Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week

Hello skeptifans!  Are you all ready to celebrate Festivus?   I’ve started compiling my list of grievances to air. Needless to stay, some of those grievances involve the lack of critical thinking in news reporting.  Here are the Fails and Wins for this week.

Schools study wireless networks Radio waves used in internet connections are a cause for concern for some parents
First of all, that is exactly how the headline reads. I think it’s meant to be two sentences. David found this Fail in Medicine Hat news. Two parents expressed concern over Wi-fi in a local school, and so the Medicine Hat Catholic School Division hired an outside consultant to measure radio frequencies during class, and after class when students were “turning on their cellphones’. They are awaiting the results of the investigation. I’m sure this cost a lot of money for that school board.

Science, the cruel stranger
Lorne found this win in the Globe and Mail. It’s an interesting piece on how science differs from other belief systems. Read it and let me know what you think.

U.S. cracks down on dangerous supplements
Erik found this story at the CBC. There is a dangerous trend happening with herbal medicine. More and more of these supplements are found to contain undeclared pharmaceuticals. Health Canada has issued several advisories this year, and the US is facing similar problems. The FDA has started working with trade organizations to crack down this. The next time you get a spam email promising all natural male enhancement, or an all-herbal weight loss pill, it’s probably chock full of good ol’ fashioned pharma.

Boost your immunity with these flu fighters
I bet you could tell this was a Fail right from the title. Two pages of things like Vitamin C and Echinacea are listed as “immune boosters” to help prevent flu. You know what’s not on the list? The freakin’ flu shot! FAIL.

Mom defies doctor, has baby her way
New mom Jodie sent in this Fail from CNN. An american woman was pregnant with her fourth child, and had been advised to have a C-section because she had several risk factors that could make vaginal birth dangerous. Instead of listening to her doctors, she listened to a documentary by Ricki Lake. Luckily her child and her made it through a home birth safely, but does that mean this woman should be treated like a hero?

Nothing to fear but WiFi and fluoride
Connie found this Win in Macleans. It’s a great article about the fear that many people seem to have of science and technology that causes hysteria over things like fluoridated water and cellphone towers. It’s nice to see a story treat these topics as what they are…unfounded conspiracy theories.

That’s the Fails and Wins this week folks! All I want for Christmas is more links, so send me some at links [at] skepticnorth [dot] com.

5 Responses to “Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week”

  1. Dale says:

    That article “Science, the cruel stranger” is a tough one. The change of tone from the beginning to the end was rather surprising. I am going to have to conclude that I almost like it. A bit depressing in the end with the reminder of the argument over us actually being freethinking creatures. But, overall, decent, especially for the Globe and Mail.

  2. Blondin says:

    From Scott Bakker’s article:

    “Nevertheless, everyone but everyone thinks they have won what I like to call the Magical Belief Lottery. We all assume that we have somehow, by dint of disposition or education or revelation, lucked into the winning combination of beliefs. This is as true of university professors and their classes as it is of evangelical ministers and their congregations.”

    That’s an awfully broad brush. While I’m sure that there are people on both sides of the religion v science debate it is not quite the dichotomy he makes it out to be. If we must talk about dichotomies I would prefer to frame it as a rational v irrational debate. The irrational side is made up of all those (religious & otherwise) who have their answers and are not interested in questions. The rational side comprises those who understand that their intuition, desires and humanity may cause them to be less objective than they strive to be.

    “Science is an institution that generally sets the self-serving biases of its members against one another, using time-tested procedures to decide who is right and who is wrong.”

    This is categorically a false statement. Science is never sure who is right; it can only ever provide evidence for who is least wrong.

    It appears as if Mr Bakker epitomizes the unexamined cock-suredness of which he complains. On the strength of this article I don’t think I am terribly interested in reading any of Mr Bakker’s books.

    • Erik Davis says:

      While I agree the article itself is a bit glib, the idea that there are self-serving biases held by individual scientists is actually consistent with a lot of the philosophy of science discussion. It’s one of the reasons that systematic bias reduction (through proper sampling techniques, blinding, etc.) is so important, but even with that in place, the current consensus model in a field can have a dramatic effect on the direction and conclusions of research in that field. Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift model formalizes this, showing how scientific anomalies are typically discounted until they’re too hard to ignore, at which point a new paradigm that incorporates the anomalies inevitably presents itself and becomes accepted. But it’s definitely a tipping point effect, and until that point is reached, there can certainly be (often irrational) resistance.

      The thing I try to remember is that the scientific method is great, but scientists are human and subject to the same psychological limitations as anyone else…hopefully they’re more aware of them and practiced at deploying metacognitive corrections, but not always.

  3. I think that is what Bakker was trying to say. All of us have biases, but science is a system that puts those biases against each-other in an environment where they can be debated and corrected for. He was not criticizing science with that statement, but pointing out why it works better than other belief systems.

  4. Jeff Schallenberg says:

    Here’s a small win – following up on the wifi scare story in Medicine Hat:

    http://www.medicinehatnews.com/front-page-news/wifi-in-area-schools-gets-passing-grade-radio-levels-miniscule-states-6000-study-01122011.html

    It cost the Catholic School Division $6000 to know that the RF levels in and around their schools are vanishingly small.

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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.