Skeptic Fails and Wins This Week

Hello skeptidudes and skeptidudettes.  I received a lot of links from you this week! Here they are:

Do Homeopathic Cures Work?
Marion found this fail on Discovery News.  The win is that this article seems to have been pulled, so the link goes to a cached version.  It’s disappointing that this would have ever made it to a site like Discovery. The article starts as a pretty solid discrediting of homeopathy, but the tone shifts with this paragraph:

“From the outside, homeopathy appears to be fraudulent; the concept that an illness can be treated by nothing more than water or alcohol that once contained an ingredient but no longer does on even a molecular level flies in the face of scientific reason. Yet, traditional scientists have had a difficult time discrediting the practice out of hand”

The next half of the article takes you down the CAM rabbit hole.  Standard nonsense is doled out, like homeopathic cures cannot be tested in control trials because the treatments are too individualized.  And of course, the article ends by calling for more funding into homeopathy research.  You know, because the millions of dollars worth of studies already done aren’t enough.

Alcohol can lessen the pain of arthritis
David from Burnaby who sends me great links every week, thanks David! sent in this story.  He calls it a fail. While there’s nothing overtly fallacious in the article, the way it is spun is the problem.  Would most people read that headline and assume that doctors recommend a little alcohol if you have arthritis? While the study is important for learning about arthritis, doctors are not recommending alcohol as a treatment.  There are many risks with alcohol consumption that need to be factored in, not to mention that this study is preliminary, and not a proper medical trial.

Spruce Lane Farmhouse after dark
Chris from Napanee, Ontario found this ghost story in the Toronto Star.  Apparently some old house in Oakville, Ontario has a ghost. The story is nothing more than woovertising for the ghost tours business, complete with a picture of the tour guide in a fake mustache and dates and times of the tour.  The story goes on with an interview with a local ghost hunter, who claims to be a skeptic.  I’ll let you decide.

Genier says Spruce Lane was a landmark in his ghost career. He had never been physically touched during an investigation before. Genier isn’t saying there is no explanation for it — he’s just saying he doesn’t have one.

“You sit there and you go to yourself what could that be?” he says. “It just makes you think: Is there something going on?  And that’s what I want to know.”

Astrology skeptics invite swamis to prove skill, for a $100,000 prize
Kelly found this epic win.  A local man, Avtar Gill, was sick of watching astrologers rip off his friends in the South Asian community, so he did something about it.  He and his group got together, and they offered $100,000.00 to any astrologer who could answer 10 questions correctly. Guess what? None showed up.  The real win is that hundreds of people did show up to watch, and the group used to the time to educate them on rational thinking.  You can find out more about his group here: The Tarksheel Soceity.

Think Twice About What “Everybody Knows”
Mitchell spotted this win at the excellent blog, Lifehacker.  The JREF’s Jeff Wagg challenges some commonly held beliefs like washing chicken before you cook it, or that making your bed is good.  Yes really.

Mozambique study suggests prayer actually heals
Lisa sent in this story. It was covered credulously all across Canada.  The problem is, it’s bunk.  Pharyngula did a great take down of this study.  To sum it up, there were no controls on this study. Without controls, you can’t tell if prayer did anything.  Headlines similar to this go up every few months, and because of that most people assume there is something to prayer healing. But a lot of headlines don’t equal any facts.  I covered this topic here earlier.

Experimental MS treatment suffers setback
If you’ve been reading Fails and Wins for a while, you’ll know this has been a hot topic for the past few weeks. While there were some initial results that looked promising that there may be a vascular treatment for the symptoms of MS, there is now a study that is casting doubt.  Patients are flocking to hospitals that offer this experimental, unproven treatment. Many are being injured in the process, since no surgery is without risk.  More time and research will tell if there is something to this treatment. But until then, it is not worth risking people’s money and safety.

Phew. That was all the Fails and Wins this week.  Got more? Send them to me at links [at] skepticnorth [dot] com

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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.