Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week

Hello skeptifans. I hope you are enjoying your weekend. Here are the latest Fails and Wins.

Signs of Atlantis found in southern Spain: scientists

Pat and Marion both sent in this story. Once upon a time, Plato told a story that involved the land of Atlantis. This was not a historical account, it was a story used as part of a dialogue about the nature of the physical world. Maybe Plato did draw upon stories of a real city, or maybe he just made it up. Either way, his dialogues were philosophical writings that were not trying to make historical claims. Somehow, centuries later, the idea that Atlantis was real caught on. Since then, people have been searching for this imaginary utopia. Now, scientists are investigating a lost city and claiming it is Atlantis. I’m sure that if it was just any old lost city, the ratings wouldn’t be as good. At least there is probably some real archeological work being done.  I hope so, anyway.

Denying a breast-cancer patient funding for Herceptin was a necessary evil
Art and Lorne both sent in this story. You may have heard about this story involving a breast cancer patient and the denial of coverage of a prescription drug. This case has been controversial, and there were a lot of headlines devoted to criticizing the health-care system for denying the coverage. But did the writers of any of those stories stop and think about if that could have been the right decision? This article provides an alternate opinion, and one based in scientific thinking. I can’t say I’m 100% decided that the denial was the right thing, but I can say that not enough of the stories criticizing the decision were basing their criticisms on evidence.

The mysterious healing arts of a Chinese soothsayer
Art and Lorne also both sent in this story. Are you guys in a competition? :) Why is it that the word “mysterious” is used in connection with alt-med practitioners instead of “unproven”? This article starts off like the typical annoying woovertising piece. It’s about a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner in Toronto. Then I hit this line: “I don’t believe in chemotherapy”. This quote was in relation to patients of hers who are battling cancer. The author of this article just keeps on writing, without acknowledging how dangerous a statement like this is. We constantly hear how researchers are looking for the cure for cancer. Well, the truth is, doctors can cure all kinds of cancer these days. Cancer is still a top killer, and we can do better. But to dismiss a life-saving treatment like chemo-therapy is frankly disgusting. When a journalist is interviewing someone who makes a controversial statement like that, their job is to ask “Why”, and “What is your evidence”.

There were so many Fails and Wins involving the Japanese nuclear crisis that I decided not to link to them all. Let’s just say that the media really failed on this one. They spread hysteria about a possible Chernobyl event, about radioactive fallout hitting the North American coast, etc. A Chernobyl event was impossible, the reactor was just not like the one at Chernobyl. And the chance of radiation hitting North America in dangerous levels was pretty much nil. As the reactor heated and cooled the risks were changing all the time. The media focused on the worst case scenario, or scenarios that were worse than what was even possible, instead of expressing the probabilities of each result. Japanese engineers and volunteers are risking their lives to cool the reactor. They deserve some sane reporting.

That’s the Fails and Wins this week folks. Tune in next week, and send me your links to links [at] skepticnorth [dot] com.

2 Responses to “Skeptical Fails and Wins This Week”

  1. Jim Baerg says:

    I think this is a skeptical win:
    http://blog.xkcd.com/2011/03/19/radiation-chart/

  2. Composer99 says:

    But are the soothsayer’s healing arts terribly mysterious?

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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.