Episode 20: How Rationalists Approach Death, Part 1

Episode 20: How Rationalists Approach Death, Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Mark Forkheim discusses life, death, and immortality with Gem Newman, Robert Shindler, and Greg Christensen.

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: Imagine No Relgion 2 | The History of Homeopathy (Text, Video) | Shoppers Drug Mart Named In $30M Lawsuit For Selling Homeopathic Product (CASS Press Release, Skeptic North) | Cold-fX (Science-Based Pharmacy, CBC Marketplace) | Exorcist Expertise Sought After Saskatoon “Possession” | Skepticon 4: How Should Rationalists Approach Death? | Gem’s Ghost Stories | Tibetan Sky Burial | Ecoburials

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Potent Nonsense

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

Pseudoscience has teamed up with erectile dysfunction to wipe several species of rhinoceros off the face of the earth.

A dead Javan rhinoceros. Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia.

From the Telegraph:

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which publishes an annual ‘red list’ of endangered species, said the Western Black Rhino could soon be joined by the Northern White Rhino of central Africa which is “possibly extinct” and the Javan Rhino which is “probably extinct.” Though overall numbers of black and white rhinos have increased, the three subspecies are particularly vulnerable owing to a lack of political will in their habitats and poachers who target their valuable horns which are used in Asian medicine.

When this article first appeared, I linked to it on Facebook, with the title, “Fuck you, Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

An acquaintance from my dinner theatre days (with whom I’ve always been on friendly terms) took umbrage. What follows is a transcript of the short discussion that ensued.

Brandi: The sad part is, western medicine and antibiotics kill and harm ALOT more animals than chinese medicine will ever do. And to add to that, western medicine also kills human beings. Just a way of looking at the other side of things!

Gem: Good to know where you stand on the whole real medicine versus fake medicine thing.

Brandi: Lol my comment was not meant to be offensive or opinionated but rather to shine a light on the subject. Facebook is tough for that!! I do not agree with senseless killings. People could argue for days about what medicine is real and what medicine is fake but the key is education and as I mentioned, there are certainly outs to allopathic medicine as much as anything else. I always say, you bring me your research and I’ll do the same! Only then can one really get into it;)

Gem: Bring you what research? I don’t do medical research, and I’m not qualified to evaluate it. Luckily, we have physicians and medical researchers whose expertise lies in just those areas. I’m certainly always interested in learning more about so-called “alternative” medical practices, [but] citing a positive study or two is unlikely to persuade me of efficacy, because cherry-picking is rampant in the alt-med community and I understand what a p-value is and I recognise that we expect the occasional false-positive. Not only that, but alt-med studies tend to be poorly blinded and controlled. I suggest that if you’re interested in learning more about science-based medicine, you visit http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/.

The fact that you use the absurd and discredited term “allopathic” to describe modern scientific medicine illustrates your biases on the subject. This pejorative term was coined by arch-quack Samuel Hahnemann to distinguish the (in many ways prescientific) medicine of his day from his new (and absurd) “homeopathy”. (For more on the subject of homeopathy, feel free to read this: http://www.startleddisbelief.com/2010/04/winnipeg-skeptics-presentation.html.) Hahneman asserted that allopathic interventions were those that treated the symptoms, rather than the cause, of the disease. Most science-based medical treatments today do not conform to this definition, because they either seek to prevent illness or they remove the cause of an illness by acting on the etiology of disease.

Occasionally, remedies that were once labelled “alternative” are integrated into science-based medicine—but this should happen only after a large body of medical research has demonstrated that the intervention is effective to a reasonable degree of certainty. And it’s always important to consider each study in the context of the entire body of the medical literature. To quote the wonderful comedian/musician Tim Minchin, “By definition … alternative medicine … has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”

Brandi: Lol clearly you have decided to take this much further than it needs to go:) There are plenty of scientific studies to support every field of medicine. I understand how to read them and I can tell you by the abstract alone whether it’s even worth reading the entire study, or if it’s a waste of time:) It’s nice to see you take an interest in the subject as well, hopefully you didn’t need to fork out the thousands of dollars that I did for the education:) I would like to say that using words like “absurd” to color what I have said, clearly states you are not up for the open minded discussion that I was after. I’m always interested in facts and any science to back them up, however I’ve also learned that it’s really not about a cold competition when there are so many things to learn on all sides. I’m sorry to have sparked such a battle, that was not my intention, clearly it’s not something you take lightly. Nor do I:) So let’s leave it here? If we ever run into each other I think the topic would make for some good conversation!!! Hope you are doing well and kudos on the Clue (party?) that was awesome! Was that for Halloween? And who’s idea was it? Good stuff!!!!

Scott: ‎”western Medicine” aka scientifically-shown-to-work-medicine is backed my empiracal evidence. If Chinese medicine doesn’t kill people directly it’s probably because it doesn’t actually do anything, so it would kill people directly in the fact that whatever health issue the person has isnt actually being treated.

Scott: Either a treatment has.

Gem: I’m not being “closed-minded” or dogmatic about this, Brandi. I will gladly change my mind about any given intervention when large, reproducible, randomized, well-controlled studies can consistently demonstrate efficacy. That’s called being intellectually honest.

And if you don’t consider homeopathy absurd, I would wager that either (a) you don’t know anything about it or (b) you have some sort of vested interest in it. It is mathematically hilarious and the body of the medical literature demonstrates that it works no better than placebo.

Gem: Brandi seems to have deleted all of her comments. Interesting.

You’ll note that I ignored her offer to move the discussion on to a more friendly subject, which I’d imagine was what prompted her to stop responding and delete all of her comments. And fair enough; she doesn’t owe me a response! But I think that this is a very important subject, and I was unwilling to be derailed.

Scott later pointed out to me that not only does she work at a health food store (that’s fine, I suppose), she’s also attending the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. As I’m married to a Registered Dietitian (you know, one of those science-based nutritional experts) and I’m a nutritionist myself (not that that means anything) I find quack colleges such as these distasteful.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s the same Scott who blogs for the Winnipeg Skeptics and who co-hosts our new podcast, Life, the Universe, and Everything Else (Facebook, iTunes).

Luckily, I still had the comment thread open on one of my other computers when Brandi deleted her comments, so the discussion is preserved here, in case there’s anything to be learned from it.

The bottom line is that these animals almost certainly would not be dead if it weren’t for the idiotic notion that rhino horns (and other phallic objects) can aid those suffering from erectile dysfunction. Even if it were true (it’s not!), it would still be horribly unethical to kill these animals for their horns.

WARNING! This is NOT medicine.

I have 4 kids, they are all under 10 years old, so when there is an infectious health issue like a cold or flu it tends to spread amongst the whole household like we are living in a putrid petri dish; it’s best to avoid any of us during those occasions.

Recently one of those episodes saw me heading out to find some relief for my little ones’ sore throats. I was at Zellers in Winnipeg looking through the cough and cold section and I was dismayed that all of the cough suppression products I was finding were not for kids under 6 years old, which two of mine currently are. I was thinking about the hot water and  honey mixture I would be making for them instead to help their sore throats when I saw in big, bold lettering “Kids 0-9, Cough and Cold”.

Exactly what I was looking for!

As I read the description on the box I became increasingly hopeful.

“Relieve dry cough”, check

“Relieve congestions”, check

“SAFE – No side effects”, awesome

“Great Tasting”, even better

But as I reached the bottom of the box my heart did slump just a little as my joy over this seemingly magical, wonderful, solution-to-my-problems product was squashed.

“Homeopathic Medicine”

What a huge letdown.

Homeopathic “medicine” does nothing, it is not medicine. It has been shown through scientific trials to be nothing. For a primer about homeopathy check out Wikipedia and this talk by The Winnipeg Skeptics founder Gem Newman.

I took this package and walked up to the Pharmacy area at Zellers and asked them why they stock this non-medicine along beside actual medicine, why carry it at all? The answer is the same that I’ve gotten when questioning other pharmacists in the big box stores; “we don’t decide what to stock, it comes from corporate”. After saying that they often acknowledge that homeopathy is junk, along with other so-called medicines like ColdFX, but they don’t decide what to carry.

In fact one time a pharmacist at a big box store motioned over to an entire section in their store and said “everything over there is crap”; the area she was referring to stocked nutritional supplements, herbal remedies and “organic” items.

What’s the harm in this?

Simple. The fact that homeopathy is not actual medicine is not well understood by the general public. If a parent walked into Zellers that day as I did and bought this product expecting it to help their children they would be disappointed. They would have wasted their money on non-treatment when their child should be getting actual medicine that has a known efficacy.

To give a homeopathic treatment is to give no treatment; which in the case of a cough or cold is not too serious, but what if that child is running a fever? Has aches and pains? Well there is homeopathy for that too. “Flu Buster”.

 Again, to give a homeopathic treatment is to give no treatment, and I find it particularly offensive, and disgusting, to give parents a false sense of security, when they think they are helping their children that are in need of medicine and instead have been tricked into buying nothing.

And Kids 0-9 doesn’t stop there. They have a whole line of products to treat your infants that are suffering from allergies, earaches, colic, etc. This would be great if homeopathy actually worked, but it does not.

And now, enjoy this commercial from the good folks over at Homecan.

THIS is why we need women in skepticism!

This is cross-posted from Subspecies.
There is a lot of post-Elevatorgate buzz about women in skepticism, including the announcement of a conference to specifically deal with women in secularism, more specifically the lack thereof. A lot of people who think that this is a non-issue have said that women (and other minorities in skepticism) will join the movement when they want to, that women simply aren’t interested in hearing about it. (And if you don’t think people actually believe this, please read the comments on the “Women in Secularism” announcement.) Since secularism is about self-improvement and education, I’m going to call Bullshit! on that. Yes, part of the problem is an environment in secularism that is intimidating to women, a lack of prominence for female skeptics, and so on. But the inverse of that is the amount of woo that is promoted to women.

Manitoba women use the health care system more than men, averaging 5.4 physician visits annually (4.4 for men), and 85% of women see a physician at least annually (79% for men.) Even healthy women of reproductive age receive birth control from their physician, have annual Pap tests, get mammograms, have prenatal consultations, and use health care services before, during and after childbirth. Women who are sick visit their physicians more frequently than men with similar illnesses. Women are more likely to be injured due to domestic violence (1 in 5 Manitoban women have been victimized by their partner in the last five years). Women are more likely to be proactive with their health, seeking screening and taking preventative measures more often than men. Now here’s the scary bit: almost 1 in 5 women in Manitoba consulted a CAM practitioner in 2003 (the most recent data). Only 1 in 10 men did the same! These statistics are in reality even worse, as the analysis excluded chiropractic, which partially covered by the province and therefore “not alternative.” Women are more preoccupied with their health, more concerned with prevention, and therefore more likely to be taken in by quacks.

Here’s a figure from the report I’m getting my data from:

The higher the household income, the more likely the women would seek CAM (here denoted CAHC for "health care"). Men did not seek more care as it became financially feasible.

In other words, as women were able to afford it, likely due to both increased income and increased private insurance coverage with the better paying jobs, more women were using CAM. I certainly would be interested to see if the discrepancy is access in lower income brackets, or a lack of awareness.

Well, maybe, you helpfully offer, chronically ill women are more likely to use CAM, and the wealth changes represent their ability to try unproven treatments for their disease! Nay nay….

The majority of women using CAM are healthy!

So what now? We have a bunch of healthy, wealthy women who are out there spending money on homeopathy and reiki and healing meditation and detox regimens and spiritual communicators. Why is it our problem if women want to waste their money on unproven crap? Well, because it’s not right, and it’s not fair. We don’t teach girls to ask questions, we tell them to trust authority, we tell them that their problems aren’t important, we tell them that they’re not an important part of the skeptical community, and then we proceed to laugh at them for finding a sympathetic ear and falling prey to placebo effects!

Worst of all, thanks to “integrative” “medicine,” woo is pervading our hospitals. While walking through the Women’s Health Centre, I saw a poster for upcoming health workshops being hosted at the Centre that made me do a double take. Yes, sponsored by Alberta Health Services, you can take a $40, 2-hour workshop in Reiki (“massage for your soul!”), a $190, 12-hour class in Feng Shui, or a $48, 3-hour workshop entitled, I kid you not, “Talking to Your Angels and Learning How to Listen,” run by Sandy Day, who claims to be a Reiki Master, Shaman, and Intuitive Healer. This is not some backwoods hand-waving Natural Healing Centre Of Happiness and Puppy Dog Kisses, this is at the biggest teaching hospital in the city, the centre for the high-risk pregnancies, for breast cancer: the medical hub! Or, on Wednesday, September 17th from 7-9 pm, the classroom for “Energy Medicine – The Internal World.” Oh but don’t worry, in tiny text:

Women’s Health Resources does not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, product, remedial center, program or person. We do, however, endeavour to inform because we believe in the right to have access to available information in order to make informed individual choices.

Now, call me skeptical, but I’m pretty sure if I wander over to the Urology clinic, I somehow doubt that I will see the same advertisements promising healing touch lessons for prostate problems.

For more than one reason, really. (zpeckler@flikr)

If we don’t teach our girls to question, and if we don’t ask our women to think, stuff like this is only going to get worse. No amount of half-assed disclaimery is going to change the fact that misinforming anyone is the opposite of giving them an informed individual choice. Talking about the dangerous of being teleported to Neptune by devious extraterrestrial cows does not come into discussions of which car you’d like to buy. Yes, you should be aware of the pros and cons of every car, and yes you should be free to make that choice, but having some random loon come in off the street to convince people that our Bovine Neptunian Overlords only abduct people who drive Chevies is pretty much the opposite of informed consent, particularly if the random loon also happens to sell Toyotas. Why is the Women’s Health Centre not bringing in drug companies to give presentations on why everyone should be taking Lipitor? Perhaps because there is a major conflict of interest when you are essentially charging people to sit through a sales pitch? And this is actually a bad example, because at least Lipitor actually has demonstrable, independently reproducible benefits!

So yes, we do need more women in skepticism. We need women standing up for themselves, saying that they are tired of all this bullshit being thrown at them. Without female allies telling Oprah to go stuff herself and Dr. Oz to take his reiki elsewhere, the skepticism movement will never succeed at exposing fraud in CAM. Women’s voices don’t just deserve to be heard in skepticism, they need to be heard, for the sake of everyone’s health.

Come at me, Boiron!

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

Multinational homeopathic giant Boiron is threatening to sue an Italian blogger for publicly stating that their flagship “remedy”, Oscillococcinum, contains no active ingredient.

In a recent statement entitled Boiron, Please Sue Us, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) invite the company to pick on someone their own size.

Boiron, you are a bunch of intellectual cowards. As Professor Frank Frizelle quipped, “Let’s hear your evidence not your legal muscle.”

Boiron, your claims are mathematically and scientifically ludicrous, and completely without merit. Homeopathic remedies diluted past roughly 13C contain no active ingredient. Come at me, Bro.

Integrative and allopathic medicine: a skeptical medical student’s rant

This article is cross-posted from Subspecies, where Flora is a co-author. 

It’s no mystery that I am not a fan of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), and not because I’m a Big Pharma Shill or been brainwashed by exhaustive campaigns by evil corporations. It’s not that I hate herbs, hate Chinese people, and hate things that are different that I don’t understand. The majority of the time I spent in a research laboratory (5 years, including time as a summer student), I spent it doing research into nutrition and functional foods. I worked with people studying the biochemical effects of exercise on health. I understand the role of preventative medicine and lifestyle interventions more than most people and I strongly advocate them. As part of, you know, medicine.

The term “allopathic medicine” was coined by Samuel Hahnemann, who contrasted it with, unsurprisingly for those of you who recognize the name, homeopathic medicine. It’s a derivative term from the Greek word allos meaning other, implying that the treatment opposes the disease, in contrast to homeos (“like”) cures. That homeopathy continues to persist 168 years after Samuel Hahnemann is a farce – that it is presented to medical students without any iota of explanation or critical thought is a tragedy. Observe:

From the AFMC (Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada) Primer on Population Health, required reading for my class, with the offending phrases bolded by me:

Contemporary Western medicine is increasingly being challenged to consider how to respond to perspectives and treatments other than those of conventional allopathic medicine. One response has been to propose ‘integrative medicine’ as a collaboration between biomedical approaches and other healing traditions, including herbal remedies, manual interventions such as massage therapy or chiropractic, and mind-body practices such as hypnosis. Similarly, the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine trains naturopathic doctors who employ natural therapies as well as using the more standard medical diagnostics of allopathic medicine.

Integrative medicine is about changing the focus in medicine to one of healing rather than disease. This involves an understanding of the influences of mind, spirit, and community as well as of the body…
…Whereas allopathy implies opposing the symptoms of disease, homoepathy implies working with the disease by stimulating the body to produce its natural defensive (e.g., immune) responses.For a time during the mid-nineteenth century, homeopathy (treating like with like) was a serious rival to the allopathic approach, but the development of the germ theory gave allopathy a scientific foundation for many of its remedies. However, by the mid twentieth century disillusionment began when, despite advances in ‘the conquest of infectious disease’ hospitals remained full and waiting lists stayed long. This may have reflected a rising demand for care induced by the perception of its success, but the very success of allopathic medicine (along with improved social conditions) enabled people to live long enough to suffer degenerative diseases for which the allopathic approach is less effective. Moreover, the allopathic approach has some undesired consequences including the rapid increases in costs and the large numbers of people with iatrogenic disorders.2 While allopathic remedies are often highly effective, practitioners are also aware that the best cure may be for the patient to simply restore balance in their life and get adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition.

Did you spot all the devious false equivalences and straw men drawn there? Did you notice the bait and switch set up with massage therapy being touted as alternative? Integrative medicine is not a collaboration between biomedical approaches and “other healing traditions” – it’s the infusion of pseudoscience into science. There is no need to worry about traditions when designing a treatment program. You figure out what works best, and you use it. We don’t continue to give people radium for high blood pressure simply because some people in the past thought it was a nifty neat-o idea! Notice also the mention of naturopaths as if they were an equivalent but separate kind of doctor, as if drinking powdered deer horn tea had the same level of efficacy as prescribing a statin.

The idea that “allopathic” medicine is focused on disease rather than healing is a ridiculous notion that I am ashamed to see presented by the people who are overseeing the curricula of this country’s medical schools. In my first week here, the concepts of the spectrum from health to disease, the need for population-based intervention, and the need to treat patients as individuals and not diseases has already come up. We’ve also already talked about treatment – but what is the point of talking about treatment if you don’t understand the disease? I mean, it’s all well and good that Mrs. Johnson comes in vomiting blood all over, but I’m pretty sure that thinking hard about being healthy and taking a nap isn’t going to prevent her form going into hemorrhagic shock! Only once you understand the disease can  you design a treatment. If you think her vomiting blood is from possession by an evil forest spirit, you’re going to proceed quite a bit differently than if you realize that Mrs. Johnson has a ruptured blood vessel in her stomach. The whole purpose of medicine is to achieve wellness! No amount of pre-scientific thinking or feel-good nonsense is going to save Mrs. Johnson’s life!

And of course, the criticisms that because “allopathic” medicine works so well, now people are living long enough to deal with issues that it can’t treat. So, when Mr. Wong comes into your clinic, presenting with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, clearly the only answer is to abandon the system that works really well at everything else, and try some random stuff that has no evidence to support it. This is the same sort of tactic that creationists use in the “God of the gaps” arguments. We don’t know, so God did it. We don’t know, so let’s use reiki. The absence of evidence for something does not mean you get to fill in the blanks with your chosen brand of unsupported beliefs. If there is a gap in our knowledge about what to do with an Alzheimer’s patient, we should research into causes (and subsequently treatments) of Alzheimer’s disease. Plausible, mechanism-based treatments. They don’t need to be drugs; there’s been psychological-behavioural research being done into mental training exercises (most of which has come up short in translating to increased everyday functionality.) Maybe we need to do more to prevent head trauma injures like concussions during sports activities. Maybe we should look at how alcohol and drug abuse can lead to dementia later in life. All of these are well within the realm of medicine, and require no magical thinking. They are testable hypotheses and should be pursued. Until we have an answer, you don’t get to fill the gaps with the nonsense du jour.

Did you also notice that homeopathy is given a one-off vaguely plausible sounding mechanism without any sort of definition as to what it might be? They make it sound like homeopathy is like vaccination, dealing with it not only credulously but dishonestly. How many students are going to read that claim, assume it correct, and go on to think that is is a perfectly legitimate form of medicine?

It’s unsurprising that they also bring up iatrogenic diseases, which can be literally translated to mean “healer-caused” diseases. These diseases range from anemia due to excessive blood draws in the hospital, to hospital-aquired (nosocomial) infections, to potentially lethal drug side effects. They are a major issue in medicine, especially when they are preventable, as in nosocomial infections (which can be prevented by proper cleanliness techniques) or worse, when someone screws up. There are failsafes in place for mistakes, and are why hospitals have adopted a team approach, but they inevitably will happen. However, this is not an argument for throwing the whole system, which we’ve already established works quite well. This is an argument for making the system better, for preventing the mistakes, for increasing communication within a team, for finding more failsafe systems, for being pro-active. The system isn’t broken, it’s just not perfect. You shouldn’t replace something that works but has side effects with something that doesn’t work but has none, especially since the lack of side effects are due to the fact that it doesn’t work. 

This is, of course, also assuming that “traditional” medicine has no side effects, which the anti-vaccine crowd has shown us that it can have. Eschewing modern medicine kills people. If people forsake their family physician for a naturopath, they will cannot be given prescriptions if they need them. If Mr. Sullivan is an overweight, 58-year old pencil pusher with genetic high cholesterol and an impending heart attack, then advocating a healthy diet and more exercise is important. But given his genetic preponderance and his previously sedentary lifestyle, no amount of oatmeal will help. In addition to lifestyle counselling, he desperately needs pharmaceutical intervention, possibly stenting to keep his heart’s blood vessels open, and an intensive monitoring of his blood lipids. If he dies of that heart attack, and the naturopath did not refer him to a physician when first line defences fail, that naturopath is responsible for his death. Just as letting someone get hit by a bus because you don’t want to rumple their suit jacket makes your failure to act lethal, so does dependence on pre-scientific thinking while avoiding science-based medicine cause people to die. Naturopathy, at its core, is based on true principles (that we get drugs from the natural world, there’s a science based on it called pharmacognosy), but in practice is little more than hand-waving, placebo-effecting ridiculousness. On the Canadian Association for Naturopathic Doctors, the website linked to by the AFMC’s primer, they recommend for colds & flus:

To aid the elimination of toxins through the skin induce perspiration by taking long hot baths, using an infra-red sauna or steam room. Increasing perspiration through the skin is one of the safest and most effective ways of eliminating toxins.

You know, unless you get dehydrated and die.  I hear that making people who have a fever sweat even more is really sound medical advice. To get rid of toxins. Right.

So no, Association for the Faculties of Medicine of Canada, I don’t think that we should consider integrative medicine and the “treatment of mind, body and spirit” in our practice. A doctor is not a shaman, nor should they attempt to be. I think physicians should be compassionate, caring, understanding, attentive, and open with their patients. They should be concerned for their patient’s autonomy, their mental health, and their feelings. They should strive to give them the best care, based on the best evidence available.

TL;DNR: I don’t think that there is any room, when people’s lives are at stake, for bullshit.

Skeptical News Roundup!

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

There are several newsitems (major and minor) that have cropped up over the last few months that I’ve been meaning to blog about, but have simply slipped through the cracks. As you may have heard, I’m helping Scott Carnegie produce a film about nonbelievers that is scheduled to debut at the Manitoba Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists (MASH) Film Festival on August 14th, and that’s currently taking up much of the time that I usually allocate to writing. So there you go.

Courtesy of DragonArt, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

It’s okay to be Takei.

The Takeis have been in the news quite a bit, lately. Over at Blag Hag, Jen discusses Germany’s Union of Catholic Physicians, which is endorsing homeopathy as a cure for the gay. Fitting: a non-existent solution to a non-existent problem—and (as Jen points out) probably less psychologically damaging than the A Clockwork Orange-style aversion therapy that’s more commonly employed to “treat” gays. But if like cures like, you and I both know that there’s only one cure for gay sex, and it’s gay sex.

Also making the rounds is a blog post by Nathan Heflick at Psychology Today. He talks briefly about a 1996 study that found that while both homophobic and non-homophobic heterosexual men were equally aroused by heterosexual and lesbian pornography, only the homophobes were aroused by man-on-man action. Neither the abstract nor Heflick’s discussion of the study raise any real red flags, but I’m not qualified to evaluate it. I am, however, qualified to snigger.

There’s been much ado over the past few months about Ontario’s public Catholic schools, what with their recent decisions to “ban” rainbows, appropriate donations to an LGBT-friendly help-line for a Catholic homeless shelter, suspend students for expressing pro-choice sentiment, and generally being bigoted and disgraceful institutions. BoingBoing reminds us that the United Nations has condemned Canada’s public religious schools as a human rights violation. (Full disclosure: my eleven-year-old brother attends a Catholic school in Thunder Bay, and by all accounts receives an excellent education.)

Hat tips to Anlina Sheng, Blag Hag, and BoingBoing.

Why, WHO, why?

People have been concerned for some time about cellphones and cancer. I’ve discussed this briefly in the past, first in my response to an awful Free Press article about “dirty electricity”, and then again in my last Skeptical News Roundup.

Despite the hysteria that has gripped news organisations and Facebook users alike over the WHO’s recent classification of cellphone use as a type 2B potential carcinogen, there is still no good evidence that your mobile device is poisoning your brain.

Hat tips to Skeptic North and BoingBoing.

Scott Adams almost catches up to Vox Day in the douchebag department.

I enjoy Dilbert, but I have the good sense to be a little ashamed about that, because Scott Adams is such an appalling jackass. He has a history of saying laughably stupid things, and when people call him on it, he responds by ridiculing his critics for taking what he has to say seriously. (He sort of reminds me of Insane Clown Posse in that respect.)

Anyway, it’s now been revealed that—surprise, surprise—he’s been going around the Internet with a pseudonym, praising Scott Adams (himself) as a “certifiable genius”, and going on to claim that those who disagree with him are “too dumb to understand what he’s saying”.

What a douchebag.

Hat tip to Pharyngula.

Dear Oprah…

As you might imagine, I don’t much care for Oprah. I cheered when Brian Dunning named her #1 on his list of celebrities who promote harmful pseudoscience. BoingBoing contributor David Ng does an excellent job of elaborating on her history of endorsing bad science.

That was why I was so delighted when I heard that Opera Software has been receiving emails intended for Oprah for years. And they responded to them!

Hat tip to BoingBoing.

And finally…

The fool, or the fool who follows him?

Also, remember when Judgement Day happened last month? Well, apparently some people were a little upset about it. For example, this woman slashed her daughters throats with a box cutter. So… there’s that.

Hat tip to Pharyngula.