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

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS Feed

Episode 105: Mental Health & Stigma

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Lauren discusses mental health with Ashlyn, Gem, and Laura, with a focus on treatments and associated stigmas, current and historical.

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

Links: History of mental disorders (Wikipedia) | Trepanning (Wikipedia) | Psychiatry in Ancient Egypt (BJPsych Bulletin) | Humorism (Wikipedia) | Dosha (Wikipedia) | Bedlam revisited: A history of Bethlem hospital 1634-1770. | Electroconvulsive therapy (Wikipedia) | TRC #366: Accent Bias + Electroshock Therapy + Did A Cat Take A Bullet For A Kid? (The Reality Check) | Lobotomy (Wikipedia) | The History of Mental Illness: From “Skull Drills” to “Happy Pills” (Student Pulse) | Fighting Stigma: A Closer Look at Mental Illness Throughout History (YouTube) | The hidden medical logic of mental health stigma (Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry) | Initiatives: Opening Minds (Mental Health Commission of Canada) | The Stigma Associated with Mental Illness (Canadian Mental Health Association) | Exposing Canada’s ugly mental-health secret (The Globe and Mail) | Your Mental Health (Canadian Mental Health Association) | What to do about the antidepressants, antibiotics and other drugs in our water (Ensia) | Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (Wikipedia) | Addressing Mental Health Treatment Barriers (Psychology Today) | Let’s Talk About How My Job at Bell Gave Me Mental Health Issues and No Benefits (CANADALAND) | Ten Days in a Mad-House (Nellie Bly) | Reasonable Vegan | Episode 82: What Have You Changed Your Mind About? (LUEE)

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS Feed

Episode 101: “Trace Amounts”

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

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

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

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

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS Feed

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg: Self-Proclaimed Diet Gurus and the Shams They Peddle

Image of Dr. Oz via CNN.
Image of Dr. Oz via CNN.
Embedded below is Laura Creek Newman’s talk from SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2014. Laura is a Registered Dietitian and lover of all things edible. Her skeptical focus is on empowering patients and society to make healthy, informed choices and rid the world of dubious nutritional advice.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is a conference for the sharing of ideas. It is free and open to the public: anyone can attend and participate! Presentations and discussions focus on science and free inquiry, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas. You can visit our SkeptiCamp page for information about upcoming events and links to past SkeptiCamp talks.

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

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed

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 78: Cosmetics

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble discusses some of the marketing claims made for certain cosmetics with Laura Creek Newman and Lauren Bailey.

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

Links: Benefit of a topical slimming cream in conjunction with dietary advice | Adipoless Slimming Concept | Woman sues make-up company for false advertising | Clinique rapped by the ASA for misleading ad | High-SPF sunscreens: Are they better? | Sephora Bliss FatGirlSleep | Sephora Bliss FatGirlScrub

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed