Skeptical Fails and Wins this Week

Hello skeptifans. I hope that those of you who have a long weekend this weekend are enjoying it so far! Here are the Fails and Wins in the media last week.

Jonathan Kay: Elizabeth May’s wireless problem
A lot of you sent in links on this story. Elizabeth May has unfortunately bought in to the crap from our old friend, Magda Havis, that wi-fi is dangerous. She let us know that by sending this tweet from her Blackberry:

Yep, she decried Wifi from a wireless device. The above article took her to task. Unfortunately, this one from the Globe and Mail did not. Elizabeth May posted a more detailed statement on the subject on the Green Party website. Clearly she thinks she is acting on evidence, but she needs a lesson on how to evaluate that evidence.

Deaths from chickenpox down
When I was a kid, I caught the chicken pox. It sucked, but I was never seriously ill. It’s one of the viruses that anti-vaxers often say we should just let kids face naturally. But contrary to their beliefs, chicken pox is a killer. Since regular vaccination started in 1995, deaths have been reduced 97%. It’s a big win. The article also warns that adults who haven’t had the disease should get the vaccination, because the disease can be especially deadly for adults. Thanks to Michael for that link.

Cellphones pose no added cancer risk for kids

Marion sent in this link. “Children and teens who use cellphones are not at a statistically significant increased risk of brain cancer compared with their peers who do not use the devices, a study published Wednesday suggests.” It’s nice to see this get covered, and they do a good job explaining what the data shows.

Quebec spa detox treatment leaves woman dead
Mark and Lorne sent in this sad story. We don’t know the full details, just that a woman died and another was very sick from an intense detoxification treatment at a spa. A sweating treatment may have been involved. Detoxification is based on the false assumption that we build up toxins and need to cleanse our systems (usually referring to the bowels). They often involve fasting….a practice that carries a lot of risks. We are supposed to eat after all! Sometimes the fast involves taking dangerous amounts of supplements, caffeine, and other things that are just not good for you. This detox trend is more than just a money grab, it’s harmful. Health Canada needs to step up against any product or service making claims that you will be detoxified.

That’s the Fails and Wins this week, folks. See you again next week. Send me your stories at

6 Responses to “Skeptical Fails and Wins this Week”

  1. DataJack says:

    Wow, just wow. Posting how glad you are that you don’t have WiFi at home (because of the cancer rays!) from your wireless phone is tea-bagger stupid.

  2. Paul says:

    I stopped reading the globe and mail a while ago because of an inability to do basic fact-checking like in that wi-fi article. The national post however, has this ability.

    • Steve Thoms says:

      Paul, thanks for the link. In full disclosure, I wrote that article for SN, and the National Post picked it up (with my permission, of course).

      Still, glad you liked it!

  3. Ryan says:

    I’m interested in the statement that fasting poses a lot of risks. I think this needs to be qualified better, as short term (24hrs or less) fasting has been shown to provide significant health benefits. Search “intermittent fasting” or “top ten fasting myths” by Martin Berkham who deconstructs the evidence fairly well. This is a logical conclusion based on evolutionary principle as man would rarely have 3 squares with snacks in between meals in hunter-gatherer era.

    However, I think you may be referring to longer term fasting in the alt med community. I think I’ve read they sometimes go for a week.

    • You’re right Ryan. I should have qualified that statement. Fasting CAN be dangerous in certain forms, but not necessarily all. Many alt-med fasts involve taking diuretics along with the fast, sweating, taking mysterious powdered “natural” supplements, doing it long term, which all increase the risks. But this is not the only way to fast. That being said, I don’t agree with Martin Berkham’s extreme health claims about fasting either. He tends to cherry pick.

  4. deever says:

    Yet another skepto who thinks she has a handle on how to “evaluate” “evidence”, and fails as spectacularly as the rest. Ms. Fulgham, did you have a good look at the evidence adduced by May?

    Two items stand out: one is the reference to the Swedish researcher, Hardell, whom she remembers well from her days of combatting the dangers of certain herbicides. Back then, were there a claque o’ skeptos, they’d surely have heaped scorn on the likes of Hardell, vs, say, our federal agency, “Health” Canada, who would hold, as usual under the perverse working assumption that industry & abettor health precedes that of the general public, “no evidence” o’ harm. When Hardell is widely credited now with the best studies on cell phones & cancer (influential at IARC no less, in important part behind their mild but momentous RF=2B classification, with dissenters saying, 2A, and one leading researcher saying evidentiary trend is clear to class 1 carcinogen), how does it not make sense to “evaluate” his “evidence” as particularly worthy? Note well, that May’s earliest political forays were in the ’80s fighting the dangerous misuse of such herbicides.

    And Ms Fulgham must have failed to evaluate properly the momentous document May linked to at her blog. This would buttress the political involvement, for as august a political advisory body as there is, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, adopted their Enviro. etc committee report of May 6 on the dangers of wireless. In sharp contrast to skeptos, who really should be rather termed, credulos, there is exceptionally strong language about the strange & corruptible international arrangement leading to widely adopted regulatory standards on RF (incl. Canada’s via the same federal Department — ever read, Corrupt to the Core, by a veteran of that dept., Chopra? We doubt it.).

    But skeptos don’t like to examine dirt, or complexity, we’ve noticed, which leads to some ridiculous positions defending the indefensible, and leading many people astray. To top off this evidence for the political morality of May’s budding public stance against the dangers of wireless, is the fact that Green-type parties lead in Europe on these issues – note well, the rapporteur of that COE doc, Huss, is a Green.

    It is to be hoped May will deepen her familiarity with this overarching and grave topic, and go much further in bringing publicity to the dangers. But will Fulgham retract, or dare to try to justify her remarks, beyond pointing to others of her apparent ilk?


  • 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.