Episode 109: The Quiz Show Show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Episode 108: Cryptozoology & Mythical Creatures

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem hunts cryptids with Laura, Ashlyn, and Lauren. Also on this episode: dubious advice, bad jokes, worse segues, and one very annoying pronunciation of the word “cryptozoology”!

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

Links: Cryptozoology (Wikipedia) | List of cryptids (Wikipedia) | Modern Folklore, by Robert B. Durham (Google Books) | Thylacine (Wikipedia) | Maltese tiger (Wikipedia) | Mutant Big Cats | Loch Ness Monster (Wikipedia) | The Surgeon’s Photo | Second Loch Ness monster video swimming in the Thames (Daily Mail Online) | Patterson–Gimlin film (Wikipedia) | Mange (Wikipedia) | Tom Biscardi (Wikipedia) | “Finding Bigfoot” a Howler (Center for Inquiry) | Kting voar (Wikipedia) | Cambodia’s Mystery, the Horns That Never Were (NYTimes.com) | Pseudonovibos spiralis (Artiodactyla: Bovidae): new information on this enigmatic South-east Asian ox (Wiley Online Library) | Debate on the authenticity of Pseudonovibos spiralis as a new species of wild bovid from Vietnam and Cambodia (Wiley Online Library) | Rod (optics) (Wikipedia) | Man-eating tree (Wikipedia) | Manchineel (Wikipedia) | Raskovnik (Wikipedia) | Silphium (Wikipedia) | Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (Wikipedia) | Barnacle goose (Wikipedia) | Jackalope (Wikipedia) | Wolpertinger (Wikipedia) | Skvader (Wikipedia) | The world’s scariest rabbit lurks within the Smithsonian’s collection (Smithsonian Insider) | Shope papilloma virus (Wikipedia) | Tourist dies on search for Pope Lick monster

Correction: In this episode Gem mentioned that some crytpozoology enthusiasts claim that Lake Manitoba is home to the Winnipogo Monster. While it’s true that some believe that a monster swims the depths of Lake Manitoba, cryptozoologists actually claim that there are (at least) two separate lake monsters in Manitoba (although some sources treat them interchangeably). Lake Manitoba’s monster is of course the Manipogo, with the Winnipogo Monster apparently confined to Lake Winnipegosis.

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Episode 66: Naturopathic Medicine

Episode 66: Naturopathic Medicine

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble and Laura Creek Newman discuss naturopathy, including Ashlyn’s experience interviewing for a position as a live blood microscopy analyst.

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: Naturopathy | Live Blood Analysis | Cold Reading | Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine | Six Principles of Naturopathic Medicine

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Episode 65: Homeopathic Nosodes and Nostrums

Episode 65: Homeopathic Nosodes and Nostrums

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

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

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

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Episode 43: News Update

Episode 43: News Update

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

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

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

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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.