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JREF Swift Blog
Swift, named for Jonathan Swift, is the JREF's daily blog, featuring content from James Randi, the JREF staff, and other featured authors.

Last Week on Science Based Medicine for 15 September 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Harriet Hall   

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

One more time: No, wearing a bra does not cause cancer (David Gorski)  The idea that bras cause cancer is a myth that refuses to die. Bras do not impair lymph drainage or interfere with the removal of “toxins.” A new study confirms what other studies have shown: no correlation of bra-wearing with cancer.

The Reality of Ancient Wisdom: Acupuncture and TCM Weren’t So Great (Harriet Hall)  An old book by a missionary doctor in China describes what traditional Chinese medicine was really like in 1883-1913. It was prescientific, superstitious, ineffective, and sometimes barbaric. Acupuncture bore little resemblance to today’s practices, and serious complications were common. These revelations serve as a reality check: acupuncture and TCM are evidence of ancient ignorance, not ancient wisdom.

Autism Prevalence Unchanged in 20 Years (Steven Novella)  There is no autism epidemic. The number of diagnoses has increased, but the evidence strongly suggests this is due to better diagnosis, changing definitions, and greater acceptance. A new study looked at autism prevalence around the world; it showed no change from 1990 to 2010.

Side effects may include liver failure (Scott Gavura)  Dietary supplements are popular and widely believed to be safe. But there have been many cases of supplements causing liver failure leading to death or liver transplant; and harms are likely under-reported. Contamination of supplement products and lack of routine monitoring are worrisome. 

Legislating Ignorance (John Snyder)   A Florida law prohibits doctors from asking patients about guns in the home. This is unwarranted legislative interference with the practice of good preventive medicine by pediatricians who feel ethically obligated to counsel parents about gun safety along with other accident prevention issues. There is good evidence that counseling has a positive impact on safe storage of guns in the home. Legislation has also interfered with science by regulating the funding of gun control studies.

 
Last Week on Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Harriet Hall   

 Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

The “CDC whistleblower saga”: Updates, backlash, and (I hope) a wrap-up (David Gorski)  Whistleblower William Thompson alleged CDC malfeasance in withholding data from a vaccine study. The CDC has now issued a statement, and Hooker’s paper re-analyzing the data has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions. Anti-vaccine activists are leaking documents and issuing threats, and much remains to be explained; but the CDC conspiracy theory is implausible and not supported by the evidence.

The Unpersuadables (Harriet Hall)   A new book by Will Storr investigates why some people irrationally reject information showing their beliefs are false. Our brains systematically deceive us with illusions and errors in thinking; we create models of reality and try to explain away anything that doesn’t match. We are inherently fonder of stories than of science. Being unpersuadable is an evolved human characteristic; we must learn to overcome the limitations of our prehistoric brains.

CAM and Headaches (Steven Novella)   A recent editorial about the treatment of headaches propagates many misconceptions about CAM. It exaggerates CAM’s popularity, blurs the line between CAM and scientific medicine by including things like exercise, pretends that “Western” medicine is just an arbitrary historical choice, and tries to justify CAM modalities that have been disproven. 

Chiropractic “pediatrics” firmly in the anti-vaccination camp (Jann Bellamy)   Anti-vaccine speakers have been invited to the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association’s upcoming conference. The chiropractic position on vaccines ranges from virulently anti-vaccination to tepid support from a minority. It is scary to think they are promoting themselves as primary care physicians and pediatricians.

Ebola SCAMS (Mark Crislip)   Some homeopaths are telling people how to make their own Ebola remedy at home, starting with body fluids from an infected person. Others offer an MP3 file of homeopathic remedy energy. Nano silver is another alleged remedy. This kind of lunacy capitalizes on fears of Ebola and could lead to fatal consequences. 

 
Last Week on Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Harriet Hall   

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

Did a high ranking whistleblower really reveal that the CDC covered up proof that vaccines cause autism in African-American boys? (David Gorski)
Anti-vaccine sources erupted over reports that a whistleblower had confessed to fraud in the CDC, saying that when he and his co-authors published a study 10 years ago, they covered up a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in a subgroup of African-American boys. Anti-vaccine activist Brian Hooker published a flawed, questionable re-analysis of the data. We don’t yet know the whole story, but this appears to be just an ideological tempest in a teacup; and it does nothing to change the scientific consensus on vaccines.

Diet Cults vs. Science-Based Healthy Eating (Harriet Hall)  
In his book Diet Cults, Matt Fitzgerald argues that science has established quite definitively that there is no one healthiest diet: humans evolved to adapt and thrive on a variety of diets. He debunks the Paleo and other popular diets and shows that their advocates are swayed by emotional and moral influences. He proposes an informal diet guide consisting of a hierarchy of healthier-to-less healthy foods that is flexible, accommodates individual preferences, and that most nutrition experts would endorse based on the best available evidence we have at this point.

Bad Science Journals (Steven Novella)  Open-access online journals charge the author to publish. Some of them are fraudulent, falsely representing themselves as peer-reviewed and trading on the reputation of journals formerly published in print. Half of the dubious journals accepted a bogus nonsense article for publication.

Naturopathy vs. Science: Facts Edition (Scott Gavura)  A comparison of naturopathy websites and Wikipedia entries on subjects like homeopathy, adrenal fatigue, candidiasis, and black cohosh is illuminating. Naturopaths claim to base their practice on scientific principles; but it is obvious that they endorse many non-science-based diagnoses and treatments and are often openly antagonistic to science, even saying the scientific method is not applicable to what they do.

A Touch to Fear: Chiropractic and the Newborn Baby (Clay Jones)
Some chiropractors treat newborns and consider themselves qualified to act as pediatric primary care providers. A chiropractor described what he did when called by a midwife to treat a fussy baby right after a home birth. His incompetence was obvious, and the outcome could well have been disastrous. Chiropractors do not have the training to evaluate newborns; chiropractic “adjustments” of newborns are never indicated and could be dangerous.  

 
Last Week on Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Harriet Hall   

The Science-based Medicine summaries return! 

Here is a recap of the stories that appeared last week at Science-Based Medicine, a multi-author skeptical blog that separates the science from the woo-woo in medicine.

The false dichotomies of CAM and “integrative medicine” (David Gorski)  
Victoria Stern uses faulty reasoning to argue that while alternative medicine is bad, integrative medicine (that integrates alternative with conventional medicine) is good. She seems to think that only integrative medicine can address the “whole” patient and that it is necessary to embrace quackery in order to form a “true bond” between doctor and patient.

“Atavistic oncology” revisited: Dr. Frank Arguello responds (David Gorski)  Dr. Gorski criticized Dr. Arguello’s “atavistic chemotherapy” because it is untested, based on a questionable rationale, unpublished, and not even properly defined. Dr. Arguello demanded that he retract the article. His letters and e-mails (reproduced here in full) consist not of a rational response to Gorski’s criticisms, but of insults, ad hominem arguments, threats of legal action, letters to Dr. Gorski’s employers, excuses, and a challenge in the form of an experiment on a patient that would be unethical and that he had not even asked the patient about.

Pass the Salt (But Not That Pink Himalayan Stuff) (Harriet Hall) Three recent articles confirm the understanding that too much salt is bad for health but provide evidence that too little salt is harmful too. Existing guidelines may be too extreme. Pink Himalayan salt has been recommended (by unreliable sources) because it contains 84 trace minerals, but some of those minerals are radioactive and poisonous.

Vitamin K Refusal – The New Anti-Vax (Steven Novella)  Some parents are endangering the health of their newborns by refusing the routine vitamin K injection that protects children for 6 months until they start getting enough vitamin K in their diet. Without this supplementation, there is a small but devastating risk of bleeding, brain damage, and even death. Irrational adherence to the naturalistic fallacy is largely to blame for both vaccine refusal and vitamin K refusal.

Clinical trials of integrative medicine: testing whether magic works? (David Gorski)  David Gorski and Steven Novella have managed to get an article published in a very good medical journal to present the SBM view. They show why randomized clinical trials of highly implausible CAM treatments such as homeopathy or reiki should be discouraged.

Tens of millions for CAM research – and it’s all on your dime (Jann Bellamy)  The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 was enacted to empower citizens to hold the government responsible for wasteful spending. Millions are being spent on research into acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathy, homeopathy, and improbable treatments like chelation for heart disease. It’s time to stop wasting government money that could be better spent on more plausible areas of research.

That’s So Chiropractic (Mark Crislip)  A study attempted to correlate spinal health to overall wellness by dissecting 75 human cadavers and attributing diseases of the internal organs to misalignments of the vertebrae. Another trial with only 14 patients and no controls purported to show that chiropractic effectively treats autism. Such studies are methodologically horrible and useless. Chiropractors continue to discourage vaccination, to deny the risks of neck manipulations, and to offer unsubstantiated theories; and yet they want to become primary care providers!  

 
It keeps going and going PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

 

IT NEVER ENDS…  Even though the UK finally caught, charged, and convicted the man - James McCormick - who sold thousands of spurious “bomb detectors” all through the Middle East, those same devices – simply glorified dowsing rods with fake electronics installed – are still being sold and used in Iraq, causing wounding and death to personnel who unwittingly wave them about, believing that they work. They don’t, and the JREF has for years now issued warnings that have gone unheeded, yet we have never received credit for our work. Though I was personally contacted by the Avon & Somerset Constabulary in 2012 and asked to attend McCormick’s trial in the UK as an expert witness, and I reserved the time to do so, I found that the trial took place without my receiving any notice.

This, unfortunately, is all too common a practice. In the past, I have similarly been consulted by the FBI, have provided useful information that resulted in similar convictions, and have never received any credit to the JREF for our co-operation. 

In The New York Times, sent to me by my friend Chip Taylor in Vermont, I see that the ADE651 – the one which McCormick peddled (see the Wikipedia page of the device for a full account)  – is still relied upon. Says The Times:

The Iraqi government bought thousands of the devices that international bomb detection experts have described as about as useful as a “Ouja board.”

 

Although at one point the government made an effort to get rid of them, they are still used a many police checkpoints and at the entrance to the Green Zone, where many embassies are, as well as offices for top government officials.

 

 

Check in with Doubtful News for the latest in convictions surrounding fake bomb detectors.

 

SO MUCH FOR AUTHORITY BY DEGREE… Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove – a real PhD, a “doctor of parapsychology,” folks, wrote a massive 380-page thick, 8½” X 11” book, “The Roots of Consciousness” (1976) which is chock full of half-endorsements, suggestions, faint praise, almost-evidence and simple rumors about a wide variety of “psychics” and “sensitives,” the author just-about endorses. In his blogging activities since, he has also managed to misunderstand the Million Dollar Challenge with rare inaccuracy. For example, he wrote:

 

Although on the popular media scene many magicians – such as the Amazing Randi have claimed that they can duplicate parapsychological effects using magic tricks, they have consistently been unable or unwilling to do so under controlled laboratory conditions (Eisenbud 1975).

 

Well, let’s examine that statement. It’s attributed to Dr. Jule Eisenbud [1908-1999], who challenged me to duplicate what he claimed that “psychic” Ted Serios [1918-2006] had done under ridiculous conditions, tricks that everyone but Eisenbud easily solved. My response to him was that if Serios could really do such demos under double-blind, controlled conditions – the conditions under which such tests must always be done – I would run a test for the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) million-dollar prize. Though Dr. Eisenbud simply refused to respond to that notice, Dr. Mishlove has no problem citing him…

In another entry on Dr. Mishlove’s blog “The “Pigasus Award Ironies,” he wrote this:

 

But, I believe Randi’s offer is a scam. And, I will say why I believe it to be so, in very simple terms. First of all, there is no doubt that Randi has used his alleged offer – over a period of many years – to generate enormous publicity for himself and his cult of debunkers.

 

Well, I deny having a “cult” going, of course, but I’m very pleased and satisfied that the JREF’s work has resulted in copious news interest. But Dr. Mishlove moved ahead. I’ll handle each point he offered:

 

Second of all, Randi’s offer sets himself up as judge and jury.

 

Au contraire, Dr. Mishlove. It is clearly stated in the rules for the Challenge that there will be neither judge not jury, as a quick glance would have informed you – had you cared to look. We conduct the tests – always with the agreement of the challenger – in such a way that the results are self-evident to all; no assessment is necessary. For example: You can fly by flapping your arms? Okay, let’s see. Lean out this window, ma’am…  Oops…! Next candidate…

 

And next point:

 

And, of course, he [Randi] has not the slightest interest in losing the very game that he has created.

 

Yes, this is true, but we quaver not…

 

A true prize would have an independent panel of neutral judges – and these judges, not Randi, should be in control of prize money, to determine if and when it shall be released. 

 

See above. The results are always – by experimental design – plainly evident. Next…

 

So while James Randi and his cult go around accusing the general public of falling for a wide variety of psychic scams, they themselves are engaged in perpetrating a scam of an equal and opposite sort.

 

Oh, I think not, doctor. As you very well know, the “general public” certainly does “fall for a wide variety of psychic scams,” as you suggest, but there is no deception in the JREF challenge, as anyone can determine by examining our procedures and our assets. It is available to anyone who asks – which you did not care to do before you rushed “The Pigasus Award Ironies” into print. To conclude:

 

The final irony is that they are the very near a mirror image of the phonies they try to expose.

 

As long as they set about exposing the true frauds and schemes in the psychic world, they do the world a service. And, I applaud Randi and his ilk for that. But, in their fanatical zeal, they sometimes endeavor to put a stop to legitimate scientific and academic inquiry. (I know this, first hand, as they attempted to interfere with my own doctoral degree program in parapsychology at the University of California, Berkeley.) When they go this far, as they did with Brenda Dunne, they simply reveal the philosophical and moral emptiness of their position.

 

I am unaware of any interference applied to either Dr. Mishlove’s or Ms. Dunne’s doctoral degree program, and would wish to have details of this affront. I would very much like to have contact information for Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, so that I might clear up that misunderstanding.  Can anyone supply that information?

Stay tuned…

 

TAM 2014  The general consensus among TAM-goers is that this year’s gathering was the best ever.  We’ll have a summary of the activities for you shortly, delayed only by the fact that I’m on my way to Toronto, Aspen, and Québec in the next few weeks to accompany screenings of our film, “An Honest Liar,” which most of the folks at TAM 2014 saw, and expressed their satisfaction with it. Then, in December, I’ll be touring Australia, as well. So, here’s my message for that continent:

 

G'day Australia! This is James Randi. Remember me? If you haven't already heard, I’m coming to visit you in December, this time travelling to Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney between Dec. 3rd and 7th, exclusively screening our 90-minute film “An Honest Liar” at “An evening with James Randi” on this trip Down Under. It’s full of surprises, and will be followed by a Q-and-A session that you’ll long remember! For more information and/or to purchase tickets, please go to ThinkInc.org I’m looking forward to seeing many of my old friends, and exchanging useful ideas and experiences once more!

 

I’ll be doing my best to keep in touch with Swifters while away.

 

That’s all for now, dear friends…

 

James Randi

 

 
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