Category Archives: Skepticism

The chemtrail conspiracy


A surprising number of people believe in something they call chemtrails. This is the belief that the cloud-like lines you see forming behind airplanes are not contrails or vapor trails (i.e. trails of water crystals that form due to water in the engine exhaust and very cold air) but chemicals intentionally released by the airliners. These people believe that the “government” (whether it’s the US government or all governments or that of the “New World Order”) forces airlines to secretly install distribution devices on all aircraft and then spread mind-controlling chemicals over the general public.

Yes, this is really a thing that people believe.

Chem- I mean contrails

Once again, we have a huge conspiracy theory that (a) would have to include thousands of people over many decades with no whistleblowers, (b) has no compelling evidence at all, and (c) has no real reason for existing. It’s not like there’s some huge mystery out there to which this idea is a solution. The followers of this theory want you to believe that the government (again, it must be all governments working together since these trails appear over every country) has the ability to create chemicals that help them control people’s minds but are unable to prevent the chemicals from turning white when dispersed.

Unanswered questions: Why are the people blowing the whistle not being silenced? Why are the web sites allowed to stay active? Why are there chemtrails over the middle of the ocean? Why do pilots and mechanics agree to this when such mind-control chemicals would affect them and their families as well? Why would airlines agree to this at all? Do people really believe that the governments of North Korea and the US are co-operating in this?

But the best argument against this idea is that spreading mind-control chemicals from an airplane seven miles above the ground is just about the least effective way to do it since it would disperse so widely as to be ineffective. If you really wanted to spread mind-controlling chemicals to the general public, a much better way would be to add it to the water supply. If anyone asks, you tell them it’s for their own good, like maybe it’s designed to keep people’s teeth healt—

Oh dear.

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Why mandatory labelling of GMOs makes no sense


Anti GMO person: Foods containing GMOs should be labelled! I should be able to make the decision on whether I want to eat them and not have GMOs forced on me!

Normal person: So what would happen if a company sells a food product made with GMOs but doesn’t label it as such?

A: The product should be pulled from the shelves and the company fined!

N: And who would do the checking of products and levy the fines?

The TomatofishA: The FDA, of course.

N: OK. So you think GMOs are unsafe?

A: Of course! They’re putting fish genes1 in a tomato! How can that be a good idea?

N: If they weren’t safe, the FDA (and equivalents in other countries) wouldn’t allow them to be sold. They make sure that all of our food is safe. That’s why they exist.

A: I don’t trust the FDA! They’re in the pockets of companies like Monsanto!

N: And you have proof of this?

A: Of course not, the government is covering it up!

N: But it’s the FDA you want to check up on these “non-GMO” labels to make sure they’re accurate?

A: People have the right to choose!


1 – there is no such thing as “fish genes”. Tomatoes and fish share something like 60% of their genes already. There are genes in a flounder that have specific characteristics (a resistance to frost), and scientists are trying to give that same frost resistance to tomatoes by transferring that gene – and only that gene. Tomatoes aren’t going to start swimming or taste fishy. We already cross-breed species with the hope that a desired trait in one breed is transferred to the other, but this is clumsy and error-prone, plus this may transfer unwanted traits as well. This has been going on for hundreds of years and nobody complains. With genetic modification, we can copy only the traits that we want. It’s the same thing only much more precise. GMOs that don’t show the desired traits are not sold – this is not “randomly transfer genes, sell them to the public, and see what happens”.

People try to spin the labelling argument as choice, i.e. let the public decide. But this is misleading. If you we really advocating for consumer choice, you’d be advocating for information on the packaging about which ingredients are genetically modified and the details of the modifications. But they don’t want information. All they want is a “This product contains GMOs” banner on the label. This is not about advocating choice, it’s an attempt to incite fear.

But let’s say I buy the “labelling as choice” argument. People have their preferences, and many would prefer not to buy products with GMOs in them. But I have preferences as well. Personally, I don’t want to eat food grown by people with red hair. I want any foods grown by red-haired farmers to be labelled as such – it’s my choice and I don’t want to feed any ginger-grown garbanzo beans to my family. Where’s the labelling there? What are the red-haired famers afraid of? Can you prove that foods grown by red-haired farmers are just as safe as foods from a normal farmer? GMOs have studies that have lasted a decade or more proving that they’re safe, where are the ten-year studies of red-haired farmers?

The only thing that labelling GMO foods will accomplish is to make people afraid of them. Right now the question is “If GMOs are so safe, why shouldn’t we label them?” but if they’re labelled, in a few years the question will be “If GMOs are so safe, why do we have to label them?”

Share if you agree


I’m a fan of Facebook. I like that it gives people the ability to communicate with friends and relatives around the world, in a much more interesting way than email or snail mail. For example, thanks to Facebook, I know a lot more about my cousins in the UK than I used to. I can see pictures of their kids, they can see pictures of mine, all that sort of thing that was definitely possible before, but took much more work and just never happened.

But to be more accurate, I’m a fan of what Facebook was intended to be. I’m not so much a fan of what it has become, which is a way for some people to feed their ego by gathering likes. I’m certainly guilty of this myself; I get some satisfaction when I post something and people click “Like” on it. Who wouldn’t want to be told that someone likes something you’ve written or a picture you’ve taken?

If you don't click Like, you're a monsterBut there are people who take this to the extreme. People post pictures with pithy sayings on them, hoping for thousands of likes, shares, and comments. Most of them include URLs where you can go to buy their products or simply generate page views for them so they can charge for advertising. There are millions of these pictures floating around Facebook. In most cases the idea is to get you to visit their website but there are lots from people who just want to generate likes and shares. Maybe just getting the likes is the goal here, or maybe people can charge for advertising on their Facebook page itself (I don’t know how that works). But in general the actual content of the image is secondary, or sometimes completely meaningless. And I’m not even talking about pictures containing blatantly false information, though I’ve seen more than my share of those. In this article, I’m just talking about the useless ones.

Here are a bunch of types of images you’re likely to see from these Facebook pages.

Appeal to emotion

The appeal to emotion is huge. Pictures of people (usually children) suffering from some terrible disease get tons of likes. Same for pictures of injured or abused animals. The “let’s give this kid a bunch of likes” is compelling in that if the kid himself sees thousands of people clicking “Like” on his picture, he would probably feel pretty good about it. But if you’ve posted something that’s been shared and re-shared, you don’t just see a caption saying “This picture has 45,302 likes!”, you’ve got to go looking for it. You have to dig through your “analytics” information to find out how many people liked it, commented on it, and shared it, and how many liked or commented on the shares. And that’s assuming that the kid himself or a member of his family originally posted it, which is almost never the case.

Pictures of military personnel get likes from people eager to show their support for people in the military. I have all kinds of respect for people in the military, but liking a picture on Facebook really does nothing to help them. You’ve probably seen the picture with the caption “let’s get 900k likes for this military dog protecting a sleeping soldier at an airport!” As cute a picture as that is, I guarantee you that neither the dog nor the soldier will give a crap about 900k likes. And why 900k? Why is there a specific target?

Others include “Share this picture if you love your daughter/son/brother/sister” with the implication that if you don’t share it, you obviously don’t love your daughter/son/brother/sister, you heartless bastard.

Slacktivism

“Share this picture if you hate cancer!” Why? First off, who doesn’t hate cancer? Secondly, how will it help anyone? This isn’t even useful for “raising awareness”, a concept that is seriously overused in the world of charities.

Save to your timeline

There are lots of pictures, particularly recipes, that say “click share to save this to your timeline”, the idea being that you can retrieve it again later. This is hilarious. Have you ever gone through your timeline looking for something that you’ve shared? In the unlikely event that you have, good freaking luck. If you really want to save a recipe, save the picture on your hard drive or print it. It’s not “click share to save it”, it’s “You should click share so that my sharing stats get bumped and more people go to my website”.

Puzzles

Some of these puzzles are legitimately interesting but most are click-bait. One has a grid of lines and asks “how many squares do you see?” with thousands of answers, all different. Another I saw recently was “Name a CITY that does not have the letter “A” in it. I bet you can’t. ;)” Yeah, this is a toughie. There are thousands of them: London, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Mexico City, New York, Toronto – it took more time to type those than to think about them. This posting had over 118,000 likes, 967,000 comments, and 22,000 shares. I don’t understand how people can see a posting that has almost a million comments on it already and decide to add another one. Do you really think none of the previous million commenters thought of your answer? And who do you think is going to read your comment? Maybe the dozen or so people who comment after you, but that’s it. Either way, why bother?

Also, even if you do the work and figure out an answer (for puzzles that have a single answer), you will likely never know if you’re right. I have never seen the original person who posted the puzzle actually post the answer. And the worst part: if you’re into math or science at all, reading the answers to some of the math ones is likely to depress you. When I see people who I know are adults (and presumably have at least a high school education) posting that 5 + 4 x 0 = 0, I weep not only for humanity but also for whatever school system they went through.

Opinions

People post pictures that contain “opinions” which are almost always either blatantly obvious or divisive (eg. opinions on gun control) and then say “share if you agree”. I saw one recently that said “This Christmas, I want my family and friends to be happy and healthy. Share if you agree.” Who the hell wouldn’t agree? And why specifically at Christmas? I want my friends and family to be happy and healthy all year round.

The divisive ones are good because they will get shares and likes from those who agree and comments from those who don’t. Tell you what – if I agree with something I’ll share it. But telling me to share it is a great way to ensure that I won’t. And telling me “99% of people won’t share this” to try and guilt me into sharing works even less.

That said, I’ve been known to share the odd picture that contains an opinion I agree with (as long as it’s not something as obvious as “I want my family to be healthy”), as well as a few that I don’t agree with and I explain why I don’t. But that’s OK because all of my Facebook friends want to know my opinion on everything. I know they do.

Magic pictures and codes

“Watch the picture and leave a comment and see what happens”. Right, because Facebook spent time and effort adding the ability to post pictures that somehow react to comments left on them. I even saw one that said “Hold your finger on this image and leave a comment and see what happens” which seemed even more ludicrous, but then I realized that a lot of people would be reading it on a mobile device. Pressing their finger on the picture could in theory have some sort of effect, though it’s unlikely. But how are you supposed to hold your finger on the image and leave a comment at the same time?

I saw one recently that told people to take the last 3 digits of your cell phone number, plug it into some formula, and post the resulting “code” as a comment to get your cell phone’s name. WTF? Do people really think that (a) your cell phone has a “name” and (b) Facebook has integrated a mechanism to retrieve that name into its comment feature? Why on earth would either one of these two things exist?

Contests

I’m amazed at the number of people who think that a company is going to send them a gift card or an iPad or something just for liking their page (and usually sharing and commenting as well). Facebook rules prohibit promotions that require you to share a posting to enter, so anything that asks you to do this is bogus. Read the postings closely as well – would Disney really use the name “Disney World.” (with a period at the end) as the name of their page, or have obvious spelling or grammatical errors in their postings? Apple makes bucketloads of money from people buying iPads and iPhones. Why would they give hundreds of them away?

Challenges

There are lots of pictures of people saying that something good will happen if this picture receives some number of Likes. You’ll see a picture of a kid holding a sign saying “My mom will stop smoking if I get a million likes”. So your mother will not stop smoking if you, her loving child, ask her to, but she will if a million strangers ask? Right. The one that inspired the image above was a picture of a child in a hospital bed with tubes all over him, saying “If we get 100 shares, this kid will get his heart transplant for free!” Now, we all know that anyone can be fooled, so it’s hard to say that you’d have to be stupid to fall for this kind of thing, but if you think about this even for a second or two you should realize that it’s ludicrous.


I realize that people aren’t going to stop sharing or liking these types of pictures. For the most part, it’s not a big enough problem for Facebook to do something about it, and you could even argue that other than cluttering up your timeline, it’s not a problem at all. All I ask is that before you share or like that image, give it a few seconds of skeptical thought first – is this thing true? Is it helpful? I know that not everything has to be helpful but if it’s utterly meaningless, maybe the fact that it’s already been shared 20,000 times is enough.

On the upside, these images do give me something to rant about. And you all want to hear my rants. I know you do.

A&W and steroids


We had lunch at an A&W a little while ago, and were inundated with more of their talk of how their beef is raised without any added hormones or steroids. They actually state this on their website as a “guarantee“. They’ve been saying this for a while now, including “man on the street” interviews in their commercials, where people are all impressed at this great decision that A&W has made.

(We’ll ignore the fact that a steroid is a hormone, so talking about “hormones or steroids” is redundant; you could just say “hormones”. But not everybody knows that (I just found out while researching this article), so we’ll chalk that up to “if we just say hormones, people will ask about steroids so we say both” and let it go. I’ll just use “hormones” in this article to mean both.)

But does it matter? Or is this yet another example of boosting sales and therefore profits through fear mongering?

This “guarantee” implies, but does not state, one of two things:

1. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones change the beef to make it taste worse or be less nutritious.

OR (this is kind of a special case of #1)

2. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones make it into the beef, and the amount of extra hormones in beef has a non-negligible effect on the health of a human who eats it.

I don’t know if either of these things is true but the implication is that beef with added hormones is less healthy than beef without. But where’s the science to back that up? Nowhere on the A&W web site, I can assure you of that.

Maybe a little too much

But do they need science to back it up? What is it they need to back up? Their web site states many times that their beef is raised “without added hormones or steroids”, and that they’re the only Canadian burger chain that can say that, but they make no other claims. Nowhere do they say that their burgers are healthier because of it. They don’t really need to prove their burgers are healthier, because they don’t claim they are. If you read that into what they’re saying, that’s up to you. Clever.

They also talk about their impact on the environment and sustainability, but again it’s all implication. They don’t claim that anything they do is more environmentally friendly.

However, on an agriculture blog, we see that if growth hormones were not used on cattle, we’d need 12% more cattle, 10% more land, 11% more feed, 4% more water, and 7% more fuel and fertilizer to produce the same amount of beef. (These numbers come from the Beef Cattle Research Council) Removing hormones is hardly contributing to sustainability.

The amount of hormones we’re talking about here makes you wonder if the whole argument is really meaningful anyway. Actually, it doesn’t make you wonder at all. The answer is clear: No, it’s not. Once again, we find that just like with all other so-called “toxins”, the dose makes the poison. First off, all beef contains hormones. 500g of beef without added hormones contains 5 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of hormones (specifically estrogen). 500g of beef with added hormones contains 7 nanograms. Yes, that’s 40% more, but when you consider that 500g of white bread contains 300,000 nanograms and a pregnant woman creates 20 million nanograms in her body every day, reducing your burger hormone intake from 7 to 5 seems rather meaningless. The bun contains ten thousand times more hormones than the burger.

The A&W web site also states that their chicken is raised without antibiotics. On the same page, they state “Antibiotics are typically injected into the egg and added to the feed in low dosages in order to prevent disease within the chickens and to promote health.” So they are proud that they are not attempting to prevent disease or promote health in their chickens?

On their “Eggs FAQ” page, A&W states that the hens that lay the eggs they use are fed a vegetarian diet and that “Their feed has also been enriched with vitamins D, E, and B12, as well as folacin.” Vitamin D is both a hormone and a steroid. They seem just as proud of giving hormones and steroids to the chickens that lay their eggs as they are proud of not giving any to the cows that provide their burgers.

I think this is misleading advertising and I would call for a boycott of A&W, except for the fact that I like their burgers so I probably would boycott the boycott anyway.

Diet Pepsi caves to the ignorant


It had to happen. Somebody had to be the first. Maybe others will follow and maybe not but either way, this is a very bad idea.

What am I talking about? Pepsi has announced that they will be changing their recipe for Diet Pepsi to remove aspartame (“Nutrasweet”) and replace it with sucralose (“Splenda”). Diet Pepsi has been sweetened with a mix of aspartame and acesulfame-potassium (known as “ace-K”) for a couple of years, and the new formula will be a mix of sucralose and ace-K. Pepsi insists that they’re not doing it because of any problems with aspartame. They said “Decades of studies have shown that aspartame is safe. This is not about safety.” They say they’re doing it because their customers are demanding it, and because their sales are way down in recent years.

This statement is consistent with their actions. If it was about health or product safety, not only would they have said so (so they can be seen as being a company that cares about its customers), but they would be getting rid of aspartame in all of their products, not just Diet Pepsi. They have announced that only the various varieties of Diet Pepsi (i.e. caffeine free, cherry, etc.) would be changing; their other diet products like Diet Mountain Dew would not. Also, they are not removing it from Diet Pepsi in Canada, so it really doesn’t matter much to us Canadians.

As a type-2 diabetic, this is an important topic for me. Artificial sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar level like real sugar does, so products that use them are very important for diabetics. And yes, I do drink diet Pepsi and other diet soft drinks, though I prefer Coke Zero.

The Science

Aspartame is probably the most heavily tested food additive ever. It’s been in thousands of products since the 1980’s and has been approved and deemed safe for consumption by not only the FDA in the US but the equivalent agency in 100+ countries around the world. Yes, if you eat a spoonful of the stuff raw, it’s dangerous. But the reason it’s used is because it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, which means you only need a tiny amount to sweeten whatever you’re putting it in. The amount used is so small that it has virtually no calories. If a person my size (~170 pounds) were to drink 21 cans of diet pop every day, that would bring him or her to the FDA’s level of “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) of aspartame, meaning he or she could drink that much every day for a lifetime “without appreciable health risk”*. Note that Health Canada’s ADI is lower than the FDA’s, so I could only drink 17 cans of diet pop per day. Awwwww.

* – This means no appreciable health risk from the aspartame. It’s not like there are no other health risks with drinking that much pop.

Have there been studies on rats that showed higher rates of lymphoma and leukemia with increased aspartame intake? Yes. But first off, those studies are a little suspect; some were testing rats ingesting amounts of aspartame equivalent to a person drinking a couple of thousand cans of diet pop per day. Secondly, rats aren’t people. Chocolate is deadly to dogs and cats but we don’t ban it for people and nobody says “this stuff will kill your dog, why would YOU eat it?”. There have been thousands of studies on the effects of aspartame on people over the past forty years, and none of them have shown any association between aspartame and various cancers. There have even been studies on people who claim to have “aspartame sensitivity” which showed that such a thing does not exist.

Zumwalt Meadow

(I tried to find a suitable picture for this article, but I did an image search for “aspartame” and the results were pretty much nothing but “aspartame is poison!” infographics containing incorrect information. So here’s a completely unrelated image of Zumwalt Meadow in Kings Canyon National Park in California. I’ve never been there but it looks lovely. This is from a photographer named Kevin Gong.)

There are people who have a genetic condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU) which causes the body to be unable to metabolize an amino acid called phenylalanine, which is one of the by-products of digesting aspartame. Those people are generally told to avoid aspartame, though they get more phenylalanine from their regular diet than from aspartame anyway. But this condition is rare and has other more far-reaching effects than just getting sick from aspartame – this is not the kind of thing you don’t know you have until you’re 30.

And no, it didn’t start out as ant poison until they accidentally realized how sweet it tasted. It started out as an anti-ulcer drug until they accidentally realized how sweet it tasted. I wonder if anyone has any idea how well it works to prevent ulcers?

Even better are the “oh yeah, who paid for that study?” people. First off, the fact that a study was paid for by a company doesn’t mean that company had a hand in the outcome. Second, good studies publish their data as well as their conclusions so that other scientists (who weren’t paid) can look it over and make sure it all was done correctly and the interpretation of the data makes sense. This is called peer-review and without it, studies are far less reliable. Third, studies that aren’t replicated by other scientists are also less reliable. And fourth, we have my standard question to believers of huge conspiracy theories: do you really think that 30+ years of peer-reviewed and replicated studies by hundreds of different scientists were all manipulated and falsified without anyone finding out or blowing the whistle? Show me the evidence for the conspiracy, and remember that things that are consistent with a conspiracy are not necessarily evidence of one.

The decision

So that’s the science. Nothing in science is ever 100% guaranteed, but as far as we can tell from a ton of testing, aspartame is safe to consume in the quantities that people are consuming it. Pepsi even acknowledges this. So why change? Due to customer demand. But why are customers demanding it? Are there really that many people out there with PKU who want to drink Diet Pepsi but can’t? No. It’s not PKU, it’s FUD.

FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) is something that people frequently use when talking about nutrition. Most anti-GMO and pro-organic articles you read on the web are based on FUD. The Food Babe makes her living off of it. (More like the FUD Babe, amirite?) (Dammit, someone else already said that) It’s essentially a logical fallacy that creates a false choice, then makes you afraid of one of the options (frequently using incorrect information or outright lies) to make it “obvious” that the other option must be the right one. But once somebody’s given you a reason to fear something, it’s very hard to see past it. So people end up avoiding whatever it is “just in case”.

Such is the case with aspartame. If hundreds (or thousands) of well-performed studies over decades show no association with any negative health effects (other than PKU), then it’s likely that there are none. But since science can’t prove beyond any doubt that it’s safe, people think that maybe it’s not. I suppose that’s technically true, but just because the options are “it’s safe” and “it’s not safe”, that doesn’t mean the two options are equally likely. Is it possible that every one of the thousands of aspartame studies showing that it’s safe are wrong or flawed? Sure it’s possible. But if you flip a coin 100 times and it comes up heads 99 of those times, it’s possible that you have a completely fair and balanced coin, but it’s far more likely that it’s not.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, you know that the Food Babe and Dr. Oz and a zillion other people will point to this decision as “proof” that aspartame is dangerous. They won’t mention the science (why start now?). They won’t mention that Pepsi said that it’s not about safety (or they’ll imply that Pepsi was lying). They won’t mention the fact that Pepsi didn’t change their other diet drinks (which is inconsistent with Pepsi lying about safety, but they’ll say it anyway). They won’t mention that a soft drink company may not be the best place to get your nutritional information.

I commend Pepsi for stressing that this decision had everything to do with making customers happy and nothing to do with product safety. Despite what I said at the top of this article, I can’t really say this was a bad idea, since I have no idea how it will affect sales – if sales go up, then it was a great idea since that was the goal.

That said, I really wish they hadn’t done it. All this decision will do is imply that all of the FUD about aspartame is justified. Honestly, Pepsi can say whatever they want about safety or their reasons for doing this but in two years, nobody’s going to remember any of that. They’ll just see the Food Babe and others spin it as “don’t forget, Pepsi refused to continue including aspartame in Diet Pepsi!”

And science loses again.


References:

American Cancer Society. (2014). Aspartame. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/aspartame

Choi, C. (April 24, 2015) Diet Pepsi Will Be Aspartame-Free, But Not In Canada. Huffington Post Canada. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/04/24/pepsico-to-drop-aspartame-from-diet-pepsi-in-response-to-customer-feedback_n_7135950.html

Health Canada. (2005) Aspartame. Retrieved from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/addit/sweeten-edulcor/aspartame-eng.php

Health Canada. (2008) The Safety of Sugar Substitutes. Retrieved from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/sugar_sub_sucre-eng.php

Horovitz, B. (April 24, 2015). Diet Pepsi to ditch the aspartame. USA Today (online). Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/04/24/pepsi-diet-pepsi-pepsico-aspartame-aspartame-free-beverages-soft-drinks/26297755/

National Cancer Institute. (2006). Aspartame and Cancer: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20090212130028/http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/AspartameQandA

National Cancer Institute. (2009). Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes-prevention/risk/diet/artificial-sweeteners-fact-sheet

Pomeroy, R. (undated). Study Finds No Evidence for ‘Aspartame Sensitivity’. Real Clear Science. Retrieved from http://www.realclearscience.com/journal_club/2015/05/08/aspartame_sensitivity_doesnt_exist_109214.html

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014). Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for use in Food in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm397725.htm#Aspartame

Wikipedia. (2014). Aspartame. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspartame

We need healing crystals here, stat! Aquamarine quartz!


Proponents of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM – though I tend to add the word “So-called” at the beginning because that acronym is a little more accurate) rarely say “Never go to a doctor” or “you should always use naturopathic medicine”. They know that this could turn many people off of CAM, so they try to state their case as a preference. If you want to go to your doctor that’s fine, but if you prefer to go to a naturopath, that should be your right and your insurance provider (and the health care system in general) should be accepting of that, i.e. should support it and pay for it. This is, in my opinion, a false equivalency – they are implying that “traditional” medicine and CAM are equally valid and equally effective when in reality CAM consists entirely of “treatments” that either have never been proven effective or have been proven ineffective.

That’s the official CAM literature, anyway: it’s a choice. But in the real world, the CAM community is full of people who talk all the time about the medical conspiracy and how doctors are withholding cures for diseases and how you should never go to a doctor practicing “Western medicine” or allow them to pump you full of man-made chemicals. Alternative medicines are the only way to go. This is not 100% of all CAM supporters, but a very vocal subset.

CAM people want the right to use homeopathic “vaccines” instead of regular ones. They want the right for the healthcare system to pay for their reiki or acupuncture or other pretend magic remedies. But there’s one thing that I’ve never heard a CAM supporter fight for.

Why aren’t CAM supporters demanding the right to have ambulance workers provide CAM instead of “traditional” medicine when they call 911?

If you don’t trust Western medicine and you believe that doctors are all part of a conspiracy to keep people sick and that natural medicine is your best option, why do you accept the possibility of being taken to a traditional hospital to be treated by Western doctors after an accident? What if some medical emergency happens to you and you can’t communicate your beliefs? Hopefully someone will call 911 but then without asking, they’ll take you to a traditional hospital. They might even start Western treatment right there in the ambulance. How awful!

What we need is the CAMbulance. You call 911 (or possibly a different number so you don’t get a traditional Western ambulance by mistake), describe the problem to the operator, and say you want the CAMbulance, and they’ll send out a different vehicle to take you to a local acupuncturist or homeopath or faith healer or something. That way you won’t get horrible things like painkillers or penicillin, which are of course made up entirely of CHEMICALS. I’m sure your acupuncturist can repair the internal bleeding and the homeopath can give you something that will clean up the plaque in your arteries that caused that heart attack. Your faith healer can re-attach that severed arm and if he can’t, well God must not have wanted you to have it anyway.

Even better – CAM people should sell Medic Alert-type bracelets saying “if in an accident, take me to a naturopath, not a hospital”. That way even if you’re incapacitated, your feelings can be made clear. Or perhaps they could just take you straight to the funeral home and skip the middleman. The CAMbulance is really a hearse.

Or perhaps the CAMbulance would take you to a place like this:

(Note “A&E” stands for “Accidents & Emergencies” which is the British term for what we in North America would call the ER.)

Manufactured controversy


People love controversies, don’t they? There’s nothing like a good controversy to stir up people’s emotions. But what if you want to stir up emotions on a topic that isn’t controversial? That’s easy: just pretend it’s controversial! This is a popular thing to do on Facebook. There are always people trying to get others to like their page or share their picture in order to drive up ad revenue or visitors to their web site, and making the picture controversial will always work.

I saw one the other day saying something like “I’m proud to wear a poppy to honour our servicemen and I don’t care who that upsets!” Who’s upset about it? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being upset by the wearing of poppies. But there was a web address to a Facebook page at the bottom of the picture.

Carrie Underwood is prettyAnother was the one about atheists wanting to ban a Carrie Underwood song because it (gasp) talked about God. There have been headlines like “Carrie Underwood’s brand new song making atheists mad as hell” or “Atheists outraged by Carrie Underwood’s latest song” or “Atheists viciously attack Carrie Underwood’s new song, want it banned“. No we don’t. Go ahead – find one atheist who wants to ban the song. Even if we did, what reason could we possibly give for banning it? There is a whole genre of Christian music which includes countless artists and probably millions of songs. No atheists are trying to ban them and no atheist is concerned about this one song. We’re not outraged at all – but you know who is? The Christians who believed this crap. As a commenter on one of those articles said, maybe it should have been “Carrie Underwood’s new song making Christians mad as hell”. But all of this “controversy” has certainly raised the profile of the song, hasn’t it? There are probably tons of Christians out there who are buying the song and/or album just to spite us horrible atheist bastards. Well played, Ms. Underwood, well played.

The vast majority of scientists know that global climate change is happening and is caused by humans. But a small yet vocal minority of people don’t want to believe that for whatever reason, so they make it a controversy: “Is global warming happening or not? If it is, are we to blame? It’s a scientific controversy!” No it’s not. The scientific consensus is that it’s happening and we’re to blame. Consensus doesn’t mean 100% of scientists, but it does mean that this is the generally accepted position. There is no controversy.

Same as evolution, which is also supported by a scientific consensus. In fact, the vast majority of scientists would say we know evolution by natural selection is happening, to the extent that we can ever know anything in science. We can never prove things in science, only disprove them, but bucketloads of evidence supports evolution and no evidence contradicts it. If our current model of evolution is wrong, it ain’t wrong by much. The whole “evolution vs. creationism” controversy isn’t a controversy at all.

You want a real controversy? You need two things: first, don’t make shit up. Second, avoid science altogether. Should abortion / prostitution / marijuana be legal? Should the death penalty be abandoned? Is Obama a good President? The science says… nothing. Find a topic on which the pro or con arguments are entirely based on opinions. Now we have real controversy.