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

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Episode 74: Nutritional Supplements

Episode 74: Nutritional Supplements

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn Noble discusses some of the science (and pseudoscience) behind nutritional supplementation with Richelle McCullough, 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: What’s in Your Supplement? | New Concerns About the Safety and Quality of Herbal Supplements | Bad Science Watch Criticizes “Vanessa’s Law” for Neglecting Natural Health Product Users | Vitamin C and the Common Cold | Dianazene | Glucosamine | Hyaluronan | Plasma and Dietary Antioxidant Status as Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors | Chromium Deficiency, Glucose Intolerance, and Neuropathy Reversed by Chromium Supplementation | Eggshell Membrane: A Possible New Natural Therapeutic for Joint and Connective Tissue Disorders | Is There Anything the Natural Health Products Directorate Won’t Approve? The Antioxidant Edition | Scientology’s Purification Rundown (Purif) | Critical Analysis of the Purification Rundown | Precious Bodily Fluids: Scientology and the Purification Rundown | Narconon

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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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Watchdog Fights Homeopathic “Vaccine Alternatives” with New Campaign

Bad Science WatchReprinted from Bad Science Watch.

Toronto, Canada, Friday, 5 April 2013 – Bad Science Watch today launched a new website to support their campaign to stop the sale of nosodes—ineffective homeopathic preparations marketed as “vaccine alternatives” by some homeopaths and naturopaths. The website, www.StopNosodes.org, features information for the public about nosodes and the danger they pose, steps that concerned citizens and health professionals can take to help the campaign, and an open letter to Health Canada.

There is no scientific evidence that nosodes can prevent or treat any disease. Despite this the Natural Health Products Directorate has licensed at least 179 nosode products (82 of which are used as vaccine alternatives), assuring the public that they are safe and effective. As a result Canadians choosing nosodes to prevent dangerous diseases like measles, whooping cough, and polio are acting on false assurances, and are given a dangerous undue sense of security. Additionally, they decrease the herd immunity in their communities, exposing themselves and others to further unnecessary risk. Since they provide no protection or benefit and contribute to falling vaccination rates, Bad Science Watch is calling on Health Canada to cease issuing licenses for nosodes and revoke the licenses for all existing products.

“By licensing nosodes Health Canada undermines its own policies and is working against its own efforts to promote vaccination,” said Michael Kruse, campaign director and co-founder of Bad Science Watch. “We must stop putting Canadian families at unnecessary risk and ban these products.”

Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit watchdog and advocate for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.

For More Information, please contact:

Michael Kruse
mkruse@badsciencewatch.ca
www.badsciencewatch.ca
1 (888) 742-3299 ext. 101

Natural Remedies Never Kill?

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

"Medicine" Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
“Medicine”
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.

Bad Science Watch Completes Investigation of Anti-WiFi Activism

Bad Science WatchBad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians by countering bad science. The group is driven by a vision of a safer, healthier, and more prosperous Canada where critical thinking and sound science are paramount in the making of important societal decisions.

December saw the completion a project investigating anti-WiFi activism in Canada. The project committee (which I chaired) presented its findings to BSW, and the full report is now available on Bad Science Watch’s project page.

I’ll quote here from the conclusion of the paper:

We have been unable to identify any high quality reproducible evidence that any symptom of idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) is caused by exposure to nonionizing electromagnetic radiation. Systematic reviews of both provocation studies and purported treatments for IEI-EMF support the conclusion that EMF is not the cause of the syndrome.

Despite the claims made by the authors of one review paper and the aforementioned anti-WiFi groups, Bad Science Watch was unable to locate any compelling evidence of legitimate scientific debate about WiFi induced illness, or the safety of low-level EMF exposure in general. While fringe groups continue to present flawed arguments and promote poorly designed experiments, the preponderance of research on the matter robustly dispels the connection between WiFi and IEI-EMF. For those tasked with making decisions about the inclusion of WiFi technology in their organization, school, or home, we can find no reason to ignore the advice of health organizations worldwide. The benefits of WiFi are numerous and varied, and there is no compelling evidence that any health effects arise as a result of this technology.

You can read the full report here.

If you’re interested in supporting future projects undertaken by Bad Science Watch, I encourage you to to donate or volunteer.