Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week

Merry Christmas!  I hope all you skeptifans are having a good Boxing Day recovering from your turkey comas, sleeping off your eggnog hangovers, or doings some sale shopping.  Here are the Fails and Wins for this week!

Miracles of 2010
Lorne found this strange Fail at the CBC. It’s a count-down of the “Top 10 Miracles of 2010″. I don’t even know what to say.

Herbal medicines may be risky for kids
Jodie and Marion both sent in this Win in the CBC. The article discusses a recent Australian study that showed how alternative therapies can have deadly side-effects, but are not monitored in the way proper medical treatment is. The Australian study found four deaths which were due to alternative therapies being used in place of proper treatment. The article did not admonish alternative medicine completely, but hopefully the story is a wake-up call for some people. Alternative and natural medicine has risks.

Solstice-eclipse overlap first in 372 years
I’m sure all of you are aware that there was a special lunar eclipse last week. It was special because it coincided with the solstice. So what’s wrong with this story? Well, instead of talking about what the solstice means, or how an eclipse works, the bulk of the story is about the special spiritual energy associated with this event. At least it ends on a reasonable quote, “It’s quite rare, but there’s no profound significance. It’s luck of the draw; you got dealt four aces,” said Robert Dick, an astronomy instructor at Carleton.”

Echinacea no help for colds: study
A story about a scientific study, proving yet again that echinacea is ineffective at curing colds..must be a win, right? It’s not too bad, but there is a few credulous statements. The study showed no positive results for curing colds….yet a representative of an herbal medicine council said “The findings are not convincing in either direction”. Right, that’s because it didn’t show the results you wanted. Fail.

Chronic fatigue virus study tainted: scientist
Apparently everyone has been reading nothing but the CBC this week! Greg found this Win about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which calls into question the theory that it is related to a virus. CFS is controversial. It is difficult to diagnose, and has been diagnosed inconsistently over the years. Some say it is simply a mis-diagnosis of depression, while others still theorize that it could have a viral cause. The important thing is that science is being done to test these assumptions and self-correct as most information comes out.

Thanks for the links! Send me more to help ring in the new year! links [at] skepticnorth [dot] com.

5 Responses to “Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week”

  1. Ray says:

    The CBC report on herbal meds was pretty good but the comments are scary.

  2. Indeed. I try to avoid reading comments on internet news sites…they tend to be depressing.

  3. I get so cranky when I see supernatural causes get credit for hard work and safe design.

  4. Mike says:

    The title of the herbal medicine story should be “Failure to follow doctor’s orders may be risky for kids”. What I gather from the article is that the problems are not from the alternative medicines themselves, but rather from the decision not to follow the medically recommended treatment for the child. So in fact, the real issue here is the lack of faith in the doctor’s recommendations. Both the CBC and yourself seem to be trying to imply that this study is showing the dangers of alternative treatments. When in fact, its not the alternative treatment itself that is causing the damage in these rare cases, but rather the choice to not follow the doctor’s orders. There’s a big difference between those 2 things.

    As for the first paragraph of this article:

    “Giving alternative treatments such as homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicines to children may have deadly side-effects in rare instances, a new analysis says.”

    First of all, are there any kids they found who died as a direct result of a homeopathic remedy? Second of all, even vaccines have deadly side-effects in rare instances, so what really is the point of this article?

  5. Thomas Doubts says:

    You’re right, Mike, part of the angle in the CBC piece is about failing to follow a doctor’s recommendation, but I don’t think it’s as cut and dried as you’re making it out to be.

    One important thing the story points out is that governments are not tracking side effects of alt meds as they do real medicines. There are two problems with this: 1.) it speaks to the lack of oversight under which the alt med industry operates; 2.) it can give the impression, or reinforce the perception, that these substances are harmless and therefore the public need not worry about ingesting them.

    In most instances they are harmless (no side effects = no effect at all, ergo useless), but not in all cases, as the study has shown. And the lack of oversight of the industry means consumers have no real idea if what’s on the label is actually what’s in the bottle, a problem which itself has earned a bit of ink this year with the herbal “male enhancers” that were found to contain pharmaceuticals.


  • 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.