Skeptic Fails and Wins This Week

Playground arsenic no health risk for kids
Frank spotted this win in the Edmonton Journal about playground equipment treated with a chemical that contains arsenic.  It’s a level-headed look at the facts that provides straightforward risk comparisons and advice.  The fear-mongering and sensationalism that you see in so many news stories these days is completely absent. Kudos to Andrea Sands for presenting the facts.

New vaccine-scheduling study deals blow to safety fears
Mitchell spotted this win at Ars Technica covering a recent study released in the journal Pediatrics about the safety of the vaccine schedule.  The new study shows that the amount and frequency of vaccinations toddlers receive had no negative effects on mental performance (in fact there shows a positive correlation).  One thing I particularly liked about this article was that they took the time to explain the methods used in the study, and even pointed out that there could be another effect at work that was not controlled for.  While the facts of the study are presented objectively, the author doesn’t pull punches on accusing the anti-vax movement of being anti-evidence.

Acupuncture? Trust me, this won’t hurt a bit
The Globe and Mail ran this fail as part of their regular series answering the “questions we’ve all wondering about”.  So what question did they answer about acupuncture?   “When should I consider using acupuncture? How do the needles work? How painful are the needles? What are the risks of acupuncture?”   Well, I guess technically I shouldn’t be too hard on this article, because the question isn’t “does acupuncture work”.  However, having a doctor answering these questions without ever mentioning that acupuncture works no better than placebo seems pretty irresponsible to me.

Dr. Adam Chen says “According to practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is an important therapy for every person’s overall well-being.”  Sorry Dr. Adam, I’m pretty sure that readers are turning to you, a doctor, for their opinion on acupuncture, not what ancient people thought.  Oh, and it doesn’t mention anywhere whether Dr. Chen is an M.D., it only says that he is the “associate director of acupuncture at the Rehab and Wellbeing Centre of Mount Sinai in Toronto”.  He could have a PhD in Russian Literature for all we know.  I did a little googling and found this.  He actually has a PhD in Genetics, so he has a scientific background but is not a medical doctor.  I admit, I was surprised to see any legitimate credentials there.   He is also the president of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Physician Association of Canada, so he’s a quack to watch out for.

This article is another in a trend of free ads for quack medicine.  It’s a great scam. Why spend advertising dollars on your business, when you can call yourself an expert, write a news article and get paid to advertise your business.  Is see these types of articles so often, we need a clever name for them.  I’m calling on you clever people to come up with one.

Revisit blood donor ban for gay men: MDs
Marion spotted this article related to her previous post on the subject.  The article covers the historical and current facts about the subject as well as provide recommendations for how the policy could be changed.  As someone with health issues that required me to receive two units of blood last year, I know how important it is to encourage people to donate.  This is certainly a difficult topic, where issues of science and human rights are at odds.  However, it seems that now both perspectives are calling for the same thing; it’s time to reform this policy.  Scientific American also covered the topic here.

Weighing the evidence
The Vancouver Sun ran this piece on the climate change “controversy”.  The author, Dan Gardner, puts the debate in perspective.  On one side there is science, with its method of challenging the current truth, sometimes getting it wrong but able to correct itself and move forward.  Doubts and unknowns come with the territory.  On the other side, you have the zealous deniers who see the doubts and unknowns as weakness, who never change their opinion in the face of evidence, and who view scientists as “professional environmentalists” cashing in on fear.

That’s all the fails and wins for this week.   Keep them coming to the new email address:

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  • Melany Hamill

    Melany proudly uses the titles of both geek and nerd. As a science-enthusiast and fan of debate, Melany likes to get her facts straight. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Since then her career path has meandered to its current spot as a project manager at a video game studio. Melany lives near beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. She is not seeking treatment for her caffeine addiction.