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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I shall return!

I know it's been quite a while since I've posted anything on my little corner of the interwebs. I've written a fair amount, but I'm still researching and polishing, as well as confusing myself by writing on several different topics simultaneously. So I have to go back, cut whole paragraphs and paste them into other posts, and then repeat the process. I've also been extremely busy with work matters, family stuff, and other skeptical and media projects. Some of the topics I'm currently working on, when I get the chance are Pliny the Elder (thanks to the Sawbones Podcast and Blurry Photos for getting him stuck in my head), dowsing, Reiki, psychics, the Skirvin Hotel, and several opinion pieces, including one on the proliferation of alt med journals and another on why people in the skeptical community aren't the bad guys.

If you enjoy my writing, and it seems that some people do, then please, please, please, share my posts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, hell, you can put them on MySpace. Also, leave comments. I do read everything, and if I can, I do reply. Also, if there is something you'd like to read my take on, then go ahead and leave a suggestion in the comments, and I'll look into it. Right now, it appears most people want to read more about various cryptids, based on which ones have the greatest number of views. I enjoy reading and researching the various monsters that are supposedly out there. The problem is that there are so many of them, it's hard to know where to start, and a lot of them barely have any info to write a sensible article on.

So as I said in the title, I will return to writing here soon, I hope. Of course, that depends on how much free time I'll have coming up. Until then, be skeptical, not cynical.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

GMOs for the Beginning Skeptic

I hope that everyone had an enjoyable holiday season. Of course, living in Oklahoma, the winter always has a few surprises in store, which normally involve ice storms, power outages, and of course, a brown/green Christmas. I've been mulling over what sort of post to start the year off with, if it should be a heavily opinionated rant, a topical current event, or a more researched fact based post. Then I realized that there is a topic that can easily cover all three. This is something that is fodder for some really rather outrageous claims. The fear mongers will rail against a variety of companies that they think use them, and the conspiracy theorists and the "natural living" crowd tend to get up in arms about them.The results is that proponents get hate mail, death threats, and are accused of being shills, naturally, and the companies are boycotted, or otherwise threatened financially. Of course, I intend to talk about GMOs. Any topic that can piss off Vani Hari (The Food Babe), Mike Adams (The Health Ranger), Joseph Mercola, Alex Jones(InfoWars and Above Top Secret), and David Avocado Wolfe is definitely one that the skeptical community should learn about, and take every opportunity to refute the more outrageous claims and provide factual evidence.

What are GMOs?
This is a question that can be rather difficult to answer. The quick and dirty definition of a GMO is any organism that has been altered from it's original form through manipulation. Technically, this definition not only includes actual genetic manipulation, but natural selection and controlled breeding programs. The USDA defines GMO as: "An organism produced through genetic modification.", though they prefer the term Agricultural biotechnology. The FDA states that "Genetically engineered foods are also referred to as biotech, bioengineered, and genetically modified (GM) foods. Because from a scientific perspective, the term "genetic modification" means the alteration of the genotype of an organism using any technique, and therefore also encompasses plants altered through means including conventional breeding and selection, The FDA uses the term "genetically engineered," or "GE," to distinguish organisms that have been modified using genetic engineering (also known as modern biotechnology) from those modified through traditional breeding." Of course, Mirriam-Webster defines it as "genetically modified organism".  Notice that the terms "frankenfood" or "evil" aren't anywhere in there. GM crops and animals, generally speaking, have been modified through genetic engineering to improve yields, disease resistance, earlier maturing, or to possess or remove certain traits. Normally, they will splice in genes from related organisms that have the desired trait. An example is taking the gene for resistance to corn smut (a type of fungus) and splicing it into a high yield variety that has little or no resistance to smut. The result: a high yield corn plant that is resistant to corn smut. Taking genes from animals and putting them into plants is primarily done in a purely experimental setting. The same holds for things like human genes or biofluorescenct genes in pigs. You're not going to get a glowing human/pig porckchop anytime soon. The biofluorscence is used in conjunction with certain genes to determine if they've been activated or not. Though glowing mice and pigs do look pretty cool, admittedly. We have been doing genetic modifications on plants and animals for thousands of years. Before we had the tools to actually manipulate the genes, we did it the slow way by breeding plants and animals that had the traits we wanted, then breeding the offspring, and so on. Now, we can cut out dozens, if not hundreds of years, and hopefully get the results we want within 1 or 2 generations. Of course, the opponents to GM products make it sound like there is a mad scientist somewhere that creates a mutant and then unleashes it on an unknowing public. The truth is that before they are released for consumers, there are many years of studies to determine if the alterations will breed true between the generations, if there are any harmful effects to either humans or animals, depending on who will be the final consumer, and if there are any environmental risks. Then the results have to be published and submitted to the government and approved.

The Controversies:
There are a lot of controversies surrounding GMOs, some are real, others are completely made out of whole cloth. An actual concern over GM plants and animals would be "What if they escape into the wild?" Gene transfer is a concern because if you have, say, mice that have been engineered for resistance to a particular rodenticide, and they escape and breed with the wild population, then that can make pest control even more difficult than it already is. The same goes for plants that are resistant to certain herbicides. For the most part, there are controls in place to prevent the animals from escaping and breeding. The main one for animals, outside of strict handling protocols, is that they don't produce certain nutrients that have to be supplemented by the lab, otherwise the animals perish. For plants, this is also a major concern, and many of the GM plants have been engineered so that the altered genes aren't incorporated into the pollen, so therefore shouldn't be able to give those traits to related plants, though as Jeff Goldbloom noted in the original Jurassic Park, nature will find a way. There is always a minuscule chance of this happening, but the controls are pretty solid. "Should GM products be labeled?" is another question that has been in the news lately. You have one side saying that everything with some form of GMO in it needs to have a label. You have the other side saying that the manufacturers shouldn't label them because it will promote the idea that they may be dangerous. Personally, I don't have an opinion on the matter. On one hand, if someone wants to avoid GMO foods, then the labeling would help them make what they feel to be a healthier choice. On the other hand, I agree that putting some sort of label does seem to imply that there is a risk, which ties into another concern people often have about GMOs. "Are there health risks with eating GMOs?" Honestly, none of the reliable research that I've read even implies that there is a risk. And before you start bringing up Monsanto and Seralini or the StarLink corn, let me just say that I will discuss these in a bit. There are also some groups that will claim that the widespread adoption of GM products is part of the NWO's nefarious plot to either cause a massive genocide or to keep the sheeple calm and pliable. Other claims along these lines they cause cancer, or autism, or are a delivery device for a variety of diseases, nanotech, or poisons. These are the sanest of the odd ideas about GMOs. Seriously, there are some that include aliens, chemtrails, 9-11, the terrorist group of the week, mind control, or the World Bank. I'm not even going to dignify them by discussing them. The funny thing is that, for all the protests and complaints, there are only 8 GM crops that you can get in the US. They are, according to Kellie Blair, soybeans, corn (field and sweet), papaya, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and summer squash



The Benefits:
There are a handful of benefits to using GMOs. One of the most valuable is improved or added nutritional value to various crops. Golden rice is a perfect example of this. Golden rice is GM rice that has a gene for beta-carotene. This in turn helps the body to produce vitamin A. In some parts of the world, people are suffering from vitamin A deficiencies, which cause, according to the WHO, "Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality" Another benefit of using GM crops is the increased yield per plant. Given that there are already more than 7 billion people on the planet, and we are already using around 40 % of the land for farming, according to an article in National Geographic (pre Murdoch), higher yields are probably a good thing. Another advantage of GMOs is increased disease or pesticide resistance, which means that farmers actually apply pesticides less often, which means that less gets into the environment. Increased resistance to disease also means that there would be less loss and waste. Gm crops can also be grown in arid or drought stricken areas, reducing hunger and death from starvation. GM animals can be used for disease or nutritional research, instead of more costly human trials. GM crops use less pesticides and fertilizers, or have faster germination and growth, thereby reducing costs. These are some of the immediate benefits to GM crops and animals. as our techniques improve, such as CRISPR and gene drives, we will find more beneficial uses for GMOs that we might have considered but didn't have the ability to develop.


The Risks:
Nothing comes without some sort of risk, however. As I said earlier, gene transfer is an actual risk with GMOs, but there are safeguards in place. Granted, they aren't 100%, but they are in place, and they have shown to be quite effective. You'll often hear people talk about GM crops promote herbicide resistant weeds, but in all honesty, this would happen with or without GM crops. Resistance to toxins is something that all organisms can develop, given enough time. Another risk that I do occasionally hear of, and I agree with, is even further development of monoculture farming practices. When you have plants that are resistant to herbicides, have higher yields, and are less prone to various illnesses, then you tend to try and grow as much of it as you can. Most current agriculture practices involve crop rotation to not only reduce certain types of weeds, but also to give the soil a chance to recover. Another risk is that there may be unintended consequences on other species. The best known example of this is Bt corn. This is a type of transgenic corn that actually creates it's own pesticide. Unfortunately, it has had an effect not only on the Corn Borer, a pest insect of corn that causes millions of dollars of damage every year, but also on the Monarch butterfly. There is a chance that any GM plant can have further environmental effects than what was originally intended. This is why there are so many years of studies made before a particular GM crop can be offered to the general consumer. Most GM animals, with a few exceptions, are specifically created and bred for scientific research, and not human consumption. They are bred to have certain traits, such as developing cancer after a certain amount of time (this will be relevant shortly), develop an analog to human diabetes, or other conditions that humans suffer from. This allows researchers to run experiments and tests for treatments on analogs to humans before going on to human trials. Another risk is that if these GM plants and animals get out into the wild populations, they can impact the vitality of the already existing organisms. The excellent science communicator Bill Nye had expressed some concerns over GM crops, which seemed to come as a shock to many people in the skeptical community. This is actually what skepticism is about. Mr. Nye actually went and met with the head of Monsanto, looked at the processes and safeguards in place, and changed his mind. This is a basic tenant of skepticism, the ability to change our minds as new data emerges.

Monsanto, Seralini, and StarLink:
I pretty sure that by now, you've heard of at least 2 of these, but just in case you haven't, I'll give a bit of information about them.
Monsanto: This company is one of the largest manufacturers of agriculture chemicals and bioengineered seeds. It was started in 1901 as a food additive company, and then became an industrial chemical company, and then got into the agriculture chemical business. It has either spun off or gotten rid of most of its other chemical properties and focused primarily on the agriculture sector. It is also know as the maker of RoundUp, a glyphosate herbicide that has a definite impact on modern farming practices. The company is also known for aggressively pursuing what it feels are infringements on their patents. They have, over the years had a rather dubious history, including DDT, helping with the development of the first nuclear weapons, and AstroTurf. Keep in mind, other companies were making similar products, but very few were involved in so many different things. This history, and the companies rather litigious behavior, or most likely the reason that so many people just don't trust anything to come out of their labs.
Seralini: Gilles-Eric Seralini is a French molecular biologist and the co-founder of an organization that opposes GM foods. In 2012, he published an experiment attempting to demonstrate that Monsantos GM corn and RoundUp are dangerous. "The study used 100 male and 100 female Sprague Dawley rats, divided into twenty groups with 10 rats each. Ten diets were tested separately on the males and females. The diets comprised 11 percent, 22 percent and 33 percent genetically modified corn (NK603) and the rest standard laboratory rat food; NK603 corn that had been treated with Roundup, also at 11, 22 and 33 percent; and corn that had not been genetically modified, accompanied by differing concentrations of Roundup in the water. A control group was fed 33 percent non-GMO corn; the rest of their diet was standard laboratory rat food." (From the Wikipedia article on the Seralini Affair) Why the fuck was he putting RoundUp in the water? One failing of this experiment is that no one knows if there was actually any RoundUp on the corn fed the rats because no one bothered to test or measure it. There was also no limit to how much food any of the groups could consume. A major issue with this study is the genetic line of the rats. The Sprague Dawley rat is genetically engineered through breeding (see the irony here folks) for lab tests,and it is well known that they spontaneously develop tumors, and the more food the rat eats, the more tumors it will develop. He also did not talk about how they accounted for this fact in his study.
Image from Allposter.com
Cute little thing, isn't it. Looking into the rats themselves, it's been shown that up to 80% of females will develop tumors within 18 months, which are similar numbers to what Seralini claims were the result of exposure to GM crops and RoundUp. He also only had 1 control group, but basically 9 different experiments. The control animal got 33% non-GM corn,and the rest was standard lab rat chow. That would be the control for 1 of the damned test groups, not all of them. And even then, there were no groups just getting 100% standard rat food as a control against corn. (Hint: even with this food, the occurrence of tumors would have been roughly the same.) A fun and interesting note is that fewer male rats died that were eating 22% or 33% of their diet as GM corn. The same held true for the groups with the higher concentrations of RoundUp. Funny that this didn't make it into the press release. Also funny that they didn't realize that there were some serious problems with the experiment design. There are a lot of other problems with the study that you can read here. It's actually pretty interesting, so I would say go ahead and have a look.
StarLink Corn: This is a Bt corn with an added modification for resistance to glufosinate, an herbicide. The corn was originally developed for use in both animal and human food. However, due to insufficient evidence that it wasn't allergenic due to one compound remaining in the gut before it is broken down, the EPA denied the permit. So the manufacturer PGS, submitted 2 permit requests. The one for animal feed was approved in 1998. The corn ended up in a handful of products because several grain mills that distributed corn to manufacturers did not separate GM and conventionally grown corn. A group called Genetically Engineered Food Alert (which sounds mildly ominous) found that some items had StarLink corn in them and notified the FDA. The end result is that the products were recalled, and even though about 50 people claimed to have adverse effects, and 28 were determined to be possible, after further testing by the CDC, it was determined that there were no ill effects from consuming the corn. There were also many lawsuits for many millions of dollars against the manufacturers, the processing plants, and the governmental agencies.

 Conclusion:
GMOs are not inherently evil or dangerous. If developed and tested properly, the benefits to mankind could be equivalent to the discovery of fire. That's not to say they are without their risks, but that should emphasize the importance of the years of testing and making sure sufficient safeguards are in place. To make sure that the possible risks don't outweigh the rewards. There is a lot of blatantly false information being propagated by anti-GMO activists such as GreenPeace (never thought I'd write something negative about them), Seralini, Vani Hari, Mike Adams, and The Avacado. These are people that seem to be scared of the idea that they would ever eat something made by science rather than naturally grown. I'm not saying that everyone needs to eat GM products, and if you want to avoid them, that's perfectly fine. Just don't try and intimidate people and companies into thinking the way you want them to. I would prefer people come to their own conclusion using actual information, and scientifically rigorous studies to make their decision and not use a single source for information, especially internet memes. When people try and use fear tactics and science illiteracy as bludgeons, that's when we need to use facts and resources as a scalpel to counter them. Just cut away a bit at a time at the tumorous growth that is misinformation.

Lately, I've been posting direct links to some of the sources that I used in researching this article, so for your further reading pleasure here is some Further Reading:
http://www.iflscience.com/environment/myths-and-controversies-gmos-0
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A9ralini_affair
http://www.vib.be/en/news/Documents/20121008_EN_Analyse%20rattenstudie%20S%C3%A9ralini%20et%20al.pdf
http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/16/3/194
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_the_release_of_genetically_modified_organisms
http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=biotech_glossary.html
http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/gmo-foods/
http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/testimony/ucm426541.htm#_ftn1
http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/12/1209_051209_crops_map.html

Monday, December 28, 2015

We are experiencing technical difficulty.

Just a short note to let any loyal readers know that due to the new Oklahoma phenomenon of icenadoes, (thanks climate change deniers!) plus the holidays coupled with work issues, I'm going to be taking a brief hiatus. I hope to be back with new posts after the first of the year, and back on a somewhat regular schedule. Some of the topics I'm going to be looking into are GMOs, climate change deniers, psychics, Reiki, and I might dip my toes into the arena of political rhetoric. Plus, I am currently writing a book, and of course trying to get the first episode of Red Dirt Skeptics finished, edited, and published. So, Have a happy holiday, great New Years Eve, and I'll see you in 2016, unless some of the doomsday predictions happen to come true. If you have any suggestions for topics you'd like me to look into and butcher, feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Chiropractic for the Beginning Skeptic

I hope that everyone is having a happy, safe, and joyous holiday season. This weeks topic is one that has bothered me for quite a few years, and I have personally experienced. I'm talking about chiropractic. As with many of the various alternative medicine practices, it makes a lot of claims about what it is able to do, ranging from helping with lower back back, which is the most likely, to helping with erectile dysfunction and asthma, which are very dubious claims.

History:
The story of chiropractic starts way back in the fog of ancient China and Greece. At least according to the American Chiropractic Association. They say that there are written records that describe spinal manipulation for lower back pain. I have no way to substantiate these claims, so I'll leave them alone. The official origin of chiropractic is a bit more recent. In 1895, Daniel David Palmer, who ran a magnetic healing clinic, tried the first adjustment on a partially deaf janitor in Davenport, Iowa. According to the stories, a few days later, the janitor remarked to Palmer that his hearing seemed to be a bit better. As far as I've been able to find, there were no tests done on the mans ability to hear before or after Palmer's treatment. Palmer began to promote chiropractic shortly afterwards, which was comparable to osteopathy. According to Mirriam-Webster, osteopathy is: a system of medical practice based on a theory that diseases are due chiefly to loss of structural integrity which can be restored by manipulation of the parts supplemented by therapeutic measures (as use of drugs or surgery). Notice that the definition includes the use of drugs or surgery. Chiropractic generally tends to shun the use of more modern medical techniques. Basically, it sounds a lot like physical therapy, except for the whole disease is caused by a loss of structural integrity bit. Both were based in many of the beliefs that drove the spiritualism movement at the end of the 19th century, including magnetism, vitalism, and naturalism, which makes it very difficult to use the scientific method to ascertain the efficacy of treatment. In 1897, Palmer started the Palmer School of Chiropractic, which is still around. Palmer had made the claim that adjustments, or as they are known in the business, subluxations, are the key to curing all disease. Since then, the interest and use of chiropractic had waxed and waned for decades, until the 1990's when there was a steady rise in the interest and use of chiropractic. There have been several schisms in the history of chiropractic. One of the first was over what Palmer described as "innate intelligence". This is directly related to the magnetism and vitalism ideas of the late 1800's. Many practitioners have moved away from this idea because they feel that it prevents them from being taken seriously in the scientific medicine community. Another schism occurred over the idea of chiropractic being the "only" treatment for disease, or as part of a suite of treatments. The straights, as Palmer called them, believed that chiro (yes, I'm shortening the word from here on out.) was not just the best treatment for all illnesses, but it was the only one. The mixers, which Palmer despised, thought that chiro could be used in addition to surgery and drugs. Palmer felt that the mixers were polluting the "specific, pure, and unadulterated" chiropractic tradition. His words, not mine. This schism still exists today, with the straights being in the minority.
 As I mentioned earlier, Palmer started the first chiropractic college in 1897, and today, there are dozens of accredited colleges around the world. Many of them follow a similar education program, though some are regarded as being better than others. Most of the accreditation seems to be through the ACA (American Chiropractic Association) and not the AMA (American Medical Association) In regards to the US, each state requires practicing chiropractors to be licensed. This started in 1907, and Louisiana was the last state to require it in 1974. When it comes to monitoring and discipline of chiropractors, they are pretty much self regulated, reporting to the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards. An interesting read on licensing, with a few notations, can be found at http://www.chirobase.org/05RB/AHCPR/05.html. To date, chiro is still viewed as an alternative or fringe medical procedure by the medical community at large, though holistic and integrated practitioners do include it in their services.

Theory and Practices:
The basic theory behind chiro concerns subluxation, which is that there is a misalignment of the spine, which causes various illnesses and conditions.  There are some interesting articles on the Science Based Medicine Blog and Quack Watch on this, as well as chiro in general, which I'll put in the footnotes. Many chiropractors, though not all, believe that a misalignment of the spine can cause problems in the nervous system, which in turn can lead to disease and problems with various organs. If you can fix the problem by manipulating the spine, then you can cure the disease. The way this is normally achieved is by attempting to move the vertebrae into what the practitioner deems to be a proper position, which often results in the familiar popping sound. Many chiros will use X-rays to see if the spine is out of alignment and try and determine what they will need to do to put it back. Many people do often report that they feel better for a while after one of these treatments, though how much is due to either endorphin release or the placebo effect is nearly impossible to tell. There is a minority of chiros that don't believe in the subluxation theory, and feel that chiro should be viewed more as a form of physical therapy or for relief of lower back pain. These folks are often dismissed by the larger chiropractic crowd. I would go into the details of what is involved, but almost everyone has some idea. Just in case you don't, basically it involves the practitioner contorting the patient's back and applying pressure along the spine in an attempt to realign the back. There are some minute variations, but that is basically the gist of it. Of course, there are some chiros that will incorporate TCM (traditional chinese medicine) such as acupunture and acupressure or they will include chakras, Reiki, crystals, herbalism, natural medicine, or homeopathy into their practice, but these are all separate topics, many of which I have already written about and don't feel like going into here.

The Claims:
Here is where we get into the fun stuff folks, what the believers in chiropractic claim it can do. Much like every other alternative medicine under the sun, there are a wide variety of claims. However, unlike many other types of alt-med, there are practitioners that will tell you it is good for 1 thing, and anything else, you need to see either a general practitioner or a specialist. Due to the various medical and advertising laws, many chiros are pretty careful about what they say they can do. They tend to avoid words like "cure" and "heal" and instead use more generic terms like "treat" or "relieve" or "help with". But they still make a number of claims on what they can do. According to the ACA, they can treat back and neck pain, headaches, injuries of the musculoskeletal system, and general health issues, because the structure affects overall health. You will also find chiros advertising that they can help with some of the following;
Plus many, many more. Notice that the body systems that are claimed to be effected are much more than just the spine. The immune system, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, and there's a couple of neurological conditions listed as well. Other practitioners will claim that they can treat a wide variety of viral and bacterial infections as well. It's making me think of that old song "Dem Bones". You know the one. "The head bone is connected to the neck bone"...etc. I think that the chiropractic community knows a few more verses than most other people. The site I got the list from says that they don't treat, just diagnose and remove subluxations, which in turns allows better communication between the brain and body, which is a common belief among many practitioners. The exact mechanism that purports to do all this is a complete unknown, and even chiros will admit it. I will grant that all the bodily systems are connected in the loosest sense by all being in the same bag of skin and it's all controlled by the nervous system, but that's about it. Popping your back will not help with asthma. There is absolutely no reason that it would. Asthma is often an inflammation in the lungs, so trying to realign the spine wouldn't have any effect on that.

Evidence:
Now to pull the curtain aside and have a look at the evidence:

That's pretty much what I found. There is some evidence that chiropractic adjustments can have some effect on lower back pain, but that's really about it. Just using your Google machine, you'll find lots of reports on how well it can treat a wide variety of conditions, but most of these are pretty biased. Trying to find an unbiased view is actually fairly difficult. I don't want to rely too heavily on people like Steve Novella or Mark Crislip, who are well known in the skeptic communities as promoters of science based medicine. So I try and stick to relatively unbiased sites and just see what the studies and evidence happen to say. If you look at the CDC you'll see a few studies on the efficacy of chiro, and for the most part, they seem to show some effect for back pain, but not much else. The studies that claim to show efficacy for other conditions are poorly done, with few if no controls, rely heavily on anecdotal evidence, or are completely unrepeatable. If you look at the NIH, you'll see a lot of the same. If you look close, you'll see a lot of papers with a particular name on them. Edzard Ernst. He has spent most of his life studying forms of alternative medicine, including going through a chiropractic college. He has probably done more study into these issues than anyone else alive, and to be honest, I tend to believe what he has found. Here is a link to an article that he wrote on chiro, and just for the hell of it, here is his site. (Because I don't put enough links in my posts. :p) A major critique of chiro, as well as most other alt med practices, is a complete lack of well done studies that actually show a statistical significance for their efficacy, though this doesn't stop the believers from using them as evidence that they were right, and Big Pharma is trying to keep them silent on the issue. Yep, there is a minor conspiracy thread that is woven throughout most alt med mythology.

Risks:
The cost of going to a chiropractor may seem to be fairly small, with the average session costing around $65 or so (in the US), but consider that they will often want you to come back anywhere from twice a month to twice a week. That can end up being anywhere from $1,560-$6,760 a year, using the average cost per visit. Of course, some charge less, some charge more, and there are insurance policies that cover this. There are going to be risks any time someone is messing with your back and neck. This can be something as relatively minor as a pinched nerve or stiffness. However, there are much more serious risks, including paralysis, stroke, and even death. These risks are greater for infants and toddlers. Most chiros won't touch a small child, though as with anything else, if you look hard enough, you'll find one that does. According to the Mayo Clinic, some problems that can stem from having an adjustment done are a herniated disk or a vertebral artery dissection (a particular type of stroke). From the website chirobase.org,  "There are well-documented medical cases of serious disorder to the cervical spine, cervical disc, cerebellum, spinal cord or to the cerebral arteries which ascend through the foramina in the cervical vertebrae, all of which are therefore subject to be bruised and injured with forceful manipulation. There are also well-documented cases of occlusion of cerebral vessels and injury to the brain stem which involves a key area for regulation of the head and neck and an area through which all important outgoing stimuli from the nervous System or incoming sensory data are fed. Such thrombotic lesions are productive of grave and permanent neurological defects, either by infection of the brain stem or stricture by injury to the arteries which supply these vital regions." Of course, Edzard Ernst has written an article titled "20 Things Most Chiropractors Won't Tell You". (I'll admit it. Yes, I am using a somewhat biased source here. That is mostly due to the fact that the chiro industry is pretty insular when it comes to reporting injuries and complications from any of their practitioners. They are, for the most part self regulating, so everything is done in-house, unless someone brings a lawsuit, or it gets into mass media.) And there is of course the reported cases of people being crippled or dying due to their treatments. In 2014, here in Oklahoma, a 30 year old man died after receiving a treatment and suffering a stroke on the chiros table. There was a systematic study done on deaths caused by adjustments, and the conclusion is that the risks do not out weigh the possible benefits. Tim Farley, of Whatstheharm.net has an article on there as well. There are also many stories of children being accidentally killed by chiros. These stories are pretty gruesome and depressing, so I'm not going to go into detail or post links to them. If you're in a really morbid mood, just Google the terms Chiropractic child death. I'm just going to say in plain and simple english "Never take a child to a chiropractor! It's a damn bad idea all the way 'round!" A child's skeleton isn't developed enough to withstand a chiropractic adjustment. They are still growing and developing, and these treatments can easily cause permanent problems that the child will have to live with for the rest of their life. 

Conclusion:
As I have said before, I'm not an sort of scientist or researcher. I simply attempt to look into the various issues I cover, and I do try and give everything a fair shake. (I guess that makes me a researcher of sorts?) That being said, most things I write about just don't have the evidence to support their claims, and chiropractic isn't any different. There is some evidence to support the claims of helping with certain types of lower back pain, and there is a small contingent of chiropractic practitioners that will send patients to general practitioners or specialists if it is something other than that. But the majority of proponents for chiro will claim it effective for a great many other problems, saying that they all stem from subluxations. This is another form of magical thinking. Yes, there are hundreds of studies claiming to show the efficacy of chiropractic and the believers will point out that there aren't nearly as many studies showing either little or no effect. It's simply a matter of quantity or quality. And before anyone says it, I'm going to go ahead and say no, chiro won't help with your childs ear infection, and if they have chronic ear infections, take them to a pediatrician damn it! Once again , any cure-all cures nothing. For once, I'm going to include a variety of other skeptical resources for you to look through. These guys are medical professionals and know what they are talking about. I'm just a simple jackass that tries to keep an open mind and look at all the evidence. So, until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to wash your hands.



Other resources:
http://edzardernst.com/
https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/subluxation-theory-a-belief-system-that-continues-to-define-the-practice-of-chiropractic/
https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/chiropractic-a-brief-overview-part-i/
http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/chiroeval.html
https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-end-of-chiropractic/
https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/top-10-chiropractic-studies-of-2013/
https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/chiropractor-breaks-babys-neck-a-risk-vs-benefit-analysis/
https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/stroke-death-from-chiropractic-neck-manipulation/

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What the hell is Morgellons?

I thought I'd take a brief break from my poorly written and worded opinion pieces and my more on going "Things for the Beginning Skeptic" series and try tackling a topic that I've been interested in ever since I heard about it. Not to fear, there are still many more Beginning Skeptic articles to come, including Aliens, Therapeutic Touch and Reiki, Assisted Communication, Chiropractic, and Dowsing. I might try to do one later on how to determine if scientific results, as presented by most popular media outlets, can be trusted. (Hint: Look at the sources)  But enough of that. Today, I'm going to take a look at Morgellons Disease.

What is Morgellons?
The term Morgellons Disease was coined, according to Wikipedia, in 2002 by Mary LeiTao. According to the Mayo Clinic, Morgellons disease is an uncommon, unexplained skin disorder characterized by sores, crawling sensations on and under the skin, and fiber-like filaments emerging from the sores. It's not certain what these strings are. Some say they are wisps of cotton thread, probably coming from clothing or bandages. Others say they result from an infectious process in the skin cells. Further study is needed.

Also WebMd says this about the condition:
Morgellons is a controversial and poorly understood condition in which unusual thread-like fibers appear under the skin. The patient may feel like something is crawling, biting, or stinging all over.

Some medical experts say Morgellons is a physical illness. Others suggest it is a type of psychosis called "delusional parasitosis," in which a person thinks parasites have infected their skin.

Your doctor may call it an "unexplained dermopathy," which means a skin condition that occurs withou
t a known reason. Other medical professionals have dubbed the condition "fiber disease."
 I know some of the readers will be saying "Oh great, now this putz is referencing WebMd." But when you think of the number of people that will use the site, and the internet in general, to self-diagnose, it makes perfect sense to include their definition in this article.
Basically what these 2 definitions are saying is that Morgellons is a condition where unknown hairs or fibers appear either underneath the first dermal layer or are growing out through the skin. A common image of this looks a bit like:
Image from morgellonsdiseaseawareness.com

There were a lot of other pictures I could have used, but for some reason, many of them were of some guys junk or some truly gruesome lesions on the head and face. The picture I'm using is zoomed in way too close for me to determine if there is a scar there or not. As for these fibers, they come in a variety of colors and textures. This implies that there isn't a single source, and the CDC does have something to say on it, which I'll bring up later. For the people suffering from this condition, it can be terrifying, and frustrating. There is no known cause or treatment, though there has been some relief with certain psychiatric medications. It doesn't appear to be transmissible or infectious, nor any sort of genetically inheritable condition, though there are those that claim it is passed down through family lines. Some of the symptoms are itching, the feeling of insects crawling on the skin, rashes, sores, fatigue, short term memory loss, and of course the mysterious fibers.

What causes it?
What the exact cause or source of the condition is, no one knows, but there are several hypotheses, and a couple of them will have you scratching your head, saying "What the hell?". Many of the possible, or proposed causes of this condition tend to be psychological in nature. One possible candidate is Delusional Parasitosis, which is a condition that has the exact same symptoms as Morgellons. Some health professionals feel that Morgellons may just be a new name for a known condition. Delusional Parasitosis is basically a mental condition where the patient believes that they are infested with bugs, either on or under the skin. To be perfectly honest, this seems to be one of the most likely causes of Morgellons. According to the CDC:

 Neuropsychological testing revealed a substantial number of study participants who scored highly in screening tests for one or more co-existing psychiatric or addictive conditions, including depression, somatic concerns (an indicator of preoccupation with health issues), and drug use.
 Combine mental health issues with either over medicating or the wrong medication and illegal drugs, and you could develop a condition that exactly mirrors Morgellons. The fibers that people report finding could come from their clothing and be accidentally inserted into the skin, and the skin heals up around the fiber. Again from the CDC:

Upon thorough analysis, most sores appeared to result from chronic scratching and picking, without an underlying cause.  And now for some of the fun ones. Get your popcorn ready. There are claims that the government, Big Pharma, or the NWO is doing this, either through some unknown infectious agent, chemtrails, fluoride, vaccinations, or while their victims are asleep. Damn you, NWO!!!
Picture from escobar300.wordpress.com
Not them. Sorry. The NWO I'm talking about is, of course, the nefarious, no good, out to take it all New World Order. I guess that still describes the wrestlers, doesn't it. How about the evil cabal that runs all the governments and media and wants everyone under their control. Yet they still can't get Alex Jones off the air?? Yes, there are conspiracy theories tied to Morgellons. Some people claim that the fibers are metallic and are either some sort of receiver or transmitter for tracking them. Which is an almost perfect segue to the next theory.
You had to know this was coming.
Yep, there are some people that believe that the fibers are some sort of alien implant, organic communication device, symbiote, offspring, or tracking device. All I'm going to say is you have to prove that intelligent extraterrestrial life has visited the planet before you can make the claim that they are doing more than just probing butts.
According to the CDC and other centers of medical expertise, the fibers normally end up being cellulose,  which are compatible with cotton. Other fibers have been found to be nylon or rayon. And there have been pieces of metal, which have turned out to be normal Earth based alloys. 

Are there any treatments?
There are 2 completely different routes you can go down if you believe you have Morgellons. The science based approach involved determining what the underlying cause is. Quite often, this can be mental health issues such as depression, withdrawal symptoms from some addictive substance. or some other psychosis. Drug use can also contribute to people believing that they have this condition, so treating the addiction may help with this as well. The other way someone can go is the pseudoscience route. Some recommended treatments include colloidal silver (Wow! 2 Alex Jones references in one article.), homeopathy, acupuncture, chelation therapy (removing heavy metals from the body), various substances in the bath, and all sorts of other serious Woo Woo type BS. Most of these are harmless, except financially over the long term. Some, such as chelation, can have some pretty serious side effects. Each Morgellons support group or treatment group has their own methods that they use and claim to be the one and only, or at least the best. That's not counting the hundreds of websites and bloggers, either claiming they have the cure or cutting and pasting from someone else's site.

Conclusion:
Given that, outside of a lot of anecdotal evidence and claims, I have never seen any actual evidence that Morgellons is an actual physical condition. It seems to my layperson understanding to generally be a more psychological problem than a physical one. I highly doubt that the NWO is secretly working with the Illuminati and the Reptilians to have the Greys fly overhead spraying chemtrails that infect a select section of the population with little fibers and Big Pharma is covering the whole thing up by claiming them to be clothing fibers.That would involve taking a step or three away from reality. It is most likely a condition that would be best treated by someone from the mental health field.