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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 In Science Based Medicine PDF Print E-mail
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.


 Vaccines work. Period. (David Gorski)  Anti-vaccinationists exaggerate the risks of vaccines and downplay the beneficial effects. A recent study collected an unprecedented amount of historical data (88 million cases) and estimated that vaccines have prevented 103 million cases of contagious disease since 1924 and 26 million in the last decade alone. It offers interactive graphs for each disease. 


Philosophy Meets Medicine (Harriet Hall)  In a new book, Mario Bunge shows that medicine is firmly based on the philosophical principles of materialism, systemism, realism, scientism, and humanism; without these principles, it would be useless. He provides insights about the scientific method and the flaws of both evidence-based medicine and alternative medicine. He proposes a systemic approach to solving problems at the intersection between medicine and politics.


The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients need your help (David Gorski) A plea to join the campaign to alert Congress to the horrendous research practices of the Burzynski Clinic that were uncovered by the FDA and to call for an inquiry into how Burzynski got away with it for so many years. 


The Seralini GMO Study – Retraction and Response to Critics (Steven Novella)  The Seralini study claimed to show that GMO corn causes cancer in laboratory rats. It was flawed by small sample size, lack of statistical analysis, ambiguous results, a questionable selection of rat strain, and dubious ethical treatment of animals. After an avalanche of criticism, the journal has decided to retract the study.


Beyond the flu shot: A closer look at the alternatives (Scott Gavura) As many as half the population may be using products touted as influenza preventatives or treatments. Most of these are useless or unlikely to be effective. Vaccines are the most effective means of protecting yourself and the community.


Separating Fact from Fiction in the Not-So-Normal Newborn Nursery: Vitamin K Shots… (Clay Jones)  Recently several infants at Vanderbilt University suffered brain damage from hemorrhages because parents had rejected the vitamin K shot normally given to all newborns on the first day of life. A review of the role of vitamin K shows that newborns are deficient in vitamin K and explains why supplementing it is essential to protect them from life-threatening bleeding complications. A single vitamin K shot at birth is effective and safe.


Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Steve Novella   

Skeptical activism has several simultaneous goals - to educate skeptics to improve their expertise in critical thinking and the details of specific pseudosciences and uncritical claims, to educate the general public about science and skepticism, and to take specific action to protect consumers, fight against fraudsters, lobby for better regulation, and other good works.  The latter goal is often the most difficult, but has the potential of being the most immediately satisfying.

The skeptical movement's social media infrastructure allows us to mobilize tens of thousands of critical thinkers to apply public pressure where necessary - to defend from attacks on free speech, to focus attention on a particular scoundrel, or to pressure politicians into doing the right thing. While such activity is a constant background in skeptical activism, there are moments when opportunities arise for a focused concerted effort. I believe we are at a critical point of one such opportunity.

Stanislaw Burzynski has been exploiting desperate cancer patients for 37 years with his dubious "antineoplaston" treatment. Why his treatment is dubious has been well covered by David Gorski in multiple posts at Science-Based Medicine.
Essentially Burzynski is offering unapproved chemotherapy for cancer patients, claiming that it is "natural" and that he is curing cancer patients who are not responding to standard treatment. He has also moved into the "personalized cancer treatment" realm.


The “Haunted” Francisco Fort Museum PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. Karen Stollznow   

 La Veta, Colorado, is located three hours south of Denver. The heart of this tiny townThe Haunted Piano - Francisco Fort of 800 people is the Francisco Fort Museum, an original adobe plaza built in 1862. The plaza contains an 1880s saloon, a school built in 1876, a blacksmith shop, adobe ovens, and a large collection of artifacts from local Native Americans, Hispanic settlers, and farmers, ranchers and miners; not to mention a resident black bear called Barnaby.

Of course, the Fort Francisco Museum is said to be very haunted. Its most famous ghost is the “floating lady” who is seen dressed in white as she glides through the west wing. There are reports of flickering lights and another ghostly woman who carries candles as she wanders the halls. When people walk by an old piano it plays music although there is no visible pianist, and an antique rocking chair has been seen swaying back and forth without anyone siting in it.

A local ghost-hunting group approached Kim, the Director of the Museum, asking if they could investigate the premises. Her committee provided permission with one condition: she must supervise their investigation. Kim was annoyed that the group did a stakeout of the premises well into the wee hours while she was forced to babysit them as they “ran around doing goofy stuff”. Their findings included high EMF readings where one of the phantom women has been seen, a video of a mysterious light, and recordings of alleged voices of the dead (Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVPs). Kim wasn’t very impressed.

Skills of Selection PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jamy Ian Swiss   

In the days since Thanksgiving, perhaps you’ve heard the tale of “Diane in 7A,” a story first tweeted in installments on Thanksgiving day by television producer Evan Gale of “The Bachelor.” The tale was told, according to him, of an obnoxious airline passenger who shared a flight he was on, who was rude to the airline staff and complained noisily about delays and the importance of reaching her destination on Thanksgiving, as if nobody else shared similar pressures.

According to Gale, he began by hand-delivering to her a couple of small bottles of vodka, and then continued a dialogue of sorts by sending notes to her – they were not in adjacent seats – written on cocktail coasters. This then turned into a contest of words, with both the woman and Gale becoming increasingly obnoxious. When they eventually encountered one another in the course of exiting the flight, she slapped him.

The story was covered in various news outlets, including this piece on Huffington Post.

Retracted, hoaxed or knocked out? This week in Doubtful News for December 3, 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sharon Hill   

 There were SO many wild and wacky stories this past week. Here is a rundown of a cross-section of them courtesy of Doubtful News.

The most important science story of the week was the retraction of the paper that claimed Monsanto herbicide and genetically modified maize was to blame for cancerous tumors in rats. From the first, this study was steeped in controversy and that debate continues.

The World Health Organization made a major mistake in a report regarding HIV infection in the population.They publicly acknowledged their error.

In Mexico, the Catholic Church is fighting a rising tide of violent drug-related activity with… exorcism. Wonder how that's going to work out? 

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