Saturday, April 30, 2005

Homeopathic arguments are like diluted water (nothing is in them)

Homeopaths have come up with quite a few arguments that homeopathic works. Almost all homeopaths have the "I have seen it work" argument as the foundation of their belief in homeopathy.

The patient:

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I've been suffering from [bla bla bla bla] for a long time. I went to a practitioner who offered me a treatment and I started feeling better.

The skeptic:

Since you have already tried "treatment X" and it works for you, or even if it "seems" to work for you, the logical thing is for you to keep using it.
(The skeptic would tell herself that there was a chance she might be operating on superstition rather than on trustworthy knowledge).

From the patient's point of view there is no need for any other reality. You can say that it seems to work for the patient (i.e. patient have the subjective impression of getting better). But people can be wrong about their own subjective impressions in that sense. They can also say one thing and experience another. So it is possible that someone saying they subjectively feel better is also partially wrong, even subjectively.

The reason for feeling better could be - not the remedy itself, but the naturally fluctuating course of symptoms. The only way to be sure it is the remedy itself that relieves your symptoms is to set up a double-blinded test where you have no way of knowing whether you are taking the remedy or a placebo. If the remedy really works, you will be able to tell which you are taking based on the results.

The skeptic:

Are you recommending it to others on the basis of your own experience or belief?

The patient:

Yes, I want to share this with anyone I know.

The skeptic:

There are hundreds of remedies out there, and the chances that any one of them will work for a given individual are quite small. There is no logical basis to choose one of them over another.

The other side of the coin is that of science:

Science wants to know exactly what is going on when someone says a reatment "works". Only systematic study under controlled conditions can answer the questions of interest to this perspective. There have to be extensive and certain information about the cases, and also independent confirmation of the facts. So the only way to find out if there is an objective effect of a treatment is to use the scientific method.

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And what will you do the next time you have a health problem? If you choose a remedy because other people say "It works for me" then by the same criterion you should be willing to try bloodletting. This treatment was doing more harm than good in earlier century, but a lot of people felt better (i.e. subjective impression of getting better). I don't know anyone that even would consider this treatment today. How can we be certain that alternative methods really work and aren't doing more harm than good?

Trying to back the "I have seen it work" argument up homeopaths will produce a number of supposed miracle cures. Homeopaths love to cite "miracle cures" where the patient got better after using homeopathy. But it is amazing (?) how often homeopaths will make grand claims of curing things that will turn out not to have been diagnosed by a doctor, unreliable claims (i.e. not properly documented) or curing sickness that is self limiting (people will recover anyway from the condition on their own given time).

Today's quackery is definitely homeopathy and it is to be compared with bloodletting used in earlier century. The "I have seen it work" and "I feel better" argument was used then too. Believing in the methods of homeopathy there is a serious risk of supporting superstition and quackery. Homeopathy is wishful thinking based on ignorance and the homeopathic argument doesn't make any scientific proof so far.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Would you like to extend your lifespan?

Some people believe their life can be extended by the water they drink, the minerals they consume, certain foods they eat, their non-toxic environment, or stress-free life. I am trying to figure out my life expectancy.

It seems that anti-aging medicine is a multi-billion dollar industry. Customers are attracted to untested remedies by terms like "virtual immortality" an "an ageless society". False claims and bogus remedies for treating old age as if it were disease are flooding all over the internet.

I will give you several examples: Yogurt cures, enema regimens, live-cell injections, skin creams, herbal elixirs, hormonal therapies, caloric restriction, unique water and vitamin supplements, all claiming to combat aging.

Drink Himalayan Fruit Juices and be more than 100 years

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This web site claims that they have the most powerful anti-aging food with a life expectancy of more than 100 years. Something is telling me that this is a quack trying to sell me something. If I made a revolution with the possibility to earn millions of dollars I wouldn't need to ask anyone to recommend the product to others and paying them. To me it looks like a smooth drinks or something.

Energized water for your body

An Energy Mug to energize your water in 1-2 minutes...I doubt that even the makers would fully believe their claim of transferring positive information to your drinks. Does anyone really believe that Unique Water can add 25-30 years to a person's lifespan? They claim that water has memory; there is no scientific evidence that water can be "energized", re-structured, or otherwise altered by filters or external forces. This is pseudoscience.

Longevity - Live to 140 Years of Age in Good Health

(I guess this doesn't apply to those of us who have already reached adulthood)

Most scientists agree that the maximum human life span seems to be about 120 years of age. In fact the longest well-documented human life span is that of madame Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122.

Live to 160 years old, then only the worms are back:

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For thousands of years, people believed the sun was a god, or that earth was flat. Neither case was true.

The makers of antiaging products may believe in the power of the mixture, but that does not make their claims true. But I doubt that even the makers would fully believe their claim of extending life by 30-40% by drinking unique water or himalayan fruit juice.

Individuals are continuing to be victimized by promises of extended youth or increased longevity by using unproven methods that allegedly slow, stop or reverse aging. There are no lifestyle changes, surgical procedures, vitamins, antioxidants, hormones or techniques of genetic engineering available today that have been demonstrated to influence the processes of aging.

We simply have to accept that aging is the greatest risk factor for the leading causes of death and other age-related pathologies. Our human bodies wear out over time and are manifested as wrinkled skin, weakened bones and nagging physical complaints. The wasting that comes with age is a result of critical cells losing their gift for making perfect copies of themselves resulting in a breakdown in different parts of the body.

Further reading is here:

Is there an anti-aging medicine? (PDF)

Results for "anti-aging" at quack watch

Skeptics’ Circle #7 is up

It's time again, the seventh skeptic's circle is up and running on Thoughts From Kansas. Some good skeptical reading there from the usual suspects about quackery, religion, science and society. Support the skeptic's circle, visit Thought from Kansas and read a solid set of posts. Great round-up.

Science is not just a matter of opinion

From Sanfrancisco Daily News:
(Thursday, April 28, 2005:)

The wonders of the Internet; overcoming dreaded diseases such as polio; our first steps to explore space; the ability to locate anything on Earth to within a few feet with a global positioning system -- all are powerful reminders that science and technology can change the world in a most positive manner. They have a wonderful opportunity to play in shaping the society we live in -- but they cannot do that successfully if science is allowed to become simply a matter of opinion.

Read the article written by Richard N. Zare.

(Richard N. Zare is the Marguerite Blake Wilbur professor of natural science in the Chemistry Department at Stanford University).

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

I have been hit by the Fahrenheit 451 Book Meme

This meme has been floating around the blogosphere, and I was invited by Orac from Respectful Insolence to participate this amusing thing.

It looks like it will be a kind of challenge, but I think a worthwhile one. We should be playing more and this internet thing really is like a big playground isn't it? Well, I am tickled to do my Book Meme and I will do my best.

I have always been reading a lot in my entire life both special, trade and scientific litterature, but also fictional. Some might call me a bookworm.

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Since I started working in my new job and it's been for quite a while, I haven't purchased any books at all. I used to be a member of several book clubs. I took advantage of their special offer, three books for free, at least two books at regular price to complete my membership within a year and then I cancelled the membership. That's how I made my collection of books.

Here is what it's all about:

You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451.
(about a place where they burn books because trivial information like television is good, and knowledge and ideas are bad)

Which book would you be?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, definitely.

For those not familiar with this book, the main characters are Ron, Hermione, and Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban takes place when Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts. A prisoner has just escaped and he is heading for Hogwarts, also. One night, Sirius Black managed to get into the boy's room and Ron saw him. Then the next day everybody went on a field trip, but Harry was unable to go because his uncle Vernon wouldn't sign his permission slip. Harry found a magic map that told were every body was and all of the secret passages. But Harry thought the map might be broken because it said that a wizard, Pettigrew, was alive but he got killed by Sirius Black.

When I started this book I couldn't put it down. The book had action when they played Quidditch, and interesting when the prisoner escaped. I am entirely addicted as though a junkie on the worst of drugs available. What can I say?

Several numbers of people have bashed these novels as Satanic, I am absolutely dumbfounded. I have never once met a child that doesn't fully comprehend these stories are fiction. Honestly, anyone who believes Harry Potter is bad for children really needs to have a check-up from the neck-up. Harry Potter is infinitely better than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As a parent, it has given me some really special time talking to my children in depth about these novels and the attraction it has for those of us who read them. Nobody is more surprised that I have read these books than my 12 year old son. Well it has really been a plus to me and my children that I picked up Harry Potter.

This book has probably been taken by someone else, but I think it is cool, and I saw the movie too.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I am thrilled with the Harry Potter characters like Harry Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Professor Dumbledore, that's for sure.

If I should recall some characters at the moment - that is not a Harry Potter character-, I did like Annika from The Snake in Sydney written by Michael Larsen (Danish author). The Snake in Sydney is a thriller which is hard to put down, I read it in two days. Through Annika we learn about snakes, and how to deal with them. The book embraces us with many different kinds of knowledge, scientific, medical and philosophical.

I don't know if this counts, because it's a true story about a Kansas family destroyed by jealousy and revenge. I speak of Bitter Harvest written by Ann Rule. I was fascinated by the characters of Dr. Deborah Green. Behind the facade she was revealed to be a strange and desperate mother obsessed with revenge that forever changed dozens of lives. Dr. Deborah Green was a monster, and would stop at nothing to get what she wanted; even murder.

I am sure there are more fictional book characters that I've crushed on. I remember none of them right now, so I will not be closer to answering this.

What is the last book you bought?

The last book I bought was The Clan of The Cave Bear (earth children) by Jean M. Auel. The story of Ayla begins when she is adopted by a group of Neanderthals called the Clan. She is finally accepted by the Clan, but she makes an implacable enemy of the group's future leader, Broud. I haven't finished it yet, so I will not make any further comments on this one.

What are you currently reading?

Currently my "bedtime" book is also The Clan of The Cave Bear (earth children) by Jean M. Auel.

Five books for your desert island cruise package.

I imagine myself sitting in a chair on the beach reading these books:

The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King) by J.R.R. TOLKIEN

The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lector) by Thomas Harris "Behavioral Science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth..."
(I am not sure I dare read "The Silence of the Lambs", it's scary and since I have figured out, that I am going to be their all by myself...)

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan "As I got off the plane, he was waiting for me, holding up a scrap of cardboard with my name scribbled on it..."

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) by J. K. Rowling (This title will be released on Saturday, July 16, 2005).
(My cruise will therefore start after Saturday, July 16, 2005)

Who are you going to pass this book meme baton to and why? (only three people)

I am quite eager to see what Paul, the author of "Confession of a Quackbuster" will have to say on this topic. Your experience and knowledge in chiropractic and quackery are huge, now let me know what else you're reading. You are the one, that introduced me to the blogosphere (*smiler*).

I am also curious to know what Skeptico is reading, he is such a wonderful writer and his blog is one of my favourite. I am certain he must read some really great books that I want to read too.

I also want to pass this on to Danny Boy, he runs a great blog called The Heathen Hold. I imagine he reads lots of interesting skeptical books.

I hope you will all take the challenge and do the Book Meme. My apologies to you if you already were hit by the meme or if you by reason don't want to join the game (remember the curse). Then please pass it away to someone else.

There's normally a curse if you break a chain - so - If you break the chain, you'll know.

Somehow it was really hard to come up with the answers, but I didn't break the chain. Someone asking the same question another time might get a totally different answer. I am satisfied, and you my reader - I hope you enjoyed it.

Have you read the "Fahrenheit 451"-book, then another challenge is here:
40-question quiz and Fahrenheit 451 Quiz

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Many articles in medical journals are ghostwritten to order for drug companies

It is a problem that many articles in medical journals are ghostwritten to order for drug companies. Faculty members are recruited to have their names appear as authors.

Will doctors be able to trust articles in journals and rely on the experts whose names adorn them?

How can we make sure that it is academic articles?

Further reading here.

Friday, April 22, 2005

It is hard to claim pure motives when suggesting that patients try untested therapies

Here is a link to the editorial by James Glazer on the Ethics of Alternative Medicine.

The article explains how physicians are motivated to use alternative medicine by patients asking about herbs or magnets, and why it is wrong to use a placebo even if the patient feels relief from a treatment.

Some of the reasons mentioned are that lying can't outweigh the damage done to the patient's autonomy and trust. Another reason is that it is only assumed that placebo will not hurt, safety is not really proven to today's randomized, controlled standards.

The ethics of alternative medicine is not an alternative standard.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Smart people believe weird things, they do

It is certainly entertaining to hear about other people's weird beliefs, because we are confident that we would never be so foolish.

But why do smart people fall for such things?

Michael Shermer's answer to this question: Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for no smart reasons.

Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.

Read the rest of the article:

Smart people believe weird things by Michael Shermer

Smart people use, what the article call "confirmation bias", to defend their beliefs.

The key is teaching how science works, not just what science has discovered. Science is not a database of unconnected facts, but a set of methods designed to describe and interpret phenomena, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. If you don't learn how science works you are not able to apply your scientific knowledge to evaluate pseudoscientific claims.

So for those lacking a fundamental comprehension of how science works, pseudoscience becomes hard to resist, no matter how smart you are.

Students should be taught how to think, not what to think.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Benveniste could not reproduce his own experiments and water still has no memory

In 1985 Benveniste began experimenting with human white blood cells involved in allergic reactions, called basophils. These possess tiny granules containing substances such as histamine, partly responsible for the allergic response. The granules can be stained with a special dye, but they can be decolourised (degranulated) by a substance called anti-immunoglobulin E or aIgE. Benveniste claimed that he continued to observe basophil degranulation even when the aIgE had been diluted out of existence, but only as long as each dilution step, as with the preparation of homoeopathic remedies, was accompanied by strong agitation.

In 1988 he and colleagues managed to publish a paper in Nature (Nature 1988; 333:316-318) that appeared to demonstrate that homeopathically prepared antiserum for IgE could cause human basophil degranulation. This appeared to be clear evidence of the efficacy of a homeopathic remedy , since no placebo response was possible in isolated cells.

Benveniste could not reproduce his own experiments, that is fact. The only ones capable of repeating the experiment were first his assistant Davenas and later his assistant Jamal. Benveniste has even tried to get a paper published on the Jamal-effect, that would explain why nobody else could replicate the experiment. Like the parapsychologists explaining that paranormal feats can not be reproduced when there is a skeptic around. Benveniste apparently choose not to use Occam's razor, which suggests more likely explanations such as: Davenas and Jamal are not capable of carrying out a proper experiment, or they're not capable of making correct measurements, or they're not capable of handling the equipment or they have given Benveniste the results he wanted to please him.

Benveniste's own last public words before he died, suggest that he himself was unable to ever reliably replicate his own work. Here it says: After his own experience, Benveniste advises caution. "This is interesting work, but Rey's experiments were not blinded and although he says the work is reproducible, he doesn't say how many experiments he did," he says. "As I know to my cost, this is such a controversial field, it is mandatory to be as foolproof as possible."

Since Benveniste (or anyone else) could not reproduce his own experiments, homeopathy still appears to be an elaborate method for the manufacture of placebos.

Interesting links:
Experiments past and future
(the original, with tables, pictures and links)
Human basophil degranulation is not triggered by very dilute antiserum against human IgE
(A subsequent study by Hirst et al., duplicated the conditions under which Benveniste reported positive results and could find no effect of the treatment on degranulation (Nature 1993; 366: 525-527).)
Homeopathy: The Test - programme summary
Thanks for the memory
Icy claim that water has memory

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Randi’s money

Sylvia agreed to the suggested protocol for a definitive test of her claimed powers, for the JREF million-dollar prize.

The number of days that have passed since she accepted goes up day by day.

Psychic's don't get their power for things that benefit themselve. In other words, if that million was going to charity, and it was up to her to get it there, she would take up this challenge. Then why doesn't she take the challenge? What (outside of the fact that she's a liar and fraud) is keeping her from winning the challenge on those terms? And what would there be to prevent Sylvia (or any other psychic) from handing the money over to a charity immediately upon receiving it?

Psychic power is only testable when love is the motive. Otherwise it fails. Does love of money count? Is this a 100% applies-to-everyone rule or is it just a general principle? Can we assume that anyone who has made money out of their super-psychic powers is a fraud or is that just a good guess? I'm pretty sure Sylvia loves money.

Sylvia Browne stated on George Noory's Coast To Coast that the JREF does not really have the $1,000,000 to award a successful challenger that proves a genuine paranormal power under controlled circumstances, even though it has been repeatedly told that the money is being held in trust by the financial planning firm of Goldman, Sachs, and Co. Why doesn't she contact Goldman-Sachs and ask them?

Science has tested psychis claims for over one hundred years and have found nothing.

I'll make a prediction for 2005: Sylvia Browne will continue to refuse to honour her statement that she would accept the JREF challenge.

Some few links:
Sylvia Browne: Psychic Guru or Quack?
Sylvia Browne near the death
Google: Sylvia Browne

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Open Minded...or Mindless?

Open-mindedness should mean you have the ability and are willing to examine ideas and issues without prejudice in order to form an opinion and to re-examine your opinion in light of new evidence.

It does not mean you must be a garbage can for what someone wants to pour into your brain.

Being skeptical and discussing complementary medicine, ghost or spirit, - you often are accused not to be open-minded enough.

You don't have the acknowledgment outside rationality, because it's only the chosen people that can experience that. It cannot be discussed with rational argues, because it's a revelation.

But it is behind common sense and rationality answering back with you aren’t open-minded enough. It only stress that we talk of believing, not knowing. True believers tend to care less about the truth; the good feeling is what counts. Reasonable objections and doubts are met with suspicion and disconfirming evidence is something the believers "open minds" cannot easily cope with.

Being open minded is usually associated with good things - like being fair, unbiased, receptive, tolerant, and so on contrary to be closed-minded. Open-mindedness can also be a negative trait, -there are limits. Someone totally open minded is considered naive.

If you enough time have the same bad experience, then it is foolish to continue being open-minded about the same experience.

Using an example for emphasis sake (from real life) from the Liver Flush Support Forum (Curezone):

Message 1: The epsom salt successfully gave me severe diarrhea, but I didn't pass any stones.
Message 2: How many flushes have you done? It took me like 6 before I got any stones out- and about 4 or 5 before I even saw anything!
Message 3: Have you tried doing the parasite cleanse first. What was your reason for doing the flushing in the first place?
Message 4: hi, it took me over a dozen flushes to realize.

This is open-mindedness to the extreme (I will call it foolish).

And to point out;
It is just as important to be a critic as it is to be open-minded.
Separately both parts become foolish.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Spotting Anti-Aging Scams

Anti-aging scams have become a multibillion dollar industry. Perls has identified 15 red flags that should tip consumers off to potentially bogus anti-aging claims.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I need all the anti-aging news I can get (Part 2)

I still wish to stay young forever.

I wonder what happens if I eat a high-dose supplements every day the rest of my life. Will I soften the threat of premature aging, death and chronic diseases by doing that?

I’ve seen some confusing news in the paper about vitamin E and I now wonder about its safety.

I am an ordinary person; I want to find out what is true and what isn’t?

Here they claim that Science Says You Need High-Dose Supplements, is that correct? They use eight scientific studies, to show why you need supplements - but no useful references.

Top scientists call vitamin E safe and beneficial, this web page have testimonials and you can reorder their products. I see all the signs of quackery and nothing to prove that vitamin E is safe and beneficial.

Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) claim that vitamin E supplementation is safe and do no harm at all, because it's like all vitamins, essential for life. The benefits of vitamin E is protection against free radicals, heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration and it improves brain function enchancing short term memory while reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Can I believe that? Possibly this web site is supported by the dietary supplements industry, and they do not present any information which would suggest that any supplements are unsafe or harmful.

I also found a study published in a refereed medical journal published by the National Cancer Institute. The study was double-blinded and placebo-controlled with 540 participants. I consider that must be pretty reliable information:

Vitamin E has adverse effects on recurrence of cancer and survival in cancer patients.

Read about it here:
A randomized trial of antioxidant vitamins to prevent second primary cancers in head and neck cancer patients.

CONCLUSIONS: alpha-Tocopherol supplementation produced unexpected adverse effects on the occurrence of second primary cancers and on cancer-free survival.

Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality.

CONCLUSION: High-dosage (> or =400 IU/d) vitamin E supplements may increase all-cause mortality and should be avoided.

Many benefits of vitamin E found in previous studies are due to natural /gamma/ -tocopherol found in foods. Besides that, the health benefits of nut consumption are attributed partly to the tocotrienols they contain.

In this prospective study, higher concentrations of plasma gamma-tocopherol were associated with a statistically significant lower risk of developing prostate cancer.

CONCLUSIONS: The use of combined - and - tocopherol supplements should be considered in upcoming prostate cancer prevention trials, given the observed interaction between -tocopherol, -tocopherol, and selenium.

MY CONCLUSION, so far- is that eating high-dose supplements of E vitamin every day isn't always safe. In some cases E supplements may increase all-cause mortality and should directly be avoided and in other cases there are unexpected effects. Truly, E vitamin can be unsafe or harmful. Vitamins E from real food causes absolutely none of the artificially produced negative effects as seen in the mentioned studies.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I need all the anti-aging news I can get, because my birthday is coming soon (Part 1)

I wish to stay young forever, maybe I should join an antiaging medicine programs, a new specialty area called anti-aging medicine – managing the aging process with hormonal and metabolic therapies to keep our bodies healthy.

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I found a program run by Dr. Smith. He promotes himself as a physician offering a complete antiaging program based on the Cenegenics Institute Age Management Medicine philosophy.

That sounds good, so I visited Cenegenics Institute web page. Their physicians are certified in Age Management Medicine and they claim to be experienced in hormone modulation therapies, nutritional strategies and exercise science.

What do they mean by certified in Age Management Medicine?

First thing I found out about Dr. Smith is that he retired his Psychiatric practice in 1998 and pursued a second career in the nutraceutical industry. He's certified by The Cenegenics Institute, The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, American Society of Addiction Medicine and The Forensic Board of Medical Examiners.

As far as I can figure out: The Cenegenics Institute have their own certificates and they aren't available for public. The clue was blind, I couldn't get any further without paying (the only reason for asking for my annual income everywhere on that web page). It is possible to be certificated here, but (I dont get it), what has psychiatry and neurology to do with Age Management Medicine? I found that Dr. Schmidt is certified in addiction medicine (1988). I must mention that the list of ASAM member names is provided as a public service and does not imply a recommendation or endorsement by ASAM.

I must realise it is difficult to do any kind of scientific research on anti-aging medicine.

Anti-aging medicine are obviously not supported by scientific evidence, some of the claims might intentionally be false, misleading or exaggerated for commercial reasons.

Since I found no evidence, I tried searching PubMed and this came up:

Position statement on human aging by Olshansky SJ, Hayflick L, Carnes BA.
(School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, 60612, USA.

A large number of products are currently being sold by antiaging entrepreneurs who claim that it is now possible to slow, stop, or reverse human aging. The business of what has become known as antiaging medicine has grown in recent years in the United States and abroad into a multimillion-dollar industry. Read more.
And more.

My conclusion so far is that Age Management Medicine are big business, nothing else.

I guess claims of this kind have been made for thousands of years, and they are still false today as they were in the past.

Some few links:
Quackwatch about anti-aging
The Truth about Human Aging

Monday, April 11, 2005

An interview with a Harvard Epidemiologist Walter Willett (related to Michael Crichton)

Interviewer: The science of risk-factor epidemiology is controversial these days because of what people call the "carcinogen-" or "anxiety-of-the-week syndrome." It seems that every week the newspapers carry a new and usually contradictory study telling us what we should or should not eat. Is this our imagination, or is there really a problem?

Willett: It's true; there is a problem. Part of it is this very direct link between ongoing work and what comes out in The New York Times. The natural course of science is that people do studies and report finding something, but nobody believes it too much-and, hopefully, neither do the investigators-until it's reproduced by other researchers. But in the meantime, it's on the front page of the newspaper. So there is this tendency for the least substantiated findings to be the ones coming out in the popular press, when in fact this is simply part of the scientific process, and a lot of suspected associations are not ready for the public to take action or even worry about.

The complete interview here.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Crichton and the broad scientific consensus on global warming

(I've been writing about this issue before here and here)

Almost everybody with a radio or television has heard, over and over again, that the earth is getting warmer.

Scientists who are knowledgable about paleoclimate are aware that the earth is still warming up from the "Little Ice Age" (which ended in the mid 1800's) and so it is rather a truism that we are experiencing "global warming". We have also recently experienced "global cooling".

Crichton is critized to be against science with his latest State of fear.

Crichton uses his book for making at least two substantive arguments:

First, Crichton argues, the scientific evidence for global warming is weak. We don't understand the complexities of global warming well enough to do anything but make educated guesses. The evidence of this warming trend relies on computer modeling of phenomena that are not well understood. For instance, we are not clear on exactly what the global effects of a 1 degree rise or a 5 degree rise may be. And we are not clear on how much cloud cover will change and what results that will have.

Crichton rejects many of the conclusions reached by the National Academy of Sciences and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—for example, he does not believe that global temperature increases in recent decades are most likely the result of human activities.

Second, Crichton argues that concern about global warming is best understood as a fad. In particular, he argues that many people concerned about global warming follow a herd mentality, failing critically to examine the data. Crichton's critique extends more broadly to the news media, intelligentsia and general public.

I think, it's necessary to look upon pseudoscience (and science as well) with a critical eye, because human psychology can lead us into error and mistakes. My impression, is that Crichton is pro-science but with a critical eye. He wants more and better science to sharpen the picture of global warming.

A new collection of carnivals

Visit Science And Politics here. They gathered a whole collection of carnivals with names, contents, previous and next entries.

To mention some few, that I like most:

Next Skeptics Circle will be at SocraticGadfly (April 14, 2005).

Next Tangled Bank will appear by Bora at Circadiana.

Entire Grand Rounds Archives can be found here.

If you have an interest in science, nature, medicine, debunking psuedoscience and supernatural claims, sent your submission.

You know Blogger can be very annoying, so start getting your posts ready as soon as possible.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A story about a patient who was convinced he was dead

The psychiatrist asked him "Do dead men bleed?" and the patient said "No, they don't." So the psychiatrist stuck the patient with a pin and made him bleed. The patient looked at the blood and said, "By golly, dead men DO bleed!"

My point is that you can't argue anyone out of a belief.

A true believer won't listen to you.

They will insist their own intuition and experience outweigh any amount of external proof and evidence.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Personality test are all over the internet

If any branch of psychology truly fits the definition of pseudoscience, it's the personality tests.

I would be interested to see evidence that they actually really accurately describe people. That would be a hell of a double-blind test to set up.

The notion of extrapolating results to whole populations is so unscientific as to be ridiculous.

Personality tests are fun, but I don't believe they're scientific.

Some background:

In 1949, Psychologist Bertram R. Forer (1914-2000) published an eye-opening study that he called a demonstration of gullibility. Forer found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves, without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone else.

Consider the following as if it were given to you as an evaluation of your personality.

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

Skeptic's Dictionary: the Forer effect (a.k.a. the P.T. Barnum effect and subjective validation)

This description could be applied to anyone. If people think the statements are positive and desirable enough, they will tend to accept them. Even false or questionable statements about ourselves might be accepted. People often feel they have been provided with valuable and personal information, which they actually have not.

Forer simply convinced people he could successfully read their character.

The most common explanations given to account for the Forer effect are in terms of hope, wishful thinking, vanity and the tendency to try to make sense out of experience, though Forer's own explanation was in terms of human gullibility.

The Forer Effect explains why so many people believe in pseudoscience like astrology, astrotherapy, chiromancy, enneagrams, biorhythms and personality tests.

Amusingly, the Forer effect is also called the "Barnum effect" in reference to P.T. Barnum's superior ability to manipulate people.

The problem is that people don't fall so easily into box categories. When you are presented with a question, such as "Do you only buy the things that you need?", limitations imposed on the subject's response ("like yes", "most of the times", "some of the time" or "ha, ha very funny") means that they cannot accurately record a real answer, which was the whole purpose of the quiz.

When personality tests are at their worst, they are used for hiring decisions; employers are making evaluations and hiring decisions on the basis of simplistic type tests.

Many people mistakenly view personality tests and their original intended purpose inaccurately as something intended to comprehensively define a person into an overly-simplistic category.

Pop personality tests are, at best, an amusing ice-breaker for parties or other forms of interactive group entertainment. Simplistic, 45-question tests of a multiple choice nature by no means provide any kind of in-depth profile of an individual.

Did you try the online personality test based on Forer’s?

My personality type was calculated to the personality "ZXNC":

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them.

You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.

You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.

At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

And what about this one: The pig serves as a useful test of the personality traits of the drawer

I must reveal I draw the pig toward the middle of the paper meaning I am a realist. Because I draw my pig facing the front, that means I am directly, I enjoy playing devil's advocate, I don't fear or avoid discussions. Since I didn't made many details, I am supposed to be less analytical, cautious, and distrustful. Instead I am a risk taker, emotional and naive (I was in a hurry, when I did the test). I am living through a period of major change, I did less than 4 legs. The size of the ears indicates how good a listener you are, mine were big so I am a great listener! The length of the tail indicates the quality of your sex life. I better not say anything about whether I draw a tail or not (*LOL*).

These descriptions could be applied to anyone, I guess - and they have no scientific value at all.

Take some of the test and be amused, but don't count on it's the truth:
Find out how your brain works
An easy way to learn more about yourself

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

This is cruelty

Ana Mosquera Ramirez is calling herself a scientist.
(I think you should make your own judgement).

Her web site:

Translate her web site by clicking here, then paste the URL and translate it from Spanish to English.

Ana Mosquera Ramirez use the Scientific Method in the Phases of IONIZATION to cure this little baby from Downs Syndrome, she claim that the patient she is curing is going to be completely normal.

Here is some facts of Downs syndrome, and there is no such cure - Downs Syndrome is a genetic failure.

Brain Death vs. Physical Life

Here is an interesting article about brain death vs. physical life.

It is focusing on the most private of matters, an individual's right to die and what does the word "alive" mean?

The cerebral cortex is the home to our essential humanity, our personality, ability to communicate, our awareness and memories. And the base of the brain controls the basic bodily functions. If you're brain death, then both the cortex and the base of the brain aren't functioning. If only the cortex stop functioning, you actually are fallen into a kind of grey zone between brain death and physical life.

Writing a Living Will can be very helpful to inform about right-to-die decisions. Also discuss with family what is important to you, may be a kind of key to ensure your wishes.

Further information:
Schiavo case published in the April 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (PDF).

Once more, a new great Tangled Bank

Orac is hosting a blog carnival today called Tangled Bank. It's like Grand Rounds, but devoted to posts about science (both medical, biological, physical or any other science).

Anyone can submit an entry, even if you don't routinely write about medicine or biology, if you think you've said something interesting and insightful, send it to the Tangled Bank.

More Tangled Bank and how to do here.

The next Tangled Bank will appear two weeks from now by Bora at Circadiana.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Varicella-Related Deaths

Measles is a serious disease. After reading this report I realize that varicella can kill even healthy children, too.

Information from the report: During 2003 and the first half of 2004, CDC received reports of eight varicella-related deaths. Six of the eight deaths occurred among children and adolescents aged <20.

Varicella is >95% preventable by vaccination.

Nevertheless, old fashioned chickenpox parties have become popular among parents who distrust vaccines. It goes this way: Parents whose kids come down with the pox are calling the neighbours, and inviting everyone over for some direct exposure.

But exposure is dangerous, because people can and do die from the disease.

In the pre-vaccine days, about 100 people died each year from chicken pox.

A Feb. 3 article in the New England Journal of Medicine
Conclusions: the program of universal childhood vaccination against varicella in the United States has resulted in a sharp decline in the rate of death due to varicella.

The Effectiveness of the Varicella Vaccine in Clinical Practice
Conclusions: Varicella vaccine is highly effective as used in clinical practice.

Can varicella be eliminated by vaccination?
Conclusions: In summary, routine childhood varicella vaccination appears to be a highly efficient strategy to significantly reduce the sizeable burden of varicella and would lead to net savings from both the societal but also the payer perspective.

What is so difficult to understand about these facts?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Common types of fallacious techniques used in discussions at the blogosphere

It's not always easy to debate objectively when strong feelings are involved.

I have noticed several kinds of arguments at the blogosphere.

When you argue with true believers (could be both religious and people believing in CAM), some of the arguments could be both unpleasant and invalid.

Some common types of fallacious techniques comes here:

First we have the argument from incredulity. It's an appeal to ignorance, an argument that there is no proof the hypothesis in question is false, like the famous one where theologians argue their hypothesis of an invisible x. It's one even a genius like Galileo could not prove false.
Example I: This is unexplainable (meaning, I can't explain this).

This is the argument from personal incredulity, and it contains the unwritten assumption that the speaker is a genius who should be able to understand everything unless he is missing an assumption. So the genius concludes that some assumption (aliens, psi, whatever) is true.

Example II: Scientists cannot explain this (meaning, as far as I know, science can't explain this).

This variation contains the unwritten assumption that scientists are superhuman geniuses and should be able to understand everything unless they are missing an assumption. In many cases - it is simply not true - scientists do have an explanation, and the speaker just doesn't know it.

Second technique to use is attacking the person instead of dealing with an argument.

Example III: Thanks for the heads up concerning this nut. I went to his websites and wow! What a joke! Is this guy for real.

Example IV: He is creepy on the internet and fucking scary in person.

Example V: You will find out later, when this happens to you, you will realise that I am right. (Galileo-trick: I am a misunderstood genius)

Third is to quote something out of context. When quoting another source, it is important to quote enough of the passage or speech to convey the true meaning. Quoting out of context is a technique that uses isolated statements pulled from their original context in order to (usually) contradict the intended meaning. This technique is used in several different ways to discredit the author of the quote, to discredit the idea itself or to gain credibility for an idea that is not supported by the full context. A slight variation of this technique is selective reasoning, choosing the facts that fit and discarding the rest.

Fourth, another way of arguing is to repeat your point over and over again. This method only works if you're arguing with somebody that is less quick than yourself. A quicker person than yourself will probably come up with some argument which is even more valid than your own, and it won't help you repeating yourself.

If a person uses bad arguments, you can't conclude that the person's opinion is wrong. It is logically possible that someone got his picture of the world right, but gives hundreds of wrong, illogical, and ignorant reasons for it.

Since science is about the logic of the argument, I can't logically conclude that the opinion of true believers is wrong, only their arguments are wrong or invalid. Using personal attacks is also considered to be an invalid "argument".

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Saturday Night Links (Fever?) is here

(It's going to be a little different than last time)

Do you remember Saturday Night Fever? It was a wonderful movie. When it came out the disco phase had hit and this movie added to it. I remember doing the dances from this movie and having so much fun.

If this should have been in chronological order, I should have mentioned this first: Gone With The Wind (1939), which is often considered the most beloved, enduring and popular film of all time. I shared this film several times with my best friend and it's a classic.

Dawid Bowie, he was really my star. Which David Bowie are you? He has been a varied artist, with Ziggy Stardust, heroes, China Girl, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and so on. See him here and here. I remember the great concert in Baden Segeberg with David Bowie.

Image hosted by

The 70's was also mini skirts, hot pants, loon pants, New Wave, Prince Charles grows a beard, the Beatles split, John, Paul, George and Ringo go solo, the Osmonds, Slade and T-Rex/Marc Bolan (some of my favourite's), David Bowie became the biggest UK act since The Beatles, the Bay City Rollers, Abba, the Village People and much more.

This is past, now we have another great time:

Read "The Travelling Story" in The Examing Room of Dr. Charles. It's a fabulous story, written by seven medical bloggers, and probably the first of its kind on the internet.

go fug yourself has become go hug yourself, what will be next?

Then a new carnival "Smarter Than I" came up, submit something that's not your own and smarter (a lot of submissions are coming from me).

See who links to your web site.