Skeptic Fails and Wins This Week

A lot of you were on the lookout for fails and wins this week!  Most of the articles were sent in by several different people.  Thanks for keeping a critical eye on these news stories and sending them in!

Bloggers poke holes in latest acupuncture study
Michael and Scott both spotted this win at CTV criticizing the headlines about a recent acupuncture study. They give credit to the science blog scene for getting the facts straight and give well known skeptic Dr. Steven Novella quite a few lines. The article does a great job of explaining the study and the placebo effect. Definitely a big skeptic win.

Are cellphone towers dangerous? Time will tell
Chris spotted this article in the Vancouver Sun. A woman is concerned about a cellphone tower that could go up on her condo building. She also happens to work for the BC Cancer association, which gives her an air of authority in this story.  Note that she is not concerned about using a cell phone right next to her head, which would expose her to more radiation than a tower that is several stories up.  The story elaborates on her concerns, and the concerns of other citizens. They throw out a few statements about the fact that there is no evidence of harm, but then go right back to quoting non-experts. There are a couple of gems later in the article.

“Health Canada says there is an ‘absence of evidence of harm,’ but…that’s entirely different than evidence of absence of harm.”

“Look at tobacco, asbestos, PCBs and DDT… Once they were deemed safe, too.”

I called out these quotes because you can find versions of these arguments in so many stories like this.  The first statement does have some truth to it. However, when there have actually been studies to see if cellphone radiation is harmful, and no evidence of harm has been found, that IS evidence of absence of harm.  And whether it’s WiFi, wind power, or food preservatives, you will find someone pointing out that we once thought cigarettes were safe therefor this thing will kill you.  Sorry to the Vancouver Sun, but these fallacies make this one an epic fail.

Naturopath’s message for Toronto: keep an open mind
The old “open mind” argument never gets tired.  The title of this article certainly is a loaded statement. If you think there’s no good evidence that naturopathy works, you must be closed minded.  That’s the only explanation!

Christopher and Scott both spotted this fail at Toronto’s The Star website. Chris’s email subject was “More free advertising” and that pretty much sums up this story.  It’s just another “news story” where a quack is allowed to tell you all about the benefits of their treatment and where you can go to get it.  There is no attempt to question her statements that colon cleansing or vitamin injections are safe or effective. Instead they give prices on treatments and talk about the naturopath’s busy schedule.   I just don’t understand how these stories get printed. Do these quack medicine specialists write this stuff themselves?  I will be one happy skeptic if I can get through a week without finding one of these “free advertising” stories about quack medicine. Have I said “quack” enough?  Good.

Health food store advice not scientific: study
You have to love a title like that. Straight and to the point. Greg, Jodie, and Marion all sent in this win from CBC news. The article looks at a Canadian study (Marion proudly pointed out that the study was done by Alberta’s Athabasca University) comparing the health advise given at health food stores versus the advice given by pharmacists. The results are clear, health food stores want to sell you expensive and unneeded treatments. The lead author of the study makes some pretty scathing statements like:

“If you follow the money chain the dominant motivation here is to sell. Sell, sell, sell. To get money like a lousy used car dealer, get money by selling overpriced supplements that people don’t want and boost the bottom line, this is very very clearly what is going on here.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thanks for sending your fails and wins this week. Last week I mentioned that Western Canada was beating the East at submissions, but this week you easterners really stepped it up!  Keep those links coming to our new email address:

One Response to “Skeptic Fails and Wins This Week”

  1. Alex says:

    I love that naturopaths reasoning:

    “We’re not going to encourage people to stop consuming alcohol or coffee. Sometimes you have to make compromises. Instead, we’ll encourage them to pay us to squirt water up their asses.”

    How could anyone object to such a well though-out argument?


  • 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.