My rants, complaints, and criticisms

Criticism > Sunday, January-16-2011

A Random Dose Of WTF: Dinosaur Sonic Weapons

Keywords: video, bad reporting

Here's a clip I captured from a documentary called "Clash of the Dinosaurs":

Notice how this claim is made in no uncertain terms, like it's just a paleontological fact that's widely accepted in the scientific community?

By the way, I know we have some sonic weapons that generate a painful high pitched sound, there's no need to write in and remind me of that.  The thing is, though, if it was confirmed that we could actually scramble an enemy's brains or knock them over with sound, our sonic weapons would be much more awesome than they actually are.

Criticism > Sunday, August-29-2010

Doing Paranormal Investigations The Wrong Way Can Be Deadly!

Keywords: paranormal

Investigating the paranormal properly, as detailed in Ben Radford's book "Scientific Paranormal Investigation", is not only a good idea in terms of acquiring knowledge.  It can also prevent you from doing something so foolish that you get yourself killed.

In a tragic incident this past Friday, a man lost his life while searching for evidence of a "ghost train".  Out of a dozen or so companion ghost hunters, he was the only casualty.  But it could  have easily been worse.

According to urban legends, at the anniversary and place of this historic crash, it's possible to hear the sounds of the crash and catch a glimpse of what happened on that fateful day.

The problem is that the crash took place on a bridge, and the tracks are still subjected to heavy railroad traffic.  Our ragtag band of ghost enthusiasts made the very poor decision to walk out onto the bridge in order to try and catch a glimpse of this phenomenon.

Well, there was the sound of a train and people screaming in terror.... but it didn't come from any ghosts.

You can bet that none of these ghost hunters made the slightest effort to look at original sources or figure out exactly what they were looking for.  I'm betting they just figured that if they could get as close to the purported scene of the accident as possible, something might happen.

But they had no reason to expect that they'd have a better view of any phenomenon from on the bridge rather than safely next to it.  A proper scientific investigation would never involve venturing out onto the bridge when there was no information suggesting that it would do any good.

Hell, good science tries to manage risk and control as many variables as possible, so even if it did look like heading out onto the bridge was necessary it would be imperative to coordinate such efforts with the railroad authorities first. 

But these people weren't trying to conduct good scientific investigation.  They were just hoping for a ghost experience so that they could have a cheap thrill.  That attitude lead to a foolish decision, and the loss of one man's life.

Criticism > Tuesday, July-13-2010

The Land Of Oz Is A Funny, Funny Place

Keywords: Mehmet Oz, woo, alternative medicine, health

Probably the biggest illustration today of how health woo concepts have made it into the mainstream virtually unchallenged is personified by doctor Mehmet Oz, co-author of the YOU books and endorsed by the queen of television herself, Oprah Winfrey.

Doctor Mehmet Oz

It's dismaying that he's become so popular and his health advice is often taken as gospel by so many, because a lot of what he has to say is pure nonsense.

The interesting dichotomy here is that Dr. Oz is a trained, and by all accounts competent, heart surgeon.  He knows how to fix your ticker, and with the exception of possibly allowing a medically untrained woman into the room to align your body's healing energies while you're under, he adheres to the best medical practices for doing so.

But his knowledge of other areas of medicine is decidedly spotty.  He's like a mechanic who can fix your engine with the best of them, but if you ask him to take a look at your brakes he's suddenly out of his depth.  And it wouldn't be so bad if he'd admit his limitations, but instead he pretends that he actually knows what he's talking about, and has fooled a lot of people into believing it.

The biggest problem is that he has very little understanding for the standards of scientific evidence required in medicine.  That's not necessarily an impediment for a doctor - after all, diagnosing and treating medical conditions doesn't absolutely require that kind of skill.  But if you want to keep up with the latest medical research, you should have enough an understanding of science and statistics that you can read the research critically. 

Otherwise your forced into choosing between credulous acceptance or cynical denial, neither of which is useful at all.  Dr. Oz falls into this camp, credulously accepting many woo claims while cynically playing down the abilities of western "allopathic" medicine.

He explains his view in this quote from his book "Healing From The Heart", where he explains his feelings on the Grandmother Cell Theory, which suggests that everything we know and feel about a person (such as a grandmother) is contained in a single neuron in the brain:
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Criticism > Tuesday, June-01-2010

Depressing Statement On Accepted Medical Practice

Keywords: woo, alternative medicine, acupuncture

I've commented before about how woo style medicine has weaseled it's way into the mainstream medical mindset.  The Acupuncture study I mentioned yesterday contains a particularly depressing example of this.

From the journal Nature:

Acupuncture is a procedure in which fine needles are inserted into an individual at discrete points and then manipulated, with the intent of relieving pain. Since its development in China around 2,000 B.C., acupuncture has become worldwide in its practice. Although Western medicine has treated acupuncture with considerable skepticism, a broader worldwide population has granted it acceptance. For instance, the World Health Organization endorses acupuncture for at least two dozen conditions and the US National Institutes of Health issued a consensus statement proposing acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention for complementary medicine. Perhaps most tellingly, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service approved acupuncture as a deductible medical expense in 1973.

Is it any wonder that people are so confused about health and the human body when mainstream medical sources... and the IRS (which for some strange reason is "most telling" in this regard), are giving credence to a treatment that is just not backed up by the evidence?

Criticism > Tuesday, April-06-2010

Mobile Phoney Fears

Keywords: statistics

I came across this article on canoe.ca by Vikram Sheel Kumar, MD.  The article is entitled "Mobile phones are safe... we think.  What we can do while the jury is out."

This is one of those articles that really depresses me, because it demonstrates vividly that we're just not adequately teaching our medical professionals critical thinking and how to understand science!

The jury is not "out" on mobile phones.  The jury can only be "out" on the issue if there was ever any reason for the jury to be convened in the first place.  The fact is that there's absolutely no reason to suspect that radiation from mobile phones is dangerous.

Dr. Kumar seems to have some idea that this is the case, and admits as much in the course of the article.  But then goes on to make his case based solely on an argument from ignorance.  It hasn't been proven absolutely that cell phone radiation doesn't cause cancer.... therefore, there's cause for concern.  :wall:

Let me quote from the article:
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Criticism > Thursday, March-25-2010

Bioelectric Skin Cream: ION POWER!!

Keywords: product

The wife just showed me this blurb from the beauty section of May's issue of Canadian Living magazine:

Ion Skin Cream

I guess it must be valid...  after all, I've never seen an electric eel with wrinkles!

This isn't an ad, just part of a review of hot beauty tips and the like.  No thought towards critically examining this claim, it's just accepted wholesale.

Apparently, it's so "scientific" that you have to use two bottles of crap instead of just one.

And at $47 per 14ml, I'm assuming that this product will also infuse you with Super Ion Crime Fighting Powers as well.

Criticism > Saturday, January-16-2010

Is Google "Hostile To Privacy"?

Keywords: study, statistics, bad reporting

Some of you may remember that back in 2007 a group called Privacy International released a report on the state of privacy practices in top internet service companies.  They gave Google their lowest rating, "Hostile To Privacy".  Google was the only company to receive this dubious honour.  It made the headlines for a few days, after which nobody talked about it.

Well, three years after the fact, I'm going to talk about it.  The reason I want to talk about it is because I think it provides a great example of the benefits of going to the source and actually looking at the data involved.

I want to assure you up front that I'm no Google apologist.  I think there are some very good points of criticism that we can level against Google regarding it's data policies.  That being said, this study by Privacy International is just a huge fail on all levels.  It's a half-assed sloppy piece of drivel that I believe was only released for the publicity value.

Normally I wouldn't go that far in my language when criticizing a study, but I think this is one case where it is warranted.  Read on and I'm confident that you'll agree with me.
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Criticism > Sunday, January-10-2010

The Weather Network's Inappropriate Segment

Keywords: video, holistic, woo, health, alternative medicine, bad reporting

As a Canadian, I'm sorely disappointed in this clip that I recorded from the Weather Network a few weeks ago:

For a news network that has put out many segments relating to bona fide useful health tips (click here for videos), a piece like this can definitely give people the wrong impression.  I realize that they couched their language in such a way as to avoid giving this woman's views an outright endorsement, but that's not going to cut it.  Just making this piece at all is completely inappropriate, and will give people the impression that the weather network is okay with this kind of thing.
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