Thursday, December 21, 2006


With a flicker, the lights come back on. Infophile is still standing behind the podium, alive and well, and he continues his presentation.

Again, I must sincerely apologize for the difficulty, but with no further delay, on with the skepticism!


Looking back through history, it seems that every age has its own "plagues." As soon as one is cured, people start living a bit longer and run into other plagues at older ages. In North American society, we rarely see deaths from the bubonic plague or tuberculosis thanks to improvements in hygiene and the development of vaccines. Instead, people end up dying from heart disease or the plague of our modern era: Cancer.

We've made immense progress in the battle against cancer, but we haven't beaten all forms of it quite yet. This latter fact has led some people to be dissatisfied with the state of cancer research, and they try to find people to blame for it. In his post, Bloviations and pontifications on the state of cancer research, part 2 (of 2), Orac replies to one such critic. He explains that things really aren't as bad as the critics would have you believe. Most of the time, they're just cherry-picking the evidence that makes progress in the fight against cancer look bad, while ignoring evidence of progress.

From, we learn of another organization making this same mistake: The Family Research Council, or FRC. As part of their attack on the morning-after pill, they pointed out the datum that women who received the pill ahead of time were just as likely to conceive as those who relied on going out to purchase it when needed, and somehow stretched this into saying it doesn't work at all. The fact that women who actually use it tend to conceive much less than those who do apparently slipped their minds.

One much more minor "plague" that humans have faced throughout all of their history is allergies. In a few cases, allergies can lead to death, but in most cases they're simply an inconvenience. Given the vast number of people who have some sort of allergies, however (and I count myself in this number), a cure for allergies would be quite a boon. One person who's tried to find such a cure is Patrick Holford, his particular cure being nutritional supplements. You can also see the paltry evidence for another of his claims - that "[t]he evidence for IgG antibody reactions as a basis for food intolerances continues to grow" - at Holford Watch.

Junkfood Science discusses two other health issues that worry many in modern society. The first is obesity, in a discussion of a claim that's been circulating the media recently that apparently overweight people cost their employers more money (as an altie might claim, it's just one symptom of overall poor "wellness," but I digress). The original research paper on the subject shows that reality is much more complicated. Rather than explain it all here, I'll just recommend you go and read it yourself.

The other issue highlighted here is that of autism, a developmental disorder that seems to be afflicting more and more people (or just more and more people getting diagnosed because of increasing awareness). We don't know what actually causes autism, but one small but vocal sect claims that it's exposure to mercury in vaccines at an early age which is to blame. To remedy this, they recommend using EDTA chelation therapy, a very risky proceedure which has shown no signs of benefiting anyone with autism. Whenever some altie asks you "What's the harm?" in buying into their claims, you might want to point them to all the deaths chelation therapy for autism has caused.

No skeptical discussion of medicine would be complete without some reference to "Traditional Chinese Medicine," a big buzz word among many alties. This time however, I don't bring you a reference to it, but rather an entire history of it brought to you by Wandering Primate. Of course, given the lengthy history of it, it's been split up into two parts for ease of digestion: Part 1, Part 2. You might also note that many people who currently follow TCM ignore much that it actually said, such as recommending you imbibe "cinnabar and gold."

Myths and Hoaxes

Myths arise in every culture. A few strange sights get connected together, a hoaxer makes a giant footprint, some blurry film, and all of a sudden you have millions of people believing in a giant ape-like creature living in the Pacific Northwest. One man, Mike Lake, is now trying to get this mythical creature officially recognized as being endagered. After all, he argues, its hold on existence itself in tenuous.

One other hoax that has been fooling many amateur scholars is the Kensington Runestone. The stone was a 19th century hoax which attempted to make it look like a 16th century artifact. Recently, the stone underwent scientific analysis in Sweden in an attempt to add further evidence to its actual date. Sadly, however, nothing much of use was obtained beyond what was already known.

Another famous stone hoax was the "Ica Stones" discovered in Peru. The stones show humans interacting with almost every type of dinosaur imaginable, and have been touted by creationists as evidence that humans lived alongside dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the stones were later revealed to have been carved by the very people who claimed to have found them. And yet, creationists still try to use them as evidence...

If the above hoaxes seem a bit tame to you, how about a woman giving birth to rabbits? Providentia brings us the story of this hoax, and I won't spoil it any further here.


Not everything worthy can be easily pigeonholed, so my last section details the best of the rest. First up is an anecdote about anecdotes from Cospiracy factory, which serves to illustrate the problems with anecdotes in determining physical causes, and how people often assume more from them than is warranted.

News from Hawkhill Acres brings us a story about a man who claimed to have temporarily died and spent some time in heaven. His evidence? Oh look, it's another anecdote. Nothing to say the vision of heaven he saw wasn't just a fevered hallucination created by his admittedly injured mind.

Blake Stacey of Science after Sunset brings us three posts discussing recent publications. He takes on a Newsweek article on sexual education, Michael Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution, and Time's poor choice of an author for Richard Dawkin's profile.

Matt the Pooflinger shows us how some really far-out people can actually be quite humorous. Case in point, LDS splinter cult leader Art Bulla, who saw something supernatural in 1969 (rearrange the letters of LDS for my guess as to what it might have been).

I managed to sneak in a couple of links to his posts earlier, but Bronze Dog's contributions this week do deserve their own note. In addition to the Doggerel linked previously (Wellness and "What's the harm?"), he also brings you the popular altie doggerel of Vibration, the popular creationist (and others) doggerel of "[Evil Guy] believed in [Theory]," and a debate of fundamental reasoning in Why versus Why.

Critical thinking skills are important to a skeptic, but if you don't use them they'll rot. To counter this, Bob from Hot Dogs, Pretzels, and Perplexing Questions brings us the Paradox of the Question to challenge your mental faculties. Ponder this for yourself: If you could ask any question whatsoever and get a truthful answer to it, what would be the best question to ask?

Whatever question you come up with there, be careful you don't get too certain it's the right one. As Steven Novella cautions us, "The certainty that one is correct is the most reliable predictor of error, for knowledge stems from scientific methodology and certainty is anathema to such inquiry." Read his entire post on the subject of certainty at I'm Certain You're Going to Love This One.

And that's it for the Skeptic's Circle! It's certainly been some night, hasn't it? The next edition of the circle with be on May 24th, hosted by Memoirs of a Skepchick. You can send your submissions in to skepchick [at] skepchick [dot] org. Hope to see you there!


coracle said...

Awesome! Loved it.

Thursday said...

Great Circle!

Now, do you have anything for 'The Cave of Time' flashbacks?

just me said...

Fucking awesome. Like many others, I'm sure, I went back and followed all possible paths - and I remain completely in awe.

All praise Infophilia.

May your supremacy continue its brilliance for as long as you deign reign.