Episode 171: Dubious Diagnoses

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Laura is joined by Gem, Ashlyn, and Lauren to discuss Morgellons syndrome, adrenal fatigue, Wilson’s temperature syndrome, and candida overgrowth, four medical diagnoses with dubious supporting evidence.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that explores the intersection of science and society.

Morgellons Syndrome: Delusional infestation: Epidemiology, clinical presentation, assessment and diagnosis (UpToDate) | The Morgellons Mystery (Psychology Today) | Sir Thomas Browne’s A Letter to a Friend (University of Chigago) | Morgellons (Wikipedia) | Delusional parasitosis (Wikipedia)

Adrenal Fatigue: Treating the Symptoms that are believed to be Adrenal Fatigue (Endocrine Society) | Adrenal fatigue: What causes it? (Mayo Clinic) | Adrenal fatigue (Wikipedia)

Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome: Wilson’s temperature syndrome (Wikipedia) | Wilson’s Disease: Risk Factors, Causes, & Symptoms (Healthline)

Candida Overgrowth: The Candida Overgrowth Problem: Too Much Yeast? No, Too Little Science (SELF) | The Candida Diet: Separating Fact from Fiction (Nutrition Diva) | The Candida Diet: Separating Fact from Fiction (Scientific American) | Invasive Candidiasis (CDC) | Systemic candidiasis (NIH) | The Anti-Candida Diet: 11 Simple Rules to Follow (TheCandidaDiet.com)

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Episode 167: Medical History

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem, Ashlyn, Lauren, and Laura swap tales from medical history, including the story of Ben Carson’s separation of the Binder twins, the legacy of Henrietta Lacks, and the “tainted blood scandal” that led to the formation of Canadian Blood Services.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that explores the intersection of science and society.

Ben Carson: The story of the surgery that made Ben Carson famous and its complicated aftermath (The Washington Post) | Separation of craniopagus Siamese twins using cardiopulmonary bypass and hypothermic circulatory arrest (The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery) | Patrick and Benjamin Binder (Wikipedia) | From Vaccines to Creationism, Ben Carson’s Views Perplex Some (The New York Times) | Ben Carson on Creationism, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Evolution News) | Ben Carson’s Scientific Ignorance (The New Yorker)

Henrietta Lacks: Henrietta Lacks (Wikipedia) | Significant Research Advances Enabled by HeLa Cells (Office of Science Policy) | Cell Lines – an overview (ScienceDirect Topics) | The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Goodreads)

The Tainted Blood Scandal: Canadian Red Cross apologises for distributing HIV infected blood (BMJ) | ABCs of eligibility to donating blood (Canadian Blood Services) | Collaboration, Competition, and Coercion: Canadian Federalism and Blood System Governance (Adam David McDonald) | Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada: Krever Report (Publications du ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux du Québec) | The Krever Commission Recommendations: What They May Mean for Hospital (Longwoods) | The Krever Commission – 10 years later (CMAJ) | Commemoration of the Tainted Blood Tragedy (Canadian Hemophilia Society) | Canada’s Tainted Blood Disaster (CBC Archives) | Unspeakable: the truth about HIV-tainted blood in Canada (The Lancet Infectious Diseases) | Today’s blood system no longer unsafe or “Unspeakable” (Canadian Blood Services) | Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Blood System in Canada (Wikipedia) | Research shows promising development in hunt for HIV vaccine (ABC News)

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Episode 166: The Wellness Industry

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Laura leads Ashlyn, Gem, and Lauren in a discussion of the wellness industry, including a brief detour into QAnon conspiracies, and together the panel tries to figure out what wellness even is, anyway.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that explores the intersection of science and society.

Additional Music: In addition to original music by Ian James, this episode also features Cavatina performed by the Mangoré Duo.

Wellness, Defined: Frequently asked questions (World Health Organization) | Twenty-first century health promotion: the public health revolution meets the wellness revolution (Health Promotion International, Oxford Academic) | The dark side of the wellness industry (New Statesman) | What is Wellness? (Global Wellness Institute)

Apps and Plans: Why The Wellness Industry is So Utterly Broken (In Fitness and in Health) | Public Health and Online Misinformation: Challenges and Recommendations (Annual Review of Public Health) | The Truth Behind Weight Loss Ads (FTC Consumer Information) | Tons of Weight-Loss Ads Show Fake Before/After Photos: Report (Women’s Health) | The History of Dieting (Skyterra Wellness) | Is Fasting Healthy? (WebMD) | “Find Your Fit”: Wearable technology and the cultural politics of disability (Journal of New Media and Society)

QAnon and the Wellness Industry: How Instagram Aesthetics Repackage QAnon (The Atlantic) | How COVID-19 Guided Wellness Influencers to QAnon (Bitch Media) | This yoga instructor is fighting the rise of QAnon in the wellness community (CBC Radio) | New Agers and Wellness Influencers Are Falling for Far-Right COVID Conspiracies (Vice)

Police Officers and Domestic Violence: Police Domestic Violence: Data Shows 40 Percent of Cops Abuse Family (Fatherly)

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Episode 163: Limitless

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn, Laura, Lauren, and Gem discuss people who push their bodies to the limit, including saturation divers, ultramarathoners, mountaineers, and stratospheric skydivers.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that explores the intersection of science and society.

Additional Music: “Friends” by Dragon Sound, “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service

Saturation Diving: The Weird, Dangerous, Isolated Life of the Saturation Diver (Atlas Obscura) | Nutritional considerations during prolonged exposure to a confined, hyperbaric, hyperoxic environment: recommendations for saturation divers (Extreme Physiology & Medicine) | What It’s Like to be a Saturation Diver (ScubaDiving.com) | High Pressure Diving Nervous Syndrome (NCBI Bookshelf) | Saturation diving (Wikipedia) | SEALAB (Wikipedia) | Saturation diving; physiology and pathophysiology (PubMed)

Ultramarathons: 120 Minutes Over 26.2 Miles: A Statistical Approach (FloTrack.org) | The new Vaporfly NEXT% (Nike) | Eliud Kipchoge Two-Hour Nike Shoes (Runner’s World Inside Look) | What happens to your body during an ultramarathon (Washington Post) | Why ultramarathons are easier than you think (RedBull.com) | Eliud Kipchoge Marathon Strategy (Runner’s World) | The sub-2 hour marathon attempt: The pacing strategy (The Science of Sport) | Craziest Ultramarathon Races (Men’s Journal) | Barkley Marathons (Wikipedia) | Nike Vaporfly Shoes Controversy (NPR) | LZR Racer (Wikipedia)

Such Great Heights: 14 Fast Facts about Mount Everest (The Explorer’s Passage) | There Are Over 200 Bodies on Mount Everest, And They’re Used as Landmarks (Smithsonian Magazine) | Climbing Mount Everest, explained (National Geographic) | Edmund Hillary (Wikipedia) | Tenzing Norgay (Wikipedia) | Tourism, Waste, and the Effects of Climate Change on Everest (National Geographic) | The Problem (Mount Everest Biogas Project) | Reinhold Messner (Wikipedia) | Peter Habeler (Wikipedia) | Mountaineering (Wikipedia) | Interview with Climbers About Reaching Mount Everest Summit Without Oxygen (National Geographic) | Norton Couloir (Wikipedia) | Astronauts Hail Skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s Record-Breaking Supersonic Jump (Space) | Alan Eustace Jumps From Stratosphere, Breaking Felix Baumgartner’s World Record (The New York Times) | Space diving (Wikipedia) | Red Bull Stratos (Wikipedia) | World’s Highest Skydive! Daredevil Felix Baumgartner Makes Record-Breaking Supersonic ‘Space Jump’ (Space) | Skydiving From the Edge of Space (The Atlantic) | All About Stratosphere Jumps (Skydive Taft) | Ask the Captain: Highest altitudes for planes (USA Today) | The Composition of the Stratosphere (Encyklopedia klimatologiczna) | Helium shortage: Why the world’s supply is drying up (CNBC)

Something Nice: Whoops! We forgot to actually say the name of the show that Ashlyn recommended (or maybe I accidentally cut it out)! It’s called Taskmaster.

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Episode 158: Public Health History

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn, Gem, Laura, and Lauren discuss the history of several public health initiatives: handwashing, toothbrushing, and nutrient fortification of food.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that explores the intersection of science and society.

Updated: During his segment, Gem mistakenly said “postpartum examination” when he meant to say “postmortem examination”. This has been corrected.

Handwashing: Hand washing (Wikipedia) | When and How to Wash Your Hands (CDC) | Ignaz Semmelweis (Wikipedia) | Daily Deaths, 2018 (Statistics Canada) | Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System (Maternal and Infant Health, CDC)

Oral Hygiene: Monkeys may have better dental hygiene than you (Science, AAAS) | Miswak (Wikipedia) | Efficiency of traditional chewing stick (miswak) as an oral hygiene aid among Muslim school children in Lucknow: A cross-sectional study (NIH) | The evolution of the toothbrush | Who invented the toothbrush? (HISTORY)

Nutrient Fortification: Overview of Food Fortification in the United States and Canada (NCBI Bookshelf) | A brief history of food fortification (Baking Business) | History of U.S. Iodine Fortification and Supplementation (NIH) | Iodine (Wikipedia) | Fortification and Health: Challenges and Opportunities (Advances in Nutrition, Oxford Academic) | Rationale and Plan for Vitamin D Food Fortification: A Review and Guidance Paper (NIH)

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Episode 144: Twenty Questions

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem talks about Google’s search autocomplete feature, then Lauren, Ashlyn, Laura, and Gem answer twenty of the most popular questions suggested by Google.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that delves into issues of science, critical thinking, and secular humanism.

Correction: When answering the question, “Where is your liver?” Ashlyn misspoke: the liver is of course located below the diaphragm, not above it. Whoops!

Google and Autocomplete: How Google autocomplete works in Search (Google Blog) | Censorship by Google (Wikipedia) | Leaked Google research shows company grappling with censorship and free speech (The Verge) | Google to End Pentagon AI Contract, Will Remain a Defense Contractor (Tom’s Hardware)

How: Avoirdupois system (Wikipedia) | Troy weight (Wikipedia) | How to Make Slime: Our 4 Most Popular Slime Recipes (Home Science Tools) | How to Tie a Windsor Knot (Ties.com) | How to write a cover letter (Youth Central) | Hard Boiled Eggs Recipe (Food Network)

Where: Stages of transcription: initiation, elongation & termination (Khan Academy) | Archibald (Wikipedia) | Where is Xur? | History of pizza (Wikipedia)

Can: Can You Start a Sentence with "Because"? (Writer’s Digest) | Can I give my pet…? (Park Road Veterinary Clinic) | Ibuprofen Poisoning in Dogs (VCA Animal Hospital) | What Shall You Not Wear to an Indian Wedding Reception as a Guest? (Discover India) | Is it Legal to Marry Yourself? (Parry & Pfau)

Why: Rayleigh scattering (Wikipedia) | Diffuse sky radiation (Wikipedia) | Photosynthesis (Wikipedia) | Polar bear (Wikipedia) | Effects of Earlier Sea Ice Breakup on Survival and Population Size of Polar Bears in Western Hudson Bay (Journal of Wildlife Management) | Why Asparagus Makes Your Urine Smell (Smithsonian) | Benjamin Franklin’s Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels (Early Americas Digital Archive) | Moore’s law (Wikipedia) | Why is Caillou bald? (Chouette Publishing)

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Episode 142: Rare Diseases

On this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem, Lauren, Ashlyn, and Laura discuss rare diseases and regulatory responses to them. Specific diseases discussed include diabetes insipidus, toxic shock syndrome, and the Cotard delusion.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a podcast that delves into issues of science, critical thinking, and secular humanism.

How Rare is Rare?: Useful Information on Rare Diseases from an EU Perspective (EU Health & Consumer Protection Directorate General) | What is a rare disease? (RareDiseaseDay.org) | Pitfalls in Canada’s Approach to Orphan Drugs (Rare Disease Review) | Rare disease (Wikipedia)

Orphan Drugs and Neglected Diseases: Neglected Diseases (WHO) | RARE Facts (Global Genes) | Rare Diseases (Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center) | Rare disease (Wikipedia) | Neglected tropical diseases (Wikipedia)

Diabetes Insipidus: Diabetes mellitus and deafness (Wikipedia) | Diabetes insipidus (Wikipedia) | Diabetes insipidus: Symptoms and causes (Mayo Clinic) | Diabetes Insipidus (NIDDK) | Diabetes: Study proposes five types, not two (Medical News Today) | Are there actually 5 types of diabetes? (NHS)

Toxic Shock Syndrome: Everything You Know About Toxic Shock Syndrome Is Probably Wrong (Lifehacker) | The Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome You Need to Know (SELF) | Killer Tampons from Outer Space or Why We Don’t Hear About Toxic Shock Syndrome Anymore (McGill University Office for Science and Society) | A Brief History of the Tampon and Who Invented It (ThoughtCo) | Toxic-Shock Researcher’s Discovery Hailed (The Washington Post) | Vaginoplasty procedures, complications and aftercare (UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health) | Influence of the Normal Menstrual Cycle on Vaginal Tissue, Discharge, and Microflora (Clinical Infectious Diseases) | Toxic Shock Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment (HealthLine)

The Cotard Delusion: Cotard Syndrome: “I’m Dead, So Why Do I Need to Eat?” (The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders) | What is Truth? And What is “Walking-Dead” Syndrome? (Nature’s Artful Brain Blog) | Cotard delusion (Wikipedia) | Capgras delusion (Wikipedia)

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Episode 80: Near-Death Experiences

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Donna Harris and Greg Christensen discuss near-death experiences (NDEs) and some of the possible psychological, physiological, and transcendental explanations for them.

Note: Shortly after this episode was recorded, we learned that Steven Novella and Sean Carroll would be participating in an Intelligence Squared debate on the resolution “Death Is Not Final”. Arguing for the resolution was Eben Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven, who was mentioned in this episode. We link to a video of the debate in the show notes.

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: Death Is Not Final (Intelligence Squared Debate) | Near-death Experiences (Wikipedia) | Heaven Is for Real | Eben Alexander | Francis Collins | Pim van Lommel | Sam Parnia | The God Helmet | International Association for Near-death Studies | Impact Factor (Wikipedia)

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Natural Remedies Never Kill?

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

"Medicine" Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
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.