Skeptical Fails and Wins this Week

Hello skeptifans. I hope you are enjoying the long weekend. Here are the Fails and Wins in the media last week.

Think you know everything about arthritis?

Lindsey found this fail. My old friend Dr. Gifford-Jones is at it again. This time he’s claiming that ultra high doses of Vitamin C can prevent arthritis. Unlike other mammals, humans don’t synthesize their own Vitamin C. Gifford-Jones then goes on to talk about how guinea pigs produce high doses of Vitamin C compared to the human recommended dose. First of all, from what I understand, guinea pigs are actually one of the other mammals that cannot produce it’s own Vitamin C…so I’m not sure what he is talking about there. Secondly, just because a guinea pig may need a high dose doesn’t mean we do. The whole article jumps from famous quote to random facts without providing solid evidence for the claims he makes. But of course he explains this lack of evidence is due to the lack of profit in the research:

“Can I or anyone else prove that vitamin C is a cheap way to decrease the risk of osteoarthritis? Unfortunately, it’s not possible. A large scientific study is unlikely because no money can be made from doing it. Vitamin C cannot be patented.”

This is ridiculous. Medical research is done all the time for reasons beyond patenting drugs. And you could use data on the prevalence of arthritis and the amount of Vitamin C consumed by different populations to at least establish a correlation without spending money on a trial. You can bet supplement companies would be interested in research like that. But Gifford-Jones can’t even point to preliminary evidence. Fail.

Taking Sasquatch from the tabloids to the science journals
Lorne sent in this fail. A Sasquatch believer is accusing the scientific community of ignoring his work. He says they just won’t listen to the facts he has. Of course, all he has is anecdotal tales. All DNA and photographic evidence ever brought forward has turned out to be hoaxes. What he (and those who published this article) fail to mention is that the scientific community is ignoring his claims because the evidence sucks!

‘Top’ psychics offered $1M to prove powers

You may have heard of James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge. A million dollars is offered up to anyone who can prove they have supernatural abilities under a scientific test. Randi has called out prominent TV psychics to take the challenge, but the big ones have all neglected to do it. It’s nice to see some coverage of the challenge. A Toronto based pyschic, Nikki, said in the article she’d take the challenge. Maybe she can perform better than she did on her 2010 predictions.

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

4 Responses to “Skeptical Fails and Wins this Week”

  1. Paul says:

    I get so steamed when I read the “Gifford-Jones” column in the Toronto paper. He goes off about vitamin C at least once every two or three months. Linus Pauling was one of his personal heroes, it seems.

  2. Deb says:

    Dr. Victor Herbert, at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York warns of Vitamin C supplements in large doses (eg 500 milligrams) “mobilize harmless ferric iron stored in the body and converts it to harmful ferrous iron which induces damage to the heart and other organs.” There are millions of us, me included, who suffer from osteo arthritis. Do the research Dr. G-F, there is not a lot research on osteo because cancer research sucks so much of the bucks available, ask any medical doctor/researcher/persons who have internet research capability, etc.

  3. Andrew says:

    Regarding the vitamin C “fail”, I do not know Dr. Gifford-Jones’ reasons for his medical claims, but I have on numerous occasions heard from medical faculty at respected institutions that research into over-the-counter solutions was stopped or not begun because the pharmaceutical companies had vested interests in selling patented drugs. This makes financial sense as they spend money to develop and market drugs. Also, there is little incentive to develop cures when a patient can pay daily for decades to be “treated” for a chronic disorder. It is like renting a cure.

    I had to find a treatment for diabetes and kidney insufficiency despite being treated with commercial drugs. Drs. Rabbani and Thornalley at the University of Warwick in England discovered that thiamine was being lost by diabetics, and that it was essential to blocking glucose damage (since verified at other institutions – but not widely published as a successful treatment option). I was being convinced to use commercial pharmaceutical combinations with side-effects such as high blood pressure.

    Drug reps pay physicians to “assist” in research on these drugs to boost enrollment. The thiamine (B1)($5 per month) has brought my kidney function back to normal over a 3 month period after 2 years of high creatinine – low eGFR, and stopping the other treatment corrected the elevated blood pressure.

  4. Art Tricque says:

    Some of the arguments made by Andrew do not make sense. He seems to be suggesting that research into treatments that are not patentable has been suppressed by pharmaceutical companies (citing overheard statements made by unnamed people at unnamed institutions blaming unnamed companies). And yet, large-scale multi-year studies into such things seems to be reported about all the time, including the study of almost 40,000 subjects just published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (see blog posting by Dr. Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine for coverage). The hoary chestnut of companies preferring chronic care treatments as opposed to cures because the former are supposedly more lucrative is unsubstantiated nonsense and has the whiff of evil suppression too: a company finding a cure for any major ailment tomorrow would make a killing.

    I think by including comments about thiamine and diabetes Andrew is trying to suggest that some nutrients can be used to positive health effect. I agree. But they should be used only where substantial evidence support its: plausibility, in-vitro testing, animal model studies, trial human studies and large scale trials. Since Andrew has provided no links to evidence of such, the argument he makes that thiamine can help with diabetes is unconvincing. It may very well be, but since I am not an expert, and he has provided no hard and complete evidence for us to consider, the argument is weak at best.

    I am happy to hear that Andrew’s health condition is improved. He will understand how such anecdotes are extremely unreliable evidence and not of value as proof of anything at a scientific scepticism site such as this (I cite again Dr. Novella at SBM).

    Finally, that all medications can have side effects is a given, why they have to be studied thoroughly with the hierarchy of testing I have suggested above, and why the benefits of taking a medication have to be weighed against any potential risks of any side effects. Andrew seems to suggest he had a side effect, high blood pressure. Although again he has provided no specific indication as to which medications he took, which would allow one to test the claim being made, it really is a moot point: all medications have contraindications, and their use must be examined on a benefit/risk basis.


  • 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.