • Relfe: “Valuable natural health, mind, spirit, financial and other information unifying the whole, rather than just educating a part of the whole.” The main page contains multiple embedded Alex Jones videos, which describe in detail exactly how the government and the scientific establishment are trying to kill you.
  • The Library of Halexandria: “Halexandria is a Synthesis of new physics, sacred geometry, ancient and modern history, multiple universes & realities, consciousness, the Ha Qabala and ORME, extraterrestrials, corporate rule and politics, law, order and entropy, trial by jury, astronomy, monetary policy, scientific anomalies, religion and spirituality, and a whole host of other subjects ranging from astrology and astrophysics to superstrings and sonoluminesence to biblical and geologic histories to numerology, the Tarot, and creating your own reality.” Need I say more?
  • Lita Lee: The website of “nutritionist” (and Ph.D. chemist) Lita Lee. She would love to sell you all sorts of herbal concoctions, so why not mosey on over?
  • Global Healing Center: An online pharmacy! Except it only seems to stock those shady end-cap items that cause pharmacists to hang their heads in embarrassment, saying “We don’t decide what to stock, it comes from corporate.” Lots of cleanses and detoxifying foot pads!
  • Natural Society: This site seems to be the evil twin of Skeptic North.

And here is a list of the peer-reviewed literature cited by the author:
 
 
 
 
 
 

That is all.