Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week

Hello Skeptifans,

It’s sunny and beautiful in Vancouver today. How’s it going in the rest of the country?

Here are the Fails and Wins in the media this week:


Sent in by Erik.

Where to find scientific research with negative results
BoingBoing republished some great tips, (originally found here), about where to find information about science research with negative results. Studies with negative results don’t get published as much as those with positive results, especially medical trials. When looking for published research, these tips can help you get a more complete picture on the science that has been done.

Vancouver Wellness Show: Finding tranquility on a karmic journey
Ian found this Fail. Basically, it’s woovertising for a Chinese Medicine practitioner who believes that if we all sing a song – Which you can of course learn by taking one of his not free workshops – we will heal the Earth. What is his evidence? We don’t know, because the reporter didn’t seem to ask him any questions.

Zinc found to help common cold
We criticize supplements a lot on this blog, but every once in a while there is some evidence behind their use for specific cases. A recent review on the effects of Zinc supplements on the common cold showed positive results. Zinc seems to have an impact on preventing and shortening the length of a cold. Does that mean you should mega-dose on Zinc when you get a sniffle? Not quite. More work needs to be done to figure out the proper dose and timing of taking the supplement to get an effect. This article is a Win for discussing the science as well as pointing out the areas that still need more research. Thanks to Marion for sending that in.

What’s Calgary drinking?
Lorne, David and Scott all sent in this Win of an opinion piece on Calgary’s recent decision to stop fluoridating their drinking water. The author chronicles the events behind the decision, and suggests that there was an anti-science attitude behind it – one that is comparable to the thinking behind the anti-vaccination movement. He goes on to suggest that this thinking could lead us to a “new Dark Age”. Do you agree?

Meet the man who broke the vaccine-autism scandal
Scott sent in this story. It’s one of those ‘when journalism becomes the story’ pieces about the man that exposed Andrew Wakefield as a fraud. It’s an interesting piece.

That’s the Fails and Wins this week! Keep ‘em coming to links [at] skepticnorth [dot] com.

9 Responses to “Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week”

  1. crf says:

    Here’s a “live one” that somehow didn’t make it to this week’s list.
    http://www.vancouversun.com/song+Clare/4240962/story.html

    It really made it hard to swallow down my cheerios, the way Pete McMartin plays his readers for fools, layering on the smaltz. DISGUSTING.

    It’s an appeal for readers to fund a mother’s journey to a Mexican Quack Cancer Doctor to help her sick daughter. McMartin doesn’t care if it works or not. But he thinks he’s doing a public service, by asking readers to fund hope, without caring whether it’s a false hope.

  2. crf says:

    Sorry, correction. Clare is the mother, who is cancer ridden, not the daughter.

  3. Mike says:

    Wakefield’s paper only studied 12 children? Huh? All this fuss stems from a study of only 12 children? What a freaking joke. The real morons through this whole process are the ones that read Wakefield’s paper and then reported “vaccines cause autism”. Equally moronic are the people running around going “wakefield lied, therefore vaccines are perfectly safe”.

    12 children. How does anyone with half a brain think that you can draw any type of conclusion based on 12 children?

    • Erik Davis says:

      Mike, I think that’s a pretty big mischaracterization. First off, no one at this site — nor any pro-immunization source I’ve ever encountered — has said vaccines are perfectly safe. There are known risks for any medical intervention, vaccines included, and in fact the US has even setup a no-fault vaccine court to automatically pay claimants on those known risks — which to date has paid out nearly $2B in claims. Rather, what we’ve argued repeatedly here is that the risk-benefit analysis for the current vaccine schedule is overwhelmingly, incontrovertibly in favour of vaccination. That conclusion isn’t based on 12 people, and has nothing to do with Wakefield — it’s the result of decades of real world data and the expert opinions of every public health authority in the developed world. The only reason we care about Wakefield at all is because his particular fraud has been the root of an anti-vaccination movement that is doing real harm.

      • Mike says:

        Hi Erik,

        The root of the anti-vaccination movement is not about Wakefield. It’s about the throngs of parents who claim (justly or unjustly) their children suffered irreparable harm from a round of immunizations. Had the Lancet not published his paper (which apparently was rejected by a few of the people the Lancet asked to review it before publishing it) and then waited 10 years before retracting it, no one would even know who Wakefield is. The fact that a paper which studied only 12 children and which concluded only that more research needs to be done has taken on a life of its own is shameful. The pro-vaccine movement is using Wakefield as a lightning rod in the hopes that if they can somehow manage to call him a liar and a fraud in enough different ways, that people will stop questioning the safety of vaccines.

        As for the risk-benefit analysis, the results of such an analysis are only valid if the risks are correctly weighed. When you have cases where parents don’t even realize a vaccine had an immediate effect until years later when they’re looking through old home videos and notice something startling, or when you have cases where a parent does report a drastic change to their doctor, and their doctor dismisses it as coincidence and never reports it to the vaccine manufacturer, you end up with a risk-benefit analysis that is deceivingly low on the ‘risk’ aspect.

  4. Erik Davis says:

    Mike, I don’t doubt that there have been individual cases that match your description, but you seem to suggest that it’s widespread, or at least statistically significant. Can you substantiate that?

  5. Mike says:

    Hi Erik,

    No, of course I can’t substantiate that. That’s the whole problem. If we all knew exactly how many of these cases there were, then we wouldn’t have this problem where the risk-benefit analysis is skewed. Sounds like you’re implying that because no one’s tried to count these people, that somehow they’re not relevant.

    • Erik Davis says:

      Nope. I’m saying because no one’s ever counted these people, they may not even exist. Or they may not exist in the quantities you suggest. Or they may exist and have complaints that are completely unrelated to the vaccines. I’m also saying that I’m not willing to change a public health policy that’s saved millions of children’s lives because you have an unsubstantiated hunch that there’s a problem.

  6. Mike says:

    Hi Erik,

    I’m talking purely about first world countries where children have access to clean drinking water and proper healthcare. I know pro-vaccine advocates like to claim that millions of children’s lives have been saved by giving them 30 vaccines before the age of 12, and that access to clean drinking water and proper healthcare are not the real reasons for the decline in child mortality due to certain diseases. If you truly wanted people to jump on that bandwagon and stop questioning whether our aggressive vaccine schedule is doing more harm than good, you could point them to the research that shows a direct correlation between the number of vaccines included in the routine vaccination schedule for a given 1st world country, and the overall health of their children. And if that were actually the case that the more vaccines you can give a child, the healthier the child will be, then perhaps we’re undervaccinating our children. Imagine if there were 100 different things we could vaccinate our children against. Imagine how healthy our children would be in that case.

    We’ve gone off on a tangent here, but the main point I was trying to raise with my original post is that no matter how many private investigators are hired to dig up dirt on Andrew Wakefield, it does nothing to settle the debate as whether overvaccination is leading to an increase in various childhood disorders. It was a paper that studied 12 children and recommended that more research needs to be done. Regardless of how poor a paper it might have been, the amount of discussion that sites like this have given it is way too much.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks


  • 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.