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The Journal of Cosmology Strikes Back

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

So the Journal of Cosmology (JoC) has written a response to the criticisms of Richard Hoover’s paper claiming to have found fossilized alien bacteria in a meteorite.

They begin by stating that they are, indeed, a prestigious scientific journal.

The Journal of Cosmology is a Prestigious Scientific Journal

I dunno, but if you have to say that you are prestigious, then you probably aren’t. It’s kind of like Milhouse Van Houten saying that his mom thinks he is cool, or Ron Burgandy arguing his importance by stating he has “many leather-bound books”.

The paper itself has been very heavily criticized. Scientists at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference this year in Texas, regard it as “a dubious controversy that will do science little good”.

Meteoriticist Edward Anders, retired from the University of Chicago in Illinois stated in Science that

Despite [Hoover’s] generous sprinkling of fancy names, these structures are in a morphological no man’s land,

The blogosphere is responding in a similar fashion (including yours truly), with the consensus being that these claims are at best premature, and at worst they are outright bogus.

So in light of the large number of scientists showing doubt over the quality of Hoover’s research, the JoC felt it was necessary to respond directly to its critics. The title of their response is “Have the Terrorists Won?”

Umm…WHAT!?

You are comparing legitimate scientific criticism to terrorist attacks!? I’m already starting to feel sick, but let’s go further.

Only a few crackpots and charlatans have denounced the Hoover study…Tremendous efforts have been made to shout down the truth, and the same crackpots, self-promoters, liars, and failures, are quoted repeatedly in the media. However, where is the evidence the Hoover study is not accurate?

To paraphrase, the JoC is saying “prove to us its NOT true!” It is becoming abundantly clear that the editors of the JoC are hell-bent on believing this paper and are not willing to listen to any one else’s opinions.

Following the publication of Richard Hoover’s paper, what ensued could be likened to a rein [sic] of terror, a witch hunt, an inquisition designed to crush all discussion of his findings. There were even calls to “hang” Richard Hoover. Three hundred years ago, they would have burned us all at the stake.

Can you say “melodramatic”? The discussions on the legitimacy of Hoover’s work are somehow similar to a reign of terror or the with trials of the 16th to 18th centuries?

The silence is deafening. What prominent scientist would dare to publicly support Hoover’s findings, when they know that raving lunatics will be unleashed to destroy their reputation?

How can science advance in this country if NASA and the media promotes frothing-at the-mouth-attacks on legitimate scientists and scientific periodicals who dare to publish new discoveries or new ideas?

The Journal of Cosmology sought to promote science and scientific debate, but the scientific community is too frightened and terrorized to speak up.

It took courage to publish the Hoover discoveries. The Journal of Cosmology will continue to publish great theories and new discoveries.

The terrorists and the lunatic fringe have lost.

These sound more like the ravings of a conspiracy theorist than the commentary of a “prestigious” journal editor.

Their use of the historical references  in which the scientific consensus was proved wrong is the kind of faulty logic that many proponents of pseudoscience fall victim to. How many times have you heard the anti-vaxxers say that “tobacco was once considered safe”? That doesn’t mean vaccines cause autism, and just because there have been times in the past when scientists were proved wrong, doesn’t mean that every article published in the JoC is right.

Calling those who oppose your views “raving lunatics” and “frothing-at-the-mouth attacks” does not improve the JoC’s credibility, and only shows that they are set to believe this paper, whether we like it or not.

If I may channel the great Ron Burgandy once again: “Stay classy JoC. Stay classy.”

 

Alien Bacteria *Possibly* Discovered in Meteorite: UPDATE

March 6, 2011 5 comments

Filament structures found in the Orgueil meteorite - Dr. Riccardo Guerrero / Journal of Cosmology

So by now you’ve probably all heard about Dr. Richard Hoover, the NASA scientist who possibly has discovered alien bacteria in meteorites. Now that I’ve had a chance to read the paper itself and the opinions of some researchers more closely related to the fields of astronomy and, more importantly, biology, I want to give you a better idea of what this paper is saying.

Let’s start off with the journal itself, the Journal of Cosmology. It is a journal published entirely online, though it is technically peer-reviewed. However, the journal has been known to encourage the publishing of fringe ideas and scientists that jump the gun on certain conclusions about their data.

Take for example the supposed giant planet in the Oort cloud which was discussed last month. The paper was met with scorn and skepticism from a large group of scientists, including Phil Plait. A news article by Gabriel Beck on the Journal of Cosmology homepage had said this in response to the criticism:

The torches and pitchforks crowd, led by astronomer-wannabe Phil Plait claims its not so. But then, Plait’s most famous discovery was finding one of his old socks when it went missing after a spin in his dryer.

Not exactly a scientifically sound argument, nor something you would expect to read from a credible scientist reasonably discussing a paper. So the Journal of Cosmology is not impressing me, particularly since I love Phil Plait and actually try to model the style of this blog after his. In addition, there is nothing wrong with being skeptical about ANY finding. If your research is sound, then it should be able to stand up to the highest level of scrutiny and you shouldn’t get defensive.

But Beck’s pettiness aside, this does not discount Dr. Hoover’s research out of hand, so let’s look at the actual paper.

Essentially, the paper looks at two carbonaceous meteorites, named after the places they landed: Ivuna and Orgueil. Both meteorites were witnessed as they fell to the ground, and later recovered.

The meteorites were imaged using an electron microscope and the images examined. What Hoover found was that some of the images showed strange “filaments” in the structure of the meteorite. Upon further inspection, the filaments seemed to correspond with the general shape and size of certain species of bacteria.

Hoover believes that the filaments were not the result of contamination of Earthly bacteria after the meteorite landed because there was a definite lack of nitrogen in the samples. This is because nitrogen fixation is an essential part of the life cycle of “Earth-based” bacteria, and the level of nitrogen in the sample should be detectable for several thousand years. Since we know the dates on which these meteorites landed, the lack of nitrogen within the sample was evidence that the filaments were in the meteorite prior to it landing on the surface of the Earth.

In one of the meteorites (Orgueil) Hoover found structures within the filaments that resembled “heterocysts”, which are specialized cells used to fix nitrogen. Hoover says that

…the detection of heterocysts provides clear and convincing evidence that the filaments are not only unambiguously biological but that they belong to one of these two orders of cyanobacteria…

Another point Hoover makes is that the Orgueil meteorite is composed of certain minerals that dissolve when exposed to water. Since we know the meteorite landed in 1864, and that cyanobacteria generally require the presence of water to live, he suggests

that none of the Orgueil samples could have ever been submerged in pools of liquid water needed to sustain the growth of large photoautotrophic cyanobacteria and required for the formation of benthic cyanobacterial mats since the meteorite arrived on Earth. Many of the filaments shown in the figures are clearly embedded in the meteorite rock matrix. Consequently, it is concluded that the Orgueil filaments cannot logically be interpreted as representing filamentous cyanobacteria that invaded the meteorite after its arrival. They are therefore interpreted as the indigenous remains of microfossils that were present in the meteorite rock matrix when the meteorite entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Those are the basic arguments. The paper then extends its assumptions far beyond the scope of the research to discuss how this finding could be indicative of life on comets or on Europa.

So as you have probably already gathered, there are some serious problems here. My biggest problem of the paper is that it is not quantitative. How many images in total did you take? How many filaments in total did you find? How many of them exhibit shapes resembling heterocysts? If there was a colony of bacteria in the meteorite, how many of these fossilized remains should we expect to see and how many of them should have structures resembling heterocysts?

I also have a problem with heterocyst structures themselves. Does it makes sense that a bacterium that is not from Earth would have a structure similar to what Earth-based bacteria use to fix nitrogen?

I will concede that these are strange structures in the meteorites. But given the huge diversity of bacteria, doesn’t it seem like it would be quite easy to take any structure that is remotely filament-like and match it with some type of bacteria?

The answers to these questions are not given. This could be because some of them are difficult questions with complicated answers, which is fair, but they do not seem to be addressed at all.

It comes down to the fact that Hoover is comparing filament structures in a meteorite to the shapes and sizes of certain bacteria on Earth. He is then making two conclusions:

  • That the filaments were there prior to the meteor entering the Earth’s atmosphere and
  • That the filaments were caused by the fossilization of bacteria.

Consequently, there are 3 possibilities:

  1. Hoover is correct that these are fossilized bacteria of a non-Earth origin.
  2. The filaments were caused by bacteria contamination from Earth and the lack of nitrogen could be explained by something else.
  3. The filaments were caused by something other than bacteria, before or after the meteorite landed on the Earth’s surface.

Frankly, even though Hoover gives a few arguments as to why he thinks the filaments were caused by alien bacteria, I think possibilities 2 and 3 are much more likely. Simply because Hoover cannot come up with another explanation for the lack of nitrogen or the presence of what look like heterocysts does not warrant the conclusion that these are fossilized extraterrestrial bacteria. That is a huge leap and it is an extremely premature assertion.

But it is still early so we will see what the experts end up saying. PZ Myers already weighed in with his opinion in a blog post called “Did Scientists Discover Bacteria in Meteorites?”:

No.

No, no, no. No no no no no no no no.

No, no.

No.

He is chalking this one up to a glorified case of pareidolia.

In the end, it again comes down to “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

The claim is extraordinary. The evidence, unfortunately, is not.

Just How Dilute are Homeopathic Remedies?

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Homeopathy operates on a principle that the more dilute a “remedy”, the more potent it becomes.

Homeopathy makes no sense, and it doesn’t work, but people still cling to it even though it is simply an over glorified placebo effect.

Many homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that not a single molecule of the original ingredient remains. Just HOW dilute is this?

Steve D wrote a post called “Putting Homeopathy in Perspective” and uses a very pretty visual: Felicia Day.

For example, one such homeopathic dilution is called 3C, which means the remedy was diluted to 1 part in 100, 3 times. This is approximately the number of Felicias in the world who are Felicia Day:

The post is really quite awesome and very well illustrates how ridiculous homeopathy is. Especially since some homeopathic remedies go up to 200C! To have even a single molecule of the original substance still in a sample of a 200C dilution, you would need a sample the size of not only our ENTIRE UNIVERSE, but

100 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000

ADDITIONAL UNIVERSES! (Thats 10320 in scientific notation).

It boggles the mind.

How To Build Your Own Energy Balance Product

March 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Sport enhancement products are big business. Even if they don’t work.

Take for example products like Power Balance or Q-Ray, which are designed to work with your body’s “energy field” to increase balance and performance.

The Power Balance bracelets contain holograms. Their FAQ page describes how they work:

The thin polyester film hologram is programmed through a proprietary process, which is designed to mimic Eastern philosophies that have been around for hundreds of years.

Convinced? You shouldn’t be, because they don’t work. Even Power Balance released a statement in Australia noting that there is no scientific evidence to corroborate any of their claims. (Which is probably why their website now states that “there is no assurance it can work for everyone.”)

So how do they become so successful? Check out this promotional video:

My favourite part is when he says it only has to be “within 1-3 inches of your body’s energy field”. The amount of woo makes my head spin!

They will actually perform their balance test at trade shows etc, and you know what? It actually works! But not because of the holograms.

Its simple physics, as explained in by Rhett Allain of Wired here in quantitative physics calculations, or explained visually in the following video demonstration:

It all has to do with what direction you push on the subjects arm. It is not noticeable to the subject, but the person doing the pushing knows exactly what they are doing. Nothing at all to do with the bracelet (or crown, in this case).

So there you go. Now you can make your own energy bracelet or hat or shoe or under-pantaloons and get rich!

The Adventure of Links: Feb. 19, 2011

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Since I’ve been slacking on my links, this will be a big one. Within you will find that sex in space would be tricky, a statue of Robocop, thundersnow, proof of “unintelligent design” and a genetically modified jalapeno.

Physics/Astronomy

Tesla vs. Edison Mad Lib. Yes, you read that correctly.

A biopic about Einstein is in the works.

Scientists smash giant granite balls together to simulate asteroid impacts (w/video)

Its been 10 years since Fox tried to convince people the moon landing was a hoax. Fox has not improved much in the last decade.

Learn physics from an NFL cheerleader. Science rules!

How Vikings navigated using crystals and polarized light.

Health

Gonorrhea has human DNA

How long is a severed head conscious for?

Why beer batter is better for fish and chips.

You mean Nutella isn’t really healthy? Whaaa?

Sugary soda may increase efficiency of brain activity.

A jalapeno genetically altered to hold more cream cheese for jalapeno poppers. I feel fatter already.

Fun/Funny

Fantasy casting posters re-imagine classic sci-fi films. Tim Curry as the Joker? Weird…

Ancient humans used skulls as goblets. Mmmmmm…

The Angry Birds finally settle their disagreements.

Detroit to erect a statue of Robocop.

The mystery of which Cubs game Ferris Bueller went to has been solved!

Lions and Tigers playing with an iPad.

A piece of cake from Charles and Diana’s royal wedding sold at auction. Some people have WAY too much money.

Winston Churchill’s false teeth sold at auction. Seriously, TOO MUCH MONEY!

Sexy Stuff

Space sex would be tricky, says NASA.

Best Science headline I’ve read in a while: Two Timing Spacecraft has Date with Another Comet (w/video)

Why girls moan during sex. Sorry guys, turns out we aren’t THAT good….

Folk Myth : Can shoe size predict penile length?

Post Orgasmic Illness Syndrome. Yes, it’s a real thing.

Girls like monkey sex. Literally.

Internet/Technology

Internet users more likely to volunteer

New device uses EM pulses to detonate IEDs from a safe distance.

A robot that can hear you breathing. Through walls.

Want to have a confession but don’t want to talk to an actual priest? There’s an app for that.

Amazon adds real page numbers to the Kindle.

Mexican cops seize a home-made marijuana hurling catapult near U.S. – Mexico border.

We’ve run out of IP addresses! Run!

Nature

Japanese researchers plan to resurrect the Woolly Mammoth in 5 years. Don’t get your hopes up.

The essentials of bear hibernation

Natural selection limits how many attractive males can exist in a population

The mystery of how fleas jump has been solved.

Thundersnow. What else needs to be said?

Polar bear swims 9 days straight.

Skepticism

An explanation for why people hold on to irrational fears.

In India, Astrology is a science. I know, right? *FACEPALM*

Filmmaker psychs out psychics and ET believers.

External testicles prove “unintelligent design”.

Calgary Falls to Fluoride Fear

February 11, 2011 28 comments

In a huge skeptic fail, the city of Calgary has announced that it will remove fluoride from its water supply.

The move comes after the city council voted 10-3 in favour of stopping the addition of fluoride to the city’s water.

And now, Fluoride Action Network, based in the U.S. but which has spearheaded the anti-fluoride movement in Canada and has succeeded in Waterloo and now Calgary, is moving its fight against reason to London, Ontario.

I live in Calgary now, and I used to go to school in London. Is this a personal attack against me!?

The Fluoride Action Network has a lot of similarities with the anti-vaccine movement. They are claiming that they are “are just pushing for a review that’s badly needed after decades of conventional wisdom.”

Yet the first thing you see on their homepage, in large font: “TAKE ACTION! A Reduction in Fluoride Levels is Not Enough: Tell HHS to End Fluoridation Completely”

As the CBC reports today, the city council acted without any input from Calgary’s citizens:

Earlier in the day, city council considered and rejected by a vote of 8-5 putting the fluoride issue to a plebiscite in the 2013 municipal election.

And this was my favourite quote:

Council also rejected referring the matter to an expert panel.

*FACEPALM*

So the City Council basically said “No, no. We won’t ask an expert. We know what direction the wind is blowing and we will go along with it.”

People are motivated by fear. A couple of months ago there was  this piece in Maclean’s magazine about Canadians reacting to these fear tactics, including fluoride:

the Waterloo regional council voted to stop the 43-year practice of adding fluoride to the municipal drinking water, after two local residents complained that it was making them sick. Forget the fact that the only known side effect from water fluoridation—from too-high fluoride levels, specifically—is something called dental fluorosis, a.k.a. stained teeth, and that the ban was implemented despite strong opposition from the very people who stand to benefit most from the ban, namely, local dentists. Waterloo residents are now revealed as the Birthers of dental hygiene, sticking to their thesis precisely because it is so implausible.

But anti-fluoriders stick to their convictions, saying that it is not the Government’s job to maintain the health of its people, which is a crock. The government is in place to do whats best for its people. They police the streets, they manage public transportation and they plow the roads. If adding a bit of fluoride to the water is in our best interest, why shouldn’t they do it?

Not convinced? You want some science? Well as stated above, the only side effect of excess fluoride is stained teeth.  Fear-mongerers attempt to convince us that fluoride consumption is correlated with bone cancer. But that study was not peer reviewed, and only looked at a small subset of the data. When compared with the entire population, that correlation disappeared. The authors of that study themselves noted that it had serious limitations.

But there are several reviews of actual peer-reviewed research stating that fluoride is perfectly safe at the levels maintained in public water supplies:

  • Water fluoridation. Parnell C, Whelton H, O’Mullane D. Eur Arch Paediatr Dent. 2009 Sep;10(3):141-8. (Conclusion: Water fluoridation, where technically feasible and culturally acceptable, remains a relevant and valid choice as a population measure for the prevention of dental caries.)
  • Systematic review of water fluoridation. McDonagh MS, Whiting PF, Wilson PM, Sutton AJ, Chestnutt I, Cooper J, Misso K, Bradley M, Treasure E, Kleijnen J.BMJ. 2000 Oct 7;321(7265):855-9. (Conclusion: The evidence of a beneficial reduction in caries should be considered together with the increased prevalence of dental fluorosis. There was no clear evidence of other potential adverse effects.)
  • Water fluoridation in Australia. Spencer AJ, Slade GD, Davies M.Community Dent Health. 1996 Sep;13 Suppl 2:27-37. (Conclusion: Community water fluoridation continues to be the most effective and socially equitable measure for caries prevention among all ages by achieving community-wide exposure to the caries preventive effects of fluoride.)
  • Risk-benefit balance in the use of fluoride among young children. Do LG, Spencer AJ. J Dent Res. 2007 Aug;86(8):723-8. (Conclusion: Exposure to fluoridated water was positively associated with fluorosis, but was negatively associated with caries. Using 1000-ppm-F toothpaste (compared with 400- to 550-ppm-F toothpaste) and eating/licking toothpaste were associated with higher risk of fluorosis without additional benefit in caries protection.)
  • An update on fluorides and fluorosis. Levy SM.J Can Dent Assoc. 2003 May;69(5):286-91. (Conclusion: Water fluoridation and use of fluoride dentifrice are the most efficient and cost-effective ways to prevent dental caries; other modalities should be targeted toward high-risk individuals.)

Thankfully, residents of London Ontario seem to be approaching the issue with the right amount of skepticism.

“They refer to fluoride as being the equivalent of a poison or a toxin,” said Pollett, London’s top public health official. “These fears are not substantiated but nonetheless they raise concerns in people’s minds.”

Fluoride levels in London water “pose no risk to health,” he added.

London has had fluoride in its water since 1967. It costs about 40 cents per year per Londoner to put it in the system.

In another article written today by Ian Gillespie, his similar feeling about the absurdity of fluoride fears is quite apparent:

When asked about the benefits of adding fluoride to our drinking water, London Coun. Denise Brown said, “If you do any research on the Internet, you’ll find scientists believe there are health risks.”

Yes, that’s right.

And if you do more Internet “research,” you’ll also discover “experts” who argue that aliens hijacked the Voyager 2 spacecraft, Paul McCartney died in a 1966 car crash, Elvis Presley is alive and the Apollo moon landing was a hoax.

C’mon folks. Give your head a shake.

Yes, City Councilors are listening to whatever fringe group is loudest to make their decisions now it seems. They also believe that by doing “research on the internet” (what skeptics like to call ‘attending the University of Google’) they can get accurate and unbiased information.

So if you are a resident of London, please check out the real information about fluoride. Decades of credible research show that it is perfectly safe, over 90 Health organizations all over the world, who routinely review the scientific evidence, all endorse the use of fluoride in water.

The United States Center for Disease Control sees fluoride in public water supply as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of all time.

Since water fluoridation has been around for so long, people forget what happens when you remove it.

“(Officials in) Dorval, Que., took the fluoride out in 2003,” [Dr. Lynn Tomkins, president of the Ontario Dental Association] says. “And the rates of dental decay in pre-schoolers there have doubled. That’s pretty alarming.”

So if you live in Calgary, you might want to start getting better dental coverage. Because fluoridation of water is of course “the most monstrously conceived Communist plot we have ever had to face.”

The Last Word (hopefully) on the Jerusalem UFO

February 8, 2011 4 comments

I have a Google alert for “UFOs”. I like seeing some of the nonsense that people come up with, and most UFO claims tend to go away within a day.

But this one of a UFO above the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, persisted.

The first video I saw was this one:

Which looks horrible! I was surprised this even got any attention. The blob is clearly CG animated, and the background looked kind of weird.

In fact, as Steven Novella pointed out on his blog, the lights in the video don’t twinkle at all, they are still.

Have a look at this screenshot I took of the above video:

Now, compare that to this photo of the Dome of the Rock, available for free via Wikimedia Commons:

Looks quite similar doesn’t it?

But of course there are a few other videos which “confirm” the UFO, none of which are overly impressive:

Life’s Little Mysteries goes into some detail about why these videos are fakes. First, they point out how illogical it is that someone would report these videos anonymously. People would WANT the attention of discovering something like this, wouldn’t they?

Second, no one else in the area reported seeing this UFO. The Dome of the Rock is a pretty prominent structure. Someone else should have seen these weird lights.

Robert Scheaffer, author of Bad UFOs blog also noted,

Effects of the video processing software are clearly seen. The hoaxer used Motion Tile effects with edge mirroring to introduce camera shake into the video. You can see the mirroring effects along the edge of the video. This proves that the video did not go directly from the camera to YouTube

This ‘motion tile’ effect is illustrated in this video uploaded by HOAXkiller1:

Frankly, the UFO videos weren’t all that impressive to begin with. But the evidence is pretty clear that the videos are fakes.

I do enjoy watching them though. It is pretty interesting to see what new trick these hoaxers will come out with next. I don’t think we’ll have to wait long for the next one…

Show Homeopathy Works, Win A Million Dollars!

February 7, 2011 3 comments

ten23. Homeopathy: there's nothing in itOn Saturday, February 5th 2011, skeptics from 10 different countries took a mass overdose of homeopathic “remedies”.

Everyone was ok.

It was part of the 10:23 campaign, which I blogged about on Friday. The point of the demonstration was to show that these products are not medicine, and do absolutely nothing.

Concurrently with the demonstration, James Randi of the James Randi Educational Foundation issued a challenge to Homeopaths. The challenge is quite simple:

Show that a homeopathic remedy works better than a placebo for ANY illness, in a double-blind clinical trial designed by YOU, the homeopath, and supervised by reputable scientists. If you can show a statistically significant effect in a study of this kind, you will win $1 million for yourself, or the charity of your choice.

If homeopathy worked, this challenge would be an easy win for homeopaths. If a homeopathic remedy did anything at all, it would show a statistically different effect than a placebo. Of course, this type of study has been done many, many, many times and the results are remarkably consistent: homeopathy does not work.

James Randi gives a very nice explanation about the ideas behind homeopathy, which unfortunately are not common knowledge. My favourite quote from the video is

Many people think that the work ‘homeopathic’ just means ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ medicine and they are shocked to learn what it really means. It should be a crime for pharmaceutical corporations to profit by denying the public this critical information about the products on their shelves.

It is extremely important that the truth about homeopathy becomes well-known. Particularly now, since I have just read on the Huffington Post (which I read when I am feeling masochistic) that a Doctoral degree is being offered in Homeopathy in the United States.

Those who graduate from the doctoral program will be qualified to diagnose illnesses and treat them with homeopathic medicine.

This is frightening. Many people have been harmed by seeking homeopathic treatment in the place of real medicine. And it just simply doesn’t work.

Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It

February 4, 2011 2 comments

This coming weekend, protesters from 10 different countries and 23 different cities will be overdosing on Homeopathic remedies in the 10:23 campaign.

Don’t worry. They’ll be fine.

The point of the demonstration is not only show that homeopathic remedies are nothing more than sugar pills and are merely placebos, but also to gain some publicity and get the word out that Homeopathy is pseudoscientific nonsense.

There are several Canadian cities participating in the demonstration as well:

  • Montreal
  • Vancouver
  • Toronto
  • Ottawa
  • Kitchener
  • Edmonton
  • Winnipeg

For those who don’t know, 10:23 is a reference to Avogadro’s number, which is 6.022 x 1023. It is a number used frequently in chemistry to link the number of atoms of a particular substance to the mass of the substance (specifically it is the number of atoms in 12 grams of the Carbon-12 isotope). In essence it links the microscopic and macroscopic world.

It is a fitting name for this campaign since homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that virtually (or literally) no atoms or molecules of active ingredient remains. The products are, in fact, only sugar pills.

The event is being organised by the Merseyside Skeptics Society. The event will culminate on February 6th when more than 300 people will overdose on homeopathic “medicine” at the QED conference in Manchester.

This comes at a particularly good time in Canada. The recent episode of Marketplace on CBC about Homeopathy (called “Cure or Con”) has raised quite a stir. In that episode, a small group of skeptics in Vancouver gave a demonstration of an overdose of homeopathic medicine. Nothing happened.

So hopefully this weekend’s events will garner some strong media attention and help expose this practice for what it is: nonsense.

Does VitaminWater Prevent the Flu?

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

That is what an advertisement for vitaminwater is suggesting.

The ad has raised the concern of the National Consumers League (NCL), which has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

They state that the poster advertisement, as well as a TV commercial for vitaminwater give false statements concerning the efficacy of vitaminwater for preventing the flu.

In the TV ad, a cartoon woman brags about how she can use her sick days to hang out with her boyfriend because she drinks vitaminwater. A transcript of the commercial goes like this:

I love skipping work, especially when I’m feeling great.  Layin’ in my pj’s searching Netflix for a guilty pleasure marathon.  And since it’s Friday, I’ve got a nice little three-day staycation package.  One of my secrets?  vitaminwater power-c.  It’s got vitamin C and zinc to help support a healthy immune system.  So I can stay home with my boyfriend – who’s also playing hooky. What a coincidence.

The NCL’s letter to the FTC states their concern:

The Commission should immediately take enforcement action to halt such claims because such misinformation constitutes an imminent public health hazard.  Discouraging members of the public from getting a flu shot as recommended by government health authorities is not only deceptive, but dangerous.

They go on to talk about how vitaminwater projects an image of a healthy beverage, yet it still contains a decent amount of sugar and has 125 calories per serving.

Oh, did I mention that there is no conclusive scientific evidence that increased Vitamin C or Zinc intake can prevent contracting influenza?

The letter cites precedent of other lawsuits for similar complaints in which the FTC ruled that there was indeed false and misleading statements. Those cases have many things in common with the NCL’s complaints about vitaminwater.

As reported by the Boston Globe, a spokesperson for Glaceau, the manufacturer of vitaminwater (and a Coca-Cola subsidiary) responded to the complaints:

vitaminwater has always had a fun, humorous, and engaging personality — and our ads reflect that.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the impression that vitaminwater is more concerned with producing a good-tasting, trendy beverage that makes money than with the health of its consumers.

It reminds me a bit of Sunny Delight, which advertised itself as a healthy drink for kids, when really it has as much sugar as soda and is merely spiked with a couple of vitamins.

I have tried some vitaminwater drinks, and they do taste pretty good. I can’t say that I felt any healthier, although some of my college friends claimed that it was great for relieving hangovers.

Of course there is no scientific data to back me up, but it sounds like an over-hyped placebo effect to me.