Food Faiths and Diet Religions

  The parade of diet fads is unending; they will continue to proliferate as long as humans have to eat. They have created a hellish world in which every food component is a potential demon: fat, gluten, carbs, sugar, wheat, salt, etc. Diet gurus, both professional and amateur, are always ready to tell us what

Smokey the Bear Medicine and Prevention

When I was an intern, we used to joke that we were practicing “Smokey the Bear” medicine: stamping out forest fires. Patients would wait until a spark of disease had developed into a dangerous flame, and then they’d expect us to deal with it. We were mostly doing disaster control, and we wished we could

Colloidal Silver, Smurfs, and Ebola

Colloidal silver is back! It competed in the ring of science and was thoroughly clobbered. If it had any dignity, it would have stayed down for the count and admitted defeat; but like some bizarre whack-a-mole or zombie it keeps stumbling back to its feet, wanting to fight again. This myth that refuses to die

Evidence: “It Worked for My Aunt Tillie” Is Not Enough

Evidence means different things to different people. Even quacks and their victims claim to have evidence that their treatments work. Sometimes that evidence consists only of testimonials from satisfied customers or from personal experience. “I tried X and I got better.” “I know Y works because it cured my Aunt Tillie’s arthritis.” I had a

Incidentalomas: Too Much Information Can Hurt You

Incidenta-what? An incidentaloma is an unexpected abnormality accidentally found on medical imaging studies done for an unrelated reason. It typically leads to further diagnostic tests, sometimes invasive ones like biopsies and surgery, and it almost always turns out to be something harmless. It would have been better not to know it was there. Sometimes ignorance

Who’s Crazy Now? DSM-5 and the Classification of Mental Disorders

What does it mean to be crazy? We use the word loosely. In casual conversation we might say “He’s crazy” or “That’s insane!” but that doesn’t mean we really think the person is certifiable. Sometimes all it means is “He doesn’t agree with me.” What does it take to be formally diagnosed with a mental

Mirror Neurons and the Pitfalls of Brain Research

In his new book The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition , Gregory Hickok, a professor of cognitive science, challenges current conceptions about mirror neurons. He shows how a complex mythology arose and why it is unwarranted, how experimental results were misinterpreted and disconfirming evidence ignored, and how other interpretations might lead

On Miracles 

Is there such a thing as a miracle? Miracles are defined as unusual events that are not explicable by scientific or natural laws and that are assumed to be the result of supernatural intervention. The very concept is so fuzzy that it borders on the unintelligible. Religious believers refer to many things as miracles: the

Music Hath Charms But “Sound Healing” Hath Nonsense

There is no doubt that music has effects, both pleasant and unpleasant. We respond to music with emotion and with foot-tapping. As Congreve famously said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” Cows produce more milk when music is played in the barn. Infants respond to lullabies. But music can be annoying, too. Many