The Placebo Effect

JANE D. WAS A REGULAR VISITOR TO OUR ER, usually showing up late at night demanding an injection of the narcotic Demerol, the only thing that worked for her severe headaches. One night the staff psychiatrist had the nurse give her an injection of saline instead. It worked! He told Jane she had responded to

Vaccines & Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy

“Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after.” — Jonathan Swift DURING A QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION after a talk I recently gave, I was asked for my opinion about the vaccine/autism controversy. That was easy: my opinion is that there is no controversy. The evidence is in. The scientific community has reached a clear

Science & Morality

Review of Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right’s Crusade against Science, by James H. Fetzer. THIS BOOK STARTS OUT WELL BUT ENDS BADLY. It is an awkward compilation of three different subjects: evolution science, morality, and politics. The science is well done. Fetzer begins by explaining the difference between science and religion, the difference between

“I Reject Your Reality” – Germ Theory Denial and Other Curiosities

Note: This article was originally published in Skeptic magazine. Space limitations resulted in omitting some of what I wanted to say. I’m taking advantage of having a blog to publish the entire article as originally submitted. —————— On an episode of Mythbusters, Adam Savage was shown a video clip that contradicted his memory of something

Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf Lore Mythology?

One-fourth of the veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War complain of persistent memory and concentration problems, chronic headaches, widespread pain, gastrointestinal problems, and other chronic abnormalities not explained by well-established diagnoses. Treatments are ineffective and symptoms do not improve over time. Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a controversial diagnosis, and some have

Snake Oil Science

For my first blog entry, I wanted to write about something important, and I couldn’t think of anything more important than a recent book by R. Barker Bausell: Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine. If you want to understand how medical research works, if you want to know what can lead

But What about Acupuncture?

“Alternative” medicine is by definition medicine that has not been scientifically proven and has not been accepted into mainstream scientific medicine. The question I keep hearing is, “But what about acupuncture? It’s been proven to work, it’s supported by lots of good research, more and more doctors are using it, and insurance companies even pay

Popular Fallacies: Ancient Wisdom, It Works for Me, and Natural is Good

Advocates of so-called alternative medicine (i.e. unproven treatments) don’t always use the best critical thinking skills. False assumptions and logical fallacies abound.  Three that I encounter constantly are (1) “ancient wisdom,” (2) “it works for me,” and (3) “it’s natural.” Ancient Wisdom The argument usually goes something like this: Our wise ancestors used X to

Detoxification Quackery – From Footbaths to Fetishism

The last time I went to the Puyallup fair, I passed a booth where an elderly man and woman were sitting with their feet in basins of water. How nice – a chance to rest their tired feet after a day of walking the fairgrounds! Unfortunately, they weren’t just resting, they were being scammed. The

Ultrasound Screening, Fish Oil, and Ear Candles: Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

I never thought I’d be promoting ignorance!  I’ve always thought the more information, the better; but there are exceptions. I’m going to explain something that is very counterintuitive and grates against every fiber of our truth-seeking skeptical brains. The ad shouts, “Tests That Can Save Your Life… Stroke is America’s third leading killer… Half of

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