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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Four Horsemen of Derp!

In most peoples everyday life, there are a few websites that they visit on a regular basis. Things like Facebook, Instagram, Pornhub, BuzzFeed. You know, normal sites. In the skeptical world, we have Wikipedia, Snopes, the C.D.C., and PubMed. In the dark realm of pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and new age weirdness, they have their own flavor of preferred information. And the ones I'm going to talk a little bit about today could possibly be called

The Four Horsemen of Derp!

InfoWars

This site, along with AboveTopSecret, is one of the primary purveyors of conspiracy theories on the planet. Their tagline is "Because there is a war on for your mind" Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it. If you go to the site, and I highly recommend you don't, one of the first things you'll see are ads for various liver cleaners, anti-fluoride campaigns, and very odd supplements, on top of links to brilliant articles like "Herbicide Resistant Insects are Destroying GMO Crops Like Never Before"(seriously, that one is on there, I thought it was an Onion article) There are also a bunch of conspiratorially flavored "news articles" blaming almost everything on Obama, atheists, and anyone that's brown. It's a deep rabbit warren of actual news stories with a seemingly slightly plausible conspiracy spin to them. (They should use that as the tag line) This site is part of the Alex Jones media empire, and he uses it, just like his radio show, to promote his particular flavor of crazy. It almost feels like an "End of Days" vibe, with everything going to pieces all around us. If you look at a lot of their advertisers, you'll quickly notice a common theme. They're trying to get your money. That and they tend to be geared more towards the survivalist type of consumer. You know the type, guys (and a few gals) with more guns and ammo than some small countries. They also normally have a bunker, which may be an actual bunker or a converted basement or tree-house, full of MRE's and canned food and water and they also seem to have a perpetual nervous twitch. These people also seem to tend towards the sovereign citizen brand of lunacy. I often see very large trucks with lift kits blowing past me on the highway with InfoWars stickers all over them, as well as people wearing their merchandise with slogans like "9-11 was an inside job!" If you hear about a crazy anti-government conspiracy, or that the world is about to collapse and the New World Order is going to take control, odds are, either InfoWars is covering it, or they started it. 

Mercola

This one is probably the grandaddy of the Alt Med sites. This one was started by Joseph Mercola, who is an osteopathic physician. He just happens to give advise on every other facet of health. His site tends to have articles that basically say "Don't listen to your doctor, listen to us instead!" All over the site you'll find ads for..wait for it....Dr. Joseph Mercolas health products. *gasp*. He sells a variety of supplements, vitamins, and books, all from his company. I know that it's his website and he can do whatever he damn well pleases,  But at least he could try and make it look like he was supporting other Woo-mongers. This is just greedy. He also has an ad that claims his is the #1 health website in the world. I'm not going into that one too much. The internet and search rankings is a finicky mess as it is. He has a sitemap at the bottom with a section called "Special Info Sites" that cover all of the following delightful topics:

Voice-over: No, I don't think these alt-med folks are trying to scare the shit out of people. These are just topics that are controversial and so people are looking for non-biased, informative and easy to understand data. 
No, they're trying to scare people. Plain and simple. On top of that, they're trying to make a profit doing it. Some of these guys make me think of the Ferengi from Star Trek. The site is kind enough to let you know that every purchase helps to fund a variety of charities and organizations. Charitable giving, wow! Ok, so maybe he's not as bad as I thought. Let's see, what are the groups that are getting a cut of the money. They include:
  • Campaign for Mercury Free Dentistry
  • FluorideAlert.org
  • National Vaccine Information Center
  • Institute for Responsible Technology
  • Rabies Challenge Fund 
You get the general idea. The money from the sales of pseudoscience products are going to fund pseudoscience groups. What really makes me sick about a lot of the alt-med crowd is that they have a tendency to discourage their clients from continuing treatments from an actual M.D. and use whatever snake oil they're selling. This puts people in danger, both financially and physically. Financially because this shit isn't cheap, and you have to keep coming back for more (drug dealer business model) and physically because they aren't actually getting help. Sure, these websites will have anecdotes and testimonials from customers that they helped (the disease or problem either went away on its own, or wasn't there to begin with). The reason you rarely see any negative statements is because the dead don't have anecdotes.

Natural News

Mike Adams, Health Ranger!, is the purveyor of the Beautiful Sunshine that is Natural News. This one site has it all. Conspiracy theories, health claims, anti-government rhetoric, promotion of alt-med, phrases like Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Brother, and on and on and on. One such headline claimed "The Department of Homeland Security still Controls what you Read" (Ironic, if it's true). There aren't as many ads on here as I've seen on other pseudoscience sites, but there are a damn lot of articles that try and make science sound evil and corrupt, and yet promote themselves as the only truly scientific authority on a variety of topics, ranging from women's health to genetics, and from nutrition to pharmaceuticals. However, this site, like so many others of its ilk, is just trying to scare people into buying their particular flavor of Woo. Mike Adams, Health Ranger!, tends to be a bit more vocal and aggressive than most other supporters of alternative medicine and organic food. As some of you know, not too long ago, Mr. Adams, Health Ranger!, made a comment basically saying it would be fine if someone were to kill proponents of GMOs. Then suddenly, there was a website, putting a hit on various scientists and skeptics. He claimed to have nothing to do with it, but a bit of internet detective work traced the site back to the same computer he used to manage the Natural News site. To be honest, I'm not sure what has been done about this, or if anything can be done. What I do know is, if you piss off Mike Adams, Health Ranger!, you might end up on an actual list.

There are so many flamin' bullshit loaded sites that choosing only 4 was not easy. I could have used MUFON, CryptoMundo, BFRO, or any number of other sites. I basically decided on my top 4 based on fitting with the 4 horsemen theme, popularity, influence, lack of scientific reliability, and danger. So based on all of this, and the fact that she really pisses me off, I present to you the last of the 4 Horsepeople of Derp!

Food Babe (Admit it, you knew this one was coming!)
Vani Hari is the Food Babe. Plain and simple. This woman lives the role. She famous for saying "If you can't pronounce it, don't eat it." Also, she has said that chemicals don't belong in food. Apparently, she doesn't realize that if you break anything down, at some point, it's all chemicals. That's basically what your body does. Her site has a lot of ads for her books (she has more than 1, what the hell!) and booklets, as well as a couple of ads for various supplements. It is basically her blog, which admittedly looks a hell of a lot better than mine. I'm not shy. She has a tendency to throw the word "toxin" around a lot. I don't know what toxin she's talking about. She never names it, just that it gets in your body. She is notorious for raising 9 kinds of hell about food additives that she thinks are bad for you, and bringing the full weight of the "Food Babe Army" (which makes me want a "Skeptical Okie Army". I'm sure we'd  be way cooler.) against any company and using public opinion to make them change their products, all because it scares her. At the top of her page, right below the picture of her holding a magnifying glass looking at a package of...something, she has a few selection for her readers. They include Investigations, Recipes, Travel, Eating Guides, and of course Shops. Her current front page has a recipe for raw coconut macaroons, This simple food can help Acne, Eczema, Digestive Issues and More! and 3 Things Doctors say You Should Do...But Shouldn't. Here again is that distrust of the medical field that seems to pop up in all these sites, except for InfoWars. I will bet you, if any of these yahoos were to break their arm (I'm not saying it should happen, and I don't wish them any harm), they would be at a hospital in no time asking for a doctor to help them. The Food Babe site is actually a lot cleaner and easier to navigate than a lot of the other pseudoscience pages I look at while doing research for the blog. It's not as cluttered with ads and links, and is pretty straight forward. However, it doesn't change the fact that she is pushing her own brand of B.S. on an unsuspecting public. Ms. Hari says that she researches her claims, and she might. But like most people, both believers and skeptics, she tends to let her bias get in the way. She doesn't want to listen to the other side of the issue, and if someone calls her out and backs up their claim with evidence, she seems to have a tendency to just pull the blog post instead of admitting she was in error. She probably isn't as dangerous as Mercola or Natural News, but due to her influence in main stream media, she does have a tendency to make relatively simple issues way more complicated and difficult than they need to be.

All of these sites, as well as the thousands of others, have a few things in common. They have merchandise they want to sell. They have something they want to say, though I don't know if they actually believe what they are saying or if they are just trying to make an easy buck. They have a very devoted, almost to the point of rabid, following. They all promote some form of junk science or misinformation in a form that makes it easier for large numbers of people to grab onto it and believe it; If you want to keep a bit ahead of what the next weeks conversation at work or when visiting relatives is going to be, take a look at these sites. Just be sure not to read too much at one time. You've seen the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, right? When everyones faces melt. I'm pretty sure that may happen if you spend too much time that far into the Woo side of life. I just thought that I would introduce you to a few of the promoters of the crap that gives critical thinkers and skeptics such headaches. So with that pleasant thought, I shall take my leave. 

Until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure your phone is charged.

The Skeptical Okie


Monday, June 22, 2015

Mosquitoes....Natures syringes.

Hello loyal readers. The Skeptical Okie seems to be back in business, at least for now. I've got a doozy this time, so lets jump right into it.



This is the topic of the post. Recently at work, I met a very interesting , uh... gentleman? One aspect of my current employment is that I deal with people from every aspect of society. The intellectuals, the uneducated, the rich, the poor, the famous, and the unknown. We had a gentleman come in, and by some odd twist of the universe, I had to speak with him. Actually, there wasn't anything odd about it. He was either scaring or creeping out the other employees, so I got nominated to assist him. Due to the fact that there is a legal matter involved, I can't disclose much information about this person, except to say he was in his 70's, and on a fixed income. (These had no relevance to the case, but are actually fairly important to the reason I'm writing about him.) While I was trying to get all the pertinent information, this fellow began going on a rant about how he doesn't have to worry about any diseases. He said, and I quote, "I take 5 grams of pure vitamin C every day! I ain't got to worry about no damn disease!" I am going to paraphrase the rest of his story, due to the fact he kept repeating himself, and his liberal use of the word fuck, as well as other various combinations of cuss words and racial slurs aimed at the Irish, Germans (which I am a good bit of both) and Hispanics. Now, keep in mind that I am just trying to get his name, age, contact info, and the when, where, and how concerning his incident. He then told me that his doctor told him he had a condition (he tried several times to pronounce it and couldn't. I have no idea what his condition was supposed to be.) He didn't like his treatment option, which was a high level dose of antibiotics. He went to another doctor and got what this guy kept calling a "Super Shot". the doctor then told him to take pure vitamin C and it would cure him. He said he gets it in powdered form, and adds it to his morning orange juice. Something tickled my memory at this point, but I couldn't quite recall what it was. He emphasized that he took 5 grams of vitamin C everyday. I'm looking at him thinking "Why haven't your kidneys shut down yet?" I said that I believe the daily recommended dose is much, much less than that, and that doses that high could have some serious health problems later. I asked if he had spoken to his doctor about taking it, and he told me he had dumped him because he wouldn't tell him what he wanted to hear. Then he told me that he also doesn't have to worry about getting sick because of mosquitoes. I look at him and politely asked him "(What the fuck? was in my head but out loud I said) How does that work?" He informed me that mosquitoes are natures needles. They fly around and they bite someone that's sick. Then they bite someone else and give them just a little bit of the disease. From there, as he put it, "It's science". The person naturally builds up an immunity to whatever the disease is. I asked him what about Malaria, West Nile, Heartworms, Dengue, and Yellow Fever? These are all transmitted by mosquitoes. He then told me that, no, something else does this. What, he didn't know. The only disease that mosquitoes can spread is AIDS. AIDS isn't caused by people humping (his word), or blood, or kissing, it's the damn mosquitoes. I told him I really don't think the virus could live in a mosquito long enough to be transmitted, but he was adamant that it would. While he was saying this, I began sketching the lovely piece of art you see at the top of the page as a way to cope with the massive amount of Woo coming my way. I pressed him for the rest of his relevant info regarding his incident, showed him to the front of the building, and went back to finish my report. I can't understand how one person can know so much wrong. I've been stewing on this for a little bit, partly so I can research it, and also partly due to some legalities and protocols at my place of employment.

So now I'll share what I've found. Starting with the bit about vitamin C, according to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended daily dose is 65-90 mg per day, with an upper limit of 2,000 mg. I've done the math, and 5 grams = 5000 mg. So he is basically taking 21/2 times the upper limit of vitamin C. Some of the symptoms of a mega dose like this are :
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal bloating and cramps
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Kidney stones
(You can find this info from the Mayo Clinic HERE)
The last couple of years, mega doses of various vitamins, especially C, have been the popular thing to be offered by a lot of the Alt Med crowd. The problem is, unless you have a nutritional deficicency due to an illness or a genetic condition, most Americans easily get all the vitamins they need in just their diet alone. No need for supplements. Increasing your daily intake of any vitamin rarely does you any good, your body will just get rid of the excess in your waste. So it is literally money down the toilet.

The thing that tickled my mind about being familiar finally fell into place. Around the same time, there was a former doctor going around Oklahoma City offering what he called the Jesus Shot for $300 dollars, and former and current military got a discount. He claimed it would cure you from pain for the rest of your life. His description of the shot sounded similar to what other people had described, and I think he got swindled by the same quack.You can read a bit more about it from the Raw Story HERE. There is also an article from one of our local news affiliates, News9, but I really didn't want to link to it. The comments on the article are very disheartening. Person after person either claiming that his treatments worked for them or someone that they know, or else they are begging, literally begging to know where he is now so they can get the "Jesus shot" to help manage their symptoms. It's pretty damn depressing.

Finally, about mosquitoes transmitting AIDS, Looking through PubMed, I didn't find anything saying that it could be transmitted by this route. From what I could find, outside of a few fringe sites, everyone pretty much agrees that you can not get AIDS from a mosquito. First off, the virus is incapable of reproducing in any arthropod (mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, etc). Secondly, The viability of the virus outside of a human host is extremely short. The virus would most likely die between feedings. You can read the abstract from the NCBI HERE.

So, in conclusion, this guy was severely deluded or mislead, and possibly putting himself at great risk from trusting quacks and hearsay. This is one of the major reasons that the skeptic community and movement exist, to protect people from charlatans, misinformation, and misconceptions. Relying on Woo and pseudoscience can be costly ($300 a pop for a "miracle shot?) and dangerous (not going to real doctors).  We need to pick our battles, yes, and I know that if someone is a true believer in some form of pseudoscience, you are not going to change their mind. But I will still attempt to at least give these people some additional information to hopefully get them looking at a more science based approach to their problems.

So until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and be sure to tip your waiter.

The Skeptical Okie.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Baby Quackery!


Greetings everyone, I'm back!!!!

I know it's been a while since I've written anything on here. There are so many things I want to write about that I tend to stress myself out trying to figure out how to approach it, as well as by the time I can get around to it, most of the skeptical and science podcasts and writers have already covered it, so I think "What other information could I possibly add? I'm just a skeptic with a little, poorly written and opinionated blog in Oklahoma." Due to recent developments, as well as a request from my wife, my muse has finally returned. (I hate it when they go AWOL). Something anyone that is expecting a child will notice is all the odd advice and products aimed towards new parents. There are a ton of different things out there, so I won't cover them all. I'm just going to look at a few that have caught my attention recently.


Homeopathic Teething Medicine
Recently it was brought to my attention that Orajel is now offering a homeopathic version of their teething gel, with the added label of "Belladonna Free". The name of this product line is Orajel Naturals. The reason for this is because in 2010, Hyland's, a very popular manufacturer of homeopathic baby medication, had a recall of their teething tablets due to" FDA notified consumers that Hyland’s Teething Tablets is being recalled because the tablets may pose a risk to children. The tablets are manufactured to contain a small amount of belladonna, a substance that can cause serious harm at larger doses. For such a product, it is important that the amount of belladonna be carefully controlled. FDA laboratory analysis has found that Hyland’s Teething Tablets contain inconsistent amounts of belladonna. " (From the FDA website. The entire article is here) This is actually rather ironic in that a homeopathic medicine actually had a detectable amount of a substance in it, other than sugar and water. For those that don't know, belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, is a poisonous plant that, to be honest, can have medicinal effects in the proper dosages. If the dose is wrong, however, it is extremely toxic, with symptoms including, according to Wikipedia: dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred visiontachycardia, loss of balance, staggering, headache, rash, flushing, severely dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, urinary retentionconstipationconfusionhallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.  Death is also a possibility, with a sufficient amount. Of course, the dose makes the poison, and generally, in homeopathic medicine, there are no active ingredients in the final product. (For more information on homeopathy, see my post here). I have personally had an issue with Hyland's for years because of the homeopathic baby medicine, and now Orajel, which has always had a pretty good product, is jumping on the homeopathy bandwagon. I imagine that if a person were inclined to contact them and ask why are they selling these alt med products, they would probably give the standard line of "People want it". I'm really getting tired of hearing that bullshit line. You know what? People want tanks. People want to set things on fire. People want to do lots of shit that really isn't good for them. We don't, as a society, let them do this things. Why should companies be able to sell products that don't work and just say "people want it"? I know a few of the readers out there are saying "What about X pharmaceutical company?" With the big companies that actually make real medicine (and yes, I know a lot of them have gotten into the homeopathic and naturopathic products) have years of testing and re-testing before a product gets to market. Yes, there are occasionally bad batches, or unforeseen side effects, but as a whole, they are fairly dependable, and actually do something, other than draining your wallet. A major issue with homeopathic medicines is that there is very little regulation or oversight. The fact that this isn't even close to the first time that actual medicine (or in this case, poison) has turned up in homeopathic medicines should demonstrate the lack of controls. So, to all the new or expecting parents out there (and I know you guys are getting tired of everyone throwing advise at you) stick with the real Orajel or similar products when junior starts teething. Just be careful and use it only when it's absolutely needed.

I'm going to try and keep it short (if you have a new baby you may not have gotten this far) and only discuss one other topic that I see a lot, and to be honest, pisses me off. 

RANT WARNING
Baby Chiropractic
Don't. Just fucking don't do it. There is absolutely no reason that a baby or toddler should ever be taken to a chiropractor. (which I plan on doing a stand alone post on soon) Your childs  reoccurring ear infections, colic, autism (yes, some do claim to treat autism) or other childhood issues will not be mended by fixing the subluxations in the spine. What can happen is permanent damage to the spine or neck, strokes, or death. As I've said in the past, chiropractors may be able to help with some back pain, but not much else. To top it off, a respectable chiropractor won't touch a baby due to the extreme risk of permanent injuries. There are, of course, chiropractors that claim they specialize in treating children. They always seem to have a ton of clients, and lots of great recommendations that they successfully treated this problem or that. If you want to read some truly horrible stories, just Google the following: Child, Chiropractor, and Injury. There are constantly stories cropping up of children being crippled or worse because a treatment by a chiropractor went wrong. Chiropractic is rarely an answer to an adults problems, and never to a childs problems.

I'm just going to say Be good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to rotate your tires.

The Skeptical Okie