Skeptic Fails and Wins this Week

Family seeks hope in Mexican hospital
David spotted this story about a controversial treatment for MS. A lot of stories about this treatment have been in the news after an Italian physician claims to have been able to stop the progression and even reverse some of the effects of multiple sclerosis. This particular story talks about a Canadian women who is going to Mexico to receive the unproven treatment, and mostly discusses the financial and emotional ordeal it is for her. However, the story does devote a couple paragraphs to explaining that the treatment is unproven. What do you think? Is it a fail or a win?

German fans want revenge grilling of oracle octopus
Frank sent in this story about an octopus that predicted the results of 6 World Cup matches. Now, the story is really just a bit of fun, but it’s a fail for missing the opportunity to explain the statistics of predictions like this. Is it amazing that an octopus correctly predicted the matches? Not really. What’s amazing is how seriously people get about superstition when it comes to sports.

Sunscreen concerns raised by medical journal
Mitchell spotted this fail about the “dangers” of sunscreen. While the story does have some sensible information, it’s a fail for giving too much credit to the fear-mongering chemophobes at the Environmental Working Group. Groups like this one put up a front of credibility and are able to get quoted in news articles with alarming regularity. Quotes like this one (art courtesy of Mitchell) are dangerous:

When dealing with an ACTUAL cancer risk versus an imaginary risk, I’m gonna throw caution to the wind and worry about the real risk. If you want a skeptical approach to this topic, our own Scott Gavura covered this on the Science Based Medicine blog.

That’s all the fails and wins I’ve got for this week!  If you spot a news story that you think I should cover, email me at

2 Responses to “Skeptic Fails and Wins this Week”

  1. Kennedy says:

    Regarding Paul the Octopus: Having an animal predict games is hardly a new idea. whether it be a monkey a dog or… whatever. Octopus is a nice Detroity touch… for a German station.

    I have to assume (though I do not know) that there were other media outlets doing the same thing with animals of various species.

    If there was one animal per team in the cup then there is an even chance (by my reckoning – feel free to disabuse me of this notion) that one of them would come out with a perfect record. It’s really only a matter of determining late in the game which animal has fluked out and had done well thus far and hoping that they continue to do well. Indeed it is ultimately kind of the point of having an animal pick randomly… to point out that the “experts” aren’t really any better with such a complex set of variables.

    Calamari time, regardless.

  2. terry the censor says:

    > “While the evidence isn’t conclusive…”

    In the short time I’ve been observing fringers, I’m amazed how they have mastered innuendo, hyperbole, rhetoric, but not logic or the value of evidence. Are they stupid, dishonest, crazy? All such good choices — I can’t decide!


  • 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.