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Water and Placebos DO Have Effects

by Norman Sperling, May 15, 2011 Some substances that are usually regarded as having no effect actually do have effects. * Water, as in homeopathic treatments. * Placebos, as in medical tests and treatments. I have seen homeopathic treatments strongly criticized as being useless and having no effect, because they’re "only" water. Yet water itself has many effects. * Peeing usually makes you feel better. * Drinking a lot of water is recommended for several medical and nutritional situations. It is suspected to dilute or flush precipitates that would otherwise form painful kidney stones, for example. * And drinking a lot is often recommended in treating colds and other illnesses. So plain old water, whether labeled homeopathic or not, CAN have effects. "Placebo" is Latin for "I make you feel good". That’s an effect, not the absence of one. (By that centuries-old definition, boyfriends and girlfriends are placebos.) In the last half century, "placebo"’s definition and applications have changed importantly several times, but discussions rarely specify which version is meant. Always check just what speakers and writers mean by the term. Placebos are rarely neutral and rarely have zero effects. Many different substances that have been used as placebos have known effects. * Sugar, as in "sugar pills", makes people feel better. Huge quantities of sugary

Skeptics in the Pub Egg Balancing on (almost) the EquinoxDid you know you can balance an egg on the Equinox?! Wow!! And this year, with the gravitational pull of the "super Moon", or something, the powers should be even stronger, or something, and eggs should be balanceable even more easily! Well, the Bay Area Skeptics in the Pub for March 19 -- OK, the day BEFORE the actual card-carrying equinox -- found egg balancing possible, but something of a chore. This picture shows three eggs balanced at the same time, which I think was a record. The dozen eggs we had to work with seemed almost symmetrical, with none of the "bottom heavy" morphology most eggs have. Balancing them was much more difficult than other eggs at previous BAS spring rituals. At the next SitP, we'll try again to balance eggs, and I'll report back. (Because indeed, one can balance eggs on the Equinox, and any other day, as well. Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog discusses Martin Gardner's history of how this Chinese folk ritual became an American urban legend: 
Friends, you will enjoy an excellent column by John Carroll on March 2, 2011. Link is here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/02/28/DDTE1I0BVH.DTL We need lots more journalistic efforts like this to help the public understand that no, science does not know all the answers (it isn't a list of completed explanations), rather, it's a process that ends up (often) with our asking a lot more questions than we began with. Furthermore, it's really exciting that there are so many things yet to learn. And scientists aren't upset having to say, "I don't know yet." Check it out.

The demonstrators wore white t-shirts with ???1023 Homeopathy: There???s Nothing In It??? emblazoned in blue. One demonstrator, Athena, had blue hair to match. We assembled at the corner of Franklin & California Streets10:23 T-Shirt: 10:23 T-Shirt in San Francisco with a banner & leaflets to protest the marketing of homeopathic ???remedies??? by Whole Foods, CVS, Walgreens, and others. Similar and simultaneous demonstrations were taking place in 22 other cities on all seven continents around the planet. We passed out the small information leaflets, took pictures of each other, and chatted in uncharacteristically warm weather. Among the demonstrators were folk from The Exploratorium, the California Academy of Science, Atheist Nexus, Reason 4 Reason, East Bay Skeptics Society, two board members from the Bay Area Skeptics, miscellaneous skeptics, scientists, programmers, and students. At 10:23 AM, we all quaffed ???over-doses??? of homeopathic remedies ??? sort of. Since ???real??? homeopathic fake medicine costs ???r

Relayed from Jay Diamond, slightly enriched by Norman Sperling, January 27, 2011 Homeopathy is a popular but widely misunderstood form of alternative "medicine" based on pseudo-scientific principles. Homeopathic "remedies" are allegedly made by diluting questionable remedies with extraordinaryamounts of water - often until there is only a slight chance of one molecule of active ingredient in the final treatment. Extraordinary claims are causing consumers to forego traditional medical treatment, with estimates of Americans spending >$3B per year on this pseudoscience. Stand up for rational thinking and scientific evidence. For more on the 10:23 campaign or homeopathy see http://1023.org.uk . Why 10:23? Think Avogadro's Number. After the event, go to Trader Joe's and enjoy their delicious "Avocado's Number Guacamole". San Francisco, February 5 You are invited to join like-minded skeptics in San Francisco on Saturday morning, February 5, to take part in the worldwide 10:23 campaign to raise awareness on this issue. Demonstrate, supply information, and perform a mass "overdose" to garner attention for this cause. For more information on participation in the San Francisco event, send e-mail to: 1023@reason4reason.org . You MU

Harold Camping's January 2010 Solano Avenue, Berkeley, BillboardHarold Camping's January 2010 Solano Avenue, Berkeley, Billboard My colleague snapped this picture on the way to work this morning. You will find it in Berkeley, on Solano Avenue, near the Oaks Theater. I suppose if there were a place that needed saving, it would be Berkeley, but it also seems a place rather unlikely to take Camping's pronouncements seriously. The worry in all such EOTWAWKI (end of the world as we know it) predictions is that some poor souls DO take such predictions seriously, in the face of failure after failure. But people have been known to sell their homes, give away their belongings, even commit suicide -- and even take the lives of their loved ones. Only to wake up the morning after believing that "there was a miscalculation".

from Mother Jonesfrom Mother Jones In the Bay Area, we've had a lot of fussing about the PG&E Smartmeters that have been installed over the last few years. Much of the opposition comes from a familiar fear about radiation effect. In an article posted today, the magazine Mother Jones attempts to assuage concerns on this as well as some other accounts. A nice graph appears here: http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/01/will-smart-meters-give-you-ca... Skeptics know that the amount and type of radiation emitted by these as well as other familiar devices are not such as to be able to cause cancers and other maladies. Here's a good article from Skeptical Inquirer by an engineer that gives some of the science behind why the concerns about cell phones or power lines is unnecessary. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/

Today a colleague of mine at work brought in a curious black elastic wrist band with two embedded holographic disks in it. A "Power Balance" wrist band, which he found on a path in a park. Such a device, according to testimonials, improves one's athletic performance (balance, stamina, strength, energy, etc) by "optimizing the body's natural energy flow" because it "resonates with and responds to the natural energy field of the body".PowerBalance bracelet PowerBalance bracelet Another colleague told me that according to his son, many athletes at Berkeley High School are quite fond of these bracelets, and are willing to shell out the $29.95 to emulate sports heroes such as the handsome ones depicted on the PowerBalance website. http://www.powerbalance.com/powerbalance Bicyclists also reportedly have claimed the bracelets improve their performance. One might naturally be suspicious of such a claim, and request some evidence that 1) purported energy

More Numerology

A bay area minister has calculated the day of the rapture, and it's May 21 of this year. http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-01-01/bay-area/17466332_1_east-bay-bay-a... As skeptics, we know that predictions of the end of the world and numerology both have very bad track records. For a wonderful summary of failed TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) predictions, scroll down at http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrld.htm. Rev Harold Camping already has a bad track record, having assembled his flock for the end of the world in 1994, an event that even his followers noticed did not occur. He claims he now has a better system that corrects the calculation that led to the previous erroneous date. Camper's current prediction is based on his reading of the Bible and his association of specific numbers (5, 10 and 17) with themes of atonement, "completeness" and heaven. Then he calculates the years from Jesus's crucifiction (April 1, 33 AD) to the current year, multiplies these years by the number of days in a solar year (not a calendar year), a

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