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Category Archives: Pseudoscience

I haven’t posted in some time. It hasn’t been because I haven’t anything to say, but because I have starte actually saying it. My brother B and I had been wanting to start up a podcast for some time, but with the arrival of my niece and nephew things got put on the back burner. I didn’t want to start things up on my own, but when a new homeopathy store opened up and started advertising on Facebook, I could no longer wait.

It was at this time that I put out a cattle all to my Center for Inquiry friends and was pleasantly surprised to receive numerous requests to be involved. We made our first recording a little after Xmas and we’re getting set to record our eighth episode tomorrow evening.

So what’s the podcast about? Well, the vision I have is quite broad. Essentially, it involves discussing topics anywhere that evidence-based thinking can be applied. This can involve public policy, woo woo, religion, science, education, etc. There are many great podcasts out there about atheism (The Non-Prophets, for example) or applied skepticism which exclude religious claims (e.g., The Skeptics Guide to the Universe), but almost none that make no distinction where critical thinking gets applied. (The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Skeptics with a K.)

As I like to say, I am an atheist for the same reason that I am a-reiki, a-homeopathic, a-yeti, or a-quantum healing. I see no difference in any of these claims or the requirements they need to meet before acceptance is justified. However, religion is a big component of the podcast for the simple reason that it pervades so much of society. I wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn about it except for one thing: Beliefs inform actions and believing in things without the requisite evidence often lead to harm, not to mention that it is an impoverished way of living. The universe is amazing enough without diminishing it by making up far less interesting stuff about it.

A case in point (which I would like to make into a podcast topic): a recent crime bill passed here in Canada increases prison time and takes funding away from programs which may help make inmates productive members of society when released. There is not one shred of evidence that increasing prison time makes society any safer or better off. Quite the opposite, in fact. But such thinking arises from and panders to an electorate with a religious conservative point of view that is demonstrably false. This is not how public policy should be created and does real harm to society.

The topics we discuss are as relevant to the Canadian prairies as possible (or at least nationally). There are already podcasts out there which ably cover the tribulations south of the 49th parallel. But topics which are of interst to everyone are covered as well, though we give them a decidedly local flavor.

In the first seven episodes we have talked about Xerion Homoeopathie (a Calgary purveyor of magic sugar pills) and their dissemination of anti-vaccination nonsense, the effectiveness so-called ‘liberation’ therapy as a proposed treatment of multiple sclerosis (which has a very high incidence in the prairie provinces), the absence of secular education in the town of Morinville (just north of Edmonton), and in the episode we are recording tomorrow we have an interview with rock star cosmologist Lawrence Krauss about science education and why the non-religious are labeled “strident” (or worse) just for daring to question religious claims. His new book A Universe From Nothing (which I guiltlessly plug here) is a great companion to the viral YouTube video of the same name.

Come visit us at the Legion of Reason and give us a listen, or you can find us on iTunes.

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They’ve done it again. Last October CTV Calgary News had (alongside an infectious disease expert) a homeopath espousing the virtues of discarding tried-and-true methods of fighting H1N1 – such as vaccination – in favor of ‘nosodes’, for which not one shred of evidence for its efficacy exists. Now this: On last night’s 6 o’clock news segue called Medical Watch (done by Karen Owen), a homeopathic treatment for food allergies was presented (link).
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(Note: this is the infamous article printed in The Guardian (Saturday April 19 2008) on chiropractic that got Simon Singh sued. It is being reposted all over the web today by multiple blogs and online magazines.)
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Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

Beware the spinal tap

This is Chiropractic Awareness Week. So let’s be aware. How about some awareness that may prevent harm and help you make truly informed choices? First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

I can confidently label these treatments as bogus [changed to “utter nonsense” in the scrubbed version] because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Professor Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Bearing all of this in mind, I will leave you with one message for Chiropractic Awareness Week – if spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.
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Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

via Pharyngula

Miss InformationHomeopathy is a form of ‘alternative medicine’ wherein patients are treated with heavily diluted preparations of an ingredient based on the concept that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him”. It arose during a time where other long-discarded quackery were in common use – blood letting and purging, for instance. Homeopathic dilutions are such that it would take many gallons of the preparation to ingest even one molecule of the active ingredient. As physicist Robert L. Park noted,

…since the least amount of a substance in a solution is one molecule, a 30C solution would have to have at least one molecule of the original substance dissolved in a minimum of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of water. This would require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth.


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